AN: This particular fic is coming to a close, and I know the end is cliffhanger-y, but don't worry, there's another story to come, and I hope to have it posted within the week, if the job and the kitten aren't too distracting!
A huge thank you to all my readers and reviewers. I never expected to top four hundred reviews, let alone over seven hundred. And extra thanks for all the anonymous reviewers; I can't respond to your comments, but many of your reviews are among the best I get and I appreciate all your feedback.
He found Crane the next morning hiding under the kitchen table, not quite crying but very close.
"Jonathan?" Why was it that he only remembered things like locking the door to the man's room after it was too late? Though to be fair, he had been incredibly distracted last night. Bruce tended not to be fair when judging himself, however. "Are you all right?" Well, that was a stupid question.
"He's gone. The one with the…" he trailed off, apparently at a loss for the word, and raised his hands to his face, indicating the Joker's scars. "Woke up alone."
"I know." Oh, this was going to be fun to explain. "He left."
Crane flinched, staring over his shoulder wide-eyed at something that wasn't there. The sedatives were definitely in the process of wearing off, if they hadn't gone completely by now. "When's he—" flinch—
Bruce decided to take the easy way out and not explain at all. The truth would only terrify his remaining captive more, if he even understood it. "Can you come out from under the table?"
"No." He tightened his arm around his body, and Bruce saw that he'd brought the teddy bear with him.
"Just for a second? I have medicine that you need to take."
He shook his head, pushing himself back against the far leg of the table.
"It'll make you less scared."
"Not coming out."
"Okay." He knelt down and crawled under the table beside the man, which wasn't hard, given its size. He took the syringe from his pocket that he placed there before heading downstairs, uncapped it. "Can I see your arm?"
He shook his head again, and the force with which he did it combined with the sight of the doctor in Bruce's overlarge clothes made him look like a small child. The teddy bear didn't exactly detract from the image, either.
"It'll help, Jonathan. And it'll only take a few seconds. I promise."
Crane didn't extend either hand, but he didn't flinch away when Bruce reached out. He was able to push the man's sleeve back and inject him before he could decide to panic again. Crane went limp almost immediately afterward, and Bruce carefully moved him from under the table to one of the kitchen chairs. Once he was satisfied that Crane was balanced enough not to fall back to the floor, he went to the cabinets to retrieve a glass, and filled it with water, removing the pills from his pocket with his spare hand. Getting him to take the pills was far easier than getting him to relax enough for the injection had been. "How do you feel?"
Crane yawned in response.
"Do you want to lie down?"
He gave the faintest of nods, and the faintest of jerks when Bruce picked him up. "The bear…"
"I've got him." This was another of those surreal moments he'd never have believed could happen until he was experiencing it. Comforting Jonathan Crane by giving him his childhood teddy bear? It was almost easier to believe that he'd ended up being kissed by the Joker twice during this fiasco. Almost.
He brought Crane to the nearest room with both a sofa and a television, laying him out on the couch. Bruce sat on the floor, back against the cushions of the sofa and legs stretched out beneath the coffee table as he flipped the television on. The police scanner in his room had revealed nothing when he'd turned it on upon waking, explosions or otherwise, but that had been at least half an hour ago. The news might have information by now on something he'd missed.
Even if it didn't, he'd been satisfied with any suspicious activity to investigate. It beat sitting around brooding over the events of last night, or figuring out just how he was going to explain this latest development to Alfred, when the butler got back from grocery shopping or whatever it was that he did on Saturday mornings.
Apparently, the news did have new information. He wasn't sure if he was relieved or horrified to see the giant caption across the bottom of GCN's screen reading "Joker Takes News Anchor Hostage." Well, at least now he had a starting point.
"—invaded the home of Gotham Live host Summer Gleeson at five this morning, forcing her to interview him using a handheld camera in order to make a tape addressing the Batman," an anchorman was saying, as the words "Breaking News" flashed below him. "Though held at knifepoint, Gleeson sustained no serious injuries, and is now under police protection. After creating the tape, the Joker left her bound in her kitchen with the video, instructing Gleeson to—"
Hell. And here he thought he'd been badly off. Wonderful. There was no start to the day like a reminder that the most dangerous terrorist Gotham had ever seen was still at large and terrorizing the citizens. All because Batman had failed to realize that the Joker was mad enough to risk serious injury to escape. Looking back, that should have been obvious. Would have been, if the damn clown wasn't so good at playing conflicted.
Sometime during Bruce's reverie, the anchorman had left the screen, replaced by the grainy video footage that signified one of the Joker's tapes. This time, the backdrop was not a warehouse or undisclosed location, as was so often the case, but a kitchen, of what appeared to be one of Gotham's apartments. A nicer one, it seemed, though the quality of the footage made it difficult to tell and the dishes stacked in the sink detracted from the surroundings a bit. The camera was focused on two chairs pulled away from the table, the one on the right empty.
Summer Gleeson sat in the one on the left, hands tied behind the chair and herself clad what appeared to be sock monkey pajamas. For the first time Bruce had ever seen, her thick red hair wasn't perfectly tamed and framing her face, but sticking out every which way, as if she'd just been dragged out of bed, which she almost certainly had. She wasn't crying, but even with the poor quality of the camera, it was clear that she had been, and the laceration visible on her throat, bleeding very slightly, had likely played a part in making her stop.
There was a voice from out of view, nasal and perverse, muttering to itself as the camera focused. "No…no…almost…there!" There was a pause, a sound of footsteps, and the Joker shuffled into view. Shuffled as opposed to walked, as both his legs, from what Bruce could see under the purple corduroys the Joker had recovered, were enclosed in walking casts. He sat down in the chair beside Summer, a knife glistening in his hand that he had pointed in her direction, though a good distance away. She flinched.
"Good morning, Gotham! Oh, wait…that's not your show, is it?" he asked, glancing at Summer and looking away again before she could stammer out an answer. "Whatever. As you can see, uh, Summer here was kind enough to give me an interview to address all your burning questions. Well, I say all of them, but really, I couldn't care less who gets any of it besides Batman. So the rest of you should consider yourselves lucky just to see this. But I digress. Summer, feel free to ask anything you like. I'm an open book."
Summer looked as if she'd much rather faint or run for her life than ask the clown anything. "I—please—don't—"
"You sound a lot less eloquent in person, you know that?" He tilted his head as if seeing her for the first time. "It can't be in the editing, 'cause your show's live…got a teleprompter or something?"
She shook her head, tears sliding down her face.
"Hey. There's no crying in news casting. Come on, anything at all. Here, we'll start with something easy." He raised his feet, swinging them back and forth. "Aren'tcha curious about this?"
"So glad you asked, Summer. Your concern is touching. Almost makes me sorry about the whole, uh, breaking in and tying you up thing." He leaned to the side, glancing at her hands behind the chair. "Are those too tight?"
"Fantastic. Anyway, there's no cause for alarm, Gothamites. They're only incomplete fractures, so I'll be bringing my kind of humor to your neighborhoods again soon."
"Wh—" Summer's voice broke, and she swallowed, tried again. "Where did you get the casts?"
"Wonderful question. You're so much more talkative than Mike Engel was, ya know that? All he did was hyperventilate. Pathetic. Back to your lovely query, though. I happen to know a very good if unlicensed doctor. Whose sisters make excellent cookies, I must add. I'd recommend them, but then they'd get all arrested and stuff, so yeah."
Summer alternated between staring at the camera and looking at the Joker without meeting his eye. "How did it happen?"
"You know what they say about animals in traps gnawing their legs off?"
"You were trapped?"
"I'm…not entirely sure, actually. I mean, I was definitely a prisoner, but I kinda liked it. Sometimes. You can't imprison the willing, as they say. Or is that rape?"
Summer's face briefly contorted with a terrified disgust as she apparently imagined the Joker as a willing rape victim. "Who—"
"Well, Batman, of course. Honestly, Summer, who else could keep me hostage? We've all seen how good Arkham and Gotham's finest are at that. Besides, I wouldn't enjoy being stuck with them, would I?"
"And you—you enjoyed being the Batman's captive?"
He blinked, as if the question was ridiculous. "Wouldn't you?"
"Oh, he was a complete gentleman the entire time. Except for the beatings and, uh, psychological torture and such. But hey, I love pain, so it's all good."
"And—" She glanced back to the camera, confusion mixing with fear. "You're making this video for him?"
"But you were with him—w-why didn't you just tell him in person? Weren't you enjoying yourself?"
"To a point. But after a while? All that morality crap gets so boring, Summer. It's like living in an educational kid's show. Only more annoying." He licked his lips. "Plus, Bats can be stunningly stupid about things. Such as his ridiculously obvious lust for me. I figured giving him some distance might help him realize the truth."
Summer looked torn between sheer panic and disbelief at the entire story. To an outsider, it must have seemed ridiculous. While opinions were still mixed throughout Gotham on Batman's status as hero or villain, even after the truth about the murders he'd taken the blame for had come to light, it was known from the rare witnesses to his brutal fights that there was no love lost between the Bat and the Joker. At least, not on the Dark Knight's side. So the idea of the Batman taking him in, for whatever reason, would seem absurd. Bruce only wished the entire thing was as false as it sounded.
The Joker caught sight of Summer's less than accepting expression, eyes narrowing. "You don't believe me?"
"You what?" The knife was against her throat, drawing new blood from the cut as she screamed. "And whatever you're going to say, it had better not be idiotic, or this is gonna turn into a snuff film."
Bruce found his hands tightly clenching the carpet, even though he knew from the report that Summer got out unharmed. At least, physically. He was surprised that he hadn't heard Crane panic yet, given that the man could recognize images on TV and could very possibly recognize the Joker. A glance backwards showed him that Crane had fallen asleep.
"No, I—" Summer's voice brought his attention back to the television. "I just—I don't understand w-why you left! You—you seem like the t-type to s-stay if you were bored, m-make things interesting." She sobbed, the sob turning to a scream as the Joker turned the blade and ran the flat end along her throat.
"Relax, Summer." He lowered his knife and turned to the camera. "See, I left with the intent to kill Batman. The boring half, anyway, I mean if I killed all of him, there'd be no point in living, right?" He turned to Summer, and once again looked away before she could speak. "Right. Well, that was my plan before I left. But then things got all weird and white noisy and not so fun, and the thing is, I don't wanna kill him just yet. This is a mental health day, of sorts. Or week, or month, or whatever. No point in going after him if I'm off kilter, is there?"
This time, when he turned to Summer, he actually waited for a reply. "I…guess not."
"Exactly. So, just thought I'd let you know, Bats. Last night? Wasn't the end of things. This isn't over by a long shot. And once the vacation's over? You're dead. At least, the part I don't like. As soon as I can walk again, and, ya know, not care about scarecrows and other crap like that. Wanna sign us off, Summer?"
She stared. "W-what?"
"And I gotta do everything myself." He sighed, standing. "It figures. That's all, folks." The screen switched to static before darkening completely, and then returning to the news report Bruce was no longer watching. So the Joker still believed he could kill Bruce Wayne and leave Batman intact…but he was going on hiatus before he tried?
So being here had shaken him, and badly. It wasn't just an act. Probably. The Joker was out of sorts enough to put things on hold until he rewove his mind into whatever passed for sanity where he was concerned. Whatever humanity lingered in the man had been touched, and Bruce was equal parts relieved and disturbed. Disturbed because, as much as he knew that the Joker was human, he hated to think of him that way. It made listening to the insanity he spouted that much more tempting.
But at the same time, it was a reminder that he had the power to twist the Joker as much as the Joker had the power to twist him. A power that could be dangerous, but incredibly helpful if kept in check. And if the Joker was trying to lie low, it would make subduing him that much easier—especially with the broken legs—though finding him would be extremely difficult.
At the very least, it seemed the problem of the Joker had been delayed for a bit.
He heard a faint sigh behind him, and turned his head to watch Crane shift in his sleep. And the realization of his current situation leapt out from whatever rock it had been hiding behind and slapped him in the face. The Joker might be dealt with for the moment, but there was still the very pressing issue of the mad doctor prisoner in his house. The mad doctor who knew his secret and would tell it in a heartbeat if he thought it would give him the slightest advantage, which it would in so very many situations.
Just what the hell was Bruce supposed to do with him?
AN: Summer Gleeson is a news anchor/talk show host from Batman: The Animated Series.
An incomplete fracture is a fracture in which the bones don't fully break. "There's no crying in [baseball]" comes from the film A League of Their Own.
The mention of Joker's unlicensed doctor friend comes from a previous fic, Act Like We Are Fools, in which the Joker has a back alley doctor with two sisters, one of whom is the Joker's seamstress. When the Joker comes over, they tend to eat cookies and play Dungeons and Dragons and things.