Clark has never been afraid of the dark. How could he be, with the ability to summon beams of light from his eyes on a whim?
As a child he never called out for Martha Kent to come hold him, for Jonathan Kent to come defend him against the monsters of the night. He cried for many other reasons, of course. He was only a child after all, no matter what powers the yellow sun gave him. But the dark was never his tormentor. It was always Bruce Wayne's.
Clark Kent knew Bruce Wayne more than anyone else in the world, he thinks. Oh Bruce liked to put up a good front (like stone , the man was) but he was only a man; he wanted to be known, to be seen, to be less lonely in the world. That was all he ever really wanted, Clark believes. He lost so much so early- how could he not go through the world looking for someone to look back at him?
But now- now-
Clark just wishes he looked a bit harder. A little bit longer.
But he was never the World's Greatest Detective. He never knew to look.
Gotham is not the same without its Dark Knight slinking through her shadows. She is harsher somehow- the dark of the night is deeper now, more impenetrable and all-consuming. It may be worse now, looking at all that dark and realizing with a cold cramp in the pit of his stomach that he may very well never see one shadow detach from the others in the swirl of a cape and a dramatic flourish again.
He has never been scared of the dark. But now he loathes it.
The dark used to be a calling card for the best friend Clark ever had; now, it is only a stark reminder. The dark is unforgiving.
Clark longs for the shining lights of Metropolis. Somehow even the electric lights seem dimmer here.
But Clark can't seem to let himself lift off the rooftop he has found his feet glued to. He's out by the pier, miles away from his home and Bruce's. He doesn't know why he thought the salty air might clear his head. He wants to leave, he wants to go home, he wants to go see Bruce-
He can never see Bruce again. Robin had told him that three weeks ago, and a Robin never lied. Clark had seen all of them there today- everyone was in attendance. For a man who felt so alone, Bruce had built up quite a large family of orphans.
Clark has a feeling that if he had approached that solemn, solitary figure at the edge of the cemetery today he would have been met with the grieving, hard eyes of Jason Todd.
It is in moments like these that Clark needs to realize that the dark was never just for Batman; the dark was always a double agent. Clark would do well to remember that, he admonishes himself, when the flash of movement at the other end of the rooftop almost takes him by surprise.
He reacts quickly though, torn from his contemplation of the city's skyline and his mourning, and throws himself upward to float easily into the night.
"Who is there?" He booms, throwing all of his authority behind it. He learned that from Bruce, he remembers, and a pang resounds in his chest. "Show yourself."
Clark holds his position for a moment, toying with the idea of x-raying his surroundings. Hardly has the thought crossed his mind, however, when he is sent crashing back to the ground.
Something green and sickeningly bright shines through the gloom.
A hysterical laugh pierced the silence Clark once thought of as peaceful.
He needs to remember that although the Batman of Gotham is gone, her villains are anything but.
"What's this, my sweets," a cheerful voice calls. "Not a cat, not a bat, but a big bad super-rat!"
The Joker steps into the pale light the lamp posts throw up onto the roof. He walks with an almost casual grace, tossing a chunk of what could only be kryptonite between his pallid hands. His Glasgow smile is in full attendance, and his eyes are- are much too wide.
But all that is not why Clark almost blanches.
This is the worst he has ever seen the Joker look. Never mind the ridiculous purple and green suit, the long hair and the smile- all of those are some strange semblance of normal.
No, no, what Clark sees behind his eyes is the worst thing he's seen in a long time. Maybe ever.
"A big bad super-rat, but not as big and bad as my Bat, ha-ha-HA." Joker screams at him, and Clark does not flinch back from the rage in his voice. It is the grief in his eyes, the way his hair is mussed more than usual, his suit ripped and rumpled, it is the tear tracks in the Joker's makeup that make Clark recoil.
"HA-HA-HA," The Joker howls, and throws himself forward. Clark reacts in time, reaching out to grip his wrists (The Joker is gangly and stick thin but by God where there's a will there's a way and his strength is close to superhuman) and toss him to the side. The proximity of the kryptonite burns at Clark's flesh.
"Joker," Clark calls over the mad clown's continued wailing laughter, "I- I'm glad I found you."
"Oh no-no-no-NO, super-rat," Joker exclaims, giggling. "I found you, or do you not remember? The only one who can find me is the Bat. Not even his little kitten could find me when I didn't want her to, and she's ever so bor ing to play with these days. No spark, you see. Not like my knight in not-so-shining armor."
The Joker throws himself at Superman again, fingers transformed into claws. His nails aren't as jagged as Clark has seen them before; instead they're nibbled down to the quick, like the Joker has been nervous about something and hasn't realized the bad habit he's slipped into.
Clark sidesteps again, letting the Joker run himself ragged. He wonders how he got into this situation. He wonders what the Joker could possibly think he's doing. He wonders why the Joker looks like a stumbling drunk, limbs too ungainly and torso slumping haphazardly against the ledge he'd unintentionally thrown himself into. He wonders what Bruce would say.
Clark's heart squeezes uncomfortably.
"Joker, you have to stop this." Clark pushes himself back- he's ashamed to say he's ready to take to his heels, but he hadn't thought of the possibility that the Joker could get his hands on some kryptonite. He's assumed that since only Luthor had any in Metropolis it was relatively hard to find and even harder to pay for.
But then, Bruce did always tell him not to underestimate the clown prince of crime.
Bruce had also told him once that there was no shame in taking a moment to plan an attack rather than push into a losing battle. Not that he had ever taken his own advice.
"Oh?" The Joker tips forward. His grin is more of a grimace now. His lipstick has been applied poorly, the lines shaky and even more uneven than usual. He seems to have given up halfway through his eyeshadow.
"Stop what, boy scout?" He tries to flutter his lashes but seems to lose interest quickly. "Not interested in my advances?"
He shuffles around again, gauging Clark, likely looking for an opening. He's broadcasting his movements too much, not trying to play this like a chess game, trying to manipulate or trick or get the upper hand. He hasn't even mentioned the deadly rock he still clutches in one gloved palm. His other palm is bare and scrapped up, the fingertips blue with cold.
"You're tearing these streets apart, Joker," Clark says and wonders if the Joker even remembers doing it. "The death toll is into the hundreds- you have to know you'll be stopped, even if Batman isn't around to arrest you."
"NO," The Joker screeches at him then and the grief and rage Clark has only caught glimpses of pour out of him like a river. "NO NO NO! YOU DON'T STOP ME."
Clark puts up his hands, palms out, and readies himself to do the undignified. Another trick Bruce taught him- never be afraid to simply rugby tackle your problems until they go away or you beat them into submission.
Bruce taught him a lot of violent lessons.
"NO NO NO! You don't take me!" The Joker cups his hands around the kryptonite now and before Clark can blink, starts to tear it apart. For one brief moment time slows down as Clark stares on in bewilderment.
Then the Joker takes the pebbles he's broken off the rock and starts chucking them at Superman.
It's enough to throw Superman off his rhythm. He blinks in surprise for a moment before hissing and drawing back as the first toss arcs into the "S" on his chest. It burns where it hit, a little sizzling hole in his uniform.
One of the non-violent lessons Bruce taught him: how to sew his costume back together again. Clark's eyes are burning and he knows its a lie when he tells himself it's the kryptonite.
The Joker is still raging, his throwing arm getting worse and worse. Tears are coursing down his cheeks, but he still giggles between shouts.
"He takes me," The Joker rants with feverish intensity, "He takes me and no one else. We were made for each other! "
He's not even hitting Clark at this point and pretty soon, he's going to run out. Bruce would tell Superman to stay quiet, that even surrounded by tiny bits of kryptonite and faced with a raving lunatic Clark's sheer mass and the advantage of being in his right mind would give him the high ground. Bruce would let the Joker rant until he's sick and then shove him back into his hole in Arkham.
Clark can't resist opening his mouth.
"I can't let you keep planting these bombs, Joker. And I can't just walk away because you don't like that I'm the one to take you in." He pauses, and then gently, "He wouldn't want me to."
The Joker cuts his own yell off with a strange, drawn out gurgle then. He stares, wild-eyed, at Superman. His hands fall limply to his sides. He doesn't seem to realize that he's still crying, chest heaving with sobs.
And then, he shrieks. Clark watches, horror growing in his chest (something is rotten in the state of Gotham he thinks, and almost snorts, chest wrenching for the hundredth time that night. Bruce would have thought that was funny).
The Joker tips his head back, lets the tears run through his white greasepaint and down his jaw, his neck, into his collar. He opens his mouth wide, wide, too wide, and screams at the heavens.
The moon stares down at them, full and shining. Impassive. Unimpressed. It reminds Clark of Bruce. Everything reminds him of Bruce. He probably has that in common with the Joker right about now.
The Joker runs out of breath when Clark is halfway across the roof to him. Clark freezes for a moment, unused to being uncertain. Say what you like about Luthor, at least he is semi-stable. How did Bruce deal with all these insane patients every day?
"It was supposed to bring him back you know," the Joker says, almost conversationally. He's still listing like a drunk, seeming too distressed to keep up the polished clown prince image.
"Murdering hundreds of people would bring Batman back from- back to you?" Clark asks, daring to inch forward. The Joker watches him dully.
"Yes, of course," the Joker says, and he isn't laughing anymore. His face is slack, void of emotion, but his eyes- his eyes are still stormy. He spreads his arms out, hands hanging limply from his wrists and indicates Gotham spread out behind them. "If I pile the bodies high enough he'll come back. He always comes back."
The Joker lets his head loll to a disturbing angle. His hair hangs in his face but his eyes are bright beneath the greasy curtain. He hasn't blinked.
"He'll claw his way back from hell if he has to," the Joker tells him seriously and Clark feels like retching.
"Senseless violence won't bring Batman back, Joker." He's within a few feet of him now.
"Oh, but there are so many more ideas I haven't tested yet!" The Joker grins suddenly. He hasn't stopped crying. "There are so many little birdies still flying around, just waiting for their wings to be clipped. A cat or two that needs skinning."
He spins on his heels and ducks low over the ledge, laughing down at the destruction he has wrought in the wake of terrible sadness.
"Even," Joker looks at him over his shoulder slyly, "A super-rat to catch."
Clark snaps forward and draws the Joker to him. He wraps arms like bands of steel around the man and holds on tight. "No more Joker. He's not coming back."
The Joker, for whatever reason, does not struggle much. When his limbs stop flailing uselessly he thumps his head back against Superman's shoulder once, twice, three times.
"I love him," he whispers and the bottom of Clark's stomach drops out. "Doesn't he know?"
"He knew," Clark whispers back. They both look out at Gotham for one long moment. The darkness is receding but Clark doesn't feel any better with the approaching of the light. "I think he always knew."
"Then why won't he come back?"
"I'm sorry," Clark says and God, he really, really is.