The madman snuggled up to Bruce like a small child, huddling close until the other man wrapped his arms around him. It was something he'd started doing whenever they slept together; the warmth and Bruce's presence seemed to keep the nightmares at bay, or at least dull their edges.
Bruce simply waited for it. Oftentimes the Joker would be cold, unaware of how he let his fingers, toes, and other extremities suffer in the frigid world around them. Bruce on the other hand was a well of heat. He'd rub his hands over the Joker's skin and let the smaller man press into him until it warmed again. It was.....nice, to hold onto something that needed him every night. As the Joker settled and the blood started flowing back in his limbs, Bruce felt exhaustion finally creep up on him.
Joker slept hard, never stirring during the night and sleeping right through when Bruce awakened that afternoon, got up, and dressed. The slender man burrowed beneath the covers, rolling into the spot his lover had abandoned. He wouldn't be particularly devastated when he awoke and found Bruce gone; Joker didn't drive his body nearly as hard as Bruce did because he didn't have to. He didn't have to keep up the pretext and presentation of a whole other life.
That life had Bruce already in the thick of it's own particular brand of madness. Hopping from meeting to meeting at the Wayne Enterprises tower took up only the early hours of the morning and would have possibly taken the rest of the day had Bruce not scheduled an in-person consultation with the director of community development in one of the lowest income areas the city had.
The plan they were building was set to be a very high publicity stunt: a fundraising and development project for urban schools within this area, all to be done directly on-site. As dilapidated as it was, Bruce didn't doubt that he would be the only socialite within a mile radius of the event.
The group rushed to finish their preparations, rechecking gun holsters and ammo clips in the lounge of an abandoned tenement building. It didn't really matter what happened to any other bystanders, but their prize had to be taken alive and relatively unharmed for him to be suitable bait.
"Remember, guys. Stick to the plan. We do this right, we get rid of the Batman and still can make Mr. Wayne pay his own hostage release fee." Surveying the gang, the leader nodded once, taking in the serious eyes and faces behind the eerie, grinning clown makeup. They all knew what was at stake, but with this one job they could secure their positions for life.
When Bruce's Mercedes-Benz pulled up to the half turnaround of one of north Gotham's last standing community centers, a gaggle of coordinators rushed out of the unassuming two story building to greet his team. The project planner from Wayne Enterprises, whose name Bruce had yet to learn, stepped out to meet them first, no doubt very ready to escape his employer's driving. Today was scheduled to be the beginning of the week long program in which the local news would cover their progress as meetings were conducted, money traded hands, and construction and funding finally came through.
Only one camera stood on the scene so far, shooting B footage for later. The journalist who came with him, Bruce assumed, was likely somewhere within the small entourage of people he was stepping up to shake hands and begin hellos with.
The group of pseudo-Jokers, meanwhile, moved in quick formation into the building where their target would soon be entering. All attention was on the meeting and greeting that was going on outside at the moment, leaving what few security personnel that were inside highly vulnerable. They went down swiftly and permanently, causing a minimum fuss and leaving red streaks upon the floor.
A few of the clowns split off and dashed up the decrepit stairs, seeking out their positions as watch-guards. The rest secreted themselves around the main room, waiting for when Bruce Wayne would enter.
Outside, Bruce's group headed for the doors. A few kids passing on the sidewalk watched the small crowd of animated people, and one of them must have recognized Bruce Wayne because all stopped to watch and stare with wide eyes and a few pointed fingers. The billionaire playboy setting foot on their turf was probably the grandest thing the little neighborhood had seen in some time. As Bruce strode along, with chatter floating all around him, he took his eyes off the front doors to wave at the small group just before they entered.
The criminals wasted no time. The incoming group was rushed and quickly taken down. The men had no qualms about killing and didn't particularly care about those accompanying Bruce; if they went down and stayed down, they got to live. If they fought, they died.
Two of the clowns shoved the remaining people into the room, then slammed the door, letting the rest of their gang take care of the prisoners and bodies while they set about barricading the door.
There was a lot of screaming. In the initial struggle half of it came from surprise, and the other half came from two of the businessmen being shot in the gut. The camera went sailing across the floor, skidding to a halt when it reached carpet. The cameraman went the other direction. Bruce's attention was suddenly grounded, instinct kicking in as the shots fired and the doors closed, and before he could think about anything else and the two clowns nearest him wound up on the floor.
"Get him down, quick! Roy, get the runner!" Another shot rang out and the cameraman crashed to the ground. The rest of the clowns moved in, taking everyone else out of commission but Bruce. Eventually he was left facing a room full of guns pointed in his direction, all being held by individuals with familiar face paint.
He stayed as still as he could. There hadn't even been time to shout at them to stop. He wasn't thinking about being Bruce Wayne at that point. All that ran through his mind was that there was no longer anyone to protect. They were all in a bloody pile around him. His eyes shot from one to the next to the next, none left breathing, and it took him a moment to remember that here he was not Batman, here was the billionaire Wayne and not currently bulletproof. With a somewhat shaky breath, from anger and adrenaline, he tore his eyes away from the people he'd been talking to a moment ago and up to the anxious clowns. "You have me."
"Damn straight we do. Boris, tie him up." What passed for the group's leader tossed a coil of rope in one thug's direction. "Don't want him getting any clever ideas. Now that we have everyone's attention, Mr. Wayne, perhaps we can get the ball rolling. Ordinary citizens' lives come cheap, to the point where the bluecoats almost don't care, but you?" The man chuckled to himself, nearly strutting with cocky self-importance. "They'll be reluctant to raid and put such a public jewel at risk. You'll be worth a pretty penny for a safe return."
"Don't tell me you punks work for the Joker?" Bruce said disbelievingly while he stepped back, even though they quite obviously wore the face paint. They did have him surrounded, and there was nothing in sight that he could use to put between them and himself. Not a wall nor a desk, and he didn't have any smoke bombs on his person. He'd walked right into this situation when he should have known better, should have been watching the door, the windows, should have been paying attention to his surroundings, but he hadn't. He moved away from "Boris", but that took him in the direction of another clown behind him, and damnit they'd placed themselves to be out of each other's line of fire if he moved. He had no doubts that they would shoot him in a less vital place if he stalled too long.
The leader laughed as the rest of the posse quickly grew tired of the millionaire's maneuvering, clubbing him with the butts of their weapons and holding him still while the one called Boris bound him. Once Bruce was securely tied, the lead man strode closer. "Ohohohoh. He doesn't know who he's dealing with, does he boys?" The man flashed a grin. "I am Joker. Think you'd recognize me after our encounter at that dinner party."
Bruce's reaction was not one he had planned for. He giggled. Though he did manage to catch it and turn it into a cough, which presumably would come from being brought down to knees while he was hit in the gut. He looked up at the man under the dark fringe of hair that had fallen in his face. "You're not the Joker." There was an opening, just after he'd been tied, Boris held the rope at his wrists to hold him back in case he tried to run. Bruce yanked his hands free in indignation, and with the motion plucked one of the goon's cufflinks away from him.
The 'Joker' snarled in response, cuffing Bruce on the temple for the insult and trying to pull free. "Shows what you know, rich boy. Why don't you shut up and sit tight while we wait for your estates to cough up the cash? Scratch that, it's not a request." The leader caught Bruce's jaw and smirked, thinking how good it'd feel to break the man's face. The socialites would shun his ugliness for awhile, perhaps... until he just bought himself cosmetic surgery like the rest of the rich bastards.
Breaking his face in was not what Bruce first thought was about to happen when the "Joker" pulled his head up. Even if he was an impersonator, the move was coincidentally very like that of the real Joker. And when he grabbed Bruce's jaw like that, what came next was usually a lot more pleasurable than what this clown had in mind. The billionaire's eyes went wide before rationale kicked in hard and said that the man was most definitely not planning to kiss him. In fact the murderous, lusty glint in his eye was only there for the ransom he hoped to get. Bruce wiped the shock from his gaze and readied himself for a blow. He needed them to get on with their plan, just long enough to have their backs turned for a moment.
Police sirens sounded outside, the typical megaphone call ringing out for them to surrender peacefully. 'Joker' released Bruce with a disgusted sneer, leaving him in the watchful care of a retinue of clown thugs while the rest of the men took their positions. The gunmen returned to their defensive posts, leaving their leader to communicate their ransom demands to the crowd of lawmen and media outside.
Those demands were immediately made very public, newscasters around the city broadcasting the event live. The Joker had apparently kidnapped Gotham's Most Eligible Bachelor, holding him in return for an astronomical sum of untraceable cash, a clean getaway... and the surrender of Batman to their hands.
Unfortunately, that Batman couldn't be contacted. Commissioner Gordon had been pulled out of the office once they got the call. Useless as it was, he set up the signal in mid day and after various other tries to reach his cloaked partner, had to give up. He could only hope that the Batman would show if he indeed was part of the deal.
Currently Gordon was down on the street shouting orders and taking information. Once the demands were received, that information had been cut off between the police and the group inside. What plagued his mind most of all was that the Joker seemed to be back, after so long, and after Batman gave his word. Gordon was aware of the Joker's copycat criminals, but none had ever reached for more than petty crime. As far as he could tell, this was the Joker's style, and he had to take it as such. His force surrounded the building, and his nerves were fraying. He'd met Bruce Wayne. More than once. He wouldn't say that he knew the man, but he wouldn't want to see him go. He was nice, if a little airheaded. Behind him, Gordon could hear the local reporter shouting into his microphone just over the sirens. Once again, they were saying, the Joker was singling out billionaire Bruce Wayne.
Word hadn't taken long to reach the manor. As soon as the news hit a flood of worried phone calls hit, from investors to friends to employees. If the news was explosive for the rest of the city, it was triply so for Joker: they were claiming his name and image, demanding Batman as part of the payment, and they had Bruce trapped at gunpoint. The madman couldn't get down to the lair fast enough.
When he shot out of the room, Alfred, on the phone with the police, hung up mid-sentence. He couldn't help but notice the direction in which the Joker ran, and so he came rushing after. "Exactly what do you think you're up to!?" he shouted down the hall as the door of the secret entrance was closing on him.
Joker ignored the butler, making his way down to the sub-level as fast as he could. He didn't even have a plan, simply consumed with the idea of gathering an arsenal and getting there, dishing out as much punishment as he could while saving Bruce's hide. His heart was already racing by the time the elevator arrived at the lair, squeezing out before the doors were even fully opened.
Down in the pit of the city, surrounded by police with sirens and megaphones, within the dilapidated community center, Bruce had been backed into a wall. He was guarded by two armed clowns. The rest had spread out to cover the exits and windows, which weren't all that plentiful to begin with. He was rolling the pin in his fingers, but unfortunately the gunmen had tied his hands in front and weren't taking their eyes off of him.
Joker had thrown open all of the containers of armor and equipment, rummaging through and putting together supplies for a vengeful rescue attempt. He had a sizable pile of gear at his feet and was struggling into black underarmor when Alfred finally arrived via the elevator. Joker continued to ignore him, digging around trying to find the armor plates that went over the mesh.
"What the devil are you doing? You don't think you're going out there, do you?" Alfred stalked up to man making a frantic mess all over the floor of the cave. When the Joker tipped over one case, the butler picked up, just to find another upended in front of him. Truth be told, he was rather nervous himself. "What are you even looking for??"
"Anything," the clown snarled, clawing through the mess. "Weapons, armor, tools. Whatever he uses. They want a Batman to let him go, and they won't get one while they have him!" I'll rip them apart! Carve their bodies until they howl!
"You're going to--!" Alfred shut his mouth before "did you plan this!?" escaped. Of course the Joker didn't plan this. He had just coincidentally been trying out Bruce's costume the other day. The butler glared at him, hard. Sometimes, he didn't know whether to believe that this man deserved the benefit of the doubt that Bruce consistently gave him, or if the universe simply decided to give him whatever he wished when it came to the Batman. Perhaps it was just "good karma" finally coming his way. "If you want to go out and fight crime, I will stand by as long as it does not interfere with Bruce's well being." Alfred's tone was tight, and it was very, very clear that he was considering the idea without wanting to.
Joker whipped around, looking every bit the crazed animal that he was at his core, the thing he hid in a shroud in humanity. He slid close to Alfred before the man could step away. "...I am going out to get him, old man, so unless you're going to help? Get the hell out of my way." As quickly as he'd stalked up to the man and vaguely threatened him, Joker turned his attention back to getting equipped for his raid.
Alfred stood rooted to the floor, his hands in fists and slightly shaking. Yes, the Joker was frightening when he came that close and that intense, and yes, this plan was infuriating. "If you get yourself killed, or exposed, Bruce will be furious," the butler snapped. "And take this communicator."
Joker took it without looking, clipping it to an empty slot in the utility belt. "Which is why I won't. Now help me find the plates that go over this. Bat might be able to put all this on himself, but I can't." Everything was taking up more precious time than the madman wanted.
The old butler huffed, but went to work. He knew almost exactly what Bruce carried, but it varied from mission to mission, and the Joker wouldn't know how to use, or be able to use, a good variety of his equipment. Alfred gathered what he could, attached it to the belt, and rearranged the kevlar plating that the Joker was failing to fit into place. It was going to be larger on him, like Bruce's first suit was, but he would look more like Batman, and be able to move more easily. "Take the Tumbler, not the Bat-pod." The Joker was surprisingly strong, but he wouldn't be able to control the bike easily without Bruce's height and weight. "And contact Lucius if you get into a situation. I do mean that."
"I don't know how to do that." Vaguely through the red haze of rage, Joker felt a tiny amount of appreciation for the butler's cooperation. It would have taken yet more time if he'd have had to fight the butler before he could even get geared. His mind was already being cast out into the future, his promise forgotten in visions of bloody fury.
"Ah." Alfred took the communicator back and indicated a dial. "One is me, two is Mr. Fox. It attaches to your wrist like so." He snapped the device in place once the Joker raised his armored forearm. Outwardly the butler was surprisingly calm, or at least much calmer than the Joker, at this point. Inside he was extremely nervous. He was sending this volatile man out as backup when Bruce's life may be on the line. Furthermore, and they had done what they could to prevent this from happening, but if the Joker was captured with Batman's gear, the MCU would attempt to find out where it was manufactured. "I'm sure that I don't need to tell you to be careful."
"Jeeves. Whatever makes you think I wouldn't be careful?" A wicked smile flashed and was gone just as quickly; Joker wasn't sparing any time to pursue his normal agenda of aggravating the elderly man. "If something happens, someone needs to be ready to pick up Bat and get him to safety if I can't take him myself."
"I can watch from the satellite here, keep track of the police force and anyone who moves outside of the building. He trusts the Commissioner. If something like that does happen, you'll have to contact him." Alfred showed him the dial for Gordon's cell on the communicator. "He'll be the closest one on the scene, and the only one who can get through the rest of the police. If for some reason Bruce is moved to another location, call either myself or Mr. Fox. And like I said, I'll be watching as much as I can."
"Good." Joker tugged at the cape and quickly ran his hands over all the gear he'd attached to the suit; it was still ill-fitting and the cape dragged slightly on the ground, but he could make do. He didn't even need to pause to kohl his eyes - they were still blackened from the games of the previous night. Stepping over the mess he'd made of the lair's floor, Joker moved purposefully towards the Tumbler.
Alfred strode behind him, trying not to imagine what anyone who got too close to this new "Batman" would think. His makeup was mostly wiped off, besides a smear of white here and there, but his scars were clearly visible in the opening of the mask. "You do remember how to drive this, correct?" Alfred couldn't help but remember the last time the Joker had driven the Tumbler. Right into the elder Waynes' graves.
"Yes, most of it. I didn't manage to play with all of the controls before I destroyed the last one. I was preoccupied at the time." That seemed like years ago, desecrating graves to both punish and enlighten his Bat. Things certainly hadn't turned out like he'd expected, but he rather liked how everything had progressed. He wasn't about to lose everything to a bunch of two-bit, no-talent copycats who were ruining his reputation.
Alfred took a breath to collect himself. "Alright, well, I haven't got the time to show you now. The basics will have to do. Use the monitor for directions. And if you can, I would suggest a measure of subtlety while getting into the building. If they see you coming...." He finished tight lipped, and stepped back while the vehicle unfolded it's door.
Joker turned, looking every bit as firey-eyed as his counterpart did when inhabiting that suit. "They won't see me coming until it's too late." Slipping into the driver's seat, the automated panel slid down and hid him from view. The engine rumbled to life and the lights flared before the squat, tanklike car rolled its way to the exit tunnel.
Alfred stood watching him go. This could be a terrible idea, but short of Bruce freeing himself, it was all they had. When the engine's sound was long out of range, he hurried to the monitor and fired up the satellite system, ready to inform the Joker on what he'd be getting into.
The madman had to take a more roundabout way than he liked; he wanted to smash right through the city to where the crooks were, but part of the point of this charade was to keep up the pretense that Batman was coming to save Bruce Wayne. He could hardly get the element of surprise if he got a retinue of sirens howling after him for flattening a few pedestrians.
Joker stopped the Tumbler as close as he dared to the building the news had listed as the hostage location. Removing a grappling hook from the utility belt, he decided to foot it over rooftops the rest of the way, keeping to the shadows as best he could. Cursing each lost minute, he finally found a good corner to peer from to see exactly what he was getting into. He was as careful as he could be to keep low and hidden, but one observant Commissioner was used to searching for a hidden figure and had been waiting for an appearance.
Gordon had been hanging to the back of the crowd of officers whenever he could for this very reason. They'd been waiting for some time. The sun was already low in the sky, casting long shadows from the buildings around them. Once the Commissioner caught sight of one all too familiar shadow, he broke off of his conversation and ducked away as quietly as he could into the alley where the Batman hid. "You've heard then?" His whisper came out as more of a hiss.
"Shuttup and get over here. Don't blow my cover," came an oddly familiar growl back, though it was nothing like Batman's growl. Gordon got another shock as he complied and snuck closer, taking in the body armor that looked at least one size too large for its inhabitant and the twisted scars curving up from the exposed corners of the Batman's mouth. "If you want to be helpful, tell me how to get in without them noticing."
The Commissioner's eyes grew to the size of quarters. "You?" Now he was really hissing. "If you're here, then where is the real Batman?? And who's inside holding Wayne??" He was sputtering at this point. This was the last thing he expected to top off the situation tonight. Gordon bent out of sight, but he dared not get too close to the armored Joker.
"He's..." Can't tell him. "...indisposed at the moment. They're demanding a Batman, so they get a Batman. Whoever's inside, they're simply trying to set everyone even more on edge by playing at being me." Joker stared past Gordon at the building, continuing to study the structure. He couldn't see much with all the flashing lights continuously altering his vision, but he could bet that any gang adept enough to pull a stunt like this would have trained lookouts. "Are you going to be helpful or not?"
After a deep, deep breath, and a very scrutinizing look, Gordon did his best to collect his thoughts. "To be honest, I've never been able to figure out how he gets into these situations when we've got a place surrounded." He ran his fingers over his mustache as he thought. "You'd have to go in through the roof somehow. Not even I can walk you through the perimeter. Unless...unless we submit to their demands. But a Trojan Horse like that, they could be expecting."
"I've got enough gear to get up high, but then there's the problem of getting onto the roof. Bat usually glides, but this is built for his frame, not mine. I might not be able to control it and I've never practiced." And there's the problem of taking out whoever's in the windows before they fill me with holes. He had one idea, but he had to make sure he had the right gear for it. "Am I going to have to worry about police guns as well as kidnappers'?"
The Commissioner's eyes darted back to the scene around the corner. "Not today. I'll make that clear. Just....don't go shooting their way." He was uncomfortable with this whole thing. He didn't know who the Batman was, but he'd grown to trust the caped vigilante. Because of the Joker, he'd nearly lost his family. Accepting the possibility that he was under the Batman's control was quite a bit different than sitting side by side with him and sending him into their standoff. However. He'd made a leap of faith for the Batman before.... "Tell me where you need to get on the roof, and I'll see that my cops are out of the way."
Doing a bit of calculating, Joker grabbed the back of Gordon's head, turning him to be certain he was looking exactly where he pointed. He took a small amount of pleasure in the way the man twitched at the contact. "There. One way or another, I'm getting to the roof and through one of the top floor windows from that ledge there. A straight shot. I may try gliding so make sure your coppers have given a wide enough berth."
Underneath layers of the police uniform and his own bulletproof vest, Gordon's entire body froze. He couldn't make his throat any less dry, but he did see the ledge, and managed a very stiff nod. "Got it." His voice wavered slightly, but he managed to wrench his head free of the Joker's gloved fingertips. Once he was out of the madman's personal space, he could focus on the top of the building again. "We think they've got one man on the roof, possibly one inside watching the top floor windows, but he'll have to rotate between them if that's the case. Are you ready?"
"I'll have to be, won't I?" Joker muttered back, then took the grappling gun from his belt again, hooking himself up to the rooftop level again. He'd just have to hope that Gordon would clear the path while he worked his way over towards the point he'd indicated. It took a few minutes to do so, and another check of the belt's contents told him that he was short on the equipment needed for his idea. Fuck. There's nothing here to make a fixed slide-line. Replacing the grappler, Joker felt around for the handholds in the cloak. ...gliding it is.
Gordon headed out into the fading light when the black clad figure of the Joker disappeared over the side of the alley. He had to get the word out quickly, and they had to get out of the "new" Batman's way without making it obvious to Wayne's captors inside the building. Getting on the radio, he began firing rapid orders to his team, reorganizing sections one after another out of range of the Joker's ledge. Above all they were not to fire if they did see the Batman.
Joker paced for a few minutes, sweeping the wings of the cape out on the rooftop out of view. He wouldn't get another chance at this, and splattering himself over the pavement wouldn't save Bruce. Taking a deep breath, he turned and ran at the edge of the platform, launching himself out into thin air. He'd experienced freefall before and had no real fear of heights, but he still held his breath as he extended his arms in either direction and tried to catch the air currents.
The result was anything but graceful; he hadn't practiced, the wind shifted without warning, and it was a greater strain on his arms than he'd anticipated. It was blind luck that he hadn't been spotted by a lookout yet. Curving his path slightly, Joker spotted movement in the window he'd been aiming for; a guard had finally noticed him. Gritting his teeth, the madman tucked the wings closer and dove through the window, smashing through glass and into the armed lookout.
Some of the cops started shouting. They'd seen the Batman, but being far out of range of his take off point, had no chance of getting close. Gordon, watching out of the corner of his eye, had seen the madman's flight. It was quite a spectacle. The Commissioner couldn't believe he'd made it.
Inside the building, Bruce was finally getting his chance. The clowns in the room had caught onto the cops' movement. Their plan was taking some time, far longer than they had perhaps expected, and some of them were getting antsy. He watched all eyes in the room closely, and whenever he could, he dug at the ropes around his hands with the pin of the cufflink.
Joker didn't waste any time - as soon as he recovered from the impact he snatched up a piece of glass, shoving it through the man's throat as soon as he opened his mouth to call out to the others. Grabbing the thug's gun, he hit the end of the shard with the butt of the weapon, driving it deeped and making the edge shatter. Watching the man's fearful eyes slowly glaze over as he gurgled his last few breaths, a familiar old thrill went through the clown. Closing his eyes, he breathed deep, absorbing the noises and scents and sensations. His promise had been forgotten.
After only a few seconds he came back to himself, remembering: he'd come here for a very specific purpose. They'd taken Bruce, they'd threatened Bruce's life, and they'd impersonated him. A red haze settling over his vision, Joker grinned and snuck out into the hallway. He knew what to do about that.
With the cops waiting, antsy, outside and most of the clown thugs now covering the windows as lookouts, Bruce finally snapped his hands free. No one noticed yet. His gaze moved round the room, mapping it quickly, deciding which man to take down first. If he could get one away from the others, he could take the man's gun, but he'd have to use the his body as a shield and Bruce wasn't ready to do that. Gun first, then cover, preferably behind the metal paneled reception desk. He could take out their legs if he had to. The plan was just solidifying in his mind when his ears picked up movement from the back of the room.
The first gunshot certainly got the attention of everyone in the room, turning as one of the gunmen went down and Batman stepped out of the shadows grinning like a maniac. More shots followed in quick succession, continuing until the weapon was empty, and it became apparent at that point that the vigilante was shooting to disable instead of kill. Out of bullets, the man in black flung the useless gun at one of the remaining goons, drawing what looked like a pair of jagged, scalloped knives and launching himself at the men still standing.
Bruce saw himself for the first time. As Batman, this was what he must look like in a room full of thugs. It was strange, how he caught on so quickly to what must have happened. The Joker was here to save him. When the knives came out, he dove for the thug nearest him, taking the man down by momentum and surprise alone and using his own rope to tie the man's hands and feet behind his back. They could have been in a rodeo. When he looked up, the Joker's knives were still flashing, and he couldn't tell if any of the clowns had realized that this was not in fact the real Batman.
Whether or not they realized it, they were horrified. Nothing was going according to plan now and the Batman, though feared in and of himself, had always been known as being more of a cop than one of their murderous own. Joker was cutting wide swathes through them without seeming to break a sweat, and now that he had most of them disabled he was coming back for fun. The last man to go down was the first unfortunate victim; Joker maimed and sliced almost without thinking, doing whatever impulse he had at the moment and smiling all the while. When the victim ran out of blood he moved onto the next without even a pause, leaving the shredded body to twitch and whiten in its bloody pool.
Bruce launched himself too late. One man dead, another dying, the Joker had lost control and he hadn't realized it until it was too late. His hands wrapped themselves around the Batman's arms, pulling back as hard as he could, planting his feet with what little traction the slick shoes he was wearing afforded him. He could tell the man he'd been trying to save was going. Too much blood was running out of his neck. Another moaned from behind them. Their ringleader was somewhere in the mess.
Joker made an odd sound when Bruce grabbed him, a laugh that had a predatory note reminiscent of a hyena's cry. Blood was spattered all over the armor, making him even harder to hold onto, and he slipped out of the lock, moving onto the next victim in the lineup. When Bruce caught ahold of him again and tried to pry him away and disarm him Joker whipped around with a snarl. He looked like he was drunk and high, wavering and dreamlike. It took a moment before he recognized Bruce, but when he did the batarangs clattered to the floor. He reached out and touched Bruce's cheeks with dripping red hands, what had been a feral grimace suddenly transformed into a gentle, loving, and overly relieved smile.
The expression wasn't mirrored. In fact, it might be said that the very opposite occurred in Bruce's eyes. What gratitude and relief he had felt at seeing the Joker here for him had shifted swiftly into shock. They stood there, in a spattering of blood and softly groaning bodies, the Joker's hands on his face, his mouth, but he felt like they were an arm's length apart. He wasn't moving. His gaze flashed with hurt as he stared into the Joker's face. It got bad enough that he couldn't look at the man anymore, not with those bloody hands and torn smile, so soberly happy behind Bruce's own face. Instead he let his gaze drop, down to the men on the floor. He moved to check the pulse of one.
Confusion filtered into Joker's expression behind the mask as he watched Bruce step away and go towards one of the men on the ground. He didn't, couldn't understand. He'd just rushed across the city to save Bruce, punished those who'd taken him away, and it had felt so good, like breathing air again after drowning, and... "...oh..." he whispered, one piece to the puzzle snapping into place as his mind gradually came back to him. Joker took in the devastation of the room, looked down at the gore on Batman's armor and the pool of red he was standing in.
"Oh." Bruce's voice was like an echo in the silence. The man before him was long dead. So were half of the others. He knelt on the floor, away from the Joker. "Oh."
And that was it. That's all he had to say. After so long, so much time with Bruce....at the first chance he got, he'd lost himself to the bloodlust completely. Just like he'd lost himself lusting after Batman. Bruce was.....just a force to keep him at bay. A stand-in for the drug he didn't allow the Joker to have. He realized then that though he had known this all along, had even depended on it at one point, now was the first time it really hit him and it really mattered. With all the plans that they'd been making recently, he'd been hoping, been needing for this not to be true. He needed it to be workable, and with effort, controllable. Just like the Joker constantly mocked him for. This was not going to be the case. That was painfully, painfully obvious.
Finally Bruce stood, turning back toward his 'savior'.
Joker visibly flinched, shrinking in on himself but not backing up. He couldn't bring himself to quite look at Bruce. "...I didn't... I just happened. I didn't mean to... break my promise. Not to you." The madman swallowed. He looked at the dead and dying men on the floor and felt no pity, no real remorse for their sake. He had no regret for hurting and killing them, but he did for hurting Bruce and breaking his word.
Joker tentatively took a step closer, still not-quite daring to look at the other man. "......I'm sorry."
Bruce let him. He made no move to avoid the Joker nor intimidate him. "That's not enough." He felt....lost, in a sea of blood. He could say that literally, standing where they were, but it was meant figuratively. Past that one event in his life, that's all that he ever amounted to. One flowing well of blood, no matter how hard he tried to interrupt it. The Joker was like one giant wave of it. What had ever made him think that the man would do anything but what he was meant to do? The madman was right, all along. He hadn't known anything else. With dripping red fingerprints across his lips and cheek, Bruce looked broken in front of the clown turned Bat. He might have let himself crumble if movement from the police hadn't been rising outside.
Joker hesitated, not quite numb enough to be uncaring over whether the police caught him like this or not. He desperately wanted to drag Bruce with him to the Tumbler but was uncertain whether the other man would even let him, much less whether he could get them both out under the policemen's noses. Giving Bruce one last remorseful look, Joker vaulted up the stairs, running for a window in one of the rooms on the upper floor.
When the police came crashing through the windows and breaking down the door, they found Bruce Wayne staring vacantly at the far stairs, hunched slightly and smeared with blood, surrounded by bodies of the former criminals. Some were still alive. Some were very not. It was only sign that Batman had been in the room just moments before Gotham PD.
"Mr. Wayne." A hand on Bruce's shoulder turned him away from what must have been the vigilante's exit point. A few cops took chase up the stairs, but Bruce didn't bother to watch. When he turned, there was Gordon, just like he always was. Always such wide, sincere eyes. It was a bit startling to go from the Joker's face, even obscured by the cowl, to the Commissioner's. "Are you alright?" he asked when Bruce didn't respond.
"I.....think so." And Bruce didn't have to work to put the hesitation in his tone.
Joker managed to get off a good shot with the grappling gun, swooping out through a window and up the side of a nearby building. Without Gordon's protection and with the police much closer to the building he was shot at without hesitation, bullets whistling through the air nearby and shattering brick and stone. Joker scrambled up to safety as fast as he could, furious with the cops for firing on him and worried in more ways than one. He ran as fast as he could across the rooftops back to the Tumbler, not wanting to risk getting caught by a helicopter.
The cops helped Bruce out of the building. He wasn't saying much. Their questions received little more than a mumble or two. It wasn't until Gordon, feeling it was his own responsibility to do so, pressed a towel to the young socialite's face, wiping away much of the blood, that he realized it wasn't Bruce's own. He was covered in somebody else's. It was smeared all around his mouth, across his high cheekbones. Gordon wanted to know more than ever what exactly it was that the Joker had done in there, but he couldn't ask, and Bruce wasn't telling. Yet.
[Note: We do apologize again for the long wait. As of now, there are but two chapters left to go. They'll be posted throughout the weekend. Have a merry time this Thanksgiving (and Eid! \o/) with some fic.]