Disclaimer: I don't own Batman or BtVS. If I did...well I wouldn't be posting stories on a fanfiction site would I? No, I'd be swimming in giant vats of money practicing my Scrooge McDuck impression.
A/N: Sorry it took me so long to update. I just moved and I just started grad school, so that sort of takes precedence over this, unfortunately. But, I'm making up for it by having a really long chapter. Enjoy. :) And thanks to skyefather for beta-ing this chapter for me!
Angel fiddled with the strange pendant around his neck. Something about this town just felt off.
"It's very odd. Not a single record of a supernatural incident happening in Gotham City. For a city of this size, it doesn't seem possible. But there aren't any questionable deaths, at least not the sort of 'questionable' we're used to." Wesley continued after double checking the file, "No exsanguinations by barbecue forks, and no spontaneous combustion; that sort of thing. The crime rate is still significant; but no apparent demonic activity has been evident, unless you count this Batman character. Although from what I've heard he's just a normal man, apart from his bat fetish."
Angel grunted, "Hamilton seemed to know more about it than he was willing to tell, big surprise. Then there's his insistence that I wear this necklace."
Wesley brought the car up along the curb outside the restaurant. It was about eight o'clock and the sun had finally set.
"Near as I can tell from researching those symbols, the necklace serves as some sort of protection that shields the wearer from negative outside stimuli. It deters magical intrusion of any sort. Might suggest leaving it on. We don't know what has caused the lack of demon activity in Gotham. Wouldn't want to find out the hard way that something here kills them off, would we?" Wes smiled in jest then his face shifted quickly taciturn, probably having remembered the reason they were here.
Wes turned off the engine and the car came to rest. He steeled himself as he looked over at Angel, "Just what are you planning to do when we find her, Angel?"
"I don't know. I'll figure something out." Angel stated with scowl, "Hopefully this little errand run the Senior Partners put us on won't take up any more of our time after this …"
Unlikely, but he could hope.
They got out of the car and made their way to the entrance. Two bouncers held them at the door.
"Who are you?" The hairier of the two large men grunted at them and flexed his bulky arms "What business ya's got here?"
Wesley gave him a cold stare and straightened his tie, "We're with Wolfram & Hart. I believe that Mr. Maroni is expecting us?"
"Do you like it?" The Joker leaned over Faith's shoulder expectantly. The young woman was staring down at the present in awe. "I had to kill three hunting supply store attendants before I found it."
"I love it! It's exactly like my old one!" She pulled the large knife out of the box a big grin plastered on her face, "Wicked."
She tested the Jackal in her hand with a flourish. The Joker watched her admiration of the knife with some admiration of his own. Faith, he chuckled, that name was just about as ironic as Hope.
She stood up and spun the large knife in her palm with practiced ease.
It was all very odd, him and her, her and him. Him and her getting along like… normal people.
It was normal men that gave normal women gifts. It was normal men that waited expectantly for said normal women's gratitude; normally.
It was that familiarity in their fledgling relationship that all so very… not normal, just by the simple fact that neither one of them were anything even approaching normal.
And yet here they were being all…'domestic'.
The thought alone made him want to disembowel a newlywed couple, just to prove he wasn't going soft.
The Joker didn't give people 'gifts'. Not gifts they wanted. He wasn't the only one on the wrong side of this messed-up equation. Faith certainly didn't seem the type that a regular guy would have the courage to dote upon and she would probably rip their arms off if they tried.
And she could. Rip someone's arms off, that was. That fact was mystifying and, he had to confess, a tad bit exciting. It felt like he was playing with fire just by being near her. Instability and lethality was a combination he could always appreciate, whether it was explosives or in a woman.
She was a vampire Slayer. The Chosen One. He would have questioned that in any other situation. He prided himself on understanding the way the world worked. Demons and vampires didn't factor into his previous notions of the world he thought he knew. He always felt people were monsters enough that such things were hardly necessary.
The existence of real tried and true demons was ridiculous. Wasn't it?
It would have been, if he hadn't seen her bend a crowbar with her bare hands. While she certainly wasn't short on muscle-tone, there was no way she could manage that without the addition of something supernatural.
The Joker was an accepting kind of guy. He'd certainly seen some things in his time that would lend some weight to Faith's theory. Still, he would have to wait until he actually met a demon before accepting it whole-heartedly, but in the meantime he'd take her at her word.
She'd said she'd been chosen to fight 'the forces of darkness'. Then Faith had laughed and said, "The Powers that Be must've been token' some seriously good shit the day they picked me as a Slayer."
"Not that you'll see me complaining" she'd added.
Faith was supposed to be a force for good. He thought that was simply brilliant. Just more proof that no one, not even someone chosen by a higher power was exempt from evil.
Just one little push to get from saint to sinner that had been all it took for his Faith.
"Did you know I got stabbed in the gut with my old knife?" She whistled, "And let me tell you something J that shit fucking hurt like hell."
She lifted her shirt to show him the small scar along her stomach. He'd seen it before. He'd thought it might have been a knife wound. He certainly hadn't thought it was from a knife of that size, however.
A stab wound from a knife like the one she was holding in that specific area of her body should have been fatal. He should know.
"I imagine it did 'F'-uh." He replied as he watched her rock back and forth with the knife wrapped tightly in her hand.
"And then I fell off a building into the bed of a moving truck," she added as an afterthought. "Well, actually, I sort of jumped off the building. But still…ouch, right?"
The Joker smirked. She was a resilient little thing, wasn't she? The more he learned of her the more he felt...
He wasn't sure he'd call it love. He liked to think he was above that sort of idiocy.
But she was something alright.
He adjusted his jacket and fixed his sleeve cuffs. "So, ready for a night out on the town? Got some friends I'd like you to meet."
She pocketed the Jackal with a grin, "Lead on, hot stuff."
Batman's search was leading him nowhere. He'd spent the whole night looking through abandoned warehouses and possible mob houses in hopes that something might lead him to the Joker. The last house on his list he found occupied, but unfortunately not by the person he was looking for.
There were two men in the living room. The first was a tall man in a black trench coat and the second was a distinguished looking man in a brown leather coat and blue button up shirt. They were searching through the house. Batman knelt in the shadows on the balcony and listened into their conversation.
"She was here, Wes." The larger man said, "And a man. I can only assume it was this Joker. I could enter, so I guess we can assume the owner is dead. It also means they aren't planning on setting up camp here, unfortunately."
He could enter only if the owner of the house was dead? Batman filed that bit of information in the back of his mind, it didn't make any sense now, but maybe it would later.
"We just missed them. They were here just a few hours ago. And…" the man stopped with a grimace.
"W-What is it, Angel?" The other man asked in a cultured voice.
"They were…" the man, Angel, shook his head. "I can smell that they were…" he coughed with embarrassment, "You know…"
The other man's brow furrowed in confusion then realization dawned.
"Oh. Oh! Yes, well." He rubbed his neck uncomfortably, "Apparently she hasn't changed in that respect, then."
Batman scowled. Who were these people? And how could this man tell these things? He wasn't sure what to think. Maybe they were crazy. That would certainly make more sense than any other alternative he could think of. The man, 'Angel' scanned the room as he paced around it broodingly. He neared the window where Batman was kneeling and Angel visibly tensed.
He couldn't possibly have seen him.
"We have company." Angel turned to look right where he was kneeling in the shadows.
Batman's eyes narrowed. Just who were these people?
"What you heard was right, Wes. He's human." Angel said to his companion.
"Who is? What are you talking-" Wes stopped mid-sentence when Batman came out of his hiding place and slipped through the window to stand menacingly in front of the pair. Neither of them seemed very intimidated. In fact, Angel looked ready to laugh. Batman's eyes narrowed.
"Who are you? What do you know about the Joker?" He demanded gruffly.
Angel frowned, "Who am I? I'm not the one wearing the mask, buddy. And I gotta say…nice outfit. The fact that you can actually intimidate anyone in that getup… kudos, really."
Batman moved closer his eyes shooting daggers at the other man. Angel crossed his arms nearing him just as confrontationally.
The British man sighed at their posturing, "We don't have time for this. Faith could be miles from here by now…"
The two men looked at him like one would a dim-witted child. Batman didn't know whether to be angry or just insanely curious about the treatment he was receiving from these two.
Angel shook his head in aggravation, "Look, I get it. You're Gotham City's guardian, I've got my own city too, so I can relate, maybe we can start a club or something. And, I know you and this Joker have got a history, but here's the thing, I don't care. I don't care who you think you are or what you think you know. I'm here to get the girl that broke the Joker out. So be a smart little bat and stay out of my way, alright?"
Batman was floored by this man's arrogance, "Why should I? Like you said, this is my town."
He had a feeling this man was very used to being in charge and didn't like to take a back seat to anyone. It was just too bad that Batman was the same way and wasn't about to let this strange man just waltz in and order him around. Angel used his finger to push Bruce pointedly in the chest-plate, "You don't have the first clue what you're getting into with Hope Hanes. We do. We'll be taking it from here. Got it?"
"What makes you think you can handle her and the Joker any better than I can?"
Angel just smiled, "For starters I don't need to dress up in a costume to frighten people."
They continued to have a stare down, neither one giving the other ground. Batman was ready to punch that smirk right off Angel's face when he heard the man's companion sigh again, "Is this really necessary? I see enough of this with you and Spike back in L.A. It's not helping anything."
"Oh, I don't know. It's certainly making me feel better." Angel's eyes darkened.
The other man frowned in disapproval. He came to stand between them clearly not wanting their stare down to escalate any further. He gave a warning look to his friend and turned back in his direction, "Mr.…uh, Batman. You'll have to excuse Angel. What he means to say is that we are familiar with Miss Hanes in the same way perhaps you are with this 'Joker' character. We have dealt with her previously and feel that we have a better handle on how to approach her than you yourself might. I've heard a few less than savory things about you, murder included, but I've been led to believe your intentions are for the most part honorable…and, in this case I think similar to ours. So we've no reason to be enemies, unless of course you plan on preventing us from doing what we came here to do. And that is getting Hope. That means taking her alive."
Angel grumbled, "That's not what I meant to say at all Wes…We don't need his help and I think he's a fu-" Wesley coughed loudly cutting him off.
"We will be in town until such time as she is caught or we discover she has left Gotham City altogether. If you get any leads on Hope's location it would be in your best interests to contact us first." He pulled out a card and scribbled a phone number on the back and handed it to him casually.
Batman blinked in surprise as he took the business card. People didn't usually deal with him so formally. He turned the card around in his hand.
Wolfram & Hart, Attorneys at Law
This just got stranger and stranger.
"Not quite." Wesley replied coolly. Both men walked toward the door. Angel turned on his heels to face Batman just as exited the doorway, "See ya around."
Batman just let them go as he stared down at the card in his gloved hand. He gave a dismissive shake of his head and then he went to work searching the apartment.
It wasn't ten minutes after the two had left that Batman found what he'd been searching for. The trash can was empty save a small crumpled up piece of paper.
The two 'not quite' lawyers clearly hadn't noticed it. Apparently the prominent browed man's keen senses didn't include seeing those things that were right in front of his face.
He pulled it out of the trash and flattened it out on the table. It was an article that had been ripped haphazardly from the front page of a week old issue of the Gotham Gazette. The headline read: "Maroni Released from Hospital, Trial Still Pending for Involvement in Joker Terrorist Attacks."
The Mob Boss would probably get off, no doubt. It was hard not to get cynical with the law system sometimes. As much as he hated when it didn't work properly, it was a necessary process. Even if it didn't always work out the way he wished it would. Bruce could practically hear Rachel telling him so whenever his resolve would slip.
And look where that faith in 'the law' had gotten her?
It was almost as if the Joker too had crept into his thoughts, a foil to Rachel's ever present voice of his conscious. Rachel Dawes had been the love of his life. She had made him a better man and now she was dead…because of him.
He could tell himself that it was the Joker and Maroni who'd planned it, but the Joker had been the product of Batman's influence on the city. He'd been the underworld's response to his crime-fighting vigilantism. Rachel's death was Batman's fault, his cross to bear.
No. He wasn't about to let the Joker do any more damage than he had to Gotham City and its people, while Bruce sat around and wallowed in guilt. He was going to find the Joker now before it was too late.
He looked back at the newspaper article. This felt like a trap, God knew it had to be.
Calculating bastard that he was, the Joker had to have known Batman would find this place eventually, regardless of how guarded the locations of the mob safe houses were. The Joker had wanted him to find the article. He wanted him to know where he was going. The knowledge that he was playing right into the Joker's hands wouldn't change the fact that he had to go. The Joker would be there and so that was where he needed to be. He'd just have to be careful.
It was time to pay a visit to Sal Maroni.
The warning of Mr. Pryce echoed in the back of his head and he ignored it. What reason did he have to believe the man?
Then, what reason did he have not to? The Joker knew he'd find the newspaper. There was something the Joker knew that he didn't. He looked at the business card once more in contemplation.
Batman didn't have time to call up these people only to find out they were nut jobs. He also didn't trust them as far as Alfred could throw them. He put the card back into the pouch of his belt and headed out the window.
Besides, he was sure he could handle it on his own.
Maroni was a bit tense to say the least. He'd only got out of the hospital a week prior and had only just started picking up the pieces of his 'business' after that mess with the Joker.
Just when he thought maybe things might start getting back to normal, the Joker was loose again. He never thought he'd wish the Gotham City Police Department was a bit more effective.
That was part of the reason he'd been on the look out for some better protection. His boys were good, but he didn't trust them. Using the right words and motivation, the Joker might get them to betray him. He didn't get to where he was by trusting people. No, sometimes it paid to be paranoid.
When he'd gotten the call from Wolfram & Hart, he'd certainly been interested in securing their services for his pending trial. Following the past month's 'incidents' the number of judges and police officers he had in his pocket might not be enough to protect him from a jail sentence. He wasn't going to take any chances. He'd heard very good things about Wolfram & Hart's ability to get anyone off for the right price and Maroni most certainly could pay.
Then they'd thrown in the offer of reliable protection. He'd been skeptical at first. How the hell could a law firm protect him from the Joker? But Marcus Hamilton had been very convincing over the phone, as had the two men he'd just met with. Wolfram & Hart had special-ops and surveillance abilities that made the Pentagon look like a hastily boarded up plastic Playskool house. Why a law firm had such things he'd didn't know. He was pretty sure he was better off not knowing.
He'd met with the CEO of their L.A. branch earlier this evening. Mr. Angel hadn't been what he'd been expecting, but his companion had fit the bill of the pencil pushing bureaucrat he'd imagined, or maybe that was just because of the accent.
The two of them had been strangely interested in his previous relationship with the Joker and wouldn't say why. That had made him slightly uncomfortable at first. They didn't seem to want to have anything to do with the Joker in the professional sense, so it didn't seem too relevant.
Angel also hadn't been very subtle in his dislike of Maroni, but their offer was solid. Sal wasn't about to back down on a deal that would give him a better chance of remaining not only out of prison, but very much alive just because the CEO of the company was a douche-bag.
They had made a deal, and now Maroni was officially a client of Wolfram & Hart. They'd be sending in his protection post-haste. He wished they were here already.
"Feelin' alright, hun?" a voice asked. A girl who was dressed in a skimpy school-girl outfit cooed as she glided around to fall into his lap.
The boys thought they would cheer him up with a party and a couple high-class strippers. It was helping a little, but he was still just waiting for the Joker to pop out of the wood work.
Sal didn't doubt that the Joker had plans to kill him like he done to the other mob bosses, just to prove once and for all that Gotham was his city. Maroni could only hope that the Joker would need him for something that would keep him alive long enough for his newest allies to make an appearance or perhaps for the Batman to stop him.
Since when did he root for the good guys? Especially for a freak who'd dropped him off a building?
In the end it came down to rooting for whichever side would keep him in business and alive the longest. Oh yes, alive was a definite plus.
The woman turned to straddle him tightly, bringing her chest right in front of his face. In any other circumstance, he'd be enjoying the hell out of this. He wished someone would just blow the Joker's brains out already. God knows he would do it if he was given the opportunity.
She looked down at him, and tucked a strand of her gaudy bubble-gum pink wig behind her ear, "Don't look fine. Making me think I ain't very good at my job. You're as tense as someone getting a lap dance from their grandma."
Maroni laughed at that, she wasn't like any grandmother he had ever seen. The girl smiled back at his laughter, "There ya go."
He couldn't imagine his nonna dressing like that or that she would have anything like the assortment of tribal tattoos this girl had on her arm, collarbone, and at the small of her back. Frankly, he really didn't want to imagine it.
This girl was a step above the broads he was used to seeing; maybe he'd have her stick around for an 'after-party'. She proceeded to writhe over him for several more minutes before proceeding to a group of his more intoxicated men.
He grabbed his drink and swilled a bit of the potent liquor in his mouth before swallowing it. He was actually starting to enjoy himself, that alone should have been the first clue that something was about to go terribly wrong.
Sal was fiddling with the rings on his fingers when he heard a commotion at the entrance to the bar. Several women could be heard screaming and running away, and he was fairly sure he could hear several men doing the same. He could make out a purple suit and mass of green hair bobbing through the crowd.
Maroni swore under his breath and motioned for his men to intercept the Joker and the group he'd brought with him. They looked to be what remained of the Chechen and Gambol's men with a smattering of others.
Salvatore gripped his cane tightly and pushed himself out of his seat. He still had healing injuries from the car crash, not to mention his leg from that incident with Batman, but he bolted towards the back exit with a speed of a man half his age. He would have made it there too had his legs not inexplicably fallen out from under him. Maroni felt a painful crack as his head collided with the floor.
A few moments later he heard a feminine moan come from next to him. Dazed he turned to find another figure seated on the floor alongside him looking equally out of sorts.
It was the stripper. She looked just about as panicked as he felt, not that he would ever show it. The dumb bitch had run into him! If he got out of this alive he would make sure she would be properly taken care of for the risk she'd put his life in, not to mention the indignity he felt from falling to the ground like a dumb oaf.
"It's the Joker! Oh god! This...this isn't happening!" She squealed and started to inch behind him in fear as the man in question came to stand in front of him. As if he would protect her.
Salvatore gathered his wits about him and slowly got to his feet.
"Going somewhere Maroni? I only wanted to drop in to say hello."
The green-haired bane of his existence waved a gloved hand at him with a manic grin, "Hel-lo."
"What'da you want?" Maroni growled out much braver than he felt.
The Joker looked around at the club, "I heard you were having a party. Me? I love parties."
Maroni's men brought out their guns flanking him. Sal had his own gun ready at his side.
"And well, uh, I was… bored." The Joker scratched his dirty green hair and shrugged haphazardly, "Plus, there's the whole, uh, teensy-weensy, itsy-bitsy little issue of you, I don't know, betraying me to Gordon. 'Member that? Yes? And you call yourself a criminal," Joker said, clucking his tongue "running to the cops like a scared little lapdog."
The Joker shook his head and crossed his arms with a child-like disapproval.
"If I hadn't, I would be lying in the same river you dumped the Chechen and Gambol in. I did what needed to be done. I'm no fool, Joker." Maroni said defiantly.
The clown started to snigger uncontrollably and his whole body shook violently. He stopped laughing just as abruptly as he'd begun and inched closer with his shotgun swaying back and forth. Maroni's men tightened their grip on their guns with his every step he took. Sal brought up his gun right into the Joker's scarred face.
The Joker didn't appear all that worried by the loaded gun that was just inches from his head. He just smiled back at him eerily. Maroni was about to pull the trigger, when the Joker distracted him by asking, "So Sally, can I call you Sally? You wouldn't happen to wan'ta know how I got these scars, would ya?"
Maroni was about say the he could not call him Sally and that he didn't give a shit how the freak had gotten his scars, when he felt something cold and metallic press roughly against the back of his skull. His comeback faded away before it even reached his lips.
"Feelin' alright, hun?" A voice asked mockingly from behind him.
The stripper passed the gun through his hair as she came to into his field of vision; her naïve persona was now but a memory. Some of his men quickly transitioned to pointing their guns at the woman.
The Joker smirked at her. "I'm fine, sweetie. Thanks for asking, and you?"
Her face scrunched up at the term of endearment, "Sweetie? Why don't you go the full distance and just call me 'Sugar Pie Honey Bunch'?" she snorted.
Sal had to admit he was just as perplexed, likely more so, by the Joker's words. It felt as though the entire world had just turned on its head. He knew a woman had escaped with him, but he didn't think. No woman in their right mind would be with that freak. Course that was the crux of it wasn't it; she wasn't in her right mind.
Almost as if to prove that point, she slid off her pink wig letting down her dark brown locks and she glanced over her shoulder to look at one of the men aiming his gun at her. She looked contemplative for a second, and then sat the wig on top of the large man's head with a plop.
She winked at the bewildered man, "That's a good look for you,"
Maroni saw this as an opportunity to get out of the path of her firearm, as he shuffled backward her gun followed his every step despite that fact that she couldn't possibly have seen his movements.
He started to inch forward again and the gun remained trained on him. The Joker looked on in mild amusement.
"My Faith is a girl of, uh, many talents you could say…." He pulled out his knife and Maroni's men watched him cautiously.
"Yeah," she said. "I'm a lover, a fighter, a dancer, a world-class gymnast, and I'm told I make a mean roast beef sandwich." Hope, or Faith, or whatever her name was, told him as she played around with her plaid skirt.
"Oh, and I kill people." She looked back his way and managed to look surprisingly threatening despite the skimpy school-girl's outfit.
While Maroni stared at the girl, the Joker jumped forward to grab hold of his head roughly and knocked his gun out of his hands. "Now, I think it's time for a little 'story'…"
The members of Maroni's gang seemed at a total loss as to what they should do. Apparently enlisting the services of Wolfram & Hart was a good call…if only he'd done it a little sooner.
"Right. My scars," the Joker said thoughtfully. "When I was a younger man, early twenties or so, and just starting out in the 'biz-', I was a real punk kid, a real 'tough-guy'…or so I thought, anyway." He licked his lips and brought his knife right in front of Maroni's face, making him practically cross-eyed, "I'd just joined a gang, ya see. As initiation, uh, I had to rob this little convenience store…and…I got caught, nat-u-ral-lee. I was looking at some real solid time in the slammer for armed robbery, but the cops, you see, they'd go lenient on me if I would just give'em a 'little-bit' of in-fer-mation on the rest of my 'friends'…and so I did, like any dumb kid who didn't no any better would. And, when a few of my 'friends' got brought up on charges….well…didn't take'em long to figure out who'd squealed…and…"
Maroni flinched as the Joker brought the knife closer to his mouth and the clown's eyes flared dangerously, "Well, you get the picture."
"You kill me and my men will kill you!" Maroni's eyes bulged.
"Will they?" The Joker glanced around at the frightened men, "Hmm...way I see it, with you dead, they'll be looking for someone to fill your shoes. I think I just might fit the bill. So, maybe they will maybe they won't. Guess we'll just have to see, won't we?"
The Joker was about to go for what looked to be a killing stroke when his body was flung like a rag-doll over the bar counter. Various bottles of alcohol came crashing down over top of the clown and glass shattered everywhere.
Maroni never thought he'd be so relieved to see the Batman in his life.
The girl was distracted by the new arrival, so Maroni took his chance to bolt to the exit and out of the fray. Those people from Wolfram & Hart had better be as good as they let on, or he was a dead man.
Thanks for reading!