It was nearly ten o’clock when Sophie stepped out of the elevator. She was tired, but content. At first, she was apprehensive about going out after work with some of the women from her office, but in the end, she had a good time. Lost in thoughts, she wasn’t sure what she heard at first, but once she focused on the sound, she realized it’s coming from Ms. Fleck apartment. She didn’t know why, but she turned left and walked slowly to the door. She could hear wheezing laughter, loud and hysterical, but it sounded like someone – no, not someone, Arthur Fleck, Ms. Fleck’s son – tried to muffle it somehow. Just as Sophie wanted to step back, she heard Ms. Fleck’s unpleasant voice exclaim: “Happy, that’s enough! I’m trying to watch TV!” The laugher lifted into agonised howl for a second and that and then Sophie could hear door slamming and laughter got quieter but still slightly audible even in the hallway. Sophie jerked back, realizing she was almost leaning against the door, and she stepped away, walking briskly to her apartment.
Before she fell asleep, she couldn’t stop thinking about the laughter. It didn’t sound happy – it never did, after all, when Mr. Fleck laughed like that – and Ms. Fleck’s dismissive voice rubbed Sophie the wrong way.
It’s been probably years since she saw Ms. Fleck for the last time. Sophie just moved in at 22, a few months out of college and unfortunately, freshly orphaned. Technically, she was orphan since five, but her grandparents took her in and raised her with all the love in the world. Her grandma passed away when Sophie was seventeen and her grandpa just three weeks ago. In short, Sophie was truly alone for the first time in her live, still stricken with grief and living in dinky little apartment that was nothing like her grandparents’ house in Gotham’s suburbs. But she couldn’t afford it, so she sold it, moved into the city and started looking for job. She could have afforded a better place, with the money from the house and modest inheritance her grandparents left her, but she figured it’s better to have some emergency savings.
She was waiting for elevator to come – it was crap even back then – when Ms. Fleck walked into the lobby and stopped next to Sophie, who greeted her warmly. Ms. Fleck, however, didn’t reply, just curled her lip and narrowed her eyes at Sophie. Elevator’s door opened and both women stepped inside, Sophie pressing the button. It was quite for a moment, but then Ms. Fleck spoke up: “I expect you to behave, young lady.” Sophie turned to her in shock. “Sorry?” Ms. Fleck frowned: “Don’t act like you don’t understand. I know your kind. But this is a proper address, people here know Mr. Wayne and won’t suffer any late night disturbances or sketchy characters lurking around.” Sophie was completely at loss for words, staring at Ms. Fleck in disbelieve as the old lady shuffled to her apartment.
Sophie saw Ms. Fleck a few times after that, walking with cane, but avoided her carefully. Shortly after that, Ms. Fleck stopped leaving her apartment completely. Even now, seven years later, Sophie was creeped out by the woman, but glad she never had to talk to her again.
. . .
Arthur had a bad day.
But then again, when he didn’t have a bad day? However, getting robbed and kicked violently by a band of teens surely took the cake. It wasn’t the first time he got beaten up, surely not the last one either, but those were just kids. How was this possible? And they broke the store sign, too… Once at home, he wanted to tell his mother, but started laughing and couldn’t stop. In order not to disturb her, he shut himself in their tiny bathroom, nearly smothering himself with his towel, trying to muffle the uncontrollable sounds he made.
“Hold the door, please!” someone called and Arthur stuck his foot into the door. “Thank you,” the woman said. Arthur knew her, she was living on the same floor for several years now. He thought she was nice, definitely very pretty and had a cute smile. Arthur just managed to nod in return, not daring to say anything. Suddenly, elevator stopped with a flicker of light.
“This place is so awful, right?” the woman said and Arthur turned to look at her, giving her a smile. She looked at him for a moment longer and then said: “I don’t think we were ever introduced, I’m Sophie Dumond.” She extended her hand to him and he took it gingerly. “I’m Arthur. Arthur Fleck, nice to- ha ha ha hah!” He jerked his hand back, clamping it over his mouth, turning away from Sophie. He didn’t want to see the fear he’d surely find in her eyes. He fumbled in his pocket, handing her his laminated card. It was so humiliating, maybe now even more than usually, but he needed her not to be afraid of him, here, stuck in elevator with a madman.
She took the card, then turned it with a soft “oh”. Moment later, he felt her hand on his arm and flinched. “Sorry, I just… Can I do something to help, Arthur?” she asked and he turned to her, surprised, as more laughter bubbled out of his chest. He shook his head and she smiled at him softly. He tried to take deep breaths to stop his laughter, but it was hard. Meanwhile, she pulled a book from her bag and cracked it open.
He smiled at her apologetically once he stopped wheezing. She returned the smile easily. He must be hallucinating. If this is not real, then he can be brave for once. Cleaning his throat, he asked her: “What are you reading, if I can ask?” She looked up him, surprised: “Oh, um, Alice in Wonderland,” she said, blush spreading over her cheeks. “I know it’s for kids, but I love it. Do, uh, do you?” Arthur fidgeted with his sleeve. “I never read it, actually,” he replied, hanging his head in shame. He didn’t finish school. His writing was nearly illegible and he had trouble memorizing stuff. He could do math well enough, but his nerves got better of him most of the time and he often interrupted the class with his condition. More like a curse. The bullying was just a cherry on top.
“I can lend it to you, if you like, once I finish it,” Sophie offered. Definitely a hallucination then. But Arthur gave her a nod and a grateful smile anyway, just as the elevator jerked into movement again. As he unlocked door of his flat, he looked across the hallway at Sophie. She noticed and gave him a small wave before disappearing into her own home.
. . .
Sophie checked herself out in the mirror for the last time, taking a deep breath. She didn’t even know why she was nervous. Maybe she just didn’t want to let Arthur down? She was feeling sorry for him, even more so now when he knew about his condition. She recalled how dismissive his mother sounded the other night and it made her angry. But it wasn’t her place to judge.
She grabbed the book, strode decisively across the length of the hallway and knocked on Arthur’s door. “Happy, somebody is behind the door!” she heard Ms. Fleck calling.
“I heard, mom, I got it!”
“Who can it be, so late in the evening! People are so inconsiderate these days!” Ms. Fleck complained, despite it being only eight o’clock. Sophie heard the security chain clinking as Arthur pulled it free. There was no answer, only the door opening and Arthur behind them.
Sophie smiled at him nervously. “Hi, I brought you the book.” Arthur didn’t say anything, just stared at her, surprised, and Sophie briefly though that he must have only been polite to when they chatted few days ago. How could she be so dumb? “Happy, who is it?” Ms. Fleck called again and Arthur jerked in place, blinking at Sophie, as he called over his shoulder: “It’s Ms. Dumond, she brought me a book!” And then, quieter, he told Sophie with a shy smile: “Sorry, hi, I… I didn’t think you really meant that.”
“Well, I did and-“
“Happy? A book? But you can’t read!”
Pain crossed Arthur’s face as it turned crimson and he squeezed his eyes shut. Taking a deep breath, he called over his shoulder: “I can read, mom! You know I can!” Turning to Sophie again, he said hurriedly: “I can read! I may- I may read slowly, but I can read! I might not be the smartest ha! God. Ha ha ha hah hahaha!”
As Arthur spiralled into another laughing fit, Sophie could hear Ms. Fleck arguing her case and her heart ached for the woman’s son. Unthinking, she grabbed Arthur by his arm and pulled him into hallway, closing the door behind him. He had his face hidden in the crook of his elbow and sweat was pearling on his forehead, his brown hair shaking with his laughter. “Arthur, it’s okay, please. Try taking deep breaths, can you do that for me?” she said. She might have stopped by a book shop on her way from work, thumbing through some books on psychology. She didn’t find anything on uncontrollable laughter, but she figured trying a basic panic attack tips couldn’t hurt. “I have reading problems myself, actually,” she said and was glad it caught Arthur’s attention. She didn’t like to talk about it, it was bit of a sore topic, but if it would Arthur make feel just a little bit better… It’s not like he’d laugh at her, he didn’t seem like the type. “I have dyslexia, you know? I have trouble reading out loud and often when I do, I have no idea what I’ve actually just read. It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” she said encouragingly, noticing that Arthur stopped laughing.
He was quiet for a moment, taking deep breaths, but then he looked at her, his expression soft and guarded. He ran head through his unruly hair and smiled at her briefly and Sophie suddenly thought that he is very handsome and it caught her off-guard. “T-thank you,” he stammered, “and I’m sorry about mom, she just… We don’t get many visitors, you know. And she goes to bed early, so… I-I take care of her,” he finished kind of awkwardly. Sophie gave him a smile: “That’s very nice of you. She is lucky to have such a caring son.” He ducked his head, hair falling back over his face. Sophie suddenly felt flustered, for no good reason.
“The book!” she exclaimed, pushing it towards him. “I brought you the book, yes.”
Arthur took it carefully, running his fingers carefully over the illustration on the cover. Sophie could tell he likes books. “Maybe you should keep it,” he said suddenly. “Mom is right. I read so slowly, it would take a long time before I gave you the book back…” Suddenly brave, Sophie put her hand on his. He looked up at her surprised. “I don’t mind, Arthur. Keep it as long as you need. I should go. Have a good night.”
Arthur felt elated and embarrassed at the same time. His meeting with Sophie wasn’t, in fact, some elaborate trick his mind played on him. And better yet, she didn’t forget her promise. But what his mom said… He knew she just wanted to look after him, that she meant well, but still he wished Sophie didn’t hear any of it. He might be stupid, but… And then, to make matters worse, he had another laughing fit. But Sophie was so kind to him despite that, even though he had done nothing to deserve that. He couldn’t wrap his mind around it.
“I’m having a gig at children’s hospital tomorrow, so I will be a bit late. Want me to stop at the grocer’s?” he asked his mom as he tucked her into bed. Thankfully, she didn’t ask about Sophie, forgetting all about it by the time he got back into apartment. “No, Happy, I think I will be fine.” He turned off the bedside lamp. “Good night, mom.”
Once his mother was in bed, his fingers itched for a cigarette. Mom didn’t like him smoking much, so he rarely did in front of her. But there was a more pressing matter – the book Sophie gave him. When he pressed it to his nose earlier, it smelled… well, like a book, but a well loved one. He didn’t want it to soak up the cigarette smell. He was a bit anxious, because chances are, the smell will linger a little anyway, but if he could help avoiding that by skipping a few cigs, he’d do that. Sophie deserved that much.
Gazing at the drawing on the cover for a moment longer, he finally opened the book and started reading.
“Heard you got beaten up” his colleague Randall said later that week.
Arthur tied his shoes and shook his head. “Got hah – got jumped by some kids a few days ago, yeah.”
“Fucking savages, the lot of them.”
“Yeah, haha, they were just, ha ha haaa, dammit!” Arthur started laughing in earnest and even over his cackles, he could hear how whole common area of Ha Ha’s got quiet, everyone turning to look at him. God, he hated his life so much. If his mom didn’t need him…
“You gotta protect yourself, boy,” Randall said once Arthur calmed down. “Here, take this.”
“What’s that?” Arthur asked, peeking into the paper bag. He froze once he saw the contents. “Ha! Randall, I’m not supposed to have a gun,” he said pointedly.
His large colleague just waved him off, turning back to his locker. Arthur stared at him awkwardly, but then put the gun into his pants, not sure what else to do with it.
He didn’t know what happened. One moment, every kid was singing and smiling, and the next the gun from Randall skidded over the floor. He barely registered what happened next. Someone walked him out, told him not to come back. Arthur might have begged – “No, please, it’s a misunderstanding, I love this job so much, please!” – and he definitely started laughing once they closed the back door into his face, but other than that? He shuffled back into Ha Ha’s and Hoyt, his manager, was already waiting for him. What will he do now? With no income, he can’t support his mom… He couldn’t go home and face her, what will she think?
He walked home, but then instead of actually going there, he just walked further, until the sun started setting. People were giving him funny looks, with his clown make-up and clothes, but he barely paid them any attention. His head hurt as he was trying to figure out how will he pay the bills now. It was getting late and he realized with a start that he walked much further than he expected. He decided to take subway home. The train car was thankfully deserted, except for a young woman few seats to the left and some suited men that got on the train on the same stop as him. He heard them laughing, talking about some women and then trying to engage the woman across from them. He glanced their way and caught her eye. She moved her brows slightly, concern evident in her face. She was uncomfortable, he could tell, but the three men were drunk and obviously in much better shape than Arthur. Then again, he wouldn’t be able to just watch her in potentially dangerous situation. One of the men threw French fry at the women and Arthur knew he had to act. Instead, laughter bubbled up.
He was so exhausted already, his body still sore from the last beating and the woman looked even more scared now. He noticed her leaving, the men getting closer to him, but he could just laugh, tears blurring his vision. Next thing he knew, he caught a punch to the face and fell on the ground and then it was just familiar feeling of feet kicking him. He wished they just kicked him to death here and now. But then he remembered Alice in Wonderland and how his mom surely wouldn’t give the book back to Sophie… He felt something pressing into his side and his hand grasped at it. It was the gun Randall gave him, the one that got him fired. With a shaking hand, he pulled it out, maybe he can finish the job for those guys. They were getting tired, surely they will leave before he is done. But his whole body spasmed at a kick near his liver and his finger pulled on the trigger. The gun fired, letting out a shockingly loud sound and for a moment everything stopped.
“Shit, what kind of clown carries a gun?” one of the men exclaimed, his voice unpleasantly shrill. “Who cares, let’s get out of here!” other said and then there was just sound of steps, train door opening and finally, Arthur was alone.
He shuffled out of the elevator, his face now itching with dried blood. He hoped he will manage to slip into the bathroom without his mother seeing him like this, but with his luck…
“Oh my god!”
Arthur jerked, turning his head towards the sound. It was Sophie, bag of trash in her hand, but she was dropping it now, hurrying to him. “Arthur? Is that you? What happened to you?”
Arthur wished that the ground would just swallow him. “It’s nothing,” he mumbled, turning away from her.
“You’re covered in blood, Arthur! How is that nothing?”
“Not a first time I got jumped, ha!”
“That’s so awful!” Sophie sounded so shocked and it was kind of heart-warming that she had no idea what can happen in Gotham.
“Hahahaha, yeah, haha.” He swore under his breath, one side of his ribs hurt more than usual. If it’s cracked…
“You clean up those cuts on your own?”
The question surprised him. Who else would? “Just wash the blood of, yeah, maybe put some frozen pea on that if there is any in freezer, hah!”
“You need to disinfect that or it could scar. I have first aid at my place? I could… I could help?” Sophie asked, her voice soft. Arthur knew he should say no, but he was so tired, so he just nodded and followed her to her place quietly. “Here, come in. Sorry about the mess, I didn’t exactly expect visitors,” Sophie babbled, but he couldn’t care less about a messy apartment, not registering his surroundings at all. He stopped in what he assumed was living room, staring at the floor detachedly.
. . .
Arthur looked so frail and small, even though the smudged, blood stricken clown make-up looked kind of scary. His eyes however, which were so bright the other day, lost all their spark. He looked meek and defeated. He was leaning awkwardly to one side and it looked as if it hurt him to breathe. Sophie didn’t understand how could someone do this to him.
“Uh, sit down. You want something to drink?” He just shook his head. “Okay. Okay, I will go get some water, so we can get that paint off, and the first aid kit. Just wait here,” Sophie said, getting into motion. She brought a dish filled with warm water and some older towels, then grabbed the first aid kit from under the sink. She set is all on the side of the living room table, sitting on it herself, basically positioning herself between Arthur’s legs. Only when she sat down, she noticed their position, but he didn’t seem to think any of it. He didn’t even look at her. His white shirt was stained with blood and there were traces of it on his neck as well. Sophie bit her lip. “Arthur? Maybe, um, maybe you should take your shirt off, so I can clean off the blood properly. I can wash it for you, if you want.”
He lifted his gaze to stare at her at last and then moved his shaking fingers to his vest buttons. He took the vest off awkwardly, throwing it next to him on the couch. He started unbuttoning the shirt next and Sophie finally had to avert her eyes from his unwavering stare, afraid of what he’d seen in them. She shouldn’t be thinking about any of this as of weirdly sensual; Arthur was hurt and bloody and clearly removed from the whole situation and here she was, thinking she never saw anything more mesmerizing than his bony fingers working on the shirt buttons.
Whatever spell she was under, it was over the moment he took the shirt off. Sophie gasped, hand covering her mouth in shock. Obviously, she noticed that Arthur is skinny, but she didn’t expect him to actually look severely malnourished. But his protruding ribs were nothing comparing to the bruises blooming across them and the scabs over other places of his skin. His right side was practically blue and violet. Arthur was still staring at her, but now his mouth was curled into a frankly disturbing smirk. “Like what you see?” he drawled, but before she figured out how to reply, he continued: “Hah, sorry, hahaha, don’t know why I said that, ha haaa ha!” Arthur doubled over, clutching on the right side of his ribs as his body jerked painfully. Sophie had no idea what to do, what to say in face of such suffering. Now that he was leaning forward, she could see the bruises on his back, greenish and yellow, clearly older. She felt like puking.
Instead, she lifted her hand and let it hover over his shoulder for a moment, not sure where to put it without hurting him. Then, carefully, but with boldness that came from god knows where, she combed her fingers through his hair, and when he didn’t jerk away, she did it again and again, until he basically nuzzled into her palm and stopped laughing. She absently noticed how soft it was, even though it was matted with sweat and blood in some places.
He fell back onto the backrest of the couch, breathing heavily and clearly exhausted. His eyes were closed, the smirk long gone. With nothing better to do, Sophie soaked on of the towels, wringed it out and scooted a bit closer to the edge of the table. “Let me clean your face,” she whispered unwilling to break the quiet that settled over them. Without opening his eyes, he nodded and leaned toward her, making it easier to reach him. She considered using her left hand to steady his head in place, but in the end didn’t dare to touch him more than necessary.
Sophie cleaned the make-up methodically, starting on his forehead, careful not to press too much. As she slowly exposed his face, with it became obvious the bruises on the side of his face. When she ran the towel over his lips, he gasped and she stilled for a moment, again feeling that strange attraction she felt minutes before. Next swipe of the towel revealed a faint scar over his upper lip and she suddenly wanted to press her mouth to it. Blush spread over her face and she was thankful Arthur kept his eyes closed. Cleaning his neck was even worse torture, because with his head tilted back, he exposed the surprisingly strong column of his neck and put his sharp jaw right on display. Drop of water ran down his neck and settled in his collarbone. Sophie swallowed dryly.
Finally, she put the towel down with a heavy sigh. Water in the dish was pinkish from paint and blood. When she turned her eyes back to Arthur, she was surprised to see him staring back at her. Flustered, Sophie was anxious to say something, anything, and so she did: “You have a cut on your forehead and cheekbone, so I will disinfect those, okay? It might sting a bit, sorry about that. You uh… your lip is split, but I will leave that alone.” At her words, Arthur’s tongue slipped from between his lips and ran over the lower one, where it laved at the cut as if Arthur didn’t even realize it before. Again, he didn’t say anything, only nodded and turned his face to a side, giving her better access.
She dabbed the disinfectant on the cuts carefully, but he still hissed between his teeth, his warm breath tickling her wrist. It made her nervous. “Want to tell me what happened?” Sophie asked. Arthur snorted and shrugged one shoulder. “What’s there to tell. I got jumped on the train, when I couldn’t stop laughing. I’m used to that. That’s life.” He sounded so defeated, accepting it as a one single, inevitable truth. And maybe it was for him, because people sometimes could be cruel. “They ran away when the gun went off, though,” he said and then grimaced. “Shouldn’t tell you that. I’m not allowed to have a gun. I told Randall, I told him I can’t have it! But it was an accident and nobody got hurt and I will give it back to him tomorrow, I promise!”
Sophie didn’t like guns and felt weird, knowing there is one in her apartment right now, in hands of someone who apparently wasn’t allowed to have one. Why exactly wasn't he allowed to? As far as she knew, Gotham's gun restrictions were rather lenient... But at the same time, she was glad he had it with him. The warning shot possibly saved his life.
“And the clown stuff? What’s with that?”
Arthur blushed, staring at his hands. “I work as a clown. Worked as a clown. Got fired because of the gun. I’m having a bit of a bad day today, I guess,” he mumbled.
“Did you like it? Your job, I mean,” Sophie asked.
“I did. I like to make children laugh,” Arthur smiled sadly. “My mom always says that I am here to bring joy and laughter to the world,” he said, but now his voice sounded weird, almost childlike and as if he rehearsed that. Sophie frowned minutely. Paired with his condition, the statement sounded almost cruel. Then again, that’s just Ms. Fleck, Sophie guessed.
Arthur shivered and Sophie only now noticed the goose bumps on his arms. “Oh, let me get you something to wear!” Before Arthur could protest – she was sure he would – she was in her bedroom, ruffling through her drawers. She obviously didn’t have any of her own clothes that would fit him, even if he was dreadfully skinny, but she still had some of her grandad’s flannel shirts she sometimes wore to bed during winter. She grabbed the one in blue and gray – it would go with Arthur’s eyes nicely. She stopped in her tracks, shook her head as if to get rid of that thought.
She didn’t even know him. Sure, they were neighbours, but got acquainted just a few days before and she didn’t know anything about him. Men his age living with their mothers usually spelled trouble, yet she took him to her lonely apartment as if it was a completely normal thing to do. But Arthur just felt… safe. As she closed the drawer, she noticed the arnica gel sitting on top of the dresser. She bought it after her complete failure at ice skating last year, because it was good on bruises. She didn’t need it anymore and she had a feeling there was someone on her couch that could use it more.
When she stepped into the living room, Arthur’s eyes were closed again, head rested on the back of the couch and the yellowish light from street lamps cast dramatic shadows over his bruised face. She couldn't help but stare at him, feeling as if in the past hour her whole world tilted to the side, leaving her grasping for purchase.
Arthur lifted his head when he heard Sophie come back. She stood in the door to her bedroom, mouth slightly agape as she looked at Arthur. When she realized he’s staring back, she jerked and walked over to him, handing him a flannel shirt. It was soft in his fingers.
“Won’t your boyfriend be mad that his shirt is missing?” he asked ruefully.
“My boyfriend?” Sophie repeated. “Oh! No, no boyfriend. It was my grandpa’s, don’t worry about that.”
“Then I can’t take it,” Arthur replied, giving the shirt back.
“No, you can and you will,” Sophie said with a smile. “And I grabbed you this. It’s on bruises, it might help.”
Is she going to rub it on his skin herself? Arthur panicked quietly. He could barely control himself when she washed his face, if she actually touched him elsewhere… His face turned crimson in shame. He was saved by her next words, though: “Put it on before you go to bed, so it can work its magic overnight. C’mon, get dressed, it’s cold here.”
He pulled the shirt on, humming at how nice it felt on his skin. Sophie was again sitting in front of him on the table, her finger nervously scratching at her pant leg.
“You are too nice,” Arthur observed.
Sophie looked at him. “I don’t think there is anything as being too nice.”
Arthur shook his head: “There is, if you are so nice people take advantage of you.”
“Are you taking advantage of me, Arthur?” Sophie said, her eyes bright.
“I-I don’t-“ Arthur stuttered, “I hope not!”
“So, see, I’m not too nice. I’m nice just enough,” she giggled and he smiled at her.
“I should go. My mom will be worried,” Arthur said abruptly, realizing he completely forgot about his responsibilities. He didn’t even check the mail.
He stood up at the same moment Sophie did and it put them awkwardly close. “Hah!” Arthur chuckled. “Haha, hah, sorry!” he mumbled, backing up away from her and into the hallway where he stopped. “I wanted to thank you. You didn’t have to do all this.” Sophie shrugged, “But I wanted to. Will you be okay?” Arthur didn’t understand the question, but smiled anyway: “I can try.”
His mom didn’t seem to notice his battered face when he finally got home. She only complained mildly about dinner being late, but he didn’t mind. Together they watched the Murray Franklin show and then Arthur helped her into the bed.
With a sigh, he shuffled to the bathroom, closing the door behind himself. Reluctantly, he took of the flannel shirt Sophie borrowed him, and then with less hesitation the rest of his clothes. He realized he still had his clown pants on and the idea that Sophie saw him in those made him feel so dumb. But then again, he was a clown, pants or no pants. He heard the guys at the work sometimes talking about him like that, and worse. He chuckled nervously and then let out air forcefully through his nose, trying to think happy thoughts.
He stepped into the shower. The pressure was shit, but at least there was some warm water still left today and it felt like balm on his skin. He let it soak his hair and plaster it to his head, holding his face under the stream for a moment. Water tickled at his back and his mind flew to Sophie again, or rather, to the dirty thought he had earlier when he thought she might touch his bruises. He groaned when he felt his dick twitch. He was so disgusting. Useless, disgusting man. His mom always said that good boys don’t touch themselves like that, but he wasn’t a good boy. He never was. His hand slid down over his belly and then he was rubbing at himself, quick and too painful, because he didn’t deserve the pleasure, not when his mind kept going to back to only person who was ever nice to him. He hung his head, letting the water hit the back of it and run down his hair as he panted heavily. She’d be disgusted if she knew how he looked at her, what he was thinking, remembering how she cleaned the blood away from his face and neck… he came with a shudder and another damned chuckle.
He didn’t tell his mom he got fired. Instead he got dressed as usual, grabbed Sophie’s book and headed out. He was hesitant about taking the book outside, he’d hate if something happened to it, but he really wanted to finish the story. He, somewhat despite himself, liked the Cheshire Cat the most, and he was shocked when it was sentenced to beheading.
He went to Ha Ha’s first and didn’t spoke to anyone as he gathered the few things he kept in his locker. “Heard about some clown shooting a gun in the subway yesterday,” Randall drawled next to him. “You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?” Arthur froze. In the yesterday’s flurry of events, he didn’t even think about all the trouble he could have gotten himself into. He really shouldn’t have a gun. He should have never taken it. He lifted his head to look at Randall, giving him a frown. “Maybe I would. Anyway, that reminds me, you can take this back!” he said, pushing the paper bag towards Randall, who snatched it from Arthur’s hand. “I didn’t tell you to go shooting it at Wayne’s people, you idiot!” Randall seethed and Arthur jerked back at the insult. He hated it when people called him idiot, or imbecile. He was neither of those and even if he was, so what? He’d rather be an idiot than some asshole who picks on strangers. “It was just an accident, nobody got hurt,” Arthur said, gathering his things and striding towards exit. “Good riddance, you fucking creep!” Randall called after him, but Arthur just honked his old klaxon over his shoulders, before throwing it behind himself. He won’t need it now.
He won’t need it, because he lost his job. A job he loved, even though everyone treated him like shit. His job he needed to take care of his mother. He spun on his heel, striding back into the common room. “Forgot to punch out!” he yelled and slammed his fist into the clocking in machine once, twice and then again until it fell of the wall. Everyone was silent now, only the radio played on: …and my name is carnival…
So, he was unemployed, sore all over and now his right hand was starting to look kind of puffy. Great. Just fucking perfect. Arthur started laughing, but thankfully the park was mostly deserted so early in the day. Once he calmed, he pulled Sophie’s book out of his bag and got to reading.
Few hours later, he closed the book with a happy sigh. It was splendid. He always loved to read, even though it took him a long time. But once he dropped out of school, he didn’t get his hands on any more books. His mom never got him any and later he felt like there were more important things to spend money on. Maybe he could try giving up smoking… Now that he thought of a cigarette, he couldn’t help but lighting one, but only after the book was safely hidden away from smoke. It burned in his throat, but it was a good kind of burn and Arthur welcomed it with long pulls. He looked up at the unusually bright sky and bit at his lip absently, only to let out a pained hiss. Right, he forgot he got it busted yesterday. He tasted a hint of blood on his tongue and couldn’t help but to poke the wound some more, marvelling at the metallic aftertaste it left in his mouth.
He visited the social services next. He figured he should tell them about the job, maybe they could help him find something else. He also needed new prescription. The social worker he spoke to was different that the one he met before, but her eyes, too, seemed as if they looked right through him as he answered the usual questions and tried to think of what he was good at, so he could look for a job. The worker didn’t seem impressed by “I was a clown. I can dance. I want- I want to be a stand-up comedian. And I take care of my mother, she is ill.” and honestly, Arthur didn’t blame her.
When she asked about the journal he was supposed to keep, he lied and told her he forgot it. He had it with him, but he didn’t want to show her. He never saw her before, after all. The previous lady – what was her name? – at least was somewhat familiar to him now. Besides, he wrote his jokes in there and the woman across the table didn’t look like she would understand. But in the end, even if she refused to discuss increasing his dosage, she gave him his prescription and he left.
He waited until seven before telling his mom he forgot to check the mail (he didn’t) and left their apartment. Looking at the folded shirt with book on top of it, he took a deep breath and walked over to Sophie’s door. He knocked and waited with bated breath. Finally, the door opened a fraction and then more when she recognized him. “Hi, you look better,” she greeted. Since he only practiced one scenario in his head and it surely wasn’t one where she commented on his appearance, he hesitated before saying: “Hi, I brought you your stuff back. Thank you again.” She looked at the stuff, surprised, as if she didn’t notice him holding it a moment before. “I- I didn’t have a chance to wash the shirt, sorry about that,” he said sheepishly. He couldn’t afford to do extra laundry now and he didn’t want to risk washing it by hand. He just hoped it didn’t smell too bad. He couldn’t help himself and slept in it overnight. Sophie didn’t seem to mind either way. “Did you like the book?” she asked instead. “Very much,” he said, earnest. She smiled at him, gesturing into her apartment: “Do you want to go inside and have some tea? We could talk about the book some more…” She seemed nervous, she probably asked him only to be polite and was worried he’d accept. He shook his head instead: “Sorry, I told mom I will be right back, so, um.” Her smile fell and she glanced to the side and then back at him. “Right, of course. Wait a second,” she said, disappearing for a moment. She handed him his own shirt, the one she promised to wash for him. It looked like she ironed it, too. “Some other time, maybe?”
“Maybe,” he said softly, taking the shirt from her. It’s not like there will be other time now that he gave her her things back. Why would he visit her again? He clenched his fist at his side and the shock of pain that shot up his arm made him focus on Sophie again. “I should go. Thank you.”
. . .
Arthur turned abruptly and didn’t look back before disappearing behind his door. Sophie knew, because she was frozen on her own threshold, unable to look away from the retreating man. Finally, she closed the door with a sigh and went to sit on her couch. Unthinking, she pressed the shirt to her nose, inhaling deeply. She could smell her own detergent and a hint of mustiness from when the shirt laid in her drawers untouched for several months now. She could pick up a sage-like odour – definitely the arnica gel she gave Arthur on his bruises - but there was also hint of something else, unknown soapy smell. Did Arthur sleep in the shirt once he took shower? Suddenly embarrassed, Sophie quickly pulled the shirt away from her nose, tossing it on the table.
She was glad Arthur liked the book, but she honestly didn’t expect him to refuse to come in, at least for a moment. Sure, he seemed like the type of man whose main focus is on his responsibilities, especially on his mother, but she thought… But she was so stupid. So what, she patched him up and lend him a book, it’s not like he owes her his time or his friendship. Sophie could use a friend, though. She liked her colleagues at the bank just fine, but they didn’t have much in common, most of them had families of their own. But then again, what did she have in common with Arthur? He was also lonely, or at least he seemed so. He liked kids and Sophie did too, although her experience with them was very limited. Other than that though? What did she know about him?
Arthur seemed… shy. If Sophie had to pick just one word to describe him, that would be it. But he also seemed kind. Definitely well mannered, maybe even too much? He was very old fashioned in his manners, but Sophie suspected that this was due to him still living with his mother. Serious, but not really, as if he didn’t trust himself. He could benefit from loosening up a bit. Nervous and unsure, very wary of strangers – that seemed understandable, all things considered – and surprisingly observant, even though he probably wouldn’t say so himself. There was something curious about him, something that seemed just a bit dangerous if let out. He had an aura of someone who had nothing to lose and Sophie knew that this is something that can ruin people.
Sophie shuffled to bedroom, getting ready for bed. What else could be said about Arthur Fleck? Very thin, no, scrawny. He had some lean muscle on him, but he looked frail and his skin paper-thin, bruising easily. His face was tired looking, dull in colour with dark circles under his eyes and all that made him look much older than he probably was, although Sophie didn’t know his age. He probably wasn’t forty yet. His brows very heavy with worries, hiding pair of bright, beautiful eyes. They held almost childlike wonder in them, a sort of spark that rest of Arthur lacked. His hair was surprisingly soft, Sophie remembered with warm feeling in her core. Soft, but rather unkept, as if he had more pressing worries than to remember to comb it in the morning.
Sophie turned off the bedside lamp and settled down. Still, she couldn’t stop thinking about Arthur. His clothes, just as his manners, were old fashioned. Hell, Sophie’s grandpa used to wear trendier clothes than Arthur. His clothes were clean, although clearly well-worn to the point of looking shabby. Sophie wondered if they were second-hand or if Arthur simply worn something his mother bought for him years ago when she was still able to leave the house. Either way, the clothes didn’t fit him much; the pants were baggy while his shirts looked almost too small. There was a hint of aftershave in his scent, just enough to be notice but not enough to overwhelm. Even when he was bloody and beaten, clearly sweaty, he didn’t smell bad like she would expect him to. Sophie tried to imagine how he would look with healthy weight and new clothes, but couldn’t come up with a clear idea. Maybe he was content as he was now and who was she to judge? Or maybe he wasn’t, but what’s the point of dwelling on that? Money were tight for many people in Gotham and people did what they could to survive.
She wondered if she will have a chance to talk to him again. He didn’t seem much interested in further conversation today. Maybe, if he came inside for the tea, they would sit on the couch and she would put her hand on his shoulder and he would smile at her and then… then… Before she could think of what would happen next, Sophie fell asleep.
Arthur woke up with a start and listened carefully for any sound from his mother’s bedroom. Nothing. Glance at the clock revealed that it was only five in the morning, so no wonder mother was still asleep. Must have been some noise from the street what woke him. He scrubbed at his face with a sigh. His whole body ached, the old couch springs digging painfully into his back. Arthur wasn’t one to complain about his living arrangements often, but if he could change just one thing, he’d want his own bed. When he felt like treating himself, he liked to take his fantasy a bit further and imagine what it would be like to have his own room.
When he was a child, he used to share bed with his mother. Back then, it seemed normal, after all that was all he knew. He realized how uncommon that was only when his classmates started to mock him for that. The assignment was simple – draw your room. Arthur liked to draw and loved his mother, so drawing the bedroom they shared was a pleasant activity in a sea of slow reading and difficulty writing of which his schooldays usually consisted. But once all the pictures were collected and displayed on the wall by their teacher Mrs. Diaz (she was always nice to Arthur, he remembered her fondly), Arthur’s understanding of normal started turning upside down. Kids can be cruel and will be cruel given the chance – and Arthur gave it. At eight years old, he could hardly rationalize to himself and others that the Fleck family was simply too poor to afford a bigger apartment. And even if he could, what difference would it make? He was different from others, yet again, and in the eyes of children, there is no excuse for being different.
He still remembered that first night after this revelation, how humiliated he felt as he stared at the ceiling while his mother slept peacefully next to him. He spent the whole night trying to banish that so familiar feeling and to fall asleep, but ultimately only managed to give himself another laughing attack as the first sunrays started to creep over the windowsill. His mother woke up with a start and scolded him. Ever since then, the resentment towards their sleeping arrangements steadily grew and Arthur started to sleep less and less, his mind keeping him hyperaware of the sleeping figure next to him.
His deliverance came only with another humiliating actuality – him entering puberty. At twelve years old, he had a pretty good idea what sex was, after all streets of Gotham offered it in plain view with their prostitutes, brothers and similar establishments, and his classmates often smuggled their fathers’ porn mags into school – both to make girls uncomfortable, and to leaf through the magazines in locker room and making fun of everyone who refused to join them, including Arthur. But theory is often different from practice and Arthur’s first few erections caught him completely unprepared. And the early morning when his mother caught him awkwardly rubbing at his morning wood marked not only the day when he was banished to the couch, but also the day he was taught that sexual pleasure is something shameful.
Sleeping on the couch was not comfortable, but at least he actually got some sleep most of the days. His morning erections didn’t go away and Arthur hated himself for seeking relief from them, but at least he could deal with them away from mother’s prying eyes. He had to put sheets on the couch each night and pack them up each morning, but at least… Well. He should be grateful for having a roof over his head and his mother to keep him company. No need to get greedy. All he had fit into the old suitcase showed in the corner of the living room, so why would he need his own room? What would he put there, apart from a bed?
Arthur got up from the couch and stretched, only to curl in on himself with a pained hiss – he completely forgot about his still bruised ribs. He shuffled into the kitchen nook, lining up all of his seven pills on the counter, staring at them for a long minute. Each morning, he thought of simply not taking them or taking one too many and finally ending it. What difference would it make? But today, as any other day for past several years since his last stay at the hospital, he got himself a glass of water and swallowed exactly seven colourful pills. Not any less and not any more.
With a frown he got a slice of bread and bit into it with a grimace. He had no appetite for it, but he knew the pills always made him sick on empty stomach. Next, he grabbed a cigarette and shuffled over to the window. He opened it as quietly as possible before climbing out onto the fire escape and pulling it partially closed again. He took a long drag as his eyes scanned over the tops of other buildings and then over the empty street below. The morning was chilly and damp and Arthur shivered, although he didn’t really mind the cold. Nothing he could do about it anyway. He sat on the fire escape long after his cigarette burned down to the filter, watching Gotham wake up gradually, until finally he could hear his mother calling for him. Time to continue his morning routine.
It been a week since he lost his job and Arthur still left home each morning, because wandering around Gotham was more bearable than alarming his mother with the truth. He tried to hold onto some idea of productivity by looking for job during those days – first he only went into shops and establishments that specifically had the tell-tale HELP WANTED sign up, but when he ran out of those (and when what was left of his confidence turned into dust), he started asking everywhere, going door to door. It was totally and completely pointless. Arthur wished he had some nicer clothes, so he’d make a better impression, but his “Sunday’s best” was his old red suit. Not only was it distinctly out of fashion now, but it hung in the closed in his mother’s room and Arthur was sure she’d notice if it went missing.
Calling goodbye to his mother and closing the apartment door behind himself, Arthur saw Sophie enter the elevator and felt his heart skip a beat. He last saw her when he returned her book and stupidly, he missed her. But now he could talk to her, maybe even offer to walk her to her job? He took the stairs, some unfamiliar, warm feeling uncurling inside of him. He was relieved when he saw her in the lobby and wanted to call out to her, but stopped dead in his tracks in the last moment. What would he even say to her? Offer to walk with her? What was wrong with him? Why would she even accept that? He chuckled nervously as he watcher the door close behind her. God, he was so damn stupid! He pulled on his hair nervously, pulling out a cigarette.
But he was curious now; Sophie didn’t tell him where she worked. He walked out of the building and looked down the street. He could still see her. For a reason he couldn’t really explain, he followed her. Something told him it would be better if she didn’t see him, so he hung back when she stopped at the bakery and then for a coffee. But once she started walking, there he was, just a several steps behind her. It sent a thrill down his body, like nothing he ever felt. It was exciting to be able to observe part of her life.
He blinked confusedly once she disappeared behind a heavy wooden door. Only then Arthur realized that he is standing in front of the local bank and suddenly he felt… weird about following Sophie here. But, did she work here, at the bank? She must be smart, Arthur thought with a sense of misplaced pride. He briefly considered going inside and asking about a job, but then he remembered who he was, what he knew and how he looked and turned around, disappearing behind a corner.
Arthur’s morning routine now had a new part. He woke up, took his pills, forced a parody of breakfast down his throat, smoked a cig, took care of his mother, did morning hygiene, got ready for his imaginary job and followed Sophie to hers.
Now, there was also an afternoon routine, which had only two steps: Hang out around the bank at the time Sophie left her job and then follow her on her errands or straight home.
As the days passed, any awkwardness or disgust with himself that Arthur felt gradually vanished, until it was just something he did, not much different than brushing his teeth. He didn’t even thing about it now. It wasn’t even about Sophie anymore, even if Arthur was always glad to see her. It was simply a routine to follow and that made it safe and simple activity for Arthur.
. . .
Sophie knew someone was following her and it left a sick, panicked feeling in her stomach. She wasn’t sure what to do. Go to the police? But she had no suspect, she didn’t even see anyone when she tried to subtly glance around. Confide to her colleagues at the bank? But then she wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about it, if everyone started at her with worry all the time. Maybe she could ask Arthur to pick her up; he could have the time if he didn’t have job yet. But how would she even go about asking for such a favour? He surely had better things to do other than babysitting his neighbour. She considered taking a cab to and from work, but that would be expensive. Besides, the stalker clearly knew both where she lived and where she worked, so if they wanted to try something… Sophie didn’t dare to think about it.
After a week of being absolutely sure there was someone following her, she decided to act. It was dangerous, but the stress was starting to affect her sleeping habits and she just wanted the stalker gone. So, before she left the job for the day, she checked that her stun gun was charged and steeled herself with one last deep breath.
She left the bank as usual – or so she hoped, she didn’t want to look as if she was planning something – and took the fastest way home. One of the streets on the way was usually rather deserted, which was both a curse and a blessing in this case. She didn’t want to make a scene in a crowded place, but then again maybe it would be safer. Her palms were getting sweaty as she neared the alley, the fight or flight instinct taking over her thoughts. But this needed to be done. She took the turn into the street, noting with both relief and dread that it was indeed empty, and stopped just behind the corner near a trashcan, turning in the direction in which she came from, stun gun ready. She could hear steps approaching and readied herself, prepared to confront her stalker at last. A figure appeared behind the corner and Sophie stepped forward, hand with the stung gun outstretched, exclaiming “Stop where you are!”. The figure stopped with a jolt and with a horror, Sophie realized who it was.
“A-Arthur?” she asked, disbelieving, hand holding the stun gun dropping slightly in shock. There was a surprise written clearly over his face as his eyes slid from her eyes to the stun gun and back, and he took a step back, almost stumbling, struggling to keep his balance with his hands deep in pockets of his beige jacket. He seemed at loss for words.
“You…” Sophie started, her voice shaky, “…what? Arthur, what the fuck?” He just stood there, blushing, his eyes looking everywhere but at her and it suddenly made Sophie so angry. The adrenaline coursed through her blood and flight decidedly tipped over into fight. “Were you fucking following me? You- you creep!” she shrieked and he jerked back as if she slapped him. Her hand itched with how much she wanted to do it. She didn’t, instead stepping into his space, her pointed finger almost stabbing into his chest as he backed up against the building. “I can’t believe it! What the hell is wrong with you? Don’t you dare doing it again! No, you know what? Never speak to me ever again or I will fucking call the police on your sorry ass, you fucking loser!”
As she yelled at him, he completely shrunk in on himself, looking as if he wanted to blend with the wall behind him. Though luck, Sophie thought, now she could finally see him clearly. She positively panted now, her chest heaving as she stepped away from him. She spit on the ground near his feet and backed away slowly. When she was a few meters far, she finally turned her back to him and ran home.
She locked the door behind herself, collapsing against it. She was shaking, with both anger and fear and… betrayal. How could he? She thought… And to think she wanted to ask him for help! That she invited him to her home! That she wished he’d accept and maybe grow bolder with her… God, how could she be so careless? She didn’t know him at all! Turns out he wasn’t any different from other Gotham’s weirdos.
Judging by his reaction to the confrontation, she doubted he’d actually continue now or worse, become aggressive, but the thought that he was just down the hallway from her own home still left her feeling uneasy. There was no way to avoid him if they run into each other.
She didn’t sleep that night. Her mind kept repeating their confrontation over and over again, trying to make a sense of it. Sophie just couldn’t connect the Arthur that sat all dejected and bloody on her couch, with a man that followed her for several days. What was the point? If he asked, she’d gladly tell her all about her day, or her job, or about anything really. But he didn’t, instead deciding to stalk her.
Okay, I feel like this is a good place to remind everyone that stalking is NEVER OKAY. Like, I don't care what the excuse is, you report it, stay safe and don't get in a relationship with your stalker! Are we clear on that? We can romanticize that all we want in fiction, but in real life, we stay the hell away from that!
I honestly hesistated if I should include this particular scene from the movie, considering where I want to go with this story, but I felt like it was too important to leave out. So I decided to let Sophie get some control of the situation and at the same time make her have a real reaction to the fact that someone is stalking her. And Arthur will have to deal with the consequences, but you gotta wait some more for that!
Arthur stood there for a long time, his hands pressed against the cold wall as he retched, bile burning at the back of his throat. He wasn’t even sure what happened. He was just walking home after Sophie, enjoying a rare sunny day in autumn Gotham, thinking about what he will make his mother for dinner tonight, and suddenly Sophie was standing in front of him, fear evident in her eyes and stun gun in her shaky hand. She screamed at him, cussed at him, called him a creep and fucking loser and the thing is… she was completely right.
It was dark when he finally picked himself up and dragged himself home. He prepared food for his mother, sat with her as she was watching TV and then got her into bed. If she spoke to him at all during that time, he couldn’t say. His mind was running a mile a minute, but at the same time his thoughts felt heavy and sluggish, going back to Sophie’s words and her fear again and again.
Arthur sat down his journal. His social worker wouldn’t be very happy with him if she looked at it now, as he barely even touched it since he lost his job. He leafed through the pages. He kept this journal for about a year now, but the first several “entries”, if his pathetic scrawls could even be called that, felt alien, as if they were written by different Arthur from different timeline altogether. Some of them seemed almost hopeful, optimistic and normal.
Gary invited me to sinema today. We will go see Star Wars.
Talked to sum lady in cofe shop today. Cofe makes me jerky but the lady was nice.
Doctor gave me more medicashun. I did not want it, but he said it will make me feel beter. Seven pils now, not sure what they all do.
After that, his notes got less coherent and much darker. Arthur took a drag from cigarette, holding the smoke in until it hurt. He exhaled as he turned to next page. Naked women stared back at him, their bodies arranged in suggestive or outright vulgar ways. He couldn’t remember when he got the porn magazine they came from, but he vividly recalled cutting the pictures out, sticking them in his journal and then scribbling over them, how his head ached and hands shook, how his mood changed twenty times that night until finally settling on some twisted mix of satisfaction and self-hate. His social worker said nothing when she saw it back then when he showed it to her without any shame, but now he was deeply embarrassed. Since then he had several nights as that one. What was wrong with him?
He wanted to tear those pages out, but one of the rules his social worker instilled in him was that once something was in his journal, it remained there. Something about analysing all of his emotions or whatever. But she always read through it so quickly, Arthur doubted she had time to even process what he wrote, especially with his handwriting.
He lit another cigarette and turned to an empty page. He stared at it long time, until his cigarette was long gone and he was halfway to another. Finally, he pressed the pen to paper. He wanted to write about Sophie and how he scared her, how much he regretted it and wished he could turn back time, but all he wrote was creep. Over and over again, until whole page was covered.
He turned to new page. Took a deep breath. Started writing again. Fucking loser. Fucking loser. Fucking loser fucking loser fucking loser fucking loser fucking loser…
Sun was already peaking over the horizon as Arthur quietly pulled open the drawer in which his mother kept her good paper, the one she used for letters to Mr. Wayne. She forbade Arthur from using it, even though he had no use for it. Well, until now. His hand was cramping by now after hours of scribbling in his journal, but this needed to be done.
Arthur didn't write letters much. He preferred to run his errands in person or deal with them over the phone if possible, and he didn't have any friends with whom he could stay in contact over letters. He only ever wrote letters to his mother, during his last stay in hospital. There wasn't much going on, besides intensive therapy and never-ending meetings with doctors trying to figure him out, but he still took care to write to his mother every Friday, imagining how terribly she must miss him and feeling bad that he left her alone, without any help at hand. She never wrote him back, didn't even come to visit once, but he didn't mind. She had her own things to do, more important stuff to take care of.
Arthur pressed his pen to the paper. Painstakingly slow and with utmost care, he wrote: "Dear Ms. Dumond," and stopped. He wanted to explain to her why he did what he did, while acknowledging that there wasn't an excuse for his behaviour. He wanted to tell her that his doctor told him that he might get stuck on routines, but he still struggles to recognize which routine is productive and which is... destructive, both to him and others. He wanted to apologize a million times, for doing what he did, for scaring her, for putting that fearful expression on her face. He wanted to tell her how his heart broke, but that's what he does, he creeps out and scares those around him, and he should have known better and keep his distance from her. And how sorry he was that he didn't and why he didn't - he was drawn to her, mesmerized by her - and how he will respect her wish and won't approach her ever again.
But he was still Arthur Fleck and Arthur Fleck never had the right words and never knew how to write them down. And even if he did, he never knew how to make his writing presentable, and his cheeks burned with shame at the thought of Sophie seeing his handwriting and poor grammar. She surely didn't think that anything about him was any good - not anymore, definitely - but it still tore painfully at something inside him, the knowledge of how... inferior he really was compared to anyone and especially to her.
In the end, he only wrote down one, simple sentence.
. . .
It’s been two days since Sophie’s confrontation with Arthur. She was sure he hadn’t followed her from that day and she was happy she hadn’t met him in the hallways either. She wasn’t sure what she would even say to him. Part of her wanted to apologize for what she called him, because he seriously looked like he just had no idea how to interact with people, but at the same time, he was a grown ass adult. He should know better. She had all the right to be rude to him. But the look on his face…
Maybe he was right after all, she indeed was too nice.
She knew the letter in her mailbox was from Arthur before she even took it out. She just knew it. It was further confirmed by absence of postmark and For Sophie written on the envelope with apparently shaky hand.
Once at home, she wanted to throw it straight into trash. What excuse could he possibly give her? Or was it just a different way to scare her, now that he was afraid to openly stalk her? Was this just the first letter of many, aiming to smother her with his… obsession? But then again, this was Arthur Fleck, a man caring patiently for his awful mother, a man who thanked Sophie softly after she tended to his wounds, a man whose favourite part of his job was making children laugh. Well, if nothing else, this letter could provide a closure. Either she will put the whole thing behind, or it will scare her enough to force her to go to police and deal with it.
After dinner and quick shower, Sophie curled herself up in her bed and opened the envelope, pulling out a neatly folded piece of paper. She was surprised that it was only one page. Probably not a lengthy list of excuses or some twisted, drawn-out threat to her safety, then. Gingerly, she unfolded the paper, and at first, struggled to make sense of what she saw there.
Seemingly written by a very shaky hand that nevertheless took great care to write legibly, materialised in black ink, just one short sentence stared back at her.
Dear Ms. Dumond
I'm so very sory for what I did, it will not happn again.
Her eyes caught on the mistakes. They were, well, quite obvious, but Sophie figured it related to Arthur's troubles with reading. Despite herself, she suddenly felt a wave of pity for him. In person, he was shy and reluctant to talk, but he wasn't stupid, that was much clear to her. It must be awful, being unable to express yourself properly. Paired with his condition, no wonder he always looked so down. It must be terribly isolating, especially in city like Gotham, where everyone kept to themselves and had no patience for struggles of others.
She turned her mind back to the letter. Well, it was more of a note, really. She wasn't sure what she expected, but it surely wasn't a simple apology. Sophie didn't know many men who would admit a mistake, let alone apologize for it. What he did was so very wrong, but it looked like he realized that and regretted it. She also appreciated that he had chosen this way to apologize - if he wanted to do that in person, he'd again have to wait for her somewhere, and that would surely freak her out even more.
"Hey Nicole, can I ask you something?"
Nicole, Sophie's colleague and closest person to a friend Sophie had, turned to her with a smile: "Sure, what's the matter?"
"I need an advice about this man I know-"
"Ooooh!" Nicole drawled with a smirk.
Sophie frowned at her, "It's not like that!"
Nicole lifted her eyebrow, smirk still in place: "Honey, if you're asking for advice about him, then it is like that."
"Okay, fine, it might be like that, but that's not the point!" Sophie said decisively. "He did something... very wrong and-"
"Like drugs wrong? Beating you wrong? Murder wrong?" Nicole listed rapidly, smirk gone from her face.
"No, nothing like that! Not that serious, but still bad. He scared me pretty badly. But the thing is..." Sophie looked at her hands, "Well, he sent me a letter and apologized."
"A letter! How romantic!"
"Oh my god, shut up!" Sophie exclaimed with a smile. "He sent me an apology. And I'm not sure what to do now. Do I accept it? Do I just keep ignoring him?"
Nicole hummed, "I don't know. I mean, a dude does something bad and apologizes? Is he a unicorn or what? But then again, if he made you feel unsafe... I'm not sure it's worth the risk, you know? You gotta be safe, Sophie. Maybe give it some time? See what he does now? If he keeps pushing for contact, he is bad news for sure," Nicole finished with a nod, as if she was confirming her own words.
"I guess you are right..." Sophie trailed off after a moment of silence. "Thanks, Nicole."
Nicole turned back to her table with a smile. After a moment, she looked back at Sophie with a mischievous expression on her face. "So, is he hot?" Sophie threw her pencil at her instead of answering. He is something, she thought.
When she got home that afternoon, she was surprised by two strange men in heavy coats standing next to the staircase at her floor. When they heard the elevator opening, they both turned to her and Sophie caught the glint of police badge on both their necks. She nodded at them in greeting and turned to her apartment. “Hey!” one of the men called and she stopped in her tracks, turning slowly to face them again. “Excuse me, miss,” the younger policeman said, “Can you tell us in which apartment can we find Mr. Arthur Fleck?”
Sophie hesitated. She never got in trouble with law enforcement, but she wasn't stupid. She knew who she was and knew what cops usually thought about people like her. Both policemen of course noticed her hesitance, their eyes narrowing. Turning fully to face her now, the older one - his moustache made him look like a walrus - asked: "Do you know Mr. Fleck, miss..?"
"Dumond. I'm Sophie Dumond," Sophie answered. What did they want? Was Arthur in trouble? Did something happen to him?
"Miss Dumond, do you know Mr. Fleck?" the cop repeated.
"I do. Is he okay?" Sophie asked, now determined to learn more about their motives.
"Are you two close?" the younger man asked, ignoring her question. It made her angry and even more cautious.
"We are friends. Is Arthur okay?" she repeated, voice firm.
The cops exchanged glances. "He is alright. We just need to ask him about something," the older cop said. "So, can you tell us where he lives? His former boss over at-" he looked at the block in his hand, "-over at Ha Ha's didn't have his apartment number listed."
Sophie knew something was wrong and didn't know what to do. She didn't want to get Arthur in trouble, but she couldn't deny she knew where he lived now that she admitted they are friends. Why did she even say that? Just today she decided to ignore him indefinitely! "Miss?" cop's voice pulled her from her thoughts. She blushed, "Oh, um. It's 8J, but... But he won't be at home now. He lives with his mother, but she is ill and won't be able to open the door for you. Please, let her rest," Sophie said, hoping she didn't make a big mistake now. If they decided to knock check anyway and Arthur would actually be home, it would make her look suspicious. Why is she covering for him? She didn't even know why the cops were looking for him. But there was something about them, something unforgiving in their eyes and very serious in the way they held themselves; it made Sophie very very nervous.
The cops looked at each other again, before the younger one shrugged. "Alright, well, we will come some other time. Thank you." Sophie was about to turn around and get the hell away from them, when he stopped her with a wave of his hand. "One last thing! Is this the time you usually come home from... work, I suppose?" Sophie frowned, "Why do you ask?" Hands in his pockets now, the cop answered, "Just so we know where to find you if we had more questions about Mr. Fleck. Have a nice day, miss."
. . .
Arthur wished he could reschedule. The whole thing with Sophie just left him feeling more depressed than usual. Any other day, he’d be gleeful about the chance to tell his jokes at Pogo’s, but now… It was as if his skin was too tight, each movement jerky and unfocused. But the manager at Pogo's was looking at him weird when Arthur approached him two weeks ago, and it took Arthur lot of time to convince him to give him a chance. In the end, he got twenty minutes on Tuesday night, at nearly half ten. Arthur knew it was possibly the worst slot available, as it was very late on work day, but it was his only chance.
So he made dinner for his mother, took a shower and washed his hair and put on his best clothes. He was just deciding if he should wear a jacket when there was knock on the door. He frowned, as usual he didn't expect anyone.
Arthur opened the door and froze. He must be hallucinating from the stress, there is no way Sophie would come after... After. She gave him an awkward smile, "Hi."
"Sophie..." he breathed, amazed, but instantly realizing his mistake. "I-I mean, miss Dumond, what... Uh. Can I help you?" His cheeks burned. This is it. She is going to scream at him for writing her a letter and not leaving her alone, and his mother will hear, whole building will hear and then...
She pursed her lips, "Maybe it would be better if we talked in private?" she said, nodding at the door. Arthur obligingly stepped into the hallway and closed the door softly, taking a moment to compose himself before turning to face her. He tugged at his vest nervously and her eyes fell to his chest and then scanned over the rest of him.
"Are you... are you going somewhere?" she asked, looking as surprised as Arthur felt about her asking that. He chuckled nervously, taking a deep breath to calm himself.
"I have a- a show tonight. Well, it's not really a show, but... It's dumb. I look dumb," he trailed of lamely when he noticed how intently she was looking at him and his clothes.
"You look very handsome," she blurted out, turning red, glancing away from him.
He was making her nervous again, Arthur realized with a pang, not even noticing what she really said. With a voice barely above whisper, he asked: "Why did you come? Is this about... About the-"
"No!" Sophie stopped him. "No, it's- I wanted to..." She seemed to change her mind suddenly, "You said something about a show?"
Arthur looked at her, confused. She clearly came for a reason she wasn't willing to share now. But he should be grateful she dared to come close to him at all. "Yeah, yes. It's, uh, I want to be a comedian? I have a stand up at Pogo's tonight," he said, running hand through his hair nervously.
"That sounds..." Stupid, pathetic, ridiculous, Arthur's mind supplied for him. "...great! Can I- um. Can I come?" she finished, cheeks blazing. She looked so beautiful; Arthur could hardly focus on what she said.
"You want to?" Definitely a hallucination, then. There is no way this is actually real.
"Unless... you don't want me to?" Sophie asked, shrugging.
"I do! I just... My slot should start at 9:20," he simply said, instead of arguing about why she should run away from him, screaming. Didn't she realize how fucked up he is yet?
She beamed up at him. "What should I wear? Something fancy?"
Arthur ran his eyes down her lithe body. She was in jeans and simple white shirt with sleeves rolled up to her elbows. He swallowed heavily, blush spreading over his face once more as his gaze hovered over the curve of her hip. She laughed suddenly and his eyes snapped up to her face. She gave him a wink and a cheeky smile, "Got it! 9:20, I will be there!" And with that, she walked away, disappearing into her apartment. Arthur stood there for a long time after that.
. . .
Dazed and confused, Sophie sat down on her couch. What just happened?
She spent whole afternoon thinking about the cops and whether she should tell Arthur they were looking for him. She didn’t want to see him now, just as she decided to get some more space from him, but if she was in his place, she’d definitely want to know she might be in trouble. In the end she decided to warn him. She planned it thoroughly – she’d knock on his door and tell him without any delays about the policemen and then, without giving Arthur a chance to engage her in conversation any longer, she’d coldly say bye and leave. That was the plan.
The moment Arthur stepped into the hallway and closed the door behind himself, it was as if a switch got turned in her head. She noticed his clothes, nice and formal, the colour of his vest complimenting his soft looking, combed back hair which was gently curling just under his ears. She remembered how it felt between her fingers that last (and only) time she touched and she longed to do that again. She never saw Arthur wearing clothes this nice before. Is he going to a date? she thought as she caught a hint of cologne, and the sudden flare of jealously threw her even more off-balance than she already was. She was supposed to be angry at him… But his anxious whispering and sad soulful eyes, the nervousness he excluded around her positively melted her heart and she knew right in that moment she forgave him for his stalking completely. She must be crazy.
And when he said he’s doing a show tonight, she couldn’t help but be interested. The way his gaze lingered on her body woke up something inside her and she honest to got flirted with him, before leaving him trembling and blushing furiously on his doorstep.
And she didn’t even mention the cops. On the other hand, maybe it was for the better, if Arthur was about to have his big chance at success as a comedian. It can always wait for later. After all, they’re going to see each other later tonight. Now, she had to get ready.
Sophie had never been to Pogo’s and didn’t really know what to expect. In the end, she decided to keep it low-key and stick to the clothes Arthur seemed to appreciate so much earlier. She grabbed a new white shirt, not rolling up the sleeves this time, and the same jeans. Over the shirt she pulled a simple beige sweater and, since she expected it to be rather chilly later tonight, she grabbed her mauve coat as well. She was happy about her choice when she entered the comedy club, as it was nothing fancy. The whole area was rather dark, each table illuminated only by its own small lamp. The only exception was the stage, which was lit brightly by several stage lights. The stage was currently empty and there were about fifteen minutes left until the start of Arthur’s slot.
A waitress served her a glass of red wine just as the host announced that Arthur is about to be the next up. Sophie sat up with interest as the host read the rest of Arthur’s introduction: “…joy and laughter to the world. Huh, okay then,” the man finished with a chuckle and some people in audience snickered. Sophie wanted to frown at them, but could hardly see the people at the next table with how dark the room was. She thought it was a fitting motto for a stand-up comedian.
And then there he was, striding purposefully up to the stage. Illuminated by the bright lights, Arthur looked almost regal as his gaze surveyed the crowd. For a moment, he looked so serious, assured, like a different man. But then, his little smile bloomed up on his face as he coughed softly. Arthur. Taking a glance at notebook in his hands, he opened his mouth and…
Only strangled laughter came out.
Oh no, what do the cops want when Arthur didn't shoot anyone?
Sorry for the wait, I'm having a hard time irl and couldn't decide whether to keep those two apart for longer or not. I decided not to and instead sent them on their almost-date, was I right?
Arthur paced nervously in the hallway leading from dressing rooms to the stage. He wanted to run his hand through his hair, but always stopped himself at last moment, remembering that he had it styled for once. He ran his fingers over it instead, smoothing it out. It didn't help calm his nerves anyway. God, he wanted this to be over, why did he even think it was a good idea?
The man that had his stand-up before him was good - at least judging by the laughter he got from the crowd. His jokes were mostly about sex and relationships and Arthur didn't really understand them. He knew those jokes were always a hit, but when he tried to write some himself... Well. He could imagine many things he never saw or did, even things that never existed, but sex? The intimacy? The feeling of closeness to another human who wasn't repulsed by his very existence? No chance. Of course, he yearned for all those things, his whole being aching for them as he laid curled up on the couch in the middle of the night, but there was nothing funny to be written about that. Arthur let out a shaky sigh. It will be hard to work the crowd after the show the previous man put on.
Fifteen minutes left. Arthur dared to walk over to the very end of the hallway, giving himself a good view over the whole area. The place wasn't packed, but it wasn't deserted, either. It was dim, apart from the stage, but he still recognized the figure that walked inside as if she waited for him to be able to watch her arrival to the club. Sophie. Arthur's heart gave a painful tug as he saw her. She really came to watch his stand-up! Arthur watched her survey the area and then choose a table. Waitresses flicked over the room, using the break between each show to distribute drinks at rapid pace, and one of them was with Sophie immediately. In the low light of the lamps, Sophie looked almost ethereal. She seemed a bit nervous, but there was a soft, curious expression on her face as she looked around the room. Seeing her sitting there, waiting for him to begin his number, Arthur suddenly felt so powerful and he knew in that instance that as long as she is there, it will be okay. He knew he shouldn't look to much into her agreeing to come, but he couldn't help it.
Before he knew it, the host was announcing his name. He heard a few snickers in response to his tagline, but didn't even care. Sophie surely didn't laugh at him. He stood on the stage and was momentarily blinded by the stage lights aimed at him. He realized he can't see Sophie over the glare of lights, but urged himself not to panic. She was here. Arthur glanced down at his notebook, the words blurring together. Sophie was here, he can do this. Looking up, he took a deep breath to begin. She will see what a loser he is. Instead of words, only laughter came out.
He tried to stammer out his joke, but his throat was closing up, his vision getting blurry with tears. He turned away from the audience, doubling over, trying to stop the laughter as he clutched on his aching ribs. He felt as if the pain eased up a bit and tried to start his joke anew, but again the godawful sound tore out from him. He could hear the laughter of the audience - but they weren't laughing at his jokes as he wished, they laughed at him. He stumbled down the stage and disappeared into the hallway to the chorus of boos and heckling from the unsatisfied crowd. Throwing open the door of the dressing room assigned to him, he collapsed on the chair in front of the mirror, curling in on himself as laughter wrecked his body and tears streamed down his face, his back towards the door.
"What the fuck, man?" a harsh exclamation from behind him, the voice belonging to the owner of the club. Arthur laughed harder. "I gave you twenty minutes, you go on the stage and laugh like a maniac for five? Was that supposed to be funny? The fuck you think you are doing? This is no fucking freak show, I don't want to see you in here ever again!" Over his laughter, Arthur heard the door slam closed as he shook and gasped for air.
Arthur didn't know for how long he sat there, first trying to muffle the howls leaving his lungs and then suppressing the agonized sobs, but he knew one thing: This is it, the last drop in the sea of failure that was his life. He wished he still had Randall's gun, he could end it right here and now. But he had his pills with him, and dying twitching and shaking in a dirty alleyway seemed more fitting for him anyway. His mother would probably miss his help and would need to hire a maid, but he didn't even care anymore. He was unemployed anyway, a parasite latched onto the meagre pension she got, and good for nothing. Nobody will cry for him.
Arthur felt a hand on his shoulder and tensed, expecting himself to be yanked out of the chair and finally dragged out by whomever the Pogo's owner sent for him. But instead, stylish ankle boots appeared in his field of vision and, when the unknown figure squatted down in front of him, Sophie's concerned face was staring up at him. If there was any fight and self-respect left in him, Arthur would be embarrassed by anguished whine he let out as he quickly covered his red, tears and snot covered face with his hands in desperate attempt to hide from her. "Please go away," he mumbled, "Just leave me alone, please."
"Oh, Arthur, I'm so sorry," Sophie said, but Arthur didn't want to hear any of it. He didn't want to see the disappointment in her eyes that he was sure he'd find there. "Please leave..." Arthur repeated, shaking his head. The hand still holding his shoulder lifted and Arthur thought that she finally listened to him, but then he felt her nimble fingers carding through his now dishevelled hair. Arthur felt like he is going to blew up into thousand pieces any moment now. But he didn't and Sophie was still stroking his hair softly as silence stretched between them.
One hand never leaving its place, the other grabbed on his wrist loosely, pulling his arm from his face. "Let me see you," Sophie said softly and Arthur couldn't, didn't want to resist her. He revealed his face to her, but kept his eyes closed, not daring to face her fully. She quickly squeezed his wrist before putting her palm on his cheek, now effectively holding his head between her hands. Her thumb swiped under his eyes, brushing away the tears; each swipe seemed to dig a deeper hole in his chest, leaving it open and gaping. Arthur's breath was shaky now and he felt like crying all over again, but for completely different reasons now. As Sophie's hand left his hair and moved to his cheek as well, Arthur finally dared to open his eyes to look at her properly.
She herself was teary-eyed, but she still managed to give him a wobbly smile as they gazed at each other. "Let's go home," Sophie said eventually and Arthur could only nod in agreement.
. . .
While in the dressing room, Arthur just seemed mostly detached and defeated, but once Sophie stepped out into chilly autumn air with him, he suddenly seemed angry. Sophie wanted to ask him to have a coffee in a nearby diner, but once he was out of the door, he quickly took off in the direction of their apartment building. Sophie, not expecting his fast pace, called after him: "Arthur, wait! Wait for me!" and jogged after him, but she nearly sprained her ankle in her high-heeled shoes. "Please!" That seemed to be the magic word, as Arthur stopped at the spot, his back rigid and shoulders hunched. He didn't turn to her or even glance her way when she caught up with him.
They walked together, slower now and Sophie had no idea what to do. When she saw him up on the stage, how he struggled to get the words out, and heard the crowd booing him, her heart broke for Arthur. Once he was out of sight, she quickly stood up, grabbed her things and rushed to the bar to pay for the wine she ordered and didn't even drink. She headed for the hallway where Arthur disappeared then. It wasn't hard to guess which dressing room was his, the sobbing noises coming out were good enough clue. Once she opened the door and saw him curled up on the spinning chair, she acted purely on instinct.
When she held his face in her hand and gazed into his teary yet mesmerizing eyes, she wanted so badly to kiss him; to just press her lips against his and take all his pain away.
But it was neither the place nor time for that, and Sophie didn't have magically healing touch. And so here they were, walking side by side through Gotham, Sophie wringing her hands together nervously, while Arthur seemed like he wasn't even present mentally.
"Arthur, if you-"
"Don't!" he snapped and Sophie jerked back in surprise.
"I just wanted to-"
"I don't want to hear it!" Arthur yelled suddenly, his voice hoarse.
He stopped and turned to her finally. Dried leaves swirled around his feet, streetlamps reflecting in puddles scattered over the pavement. A taxi passed by, but otherwise the street was deserted. Sophie wasn't afraid, exactly, but Arthur's outburst was unexpected, completely against his otherwise meek personality. Glancing away from her, he took a few steps away, before turning to face her once more. He pulled on his hair and groaned in frustration. "Don't say anything," he said, voice calmer now. There was something different about him suddenly, the glint in his eyes almost cold. He held himself differently, too, standing tall, his chin up for once. He’d be charming, if it wasn’t so disturbing. He rubbed at the back of his neck before looking Sophie straight in the eyes. His stare didn't waver once as he spoke, his voice serious and detached. "I want to apologize. For ruining your evening, obviously, and for wasting your time. For making you watch... that. I should have respected your wishes and kept my distance from you. I should have listened to my mother when she said that I can't be a comedian. Clearly, she was right." Sophie wanted to oppose, but he shut her up by just narrowing his eyes at her as she opened her mouth. "This whole evening was a mistake. Again, forgive me, if you can. I will walk with you, to make sure you get home safe and then…”
Sophie looked at him expectantly, but it was obvious he won’t continue. “And then?”
Instead of answering, Arthur just extended his hand as if he was holding the door open and expected her to walk through.
“And then what, Arthur?” Sophie repeated, her voice stony now.
Arthur just snorted, his eyebrows lifting minutely before he glanced away from her. Taking a deep breath, his hand dropping, he just shrugged, “Well, I take seven different pills to keep myself in check, surely I will think of something.”
Sophie’s hand flew to her mouth as her eyes widened. Arthur sounded so nonchalant as he said it, as if he was merely making an observation about weather, instead of saying he is going to kill himself as soon as she closes the door behind herself. “I won’t let you do that!”
“I don’t want your pity!” Arthur spat at her.
“I’m not pitying you, I’m worried and scared and concerned about you!”
Arthur suddenly deflated like a balloon, his shoulders dropping and his gaze falling away from her. “But why?” he mumbled, sounding so small and vulnerable.
Sophie took a step towards Arthur, but he took one back. She pointedly stepped closer again and this time he didn’t move away. Sophie grabbed at the edge of his beige jacket that he threw on hastily before they left Pogo’s, pulling Arthur closer to her. She shivered slightly, his body heat making her aware of how cold it was. Slumped as he was, they were almost the same height, and his bowed head further erased the difference. “You’re cold,” he whispered, breath shaky as he put his trembling hands on her arms, rubbing up and down. Sophie smiled, both because of his sudden boldness to touch her, and because even now, he cared more about others than himself. “See, that’s why,” she said, equally quietly, “You’re so good. I like you, Arthur. And I- I’d miss you,” Sophie mumbled.
The moment felt charged suddenly as they simply stared at each other and Sophie bit at her lower lip to stop herself for the second time tonight from doing something reckless. She didn’t miss how his eyes snapped to her mouth and how he held his breath, leaning closer towards her…
Suddenly, he stepped back, his jacket slipping from Sophie’s fingers as he chuckled nervously for a while, before turning to her again with obviously forced smile. Disappointment run through Sophie like a cold wave. She really thought – hoped – that Arthur would kiss her. “Let’s go before you catch a cold,” he said instead, again motioning for her to walk with him. She didn’t say anything, just hooked her arm in his, earing herself a surprised glance, and together they continued their walk home.
They didn’t speak at all, after, but Sophie’s mind kept swirling all the same.
Sorry about the long pause in posting, this week was extremely hard on my mental health and I got insane writer's block as a result of that. I rewrote this chapter five times and I'm still not really sure about it... But I do know where I want to go from here, so I hope that even if this one is bad, you'll bear with me and keep reading this story. If nothing else, at least this chapter is the longest one so far!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Arthur was bone-deep tired. Sophie was basically leading him forward with her arm hooked in his. But Sophie seemed to do a lot of leading tonight. Arthur’s head ached after the rollercoaster of emotions he went through and he just wanted it all to stop. He didn’t want to think about what he admitted to her, about her reaction, about how he almost kissed her a moment ago… Sophie was a dream, a vision, her arms so warm under his hands despite her shivering when she pulled him closer to her body; and when she bit her lip Arthur wanted so badly to taste her, to find out how it would feel to press himself against her fully and lose himself in her embrace.
But there was no way she’d let him and so he pulled back, chuckling at his own foolishness.
By the time they reached their apartment building, Arthur’s mind was blank, his emotions flat and numb and it was comforting in how familiar it was. He remembered, before he started taking so many pills, that this was what he usually felt – either nothing, or some indescribable shade of bad with speckles of anger, and nothing in between. These days, the numbness was there only in the morning, right after taking his medicine, and quickly gone with the last smoke of the first cigarette of the day. Then every feeling was oversaturated and yet somehow opaque; and they all mixed together like colours of the rainbow, until they blended into brownish chaos that he desperately tried to wade through. But now the endless nothingness was back and Arthur embraced it. It will make everything else easier if he can keep it together to finish his plan.
He didn’t even notice they stepped out of the elevator, before it loudly rattled closed behind them. Arthur let go of Sophie’s arm when they reached her door and he wondered what he should say to her. Part of him wanted to wish her good night; part of him wanted to tell her good bye; all of him wanted to disappear as if he was never there in the first place. It was supposed to be easy, but Sophie made it impossibly hard. Nobody was supposed to miss him. He wished he kept his mouth shut, kept it in, spare her the suffering. She didn’t deserve this.
“Well, are you going to stand here all night? Come in,” Sophie’s words pulled him from his head and he stared at her with confusion. “I will make tea; please lock the door, you can hang your jacket over here,” she threw over her shoulder, gesturing towards the coat hooks on the wall. With nothing better to do or say, he did what she told him. It felt weird, taking his jacket off and hanging it next to hers. It felt even weirder when he turned towards the door to lock it. He was locking himself inside Sophie’s apartment. With her. He was locking himself inside with Sophie.
“I hope fruit tea is fine; frankly I hate black tea and ran out of green one,” she called from the kitchen, as if this was a completely normal conversation.
“I- um, it’s okay,” Arthur said in reply, taking slow, cautious steps inside the apartment. The lamp was on next to the now familiar couch, but Arthur didn’t sit down. Instead his eyes scanned over the room, which he barely registered the last time he was here. There was a matching armchair next to the couch, both facing the TV. There were photos on the far wall – Arthur could make out older couple, but didn’t dare to come closer to examine the details. One wall was almost completely shielded by a tall bookcase; Arthur thought he never saw so many books in his life.
“You can borrow another, if you want, I don’t mind,” Sophie said behind him and he jumped a bit in surprise. She passed by him with tray in her hand; two steaming mugs were sitting atop of it. “Aren’t you going to sit down?” she asked him as she settled herself on the couch, grabbing one of the mugs.
Arthur just stared at her, trying to figure out what was going on. She was looking at him expectantly, her legs folded neatly under her. A picture of domestic bliss, Arthur thought bitterly. “Why am I here?” he asked her finally, after maybe thirty seconds of tense silence. She put the mug down with a sigh. “Isn’t it obvious?” she inquired and he just shrugged, suddenly embarrassed that he was apparently missing what was clear to her. “Arthur,” she said, suddenly hesitant, “Come sit down.”
He shuffled over obligingly, sitting down, leaving a generous gap between them. If she noticed, she didn’t comment on it. “What you told me outside…”
“I’m sorry!” Arthur said quickly.
“Why are you apologizing?”
“Well, I- Aren’t you mad at me?” His mother always got annoyed when he started babbling over his stupid feelings.
Sophie narrowed her eyes at him. “Actually, yeah, I am.”
Arthur deflated. He knew that, but hearing her admit that…
“But probably not because of the same reasons as you think,” she finished.
“I don’t understand,” he mumbled.
“Arthur, honey,” Sophie said softly and he melted at the term of endearment, his eyes slipping shut for a moment with how good it felt. Sophie continued, oblivious to his pathetic sensitiveness, “I just wish you weren’t so hard on yourself and it makes me sad when you do. And you can’t really think I will leave you alone tonight, after what you said?”
“Here is the plan: I have a guest room and you are going to sleep in there tonight. And in the morning, we are going to have a breakfast, I’m going to go to work – because I can’t skip tomorrow – and you are going to take care of your mom as usual. When I come back from work, we are going out together.”
“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Arthur said slowly.
“And why is that?”
“I mean… I don’t really, uh, sleep, most of the nights,” Arthur said with a nervous chuckle.
Sophie looked at him for a moment, before she snorted and hid her smile behind her hand. “Sorry. I just- you’re funny.”
“We both saw that I am not,” Arthur replied, bitter again, averting his eyes from her.
“I am not sure what you saw,” Sophie said and he felt her hand on his, squeezing softly, “But I only saw a man trying to do what he loves, but being unable to do so only because of something he can’t control.”
“I can’t really see the difference, I’m banned from Pogo’s anyway,” Arthur said, looking at her with a grimace.
“That’s their loss, okay?” Sophie implored. Arthur just shrugged. He thought he could feel his thumb brushing over the back of his hand, but didn’t dare to look. “So… You really don’t sleep at night?”
“Usually n-no. Not more for a few hours, anyway,” Arthur stammered out, blushing. “I take something for that, but it’s- it’s not really working anymore, obviously.”
“Oh,” she paused. “I really don’t want you to leave, anyway,” Sophie said quietly. “What do you… what do you usually do?”
Think of you, trying not to touch myself, Arthur thought. He imagined her disgust if he told her and almost had to laugh. “Nothing much. Sometimes I watch TV on silent. Other times I just lie there, thinking,” he says finally. Well, it’s true for the most part, anyway.
“That sounds… really boring, to be honest,” Sophie grinned, but her eyes were soft.
Arthur smiled back at her: “It is boring, so much.”
“Well, you can watch my TV, if you want. Or read the books. Or just lie here, thinking,” Sophie said.
Arthur didn’t know what to say. He didn’t really know why Sophie wanted him to stay here, how can she feel safe with him, why she even cares… But God, if he didn’t want to stay. He’d stay here with her forever if he could, just being near her seemed to make all the difference. At the same time, he despised those feelings and they scared him. It wasn’t even a week since he was so caught up in Sophie that he stalked her, and he didn’t want to make his obsession even worse. Because that’s what it was, no? Wanting to be near her, with her. Wanting to learn about what she likes and dislikes, what’s her favourite meal – and then cooking it for her – and wanting to tell her all about himself if she wanted. Wanting to hold her, kiss her, to… to… What else could this be, if not obsession?
Even if he wasn’t dangerous to Sophie, he still had his mother to take care of. Now that he calmed down some, he was appalled how easily he dismissed her and her needs. What would she do if he was gone? Who would take care of her? It was Arthur’s responsibility to be there for her and it didn’t matter how hard it was just to wake up every morning.
“I…” Arthur began finally, staring at his hands, “I am thankful, even though I don’t get it, b-but…”
“But you need to go home to your mother,” Sophie finished for him, her voice flat.
How did she know? Arthur curled up on himself in shame. He knew it was considered pathetic to live with one’s parents as an adult, he wasn’t stupid, but it was still a sore subject for him. “I didn’t mean it like that!” Sophie said quickly, “I still think it’s admirable you do that. I just wish…”
Arthur looked at her, distraught by her worried expression. “Yeah?”
Sophie was silent, just looking at him, as if she didn’t really know what to say. “It’s kinda dumb, isn’t it? You live just down the hallway and here I’m acting like forcing you to stay here is going to help anything…” Suddenly, she sprang from the couch, startling Arthur, before she quickly moved in front of her bookcase. She rummaged there for a moment, before going back to Arthur, book in her hand. She handed it to him.
“What’s that?” he asked, taking the book carefully.
“A book, duh,” she said playfully, “I think you will like it.”
“Why are you giving it to me?”
“You are going to return it, no?”
“Well, you can’t return a book if you are… if you… You know,” she stammered, blushing.
Oh. Arthur looked down at the book in his hands. It looked like brand new, the cover still shiny. Arthur couldn’t help the soft smile blooming on his face.
As he lied on the couch that night, turning the pages slowly, he felt… good. It felt strange, almost alien, especially considered what happened tonight at Pogo’s and then out in the streets and how desperate and defeated he felt at the time, but for once Arthur had a feeling that maybe there is some hope still left for him.
Tomorrow, he will go see his social worker, ask her again to check his medication, and he will make it work. He will get better; for himself, his mother and Sophie.
. . .
Sophie unlocked and opened the door and Arthur stepped out into the hallway, still close enough to touch. He turned to her, clutching The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in both of his hands; his face had almost puppyish look to it - his eyes were impossibly big, eyebrows slightly lifted, creasing his forehead. He looked like he wanted to say something, but didn't know what. Sophie wasn't doing much better, if she was being honest with herself. What if she was making a big mistake? Maybe she should had taken Arthur to the hospital... "Are you gonna be okay?" she asked him finally. Corner of Arthur's mouth lifted with a small smile, "I think I will," he said quietly. "Promise?" she prompted. Arthur's eyes softened, impossibly bright in the dim hallway, and his smile got a little bit more real. "I- yeah. Yes, I promise. Thank you, Sophie."
When he was almost to his door, Sophie remembered herself. "Arthur!" she called after him. He turned with a curious expression, hair falling free from where he had it tucked behind his ear. "Are we still on for some after work fun?" she asked, uncertain and a little embarrassed immediately at her choice of words - Arthur didn't have a job, after all, and fun was such a vague statement... Besides, it sounded like a lame invite to a date. Not that she would mind going on a date with Arthur, but- "I'd love that," Arthur said, stopping her inner monologue easily. He was blushing. "Cool. I will... I will pick you up, then. Good night," Sophie finished awkwardly, disappearing in her apartment the moment he had his key in his lock.
What just happened?
Sophie considered checking up on Arthur in the morning as she was leaving for her job, but even though she was anxious about his wellbeing, in the end she didn’t. She didn’t want to disturb his and his mother’s morning, fearing that Penny would make an unnecessary fuss about the impromptu visit. It would surely make Arthur uncomfortable.
The day passed slowly, almost unbelievably so. Sophie almost wished she called in sick instead. Nicole noticed her uneasiness and asked her a few times if she was fine, but Sophie just shrugged noncommittally. She didn’t even know where she would start. Oh yeah, the guy I was kinda afraid of few days ago had a meltdown and wanted to commit a suicide, but I handled it by making him tea. God, it sounded even worse that last night when she was replaying the whole evening in her head when she couldn’t fall asleep. What if he went and just did it last night? What if she never gets to see him again? No, she couldn’t think like that. Arthur was surely fine and as soon as she gets home, they will go on their date and- no, not a date. Just two friends hanging out, Sophie reminded herself.
Arthur wasn’t exactly what you could call a boyfriend material anyway, if Sophie thought about it. He obviously had issues, serious ones at that. He was a shy and nervous man, worried to take up any space, to make any sound. Sophie’s previous partners had none of those problems. He mentioned something about taking seven different medications, if she recalled correctly. He stalked her. And yet… There was just something about him that made Sophie impossibly drawn to him. He was unlike any man she had ever met and Sophie wanted to learn all about him. She bit her lip. This was such a stupid line of thought. Who knew if he was even interested? But there was something there, yesterday, first in the dressing room and then out in the street… Surely she didn’t just imagine it?
Once her shift was over, Sophie rushed home. She quickly touched up her make-up and changed her clothes. She was about to open the door, when wave of anxiety rolled through her. This isn’t a date, she reminded herself, you just want to take his mind off things and make him happy.
Arthur opened the door basically the moment she knocked, called goodbye over his shoulder and was standing with her in the hallway in a second, obviously eager. He was wearing a dark red sweater, his beige jacket clutched in his hand, and somehow the rich colour made him look much younger.
“Were you… did you wait by the door?” Sophie asked, surprised.
Arthur blushed, tugging on his hair, “I- I just-“
Sophie grabbed on his wrist, pulling his hand carefully from his hair – it always looked painful when he did that out of nervousness. “Hey, none of that. I was- I was looking forward to this, too,” Sophie admitted softly and Arthur smiled brilliantly, his eyes sparkling.
“Where are we going?” Arthur asked about after fifteen minutes of walking. Up until now, it was mostly Sophie who did the talking. She talked about her job, thinking she must bore Arthur, but he seemed to hang on her every word. It was both awesome and unnerving to have all his attention focused on her.
“To the public library,” Sophie said, feeling awkward. “I just figured, since you like the books so much, well… We can go somewhere else if-“
“No, I want- I want to go. I’ve never been there,” Arthur said softly.
Awkward silence stretched between them and Sophie winced internally; this must be making him so uncomfortable, judging by how his fingers bunched in the end of his sleeves and how tensely he held himself.
“Oh!” he said suddenly, standing up straighter. It was fascinating how different he looked when he seemed to be in his element. “Thanks for the book! I like it so far. The- the main character, he has the same name as me; I’ve never heard about any interesting Arthur before…” he trailed off with a soft smile.
“I did!” Sophie said without thinking, turning red as Arthur looked to her with curious expression.
“Yeah? Who was it?”
“Uh… I just meant… I meant you,” Sophie said with a nervous chuckle, looking away from him. “You are plenty interesting,” she added, when he didn’t say anything. God, she was acting like a teenage girl with her first crush, making her attraction so obvious, while he seemed uncomfortable just being near her.
“I’m really… not?” he said, confusion evident in his voice.
Trying to get some semblance of control over the conversation, Sophie narrowed her eyes at him playfully, “Are you accusing me of lying, Mr. Fleck?”
“You, Ms. Dumond? I’d never!” he replied confidently with a mischievous smirk, surprisingly easily catching up on her teasing.
Sophie nearly swooned.
He seemed enchanted once they were inside the library. Sophie had to admit, the place looked impressive, almost out of place in a city like Gotham. All high ceilings, never-ending staircases, floors made of smooth marble. Sophie assumed that only Wayne’s manor looked this majestic, although, honestly, public library probably wasn’t any match for the house of Gotham’s richest family’s residence.
“Where… Where should I start?” Arthur asked almost helplessly, turning to Sophie. “First, we are going to get you a library card, c’mon,” Sophie answered, leading him to the front desk. The librarian there greeted them with a smile as Sophie grabbed for a registration form and a pen, handing the latter to Arthur. But he eyed the pen dubiously, his cheeks colouring, and Sophie remembered his letter, the shaky handwriting, the bad spelling. “Can I fill it out? I love forms,” Sophie said smoothly, hoping Arthur won’t notice her attempt to brush away the issue – but judging by the grateful smile he gave her as he nodded, he noticed.
“Name – Arthur Fleck. Any middle name?”
“Address, okay, I know that one,” Sophie smiled at him. “Date of birth?”
“21st November… At least- at least I think so,” Arthur mumbled.
“You don’t know?” Sophie asked, surprised.
“I never really celebrated it, so…” he shrugged, clearly uncomfortable.
“Oh, right,” Sophie replied. She will have to remember the date and get Arthur something for his birthday. She still had a few weeks to get him the perfect gift. “And the year?”
“1946,” Arthur replied, letting out a small chuckle, “How does it feel to hang out with an old man?”
Sophie looked up at him, “What are you talking about? You’re just six years older than me!”
Arthur looked away. “Six years can make all the difference,” he said so quietly, Sophie almost didn’t hear him.
She didn’t know what to say to that, unsure what he even meant by that. With nothing more to add, she handed him the pen again, “Sign down on the line.” This time, he took the pen from her without hesitation, giving her a smile as if nothing happened.
“At least let me carry the bag for you, please?” Arthur pleaded outside of the library two hours later, but Sophie just laughed, shaking her head. “I am perfectly able to carry my own bag, even if there are two extra books in there,” she replied.
The books in questions were Arthur’s, or rather, what he picked from the library. He got himself Treasure Island, shyly admitting he liked that book as a child, and, surprisingly, a book about all various cat breeds, on which he timidly confessed that he always liked cats, but couldn’t get one since his mother was against having any pets.
“I know you are able to, Sophie, I just…” he shrugged, stuffing his hands in his pockets.
“You’re just the perfect gentleman,” Sophie finished for him.
“Don’t laugh at me,” he mumbled.
“I’m not laughing,” Sophie said, grabbing his arm, “It’s charming, actually.”
Arthur’s eyes were boring into hers and Sophie felt hot all over. How was he having such effect on her, she didn’t know. “We should… We should head home, if you need to be home by eight,” Sophie said breathlessly.
Arthur blinked slowly, as if her words didn’t really register, but then seemed to shake himself and nodded, “Right. Uh, can we stop by the pharmacy?”
Sophie waited by the exit, trying to give Arthur some privacy. He shuffled over to her at last, brown paper bag clutched in his hand. “All done,” he said, opening the door for her. They walked side by side in quiet, but for once it wasn’t awkward. Their apartment building was just around the block. Sophie finally relaxed. It seemed like Arthur enjoyed the afternoon and besides the strange comment about his age, it went mostly without a hitch. “Can I be honest with you?” Arthur asked all of sudden, stopping in his tracks. Suddenly he seemed hesitant, meek, almost defeated; his voice sounded all wrong. Sophie felt the contentedness slipping away, but smiled at Arthur encouragingly anyway. He started walking again slowly, seemingly trying to pick his words carefully. “I’m really grateful f-for yesterday, what you did for m-me. I will never be able to… to repay you for that.”
“You have nothing to-“ Sophie tried to stop him, because he really owed her nothing. She did what any decent human would do, even if her motivations might had been a little bit selfish, considering how she felt about Arthur.
“I do. And I really enjoyed today, but…” he trailed off. He wasn’t looking at her, hunched over. Even if his stuttering wouldn’t tip her off, his body language made it obvious to Sophie that he was distraught and nervous.
“But?” Sophie asked, breathless. She didn’t want to hear what followed; she was sure of that.
“I don’t… I don’t think we should be seeing each other anymore,” Arthur said quietly, his voice wobbly, as if he didn’t believe what he was saying. Sophie sure didn’t.
Arthur stopped, shrugged, let out a heavy sigh. “I went to see my social worker today. She, uh, she gives me my prescription.”
Sophie waited for him to follow, but when he said nothing for a moment, she stepped closer, putting hand on is arm. He tensed, but didn’t pull away. He looked at her from under his lashes and his eyes were wet. “Arthur… what’s going on?”
He shook the paper bag in his hand, letting out a harsh chuckle. “They cut the funding, hah! These, hahaha, these are the last meds she will give me. And – hahahaha – and,” he was gasping for breath now, trying to turn away from Sophie, but her hand on his arm stopped him. “This was the last time I saw her, actually, hahaha!”
Sophie had no idea what to tell him. She couldn’t believe the city would so something like that, although the piles of trash around them reminded her that this was Gotham, after all. Suddenly, he grabbed at her arms, just as he held her yesterday, but this time there was something urgent and chilling about it. Staring deep into her eyes, he said: “Without the pills, I’m… I, hah! I’m bad. I don’t want to hurt you, hahahah!”
“You won’t, Arthur!” Sophie opposed almost on autopilot, only distantly thinking you can’t know that. Her free hand clutched on the front of his jacket.
As if he heard her, he said: “You can’t, hah, you can’t know that! I’m a fucking freak,” he spat out, the swear word alien coming from him of all people.
“Don’t say that,” Sophie said, realising she was crying only when Arthur lifted his hand to carefully wipe the tears away. His hand was cold but soft on her cheek, and it shook slightly as it dropped away.
“But it’s true,” he whispered, even as Sophie shook her head, “There was never any happy end for me and if we’re both lucky, they will lock me up in Arkham before anything happens.”
Sophie couldn’t listen to him any longer. Her fingers curled where they laid on his jacket and she tugged at the same time as she moved forward, pressing her lips against Arthur’s. She felt him take a surprised breath through his nose, and his hands spasming her arms and for an amazing, glorious second, he returned the kiss…
But then he pushed her away with a wild look in his eyes, “What the hell?!”
Let me know what you think..?
That morning Arthur woke up with a start and uncomfortable stickiness in his pants. He threw his arm over his face and groaned quietly into the crook of his elbow. He lied on the couch for another minute, but then the mess in his pants started to cool down, and so he got up and shuffled awkwardly to the bathroom, holding the soiled fabric away from his sensitive skin awkwardly the whole way. Once the bathroom door closed behind him, he took off his pants and left them to soak in washbowl before stepping into the shower.
Despite his shame and best intentions, he couldn't stop his mind going back to the dream that caused all of this. It started innocently enough - as a replay of yesterday's evening scene, in Sophie's apartment, her curled up on her couch, Arthur sitting next to her, her hand on his. But in his twisted mind, the story took a different turn, and instead of getting up to fetch him a book, Sophie got up only to settle down in his lap, legs folded on both sides of his thighs, her arms around his neck and her fingers scratching softly through the hair on the nape of Arthur's neck. As if on their own, his hands settled on her hips and clutched as she leaned down to kiss him carefully and slowly, melting against him. Suddenly, the way it can happen only in a dream, she was just in her underwear, he still dressed, and her skin was impossibly warm and smooth, supple where his fingers dug in. She was panting against his neck, her hips moving frantically against his as he thrust up to meet her halfway. A whisper, then, barely a sound: "I love you, Arthur." and blinding brightness exploded against his eyelids, startling him awake.
With a painful stab somewhere in his chest, he realized that his vision was blurry with tears and that he was hard again. Arthur bit on his lip, taking deep breaths through his nose, trying to will his body into obedience, but once it was clear that he was too weak, his hand grabbed onto the water tap and pulled. High-pitched whimper left his throat as freezing cold water hit his torso and ran down where his erection showed his shame and dirtiness.
Arthur decided he won't let this ruin his day. Everything will be okay as long as he keeps himself in check. Sophie doesn't have to know how fucked up he truly is. It felt wrong, keeping something so important from her, but he knew he is much too weak to avoid her fully, and besides, he could only imagine her disgust if she knew how much he craves her. All he wanted was a friend - however his treacherous mind trying to twist that wish when he wasn't paying attention - and he will work hard to deserve Sophie's friendship. He missed Gary. They never had much time for each other, between work, Arthur's mother and Gary's young family, but the few times they hung out together made up significant part of Arthur's happy memories.
He recalled few of those with a smile as he was sitting in the hallway in front of his social worker's office. Thankfully, despite his unpleasant wake up, his determination from last night didn't waver, and he though he put together a rather nice list of reasons why the doctor really should take another look on his medications and adjust the dose accordingly. He had his journal, he was ready to talk about his tentative relationship with Sophie; he could do this, he could turn his life around.
"But... where will I get my medication?" Arthur heard himself say, sounding pathetic even to himself. Social worker's face didn't move at all, as if she was carved out of granite, her dark eyes boring into him, through him, as she started her rant about the city's higher ups. But Arthur could barely hear her as his mind caught up with the realization of what this really meant. His thoughts flashed to Arkham and its sterile white walls; then to Sophie in that dark alley, her face twisted with fear; his mother, frail and vulnerable in her armchair. His heart thudded painfully in his chest; he thought it will leap out any moment now.
"Arthur?" the voice roused him, pulled him away from his roaring mind, and he focused on the woman in front of him. Her eyes softened for split second, so fast he'd miss it if he blinked. "I'm sorry. There is nothing I can do for you. Good luck."
He walked through the city for hours, surrounded by piles of thrash, and maybe if he had the strength, he'd almost find it funny, but as it were, he barely registered his surroundings. He did the math quickly and he knew that this time ten days later, he won't be himself anymore. Or rather, he will be his real self, and that was even worse. He wanted to come up with a plan, mostly concerning his mother's wellbeing once he won't be... available, but his mind kept flicking back to Sophie and the afternoon they were supposed to spend together. He knew he should just cancel, to just not open the door when she knocks, but the dark, needy part of him knew he won't be able to do that. That part of him wanted this, wanted whatever she will give him, even if it was just one afternoon to hold close to his heart for the rest of his miserable, insane existence. He will take this selfishly for himself, clutch it with his veiny hands and won't let go. And then, once the day will be over, he will just tell her the truth, he will watch her eyes widen in horror, and will watch her back away from him subconsciously in fear, and his heart will break, but... It will be for the better, for her own safety and his own sake of mind.
Sophie's body slotted perfectly against his as her lips moved against his own. His eyes slipped shut and his body knew what to do and he moved with her as naturally as breathing, and for a moment, everything made sense.
But this wasn't what was supposed to happen, and even as some primal part of him screamed at him to continue, he knew he couldn't and he pushed Sophie away - careful, always careful with her - and stared at her in shock. "What the hell?!" he yelped and she flinched, her head still tilted up and ready for another brush of lips... She kissed him. He just told her to stay away, to stay safe and she just... He felt the familiar tightness in his throat and for once he just let it happen, too tired to fight the laughter spilling from deep inside of him. He could see her wringing her hands together nervously through his blurry vision. Gulping in air, he croaked: "Did you even, hah, listen to me?" She moved her arms, wanting to grab for him, but he took a few stumbling steps back, evading her. "You can't- hahah- can't do that. Why would you- I just told you- Are you crazy?!"
The street was bathed in orange glow as the sun started setting over Gotham, and it made Sophie's skin golden and the frown on her face more pronounced, the tears on her cheeks shiny as diamonds. Arthur would think it was just another hallucination, but even his imagination couldn't come up with something so beautiful and yet so haunting.
"Arthur, it's okay, we can-"
"It's not! It won't be! There is no 'we'!" he exclaimed, his voice scratchy. She was shaking her head, not understanding, and he had enough all of sudden. "Just leave me alone!" he whimpered, turning on his heel quickly, striding towards their apartment building. He didn't turn to check if she followed, hoped she didn't, he just wanted to lock the door, sit on his couch, watch Murray Franklin and pretend none of this ever happened.
He didn't hear her footsteps behind him, but he doubted he could over the impossibly loud thudding in his ears. He wiped his tears away. His lungs started to burn - the fast pace he adopted too much on them right after his laughing fit - but he didn't slow down, rounding the corner. He noticed the flashing blue lights, but paid them no attention, since they were as natural to Gotham as its dirty streets. But this time, it was different, he realized. It was an ambulance, not a police car, and it was standing in front of his apartment building. Just as he walked around it, the building's door opened and paramedics spilled out, pushing a stretcher between them. And on the stretcher - no, it can't be, Arthur thought, immediately rushing to them.
He didn't notice Sophie standing just a few meters from him, hands covering her mouth in shock, and then the ambulance's door closed and it sped off towards hospital, and nothing else mattered.
Arthur held in the cigarette smoke until his lungs burned before letting it out slowly, watching it swirl in the blue glow of the hospital lights. He didn't know how long he was sitting here, but he thought this was his third cigarette; it didn't matter anyway. His mother had a stroke, doctors didn't know what will happen and he had ten days of sanity left. He smirked as he recalled Twelve Days of Christmas and imagined what his song would be about. Arthur snorted, smoke billowing from his nose, and as it cleared, he noticed two pairs of shoes in front of him. The men wearing them looked strangely menacing.
He couldn't feel much except from dull throb of anger dampened by his medication once the policemen admitted that they're the reason his mother is in the hospital. That's probably why he didn't fully understand what they're asking him the first time they tried.
"Sorry?" he asked, trying to sit up straighter.
"We asked if you know anything about shooting on a train. Three gentlemen came to the station to report that they were attacked by a man with a gun. The man was wearing a clown costume. Do you know anything about it?"
"Did something happen to them? Were they hurt?" Arthur asked, panicking. He forgot all about what happened on the train, to be honest. He didn't think he hurt any of them, but what if he did? He didn't mean to, was just trying to make them stop...
"Arthur, here you are!"
He turned his head towards the sound, astonished to see Sophie walking to him quickly. He must be hallucinating, none of this could possibly be real. The policemen, Sophie finding him here, his mother in that imposing hospital bed...
"Miss Dumond, greetings," the younger policeman said to Sophie and Arthur frowned. Do they know each other? Sophie seemed to take their presence in stride, frowning at both of them: "Why are you here? His mother is in the hospital, what could possibly be so urgent that you can't leave him alone?" The older man lifted his hands in a calming gesture: "We just need to talk to Mr. Fleck. As we were just asking him, we wonder if he knows anything about three young men being attacked on the train by a clown with a gun." Sophie looked at Arthur, the realization clear on her face. The policemen didn't miss it, but before they could say anything, Arthur stood up and turned to Sophie: "You knew about this? About them?" He hated how pathetic he sounded, like a child that just got scolded.
"Arthur..." she started, trying to grab his hand, but he didn't let her.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"There wasn't really a time-"
"Now, if you both calmed down, we still need to get your statement," the younger policeman interjected.
Arthur felt like fainting, but he didn't have that much luck; he just started laughing. The policemen looked at each other, the older man muttering: "I guess we got our guy," while the younger one frowned, "Is this some kind of clown thing, this laughter of yours?"
"A clown thing?!" Sophie snarled, "Are you serious? Where did you get your training, is this how you talk to people?!"
"Miss, he is a suspect-"
"There is no suspect without a crime!" she retorted.
"He threatened people with a gun," the older man replied, his patience obviously thinning. Arthur felt as if he was watching a movie, completely removed from what was happening in front of him as his laughter died off gradually.
"He defended himself, they attacked him!"
"Were you there, Miss Dumond?"
"Mr. Fleck, if you could-"
"I'm going to my mother, I need to take care of her" Arthur replied flatly, "Clearly you don't need me here."
Flicking the cigarette butt away, he walked right into the door.
On the first day of my downfall
universe gave to me
one really bad day...
. . .
"Seems to me that you are having some arguments..." the walrus-looking man said.
"I don't see how that's any of your business," Sophie snapped. She wanted to go after Arthur, to give him some support, to be there for him...
This day was going so horribly wrong. Why did she kiss Arthur? Well, she knew why she did that and couldn't really regret it, but... Clearly, he didn't want her the same way she wanted him, and she just scared him away in a moment where all he needed was her understanding. And the policemen! She completely forgot to tell Arthur about them and now he must think she kept it from him on purpose. She needs to find a way to fix it.
"I want to give my statement," she said decisively.
"If you weren't there, then-"
"I was there after. I saw Arthur - Mr. Fleck - in the hallway of our apartment building. He was clearly in shock, bloody and hurt. I took him to my place and cleaned his multiple wounds. While I did that, he explained what happened."
"And what, according to him, happened?"
"He was on the train when he got one of his laughing fits. By the way," she glared, "It is not a joke. He has a medical condition, isn't able to control it. As far as I know, it's a reaction to stress." The policemen seemed a bit ashamed, good. "Those gentlemen you speak about apparently found a great fun in attacking innocent, ill man, kicking and punching him repeatedly. He only fired the gun - which his co-worker gave him - in self-defence."
The policemen looked dubious, but didn't say anything. The younger one was jotting something in his notebook.
"Now, let me guess," Sophie said, "The guys are rich, in nice suits, so obviously they are the good guys, right? It will look all proper and dandy on your record if you do them a favour, huh? Well, I don't know what they think they can get from Arthur if this gets to court, but I sure as hell won't make it easy for them!"
The older detective frowned at her, "And how exactly would you want to do that if I may ask?"
"First of all, I'm getting Mr. Fleck a lawyer, and next time you want to talk to him, the lawyer has to be present. Have a good night," she finished, striding purposefully towards the hospital's entrance. She only hoped they won't dare to follow her inside to get to Arthur, because then she would probably need a lawyer for herself as well.
She wasn't very familiar with the hospital, and so it took her nearly twenty minutes before she located the cafeteria - grabbing a cup of tea and coffee - and then the room where Arthur's mother was. She had to lie about being his girlfriend to get any information at all, but she already messed up so badly today, this would hardly make any difference in the long run.
The room's door was open and it was quiet. When she peeked inside, she first saw Penny asleep or unconscious on the bed. By the wall, on uncomfortable looking double seat chair, was Arthur. His elbows rested on his thighs, his head bowed deeply, his curls obscuring his face from view. He didn't seem to notice her, until she asked: "Do you want tea or coffee? I got both," in a soft voice. She hoped he won't kick her out, but wouldn't be surprised if he did.
He straightened, then leaned back against the wall, looking at her with narrow eyes, as if he was deciding what punishment did she deserve. Finally, he sighed and it seemed all fight left his body at once. "Tea, please. Can't drink coffee, messes with my... yeah." She handed it to him wordlessly, sitting next to him. She sipped on the coffee carefully, mulling over what to say to him. He was quicker.
"Why?" he just asked, not looking at her.
"Why... what?" she asked, uncertain. It was a loaded question with million possible meanings.
Arthur seemed to take his time to pick one. "Why didn't you tell me about the policemen? You knew about them, right?"
"I met them only yesterday, they were looking for you. I wanted to tell you, but you were getting ready for Pogo's and..." She knew she has to be honest with him, but the truth was so embarrassing after his rejection, that she still hesitated, too proud to admit her motivations. But it had to be done, he deserved as much. "I thought you are going on a date, what with the clothes and all... I got jealous and it threw me for a loop and I got side-tracked. Then you invited me to the show and after there wasn't really a good time..."
Arthur snorted, "Me going on a date, sure, sounds believable," but didn't say anything else, obviously expecting her to continue.
"And today, I just wanted to... I just wanted to make you happy, do something nice for you. If I knew they are coming again so soon... I'm so sorry, Arthur," Sophie said softly.
"Why are you here?" his voice was flat, emotionless. Scary.
"You shouldn't be alone. I know you don't want to see me, but you shouldn't be alone. If you want me to call someone else-"
"There is no one else," he said bitterly.
She didn't know what else to say. Arthur didn't look at her once since he started talking, didn't even take a sip of the tea, nothing. Maybe she'd prefer if he yelled at her, threw her out, at least she'd know for sure...
"Why did you kiss me?" his voice was soft, barely a whisper.
Sophie closed her eyes in shame, knowing she was turning scarlet. It seemed cruel, to make her say it. It was so obvious, after all, why can't she keep her dignity? He already rejected her once today, she couldn't bear it again. "You know why," she mumbled.
He was quiet for a moment, before chuckling, "I'm just not sure if... if it's some sort of joke I don't understand or just a pity for a sick loner."
"Is that really what you think of me?" Sophie asked, hating how wobbly her voice was.
Arthur must have heard the emotions in her voice, because he finally turned to her. His bright eyes were cold, but the longer he stared at her, the softer his gaze got. He shrugged, glancing away from her, "No, but... what else could it be?"
Sophie, kind of absurdly, wondered if Penny could hear them.
"Nobody ever kissed me before," Arthur said, "And I don't see why you would want to. Especially considering... well, everything, really."
"Your first kiss..?" Sophie wondered aloud.
He snorted, "I don't get why are you surprised."
"Ugly? Creepy? A freak? I heard it all before, no need to tell me," he sounded so calm. He really believed that, didn't he?
"I wanted to say kind," Sophie said, grabbing his hand. This time he didn't jerk away like he did outside of the hospital. "And charming. Funny. Handsome, Arthur, please," her heart broke as he started shaking his head, clearly not believing a word she said.
She put her palm on his cheek, turning his face towards her. "I wish you could see yourself as I see you," she said quietly, leaning towards him slowly, giving him time to back up if he wanted to. She hoped he won't. "I really like you, Art. I think I might be actually fall-" He silenced her with his lips pressed against hers, his hands scrambling to grab at her jaw and neck and he held her so carefully as if he was afraid she'd break. She whimpered and he pulled back, his eyes searching hers, before he dove right back in, brushing his lips softly against her own. She could actually feel him thrumming with need, but she herself wasn't doing much better, wishing he'd deepen the kiss and allow her to taste him.
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. "Erm, sorry to disturb you, but visiting hours end in fifteen minutes," said the nurse without going in, disappearing as quickly as she showed up, but Arthur and Sophie already jumped apart, embarrassment hitting both of them like a hammer.
Sophie watched as Arthur carefully brushed Penny's hair away from her face, before pressing a quick kiss against her pale forehead. He stood by the bed quietly for a moment, before Sophie took his hand, gave it a squeeze and pulled him from the room.
Arthur hesitated in front of the elevator. "Come to my place?" Sophie asked, already leading him down the hallway. She felt as if they did this a thousand times already - her leading him forward and into her home, him following without a protest - but it didn't feel wrong, so she refused to dwell on that dynamic. Maybe that's just how it was supposed to be between them. The door locked behind them with a click.
"Do you want anything to eat?" Sophie asked him, but the way he was staring absently at the floor suggested that he could hardly think of anything, much less food. As if on cue, he shook his head. "You can- I mean, you can go to your place, if you'd rather-"
"No," he stopped her, hint of panic in his voice. "You were r-right. I don't want to be alone today."
"Okay," she said softly, relieved. She walked over to him, rubbing at his arm as she led him towards the couch. "What do you want me to do, Arthur? How can I help you?"
"I don't... I don't know," he mumbled.
She regarded him quietly for a moment, before she sat down on the couch and pulled him to sit next to her. She turned on the TV, lowering the volume until it was just a soft background noise. Then, she tugged at his arm, trying to get him to lie down. He looked at her, confused. "Can I touch you? Do you trust me?" she asked quietly, not wanting to disturb the cocoon of closeness around them. Arthur nodded, his eyes impossibly big, and Sophie couldn't help but press a kiss against his hair, tugging at him arms again. "Lie down, c'mon, put your feet up."
Arthur did so, rather awkwardly and tensely, but at last he was lying on the couch, his head in her lap, facing the TV. She rested one hand on his shoulder, the other brushing through his hair absently, combing through his tangled curls. Gradually, Arthur relaxed, his body going pliant; Sophie thought he dozed off. But then Live With Murray Franklin came on the TV and Arthur was suddenly moving, turning around, his arms snaking around her waist as he pressed his face against her abdomen, crying. Sophie could only hold him and rub at his back soothingly, as he trembled and sobbed himself to sleep.
Arthur woke up gradually. First, he noticed that he was rather cold, especially where his shirt and sweater rode up and exposed his back. Then, he realized his left arm is completely asleep and that he can't feel it. When he tried to lift his head, he realized there is a hand resting in his hair - he opened his eyes with a start and came face to face with... Sophie's sweater-covered belly. He sighed, long and hard, before indulging himself and pushing his face against the soft material of her sweater with embarrassingly needy whimper. As he breathed in the scent of her laundry detergent, he could feel a familiar tug in his abdomen. He screwed his eyes shut; not here, not now, please. As if she could sense what a disgusting thing was happening, Sophie stirred, waking from her own slumber, her fingers spasming in Arthur's hair, before resuming the combing motion they followed as Arthur was falling asleep god knows how many hours before.
"How do you feel?" she whispered into the silence of the room.
Arthur felt like shit, not just because of the general circumstances, but more acutely because now he was half hard, and every time Sophie's fingers scratched over his skin, he could feel his ability to keep himself in check crumbling away more and more. But he didn't tell her that, no. "Better," he mumbled, "Can't feel my arm, though."
"Oh, sorry," she said, leaning forward - basically curling herself around his head - and only then he realized his arm was wrapped around her waist the whole time. Arthur could feel himself turning crimson and moved his leg in a most likely futile attempt to hide his erection that was now pressing insistently against the fly of his pants. He pulled his arm awkwardly towards his chest.
"It's only one in the morning," Sophie said with a huff, "Let's go to bed, both our necks will kill us tomorrow if we stay here."
Arthur froze, both at the mention of bed and at the idea of standing up in his... state. Under his head, Sophie wiggled impatiently. "C'mon, get up, sleepyhead," she teased with a soft voice.
His arm was prickling uncomfortably as feeling returned into it, in tempo with the pounding in his head. "I-I can't," he said at last.
Her other hand was now on his arm, the one that he could feel, and was rubbing up and down distractingly. Arthur couldn't remember the last time anyone touched him this much. What he could remember was the impossible feeling of being touch-starved; the feeling that drowned out everything else early in the morning when he lied wide awake on the couch, his own arms wrapped around him in a parody of loving hug; the feeling of his skin stretching so tight he thought it would tear open any moment; the feeling of coldness, and despair, and all-consuming loneliness. That feeling was familiar to him - more than that, it was an inseparable part of him. But someone touching him, and without inflicting any pain at that? It was foreign, almost scary, and he hated it as much as he craved it; wholeheartedly, with his whole being.
"Why?" Sophie asked, oblivious to the storm raging in Arthur's head.
God, he will have to say it, admit it, and she will tell him to leave her apartment and then! "I am- I got... excited," he spat out finally, wanting to curl in on himself, but that would mean curling around Sophie and that - that can never happen.
Her hands stilled on his body with a soft oh. "And that's... is that a problem?" she asked, absurdly. He remembered his mother's steely gaze as she cursed him out every time she noticed what his body was doing, not caring about his excuses and pleading that he did not want this to happen, it just did.
"You can say I disgust you," he said, wondering why she is making him say and admit all this.
She was silent, for a moment, as if she had to think it through. "Arthur, I'm not disgusted, okay?" she retorted at last, "It's completely natural, you know that, right?"
He didn't. It wasn't.
"It happens to men regularly when they are asleep or just woke up."
"It's not that," he said, cringing, yet trying to hide his face against her belly again, "It's- you. Because of you."
"Sorry," he yelped, trying to pull back, not sure why he didn’t just let her go with her original assumption.
"Arthur, look at me," she said softly.
Reluctantly, he turned over to his back, his knees drawn up to preserve at least a sense of modesty, forcing his eyes to meet hers. She looked tired and otherworldly, bathed only in the low light of the lamp next to the couch. He wasn't sure what he expected, but it surely wasn't her leaning down over him somewhat awkwardly due to their position, and pressing a chaste kiss against his lips. When she pulled back, he couldn't help but throw his forearm against his face in embarrassment. She laid her hand on his chest, surely able to feel how his breath caught at that. He could never in his wildest dreams imagine such a sweet torture. "I like it that you are attracted to me. I am attracted to you, too," she said, as easily as if she was commenting on weather. He stared at her in disbelief. “Now let’s go to bed,” she said and this time, he listened, even though he shuffled awkwardly after her, shielding his crotch with his hands. She changed into sweatpants and a loose t-shirt in bathroom, he took off his sweater, and together they crawled under the covers, the night silent around them.
Next time he woke up, everything was much different. He was warm, tucked up to his chin under a soft blanket. His left arm was okay now, but the right one was starting to get pins and needles, most likely because Sophie was using it as a pillow. There was a light coming into the room through flowy curtains, and he didn’t wake up on his own, but because Sophie was trying to change her position slowly and carefully, where she was lying in his arms, her back pressed in one hot line against his front, their legs tangled together. She seemed so small, tucked against him like this, and Arthur wished he could shield her from the world forever. Arthur was sure he was still sleeping, having the most amazing dream.
“Good morning,” he whispered at last into her hair, which smelled faintly of green apples.
“Morning,” she said back, “Did I wake you?”
“Mhmm, I don’t mind,” he replied, feeling oddly at peace, her hair tickling his face as he nuzzled into it more, until his nose met the skin of her neck. He was pleasantly warm and his mind was floating miles above Gotham. He brushed his nose against Sophie’s neck, inhaling as he did so, before pressing a soft kiss right under her ear.
“Arthur,” Sophie murmured, tilting her head a bit, exposing more of her neck. Arthur abruptly realized what he was doing and pulled back, “Sorry, I don’t know why I did that!”
“Please, do it again,” Sophie said, her voice shaky. Arthur hesitated. He knew what she said yesterday, but… “Artie, please.”
She sounded so… needy, and he could resist no more, pressing his lips where they were just seconds ago; she shivered against him, her back arching – he dug his fingers in a bit where they were resting against her belly. The skin of her neck was warm and satin soft as he dragged his mouth slowly from her ear, down to where her neck met the shoulder and back up, his breath shaky as he tasted her languidly; Arthur never had a dream so vivid. She lifted her arm then, twisting it to sink her fingers into his hair, keeping his head against her neck; with a start, he realized that the sounds he was hearing was coming from her, in form of breathy, quiet whimpers. She turned her head suddenly, mashing their lips together and he inhaled, surprised, before melting into it, kissing her back as passionately as he dared – which was, admittedly, not that much – his hand on her belly pulling her closer against him. He couldn’t focus on anything else but Sophie, soft and solid in his hold; he gasped as he realized what she was allowing him to do. She used that moment to slip her tongue between his lips, deep enough to brush against his own and oh. He tried to kiss her again, but she was smiling, wide and happy, and he couldn’t help but mirror the smile as she giggled breathlessly.
She turned onto her back then, before pulling him atop of her with urgent, “Up, up!” until he complied, feeling both elated and completely lost, until her legs wrapped around his hips, anchoring him against her. Her hand slid against his neck, pulling him into another kiss; this time he welcomed the intrusion of her tongue, trying to match what she did with it. He was holding himself up on his forearm planted next to head, his other hand resting against her waist, her skin impossibly warm where her t-shirt rode up. Even though her lips were heavenly, Arthur nuzzled back against her neck, kissing every inch he could reach, his hips rolling against hers on their own volition as she writhed against him, her legs like vice around his body, her hands scrambling over his shoulders and back. Her quiet moans were constant in his ears now and he grinded against her, dirty and slow, effortlessly as if he did it a hundred times before, his hand sliding up her ribs until the tips of his fingers bumped the underside of her breast. “Yesss,” she hissed, and Arthur threw away all his uncertainties, pressing his palm against the soft mould fully, daring to knead it as he brushed the peaky nipple with his thumb. Suddenly, he was coming, blindsided by his orgasm as he ground his hips against her two, three more times before he sagged against her, bone deep tired all of sudden.
If this was a dream, he’d had woken up by now.
. . .
Artur’s lips were hot on Sophie’s neck, right over her most sensitive spot that always drove her crazy; his hardness was grinding against her core, sending jolts of pleasure up her spine; his sudden boldness deeply erotic; his warm palm finally found her breast and his thumb her oversensitive nipple – when suddenly Arthur tensed up before sagging as if he was a puppet whose strings were cut. She was still panting, on edge of her own orgasm, as his own hard breaths tickled her ear. She hoped she might coax him into finishing what he started so unexpectedly, but then he started shaking, strangled “Oh God,” escaped him, and she knew right away what was coming.
“Shhh, it’s okay,” she cooed, rubbing his back, her legs still wrapped around him, as he tried to muffle his laughter where he pressed insistent kisses just moments before. If it was anyone else, she’d be mad she didn’t get a happy end, but with Arthur – kind, shy, vulnerable and hurting Arthur – she found herself not minding at all. It was a small miracle, she thought, he was so daring this morning, when just few hours ago, he was ashamed about his erection and even more about the fact she was the cause of it. But if she had to wait 34 years for her first kiss, well… He had a lot of catching up to do. She just wished Arthur would let himself enjoy it, instead of succumbing into another laughing fit.
“Please, don’t be mad at me,” Arthur mumbled against her neck finally, once he calmed down.
“I’m not mad at you, Art,” Sophie said. She wondered, briefly, if it’s always going to be like this with him. She knew it wouldn’t be easy, but she was constantly surprised how much he seemed to put himself down. Convincing him that he deserves good things is going to be tremendous work, and Sophie was kind of worried if she will be able to handle it. She wanted to try, though. “But next time, I will show you how to return the favour.”
Arthur lifted his head abruptly, his face scrunched up adorably in confusion, his hair flopping wildly over his forehead. “Next time?”
“Yes, next time,” Sophie said with a smile, “Now go home and change before you get uncomfortable, we’ll have breakfast here together in twenty minutes, okay?”
“Okay…” he mumbled, picking himself up slowly. But then he stopped, still perched over her. His gaze was suddenly intense, focused solely on her; thrill run through Sophie’s body at Arthur’s scrutiny. He leaned down then, kissing her hotly and with a hint of tongue, before pulling back with a soft smile. “Thank you,” he murmured, “I’ll be right back.”
It's truly a Chrismas miracle, new chapter is up! I was almost worried the day would never come, but here we are! Not really plot heavy, but I sure hope you'll forgive me for this... uh, character study! I hope you liked it! As always, I love aaaaall of your comments and kudos!
As a side note, I'd like to wish everyone happy holidays :)
And, in shameless display of self promo, other than one smutty Arthur x reader, I wrote another Arthur x Sophie story, which is also heavily focused on Carnival, because I love him and want to give him all the hugs. It's kind of angsty, but has a happy end, so if that's your cup of tea, give it a chance. Read Hidden in Plain Sight here.