'I've been thinking about what you said and I want to see where things can go. Where I can go. What I can become.'
'That's wonderful Matchstick. Now we can start to have real fun. I knew you'd come around.'
Bruce leaned his back against the wall, sliding down to sit. His mind running a million miles per-minute. He had gotten the reaction he had been expecting. The start of a new power play between the two of them. One that he would win. Precautions still needed to be put in place. Bruce knew what the Joker would now expect him to do and that just wasn't simply an option. He couldn't kill someone and yet at the same time he needed Joker to believe that he could pull his strings. Everything he was doing was risky, but that's just how his life went. As he lifted his hand and tapped another message for the madman on the other side of the wall, he prepared for his plan to either succeed or fail.
'There's still things I'm not sure I'm comfortable with doing.' It was a petty excuse for someone posing as a criminal, but he knew Joker would enjoy the challenge.
Joker didn't even hesitate with his response.
'Got to stop putting limits on yourself. I keep telling you that. Makes me wonder if you even truly want my help.'
The detective wondered then if his entire plan was for naught. Joker was intelligent, he could catch on to lies easily. Bruce was sure the only true reason he hadn't been discovered yet was simply because the clown wasn't bothering to figure it out. Joker liked games and with his intrigue with Matches was just another game to him. The clown wouldn't want to end things too soon. It was an unavoidable factor of how he had survived this long and had gotten away with as much as he had. Joker just didn't put enough thought on seeing his disguise as anything but what he wanted it to be. It worked in Bruce's favor and he was determined to use it to his advantage. A few seconds passed and another message was tapped for him.
'That's alright. It's just one of the things I need to fix. Don't you worry about a thing.'
Bruce gritted his teeth in frustration. Feeling more tired than he had earlier reading the letters. More exhausted than all the nights he spent out on the streets as Batman. However, his plan was working. Joker was playing right into his hand and wasn't concerned enough to figure it out. If the clown thought he could manipulate him then he wouldn't be keeping his guard up and not expecting that it was actually the other way around. It was almost too easy. Almost. Not close enough for comfort.
'Do I really have much of a choice in the matter?' He tapped back. It was more of a statement than a question. At least for Joker's benefit. No doubt it would be placating the maniac on the other side.
'Don't be silly. We all have choices, but let's be honest with each other; shall we? Since when were you the one in control?'
Joker's message felt like a nail in the coffin for more reasons than the clown could ever know. Bruce never really had much of a choice in how his life turned out since that fateful night at eight years old. Gotham would have never allowed it. Even if he did try to fight against it. When white pearls hit the concrete and crimson splattered on his face; the Batman was born. A future of never ending fights for Justice had taken hold for his path. Never allowed to go back to a simpler time. A pain that would always drape him in its dark embrace and demand to take everything from him if he didn't do something about it. Despite that he still made choices. Never once allowing himself to slip off the edge when it would be so easily done. Batman kept his code and the unfortunate consequence would always bring more death. Even then he still managed to make Gotham a safer place. Prevented crimes from escalating and saving countless lives. As long as he lived he knew he would continue to do so.
'Yeah. I know.' Bruce tapped back the simple answer. For all the reasons that would be lost on the clown.
Silence ran between them and Bruce wondered if the Joker was done communicating with him for the night. If he was he wouldn't press it. Honestly that would be the most preferable outcome. For Joker though; nothing would ever be enough. The clown would never take the option to make his life any easier. A fact of life that wouldn't change. At least for now.
'So we need to have a little chat.'
Bruce felt his body stiffen at that. His mind racing to many different scenarios the Joker could mean. He couldn't lose his cool though. Even if whatever the clown wanted to discuss could be a detriment to his plans. He'd just work around it. It's what he did after all. Always a plan B or plan C when needed. A level head was the best approach for his line of work and without it well he'd most likely be dead by now. Keeping his calm; he responded.
'I saw you talking with Harley. Mind telling me what that was about?' The tapping against the wall went fast; almost too fast for Bruce to catch the message. A tell-tale sign that the clown was irritated. It should have fired off warning signs in his mind; it didn't. Not that it would change anything. Bruce was positive when all of this was over then the Joker would be absolutely livid; worth it.
A full minute passed between them as Bruce contemplated his answer. Already knowing how possessive the madman could be over his toys. He knew already that he had crossed a line when he went to speak with Quinn. A decision that he wouldn't take back; no matter how incensed it would make Joker. She had needed someone to listen to her and Bruce knew damn well no one around here would have done that for her. In the end all he could hope for was that someday she would see reason that the Joker was more toxic for her life than anything else. If that day ever came well he knew Batman would help her in any way he could for her rehabilitation. An option he had offered to all of the enemies he fought in the night. Life always came down to choices and Bruce would always be there for the ones who decided to turn their life around; not that it happened with any of them yet. Still he held on to hope that one day that might be the case. Opting for the partial truth with the Joker; he tapped his message slowly, but precise for the madman wouldn't miss-hear him.
'I pitied her and wanted to help, that's all there was to it.'
Even with just a wall between them he could hear the Joker's laughter at his simple response. Well at least the jester found it more amusing than anything. Which could be a good sign or a dangerous one. Never easy to tell when it came down to him. Bruce had learned that the hard way over the years so he never took it with a grain of salt for a sense of safety. Only the naive would make that mistake and that always ended with their lives being cut short. Best to always keep his guard up. Protect himself from a feigned form of reassurance. The taps back were frantic and barely contained a message in them. Seemed the clown needed a moment to calm himself down. Might as well ignore those for now. It took a good bit of time before the madman was able to relax from his laughter fit to form a coherent response.
'Looks like there is a big softy under all that brutality.'
Bruce sighed. Already knowing what the Joker would respond next with. It didn't change his bitterness when his assessment had been proven correct.
'I. Don't. Like. It.' The taps were hard against the wall, sending a vibration down Bruce's back while he rested against it.
Against his better judgement and only following through with his next message because of necessity for his own plans to come to foliation.
'I know. Why do you think I've agreed to your plans in the first place?'
Joker went silent again. As if he was contemplating on Bruce's words. Another clear sign that he knew how to play to the clown's ego when it suited him. Playing his own mind games of his own instead of the other way around. Joker may claim that he hated order but at the same time he always wanted to be the one in control of his situations. Throwing a murderous tantrum when things didn't go his way. Often leaving a huge body count in his wake for small infractions against him. At the same time it also made him a little more predictable with placating. Just a little. Not by much. Better than nothing. So, Bruce used it to his advantage when he could. Like right now.
The next tap against the wall was different, however. Bruce listened closely; trying to decipher any message the clown was trying to get across.
Only two knocks.
Wait a bit.
Another two knocks.
What was he trying to even say?
That's not even a message.
Much to Bruce's annoyance it took him far too long to get an understanding what the Joker was doing. A gruff of exasperation came from him when he did. His hand running through his dyed brown hair as the forming of a mild headache started to hit him hard.
The start of a knock-knock joke.
Couldn't Joker take anything seriously?
Joker only took one thing seriously and that was Batman.
Having no other option then to humor him; he tapped back. A little harder than what was preferred. Bruce couldn't help it. He never thought in his entire life he would ever have to put up with knock-knock jokes from a homicidal psychopathic clown.
A few taps.
A burst of laughter was again heard on the other side of the door. Grating on his thin patience.
'Dishes just the beginning. Matchbox!'
A small smirk threatened to form on the detective countenance. Joker was right. This was only the beginning. A battle that Bruce was guaranteed to win when all was said and done. Joker could laugh all he wanted to now; he wouldn't be laughing for long. The game was set and the clown didn't expect a thing because he wasn't putting enough of his own focus to do so. If Joker did then he would see the obvious trap being set up for him. The clown, however was too arrogant for his own good. A fatal mistake that would destroy all of the murderers plans and future plans. As long as no slip ups were made then he could handle anything the Joker had in mind. Bruce was ready for it. Ready for what would come forth. He wouldn't lose; he couldn't afford to. What Bruce wasn't ready for was another set of knock-knock jokes and he realized his one mistake. He doubted he would be getting much sleep tonight or any other progress done for Joker was in a playful mood and wouldn't take kindly to being ignored.
You win some, you lose some. Bruce thought to himself bitterly as he resigned himself to his fate of a long night ahead of him.
Upon wakening he could already feel the chill that would indicate another day of bad weather in Gotham City. Blue eyes gazed at the ceiling as all he wanted to do was lay there and not think on another day he would be dealing with the murderous clown. Already pretty positive he only managed to get close to three hours of sleep; at least he was accustomed to that. Sleep rarely came in his life as it was despite much to Alfred's insistence that he get more. Bruce wondered with dry humor how his father figure would react to learning that the reason he didn't get much sleep this night was because he was forced into several hours of listening to morbid knock-knock jokes. A low chuckle escaped him at the image alone. He must have been more exhausted than he thought if he found any humor in last night occurrence. His late night conversation with the clown playing on repeat in his head. He knew things would be different for them now. Joker would no doubt be planning on ways to break his mind apart and mold it into what he wanted. Not that Bruce would let him succeed; if anything he would flip the cards into his favor. Now he just needed to figure out how to go about each new situation that would show themselves in time. With a tired groan and resigning himself to the day ahead he got up to start his day.
The chill was still prevalent in his room even after his shower so he opted for wearing a black pull-over hoodie over a plain black shirt; instead of a dress shirt that he normally wore. It was a nice change of pace from suits when he lived his life as Bruce Wayne and the Bat-Suit he'd wear for hours on end in the night. It was a small comfort and one he grasped on to for his own sake. He knew the clown shouldn't be up for at least another two hours and that allowed his mind to relax. He'd be able to have some time mostly to himself. Bruce had a feeling most of Joker's men would make themselves as scarce as possible; given Joker's mental break down yesterday. Coffee, he needed coffee. With his disguise in place and his hood over his head; he made his way out.
Bruce opened the door to exit his room only to be stopped by the grinning maniac on the other side. It startled him momentarily and he had to mentally stop himself from taking a step back. Green eyes observed him as they looked him up and down; making the vigilante feel somewhat nervous. Joker rarely made his appearance known to him in the early hours of the morning. This was different and not in a good way. He had the growing suspicion that the already attention seeking clown would become even clinger to him than usual. Great. Just what he needed. His own gaze wondered to over the clowns shoulder and caught a glimpse of the storm clouds overhead. Well at least one good thing would be happening today and that was that he decide to dress appropriately. Small comforts; he reminded himself. Bruce opened his mouth to address the clown, but closed it when Joker huffed and threw his arms down in a dramatic manner.
"No. No. No. This simply will not do, Matchbox!" Joker stated exasperated and pinched the bridge of his nose in clear frustration.
Bruce raised an eyebrow and gave a bemused expression.
"What are-" he didn't get much of a word in before Joker's head snapped up to glare at him.
"Do I have to do everything for you? I keep telling you that you need more color! You were doing so much better! Well not perfect, but it was the step in the right direction and now you just go and ruin it!"
Was he seriously this upset over a simple article of clothing?
Bruce really needed that cup of coffee to deal with this shit so early in the morning. He seriously contemplated slamming the door in the clowns face and debating with himself if the consequences of doing just that would be worth the instant gratification. It probably wouldn't be, but it was a nice thought while it lasted.
"Boss, I don't think it's such a big deal." Bruce retorted back. His own aggravation lacing in his tone.
"Not a big deal? Heh. Is that what you think?" Joker took a deep breath; his lips twitching into a smirk as an idea popped into his head. One Bruce was positive he wouldn't find the least enjoyable.
"It's alright, I have just the perfect way to fix this fashion disaster. Come with me and learn from the best." Joker moved away from the door frame to make room for Bruce to follow.
There was no choice in the matter and he knew that. Didn't change the short glare he directed at the clown who paid no mind to it. Didn't change listening to the Joker as he left his room and locked the door behind him. What he didn't expect was for the clown to stop at the door right next to his. The Joker's room. The one place no one in the gang was allowed to enter. Unless they wanted to die. Harley had been the only one who had that privilege previously. Seems like now he would to. Curiosity hit him at full force then as it washed away his irritation. Bruce had been planning on sneaking into the clown's room for weeks now to do some snooping, but the opportunity never presented itself; until now. An opportunity he wouldn't let go to waste, no matter the aggravating reason behind this endeavor. He doubted he could gather to much information with the Joker with him, however, if he was lucky; he might be able to find out something useful laying around in view.
Joker opened to door to his motel room and entered; leaving Bruce just enough time to hesitate. His mind preparing itself for any trap that might be set. Even if Joker claimed that Bruce's allowance in his room was because of his clothing choices; it didn't make him feel any more relaxed. When the clown glanced back at him with an eyebrow raised; only then did he step inside, closing the door behind him when the Joker gestured for him to do so. Hazel contact eyes took in account everything around him. The room was well lit despite the windows being boarded up; as was per usual in Joker's hideouts in the past. The clown never wanting to give Batman to much of an opening on sneaking in.
Not that it could actually stop Batman.
Bruce had seen many places the Joker had called home for short timeframes outside of Arkham. So nothing really much surprised him. Except this time. Of course the regular trend was exactly the same. A mix between organization that was immaculate and a chaotic mess; another proof of the contradiction that was the Joker. He even spotted a worn out brown teddy bear sitting on the bed. This time, however, there was something new. He took account of one side of the room's wall that was covered in pictures. Pictures of him. Pictures of Batman. It took a shock to Bruce's core seeing so many. Some were blurry while others had been taken fairly up close and the worse part was Bruce had never even noticed. A creeping feeling of vulnerability made itself ever present in his mind. If Joker had obviously managed to get so many pictures of Batman without Bruce's knowledge then what else did the clown know that he didn't?
"You really have a lot of pictures of Batman." Bruce spoke barely audible, but Joker heard him just the same and gave a chuckle behind him.
"I know I have a real talent for catching that perfect broody side of my Bat. It really takes a lot of skill to accomplish and not for the faint of heart. Did ya know Bats are not very photogenic? Crazy right! Truth be told they aren't. Not in the slightest. If you get caught trying to sneak a picture well all I can say is don't get caught." Joker rambled on and Bruce was completely done listening to him.
His grasp on his reality that he was accustomed with was slipping from him the longer he looked at the pictures. Their implications buzzing around in his head as he glanced back at the teddy bear as well who he learned from the clown shared his name. The possibility of Joker knowing exactly who he was underneath his mask even more of a probability than he originally thought. His fists clenched in his hoodies pockets when he noticed his hands starting to shake. This wasn't good. If the murderer knew who he really was then there would be not much Bruce could do to stop him if he decided to act on that tidbit of information. Everyone he knew and cared for would be in danger. His heart pounded in his chest just from the imagery alone that his mind was unhelpfully providing him of what the Joker was capable of. Quickly his eyes averted to the desk in a poor attempt to dissipate and distract himself from his darkening thoughts. That's when Bruce noticed a little black leather book sitting there that caught his attention.
Bruce paid no mind to the clown who was busy with looking through one of his drawers as he took steps closer to the desk. The book was bound shut, but there was an engraving on the front that much to his annoyance and denial he almost chuckled at. 'If Found Return to the Joker.' An absurd thing to have written on it that even Bruce found somewhat humorous. He just couldn't fathom anyone actually doing just that and if they did he doubted they would get much of a reward other than a painful death. It relaxed his mind somewhat even if it was ridiculous for that reason to do so, but he wouldn't complain. He couldn't help his intrigue at what contents the book would have inside. What secrets they might revival about the Joker. How there could be future crime plans written down that would benefit Batman's knowledge and save lives. Or it could end up being completely useless to him and just be a sick joke book. Both were very plausible, regardless, he was hoping for the former. It didn't matter what was inside; just as long as he found out. Being able to mark another item off his list when it came to his mission with being here in the first place. Bruce needed to know for sure. His hand inched closer to the little black book, but much to his surprise the next thing that happened was the sound of something hitting the desk hard.
Not just any something.
"Nuh, uh, Matchy. Didn't anyone ever tell you curiosity killed the cat? Well it does! Sadly a certain feline minx still hasn't gotten that memo, but she will one day. Hehe. I'll make sure of it. There's so many ways to skin a cat and I'm sure Bats would like a new nice fur coat." Joker's tone was playful and threatening. A dangerous combination to anyone who was the source of his ire.
Bruce blinked; not even paying attention to what the Joker had just said. Didn't even acknowledge the words in the slightest. Only slightly catching what Joker said about Catwoman. His focus, however, was completely on the object that was now protruding out of the desk; next to where his hand was.
A single batarang.
It caught him completely off guard.
How did Joker get ahold of that?
Alright well there were many ways the Joker could have gotten one after all the years of fighting Batman.
The clown had apparently been practicing with Batman's own weapon; if his accuracy was anything to go by.
Bruce turned towards the Joker with a questioning look in his eyes; which the clown answered with a giggle and a widening smirk.
"You, uh, look a little nervous there, buddy. Don't tell me you're afraid of little ol' me." Joker said.
Bruce couldn't help, but roll his eyes at that assessment of his mood. "No, more curious how you got a-" he had to stop himself from saying Batarang. He ran a hand on the back of his head; awkwardly. "Whatever, the Bat call those things."
Joker leaned back and forth on his feet as if he couldn't contain his excitement at the question that was proposed to him. Bruce noticed how the pupils expanded just a fraction. A flash of affection and longing in those pools of toxic green. Red stained lips split into a shit eating grin; as a purple gloved hand waved off nonchalantly. Only then did Bruce notice the small spray can in the clowns other hand; his eyes narrowing down on it. Not liking what idea the madman had in mind.
"Hehe. Oh those wonderful toys. I have a whole box filled with them. Each a wonderful reminder of all the times spent with my dashing Bat," Joker walked closer and outstretched his free hand towards the batarang and caressed the metal fondly. Bruce decided then that he didn't care if the Joker had them; he wouldn't be wanting them back anyways.
"Ya know, what's so amusing about them? C'mon take a guess. Aw don't give me that look! At least play along! No. Fine. Fine Fine. Party pooper. I'll be nice and tell ya. For such a self-claiming pillar of morality that Batsy says to be its downright hilarious how fatal these little toys of his can be! I mean look how sharp they are! Perfect for slitting some poor chum's jugular! And with how much delicate care and skill my playmate has with them, I should know; I've had to pull out a fair share of them from my own body before. Hurts like the dickens let me tell ya. Isn't my Bat so sweet? I wonder if he ever made a mistake once and accidentally killed someone with these babies. Unfortunately, I doubt it. Granted, Bats rarely makes mistakes. Not when it comes to his toys. Think of the possibilities of it though! All the fun he could have with such a small thing! This city could be his if he just let go. No one could stop him. Really brings a smile to my face."
Despite the Joker's enthusiasm on his words, Bruce felt irritation flare in his chest. He already knew what he could become if he ever allowed himself to. It wasn't a scenario he could live with. Batman needed his one rule. It kept him stable and kept other's safe. Breaking his code would make him no better than the criminals he fought so hard against. Yet, here the clown was; musing over a weapon in Batman's arsenal of gadgets used, that saved his life countless times; tainting what it represented for his own twisted ideology of what could never be. What Batman would never allow. Bruce had spent years perfecting his aim; before ever using it in battle. Never allowing himself the shred of a chance to make a mistake. Precision and self-control that few could ever understand. Joker would be thrilled if he did implement them to kill, but Bruce would never give him that satisfaction.
"Of course I won't be alive to see it happen, but the thought alone is enough to keep me going... for now." Joker mumbled more to himself after the short prolong silence.
His head snapped towards the Joker. His mind replaying those last few words. Bruce had heard similar before, but this time there was a somber tone to them. A finality that he didn't like. Joker wasn't suicidal even if he never showed much care for his own well-being. Countless time the psychopath would taunt Batman in attempt to break his one rule. At the same time the Joker would always get especially incensed if Batman was more brutal with his other enemies. Demanding that type of attention solely for himself. Another contradiction that didn't settle very well within him. Like there was something more to the clown's obsession with one day having the Gotham Bat end his existence. It would be tangible to leave it all to Joker's want for a more dangerous Batman, yet now he wasn't sure that was all there was to the clown's mindset.
"Why do you want the Bat to kill you?" Bruce asked the same question that he'd been asking for years.
Green eyes observed him and Bruce watched as the green eyebrows knitted tighter in deep thought. The ever pleasant grin becoming more of a grimace of acceptance that Bruce just couldn't place the reasoning behind it. He knew then there was more to it than just unadulterated madness that he always presumed was the case.
"Because he's the only one who has that right. The only one I'd ever allow to kill me." Was all Joker said on the matter and flash of warning in those green orbs told Bruce to drop the subject.
Just another matter he'd have to figure out latter when he had the time to.
Speaking of other subjects.
Bruce glanced back at the spray can that was being held tightly in the Joker's hand; as if he was using it as a life line to keep him stable.
He really didn't want to ask.
Every part of himself told him that it would just be an aggravating endeavor.
Bruce asked anyways.
"So what's the spray can for, Boss?" He tried to sound curious, but was positive his own annoyance shined through; just a little bit.
Joker didn't answer him right away. His attention drawn to the wall of pictures of Batman and Bruce had an inkling that another dangerous break down was rapidly approaching. He didn't even think about it as his hand landed on the clown's shoulder; snapping the Joker out of his darkening thoughts by the touch alone. His grin slowly coming back full force as he looked into Bruce's eyes.
"Ah, it's a surprise. So close your eyes and hold still for, Uncle J. Trust me, you'll love it."
Bruce knew instantly what Joker was about to do. The gleam in his green orbs gave away his intentions. He really shouldn't have asked. Even if this was better than the clown going on a murderous tantrum all over again. Not that this would prevent that from happening. It was a guarantee that the Joker would kill again, regardless if Bruce distracted him for now. An unspoken promise to himself was made that he'll be having to throw away his black hoodie when the day was over with. Sighing and resigning himself and his clothes to the clown's absurd whims; he complied with the request that was more of an order with a threat of retaliation if not followed through. Joker's giggles showed his ecstatic humor at the situation and all Bruce could do was clench his fist tighter in his pockets to not indulge himself with breaking the clown's joyful mood with a few broken bones. The sound of the spray can being shook and opened prepared him for the inevitable and with that the Joker ruined his clothing. Again.
What felt like hours really only went by in several minutes as Joker went to town on spraying his black hoodie with the green spray can. Only commenting when he wanted Bruce to adjust his position for he could work easier. Joker seemed entirely focus on the task on hand. Like nothing else mattered in the moment and it was such an odd realization. Joker could usually be known for being scattered brained, but when he put his mind to something; nothing would disturb him from his task. One of his most defining traits that made him a force to be reckoned with. Even now the clown was handling the spray can with such precision and concentration and Bruce could grasp that much without even needing to look at him.
Joker pulled away with a huge smile that Bruce didn't see as he looked over his work. Bruce felt the clown take him by the arm and allowed himself to be lead in the direction the Joker wanted him.
"All done! Take a look!" Joker sounded proud of himself.
Hazel contact eyes opened; his reflection staring back at him and the first thing he noticed made his stomach turn in knots at a very familiar and painful reminder of one of his worse nights as the Dark Knight. To Bruce's dismay his black hoodie now had a big green smiley face on the front; as well as a good number of 'HA HA' running down on the sleeves. He didn't even want to glance at the back of his hoodie yet as his gaze stayed glued to the smiley face. The phantom pain of having a similar mark carved into his chest from years past came back like a train wreck. A consequence of a branding the clown had on his own chest because of him. Where Joker had worn his mark with pride; Bruce was always reminded of how vulnerable he was in that situation. How he couldn't prevent it because of one mistake with leaving his guard down. His blood boiled at the sight as memories of a night he was lucky enough that Joker didn't kill him became ever present within in him. A scar that was a permanent reminder remained and always made him feel sick to his stomach when he saw it. Bruce wanted to remove his hoodie right then and there. Wanted to refuse all it brought back to him, however, he couldn't. At least not right now.
"Take a look at the back and tell me whatcha think." Joker purred as he stood next to him. Observing any move Bruce would make. However, he didn't allow his mask of indifference escape him. Didn't allow for any weakness to be shown. All he did was simply comply.
'Joker's Property' was written on the back of his hoodie and Bruce felt murderous for the first time in a long time.
"See isn't that all better, Matchy! Now everyone will know who you belong to! Isn't that great?" Joker wrapped an arm around Bruce's shoulder when Bruce adjusted himself back to facing the mirror. His tone a perfect mix of mocking, affectionate and possessive in a single two sentences.
A burning need that was overwhelming to hurt the madman next to him was hard to fight down. To break bones that he hadn't for months and to just let out his frustrations on the only man who could take it and would gladly do so. The maniac who deserved anything and everything Batman could dish out as long as the Joker survived. Barely holding back on his limitations that he imposed on himself again and again. It would be so worth it just to see that grin dissipate into a frown and that chalk white skin stained crimson. His almost blinding rage seemed to have shown on his expression against his will as he felt the body next to him shudder, his arm tightening against him. Pressing closer into his side. Invading his personal space even more. Encouraging him to act out on what he wanted to do so badly. Promising him no retribution if he did so. Tempting him to do his worse if he allowed himself.
Like a light bulb it clicked in Bruce's mind and a certain clarity washed the anger away; most of it.
Joker wanted him to react. The madman wanted him to resort to violence that he had been keeping under lock and key since he got here. Violence that the Joker fed upon and brought out in people. Wanted to break him even at the expense of the clown's own well-being. It was a sick game and a sick joke. The madman never cared for what Bruce was wearing in the first place. It was never about that. Joker had simply wanted to push Bruce's buttons and see what it would take to get him to act accordingly to it. He knew he couldn't allow that. Regardless, how Bruce felt, Joker was more than willing to play this dangerous game with him. Willing to manipulate him in any way possible. Which almost worked. Almost. Bruce had been eager to hurt him. More eager than even Joker could understand the reasons why. If he had acted on his urges and lost control the damage would greatly outweigh the crime and would have given himself away instantly. Another reminder that Bruce was only able to be hidden as Matches Malone because Joker didn't bother to pay enough attention to detail. How long would that last? How much would the murderous psychopath push to get what he wanted out of Bruce? Apparently a lot. This really was the beginning of what could easily become the most dangerous endeavor he would ever have. Joker pushed his hip against him; silently demanding some sort of response.
"Yeah it's great boss. Just wonderful." Bruce didn't bother hiding his sarcasm. Already knowing the Joker's mind games.
Bring it Joker. It will take a lot more than that to win this game between us. Your move now.
Joker pulled away from him. A flicker of disappointment in those acidic green orbs that Bruce had to hold back a smirk at seeing. Joker waved his hand and scoffed.
"Aww, you don't have to show so much servility just for my sake," Joker commented, only then to smile again "heh. I know what would make this even better! Let's get some pictures to reminisce about in our old age or until an angry Bat kills us. Whatever comes first."
Was he fucking serious?
Joker pulled out his phone; grinning like the Cheshire Cat.
Well that answers that.
Joker spun on his heel as he made overdramatic grand gestures as he took pictures of his work. All the while Bruce just stood there stock still with his expression deadpanned. It really was ridiculous and something that was so Joker-like that he wasn't amused in the slightest. Joker, however paused after close to a minute of snapping pictures to tap his chin. A frown on his face and Bruce just hoped he was done with this little stunt.
"Somethings missing.. But what could it be?..." When Joker snapped his fingers and smiled again, Bruce knew he was doomed to deal with more. "Uh ha! I know just the thing!"
Bruce expected a great many things with that statement. Given the maniacs mind games just to attempt to make Bruce lose his temper. However he couldn't help, but be taken back when the Joker started rummaging through his closet; giggling with childish glee as he pulled out a purple pull over hoodie of his own. Even then that wouldn't have shocked him, what did was the spray painted on Bat-Symbol in black; (which was eerily close enough to his own Bat-suit symbol) on the front of the clowns own choice of attire for today. When Joker put on the hoodie and grinned at Bruce; he was simply left aghast. Stunned to silence that the Joker would be willing to wear that. Yet, it shouldn't surprise him, regardless it did. It felt too unreal to see his nemeses, the greatest threat to Gotham City wearing the Bats own symbol on him. Proudly, he might add by the look on that chalk white face. Another thing to add to the list of top ten bizarre Joker moments. This even topping the teddy bear he received just by how utterly absurd it was. Much to his will power to deny such thoughts he couldn't help but wonder how much other Batman themed possessions the Joker might own. Probably a whole wear-house filled with them; at this point he wouldn't put it past the maniac.
"Now we'll be matching! Well close enough! Obviously I still have more style than you ever could. A pity, I know that you could never compare. You're still too much of an edgy brooder for your own good. Always wanting to take the same fashion advice that the Bat must get," ironic given the Joker was wearing a spray painted on Batman symbol; Bruce didn't comment on that. "I swear do all you gloomy types have to wear black? It's so cliche! But hey don't worry about that, pal! Everyone will turn their heads just to get a quick look at you! I promise." Joker spun on his heel with enthusiasm and then landed both his hands on Bruce's shoulders while grinning up at him.
Bruce saw then how the back of the Joker's own hoodie had, 'Batman's Property' written on the back in black spray paint. The sheer irony of this whole situation was almost impossible not to laugh at and he was sure if Joker knew the truth that the clown would certainly die laughing. It was just such a ridiculous image and Bruce could only be hopeful the Joker would never find out he managed to get Batman to do this. Bruce would probably prefer death than to the never ending taunts he would hear if the clown ever figured it out.
Breaking his one rule might be worth it in that scenario, he thought with morbid humor and realized he was spending way too much time with the Joker for the thought to even cross his mind in the first place.
"Let's get a picture together, Matcherkins!" Joker pulled him close as again he took another picture of the two of them and Bruce did not smile one bit.
It was more apparent now than ever that Bruce would need a shit ton of coffee just to get through the day and more importantly the Joker; something he didn't hesitate to comment on which only prompted the Joker into a fit of hysterics.
Today was going to be a long and tedious day.
Bruce really shouldn't have indulged the Joker last night with his insistent knock-knock jokes.
Getting sleep was more preferable for his mental state.
Bruce had received that cup of coffee he was craving; in the worst way possible. Alright it could have been much worse, but it didn't change the fact that there was now a dead barista on his conscious that made his coffee way to bitter for him to really enjoy. Joker had insisted that they go out on the town and Bruce had to follow through with that. Honestly he should have expected of what would come forth. It's not like Joker was ever going to pay for what he wanted; even if Bruce had offered to do just that. Joker had laughed it off and told him if they could get his order correct then he would pay and if not then the worker would die.
A challenge that Joker implemented to his full capacity with the most ridiculous long as fuck order Bruce had ever heard in his life. He was positive even Batman wouldn't have remembered all the details the first time and that was saying something. Of course the worker had failed and Joker demanded another drink that didn't match his first one before blowing a hole in their head. Bruce wasn't able to save them, but he did convince Joker to let the other terrified people live. On the pretense that he didn't want his coffee to get cold because they would need to be on the run from the police. Joker had found that absolutely downright hilarious and they left without another word with their drinks.
Now they both sat on the hood of the car in an abandon parking lot; sipping their drinks and listening to the sounds of the city. It would have been close to peaceful if Bruce wasn't already irate with the clown for taking another life; just for the fun of it. A fact of life he would never get used to no matter how much time he spent around the Joker. If Joker picked up on his distress he didn't comment on it. Probably was for the best as Bruce wasn't sure he could control his temper. Joker seemed more than preoccupied drinking his overabundance contraption of a sugar drink that cost the life of another Gotham citizen. The chill in the air was getting colder and despite Bruce's annoyance he was glad he still had his -now tainted- hoodie on. Even Joker had his hood up as well. Which made him slightly more conspicuous. Okay, not really. Only somewhat. It didn't help that the clown had a symbol of a Bat on his hoodie and that Bruce's own attire wasn't really hiding who they were.
"So, Matchy, question time. If you could have anyone in the city for your first time getting blood on those strong hands of yours, who would it be? Anyone at all. Take your pick." Joker piped up.
You, was the instant thought that crossed Bruce's mind and he had quench down on the mortification at how easily that answer came to him. Regrettably, it wasn't a lie. Many nights after his encounters with the Clown Prince of Crime did he question if his decisions to keep the Joker alive was the morally correct one. If it was a sane choice at all given how many lives the Joker would take again and again; until he was six feet under. No one who knew of the Joker would condemn him if he broke his one rule. Perhaps, Batman would only need to kill once and never allow himself to do so again. Countless lives would be spared if he acted on his violent urges when he faced the Joker. He was stronger than the other man; he doubted it would take much to kill him. Besides, Joker would welcome death by Batman with open arms, a huge grin and a laugh that would haunt him forever. It could be too easy. Way to easy. He barely restrained himself as it is. All he needed to do was to step over the edge just once and the nightmare of Gotham City would finally be over.
No. He couldn't do it. Could, but wouldn't. No one deserved the right to make that choice of who could live and who could die. Especially not someone with the caliber that Batman had. Easy solution's just wasn't how he lived his life and he was better for that. Batman was what Gotham needed because he never took the simple way out.
Bruce gave a shrug. "Haven't really thought about it." Even Joker could tell it was a lie as green orbs glanced his way.
"Hmm, why is that? Haven't found that special person yet? No estranged ex who screwed the milkman while you were out setting the world aflame? Not even a boss who always payed you late until one day you got sick of it that you set his car on fire? There had to be someone who sets a burning desire in you to kill." Joker prompted him; sipping his drink -very loudly- to Bruce's plight with himself.
When wanting to avoid deeper conversation that held horrible consequence sometimes it was better to take a page out of the Joker's memoir and tell a joke. Make light of the situation.
"Why bother killing someone when I can just light up their life?" Alright the joke came out flat. Sue him; Bruce had the money to pay after all.
Joker seemed amused none the less and that was good enough for Bruce.
"You really brighten up my day, Matchstick!"
Whatever you say Joker.
"Besides, it's not worth the prison time. Arson is a way lesser sentence than murder. Better pay as well." Bruce added.
"I have just the solution to that teeny tiny excuse. All you have to do is make the jury think you are insane. It's beyond simple. I could give you pointers if you want. They eat that shit up and well next thing you know you're in Arkham having electric shock therapy and a revolving door that Bat graciously allows for when you are ready to jump back in the fun after a long vacation." Joker smiled fondly at the skyline.
Bruce took a sip of his coffee and rolled his eyes at the comment regarding his nighttime persona. It's not like he didn't know of the escape rate of Arkham Asylum. A problem that he kept needing to spend a considerable amount of money as Bruce Wayne to try and fix. It helped some, but not much. With every new security measure the most dangerous inmates always found a way to bypass it. Joker especially. It seemed nothing could ever keep the psychopath contained longer than he wanted. Impressive as it might be considered it still always irked him that a solution hasn't been found to prevent that very thing Joker referred to as a revolving door from happening. A good metaphor in itself and one he's heard plenty of times; begrudgingly. However, Joker's words on feigning insanity caught more of his interest and he couldn't stop himself from asking a question that his experience with the madman already gave him the answer to. Either way it was an interesting thought.
"Is that what you do?"
"Do what?" Joker seemed taken back.
"Pretend to be insane to get out of prison time and be sent to Arkham instead?" Bruce pressed; feeling ridiculous as he did so. Joker's laugh wasn't helping in that regard. Should have kept his mouth shut. Too late now to turn back. Best to keep pressing forward for more answers.
"Hahahhehe. I don't know, Matchy. You tell me. Do I look insane to you? Do I look like I belong in a straight jacket, getting pumped with more drugs than most men could take or survive, just because those quacks want me compliant and don't want to hear my wonderful jokes? Beaten into what they believe is submission when I get a little to testy for their liking. Where wannabe big bad Doctor Sadist plays his own games with me in an attempt to break me. Kindred spirit that one is, you could say. Would be better if he at least admitted to his creative knack for cruelty. At least then I could tolerate him better," Joker sighed and shook his head.
"All of them think the same. That all because I want to bring a smile to all of the miserable lot in this disgusting city of ours that I should be locked away. Away from my playground. Away from him. Bat thinks so also. He's put me there plenty of times. Bless his little caring black heart. Truly I can't stay mad at him even if I want to for what he does. What he allows to happen because he gets too distracted when I'm away. Well what do you think? Do you honestly believe that is what I want to happen when my bestie catches up to me and wins one of our games?" Joker's tone was sharp and dangerous. Biting and unstable. A burning unbridled rage burning in his cold green orbs.
Bruce couldn't look at him anymore and looked at the ground instead. Joker's words echoing in his mind and he felt his grip tighten on his coffee cup. Threatening to crush it in an instant. His other hand gripping the car even tighter. Bruce's thoughts were chaotic as his mind processed those words very deliberately and carefully. Analyzing every single detail against his will. He knew of Joker's violent tendencies in the Asylum. Knew of the deaths he caused by just twisting the minds of his doctors alone. Joker was as dangerous as they come and necessary precautions needed to be implemented for him. At the same time. A part of him considered what Joker was saying. That there may be more going in Arkham than he ever knew. Everyone kept secrets. He was a testament to that fact and now he was questioning exactly what secrets was hidden away in the Asylum. As well as who the hell was this 'Doctor Sadist' Joker was referring to? Was someone abusing their power to inflect as much pain as possible on their patients or was it just what Joker thought of them? Bruce couldn't be sure.
The madman was a pathological liar and everything he said could just be falsehoods to get Bruce to see things his way. That was just a likely if not more so a probability. However, he was starting to doubt that was the case. Not with how much bitterness Joker lashed out by his words. This was something Bruce would have to look into; or Batman if it came down to it. He decided for himself then. He'd get to the truth. It's what he did and if there really was as much corruption as Joker claimed then he would put a stop to it. He couldn't allow such a thing to continue.
"No, I don't think that," He surprisingly sounded serious and honest even if he didn't think so. "Sorry, didn't mean to offend you." Bruce offered as a slight peace treaty that Joker only scoffed at.
"Don't ever apologize. It's really unbecoming." Was all Joker said. His voice still keeping the ice to his tone.
He didn't bother protesting it. Not that he ever would. Bruce could live with that. Apologizing to the Joker of all people left a bad taste in his mouth as it was.
"Was Arkham really that bad?" Bruce asked, then added when Joker didn't respond. "If so maybe the prison time would be preferable."
Joker gave a small smile at that and Bruce started to allow himself the chance to relax. Even if it would most likely be short lived.
"Heh, it wasn't always, no. The food there sucks, but the company can be a nice pleasantry when they allow you out of solitary confinement after a while. Lot of interesting folks to talk to when the boredom is getting to you. There's still a lot of fun to be had in between the torture sessions. Sometimes those are a good laugh now and then, I'll admit. Really gets the blood pumping."
Bruce doubted that, but didn't comment further on the matter. His mind to preoccupied on the information that was given to him.
A few beats passed between them in uncomfortable silence.
"You still haven't chosen an answer to my question pal? It's kinda important ya see. I don't want to spoil the surprise, but let's just say I want your first time to be special." Joker winked at him in a flirtatious manner that Bruce was not comfort with.
His mindset was still reeling from everything that Joker had said and just the whole day as it was.
"I'm not sure I want there to be a first time. That's not something a person could come back from. I don't think I could come back from. I'm not sure I'd like the consequence of what that would entail for someone like me.." Bruce responded without really thinking on his words. Turning the cup of coffee in his hands as he tried to stable himself mentally. It was helping; slightly. Not enough.
Being around the Joker didn't help.
"Isn't that the whole point? To let out the real you and just let go and be free? It's better than holding everything in until you burst." Joker responded like it was the easiest thing in the world and for the madman that was the case.
"Ya know, what tickles my funny bone every single time is how something that doesn't even exist has a morality to begin with. Seems pretty pointless and despite that it keeps happening." Joker commented more to himself as he leaned his back on the car. One arm behind his head and his other still held on to his drink. Staring up contemplatively at the skyline above. His green eyes searching for something.
Wait what did he just say?
What is he getting at?
Bruce's head turned towards the Joker. Wondering if that had been some joke he just didn't grasp. Refusing taking the same relaxed state the maniac was in. That would be letting his guard down and not something that could ever be allowed. Not around him. Not ever. Even if a fraction of a small part of him wanted to go against that rationality.
"What do you even mean when you say that? Not existing? That makes no sense."
Joker didn't even share a glance his direction when he replied.
"Does it really matter?"
"It matters to me."
"It shouldn't. There's really no point in discussing it, Matchstick. You wouldn't even understand if I tried to explain it." Joker sounded bored; closing his green eyes. Letting out a content sigh as his posture relaxed even more.
"Tell me." Bruce almost slipped up in his usual Batman tone when dealing with the Joker; managing to barely keep it at bay.
"How cute. Adorable actually." Joker chuckled softly.
"I'm being serious."
"Yes I can see that, my dear fire pants. Seems to be a common occurrence when it comes to who you are; pretend to be. The default that you always resort to when you think you can't handle any other alternative. If I didn't like you so much you'd be dead where you stand just for that quirk alone. Whatever would I do if that doesn't change?"
"Why even bring something like that up if you don't even want to elaborate? I just don't understand your reluctance. Not like you have anything to lose by telling me." Bruce retorted.
"Again with that never ending curiosity of yours getting the better of you. Would be endearing if it wasn't going to get you into trouble."
Bruce couldn't stop the grumble that escaped him as he jumped off the hood of the car. Disposing of his empty cup of coffee in the process. His mood quickly souring at the familiar games that was played at his expense. A never ending cycle. No matter what form it took. Never failing at making his blood boil. Always bringing about violent urges he did his damndest to suppress. Joker was probably trying to get under his skin again; like earlier. Push as many boundaries as he could get away with to get the reactions he wanted. Not bothering to take stock of what exactly would happen if he did get what he wanted all this time. How close the clown always came to achieving what he wanted, regardless of how Bruce fought against it and himself. Bruce really needed to take a walk if this continued. His patience running thin; with too much on his mind as it was. Dealing with Joker's deflections weren't helping and he wasn't about to put himself through more of it if he could avoid it. Bruce started to walk away; getting an insignificant small distance away and only when Joker called out to him did he stop in his tracks.
"Where you off to like your house is on fire because you played with matches when daddy told you not to and you can't handle the screams of your family inside burning to death in a nice little barbecue of your own making? Is that how you got the nickname? Am I close? Nah, I'm sure you have a more boring reason than that. I'll figure it out so don't tell me. Hey wait! Oh don't be like that, you petty little arsonist that touches my heart so much in all the right ways," Joker whined and Bruce ignored him.
"Alright, I'll tell you if you really want to know so badly. Just come back. Don't leave me all by my lonesome. Imagine what could happen with all those crazies running around and the Bat that risks his life every time he jumps off a building to find little ol' me. On second thought; go ahead and leave. Might just be what's needed to bring my playmate back to my loving embrace and a knife slipping into the Bats back," Joker glanced up at the sky and snorted. "Okay, perhaps that won't happen. It's past his bedtime. I wonder if he's dreaming of me. Anyways, get back here. Now." Joker's voice went dangerously low. He wasn't playing around anymore.
Neither was Bruce.
Bruce turned to face him his hands in his hoodies pockets and a neutral expression on his face. Green eyes watched his every move; daring him to continue to leave, but Joker didn't bother to sit up. Didn't do anything to force him to stay, even if the threat was there. He almost accepted the challenge those narrowed eyes were giving him out of spite, however his own intrigue kept his feet grounded. Regardless, he made no move to go closer or farther away. A challenge of his own and a warning that he wasn't going to tolerate any more jokes or games. Joker finally just shrugged; seemingly giving in for the time being.
"So what's it like to be a puppet with his strings pulled in a world where you only somewhat exist -well not really- because it's entertaining for someone who is real? For the only two people that are real. I've never really had the chance to ask anyone that before. Indulge me." Joker spoke sugary sweet.
"I'm not a puppet." Bruce responded; coldly.
"Don't interrupt. It's rude." Joker snapped suddenly; making Bruce tense in his stance. "You know I originally thought that you were created by me. I've created a lot of toys ya know. More than I can honestly count. Kinda need to for my darling doesn't get bored when we play. He likes to pretend to be a hero, pretend to be normal when he's so much more than anyone else will ever be. When it comes to you, I've realized something I didn't notice before; that sheer stubbornness of yours that's so tantalizingly interesting could only be created by Bat. So guess I was wrong. Heh. Not that it matters. You belong to me. Not him. A gift if your really wanting to put a word to it from my only friend in the world. How generous of him."
Bruce was left dumbfounded by the Joker's reasoning of the world. How could anyone be so blind into that way of thinking? So utterly insane that they had no grasp on reality? Was that the reason why the madman in front of him could kill without a shred of remorse; simply because he viewed no one but him and Batman existed in the first place? Dissociating himself from others suffering as a just cause for his actions? Is that how the Joker coped with everything? To just brush it all away for the sake of continuing a sickening game that plagued Batman and Gotham for years now. That line of thinking would only ever make sense in the Joker's deranged mind.
"You can't honestly believe that. If that's how you really think then you should reevaluate your life, Joker." Bruce muttered; still taken back by the insanity of it all.
"Of course I do. I know it's hard for you to grasp but it's just how everything is. It's the reality we live in. The reality that Bats and I created for our dance." Joker sounded finished with the conversation. Not that it stopped Bruce from adding his two cents in the topic.
"I take it back, with that line of thinking, Arkham is probably where you do belong."
Green eyes narrowed at him as Joker sat up. Hostility and murderous intent radiating off of him and Bruce knew then he crossed the line with the deranged murderer. His body tensed. Ready for a fight if Joker brought one. A fight he knew he had the upper hand in even if the clown was not one to be underestimated. However, the clown simply threw his head back and laughed. Echoing all through the parking lot and most likely terrifying anyone in the near proximity of them. Bruce said nothing. There was no point to. When the clown started laughing; he wouldn't stop unless someone made him. Best to wait it out, at least right now. Like he predicted the laughter did die down into small burst of chuckles as Joker wiped at his eyes. His grin coming back as he batted his eyelashes at Bruce from his spot on the car.
"No need to get so confrontational, Matchy. All because you don't exist doesn't mean I don't care about you all the same." Joker purred.
Bruce opted for his usual silence. His stance relaxing just a tinge bit when the danger dissipated into thin air with the clown's merriment. There really was no point in discussing it further. Nothing he said would change the Joker's mind and nothing Joker said would make Bruce follow his flawed logic of the world. Silence was sometimes the best answer at least Bruce thought so.
Not that it ever lasted and could be broken in an instant.
The silence was disturbed by the sound that could only be described as a whoopee cushion going off in the Joker's pants pocket. Bruce looked at him questionably, but only received a chuckle in return as Joker pulled out his phone and checked his text. A malicious huge grin spread across his face as he tapped away his response and pocketed the phone. Only then did Bruce speak up.
Joker took a huge sip of his drink before responding, his legs hitting the front bumper again and again; as if he couldn't stand being idle for long.
"Not much, just got confirmation where my good ol' doc Scary has been hiding. Well ex-doc would be more accurate of a term. Don't think he has his doctorate degree anymore since going to the looney bin. Such a shame really. That gas of his sure did pack a wallop of a good time. My Bat sure did a number on him let me tell ya. Brought a real tear to my eye." Joker wiped at his eyes to elaborate on his words and gave feigned sniffle for added effect.
Now that caught Bruce's attention immediately and had him walking back to the car. He knew instantly who Joker was referring to. The nickname was a dead giveaway. As well as the conversation he overheard from the Joker's men the day prior. This left an opportunity for Bruce to find out exactly where Crane was hiding and a way to stop him before any of his plans escalated to the point Batman would need to step in. Crane was dangerous in his own right; only if he was prepared. Catching him by surprise would be the best bet to bring him down before anyone got hurt. One thing else caught his interest. Why did Joker have men looking for him in the first place and if so did Joker keep tabs on other adversaries that Batman fought? Might as well ask.
"Why you tracking him, boss? Are there others you do that for or is he just a special case?" Bruce inquired.
Joker casted him a sideways glance; suspicion in those green orbs. Only for it to fade a moment latter. The clown gave a simple shrug. Deciding there would be no harm in talking about it, much to his knowledge.
"Scary is as special as a fear addict with a God Complex can be. Which isn't saying much. He really couldn't get a good scare outta anyone without that gas of his. Also he needs more style, more flare. Would he listen to me in that regard? Nope. And look where that got him. Sure he's fun from time to time, but not really worth the attention that he so craves. Can't be too careful. I gotta keep an eye out for all of Batsy's friends just in case they step out of line or interfere too much in our games." Joker finished his drink and tossed it to the side.
Now that was the answer Bruce was looking for and the most productive piece of information he had received all day from the Joker. It almost made all the shit he was forced to deal with seem worth it. Joker had just given him the ability to accesses the knowledge that could take down the majority of the crime in Gotham. Bruce knew it would require a lot of future investigating while he was undercover which was completely fine by him. If all else failed he could handle it as Batman if needed. For now dealing with Crane would be his prime prerogative.
"Are you planning on seeing him?" Bruce asked.
Joker raised a confused brow at that and tilted his head to the side.
"Whatta makes ya think that?" Joker responded.
Bruce knew he would have to play it safe. The cards were in his favor, as he already had a strategy in place to get the Joker to go along unknowingly with his plan of attack on the criminal underworld.
Bruce gave off a nonplussed reaction and leaned his back against the side of the car. Not really looking at anything in particular. Never allowing his eagerness to show. Knowing he had to play this game perfectly or it would fail and blow up in his face.
"The guys at the bar brought it up that you would have a bone to pick with Scarecrow for how he treated you in Arkham. I just figured that now you know where he is you would want to deal with him. Am I wrong?"
Joker scoffed at that. Making Bruce wondered if he already fucked up.
"Is that what's going around in the rumor mill these days? How utterly disappointing that they couldn't come up with a better story." Joker sounded slightly irate and Bruce had a feeling he just sentenced people to death.
"I take it, it's not true then that Scarecrow used you as one of his guinea pigs?"
Press on his ego, Bruce. Joker never allowed slights against his person.
A deep chuckle.
"Well I didn't say that now, did I? I was his favorite and he really enjoyed my charming personality. Who could blame him? I'm one of a kind."
Amusement in the clowns tone, not a good sign.
Need to push his buttons harder.
Make him think on it.
Reconsider, his stance on the situation.
Make him angry.
More than angry.
Not a safe plan, but an affective one nonetheless.
"Are you trying to tell me that you enjoyed being treated like an experiment?" Bruce moved a rock by his feet. Giving off the implication that he was more distant from the conversation than he really was.
It kept Joker talking, just like he wanted.
"Such assumptions aren't healthy. They'll be your downfall if you let them. Let's just say that Scary for all his claims and assumptions of his skills with manipulation couldn't even comprehend when it was happening to himself. And fall he did when the rug was pulled from underneath him." Joker seemed even more amused with his comment. A secret in his words for Bruce to decipher.
It wasn't hard to figure out what Joker meant by that. His track record was astronomical when it came down to manipulating and twisting others around him. Easy to piece together the puzzle of what transpired between the Clown Prince of Crime and the self-proclaimed Master of Fear. Joker wouldn't have tolerated Crane using him for his own goals. No matter how amusing it might have been. The maniac had too much pride for that to be allowed. Joker would retaliate in any way he saw fit. It's what he does and what he's always done. Didn't matter who it was. Crane had conducted most of his unethical experiments in secret; only using the patients in Arkham until he decided to try and get Batman's attention by hurting innocent people.
If he never did that then Batman wouldn't have figured out what was going on for a long while. Might still not know to this day if Crane continued to be careful. There had to be a catalyst moment to push Crane to act on such a humongous mistake. Begrudgingly as it was to admit to himself all evidence now pointed to the fact that Joker in his own ways helped Batman take down the Scarecrow in the first place. A bitter pill to swallow. One he couldn't deny even if he wanted to. Lives were lost but Crane was apprehended and now could never truly work in peace again. His own karma as his mind was shattered by his own creation. Complementary of Batman's doing and Joker's influence beforehand.
"So you're really just going to leave him to his own devices after putting effort in having him tracked down? Seems like a waste of time."
Joker waved his hand in the air dismissively.
"Why should I concern myself when there is no fun to be had with him anymore?"
Joker seemed to have no interest in pursuing after the man of fears and Bruce knew it was time to change strategies. One thing will always get Joker's attention and was the trump card for this little game of wills between them. Something that he would not hesitate to use; so he did exactly that. Consequence be damned.
"Well, I suppose you're right. Although, what about the Bat?"
Joker's head snapped so fast in his direction that Bruce thought the clown would get whiplash from the action alone.
"What's my playmate gotta do with this?"
Bruce finally turned to face the Joker. He could see how the acidic green eyes were analyzing him critically. He knew then that he had won.
"It might be nothing, but I've been thinking and well since the Bat hasn't been coming around, perhaps, Scarecrow would know what he's been up to."
Joker looked at him with disbelief as if that very notion was an impossibility. One Bruce had been prepared for with handling.
"I mean let's consider that Batman has been distracted by fighting other people lately," Joker growled slightly (most likely out of jealousy) and Bruce had to ignore it. "If that is the case then the best solution might be to check if Scarecrow knows what Batman has been paying attention to when he hasn't been focusing on you. He's been in Arkham while you've been out and if the Bats been preoccupied then he would have heard about it. Just a thought. I could be wrong, but better to be safe than sorry. Really it's up to you. I'm just throwing ideas out there. All I know is how much you've been missing your Bat and this might help you out with your little problem."
Joker went deathly silent. His body that normally had so much energy was stock still. Bruce couldn't even tell if he was breathing. Green eyes darkening in color and his lips in a thin line. The only hint of a smile would be the prominent scars on his countenance. Minutes passed and still Joker didn't react. Didn't utter a single word and Bruce wondered if his mind wasn't handling the concept that he had proposed to him. When the silence started to even get to Bruce and he took a step towards the clown that's when Joker shot off the car like lightening. He would never admit how it startled him or how close he had been to attacking the Joker out of reflex in that moment. Joker went to his side and grabbed him roughly on the shoulders; turning Bruce to face him. His smile wide and a glimmer in his toxic green orbs.
"You brilliant little arsonist! This is what I love about you! I knew there was a reason I hadn't killed you!" Bruce stiffened as Joker pressed a chaste kiss to his lips that felt way longer than it had taken place and let go off him instantly, running to get in the car. "Hurry up! Let's go pay a visit to an ol' friend, shall we?"
Bruce just stood there in complete and utter shock. Disgust creeping up on his conscious as he just processed the few seconds that went by. The Joker had kissed him. His greatest foe and the plague of Gotham. A remorseless murderer who took extreme pleasure in all the agony he inflected on others. He could handle a great many things. A ruined hoodie and talks of insanity were nothing more than a nuisance, but this he could not deal with. Refused to. No possible way for his mind to accept what had just took place for only a short second. His hand quickly wiped at the spot on his lips to try and rid himself of the phantom feeling and much to his rage left over lipstick stained his hand. That had not been what he was expecting when he manipulated the Joker. Never in his life could he have been prepared for that. His personal space had been invaded countless times. Soft touches from the madman that made him want to break bones and rend flesh. Flirtations that he let in one ear and out the other. A kiss just wasn't in the realm of outcomes he could ever imagine. Would never allow himself to ponder. Nothing about this seemed right. Nothing about what had just happened was normal.
Bruce may have won this game, but all he could feel was like he had just awoken something so much worse. So much more deadly than going undercover in the Joker's gang. Victory had never felt this bitter. Never felt this brittle like it would fall apart with just a gust of wind or a push from the edge by the Joker. With a heavy sigh, he made his way to the car in a fog; not even noticing he started moving at all and got into the driver's seat. Feeling like it was the Joker who was truly behind the wheel.