Police units were still in pursuit of the fleeing Batman, but Joker made it back to the Tumbler in one piece and miraculously free of bullet holes. Jumping into the driver's seat, he hit the button for putting Alfred on speaker while the panels slid closed and the engine started. "Freddy, I got him out but the cops charged in. I need help getting out." Bruce should be alright, left in their care.
Alfred's voice, tiny but particular as ever, sparked to life in the Joker's ear. "All right then. You'll want to take the first exit you can onto the highway, which should be two blocks up and to your left. After which, you should take the very first exit you can off of the highway, even if no exit is there. Do so to get onto to the intersecting street without running into the blockade the police have set up on the highway. From there you should be able to reach the underwater railway. You do remember the underwater rail, yes?"
Joker nodded, then realized Alfred couldn't see him. "Yes, I remember." There was a squealing of tires as he followed the butler's instructions, police sirens wailing in the background as they tried to predict the car's movement and head him off. "Keep me updated if you see something change. Can you see if Bat is outside yet?"
"Yes. They've moved him to the squad cars on the south end. It seems as though they are questioning him." The butler's voice cut out for a moment, but a telling one. "Is he alright?" From what he was seeing on the screen, too dark in fading dusk and too far away on the satellite, Bruce wasn't putting up much of an effort to tell the police that he was okay.
"I don't know. He... wasn't bleeding that I could tell." He wasn't quite sure whether he should tell Alfred what had transpired or not. Joker couldn't be certain how he would react and whether that reaction would worsen his position with Bruce. "... I... think I upset him."
If puzzlement could be palpable over their connection, it was here. There were a great many things that the Joker could have done in a situation such as this to upset Bruce, and Alfred was not sure which was the most likely. "We'll chat about it when you get back. Focus. One step at a time."
Joker swallowed, trying not to be distracted by the uncharacteristic anxiety that was eating at him. He kept his eyes on the road, doing his best to avoid causing damage to property and life for once. He didn't want to make Bruce more upset than he already was.
The chase seemed to drag on and on, but Joker in actuality lost the police in a relatively short time. Driving into the hidden entrance back to the lair, he slowed the Tumbler down into an easy roll. He could see Alfred waiting by the computer terminal once he finally pulled in. He parked and pushed the button to open the panels, his borrowed armored gloves making an odd sound from the sticky, dried blood.
It wasn't the first time the butler had seen Batman come home covered in it, but this time his eyes widened perceptibly. His hands left the keys in mid stroke as he took the Joker in. Besides a light limp, likely from running too much, he seemed fine. The blood he was covered in was not his then. "What....exactly did you do that has upset Master Bruce?"
Joker made his way slowly towards the terminal, peeling the cowl off as he moved. It was obvious from his expression that he was preoccupied, and he couldn't quite make himself meet Alfred's eyes. "...I got mad and a little carried away when saving him. I really didn't mean to."
Somehow when the Joker said things like this, it still hasn't ceased to amaze Alfred. He wasn't quite sure if he would ever become used to an apology from the Joker. Wanting neither himself nor the fugitive to dwell on it however, he did his best to cover for the moment he was taken aback. "Will they live?" The old man could put two and two together. "Whoever's blood that is?"
Joker shook his head in silence, a glimmer of tears threatening to escape. His fear, sadness and guilt had nothing to do with the dead and dying, however; his preoccupation was only with how this would affect Bruce and, in turn, their relationship.
The butler's mouth closed. There wasn't much more than needed asking after that. He was fairly sure he knew what had angered Bruce now. And he was fairly sure that the Joker's remorse was not for whomever he had killed as Bruce would have wished it to be. But still, it was remorse either way. Alfred straightened his back a little, and nodded. "I'll leave you to prepare for his return then. I'm sure I'll get a call any minute now to pick him up from the station." There was a moment of hesitation before Alfred left. He looked at the man, dressed awkwardly as a bat, and...and actually felt sorry for him. "I'll be sure to bring a warm cup of tea along. Maybe lighten his spirits."
Joker nodded, not looking the least bit convinced that tea would fix anything. He turned instead and trudged off towards the hated bathroom. Luckily the blood had dried to the point where it was impossible to leave footprints behind. Turning on the water in the shower stall, Joker stepped in while still in Bat's armor.
Once the water had taken the worst of the gore off the suit Joker began to strip it off piece by piece. Plates and mesh clattered into the wall and littered the floor in a wet puddle. The clown himself huddled down into the water, watching it run over his skin. It didn't make the slightest bit of difference; the stream wouldn't change his appearance and it certainly wouldn't change Bruce's mind about anything. He could take one of his knives and peel off his skin and Bat would still consider him sin-stained.
Grabbing one of the washcloths, Joker began scrubbing as hard as he could.
Alfred checked and rechecked police frequencies. The Joker, now unmasked so to speak as a copycat, was neutralized. Alfred knew that. Batman was involved. He also knew that. No mention of a Batman imposter. Good. Bruce was in the station. Routine. The butler did not want to leave him there for long, so he took what he needed, phone, keys, identification, and went quickly back up to the Manor.
As he moved away from Bruce's study, down the hall he could distinctly hear the shower running. Only one other person was in the house. One person who never, ever, went into the bathroom without Bruce.
Joker had scrubbed until his skin was red and raw, going too roughly over a few more recent scabs and reopening the wounds. He shut off the water in disgust, stepping out of the stall and snatching up the closest towel. All his washing hadn't made him feel any better. His face was twisted in self-loathing and despair as the threat of tears still loomed, blurring the edges of his vision. He was so preoccupied with his thoughts he didn't even hear footsteps in the hallway.
A soft knock on the door came a moment later. "Are you alright in there?" Alfred's voice was as quiet as his knuckles on the other side of the door had been. He could not shake the deep sense of worry that had enveloped him with the sound of lightly rushing water, that had suddenly stopped.
There was silence for a moment, followed by a soft padding of feet towards the door. Light brightened the hallway as the portal opened hesitantly. The man who appeared in the gap looked anything but his normal self - water-soaked, scared, and beaten. "...do you think he'd forgive me, maybe, if I cut off my hands?" he finally whispered.
"Losing one's Hands won't make either of you feel any better." There was a very deep sadness in the butler's face when he spoke now. "That won't fix anything. You'd.....well, I would imagine you'd lose yourself even further." That's the way the man before him looked now. Lost. Alfred's mouth pressed into a thin, watery frown. "You do remind me of him sometimes, you know. On occasion. Whenever he fails, he never forgives himself for it."
The statement just made Joker's expression even more stricken. Still clutching the towel around his waist in one hand, he rested his weight back on the doorframe, burying his face in the other hand as the emotions finally spilled over. But it's not about forgiving myself. It's about him forgiving me, and he won't.
The old butler bent down, as close to the man's side as he could get without upsetting him further. "He is afraid. Afraid that if he forgives you, it will happen over and over again. And I don't suppose he thinks he can live like that." He felt as though he were talking to Bruce again, long ago when the subject of this conversation himself was torn inside out so often. When he felt he did not understand the world. When would break down enough and Alfred was the only person there, and Bruce would finally have to let it all out. "He's just afraid."
The slender man shivered in the cold hallway air, clenching his jaw against the small, helpless sounds of despair that finally won out. His fear of the older man kept him at bay for a few moments before sheer internal turmoil won out - that, and the months of having grown used to human comfort. Stepping forward with the hesitation of a small child, Joker stopped just before his hidden face touched Alfred's shoulder, close enough that a tear or two escaped his fingers and dropped onto the fabric.
Alfred reached out, like he'd done time and again for Bruce when he was younger, used to providing comfort even if he had not been able to comprehend doing so for this man. He rubbed circles into the weeping Joker's back, skin still damp. It didn't seem to bother the old man. For as much as they tormented one another, he had grown somewhat used to the Joker's presence. He'd seen Bruce embrace him a hundred times. Reassurance was something that Bruce hadn't asked for from Alfred for a long time, but it was ingrained into the old man nevertheless.
Joker gradually relaxed, unused to warm gestures from anyone but Bruce, but it was more than welcome. Eventually he stepped back, a mix of quiet embarrassment and sorrow radiating off of him. He couldn't bring himself to quite meet the butler's gaze. "...you should go check on Bat," he finally murmured.
The butler nodded, still not taking his gaze off the Joker. "He wants to accept you, you know. Give him a reason. It's....it's not a lost cause." Alfred waited until the space between them returned to normalcy before he gave Bruce's charge one last once over. "Just hang in there, okay?"
The madman flinched and said nothing, nodding very slightly. "...I'm going to go get dressed. Just bring Bat home." With that he padded off down the hall in silence.
When he was gone, Alfred hurried out to the garage in silence, expecting his phone to ring at any moment.
Across the river, half a city away in the heart of Gotham, Bruce had allowed the police to take him down to the station to make sure he was okay and for a fair amount of questioning. He was eerily silent most of the time. The Commissioner could only guess what was going on inside the billionaire's mind, having once again crossed into the path of the caped crusader and the mad clown. Probably trying to figure out if he was incredibly lucky, or incredibly unlucky to have survived it all so far. Bruce had not mentioned Batman's altered persona. Whether this was because he simply didn't notice the difference, or what had gone on inside the center had jarred him so much that he couldn't speak of it right away, Gordon did not know. He did, however, find it most interesting. If the billionaire had noticed that Batman was a certain someone else underneath that mask, and if that certain someone else had done something to Bruce to make him so quiet, then he and Gordon were the only two people who knew of it that night.
Commissioner Gordon was working very hard to get Bruce alone. They were going through the routine questions with him, what he'd seen, what he'd heard, how the clowns had acted, as routine as a kidnapping of this scale ever got. Gordon however had other questions about the Batman, and the Joker pretending to be the Batman. And Wayne always seemed to fall into the middle of it on more than one occasion. The young billionaire was doing little better at responding to their interrogation than a rock. His mind was elsewhere, caught back at the center replaying those moments like a videotape, then fastforwarding to the Manor, only guessing what the madman had done when he'd left.
Gordon finally convinced most of the cops on duty to occupy themselves elsewhere for a time; there were pushy newspeople to deal with, crime scene evidence to guard, collect and analyze, and the normal work that they lived for everyday. All the noise and bustle wasn't doing a bit of good in getting the billionaire to talk and it certainly wasn't doing anything for the shock he must be suffering.
Sending the last officer out of the room with orders to bring more refreshments in a bit, Gordon sighed and ran a hand through his greying hair. Walking back to the table, he sat down across from Bruce Wayne, giving the man some space. "I know this must be hard on you, Mr. Wayne, after everything you've been through today, but we need to know as much as you can tell us. Take your time."
Bruce's eyes moved from an old residual coffee stain on the table up to register Gordon, but the look on his face was still as blank as ever. Out of all of them Gordon was the only one he would have trusted. Big, soulful blue eyes garnered his trust when he was told his parents wouldn't be coming back from the dead. The same eyes he'd trusted time after time as Batman. Hands that shook his and reassured him once again when he became "Bruce Wayne, playboy socialite, stalked by the Gotham's most wanted clown criminal". Now he was afraid to look into those eyes, knowing they would bring him only more bad news. Batman gone, Joker gone wild.
Gordon sipped at his coffee and sighed, disappointment creasing his features before he smoothed them away. It took patience to deal with post-traumatic stress, and getting irritated wouldn't do anyone any good. "Mr. Wayne, please. I know how big a shock today must have been, by all accounts. We really do need to know what you saw, however. Anything you saw or heard, normal or out of the ordinary. We know Batman entered the building, but he disappeared right after we got inside and hasn't turned up since. We don't even know if we've accounted for everyone that was involved." Accounted for, involved. So much better than asking 'have we found all the bodies?'
"He came in, took the clowns out, and then left." Bruce spoke in a monotone. He was all but staring through Gordon. "You didn't catch him, did you?" Bruce nearly kicked himself right there. He should have thought of that right away. What if the police did catch the Joker? He was good at disappearing, but Bruce had no idea how good he was at playing Batman while disappearing.
Gordon shook his head, absently taking a sip of the coffee he'd brought in awhile ago, then pulling a face - it'd grown cold and stale. "No, we didn't, but there has to be more to it than that. Batman... has never done something like this before. There's something you aren't telling me." The older man watched Bruce closely, looking for any of the little signs that gave people away. Does he know? "How good a look did you get at him? The lab results came back from all the blood we found on you. All of it was from the kidnappers, and none of them were close to you, and you didn't have a scratch on you... but there were fingerprint marks on your face." Why would he do that? Might as well ask how Batman could trust Joker enough to let him run free with all his equipment...
Bruce remained motionless. "Batman doesn't kill? .....that's not what the papers say."" Finally his eyes dropped. His fingers itched to clench and his chest hurt from the pent up emotion, but that's all he did. His voice remained steady. He really did hate to mislead Gordon. He was one of the few people Bruce trusted inherently. "Too bad that blood smeared so much. Else you could have caught him, huh?" There was still quite a lot of it on his neck and cheeks.
Gordon sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose; he wanted to get closer, use a different tactic for trying to coax information out of the millionaire, but he knew anything that wasn't standard procedure would be seen and noted on the room's camera. "Mr. Wayne... Bruce. I really would appreciate it if you'd stop dancing around my questions. I can't help you if you aren't frank with me." He leaned forward again, fixing Bruce with tired blue eyes. "Something about you made Batman stop what he was doing to everyone else in the room and touch your face with both hands. He would have had to get very close to do that, and would have to have a reason."
Ah, there it was. A barely perceptible flicker. Bruce Wayne was being astonishingly good at hiding, for someone who was rumored to be so flamboyant and idiotic. "You noticed something different about him when he was that close, didn't you? I saw it too, saw him before he got in the building." He let Bruce absorb that information for a moment. "I don't think he would have acted like that, would have touched you like that, unless he knew you well. What's your relationship to him?"
Bruce couldn't help it then, his eyes widened when he looked up at Gordon. He had to be interrogated by this man, of all people, on the night the Joker betrayed him, of all nights. His nerves were fraying inside. He wet his lips before he spoke. If Gordon had seen "Batman" before he'd broken into the building that night, then he knew. But Bruce could neither admit that the man with Batman's suit and gear had been anyone other than Batman in front of the camera, nor admit that he had any sway over what the real Batman did or did not do. "There isn't one. He just keeps crashing my party. I......I think I lost it. Tried to grab him. He went sort of crazy. Snapped out of it then, put his hands on my face, and then left." His gaze leveled with the Commissioner's.
"Bruce, basic forensics says otherwise. There weren't any signs of struggle between you and Batman. You don't need to be concerned that we're taping this conversation - we aren't. This is all between you and me, and you're not in any trouble. You and I both know that wasn't the nor-... wasn't the same Batman in that room with you today. I need to know how you know each other. I need to know what he did, what he said."
Was Gordon lying about the camera? More importantly, did it matter? As much as he wished to trust this man, to confide in him, Bruce could not, camera or no camera. The Commissioner could not know who the real Batman was, and if Bruce admitted he could sway over the Joker in any way, well....Gordon already knew who the only man on earth who held that sway over him was. It was too risky. "He was crazy. That's all I know."
Disappointment creased the older man's features, but he nodded. "I don't know what tie you have to Joker, but he doesn't seem to be out to kill you. He'd have done that today if he was. You don't have to tell me what happened between the two of you, Mr. Wayne, but I can't help you unless you decide to give me the tools I need to do so. Holding that man's fascination is a dangerous thing." Rising from his chair, Gordon picked up the binder of papers that had been left on the table. "Call me if you change your mind, and I can find us somewhere safe and private to talk. I'll send a nurse in to do one last checkup and then you can go. Is there someone I should call to pick you up?"
Bruce went from looking at the table to Gordon, then at the table again. He let the man's warning go with only a slight nod to show that he'd understood. "Alfred. Call Alfred Pennyworth. I'll give you the number."
As it turned out, the butler had already made it down to the station, and had been trying to get in to see Bruce for over ten minutes. The police weren't going to let him through until Gordon was finished with Mr. Wayne, and the old man was having a few very stern words with them out in the foyer.
Gordon's aggravation tightened the lines in his face before he smoothed them away, moving briskly towards the arguing group. "Clancy, send Laura in for one last checkup just to be sure. The rest of you, get back to work." Raising an eyebrow at the stragglers that looked like they wanted to stay, he shook his head, then extended a hand to the butler. "Mr. Pennyworth. I apologize for the wait; we were just finishing up. Bruce told me to call you to pick him up while the nurse finishes with him, but I see you're ahead of us all." Gordon smiled briefly, looking friendly but bone-tired. "Mr. Wayne was very lucky. He came out of that situation without a scratch on him that we could find."
"Very lucky indeed," replied the butler, moving through the policemen easily now that Gordon was behind him. He didn't wait to be let in, nor seemed particularly concerned with whether the nurse was finished or not when he stepped into the room they'd been holding Bruce. The younger man's attention snapped up to him and he rose from the table in spite of the nurse's resistance.
"Alfred, it's good to see you." Bruce brushed Laura's hands away from him. "Thank you, but I just want to go home."
"But there's still-" Taking in the tense, irritated gazes from all three males in the room, Laura frowned. "Keep a watch on him for signs of internal injury or trauma. The first hint you see, call a medical professional and get him checked out," she admonished Alfred, packing up her box of tools and supplies. "I'll not have a patient of mine suffer, even if he's too stubborn to let me finish the exam." Snapping the case shut, she left the room.
Watching her go, Gordon turned his gaze back to Bruce after Laura got out of earshot. "Remember what we talked about, Mr. Wayne. Give me a call if you change your mind."
With a slow nod, Bruce stepped past Gordon. The situation all this would put him wasn't going to go well at all. He knew the Commissioner would watch Wayne more than ever now that his interest had been piqued. He could only hope that if the man did find out his secret, it wouldn't change things. He paused at the door. "Thank you, Gordon."
The Commissioner nodded and watched the pair leave the station. Walking back to his office with the interrogation documents, he tossed the folder on his desk. Something more was going on with Bruce Wayne than met the eye. It was more than just his insistence that he had no knowledge and the small signs he'd finally made that revealed his lying. It was the ease at which the man had slipped into lying, and lying convincingly. He'd never expected Bruce Wayne to be that good of an actor. The real questions were, why had he honed that skill, and how often was it used? And why was the Joker, who'd made such a public spectacle over targeting the Wayne family in the past, behaved so bizarrely around the man during that horrific raid?