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Gothamite Lolita

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When he first sees her, he’s limping home from work, ridiculous clown wig and scalp balled in his fist. He trudges past the hoard of Gotham’s night population, eyes glassy, when he hears the sound of a slap, bright and visceral like glass shattering into a hard floor.

She’s cradling her cheek in one hand, eyes brimming and shiny even in the near lightless street, and a man twice her height stares down at her with a scowl marring his face. Eyes wide, he slows his gait to stare at the two of them, raking up her frame, from her scuffed heels and conspicuously short dress- he shuffles a bit closer- to her bite worn bottom lip that she takes in between her teeth as the man with her starts shouting.

Whore, the man shouts down at her, and he grabs her by her forearms, so small that his fingers meet his thumbs and overlap. He rattles her hard in the middle of the street, her head snapping back and forth like a toy locked between the jaws of some furious dog. Arthur watches her stumble when she's released and his stomach churns. 

Get your ass back inside, he says, yanking her along the sidewalk, and she tries her hardest not to trip in her platform heels that look a hundred feet tall on her. 

~

Arthur carefully prises open the door to his apartment, lighting a cigarette and blowing smoke out from his nose like a dragon. He walks like a man entranced, leaving a trail of ash and smog gray smoke all the way to his bedroom, the bathroom, the kitchen, the living room, filling the space with it like a decaying incense, til he sits on the couch, TV blaring away. He doesn't hear the voices or the music, but he watches all night long until his eyes grow too heavy to stay open, and he lets them slide shut, the thought of a saccharine, honeyed mouth entering his mind before he succumbs, head fuzzy.

 

When he makes his way downtown late one night, he sees her again, swaying on her feet at a street corner. The heels are even taller this time, laced up and tied to the middle of her calves. Tonight, she wears another dress that hangs high above her knees, all covered in sequins and fringe, and when he looks at her, he sees that she's wearing lipstick, blood red and too old for her face.

A police officer whistles at her from across the street, the sound cutting through Arthur's reverie, and he watches as her head snaps towards him. Hands on her hips, she makes her way over to him, a poorly practiced swing in her narrow hips, and he almost balks at the gesture. He wonders who taught her that, if she'd practiced in the mirror before she'd left for the night.

"Yes, Sir?" he hears her ask, leaning on the window of the officer's car, and she's clambering into the passenger's side.

She looks at Arthur as the cop drives away with her in tow, his hand already slithering higher and higher up her thigh like a climbing ivy, and she fixes him with her blank-eyed gaze until she's been whisked out of sight completely.

The laughter claws its way up Arthur's chest, hot like cauldron water that scalds his insides, until it forces its way past his sealed chapped lips and splits him wide open. He wheezes from the force of it, head pounding, and he's brought on all fours, hands pressing into the asphalt. He's choking, he's dying, and he thinks about the way the girl from the street corner- the Angel- had smudged mascara underneath her lower lashes. Tears hit the sidewalk like acid rain, and Arthur's laughed himself hoarse when he can finally crawl to his feet. Arthur has nowhere else to go- no family to worry of his absence, no work in the morning- so he stands there, motionless, the tips of his fingers brick red as the cold bites into him.


She steps out of the police cruiser hours later, the strap of her dress torn and lipstick smudged. Gathering herself, she makes her way back to the corner, and she flits her gaze to Arthur, shame sitting high on her cheeks. Wrapping her arms around herself, she waits.

Arthur knows she's trying to avoid his gaze, and so he stares even more fervently, brow furrowed when he sees a splotch of purple and maroon at the base of her throat. He wants to scrub the filth away, and he clenches and unclenches his fists until another car pulls up, and the backseat door flings open. She runs as quickly as she can without tripping, keeping her face as turned from Arthur as she can, and when she slams the car door shut, he sees that she's shut the door on her dress. It flutters helplessly as the car drives away.

~

He begins a new routine after that, making sure to go places that seem reasonable for her to be at, and he waits in the shadows, his frenzied breathing the only hint of his presence. He hangs around the alleys of Gotham, heart thudding like it'll burst through his bony chest, and for the first couple of days he doesn't see hide or hair of her. He thinks about what could have happened to her, if she's hurt, dead, bleeding out in the streets somewhere, and chews on a hangnail, silently begging her to turn a corner, even if she's covered in a thousand mottled, wine colored hickeys that run down her neck and stain her. Arthur could think of a million things he would give, if only to see her wobbling, unsure step as she rounded the corner, and-

She's here. This time wearing a two pieced outfit, shorts so high up he wonders if it's illegal, even on women older than her, her hair tied into pigtails, wearing a cropped T-shirt that exposes her midriff, and a golden sliver of her belly, the wink of her belly button, shines out at him. Arthur feels his throat go tight, and his eyes widen in knowing dread. Not again, not now. Oh God, please not now...

He forces the laugh down, into the bowels of his own soul, it feels like, heaving until he might be sick, and she turns to face him again, eyes detached, and then a flit of life sparks behind the glassy stare. She's recognized him, Arthur realizes, and he beams, paper thin lips too wide, too feral- like a chimpanzee, a dog baring its teeth. She doesn't smile back at him; instead, she turns and walks the other direction, glancing back once she's far enough away to ensure that he isn't following. 

Once she's out of his sight, he finds a new path to walk down, his footsteps whispering along the ground. It's beginning to snow, and he blows on his hands, head bowed, following her trail from the safety of buildings, and later, alleys. It takes him a good while, but finally he's upon her, close enough that he can see snowflakes that have began to stick to her hair. She shivers hard, her thin frame wracked with spasms, and Arthur feels his underwear grow tight. 

He's about to hide behind another building, when she wheels around to face him, eyes harried and mouth set into an ugly, grim little line. 

"What the hell do you want?" she demands of him, shaking from cold. The snow is falling harder now, it's beginning to lightly coat the sidewalk. Her nose is bright red, clown red, and he laughs once, hard and guttural. She winces. "I saw you the other night," she continues, eyes unsure of herself but pressing on nonetheless. She takes a bold step towards him, faltering when Arthur doesn't move backward, or show that he's shaken by her show of courage. "You were there on the sidewalk last time..." she trails off, words quieting to a near whisper when she sees him, really looks him in the eyes. Arthur can almost feel her pulse spike, and she takes a tentative step backward.

"It's cold," he says, voice low enough that she leans her head in, despite her wariness. "Come with me." 

The words come from him unbidden, and he works to hide his own shock; instead he looks down at her, at the feathery down on her arms that's standing tall, the blooming rosebuds beginning to form on her knees. She sniffles, and when he meets her eyes, she looks like she's filled to the brim with a resignation she's been expressing since the day she was born. He looks at her, brows lightly knitted, and she gives a curt little sigh. 

"Okay," she capitulates, and she flinches when he brushes up against her as they walk. 

"You live far," she comments uneasily, shivering again, childishly wiping her nose with her hand. She quickens her pace to keep up with him. They continue on, footsteps disjointed. 

"One more block," he answers, long legs striding ahead. He's itching to grab hold of her, to take her by the hand; she's surely endured worse, Arthur thinks, but he refrains and stuffs his hands into his pockets, and they walk in silence until finally, they round the corner to his apartment. 

"Don't be afraid," he says to her, after they climb the flight of stairs. He palms the key in his hand before unlocking it, and he ushers the girl inside. He takes note of the feline curve of her spine, how her shoulder blades faintly protrude from her back, testing the skin on top of it.

"I'm not." The answer is terse, clipped, a blunt little lie that reverberates through her body, and Arthur nods, and pretends to believe her.

She takes a look around his little apartment, and makes her way to the couch, perches on top of it. Her knees are sharp, like knives rest just under her delicate skin. Arthur puts the kettle on, lets it heat on the stove, and joins her. He lets himself sit a touch too close to her, the edge of his thigh ghosting against hers.

The TV lights up her face, and he gazes at her then, the unforgiving slope of her jawline. Arthur shifts in his seat, moving to hide his straining cock, and he thinks about skimming his nose down her cheek, soft like the skin of a nectarine, setting his lips on top of her pulse and kissing-

 "So, are you going to..." she begins, a crease forming between her faint brows. Her eyes dart to the tent in his pants and immediately flit away, the fairest hint of disgust set in the lines of her face. 

"No," he responds, hands clasped in his lap. He felt his body howl in retaliation, every cell in him screaming its protest, but he turned to her, eyes glued to the couch. 

"No, I’m not."

Rather than relief, like he’d suspected, her eyes grew fearful, and darted towards the door that he’d locked upon entering.

"Then, what...?" 

The question trailed off, and her face grew pale as she dared a look at Arthur, who still had yet to meet her eyes.

"I’m not going to do anything," he tells her, finally raising his eyes to hers. She waits one second, two, a minute, and finally realizes that he really does mean her no harm tonight. She lets herself close her eyes and breathe.

The shrill whistle of the tea kettle alerts them both, and when he goes to take it off, and pour the both of them a cup, he hears the distinct sound of her leaping off the couch, tearing towards the door. She flings it open, and sprints down the stairs.

Arthur rushes after her, beginning to make his way down, but she’s already too far; he sees her dash across the street, and onward, growing smaller and smaller by the second.

He can’t help but to laugh, the sound coming from him almost inhuman. The maniacal sound reaches her ears, even as far as she is, and she turns back, face white with terror. She keeps running, and twenty minutes later, Arthur wipes the tears from his eyes and trudges back to his apartment. He flings the cups into the sink, savoring the shatter of glass, tea splattering against the backdrop.

 

Chapter Text

The pimp from that first night shoves Arthur when he's on his way home two nights later, the force of it resonating in his very bones. He stumbles once, twice, and regains his footing, spine so taut he fears that it will snap right now, in this very moment. 

"You tried fucking one of my girls?" he growls at him, face merely inches from him. He feels the hot air of his breath hitting his nose in puffs. 

"No! I didn't," he tells him, near breathlessness with fear; he feels the terror climbing up his body and choking him out.

The grip on Arthur's jacket tightens. "She told me you did, fucking idiot. Told me how you holed her up in your apartment like a fucking lunatic. You think you can cheat me out of what you owe me? Huh?" He looks angrier now, a vein pulsing in his forehead.

"I really didn't do- I wasn't going to do anything with her," he stutters out. He feels a bead of sweat forming in his hair. 

 The two men stand there, Arthur fighting the urge to squirm out of the iron grip keeping him pressed too close for his liking to this man, who stank of stale beer and sweat. 

"What, you sayin' you wouldn't pay for a piece of that? Don't think her pussy's tight?" 

Arthur gapes at him, face burning hot, and he can feel a dull blush creeping its way up his throat, to his face. He can feel his insides twist to the point of near pain, and a whisper of a laugh sneaks past his lips. The pimp laughs heartily in return, and releases him.

"I don't think I-" Arthur tries to say, but the pimp cuts him off, flashing him a greased smile, and leading him with a hand on his back. He desperately wants to shake his grip off, but he knows he's too skinny to defend himself if he incurs his wrath again. He imagines the sound of his bones snapping under this brute's sheer force, and winces.

"Hey, I'm doing you a favor, pal. No offense, but you look... she'll treat you right. I swear. Go take one fifty out your bank account, she's worth it." And with this, he leads Arthur down the street.

"What's your name, by the way? I seen you around before; you work at that clown joint, right?" 

Arthur nods jerkily, mind still reeling from the surreal turn of events the night has taken. "I'm Arthur," he says.

"They call me Oscar," the pimp says, turning the both of them down a corner, and then they're walking into a dimly lit building- the receptionist greets Oscar with a cheerful wave- and up a stairway. Arthur eyes the elevator sitting across the stairs, but doesn't voice his curiosity.

In the darkened stairwell, Oscar matches Arthur's crawling speed up the steps. "So, it's one fifty for an hour, but you want something weird and we charge you more, got it?" 

"Yeah," Arthur answers.

Oscar continues on, looking at the man next to him who looks halfway excited, and halfway ready to vomit. "But you don't look like the type, so don't worry about it." 

His head is swimming, and when they reach the top of the stairs, he's halfway tempted to run right back down and escape into his apartment.

 The two men finally step into the floor above, Arthur deftly handing the cash to Oscar, who gave him directions- "Third room on the left, after that you can take her to your place,"- and walked in the other direction, leaving Arthur alone.

The floor smells like sex, there's no other way to describe it, even to Arthur- who'd never seen a woman in any state of undress before. He traverses the hallway, the high sound of a woman's breathy moan floating past him as he went. Above him, the lights flickers, and he feels the queasiness in his stomach return. He walks further down, the hammering in his chest picking up double time when he reaches his destination.

He almost made to knock, but then decided to simply open the door and step inside, closing it behind him with a soft click. 

There she was, clad in even less clothing than before, a simple black bra and underwear set, sitting on the floor, knees drawn up. She snaps her head towards Arthur as he makes himself known, eyes wide for a split second, before dulling once again.

"Hi," he says, unsure of what else to tell her. He takes his shoes off, setting them by the door and pads over to her in his socks, before bringing himself to sit in front of her.

Silence from her. She shakes her hair over her eyes and presses her mouth into a thin line, wringing her hands in her lap. Arthur takes them, calloused and dry, and separates them, leaving his hands atop hers.

"Did you follow me again?" she asks him lowly, the accusation barbed beneath her tongue. Arthur shakes his head.

"I told Oscar about what you did the other day," she continues on, still avoiding his gaze. "He says he'll come after you if you do it again."

"I know," Arthur croaks out, clearing his throat before saying, "He mentioned it."

The two of them sit in silence for a while, the faint humming of the overhead light keeping Arthur distracted, until she lifts her head to face him, and slides her hands onto either side of his face. She kisses him, small tongue darting out of her mouth and into his, spreading her thin thighs to straddle his hips.

Arthur's eyes fly open, hands lying lamely by his sides, letting out a choked gasp when she grinds down on to his cock. He's not fully hard yet, but when she runs her blunt, ragged fingernails down his face and presses them onto his chest, he feels lightheaded and dizzy all at once, like he's taken a hit of reefer. His cock jumps in his slacks.

He pushes her off of him lightly, her arms now entangled around his neck. "What are you doing?" he asks her, voice low and shaky. She pulls back a little further, lips rosy, a little wet. 

"What I'm supposed to," she replies, and underneath the emotionless answer, Arthur hears a sadness that he understands like the back of his own hand.

When he doesn't move to push her fully off his lap, she takes him into another kiss, playing in his hair, shifting in his lap. He feels her small hips undulate against him, and places his hands at her waist, grip feather light. She moves to undo his belt buckle, and-

"Fuck!" Arthur cries out suddenly, the word nearly smothered in a laugh that echoes off the walls, vision going white as she presses a kiss to his neck. He juts his hips up uncontrollably, head thrown back against the wall, and she freezes in his arms.

"Fuck," he repeats, this time quieter, and she disentangles herself from his hold with a practiced air. He turns to look at her, unsure of what to say, but she's returned to her position she was in when he first came to visit, and won't look at him. He stands, goes to put his shoes back on, and leaves. 

 

Chapter Text

Arthur sits at his couch, bundled up in sweaters to brave the frigid air that hits him, even in his apartment, mug of tea in hand. He thinks about going down to Oscar's place- Oscar's brothel , his mind doesn't let him forget, where he can snatch up a girl that he can barely convince himself is a woman, and do terrible things to her body that make his toes curl just thinking of them .  

He shakes himself like a dog, thinking of the way she wrung her hands when he'd seen her last. He remembers taking them apart, and wishes he'd kissed those rough palms, the salt from them on his mouth after he pulled away.

A violent shudder passes through him. Arthur wants to reach into his slacks and pull out his cock while the memory of her grinding on him is still fresh in his mind, and so he does, undoing his zipper and pushing his pants below his ass, other hand already splayed over his cock, It jumps and pulses impatiently in his boxers, and he's about to pull himself free when he remembers the terror in her eyes when she'd seen him come through the door. It stops him short, and he lets his hand fall to his side, deflating. 

Disgust pervades his senses, his entire being, when he thinks about how little she obviously wants to do with him. He tries his best to ignore it, the truth staring him in the face, and thinks of another version of her, one who embraces him readily and moans when he cups her breasts in his hands.

He slouches in his seat and takes it further, imagining the high, needy sound of her voice as he pulls her naked body onto his and kisses her. She's perched onto his lap, like last week, only now Arthur can respond, and he cards a hand through her hair and dips his mouth lower, licks a long, slow stripe up her throat.

Not bothering to acknowledge his cock, and the weeping head that drips precome down his shaft, he imagines holding her tighter, bouncing her slowly in his lap, rolling his hips into her and kissing her again. 

She was so bold with him last time, he recalls, and he groans aloud, the thought of her pushing him backwards and grinding on him bringing him to slide his eyes closed. Would she palm his cock, unzip him? Free it from his briefs and take it in her hand? Arthur bites his bottom lip til he tastes a burst of iron on his tongue, then the telltale feeling of blood running down his chin. 

Arthur sees himself thrusting up into her hand, grip on her hips drifting underneath her skirt, feeling the wetness there through her panties, and pulling her forward so that she can brush them against the head of his cock, hands on his chest. She dips lower, to take his mouth with hers, and cups his face in one hand, shifting her panties to the side with the other, sinking down onto his cock-

Eyes squeezing shut, Arthur curls his toes and clenches his fists, his release overwhelming him til he feels his eyebrows twitch. His body seizes violently like he's been struck by lightening, and he cries out loud, mouth twisted into a grimace.

He pants, and stands to go to the shower, suddenly disgusted with the afterglow running through his veins like heroin. Stripping as he walks, he refuses to think about how good her mouth felt on his, instead forcing to the front of his mind her unsettled expression that night she'd been picked up by that cop.

She's not interested, Arthur hammers into his brain, and he screws his eyes shut under the stream of the shower. He'd already known that, and it hadn't stopped  him yet. He doesn't want to think about how far he'll push himself, how far he'll push her. He turns the knob higher, and the water scalds his skin.

Arthur goes to the building Oscar took him to last week, and the receptionist smiles at him warmly, though he imagines they both know he doesn't deserve it.

"I'm here for... t-to talk- is Oscar here?" he barely can force the question past his lips, but he does it somehow. The receptionist gives him a pitying smile for his efforts. 

"He is!" she answers brightly, and goes through a door behind her. A few seconds later, she steps back out, Oscar behind her, and he fixes the zipper on his pants right in front of Arthur, shameless. A few seconds later, a woman scurries out of the room as well, eyes downcast.

"Arthur, hey," Oscar says to him, giving him a smile that makes Arthur queasy. "What can I do you for?"

Arthur almost changes his mind right there, almost says never mind and leaves, like he should. But he swallows loudly and says, "I'd like to see- d'you know if...?"

He can't do it. He can't bring himself to ask Oscar for what he wants, and a laugh bursts from him like air bubbles reaching the surface of a body of water. It comes on suddenly, laughter ripping from his core sharp and painful, and his throat convulses like he's about to vomit.

The receptionist looks disturbed, to say the least, and even Oscar stares at him a little worried. Arthur catches his breath.

"I'm sorry," he breathes out, straightening himself out. "I have a... a condition."

The room stays quiet for a while afterward, until Oscar speaks again. "You wanted to see Cherry again, huh? You bring the money?"

Arthur nods hastily, presenting the money in his fist to him. 

Oscar nods. "Alright, sure. I'll get her." The receptionist presses an intercom button, and leans away so that Oscar can bark a raspy, "Cherry! Get your ass down here!" into it, and then face Arthur again. He swallows.

The girl, Cherry , makes her entrance at the bottom of the stairs, and this time there's no swift transition of emotion; she's disgusted the entire time she makes her presence known. Oscar snaps his fingers impatiently, and she trips to his side.

"You're gonna show our guest here a good time, aren't you, girl?" he says to her, his voice carrying a menace just beneath the surface of the words, and she nods, keeping her eyes off everyone in the room. Oscar narrows his eyes.

"Lemme hear you say it."

The room is thick with an uncomfortable energy that Arthur can't quiet identify, and the hairs on his arms and neck stand up straight when she obeys, Oscar's hand tilting her face to meet Arthur's.

"I'm going to show him a good time," she repeats, her hands knotted together. "Good girl," Oscar purrs,

~

The two of them walk to Arthur's apartment in silence, and he can feel the hatred rolling off of her like an electric force field, keeping him far enough away from her that she can't tell that he's sweating. They walk up the stairs, and after Arthur unlocks the door o his place, she hesitates before stepping over the threshold.

It's clear to Arthur that she's going to ice him out as much as possible, and ignore his presence next to her.  She stiffens when he takes her by the hand and leads her into his bedroom, shutting that door, too. He draws the blinds before sitting her down on his bed, following her on the way down. 

They sit side by side, her feet brushing the floor, Arthur fully seated on the bed, legs crossed. She keeps her eyes forward, glazed over, her hands in her lap. Arthur moves to hold them- she tries to snatch them away, but remembers her act and goes limp again- and spreads them open. Heart racing, he presses a kiss to the center of her calloused hand, then the other. He feels the roughness on his lips and rubs them along her entire hand, his nose skimming her delicate wrist. She twitches, but doesn't move.

He doesn't try to restrain himself; in here, in the comfort of his own home, it's so much easier to pretend that this is something else, something that isn't dark and twisted and wrong. He takes her hand in his, face up, and moves it along his own face, shuddering at the feeling.

Pulling her onto the bed, he nuzzles into her neck, mouth on her collarbone, wrapping her close to him, so tight that he can hear her heartbeat racing, so hard and rapid that he expects her to faint. Pulling back, he looks her in the eye.

She stares back at him glassily, her entire body limp like a ragdoll's. He can't stand to see the constant ache in her eyes. 

He crushes his lips to hers, prising her mouth open and sucking her tongue into his mouth, hands on her hips. She keeps her own hands limply at her sides, passively letting Arthur touch her, and letting herself slump against his shoulder when he breaks the kiss to pant heavily.

"Cherry," he murmurs to her, and he can feel her stiffen at the sound of her name on his tongue, at the way he pulls her onto his lap and into another kiss, moving her hips and laying fully on the bed.

She halfheartedly kisses him back, Arthur moaning into her mouth at the feeling of her moving against him, and rocks her a little faster, He's hard, and he runs a hand up and down her back as he kisses her.

Arthur almost moves to touch her underneath the skirt she's wearing, but he can't bring himself to; she already doesn't want to kiss him. He tries hard to continue on, but he's already thought it, he can't take it back, act like it's not true, can't-

"How old are you?" he asks her, almost afraid of her answer. She sits up on his lap, looks at him like he's the world's most disgusting man.

"Eighteen," she says, and he knows it's a lie. He wonders how many times she's told it, what she's had to endure before she learned to give the answer that won't get her punished.

"Have you ever... can I touch you here?" he feels like a fool for even bothering to ask her, even pretending she's allowed to say no, and she takes his hand and brings it between her legs. She's not wet, and he almost suspects that she's darkly satisfied, glad to shatter the fantasy he's trying to piece together. 

He rubs at her, fingers moving tentatively, his eyes locked on hers. She holds his gaze, eyes impassive, giving him nothing, and he moves along the length of her slit, resting on top of her clit and focusing his attention there. The minutes pass by with her on top of him, a living statue, and Arthur working intently under her skirt.

Looking up at her, he tries to gauge her reaction, but she keeps her face stony as best she can, despite her underwear beginning to grow wet under his touch. His eyebrows furrow.

She's blushing darkly now, and Arthur can see that she's starting to shake under his touch. He rubs faster.

Her panties have grown so wet that they're soaking Arthur's fingers, and he bites back a groan as his cock twitches. She bites her lip, hands grasping the sheets, and avoids Arthur's stare as he works at her tirelessly. 

He looks at her fully now, and sees the peaks of her nipples rising under her shirt, reaches with his other hand to touch her there, too, rolling the bud between his fingers, and she jerks hard against him, a sharp, breathy moan escaping her mouth.

Arthur pulls her down to kiss him, and feels the warm trail of her tears rolling down his cheek. He releases his hold on her, but she can't bring herself to look him in the eye again, and for the second time, she slumps over his shoulder, her body hitching with silent sobs. He thinks to pat her back, but he knows better. She cries on top of him, the wetness of her panties touching the groin of his pants, and Arthur bites his lip to keep from moaning. 

They sit like this for Arthur doesn't know how long, until she finally sits up and sits on the bed again, her back to him.

"Can I go now?" she asks him, her voice breaking mid sentence. He feels the wet spot of her tears on his shoulders, her sorrow tangible on his very skin. 

"Yeah," he says, and she puts on her shoes and leaves as fast as she can, the slam of the door loud as a clap of thunder,

 

Arthur doesn't sleep that night.

 

 

Chapter Text

Arthur sits on the subway, the flickering lights drawing shadows on his face, making him look gaunt in places he doesn't naturally. He folds his hands in his lap, head bowed, when the boisterous sound of a couple reaches his ears. They clamber on to the car with him.

They sit obnoxiously close, pawing at each other with a voracity that make him shift uncomfortably in his seat. They're dressed ridiculously- maybe they've left a costume party, Arthur muses, his curiosity distracting him from his annoyance at their proximity.

The man has his girlfriend seated suggestively in his lap, running his hands up and down her body and teasing her when she swats at him playfully. She leans her face to his and pulls him into a kiss, and Arthur feels his eyelid twitch.

He isn't trying to, really, but the way this girl's body twists and dips on the man's lap forces Cherry to the front of his mind, and Arthur feels weak and lightheaded with arousal. He thinks about how soft, petite frame, the way her skin gives when he holds her close and lets out a shaky sigh, watching the night fly past him.

~

After that last time, Arthur lay on his bed for another hour, the wetness of Cherry's tears soaked into his shoulder. He desperately wanted to tear the shirt to pieces, rip off the sheet, burn the mattress, anything to destroy the memory of her despair that thickly hung over him like an oppressive cloud. He thought about her lifeless stare as he kissed her, her limp body pressed against him like a sack of potatoes. 

He feels a rush of desperation- for Cherry, her affection, the sound of her laughter, a contented sigh to escape her lips as she cuddles close to him- and lets out a faint, whimpering groan, running his hands through his hair and settling at his temples. He's already taken her to visit him too many times, and he's promised himself- promised her- that he wouldn't do it again, but he feels a burning need to see her happy, happy to be with him, and it's that thought that has him nearly charging off the subway at his stop, fists balled, quivering with energy.

Arthur steamrolls into the brothel, slams his money down on the desk, and in a tone that leaves the receptionist balking, demands, "I wanna see Cherry."

She recovers after a second, blinking up at him in shock, before gathering herself and saying, "Oh! Of-of course." She presses a manicured finger to the intercom.

"Cherry," she croons out, "You're wanted downstairs, honey."

The two of them sit there, Arthur staring intently at the stairwell, the receptionist typing away at her desktop, when he realizes what he's doing. It's after midnight, and he's stormed into this young girl's place of residence, preparing to drag her back to his, no matter what she thinks. It's the second time this week he's requested her, and he's using money that he carefully pilfered from his job. Arthur feels the sweat run down his face.

He almost tells the receptionist that he's changed his mind, sorry, and that he'll see her another day, when he hears Cherry walking down the stairs, as slowly as she can without stalling too much. She knows that Arthur's come for her, he thinks guiltily, and she doesn't want to see him, not one bit. The thought of another voiceless session with her is enough to make his insides squirm.

She looks dressed for bed, her hair braided in two fat plaits down her back, face free of makeup. She's wearing a large T-shirt, a faded Tweety Bird on the front, and the first thing Arthur can comprehend is just how tired she looks. Tired of him, tired of the receptionist, tired of waking up in the morning. She lets out a yawn, lips red and swollen from sleep.

It's that little yawn that makes up Arthur's mind for him; she's barely even cleared the stairs when he's on her, leading her by the hand and running with her down the street like a pair of criminals. His entire body feels like a live wire, like he can do anything, anything at all, and they don't stop running until they've cleared the stairs and he's flung open the door to his apartment and slammed it shut.

~

Arthur wheels around, and grabs Cherry, mouth seeking hers with a desperation that has him panting into her mouth, hands bunching the fabric of her shirt up to her waist. He kisses her breathless, and when he gives her a brief respite she's gasping for air, cheeks tinged red, her mouth open in shock. A low growl emanates from somewhere deep within him.

He lifts her by her waist, holding her thigh to wrap her legs around his hips, and leads her to the bedroom where he deposits her onto his bed. She lands awkwardly, legs akimbo, hands splayed out behind her, and Arthur's taking her by the ankles and pulling her into a laying position when he catches sight of that expression on her face again, and the feeling of intense need, hot like fire, from earlier takes hold of him.

"Say something!" he begs her, sitting between her legs. Cherry turns her head to look at him, but makes no move to obey. He lays down, and scoots forward on his stomach until his face is inches from hers. "Please,"  he repeats himself, drawing closer, and presses a kiss to her shoulder blade. She winces.

Drawing lower down her body, he covers her body in kisses; her neck, forearms, the flat expanse of her stomach, anywhere else his mouth could touch- and stops short of the space between her legs. He tries imploring her with his eyes, and breathes out, mouth inches from her slit, "Anything, Cherry. I'm begging you. Just say anything."

She balls her fists then, eyes screwed shut, and screams wordlessly, nearly vibrating with the force of her anger. Her voice cracks and splinters, and bounces off the walls of Arthur's apartment; it pierces him like shrapnel. She takes a deep, shuddering breath and makes to scream again, but a weak sob leaves her instead. "I hate you," she moans out. "I hate you so much." 

"I don't want you to hate me, Cherry," Arthur murmurs, face still so close to her that he can feel heat emanating from her core. He wants to taste her, even after her outburst- wants to lap at her until she pulls him closer by the hair and moans, ragged, to the heavens above. He forces himself to back up a few inches. 

"Are you gonna let me go?" she asks him. voice heartbreakingly small, and he imagines it then. He imagines telling her yes, that she's free to go, and watching her fly out of the bedroom like her feet are winged, disappearing in seconds. His heart feels torn. The silence drags on, and she sighs, like she knew his answer all along. Arthur hates himself for his cowardice. 

"I don't want you to hate me," he repeats, wrapping his hands around her waist, his forearms meeting, and presses his face into her. Above him, Cherry lets out a sharp gasp, her toes curling into the sheets. Arthur notices, and wants the sound of her voice. 

"Have you ever done this before? Has anyone...?" the question hangs in the air; she doesn't respond. Arthur shifts closer to her. "Cherry," he says lowly, and he feels her writhe. 

"No," she answers quickly, and he licks a long stripe up the length of her slit through her underwear, his hands wrapped around her thighs now. 

The gasp she lets out is a wild, stuttering one, and Arthur swears he can feel her heart kick into overdrive under his tongue. Grip on her tightening, he continues, her muted whimpers egging him on.

"Say something," he implores her again, mouth wild against the fabric of her panties. It's wet with his saliva, and he feels the imprint of her clit, standing proud, underneath it. She lets out another breathy moan.

"Say that you like this," he whispers against her, looking up to see that she has a hand clapped over her mouth, eyes screwed shut. Arthur reaches up and pulls it free, pinning her by her frail wrist, and asks again. Cherry says nothing, only lets a quiet little groan fall from her lips.

"Say it!" Arthur's almost frantic with the need to hear her, and he slides the drenched fabric up and off her body, holding it to the side with a finger, and she goes stock still. He's inches away from her bare privates, breath leaving hot little puffs that make her shiver. In the darkened apartment, he sees that she's wet, and he groans, the sound deep in his throat. "Cherry..." he says, mouth brushing her clit.

"Okay!" Cherry yells out. She tries once, twice, and sniffles, before surrendering a hushed, "I do. I... I like it." Shame colors her face, Arthur drinking her admission like wine, and he dips his mouth to her, pressing a slow kiss to her pussy.

She keens even louder this time, her thighs like the beat of a trapped butterfly's wings, and Arthur holds them still as he continues his onslaught. His mouth is like a wildfire against her, and she lets her cries pour of her from like a heady waterfall, loud enough to cover the sounds of her shame  silently running down her cheeks and pooling in the shells of her ears.

Arthur's buried in between her legs, voraciously wrapping his lips around her clit and moaning into her, his hair tickling her thighs; he peers up at her, eyes glinting like an animal in the dark and sees the shape of her mouth, jaw forcing her mouth wide open, a light sheen of sweat misting her stomach. 

His cock feels like it's made of molten lava, churning violently under the surface, and he pulls her tighter onto his mouth and tongue, her cries like a siren's song, the melody winding its way into his heart and squeezing. "Tell me you love me," he says huskily, mouth wet with her nectar, like a wolf raising its head from the steaming entrails of a deer.

"What?!" Cherry snaps her head up, baby hairs standing wild in an unruly halo around her head. She wipes the sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand, mouth gaped open. She stares at Arthur openly for the first time since she met him, and he can see her face tinged scarlet, heart racing in her cheeks. 

"Tell me," he says again, pulling her onto his mouth once again, even more vigor in his movements. She's starting to shake again, Arthur notes, and he takes his hand and guides his fingers inside her, his tongue on her clit. She falls back onto the bed, chest heaving with the new addition, lip snatched between her teeth.

"Please, I don't want to-" she begs him, in her smallest voice yet, cracking the whole way through. 

"Say it!"

 "Plea- Don't make me..."

Arthur stares up at her for a long second, watching her unravel, before he unlatches his mouth from her clit. Fingers still inside, he makes his demand again. 

"Do it, Cherry," is all he says, and then he's on her, so quick she can barely register, and he feels her quake above him, letting out a choked, strangled moan. She sounds like she's in agony as she tightens around him, her wetness running down his knuckles. 

"Nooo!"  the wail rips its way out of her, hands knotted into fists, her body undulating like a wave during a tsunami. She screams out her protest, but Arthur can taste that she's already come, and he laps at her for another minute, two, until she violently shoves him off of her.

Lightening quick, he moves by her side, hovering on top of her to take her into another kiss, but she slaps at him, hands nearly bared into claws, the tears streaming down her face like fountain water. Her nails rake down his chest, his face, anywhere she can reach, and she screams up at him, "I hate you!", over and over, until her voice has gone hoarse, and she can only croak out her venom towards him, eyes puffy and red and blazing heat. 

Panting out, she curls in on herself, scrubbing at her eyes with her hands, hiccupping out the last of her cries, an occasional, "Hate you," mumbled Arthur's way. He sits at the foot of the bed, jitters and revulsion running through his veins when he turns to her, his face still shiny with slick.

They sit in silence, the sounds of cars driving outside the only noise granted to them, while Arthur tries to think of something to tell her, something that will wash away the ache of this most recent attack on her innocence. 

"I won't do this again, Cherry," he says to her, hating the pathetic keen in his voice. "I won't. I just... I-"

"You don't mean it," she says, her back to him. 

Arthur knows that she's right, and he can't deny it, so he says nothing to her accusation, and lets it hang in the air, lets it wash over him and bathe him in her loathing. 

"Do you want to... I won't make you stay the whole hour this time, " he says weakly. It's all he can offer her, the best he has, and she takes it, weakly making her way to her feet. She turns towards the door, slips on her shoes, and leaves, not once looking at him. 

 

Chapter Text

Fucking Oscar is like getting a shot at the doctor’s office, Cherry thinks. It’s not fun.  it leaves her sore. She has to go every couple of months when she’d rather die than see him. It’s thoughts like this that pierce through her mind as she grits her teeth, perched on his cock, his hands pulling her further down like he wants to break her. She doesn’t know if he has or not.

Oscar knows that she’s not eighteen, and a part of her feels like it turns him on to think about it when he splits her open, over and over again in this dimly lit hotel room. He takes her here every four months or so, and every time afterwards she imagines how easy it would be to slit his throat while he sleeps on top of her, his sweat drying on her skin.

The first time he’d taken her to this hotel room, she was sixteen, freshly purchased, shivering and red eyed from tears. Her mother had made the transaction quick, shoving her into Oscar’s arms, barely dressed, in exchange for a fistful of money, and that had been that. Every time he told the story, the amount was different; sometimes he’d paid three thousand, sometimes he’d paid forty five.

 "It don’t matter how much you cost, just that I bought you," he likes to remind her, the way he’s doing right now, pulling her by the hair so he can whisper in her ear. He’s pounding up into her, and she focuses on not letting a lone, traitorous tear escape her eye. A thousand times she’s let him fuck her, it seems, and every time, it only feels like she’s property when he grinds against her insides like that. Cherry tries not to whimper; Oscar gets especially nasty when he knows she enjoys what he's doing.

"You’re so wet," he moans into her skin, and she chokes back a gag when he kisses her collarbone. It’s not unusual for Oscar to get affectionate when he fucks her, but it unsettles her any time it happens. It’s not different tonight, and she’s ashamed of herself for not masking her fear a little better. He kisses her slow, mouth tracing patterns in her skin, his hands fever hot. It’s too much, too loving for this cheap motel fuck, Cherry thinks. It’s cloyingly sweet, and the feeling of his stubble brushing her skin lingers at the back of her throat and the pit of her stomach. His touch is light, almost reverent, too much like Arthur-

 The thought sends a violent shiver throughout her body, and Oscar laughs devilishly underneath her. 

“You like that? When I fuck you like this?” and he continues his barrage of filth, but Cherry’s too lost in her spiraling thoughts to hear him. The thought of Arthur has taken root in her mind, and she can’t see anything except for his bowed head in between her legs, the way he’d stared up at her like a starving animal.

She thinks of his mouth, shiny with her cum, and burns hot. She feels herself ripple around Oscar’s cock and wants to vomit. Tears threatening  to prick her eyes, Cherry tries to think of something else- the way the paint peels off the walls in the room, the sound of police cars outside, and eventually she’s locked the memory of coming on Arthur’s fingers away. She pretends she isn’t wet.

Oscar moans desperately beneath her, slamming her harder onto his cock like his life depends on it, before an especially vicious thrust, and his eyes roll to the whites. He looks like a demon, even more so than normal; Cherry avoids his gaze. 

“Go get me a beer,” he breathes out to her, entire body salmon pink, and she pads over to the fridge, the wetness between her legs like poison. 

Arthur crosses her mind again, and she finds herself unable to dismiss him, even in the privacy of her own brain. 


Cherry shuffles back into the apartment complex with Oscar, receptionist typing away, as usual. She always looks so happy, so carefree, and Cherry feels a familiar surge of hatred flare up at the sight of her and her pretty highlighted hair. She never has to fuck anybody to have a job; she isn’t walking around with come leaking down her thighs, painting her insides the color of shame. Cherry wants to wrap a cord around her neck and squeeze as hard as she can. 

"Hi, Oscar! Cherry," she greets them both, smile never faltering at the glare Cherry sends her way as she heads up the stairs. If she feels guilty for her part in the horror that is Cherry's life, she doesn't show it, instead bringing her attention to her phone after Oscar leaves her field of vision. 

She's not even fully up the stairs when the door slams open, and she's pulled to the next floor, nearly tripping up the steps. She finds her footing, and looks up at the girl who grabbed her.

"Oh my God, how long have you been out?! Does Oscar know-"

"I was with Oscar, London. Calm down." Cherry makes to brush past her, trying her best to ignore the swell of a bruise that shines through the other girl's hastily applied concealer. "Is anyone in the showers right now?"

London shakes her head, walking with her down the hallway. The entire complex smells, no matter what any of the girls do, and it's enough to make Cherry want to vomit. But even worse than the scent in the walls of this place is the one that permeates Oscar's entire being. It oozes from his pores, almost tangible, like puss that lurks underneath the surface. She imagines peeling his face apart, and seeing it waft into the air like mustard gas. 

"I got worried when you weren't here this morning. I thought you ran away," London admits to her quietly, brow creased. "I thought you'd left the rest of us here."

Cherry sighs, and stops her walk to wrap London into a hug, the girl wincing harshly at the touch. She doesn't blame her; London was a crowd favorite among businessmen and those travelling to Gotham, and very seldom did she find herself with a decent acting client. Or as decent a client you could be while still paying for a barely legal girl to choke back tears as she blows you, Cherry thinks. 

"I wasn't going to leave you. I don't have that much money," she says, cracking a smile, and London nervously titters back at her. She can't tell if she's joking, Cherry realizes, and she feels a sadness drain her of the mirth she'd possessed only seconds ago.

"Has anyone heard anything from Bambi yet? After she went out with that couple? I left the same time as her, but she was only booked for a half hour," Cherry flits her gaze to London, and the other girl shifts hers away. Dread pools at the bottom of her stomach, but she braces herself for the answer. 

"London?"

"I... Nobody's said anything yet. I was listening at the bottom of the stairs, they paid a lot of money for her. Tiffany tried to tell them that they couldn't do that until Oscar sees them first, but they just kept telling her that they'd pay her if she just let it slide." 

Cherry snorts, and spits at the ground. It's something she'd picked up watching the older girls, the way they'd force it between the gaps in their teeth, like cats, after Oscar's retreating figure, or a client who'd been particularly nasty to them. It feels good to spit, feels derisive and confrontational, and she relishes the feeling, watching it fly through the air like a comet. London wrinkles her nose. 

"Gross," she says.

"Maybe they're her family. I mean, I don't know- who else would pay so much just to her get her out of here?" London looks thoughtful for a minute, before pursing her lips. 

"I don't know. I heard that sometimes, businessmen come into places like this and buy out girls, and keep them as sex slaves in their penthouse suites." 

Scoffing, Cherry playfully shoves her. "You made that up!" she giggles at her, and London laughs and shoves her back. 

"I mean, maybe! It sounds crazy enough to actually happen!" The two of them laugh down the hall, entering Cherry's room. London carefully sits on the bed, trying to discreetly check for spots beforehand. There's no space on that bed that hasn't been stained with cum, or blood, or tears, and they both know it. The sounds of scrubbing- crying- echo throughout the halls, like a ritual only the girls trapped here know. Cherry clears her throat.

"Just come sit on the floor," she sighs, and London scoots to sit, cross-legged, next to her. It reminds her too much of the first time Arthur had come here; she repositions herself, her head on London's thigh.

"I really did miss you," London murmurs, smoothing her hair as she says it. Cherry looks up at her.

"Did you really think I was going to leave?" 

"No," London answers. "Not by choice, I mean."

"Do you ever wonder if one day, one of these guys will fall in love with us, and drive us out of Gotham?" 

The question comes suddenly, and Cherry freezes in London's lap, heart racing. It was an established rule within the brothel that talk of escape or elopement was ultimately illegal. Cherry has seen it happen, seen it gone wrong, so many times that the images burn beneath her eyelids and keep her awake, and she feels that terror, the terror of those girls, pulsing through her veins now. You weren't supposed to talk about leaving, weren't supposed to let a man take you away. If you didn't kick him in the balls and book it home, Oscar has only told them once, he would make any bitches that made that mistake sorry. Cherry swallows hard.

"I don't know what you're talking about, London," she whispers out carefully, trying her hardest to keep her voice measured. London sighs wistfully.

"I mean," she says, the longing in her voice enough to make Cherry's heart ache, "what if, one day, we meet a good guy, and he helps us esca-"

"Shut up, London!" the cry comes from her suddenly, and she can't help the tremor in her voice now. "You know better!"

London sighs again, the hopeful air she had before evaporated into nothingness. "Yeah, I know." 

They sit quietly for a little while, until the sound of another girl screaming in another room chases the silence away. She's not the first one this week, Cherry thinks tiredly. She won't be the last, and she slides a hand over her ear, curling in on herself, and she wishes she could scream, too. 

~

Dinner is a noisy affair, girls flitting in and out of rooms with burgers wrapped in paper in their hands. They chatter amongst themselves, laughing and joking, and Cherry almost feels like this is normal, like summer camp, or maybe the world's most fucked up orphanage. She snorts to herself.

More girls have joined Cherry and London, and one of them is passing out playing cards to the other girls, preparing for a game of Go Fish. The two of them hang back, dipping fries in ketchup and staring out the barred windows as best they can. 

"This is kind of fun, I think," London says to her, a small smile on her freckled face. "I mean, considering," she amends, and shrugs. Cherry smiles back at her. "Yeah," she says, "I was just thinking the same thing."

The two of them sit there, quietly enjoying each other's company, the sounds of girls playing in a dingy hellscape behind them, and try not to think about what the next day will bring.

"I'm about to go to bed, go play somewhere else!" Cherry calls out suddenly to the girls behind them. One of them flips her the bird. 

"Fuck off, Cherry, we're in the middle of our game! You can wait, it's only two!"

Cherry jumps to her feet and rushes towards them, flapping her arms. "I mean it, get the hell out!" and she garbles at them playfully, flapping around like a car dealership blow-up toy. 

The girls laugh at her, but run out of her room anyway, tossing cards at her as they go. "You're so fucking dumb, Cherry!" they yell out through giggles.

Room now empty, she pulls the covers out from under the bed, and creates a makeshift palette, waving London over. "Do you wanna sleep in here tonight? It gets cold in your room, I know."

London deliberates for a little while, before nodding. "Yeah, that sounds good."

"Thank you, Cherry."

"No problem, London."

~

The two girls have only been sleeping for a couple of hours when they're awoken by a loud banging on their wall. Groggily peering up, Cherry sees another girl worriedly trying to get her attention. 

"Wake up!" she hisses, eyes wide with fear. "Oscar's here, and he's mad about something! He says to get downstairs now, and if he has to come upstairs for you you'll regret it!"

In an instant she's up, shaking London awake. "London!" she whispers to her, and relays the message from the other girl. Soon, London is awake, and just as scared.

Like a ripple effect, the entire floor is filled with the urgent warning, whispers like a hissing faucet, and they all hurry down the stairs, like frightened mice.

 

In minutes, they're all downstairs, like an assembly only the Devil could have conjured up. Oscar sways lightly on his feet, his face an angry red. Beside him stands Tiffany, her head bowed, and even from where she stands, Cherry knows she's fighting back tears. A big red handprint stands harshly against her skin, wrapped around her throat like a Christmas ribbon. Cherry feels her insides go cold.

None of them daring to make a sound, they wait for Oscar to say something, the seconds crawling by. 

"He's drunk," London whispers, worried, to Cherry.

"Yeah," she answers, keeping her head low.

"Any one of you bitches," he starts off, his voice dipping and rising, hands clasped behind his back, as he begins to pace, " care to remind me of what happens when one of your own goes missing?"

Somehow, the room grows even quieter, all of them wide eyed and barely breathing. He looks around, at their expressions, and chuckles darkly to himself.  "Hmm?" 

A lone girl speaks up, her voice deeper than Cherry's, and she turns to see that this girl is an adult, at least nineteen. Cherry wants to feel comforted by her voice, at how she towers above her, but can only squirm where she stands. Oscar's going to hit her. He's going to walk over and deck her, and he'll do it again and again and again and-

"We're supposed to call you, or Tiffany, or David," she says, before hastily moving to duck her head again.

"Exactly!" he crows, swinging around when he's run out of room to pace, starting over. 

"And what! Do you think I didn't get! Today?" Silence greets him, and he draws his gun, the sharp sound of twenty frightened gasps ringing through the air.

"A call! A call, a call!" they all cry out desperately, Cherry's voice joining the rest. 

"That's right! A call!" and he shoots randomly, sending drywall floating down on the girls like snow. One girl screams, before shoving her fist into her mouth to muffle the sound.

"You're on a roll, girls, but I got one more question for you tonight. It's a toughie, just to warn you!" He faces them again, a sheen of sweat covering his skin. He looks possessed, Cherry thinks, her entire body thrumming with nervous energy, a staccato beat that frays her nerves raw.

"Where! The fuck! Is Bambi!" 

Nobody knows what to say, and Cherry feels like he knows it's not their fault; they're not allowed to go downstairs unless Tiffany is there, with David, Oscar's muscle for hire, waiting with a handgun and a Rottweiler to ensure they stay inside unless called upon. None of them could have seen who'd taken her away, except Tiffany, who had lost her battle with the tears that were trickling silently down her face.

He knows we didn't do anything, she thinks. He just wants someone else to beat tonight.

He storms closer to them, the girls in front hurriedly backing away from him. 

"D'you know? How 'bout you? You? You? You?" he manically shuffles through them, daring any of them to answer him, when he sees London and Cherry, cowering as hard as they can. Like a shark scenting the water, his nostrils flare, and he glides over to them, dangerously smooth, an oil spill spreading across the ocean.

"How... about... you?" he growls, and he slowly knots his fingers in Cherry's hair, his grip like fire on her scalp. Dragging Cherry to the front, he flings her to the ground, her head throbbing. 

"I wasn't... I was with you," she answers him quietly, shame coloring her face as she recalls the memory. Oscar sneers at her.

"Oh, don't I fuckin' know it. You plan that? You plan on being with me this morning, so I wouldn't notice your little whore friend Bambi was gone?"

Cherry feels the color drain from her face; she knew how to talk a drunk, raving Oscar down, but not when he'd gone this off the rails. He was already sweating, pointed, yellow incisors making him look like an angry, wild animal. She swallows heavily.

"N-no, Daddy," she says, hoping to placate him. The term has the complete opposite affect; Oscar grabs her, gripping her forearms so hard that it feels cold under his bruising force. "What'd you say?" he asks her lowly.

"You think you're gonna fuck your way out of this, bitch? Huh? You let her get away, probably planned it for months-" he cuts himself off with an angry yell, and quick like a gunshot, he hauls off and slaps her, hard, in the mouth. Cherry feels the bright explosion of pain, the sharp nick of her jaw biting down on her tongue, the traitorous welling of blood in her mouth.

Too afraid to open her mouth and risk staining the floor, she shakes her head vigorously, hand cupped to her face. 

"Really now! So you're saying I've got it all wrong, and you didn't have shit to do with anything!" he says. Cherry nods.

"Oh," he says, voice switching into normalcy so quick that Cherry feels the nausea in her stomach roll hard. "Well, then," he continues, rising to his full height. "You wanna me a favor? You wanna do that? Wanna make Daddy happy?"

Nodding jerkily, she's too ready to smooth this over; she misses the dark glint in his eyes. 

"Go find her for me. I'll know if you try anything else."  And he snatches her up by the hair again, and flings her outside, into the frigid air, swiftly slamming the door shut. The sound of the lock echoes in her ears..

The minutes pass by, but nobody has come to open the door. Not Oscar, not Tiffany, definitely none of the girls. The wind whistles loudly, and she staggers to her feet, arms wrapped around herself. Limping, she leaves the brothel, teeth chattering in seconds, and heaves a heavy sigh that breaks into sobs halfway through, blood running down her chin.

She cries all the way down the streets, knowing that Bambi's gone, not even in Gotham anymore. Maybe with her parents- maybe dead. She's never getting back in that house again, she feels in her bones. In the middle of the street, she shuffles, legs numb from cold, a lone cackle ringing out above her. She lets the tear she'd been saving fall, the wind icing the pathway it creates down her cheek.

 

 

Chapter Text

Cherry trudges up the stairway of Arthur's apartment complex, her entire body sluggish like she's made of lead. The blood on her chin has dried and crusted, and when she scratches, brown-red flakes fall down her face. She feels disgusting, her  body nearly numb from cold, but she presses on, until she reaches his door. Taking a deep breath, she knocks, her knuckles ache from the sensation.

She hears him before he answers the door- a surprised gasp, the clatter of something hitting the floor. He sounds like he's rushing to greet her, and it takes all her willpower not to bolt. Wrapping her arms tight around herself, she waits.

The door swings open, Arthur's face pulled into a smile that's so wide that it borders on unhinged mania, and Cherry tries not to cringe away from him. Hs mouth hangs open slightly. "Cherry," he murmurs under his breath.

They stand there, staring at each other wordlessly. She thinks about leaving again, kicking herself for her stupidity. This is a bad idea; she feels it in her bones.

"C-come in!" he stutters out, making room for her to step inside. She furrows her brow, accepting, and walkover the threshold, leaving the hallway behind. Her nerves feel tight, like a breeze could shatter her to pieces.

~

Standing in his apartment, Cherry takes in his space; it's small and dingy looking, but it is warmer than outside, and it smells like soup. She clears her throat, unable to make her request. 

"I..." she starts, fidgeting as she stands. Arthur looks at her, and waits.

"Do you think that... I mean.. For a couple of days...?" 

She can't do it; the question dies on her tongue, and when Arthur bends to her height, presses a bony hand on her shoulder and asks "Cherry?" in the softest tone imaginable, it all comes flooding out. She feels her lip quiver, and bursts into tears, her whole body wracked as she cries like she's lost everything. She tells him everything- Oscar kicking her out, Bambi's disappearance, Tiffany's bruise on her neck- it pours out of her, and she's scared that it will never stop, that she'll be here forever, relaying tragedy after tragedy to him until she's drained of anything inside. 

Arthur stands awkwardly next to her, wringing his hands for a second, but then steps closer and holds her close, chin resting on her head. She soaks his shirt with tears, feeling the material cling to his chest. She cries out for what feels like hours, until his body twitches, too, and Cherrry looks up at him fearfully; she's heard horror stories of men like this, who get off on watching girls cry their eyes out, and hurting them. She doen't know what she'll do if he's hard, can't imagine fucking him for a place to stay. If he tries to touch her, touching her like that, she'll die, Cherry thinks. Taking a shuddering breath, she looks up at him, half terrified, half resigned.

He's laughing, she notes with horror. Arthur's face is creased hideously, mouth pinched together like it's been stapled shut, cheeks a bright red. Silently, his body jerks as he tries not to make a sound, his Adam's apple bobbing like a pebble in the sea. Cherry peels herself out of his embrace, fingernail between her teeth, and thinks about running away, even in her skimpy outfit, and finding somewhere else to stay. 

Who else would have her? Gotham didn't have anywhere for girls like her to go- the police station was full of crooked officers, half of whom would probably do something worse to her than laugh at her. There were no shelters for abused women, no real orphanages; pimps sometimes made routine trips there, anyway, to look for girls about to age out and adopt. Her family has proved, time and time again, that they don't want her, and it's this thought that sends her over the edge again, fat tears rolling down her face. Arthur's laugh, siminan and terrifying, rings out above her, and she can't take it anymore.

"Stop it!" she cries out, voice breaking. "Stop laughing at me!" Arthur wheezes in response, and doubles over, tears running down his face as well. He fishes through his pants pocket with one hand, the other gripping his chest hard, knuckles bone white. He looks like he's in pain, Cherry thinks, and she worries that he's going to laugh himself to death. London told her that sometimes people did, but she'd called bullshit. "Nobody's that happy," she'd scoffed, crossing her arms. "And nothing's that funny."

Arthur finally gets what he's looking for; it's a card, laminated. He flings it at Cherry, his hand shaking, the whooping laughter dying down, then cresting again. Cautiously, she takes it, and reads, Arthur coughing between cackles.

It takes a minute, but finally Arthur has stopped laughing, his face beet red and dotted at the hairline with sweat that he dabs at with a handkerchief. Stuffing it back into his pocket, he looks up at Cherry, bowed at the waist. For the second time tonight, Cherry's heart stops in fear. She thinks a, bout the time she'd encountered a stray dog on her way back home, how still it had been as it watched her. She remembers the uneasy silence, and then the sound of skittering paws against gravel, the hammering of her heart as she ran for her life. 

Arthur keeps his eyes trained on her, and she thinks of danger, of murder, of skeletal hands wrapped around her windpipe. He stands fully and takes a step towards her. Cherry takes a quick step back. He takes another; she dances further away. He's fucking with her, Cherry thinks, and when he takes another step towards her, she holds firm, trying her best not to shake. Stiffly, she hands him the card back, willing herself to look unbothered. 

"Is that... real? The lau-your... condition?" Even terrified as she is, Cherry realizes that it's smarter not to offend Arthur. He's letting her in his house. He isn't making her suck his cock. These are small mercies, but she takes them and prays for more. Maybe he'll feed her. Maybe he won't insist they sleep in the same bed. She looks at him then, and hopes.

"Yes," he answers her, his voice hoarse from the attack. "It- I was born with it." Cherry nods, because she doesn't know what else to do. "Oh. I'm sorry," she mumbles.

Arthur stretches, his body popping and cracking like he's made of dry kindling.

"Are you hungry?" he asks, eyeing her nervously. " I made soup, if you'd like that." 

"Yeah," she answers, avoiding his gaze. It's to intense, too green.  He walks off to the kitchen, just like the first time she'd come here, and she lets herself breathe.

A routine with Oscar, a routine with Arthur. She thinks she'll throw up if she has to meet another man in her life. 

Stuffing that thought down, she sits on the couch, Arthur coming back in with the soup, and they sit together, Cherry wrapped in blankets, Arthur in sweaters. It's some show Cherry's never seen before, but Arthur seems familiar with it. He leans forward, eyes glued to the screen. 

"That's Murray Franklin," he turns to her and says, a smile turning up the corners of his mouth. "One day, I'm gonna be on that show with him." Cherry knows the sound of a dream that will never see actuality, and she hears it now, in Arthur's voice, sweet like a fruit that's beginning to rot. She forces a smile anyway. "That sounds cool," she answers.


Ask her if she has any family, Arthur thinks. Ask her if she wants to call them, right now. 

He thinks about the last time he'd promised her that he'd leave her be, and chews on the inside of his cheek, eyes boring into the TV. And he had. He'd done what he was supposed to do- albeit, a little too late, but nonetheless, he had. It's been about two weeks since he'd seen her, two weeks of fighting the urge to come and buy her time if only to inhabit the same space that she's in. But here she is, and Arthur feels all of his effort crumbling down, a demolition of his work that leaves him raw and vulnerable. Cherry yawns, long lashes fluttering as her eyes slide shut, and he wonders if this is what it feels like to go insane. Arthur's hands twitch, the urge to wrap her in his arms warring with the rest of him. He stuffs them into his lap, and pretends he's still watching the television.

Arthur's almost angry at her, he really is. All that work, all that denial, reduced to nothing the minute she knocked on his door, looking every bit like the lost deer she is. He couldn't have turned her away if he wanted to, and now she sits not even two feet away from him, the smell of her hair wafting his way. She smells like cold, like some forgotten perfume. She smells like sex, like the inside of that brothel.

She can't help that, he drills into his brain, and now he's angry at himself- she came to him because she has nobody else to depend on, and he can't even sit next to her without wanting to reach over and hold her in his arms and kiss her. For whatever reason, she has no family, no place to stay, certainly no food- she scarfs down the soup like someone's been starving her- and so she's come to him.  He knows that she wouldn't have done it if she'd had someone to look out for her, anyone in the world. She's completely defenseless. She would have died in the streets if he'd been asleep when she knocked. 

He feels a heaviness on his chest, and shifts, uncomfortable now with her proximity. Then he stands, gruffly, and makes his way to his bedroom, leaving a puzzled Cherry behind. She looks behind, to see what he's up to, and when he comes back, he's holding blankets and a pillow. 

"Is that for... are you letting me sleep here?" she asks him, setting the empty soup bowl on the floor. He sets up the makeshift bed, setting the pillow at the armrest of the couch.

"No. You can have the bed," he answers, his eyes downcast. Underneath his lashes, he gauges her response; she swiftly closes her mouth, and looks away from him to mutter an unsure, "Thanks," and then they're quiet again. 

"Do you think Oscar will come and see if you're okay?" he asks, hoping to find out if she intends on returning. She grimaces, a darkness reaching her eyes that leaves Arthur almost afraid.

"No," she tells him, bitterness palpable in her voice. "He'll just expect me to come back in a week." 

"Are you going to come back? In a week, I mean?" he turns his head to look at her; she's chewing on a hangnail. 

"I don't know" Cherry answers, shoulders rising and falling. "I have to, so probably."

Arthur's heart is pounding; he wants to tell her that she doesn't have to go back, not in a week, not ever. He wants to tell her that he'll protect her, and that she can stay with him. He hears his thoughts racing, and meets them with derision. She could stay with him? A man who's been paying to make her feel God knows how awful, invading her in the most personal way he can? How generous, he thinks sarcastically, to offer her a place in his home, where she'd only have to fear the advances of a man who could throw her out at any moment. How kind.

Cherry gives him a bleak smile, her eyes stormy. "Maybe I won't, though. I could find a real job, somehow, and get out of Gotham, and then that'll be it." he hears her trying to convince herself, his heart breaking for her, and this time he doesn't stop the urge to hug her; he pulls her into his chest, guilty when she flinches away before slumping into him. She thinks he's going to try something with her, Arthur knows, but he holds her for another minute, savoring the warmth of her body, the hummingbird thrum of her heartbeat against his chest. Arthur's content to hold her like this all night, the feeling of her hair kissing his face, when she feels her squirm slightly, and he lets her go. If she's at all unnerved by the length of the hug, she politely doesn't let on, instead giving him a tight lipped smile. 

"I, um... is it okay if I go to bed, now?" she asks him, and Arthur fixes her with the warmest gaze he can. "You don't have to ask my permission to go to sleep, Cherry," he tells her softly, and she stares back at him,  brow furrowed. She nods, and makes her way to the bedroom, flitting out of the living room so fast that if he'd blinked, Arthur would have missed her. Sighing heavily, he settles down to sleep as well, imagining flaying Oscar alive.

 

Chapter Text

On the first two days Cherry had come to live in Arthur's apartment, he'd taken off from work, scared of the possibility that she'd be kidnapped by Oscar, or killed. He'd stayed holed up with her, leaving only when they'd run out of food, and running back as soon as he could. He'd bought things that he assumed Cherry would like- sugary cereal, a pack of bubble gum, more ingredients for soup, even meat. He hasn't had to take care of anyone but himself for a while now, and is out of practice with the art of feeding another human being, but he'd taken a look at her small, starving frame while she slept, and felt his protective instincts flare within him again. 

She couldn't leave the house, that much he'd made very clear to her. "It's at least until I can- can- until it's safe," he tells her the morning after, and she nods at him, eyes on the floor. She sits on the couch with him for a small portion of the night, and bit by bit, she grows a little less walled in around him. She doens't flinch when he sits next to her, only loooks uncomfrtable when he tries to hug her. He does it less, but can't stop himself completely.

"Next time, you can make a list," Arthur tells her as they sit on the couch, dinner in laps. He's taken to edging closer to her, since she's gotten comfortable sitting next to him a normal distance. He misses being close to her, wants to feel the downy softness of her thigh brushing his. He tries not to bite his lip.  "For the groceries, I mean."

Cherry hasn't been listening; her eyes have an unfocused gleam to them, but she snaps back to life when she feels Arthur's leg hair tickling her. "Huh?" she asks, eyebrows raised.

"You can write some things you'd want to eat, and I'll try to buy them," Arthur clarifies, and she nods dumbly at him. 

"I like the cereal you got," she says, taking a finger and bringing it to her mouth. Arthur watches her bite at her fingernail, and gently prises it from her lips. She lets him, a shaky sigh leaving her mouth, and Arthur flushes red. Awkwardly, he rises to his feet retreats to the bedroom, shutting the door behind him.

Cherry looks after Arthur as he leaves, confused at his departure. She doesn't know many adult men, not in a normal way, like with London. The only data she has on them are sexual- she tries to imagine a time where she'd had just a normal, legal, interaction with a man, and she comes up blank. Arthur wanted her, she knew. Or, rather, she thought she knew; he hasn't so much as looked at her chest, and she's been watching him, to be sure.

He doesn't try to get into bed with her while she sleeps, she counts off. He doesn't grab her hips when he scoots behind her to get somewhere in the house. He doesn't even watch her in the bathtub; she'd waited, that third night, half torn over whether or not she should remove her bra and panties, unsure of what she'd do if he'd come in.

The seemingly placid vibe in the house unsettles her, leaves the little hairs on the back of her neck standing up   Since he'd let her come to live with him, Cherry had been terrified that he'd ask to do something with her, the thought making her ill. But he hasn't done anything of the sort, aisde from the hugs that he gives, a little too lingering for her tastes. It unnerves her; it's almost like he's mocking her, with these little shows of affection. It’s almost a tease, when she thinks about his true nature that lurks beneath the surface.

No, Cherry thinks, narrowing her eyes in thought. She thinks of the way he’d held her that night in her room when she’d kissed him, so tight that she could feel the imprint of his ribs against her stomach. And the other time, which she’s been forcing to the back of her mind, how earnestly he’d held her to his mouth, the way he’d panted against her skin. She feels her face heat up, and chews at a bit of dried skin on her bottom lip. 

There’s no way he doesn’t want her, she reaffirms to herself. He’s going to want something in exchange for keeping her in his house. Men, no matter what, Cherry’s learned, will never offer anything and expect nothing in return. Arthur is no different, even if he is crazy. 


Arthur comes home from work late tonight, sliding off his oversized clown shoes and lets out a deep sigh, exhaustion settling in his bones and weighing him down. He wants nothing more than to flop onto his couch and sleep for the night, and he’s about to, when he sees Cherry sitting on the couch, watching TV.

Cautious, he makes his way to her, almost afraid to join. Cherry is never in the living room when he comes home; Cherry only recently has started leaving the bedroom while he is here. And, he notes, Cherry certainly does not sit on the couch the way she’s doing now, with her legs spread almost indecently, the tips of her toes skimming the floor, with not even a cover draped over herself to hide them.

”I didn’t think you’d be awake,” he starts,  hanging his coat on the peg and sitting on the couch, his side pressed against the armrest. He’s been sitting closer to her than normal, but this new boldness she’s displaying puts him on edge. He doesn’t know what to make of it, and when she looks him in the eye- not the lowered gaze he’s grown to expect from her- his heart picks up double time, like a runaway train.

”I was waiting for you,” Cherry answers, and Arthur quells the urge to raise his eyebrows at her. 

“Were you?” he asks instead, the forced levity in his tone making him cringe, and he wipes his hands on his slacks, suddenly clammy.

”Yeah,” she says simply. “I thought you would wanna watch that show you like.”

Murray Franklin? Arthur’s mouth feels entirely too dry. He gives off a nervous laugh and sees the confident front Cherry’s trying to hard to put up falter slightly. 

“That would be nice,” he says, and focuses on keeping his breathing steady.

The air between the two of them is thick with an atmosphere Arthur can’t place; Cherry doesn’t look angry, or scared, or otherwise ready to fly out the door the way she usually does sometimes. He doesn’t want to assume anything, but in watching her- her relaxed pose, the sleepy tilt to her eyelid, the lazy way she tucks a lol of hair behind her ear- he slowly lets himself accept that she might be calm in the couch with him. Content.

That word again; Arthur’s heart hurts from how hard it’s beating, but he forces himself to breathe, repeating a steady mantra of in, 1,2,3, out, 1,2,3 in his head until he can brave a glance in Cherry’s direction. 

She’s staring at him. Not watching Murray Franklin, not chewing on her nails, not planning to escape. Cherry is looking directly at him, and he hears the shallow intake of her breathing as she stares on.

Hardly daring to breathe himself, Arthur stays as still as he can, dread and excitement churning his stomach until it feels like his intestines are knitted up inside him, and he can’t even blink in shock when, slow as molasses, Cherry slides his way on the couch, the whisper of the fabric against the backs of her thighs like the hiss of some ancient, deadly serpent. 

Arthur sits still, eyes glued onto Cherry and her slow voyage to his side of the couch, heart in his throat. She has the look of someone about to fling themself off a ravine, and Arthur feels the world crawl to a standstill as she slinks even closer. 

Cherry is two hairs away from breathing in his air, Arthur thinks, and he can’t even open his mouth to ask what she’s doing, when he hears a quick little intake of breath from her, and then, like a defibrillator to the heart, her mouth slides onto his, a lock of hair brushing his cheek.

 

He’s paralyzed. Arthur has long imagined this scene- guilty avoided his reflection in the mirror afterward- but now that it’s happening, he finds himself helpless, unable to move in any way. She pushes herself closer to him, lithe little body flush against his chest, and he shivers hard at the feeling of her hands wrapping around his neck and deepening the kiss. Eyes sliding shut, Arthur lets her continue, sighing when she delivers a wet kiss to his throat.

”Cherry...” Arthur is at a loss for words, his hands weakly moving to grasp at her hips. She doesn’t answer him, instead taking his hand in hers, and moving it to her breast.

Arthur’s eyes fly open, trained on the sight of his hand, laying flat atop her chest, and he lets out a whimper like he’s breaking apart, before pulling Cherry onto him with renewed vigor and kissing her. He lets his hands roam all over her body, eventually settling with one at her waist, the other cupping her face. He moans under her, melting into the cushions, the sound cutting off, choked, when he feels her deft hands brushing against his cock.

“It’s okay,” she murmurs against him, moving to kiss him again, and with a ferocity that he’s never possessed before, he holds her closer and moans into her mouth, the rise and fall of his hips rocking them both. 

She feels like a burning star in his arms, all gasps and fingernails raking through his scalp, and he’s busy pressing open mouthed kisses to her neck when he catches the unmistakable feeling of her bare hand, unimpeded by clothing, on the shaft of his cock.

Arthur, eyes wide, pushes her off of him, chest heaving like he’s been running a thousand miles, his mouth still wet with her saliva. 

 Wordlessly, they gape at each other, and it feels like a year before Cherry takes her arms from behind his head, and like she’s been doused with water she shoots up, and dashed off the couch and into the bedroom, slamming the door behind her. 

Arthur stares after her, head and cock pounding, before letting his head loll backwards until it hits the couch, and wishes he’d never met her. 

Chapter Text

The first time Cherry tried running away was after Oscar had taken her to that motel room, after buying her from her own mother. She remembers that night like it's stamped beneath her eyelids- sometimes, she wonders if he remembers it that strongly, too. Probably he does, the sick fuck that he is, Cherry thinks bitterly.

He'd taken her virginity there, she recalls, eyes sliding shut in revulsion. He'd paid the innkeeper, who'd ignored her silent pleas for help, shaken a cigarette loose from the pack in his pocket, and walked her to the door with a hand on her back. The sound of the door shutting behind her is the loudest thing she's ever heard in her life; if Gotham had the atom bomb dropped on it today, she'd remember that night and wouldn't hear a thing.

He'd kept his eyes on her once they were alone in that room together, a python eyeing a mouse in the grass, before taking a grand, sweeping step towards her, snickering when she'd flinched away.

"You wanna run away?" he asked her, his mouth at her ear. She'd been too afraid to answer him, and so she said nothing, her hear racing. He hadn't liked her silence.

"Are you deaf? " he'd hissed, running a hand down her face and grabbing at her chin. In the beginning, Oscar hadn't hit her- it was all unnerving touches and imposing gestures. He didn't have to hit her if she was too scared of him pressing her body against a wall with his cock, and they both knew it.

"I... I wanna leave," she'd answered him, nodding jerkily, chin quivering. She'd been trying her best this entire time not to cry, but the tears were threatening to fall, and she shakily brought a hand to her mouth, forcing the fearful sob inside.

Oscar leapt off her then, arms extended. 'Oh, really? I'm just not doin' it for you?" he taunted, and he'd grinned at her, his too-sharp canines catching the light. 

“Go ahead,” he’d told her, gesturing towards the door. He was daring her, she knew- he’d kill her before letting her escape. She remembers thinking through every way he could do it: a gunshot to the back of her head. A tire iron to her ribs. He wouldn’t even have to use a weapon, if he was in a pinch; one hand and he could choke her to death, if he really wanted to.

But then she’d thought of the girls she’d seen on her way to school, standing at the street corners like maracbre scarecrows, dead behind their mascara coated eyelashes. They terrified her, with the way their eyes followed her in her way home, dimly lit and hopeless, and yet burning with an envy she couldn’t understand until that very moment. Cherry would have killed anyone to be a girl walking home from school. Looking at Oscar, then to the door, she felt like she could have killed him, too. 

It was the thought of being her, that same girl she was a few weeks ago, with her ordinary problems about homework and boys, that spurred her to action, and she’d bolted towards the door, flinging it open and dashing down the street. She’d pumped her legs as hard as she could, adrenaline racing in her veins as she ran, her entire being on autopilot. 

That long expanse of street lasted a thousand years, she knows now, but that night, she’d beem hopeful, praying to God that there’d be a corner, a bush to hide inside, an alley to duck into. But there’d only been that unforgiving stretch of sidewalk, illuminated by the streetlights that hung above her. She'd felt like an ant under a malicious child's magnifying glass; she'd begged for respite, but the night around her had only answered Burnburnburnburnburnburn.

She ran for a few minutes, ignoring the burn in her muscles and lungs, when she heard the sound of Oscar’s pursuit coming fast behind her. Too terrified to look back, she kept on running, even as he’d gained on her, footsteps growing louder. Closer and closer he came, and she’d put an extra burst of speed into her escape; oh god she could see a stop sign, signaling the end of this hellish street, and-

He snatched he’d by the hair then, setting her scalp on fire, whispered a gravelly, "Gotcha!" into her ear, and before she knew it, he dragged her- not down that mile-long sidewalk, the way she’d come, but around another way, and in seconds, they were at the motel parking lot. He’d gone around the corner, she’d realized, and caught her that way. It had taken him less than a minute to catch up to her- he probably hadn't even started running right away. 

He'd been fucking with her, she'd understood suddenly, her blood chilling.

She'd fought out of his grasp, tried running again, but this time she hadn't even cleared four feet when he caught her. She'd tried again- he'd clipped her, and she'd plummeted to the ground.  The gaps between her escape and her capture grew shorter and shorter, and a horrified cry burst past her lips when she'd run outside for the last time, and he'd snatched her up and tossed her inside that motel room, shutting the door behind them. Eyes wide and locked on the doorknob, she'd tried yet again, her gait impaired by her fall, but he'd only laughed and batted her away like a mosquito. He fought her playfully, a snicker here as he'd swatted her hands from the doorknob. A chuckle there, yanking her grip on the curtains loose. By the time he'd gotten her back onto the bed, he was fully laughing, his cheeks rosy with mirth, and Cherry had finally succumbed to her urge to burst into tears, cries escalating into hysterics as Oscar made his way onto the bed with her.

"Shshshshsh," he'd shushed her, a hand petting her hair as she cried herself out. Head hung low, Cherry wailed until her voice had gone scratchy, and could only take shaky, stuttering breaths, and eventually went silent. She'd wrapped her arms around herself, nails digging into her skin, feeling then just how exhausted the chase had made her. Fatigue was setting in, draining her of her energy until sitting up straight was too taxing, and she sagged, her back with the upper and low limb of a bow. He'd swept her hair behind her ear then, and she'd gone still, not even daring to breathe when she felt his rough fingers brush her neck. She'd never even been this close to a boy before, and remembers listening to the older girls at her school gossip in the locker room about their experiences with them. She'd stockpiled all of their secrets- how you're supposed to spray perfume where you wanted a boy to kiss you. How to tilt your head when he went in for a kiss. How to lean in and open your mouth, just a little bit, to let him know you were ready for tongue. They'd never said anything that would help in the situation she was in now; there was no gossip on what to do when a grown man was brushing your hair back, so he could ghost closer to your neck with his mouth, and then...

Cherry remembers it all too vividly, the scratch of Oscar's stubble, and the warm, wet, softness of his mouth as he tasted her skin. He kissed her soft, and she'd tried to imagine that it was the boy from her math class that she'd been too scared to smile at in the hallways, but she couldn't. Oscar's moans as he sucked at the base of her throat were too deep, his stubble far from anything a boy in her class possessed. His hands were too big, calloused, too mannish. He'd destroyed any possibility of Cherry's denial without even speaking a word, and when he groaned, "You taste so good," into her collarbone, she'd felt her lip begin to quiver again.

In the span of an hour, Cherry had done more with a man than even some of the senior girls in her school had, she thought, and her stomach lurched. 

"Let's take this off," Oscar mumbled at her, pulling her shirt up and off her head, and he'd pushed her fully on the bed, working her pants off next. She lay in her underwear, Oscar towering over her on his knees, and he dipped to kiss her again, his mouth right on top of her bra. Hands reaching under her and undoing the clasps, he pulled it off, tossing it to the floor and replacing the thin fabric with his own body. He was heavy, and even though he hadn't fully pressed his body onto her, she felt a spike of fear run through her body, imagining that he'd smother her to death.

Maybe it'd be better if he killed her now. Maybe she'd been right to be scared of the boy from her math class. 

Oscar let his hands run up and down her body, shivers bursting to life underneath her skin, and she remembers feeling the most potent fear she'd ever felt in her life, her entire fucking life, when he'd pulled her legs apart, mouth on her neck again, and slid his hand between her legs, fingers like a Venus flytrap, opening and searching, searching, searching.

She didn't know whether or not to get up, to try and run away again. She was almost naked, but she could have done it- even now, she still believes it. But she'd stayed, plastered to the bed, with Oscar's hands in her panties, sliding up and down the length of her... her...

"You ever touch yourself?" he asked her, his evil chuckle vibrating through her body when she shook her head. "That's so cute," he said, hands moving deftly. She felt the wetness there, between her legs, like molten lava, Oscar mumbling into her skin that she must be enjoying herself, could she feel that, remember when she tried to run? And she screwed her eyes shut, turned her head, balled her fists, warring with the sensations Oscar was pulling out of her. He tuned her like an instrument, hands spelling ruination for her mind, and she could feel her hold slipping in time with his movements. 

"Hey," he barked at her, voice low. She'd kept her eyes closed, and felt his hand gripping her chin again. "Lookit me."

"I'm talkin' to you," he'd growled when she refused, jostling her until she looked blearily up at him, eyes shiny. His hands were moving faster now, and he stared at her, his gaze boring into hers, and he'd moved to press his mouth to her ear again, sucking at her earlobe and holding her body still with his other hand. 

"This?" he told her, fingers rubbing even faster to emphasize his point, "that's mine now." And he sped up again, forcing her eyelids open as she felt herself reach a peak she'd never known in her life. She couldn't keep her eyes open, not even with Oscar holding her eyelids apart, and she bit her tongue as her jaw clenched, the iron tang filling her mouth. She couldn't breathe, couldn't move- her first thought was that he'd killed her, had somehow set her body on fire from the inside, and was burning her alive. She let out a choked gasp, head too light to look down at her body. She felt like she was floating above it all, like she could see herself, writhing on the bed, eyes rolling, toes clenched. Oscar growled at the sight, his grip tighter on her as she convulsed.

He'd worked on her for hours on that bed before he finally shifted her panties aside and took her, his hand wrapped around her throat as he slid himself in to the hilt. He'd whispered venom in her ears the entire time, until it spilled out of the corners of her eyes, and laughed at her every time she spasmed around him.

She doesn't like to think about that night. It'd be two months before she'd try to run again.

As much as she hates to think it, Oscar taught her about power that night, Cherry concedes, and she thinks of her current position, and how powerless she is. Arthur isn't keeping her captive for his own amusement, (yet, she thinks darkly) but she's been captured, nonetheless, and she thinks about leaving the room- the entire complex, even. Riding a train, wind in her hair, free at last... it tastes like a pipe dream, but she'll chase it to the ends of the earth. She has to; she can't imagine being content with the life she's living now.

The sound of knocking at her door interrupts her reverie, and shakes her back to the present; she whips her head toward the sound of the noise. 

"Cherry? I made you... d-dinner, if you're hungry..." Arthur's voice calls out to her, voice almost shaky. Afraid. She fights the urge to scoff. He doesn't know a damn thing about fear.

He's been keeping up this routine since the night of the couch incident: he comes home from work at night, and makes dinner. He leaves a plate, or a bowl for her. Silently, from the couch, he begs her to come out of her room, and forgive the rotting desire that lies underneath every action he takes, decay tainting the very walls of the apartment. 

She's been in this room for four days, and feels Arthur's uneasiness like electricity in the air. He's unravelling at the thought of her being angry with him, disgusted by him, and she flexes her hold on him, possessive of the power he's given her. All her life, she's been prey, hunted down and picked apart like roadkill, but with every day she stays inside her haven, she takes her foot and grinds Arthur into the dirt, and she relishes it. She thinks back to the night she'd kissed him on the couch, the flit of fear she'd seen on his face when she'd touched him, between his legs. He hadn't looked like a man who'd won a long awaited prize. He'd looked afraid. 

Good, Cherry thinks, a darkness passing over her eyes. He'd goddamn better be.

Chapter Text

Arthur chews on a hangnail as he stares glassily at the TV, the static acting as a white noise machine this late in the night. He's taken this habit from Cherry, he realizes, and wants to think that it means they're bonding by sharing something, even something as small as both of them biting their nails, but even he knows that that's stupid. If anything, he's stolen one more thing from her; this isn't cute. If his therapist found out, she'd probably roll her eyes. Arthur grimaces.
She hasn't left the room in four days. 
He makes a point of knocking on her door every night, if only to prove to himself that the days are passing, and that he hasn't been sent to Hell and being forced to live the same 24 hours over and over again. She never answers him, doesn't even open the door to look at him, but he knows that she must do it eventually, because when he goes to knock, the plates are always gone. At least she's eating, Arthur assures himself. At least she isn't dead.

When he was a child, Arthur remembers falling in love with a girl who'd lived next door to him. She used to walk with him to school, and on Valentine's Day, she took him to the back of the classroom and pressed a conversation heart into his open palm. "Don't tell anyone," she'd whispered, and she'd pecked him on the lips then ran away. He'd stared after her, unable to move, the candy searing his palm like the lit end of a cigarette, and when the teacher dismissed the class to go home, she'd had to shake him back to life, and the other children laughed. 

A week later, his mother took him to the hospital, teary-eyed and white knuckled as the doctor looked him over.
"He won't eat," she'd told him, eyes harried, "And he barely sleeps, he wakes up drenched in sweat. Last night he talked in his sleep, and I couldn't wake him up. And he-" she'd paused to look at Arthur then, prompting the doctor to do the same; he was sitting on the medical bed, gazing off into space, picking at a scab on the back of his hand. The doctor edged his way to him, laying a hand on his shoulder.
"Now, son," he'd said, "Can you tell me what's wrong? Do you know?" He turned to Penny, who'd begun wringing her hands. "Is there a bug going around in his class that you know about?"

Arthur hadn't answered, only stared listlessly at the wall behind him, and the doctor had taken him from under the arms and stood him on his feet, quickly moving to support him when he staggered. The conversation heart fell out of his jacket pocket, and when the doctor bent to pick it up, all hell broke loose- Arthur screeched, and lunged forward to clamp his jaws around the doctor's arm. The doctor cried out in alarm, but Arthur wouldn't let go, and by the time someone came to pull him off, he'd drawn an alarming amount of blood; it stained the doctor's coat red, a bleeding ink spill underneath the fabric that pattered on the ground like a water from a leaky faucet. He'd been inconsolable for the rest of the visit, screaming, "Don't touch it! Don't touch it!" at the top of his lungs, blood staining his teeth. They'd had to send in three nurses- one to hold him down, one to sedate him, and then another, when he'd headbutted the first one so hard she'd lost her grip on him.
He'd been referred to another hospital, and the next day he'd been scheduled his first appointment with a therapist.

Then, when the girl eventually moved away, Penny had moved them, too, and he'd never gone to school again.

That first time, he'd felt like he was floating in a vat of gelatin, his ears submerged and his limbs useless. The world felt like an enormous oil spill, and he was a dying fish caught in its wake, stuffed to the gills with petroleum. Now, with Cherry, it's the exact opposite. He feels the charge of a thousand lightning bolts running through him, and it's almost a shock to look in the mirror to see that his hair isn't standing on end. Even the thought of her has him near feral, foaming at the mouth and wild, and he knows that he won't be able to take her absence much longer. When he allows himself to fantasize, to imagine Cherry without guilt, it's the thought of her perched naked on his lap, rocking her hips against him with her hands on his shoulders that makes him come so hard that his entire body goes numb afterward. He doesn't know how long he's going to be able to keep her in his house. He doesn't know how long he can keep himself out of that room.

A scratch behind Cherry's door has him snapping his head in her direction, heart already in his throat. The doorknob jiggles once, twice, and then it's silent. The apartment could have been a crypt. Breathing shallowly, Arthur rises to his feet, a hand on the arm of the couch. He hears Cherry's footsteps, scratchy and frantic like mice in the walls, the groaning of bed springs, and then silence again. He wants to scream, to roar at her; his body thrums with energy, and he clenches his fingers, hissing out a breath like a leaking balloon. Is she really so terrified of him that she won't even come out of the room? Is she doing this to punish him? Is she daring him to come get her? Fingers twitching, he imagines doing just that- imagines ripping the door off its hinges and tearing her clothes off with his teeth. It's unfair to be as upset with her as he is, but he's angry; he turns the memory of her kissing him over in his mind, her lips on his, hand on his cock, and growls. He feels tense enough to snap, and with that, he stands and leaves the apartment altogether, cigarettes in hand.
 
Arthur takes one last hopeful look at the door, but Cherry's done with whatever she's doing; the room is still silent, and gritting his teeth, Arthur turns the knob and leaves, shutting the door a little too hard.


Cherry hears the slam of the door as Arthur leaves, waiting for the sound of his retreating footsteps down the hall before she lets herself smile. She knows it's mean, but she's glad to be causing him some distress, even if it's not to the degree that she'd quite like yet. She imagines him leaving the apartment to go punch a wall, or- this sounds more like him- to go cry somewhere, before he can pull himself together to face another day of her silence. Cherry isn't sure how much longer she'll keep this up, but if the sound of his pacing-and the silence at the other side of the door before he shuffles away, defeated, are anything to go by, he's not going to take much more of this. As much as she likes hurting him, she can tell what kind of man he is. If she pushes him too far, he's going to explode, and she's not prepared to handle the fallout. Just a little while longer, Cherry thinks, tilting her head thoughtfully, and she purses her lips. Maybe she'll come out tonight, and join him for dinner. 

No way.  Cherry's pent up from being in this room, but she Knows that her return shouldn't be at night, on a couch with a man she's ignored for days on end, who's more than a little unhinged from the isolation. She considers coming out in the morning, when he leaves for work, but that doesn't sit well with her, either. He's been desperate for her; she wouldn't put it past him to call in sick to spend as much time with her as possible. She wouldn't put it past him to quit his job, to be honest, if he thought he'd be able to see her every day.

What is she doing? Cherry pinches the bridge of her nose, and sighs deeply. Arthur isn't like Oscar, or any client she'd had before. He's a lonely, skinny man, and he just wants to get laid. He's never hit her, or screamed at her, or thrown things at her. He hasn't even slept with her, even though she's been holed up in this apartment with him, and locked him out of his own bedroom. Anybody else in Gotham would have broken the door down and choked her out, to be sure.

Oh, poor, poor Arthur, she thinks. What a sad man, who can't fulfill his desire of fucking an underaged girl! Cherry feels the malice she'd stored for him rising within her, and she balls her fists. He doesn't deserve her fucking pity. He doesn't deserve any mercy at all; she should stay here for the rest of the month, and never speak to him again. See how he likes that. 

If Cherry's honest with herself, she wants out of this room, timing be damned. She's about one more hour from climbing the walls, and besides, she's made her point loud and clear. She gets to decide what Arthur is going to feel. She's the one who decides what she feels. And she's sick of feeling claustrophobic. 

Sliding off the sheets and padding over the bathroom, she looks herself over in the mirror, taking stock of her features. She's lost weight, even with the food Arthur makes for her outside the door. Turning her body to get a better look, she sucks in a breath at the sight of herself. She's always been thin, but she can see the sharp outline of her shoulder blade when she moves. It's scary, almost, to see herself look so gaunt and skeletal, yet she finds herself transfixed at the shifting of bone underneath her skin. She's like a kaleidoscope, Cherry thinks, and she sends herself into a slow, full turn, eyes on her reflection as she completes the rotation. She looks like a witch in the light of the bathroom, the dripping of the bathtub marking time for her as she moves.

One step here, a slow dramatic slide there. Cherry lets herself float through the space, hands sliding down the xylophone slats of her ribs, resting at her hipbone and holding herself there. It's sturdy, feels stable, and she rolls her shoulders, spins again like a ballerina atop a music box. Cherry extends her leg, lets her body lean into the movement, rolls her hips, and rises fully to stare at herself in the mirror once more.

There's a fire in her eyes, burning bright and intense, growing hotter as she looks at herself. The bathroom light flickers, shadows playing on her face, exaggerating the shape of her bones. She doesn't feel like a stick skinny waif-girl anymore, trapped in this room and scared of the world. Staring herself in the eyes, she sees power, sees strength. She's the Swan Queen, and she inclines her head upward, till the muscles in her neck strain, holding the pose despite the ache. Maybe she's finally lost her mind in here, she thinks frankly, watching a vein in her throat pulsing. Maybe she's finally snapped.

Maybe so, Cherry concedes. The girl in the mirror looks her over, body trembling with electricity. Or maybe she's like a butterfly, breaking herself free from her chrysalis. 

~

When Arthur comes back from his smoke break, he feels a little calmer, the buzz of the nicotine leaving his head fuzzy as he sinks into the couch cushions. He thinks to listen for Cherry, but he can't make himself do it, not now. He doesn't know whether or not to ask if she's ready to leave, if it'd be rude. She's got nowhere else to go, and when he thinks of her coming back to Oscar, it's enough to make his stomach churn unpleasantly.

He needs her out of that room, though, to be sure. Loneliness before he'd met her was just something he'd grown used to, like a permanent limp, or living with a deformity. He'd already resigned himself to his fate. 

But that was before he'd seen her- she was like a comet streaking across the sky, her image scorched into his retinas until his dying day and he sighs, gripping the cushion underneath him til his joints ache. He won't go back to that dark cave his life was before, of that he's certain. Cherry can try whatever she likes- another day in her room, feigning opening the door to torture him- but he's always been patient. If she wants to play, fine. Arthur loves games.

 

Bones popping as he stands, Arthur makes his way to the kitchen, lighting the stove and pulling the meat he'd bought out of the freezer. He's wary to think that he's good at things, but he knows that he's a good cook, and he lets the meat thaw in a bowl of hot water as he readies his ingredients. 

Heating up some tomato sauce in a pot over the stove, he cuts up an onion, eyes watering as he works, then a clove of garlic. He cuts them in a trance, barely taking note of the change in sunlight streaming in from the windows as he adds sugar to the sauce, tasting as he goes, when he sees the blink! of the streetlights turning on. It's getting late, he realizes after he's stirred them into the sauce, and opens up the package of ground beef, rolling up his sleeves and grinding it up with his hands, adding breadcrumbs as he goes. 

He shapes it into a baking pan, coating the loaf with the sauce and sticking it in the oven and walking back to the living room, lighting a cigarette. Since Cherry had come to stay with him, he'd taken to smoking outside, but he lets himself smoke freely again now, and cracks a window instead. If she has a problem with it, Arthur thinks, she can come out and say it to his face. He lights the cigarette with no small amount of satisfaction, throwing his head back and exhaling, watching the smoke curl and dance through the air.

The scent of the meatloaf fills the apartment soon, and Arthur holds his cigarette between his lips as he takes it out of the oven to let it cool, a spring in his step as he walks. It's been too long since he's felt this light, he thinks, practically skipping, blowing a mighty cloud of smoke into the air. He dances to the music of a TV commercial, sweeps across the room, even stomps a couple of times, just because he feels like it. He doesn't care if the neighbors complain- he's on top of the world, and he's not coming down, goddamnit.

Making his way back to the kitchen, he glazes the meatloaf again, and cuts himself a big piece, settling at his place at the couch, enjoying every bite, and going back for seconds. He isn't worried about work- he has the weekend off- or writing in his joke book; the jokes have been coming quicker than ever. He feels like there's nothing that could take him down right now, and he smacks his lips as he finishes dinner. Going back to the kitchen, he covers the meatloaf and sticks it in the fridge, and rinses the plate off and puts it away. 

He doesn't leave a plate for Cherry.

Sighing, content, Arthur yawns hugely, and heads back to the couch again, bundling himself in covers, a smile on his face for the first time in a long time.