In which a mistake is made, the Joker discovers Batman's true identity, and things take a general turn for the worst. Joker/Batman pairing. Post-TDK universe. Ongoing.

Without a Cowl

Chapter VI


"If I didn't know any better," continued the clown, undeterred, "I'd say... you were Batman."

The Wayne's heart seemingly skipped a beat at the statement- a wave of dismay roared throughout his entire body. His words were spoken with inadvertent conviction; the kind of certainty that lingered just beneath the surface- the clown was obviously feigning his unassertiveness. Bruce could see through the transparent masquerade as though he were staring through a pane of glass. The Joker was a cunning creature; a sanctimonious, debauched being of sheer wit- Bruce knew this. And somehow, someway, the criminal knew his true identity- the self-satisfied smirk said it all.

Of all the things Bruce had anticipated, this was most certainly not one of them. He was well aware of the fact that the Joker was extraordinarily observant; thus, he assumed that the olive-haired psychopath would immediately be suspicious that he was an imposter- he hoped and prayed that he was right. How else would he be able to get close to his insidious enemy?

'What am I supposed to say?' He had never been in this sort of situation- he'd never allowed himself to be so vulnerable before. And now he fervently cursed himself, because he knew why he never allowed himself to get in so deep.

He made a huge mistake; Bruce had underestimated the Joker.

Strengthening his already painful grip, Bruce liberally applied his weight onto the other's shoulders all at once, pushing the criminal to the floor with a growl resonating in the back of his throat. How was it that the disfigured male knew, without even seeing his face, that he was Batman? He had given him no leverage, no information to hypothesize such a thing. At this, Bruce found himself vexed. Bruce Wayne and Batman were two entirely different beings who harbored the same body- they were alike in no way. They were complete and polar opposites. What possible connection did they share? And if there was an affiliation of some sort, how was it that the Joker was able to decipher such a thing?

Could it be that the Joker, of all people, knew him better than he knew himself?

"No," the Billionaire murmured aloud, lips contorting into a displeased frown as he sunk his fingers further into the flesh of the Joker's wrists. The other man giggled hysterically as the slippery surface of his cheek was pressed firmly against the floor, eyes tightly clenching shut in his mirth. With each strain of cackles, their audience became more and more keyed up; the henchclowns shifted unsteadily back to their posts, glimpses shifting between their hostages and their boss almost edgily.

The Wayne took the Joker's palms and abrasively pressed them to the floor. Damn that scar-faced man and damn his gleeful laughing.

Bruce could have ended it right there, couldn't he have? All he had to do was take out his gun, press it against the other's skull and pull the trigger. It would be over. It was so simple, so very easy; much less complicated than it was made out to be. The rational part of his mind shrieked to get it all over with, to just end it… while his primal instincts, Batman's moral code, screamed in opposition. It was wrong to take the law into his own hands; he was not the dealer of death.

His thoughts were an indiscernible blur- a rush of torrentially intense proposals and schemes that fluctuated like a dangerous storm in his mind. He had the Joker right there: at his knees, on the floor, giggling in that sinister way of his…

Suddenly, the brunette was acutely aware of how very intimate he had made their position. Just moments before, he had pulled himself back from the other's encroaching form, away from that way that grungy, matted scalp that had been leaning into his collar- and here he was, pushing the man to his floor using only his upper body muscles, chest pressed flush against the other's back and hands pinning the Joker's wrists to the floor. Shockingly, this particular position reminded him of the dream (nightmare?) he'd had several days ago. Reversed.

Bruce dispelled that thought from his mind immediately.

Maybe this was why the Joker was so incredibly amused?

"Oh, Batmannn…" Sighed the clown in a whimsical tone, muscles softening beneath Bruce's weight; the billionaire found himself growing extremely uncomfortable at the overpowering heat that swept through him. Psychopaths weren't meant to take on such breathy voices. "Mh... I missed you too."

Somewhere in the pits of his stomach, that statement struck a cord.

"You're sick." Bruce seethed venomously at the Joker, whose head was turned so those piercing, kohl-infused tunnels were staring strait back at him. A rictus grin was pasted upon his craved lips, beaming triumphantly up at him Next thing he knew, one of the Joker's hands hand pried itself free from the suit-clad man's tenacious grip, and something cold had pierced his chest. It burrowed deep into his flesh, exiting as expeditiously as it had come, leaving the Wayne was gasping desperately for air.

'What?'

Wiggling from beneath his flaccid form, the Clown Prince of Crime's legs kicked from under the guised playboy as he wormed himself free. Bruce rolled over, eyes screwing shut.

A familiar burning sensation resonated within his ribs; white thunderbolts of pain spliced through his nerves, so intense that it made his vision blurry. Bruce's hand snaked up to his chest, gently patting at the source of his agony. He hissed in response. When he drew back his hand, staring at his fingertips, a sinking feeling bloomed within him. There was blood. Lots of it.

How had the harlequin managed to stab him? And so fluidly?

The Joker leaned back on his haunches, peering at the masked man exultantly, thoroughly examining his fallen form, rapt and engrossed as he watched the other's chest heave and rise.

"…We're… all sick. You too, in yer own-hmm- 'special' way." Annunciated the painted man as he hunched downwards, looking as though he was going to whisper something softly against the other's mask. He was going to tell him that the blade was slicked in venom; a paralyzing concoction he mixed himself, but he kept it to himself.

Soon, Batsy wouldn't be able to hold up his own body weight. The toxin wasn't deadly per se- in small, diluted dosages, anyhow. In concentrated doses, the chemical proved itself to be highly lethal. It ate away at the nervous system and destroyed its functions- it was horrific, really.

The Joker was delighted. Thus far, the built man hadn't shown any hint of rebuttal against his accusations. This man, this muscular body and whoever's face was hidden beneath that mask, was his Batman. His. And no one else's. He was positive. The Batman never seemed to stop amazing him; no one was able to perplex him like the Kevlar-clad vigilante. Perhaps the fact that the man allowed himself to get caught so easily was what gave the Joker the tip off. No one in their right mind would dare to crash his party; the idea was ludicrous. Only someone like Batman would petition to do something so hazardous, and then let himself get caught in the midst of it all. That, and the Joker had expected the caped crusader to somehow be informed of his devious plot; it was one of the more predictable traits the harlequin had siphoned from his observations of the bat. He obviously had some good sources, the Joker would give him that.

From his place upon the floor, Bruce snarled. He wouldn't be so easily conquered- it would take a hell of a lot more than a simple flesh wound to incapacitate him. He'd handled worse. If he could get the Joker down for the count, or at least distract the clown until the police were be able to take over, then they all would be much better off.

Speaking of the police, why weren't they there yet?

With the scuff of shoes squeaking against the floor, the wounded man pushed himself to his feet, lunging at the painted man with an amount of poise that had the Joker reeling. When the man tackled the purple-clad criminal, the Joker crowed joyfully, re-brandishing his knife as brute, muscled force slammed into him at a staggering speed. He missed doing this- missed this dance. The vital piece that felt as though it had been ripped away from him was suddenly back in its rightful place. He'd missed the fiery glee that sparked through his system with each clash of fists-

Speaking of which, the bat had just landed a really good sucker punch to his face.

"Good form!" The harlequin spat sarcastically, rubbing at his pulsating cheek, smearing the blood trickling from his lip into the white grease paint on his face. He supposed he'd earned that one though, considering he'd just stabbed the other only moments prior.

Satisfaction welled within Bruce. Delivering that punch had been nothing short of invigorating. The Joker stumbled back several steps, wiping bewilderedly at his face, as if he wasn't entirely sure what had just come to pass. It was hard to see the scenario play out through two small peepholes in the rubber mask, but Bruce managed. Somehow the billionaire was handling his own quite well, despite his slightly impaired vision.

Anticipation coursed through Bruce's veins; this was the part where their fight became more intense. But it wasn't the mere though of beating the twittering harlequin to a pulp that was so very enthralling; Bruce was driven by some ulterior motive. Vengeance? Fury? What it was, he couldn't tell. But there was something urging him to move forward, an invisible force compelling him to whole-heartedly disregard the flaming pain swirling within his chest, beckoning him to keep standing. Why did he feel as though he needed to prove something- what was there to prove? That all of his previous efforts as Batman hadn't been all for naught? That Gotham still needed him? That maybe, somehow, the deaths from all of those months ago weren't entirely his fault?

Batsy's motions were gradually becoming more sluggish. The poison was taking its effect; all of the moving the Wayne had done only made the poison navigate his system faster.

"Enough of this fighting," the Joker cajoled coolly, swaggering forward several paces with his lopsided grin pulling further and further upwards, making the scar tissue at his lips appear much more distinctive. The light caught the prominent folds of skin such a way that it was almost engrossing to stare at; the way those hideous markings contorted with each slight twitch of his mouth had the Wayne morbidly captivated.

Bruce had almost forgotten the people in the ballroom; tearing his gaze from those disfigured lips, he turned to glance briefly at the terrified crowd. Non of them dared to make a move, not with the bombs placed in their hands and the guns aimed at their faces. But it was hard to keep looking at them when his eyesight was filled with nothing but plum purple cloth, senses overwhelmed with the smell of overly-laden cologne and the metallic scent of his own blood. He dodged a flurry of stabbing motions being thrown in his direction.

'Why do I feel so tired?'

He had to ignore the fatigue; the longer he let this continue, the higher the risk everyone else was at of not getting out of here alive. What was Detective Lyndelle doing out there? Surely the police were here by now-

His concentration was broken.

Bruce slipped up.

The Joker dove at the opportunity. Ardent fingers found the collar of the man's blazer while the other hand grazed the nape of his neck, moving up. Bruce could feel something solid pushing against his mask. His eyelids drooped somewhat.

Click.

"Never bring a, ah… knife to a gunfight, Batsy…" The Joker 'tut-tut'-ed, leisurely licking at his lips as he loaded his gun.

"Funny, considering I'm not the one who carries knives," Bruce countered icily, going precariously still. His tongue was lying at the bottom of his mouth- it was hard to lift it and speak.

"Hooohooo. You comedian, you," Growled the harlequin, eyes narrowing at his disguised counterpart. "I'm gonna unmask ya… for the whole audience to see. Do ya want that?"

"Do you?" The billionaire slurred.

Oh, what a good question.

"I've been patient enough, doncha think?" Bruce winced as the sinewy fingers at his nape slid down his chest, rubbing at the gaping wound engraved there, smearing the blood around as though it were finger paint. The Wayne was suddenly feeling faint- his balance wavered and the Joker chuckled in a gravelly tone. "What would possibly make ya think … that I could wait longer?" Drawled the trench coat-clad clown lazily, appearing baffled.

The copious, mind numbing sensation had Bruce thoroughly muted- he was beyond coherent sentences and squirming as the Joker's fingers explored his wound attentively. The nimble digits dug into the blood-dampened cloth of his dress shirt, caressing the sliced flesh of his torso in a consoling fashion. Cold metal pressed harder against his mask.


Margaret was shoved against the hallway wall, lips pulled into a 'o' shape as gloved hands squeezed her neck, constricting her airway. Her lungs burned as she clawed at the crushing grip, little whimpering sounds escaping her mouth. The clown before her was speaking to her, but she couldn't comprehend his words because her mind was flooded with an earsplitting ring that drowned out all other sound. The tips of her fingertips and her toes were beginning to tingle as they lost circulation.

"Dumb bitch," the henchman hissed malignly, masked face hovering closer to her own.

She'd managed to call the squad in, had gotten a hold of Gordon, but while she had been on the phone, something happened. Of course at least one of the Joker's henchmen would be skulking around the halls, looking for rogue party attendees. She should've been scouting for such things, but- her heart was racing a mile a minute and Bruce Wayne had just been tugged into the ballroom by the Joker himself. Rational thought was out the window at that point. She was a detective; she analyzed scenes- she didn't participate in them.

When the clown snaked his hand around her, stealing her phone from her ear and chucking it against the wall (where it clattered to the floor in a broken heap,) the situation had taken an even more dramatic turn for the worst.

She couldn't die here- she couldn't. This was pathetic, there was no way she would let herself be strangled to death by some stalwart man wearing a clown mask. Conversely, her limbs were so incredibly weighted down that struggling proved to be futile. She simply couldn't extract herself from the steel-like grip.

Her hands slipped from the man's sausage-like fingertips, falling heavily at her sides. It was then that she felt something at her thigh brush against her forearm; she was suddenly reminded of the weapon she slipped into her gown while she was getting dressed for the party. A "just-in-case" knife, she called it. There was a little flap in the specially-tailored dress where the knife was securely stowed away, ready for emergency use.

The world was going fuzzy and dark; losing definition. Frenzied, the fingers of her right hand stealthily pulled at the emerald pocket of her dress, disappearing beneath the folds of fabric.

Sharp prickles of pain bloomed in her chest as the seconds ticked by. Each moment had her walking dangerously close to the edge of passing out. Knife now in hand, Margaret glanced up at the man with rekindled hope, took the blade and impaled it against the man's side without a second thought. The blade sunk in forcefully, piercing through the soft flesh; then, with as much force as she could muster, she pulled the blade out. The toothed edge of the knife tore at the smooth laceration, rending the flawless edges of skin and creating a gory mess.

Lyndelle grimaced as the henchman wailed in agony, dropping her unceremoniously to the floor. She coughed, gagging at the sensation of air flooding back into her lungs. God, it hurt. It felt as though someone had forced her to swallow an entire bottle of hot sauce- like she had been screaming at the top of her lungs for hours. Her throat was utterly raw and her lungs were searing with pain. The flesh of her neck ached with forthcoming bruises; her shoulders heaved as she attempted to catch her depleted breath.

Margaret found herself scooting backwards on the floor as the clown noticeably attempted to regain his bearings. Hand nursing his wounded side, the henchman marched towards her with deadly intent.

"Fucking whore!" The man swore vibrantly, diving at her. Lyndelle rolled onto her side, crawling away. The man landed just behind her, arms flailing forward. She attempted to stand back up, managed to hold herself upright for a scarce second -fucking high heels-

And then the man had a hold of her ankle, tugging it forcefully.

"Shit!" She yelped. Balance interrupted, she toppled gracelessly to the floor; her foot began to throb with brilliant sparks of pain. It was undoubtedly sprained. This, she knew, would make it all the more difficult to escape. Luckily, she still had her knife in hand. She could use that-

The man brutishly gripped her wrist, twisting it backwards until the pain was so encompassing that the knife fell from her fingertips, clattering to the floor. A silent cry was on her parted lips, left unvoiced.

Rouge red was spattered upon Lyndelle's dress and on the ground, soiling the spotless marble floors. The henchman was bleeding ubiquitously - his wound was leaking crimson like a sieve. His sullied gloves scratched at her dress in animalistic fervor, tearing the green fabric as he growled viciously.

Paralyzing fear struck the woman as the criminal grabbed her by the waist and flipped her onto her back. He was still wearing his mask; the tarnished texture of the clown's face looked like something out of a horror film. Its eyebrows were drawn downwards in fury, x-ed out eyes glaring depravedly down at her, but most of all, it was smiling.

With a deafening crash, the front doors burst open. Characters donned in black uniforms flooded into the hallway, semi-automatics and handguns aimed and ready to fire. The Henchman upon her froze in mid-tear, hand fisting her ruined garbs as his head turned to look behind him. The other hand, which held her wrist at an oblique angle, relaxed only slightly.

"Freeze!"

Lyndelle took this moment of distraction to steal back her hand. She fisted it and, with as much power as she could muster, punched the clown in the face. The sickening crack of her knuckles plowing into the other's jaw was more than gratifying- she didn't care of her hand ached afterwards.

The policemen ran forwards, the clinking of their equipment steadying her out-of-control heartbeat. They hoisted the henchman from her bloodied form while she remained on the ground, attempting to steady her breathing.

"Detective?" A familiar voice called out to her, concerned. Gordon came into her line of vision, leaning over her worriedly. His eyes widened at the blood blotting her gown.

"Not mine." She informed him in a hoarse voice, holding out her uninjured hand. He hoisted her up without preamble- she made to step forward but buckled slightly under her own weight. Fuck, she'd forgotten about her ankle… Gordon supported her, holding her upright.

"Where is he?" Gordon persisted, looking grave.

"The ballroom," The detective croaked. Shit, she could barely speak.

Gordon nodded at this, looking pleased.

"You did a good job, Margaret." Handing her off to another officer, the mustached man fixed her with a thankful gaze. "They'll get you bandaged up. We'll handle the rest."

"But-" Margaret looked defiant for a moment. Inside, she knew he was right- there was nothing more that she could do, especially when she was like this. At this moment in time, she was more of a liability than anything else. The detective heaved a sigh of reconciliation.


'I' got 'im. I got 'im. I got 'im.'

But… now that he had him, what would the Joker do with him? He supposed he should follow through with his perilous warning, first of all: unmask the vigilante. He wasn't one to make idle threats, after all; he took pride in making powerful statements. Follow through was one of the more imperative rules he lived by.

The crowd hadn't heard his whispered accusations- neither had his little pawns. Taking off the other's guise was more for personal gain than anything else, should the Bat decide to go back into hiding and leave him high and dry any time in the future. 

The Joker preferred the cowl over the clown mask as well; he might as do Batman the honor of removing such a hideous hindrance.

The painted man grinned opaquely at the other's sudden loss of balance, leaning into him for support as his gloved fingers prodded curiously around the masked-man's wound. The man's skin was so incredibly warm, the Joker could feel the heat emanating through his gloves. The temperature was so opposite to his skin, which was as cold as death itself.

Joker giggled at the other's quiet intake of breath. If he didn't know any better, he'd say that the vigilante had been mildly enjoying his torturing ministrations. Who knew that the Batman was a masochist?

Removing his probing fingertips, the Joker wiped his bloody gloves upon the other's suit, looking pleased with his handiwork.

Now that Batsy was thoroughly debilitated…

"Let's see… who's behind that mask," Murmured the madman, prying his hand beneath the latex disguise and biting on his lower lip in anticipation. With a hasty, unpredictable motion of the fingers, the mask peeled from the other's face before the disguised man could really react.

Glazed, swarthy eyes narrowed at the giddy clown through rogue brunette bangs.

The Joker froze.

Gentle murmuring exploded throughout the disquieted room.

"Shut the fuck up!" Some of his henchmen rebuked, waving their handguns as a threatening reminder of their situation. The Joker could only stand and stare, face taking on a confounded expression.

Bruce glared defiantly at psychopath in return, mustering all of his strength to resist the urge to slump over in pain.

'The Wayne brat?'

Something along the lines of fear roiled within the clown's stomach- he didn't enjoy the feeling at all. In fact, he despised it.

He had done his homework; he heard more than his fare share about the Wayne- from his drunken escapades and public skirmishes to burning down his own multimillion dollar manor- he spent his money frivolously and selfishly. The man was too shallow to be someone as selfless as Batman.

But… what if he was? Did that make the "billionaire playboy" persona just an enormous façade? Was it all just a front Batman put on so that he wouldn't be captured? It made sense, when he thought about it. Because, in all honestly, what sane person would go and accuse one of the world's wealthiest business tycoons of parading around at night, dressing in a bat suit, saving those in peril?

The man had the resources as well- an endless pool of money which could be used to invest in heavy-duty, high-class armors, unique weapons and tank-like vehicles that could drive through walls.

It made perfect sense- so much that, as a matter of fact, it was laughable.

And how he did laugh- sneering at the other's glassy, weakened expression, snickering at the physical similarities Batman and Bruce shared- laughed until he simply couldn't take it any longer.

'What. An. Enigma!' He thought to himself excitedly; this was all too sweet and so, so ironic. Who could've possibly guessed such a thing!

Droplets of blood coalesced to the floor. Even as the battle raged in the Wayne's mind - the fight to remain upright and aware of his surroundings - he knew he was down for the count. He'd lost too much blood, wasted too much time… His muscles were weak. He couldn't move.

Bruce's legs gave out from beneath him in exhaustion. The man's slack form suddenly pitched forward, mind lost to the suffocating darkness of unconsciousness. Oddly enough, the Joker automatically caught the torpid billionaire in his arms with a grunt- Batsy was a lot heavier than he looked. The staid brunette's head rested against his abdomen- the sight was oddly picturesque, in the clown's opinion. He giggled.

How odd- he literally had found his hands full with the Batman.

A slamming sound could be heard echoing down the hallway, alerting the criminal of his newest guests. The Joker glanced behind him, huffing as he adjusted himself to the other's weight.

They were late, but he supposed that this was a lucky miscalculation on his part. Had they been any earlier, he might've been in trouble.

With a renewed, devilish grin, the Joker hoisted the Wayne up to the best of his ability, eventually succeeding in heaving the lax billionaire over his shoulder.

No, he hadn't had the time to achieve his initial plan- blowing up every philanthropist and successful businessperson that resided in Gotham in one fantastic explosion- but he did have this: Bruce Wayne, his dark knight, as implausible as it seemed at the time. It was a hard thing to wrap his mind around- he'd never been able to put a name with Batsy's face; had never been able to put an actual face with him, either. All there had ever been was a black mask… But he could work with this new material presented to him. The occasional spontaneous change in plan sometimes served to spruce up his life a little bit- he was an avid fan of versatility, after all. If things went according to plan every time, being the bad guy would become boring.

The Joker dug his hand into his jacket pocket, grumbling to himself all the while. Pulling out his walkie-talkie, he pressed the communication device close to his mouth and began to speak into it.

"Let the doggies out," he ordered with a dark voice, referring to his hostages pent up in the other rooms of the house. He was a man of his word- the business owners had served their purpose and had hosted this little party of his. "And… have one of the guys pull out the van."

"Boss?" The other replied, sounding unsure. The Joker 'hmm'-ed softly to himself, finding the proper way to restate his command.

"DO IT!" He snapped with spur-of-the-moment loudness, shoving the black device back into his pocket with a displeased growl. Glancing up, the Joker scanned his audience sinisterly, smacking his lips. From here, he could hear the steady slap of combat boots upon the floors. He'd better make this quick…

"Ladies," the Joker pursued with several light steps in reverse - or as light as he could manage with the heavy Wayne draped uselessly over his shoulder- "and gentlemen. I do hate to adjourn my party so very soon… But as you can see, I'm in a bit of a rut! I hope you've, ah… enjoyed yourselves…"

Backing up, the harlequin stood beside entrance to the ballroom. He whistled loudly between his teeth- his henchclowns jumped at the high-pitched sound, collectively abandoning their posts and moving towards the door. They rummaged through their jackets, plying their weapons as they disappeared through open the doorway and hastily sprinted from the enormous room.

With a mock-solute, the Joker bid his attendees adieu and made his own exit, hopping from the ballroom with a menacing cackle that seemed to echo off of the very walls. He sprinted down the hallway, peering behind him as his henchmen proceeded to fire their weapons at the incoming police officers. The sound of heavy gunfire soon erupted in the atmosphere.

Now, the back exit… which direction was it again? Left?

He didn't stop to ponder as he rounded the corner, one arm coiled around the Wayne's waist, keeping the unconscious man from slipping off as he ran. Reaching the end of the hall, the Joker forced himself through the back door, violently kicking the steel 

threshold open. The door slammed against the outside wall, allowing the frigid November wind inside of the house; the Joker looked behind him distractedly. No policemen- no henchmen- no gunfire. That was fast. Maybe all of them were dead?

Without sparing a moment for remorse, he stepped through the steel exit. The Joker's darkened eyes fell upon the van parked directly adjacent to him- his ears were then assaulted by the sound of a voice blaring via intercom.

"We have you surrounded, put your weapons and hostage down and hands up!" An officer instructed from one of the many squad cars that were teeming the vicinity. The strobe lights placed upon their cars fluctuated vibrantly, blues and reds and whites illuminating the night.

He'd foreseen this, too.

"Put your hands up, or we will shoot you!"

Looking to the driver of his van, the Joker nodded, giving the edict as his smile spread further across his crimson lips. His hands slipped upwards innocently. Vaguely, he noted that his shoulder was becoming sore from bearing all of that extra weight for so long.

Several seconds later, maybe a second or so too soon, something exploded- something big. The sky blazed with the burning orange of firelight, searing heat eating at the trees as the flames snuck beneath the squad cars. The police screamed and began to fire their handguns, others simply ran- the Joker dove into the opened van, sliding Bruce from his shoulders and setting him on the floor. A series of crashes followed this as police vehicles began to implode, one by one.

"Oh say can you seeeee..." The Joker hummed the national anthem reverently as he jumped into the passenger seat, only pausing to laugh uncontrollably and slap his hands against the dash. They had walked right into it. Police these days had no tact whatsoever- no reasonable rationale to discern whether or not they were meandering directly into a trap. What a bunch of near-sided dogs

"C'mon, let's go already!" The Clown Prince of Crime goaded, shooting a look at the driver. With a squeal, the van veered forward and sped through the grass, tearing up the otherwise pristine lawn.

'I should invest in something with… four-wheel-drive…' He though to himself as they bounced wildly back and fourth in their seats, driving over what felt like sinkholes. Buying such a nice toy wouldn't be hard- not with all of the money he was raking in. But he preferred to save the dough for assembling expensive bombs and oil drums. Sure, supplies were usually cheap, but he needed the manpower to hook everything up as well- that, and explosives tended to get spendy when bought in large quantities.

Adrenaline was still coursing through his veins, causing him to be extremely antsy. The Joker squirmed in his seat and absent-mindedly scratched at his cheek. He winced, harshly reminded of that lovely punch the Wayne delivered to him in the same exact spot only a mere half an hour beforehand. The area was still tender.

Wait.

The Wayne.

"Oh ho!"

The Joker immediately jumped from his seat, startling the driver has he pushed himself into the back of the van, where he'd dropped Bruce in his haste to watch his pyrotechnics. It was times like these when he realized that he was too easily distracted- he had Batman right there, in the palm of his hand, and he was so eager to watch flames burst into the sky that he nearly forgot about him…

"Hum… Mr. Wayne." He tested the name on his lips, eyes flickering about in indecision. He preferred Batman, in all honesty- but that was something that could be overcome with time. Or maybe he could be selfish just stick with both names?

Kneeling beside his captive, the Joker looked acutely put-out at the other's lack on consciousness. He hadn't expected them man to be out for so long- the toxin was only supposed to last for fifteen minutes or so. Nor had he expected to see the man's face so exceedingly pallid and ill-looking. A feverish sweat lined Bruce's brow, beading at his temples as he breathed laboriously, 

struggling to take in air. The painted man's disappointment ebbed quickly enough; he shrugged it off and giggled happily as he leaned closer, bringing his hands to that delicate face. Oh, his fingertips were just itching to touch-

A shuddering gasp escaped Bruce; the Joker pulled back slightly as his eyes fell upon those thin, chapped-looking lips.

He'd always tried to imagine what Batsy would look like without a cowl, tried to depict the face on his own, but he never once conceived that such a perfect specimen of a male could have been hiding beneath the many layers of latex, aramid fiber and Kevlar.

"Batsy, Batsy, Batsy," Crooned the white-faced clown as he inclined dangerously close to the other. Short, hot puffs of air caressed the Joker's skin as he hovered above the playboy by a mere centimeter, looking over the carefully chiseled complexion, taking in the sharpness of the jaw line, the strong chin and high-placed cheekbones. He was overwhelmed with the desire to trace each and every contour on that flawless face; taste each crevice; commit each and every minute detail to his memory. But he'd much rather do it while the other was awake- readily writhing in ecstasy. How he would love to see the man behind the mask so incredibly vulnerable; begging and pleading for more-

"I have you now…" The Joker whispered with a deep, sultry laugh as his lips barely grazed Bruce's.


"What do you mean 'he got away!'?" Gordon had never been so irate in all of his life: from the trembling in his hands to the overwhelming heat of anger that swept through his entire system- there wasn't a single cell in his body that felt anything less. "We had guys in the back! How in God's name did he manage to escape!?" He exclaimed, running a hand through his hair furiously.

When the Joker's henchmen flooded from the ballroom, a gunfight of sorts broke out. The squad lost four of their men amidst the fray- but they managed to take out each and every one of the henchclowns. And then the explosion out back- the Joker had obviously rigged another set of bombs on the premises as a precaution.

Firefighters doused the inferno raging behind the mansion, releasing deluges of water to suffocate the fire. But, alas- all was not as it seemed. He had his men run in to evacuate the people within the building- but a vast majority of them were tied with highly volatile bombs. One of the Joker's favorite playthings, he knew.

"There was nothing we could've done, Commissioner," the other officer murmured off-handedly, furrowed brows staring at the mansion that was veiled behind a thick curtain of smoke.

"That's not good enough," Gordon shot back, intending to continue. However, his verbal trek was interrupted.

"Commissioner!"

Through his glasses, the disillusioned commissioner looked up, eyes falling on Detective Lyndelle, who was hobbling over to him on a set of crutches. She briefly looked embarrassed as he raised his brow at her. To save her the trouble of coming to him, he walked over to her, lips settling into a frown.

"I thought I told you-" he began, taking on a reprimanding tone.

"I know, I know. But I think you know that it'd take a lot more than a severely twisted ankle to deter me," Margaret explained, pushing an obstructive strand of hair from her face.

'I can't figure it out. Why would someone like Bruce Wayne risk his own hide for anyone else?' Gordon thought to himself as he pulled off his glasses and wiped them on his uniform. He inspected the lenses and, satisfied at the improvement of clarity, placed the spectacles back upon his nose. After a moment he adjusted his footing and fixed Lyndelle with a harsh look. She winced. "Why did you let him go, Margaret?"

Her eyebrows shot up at the derisive remark.

"He wouldn't take no for an answer, Commissioner," she told him with an honest voice. "I told him not to go, but he went ahead and did it anyway. And I had more important matters to contend with."

"That's no excuse-"

"I know it's not!" She snapped exasperatedly.

They stood for several minutes in shocked silence.

"…He's gone, Detective." Gordon sighed, unable to hold it in any longer. Lyndelle paused, hand lingering at her cheek as she frowned in the other's direction.

'What? Gone?'

"What do you mean, 'gone'?" She appeared torn between confusion and worry. Surely he didn't mean-

"Witnesses said that they saw the Joker carry Mr. Wayne outside, just as we arrived." He informed sharply, shuffling anxiously as he looked back at the enormous building.

"Oh." She replied lamely, shoulders slumping in loss.

What could she possibly say to that?

'This is my fault…' Margaret bit her lip and peered at the ground, ashamed.

Gordon stiffened at the woman's words. She peered back up at him, looking curious. Obviously, she hadn't intended to voice this particular inner monologue.

"It's… not your fault, Detective." A weight fell upon her shoulder- Gordon's hand, she realized. It was an act done to comfort her, no doubt; however, the gesticulation did nothing to ease her guilt.

"Don't lie. You were right, Commissioner. If I would have been more-" Gordon was gazing past her.

"Stay." The man spoke with finality, pulling back his hand and suddenly walking towards the drive, where a conglomeration of vehicles had pulled up. Lyndelle adjusted her crutches, hobbling in the opposite direction to see what all of the fuss was about. Upon sight, something in the green-clad brunette sunk.

The Detective pinched the arch of her nose, looking stressed.

"Who authorized this!" Exclaimed Gordon, hands fisting at his sides as he approached the swarm of paparazzi and news teams. "This ground is off limits for investigation!"

In the next moment, the middle-aged man was caught amidst a sea of cameras and microphones and flashing cameras, all of which were shoved right before his face.

"Commissioner Gordon, is it true that the Joker was taking hostages here earlier this evening?"

"Where is Bruce Wayne? Is it true the Joker has him held captive?"

"What's our next step, Commissioner? Is our city going to fall because of one mad man?"

"Why must such a large scale investigation be kept so tightly under wraps? We ought to know if our safety is in jeopardy!"

Gordon growled, furiously pushing through the crowd and waving off all microphones being thrust in his direction. Narrowing his eyes, he discerned a familiar uniform, grabbed the officer by the jacket and tersely yanked him forward, demanding: "I want these people out of here. Now!"

The man nodded acquiescently, rounding up his group of officers.


His irises stung as his eyelids slowly peeled open, absorbing the intense, vivid ceiling light glaring down upon him. Breathing through his nostrils, his eyelashes fluttered as he glanced dubiously around his surroundings, blinking away the sleep-induced haze from his vision. The brunette turned his head to the side, trying to better assess the area around him, grimacing at the way his muscles screamed in protest at the slight movement. A frown settled upon his lips- the rest of the room was dimly lit. It felt as though he had been placed under an enormous strobe light, or like he was a prisoner of war, a prisoner's whose innards were brutally being excavated for study.

Bruce pushed himself up with a great deal of struggle, hissing at the distinct tightness pulling uncomfortably at his chest. He looked down at himself and froze; a tidal wave of memories assaulted him all at once. The sensitive flesh, the patch just left and slightly below his pectoral muscles, had been neatly stitched together- the circumference surrounding the tattered skin was heavily bruised and swollen. The wound was an ugly one; it could've used some more cleaning up. He wouldn't have been surprised if it was already infected. If anything, that explained the consistent grogginess and the nausea in his stomach. That, and the nearly unbearable pain resonating from the area.

"Never bring a, ah… knife to a gunfight, Batsy…"

The Joker had stabbed Bruce.

"What would possibly make you think … that I could wait longer?"

And now his worst enemy knew his identity.

How could he get out of this situation? His alternate identity was the key to his ruse- if he didn't have that… then everything he'd worked so hard to achieve would crumble.

A gun fired somewhere nearby, followed by the sound of a door creaking open. Bruce intently observed as a golden sliver of light seeped from the halo of darkness that encompassed the room. Someone slipped in: a broad-shouldered figure with an almost drunken gate to his step. The door slipped shut; the closer the person approached, the more Bruce was able to make out the nebulous shape of their face. The unnaturally white hue was a dead giveaway.

The Joker wiped his fingers upon the lavender surface of his trench coat with distaste- his fingertips left streaks of red upon the fabric.

"Awake, and so soon?" Doled the clown in an amused voice. Of course, he was only joking- the man had been out for quite some time: four hours, to be precise. It was now early morning, around 3:00 AM, and the Joker had been eagerly awaiting his counterpart's awakening.

"Fuck you." Bruce spat in an ireful tone.

At the curse, the Joker's brows creased.

"So defensive," muttered the harlequin, looking wounded at the others antics. "You should really watch yer, ah… language, Batsy. I'm a sensitive guy!"

The childlike criminal began to transcend upon him, approaching with a predatory slowness that was unsettling. As the purple-clad man stepped beside the table, the opalescent light bathed the Joker's ragged face, highlighting the caustic incisions that extended haphazardly beyond his lips, burrowing deep into the hollows of his cheeks. The bottom lip of that cherry red mouth was carefully drawn between the Joker's smallish, yellow-stained teeth, being gnawed on in thought.

"I'm not Batman." Bruce denied, pushing himself further away from the other. It was far too late for all of that, to repudiate the information he'd already divulged. And there was no way he could fight the other like this- he was in no state to move, lest he risk re-opening his wound. The both of them knew this very well.

But, damn it, if he had to get up and fight the other in order to escape, he would

"And now yer gonna lie to me? Brucey-" Oh, he liked the sound of that. Brucey…. It had a nice ring to it. He especially enjoyed how the other's expression contorted into annoyance at the endearment- Batboy apparently wasn't one for pet names. "I don't think you quite comprehend the… situation that yer in."

Why weren't the Joker's hands hidden behind his lavender gloves?

And why were those bony, graceful digits tracing his collar, leaving a trail of intense heat in their wake?

Bruce slapped the hand away with a displeased snarl, pinning the Joker with a look of disgust.

"Don't touch me. I'm not you're damn pet," he spat, forcing himself to sit up further- he wouldn't take the Joker's crap. He had to get out of here.

"You see?" Humming thoughtfully, the Joker rolled his shoulders to loosen his muscles and, much to the Wayne's surprise, climbed atop the table. On top of him. With a strength that was surprising, the Joker pinned Bruce's wrists down, straddling the man's hips. The metal surface shook beneath the sudden shift in weight- the small stool beside the bed tipped over with a brilliant collage of sound. Drawing his head close to the shell-shocked face of his nemesis, the harlequin licked his lips hungrily. He had captured Batman. And there was no way in Hell the Harlequin would allow the bat to go and forget it.

"That's where yer wrong. Because, under… under my roof? You are my pet. You're MINE."


Author's Note:

I am SO sorry for the delay. But I've had so much work to do lately… I'm attending college, despite only being a senior in high school (it's a program our school offers- it's called Post Secondary). I wish I could've made this chapter longer, but I'm completely out of juice. This is the one day that I've been free and I've been working on this continuously for several hours.

No one seems OOC, right? God, I hope not. And grammar? (crawls in a corner)

Thank you so much for all of the feedback from last chapter! I was seriously jumping all over the place. I tried to reply to as many people as possible- to those I didn't get to, this is for you!

Please review! I appreciate it so much- each and every one that I receive keeps me writing!

See you all next chapter!

-IATU