Tell me exactly
what am I supposed to do?
Now that I have
allowed you to beat me
Do you think that
we could play another game?
Maybe I can win this time?
I kind of like
the misery you put me through
Darling, you can trust me
If you even try
to look the other way
I think that I could kill this time
It doesn’t really seem
I’m getting through to you
Though I see you weeping so sweetly
I think that you might
have to take another taste
a little bit of hell this time
~ The Game (Disturbed)
Tangled in paths within paths, the Joker’s mind raced – rat-maze swift – reading possibilities scratched on the walls.
The orderly who brought his food was terrified of him but so packed with neuroses that cracking him would be an utter bore. The nurse, pretty little cunt in a white skirt far from regulation length, was a better prospect. Yet the real curiosity was the doctor she fucked behind closed doors.
Dr. Tanner was a scintillating mess, a true challenge – but his main weakness was a wet slit, and alas, the Joker was fresh out.
He sat slumped on his bunk in thin orange prisoner scrubs and listened when the hollow screams just outside of the back corner of his cell abruptly resumed. The sound soothed the itch behind his eyeballs, nearly lulling him into a half-stupor within moments.
Wish they’d stop doping that one up. How do they expect me to get any sleep in blinding light and perfect quiet?
All at once, the bubble of paths burst into an emotional sprawl inside his skull.
A dull clang and thud snapped him alert again, though his expression and posture never changed.
That’s the big bad door, road to freedom door… Someone’s here. I’ve been such a good boy – let it be someone ugly and raw … and interesting. Come on – gimme some clay.
His gaze flicked to the door of his cell and away again when the shock of noise and movement behind it became real.
No one ever came in, not without clubs, restraints, and drugs; yet the sounds were footsteps only, no gurney wheels, no food cart. The point of solitary: to give him nothing to work with beyond the dullards in gray scrubs that pushed the tray back and forth. They were as speechless as they were brainless. The rare ones that did have the guts to speak did it only through the narrow glass.
The door rattled, and amazingly, opened. An unknown male voice hidden behind it was caught between fear and simpering worship.
“This is highly dangerous and if Dr. Tanner finds out I helped you, he’ll have me thrown in with one of these lunatics!”
The voice – a hum preceded it, sliding into his bones. “He doesn’t know. No one knows – or will.”
Simpering worship won. “Yes, yes sir, of course.”
“You’ve turned off surveillance to this hall and you won’t tell a soul I was here; keep the cameras off until I’m gone, or I’ll leave the door open when I’m done. Go back and wait for my signal.”
Joker smiled. Knowing his words wouldn’t be understood, knowing the bat probably wouldn’t try to understand them, he spoke to amuse himself.
“It’s true – St. Nick does know who’s naughty and nice: ugly, raw, and interesting.”
The tall, imposing figure in black entered the cell and didn’t flinch when the door clanged shut behind him.
Sliding his eyes over first, the Joker flicked them up and down the stone-faced monstrosity in the bat ears and flowing cape.
“To what,” he drawled, tone languid, “do I owe the pleasure?”
“Two-Face. You made him what he is; you’re going to tell me how to cure him – or how to stop him.”
With slow movements, he shifted until his thin shoes touched the floor, turning his body to face the Batman.
“Now darling, really – you don’t call, don’t write; then you finally visit and it’s nothing but shop talk?” He tsk-tsked, a grin spreading on red lips. “A little jail bird told me Harvey was dead, the same night you first caught me. Well, the time you actually kept me locked up longer than twenty-four hours, anyhow.”
“We told Gotham what they needed to hear. Harvey died a good man, I took the fall. I need to catch him before he shows himself.”
“Interesting… You and your lapdog Gordon, I presume?” Staring unblinking into the bat’s eyes, his grin fell into a frown. “You wouldn’t lie to me, would you? Of course you wouldn’t … you heroes never lie…” With a slow shrug, he sighed, feeling abruptly wistful. “Okay, I’ll play. Why not? I like the idea of dear Harvey operating in the shadows, waiting for a fresh chance to kill Gordon’s whelps … messily.”
The flying rodent frowned, the eyes glaring down. “I don’t have a lot of time, Joker – don’t make me unpleasant company.”
“Time? Oh, yes – you always were in such a terrible hurry. Take some of mine, if you like; I have buckets of it.”
“Dr. Tanner’s reports claim that you want things. Conditions could be improved for you here.”
“He’s a doll, but he forgets himself. I’m perfectly happy but allow me to partially call your bluff; you’re still a hunted man, even if dear Harvey Two-Face remains at large, making such a mess everywhere he goes. Bargaining for privileges you have no power to grant insults me and will only cheapen you.”
“You’re the one who believes everyone has a price. What do you want, Joker?”
“Time share in sunny Florida – no wait, that was last year. World peace is so passé…” As he met the man’s eyes for the second time, a smile quirked one corner of his lips. “I want you, Bats, all to myself. Daytime visits, perhaps – I know you’re busy most nights.”
The gloved hands fisted. “Here and now is all you’ve got.”
“Ooo, are you gonna hit me? I’ve missed that, you know. That fawning sheep you were scheming with is new. Not surprising, where high turnover makes change the norm. That’s why they only let ‘em work in four hour shifts down here. He owes you, doesn’t he?”
“I saved his family – from you.”
“How noble – means he won’t mind if you get a thrashing in, hmm? That’s your ticket; he helped you slip in once, he can do it again.”
“I won’t play your insane games.”
“Ah, but I’m willing to help – if my condition is met. Then again, your plan of punching it outta me really would be fun – although it wouldn’t get you what you want. What time is it?”
“Oh, yes – assuming it is night, it’s hard to tell in here – that’s just inside of the graveyard shift; means you have less than four hours before your scrawny little acolyte goes off-duty. Tick, tock, Bats.”
His frown was a dark promise of violence, but the hum of the gravel voice betrayed a hint of the weight he carried. “Agreed – if you give me what I want.”
An affable smile on his lips, the Joker tapped his chin with one long finger.
“How to cure the late Harvey Dent: dig up your old girlfriend, his fiancé, and bring her back to life –”
The Batman crossed the small cell in two strides and almost crushed his throat in one large armored hand.
“Don’t talk about her!”
When the hand released him, he was tossed against the wall across the width of the bunk. Gasping and choking, Joker wheezed for breath before he laughed.
“You asked the question, Batty – that’s what Harvey wants; that’s all Two-Face wants. Nothing else will do, will it – for either of you. Or, have you moved on? Are there bat groupies?” His tongue darted out, flicked. “Come on, you can tell me – after all we’ve been through together?”
“There’s no one. How do I stop him?”
“Shove one of those metal bats into his head – on the burned side. Maybe that’d work.”
“I can’t kill – I won’t. Try again.”
“Some of my scars would beg to differ, darling – you’re capable, make no mistake. In fact, I’d wager mob money you’d be damn good at it. How ‘bout we stack your corpses against mine and see who wins? I’ll give you a head start, since I already have so many piled up.”
“You can’t hurt anyone now and they’ll never let you out.”
“‘Til I get out – again. I can’t wait to feel hot blood in my face. Might start with Gordon this time too, instead of always leaving him for last … or perhaps that boy of his … so trusting, so young.”
“He’s an innocent.”
“Oh, precious, there’s no such thing. Give him time; let the dirt grow, let it stick. Maybe I’ll help him along – once I’m loose, that is.”
Nothing at all telegraphed the first punch to his jaw; after that, head rattled, the others were a blur. Bubbling up out of the pain was a high-pitched shriek of laughter. The sound of it made his adversary insane.
Joker was lifted bodily and crushed against the stone wall of the cell, his ears ringing. A pair of blows to the chest and stomach knocked the breath out of him before he was dropped to the floor on his face.
“Get up,” the voice commanded. “Try again.”
Struggling to rise, he got to his knees. Realizing how close the bat was standing between one gulped breath and the next, he lurched forward and gripped the utility belt. Iron fingers pried his away, threatening to bend them backward.
Wilting with his head bowed, he didn’t try to free his hand. He leaned in instead and rubbed his scarred cheek against the muscular armored thigh.
His hair was gripped and pulled, but when he didn’t rise, the Batman grabbed his shoulders instead of ripping the hair out by the roots. Hoisting him up, he threw him in a jumble of weakened limbs onto the narrow bunk.
“I said, try again.”
Joker spit blood at the black boots. “Buy a really big butterfly net.”
With a growl, his dark opposite turned away, his clenched fist rising to strike the door. The sharp noise echoed down the freezing stone hall.
Joker’s fingers pressed to the marks on his neck and jaw that were no doubt starting to fill in.
“Whatever shall I say if Dr. Tanner asks how I got these pretty bruises?”
“Lie. You’re good at that.”
“Me lie, to protect you? Curious, hmm? Why would I do that?”
“Because you want me to come back.”
The door opened and the Batman slipped through it, silent as a thought. The noise of the locks echoed too, as did the steps of two men – one lurching with terror, the other striding away in anger. The Joker smiled as the outer door opened and closed.
“See you tomorrow, Lamb Chop,” he whispered and slumped, sliding down onto his back.
It was only then that he realized the screams of his fellow forgotten soul hadn’t ceased. His brain had no doubt been processing the sounds, but the thrill of dancing with the bat again had driven everything else out of his notice.
One hand curled around his neck, fingers fitting into the bruises as the other hand lifted. Holding up his index finger like a baton, he conducted the music of another’s agony as his own faded all too soon.
His weaving hand slowed and then drooped as the wails and shrieks lulled him into a contented stupor once more.