Title: Tea for Two

Beta: Lady of Scarlet

Rating: PG-13

Summary: What would make the Joker stop killing? What would make Batman stop fighting?

Authors Note: This is mostly an attempt to write the impossible, Joker/Batman. Honestly, they probably won't make it into a real relationship, because 90% of the time, I realize it would be so much funnier if they didn't—and pseudo homoerotic relationships amuse me in massively inappropriate ways.

Disclaimer: These characters are the property of DC comics, and I have no association with that company. This is for fun, not profit.

MONDAY MORNING

It takes a long, long time for Batman to crack. A road of slaughtered bodies a mile long, and a list of wounded longer than his arm. But finally, brought to his knees by one more senseless slaughter, one last grinning corpse, Batman asks.

"Why?"

The Joker pauses as he cuts the little girl open, looking at him. "Why what?" Her still body seeps blood, but she is long gone.

"Why do you keep killing? What do you gain from it?" Batman sits down, watching the Joker dissect the child with morbid curiosity. She is dead, and not going to get any better, so why bother stopping him?

The Joker laughs, and props the kid up, leaning her against his chest. Hands, sticky with blood, play with her gold curls. "Because there's nothing else to do?" He grabs her wrist and makes her wave at Batman, her tiny hand flopping limply. "Because I can?"

"It's that simple?" Batman asks, the weight of failure leaning into him. His shoulders sag, and he looks away from the body of the little girl. "That's—all?"

"No, of course not." The Joker sounds offended, and the little girl falls forward onto the roof top. Batman looks up, watching as the Joker begins to pace. "There's more, of course there's more!" His hands are streaked with blood.

"What more?" Batman knows that he should stop the Joker now (should have stopped him hours ago) but he's so damn tired of this song and dance. The girl smiles at him from the ground, and he looks away.

"There's—passion. And it's fun! I run, you chase. Cops and robbers." The Joker kneels in front of Batman, and blocks his view of the girl. He'd been staring again. The Joker crouches down lower, so he can meet Batman's eyes. "What's wrong, Bats?"

"What if I didn't chase?" Batman asks, staring into the Joker's eyes from far too close, but unable to care enough to move.

"Then no one would ever catch me." The Joker replies. He pokes Batman's chest, and giggles. "I'd kill and kill and kill until you had to chase me."

Batman sighs. "What would make you stop?"

"Dying." The Joker leans back, staring at Batman with sudden interest. "Or—I don't know. If I had something better to do."

"Like what?" Batman stares at her. She hadn't been very old, and now she wasn't yet cold.

The Joker sits down next to him with an air of barely suppressed glee. "Are you giving up Mr. Bat?" He laughs, settling into Batman's personal space. "Is that what this is?"

Batman doesn't respond. Her eyes had been brown, before.

The Joker hit him, an open handed slap across the back of his head. Batman sways under the blow.

Time stretches, then snaps. "Well this is no fun," the Joker pouts. He's looking at Batman, face too close again. "You aren't even paying attention now."

Batman's gaze shifts back to him for a second, but the wind sends a strand of hair across her face, and he can't help but to watch.

"How disappointing," the Joker muttered, before laughing again. "I know! I won't kill anyone until next Monday, if you'll have tea with me then."

It's far too late for a child to be up.

SUNDAY

"The Joker has escaped." Commissioner Gordon is smoking again. His coat smells like ashes and his fingers twitch for cigarettes.

"Again?" Batman replies. It hardly seems worth the effort to chase him down any more. Like tying up a cat with spaghetti. It always gets away. "How many dead?"

"None."

"Injured?"

"None." Gordon frowns. "They said he pushed one guard out of the way, but that was all."

Batman jumps off the side of the roof, swinging away on a thin rope. He hasn't slept since last Sunday.

MONDAY

Monday dawns, and Bruce is still awake. Tracking the Joker with the Batcave's computers, and watching the lovely way that the words curl and spin, like tiny dancing letters. He isn't getting anything done, but it seems hardly necessary to hunt when the Joker will appear within days, a pile of bodies ten feet deep beneath him. Batman's effort is ineffectual.

He shoves himself away from the command centre, jerking to his feet. Bruce lacks his usual grace, tripping on invisible cracks in the floor, but he cannot stop walking. Circles that become semi-circles that become squares that become triangles.

The alarm beeps twice when night falls, and Bruce turns on the news to see what the Joker has done this time, what atrocities, what tragedies.

"The Joker has been sighted at Central Park. A mass warning has been put out, recommending that no one leaves home until the situation clears up."

A montage of the Joker's crimes plays in the background. Bruce watches it all again, remembering the smell of smoke, the taste of blood, the touch of failure. He sways, unduly hypnotized by the computer screen.

The Public Safety Warning reads out twice more before he turns to the scattered parts of his suit, gathering them. He encases himself into a different persona, and today it doesn't help.

Batman stumbles getting into the Batmobile, and when he drives, the world blurs around him.

MONDAY NIGHT

There're dozens of cop cars scattered around the park, cops fidgeting nervously as they glanced toward the dark. Crime in the rest of the city will double or triple tonight, all so the Joker can have a really big audience to stand by uselessly.

Batman parks a block away, and walks the rest. He knows the cops are staring, but it doesn't matter right now. Sneaking is so much useless effort when the trees hide him from view within seconds.

He can hear the Joker singing, so Batman follows the sound of his voice, staggering over tree roots and branches.

The song stops, and he has no idea what it was. The Joker is watching him, sitting at the top of the playground's slide. Moonlight gleams on the edges of the painted metal. There are no clouds tonight.

The Joker waves an invitation, and all Batman can think is where are all the bodies? Because there's no one dead that he can see, which means that they must be somewhere that he can't see.

The Joker waves again, and Batman stumbles forward. He wishes he could sleep.

"I brought tea," the Joker says. There's a thermos in his hand. "But I forgot cups."

Batman stills, not quite sure how to respond. He remembers a dead child, and something that may have been a promise, may have been a joke.

The Joker slides down the slide. "Cat got your tongue?" he says cheerfully, taking a seat at the picnic table. He unscrews the lid of the thermos, and drinks straight from the flask. "Hmmm?"

Batman sits across from him, knowing there's something he should be doing, but unable to remember what. "Why are you here?" he finally asks. He isn't interested in the answer, which frightens him, because he should be.

"I'm here for tea. Why are you here?" The Joker offers Batman the thermos.

Batman takes it, and, after a moment of hesitation, drinks deep. It's gritty with sugar, and cloyingly sweet, but it is hot. It's also the only thing he's consumed in recent memory. "I'm here…" he trails off.

It's dark and quiet in the park. The crackle of police radios is audible, but distant. His head hurts.

"Bats?" The Joker's voice is barely a whisper, and Batman wonders why he's being so quiet.

The Joker steps back and sniffs the thermos suspiciously. He didn't put anything strange in it, did he? He frowns as he tries to remember. Tea… Sugar… Water. Those were the ingredients for tea, weren't they?

And yet, the Bat has collapsed. Lying prone across a picnic table, and doesn't that look silly? The Joker uses one long white finger to poke him, but Bats doesn't respond at all, just lies there, head pillowed on his arms.

How odd. The tree branches rustle in agreement.

The Joker leans against the picnic table and studies his very best mortal enemy. If he didn't know better, he'd think that the Bat was asleep. But bats sleep upside down, hanging from their feet. Animal Planet was very clear about that.

Batman shifts restlessly, and Joker realizes that maybe the Bat is trying to sleep. He must be very tired, to seek rest in the middle of their playtime. The Joker pauses as something very much like sympathy wells up from his pancreas. Sometimes he gets tired too, usually when he's drugged.

This simply won't do. If the Bat is too tired to play, then he needs a proper rest, none of this picnic table nonsense, the Joker decides.

…the slide looks high enough.

When Batman wakes up, his hands are dragging through gravel. Blood rushes to his head, and through his blurring eyes he sees the Joker's boney ankles over polished black shoes. He isn't wearing socks.

Batman moves, then sways. His feet are tied up. It takes longer than it should to cut himself free, and the Joker simply watches. It is, in no small way, frightening.

The rope around his legs gives, and Batman falls, landing painfully on his shoulder before he rolls onto his back. Gravel scatters under his weight, striking the slate grey slide.

"Are you better now?" the Joker asks. He's a blurred and lanky shape stained grey by the light of the moon. Batman blinks, but his vision doesn't clarify.

He considers the question. The answer is no. He thinks of verbalizing it, but the will to do so drips slowly away, leaking like blood from a wound. Gravel digs into the side of his cheek, and he questions why playgrounds are covered with sharp rocks.

"Bats?" the Joker questions, and Batman wants to laugh, because if anyone could appreciate the joke, it would be the Joker.

A little girl is watching them, her pinafore stained and ripped. Batman looks away.

She's dead. Her name was Susan. She isn't here.

He feels like he's been encased in lead, sand poured into his eyes, salt dripped into his wounds. His eyelids close.

"What's wrong with you?" The Joker's voice rises and falls haphazardly, paying no attention to standard patterns of speech. It's disconcerting.

"…Tired." The word slips out without consent, unfolding from Batman's lips like verbal origami. He can feel it leave him as if it holds a real, physical weight, a small release from his bonds, just enough to let him fall.

Joker stares at his nemesis. The Batman has fallen asleep again. He considers hanging him from the tree branches, which are taller, but the Bat is the Batman and how strange that he had forgotten that. Men don't sleep in trees. Men need beds.

There's an apartment building that overlooks Central Park.

TUESDAY AFTERNOON

Batman wakes up in a stranger's bed, the stranger tied up beside him. His head is nestled between her breasts, and he breaks her lamp when he jumps off of her. The Joker is long gone, and Batman is feeling much better, if slightly muzzy, so he mutters an apology and cuts her free with a blade shaped like a bat. It looks silly in daylight.

On his way out, he sees the mirror.

Next Monday, same time, same place?

Is written in dark red lipstick. He quells the sense of failure that seethes inside, and disappears into the gathering dusk, wondering just how long he'd used the pretty blonde as a pillow.

The Joker kneels on the wooden floor, tracing pretty patterns in the dust. In his mind, they fill with blood, but his hands are dry this week. They'll be dry next week too, and the week after that as well, and he sighs mournfully at the thought. He needs to quit, wants to quit, but like all addictions, it's hard to quit.

The Joker sighs again, another breath toward death. Without plots, without dreams, his time is dull indeed. He hates waiting, the quiet time in between steps, when he waits for night to fall.

The items and details of his current idea are scrawled in purple crayon on the walls, in special colorful codes. He can't quite remember the code, now that he's used it, but the idea is as clear as when he thought it.

Blue Black and Red—no that wasn't it. He studied the lines on the wall, abstract and reaching, giant hands with too many fingers. Be good, it says to him, and the Joker nods in agreement. He should be good.

But good people rob banks all the time.

TUESDAY NIGHT

The Joker giggles when Batman breaks through the window. The hostages scream and wail, their voices quieting as Batman stands up, shards of glass falling from his cape. "We're playing a game!" he declares cheerfully, tossing a handful of money into the air. "It's called Monopoly. The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer, and nobody gives a damn!"

Batman lunges toward the Joker, his arms outstretched. The Joker smiles and spreads his arms out to receive a hug.

Oops! Something cracked inside!

The Joker's breath hisses out of his teeth, his lips pulled tight in a wide grin that stretches his scars. "Oh Bats, I didn't know you cared!" He laughs, lungs fluttering against the cracks in his ribs, expanding, contracting.

Behind him, dozens of people race out the doors, and that just makes the Joker laugh harder. After all, the money is in their pockets. Good people rob from the rich and give to the poor.

WEDNESDAY MORNING

"Oh, no, I won't be staying," the Joker says. "I have an appointment that I can't miss. The Bat himself awaits." A tremor shakes through his bones, and he jitters in the confines of the straightjacket.

"I have an appointment." He shakes his head, saliva slipping from the edge of his lips and down his chin. "We're having tea."

The Joker's breath shortens, and his bleached skin tightens across protruding bones. He coughs, rocking in time with the waves of pain from his ribs.

"I won't be staying," he promises, through the blurred veil of anti-psychotics. Waves of nausea batter at his throat. "I've got people to see and deeds to do."

The walls do not reply.

FRIDAY NIGHT

The Joker shakes in his bonds, involuntary seizures running through him, over and over again. "Time is time," he murmurs, then shrieks it, "Time is time!"

Further down the hall someone else cries back, screaming, "They're in the walls. All of them! They're in the walls."

The Joker laughs, his body convulsing from the effort. "Time is time!" His eyes open wide and he stares at the ceiling for a moment, before saying, with a note of great satisfaction. "The time is now."

Be good.

Bruce Wayne smiles until his jaw hurts, and he doesn't mean a second of it. The trollop in red owns a brothel in the east side. The slut to the right of him is high on cocaine.

In addition to those sins, they're an exceedingly dull pimp and crack addict duo.

Susan tugs at his sleeve and offers him a gap toothed smile when he looks at her. Her dress is still stained with blood, dripping endlessly from the gaping hole in her belly.

Bruce stops smiling. The Champagne flute in his hand wavers and falls as he drops to his knees. Susan watches with confused concern, her cold and insubstantial hand curling under his jaw, holding his face up. As he watches, she blurs and disappears, taking the last of him with her.

Bruce Wayne collapses, curling around the pain in his chest.

MONDAY NIGHT

The bat-signal lights the sky.

"He's escaped." Commissioner Gordon shoves his hands into his pockets, half his face thrown into deep shadows by the spotlight. "Again," he adds, unnecessarily.

"Oh." Batman says. Susan is playing on the roof's edge, balancing on the wall. He thinks of calling her back, but she's dead, so what can it hurt?

"…he's in the Upper East Side," Gordon prompts him, staring at him in curiosity.

Batman jumps off the roof.

The bat suit feels strange tonight. Loose. Ill-fitting.

There's a song he heard once. He can't remember the singer, or the tune, or the words. But he liked it, and sometimes, when it's very quiet, he hears it bubbling up from inside of him. If he could just keep quiet long enough, he would know it, and remember what he had forgotten.

A car drives by. The moment is lost, and the Joker forgets the brief melody he'd collected. The discordant screech of a violin hums contentedly at its freedom, whispering as it leaves,

"Be Good."

The Joker nods. "To the park, Jeeves!" he cries, pointing through the windshield. The man beside him trembles in fear, the stench of terror rising from his skin. The Joker politely ignores it.

"It's time," he sings, again and again. Surging waves of anticipation rise through him, pouring up from his bones and into his veins. He has never been so ready.

Batman steps through the grass, drops of dew clinging to his boots. Susan dances beside him, her bare feet grey in death.

In the distance, he can hear the Joker calling. Susan giggles, and tugs his cape. "Come on, hurry!"

"Bat bat bat bat…" the distinctive shrieking voice of the Joker slides through the trees.

He follows Susan into the clearing, filled with gleaming monuments to childhood. The Joker sits at the top the slide, a tea pot in his hand. "Will you play?" the Joker asks.

Susan runs up the slide, and perches on a metal bar, inches above the Joker's head. "Come on!"

"Yes," Batman murmurs.