Warnings: goreNotes: AU where Tim Drake doesn’t kill the Joker after getting kidnapped and going insane, but Dick does. I wasn’t sure if I should post this on ao3, so I’ll put it here for now.
He wasn’t a murderer. He wasn’t a sadist. The flesh piling above the carving knife with the snap of skin layer after skin layer had caused the bile to bubble inside him; it was something he never wanted to experience again. The smile that had rested on his face when he walked out of the warehouse wasn’t because of those lifeless, bloodshot eyes but because those bloodshot eyes were lifeless. No man, no woman, no child would have to stare into the catacombs behind those dilated pupils aside from behind closed eyelids in nightmares and distant memories.
His thoughts didn’t make sense anymore and his sentences jumbled together like one long stream of connected nothingness, making as much sense as the steady string of dark red spit that fell from the clown’s mouth to dilute the acid yellow vomit pooled beneath his neck.
He’d killed. He was a killer. There were nights he wondered if Tim was the sane one in this world and he himself was sitting in a padded room somewhere, drawing pictures of dead clowns for his walls.
On the off chance he was living, on the off chance he was sane and what had just happened actually existed in recorded history, he wasn’t ashamed of his actions. He’d been willing to unbalance himself endlessly if it meant stopping that bastard from hurting innocents ever again. That monster slaughtered for sport. Laughed at suffering like a giggling infant. Looked at death like it a children’s cartoon.
That was what separated killers like Dick Grayson from murderers like the Joker.
Barbara was the first to come. She’d knocked on his door his and when he opened the door to find her and not the pizza delivery guy, he froze.
He couldn’t decide between falling to his knees or slamming the door and finally pulled her inside before shutting the door and sitting down with his back to the wood. After a moment, she nodded. Sat down beside him. Embraced him.
“I saw the body,“ she said. “It’ll be fine,” she said. “I’m with you,” she said. “I’ve got you,” she said.
Honestly, Bruce was probably the first to actually know. Not two days had passed before the story was leaked from the Gotham Police and the news began running headlines like CLOWN PRINCE FOUND MURDERED, BATMAN SUSPECTED MURDERER MURDERER MURDERER JOKER’S LAST LAUGH LAUGH LAUGHING MURDER MURDER MURDER MURDER BAT FINALLY SNAPS MURDER MURDE-
It wasn’t. It wasn’t a murder.
The criminals don’t think so, though. The crime report for the month hasn’t come out yet, but he’d bet his salary that it’s less than half of what it was before.
No more bank robberies, no more child sex rings, no more assassinations. Gotham and Bludhaven are dead quiet, ironically.
Bruce hasn’t called. Dick knows that he knows, though. He has eleven missed calls from Steph and the world’s greatest detective isn’t often beat to the punchline by a teenage girl.
Jason is there, one night. On his couch, the bathroom steams and a towel is thrown halfassed on the hallway floor. He stops a moment, a phantom pain in his neck from their first encounter after the Lazarus incident, but then he’s sitting on the couch beside his brother. The TV blares with a shitty movie, and a pizza box is open on the coffee table. Without a word, he grabs the beer bottle lying in Jason’s right hand and takes a sip.
Someone leaks photos of the crime scene; Dick hears the news at work.
When he goes out for patrol that night, Jason stays home.
“No deals to worry about,” he mutters. “Everyone’s shittin’ their pants, scared they’ll get a carving knife to the face if they do anything.”
The first time he visits Tim since the Joker’s death is worse than the first time he visited ever.
Tim doesn’t talk still, and his gaze never leaves the wall even after Dick says hi and awkwardly hugs his brother. He’s got bandages on his wrists that weren’t there before and Dick recognizes the nonsensical papers that Tim once stapled to the walls were now taped.
Leslie had left after walking Dick to Tim’s room, but he knows they aren’t alone. He can’t see the cameras, but he knows Bruce is listening in. Probably Leslie too, being his doctor, but definitely Bruce. Despite that, he talks about that night. The beginning, the end.
There are many that night’s. That night his parents fell. That night Bruce fired him. That night Jason died. That night Tim was found. That night- that night he killed the Joker. They all have a beginning, and end. But he doesn’t specify the date, or what he was doing beforehand. He doesn’t need to, these things are always balanced from one conversation to the next.
He tells Tim how the muscle underneath that bleached skin wasn’t anything different from their own. The vocal chord was average, the bones were average, the blood was average. Fucking average. That thought alone disgusts him more than the faded sound of the quick snapping of his jaw like a whip striking an old wooden floor board. The pasty peeled skin from his heels was wrapped loosley along the narrow end or a crowbar and forced down his throat. The sound of thick hot blood, spit and skin stirring and sloshing around in that slack mouth as his pliers peeled a fuzzy, yellow tooth from dark red gums with a gentle tug of his wrist. The thought that underneath the purple pin up and starchy skin, behind that scarlet smile and a besetted brand there was nothing more than the nuts and bolts of the everyday model man made the task even harder to complete.
He jumps from one thought to the next, his words don’t make sense and he feels like the crazy one in this situation.
He tells Tim about the sound a hammer makes when it cracks a skull. It’s gooey and wet, the slit he makes runs deep and through, he thinks maybe he can see the brain, but then the dark crimson blood starts staining his gloved fingers and he yanks back, flipped skin still in his grip before his arm flexes and two pieces of bleached scalp and acid green hair fall to the ground with a repulsive ‘plop.’
The words go from a memory to a story and all past tense endings leave his sentences and he’s there. He’s there. The Joker is there. It’s that night all over again.
He wonders if Tim sees what he sees, or if he’s living his own hell on repeat, detatched from this reality.
He tells Tim about the images he can’t get out of his head, about the nightmares that keep him up at 3 am, leaving his coffee stock on empty and his bed a mess.
He tells Tim about Jason, who is there every night. He tells Tim about what it’s like to be held without a constant need for reassurance. He knows this is the end, he’ll never be the same. He knows that these nights will become habit. Jason smokes when he wants to forget, and Dick’s apartment now permanently smells like cigarettes.
He knows he shouldn’t say anything. He should just grab a handful of crayons and draw. He knows, but he doesn’t.
Tim is in there somewhere and Dick talks with his brother, not with his shell. When he leaves, he goes to hug the kid, and he’s still staring at the wall. Tim hasn’t looked away, maybe he never will. He grabs the keys Leslie gave him from his pocket as he stands, and suddenly hands and twisting his wrists, clawing for the small piece of metal. metal. Feral eyes meet his own, and sleeves are beings pulled apart with childlike precision. The key slides under the gauze before Dick is standing and shouting.
“Tim! Tim!” He says. “Tim!” He says it again. “Tim!” He manages to pull one wrist away from the other, and it’s too easy. Too easy. It shouldn’t be this easy- it shouldn’t be so easy. This is Tim. This is Tim.
Leslie is by his side in a second and he’s being shoved out of the room.
He doesn’t say goodbye.
When he gets home, he checks his phone. Bruce hasn’t called. Jason is on the couch and says they’re out of beer. He nods, he’ll get some from the market.
When he pulls on his Nightwing suit for patrol that night, Jason is still lying on the couch.
“I ordered pizza,” he shouts from across the apartment. “Get your ass out of the suit and come over here, I’ve got the shit comedy channel on and our new stash of beer.”
He hesitates between slamming the bedroom door and laying down sleep on the bed and eventually compromises after taking off the suit and pulling on a pair of sweatpants. Walking out, he shuts the bedroom door behind him and sits down on the couch on top of Jason’s legs, who takes up all three cushions.
He checks his phone before climbing into bed that night, and has no new messages.
When he wakes up at 3 am with teary eyes and sweat dripping down his forehead, Jason is there to hold him and the phone stays silent.