"There seems to be a new player in Gotham," came the familiar throaty growl, just when Gordon thought he was alone. He turned from the window and saw Batman standing in the shadows.
"You could always take a seat," Gordon said quietly. He had one in his office he left in a corner. Like keeping a chair out for Elijah on Passover, or cookies and milk for Santa Claus, though both were much safer traditions.
"No time." A pause, and his voice softened slightly, letting whoever he really was peek through the smallest bit. "But thank you."
Despite his weariness and worries, Gordon smiled to himself. "So. New player."
Batman tossed a familiar card onto Gordon's desk. A Joker. That man treated Arkham like a revolving door. Gordon was generally against the death penalty – illegal in their state - but wondered if there was any other way of keeping people safe from the psychopathic clown. "Found this in a back alley, where there had been evidence of a struggle, even streaks of blood. Scraps of some strange machinery. I would say a kind of deathtrap, based on the number of spikes that had blood on them, meant to taunt me. But no dead bodies. Instead, I found another card."
Gordon caught it in midair and noted Batman's look of surprise. "You're always flinging evidence at me, friend; it was only a matter of time before my reflexes adapted." Then he inspected the clue. It was a Two of Hearts. And scribbled hastily in blue pen were the words: "Nice try."
"It seems someone's taken up my line of work, but I can't be sure," Batman said. "With my experience, I'm cautious of anything unexpected. Are you aware of the string of ATM robberies that occurred this past week?"
"I don't recall."
"That's because all the money was returned. Every single ATM hit had a Joker and a King of Clubs Superglued on. The night after the money mysteriously reappeared, every single Joker had a Two of Hearts pasted on. And each King of Clubs had a Jack of Hearts taped overlapping it, covering the face. That's not all."
Gordon gamely caught the next card too. The Jack of Hearts he held sported the lipstick imprint from a kiss. There was something off about the imprint, though. It was much thinner than the typical – "It's from a man's lips."
"Right. This isn't just about crime. This is some kind of vendetta, and I intend to find out what's going on."
Two nights later, Batman rushed to the Natural History Museum when he got news that the Joker had planted a bomb somewhere on the grounds and it was going to go off within fifty minutes. Naturally the place was deserted. Wayne Enterprises had recently developed a highly sensitive device to sniff out explosives, many times more capable than a Labrador retriever, and was sponsoring a shipment to unexploded ordinance groups in mine-ridden countries.
So the bomb was in the basement. Twenty minutes to go. In his rush he nearly kicked down a door before realizing that it was unlocked and swung open quietly.
Then he saw a man who looked to be about his age, handsome features and black hair, wearing a WWII-style greatcoat modified to be lighter. There was a hole in the wall where he must have cut out the bomb he was holding in one arm, fiddling at with tweezers with his right hand.
Batman's sensors reported that the bomb had been defused.
Then the man set it down with a grin. He pulled a card out of his pocket, then a tube of lipstick that he applied. He kissed the card, wiped his mouth, and cheerily said, "Hi there, Batman. Give me a sec to tape this on. I've been wanting to meet you."
"I assume you're the Jack of Hearts?" Batman felt embarrassed to be shown up, though of course the important thing was that the situation had been ended peacefully.
"Just a joke. I'm Captain Jack Harkness. My pleasure." He strode towards him to shake his hand with a smile like a fully self-aware stud. "I assume you don't want to tell me your real name, or show me what you look like – a shame, since someone who can pull off form-fitting armor and still move in a fight has got to have a terrific body – and that's okay."
As Bruce Wayne, he could be a roughish playboy to perfection, but the glint in Jack Harkness' eye suggested that Bruce was a mere dabbler by comparison. "What are you a Captain of?"
"Nothing at the moment. You're not actually part bat." He thought about that for a second. "Right?"
"I'm not sure if I'm more incredulous that you would take such an idea seriously, or that you appear to be trying to pick me up."
"You would need to have some cough drops though, or quit smoking, whichever one it is. There's 'velvety purr' and then there's 'cancerous wheeze'."
Batman sighed. He was prepared for a fight or an intrigue, not a flirtation. "I need to know what you're doing in my city."
"We're after an old enemy of ours who appears to have joined forces with your Joker."
Jack's head whipped around, and he pointed his gun towards the sound he must have heard with the quickest draw Batman had ever seen. "Shit."
There was a blinding flash of light, and Batman felt something strike him in the jaw, like a white-hot iron had been shoved in. After that, nothing.
He awoke to someone kissing him, expertly and tenderly, and the strength of that kiss rushing through his body and making everything well again. Rachel?
Then he opened his eyes and realized it was Jack kissing him. And he punched him in the face.
Jack lay on the floor – which seemed to be a metal grate, and rubbed his jaw. "Ow. That was just to save you, y'know. What did I tell you about 21st century humans, Doctor? Quaint!"
"That was definitely not CPR," Bruce said, wiping his mouth as if that would undo what just happened. He noticed several things as the initial shock wore off.
First, he was in a very, very strange looking room, with glowing columns and hexagonal walls and knobs of metal, all in bronze and green.
Second, Jack had said, "Doctor." So there was someone else present.
Third, as he turned around to see who the "Doctor" was, he noticed an extremely skinny young man in a blue pinstriped suit and bright red sneakers, brown hair askew, draped over a chair with his whole body shaking as he tried not to laugh.
Fourth, Jack had also said, "21st century humans."
Fifth, he was not wearing his cowl. They had seen his face.
The man he supposed was the Doctor spoke. Very, very fast. And very crisply English. "Yes, yes, startling revelations. Don't be so hard on poor Jack; he did that to heal you. At least he mostly did that to heal you. It's nothing personal, Batman, or whatever your name is when you're at home, Jack goes after anybody of any gender of any species of any time period. You got shot in the face. I had the dickens of a time getting the bullet out without doing further damage – nice man, by the way, Dickens, great in a crisis – and I didn't think you wanted the hospital to see you, since you're so careful about identity, and anyway Jack pointed out that he can heal people by snogging them, and I said well that's convenient, do you use that line often? But I had to admit that it was true, and you were losing a lot of blood, so if you could bury your prejudices aside, Batman, I'm the Doctor, you're on the good ship TARDIS, and we need your help as much as you need ours, because the Joker and the Master together is not something I wish to contemplate let alone endure."
Wayne blinked for a few seconds, in shock, before he got enough of a grip to whisper, "Spaceship?"
The Doctor beamed like a benevolent patriarch. "You know, I never quite get tired of the reactions. I miss having humans on board."
"If you let me kill the Master…" Jack began as picked himself up. Both he and Wayne saw the Doctor's smile turn into twisted anguish. Jack sighed and squeezed the Doctor's shoulder in an entirely platonic, but very affectionate, way. "Sorry. I won't. I promise."
He had a lot of questions but resolved to ask one at a time so he wouldn't sound frantic. "Are you two aliens?"
"I am," the Doctor said, as if he were disclosing his blood type. "Jack isn't – well, Jack is Jack."
"I kinda started out human but then some stuff happened to me," Jack said. "I like the healing power, but the rest is not the most amazing stuff ever. Can I call you something other than Batman? You're not using the cancer-voice, so you might as well."
"Cancer voice?" the Doctor asked, cocking his head to one side. He was like an inquisitive owlet.
"I use it for disguise, and for intimidation. Where's my mask?"
The Doctor pulled it off a chair. He had something pinched between his thumb and forefinger. "Here's the bullet I dug out of you. Nice little souvenir."
The bullet was still wet with blood. Yet his face felt fine. "Thank you. You'll keep the secret?"
"We're not from around here, Batman, so if you're someone famous or something we haven't the foggiest." The Doctor simply bled trustworthiness and amiability.
"My name's Bruce." He held the cowl and the bullet, not quite sure what to do next. "Sorry I hit you, Jack."
"It's okay." He reached out a hand, and after a pause Wayne shook it. "And you're safe from me. If someone isn't interested, I just tease."
"Why don't you take a seat, Bruce?" The Doctor gestured at an empty chair. "Would you like a cup of tea?"
"No, thank you. If you're an alien, why do you sound English?" The man certainly didn't look like an alien. Bruce wouldn't have believed it if he hadn't been in the ship – the TARDIS – and the Doctor hadn't been propping his sneaker-clad feet on a bizarre control panel full of mysterious symbols. He tucked the bullet – it could be used as DNA evidence to unmask him – into one of the pouches on his belt, and sat with the cowl cradled in his lap. Now that they knew what he looked like he might as well be comfortable. If comfortable was a word he could use in this scenario, or within fifteen miles of it.
"The first humans I travelled with were English, and I set the translator to their accent to make them feel comfortable – this was a couple hundred years before I learned English properly. I seem to spend a lot of time round there. Also, they make great tea. Love tea. I sometimes feel I could happily survive for weeks drinking tea and eating bananas."
"Doctor, I think Bruce is getting kind of antsy," Jack said gently, as he leaned on the control panel with entirely too much sensuousness for just one person. Like he'd been poured there. He obviously loved the Doctor with all his soul, and just as obviously did not consider him a romantic option. Wayne wondered how to get on the not-a-romantic-option-ever list.
"All right, Bruce, crash course. You will need this information to assist us in capturing the Master. After I'm done, please tell me any relevant information about the Joker and his associates. If they are planning something together I fear for the world." The Doctor took his feet off the console and leaned forward with his hands clasped. He looked earnest, but his unruly hair and huge brown eyes made him seem a bit too adorable to be a centuries-old alien. Wayne, though, knew full well how deceiving looks could be. Jonathan Crane, for example, had the face of an angel.
"Is the Master also an alien?"
"Same kind I am. All three of us are from a parallel world. Y'see, the thing with parallel –"
"Physicists talk about them, Doctor. If I am accepting aliens, it's not that farfetched to imagine people travelling through reality as well as space."
"And time. Good lad!"
Wayne contained his annoyance at being called 'lad'. "You travel through time?"
Jack grinned. "I'm from the 51st century in our reality. I don't go around telling people that at home, but once we've got the Master we'll go back and you'll never see us again. It's liberating."
"It's dangerous, travelling from universes to universes, at least since the War. The door the Master opened to get to this one can't be closed from this side. It does great harm to both universes as long as it's opened; energy from the Void seeping in, eventually it will cook the dimensions. I'm the only one who is both able and willing to close it – in our reality we are the only two of our species left alive. So you can see my reluctance to kill him."
"I don't kill at all," Batman said. He winced. He didn't mean to sound so sanctimonious.
"I'm glad you've never had to," the Doctor said slowly, staring at him with those immense brown eyes, before going back to rapid chatter. "But the Master is extremely dangerous. In his last incarnation – my people, the Time Lords, we can regenerate a set number of times rather than dying, makes us look different and act slightly different but have the same memories – alone, he enslaved the entire Earth, killed the Japanese –"
Jack grimaced. "All the Japanese. There wasn't a thing left alive on those islands."
The Doctor propped his chin in his hand. "And tortured poor Jack for a year."
"He wasn't exactly nice to you either, Doctor."
"There were only so many things he was inclined to do to me…because…because…" The Doctor swallowed. His hands trembled slightly. Bruce decided to talk to Jack separately later. He still wasn't happy to be flirted with, but he wouldn't let that cut him off from an ally and source of information. There were things about the Doctor's description of the Master worth examining further. "In any case, we were able to defeat him and use his Paradox Machine – you know how villains always have their machines…"
"Oh yes," Wayne said, almost smiling. All of them had to have their doomsday devices and mind-control beams, like there was some kind of code to be upheld.
"We undid the whole year. Just set the year back. Nobody remembers the Year That Wasn't except him, we two, and a few friends who fought him. I'm the only being that can keep him contained at all, so I kept him on this ship. I travel in my ship and solve crises and things in various times and places. She's a living creature in her own right, and I built up her defenses so he'd never be able to control her again."
"How big is the ship?" Bruce could see structures underneath the grate and a set of stairs leading off to somewhere obscured by a curve of architecture.
"I have no idea. I'm always finding new rooms. These ships aren't built but grown. The last one in our universe. He got tired of being in here, and I wasn't thrilled to be cooping him up, locking him inside his suite with all dangerous objects removed when I was responding to a distress signal, but what was I supposed to do? Every time I ran into him for the past few centuries he was attempting to become the supreme despot of some planet or another. I've tried to make him better. I've tried to save him."
Jack quietly stepped to just behind the Doctor and put his arms around him in a comforting hug. The Doctor's now-pained face turned to relief and gratitude.
"In our reality I'm based in Cardiff, Wales," Jack said when he resumed his lean. "I lead an agency that deals with alien threats – Cardiff is something of a hotspot. A rift in dimensional barriers. The Doctor drops by to say hello and to refuel the TARDIS, which feeds on the energy the rift gives off, and the most recent time he did it the Master escaped."
The Doctor scratched his head and blushed a little. "It turned out he'd constructed some kind of transport out of bits and pieces that I thought I misplaced. I thought we'd gone beyond me needing to raid his underwear drawer to make sure he wasn't hiding anything – I got tired of him making jokes about that…"
"I can imagine," Jack said, lifting an eyebrow.
Blushing even deeper, the Doctor continued, "I was able to follow him with the help of Jack's team. Jack came along as a favor."
"I thought I could use a relaxing vacation."
Wayne stared. "In Gotham?"
"There's trouble everywhere I go, but in Cardiff I have to do paperwork, otherwise I wouldn't get funding. I'd rather face an army of Daleks than an office full of paperwork."
"What are his abilities?" Daleks?
"He is one of the two finest minds our planet ever produced."
Jack playfully poked the Doctor. "And the second most humble."
"Hey, did I pick a title that deliberately gave off kinky implications whenever you address me?"
"Depends what you're into. I met this female once who needed to be called 'Nurse'…"
Wayne buried his face in his hands. "Please stay on topic. Please."
"Yes! Topic! As the Batman says." It didn't seem possible that the Doctor's hair could be fluffier, but after he ran his hand through it, behold. "He can hypnotize people who have no psychic abilities – Jack has enough to resist, just barely, which is standard in his time – and can read minds as long as there is physical contact between him and the person being read. I ask for permission. He doesn't. I disassembled his laser screwdriver and destroyed some vital components, but the pieces are missing, and I think he's trying to fix it. That's probably what the museum affair was about. If you see a man wielding something that looks like this, it's him." The Doctor showed Wayne a narrow, cylindrical instrument with a little blue light.
"That's a laser screwdriver?"
"Sonic. My model doesn't kill or wound. Good for opening doors and tinkering with devices, though. His can cause pain, injury, and death."
"Yeah," Jack said quietly.
"Time Lords have…had…have…two hearts and can survive longer periods without food, water, or sleep than humans can. Then there's the regeneration. It's possible, if he's had a lethal experience, that he now has a different body. To go into the physiology further would take ages, just ask me as things come up." The Doctor pulled a photograph out of a pocket. "This is what he looked like last time I saw him."
The Master shared many similarities with the Doctor – small and dark-haired. His features were rounder but his smile was sharper. Even as a still image his eyes were hypnotic.
"Why do you have his picture in your pocket, Doctor?" Jack asked, again raising an eyebrow.
The Doctor acted like he hadn't heard the question and returned the photo to its hiding place. "He has used the alias 'Harold Saxon' before, and though I doubt he'll use it again it's worth noting. He also likes variations upon 'Master', like 'Magister'."
"Or 'King of Clubs'," Wayne said.
"Considering he tried to turn the Earth into a weapons factory for galactic conquest, it makes a lot of sense," the Doctor replied. "Besides, I'd already taken the Two of Hearts. I can imagine him being annoyed at that."
"Oh, and he loves to tap his fingers," Jack added. "It's this tic he has."
"Actually he doesn't do that anymore," the Doctor murmured, with a mix of pride and doubt.
This must have been startling somehow. Wayne got the sense that Jack seldom looked that surprised. He hissed, "But doesn't he do that because of the..."
"I cured them just before returning to Cardiff. He doesn't hear them anymore. I thought it would make him better."
"He let you?"
"I told him I would let him out of the ship, under supervision, if he let me do this and I saw signs of wholeness. A diminishing of sadism and megalomania. The more he improved, the more freedom he would have. He complied, but the moment I closed the wound in his mind, he forced me out. He shoved me out with all his mental strength. I got bruises. I had to go and lie down. He wouldn't speak to me for the next few days and I thought that was understandable, given what a change that must have been…"
Wayne broke in, unable to bear the confusion any longer. "I need an explanation. I'm completely lost here."
The Doctor opened his mouth, but Jack held up a finger. "I'll give him the intelligent-human version, not the motor-mouth Time Lord version."
"Okay. Allons-y." The Doctor leaned back in his chair.
"The Master had a psychic incident in childhood. Because of this incident, he had drums playing in his head every moment he was awake…"
"And in his dreams," the Doctor said.
"Not just any drums. Sort of…cosmic drums. The drumbeats of all Creation, as it were. And they made him insane."
"Now, could you tell us about the Joker?"
Wayne licked his lips. He was starting to get thirsty. Maybe if he asked for a very detailed drink later he could get rid of the Doctor long enough to pry some confidences out of Jack.
He noticed Jack looking at him in a non-flirty way, more like he was reading Wayne's body language, and then Jack said, "Doctor, I bet Bruce is quite tired and his family may be wondering what happened to him. Why don't I get off here with him and discuss the Joker on his way home – if you don't mind – and you can go back to one of the Joker's previous crimes and observe?"
Wayne wondered why the two of them couldn't travel in time with the Doctor too, but he kept his mouth shut, knowing that Jack wanted a private conversation too.
The Doctor clapped his hands. "Brilliant! Bruce, could you please give me the precise dates and locations of as many of the Joker's antics that you can remember?" From another pocket he fished out a pen and paper.
Shortly afterwards, Wayne was masked once more and trying not to gape at the exterior of the Doctor's ship, sitting in a patch of grass just outside the museum.
"It's a police box," he said.
"It's made of wood."
"It's smaller on the outside."
Jack laughed. "Usually people see the outside first and say the opposite thing. Do you have a Batcar or something?"
"Batmobile. This way."
"I approve. This is so cool, even with the cancer-voice."
"I'd prefer if you didn't call it that." Despite his words, Wayne felt an odd glow of pride. He could still impress someone who had travelled with, battled, and probably slept with aliens. Not bad. His glow increased as Jack waxed poetic on both the exterior and interior of the Batmobile.
"How did you finance all this? You must be independently wealthy."
"I must." Now he wondered how he was going to drop off Jack away from Wayne Manor.
"Look. I know you're nervous about disclosing things. So I'll give you a secret in exchange for you being level with me."
"I doubt you could have a secret as big."
"I'm nice so I won't bet you a large sum of money. Is the upholstery washable?"
"Do you have a knife or something sharp?"
Wondering what this could possibly be, Wayne handed over a Batarang. Jack promptly cut his own throat.
"Cute trick," Wayne said, as the blood dripped down Jack's clothes, which he noticed were already stained from the fight.
Jack did not answer.
"Okay, I get it. You can do stage magic."
Jack did not answer. The blood continued to flow.
Incredulously, Wayne checked for a pulse. There was none.
Just as he started to freak out, there was a gasp of breath, and Jack sat back up again. Fully healed, if a little messy. "Sorry I scared you. People don't believe it unless they see it. Start driving. I'll talk."
He produced some wet wipes from pocket and started cleaning himself up as they pulled out of the hiding spot. "That's why the TARDIS can't travel in time with me on board, not safely. I'm an anomaly. I can't die – well, I can't die and stay dead. The Master found that a lot of fun. Just kept killing me over and over. If you've ever wondered, freezing to death is not as bad as burning, and starving is worse than both."
This was awful, but Wayne couldn't restrain his curiosity. "How is being in an explosion?"
"Quick. From my perspective it's really painful as you re-form, but I don't think anyone else has to deal with that. Anyway, it really, really screws over the time machine, and it even bothers the Time Lords. For them Time is something they sense, like gravity."
"So that's why the Doctor is not an option," Wayne said slowly. They were taking the back roads. He hadn't had a passenger since Rachel…damn, he thought of her again, which meant thinking of Harvey too…
"Right. He overcomes it well. He knows it wasn't my fault – it wasn't anybody's fault, really. That's what happens when mortals mess with reality-warping power and try to do things like bring someone from the dead. He can get hugs from me, things like that, and he mostly enjoys them, even if there's this undercurrent like someone's rubbing a balloon. You know that horrible noise?"
Jack sighed. "I've got people. I mean, they die, but I have them. I can always find more. The Doctor, though…promise you won't tell him I told you?"
"I don't think I'll tell anyone anything that happened today."
"I think he's in...love. With the Master. A very weird kind of love, a very guilty and desperate one, but love."
"What?" Wayne had to focus on not crashing. The Batmobile could do a fair amount of damage on an innocent telephone pole.
"Don't judge him like that. Think about it. Did you ever have a friend who turned bad?"
"Yes." The horrible image flashed through his mind: a half-burned face and a completely gone mind, flipping a coin to decide who lived or died.
"Imagine this friend was once your very best friend as a child. You were closer to him than you ever were to anyone outside your wife and family."
This was starting to get painful. "Okay."
"Now imagine that you were the only two human beings left in the entire universe, that Earth was destroyed, and that this ruined friend was the only other person who remembered your world, your language, and your home."
Wayne was silent for a long time, long enough to be within five minutes of the manor. Finally he said, "Damn." Forget about the Master's insanity; how was the Doctor even coherent?
Master Wayne returned earlier than usual, which either meant it was an astoundingly quiet night or that he was badly wounded. Alfred hurried down to the Batcave in case of the likelier possibility.
"I'm all right, Alfred," Master Wayne said, peeling off his mask. For the first time in ages he looked…embarrassed? Nervous?
Then the passenger-side door opened and a tall, well-built young man in World War II era-style clothing, complete with a long coat, bounded out with a gleaming smile. "I'm Captain Jack Harkness, and who are you?" Then he winked.
"Oh dear God," Master Wayne exclaimed, blushing.
"I was just saying hello. Can't I say hello?"
"You can't say hello like you're trying to get into my butler's pants."
"I actually find it somewhat amusing, sir, despite my bafflement as to what he's doing here."
"So it's about class, is it?" Captain Harkness took Alfred's hand and shook it, squeezing gently. "You'll find I have a great sense of humor. Is Alfred your first or last name?"
"Jack, it's about this being the man who raised me after age ten."
"Ah." Captain Harkness dropped his hand. "Sorry about that."
"You're welcome here, but no hitting on me, and especially not him. I'll explain in a moment, Alfred, upstairs."
"You need help getting out of that suit, Bruce?"
"Why don't you come with me and let me find you a suitable guest room?" Alfred suggested smoothly.
Captain Harkness grinned and followed him to the elevator. "Sounds good. Don't want to push my host too far."
"I am assuming that you are the Jack of Hearts that's been confusing him these past few days?"
"You're a smart one." Captain Harkness leaned against the side of the elevator and crossed his arms. Now that he wasn't flirting, his eyes were keen and decisive. "My friend who's been leaving the Two of Hearts cards around will show up soon. He'll find his own way in. You don't have to worry about finding a guest room for him."
"And, since I must admit my curiosity is consuming me, why exactly has Master Wayne revealed his identity to you?"
Captain Harkness ticked the reasons off on his fingers. "First, I saved his life a couple hours ago. Second, my friend and I are here to help him get rid of our old enemy, who's teamed up with the Joker. Third, we're not exactly from around here, we don't know anyone, and we'll be leaving soon never to return."
"I see." Alfred realized full well that "not exactly from around here" was a euphemism for something fairly mind-bending, seeing as how it had reduced Master Wayne to feeble verbal flails.
The door opened and Captain Harkness gasped appreciatively. "I knew he had to have a lot of money, but this is so…so tasteful."
"The Wayne Manor goes back for generations, Captain."
That's when a strange wheezing thrum permeated the wide hall, and a blue police call box like Alfred remembered from childhood materialized directly in front of them. The door opened and a tall, skinny young man in a blue suit, brown coat, and red Converses stepped out. "I've got good news and bad news. The bad news is that the Joker is a completely chaotic psychopath with no higher purpose than causing mayhem, and very likely cannot be reasoned with. The good news is that this makes it extremely unlikely that he'll cooperate with the Master on anything particularly complicated, and is probably just along for the ride. This will keep things simpler than if they were both keen on world domination…Oh, hello, who are you?"
"This is Bruce's butler slash parental figure slash confidante," Captain Harkness said. "Good job looking composed, by the way, Alfred."
"Alfred! An excellent name. I'm the Doctor." This handshaking was vigorous and enthusiastic.
"A doctor of what, may I ask? And…is that…is that a spaceship?" World domination?
"I can see why Bruce trusts you. Quick on the uptake. Slow to panic. It's more of an honorary title. Just call me 'Doctor'. Ah, Bruce, there you are."
Master Wayne was still fastening his cuff links. "How did you know where I live?"
"The TARDIS – that's my ship – can sense the presence of Jack as long as we're in the same time period and within a few hundred miles. Which, incidentally, is why we need your help tracking down the Master; due to what we are, the Master can tell when we're around. You, the ordinary human, stand a chance of catching him by surprise."
"If it wouldn't be too inconvenient for you, Doctor, could we resume this discussion in the morning? I might actually get to attend a board meeting awake for once."
"Oh, all right. I'll move the TARDIS to somewhere less obvious. As long as people don't walk into it or see it appear right in front of them the perception filter keeps them from worrying about it. Jack, do you want to spend the night aboard?"
"Thanks, Doctor, but if I've got the chance I'd rather stay in a room that doesn't hate me." Captain Harkness made this strange statement with the first flash of bitterness Alfred had seen in him.
The Doctor's large brown eyes softened. "I understand. I'll be back at seven AM local time." He went back inside his box and it thrum-wheezed away.
After Alfred had safely deposited the Captain in an opposite wing of the manor as Master Wayne's suite, he heated up the simple midnight snack he always had ready and took it to the troubled crime fighter.
Master Wayne was sipping water as if the water had drowned a small child and he was trying to get it to confess. "Aliens and time travelers and a man who doesn't die," he muttered.
"They seem pleasant enough. It says something that they consider you an 'ordinary' human."
"I'm not sure how I'm going to tell Gordon that he needs to be watching out for a person who could look a certain way but might look completely different, who can mind-control people and read their thoughts, has a device with technology far beyond anything we can even imagine, and is responsible for the deaths of billions. Oh, and he is working with the Joker."
"Perhaps you can simply say that you have allies from elsewhere who are following a mass murderer known to them."
Master Wayne took a deep breath and picked up the sandwich. "That's a good idea. Thank you."
"They might even come up with a less alarming cover story that will allow them to work directly with the police. Would you like me to run a bath, sir?"
"Yes, thank you."
Wayne was startled awake by the arrival of the TARDIS at seven AM. In his bedroom. The Doctor opened the door and squawked. "I'm terribly sorry!"
"Why…?" Wayne asked weakly.
"These are the coordinates Jack gave me on my psychic paper. He said this was a good out-of-the-way spot." He sighed. "Pranks again. I suppose I'm grateful he isn't taking any other form of revenge."
"I sort of…abandoned him…in the wrong century…did he explain to you about…?"
"Time weirdness. Immortal. Time machine doesn't like him." Wayne got out of bed and pulled on a kimono. "I'll take you to the room Alfred put him in."
"I'll make him apologize to you. You don't deserve being collateral damage in practical jokes."
They walked quietly through the long, dimly lit corridors. "Do you – does your species sleep?"
"Yes, but not as much as humans do. Which is true of most of our body functions, come to think of it. Except for dying. We die a lot more times."
Wayne ran his fingers through his hair, which though mussed wasn't nearly as wild as the Doctor's. "Does it ever stop?"
"There are a set number of times, that's true, but if you're careful you can go for centuries on just one life…"
He remembered something from earlier in the conversation. "What's a psychic paper?"
The Doctor pulled a small badge out of a pocket. "It can be used for getting messages to me, but usually it helps me get into places without too many questions. It reads the mind of the person viewing it so they see what they want to see, or what I want them to see."
Wayne read, "The Doctor, Solver of Problems, Completely Trustworthy, Does Not Complicate Things At All."
"That's you projecting your own wishes onto it. But it's true. Except for the part about not complicating things – I'm afraid complication is inevitable."
They came to the room and Wayne tried the door. It was locked. "Maybe we should give him privacy?"
"He messed up yours. When I'm around he keeps reverting to adolescence or something, that man. Gimme a sec." The Doctor pulled his Sonic Screwdriver out and flashed a blue light at it. "I'm glad your doors are steel-backed."
"This doesn't work on wood."
Wayne realized that if the Master had a similar device, the Joker would now be able to open pretty much any door with that or a standard axe. He swallowed and turned the knob.
Captain Jack Harkness was asleep in bed with all three of his maids. There were clothes all over the floor and comforter. Nobody seemed to be dressed under the sheets.
"JACK!" The Doctor shouted.
Jack sat up. "I'll save you, Doctor!" Then he realized where he was and said sheepishly, "Oh…"
"Florence? Abigail? Stephanie?"
The maids looked entirely too cheerful. "It's our day off, Mister Wayne," Stephanie said, giggling.
Bruno, the head gardener, poked his head out of the bathroom, bare-chested and face covered in shaving cream. He had the decency to be intimidated. "I…uh…I…he was…he was so…convincing…"
"Mmm…" said Florence, cuddling closer to Jack.
"Even if you fire us, that was so worth it," Abigail said. She was the youngest of them.
"He said not to go after him or Alfred, so I didn't," Jack explained.
"If I was still bigger than you I would grab you by the ear and drag you back into the TARDIS, Jack," The Doctor said with arms folded. "But if I was still bigger than you, certain events wouldn't have happened, and you wouldn't be…you'd be like you were. So I'm not going to lecture you about the stunt you pulled with me. But for heavens' sake, Jack, leave our host out of your antics."
"He doesn't own them, Doctor. They did this of their own free will on their own time."
"I'm talking about the coordinates you gave me."
"Oh." Deflated. He didn't meet the Doctor's eyes.
"Say you're sorry, Mister Wayne."
"I'm sorry, Mister Wayne."
"I'm not," Abigail whispered.
"Shush for now, please, sweetheart. It was silly and childish - and anyway the two of you aren't right for each other."
The Doctor's jaw dropped, and he turned a pale face to Bruce Wayne.
Wayne couldn't help it anymore. He started to laugh. He couldn't remember when last he laughed. He sank to his knees and hugged himself, he was laughing so hard.
When he recovered, he stood again and dusted himself off. "Jack, please get dressed and meet me and the Doctor for breakfast at eight. We have things to discuss."
The Doctor gave Jack a parting glare, but there was a smile embedded in there somewhere.
The warehouse was drafty and the stolen furniture collapsing with mold, but the Joker was having the time of his life. His new, very entertaining friend in a pretty suit was fiddling with some weird-looking parts spread out on an oily table and the bits of thorium, thallium, and molybdenum they stole from the museum. But while he worked he told the best stories.
"…And so then I killed the President of the United States, and not a moment too soon, if you ask me, the ponce. All my slaves popped out of the air and you should have seen everyone's faces."
"Do you have any Toblerones left?" The Joker sat across from him, sharpening his many knives of many sizes. Just one whirring, floating death-machine could make Gotham so much more interesting.
"Chuckleheads?" The Joker burst into high-pitched giggles.
Mister Master smiled dryly. "No, the Doctor made them disappear forever. He loves to show up and spoil my plans. By now it makes more sense to make him part of my plan, which seems to be working well."
"Tell me about my, uh, ah, present that you're going to give-ah me. Tell me, mm, what you did to him."
"You mean the times I killed him? Or the times I tortured his loved ones in front of him? Or the times I…"
"Shush." The Joker held up a finger. "Ah, footsteps."
"Does someone have an appointment?"
"Yes! I wanted you to meet, mm, him and do that, ah, mind-reading thing you do."
The former Arkham inmate appeared, very pale and trembling. Some of his shakes were from heavy psychiatric medication and others from fear. "I got…I got your message ….Joker…and I…" He carried a briefcase like he was supposed to. Good boy.
"Ah, don't be so, mm, shy, Scaredy! We're glad to have you, ah, aboard. Show-ah us what you got, mm."
Scaredy placed the briefcase on the table and opened it, revealing several glass bottles with an amber-colored liquid, and a mister. "My old formula for fear gas, mixed with nitrious oxide and a little cannabis. It should work. I checked the calculations."
"You haven't-a, tested it?"
"I don't want to go back to Arkham, Joker, please. I can't – I can't go back there." Here he choked back something like a sob. "And…er…who's this?"
"You may call me Master," Mister Master said, patting Scaredy's head.
"Some interesting people are, ah, in town, Princess." That was his other nickname. "Mister Master, mm, is helping me get ahold of the perfect research subject. He doesn't, uh, officially exist, so no one'll be looking for him. He's funny, mm. And he doesn't-a stay dead. You kill him and, mm, he gets back up! But he still feels, mm, pain! Isn't that wonderful?"
The blue eyes opened wide behind their glasses. "You're not making sense."
"Sit down," Mister Master said, getting up and coming over to Scaredy's side.
"I'm being nice by telling you this. Sit."
Scaredy sat, biting his lip. Mister Master put his right hand on Scaredy's right temple, and it was a beautiful thing to see how Scaredy shuddered and tensed up.
"Hmm, interesting…annihilating the city...sadism…driving people insane…I think I could like you if you weren't such a pathetic, sniveling human…oh, there it is. Good." Mister Master let go and wiped his hands on his pants. "He hasn't told anyone about working with you, which is what I assume you were looking for."
Panting and pale, Scaredy looked like he'd just been raped. "You walked through my memories! You – you violated my…"
"What color, ah, underwear is he wearing?" the Joker asked.
"Blue silk briefs, why?"
"Just, ah, wondering."
"May I go now? Please?"
"Mister Master will show you, mm, out, won't he? And I expect you back, ah, this time Tuesday. Punctuality is valued."
Mister Master looked about to object, but then thought better of it. After he read the Joker's mind he'd spent two hours lying down with an icepack on his head. "Don't touch the screwdriver components. It could set me back days."
"Wouldn't dream of it. I want to see people get killed with zaaaaps as much as the, ah, next guy."
"What are you?"
"Something far beyond your understanding."
"The Joker's a psychopath…sir…and he's going to turn on you too."
"Well, I'm a megalomaniac, and you're a poor little undifferentiated schizophrenic thanks to The Batman, so I think you're the one at the bottom of the pecking order here."
"You don't understand – he's the terror of the city!"
"I'm the terror of star systems and galaxies. Think about that. Now go. Not a word to anyone. The Joker can hurt your body in any manner of ways, but what I just did to your mind was tender compared to how I can twist my consciousness into yours, understand?"
"I saw The Master. He was with Jonathan Crane."
Though surreal, it was rather pleasant to take a break from a long stakeout by having a cup of coffee in a space-time ship before heading out again. Jack was drinking coffee too, but the Doctor insisted on tea for himself. A ways off from the main control room was the warmly lit den they were sitting in now. The TARDIS from the inside appeared to rival Wayne Manor in square footage.
"Who is Jonathan Crane?" Jack asked.
The Doctor pulled some kind of device out of his pocket and started poking at it.
"Dr. Crane was the head of Arkham Asylum for many years. A brilliant psychiatrist and neurochemist, he turned out to be using a fear-inducing gas to actually drive people into insanity even if they were perfectly sane before. I got a dose of it once. It was…profound. He was involved in a plot to kill the entire population of Gotham, but I stopped him and gave him a taste of his own medicine. He was ruled guilty but insane, but was let out a few months ago for good behavior and proof that the Arkham guards and orderlies were abusing him. Seems he wasn't a popular boss. These days he has court-ordered weekly psychotherapy and works part-time shelving books at a city library as part of a rehabilitation program."
"Just because you saw him with the Master doesn't mean he's reverted to his old ways. The Master or the Joker could be coercing him – aha!" The Doctor held up the device, which actually turned out to be an iPhone. There was a picture of Crane from his most recent news appearance.
"So we could question Crane about where the Master is and what he's up to," Jack said.
"If he knows that he's helped us, though, the Master can read that from him. He has to be completely unaware that he's assisted us at all."
"Could we attach a bug to him?"
Batman said, "I don't know how any of us could get close enough without arousing suspicion."
"This Crane," the Doctor pondered, "does he have any family or friends?"
"Not that I know of."
"Did anyone testify at his parole-or-whatever hearing?"
"His lawyer, a mental-patient-rights advocate…"
"…I believe an ex-boyfriend."
The Doctor sighed mightily and buried his face in his hands. "Jack?"
"Yes, Doctor?" Jack asked merrily.
The Doctor held the image of Jonathan Crane up so Jack could see him. "Do you think – I can't believe I'm saying this – do you think you could please find and seduce this man?"
"You know, I think I just might be able to."
His work was annoyingly simple, but Jonathan Crane appreciated the quiet of the library, and how his position shelving books kept him away from the general public. Too many people recognized him, almost all forms of social life were barred to him now, and anyway crowds tended to make psychotic episodes more likely.
If someone had examined Crane's inner psyche, they would have seen that he had not actually become a moral person during his incarceration. He still thought only of himself, was disgusted by his fellow humans in general, and longed to be feared. Now, though, his own fears – of the white walls of Arkham, the beatings (and worse) from the guards; of Batman, of the Joker, and above all slipping further into the madness against which his only defense was five pills taken daily and two nice people with clipboards who pretended they didn't hate him – these terrors made him wish to avoid trouble at all costs.
He didn't even pilfer change from the petty cash fund. He was too damn scared. Had he not been on psychiatric parole he would have fled Gotham and the manipulations of the Joker the moment they gave his shoes back.
Scarecrow talked to him sometimes, always located a little too far off to the side to see beyond the corner of his eye. Occasionally he talked back, because the alternative was to talk to nobody but his boss, his parole officer, his psychiatrist, his therapist, and the occasional grocery store cashier. Oh, and much, much more dangerous criminals who preyed on his brilliance and easy intimidation.
Crane was ruminating on all these matters when someone tapped him on the shoulder. He would have shrieked, but quietness at work was so ingrained upon him by this point that he squeaked instead, and oh, did Scarecrow have a field day commenting on that.
"Sorry to surprise you," the man murmured. Crane felt doubly idiotic when he saw how gorgeous he was, eyes that could melt butter that had been frozen for weeks, a confident and easy smile. He was dressed in jeans, a simple black button-up shirt, and a leather jacket a little too long in the sleeve but with a warm, safe aroma.
"I – I – I'm just not used to people approaching me here," Crane whispered. "Are you lost?"
"I'm passing through Gotham for a couple of days, and I was looking for guidebooks and things like that, but the Information desk didn't have anyone, and when I looked at the right place in the shelves I didn't see any," he whispered back, with the air of someone sharing special secrets rather than a mundane explanation.
A faint hope flickered in Crane's chest. He hadn't had consensual sexual contact (on his side, anyway) for over a year, and God he was sick of being alone in everything. This man didn't seem to know who he was. "Maybe they're all checked out. I know there aren't any in the stacks."
"Seems there still issomething worth checking out in the stacks."
"What?" He couldn't believe he heard that right.
So the man stepped closer and leaned in towards Crane, whispering into his ear, "Maybe I should say that there is someone worth checking out in the stacks."
Crane realized he had a thick tome cradled to his chest, and he felt like a silly schoolgirl, using it as a shield. He looked up just as the stranger looked down, making them a couple centimeters away from kissing. He swallowed and stepped back. "I don't want to get in trouble."
He smiled, undaunted. "When do you get off?"
"Off work. I'd like to buy you a cup of coffee." He was obviously holding back a laugh.
"Oh!" Crane could feel himself blush and wished he could hide his face in a burlap sack. "In half an hour."
"I'll wait for you on the steps. Can't risk someone else snatching you up."
"Don't worry – it doesn't happen…"
"Are people in this city blind? Or are you just shy?"
Crane bit his lip. "What's your name?"
"Call me Jeremy."
"I've always liked names that start with J. Don't disappoint me, Jonathan." Then, catching Crane entirely off guard, Jeremy lifted him bodily into a deep kiss.
Crane had to support himself on the book cart when they parted. "Where did you come from?" he gasped.
"I think it's more important where I'm going." And with an impossibly lascivious wink, he left.
For the next fifteen minutes or so, Crane was so dazed that he had to sing the alphabet song to himself to remember how to alphabetize.
This time Batman actually sat in the chair provided. That by itself made the Commissioner take notice. Was the city in danger of obliteration again? Was the Joker setting up a campaign to hack up infants with machetes or something else as overly-the-top horrific? Was Batman quitting?
"Gordon…I'm not sure how to say this." His voice was softer than usual as well, though still a growl.
"Please find a way to say it soon, because I'm going to drop dead of suspense." Jim Gordon extracted a small flask of Scotch from a drawer, in case he needed it.
"I've met and am working with the two individuals that have been leaving the Two of Hearts and Jack of Hearts cards at the sites of averted crimes. They are known as The Doctor and Captain Jack Harkness. The King of Clubs, the Joker's new ally, is an old enemy of theirs who calls himself the Master."
"You're not telling me something. What you've told me wouldn't have shaken you this much." The only unusual thing so far was that Gordon had heard of none of these people.
Batman took a deep breath and gathered his cape around himself. "The Doctor wanted me to tell you that the police are not to attempt to apprehend the Master, for their own safety, and at all costs he must not be killed. The Doctor insists on capturing him alive himself. Also, it appears that the Doctor is the only person the Master is willing to negotiate with."
"Who are this 'Doctor' and 'Master'? What's their…do they have a shtick like Scarecrow and Joker and Two-Face? Or do they just like the titles?"
Batman did not answer.
"And what the hell is so dangerous about the Master? If he's worse than the Joker, how come he's never been on the news?"
Batman did not answer.
"What gives the Doctor any authority anyway? Is he like you? And what is this Jack Harkness a Captain of?"
Batman sounded pained. "You won't believe me. I swear you won't."
Gordon folded his arms and leaned back in his chair. "Try me. Lives are at stake."
Burying his face in his gauntlets, Batman said, "The Doctor and the Master are space aliens who also have the ability to travel in time and between dimensions, which there are apparently multiple of."
Gordon did not comment.
"Jack Harkness is not really a captain, but he is the leader of a Special Ops group in Wales called Torchwood that secretly deals with alien threats to humanity. He is friends with the Doctor, who is considered a benevolent alien. The Master is of the Doctor's species and his crimes include genocide."
Gordon did not comment.
"The Doctor and the Master look completely human under cursory examination, but may be differentiated by their two hearts, psychic ability, and extreme resilience to everything that would kill one of us."
Gordon opened his mouth, but no words came out.
"I have never felt so quite out of my depth before."
Gordon stood and approached Batman, putting a hand on his shoulder armor. "Have you considered taking a month or two off?"
A short, humorless laugh. "I knew it. I'm sorry to do this to you, Gordon, but you need to believe, otherwise your police will be in danger. You're better at spinning necessary lies than I." He took some bat-shaped communicator from his belt and said into it, "Doctor, I need you."
Gordon's generous heart ached. "I'm not saying I think you're crazy or anything like that. You just need a rest. You've been dealing with a lot of strain from all sides, plus whatever your daytime life is like, and – what's that noise?"
"The ship, for whatever reason, appears on the outside to be a blue telephone booth."
The noise grew louder, and there in his office a faded image of a blue telephone booth appeared. It grew more and more solid until it was entirely real.
The door opened and a young man in a long brown coat, brown suit, and red sneakers emerged. "Ah, this must be the esteemed James Gordon of the Gotham law enforcement!" He grabbed Gordon's hand and shook it.
Batman rose. "Doctor, for God's sake never, ever, ever make me attempt to explain the situation to anybody again."
"I'm dreaming, aren't I?"
"If only dreams were this exciting, eh? I'm the Doctor, that's my ship, and I will reiterate that the Master is very dangerous and I'm the only one who can handle him. He looks like this." He produced a picture from a pocket.
Gordon handled it and marveled. "So normal."
"The world is a marvelous and miraculous place, Mr. Gordon, and I would really love to sit down and learn about Gotham and make you feel more comfortable about what's happening here, but I absolutely must dash; Jack may need backup. Batman, would you like a lift?"
"I think I'll stay here and make sure Gordon's all right."
"Good. Fine. See you later at the place where we were going to meet that was secret because you have a secret identity which I think is so cool, by the way, sometimes I call myself John Smith but I don't wear a disguise or anything like that. The things you humans come up with!" He withdrew into the box, which disappeared again.
Gordon sat and drank some Scotch. "What exactly is Jack doing that he needs backup for?"
"I don't think anything can surprise me anymore."
"He's seducing Jonathan Crane."
They looked at each other for a few seconds and started laughing, because what else could they have done? Gordon found another glass and Batman even took a shot before vanishing into the night.
"Do we have to have coffee?" Crane asked Jeremy timidly when they started walking down the street together. This late in autumn Gotham was dark when he got out of work, and though his apartment was nearby he usually took a cab for safety.
Jeremy put an arm around him, grinning. "Did you have something else in mind?" And he gave a little squeeze that sent a jolt of heat through Crane's skinny frame.
"I, um, live five blocks down."
"Then I think we can find other ways to stay awake."
Two blocks away from the library and they ran into some teen hoodlums who were smoking at the corner. The boys started heckling them, with many slurs and obscene suggestions.
"Kids, there's no need to be jealous," Jeremy said coolly, reaching down and taking Crane's trembling hand. "If you spend enough time actually becoming useful to society, someday you might be able to get boyfriends of your own."
"Shit, Jeremy, have you gone insane?" Crane hissed, trying to shrink.
"I admit it's not the nicest thing to bait people," here he reached out with his right hand and did something that crunched to the shoulder of the kid about to take a swing at him, "but don't you just get tired of primitive attitudes?"
"My arm! I can't feel my arm!"
"You'll be able to move it in a day or two, son. Now does anyone else want a piece of me?"
The boys ran away, the wounded one clutching a paralyzed limb. Crane pulled Jeremy down by his shirt collar and ferociously snogged him, partially from being turned on and partially because he could use someone to protect him from life in general.
He hardly saw the last few buildings or any part of his front landing. He nearly dropped the keys; his hands were shaking so much from excitement. Jeremy smoothed his hair. "Whoa there, Jonathan, it's okay. Nobody's timing us."
"You've got a condom?"
"I've got six. Two of them are flavored. One's ribbed."
Jeremy seemed to know intuitively what was perfect for Jonathan Crane – which was different than what was right for Scarecrow, who accounted for the past dozen or so of his wanted sexual encounters. Jonathan needed to be on the bottom, with a man. Scarecrow took the top with either gender. Jonathan needed reassurance and slowness. Scarecrow was quick-and-dirty, and the other person had to scream for it to work. He had never been charged with rape, because Scarecrow's victims were never coherent enough to testify against him, but the staff at Arkham must have figured it out. A lot of them told him it was what he deserved.
This, though, this was practiced, lingering, unhurried, and in every way right sex, the closest thing to lovemaking Crane had experienced since his late teens, before Scarecrow had begun to form within him. He was given rest when he needed it, speed when that was desired, and incredible endurance from his partner.
"It's like you can read my mind," he sighed wonderingly between the second and third time.
"It is like that, isn't it? Hey, can I use your bathroom? I'll be right back. Lie there and be beautiful."
Everything was amazing until near the end of the forth time, when Crane started to cry.
Jeremy stopped immediately and maneuvered to hold him in a comforting embrace. "What's wrong?"
"I – I – you – you turned – you…" Before Jonathan's eyes, Jeremy had blossomed scars and grotesque disfigurements, with maggots crawling out of him and great gobbets of blood ruining his bed.
"Ssh, it's okay. I've got you. Let it happen. You're safe with me."
"Dead! You're dead! Again, and again, and again dead! Dead! So many times!" He choked back the chaos and stammered, "In front of the mirror – pill – there's a pill – Zipirasidone! Please!"
Jeremy, naked and oozing with illusory sores, trundled through the shelves and drawers to find it. "I'll get you a glass of water! Hang on!"
PATHETIC LITTLE WORM! Scarecrow shouted, making Crane clutch at his ears and hum. BEGGING FOR ATTENTION AND PITY? THE JOKER WOULD BE RIGHT TO CARVE YOUR FACE UP AND DROWN YOU IN A DITCH.
"WHAT'S TAKING YOU SO LONG?" Crane yelled.
The seething, gelatinous horror full of corpse-dust and bile had a glass of what looked like green slime, but Crane took the blue capsule and drained down the slime. He knew the pill hadn't really been digested yet, but the placebo effect calmed him immediately.
Jeremy was fading into flesh and blood handsomeness again. "I'm sorry that happened. Are you schizophrenic?"
"Psychotic – I had…I had a nervous breakdown a few years ago. I was a brilliant psychiatrist until then. Now I'm just a shadow." He felt drained, but someone was holding him, and he had a leather jacket to hug while in strong and caring arms.
"Oh, Jonathan…" Jeremy kissed his temple. "Did you have a good time up until then, at least?"
"Yes, yes I did. Thank you. You're incredibly…talented."
"I'm glad. Makes me feel less guilty for putting something extra in your drink." Crane tried to bolt up, but Jeremy held him closely, though not roughly. "It's not going to poison you. It's a drug called Retcon. It will make you forget me."
"But this was consensual…"
"It's always consensual with me. This isn't for my sake. This is to keep you safe from the Master. If he knew that you'd slept with the person he most hated and gave him information, he would hurt you. And I don't like it when people who help me get punished for that."
He felt drowsy waves come to envelop him. "No! But then this night won't have happened!"
"I'll simply have to pick you up all over again. Make up for it." Jeremy combed his fingers through Crane's hair, very slowly.
"If I'm about to forget, can you answer some of my questions?" He yawned as he spoke.
"All right. As long as you're awake. There's a sedative mixed in, it won't be long."
"You really can read my mind, can't you?"
"A bit. Not as well as he can. I'm only a human."
Mild-edged shadows were closing in on him. "Jeremy…isn't your…name…"
"No, but nobody used my real name these days, so don't worry about it."
"Then you know who I am?"
"Yeah. Burlap sack? Really? Were you on a really tight supervillan budget?"
"And you still had sex with me?"
"You're really hot, sweetheart, in case it's escaped your notice, and besides I've got a job to do."
"But who…and where…and…and…"
The last thing he felt was a kiss on his lips, and the last thing he heard was a hushed, "Goodnight, Jonathan Crane."
The Doctor's sneakered feet were propped up on a coffee table in yet another room of his ship, next to the speaker that was transmitting sounds picked up by the bugs. So far there had only been rustles of movement and the creaking of doors. "So…stakeout."
"You do a lot of stakeouts, Batman?" Jack was lying in an easy chair, a book on his lap.
Wayne's posture was ramrod straight in a wicker chair. His sole concession to relaxation was no armor, mask, or necktie, though his slacks had sharp enough creases to guillotine mosquitoes. "Yes, but usually alone, and outdoors."
"You don't have to do the voice. We know you."
He'd honestly forgotten. "Right."
"I warn you, it could be a while until Jonathan meets the Joker again. We could be at this for several nights."
"At least we're nice and cozy in the TARDIS, yeah? Me with tea and bananas, Jack with my Guide to Intergalactic Appliances, Ship Parts, and Weaponry so his team doesn't blow up Cardiff with the guns they find, Bruce with his company's annual financial report – how you juggle those two lives is utterly beyond me." The Doctor's hair was apooft with pleasant energy.
"How you take responsibility for entire planets is beyond me. I can barely handle a city."
"Aw, no need to be modest! You're doing really well!"
"You do a good job too, Jack."
"Making sure I'm appreciated."
"Though was it really necessary to spend five hours gaining access to Crane's house and putting bugs in his coat pockets?"
"I wanted him to have some fun too."
Here Wayne made a choking noise.
"Hey, you don't get to take the high road, Bruce. I was there when he had a psychotic episode. He was sobbing and screaming. I sometimes kill, but I would never damn someone to torture for the rest of their life."
"You weren't there when several thousand people were sobbing and screaming like that, because of him."
"Let's leave the issue for later, boys."
"Still think we should do something for him," Jack muttered into the pages.
"This is why people don't generally sleep with the enemy," Wayne growled.
"What was that?"
A glare from the Doctor silenced both of them.
"Doctor, it's a good thing you lent me this," Jack said a few minutes later, back to his usual rakishness.
"Owen's favorite new find is in fact a mascara wand."
"Speaking of your team members, Jack, doesn't Ianto mind your incorrigible flirtiness?"
"We've worked it out."
"Oh God, I'm late!"
"Crane's awake, then," the Doctor commented. They heard a good deal of clattering. "I hope you cleaned up after yourself."
"Of course I did. He's got enough making him anxious."
"Tell me about the Doctor, Mister Master." This time the Joker was cleaning his knives. The Master chose not to ask what he had been doing for the six hours he'd been roaming Gotham.
"What's there to tell? God complex. Always full of pity and sickening hope. Has an unnatural attachment to humans, no offense meant, and is always ready to throw himself off a cliff to save them. Not that throwing himself off a cliff would kill him permanently, but that just gives him more chances to find more cliffs. In his current incarnation he cries a lot, but I suppose it's post-traumatic stress disorder from blowing up our planet."
"He did what? That's hilarious, mm."
"Our people were in a war with another race, and whole star systems were being destroyed because of it. He could only kill all the Daleks if he killed all the Time Lords. So he did. And he doesn't go ten minutes without moaning about it, in his mind. Then he lectures me about slaughtering a couple billion people."
"Tch tch tch. He needs to…smile more…" The Joker fondled a sharp little dagger as he said this.
"You're not touching him, Joker. That wasn't part of the deal." The Master spoke in the same dry, sarcastic tone, but his eyes had turned hard.
"I don't, ah, take orders, Mister Master."
The Master slid a final part of his laser screwdriver into place, and it whirred to life. He gripped it and spoke quietly. "I have enslaved worlds. He has erased species. It would be very entertaining to see which of us would do you the most harm."
The Joker started to laugh, but he looked at the Master and saw black holes and supernovae glittering at him. He fell silent and returned to getting the stains off.
It was two days of listening before they heard the Master's voice transmitted to the speaker. Wayne was busy with his public life at the time, but Jack and the Doctor could tell who the Joker was in the conversation.
"You're still keeping the secret. Good."
Jack breathed a little easier. "You were right, Doctor. The Retcon kept him safe. I was worried that…"
The Doctor put a hand on his shoulder, not unkindly. "Listen."
"You want, ah, to know a funny, funny thing-a?"
"Uh – I – I – I…"
Laughter. "Mister M, mm, here tried doing that to me when we, ah, first met, and he nearly passed out!"
Very, very softly: "Wow."
Crunching noises. A squeal. "So, Princess, what does that mean for, mm, you if you piss me off?"
"W-what? But – but I did what you asked - "
"I didn't, ah, ask, Scaredy. I ordered. And I ordered you to make me something that works!"
Crying. "How am I supposed to test it? Please, I can't go back to Arkham again, I swear I did everything I could! Please don't make me kill anyone!"
"I'm, mm, not interested in how you do it, Princess. I'm interested in things like, ah, how many shallow cuts you can give a naked scaredy-cat before he dies, or if he can, ah, stay conscious while you pull out all his teeth with pliers. I'm, mm, very interested in those sorts of things."
"Actually, Joker? The average answers, give or take depending on body type and mental fitness, are 116 and yes, as long as you pause for sufficient time between each tooth. I have done extensive research on the subject."
Jack's hands curled into fists. The Doctor sighed. "I know, Jack. I know." He buried his face in his hands.
"I've got to stop Crane from testing whatever it is. But he'll need to be protected from the Joker."
"We could turn him over to the police…"
This was one of the few times where Jack showed his real, bicentennial age. His face was tired and tense, his posture rigid, his words deliberate. "Doctor, I'm going to say this as nicely as possible. You must have figured out by this point I love you. I understand why you left me behind; combining your regeneration with my condition would have put Rose in even more danger. She might not have made it home. I understand that you need the Master. I understand that you've done things you feel tremendously guilty for, and you see yourself in him, in this whole yin-yang thing. Since we went to the end of the universe, we know I'll never be the last human. But that doesn't mean I don't feel alone all the time in a way you might not be able to grasp."
The Doctor's eyes glimmered. "Jack…"
"You think I'm casual about sex, and in most ways you're right – if everyone had fun and no lasting harm was done, that's great. You're wrong when it comes to how I treat the trust that implies. That man does not have nearlyas much blood on his hands, and he is so damn scared. And I actually can help him."
"All right. We can put him in our custody until the situation is resolved."
"Thank you." The gratitude was real, yet distant.
The Doctor pursed his lips. "I don't want to tell you too much about your future, Jack…"
Jack looked up, startled the Doctor knew anything at all.
"I think, though, you deserve to know that one day you will die. I saw it, not knowing it was you until you said something that gave me a hint. Your future self is serene and beloved, and your death will accomplish something great that I could not do myself."
"So I'll look really different?"
The Doctor spoke as vaguely and diplomatically as possible. "Ah, yes. Not horrible. Just…different."
Without a word, Jack wrapped the Doctor in a hug. The Doctor winced slightly but hugged back.
"Okay. Got crime to avert."
Crane hadn't been to a bar like this for a long time, but after agonizing over how he could find a victim to test a new serum, it seemed perfect. Like all gay bars with bouncers, he was allowed in immediately even if he didn't have the right clothes because he was so pretty, which was good for business. Everyone sought anonymity. He could carry handcuffs in a messenger bag without worrying about what someone might think if they searched him.
Contrary to many media portrayals, gay bars run the same spectrum of reputability and class as do straight ones, and he preferred quieter, well-lit ones these days. However, brief relationship in college had introduced him to Gotham's S&M scene - initially it attracted him, but the genesis of Scarecrow had ruined it, because actual bondage devotees demand that everything be safe, sane, and consensual. A small dose of power intoxicated a beast that had way too little restraint to avoid a lot of questions from police. Also, unlike the whole point of a real Master or Mistress, Scarecrow didn't have fun if the one being tortured enjoyed it.
He sat in a corner and sipped a small glass of wine, calculating his next move. He needed to get psyched up for this. He strove to remember what it had felt like to make people beg and cry, having the power to shatter their minds with sheer sensation, the darkness and the laughter and the absolute potence and might.
But that kept slipping into cold white rooms with soundproof walls, which came in handy if the white-aproned attendant who brought his food felt like smashing him into the wall not nearly soft enough and those white pajamas were not nearly enough barrier and the white pills not nearly strong enough to help him sleep when he was bleeding and bruised and the white-coated doctor looked away and pretended nothing was happening to the thin-as-a-Scarecrow and the ragged-as-a-Scarecrow even when he picked up diseases he had certainly not had when he first got in that showed up in his God damned rectum for Chrissakes –
"Hey, you okay?"
Crane blinked. Not only had someone approached him, but he was incredibly handsome, in a leather jacket with silver zippers, leather pants, and a spiked collar. "I've been away from the scene a long time."
He started feeling bad because this guy – they didn't exchange names – seemed so pleasant and good-humored as well as tremendously sensuous (and he said he was a switch, which made Crane more comfortable than dealing with someone expecting him to be thoroughly dominant) that it seemed a shame to kill him.
The wrath of the Joker was powerful motivation. He'd seen some of the bodies after the Joker had fun.
So with a slightly nervous mixture of flirtation and insinuation, he convinced the man to come back to his place. "I hope you don't mind walking."
"Nice night for it."
As they strode through the night the man started, in a friendly, almost artless manner, and a fairly low volume, to detail the incredibly filthy things he would enjoy doing. And God did he have imagination. It made Crane wish it was feasible to have sex and then kill him.
This did provide him with a good segway, if nothing else. Crane had led the man to a rarely used street (after much pleading and sniveling, Crane got the Joker to lend him a gun in case small-time criminals went after him, with the understanding that if he tried anything against the Joker or the Master the shit to pay would be exponentially beyond any shit he possibly could have been paid before). He whispered, "Now you've done it."
"I need you right here, right now."
A low laugh. "Daring. I like it. Anything in mind?"
Crane produced the handcuffs and snapped them onto the man's wrists behind a telephone pole. He paused before getting the plant mister, filled with the concentrated solution; gas would risk infecting Crane as well. "I don't usually say this, but I'm sorry."
Then he sprayed it full in his face.
The man started laughing, though his eyes showed alarm and confusion. He laughed harder, deep gut-wrenching guffaws and howls, as frantic as screams. Crane put the bottle back in the bag and regarded the sight with arms folded. "I don't do this sort of thing anymore, and even back when I did it wasn't my style."
Tears ran down the man's face, and he gasped, "Make…it…stop!" He soon was laughing so hard he couldn't breathe well enough to make much sound, merely trembling in paroxysms of this parody of mirth.
Oh, to hell with it, no one was watching. Crane put his arms around the man as a final favor, holding him as he shook and choked. "I'm sorry. I'm not enjoying this either. Ssh. It'll be over soon."
He didn't take long to die. After Crane took his pulse, he unfastened the handcuffs and laid the body down. His plan was to disfigure the face with a knife and pin a Joker card to him – the Master had suggested it and the Joker had agreed to take the blame, which wouldn't really affect his standing with the law. Crane thought about what sort of things the Master could have said to the Joker to make him follow his orders, and shivered.
When he bent over the body and prepared to slice up the mouth, the man's eyes opened. "Of all the ways I've died, I would say that was a pretty unpleasant one."
Crane shrieked, "JEREMY!" and fainted.
"Does physical pain just not get to you anymore?" Batman asked. He'd watched the whole thing from an alleyway, using a batscope.
"I still don't like it, but psychologically, nah. I got over being squeamish sometime around 1927." Captain Jack picked up the unconscious Crane, not without some gentleness. "I really think he's becoming a better person."
"Mm. You sure the Doctor is willing to have him on his ship?"
"The Master killed me a couple hundred times, Batman. So…you think the police'll buy it?"
"Doctor Jonathan Crane, also known as the Scarecrow, was seen by six witnesses leaving a BDSM club with a stranger. The next day, a man calling himself "knave3" blogs about a highly unsatisfactory sexual experience, naming and humiliating his one-night stand. Several hundred people comment."
"Took out a Facebook ad. Fifty randomly chosen posters will get $20 each."
"Crane leaves suicide note at apartment, saying he drowned himself in the bay, unable to take this final indignity. The city will say it was a good riddance."
Thrum-wheezing suffused the air, and Captain Jack hefted his rescue towards the materializing box. "I think you're getting a bit of my style there, soldier."
Batman gave the slightest of smiles. "I didn't want the Joker manipulating him either. And…" here he picked up Crane's bag, "I can have the chemical analyzed in case we need to develop an antidote."
The Doctor popped his head out of the TARDIS. "I went to his place and destroyed all the notes. The man's a genius. Such a shame. Thanks for dying again. It was most obliging."
"Happy to die for justice. A lot."
Crane awoke in a clean, soft bed with blue covers and star-and-moon pillowcases. Two bookshelves against the wall were crammed with plenty of reading material. There was some kind of screen embedded in the far wall, but it was dark at the moment.
There was a glass of water on a small table by the bed, with a button marked PUSH FOR REFILL. His glasses sat unharmed next to it. He put them on, got up and felt soft carpet under his bare feet. He noticed he was wearing stripy pajamas.
He approached the two doors. One was unlocked and led to a gleaming bathroom with toilet, sink, bathtub, plush mats, and plenty of towels. On the edge of the sink were all his medication bottles. The other door was locked.
A button next to the screen said, PRESS ME FIRST. So he did.
"Jeremy's" face appeared, wearing a greatcoat, neatly pressed pants, and suspenders. "Jonathan, I am Captain Jack Harkness of Torchwood 3, an alien-fighting organization in Cardiff, Wales. We're pretty secret so you won't have heard of us. I am good friends with an alien known as the Doctor, whose ship you are currently on. Don't worry, he's nice."
At this point a young, erratically haired man leaned into frame and waved. His accent was English and even more amiable than Captain Jack Harkness'. "Hello, Jonathan! If you are alone in your room, it means we're busy doing something involving the lives of innocent people and can't answer your questions right now. We'll be by as soon as we can. You room is psychic, so if you make any attempt at self-harm, it will fill with knockout gas and you will wake up restrained, all right? So just relax, read a book, take a bath, don't panic. If you get hungry there is a menu in the top drawer of the bedside table, along with a little mechanical thingy, and you simply type in what you want, close the drawer, and it will appear. Wonderful bit of smart furniture. Picked it up on Gastronome in the year…"
"Sorry. Right-o." With a huge grin he vanished from view.
"We are attempting to recapture the Master, who was the Doctor's prisoner. I put a bug in your coat pocket so we could spy on the Master and the Joker. I am very sorry you had to get caught up in all this, and in exchange I convinced the Doctor to take you into our custody rather than the Gotham PD's, since that hasn't been working out for you too well. Once we've dealt with everything here in Gotham we're going to drop you off on this one planet where there's a highly advanced city-state that not only has the best psychiatric treatments but worships the mentally ill as, like, prophets or something. Unless you'd rather go somewhere else, though I think you'll really like that one."
"I've been abducted by aliens," Crane whispered to himself. Though this could just be his final connection to reality snapped.
"No hard feelings about you killing me, all right cutie? You're not actually a 'good' person yet, but I think you're a lot better than you were, and you're certainly a lot better than a lot of other people. I'll say hi before we send you on your way." Then he winked.
Crane thought maybe he wouldn't worry much about how real this was. He turned the machine off and chose a book.
"What's wrong, Doctor?"
"The Master's sent me a message. If I don't hand you over to the Joker and meet the Master alone to talk, the two of them will blow up an elementary school."
"I'm so sorry about this, Jack, so very sorry, but I promise I will come for you." As per the Master's instructions, the Doctor had landed the TARDIS on a specific high-rise rooftop with Batman nowhere in the vicinity.
The wind whipped at them, bringing the acrid tang of smoke and blood from who knows how many anonymous alleys and tenements, but the lights reminded Jack faintly of his first view of the skyline in Boe, so many years ago. He tucked his hands in his pockets and said cheerfully, "I believe you, Doctor. The only thing I'm worried about is if the Joker will keep his end of the bargain."
"The Master will see to it. He lies to everyone but me."
"You don't lie to anyone. I admire that in you."
The Doctor looked away from Jack's trusting gaze. "That could be an oversimplification."
Then the Doctor put on his bright voice, as was his wont. "And of course Batman will be hot on the trail; he needs to chuck the Joker back in the loony bin at any rate."
Unspoken was mention of the device the Doctor had rigged up that was attuned to Jack's singularity, and could lead Batman to his location.
The Master climbed up the stairs from inside the building, fashionably ten minutes late. "Doctor! So good to see you!"
"If you had wanted to see me, you could have stayed," the Doctor said quietly. He tossed a metal cuff at the Master, who caught it on reflex. "Put it on."
"If I was planning on running off again, I wouldn't be meeting you now, would I?"
"Put it on, or there's no deal."
The Doctor was glaring now. "Don't you dare."
The Master glowered back. "Use my name."
The Joker emerged then, giggling. His lipstick and green eyeshadow had bled into the white and scar tissue of the rest of his face, and he carried a gun in one hand and a detonator in the other. "Hell of a, uh, fetish you, ah, got there, mmm, Mister M. You'd fit right in at, ah, Arkham."
Rolling his eyes, The Master aimed his laser screwdriver and blasted the detonator right out of the Joker's hand. The Joker squawked in indignation, but the Master silenced him with a look. Jack would have been impressed, but it was more of a foregone conclusion really.
"Gotta get my fun in other ways, then." And he shot Jack.
The Doctor folded his arms and gave the Joker his own death stare, the sort that if looks could kill would wipe out Time Lords before they had time to regenerate, much less all other more finite races. "Was that really necessary?"
"Need to see if he, ah, gets back up," The Joker mumbled, grotesquely similar to a punished child making excuses to Father.
"Don't you want me back in the ship now, Doctor?"
"If you put the cuff on, yes, Master. And then we are going to have a serious talk."
"Mmm." The Master obliged, but only after giving Jack's dead form a light kick.
The Doctor snapped the other cuff on himself. Now it would be impossible for the Master to go more than ten feet away from him in all places other than inside the TARDIS without receiving an incapacitating electric shock. He glanced at Jack and mouthed another apology before nearly shoving the Master inside the TARDIS doors.
Jack had come back to life in all sorts of situations, but on of the more startling ones was the sight of the Joker's face about two inches away, breaking into a manic grin, and immediately killing him again.
Unbeknownst to Jonathan Crane, the TARDIS was still upset at the Master for making her into a paradox machine, and mildly peeved at the Doctor for letting Jack aboard. It was in the interest of a fairly harmless prank on both of them that she tuned the screen in Crane's room to give full visual and audio of the main deck and made popcorn come out of the food cabinet.
Crane was mildly perturbed at the ship's sentience, but on the scale of surprises this was definitely on the more pleasant end. He took up the popcorn – in a carnival-style striped paper cone – and settled to watch.
The Doctor flung the Master into a chair and growled at him to stay put. The Master put on an expression of innocence. He had some kind of metal cuff locked around his left wrist. Crane was amazed to see anyone feel comfortable standing up to the Master, much less standing in front of him with his arms crossed as if to lecture an erring student. Crane already knew he was at the bottom of the chain of power, but he hadn't been aware the chain was quite that long, with so many steps above even Batman.
"What was the point of all this?" the Doctor asked quietly, with gritted teeth.
"I wanted a holiday."
In one swift movement the Doctor grabbed the Master by the throat and shoved him backwards against the wall, the chair teetering on its two back legs. "Don't try my patience further."
"Fine." He practically spat the word. "Big angry father-figure worried about his horny little kid. I'll tell you in plain words if you let go of me."
The Doctor relinquished, but his hands were shaking.
The Master rubbed his hands around his neck, pale red marks obvious. "It's not like he hasn't been through worse than anything the Joker could come up with."
"Sorry. Sorry." The Master paused and massaged his temples. "The plan upon escaping isn't the plan I'm going by now. I…some things changed in the past few days. What I want is for you to make a promise to do something for me."
"You don't have anything to bargain with. Batman will be able to retrieve Jack even without my help."
For once, the Master appeared regretful. "That's not the problem. The Joker knows about how special Jack is and that Batman will easily be able to find him. He's counting on it. He's using my trap for my….best enemy….to lay a trap for his."
"What would the Joker want with putting Batman in a trap? The Joker has threatened to slaughter crowds of innocent people to ensure his 'playmate' will be able to pursue him with identity and prowess intact."
"He's not intending to kill or maim Batman, Doctor. He's planning to hurt him, to shame him, to…"
The Doctor covered his mouth with his hands. "Oh no. That's just….oh no. That's like something you would do…"
The Master looked offended. "Please, I'm not that mundane."
"I'm not saying that would be your only goal, but when I was on my fifth…"
"You were entirely too pretty when you were on your fifth, and I was different then."
"The Victorian dress was to blame for that, the cravat and all…"
"Not to mention various de-aged times on the Val-"
"Can we please discuss the matter at hand?" The Master smoothed his suit and banished his fluster. "You can try to get a message to Batman and warn him – assuming he'll get the message and he'll listen to you - but leave Jack in the Joker's hands for longer, or promise to do a simple thing for me and have my full cooperation in thwarting and capturing Gotham's worst criminal."
"What is it that you want from me?"
"I want you, please, to let me use your Chameleon Arch. And I want you to drop me off somewhere entirely peaceful and uneventful, under an assumed human identity, and then take the fob watch and throw it into an ocean or somewhere equally irretrievable."
Crane had never seen anyone so flabbergasted as the Doctor at that moment, though he had no idea what the import of the Master's request actually was. "What?"
"After I help you deal with the Joker, naturally. I'd need to be myself for that."
"You hate humans! You're disgusted by them! You nearly drove them to extinction! You've always wanted power! And you expect me to…"
The Master stood and grasped the Doctor by the shoulders, staring into his eyes. "Because I had the drums, Doctor. Incessant, maddening drumming, on and on and on. Now they're gone. You took them away."
"But why would that make you want to cage yourself in a human shell and die?"
"I can feel that they're gone now!" It was nearly a sob.
The Doctor's gaze softened. "You said you knew they were. In there."
"But it wasn't so empty. I had the drums to fill up the space, loud and angry and dominating. Now there is only me. And I'm…I'm pathetic."
He sank to the floor, staring at the Doctor's red Converses. "I can only guess that you bear it because you like the apes and find solace in them. I'm alone, Doctor. With no lust to rule, no comforting insanity, there is simply one person in my head, with no connection to anyone or anything. My first few days here I tried to brutalize people, to concoct all sorts of schemes, but it was all hollow. All I felt was this great abyss in my head, echoing and cavernous and…"
"I…" The Doctor sat on the floor across from him, filled with concern.
"Please, do the multiverse a favor and stuff me into a feeble shell. Let me be inconsequential with no idea of just how inconsequential I am. Then you'll be free of me without having to kill me, and you can get back to dashing about and being the hero."
"What? Is that too much to ask? What can anyone possibly do to fix me now that I'm useless beyond repair?"
The Doctor put a hand on either side of the Master's face and whispered, "Koschei." And kissed him.
As the Master responded to the kiss, he felt waves of the Doctor's thoughts traveling into the upper reaches of his conscious mind. Why did you think I forgave you?
So I would be humiliated.
No. I do not forgive the other foes. I give them a chance, and when they turn me down, they disappear from the world. But you I spare, again, again, again.
I thought you only wanted another Time Lord.
Foolish thought. I want you. I've always wanted you. I have dreaded what you bring and fought against what you've tried, but all that while I wanted you. I had to resort to all the others because you cared more for conquest than me.
This was crackling back and forth beyond Crane's senses, but he did see the Master loosening the Doctor's tie and buttons. And the move to horizontal. And the subsequent loss of shirts on both sides.
Crane thought that a planet where people regularly, consensually sexed up their enemies, whatever the actual home of these aliens that abducted him, probably had longer life spans than Earth.
Before undressing entirely, though, the Doctor remembered the original problem and jumped up, rapidly dressing again. "Much as Jack would probably approve…"
"He thinks everyone should solve problems this way. Get dressed, please. You're coming to. Much as Jack would approve, he would probably appreciate some help, and to not be used as bait for Batman's downfall."
"If you insist."
"I do, Master."
Jack was at this point separated from several shreds of his skin, shirtless, and chained to a creaky but solid table with his hands above his head.
The Joker had been giggling evilly as was his wont, but he suddenly stopped. His hand tightened around his blade. "Oh. My. God."
"What?" Jack paused from his screaming long enough to gasp.
This time it was Jack that broke into laughter. "Sorry, was I that obvious?"
"I've been, mmm, skinning, ah, you alive and you're faking. You sick fuck."
Jack adopted a very patronizing tone. "Now, Joker, there's no need to be embarrassed. You're pretty good for a self-taught 21st century human with sociopathic tendencies and a knife. It's not your fault that I'm way better at torturing that you are, and that I've been killed repeatedly in many inventive ways by someone with 800-plus years of experience and psychic powers."
The Joker snarled, "I'll just have to, ah, pull out the big guns, mmm, early."
"Oh, please do. I'm getting a bit bored."
"Wait, waaaaait, you're just trying to get me to kill you, ah, faster, so's you can heal, yeah?"
The not-participating-properly victim nodded quickly. "Yeah. Course it is. You got me. Trying to mitigate my unbearable agony here before I lose my mind…oh, sweetheart, your erection's fading away. Need some help with that?"
"Wanna know how I got these scars, Jack?" the Joker traced a thin line of blood across the side of Jack's face.
"You don't even remember, Joker. You don't remember who you were or how you got to be the way you are. There's nothing for you but how broken you are, so you run towards the chaos with your arms wide out."
The Joker screeched inarticulately and stabbed Jack through the heart. Instead of withdrawing it after Jack died, the Joker held it there. When Jack breathed again, he died once more within seconds. After this had happened three times, Jack managed to get in one or two words per short life. "Don't....you….get…it? I…get…brought…back…with a…healed… body…but healed…mind…too…"
Finally the Joker withdrew the knife and let Jack come back properly. "You're, ah, really not as much fun, mmm, as, uh, I, uh, thought you were gonna be."
"Oh, darlin', you've made the same mistake the Master did. I'm hardly any fun to mess up. I am so much more fun to sex up. There's only so much you can force someone to do, and the rest takes skill."
And no joke, no lie, hand to God, the Joker saw Captain Jack Harkness wink at him.
Batman stalked or, if necessary, glided from rooftop to rooftop, down fire escapes and through alleys. The Batmobile was entirely too conspicuous these days. Anyway, this device was doing a good job tracking the man he was going to rescue, counting down in feet, meters, and something known as "krums" that used Greek letters instead of Arabic numerals.
About ten minutes in the search he turned the little gray box with its viewing screen over and saw that the Doctor had scribbled little bats on the back with Magic Markers, complete with speech bubbles saying "eek!" He caught himself smiling.
Now how did Captain Jack Harkness, responsible for the Earth, and the Doctor, responsible for the known universe past and present, maintain such happy-go-lucky senses of humor? The Captain had clearly gone through unimaginable horrors in his deceptively long life, and the Doctor had not only centuries of memories but also the burden of being one of the last two of his entire species. Yet between running for their lives and making the sort of tough choices lives hung on that he knew entirely too well, they could crack jokes, have flings, bounce around like excited toddlers, and find wonder and amazement in the ordinary.
Every day, Bruce Wayne felt more and more like a mask, and Batman the only face he had. Could he stop it? Could cynicism ever slide back to idealism that he ultimately did make a difference; his losses ever diminish enough that he could shrug them off instead of wrapping them around himself like an invisible and even heavier cloak?
When he heard a police siren and huddled against a wall to protect himself from those who should be his allies, he realized playing the bad guy while saving the city was taking a serious toll. It wouldn't do anybody any good if he snapped.
He finally tracked the signal to the cellar of a former crack house, its denizens long murdered, arrested, or overdosed. He used the BatScan to both visually and chemically check for trip wires, poison gas, the presence of hired goons, or any other kind of trap. He wasn't stupid.
Unfortunately, the BatScan was not attuned to alien tech. So when he finally broke down the door of the room containing the Joker and Jack, he was unprepared for the electrified force field that automatically shocked him into unconsciousness.
He awoke with ringing in his ears and the sounds of an argument. "Really? I, ah, thought this'd be your thing."
"I am only ever interested in consenting adults of whatever species they happen to be, and no, Joker, a non-sentient animal can never be considered a consenting adult, unlike what this one ex-boyfriend of mine used to say about poodles. Note the ex. So if you're not going to let him go or change your mind, please don't make me watch, and I will do many kinds of favors if you don't make me watch."
"Not a chance…Mister…space…slut. Yeah. That sounds, ah, good. That's your new nickname."
"Favors they need diagrams to explain! Favors illegal in at least one solar system about six thousand years from now!"
"Tempting, but, mm, really kinda enjoyin' the view."
"Let him go, Joker. I won't even try to escape."
That snapped Wayne back into alertness immediately. He was chained to a wall. In his underwear. His armor and cowl were stacked in a corner. Jack was chained to a table and looking more worried than Wayne thought his face could look. The Joker was staring at Wayne with his arms crossed. "Bruce Wayne. Never thought the, ah, pretty boy was up to it. Got some depth to you, eh Batsy?"
"I thought you were the last person who wanted my identity compromised," Wayne said as calmly as he could manage, given that he was chained to a goddam authentic St. Andrew's Cross like they had at the high-end BDSM clubs, making him feel the most exposed he had in his life.
"Oh, ah, I'mmm not gonna tell anybody about, ah, you and how you, mmm have all those wonderful toys to scare the, mmm, bad guys with. But after I free you I'll know where you live. Won't that make our dancing so much more thrilling?"
Wayne spoke slowly and reined in his mind from going in obvious and terrifying directions. "So you're letting both me and Jack go after you've…"
"I think I'm keeping ahold of, ah, Space-slut for a while. Have fun convincing the police that, mm, a time-travelling alien-fighting manwhore from, mmm, another dimension is being killed over and over by me."
"Much as I hate to say it, I am having trouble believing in my own existence right now," Jack agreed ruefully.
Jack's utter lack of self-preservation instinct made the prospect of him desperately bargaining to spare Wayne something all the scarier.
"But you've gotta be in condition to defend the weak, right, Batsy? It's no fun without you. So I'm not gonna break anything or stop you being able to fight, and you'll get outta here in a couple hours."
"Joker! You can pretend I'm him! You know I'd do such a better job, c'mon, you know I would, Joker, he's not gonna be able to take it, it's going to hurt him too much, c'mon…"
The Joker scratched his greasy head. "He's kinda sweet and noble in his perverted way, don'tcha think?"
That was when a very welcome thrum-wheeze and shimmer of crystallizing phone booth appeared. "No!" shouted the Joker, whipping out a knife. "Go away in your box!"
The door opened and the Doctor held out his Sonic Screwdriver. It lit up and buzzed. "I'll give you a choice, Joker."
The Master appeared beside him and sighed heavily. "Do you always have to do that? It's so rote and tedious, and he's obviously going to turn you down."
"You never know. One of the times I had you locked in the TARDIS I was visiting the Library – you know, that planet-wide one - and it was infested by Vashta Nerada, and I told the colony hive-mind to look me up in the histories. It simply left the place without further violence."
"Go away or I'll kill Bruce Wayne!"
The Master continued as if the Joker didn't have a knife to Wayne's throat. "Really? Hm. I don't concede the point, but I am mildly impressed. I'll give it to you if you get a Judoon to back off, they're so pig-headed."
"I think you mean rhino-headed. Besides, it's how I know I'm better than you."
"Alien guys! Hello! Hostage here!"
Jack noticed the two Time Lords were holding hands. "Aw, you two finally broke the tension, though Doctor, I really think you should consider interspecies dating. Not me, obviously, but I mean, Martha's devoted to you and not a crazy mass murderer…"
The Doctor smiled with a hint of regret and apology, and it said everything that needed saying.
"Joker, you can stop this now and turn yourself in to a psychiatric facility. We can take you to one other than Arkham since that place seems rather poorly run. Otherwise I'll…" he received an elbow in the side from the Master, "we'll have to stop you."
"I've, uh, got Bruce Wayne a couple centimeters from, ah, death here! Don't you care?"
The Master spoke up. "As if you would, Joker. If there's one thing you'll never do, it will be to kill your sparring partner and the only one who could be a match for you. Otherwise there's no point. So stop bluffing, little clown. It's over."
"And," the Doctor added quietly, "I unlocked both your hostages."
Wayne punched the Joker so hard his head bled when it hit the floor, knocked out but definitely alive. He then dashed to his costume and started putting it on with almost frantic haste. Jack got up, rubbed his wrists, gathered his shirt and coat, and knelt by Wayne's side. "Hey, it's all right son."
"I'm glad I never have to look at you gentlemen in the face ever again," Wayne muttered.
"The Master forcibly aged the Doctor and made him live in a doghouse for a year. I still look up to him."
Wayne wiped away something that Jack was willing to deny under oath was a tear. "Uh, and so why are they holding hands now?"
Jack shrugged and gave his best comforting smile. "Kinkier than they'd admit?"
Meanwhile, the Doctor was crouched over the Joker, fingers to his temples. "They teach you that when you were President?" the Master asked quietly.
"The Incarceration Coma? No, I was never in office long enough to gain access to the Non-Forbidden Books of Rassilon – that does sound a bit stupid when you translate it, doesn't it?"
"Maybe we shouldn't keep the bad habit of English all the time. It's inadequate for discussing paradoxical-future-possibility tense, among other things. So how'd you learn it?"
"Got old Borusa drunk, way back. Before that incident with all the versions of me working together and you constantly switching sides."
The Master put his chin in his hand and sighed. "Simpler times."
"It's funny, but yeah, they were."
"What's an Incarceration Coma, Doctor? And can I have a word with you in private?"
"Only within ten feet of the Master, Jack, I don't want to electrocute him." The Doctor looked Jack up and down. "Would you like me to get your coat cleaned? Ianto must be tired of steaming your blood out."
"That'd be nice, thanks. I'm glad you're still not really trusting the Master."
"He's gotten less gullible over the years," the Master explained.
"The Incarceration Coma may be used in cases where the death penalty is not considered just, due to insanity or other mitigating circumstances, but the prisoner is considered such a threat to society that being conscious in prison is considered too dangerous. It is very rarely used. The Incarceration Coma may only be broken if a password is spoken into the prisoner's ear. I am giving you the password, Batman. You decide when, if ever, the Joker wakes up."
"Thank you, Doctor," Wayne said, now mostly clothed. He needed a little help with the shoulders, which Jack gave.
"So can we have our chat, now, please?" Jack asked the Doctor once Batman only needed to pull on his gauntlets.
"All right. Stay in here, please, Master." The Doctor and Jack stepped outside.
"So you're the horrific psychopath who is in love with the hero who keeps stopping you?" Batman asked.
The Master folded his arms behind his back and rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet. "I would say that I've learned to stay with the only life-form aware of me that wants me better rather than dead. And there's only so much you can get out of forcing people to do things."
"The Doctor's a great man. If I ever see you again without him close by, I will do whatever I can to destroy you."
This was met by a snarky grin. "It would be entertaining to see that, but it's not going to happen."
The Doctor and Jack returned. "I think you're quite reasonable, and I'm sorry I can't make it up to you except symbolically," the Doctor was saying.
"It's okay." Then, without pause or change in speed, Jack swiftly grabbed the Master by the necktie and punched him in the face.
The Master would have retaliated, but he had to put his hands up to stop the blood. "The Freak broke my nose!" came the muffled words.
"You deserve a whole lot worse, my dear, but because things are how they are, you're getting what you need instead. I'll fix you up in the med bay. Don't sulk." He scooted over to Batman's side and whispered the password in his ear.
"That's a good one. Nobody will ever say that to him by accident. Goodbye, Doctor," Batman said. "I'll tip the police and an ambulance about the Joker. Thank you for…being so…decent…Jack."
Jack gave him a salute. The Doctor shook his hand. "You do a brilliant job, Batman, and it should get a little easier for you here on out."
"I'm BLEEDING!" the stricken one yelled from inside the TARDIS.
As the TARDIS dematerialized, Batman wondered what the Doctor meant, "a little easier for you here on out."
"So our mysterious visitors have left, sir?"
"Yes, Alfred, and they managed to incapacitate the Joker for the time being. He's in a psychically-induced coma he will only wake from if someone whispers the words 'Bruce Wayne forgives you, Joker,' into his ear."
"Ah. If you don't mind my asking, Master Bruce, do you think such a thing is likely ever to occur?"
"It's not likely, but after what we've seen in the past two weeks I'm reluctant to call anything impossible."
"Speaking of which, sir, have you seen today's paper? There is a headline I thought would interest you."
It read: Terrorist Calling Himself "The Master" Implicated in Gotham Police Slayings. The subtitle was: Re-examined evidence clears the Batman of murder charges.
"They're even rebuilding the Bat Signal, sir."
A slow smile spread across Bruce Wayne's face. "I must say, for all the trouble he brought, it can be lucky to have a friend who both has a time machine and owes you a favor."
The Doctor turned off the TARDIS monitors, satisfied. "Thank you for playing the bad guy, though I don't think it was a tremendous stretch."
The Master lounged on the one chair in the control room, slowly taking off his tie. "You feel Batman's been repaid adequately?"
"Yes. I'm setting us off for our universe…" the Doctor pressed some buttons and pulled the lever, "and I'll be able to close the breach you made before the wake cycle is out."
"Now you owe me something."
The Doctor turned around, eyebrows raised and the beginnings of a grin. "Do I now?"
The Master rose, wound his hand around the Doctor's tie, and dragged in the direction of any empty bedroom they were likely to come upon first. "Yes."
The only surprising thing, really, was that the Doctor was by far the hungrier of the two.
"Are you going to ever let me go outside without this cuff on?"
"If you don't attempt escape, murder, or conquest in the next hundred years, I will consider it. But I don't think either of us is going to want to leave the TARDIS for at least five years, not with so much to do in here…"
"You have a very unusually large number of helpful gadgets and toys for someone who claims not to have been shagging his humans, Doctor."
"Romana traveled with me for ages, and you need to learn not to look a gift horse in the mouth, Master – oooh!"
"Yes, that's…good, good yes…Doctor, Doctor…you know, this would be better if the Freak wasn't on board, I keep thinking he's listening in…"
"He wanted to say goodbye to Jonathan before we dropped them off their separate ways, and in any case why do you think he would want to listen in on you? Your sickened feeling at him is mutual. And that's not paying your undivided attention to me, is it? You're going to have to make up for that, Master."
"Aren't you worried the Master is onto you?" Jonathan asked nervously, though no matter the contingency it was difficult to be nervous in Jack Harkness' arms, one of the most reassuring places in the solar system if he was kindly disposed at the moment.
Jack switched the speaker off. "I just wanted to make sure the Doctor will be happy. Now that I know I can leave them alone."
"You interested in another round, Blue Eyes?"
"Not really, if it's okay. I'm a bit tired."
"That's perfectly fine. I just wanted to make up for wiping your memory that first time."
"You've made it up, don't worry."
They lay curled together in silence for a while. "I'm sorry for killing you."
"You apologized before you knew it was me."
"Does that make a difference?"
"It's why the Doctor agreed you deserved to be marooned somewhere pleasant where they could treat your schizophrenia way better than anyone in your time. That's what he does when he considers you redeemable."
"What if I wasn't considered redeemable?"
"He left the Joker's fate up to Batman. Let him take the call."
Jonathan squirmed a little and shifted position. "Could I…" he swallowed.
"Yes? Don't worry; I'm not here to judge you."
"Could I maybe go with you? Instead of that planet?"
"No, cutie. No. But I can promise you that everything will be better for you than it would have been back there."
There had been a breach in the fabric of reality, and in its closing many things were made whole.
The madman slept, freeing the city of his shadow and himself from himself, his hospital room paid anonymously by the richest man in the city.
The penitent found a new home in the stars and left behind the sackcloth of his past, his need to hurt and terrify.
The reluctant immortal savored the sweetness of promised, if far-off death.
The love-turned-hate of two ancient foes warped back in on itself into companionship against overpowering loss. The Master, for once, submitted. The Doctor, for once, was healed.
The dark knight was reminded of day. The hunter ceased to be hunted.
Not bad at all for just a deck of cards.