It starts with an explosion.
Rather, a message to Bruce about an explosion. One over at Arkham Asylum. It’s a common enough occurrence, criminals escaping every once in awhile. Bruce is no stranger to these calls. It’s maybe a night-long job. So this isn’t the fact that this happened that worries him.
It’s all about the timing. The week before the Gotham City gala, an annual charity ball. Normally this wouldn’t bother him either, but it’s the matter of who escaped. Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin. One of the wealthiest criminals running the underground, able to entice others with his riches and mingle with high society. All this screams out Something is wrong to Bruce. Oswald’s ambitious, but surely not ambitious enough to try anything at the gala, right?
Except due to the timing of this breakout, that seems to be the plan exactly. And Bruce can’t let that happen.
Of course it would happen on a relatively quiet night.
“They can never give me a day off,” Bruce mutters to himself half-heartedly. It’s no less than he expected. When you turn vigilante there aren’t many opportunities to slack off. New plots, new villains. Always crime and attempts at shaking up what most Gothamites would consider an otherwise normal life.
Bruce gets ready, putting on his batsuit carefully, the heavy but flexible armour a second skin to him. He passes Alfred in the lab, his butler always at the ready when he dons his suit.
“Sir, are you sure you won’t have Master Tim help you? He needs more experience, and this seems like an eventful evening.”
“Exactly. This feels off, even for Gotham, and I don’t want him in the middle. Just because one criminal escaped doesn’t mean there aren’t more on the loose. Arkham and Blackgate can’t hold all of them, you know.
“Agreed. Promise you’ll be careful.”
Bruce remains silent, both men knowing how easy it would be to break that promise. “I’ll tell you if something comes up, Alfred. Does Oracle know?”
“I believe so sir, she should be in contact with you when she finds something.”
Bruce gives a small nod, reassured. He strides off to the garage, starting up the Batmobile, ready to head into Gotham and investigate. The door opens and he drives off, the sky just beginning to darken into the inky grey that complements the city lights in the distance. The long road is empty as usual, save the stray greenery. His car’s lights are the only thing illuminating the darkness, his focus on the road, the skyline getting closer. The sooner this night ends the better, but Bruce knows he’ll be spending a fair amount of time on finding out what’s really going on in the dark city.
His car skids to a stop a short way away from the GCPD, hidden in the shadows while Bruce goes to discuss Gotham’s goings-on with Commissioner Gordon. He grapples to the top of the building, messaging Gordon. The man appears a short time later, hair whipping at his wind and clothes in the cool autumn air.
“So you’ve heard.”
“What happened at Arkham?”
Gordon shakes his head. “Beyond the fact that someone blew up a wall to escape? Not much. We know it’s Cobblepot, but reports are sketchy on whether or not anyone else is gone. The asylum is in chaos, I’m told. I have some of my men headed over.”
Bruce nods, his mask-clad face hiding his expression. “I need to find Cobblepot. Keep me posted.” Usually Alfred’s get the information sooner, but right now Bruce will take any hint he can get.
He stands at the edge of the building, ready to get back to the Batmobile, Gordon watching.
“I’ll have some men patrolling, I’ll make sure they know not to shoot you,” he calls after him.
Bruce smirks, diving off the roof without responding. The police force is made up of people who like and hate him, no doubt there would be some asshole ready to shoot without a second thought. Tonight it’ll be more of an irritation than usual, but he has bigger things to worry about.
To start, he decides on visiting the Penguin’s usual hangouts. It’s as good a place as any to start, in his opinion. He won’t bother with Penguin’s club though, it’d be futile to search it, Penguin knows it’s the first place he’d search. It’s also suicide since he has many alliances in his club, and no doubt by now they know he’ll be hiding from Bruce.
Bruce parks the Batmobile to the side, grappling to the closest tall building around Chinatown, which is one of the few areas that the nights see hustle and bustle. Any hint of suspicious activity and he focuses on the person causing it. Some are common thieves, running away from the few cops on patrol in the small part of Gotham. While the area is a perfect place for distraction, nothing too serious goes on. The police catch the thief, a young man clutching an old woman’s purse. Likely the most serious crime the police will have to deal with here. He leaves that to them, scanning the area intently while he waits for either a message from Alfred or Oracle.
For the most part Chinatown is uneventful, Bruce growing antsy and realising this must not be where Penguin has disappeared to. Next he decides to check the nearby Diamond District, hoping for a bit more of a lead. He calls the Batmobile over, driving off.
There are a few misdeeds he comes across, but it’s quiet again. Old Gotham is one of the likeliest places at this point, some criminals decide to hide under the GCPD’s nose. This would work, except for the fact Gordon would probably have noticed something by now. Or even Oracle, who has been silent this whole time. Why does tonight feel so different from every other? Something feels...off kilter.
Bruce shakes off the feeling. Maybe I should go check Old Gotham, just in case. It won’t do much harm. Who knows, maybe Gordon did overlook something.
“Batman?” A wave of relief washes over Bruce when he hears Oracle's voice.
“Have you found something?”
“Nothing too serious, but I've heard there are a few thugs around on Founder’s Island. They haven’t mentioned anything of importance yet. I’ll keep you updated.”
“Thank you, Oracle.”
“No problem.” Oracle signs off. At least he has that area under surveillance. He drives over to Old Gotham, doing a quick sweep on the streets before deciding to traverse the tops of buildings. He rests at the top of a bridge near the GCPD, the city lights illuminating the streets below. The only thing to do now is watch and wait, he supposes.
A half-hour goes by like this with no hint of trouble. Bruce decides on ten more minutes, if nothing happens by then he’ll go check one of the other areas not yet searched. The cold air barely penetrates his suit, and he thanks the extra padding. He would surely be frozen by now if not for the suit. He shifts, eyes refocusing. It isn’t quite relaxing being up here, but he is rather tired, nothing bothering to keep him awake and after two nights hunting down Dent before this being exhausted. Maybe...
“So, I’ve been thinking.”
It takes all Bruce’s willpower not to jump, losing his concentration until his focus on searching for Penguin (or taking a quick nap) fades from his thoughts. The one person he doesn’t need to see today, Joker stands next to him, leaning against a pillar, and if he had spoken up Bruce would never have noticed him. He sends the Joker a half-hearted scowl, trying to maintain just a bit of focus and eyeing the roads.
“What are you doing here, Joker?”
Joker grins nonchalantly, hands in his pockets. His face is a picture of innocence, despite the war paint meant to intimidate. He’s anything but innocent, and despite his casual pose Bruce sees the glint in Joker’s eyes. It’s a giveaway. Nothing about this is casual. A week before the Gotham City gala and Penguin decides to break out of Arkham, leaving everything up in the air. Part of a wall at Arkham Asylum was blown up, from the outside, allowing him to escape and leaving guards too off-guard to react quickly. He hasn’t heard much since then, though he put Alfred in charge of getting the footage of what really happened.
“I was in the area.” Bruce snorts. A hundred feet in the air on a bridge, lying in wait for Two-Face, isn’t the most conventional rendezvous point, especially when the Joker is supposed to be behind bars at Arkham. “Still looking for Oz, huh? Bats, he’s only been missing for what? Two hours? Nothing’s really happened in that time, why so stressed? It’d be different if it was me, of course,” he chuckles at Bruce’s unimpressed glare, “But Ozzy, well, he’s not worth your time.”
“He’s planning something.”
“Hmm.” Joker hums noncommittally, taking his left hand out of his pocket and inspecting his sharp nails. He side-eyes Bruce, letting his hand rest at his side. “You know, if you were gonna worry about anything, I thought it’d be about Dent.”
Bruce watches the streets, waiting for a call from Alfred or Oracle. “He’s still in Arkham. I just put him there.”
“He is? That’s news to me, Bats-old-boy. You know, he was my neighbour in Arkham. I tend to notice when the cells next to me are empty. No banging on walls or muttering curses.”
That clicks in Bruce’s mind. It’s one thing for Joker to escape from Arkham on occasion, maybe taking someone along for the ride, but for both Dent and Cobblepot to have escaped?
“I was told Cobblepot was alone when he escaped.”
“Oh, he was. It took the chaos that ensued after for Cobblepot to escape. Me? Well, I might have taken advantage too. I’m just breathing in as much fresh air as I can before you lock me back up. That won’t be for a while though, don’t worry,” he shoots a look at Bruce. “I’m just here for conversation.”
This doesn’t reassure Bruce. “And you weren’t the one to help them escape at all?”
Joker feigns a hurt expression. “Me? I thought you knew me better. I look out for myself. But between you and me…” Joker’s voice turns a little darker, eyes narrowing. “I don’t think Harvey and Oz were planning on me getting out.”
“You shouldn’t have.”
Another shrug. “I was going batty in there,” he laughs at the pun, smirking at Bruce. “In truth, I missed you.” He bats his eyes flirtatiously, his smile teasing, and Bruce fights the urge to punch the clown in the face. Said clown pouts at Bruce’s expression.
“What? No reciprocation of feelings? No, ‘my closest enemy was behind bars and I’ve had nothing to do, woe is me’?” I’m wounded, truly I am.”
“You have five seconds before I throw you back into Arkham.” Although I should be doing that anyway… However, tonight was not a good night for Joker’s antics, regardless. He’d deal with him later.
“Alright, alright. Geez, always so uptight. Just a tip? Make sure you check the docks. You never know what you’ll find there.” He pats Bruce on the back as he passes. “Nice cowl by the way. New suit? The colour matches your personality.” Joker giggles, turning away and walking down the length of the bridge’s tower. Bruces closes his eyes with a heavy sigh. When he looks up, the Joker’s gone. Great, another problem. But what did he expect? This was Gotham, after all.
His comm beeps, a tinny sound that barely breaks through the noise of the city.
“Sir, have you found any traces of Mr. Cobblepot?”
“No. Dent is gone too...and Joker.” Bruce can just barely pick up on Alfred’s sigh.
“Oh dear. Do you know where they might be?”
Bruce was about to say, “Not yet” before pausing. Joker had told him about the docks. The question was, was that tip trustworthy? The clown had no proof of ever having been trustworthy, to Bruce’s knowledge, and when he was telling the truth, it came at a price. But there aren’t any other leads, both The Penguin and Dent aren’t known for being subtle, but he hasn’t heard a peep from either. “I...got a tip from Joker that I should check the dock.”
“And you’re sure you can trust this?” He knows the suspicious tone of voice Alfred has, it’s the same running through his mind.
“No. But it’s the only thing we have to go on at the moment, and I don’t want this to go on longer than it has to.”
There’s a silence between the two, both knowing what a bad idea it is. Then again, chasing after villains in a batsuit isn’t on the top of the list of good ideas for most people.
“I assume you won’t be back in time for dinner, Master Bruce,” Alfred says dryly.
“I’ll be back soon if I can, for all we know the docks are completely empty.” Something in the back of his mind says there must be something there, though he has no basis for his thoughts. Seeing as nothing’ll get done if he just stays in one place. He jumps into the open air, using his batclaw to traverse the city and approach the docks. With luck, he’ll find something.
The docks are eerie at night, the only noises being the sea breeze and waves crashing against the dock, containment units littering the place, piled up and towering over Bruce. The wind whistles through the units, adding a sort of creaking to the already tense atmosphere. Bruce walks along the units, relying on shadows to not give him away. So far there’s been no sign of anything odd going on, to Bruce’s relief and disappointment. There isn’t even a whisper of wrongdoing. Alfred has control over the cameras, he hasn’t seen much either.
Bruce flinches, freezing in place and glancing around.
“Bats.” And there he is, in all his green and purple glory. The Joker waves Bruce over impatiently, waiting for Bruce to join him at his side. Bruce rolls his eyes but runs to him. “Fancy meeting you here,” Joker says, peering around one of the giant metal boxes around them.
“Why are you here?” And how did you show up before me?
“I wasn’t sure if you’d follow up on my tip, thought maybe I should infiltrate their base myself,” Joker says with a wide grin. Bruce realises had he not come, or had he come a little later, the docks might be full of laughing gas or blown up by now.
“I can do this myself,” Bruce tells the Joker sternly. “Maybe you should get back to Arkham.”
Despite the fact both need to be silent in order to sneak around, Joker laughs. “And miss out on all the fun? Not likely. Besides, I know exactly where they are.”
“And how would you know that?”
Joker raises an eyebrow. “I have my ways. Now are you gonna come with me or should I knock you out and leave you for the cops to find?” He strolls off, and Bruce knows that the clown knows he’ll follow.
“You’re sure Dent and Cobblepot will be here?”
“Pretty sure.” An answer Bruce expects but doesn’t appreciate. They walk through the maze of metal, Joker leading Bruce towards the far end of the dock. As they get closer to the end Joker grows more and more annoyed, a tense giggle here and there, some mumbling under his breath. Bruce isn’t entirely sure if he should’ve let Joker come with at all, he looks perfectly homicidal. He watches, and Joker notices, corner of his lips turned up in a grim smile.
“I never told you why I’m so interested in this, did I?”
Bruce shakes his head, wondering if the clown will elaborate. He speaks after a moment.
“I’m not interested. Not really. Isn’t that insane? Hmm, maybe too crazy for me.” Bruce does his best not to laugh at that, Joker continuing his ramble. “Well first they took over my base, which is a no-no in my book of rules. Then, Oz broke his promise. I wouldn’t mind so much if it hadn’t been the one thing keeping us on relatively good terms, but,” Joker waves his hand flippantly. “C’est la vie, I guess.” Bruce wonders what that broken promise is.
But he can’t help but be skeptical about this Joker wanting to help, so many times it’s been part of an elaborate trap. “What makes you so sure I trust you on this?”
Joker doesn’t talk, but his smile grows a little forced. He turns away, leaving Bruce to mull over his words without a hint. It unsettles him.
Rain starts to fall within minutes, a light drizzle that makes the night even darker. The Joker glances up at the sky, grumbling a bit. Bruce wonders if his makeup would run. He guesses not, since he’s never seen that happen and rain was a common occurrence in the city. Come to think of it, Joker might have been scarier with running mascara, if only due to the anger from his makeup being out of place. He smiles despite himself. Joker looks back at him, catching the smile.
“What are you thinking about?”
“Nothing,” Bruce says simply, the corners of his mouth back in his usual expression. It clearly isn’t the answer Joker wants, but it’s the one the clown got. Joker frowns, the expression grotesque with his lipstick still in a smile at the ends. So his makeup was staying in place. Learn something new every day. It brings back Bruce’s smile.
“Okay, now you have to tell me.”
It’s a losing battle from the start, if Bruce holds it back, Joker could very well get angry, and an angry Joker is an unpredictable one. If he tells, he has a 50/50 chance of being gutted, as opposed to 100. It’s a no brainer.
“Is your makeup water resistant?”
Joker blinks. And blinks again, smile frozen in place. “This is what you’re on about?” He rolls his eyes. “Yes. It’d be awful if I had to reapply every five minutes. I can’t believe this is what makes you laugh,” he mumbles under his breath. Bruce waits as his companion shakes his head with a snort of disbelief. “Bats, if you survive this I’m going to teach you what’s really funny.” It’s a passing remark with an edge. Before Bruce can read into it too much, Joker pulls at his cape. “C’mon, we’re almost there.”
They turn and turn, going around bends and through opened units, into a section Bruce wouldn’t have found quickly without Joker’s help. It’s still empty, but there’s a thrum of machinery nearby.
“What is this place?”
“Well, originally it was one of my hang-outs. Me and Harley would come here to disappear for a bit. Now? Who knows, maybe Harv and Ozzy are trying to form an army. Not their style, I’ll admit, but whatever. And I thought they were my friends.” A silence falls, Bruce refusing to remark on the fact that most of Joker’s friends end up in a gutter. Joker shrugs, opening his mouth to speak when a crashing noise sounds across the area. Bruce pushes Joker into the shadows, the clown making an indignant sound at being pressed against the walls with no warning. Footsteps follow the loud noise, as well as an obnoxious voice that Bruce knows to be Oswald Cobblepot.
“Can’t you bastards do anything right?” He growls over the sounds. Bruce can just make out his silhouette inside a unit, waving his umbrella. “I told you to move this thing an hour ago!”
“What on earth are they doing with my couch?” Joker growls near Bruce’s ear. Bruce notices it’s a couch the men are carrying, a gaudy bright green monstrosity that hurts to look at. He also notices the men seem to be struggling with the object, surprising since both the henchmen look able to carry 500 pounds each.
His observations and questions are answered when the men drop the couch to the floor, cutting a slit in the cushions. One of the men pulls out a rocket launcher.
“I forgot that was in there,” Joker says, giggling quietly. The men pull out gun after gun, including revolvers, machine guns, and every sort in between. “Are they going to--yup, they are,” he says as the two men watch the henchmen unscrewing the couch’s decorations at the ends of the armrests, pulling out a collection of grenades. “Damn.”
As interesting as this is, Bruce has other things on his mind. “Where’s Dent?”
“Still inside is my guess. They must’ve turned my place upside down. Too bad, I have some nice trinkets in there. Ah well, I’ll get them back for it later. I don’t think we’ll be able to get in this way, but I have a secret entrance, it’s this way.” Joker scurries off without another sound. Bruce watches Penguin for another few moments before following yet again. He resigns to the fact that Joker will be leading the whole time. Joker has always been fast, maintaining a steady lead on Bruce and rarely taking the time to make sure he hasn’t lost him. It’s insane, Joker trusts that Bruce will follow him. And he’s right. Bruce puffs out a sigh.
The secret entrance turns out to be nothing more than a passage into the nearby sewers. Joker jumps willingly into the murky water. Bruce jumps a little after him, relieved his suit is waterproof. The smell is overpowering. As they trudge along wind whips around them, carrying noises with it. A brief shudder runs down Bruce’s spine as he remembers this used to be Killer Croc’s domain. He sincerely hopes Croc wasn’t one to jump at the chance to escape tonight. Humming cuts through the air, a slightly off-key waltz coming from Joker. It’s almost pretty, but doesn’t allow for quiet recon.
“Can you quiet down?” Bruce says. Joker’s hum cuts off.
“Don’t worry so much, no one’ll hear me. Besides, these tunnels make me antsy. I got stuck in them once, trying to get out. There are some things you just don’t want to see in these dark sewers, Batsy.” The humming starts up again, slightly quieter. Bruce doesn’t say anything else, tailing silently. Hardly any light can be seen, until he brings out a flashlight. Their shadows tower over them on the walls, adding to the creepy atmosphere.
“Master Bruce?” Alfred’s voice surprises hum, despite the fact no one else can hear he can’t help but watch for a reaction of recognition from Joker.
“I can’t talk much, I’m in the sewers with Joker,” he said into his comm with a low voice. He listens for Joker’s humming, which still carries. He hasn’t heard.
“I see. I wanted to say Arkham has sorted through some of the chaos. Only three have been reported missing so far, Mr. Dent, Mr. Cobblepot, and of course, the Joker. I’m looking at the footage now, and it seems Dent had some outside help. This must have been planned for a while.”
“I’m starting to see that. Can you find out if-”
“Ooh, you orderin’ a pizza?” Joker leans close to Bruce, talking into the comm. “I’ll have pepperoni and sausage with tomato--” Bruce pushes him away, barely hearing Alfred’s bemused words before hanging up.
“Rude. And I was just warming up to you too.” Joker sticks his tongue out at Bruce. “Might want to work on your attitude if we’re to be working together, dear.” Bruce clenches his fist.
“Are we almost there?”
“Yeah. We actually do need to be quiet now though, I dunno if anyone’s close to the entrance.” Joker whispers. He presses his hands to the wall, pressing down on one until it moves with a slight groan. Part of the wall slides, Joker helping it along before sliding through. “No one’s here, thank goodness!” Bruce hopes he’s telling the truth, but assumes he’d hear gunshots and shout if he was lying. He enters after the clown, sliding the wall back to a close. Time to investigate.