Summary: Batman breaks down in the aftermath of The Dark Knight. The Joker himself is witness to the death of Gotham's only hope. AU. Slash. One-shot.
Warning: Violence, dark, mature themes, and slash. If any of that offends you, I suggest you find something else to read.
Author's Note: (I originally posted this to the batmanjoker community on livejournal, under my alias there, breaksinmusic.)
So, originally, this was supposed to be a relatively short, general character study. But with this fandom, deviating from the plan comes along with the territory. So the story kind of took on a life of its own, and this came out far darker than I intended it to be. What makes Batman my favorite superhero, personally, is the thin line he walks between heroism and villainy. I wanted to explore the possibilities of Batman turning into a villain completely, inside Nolanverse. (I am aware, of course, of the awesomeness that is Owlman and the Jokester.)
As this is my first venture into Batman fanfiction, please do not hesitate to let me know if I've gotten anything wrong. :)
Disclaimer: I own nothing of the Batman franchise. Batman belongs to DC Comics, the WB, etc.
The garish city lights shone cruel and unforgiving in his eyes, like the permanent smirk of a Glasgow smile, like the hollow eyes of a most wicked jester. They cavorted about the alleyway with a refined, artificial grace, resembling in their motions the meaningless dance of his own empty existence. He became almost ill, thinking about the pretense of his life. The public persona of Bruce Wayne only seemed that much more pathetic, in the aftermath of tonight.
Tonight. A hero had died, and a symbol had corroded. He closed his eyes, as crude tears began to gather in his eyes, leaning against the cold, crude skin of brick. Harvey's face, serene at last in death, stared up at him from the hollow abyss of his recent memory. He inhaled history as what remained of his decency hit the pavement alongside his tears. It was almost as if he were pushed forward into the recesses of his mind, breathing in the rush of wind as he shoved the white knight out of the window. The lack of feeling as he plummeted to what should have been his own demise filled his lungs like oxygen.
Instead, he walked away with a bullet wound, bruised and bleeding. Still, the physical pain paled in comparison to the acknowledgment of the act he had willingly committed. He shuddered, ignoring the ache in his chest. There he stood, a murderer. A martyr, some (like Alfred, like Rachel) might say. He shuddered in disgust at the mere thought of the word. He was no hero. To save Gordon's son, tonight, he had broken his one rule. (And, God, it did not help that all his thoughts seemed to echo with that harrowing laughter.)
And yet, luck had seemed to take a particular liking to him, for reasons he couldn't quite fathom. He had fled, like some beaten, feral animal, and he had not been caught, by the police or even a source far more sinister. A rather close call, he realized now, glancing despairingly over at the Batpod pressed against a dumpster, that had found him in the Narrows.
Every instinct screamed at him to run, to flee home. He was vulnerable, exposed here in some anonymous, seedy alleyway. At the same time, the hurt, both inside and out, kept him motionless. He was beyond common sense. He deserved this pain. He was no better than any other common criminal. He deserved punishment. He relished in the agony flooding through his abdomen and chest, cherished those scars like war wounds. The volume of his physical aches just barely drowned out the guilt consuming him savagely, like a starving wolf tearing at raw meat. (But it helped, at least.)
So now, the light found him there still, breathing roughly, grasping at the remnants of the shards of his sanity. The blackness only recoiled from him; he had become too dark for even the shadows to conceal him any longer. He had told Gordon he could take it. He wanted to believe that he could, like Gotham City had believed in Harvey, like they had once believed in Batman. He wanted to bear the burden of Harvey's silenced sins, wanted to wear them like the straightjacket the city believed Batman now deserved.
But how could he believe? How could he believe in himself when he betrayed the one rule that ultimately separated him from the likes of the Joker? That he killed the District Attorney to save someone else's life was of little comfort to him. He felt another shudder slither down his spine, as serpentine as that damn Glasgow smile and as sinister as that awful, haunting laughter. How could he bear the burden of another's sins on top of the blunt weight of his own?
What was the difference, anyway, between heroes and madmen? It was a question he had always managed to avoid in the past. Now, it pinned him here, in the Narrows, like an insect pressed within a glass jar, haunting him like the ghosts of his parents. God. His parents. The tears had stopped, in that moment, replaced by a violent, wretched retching. He almost choked on the hatred Thomas and Martha Wayne, wherever they were right now, surely must have felt at the sight of what their precious son had become. (Pathetic, no better than the rest of the filthy degenerates of this godforsaken city.)
What distinguished Bruce from the rest of the criminal underground? Deep down, perhaps he had always known the answer. (He had just never wanted to admit it.) What right did he have to bask in freedom outside the walls of Arkham? He knew, perhaps better than anyone, now, that he belonged in there, with the rest of society's monsters. Monsters he had helped to create. Monsters that were eager to tear him apart. (It was no less than he deserved.)
He was as Victor Frankenstein in the wake of the daemon's awakening. He shot the albatross without thinking of the consequences. He thought he could change the world with his abilities. Now, he was damned to repeat the immortal cycle of his sins because of his irresponsibility. For every criminal he put behind bars, another, more sinister embodiment of the darkness he hated, the darkness he dwelled in-the darkness that was a part of him, rose up from out of the abyss to reflect the monster within himself.
"This is what happens when an immovable object reaches the breaking point."
That voice. He glanced up from where he now knelt to find the Joker, garbed in what looked to be freshly spilt blood, standing by the Batpod, a knowing undertone emphasizing his words. Bruce didn't waste time with further brooding. A ferocious snarl, the voice of the beast he had once tried to tame within himself, let loose loudly, and he lunged with a hunger to rip the clown limb from limb.
He had, unfortunately, in that moment forgotten about the recent limitations of his physical abilities. He ignored the cold truth that he was just a man, underneath the armor and weapons. Just a man who could bruise and bleed, and who, in fact, was quite injured. The other man didn't even flinch, didn't even have to move out of the way, as Bruce fell forward onto the brutal flesh of polluted pavement, landing with a frustrated growl.
The jester only smiled, the gruesome purpose of his grin emphasized by the length of his scars in the cheap streetlights. "Now, is that any way to treat your only friend in this city? Hm?"
"Go rot in hell." He spat pathetically, his voice faltering between a rage he didn't fully feel and a despair he had not realized wholly as he tried to regain his breath.
"Because, it's true, you know." The Joker ignored him, appeared to take vindictive pleasure waltzing around Bruce with his taunting, peculiar lilt. "I'm the only living soul that knows what you truly are. I'm the only one alive who understands."
Bruce groaned, crippled by the weight of his loathing for the other man, the source of all his misery. Why couldn't he move? He felt paralyzed, frozen by his own self-loathing. Oh, if only he had let the bastard fall to his death. Why hadn't he let the psychopathic son of a bitch fall? Why did he still feel compelled to show others humanity when it had been so cruelly denied him since his youth?
"You have nothing to threaten me with. Nothing to do with all your strength." As the man's words resounded in his mind, persistent, (almost soothing, he thought strangely, as a sort of numbness settled upon him), like some sickly lullaby, the Joker himself sauntered over, staring down at the fallen man with amusement.
Though Bruce couldn't move, he had at least managed to recover enough to speak. "Why? How did you escape from the SWAT team?" He grasped desperately at the righteousness that was slowly seeping out of him, as potent and as crimson as the stains on the other man's violently violet attire. He wanted, no, needed to sound like the better man he used to be. (He didn't even convince himself.)
Still, the Joker seemed to overlook this as he chuckled with a sinister satisfaction. "The same way you managed to escape those coppers, Batsy. Except, you know," he knelt down, pushing Batman onto his back, and leering grimly at his nemesis, "with a little more pizzazz. You could almost say it was…magic." Bruce could only watch as the other man deliberately extracted one of his many knives from within his sleeve, watch as the dried sepia on silver glowed with finality in the streetlights as the Joker spun it with reverence within his hand.
Bruce could only stare at what he now recognized as a reflection of himself. A walking nightmare composed of fragmented, malignant grace. He dwelled in those same shadows to bring about justice that the demented clown manipulated to perpetuate anarchy. They truly were both cut from the same cloth of madness. He grimaced at the bizarre combination of anguish and relief this revelation inspired within him. Perhaps this was why he could not let the other man die. As much as he wanted to break the fucker's neck, wanted to pummel him until he choked on his own blood, he realized these savage desires possessed the same violent impulse of the man standing above him now. As much as he wanted to be repulsed, as much as he ought to be repulsed…He felt enthralled by the glimmer of what appeared to be understanding in the other man's gaze, drawn in like a moth to a candle. And he didn't know why.
"You look like you could use a hand." The Joker extended his hand, and Bruce understood exactly what he offered. He hesitated only a moment, deliberating on the fact that, once he moved forward, he could never go back. He should hate this man, he should want him dead. Why didn't he? Why was he so…attracted to the dark promises in those soulless eyes?
The sliver of him that still believed the best in people, still believed that as one man, he could make a difference clawed at his mind futilely.
With grim determination, he accepted the proffered help. He helped unleash Gotham's demons, what else was there but to join them? He thought as he rose with the assistance of the Joker. Inside, he was all shards and tatters-ripped to pieces. His misplaced sense of self-righteousness deserved nothing less than the torment eating away at it eternally like hellfire. Part of him had died, leaping out off that ledge. What remained of himself deserved to live with this irony: the Joker, his ultimate nemesis, as his savior from his own personal demons. (The end is the beginning is the end.)
The Joker's grin widened, if that were possible, as he lifted Bruce up from the ground. Bruce had only a moment to contemplate something he might have mistook for beauty in the clown's elongated smile before he found himself pressed back against the brick wall.
"Something about you…" The Joker sauntered in closer, so that their faces stood only inches apart. His rotten breath, the embodiment of every evil to ever have existed in Gotham, to have ever given him purpose in his pursuit for justice, warmed him, washed over him like perfume. Bruce hated it and yearned for more of it at once. But there was no going back. Not now. Not ever again. "You've changed."
He felt the fervor of flames as they began to flicker in the pits of his stomach. He hadn't even realized how cold it was, out alone in the night, until the other man surrounded him, almost suffocated him, with his presence. It was sickening; his insides screamed at him, it was sickening, depraved, and wrong. Yet he desperately craved more. (Because he, too, was sickening, depraved-wrong.)
"You've gotten ahead of the curve." The clown's excited whispers, like dry wood, fed and quenched his incendiary hunger all at once. Bruce couldn't contain the shudders snaking down his spine as the Joker's breath, uncoiling like something serpentine, slithered in and around his ears. "You finally see it."
Bruce hated the combination of words, hated himself more as they leave his mouth. But it was the truth, and it was the only truth he could bring himself to accept. "You were right." (And in that moment, he relinquished to his enemy the ultimate victory.)
The Joker practically cackled, drawing back momentarily so Bruce could drink in the jester's giddiness, as intoxicating as any crude drug. "But of course, Bats." Suddenly, the clown became serious again, as he pressed in even closer, bringing his lips up so that were practically brushing Bruce's. "I know you better than you know yourself. I've always known."
The joining of their lips felt unnatural, flawed-defiant of every definition distinguishing between right and wrong. Kissing the Joker, he knew he had committed something very much akin to a mortal sin. Still, he couldn't help but succumb as the other man's talented tongue prodded his own with a crooked curiosity, couldn't help but greedily tug the man closer as the lines between them blurred to form the darkest shade of grey.
Cold, cold-almost freezing. Before, he had been so cold. Cold, numb, and hurt. Pain meant nothing to him now; he was warm. Burning, burning-on fire. Now, the flames sparked in the pit of his stomach engulfed him as his enemy sauntered gracefully between his legs, entangling limbs and lies until he could no longer distinguish between reality and fantasy.
Bruce moaned, clutching at the lapels of the Joker's jacket with such wantonness he never knew he possessed. That scorching tongue tasted of murder, of decimation. Anarchy exploded like fireworks within every vessel of his every vein. His eyes shut themselves of their own accord, blockading vehemently any infiltration from the reality he had so recently rejected.
He wanted to continue hating the Joker. He wanted to hate himself. But the chaos sucking at him, biting and clawing at the contained chaos within himself drained him of any energy he might have spared on himself. He was drowning in a sea of everything he once stood against, and it felt so damn good. ( "You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.")
In the Joker's kiss, Bruce found solace in mayhem. He could taste the hatred and the bitter anger he had repressed inside for so long in between those cracked lips. His former drive for revenge surfaced as the other man pressed him harder into the wall. Vivid snapshots of Chill's expression upon seeing the sole, surviving Wayne heir show up at court flashed vibrantly within his mind; triumph at his parents' murderer's fear sunk into his incoherency, transmuting his madness into wicked ecstasy. He imagined himself actually pulling that trigger, watching as bold, beautiful red splattered like broken glass across the floor, tasting the horror of the general public as Gotham's beloved, orphaned son destroyed what remained of optimism. Delicious, true justice. The selfish desire to make himself feel better. It pulled at the edges of his spirit as the Joker gradually ripped his body apart.
The sudden sensation of dirty teeth against his neck alerted Bruce to the fact that the jester had started picking apart his suit, careless like the insatiable hunger of a vulture in its search for raw meat. He arched into the other man's touch as bits and pieces of his suit fell to the pavement, the last of his reservations falling away with the Kevlar. He was almost completely exposed now, struggling for breath as the Joker gnawed away greedily what remained of it.
"You've already broken yourself down. Now, I'm going to build you back up. Better," he whispered against Bruce's sweat soaked skin, pronouncing every word like some lewd promise, "than before."
What use was it, swimming against the current of his obscene nature? He told himself, letting their shared debauchery drag him further down into the abyss. He wanted everything around him to burn.
He wanted to set the world on fire, and he wanted to incinerate with it.