Title: A Different Kind of Obsession

Rating: K (plus) for mild innuendo

Characters: The Joker and Batman

Summary: The Joker likes to play mind games and Batman is his favourite opponent. A oneshot glimpse into Gotham's greatest rivalry.

Disclaimer: These characters are property of DC. I'm just borrowing them.

Notes: Yes, I know this sort of thing has probably been done plenty of time before but this is my own take on the Joker and Batman's rivalry. I mostly wanted to practise writing the Joker, because I know it's very easy to mess him up completely. I hope I did him justice. The first part of this is set early on when Batman and Joker had only crossed paths a few times. The latter half is later and contains VERY subtle references to events in The Killing Joke and A Death in the Family but I don't think it'll spoil anyone who hasn't read those yet.

-0-0-0-

He loved Gotham at night. It wasn't because the shadows stretched far into the distance, creating the perfect cover of darkness. It wasn't even because the numerous derelict buildings provided a seemingly endless number of hideouts, though that certainly helped. No, those things were incredibly boring. Cliché. He loved Gotham at night because it was a playground. It was his playground.

So many pranks to pull and so little time. So many people who just needed to get the joke. He was giddy with excitement ever night. His head was a cocktail of ideas, shaken and ready to pour. The losers in this city had the wrong idea. They went about their business, carrying out their pathetic plans, desperately trying to remain hidden. What exactly is the point in committing a crime if nobody knows it was you? It could've been anybody. No, he wasn't like them. He craved the attention. He wanted everyone to be the butt of a perfect joke and it was paramount that they knew he was its grand architect.

Some evenings he did appreciate the shadows. Some evenings he would walk among them, blending in, observing. It killed him of course. Why should anyone else be the thorn in the GCPD's side? However, it was necessary. A joke had to remain fresh and so did the performance. He allowed the people of Gotham just enough time to almost forget him and then he'd be back, with a bang. There was only one person who knew better than to forget. The Joker wouldn't have it any other way.

He knew he was being followed. He purposefully walked at a snail's pace, savouring the moment. He could hear the faint flapping of lightweight material on the breeze; he could hear every small leap from building to building. He was flattered really. Even when it was obvious that he wasn't responsible for the latest horrors, Gotham's vigilant would come running.

"Are you following me Batman? People will talk!" Joker chuckled. He stopped walking and turned around, swinging his cane triumphantly. This was only one of a small handful of first meetings; the Dark Knight was already hooked. It was enough to make the Joker want to laugh out loud. He resisted. There were things he could say, things he could do, much more worthy of a giggle.

There was a single thud as the Batman dropped down from his perch. Now he was hiding in the shadows, slightly to the right of a strong beam of moonlight. Joker could just about see the unmistakeable outline of the cowl. Against the blackness, two white-eye slits narrowed. Oh he loved that, it meant that Batman was already annoyed and he didn't even have to lift a finger!

"Problem sweetheart? Did someone put bat poison on your cornflakes this morning?" the Joker mocked, his grin widening.

Far from amused, the Dark Knight launched himself at the Joker, throwing his thin body against the nearest wall. The jolt was enough to knock the fedora of his head and his cane fell to the floor with a loud clatter. He was momentarily dazed but soon came round. A quietened giggle rattled in his throat and earned him a gauntlet under his throat. It wasn't intimidating. It was funny. "You know Bats, we could just have sex instead!"

Batman's lip twitched. Oh his attempts to hide his frustration only added to the fun. Joker was laughing like a hyena now, squirming uncontrollably against Batman's grip. This was too much. His opponent was proving easy to wind-up, more so than usual! "Be quiet you lunatic!" the Batman hissed, shoving an arm against Joker's chest in the vain hope that it would still his writhing form.

"Am I to promise I won't tell mommy? Is that how this works?" asked Joker through stifled giggles. Batman growled and lifted the Clown Prince by his collar. He held him off the floor for a second or two and then dropped him. Hard. "Oof, is that any way to treat a lady Batsy?"

The Batman loomed in front of him, blocking any chance of a quick exit. "I have no time for your games Joker," he snapped.

"You had enough time to follow little ol' me!" said the Joker, rising to his feet and rubbing the top of his thigh. His red mouth twisted into a grimace. That was going to sting in the morning. He crouched slightly to retrieve his fedora but the Dark Knight moved forward, blocking the reach of Joker's arm.

"Move again and I promise you won't wake up in time for Tuesday!"

"Oh I hate Tuesdays!" replied Joker, righting himself again. "So what can I do for you ol' Batsy, ol' pal?" he chuckled.

The eye slits narrowed again. "I'm not asking for favours," said Batman "word's got out that there's a string of heists in the works, every bank in Gotham is a target,"

"That still doesn't explain why you're following me,"

Batman slammed both his hands against the wall, either side of Joker's head "don't get cute with me Joker, there's only one person with enough resources to pull that off,"

"Yawn," scoffed the Joker, moving a gloved hand to his mouth to emphasise his point "what do I look like, a one-trick pony? Banks…been there, done that. I would be flattered that you thought of me first sweetheart but really, I thought you were smarter than this?"

The Dark Knight grabbed Joker by the lapels, pulling him closer. It only added to the clown's amusement as another fit of giggles erupted from his throat. His laughter however was cut painfully short. Batman shook him violently and pushed him up against the wall. "Every major recent criminal activity has been traced to you, you're the number one suspect. I thought you were smart enough to realise why,"

"Batman," said Joker with an innocent flutter of his eyelids "I was merely taking a midnight stroll. If I had heists to plan I wouldn't be out here to play. Do you really think so ill of me? I'm hurt!" Batman lowered him back onto the ground but kept a tight grip, Joker pouted, "you can let go Batsy, I'm obviously not going anywhere,"

"I'm taking you to Arkham where you belong," Batman replied matter of fact.

"The funhouse?" Joker laughed, "Now who's being cute, you still think I need help!"

"You're sick," hissed Batman, removing one hand from Joker's suit. The Clown Prince muttered something about creases and smoothed his hand against the lapel, stopping short of the flower that adorned it.

"Do you want me to come quietly officer?" he teased "was this just an elaborate excuse to catch me, to send me to the boys in white? Even though I haven't done anything wrong…"

"You tried to sabotage a fairground attraction just last week!"

"…today," said the Joker with a wolfish grin. "Sorry Bats," he added, his fingers stroking the petals of the flower "but I'm not done playing," he squeezed the exposed stem of the flower and a jet of green liquid propelled itself at Batman, hitting him on the chin and neck of his cowl. Damn, that was new! Batman had seen Joker Venom before but he wasn't expecting that. He fell to his knees. A grotesque sensation bubbled in his stomach and he began a mental struggle against the urge to laugh. By all rights he shouldn't have been able to fight it. Am I dying? Am I mad?

This concoction seemed less potent, as though prolonged suffering was its only purpose. He desperately fumbled with his utility belt, searching for the emergency antidote that he had carried at all times since the Joker first appeared. Batman began to retch, shaking as he steadied his weight against one hand. He could feel the bile in his stomach rising up into his throat. His heartbeat was out of control and his diaphragm ached. A series of spasm pushed against the base of his lungs, he couldn't breathe.

He flipped the cap from a vile of antidote and quickly raised it to his lips. Some of the mixture trickled onto his chin but he had just managed to swallow enough. His heartbeat slowed and his breathing steadied. As he leaned against the wall to recover, he was left with an annoying case of the hiccups.

The Joker would've probably found that funny, but by now he had escaped, cackling manically into the night.

-0-0-0-

Years later Batman would sometimes think back to that encounter. It was brief, insignificant, hardly worth the worry. But that was exactly the point. He could've killed him that night. Gotham had not seen the likes of Joker before, he was hard to predict and had already earned a reputation as a cold-blooded sociopath. It meant he could wander freely, well as freely as a wanted criminal could. Still, the cops didn't quite know how to handle him. Not back then.

Yes, Batman could've ended it. Joker should be dead. So many people would be alive, those who lived untainted by his cruelty. An unpleasant chill shot down Batman's spine. He'd done it again. He'd contemplated the death of his most hated enemy. Even thinking it made him feel ill. I'd be no better than him. It was against everything that he stood for, against his very being. Yet somewhere, in the darkest corners of his mind, the Batman knew that his one action would have saved hundreds, including some dear to him.

Some things never change. He was working late, if you could call sifting through an endless stream of reports and medical records work. He was looking for anything; even a tiny ambiguous morsel of information would suffice. But what was normally a tedious task alone had acquired a more unpleasant angle. In the early hours of the morning, the Dark Knight found himself having to stare at blown up images of his arch nemesis plastered across the Batcomputer monitor. He sighed. This was turning out to be a very long night.

It wasn't the images that bothered him. Batman had been desensitised that years ago. The people of Gotham, they were the ones who were haunted by the image. That rictus grin as red as the blood that often covered his gloved hands, those green eyes so coloured by hate, those were merely staple images from the nightmares of children. As for those children unfortunate enough to actually see the Joker…well, some of them will never speak ever again.

No, image meant nothing to Batman. It was the mind. That twisted mind that used irrationality to create perverse rationality, a mind that knew exactly what buttons to press; it both disturbed and intrigued Batman. He was a detective first and foremost but one cannot draw any satisfactory conclusions from the mind of a psychopath. Perhaps actually being able to enter the mind would provide answers? Don't be ridiculous he berated himself. I'd go insane! The Joker's mind was a dangerous place that much was obvious.

It was strange that he was considered legally insane. Of course he was mad and to suggest otherwise would be madness itself. However, there was a sinister method to his madness. Oh the clown knew what he was doing all right. Yet the doctors didn't see it that way. They saw him as a patient in desperate need of a cure. If only they could peel back the layers, find out what made him snap and somehow rebuild his humanity. Funny, Batman once thought like that. Briefly.

"Might I suggest something a little more cheerful Master Bruce?"

Ah Alfred. How long had he been standing there? The Batman had lost his focus and had been concentrating on the Joker's hideous glare for an undetermined amount of time. Now Alfred's voice, professional as always, had rescued Batman from his trance. He turned around and pulled back the cowl, creating the paradox that is Bruce Wayne and the Batman existing at exactly the same moment. He wondered if Alfred ever felt like he was speaking to two people. "Forgive me sir, but I believe that's quite enough for one night, I don't like to see you obsessing like this," said the butler, his neutral expression never faltering.

"It's not an obsession Alfred, it's prevention," he faced the computer again and typed, narrowing his search criteria. "Lives are in danger," he gestured to a long list of names, each with the same thing in common. They all had the same surname. And that was just one list.

Alfred didn't say anything. He simply remained at his master's side waiting for instructions. Or maybe he just wanted to keep him company. Bruce and Batman were leading very lonely lives at the moment. Especially Batman, he refused to allow Tim or even Barbara to become involved in this.

Alfred was right of course. Batman knew it. He was obsessing. This wasn't just a relentless determination to protect the innocent; this was an all-consuming desire to stop the only man who could ever match him. This was a different kind of obsession. The Joker was Batman's exact opposite. They were a living dichotomy of good and evil, chaos and order. Joker may not have the physical strength to match the Dark Knight but he had the mind. It was a mind that could crush Batman's spirit through a single act of insane cruelty. It was a mind that believed those acts to be funny. That was the worst part. Everything Joker did actually had a point and through the years tormenting Batman for laughs had become his number one priority.

Once again Alfred broke the silence "Do you ever consider that he does this on purpose Master Bruce?"

"Everything he does is deliberate," Batman replied gruffly. Naturally, what Alfred was trying to say was correct. Even Joker's body count was exaggerated. He was the best self-publicist in Gotham.

"Forgive me sir, but there was that incident a few years back. He spread a rumour about himself if I recall correctly, and eventually it turned out to be nothing more than his usual attention seeking," Alfred lifted his head, standing tall and preparing for the backlash. Master Bruce never meant to snap at his oldest friend but in moments of extreme agitation it was known to happen.

"I can't take that chance," said Batman. "I understand your concern old friend…" he didn't complete his sentence, choosing instead to use an attempted smile to convey his sentiments. It was strange seeing that. In private a frown hardly left his face. Alfred used to joke about the wind changing, until circumstances, horrible circumstances, meant that Master Bruce had very little to smile about.

-0-0-0-

Cocooned within the walls of Arkham Asylum, the Joker was in hysterics.

-0-0-0-

He awoke the next night after almost twenty-four hours of heavy sedation. Party poopers. He was only having a laugh at Batman's expense, where was the harm in that? Sure he'd tried to kick one of the guards but he was dumb enough to enter the cell and believe that a straightjacket was enough to still the Joker. He never understood why they thought having only the use of his legs could impede him. Had they not noticed his agility? He'd gone one on one with the bat for goodness sake!

He could get out of here if he really wanted. In fact during the days when they were good enough to forget about the straightjacket, Joker could even get out of his cell, wander around generally being a nuisance (without being seen) and get back to his cell in time to watch the show he'd created. Once he caused a brawl between at least six guards. Now that was funny.

He didn't want to get out just yet. The final act of his latest performance was yet to be played. He couldn't leave until his supporting actor had fulfilled his purpose.

"Joker…"

Aha! There he was, right on cue. Adorable. "I knew you'd come to me eventually Batsy," the Joker paused for a giggle "you always come back,"

The Dark Knight stepped out of the shadows and up to the glass. The white-eye slits glared relentlessly at the man in the cell. It was the closest thing to a greeting that the Joker would ever get, if you could call it a greeting. Usually, when out on the streets, it was a threat, a threat that said nothing more than I'm going to break every bone in your body.

The Joker shuffled forward and hoisted himself to his feet, leaning so that his nose touched the glass. There was a wicked gleam in his eyes and worryingly the corners of his mouth fell slightly into a frown. "What's the matter sweetheart? Got nothing to say?" if there was one thing worse than a manic Joker, it was a Joker that sounded serious, too serious.

"Why are you doing it Joker?"

"Doing what?" he asked with false naivety. "I don't do much these days. Except breaking the will of the latest in a long line of shrinks who think they can handle me, it's a hoot,"

"You know what I'm talking about!" Batman growled. "I've been speaking to your psychiatrist. I know what you've been saying," he edged closer to the glass, so close that green eyes met white slits. The Joker didn't even blink. "It'll be easier for us both if you just admit it,"

Joker closed his mouth and pursed his lips, pretending to think. "Admit what? That everyone with a colour for a surname is on my hit list? You actually believed that I'd tell my shrink of all people! Batman you are too much!" the nightmarish grin returned.

"James White is dead," hissed the Batman, slamming his fists against the glass. It was amazing that a guard didn't come running.

"So I asked Harley to take someone out, kept you on your batty-toes didn't it?" Joker chuckled. "Thanks to you I'm taking an extended break from my performances. Would I let Harls do all the work? Steal my thunder while I'm in here? I thought you knew me Bats!" he was swaying slightly as he spoke.

"I know you can't be trusted,"

"And that's the punch line Batman. You can't trust me. I'm terrible! I lie! But what am I lying about? You'll never know! I could be lying right now. I'll get out of here and people will die. On the other hand, I could be lying about lying! Isn't it wonderful?"

Batman gritted his teeth, desperately fighting the urge to break the glass. He knew that wasn't possible but boy was he angry enough to try. "After all these years, you still think this is a joke?" he snarled.

"Oh but it is Batsy! We're the only things that are real in this, this grand delusion," replied Joker, his nose pressed so hard against the glass that it began to fog with every exhalation of breath. "We're here to keep each other entertained. I've told you before, my act would be nothing without my straight man, and here you are yet again. I need you and you need me Batman, admit it!"

"Is that part of your delusion?"

The Joker was temporarily speechless. "Ooh that's a joke right?" he giggled, "Batman tried to tell a joke! If only I could use my arms I'd be wiping away tears!"

The Dark Knight decided he'd had enough. He turned to the side, intending to slip away before a guard presence was really needed. Joker wasn't letting him get away that easily. "Tell me Bats, how does it make you feel? All that witness protection and police time wasted and all because you thought I might kill someone. I heard about that little old dear, sweetheart, shot in the back of the head for trying to run. You were too busy trying to shut me down and you weren't there. See, I don't even have to be the one pulling the trigger," a malicious low-pitched laugh began to rumble in the depths of his chest.

"You're lying!"

"Am I?" said Joker between giggles "sure, I'm lying. But I really wouldn't want to be Sarah Green right now," he waited; oh this reaction was going to be good. Batman faced him again and paced up and down the length of the small window, very aware that the Joker was following him with his eyes. The Dark Knight's jaw moved ever so subtly, as though he was about to speak. He knew that letting the Joker have the last word was what the clown wanted. He knew he could've said something, anything and made a swift exit but that would be stooping to the Joker's level.

A guard had come to investigate. He smiled politely, inviting Batman to reveal any problems. Instead Gotham's vigilant gave a curt nod and walked away from the Joker's cell. It was enough for the Clown Prince. He threw back his head and tumbled backwards, landing on the floor and rolling around as gales of laughter erupted from his throat.

-0-0-0-

Maybe Alfred was right. Worryingly, maybe even the Joker was right. Perhaps Batman was obsessed. But he was obsessed with crime fighting in general, dedicated to creating a world where children didn't have to witness the death of their parents. So long as people like the Joker existed, Batman had meaning. In that respect, he really did need the Joker. After all, what use is a hero if there is nothing to fight? What use is an act without its straight man?

The old woman had prayed on Batman's mind for weeks. It made him sick that Joker was taking credit for it. Committing crimes personally wasn't enough for the Clown Prince anymore. He had a perverse hold on Batman, a hold that drove the Dark Knight to search restlessly for answers even if they were based on rumour. You idiot, he thought. He was just as responsible; he had decided to sit with the White family that night. You may as well have pulled that trigger.

So this is what the Joker had reduced him to? From day one he knew that he couldn't be in two places at once, yet he was feeling guilty. That old lady could've died anyway but because he had been too busy worrying about the Joker, Batman didn't prevent her from getting shot. He felt like he had failed his parents.

It was 2am and he was standing at the window in Sarah Green's apartment, watching the clouds roll against the blackened sky. At least he'd see the Bat Signal from here.

Every now and again he would glance over his shoulder to check on Sarah. She was young, a newly qualified teacher living away from home for the first time. She was gripping the armchair with her fingertips and transfixed by the wall clock. Poor girl was obviously terrified. Commissioner Gordon hadn't used any terms that might suggest she was a potential murder victim, but she was a bright girl. She had guessed. Not even being allowed to remain in her own home could comfort her.

The hours rolled on by and Batman almost sighed at the hopelessness of the situation. The police couldn't be everywhere. He wondered how many people were being attacked, or even killed, because of the Joker's lies. Yet it wasn't right to leave Sarah Greene alone. Either way, Batman had lost this round. Worse still the Dark Knight knew that back in Arkham, the Joker was laughing at him.

END