A Familiar Taste

by dead2self

Rating: PG

Summary: In the midst of a fund-raising operation, the Joker is confronted with a startling revelation at the hands of Bruce Wayne.

Notes: Please crit my Joker. He's tough (but incredibly fun!) to write, especially 1st person. But, please review! Enjoy!

Their little shindig was in full swing on the building across from where I stood. A party on top of one of the most extravagant penthouses in Gotham; how quaint. Quaint, but not extravagant anymore. Ever since Bruce Wayne had moved back into that Manor of his – to quite a bit of fanfare, or so I hear; a shame I couldn't make it – the penthouse had stood empty atop the Gotham Century Towers. No one could afford the rent much less actually buy it. It was enough to give a man the giggles.

My accomplices had already secured the lower floors of the building, though the rest of the building didn't know it, and were making their way up to the top floor. Mr. Wayne had taken to renting out the empty apartment for social functions, but this particular function only had enough gas to get them the roof. How lucky for them that it had not rained.

Right on schedule, one of my accomplices fired a cable between the two buildings, and without hesitation, I stepped out over the abyss. The wind screamed in my ears, tugging on my legs and my arms to topple me out of my controlled teeter-totter as I danced between the buildings. One wrong step and down, down, down I would fall, only to end up a spatter on the sidewalk. An ecstatic smile rose unbidden to my face, and upon realizing it was there, I had to bark out a laugh.

They all saw me now, of course, and I could almost taste the tension and the fear building into panic. Curiously, one man broke away from the rest of the pack with a purposeful gait, only to be stopped by the gaggle of rent-a-cops that had been hired to prevent people like me from interrupting the fun.

Someone obviously skimped on that part of the party planning.

Abruptly I realized I was a hop, skip, and a jump away from being on the roof, and so I did just that, drawing a semi-automatic from its confines in my coat to unleash it into the sky. And punctual as ever, my accomplices burst through the door to the roof, spreading out to form a perimeter around the building – probably out of habit; no one was going to try and escape by flinging themselves over the edge. Sadly

"Hell—o Gotham's elite," I greeted the party, savoring every cringe. "I saw you from across the way and let me tell you: I just couldn't resist joining the fun."

My eyes darted around until something arrested my gaze. Without warning, I shot the server standing a few feet from me and deftly snatched the platter of shrimp cocktail that had caught my attention out of the air, while the young woman crumpled to the floor. I tossed back a whole little glass of them, ignoring the sauce dribbling down my chin and the shrimp tails being crushed between my teeth.

"This is good stuff," I noted, prodding the tray towards another guest, who took it after I slammed it into his chest. Returning my attention to the party at large, I thought it only fair to explain the situation to them.

"How many of you feel like learning how to fly today?" No response. I sneered. It was obvious enough to me; why couldn't they grasp it? I clarified, pulling a detonator from my coat with flourish. "Because if any of you fancy ringing up Gotham's finest, I'd be more than happy to give you a little lesson, free of charge."

That one got Gotham's wealthiest wives chattering like nervous little birds. Chitter chatter chitter chitter. My, but wouldn't they have something to gossip about for weeks on end. And who was I to deny them something more?

"I've got this great little idea stirring around in my head," I said, pacing between the guests, who gave me a wide berth. "But I'm a little short on funds at the moment. And then it hit me, like a ton of bricks – having been to a Bruce Wayne fundraiser myself and seeing firsthand how successful they can be, I thought to myself, why not just run with the same crowd?" Pivoting on my heel, I grabbed the first man in arm's reach and tugged him forward. "So let's open up that pocketbook, Mister. Don't be stingy; it's for a good cause."

The man sputtered as he drew out his checkbook, writing in a shaky, uneven hand. I noted the figure and then tutted. "A little reluctant, are we?" Like a snake, I whipped out the detonator and slammed my fist down onto one of the triggers. People screamed as the building rocked beneath us and I rode the buckling concrete like a captain aboard his tossing ship.

"Let me remind you what a serious problem we have on our hands. A problem only you and your hard-earned dollar can solve." My grin swept back toward the millionaire who I was still manhandling, and he quickly wrote me a check for triple what he had indicated before. Lovely.

Even some of my accomplices – the more sane ones – looked disturbed now, and I belatedly remembered that I had ordered some of them to stay below and watch the interior, thus putting them closer to a few bombs. Let's not call them "accomplices", I told myself; it makes them seem less expendable than they really are. "Goons" will do nicely.

One of my goons – one of the less sane ones who did not care that a few buddies were strewn across the floor a few levels below – was harassing a white old man who was standing between him and the prince of Gotham himself. Bruce Wayne, speak of the devil. I couldn't hold back the laughter at the irony that he was being held hostage on the roof of his own former penthouse, even as he was gaining profit from this party. How much more hilarious would it be, I wondered, if he died at this party as well?

But my goon, henchman, brother in arms, had already had a similar thought, leveling his weapon at the butler first. And who was I to deprive him a little fun? I turned my attention toward another promising prospect, an old woman with enough rings on her wizened fingers to feed a third world country, or better, to finance more explosives than I could shake a stick at.

"Stop!" yelled Mr. Wayne, his voice coming out in a guttural bark as he stiff-armed my goon and the tore the gun from his hands. Normally, I wouldn't have stopped to think twice about shooting the annoyance – Gotham's prince or not, I had half-made up my mind about him anyways – but something familiar about him stayed my hand and turned my head.

"Hey, hey, hey," I chided, stalking towards him, only to find a split second later that my goon was stretched spread eagle on the floor and Mr. Wayne was rearing back to deliver his next punch to my face.

"Ah, ah—Now, let's be reasonable," I said, dancing out of his reach, only to find the young billionaire quite a bit more agile than I had assumed. He still clipped my chin hard enough to split my lip, and I stumbled back, sucking on the familiar taste of grease paint and iron.

For a split second he glared at me – fiercely, not like some fussy prep-school boy who hasn't seen outside his cushy trust fund – and then he seemed to remember he was supposed to be frightened. But the fear on his face looked more like a façade than the animalistic horror I usually inspired.

Of course, that glare had been more than enough to remind me why he looked so familiar.

It was horrible.

And it was hilarious.

A hysterical giggle gurgled in my chest and then ripped its way out my throat. It was just too much! Throwing my head back, I arched my whole body and screamed my laughter to the cloudy Gotham sky, shaking uncontrollably until my sides ached and a headache hounded every smile. Finally, with a last wheeze of breath, I snapped my head back down to address Batman.

"Bruce Wayne!" I exclaimed, weighing the name on my tongue. A fresh wave of giggles overwhelmed me before I could continue, but I reined in my humor in record time. Bruce did not look equally amused.

"You really do love to spoil my fun, don't you?"

Bruce exchanged anxious, confused glances with his fellow party guests – my hostages – and a violent ire bubbled up in my stomach. Why was he acting so clueless; didn't he know I knew?

"Don't you see?" I prodded. "It's a bad joke. I've had so much fun trying to figure out who it was behind the mask, and you've just handed it to me on a silver platter. It's so anti-climactic, it's heartbreaking."

There was a swagger to Bruce's walk, even as he backed away from me, that dug under my skin. "I don't know what the hell you're talking about." The voice of a man used to being obeyed, stuck now between cockiness and being scared witless. It had no right to be coming out of his mouth. "I think you've got the wrong guy—"

"SHUT UP!" I snapped, shattering the tensioned silence with a guttural roar not unlike the one Bruce had unleashed earlier. It was wrong; it was all wrong, and I couldn't stand it. Wouldn't stand it. Three quick strides brought me directly in front of Bruce and my fingers itched to strangle that half-cocky, half-fearful look from his face. It wasn't right. "Stop it," I snarled, instead. "Stop acting like them. You're not; you'll never be."

The look did not disappear from his face, though he did raise a hand to wipe the spittle from his chin with disgust, and I was frantic. This couldn't be him – except it was, I was sure of it – he couldn't really be like this behind the mask. This simpering, rich fop, this couldn't be the real him. We were the same; we had to be the same; he couldn't be a normal, well-adjusted man in the daytime.

In desperation, I jerked him towards me by the lapels of his expensive suit jacket and cooed, "I'll tell them all right now. The Batman. Think of the headlines."

He didn't even meet my gaze. With a growl of rage, I flung him to the ground and aimed a kick into his gut. Around us, women whimpered in pity, but for the wrong man. A swift glare silenced that ridiculous racket; couldn't they see we were fighting?

But we weren't fighting. Mr. Wayne was curled in a ball on his side and I was simmering with frustration towards someone who wasn't present. Shaking, I kicked him again, to no reaction. Crouching next to him, I hauled him up enough to stick a razor blade between his teeth, forcing him to meet my eyes so I could be sure. Nothing.

No satisfaction, no certainty. Not one bit.

I pulled away and stumbled to my feet when I heard sirens and distant thok-thok-thok of helicopter blades. Their appearance had been my intention from the start, but my mood was ruined, and the pursuit of any "plan", any chasing after cars, seemed bleak.

But the dark cloud passed over quickly, as most of my moods usually did, and I wasn't one to give up so easily. I crouched next to Mr. Wayne one last time and asked, "What are you?'

Then, finally, when my body was blocking everyone else in the room from seeing his face, Bruce Wayne smiled. Not the cocky, fear-façade smile, and not the – well, Batman never really did smile, so there was no point for comparison there – but what I suspected to be the grim smile of whoever the real man behind the mask was.

Bruce's voice came out quiet, but strong. "As Batman, I am the incorruptible symbol of Gotham, whatever it needs me to be. As Bruce Wayne, I can be the punching bag that draws all your attention away from the other hostages until the police arrive." Subtly, he tapped his watch, which I realized belatedly had a miniscule electromagnetic transmitter on it; one that would certainly disrupt the signal between my detonator and all those little bombs I had stashed.

That was more like it. Cracking a wide grin, I rocked back on my heels and cackled. I was deliriously happy, even though my escape route was probably turned on its head by this point and the Commissioner would probably be waiting with an even more inventive jail cell for me. He had killed the suspense, but I could probably scrounge up a handful of Batman-possibilities and make up enough versions of my revelation that I wouldn't know for sure.

But at least, right now, I could be sure that my favorite enemy, my favorite friend, really was just like me.