"Joker?" Ivy called in a more insistent voice.
She could swore he was not breathing anymore. His chin and the tip of his nose rested against the blanket that had been pulled over the bathtub. Before they submerged him, the nurses had run a tub of water over his head and his hair, clean and still green, was now flattened on his round skull. Joker was not thin: he was skinny.
"Ivy!" He replied, suddenly straightening his face. "Is it really lavender essence or is it synthetic perfume?"
Bath time, therapeutic of course, with Arkham's two most dangerous patients was always a tricky moment.
The establishment, archaic, made hygiene a matter of violence: the bathroom was an austere room where solid copper baths lined up in two lines. Once inside, the patients were trapped by a watertight sheet that gripped their throats and prevented them from getting out or drowning. Some nurses might take care of the neediest patients themselves, hitting them with soap rather than rubbing them. The water temperature was not always controlled, and long hair was left wet even in the dead of winter, exposing the most fragile patients to terrible colds.
But Joker and Poison Ivy were the only patients to be treated as if they were in a spa.
In fact, a nurse had burned the Joker once, but he was found a week later, trapped in one of the tubs. The bath water had been so hot that his skin was covered with blisters thicker than slugs.
Since then, the Joker has been alone with Ivy — whose nature was already feared — during this daily ritual. Isolated from the other patients, they were the only ones the guards had to look after in this cold room. Yet, the guards did not really complain since the two patients rarely argued. So, for half an hour, the comedian and the botanist used to talk, ignoring the snipers who were threatening them.
Tonight again, two red flies were circling around their faces, ready to turn into a bullet at the slightest suspicious movement.
The Joker had no intention of escaping: Batman had brought him back to Arkham two days earlier and he was planning to rest here for a while before escaping again. Ivy had been here longer: her last escape, unsurprisingly, coincided with a plan from the mayor to replace a park with a school. Otherwise, her escapes were much less punctual: as long as her precious plants were safe, Ivy remained quiet.
"So? Do you recognize one of your children or is it chemical?"
"It's lavender essence." Ivy confirmed. Immersed up to her throat, her whole body was absorbing the particles of this plant. It was a relaxing oil — were they the only ones who could enjoy this? — but without any real effect on Ivy. By the way, she doubted that the Joker himself was sensitive to it.
"Joker, I wanted to talk to you about something. Harley asked me not to say anything, but… Two months ago, she and I slept together."
"Mh, the little minx has a soft spot for pretty mouths."
The Joker's hands played with the water, making it splash and giggle. His reaction surprised Ivy.
After spending several pleasant hours together at the back of a garden, Harley had begged Ivy not to tell a word to her puddin' about what they had done. She was terrified that the Joker would push her away and stop talking to her.
In fact, it seamed he did not care at all.
"… the more we talk, the more I suspect you really don't care about her."
"How dare you?!" He roared suddenly. The shooter who had him in his sights had his finger on the trigger, sweating profusely. But the Joker regained his calm, once again victim of his changing mood. "You're mad at me when I treat her badly, but if I don't get angry, you're implying that she doesn't matter!"
"She thought you'd be angry with her."
"We've been together for years, Harley and I, I can't blame her for a little crush!"
"I'm not just a little crush." Ivy replied. Her green cheeks had gotten darker. After a silence, she added: "But you're right, there's no need to get angry over a crush. Harley would probably feel the same if you end up having an affair with Batman."
"Batman?! That loony dressed as a bat who has nothing to do but chase me down and send me back to Sharpie's madhouse?!"
He was getting angry again, but his resentment was genuine this time. In silence, Ivy compared him to a man frustrated, rejected by a conquest.
"You spend all your time trying to get Batman's attention."
"It's Batman who keeps snooping around in my stuff! He's always there, lurking in the shadows like a vampire. He might be watching me right now! Maybe he's the guy holding the sniper! Hey, Batsy! Are you there?!" Smacking could be heard under the blanket as Joker moved, looking around. The evocation of his enemy always made him talkative and Ivy remained silence. "As soon as I start any plan, Batman gets in my way. I haven't even finished to gather the elements for a bomb and he's already breaking my workshop window! And then, he punches me! I wonder if I've become an idée fixe in his sick mind…"
"Are you going to pretend he isn't an idée fixe in yours? Admit it, Joker, you're obsessed with Batman. Harley's a lot less important than he is."
Joker shook his head: Ivy compared the incomparable. She resumed nevertheless:
"Harvey is obsessed with duality and his coin that represents destiny, Freeze seeks revenge for what happened to him and his wife, all have a personal reason. But what about you? All your plans concern him. Even Catwoman fulfills her contracts without telling Batman about it!"
"I beg your pardon, Ivy? I'm a bit lost: were you a biologist or a psychiatrist ? It seemed to me that it was Harley…"
"I'm not here to judge, Joker. Batman is a man who has a… certain allure." It was a secret, but they also had their little affair in a backyard, and Ivy had not used her seductive hormones that much. She threw her head back, her hair snaking towards the edge of the bathtub. "After all this time, you've had every opportunity to kill him, Joker, and yet Batman's still alive. I'm convinced of one thing, Joker: you won't kill Batman before you've had a chance to kiss him at least once. You're even more likely to kill one of us before you kill Batman, because that's never going to happen."
Joker started laughing out loud. He would not have reacted better if Ivy had told him a good joke. The clown would have liked to applaud, but the water and the sheet were preventing him to do so. At least he could confess to Ivy:
"You know what I've always liked about you, Ivy? Your insight and your lipstick."
"… now I think about it, Joker, maybe I can help you."
Chapter 4 – Shade #166
« Take me now, baby, here as I am
Pull me close, try and understand
Desire is hunger is the fire I breathe
Love is a banquet on which we feed
Come on now try and understand
The way I feel when I'm in your hands
Take my hand, come undercover
They can't hurt you now
Can't hurt you now, can't hurt you now
Because the night belongs to lovers
Because the night belongs to lust »
Patty Smith – Because the Night
Apotemnophilia – an overwhelming or obsessive desire to have one or more healthy body parts and especially a limb removed by amputation.
Like a child, Batman encircled the blood pool with his hands and brought it closer to the Hatter's head. He no longer knew what he was doing, and whatever he decided, the reality he was looking at did not change: Jervis Tetch was dead.
The surprising scene made Joker jubilant: he was jumping around, applauding.
"Bats! Bats! You've done it!" He climbed over the rubble and curled up against the Dark Knight, cheek to cheek, admiring the accident. "You finally did it!"
Batman suddenly stood up to push the Joker back and knocked him to the ground, but he immediately regretted his gesture: what if the clown also broke his skull and died next?
But finally, the Joker, lying in the dust, began to laugh, still in great shape.
"Oh, Batsy, what a morning!"
"It was an accident!"
"All right, Batsy! All right! All right! In concrete terms, it was an accident! But an accident that you caused! If you hadn't jumped on Jervis like you did, the ground wouldn't have collapsed!"
Joker giggled and giggled endlessly, but Batman was no longer in the mood to get angry.
He turned his back on the poor man's body; if he had seen him for one more second, he would have been sick. With a groan, he brought his fists to his temples, forcing himself to breathe slowly.
He had not killed Jervis Tetch, yet he was responsible for his death. The Joker was right: if he had not attacked the Hatter like he did, the ground would not have collapsed.
Jervis Tetch was a pedophile and a drug addict who suffered from hallucinations, he was also a schizophrenic: he needed appropriate treatment and doctors to listen to him. Sending him back to Arkham Asylum was not only a punishment, it was also giving him the chance to finally be cured. But the floor had broken, the fall had been rapid and fatal, taking all the Hatter's chances away.
It was more than ten o'clock outside, and in the building, it was still dark.
Joker straightened up, his smile glowing in the shadows, wet with lipstick:
"What are you going to do, Batsy?"
For a moment, for answering this question, Bruce Wayne was tempted to take off his cowl and throw it on the floor. His fault was too great and he could not be the Knight of Gotham any longer after what he had just done. His rule had been broken.
As if he was asking for forgiveness, he knelt on the ground, almost collapsing in silence and shame.
In front of him, the madman laughed again, breaking the solemnity of the moment.
"Come on, Batsy, why the long face?"
He got up at last and dusted his pants. The thin cloud that fell could vaguely remind the smoke used in old movies to welcome the devil. And it was with the same devilish elegance that the Joker approached his enemy.
"What are you going to do? Don't tell me you're going to go home and put your costume away for good! Come on, Batsy, you know what people say! 'Kill all pedophiles, they're monsters, no justice for them!', no one will blame you! Stay!"
It was not, however, the intention of the vigilante who got up and walked away from the rubble, from the Hatter's corpse. The paper-covered windows concealed Gotham, turning the crime scene into a sanctuary. After a silence, Batman then turned to Joker :
"I'm taking you back to Arkham. This is the last time."
He would confess to Gordon that he was responsible for Tetch's death, and they would advise, along with Alfred and Barbara, what to do about 'Batman': Bruce Wayne could reveal his identity — finally putting Gordon in confidence — and be condemned, or Gotham would never know, but Batman would never reappear again.
"You can't do that." The Joker replied quickly. "What are you going to do next?! Put on slippers and a bathrobe so you could ruminate in your batbasement?! Tell Jim-Jim you made your first professional blunder and ask to go to jail? Look at Harley, she made one hell of a blunder, a huge one, and she hasn't been this happy and free since!"
"You won't see me again, Joker."
Suddenly, the clown looked as pale as the faces printed on the newspapers. Despite the lipstick that stretched in a crescent moon, his mouth no longer smiled. In fact, it was turning down.
It was perhaps the worst thing he had ever heard.
"I should've known you were going to retire, Bats. I've always wanted us to kill each other, a fight to death between us and no other degenerate. You would've broken your rule and I would've done my best show! You wouldn't have had to mope around like a depressed teen and I wouldn't have had to think about my next work to outperform your death. Everything would have been perfect."
If the Hatter's head had been closer, Joker would have kicked it in rage.
He finally moved towards Batman.
"If you don't turn yourself in, you'll stay anonymous and disappear into Gotham. I might kill you in an explosion one day, or when I'll poison the city's water tank for the twenty-second time, but I'll never know about it. You'll be near and far away at the same time. And I can't stand it! The idea is unbearable!"
Batman stared at the face that terrified Gotham for many years. He had known it himself for so long: that smile that widened when the rest of the world cried; those teeth that bit when victims waited for an admission of regret. Without Batman, Joker would only need a few weeks to turn Gotham into a carnival of horror.
"People will know that I killed Jervis, even if it was an accident. If I killed once, then I would have to kill again."
But he refused to do so. Despite the death of the Hatter, he would not kill the Joker. He would not kill Two-Face, Black Mask, Penguin, Harley Quinn, Enigma, or anyone else. Jervis would be the only exception, but how would he make Gotham and Commissioner Gordon understand this? How can he justify his desire to spare the Joker?
No, he had to retire. He had to disappear.
"So you're really going to leave me alone? You'll stay home at night when I'll kill hundreds of citizens?"
"Without me, Arkham's team will be more vigilant and you won't be able to get away as easily as before."
It was said without much conviction and Joker burst out laughing. And as he laughed, he thought about a solution.
"You know, Bats, I'm sure of one thing right now: of all your enemies, I'm certainly the only one who would keep your identity a secret. If I knew it, of course!"
"If you're going to ask me who I am so you can kill me later, you're wasting your…"
"Nah, I'll let you with that precious secret of yours. But do you know why your identity would be safe with me? Because revealing it to the city wouldn't do me any good. If I said, 'hey, Batman's actually your neighbor, the one who listens to dark metal as loud as possible every morning', you'd retire, you'd have to disappear, maybe even leave Gotham for good! And what would I do? I'd plot again for another bomb on a ship or a massacre in a movie theater knowing that you wouldn't be there. Where would the fun be?! Why ruin our relationship?" His hands grazed Batman's hard face. "There are secrets that Gotham doesn't need to know, Bats, especially if we can keep our little routine. So use me!"
Unable to understand, or perhaps too worried to get what his enemy was implying, the vigilante backed away.
"What are you talking about?"
"We're the only ones here! No one will ever know the truth, no one will ever believe that the so great Dark Knight of Gotham killed the poor little Hatter… especially if I was around. Let me be the criminal, that role suits me better. Let me make this unfortunate accident my very own. I'm your joker, Bats!"
"If you do that, Joker, the other inmates will be angry with you."
"They are already angry at me for this or that, for what I remember!" Joker screamed with laughter as he put his hands on the Knight's shoulders. The chain of handcuffs underlined Batman's throat. "Let's do what we always do: hit me, beat me up, tell the G.C.P.D. that you caught me but unfortunately you couldn't do anything to save Jervis… Everyone will believe this scenario and nothing will change! You'll still be Batman, I'll still be the Joker and we'll keep fighting each other!"
The solution was credible, yes, but Batman shook his head. He could not bring himself to do it: in addition to getting rid of responsibility for Jervis' death, saying yes meant he accepted the Joker's help. The day might come when this maniac would blackmail him or ask him for a favor, taking advantage of the situation. How could this pact really protect Gotham?
Was Batman playing with a joker or with the Devil in this game?
"What do you get in return?"
"Did you even listen?! You, Batsy. It's obvious, but you're not listening, you big deaf rock. Oh wait, I understand better why Harley gets angry when she tells me that I don't listen to her…"
As if preparing for a performance, Joker tightened his bow tie, combed his hair back and applied a new coat of lipstick. Now he was smiling again.
"I'm the bad guy once again and we continue our hectic lives. Or you can accuse yourself, put the suit in your batcloset and I do a hell of a one-man show, the best you'll never seen. What's it gonna be? Your choice, Bats. Are you really going to let me go and turn Gotham into a nightmare? You know what happens when I'm in a bad mood… I outperform."
He was insane. Deeply insane. This was Batman's first thought. However, this last argument managed to convince him: Batman was the only one who was not afraid of the Joker, the only one who could contain him, the only one who could stop him.
It was perhaps the only time in his life that he could trust the Joker.
The Joker noticed the black shoulders straightening up so he gloated:
"Back to work, Batsy. Hit me! Be the famous vigilante like you've always been, beat the bad guy, make it realistic!"
The clown cracked his wrists and neck, then bowed to Batman, inviting him to do the first move of their dance.
It began with a punch in the clown's jaw, which swung back to the floor. Batman threw himself forward and dominated him, hitting and hitting again, aiming at the ribs, aiming at the flanks.
Joker endured the blows, noting that his enemy held his anger back. Perhaps Batman was afraid to kill him too? Would his death be more unbearable than that of the Mad Hatter? Oh yes, Joker liked to think so.
The clown raised his chin, offering his throat, and Batman placed his hands on it, obeying to habits. Normally, he would strangle Joker to make him shut, to trap the last laugh in his windpipe. This time it was different. The embrace was less aggressive. The fingers lacked strength and conviction.
A weakness that allowed the Joker to sneer:
"Nothing will change, Batsy… Everything will be all right."
Suddenly, Joker put his hands behind Batman's head and pressed the chain of the handcuffs against the back of his enemy's neck. His strength, enhanced by the effect of surprise, allowed him to bring Batman's face closer to his own.
"What are you… ?"
Joker kissed him, still pressing the chain, his fists shaking under the effort so that the bat would not fly away too soon. Their teeth would have knocked together as their mouths were so tightly pressed together.
Batman felt his right leg blocked by the Joker's leg, almost twisted around it like a snake.
On the edge of his lips, Batman was sure to recognize a flowery taste. A strange feeling made him relax his muscles. His tongue tried to dig into memories, curious, but it was the madness he was committing that gave him the answer.
"Ivy?!" Batman moved aside abruptly, letting the metal rings dig into the back of his neck.
Joker was hilarious: Poison Ivy's gift had had a far more spectacular effect than he had hoped for.
"It was supposed to be a real goodbye kiss, Bats: at the bank, I lured you to a safe to knock you out and lock you in, all of that thanks to this marvelous gift Ivy gave me!"
This lipstick would have been the ultimate surprise for the Dark Knight, and it would have added a dramatic touch, matching the clown's taste.
"You could have died for good this morning if the Hatter hadn't changed my plans." Joker stroked the head of the drugged bat; his muscles must have been soft as cotton now, and the shock surely added to the torpor. "But I don't regret it, Bats. What you did today? What I witnessed? I haven't been this happy in a long time! Your golden rule finally broken!"
Their struggle had turned into an embrace. The poison seduced with a surprising violence and Batman resisted the urge to kiss his enemy again, so he put his head on the Joker's shoulder to turn his face away.
The clown tried to push him away to stand up:
"Change of program, honey: I'm going to take the blame for Jervis' death, but I'm not going to let you take me back to Arkham. They'll find you knocked out, helpless, but think of the staging: by being unconscious, you were giving me the chance to kill the Hatter. There was nothing you could do against me!"
"You won't run away, Joker."
His arms had just imprisoned the Joker's chest, hugging him like a lover. Finally a physical reaction that suited him, in accordance with his will not to let the maniac escape.
"You know I will." The clown sneered, fighting against the lack of air. It was a new way to be deprived of oxygen. "But with regret, Batou. With regret!"
The vigilante refused to release him; Batman's body weighed on his and he began to lose patience.
"Hell, Bats! It was very nice, sure, but I can't stay! Harley's going to ask me where I was. And imagine what the newspapers will say if they catch us in this position!"
Batman swung to the side and placed his arms so that he could see the screen on his gauntlet. A few presses were enough to send his geographic coordinates to Gordon.
"If I'd known you were so clingy, Bats, I would have…"
Batman pinned him down again, silencing him. His embrace was as strong as the bars of a cage. Before losing consciousness, he threw his head back and struck the Joker's forehead with a hard blow.
Not knowing whether he had managed to knock the Joker out or not, Batman passed out before finishing his sentence.
Lipsticks were arranged in a precise order to unfold a rainbow of red, purple, pink and beige tones. On this more classic display at least, because the one behind it offered more whimsical shades with purple, blue or black.
Their velvety scent evoked femininity and elegance…
"May I help you, Mr. Wayne?"
A saleswoman in impeccable suit approached; a very pretty girl with a tight bun and straight bangs.
"I'm not sure about the color." Bruce was lying. In fact, he was not thinking about the shade or the brand: he was hesitant about taking a gift.
Every time he swallowed his saliva, he felt he could taste a bit of sap.
The woman hid a little smile: the newspapers had not yet talked about a new conquest of the popular Bruce Wayne, so she imagined she was gleaning gossip before the press.
It was a few minutes after 8 p.m. and the store would close in about 20 minutes, just enough time for the last of the latecomers — husbands who had forgotten a birthday present, for the most of them — to pay for their purchases.
The idea of Bruce Wayne buying a lipstick at full tilt before a date was quite amusing.
"The best would be to choose according to the lady's skin tone, which is…?"
"Pale. Very pale."
"There are some coral shades to enhance the complexion, or dark reds, but only if she's skilled for makeup."
"She has… a very personal style."
Please, if she asks about the hair color, I swear I'll…
Bruce was trying to be cool, but one more question and he would start to lose his patience.
Fatigue was pounding on the back of his forehead and dark circles had begun to appear under his eyes.
If he had been able to sleep for a few hours, he had not been able to rest, despite Alfred's support.
They had only exchanged a few words — the butler knew the last Wayne well enough to know how reserved he was —, knowing that they would talk about it later, and Bruce had fallen asleep in the batcave chair, ignoring Alfred's advice to go upstairs and sleep in a real bed.
Alfred had interpreted this neglect as some sort of self-punishment, and he could not make Bruce renounce these ascetic habits, especially since they made the knight feel as though he was paying his debts.
While Batman was sleeping, Jim Gordon had left a voice message: Jervis Tetch had been taken to the morgue, while the Joker had been hospitalized. There was nothing serious, but after what the maniac had done, a hasty return to Arkham would have been dangerous.
This message proved that the commissioner had not doubted the clown's guilt for a single moment, even before hearing the made-up versions.
However, the end of the message had left Bruce rather puzzled: the Joker wanted to talk to Batman, but 'he was missing an accessory to be presentable and harmless'. These were the Joker's exact words, and the Commissioner hoped that Batman would understand their meaning.
Luckily, he did.
The saleswoman showed him a sovereign, dark hue, very close to the bloodstain that had formed under the Hatter's cracked skull.
"This one is called… 'midnight ruby'."
The label indicated number 166 — much less poetic.
Bruce hesitated to look at it. Was it really important?
After all, a lipstick was a paltry gift, and as long as it was harmless, Bruce could make the effort. He had now a debt as heavy as the world on his shoulders: his enemy was doing him a favor, in his very own way of course.
Bruce would never have thought that his relationship with the Joker could have been more complicated, and yet…
Finally, he reluctantly assured the young woman that this hue would suit the 'lady' very well.
In front of the counter, Bruce tried to keep a calm attitude. The lipstick, in its black packaging, disappeared in a small glossy paper bag. Full of good intentions, the saleswoman even decorated the handle with a red ribbon. So much effort while there was still a chance that the lipstick would get stuck deep in the clown's throat if he laughed too much…
It was almost midnight. Normally, visits were no longer allowed, but in the case of the Joker, no visits were allowed anyway. At least, courtesy visits.
However, Batman was an exception and the nurse on duty knew Commissioner Gordon's order: when the masked vigilante arrived, she could leave him with the prisoner.
But even if she was expecting the bat's visit, the nurse barely uttered a cry of surprise when the figure appeared in the corridor. The ghosts were traditionally white, but this one seemed to have fallen from the night sky.
A grim reaper crowned with spikes and dressed in a cape that imitated a shroud.
The nurse shook her head to chase away these ideas and put down her book, Poe's short novels, before getting up and greeting the visitor.
"Good evening, Batman. The Joker, uh… made a rather strange request…"
"I know. And I have what he asked for."
He handed the bag with the red ribbon to the nurse who did not know what to do with it.
"Give it to him, he'll understand. I'll stand on the doorstep, don't worry: I'll be here if he tries to attack you."
The nurse swallowed and turned away. She typed in the eight-digit code and passed her badge.
The space here was incredibly cramped, allowing room only for a bed behind a curtain, and yet Batman understood that the nurse felt like she was crossing a desert.
A light source projected its ghostly rays across the curtain, and from the color, the neon light seemed as sick as tonight's moon.
His back pressed against the door, the sentry was waiting. He heard a swarm of murmurs, a soft muddle of spectres whispering in every corner of the room, and they were interrupted only by a small laugh.
It was not the Joker who had laughed; it was the nurse.
When she reappeared right after, she was still livid, but this time, it was because of the green light.
"Batman? You may come now. I'll be in the corridor if you need he… I mean, well, if you need anything." The nurse mumbled before leaving.
Then the two enemies were alone.
The Joker was lying on his hospital bed, held still by straps. The neon light above him brought some sort of glaucous chiaroscuro, plunging the clown's face into darkness as he bent his neck. He no longer had his purple suit, just the green hospital pajamas that were far too large for his skinny build. The V-neck gave a glimpse of his white torso, while the short sleeves exposed his slim arms. His body seemed to be a composition of bones and tendons.
Batman's silhouette still remained in the shadows at the back of the room.
"He he he he… There he is! The Dark Knight of Gotham!"
His voice was hoarse and his laughter was more reminiscent of pain than joy, but Joker was tried his best to look good for Batman.
His lips were red, shade #166, 'midnight ruby'.
"How did you manage put the make up" Batman asked, surprised: the Joker's wrists were held by three straps on each arm.
"That's my secret, Bats. But come closer, don't be afraid!… My throat's a little sore, I wouldn't want to make it worse." The shadow slipped, passing in front of the machines. "Hey, you didn't take me for a fool about the gift! Does Talia have the same one? Do you go to the same store for her? I know: one isn't supposed to ask the price of a gift, but I'm sure you've picked something quite expensive."
The shadow reached the bed, passing like a wave.
The translucent neon light made the Joker's hair bright and acid green. A bump had begun to deform the criminal forehead — the blow had been violent. The smile was, as usual, biting. Batman had often wondered whether all the teeth were fake or whether some were still real.
"Don't you have anything to say to me, Batsy?"
"What do you want to hear, Joker?"
"A bit of gratitude! Even the very least you're capable of. The gift is a start, but all you had to do was to respond to my request." The clown tried to straighten himself up, twisting himself in his bindings. "After all, I sacrificed myself for you."
"Sacrificed?! You did nothing but…" acting as usual, that was what Batman had wanted to say, but it was not true. No one would doubt that the Joker was responsible for the death of the Hatter, no one would doubt the righteousness of the Knight. Everything went back to normal, but it was wrong. Today, Batman had committed a crime. Accident or not, his code had been broken when the Mad Hatter's skull cracked. Had it not been for the Joker's intervention, all of Gotham might have learned the true identity of the Dark Knight at that time. Batman sighed and replied: "I still wonder why you did that."
"Because it's worth it. I knew it and I know it."
The clown wanted the death of Batman, not the arrest and imprisonment of whoever was hiding under that mask: he had confessed it to the vigilante and was more honest than ever. Why his enemy would never understand something that simple?
Joker managed to turn his hand as if to offer it, palm facing the sky.
"For me, you were beautiful, Batman."
The sentry preferred not to react. The clown's smile was softer than usual, his voice less crazy.
"It's the city, Bats, it's Gotham! It bewitches, it pushes to extremes, I know a lot about it…"
"I already know your Ace Chemicals story, Joker. No need to blame Gotham to justify who you are."
"No, no, I take full responsibility for my crimes, Bats, I'm not ashamed of it. But even you can't deny it: Gotham is primarily responsible for everything that happens on its streets. It created me, it created you. Look: why did the Hatter die? Because the ground collapsed. The floor of a shabby building! And there are plenty of buildings like that in all Gotham! Even you can't stop Gotham from making ghosts."
The expression reminded Batman of the murmurs he had heard earlier. It was ridiculous.
"Gotham has an influence that you can't fight. In the end, you didn't break your golden rule because of me, but because of this city."
Batman did not know if it was a delusion. Had the nurses given something to the Joker? An overdose of morphine?
"It's awful, isn't it?"
"Your worst enemy knows your worst secret."
The Knight lowered his head, surrendering.
"Tonight, when you'll be alone in your cave, thinking about what happened, moping… think of me. Think of the joy I feel thanks to you. Think about how much I loved you today."
A shiver crawled under the armor, from the neck to the kidneys. Receiving the Joker's compassion was not comforting, yet he had acted as a friend.
In a very personal way, that is to say. Even unhealthy. But as a friend.
When Bruce explained the Joker's proposal to Alfred, the butler did not know what to think about it. As a rational person, Alfred had never tried to understand the Joker's acts, but deep down, Bruce knew it: the old man had been relieved. Thanks to this enemy, Batman would remain the protector of Gotham.
Bruce would have liked to be less intransigent, just like Alfred.
"I just want to hear one thing, Batman."
"That I'm grateful for what you did?"
"Oh no, I already know that you are. No, I'd like you to say that we're the same. You and I." He tried to laugh. "You're the yin to my yang. Or the yang to my yin, I'm not picky, but say that we complete each other. Say that you need me as much as I need you. I want to hear it."
Before today, Batman would have been able to contradict him right away with his voice of steel, sure of having no connection with his lifelong enemy. But tonight, he could no longer have that assurance, for he could no longer condemn the Joker.
Had his relationship with the Joker changed? Not at all. In fact, this secret had simply strengthened a relationship that already existed.
Horrified, Batman preferred to stand up without answering. In his movement, however, he had touched the Joker's hand, touching the lines of life, heart and mind.
The clown laughed and, certain that his accomplice had voluntarily touched him, murmured:
"I knew you were going to agree with me."
I want to thank, once again, the many French reads who read and reviewed this story during Summer, but I also thank dawngloaming and twoomy for their kindness in their comments~