A/N: Wow, I'm becoming notorious for lengthy delays between chapters, aren't I? But have not fear! This chapter is probably my longest yet, so be happy…though it might be another long delay for the next one, eheh. Sorry! Anyway, thank you to all reviewers, since I can't reply to you all with Author's Notes anymore due to new instant!reply settings. Anyway, I hope you enjoy. :)
'Clocks' is a song by Coldplay. I'm nowhere near rich enough to buy to right to it, not that I'd want to, since Coldplay is doing such a good job of taking care if it by themselves. ;)
Batman groggily woke up to morning, or what he thought to be morning, since his surroundings in the cave were still quite opaque. He found as he let out a deep, genuine yawn that his neck ached slightly from the awkward position he slept in. He rubbed the base of it sleepily as he pulled his cape off his lap and the still sleeping Flash. After making the stiffness vanish, he wrapped the dark fabric back around its rightful place, across his shoulders, and announced, "Wake up, Wally,"
He waited a moment for his teammate's reply, or at least a reluctant groan, but found that none came. Bruce found this a bit odd, so he called out again, this time sharply, "Get up, Flash,"
Once again, only silence answered. "Flash?"
Now, somewhat worried, Bruce fumbled in the dark for the flashlight, and he ordered it to awaken with the press of his thumb. It obeyed, and a beam of light escaped the bulb from behind its plastic casing.
Batman shone the light beside himself, to where Flash had been when he last saw the Scarlet Speedster the night before…only to find the area deserted.
"Flash! Answer me!" The dark knight called out, a lump forming in his throat, as he directed the illumination every which way in a flurry to find the young man.
Nothing, not even the laughter that would come from Wally, signaling that this was all just a joke. It had to be a joke. But then again, Flash would never joke about something as serious as this…Bruce had to at least give him that much credit.
Maybe he just went to scout ahead…but with his super speed, even he had left five minutes ago, the Fastest Man Alive would have been back by now.
The Caped Crusader's eyes suddenly caught sight of a small, bright white cloth sprawled on the dark brown dirt ground, making the fabric stand out starkly like a jock in a sea of goths. Curious, Batman leaned forward and picked up the cloth. He inspected it; he could feel a cool liquid soak slightly through his gloves- the cloth was wet. The dark knight brought it in range of his face, and smelled the wetness from a safe distance. He instantly recognized the strong, putrid smell, as well as the minor wave of dizziness that attacked his brain.
Someone must have used it on Wally, so that even if he were awake, he would effectively be unconscious, and easy to kidnap. With narrowed eyes, his thoughts drew to the only person who could have done such a thing.
Wally West crawled grudgingly back into the land of the conscious, feeling as though Superman had pummeled his head in. He vaguely wondered why, but his brain could barely register coherent thoughts.
He slid his eyes open, and groaned pitifully. Many bright lights glared at Flash right in his eyes, which hadn't seen proper daylight for over a day. He had a hard time adjusting to the lucid lighting, and he instinctively winced. God, how his head pounded! He bleakly shook his head, and tried to move his arms to massage his aching temples.
Only his arms bounced back to the hard, cold surface on which he laid, as if a magnetic attraction held him in place. Wait a second…didn't he go to sleep the night before sitting up? On a fairly soft ground? In the dark? Not strapped down?
Events from the dark of midnight suddenly and with great ferocity crashed into his vision, invading his thoughts mercilessly. He saw the eerie profile of The Joker; the only thing truly lit up about his being the shape of his bleached white teeth that seemed to glow in the dark.
Wally remembered fumbling for the flashlight sleepily, trying to get a better look at his intruder- but a cloth was then wrapped over his nose and mouth, and an awful stench filled his lungs like water. His lightning-fast reflexes instantly became laggard with his first breath, his muscles weakened, and he felt himself uncontrollably slip from wakefulness.
With a sharp intake of breath, he tensed, filling in the blanks. "Joker," he uttered.
"Well, well, good morning, starshine, the earth says 'hello'!" a voice cackled mockingly somewhere beyond the blinding light.
Wally could have felt afraid, angry, placid, anything- but all he felt suddenly was a mild frustration. Maybe he wasn't scared because he knew what to expect- to be teased and/or tortured by a loony.
He supposed he felt frustrated, however, because he couldn't do anything about it.
Flash decided that he didn't want to give Joker the satisfaction of seeing him irked, so he remained silent.
Suddenly the light was pulled away so that it no longer shined into his sensitive green eyes. Then, his breath left him when he felt a weight push into his lower torso, and saw The Joker's face invade his vision. He was so close that their noses touched.
"Aw, you're ignoring me, Flashy-boy? I'm hurt!" the maniac cried out dramatically.
Wally bleakly wondered if The Joker's white 'face paint' would rub off onto his nose from such close contact. He could feel the circulation in his legs being brutally cut off due to the weight the villain put on his knees, which dug into the Scarlet Speedster.
"I'd be hurt too if I had a face like that," Flash grunted out bluntly.
The everlasting grin pasted on The Joker's face shrunk slightly. "Really, couldn't you think of at least a more original insult? At least when Bats makes a comeback, he doesn't rely on someone's looks as a scapegoat. Besides, I bet you're no prize yourself under that mask…but then again, those green eyes of yours are quite pretty."
Wally furrowed his brow. "The hell- are you hitting on me?" he asked in disgust.
The supervillain barked out a laugh. "Oh, wouldn't you like that, pretty boy? I was actually thinking more along the lines of adding your eyeballs to my collection, whenever the opportunity should arise!"
Wally visibly tensed.
"But, still, I am rather curious as to what you really look like…and it would be so easy; I could just pull this off and…" Joker reached over to Flash's scarlet mask and grabbed a clump of the fabric, along with some hair underneath rather roughly. Wally winced and clenched his fists.
"Oh, but what would be the fun in that? It would end the mystery on a rather anti-climatic note! The villain discovers the hero's true identity in his moment of weakness…that would be boring…it's so over-done!"
Joker hopped off Wally and strolled away from view. Flash tilted his head so that he could see the insane man, who had turned away from him and was looking at something on a table (what the hell was a table doing in a cave?). Wally breathed out in relief, and let his head flop back to its regular position. He could relax…for the moment.
"So what is it that you want from me, if you don't want to know my secret identity? Have tea and gossip about boys?" The Fastest Man Alive asked dryly.
"Oooh, that sounds like fun!" squealed Joker, who was still turned away. Wally's eyes widened incredulously. "But, unfortunately, we don't have time for that, Speedy. So many things, so little time, but oh, so much fun!" he roared with amusement at his own self.
"Wow, on a scale of one to ten of you being at all funny, ten being the highest…you're, like, a negative four," Flash groaned flatly.
"Oh, so you're looking for funny, boy?" Joker inquired in a slightly sing-song voice. Whatever he had been tinkering with on the table then became apparent; he swirled around and promptly dug it into Wally' outstretched hand. Searing, scalding agony streaked through his skin, and The Fastest Man Alive couldn't help but let out a small screech. Seconds later, the immediate pain faded, but a dull throb pulsed through his palm. Breathing heavily, he glanced down at his hand from his awkward position and cringed. The fabric of his glove was charred away into a small hole, and he could see that the flesh underneath was simmering and starting to blister.
Flash glanced up when he heard Joker's chuckle- only instead of just his 'normal' insane cackle, it was full of malice. "Well, am I funny now, boy?" he hissed, waving around his weapon of choice that had seconds before been inflicted on the superhero; a long, thin metal rod that was a golden shade of fire at the top of the cylinder.
Wally gritted his teeth. "You're only laughable when you get your ass kicked. Especially by Bats- since he does such a good job of it, and you still haven't learned to avoid it yet."
The Fastest Man Alive was hoping to see a spark of anger in the supervillain, but instead was greeted by a soft titter of laughter from said villain- but then, he thought, that could be just as scary.
"Oh, Batty, it all comes back to him, doesn't it?" Joker sighed dramatically, cupping his chin in his free hand thoughtfully and looking away. "But then again, of course it should- it's all about him, after all. In fact, he's why you're here in the first place, kid,"
Kid. Such a simple three letter word, yet it made Flash want to lash out at the villain. His chest puffed defiantly. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Isn't it obvious, or are you one brain short of a head?" Joker shot back, though his cheerful insanity was back with a vengeance. That made Wally feel no more comfortable than before. "You're the bait for the Bat- as well as the tragic flaw,"
"It's an English literature term used in Shakespeare's plays from the tragic hero's weakness- in other words, the fact that you being tortured or, possibly, killed would just break the poor guy's heart," The villain mocked morbidly, his hands clasped together in a gesture of sentimentality. "Plus- you betraying him with the precious secret information about him in your own moment of hamartia, or the moment your own tragic flaw comes out…well, that would be the icing on the cake, now, wouldn't it?"
Wally remained silent with a dark look on his face, but inside, for the first time since waking up, he felt fear grip at his heart.
"Now…shall we let the games begin?" Joker sneered, waving the hot metal poker around for affect; the scalding tangerine tip of the object danced off steam ominously.
"I'll never talk, Joker. Even with that little do-hickey of yours, I'll die before I say a word," Flash snarled defiantly.
"Oh, Flashy-boy, you miss the point…that is the idea," the clown pounced back onto The Fastest Man Alive's legs, much to said hero's aggravation. The villain tilted his head to the side like a conspiring cat feigning innocence. "Now, tell me, what is Batman's real name?"
"I thought you said that finding out the hero's identity was boring," Wally spat.
"Oh, but this is fun! Torturing the information out of someone is totally different than simply ripping a mask off," The Joker cackled. He then made the metal rod hover under Wally's chin, a smug sneer on his doll-like face. The young man could smell the burning metal, a most unpleasant scent, and the hair on the back of his neck stood on end.
"I'll ask you again- what is Batman's true identity?"
Flash gritted his teeth wolfishly, and with a snarl, he vibrated his body as fast as he could. This constant motion sent Joker flying off his legs and into a table. "Go to hell!" he howled.
Joker stood up shakily, stunned, but shook his head and regained his composure. All traces of giddiness swept off him, and an expression of pure rage dominated his features. The clown stalked over to Wally West's side once more, and promptly stuck the metal poker into his stomach.
The Scarlet Speedster, who had expected pain, found himself roaring in agony, even though he had previously prepared himself for such an attack. Joker let it stay in the same spot for 10 seconds, though it seemed like a century to Wally. When the crazed villain removed the weapon, Wally started panting wildly, and weakly wondered how old he was now. His stomach now not only growled in hunger, but in pain as well.
Desperately, Flash tugged at his bonds with all his might. He no longer cared if he strained a muscle, popped an artery, or hurt himself otherwise; anything was better at this point than receiving 3rd degree burns. He had already set in his mind to remain tight-lipped about Batman's real name; however, he didn't know if he could live through this to gloat to Bruce about how 'mature and reliable' he was.
"Tell me who the Bat is," Joker growled threateningly.
"Get a new face and I just might," Wally grunted in a strain to get out of his chains.
The clown found no humour in the superhero's insult. Flash heard his skin sizzle as Joker plunged the poker into the skin of his abdomen once more. This time, Wally only cringed, even though it hurt twice as much as the last.
"You're only making this harder on yourself, boy. So make Uncle Joker happy and tell me who Batman is."
Something within The Fastest Man Alive stirred and flared up. "You're not my uncle," he growled out tersely.
"And thank the devil for that," the villain scoffed off-handedly. "Imagine being related to you…I bet the family reunions are absolute hell, all these speedy guys running all over the place, tearing up everything in sight…ick."
Joker eyed Wally evilly. "But back on topic, let's not let our minds wander idly!" he began drawing circles in the air around the insignia of Flash's suit. "Who is Batsy?"
For a fleeting moment, the young man wondered if Joker's insane streak was rubbing off on him. "Didn't you hear? He's the terror of the night, the Caped Crusader, the- GACK!"
"Really? I never knew he was a 'gack'…though he sure tends to act like one," the clown teased cheerfully, as he stuck the hot poker into his chest once more.
Flash's back arched into a parabola, and his forehead and neck sprung out into salty tears. When The Joker released him and paced back a few steps, his vision had blackened momentarily in pain, and his breath didn't seem to want Wally to catch up with it. Oh, god, please, make it stop…
"Wow, you're going to have some major heart burn after this," the villain laughed obnoxiously. He walked back up to Wally, and with a coy smile, whispered into his ear, "I can make it stop, Flash…just say the name…"
With a cold shiver, Wally clenched his fists and shut his eyes. "Fine. You want to know? He's really…" Flash glanced back at The Joker, a mischievous grin painted on his features, "…Your mom."
The Scarlet Speedster had seen the look of anger on many people before- the annoyance people exhibited when he cracked an unwanted joke, his parents fighting, Batman on a normal day- but the expression on The Joker's face made their frowns look like smiles.
"Wrong answer, boy," the clown snarled savagely, and stuck Wally once more with the poker.
"Aaaugh- fine- he's freakin' Albert Einstein!"
The rod tore Flash's suit as the villain put on more pressure.
"AAAHH- George Clooney!"
His skin underneath began to blacken.
"Urrgh, 50 cent…"
Wally began to feel sick. He was already in a mass amount of misery, but now on top of the pain, he felt as though he were going to throw up whatever remained in his stomach, which wasn't much, seeing how he hadn't eaten anything in over a day. But, he didn't feel that hungry anymore anyway- the thought of that cheeseburger his had craved earlier made him feel even fainter.
"…Walt Disney…" he mumbled deliriously, his tongue feeling deader than his blackened skin. "Darth…Vader…"
"Erg, this is just pathetic…just pass out already, boy, it'd be such a waste to have to kill you off right away," The Joker remarked in disgust.
Flash weakly raised his forefinger skyward. "For once, whitehead…I'd have…to agree," the injured superhero gasped out. He gave out a hoarse groan and shuddered, suddenly feeling very cold with the metal rod removed from on top his abdomen. He sunk back into the metal table feebly, shivering pitifully in a yearning for heat. Then, time finally lost meaning for The Fastest Man Alive.
Batman found that he could handle many different situations tactfully- anything from solving complex mysteries to scaring the bejeesus out of common thugs in the black of night.
But the fact that he couldn't inch along the edge of a wall without risking falling down a bottomless pit annoyed the hell out of him.
Of course, this was only because his ankle was being more unreliable than trusting a snake alone in a room with a hamster and expecting it not to eat the furry rodent.
But that still shouldn't have held Bruce back.
Still, even at great risk to himself, he could feel himself slowly inching forward, his back pressed tightly against the stone cave wall, his feet barely holding him balanced on the thin edge that separated him from walking and free-falling to his sure death in the bottomless abyss. He had to get to Wally and save him from The Joker before it was too late.
At first, he didn't know which direction to go- backward or forward, AKA deeper into the cave. Then he saw The Joker's telltale footprints going ahead into the ominous dark- and the dark knight knew what he had to do.
Bruce could feel a thin layer of perspiration begin to make formation on his forehead underneath his cowl. He rarely felt fear that he was going to die- but now the feeling was beginning to make itself known without an invitation.
Instead of going back like his head told him to, he simply ground his teeth together and took another shaky step forward.
The ground crumbled underneath Batman's feet and gravity took over, the abyss yawning him into the darkness.
With a sharp gasp, Bruce twirled in midair and desperately clawed at the wall for a grip.
He then found himself dangling in midair, one trembling hand holding onto a protruding rock in the wall for dear life.
A striking feeling of déjà vu washed over the dark knight and he grimaced dismally.
Batman felt his whole arm begin to quiver under his weight. He knew that if he didn't act fast, he was going to fall- and perish.
Bruce's left eye twitched with annoyance.
Using his other hand, he stuck the flashlight into his mouth and clenched down on it with his teeth. Then, he swiftly found his grappling hook in his utility belt and shot it a good 10 feet forward, and well out of the pit. He heard the 'thwip!' of the rope and saw the other end stick to the ceiling like a spider web.
He let go of the wall and grasped fully onto the rope; using his good foot, he pushed off the wall and swung to the other side, and cushioned the impact with his back skillfully. His twisted his body around to face the wall of rocks and began to inch up the rope with the combined strength of his hands and good foot to anchor himself on the wall. He moved slothishly and deliberately, but eventually he climbed out of the hole and staggered into a standing position. He retracted the grappling hook and took the flashlight out of his jaw.
"I hate this place," Batman grumbled to himself, tenderly leaning off his injured ankle. "I hate being stuck here, I hate The Joker for causing this, and I hate the fact that Wally and I sleep like logs. Most of all, I hate Christmas holidays. If only I could contact the rest of the 'League, we could get out of here."
A light bulb lit up. The dark knight limped over to a wall, and leaned against it heavily. He closed his eyes, looking as though he were about to fall asleep from exhaustion, but instead was concentrating deeply on one thought over and over again.
J'onn, can you hear me? Maybe, just maybe, if he could contact the Martian, Bruce could get him to come and help them out of the godforsaken hellhole.
After a few tense moments, a voice vibrated in the Caped Crusader's eardrums. Bruce? What is Wrong?Listen, are you able to pick up where my voice is coming from? Yes, though it is faint… Good. I need you to track me down. Wally and I are stuck in a cave, and we can't get out…Wally's missing and we need assistance. Alright, I'm at Superman's parents' house, so I'll let him know…but why is Wally not with you?
…The Joker has him. I'm trying to find him. J'onn, get here as fast as you can; it's really important that you do…otherwise Wally might not be around to find.
To Be Continued…