Batman and all related elements and characters belong to DC Comics. The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises were the work of Christopher Nolan and all of his talented crew. I never was involved at all with that original creative process.

I make absolutely no money out of writing or posting this either.


A MATTER OF BONDING AND LOSS.


The Doctor had just been authorized to tell him.

The Doctor had been assigned to Patient LD-453 for a variety of reasons. They both were Gothamites, and since the patient's examinations showed his identity had a strong case of dissociative destructive fixation on the city itself, it had been decided a fellow local had to take the case. They had actually developed a nice enough rapport, especially considering the patient had a story of attempted physical violence against guardians and doctors in several bids at escaping.

The fact those escapes never reached any fruitful (for him) ends seemed to be one of the very few things that actually frustrated the patient. Once, he had gone on a rant on how, in a nice comic book world, Miskatonic Institute would have a nice revolving door for his comfort, and actually asked for a relocation to Arkham. Miskatonic didn't play fair; it was too absurdly difficult to escape from, and since he was so clever, they had to be cheating.

His exact words.

It was denied without a shadow of consideration, naturally. The patient had been fortunate enough to escape the death penalty after a convincing case for his insanity; the Doctor had been a part of the committee determining that. Until that day, he had been considered the most infamous, most successful domestic terrorist in the history of the United States of America.

As of today, however, he was pretty much yesterday's news. The Doctor didn't look forward to telling him that, although his response would be admittedly interesting to see.

Curiously, his first reaction was the understandable one in a normal human being, but not in him.

Denial.

"You are joking, " he said.

There was a single shake of the Doctor's head. "I wish I were. Alas, no. It's gone."

"The whole of it?"

"All of Gotham. The greatest disaster in the history of the nation. The whole state has been quarantined, and a national emergency has been declared."

The Doctor thought there was a shade of genuine pale under the patient's messy makeup, the one he had been allowed to keep as part of his therapy. "Batman?" he asked, then slapped his tongue once on his upper lip, without even realizing. It wasn't the lip licking he often did to taunt and mock while in control, but one made to placate himself, to cope.

"Presumed dead, too. He had been sighted again recently after his... long period of inactivity, but... there's no sign he wasn't in the city at the time."

For a moment, the Joker's body went limp on his chair.

The Doctor watched respectfully, until the patient let out a slight, shattered cackle. "Funny. Funny, isn't it? I cursed the day when they shipped me here, all across the fucking country. I have cursed every day spent in this maddening rat hole, being forced to sleep and wake up at fixed hours. And yet, this, the thing you all have called the punishment for my... misdeeds, is the thing that ultimately saved my life, while all those poor, innocent souls I tortured have perished. Doesn't this tell us a lot about the nature of the universe, Doctor?"

"Perhaps," the specialist conceded.

"Who did it?" the Joker growled, possessed of newfound dark life.

"They can't be sure yet. The investigations continue, but not much was left that could be of any help. It seems the material authors died with the city. The FBI will come shortly to question you on it. That's why I was allowed to tell you, actually."

"So I could have enough time to prepare a convincing lie? How nice of you Doctors. But I don't need to lie. I had nothing to do with it... sadly. It would have been a blast. Literally. I'll bet it was done by those guys a few years ago, that crazy stunt with the fear gas and the train..."

"Maybe. Several have tried to connect you with them, as you know."

"Do we need to go over this again?" the Joker sighed, rubbing his messy fingernails against the table. "I am a free operator, a whole class on my own. And I'd never have blown Old Gotham! That was a shameful waste of human material and sociology studies. Gotham had to be unraveled, cut loose as a beautiful example for the rest of the world. What is the point of a radioactive wasteland? What I did was beautiful, pristine. This? This is the work of disgusting Philistines. I bet you they were out-of-towners! Surely you, a fellow Gothamite, Doc, can understand. Neither of us would have harmed Lady Gotham. Oh, we would have sweetly raped her, put a permanent smile on her face, made her see her true dark beauty... or at least, I would have... but outright killing her? What. A. Waste. Not fair, not fair, " he shook his head sadly. "I should have been there."

"I'm sorry," the Doctor said, trying to sound soft.

"No, you aren't. You left the city for a reason, didn't you? I bet you couldn't live there anymore. It wouldn't let you breathe, or live under your delusions of sanity. It does that to weaker spirits. Or did you have any relatives left there, Doctor?"

"No. Not anymore."

The Joker shrugged and looked aside, fingers intertwined. Then, after a long, lost silence, the words drifted aimlessly from his scarred mouth. "I don't know what to do anymore."

"Hmmm."

"Before, I bid my time. I knew I would escape, someday, and then go back. I had promised him we'd dance again, you see. I knew, even if he had retired, I could bring him back by just showing up. But... then, this happens. I mean, I know the world is chaos, and I never complained on that! But even so... this is too much. This is..."

"... unfair?"

The Joker shot a truly furious lok the Doctor's way. "If only my hands weren't handcuffed to the table, I'd reach out and strangle you!"

"Sorry I can't help you to cope with your pain," the Doctor answered.

That, after a moment where amusement and offense warred, waved the dark mood away for the moment. "Oh! Eh, heh heh heh. Nice one, nice one. Nah, I wouldn't kill you, Doctor. You are the only piece of Gotham I have left now. I... I'll have to think about my future plans, about what lie may hold for me. Maybe I'll collapse on myself. Maybe I'll reinvent myself, and will erupt, reborn, to share my message, no, wait, I have no message, well, to share my mojo, for a lack of a better word, with the rest of the world. Gotham or no Gotham. Batman... or no Batman."

He sighed very deeply. "This is going to be very, very difficult. But you will be there with me all the way, won't you, Doc? Even if only to see me struggle. That's okay. I can sympathize with someone out to just witness other's pain."

"Doctor," an armed guard said from the door. "The FBI is here."

"Yes, I know," the Doctor stood from the chair. "We'll meet again tomorrow, Mister J."

The smile was more whimsical and warmer than usual this time. "Looking forward to it, Doc."

After nodding, the specialist headed for the door. Then the Joker added, "Or can I start calling you 'Hugo' now?"

The bald man with glasses looked back. "E... Excuse me?"

The smile still was the same. "Hugo Strange, right? I always have my ways to know. Even here. You shouldn't be so pushy, keeping such a basic thing from me. After all, how can we ever hope to be friends with all this pesky official secrecy? Even us mass murderers have the right to have pals!"

Hugo Strange only could nod very sedately, feeling a draft of ice through his veins, before leaving the room. On his way out of the building, he looked at every member, trying to read them, attempting to figure out who had told the patient. And why.

He always had boasted about being able to read people like books. Yet he had been shown in his own game.

That feeling stuck with him during the whole of his drive back home.

But life went on regardless, didn't it?

At least for some.