Lois Lane stumbled out from the Joker's cell. All around her, the inmates made gestures; clawing motions, as if the walls of the long, dark corridor had sprouted hands intent on grabbing her and making her part of itself. Part of Arkham. The place had a sordid life of its own.
The Joker's laugh wouldn't leave her, lingering on like a trace of a disgustingly musty perfume tried out in a cheap convenience store, even after she'd run out into the welcoming light of Dr. Jeremiah Arkham's office. The doctor looked up, crow-like in his demeanour, with shifty eyes and a neck that refused to stay still. Lois wondered whether he had begun to go mad, too. He asked, "Ms. Lane, did you find everything to your satisfaction? Your interview with the Joker went off well, I trust?"
Lois did not answer immediately, choosing instead to look at the various pictures the doctor had had hanged on the wall. Depictions of patients in varying levels of agony, undergoing whatever torture passed for treatment in those days, for illnesses of the brain. The doctor asked again, "Ms. Lane?"
"It went well, thank you. Unnerving, but I got what I wanted.", Lois replied.
"Ah yes, the Joker does tend to have that effect on people. Even the most hardened criminals play by some rules. With the Joker, you get the feeling that he is capable of anything. He can strangle a kitten with his left hand while cradling a baby with his right. That's what makes him most.....fascinating."
Lois ventured a question. "Doctor, do you think the Joker is really mad? At some level, he seems saner than you or I."
"Well, Ms. Lane. The Batman seems convinced he is. As for me, I sometimes think that the Joker just plays along."
The phone next to him rang. He picked it up. "No. I'm free. Tell him to come."
The doctor turned to look at Lois and said, "Have you met Mr. Wayne? You must've heard about him, I'm sure. How could you not, him being the son of Gotham?"
Lois murmured an "I should be going" and rose from her chair. She didn't want to be around Bruce, not when she was onto a story about the Batman. Their relationship till now had been cordial, and solely owed to the fact that she was Superman's wife. Between Superman and Batman, there existed a sort of uneasy tolerance. Both recognised that the other performed a crucial role. And both trusted each other. So much so that they had exchanged their secret identities. Which was really not necessary, considering that one was the world's greatest detective and the other had X-ray vision.
But nagging reporter wives being nagging reporter wives, it was only to be expected that Lois would manage to extract that bit of information from Clark.
She was just about to exit the room when the door opened and Bruce Wayne entered, looking every bit the part of the billionaire playboy he played with such aplomb.
"Ah, Mr. Wayne. Come in. Have you met the delightful Ms. Lois Lane? She's down here from Metropolis to interview the Joker for a Daily Planet feature. She seems to think the Joker might not be as insane as he appears. The very idea...laughable! Well, you know what they say.. all publicity is good publicity. And Gotham's coffers no longer being what it was..Not to say that your contributions haven't been generous. They have..", the doctor trailed off, seeing the acute look that Bruce was giving Lois. He added, "You two know each other, I take it?"
Lois felt Bruce's eyes trying to pierce the thin fabric of her thoughts (*Author's note: I know what you were thinking when you read 'thin fabric', you perverts*). For the first time, Lois understood why Clark kept saying that for him, Superman was the mask but that for Bruce, it was the other way round. She felt real fear- the cold, clammy hands from her nightmare, the primal fear she had felt when she had almost drowned in a lake in Scotland. She could glimpse, behind the playboy mask, the dark persona that was the Batman and understood why the most hardened criminals turned into bawling babies at the mere mention of his name.
"Lois, its been a long time. How are you?", Bruce's deep, suave voice penetrated her bubble of fear. "The Joker is a dangerous man. You ought to be careful. If he escapes, as he does with a most disturbing frequency- no offence to you and your staff, Doctor- he could come after you.. there's just no predicting the twisted ways his mind will choose to travel."
"Thanks for your concern, Mr. Wayne. But I can take care of myself.", Lois retorted, a brave attempt at concealing the fear which threatened to overwhelm her. If all the things the Joker had said about the Batman was true, if he had imprisoned an innocent man and labelled him a lunatic to keep his shameful secret safe..