Author's Note: please read.
I came up with this idea a couple days after initially seeing "The Dark Knight," but I've been hesitant to put it into story form. This is mostly because it would be so very taxing of a plot, not only because of the perspective it is told from, but also due to the subject matter. However, I simply sometimes had to take a break from my main fan-fiction, and this is one of those things that just "wouldn't let me go," so I've been working off-and-on on this piece for the better part of several months now (depending on when the actual release date of the "Dark Knight" was, since I can't quite remember).
As it now stands, this is a "post-able" chapter of this concept/plot, and while I have some notes and other stuff for future installments, they aren't written up and could only be posted sporadically, if at all… this probably will end up being a one-shot, depending on how people like it, although it properly deserves to be a full story in its own right (I haven't even gotten into the main bulk of the plotline here… waah). I have my hands tied with If the Foundations Be Destroyed, and likely will continue to be hooked on that for some time.
Technically, this story is a sort of "Alternate Universe" to Foundations, but it also stands all on its own, so you DON'T need to have read my other story to understand this one. Basically, it should be treated as a "Dark Knight" sequel. Some of the original characters from Foundations are mentioned, but most are just names and I've made sure to explain who everyone is. For anyone who is interested in the timeline shared between the two stories (and/or who has read the other one), in the original story the Joker is held at Arkham for seven months: this one-shot occurs in the sixth out of those seven months, and concerns what "might" have happened if some events prior to Foundations had turned out differently.
For those of you who don't care and/or haven't read the other one, just (hopefully) enjoy, and if you don't mind leave me some feedback on what you think.
Batman belongs to DC Comics.
"I think you and I… are destined to do this forever."
"You'll be in a padded cell forever!"
"Maybe we could share one…"
— Excerpt from the last conversation between Batman & the Joker in The Dark Knight
They'd beaten him six times in the past twenty-four hours, and it showed.
One would think that the nurses, of all people, would have cared. The guards, not so much. Especially when one of them had a brother who had been jailed by the now-infamous "Batman." But the nurses? They were supposed to be kind, gentle, and warm bastions of love and healing—besides that, most of them were female, and he bore a fairly pretty face. At least, he would have thought so, if he were a woman.
This thought caused the Joker to snort, as he rolled over on his stomach. Picturing himself as female was as idiotic an idea as he'd come up with yet, trapped in this horrid place, and caused him to almost roll his eyes in exasperation. This building did things to you, with its quiet atmosphere, its sterile white walls, hard cold floors, the dim ceiling lights... it would make you half believe that you truly were mad, if you let it. Well, he was not going to tolerate that. He was sane, completely and unfortunately sane, and he of all people should know this all too well.
His brown eyes never left the glass before him; they never shifted from the dark form on the other side of the windowpane. He was so still...
It was as if he didn't dare take his gaze off him, not for one minute, not for one second, lest his companion be whisked away, never to be seen or heard from any longer. And the Joker simply refused to let that happen. After endless months in this hellhole, he had started to believe he would never be free, never see the sky, never find anything remotely worth his while ever, ever again. Then the newspaper—sometimes they let the "patients" read it in the common room—had said something that the Joker had thought impossible. The headline had haunted him for weeks.
BAT MAN CAPTURED: VIGILANTE KNOWN AS "SILOUHETTE" SAVES GOTHAM FROM CAPED CRUSADER
He had been forced to read the headline, over and over, until the reality of it sank in. When it did, the Joker did not know whether to laugh or cry. His great enemy, his rival, his "other half," had been captured by the very people that he had been trying so hard to protect. It would be hard to play with him, now that he was in jail, once the Joker found his way out of this hellhole.
On the other hand, the clown couldn't help but see the entire situation as funny. Batman was betrayed. Hadn't he, the Joker, warned him? Hadn't he tried to help? "They'll cast you out," he'd said; he'd specifically tried to explain the cruel natures of the world, but the Batman wouldn't listen. Oh, no, he had to be all self-righteous, all moral, all uplifting and good and true. Now he'd pay for it in the county jail. The clown couldn't help but wonder—were he to meet his erstwhile pupil, would the Batman's perspective have changed?
That's really how the Joker had regarded the Bat Man: a pupil. The perfect student. The man who was just like him, who the world would condemn, call a freak, label as a lunatic, despise, reject, and finally hole up somewhere like Arkham. All so that he wouldn't trouble their petty little minds and longer. Out of sight, out of mind. They would never know how important he was—well, no, that wasn't quite right. They most certainly knew how important he was, and they hated him for it. He showed them things they didn't want to see. And so they wanted to forget the Bat Man, as they wanted to forget the Joker. They would call the vigilante a madman so they didn't have to listen—and they would throw him into the proverbial abandoned well and let him rot.
Oh, how the Joker loved being right. Even when he didn't know just how right he was.
So he'd settled for neither laughing nor crying, and the next session with Quinzel he'd poured out a long diatribe of how conflicted this made him feel, how insecure, how utterly apprehensive he was of the future. With Batman not out there protecting the streets, who would stop all the insane lunatics of this city? Surely, didn't she know, that there'd be madmen running loose, without the caped crusader to put a stop to them? And Quinzel, in her typical befuddled manner, just had to ask him why he cared.
"Because, my luverly Harlequin—" oh, he loved the way that nickname made her twitch in indignation, how she gripped her little ball-point pen tight in those well-manicured hands— "I care about what happens to, uh, this city. I don't want… loonies… ripping her apart. After all—" he raised his eyebrows, bringing his torn lips into a small pout, slipping on that mask of perfect innocence that he'd perfected with so much steady practice— "I am not crazy."
Aha. That'd unnerved her. He could tell—and his suspicion was confirmed when she called the session to an end five minutes ahead of schedule. And, while he knew he'd regret it the next time Dr. Varnham decided to test out some new drug on his system (a worthy heir of Dr. Crane, that man was), he couldn't resist blowing her an exaggerated kiss as she hurried from the room. Her footsteps increased in pace as she fairly fled down the hall. That night, he laughed so hard in his "bedroom"—his cell, was more like it—that the second shift guard had ordered him to be sedated. Even then the odd giggling snort could still be heard, every so often, if someone in the hall listened hard enough.
Let Quinzel's morals try to protect him from Varnham, now. She'd hate him for weeks for that one, he knew. No matter—she was only a mere diversion, anyway, now that he'd had the papers to keep him company. When he'd first come to this hellhole the Joker had seen Quinzel's ethical principles, as quickly as if they were worn on the brim of her sharp little glasses; and, he'd decided, if he couldn't play with the Bat Man, then she was a suitable substitute. But, as always, the copy was only a failed imitation of the original, and he'd grown bored with her soon enough. Now for once the papers had a subject that had interested him; he could read them, ponder their subtexts, and allow himself to daydream.
He had followed the headlines religiously. The guards began to notice that his behavior had markedly improved. No more snide comments, no vague threats, no lackadaisical grin at inopportune moments… he was an angel. So they began to let him into the common room every week, for an entire hour each Saturday, and soon enough with a few harsh looks and well-placed remarks the other prisoners knew to leave the papers alone. To leave them, unread and ready, for his use only. And the guards were none the wiser.
At night the Joker's dreams had become filled with exploding hospitals and ferries bursting into flames; he saw Gambol's face before him, those dark eyes filled with terror, revealing the mobster to be a coward deep inside; the Chechen was snarling "freak" at him, and receiving his comeuppance; Dent was struggling, first physically, then mentally, and losing—losing so very badly, too; the Batman's enraged grip was on his collar, guttural voice snarling, but he knew better… oh, he knew so well what the Bat Man so adamantly refused to see. The vigilante wanted to better the city, to help it out of the ashes with his morals and his goodness, but all he was doing was circling them right back into the ditch. If the blind lead the blind…
Good times, good times.
On the third Saturday of his improved behavior, however, the headlines had given the Joker news that shocked him so badly, he had to put down the paper, lest anyone see his hands shaking. Already everyone here had seen him without his war paint—it wouldn't do to let them see anything else inside of him.
He was rarely surprised. While he'd easily convinced Dent to believe one thing, in reality it was quite the opposite. The Joker was a planner. A schemer. A dreamer, imagining up fancy fantasies… he calculated so much, and so often, that usually he had everything accounted for. During his little "reign" of Gotham city, he'd designed and considered each little detail, almost to the point of redundancy. This way, when things occurred, he was well prepared to counter them.
Oh, there were little surprises every now and then: when that louse, Colman Reese, had gone to the TV stations claiming to know Batman, the Joker had been very excited by this new prospect. But that was all those "surprises" had been—new prospects. New toys to add to his collection.
Only once had he been surprised during his reign as Gotham's cheerful jester. Whenever he thought back on that incident now, he remembered the wind howling in his ears, the sight of the concrete zooming towards him, and the dizzying feeling of blood rushing up to his head; most of all, he recalled his utter confusion as his fall had started to slow down… but no. No—this latest surprise at Arkham, the headline his eyes had just run across, had spoiled everything. It was the sort of surprise that reminded the Joker of why he hated true surprises.
A sense of panic and nostalgia swept over him. Panic, because of the implications of what he'd just read. Nostalgia, because he thought of the good old days when Batman was just a nameless fellow under a mask. But now… the headline had ruined it all:
BRUCE WAYNE is the BAT MAN!
The very moment those words struck his eyeballs, he hadn't wanted to learn any more—honestly, the Joker didn't. Yet at the same time something else had been pushing him, deep inside, begging for a closer look. And resist this urge though he might, he'd learned long ago not to bother. After all, not everything he'd told Dent had been a lie—that was part of the beauty of the DA's terrible fall. The Joker knew how he behaved: he knew all too well that sometimes he just did things. It was useless to deny those forces that compelled him to act, doubly so because normally they ended up bringing about some very useful and hilarious consequences.
Carefully, so he would not reveal the slight tremble running through his fingers, he had picked up the paper once more. The article's language was sensationalist, recounting all the connections between the Bat Man and Bruce Wayne: they had both (re-)appeared in Gotham around the same time, both were the same height and stature, Wayne always had mysterious injuries, Batman always had mysterious (expensive) gadgets, and on and on…
'If it were that simple,' the clown had snorted mentally, 'Why didn't you people figure it out until now, when some pathetic squealer-cop leaked it to you for a buck?'
But… Bruce Wayne? His arch-nemesis, the man behind the mask, the man who growled and had flung him about the interrogation cell like a rag doll, the same vigilante who had so surprised him on the Pruitt building… was…
Bruce Wayne. A floundering playboy, whittling away at his parents' fortune with hot babes and expensive cars. The same man who'd made a run for it when the Joker had shown up at his penthouse party… who was omnipresent in every tabloid and every magazine, who'd been named number two of the nation's most eligible bachelors (the other being a richer and yet much older fellow billionaire)… Bruce Wayne… who'd… who'd… burned down his own mansion in a drunken stupor…
Bruce Wayne was an unintelligent, obtuse, ridiculous trust fund baby. A playboy who had too much money and not enough time to spend it. Worthless.
In a sudden fit of rage, the Joker tore the paper. No, no, NO! It couldn't be. This was a trick. A sick joke. The man behind the bat mask was not a brainless floozy! Naïve, yes, the Joker could stomach the Batman being that—but a true idiot? No!
Gritting his teeth, he carefully held the shredded pieces of the paper together, searching for the name of the fool who had written this garbage. Ah, there it was: Montana Payton. Well, Miss Payton, he wanted to say, I hope you enjoy what little time you have left, because when I get out of here I am going to kill you first—before Varnham, before Quinzel, before my stupid defense lawyer and the new DA! And it won't be pretty, neither!
Huddling his arms around himself, the clown sunk deeper into the chair he'd been perched on, huffing like a toddler upset at not being given a promised present during his birthday party. Oh, the inhumanity of what his life had become—he couldn't even have his dreams of a worthy opponent any longer.
But… at the same time… yes, yes, Bruce Wayne was a moron. A rich, womanizing, arrogant, disdainful, and egotistical moron. This was the guy who had taken an entire boatload of lavish ballerinas onto his yacht, and to hell with anyone who'd actually paid for tickets to see them perform. Not very nice of him—and, come to think of it, not very moral either, lounging in the sun with two dozen (half?)-naked babes…
If the Batman was Bruce Wayne, a known supporter of moral decay…
Perhaps this meant that the vigilante was not honorably upright after all. For, while the playboy routine might be an act, the Joker knew better—he knew that within every pantomime, there was a bit of truth. True, not every role told the factual truth: an actor playing a man who lost his father may not be an orphan, in reality… but the actor had still felt sadness and loneliness, at least in some small part, in order to call that emotion up while playing his role. Therefore, if Batman was Bruce Wayne, surely he must have some small little spark of immorality in him, somewhere. What would happen if the Joker fanned the flames?
Maybe… the clown thought, maybe he just hadn't pushed the vigilante hard enough…
The paper was too ripped for him to continue reading it, so he'd gone back to the pile for a different one. Settling himself back into his favorite chair, ignoring the way Dr. Crane had a slim eyebrow raised at his behavior, the Joker had prepared himself for a long and intense read. He never read anything for pleasure—it was too much work, piecing the letters and strings of words together with their meanings ("dyslexia," Quinzel had claimed this "problem" of his was called)—and besides, he knew that in every story there was a level of unspoken truths hidden beneath the surface. When it concerned the Bat Man, however, he was willing to put forth the effort to decipher everything.
Unfortunately the story told him next to nothing. It claimed that Bruce Wayne had been unmasked within hours of landing in police custody, but that due to fear over the public's reaction, his identity as the caped crusader had been kept quiet—'Gordon,' the clown snorted, 'such a pa-the-tic excuse.' Further noted was the list of similarities between Wayne and the Bat Man—something the Joker had already read. What caught the clown's eye was the claim that, upon being unmasked, Mr. Wayne had fully cooperated with the authorities, and had dictated a record of his activities and whereabouts on certain dates. According to the paper, he'd learned to fight while hiding in China with outlaws—and that his mentor had been Ra's al-Ghul, the same sociopath who had attempted to unleash a toxin upon the city.
Yeah, right. The Joker could have giggled. What fools did the papers take their readers for? This made the Bat Man sound like a comic book…
At the very end of the article, however, was something that brought the clown's merriment to a pause. It was an interview with a psychologist—Varnham. Damn, but why hadn't he expected this? As his mud-colored eyes scanned the paper, they narrowed and narrowed until they became small, needle-thin slits. According to Varnham (who freely admitted that he hadn't been given access to Wayne), preliminary overviews of the Bat Man's statements revealed a man who was deeply insane, entrenched in the loss of his parents and desperate for attention.
Ah. How the clown loved being right. The Bat Man was cast out. He was a madman—the modern-day equivalent of a leper. And Arkham's head doctor had been the one to start the process…
"Bat-Man," the Joker muttered to himself, alone in his cell that night. "Bat, Bats, Batsy… Bruce. Uh, Brucie. Batsy Brucie. Brucie Batsy. Brucie… Brucie the Bat."
For some reason, he liked that last one. It made the Wayne heir sound just that much loonier…
They thought the Batman was crazy. An utter lunatic… the clown felt laughter beginning to well inside him, starting deep in the pit of his stomach and coming up to his hollow chest, right to where the cavernous hole that was supposed to house his heart was. He bit his tongue. Hard. Until blood began to flow, filling his mouth, seeping through the cracks of his bulging lips and trailing down his cheeks, giving him that red smile once more.
No, no, no: he shouldn't laugh. He really, really shouldn't laugh. That damned guard was nearby—the dull man would have him drugged up, just to finish his shift in peace. But then the fluid reached a level where it got into his nasal cavity, and, understandably, it tickled. He couldn't stop a rough snort from involuntarily escaping. Unfortunately, once his mouth was open he choked up the fount of blood in it, his trapped laughter expelled from his innards with such force that spurts of thick crimson were shot halfway across the room.
"He's a lunatic! A lunatic! L-uuu-nnaaaa-tic-tic-tic! Aha, haa, haaaaa, haaaaaAAAA—"
Predictably enough—but of course it was so, because he, the Joker, had been the one to foresee it—the guard once again had him sedated. Ah, well. He'd find a way to kill that man later. Along with Varnham and Quinzel, the night-shift guard now had a bloody target applied to the corners of his mouth.
Drugs always had strange effects on the Joker. While under their spell he saw things that didn't seem quite real: shattered images of people he struggled to remember, whose blurry faces he couldn't just place, but who probably were better left forgotten anyway. Deep within his mind, his thoughts seemed to curl in on themselves, gathering together into a larger and larger knot, until they seemed to be pressuring the inside of his head. His skull was feeling the stress, the strain… his head was going to explode. Sleep—the kind of sleep he dreaded, for it would have no dreams and no chances for early awakenings—was sneaking up on him, ready to bash his skull in… or out, as it were.
Yet before it did—before that horrible, all-too-well-known slumber of the medicine claimed the shattered shreds of his mind—his remaining mental faculties continued to focus on Brucie the Bat. Poor fellow, the Joker thought—they all believe that he's crazy. They'll lock him up. It would destroy him, it really would—the clown didn't question how he knew this; he, as Batman's fellow "freak," just knew. Someone like the Bat Man had to be free, to beat his wings in the air and soar from rooftop to rooftop. A cage… a cage would break him, smash those thin filmy wings and leave him blind and helpless, trapped in his prison forever. Such a sad, sad little ending for such an interesting fellow, a man with such potential for harm... it kind of reminded the Joker of himself, locked away in this horrible little "hospital"—this Hell, was more like it.
'What if… what if… they put him in here?' He pondered, drowsily, vainly and unconsciously struggling against the sleep even now overwhelming him. 'He'd really have a tough time with that… can't really say I'd like to see him fall apart… but how… how I'd love to say, "I told you so"…'
Sometimes his mind conjured up strange things. But, strange or not, conscious or not, he was rarely wrong.
Varnham warned him some days later that he was getting a new neighbor, spouting out some nonsense about him and the "new guy" being more likely to identify with each other's troubles because they were both freshly interred in Arkham, unlike him and Slink, who had previously been housed in the Joker's neighboring cell.
Being at the lowest, most secure area of the Asylum, the clown had previously possessed only two other permanent companions, a serial murderer who only responded to the title "Slink," and a much older man whose nameless crimes had made him unfit even for the most basic of therapy, whose name was merely "Wendigo." For some time now Wendigo had been housed alone, with the Joker and Slink sharing neighboring cells that had one five-foot sheet of plexiglass on the middle wall, toward the front, so that if they so wished they could see one another and interact, while still allowing each a measure of privacy should he desire to be left alone.
Quite quickly the Joker had learned that Slink was entirely boring, without a humorous bone in his entire thin, whip-like body. He'd even gotten to the point of not bothering to teach the pale man any sense of humor, either, for he'd found that Slink's reactions were always lacking and hence always unfunny. It simply wasn't worth the effort.
But he had paid strict attention as Slink's room was cleared out. The Joker had nodded pleasantly enough to his erstwhile companion, declaring through the cell's bars that Slink would be missed, and that he should be sure to give Wendigo the Joker's regards. As always Slink had just stared at him, blinking owlishly once or twice, before being shuffled away by the guards.
"Thank goodness he's gone," the clown had told the man behind his own warped, plastic mirror. Now that Slink had been removed, and since his new neighbor had not yet arrived, the stranger behind the shiny plastic was his only company. He knew what a mirror was, of course, and he knew all about reflections—but he also knew what his own face looked like, and while the stranger in the mirror certainly had scars on his cheeks, he also had pale, yellowy-peach skin. There was not a speck of white or red on that other man's visage—ergo, the Joker believed, it was not truly a reflection. At least, not always… Sometimes, he supposed, it could have been, especially since he didn't have his paints with him, and he could probably assume that underneath his war paint his face was a normal color for a Caucasian male.
Nonetheless, he was quite certain that the man in the mirror, at that particular moment, wasn't him. He could always tell when it wasn't—especially now, for an odd look of unhappiness was present on the stranger's face. That expression was often there, and when it was he could be certain that he wasn't seeing his reflection, but something else entirely: the Joker was certain that he was never unhappy. That unhappy, anyway.
"That Slink-o was cwazy, you know?" the clown chirped, lifting his hands to spin wheels with his pointer fingers, right at the sides of his head. The universal symbol of lunacy. "Always staring and slobbering. Should-'a grown a beard or something."
He was referring to the odd way that Slink didn't have a single wisp of hair on his body, trying to sound lighthearted and cheer the man in the mirror up, but it didn't seem to work. The stranger continued to look as glum and lonely as ever. Angrily, the clown huffed,
"Fine, then, be that way! Don't come crawling to me when you next want… in-formation. I won't talk to you anymore!"
With that he'd turned, furiously snagged his bed, and dragged the hulking metal frame to the sheet of plexiglass that his room shared with its neighbor. It was hard work—the bed was made of iron, and was fantastically heavy, probably for the purpose of making it too large and bulky to use as any sort of weapon—but he didn't care. While he wasn't one for mindless physical activity, he couldn't deny that it helped keep one's mind delightfully blank at times. The Joker didn't want to see or talk with the mirror-man any longer… he hated being alone. And being alone with only the mirror-man was worst of all. So, whenever his new neighbor would enter, the clown had wanted to be right there to greet him.
A long time still seemed to pass, however. Day and night had no meaning in the bowels of Arkham—the lights dimmed and were brightened, but without a clock it was impossible to tell how the hours passed. This was especially so in the Joker's case, for his room's light had recently gone out and hadn't yet been replaced. The only shreds of luminosity in his existence, therefore, came from the dim bulbs in the hallway, and the much brighter illumination in his neighboring room, which shone through the plexiglass, though not very well. The other room's light was at the wrong angle to cast itself through the glass reliably. He was therefore little more than a shadow, sitting rather humbly on his messy cot, cross-legged, waiting. Alone.
For all he knew it could have been five minutes, or five hours, that ticked by—he would remember this disorientation when he escaped Arkham, that was for sure, and he'd find some way or another to make use of it.
Finally, as his brown eyes were beginning to slide shut—from boredom or exhaustion, he couldn't tell, for to him they were often one and the same—a sound from the far end of the hall reverberated through the walls. It was loud but hollow, sounding as if it was coming from the depths of a long, deep well. Go get Lassie! The thought came to the clown, unbidden, Timmy's fallen down the well!
But when he saw who was being led, in Arkham's orange uniform, to his neighboring cell, the Joker mentally corrected himself.
Not 'Timmy,' he chided, but 'Brucie.' Brucie has fallen down the well.
Once again the clown marveled at how wonderfully his mind worked. How had it been able to predict this? The Batman had already shown himself to be unpredictable—oh, how the Joker admired that quality in others, just as he admired it in himself—but surely he wasn't this unpredictable. This was almost beautiful, the ironic way that reality had turned out. It made the clown want to leap off his bed and dance around wildly for joy—conversely, therefore, he clenched his hands, strangling the baggy knees of his uniform with wiry fists. He made no move as the guard and his new neighbor passed by on the way to the other cell's door; it wouldn't do to spoil the game just as it had barely begun.
And what a game it would be! Bruce Wayne, in the neighboring room, unable to get away. He couldn't swoop off to the next rooftop this time, oh no—he was stuck here. He'd have to listen, even if he didn't want to… and the Joker would make sure that his words struck home, this time. The clown's brown eyes were almost greedy, as from the shadows he watched his companion being led inside. Life suddenly had meaning once again.
Quinzel was present, as well—it was she who led Wayne into his room, her petite arms moving in a flourish, as if she was a tour guide in somewhere grand like the Taj Mahal. Wayne smiled at her: a roguish, boyish look, so innocent and optimistic that it made the Joker want to gag. The only thing that prevented him from immediately doing so was the knowledge of what was certainly coming.
Go ahead, the clown thought. Smile, Brucie, smile—you'll stop grinning soon enough, when Varnham gets his hands on you… oh, I've no doubt you'll be his pretty new pet… he'll break you, don't worry. You'll learn the feeling of sorrow soon enough. And then… then, when you and I make it out of here, I'll just have to teach you to smile again, won't I, my darling student mine?
He watched as Quinzel undid the billionaire's handcuffs. Wayne's smile never wavered—he didn't seem to know that the Joker was present. Thoughtfully, in the dark, the older inmate tapped his chin.
I'll teach him how to smile proper, he decided, with a knife in one hand and blood on the other—that's the best reason to grin. A wistful look chanced upon the clown's marred features, though he wiped it quickly from his visage. Seeing as he was still somewhat in the shadows and at an odd angle from Wayne's position, he believed that his new neighbor could not see him clearly—still, it wouldn't hurt to take precautions, to hide what he was planning until the last second. The Bat Man was still naïve enough to not know what was good for him.
Fortunately, Varnham would probably cure all of that. Though he hated his doctor with a passion bordering on his obsession with the Batman, the Joker still knew how to see past those feelings and use whatever pawns fate had bestowed. In this instance, the man that Dr. Crane had once called "his evil twin" would probably do most of the work for him—it would simply remain for the clown to pick up the shattered pieces of Wayne's psyche and re-arrange them into whatever shape he should so desire. Even Varnham could be useful sometimes, the Joker supposed.
After a brief explanation of the living space, Quinzel did a pathetic imitation of a curtsy (really, flirting with the new arrival while the Joker had been available to her this entire time?—the clown felt a flash of some emotion spark through him, but he refused to label it jealousy and snuffed it out quickly), and ducked out of the cell. The guards, however, remained, fingering their cudgels. The clack, clack, clack of Quinzel's heels clicked further and further down the hallway. There was a resounding boom as the hall door opened and shut.
Wayne's smile disappeared.
Good, good, the Joker unclenched and clenched his hands, excitedly. He knows what's coming, doesn't he? I daresay he knew from the very start! Good, Brucie—give them what's coming to them!
During, this, the first beating, the Joker had watched with interest. Having been on the receiving ends of the Batman's fists more than just once, he knew how hard and fast they could fly—and he anticipated a brawl of the sort that he could gleefully recall later in the "night," when all was quiet and there was precious little else to do but dream. As an added excitement, one of the guards was the same who kept sedating him—all the more reason to see this man get a thrashing from the Joker's worst enemy and best future pupil.
Unfortunately, the clown was sorely disappointed—yet, at the same time, fantastically intrigued. The Batman had always had a way of doing both to him at the same time…
Wayne did not fight back.
The first swing of a cudgel hit him in the stomach: he went down. Get back up, the Joker had howled, mentally, biting at his torn lips to keep the coaching order quiet. Don't let them rush you this early! C'mon, have at 'em!
To the clown's joy, Wayne was on his feet quite quickly—quicker than the Joker could have regained his footing, anyway. Yet utter confusion soon replaced the clown's delight, for Wayne didn't even raise his fists. Something was wrong here… at that precise moment, the thought dawned to him: what if Wayne wasn't going to fight at all?
It didn't make sense.
And so, the Joker loved it.
Yet, at the same time, he found that he also hated it.
He couldn't stave off a few winces as the guards' blows landed, having gotten a few thrashings from these particular men a couple times himself. They were the sort of men who didn't hold back—they didn't understand the nuances of using minimal force over a longer period. As a result they tired quite quickly, before vast amounts of damage could be done. This was apparently doubly so with Wayne, who, while not resisting to the point of counter-attack, seemed nonetheless content to duck and avoid their blows. He even managed to "accidentally"—somehow the Joker doubted it was completely unintentional—dart between two of his assailants, with the result that they hit one another. But that was the height of his own defense, for he made no retaliation for scored strikes, no attempt to repay in kind.
In the end, the first brawl lasted not more than ten to fifteen minutes, and at the end of it Wayne was bruised, but not overly perspiring—the three guards, however, were huffing and stooped with exhaustion. Pigheaded idiots, the Joker had snorted, and by then he had come to believe that Wayne's reticence to attack derived from their unworthiness—they simply weren't worth the effort. Snarling four-letter words and other more gross obscenities, they flung the cell door open and shuffled off down the hallway.
At that point the Joker would have revealed himself—he was already itching to do so, the moment Wayne had entered his sight: he savored the idea of seeing the Batman's entire face, unhindered by a mask, the features caught in complete surprise… then turning into aghast horror, a look that the clown's photographic memory could keep forever. But one thing stopped him. His observational skills had never failed—and now, they showed him that the door of Wayne's cell had not been shut entirely. It hung open, perhaps by a half-inch, practically begging for an escape attempt.
From the way Wayne's blue eyes were trained on the entrance, the Joker understood that he also saw.
The excitement that the clown had experienced before was nothing compared to the sensation now. The Batman was going to escape, right here, right at this very moment, right before his very eyes! Tension filled him, his foot giving off little jerks as if attempting to tap the floor, his fingers twitching almost frantically on his knees—he wanted to laugh, to laugh and laugh and laugh, his standard reaction to anything important in this funny, funny world. But something else was bothering him, in the back of his head… he listened to it for one second, as Wayne stood still, seemingly considering his options. As the vigilante crossed his room, slowly, deliberately, suddenly the Joker understood what the nagging feeling in the recesses of his mind was saying.
Ah, Brucie, the clown would have shaken his head, if he hadn't been so focused on keeping Wayne in his sights, you batty little fool.
Wayne shut the door.
At the click! of the entrance's automatic lock, the Joker had to plaster his palms over his mouth, to keep from screaming out in merriment. Of course! Of course! He wanted to shriek with hilarity, howl like a wounded dog; never in his whole life had the clown wanted to laugh so badly. But he couldn't… he didn't dare… and the reason why came to him quite quickly, as Wayne turned back around to stride over to his bed. The look of resignation, yet of bitter determination, was enough for the clown to spend lifetimes relishing. He didn't want to interrupt those wonderfully despairing thoughts that were assuredly filling the vigilante's head.
Why do you do it, Batsy my old friend? The Joker wanted to ask, to prod, to berate… Why do you follow the rules if they bring you nothing but pain? Screw the judge and the jury who locked you up—they were probably bribed by the mob, anyway. If you want to go free, then go! You'll break some of the rules—you'll run about at night in an armored car, chasing down gangsters and beating up drug lords—but you still won't bring yourself freedom and happiness? All because they say that you can't? Truly, Brucie, you really are mad, and yet you call me crazy...
There would be plenty of time to pick the Batman's mind for answers later, though. Plenty of time to reason with him. Plenty of time to make him see the error of his ways… the Joker settled farther back on his cot, further draping himself in the shadows, to watch Wayne run his fingers nervously through his dark hair (somehow, perhaps due to Dent's false claim that he was the Batman, the Joker had been picturing his archnemesis with blonde hair, instead of black… but he supposed a beggar like him couldn't be a chooser). Wayne seemed to know that his troubles were not over—and the Joker, who knew the guards from the length of his own captivity, was quite pleased to see that his companion was not a complete blockhead in this respect.
The second beating had five guards versus one dodging prisoner. After fifteen more minutes of ceaseless activity, Wayne sat on his cot nursing a black eye, and the guards were leaning on one another for support as they hobbled, out of breath, down the hall. Still the Joker said and did nothing, did not call attention to himself. The guards would be back—with reinforcements.
At the start of the third free-for-all, Wayne finally spoke. From the shadows, still watching unnoticed, the Joker marveled at how different his voice sounded—this was not the gravelly, harsh tones of the masked man, but of a smooth, far more refined, upper-class individual. Some part of the clown laughed—internally, of course—at the thought of the voices being reversed: Wayne using the harsh voice, while the Batman used the softer one. The two separate intonations suited his enemy's two halves, but were certainly not interchangeable.
"Don't you people have something better to do?" Wayne demanded, as eight guards filed into his cell, each of them ominously silent, making no move until they all were inside. Their target glared at them from his cot—he had to know, he just had to, the Joker thought, that there were too many for him… they practically filled the room.
This beating had been longer. More men, taking turns (there simply wasn't space to rush him all at once), meant that the event was a drawn-out affair. Wayne still did not fight back, though his ability to move and avoid the blows had become as narrow as the space his person was confined in. At the end, he was left lying prone on the floor, motionless, as the guards almost lazily swaggered out, congratulating themselves on a victory "well won."
A while later, Wayne managed to stagger to his feet. He seemed disoriented—not that the Joker blamed him. With a groan, the vigilante allowed himself to fall down on his cot, his heaving chest communicating the labor that it took to breathe. Blood trickled from a cut on his temple. He slept. Seeing this, and not wanting to interrupt, the Joker continued to keep quiet.
The fourth beating interrupted this slumber. Wayne let out a startled yell when struck, and kicked out automatically, catching one of his assailants in the chest. There had only been two guards, that time—the Joker supposed that the duo believed Wayne to be far enough gone that anyone could best him. They had apparently been wrong, for the kicked man fell to the floor, gasping and clutching wildly at his sternum. His companion seemed to be infuriated, rather than concerned for his fellow guard, and he lashed out at Wayne with his cudgel. The Batman endured several hits—once, twice, three, four times—before seizing the stick on the fifth stroke and wrenching it from the guard's hands, his own hurts notwithstanding.
Overcome with anger and what looked to be more than a little frustration, he flung the implement—not at the cowering guards, but apparently in a random direction. It struck the plexiglass separating his and the Joker's cells: in the dark, the clown jerked with surprise, even scooting back slightly, although not a single scratch appeared on the barrier. The resounding crack! echoed, disturbingly loud, down the hall. Once again the Joker found himself associating the sound to that produced in the bottom of a well—there really was no other apt comparison.
Down the hallway came an inhuman howl—Wendigo was upset. Generally it took a lot to rattle that psycho… the Joker found himself chuckling, resisting the urge to clap. Well done, Brucie! Well done! Not bad for your first time here. The clown watched with merriment as both guards' faces paled, turning snow-white, and they scrambled from the room, the uninjured one fleeing ahead and leaving his pleading companion to trail behind. Once again Wayne's cell door was left hanging wide open.
Buffoons, the Joker snorted, now, if you'd done that with me…
But he was far more interested in Wayne's reactions to Wendigo's cries than he was with the fleeing guards. The vigilante was frozen, listening intently to the yowling, animalistic screams, his face not unlike that of a man who had just been badly bitten by his beloved pet. Shock. A certain amount of distaste. More shock. And… curiosity.
That look—curiosity—nearly sent the Joker into a frenzy, he so desired to reveal himself and probe at it, trying to see what it meant. Interested, Brucie? In what? Curious what your friendly neighborhood of fellow "lunatics" has done, to be exiled into this hellhole? You're one of us, now, don't you know? That thing screaming—it's not a man, it's a freak, just like you. Just like all of us.
Now that you've woken him up, Joker wanted to say, want to go meet the rest of the cul-de-sac? Want to see what Gotham feared, in the days before the two of us? You can do it, Brucie. The door's open…
A little hesitantly, probably more so because of his troubled mind than any truly debilitating injury, Wayne stood and approached the entrance. He seemed to consider leaving, this time, perhaps investigating the sound—oh, and the Joker enjoyed every minute of his uncertainty—but then he seemed to decide against it. Once more he shut the door.
The Joker was shaking his head, slowly, wanting very much to reach into the neighboring cell and give Wayne a beating himself. Where was the fun if you were just going to play it safe? C'mon, Brucie—live a little.
But the clown's motion must have caught Wayne's eye, for the vigilante stopped on his way back to his bed, and, frowning, peered through the plexiglass. Immediately the Joker went very still. Some part of his mind—the same part that had demanded he continue perusing the paper, when he'd first read that awful headline revealing the Bat Man's identity—told him that now was not the time. Silently he thanked whatever supernatural being had been looking out for him—God, or the devil, he didn't know and honestly didn't care—had broken the light in the top of his cell. He was bathed in darkness—and Wayne, who was silhouetted in light, couldn't see effectively into the black gloom.
Quite a pair we make, the clown thought. Me in the dark and you in the light. Black and white. Yin and yang. But you know, you go out into the dark too, Brucie. You have plenty of fun as the Bat Man. Why don't you just stay here in the shadows? We'll have a grand old time chopping Gordon into bits and blowing Gotham sky-high. Not to mention cutting out Wendigo's tongue…
Wendigo was still howling.
Wayne apparently had figured that the movement had been nothing, for he settled back onto his bed, a bit gingerly from his wounds, although every so often his eyes darted suspiciously back toward the plexiglass. He suspected something. Internally the Joker was clapping with glee. This was a new and wonderful game: who can spot the clown?
Unfortunately it did not last long, for evidently the two guards had told their tale to their friends, who slammed the hallway door and approached with pounding footsteps. In the face of such a racket even Wendigo went quiet. Wayne had a look of pained resignation on his bruised face. On the other side of the glass, the Joker's eyes narrowed. This was not good… not… at… all…
In that, the fifth beating, Wayne was pounded into unconsciousness. They left him lying there on the concrete ground, and the Joker made sure to memorize each of their faces. A few of them he hadn't even seen before. It was best to know whom to kill slowly, once he got out of here, and who deserved a quick death. His list of targets had grown exponentially in the past few minutes.
For the sixth beating, which must have occurred some hours later, Wayne was barely aware enough to know what was happening, and the Joker honestly couldn't tell if the vigilante felt any of it. Once again he was abandoned on the floor, this time in quite a different shape than he'd started out with, lying in a widening pool of red. A small bead of blood slipped from the corner of his mouth—bruises littered any exposed skin, while his left hand had been stepped on and crushed. The observing clown was certain that no small amount of ribs were broken.
Yes, heads were going to roll. Not just because the guards had dared to mar the Joker's own turf—if anyone had the right to beat the Batman into unconsciousness, it certainly was him, the clown prince of crime, and not Arkham's finest—but also because they had gone too far while doing it. The Joker had no problem with someone roughing up his fellow freak, if they were careful… but leaving him half-dead spelled a death sentence for his attackers. Leaning forward on his cot, the clown kept one eye on Wayne's motionless form, afraid to look away—the other half of his mind was engaged in planning, thinking through the various methods of execution that the Batman's tormentors could expect, once he was free.
And, he had no doubt, eventually that time would come. Maybe hours from now—maybe days, weeks, months. Perhaps even years. But, as bad as the Joker's memory could be, when it came to the important thinks his mind was like a steel trap—it didn't let go.
The lights of Arkham were dimmed for an artificial night, when another slam from the hallway entrance came. The shuffle of boots revealed a solitary guard, who with only a slight grimace entered Wayne's cell, seized the bloody man under the armpits, and hauled the unconscious form to his cot, where he was dropped unceremoniously.
Wiping his hands with distaste, the guard glanced casually at the plexiglass on his way out—to find the Joker's brown eyes staring intently at him, his nose nearly pressed up against the glass. In the dim light it must have been possible to see through the gloom of the Joker's cell, for the guard let out a high-pitched shriek, and made a run for it. This only served to bring a smile to the clown's abused lips—for a while he forgot his scheming, and simply enjoyed the fact that even while they believed he was on his best behavior, he could still scare the guards while they were alone. Some minutes later a groan came from Wayne, shifting the Joker's mind back to his companion.
That was how things had been, the past few hours. The Joker knew that the "nighttime"—assuming of course that the darkening of Arkham's lighting truly coincided with nighttime, and not the daylight, for with Varnham the clown could never really be certain—would last for a while yet. There was nothing to do during these periods of darkness. It was usually during these times that he would start to question himself—was he going mad, or not? Was this place driving him insane? Was he smart enough to avoid becoming a lunatic? But, for once, these questions were laid aside. He had bigger things to think of—smaller ones, too. Where were those damned Arkham nurses? You would think that they would have cared about one of their charges being beaten…
And, lying on his cot, Brucie was so still…
He's strong, though, the clown told himself. He'll survive this. Whether his stubborn idiocy will survive… that's the question.
Another, wider smile pulled at the clown's lips. Already, the Joker had an idea what the answer to that question would be. He would personally ensure it.
This was a second chance. A chance to make thing right. His pupil had been delivered to him—he was lying on the other side of that glass, motionless. Ripe. Perfect for plucking, for planting into the fertile ground of madness. When the Joker finally escaped—and yes, he had no doubt he would indeed make it out, eventually—Gotham would be sorry. Gotham would rue the day it ever condemned the Batman, its dark hero. For the day would come when Gotham would not be facing just one Joker—but two.
At that pleasing thought the clown's hand reached up, his sharp fingers touching the plexiglass, almost gently caressing the outline of Wayne's pale, marble-white face, lingering over the patched, purple bruises, which in the darkness of the cell had turned to splotches of black ink. The body on the other side of the glass shuddered suddenly, as if it could feel those cold fingers closing around its throat… and the Joker was glad, for this meant that his neighbor most certainly was alive. Dead bodies do not tremble from nightmares… nor do they relax, once the imagined terror is over.
Soon enough that ashen face's peaceful, numb expression would be contorted in agony, as Varnham went to work. The pain now would be nothing compared to then—for this was a natural pain, which came from identifiable wounds and in familiar patterns of throbbing and aching. Varnham had ways of inducing suffering in levels and methods unlike anything the clown had ever seen or felt—and he doubted that his companion had experienced them before, either. The doctor didn't need to inflict injury to cause hurt—mental and physical, his modes of triggering anguish were all his own: untraceable, leaving no sign of permanency on the body, but instead enduring on the mind. He was an effective tormentor, the Joker would give him that much… perhaps even, in a certain way, the clown admired him for it. Varnham would have no qualms about breaking the Batman's mind, peeling back the layers of consciousness and mental resistance until everything was laid bare… until nothing was sacred.
For Varnham knew the rules just as much as the Joker did: he knew they didn't really exist. Nobody cares about the lepers cast out—nobody cares for the freaks, no matter what their intentions had been, for good or for evil; in Arkham, everyone was a lost cause. Gotham would not weep for its dark hero.
Things would start tomorrow. How long would the great Bat Man last? Did it matter? Time had no meaning here. Sunlight did not reach this far down into the deep, dark depths of the well… and Gotham would not come running to save him, as he had tried to save them. His services were no longer required.
"I told you so," the clown whispered, barely one octave above the sound of breathing, before settling down on his own mattress. He lay there, quietly, holding his own breath, in order to listen to Wayne's. I knew this would happen, Brucie, he thought. I tried to show you... to them, you're just a freak… like me. They've cast us out. Are you happy?
We will rot down here together.
"You see Madness, as you know, is like… gravity. All it takes is a little… push…"
— The Joker's last line from "The Dark Knight"
000 Author's Note 000
I want to explain the title and it's reference to the story:
Then they took Jeremiah and cast him into the well of Malchijah the king's son, which was in the court of the guardhouse; and they let Jeremiah down with ropes. Now, in the cistern there was no water but only mud, and Jeremiah sank into the mud.
The title of this story comes from the Biblical verse cited above. I always saw that as rather potent, the prophet who tried to save the people being lowered into a well and left to die, all by the very same people he tried to protect. As you can see it ends very powerfully, with Jeremiah down there floundering in the muck, waiting for death.
I wanted to tie the depths of Arkham with the "well"—I'm not sure if I succeeded, but I kept leaving some hints in the story above. This further ties to the image of the "well" in Batman Begins: "Brucie has fallen down the well." In future installments this image would hopefully have been brought out even more. If you want to see what eventually happens to Bruce, I suppose you should just look up what eventually happened to Jeremiah, and make your guesses from there. Yes, I'm in the habit of never guaranteeing happy endings for my characters, and this holds true for fanfiction as well.
As for who was the "Jeremiah" in the above tale, I hope that much is obvious. X)
Hope you liked it. Yeah, it's depressing. I did warn you all, though.