The chilling laughter echoes throughout the abandoned auto-body shop, though the owner of the haunting voice is nowhere to be seen. Scattered rays of moonlight cascade through the shop's skylights, reflecting off the gleaming chrome of several expensive vehicles, most of them brightly colored convertibles, with a few sleek bikes on display as well. The illumination also highlights the graffiti covered walls, spray painted in the forms of blood mouths and the word HA in all styles and forms. Other than the paint job, however, nothing else seems to have been disturbed; and that is why Nightwing stands in the front doorway, reluctant to go in any further. The laughter has died away, the speakers shrieking as they die away; it is then that the young vigilante dares to tap his small earpiece and begin his report. "I'm in," he says shortly. "No sign of the Joker though; but he's here. I know it."
He can hear Oracle, aka Barbara Gordon, type several different codes into her computer before he hears her confirmation. "Alright, Nightwing. Robin and Red Robin are almost at your position; stay put until they get there."
He nods, even though he knows that the woman will not be able to see him, and leans casually against the doorframe, trying to not to give into his increasing adrenaline as he keeps his voice low. "Sooo… how's Batman?"
Back at the Batcave, Oracle glances over her shoulder towards where a haggard Bruce Wayne is tapping furiously at the computer, a Bat-glare pasted on his face despite the fact that he is not in costume. "He's the same as when you talked to him last," she sighs quietly into her headset's microphone. "He wants to be out there; he hates the fact that you guys are handling Joker by yourselves."
"He's got over four fractured ribs and a minor concussion. He can't be out here," Nightwing replies, sounding just as edgy.
"I know that, Dick," she says, rubbing a tired hand over her forehead. "But he doesn't; well, at least I have Alfred here to help me this time. It'd be pretty embarrassing for the Batman's image if he was taken down by a former Batgirl in a wheelchair, just because he was trying to sneak out of his own Cave."
Dick Grayson chuckles upon that statement, feeling some of the tension loosen its way from his muscles. However, before he could enjoy the tiny period of relief, the Joker's laughter flows towards him again, this time louder and more clear. "Sorry, Oracle, but I'm gonna have to cut this debriefing short," he states, one hand moving to the escrima stick strapped to his thigh. "The clown's up to something – I can hear him. I'm going in for a closer look."
"Just wait a minute, Hunk Wonder. Robin is literally only a minute away."
He's already moving deeper inside the shop, the laughter still having yet to cease, the high-pitched sounds reverberating off the walls as they blare from the intercom speakers. He takes a moment to focus himself, listen closely; and comes to the conclusion that his target is hidden somewhere in the back storage room. He moves forward.
"Dick? Dick, are you listening to me? Just wait for Robin…"
Something that sounds horrifically like a chainsaw is revved up in the storage room, and his pace quickens. "Oracle," he whispers, words rushed. "Oracle, he's definitely here. He's doing something, I need to make sure no one is…"
"Don't be stupid. Stay put!"
"Let me just see…"
He's already at the doorway leading into the storage room; and cautiously, he pushes away the thick strips of plastic that act as a blocker, allowing him to peer into the extremely large room filled with partially built cars, crates and crates and mechanical parts, and the carnage that is covers the exact center of the room. The black-haired hero stumbles back a step, hand clamping down over his mouth as he smothers a gasp. "Oracle," he manages to choke out, regaining his composure as a rush of righteous adrenaline surges through his veins. "I'm going in!" Can't wait, or it'll be too late.
"Dick!" barks out Oracle. "Don't, just wait…!"
But he's already switched off his comm. and grasped both his escrima sticks, rushing into the storage area.
Her connection with Dick is severed, and Barbara resists the urge to pull at her hair. Instead, she stares at the two little red and green dots that represent Red Robin and Robin, whose green beacon is now just across the street from Nightwing's location. Hurry, she urges the little marker. Hurry before your dork of an older brother does something stupid.
At that moment, the strained voice of her mentor drifts over to her. "Is everything alright, Oracle?" His voice is a strange mixture of Bruce Wayne and the Batman; and as she turns to face him, she can't help but notice his gaunt appearance.
For his sake, she plasters on a smile, hoping that Bruce's exhaustion will ensure that he does not see through her false optimism. "Everything seems to be according to plan," she says, trying to keep her voice light. "Try not to worry – they're all fine."
His eyes narrow – because of course he doesn't believe her, he's the goddamn Batman – but he does eventually go back to his computer files. Surprising. She'd at least expected him to walk over and check for himself the three little icons on the bottom of her screen that tell him his sons' vital signs; and this tells her just how tired the man truly is. Pursing her lips into a thin line, she goes back to tapping her fingernails against her desk, hoping beyond hope that Dick had used common sense and had waited for one or both of his brothers to back him up before going to confront the Joker.
Please, please, let them stop him this time, she begs no one or anything in particular. Please.
Immediately, there's a barrage of bullets chipping the walls and boxes he's near; a series of perfected acrobatics easily keeps him out of harm's way as he flies towards his opponents. The first thug, face covered by a plastic clown mask, goes down easily, and while the other two prove a bit more of a challenge, they are taken care of quickly as soon as they are disarmed. Two more of the Joker's hired guns rush at him from behind, and he flings two wingdings in their general direction, hitting both in the kneecaps; a single blow delivered to each of the men's foreheads render them all securely unconscious. He's lacking in his usual banter tonight; the coagulating pools of blood on the floor, along with the two maimed cops on the floor, have dampened his mood. In between head smashing and gut kicking, he glances at the pair of victims, sighing in relief when he sees they are both breathing. His own identity as a member of the Bludhaven PD makes this crime that much more personal – he may not live in Gotham anymore, but he knows both these officers. They're clean, unlike most of Gotham's dirty little patrolmen; and for that, he'll ensure the Joker will pay tonight. Killing is still not an option, but a few extra broken bones won't make much of a difference, will they?
He becomes too wrapped up in focusing on the cops – a juvenile mistake he should not have made – and suddenly, white hot agony splits his skull in two as a wrench bears down on the nape of his neck. Large black blobs mar his vision, and he can just barely comprehend that he's lying flat down on the ground. There's ringing in his ears, and his neck just hurts so badly that he fears it may be broken; and all the while the singsong of laughter echoes above him.
"Well, well, well, look what birdie I've caught today!" exclaims the Joker's voice. The clown is standing above him, he can tell; but he still can't see clear, and the pain has traveled up to his neck, throbbing. There's a trickle of hot blood seeping down his costume too. Great, Grayson. Nice going…
"Where's the Bat, birdie?" the psychopath's voice taunts, mingling in with the sound of a foot tapping against the ground near his head. "Did he abandon you again? My, my, and here I thought he'd learned to keep his pets on a shorter leash. Don't you remember the last time?"
Yes, he does; and the horrific memories of his family all tied up, bloody cloths around their faces and soaked to the bone in gasoline, is enough motivation for him to force open his eyes and get to his knees, despite how his upper neck protests. Groaning despite his best efforts not to, he raises his vision to find himself looking up at the appallingly familiar face of the Joker, crazed eyes gleaming in the dull lamp light, yellowed jaw in full view with the maniac's newest 'make over'. The knowledge that the man had sliced his own face off and then stapled it back on still nauseated him; the added knowledge that he'd come this close to having the same thing done to himself and the rest of his family made the feeling even worse.
Two wild eyes, one green/gray, the other almost completely white, stared down at him above that sadistic grin. "Let's see if we can get your daddy Bat to come out, little birdie," he exclaimed, once again raising the heavy mechanic's wrench. "Let's play!"