Title: The Endless Dance
Summary: He thinks that once upon a time, he had been able to control himself around the clown.
Word count: 1778
Rating: R for violence and disturbing content
AN: Thanks to Rainpuddle13 for the beta.
The label on the door reads, "Name Unknown."
It's a mystery he has been unable to solve. He thinks even the Joker has no idea who he was, before. It doesn't stop it from bothering him (files and files of theories, cross-referencing disappearances of men with the appearance of the Joker, no conclusive leads) but he does not acknowledge his frustration to anyone.
He had been standing silently outside the heavily barricaded door for minutes when bloodshot eyes appear in the tiny slot of bulletproof glass. He can't hear it through the soundproofing, but can tell from the crinkle around the eyes that the Joker is laughing.
There is nothing to be investigated here. No unsolved crime, no missing clue.
He is reminding the Joker that he is being watched. That no crimes will be tolerated. That Batman is vigilant. (He is adding fuel to the fire.)
Batman has noticed two different ways of escaping this cell, and does not underestimate his opponent. He informs the guards.
He is unsurprised when they do nothing.
He cannot control the emotions in his eyes as effectively as he hoped. (When he meets up with the Joker, his eyes burn with all the festering emotions he cannot help.) The lenses in his mask give him a semblance of control.
If no one else can see that he's human, then maybe he isn't.
It is summer, and the swelter of heat makes the alley he's standing in nearly unbearable. The stench of garbage and urine and soured food greets him with every breath, and there's something- something bitter - lingering just out of ready identification.
There is nowhere to escape. He does not voice this. He can't bear to hear the laughter just yet.
In his ear, Oracle whispers what she's spying from hijacked cameras. The electronic tone hides any tremors in her voice.
Batman does not jump at the shill, crashing tone of madness. Does not acknowledge his annoyance. His frustration.
He flings a batarang (for the barest moment wishing it were a blade, wishing it were a bullet) and hears it hit soft flesh rather than brick.
He stalks towards the Joker, who becomes visible in the pitch-dark alley as though he's painted himself in neon. He is leaning against the wall, and has picked up the batarang. It flashes between his fingers as he moves it from hand to hand like a street magician.
It is obscene, seeing his symbol in those hands. (He put it there.)
The Joker grins (mouth red as the blood on Jay's torn face) and Batman can scarcely control himself.
His fist slamming into that mouth feels like a first kiss.
The fight is brief and feels like release. The Joker is drooling red onto the dark pavement. The zip strips are impersonal and sterile around his wrists (already bruising dark fingerprints on the pale pale flesh) and ankles (surrounded by bunched purple cloth and worn oversized shoes).
He is sweating. The Gotham swelter, he thinks again, and does not think of endless sand while he watches the Joker bleed.
He returns to the cave with his muscles still singing.
In the shower, he resists the urge to look around nervously, like the fumbling adolescent he isn't.
When he checks the scanners before going upstairs, he sees that the Joker managed to escape custody before reaching Arkham.
It is an obscene display.
The Joker knows- had to have - just how disconcerting the grinning corpses he leaves are. The overly wide eyes, bloodshot and terrified, and the warped, inhuman grins on stiff faces are a mockery. These innocents go to their graves bearing the mark of their killer. The children, Batman thinks, are the worst part.
Before, this scene had been one of complete normalcy. The meal was spread across the table, half eaten and going sour on mismatched plates.
In the background, a television was still on, the news grimly announcing the discovery of a murder scene.
The parents grinned from either end of the table, and the four children drooped in their seats, red hair and big smiles making them look like grotesque Raggedy Ann dolls.
There is a heart drawn in the mashed potatoes on the youngest boy's plate. The lines are much too thick to have been drawn by either child on that side of the table. (Joker's bony fingers wrapped around the handle of a gun.)
He knows why they were chosen. (The mailbox downstairs, labeled B. Atman. The father's name is Bill.) If he feels guilt, then he is doing exactly as the Joker wishes.
The children's hair shine Robin-red in the impersonal light.
There are no further clues here. He leaves without theatrics.
When he goes up against the Joker...
He can scarcely remember his training. Instead, he throws blind, instinctive punches meant to cause pain - meant to break and smash - instead of carefully, precisely taking down his opponent. If it were one of his partners (family), he would critique them. Would scold them for letting emotion interfere.
He tries to tell himself this, but he cannot break through the well-spring of hatred to keep his mind clear.
He thinks that once upon a time, he had been able to control himself around the clown.
(There are too many hurts, now. Too many festering wounds breaking apart their family.)
Only the nameless, faceless mugger of so long ago is target of as much of his hatred.
His date for the night has bleach blonde hair and liberally applied red lipstick and laughs obnoxiously at every comment he makes.
The whirling neon lights shining through the tinted glass of the limo almost tints her hair green. He does not shudder.
She has starved herself into angular, bony perfection, and moves with a theatrical flair.
"Brucie, baby, don't be so glum!" she exclaims, punctuating it with another gale of shrill laughter.
When she kisses him, he does not resist.
Too many times he's had to defend his actions.
Like he hasn't imagined that broken body a hundred times, in a hundred ways, and found each sent a chill (it must not happen) down his spine.
He fears for his soul. He fears that if that line is crossed, he will never return.
He would laugh and laugh and find himself in Arkham, he thinks, if he were ever to do what was easy and what might even be right.
He cannot murder the Joker. Cannot. Will not.
The tension has been building in his team. He sees it in the wary movements of Robin, hears it in the brisk words of Oracle. He has to fix the problem. The Joker has not broken anyone tonight, not yet, and Batman will keep it that way.
The night's patrol is fateful; he catches the Joker unaware.
They face off in an alley. It's not Crime Alley, not anywhere near it, but the stains and stench and scrawls on the walls are too familiar.
The cruel punch line, he thinks for a moment, but knows that it is unintentional. The Joker knows as little of his past as he knows of the Joker's. (Except for Jason. Always Jason, always the exception. He must not think of it now.)
"Be still, my beating heart," the Joker laughs. "But wait, you won't let that happen, will you?"
He pulls out a gun (always guns, easy death for the unwary) and pulls the trigger before Batman has a chance to disarm him.
The shots ping erratically into the darkness, hitting walls of abandoned buildings. No casualties, Batman ascertains, and refocuses his attention solely on the Joker.
His hand grasps the jutting, still-warm barrel of the gun, and with a flick of the wrist he jerks it away, suddenly and without resistance.
The Joker writhes as Batman pushes him against the brick wall, gauntlet wrapped around his thin neck. He searches the Joker, shoving his hand roughly into pockets and groping for the canister of gas he knows is secreted somewhere. He finds it on the third try, and tucks it away for further study.
"Oh, Batsy," Joker chokes out. Batman can feel a pulse - is it the Joker's or his own? - thundering through his fingertips."Playing rough tonight? What will the children think?"
His eyes dart around.
"Or did you leave him with a sitter so we can have,"Joker coughs as Batman tightens his grip slightly, "a special night alone?"
His fist connects with the Joker's nose, cartilage giving in under the sudden force. The spray of hot, sticky fluid hits Batman in the face, mingling with his sweat and clinging to his lip.
He spits to the side, but the coppery, salty taste lingers.
Batman releases his grasp, and the Joker slides bonelessly to the ground. Blood is running in rivulets down his chalky face, and as he smears it away from his mouth with his sleeve all Batman can see is Jason laying broken on a charred floor.
"Shame," Joker says. "Robin laid back and took his punishment so well. Positively screamed." His blood-tinged grin widens. "I'll admit, I'm a bit jealous. I think he thought of you when we finally consummated our relationship."
Batman is in motion before he could fully cognize his actions. Instinct fuels him, emptying his mind of everything except the man unsteadily rising in front of him and his own white-hot rage.
He draws back, and thrusts his body fully with the punch. The connection of his fist to soft flesh is satisfaction, like a caress. (He's dreamt of this.) He does it again and again, driving his whole being into the action, satisfaction building into something more. Something like happiness, he thinks for a terrifying second. (He's not that lost.)
His motions more erratic, he deviates from his pattern, adding a few satisfying kicks, shoving the Joker into the wall, throwing him onto the ground. None of the Joker's attempts at self defense even register as Batman, kneeling, culminates the brawl with a final, shaking blow to his chest.
He pants, sweat slithering uncomfortably under his costume, overheated. The alley spins when he rises, too quickly (he's getting older), and just stands, breathing heavily and looking at the aftermath.
The Joker is laying, not quite broken, amidst the garbage. He is laughing quietly, choking a bit on blood from his split lips.
His clothes are disarrayed, torn.
His eyes slowly sliding closed even as he chokes out laughter.
Batman feels content even as he worries he has gone too far.
He kneels in the cooling blood in the alley and makes sure his enemy will survive.