Bruce sat atop his Batpod, staring out at the darkened city. Waiting. Watching.
All over Gotham, people were panicking. With the Joker's announcement that he would rule over all of Gotham before the next morning, people were scrambling to escape the city. Unfortunately, per the Joker's warning that all bridges and tunnels were rigged with explosives, all exits were blocked by the police and even the army. Well, almost all exits.
One ferry filled with the first civilians to buy available tickets, was already halfway out the harbour as Bruce waited. An almost identical ship was not far behind, filled with all the prisoners Gordon and Dent put away in prison; Gordon was taking no chances that the Joker might be using any of those prisoners as part of his plan.
But Bruce couldn't shake the feeling that even this was all part of the Joker's plan somehow. The criminal had proven time and time again that he was unpredictable. And he either had the mind of a genius that was fully prepared to execute a devastating plan depending on whatever scenario played out or he had the mind of a prodigy that could quickly whip up a new plan and execute it if things played out differently from the way he imagined. It was this distrust that had Bruce listening out for the communications on the ferries even as he waited for Lucius to locate the Joker.
It turned out his gut impulse was right. Just as the ferries reached the edge of the harbour, Bruce started hearing urgent calls and requests for backup onboard the ferries.
"Fox," Bruce murmured into his comm unit. "There's something going on with the ferries."
Bruce heard Lucius tap away as he focused on the ferries - if something was going awry, they could bet the Joker would make an announcement soon. And as they predicted, the drama began.
"Tonight," the Joker's voice called over the speakers on both ferries. "You're all going to be part of a social experiment. Through the magic of diesel fuel and ammonium nitrate, I'm ready right now to blow you all sky high. "
"Liberty, come in, over." Bruce heard the captain on one of the ferries say tersely but it was clear that communications between the ferries and communications to the mainland had all been cut. Each ferry was on their own.
"Anyone attempts to get off their boat… you all die."
"I'm zeroing in." Lucius reported to Bruce as the Joker continued.
"Each of you has a remote to blow up the other boat."
"The voice is on the ferry..." Lucius reported slowly as he tracked the Joker intently. "But… it's not the source… West!"
Bruce immediately took off, heading for the west side of the city. At the same time, he dialed Gordon.
"I have the Joker's location." Bruce informed the instant Gordon answered. "Prewitt building. Assemble on the building opposite."
Bruce's jaw tightened at the question but he answered without inflection.
"She'll be wherever the Joker is."
"How can you be sure?"
Bruce didn't answer Gordon's question. Instead, he cut off while the Joker's words from the jail cell the prior night rang in his mind.
"You know, I couldn't really decide which to pick first. After that party, I knew either sister worked. But then, I realized if I pick the older one, I would have a fair shot at figuring out if you were Dent or not. Didn't quite work the way I thought but hehehe-"
Inside the partially completed skyscraper, Rebecca watched with resentful eyes as the Joker continued to speak into his comm unit while reading off the script he had apparently prepared.
"At midnight, I blow you all up. If, however, one of you presses the button, I'll let that boat live. So, who's it gonna be? Harvey Dent's most wanted scumbag collection or the sweet and innocent civilians? You choose. Oh, and you might want to decide quickly because the people on the other boat may not be quite so noble."
He cut off his communication and turned around to face Rebecca.
"Oh now, don't look at me like that. You'll make me blush."
The Joker strode forward and crouched down before pulling down the rag he'd tied around Rebecca's mouth. She grimaced as the fabric rubbed harshly against her skin, leaving red marks, but she was quick to return to glaring viciously at the man before her.
"You're despicable." She spat and the Joker chuckled.
He stopped however when Rachel continued furiously, "And you're wrong, you know. People aren't like you. They're better. Your experiment is going to fail."
"Ohhhh..." The Joker pretended to be disheartened before he chuckled again, that small laugh that never reached his mad eyes. "Such faith, such hope. You don't change, do you, Miss Dawes?"
Earlier that day
After Harvey walked out of the hospital room, Rebecca was left speechless. To say she was shocked was an understatement and to say she was dismayed would be a lie.
She was terrified, pure and simple. Terrified of the devil Harvey was turning into, terrified of what this would mean for Bruce and Gordon and Gotham, and quite frankly, terrified of what was going to happen to her now.
"Ah… the frailty of man."
Rebecca tensed and she looked up at the Joker to find the man staring down at her with those unreadable eyes that just seemed to burn without end.
"He practiced and he preached. But all I do is blow up his lover and he loses his mind!" The Joker seemed to sigh with disappointment but for once Rebecca could read the victory in his gaze.
Her own eyes were filled with her hatred for the monster in front of her but the Joker was unfazed as he tilted his head to examine her almost thoughtfully.
"I wonder what he'll do if I leave you here and set off the detonator?"
Rebecca tensed while the Joker smiled sickeningly.
"Or if I cut you up into nice little cubes? Or maybe I'll string you up like a puppet, hm? What do you think? A nice little puppet with broken strings?"
"He'll catch you." Rebecca's voice was low but unwavering as she stared up at the Joker with loathing but also determination. "And he'll make sure you're put behind bars, where you belong."
"Ha!" The Joker barked a laugh. "You think if he could catch me, he'd just let me go?"
"If you think you'll be able to get him like you got Harvey, you're wrong." Rebecca hissed, her own eyes glowing with her trust. But the Joker just smiled.
"Won't I?" He twirled the gun in his hand before he placed the tip against Rebecca's lips.
She stiffened, tensing automatically in fear but she did her best not to tremble as the Joker leant in close.
"Every man has his weakness." The Joker cooed, tracing the outline of Rebecca's face with his cold gun. "A pressure point."
"And you really think he's like every other man?" Rebecca snapped, fear making her spit out something in a knee-jerk reaction.
She wished she'd kept her big mouth shut however when the Joker's smile widened maniacally.
"You want to bet, Miss Dawes?"
Rebecca really hated the way the Joker seemed to elongate her name, drawing out the middle in a chilling drawl that made her skin crawl. He clearly didn't care as he Joker leant back and pointed his pistol at her forehead.
"I will bet that by nightfall, your Commissioner Gordon will be begging to be saved. Your precious Batman will have fallen. And you, Miss Dawes, will either be dead… or wish you were. Like your sister"
Rebecca swore, she was so angry, and she jumped at the Joker. But he simply grabbed her wounded hand and twisted, making her cry out in pain before he smashed his gun against her temple and Rebecca was lost to darkness.
Rebecca and the Joker stared each other down and the Joker's lip curled.
"But like your faith in the Batman, I'll show you just how wrong you are. Just how low people will go to save their own skins."
He stood up and nodded to the person behind her. Rebecca just continued to glare at the Joker as the guard jerked the rag back over her mouth before he covered her face with a mask and hauled her away. All while the Joker continued to laugh, his eyes still burning like a wild forest fire.
Gordon strode up to stand alongside his team where the SWAT unit was waiting on the roof of the building Batman had pointed them to. Several of his team had set up snipers all along the roof edge while others were positioned and ready to enter at the earliest signal. All of them were tense and this showed in the SWAT leader's voice as he reported to Gordon.
"We found the missing hospital bus."
"Then we have a hostage situation." Gordon muttered grimly, confirming his fears aloud more for the sake of the team than himself.
He took the binoculars from one of his men and peered through to see small clusters of people in white hospital garb scattered across the various floors of the opposite building. Each group was guarded by several of Joker's armed men, identifiable by the clown masks they wore. On the lower floors, more clowns stood armed and ready, apparently just guarding exits as there were no hostages in sight. Clearly, they were all waiting but apparently not expecting Gordon's men to be on the opposite building as they held their rifles loosely at their hips or against their chests. But something about that struck Gordon as extremely odd.
"It's a shooting gallery." Gordon muttered. "Why would he choose a spot with such big windows?"
The SWAT leader shrugged before he explained the plan. "We have clear shots on five clowns. Snipers take 'em out, smash the windows, a team rappels in. A team moves in by the stairwells, two, three casualties max."
"And Dawes?" Gordon asked. The SWAT leader shook his head.
"Negative on identifying her amongst the hostages."
Gordon wilted internally; he'd hoped for better news. But, as Batman himself had said about Dent when they had raced to save him and Rachel… 'She knew the risks.'
"Let's do it." Gordon told his SWAT team, resigned to moving in. But a growling voice interrupted from behind.
"It's not that simple."
The men turned in surprise; after all, there had been absolutely no sound to announce the Batman's arrival.
The Batman didn't look that concerned by the fact that he had almost given them all heart attacks as he pointed out, "With the Joker, it never is."
Gordon gnashed his teeth together and he hissed as he strode over to the man standing in the shadows, "What's simple is that every second we don't take him, those people on the ferries get closer to blowing each other up."
"That won't happen." The Batman interrupted sternly.
Gordon threw up his hands in the air. "Then he'll blow both of them up!"
"I need five minutes alone." The Batman snarled but Gordon pushed back harshly.
"NO! There's no time!"
But the Batman pushed past Gordon, heading for the edge of the roof and Gordon snapped. Pulling his pistol, Gordon pointed the weapon at the Batman's back for the first time since the night they had first become acquainted.
"We have clear shots! Dent and Becky are in there with them, we have to save them! Save Dent!"
The Batman ignored him completely as he stood up at the edge of the roof and the mysterious man leapt off the roof as Gordon's shaking hands lowered while he cried wildly, "I have to save Dent!"
Bruce ignored Gordon completely as he swooped down toward the opposite building, his cape flaring up and keeping him afloat as he swooped in through one of the incomplete windows on one of the lower floors where there were no hostages. He kicked down one of the clowns as he arrived but Bruce frowned as the man cried out in pain as he was kicked down but didn't otherwise move. He didn't even raise his gun… and neither did any of the others who were on guard.
Bruce flipped his visor and he murmured into his comm unit, "Fox, I need picture."
"Okay, you've got P.O.V. on alpha, omni on beta." Lucius reported immediately. "Looks like clowns and hostages on three floors. The SWAT team on stairwell. Another SWAT team on the roof."
Bruce removed the sonar visor and he glanced around at the clowns who were still unmoving although they were now whimpering in oddly muffled tones as the red dots of sniper rifles moved over their faces. Bruce looked back down at the man he'd landed on and he ripped off the man's clown mask… to reveal one of the news anchors who had gone missing with the hospital bus, his mouth taped shut. And the rifle in his hand, now that Bruce could take a closer look, was taped in place.
"Fox." Bruce reported immediately. "The SWATs are targeting the wrong people. The clowns are the hostages."
As soon as Bruce reported, he could hear the SWAT team moving and something exploded at the other end of the floor he was on. Apparently, five minutes had been too long for Gordon to wait.
"Don't move." Bruce instructed the man underneath him while he flipped his sonar visor back on.
The reporter nodded while Bruce quicky fired at the clowns standing by the window. The grapples caught the clowns around the legs and Bruce tugged sharply, pulling them all down just seconds before the SWAT team fired.
Bruce meanwhile moved on, hurrying swiftly to where he could 'see' the SWAT team arriving on a group of clowns and 'hostages'. The SWAT team had already surrounded the clowns by this point, their backs to the 'hostages' - they were in danger. Bruce swept in through the darkness and he fired at one of the SWAT soldiers. The soldier looked down in confusion while Bruce launched at the clowns… taking them over the edge of the stairway. The soldier Bruce had fired his next grapple at went flying backward as he was pulled toward the stairs with Bruce and he knocked down the 'hostages' just before the Joker's men in disguise could fire their hidden rifles at the SWAT team.
Bruce meanwhile pulled the real hostages he'd carried down to the lower floor where he quickly let the clowns go as he pushed down the clowns on this new level and punched the 'hostages'. The Joker's men dropped their hidden guns at his surprise attack and Bruce quickly went to work knocking them out while the real hostages remained whimpering in terror on the ground.
Bruce looked up once he was done and he spotted a solo figure guarded by three dogs on the highest floor. Before that, two floors above him were more clowns and 'hostages'... and the SWAT team had just arrived there as well.
Bruce moved swiftly back to the stairs where he used his grappling gun and latched onto the upper floors. Retracting the grapple, he lifted himself up and onto the upper floors where he pushed down one of the clowns and punched his way through the remaining Joker's men as he had on the lower floor. One of the men managed to hang onto his gun long enough to fire but Bruce deflected the bullet at the same time that one of the clowns launched at the other man and shoved him. Knocked off balance, the man was helpless as Bruce swung over and punched him hard on the side of the head.
As the man crumpled, Bruce whirled on the clown that had helped him. The clown was sprawled on the ground but already struggling to try and get up with a determination he recognized. Bruce knelt down quickly to help them sit up while simultaneously pulling off the clown mask to reveal blue eyes framed by matted red hair.