Who: The Bat, The Hood, and The Joker What: Attempted baby rescuing. Where: Gotham, DC Door When: During the recent trifecta of villain attacks. Warnings/Rating: Some violence.
The Bat's first stop was Saint Sebastians hospital.
It was nothing short of chaos, hysterical parents being herded into separate areas by police while doctors and nurses were scattered about, mingling with shell-shocked security guards. He avoided the crowds and entered through the ventilation system, his focus the now-silent maternity ward, and once he'd canvassed the scene his next stop was the security room to view the tapes. The system had suffered a breach, which was unfortunate, but the Bat did not need visual evidence to point him in the right direction. He simply wanted to see what he could learn before tracking down the Joker through his men. They were easy to follow, at least for someone like him, though he was troubled by just how far their trail stretched. He was not fool enough to knock on the doors of the houses the thugs had visited, but he noticed small anomalies, how all the residences seemed dark and empty, and he tested out his theory by letting himself in through one of the windows. The couple residing at that particular residence had no children, as a simple background check courtesy of Wayne tech told him, and the crying baby combined with the sobbing woman and the man's threats to use a gun he had clearly never used before confirmed just how deep the Joker's insanity went.
He left, the Bat, but not without the promise to return. These children belonged to others, however deserving the couples were; he made note of as many as he could for later reference.
Now, his main goal became finding the Joker and the remainder of the babies. Once again, his henchmen were the key, and it certainly helped that he was relentless in his pursuit. He thought briefly of Jason, of whether or not he would come, but in the end he decided he would simply deal with whatever happened, despite what it was. Normally the Bat had plans, had a strategy, but he had learned that those often did little good when it came to the Joker. He wasn't unprepared, rather the opposite; he expected anything and everything. He drove, as opposed to going on foot, but the Tumbler was hidden well out of sight by the time he reached the factory where he was certain the Joker held court. Instead of rushing in impulsively, he lingered out of sight as he waited for the schematics of the building to be downloaded onto the phone in order to find the most strategic point of entry, while his attention was divided between the task at hand, the comm in his ear, and, of course, his surroundings.
Jason had stopped out in the heights at the batcave to pick up some new toys from Damian, and then he headed back toward the city. His bike was lean, slim, and ridiculously fast, a model he'd tinkered with himself, just the right size for turning hard corners and weaving through nasty alleyways. And all the way to the Joker's hangout, he did exactly that.
It was easy enough to find a straggling henchman to follow back to his boss. Jason had been waiting for an opportunity like this for ages. Everyone knew roughly what part of the city the Joker was based out of, but finding his actual base of operations was another thing entirely. In the poor neighborhoods of Gotham, buildings crowded each other out, with a thousand abandoned hidey-holes for an evil maniac, and no one was too inclined to rat out said psychopath, not even for someone who used to live there. Jason had tried old street contacts, the one or two people he knew who were still in the machinery of crime he'd been conscripted into as a kid. Nobody knew where the Joker was. Or, if they did, they weren't stupid enough to tell him and bring that kind of hell down on their heads. Not for any price.
Now, though, Jason had been handed the golden ticket. The Joker's men, as usual, were tough as they came, but not too bright, and they didn't even notice the motorcycle on their tail. When they diverted off to a side street and turned into a factory gate, he turned another sharp corner and circled around.
One circle of the building told him it was old, likely falling apart inside, and there would be a lot of nooks and crannies to hide the missing kids. He saw the Joker's men get out of their car, though, and there was no sign of a baby anywhere. Interesting. That meant not all of them had made it back here. The Joker wouldn't be stupid enough not to equip himself with a couple of hostages, though, so there were definitely some in there.
Jason had a sneaking feeling he hadn't made it to the factory first, considering his detour, and his suspicion proved true It was on his second circuit of the building that he saw a sharp edge peeking out from the mouth of an alley just out of sight of the factory. Behind the mask, he smiled, a little grimly, perhaps, and quieted the engine, rolling around the corner and to a stop next to the tumbler.
Jason tapped the side of his helmet to turn on the comm he almost never used anymore. "You know, you're really not as good at sticking to the theme as the Bruce I know," he informed the Bat, looking at the sharp, abstract angles of the tumbler. He kicked out the stand on his bike. "You on the roof?"
Despite his insistence that Jason keep his distance and allow him to handle the Joker, the Bat had expected him to come. Revenge was a strong motivator, he knew, and even if the younger man had been inclined to listen to him, which he was not, it would have been a difficult urge to resist. For all of Selina’s claims that he needed to trust Jason, however, he found that he simply could not imagine the man being faced with the choice of killing the Joker or letting him live and, of his own free will, choosing the latter. Perhaps it was unfair, but everything the Bat had seen of Jason, he was even worse at exhibiting self-restraint than Luke.
"I don't have a theme." As always, his guttural, almost animalistic growl gave nothing away, and the Bat knew better than to waste time attempting to convince Jason to leave. He was, in fact, on the roof, a constant in terms of strategic vantage points, and he'd already calculated a number of possible routes from at least three entry points. Instead of answering in simple 'yes' or 'no', he simply named a set of coordinates which indicated the start of a route which would lead the other man inside, unseen, where the Bat intended on meeting up with him.
Trust or no trust, he was not particularly keen on setting Jason loose within when the Joker's men had babies as hostages.
There was a difference between Jason and Luke. Luke had a desire to exhibit self-restraint, while the suggestion that Jason ought to stop elicited only more anger in him most of the time. No, there had been no chance he would stay behind. Even if all the other outbreaks of crime hadn't been adequately covered, he would still likely have come. He hadn't seen the Joker yet, in this Gotham. He didn't know how he might be changed, but that didn't matter. No version of him should get to live in Gotham and keep on killing.
The set of coordinates as a goal were predictably straightforward. "Sure you don't," Jason muttered, and darted across the street on foot.
The area was underdeveloped and dark, so it was easy to hop the fence around the factory and make his way toward the building. He was thinking of the babies, how the Joker’s men might be keeping them - as shields? In an isolated area? He'd hardly needed Selina to tell him he needed to put the infants before killing the Joker. That didn't change the fact that he'd take the opportunity to kill the clown if he was given one. At the back of his head, her voice nagged at him, but what did it matter? If he killed the Joker now, any protest Bruce might make would be irrelevant. It would be done. And it wasn't as if Bruce would ever let him put the past behind him, any more than he could let it go on his own.
The clown, of course, had a whole new arsenal of tricks hiding in the sleeves of his tailored purple jacket. Yes, the factory was a rather predictable place to retreat, and he’d been okay with that. Joker wanted to hide just long enough that most of the families would have time to beat it out of town with the babies, and the batbrats would have enough time to track the Joker’s men through the streets. The goons had been informed that they were supposed to be followed, but that they weren’t supposed to make it obvious that they weren’t hiding their tracks or looking over their shoulders. Hopefully they weren’t too inept to walk that line. The clown would find out soon enough.
From a corner of the factory somewhere on the middle floors of the building, the Joker leaned out a window and watched the chaos on the street several stories below. At the moment, a bunch of thugs in black hoods and smudged camo face paint were trying to toss a dumpster through the front window display of a jewellery store. The Joker admired their work ethic, but their technique was all wrong - too much random flailing and not enough of the old heave-ho in unison that they would need if they wanted to properly launch something as unwieldy as a dumpster. With a soft tsking sound made with his tongue against the roof of his mouth, the clown swung back down off the window ledge and hopped up onto the nearest table.
“They’re late,” he said with no small amount of glee, sitting cross-legged and glancing up at the clock on the wall behind him. It had stopped working god-knows-when, not that it mattered. The fact that the bat family members hadn’t swarmed in yet was a remarkably fortunate thing. Every minute that ticked by on other, functioning clocks was just a bonus now. They had gotten the babies away, and the Joker had successfully spirited all but three into desperate homes and desperate arms of desperate would-be parents. Whatever happened to the kids was in their hands now, and the hands of the Bat himself.
The last three babies had been whisked away from the hospital by the Joker and his two right-hand men of the moment (they never lasted long, curiously enough) in a nondescript black van, and they’d made an important stop along the way. There he had picked up the youngest infant, a little girl with blonde hair and blue eyes who had barely turned eight hours old when they’d taken over the maternity ward. The Joker took her in his arms and cooed at her in his cracked, broken voice and then he gave her to someone very special - someone who would keep the girl hidden and safe at the expense of their own life if needed.
The other two babies were currently bundled up in the arms of the other two men, swaddled in blankets to protect against the damp chill of the empty factory. One of them was crying, a real shrill sort of noise, and the Joker searched through his pockets before he found a pacifier in one of them and threw it at the goon’s head.
His crackly laugh echoed throughout off the cinderblock walls, drowning out the last few squalls that came from the infant before the pacifier was eased into his mouth and he settled down. The Joker turned to glance out the window again, wondering exactly what sort of tricks the Bat-man was cooking up out there in the dark, dangerous night.
The Bat had done his damndest to keep track of the stolen babies in relation to how many were accounted for and how many were not, and by his count there were at least five which had not been delivered elsewhere, though he left room for error. It might be less, or more, but he suspected the former. Too many babies would be a liability rather than an advantage, and as hostages he doubted the Joker needed very many. Children were always valuable bargaining chips, as cruel as it might have been. While the Joker was undoubtedly expecting their arrival, and thus the element of surprise was hindered, the Bat did not intend to make it easy for him and his henchmen to decipher when and where they would strike. Jason may have been reckless, may have been impulsive, but he had to have some sort of faith that, in this, he would manage to reign himself in and act accordingly, lest any innocents were harmed due to their failure.
Preferring to work his way down, rather than up, the Bat entered from above, carefully navigating the now-unused ventilation system until he found a safe location to descend to. The vents were precarious, barely supporting his weight, but he managed, and the radio frequencies implanted in the ears of his cowl had been modified to pick up sound from within a wide radius, spanning the entirety of the factory, from the faintest voice to even a rustle of movement. Yes, down was the correct direction, and as he waited for notification that Jason had entered the factory, yet another inky shadow amongst others in a smaller room, an offshoot of a larger space where production had once taken place, he inspected the walls and the floorboards for potential weaknesses.
It took a while for the technology to calibrate, unfortunately, but this situation was similar to one he had faced before, involving the Joker, an old building, and hostages. The sonar Lucius had developed for him to utilize then had since been destroyed, but he’d done what he could to replicate it, and if it had worked as he hoped, he could have a visual layout before his eyes in a matter of minutes. The chaos on the street concerned him, yes, but for now it was secondary to the threat before him; once the Joker was taken care of, he could think about cleaning up the rest of his mess.
The thieving thugs were definitely a problem, but not one that Hood intended to try to deal with right now. That store down on the street would be empty at this hour anyway. At worst, they'd make off with the merchandise. At best, if they had anything resembling an alarm system, it might draw a few cops away from the hospital to deal with the thugs, while Hood and the Bat took care of the real threat inside.
Hood didn't know where the Bat had gone, but that wasn't important now. Not when he'd heard the Joker's voice on one of the floors above him, after finding his way in through a broken window into a parts storage room. Everything was rusted, cobwebbed, and had been decommissioned for a long time. In any other town, a place like this would already have been converted to condos or sold and built on, but not Gotham. Here, a sprawling factory like this one could sit for decades, untouched. Nothing grew in Gotham except Ivy's flowers. All was mouldering decay, and it was men like the Joker who kept things that way.
Hood climbed a set of stairs that shed rust flakes like metal snow as he climbed. He moved slow, kept his movements quiet, and pulled a small disk off his belt. At the top of the stairs was a hallway, and light streamed through one of the doors. He could hear the clown - talking, talking - and a baby crying. Damn. This wasn't going to be as simple as he'd hoped.
Time to try plan B. Hood activated the sonic grenade in his hand, then tossed it down the stairs behind him. The loud noise would be far enough away to avoid harming the hearing of the babies, or deafening anyone in the room beyond, but it would make quite the clamor to go investigate. He slid down the cracking rail while the sound of the explosion still covered his movements, then drifted back into the shadows, waiting.
While Jason’s presence registered as a mere blip on his radar, it was enough to get the Bat moving. The foundation of the building was strong, but time had taken its toll on the rest, and the infrastructure was weak in certain points, which meant that the stairs never bore the weight of his footsteps. Admittedly, he was concerned about the possibility of Jason reaching the Joker before he did, and as he was aware of the presence of children, time was of the essence. A series of miniature explosions created a yawning black hole, large enough for him to fit through, and the space between the walls bore his size for two stories before he was forced to find an alternate route to the room where the Joker was, so close, and yet not close enough. He wasn’t particularly concerned about the sound carrying, as it was impossible to remain entirely silent, and he fully expected the Joker and his men to be awaiting his arrival. He did wonder, however, if they were counting on him not having come alone. In his world, he was a solitary creature, and backup simply wasn’t his style.
One floor above, and he heard the sonic grenade below, knew it was Jason, and he set about placing more miniature explosives at various points on the floor, on the far side of the room, where the damage from debris would be minimal. Normally it would have been too much of a risk, especially with civilians involved, but the Bat’s sonar had finally regulated, and before his eyes was a clear blueprint of the room below. Yet he crouched, waiting, not ready to detonate the devices and drop down below just yet. Perhaps Jason’s grenade would do the trick, and once he saw who moved, then he would act.
Torn from his malevolent reverie by the sound of an explosion from the stairwell, somewhere beneath their current ‘hiding place’, the clown perked right up. It was too far away to have been any sort of attempt on him or his goons, but that still left quite a few options. It could be have easily been the sound of someone blowing out a wall or a vent to gain access to their level - the building was certainly full of enough twists and turns and dead ends to confuse even the most navigationally-inclined heros, and he was always counting on throwing his foes into circumstances that would lead to frustration and a dangerous lack of patience. The explosion could also be an attempt to lure the Joker or his men out into the stairwell to investigate, where they would be no better than sitting ducks at the mercy of whoever lurked out there in the shadows.
Finally, there was the funniest possibility. The Joker knew it would be too much to hope that multiple members of the Batcrew had stumbled on each other out there in the dark halls of the factory and just blown each other all to hell - but that wouldn’t stop him from picturing it in vivid detail and snickering under his breath at the thought. He also slid off the table and moved across the room to the door, moving with surprising speed and stealth and pressing one ear up against the cold metal.
Nothing. It was silent beyond the door.
Well, that either meant that someone had blown themselves up, or it was a trap. With a snap of his gloved fingers and a jerk of his head, the Joker motioned for the closest goon to figure out what was going on. Joker took the baby from his arms, holding the bundle of blankets close against his chest and slinking farther back into the room, lurking near the back wall and facing the door.
Of course, there was no sense in sacrificing one of his goons without a backup plan. While the Joker and the remaining thug held onto their babies and waited while the other slipped through the heavy door, the clown put one hand in his pocket and found the object he was looking for. It was a thick, squat cylinder, about half the length of a pencil, and it had a glowing red button on the top. The Joker wrapped his fingers around the thing and held it tight inside his pocket, a twisted smirk playing along his grotesque scars while he waited. And watched.
In the shadow of the stairs, Hood waited, the thin light gleaming off his helmet, shiny hard and bright as the carapace of a beetle. The thug came wandering down toward the source of the noise, and Jason let him get halfway across the floor before he came up behind him and knocked him brutally over the head with a sharp crack from his elbow. It made a dull sound, but it didn't really carry, and he caught the unconscious man before he could hit the floor.
Hood just as easily could have killed him. He could think of a dozen ways, walking up, that he could have lethally taken the man out and ensured he wouldn't be a problem going forward. He could have slit his throat to stop him screaming, or grasped him by the ears and snapped his neck. How easy it would have been to permanently remove him from the equation. But he didn't, and he wasn't really even sure why. Selina's counsel lingering in his ears, probably. It chafed him, bothered him, but now wasn't the time to dwell. There was still at least one more thug, the Joker, and the babies besides. He was just lucky the fool hadn't come downstairs holding one of them.
Hood flicked his comm, but didn't speak. The place was cavernous, words would only carry. The beep it would send into the Bat's ear would make his point, though - one down, two to go. They needed to move fast, before the Joker got suspicious that his man hadn’t come back.
The Bat watched as the scene below him played out, through layers of weathered concrete and wood. Only a quiet, steady rhythm of ticking from the standby devices filled the silence, the sounds from below contained within the ears of his cowl. Waiting was agony, and yet he could not act; how could he? Jason’s grenade had lured one thug away, but the Joker and one other still remained, both holding their delicate little bargaining chips. Children, at least, could take direction, could run, could hide... babies were entirely helpless. He had wanted to ensure their safety first, but as the device in his ear beeped, indicating that one problem had been removed from the equation, he began to realize that risks might be inevitable.
His heart sank as the Joker moved back, against the far wall, where he had intended on making his entrance. Of course nothing involving the madman and his schemes would adhere to any sort of logical pattern. Waiting too much longer might cost the babies their lives, as the second thug’s absence would be sure to give them away, even if the Joker assumed it was only Batman who had come. He tilted his head to the side and, mind racing, began to construct a new plan. The devices implanted on the floor were left behind, untouched, a sort of contingency plan for later, should the need arise, as he crossed the room with swift, silent steps. The floor may have been out of the question, but the windows were still viable.
There was no crash or shattering of glass; the Bat was too careful for that. Seconds later, the power within the building failed, a mass short-circuit which plunged the factory into darkness. A risk, yes, but as Bat was counting on neither the Joker nor the other thug to be able to see in the dark, it gave him the perfect cover to infiltrate the room and gain the upper hand.
Of course, the clown had never really expected his nameless thug to return from the reconnaissance mission unscathed, or even at all. The man was just a gun, without a face or a voice or a story. A man who listened and did as he was told and paid in full for his unquestioning obedience - and was it really the Joker’s fault if the stupid man had expected to work with the big-bad without the threat of risk? It was foolish, like waving an exposed throat in front of an angry pitbull and expecting to walk away in one piece. These men knew the risks, and so Joker only listened hard for any tell-tale thuds and crashes on the stairs that would point to the fall of an unconscious or immobilized body, but only cool silence met his ears. That meant whoever was on the other side of that door had taken down a two-hundred-sixty-pound man without so much as a misplaced step. Impressive.
“Well, you certainly know what you’re doing,” he called out in a high, thin voice that practically dripped with a giddy sort of scorn. His words echoed around the room and seemed to surround them, and he just knew that they were listening intently. His captive audience, here to try and save his teeny little captives. “How fun! Tell me, is anyone on the market for a slightly used infant? Only a little bit of wear and tear, practically brand-spanking-new!”
He didn’t know how many members of the Bat’s lackey crew had them surrounded, so he spoke loud enough to carry his acidic taunts as far as he could. Hoisting the baby up a little higher on his hip, the Joker bounced the bundle gently and pulled the trigger a little higher so that it sat in his hand just inside the mouth of his pocket, unwilling to reveal his magic trick quite so early in the game. All in due time, and even then only if they forced his hand. Despite all the obvious threats that were implied by kidnapping a hospital-full of babies, he wasn’t particularly inclined to see them killed. That was too predictable. Better to keep the heroes on their toes, and best to expose them for the frauds they were - no heroes, no, not in this town. Self-entitled vigilantes with delusions of grandeur, and no one but the Joker to expose them for what they really were.
And that was precisely what he had planned.
When the power cut out, it was all he could do to keep his scream of delight contained and muffled down to a cackling shout of laughter. “He’s here, sonny boy,” he announced to the baby in a softer, cooing voice, something that was both mocking and cruel like nails on a chalkboard or a dull knife on a dinner plate. “Come to steal you away into the night and return you to your family. But at what cost?”
The Joker backed up as far as he could until his spine pressed against the cold cement wall behind him, jerking his head in the general direction of the second goon and his baby.
“I hate to break it to you, sonny boy, but your friend the Bat is going to have to make a hard choice. Either he can save you and your little buddy over there, and let me go off safely into the night - or he can take me down, if he decides that I’m more important than your short little life spans.” The Joker turned this way and that in the pitch-blackness of the room, straining to make out something, anything, in the dim light that filtered in through the open window. When he spoke again his voice was nothing more than a hoarse whisper, chilling and full of venom.
“Ask me, you’re both goners. He wants me too bad, y’see. Wants me so bad it hurts. Even his code of ethics isn’t bulletproof. Or dynamite-proof.” The peal of laughter that spilled forth at that was something altogether more unhinged, sharp and cutting through the blackness like a hot knife. He couldn’t wait to grade this particular multiple-choice test.
To say this was not personal would be a lie. There were noble reasons behind his initial insistence that he go after the Joker alone, but there was something else too, a desire to face the man who had, in his Gotham, taken that which he loved from him and tainted the symbol he'd fought so hard to create in one fell swoop. Perhaps he might have felt differently had it not been his Joker, but it was, and this... this was between the two of them, as it had always been. Jason was there as well, and he had his own history with the Joker, but not this one, and the Bat was far more confident in his own ability to keep from crossing the line.
Maniacal taunts were exactly what he expected from the madman, and he focused on the volume, on how he spoke, rather than what he said. There was no hint of uncertainty, nothing to suggest that the sudden darkness had thrown a wrench in the clown’s plans; then again, even if he had accomplished such a thing, he knew better than to expect confirmation. That would be far too easy, and the Joker would never show his hand, regardless of what, if anything, he had to show. He was, at least, certain that his movements went both unseen and unheard; in the darkness, the Bat was simply part of the black, another shadow amongst many. Strategy was key, and he knew he could not hesitate too long, lest he lose his advantage, and he brought a gloved hand to the comm in his ear as the Joker continued to spout off his insane ramblings and taunts that not even his armor could fully deflect. What he activated with a simple touch was a rather basic program which consisted of a series of beeps transmitted to Jason’s device; in case the darkness hindered him as well, the beeps would either increase or decrease in speed depending on his proximity to another living being in the room. Each of the three were distinguished by the type of beeping; the Joker’s was like more of a frantic alarm, while the Bat’s presence was low and rhythmic.
The presumed choice he was to face came as no surprise. Yet it was the mention of dynamite which made the Bat pause, recalling the Joker’s penchant for explosives, and he recalled how the last choice he had been forced to make ended. “No,” he growled, and his voice seemed to come from everywhere, reverberating around the room and impossible to pinpoint. “I won’t play your games, Joker. You’ll fail. Surrender the children now, instead of prolonging the inevitable.”