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Where's the Fun in This?

Chapter Text

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.

“Alfred?”

“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.

“Psst!”

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.

Chapter Text

Whatever ideas Bruce had in mind, he erased upon walking in. He’d imagined Joker’s hideaways as entirely too over-the-top, and while it was true there were some gaudy finishes, a bright couch here, vivid curtains there, most of the room was relatively...normal. Not what he was expecting.

“Why isn’t anyone here?” He asks out loud. No guards, henchmen, or any sign of life.

“It’s a trick room. No one but me can find it from inside or outside. Simple. Not sure we want to go in just yet though...” Joker rummages through a few boxes in the corner, pulling out a rather large gun. “Here we go. Whaddaya say, Bats, should we go in, guns blazing?”

Bruce ignores him in favor of scoping out the place. “Why on earth would they come here? How’d they even find it?”

“Oh, y’know. I might’ve let it slip once or twice when we were all in a short alliance. Not to help them, of course. I must’ve just been mocking them, who knows? They weren’t supposed to take it over, silly boys.” He peers down the length of the gun, eyes squinted. “Maybe this isn’t the right gun. Too dull. I misplaced my toy gun though...” He searches his coat pockets, throwing out a couple trinkets as he roots through them. “Wait, no, here it is!”

“Joker.” Bruce’s voice is heavy with annoyance. “You aren’t going to need a gun.”

“Says you. And you of all people should know I play by my own rules.” Joker doesn’t even look up, but he says it so matter-of-factly Bruce chooses not to respond. “So do you have a plan or not?”

“For now, we should just do recon and see what they’re up to. If we don’t have to, we shouldn’t attack anyone.” Bruce says thoughtfully. “Will they know once we get into the main part of this place?”

Joker lifts a shoulder. “No idea, I’ve never needed to know that.”

Well, if he can’t hear anything on the other side of the wall, Bruce takes that as a good sign. “We’ll need to go inside then. Who knows what we’ll find.”

“You sure? Seems a little reckless for you,” Joker says teasingly. He turns to the wall, a dirty red brick that looks unmovable, clearly meant to dissuade people from finding a secret passage. Joker knows the way to open it though, and with a shudder it gives way. It’s dark on the way through, but from here he realises he can hear something on the other side. He places a microphone on the wall, listening through his earpiece. Joker is surprisingly silent, though from the light of the other room he can see the clown tapping his fingers on his thighs anxiously, gun in his other hand. Bruce hopes he won’t have to use that.

“You don’t think the Bat’s coming, do ya?” Voices start coming from the microphone, and Bruce crouches down, listening.

“You think he’d find us here? Don’t worry, Two-Face knows what he’s doing. Besides, the sooner we finish this thing we can leave. The longer we stay the bigger the chance of being found.”

“That’s true. I wish we actually knew what was going on though. Some sort of bomb?”

“Honestly? I have no idea, just that we have to take in some kind of shipment and give it to the boss.”

Bruce’s brow furrows. From what he hears there’s only two people on the other side of the wall. “Joker, what’s on the other side?”

“Oh, just a lounge of sorts. It’s small.”

“Can you open to the other side quietly?”

Joker grins. “‘Course I can. It’s a regular door.” Bruce’s expression is blank.

“What?”

“One little lever and the door swings open. It’s a wonder they didn’t see it, it’s so obvious.” He flips a sort of switch, and the door swings open, revealing the henchmen, their backs turned to the walls, standing casually in the room, which brings back Bruce’s idea of a flashy living space for Joker. So bright, so colorful.

Bruce inches over to the two, right as they notice he drags them back to the door, Joker closing it with a wild sort of laugh. The two men struggle, disoriented, but Bruce has their mouths covered. He knocks one of them out swiftly, letting them slide to the ground. The other’s eyes are wide with fear and anger.

“For such a big bat you can be so quiet!” Joker states, eyeing the thug with a glint in his eye. His gun arm swings casually. The man’s struggles don’t weaken, Bruce lifting him so his feet dangle inches off the ground.

“What are Two-Face and Penguin up to?” He demands roughly. The man immediately gives in.
“I swear I don’t know anything, just that Two-Face wants to get rid of you! He hasn’t mentioned anything beyond a shipment.”

“When does it come in?” Bruce snarls.

“Tomorrow? I told you, he hasn’t told me anything. Please don’t hurt me!” The man’s eyes are wild. Bruce knocks him out with a huff of annoyance.

“Well that wasn’t too informative.” Joker crosses over to the men, inspecting the coats they wear. “Hey Batsy, can I keep them? They’d be useful target practice, don’t you think? Just let me shoot them up a bit.”

“Leave them here, Joker. And put the gun away, you don’t need it.” He clicks on his comm.

“Sir?”

“There’s a shipment coming in. Can you check every ship coming to the dock tomorrow?”

“I can certainly try.”

“Thanks, Al-” He catches himself, noticing Joker’s curious eyes on him. He turns off the connection.

“Well?”

“I think we might as well try to bring in Two-Face and Penguin.”

“We? Did you just say ‘we’?!” Joker gives a cry of happiness, though Bruce can’t place if it’s fake or not, and is promptly jumped on by the clown. His legs wrap around Bruce as he hugs him. For some reason he lets Joker stay on a moment longer than necessary, but it isn’t because he enjoys the hug, not at all. When the moment’s over he pushes Joker off.

“When did you get so romantic?” Joker smirks. “I thought for sure you were gonna slam me to the ground in a rush. I wouldn’t have minded that too much either, darling.”

Bruce’s face grows warm, and he’s thankful they’re still in a relatively dark room. His mouth stays close, and he knows Joker knows he hit a nerve.

“Come on,” he says gruffly. “We should go back to where penguin was.”

“Right behind you,” Joker says lightly, straightening out his suit.

*

The clearing they’d first heard Penguin in was quiet now. The ground was littered with wet footprints leading inside, to which Joker tutted sadly.

“I’ll bet they’re making a mess in there. I should’ve had a self-destruct sequence installed or something.”

“If that was a thing you’d definitely be in Arkham right now.”

“Sure, sure. I was just saying. Hey, hold on.” Joker takes out a phone from his pocket, turning on the camera. He poses, Bruce in the background, and snaps a picture before Bruce can take the phone away. “I’m sending that to Harls. She’ll love it.” He pockets the phone again quickly.

“If anyone sees that they’ll know where we are,” Bruce protests.

“Harley wouldn’t,” Joker answers him. “Not unless she was mad at me or something. Come to think of it…” He goes off, biting his lip. “Well, maybe she’ll tell someone.”

“I can’t believe you,” Bruce says. “Give me your phone.”

Joker shakes his head. “No way.”

“Give it to me or I swear to God I’ll-”

“Shh!”

Bruce is so taken aback at being shushed he stops in his tracks.

“Bats, we’re on a secret mission. Be quiet, remember?” Joker says mockingly. He climbs onto a crate, walking on top in a way that his feet don’t his the metal and crash. Bruce grits his teeth, regretting not locking the clown up when he had the chance.

They sneak in with relative ease, making sure no one spots them, though Bruce can tell Joker wants to jump up just so he can scare the hell out of them.

The further they walk in, the more of Joker’s embellishments show up on the walls, spray-painted “HaHaHa”s here and there, discarded playing cards, and even a couple bullets littering the ground. Voices echo up ahead, one definitely the Penguin. Bruce crouches lower as he walked, moving stealthily next to the wall. Men stand scattered in front of him, most armed. They’ll be hard to maneuver around, but it’s doable. The less people Bruce has to take out before he reaches Cobblepot, the better. He inches forward, going unnoticed as he edges around the room. Easy enough. He keeps going, only pausing when someone turns to move a bit. It’s a little annoying, being one of the only darker things in a bright room, but he’s managed in worse.

The problems start when one man gets a little twitchy, looking this way and that as though he senses something. Bruce edges back, accidentally brushing against a can of what he guesses is paint. He prepares to run or hide, seeing the henchman turning towards the noise, when he hears a crazy sort of laugh on the other side of the room. Everyone, including him, looks to see Joker at the balcony, leaning out to look at Penguin with an insanely large smile, the shorter man standing at the center of the room.

“Ozzie, baby, it’s been forever!! Or, no, hold on, it’s been four hours? Ah, what the hell, I missed ya!” He fixes Penguin with a perfectly predatory grin. “I was so sad you didn’t take me with you when you escaped,” he jeers.

Penguin’s face grows red with fury. “You! What are you doing here, you idiotic clown? You were supposed to stay in that bloody madhouse!”

Joker’s eyes flick in Bruce’s direction, accompanied but a slight raise of an eyebrow. Bruce remembers he’s supposed to be sneaking over to Penguin, not enjoying the show. He resumes creeping over, Joker keeping up his obnoxious banter.

“I can’t believe you didn’t invite me, Oz. And in my own home too. If I’d known you were coming I would’ve made you feel more welcome, y’know? Of course, it’s understandable you’re jealous, I do pick the best locations, don’t I?”

Bruce wavers, a man stepping a bit too close for his taste. Everyone else’s gaze is on Joker, however, so he makes quick work of dragging the man to where he lies in wait, making sure he’s unconscious before moving on. In front of him Penguin fumes, though it’s obvious he struggles to keep in control.

“I don’t need you interfering with our work. Every time you show up, the Bat comes along for the ride, don’t think I haven’t noticed. It’s almost like you want to be caught.”

“Mm, that’s why you’re working so hard on getting rid of him,” Joker laughs. “Like a flightless bird and a man who can’t decide which face to put on in the morning could get rid of old Bats.”

Bruce can’t help but feel proud in Joker’s vote of confidence, but then Penguin feels the conversation is over, throwing out one last question.

“And who do you think would kill him then?” A pause. Penguin grows smug, the seconds passing until Joker sheds a facade of pensiveness.

“Batman is mine, Happy Feet. We understand each other, him and me, and I won’t let two-bit thieves butt in.” Joker wears his edged smile like a badge, his insane brashness worn like a second skin. There’s no doubt in his eyes either. Bruce shivers, he’s no stranger to that look. It’s a look of promise. It’s time for this conversation to end. He’s where he needs to be, only five feet from the shorter criminal, and Cobblepot seems to sense it. Before he can turn fully Bruce leaps, pinning him to the ground. His men give shout of surprise, Joker refuses to give them a chance at focus, shooting haphazardly. Bruce notes he’s not going for the kill right away. He’s just keeping the men away from Bruce as he carries a struggling Penguin towards the entrance. He doesn’t worry too much about Joker. If anyone could take care of themselves, it’s him.

He rushes from the base, bullets flying, a few grazing his suit. One hits him so he knows it’ll bruise, the sudden pain of it hitting his shoulder causing him to grit his teeth.

Once he finds himself out in the open he uses his batclaw to propel himself on top of a nearby crane, Penguin refusing to give up easily cursing loudly. Bruce realises it’s hard to use a batclaw when your cargo wriggles like a worm, but they make it relatively unharmed.

“Let me go, you tosser!” Penguin continues to protest loudly, though he shudders at the height he’s at, gripping his umbrella tightly. “I swear, I’d kill you myself if-”

“If what, Cobblepot?” Bruce feigns boredom. He wonders why Penguin even wants him dead in the first place, of all the villains he’s faced, Penguin was the one he fought with the least. For the most part they left the other alone. “What are you and Dent planning?”

“Oh, no. You won’t be dragging me into any interrogation.” Penguin crosses his arms with a glower, nose upturned. “You won’t get a peep out of me.”

Bruce returns the look. “Fine. You can spend your night at Blackgate. Maybe that’ll help.”

“I have things to run,” Penguin spits out.

“And I still have Dent to capture. Now will you tell me or not? What’s your plan?”

“Piss off!”

Just what he expected. Bruce heaves a large sigh. There’s nothing else to do now but take Penguin to Blackgate now. He gets ready to heave Cobblepot over his shoulder again and jumps off the crane when with a burst of strength the portly man pushes away, falling over the edge of the crane, using his umbrella as a parachute to quickly get away. Bruce curses, calling the Batmobile, but he knows Penguin will be long gone by then. The man is sneakier than a snake.

Joker is leaning on the car when Bruce gets there, humming a cheerful tune and tapping a rhythm out on the black vehicle. Bruce’s eyes narrow.

“Oz got away,” Joker points out unhelpfully.

“I know.” And it’s gonna be a pain in the ass to find him again. Of all weeks. Of course, that was the point to this, chaos before a huge event. It still feels too random though, especially for Harvey and Oswald.

The hatch to the batmobile opens, causing Joker to jump away from his moving armrest. Once he’s in the car, Bruce looks to the clown, the latter eyeing the vehicle.

“You can come with, but you’re sitting in back,” he says hesitantly.

“No VIP seat for your assistant? Thanks, but I’ll pass. I’ll see if I find anything else out--” Bruce is surprised by this, and tries to thank him until Joker meets his eyes, “but I won’t do it for free.”

This is what Bruce is afraid of. He hesitates.

“What do you want in return?”

Joker tilts his head, tapping his chin thoughtfully. “You know, I haven’t really decided. I’ll think of something though.”

That is as dangerous a bargain to make as any. For all Bruce knows Joker could want him to kill people, or turn himself in. Anything to get under his skin. He goes for a warning. “Pick something reasonable. I don’t do random favours,” he ventures.

“Would you expect anything less from me?” Joker lowers his eyelids, his voice a whisper as he leans up to talk in Bruce’s ear. “Don’t worry so much, Bats. The stress is too much. Any other fiascos, you’ll get gray hair and end up looking like your butler.” He ambles off into the shadows, but Bruce barely pays attention. His focus snags on Joker’s last words. His butler. Meaning Alfred. Meaning…

He knows who I am.

Bruce feels a chill run down his spine. He thinks of what it means and calls Alfred.

“Sir, is something wrong?”

Bruce stays quiet before responding, unsure how exactly to say what he needs to. “Joker knows who I am. Knows you help me.” He can hear Alfred’s sharp intake of breath, and when it turns to a resigned sigh.

“It isn't like we didn’t know this would happen. He’s intelligent, despite his insanity.” Bruce agrees, but…

“What do you think I should do?” He hates that the few words Joker spoke make him feel so vulnerable. He feels about ten years younger, a novice, though his exhaustion adds those years back quickly.

“There’s nothing you can do for the moment, Master Bruce. I suggest you follow up with him, has he told anyone else?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Then I wouldn’t worry too much. You have larger fish to fry.” As usual, Alfred’s right. Before Bruce cuts the connection, he remembers what Joker had told him about Harley Quinn.
“Make sure to check up and see if Harley Quinn is up to anything,” Bruce adds.

“I’ll alert Oracle as well, sir.”

Bruce cuts the connection, revving up the Batmobile. It’s back to a mindless search around the city. But he’s nothing if not a detective. Finding a lead should be easier if he returns to the docks at this point. He knows the rough area now, at least.

Upon returning, he finds the place vacated. No men, though the bodies Joker left are still there. Bruce pulls them to a side, walking inside.

Joker’s former hideout is ransacked, things strewn about haphazardly. Bruce scans the room. A few guns are left behind, and one of the crates the men had been carrying. They really had left soon after Bruce had arrived.

Scrutinising the wall Bruce finds words scrawled on the words sloppily. Death to Batman and Kill the Bat most common. Upon a closer look, Bruce discovers what seems to be a time.

22:15.

Bruce looks up shipping times, none of the ship landings at that time. He’d suspected it was off the schedule, but now he realises if this crate hadn’t been taken, maybe it wasn’t as important as the other. He opens the crate.

Row upon row of stacked up explosives. Unoriginal, but it raises the question of what the other crates held, if this one wasn’t valuable enough to take in the retreat.

Maybe the ship is supposed to drop off more. Bruce checks his clock. 21:57. He’ll wait.

 

A ship arrives at 22:15, all it’s lights off, more like a shadow on the waves than a concrete object. It’s not one the Bruce expects. This ship is small, more a tugboat than a cargo ship. Instantly suspicious watches silently for any movement. One of the lights turns on, and a few men shuffle out carrying a crate not unlike the one Penguin had left behind. Alarms go off in his head.

When the men disappear into the entrance to the hideout Bruce sneaks aboard the boat. The captain is at the helm, leaning over the wheel, smoking. He keeps his back to Bruce, giving the man an easy trip below decks.

It’s full of crates. Bruce stays in the shadows, voices are audible around him, lifting the crates. Bruce wonders if it’s just more explosives. They’re heavy enough, certainly.

“Come on, we got fifteen more of these to go, ya know. We can’t stay here.”

“They’re fuckin’ heavy, man! What’s in these anyway?”

“You know what. All the guns an’ shit. Whatever the boss needs to get rid of wealthy Gothamites. I tell ya, it’ll be way better once they’re gone.”

“True. But do they need so many boxes?”

“Gotta do the job right, I guess. Plus a little extra if the bat shows up.”

Bruce listens intently, sending the feed to Oracle. He backs away to escape from the ship, quiet as a mouse. The way the thugs talk, like all wealthy people are selfish snobs, irks Bruce, but he knows quite a few millionaires he’d rather left Gotham. They’re more useful for charity money than kindness, and only when Bruce can convince them to donate.

The voices fade, Bruce opening a window to propel himself back to the dock. More crates are carried out, and Bruce decides once the men leave he’ll investigate.

“Batman, this ship isn’t logged in to any schedules, but it seems to have come from around Arkham.”

Of course. “Do you know if anything’s missing?”

“Nothing that’s been counted, so far. A couple crates of chemicals. Mostly toxic.”

That sounds more like something Jonathan Crane when it comes to toxins, though he hasn’t heard of any incidents with Scarecrow so far. And even though the Joker is helping Bruce at this moment, it’d be a mistake to count him out. Bruce really doesn’t know his motives.

“Oracle, what’s going on?”

“Apparently more criminals have gone missing. Penguin’s escape seems to have started a chain reaction. Harley Quinn showed up, now Poison Ivy is missing, along with a couple others.”

“Can you track them down?”

“I’ll try.”

“Thanks.”

Bruce hides until the boat leaves, creeping into Joker’s hideout. The crates sit in the middle of the room. He knows it’s only a matter of time before Penguin comes to collect. He pries one open. Toxins and chemicals. A couple others hold the same thing, some explosives. And in a couple crates… uniforms. He should’ve guessed. It’s going to be an up close and personal attack on Gotham’s wealthiest, unless he stops it.

One quick call to Gordon asking to pick these items up, and Bruce leaves. He leaves the coordinates, knowing Joker won’t mind terribly. Once a hideout is discovered he never comes back. A fact Bruce came upon a couple years ago.

He won’t go to the Asylum, if people have escaped Gotham’ll need them stopped. He grudgingly things he might need more help on this, even the great Batman can’t be everywhere at once.

He hopes nothing deadly is happening over in Bludhaven, calling Nightwing to see if he’ll help.

“I’ll be right over, I was getting bored anyway,” is Dick’s quick reply. Bruce feels a weight being lifted off his shoulder, another ally fighting on the streets will get the job done quicker.

One thing Bruce knows for certain; Gotham is in for a rough couple days.

Chapter Text

“Boy, it’s been a while.”

It’s the musty, toxic smell that hits Joker’s nose before he sees it. He inhales deeply. Ace Chemical Plant. His birthplace, if that’s what you call coming up from a vat of chemicals with almost no accurate recollection of a previous life. An abandoned building, so why does he notice moving beams of light as he comes into the view of the plant? He purses his lips. Flashlights.

Wonder who’s home?

The first sound that hits him when he slips inside the building is orders being given.

“You better put that down! Mr. J doesn’t like when people touch his things.” The person’s voice is biting, her accent prominent.

Joker bites his lip. Harley. At this point he doesn’t know if she’s still mad at him. She stands on a platform, pointing, her teeth bared. She looks mad. A bit of persuasion and she’ll come back to his side, but it’s the moments before that he needs to look out for. No need to die when you’re this close to an ally. And Harley really doesn’t stay mad at him for long. So, how to confront her?
She keeps tossing out orders, though he has no idea what she’s doing here. If she isn’t here to take anything, there’s no reason for her to be at the plant. Unless…

“You know Two-Face’ll want his stuff intact, so be careful. Honestly, do I hafta do everything myself?” She rubs at her forehead in frustration. He takes this as his cue to go up and greet her. She has her back to him, and doesn’t even notice him until he’s only a couple feet away from her.

“Harley.” Joker walks over, noticing the shock in her eyes.

“You aren’t supposed to be here,” she says, her voice laced with irritation.

“Neither are you, Harls.”

The woman huffs, crossing her arms. “I’m still mad at you. I could shoot you right now, y’know.” Her fingers twitch, a nervous habit like his, and Joker knows how much she wants to reach for her gun. “I got your picture, by the way. Workin’ with Bats now?”

Joker shrugs, feigning indifference. “You know how it is. I’m a wild card.” He grins. “Besides, I saw a chance and I took it. But what are you doing working for old Two-Face?”

“None a’ your business,” she says, sticking her tongue out. “Just somethin’ to rile up Batman.”
Joker leans against the wall. “You could do that without Harvey. Without me, even.” It’s true, he hasn’t given Harley enough credit over the years. She’s almost at adept at causing trouble as he is. He feels a small glimmer of pride at that fact.

“Ivy wanted to. You know how it is.” Harley sighs, a faint smile on her face.

“True love is a bitch,” Joker comments. Harley’s smile grows bigger, a knowing glint in her eyes. Joker knows he’s won her over, for now at least.

“Isn’t it just. How is the B-man? Have you proposed yet?” Harley asks slyly.

Joker pouts. “He’s as righteous as ever. He doesn’t even want me to help, isn’t that awful?”
“You probably had to make a deal for you two to work together, didn’t you.” Harley doesn’t even mean it as a question. This is what true friendship is, gun threats, inside jokes, and knowing the other like the back of your own hand. Harley wouldn’t be here without Joker, but Joker also wouldn’t have come up with or executed such amazing plans without her. It stopped being a romantic thing years ago, it never would have worked between them. So tight-knit partners in crime it was.

“I couldn’t resist. I saw my chance and took it. You can’t imagine how good it feels having a hero on the other end of an open-ended bargain. He looked so torn between agreeing and locking me up.” Joker lets out a whooping sort of laugh, Harley joining him and wrapping an arm around him. It dies off, but Joker doesn’t want a comfortable silence at the moment. He wants answers. “So what are you really doing here?”

Harley finally gives in. “Oh, just storin’ some stuff. Harvey and Penguin need it for their shebang on Friday. Some big bash they wanna blow up, I’m sure you know. There was supposed to be more, I think, but those damn cops took it. Anyways Dent got Ivy and me to come along. We’re supposed to just wait here for now, guard the boxes. It beats stayin’ at Arkham, and besides, I was bored.” She smiles a bit too sharply. “Puddin’, you coulda helped me escape too, you know.”

Joker winces. “Harley, you know what I do is spur of the moment. I needed to get out fast, I wasn’t thinking. But I’ll make it up to you, how’s that?”

Harley just gives a short laugh. “That’ll be the day. We might be friends, but you sure don’t keep your promises. Don’t worry about it,” she adds. “I’m alright now.”

“Glad to hear it.” Joker, glances around, some men noticing him but turning their heads quickly. If Harley hasn’t shot him yet, it’s good enough for them, he supposes.

“You sure you don’t wanna help, Mr. J? I’m sure there’s something you can do.”

“I’ve got previous engagements. And besides, I don’t need other villains to blow up Gotham.” Joker smirks. “I’ll do it all on my own time.”

“Figures.”

“Where is Ivy anyway?” Joker drops himself onto a nearby seat, arms behind his head and reclining. Harley joins him, crossing her red and black clad legs, her skirt poofing up around her.
“Well, she was here a little while ago, but she’s probably at the gardens. Can’t stay away from her plants too long. She should leave Gotham, there’re barely any plants here. Go somewhere tropical maybe.”

“Would you go with?” Joker asks. He can’t imagine Harley wanting to leave, especially since she’s lived in New England her whole life. Tropics would be suffocating. At least in his opinion. Though he can definitely rock the beach look. Boy, was that a time.

“I dunno. Wouldn’t be too good for my makeup, though I wouldn’t need it over there, would I?” She sounds a little sad. “Imagine not causing a stir ever again. I mean, I still could, but who would I go up against? Aquaman?” She rolls her eyes. “I could do with just retiring there, I guess.” Then, realising what she’s saying, she straightens up. “Wait, what am I talkin’ about, retiring? I still got miles to go, and so does Ivy. Ick, here I am getting sentimental.” She cradles her face in her hand. “I got work to do, Puddin’. Call me if you need me, I’m always up for a laugh.” She pats him on the shoulder. “And get out of here, if Dent comes in and sees you the whole plant’ll be in a shambles.”

“Fine, fine.” He hops up, taking Harley’s hand. “Nice talking to you Harls. I’ll see myself out.”

She winks at him, wiggling her fingers. “Say hi to B-man for me!”

Joker can’t help the smile that frames his face.

*

It comes as a complete surprise to Bruce when Selina shows up, much like Joker had. Like meeting two hundred feet in the air was completely normal.

“You’ve seen the news, right?” She walks over to where he stands, a precarious vantage point about a dozen stories above the Batmobile. “All your friends are coming out to play.”

“And so have you?” Bruce asks, smiling despite the situation. If he has to, he might admit Selina is more friend than enemy, a thief with an eye for jewels and riches.

She rolls her eyes. “Hardly. Though I’ve noticed some jewelries are vacated. Covered in heavy iron doors, but how hard can getting through that be?”

Bruce doesn’t bother with words, but he thinks he does a decent job at giving her a withering look from under his cowl. Her shrewd smile reveals her mockery.

“Anyways, you think I’m gonna stay out here when all the crazies are running around? I’d rather survive to next week, thanks.”

He knows it’s a smart choice. Gotham is even more dangerous than usual. But he can’t help but ask, “You won’t help, then? You’re already out and about.”

“Hmm. Never been one for heroics, you know. And I just had a couple errands to run and saw you moping.” She steps up to Bruce, “Now, if you’re free afterwards, I might consider that,” her coy smile fades into a more serious look, “but I won’t risk my neck, Bruce.” Bruce shivers, it’s always strange when he hears people who don’t live with or work closely with him say his name. Like they’ve come upon a secret he’s tried so hard to hide, which just so happens to be the case.

“I understand. I don’t know the entirety of their plan though, so be careful.”

“I will,” she reassures him. “Do you expect anything else of me?”

“Right. I’ll see you later, Selina,” he says.

“Bye. I’d give you some sort of clue, but you know, being a hero isn’t good for my constitution. Just make sure they stay out of the east end, yeah?”

“I’ll try,” Bruce says. How many half-baked assurances will he be making tonight? He loves his job, but he doesn’t deny it can get tiring.

He finds himself waiting on top of a roof for the GCPD to arrive with the dangerous cargo a few minutes later. Only he keeps waiting for them. And waiting. And finally, when he thinks they’ve arrived, he’s fooled by a lone patrol car coming back. An uneasiness comes to him. He comms Gordon. The only answer is the crackle of his radio, an unwelcome sound. He should have known this would happen.

 

He glides down when more police cars finally appear, the cars screeching the a stop.

“What happened?” He demands as the officers get out of their seats.

“It was Dent. He showed up with his thugs. We were outnumbered. They managed to take some of their crates.” Bruce nods, hoping they didn’t take the crates with toxins and uniforms. He can deal with guns and explosives, but up close and personal biological warfare was never one of his favorite situations. Too many risks. He walks to where Gordon gets out, nursing a bloodied arm and a black eye.

“I’m fine,” the commissioner coughs out when he sees Bruce. “I’ve been through worse. They were waiting for us, the sons of bitches.”

“I should’ve been there.”

Gordon shakes his head. “They’re not the only ones loose. We need eyes everywhere.” He’s right.

“You said Harvey was there? Was there anyone else?”

“With him? No. Lucky us,” Gordon says bitterly. “But I heard something’s going on around here too.”

“It’s been quiet for the most part,” Bruce says, hiding his confusion. “But I’ll check around. You should get that arm checked.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Gordon waves him off. His forehead is coated with a sheen of sweat, he’s in more pain than he lets on. Being stubborn is a trend in Gotham’s protectors, that much Bruce knows. He just hopes stubbornness isn’t what kills in the end.

 

*

 

For the most part, the rest of the night is uneventful. The thugs Oracle mentioned didn’t move from their location, and Bruce doesn’t see hide nor hair of Penguin, Two-Face, or any other criminals who could be on the loose. A quick message to Dick telling him they’ll keep this up tomorrow and he calls it a night. He returns to the manor at dawn, the sun’s rays just peeking out past the horizon, eyes straining. A quick wave to Alfred, who smiles at Bruce tiredly. One too many nights spent working.

Once in his room he sheds his suit, letting out a yawn of exhaustion. It’s impossible to stay upright. He collapses into bed and shuts his eyes, not bothering with blankets. It doesn’t take much time till he’s out cold, lost in dreams.

 

And then blinding lights floods the room, accompanied by the soft swishes of drapes being drawn back.

“Would it kill you to let me sleep in?” Bruce groans, draping his arm over his eyes dramatically.

“Sorry, Master Bruce. But you do have a meeting at nine today.”

“It’s not like Lucius can’t take care of it himself,” Bruce mumbles. He lifts his gaze to look at Alfred. Alfred’s smile is apologetic, but one look at the bags under his butler’s eyes and Bruce relents. He isn’t the only one who has to deal with late shifts. “It’s okay. One of these days we’ll take a break, go on vacation.”

Alfred shakes his head. “That’ll be the day. I seem to remember your work tends to follow on your vacations.”

“Very true.” Bruce’s food sits on his bedside table, eggs and toast, coffee on the side. Nothing too fancy. Good. And oh gods. It’s black coffee. Nothing like a strong and bitter taste to wake up the senses. Exactly what Bruce needs. Thank the gods for Alfred.

As he gets dressed, he gets a reminder of the bullet that had hit him during the scuffle with Cobblepot and his men. Black and blue paints the upper left side of his back, tender when Bruce probes gently at it. That won’t be going away anytime soon. He pulls his arms through the sleeves of his shirt carefully, buttoning slowly. To think, he alternates between playing a charismatic, philanthropic businessman and a rough, take-no-shit vigilante. Good thing he wears a cowl. He wouldn’t want to be on TV with a black eye. Who knows what rumors the newspapers would spin up. They can definitely be creative.

Dick sits on the stairs as Bruce leaves his room, donning casual clothing for the day. He glances up at Bruce, raising a hand in greeting. “You look like shit.”

“You’ve looked better too,” Bruce retorts with a small smile. “No luck on your end?”

“Nah. Got in a few decent punches though. Mugger down on 6th street.”

“You up for it again tonight?”

Dick shrugs. “I’ll be well rested. I’m gonna eat, take a bath, and sleep the rest of the day.” He grins, daring Bruce to react jealously.

Bruce only raises an eyebrow. “That’s what’s wrong with your generation, isn’t it? Asleep all day, out all night.” He shakes his head and descends to the foyer, the car waiting out front, Dick sputtering indignantly after him. He’s missed having him around, he has to admit.

*

In the short span of two hours Bruce has discovered how to appear focused and interested while trying to figure out how to make time pass by faster. These methods include clicking a pen, leaning as far back in his chair without seeming unprofessional, and trying to communicate with Lucius Fox through facial expressions and varied amounts of shrugging. The first two he grows bored of relatively quickly, but starting a facial conversation is harder than it looks. Lucius is amused enough to indulge him at first, but Bruce thinks maybe some of their expressions are lost in translation. Unless Lucius meant to encourage him with a raised eyebrow and slight scowl. Oh well. Patience has to end somewhere.

“Mister Wayne, you might want to bring an Ipod if you aren’t paying attention to begin with,” Lucius confronts him at the end of the meeting, but his demeanor is back to relative contentment.

“I can’t believe they’ve been arguing over where to put a new library for over a month, Lucius. There are so many good places. Over in the East End would be perfect, people reading and getting off the streets.”

“You know how the board is,” Lucius says, cleaning his glasses. “They want it where it’ll make the most money. And the East End just doesn’t fit that bill. That aside...you have bags under your eyes the size of suitcases. Rough night?”

“Eh. Not really. Just been out too many nights. I’ll get some rest later.” Bruce waves off his concerns. “How have you been? Any additions to your works?”

“As a matter of fact, yes.” The two men head to Lucius’ headquarters/workshop to check out the latest additions for the batsuit. The room lights up once they step off the elevator, illuminating various prototypes and ideas for Bruce’s vehicles and suits. Towards the far end of the room sits a table with assorted computers, some papers scattered over the desk part. A small box sits on top of those papers, which Lucius picks up. Opening the box, he pulls out an item too small for Bruce to see. His friend reaches out. At Bruce’s interested look he gestures for him to hold his hand out. Lucius hands Bruce a tiny chip. Turning it over, Bruce inspects the translucent square, running his finger over the grooves.

“Insert that into your cowl. I’ve designed it to help enhance your infrared vision. No doubt you’ll be needing it, and besides you won’t need any night goggles.” Bruce smirks. He hasn’t used the goggles for quite some time, though with the regular infrared doesn’t reach as far. This will be a big help. Now he’ll be able to recognise when someone, or multiple people, are around him in the dark. Perfect.

“This is great, Lucius. Thank you.”

“I’ve got something else in the works too, just gotta put in some finishing touches. I’ll call you when it’s ready.”

“I can’t wait to see.” He shakes hands with Lucius, saying his goodbyes. Alfred is waiting outside Wayne Tower with the car, and he doesn’t want to keep him waiting too much longer. The lobby of the tower is relatively empty and quiet. Only a few footsteps echo on the linoleum, the receptionist smiling as Bruce passes by. He returns the smile briefly, walking towards the door.

“Oh, Mr. Wayne?” The receptionist calls behind him, and he pauses.

“Yes?”

She reaches for a slip of paper at her desk. “Someone wanted to give you this while you were at your meeting. I kept it for you.”

“Oh,” Bruce takes the paper from her. “Thank you, Cora.” He opens the paper as he walks, the spidery scrawl on the slip familiar.

 

Hello, darling.
It seems you have a few more problems to deal with than you thought. Meet me at the cafe across your tower. I know you won’t disappoint.
Xoxo

 

Bruce crumples up the paper. A sinking feeling settles in his gut. The car is just in front of him, he’s so close to going home for a rest…

He taps on the car window. “Alfred, I’ll be just a bit longer.”

“If you insist, sir. I haven’t finished my novel yet anyway.” Alfred waves his paperback at Bruce, a bookmark stuck between the pages.

“Alright. I’ll be back.” Bruce heaves a sigh, unbuttoning his coat and fisting and unfisting his hands. The cafe in question taunts him across the street. He can’t see anyone he recognises through the glass. Might as well just go in and get it over with.

Inside the cafe is softly lit, piano music playing as background noise. The soft murmur of conversation wafts through the air, dark yellow walls covered in painted flowers. Not a place Bruce would frequent. Why would Joker pick such a place? And where is he?

Oh. A look to the left and there, in the farthest corner booth. Though he wears a darker hoodie, he’s still the most colorful person in the room, with his bright green sneakers and technicolor sunglasses. So much for trying to blend in. At least his hair is hidden, Bruce thinks to himself. And his skin doesn’t look paperwhite like usual. Makeup, Bruce assumes. He almost looks... normal. But it’s Joker, and the fact that Joker knows who he is still unnerves him to the point of wanting to walk the other way.

He slides into the seat across from the undercover clown, keeping his voice steady. “I hope you have good information.”

Joker lowers his sunglasses just a smidge, toxic green eyes focused on Bruce’s dark blue. “Have something better to do now? What does the great Bruce Wayne do on his down time, I wonder,” he says, voice low. He toys with the straw of his milkshake, purple nails clashing with the bright yellow tube.

Bruce frowns. “I’m here for information, you-”

“Hi, what’ll you be having. Oh, you’re Bruce Wayne, aren’t you?” A waitress interrupts him, his voice dying in his throat. He glances at Joker, who hides his smile by taking a sip of his drink. He won’t be getting any help from him.

“Hi.” He flashes her a charming smile, turning on his usual billionaire playboy persona. “I’m new here, sorry. What would you recommend?”

“Well, I don’t know what you like, Mr. Wayne.” The waitress holds her notebook a little tighter. Her name tag reads Iridian. She’s young, and somewhat inexperienced. It must be her first job. Maybe even her first week. Bruce decides to make her a little more comfortable.

“I don’t know, what’s your best coffee?”

“I’d have to say it’s our mint caramel latte. But it might be too sweet for you-”

“It’s perfect. Thanks.”

“No problem.” She’s obviously flustered, it isn’t every day a billionaire comes into a cafe, but she writes the order down quickly. “Is that all?”

“Actually, Iridian dear, Brucie and I would like the special. It’s cheesecake, right?” Joker pipes up. Bruce shoots him a look, which he ignores.

The waitress nods, not knowing whether to look at his bright glasses or at the wall behind him. For a second Bruce thinks she’ll recognise him, but she’s oblivious. “Yeah. You want two?”

“Sure. Thank you,” Joker smiles sweetly as the waitress leaves. He drinks the rest of his milkshake, pushing the glass aside. “I never thought I’d see your act in person. You charmer,” he croons. He rests his head on his hands. “Never been here before, huh? It’s a shame, the food here really is good. Walls need a little more color, but ya can’t win them all, right?”

Bruce forces himself to get comfortable. “The information? I’m not here for idle conversation, Jo-.”

“John.”

“What?” Bruce leans back, slightly perplexed.

“Right now? Call me John. More inconspicuous, don'tcha think? Not many people are called Joker, are they? And relax, live a little. What, you actually enjoy being cooped up all day?” Joker takes off his glasses, shoving them in his pocket. His eyes are on display for the world to see, yet no one even looks his way.

“Generally.”

“Geez, your whole life is an act, isn’t it. Know what I think?”

“I really don’t care what you think.”

“I think you would much rather be at home, petting a dog and reading by the fire. During the day at least.” Ridiculous. Bruce doesn’t even own a dog.

The waitress comes back to deliver their order. As she places the cheesecake in front of him, Bruce realises Joker was right, it really does look good. Joker takes a big bite of the cheesecake, and the sound he makes at the taste is almost obscene. Bruce wants to hide, fighting the urge to pull his collar up and over his face. Joker notices this, of course he does.

“Aw, you’re blushing!” Joker laughs. Bruce wants to jump off a building. “Come on, just try the cake. It’s delicious.”

Bruce takes a tiny piece, spooning it into his mouth. He has to fight the urge not to make the exact same sound the man across from him just made. It’s like an explosion of flavor on his taste buds, sweet and creamy and chocolatey. Joker grins in delight at his expression.

“I told you!” He quickly spoons the rest of his cheesecake into his mouth.

It’s almost like a casual outing. Bruce relaxes a bit more, Joker is his more manic, cheerful self at the moment. He figures he won’t pull out a knife anytime soon. Still.

“Jok-John. We’re not here for food and-”

“Here.” Joker shoves a spoonful of cake into Bruce’s mouth before he can react. Bruce can’t even get mad as the taste floods his mouth. Joker’s smile can’t possibly get any wider at this point, like a child on Christmas morning. He rubs his hands together.

“Okay, now I’ve had my fun. So I saw Harley yesterday. Won’t tell you where just yet, but I can tell you in all the chaos that happened at Arkham, more of your friends escaped. I wouldn’t be surprised if it looked like a ghost town at this point. Stuff I’m sure you know, right?” Well, yes, but Bruce lets Joker continue. “Harv and Oz are storing a bunch of stuff all over Gotham though. He’s got people guarding them.”

“And?”

“And... I got some of the locations.” It’s like a card reveal, Joker keeping Bruce on the edge of his seat.

“Really?”

“Yup!”

“Where are they?” Bruce asks, leaning forward in his chair. Joker mimics him, meeting his eyes conspiratorially.

“...Where would we be if I made it that easy, Bruce?” Joker’s voice is soft, his eyes glittering in amusement.

Wait.

Chapter Text

Does he really mean what I think he means? Bruce’s brow furrows in confusion, eyes narrow. He’d make headlines if he strangled the clown right here and now. And he can tell Joker knows that. So he doesn’t. “Why would you call me here for half-baked information?”

Joker folds his arms behind his head. “Well, I’ve been feeling a little...bored, you know? Saving the city is all well and good, for you. But me? I’m like a professor stuck in a kindergarten class. Elementary and all that.”

“So what do you want?” Bruce ask through gritted teeth. “We made a deal.”

“I know, I know. Just, make it a little more interesting. I’m not a messenger boy.”

Bruce can’t believe this. “You’re wasting my time.” He moves to stand up when Joker laughs lowly.

“Might wanna sit back down, Bruce. You never know what could happen.” His eyes are edged with malice, despite his cheerful expression. Bruce feels cold, his hand gripping the table tightly. He could leave, but that’d be leaving everyone else at Joker’s mercy. And who knows what Joker is hiding? He settles back in his seat. “Good boy. Now, where were we? Oh yeah. I’m bored. Come on, walk with me.”

“We haven’t gotten the check.”

“Who cares? Just put the money on the table and let’s go.” Joker stands up, stretching his arms up over his head. He stalks over to the door, gesturing for Bruce to follow with a tilt of his head. Bruce sighs, tossing a hundred dollar bill onto the table. At least one person will be happy today.
It’s breezy outside, the wind tousling his hair. Joker hooks his arm around Bruce’s, Bruce slightly self-conscious about whether or not anyone will take a picture. Any other situation and he’d ignore the paps, but now…

“Cold isn’t it?” Joker shivers. “I love fall though. Leaves crunching under your feet, Halloween. Ooh, just that word gives me chills. Costumes and pranks.” He sighs longingly. “Not to mention the fashion.” Bruce looks down at his sneakers and decides not to comment. “Oh, by the way, you might want to tell Alfred you won’t be home for a while.”
“Where are we going?” Bruce reluctantly takes out his phone to message Alfred.

 

Just go home, Alfred. I’m a little caught up at the moment. Don’t worry though.

 

“For a walk. But we’re going to talk. So tell me, how does a rich boy like you just up and decide on dressing up and beating people up as a hobby?”

Bruce brushes a fallen leave out of his hair. “You make it sound ridiculous.”

“It’s not? That’s news to me. So?”

“I just hated seeing so much crime on the streets. It’s awful, people are scared to walk the streets, even in the daytime.” Joker listens intently, his glasses back on his face. A strand of green hair peeks out from under his hood. “It gives people hope when they hear I’m taking care of things.”

“True. It’s fun going up against you though. Hearing people scream? Hilarious.” Joker bobs his head to some imaginary tune. Bruce glances around. They’re the only ones on the sidewalk for a ways, Joker steering him to the park.

“I think we should go see a movie, don’t you think so? Or maybe go to the museum. Or…”

Bruce quirks his lips, unamused. This almost sounds like a date. It’s an insane thought. He figures he isn’t the best company at the moment, he’s letting Joker do all the talking. As it happens, he doesn’t think the clown minds all that much.

Joker looks away, pausing in his jabber just a moment to focus on a nearby building. “I thought for sure they’d shut that building down.” Bruce takes in the building he’s talking about, a small shop that had been torn down during one of Joker’s ‘pranks’. It’s been rebuilt, a little candy shop that brightens up the rest of the street slightly. He can’t stand how casual Joker is about it. Stopping them in their tracks, he puts his hand on Joker’s shoulder. His grip is a little tighter than what would be comfortable, but Joker is unbothered.

“Joker.”

“What?”

“What are you planning?”

Joker rolls his eyes. “Please. I don’t plan stuff. I just go with the flow, maybe influence a couple of events when needed.”

“So what are we doing here?”

Joker’s smile dims. “Oh, you know. Just clearing my thoughts for a bit. Why, you worried?” His foot taps against the ground rapidly.

As much as Bruce wants to say “Yes” he shakes his head. “I’m just a little confused.”

“Well, don’t be. Believe me, once this whole thing is over things will be back the way they were. Consider this a week off for me.” Joker steps up to Bruce tauntingly. “Unless you don’t want me to help?” He stares Bruce down, eyes unreadable. It still amazes Bruce how quickly Joker’s emotions can change. Like shifting water. Bruce knows how deadly he can be, has seen it, and for the moment, at least, he wants to keep Joker out of his way. A relatively helpful Joker is better than another enemy, he decides.

“I want you to help. I just don’t know what you’re thinking.”

“And I can read you like an open book,” Joker says, eyebrows waggling. “Relax, Bats.” He reaches into his pocket. “This has been a nice little excursion, but I, unlike you, actually have some things to do. Time for you to catch up on beauty sleep, right?” He pulls out a list, waving it in front of Bruce’s face. “Alright. Here are the locations. I told you they’re guarded, but you won’t have a problem with that.” He takes his glasses off and tucks them into Bruce’s coat pocket along with the list. “See you later, Batsy. This was fun, we should do it again. Make it a Tuesday thing. Don’t lose that list!” he calls over his shoulder. Bruce waits till Joker turns a corner to look away, at more of a loss than ever. After a minute, he pulls out his phone.

“Alfred? I’m going to take a cab to the manor, I’ll be there soon.”

 

*

A long nap and satisfying dinner afterwards gives Bruce a little more energy when nighttime comes around. He looks over the various locations Joker gave him, sharing them with Oracle. Some of the areas are more out in the open, like the Statue of Justice and the Amusement Mile, others hidden in the docks, where he’d gone last night, and the clock tower. There’re even supplies hidden in the East End. He knows Selina doesn’t want him there, but he won’t risk any equipment getting into the wrong hands. The sooner he can get them and take out Dent and Cobblepot the better. He hasn’t any idea where Dent is hiding, he hasn’t heard a peep. Tonight that’s another of his top priorities. Dick offers to take on the Statue of Justice. Bruce agrees, he’ll have his hands full with the other areas.

It’s once he’s on the road that Oracle contacts him again.

“I found Dent. He’s with that group I mentioned yesterday. It doesn’t look good, Batman. They might even have a hostage, if I can trust what I’m hearing. You should probably check that out.”

“I’m on it.” The group is on Founder’s Island, if he remembers right. He isn’t too far from that right now. A beep comes from his watch, pulling up the screen he sees Oracle’s sent him coordinates. Right in middle of the island, where what used to be Cobblepot’s mansion lies in shambles. An odd hiding spot, but it doesn’t matter, as long as Bruce can stop them.

He speeds past buildings still under construction, a few skyscrapers here and there. He can’t recall the island ever looking this dilapidated, even though they’re starting to rebuild. It’s a shame too. The island has a really nice view looking out on the water, especially at night. Cobblepot’s mansion lies in a more woodsy area, one that barely peeks out behind the city of rubble. Bruce parks the Batmobile a small ways away, listening to see if he can pick up on any conversation through his earpiece. Unlike Joker’s hideout, the base is clearly swarmed by thugs. They look like ants from Bruce’s vantage point of a tall tree. He can’t see any crates, he notices. They must be in the basement. Along with Dent.

He drops from the tree quietly. He’s going to need a closer look.

“Can you believe we’re guarding boxes from Batman?” On of the men pipes up, him and another on patrol. Bruce stays hidden nearby.

“Shh! He might be listening, you idiot. This place has plenty of hiding places.”

“I noticed. You picked one for when the Bat does show up? You’re looking a little pale.” His partner elbows him. They continue to mock each other, model cronies, while Bruce sneaks closer to the nearly collapsed building. He’ll need to be super careful here. More goons pass by, leaving an unfinished hallway clear. It’s dark, but Bruce doesn’t want to take any chances. The new infrared boost Lucius gave him comes in handy, and he makes sure no one is in the hall before going through. Scuffed red carpet makes for quiet steps, and he keeps his infrared sensors on.

He sees Dent before he hears him, not barking out orders but having a conversation through the phone. He stands in the middle of the only room still standing, albeit with half a wall missing.

“Yeah, I got the stuff. Geez, you planning on blowing Gotham to the moon? You could power a rocket with what we got.” His more human face is towards Bruce, but his gaze is over at the empty fireplace, where old pictures stand on the mantle, cracked and weather worn. Bruce can barely see them in the darkness, but he notices a chair in the corner, where slight noises are audible. Through his night vision he can see it’s a person. The hostage Oracle was talking about. “We don’t even have to wai--yeah, I know, I get it. The more people the better.” So it’s Harv talking. Harvey is a bit more rational than that. Before he takes down Dent he should check the basement. The more he can prevent future damage the better. A heavy door hides the stairs, one that slides out of the way. Bruce curses squeaky steps as he descends. No wonder they tore down the place. His vision reveals ten in the basement. Easy, once he gets rid of their guns. Might as well go with a surprise attack, they’re armed with only flashlights to see in the dark. One makes the unfortunate mistake of stepping too close to him, Bruce taking him down before he can cry for help. One down, nine to go. There’s a cluster closer to the crates, conversing quietly. An outlier stands to the side, guarding what Bruce guesses is another door to the first floor. He takes that man down as well, turning the flashlight off.

“Benny? Why’d you turn your light off?”

Bruce uses his clawshot to shoot up to the ceiling, waiting expectantly for the henchman to walk closer to the downed guard. This is easy.

“He probably just needs new batteries. Maybe he’s in the next room.” One of the men by the crates says casually.

“Maybe,” the man investigating doesn’t sound convinced, his beam of light moving around the room, illuminating the high ceiling briefly. The light comes a bit too close for Bruce’s to feel comfortable. Then the beam settles. He hears footsteps retreating. “Man, I must be imagining things. The sooner Friday comes the better.”

Bruce lowers himself. There’re eight left, all armed with guns. He could try more stealth attacks, but at this point it’d be better to take them all out at once. He equips his disruptor, rendering the men’s guns useless. Now for the fun.

He rushes the men, evading the beams of light. One notices him, eyes full of shock. Bruce knocks him out first, catching another in the chest. The rest come at him, and he’s a flurry of fists and kicks. A few cry out, but Bruce assumes no one can hear upstairs. After all, the walls of mansions really are supposed to be good quality.

When he’s finished he places a tracker on the bottom of a crate, turning it on. It should alert the GCPD to come after it, and this time he intends to stay with them while they pick it up. No one’s heard the fight, they would have come down by now. Dent is still upstairs, Bruce can imagine him still flipping his coin agitatedly.

His return upstairs has Dent lounging next to the fireplace. He’s finished with his conversation, now flipping his coin idly. If that’s all you wanted to do you should’ve just stayed in Arkham, Bruce thinks bitterly. The hostage is still seated. Bruce decides he’s had enough of watching. He steps out of the shadows.

Batman?!” Harvey cries, outraged. “You aren’t supposed to be here!”

“No, but then someone decided to escape from Arkham,” Bruce says. “Now, you’ll either come quietly or unconscious.” He stands in a defensive pose.

Dent just laughs hollowly. “I’m going to assume you took out my men in the basement. There are more outside, you know.”

“I know. So are the GCPD.” As if hearing the conversation, bright red and blue lights flash through the windows. Dent looks outside, gritting his teeth.

“I won’t go back.” He pulls a gun out of his coat. Bruce takes his cue and charges, knocking Harvey’s arm. The shot goes into the cracked ceiling, where pieces of it fall onto the two. Tightening his grip on Harvey’s arm, he forces the criminal to drop his gun. Dent growls, spitting at Bruce. He elbows Bruce’s head, kicking at the same time. The assault packs a punch and Bruce recoils slightly. Dent takes that opportunity to run, though where to Bruce doesn’t know. There’s at least a dozen cops outside, and besides that, he isn’t done with the two-faced villain.

“You think I enjoy being cooped up in that prison day after day?” Dent asks between pants.

“You made that choice yourself,” Bruce responds. His hand snags at Dent’s coat, dragging him back. Harvey tries to escape, picking up a piece of furniture that lies shattered, the wood jagged at the end. He swings it at Bruce’s head with force, fury blazing in his eyes. Bruce grabs at the wood, pushing against it, straining until he can pull the broken leg away from Dent’s hands. It’s a battle of endurance, one Bruce ends up winning. In a show of strength he whirls Dent around, punching him squarely in the jaw and disorienting him. The villain slumps to the ground with a low moan, eyes slipping closed. Bruce looks down at him wearily before focusing on the man in the chair. He makes muffled whimpering noises as Bruce draws near, his struggling more vigorous. Bruce peels the tape from his mouth. In the flashlight’s beam he doesn’t recognise the hostage.

“Why did they take you,” he asks quietly, undoing the ropes that keep the man in the chair.

“I d-don’t know, I was just working when they came after me, and next thing I knew I was here. S-said I had to do disappear.” The man’s voice comes through in shaky breaths. Upon further inspection Bruce sees a nametag reading Brian Hanover. In the top corner of the tag it reads Gotham Gazette.

“You’re a reporter.” Figures. They have a knack for getting in the middle of things.

The man nods. “Yeah, but I wasn’t looking for them. I was just trying to write about how things are getting better on the island, more buildings being rebuilt, and they f-found me. I wasn’t tracking them, honestly.” He shivers. “I just want to go home.”

Brian was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Bruce hates when that happens, that normal civilians are inconvenienced whenever some egotistical psychopath decides to smash the city to pieces. He leads the reporter outside, stopping by Dent, who lies on the ground, motionless. He picks him up and slings him over his shoulder, calling the Batmobile. Gordon isn’t with the cops this time, which Bruce thinks means there must be trouble elsewhere right now. Instead Montoya greets him, lips twisted when she sees Two-Face.

“You got Dent. That bastard.” She glares at the unconscious man. “You want us to take him to the GCPD?”

“I’d feel better if I did it. But Mr. Hanover here needs to go back to his house.” Bruce gently pushes the shocked man towards Montoya, who steers him into the back of a car. He puts Dent in the Batmobile, stepping into it himself. The flashing lights on the cars slice through the air, cops shoving thugs into the back seats. He waits until the police start to drive away, following them to keep them safe. No one tries to stop them and they make it to the GCPD without any trouble.

Dent is wide awake when he stops the car, shouting angry curses at Bruce. Bruce tunes him out all the way to the cells, where he deposits the criminal.

“If you’re smart you’ll stay there for once,” He barks at Dent, who glowers, his face half hidden by the cell bars.

“You’ll regret this, Batman. I might be here, but I’m not the only one who wants you and Gotham’s ‘finest’ gone. Just wait.”

“Right.” Bruce turns his back on the man. He has other things to deal with. A quick comm to Dick is in order. “How goes it, Nightwing?”

“Piece of cake! There’s stuff here, but it’s mostly just fireworks. A distraction, maybe? Ah, hold on.” Bruce hears a quirky one-liner and groans of pain before Nightwing is back on the line. “I’ll get this moved. Hey, you think we can use them for the fourth of July?”

Bruce’s mouth twitches in the hint of the smile. “Stop messing around.”

“Yessir, right away sir. Want me anywhere else?”

“Just look around for anything suspicious in the East End. I’ll join you when I’m done with the Amusement Mile. Watch out for Catwoman. She doesn’t want us there, but she might help if she hears what’s in her corner.”

“Yeesh, you just don’t want to face her yourself, right? I don’t even like cats.” Bruce hears a sigh. “Okay. Have fun at the amusement park!” Dick’s last words are teasing as he hangs up. How on earth did Bruce ever think he would act serious? Everything is a game. But as long as he keeps his focus he’s a devil in battle. There are few people in this world that Bruce trusts as much as than Dick Grayson and even less he trusts more.

 

*

Rain starts to fall, just like last night, making the sky even darker. The Batmobile’s windshield wipers work furiously as he drives. The amusement mile isn’t too far, but roads can be especially treacherous in Gotham’s ever changing weather. Lightning illuminates the rides as he gets closer, rollercoasters towering over him. It’s a horrific sight, like something in a cheap slasher movie. The merry-go-round’s horses are gruesome in shadow, the other rides broken apart in places. Bruce has been here more times than he’d like, mostly to deal with a certain occupant of the funhouse at the far side of the park. Yes, he’s familiar with the Amusement Mile.
Speaking of the Devil…

“Well it’s about time.”

“This isn’t the only area on the list,” Bruce reminds Joker, who waves away Bruce’s words.

“Why waste time on technicalities? Well, you’re here now.” Joker looks around appraisingly. “Gotta love this place. Lots of memories in amusement parks. You and Jim know all about that, don’t you?”

This isn’t that amusement park, but Bruce grimaces all the same. If he had a list for top ten most insane things the Joker has done, that would be at least in third place. Bruce has never really forgiven him for that incident. Not that Joker’s been going around looking for forgiveness. Quite the opposite. “Don’t mention that while we’re working together.”

“Did I hit a nerve?” The clown coos, eyes mirthful. His lips press together, quirked in thought as he studies Bruce curiously, like the man standing across from him is an odd puzzle. “Don’t ask me to feel guilty about it, because I’m not. But I won’t mention it as long as we’re working together, if it makes you feel better.” He tilts his head down, playing coy. His smile is too sardonic to be sincere when he says, “See? I’m a good partner. Anything else you need, Bats?”

“Just--” Why didn’t I lock him up? “Just keep quiet,” Bruce gets out. Joker giggles, which only increases his anger at the clown. But Joker is chaos incarnate, a tangible maelstrom of insanity, and Bruce understands that that’s a part of who he is, as much as he hates it. So for now he’ll put up with it.

“Can you see anything?” Joker asks, a few feet behind and lounging on the carousel. “This place is like a ghost town. I’d love if it had some lights. Fireworks too.”

“This place is too run down.” Bruce says.

“Perfect, then.” He jumps off the horse, sprinting into the hall of mirrors. Bruce doubts he’ll find anyone in there, and he doesn’t think he’ll need the clown anymore, so he continues on to the funhouse.

Buildings of scraped red and white are all around him, the wood rotting. How long has it been since this park was open for the public? He guesses at least thirty years. He remembers passing by this with his parents and wondering why he couldn’t go inside. Now he wonders why it hasn’t been torn down. Papers little the streets, shredded by rain, posters warped. The colours are dull around Bruce, but light shines through the slits of the funhouse in front. The way it’s not even trying to be discreet unsettles him. Why aren’t they trying to hide more?

His infrared acts up more and more as he nears the fun house, sputtering in and out. What he does read is at least twenty men in the funhouse alone, half armed in the mismatched halls and openings. There’s an entrance at the top of the building, for maintenance. Bruce grapples up the the top, the building still sturdy enough to support him without creaking. This must be the strongest building in the park. No wonder it’s still standing.The latch that pulls up the maintenance hatch falls apart in Bruce’s hand, but not before he can sneak a hand under it to finish pulling the door up all the way. Light pours through, as well as the whirring of machinery. He peers through cautiously.

Men stand around a giant crate, a hose coiled next to it and connecting to whatever is in the box, the other end disappearing down one of the more shadowed areas. The whirring comes from a large contraption in the corner of the house, divided by the interior walls. He’s going to look into that. But the only people here seem to be regular thugs. Why isn’t it guarded by a more serious villain as well?

“Oracle? Have you heard anything strange about the funhouse in the amusement mile?”

“That place? Yes, but Batman, everything looks normal, aside from a few men.”

“Are you sure?” Oracle’s response is surprising, he knows what he sees, and it’s far from ordinary. “What about the crates?”

“I’m not sure. I’m sorry, my computers are going fuzzy. I can see if they have something I can hack into, but for now everything is in order.”

“Alright, thanks Oracle. I’ll check it out.”

“Take care, Bruce. If my computers aren’t working then who knows what’s going on.”

 

That’s what I’m worried about too.

Chapter Text

“Let’s see…” Joker runs through the hall of mirrors, his reflection a messy blur as he dashes past. His shoes crunch the glass shards underneath, turning it to grit.

The hall of mirrors is definitely one of the most dangerous places in the Amusement Mile. Joker would know, it’s one of his favorite attractions. It’s also one of the best places to store things. Who’d walk in on shards of glass, broken mirrors tipped forwards like imitation cheval de frises? He runs through it with ease, he’s got this place mapped out in his mind. It’s a good place to reflect. And besides he’s used this hall of mirrors so many times, and nobody dares go in, so he’s got free reign.

There’s a chest of his supplies in a corner of the hall, guns and bombs and such, but he’s not here for that. There’s an entrance to the funhouse through a small lever he installed in a trick mirror, one that you’d have to scrutinize very closely to find. Joker flips the switch, revealing steps into the lower level of the building. He’s always loved trick doors, here one second, gone the next. An illusion. The lower level is more of a crawlspace anyway, but it leads up to the main area, and various others, and that’s all he needs. Coming through this way also gives him a little breathing room with Bats.

Usually he doesn’t go out and say Joker’s words bother him, though Joker says things he knows will grate on the hero, put him a little on edge. You know, it’s good to be kept on your toes when fighting crime. He’s doing the bat a favor. But Batman’s mask is slipping little by little, revealing the exhausted man underneath. Joker isn’t sure he likes that. It’s all fun and games until you get tired of playing. And while he sure as hell isn’t bored yet, he’s not sure where Bruce stands.

For now he’ll be on the sidelines, just in case. He hasn’t been here since he was last thrown into Arkham, but he bet’s it’s still full of traps.

*

Thugs are incredibly easy to take out. They’re so focused on something coming at them directly that they lower their defenses by not looking at their surroundings. Bruce goes through ten in this way, only making a mistake when a guard sees him while he’s busy knocking one out. And even then, once that man is down for the count, a well-placed smoke pellet and he starts over, the men having no idea where he is. If anything, seeing him, even for a brief moment, adds to their nerves and makes them easier to fight. The thugs treat him like more of an illusion than an actual person, and he takes advantage.

There’s still no sight of who’s running this location, which is strange, but he won’t let his guard down. There’s a reason Oracle can’t see into this building properly, and Bruce doesn’t think it’s for a surprise party. The machinery in the small room to his right no doubt has more men in it, but he has his infrared off in light of the brightness of the main room. It’s been haywire since he came into the building, so it’s pretty much useless at the moment.

Once he decides to show himself the men run at him, their guns already disrupted when Bruce was hidden. A roundhouse kick and the men back off, groaning in pain but coming back for more regardless. Bruce has to wonder what they were offered. Their employer no doubt knew they’d be used as Batman’s punching bags.

He makes quick work of the rest of them, the floor littered with unconscious bodies. Bruce steps over them, doing a quick scan of the small room in the corner and coming up with a few people guarding. Perfect…but too easy. He scans the rest of the building again, coming up empty. Wary as ever, he grapples to the ceiling in order to look past the tall wooden dividers of the funhouse. There’s no way he’d use the halls to the room, Joker has a habit of setting booby-traps whenever he can. It’s a wonder the men who are in the room got through. He imagines if he were to look into the of the hallways there’d be unfortunate guinea pigs to check the place out.

When this was one of Joker’s hideouts it had some of the sections of the funhouse completely divided and covered, for a more complicated and dangerous passage. Those still hold up, but this corner room has an open entrance from the ceiling, which Bruce uses to observe the goings-on below.

It’s a giant machine at the center that captures his attention, the hose that was connected to the crate attached to a knob at the base. The glass at the top reveals a greenish glowing liquid. Bruce can’t help but stare, he has no idea what it is or what it’s capable of. He just knows if he can’t stop this it’ll be used for the demise of at least dozens of people. And he won’t let that happen.

He drops down into the middle of the room, he needs to stop this as soon as he can. The henchmen come at him, him disarming with speed and landing punches at every turn. First one falls, then another, until they all lay in a pile at his feet. One man is barely conscious, Bruce picks him up, drawing him close with a threatening air about him.

“Who else is here?” he growls. The man shivers, unable to fight back but staring back defiantly.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Bruce snarls, slamming the man onto his back. “I said ‘who else is here’?”

“Fuck off. I don’t answer to freaks in costumes,” the man’s voice is unsteady, but clearly he won’t give in. Bruce almost laughs at the irony of his words.

“Fine.” He knocks him out a little rougher than necessary. He’ll just have to find out himself. First things first, figuring out what the machine does. It towers over him, full of that liquid. He looks it over, at all the buttons decorating the panel on the side. “God, what does this do?” he mutters to himself. He finds a tiny glass container on a nearby stack of milk crates, opening the contraption to take a sample. A quick scan of the machine and he finds the maker: Sionis Industries. Black mask. On his computer he pulls up a list of those he knows are -or were- in Arkham, and one of those in hiding. Sionis wasn’t in Arkham or Blackgate these past couple months, if his memory serves right. He moves him, Penguin, Dent, Joker, Ivy, and Harley to the active list. This job seems more and more like he’ll be fighting to the last second. But he’ll buy himself valuable time getting rid of this toxin. He calls Alfred.

“Can you send the plane? I need to pick up this container and put it out of harm’s way.”

“Of course, Master Bruce.”

“Great. I’ll drop it off myself, there’s something I need to–” Bruce cuts off, hearing something. He’s half turned when a dull pain hits his back, knocking him to the ground. Recovering quickly, Bruce whirls around to confront his attacker. And there he stands, all 350 pounds of solid muscle, wrestling mask hiding his face, arms held out to the sides, looking ready to charge at any moment.

Bane. Bruce curses himself for not being more vigilant, bracing for a fight. Bane gives an evil laugh.

“Come on, little bat. You don’t actually think you can win?”

“I have before,” Bruce states simply.

Bane nods. “Yes. This time will be different.” Quick as a viper, he strikes, Bruce barely dodging the enormous fist. It crashes the table behind him, snapping it in two. Bruce aims a kick at Bane, which the wrestler deflects, retaliating with a punch that glances off Bruce’s head, knocking him back a bit. He shakes it off, running and sliding under Bane, jumping on his back to unbalance him. Just as he wraps his arms around Bane’s neck he feels himself being pulled away, his leg in Bane’s grip. There’s the sensation of flying just before hitting a wall with so much force the air gets knocked out of him.

This Bane is different, even more violent than before, Bruce realises, getting up shakily.

“Why are you here?” he asks, shifting around the room and mapping out what to do next. Bane decides to play along.

“Someone has the guard the precious cargo here. But you’re no challenge at all. From where I stand, that riddling idiot could take you down.”

Ouch. That’s a low blow. Bruce grits his teeth, grappling up before Bane can reach him, propelling himself up and over and kicking at the criminal’s head. This time Bane grunts, trying to pull him down. Bruce evades, deciding not to try the same maneuver again. He throws down a flashbang, covering his eyes with his cloak. Bane roars in pain and anger, batting at the air wildly. His eyesight is gone, but with the behemoth stumbling around it isn’t much safer. Bruce dodges, landing punches and kicks when he can.

His luck runs out eventually. Bane’s eyes clear up enough, apparently, to see Bruce land right in front of him, his fist colliding with his mouth, and Bruce finds himself tossed to the ground. Blood drips from his mouth, and he coughs as Bane wraps his hands around the hero’s throat. He tries pushing the hands away, noticing how strange Bane’s eyes look, a bright glowing yellow. He’s on something, making him a lot stronger than usual. He gasps for air, beating at the criminal, fighting for an even playing ground. His eyesight starts going dark, and he starts panicking, fighting harder. Against his will his eyes start to close, hands pawing at empty air. His lungs scream for air. It can’t end like this–

The sound of gunfire ricochets against the walls, some hitting Bane’s back, finding the tubing attached to him. Bane lets go of Bruce, who lies gasping for air, wheezing as his lungs take in as much oxygen as they can. He can do little else but watch and regain his strength at the moment. Another round of bullets sounds and Bane lets out a shout of surprise. Laughter starts up.

“Methinks the man is in pain, eh?” Joker’s voice bounces around the room, Bruce unable to pin down the owner.

“Payaso loco! Where are you?!” Bane looks all around, turning his back to Bruce, who notices whatever was in the tubing in his back dripping down steadily. Interesting. It has the same glowing qualities as the liquid in the machine.

“Come and find me,Tiny!” The lights of the funhouse turn off suddenly, Bruce only able to see Bane’s faint outline through the glowing of the toxin. He needs to move, to avoid getting trampled, using what strength he’s regained to roll towards the edge of the room. The gunshots don’t sound again, but Joker’s crafty. Not that Bruce is aware of the plan. He doubts even the clown knows. For the moment he just needs to focus on getting back on his feet. Little by little his breathing steadies, Bruce taking in deep breaths.

“I gotta say, pal. You gotta lay off all the burgers!” He hears Joker taunt Bane. “You’re pushing what? 800? Gosh!” A tittering laugh precedes an outburst of anger.

“Come down here so I can fight you myself!”

“Fat chance! I’d be in Africa right now if I wanted to wrestle a hippo.” A clatter sounds, gas spilling out onto the floor. Bruce holds his breath, wondering if Joker knows he’s still here and doesn’t have a breathing mask. Or if he even cares. A sudden yank from behind and he finds himself out of the room. He doesn’t turn around, knowing instinctively it’s Joker.

“You alright there, Bats?” the clown murmurs.

“Fine. I could’ve taken him myself.”

Joker laughs quietly. “Sure, sure. That’s why you were within an inch of your life before I decided to rescue you like the princess you are. That’s two you owe me, isn’t it?” Joker helps him up.

“I don’t think so.” Bruce says, his voice seeming louder in the darkness.

“Ungrateful. What a shame.” Joker sighs, the warm air from his breath tickling Bruce’s cheek. “That gas will only disorient Bane. Unfortunately, all the poison ones are used up.” Bruce can’t tell if he’s joking or not. He decides on the latter. “Anyways, I’ll keep him busy as long as I can, but it’s only a matter of time before-” The wall smashes, splintered wood flying everywhere. “Before that.”

Bruce pushes Joker away firmly. “Keep trying to distract him. I know what to do.” Joker dashes off, Bruce crouching out of Bane’s sight.

“Where are you, Batman?” Bane’s voice fills the room. He stumbles through, kicking down the rest of the wall. Bruce hears something whirring through the air before he sees it, and he ducks. The lights turn back on in the small room, and he sees Joker throwing playing cards at Bane, each one slicing at the wrestler’s skin. Bane turns to face the clown, who wears a sadistic grin on his face, more cards in his hand.

“Oh, I’m sorry, were those not your cards? My bad!” he says, throwing more of the razor-sharp projectiles. “Maybe these!”

Bane stomps towards Joker, who moves out of the way with ease. Bruce uses the distraction to grapple to the ceiling, noticing Bane’s movements getting more and more sluggish. Underneath him, Joker taunts Bane, darting around quickly as Bane chases him. He keeps throwing cards until he’s at his last one, gripping the single card tightly.

“Batsy, darling, if you’re gonna do something I’d do it fast!” Joker throws the last card, pulling out his gun threateningly. “I’ll use this if you step closer,” he cautions Bane, who ignores the statement. Joker pulls the trigger, eyes wide when he realises it’s his trick gun, the flag coming out. “Oops.” He clicks again to test it, the flag shooting out at Bane and sticking into the giant man. It does nothing to deter him. “Dammit.” He tosses the gun to the ground and backs up slowly, hands out in a placating gesture. “Bane, buddy. We’re both criminals, no need to go after me now, right?” His smile twitches, hand reaching up to the flower on his lapel. Bane moves closer to the clown regardless, Joker’s words falling on deaf ears. He lunges at Joker the same time Joker’s flower shoots acid at him, causing him to careen backwards to avoid the spray. This gives Bruce the opportunity he was looking for. Joker retreats and Bruce takes that opportunity to dive. He delivers a flurry of punches and kicks, knocking the larger man to one knee. More hits. Bane grunts, trying to bat Bruce away, which he avoids, punching at the man’s face hard. Bruce notes with satisfaction that the glowing yellow is gone from Bane’s eyes, his breathing more laboured. They’re on an even playing ground now.

Bruce backs away as Bane stands unsteadily, fists up to protect his face. Blood runs down his face and arms, one eye black and swelling. Bruce doesn’t hesitate in striding up to Bane to take him down quickly, the wrestler stumbling back at the newfound ferocity of Bruce’s attacks. One, two, three, four hits and Bane falls, groaning in pain. His eyes slip closed, down for the count. Bruce breathes out in relief. He looks around for Joker, who pushes away from the wall he had run to.

“Wow, look at us, teaming up and taking down Gotham’s sturdiest,” Joker comments, kneeling down and tapping at Bane’s shoulder. “There’s something I’m feeling right now, I can’t quite place it. It’s not happiness, I know that feeling… and it’s not pride, though would you look at our handiwork. Hmm.”

“Satisfaction?” Bruce ventures, dragging Bane away from the machine to clear the way for when the batwing arrives. Joker looks at him, half-frowning.

“No…wait, I’ve got it.” He snaps his fingers in realisation. “Disgust.”

“Really.”

Joker nods, eyebrows scrunched together. He gestures to the whole scene around them. “How you can do this every night astounds me! I mean, taking down bad guys without a night off? At least I get breaks every now and then. You know, at Hotel Arkham, me relaxing in my padded cell.” He laughs. “No wonder you’re like this.”

Bruce hears the buzzing overhead of his batwing, like the dull thrumming of a heartbeat. “Like what?” he deadpans, glancing back at the clown. The opening in the top of the funhouse doesn’t look large enough to pull the container through, Bruce checking the switches on the wall. Joker walks over, pushing one that slides the roof open. Rain starts to fall into the room steadily, tapping out a staccato rhythm on Bruce’s cape and cowl.

Joker leans on the wall, right next to the switch so that Bruce notices him. “Dark, brooding, all ‘I am the night’.” Joker imitates his voice, his tone low and gravelly.

“I don’t sound like that.” Bruce almost rolls his eyes at the impersonation, wrapping a cord around the container of toxin, making sure it’s secure when attached to the batwing. He trusts the sturdiness of the aircraft to carry it, but he doesn’t want any of the liquid to spill out, not when doesn’t even know what it does yet.

“Sure you do!” Joker wraps a tarp around himself, covering the bottom half of his face with it like a mock cloak. His eyes shift into something darker. He sidles up to Bruce, waggling his eyebrows. “You’re a regular vampire bat. Like Dracula.”

Taking a step back, Bruce’s mouth twitches, trying not to smile. Eighteen years of fighting and Joker still doesn’t realise Bruce has a sense of boundaries. Or if he does, he blatantly ignores them.

“So what’s next on the list, champ?” Joker asks, bunching up in the tarp like it’s a soft blanket. He sits down on a tipped over crate, kicking his legs. “I’m kinda getting a kick out of this hero business, awful as it is.”

Bruce thinks. He has another spot of the docks to check, and the clock tower. However, the sun peeks out over the skyline, Bruce checking his watch. 4:15 am. He yawns. There’s nothing on the agenda for today, to his knowledge. He’ll be able to rest.

“It’s too late to do anything now. It’ll have to wait until tonight. Hopefully I’ll be able to scan the area though, this one wouldn’t let me.”

“Oh, so my jamming system works. That’s always nice to hear.” Joker says indifferently, looking around the room with a whistle. At the look Bruce gives him, one of exasperation, but also a hint of resignation, he shrugs. “I can’t have you knowing where I am all the time, can I? Besides, you did fine, nothing to worry about.”

Bruce lowers the ladder for the batwing, grabbing onto it when it’s close enough. Joker stays where he is, focused on Bruce. The latter sighs. “Do you want a ride?”

Joker tilts his head, an eyebrow raised. “Backseat again?”

Bruce shakes his head. “Passenger seat.”

Joker’s grin seems to split his face in two. “Sweet! I call shotgun.” This time Bruce does roll his eyes. Climbing the ladder first, he feels the extra weight of the clown clambering after him. Joker secures himself in the passenger seat. Bruce closes the door after himself, dropping into the cockpit as the ladder starts to wind back up. The seatbelts activate, Bruce flipping switches and fixing coordinates. Joker drums his fingers against the dashboard in anticipation.

“Can I steer?”

“No.”

“Please?” Joker clasps his hands together.

“No.” Bruce keeps his gaze on the city in front of him, feeling the ship rise up into the air. From the corner of his eye he sees Joker pout. The two of them together without something to do reminds Bruce of Joker’s words last night. “Okay. How did you figure out who I was?”

Joker doesn’t even react to the question, like he knew it was coming. He smirks. “It wasn’t that hard. I mean, how long have we been like this? I would’ve noticed a certain billionaire wasn’t always where he should be. I do have access to news and goings-on, you know. Like, there was this one time, when…you know, I think it was Dent causing trouble. Funny. Anyways, it was a few years back, and there was this whole bash at your place, right? At the end of the thing you were nowhere to be found, until you came out of your ‘panic room’ all disheveled. People thought you were with some “secret mistress” the whole time Dent was there.” Bruce remembers that night. It was just a regular party like usual, except he’d invited the mayor to it, and Dent had found out. Bruce had used the distraction of criminals bursting in to clad himself in armor. Joker taps at his temple with a smile. “But I started lining up the pieces. Why is it you’re always doing something else during a crime? It was a piece of cake after that epiphany. I mean, first I was skeptical. Who wouldn’t be? Why is this guy going out at night to beat people up when he could be throwing parties or sleeping? That I still don’t know, but I’m not gonna judge.” Joker looks sidelong at Bruce. “Besides, how many people have your jawline, honestly?” He meets Bruce’s eyes. Bruce holds his gaze, trying to figure the clown out.

“Why didn’t you tell anyone?”

Joker leans back in his chair with a sigh. “Because. What fun would that be? Anyone could just come up to your house then, shoot you during the day. I’d be out of a job. Have to go back to playing the poor schmuck at a dead-end job for the rest of my miserable life.”

Bruce’s brow furrows under his cowl. “But you’ve tried to kill me repeatedly.”

“You’re strong. Always bounce back, don’tcha?” Joker pats Bruce on the shoulder. “I wouldn’t do anything you wouldn’t come back from.”

Bruce wonders just how strong Joker thinks he is. Explosions, poisons, gunfire. Like the clown thinks Batman is indestructible. But even if he is, those around him aren’t. A tinge of anger is audible when he says, “Okay, but you shot Barbara. You almost killed Jason.”

“Oh. Yes, I did.” Joker’s lips twist. “I mean, Barb is alive, right? Besides, I only did that to get to the good old commish. If she hadn’t been there I’m not sure what would’ve happened. Life’s funny that way. And Jason? Was that the name of the last Robin…” Joker huffs out a breath, almost a laugh, almost a sigh. “No, I didn’t kill him.” His eyes narrow. “I don’t like your attachment to the ‘Boy Wonder’, the way they follow you like stray puppies, but I don’t have an excuse for that one, really. I could say wrong place wrong time. But why waste my breath? I mean, the little birdie came back pretty much safe and sound. A few scrapes and bruises maybe, but hey. He’s as clever as you are when it comes to escaping.” Bruce’s expression hardens. Jason’s safe, but far from forgiving Bruce for not coming for him sooner. So much could’ve been avoided, his mother could have survived the explosion Joker had set up, Jason wouldn’t have been beaten that brutally. It’s overwhelming, the guilt Bruce feels sometimes when he sees Jason while fighting crime. It’s been ages since he last spent a night at the manor, and while he isn’t furious, there is a fair amount of spite in his eyes when they meet. Bruce can only hope Jason’ll come to forgive him.

Joker looks over, his trademark grin gone. For a moment he looks almost sane, wearing a thoughtful demeanor. Bruce keeps his mouth shut, not knowing what he’s waiting for. A confession, maybe. Or a crude joke. Instead a silence falls over the cockpit. Bruce shifts in discomfort, steering to keep his mind off the unresponsive homicidal clown inches away from him. He startles at the dull laugh that splits the tension.

“What are you so guilty about?”

The words barely reach Bruce’s ear. “What?”

“Why are you so guilty? You wear it like a second cloak.” Joker looks worn down in the dim light, almost a shadow. His eyes nearly glow in the dark. “I don’t mean to psychoanalyse you, that’d be ironic, wouldn’t it; the crazy clown playing psychiatrist for a billionaire vigilante,” Joker holds back a slight snicker. “I’m just sayin’ you haven’t done anything wrong. Saving people, making difficult choices? A lesser man would’ve broken down, gone down the easy path years ago. But you’re still standing after all this time, and loathe as I am to say it, Gotham is safer. So why do you keep getting weighed down by this?”

Bruce can hardly believe what he’s hearing. Why…why would Joker notice something like that? He stares down at his hands, unsure how to answer. So many thoughts swirl through his head, events he wasn’t able to help, instances he just didn’t arrive in time. People he was so close to saving. How could he not feel guilty? A hero is supposed to be there for people, but what’s the point if you can only save half of them? He’s always going to feel guilty about something. He doesn’t need someone to figure him out.

Finally he says lowly, “Aren’t you full of surprises.”

Joker looks disappointed but not surprised at the response. “Just think about it. You’re being worn down by feelings that don’t have any business hurting you. You can’t move on if you’re tied to the past. I mean, I’m not the best example, but I would know, don’t you think? I barely even have a past.” Joker offers him a smile, nudging his shoulder. “Besides, how’m I supposed to get to you if you’re already down? Pff, all Harley’s psychobabble must be rubbing off on me.” Bruce smiles faintly, and Joker rolls his eyes. He leans forward in his seat. “You can drop me off anywhere really. I’m not picky. You definitely need sleep.”

Bruce agrees with that sentiment wholeheartedly.

He leaves Joker in a quiet street, nobody around to see in the early light. The clown hops out of the batwing, turning around to face Bruce. Rain pours down from the sky, but Joker seems not to even notice. “I’ll see you later tonight, I guess. Here, I have something I need to tell you.” Leaning back into the vehicle he gestures for Bruce to come closer, expression confidential.

Bruce narrows his eyes suspiciously, remembering the incident at the coffee shop, but complies, stopping half-way. “What?”

“Come on, I’m not gonna bite, Bats. Besides, it’s a secret.” Joker’s eyes are bright, his expression one Bruce knows well. One he sees whenever Joker’s plans are going exactly the way he wants. Manic and excited. Bruce’s guard is up, but he doesn’t quite know what to expect. Carefully he leans in closer.

Quick as a flash Joker wraps his arms around Bruce’s neck before the man is sure what’s happening and plants a kiss on his cheek. Bruce stiffens, catching the grin Joker wears as he pulls away. He doesn’t know how to react, blinking in confusion. “Joker?”

The clown bolts without another word, cackling, each step punctuated with puddles splashing beneath his feet. His laughs echo in the empty street as Bruce watches him leave.

 

What on earth was that? The top of the batwing closes, ready to get back to the manor, but Bruce sits there rubbing his hand over his face. His fingers light over his cheek, the place Joker kissed him tingling under his fingertips. If this is what knocks him off balance, how is he even functioning? It’s nothing Joker hasn’t tried before…so why does it feel different this time? He shakes his head to clear his thoughts. He’d better get back home before anything else catches him off guard.

Chapter Text

Bruuuce, c’mon! You gotta let me help you!”

“I think he should too. If it’s as bad as I think it is he’d be useful.”

“No.”

“Master Bruce, if I may-”

“No, Alfred.” Bruce eyes the men in front of him, all three pleading Tim’s case in assisting Bruce. It’s too early for this, he hasn’t even gone to bed yet.

Dick had waited up for him to discuss the lack of activity in the East End, which makes Bruce realise they’re starting to cover up more of their tracks. They feel threatened, which is both good and bad for Bruce. It’ll make them harder to find, but at least they’re scared. Dick had offered to visit the East End again tonight, which Bruce readily agreed to, eager to head off to bed, though he didn’t want to admit it. Then Tim had shown up. Apparently they weren’t quiet enough, and the young man was still wide awake, wanting to talk.

Tim now looks at him pleadingly. “Please let me come along, I swear I’ll be careful!”

“Tim, it’s too dangerous.” Bruce feels a headache coming on, he hasn’t even gotten over the event with Joker earlier. Now’s no time to think about that. He rubs at his temple, eye twitching.

“I know I can help you, Bruce. Give me a chance! What have you been training me for, if not to be with you during times like these?”

Dick plants a hand on Tim’s shoulder. “He’s got a point, you know. I’ve been going on these missions since I was younger than him, and look at me now.” He grins.

Bruce fixes him with a withering glance. “Headstrong and reckless to a fault?”

“Ouch, Bruce.” Dick raises an eyebrow. Alfred coughs to cover a laugh, Bruce just picking up on it. When Alfred realises he’s been found out he simply lifts a shoulder.

“Sorry sir, I had a tickle in my throat.”

“Right… Sorry. Look, can we talk about this later, when I’ve gotten at least two hours of rest?” It takes all his strength at that moment not to slump against his bedroom door, much as he hates to admit it. He’d love to be able to run just on solar power like a certain someone he knows...
“Ah, I forgot it was only four in the morning!” Tim suddenly looks sheepish. “My bad.”

“Yeah well, if you don’t get any sleep I’m definitely not taking you,” Bruce pointed out, enjoying the panicked expression Tim wears.

“See you guys later!” the boy disappears into his room. Bruce can’t help the half-smile on his face, tired though he is.

Dick yawns loudly. “I’d better get some rest too.” Stretching his arms up over his head he ambles over to his own room across the hall, leaving Bruce and Alfred alone in the dark hall. The butler stands at attention, Bruce peeling off pieces of his armor.

“I’ll get these tomorrow. I know you’ve been up as long as I have.”

“Someone has to look out for you, sir. But I daresay if someone had told me twenty years ago I’d be pulling all-nighters helping my ward hunt down criminals, I’d have laughed in their face.” Bruce has a hard time imagining Alfred laughing in anyone’s face, smiling at the thought.
“Get some rest, Alfred. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Meaning mid-day?”

“You know me well.” Bruce opens the door to his room, Alfred walking away, his steps sounding as he heads downstairs. Bruce doesn’t bother with the lights, falling into his bed the moment the last piece of his armor is off. His eyes close within seconds of his head hitting the pillow.

 *

He ends up waking up a little past one. Thank god he doesn’t have a meeting today. He rolls over in bed to adjust to the lighting, blinking the sleep from his eyes. He breathes deeply, savoring the sweet moments of relaxation. Wrapping himself up in his blankets, he lies back on his pillows, remembering last night.

That’s Dent and Bane down for the count. A few more villains to go. It does little to reassure Bruce, Penguin is still at large, but it’s something. And he isn’t sure if Sionis is just supplying or if he’s actively helping, so that’s something to consider. Oh, boy. His peace is shattered. Might as well get up.

A piece of paper catches his eye as he sits up. It’s lying around near his armor, which still lies strewn haphazardly. He picks it up.

In case you need to get a hold of me. xoxo

A phone number is scrawled underneath in Joker’s spidery handwriting. Bruce puts it back into a compartment in his gauntlet, whether or not he’ll use it is another situation entirely. He didn’t think Joker was a phone person. He thinks back on that phrase. It sounds strange in his head, causing him to question when his thinking about Joker became so casual.

Everyone is awake and in the kitchen when he finally decides to eat. He walks in and immediately Tim perks up. Dick sips his coffee, looking at him from the top of the rim. Alfred busies himself with food. Bruce isn’t sure if he’s preparing breakfast or lunch at this point. He knows they’re expecting an answer, one Bruce hasn’t thought of enough, and one he doesn’t want to make. He sits at the table and Alfred sets a plate in front of him. Lunch. Still no one says a word, and Bruce finally caves under the pressure. He’s so soft when he isn’t being Batman. Or maybe he just can’t say ‘no’ when he sees Tim’s puppy eyes. An eighteen year old should not have that ability.

“Fine, you can help.” Tim gives a whoop of celebration, but Bruce holds up a hand. “But you listen to everything I say, no exceptions. That means if I say something is too dangerous and you need to stay back, you stay back.”

“Sure! Thanks, Bruce!” The young man wears a grin that could rival the Joker’s at this moment. Dick’s smile is only slightly smaller. And Bruce can feel smugness radiating off Alfred, though the old man would never admit it.

“Don’t make me regret my choice, Tim.”

“‘Course not! You won’t even know I’m there.”

“Hmm.” Bruce drinks the coffee in front of him, a little too sweet but not unbearable. Dick must’ve made it. If anything has too much sugar, it’s Grayson that’s to blame.

“What are your plans for today, Master Bruce?” Alfred asks, leaning against the counter.

Bruce thinks. “Honestly? I don’t have any. Why?”

Alfred brings out a newspaper. Old fashioned maybe, but Alfred refuses to read the news online. “There’s a new restaurant opening over in the Diamond District, I thought maybe you’d want to visit, if you had no other pressing matters to attend to.”

Bruce leans back in his seat. “I could go check it out, it’ll give the place publicity at least. Dick, Tim, do you want to go?”

Dick shakes his head. “I’m gonna spend the day with Barb. There’s this thing she wants me to see, some machine maybe. She won’t tell me.” He stands. “I better get ready, she wants me at her place in an hour.” He walks down the hall, whistling a cheery tune as he goes. It sounds vaguely like ‘My Girl’.

Tim rolls his eyes at the older man before frowning thoughtfully. “I have homework. Which reminds me...do I get tomorrow off of school? You know, since I’ll be helping you save the city...”

Bruce purses his lips. “It’s your grade. You think you can miss a day of college classes?”
Tim nods. “I’ll have someone record the lectures. And I’ll email my teachers, it’s all good.” He stands from the table. “Thanks for lunch, Alfred.”

“Anytime, Master Tim.” Alfred doesn’t bother lifting his head from the newspaper, raising a hand to acknowledge the boy. Bruce tucks into his lunch, suddenly ravenous. The last thing he ate was...probably that cheesecake, if he’s honest. Which brings back the topic of Joker.
Why does that man make him feel so unhinged? He’s a villain, and a guy.

Actually...when has he ever been truly interested in a woman? Really. The last person was Selina, and even then something wasn’t right between the two of them. It wasn’t her, if he was going to date anyone it would’ve been her, and he did for a while. There was something that wouldn’t let him get closer to her though, something she noticed but he didn’t. But with Joker...no. He’s not going to finish that sentence. Well, whatever Bruce’s sexuality may be, Joker is a moot point when it comes to who he loves. A madman, albeit an intelligent, charismatic, humorous one… He loses himself in his train of thought. Where was I going with this? Only when Bruce hears Alfred calling his name does he snap out of it, focusing on the man.

“What is it, Alfred?”

“You’re in a daze again. You know I worry about you when you’re like this. What’s wrong?”
Bruce’s forehead scrunches up, seeing the concern on Alfred’s face.

“I’m alright, just thinking.”

“Your face is red, did you know that?” Bruce lifts a hand to his face, feeling it burn his hand. Shit. “Are you sure you aren’t coming down with a fever?”

Oh. That makes him feel guilty, worrying about a clown when his butler worries about his health.
“It’s nothing, really.” Bruce barely manages to get out the sentence without a stammer.

“Really?”

“Mmhmm.” Bruce looks down at his plate, unable to look Alfred in the eye.

Alfred remains impassive; Bruce doesn’t know how to feel about that, but he shrugs it off.
“It’s really nothing to worry about. And if it is a fever, it’s nothing I haven’t gone through before. I’ve already rested.” He’s eager to get away from the kitchen at this point. “You know, I think I’ll drive myself to the new restaurant, take the long way and sightsee a bit.”

Alfred smiles, though his eyes reveal concern. “Have fun, sir. Don’t overexert yourself too much.”

“I won’t.” Bruce puts his plate in the sink, rinsing his hands off, the cold water freezing his thoughts.

 *

The car ride is long, a casual drive, good music making an appearance on the radio for once. Bruce hums along to some of them, singing out some of the lyrics quietly. At one point he hears an older song, and while it’s familiar Bruce can’t quite remember how he knows it. He doesn’t listen to this kind of music often, a sort of doo-wop tune, a fifties song… the answer comes out of nowhere. He hasn’t heard it as Bruce Wayne, but as Batman. During one of Joker’s schemes. The clown was singing along while causing mass destruction, swinging a cane around cheerfully and dancing around with one of the hostages he’d captured. The hostages face was molded into a mask of pure terror, Joker’s one of sheer joy. Why can he see that in his head so clearly? He’s relieved at having figured it out but frazzled that every little thing seems to remind him of Joker. Still, he can’t bring himself to switch the station. So he keeps driving.

Once he's truly in the city he heads to the Diamond District, where Gotham’s richest hang about and enjoy themselves. Rarely does he see prices in any place drop below 500 dollars. Even food is at least fifty. Mere pennies to the rich, but even a middle class man in this district is a rare find.

There’s a valet he gives the car keys to who stands under a ritzy, bold sign. It stands out, not necessarily in a bad way. He should’ve looked into what the restaurant’s theme was. A 20’s themed restaurant is creative, he guesses, but how is it different from any other restaurant in Gotham? The gangs are all there, it’s like walking into a gangster movie. He guesses the upper class probably hasn’t visited those places, but who knows? At least he’s wearing a suit, though nothing would convince him to wear a fedora.

There’s a haze of smoke in the air, enough to make him want to choke. Waitresses are dressed like flappers, guests in 1920’s finery. Judging by the people in the building it’s going to be expensive. Of course it is.

A hostess seats him at an empty two-seater table, not fussing about whether or not he has a reservation. He watches the spectacle on a stage in the center of the room, a woman crooning along to jazz. His head is propped on his hand, nose crinkling at the smoke. Laughter rings through the air, people dancing, instruments wailing. This probably isn’t a place he would frequent. Too lively. It’s only two o’clock and people are drinking fit to burst. Maybe the food’s better…

It is. The hors d'oeuvres are to die for, a lemonade he orders just tart enough. The main meal is just as good, though Bruce tries not to stuff himself.

Time passes and people start to glance over at him, maybe he should’ve brought someone with him. To not stick out like a sore thumb among other socialites. But it’d been spur of the moment, and he didn’t really want to bring anyone this time, he doesn't have the patience for small talk at the moment...

“Bruce Wayne?” A voice alerts Bruce, glancing up he sees two women standing next to his table, one blonde wearing a red and black dress, one ginger and clad in green. He recognizes them almost immediately, starting with the blonde’s less pronounced Boston accent. Harley and Ivy. Or Harleen and Pamela, when the duo isn’t wreaking havoc on the city.

“Hello,” he says with a smile, though he screams internally. Two villains he should be taking in, if not for the fact he’s wearing a wool suit instead of kevlar armor. Harley brightens up.

“Can we sit here?” Not waiting for an answer, she drags a chair from another table, Ivy sitting down meanwhile. She raises a brow at Bruce, the man doing all he can to not frown back. “This restaurant is awesome, huh? I can’t believe they hadn't come up with it earlier!” Bruce notices she takes care not rubbing at her face, her makeup the only thing making her a bit more inconspicuous. She'd stand out if she was still bleached white, though her personality is a far cry from the quiet psychologist at Arkham. Her eyes gleam as she takes a drink from a nearby table, taking a sip and recoiling at the taste.

“It’s definitely interesting,” Bruce comments, looking around. Ivy frowns.

“There’s too much smoke in the air. It smells funny.” Harley wraps an arm around her.

“We don’t have to stay too long, I just wanted to check the place out, Red.” She presses a kiss to Ivy’s forehead. Then she turns her gaze on Bruce. “I don’t see too many paps around you at the moment. Usually they're like flies around honey with you.”

Bruce shrugs. “They’ll probably get the jump on me outside.” Harley giggles.

“That’s the problem with being rich, isn’t it? Oh, by the way, I’m Harleen Quinzel. I used to work over at Arkham. You're helping fund it, right?” She holds out her hand, shaking Bruce’s hand firmly. “This is my girl Pamela.”

“Isley,” Ivy adds, not bothering with a handshake. Bruce nods. The woman turns to the small vase of flowers on the table, touching one of the petals softly, expression less than happy. Bruce can tell she’d love to make them healthier, change the water in the vases, or maybe just beat up whoever cut them and placed them here.

“Nice to meet you.” Though I already know most everything about you two.

“You too. It’s not everyday you meet up with a billionaire, am I right?” This side of Harley is a bit more subdued, in tone and language. Bruce almost wants to laugh at how different she looks but how obvious she is with the color scheme of her dress. She tugs at the stray hair fallen from her bun, eyes on the stage, people dancing with the music. “I wanna go dance. Whaddaya say Iv- Pam?” Her eyes flit to Bruce, who tries to seem not to have noticed.

“Can we leave after?”

“‘Course! Nice talkin’ to ya, Mr. Wayne! Ooh, wait. You mind taking a picture with me?” Bruce obliges, forcing the corners of his mouth to curl upwards as Harley snaps a pic with her phone.

“Nice! Well, g’bye!” Harley takes Ivy’s hand, pulling the woman to the dance floor. Bruce waves, deciding to leave as well. There’s no point in staying any longer. His mind is back on his work already. His fingers drum on the table in time with the music, upbeat swing that gets the dance floor roaring with the sound of dancing feet. He didn’t think people knew how to dance to these kinds of songs anymore. Not that everyone is light on their feet. One couple moves in a way that’s more spastic than rhythmical, and another disregard the song completely in order to slow dance. A couple women eye him, and he knows they’re looking for a dance partner. His feet tap to the beat, but he isn't quite sure he wants to join them. He waves but stays where he is, left to his thoughts and to the ever-shifting music.

It’s a wonder he can avoid the chair that flies straight towards him. Blinking out of his reverie, he whips around to see where the table came from. The way is cleared, and he really didn’t know what else he was expecting to see.

Harleen Quinzel stands front and center, a scowl prominent on her face, her fists clenched. Ivy stands to the side, looking slightly charmed, sipping her drink and watching. A man is sprawled on the ground in front of Harley, babbling out incoherent excuses. There’s fire in Harley’s eyes.

“You think it’s cool to just touch people without their consent, huh? You think they want you to lay a fuckin’ hand on them when they pull away?” She points to a young woman a little ways back, tears in her eyes. “She said no. And you kept going. Now, you should apologize to her.” She tilts her chin up, waiting. The man looks less than terrified at being attacked by the slight blonde woman, but Bruce knows better. If she wasn’t in her ‘normal’ get-up, he’d by dead already. The crowd around the scene is deadly silent. Waiting to see what would happen next. Sheepishly the man mumbles out an apology, nursing an already swelling eye. Harley must've punched him. The girl smiles awkwardly but Harley isn’t impressed.
“Louder.”

Clearly the man is angry at being put on the spot, but he raises his voice to spit out a “Sorry” in the general direction of the girl.

“Better. Now get outta here, you ruined the atmosphere.” She nudges him roughly, narrowing her eyes and glaring at him until he’s on the street. Her shoulders hunch over as she sighs, the fight disappearing from her posture. She looks around innocently, suddenly acting more like the meek ex-psychiatrist she used to be. “I’m so sorry this happened, guys! I’ll pay for the damage. Please, carry on!” She smiles brightly, not waiting for the crowd to disperse as she heads back to Ivy, fixing her hair as she goes. Ivy takes her hand, kissing her softly. Harley catches Bruce’s eye as she turns and winks before disappearing back into the crowd. Bruce decides maybe it’d be best if he headed home, but not before he pays for the damage caused. Harley might not have had the best strategy in apprehending the man, but it was effective in helping someone else out, and honestly if he had been in her shoes he would’ve wanted to do the same. He starts to walk out of the restaurant when a hand grips his, and he turns to look into familiar green eyes. He freezes, and Joker grins, pulling Bruce towards him.

“Bruce Wayne, what a surprise.”

“Um. Hi.” A less than eloquent start. In his defense, he hadn’t expected to see the man here. Butterflies form in his stomach, an odd sensation he hasn’t felt in a long time.

“Hi,” Joker replies smoothly. “I wondered if I’d catch you before you left.” His suit is a muted but no less stunning blue, his hair light brown, though Bruce has no clue whether it’s a wig or dye. His face is covered in makeup, and like before he looks drastically different without his red lips. Not better, not worse. Just different. “Dance with me?”

Bruce flounders in the question, but he tries to maintain some of his composure. There are so many ways he could say no, his mouth deciding to say the lamest excuse ever. “I don’t know how to dance to this music.”

Joker rolls his eyes. “It’s easy. Just feel the beat, you know?” The beat is suddenly erratic to Bruce, matching his heart rate. There’s a knowing flicker in Joker’s eyes, as though he knows exactly what’s going on, can hear the way Bruce’s heart thuds against his chest.

Bruce is still hesitant. “I was just leaving, really…”

“Nope. You’re not running away. We’re dancing, I know you’re light on your feet.” He closes his eyes, tapping in time to the music. Soft jazz. “Not my favorite style, but it is nice to lose yourself in. They were playing swing music not three minutes ago. Not that I can see you doing that.” He snorts at the thought, Bruce feeling a little offended, even though Joker’s definitely right. The clown wraps his arm around Bruce’s waist, Bruce not knowing whether to stiffen up or comply.
“C’mon baby, relax. It’s just a dance. Scared? Used to being the one leading, aren’t you?” Joker snickers. Bruce feels the tips of his ears heat up. Why does he always feel the need to make double entendres?

“How’d you know I’d be here?” He doesn’t think Harley knows who he really is, and he trusts Joker not to tell. The answer ends up being much simpler.

“Harley sent me a message that she just talked to Bruce Wayne. A picture too. It looked nice, you were actually smiling. You can’t blame her for wanting to share; it’s always a big moment when you meet Gotham’s favorite socialite. Well, maybe not for you, I guess.”

Bruce feels a bit more at ease with his explanation. He lets himself be guided around the dance floor, Joker leading him through a few paces, Bruce looking down at their shoes to make sure he doesn't trip. He does vaguely remember Alfred teaching him how to do simple dances like these, though it comes back to him slowly. As they dance he notices that Joker is a bit shorter than him, by at least two inches, having to tilt his chin up the slightest bit to meet Bruce’s eyes. You wouldn’t really know these details during quick melees, and even though he has Joker’s stats on file, he never really visualized it. It’s almost fitting. But...

“Why are you doing this?” he murmurs in the clown’s ear. Joker looks at him with amusement.

“You're gonna have to be more specific than that, darling. Why am I what, dancing?”

“No. I mean…” he lowers his voice to a whisper, not trusting the people next to him, couples who dance too close for comfort. “Whatever this is. Kissing me, flirting with me, dancing with me.”

“Are you confused again? Boy, Eddie’s gonna be out of a job.” Joker’s smile couldn't be any wider at this point. Any wider and he’ll give himself away. “I do it all the time, remember? You know I'm obsessed with you, right?” Bruce nods slowly, that's been clear since day one. “And I'm pretty sure you're at least a little obsessed with me. So why not? Are you just now realising that part of it?” Bruce nods again. “Wow. Have I been on your mind all day?” he coos.

“No.” Yes. “Obsession isn't the same thing as love.” Bruce points out. He regrets the words as the come out of his mouth, glancing around. He can’t believe he just said that. He hadn’t meant to call it love. All that time in the kitchen trying to convince himself it wasn’t just got washed down the drain, and he knows it. Joker seems startled at the wording as well, eyes widening slightly. He receives a couple curious looks from people around him, but other then that they’re just another part of the crowd. He’s right though. You can be obsessed with someone and never truly feel close to them, always putting them up on a pedestal instead of next to you where they should be. He’s done it, along with most of the human race. Bruce doesn’t think he’s in love, at least. Joker only shakes his head, composing himself and giving Bruce a sly smile.

“Don't you think it's halfway to it though? All it takes is a little push in the right direction. And besides, this morning? That was barely even a kiss. I can do better.” His grin is devilish as he waggles his eyebrows, warming Bruce all over. He can’t help but return the smile, Joker’s grin melting into something softer. “Can we just enjoy this, Bruce? It’s back to the usual tonight, you know.”

“I know.” Bruce pulls Joker closer, and the corners of Joker’s eyes crinkle. The song slows into more of a waltz, and they move in smoother paces, Joker resting his head on Bruce’s shoulder, humming along lazily. He lets Bruce lead this one, content to just rest against him. Bruce lets his eyes slip closed and relaxes into the moment.

He’s not in love, but there might be something there, just the tiniest spark that refuses to go out. And for the time being he ignores the warning sirens going off in his head, angrily spouting off why this is such a bad idea, the things Joker’s done, the people he's hurt...
There’s time for guilt later, he decides. He’s lost this round.

“You’re still a psychopath and a criminal,” he murmurs, almost to himself. Joker’s laugh breaks through his thoughts, the sound ending more like a sigh.

“I know. But I don’t really think you mind all that much.”

*

Traffic takes him home a little later than usual, the radio turned off in the car, and Bruce feels like all he’s done today is sleep and eat. And dance. It’s five o’clock by the time he gets home. Dinner in an hour. It’s all downhill from here, finding ways to pass time before heading out. He focuses on the entrance to the batcave. Might as well try some new gadgets he’s started to improve on. There’s a new addition to his batclaw that allows an increase in how much weight it can bear, and an added range to his smoke grenades. There isn’t a whole lot more he can do to these aids, but he has new ideas itching to be made. Tim comes down a bit later.

“I added something to your suit.” Bruce looks at the armor, not noticing anything out of the ordinary. “You can’t see it. And I don’t know if I should keep it a surprise or not, you know?” He grins, hands in his pockets.

“Is it helpful?”

“Yeah, and guess what? It’s bat related! I know you love that,” Tim teases. “Took some time to figure out how to make it the most effective, but you’ll appreciate it, I’m positive.” He fidgets, and Bruce knows the boy is going to give in. “Okay, actually I’m just gonna tell you. I wanna see your reaction. Hold on.” He puts earplugs in, and Bruce wonders just what is about to happen. “There’s a tiny button if you open the compartment in your gauntlet. The right one, it’s all the way in the corner. Click it!”

Bruce presses down on the small button he finds, and a sharp ringing enters the room. It’s strong, but he doesn’t really feel the effect of it. Meanwhile Tim has his hands clapped over his ears, a slight wince on his face. The ringing subsides and Tim bounds over to Bruce.

“What do you think? A piercing whistle to deter your enemies? It doesn’t affect you, I made sure of that, but it packs a punch.” His smile is prideful, and Bruce returns the look.

“This’ll work fine. Especially in groups. Thanks, Tim.”

The young man shrugs. “I thought it’d be useful for tonight. Where are we going, anyway?”

Bruce walks over to the batcomputer, going over the schematics of the next location. “Clock tower. Barbara has the location of the items we need to find and dispose of. The sooner we can fix that, the sooner the city will be safe.”

“Speaking of Barbara, do you think her and Dick will ever get back together?” Tim wonders.

Bruce’s brow knits in confusion. “They said they’d be better off as just friends.”

“I know, I know. But it’s obvious Dick is still in love with her, he has hearts in his eyes whenever he sees her. Or even talks about her. And Barb, well, she might’ve broken it off, but she’s about as obvious as he is.”

The corners of Bruce’s mouth curve up. “Aren’t you perceptive.”

“You’d have to be blind not to see it, Bruce.” Tim makes a face. “Really blind. But it makes sense if you haven’t noticed it, I guess. It took years before you realised you liked Selina. At least, that’s what Dick told me. I’m guessing it’s true.”

“It didn’t take years,” Bruce protests. “Besides, there were more factors that added up to why we took so long. Our professions, for one.”

Tim looks skeptical. “If you say so. Anyways…” Another subject change. “Are you having Jason help out? I don't really know him, but he's teamed up with you a couple times after the incident, right?”

There’s a wave of emotion that overcomes Bruce, sadness and regret. He hasn’t seen his old ward in quite some time. Their last team-up, as Tim had called it, was a while back, at least six months ago. And before that they hadn't seen each other in a year.

“I haven’t called him. I doubt he’d want to help either.” Especially if he finds out who we’re working with. Joker might not have killed Jason, but being beaten within an inch of his life doesn’t exactly set the tone for a friendly team-up.

“I guess. I’d still call him though, just in case.” Bruce only hums in response, knowing he won’t take Tim’s advice. He’s put Jason through enough.

Dinner is just him, Tim, and Alfred. Dick is still at Barbara’s, and the man claims he’ll just suit up over there. He’d brought his suit with him, apparently.

The food placed in front of Bruce is rich and flavorful, but he doesn’t eat much. This whole affair has kept his appetite at bay, and he only eats out of necessity. He can’t run on fumes all the time, after all. The sun sets early, clouds covering the October sunset that warns of the day’s end. Once in the batcave Bruce and Tim suit up, Alfred making sure their comms are secure and working, and leave via the batwing for faster travel.

The clock tower is Barbara’s location as Oracle, which worries Bruce, but she assures him that they won’t find her base of operations, hidden thoroughly. The criminals located there have no idea she’s there, but she only found out yesterday when they first showed up. None of the tenants in the apartments have noticed, which surprises Bruce a bit, but there are other ways to avoid gaining a civilian’s attention. Since then she’s kept quiet, not telling Bruce right away to listen in on them more. The thugs are antsy, but there’s no boss in the tower that she can detect, and Bruce assumes it’s not the most valuable cargo. At least, not as valuable as last night’s toxin. But there’s still the matter of explosives.

The base of the clock tower is quiet, the streets characteristically empty, save a few braver souls out after dark. Tim is itching to jump out of the vehicle, it’s his first mission in weeks. Bruce can only trust the boy won’t be too impulsive.

 

The lights of the clock tower brighten as the night grows darker, most windows shining light through as families have dinner and lead their normal lives, unaware that the Batman will be in the building. It’s amazing, that these people can be relatively oblivious as evil misdeeds are being carried out and corrected. It’s a luxury Bruce wishes he had sometimes.

He lets Tim lead the way at first, following him up the tower and away from the apartments. The higher up they go the darker it gets, until they reach the top.

They actually make quick work of the clock tower, Oracle doesn’t report anything amiss and it just ends up being a mission to knock out thugs and take the boxes back to the batcave. It’s simple. The GCPD arrives shortly after they finish their mission, carrying the criminals off as Bruce and Tim watch. Bruce then comms Dick, wanting a status report. He doesn’t get a response, only buzzing static. Strange.

“Dick?” More static. A wash of worry comes over Bruce, even in battle Dick doesn’t usually fail to respond. “Nightwing, are you there?”

“He’s not answering?” Tim asks, forehead puckered. “He’s in the east end, right? I thought he said there wasn’t a lot of activity over there. Maybe his comm died on him.”

“Maybe.” Bruce doesn’t think so. He comms Oracle.

“I checked his comm, it was charged. I just talked to him five minutes ago, what’s going on?” Bruce quickly tells her, and she checks his tracker.

“He’s not on the map. Bruce, you should go check it out.” Her voice is neutral, but Bruce recognises the tone as one she uses when she’s uneasy

“Do you knows what’s happening at the East End?”

“No, it’s still blank on the map…” Barbara gives a small huff of impatience.

“I’ll go see if anything’s wrong, Barbara.” He doesn’t bother telling her not to worry. A heavy feeling settles in Bruce’s gut. “Tim, maybe you shouldn’t come with me.”

“Bruce, I just got out here.” Tim’s expression falls.

Bruce closes his eyes. “I don’t want you getting hurt. Who knows what happened? Please just go home.”

“What if you need help? It could be a trap.” Tim keeps trying to plead his case, but it won’t work. Bruce places his hands on his partner’s shoulders.

“I need you to be safe right now. Nightwing can usually take care of himself, but like I said earlier, this is a dangerous situation. If it’s a trap I’d want you there even less. Any other night I would let you go, I promise. Please.” He looks Tim straight in the eyes. Understanding flickers in the younger man’s eyes.

“You don’t want me to end up like Jason.” Bruce’s knows Tim can see it on his face, he knows it’s mirroring the turmoil he feels in his heart. Tim hesitates, biting at his lip. “Alright Bruce, I will. But the moment you need help call. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Bruce smiles weakly. “Thank you. Maybe you should stay with Barbara, it’s closer.”

“Will do. But Bruce? Make sure you watch your back out there. I won’t be there to watch it for you.” Tim’s mouth is set in a firm line, eyes deep with concern. Bruce nods in understanding, waiting for Tim to enter the building before gliding off into the gloom.

Chapter Text

The walls of Jim Gordon’s apartment are white, the furniture simple. The rest of the house is mostly bare, a basic design that contrasts wildly with Wayne Manor, but it isn’t as though the room is devoid of memories. The apartment is covered in frames. Pictures of Barbara, newspaper clippings. Photo albums cover an entire shelf. As commissioner, Jim doesn’t get to be at home too often, which allowed Barbara to have enough time to build her secret base.
Tim has never been in that base; the farthest he’s come into the Gordons’ apartment was the living room. He doesn’t even know how Barbara fits a base in the apartment, if he’s honest. Where would you find space?

Barbara comes out of her room as Tim waits in the living room, ushering him over to her quickly.
“You know you can’t tell anyone this is here,” she says as she lifts a frame from her room, pressing a hand over a panel hidden behind. Replacing the frame, she waits as a door opens. Tim gapes as he follows her into the room.

“This is where you work?”

“Mmhm.” Barbara smiles proudly, enjoying the look of awe Tim wears. “It’s not too much, but it sure does help.”

“It’s amazing.” There are computers and screens everywhere, the room dimly lit. Some screens show recordings, others code, and even more hold messages and photos. Tim looks this way and that, appreciating the room. “So you can’t find Dick?”

“No.” Barbara wheels over to a larger screen, typing quickly. “And I’ve messaged him too, and there’s nothing, not even static anymore. I have no idea what’s going on. I’m not even out of range, I don't think...the whole area is just dark. That’s why I need Bruce there right now.” Barbara glances over at Tim. “Does Alfred know you’re here?”

“Hm? Oh, no.” Tim calls Alfred quickly, not knowing if Bruce has briefed the butler on the situation. Once the call is over he focuses back on Barbara. The woman’s jaw is clenched, strands of hair loose from her ponytail. Her focus is set on the screen, looking for any way to patch through to the East End. A cup of coffee sits on the table, cold. Tim walks over to her,
looking at the screen.

“Do you think Selina Kyle knows what’s going on?” Tim knows Catwoman frequents the East End.

“I’m not sure. Bruce told me she was staying out of the way for this one. Nice of her, one less thing to worry about,” she mumbles distractedly. She growls as one of her ideas falls through.

“If you can’t message Dick, do you think you’ll be able to comm Bruce one he’s there?”

Barbara blinks. “I should test that. Batman,” she says into her headset.

“Oracle. I’m almost in East End, it’s like Nightwing said. Quiet, not a hint of crime.”

“I’m going to comm you often, see at what point it shuts off, or if it does at all.”

“Works for me. Do you have a general idea where he might’ve gone missing?”

“Hold on.” It takes a few seconds, but Barbara pulls up a map. “He told me he was further north, in the center. It was after that that he stopped messaging.”

“Got it. Keep in touch.” The comm goes out, Barbara tracking the signal strength. Tim takes the time to look over everything on the screens, maps taking up three screens.

There’s a blip he can’t read. It flickers in and out, though he doesn’t know what it means. He taps the woman on the shoulder, who turns to look at it with him.

“That’s Bruce’s tracker,” she says. “It’s fading the closer he gets to the East End though.”

“Maybe they’re knocking down the electrical wires,” Tim suggests lightly. Barbara just shakes her head.

“It’d be too obvious. They’re jamming the signals, but I don’t think it’s Penguin. He’s been hiding ever since he ran from Bruce. Harley and Ivy wouldn’t, not really their style, y’know? But maybe…” she runs down a list of active criminals, finger tracing down each name on the smooth screen. “Hey,” she points to Tim. “Can you look at the ones we know are part of this?”

“Sure.” He observed over Barb’s shoulder. “Black Mask?”

“He’s definitely got a part in it, but we haven’t seen him around.”

“Maybe he’s in the East End then.” Tim says. Barbara frowns, calling Bruce.

“Black Mask might not just be in hiding, watch out for him. He won’t be alone.” All she gets in response is static. “Batman? Dammit...” She turns the comm off and looks over to where she was tracking Bruce. “He’s on his own now.” Her forehead furrows, fingers lighting over her keyboard, waiting for an idea.

“They’ll be alright,” Tim more or less says to himself. He’s ready at any moment should anything fall through. He’ll give Bruce two hours.

 

*

Barbara stops messaging Bruce as he nears the northernmost corner of the East End, which worries him, but if it’s out then it’s out. The only thing he can do is make up for the loss of resources with extreme vigilance. He almost wishes Tim was here with him, but then they’d be two lost people trying to save someone. And that’s a mess. His infrared works, thankfully, but it wouldn’t help anyway. There’s no one here. Still, he makes sure to stay down and walk close to the walls until he finds something.

There’s a grate he sees as he scans through. He opens it and slides through, his footsteps muted thuds on the metal. The deeper in he goes the warmer it gets, Bruce wondering what’s at the end as he brushes away old cobwebs. They used to annoy him to no end, but he’s never been bitten by a spider, and anyhow that’s at the bottom of his list of worries. His comm still doesn’t work, and he hadn’t bothered to bring his phone, he never does. Too easy to break or misplace.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel, a faint flicker that draws Bruce closer. Noise is accompanied by it. The closer he gets the louder it is, until he finds himself positioned over a large room. Three men stand below him, each toting a gun. No one else is there, and Bruce doesn’t exactly know what they happen to be there for. They start a conversation.

“Did you hear we got the little bat?”

“Nightwing? Heh, he get caught in one of the traps?” Bruce zeroes in on the dialogue, eyes narrowing.

“I wasn’t told how, but how hard could it have been? If that’s the best the Bat’s got then we’ll definitely have our way on Friday. Only two more days and the fun begins.”

“I sure hope so. I can’t wait to get out of these sewers, they give me the creeps.”

Where are they keeping him? It’s anger that keeps Bruce going, knocking out the bottom of the vent and knocking out the three thugs without remorse. There’s no one else close by, and the uses that opportunity to look around. He’s close to the sewers, that much he knows. He has a sinking feeling Killer Croc might be around, that’s one villain he doesn’t want to deal with tonight. He knows the giant humanoid didn’t get away from Arkham. So maybe that’s why the men down here are braving the sewers. It makes sense. There’s bad reception down here in any case, a simple jamming program and it’d be nearly impossible to get a signal through. As it is, Oracle still isn’t audible.

The deeper he goes into the sewers the more he wonders how exactly Dick was caught. He has no problem taking men down in numbers, he does it with ease. Which means something worse has to be down here. There are murmurs throughout the tunnel, whispers of wind that sound ominous in the oppressive atmosphere, a musty smell pervading the air. The cement beneath him is slick from sewer water, and he makes sure not to slip, entering a room he unlocks that holds a guard and a crate. After taking down the guard Bruce nears the crate. What he sees sickens him.

It’s a new compound of fear gas, one he’s never seen before. Crane’s name is stamped on the canisters, each carrying about an ounce of toxin. Bruce eyes the canisters with dread, if this was part of their plan and Bruce hadn’t found it, Gotham would surely have been destroyed. He puts a tracker on it, reminding himself to come back to it once he finds Dick. With that he locks the door with a new code. Time to continue his search. He quickly goes through every room and tunnel, only to find them empty or filled with trivial items. He knows he’s getting closer, he’s just not sure how close that is. The tunnels twist this way and that, and more than once Bruce finds himself at intersections.

It’s almost by chance that he finds a small door to the corner of the farthest tunnel, a panel that blends in with the rest of the wall save the tunnel he can see behind it. He pushes it in with relative ease. Rats scurry past him with shrill squeaks, air rushing towards him. He crouches and shuffles forward cautiously. The air is stuffier now, it feels like a sauna. There’s that same dim light, and he sees shadows. A quick scan reveals four. Two armed, one unarmed, and a man tied up, barely moving. He assumes it’s Dick. Which helps explain why he hasn’t been answering...

No one else appears on the scan, and he decides to move in, taking out the two with guns first. They’re easily subdued, Bruce surprising them enough that they don’t resist much. One tries to shoot but Bruce knocks him away, his gun falling to the ground with a clatter. In just that second two are on the ground, unconscious. Bruce kicks the guns into the farthest corner of the room. He only has to glare and the third gives up, not having a gun to shoot and not daring dive to the ground for one. He puts his hands up, not putting up a fight. Bruce knocks him to the ground without a second thought. He’s had it with thugs.

Standing up from the figure, he turns to face Dick. The younger man has panic in his eyes, even after Bruce pulls the tape from his mouth.

“No, you aren’t supposed to be here,” he says, his usual bravado gone. Bruce notices the sweat matting his hair down, the way his skin is paler than usual against his dark mask. His hands shake.

“What happened?” He asks softly, cutting at Dick’s bonds.

“Please, you have to go, it’s a trap.” Dick turns his head this way and that, eyes wild. Bruce doesn’t see anyone around, though someone is approaching, at a distance in his scanner.

“Nightwing, what’s going on? The comms don’t work down here, we thought you were in danger.”

“You can’t be here, that’s what he wanted-this new toxin he has, it’s strong, it’s different-” Dick’s eyes narrow suddenly. Pulling away from Bruce he whispers. “He’s here.”

Bruce turns to face the man hidden in the shadows, eyes glittering with malice. Scarecrow. The villain sidles out of the shadows, mask covering the grin Bruce knows he wears.

“Well, if it isn’t the Batman,” he says, voice low. “I was wondering whether or not you’d show up.” Bruce spares a glance back at Dick, who shuts his eyes tightly. He’s been injected with the toxin, it dawns on Bruce.

“Your plans stop here,” He says, stepping towards Crane threateningly, determined to put the criminal behind bars. No one should have to deal with his poisons.

Of course, it’s never that easy. The man blends back into the gloom, Bruce’s hand missing him by mere inches. He whirls around to see Crane holding his hand over Dick, the needles at the tips of his fingers clicking against his shoulder. The blood rushes from Bruce’s face.

“I wouldn’t move if I were you, Dark Knight.” Scarecrow laughs wickedly, the man he’s captured looking anywhere but at the villain. He’s free from his bonds but held back by whatever toxins still affect him. “One injection and it sends him into another nightmare of pure terror, one that lasts hours. He’ll be awake, but he won’t be able to tell left from right, friend from foe. Won’t that be unlucky for you?”

“Let him go, Crane.” Bruce inches closer and Scarecrow tightens his grip on Dick.

“I will if you take off your mask,” Scarecrow offers smugly. Bruce knows he has to refuse, that DIck would want him to, but it nearly kills him. He slips out a batarang instead, making sure his aim is true before throwing it, the villain jumping back. It grazes his shoulder, and he hisses in pain. Bruce throws himself towards Dick, Scarecrow lunging at him. He plunges a needle into Bruce, the latter gritting his teeth in pain as he falls to the ground. There’s nothing but pain for a few moments, but even that fades as his breath evens out. He stands, Scarecrow nowhere to be found. The room looks the same, just tinted green. He glances at Dick who...looks awful, and horrifying. He stumbles back from the monster in the chair, a gross imitation of his former charge. His appearance is haggard, his mouth twisted in a disgusting grimace.

“Bruce, you need to fight it!” The figure says, but Bruce shakes his head, shivers running down his spine. The room narrows into an alley, Bruce’s eyes trying to make sense of the situation. Bodies lie strewn in front of him, a couple at the front. One he knows well, the two people haunting his nightmares.

He tries to look away from the bodies of his mother and father, but his eyes stay glued to the gruesome scene, piles of corpses appearing quickly. At the top Alfred gazes at Bruce, eyes unfocused and glassy. Bruce’s eyes widen, he reaches out for the butler but can’t catch before he topples, unseeing eyes staring as his breathing comes to a close. From out of the corner of his eye he sees what used to be Nightwing writhe out of his chair and approach Bruce, roaring. Bruce doesn’t move except to hold his hands out in front of him, breaths coming in short and fast. His mind struggles to rationalise away at the scene, but his heart feels nothing but fear at the moment. What is this? Nothing Crane ever used on them affected Bruce to this extent. He closes his eyes, trying to numb away the terror, to quell the uncontrollable tremors. His knees hit the floor as he rides the toxin out, tears leaking silently from his eyes. His brain screams at him to get up and fight it, but it’s all he can do not to just collapse. His senses are heightened, he wants to fight, to take someone out, but deep in his mind he knows it’s an effect, one he can’t fall prey to. It’s that small thought that keeps him from getting up, all his strength going to fighting the toxins. His vision starts blurring and fading in and out, staring down blankly at the floor. Make it stop.

 

*

“It’s been two hours,” Tim states, glancing up at the clock. “What do you think is going on?”

Barbara is still sitting at her computers, nothing further in her brainstorming than an hour before. There’s just no way around the lack of reception in the East End. They’d both come to the conclusion Bruce was in the sewers, but that didn’t help where exactly. Tim already had his mask back on, raring to go. Barbara wasn’t against him leaving, per se, but she didn’t want him falling into whatever misfortune was keeping Bruce and Dick.

“Maybe I should call Jason,” she murmurs thoughtfully, lightly pressing her fingers to her bottom lip.

“You have his number?” Tim perks up. He’s never truly met the elusive man who used to be Robin before him. Heard stories, even seen him around, but never gotten face-to-face with the man.

Barbara smiles. “Yeah, I do.” She calls him, the call short and sweet and to the point. Not a minute later she hangs up. “He’ll meet you on the rooftop of the doctor’s office in the area. You know, where Dr. Thompkins works.”

“Sweet. I sure hope Bruce and Dick are alright…”

“Hey.” Barbara looks at him sternly. “No sad faces, no gloom. They’re all right. They have to be. And they’ll be just fine once you find them.” She lifts an eyebrow. “No point in worrying more than you have to. I’d know.”

She makes sure Tim has a snack before leaving, knowing the boy will need all the energy he can get. Tim says his goodbyes, perching on the Gordon’s window and waving. Then he jumps, the wind catching at his cape, the cool breeze chilling him to the bone. He propels himself towards the East End, knowing it’d be faster taking one of Bruce’s machines but enjoying the night air too much. Besides, if he’s going to be in the sewers he’s going to want all the fresh air he can breathe. The deeper he goes in the worse the air will be.

Stars twinkle above him, it’s an unusually clear night tonight, not a cloud in the sky. It’s nights like these that make him appreciate Gotham weather; clear nights seem like magic when they appear. He’d love to look at the constellations, but there’s no time.

It’s close to midnight when Tim lights on the roof of the doctor’s office, Jason already waiting for him, a red hood covering his face. Tim opens his mouth to introduce himself but Jason cuts to the chase.

“So Bruce got himself in hot water, did he? It was only a matter of time.” He says this coolly, looking Tim over. “You’re the new Robin?”

Tim nods. “I’m Tim. Tim Drake.”

Jason only tilts his head. “Jason Todd. So as long as you’re going to be under Bruce’s wing, I’m gonna give you a tip. Make sure you don’t save people who don’t deserve to live. It’s a shit way to fight if you’re always against the same crazies.”

It’s a bold statement, one Tim isn’t sure he likes. “Bruce says that’s not the way to do it, it would cross a line and it’s not justice-”

“Well, that way of thinking is what got Bruce captured, isn’t it?” Tim keeps his mouth shut, it’s true, technically, though he presses his lips together in annoyance. Jason doesn’t seem to want a response, seeming satisfied with the lack of one, and instead leaps off the building and sprints away. Tim isn’t sure he likes Jason at the moment, but he has no choice but to follow. They won’t need to grapple if they’re heading into the sewers. Most people make the smart choice of staying off the streets at night in this area of Gotham. Those less fortunate huddle together in alleyways, bundled in rags and trying to find warmth. Tim feels a pang in his chest when he sees this, no one should have to survive the elements like this. Maybe he’ll have Bruce help out the East End a bit.

He keeps steady pace with Jason, who leads them down to a large grate into the sewers.
“I sure hope there’s nothing that can eat us down here,” Jason mutters. Tim agrees, going down into the shadowy tunnels first. His feet are on the first rung when the anti-hero asks, “How old are you anyway?”

“Eighteen.”

“And Bruce is letting you do this?” Jason sounds incredulous, and while Tim can understand that something spikes irritation in him.

He frowns. “No, not exactly...but I promised I’d go after him if he didn’t come up after two hours.”

“Well, it’s a good thing Barb called then. You’d be going on a suicide mission otherwise.” Jason ruffles Tim’s hair, the latter brushing him off.

“Thanks but I think I can take care of myself.” Tim continues his descent into the sewer.

If Jason wasn’t wearing a mask Tim would’ve noticed the man rolling his eyes. “If you say so.”
They both find themselves with their feet on the watery concrete of the tunnels soon enough, Jason turning on a flashlight. “You ready for this, Kiddo?”

“Yeah. And don’t call me that.” Tim starts forward. At the turn of the tunnel he almost falls into the water, Jason pulling him back.

“We’re going right. Unless you want to end up washed into the bay.” Tim turns red, but Jason’s already turned back around. “ I’ll lead.” He sneaks down the passageway, barely making a sound.

The further they go in the stranger it gets, the atmosphere doing little to put Tim at ease. He notices lights on occasion, though Jason decides against checking them out.

“The more important stuff’ll be deeper in,” he explains quietly. “No point in checking out anything else.” And he’s right. The closer in they get the warmer it gets, which is strange enough that Tim decides it’s they’re going the right way. Faint lights get clearer, and he almost thinks he can hear someone around them…

“I think they’re here,” he whispers to Jason, who nods.

“Yeah, we should be super quiet though, who knows what’s down here-” He grunts suddenly, a figure knocking into them. Tim stifles a shout of surprise as the flashlight falls to the ground, Jason snarling, pinned to the ground. Tim prepares to fight when, through the dim light, he sees Jason freeze. A voice cuts through the heavy darkness.

“Well, what do we have here?”

Chapter Text

It’s all Joker can do not to burst out in laughter. It’s also all he can do not to strangle the man under him either, staring down at the Red Hood. Jason Todd. Suddenly this seems familiar. A run-in a while ago hadn’t been so pleasant between them, he remembers that clearly. A rooftop, a scuffle, himself tied to a chair as Todd and Bats fought it out. An interesting show, but he doesn’t really enjoy being tossed about by Batman’s kids. While he wouldn’t ever kill Batman, he never set Robin off limits as well.

As it is, he won’t be killing anyone just yet.

“What in God’s name is the Red Hood doing in the sewers?” he asks casually, holding a knife to the man’s neck. The Robin to his side watches warily, ready to leap at moments notice. “You get tired of messing with people up on the surface?”

“What’s it to you, you sack of shit?” Jason growls from underneath him. Joker shakes his head, tutting in mock-disappointment. “Well, that was rude.” Todd growls. This is just too easy.

“What do you want, Joker?” Robin says, a steely edge to his voice. “Why are you here?”

Joker does let out a slight giggle at that. “Well, isn’t this just the craziest thing? I’m looking for Bats, and I found his Bat-babies instead. You wouldn’t happen to have misplaced him, would you?”

Todd writhes underneath him, trying to knock the clown off balance. Joker rolls his eyes, setting down the knife and adjusting himself so that he pins the anti-hero’s arms down as well. “Why the hell are you looking for him?”

“We’re partners at the moment, solving crimes like Sherlock and Watson, didn’t you know?” Joker says with a wide grin, savoring Todd’s obvious confusion. His mask might hide his face, but there are some emotions you can just feel radiating off people. “Well, no, you wouldn’t. Batsy probably thought you’d react like this. Anywho...” He stands up, springing away from Todd as the man swings at him viciously.

“There’s no way he’d actually team up with you. He knows better…”

“I thought he was just giving Batman tips,” Robin says in confusion. Todd turns to him.

“You knew?”

“Well, he knows the locations…” Robin’s voice drops off as he points to Joker, who dusts off his suit. It might be time to get a new one soon, the purple is starting to fade...

“That’s right, I do. Though where exactly Bats is I have no idea. I’m about as lost as you are at this point, and I hate sewers.” Joker shudders. He looks around, picking up the flashlight on the ground and shining it around, curling his lip when he sees rats scurrying around. “Well, nothing we can do, I guess. Are we all looking for the same man here?”

Todd snorts in disgust. “You don’t actually think we’re going to work with you.”

Joker frowns slightly. Damn, one awful run-in and Todd hates you forever. What is it with this bat-family and holding grudges? “Well, cupcake, you can go down the way I just came from, see if I missed something.”

“Well-”

“-Which I didn’t,” Joker finishes, crossing his arms and sticking his tongue out at Todd. The way Todd’s fists clench shows just how much restraint it takes not to strangle him. He loves it. Smiling again, he looks over at Robin, who takes in this whole exchange with perplexion etched on his face. “What do you think? You’re so quiet, not at all like his past Robins. No cheesy one-liners? No insults?”

“I… how did you know Batman would be down here?” He asks warily.

That's a good question, Joker has to admit. But he doesn't just want to go out and say he cajoled Harley into telling him after she’d received the call from Black Mask, who hides down here somewhere with Jonny. It wouldn’t be fair to them. All these villains…and for just one night of terror. It’d seem a little overkill, if not for the fact they’re up against Batman. And himself too, as it happens. “I heard it through the grapevine. And I'm sure if he’d gone to the docks I'd have been there.”

“Why's that?” Todd mutters.

“I know my way around there. He doesn’t, not like me. It’d take him ages.” Joker cocks a hip to shift his weight, wishing he could lean against the wall without ruining his suit more. “Besides, why do the easy jobs when you could finish off the hard tasks first, am I right? Now are we doing this together or not?”

Robin seems a bit easier to convince, but there’s a length of silence before Todd sullenly says, “Fine.”

Joker sticks out his hand, mouth slipping into a smirk. “Shake on it?”

Todd gets closer to Robin, stance defiant. “We don’t shake hands with clowns.”

Joker sighs, putting away his joy-buzzer. “Fair enough. Now let’s go find our Dark Knight. Shall we?” He gestures for the boys to go first. When it's clear that they won't move, he rolls his eyes. “Fine, scaredy cats. I'll go first.” The first tunnel they come across is a dead end, setting the example for a few others they come across. Todd stands between Joker and Robin as a barrier, which he finds hilarious. He isn’t going to do anything right now, not when there’s a task at hand. Maybe he’ll play with them a bit later on in the week. It’d give Bats something to do after this fiasco, that’s for sure. It makes him wonder where Grayson is. Joker hasn’t heard from him in a long while...

*

“Bruce?”

“Hnggh…”

“Bruce!”

A shaking sensation makes Bruce open his eyes, though they turn to slits at the change in lighting. His head pounds as he pushes himself up from the floor, stumbling, his legs heavy. Dick helps steady him as his eyes adjust. Slowly he looks around, remembering what happened. He tries to block out what he saw, focusing on the now. He’s had enough of terrifying hallucinations for now, there’ll be time to reflect later.

“Are you okay?” He asks Dick. Dick blinks, though his mouth forms a relieved smile.

“You’re asking me that? Goddamn, Crane must’ve dosed you with twice what I got! You wouldn’t move for a half hour. I would know, I tried waking you. Were you trying to fight it?”

Bruce meets Dick’s eyes. “It was awful, I couldn’t control anything. If this is how it affects me, how do you think it’ll affect the city?”

“We won’t let it.” Dick’s cool blue eyes are reassuring, though Bruce knows it’s a front. Just one of the many coping mechanisms of a hardened vigilante, alongside witticisms and time spent thinking on the tops of buildings. “Now help me find a way out of this, Crane closed the entrance. It’s locked, but I don’t know how. The wall’s too solid to break through.” He leaves Bruce to stand on his own, running his hands along the door.

“Maybe it only opens from the outside,” Bruce says, moving a bit to get his blood flowing again.

“Well isn’t that sadistic...” Dick mutters, looking back at Bruce. The latter shrugs.

“We both just got poisoned,” Bruce points out. “I don’t think he locked us in here to be nice.” Glancing around, he realises there aren’t any vents in the small space. Meaning they’ll run out of air if they stay here longer than they’re supposed to. There are cracks in the walls, but nothing solid enough to get out of with his gadgets. “Nightwing, maybe we should save our air.”

After pounding at the wall a couple more times Dick nears Bruce. “Do you think Crane is coming back for us?”

“That’s my guess. Why go for a quiet death when it comes to your enemies?” Bruce asks dryly. “It’s just a matter of when.”

“I can’t believe this.” Dick laughs shakily, trying to maintain some of his cheerfulness. Heights are more his thing, Bruce knows he can get rather claustrophobic in rooms like these, but the younger man remains calm all the same. “...does anyone know we’re here?”

“Barbara and Tim know I went looking for you, maybe they’ve figured out we’re in the sewers, but even so, there’s nothing to do but wait it out.” Bruce sits, taking a deep breath and trying to slow his intake of air. After a moment Dick joins him, both calming themselves down enough to slow their breathing patterns as they wait. Bruce doesn’t know what’s going to happen, but he needs to be ready regardless. If it is Crane, they’ll need to be fast and clever, avoiding those awful needles of his. He thinks back to all the canisters in that one shallow room he’d come across, wondering if his lock still holds. It should, but even so it’s something to think about. That’s one of the top priorities he has before he leaves the sewers.

He looks over at Dick, whose eyes are closed, fists clenching and unclenching slowly as he breathes in and out, in and out. It’s one of his talents, being able to stay calm even in trying times. He’s been that way since before he met Bruce, but working as Robin only strengthened that trait over time. He smiles, pride filling his heart. No matter how many times they’ve disagreed over the years, he couldn’t be happier to have Dick Grayson at his side. His first Robin, his first son. He’s proud of Tim and Jason too, knowing Tim is probably headed this way now, and that while Jason has his own version of justice, he’s capable and making the city better in ways only he can. He wonders if he’ll ever say this out loud. Saying it now would waste what short supply of air they have at the moment. For now, at least, he’ll keep it to himself facing forwards again and closing his eyes.

*

The sewers seem never ending the longer Tim walks. He knew they spanned the entire city, but no one had ever told him that they made up a labyrinth of tunnels. Jason never really breaks a sweat, and while Joker grumbles to himself on occasion, he walks at a comfortable pace as well.

Why would Joker team up with Bruce? It doesn’t seem like him to ally himself with his closest enemy, even though he’s been known to throw wrenches into other people’s schemes. It’s not likely that Joker is in it for the rush, he gets that just by blowing up buildings. There’s something niggling at the back of his mind, something out of reach that he just can’t pinpoint. The clown is clearly out of place here, occasionally he’ll say something like, “Why sewers? Why couldn’t it have been a collapsing highrise?” or “These were new shoes,” and “He could’ve called to tell me he was going to be getting himself lost in a sewer.” It’s amusing to listen to, but it leaves Tim confused all the same. How would Bruce call him anyway?

“How you holding up?” Jason asks Tim quietly, slowing down to walk with him. Tim gives a one-shouldered shrug.

“Alright, I guess. We’ve got to be getting a least a little closer, right?”

“I hope so. Nightwing’s with him?”

“I’m not sure.” He barely hears Jason’s sigh.

“I knew something was going on in Gotham, but I didn’t think it’d be this big. How many baddies are out and about?”

Tim counts on his fingers. “Not including Joker, seven. But we captured Dent and Bane already, so five then.”

“Is this your first night out?”

“For this ordeal? Yeah. I’d say I jumped into the the thick of it.” Jason laughs.

“What are you two doing back there?” They both look up to see Joker waving the beam at them, eyebrow raised. “You’re being awfully loud for heroics, aren’t you?”

“Says the dude who’s been mumbling to himself,” Jason retorts. Joker grins, clearly wanting to answer back, or maybe laugh, but he smothers it with a hand. It’d bounce all around, giving them away in seconds.

“Wait, do you hear that?” Joker turns to face the dark end of the passage, where Tim starts to hear a dull thumping noise. It ends abruptly, but now he knows they’re going the right way.

“Nobody would do that except them,” Tim says. Jason nods, but Joker’s already gone ahead of them, the light fading with him into the gloom. “What’s he so rushed about? It’s like he’s more worried than we are.”

Jason starts to run. “I don’t know, but I don’t like it. I don’t trust him.”

“I don’t think anyone does,” Tim responds, matching his strides. His heart starts to beat faster, he knows they’re close to finding Bruce and Dick, he just has to be super observant in these dark halls. His eyes roam, searching for any doors, any flaws in the walls, any sign of the men. He almost runs into Joker, who pauses, pulling out his knife. In front of them stand two thugs guarding a heavy metal door that he instinctively knows holds the men they’re looking for. Joker doesn’t hesitate, running at them before they can shout, Tim and Jason right behind. Tim knows Jason and Joker have no restraint, killing if they have to, but Tim stops himself at knocking one of the men unconscious. He looks over the door, knocking. Jason takes the lock in his hand, cursing.

“Who uses these anymore?” He pulls out a lockpick, making quick work of the contraption, but the door itself is heavier than it looks. It takes all three of them to open it, the door sliding open inch by inch. On the other side stand Bruce and Dick, both looking a little worse for wear but generally okay. They both stand defensively, apparently not expecting them. Then Dick relaxes and waves, and Tim smiles widely. Bruce steps forward to meet them eyes landing on each one. There’s relief in his eyes, but Tim notices his eyes linger longest on Jason. His eyes are wide.

“What are you doing here?”

“Oracle. She didn’t want this guy looking for you alone,” he claps a hand on Tim’s shoulder. “Gotham’s stuck in a mess, isn’t she?”

Bruce only says, “We’re taking care of it. You’d be a welcome help-”

“Are you actually working with the Joker?” Jason’s voice is frigid, the area drops a couple degrees just with his question. “You’re working with him and you want my help. You’re insane.”

Joker smirks, but Bruce frowns. “That’s not the point here, Jason. There’s too much going on right now. We need your help.”

There’s a long silence before Jason shakes his head. “No. I’m sorry, but I won’t do this. You’re asking me to team up with the man who almost killed me. How do you expect me to brush that aside?”

Tim catches Bruce sending the Joker a glance. Joker frowns, eyes dark. Then Bruce steps forward.

“Jason, can we talk? After we dispose of the toxin, I mean. I need to go back to this one room, it contains most if not all of Crane’s toxins. I have it tracked.”

Jason gives a curt nod before he says, “Are you just going to blow it up? You aren’t going to just drag it through the sewers, are you? That sounds like a stupid idea.” Bruce sighs.

“I don’t have a better idea besides blowing it up, unless you want to carry it. If it’s contained in the room there shouldn’t be a problem, it won’t go into the water,” he explains. “Crane won’t be able to open it easily either.”

“Just how many canisters are there?”

“About fifty in a crate, but it’s strong. Strong enough to send everyone spiraling into fear-induced insanity.” Dick says. Joker raises an eyebrow curiously. Tim narrows his eyes, Joker smirking and shrugging as if to say: I can't help it, I'm a villain at heart, really.

Some of the tension in the chamber fades away after that, but Tim still thinks if he tried hard enough he could cut right through it. Dick has stayed silent all throughout, tapping his foot uncomfortably. A family reunion and no one is particularly happy to see each other. Kind of like a normal family’s Thanksgiving, Tim supposes. Bruce starts heading down the passage to where he’s left the tracker, and the rest follow.

*

Bruce doesn't exactly know how to interact with anyone as he walks down the tunnels, so he doesn't. He gets to the room with the toxins, making sure the lock hasn't been tampered with. The rest file in behind him, all stuck in that same tension he feels. The guilt that he’d pushed away earlier slams into him tenfold, especially now that both Jason and Joker are here. He feels sick, feeling like he’s betrayed Jason with his feeling, with teaming up with the clown. The only thing is, as much as he hates it, he can’t change any of it. Can’t, or doesn’t want to. He knows it’s selfish, but his mind keeps fighting against what’s wrong and right, and how he feels. He doesn’t want to push Joker away, bad as that might sound. But there’s the fact that he doesn’t want Jason to hate him, to carry any animosity.

It’s a crossroads, one where he doesn’t want to move in either direction. And that’s the real problem.

In truth, he doesn’t really need Jason, Tim, and Dick here anymore. He doesn't know where Scarecrow is, but the longer they spend here, in a group, the easier it’ll be to capture all of them. It’s such an enclosed area, easy to get trapped in. Luckily the canisters are close. They come upon them relatively fast, the room glowing a faint green.

“That crate?” Jason looks at it. “Maybe me and Nightwing could carry it out, it doesn’t look that heavy.”

“True.” Dick circles around it, the box coming up mid-thigh on him. “Let’s try and lift it.” He and Jason do a count, lifting on three. It’s heavy, but they’re sure they can carry it. Bruce suggests they trade off if they get too tired, everyone agreeing. Tim leads as they lead the room, pointing out where to turn and when to stop. Bruce stays in back to make sure no one follows, Joker falling in step with him.

“You think you’ll stop this before Friday?” Joker says quietly. “There’s still plenty of stuff going on.”

“We will stop it, we have to.” There’s no getting around it, if Bruce can’t stop this scheme in its tracks Gotham will be destroyed. He should be over at the docks at the moment, if Scarecrow hadn’t set them back. Speaking of Scarecrow… he could still be in the sewers, just waiting. He should do something about that. “Guys. I’m going after Scarecrow.”

“Alone?” Dick’s voice drips with disbelief. “You know what he can do.”

“I have to take him in,” Bruce says, refusing to be swayed. “I’ll be fine. You just need to focus on getting that toxin somewhere safe. Promise me you’ll do that.”

Dick frowns, matching with Tim and Jason. “...an hour. I’ll give you an hour, then I’m coming to get you.”

Bruce agrees, looking over at Joker. “Are you going to stay with them?”

Joker laughs, pointing at the trio. “I’m not too popular with your kids, if you haven't noticed. I’ll tag along with you, in case I need to save you again.” Bruce wants to argue that point, but Joker is technically right, and there’s no time for banter anyway.

“Let’s go then.”

“Wait. Oracle and I noticed we haven’t seen Sionis anywhere. We thought that he might be in there with Crane,” Tim says.

“I’ll make sure to check that out. Be back soon, head for the entrance.” Turning back, Bruce runs back into the tunnel, the deep gloom an unwelcome but inescapable sight. He turns on his infrared, Joker’s quick steps follow.

“You know, I have a feeling Black Mask is around here somewhere,” Joker muses, his voice quiet enough to barely echo off the surrounding walls. Bruce knows that’s a tip, that he won’t get an elaboration and that he’ll have to take it for the truth. “Bats, I know this is important to you, but even if you get these two, you’ll still have to deal with three more. And it’s already after midnight. You sure you don’t wanna just blow up the sewers and call it a night?” He huffs out a short laugh. “We could go club hopping, stir up trouble with the authorities. Much more my style, wouldn’t you say?”

Bruce slows down, starting to edge around closer to the walls. He knows Joker wants to say more, voicing it as more of a jest than actual concern. He knows that there’s more at the tip of the clown’s tongue, but he’s so tired of people worrying about him, concealed or otherwise. He knew the risks that would come with being a vigilante, knows that any day really could be his last. Sometimes he just wishes he didn’t have so many people making sure he isn’t about to have a breakdown or something. There isn’t time for that.

“Can you not worry about me?”

“I’m not, I’m just-”

“Please.” He doesn’t turn to see Joker’s expression behind him, can’t imagine it being anything other than confused or annoyed at the moment.

“Batsy.” Joker’s voice is measured and even, different from what Bruce expects as he turns to face him. He expects a punch even less, but that’s what he receives, a sharp blow to his face that puts him off guard. It’s surprisingly accurate for it being pitch-black.

“What was that for?” He asks in shock and anger, his cheek stinging. He sees Jokers sharp grin, practically glowing through his vision.

“Stop acting like the world revolves around you. I’m making fun of you, not crying over how tired you look. I realise you aren’t a kid that needs taking care of, so stop acting like one. You’re with me, not your nanny.”

Oh. Oh. He’s right. Joker might care for him, in his own weird way, but he’s not going to baby him if he can help it. And Bruce doesn’t really know why he thinks he would. Fuck, this lack of sleep is getting to him. Or maybe it’s the toxin, still making its way out of Bruce's system. “I don’t have a nanny,” he mutters under his breath.

“Then stop acting like it,” Joker says, patting him on the cheek where he hit him. He walks up ahead, Bruce staring at his back like he’s an indecipherable puzzle.

He’ll be happy when he finds Crane and Sionis. It’ll give him something to beat up.

*

The closer Dick, Tim, and Jason get to the entrance on the outskirts of the East End the happier Dick gets. There’s no thrill to be had below ground, nothing but mud and sludge to step into. He’s sure it must be because of his beginnings in the circus, performing on the trapeze with ease, throwing himself without worrying about what’s there to catch him. He feels uncomfortable whenever he’s not in the air, funnily enough. Or at least, not aboveground.

He’s been carrying this crate the whole time, not letting Tim take his side of the box, though Jason readily hands it over. He hasn’t been much help tonight, might as well do this one thing.

He can almost see the lights of the city when Tim says, “Guys, did you notice Joker’s kinda...different? Around Bruce, I mean.”

Dick had noticed that, the clown was a bit more subdued, not as raring to get into a fight. Even on the rare occasions they did team up Joker was full of commentary and snark. At least, when he was around to witness the occasions.

“Maybe he’s getting tired of being a homicidal maniac and he’s chilling out?” Dick suggests, though he doesn’t believe that himself.

Jason shakes his head. “Are you crazy? The monster thrives off hurting people, no way he’s mellowing out. He’s faking it.”

“Maybe…” Tim’s voice drops off. The sound of wind whistling through the tunnels replaces the conversation, the sound of water nearby. They’re nearly at the shoreline the sewer lets out of, the dark sky a welcome sight. Dick clicks at his comm.

“Barbara?”

The reply is almost instantaneous. “Dick? Are you alright? What happened? Is the Bruce there? Are Jason and Tim there? Are they okay--”

“Barb, they’re fine. I’m safe.” The corner of his mouth tilts up as he waits for Barbara’s reply.

“Good. What happened? Were you in the sewers?”

“Yeah. There must’ve been a jamming system too. We were in a bit of trouble, Bruce is back in the sewers to take out Scarecrow and maybe Sionis.”

Barbara takes a few seconds to answer back. “You’re not with him?”

“No. I’m with Tim and Jason. By the way, can you have Alfred send over something to pick up a crate we have? It’s kind of heavy.”

“Yeah. You’re coming to back to the apartment, right?”

“As soon as Bruce comes back, yes.”

Barbara hums. “Bruce didn’t go back in alone, did he?”

Dick glances at Tim and Jason, neither obviously listening in but both focused on the conversation. “...No? I mean, he’s with Joker.” Boy is his hand getting tired, carrying the crate with one hand and he keeps one on the comm. Barbara doesn’t answer, silence coming through the device. At the end of the tunnel they set the crate down, Dick shaking his hand out to get the feeling back in. “Barbara?”

“Sorry, I’m just thinking. Why did he take Joker instead of one of you?”

Dick honestly doesn’t have an answer to that. Barbara seems to sense his uncertainty.

“I’ll be right back, I’ll tell Alfred you’re all alright and to send a vehicle.”

“Thanks, Babs.”

There’s audible relief in Dick’s voice, to which the woman replies, “You owe me, Grayson.”

He knows it, and he plans on replaying in full. He can’t help but ask, “Were you worried about me?”

“...” He knows Barbara is doing that pout only she can pull off, a small one that makes you feel like you fucked up and should do anything you can to fix it. Funny he can get that specific about it. “Just come back soon, alright?”

“You know I will.” He ends the call, knowing any longer and he’ll say three words into that phone that will spiral him into a mess of excuses. There’s too much going on for a snowball into a massive confession. It’s just one he’s not sure Barbara wants to hear. He looks up to see Tim smirking in his general direction, not quite meeting his eyes.

“I’m surprised you didn’t confess to her right then and there.”

Dick lifts a shoulder, looking up at the stars. “There’s too much stuff going on. And besides, she’s over me.”

“Obviously,” Jason drawls, resting on the crate. “You should’ve heard her when she called me. ‘I need you to go with Tim, you need to find Dick and Bruce, it’s serious, he’s been gone for twenty minutes and I can’t find him, Bruce went after and I’m worried sick--’” Dick frowns at him and he winks.

“Give her more credit, she didn’t sound like that, and your conversation was a lot shorter, she said something like, ‘Dick’s gotten himself captured like the idiot he is and Tim shouldn’t go alone to rescue him’,” Tim says through a snicker. Dick glares at him, and the younger man raises his hands to placate him, “But he’s right. She still cares about you. I’m sure you’ll be back together again in no time.”

Dick runs a hand through his hair. “You guys don’t know anything.”

Chapter Text

Bruce has a hunch Black Mask and Scarecrow are in the control room of the sewers, abandoned but for the rare occasions maintenance actually needs to be done. The rooms have a source of lighting, and they provide better seating than the pipes that protrude over running water in the tunnels. He also knows that it’s relatively difficult getting there through most tunnels, especially the way they’re going. It’s a good thing he has a zip line.

The water below looks black, running lazily to the end of the tunnels providing a barrier that Bruce has to sling a line across. He holds out his arm to Joker, he’s sure the line is sturdy enough to hold their weight. The clown clings to him, Bruce wrapping his arm around to make sure he doesn’t fall off. They make their way across, Joker giggling quietly as they speed over the water.

“You really do have everything in that belt of yours, don’t you?”

“Almost,” Bruce says, seeing a door in the distance. There’s movement he can see through the window, and he ducks down, moving quietly and signaling for Joker to get down.

The door is unlocked, the infrared showing two figures, one close to the door. Bruce swings open the door, there’s no other way to get around it, and grabs the man closest. Sionis. Joker aims a gun at Crane, who snarls in anger. He grins, taking in the scene.

“I feel like James Bond!” He lowers his voice into something smoother but no less him. “I know the rules, and number one is ‘no deals’.” He winks at Crane, tilting his gun this way and that. Crane sneers.

“I knew I should have just killed you when I had the chance,” he hisses at Bruce. “But you?” He narrows his eyes at Joker. “You always have to meddle, don’t you? You’re a half-baked villain.”

Joker laughs. “Well, I don’t know about that. It’s all about perspective. See, I’m not interested in team ups, but the sooner you’re all out of the way the sooner Gotham is mine. I’m not in the habit of sharing.” Crane lunges forward, Joker training his gun on him more firmly. “Any closer and I’ll shoot you, Jonny.”

“You’re all crazy,” Sionis spits out, trying to pull away from Bruce. Bruce tightens his grip. “Let me go! I haven’t even done anything!”

“Right.” Bruce ties him up, hearing the heavy thudding of boots coming towards them. He glances at Joker. “Don’t kill any of them.”

“Where’s the fun in that, Bats?” Joker complains. He levels the gun at the door anyways, Bruce heading to Crane’s side, the villain backing into a corner.

“Didn’t get enough of the toxin earlier?” He taunts, holding his hands out threateningly. Bruce closes his hand around Crane’s needles, bending back the metal and snapping it, toxin dripping to the floor. Crane uses his other hand to hit at Bruce, kicking and punching to try to get the larger man to let him go. Bruce punches him, knocking Crane against the wall so that the breath gets knocked out of the man’s lungs, pinning his hands and making sure he can’t get away. A gunshot rings out near him and he whips his head around to look at Joker, then at the man on the ground behind him.

“I didn’t shoot him anywhere lethal...I don’t think,” Joker says, kicking at a thug getting too close. “Are we gonna take them with us?” He points to Crane and Sionis. Bruce nods, standing to help Joker fight off the rest of the men. There are twenty surrounding them, most armed with blunt weapons. Bruce pulls Joker to him, the clown looking at him in confusion.

“Cover your ears,” Bruce warns Joker. The latter claps his hand over his ears, the men drawing nearer. Bruce waits till they step just a little closer...and then…

That same piercing shriek from when he was with Tim fills the room, the men collapsing, howling in pain, some knocked out. Joker’s eyes are shut tightly as he leans against Bruce to steady himself.

“Goddamn. That was something, Bats, I gotta say. My ears are ringing like crazy.” He blinks rapidly, shaking his head back and forth. Bruce makes sure he can stand alone before going back to Crane, who lies in a fetal position, hands still pressed to ears. When Bruce lifts him from the ground he tries to claw at him, Bruce binding his hands before he can do any damage.

“You think just because you’ve got us our plan will fail?” Crane says as Bruce lifts him up onto his shoulder. Bruce ignores him, Joker dragging Sionis behind him carelessly.

“We should just dump them in the sewer,” Joker suggests.

“I’m taking them to the GCPD.” Bruce says matter of factly.

Joker frowns. Sionis still struggles, and he slams the man’s face into the ground, knocking him unconscious. “Alright...let’s just get out of here. Can you lead? My head’s still spinning.” He giggles, pressing a hand to his head.

Bruce doesn’t waste time in getting them out of the room.

*

Dick is the first to approach them, Jason sitting on the crate containing the toxin. Tim talks quietly but animatedly to him, the older vigilante listening closely. It almost seems like a casual outing, despite the fact they’re toting around Arkham escapees.

“You’re alright?”

“I’m alright,” Bruce confirms. He sees the batwing behind him. “You got through on the comms?”

“Yeah. I’m going to Barbara’s after this, you know it’s almost 3:30? Is there anything else you can do tonight?”

“I might go to the docks, we’re running out of time and there’s barely any time to breathe,” Bruce says. “Tim.”

The man looks up from where he stands. “What’s up?” Bruce walks over to him, handing Crane over to Dick, who puts him into the batwing.

“I don’t want you to come with anymore tonight. Maybe tomorrow, but for right now I just need to get this done.”

Tim gives a short nod. “I’ll go with Dick to Barbara’s house.” He looks over at Joker, who’s dropped Sionis and stalked over closer to the water, looking out over the waves. “What about him? Bruce, why is he helping you? He’s never done anything just because, he’s probably just doing it to get what he wants, in the end. Doesn’t he seem different to you?”

“I…” He hesitates. “He offered, but…” Bruce feels cold. Everything that’s happened and suddenly he remembers Monday. I won’t do this for free. How did he forget that? He remembers he and Joker made a deal, and now he’s rethinking everything. Every meet-up, every conversation. He’s seen Joker in action, doing anything to put people off-guard so that they’d be helpless to stop him the minute he decided to act. How much of their interaction was real?

He nears Joker, who looks down at the tide coming in and receding, hands in his pockets. He leans back when he hears footsteps, smiling at Bruce, whose stomach twists.

“Finally some fresh air. Although to be fair, even drinking in chemicals again would have been better than those tunnels.” He wrinkles his nose. When Bruce doesn't respond his brow furrows. “What?”

“...Have you been playing me this entire time?” Bruce’s throat feels dry, he didn't want to word it like that, but it's out.

“What are you on about? Is this still about earlier? I seem to recall you enjoying that dance, dear,” he retorts, his smile growing sardonic.

Bruce glares. “This is about that favor you wanted. You're just trying to distract me.”

Joker’s eyes widen just the slightest bit, though he regains his neutral expression right after. “Paranoid much? I'd already forgotten about that.” He smirks. “But you did promise, so why are you mad about that at all?” He waves a hand around flippantly, but it does nothing to console Bruce. That's the thing. Joker never forgets. Anything. Bruce grabs at his shoulders, making the clown face him.

“Let go of me, Bruce,” Joker warns, voice deadly soft. “I haven't done anything against you. Like I said.”

Bruce shakes his head. “How can I believe you? I heard what you said to Crane, waiting until they’re locked up so you can take control.”

Joker huffs out a small breath. “Bats. Batsy. Don’t you know me by now? Eighty percent of what I say is a bluff. Now, it is a nice thought, I’m not gonna deny that, but I’m not gonna do anything anytime soon. All this hero stuff? I’m gonna need a vacation just to recuperate. I don’t feel very villainous right now.” He eyes Bruce, daring him to figure out what was truth. Bruce stares down at the grainy sand, boots sinking and making dark prints on the ground. He feels Joker’s gaze on him, knows he’s waiting on a response. Bruce has a million reasons not to trust him. But he knows that this time Joker’s being honest, even if it is in his roundabout way.

“I’d say only forty percent is a bluff,” he finally says, meeting Joker’s eyes. Joker laughs, stepping closer to Bruce so that there are only inches between them. “The kids are here,” Bruce murmurs, flicking his eyes over to the entrance to the sewer.

Joker rolls his eyes. “I’m not gonna do anything. Are you gonna expect a kiss whenever I’m close to you from now on?”

“No.” Bruce says, averting his eyes. It’s only a half-truth, Bruce has no idea what goes on in Joker’s mind. Joker tilts his head, like he can read Bruce’s mind exactly, but he doesn’t comment on it.

“Good. It takes two to tango, Bats. A little bit of trust. Remember that. When I call in that favor, you’ll know, I promise. But right now? We’ve got work to do, don’t we?”

Bruce hums in agreement, looking over at Jason, who stares right at him. Joker follows Bruce’s gaze.

“You gonna tell him you’re in love?” Joker asks lightly. Bruce levels him with a stare. “Okay, so maybe not. It’s all the same to me whether you take your secret to the grave or not. I've got a few skeletons in the closet myself, and besides, this is more of a challenge for me.” He grins. Bruce lowers his eyes.

“Jason would despise me,” he murmurs.

Joker nods. “Probably. But you know,” he leans on Bruce like he would a wall, “I think you’re pretty good at swaying people to your side.”

Bruce glances at Joker, seeing nothing but honesty in his eyes. He smiles, and while Joker returns it he shifts into a more uncertain expression, one Bruce barely catches before it disappears again. He looks at the man questioningly, but Joker just shakes his head and gestures to Jason, who waits with his arms crossed. It’s about time they talked.

Only Jason and Bruce are left, Dick and Tim gone to drop off Sionis and Crane at the GCPD, then heading to the Gordons’ apartment. Joker tells Bruce he’ll see him later, his mind visibly on something else. Bruce knows he won’t get to the docks on time anymore, the sky is gradually getting lighter. And he promised Jason they’d talk.

“What are we doing here, Bruce?” Jason has his hands in fists, standing with his shoulders hunched against the wind. He’s taken his mask off, his hair almost flattened to his head. “I was only here to help out Tim. He seems like a good kid, by the way. Try not to ruin him.”

Bruce sighs through his nose. “Jason, I told you I was sorry about what happened. I regret it, and if I could go back in time I know I would change it, but-”

“But what? You should’ve just killed Joker when you had the chance. You’ve had plenty. You didn’t even let me kill him. And now you’re working with him like you’ve been friends your whole lives!” Words can’t describe the fire in Jason’s voice, his anger like a tidal wave, buffeting Bruce in guilt.

“You don’t understand. I need his help for this.”

“You have Tim and Dick. Hell, you even have Gordon. You could’ve had me, but I can’t help you when the Joker’s apparently your right hand man. What are you doing?” Jason barks, pushing Bruce back.

Fuck. He understands completely, what he’s doing shouldn’t sit right with anyone, siding with a villain that has messed with those closest over and over again. There’s no reason except for Bruce’s agreement at the beginning of the week, and what it’s snowballed into. Jason would hate him more if Bruce told him how Joker feels about him, and the complications Bruce is feeling himself. So he can’t say anything. Jason waits, face set in a frown, a storm in his eyes.

Bruce lowers his head, voice low. “I know you won’t forgive me, but I won’t kill him. You wouldn’t understand, and I’m not asking you to.”

Jason raises an eyebrow. “Bruce, there’s nothing to understand. You’re working with the man who almost killed me, remember?”

Bruce closes his eyes. “I know. That’s why I didn’t want to ask for your help.” He opens his eyes to see Jason slumped forward, eyes empty.

“Don’t I mean anything to you?” His words come out flat, piercing Bruce’s heart.

“Jason…” Jason looks up, eyes defiant.

“Tell me why. Why are you still siding with him? After everything.”

Bruce opens his mouth. Words die on his tongue, and he realises Jason would hate him for the real reason. He doesn’t want to lie to him, but the truth wouldn’t fix anything.

It doesn’t matter. The look in Jason’s eyes is enough. His laugh is hollow, and he rubs a hand over his face. “I can’t believe you. He’s evil, and you’re letting him stay close to you.” Bruce lays a hand on his shoulder, Jason brushing him off roughly.

“Jason, I just need him to help us. That’s it. After that...” Bruce's voice is as earnest as he can make it, imploring Jason to see it his way. Jason’s gaze is piercing, though he stops trying to pull away.

Bruce almost thinks he won’t listen, that he’ll just keep walking, when he says, “If I help you, I don’t want him anywhere near me. I don’t know why you feel the need to keep him around, but if you can promise that I’ll… I’ll help. For Gotham.”

Bruce smiles wearily. “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me, Bruce,” Jason says, voice gruff. “The city isn’t saved yet. And after this I’ll definitely be taking a break, from you and this city.” He puts his mask back on his face. “Get some sleep, you look awful.” He takes off, leaving Bruce alone to heave a huge sigh of relief. Checking his watch, he realises it’s already closer to four. The batwing should be in the Batcave by now, but he asks Alfred to send it back. It’s time to go home.

*

Bruce wakes up earlier than usual in the morning. Thursday. Only today and maybe tomorrow really to save Gotham. He hopes nothing happens Friday, but he knows it’s a slim chance. Today is the day just he’ll have to try his hardest for the least amount of damage tomorrow. He’s still sore from last night, or five hours ago, but it’s nothing a little movement can’t fix.

The morning air is chilly as he rushes to put on his robe, shivering, his feet slipping into soft slippers. A tray sits on his bedstand, a newspaper laid out on top. It’s strange, Alfred has dropped the habit of giving Bruce the daily paper, but Bruce understands why it’s there the moment he picks it up. Right on the front page:

Is Gotham’s Most Eligible Taken?

Bruce's heart stutters as he takes in the page. Underneath that headline is a picture of Bruce at the new restaurant, smiling at Joker as they dance. Bruce’s stomach twists, and he sits back on his bed, running a hand through his hair. His eyes are glued to the page, dancing over each detail, every line of the article.

“Bruce Wayne, Gotham’s most eligible bachelor to date, was found yesterday dancing with another man. Both seemed close, sharing more than a few dances at the Gatz, a new restaurant in the Diamond District. While no one knows if this is a permanent affair or a fling, it might put to rest any excuses of why the billionaire remains unmarried. Though the news broke the hearts of many under Wayne’s charm, we just wish we knew who this mystery man actually is, and why he’s caught Wayne’s attention.”

Bruce smirks, though he still feels slightly unnerved. No way they’d wish they knew who the man was, they’d be setting fire to Wayne Tower the moment they found out. He flops onto his bed with that thought.

It’s all the same to me whether you take your secret to the grave or not. Well now, he’s been outed as Bruce Wayne, that’s for sure. He knows if he were to show Joker he’d laugh in that obnoxious but somehow charming way of his. It makes him wonder if anyone besides him and Alfred have seen the news.

Oh, gods. Alfred. He can’t not know who the man in the picture is, who the hell else would dance with him like that? Suddenly he wants to just stay in his room. For a couple years.

When it’s clear that the day will go on no matter what he wants, he gets up from his bed, leaving his room and taking that long walk into the kitchen. Alfred leans against the counter drinking tea, eyes shifting towards Bruce as he walks in.

“Good morning, Master Bruce. I didn’t realise you’d be up so early.”

“Morning, Alfred.” Bruce sits down at the table. Alfred sets his cup down, pulling a pan out of a cabinet, taking out various ingredients for breakfast.

“I’m glad to see you’re alright. The boys came in after you, Master Dick had a smile on his face that could give the Joker a run for his money.” Bruce finds a sudden interest with the table, tapping out an anxious rhythm.

“Really?”

“Something about Miss Gordon, I assume. I do hope they're a couple again. It'd be wonderful. Speaking of which, you never told me how that new restaurant was. Was the food good?”

“The food was great. The atmosphere was a little loud though.” Bruce takes a drink from his coffee mug. For a minute the sound of the stove turning on and crackling fills the room, Bruce steeling his nerves.

“See anybody you knew?”

Bruce’s mug hits the table a little harder than necessary. Way to go, Alfred. Straight to the point. Alfred’s expression is neutral, but his eyes are unreadable. “...I saw Harley Quinn, and Ivy...and Joker.”

“You two made front page.” Alfred says casually. Bruce wraps his hands around his mug, taking slight comfort in its warmth. “You were smiling.”

“Well-” Bruce coughs, thinking up an excuse. Alfred frowns slightly.

“You don’t have to lie to me, sir. I won’t be the one to judge you. You of all people should know that.”

Those words alone make Bruce flinch, the tips of his ears burning. “You should be furious,” Bruce says, staring down at his drink.

Alfred steps away from the counter, coming to place a hand on Bruce’s shoulder reassuringly. “I’m just concerned. You know what he’s done, know what kind of person he is. But you’ve always seen something in him that we haven’t. As long as you know what you’re doing.”

Bruce shakes his head. “That’s the thing. I have no idea what I’m doing. None of this should even have happened. I was just...”

Alfred sighs. “Do you love him?”

There's that word again. Bruce rakes a hand through his hair. “I don't know. It's a little too soon for that.”

“You've been after each other for almost twenty years,” Alfred states dryly. Bruce looks up at him.

“You make it sound easy.”

At this statement Alfred shakes his head, mouth downturned. “None of this is easy, Bruce, but whatever you decide I'll be there for you.” Bruce knows Alfred enough by now to believe that, but he also feels like he’s let him down. “Are you going to tell the boys?”

“Yeah, sure. Hey, guys? I'm sort of dating our greatest villain ever, hope that's alright with you.”

Alfred tries not to flinch, he really does, but Bruce notices him stiffen the slightest bit. A twinge of guilt hits him.

Alfred composes himself, making himself busy. “Maybe you should take it slower then. Tell them after this ordeal is over. Things could change.” He turns to the stove, flipping over what Bruce guesses is an omelet. He could do with some protein. Or something for an energy boost in general.

He presses the heel of his palm to his head, warding off a slight headache. “I doubt it, but I'll wait. They need to focus too, especially Dick.”

“What are you guys talking about me for?” Dick stumbles in lazily. He falls into the chair next to Bruce with an enormous yawn.

“Why are you awake?” Bruce asks, noting the bags under Dick’s eyes.

“Couldn't sleep. Gonna go see Babs.” His mouth forms a toothy grin. “We got back together.”

Alfred sighs again. “I owe Master Tim twenty dollars.”

“Wha- you guys bet on whether or not we’d get together again?” Dick raises his eyebrows.

Alfred tilts his head. “I was rooting for you, but I realise you can be a bit...obtuse.” He places the omelet on Bruce’s plate, starting to mix up the ingredients for another. Dick pouts.

“He’s right, but don’t worry.” Bruce starts cutting at his food. “Apparently I’m the same way.”

“You are,” Alfred’s back is turned, but Bruce can hear his quiet affirmation. He meets Dick’s eyes, shrugging with a smile.

“Are you going to see her today?” He makes conversation while the other man waits for his food.

Dick nods. “She wants me to come over.”

“She needs you to look over another machine?” Bruce asks meaningfully. He smirks at Dick’s flustered expression, all the tension he felt earlier dissipating.

And then Alfred has the to be bearer of bad news, lowering his voice so that only Bruce can hear. “I’m sorry, sir, but you have drawn quite a bit of attention to yourself and I’ve gotten many calls from reporters.” A small imaginary raincloud floats over Bruce’s head, ruining his momentary good mood. Give him a team of criminals over the press any day.

“I’ll take care of it.” Meaning he’ll be spending the next few hours dispelling rumours and making vague statements that could mean anything, depending on who’s listening. Oh boy.

*

It's kind of ridiculous really. Why are villains always starting things at night? It's like they wait just for Batman to show up before they declare war. Joker thinks on this as he lounges on his couch, Harley letting him into Ace chemicals with an earful. She lost, in the end. Ace is his base, even while temporarily occupied by Harley and Penguin’s men. They glare at him, but it's all they can do. No one would dare cross him.

“Harls, I think I've gone soft,” he says, lying on his back and staring at the ceiling. Harley hums, helping Ivy place different plants around the area. Awful things. Joker plans on burning them to crisps when this is all over.

“Why's that, puddin’?”

Joker frowns thoughtfully. “I just don't think this break from villainy is doing me any good. It's fantastic getting to antagonize Ozzy and the gang, but I haven't really destroyed anything. It's weird.”

Harley sets a flower pot down and rests her hands on her hips. “Does this have to do with Batman?”

“Hmm...maybe.”

“Well, is it a bad kind of weird?” Harley's going into psychiatrist mode, Joker can tell. He’ll play along, it's been awhile since he's seen this side of her.

“Not the worst kind of weird. I just don't know what I'm doing. I'm helping Bats, and it's fun, but at the same time I feel like I'm playing second fiddle. It's not my plan at all.”

“Ooh, character development!” Harley sits next to him, ignoring his glare. “Realising not everything is in your control?”

Joker scoffs. “I'm still in control, Harley.”

“I don't know. You're helping out, not masterminding. And for a hero, of all people.” She raises an eyebrow, waiting for Joker’s response. He’s trying to piece together the words to say, thinking carefully on his answer.

Ivy overhears, sitting next to Harley. “Speaking from experience, Batman is still going to lock you up at the end. Even if you help him. Might as well start something before Friday.”

Joker sits up, giving Ivy the evil eye. “This is different. He’s not using me. It's not one-sided anymore.”

Harley claps her hands over her mouth. “You mean... He's in love with you?”

Joker smiles slightly. “I wouldn't go that far. Not yet. But he's different, not as cold around me. Actually, he's kind of into it.” He laughs, remembering the way Bruce almost expected Joker to kiss him last night. “I guess he just needed a nudge in the right direction.” He sighs. “But maybe that's one of the problems now.” If he's busy helping Bruce, of course he's going to appreciate it, he's always wanted Joker on his side. But what happens when he decides to blow up a building, or take over Arkham? The line he's walking is thinner than ever, and Joker doesn't know which side he’ll end up tipping over. There's going to be a point where he won't be able to turn back, won't want to turn back.

Harley wraps her arms around him. “You'll be okay. You've gotta see him again tonight?” Joker nods. “Figure stuff out. I know you're crazy for him but don't let that stop you from bein’ yourself.” Joker nudges the woman away and onto Ivy, though he smiles crookedly.

“Now don't get all mushy on me, doc. I'm still a dangerous criminal.” Which gets the wheels in his head spinning. He taps his fingers against his lips, thinking. Harley tilts her head.

“Getting an idea?”

“Just maybe…” Joker grins. “Where are the papers and pencils?” Harley jumps up to get them from a nearby table. Once she passes them to him he takes to writing, spidery letters filling the page.

“Is B-man coming here to stop us?” Harley asks, twisting her hair around her finger.

“That would spoil the secret now, wouldn’t it?” Joker doesn’t look up from his paper. “You haven’t put up enough defenses, you know.”

“I’ll be able to stop him. That’s why all the plants are here,” Ivy says from the couch.

Joker huffs out a laugh. “Hasn’t stopped him before.” He sneers at Ivy, he’s never been too fond of the mostly reserved woman, more occupied with plants than what’s around her. An extreme environmentalist. He can’t count how many times she’s tried to kill him for blowing up plants in the way of his plans. A tree blocking the view? Gone. Shrubs not letting him escape quick enough? Decimated. He’ll admit, it was on purpose sometimes, but still. Just because she’s with Harley, he’ll put up with her. “Tell you what. I’m feeling just a little bored, so I’ll set some stuff up for you. Nothing too complicated, but it’ll slow him down.”

Harley cocks her head. “I thought you were supposed to be helping him.”

“I am. I’m just trying to get some fun out of it too. I can’t have him thinking I’ve converted to heroism.” Besides, he’ll get a kick out of it. I did tell him I was a wild card.

After all, it’s one thing to be in love with a hero. It’s quite another to follow him blindly. And Joker isn’t into blind fanaticism.

Chapter Text

Bruce swears if Vicki Vale was a villain she’d be unstoppable. He spends an hour alone trying to dodge her questions, his phone ringing incessantly (How did she even get his number?). When the mob of reporters shows up on his front step he tries to have Alfred shoo them away, but they’re like vultures. The camera flashes annoy him to no end, you don’t need camera flashes in broad daylight anyway (he thinks). The interview goes on for about an hour. He doesn’t mind some of the questions, no, he’s not straight, yes, he’ll donate to LGBT organizations (he donates to them anyways). But some are insulting and honestly? Some are just straight up kinky. He ends up just staring at one reporter after a certain question about leather, at a loss for words. So, in a curt fashion he ends the interview, loosening his tie as he enters the manor and heaving a sigh of relief.

“What was that about?” Dick asks, dressed to head out to Barbara’s. His hair looks stiff with gel, which makes Bruce frown and mess it up. Dick protests but Bruce cuts him off.

“You look better like this,” he says, “You’re not going to an interview, you’re going to hang out with your girlfriend.”

“Fine. But why was the press here?”

“Why do they ever show up? For information and uncomfortable conversations.” Dick looks confused, so he decides to enlighten him. “People saw me dancing with a man yesterday at that restaurant and Gotham was in an uproar.”

Dick blinks. “You’re gay? Or bi?”

“Maybe. Probably.” Bruce laughs awkwardly. Dick shrugs.

“So what? Why do they have to make a big deal out of nothing?” He kneels down to tie his shoelaces. “I mean, it’s just who you love, not that world-changing. You should call them when you find out who Batman really is,” he jokes.

Bruce hums in agreement. “So what do you and Barb have planned?”

Standing up, Dick runs a hand through his already messed up hair. “You know, I was thinking we could sightsee. Or maybe watch a movie. Or stay at home and do something. I’m not picky.”

An idea springs into Bruce’s head. “Take her to a cafe. There’s a great one across Wayne Tower, they have really good cheesecake.”

“Really?” Dick furrows his brow. “I think I know which one you’re talking about. You’ve gone? Doesn’t seem like your kind of venue.”

“I had nothing else to do. And if I hadn’t gone I would’ve missed out.” He edits out the real story, but the last bit is true.

“Alright. Well, I should go. I’m taking the Lamborghini.”

Bruce raises an eyebrow. “Don’t get it scratched up.”

“C’mon Bruce, you know me.” Dick winks. Yes, he does. As skilled a driver as he is, he’s still totaled a couple of Bruce’s best cars. “I’ll be back before nightfall.” He exits, leaving Bruce to slip out of his coat. Today is going to be a relaxing day, he promises himself. No going out, no phone calls, no anything. His eyes are half-shut when he falls onto the couch.

And then his phone rings.

With a groan Bruce looks at the caller ID. No name; it could be anyone really. Fine. He answers.
“Hello?”

“So I heard you were in the East End last night.” Selina. Bruce can hear the annoyance in her voice.

“I had a good reason. Scarecrow and Black Mask were there. They were going to poison the water system if I didn’t stop them.” Bruce turns on the TV, idly clicking on the remote.

“Really. And you didn't tell me?”

“I had a lot on my mind.” He stops flipping at a Harry Potter marathon. How many times have they marathoned this on TV in the past couple months? It’s almost constantly running. And if he’s exaggerating, it’s not by much. He leaves it on as background noise.

“Look, I appreciate you stopping them. Just tell me next time. When I saw Nightwing there I was about ready to knock him out. Didn't he tell you?”

He’d failed to mention that, actually. “Did he explain why?”

“Yes. I don’t like this, Bruce. It’s been so long since something like this has happened. Don’t get me wrong, taking a few millionaires down a peg or three doesn’t sound awful. But killing them all?”

“I know. But I’m going to fix it.”

“Tell me when you’re done, maybe we can do something, it’s awfully cold and the fireplace is roaring,” she purrs. Bruce rolls his eyes, but he can’t help a smile.

“You don’t have a fireplace.” The woman on the other end of the line laughs, and Bruce joins in. Once the laughter fades he says, “I’ll see you later, Selina,” the mirth in his voice audible.

“Bye, Batman.” She hangs up, her laugh the last thing Bruce hears before the phone clicks. She’s a valuable friend, he realises. He enjoys her company for what it is, upfront, witty, and relaxed. But it’s just that, that softer feeling of friendship, not unlike what he feels for Clark, or even Jim Gordon. He leans back on the couch, watching as Harry faces off against Voldemort. He can’t help but feel critical. Villains are rarely that one-sided.

 

Sitting on the couch got boring pretty fast. Countless pushups and crunches later and he feels more productive, though when he checks the clock it’s only eleven in the morning. What could he do to pass time? He glances at the phone. His finger taps at the leather of the couch rapidly. It might not be a good idea. It probably isn’t a good idea. But…
He turns on his phone, Joker’s number already in the contacts. The phone rings once...twice…

“Hello?” Damn, he’s not ready for this. It feels too casual all of a sudden. He hesitates. Joker’s voice is bright though. “Bats, is that you?”

“Hi, Joker.”

“It’s been a while.” It really hasn’t, it’s only been a few hours, but Bruce isn’t about to tell him that. “Oh, have you seen the newspaper, dear? We look amazing.”

“You saw that?”

“Saw it? I scrapbooked it!” Bruce can imagine the smug look on Joker’s face. He also thinks he knows the man enough that yes, he did in fact scrapbook it. He’s seen pictures up on the walls of his hideouts before, newspaper clipping and old Batman sightings from when he was just getting started. He still doesn’t know how to respond. It’s strange. “...You did call me, Batsy. Getting cold feet?”

“No.” Bruce’s defensiveness spikes. “You sound like you’re in a good mood, though.”

“Oh, I am.” Joker giggles. “Can’t compare to whenever I see your devilish good looks, but it’s a close second.” Shameless flirting. Okay. He can deal with this.

“Miss me?”

“Always.” Bruce can hear the smile in Joker’s voice. “My other half, the one who beats the crap out of me whenever I wreak havoc. When are we getting back to that, by the way? I miss our little sessions.”

Bruce snorts. “You miss that?”

Joker laughs. “Well that was an attractive sound. And yeah, I do actually.” He sighs. “Don’t you?”

As a matter of fact Bruce does. He hasn’t thought about it much, but it’s true. Fighting on rooftops in the rain, kicks and punches as fluid as a dance. Moves like reflexes. Adrenaline. “Yeah, I guess I do. This is the longest you’ve been around me without an actual fight.”

“Too monotonous.” A voice calls out in the background, Joker’s voice quieter as he tells the speaker to shut up. The voice answers back more animatedly, to which he replies with exasperation. Bruce figures it’s Harley in the background. He waits till the talking stops.

“So? What are you doing? Should I be worried?”

“It’s a secret. You’ll find out soon enough.” There’s a crash on the other end. Bruce frowns.

“What was that?”

“Darling, don’t worry about it. Trust me, you’ll like the surprise. I know I do.”

“If you say so.”

“I do say so.” Another crash. “Gotta go, I’m working right now. Ciao!” Joker ends the call abruptly, Bruce blinking at the short response. He’s suspicious, but knows he won’t get any answers until tonight. He slowly sets the phone down. And wishes the sun was setting.

 

*

 

He decides to let Tim come along tonight. He did a fair job in helping him and Dick out last night, and he does keep a level head for the most part. He’ll be working with Jason though, making sure there isn’t anything wrong at the Gotham Observatory, where the Gala will be held. Dick will be coming with him and Joker to the docks, but first he decides to check out Ace chemicals.
The weather is actually nicer today, the night still safe a slight breeze. There’s no report of snow, yet he can see a few flakes drifting in the cold October atmosphere. He breathes in the cold air, the sharp chill of it waking up his senses.

Bruce hasn’t visited Ace Chemicals in months. It hasn’t changed much, the plant only up and running half the time. Recently it’s been closed down for “remodeling”. He assumes that’s still the case, if it’s being used as a base. His instincts tell him it’s rigged in some way, but he won’t know until he gets closer. So he does, grappling to the top and looking in through a window.
The whole place is decked out in greenery, vines twisting about on the floor. Ivy. But there are also hints of something else, more Joker-ish in nature. A colourful box here, some toys strewn about. He purses his lips. Okay, so Joker has a hand in this. This must be the surprise he was talking about. He can’t say he wasn’t expecting it, the way he was talking earlier, and the fact that Harley was there. It’s a challenge. Just not one he has time for.

Bruce glances around, seeing a grate he can enter through. The closer he can get the better.
He’s inside when he hears Joker’s voice through speakers.

“What do you think, Bats? Interesting, right? Just wait.” A laugh.

Bruce takes out a few men, dodging and cutting at vines that rush at him. The factory only holds about a dozen thugs, not counting Harley, Ivy, and Joker. And it isn’t too big a complication. Though Ivy is obviously getting a kick out of it. There are plants everywhere. He can handle it, but those on top of armed henchmen he’s wasting time. He brushes by them, not discriminating, his goal just on the control room.

Harley lands in front of him, grinning. “What’s up, B-man?” She throws a punch, Bruce dodging and retaliating. Her blows don’t land, Bruce avoiding them easily, landing a hit. Harley grits her teeth, but instead of recoiling she uses the momentum for a kick. It hits Bruce’s side. He grunts, but the pain isn’t enough to stop him from knocking her back.

“Get back before I knock you out,” Bruce warns. Harley pretends to think about it.

“I think I’m good, you know? This is way more fun!” She jumps at him, landing a solid kick to his side. Again and Bruce blocks a second kick, knocking her away. She comes back in with a flurry of punches laughing as Bruce tries to block them. It’s when she lands a hit to his jaw that Bruce decides to act, ducking and throwing a punch at her stomach. In her haste to avoid the blow she missteps, and he takes that opportunity to pulls her towards him, twisting her arm behind her back.

She cries out in pain, and that’s when Ivy decides to join in. Large thorns erupt from the ground around them, Bruce stepping back with Harley. He makes quick work of tying her hands together, watching the floor warily.

“Gotta say, this is way more interesting than any movie I’ve seen!” Joker’s voice rings out. Bruce aims a look at the control room, narrowing his eyes. A vine snakes towards him, Bruce cutting it in two with a batarang. When Ivy reveals herself her eyes are blazing.

“How dare you hurt my babies?”

“And me,” Harley calls out. Bruce lets Harley drop to the floor, the woman falling with an “ow”. One of Ivy’s vines picks her up, placing her to a side before rushing at Bruce. He kicks at the plants, making his way closer to Ivy. Leaves slash through the air like throwing knives, a couple knicking Bruce, sharp like papercuts. He pushes on, avoiding thorny barriers and feeling as though he was walking through a deadly jungle.

It’s too late when Ivy realises Bruce has the upper hand, a few steps ahead of her. He knocks her to the ground, hand pinned on her neck. She hisses in anger, but he quickly places a blow to her temple that knocks her unconscious, her plants writhing before dropping to the floor. He glances up at Harley, who pouts.

“You’ll get what’s comin’ to you Batman! Just wait!” Her smile turns sly. Bruce drops Ivy off next to her, making sure they’re both bound tightly enough that they won’t get free any time soon. Time to go up into the control room. He steps over plants on the stairs, the windows streaming light. He guesses whatever he came for is there, as is Joker.

When he walks in there’s no sign of anyone, but he finds schematics of the observatory, as well as explosives and masks. Good, it’s all there. He places a tracker, knowing Joker is behind him the moment he hears a quiet click. He turns slowly. And his reflexes take over to avoid a kick to the head, a flash of purple that rushes past his eyes and causes him to jerk back. Bruce grabs at Joker’s leg, throwing the clown off balance and tossing him across the room. Joker hits the ground laughing, on his hands and knees. He stands up to run at Bruce again, a spark in his eye. Ducking before Bruce can knock him down, Joker doesn’t hesitate in throwing a punch that brings stars to Bruce’s eyes. He lunges again, a quick strike that gives Bruce only seconds to deflect. Another punch, a cuff to the head. He’s aggressive with his attack, Bruce waiting for the opportunity to retaliate. When he does Joker’s leg is just close enough for Bruce to kick at, throwing the man off balance. Bruce pushes him back with a hit to the chest that knocks the breath out of his lungs. Joker stumbles back, giving Bruce the opportunity to pin him against the wall, unable to attack again. The man gives a breathless laugh, eyes level with Bruce's.

“So, now what, Dark Knight?” he asks, resting his forehead against Bruce's. They're both breathing heavily, exchanging breaths in the messy room.

“You realise I'm running out of time, right?” Bruce frowns at Joker's careless little shrug.

“That's what your bat-brats are for, Brucie. You needed a little... distraction.” Joker smirks, Bruce not relaxing his grip. “Don't tell me you didn't enjoy it.” He places his hands on Bruce's waist, sending shivers through his body even through the layer of armor.

“Not the point.” He pulls back a bit, but Joker doesn't let him go, eyes half-lidded. His expression unnerves Bruce, but it also makes his heart beat rapidly, chest still heaving. “What are you doing?”

He barely has time to react as Joker presses his lips to his. Bruce makes a small sound of surprise.

This. This is crazy. He’s thought about it but now that it’s happening it’s all he can do not to short-circuit. A rush of warmth suddenly hits him and he melts, deepening the kiss and pressing against the wiry man. He cradles Joker’s face in his hand, feeling warmth through his gloves. Joker’s trying not to smile into the kiss, he knows that, he can feel it, that slight pull to his mouth that only makes Bruce want to kiss him more. He tastes of cotton candy and something slightly chemical, a metallic tang that should be a deterrent but isn’t. It’s just something that fits, surprisingly.

Joker loops his arms around to pull Bruce down towards him, nails scratching at his cowl. Bruce almost loses himself completely, but the nagging in his mind reminds him of the task at hand. Which, if he weren’t Batman he would ignore it, but being a hero...

“We have to go,” he tries to say, the words turning to a mumble as Joker recaptures his mouth. Bruce lets himself enjoy a few more seconds before he puts his hand to the wall to steady himself. When he pulls away, Joker lets out a quiet whine of annoyance. “Joker. The docks.” Joker opens his eyes, his makeup more of a mess than usual, his pupils dilated so that only a thin ring of green is visible around them.

“Five more minutes.” He grabs at Bruce, who pushes him away firmly. “Bats.”

“We need to get to the docks, J.” He makes to turn away when Joker tugs him back.

“Wait. You have lipstick on your mouth,” Joker says with a satisfied little smirk. “Now that’s a look I could get used to.” Bruce’s knows his face is flushed but Joker continues, pulling out a handkerchief. “Wouldn’t want your little bat-family to see though.”

He helps Bruce clean it off, Bruce protesting, “You don’t have to say ‘bat’ in front of everything.”

“Well let’s see. Batman, Batmobile, Batsuit, Batarangs, Batwing...kind of a running theme,” Joker points out. Bruce is unable to come up with a good comeback. The clown looks over Bruce until he can’t see any traces of paint. When he’s satisfied he nods, reapplying his own. Their breathing is steadier, though Bruce still feels like he’s floating. It’s an odd, light feeling, his nerves are on fire but in the nicest way possible. He smiles uncertainly at Joker. The man beams before kissing him again lightly. “Alright, we can go to the docks now. Nightwing is going to meet us?”

“That’s the plan.”

They head down the stairs, where they find Harley free of her bonds and cradling Ivy’s head in her lap, Ivy murmuring about how next time they should just plan a picnic at a garden. She glares when she sees Bruce, but Harley’s eyes are on Joker, whose smug expression is clear on his face. She winks at Bruce, who suddenly wants to sprint out of the factory, grapple onto a very tall building, and jump.

Instead he settles for a warning. “If I hear anything else from you two the rest of the week I’m dragging you down to Blackgate myself.”

Harley leans back, smiling crookedly. “We got it, Batman. We’ll be quiet as mice, won’t we, Red?”

“Stop hurting my plants or you’ll be in a body bag, Batman,” Ivy says, the severity of her gaze not lessening. Bruce nods.

“Noted.” He gestures to Joker to get a move on, the clown walking up to the Batmobile before him. They get in, Joker turning the radio on. He cringes when the only thing that plays is the police scanner.

“Please tell me you have music.”

“I don’t have time for music when I’m in this car,” Bruce says, thinking it obvious. He’s not going to jam out to tunes when people are in danger. That’s pure evil.

“It adds to atmosphere! Imagine racing after baddies listening to ACDC! Or maybe some obnoxious pop song, I don’t know. What kind of music do you like?”

Bruce doesn’t reply right away. Usually he listens to older tracks, unless Dick or Tim plays the newest song. But he doesn’t like anything specific really. Joker looks at him expectantly. “...Eighties music. Journey.”

Joker nods. “Not what I had in mind, but I can see that.” He opens the window, cold air rushing in. Whooping and laughing in delight, he sticks his head out, eyes closed. He only comes back in to ask how fast it can go. Bruce smirks, pushing down on the gas till they’re a blur. Joker finds himself pushed back into his seat, cackling at the rush.

One of the perks of being a vigilante? No one questions when you’re speeding.

 

*

The docks look the same as they did on Monday, though this time Dick waits for them near the entrance.

“You guys took your time. I’ve been waiting for at least fifteen minutes.”

Bruce glances at Joker, who raises an eyebrow. “There were...complications that held us back. Anyways,” he gestures to the clown. “Lead the way.”

Joker cracks his knuckles, rolling back his shoulder like he’s about to put on a show. “Gladly. Ozzie’s got eyes everywhere, but if we go through the docks he won’t expect it.” He strides into the maze that is the docks, humming the mission impossible theme. Dick looks at Bruce out of the corner of his eyes, but Bruce doesn’t respond, starting after Joker. They’re headed in completely the opposite direction, more towards the shipyards themselves then around the shipping containers, the slight creaking of the ships putting Bruce on edge. It makes complete sense that Penguin would have a ship though. He doesn’t know why, but he feels the need to be extra cautious, some of his worry from earlier this week making a reappearance.

When they arrive where they need to be Joker stops them, holding his arms out. He then points to a large ship that towers over them.

“That’s the one. If Ozzie is there then your job is done,” he says.

Dick squints at him. “Are you trying to jinx us?”

Joker scoffs. “Believe me, if I wanted you to fail you wouldn’t be here right now. I’m rooting for you guys.” He wraps an arm around Bruce, the latter jolting away. Joker just grins.

Dick looks at them oddly. “Right. I’ll just scope around the other side, see if I can find a different way in. Divide and conquer, right?” Bruce inclines his head in agreement.

“Be careful.”

“You too.” Dick runs off, Bruce following him with his eyes until he disappears. He turns to Joker after, crossing his arms. Joker raises his hands defensively.

“I’m not doing anything out of the ordinary you know. You’re the one who gets flustered. It’s a wonder you can keep any secrets.” He pouts. “Maybe you should just tell Grayson.”

Bruce sighs. Joker’s right, but there are more important things to take care of. “I will. After the gala. We need to finish this though, come on.” He sneaks on board, scanning the ship. Oracle hasn’t said anything yet, but he knows it’s just a matter of time. She’s usually on top of this.
Once on the ship they split up, Joker taking on half the men on the ship with ease, if not discretion. But at least the distraction helps Bruce take out his half. He joins Joker at the door, the man wiping blood off his mouth, sticking his tongue out at the flavor.

“These guys aren’t pulling their punches. Kiss it better?” he suggests, waggling his eyebrows.
Bruce rolls his eyes, turning to open the door and enter the ship. This is going to be a thing now, isn’t it. He should’ve expected it. “Later, maybe.” Joker closes the door after him quietly, Bruce just making out the words he murmurs.

“I can live with that.”

*

“How’s it going, Grayson?”

It’s Jason. Dick makes sure no one is around before replying. “It’s all going good. How’s it looking on your end?”

“It’s quiet. If this is where they plan on blowing up the wealthy then they aren’t very prepared. I assume that’s Batman’s doing.”

“Yeah. Hey, I gotta go, I’m on Penguin’s ship.” He hears footsteps coming towards him and hides behind a container, knocking them out the moment they step close enough.

“Yeah, yeah. Tell us if you need help.”

“Sure thing.” Dick shivers as he opens the door, the cold rushing out. Has Cobblepot never heard of heating? Just because your persona is Antarctic doesn’t mean you have to live at negative temperatures. Gotham isn’t even that cold yet either, why is there ice on this ship? Taking the cosplay way too far, Penguin.

The ship itself is huge, more than enough for one man. And henchmen. Dick barrels his way through at least ten just on the first deck, going down through a dark hall. Penguin is most likely in the center of the ship, if at all.

He sneaks through the ballroom, used now as more of a storage area, crates piled haphazardly on the once polished floor. He imagines the rest of the ship looks the same way. The ship creaks as it bobs on the water, Dick wondering just how old it is. Oswald Cobblepot isn’t known for buying things second hand, but it’s worn down. Not suited for a life of crime.

Bruce joins up with him further down, Joker still with him. Since Tim had mentioned the clown acting different Dick’s been studying him. He thinks Tim may have been right. Joker just leans against the wall like it pains him to stand upright, waiting for the next step. His eyes still have a dangerous flicker to them, but Dick isn’t so sure it’s aimed at him anymore.

“Have you found anything?” Bruce asks him. Dick shakes his head.

“No. He’s probably in the lowest part of the ship. It’s been a breeze so far, which worries me.”

“I guess we’ll find out.” Bruce opens the door to the left of the trio, a door that Dick guesses is the boiler. He steps through, not waiting to see if the others follow.

It’s all grey. Cold metal everywhere, not a soul to be seen. Dick tries a different door and finds it locked, going instead through the grate on top. Bruce and Joker come after, and the three find themselves in a small room, another door at the end labeled Office.

“He’s in there?” Joker whispers. “Seems a little drab.”

Bruce does a quick scan. “He’s in there all right. The only thing is I know he wouldn’t just be here alone.” He looks somber, Dick not liking the expression but used to it by now.

“Should we just open the door?”

“You find a back way,” Bruce says. “I’ll go through the door...as a distraction if need be.”

“Shouldn’t be too hard if it’s just Penguin. I’ll wait out here,” Joker says. He slides down the wall, sitting cross legged on the scuffed up carpet. He closes his eyes in something that almost looks like meditation. Dick stares, the man before him more of a puzzle than ever, but he shakes it off. A look at Bruce proves it’s nothing the older man hasn’t seen before.

Dick sighs. “I guess I’ll go now, should be a grate or something right? I’ll tell you when I’m ready.” He exits the tiny outer room, back in the boiler. As it happens, there is an air conditioning system that spans out to the whole ship. And it’s just big enough for Dick to crawl through, frowning at all the dust and trying not to cough.

Penguin’s voice can be heard from somewhere underneath him, and he finds an opening in the corner of the room, where he can see the stout villain on the phone.

“They’ll never know what hit ‘em. This plan is foolproof... Yeah, I got the stuff, that blasted bat took a lot, but we should still have enough...no, it’s not here. You think I’d trust in these idiots enough to keep it safe. Don’t worry, I have it somewhere they won’t find till it’s too late.” Dick listens intently, a spike of worry travelling through him.

If the rest of the supplies he has aren’t here then we’re just wasting time!

He comms Bruce, murmuring “Ready.”

Bruce slams into the door to open it, Penguin jumping up in outrage. This was what Dick always enjoyed, Bruce making an entrance to unsettle the bad guys. Make a scene and people are either so scared or distracted that they won’t know what hit them. He opens the grate quietly and drops down behind Cobblepot.

The villain is obviously angry, but he’s smirking through his cigar all the same. “You think you’re so smart coming here?”

“Where are you keeping your cargo?” Bruce demands, closing in on Penguin’s desk.

“What cargo?” He puffs smoke into Bruce’s face, but his nose barely wrinkles in disgust. He grabs Oswald by the collar. “Alright, alright, I’ll tell you where it is. After this!” He whacks Bruce in the head with the butt of his umbrella, having a heavy swing for such a portly man. Bruce drops Oswald, Dick wrapping his arm around his neck so he can’t move. The man squawks in indignation and surprise.

“Where is it?” Bruce says, glaring.

“It’s too late, you’ll never find it!” Dick tightens his grip on Oswald. “I won’t tell you, you can threaten me all you like! You think I’d just give it up...after all this...? Do you actually think...I wasn’t using everyone as distractions?” His breath comes in short gasps. Bruce nods at Dick, who drops him.

“You’re done here, Oswald.” He ties the man up, Penguin barking curses at him.

“You won’t make it, you’re too late!” Bruce growls, slamming him into the wall. Penguin growls, shaking his head in pain. Dick takes him from Bruce, glancing up at him.

“They’re not at the observatory, Robin and Red Hood would’ve found it by now.”

“I know.” Bruce snarls, punching at the wall. Dick starts, not used to this side of Bruce.

“You know we’ll figure it out, we always do.”

Bruce shakes his head. “I knew something was wrong, but I kept trying to push the feeling away. Bane had a plan, his chemicals, but it fell through. Then with Crane and his toxin, but we took care of it. Maybe... they haven’t been working together at all. Maybe we’ve been on a wild goose chase, and for what?” Dick scrutinises the man.

“Maybe this time you shouldn’t trust your gut. If you think you’re gonna fail what’s the point in trying?” Bruce glances at him. “This isn’t about Joker is it?”

Bruce shakes his head almost vehemently. “No. This is entirely different. I’m just...”

Dick’s seen Bruce go through this before. Though he can be a drama queen at times, he does also get weighed down by the job at times, loathe as he is to admit it. He places a hand on Bruce. “You’re tired. I get it, you can’t always put up a front. Trust me, I’ll be taking a break after this, and so should you. But Batman is bigger than this. And you’re going to have to put aside any uncertainties.”

Bruce stays silent for a long time before he nods. “You’re right. We can do this. We have time. But we won’t get anything done standing around.” He looks at the door, expression resolute.

Dick’s comm goes off before either can move. “Dick?”

“What’s up Babs?”

“There’s a lot of activity over by the Asylum, might want to take care of that. Tell Bruce.”

“Yeah.” Bruce looks at him questioningly.

“Something’s come up at the asylum. Can anything else go wrong?” He sighs.

Bruce scowls, hand on the doorknob. “We’d better get over there then.” He opens the door.
Dick carries Penguin, who drifts in and out of a daze as they exit the room. Joker’s standing when they get to him.

“Nothing?”

“Just him,” Dick says, gesturing at Penguin. The clown grins, coming over and bending down to look at Penguin. The villain blearily looks at Joker, brow deeply furrowed and a scowl prominent.

“You finally caught him. One less thing to worry about, right?” He taps at Penguin’s head. “Shame he lost his hat though, I wanted a souvenir. What now?”

“I need to find the rest of the supplies, they spread everything around, most were just diversions. Now there’s something going on at Arkham,” Bruce explains, a tinge of anger in his voice.

Joker tilts his head to the side. “So, what are you gonna do about it?”

Bruce clenches his hands into fists. “What else? We’re going to stop this and figure out what’s really going on.”

After all, if he doesn’t there won’t be a Gotham to really save, just rubble and chaos. And maybe Gotham could take it, but Bruce doesn’t want to let it experience that much destruction while he’s still around. He’s got a job to do.

Chapter Text

The Asylum is still a mess, though most of the criminals are still contained. The main building has stopped smoking, at least. Most of the cells are mangled, some inmates moved over to the IC, where they had a little room to house them. Bruce can’t imagine that having been a very fun job.

That’s not the problem. The real problem?

Firefly. The fire may have gone in the main building, but the infirmary is aglow, blazing oranges starkly contrasting against the dark night. Bruce jumps out of the Batmobile as soon as it’s stopped, running towards the building, where the pyromaniac hovers, flamethrower spitting out flames as fast as it’s able. Nurses run out of the building, Dick stopping one that comes near him.

“What happened?”

The nurses breath comes in short pants, eyes wild. “Mr. Lynn, he was complaining about a stomachache, so we took him in, but he went crazy! H-he knocked one of us out, started pouring rubbing alcohol everywhere! I have no idea where he got his weapons, they were in lockdown-”

“Relax,” Dick says soothingly. “We’re gonna get this under control. Go find shelter in one of the other buildings.”

“Is anyone in the infirmary?” Bruce asks. The nurse nods, and he rushes off. “Take care of Firefly while I help them,” he calls out to Dick. He doesn’t look back as he rushes into the burning building, thanking his lucky stars his suit is fireproof. He thinks if he wasn’t in it he’d melt like a popsicle. Which makes him worry about those still stuck in the infirmary.

“Hello?” He calls out. He can barely hear over the crackling of the fire and the collapsing rubble, but a faint cough catches his attention. He walks carefully over to the sound, shielding himself from any falling debris.

Another cough. Fainter this time. It’s behind a weak, charred door, the smoke heavy and dark. Bruce doesn’t have a breathing mask on, he doesn’t have time when there are lives at risk. He keeps part of cloak over his face, finding the source of the cough, a nurse who’s curled into a ball on the ground. His hair is matted with blood, a purpling bruise forming on his head. Picking him up, Bruce carries him out carefully, using his cape to shield the weakened man. Beams of wood have collapsed over the main entrance, so he decides to go through a broken window. He places the man on the ground, running back in without another thought. This goes on, at one point Dick bursts through, hitting a wall in a painful manner. Bruce helps him up.

“Are you alright?”

Dick wipes blood from his mouth, his suit scratched. “Fine. Your friend is helping...I think. Though some of his jokes are just angering Firefly… How many more people are in here?”
“I’m guessing at least a couple, this building wasn’t very sturdy to begin with, I think they could easily be trapped.”

“Hurry up if you can, this building doesn’t have much longer.” As if to prove his point part of the second floor caves in, revealing a patient. Dick goes back out to face the villain while Bruce makes his way up, the patient lying on a frail ledge. His grappling hook won’t help, but as he rushes up the stairs he finds the door is locked. Bruce doesn’t have time, impatiently kicking the already warped door down.

The patient is in the room across the way, fallen spots of flooring proving a hazard. The floor seems to bend under Bruce’s weight as he makes his way over to the man. The patient’s eyes are barely open as he reaches towards Bruce, Bruce slinging him over his shoulder to jump down. His ears pick up on a quiet sobbing.

“Where are you?” he calls out. Sweat streams down his face, the heat almost unbearable. The sobbing pauses.

“Over here!” The voice says. Bruce makes his way over to where he hears her call, a nurse he remembers from past visits. There’s a long scratch on her arm, her expression serious and tear-stained. Her leg is pinned by a heavy beam, Bruce setting down the inmate to move the wood, the woman crying out in pain. Her leg is bruised, probably broken. Bruce picks her up, then the inmate. He has to crouch as debris keeps falling on him. New paths are formed by the wreck, fire proving to be a dangerous threat around the entrance. Praying his suit hasn’t taken too much damage, he cloaks the three of them in his cape. He jumps over fallen parts of the ceiling, the exit a long way away. He leaps, trying to avoid the fire.

The flame licks at his feet, and it feels like an eon before his feet touch the ground outside, placing the people down on the ground near the other nurse.

Firefly has left a mess. It’s chaos in the area, people running, screaming, firefighters not yet here, nurses that did get out helping the injured. Dick has gotten rid of Firefly’s flame thrower, but the man still hovers, causing what trouble he can. He resorts to throwing flaming projectiles at the ground, Dick dodging as much as he can. There’s no sign of Joker anywhere. Bruce needs to stop this.

“Lynn!” He shouts up at the criminal. Firefly looks down, grinning viciously when he sees Bruce.

“You like my masterpiece Batman? I call it Flames over Arkham.

“Get down here!”

“Not a chance! I like not getting caught and having my greatest work ruined.”

Bruce growls, taking out his grappling hook. He shoots it at Firefly, who avoids it the first time, gliding higher. Bruce is luckier the second time.

He drags Lynn down, punching at his jetpack and rendering it unusable, pulling out tubes to help keep him afloat. Lynn shout angrily, dive-bombing to the ground but quick to stand up. Bruce punches him once, twice, three times. Lynn collapses, eyes rolling back into his head, but the damage is done. The infirmary still goes on burning, Dick gone to help in what ways he can. By the time the fire department arrives the building will be nothing but ashes.

“Bats!” Bruce turns to see Joker, accompanied by… Victor Fries. Christ, Arkham needs to up its security. Bruce eyes the taller man, Mr. Freeze not intimidated in the slightest.

“Batman,” he says coolly, holding his cryothermal gun in front of him casually.

“Mr. Freeze,” Bruce says in much the same tone.

“If I do this I want you to let me go,” he gestures to the flames, Bruce can only assume he’ll freeze the building to stop the fire. Bruce has little choice in the matter, and as villains go he isn’t the worst to have escaped. He nods, and Freeze gives a tired little sigh. He starts up his gun, ice flowing from it till the infirmary is shining in freezing crystal. Surrounding buildings that had caught fire get thin layers of ice as well, until it looks more like winter than fall. “Done.” Fries doesn’t look back as he retreats, his figure fading into the shadow.

Joker steps onto one of the sheets of ice left on the ground, pushing along it like he’s skating. His balance is awful though, a few steps in and he’s fighting hard to keep it. Bruce tries not to laugh, but Joker seems to catch the smile he’s not fighting too hard to hide.

“This is harder than it looks, sweetheart. I’d like to see you try,” the clown challenges, giving up the fight and landing hard on the ice with a wince. Bruce offers to help him up, but he gets his hand pushed away. “I can get up myself, thank you,” Joker says primly, dusting himself off. He winks at Bruce.

“Batman!” Dick appears behind them. “Everyone here is safe, we should get going.”

“Batman?” Tim. Bruce pushes away his apprehensiveness, replying.

“What’s up, Robin?”

“No sign of any trouble. A few criminals, but other than that it’s been completely quiet. Do you want us anywhere else?”

Well, everywhere on Joker’s list has been searched, Penguin not giving up any information. Gordon hasn’t found anything or he would’ve heard by now, and Oracle has stayed mostly silent as well. Despite everything, they haven’t been able to solve this before the event. But Bruce realises that while this might be dangerous, it’d make sense to stop this at during the Gala. He can get it close as Bruce Wayne, with no one being any the wiser. He hates that it’s come to this, but as it stands it’s the last option. His mind is made up when he answers.

“No. Meet me at the Batcave, we have a plan to discuss.”

“Got it.”

“I’m guessing we’re not going to end this tonight,” Dick says, running a hand through his hair.
Bruce meets his gaze. “No, we’re not. But we’ll fix it. I promise.” There’s nothing he’d like more than to finally be done with this week, but improvisation is part of this job. The Batmobile has gotten its fair share of milage.

Gordon shows up before they leave, taking care of any loose ends. The look of mistrust and hatred he wears when he sees Joker is clear, but he can’t do anything about it if Bruce isn’t actively taking him in. Joker’s look is a little too sharp around the edges for this to be comfortable. Bruce steps between them in an indistinct manner, making sure the commissioner knows the goings-on before he goes.

Dick leans on the Batmobile, perplexion drawn on his face. “Can I talk to you, Batman?” He glances at Joker, then back at Bruce, and he knows Joker isn’t wanted in this conversation.

“Joker, can you wait by the Batmobile?”

“Sure, I was getting bored anyways,” the man feigns an enormous yawn, leaning on the sleek black car. When he looks back Bruce can see the curiosity in Joker’s eyes, a bright flicker that doesn’t quite fade out. Bruce moves away from the car with Dick, standing next to a relatively young tree, the branches only a couple feet higher than their heads.

Bruce fights the urge to fidget under Dick’s probing gaze. “What do you need?”

“Are you letting Joker into your plan?” Bruce exhales, having a hunch where this is leading.

“I don’t know yet, why?”

“Well, if you did you’d have to let him into the Batcave, right? Which you didn’t seem all that worried about when he was standing not two feet away from you when you told Tim.” Dick taps his foot on the ground. “He knows who you are, doesn’t he?” Just like that, it’s out. Bruce nods his head just the slightest bit. “How long?”

“A while,” he says quietly.

“Okay,” Dick breathes out, almost unsurprised. “He hasn’t said anything, at least. So,” he looks away, out at the now-ice sculpture that decorates the asylum, “now what I’m wondering is where all this trust you have for him suddenly came from. I’ve been watching you two, you know.” His voice is almost accusatory.

“Oh.” Bruce tries to look anywhere but at his former ward. He’d known if this conversation was going to happen it was going to be awkward. He hadn’t known just how awkward.

Dick narrows his eyes. “Bruce, when we were talking this morning...were you talking about Joker?”

Uncomfortable. That’s what this questioning is. It’s what he deserves, no way this would make sense to them, at the very least not right away. Bruce has no idea what to say, so he stays quiet while he waits for words to magically show up.

Dick frowns. “No, you’re not going all dark and broody on me. Answer the question.”

Bruce doesn’t exactly meet Dick’s eyes when he answers. “Yes, it was him.”

“Bruce.” Dick sighs. “Why?”

“I don't know. He’s different around me.” He does know why, actually, but he won't say the real reasons. The fact that he has a lame sense of humor, his intelligence, his brashness. The fact that he won’t give up on something he wants, even though they aren’t what the city needs or wants. His ingenuity, even when it ends up getting Gotham tied up in another mystery. All these things that people only ever see the dark side of. Granted, it’s one of the only sides he chooses to show to the general public, but Bruce knows there's something there. It’s like Dick knows what he’s thinking, and the furrow on his brow shows his disagreement.

“After what he did to Jason and Babs?” Dick asks softly. Bruce closes his eyes. “How can you be sure he’s changed, that you can actually trust him?”

Guilt washes over him, but Bruce answers. “I can’t tell you that. I just...do. Trust me, please. You don't have to like it. It sounds crazy, even to me. But I won't let him hurt anyone if something happens.”

“How can you guarantee that?” Dick asks finally. His arms are crossed, looking right at Bruce.
Bruce frowns. He can’t, not as long as Joker is...himself, really. But... “I'll figure something out, I promise.” He pauses before adding, “I’ll tell everyone once this whole thing is over.”

Dick watches a leaf fall from a tree, once vibrant red faded to orange. “I’ll keep your secret for now. But if that’s your plan, you can’t let him into the Batcave. Not if Jason’s coming.”

“I know.” Bruce hesitates, but points out, “You’re surprisingly calm about this.” Dick frowns thoughtfully, his hand reaching out to pat Bruce on the shoulder.

“I’ve had time to think over it. I thought I'd be more in shock, but actually, it's always been like this, hasn’t it. You’re two sides of the same coin.” A corner of his mouth tilts up slightly into a strained smile. “I don’t exactly know what’s going on in your head, but I’m here for you if you need me. Though you might just need a psychiatrist.” His laugh is only half forced, Bruce’s smile a bit less than that. “But if anything goes wrong, tell me and I'll kick his ass back to Arkham.”

“Agreed,” Bruce says, looking over at the Batmobile. Joker’s completely reclined, lying on the hood of the car, jiggling his foot lazily, no doubt humming to some tune stuck in his head. Dick shakes his head.

“You sure know how to pick ‘em.”

Bruce’s face feels warm. He walks ahead of Dick towards the car, clearing his throat so that Joker looks up at him.

“What’s up, Bats?”

“So you know I’m going over the plan later on in the Batcave.”

Joker nods. “Don’t worry, I won’t go. Much as I’d love to see it, I’m not up for your whole family ganging up on me.” He laughs softly. “Another time, maybe, when the odds are more even.”
Bruce presses his lips together before leaning in closer. “Nightwing knows,” he murmurs into the clown’s ear.

“Really?” Joker looks first at Dick, then around at the clearing field, his smile cat-like. “That’s good to hear.” He pushes himself up on his elbows, rushing forward and kissing Bruce, the latter slightly put off guard, eyes wide. Joker pulls back with a giggle. “I think your surprised kisses taste better than your regular ones. Though come to think of it, both of them have been surprised so far...”

Bruce pulls away, glad most of his cowl covers his blush. “Just because he knows doesn’t mean you can kiss me all the time.”

Joker just raises an eyebrow, smirking. “What did you think I was gonna do with that knowledge? Nod sagely and say, ‘well, there’s a relief’? I thought you knew me better than that.”

Bruce is ready to argue when Dick finally approaches them. He settles for shooting Joker a warning look instead. “So, are we good to go?” His eyes flicker over Joker, his look one of confusion and distrust.

“Where do you want me to drop you off?” Bruce asks Joker, who slides off the hood and places his hands on his hips.

“You know what? I feel like walking.”

“You’re miles away from Gotham,” Bruce reminds him. Joker shrugs.
“It’ll give me the exercise. Just tell me when you’re done sorting out your plan. Now you know the number works, right?” He adds coyly.

“Yeah,” Bruce says with a heavy sigh. Joker grins at Dick, who’s starting to look uncomfortable standing between both of them.

“I’ll see you later then, won’t I? How many buildings do you think I can break into in the span of a couple hours? I’m guessing at least ten, if I try,” He calls back as he saunters off, Dick not exactly a picture of happiness.

“You’d better hope he’s just joking.”

“I’m forty percent sure,” Bruce says, his smile laced with exasperation.

 

*

 

It’s an unfamiliar and almost comforting sight, seeing most of his family in the Batcave. Barbara is still the tower, though she’ll be listening. Alfred sits at the computer, Tim at his side pointing out the different streets they’d been on or around. Jason looks down at his phone a few feet away, breathing out a laugh. Bruce has a sneaking suspicion he’s looking at memes. Tim gets the same look on his face when he’s on his phone in the morning, showing Bruce whatever he finds funniest. To be honest, most of them fly right over Bruce’s head. He guesses it’s like an inside joke he isn’t exactly privy to. He looks up when Bruce walks in, stowing his phone in his pocket. His mask is off, showing off black hair and blue eyes like the rest of them.

“Master Bruce,” Alfred greets him. “You couldn’t stop them?”

“No, I couldn’t. They’ve hidden too well. Penguin made sure of that,” he says bitterly. “But that just made me realise if I’m at the gala, which I will be, I can take care of it there.”

“In a tux?” Jason asks. “Don’t you think that might be a little obvious?”

“There’ll be opportunities for distractions,” Dick says thoughtfully. “But Jason’s right. One of us should come with. Maybe Tim. It could be weird if Jason suddenly came back from the dead.”
“Could be?” Jason says with a laugh. Tim crosses his arms, fingers tapping at his arms.

“Maybe I could go, and Dick, you and Jason can be behind the scenes,” he suggests. He types something into the computer, pulling up the schematics of the observatory. “We looked around here earlier,” he says, pointing to the second and third floors of the observatory, “and I think we could pinpoint places they might show up if we try. The only thing is that place is going to be crowded.”

Dick points to the exit leading to control rooms. “They’ll most likely be there too, it’s away from the crowd and most people aren’t going to want to sneak in.”

“Right.” Bruce zooms in on the control room.

“Guys? You might want to check below ground too, below the observatory.” Barbara chimes in, her face appearing on one of the screens. The screen moves to the basement, where Bruce can see many areas that could possibly store explosives and whatever else they kept away from him.

“Sir, if I may. They’ll probably assume you’re going to try, Batman never gives up, after all.” Alfred states, “What if it’s not what you expect?”

 

Bruce pauses, still looking at the screen. “I can’t afford to think like that when so many people are endangered. Whatever happens, we’ll be ready for it. Gordon will be there too, this is a top priority at this point.” The glow of the computer screen strains a bit at Bruce’s eyes, but he’s too focused trying to map the place out in his head. Whatever helps, he needs to try it.

“I can help too,” Barbara mentions. “Electrical distractions, blackouts, wi-fi shutdowns, whatever you need.” Bruce smiles. This plan is starting to come together nicely.

“What about the clown?” Jason drawls out casually, his tenseness contradicting his tone.

“What about him?” Tim says. “Is he still helping?” They all look to Bruce, who feels like a deer caught in the headlights. Dick and Alfred look sympathetic, but still just as interested as Tim and Jason. He knows he’ll tell Joker about the plan, he’s helped so far, but whether or not the man wants to continue is up to him.

“I don’t know yet,” Bruce says. “I’ll tell you if he is though.”

Jason sighs, but he doesn’t say anything else. He looks like he’d love to, but Dick nudges him, muttering something into his ear, and he turns away. Alfred meets Bruce’s eyes, the butler’s gaze mournful. Soon, he thinks. Soon there won’t be secrets. He’s kept too many, now they feel like one more and they’ll overflow.

“You said they aren’t working together, right?” Dick chews on his lip, deep in thought. “I thought it started up as a Penguin/Two-Face team-up.”

Bruce sits at the computer. “That’s what I thought too. Except someone broke them out first. And slowly more villains started to get out to wreak havoc. It’s too chaotic, and frankly it isn’t Penguin’s style, even though he’s been taking most of the credit for it.” He pulls up the pictures of all the villains from this past week, trying to figure out what’s really going on. Maybe they hadn’t been acting separately at first, initially agreeing with spreading out what supplies they had, but each had their own agenda to act out. And suddenly it became about what they wanted instead. Bane was always one to branch out with his own vendetta, Scarecrow only interested in fear. Penguin would’ve taken advantage of that, of course, but it’s still not like him to attack in this manner. Which begs the question: who’s actually in charge?

“What about Ra’s al Ghul?” Alfred says, looking at the screen. “We haven’t heard from him in quite a long time.”

Bruce shakes his head. “This isn’t his style either. He would’ve sent some sort of message, or Talia would have told me.” He hasn’t heard from Ra’s daughter either, though she has been out of town for training. At least, that’s what he thinks she’s been doing. She’s very secretive when she wants to be.

“I don’t think she would have,” Oracle chimes in, “but I agree. This isn’t like Ra’s. If anything it’s like Joker’s brand of chaos.”

“It’s not him,” Bruce says automatically. He realises what the whole point of this was to begin with. “Getting rid of Gotham’s wealthiest? It sounds like Harvey.” He holds up a hand to still Dick and Tim, mouths already forming words. “I know, it sounds crazy, now that I caught him, but Penguin was confident it would still go through. Why would he be so sure unless Harvey was still in control?”

“Bruce, he was the first one you caught. It would’ve been over by then, he’d have no control over his henchmen,” Tim protests. Bruce nods.

“Even Two-Face can’t be two places at once. So unless he magically broke out, we still have a mystery to solve.”

Chapter Text

A tuxedo is hardly suitable armor for tonight, but it’s the most inconspicuous one when Bruce Wayne is to appear at the Gotham City Gala instead of Batman. Alfred plans on driving him and Tim to the observatory, Bruce knowing he needs to be ready for cameras, Tim able to just slip away in the distraction. It sounds easy. In theory.

When they arrive at the observatory they’re swarmed by cameras, Alfred opening the door to the car and Bruce blinking at the flash, still not used to the blinding lights even after years of this. Maybe I should wear sunglasses when I get out of the car next time. Tim doesn’t seem to care, flashing smiles this way and that, posing just slightly so that it looks casual. Bruce almost has to pull him along after himself.

“You think they got my good side?” he jokes, nudging Bruce.

“I think they got all your sides,” Bruce says dryly, glancing around. “We’re not here for photo ops.”

Tim pouts. “Fine.” He pulls out his phone, taking a selfie. Bruce can’t help but roll his eyes, Tim noticing. “It’s for my insta.”

“Does anyone even follow you?” Bruce asks, striding over to the center of the building and leaning over the railing. He knows he should be mingling, but his mind is too alert for mindless commentary. If someone comes over he’ll chat, but what he’s really waiting for is the okay from Dick that they’re in the building.

Tim follows him, clicking away at his phone screen. “A couple thousand. They like my hair, I think.” Bruce laughs. Tim looks affronted, but it doesn’t take long before he gives in and laughs along with him.

The scene around them is brightly lit, but still almost ethereal in the naturally dark observatory. People in all different color clothes decorate the room, suits and dresses galore. People flaunting what they have, conversing and swaying to the soft music in the background and holding crystal glasses in their hands, perfectly poised. There’s an auction later on tonight, where most of the money with be raised.

Tim slips away, ready to investigate while still looking like just another visitor, leaving Bruce alone to try to distract if he needs to. Bruce figures whenever Dent’s plan is supposed to be revealed, it’ll be around or during the auction. So he just needs to kill time. Shouldn’t be too hard.

He sees Gordon out the corner of his eye. None of the party-goers look too concerned, Bruce figures living in Gotham has desensitized them to danger, at least a little. An evacuation would lead to uproar, but he’ll make sure it doesn’t come to that.

 

*

“Jason, could you drive this car any slower?” Dick feels like he’s part of his seat now, the speed pulling him back. Jason just smirks.

“Too fast for you, Grayson?” He pushes on the pedal a bit more, the car jolting faster. “I love this car, it doesn’t even roar if you stomp on the pedal. No wonder Bruce can sneak around everywhere. it’s so freaking quiet.” He swerves onto a side road, Dick grabbing onto the door handle.

“Jesus Christ, slow down!” He’s got nothing against going fast, but Jason is being absolutely criminal with his speeds. It’s a wonder he can even see anything that blurs past them. Cars beep as they see the Batmobile, whether in anger or appreciation he can’t tell. He can’t even see the expressions on people’s faces. Holy hell, if Jason doesn’t end up killing them both he’s going to strangle him.

At least Jason has the foresight not to park next to the observatory and instead hide it in a nearby grove. Dick’s legs wobble just the slightest bit as he exits the car, leaning on the vehicle. He waits for his heart-rate to return to normal, for his sight to slow down with the rest of the world. Jason jumps out laughing.

“Like a rollercoaster. If Bruce ever doesn’t want this baby, I’m taking it.” He taps the Batmobile, smoothing his hand over the shiny paint job. He glances over at Dick. “You okay?” His voice almost sounds concerned.

Dick holds his hand up to his mouth, keeping his nausea at bay. “‘M fine.” He squeezes his eyes shut. “We should go.”

“You sure you can walk?” Jason asks with a snort. Dick shakes his head to clear it, standing up straight.

“Yeah.”

The observatory glows from here, a few hundred feet away. He’d love to take Barb to a ball sometime soon, she’d look great in a dress. Maybe when they don't have work to do.
Tonight is unusually warm, Dick barely feeling the cold winds through his suit. And Jason, well, he’s comfortable as can be in his leather coat. They run over to the building, Jason deciding to make a little conversation.

“How long has Tim been Robin?”

“I think he started a few months after you...left.” To be honest, the actual events that happened while Jason and Bruce were in the Middle East are hazy to Dick. First he’d heard that Jason had died, then that he was in the hospital, then that he was fine but wouldn’t be coming home. He still hasn’t figured out what the truth is.

“And he’s good?” Jason says, voice neutral.

Dick nods, an awkward move since he’s running. “Yeah. Bruce doesn’t really trust him for anything too big, ever since the incident. I guess he wants Tim to have more experience before tackling a big challenge.”

Jason slows a bit. “Makes sense, but how does Tim take it?”

“He doesn’t complain too much, but I know he’s itching for some adventures of his own. Why?”

Jason shrugs. “Just wondering. He seems nice. You know, from what I’ve seen.”

“You should hang around more,” Dick says. He hasn’t seen Jason in at least a year, no wonder he’s missed out on the new member of the Wayne family.

“Maybe,” Jason doesn’t sound all that convinced, upping his pace again so that he’s ahead of Dick. The conversation is apparently over, leaving Dick to realise the younger man has basically turned into Bruce. Broody, stubborn, and ‘independent’. To be fair, he has a better sense of humor, but the fact of the matter is he and Bruce are more alike than not. He should just come home.

The duo nears the back door to the observatory, opening it quietly to look at what waits for them inside. Jason slips in, Dick following and activating his comm.

“Batman? We’re in.”

 

*

There’s the go ahead.

“I need you to scope out the area,” Bruce utters quietly. His eyes flicker as he takes in the whole room, making sure no one is in hearing range. He can’t see Tim anymore, and he wants nothing more than to sneak off, don his batsuit and get into the action. This job might wear him out, but he’d rather do that than go to glittery balls. Apparently star themes mean deck out the decorations with sparkles. It’s a little blinding, actually. Too garish.

As it stands, for now he’ll be protecting the wealthy in his three-piece. He’s made a little conversation, friendly banter, rumours of what’s supposed to be at the auction, what the fundraising goal is. The better the items the more money raised, but nobody really knows what’s up for grabs. Strange.

“Bruce Wayne.” He turns to see Gordon nearing him. He inclines his head in greeting.

“How goes the surveillance, commissioner?”

Gordon gives a one-shoulder shrug, his body language tense. “Nothing’s happened so far.” He stands out from the rest of the crowd, dressed in his usual uniform. A hand rests on his hip, lighting on the gun he always wears. He’d be crazy not to, but the sight of it always rubs Bruce the wrong way. “How’s the party?”

“Nothing’s happened so far,” Bruce says with a smile. Gordon spares a one syllable laugh, likely the only time he’ll laugh tonight. “How’s Barbara?”

“Busy. Lots of schoolwork, you know.” Gordon cards his fingers through his hair. “It’s funny, she almost seems to work more than I do.”

Bruce laughs, though he wonders when, if ever, Barbara plans on telling her father just what she does. He has to be getting suspicious at this point. But he won’t be the one to say anything. It’d be one more thing on Gordon’s list of worries, his daughter helping fight some of Gotham’s deadliest criminals. And judging by the dark circles under his eyes, Bruce figures he should let Gordon focus on this tonight.

He says goodbye and moves on, picking up a glass of champagne as he goes. The moment he does he realises he probably shouldn’t drink anything that could slow him down, offering it to someone he passes. The more he glances at his watch the slower time seems to pass him by, so he decides to walk out onto the balcony for some fresh air.

The stars peek out from behind passing clouds, threatening rain or snow later tonight. The wind rushes past Bruce as he leans over the banister, a telescope to his right. A couple stands there, peering through the eyepiece, shivering in their formal attire. The woman’s wrap does nothing to keep her warm, a thin silk that threatens to blow away. It’s almost scenic.

He closes his eyes and just listens to the people around him, hoping time passes faster. He’d do anything to be with the others, actively doing something instead of just watching for danger on the sidelines, making sure nothing happens up on the main floor. He knows they’re capable, but he hates relying on others regardless.

“Bruce Wayne?” He purses his lips slightly before turning around, a fake smile on his face.

“Yes?” Oh. It’s a solicitor.

The man goes into his spiel of what he’s advertising, Bruce looking at him quizzically and tuning him out best he can while still maintaining an air of politeness. Dick updates him occasionally, Bruce humming and trying to look like he’s agreeing with the man in front of him. His hands clench just a little, a couple of times he’s tried interrupting, he even tries to cut him rudely off at times, but it’s futile. He’s trapped by a salesman on steroids.

His saviour comes in a crisp white suit, a purple flower on his lapel. Bruce flashes Joker a grateful smile, thinking he’ll steer the man away, provide a means of escaping with a clever joke.
No such luck.

Instead the clown decides to drape himself over Bruce, nipping at his ear. “Did you miss me?” he asks, his voice saccharine. The annoying solicitor steps back, eyes wide. Bruce has no choice but to hold Joker, no way he’s just going to drop him, even if he is being a nuisance at the moment. He’s going to cause a scene.

“Of course,” he says. “But I’m in the middle of something.” He gestures to the solicitor, who frowns.

“Who the hell are you?”

Joker steps forward, holding his hand out to shake. “John Doe.”

“Right. Isn’t that a name they give unidentified dead people?” The man says skeptically, arms crossed. Joker pulls back with a pout.

“It’s my name.” He looks back at Bruce as if to say Can you believe this guy? He narrows his eyes at the salesman. “Now unless you were selling ways to avoid annoying conversations, I’d leave. My boyfriend and I are busy.” He keeps his arms around Bruce, waiting. Bruce knows if they weren’t at a social gathering in normal clothes the solicitor would be on the floor. As it is, if looks could kill...

The solicitor hems and haws at the situation, Bruce not wanting to comfort him but knowing how intimidating Joker can be, even when he isn’t out terrorising the city. Finally he mumbles an excuse and walks away, shooting a glance at Joker. Bruce breathes out a sigh of relief. He also shoots Joker a look, a mix of curiosity and annoyance, verging more on the side of the former.

“Your boyfriend?” He asks the man, who relaxes his grip.

“It was the first thing that came to mind,” Joker says flippantly. “Don’t like it?”

Bruce shakes his head. “No, I just didn’t expect it. I like it.”

Joker smiles smugly. “I thought you would.”

“How did you get in?” Bruce asks. This Gala was basically by invitation only, as far as he knows.
Joker’s less than amused by the question. “You don’t honestly think I wouldn’t be able to sneak in, do you? It was easy-peasy.” Bruce focuses on him, his hand lifting up one of Joker’s lapels. “Like the suit?” He places his hand over Bruce’s and flattens it over his chest, where a steady heartbeat pulses under Bruce’s fingers.

Bruce nods appreciatively, noting how it hangs on the clown’s frame perfectly. He doesn’t bother asking where the suit’s from, he doesn’t want to know. “It’s nice. Suits you.”

Joker snickers, keeping his voice quiet so that it isn’t his trademark laugh. “Your puns are awful.” He leans back on the banister, breathing in the cool air. “So, tonight’s the night. You ready?”

“I have to be,” Bruce says, looking out at the crowd. “Anything could happen at this point.”

A half hour to the auction and it feels like the calm before the storm. He’s going to have to just wait at this point, Joker sitting on the narrow railing casually.

A glint catches his eye, a person flipping a coin next to him. He looks up to see the person already looking at him with a grin.

“Nice night, isn’t it? For fireworks?” He says. Any other person would have shrugged it off, maybe commented yes, or how they didn’t know there’d be fireworks tonight. Bruce shrugs, though he’s on immediately put on guard and wants to punch the man in the mouth. The coin gives it away, of course it does. It’s a sign of Harvey’s plans.

“I guess, but I didn’t know there’d be fireworks,” he says, voice air-light. Joker smirks. The man smiles.

“They’re supposed to be explosive, you know what I mean? The main event.”

Bruce maintains his calm demeanor, nodding. “I had a friend who used to do that,” he points out, gesturing to the flipping coin. “Harvey Dent. He’s in Arkham though, right?”

“Didn’t you hear the news? Crazy son-of-a-bitch got out. No one knows where he is.” The man is terrible at lying, Bruce can hear the joke in his voice.

“I hope Gotham’s safe.”

Joker coughs, trying not to turn it into a laugh. “Batman’ll save us. Always does, right? From those evil, nasty villains.” Bruce elbows him slightly, hoping he’ll knock it off.

“Hm.” The man smiles cryptically. Bruce narrows his eyes slightly, taking a glass of champagne off a passing tray. For appearances, again. He takes the tiniest sip, feigning indifference to the man but feeling every bit on edge.

“Anyways, I should get going, this party’s a drag.”

 

“Aw, what a shame,” Joker says, and Bruce knows he’s fighting not to roll his eyes. “Leaving before fireworks?”

“Never been a fan,” the man says as he walks away. Bruce decides not to follow him, Joker’s grip on his arm tightening.

“I’ve never liked that guy,” he murmurs, taking the glass from Bruce and swirling it. “Too cocky. Harv won’t let me take him out. You’re gonna let him go?”

“Of course not.” He comms Tim, who tells him he’ll make quick work of the man. He’s probably still in his suit, but so long as he isn’t seen he should be fine, Bruce is sure.

A crackling noise comes through the earpiece then, Bruce wincing at the sharpness of it.

“Oracle-”

“Hello, Bruce.”

A chill runs down Bruce’s back. “Harvey.” He edges further away from the crowd, making sure he’s out of earshot.

“Enjoying the gala?”

“Disappointed you’re not here,” Bruce deadpans. Harvey laughs. “How did you escape again?”

“Again? Sorry, Batman, I think you’re confused. Or maybe I pulled a fast one on you.” Bruce can almost see the smirk on the villain’s face, and has never wanted to reach through a phone and throttle someone more. “Anyways, how’s Alfred? A little lonely, I think.”

Bruce’s jaw clenches, his grip on the balcony tight. He doesn’t look at Joker, who he knows is listening intently to what Bruce is saying. “Leave him alone.”

“How about a race?” Dent asks smugly. “You getting here by the time I find the man. Shouldn’t be too hard for the Batman.” There’s a click, and his voice is gone, Oracle’s flooding through.

“He’s not at the manor yet. If you leave now you might be able to beat him there. I’ll warn Alfred.”

Bruce gnaws at his bottom lip anxiously.

“Can’t you let your kids deal with this?” Joker asks, noticing Bruce’s mood. His eyes are clouded over, the way they tend to get on long nights. He’s tense, ready to fight at moments notice. But Bruce shakes his head.

“I don’t want them to deal with everything happening here, not until the worst is over.”

Joker rolls his eyes, dragging Bruce further away from the crowd and into one of the darker halls, where they can’t see the main area. “Bats, they’re old enough to fix this, don’t you think? Let them take care of it.” Bruce listens, and the clown continues, “What about Robin?”
Bruce thinks about it. He could have Tim up on the main floor, nothing to worry about too much...

“Come on, you can’t always be the main hero. Go save your butler, he’s more important. Be selfish, just this once.” Joker’s eyes glimmer in the dark, reflecting like a cats. They focus on Bruce, who knows he’s right. He could trust Tim to do this, he’s been practicing for this for ages. But if something goes wrong… “You’re always taking care of the city, take care of yourself just this time.”

Bruce makes up his mind, albeit with more than a fair share of reluctance. “Alright, fine. Robin could handle this. Let me just check up on how everything else is going.”

 

*

 

Jason and Dick sneak past most of the thugs, rushing into the next room, where they find a whole machine rigged to the walls.

“Holy shit,” Jason breathes out. “They weren’t kidding when they said they wanted all of them dead. Bombs and...did we not get all of Crane’s toxin?”

A moderately large beaker of green liquid rests on top of a crate, a pump siphoning out the liquid into what Dick guesses leads to the emergency sprinklers.

“I guess not. It was probably just a diversion, when it comes down to it.” Dick kneels down next to the timer, glancing at the time. 00:45. “This gives us quite a bit of time, actually.” Right up until a few minutes into the auction, if the clock’s right.

“Don’t jinx us, Dick,” Jason warns. He stands near the door, making sure he doesn’t hear anyone stepping too close to where they are. “Here, I’ll disarm it, you stand watch.” He goes over and nudges Dick away from the timer, the latter standing and taking his place at the door. The walls are cold, the lights flickering. The perfect basement atmosphere, Dick thinks.
“I’ve never seen this kind of timer,” Jason mutters. “Sionis must’ve worked overtime to make it.” He pulls out his tablet, plugging it into the dangerous box. “It’s like the world’s deadliest relay. Everyone puts in their part and Dent finishes the race.”

“Not today he won’t,” Dick says. Steps come closer to the door, and he waves Jason away so that nothing seems out of the ordinary. He steps away from the door, and the thug walks in, the door shutting behind him.

“There’s no way I’m staying here while the bomb goes off. It’s a death sentence,” the thug mumbles. He carries his gun lazily, swinging it around like a baseball bat. Dick rolls his eyes, these people aren’t very loyal. But maybe that’s why they’re expendable in the long run. In any case, it’s time for the man to take a little nap. He steps out from behind, covering the thug’s face with his hand until he goes limp in his arms. Dragging him away so that he slumps against a wall, he returns to his spot at the door.

“Babs? I need you to turn off the mechanism for the emergency sprinklers.”

“Sure, but what about the explosives?”

“They’re on timer, Jason’s figuring it out, don’t worry.”

“I’ll send you what I have, Barb,” Jason says through his comm.

“Right. Is everything else alright?”

“So far so good, I’ll update you.” Dick hears a knock on the door.

“Hey buddy, you okay? You been in that room for a while.” Dick leans on the door, preparing his best thug impression.

He meets eyes with Jason, who watches him expectantly, ready to leap if need be. Lowering his voice, he answers. “Yeah, man, sorry. Just taking a break before the Bat shows up, making sure the bomb’s okay.”

There’s a pause. “You sound sick, you sure you’re okay?” Jason muffles a laugh, Dick faking a cough.

“I’m fine, honest. Just got a little cold, I’ll be right out.” He hears receding footsteps and breathes out a sigh of relief. Jason lets out his laugh, shaking his head.

“Nightwing the sick henchman. Amazing.”

“I’d like to see you try,” Dick retorts. “I’m an amazing voice actor.” A glance at his watch. Twenty-five minutes to the auction. So long as the bomb is disarmed in time they’ll be fine.

*

Tim looks back over his shoulder as he traverses the main room of the observatory, weaving around people and sneaking glances at the items behind the makeshift stage at the things being auctioned. A couple times he’s been looked at warningly, so he makes sure not to overstep. Or to overstep when he’s sure no one’s looking. Though he isn’t quite sure what he’s looking for. Anything could happen at this point. It’s a pile of fancy vases, jewelry, diamonds... nothing he’s particularly interesting, and nothing he’d count as being out of place. And yet he has a sneaking suspicion.

He makes the mistake of getting caught snooping, a heavy hand landing on his shoulder.

“You’re not supposed to be here,” the man says gruffly. He scowls at Tim, who shifts back so the hand falls.

“Sorry,” he tries. “I’m just super curious, i love the architecture.” He laughs it off, quieting when the man doesn’t reciprocate. He sure doesn’t look like the usual upper-class type. His coat doesn’t fit him right, he’s not clean shaven, his hair is pushed back messily. Dick steps back away from the items, out of the man’s line of sight and away from anyone’s hearing.

“Bruce, some of these people aren’t the usual kind of millionaires. Just saying.” He states it casually, hand in his pocket as though he were just chatting to a friend though a bluetooth earpiece.

“Got it. No sign of Mr. Dent?” Bruce’s voice is just as relaxed, if Tim didn’t know him better he never would have noticed the slight tension in his tone.

“Not yet. Five more minutes and the auction starts, what do you want to do?”

“Well-”

“Haha! We finally disarmed it! Boy, imagine if it had gone off,” Jason pipes up. “Oh hell, I think they heard us. Dick, why didn’t you stop me?” He goes off his comm. Tim doesn’t know whether to laugh or worry about them now.

“Should I go help? I wore my suit under my clothes…”

Bruce sighs, and Tim can tell something isn’t right with him. “Yes. I’ll take care of things up here for now. But be careful, and hurry back. There’s something I need to take care of.” Tim enters the men’s bathroom, slipping off his coat. He doesn’t bother being too careful with his shirt, he can always get a new one later, but he makes sure to takes his mask out of his pocket. He exits the stall, and shoves his clothes into a bag he’d hidden in the small closet just in case. In hindsight, he hadn’t realised just how prepared he was.

Just as he prepares to sneak out someone walks through the door, blinking at him in astonishment.

“You’re Robin, right?” The man’s eyes are wide, not sure if he should move or stay and talk. Tim stops, fidgeting. He puts his hands on the man’s shoulders, switching places with him with an apologetic smile.

“Yeah, but I gotta go, you know, protect you guys, so I can’t really talk.” He rushes out, still grabbing onto his bag, feeling the man’s gaze still on him. Well that was awkward. Wonder if it’s ever happened to Bruce…

The basement is empty save the men crowding around the door, where he assumes Dick and Jason are defending themselves best they can. Tim purses his lips, they won’t get anything done with the barricade of thugs. He sneaks up to the distracted men, pulling one away easily and knocking him out quickly. It’s not the best move and he knows they’ll realise they aren’t alone anymore. But he figures after the second man he takes out he can hide and cause a distraction away from Jason and Dick. Which is basically what happens.

He slides behind a divider, shifting away silently to avoid getting caught. He does not want to get riddled with bullets tonight. Or any night, come to think of it. Footsteps thud past him, and he glances back to where the door is, seeing Jason slip into the room quietly, staying in the shadows. Tim assumes Dick is taking care of any thugs that might have gotten into the room.
There’s a solitary thug stepping a little too close to him, he decides to kick his feet out from under him, knocking his head back hard against the floor and choosing a different spot to hide. He sees Jason taking care of two, though he notices there are less than before. Maybe they were smart and ran before the bomb exploded. Self-preservation is a good quality in a person, it makes them reliable that way. It also leaves less people to waste energy on, at the moment. He meets eyes with Jason, who drops silently to knock a man to the floor. Dick’s finally left the room to take care of the last two men who’d been frantically waving around their guns, looking a little too trigger-happy for Tim’s liking.

When the coast is clear he walks out, Dick passing out high-fives. Jason complies with a weak hand, Tim returning it with more energy. Now all that’s left is Dent, who Bruce can probably take care of, but not in his fancy suit. He’s probably feeling super antsy just thinking about it.

Tim opens his mouth to talk, but he freezes when he hears a click.

“Don’t move, any of you.” Tim fights the urge to turn and face the thug, Dick watching him.

Jason growls. “Put the gun down. Your hands are shaking, you probably can’t even use it.”
A round of bullets goes off, flying right past Tim’s ear, who at this point is barely even breathing.

“You think I can’t? Turn around slowly.”

Tim pivots to face the man, trying to stay expressionless.

“There’s three of us,” Dick states. “Think about it. Take down one of us and two more will pin you down.”

The man’s expression is steely, eyes on Dick. Tim nods just the slightest bit at Jason, who brings a hand up to his ear slowly.

“Imagine if we had a blackout right about now,” he says casually. The man turns to him angrily, but Jason just holds his hands up innocently. Barbara’s voice comes through all of their headsets, Tim smiling just the slightest bit.

“Heads up.”

And then the lights go out.