You've made it this far, might as well wrap it up.

Chapter 3

Joker swaggered toward Bruce, then pursed his lips to the side, giving the impression of having intense concentration. Then, in a flash, whipped the gun against Bruce's face. He let loose an involuntary choke of pain and surprise.

"Nope, nope, nope." Joker shook his head, looking disappointed, as he put away the pistol. "That's not the scream I heard. Unless you're more scared of the dark than me, someone is missing." He smiled. "I assume we're playing hide-and-seek, now." He gave a growl to a henchman, who trudged down into the stairwell. "He'll find your girlfriend, no worries. Then you two can practice skydiving." He turned, and peered at the surrounding buildings, looking severely peeved.

"Boss?" One of the remaining goons asked. The madman waved him away, stalking to the edge of the roof, and staring straight down.

"Now, it's just rude." He finally announced. "I've been here, what- two hours? What kind of guy is two hours late? I think I'll hit him extra-hard today."

"If he comes." Bruce piped up, his split lip not stopping him from exploiting this latest development. Joker twisted, his face suddenly a cacophony of emotions. Humor cracked into complete annoyance. His eyebrows curved nearly so low that they would appear to drop off, yet his scowl swiftly smoothed into a huge smile.

"If...he...comes." He repeated slowly, as if tasting the words. "Tell me this, Mr. Wayne. Why would he not be coming?"

"I dunno," Bruce answered. "But the Commissioner didn't sound like he thought he was."

"The Commissioner?"

"I called the police."

"Of course you did." He grunted, half-glancing at the decaying helicopter. He approached Wayne. "Maybe, because you're a CEO and not a psychopath, you're not aware of the...way things work. I kill- massacre. Batman shows up, 'stops' me, and I go back to Arkham for a bit to relax while the prodders get their fix. Now, if you missed it, step 1 is I kill people. I did that. Really good job, too. Batman showing up is step 2. That's what we're waiting on- that's what's going to happen."

"Unless he doesn't come." Joker sent him a squat look of annoyance, and he appeared to be more a weary schoolteacher than a mass-murdering sociopath. He approached his slow student, and said,

"He'll come. He always comes." There was a sudden cry of anguish, and the two men twisted. Tadget and the two boardmembers were pushed harshly onto the roof. The Earthquake-Expert was clearly out of his league; he looked as though he were about to vomit on his $5,000 suit. The High-Pitched Economist kept his eyes downcast, refusing to even glance up at the madman that would end his life.

"Well, howdy. Nice of you to join." Joker said cheerily. He slapped the High-pitched Economist on the back. "Geez, you don't look so good." The man slowly raised his head. "You look like you could use some air." His eyes went wide.

"No, no, no." His voice oozed out as though he were moaning, and was much whinier than it had been in his mumbles. "No, no, no." An amused brow rose on Joker's face.

"No, no, no?" He repeated mockingly.

"No, no, no, no." The man repeated, rocking slightly. Giving a light cackle, Joker shoved a thumb in his direction.

"Guy's off his rocker."

"Don't kill me!" He suddenly roared, pushing against Joker and running towards the exit. Bruce jolted to rush after him, as he saw Joker's henchman drawing guns. He was moving purely by instinct, reflex; there was no way he could save the man, now, but he had to try-

"Don't shoot him, idiots," Joker complained, killing a trigger-happy henchman with his own gun. The High-Pitched Economist now looked like a cornered animal, who'd been abused in the past. His shining eyes searched the roof for allies, but seemed to recognize no one. "Come on, over, Hogan." He encouraged, tossing his head to the side. "Come on." The High-pitched Economist seemed to ignore all logic as he approached the killer.

"The marginal benefit of killing me doesn't outweigh the cost," He began pleadingly, but Joker cut him off.

"Walk with me, dearie," He said, leading the other man along like a confused puppy. "What's your name?"


"Doesn't matter, actually," Joker interrupted, cocking his head up. "-Seeing as you'll be dead in a minute." The High-pitched Economist lived up to his name as Joker tripped him, and then shoved him off the roof. Tadget joined his scream, and Bruce was there within seconds. His hand gripped the other man's.

"Hold on-" He grunted, as clammy hands scrambled for a good hold.

"Don't drop me-!" The other man crowed desperately, as he kicked and twisted beneath Bruce's hold, making the attempt to bring him up that much more difficult. "Don't let me die-!" Tadget was still screaming distantly, and Bruce found himself within a vacuum. For a brief moment, it was just Bruce Wayne and his co-worker, hanging precariously from the roof of a skyscraper. It was chilly out, the winds cut into his face as he attempted to pull him up. The screams and laughter from behind him seemed to originate from another world: all he heard were the pleas for life.

The High-Pitched Economist kicked against the building, no doubt attempting to climb his way up, as though Bruce's arm were a rope rather than a limb. Doing so nearly made him plummet; Bruce's good grip kept this from occurring. But the Billionaire himself was launched over the edge, and, soon, only his ankles held him on the roof. He resisted choking out in pain as the sharp concrete edge dug into his flesh.

"Don't let me die-!" The man repeated, apparently oblivious to the fact that he was endangering both of their lives through his reckless antics. His attempts to claw his way up were only resulting in negative outcomes. He was an externality, leading to a market failure. "Don't let me die-!"

"Oh, shut up." Came a voice, breaking into the vacuum. Bruce felt himself dragged up, and saw a gun's handle pound down onto the hold he had on the slippery hands. There was dazzling pain, but he refused to let loose. Even when the second hit came, it wasn't Bruce that let go.

Surprisingly, the High-Pitched Economist didn't scream as he dropped.

Bruce was flipped down onto his back as he was swung onto the roof. Tadget was openly weeping again, and the Earthquake-Expert stared in horror.

"Mr. Wayne..." Joker began, grinning as though he'd found an extra morsel in what had appeared to be an eaten plate. "You are quite the hero." His heart stopped, then began again. He swung to his feet, his fists aching, and his face still pounding. He'd begun fighting before the henchman could even reach for their guns. His body moved like a well-oiled machine, and the hours of pretending to be nothing but a posh businessman while death stank up the building had built up aggression that needed to be let loose. The henchman were incapacitated within seconds. The Joker had watched, and now glowed with that gleeful energy you usually see in children when they have received the exact present they'd been hoping for for Christmas. It was much more malicious now than when a little girl received a particular plush toy.

"Oh, Brucie-!" He cried happily, clapping. Tadget stared in confused amazement; the Earthquake-Expert had fainted. Joker bowed. "I guess I owe it to you. You weren't late after all." Bruce stood, chest heaving, waiting for the next move. He had no idea what to expect at this particular moment- the moment he'd feared with a small amount of morbid curiosity for years. This was an interval the always-prepared Batman was unprepared for. Joker raised an eyebrow. "Aren't you going to say anything to your adoring fan? I've been wondering for a while, you know. So...a few words of wisdom?" The words came to his mouth as the most obvious.

"You're going back to Arkham." Joker burst into laughter, slapping his thighs. Had his complexion been visible- normal- it probably would have turned red with delighted humor.

"Oh, darling," He grinned devilishly. "That's your answer to everything." Bruce began to advance, and the Joker whipped out and aimed a pistol. Tadget croaked out in fear, and she now resembled a hungry seagull, with a slack jaw, wide eyes, and a blank face. Bruce stopped where he stood. "Now, I played all the way to this point, I deserve a little cutscene before the action. What the hell do you plan on doing now, Bat-brain? Brucie? I mean, look at this. I've got a gun on your sweetie-" She had a gun on her, and yet somehow was able to blush. "-and a tab on you. You, however, have an unconscious mug at your feet- aw, he looks so cute when he's sleeping- and he has a gun. I'll give you a whole ten seconds for you to make your move, honey. Go." Bruce was frozen, but Batman was in action; he was crossing the roof as quickly as he could. Refusing to let himself fail. And, yet...

"Bang." Joker said it as he shot, and Tadget let out a soft cry as the bullet pounded into her stomach. Batman tackled the madman, who laughed as if he'd just seen the greatest comedy special in existence. "You had a way out!" He laughed, rolling as he did so. His gun was confiscated as Bruce rushed to the side of his secretary. "You could've shot me, and gone to Hawaii to get laid! But you got her shot! God, you must love me." The laughter continued, and Bruce found himself sucked into a vacuum again. She was already slipping into shock.

"Stay calm," He whispered, ripping open her shirt to search for the wound. It was an action he'd taken millions of times. But she still twisted away, listlessly pushing her face to the ground. "Sharon," He murmured, trying again. Hearing her name said by his voice soothed her, and she allowed him to check the extent of the wound. It was bad. Hollow point bullets. She'd be dead in minutes. He turned, his vacuum dissipating. The Joker grinned up at him, greedily searching the new- familiar – face.

"Not gonna make it, huh?" He drawled.

"A phone." He hissed. "A phone, now."

"Sure, sweet-ums," The Joker answered, tossing up a generic phone. The type you throw in oceans after completing your business. "But it won't make any difference." Bruce knew that. As it dialed, the clown remained seated, criss-cross-applesauce, apparently content. He smiled pleasantly up as Bruce changed his voice slightly to sound panicked as he demanded a helicopter- an EMT. When the call had ended, he returned to Sharon, wiping the sweat from her forehead as she began to die. "The worms go in, the worms go out-!" He sang badly. Bruce ignored him. There was mild stirring at his side as the Earthquake-Expert regained consciousness. He saw Sharon, saw the lack of the other survivor (or, rather, the man who had once been a survivor but was no more), and finally saw the disabled henchman.

"What the hell happened?"

"B-Batman." Tadget mumbled past saliva and the distance that now existed between her and the real world. She was entering a vacuum like the ones Bruce had inhabited, where the world was small and blurry and other voices difficult to discern.

"Batman." Bruce affirmed quietly, expecting Joker to contradict him. But the roof was silent save for the wild exclamations of the other man.

"Batman? Where the hell is he? And why'd he leave him!" Referring, of course, to the clown.

"Good question." Joker approved with an elegant nod.

"He called the police." Bruce responded irritably, as he tried to focus.

"So did we-!" The expert hissed, now referring to the still-burning carcass of the helicopter. He then looked at what was holding his Boss' attention to such a high degree and let loose a minute gasp. "She's been shot!" He was now an expert on injuries. Whether it was the gun Bruce had laid beside her or the huge gaping bullet wound in her stomach that had tipped him off, no one knew. It was a few more excruciating moments before a new helicopter touched down at the heli-pad, and an annoyed Commissioner Gordon came personally down. When he saw the ensuing drama, he cursed under his breath, and watched as the EMTs present got out the equipment and began loading the hopeless case.

They didn't bother glancing over Bruce's injuries; he didn't mention them. The two men were taken in for shock, as Bruce displayed the symptoms, and the Joker was soon a spec from a departing helicopter. Bruce's heart was still pounding angrily in his chest as he remembered the happy smile. Would he tell anyone? If so, who?

Or would he simply attack Bruce Wayne personally in the future, as he no longer needed to go through the motions he'd described earlier?

He remained in the surgery room for the entirety of the next hour, watching over Sharon Tadget. A week later, he watched over her again as a man in black imparted words of grief to the sparse mourners. He watched as her casket was lowered down into the fresh soil, his coat billowing in the slight wind of the cool afternoon. He couldn't help wondering as he stared down if he had made the correct decisions, if, perhaps, she would have been safer under her desk. They'd never even bothered to check the office.

A new guilt to burden.

He attended the funeral of Jack Lastly, too. The High-Pitched Economist. The condition of his body was not suitable, so they buried an empty coffin. It seemed somehow appropriate, though Bruce refused to consciously think so: at the end of the day, he'd been an empty man, filled with nothing but fear. He wondered again whether he could have somehow stopped him from approaching the Joker, if he could have somehow pulled him up.

A new guilt to burden.

The subsequent weeks were filled with funerals. He attended each one, sometimes disguised lightly in a black coat and sunglasses. He stood among the broken families and lost friends, and felt the guilt of it all rest upon his shoulders, as he regretted each loss of life. He juggled these guilts and worries alongside fears that the Joker would escape, and begin his mad slaughter again.

Only one man (other than, I suppose, the Joker) benefited from the madness that day. Eric Duran- the Earthquake-Expert- wrote a book about his ordeal, which quickly became a national bestseller. Granted, the best tidbits that could have been included remained unknown to him, due to the fainting spell. Despite this, however, he went on talk show after talk show, forgoing his economic career, to discuss the motives of the Joker in different crimes. He was appreciated, and his knowledge was constantly commented on fondly.

I guess you could call him an expert.

That was the end. Right there.