Wait! This fic was translated by myself, a non English speaker.

Before you 'suggest' me to find and ask for a beta-reader to correct my fic, let me suggest you to fuck the hell up.

I'm learning English since 15 years (maybe more), but I've never lived in an English speaking country and I only speak English on the web. I do my best when I translate my own works (instead of writing everything I want on French), I spent a lot of time on it. I ask for beta-readers, but it's a lot of work and time and I can understand they're very rare.
So don't suggest to find a beta-reader: suggest to be a beta-reader, or learn French and read the French version (this is my native langage and I guarantee you: 0 mistake, I'm a beast for it), or paste it into an online translator, okay?
And learn a new langage for 15 years and write a story, be my guest. Seriously.

Readers who comment 'DuH, i SuGgEsT yOu To FiNd A bEtA-rEaDeR' are morons who discourage authors who just want to learn and try. So don't write it in your comment, because you can already know my answer: be my beta-reader or fuck you.

Seriously, I don't want to sound agressive, but those kind of comments almost made me give up writing in English. I couldn't share my writings with more people because I felt ashamed.

Note about this fic now: this story was meant to take place long before the first Arkham game, but it ends very differently, so consider I only took inspiration from the design of some characters and there are a lot of references to Batman comics, especially the masterpiece I fell in love with: Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean.

So I apologize to the fans of the Mad Hatter, I have absolutely nothing against this character (on the contrary!), but his pathologies are more disturbing in the comics (much more than in the game or the cartoon in fact) and of course, what would be the universe of Batman without a dark atmosphere?

But don't worry: the Joker is there to cheer you up (?).

Now, (try to) enjoy!

Chapter 1 - Old habits

"It's a silent shriek without a sound

Well he's coming soon to your small town

He's searching for something he won't find

He's a mad, mad man with a mad, mad mind

Like an animal out of his den

You better hide your money better hide your children

You can't keep your fear at bay

Cause the madman roams these streets today

Oh, the madman cometh!"

The Madman – The White Buffalo

« Man, when you lose your laugh you lose your footing. »

Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Maya Dominguez held the form out to her customer.

When she sat at her counter, the day could begin, and she was there for only twenty minutes, Maya was serving her fifth customer. Could be a long Thursday…

"Fill up the form, please. I also need your ID."

While she tried to cover up a yawn, her throat swelling, she gave a white pen, marked with the name of the bank, to mister White. He thanked her.

He was wearing a black hat, some sort of fedora with a very large brim and it was dripping because of the heavy rain. It was falling since four days already. From where she was, Maya noticed, under the hat, wet lips. Wet red lips.

The man began searching in his pockets of his long dark coat.

"What a shame! Unfortunately, I forgot my ID…" The tip of his forefinger pushed the brim up.

The raw light above the counter brightened up the green shirt, the golden bow-tie at the bottom of a strong neck where two tendons were visible… still, the light seemed unable to revive the pasty, almost dead-like complexion.

"… But oh well, my face is so infamous, I guess you have no doubt about my name?"

Everything ceased to exist: the roughness of the counter, the hammering of the rain against the windows, even the ludicrous face of the Joker — he looked like he escaped from a scary tale —, everything, except the dark barrel that now directed Maya Dominguez's whole existence.

In a measured silence, the fake customers around started imitating the Joker so, soon, they could hold the bank staff hostage. It did not matter that some of Maya's colleagues were tall and strong: with the menace, they withered like dry flowers and curled up, hands upon their head.

Quickly, Maya counted about fifteen criminals and only four true customers, poor victims in this music-less orchestra. A criminal choreography.

The moisture that veiled Maya Dominguez's eyes began to drop silently, but the heaviness of the first tear caught the Joker's attention:

"Oh, no, no, no, no, dear! Don't cry! Not now! You do know you still have a chance to survive, right?"

It was true: despite its austere appearance, Gotham was the city of a fairy tale and, as in all fairy tale cities, a valiant knight might come around.

Like a child looking for adventures, the Clown Prince of Crime liked to turn into a dragon, a witch, an ogre or a demon, and set up plans that had no other goal than a violent confrontation with the hero of this corrupted kingdom.

Why precisely this morning? Had he seen a bat fleeing in the distance, which had reminded him of the existence of his sworn enemy? Not really.

Although it was the fault of a mammal! The Joker had thought he felt one of his mental bats hitting the arch of his sick skull, because unfortunately, his head was full of them: bats, hundreds of bats, thousands of bats, excited and violent, black with giant wings, monstrous with their white eyes and their deep timbre.

One might say the date and time of this morning attack had been decided by chance, but with the Joker, chance was nothing but a cocktail of whims and caprices.

The henchmen, as imposing as wrestlers, had scowling faces that circus make-up could not brighten up. Weapons pointed at hostages were a growing threat, as the lure of money made some people's guts itch, but the Joker had made it clear: the first one who broke into a safe could say goodbye to his eyes and his tongue.

Only one safe would be opened today, and that would be only for a deposit.

"Billy! Check the records and see when little Eddie came by." Joker ordered to one of the men who had revealed a clown face under his hood. "He's been annoying me for too long about his little treasures here and there."

Before his umpteenth escape from Arkham, the Joker had had a violent argument with the Riddler — no one had established the origin of the fight, but apparently, it has been about mockery said by the Joker and ridiculous sketches drawn in lipstick on the walls of the asylum, the conclusion had been a bare-handed fight.

Out of Arkham, Joker intended to add another humiliation by solving the puzzle that Edward Nigma said he had left in his safe.

"Why?" Maya Dominguez began, frightened by the fact that the Joker was still two steps away from her. "Why do you…? I can open the main safe, I have the keys…"

She regretted her words: in an exaggerated outburst, Joker had turned towards her. His pupils, too small in his big, sick eyes, seemed capable of probing every hair dressed of fear on her head.

"What?! What are you implying?! Do you mean that my accounts are empty?! Should I help myself and pick in other safes?"

Good Lord, her heart missed a beat.

The maniac had placed his elbow on the edge of the counter; now, he was almost slumped on it, like too tall, too thin even for himself… but his body always deceives his opponents with this alleged fragility, this false languor. Maya knew it. She had already seen the Joker on the internet and on television, when the cameras were filming his fights against the police or against Batman. Anyone knew that the Joker's muscles were springy, his kicks could be as fast as the attacks of a cobra.

Agile and lively. No, there was nothing fragile about the clown.

"Come on, little dove, tell me how much I have on this account."

Maya opened Jack White's customer file. Her swollen tongue prevented her from swallowing, suffocating her. She tried to say the balance of the account, but her voice lurked in the back of her throat, refusing to match the movement of her lips.

The Joker looked at her, mouth ajar to imitate her, enjoying the fear.

"No sound? That means no money?"

"Th-there is money! You have… 34…" A green eyebrow raised. "34,777 dollars… and 56 cents…"

"Only on this account?!" His fist hit the edge, making a thunderous sound… then he laughed out louder. It was the first time that lightning followed the roar of the storm. "That's some great news!"

So great that he threw his hat in the air and caught it.

Then, with this natural brusqueness, he made another request:

"Tell me, do you have a cell phone that can make videos? Could you broadcast my little operation on a social networks? Pick your favorite! I don't mind! My cell phone is almost out of battery. Oh, and I think my Twitter account has been suspended again."

He adopted a sulky pout that contradicted the red smile he had drawn on his face.

"A-All right…"

"Thank you very much."

He leaned towards her and laughed.

Maya could see the blood-soaked veins in his eyes, the wet scar from a fresh wound that ran from his lips to his chin, the dark circles that mimicked the night under his eyes. She had always thought the Joker's face could look this way thanks to make-up, but his skin was just as gray as marble. It truly was.

Although she was shaking of terror, Maya Dominguez took her phone on the counter and opened the Instagram application. It suggested her plenty of filters and smileys for her story, and while the Joker certainly would not have refused an avalanche of happy faces for his show, the young woman had no desire to try these options.

She sniffed, holding her cell phone in both hands and pushed play.

The bank was plunged into a silver, almost greenish darkness because of the sad storm. The heavy rain outside was bringing down watery curtains to cut them off from the world.

"So, Billy! Tell me! When did Eddie come by?"

"The 6th of last month, boss."

"Makes sense. I hate logic. But you know what, Billy? I'll handle Eddie's safe myself, and you can go take care of Batman's. I'll catch up with you right after."

Joker chuckled as the man named Billy rushed to the vault. That man was used to his boss' laugh, nonetheless, he felt terrified every time he heard any variation of that sound.

To increase of level of fear, one of the clowns in the background struck an employee's temple with a violent blow, knocking her out. In the corner of the live video, the woman's body collapsed, becoming a shadow nailed on the ground.

Maya did not know if she should continue filming, if the lens should follow the clown or not, if she should discreetly interrupt the live. As she was broadcasting the Joker's show, she was giving it visibility, but it was also a way to call the police and… Batman.

On the video, comments were flowing. Two smartasses had no qualms about asking how many people died and whether the brutalized woman was one of them. P-s-y-c-h-o-p-a-t-h took the opportunity to ask if the Joker would agree to marry her. Maya turned pale with anger, barely comforted by the other outraged people who said they had called the police. Virtual Gotham was tearing each other apart.

Maya began praying that Batman would not be too long. Too late.

Sirens were getting closer to the bank and soon, in addition to their deafening cries, their glows, hatched in red and blue, invited themselves as ephemeral beings into the enclosure, amplifying their dance as they gathered.

In the tumult of the rain, a voice carried by a megaphone dared to ask the Joker and his acolytes to come out and surrender; a ridiculous demand, but at least the usual protocol was followed. Even the Joker had a chance to surrender before the shooting.

"How cute!" The Prince of Crime jubilated, then he adjusted the flower in the buttonhole of his jacket. He did not need a gun for today — he never resisted the appeal of danger — but he had more than one trick up his sleeve: no matter how tight the suit, Joker had concealed sneaky blades and dangerous traps. Oh, and there was Ivy's gift…

Despite the repeated sound of rain against the windows, another warning sounded, and before the policeman finished his sentence, Joker extended his arms to the camera which was still recording:

"Bats! Is it too early for you?! I've known you to be more punctual! Are you really going to let inspector Thingamajig or commissioner Doohickey arrest me instead of you?"

His jovial intonations exploded like gunshots; they surprised and assaulted the hearing.

"Chad," he called, "go to the door and see how many of them there are. But pleeease, behave yourselves while I take care of the next act, d'accord?" If Joker did not mind a little warm-up against police officers, he was planning to save the best of him for his favorite. "We're still waiting for our little Dark Diva."

The man known as Chad moved stealthily toward the glass door. When he glued his face against the cold surface, drops blurred his clown face: his red mouth turned into a nest of firebugs, smiling and grimacing at once. The Joker's operations always offered some burlesque effects.

Joker was surprised to see Billy back so quickly:

"Billy? Are you finished yet?"

"No, boss, I was on my way to the other vault, but I found this next to the Riddler's one…"

This guy, picked up on the streets of Gotham, was smaller than his boss, much smaller, and the way he was bending his neck right now made him really tiny. His bowed legs had to bear a weight that was very difficult to support judging by his posture, yet he was holding only a piece of paper in his hand. A simple sheet of paper where a drawing could be seen. These fists, large and covered by visible veins, were shaking; he was a child giving a bad report card to his mother.

The Joker's spider fingers grabbed one of the corners of the sheet and pulled it up into the light. It was a pencil drawing, and the applied style proved how much the author did his best: The Riddler's silhouette, wearing his famous costume with question marks, stood above a sickly, skinny clown, his half-bald skull crushed by the feet of the victorious opponent.

The Joker's lips formed a crack full of resentment. He pressed the flower on his chest and a spurt of acid flew in the middle of the drawing. The picture began to wrinkle, then it burned, releasing bit of steam.

The Joker was no longer in the mood.

With a wave of his finger, he ordered Maya to point the phone at him again.

Because of the rain, the clouds were suffocating the day to make the night last. Batman should already be here.

"You know what happens when my patience runs out, Batman." The Joker said.

He grabbed Billy's revolver. The man quelled a shiver: when the Prince was armed, it was always a forced invitation to Russian roulette, except that the surprise came not from the barrel — which was full —, it was only about the identity of the victim.

Who was going to be killed? Where will the Joker's hand aimed for? Since chance rhymed with madness, some henchmen dreaded the day when the clown would point the barrel at his own temple to blow his brains out. But today was not the day either: Joker aimed away and fired quickly. The bullet, invisible, only noisy and burning, crossed the hall. It pierced the middle of Maya Dominguez's forehead and only stopped in the middle of the burning neurons.

It would have been a long day for Maya Dominguez and, in a last flash of lucidity, she told herself that the slowness with which she got up this morning, this refusal to go to work, was pure instinct. If only she had pretended to be sick…

As the telephone fell, the internet audience witnessed a succession of confusing images: a keyboard, a wooden surface, papers, perhaps blood as well. Then the camera lens hit the floor and the sudden darkness was like a curtain at the end of a play.

Peter Wilson jumped when he heard the shot. Even though the rain was heavy — the drops as large as pearls were blurring the senses —, the policeman could not have been mistaken about the sound that was part of his daily routine.

And it was the Joker, that beast, who held the civilians hostage. With that maniac, there would always be tragic events.

What surprised Peter Wilson, on the other hand, was the sudden roar of an engine behind him.

A long car with an aggressive silhouette had just parked at an angle. Shimmering in the rain, the black bodywork evoked ink and melancholy, while the owner, who was already standing next to the policeman, inspired fear with his long cape.


"Do you know how many of them there are?"

The knight seemed exhausted, even nervous. The grappling hook already in his hand, he did not want to lose another minute.

"No, but we think the Joker has at least a dozen accomplices. As for the hostages, we don't know the number, but there may be one injured or worse…"

Batman intended to stop the countdown, so even before Peter Wilson finished his sentence, the grappling hook clung onto the ledge of the second floor and the bat flew away. Amazed and frightened at the same time, the policeman wondered how such a massive body could appear so light at the end of a cable.

The bas-reliefs were weeping over the blood that had been spilled within the walls of their sanctuary. Their stone faces seemed darker and more austere than ever. If Peter Wilson had been able to see Batman's profile closer, he would have noticed a stunning resemblance in the rigidity of the jaw, the same tension that made the lips hard.

Batman always sent his opponents to the hospital, never to the morgue. It was a rule that allowed no exceptions, even for the Joker. It was a struggle that Commissioner Gordon hold against the knight, mentioning it already fifteen times, and despite this, Batman had always refused killing his Nemesis. However, as he advanced in the air duct he had picked, this conviction began to shatter.

Some newspapers had already prepared the front page for the day Batman would kill the Joker, he knew it, and a little voice whispered — shouted, in fact — that these front pages would finally be used today.

"Master Bruce? Are you in the bank yet?"

"Yes, Alfred. I'm late and that other business may have caused the death of a hostage."

"It's not your fau—"

"Not now, Alfred."

Batman had stopped enough robberies in this bank to know the innards of the building. In fact, he knew the path formed by these ducts as he knew the corridors of Wayne's mansion; every nook, every shortcut, every passageway was recorded in his memory.

Now Batman had to choose the best angle to surprise the Joker, knock him and his acolytes out as quickly as possible, and then let the police take all that smart bad set back to Arkham or Blackgate so Batman could return to deal with his first enemy, the one who had made him late.

A burst of laughter echoed under the metal ground and a strange thought struck Batman: when Joker will die, his laughter will haunt him from under the coffin lid, the same way it had hit the walls right now. Batman was sure of it.

The fright faded, the wild thought vanished as quickly as it had appeared, and Batman pulled himself together. At least he could guess where the Joker was now: at the vaults.

Through a wire fence, Batman was able to observe the main hall and was furious to see that a young woman had been killed. The other hostages were alive, so the vigilante's priority was to save them.

"Guys! I can see the Batmobile!" Chad shouted, still near the glass doors. "Keep an eye out, Batman should be here soon!"

The henchmen's eyes went from one corner to another, even scanning the ceiling, a source of danger as the darkness of a rainy morning could easily hide a bat. But no statue served as a perch to any big raven, none of them was crowned by an enemy.

Suddenly, a small octagonal box fell, spreading an opaque mist, mimicking the clouds outside and flooding the hall with moisture. A grappling hook slipped toward a clown and, after closing its black claws on his back, hoisted him up like a bundle.

"He's here! He's here!"

The first victim was hysterical.

Despite the surprise, the hostages did not dare to move; the slightest movement could have reminded the henchmen about their presence and nobody wanted to share the fate of Maya Dominguez. Silent, they became shadows in the smoke, mimicking death's stillness so they could survive. Their attackers were less fortunate, however: blinded in this mist, they were easy prey.

The first man received a blow in the jaw, which sent him into an even thicker fog. A second man was trapped in the air, about ten meters away from his colleague who was still struggling. A third one, panic-stricken, began firing, waving the cannon with the hope he could shoot his target at least once, but the weapon suddenly became silent, pierced somewhere its metal throat by a bat-shaped blade. The henchman threw his weapon in the direction the batarang came from, but before the rifle hit the ground, a fist hit the back of his skull.

They fell one after the other with a surprising facility. Habit always makes the task easy, especially since Batman could afford to be overconfident with these clowns. However, he would take more precautions with their leader who was waiting for him further away.

Batman ordered the hostages to leave the bank, and now that the cops were going to take the Joker's men to the vans, the knight could deal with his devil.

A long narrow corridor led to the vaults. The bare walls left no possibility of hiding, even for a man as skinny as the Joker. Batman did not hear the slightest sneer, as if his enemy had vanished, disappearing like a ghost, but he knew that at the end of the corridor was the registrar's office, a tiny room that marked the boundary between the bank and the safes, so despite the unusual silence, Batman opened the door with caution.

The door was halfway open when Batman had to fight back a loud crash: pieces of a clay pot exploded, a plant collapsed against the door, its bare roots lying on the ground.

"You've always loved flowers, Bats, right?"

Dear God, Batman had heard this joke before and he already knew the punchline: without even seeing Joker, he realized that the clown was wearing this hideous and poisonous flower, and with a quick movement of his arm, the vigilante protected himself with his cape before the acid spray touch him.

"Yes, I like flowers, but you never let me stop and smell the roses, Joker."

"Ah! That isn't a bad one, Batsy! Trying to match with me? I knew you were my biggest fan!"

"Give up."

The hilarity could be heard again. Batman had known this laugh for a long time, yet he had never been sure whether the Joker was expressing genuine joy or whether it was simply an effect of nervousness that began to release endorphins in anticipation of the blows.

From under his leather wing, Batman shoot the grappling hook to hit his enemy, but the Joker dodged in time with a jump to the side. Their struggle was almost like a rehearsed choreography. The first one knew the jokes and traps of the other, the other knew the defenses and techniques of the first one.

Batman's anger intensified. He did not have time to play around with the Joker and he had to cut short their meeting: he rushed at the clown, aiming with his elbow, even if he knew that in terms of speed, Joker was his equal.

"You look more like a buffalo than a small mammal, Batsy!" Joker laughed after he dodged again. His veins pulsed with joy, turning his blood into electric flow. To provoke his enemy, Joker grabbed a piece of his own jacket and waved it like a bullfighter. "Or maybe you look a bit like Bane?"

The second attempt with the batclaw was more successful: the presence of the cape prevented Batman from aiming correctly, but it hit the knee of the inattentive clown who lost his balance.

Before the clown got up, Batman tried to hit him between the shoulders, but even now, Joker remained agile and got back on his feet before it was too late.

He seemed to be spring-loaded, moving and bouncing like a devil out of a box.

"Oh my, you look exhausted, Bats! Was it a long night? Is that why you made me wait?"

Joker ran and leaned on Batman's shoulders to jump over, playing leapfrog. In his jump, he took the opportunity to electrocute his opponent — he could thank all the metal that made up the armor — and if the attack was not lightning, it still surprised Batman who could not escape.

When the bat turned around, slowed down by tense muscles, Joker had disappeared, but his laughter resounded on the right, from an open safe, inviting Batman to enter and to continue their fight.

Cloak used as a shield, Batman protected himself by putting one foot in the safe, avoiding the firecrackers and confetti that exploded to celebrate his arrival. He then felt the Joker's arms slip around his neck to strangle him.

"Take the nap you deserve, my dear."

Batman struggled like a madman, worried to feel the Joker so close. Glued against him, Joker would have no trouble stabbing him or…

Finally, Batman succeeded in sending the tip of his elbow into Joker's stomach, just below the sternum, paralyzing him.

Had the Joker really intended to lock him up in a safe? For a moment, Batman wondered if his lifelong enemy had not guessed his identity: turning a safe into a tomb for a multi-billionaire would have been a joke worth of his perverse sense of humor.

But Bruce Wayne had no desire to find out. He did not let the Joker catch his breath and quickly handcuffed him before hoisting him onto one of his shoulders.

"You're the one who needs to sleep, Joker. Stay still and you'll be in Arkham in less than an hour, in your cell."

Joining his hands closely, the Joker delivered a violent blow to Batman's lower back; the maniac may have been stunned, he still had surprising strength. Under the pain, the vigilante flexed slightly. His teeth gnashed, smothering an insult, making the Joker laugh again.

In a logic of vengeance, the knight returned the blow, striking the Joker's back too and knocking his fist down without restraint. The moaning he heard was satisfying, and finally Batman allowed himself a grin.

"Bats… Will you be very angry with me if I vomit on your cape?"

"You've done worse things." The vigilante replied, but the Joker did not carry out his threat: he just giggled, which increased the pain in his belly.

On several occasions, the clown tried to pull himself out of the embrace. His snake-like thinness gave him an advantage, but Batman held him firmly, almost choking him.

They were now only a few yards from the bank's lobby.

"Not the lobby already, Batsy! It was too short, I want more!" Joker had stuck his elbows in the back of Batman to stand up. "Let's keep fighting a little longer, please? Ten minutes? Five minutes? Come on!"

Batman did not answer.

Since Joker would not have it the polite way, he would have it the hard way: despite his tight wrists, the clown managed to reach one of the weapons he had stuck inside his sleeve, a Reverdin needle — oh, a simple a loan from Arkham's dissecting room — with a curved, pointed tip. With a mischievous smile, he found a crack between the plates of the armor and stuck the tool into Batman's flank like a hook, wrenching a scream out of the vigilante.

The Joker was thrown away and he cowered before his head hit the marble, sparing himself further pain. Shivering with laughter, he called out to Batman:

"Alright, big boy! You're late and you think you can leave so quickly?! Would it kill you to have more consideration for me, your lifelong friend?!"

"You're not the only mental patient in Gotham, Joker! You're going back to Arkham now and you're staying there!"

Batman pulled the tool from his hip with an angry roar that punctuated his words.

"Oooh, that's why you were so late! Forgiiive me, Batsy, next time I'll give a call to be sure if there's still room in your agenda." The needle was thrown at his feet, spitting a thin spray of blood. "Let me think: Crane and Bane are still at Arkham, the Penguin is hospitalized thanks to bad oysters, Harley is still waiting for me in her cell..."

Batman grabbed Joker by the collar, strangling him when he lifted him up again.


Now that he had gotten the clown back on his feet, he could drag him to the entrance of the bank.

"Kiss me goodbye at least? I mean, without the tongue, eh, have some decency, everyone's looking at us." Joker laughs. He bent down to frighten his enemy, who retreated; with his smile, it was impossible to know whether he was trying to kiss or devour. "What are you afraid of, Batsy? I'm not going to hurt you! No more, not now you intrigued me. Come on, tell me! Who has supplanted me in your heart? Who managed to steal my place? Drop the name, you owe me that!"

But the mystery remained complete.

Batman felt a relief as he pushed the bank door open: knowing that the Joker problem was — for the moment — solved, a weight on his shoulders vanished.

The cheeks of the young policeman, Peter Wilson, were dripping despite the cap; the small visor did not protect him from the rain that continued to whip his face, the same way it did for the three colleagues who had stayed behind. The vans had already left for Blackgate prison, but the leader of the hold up had a different destination.

"Do you have a team to take care of him?" Batman asked, his hand still holding the Joker's arm. The madman found it amusing to bend over and snap his teeth under the young officer's nose.

"In fact… uh… Detective Morrison thought you'd take care of him… You're more used to it, you know?"

"See, Batsy," the Joker laughed, "once again, you're the one who's assigned to me! Look at him, that poor boy, he's shivering with cold and fear. Let him go home and take his coffee break or he'll end up pissing all over himself."

To silence him, Batman shook the clown forcefully.

Teams had become smaller because the police had really counted on Batman to take care of the Joker. The vigilante could not blame them, since it was true: it was a long-standing habit. Whether the Prince of Crime was involved in a robbery, a hostage-taking, an assassination attempt, or freeing a tiger in a zoo, Batman always popped up to put an end to the clown's tasteless jokes. The ritual, then, was the same every time: Gotham's sentry would walk him back to Arkham Asylum, sometimes even to his cell, just to make sure he would not escape on the way.

To mark his annoyance, Batman tightened his grip. He would have broken Joker's arm.

Without a word, without saluting the officer, Batman pushed the Joker towards the batmobile.

"You can't imagine how happy I am, Bats! I must be a bit old-fashioned, because I always prefer when it's my partner who takes me home. Well, 'dance partner', 'arch-enemy', you're not going to be picky about words, are you?"

"Shut it."

He threw the criminal on the passenger seat and checked that he could not escape.

Joker was no longer surprised by the interior of the vehicle. Oh, sure, the first time he had been strapped on that seat, he had felt a great excitement! After all, being in the car of a sportsman who disguises himself as a bat to fight crime every night was something to behold. Back then, Joker had tried to touch the buttons and had commented on every detail, mocking generously, getting on Batman's nerves.

Today, the Joker was no longer impressed for he already knew the sloping windshield and the darkness that haunted the interior of the vehicle. He had already felt the pressure of the straps against the cold — but comfortable, let's be honest — seat, just like he had already breathed in the smell of waxed leather and electric steel.

Water was dripping down his nose and chin. Too bad, he had left his hat in the bank. Never mind! Anyway, when the engine started to whirr, an oven heat spread through the car.

Before starting the car, Batman checked one last time if the Joker was tied up well enough — so the maniac was not tempted to punch the bat during the ride…

"Gordon, the Joker has been apprehended. Any news from Jervis Tetch's plan?"

"We're following the kid, she's still under hypnosis."

"Don't touch her until we know if waking her up is dangerous."

"All right, Batman. We'll be waiting for you."

Joker wiped the tip of his nose before trying to clap despite his tied up hands.

"So it was him! The Mad Hatter! I thought that his occupations were limited to smoking his hookah and collecting panties."

His soaked hair almost flattened on his skull. All wet, the Joker seemed even sicker and skinnier than usual. Feeling a surge of pity, Batman turned up the heat a little bit.

"Only when he's locked up in Arkham."

"If you're looking for him, Bats, I advise you to go to tea rooms, hat shops — especially the most ridiculous ones —, and middle schools!"

"I already know where he is. I'll take care of Tetch and bring you both back to Arkham."

"Oh! Was I right, then? He was in a middle school, right?" If Batman did not answer, it meant he was right! The clown gloated and clapped his hands again. "Of course! His obsession with prepubescents is well known at Arkham!"

This peculiarity did not make Batman laugh.

When he was locked up in Arkham, Jervis Tetch was nothing more than a strange man: his small height and red hair made him look like the local leprechaun, and he agreed to well behave as long as he could wear his green top hat. His file warned the medical teams: no young blonde nurse could take care of him, or she would be assaulted by this patient.

Arkham's nurses first focused on treating Tetch's addiction to phencyclidine, an anesthetic that had been withdrawn from the market when studies showed it was a powerful hallucinogenic psychotropic drug. According to Dr. Crocker, this addiction was at the origin of the obsession for the character of Alice.

The psychiatrist was also certain that his patient's paedophile tendencies, as he exclusively targeted young blonde victims, were a symptom of a tenacious paranoia, the same sort of Victor Zsasz's case. Zsasz assumed that the women he killed were released from their condition, while Jervis Tetch was convinced that he was taking revenge on vile twelve-year-old temptresses. So, outside the walls of the asylum, around the schools, the Mad Hatter's delirium of persecution always resumed.

Nothing but a hallucination provoked by the psychotropic drug, the doctor was certain of it. As he had been certain that he had cured this addiction.

Another medical error that Batman had to rectify now.

Batman did not even understand how Jervis Tetch could have been released, even without being a doctor, and all he could do was watch for the first missteps and send the criminals back to their cells, hoping that the next therapy would be more effective.

And today, Jervis Tetch would get another chance at Arkham.

"If you're too late, Bats, you'll have failed twice today." Joker chuckled, sinking into his seat. In anger, Batman gave him a blow on one of his bony knees.

"At first, I thought you were just a diversion to do the Mad Hatter a favor—"

"Heh, we're not really close."

"—but as usual, you were just sowing discord… chaos."

It was not for money, it was not for the taste of blood — some of the Joker's misdeeds did not even claim any victims —, it was not for glory, it was only for the love of…

"I missed you, Bats. How long had it been since we had seen each other? Three months? I couldn't wait any longer."

Batman frowned.

After a silence without a smile, Joker showed his teeth again in that demonic crack that was his mouth:

"I'm in no hurry to get back to Arkham, so I'm willing to make a detour for the poor Hatter. You know, my crimes are always on front pages, while his are only in a few columns in the minor news item, and yet, in terms of perversity, I've a lot to learn from him."

"You don't have the same criminal profile."

Nor the same pathologies, and Batman did not know for who he could feel sorry the most: the Joker or the Hatter?