"I don't know if that's entirely possible." He didn't want Bruce to back down on the offer, but he couldn't lie to him about that; he would find out sooner or later. "Anyone that works for me, or networks to me, is not going to be living on the straight and narrow. People won't stay afraid if I don't fight back when tested, either."
Silence spread between the two men, each feeling it as tangible as the other's flesh against theirs. Joker seemed nervous, but honest. Bruce.....just looked troubled. "Do your best."
"You know I will. I just don't want you mad at me if my best isn't good enough for you." He could take a beating if that's all it came to; it was other repercussions he was worried about.
Bruce worried a lip between his teeth. "If you try, I will do the same." He would, he knew he would. But he couldn't let the Joker lure him into promising something he couldn't deal with later either.
Eying the teeth that were tugging at that lip, Joker dipped his head and stole it, running his tongue over the edge of his prize. "Don't worry about it, Bat. I'll try not to do anything I know will upset you." Even if you get upset over such trivial little things.
"Thank you," Bruce says once he has his lip back. He thinks that this understanding is the best they can hope for. It's something. The nebulous world of Gotham's streets is fast becoming more tangible to the Joker, and Bruce can see it, as if it were happening right there behind those green eyes.
"Just don't ask me to tell you everything," Joker laughed, knowing very well that Bruce would love nothing more than a list of names and locations to weed out even more of the city's crime. Just the fact that he was willing to turn a psychotic, murderous criminal back out onto the streets was proof of how attached the Bat had gotten to him. Lucky for me.
Bruce gave him a wry smile. "Don't keep anything important from me, and I won't have to." It was a strange sort of acceptance. This whole idea was shaky at best, but here they were planning it anyway. Bruce wasn't quite sure how he had gotten to this point.
The smaller man looked positively giddy, grinning like mad for a moment before wrapping himself tightly around Bruce. He could have sworn he heard Joker squeak, soft and excited. Joker's mind was already awhirr with ideas and plots. Shouldn't even be that hard to track everyone down again...
One of Bruce's hands fell across his shoulders, and the other, not quite knowing what to do with itself, hovered for a moment before landing beside its partner. Bruce petted the scarred skin, marveling a little satirically at just how happy the Joker was. His gut couldn't figure out what to make of the situation, but his head told him to prepare and wait it out. He would just have to see.
I can't believe he's actually going to let me. With that came another thought, one that made him pause. "When? When do I get to go out?"
Bruce paused as well. "When you're ready. When you can go out there on your own and not get killed because you can't move like you used to. You tell me." The plan may have been spontaneous, but Batman could be ready for action in a heartbeat. That was the way Bruce lived, coordinated, at ease for the most part, but ready to leap at a moment's notice.
Joker nodded, suddenly twice as motivated to regain his skills. "Alright, I'll let you know." He didn't know what all he had to do to keep rebuilding his muscles and how long it would take, but he'd be damned if he didn't try his hardest now.
They sat there for a while, enjoying the house's warmth and the bright sun cascading through the high windows. Occasionally there were times when Bruce didn't feel the weight of the world on his shoulders, and more often than not they happened to be times like this. Worries and doubts, instinctive distrust were commonly found at the back of his mind, but he found it freeing to let that go just now. He felt strangely confident that he and the Joker could at least try to work like this. All he had to worry about was when Alfred was going to call him out and what he would try to feed them for supper.
"Bat." Joker shifted, settling into a more comfortable position atop the other man. "I know you had already refused, before... but are you still unwilling to train me? Using some of your equipment might make it easier for me to get myself back up to par."
That sent a flurry of different things through Bruce. He opened his mouth to respond. This new acceptance changed things. The Joker would need to defend himself if Bruce were sending him back out there, and if he were to back the Joker's ambitions. At the same time......it would remind him too much of Ducard. Just look what had come of that situation. After learning from him, and subsequently becoming enemies, Bruce had never tried to teach combat to anyone, never even thought about it until the Joker had asked. "I can," he said in the end. "I can train you in many ways. What we've been doing so far has been meant to rebuild the muscles, and the stamina in your legs."
"Good. I need that back as quickly as possible." Joker paused, considering for a moment. "What else are you willing to do, willing to give me?" He wasn't helpless by any means, and he could dish out pain fairly efficiently, but Joker knew he was nowhere near Batman's level on certain things. His experience all came from living on the street, watching others and getting injured and then learning from it. Bruce incorporated fancy attacks and blocks that only came from martial arts training.
"You have an advantage because you don't mind getting hurt. But, you are sloppy. Quick, but all impulse, all wild anger." One corner of Bruce's mouth quirked up, obviously enjoying whatever was going on in his mind's eye. "I can show you how not to let anyone get that close. How to block, and how to hit to take a man down..... But it would be difficult for me to show you everything," Bruce added with a sigh.
"Difficult because you don't think I could manage to learn it, or difficult because you don't want me to?" the smaller man asked, one corner of his mouth curling up slightly. "If you're willing to teach me, I'll learn anything you have to offer. I can take care of myself, but it'd be nice to have some tricks up my sleeve should someone else try to pull a stunt like the mob."
"Difficult to bring myself to teach," Bruce specified. "I know you're more than willing to learn." He shared a look with the Joker, meeting that sardonic half smile. "It'll take time anyway, lots of it." On the other hand, he was sure the Joker was just itching to fight him again. To roll around on the floor trying to knock each other's heads off, one of the things had initially attracted the madman to him, and something they had not done in quite some time. Bruce found it almost.....endearing, asking if they could spar.
"Time won't be a problem, Bat," Joker replied cheerfully, cuffing him lightly on the side of the head. "Not on my part, anyways. You're the one who always seems to bite off more than you can chew. It's remarkable you get any sleep, living so many different lives at once."
"Then we'll just have to take that time, and see how far we can go with it." He was surprised the Joker would see it that way, usually so impatient for everything. Perhaps living at the manor was influencing him on a few levels. But the last was true, somewhere along the way Bruce had gotten used to doing everything at once, and then some. "That's what I expect of myself."
"You'll run yourself into the ground doing too much at once. I'll make you sorry if you go and get yourself killed after wearing yourself down and getting careless." The idea of Bruce actually getting himself seriously hurt or killed was enough to make his stomach clench in rage. Not while I'm here, you won't. "The only reason I'm making an effort is because you're here. Here's a bit of incentive: you get yourself offed, I go back to what I was within your precious city." Joker smiled, running fond fingers through Bruce's hair. "Don't die on me."
Bruce scowled. "I won't. And I don't do careless." Now that was a half truth. He had done reckless and headstrong maybe, but never careless. Until the Joker started getting under his skin, and into his bed. That was incredibly careless...but also impossible to have resisted. Bruce had finally found the part of himself that was ruled by his emotions. He sat up. "That's some incentive."
Light footsteps trailed down the hallway outside of the bedroom door. A nock, just as soft came soon afterward. "Dinner is waiting, whenever you're ready." Alfred's prim yet succinct voice filtered through the heavy wooden door, and then his footsteps trailed away once more. Bruce gave a sigh and looked over at the Joker.
"Fuel for that stamina?" he offered with a quirk of a brow.
"Certainly, if that's an invitation for more... training and exercise... later." Catching up with Bruce at the door, Joker's limp was obvious but steadily getting better as time passed. "...but I mean that threat, Bat. Don't do something foolish and get killed. I'll make sure the negatives of doing so always vastly outweigh the positives, if that's what it takes to keep you here and breathing."
Bruce turned to the Joker in the middle of the doorway, face as expressionless as he could make it, but it was easy to see that this put him on edge. "Would you really turn straight back if I were gone, knowing what you know now, knowing what I would have wanted instead?"
"Not if it was something completely unpreventable, no. But if it was a result of foolishness on your part, you rushing in without thinking?" Joker's expression hardened, his eyes gaining a dangerous gleam. "Consider it a warning, and a punishment if you risk yourself recklessly. Your continued existance is what's keeping Gotham safe."
Bruce nodded, expression finally finding its grounding point. That, he understood. And that, he could accept without question. "Let's go."
Dinner was waiting for them, laid out across the dining room table, the butler nowhere in sight as per usual. Plenty of food fit for two highly active people, one who ran through the streets every night and one who for the past several months had been straining himself to near exhaustion just to pull his limbs back together.
Joker threw himself at the food like a starved teenager, downing large quantities in a relatively short amount of time. It wasn't that he was kept hungry at the mansion - far from it. The clown was just used to having to eat quickly while on the run, not knowing when or where the next meal was coming. Joker had been unable to shake the habit, yet, nor of checking now and again to see if Bruce was watching his scars twist oddly as he ate. Henchmen had been executed for watching him like a zoo curiosity during dinner, one of the many reasons he had always preferred to dine alone.
Fortunately for him, Bruce found the scars most interesting when his mouth was engaged in other activities. The Joker eating could be gruesome and sloppy sometimes, but after the first few occasions, Bruce got used to it. Alfred always left them alone however, preferring not to stay in the room and bear witness. Though the larger of the two could put away meals quickly, the Joker would always finish first. Bruce would simply ignore it until he was done himself.
"So, Bat. What's on the agenda today? Hobnobbing with Gotham's elite to keep up appearances? Sulking around the house until night falls and you can unleash your insanity on the town?" Joker raised a finger, smiling as an idea occurred. "You know what would be a hoot? You holding an appreciation dinner for all the boys in blue. Batman and Joker, right under their noses, holding a cop party for them."
"Now tell me why, exactly, I would want to do that?" Bruce asked after a mouthful of carrots. "My appearances are fine." And so far they had been content to keep a low profile in Wayne manor, letting almost no one but Alfred and occasionally Lucius on the grounds.
"Because it would be fun, that's why. The ultimate prank on those incompetents. Besides, I thought that was the point of your zooming around, living a high-profile celebrity lifestyle - to keep people spinning rumors appropriate to a brain-dead social star and away from more dangerous allegations."
"My life's goal isn't to pull pranks, Joker. I think you're confusing it with yours." Bruce pushed his plate aside and considered the other man, who was looking innocent as can be. "A houseful of officers with a restless fugitive who's just gotten back on his feet? I think you're asking for trouble. Besides, Gordon knows about us. But he doesn't know who I am."
"You don't trust him not to squeal?" This could make things even more hilarious. "You scared Mr. Mustache will decide to change his tune and turn you in?" He found it unbelievable that Gordon couldn't at least suspect a handful of people of being candidates for Batman; putting them together in the right situation would only make it easier for the man to connect the dots. But is he trustable? That's the question.
Bruce's eyes flashed a little. "I may trust Gordon, but I'm not ready to give away all of my secrets." The Joker was taunting him, like he usually did. Bruce sighed. "If he were to find that out, it may also may put him in a position he might not want to be in. It would tip the scales when that balance has been what's kept us on the same level for so long."
"Oh, don't give me that look. You know I'm just teasing." Adopting a false pout, Joker tilted his head down, raising his eyes in an expression of hurt innocence. "Have you given all your secrets to me? Do you trust me that much?"
Bruce looked away. "You know more than anyone else." He tried to bring himself back to the present after that. "You know this. You've seen me go places that I'd never let anyone else witness." And for the most part, the madman had accepted that in Bruce. Still, he kept asking, and Bruce supposed he walked into this one, mentioning the Commissioner and trust. "Think you'd be up for a lesson down in the cave tonight?"
"You even have to ask?" Clamoring to his feet, Joker ignored the pains that shot up his legs as he settled his weight on neglected muscles. "I'm never going to get anywhere without pushing the limits. Give me your best shot."
Bruce snorted, but stood up himself and set a napkin down over his plate. "Well, come down then. I've got some work to do, but you can stretch while I tune up the pod." He led the way out of the dining room, headed for the secret elevator, but did so slowly enough for the Joker to keep up.
Stretch, feh. Following Bruce down to the lair, Joker kept his opinions silent for once. Bat had agreed to train him and he wasn't going to mess up the opportunity with a too-loose tongue. "Going to tell me what you have in mind?"
"Stretch first." Bruce went to a locker and took out a large, folded mat and laid it down on the ground in the area he usually trained. "Then I'll show you how to block or get away from me, without getting hit." He took a can of grease and went to the Bat-pod, sitting not very far away and covered in dirt and a pool of melted snow from last night's run. "You've seen me stretch. Spend at least two minutes in each pose."
"Two minutes?!?" Joker openly gaped at Bruce, looking a bit like an indignant teen. "Why on earth would each one need two minutes? I've never needed to stretch before..." Despite his protests, the smaller man was already starting, his desire for more knowledge outweighing his distaste.
"Because you haven't used those legs for months, that's why," Bruce shot back without bothering to turn around. Nothing less would let his muscles properly loosen, and if he injured himself even further, Bruce would likely kill him. Just so he wouldn't have to listen to the man whine about being an invalid for another six months.
Grumbling to himself, Joker reluctantly did as he'd been told, contenting himself with watching Bruce work as he did so. His muscles pulled and complained as he went through the stretches, but Joker'd be damned before he admitted the other man was right.
Bruce kept count while he worked, hearing the rustle of the mat every time the Joker moved. He was surprised the man listened. The Bat-pod was spotless by the time the reluctantly patient man had finished. Bruce toweled the grease off his hands while the Joker was waiting, and then stepped up onto the mat as well. "Alright. Let's start fairly simple. There are two basic types of blocks, inside and outside."
"Both sides of the limbs, I know," Joker gritted impatiently. "I know that much." He'd fought against Bat before and held his own, both with and without assistance. He hardly thought he needed to be led into the lessons like an ignorant child.
"Good." Bruce let the reprimand go, unfazed. He had seen the Joker block him before, but the man was also so sporadic that it might have been a fluke or instinct more than actual know-how. It was hard to tell. "Then show me and we'll move on." Without hesitation, he swung.
Eyes widening, the smaller man attempted to duck to the side, his arm jerking up in an interception course with Bruce's attacking limb. His feet wobbled slightly as he moved, taken off-guard at beginning so suddenly.
The taller man gave him a smirk after his arm was successfully deflected to the side. Though shaky, the Joker's balance held, and Bruce was glad. He didn't want to chance this too soon. "Not bad." He straitened back up to their original stance. "Now I'll do the same. See if you can grab my arm as it comes, use the momentum to pull me forward, to your right, where I should be off balance."
Watching closely, Joker's hand darted out as Bruce attempted a punch again, trying to do what had been suggested. It was easier to say than do; Bruce was not only bigger in height but had greater mass and muscle on his side. The only thing in the madman's favor was the law of momentum.
Fortunately it is a law that works just as well whether the defender happens to be four feet tall or seven. Bruce had already done most of the work, so when the Joker's hands did catch, he felt himself forced forward several steps. It was not quite enough to put him completely off balance, but it was close. Once more he straitened back to the original position. "Any time you can get me to use that momentum against myself, you'll have the upper hand. You'll need a good amount of strength to divert mine, but it won't matter if I'm bigger, or if you're hurt." He gave a quick nod. "Try it again, harder this time."
Curious and having gained a burst of confidence from Bruce's comments, Joker waited until the bigger man tried to strike him again. As soon as Bruce's fist started moving he grabbed the arm, pulling it to the side as hard as he could.
Bruce went down, passing up the option to roll through it and away from the Joker, instead winding up face forward on the floor. He turned over onto his back, smirking up at the other man. "That's better."
Joker smirked right back, quirking an eyebrow. "I'll say. You're even more tempting when prone on the floor." Hesitating for a moment, wondering if Bruce would take advantage or not. Sighing, he decided to try it, offering the other man his hands to pull him back to his feet.
Bruce took it, letting himself be half pulled to his feet. He'd seen that hesitation, and while he would have very much enjoyed pulling the Joker down with him, they were working and it would have been too easy to take advantage of his unsteady balance. The man needed to trust him here, at least a little. "Okay, let's keep doing this, only this time, once you feel me lose balance, use your hand or your elbow to knock me down, so that I can't roll away from you using that momentum."
Joker was turning out to be a quick learner; he missed hitting Bruce on the first try, but once he'd seen how the other man had twisted and rolled with that forward motion he put that knowledge to use. His hand connected with flesh the second time, knocking his partner flat into the floor. Eying Bruce, the madman chewed slightly on his lower lip. "...let me know if I get you too hard. I know pain bothers you more than it does me."
Bruce stared up at him from the floor and laughed. "Not when I'm fighting." He climbed to his feet. "I've never enjoyed it, but any pain that serves a purpose can be endured. It's no stranger to me." They went through the motion again and again, and eventually applied some more soft techniques. Bruce had firmly decided that was where they should start, since it was difficult for the Joker to be on the offensive by himself, with somewhat limited mobility, and that seemed to be a way he enjoyed fighting naturally.
A thin sheen of sweat covered both of their skins by the time they'd practiced the move several dozen more times. "I think I've got this one. What's next?" Besides the excitement of learning useful new tricks, Joker had to admit that it was a lot of fun to trip Bruce up and throw him to the floor.
It was a place that Bruce was getting more and more familiar with, which was an odd experience having not done this in years. Occasionally the sense of deja vu would cross his mind and a tingle would run down his back. The former experience would have to be identified and forcibly replaced with the new one.
There was one last thing Bruce wanted to try that night. He and the Joker had fought, really fought, on several occasions. They'd also been intimate together on many occasions afterward. Never before had he done both with one person, and he wanted to see how it affected each of them. What instinctual knowledge of each other's body and mind had the other gained over such varied interactions?
"An experiment. Come here." He motioned the Joker forward, so that they were standing close enough to touch. "It's called Chi Sao. Sticky Hands."
"Meaning what, exactly? Some sort of grappling technique that you're not supposed to be able to pull away from?" Joker was wary from all the unexpected punches he'd been blocking, but he didn't hesitate, stepping close until he could feel the heat radiating off his partner's body.
"Sort of. The object is to hold our forearms together while we spar, sticking together. Try to feel when I'm going to attack, feel my reflexes, when I'm going to put you off balance, when I'll roll my arms, and I'll be feeling the same from you." Bruce held his hands up, chest level.
"I'm not certain I get how this is going to work," Joker replied, skepticism filling his eyes, but he raised his own arms, placing them against his partner's. "How are we supposed to attack and block with our arms stuck together?"
"Push me, or lighten your resistance when I push you, and I might lose my balance. Let your arms go when you want to hit, but I'll find them again in order to stop your hit from landing. You'll do the same when I'm trying to hit you." Bruce's eyes were smiling. "It'll get faster as we go. Stay close to me. Try to feel for what I'm going to do. The longer we do it, the more instinctive it'll become. Ready?"
Joker looked uncertain, but he nodded. "Ready-" His voice cut off as Bruce pushed forward immediately, almost toppling him. The smaller man stepped back quickly until he caught his balance and planted his feet, pushing back. Bruce instantly stopped resisting, making Joker stumble forward. Snarling in irritation, the clown tried to punch him in the ribs.
With a half circular motion, one of Bruce's hands swept the punch outward hitting wrist to wrist. Their arms rolled together as the Joker tried to pull his fist back to himself. A half step forward and Bruce swung with his other hand, palm up, aiming to slap the Joker in the face. It looked like some kind of dignified version of a catfight at first, with their wrists more or less together and arms rolling to land and deflect punches.
Joker took a palm to the face, not quick enough to stop it. A mad light filled his eyes after the impact and he began to move more quickly, his blocks becoming more violent, his assaults more vicious. After one blocked attack he hissed and kicked one bony heel out towards Bruce's shin.
It hit, causing Bruce to wince and fall back for a moment. He should have known that Sticky Hands with the Joker would not solely involve "hands". He stepped forward again, getting back into it, trying to feel out the other man's movements. They were all direct, hard, angry motions, and it was difficult to follow. There was no time to learn what he was going to do, no subtlety, just voracity.
The more they fought at close range, the more furious the smaller man seemed to get; green eyes seemed to look right through him and were filled with hate that was alarming. Joker was panting, wearing himself out from moving so quickly and with so much force, but he wasn't even slowing down. One of Bruce's punches got too close to his face and the madman seized it, sinking teeth into the wrist.
The larger man growled in pain, and his first reaction was to pull his hand away. Something was wrong, the Joker was losing his grip somewhere. So the moment Bruce pulled back, he moved one of his long legs underneath the Joker's, hooking his ankle around the man's calf and sweeping his legs out from under him. Bruce went halfway down, this time instinct telling him to pin the madman, but something in the look on the Joker's face told him to stop.
Joker rolled on instinct, leaping back onto his feet in a half-crouch. It was obvious from his face that all the lights weren't on upstairs; his expression was twisted into a snarl of pure animal fury. It was exactly the sort of look that could chill an opponent who realized his enemy was completely mad.
"Joker......" Bruce started warningly, voice not dropping quite low enough to become Batman's growl. He suspected the Joker wouldn't like that. His stance became instantly defensive. The situation was quickly getting out of hand, and though tired as they both were already, a new kind of adrenaline roused his system.
The smaller man gave an inhuman scream and launched himself at Bruce, attacking him with as much anger as Batman had ever unleashed on the criminal world. He didn't have the same limits, however, trying his utmost to wound his opponent. His mind didn't see Bruce.
So Bruce fought back. He had to, just to get the other man off of him. "Joker STOP!" Fingernails clawed at his neck and face, and he knew the madman was going for vital areas. Bruce managed to catch one of the Joker's wrists and fling him several feet away. He hadn't seen an episode like this in a long time. The Joker had needed to be snapped out of it somehow before; this time Bruce hoped that putting enough space between them would let the man feel safe enough to snap himself out of it. "Stay there."
"Never again!" the man howled, rolling back to his feet and rushing at Bruce again. He'd snapped back to an earlier time, utterly convinced that he had to kill the man imprisoning him if he was ever to get free and stop the torture. More than that, he craved revenge.
Bruce was knocked back, trying to catch the Joker as he charged and he half managed to, but still they fell in a pile with the madman above him. He wrestled for control. He knew what the Joker was seeing, maybe not specifically, but he still knew. "Do you want to kill me?" he shouted between blows. "I'm not here to hurt you. I'm not going to."
"Lies!" Joker hissed, still attempting to hurt any piece of Bruce that he could with whatever was handy. "You'll pay for everything you did! Everything!" Despite the sheer insanity lending strength to his thin frame Bruce prevailed, taking advantage of a weak moment to flip them over and pin Joker down.
"I am not lying." 'Everything he did', 'everything he did' was not Bruce at all, and so far he had kept that firmly in perspective, ever since Chicago. He didn't know how to stop the Joker when this happened. Every time 'what if' went through his mind, Bruce threw it firmly away. What if he went with it? What if he played along? Would the Joker find some way to cope? Could he confront this if Bruce just played it out for him? The Joker would hate him. He would never trust Bruce again. He held the writhing madman down, throwing his full weight against the man. "It doesn't matter what I've done. I swear it," he said, whispering it in the man's ear, aware that his neck was dangerously close to the Joker's scarred lips. "I will protect you. All the fear you feel for me, I will use to keep you safe."
Joker struggled and tried to get away, snapping at Bruce's neck and just managing to miss the skin. They were close enough that Bruce could feel the madman's heart pounding through his ribcage, his breathing far too quick. It took a few minutes, but the other man's words finally worked their way through the hallucination. One moment Bruce was holding a homicidal lunatic, and the next Joker was clinging to him, tears escaping from the corners of eyes squeezed shut.
Bruce couldn't believe that it had worked, that that had gotten through. "Joker, the greatest difference between he and I, I don't want to hurt you, not really. That's all. Just remember that." The words were still whispered, and Bruce stayed as close as he was, not quite ready to move away, letting the Joker crumble against him.
Joker was still shivering uncontrollably, a chill having settled firmly in his bones. "...I didn't mean to," he whispered eventually. He hadn't, and he didn't know if he had hurt Bruce, but he was fairly certain he'd just ruined any chances he had of running free in the city or of being trained.
The larger man nuzzled his nose into the Joker's neck, breathing in the heat, sweat, and adrenaline. Both their hearts were pounding hard, and Bruce felt very conflicted. "I know. I know you didn't." It was like the Joker didn't even know who he was, what was inside of his own self, and Bruce....Bruce was able to bring that out in him. Bruce saw glimpses of it, and even though it wanted to kill him..... This wasn't something to be ignored, and it wasn't something to be feared. Bruce did not believe in either. It needed to be seen logically. Was it connected to Bruce, because he shared similar physical traits to the Joker's father, because he wanted the Joker in a similar manner, or was he unrelated, simply inspired by anyone who attacked the madman as close range?
A/N: Slowly piecing the logs together again and working towards getting all the chapters fixed up for posting. Thanks for being so patient, guys.