A/N: I've never been one to let a good idea go to waste, especially one that explores different facets and views of the same thing. I always wonder just what I can discover when I look at something differently – say, looking at a murder through the victim's eyes or through an observer's eyes. I have that same sense of interest with fiction, especially when we don't see a lot of a certain character or don't want to see a lot of a character, and so it is with this story. In The Dark Knight, we never really get to know Brian, also known as one of the Bat-Imposters that prevented Batman from busting that drug ring at the beginning for good. Aside from that, Brian was the Bat-Imposter that the Joker murdered on camera – which is also one of my favorite scenes in the movie, oddly enough. However, we really only see it from Bruce's perspective and, in a way, the Joker's perspective. What I'm curious about is this – what was Brian's perspective? What was he thinking and feeling during the making of the murder? I wrote this story, The Joke's On You, to answer that. I hope you enjoy it.
Oh, and one more interesting tidbit – this entire story sprang from a Joker button that I own. It's a very stylized image of the Joker's face paint that says "The joke's on you" scribbled in black ink. You might've seen them if you went to Hot Topic around the time the movie was released on DVD and BluRay. I thought the saying would make a good title for a story, but as of then I had no story for the title! A little brainstorming led me to the idea for this story, and the rest, as the cliché goes, is history.
NOTE: I did play a little fast and loose with the Joker's dialogue in this scene, but I tried to get it to as close to what I heard in the audio for this scene, so if there's any errors or additional added lines, that's probably why. If you do see something major, though, please respectfully point it out to me and I will fix it unless it would mess up the story as a whole. Thank you.
Disclaimer:I do not own Batman, The Dark Knight, or the Joker. All footage I used to get the lines right is the property of Time Warner, inc. That is to say, none of this is mine.
Those two simple, singular thoughts are the first things to ripple through my mind as I awaken from a strange dreamless, restless sleep, feeling almost drunk with grogginess.
… It's quiet.
Unnervingly so. Eerily quiet. Absolutely silent.
I hate absolute silence. It's… unnatural. Nothing good can come from sheer silence…
I open my eyes, not effortlessly, to find my vision blurry, only capable of seeing dingy black blobs swimming amongst a monotonous grey.
My head is killing me…
I groan in agony at the pulsing headache. God, what happened? It feels like a semi hit me…
My vision slowly clears, allowing me to see my surroundings. There's something – no, several somethings – hanging from the ceiling in a sturdy line, like enormous bats clustered in a cave. Stacks of crates line one of the walls, some neatly stacked, some lying haphazard. Barrels stand sentry by what I think is a door; I can't tell from here.
The faint, unpleasant sound of dripping echoes as it hits the concrete floor, a soft plip marking each droplet of fluid like the soft ticking of a clock in an empty room, and the smell of raw meat and blood permeates the air. Wherever this place is, it's obviously some sort of slaughterhouse or meat warehouse, judging by the stench and the look of those hanging black blobs…
I shiver slightly. I don't like this… This kind of thing – waking up in a slaughterhouse – never ends well in the movies. And if that's the case…
I look down at myself, suddenly realizing that I'm tied to something that feels like a metal folding chair, I can't tell in the dark. My legs feel like they're stuck to the legs – no, tied to them – and my hands… my hands feel like they've been bound behind my back; I can feel the rope cutting through my thick black gloves... I'm struggling as hard as I can, but everything's holding good. Too good…
A wave of panic washes over me. Have I been kidnapped?
Calm down, Brian. Panicking now won't help. There is a way out of this. All you need to do is backtrack a little…
I peer down at my clothing.
That's it! I remember now! Some of the guys and I heard about a drug ring or something, and we wanted to help out. That's why I'm dressed like this… but where's my cowl? I spent all night making that thing…
Never mind, it's not a big deal. Gotta focus on remembering…
… Yeah, that's what we were doing. Getting ready to spread our own little bat-wings and deliver a little vigilante justice of our own. I mean… we knew he'd show, it was obvious, but we… we didn't think he'd show that early.
We should've known better than to doubt a living legend.
He was more imposing in person, as I recall, but a little shorter than you'd think. I remember watching him take out those mobsters in epic style, but those dogs… A few of the mobsters got away, and I think he blames us for it. It wasn't our fault though – we only wanted to help…
I remember that after that, he drove off in that awesome car of his (Damn, that thing is so cool!), and some of us stayed to speak to the police about what happened. We still wanted to help out in some way, even if the Batman was angry with us. After that, I'm pretty sure the majority of us, including me, went home.
The last thing I remember is that I was walking back to my apartment. I think I was nervous for some reason, paranoid someone was following me or something, but I'm not sure…
… And now… now, I'm stuck here, someplace I've never seen or wanted to see in my life, and I have no clue how I got here. Wonderful.
I feel… Who's watching me?
I look up suddenly, fearing the worst, but see nothing. But the nagging doubt that I'm not alone won't go away… I swear there's someone here, someone behind me…
I whip my head around to glance behind me, craning my neck in an attempt to see, but I'm not seeing anything. I turn back the right way. There… there can't just be nothing there… I felt someone watching me, I'm sure of it! I'm sure I –
There's something! A silhouette of a man, leaning against the wall. And he's close. Uncomfortably so. He's leaning against the wall only a few feet away from me.
The man, whoever he is, is tall and slender, and his hair hangs messily in his face. I can't see his eyes – the darkness is too thick and his hair obscures them – but I still have a really bad feeling about his hidden gaze… something in his eyes is… wrong. Dark. Almost… mocking.
Dear God, I don't like this… I want to hide. I want to run away, to get somewhere safe, somewhere that I'd never have to feel those intense, dark eyes upon me again...
I reflexively struggle, though I know it won't get me anywhere. It's as if every muscle, every nerve, every fiber of my being knows who and what this man is and despises his purpose, whatever that is.
… God, he's so close… How come I didn't spot him earlier?
The unknown man chuckles darkly, as if something about me were… absolutely hilarious. I shiver. That laugh…
The lights above me flare to life, and the sudden, intense brightness nearly blinds me, reducing me to a squint.
"Oh, I hate, uh… when that happens. Light gets all in yer eyes. Hurts somethin' aaaaawwfulll…"
I feel a cold, numbing fear course through my veins. T-that voice… I… I remember that voice – the grating, rough speech that seems to stab the words it speaks, torturing and twisting them until they beg mercy. It… savors the words, speaking deliberately, lingering on each one in a strange, warped cadence that no sane human being would ever be able to copy…
I tremble. I tremble because I know now who the speaker is. I know, because I had heard the speaker before, earlier tonight when I was on my way home. Right before I blacked out…
A wave of fear and memories wash over me as my eyes slowly begin to adjust to the light. The voice, the ambush, the blur of purple and green behind me, the panicked run home that I never made…
There, I can see now! I –
I shriek in terror at the sight before me, trembling before a face so utterly terrifying that it must've crawled out of my nightmares.
My horrified eyes are staring into another pair of eyes so black and soulless that I can see my own terrified reflection in them. Ringing them are two smears of black, oily greasepaint, and they sit in a masculine face so coated in cracked, ghost white face paint that it seems more natural than the few glimpses of the skin I can see beneath it. The face's mouth grins at me without expression, courtesy of two carved, poorly healed scars extending from each corner like jagged fissures. Something red, blood red, is smeared over them, giving the impression of a much larger smile than was humanly possible. Stringy hair the color of slimy seaweed hangs around the face as if it beaten into submission. Perhaps the most horrific thing, however, was watching those scarred lips creep upwards into a mad grin, a dark delight dancing in those black eyes…
"Well, good mornin', sunshine!"
The hideous mockery of a clown laughed madly, and the sound made me panic all the more. I'm… trapped with this… thing, trapped in this chair, and he's laughing at me… I can't even struggle for fear, I can't think, all I can do is stare in trembling, whimpering terror, almost awestricken with fear. And at this, he only laughs harder, louder, and he won't stop. It's… insane, inhuman. Chilling. So chilling that I swear it's frozen every droplet of blood in my veins; that's the only explanation I can come up with for why I'm a helpless, trembling wreck that's too terrified to scream. It's as if he's put me into some sort of horrible trance, a sinister, silencing spell that binds the body and tangles the tongue, translating every spoken word into fearful, meaningless stammers.
His horrible laughter slowly dies down into a chuckle that, while much tamer, isn't helping my nerves any.
"Oh, I, ah, love how they always stare like that," the clown said with a smirk. "Think it'll get 'em saved. Thing is, not one person in this whole town cares about 'em. Nobody wants 'em safe, 'cause then the news'll have nothin' to, uh… entertain the masses with."
He stoops down in front of me, his horrible face mere inches from mine, and no matter how desperately I want to move, to get far away from him, all I can do is stare in fear, like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming semi. My eyes drift to his heavily scarred mouth, and I shudder. I can't imagine how painful that must've been – or who would do such a horrific thing to someone.
Perhaps that's what drove him bonkers. Perhaps that's why the very atmosphere around him radiates madness…
Shit, I think he's noticed that I'm staring. He's smirking at me, and – No, no! Let go of my face! I don't want to look at you!
"Cuuuurious little fella, aren't ya?" He pauses to lick at the corner of his mouth, and the effect is sickening. "Ya wanna know how I got 'em?"
NO! No, no, for the love of God, no! I don't want to know! Why can't I just say something, anything to make him stop?
"So…" he pauses, almost seeming to consider something. The silence hangs still and tense in the chilly air.
"… So," he continues. His hand still holds an iron grip on my chin; I can already feel the bruises beginning to form. "I was a young boy, right? There was, ah, there was this boxer I was absolutely obsessed with. Now, my dear mother doesn't like it, thinks it's unhealthy. She swears up and down that if I don't shut up about him, she'll get rid'a everything to do with him. Doesn't like how violent boxing is, she says. Doesn't like how he's got scars on his face, thinks it's a bad influence on my poor little mind! But I just can't keep my damn mouth shut, and sure enough, she gets rid of everything to do with him, sells it while I'm at school, tosses it in the trash, shreds it in the paper shredder… And I was just so upset…"
His face softens, but I'm not fooled one bit by it. It's just a mask, and no mask, however clever, could hide the dark flare in his eyes…
"I… I had nothin' left to honor him with. I felt cheap, and I wanted, needed to show just how much I loved that boxer… So one night, when momma's asleep in her bed and I'm wide awake, I sneak into the kitchen and I take momma's best knife…"
He pulls out a knife.
Dear God, he pulls out a knife…
It's as if someone has jabbed my heart with a needle. My mind screams with panic, every synapse yelling at me to run…
But I can't. I can't run, I can't hide, I can't go anywhere. No matter how desperately I wish to get away, I can't. I'm bound to a metal chair in a slaughterhouse, paralyzed with terror and threatened by a nightmarish clown with a knife.
… I'm trapped.
I know he can see the brimming fear in my eyes. His own black orbs are flickering with what I can only describe as inward laughter… and he's smiling at me, grinning like a wolf would at its prey.
"So, I take the knife" – The smile never leaves his face for a second – "And I stick it in my mouth like this."
… I can't help it. Even in my terror, I can't help but notice how swift and practiced his motions are, even in an act as simple and setting a blade in my mouth. Not a single centimeter of skin is cut – not yet. It's the touch of a well-practiced master, almost comical in its grace. And the funny thing is, his face is almost serene-looking, as if recalling a fond memory. It'd be fascinating if I weren't so terrified.
"And," he continues, his voice about as soothing as the sound of a pencil sharpener, "I do… this…" He withdraws the knife and makes a vague upward motion towards his face with it.
I relax, if you could call collapsing in exhaustion 'relaxed', and let out the breath I hadn't known I'd been holding. Those few tense moments with that knife between my lips had seemed like an eternity… If a Hell exists anywhere in this universe, and I'm pretty sure it doesn't, then those last few minutes were surely it.
He paces now, restlessly, as if… displeased with my momentary ease, almost like he's bored. He licks his lips again, slower this time, more out of some strange habit than thought…
Dear God, stop doing that! It's disgusting…
I shudder. Such a simple action… On a normal person, it would be acceptable, but on this terror of a man, it somehow made him seem even more horrific – an implacable predator licking its chops at its captive prey, patiently scanning for some weakness, any weakness, watching, waiting…
"What's yer name, kid?" He grins wolfishly, showing badly yellowed teeth.
I flick my eyes towards the knife in his hand, nervous and reluctant to answer. I don't want to hear his voice, his grating, mad voice, speak my name. But if I don't tell him…
"B-B-Brian…" I stammer quietly.
"Hmm?" He leans closer, and I shudder. "I didn't… quite catch that…"
He sounds sincere enough, but his expression is clearly mocking – a toothy grin distorts his scars strangely; his eyes glitter with mirthless laughter…
I whimper. Even the simple act of smiling made him seem inhuman.
"B… B-Brian…" I mutter, slightly louder this time.
"Bri-aaaannnn…" He draws the name out, tasting it, savoring the way his voice distorts it. I flinch at the harshness of it, and he giggles madly at my discomfort.
This is bad, Brian. This is very, very bad. He knows your name, he knows you're afraid, and he knows you're helpless. You've just ceded all power to him… He's in control of you now, Brian, the way a puppet master controls a marionette…
I tremble at that thought. I'm now completely powerless against this madman, and he knows it. The sheer wicked delight in his demonic gaze tells me so. I'm screwed, fucked, damned, and so very, very many other words…
My shoulders collapse in hopelessness… It's all over. I'm doomed. And whatever fate this monster has in store for me is surely something horrific.
He turns away from me, granting me a moment of temporary ease. I can hear him fumbling with something – he's muttering and swearing at the thing, obviously something handheld.
My heart skips a beat. Oh, God. What if he's loading a gun?
A soft click.
No no no no I'm gonna DIE oh God no…
"There we go!" He says triumphantly, and he turns to face me again. He holds a handheld camera; it looks very new. He probably stole it from some unfortunate chain or another.
"Now…" He fumbles with the zoom, the lens, the strap. "Hm. Yer in luck, kid. I'm gonna make you famous! A big star. You'll be the most well-known man in Gotham City! Everyone'll know your name. You'll be in the papers, in the tabloids, all over the news…"
A sickly wave of panic rises in my throat, and it tastes like bile. Dear God, no… He's… he's going to make a snuff film of me. He's gonna kill me on camera and publish it, murder me and then parade my death around like an exhibit. I'm going to die…
A shriek tears from my lips as I struggle with my thick rope bonds. Terror floods my mind, surging around inside of it like a speeding shark bearing down upon its prey. I scream and scream and scream and the sound blocks all else and then I scream more and –
"Shut up!" A stinging slap hits my face, and I snap out of my terror – but only just. He's glaring at me; his eyes flare with anger. God, if looks could kill…
I whimper and bow my head, ashamed. I had let him win. But no more. I refuse to let him get the better of me. If I'm condemned to die, then by God, I'm not going to let myself die a miserable coward!
Click. The camera is rolling…
I don't look up. I don't dare to.
"Tell me your name…"
He sounds almost fatherly, but I'm not fooled. And why does he want my name again? Never mind that, angering him right now would be a very, very bad idea…
"B-Brian," I stammer, still staring at the floor.
He giggles ever so slightly, and then it hits me. He doesn't want to know my name… he wants them to know my name. He wants every single viewer in Gotham to know who his victim is.
"Are you the real Batman?" He says it deliberately, as if speaking to a retarded child. What, is he trying to calm me down before he mercilessly slaughters me? Because if so, it's really not working well…
"N-no…" I mumble, my voice cracked by despair and fear.
"No?" He says it almost compassionately. As if he's able to show compassion.
"No?" He breaks into a mad giggle. "Then why do ya dress up like him?"
I'm… not entirely sure how to answer that. No, I'm not Batman, and yes, I did dress like him to help, but…
No. I didn't help. I only thought I could help…
I don't answer.
He pulls out the cowl – my cowl – and dangles it in front of me tauntingly, but I barely notice it. Did I really think I was ready to go run around Gotham at night, fighting crime, dressed like my hero? I'm not Batman. I'm no vigilante, no hero. I'm just Brian.
Don't say that, Brian. He's trying to make you feel horrible. He's just mocking you, trying to make you lose both your cool and your mind. He's just a bully, nothing more.
… I can't let him get to me. I won't let him. I refuse.
"He's… he's a symbol..." I swallow a hard lump of fear in my throat and lock eyes with my captor. "That… that we don't have to be afraid of scum like you..."
… He's looking at me as if he's bored, as if he's heard it all before… as if it's the most ridiculous statement ever said. Oh, he knows how blatantly false my courage is; that I'm really nothing more than a scared little boy attempting to stare down a hungry, man-eating lion – and he's relishing it, enjoying it like the very finest of fine wines.
"Yeah…" He trails off, again speaking to me as if speaking to a child. "You do, Brian." His scarred mouth curls into a twisted smile. "You really do…"
I tremble at those words, whimpering in fear and discomfort, and he grabs hold of my face, petting it, mumbling sounds of comfort and failing to make me feel better… It will be over soon enough, his actions say, You'll be dead soon. It won't matter anymore. Nothing will matter anymore…
I don't dare look at him anymore. I squeeze my eyes shut.
"So… you think Batman's made Gotham a better place? Hmm?" He speaks as if he's making casual conversation, as if we're doing nothing more than talking over a nice, pleasant lunch. Dear God, I wish that were the case…
"… Look at me."
He sounds… displeased, as if I've done something terribly rude.
I don't open my eyes. I don't want to see him anymore, don't want to see the dark flicker of his eyes…
"LOOK AT ME!"
I jump in shock and fear. He's getting angry, and the last thing I want right now is for him to be angry…
I open my eyes, barely suppressing my shuddering. My face feels wet all of the sudden. This man… this is no man. It's a monster with a painted, scarred face and a fake smile. It's… something inhuman, a creature that feeds on the fear born of chaos. And it knows – it knows – that soon enough, it will have its fill of chaos, courtesy of the unassuming, ever-watching city. Millions of eyes, millions of people, millions of terrified souls all watching, and the one man who could save them watching along with them. Dear God, it was taunting him. Baiting him with people he knew, people he had just argued with, people he had just met not that long ago. People he could've saved…
… People like me.
It's… talking to itself, I don't know – no, it's talking to the camera. To them, its future captive audience. I'm not paying any attention, I'm still too jarred by his angry roar to think straight, too panicked. Every thought is a struggle… what is he saying?
"Ya see, this is how crazy Batman's made Gotham!" It giggles, as if trying to recover from a hilarious joke. "If you want order in this city, Batman must take off his mask… and turn himself in." It licks its chops thoughtfully.
Wait, that's all it was planning to do? All it wanted was for Batman to step down and show everyone his identity?
The news is horrifying, but I can't help but feel the faintest spark of hope. Was it merely using me as bait for Batman, never intending to kill me? Could it be that I might actually survive this nightmare?
"Oh…" It grins dangerously. "And every day he doesn't, people. Will. Die... Starting tonight! I'm a man of my word..."
It's – No, wait, what's it doing?! This isn't how it was supposed to work! No! NO! Oh God I'm bleeding gonna die bleeding oh God oh God oh G-
Hm. What a, uh… terrible mess this is. Blood everywhere – the walls, the floor, Brian… And my nice coat. Just washed this thing, dammit. Not a problem though – red and purple look so wonderful together…
Poor Brian. Poor, uh… poor Brian. Heheh. Never had a chance, did he? No chance at all. But at least he's been… immortalized, bloody, gory mess that he is. He's a star, and –
No! No, he not! Not yet!
Knife in knife out hahaha tearing slicing ripping flesh
There… now he's really star-worthy, another Black Dahlia for the city to meet – and he's got the smile to prove it! Could use a little make-up, though. He's kinda, ah, pale.
Oh, but he did a wonderful… wonderful job in his role. His first… and last role… And by this time tomorrow, every little sheep in the city will know his name, know his face, know his role by heart. The masses will have the delightfully dangerous gorefest they've always relied on the evening news to provide. And all the little Gothamites will watch wide-eyed, sharing in my little joke when all the while the joke's been on them. Because not a single person in this city is safe, no matter how many men in bat suits come to 'help'.
Ahahahaha. Heheheh. Heh. 'Help'.
Sorry. My bad. I just can't resist a good laugh.
I suppose I should thank you, Brian, for your time and uh, commitment to the camera. You've made a wonderful actor and an even better victim. The Bat'll never know what hit him. But how can I… repay you for your stellar work?
Oh, I know! I'll take you to the masses. Send you with a little message for the batty-bat. I'm sure people'll be screaming for you.
Screaming. Heheheh. That's brilliant; I slay myself. Aheheheh. And you. I'm full of 'em tonight. Too bad I don't have anyone to share them with. Death kinda prevents you from hearing.
… Oh, but I'm sure Gotham'll be a more than willing audience. Let's see if they… get the joke.