It wasn't completely unusual for people to linger in the halls of the social office, but her face, Arthur hadn't seen before. He slowed his pace, out of curiosity, most of all, and studied the stranger's nervous form. She sat in one of the decrepit chairs in the main hall, left as a makeshift waiting room despite the lack of people who even came to this office, shaking her knee as her hands, clasped tightly, bounced atop it. Her eyes scanned the room frequently, in Arthur’s favor, stopping just short of where he stood to observe, and a sickened look enrobed her aura. With a harsher bounce of her leg, she pushed a breath of air through her pursed lips, flattening her back against the chair and leaning her head back to face the ceiling. He intended to move on from watching her when one of the other psychiatrists in the building made their way towards her. At their approaching footsteps, she shot her head up, an anxious grimace playing on her face.
“(Y?N)? What are you still doing here?” The doctor looked to her watch, furrowing her brow, “Our sessions been over for 20 minutes.”
“Dr. Setler!,” The girl, who Arthur now overheard as (Y/N), began to wring her hands roughly, “I-I don’t...d-didn’t,”
She stopped suddenly, scrunching her nose and huffing a burst of air with a twitch of her head. He thought she was just stammering, her nerves getting to her, but as she continued to speak, he realized she struggled through multiple words, stopping almost entirely in between some, and continuously scrunching her face as she grappled through her sentences.
“I th-thought we had an extended session today and I didn’t get your call it was sh..compressed. I was going to wait until my ride arrived.”
Setler raised her brow, a tight-lipped smile flashed towards the girl that seemed in the least bit forced, “That’s going to be quite some time, yes?”
“Well, yes,” When she finally stuttered out her answer, she spilled out with a slight panic, “I’d rather just wait, I don’t truly want to call.”
Her mouth hung open as if to say more, but the doctor waved dismissively in her face, placing a hand on her back and leading her, quite reluctantly, to the public phone in the foyer, “Nonsense, Remember we talked about practicing with phone calls? You’ll only get better. Waiting here all day is obscene.”
She attempted desperately to disagree, but between her struggles to speak and dismission of Setler, she was unwillingly shoved to the device, and a receiver was thrust into her trembling hand.
With a rough pat on her back, Dr. Setler gave a short wave goodbye and took off down the hall. Arthur was not one to enjoy eavesdropping. He knew, and it was ingrained in him, that it was rude, but even with his consciousness scolding him as he stayed out of suspicion and listened, he was unable to stop. She stood blankly for a few moments before she slowly began to spin in the numbers, swaying on her feet as she unknowingly sealed her fate with each rotation. Although he couldn’t hear the speaker on the other side, he gathered enough.
The conversation looked painful to be involved in, the girl’s already debilitating stutter exemplified over the phone, and the stress that seemed to be gripping her was tightening with every word. In summary, she was behind on her paycheck, thus placing her behind on her already reduced-price medications. The man on the other end, who she’d addressed as her uncle, was audible even from where Arthur stood, although his words were indistinguishable, his distaste was crystal-clear.
“No meds, no roof.”
A persnickety individual, he seemed set on his personal philosophy that if she wasn't on whatever medications she was prescribed, instantly, she wasn't mentally sound or safe to be in his home. The ideal made Arthur sick.
At some point, the girl had half resulted to begging, pushing the phone tightly to her cheek and clenching her fist until her knuckles turned white. Her uncle was highly impatient with her stutter and as the conversation pressed on, she, too, was becoming increasingly frustrated with her inability to converse concisely. Within the limited range of the phone cord, (Y/N) paced and screamed internally. After desperate convincing, she managed to buy herself a day, 24 hours to pack up whatever life she had in her uncle's apartment and leave it behind. Part of her was relieved, the other was still preoccupied with finding a new apartment.
When the death buzz of an empty phone line stung in her ear, she finally gave up on trying to hold whatever was left of her together. Tears sprang to her eyes the second the receiver touched the hook and her palms rubbed her face angrily. Stumbling and shuffling to the seat in the hall, she slumped heavily into the worn and flaking leather. Her face was covered by her hands, muffling her weary cries, and a frown took over Arthur's own expression.
A moment or two passed, the otherwise quiet hall echoing with her sadness, before Arthur finally forced himself to stop creeping on the poor girl and at least do something . And so, Arthur Fleck did what Arthur Fleck wanted to do most: make somebody laugh.
He approached her slowly, his light footfalls rising only slightly above her sobs and cautiously lowered himself into the seat next to her. She stiffened, but remained otherwise unchanged. He placed an immense amount of will power into keeping his own self calm, hoping a fit of painful laughter wouldn't rip through him. An awkward second passed, and when he thought about how uncomfortable his silent presence probably felt, the joke he'd been balancing on his tongue jumped out.
"Why are poor people so confused?"
Although she didn't verbalize her acknowledgement of him, he sensed a loosening of her hands as he cries quieted ever so with curiosity. She was unnerved, she wouldn't deny that, but she couldn't ignore what he'd just say out of the mere oddness of the question. Unknowing of its humorous intention, she stayed unmoving and waited.
Whether it was with good or poor judgement, Arthur nudged her shoulder as he delivered the punch line, "Because they don't make any cents."
Nothing. At first, there was absolutely nothing, then what to him sounded like harder sobbing, and then finally, a sound he was all too familiar with (maybe just not from others), laughter . Sad and bitter laughter at first, but soon it morphed into soft but genuine chuckling. Her palms began to rub her face with a pitied groan, her head shaking in self-disbelief and she assertively wiped the fallen tears from underneath her red eyes.
"Th-That's the worst joke I've ever heard," Arthur's heart plummeted, "I love it."
She finally turned to look at him, a weak smile tugging at her lips, and something deep in him glowed.
"Well, I'd hoped you would." He returned the grin, shifting in his seat as she took a few steadier breaths.
It was evident she was apprehensive about speaking, something Arthur understood, although perhaps from a different perspective. Her eyes darted quickly to the brown paper bag in his hand, her ears honing in on the unmistakable sounds of pills, and she seemed almost to relax more at the realization he was a fellow patient at the office.
An awkward silence grew quickly between them but he rubbed his palms on his knees and confided, "I didn't mean to listen in, but I overheard you don't have a ride and you're nervous about taking the subway alone. If you want, I take the subway all the time, I wouldn't mind joining you, if it would make you feel better."
He felt like he may have been rambling, pulling back as he pressed his lips together. She was staring at him silently, a strange look on her features and Arthur began to panic that he may have said the wrong thing. Or maybe he sat the wrong way, or did the wrong thi-
"I'd r-re..verily appreciate that." She tripped out, her head nodding softly as her eyes seemed to gleam. "Seriously, it would mean a lot."
His lips twitched upwards again and he sighed in relief, rising from his seat as he extended his hand towards her.
"My name is Arthur."
Her hand, still trembling, slipped gently into his, contradicting the firm grip and sharp shake she gave him.
Nodding, she flashed her teeth at him genuinely, "(Y/N)."
Chapter 2: The Subway: The First of Many
The walk to the subway was relatively short, and the two of them left it to vague silence until they got to the station. It was bustling, as usual, people from every walk pushing past each other, lost in their own little heads or invading those of others. She was wringing her fingers together as they made their way to the train, Arthur keeping a minuscule radius between the two. He wasn't quite sure the best distance to keep, worried he'd make her uncomfortable being too close, but if he was too far, she may feel just as nervous as she would had she been here alone. So he fluctuated a bit, falling behind before awkwardly shuffling so far forward he nearly bumped into her in a repeating rhythm. She seemed unaware, but she was studying his movements the whole way, intrigued by the way he moved with musical fluidity despite its discomfiture. It was entirely unique and she smiled to herself at the sheer amount of personality he seemed to exude in everything he did.
When they got into the car and, luckily, found a seat, Arthur stepped aside and gestured towards the empty chair, nodding to her with a smile. (Y/N) returned the expression but hesitated as she sat. His eyes darted around quickly before he finally eased into the seat next to her.
When he noticed the furrowed brows, he leaned to her and hushed, "You never know when some jerk is going to steal any empty chair they see. I just wanted to make sure you got one at least."
She held his gaze for a moment, a bewildered smile tugging at the corners of her nude-tinted lips. He had taken some time, in the hall, observing her appearance, from her decaying running shoes and gently worn sweater all the way to her well-placed makeup. Although not theatrical, it was applied in a way that your attention was drawn to her eyes, a small pop of delicate color highlighting her lid, her smile painted with a dull shade that muted her lips. It looked well-practiced and he assumed it was her daily routine.
“You really are kind, A-Arthur,” She struggled on his name the most but seemed personally determined to force it out, scrunching her face a few times as she did, “Does a-a-anybody e-ever..Does anybody tell you that?”
“Only my mother.”
She almost laughed, perceiving the statement as an intended joke, but stopped short at the solemn sincerity behind his tight-lipped smile. So she hummed, nodding her head as her gaze drifted back forward.
With a tilt of her head towards him, she mused, “Well they should.”
Arthur didn’t say anything for a moment, his knee bouncing ever so slightly as he mulled over her words. Kind was not a common word directed towards him. Usually, it never deviated far from creep or freak. Never, as best he could remember, had anybody else called him kind. As his mind ran on a small tangent on the subject, anxiety began to fill his chest. Perhaps it never would have developed past that, had he not attempted to hold it back, building the sensation stronger the more he focused on it. When he felt the onset of laughter, he wanted to panic. The subway cart they chose was not entirely packed, but even one person was enough, and he wholly did not want to have a fit in front of her.
(Y/N) was still staring off, unsure why he had become unusually quiet but, having just met him all the same, not wanted to push him. From the corner of her eye, his hand shot up to cover his mouth. As she was turning with a furrowed brow to see just what was wrong, he burst into forceful laughter. He saw he nearly jump out of her seat, her hand pressed to her heart as she looked to him with shocked confusion.
“What? What is it?” Her voice had risen in pitch, urgency in her question as she watched the strange man guffawed painfully.
When his hand held his throat, coughing roughly through his fit, her panic rose and she repeated her question again. His hand was smacking his pants pockets, fingers sliding into a few of them frantically before he pulled out a card with a shaking hand. He did his best to calm himself as he gestured it towards her.
She hesitated to take it, becoming unsure in him entirely as the realization hit that she truly didn’t know this man at all before she jumped on a subway with him. She was disappointed in herself for the thought the moment she read the card.
Forgive my laughter. I have a condition. (more on back)
Her heart sank. The card nearly flew out of her hand with how fast she turned it, scanning the words as fast as she could before she turned back to Arthur.
“I’m sorry, I h-had no idea. Are you okay?” Her nerves were getting the best of her and she wasn’t even sure he understood a thing from her lips.
But he struggled through a nod, sucking in deep breaths as the sound subsided. The car was dead silent now, most heads turned with distaste towards the two and she caught the judging eyes of them. She watched as Arthur slowly seemed to slip into himself, an unimaginable embarrassment flushing his gaunt cheeks as he pinched his hands between his legs and lowered his head.
“It’s okay.” She suddenly shot out. The last thing she wanted him to do was feel judged by her, so she did her best to normalize the situation. “It’s not like you can help it. It doesn’t b-bother me at all.”
He had grown very shy, posture huddled slightly, but his head timidly angled towards her. He relaxed his legs just slightly. A comforting smile peeked on her face and she continued.
“We can just keep talking if that’s what you want.”
That had to be the first time in her life that sentence left her lips. A remark she spoke aloud in slight disbelief as a small, tension-breaking chuckle tumbled into the air. He lifted himself again, slowly straightening as he met her eyes and infectious smile. He'd never had anybody just except his condition in such a nonchalant way. After her initial startle, it was as if he didn't have a fit at all, just brushing it off and moving forward. Arthur decided he preferred that. Clearing his throat, he nodded, rubbing his neck once or twice before he settled back into the seat. The rest of the passengers fell back into relative normality, determining the situation wasn't something to gawk at anymore, and the murmur of side conversations began again.
"I a-a..suppose your condition is one of the reasons you go to the office?" She started cautiously, but her tone lightened quickly, "I've never seen you there before. We must not have the same schedule."
Arthur took a moment to reply, still gathering himself. With a few glances around and finding himself content with the lack of attention from the other passengers, he did his best to move past his fit.
“We must not. I’ve never seen your face there before either.”
She chuckled softly, furrowing her brows in a playful manner and teased, “What, you know every face in that office?”
The assured and factual way he answered stopped her abruptly, and when he noticed her intrigued look he added with a shrug, “You never know when you’ll need to remember somebody’s face. It’s a habit for me to focus on things like that.”
In a quirky little way, there seemed to be the hint of a genius behind his unusual dull green eyes. (Y/N) wondered just how much was hidden under his nervous exterior. His face looked worn, but a gentleness settled in his energy. With a nod of agreement, she buffered for a moment, wondering what to ask before her finger shot up as her lips parted.
"What do you do for a living, A-"
She paused, her nose scrunching in her uniquely personal way as she seemed to choke over his name. She tried again, getting no further than the r before she squeezed her fist and let out a frustrated huff. All the while, Arthur stayed quiet, unbothered by her inability to get her words out and merely sat and waited. The whole time they'd been talking, she never felt rushed to get through her words, or looked down on for struggling with them, and for that, she was eternally grateful. (Y/N) reminded herself to thank him later.
When she managed to finish her question, Arthur gave a smile and started, "Well, I'm a party clown," he rubbed his palms on his knees, straightening as a genuine display of delight played in his eyes as he talked about his work, "It's a good way to make people smile."
"I bet," the true joy he seemed to feel for his job brought a grin to your face.
"What do you do?"
It was funny. They had not been asked that question before, and in just a span of less than an hour, it was one of the many firsts they had. A shared expression bloomed on their cheeks and they relaxed a little more.
"I'm a singer, in truth," (Y/N) chuckled out, watching Arthur tilt his head at it, "I know, I know, someone who can't even speak sings for a living. But a-actually, I don't stutter when I sing. So I enjoy it."
They talked like that for the rest of the ride, getting to know each other in the amount of time before the subway arrived at the station. Falling back into almost silence, they walked side by side to her uncle's apartment, hands in their pockets and smiles on their faces. Arthur relished in the true feeling of enjoyment but felt a twang of disappointment when her building loomed over them.
Although it was by no means extravagant, with its aging walls and scaling door, it still put his own building to shame. It was smaller overall, but the bricks managed to remain vaguely inviting, their red tones prevailing over the grunge and bringing a sense of life to the complex, one his own lacked entirely. Even the street itself was less cramped, as much as it could be for Gotham anyway, with small shops on the ground level and more apartments lining the rest of the open spaces. Less cars passed and it felt as though the beeping and groaning of traffic was muted where they stood.
Stopping just short of the steps, they rocked awkwardly on their feet. (Y/N), with her hands now wringing in front of her, twisted the ball of her foot into the concrete, lips pressed together as she looked up her building and shyly over to Arthur.
"This is me," she gestured towards the door.
"So, it is."
They went quiet again for a moment.
"H-Hey, so," Arthur perked up immediately when she began to speak again as she smiled, "It was really nice to meet you. You really made my day."
His grin widened and his head nodded strongly, "I hope we see each other again."
She was very quick to agree, laughing at her speed, but when her eyes drifted back towards the door, her gleam died. Her voice dulled, and an exhaustion filled her features.
"I should probably head inside. Seems like I have some packing to do."
He mirrored the change, nodded sympathetically before he suddenly jolted, reaching into his jacket and pulling out a worn notebook with a pencil stuck in the rings. Folding it open, he gingerly tore a corner from a back page and began to scribble on it.
"I understand if you'd rather not, i-if you think it's strange, but there's a vacancy at, well at my apartment building if you have trouble finding another place. It's not great but its cheap."
Thrusting the note into her hand, he bounced nervously. His hand briefly pushed his hair behind his ear as she read the address off.
"Oh, I can't th-thank you enough. That means a lot." Her teeth bared themselves again and relief spread through him. When she glanced back down, her brow furrowed before she shot her eyes back to his and exclaimed, "now, hold on, this building's on the other side of town. You said you always take the subway. You don't need it to get back from the office!"
"Yeah, I lied," he rubbed the back of his neck with a sheepish look and she sat her fist on her hips, "But you looked like you really needed the company. And I do take the subway a lot. Just not for that."
"Damn you," she crossed her arms, but her lips fought to turn upwards, "Thank you. Even though you lied."
He shook his head, showing his palm and then shoving them back in the pouch of his hoodie. He popped onto the balls of his feet before plopping his weight back down onto his heel.
"No need. My number is on there, too, if you need anything. But I shouldn't hold you up anymore."
And with that, they said their goodbyes, (Y/N) promising to give him a call sometime and thanking him once more for his kindness. Her thumb was grazing over the graphite writing, as she waved with her other hand and started towards the steps. They glanced to each other again, exchanging another short wave before she finally disappeared behind the door.
Arthur stood for a moment, watching (Y/N)'s back as she left him alone, and smiled to himself. The chill of Gotham's air didn't bite him so hard this afternoon, the stench and weight of smog wasn't clinging to his airways, and with another pop onto his toes, he began his journey home, a slightly stronger dance to his step as he daydreamed about the next time he'd see her face
Chapter 3: Moving on in Life and Home
Arthur watched the phone like a hawk the moment he got home. A day passed with nothing and he tried not to be discouraged. A few days passed and all he did was wait. He felt like his mother, obsessed every day with whether she'd receive her letter from Thomas Wayne. And like his mother, he was probably waiting on a lost cause. Until the phone rang.
It had been six days since he last saw her, Arthur made note she wasn't at the office, and he bolted towards the phone. With only one ring, he yanked it from the receiver and shoved it to his ear.
"Hello?" He restrained himself, aware that his life was probably looking as bleak as usual and it wasn't the call he hoped for.
He nearly dropped it when the sound of her cheery and hyper voice flew through the speaker. He noticed his name didn't catch in her throat.
"So, about that vacancy."
His lips cracked into a grin as her nervous chuckle met his ear. The call was brief, he could tell she was struggling to talk over the phone and when she disclosed she was actually at a payphone feet from the steps of his building, he didn’t see the need to prolong the conversation, and he hung up. Arthur tripped scrambling to put on his pants and nearly forgot a shirt when he dashed for the door.
His limber form shot down the stairs, too impatient to wait for the elevator, and darted out of the front. (Y/N) was juggling a few bags in her hands, catching one before it tumbled onto the pavement, and holding her foot behind another suitcase to keep it upright. An awkward smile was plastered on her face as she bounced on her toes. She had an unusually high amount of energy, contrasting greatly with how she was when they'd met. Her hand moved to wave but another bag tipped from her arms. He jolted forward and caught it by the handle, the weight yanking him slightly before he straightened.
With a breathless thank you, she nodded her head towards the door and cheered, "I got an apartment!"
Her grin widened and Arthur smiled back. But confusion still glinted behind his eyes at the change in demeanor, she seemed to be filled with nervous excitement. He mentioned his intrigued to her and she suddenly seemed to realize he didn't know something she did.
"Guess what? Guess!" She exclaimed, barely leaving time for Arthur to take a breath before she rambled through a giggle, "I told him to f-fuck off. I did! I told him to fuck right off. I finally said it."
She almost seemed to twirl as she said it, elated, but he was slightly taken aback by the statement, lost as to what she was even talking about.
When she noticed his raised brow, she launched forward, dropping her bags haphazardly and gripping Arthur's shoulders, glancing down at her fallen items with a small "oops" before she beamed, "My uncle! I-I finally did it! I said 'fuck you' right to his face and left!"
She was almost giddy, putting him slightly into shock at the sudden contact, and his brow raised even higher. With the close proximity, Arthur could now see an odd blush of shadow across her cheek and a pinkness to her eyes he hadn't seen before. Her speech was better, but he assumed it could be credited to her hyper-focused exuberance. It was, even by his standards, an odd encounter.
He was slow to congratulate her, the thought coming out more as a question than anything but she took it in stride and released him to bundle her bags back up.
"I told you already about calling the landlord. I have a month to pay my first rent, but I have an apartment now!"
He nodded, gesturing before he took some of the extra luggage from her hands to help her. Arthur had to admit it was slightly jarring, her drastically different attitude, bouncing in her place, rambling, acting as if they’ve been friends and hadn’t only seen each other once before. He couldn’t tell whether he liked it, or was frightened by it.
Her fingers grazing his arm from underneath her full hands brought him out of his thoughts as she smiled and nodded towards the building, “Help me carry my stuff?”
“Oh, yeah,” He started, shifting the weight of the bags, of which he had less of, and pulling ahead of her to hold the door open with his foot.
(Y/N) smiled and practically skipped through, swaying slightly to maintain her tower of luggage, and headed for the elevator. Her finger dashed out to push the button, but the leaning skyscraper in her hand blocked Arthur from seeing the floor number. And it finally hit him, as he waited for the decrepit elevator to lurch up, that she was going to live in his building, someone he could actually know and befriend. His heart began to pump harder, rising as the floor numbers rose, and waited. As each floor passed, he bounced his leg, watching as it neared his floor, waiting to pass it before-
Arthur's floor number was blaring in his face and the ding of the elevator's warped doors rang in his ears like a flashbang went off. She was none the wiser, hopping with a little squeal in excitement before she stepped out into the hall. He nearly slammed into the back of her when he followed, unaware she had halted in the middle of the floor, staring at the peeling walls and disgusting floor, and bathing in the nauseating artificial light. Embarrassment began to flush Arthur's cheeks.
"I know it's not mu-"
"I love it!"
He was utterly speechless by her exclamation, blinking his eyes a few times in wonder as if she was seeing a different hall than he was. With a double-take between the room and her, he settled into his feet with awe. She was something else.
Bearing her teeth in a wide grin, she sauntered down the hall, the weight of the bags lighter in their arms. As she passed his apartment entirely unaware, Arthur smiled, too.
To say he didn't know there was a vacancy on his floor, would be a lie. To say he thought fate would actually work in his favor and give her that apartment, would be the absolute truth. So as she headed down his hall, nearing that empty room at the end of the building, the dank air felt just a little lighter.
"Arthur," she chuckled out, "Little help?"
When he shook himself from his stupor, he looked up to see her pushed against the door, using it to hold her bags up as she stretched to reach the handle. Her fingers barely grazed the metal before she gave up to secure her hold.
He was quick to step forward, passing her an awkward smile as he grabbed the keys lightly from her extended finger and turned the lock. When the door swung open, it was unbelievably musty, coated in dust with leftover furniture from whatever sorry soul had lived here before. But she seemed unphased, aside from a short puff of air, and waltzed in to drop her things on the ground. He was still hovering in the doorway, watching as she flitted around the space, with a pep in her step, dragging her fingers along the dirty counters and feeling the imperfections in the wallpaper. When she shoved the window open, the room filled with the evening sun, dust floating like little fairies through the beams, and warming the room. It stopped just short of the tip of Arthur's shoes and he shuffled forward into the golden light. No one, it seemed, opened windows in Gotham. But she wasn't just some no one.
Helping her set up the apartment as best he could, they chatted about everything and nothing as the room slowly began to feel a little more like a home. (Y/N) had dusted off the counters, wiped the windows, and even went as far as to clean the floor. When they finished, they hovered awkwardly in the living room, the doorway, the hall, knowing it was time to leave but unable to pull themselves away. They were leaning, her on the doorframe and he on the wall of the hallway, and laughing softly at something one of them said. The low hanging sun now shone straight through her apartment and illuminated the side of her face with an orange glow. He didn't want to leave.
"I can't thank you enough for all your help," she started, and Arthur knew their time was up, "It means so much."
He noted the almost lack of stutter, her posture relaxed as she spoke.
"Ah, don't worry about it, it was nothing."
"Not to me."
He met her eyes and smiled, a comfortable silence swirling between them. One of her feet had slipped back through her doorway, her hand resting on the frame.
"Well, I should leave you be. But maybe, I mean if you're still going to the office, we can go together? Then you wouldn't have to go alone. I don't mind getting there early."
"You sure you won't get tired of me?" She joked but he shook his head, "I would love that, thank you."
"Okay, yeah, you could just stop by my apartment in the morning, o-or I could stop by yours, and we can go together."
He jested behind him lazily as he said apartment and she piped up, "Gotta tell me where that is first."
His hands went into his pockets, and she narrowed her brow at his sudden hunch, a mischievous look dancing behind her eyes.
"Actually, uh, it's funny because.." his hand escaped the fabric to run a hand through his hair before he looked to her with an airy laugh, "I'm just down the hall."
Her eyes widened, before her head cocked to the side, "So it is, is it? Now, what a coincidence."
He was half worried she would be mad, maybe even creeped out, but relief flooded him when her smile deepened and she brought her hand out comically to shake his hand.
"Nice to meet you, neighbor."
She winked as he shook her hand, "And you.. neighbor."
"So, I'll see you at 8 am?"
"I'll see you."
"Then it's a date!" (Y/N) winked again.
They were all smiles as they said goodbye. When her door was closed, she waited, although a bit longer than she thought she would need to, for Arthur's footsteps to reseed down the hall before she pressed her back against the wood and slid down with a grin.
Chapter 4: Have to Adjust
(Y/N) was already up before her alarm, before the sun even, curled up on the abandoned couch that was left there and staring out into the city. She didn't sleep well, and she knew it wasn't on account of the cheap mattress. Once her door had closed and the happiness had faded, reality came knocking. Her dismal situation became clear, and although she was grateful to have a friend in her building, part of her wished things hadn't changed at all. She hated her old life, hated her uncle, her apartment, her loneliness, but was happiness really worth uncertainty? She didn't know if she could keep up her rent as well as the cost of her medications, or what she'd do if she found herself without a job, which she frequently did. There was no longer a stable income and the anxiety of instability was crippling. In days, everything she'd ever known was turned on its head.
Her blaring alarm startled her and she quickly wiped her cheeks. Shuffling to her room, she softly pressed the button to shut it off and slowly got dressed for the day. The coffee was bitter and cheap, leaving a crap taste on her tongue but she needed the caffeine. She'd have to remember the brand, so she knew never to buy it again. There was a passing thought to check her reflection, but with a sigh, she decided she’d rather not, choosing to imagine the dark circles under her eyes were unnoticeable and her cheek had returned to its normal hue. Her hoodie was hanging from the key rack and she slipped into it as she reached for the handle. She opened the door to step into the hall and-
“Jesus fucking christ, A-Arthur!” (Y/N) yelped, hand poised to strike as she jumped out of her skin.
Arthur was inches from her, fist hovering after he knocked on nothing but air and took a panicked step back as she shouted. Her hand moved to her heart, her breath pushing hastily through her lips as she looked with bewilderment to her new neighbor.
"I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you. I just came by because I realized I never told you which door was mine."
He fumbled over his apology, his shaking hands running through his hair as he sheepishly looked to her tired face. She didn't respond for a moment, still steadying her breath and forcing her groggy brain to catch up to the present, before an airy laugh left her as she swallowed dryly.
"Yeah, yeah, no. You didn't." She ran a hand through her own hair, "Guess it's good you came by."
Her smile returned, but there was a falseness to it that Arthur didn't understand. Nonetheless, he smiled back and she stepped through to close her door.
"I'm sorry I startled you."
"No, it's okay, sorry I yelled."
Her stutter had returned as strong as before, and he wondered why that was, but wouldn't dare draw it to light. So, he gave her the patience to talk, as she would give him if he had an episode, and they fell into their rhythm as they made their way to the bus station. It was odd, the familiarity of the feeling despite the fact they'd only met once before she showed up at the steps of his building. One would think they were old friends, comfortable and sure in each other, understanding of even the minute things most would take numerous encounters to pick up on. They simply took each other in stride, shrugging off any abnormalities, and tucking away all the little things they learned about one another for safekeeping. Arthur vaguely understood his own eagerness to befriend her, and he wondered if that same sickening and all-encompassing solitude plagued her own head, forcing that desperation to latch on to anybody who would give you the time of day, just so you could feel like you were worth something . It saddened him for a moment to think that was all he was to her. But Arthur wasn't sure if he even cared.
Lost in his thoughts, he hadn't noticed they arrived at their stop until her hand gripped the back of his sweatshirt and she yanked him out of the way of oncoming traffic and back onto the safety of the sidewalk.
"Earth to Arthur."
He blinked a few times, staring at her before he even realized he was, before looking to the speeding cars he nearly walked right into.
His hand smacked over his mouth as the choking feeling of laughter bubbled up. (Y/N)'s expression dropped, and she looked around uncomfortably, suddenly unsure of what to do. His arm came up, displaying his palm to dismiss the quick look of guilt that played on her face and pushed his hand harder into his lips.
Looking around, she leaned closer to his closed-off form and whispered, "Just laugh if you have to. Who's going to know you're not just laughing at something I said? We'll just play it off like it's ordinary."
He was no longer able to hold it back, but she could tell in his expression that her words held at least some meaning. Arthur wasn't sure if he'd ever get used to her easy acceptance of him. She just plastered on a smile, pushed out a little laugh, and paid no mind to the people around them. He was eternally grateful.
Her calm demeanor helped his episode pass quicker, just as the bus pulled up to the stop. With a sweet smile, she gestured for him to board as she followed behind him. The bus ride was relatively quiet, with it being so early in the morning, and the two chatted lightly, and if her stutters weren't interrupting her, yawns were. He ached to ask her why she was so worn today, but he feared he would be encroaching on her. So, they kept their conversations light on their way to the office.
They had changed their schedules to place their sessions closer to each other, hers still first but only by a few minutes. So when Arthur was making his way down the hall after his own session, (Y/N) was already out, sitting in a chair with a solemn expression. She perked up slightly as his footsteps drew closer but he knew the familiar forcefulness behind the expression and didn't buy it. They walked silently to the bus stop, her hands stuffed into the pockets of her hood. Her shoulders bumped into him every so often, with her feet moving in tandem with his, repeating the dance they'd performed the first day they met.
Arthur watched her with a sideways look, observing the regression in her confidence from the previous day. He attempted light conversation, but sympathizing with her stutter and unwillingness to engage, he relented and fell into silence. It was her that broke it when they stepped off the bus and onto the sidewalk.
"I have a gig this afternoon," she started quietly, pushing a lock of hair behind her ear, "So, I'll be gone from one to five."
"I wish I could come and see," he was unsure of his words at first but the little glimmer that sparkled in her eyes reassured him, "If I didn't have a job today, I'd love to attend. Maybe if I get off in time, I can make it. If you want me to."
Her eyes truly locked on his for the first time that morning and she nodded enthusiastically.
"I'd like that. The place is a little sketchy though."
A soft laugh left her lips.
"Where's your grave tonight?"
"Some sleazy club called the Iceberg Lounge. No one good goes there but the pay is almost worth it."
He nodded in agreement before she added, "What's your job today?"
He feigned excitement, raising his brow and throwing his palms up. She giggled he smiled proudly.
They were able to keep better conversation on their way back to their building, learning a few more tidbits about each other as her mood seemed to lighten. They’d gotten into some kind of talk about the city, and he was intrigued by the passion behind her eyes as she spoke about it.
“I hate Gotham.”
It was a very sure statement, nothing but truth pushing the words from her lips and he almost stopped in his tracks as she said it.
“You really do?”
“Then why do you live here? I guarantee there are better places to live.”
“Can’t afford it.” She simply shrugged her shoulders, glances up to the tops of the buildings around them, “But if I could then I wouldn’t have met you.”
He smiled genuinely at her and admitted, “Yeah, I wouldn’t mind getting out of Gotham either.
At least with how it is now. I’d like to see it better one day.”
“As would I. I’d love to be able to clean it up one day. But until then, I’d like to get out.”
He nodded almost solemnly.
“Hey, maybe one day we can muster up enough money and get the hell outta dodge.”
She nudged his shoulders with a snort and they fell back into silence. He couldn’t shake her words from his head as they walked.
Time flew from the moment they reached their floor and before she knew it, Arthur was off to work and she was running late. The subway had never felt slower, her heels had never felt taller, and she had never felt more exposed walking into a gig. Everyone there looked like trouble and she pulled her bag a little closer to herself. She usually waited to dress until she arrived, finding it better to traverse Gotham in clothes no one ogled at. But she knew she wouldn't have time and decided to risk it. A change of clothes sat in her bag and she couldn't wait to trade her pumps for sneakers.
(Y/N) spent most of her time on stage scanning the audience for Arthur. It was 5:30 now, and he never showed. She tried not to let it get to her, but something planted itself in her chest. She was riding the subway alone tonight.
When she arrived at the steps of her building, it was silent. The absence of the sun bathed the pavement in darkness and the streetlamp cast her shadow on an orange halo. She gazed at the rows of windows for a moment before letting out a tired breath and shuffling up the concrete stairs. Her keys were already jingling in her hand before she made it to the elevator. It creaked and groaned as it struggled to her floor, and she tapped her foot on the tile floor.
The hall was empty, as she expected, and she padded quietly towards her door. But something called her to pause, and she halted at the front of Arthur’s apartment. Her fist hovered near the wood but she couldn’t bring herself to knock. He was most likely asleep, and even if he wasn’t, perhaps she shouldn’t disturb him. She lingered for a few more seconds before she sighed to herself and turned away. The further she got from his room, the deeper a feeling a dread blanketed the hall.