There’s something to be said for staying strong in the face of adversary--something along the lines of “That’s life, now buck the fuck up.” The world was full of tattered lives, broken families and shattered dreams; that’s just how things were. Why were people applauded for simply living through life? Sure, it’s tough, but that’s why humans were made to be too resilient; they were made to survive.
Some people spend their whole lives thinking that simply living was an award in itself instead of the nature of existence.
Life sucks; you keep existing--rinse and repeat.
You managed to blink roughly, clearing the haze from your eyes as you stared down at the newspaper in your hands. You glanced up to stare into your kitchen, dank walls glowering darkly as the light resonating from the kitchen began blinking on and off. You tiredly rolled off of the mattress that lay resignedly on your floor to walk swiftly towards the light positioned loosely against the wall beside the kitchen before tapping it roughly with your finger. Suddenly, the light glowed brilliantly before a large popping sound resounded, the light effectively disappearing from the bulb.
“Wonderful.” You sighed to yourself looking over to the light holding up on the opposite side of the kitchen thinking, for a moment, that one light was good enough. You let out a large sigh before walking over to the wardrobe nestled beside your mattress to take out your EMT uniform, sighing to yourself before looking up at the hanging clock and noting that you still had another hour before you needed to leave.
Dead end job; dead end existence--so much to look forward to.
You tossed the uniform on the chair that sat beside your wardrobe with one swift motion before wondering what you should eat before starting your shift. You should probably eat something with some semblance of nutritional value if you want to expect yourself to last through the entire 10 to 12 hours you’re going to be working. Upon realizing this, you stroll back into the kitchen to compose a salad from the miniscule amount of lettuce and boiled chicken you had sitting in your fridge from a few days ago. You searched around--well, more like glanced since there was really nothing inside of the appliance--before noticing that you had no more tomatoes. This was only a minor inconvenience considering you had a small bushel of tomatoes growing on the roof of your apartment building, but you still didn’t like the fact that you had to make the trek all the way up there.
You hummed to yourself for a moment before grabbing your keys, walking into the hall and quickly locking your door before jogging down the hall to the stairs. You only had two flights of stairs to go up--thankfully--before reaching the door to the roof and you found that opening the door isn’t as hard as it usually is. You sauntered out into the darkness ignoring the blaring sirens, the faded gunshots and the mindless honking that sang together melodiously around the streets of Gotham. Your eyes zeroed in on the small tomato plant sitting delicately in a vegetable growing box before walking over and reaching down to grab a few.
That’s when a sharp sound hit your ears; something caught between a grunt and a pant, and stopped you cold. Your heart began racing almost instantly, fear encasing you quickly before you managed to override it and glance over to the other side of your plants.
And there, covered in blood, lay the one and only Batman.
“Oh my--” You covered your mouth instantly, not allowing yourself to even finish your sentence before kneeling down and placing your finger to the vein in his neck. Your fingers moved beneath the fabric of his suit to press gently there before you moved the other hand to the back of his neck to carefully feel for broken or misplaced bones. When you found a slow but steady pulse you forced yourself to speak.
“Batman?” Saying his name felt surreal, like seeing him in front of you was some sort of cosmic joke. “If you are able, make a noise or blink your eyes to indicate if you can hear me.” You happened to have a small light attached to your keys which you used to light up the area as much as possible. You sat the light down on the flower pot but manage to angle it down so you could free your hands just as you looked back you watched as he slowly, painfully opened his eyes and closed them.
“Thank you; I want you to not move until I’ve asked you everything, alright?” You didn’t give him a chance to answer before you carefully positioned both of your hands behind his neck so that you could use all of your fingers to locate any damage. “Is there any major pain in your neck? Blink once for yes, twice for no.” You carefully read his face as you gently pressed on his neck as you watched him slowly but surely blinked twice.
“This is good; there isn’t much I could do for you if something had happened to your neck.” You had the feeling he wouldn’t want the hospital called--what with him being the Batman and all, vigilante work comes at a cost--so you would do all that you could with what you had. “I’m going to move your neck to check for extra pain, alright? Blink once if you understand.” He managed to blink again, quicker this time, indicating that he’s becoming more lucid the more you talk to him. You slowly moved his head from one side to another, feeling the bones in his neck and watching his face as you pushed on them; he winced only once, when you pushed on a particularly out of place bone right beneath the skull.
“Bear with me, alright? I’m going to try and lie you down, blink for me if you understand.” He blinked again, his eyes now appearing to stay half-lidded as he watched you work. You moved your hand to cradle the bottom of his skull and the top of his spine as you placed the rest of your forearm along the top of his back with his shoulder resting on the crook of your arm, your other arm moved over him to wrap your arm over his own opposite you and under the middle of his back. Once you’d slowly lowered him to the ground, watching his face carefully as you did so, before slowly moving your arms out from under him. It was then that you moved yourself towards his head, your hands going underneath his neck once again to lift it up.
“I’m going to moved this bone back into place, it will make most of your head pain go away and help with the nerves in your arms; if you understa--”
“Just… do it.” He spoke softly, pain coating his words thickly before you smiled down at him.
“Don’t talk; it’ll tense up the muscles in your neck.” You placed your fingers under his head as you turned it to the left slowly, fingers finding the bone instantly. “This may be uncomfortable, make sure to relax.” You turned his a bit more to the left before quickly pulling his skull upwards and twisting, pushing the bone back inside with a resounding pop. He winced slightly--more from the sound than the pain as is usually the case with those things--before his eyes slid back up to you.
“How bad is the pain?” He remained quiet before you nodded at him slightly. “You can talk now.”
“… Better.” That was a good sign, he was flexing his fingers regularly and you could see his leg muscles moving ever so slightly. The problem now, however, was the extraordinary amount of blood that he was losing. You needed to get him somewhere more sanitized if you were going to have any hope of helping him. You pursed your lips momentarily before looking up towards the flower pot and grabbing your keys, turning off the light before shoving them back in your pocket.
“I know this is a lot to ask but, can you move? I need to get you somewhere… cleaner if I’m going to be able to clean your wounds and I’m not very strong...” As you finished your sentence you watched as he immediately began trying to sit up despite the clear amount of pain he was in. “Woah, woah! You’re just going to hurt yourself more!” You quickly moved your body up against his back to provide a semi-strong surface for which he can stand up with. Just from pressing against him you can feel at least three slipped bones, the lower ones probably pinching many of the nerves leading down to his legs.
“Look, when we get you to stand I want you to lean on me, alright?” He didn’t speak but you knew he understood, you moved yourself in front of him just in time to catch him when most of his body gave out. He was… heavy to say the least and you had to bare your teeth to force back the grunt that threatened to come out. You quickly realized that you had two flights to go down before your apartment.
You blanched heavily, already wary of the trip.
There was no one wandering around the complex, thankfully, but the journey back to your room was arduous. You’d barely made it inside before realizing that you were about to collapse. You moved him quickly inside before spinning around quickly to lower his torso down onto your kitchen counter for momentary support.
“I’m going to lock the door and get my supplies, just lean on this as long as you can.” After these words you ran to the door to shut and lock it before running back to your wardrobe. You pulled out roughly five different sheets before throwing all of your blankets and pillows off of the bed and quickly laying the linens over your bed. This is when you placed your medical kit beside the bed and rushed back over to Batman.
“Come on, we need to get you fixed up.”
You sighed heavily to yourself as you stared down at the bare torso of Batman, eyes sliding back up his bandaged body to his still masked face. He was sleeping, of that much you’re certain, after having to deal with the pain that comes with fixing what is damaged. You stitched up, disinfected and covered four or five different wounds; bandaged three different, serious abrasions; and pushed five different bones back into alignment in his spine. He deserved rest considering all of the damage he had caused to his body, and you figured you’d just wait until he awoke to ask him what had happened.
You continued to stare at his face, eyes dancing around the mask in an attempt to maybe put some of the pieces together yourself. You would be lying if you didn’t say that the curiosity was eating away at you, but you figured that it would be better to not venture beneath the disguise. Batman was a justice figure, a purely human man who stood for what was right and what needed to be done--a legend.
How could you, in good conscious, break that façade? Turning the unbreakable hero into a mere mortal right before your eyes? No, the mask stays, or else you fear that you’d never be able to believe in heroes again.
You were forced out of your reverie upon hearing your phone ring, this causes you to jump up and run to the handset.
“Oh, so you are at home. Is there any reason you aren’t here so that you can ride along and do your job?” You cursed quietly inside of your head before trying to explain to your boss what had happened without actually telling her.
“I’m so sorry, ma’am! Something very important had come up and I couldn’t--”
“Save your excuses! I don’t care! You know how I feel about flakes and, though I’ve always liked you, I’m afraid I’m going to have to fire you.” Your heart stopped before you shouted back into the receiver.
“I’m fired?! This is the first time I’ve ever done this!”
“Second, the second time.” You could see everything in front of your eyes become blanketed in red for a moment.
“My family was involved in an accident that day!”
“I don’t care, we have a policy, you’re fired. Come pick up your things next week.”
The line went dead.
You stood there for what felt like days, staring at the wall with wide eyes and your heart pounding at a million miles a minute. You were.. Fired. Honestly and truly fired, and all because of a “company policy” that states that your boss has to be a bitch.
“Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.” You were terrified, horrified even. What are you going to do? Without a job you can say goodbye to your apartment and having any sort of income. You decide instantly that you don’t have time to deal with this, so you turned around quickly to go back to the bed--
To see that Batman was gone, and your side window was wide open.
“Next in line please.”
You looked up to the front of the line to watch as an older man walks up to the teller before you looked off towards one of the smaller windows located on the wall opposite you. You’d decided--in a moment of lucidity--to put the spare cash you had stashed in your house in the bank considering the fact that bills would need to be paid soon and you need as much money as possible in the account. You tapped your foot quietly against the laminated floor as the line moved forward again, your eyes glancing down at the small satchel in your hands.
You would’ve pondered on the futility of it all if your thoughts weren’t interrupted by a barrage of gunfire lining the room suddenly. Without warning you were pushed to the ground by the others in your line diving for the floor, your arms instinctively going up to shield your head as the bullets rang through the air. You can hear cackling in between the moments of silence before the gunfire continued and you knew in the pit of your stomach who it was.
“Now, now, fair citizens! I am not here to kill you today!” The gunfire had ceased and you harnessed all of the courage in your body to lift one of your arms and glance towards the door. There he stood, wavering himself around like a drunkard as his minions behind him began pushed couches and tables up against the sparse windows and glass doors all the while he and other minions were pouring what was surely gasoline all over the furniture and bank.
“You just may escape with your lives; if you, of course, participate in a little… game.” At those words his lackeys filed out of the main door before the Joker positioned himself directly in front of it. “I’m looking for new recruits and, as it happens, applying is mandatory.”
Your stomach began tying itself in knots as you looked around and noticed the various men and women staring up at the Joker with fear written all over their faces. You all were frozen in place, realizing right then the horrific implications spoken by the man with the gasoline canister.
“Here’s the game!” He put his hands together for a moment, a sadistic smile dancing over his lips and he pranced around like a child. “If you escape out of the prized door, you pass! However… if you don’t, well… the answer should be obvious.” It was then that he began backing himself towards the door, his smile never faltering and his cackling never ceasing.
“The price of failure is death, I’m afraid. Happy trails everyone!”
With these words he opened a lighter, flicking it open and on only moments before tossing it right in front of him and setting the whole room ablaze almost instantly.
The screams were devastating; men and women clamoring to standing positions to run straight towards the fire in an attempt to get to the door. You were not one of these people, however, you kept yourself firmly on the ground as your mind started running at a million miles a minute. That door, the front door, has to be the exit he was talking about, which means that that’s the last place you want to be. Your eyes danced around the room as people began throwing themselves every which way in an attempt to escape before you noticed people from the back of the bank running out of the door which blocked off the back of the bank.
That’s when it clicked and you decided that then was your moment to act, flames licking at your skin from every side just as you bolted towards the plexiglas door and began sprinting towards the back rooms. You’d seen them before, the doors around the back of the building that let the armored trucks bring money into the bank. That’s the only way you’ll be able to escape, the only way you’ll be able to get out and get help. You continued sprinting, frantically glancing in every direction as you attempted to find your way towards the back.
Fear struck you in those moments, the fear that you’ll hit a dead end and be stuck, no way to get out as the flames come for you. You tried to push this thought away as you glanced up to follow the arrows that lead towards the different areas of the bank, your heart soaring in elation as you see “BILL SHIPMENT AREA” written on the wall with arrows pointing to your right. Taking this as a good indication that that is the right direction to go in, you rounded the corner so fast that you ran into the opposing wall before pushing off of it and sprinting even faster down the hall.
You see it then, the entirely cement room at the end of the hall with the giant, steel double doors. You could feel it, the muscles in your legs screaming at you as you attempted to run even faster towards your saving grace. You clear your way into the room to see a giant red button labeled “OPEN” just in time to kick one of your legs up to hit it before you slammed yourself into the doors and pushed them open to reveal the blinding light of the sun and the fresh air of the outdoors.
Your sprinting is cut short when an arm close lines you, gripping your body back against a stonewalled chest as you struggle to breathe through the tightening on your neck.
“Congratulations, you passed.”
A rag being placed over your face and the blurry, smiling face of the Joker the last things you see before blacking out.
Ice, the air was cold as ice when you came to, eyes opening slowly as your brain woke to labored breathing and bindings placed around your entire torso. You manage to force yourself into lucidity before lifting your head up to glance around the room--only your panting breaths and the trickling of water providing any sound whatsoever. The more you took in, the more you woke up; the more you woke up, the more horrified you were.
“I see she’s awake.” Your head snaps in front of you to come back to face with the Joker once more, his head tilted and body loose as he stood in front of a decrepit looking door. The room you were in was enormous, the remains of an abandoned factory, of that much you’re sure. Papers, boards, even bits of shrapnel were tossed around the concrete room; all signs of abandonment--all signs of being forgotten
“What’s going on?” Your voice was weak, broken but you swore to never let your eyes betray any sort of weakness before this man.
“You passed! I was quite impressed really.” He saunters forward with these words, his legs tossing themselves in front of him as he made a haphazard line towards you. “You were the first one to take that route, the first one to escape. I have a feeling all of the others whom had taken the same exit, had simply followed you. Even in hysteria people clamor for others to think for them”
“Why am--… Why am I here?” You tried to ignore his monologuing and instead tried to wiggle yourself around in your bindings.
“Why, I’m enlisting new henchmen!”
“I want no part--” You tried to sound strong too soon, your windpipe was damaged and your show of power caused you to collapse into a fit of coughs.
“I’m afraid… you have no choice.” When you managed to open your eyes again you saw nothing but the Joker, his entire presence blocking everything from you. “You see, I’m in need of more minions, it’s so hard to find good help these days, you know.”
“The psych ward not have enough gems lately?” This comment seemed to surprise him briefly, his mouth shook slowly before the entire room was filled with his laughter.
“As luck would have it, not quite.” It’s at these words that he lowered his hands down onto your bound forearms before continuing. “Either way, I’ve found that the best henchmen…” The Joker leaned in more with each word before his lips pressed themselves firmly against your ear and continued:
“Are the ones you make yourself.”
Your breathing became labored again before the Joker pulled back and gave you a gigantic smile. “It might take longer to break you then most, but I certainly don’t think so.” At these cryptic words, Joker pulled himself away from you and meandered back out of the double doors. You were in complete silence for the briefest of moments, registering the fact that you could see your own breath before once again fidgeting in your seat.
Suddenly the entire room was filled with the piercingly loud screech of sirens; you screamed at the sudden noise, your voice drowned in the noise of the sirens. You looked around, wondering where the noise was coming from for 20 minutes before realized it wasn’t going to stop soon.
It had been hours, perhaps even days as far as you know, since you’d last had silence.
The sirens haven’t stopped once, the piercingly loud screeches had long since caused your ears to bleed and had long since kept you from sleeping. You were thankful for the bleeding, often times when the blood dried it helped to drown out the sirens.
This reprieve usually lasts only minutes, usually; every so often, every time you’d begun to seizure from the noise and the sleep deprivation, ice water would drop from the ceiling and coat your entire body. This would wake up instantly, giving you a moment of water before the bitter cold would wrack your body in shakes and clean the dried blood from your ears.
Opening the wounds and letting the blood flow freely again.
It’s been days, it has to have been. You’re exhausted, so exhausted that you can’t even cry anymore. You usually just released gut-wrenching sobs that can’t even cut through the shrill wailing of the never ending sirens. You’d figured it all out hours upon hours ago--figured out the Joker’s plan.
He’s trying to drive you insane.
Of course he would be, that’s what he needs--he needs insane people, people he can both relate to and control. The crazier you are, the more useful you become.
But you won’t, regardless of the maddening sirens or the deadly cold room or the exhaustion you feel… you will never become like him.
You had no idea when, probably after you’d passed out from a combination of exhaustion and hysteria, but you’d had a blindfold placed over your eyes. You didn’t think much of it, merely disliking the fact that you were seemingly even more vulnerable now that you could see anything.
“I suppose you get used to the sirens.” You hear a voice, both a muffle and far away echo at the same time. You tilt your head slowly in the direction of the voice, the Joker, before you begin to speak.
“I live in.. Gotham… of course… I’m used to them.” You’re broken, of course you’re broken, but that doesn’t mean he’s beaten you.
He cackled heavily, of course he would. “I suppose so, how are you feeling, my dear?”
“Tired, but otherwise perfect.” You shifted again, neck stretching back tightly as you tried moving yourself around in your seat. “A little uncomfortable too.”
“Hmm, I was wrong, I suppose. It will take longer to break you… but no matter! Nothing a little playing won’t fix!”
After these words you let out a scream, rocking your chair back and forth as the Joker began carving circles into your collar.
“Well, this will never do, at this rate, my masterpiece will take days to complete.” Your breathing is labored again and you can feel as the tears began to tumble down your face. “But that’s alright, we have all the time in the world.”
With those words, he left--silence settling in his wake.
“Rise and shine, dear!” Your wake up call was complete with a shallow stab to your shoulder, you holler out in pain once more. “Seems my masterpiece is complete, I’m sure you’d love to see.” It was in this moment that your blindfolds were torn from your eyes, the light coming in and burning them horrifically.
“Go, look and see for yourself.”
Your eyes are open but you can see nothing, nothing but bright lights and the outline of objects. You continued to blink your eyes, hoping that soon the haze will leave and you can have your sight returned. It feels like an hour ticks by, slowly and painfully before you can fully open your eyes--a strangled sob rips from your throat upon seeing what’s in front of you.
He’d placed a mirror perfectly before you, the surface reflecting back at you a person you will never be able to recognize.
Her clothes were tattered and dirty, her hair matted down against her head and plastered stiffly to the sides of her face. Her body was covered in blood, both caked and soaked in it, giant circles and decorations carved onto the delicate layers of her flesh while more and more blood continued to ooze out of the wounds.
But her face, that face…
Her eyes were wide, almost as though they would break away from her skull, her skin was pulled tight against the contours of her face while her lips stayed open, trembling all the while.
You can see the Joker as he enters your line of vision in the mirror, standing behind you with a wicked look on his face and a smile like you’d never seen. He leaned down in this moment, lips coming to pressed themselves to your ear before whispering quietly:
You say nothing, you merely stare back into the eyes of this madman, defiance and determination shining in the deep pools of your eyes before you open your mouth to speak.
“I’ve been better.”
“You know,” Joker tears his eyes away from you before he turns and uses one of his hands to play idly with your hair. “I did a good amount of digging on you Miss [First Name] [Last Name] and I found many interesting things.
“Lost your entire family in a terrible accident, how tragic. But the twist? The fateful, terrible twist? You are the only one who survives the car’s deadly plunge into the river when your father lost control and drove it off of a bridge.” You can feel the bile drift up into your throat as he continues, the smile never leaving his face.
“What did that feel like, hmm? Being the only one who got out? Your little sister sat beside you, unconscious from the fall while your father and mother sat in front, both dead on impact. How hard did you fight to try and save your sister? Did you even fight at all?”
“Shut up.” You could feel it, the rage that threatened to consume you, the disgust you felt by even having this maniac near you.
“I’m sure you’d like to see them again, wouldn’t you?” Your jaw was tight, clenched against itself as you leaned as far away from the Joker as possible--eyes narrowed and dark while you felt the nausea threaten to consume you.
“Don’t get too upset, I’m just letting you know that, out of the goodness of my heart, I’m letting you see them again. It’s my gift… to you.”
Suddenly, the Joker lifts his hands up to the mirror and quickly pushes it over. It hit’s the ground with a resounding crash, but the crash was faded, like you were hearing it from away, like you were hearing it from somewhere else.
“It’s my gift, to you, my dear.”
Strewn on the ground not even 10 feet from you were the partially decomposed bodies of your family.
You are unable to stop the gruesome scream that ripped out from your throat and equally as weak in trying to contain the horrified sobs that tore from your mouth soon after the scream subsided. You couldn’t tear your eyes away, you couldn’t ignore the sight of your family, tossed on the ground in front of you like trash, their bodies thrown haphazardly in a pile on the floor.
“You bastard!” Those were the only words you could find in your head, the only words that made any sense in those minutes that continued to tick on. You could see him watching you, the knowing smirk dancing around his face as you continued to sob. He said nothing, did nothing, for a long time. You couldn’t stop staring at them, the bodies laying out before you. The body of your baby sister, barely 8 years old, completely facing you, her eyes wide open and partially rotted out with flaky, deformed skin and matted, light hair.
“You’re a goddamn monster--a horrific fucking monster!” You knew why he’d done this, it was supposed to be the final straw, the part that drove you mad, the part that meant he won.
“You wasted your fucking time, did you know that?!” You tossed your head over in the Joker’s direction, watching as the smile he had seemed to falter ever so slightly. “You think this is all?! This will finally break me, make me crazy?! Well, I have news for you, just because something like this would ruin someone like you doesn’t mean it’ll happen to me!”
You watched with disgusted eyes as his smile was dwindled down into a pursed line, his eyes narrowed deeply. “Horrible shit happens to people every day, all over the world! People are raped, people are tortured, people are forced to murder their own families--that’s what happens! It’s terrible, it’s agonizing, but we make it through! You think all this--all this!--will break me down?! You think that making me relive my past, doing all this is what will change me? Our past doesn’t create us Joker!
“It’s our actions afterwards that shape who were are! And I don’t care what you do to me, what you put me through, or what you throw at me because I will never be like you!”
You watched as the Joker’s face turned murderous right before a figure fell from the ceiling and descended down onto him, punching him square in the jaw before turning to look back at you just as your head began feeling light and your tears began to subside.
“Don’t worry, you’re safe now.”