Author's note: 14 May 2010.
I don't own Batman. DC Comics does.
Sorry for the long wait. I've been having particular trouble with this chapter and the next. Not everything in this chapter is perfect (then again no fiction or fanfiction ever really is), but I figured I'd been worrying about it long enough and it was time to just post the darn thing and move on to writing the next chapter of Foundations. It helped that the reviews for this fic reached 100—after that, I decided it was only fair to post and to heck with my reservations. I'm still nervous about what happens next chapter, but it's also no fun if I'm not pushing myself in some way.
This story is very dark, and will probably get darker, although (at least for now) I am keeping it rated "T." If anyone thinks that it should be raised to an "M," either now or in the future, let me know.
ONE FINAL WARNING: I would very much like to warn readers that the Joker's mind is twisted, and it is exceptionally difficult to tell what is true and what is not, where he is right and where he is wrong. Not everything he says ought to be believed; what makes sense to him, and indeed what in his eyes can somehow "seem" to make sense, is not necessarily the picture of reality. Just because he says it doesn't make it true! This story is very much supposed to contain a "higher morality" that is in play, even though the Joker doesn't see it. Think of the Joker like a puzzle to be figured out.
Also one final warning for LOTS of cursing in this story: unlike Foundations, I've decided that I'm not gonna bother "bleeping" bad words out either here or in the future. If you're old enough to properly read "T-rated" stories, you shouldn't have much of a problem.
JEREMIAH'S WELL: Part IV
It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.
— Joseph Joubert
His own giggles woke him.
Even the sight of the bland white ceiling couldn't stop his merriment. He had no idea what made him so happy, but it was a nice change from the doldrums of the past few months. This was an even better feeling than the time he'd convinced one of the new guards to bite his own thumb off.
Still giggling, the Joker rolled over on his side, the padding in his cot making no noise. Sometimes he missed the creaking of rusty mattress springs, he thought lazily, as his body trembled under the vibrations of his quiet mirth. Then he glanced over into the other room, and froze.
All at once the jester understood why he felt so fresh and exuberant, for despite his small lapse in memory, the moment he saw his neighbor everything came rushing back. Propping his scarred cheek up with one hand, the clown regarded his new companion—who, being already awake, was likewise studying him. Silence reigned, neither of them knowing what to say.
Wayne's hair was still tangled with bed-head, as if he couldn't be bothered to straighten it in the mirror. In the bright light of Arkham's "morning," the vigilante looked somewhat better. More rested. He was not quite so pale, and the bruises were even more faded. Having more time to scrutinize Wayne's form, the Joker realized that most of the contusions on the vigilante's skin were not actually in the same areas as before. The old bruises must have healed; what marks the clown could see were new. He wouldn't put it past the Arkham guards to rough Wayne up a little more, whether the man was in the asylum hospital or not—though, by the fading in the discolorations, the clown estimated that Wayne hadn't received a good thrashing in at least a week.
The darkest bruises, however, were on Wayne's wrists. Having visited the asylum hospital himself once or twice, the clown knew that even the most padded restraints couldn't stop bruising if the patient chose to struggle hard enough. And judging by how wide and deep the discolored patches were, Wayne must have been very uncooperative indeed.
Another giggle caught in the Joker's throat, and soon enough he was shaking again with silent hilarity. The image of Wayne strapped to a bed, snarling at nurses and doctors, was simply too much. The jester knew that if the billionaire was anything like himself—which, of course, the Batman was—then even the restraints wouldn't have made the hospital staff comfortable around him. They would have hopped about him like skittish antelope eying a lion.
Soon enough the clown's renewed giggles became audible. Wayne's expression, formerly a mix of mistrust and caution, changed to one of disgust. It was as if he'd never seen someone wake up laughing before. Then again, the Batman was so serious all the time, he probably hadn't. Oh, so many good things in life, never witnessed, never experienced... the poor thing.
"Good morning, sweetheart," the Joker chirruped, finally breaking their staring contest, unable to resist adding, "Sleep well?"
Wayne's blue eyes narrowed further. He leaned back on his bed, resting his shoulders against the padding on the wall. The distance of eight feet between his own cot and the jester's must not have been enough for him; he looked like he wanted to disappear, to press himself into the padding and slip into the next cell over. The thought of Wayne doing so—as if he was a demented octopus working its way through the cracks in a fisherman's net—served to increase the jester's sniggering.
It was only when he heard the Batman murmur, "he'll bust a gut," that the clown gave in fully to uproarious laugher. Even the new look of open aversion on the billionaire's face couldn't make him stop.
"No wonder you're in the asylum," Wayne commented, half to himself, voice biting and sharp. "Even if you hadn't forced me to put you in here, I'm sure someone would have seen you laughing and decided you were crazy on the spot."
The Joker chose to ignore the underlying bitterness in the vigilante's statement, though he did quiet down somewhat. Best not to aggravate the other man too much. As much fun as it would be to simply continue in his glee, the clown knew that time was short and shouldn't be wasted. What better way to begin his and Bat's new relationship by teaching, first thing in the morning?
"Heyyyyyyy, Brucie," he chucked, "This isn't an asylum! Be imaginative—it's a school. Boot camp for loons."
"You would think something like that, wouldn't you?" muttered the other man, and because it was so low the Joker decided to disregard the utterance. He didn't have time to quibble with every little misconception the billionaire had: at any moment the guards would soon come either for Wayne or for him. (Of course he didn't dare hope that the Arkham staff would come for both of them, but one could fantasize, right?)
In any case, the possibility that Varnham might have already spoken with Wayne and earned his trust was too painful for the clown to bear. The Joker would have to act quickly and give Wayne some sage advice, even though he knew that the Bat Man would likely be too filled with distrust to accept anything from him. For now, at least. When the Joker's predictions eventually came to pass, Wayne would be forced to re-evaluate his distaste for the clown.
This way, when the Joker's warnings did indeed prove true, he would not only have the lovely chance to once again tell Wayne 'I told you so,' but also could begin to prove himself as an honest source of information. And if Wayne could trust his advice, it was only a step further for Wayne to start trusting the Joker himself, and from there for the Batman to start adapting his own beliefs accordingly...
Clearing his throat, the Joker sat upright on his cot, his general manner of self-importance enough to bring a frown to Wayne's face. Careful to keep his manner dignified, but not overly so—less Batman should think that the clown was mocking him—the jester said,
"Listen, I have just a few quick lil' things to tell ya, before the day starts. Take some advice from an old Arkham veteran." He winked, drinking in the sight of Wayne's obvious incredulity, and began to recite: "Lesson number one—"
"What the hell are you—"
"—Lesson number one," repeated the clown, louder, but otherwise giving no hint that he knew he had almost been interrupted, "Don't trust Varnham. He doesn't have your best interest in mind, doncha know."
"Oh?" The Batman's voice was cold, yet taking on a slightly mocking tone that the Joker had never heard from him before. The clown filed this information away to ponder later, and focused on Wayne's actions in the here-and-now, as the vigilante straightened his spine, sitting tall on his bed. This served to increase his overall size—while he wasn't taller than the Joker, and while he had lost some of his muscle in the hospital, he nevertheless was still quite broad and solid. The Joker suppressed a laugh over the idea that such intimidation tactics could work on him. "And I suppose you do?"
At the question, a smile bloomed on the jester's face. "Of course."
This statement brought a derisive snort from his companion. That wouldn't do, the Joker thought—not when he was being so devastatingly honest. Wagging a finger at Wayne, the clown clucked,
"Now, now, Batsy, let's not let old grudges cloud our heads, eh? Look back—you'll see I've always had your best interests in heart. Why, I even let you toss me off the Pruitt Building. Doesn't that count for something?"
The Bat Man gave him a look he couldn't decipher—disbelief? His next statement was nonsensical, even to one such as the jester.
The Joker cocked his head, intrigued by this newfound puzzle. "S'cuse me?"
"You laughed," Wayne said again, as if stressing the word could give it more meaning. Fortunately, he elaborated this time, even adding a brief frown to his forehead for good measure. "When you fell off the Pruitt Building. You were laughing."
"There you go, see," said the defrocked clown, holding up his hands in an obvious, told you so, manner. Next to Wayne's upright posture, his own slouch made him appear much smaller in size, though still frightfully animated, ready to leap through the plexiglass with a single bound—if such a thing had been possible. "Best interests. Annnd… while we're on that subject, why wouldn't I laugh?"
"Oh, I don't know," drawled Bruce, straightening out his legs on his bed. His bare toes skimmed the concrete floor; the faint outline of the bloodstain where he had lain, three months ago, could still be seen. "Maybe the thought of eminent death is not exactly shits and giggles?"
"You have a foul mouth, Brucie."
"Can it, clown."
"No." Torn lips popped in annoyance. "And for your information, I think death is loads of fun. Why else would I share it so often?"
"You're a murderous psychopath!"
Brown eyes fixed on their blue counterparts, as the Joker attempted to stare down the billionaire. Wayne gave no hint of apology for his insult, glaring back with just as much intensity. The clown's red tongue snaked out to coat his lips, licking his chops—such a fiery temper, how delightfully delicious! This was just what the jester needed: someone who would stand up to him, who could be interesting while doing so. Someone worthwhile. If there had ever been any doubt in the Joker's mind that Wayne and the Batman were one and the same, such questions were gone now.
"Mur-der-ous," the jester pondered on the word, making a show of rolling his eyes upward, squinting one to give the exaggerated appearance of deep thought. He almost missed Wayne's own slight eye-roll: it was as if the vigilante had been tempted to show exasperation over the clown's antics, but was too wary to take his eyes off the jester for even a second, plexiglass or no plexiglass. Such thoughts made the Joker want to smile, so he did.
"Murderous, yes," said the clown, "but even scary people like murderers are afraid of things, see? I just happen to not be afraid of death."
Wayne shifted, but slightly, so slightly that the Joker almost missed the movement. Discomfort. Something in the jester's statement had upset him. The clown had just enough time to wonder what it was when Wayne asked, quietly,
"Death doesn't frighten you?"
"Aha," slipped out of the Joker's torn mouth. Gotcha, he wanted to say; You're cute when you're uncertain, Brucie, the girls must go ga-ga for you whenever you show your vulnerable side. "Didn't I just say? Why would it? It's not like Hell would be something I haven't seen before, hmm?"
"I—" And then, just like that, Wayne cut himself off. He must have realized that his question had given too much away, had exposed too much of his own mind, his personal uncertainties and fears. It was too bad for him that the Joker's focus was unbreakable; like a hound that had caught the scent, he knew the game had begun. If only he could bring it to a conclusion before the guards came...
"Finish your sentence, Brucie," he cooed, as if to a willful child. "Don't leave me hanging—I let you do that before, but this time it's only fair if you share what's on your mind. Pretty penny for your thoughts!"
The Batman looked vaguely disturbed; surely he now understood that the jester was digging. And yet, before the Joker could properly analyze the interplay of emotions on his features, without warning the vigilante practically fell facedown on his cot, then rolled over, facing the wall. Every fiber in his being seemed to signal that he believed their conversation to be over.
At first the Joker was surprised. Despite Wayne's reactions yesterday, he hadn't expected the vigilante to shut down so quickly and so completely. His next feeling was of self-reproach over his own astonishment: after all, this was the Batman, and if anyone on the face of the earth had the ability to be unpredictable, it was him. The Joker realized, then, that he must have lost a great amount of his mental acumen while holed up in Arkham. Given his previous interactions with the Bat Man, he should have known to expect the unexpected. It appeared as if all of these lessons had to be relearned, now that Wayne was his neighbor for the foreseeable future. Oh well, he thought—at least they would learn together.
Next, the Joker realized that he was affronted. He could stand many things—but someone intentionally ignoring him was not one of them. Especially this someone, who was the one person who mattered to him in the whole of human existence. It took everything the jester had not to dissolve into a temper tantrum. Only the knowledge that it would mean Wayne's ultimate victory stopped the clown from pounding ceaselessly on the damned plexiglass that separated their cells.
If he and Wayne had been in the same room... then he would have shown the vigilante who was in control, who had the power in their relationship—or, at least, who had power until Wayne had been properly disillusioned from his petty moral fantasies. As the current teacher in their interactions, the clown believed that he should have control over when their discussions would end.
Not to mention the fact that he couldn't resist the chance to pry at the Bat Man's psyche so early in the morning.
"Does..." the jester paused for a second, making sure he had the right words and the right vocal intonation. It wouldn't do to continue their conversation, only to show Wayne the tension underneath his mind—that would be just as bad as throwing a tirade, and would mean his certain defeat in this, which was only the second of their encounters since Wayne had arrived. To avoid seeming aggravated, and in the hope that Wayne might respond better to continued kindness, the clown injected concern and thoughtfulness into his voice. Not that he expected the Batman to be fooled, of course.
"Does... death... scare you, Brucie?" he prodded, trying but failing to keep a smile off his face and out of his tone as he continued, "Why would that be, hmm? Isn't the Batman all virtuous and pure under his black cape? What have you to fear of... damnation, eh? If you died, wouldn't it be all sparkles and angels?"
Wayne was having none of it. His words were quick and sharp, like they stung his lips. "Shut up."
"Answer the question," replied the Joker, just as quickly. Perhaps too quickly—it was never good to appear eager, he reflected morosely.
Yes, the clown decided, he'd responded much too quickly. That, or Wayne was more pigheaded than the jester had expected. Then again, the Batman didn't seem like a morning person, so the Joker decided that he probably ought to expect more moodiness in general at this early hour. In any case it looked like Wayne was going to make him work for a proper reaction—something that the jester was altogether pleased with, since he thoroughly enjoyed challenges.
How should he approach this, the Joker pondered? Best to skirt around the issue, to draw Wayne's attention through an interesting anecdote, something intellectual and seemingly innocuous. Something unrelated, though he could then make it relate to their situation. Something long and complicated. Frustrating. He quickly raked through his piecemeal mind, searching for a proper distraction. When he found the right example, he withheld yet another smile as he spoke.
"Did you know, Brucie... that the Puritans, way-back-when, believed in this idea of 'Illumination'? The way it went, at one point you would have this ultimate experience, a temporary emptying of rational thought, which directed everything else in your life from then on. They believed that whatever you'd absorbed into your mind, up until that point, influenced its direction. So... if you were a good boy and went to Church, read your Bible, so on so forth, then the Illumination would be from God and it would turn you into a model citizen, a good person... who'd want to help little grannies cross the street."
For a second, as he paused, the jester questioned whether or not this hook would be successful. Then Wayne stirred, slightly, and as the Joker held his breath—
"Is there a reason behind this rehash of elementary school history?"
Keeping his exuberance down, the Joker allowed his voice to be playful, yet considerate. "Oh, hush. Who says there has to be a reason for everything?"
Ignoring the beginnings of Wayne's newest objection, the clown pressed onward. He couldn't allow the billionaire to speak, to gain control over their new conversation and sidetrack him from his ultimate goal. The Joker allowed some petulance to enter his words as he said, "And besides, I'm not finished. Let me go on."
It was the first time the Batman had specifically requested that the Joker continue speaking. A giggle of anticipation wormed its way up the jester's throat, before he squashed his merriment in favor of his lesson. Teaching always came first—even when the student was as uncooperative as could be. Especially then. If he could just get Wayne to look at him, then the Joker would have been overjoyed; however, Wayne seemed to know that this was the clown's goal, and so naturally was attempting to deny the jester any satisfaction whatsoever. His face appeared glued to the wall.
"Well, most people know that the Puritans believed that God Illuminated people. What people don't know is that the Puritans never believed that only God could Illuminate. Say, if before your Illumination experience, you go out gambling and drinking and a-whorin', as they called it. What do you suppose then?"
"God would smite you?" The vigilante's voice was almost playful, mocking the Joker through his intentional stupidity.
The clown briefly considered rewarding the billionaire's newfound humor—this wasn't the first time in their conversation that Wayne had confronted him with comedy. It was a refreshing change, something that the Joker was almost willing to attribute to his own presence. After all, the Batman was much too serious all the time.
But then the clown recognized the teasing tone for what it was: a defense mechanism. Perhaps something even deeper, considering how easily the wit had flowed from Wayne's mouth. It was hard to imagine the Batman saying such things, so quickly and with such honest drollness. More than just a defense—almost like an entirely new persona...
Wayne's playboy act?
It made sense. Wayne had to be a good actor, had to find a way to divert attention from the obviousness of his nighttime identity. What better way than to pretend to be stupid, careless, and overtly comic? The Bat Man was none of those things.
Such a diametrical performance, though—it had to put a strain on him. The Joker had previously theorized that Wayne was using his daytime self, with all its trappings of a thoughtless billionaire, as a shelter from prying questions. Only now, confronting the playboy, could the clown see how easily the curtain could be erected to shield Wayne's inner mind. How practiced Wayne had to be, to fling up his armor at a moment's notice—perhaps the vigilante didn't even realize what he was doing.
Instead of rising to the bait, the Joker took it as further evidence of Wayne's discomfort, and pressed on:
"Oh, please. Be more creative."
"Just get to the point, Joker," sighed Wayne. Still he didn't turn.
Yes, the jester decided, he was definitely speaking to the playboy: now the ne'er-do-well was pretending to be bored, seeing as someone like him was only supposed to be interested in girls and cars, completely unable to follow intelligent conversation. Fascinating, how Wayne broke his psyche up into these separate roles—and immediately, in the corner of his mind, the Joker's intellect began churning on this information, storing away a memory of this discussion to mull over later. If he was right, and Bruce Wayne was an act that the Batman put on to hide his cape-and-cowl identity, then perhaps the way into the vigilante's brain was through using Bruce Wayne as a back door...
The Joker continued with his experiment, deciding to give in briefly and simply give Wayne the answer:
"They believed the Illumination would come from the Devil instead, Brucie. This meant the person would turn bad. Don't you see? What better way to explain a sociopath?"
"Mental illness seems like a better explanation." And just like that, the playboy was gone. Replaced by a weary tone, a faceless man who was too tired to bother thinking. So much the worse for him that the Joker found it no easier to stop thinking than to stop breathing.
"No, it isn't," insisted the clown. "See, Brucie, modern science has been searchin' for an answer to psychopaths, but they can't figure it out. Some were abused—some were coddled. Some have histories of mental flipouts—some just snap one day. Supposedly they're extremely intelligent and logical, but they kill people without reason. Nobody anywhere can predict when the next one will show up. They don't make sense to so-sigh-eh-tee, see. And given that, what explanation is better than the Puritan's Illumination? Show me a better answer!"
The clown ended his example by pounding his fist on the plexiglass, trying to gain Wayne's direct attention through emphasis. The sound of flesh striking the glass ricocheted through the tunnel, before drowning in the long echo of the well.
"Well, according to what you just said, I can't." Idly, Wayne picked at the lint on his shirt. He gave no sign that he was in any way affected by the Joker's show of force. Two could play at that game: the Joker likewise gave no hint that Wayne's disregard affected him. In another place and another time, he might have found Wayne's recalcitrance amusing, perhaps even admirable—but right now it was just frustrating.
"Exactly!" chortled the clown, just as merrily as if Wayne had actually bothered to turn and face him; but then, at the billionaire's continued attempt to ignore him, he turned serious. Leaning close to the glass, that damned plexiglass that dared to separate their cells, he gave his last and best attempt, keeping the frustration from his voice, "So, then, Brucie. What's your Illumination experience?"
And that caught the Batman's attention. "Excuse me?"
If the suddenness of Wayne's exclamation hadn't let the jester realize that forcing the question on him had renewed the billionaire's interest, the other man's shifting on his cot certainly would have alerted the clown. Wayne turned so that he was no longer facing the wall, but the ceiling—allowing the Joker a glimpse at his eyes, so very expressive even while not directly looking at the clown. Yet his decision not to turn all the way toward the plexiglass still spoke of his unwillingness, even when his hand was forced by the jester's inquiry.
Inwardly, the Joker rejoiced; he was winning, but had not yet conquered. At this sign of the vigilante's renewed attention, the clown fired off a sequence of statements like machine gun pellets:
"You dress up like a bat. Jump off skyscrapers. Beat criminals to a pulp—with your bare hands. You're telling me this is normal behavior?"
He was perhaps a bit too impatient, for Wayne easily turned the tables on him. "So says the guy in a purple suit with clown makeup."
Fortunately quick-thinking saved the jester, even if his retort sounded childish. "Yeah, but you started it."
"Actually, Crane had a mask way before me." If the change in subject matter hadn't alerted the Joker to what the vigilante was doing, the light-heartedness in Wayne's voice would have. This statement was yet another diversionary tactic, and not a very good one. Inwardly, the clown restrained a snigger; Brucie had to really be feeling the pinch in the corners of his mind, if this was the best he could come up with.
"Oh, come on," the clown drawled, "I seriously doubt that you knew that before you started. Since when would you copy ole Scarecrow?"
He would have leaned forward even further, had the plexiglass allowed him. As it was, all he could do was splay his palms against the surface, pressing until he felt the blood flee his fingers and doubtless turn the inside of his hands into a pale white. "You're unique, Batman. Admit it."
Despite the clown's best attempt to order the Bat Man into a confession, Wayne chose to evade him again. He was like a wild colt, the Joker reflected; bucking, twisting, jumping and dodging, trying anything to avoid the bit and the spur, defying his captor.
Unfortunately for such animals, their resistance was the whole reason why man had invented the rodeo, for humanity had long since learned to take enjoyment from their wild attempts at freedom. In the same way, the jester found himself exulting that Wayne was so uncooperative—the more he resisted, the better the satisfaction the Joker would feel, once the Batman had been driven long and hard and his struggle came to its only logical end.
"I did what I did for a reason, Joker." The billionaire's voice was firm, as if this could ward off any further arguments. His blue eyes focused on the ceiling, unseeing. Withdrawn. "I intended to intimidate. How better to do that than to be downright scary, even to seem insane?"
The Joker already had a counterargument ready, before his companion had even finished speaking.
"There's a fine line between seeming and being, Brucie. As you said yourself last night, you must be crazy. If you're crazy, it follows that you had a trigger—an Illumination. What was it? Just wake up one day and decide you'd've rather been born a bat?"
"Maybe I did." The vigilante's voice was cold, tight-lipped as a sealed tin can. It was a good thing, the Joker reflected, that he knew the best uses of can openers.
On the plexiglass, the Joker's fingers twitched, but his gaze never stopped piercing into the other man. He allowed disappointment to bleed into his words: "Ah, Batsy..."
The jester shook his head, matted hair swaying in silent admonition, while he was careful to lower his voice and make his words as soothing as possible. Best not to gloat over his impending victory—he wanted to have fun with Wayne, not become his tormentor. That job would fall to Varnham. "Share and share alike. If we're going to coexist down here, we'd better be able to communicate, see. I'm just trying to play twenty questions, no need to be..." he paused, just a second, to find the right word, "...defensive."
There was a tick in the Bat Man's jaw, the Joker watching avidly as it twitched and tensed, the perfectly flawless lips thin and stern—how could he fight crime and not be gifted with a permanently busted lip? Despite this stray pondering, the clown was already quite prepared when the billionaire once again chose to turn the question on him. It was only natural: the last defense of a wounded animal was to attack whatever frightened him.
"Well then, Joker. What was your Illumination?"
He gave no hint that he was ready for the query—instead, all laughter was gone and only solemnity reigned in the Joker's mind. Time to play his winning hand, to see if the Batman's bet was honest or if he would attempt to cheat and claim victory nonetheless. The difference would be all in Wayne's eyes.
The jester smiled coldly.
"You were, Brucie."
It was hard to know what reaction to expect from Wayne—and as the billionaire froze, his chest even pausing in mid-breath, the Joker's own breathing also ceased. And then he saw the Batman's eyes, the confusion and the turmoil that the jester's confession had created. Then understanding seemed to dawn—then horror, as the other man seemed to realize how the clown was crediting his own existence to the Batman—and then, as the flow of Wayne's thoughts naturally turned toward self-analysis, to see whether or not the Joker's statement had been true—
Any further reaction, however, was lost to the Joker: for the slam of the tunnel's doors distracted both Bat and Clown, and by the time the jester's eyes had returned to Wayne's face, the chance to decipher the billionaire's response was far gone. Inwardly, the Joker growled; a silent sound that, if voiced, would have uncannily mimicked the Batman's own chest-deep rumbles.
Confounded morons, the jester wanted to howl, as the guards stopped by his cell door, If you'd just waited ten more seconds!
This was worse than Gordon interrupting him the night he'd chased Harvey through Gotham. At least then the surprise had been just slightly pleasant, because it had confirmed the Joker's suspicions that the future police commissioner was still helping the Batman from his own set of shadows. Being interrupted now served no purpose, gave the Joker no satisfaction whatsoever...
And then the clown saw that Wayne's door was being opened, too.
There was a moment of disbelief, shared by both Jester and Knight, during which both were silent, unmoving. As one, they stared at their respective doorways, the two sets of keys in the guards' hands, and finally sought out the other's face. It was only natural that the Joker's lips spread into a large, cheek-creasing grin; the Batman answered with a frown so deep, it looked like it had been cut into his flesh.
"Wha'd'ya know?" The clown sing-songed, "Did good ole' Varny-hammie tell ya about this, Brucie?"
Batman gave no answer.
Secretly, the clown was gloating. Already Varnham had begun to show his untrustworthiness, if he was going to release both Wayne and the Joker together on their first day. The jester had known that such a thing would probably happen eventually, of course—when Slink had been his neighbor, it was not uncommon for him and the hairless man to begin their days together, though they were often separated after their midday therapy sessions.
But the clown had assumed that Varnham would allow Wayne some time to accept the Joker's presence, emotionally, before placing them in the same room without barriers. It appeared as if Arkham's head had more of a scheme than the Joker had expected. Obviously, the clown realized, the Scarecrow was right: Varnham indeed had "some sort of strategy" involving them both.
Not that this was a good thing. It easily could have meant that Varnham was attempting to keep alive the animosity between the crusader and his nemesis. Wouldn't that be just like Arkham's head, the clown reflected—place Wayne in an emotionally devastating position, and then turn around and pretend he was the white knight by saving him from it. By making the Joker into the "bad guy" (or, rather, by reminding Wayne that the jester was the "bad guy"), Varnham could make his own actions more acceptable, turning himself into Wayne's ally in the philosophical debate between the Batman and the clown.
In other words, Varnham could be attempting to do exactly what the Joker hoped to do himself.
Jamesie, you devious little stinker, thought the Joker, and he found that his smile had diminished, becoming wooden and forced. Despite his less than pleasant realizations, it wouldn't do to lose face, since the guards expected a laughing psychopath. He had a reputation to keep. So he kept the smile in place, as his brown eyes darted quickly across each of the guards' faces.
Some of them he knew, others he didn't—one of them, a tan fellow with oily hair and an unkempt look, was recognized as the man who had returned that night, three months ago, to hoist an unconscious Bruce Wayne up onto his cot. The jester was unsure what reward such a deed had earned: as it currently was, the fellow was classified in the "if found after an escape, kill quickly and only torture as necessary" option. This was only because he had provided such amusement in fleeing the Joker that night, and hadn't yet distinguished himself otherwise.
The guard in charge was another somewhat familiar face, though not because he had been one of the men participating in Wayne's beating. He was what the Joker mentally referred to as a "skulker," because he appeared at odd times and places, and almost never could be spotted doing the same job twice. As a result, the clown didn't know the man's name, but had nicknamed the fellow "Blondie," because of his over-bleached hair and slow uptake. It was he who first spoke up to the two inmates.
"No trouble, either of you, or so help me—" he lifted a small, black box, for their inspection, "You are gonna be tasered. I have a 'press the button first, ask questions later' policy."
"Well that was a clever turn of phrase," the Joker remarked, sliding his gaze in Wayne's direction, and nodding to the vigilante in attempt to get his agreement. The other prisoner didn't respond. "I really think he ought to write that one down."
Wayne, though now sitting upright on his cot, appeared to have somehow shrunken in on himself. With burning eyes he watched the closest guard fiddle with his door's keys, and he tensed as the numbers on the electronic keypad were dialed. The click of the door's lock was heard, but he made no move toward the open exit. He looked like a trapped animal, desiring to bolt but having nowhere to go.
Poor fellow, the Joker wanted to sigh. You really want to fight, don't you? Why you won't, I really don't know—I'd love to join in. It'd be worth a month in solitary, just to get one good bite into Blondie's ear.
"Well?" Blondie barked, making a quick beckoning gesture. "Come on, or do you want to be carried?"
Slowly, hesitance showing through his every move, Wayne uncoiled his limbs from the cot's covers and stood, carefully avoiding looking at the Joker through the plexiglass. The clown caught the way that the billionaire's fists flinched as the cuffs were slapped onto his wrists, the touch of hard, cold metal aggravating his bruises. The guard cuffing him did not bother to be gentle with his left hand, either, which still bore a cast from being crushed underfoot on Wayne's first night.
The jester likewise made no attempt to resist his own cuffing, wanting to give Wayne no chance to play the hero by bashing his unpainted head into the wall. Instead he smiled serenely, obediently entering into the hallway and falling into step beside the vigilante, whose bare feet practically dragged on the floor as they were led down the hall.
When their cell doors slid shut behind them, the resounding clang only served to bring a satisfied smirk to the Joker's lips, as he caught Wayne's jump of surprise from the corner of his eye. Giving the Batman what he intended to be a nudge of solidarity with his shoulder, he found himself shoved back so forcefully that he nearly hit the floor. He refrained from breaking out into laughter mainly because Blondie was suddenly between him and Wayne, waiving the taser in Wayne's face and gabbing about the button-and-question policy. The Batman gave no sign that the guard's lecture affected him in any way, merely continuing to stare down the Joker, who was jiggling eyebrows at him exaggeratedly behind Blondie's back.
"You okay?" Blondie paused in his tirade, glancing over at the jester, who shrugged.
"It's, ah, no problem," the clown stated, straightening out and walking forward with a dignified air. Beside him, the Batman's growl ruined the jester's poise by adding a bounce to his steps.
The sound of the Joker's sniggering trailed them down the hall.
Singing the same song at a different tone,
In thoughts, destined to die, unknown.
Born unto a world not of our own,
We walked together, walking alone.
— Michael R. Anderson, Walking Alone
000 Author's Note 000
Whew. Parts of that were actually fun to write. Hope they were as fun to read.
Once again so much thank-you's for my reviewers: sugarhype, ber1719, xKillthelights, Nightlight09, Endgame65, Computerfreak101, andaere, XenoZime, anonymous_fog, MaDdsterr, batfan (twice!), I Spaz With Pizzazz, OutcastToReality, ChasingProse, Vanafindiel, batman-no1, Angel Dumott Schunard, The Joker's Ears and Eyes, KayosHybrid, Shmelly, XxJagzxX, nak321, Zaerith-Chan, CaitieKat, Squidney, vballmania23, ElementaryPenguins (twice!), jokergirl4ever, Adi Sagestar, sailorsw, water kangaroo (THREE times!), WaffleNinja, DawnStag, Kalashnikov2092, SayahYagashi, realityfling18 , Rebecca The Animorph, all-mad13, lady Jelly Sandwich, The King of Soda, Payce99, Nemrut, Tatsumaki-sama, Elerrina Star, & anastasiyafokina.
You all really helped with this story, never letting me forget about it, and encouraging me to continue. Thank you so much!