"Dad, please." Her voice is hoarse from smoke inhalation, but steady, though she feels like every nerve ending that still works is jittering under her skin. She squeezes his hand tightly, and doesn't apologize when he winces, though she forces herself to loosen her grip just a little.
"I don't need to go to the hospital," he answers, just like she knew he would. "I'm barely singed."
She glances at the EMT, who shrugs and chooses not to get involved. Dad's face is smudged with soot and his eyebrows are singed, but he's okay. His car is a smoking husk and the firefighters are packing up their gear. Batman is long gone; the Joker is in police custody. She wonders how long it'll take him to escape this time. If she didn't think everyone she knows would look at her like she needed to be locked up too, she'd take bets, run a pool.
She spends the night trying to write an algorithm that'll predict his next escape, based on all the information she has at her disposal--about him, about the security systems at Arkham, the personnel profiles of the staff--but she can't do it, not with him. There are too many variables unaccounted for. But then, with him there always are. It's part of what makes him so dangerous.
He escapes four months, two weeks and six days later, and she wonders if there was ever a time or place where safety wasn't an illusion.
This time, though, she's got a wild card of her own up her sleeve.
She makes the call before she can think better of it. After the first long moment of silent shock, he takes it in stride. She wouldn't expect anything less.
"No masks," she says, "and no weapons."
He makes a little huffing sound that could be a laugh. "I'll leave the mask at home," he says.
"And just where is that these days?"
"You don't need me to tell you that."
It's true, she doesn't. He's good, but she's better.
"Two o'clock, by the fountain in Robinson Park," she says, and hangs up.
She's not surprised that he shows up early to check out the meeting spot she picked; she is surprised that he gets there only six minutes after she arrives, while she's still getting herself settled behind her binoculars in a restaurant halfway across the park. She tells the waitress she needs a table by the window because she's bird watching, and laughs when the woman doesn't get the joke.
He's deliberate and meticulous in his examination of the meeting spot, the way they've all been trained to be; she doesn't expect any less. She knows he's got a habit of letting his emotions derail his plans, but they were never close enough to inspire that kind of response. As long as he acts like a professional, she'll treat him like one.
When he's done checking out the area, he buys himself a couple of hot dogs from a cart and wanders back to the fountain. He eats one in three quick bites that remind her of the hungry teenager he used to be, and feeds the other to the pigeons that gather at his feet.
She arrives at one fifty-seven to find him sprawled on a bench facing the fountain, legs spread wide and arm draped over the back, staring at the pigeons pecking the ground around his boots; nothing is left of the hotdog he fed them. His face is bare and blank; his eyes are a lighter blue than she remembers, his features sharper. Which makes sense. He's five years older than the last time she saw him, grown from a boy into a man. His mouth quirks into a half grin and he raises an eyebrow, and for one brief second, the resemblance is enough to make her heart stutter. She doesn't let it show.
She knows he's doing to it get a reaction; she doesn't give him the one he wants.
"Thanks for coming," she says.
"What, no tearful reunion hugs?" he asks, drawing his legs in and leaning forward, elbows on his knees.
She just looks at him until he lowers his gaze. "I have a job for you."
"I didn't think you approved of my methods."
She'd like to say she doesn't, because it's true. Mostly. But given what she's going to ask of him, it'd be a lie.
"I think you have your uses."
He cocks his head, studies her. She meets his gaze squarely; it'll be a cold day in hell before he intimidates her. He's pretty good at looking at her like he already knows all her secrets, but she was standing up to the master of that look while he was still scraping his knees on the playground.
He gives her a slow, knowing grin this time, full of teeth. "I'm always happy to be of use to a pretty lady."
"Don't flirt. You were never any good at it."
His face goes hard and flat, the grin disappearing like it was never there. She stares him down, knowing she's made a misstep.
"Well, as much fun as this as has been," he finally says, shifting his weight as if to rise, "and you know how much fun I find these heartfelt family reunions--"
She holds out a yellow post-it note. It flutters just the tiniest bit, and she tells herself it's because of the non-existent early spring breeze and not her fingers trembling. He raises an eyebrow but takes it. "And this is?"
She can still make something up, back out, stay on the safe side of the line. She takes a deep breath through her nose, inhales the faint, clean scent of his soap, the old leather and sweat of his jacket over the familiar fragrance of damp concrete. She exhales and it sounds loud in her ears.
"The Joker's current address."
He looks down at the post-it and then back up at her, and for the first time, she senses something other than hostility in him. Granted, that something is disbelief mingled with a hopeful avidity that discomfits her even more than his false nonchalance.
"Can you do it?"
"Sure," he says, as easily as if they're discussing the weather. "You want that freak offed, I'm your man."
"I understand you had the chance once before and didn't finish the job."
His mouth tightens. "Fuck you."
She has to bite back her first response, knowing it would end the conversation and get her new home blown up, possibly with her in it. Instead, she goes with a more generic, "Sorry, not interested."
He accepts that with a roll of his eyes. "So what's the catch?"
"There isn't one. You do it clean and you walk away."
"You might have heard that I'm a little crazy now--well, crazier than I was before--but I'm not stupid." He leans forward again, but this time, he rests his elbows on the arms of her chair. She tenses but doesn't reach for her sticks. She can smell stale coffee on his breath. "So I'm gonna ask again, Babs, and try not to blow smoke up my ass this time."
"There is no catch," she answers, leaning closer. Maybe he's not the only one who's crazier than he used to be. "This is one of the few blind spots in the city, Jason. No cameras, no mikes." She knows he swept the area; she watched him do it from the other side of the park. "No one will ever even know we met, let alone what we talked about, unless you tell them."
"And what do I get out of it?"
"The satisfaction of knowing no one else will ever go through what you or I have at his hands."
It's enough. It should be enough. She tells herself it will be.
He nods slowly, sticks the post-it in his pocket. "Consider it done." He leans away, flips himself over the back of the bench and is gone.
She knows it's not the right thing; she's not even sure it's the smart thing. But it's done now. One of the first things her father taught her about guns is that once you've pulled the trigger, you can't take back the bullet.
Two days later, a body is pulled from the river, two slugs in the back of the skull. Dental records, DNA evidence, everything matches the information she--and GCPD--has on the Joker. Still, she doesn't relax until she slips into the morgue and sees the body with her own eyes. She runs a DNA analysis herself; the results ease a tension inside her she's been carrying so long she doesn't remember life without it.
Later, once she's home again, she watches on the monitor as Jason set fire to the body, leaving nothing but teeth and bone fragments behind. She doesn't think even the Joker could come back from that. The security footage has already been tampered with, Jason covering his tracks better than she could have hoped, but she makes it disappear altogether, overwritten with layers of images few people would be talented enough to recognize, let alone be able to sort through and identify the original, unedited version. Even the bullets are anonymous, the gun disassembled and the pieces destroyed. No way to connect it to Jason, or Jason to her.
She pours herself a glass of wine when it's done, cautiously optimistic, and forces herself not to jump when she realizes Jason is in the room with her.
"Please tell me you didn't take a trophy," she says.
"I'm not an idiot."
She decides it's not worth arguing that. "What do you want?"
He shoves his hands in his pockets, raises his shoulders in a shrug. "World peace. An endless supply of pepperoni pizza from Russo's. To know the meaning of life." He snorts. She's glad he finds himself funny. "What do you think?" He rocks back and forth on his feet, gives the room a good onceover.
"Yes, ma'am." He tosses off a sarcastic little salute, then picks up her glass of wine and finishes it in one long gulp.
"Give me one reason I shouldn't hit you now."
"I'm a guest. That would be rude." He gives her a teasing grin that almost makes her forget he's a killer.
"An uninvited guest."
"Babs, I'm hurt." He puts a hand over his heart. "I thought we shared something special."
"What do you want?" Her tone makes it clear she's not kidding around.
His face goes blank. "Nothing. You know how to find me the next time."
"There won't be a next time."
He laughs. "You keep telling yourself that, sister. But you know I'm right." He slings his legs over the windowsill, then twists back around to face her and says, "Say hi to the fam for me," before he disappears.
She pours herself another glass of wine and tells herself he's wrong. Too bad she doesn't believe it.