It was a shitty day, which suited his shitty mood. Bruce knew going over his finances at the bank was important, but it just seemed so banal when compared with everything else he normally did. This sort of thing was supposed to be taken care of by the guys in accounting, and usually it was. Except once every few months, normally no more than twice a year, Bruce felt obligated to go and check the numbers himself. He trusted everyone at his company, and he especially trusted Lucius to keep a sharp, close eye on things. Still, he'd rather be put out twice a year than suddenly find himself suing an employee for larceny or fraud.
So there he was, sitting at a table in a back room, going over the records of his company for the past few months. A bank employee was stationed outside the doorway, guaranteeing Bruce some privacy. That was why he liked this bank—they were formal and efficient while still managing to be polite. Most banks could provide only one of the three.
The room wasn't sound-proofed, and so the unmistakable sound of a gunshot was quite clear when it echoed through the building. Bruce's head snapped up, and he looked towards the door before quickly stuffing all of the papers in a haphazard mess back into his lockbox. He locked it securely, satisfied that his records were safe, and then moved towards the door. The guard still hadn't done anything, and Bruce hadn't heard any more gunshots.
He was just beginning to think that he was becoming the slightest bit paranoid when the door opened. Bruce stilled, about three feet away from the door, and watched as a man in a clown mask appeared. He knew he had only two options then. Attack the man and try to get away or go along willingly and learn more about the situation.
"Come on, let's go, pal," the man said. He leaned forward and grabbed Bruce, pulling him by his suit jacket out of the room. Bruce didn't resist at all. He simply allowed the man to pull him and was herded into the main lobby of the bank, where all of the customers were sitting on the floor, huddled together in small groups. Several men in clown masks were standing around the room, pointing guns at the hostages.
Bruce had only enough time to wonder where the Joker was before he appeared, cackling like always. He strolled in through the front door and then gestured to one of his men. The guy, who was wearing a mask just like every other minion there, ran forward with a chain and began padlocking the door. Two other men helped him, and when they were finished, the three of them stood next to the doors with their guns pointed at various hostages around the room. There were eleven other men in the room—all of them had their guns ready, and all of them were positioned next to doors or stairways or computers.
Bruce surveyed all of this with a glance. He knew he would be able to take these guys out without a problem if he had been Batman. As it was, he didn't have all of his equipment with him. He would never be able to move fast enough to take out fourteen guys and deal with whatever game the Joker had set up before any of the hostages were shot at.
"Ladies and gentleme-nuh," the Joker said, grandly. "Please, feel free to sit dow-nuh. We're going to be here for a little while."
"What do you want?" a man sitting along the far wall asked.
The Joker pursed his lips and then licked them. He opened his mouth, let it hang open for a few seconds, and then said, "I want you all to si-tuh there like the good… little… law-abiding citizens you are."
The man swallowed. His face paled, but still he asked, "What are you planning to do?"
Bruce wished this man would be quiet. He wanted the same answers, but not at the cost of someone's life. And he had no doubts about that—if the Joker got angry, or even slightly put out, someone would die.
It looked like some other people around the man had the same idea. A woman was moving away, clutching her son to her as she slowly inched over. A man next to the one who had spoken was looking at him with wide eyes, as if to convey his thoughts to the man sitting next to him, which were no doubt about how bad of an idea it was to speak to the infamous Joker.
The Joker sucked his lower lip into his mouth and looked up at the ceiling, sliding his gaze along the sculpted white marble. "You'll know soon enough," he said, quickly and with no inflection. "In the meantime, why don't you shu-tuh u-puh?" The Joker pointed his gun at the man and fired.
Bruce watched in horror as the man was shot, a steady stream of bullets piercing into his body. The hostages near him screamed and crawled or ran to get away. Bruce knew there was nothing he could have done, but the thought of just sitting there and not trying to stop it was killing him. Still, if he drew attention to himself, he wouldn't be able to save anyone later. It was too late for that man—it wasn't too late for the rest of them.
"Now," the Joker said, letting his gun drop to point at the floor. "I know we had to get that out of the waaay, the whole threatening you to keep you in line thin-guh, but reaaally, can we move on now? I don'tuh have tha-tuh much time before he comes."
Everyone was silent. The Joker swung his head to the right, paused to look at the hostages who cringed when he saw them, and then swung his head to the left, also glancing at the hostages there. Then he smacked his lips together a few times and jumped up to sit on top of the nearest counter. There were a few hostages nearby—one woman in particular whose head was directly to the left of where the Joker's feet were now dangling. The woman whimpered and slid over a little, just a few inches, but then the Joker stuck the tip of his gun to the top of her head. Bruce grit his teeth. His fists ached to punch the Joker in his laughing face.
"Now, I don't want anyone else moving aroun-duh," the Joker said, clearly. "I didn't say it before, so there's your warning. Seeee? I can be a nice guy." He began tapping the barrel of the gun against the woman's head. "Let's jus-tuh all sit here and relax."
The Joker licked his lips and then giggled. "Now, to answer your question," and here he looked over at the dead man lying against the far wall, bleeding and staring blankly up into space, "I'm planning to blow u-puh this here ban-kuh."
A murmur started among the hostages but quickly died down. Bruce began scanning the room, looking for anything that could be rigged as an explosive. But there were too many objects that he couldn't see, and what he could see would be easy to tamper with. He knew the Joker didn't make empty threats. He didn't know what the Joker's game was, but he knew they would have to play it until the cops came. Or until he could figure out a way to take out the Joker, and all of his henchmen, without risking the lives of the other hostages.
"This is Gotham's biggest, and mos-tuh secure—" The Joker stopped abruptly, laughing. His laughter echoed around the high walls, causing most of the hostages to either cringe or shrink in on themselves. "Ban-kuh," he finally finished, spitting the word out. "If this goes, the people will lose faith in their mayor, in the government-tuh. They'll realize that they have to rely on their own abilities to protect-tuh what they value--money," the Joker said, nose wrinkling on the last word. "And maybe, maybemaybe, someone will realize that they don't need money to survive, that other things are more importan-tuh." The Joker nodded, and it seemed to Bruce that he was speaking to himself. The Joker wasn't even watching to see the reactions he got from his speech—he just was saying it.
"I think the cops are coming, boss," one of the men at the door said.
The Joker cracked his neck and then started kicking his feet against the counter. "Well, if they try to come in they'll get a surprise." The woman next to the Joker's feet started whimpering, and the Joker closed his eyes and then rolled his shoulders. "Oh, shut up." The woman bit her lower lip but was able to keep quiet. "Better," the Joker said.
The sirens that had been in the background before suddenly grew louder. The police cars were obviously coming closer, and all of the hostages were taking small, furtive glances towards the doors. The blinking lights were stopped just outside the window now, and Bruce could see police officers streaming towards the doors, ready to break in. Bruce's immediate feeling was dread. He knew the Joker, and he knew the officers wouldn't be able to come in as easily as that.
Just before the officers came close enough to touch the door, the Joker twirled a finger in the air and a car that had been illegally parked outside of the bank exploded. There were several cars parked outside of the bank—there always were, the cops tended to ignore them thanks to the fact that most of them belonged to the patrons of the bank, who were rich and powerful. But obviously the Joker had known this and set things up in advance, and Bruce watched in horror as the explosion injured several officers and civilians.
"Surprise!" the Joker shrieked, giggling. He nodded at the men guarding the door, and they unlocked the chain and opened the door just enough for the Joker to be heard as he shouted, "If anyone else comes near this building, I'm blowing u-puh the next one!" There was a distinct silence, and then the Joker said, "No one comes in or out until Batman gets here, or I kill people, got i-tuh?"
The Joker cleared his throat and then gestured at the men, who then closed and re-chained and locked the door. Bruce watched this and could only think about what the outcome would be. Obviously, Batman wouldn't be making an appearance today. When he didn't show, what would the Joker do?
It was dangerous to wait and find out, but that was all that was safe enough to do. Once again, Bruce felt the absence of his suit and it's gadgets keenly.
"So, let's all settle in and wai-tuh," the Joker said. "It shouldn't be too long."
"It's been too long."
The Joker was pacing in front of the hostages, walking the same circle over and over again. He had been muttering to himself for a few minutes before he finally spoke loud enough that Bruce could hear him.
"This is strange, very strange," the Joker continued. "He's never this la-tuh. Normally, fifteen minutes, max, he's here and ready for me. But half an hour? Forty-five minutes?" The Joker shook his head, frowning. "Something's no-tuh righ-tuh." The Joker sucked in a breath through his teeth.
The situation hadn't changed at all. They had all been sitting there forty-five minutes, waiting for Batman to show up. Unfortunately for all of them, Bruce knew that obviously wasn't going to happen. He still hadn't come up with any plan for how to get everyone out alive. He had, however, decided that the next time he saw Lucius, he was going to ask for a watch that had some sort of alarm system on it so that he could contact people in case of emergencies. Sitting there and doing nothing was killing him. But the safety of the hostages was more important than taking out the Joker.
Bruce couldn't help but wonder what the Joker would do when he never showed up. Would the Joker eventually get bored and leave? Would he start killing people in anger? Would he blow up the building to prove whatever psychotic point he was trying to prove? Bruce began looking around the area again, checking to see if anything had changed or if he had somehow missed something all the other times he had looked. But there was nothing, and he leaned his head back against the wall and tried not to draw attention to himself.
"The Batman never comes out during the day," a woman in the back muttered, too loudly. Bruce wished these people would be quiet. How was he supposed to save them if they wouldn't shut up?
A masked man pointed his gun at her. The Joker continued pacing and said, without changing his tone, "If you speak again, he'll blow your brains out."
"Maybe he's got a day job," a different masked man said, shrugging.
"Maybe he's got a day job," the Joker muttered, rolling his eyes. Then he stopped walking and looked up at the ceiling, licking his upper lip slowly. "Maybe he's got a day jo-buh."
"Well, he needs to make money somehow," a man against the right wall said, quietly.
"Hey, no talking," a masked man snapped.
"We've been here for forty-five minutes," a woman said, slowly. "Maybe he's just not coming."
Another masked man pointed his gun at her, but the Joker held up his hand. "Wai-tuh," he said. "Let's let them talk, have ourselves a little discussion-nuh." The Joker gestured to the men in clown masks and they all lowered their weapons a fraction. Bruce quickly realized that, even with the lowered weapons, he still couldn't guarantee everyone's safety. The clowns would all have to be disarmed completely before he could act. Otherwise, someone would die.
"I agree," a teenage boy said. He was wearing headphones around his neck, although the music had been turned off. "Batman's not coming."
"No, no, he's got to come," an elderly woman replied. "It's his job to protect us. To protect this city."
A man in jeans and a t-shirt scoffed. "Are you senile or something? Batman's a terrorist, no better than this lunatic." The man looked worried for a moment and then added, "No offense intended, sir."
The Joker waved a hand in the air. "People, can we get back to the day job idea? I like that one. What does Batma-nuh do when he's not saving innocen-tuh civilians from terrorists?" The Joker glanced around and pursed his lips. "Hmm? Anyone?"
There was a long, drawn-out silence before a man hesitantly offered, "Maybe he's some kind of technician?"
"How do you figure?" another man asked.
"Well, he knows how to use all those fancy gadgets he's got." The first man shrugged. "He could have some kind of technical background."
"But what?" a woman asked, waving her hand dismissively. "Unless he's some sort of government operative, no way does he have access to that kind of equipment."
"He could have stolen it," someone else interjected. "No reason to think he's got any qualms about breaking the law, considering."
"But why would he do that?" A woman who had been silent up until now shook her head. "The entire idea of a man who works for the government becoming a vigilante makes no sense. And it doesn't make any sense that he'd steal this stuff, either."
"So, what's your explanation then?" a man responded.
The woman shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe he's a millionaire." She laughed. "That would explain how he gets all his stuff. He buys it."
"No way," the guy with the headphones said. "No way does he buy all of that. Then there'd be records of it, which would link back to him, and the cops would have caught him already."
"Maybe the cops have caught him," another man said. "Maybe they already know who he is and he's working with them. Or maybe he's in custody right now and that's why he's not coming."
"Cops haven't caught him," the Joker muttered. "So, why isn't he showing u-puh?" Another pause followed, and the Joker sighed dramatically. "You lives are on the line here, people. What's the explanation?"
"Well, if he's still free to move around, he's got to be working," an elderly man said. "He probably is watching this on the news but can't get away."
"I said Batman never comes out during the daytime," a woman said, haughtily. "There's no grand explanation here. He just only works at night."
"But he's come out during the day before," a guy said.
"When?" someone else asked. "I only ever hear about him coming out at night."
"Like a bat," a girl chimed in, and her mother covered her mouth and tightened her hold on the girl. Bruce was vaguely relieved at the action. It appeared that at least one person hadn't forgotten the situation they were in.
"Well, it's not like he sleeps all day and only ever goes out as Batman," a girl in her early twenties said. "He's got to have a life."
"So then why isn't he here?" a man asked. "If he's awake and able to move about as he pleases in the daytime, why isn't he doing his job?"
"It's not his job," a woman interrupted.
"Well, he probably thinks it is," the man continued. "Otherwise, why would he be doing it?"
"What if he can't come in because the cops blocking the entrance?" a woman asked. "Or because the place is rigged with explosives?" There was a heavy silence after she spoke. "I'm just saying, he might not be able to get in."
"No, if he was here, he'd get in," a man said. "He's not waiting outside looking for permission to come in, if that's what you're trying to say."
"Okay, let's hear from some other people," the Joker said, looking at some of the people who had stayed silent up until this point. Bruce was relieved when the Joker continued to ignore him. He had no idea what he would say. "What do you thin-kuh?" the Joker asked a woman sitting with her knees curled up to her chest.
The woman flinched and said, "P-please don't h-hurt me."
The Joker rolled his eyes and replied, "I'm not going to hurt you. Well, not now, anyway. Maybe I will if you don't tell me what you thin-kuh."
The woman swallowed thickly and then said, "I th-think Batman c-can't come."
The Joker nodded thoughtfully. "And why is tha-tuh?"
The woman clutched her legs tighter to her chest. "I-I think B-Batman doesn't come out d-during the d-daytime for a reason."
The Joker frowned. "What reason would that be?"
"M-maybe he really d-does have a d-day job," she said, quietly. "If he l-left every time s-something happened, he'd g-give himself away."
"Yeah, that makes sense," a guy a few people down said. "If he leaves, and Batman shows up, and then he suddenly goes back to work after Batman leaves, well, it's pretty clear he's Batman, right?"
"Oh, yeah," another man said. "So everyone you don't see when Batman shows up could be Batman? Please."
The first guy scowled. "I didn't say that. What I'm saying is, if he's always leaving when Batman is needed, and then Batman shows up, and then he shows up after Batman leaves, then someone would figure it out. As it is now, if he only shows up at night, no one's paying any attention to him, he can go around as he pleases."
"So what you're saying is, if he comes now, he risks giving his identity away," a woman said, nodding. "Makes sense to me."
"That's no-tuh any fun," the Joker said. He turned towards the wall that Bruce was leaning against and then kneeled down and looked at the floor. "There's got to be a reason why he's not here."
The Joker slowly moved his head up, but he suddenly stopped half-way. He appeared to be still looking at the ground, but he was almost directly facing Bruce, and his eyes seemed to be fixed on a spot near Bruce. Then the Joker looked up, grinning at Bruce.
That was how Bruce figured it out. The Joker had caught a glimpse of the lower half of Bruce's face as he looked up—and he must have had some kind of photographic memory to be able to put it together. The one secret that Bruce had kept hidden flashed in the Joker's eyes—the knowledge of it making them glow with an inner light.
Bruce had to think quickly, but there was no time, there were the hostages to think about, and the Joker was already jumping up and walking towards him, slowly, giggling as he moved.
"What's your name?" the Joker asked, grin so wide his teeth threatened to fall out of his face.
Bruce grit his teeth. "Bruce Wayne," he said, shortly. "What's your name?"
Several people gasped and even more people were giving Bruce side-long looks. He figured everyone thought he must be crazy to talk back to the Joker, but that was a bit hypocritical considering they had just been happily bantering with him not five minutes ago.
The Joker bit his lower lip and said, "So, what do you do for a living, Bruce Way-nuh?"
Bruce quickly glanced around the room, trying to see if there was a way he could use this proximity to his advantage. "I'm a businessman," he said, being intentionally vague. His eyes still scanned the room, but the masked men were still holding onto the guns, and the number of hostages was just too many to risk.
"Don't look at them!" the Joker shouted, growling. He bent his knees so that he was balancing on the balls of his feet, eye-level with Bruce, and then he grabbed Bruce's chin and jerked his head until Bruce made eye contact with him. "Look at me," the Joker hissed, quietly.
Bruce let the Joker manhandle him, knowing that he was playing a very dangerous game. He couldn't give away his identity as Batman, and the Joker knew it, too. But he also couldn't stand the thought of giving in to the Joker's demands too easily. Then again, if he really began antagonizing the Joker, the other hostages might start to wonder why he wasn't going along with what the Joker wanted… and that might lead them to the idea that Bruce Wayne could be Batman, which was the worst possible outcome for him.
"I am," Bruce replied in a steady tone. "What do you want from me?"
The Joker grinned and licked his lips, slowly, running his tongue along them for far too long. "You are just too much," he whispered. "Sitting here, acting like nothing's wrong…" The Joker trailed off and then grinned. "What are you planning, hm?" he asked, quietly. "What are you planning?"
Bruce maintained eye contact with the Joker but remained silent. There was nothing he could say, even if he wanted to respond, which he didn't. After all, he couldn't let the Joker know he had no plans to save everyone. Maybe if the Joker thought he had set something up, then he could negotiate to release the hostages… or a few of them, anyway. But that meant he needed to figure out some kind of feasible plan, and so far, nothing.
The Joker gasped and bit his lower lip, which Bruce couldn't help but notice he was doing a lot. "You don't have a plan, do you," he said, stating it rather than asking. "You were just hoping to keep quiet until the cops could get i-nuh." The Joker nodded to himself. "You can't fight me today, that's why you were sitting here like a goo-duh little boy."
Bruce clenched his jaw. "Would you mind letting go of me?"
The Joker's hand tightened on his chin. "I had a plan today. A good one," the Joker said, and he sounded more than a little disappointed. "And you were supposed to come. But you messed it all up, and now what am I going to do? Hm? Now what shoul-duh I do?"
There were a few seconds where all Bruce was doing was staring into the Joker's eyes. They were too clear. Bruce figured crazy people should have crazy-looking eyes, but the Joker's eyes just seemed like they caught too much. There were times when Bruce wondered just how crazy the Joker was, and how much of it was an act, and how much of it was just intelligence used badly.
Then Bruce realized that the question hadn't been rhetorical, that the Joker had wanted an actual answer. So Bruce gave him the first thing that came to mind, which was the only answer he could have given him.
"Let these people go," he said, quietly but with force. "You and your men leave, and you don't detonate the explosives."
"Why?" the Joker hissed, dragging Bruce's face so close to his own there were just inches between them. "Why should I do that? Just because you can't sto-puh me?"
Bruce felt the Joker's hand loosen a bit on his jaw, and he wondered what it was the Joker was looking for. "No," he whispered. "Because I can't fight you today." The Joker stiffened a bit and Bruce knew he was on the right track. "That's what you want, right? Me to fight you. But I'm not going to in this situation, you know that. So let everyone go."
The Joker pursed his lips. "Are you coming out tonigh-tuh?"
Bruce was still holding the Joker's gaze, but it was uncomfortable now, like it meant something else that it hadn't before. "Yes," he said, breathing the word out on a whisper.
The Joker grinned and then leaned forward and kissed him, forcing Bruce's mouth to meet his own. Bruce tried to pull his head away, but the Joker's grip on his chin was still strong, and the Joker had moved his other hand to the back of Bruce's head, fingers twisting in his hair. The Joker's lips were chapped and rough, and Bruce didn't know what he should do. Were the hostages lives worth rejecting one kiss? He had dealt with sitting around doing nothing. At least this conversation seemed to be convincing the Joker. If it took kissing him to get him to leave…
And there was another part of Bruce, the same part of him that he connected with every night when he put on his suit, that wanted this. That had been wanting this ever since he had first met the damn Joker and realized that there was no one else who could give him what he wanted.
So Bruce reached a hand around to the back of the Joker's head and grabbed a fistful of his hair. The Joker made a sound, low and deep in his throat, and when Bruce pulled the Joker's head back and took control of the kiss, the Joker moaned.
Bruce licked the Joker's lips and then shoved his tongue inside of the Joker's mouth. The Joker swallowed convulsively and relaxed, letting his grip of Bruce's chin slacken. Bruce ran his tongue along the sides of the Joker's mouth and pushed against the Joker's own tongue, surprised at both of their willingness to continue.
That was the thought that had Bruce pulling back, separating himself from the Joker. There was no way he actually wanted this. This was only because he was convincing the Joker to leave and let the hostages go, and he was willing to go to any lengths to do that. There was nothing more to it than that.
The Joker opened his eyes and swallowed. He opened his mouth to say something, and then closed it again without a word. He got up, letting go of Bruce, and walked away. Bruce felt the eyes of both the hostages and the clowns on him, but he ignored it. A little embarrassment was worth freeing these people.
"Batman's no-tuh coming," the Joker said quickly.
"How do you know?" a masked man asked.
The Joker looked at the man and the man quickly looked away. "I know."
"Oh," the clown said. He shifted from foot to foot and then asked, "So, are we still going to blow the place up?"
The Joker rolled his eyes to the ceiling and shook his head. "No, I can't blow the place up now."
The clown paused for a second before asking, "Why not?"
"Because I can't," the Joker said. He lifted his gun and shot the masked man who had clearly asked one too many questions. "Any other questions?" The silence was profound. "Good. Then, let's be off."
The Joker motioned to the men in clown masks that were guarding the doors. They unlocked the doors and opened them, and the Joker walked towards the doors. All of the other masked men followed along behind him. They streamed through the doors quickly, and the Joker waited until every one of them had left before he took one last glance back at Bruce, giggled and rolled his eyes, and then left.
Outside, there was utter pandemonium. Most of the clowns got away, but a few were caught and handcuffed. The Joker was nowhere to be found, of course, having disappeared as soon as he could. That was his talent, Bruce thought. Being able to come and go as he pleased.
The hostages began standing up, one by one, and when cops started coming in and taking statements, almost everyone began pointing at Bruce and making wild gesticulations. Bruce waited until a police officer came over to ask him what had happened, and when the officer finally said that everyone saw him kissing the Joker, Bruce said the Joker had forced himself on him.
"Well, we have several witnesses who say they saw you kissing him back," the officer said, clearly wishing he was doing anything else other than asking Bruce Wayne if he had a thing for the Joker.
Bruce shrugged. "He said he would kill a hostage if I didn't respond. I didn't think someone's life was worth it," he said, flatly.
The officer looked relieved. "Oh, thank God," he muttered. "Well, that's all for now. We'll call you if we've got any more questions."
"Let's hope you don't," Bruce said.
Bruce licked his lower lip once the officer left and then reached up and touched his upper lip. His finger came away blood red. He smirked and then shook his head.