Method

"Though this be madness, yet there is a method."-Shakespeare

He sees him everywhere now, the Batman, the FlyingRatMan. Gotham's protector, the flame to the Joker's moth. He sees the Batman everywhere, in everyone. Businessmen, cops, secretaries, whores, teachers, bums. All of them could be Him, any single one of them could be in the suit. Little things like appropriate muscle mass or the correct chin don't matter when the Joker was looking for Batman. He could be anyone, that's part of what made Him frustrating, alluring. He could be anyone, and the Joker would take apart the city to get to him.

It's not like anyone else in skyscraper prison cell that is Gotham matters anyway. They may as well be cardboard cutouts on a movie set, for all the dimension they have. Boring wastes of life and air. Aside from Him, and the Joker of course. Sometimes other people pop gloriously into 3-D, like Harvey-Harvey-Harvey Dent, but they're always short-lived. Except the Batman.

He meant what he told the two-faced D.A. The Joker wouldn't know what to do if he ever actually caught up to the Batman, but that doesn't mean he's without ideas. They run through his head, playing behind his eyes on the fractured screen of his mind. Glorious, bloody things, sweet like the smell of licorice and gunpowder.

(He has a fuzzy memory of being a kid, exploring in the woods and coming across an injured bat, squeaking and thrashing on the forest floor. Sometimes, he remembers picking the bat up, taking it home, nursing it tenderly back to health, and letting it loose. Other times, he squeezes the life out of it, watching in fascination as its eyes bulge and its blood runs dirty red between his fingers.

He's pretty sure that it never actually happened. Or maybe it is the only clear memory he has, and when he saw the blurry pictures of Gotham's new hero with a familiar silhouette, it had all clicked into place.

It doesn't matter. What's in the past is in the past. That's his motto, occasionally.)

Before he'd been sent to Arkham (how was a man supposed to get any thinking done with hallways smelling of bleach and screaming patients and bleeding nurses, honestly, the service in this place) the Joker had taken people off the street, on the off chance that they might be Him. He would cut them open and look for Batman in them, but He was never there. Just pink guts and red blood. And screaming, but that usually stopped after their vocal cords were slit. Of course, that usually slit their throats, too. Torture wasn't an exact science, otherwise the Joker wouldn't do it. The only science that interested him was what beautiful burning chemical reaction might result in the biggest bang. Also, whatever went into making waterproof makeup. Pretty hard to get these days.

The Joker kept taking people, though. Cops had seemed most promising, but they all went out with a fizzle. It was a supreme disappointment, like a match dropped into a puddle of oil. (The oil snuffed a match out. It might as well just be dirty water. The key to a proper burn was to get the match just above the surface, where the fumes were thick and pungent. Nature did the rest.) None of them were the Batman, and the Joker knew that Batman wouldn't allow himself to be caught, wouldn't writhe and beg just because of a few knives pulling his guts out through his belly. The Batman wouldn't die. He wouldn't just leave the Joker behind; they were locked in a crash course that could only end when they were both destroyed. One without the other was off-balance, and the very thought of it made him shudder. Chaos was only worthwhile when there was Order to disrupt. Otherwise, it was like screaming into a void, like screaming at the ceiling of your padded cell when there wasn't a camera watching. Senseless.

But…the Joker kept taking people anyway, kept looking for Batman. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result, and he'd hate to disappoint his audience.

They'd catch up to each other eventually, he knew it. It was inevitable. Eventually, he'd get to Batman, and then it would go quick. It couldn't go any other way. Once he gave Him that little push-

"Madness, as you know, is like gravity."

-they would spiral faster and faster, like a top going off its axis. He leaned against the walls of his cell, straightjacket scratchy against his arms, and imagined sliding into the Batman. It would not be quick, it would not be gentle, and it would burn like nitroglycerin. He wouldn't have it any other way. He'd leave the mask on, thought, because once he actually had Batman, what difference did it make who He was? Whatever miserable little alter ego He'd cooked up for himself was as much a mask as the Joker's face paint. Strip away all their covering, peel back their masks and skin, get right down into the nitty gritty, and they were the Joker and the Batman. They always would be. Forever, until they burned each other up alive and screaming.

The Joker smiled up at the ceiling of the cell, shifting a little. Batman probably wouldn't let the Joker bend him over, come to think of it. He was the kind of man who liked causing scars, and the Joker respected that. Never underestimate the power of good, interesting scars. Just look where they'd gotten him!

Batman's fingers would leave bruises that went to the bone, the Joker was sure of it. Just the right shade of purple. (His next suit would be that color, he decided.) It would be the best kind of pain, mutual self-destruction. They would destroy each other from the inside out. It was only a matter of time, and the Joker had all the time in the world.

He lay against the floor of the padded cell, the fabric rough against his cheek and smelling like urine. He'd stay in Arkham for a few more days, just to make sure that he'd checked out all the amenities and established his credentials among the lunatics. It wouldn't do any good for them to start thinking that they could be the next Joker, as if all it took was a little mental instability and a smile. But he'd show them one or two magic tricks, and they'd get the picture. In the meantime, there was an entire hospital full of well-meaning psychologists desperate to have a chat with him. It would be a good way to pass the time, seeing how many stories they could take before they started screaming. The one about the powdered glass, the lawyer, and the sledgehammer always slayed them.

And once he was tired of it, he'd leave. The Joker smiled again. If they thought one measly little high-security mental institution could keep him away from his fun, he hadn't scared Gotham the way he'd hoped. Oh well, plenty of time for that as well.

The Joker closed his eyes, and listened to the sound of squeaking bats and screaming coming from down the hall.