Chapter Twenty

Harvey Dent did not even flinch when the Joker's loud, cackling laughter abruptly ruined the silence. The clown was doubled over in his chair, clutching his stomach as he wheezed for breath.

Black Mask rolled his eyes and looked to Harvey impatiently, but Harvey only stared at the Joker, half of his face forever twisted into that charred, angry snarl. And he was angry, more so than he had ever been before. But it wouldn't be for much longer. The taste of revenge was sweet on his tongue, and he couldn't wait to fully savor it in all of its glory. After years of hiding—trying to cope with the loss of the woman he had one day hoped to marry—he was ready. He was ready to exact revenge on the man who had single-handedly destroyed his political career, his love for Rachel Dawes, and permanently disfigured his face beyond any chance for a decent recovery. Surgery would do nothing. He was a living, breathing monster now. There was no going back; only sometimes, in the sanctity of his mind, if Two-Face allowed such reprieves into the other conscious of his lost soul.

"Isn't this a twist," the Joker grinned, completely giddy, like a child who had done something bad and gotten away with it. He rocked forward in his chair a bit, hands clasped on the armrests, and whispered conspiratorially to Harvey. "The afterlife not what you expected? I've heard it's a bit hot down there."

"You would know."

"Ooho," the Joker grinned. "Let's place nice, Harvey." He cocked his head and stared. "So tell me everything. Batman suddenly have a change of heart?" he asked, in regards to Harvey supposedly being murdered by the caped crusader.

Harvey narrowed his one good eye. "Batman thinks I'm dead. Just like you did."

"Ooh, then this really is a surprise." The Joker looked to Black Mask, then to Harvey again. He could hardly believe the turn of events. It was so perfect, the two of them conspiring together to kill him. "I have to tell you I'm flattered, really. I don't think anyone's ever wanted to kill me as much as you," he told Harvey. "Except for maybe Rachel." The Joker downcast his eyes, inspecting the blood under his nails as if it were simply dirt. "After she was done begging for her life."

The sound of a gun being cocked reverberated through the room. The Joker looked up only to come face to face with the barrel of a gun. His eyes traveled to meet Harvey's.

Taylor, who had otherwise remained silent—too scared even to breathe—gasped so loudly that everyone turned to look at her. "No!" she cried. She put her hands to her face and shook her head, crying. "Don't! Don't do it. Please." She was sobbing, looking at Harvey as tears streamed down her face, begging him not to kill the only person besides her mother that she had ever cared for.

Harvey did not lower his gun, however, and Taylor seemed adamant to stop him. She attempted to jump down from the table she had been set on, but Black Mask grabbed her by her neck and forced her back even as she choked.

"She is so fond of you," Black Mask remarked with a glint in his eyes, even as his large hand encircled Taylor's neck with a bruising grip. He could feel her pulse fluttering beneath his touch, and he fought hard not to crush her neck, even if he longed to hear the audible sound of bones snapping.

From the other side of the table, the Joker cocked his head at her, fascinated that she was so desperately trying to protect him. It shouldn't have come as much of a surprise, considering how utterly dependent she had become of him, but it was amusing to picture. Taylor, the most innocent soul, the most naïve, heartfelt little girl in Gotham wanted to save him. He couldn't help but think that if she really knew what was good for her, she would let Harvey shoot him so he could burn for eternity with everybody else.

Hell. He considered it. It wasn't such a far-cry from Gotham, actually.

"Shoot me," he said, much to Taylor's horror. He looked up at Harvey from beneath his brows. "Do it. I want you to."

Harvey's finger rested against the trigger, but he did not pull. It was tempting, imagining bits of the Joker's brain splattering against the wall, seeing that red, gaping hole in the center of that white, greasepaint forehead. But he couldn't. Slowly, he managed to lower the gun.

"Shooting you would be too easy."

The Joker straightened, putting on a face of mock seriousness. "You're right. Absolutely." He held out his hands in front of him, wrists together. "Turn me into the cops. Send me to Arkham with all the craz-ies." Leaning forward slightly, he grinned, whispering. "Send me to Arkham," he repeated again, his eyes dark. "Watch me escape."

Without warning, Harvey lunged forward, grabbing the Joker by his collar and pulling him up out of the chair. The Joker giggled, lifting up his chin so Harvey wouldn't strangle him.

Up close, he could better see the exposed muscles of Harvey's half-face, the loose tendons, the black, scorched flesh—or what little of it was left, at least. He watched Harvey's eyeball roll loosely around its socket, hoping that it might fall out and he could crush it with his shoe. He imagined the sound it would make and his grin widened.

"Yeah, that's right," Harvey said through gritted teeth. "Get a good look. Look at what you've done to me."

"Look," the Joker repeated, eyes briefly darting to the ceiling. "Which side?"

With a snarl, Harvey shoved the Joker away, his back slamming into the wall. He groaned at the pain, missing it, needing it, even as Harvey pulled out his gun for a second time. "On second thought . . ."

The gun was cocked, Harvey's finger pressed the trigger—

"Aren't you going to flip a coin?" the Joker interrupted, head against the wall, looking at him from the corner of his eye.

He smirked. "You don't deserve a second chance."

As Harvey was about to pull the trigger, Black Mask, who had been watching attentively—suddenly stepped forward with such speed that even the Joker hadn't seen him coming—and hit Harvey over the head with his gun. A shot fired from Harvey's own gun out of reflex, narrowly missing the Joker's foot, as Two-Face slumped to the ground, out cold.

The Joker raised a curious brow in Black Mask's direction as the smoke from the barrel settled. "If you're expecting a thank you—"

"Get up." Black Mask sighed. As the Joker's brows rose even further, Black Mask gestured with his gun impatiently towards Harvey. "He's a bit melodramatic, wouldn't you say?"

For a second time in only a matter of two days, the Joker felt viscously duped again. His face, however, remained the perfect mask, and even if he was surprised on the inside, it didn't show. He pulled himself off the floor and gingerly dusted off his coat. "So, what, you want to kill me yourself, hm?" Slowly the Joker was beginning to put the pieces together—or so he thought. "You let Harvey get on your good side by promising him that he gets to kill me. He lets off a little steam, talks about revenge and chance and blah blah blah . . . and then you off him so you can have the honor of killing me yourself." The Joker stepped back and spread his arms wide, the perfect target. "Go on then. Shoot me. I'm right here." He licked his lips, tasting greasepaint. "I'll even step closer if you've got a bad aim," he offered.

Black Mask chortled, a low, deep sound that made the hairs on Taylor's arms stand on end. "I've got perfect aim," he said, tucking the gun back into his jacket.

From the table, Taylor watched, knowing that something wasn't right. She sat, trembling, as Black Mask kicked Harvey's gun to the other side of the room where it slid across the floor and hit the door. He wasn't taking any chances, not with the Joker.

"You think you understand everything," Black Mask began, moving closer, tucking his gun in the recesses of his jacket so he could freely gesture with his hands. "But you aren't really looking at the big picture. I'm disappointed, Joker."

The room fell silent, save for the wind rattling the panes of the window. It had stopped snowing, and was falling dark. "Then what is the big picture?" the Joker inquired lowly. There was no laughter in his voice, only dark, vicious intent shining in his eyes. He realized suddenly he wanted to rip this fucker's black throat right open, watch the blood seep onto the concrete floor, maybe smash in his skull with his foot until it was nothing but ashes and dust.

"The big picture is you and I."

The Joker smirked, his eyes glittering. "Roman, I didn't realize you were such a romantic. Lusting after me all this time, were you?"

Black Mask ignored his taunt, stepping even closer. "I meant what I said, about not wanting to kill you."

The Joker tongued at his lower lip. "Then please do enlighten me on what it is that you want."

"Look at us, Joker!" he bellowed suddenly. "We're two of the most powerful men in this city, you know that." The Joker was silent as Black Mask approached, baring all of his teeth in that shit-eating grin. "Imagine what we can do together. We can rule the city, you and I. Gotham could be ours. Envision the possibilities."

The possibilities. Oh, he could envision them alright. But Black Mask was not going to be a part of it. Cocking his head, the Joker contemplated the other's words, sucking in his cheeks in thought. "You want to join sides," he said matter-of-factly.

"This isn't about taking sides, Joker. This is about taking Gotham. This is about control, about taking a city that's rightfully ours for the taking. It's ruined and corrupt. You know that better than anyone. We can crush Batman. Take him down a notch like he deserves. We could kill him."

Briefly the Joker's eyes wandered towards Taylor. She was watching the two of them with terror, still seated on the table with her legs dangling over the side. He returned his gaze. "And if I refuse?"

Suddenly Black Mask's hands were on him, pushing him into the wall and gripping his neck with bruising intensity. "Why would you do something like that?"

The Joker grinned, resting his head back against the wall. "Because I think it's you who doesn't get the big picture here." He pressed an accusing finger into the lapel of Black Mask's coat. "You think we want the same things," he said in a sing-song voice, giggling. Then, suddenly, his voice lowered, and his eyes grew dark. "But. We. Don't."

Black Mask straightened, and if his features could have changed, the Joker was sure they would have. As it was, he was still grinning, even though his eyes had grown a shade darker. His shoulders tensed as well. "If you're not with me," he said, "then by definition you're against me." His grip around the Joker's neck tightened, and he cruelly slammed the clown's head back against the concrete wall. "Are you sure that's what you want?"

When the Joker's head hit the wall, Taylor screamed, sliding off the table and racing for the door.

Black Mask, momentarily distracted, looked towards her, remembering that he had kicked the gun in that direction. He realized too late that Taylor hadn't meant to grab it, and simply wanted to escape from the room. He stiffened when he suddenly felt the Joker's blade against his neck.

"Roman, Roman, Roman," he began dramatically as Taylor cowered by the door, whimpering in helpless frustration because it was too heavy for her to open. The Joker lowered his head so he was looking at Black Mask from beneath his brows. "You wanna know how I got these scars?"

Before Black Mask could utter a response, shouts suddenly sounded from the other side of the door, and the loud bang of a gunshot pierced through the warehouse. The Joker could feel his heart quicken. What if he's here? His tongue swept over his lips and he pushed back his hair with trembling, excited hands. It had been so long since they'd seen each other. . . .

Shoving Black Mask away with a grunt, the man went stumbling backwards as the Joker cracked his neck and strode towards the door, knife in hand. Taylor was pushed aside with little regard, even as she tried to reach out to him and called his name.

"Mr. J—!"

As the Joker wrenched the door open, the sound of gunfire and shouts was a welcome assault to his ears, and he grinned, also reaching quickly for Harvey's gun that still lay just inside the door, where Black Mask had kicked it.

It was Harvey's small legion of men against Black Mask's, it seemed, and the Joker couldn't help but roll his eyes. Can't everyone just get along for five minutes?

Then, suddenly, the lights began to flicker.

The Joker looked up, uninterested in the brawl around him as hot, electric sparks from the metal platform above crackled and fissured in random spurts. With alarming speed, it began happening throughout the entire warehouse, one bank of lights shutting off one right after the other.

Everyone stopped to watch, eyes wide with confusion, as a cold darkness enveloped the room. Silence had fallen over the warehouse now that nobody could see, and the sudden stillness was so deafening it was practically ear-shattering.

For a moment, no one knew what to do. Somewhere behind him, Taylor was breathing hard and fast, but she was interrupted by the familiar sound of sirens in the distance.

One, lone siren sounded at first, but others soon followed until the entire city had erupted into a horrifying chorus of wailing sirens.

With the main power supply cut, that meant the entire city was cloaked in darkness. The police would be arriving soon to investigate the cause.

The Joker smiled and pocketed the gun and his knife, suddenly reaching for Taylor and stifling her sharp cry by placing his hand over her mouth. "Change of plans," he whispered to her, giggling to himself as she trembled in his arms.

Despite the darkness, he knew exactly where he was going as he maneuvered through the warehouse.

The men were starting to shout again, confused and angry at the turn of events, but it was cut short at the sound of Black Mask's angry, booming voice.

"Find him!" he shouted. "I'm going to give that fucker something to smile about. He'll be grinning all the way to the back of his head when I'm done with him!" Bullet shells clinked the floor and the Joker knew Black Mask had just reloaded his gun.

This is about to get fun.

He was grinning when he reached the stairs. "I don't wanna go down here," Taylor cried into his chest when she realized they were descending a set of stairs.

"Are you afraid of the dark?" he asked, already knowing the answer.

In the darkness, she nodded. "Please."

The Joker smiled, ignoring her plea. "You should be. There are monsters down here."

She buried her face in the crook of his neck and gripped him tight, too scared to speak. But the Joker didn't slow his pace. He knew they needed to get out, and fast. At the bottom of the stairs, they were greeted with a long and narrow corridor and, at the end of it, a hint of outside light.

When he reached the double doors—with only two small squares cut out of the top for windows to let in the light—he punched in the proper code and the door was unlocked.

Outside, the cold hit him like a thousand ton of bricks, the wind whipping at his face, accompanied with violent swirls of snow. He could hardly see two feet in front of him, but he had no time to waste.

Just around the corner, at the back of the warehouse, a car sat waiting for him, just as he had been expecting. Wrenching the door open, he deposited Taylor into the backseat and shut the door before she could ask any questions.

It was only a second later when he felt the bullet rip through his flesh.

A pellet, barely the size of his thumb, just narrowly grazed his side, slicing through his jacket, vest, and undershirt, taking with it a sizable chunk of his flesh. Taylor screamed as the Joker fell back against the car, momentarily dazed.

She shrank back into her seat, horrified, as the Joker wheezed out a breathless laugh, touching his side and coming back with bloodied gloves. "He missed."

Another gunshot fired, this time hitting the passenger door, and the Joker didn't waste another second. He rounded the front of the car and quickly slipped into the driver's seat, starting the car as the engine revved to life. Another shot fired, hitting the back window and sending spider-webbed cracks across the glass.

Taylor didn't do anything but hold on for her life as the tires squealed against the ice-slicked pavement and car slid sideways before straightening itself. As blood trickled down his side, the Joker could hear himself laughing, even as Taylor began to cry in the backseat from the floor where she had ducked for cover.

The snow was getting heavier by the second, and if it weren't for the crunch of rocks beneath the gravel drive, the Joker wouldn't have been able to tell if he was even on the road. As it was, he couldn't see a thing. All he knew was that he needed to get away and fast. There wasn't much time left.

The gunshots had ceased now that he was out of range and driving quickly away, but only moments later, something suddenly slammed into the car head-on with enough impact to cause the airbags to deploy. They were brought to a crushing and startling halt.

He thought at first that he'd hit a tree, but he knew from the sound of metal on metal that he'd collided with another car. The Joker groaned, his head lolling back against the seat until a sharp intrusion in his neck caused him to pause. He gritted his teeth together, pulling out a shard of glass from his neck. Steam poured from the hood of the car, but it was snowing so hard he couldn't even see it. Minutes passed before he was able to able to move. Slowly, he twisted in his seat behind him to see Taylor sprawled across the floor, unconscious, with a large welt across her forehead.

He groaned again, opening the door only to be assaulted by a flurry of snow. He slid out of the car with a gruntand landed in the snow on his hands and knees, watching it become tainted with his blood.

Then, he paused.

He could feel those eyes on him even before he looked up. His hands clenched at his sides almost instinctively, and as he raised his head, loose tendrils of hair curling in the wind around him, none other than Batman stood before him, looking down at him with those dark, hard eyes. The Joker's smile stretched from ear to ear as he slowly, carefully rose, his hand clutched at his side at an odd angle, cradling his bloody wound. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw it was the tumbler that had collided with the car, even though the huge, tank-like vehicle was still very much in tact.

"You just couldn't stay away," he said, his words nearly lost in the winter storm around them. "Missed me, did you?"

"How did you escape?" Batman groveled in that all-too familiar voice.

"A little slow on the uptake, aren't ya? That was four months ago. Where have you been?" The Joker held back a wince at the sudden, sharp pain in his side, but didn't outwardly show it. "No matter. The important thing is that you're here, and Harvey's alive."

That got Batman's attention. The dark figure, cloaked in all black stepped closer, his hands clenched in tight fists at his sides. His gauntlets seemed to slice at the very snow around him. "What did you say?"

The Joker smiled. "Your precious White Knight is right in there," the Joker gestured to the power plant. "But things are going to be different this go around. Y'see, last time," he wheezed, partially bent at the waist so he could better breathe, "I left you with a choice. Who gets to be saved. But then . . . then I thought, what gives you the right to play God with other people's lives?"

"And you?" Batman challenged. "What gives you the right?"

"I don't have one. Ikill people out in the open. And you," the Joker interrupted himself with a raucous laugh, pointing an accusing finger at his nemesis, "you hide behind a mask and call it justice!" Batman only stared at him with that silent resistance the Joker so longed to break. "So," he started again, licking his chapped, red lips, "I decided to make things a bit easier this time, because people are going to die, and this time you won't be able to save them."

"Why should I believe you? I watched Harvey die, I—"

"—Killed him? Did you?" he narrowed his eyes. "Did you really? Is there blood on your hands?" he wondered, letting his gaze wander for a moment before he met Batman's eyes. "Did you really kill Rachel's squeeze-uh?"

Without a moment's hesitation, Batman lunged for him, and in one vast step had covered the space between them. He threw Joker against the side of the car.

"Ooh," he groaned, "I like that. It all feels so familiar. Gonna rough me up a little bit like last time?"

Batman snarled at him, about to press his gauntlets against the Joker's throat when an ear-splitting shot rang out. For a moment, they were both confused, but then Batman blinked, and the Joker watched as the caped crusader crumpled to the snow before his very eyes.

The Joker had been so distracted by Batman he hadn't noticed that the snowfall had lessened, and when his eyes met the dark figure's standing only yards away, he growled, his eyes ablaze as he reached for his knife.

Batman tried to lift himself off the ground as Black Mask approached. Blood was already pooling around his midsection, and he gripped it weakly, suddenly dizzy and hot.

"You fool!" the Joker roared to Black Mask.

"I told you I was going to take him down a notch," Black Mask said calmly, coming ever closer.

Before Black Mask could reach them, the Joker sidestepped Batman, and deftly reached for his gun, shooting Black Mask in the hip. It was nearly in the exact spot where Black Mask had shot Batman.

"Then let me take you down a notch, you arrogant son of a bitch." As Black Mask crumpled to the snow, the Joker laughed, even though he was far from the laughing mood. He cast a glance towards Batman where he was still lying in the snow, his black cape draped in white flakes of snow. He felt his fury growing, his blood beginning to boil like fire in his veins.

Black Mask, however, wasn't about to go down without a proper fight. The Joker circled him in the snow, looking down at him in disgust. "You are so below me," he heard himself saying. "You thought we were equals?" He snorted, kicking the man sharply in his bloodied ribs. Black Mask fell back into the snow with a grunt. The Joker grimaced, placing his boot over Black Mask's head and pushing it further into the ground. "I oughtta crush your skull right here and bury the leftover ashes in the snow."

Snarling, Black Mask suddenly grabbed the Joker's ankle, and, with surprising strength, was able to force him off balance and he toppled to the snow.

Not far off, the sound of police sirens reached their ears, and they both paused to catch their breath, listening as the sirens approached.

Without warning, Black Mask's visage suddenly flooded the Joker's vision, and he had little time to react when the large man made to swing at his jaw, his fist colliding against it with brute force. In turn, the Joker grabbed him by the neck before he could swing again, his gloved fingers seeking purchase in the warm flesh there and squeezing tight. He rolled them over and straddled Black Mask's waist, about to rip his fleshy, burnt skull to shreds.

He paused though when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw something move to his right. He looked to the spot to where Batman had been shot only to see blood-stained snow. Then, staggering up the road towards the warehouse, the Joker saw him.

No . . . .

The police sirens were getting louder, louder, but the Joker didn't hear any of it. It was as if everything was happening in slow motion now. Somewhere, policemen were approaching on foot, brandishing machine guns and yelling something he couldn't make out. The Joker scrambled off of Black Mask, his only intent to stop Batman from reaching the warehouse. He wasn't about to let his efforts be wasted.

Then, it happened.

Amidst the sirens, the chaos of the police force, and the shouts . . . the city exploded.

The detonators went off right on time, just as the Joker had planned, causing an explosion so powerful it knocked everyone off their feet and deafening their ears.

When he opened his eyes, orange flames licking the gray sky flooded his vision. He could hear nothing, only seeing the flames and black smoke in every direction he turned. Something wet trickled from his ears down the side of his neck. It took him a moment to realize it was blood.

When he lifted his head from the snow, everything was burning. Fire blazed wildly in the distance, flames dancing across the gray, snowy skyline, devouring everything in its path as large, black billows of smoke rose towards the sky. It was beautiful—like nothing he could have ever dreamed—watching his favorite city burn to ashes, knowing that he had caused it all. He had been the one toburn the city to the ground—and everyone had been powerless to stop him.

Perhaps it hadn't been in his original plans, but the arrival of Jacob had been too perfect to ignore, and he wasn't going to waste the opportunity to use such resources when they so arrived.

When the cops gunned him to the ground, he didn't put up a fight, and he couldn't hear them. He could only see the shapes of their mouths moving, yelling at him as they grabbed his wrists and forced them behind his back to be handcuffed.

And he laughed through it all, reveling in the destruction and chaos around him, the blazing fire and the feeling of sheer panic. Chaos had never tasted so mouth-watering.

He licked his lips and searched for Batman as the officers pulled him to his feet, wanting to see the caped crusader one last time before they locked him up again. But everywhere he looked, the Dark Knight was nowhere to be found. Black Mask was there, bleeding in the snow and vainly trying to fight off the GPD, but Batman had escaped.

The two officers leading him to the police cruiser held him roughly by either arm, yelling at him above the fray, yet he still could hear nothing. It wasn't until her voice—Taylor's hysterical, high-pitched screams—that he was able to register sound again. He heard her scream and instinctively craned his neck to find her. She was stumbling out of the wrecked car, racing towards him through the snow, covered in blood as tears streaming down her face and crying his name over and over again.

The officers forced the Joker into the back of a cruiser as Taylor let out a blood-curdling scream, reaching him just in time to almost get her fingers caught in the door as the officer shut it. She clawed in vain at the windows, screaming, as the Joker laughed, smiling even as his side ached for him to stop and blood gushed freely from his wound.

Someone reached for Taylor, prying her away from the window, but she fought hard, kicking her legs, crying for him, for the Joker, to save her, to rescue her.

And all the while he laughed, cackling breathlessly as he watched her being dragged away in a screaming fit of panic.

Her screamed echoed in his mind for days after.

The Joker though, felt satisfied. Now that he knew Batman hadn't hung up the cape for good, he confident they could easily resume their game again, just like old times.

And soon, when he got out of this dump, he would rebuild the city he had so beautifully destroyed. Gotham would be revived in the likes of which it had never seen, and everything would run just. Like. Clockwork.

Author's Notes: My friends, it is with great pleasure that after four long years, I finally end this wonderful journey. Thank you for fueling my passion for this story and for this fandom. Without you all, I never would have pursued writing like I have. You have my deepest and utmost respect as well as my thanks. Also, any final comments you may have regarding the overall story would be greatly appreciated.

Despite having told some of you I would never do this, I've had a change of heart, and thus only one more thing to say:

I've written a sequel.