9. After All (Epilogue)

Bruce eventually found Harvey Dent again, and they spent the rest of the party together. Harvey was drinking more than Bruce thought he should, but he was welcoming the holiday season alone, so Bruce said nothing. Soon they were standing with the crowd, counting down until the Gotham Tree (so it was dubbed) was lit.

Alfred had sent Bruce the details concerning Bullock's mysterious cohort. He was Edward Nashton, a man a few years older than Bruce, the head of the GCPD IT department and occasional internet crime consultant. Edward had rolled into Gotham some years back with the carnival, where he ran petty scams. Bullock had dragged him in a few times for rigging street games. Edward's life changed when Gordon arrested him after linking him to an internet hacker, thief, and pirate who went by the handle 'eNigma'. Gordon took pity on the smart young man, and started him working at the GPD instead of sending him to jail. It had not taken very long for Nashton to take over the IT department and worm his way into consulting.

At the moment, 'eNigma' was practically bouncing on his heels with anticipation. Bruce knew that the message he was sending Batman would have to do with the lighting ceremony. He hoped it was not anything dangerous or violent. He had had his fill of deadly conspiracy plots.

"ONE!"

The tree lights did not come on. Murmurs and a few laughs rippled through the crowd. The announcer on stage looked embarrassed and angry. He covered his microphone with a hand and shouted some things to the crew behind the stage.

The lights came on, and everyone was about to applaud, then stopped. Only the green lights had come on, bathing the crowd and stage in an eerie emerald glow. Bruce glanced at Edward. He was beaming. He searched the crowd for Bullock and found him. The man was turning red and purple, an ugly hue when mixed with the green light.

White lights came on in the center of the tree. They blinked on and off, forming the words one at a time, showing each word for thirty seconds:

WHO

IS

BATMAN?

At the last, only the question mark remained. It glowed into purple, and then all the lights suddenly blinked on. The sudden change left the impression of the question mark burned into the crowd's eyes for a few moments. Everyone blinked, some people rubbed their eyes. A clamor of talking rose up, and then everyone applauded. Some people took up the question in a chant, others shouted out in a clamor:

"Who is Batman?"

"Yeah, who is Batman?"

"Yeah!"

Bruce shut his eyes and left them closed as long as possible. This was a nightmare. He glared across the crowd at Edward Nashton, knowing he would have to spend the holiday season persuading this new threat to give up his little agenda.

Bruce felt a weight against his arm, and looked down. Harvey was leaning heavily on him, swaying on his feet. If they were around like this much longer, they would make the gossip sites within the hour. Bruce took a hold on Harvey's arm and led him away from the crowd, into a dark spot in the park's greenery.

"I think it might be time to leave the ball," Bruce told him. "My car is outside the park. I can give you a ride home."

"Yeah, I'm done," Harvey said. "Can you believe the idiots in this town? Who's Batman? Who cares! He's the one mask that actually does something productive. Now we're going to have to talk about this stupid little prank to every so-called journalist that caught a video for their YouTube channel. What a waste of freaking time."

"Never mind it now, Harvey," Bruce said. "You just forget everything. It's not important."

"Is it hot right now? I'm hot." Harvey loosened his tie and removed his coat.

"It's freezing," Bruce said, putting Harvey back into his coat. "You're hot because you're drunk."

"Am I?"

"Very."

"Good," Harvey chuckled. "It's a day for uselessness, right? Best way to be useless."

They reached the waiting car. Once inside, Harvey removed his coat and jacket. Bruce told Alfred to turn the heat up. The privacy glass was up between the driver's seat and the back. Bruce was almost tempted to tell Alfred to leave it down. Being in such close proximity to a handsome man with impaired judgment did not seem to be the brightest idea Bruce had ever had.

"Oh hey, the car with the bar," Harvey said, reaching for the bottles. "This little bar is probably worth more than my house, right? Must be nice. Must be really swell to drink enough money to feed half the hungry kids in Gotham for a year."

"I don't drink much, Harvey."

"Oh now that is a crime," Harvey said, pouring two glasses of scotch. "That is a real crime, having all these valuables here and not even enjoying them. Have a drink with me. Come on. I didn't even see you have anything at the Frost Ball."

Bruce had an epiphany that social drinking was incredibly difficult to avoid. He took the glass from Harvey and took a bracing gulp of liquor. Fortunately, he had alcohol-absorbing pills to help keep his system as undamaged as possible, and would take some later.

"To the drunk and useless." Harvey clinked his glass to Bruce's, twice. "And to the rich and useless. To all the useless."

Harvey laughed until he shifted into moodiness again. Bruce wondered about these shifts, their suddenness, the severe ups and downs. He wondered if the man might be bipolar. Then Harvey leaned his head on Bruce's shoulder, and Bruce had other concerns.

"We should be useless together," Harvey said. He moved closer to Bruce, his head nestled in the crook of Bruce's neck. "We should be useless together. Rich and useless, and drunk and useless."

"You're not a drunk, Harvey," Bruce said, trying to move away from him. There was nowhere to go, so he gave up, putting an arm around him. "You're not useless, either. You'll take antacid in the morning, drink your coffee, eat whatever on-the-go garbage you always eat, and you'll be back at the GCPD. You'll put your cases together. You'll get your convictions."

"Yeah, and the sky will turn purple, the streets will be clean, and we'll move forward towards world peace," Harvey said. "I'll try my best, but it ain't gonna happen."

Bruce realized that he hadn't told Alfred to drive anywhere.

"Let's get you home," Bruce said. He pressed the button to communicate with the driver when the sound-blocking privacy glass was up. "Tell Alfred your address, and—"

"No, no, let's not go anywhere," Harvey said, slinging his arm across Bruce's chest. "Let's just stay here. Or drive nowhere. It doesn't matter. You can afford the gas, right?"

"Actually the car is—" Bruce inhaled sharply as Harvey's lips kissed his neck. "—electric."

"Green as your money, huh?"

"Harvey, stop."

"Is it too tacky to talk about money? Am I too tacky for you, Bruce?"

Bruce took him by the shoulders and sat him up. Harvey squinted blearily at him.

"What the hell is this?" Bruce asked. "What is it? Do you want me? Do you even like me? Do you hate me? What the hell is the matter with you?"

"I like ya, Bruce," Harvey said, his city accent very thick now that he was unguarded. He patted Bruce's arm. "I just don't like what you are."

"And what am I?"

"A spoiled rich brat," Harvey said frankly. He scrubbed the back of his fist across his nose. "I know your parents died, but every year you spent with them was worth spendin', right? You were, what? You were loved and given everything you could ever want. You never had to worry about … when your father will just blow his money gamblin' and leave the house without power or heat or food. You never had to wonder when you're going to be beaten so badly you won't even be able to walk to school in the morning. You grew up in that gigantic house, away from sirens and crying and screaming and bullies with knives and guns. No matter what this city took from you, it can never take that from you. Never. And I guess I just hate that … that you have those memories. That you had that and I never had, never will."

"You have a wife and everything you've built for yourself now, Harvey," Bruce told him. "You have good memories now."

"Yeah and the city is taking those things away from me," Harvey said. "My wife is a zombie. My life is constantly in danger. I could fall off the razor-thin line I'm walking professionally and lose my entire career."

"It's that way for anyone at any given time," Bruce said. "You said you envy my good memories. So just forget everything and think about your own. Hold onto them."

"I can't!" Harvey exclaimed. "Don't you get that? I can't think about anything good without thinking about how it's going to feel to lose it! I'm scared. Goddamnit!"

Harvey kicked the back of the driver and passenger seats violently. The bottles and glasses in the bar rattled. Harvey hit the car door with his arms. The assault on the car lasted a few minutes. Harvey was panting by the end, broken into a light sweat. He leaned back in his seat and threw an arm over his eyes.

Bruce took up the phone to speak to the driver. "Alfred? Are you all right?"

"I'm rather shaken, but not too stirred, sir."

Bruce smiled, and set the phone down. He turned to Harvey, wondering what to do about him. He lifted the man's arm off of his eyes. Harvey looked at him tiredly. His eyes were glinting, but dry.

"What the hell do you want from me, Bruce?" Harvey asked. "You're a businessman. You're smart, honest. Just tell me. Tell me why you keep playing the part of my therapist. Why do you keep putting up with all this crap? Just to be friends? Because I'm the DA? What is it?"

"It's … you, Harvey." Bruce looked down at his hands, and took one of Harvey's in his own. "It's only because it's you."

Harvey squeezed his hand. Bruce frowned, and took his other hand. He turned them both over.

"Your wedding band?"

Harvey frowned, studying his fingers.

"I must have dropped it at the Ball." He looked out the car window. "Shit."

"We can go back," Bruce said. "Look around, check the Lost and Found?"

Bruce reached across for the car door but Harvey grabbed his arm.

"No," he said. "No, please. Let's just stay here. I just … I just want to be here."

"Okay."

They sat in silence. Harvey began to laugh. Bruce frowned at him, and he laughed harder.

"This isn't funny."

"Yeah it is," Harvey said, laughing harder. "What the hell are we? One drunk and miserable married District Attorney from a hard knock life. One tragically orphaned gay billionaire. I mean, it's funny. It's so stupid, it's funny."

"It's sad that you think it is."

"That it's funny?"

"No. That it's stupid." Bruce rested a hand on Harvey's knee. "It's not stupid to care about someone. It's not stupid for people to be able to connect regardless of whatever they are or however their lives went. It isn't stupid to throw everything out but the person sitting next to you."

Bruce was surprised at his words, and even more surprised to realize he believed them. He had been bitterly chiding himself for his affair with Floyd Lawton for days, but he had to admit that he did not regret it. It had to be over, but Bruce was still willing to take a chance. He wondered if this was good or bad.

"It isn't stupid," Bruce repeated. "Maybe your cynicism is the stupid thing."

Harvey raised his eyebrows.

"So, Bruce Wayne has a spine after all," he laughed. "Stupid? To be cynical? In this city? Says the guy whose parents were shot right in front of him?"

"Harvey, don't."

"He's getting out next year," Harvey said. "Joe Chill. Did you know that? It's been twenty years, Bruce. Good behavior, no additional charges. He'll be back on the streets."

Bruce's heart skipped a beat. He swallowed down the emotion with difficulty. In that instant, he almost hated Harvey Dent. Harvey saw the look in his eyes and smiled.

"There it is," he said, taking Bruce's face in both hands. "Who am I to talk to you like this, right? How dare I mention the sainted Martha and Thomas Wayne, right? Not so fun slumming with me, is it, Bruce?"

Bruce impatiently pushed Harvey's hands off his face. He held his arms by the wrists.

"You don't hate me, Harvey," Bruce told him. "You don't even hate all the faceless billionaires. You're projecting your self-hatred onto me. You asked me why I'm playing therapist for you. Because I have a thing for—" He remembered Lawton's words. "—for handsome men with sad stories and daddy issues. It's a cliché, I know, but I do. I want to figure you out. I want to know you. I want—"

"To fuck me?"

Harvey used Bruce's moment of dismay to kiss him. It was focused and intense. Bruce felt the charge he had felt when he first laid eyes on Harvey, but far, far stronger. Bruce's hands tightened around the man's wrists as he was burned through by desire. He was kissing him back then, bruising his wrists, pulling him closer.

"Harvey," Bruce managed hoarsely. "We can't. You're married."

"Not right now," Harvey said, waving his ring-less finger. He poured two more drinks. "It's just a kiss. Come on. Have another toast with me."

Bruce shook his head, but knew he was helpless. He took the glass. Harvey had an odd way of taking charge of a situation, even when he was the vulnerable one. Floyd had been looking for someone to take control of him, but Harvey seemed to relish the power struggle, the back and forth. Bruce wondered if even he knew whether he wanted to be the one on top or on the bottom.

Harvey tipped his glass against Bruce's.

"Here's to the person sitting next to you."

"To taking chances. Even if they are stupid."

Harvey's smile widened, flashing his perfect teeth.

"Yeah. I like that."

In the front of the car in the driver's seat, Alfred sighed. He could not make out the conversation between the men, but he had a fair idea of what was transpiring in the back of the car. Bruce never could turn down a handsome man given to violent impulses. He wondered if that was Bruce's way of subduing his own urges, to be with men he could vicariously battle them through.

Alfred put his noise-canceling headphones on and turned on the holiday radio station. He looked out the window at the brilliant Gotham Tree, and smiled. Whatever else was happening, it was the holiday season. He thought of ghosts past, present, and future. He thought of holidays past and holidays hopefully to come. He laid his head back and put his faith in the man he had helped raise, while he reminisced to the melodic "What Child Is This?".

The world would take care of itself, and Christmas would come and go. Alfred had some concerns for Bruce, entangled now with the handsome District Attorney, but he was predominantly relieved that he was apart from Floyd Lawton. Bruce had seen more than enough tragedy written on a bullet.

End

Man is an obstacle, sad as the clown

So hold onto nothing, and he won't let you down

Some people are marching together and some on their own

Quite alone

Others are running, the smaller ones crawl

But some sit in silence, they're just older children

That's all

After all

– David Bowie, "After All"