This story is based on the "Batman: White Knight" storyline (with select bits of the sequel, "Curse of the White Knight" thrown in) with a few crucial differences.
If you want to know what those differences will be, on a basic premise-level, and WHY I decided to write this particular fic, check the note at the end of this chapter.
"What are you doing?"
"What does it look like I'm doing, Harley?" Joker growled. "I'm killing Robin."
He didn't know why she was so upset. They'd killed people before. Granted—not as many as the public believed. And never like this. Never in the cold, dank underground below the kitchen steps, where the bare bulb creaked overhead. Never Robin. But what could he say? The kid had literally stumbled into his lap. He'd taunted him, at first. Tried to think of what to do with the brat, to stick it to Batman. What would make the funniest joke.
But somehow, every death-trap, every pun, circled sourly in the pit in his stomach. He'd tied him up down here just to keep him still until… until… he didn't know what. But the more he talked, the angrier he got. At first the Robin had taunted him, and then begged, and then became stubbornly silent.
None of it was funny.
I know, Joker thought. I want to find out Batman's secret identity. That'll do.
Surely, Batman being betrayed by his very own kid would be a killer.
Too bad there was junk in the basement. A few crumbled down bricks that did better striking it in the arms, and then a rusty old pipe that looked just peachy when it swung down, casting up sprays of blood. Joker began to giggle. Everything seemed just right, as long as he could keep moving, stop thinking, stop hearing that whiny kid's voice telling him that he trusted Batman, that Batman would come save him, that Batman loved him.
But the pipe broke, and so he kicked it into the wall. There was silence, for a long moment; Joker staring straight ahead, fists clenched, mouth turned down, and the kid staring back at him behind his mask. It just. It just wasn't funny.
So he felt around in his pockets and took out a switchblade. Maybe, just maybe, if he could get a spark of real terror, it would be enough to… keep this from spiraling out of control. Make something make sense again.
He didn't actually mean to kill him.
He didn't think he meant to kill him.
But Harley seemed to think he did, and Harley knew him better than anybody (except Batman), didn't she?
"Killing a kid? Torturing him like this… oh my god… what were you thinking. What were you thinking?"
"I wasn't going to kill him," Joker said, doubtfully. She had him up against the wall. Had grabbed the switchblade from his hand, pushed him back so hard it sent a slam of pain through his back up to his shoulderblades.
"Yeah? You weren't going to kill him?" Harley shouted. "That's not what you said a minute ago."
"Well, I…" Joker hedged.
"Why? Why'd you do it? Why'd you hurt him?"
"I just wanted to know Batman's secret identity," Joker mumbled, into his shirt. That was reasonable, wasn't it? He knew how to be reasonable. He was good at that.
"Oh yeah? Oh, oh of course. Batman. It's always been Batman with you, huh? But I don't think you wanted to know what's under the mask, heck no; you coulda just taken off the kid's mask and done the math. It's something else isn't it," Harley said. "Answer me!"
Joker's eyes slip-slid around the dingy basement, his gaze getting caught on Harley's shadow spinning around the wall. She didn't usually yell at him like this. Actually… she never yelled at him like this. Not like this.
The sinking feeling got bigger. The adrenaline surge pulling back like a fist, leaving him shaking.
"Jack!" she said, eyes narrowed.
He blinked at her once, resentfully. "There's no need to bring him into this, my dear."
She actually slapped him then. Keeping the switchblade in her other hand.
"Damn you, Joker, you didn't want to know his identity. Tell me what you want."
"You were jealous of him, weren't you?" Harley spat. "Oh yeah, no one can be closer to the Bat than you are, right? Come on, tell me I'm right!"
"So what if you are?" Joker hissed. "We had a deal, Bats and I. An understanding. And now he wants to bring in outsiders…" he brought his hands up, slowly, to Harley's wrists, slowly pushed her off him, talking all the while. "This Robin. What does he have that I don't? Is it the shorts?"
Harley stepped back, chest heaving; he could see the tears glittering in her eyes, which were wide and dark. "I don't know you anymore," she said. She stepped back again, and again, holding the bloody blade in front of her like she was warding him off with it. She stepped backward up the stairs, staring him down all the while.
And then she was gone.
Joker looked around. "That's it?" He laughed a little, clutching his stomach. "Ha-ha-HAHAHA—heh. Oh kid, that's a good one, ain't it. She didn't even bother to free you."
He sat down, unable to keep on his feet any longer, wiping his eyes, which had begun to tear from laughter. "Ahh. Where were we? I think you were about to tell me something…"
The kid stared back, looking lost. Some weight seemed to have settled on his shoulders, the world seemed to drift in soft-focus. Then Robin blinked, and a tear slid down his cheek. He cried, and Joker laughed; wishing that he couldn't feel the tears on his own skin.
What a joke!
"I wish…" Robin croaked, at last.
"That you were rescued?" Joker said. "Join the club! I wish that every day but it doesn't change a thing does it?"
"I wish…" Robin repeated, his mouth a flat line.
Joker stopped laughing, and murmured, "that I would go to hell? I'd wish that if I were you."
"I wish that I'd never met Bruce Wayne," Robin said.
Joker's mouth parted. "Huh?" He got up, sidling back toward the kid, who flinched as he came near. "I'm sorry, did you say Bruce Wayne? Batman is Bruce Wayne? That's … actually that makes sense. Okay."
"So kill me, then," the kid spat. "Get it over with."
The kid. What was his name? That little thing that Brucie had adopted recently. A-ha. "Jason Todd. That's you, isn't it."
No answer, but Joker knew he was right.
"Ah… ahh. Well. I have what I want. Why should I kill you? No, I'm letting you go. Crawl back to daddy, why should I care?" He untied the ropes with a vicious jerk.
Suddenly Jason laughed harshly, almost choking on it. "Go back?" he said, wildly. "After I gave him up like this, betrayed him to you? How can I? He'd never trust me again."
"I do see how that would be a problem," Joker said, holding the coils of rope in his hand. "Listen… kid… why don't you solve both our problems, and… just leave."
Robin stood up, and stumbled; Joker caught his arm and had to duck from a swinging punch. "Hey now, I'm not trying to hurt you anymore."
"What do you mean, just leave," Jason said, thickly.
They staggered up the creaking staircase like two drunks, clutching at each other for balance.
"Just leave! Start a new life. It wouldn't be hard. Here, I'll even give you money." Joker pulled a briefcase from the corner, threw in a bunch of his own clothes and three rolls of cash. "And I'll never bother you again. It'll be like you're dead."
Jason stared down at the briefcase, holding onto the lip of the door for support. His eyes were wide, and scared.
"It's not like you have anything to lose," Joker wheedled.
Jason grabbed the briefcase.
"If I see you again, clown…" he said. "I'll kill you."
"I'll look forward to it!" Joker said, with a bright smile. He handed Jason his coat.
Jason stared at it for a long moment, the thick purple weight of it, then off into the dark emptiness of Gotham's streets. He looked back down at his blood-splattered costume and the bruises blossoming across his arms and legs, and took the coat, wrapping it around himself.
He left without looking back.
Joker sagged. He went into the bathroom, got a bucket and a mop; cleaned up the bloodstains on the steps in a daze, plunging the mop into the soapy water as though he were punching Batman on his pointy-eared head, following the trail back down the stairs, into the basement.
How did it get this real? He thought, staring at the blood as he plunged the mop down and watched the bubbles pop and disappear, spiraling the water across the dirty floor.
It was supposed to be a game, he thought.
I'm not The Joker, he thought. That's just a publicity stunt.
He wrung out the mop, mechanically.
I wouldn't really torture and kill a kid, would I? he thought.
He started laughing, grabbing onto the mop until it fell, until he tripped over the bucket and sent its contents flying out across the floor. And that's where he lay, with soapy, pink water soaking into the back of his shirt and trousers, staring at the bare bulb. I'm Jack Napier, he though. Just a kid from the country who they told to play a Supervillain.
But I did a good job, didn't I?
No one could have done a better one!
I decided to switch things around,
so everyone thinks "Joker" and "Jack" are two separate identities,
but they're not.
They're just one guy, with a bunch of master plans
and a real issue with getting in over his head.
1. This story is going to end up diverging wildly, plot-wise, from the comic.
2. The characterization is very different from the comic.
I wanted to move from the premise that everything Joker said in White Knight was true, about how he'd been an ordinary low-level criminal bullied into creating the persona of the Joker as part of a huge scheme by the people who run Arkham, who profit off of the destruction Batman causes.
In some ways this is a fix-it, for characterization issues I thought were glaring [and scenes I thought were annoying, uncomfortable, or just plain horrifying]. But it doesn't focus on other POVs besides Joker, so, though I've tried to make the plot clear, even where I've lifted directly from the comic, it might make more sense if you've read that first.
Also, because of these things — because this is an AU of what was already a pretty wild Batman AU, the characterization of Joker, Batman, Robin, Harley(s)... and the relationships between them, are going to be very different from how I normally see them as characters and how I would normally write their relationships.
3. As always, I take inspiration from a bunch of other canon, comic and animated, along the way.
The Rant (If you don't want to read a rant about the original comic and Joker characterization, feel free to skip this part)
So why did I write this?
My motivation is simple, and I feel I should come clean about it: I wasn't a huge fan of the original comic, though I did love some bits of it: the general noir vibe, the artwork, even quite a few scenes and character beats. [oh and Batgirl. She's literally the best part of the original comic, but unfortunately isn't in this fic]
What I didn't like was [a lot, but I won't get into it here] some of the implications stemming directly from the fact that the creator of the comic chose to have "Joker" (Joker) and "Jack" (sane Joker) be two different identities, Two-Face style. Normal ordinary Jack has an actually pretty lovely romance with Harley, & Joker loves Batman; but after Joker becomes sane and calls himself Jack, the comic waffles around about whether he actually *did* love Batman. Ultimately, in the sequel comic, it becomes clear that "Joker" as written is capable of nothing more than obsession, that he's a horrible person with 0 redeeming qualities, etc, while normal heterosexual "Jack" is a hero. Others have written much more about this unfortunate implication in meta which I'm sure you can find.
4. Another note. My Joker is *not* going to be any more abusive to Harley than you might see in an episode of BTAS. Considering the specific storyline changes I made, probably less. The portrayal of... whatever that was supposed to be... in "Curse of the White Knight" literally disgusted me so much, I can't even. I know this is a thing in recent comics, to make Joker be the literal Evilest Evil who ever Stereotypically Eviled, who Only Ever Does Anything Because of Batman.
(I admit I was really surprised at the portrayal of the death of Jason in the original comic when I read it, where it was depicted as a crime of passion where he was mad at JASON for messing up his plan and NOT a premeditated attack, considering how that incident has been re-interpreted in adaptation — in the animated movie, or especially the Arkham games, for example, where Joker literally keeps torturing Jason for years on end because he wanted to hurt Batman. ALL to add to Batman's bat-pain.)
It kind of annoys me.