The clang of the crow bar colliding with the concrete might have been louder, the occasional thump of bruised flesh, the breathless wail, they might have all been louder, but it was the laugh that he couldn’t shake. Bruce Wayne had taken to the rooftops as he did every night, stalking the darkness to find the shadows beyond, but this evening he had a real purpose. He moved with strength and precision, with a deep desire for a sense of justice. He knew he would not get his wish. That wasn’t the way Gotham worked. The city built on broken dreams, the skeletons of the past.
The Joker had managed to escape Arkham Asylum once again, which had drawn out a crowd of protesters to the front of city hall. While they were violating the city’s civil ordinances, the Batman had to allow them their time to grieve, after all, they were observing their same rights as he was, though they were making themselves a target. This would be the perfect place for an ambush. Still, he cloaked himself in the gloom, and remained still as a statue, just another gargoyle in the city of demons.
The suit’s natural defence mechanisms had closed over his oral and nasal openings before the gas managed to have a tangible effect, but the same couldn’t be said for the people on the ground. All they’d wanted were answers, help from an unfeeling mayor and a corrupt police force. And now they were falling like flies. Two touches to the biometric keyboard on his wrist and a team of ambulances were en route. Doctor Tompkins was good for something after all, the people would be seen to. But where had the gas come from?
A flash on the rooftop across, just for a second. It wouldn’t have been enough to attract an average person, not without attuned senses, but it was short work for the Batman. It was a gift wrapped present, very well put together, as if a lot of time had gone into it. The Joker wasn’t usually this obvious any more, Batman knew better than to open something that could trigger a bomb, and not one nearby either. If anything, the Joker kept him constantly evolving as a crime fighter, naiveté was not a virtue in Gotham City, not if you wanted to survive for long.
Typical, a note was attached. He made sure there were no breakages in the material of his gloves. The Joker had been known to impregnate paper with concentrated dosages of his usual toxins. They were safe, and so he crouched down, ears wary of movement, and read the chickenscratch scrawl on the paper. Fists curled tight, and he was gone in a flash of lightning. There was no time to waste.
“Alfred, I need the plane now.”
“On its way Master Bruce, estimated time of arrival at twenty five seconds and counting.”
For a butler, the man was a military genius. Bruce could count on him. Besides, it would be good to get out of the rain, it didn’t agree with him. As the plane soared over the skies of Gotham, the note blustered in the wind. The ink smudged, but the words spoke a tale all the more treacherous because it had happened before. Of Robins and the nasty men who like to break them, and the place where it all began. It always began and ended there, why would it happen anywhere else? The Joker was a performer after all, a man of attention, and an eye for the dramatic.
The sign was fading, and the neon had long been smashed out by all of the explosions it had endured over the years. But the chimneys were still smoking, and the workers still in place around the clock, though at this time there would be a skeleton crew in the control room, no one walking the floors. Batman had learned their schedules, it was a necessity knowing that the Joker could hardly resist returning to the scene of his first ever crime. It was a natural progression to skim across the rooftop, down through the skylight, and over to the parapet.
He was there.
“Hello Bats, long time no see.”
“Where is the boy?”
Batman’s eyes were almost shut with rage, his whole face was tense, while his body kept to a completely different arrangement. He had to remain loose or he’d start to make mistakes. Nevertheless, Tim was a sixteen year old boy, he hadn’t signed up for what the Joker would be dealing out. This was supposed to be between men.
“The boy? Are you sure we’re talking about the right person?”
The light wasn’t showing his face, but that grin was seared behind Bruce’s eyelids every time he closed them. The yellow extended teeth, like a shark’s, only all the more dangerous. A shark was useless on the land, but imagine the terror of experiencing the Joker coming at you in the water, teeth frozen in that wide eyed grin.
“Joker, if you’ve harmed him I swear…”
A move back further into the shadows, which Batman matched forward, he was going to keep the Joker at a constant distance, within the reach of a good leap. They were nearing the ledge where it all happened. He wondered what would happen to the pale skin and the green hair were the clown to fall into the chemicals all over again. It might even kill him.
Life is never that easy.
Life should never be that easy.
“Bats, I’m going to level with you. I don’t know who you’re talking about. This boy… Did he come in with you?”
There was a game here, but Batman couldn’t put his finger on it. No sense risking it, at least whoever he’d been beating was safe for the moment.
“Then honestly, I don’t know any boys. Frankly, there’s enough sausage to go around already if you get my drift…”
The Joker narrowed his eyes for a second.
“Hell, in those tights, you’ve got to get my drift.”
More laughter, echoing through the place. It made him sick. One further step forward. One too far. He didn’t even have to see the glint the metal blue made, the movement in the forearm was enough. The Joker had a gun on him now, and that could go any number of ways.
“Ah ah ah, boy we’re forgetting the rules here Bats. I didn’t invite you down here for a bit of a chat, there’s a deadly puzzle here and you’re going to solve it for my amusement. Aren’t you?”
Mania. Menace. There was no time for response, there was only time to act. But not yet, he still hadn’t seen Tim yet, who was clearly about to be the collateral in this game of life and death they played with each other. At that moment, Bruce couldn’t decide which he was going to be.
“Joker. The boy.”
Returning to his earlier, more playful tone, Joker gestured with the gun as if to drive home his point.
“Does that mask cut off the oxygen to your brain? I keep telling you, I don’t know this boy of which you speak.”
“Robin, where is Robin?”
He didn’t care what the play was, he was getting desperate.
“Oh, Robin. Robin. Robin… Robin… Hmm… Now.. I’m sure I’ve heard that name before. I’m sure if you did me a tiny favour I’d be sure to remember the significance. Just a little show that we’re friends again, I want us to be friends Bats, it’s so much better when I’ve got people like me around the place.”
Whatever it was, it was likely to be either impossible or unnervingly simple.
“Well, I know it’s a long SHOT. But I’ll tell you everything you need to know if say… You let me shoot you in the stomach with this here six shooter of mine. I’m sure that’s something the great Batman would be able to do.”
No response, he didn’t have time. Before the Joker could react, he leapt up with his whole body weight onto the rim of the catwalk, and then began to come down through the air in a sweeping moment. He had to get rid of the gun, then it wasn’t going to be difficult to save the day. Joker was waiting for this though, and the shot rang through the whole factory floor. Batman stopped to feel at his armour. He could swear he’d been shot, but there was no blood.
“Joker, looks like you missed.”
“It does doesn’t it.”
He was still missing something. Why would Joker be so confident even if he’d wasted his shot?
“You must be getting out of practice, I’ve seen you hit a bullet with a bullet.”
“I must be, or would be, if I’d used a bullet.”
That stopped him cold.
“I know we made the deal based on me shooting you in the stomach voluntarily, but seeing as how I managed it anyway within such a short time frame, and how you’ll be feeling pretty queasy right now, I think I can indulge you your little brat.”
A single light came on across the other side of the vast room. Across about twenty metres of cold air was a figure sat slumped on the rusting steel, blood pouring down their face and a definite concussion at least.
“Robin? Would you mind taking a bow for our honoured guest?”
It sounded like a request, but it was an order. The figure stood up onto two shaking legs. They’d been dressed in an elaborate silky outfit, slightly ripped from the beating, Bruce couldn’t make out if it was Tim or not. Through the visor of the mask, he could zoom in, but the person over there was definitely a girl. Tim’s age, but a girl nonetheless. Right down to the body shape and skeletal structure, if this was a trick, then it was a poor one.
“I got the formula from Ivy. Harley and her have been getting more and more acquainted lately, but if it keeps her out of my hair I don’t really care. It’s a combination of some extremely rare jungle toxins, all mixed together by myself of course, I couldn’t trust the construction to anyone else. Your bat brat started off just like the other ones, but after a dose significantly lower than the one coursing through your bloodstream, I found she got sweeter and sweeter. Look at her in that dress, she’s pretty as a picture. But you know, being the new father, it would be lovely to have a woman about the place, you know, a real woman. A woman like you Bats.”
The stress on the armour was already pronounced, but Bruce had been fighting the effects.
“Oh come on, you can do better than that! Unless, you like that sort of thing?”
Not listening to him, Bruce fell to his knees, feeling the tightness in the chest area, and the hips. Untold pleasures rippled through his years of scar tissues as he fought to keep himself himself. Maintaining his breathing and heart rate at a low level, he could lessen the effects of the toxin before it could take hold, then he could attempt to synthesise an antidote back at the cave. He stumbled backward and reached for his grappling gun, but fell down onto the floor of the catwalk instead. He hit his head hard. The seams of his armour were coming apart.
“Amazing the strength of the human body when it’s under such stresses, but let’s help you out shall we?”
Joker brandished the knife as a surgeon with a scalped, taking apart the armour at all of the weak points, until Bruce lay naked in front of him, he kept the cowl on for the moment, even if his face was shrinking to the point of slipping through it.
“Bruce! Bruce! I’m sorry!” Tim cried in an unfamiliar, high pitched voice. Tears were streaming down the newly minted girl’s face, wiping away lines of muck. She was frozen in place, frozen by the thought of what might happen if she didn’t stay root still.
“It’s a potent thing isn’t it? To turn all those muscles into something a lot more fun! You look good enough to eat.”
Batman wasn’t all there now, the transformation was taking such a toll on his body. His nipples were burning hot, and between his legs there was an empty moistness, completely unlike anything he’d felt before. A space that needed filling, and soon. But it wasn’t going to phase him, even in a woman’s body, he still had the knowledge and the skills to come out on top. He lurched up onto his feet, feeling a long shock of hair whipping at his own unblemished back. His skin hadn’t been this pale in years, even when he was only working nights.
Standing up was a challenge in itself. The new complexities of his centre of gravity was hard to master alone, so moving about was almost an impossibility. But he was the Batman, and the Batman prevails, always.
“You do look lovely my dear, an improvement on your old self definitely. How about we find somewhere to rev up that new engine of yours? Even you can’t say no to that.”
Just the thought alone was enough to turn his stomach, but the Joker was hitting a raw nerve. He was fighting blind, and forcing himself into denial. This wasn’t permanent, he wasn’t there, he wasn’t in a woman’s body, naked, in front of his arch enemy. He was fighting like every other night, and he was going to win.
“Are you…” Are you blushing? I guess I’ve never really seen your cheeks before, but Dark Knight, I never dreamed you would…”
It just made everything worse. The emotions and the sensations bombarding his loins, his mind, everything, it was too much. Just the sensitivity of his silky smooth skin was unnerving in itself. He was a woman now, try as he might to ignore it.
“I don’t want to use the word pathetic, you do look dreamy when you’re embarrassed. You’d look better in another position though, with your face a hell of a lot redder.”
That was the last straw, focusing all his effort into one final punch, he leapt forward with his whole weight, just connecting would be enough, the Joker couldn’t stand up to much punishment. But he was slow, sluggish, and the Joker simply stepped aside.
“You know what Bats? Even when you’ve got nothing left…”
He grabbed the panting woman before him gruffly by the shoulder, and lifted her unwillingly to her feet. The kiss came in a flash, neither of them expecting it, she tried to pull away, but he was too strong, pressing his body to hers. His tongue explored the reaches of her mouth, and a hand gently tweaked a nipple.
“You taste like strawberries.”
She was barely conscious now, uneasy on her feet and now almost completely numb. The surprise was crushing.
“Oh yes, now where was I? Even when you’ve got nothing left… You never could take a joke.”
The punch connected squarely in her jaw. Tim screamed across the balcony as Bruce slipped over the railing, and fell downward, downward, downward. There wasn’t even a sound, the woman disappeared into the vat of green chemicals.
“I never thought it would be that easy,” Joker smiled, returning his gaze to Tim. “Now, now Robin, your daddy’s going to take you home. It’s a shame about mummy, but I can probably make you another one. I wonder where I can find Nightwing these days…”
Shaking, coughing up the burning acid, something climbed out of the vat. The place was quiet and still, empty, the dead of night, just before the morning. The air was so much sweeter when it wasn’t being sucked down desperately through searing pain. White as a sheet, with lips as red as blood, Bruce Wayne was gone now. Petite hands, with nails yellowed and torn, brushed green hairs out of her eyes. The Batman was gone, just as the Red Hood had before him.
It felt good to laugh. It was hard not to see the funny side.