Methodical Analysis

October 28, 2018:

Barbara makes her journey back home, and runs into an unusual vacationer.

Train to Gotham

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Jim Gordon, Batman

Plot:

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

As bridges close, and traffic is closely monitored, getting in and out of New York City is proving to be a constantly moving target. Some nights, all it takes is following the subways out until they merge with the Gotham Rail system. She started that route — bike navigating through the darkness of the New York City subway rails. But the demons are starting to congregate down below, and after dodging through two nests, Barbara Gordon was forced up to the surface before she could fully get out of Manhattan. Surfacing in Chinatown, Barbara stashed her bike and headed for the train station that would take her south and home.

The passenger car is quiet at the late hour, and Barbara is one of the only people occupying a seat in this section of the train. She's got her bag stashed at her feet, knee drawn up to her chest with her arm wrapped around it. She watches the last fringes of New York slide past, the blurs helping her thoughts wander. Her over-the-ear style headphones are looped around her neck, and some faint music leaks from the speakers, adding a subtle level of ambience.

He always took a liking to public transportation.

Oh, the missus has always been fond of the fast cars (with great suspension, if he does say so himself) and the quarter mile lifestyle. But at his heart, he's always been a bit of a common man of the people. If not in style, then certainly in soul. So really, when the train line started making stops in Hell, it was only a matter of time before he bought a ticket, right?

He is unmistakable. He wears a long purple dinner coat, smartly pressed pinstripe slacks, with a crease not even a millimeter out of place. His shoes, the first thing a woman focused on bigger things than the subway, might be the first thing she notices. He's got expertly shined wingtips that gleam underneath the aseptic glare of the car's overhead lighting, a pair more than capable of cutting a rug straight to heaven. The white carnation in the pocket of his suit is the signature, the one element of his style that is always uniquely his, no matter how many ignorant stripes have attempted to crib him, or his name. The selection really was the key to it, and to fair, Gotham's had at least three impersonators this year. Amateurs, the lot of them!

No matter how disfigured he gets, and no matter how ugly the world gets outside, he never stops smiling.

As the train passes through a tunnel and comes out on the other side, the sound of the carriage interchange is enough to cut into the harshness of the door to the car cracking open, the air pressure change the only indicator of his arrival. He sniffs audibly, walking across the car with an irregular amble that doesn't speak to a consummate showman moreover than a salaryman off shift for once. A day trader down on his luck, or the like. But it is unmistakably him. He walks across the passenger car, and, adjusting the garish purple hat on his head, takes a seat no further than one space down from the young commissioner's daughter, brushing a stray lock of green from his bleached white skin with a glove, settling heavily into the seat.

Now that he's close enough to carry, she will notice that the Joker, sitting next to her, is humming a tune. The Rubberband Man, to be specific.

It starts like a little prickle at the back of her neck. She's felt that before — a feeling like someone is walking across her grave. It unsettles her belly, knots her guts, and sends a little panic signal to her hindbrain. She hadn't noticed him coming toward her — damn her unfocused thoughts — until he's sitting down beside her. Her heart catches in her throat when she turns just enough to stare at the purple dressed villain now beside her.

Maybe she's dreaming. But the second that thought crosses her mind, she dismisses it. That's not the style of thinking that someone who is dreaming has. She breathes out a slow exhale, trying to steady her heartbeat. She pulls herself up taller in her seat, suddenly feeling naked without batarang or cowl. Without it, she must trust in her own power without the mask of the Bat.

Her mouth tightens into a slight, serious frown. She wants to break the silence with something witty, sharp, and purposeful. But all she can do is quietly inquire, "Why are you here?"

As the Joker settles into the bench beside Barbara, a sickly sweet scent reaches her. For all of his impeccable sense of style and excruciatingly garish fashion, the Joker's gloves are mottled with dark, thick splotches of wet, an ambiguous but very obvious fluid soaking into the lining. Unbeknownst to the Joker, she would definitely know the scent of blood when it presents itself, no matter what other colognes the older man prefers to accentuate his ensemble.

"You can't help but lose control, when that rubberband starts to jam.." the Joker hums absently. His long frame is in many was the exact opposite of her body, and even hunched over as he is, it's a joke exactly how much larger he is this close up than in other contexts. The man so frequently dominated by the Bat whose emblem she wears proudly on her breast is a much, much different thing when there's nothing separating him from your throat. Elbows to knees, he hunches over in gathered respite. "This dude is outta sight," he laughs lightly, the words trailing off to a light and groovy hum.

And despite all of the beatings, all of the bad days and asylum stays, he still grins.

He never quite looks at her when he talks. "Bright lights, big city, that's the life for me," he replies, sanguine in every sense of the word. "One wouldn't begrudge a man vacation from his vocation, would they?" he asks, mania-filled eyes just waiting for her to disagree. "But then, that's something a Gordon would know nothing about, would they?" he suggests. "I can't imagine the reason why his lovely daughter would be slumming it up here. A secret beau? A romantic interlude?" he thinks aloud, turning over each option in his head.

And then, when the idea occurs to him, he leans in, the motion infinitesimally small, but devilish all the same.

"Or maybe dear old dad sent his little girl out to franchise, eh…?"

It's hard to figure out exactly what his meaning is.

Barbara flicks her gaze around the passenger car, as if checking for others who may be around. She remembers herself — she's not in her cowl, and that makes old dad Jim Gordon, not Batman. She wears her frown seriously at the infamous psychopath beside her, and she tightens her fingers slightly around the edges of her cuffs.

"I didn't think you knew how to take a vacation from being a threat and a menace to society." She swallows down the rest of her words, brain stalled a bit when Joker tries to find exactly why she's making her way from New York. There's something almost unsettling how he mulls around the idea of a secret boyfriend, romantic interlude… because Jim Gordon had started to nose around those same ideas just a few weeks ago. In his desperate attempt to be modern, he even asked if she had a secret girlfriend.

She's spared from the blush that threatens her cheeks when Joker leans in. Her eyes narrow slightly, and she does not lean away, boldly staying poised in her seat. "Bright lights, big city… one wouldn't begrudge a girl vacation from her vocation," she slings back at him.

He fixes her with a delightfully skeptical glance.

"Society is such a strong word to use nowadays, isn't it?"

There's nothing about her other life that he knows, that much is clear. The reason why is she's still in one piece. For as many pieces the Batman's broken in him, his mind is never one of them, and it is so full of miserable fates for any and all of the Bats that tend to orbit him. There are a hundred fates that roll around in the Joker's mind for each cowl that Batman has under him. A hundred ways for Batgirl to die. A hundred hilarious, show-stopping ways. A hundred ways to get to Batman. And the only reason Barbara is in one piece right now is because he hasn't thought up one for her yet.

"But then, the Big Apple isn't quite what it used to be, either?" the Joker admits, leaning back to reach into the pocket of his slacks, producing a small Zippo. It gives him the space to pause, to set himself up and to lift his body. He moves just a little closer to the commuter, as if making a secret known to her. Because he is a man focused on the show, he slaps open the lighter with one hand, letting the small produced fire dance between them. "Of Hell and high waters, who would have thought Hell would have come to town first?" he asks, laughing lightly at the thought of it. It's not a pleasant sound.

"But of course, being coy does you no favors in this kind of town, you know," he advises, helpfully, turning to raise the lighter between them. The fire dances for a long time, Zippo at its finest. The fact that it's being held in his blood-soaked glove is almost of no consequence.

"It's a funny world out there, Miss Gordon. You could use someone looking after you. Otherwise, who knows when someone might wander around a corner and—"

The metal of the lighter is harsh as the Joker snaps it shut with a flick of the hand.

It's only an inch away from her nose.

It is moments like this, with Joker's breath almost on her face, and that look of absolute madness meeting her eyes, that she wonders if Frank Castle isn't onto something. Batman can't stop the Joker, Arkham can't hold the Joker, and yet… a constant, vicious cycle continues. She holds her ground, trying to not look away as the lighter comes out. Her jaw works as her teeth set together.

"I bet it's almost like home," she says in a steady, sharp voice. "And if it doesn't feel like home yet, you should get used to it, because you're going to be calling Hell 'home' one day, Joker." The bite in her words is sharp, bitter. It's almost a relief to just be angry with the man — if you can really still call the Joker a man.

Each click of the lighter is distracting, causing her focus to divide itself between the man and his toy. When he snaps it open right at her nose, it takes every part of her fighter response not to reach out and try to break his wrist. That kind of violence would not be the right call, not as Barbara Gordon. Batgirl? Or Castle's Red? Those two would have no hesitation. Jim's daughter holds back.

She flinches away from the threatening closeness with the lighter. The light from the flare causes her pupils to tighten sharply, and when it disappears again, she has the ghostlights of the flame still dancing in her vision. She blinks hard, reaching up to guard her eyes from the light that still burns against her vision, obscuring angles of the Joker's face.

He is a study in personality. As she flinches away from him, as she does her best to hold everything together, replacing every impulse in her with anger and bitterness, the Joker watches her closely. With someone like him, even the slightest weakness is plain to him. The slightest emotional tic does not escape his eye, the slightest hint of weakness does not pass him. But it's the funniest thing. When he provokes her, teases her with the dancing flame at the end of his lighter, casting her features in warmer light than anything in New York could command, he finds…

She is afraid of something that definitely isn't him.

Never leaning away from his tiny display, the Joker seems to prefer the space between them cut to almost nothing. But all good things must come to an end. The clown prince swallows the silver casing of his lighter — branded 'LOL' in a stylized engraving — into his glove, wagging it at her once before doing so. "Go to Heaven for the climate," the Joker notes, mildly excitable. "But go to Hell, ah, you go to Hell for the company."

Finally — mercifully, he retreats, slithering across the bench until there's a more healthy amount of space between them. He takes a moment to tuck the lighter away into an inner pocket of his jacket, eschewing his slacks so he doesn't have to stretch quite so far. "But then," he mentions calmly, "I wouldn't begrudge you a little wanderlust in due measure. After all, I've grown bored with throwing my pearls before swine too. Hell is the best place for people like us, don't you think?" he asks. "I find it's the little things that are the funniest in the end. All the little details. All the little sins. And secrets and sin go hand in hand together, don't they…?"

He slowly stands, making a great show of slapping his knees before he does, straightening to his full height, as if intending to leave. "And I do know a thing or two about both. I owe golden-shield a solid, anyway. Who knows? Maybe I might enjoy being your tour guide. Ha, ha.. ha…"

By the time Barbara has the opportunity to get off the train, to get ahold of anyone, the Joker is long gone.

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