Disclaimer: No infringements intended
Warnings: Prescription drug use
The media had a field-day. They always did where he was concerned. The most shocking thing about the whole affair had been that the Gotham Police department had actually managed to bring him in unaided. He must have been having a really bad day.
The thought of the death penalty crossed his mind, but after a round-about trip through the courts, and several psychological evaluations, it was deemed that he was insane. He was sent to Arkham Asylum to be rehabilitated. That grated worse than being caught. He was not insane and he certainly wasn't going to be 'cured'.
He immediately hated his new environment. It was dank and reeked of despair. How they expect anyone to benefit from treatment in this place was beyond him. Still, he should have been able to take it. This institution was unpleasant, but he'd been through worse. It should have been simple, and it would have been…if it weren't for the drugs.
He prided himself on his efficient mind, but the tiny pills with too many syllables were insidious. They distorted his perception and interfered with his thought process. He couldn't think, he couldn't reason and sometimes he couldn't remember. Memories could fade, he accepted that, but these drugs destroyed his sense of self. His identity was singularly important, without that he was nothing. He didn't fear death, he hadn't for a while, but he did not like the idea of living in oblivion.
For the first time in a long time, he was reminded that he was only flesh and blood. The thought disgusted him, before the drugs numbed the feeling away.
Initially he had refused their treatments, but it had only been a delay tactic. Refusing the medication had forced them to drag him through the courts again. But the courts quickly decided that he was too dangerous to be handled without chemicals. It was inevitable, really. When he tried to evade the compounds directly, in a thousand clever ways, they sedated him and gave them to him intravenously.
It was becoming too much of an effort to thwart them now. He thought that the drugs might be contributing to this fatalism. It wasn't him. He should be uncompromisingly motivated. It was hard to be coherent and retain a sense of self. More than anything he hated having his mental state being compromised like this. Had he already said that …?
When he was allowed into the general Arkham populace, under heavy guard, the difference between him and them became obvious. In the cafeteria no one dared to sit at the same table as him. The most hardened, crazed and dangerous individuals that Gotham had to offer were terrified of him. This prompted a tiny spark of satisfaction at first, but in the draining environment, it quickly faded. In Arkham, things faded until they were the same colours as the walls or the food. Or the pills.
He wasn't armed anymore and he looked nothing like himself, but for the inmates, that was part of the danger. They feared him because he'd become an out-of-context, something that just didn't fit into the environment. Because of this, no one knew what he'd do. At this point, even he didn't know what he'd do. He certainly didn't feel like planning.
The psychiatrists were like broken records. They kept going on and on about murder, as if that was all he ever did. He was more than, better than that. It wasn't…no, he didn't try to explain it. The drugs sapped his will and they wouldn't understand anyway. He gave the psychiatrists nothing and under his unchanging stare their words petered out and they were left holding their clipboards with shaking hands and murmuring banal platitudes. It wasn't only the inmates that were terrified of him. The doctors thought that he was crazy, that he was out of his mind. But he knew he was sane, even though their constant needling began to get under his skin. Like the drip.
Apparently out there in Gotham, they still blamed him for things occasionally, even when he was locked up like this. It hardly seemed fair.
One evening, lying on his lumpy mattress, he traced over his scars. There were a lot of them. Of course, some were rather more dramatic than others. When the drugs left him lucid enough, he reminisced. He tried to remember who he was—what he was. There was a tiny part of him that was terrified that he'd forget it all. He needed opposition. Without it he might just ceased to exist, though that might have been the drugs talking. They'd been doing a lot of that lately.
He recalled the context of the battle-scars that twisted across his body. It helped. His thoughts twisted toward his nemesis. That happened a lot. Some would say obsessively. Normal people didn't have archenemies, but then again, he has been told that he's special.
Suddenly the patient was no longer alone in the padded cell. Stewing in a complex mess of unpronounceable chemicals, he didn't even register the door opening. It was a pathetic atrophying of his reflexes and responsiveness.
The patient lifted his head.
It wasn't a nurse or orderly or even a doctor.
It was him.
He didn't question how his enemy managed to get into the cell. The man was nothing if not resourceful. He stood there in the shadows, just watching.
The man on the standard asylum-issue mattress wetted his lips. His throat was scratchy from disuse and for a moment the ability to speak eluded him completely. Not even the drugs were talking now.
"You," he finally managed to say. His voice was hollow. Like the capsules.
The dark figure, looming by the wall, said nothing. Maybe he winced.
The patient managed to lever himself into a sitting position. The room tilted drunkenly for a moment. His eyes slid shut, almost involuntarily, and he hoped the feeling would go away. Conversely, he desperately hoped the dark figure would still be there when he opened his eyes again. He was tired of the way the drugs blurred reality and compromised his senses.
"You look terrible," the voice from the shadows asserted.
"This place is killing you."
The prisoner paused for a moment. "It bothers you that an institution is doing what you won't, doesn't it?" It was the most he had said in months. Only now, in this context, did he feel traces of lucidity. He was always focused when he faced this individual. The solid fact of their unending struggle managed to cut through the haze. If only a little.
The figure was silent again. This wasn't them at all.
"I've brought you something."
The prisoner couldn't summon the energy to look up again, but the object landed next to his hand, nonetheless. Dead eye-holes stared at him.
The prisoner was running his fingertips over the familiar lines and the dark points before he realised that he had moved his hand. For once, the feeling that rose from his gut wasn't nausea and had nothing to do with the medication.
"Why?" the prisoner's voice was level but the layers of the question went all the way down.
"So you can remember what you were. You're not helping anyone here. I know you care about their rules, but you've always followed what you think is right. Staying here solves nothing. I don't know what you're trying to prove but you're failing."
Bruce looked up from his mask to regard the Joker.
"I'm not trying to prove anything."
The Joker took a step toward Bruce's bed and was disappointed when the former vigilante didn't even tense. "Then stop wallowing in self pity and get out of this cell. I know that I can't force you by threatening the city or its parasites. You're far too stubborn and you know I'm not going to stop regardless of what you do. But you haveto get out."
For one glorious moment, familiar anger surged in Bruce. The Joker's obsession was blinding him to the obvious facts. "Don't you understand?" Bruce almost growled. "It's over. I'm not a symbol anymore. They know I'm flesh and blood and they know that I can be stopped. Batman is dead. I'm all that's left." For the first time since his incarceration, this admission was accompanied by rage rather than despair. He had given the city everything and it had destroyed him.
The laughter that welled up from the Joker was devoid of mirth. It was as wild as ever, but laced with deep bitterness. "Did you used to think that you stopped being Batman when you took off that cowl? The only corpse here is Bruce Wayne. Drop the shell and embrace what you really are. A full-time identity is wonderfully liberating…take it from someone who knows. It's really not that hard to kill the humanity under the symbol—people are fragile things and you, you were halfway there already."
"I am not going to become like you!" Bruce roared. Blood was pounded in his arteries rather than oozing sluggishly. No anti-anxiety medication could compete with the overload of adrenaline and anger. He held onto the anger desperately. It felt like salvation.
If anything, Bruce's outburst only encouraged the clown. The Joker became more animated and gestured expansively as he spoke. "No, no, not quite like me. Even when you cut the dualism nonsense, you'll still be that 'upstanding paragon of justice'. It has to be that way. It won't be fun unless I get to push you over the edge myself. But face it; you're the only one that even has a chance of stopping me."
"I'm the only reason you play these elaborate games in the first place," Bruce asserted.
The Joker smiled. "You're the main reason. But I'm not going to stop just because you're wallowing here. In fact…I might just up the body count as a bit of revenge."
Here the Joker's expression twisted and all amusement left his tone. "You can't quit the game mid-way through," he practically spat.
Bruce scowled. "So you'd have a tantrum."
The Joker's countenance lightened again and he smirked. "You sound surprised. Look, revenge really isn't my style, but if you leave me no choice…" the Joker trailed off with a shrug.
"It's always been about choices," Bruce spoke quietly, almost to himself.
"Uh-huh. So if you can't make the good choice, because there isn't one, at least make the right choice. I'll see you on the other side, Batman."
Bruce stared at his cowl long after the Joker had left the cell. He didn't question how the clown managed to acquire such an item. The more interesting dilemma was the Joker's advice. In all honesty, drugs or not, there was no cell that could hold Batman indefinitely. The real problem was the choices. That's what it always circled back to... Had he already said that?