Know This By Heart
Genre: Drama, Horror
Time Frame: TDK
Characters: Joker, Rachel
Summary: There are many whispers regarding the permanent smile on the face that never showed mirth – most of them he started himself. Yet, as a dying request, he tells her the real one.
Notes: Nothing much to say about this one, except that I finally saw TDK yesterday, and I am completely enraptured. Warning: this is kinda(very) dark, and has some uncomfortable issues like child abuse and self mutilation. If that sorta thing doesn't bother you - and it probably doesn't if you're a Joker fan - then, by all means, read on.
He tells this story to the men - the strong ones with flint for eyes and steel for bones. The fathers, the sons - each one could take their place.
There was always so much glaring at first. Stony facades cracked and hardened visages shattered around the edges as they showed their curiosity in the horrified widening of their eyes. It's a weakness, he thinks, their wonder; and so he slows his speech, carefully enunciating his syllables to ensure their complete attention. Sometimes, their eyes on his scars take their minds off of the blade caressing their skin. Funny, how the human mind worked.
This version wasn't as dark as the others. Hell, it was probably the most believable of his wide array of tales – see, once again, how truly chaotic the human mind was? But he told it anyway. The looks on their faces were priceless each and every time . . .
Father comes home latter and latter now - sometimes never at all.
Mother would pace by the window while she waited. Greasy lamp light from the streetlight outside the closed blinds seeped in in hundreds of thin ribbons, painting her in slivers of tired light – illuminating the shadows in her eyes and the molting of purple and blue across her face.
He had traced his hand over one earlier, watched the way she shivered as he touched the too tender skin. "Stop that," she had reprimanded absently, pushing his hand away.
He had stopped, pretending that it didn't fascinate him. He'll get better at that over the years, but he doesn't know that yet.
For now he stood at the mouth of the hallway, watching his mother from the shadows. She didn't know he was there – she never did, and away from her child's eyes she looked tired and worn. He watched the pain in her gaze with quiet eyes, tracing the emotion with something akin to curiosity.
Father – sir, he demanded to be called - stumbled in when the clock hands showed three in the morning. His work clothes were askew and his breath reeked of liquor and smoke. Mother crinkled her nose in disgust even as she demanded to know where Father had been.
Father chuckled, the sound held no humor, before saying that she already knew. Why was she being so predictable by asking? He covered his hands over his ears against the voices that started to raise in volume, trying to will the mean words and sharp blows away.
'Please, not tonight . . .' Yet, there was no sympathy for prayers that night. God was never in that part of Gotham, he should have known that by now.
The voices rose in intensity, and soon his hands over his ears failed to mask the sound. He peeked through the shadows, only seeing the back of mother's white gown and an outline of father's side. His hand was in his pockets, no doubt fiddling with the switchblade that he kept there for the walk home.
The child shivered and pressed further into the darkness. No. he didn't care for that blade at all . . .
Mother noticed father's hand as well. Her voice was shaking. Her words had turned pleading. The child found that he disliked the pleading more than the angry fear. Father thought so too, for the blade was out, and mother was backing up, and -
- then he was moving, his feet carrying him into the kitchen before he was even aware of what he was doing.
It was easy to stand in front of his mother. She looked terrified, her dark eyes widening as she told him to leave. Her fear made him stronger, and he stood up straighter, thrusting his chin out arrogantly as he put all of his loathing into a glare at the man towering over him.
Father schooled his surprise well as he let out a drunken laugh. The dark chuckles made his skin crawl, but he refused to step back, even as the knife twitched in Father's hand. "Such a serious face, boy. Why're ya so grim for a youngster?"
He had a moment to look confused before father reached out and grabbed him by the neck of his nightshirt. Father's strong hand had him up against the wall, so he was looking Father eye to eye. He had no time to do anything but let out a surprised gasp of air as the wind was knocked out of him. Behind them Mother screamed.
The dreaded blade was out then, and Father held it against his quivering lips. He tried hard, so so hard to bite back his fear as Father watched him with a maniac's grin. "Perhaps I need to teach ya to smile? Perm'nently, p'haps?"
Mother's screams were growing so loud, and the child still just glared. Glared as the fear left and the blade became welcome against his skin. Glared as Father jerked his hand, and there was red, red everywhere – crimson and scarlet, beautiful shades of ruby red. He glared until Father let him drop, and Mother ran forward to catch him, carmine red staining the white of her dress.
Then there were sirens and Mother whispering in his ear: " 's okay, Jack, 's all going to be okay now. You'll see. Just close your eyes."
So he did.
And then he smiled.
He tells this story to the women - the weak ones with wide, terrified eyes and pitying gazes. He likes the terror – hates the pity with the passion.
There's always so much whimpering at first. Girls always bruised so easily, and still there was a soft acceptance about them – a desire to see the best, hope and love. It was this hope that drove this tale. He loves seeing it in their eyes – the idea that he might have loved, might have been more than a monster at one point.
Take Miss Dawes, for example. She was a strong little vixen – with fiery eyes and a mouth of steel, and even she had that same look in her eyes – the fascination, the momentarily flicker of hope. The alluring fires that he had stroked while circling her banked for just a moment when he spun a golden tale of a gambling wife and a self inflicted smile . . .
It had been a long few nights for the both of them.
Megan Napier sat in the kitchen of their small apartment, her one hand covering the lower half of her face as the other circled over a small tumbler of whiskey. Besides her there was a bottle – empty, as always. It seemed that there was always a trail of empty bottles following after her lately. At one point she had been determined to start anew, but now . . . what was the point?
"Megan," his voice came soft and chiding from the door. "What are you doing?"
She scoffed at the question. "Drinking. What's it look like?" she laughed bitterly at her own joke, but he didn'e even smile. He didn't laugh. He never did. Rolling her eyes, she took another long swallow of the burning liquid. The drink scorched over the still fresh scars inside her mouth, making her wince.
The doctors at the hospital said that they would close over within the month, but she didn't care anymore. She didn't care about anything . . .
Jack came up behind her, moving silently in that inhuman way he had. With a molten glare he took her glass and threw the rest of the liquor into the sink. She shot to her feet, enraged. She wobbled almost immediately, her coordination made dubious to her fair inebriation. "Jack!" she hissed. "I was drinking that."
"Not any more!" he turned on her, his sepia eyes black with a fury that seemed to be there more and more over the years. He was taller that her by a good six inches, and he towered over her now, his hands coming up to grasp her arms.
"Don't touch me," she nearly screamed. "I told you not to touch me any more!"
He dropped his hands away as if burned, his handsome face contorting in pain. He leaned forward with a pained sigh, letting his limp blonde hair frame his face. "Megan . . . I thought I told you . . . It doesn't matter to me. You don't have to hide . . . not from me."
"Don't lie!" her voice was a harsh squeak, like cracking ice.
"Let me help you."
She closed her eyes against the pleading note in his voice. "No."
"Megan . . . please . . ."
"NO!" and this time she did scream, her voice a raw sob of unbridled anger.
He looked at her then as if he had never seen her before. But his gaze was not on her scars, no. It was on her eyes, as if he was searching for the girl ha had married just a few years ago. She was gone, Megan knew. That girl had drown at the bottom of the bottle as youth's dreams faded to reality's harsh bite.
He had changed too, she admitted darkly. The soft spoken, guarded young man had grew into a man obsessed with the weirdest things – with his talks of chaos and his fascination with his switchblade knife . . .
He terrified her. The insanity loitering behind his angel's face terrified her.
It was a while before he spoke. His eyes never left hers. "What do I have to do?" he whispered. "What do I have to do to prove that I still love you?"
She flinched, even though his voice never rose past a ragged whisper.
"Nothing. There's nothing you can do." Her words were harsh. Final.
And so he left.
She watched him leave, and as soon as he was out of sight she moved to the small bookcase in the front room's corner. There was an old bottle of vodka hidden, one she had hidden for times just like this . . .
She listened to the chime of the clock as the hours passed, loosing herself once again until -
"Ya know . . ." a cold voice said behind her then. "You know, Megan, how you are always saying that I need to smile more? Well, here ya go, beautiful."
His voice chilled her, and she had to fight to turn and face him. After a moment she did. And she screamed.
Screamed, and screamed, and screamed as she looked in a mirror of her own face. To see the devil's smile looking back at her in her husband's bloody face . . . It was too much. She closed her eyes, hoping that this was all a dream. A bad, bad dream . . .
And he laughed. He's laughing still.
He tells this story to the hired help – the greedy, pissant fools who are eager enough for money to coat their pockets that they will risk a knife to the back. Now or latter – they all know it's coming. But hey, they need something to talk about in the meantime.
There was always the shifting of eyes with the new recruits. They'd stare and hope he didn't notice, and he'd just laugh when he did. Interesting, how a laugh could unnerve a man more than any angry snarl. Their curiosity was amusing at times, yet at other times it just bored him, and that's when bodies hit the floor – chaos at it's finest, he says.
He rarely has to tell the story himself anymore. There are higher ups on the pay roll who are eager to tell the tale, and he lets them. They all will end up wondering more that way.
Chuckles – the Joker's current right hand - gathered around a table of veterans and noobs alike, a cigar in one hand and a hand of cards in the other. There were chips and cards scattered across the table, and smoke coated the dingy warehouse air in whispering curtains.
"So, the way I hear it is this. The boss is workin' for some higher ups in the Falcone organization. Word is that he got really powerful through a series of rather . . . morally devoid deeds, one could say, until he is ended up bein' one of the higher ups himself. He's still one sadistic son of a gun though, and now that he's orchestratin' the crimes instead of commitin' them he starts gettin' a bit antsy, if you know what I mean."
There was a grumble of snickers around the table. Chuckles threw down his cards in disgust as he met each man's eyes in turn. "Any of ya ever heard of the Red Hood?"
There were some nodding heads amongst the older goons. A few of the youngsters looked clueless but nodded anyway. Chuckles rolled his eyes. "Rumor is that the Hood was the boss. He needed a way to let off a little steam, and through this persona he could maim and maul to his black heart's content. That was all well and good until a museum job went bad. The boss crashed a ball there held by none other than Bruce Wayne."
"Wayne?" a clown at his left asked incredulously. "You're kidding."
"No joke. Wayne wasn't even there, either, he disappeared right after the boss crashed – sneaky little coward, may he rot with his billions. Anyway, Wayne's dame decided to give the boss a piece of her mind – remember Lorna Shore, gents?"
There was a series off low whistles around the table. "Yeah, she was a real looker," Chuckles agreed. "She . . . well, lets just say that she forgot her place. Wayne likes his broads with some fire in them, and the boss didn't appreciate this one. Lets just say that Miss Shore came out a little worse for the wear when the Bat stormed the party."
There was a pause as the goons took a second to spit on the ground, cursing the bat's name.
"It seems that Batman doesn't take kindly to Miss Shore's um . . . injuries, and he and the boss went at it. The Red Hood – well, the Joker – took one of those ugly little batarangs to the face. It sliced right through him, leaving his with 'the grin.'"
There was a collective wince around the table as they thought if the bat's 'wonderful' little toys. Chuckles shook his head in sympathy. "The boss hasn't been mentally sane since. Not that he really was before," Chuckles laughed then, those around him joining in.
There was a louder giggle then that made the men pause, poker chips falling silent as the smoke ceased it's billowing. The Joker himself stood in the shadows, clapping his purple clad hands mockingly. "So you see now why it's generally frown-ed upon to catch the bat's toys with your mouth."
There was a hesitant laugh around the table as the Joker turned his bottomless eyes on each one of them in turn. The eyes landed on Chuckles, who grinned in agreement, but the smile was forced. The Joker inclined his head mockingly – he knew.
The next job, and Chuckles took a bullet to the back. Cop fire, was the official report, and at this the Joker laughed long and hard. The next time the story was told, it was whispered.
He tells this story to the Arkham shrinks – the stiff ol' docs with fascinated eyes and twitching pens clicking against their clip boards.
He thinks that he enjoys telling them the most. After all, they were the good and the right and the noble – and each and every one was determined to figure him out. To 'cure' him. It's these good doctors that he enjoys twisting around the most. For such celebrated minds to collapse under the weight of his life's codes, well, there was just nothing better.
"Well, mom and pops never much cared for me, ya know? I'm sure that's where all of my un-resolved men-tahl issues sprang."
"If that's what you -"
"Pops liked the blade an' the bottle. Left me some nice, ah, mo'mentos with that." He grins, watching the shrink's eyes lighten.
"Oh! Is that how -"
"No." And really, it's so much fun to watch the frustration swimming across their faces . . . They didn't even realize that they were projecting it!
"Would you like to tell me how?"
"Well-uh, seeing as how I have nothin' else to do . . ."
It was another dreary day.
The sun never really seemed to shine on Gotham much anyway, and in the belly of the underworld, the light that did reach down was tired and gray, as if leaden with the filth treading in it. Jack Napier watched it play over the dirty charcoal color of his coat with an apathy that most of the city's residents seemed to carry these days. Around his feet garbage and dead leaves swirled, and he traced them with his gaze, forming ever morphing images that only he could see.
Sometimes, he felt like life was starving him.
He was walking home from work, hands clasped over a blade in his pocket – a gift from his late father. This far in the narrows, it was suicide to walk along unarmed. With a sigh he let go off the knife -
- only to be pulled rather roughly into an alley adjoining the street.
There were three rather burly men waiting, all with guns. Jack wasted a second to sigh in annoyance. Really, now could life be any more predictable? He was shoved against the grimy brick of the alley wall, and he could feel one of the men search his pockets for his wallet. Another hand grasped his switchblade, and he had to fight the urge not to growl when they took it.
He craned his head around, taking in black garb, ski masks, and cheap looking guns. He shook his head in disgust. "Guns? How pathetically unoriginal. Now, explosives would have been original – poison or acid, even. Instead, you're going through all this work for my twenty bucks – ya coulda just asked, ya know. I find myself fairly charitable to bums on the street."
He was pressed harder against the wall as another goon struck him over the head with the butt of his weapon. A smile split his face."What? Depressed that twenty dollars doesn't split well three ways? I'd be too."
Another blow to the head. He laughed as stars exploded over his vision. "Shut-up!" what looked like the second in command thug growled.
Jack rolled his eyes. "Criminals are so unimaginative these days. Really, now if you already find yourselves morally devoid of a conscience then you could be aiming for much larger things -"
This time the blow had some force behind it. Jack winced as he felt his jaw crack. "So, a clown we have here? I think you'll find it hard to tell jokes with your face smashed in."
Jack snorted before spiting out a mouthful of blood.
The same goon lifted his weapon again, and then a cold voice called out, "Wait."
Jack raised a brow to see the third man come up, obviously the leader, a sadistic gleam in his eyes. The third man held out his hand, and goon number two handed him the blade that they had taken from him. Jack eyed it like he would a serpent. "I don't see you smiling now?" the third man sneered. "So serious all of a sudden?" There was a purr in his voice as he held the blade up before Jack's face.
The two thugs held him still as the third man pressed the blade to him, caressing his skin. "Perhaps you would like to smile permanently? Seeing as how you're a regular joker . . ."
Jack smiled a bloody smile, daring him. Because, all of a sudden, life had gotten so much more interesting . . . Good ol' Lady Mayhem taking him in a direction he never saw himself going.
So he laughed, laughed long and hard as the man carved a permanent smile into his face. He felt nerves split and skin gurgle with much too warm blood. And still he laughed . . .
"Boss, he's not right in the head."
"Maybe we should get going -"
He had no time to finish the statement as Jack ripped his knife from the man's hand and buried it deep in the other man's chest. "Why are you leaving so soon? The games are just about to begin . . ." The 'T' on 'just' was overly emphasized, a loving purr.
In the end he was the only one to leave the alley alive. A bloody Cheshire's grin on his face as he left matching marks on the dead men in the alley.
And that was the beginning.
After his tale the psychiatrist was silent, her cobalt blue eyes watching him curiously. "Some would say," she started slowly, "that you aren't really mad . . . that you play at insanity as a game, as an excuse to avoid conviction and execution."
The Joker laughed then, long and hard. "Well then, dollface. Wouldn't that make me one pretty smart ind-ivid-ual?"
She watched him, closed her eyes long and slow.
And still he smiled.
He tells this story to her.
Simply, because she had asked. Her wide blue eyes were even wider – not judging, not angry, just accepting. The calm tenor of her voice was so odd compared to the normal whimpering pleas that his captives usually gave. There was no desperate rage, no frantic terror in her eyes as she spent the last few moments of her life drowning in her own fear.
He had spent the first few minutes after she regained consciousness telling her exactly how much of a pickle she was in – if she hadn't already figured it out for herself. She was a bright girl, really, and the barrels and wires would tell a horrid truth to anyone looking. There was a moment of an oh-crap expression in her eyes as she realized that she wouldn't be leaving this warehouse anytime soon before a calm acceptance settled into her eyes. As a girl who managed to get out of sticky situations more often than not, she didn't have any reason to be truly scared as he cackled and giggled, setting the timer on the explosives.
If you asked him when it set in that she may just not make it out of this one alive, he couldn't tell you. And that was vexing. A laughing little voice inside his head asked him if he's lost his touch.
Of course not.
Used to pleasant – or at least amusing thoughts – he decided that this just would not do anymore. It was almost a good thing she was going to die.
She asked then: "How really did you get those scars?"
No one had directly asked him before. He has always volunteered the information with a demented grin, watching the unease in his victim's eyes as he acknowledged what they all tried so hard to ignore. Now, he tilted his head, and regarded her curiously, "I believe that I have already told you that tale, dont'cha remember?"
She raised a brow. "Really now. I've been an assistant DA for how long? I can see when a man is lying."
He raised a brow, a laugh threatening to break free. "Ly-ing?" he enunciated the syllables slowly, drawing them out while staring her straight in the eye. "An' here I have always uh, prided myself on my . . . poker face. You'll have to excuse me – this is a hum-bl-ing experience." He laughed then, shaking his head in his mirth.
She was watching him, silent still, and he wished then that she'd show at least a little respect for the captor/captive relationship. Here now, she wasn't doing anything right. It was . . . unexpected.
"I've heard stories," she said after a minute – carefully, like a child approaching a serpent, "from the creeps who've come through our office."
"Any of them ya actually believe?"
She shook her head. "No. Yet, I have heard enough to make me curious."
He snorted then, rolling his eyes. "Curi-os-ity? That's what this all boils down to? You've heard one too many tales – from mean ol' daddy to an uh, accidental bath in a chem-ical plant, an now your achingly white heart's just-uh burnin' for the truth?" He laughed, his tongue darted out to trace over the raised scars on his face, smearing the scarlet with the white. Her eyes never left him. "Or maybe your, ah, your curi-os-ity has much diff-ha-rent reasons? Maybe you're just wonderin' what could possibly have happened to make a normal chap inta a guy like me?"
A shadow flickered in her eyes, and his grin widened. "Or may-be you've seen so much of Gotham's scum that now you find yourself seein' just how low the world will sink? May-be you're lookin' for a cat-alyst? Proof that there's equal parts good and ah, well, evil?"
"Or maybe I'm looking for an interesting story before I die?" her voice was hard, tired almost. "Maybe I'm looking for something to pass the final seconds? Aren't you the one who's always saying what a bore actual thought through plans are?"
The Joker laughed, slapping his knees in his mirth as he shook his head, sending lank strands of green tinted hair flying. "Toots, this is why I'm actually gonna miss you. You act-ually managed to surprise me – and I can tell ya that, for you're not gonna be around much longer to tell anyone. Okay, ya got me. I'll tell you, Beautiful – but only if you promise not ta tell anyone else, 'kay?" He chortled at his own joke, slapping his hands together in glee. The cheep purple leather creaked loudly in the abandoned warehouse.
"Good ol' once upon a time I was Jack Napier – down right borin' ah, well . . . goody goody – much like yourself. I worked nine to five for nothin' while some barve way high up on the chain pro-fit-ted off my smarts – just like everyone else in Gotham. I mixed chemicals – wonderfully dan-ger-ous stuff with a . . .well, with a sense of humor, I guess you could say. They were ah-musing – like I never was."
She was watched him warily as he knelt down in front of her, bringing his eyes level with hers. No one could stare at his eyes for too long, they all looked away after a while. She lasted longer than most before blinking and sliding her eyes away. He shook his head. Predictable.
"Now these really bad guys decide that they want to rip the plant off – there's lotsa money involved in the higher ups rather . . . illegal ventures, and they left their loot swimming around in a few of the ah, well unused drums. All they need is a way in the plant after dark – and that'sa where I came in.
"Ya see, the Misses Napier was eight months along, and she was the perfect leverage. The goons had her, an' I decided that it woulda be better to help them than fight them. Now, we were getting' ready ta start, and the idiot who was guarding my wife calls, an' says she's in la-bor. Now, that's much too early, an' she lost both the child's and her own life – docs' said somethin' about stress and some crap like that. Nat-ur-ally, I was consumed by grief, and told the goons that they could take their plan and shove it. I wasn't helping them with a thing.
"They didn't take too, ah, well to that, an' decided that I needed a little, well, persuasion." He reached up, and traced his blade over the scares stretching from the corners of his mouth. "A slice here, and a slice there, and suddenly dreary ol' Jack is suddenly a joker with a gran' ol' smile," he laughed at the memory, and gave a little shiver as the ghost of phantom blade traced through his thoughts. Pain had become it's own ambrosia over time.
"Now, in'stead of pro-ducin' the desired effects, this jus' made me uh, well - humorous for some cah-razzzy reason. It was funny that they thought a little ol' thing like pain and dis-fig-urament could harm a man who now had nothin'. So, my thoughts a-whirlin' I led them in, an made sure they all took a nice little swim in one of the vats of chem-icals. Interesting-ly, they all ended up with worse smiles than me!" He broke out in a mad fit of giggles, insane pleasure lilting his eyes in flashes of liquid obsidian.
Rachel watched him with something akin to horror. He found that he liked the quiet curiosity much more. He ended his story with a raised brow. "An' now here I am – a crim'inal with nothin' to lose and nothin' to gain. It's a rather liberating way of life."
She shook her head, a whisper of a laugh floating past her lips. "Is that what this is all about then? You were a good man, but all it took was a day of loosing everything, and you went over the edge. Is that what you are trying to prove? That humans can break just like you did? That anyone could be moved to be as crass as you?"
He giggled at the fire in her eyes. "Ho ho ho, . . .Ya see, you're down right fascinat'in. Jus' like ol' Batboy, you think the world can be explained and reasoned. But, in the end the human race can be split inta thirds. All are born with the ah, the inclination to do dark and dirty deeds, and a good third try to rise above this – that would be you. Another third feels the urge, and yet ignore it, thinkin' that they are good and normal people while a beast festers inside. Then there's another third – my third, who have embraced the more carnal impulses that we all have, and are havin' a grand ol' time doin' it." He laughed, looking thoughtful all the while. "Really now, toots. You're in the minority, and in the who'le reaches of history, when has the hu'man race ever favored the min-or-ity?"
She was glaring at him, even as that same flicker shadowed in her eyes. He gave out a barked laugh at seeing it, his whole body twitching with the sound. "Whats the matter, darlin'? Realizin' that the world isn't as um, peachy keen as you once thought?"
She shook her head. "You're not getting it. Yes, the world has black and gray, but more of the white – society needs to believe in that, or it'll just fall apart."
"My point exact-ly! When you erase the light – I mean, the white, you get some good ol' fashioned chaos. All blacks and grays swirlin' everywhere – Lady Mayhem reignin' supreme as the world burns itself to the uh, ground."
"And you? You just want to watch it burn?"
He looked thoughtful for a moment. "Better than goin' down with the flames, eh now, sweetheart?"
She smiled, "I think you'll find that people are made of stronger stuff than you give them credit for."
"All the more fun to watch 'em break," he shrugged.
Rachel watched him get to his feet, giving one last look around at his handy work. He turned to her again, no smile on his face save the one that would always be there. His eyes were dark, and yet so very open. "You'll see – or rather, you won't. Your Dark Knight will come, and try to save you and your White Knight, but he won't be able to – you will die, and it'll be so much fun to see which of them breaks-ah first. You're a catalyst – like me. You're lightin' a torch to this city jus' as much as I am – only you won't be there to see the uh – fireworks, at the show's end."
She flinched a little at that, and the smile that that brought was gone as soon as the pity returned in her eyes. "Well," she whispered. "If this is goodbye then, I hope you find what you're looking for."
The soft tremble in her voice stopped the anger that flared inside him, and he found himself wishing that he could actually delay her death – anything to wipe that soft, content glow from her face; anything to stop her from forcing it on him.
This wasn't funny anymore.
"Close your eyes," he whispered then. His voice was free of malice and lilting insanity – just for a moment as he fingered her cheek with the back of his gloved hand. "It'll all be over soon."
And then he left, leaving her alone with the echos of his laughter and the phantom touch of his hand to her skin.
So she did. Closed her eyes and waited for the end.
And he found that he couldn't laugh. Not this time.