[FIC] The Frayed Ends

Batman. Batman/Joker. R. ~1000 words. Nolanverse. Asphyxiation.

Darkness gathers into a swarm around them and Bruce doesn’t want to let the bastard take one more goddamn breath.

The Frayed Ends

“You missed me, I’m touched.”

The mask frames the very edges of Bruce’s vision as he strangles the Joker’s words to a sputtering cough.

“How many bombs did you spread around Gotham?” The harshness of his own voice grates in Bruce’s mind, and he struggles against the wavering sensation of not being in full control of himself. His grip loosens enough for Joker to suck in a quick, hiccupping breath, and he shifts his hold up under the hinge of Joker’s jaw to drive him back a half-dozen paces. Padded walls deaden the sound of the impact into a dull, unsatisfying thump. “How many?”

The sick green of fluorescent lighting steals away the shadows in the narrow cell, and Joker’s eyes are startling white in sockets darkened more by sleep deprivation than the smear of old makeup. “Tattling is for naughty little boys. You have plenty of time to find my goodies all by your lonesome. And you are lonesome, after all, here you are for playtime with me.”

“One way or another you’ll tell me what I want to know.” Gasoline pours through Bruce’s veins, stinging and potent, ready to flare up and fill the air with the meaty-crunch of shattered bones.

“What you really want to know is how it is that you and I have come to be here, so far on the opposite ends of the string and yet, our frayed ends keep getting all tangled up.” Joker’s bound hands flutter at his sides like confetti and he splits a Cheshire grin as his gaze sneaks towards the door to the cell. A lazy blink and he fixates anew on the naked, expressionless line of Bruce’s lips.

“The targets. How many?”

“Don’t you wonder? Don’t you flap your little bat-wings in a futile battle against the desire to know.” Joker struggles then, his own useless fight, and the dangling canvas straps of his straitjacket flap in the stale air. He laughs, dry as winter leaves, and his tongue swipes obscenely pink at the raw redness of his lips. “You should ask yourself instead how many men like us even exist. There are more than you’d think who stand outside of society, each of them a precious little snowflake who dances to their own tune, but we, you and I, we make such beautiful music.”

Bruce doesn’t have time for this. Gotham strains at its limits, and there’s no comfort in knowing the mastermind rots in Arkham when his psychotic playmates cavort in the streets.

“They’re afraid of you.” Joker leans forward, his throat pressing against the straining ache of Bruce’s knuckles. His breath leaks out with a whisper. “It’s a perfect comedy, isn’t it; how much they fear you when you’re so miserably predictable.”

“How many?” The skin showing through sweat-smeared paint turns ruddy. Moisture builds in Joker’s eyes.

Darkness gathers into a swarm around them and Bruce doesn’t want to let the bastard take one more goddamn breath.

“Almost had me there. Almost.” Joker lolls his head to the side gasping, mouth thinning on a wheezing laugh. The clumped strands of his hair shiver as a tremor seizes the whole of his body. A part of Bruce that’s drowning seeks to steady him, but Batman has no sympathy for murderers. “Almost had your answer, too. Our experiences are ineffable you see, and while I could put myself into your little prison of false morality and social flagellation as easily as you could give in to the freedom of mine, you’re the only one who would feel as if he’d lost something irreplaceable in the process. Can’t ever go back to being a virgin, right, Batty? But eye to eye, eye for an eye, how far will you go to save Gotham from itself?”

“As far as I need to.”

“Now that’s funny!” Joker snarls as he lunges forward, spittle flecking his lips. “You’ll never go far enough, because Gotham by the virtue of its very nature can’t be saved. The blind can’t lead the blind until mayhem tears their eyelids off. They’re chained in the cave, nothing but a flock of stumbling sacrificial lambs with their throats open to the slaughter, but the thing is, the trick is, they like it that way. The wolves keep everyone else in line, you understand, and the sun behind them is too terrifying.”

Bruce slams Joker back, knocks the wind out of him to silence him for a heartbeat or two, but he can’t tune it all out when the diatribe resumes.

“The thing they all fear the most is their own deep, dark, dirty little secret: they’re all ugly and cruel and vicious and they know it. Every last one of them has that sparkling little nugget of truth in them like a kinder toy. You’re the same, one more muddy snowflake, only while everyone else in the city is huddled on the ground and lost in the sludge, you think you’re still falling.”

“Falling,” Bruce echoes.

“All the way down, down, down.” Joker twists his head, lips smearing a lewd kiss against the blades laying flat in Bruce’s gauntlets. His eyes are fire and chaos and broken-winged birds. He slumps back with a high-pitched titter and arrogance in the jagged, bloodied curve of his mouth. Without an ounce of defeat in him, he says: “There are three little ticking tin-men all wound up and spinning in circles. You’ll find them in the places you least want to tread. Get ready for a show, Bats.

“Talk to the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, and when you’re done, when you’re ready to face yourself and be reborn, I’ll be here for you.”

*

End

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