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 shut 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 for you. 70 chapters (more or less) translated for you.

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 pro for it) or paste it into an online translator, okay?
Last solution: learn a new langage for 15 years and write a story, be my guest, and send me the link.

Readers who comment 'DuH, i SuGgEsT yOu To FiNd A bEtA-rEaDeR' are morons who discourage non-English authors who want to learn and try.

Seriously, beta-readers are hard to find, and while I may have find someone to beta-read this story, I want to know if we will have enough support: I'm not going to ask their help for a 70-chapters-long story (around 300 000 words, I think, I'm not done writing it yet) if this fic is only going to have 2 comments and 40 kudos.
So let's try it: if I have enough feedback, I'll translate more chapters and I'll ask help from the reader who is willing to beta-read it.

Now, a note about the game and fic itself

Despite being labeled as the 'least loved Arkham game', I loved Arkham Origins.

This opus offers an interesting story with Bruce who has been Batman for only two years and is still a rumor (some criminals still don't believe in his existence yet). It's very different from the other games where he is calmer: here, Bruce is particularly violent and has a hard time managing his anger. In short, he's much more threatening than in other games.
There are also the fights, which are excellent, and some of the design characters are really convincing, I'm thinking above all of Bane's, which simply surpasses the other Arkham games. In fact, all stories combined, it's his best design.
And of course, the Christmas atmosphere that reminds me of Tim Burton's second movie: even virtually, even for Gotham, seeing a city with all the Christmas lights is magical.

There's one little detail that cut me off from my enthusiasm and this frustration inspired me to write this story.
For those who don't know the game but want to read this fic, there are 'movies' available on Youtube, though it's an AU.

But if I must write a quick summary: in Arkham Origins, Black Mask hires six assassins to shoot down Batman, promising 50 million dollars to the winner. Among these six assassins, there are Bane, Firefly, Deathstroke, Deadshot, Killer Croc… But quite early in the game, Batman learns that Black Mask is actually the Joker, still unknown to the general public and who has been posing as Roman Sionis for months. And this Christmas Eve marks their first meeting (well, first since the fall in the acid).

In the last part of the game, while Batman is busy chasing Firefly in Gotham, Bane, having guessed the identity of the vigilante, goes to the Batcave and tries to kill Alfred by blowing up part of the cave.
Of course, since Alfred appears in the other Arkham games (which come later), no doubt Batman will be able to save him.
But that where the game made me twitch: Alfred gets stuck under rocks after an explosion and Batman saves him by making his heart start again. Then he leaves and goes to Blackgate prison where Joker and Bane are in the last fight of the game.

You can say 'yeah, but it's a comics world, you don't expect it to make sense!', and I agree, but a little voice said to me anyway: you don't heal fractures and hemorrhages with a defibrillator (lol, right?)... so what if Alfred died at this moment? He who seems to be the mentor, the one who tames Bruce's violence a bit by reminding him not to become what he promised himself to fight against?

In the end, with my soft spot for disillusioned characters, I couldn't help but imagine another story and started writing it last year, during the quarantine. Since then, the ideas evolve and I work on it for one year.

Enjoy~


Prologue

The rubble had been swept away, but the harm has been done.

Under the torn jacket, the butler's torso formed strange bumps. Still equipped with his cowl and X-ray vision, Bruce could see the broken ribs, closed like claws on organs.

A painful image.

Bane had told him that he had left enough life in Alfred for them to talk one last time. To say goodbye.

He had lied to him: the bleeding, which was fatal, must have started long before Bruce was on his way… It would have been easy to check the severity of the injuries and the time of death as well, but Bruce did not dare unbutton the shirt and make a post-mortem diagnosis.

In the hollow of this cave, dust was cloud, fog and shroud at once. The bats had fled for the night, preferring to face the cold rather than the explosion.

Kneeling against the hard stone, the humidity of the cellar crying on his shoulders, the masked man felt like he went back fifteen years ago. The only difference tonight was that he could have done something to save the last member of his family. He could have saved him.

Two years earlier, Bruce Wayne had adopted this winged monster costume to contain Gotham's, to push off the shadows that swallowed up thousands of innocent people every year, innocent people that included his parents.

But he had failed.

Despite his crusade, Alfred had also slipped into the abyss, following Martha and Thomas Wayne.

His code was unreliable. It was not effective enough for that filthy mire called Gotham.

Batman fixed what was left of his domain. The cables hung like electric snakes, the battle platform was cracked, unusable. A glass cylinder containing the latest version of Lucius Fox's armor was open like an icy mouth, its broken teeth all over the ground.

The mask was laying a few meters away; it had rolled like a decapitated head.

As an item of an armor designed for the coldest of climates, this mask covered the entire face of its owner, showing only two sharp white eyes, giving it a much more austere appearance.

Batman took off his cowl and retrieved the one on the ground; Bruce Wayne's mouth disappeared to make way for a black face, steeled with anger.

He had been vengeance, a threat, a vigilante. Tonight, his humanity amputated, he became a true winged monster.


Chapter 1 – Midnight mass

"We will be monsters, alone in the world, but we will have each other."

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein


« Avant de périr grillés, les moucherons croient supporter la lumière du lampadaire. [1] »

Laurent Obertone, Utøya


Batman did not even bother cleaning the blood on the batclaw. He already knew the power of this grapple, but he had never seen the damage it could cause when thrown against an unprotected face.

If the detainee survived, he would remain one-eyed. Perhaps stupid too, since the frontal lobe is the region of logic and language, faculties that he would now be deprived of.

Was is not the best barrier against recidivism?

The steam that was humming from the gates in the prison basement muffled the crackling of the loudspeakers, but the Joker's voice resounded, powerful and sudden:

" … N ow some of you might remember that three hours ago I was asking for the Bat's severed head in a dainty gift bag. "

The instability of his voice reflected the effervescence that was agitating him, while his enemy internalized everything: anger, fury, hatred. These feelings were only burning his forehead, sparing his legs so he could run with suppleness, as well as his body so he could rode with speed.

" … Well, I don't want you thinking I'm capricious or anything! It's just a lot's changed in my life recently. I'd love to tell you all about it, but I don't quite understand it myself, so let's just chalk it up as a Christmas Miracle! "

Security cameras adorned every nook of every room in Blackgate, multiplying these eyes that had scarlet LEDs for lashes. Their glassy gaze reflected the silhouette of the bat that had just escaped from the destroyed elevator.

Let them watch, let them know, it did not matter.

Despite the blood that stained his dark gauntlets in a transparent-way, Batman had not planned to kill the Joker tonight, because this new criminal had contacted Bane to challenge him to pin the Gotham bat, which meant that Joker had enough information on Bane, a direct contact with this colossus that had become the vigilante's primary target.

Batman would get everything he needed from the Joker, then he could kill him later.

If the arsonist Firefly or the venomous Copperhead go out of prison, their minutes would also be counted in Gotham. The fate would be the same for Deathstroke, Killer Croc, Deadshot… All of them.

Alfred had been their bulwark against a more definitive revenge, against the night that symbolized death. But he was gone, and Batman had to become what Gotham truly needed.

At the end of the corridor, the inmates, motivated by the Joker's orders, were clutching their weapons, happy to be able to put a beating on the mysterious vigilante, but when they saw the change in his appearance, they were as scared as children in the dark. Batman had just risen from the ceiling and, while one prisoner tried to fight back, a cable around his neck, hanging from a cold gargoyle, the man in black melted on the other enemies and tormented them with fists and knee blows. If someone tried to retaliate, Batman would grab the wrist and turn it over with a snap.

Some were not just badly wounded: they were left for dead, and they would be dead for good if they did not receive the first aid very soon.

The bat's new methods did not go unnoticed, and in the surveillance room, Joker became pensive. The screens, piled up to form a wall of lights, transmitted what the cameras recorded, and despite the sometimes poor quality, the images left no doubt.

Fists bound, gagged and tied to an office chair, the prison director, Martin Joseph, looked at the screens and the Joker by turns. The degenerate had not opened his mouth or even sneered for two good minutes.

Finally, Joseph grimaced when another burst of laughter punctured his eardrums:

"They replaced him! This isn't this Batman I asked for Christmas!" Joker leaned over and stuck his nose against the screen in the center. "The one I wanted had a different mask. Oh well, this could be interesting…"

In the lower room, in the middle of the still off platform, the electric chair installation suddenly lost all interest.

Joker had planned to take a seat there to witness the fight between Bane and Batman, orchestrating a precise staging with one sick detail: as long as Bane's heart was beating, the chair would be powered, channeling 220 pinches of volts per minute. At the end of the determined countdown, the Joker would fry as in an authentic execution.

With this plan, the clown wished he could trap Batman and his refusal to kill, as all initiatives included at least one corpse. If Batman chose to spare Bane, the Joker would die; to save the Joker, Batman would have to kill Bane; if he did not want to save anyone, then he would have to die.

But if the Bat had decided to break his golden rule, Bane and Joker would both die at the same time! And then where would the Cornelian choice be? Where would the suspense be?

Hands on his hips, Joker glanced at the wrestler.

"We have so little in common, Bane, but I think our death dates will match!"

Bane did not respond, massaging the palms of his hands, pampering the muscles before the fight. Director Joseph also imposed an unpleasant silence. Of course, with the red scarf stuck in his mouth, he could not help it, but the clown would have appreciated a nod.

"Come on, it's Christmas Eve! Do your bit, otherwise it'll look like one of those family meals where everyone is pulling a face!"

He laughed at his hostage and his mercenary, no longer worrying about their silence, then he focused on the screen again: Batman arrived in the wing where Joker had tied up Dr. Quinzel with two others guards. At least they would slow down the bat long enough to find something else, another plan.


Acid green messages were scrawled on every wall: parodies of Christmas carols; false indications; aggressive smileys with shark teeth. A lot of madness and jubilation that made the blazes on the road less threatening…

Ignoring the heat emanating from a burning pile of chairs behind him, Batman released the pressure of his arm against the throat he had just crushed. The prisoner's body collapsed.

"Batman?"

It was the psychiatrist.

Now that the danger was over — at least, the one posed by the present inmates —, one of the guards could untie Harleen Quinzel's wrists.

Joker had given new instructions to his associate: she was supposed to approach Batman and point him in a new direction, so Harleen ran to the gate, her red heels clicking on the metal platform, and called the man again:

"Batman."

He turned his back on her. His long cape imitated the shreds of a ghost made of shadows, running from the tips of his head to the ground. Wet snow still impregnated the fabric, making the black even deeper. Unless it came from fresh blood?

"The one you're looking for has blocked all exits except the elevator. He doesn't want to give you a choice."

The green arrows were pointing in all possible directions, tracing a deliberately confusing path, but two of them actually reached their snouts a few centimeters from the elevator.

Without thanking her, or even asking her how she was doing, Batman walked away towards his revenge.

Inside the elevator, a guard had been suspended from the fence. His knee was twisted, his foot was turning round, the heel in front rather than the toes. Blood was dripping from the shoe, inspiring a pain that was contradicted by the big red smile that had been made up on the inert face.

On the control panel, a green arrow had been drawn near the buttons, the 16 one to be precise, which led to the upper floors, was saying 'Bane', while for the lower floors, another arrow indicated 'Joker'.

The clown has not resisted adding a little smiley face near his name, just as he could not resist the pleasure of chattering:

"I must say, Bats," the narrowness of the cage gave the illusion that he was very close, "I wonder who you're most angry at! I know that I hired the best assassins — well, I thought they were the best — for killing you, and maybe Bane did more than kill you? I don't know, he refuses to talk to me…"

Oh yes, Bane had done more.

Finally, Batman could do without the information the Joker had by simply pressing number 16.

" You wouldn ' t want to tell me, by any chance? I mean, your business is your business, of course, but I think I ' m a good mediator, so I ' m volunteering to be your referee! "

His laughter resounded so loudly that the speakers suffered from this excess.

Without raising his head towards the camera he felt in his back, Batman pressed the button with the 16 on it. The doors closed and a click sounded.

"Oooh, wrong choice, Bats! I hate being left behind." Reacting quickly, Batman directed his batclaw towards the ceiling of the elevator. "And you know, I have two big faults: I'm very jealous and I love explosives. What do you think the result might be, hm?"

The black claw pierced the ceiling. Batman had to pull again to get a better grip, but the bomb, certainly placed on one of the cables, exploded. A few sparks fell into the cage, rushing with joy.

Before feeling the effects of gravity, before dying, Batman aimed again and the claw slipped through the gap. The din did not let him hear if he had aimed right, but he felt the cable tighten. By positioning his fist correctly, he could destroy the plate that had already been damaged and get out of this trap…

However, to his surprise, the elevator had started to slow down: the fall had been as short as that of a thrill ride. But was the ride already over? Where had the elevator stopped?

Batman heard a loud bang from outside and the lights went out. All that remained was the hollow silence of an empty tower where an elevator cage was suspended.

Blessed be the night vision of his mask, since with it, Batman could retaliate against a possible attack. And precisely, the tongue of a crowbar pierced the top of the imposing doors. The flat bar made its way between the metal teeth, tearing their edge. Batman had laid his hands on the smoke bombs and the batarang. The elevator gave him too little room, but in a thick fog he could dodge the bullets more easily and defend himself to the end.

Dying did not scare him, certainly not after Alfred's fate, but failure was a real fear. He could not stop until he had broken every bone of those who had caused the death of his only ally.

The elevator had to be somewhere between two floors as the increasingly wide opening revealed a large strip of concrete.

The lower floor could allow Batman to escape, but it would be difficult, while the landing above had a much clearer access, yet, it blocked by the man who had just crouched down to look at the trapped bat.

Joker.

"What's up, Bats?" Elbows on his knees, the madman smiled. "I wonder how many of your choices I'll manage to make you regret before tomorrow." He started counting on his fingers. "You saved my life at the hotel, and now you were going to choose Bane. But don't think I'm angry, I'm not. I was much more angry at you when you saved me! But Bane? At least I've the answer I wanted: you wanted him first, yet I'm the one who hired him."

Night vision did not allow him to see his snake irises, but Batman could see how his enemy was nodding his head. A real Christmas elf, totally excited and full of energy.

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm kind of the source of all your problems." Joker observed, before reaching out his hand, offering dubious help.

With a grunt, Batman grabbed that wrist and pulled so hard that he made the clown lose his balance. His body, even if it was thin, hit the metal floor with a loud noise.

Batman was about to lift him up and hit him. After all, he might as well take care of Joker right now before moving on to Bane.

"Oh, Batsy-Bats, you know, you really shouldn't do that…"

"Where is Bane?!"

"Think about it: if we both fall down, the answer won't matter anymore!"

His voice betrayed no anxiety; just that same old hilarity.

For months, Batman had been trying to terrify his enemies, to give shape to their phobias and nightmares. How did the Joker manage to make fun of everything?

He was still laughing when his feet touched the uncertain ground again.

For a moment, Bruce wondered if this enemy knew his secret too. Unfortunately, nothing in the Joker's attitude could point to an answer.

His fists still clenched the sides of the trench coat when the madman asked:

"What the Big Bad Bane did to you? Did he sit on the hood of your car? Did he break one of your toys?" Joker took advantage of their proximity to each other to pretend to bring his fingers closer to Batman's face. "Did he look under your mask?"

The bat pushed him away with a sudden jolt and the ground shake with fear. Joker laughed again, apparently happy to step on a deadly danger.

It was really time to leave, so Batman grabbed the edge of the floor with one hand, while the other still held the clown, urging him to follow him into the safer hallway.

It was not until he was safe from a fateful fall that Batman noticed that the electricity would not come back on: one of the generators had been destroyed by a fire axe. An emergency generator might be activated soon…

Even in this low visibility, Batman was sure that there was no one else: the Joker had waited for him alone.

The clown was dusting his knees, slowly going up and ended with his shoulders.

"I had to improvise, Bats, because I had something else in store for you: a Cornelian choice between Bane and me, but I saw that something had changed. No, I'm not talking about your mask, not only, I'm talking about the fact that you would've ruined the suspense by killing Bane and me. Didn't you have a code or something?"

Batman grabbed the trench coat and threw Joker against the wall, holding him against the cold glass. Outside, the light of the carnage was competing with the light of the sleepless night. A contrast that the two enemies seemed to compose in their own way.

"Where is Bane?! Don't make me ask twice!"

"No, no, no, this is wrong: I asked him to kill you, not to open your eyes!" Joker put his hands on the arm that was beginning to compress him. "But don't get me wrong, Bats, I always congratulate someone who's been deflowered!" To underline his word, he began to applaud, but the pressure of the arm intensified, letting out a groan of pain.

"Do you and Bane work really together? What do you know about him?"

"Uh… he's very tall, he's very strong, he's a drug addict, and he sheds a little tear in front of all the Disney movies. That's all I know!"

This nonchalance aroused Batman's anger a little more and he punched Joker in the stomach: the pain paralyzed the clown for a moment.

"Speak!"

"I'd like to sing, if it's okay with you?" Even with the shortness of breath, Joker began to sing: "no one knows what it's liiiike to be the Baaatman, to be the sad man, behind blue eeey..."

How ironic. Joker never shut it, however his secrets remained hidden in his throat, a throat that Batman grabbed abruptly. Men four times bigger than the Joker would have looked at the vigilante with eyes filled with fear, ready to beg him to let them go. But against his palm, here, Batman felt the tremor of a snigger.

Seeing how useless it was, the bat loosened his grip and stepped back.

Of course, he was overwhelmed with anger, but that emotion became ridiculous when mocked. After a deep breath, he spoke more calmly:

"You hired Bane to kill me. You promised him 50 million dollars."

"You know what they say: love has no price!"

"I can give you those 50 million back, if that's what you want in return."

"So you're buying back your head? Just like that? Does that price mean nothing to you?"

The masked millionaire did not answer.

"Nah, it's not enough, Bats. It hurts me to say it but let's be logical: I mean, it's your life! You must pay a higher price. 60 million? Nah, that's not enough neither. Double, maybe?"

"Even 150 million if you want."

"Oh!" Joker pretended to come closer, leaning a little. Was he going to mime a curtsy? "Batsy, really… You hurt my feelings."

"Because I'm offering you 150 million?"

"Because you think that money could mean something to me! Okay, I get it: money isn't your weak point, but I've guessed it already with all your gadgets. Anyway, you won't lose 150 million since you'll get it back once I'm dead, right?" Suddenly, Joker bent down to imitate the posture of confidence. "What really matters right now is that little something to get to Bane."

The Penguin had the same taste for luxury as the demimondaines of the past century, and he kept the weapon market on activity. Black Mask had built his empire to rule Gotham, becoming an intractable drug baron. Carmine Falcone, on the other hand, had the heritage, the name, the tradition.

They had all succeeded and became leaders; some men feared them, and more respected them.

But the Joker? What motivated him? His lunacy would never make him a criminal surrounded by loyal henchmen.

Was he going to betray Bane just for the fun of it? Was there any real reason to turn against this mercenary?

Shots rang out outside and a glance out the window was enough to see all the police vehicles surrounding the prison. Batman easily recognized James Gordon's moustache and fogged glasses.

"You may not realize this, Bats, but you, you really opened my eyes." By the windows, lit by the fires, his green irises seemed electric. "Here I thought I was hitting level ten, the tippity top of the fun scale… slaughtering gangsters, killing cops, exploding buildings. But now I know that the scale goes beyond ten. Way beyond! How much is anyone's guess, but together, you and me, we are going to push it as far as it will go."

New shots were heard with sounds of struggle and cries of rage. The police were going to try to regain control of the prison, a task that should be easier now that the king of the party was ready to leave the place.

Joker walked away in small jumps, declaring:

"Mr. Universe won't welcome Jim Jimmy, he probably left before the first shot was fired, but you know what? I'm not going to be a host either, especially for them, so we might as well run away!"

"We?"

"You don't want the information about Bane anymore?"

Batman began to follow him.

"That's what I thought."

They were still walking along the corridor when the emergency generator was activated. The neon lights switched on with a plaintive buzzing, and some flashed several times in panic before stabilizing.

Joker seemed to know the place already: he was following the correct arrows, the ones that marked the path to the chapel.

More as a game than as a defense, Joker shot randomly in the corridors, never minding the identity of the potential victims. Something added to the carnage.

On the floor, red stains tried to dominate the green inscriptions, trailing their metal scent, competing wildly in their violent drawings. The flames offered a certain light, digging a hell in the prison for Christmas Eve.

More discreetly, Batman would run, sometimes overtaking the Joker he had to drag along: if the crazy man decided to talk, then the avenger had not intention to let him go.

And if Joker changed his mind about their deal, well, he would greet the Virgin Mary before Bane would.

Antique stone eventually replaced bare concrete walls, taking the fugitives to another era. A red carpet showed them the way, and when they reached the central alley, even the sounds of wrestling seemed muffled. The stained glass windows shone with their warm hues. It was beautiful; pieces of red, gold, caramel and orange glass fighting back the cold and the moon.

In front of the altar, Batman experienced a brief moment of calm as he watched what was designed in front of them: an angel flying over a fallen fellow. His gray wings were spread out like a stiff cape, his bare torso evoking strength and courage; he was passing over the mutilated creature while holding an immaculate sword, but for what purpose? To point out the opponent? To kill the lost brother? Or was there a chance that the divine being was trying to save the one who had gone astray?

The masked man was brought back to reality when he heard Joker hitting the ground with his heel, martyring the thick carpet. After a few tries, he stopped and shrugged his shoulders with a burst of laughter:

"Too bad! I thought there was a trap door, but this chapel is a dead end!"

"What?!"

The joke sounded hilarious to Joker! He slapped his thigh twice, trying to catch his breath before straightening up while Batman was ranting:

"You guided us here without knowing if there was a way out?!"

"In fact, I suspected that there was none." Without shame, he gave him his most beautiful smile, a grimace painted with pleasure. "But I'm sure you'll you find something, Batsy, won't you?"

This question fell almost sensually, heightening the thrill.

Running away with the Joker was a ride on the most dangerous roller coaster without bothering with the seat belt.

Batman saw only one possible way out, and it did not rule out a possibility of death.

He pulled out the batclaw and aimed at the middle of stained-glass window. The three black blades pierced the colored glass, interrupting the frozen battle between the angel and the demon. The debris flew like sharp confetti, fluttering in bloody flakes.

The batclaw encountered the strong wind outside, unable to hold on to any grip, but at least the way was clear.

Driven by an old reflex, Batman grabbed the clown and invited him to take shelter under his cape. Joker seemed to be gloating and he put his arms around the armoured torso, letting the merry-go-round take him away.

As Batman crossed this glass jaw, avoiding the last sharp fangs, he heard the Joker trumpet:

"What a night, Batsy!"


[1] Could be translated as « Before they roast, gnats believe they can withstand the light from lamp posts. »