(A/N): And once again, I make a liar out of myself. This is clearly not Burning Bridges related. Sorry. I've had horrendous block on all things KH related recently. Hopefully this is a step in the right direction. So. Reason for this fic's existence: I was completely blown away by Heath Ledger's portrayel of my all-time favorite Batman villain. And I had the idea for writing a semi-plausible 'origin' fic rattling around in my head when I came across a bunch of reviews citing a condition called tardive dyskinesia and it all sort of came together on its own. Huge thanks to my sister for putting up with me during all stages of the writing, for beta-ing, and for assuring me I have a strange imagination. The characters as they appear in this fic are based solely on their portrayals in Nolan's movie universe. It should also be noted that any and all mistakes regarding police procedures are my own. I hope you guys enjoy it.
Disclaimer: Are you kidding?
Joanna Mason twisted her mass of dark hair into a loose knot, securing it hastily with pins as she swept through the harshly lit doors of the station house. The call had pulled her from a restless sleep; she felt out-of-sorts, with the beginning of a tension headache forming above her left eye, but even in her addled state she'd recognized the urgent tone of Detective Vasquez's request.
A few of the officers unlucky enough to be saddled with the graveyard shift looked up as she passed, offering subdued greetings, but she managed only the most distracted of replies to their overtures – she was here for Alex, after all, not to socialize.
She found the detective in the small area adjacent to the interrogation room, standing before the one-way mirror and sipping something out of a paper cup. Joanna hoped, for the sake of his digestion, that it wasn't the station's coffee he was drinking – she remained convinced the vile brew had untapped applications as a paint stripper. He glanced over at the sound of her step, and a wan smile lit his face as he extended his hand. "Jo. Thanks for coming."
Joanna clasped his hand, noting the smudges of shadow that seemed to have taken up permanent residence under his dark brown eyes. "No problem. What's up?"
Alex inclined his head toward the glass. "Take a look."
Joanna stepped up to the mirror, wearily smoothing a stray piece of hair out of her eyes. She blinked and glanced back over at Alex. "Look, Alex, I know it's Halloween and all, but this is a little…" Alex tipped his cup back in a long swallow, grimacing slightly at the taste, but offered no comment. Sighing, Joanna suppressed a yawn and turned her attention back to the man sitting on the other side of the glass. Unkempt green hair, face paint that was flaking away in places… She leaned forward, squinting. "Alex… That paint around his mouth, is that –"
"We picked him up outside the bank that just got hit on Lexington," Alex interjected. "Three guys dead inside and the safe blown open. He said he saw the whole thing go down."
"Alex, why am I here?" Joanna asked, biting unconsciously at her lip as she studied the bright red makeup accenting the costumed man's facial scars.
Alex sighed and dragged a hand over his short-cropped hair. "I know he was part of that job, Jo, but I've got nothing to prove it. I'm waiting on warrants for his fingerprints and DNA, but I can't hold him much longer without charging him. Jo, if he gets out the door we're never gonna see him again. Talk to him, just get me something I can hold him for seventy-two hours on. Please."
"Alex, I can't recommend he be involuntarily incarcerated just to help you make a case –"
"You're not," Alex said grimly. "Trust me, Jo. Just talk to him."
Joanna blew her breath out in an aggravated rush, crossing her arms under her breasts as she tipped her head back and closed her eyes. Alex remained silent beside her. "Fine," she said at last, straightening her shoulders and bringing her face down to meet the detective's eyes. "But you owe me for this, Alex."
Alex smiled and raised his cup. "Thanks, Jo."
"What's his name?"
"Didn't give one. No I.D., nothing in his pockets…" He trailed off for a second, taking another sip of coffee for no apparent reason other than it gave him something to do. "You be careful in there, Jo. I'll be watching."
Jo turned away from him without answering, her heels clicking hollowly against the tile floor. She paused just outside the door, taking a moment to smooth her hair and blouse before she passed through into the interrogation room.
"Evening." The suspect's voice raised the hairs on the back of her neck, but she forced her expression to remain neutral. The man cocked his head to the side, dark eyes gleaming as she sat down across from him. "Or is it morning? I've been here for so long – I have to say, I'm not very impressed with the…efficiency of your people here." His painted lips stretched in a grin, and the scars stretched with them. "And I didn't think this would be quite so…"
"So, what?" Joanna prompted when he didn't continue.
"So boring, doctor," the man concluded, lips stretching even wider over yellowed teeth.
"What makes you think I'm a doctor?" Joanna asked, trying not to stare as she settled herself as comfortably in the hard-backed chair as she could.
The man's sudden, high-pitched laughter set her teeth on edge. Seeming to delight in her reaction, he bounced slightly in his seat, the words escaping him in a rapid, breathless flow. "You all – you all act alike," he snickered. He jabbed a finger at her. "Now let's not start off lying here, shall we, doctor?" His tongue flicked out and probed the edges of his scarred lip as his grin disappeared. Joanna was glad to see it go.
"All right," she acquiesced. "I'm a doctor."
"Mm-hmm." The man's eyes narrowed until they almost disappeared in their circles of black paint. "You know, I've always hated doctors."
"Really? And why is that, mister…?"
The man smacked his lips loudly as he stared at her. "No," he said at last, fingers picking at the cuff of his sleeve.
"No, what?" Joanna asked, carefully cataloging each tick and movement in her head.
"No, that's not what you want to know," he said, tongue flashing between his lips again. Joanna couldn't help following the distracting motion.
He sighed and rocked back in his chair, rolling his eyes. "Do you know why I can't stand people like you, doctor? You're boring. You see…" He leaned forward again, head cocking to the side. "You don't know what to do with a guy like me, but you think if you just ask enough questions…"
They weren't getting anywhere. Joanna rubbed the spot above her left eye, which was now throbbing in earnest. Her eye caught on the badge she'd pinned to her blouse at the front desk: Dr. Joanna Mason. Her lips twisted in a wry smile. There was one question answered, at least. "All right," she began again, feeling a little more in control. "The detective said you came in to give a statement –"
"What time is it?"
"The time. What's the time?" he repeated, head twitching slightly as his tongue darted over his scars again.
"What difference does it make?" Joanna asked, trying to gauge his expression behind the heavy makeup.
"Mm. Tell me, doctor – would you like to know how I got these scars?"
Joanna's gaze settled briefly on the man's unnaturally elongated smile before moving back to his eyes. "All right," she said cautiously.
"There's an asylum, in Gotham – Arkham. And the doctor there, the good Dr. Crane, he liked to…experiment on his patients." The man's painted face leaned further over the table as his voice lowered to a conspiratorial whisper. "But his little toxin didn't work on me, you see, so he had me reassigned. I got a new doctor, a pretty little thing who let me call her Harley. Not very…professional of her, wouldn't you agree, doctor?" Joanna's stomach dropped as she glanced toward the one-way mirror. It seemed Alex had been right, after all – she wouldn't have to doctor her report at all. "So, one night, Harley helps me escape – destroys all my files, everything. But, before she lets me go, she says she wants me to smile for her – says she always wants to remember her puddin's smile. So. We break a window. I do this side…" He sat back, tilting his head back and to the side to indicate the scars on the left side of his face. "…and she does this one." He twisted his head again, gesturing at his other cheek, the scars rippling as his lips opened in a smile. The timbre of his voice dropped. "I let her keep the glass." Whooping laughter exploded through the room as he slammed forward in his seat again. "Why so serious, doctor?" he demanded.
Joanna heard the door to the room slam against the wall as Detective Vasquez swept in. "Back off!" he thundered, advancing on the other man with one hand on the butt of his service pistol. "You just stay the fuck where you are!" The clown put his hands in the air, still giggling frantically.
"It's okay, Alex," Joanna half-shouted, grabbing at his arm. "Just – calm down!" Alex grudgingly stopped where he was, his jaw flexing in anger. Joanna kept a restraining hand on him as she turned her attention back to the suspect, whose laughter was finally tapering away. "Where's Harley now?" she asked evenly.
The man blinked. "Uh, Arkham," he replied, hands still held theatrically above his head. "You didn't think she could help me escape without them knowing what she'd done? No, no… No. No, I'm afraid Harley has become just another victim of the good doctor's experiments. I'd like to think they gave her my cell. For sentimental reasons." His mouth gaped open, tongue sweeping frantically across his lower lip as his shoulders shook with silent laughter.
Joanna felt Alex tensing beneath her hand; she tightened her grip on him, keeping her eyes locked with the man sitting across from her. "Do you think this is a game?" she demanded, voice strained.
The man huffed and shook his head, tipping back a little farther in his seat. "No, doctor, I think this is…practice." Shouts erupted from somewhere beyond the interrogation room door. "Oh, by the way, you both might want to duck," the clown informed them cheerily. He pushed his own chair over backward, cackling, as the world became an inferno.
When Joanna's eyes fluttered open a few seconds later, she was alone. Her cheek was pressed against the floor and there was something heavy lying across her shoulders; she couldn't feel her lower back and legs at all. The air was filled with the smell of charred steel and flesh. "Alex?" she asked weakly. No one answered her.
She heard someone grunting off to her right. For a moment her heart leapt in hope, until a familiar form shoved itself clear of rubble, muttering under its breath. The clown staggered to his feet, blood flowing down the side of his face from a cut on his forehead. Smearing the blood against his makeup, he shoved his hair out of his face and straightened his back, rolling his head and groaning. Apparently satisfied that he was still in one piece, he placed his hands on the small of his back and cracked his spine, surveying what was left of the room.
His eyes fell on her. "Still alive, doctor?" he asked conversationally, coming to crouch down in front of her.
"What happened?" Joanna asked, voice little more than a harsh whisper.
"One of my…associates just met a very messy end," he answered, lips stretching in a bloody smile.
"Of course, he thought the bomb I strapped on him was a decoy – he wouldn't have come otherwise. Good help is so hard to find these days," he continued blithely.
"Oh. Well, he's dead. I did tell you to duck." Joanna couldn't stop the tears that tracked silently over her dusty face. "Oh, sh-shh-shh-shh," he cooed, voice a mockery of sympathy as he wiped her tears away. Joanna tried to recoil, but whatever was pressing against her shoulders held her immobile. "Don't feel bad, doctor, you've been such a big help. I've decided to go back to Gotham – our little conversation has made me homesick for all the old familiar places."
"Don't touch me," Joanna hissed. The clown's hand froze against her cheek as his dark eyes narrowed. They remained that way for an endless second before the man pushed himself upright with a grunt.
"You know, doctor," he began, stepping out of her range of vision. She heard him pick something up from the floor. "You really oughtta smile more." When he crouched in front of her again, he was twirling a piece of the shattered mirror between his fingers. Joanna's eyes traveled slowly from the shiv to his eyes. His scarred lips stretched in a wide grin as he leaned over her. "Everybody loves a smile."