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Tear Me To Pieces

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And they say, "I saw the Devil with a smilin' face"
I wanna be where the shotguns spray
Where God gets high and the priests don't pray

 


 

 

How did I get roped into this? Sure, I was broke and kind of desperate for money, but I didn't know if I wanted to stoop this low to make some decent cash. Okay, yeah, it's not like I was working the street corner or anything. 

 

But catering? 

 

I had worked as a waitress before but only if you count a four hour shift during a Friday dinner rush at an Outback Steakhouse. It only took a table of douchebags who complained about everything in hopes of a free meal and an unruly toddler who deposited his mac and cheese right on my brand new shoes to convince me that waitressing just wasn't for me. I didn't care about the promise of great tips. Nothing was worth that kind of hell. 

 

So I guess the old saying about choosing beggars is wrong. Or at least it was before I moved out of the comfortable lifestyle of relying on my parents to help me financially. I was from a small town, one of the countless suburbs outside of Gotham and at 19, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted. 

 

Be on my own, find a job in some hip coffee shop and maybe meet one of those obscenely wealthy men. We'd fall in love, he'd whisk me off to Paris, propose under the Arc de Triomphe and I'd have my happily ever after. Well, it's been three and a half years and I'm no closer to that fantasy than I was the day I moved out. 

 

What I was close to was eviction. Which meant my previous attitude toward choosing beggars was no longer valid. I was currently complaining to myself as I tried to close the gap between the two buttons of my white, uniform shirt. Of course, at such short notice, I'd been only able to borrow a white button-down from my friend and temporary coworker, Abby. Her chest was nowhere near as...well, for lack of a better word, ample as mine was. It was a curse, not a blessing as I'd been told all my life. Don't let them lie to you. Big tits were far more trouble than they're worth.

 

I blew out a frustrated sigh and looked up at my reflection in the  bathroom mirror. It was almost funny how ill-prepared I was to do this job. I would be required to balance trays of fancy hors d'oeuvres and weave in and out of a crowd of ultra-wealthy elites when I could barely even get my damn shirt buttoned. It was official. I was a mess.

 

At the door, a knock made me jump and I smoothed my hair back, hoping the catering company didn't frown upon the bun I'd thrown it up in. I had tried to make it a fancy bun by tying a red ribbon around it with a bow. With a deep breath, I wrenched the door open and let it out a sigh at Abby's smirking face. She leaned a shoulder against the doorframe and looked down at my attire. "Hey, you clean up well, Jacobs."

 

I rolled my eyes and pointed to the open gap right where my chest stretched the fabric the most. "Yeah, real nice."

 

Abby laughed and pulled me by my elbow out of the bathroom and into the main foyer of the penthouse suite. The caterers had arrived an hour before the party was scheduled to begin to get everything ready. As waitresses, Abby and I were responsible for one thing and one thing only: not dropping our trays. 

 

She'd given me the rundown earlier in the day. Smile, be friendly, only speak when spoken to and whatever we do, do not drop our trays. Which only made me more nervous. I wouldn't say I was a klutz, but I had my fair share of trips and falls in my life. And when I had a ball of nerves in my stomach as big as the entire city of Gotham, anything was possible. 

 

Looping her arm around my elbow, she steered me through the entrance of the suite, around a sleek, black wall, and into the ultra, modern kitchen. A team of chefs were busy preparing the bite-sized treats and they barely looked up at us as we weaved around the sleek, marble island in the middle of the room.

 

Abby plucked one of the treats from a pan, ignoring the glares from the chefs, and popped it into her mouth. "Don't look so worried, Nat." 

 

"Easy for you to say." 

 

I sighed and followed her to a small room, possibly an office though for now it was designated for the crates of champagne and catering supplies. She turned to glance back at me with an arch of her slender brow. "How so?"

 

"You're used to this. Rich and famous people don't intimidate you anymore."

 

"That's because I don't let them. They're just people, Nat. They all pick their noses and they all shit just like us." 

 

I crossed my arms over my chest and watched her rummage through the tiny, black purse she had carried in with her. She plucked something out of one of the inside zipper pouches and turned to face me. A little silver needle caught the light and I took a step back away from her. With a scowl, she pulled me closer and took my shirt in her fingers. 

 

"Look, just concentrate on keeping that tray from spilling and by the time these assholes are all drunk, we'll sneak away and drink their fancy champagne in the closet." She winked and secured the gap in my shirt with the safety pin she'd conjured from her purse. Once she was finished, the pin well hidden, I looked down to admire her work. 

 

"Thanks," I mumbled, smoothing my hand down the front of the shirt. "I could use some of that champagne right now, I think."

 

"Yeah right. You'd be stumbling around like a drunk after one glass. You know you're a lightweight." 

 

I rolled my eyes and turned as she made her way back into the kitchen, grinning at me from over her shoulder. "You're never going to let me forget it, are you? I told you a thousand times, I'd never drank tequila before."

 

There was no way in hell I was going to be able to defend myself. Especially not in front of the snooty chefs still preparing their little pastry puffs and caviar crackers that probably cost more than a month's rent for me. They eyed us as we crossed back to the foyer and found the other waiters and waitresses waiting for the host to come out and greet us. As we waited, Abby ducked her head toward me.

 

"There's no chance in hell I'll let you forget it. You flashed the bartender and tried to get the cop's phone number--"

 

I waved a hand at her. "Alright, alright. I've heard the story thank you very much. Let's just get this night over with."

 

Abby straightened as an older gentleman, already dressed in a classy tux introduced himself as Bruce Wayne's butler. He was at the front of the room and we kept our distance at the back of the crowd. As he thanked us all for being so professional, Abby leaned down toward me with a smirk. "Just think of that cash you're gonna get."

 

I looked down at her rubbing her thumb and first two fingers together and rolled my eyes with a smile. Why else would I be wearing this shirt that was a size too small for my chest, uncomfortable Mary Jane's, and pantyhose? The cash was literally the only thing keeping me from bolting out the door. That and the threats I'd received from my roommate earlier that morning about paying my half of the rent.

 

I straightened and looked at the older gentleman as he informed us that we could use the bathroom in the back hall, as the main two restrooms would be for guests. His voice was friendly, accented and calming to listen to. Still, I couldn't help my thoughts drift off as he talked. 

 

Maybe tonight would be the night that fantasy would come true. With all the millionaires in attendance, maybe I'd attract at least one of them. Hell, Bruce Wayne might even fall in love with me and offer to move me into his penthouse. The thought was laughable and I ducked my head to stare down at the scuff marks on my Mary Jane's. 

 

All I had to do was get through the next five hours. By midnight, I'd be four hundred dollars richer and not facing eviction. And to think, all I would have to do was smile and balance food on a silver platter for it. Hopefully, I'd get through the night in one piece, snag me a millionaire, and pay my half of the rent.

.

.

The party was in full swing by 7:45, though no one had seen Mr. Wayne yet. Calling him Bruce felt too informal like I wasn't allowed. I hadn't spoken to a single soul aside from Abby and the other members of the wait staff since the party started. Not like I actually believe I would see or talk to him, but hey, a girl can always dream right? 

 

What I had expected out of the night, was not what happened. Abby had been right. These were just people and I had no reason to be nervous around them. Mostly because I had no time and they basically saw me as a floating tray of champagne flutes and caviar. No one looked me in the eye, no one offered a thanks when they snatched up the goodies I was carrying. 

 

But like I said, I really didn't have time to care. 

 

As soon as one tray was emptied, I was right back in the kitchen to reload another and get back out there. And let me tell you, the uber-wealthy of Gotham city absolutely loved these tiny puff pastries. I didn't know what was in them, nor did I care. It must have been something equivalent to crack judging by how many they shoveled in their mouths. The more champagne they drank, the more they ate.

 

The only time of the night I did get a break, to stand at the edge of the kitchen, quiet as a mouse, was when Bruce Wayne did finally arrive. I couldn't see him through the crowd, but had heard the whispers from the group of women near me that it was him. He made his spiel about Harvey Dent, giving him a glowing declaration of support and as soon as the applause picked up, I was on the move again. 

 

Half an hour later, Abby found me in the crowd. Her tray was empty and mine was getting close. Only two more champagne glasses to go. She eyed it with a quick glance and steered me back to the kitchen. "C'mon," she said with a sly smirk. "We get our break now."

 

Once we had disappeared from the crowd, she took my remaining champagne glasses and handed one to me. "Cheers!" 

 

She downed it in one quick gulp and I did the same, glancing cautiously to the entrance of the kitchen just in case someone would see. Would Mr. Wayne get upset if he caught us drinking the champagne he paid for? Thankfully, no one caught us and I was able to gulp the entire contents in two swallows.

 

Abby glanced over her shoulder and dipped a hand into the opening of her shirt. When she pulled it back out, she had a small, rolled paper tube between her fingers. My eyes lit up and flickered up to meet hers. "A joint? Where did you get that?" 

 

She ushered me into the room we had been using as a supply closet and shut the door behind us. A simple shrug of her shoulders made me arch my brow in suspicion and Abby rolled her eyes. "You never let me have any fun. Brad gave it to me."

 

"Brad? The head waiter? Wouldn't we get in trouble?"

 

Abby pinched the end of the joint between her lips and pulled a lighter from her pocket. She spoke out of the corner of her lips before clicking the flame on. "How else do you think we get through these things?" 

 

She took a deep drag and held it in before passing it to me. It wasn't like I hadn't ever smoked weed before. When I first moved to Gotham, it was my favorite way to pass the time. But it got more expensive the less money I got and I hadn't had a chance to partake in quite a while. My tolerance would be low after the past eight months without it. 

 

But as she held the joint out to me, blowing the smoke from her face, I figured what the hell. Half the people out there were drunk, probably had their own drugs hidden up their sleeves as well, and would never notice one measly joint shared between two people in a closet. I held it to my lips and took a drag, much bigger than I had intended. 

 

Abby nodded with a grin. "Hell yeah! That's what I'm talking about." She took another drag and I blew mine out with a giggle.

 

For the next ten minutes, we passed it back and forth while impersonating all the snooty people we'd encountered so far. As she finished up a particular scathing impression of one of the ladies out in the party, I laughed and hung my head. 

 

"You know," I started, feeling quite buzzed from the champagne and weed, even as low quality as it was. "I had this fantasy or whatever that I'd meet some millionaire tonight and he'd fly me to Paris and I'd live happily ever after." 

 

Abby snorted and shook her head. "I've thought about that so many times at events like this. It never happens."

 

"It'll happen to you faster than it'd happen to me." I didn't know whether it was the weed or champagne that made me feel so down on myself. "You practically look like you fit in already."

 

"Oh, shut up." She set the joint down on one of the crates of champagne and stood from her seat to lean toward me. "You're gorgeous, you just have to tweak your look a bit."

 

Before I could stop her, she pulled at the strings of the ribbon and loosened the bun on top of my head. My hair fell around my shoulders and I blinked down at the dark, messy strands. Abby circled behind me to comb her fingers through my hair, dragging it all over to my left shoulder. She twisted the elastic band back around it to make a side ponytail and tied the ribbon back into a bow. 

 

"Here," she said, holding out a tube of lip gloss over. "Use this."

 

I was much more compliant with her demands when I was tipsy and feeling nice and buzzed from the weed. No argument at all from me, which was rare. But my usual standoffish attitude had been dulled by drugs and I pulled the applicator from the tube with a slick pop that made me wrinkle my nose. The gloss was sheer, with a hint of pink hue and I spread it across my bottom lip before rubbing them together. 

 

Abby moved in front of me once more and scoffed. "How are you going to get a millionaire sugar daddy with your shirt buttoned all the way to your neck. Gotta show them some of the goods, Nat."

 

I stared down at her fingers as she released the top two buttons of my shirt, which should have been enough and honestly, at the moment, I wasn't too concerned about. But she went one lower and my cleavage shown out from beneath the camisole I was wearing beneath it. "I can't show this much! They'll think I'm like a floozy or something."

 

"No one under the age of 65 says floozy anymore. And no one is going to care. These guys want to see some cleavage."

 

My breasts never had any place in my fantasy of meeting my future millionaire husband, but then again, maybe that's why it was still a fantasy and not reality. I only wish I had worn my nice, lacy bra instead of the one I had picked up at Walmart the last time I went home. Which was a year ago. This bra had been through it, but it was comfy and I didn't exactly expect anyone to see it tonight. 

 

Abby put a glass of champagne in my hands and clinked hers against it with a smirk. She knocked hers back and I sipped, not wanting to risk tripping over my own feet and spilling a tray of food on some wealthy woman's designer dress. I didn't have the luxury of waiting for Mr. Millionaire to notice me tonight. I had rent to pay by tomorrow.

 

I opened my mouth to speak but was abruptly cut off by the sound of a blast from the party. My first guess was that someone had knocked over the pyramid of glasses that had been delicately perched for the centerpiece earlier in the night. Thank God it was someone else and not me.

 

Abby cursed and slipped the roach back into her bra, waving her hand quickly through the air. "God, Wayne is probably making a drunken spectacle of himself. C'mon, we better get out there and see what's up." I nodded and hurried out into the kitchen, snatching my silver tray from where I had set it on the island. I balanced the champagne flute I had sipped from on it and spotted the gloss around the lip. 

 

Abby hurried on ahead of me and I paused right near the wall separating the kitchen from the rest of the party to swipe my thumb across the smear of lip gloss. I'm not sure why, but at that moment, I thought that was a better course of action than to grab another glass and replace it. The alcohol and weed had seriously clouded my judgment. 

 

The party had gone silent and I shook the fallen hair from my face as I rounded the corner of the wall. Abby was nowhere to be seen, but I figured she moved to get a better view of whatever was happening. A woman and a man in front of me stepped to the side, as if they were shrinking back into the wall out of fright, and I was given a sudden front row view to what was going on.

 

My gasp was the only sound in the room and I stared, eyes wide and glossy lips parted in complete and utter surprise. A small crowd of men had moved into the penthouse. Most of them had masks on; clown masks, to be exact and they were all toting guns or various weapons. But it was the man right in front that drew my attention and refused to let it go. 

 

"Where is Harvey Dent?" His voice was like gravel and it immediately made my fingers tighten around the tray I carried. This was the guy people had been talking about, the one who had robbed the bank and walked away with millions of dollars. "Hmm? Where is he?"

 

The Joker turned in a full circle and plucked one of the shrimp skewers from a plate. He popped the garnish it into his mouth and chewed noisily while strolling down the line of people who gaped at him in terror and shock. He was too close to me. Only a few feet away and I tried to inch back on my heels but was stopped by the woman behind me. She didn't want me to move seeing as how I was shielding her from the Joker's attention. 

 

My head was swimming. I could feel my heart thumping against every pulse point on my body and if I survived this, I swore to any deity above that I would never smoke weed or work catering again. I wanted to squeeze my eyes shut and pretend that this wasn't happening but he was making his way up the line and he reached up to take a man's face in his hands, turning his head this way and that while questioning him on Harvey Dent’s whereabouts.

 

He released him and I watched his hand, gloved in black leather, drop down to where I held the tray in front of me as he moved closer. The champagne flute was snatched roughly from where I held it and the majority of the contents spilled out. A few drops caught across my jaw but I barely noticed, too scared to even feel at that moment. I stared as the Joker brought the glass up to his lips--scarred and swollen and so red --and then he paused. The smell of him was suddenly everywhere and no matter how hard I tried to keep myself from breathing him in, it was useless. Sweat and gunpowder and something I couldn't quite recognize, though it was familiar to me. It was the strangest combination of smells I had ever experienced and it was unrelenting.

 

It may have only been half a second, barely any time at all, but for me, in my inebriated state, that half a second seemed to stretch into oblivion. My eyes lifted from the glass, still resting against his bottom lip, and met his dark gaze cutting right through me. How could someone's eyes be so black? It wasn't natural and as he narrowed his gaze and turned his head to face me, I felt my stomach drop while my heart leapt into my chest. 

 

It was my chest that had caught his attention. The Joker's gaze fell from my face, pausing briefly to the droplets of champagne rolling down my jaw before he spied the loose buttons of my shirt and the cleavage beneath. It was only a sweeping glance, no ogling or lecherous gaze, but it was enough to make me feel as if I were suddenly twice as small. Like a mouse that spotted the cat stalking it. His tongue quickly swiped at the corners of his mouth and it surprised me that it was just as red as the paint on his face. And just when I thought I would pass out from the lack of air in my lungs, he tossed the glass over his shoulder and in the same motion, reached up to wipe away the drop of champagne on my face with his thumb.

 

I swallowed tightly and time returned to normal in a rush of sound that was like a freight train in my head. A man was speaking a bit further away, trying to be brave in the face of so much terror, but I barely heard a word of what he said. I was frozen to the spot, trembling from head to toe while the spot on my chin where his glove had brushed against felt as if it were on fire. 

 

I gulped in a breath that did little to calm me and the need, some desperate, primal urge to run was so strong inside me that it left me feeling nauseous. I turned with my tray still in my hands and shoved my way backward into the group of women who were cowering together. They could stand there and cower. I had to get out of here, had to breathe air that didn't smell like him. 

 

Behind the group of women, a hand gripped my elbow and I gasped. Thankfully, it was Abby's face I stared up into and she put a finger to her lips, wrenching me back toward the kitchen. "We have to leave," she hissed. “It’s only a matter of time before they start killing people and I don’t want to wait around for that.”

 

I could feel how hard her fingers were shaking around my elbow. I didn't argue with her. I wanted to leave just as badly as she did.

 

Why did I agree to this job? 

 

I could be at home, packing my things and moving back home to my parents as a failure. As a safe, alive failure. Yet, this was where I had found myself; a penthouse suite, dressed in a ridiculous uniform that showed far too much skin, unable to get the smell of him out of my head. 

 

Abby steered us behind the kitchen to the hallway where we had been designated to use the bathroom. Perhaps there was a back door, an emergency exit that we could use to escape, to run away and never look back. 

 

"Hey!" A voice, rough and deep, called out from ahead of us, and I looked up with a gasp. One of the men in a clown mask marched toward us, shotgun barrel aimed right for me and while I still held the tray in front of me, I doubt it would offer any protection in the event of a blast to my chest. "Get back in there!"

 

"I'm sorry," Abby said with a sniff. "We were just trying to--"

 

"I know exactly what you were trying to. Get back in there."

 

We turned on our heel and let him push us back into the main area of the party. Something was happening, a fight from the sounds of grunting, and I shook my head. I didn't want to go back. 

 

I looked down at the tray in front of me and had a brief thought that if I could turn fast enough and hit this bastard in the face with it, I could maybe get the gun. But then what? He wouldn't be knocked out by it and he was twice my size. He'd kill me just for trying to fight him. 

 

A gunshot rang out and Abby screamed beside me, her hand flying to her mouth. Glass had shattered and the sound of the fight had come to a grinding halt. With the barrel of the shotgun at my back, I stumbled forward and found the sleek, black wall separating the kitchen from the living room. The henchman who had found us broke away and I sighed in relief to not feel his gun at my back. 

 

And then the screaming started. It was everywhere and I hugged the only security I had found to my chest, hoping that the silver tray would at least slow any bullet down if I were to be struck by one. A man, pulling at the elbow of a woman in a gold gown, came around the corner of the wall and knocked into me hard. I spun and stumbled back, my hands reaching out to catch myself before I could fall. The tray fell to the ground in a clatter that seemed twice as loud as the screaming. 

 

Behind me, a shotgun blasted in the air and a rush of men in clown masks pointed their guns at the crowd to get away from the elevator doors. But it was who strolled behind them that I was suddenly hyper-aware of. He moved as strangely as he looked, all hunched and slow as if he were in no hurry to actually leave. And judging by him taking a moment to pick up another shrimp skewer from an abandoned tray, he apparently wasn't in a hurry. 

 

His eyes, those impossibly black eyes, swept across the hall and found me once more, making every muscle in my body seize tight and refuse to budge. I pressed myself hard into the wall at my back and as much as I tried to get it to swallow me up, I remained in place until he was right in front of me.

 

Every tiny breath I sucked in brought his scent into my head, assaulting my mind and etching itself into my memory forever. He towered over me and I could only just make out the shotgun he held loosely at his side out of the corner of my eye. His narrowed eyes swept over me, studying me, watching and waiting. 

 

When they flickered back up to meet my gaze once more, he smiled . It was just a quick twitch of his mouth that I tried not to stare at and an even quicker flick of his tongue that brought my gaze to it. There was no warmth to his smile whatsoever. It was the kind of smile someone gives when they know a secret. 

 

With his free hand, he reached up and curled his fingers around my ponytail. I half expected him to jerk my head back and put the shotgun beneath my chin but he didn't. His fingers moved around to the bow Abby had tied in my hair and I watched as he pulled at one of the red, silk strands until it loosened and fell away from me. And with that, he turned and I was left to stare after him.

 

He didn't look back.

 

His men rushed around him, threatening anyone who tried to interfere with their getaway with a gun pointed at their face. No one tried to stop them. 

 

My mouth had gone dry as a desert and my head was swimming with dizziness. I was safe, now that he had left me alone and they were leaving. But I didn't feel safe. I felt as if he had taken a part of me with him.

 

As he stepped into the elevator and turned to face the crowd once more to say his goodbyes, I could only stare at the strip of red ribbon hanging from his hand. It stood out in contrast against the rich purple of his jacket, like a flag waving back to me. And though I had no way to know for sure, I could feel it deep down...It wasn't goodbye

 

It was until next time. 

 


 

Chapter Text


 

That makes me anxious, gives me patience, calms me down
Lets me face this, let me sleep, and when I wake up
Let me breathe


 

It was after midnight by the time I made it back to my apartment building. Abby had insisted on seeing me home. It must have been written on my face how rattled I was by what had happened because she took one look at me outside the catering company and refused to let me leave alone. I was thankful. 

 

My head hurt, my knees still hadn't stopped shaking and I had no idea how to process something like that. We'd heard from the others that the Joker had dropped a woman out of the window, only for her to be saved by the Batman. There was no way I could even process that at the moment so I pushed it out of my head. It was hard enough processing the brief, strange encounter I had with the man. 

 

And god, his smell was still in my senses. It had permeated through my clothes like I had been soaked in it. Even after changing back into my own clothes, I could still smell it. I had stood in the bathroom at the caterer, staring down at the white fabric bunched on the sink, my thoughts unable to slow down. And I'm not sure why I did it, morbid curiosity possibly, but I brought it up to my nose and inhaled. 

 

Just to see if he had rubbed off on it or something. 

 

The shirt smelled like my deodorant and whatever detergent Abby used and I frowned, lifting my face to stare at my reflection across from me. A faint whiff, as if he had walked through the bathroom moments before, met my senses and I quickly wrenched on the black t-shirt I had been wearing before. 

 

Abby met me outside the front door and handed me an envelope with the cash I was owed. I was relieved that it was cash and not a check. I didn't want to even think about getting up to run errands in the morning. All I wanted was to sleep tomorrow away. Maybe my head wouldn't be so cloudy after getting enough rest. 

 

The entire cab drive to my neighborhood was spent in silence. Both of us kept our faces turned to the window, watching the streets pass us by and I wondered if she was looking for the same thing as me; any sign that the nightmare we had encountered wasn't over like we had thought. 

 

The ride was uneventful and when the taxi pulled up to the curb, I threw the strap of my bag over my head and turned to Abby. She offered a sympathetic smile and let out a soft laugh. "I don't suppose you'll want to work many more jobs like this."

 

It was nice to laugh and joke and I shrugged. "I'm sure I'll need rent money next month so I'll be calling you. Maybe no more jobs with influential people in attendance." 

 

"Got it," she said with a laugh. "Weddings and boring banquets only for Natalie Jacobs." 

 

I wanted to say more, even apologize, though I wasn't sure why. None of it had been my fault, but I still felt sorry that we both had to experience it. Instead of saying anything, I reached over and gave her a quick hug before paying for my share of the cab fare. 

 

With a final glance around my surroundings, finding no Jokers creeping in the shadows, I hurried up the steps and into the building. The apartment I shared with my roommate, Chelsea, was on the second floor of an old house that had been turned into several two bedrooms. A block of six mailboxes was set up just inside the foyer and though I hadn't checked the mail in the last few days, it would have to wait until tomorrow. 

 

I barely had the strength to carry myself up the stairs. I had never felt so mentally exhausted before.

 

Our door was at the top of the stairs and to the left. 2B. I pulled the ring of keys from my pocket but before I could even put it in the lock, the door opened quickly. The wind from it blew my hair across my neck and a shiver erupted down my arms, bringing with it the faint smell of sweat and gunpowder. 

 

Chelsea blinked at me, her blue eyes wide with surprise. "Oh good. You're alive." She didn't sound very enthusiastic about it. 

 

"Um, yeah. Barely."

 

"I heard about the party. It's all over the news." She stepped away from the door and I walked inside, dropping my keys and bag on the table near the door. 

 

In the living room that was barely big enough to fit a chair and entertainment space, Chelsea's boyfriend sat sprawled out with a blanket over his lap. It made me wrinkle my nose as I turned toward the kitchen. He was here far too often without paying a share of the rent, but the lease was in her name and I had no real say in the matter. 

 

"You were there, Nat?" He asked, making my sneer deepen. I pulled the fridge open and snatched the orange juice I had bought a week ago. Barely had a glass of it and it was almost all gone. And since Chelsea was on the latest cleanse diet and wouldn't touch anything so sugary, I could only blame one person.

 

"Yeah, I was, Greg . Did you drink my orange juice?"

 

He ignored my question and hopped up from his seat on the couch, the blue blanket flying from his legs. Chelsea rolled her eyes and sat down on the arm, watching her boyfriend cross quickly into the kitchen. "Oh, man. What's he like?"

 

It was impossible to ignore the sparkle in his eyes and I recoiled. My hands tightened around the neck of the bottle as I blinked at him. "What do you mean? He was…he's awful . Terrifying. He threw a woman out the window, Greg! How do you think he's like?"

 

They stared at me and after a moment he scoffed and shook his head. "No. I meant Batman ."

 

"Oh." Awkward silence filled the small space and my pulse quickened. Flashes of those dark eyes sprang into my head, piercing through me seconds before he reached up to brush his thumb across my jaw. The wicked smile on his face as he pulled at the ribbon in my hair. Even now, hours later, I was breathless and suddenly, I remembered Greg was still waiting for an answer. "I'm not sure. I didn't see him."

 

His face fell and he lifted an eyebrow with a glance back to his girlfriend. She shrugged and sat down on the couch before picking up the remote. "Can we finish this movie?" 

 

"Yeah, sure." 

 

I was left alone in the kitchen, left to stare down at my juice and I closed my eyes as that smell, that acrid scent that I couldn't quite place, returned to assault my senses. No matter how much I wanted it gone, it still lingered. I had to take these clothes off, wash them or burn them. Whichever got rid of it the fastest.

 

With my juice in my hands, I crossed to my room and paused just outside the door to dip my hand into the bag at my side. I grabbed the envelope Abby had given me and tossed it on the desk pushed along the wall. "There's the rest of what I owe for rent. I'm going to bed."

 

Neither Chelsea or her boyfriend offered me goodnight and I didn't care. I shut the door behind me and stood just inside the room, pulling the elastic band from the ponytail still hanging over my leg shoulder. I raked my fingers through it and piled it into a bun on top of my head, swearing to never wear it to the side again. 

 

And even though it was off the side of my neck, a shiver ran down my arms at the memory of his fingers curling around the strands. No. I was done thinking about this. I was ready to put it behind me, forget it happened and continue on with my life, a little more thankful that I had a life at all. 

 

First things first, I wrenched my shirt up over my head and tossed it into the hamper full of dirty clothes and hoped the smell wouldn't rub off on anything. I wasn't exactly sure how it had lingered for so long on me anyway. I hadn't even been wearing this shirt. Why did it smell like him? 

 

I hurried out of my pants and tossed them as well, not even bothering to pull on my pajamas. Despite the fact that whatever movie Chelsea and Greg were watching was incredibly loud, I crawled into my bed and wrapped the blankets around me like a cocoon. I started at the wall and listened to the sounds of explosions and gunshots coming from the television, wishing they were watching something else. Anything else.

 

I was having a hard enough time distracting myself from what had happened without the noisy reminders every five minutes. But even after the movie was over and the two of them went to bed, I wasn't able to sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, he was there, right in front of me, reaching for the ribbon in my hair and I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to distract myself from it no matter what I tried. 

.

.

I had been true to my word and slept right through the next day. Not even Chelsea making noise going to work that morning had woken me and the sky outside was growing dark by the time I finally opened my eyes. 

 

In our apartment, she got the master bedroom with the big closet and that was fine. She lived here before I did and her name was on the lease. She could take whichever room she wanted. And while mine was much smaller and I had no closet at all, what I did have was the window with the view. 

 

When I moved in, the bed had been right beneath it and one of the first things I did was rearrange the furniture so I could see the sky while lying down. Today was one of those days I was thankful that I did it. Despite it nearly being sundown, the sky was one of those brilliant swathes of color. Blues and bright orange painting the bottom of the clouds floating between the buildings across the street. I laid in bed, blankets wrapped around me like a burrito and I watched as the blue sky slowly faded into violet. 

 

And I would have laid there to watch it turn completely dark, but the pressure in my bladder was unbearable. I groaned as I stood from the bed and quickly dressed in pajama pants and a tank top. Usually, I wouldn't care to throw on some shorts and go to the bathroom in my bra, but there was no telling if Greg would pop in and he'd already seen me in enough compromising situations. 

 

The first time I met him, he thought it was Chelsea in the shower and threw the curtain open to surprise her. It wasn't Chelsea. It was me and I had screamed and tried to hit him with the shampoo bottle, thinking he was an intruder. From that moment on, I could hardly stand him. 

 

Out in the living room, Chelsea was home from work,  sitting at the desk, working on her weekly calendar and she lifted her head to me as I walked out of the bedroom. "About time. Were you going to sleep the day away?"

 

I didn't respond the way I wanted to. I wanted to ask her if she was trying to be a bitch, or if it came naturally. Instead, I mumbled that I had to pee and shuffled to the bathroom at the end of the hall. It sucked having to share such a tiny space with someone as big a bitch as she was, but I had no other options. Moving out just wasn't in the cards for me at the moment and I didn't exactly have any plans to make it happen. 

 

It’s not like I had a steady job to save up enough for a deposit on my own place. 

 

I finished in the bathroom and turned the light off before shuffling into the kitchen. By now, Chelsea had moved to the living room and was sitting on the edge of the couch. The television was on with some kind of breaking news story, but I didn’t care. The last thing I wanted was any reminders about what kind of shit went on in this city. Particularly, the person behind most of the recent shit that had happened.

 

But my roommate hadn’t picked up on my mood quite yet and turned around to face me as I pulled open the door to the fridge. “Are you seeing this?”

 

I was most definitely not seeing it since my head was currently ducked into the bright interior of our fridge, trying to find something to eat. With a shake of my head, I grabbed a cup of yogurt and moved to the utensil drawer, kicking the fridge shut with my foot. 

 

“That Joker guy killed some judge and the police commissioner last night.”

 

Just the sound of his name had my entire body tensing up so tightly, my fist tightened around the plastic yogurt cup and a glob of it popped out of the lid. It hit the floor at my foot, but I barely noticed. I turned to the television and swallowed at the sight of a still frame image of the Joker, laughing down into a handheld camera. The quality of the image made him blurry, but the wide grin on his face made me shiver as if he were standing in my living room.

 

Chelsea turned to look at me and I quickly turned back to the task of finding a spoon for my evening breakfast. If she noticed the strange look on my face, she didn’t mention is and I was thankful. “So, like, you saw this guy?”

 

“Yeah,” I grumbled, snatching a spoon from the drawer before slamming it shut with a bump of my hip. The yogurt didn’t even look appetizing anymore but I felt like I had to occupy my hands and mind with a simple task. Dip the spoon in, put it in my mouth, swallow and repeat. It would be something to concentrate on, something to distract from the screen where his face was still frozen. 

 

God, why did the news have to show things like this constantly? It’s like they wanted the whole city to live in a perpetual state of fear for some reason. It was annoying.

 

“Was he as creepy in real life as he is on TV?”

 

“Pretty much,” I mumbled into the first bite of yogurt. The taste did nothing for me but the cool temperature on my tongue gave me some relief. Chelsea shook her head and looked back at the screen, leaning forward to put her elbows on her thighs. She was still wearing her work clothes, which was another reminder that I had to find a job this week. No more lying in bed until five in the evening, no matter what I had been through the night before.

 

As I dipped the spoon back into the cup, not wanting my thoughts to drift back to what had happened last night, Chelsea sighed. 

 

“I bet he smelled good.”

 

The shock made my grip falter and the spoon dropped back into the cup with another splatter of peach flavored yogurt across my hand and pajama pants. “ What ?” I asked, eyes wide as I stared at her in disbelief.

 

“I said I bet he was. I mean, look at his face and that makeup. Only someone with mental problems would do that.” She grabbed the remote and tapped the volume button to turn it up and I could only stare after her. What the hell? Was my mind playing tricks on me? Maybe I hadn’t got enough sleep after all. After another moment the story on the Joker of Gotham city wrapped up and I was thankful that his picture was taken off the screen. I looked down into my yogurt cup.

 

My appetite was definitely gone now.

 

Chelsea stood up and tossed the remote back onto the couch. “I’m going to take a shower. Greg said the bank his mom works for will be hiring a new teller in the next week or so. You need to take your resume down there soon.” 

 

I nodded, watching her move around the couch. She plucked the earrings from her ears and pulled her bright, red hair from the clip she had pinned it up with. It was clear that she was done dropping hints about me finding a job. I nodded again and picked up the spoon, hoping I looked as normal as I was trying to appear.

 

“Yeah, I will. That would be a good job.”

 

“Put Greg down as your reference,” she called over her shoulder before disappearing into the bathroom. The sound of the faucet turning on, the knobs squeaking as she spun them, and I stared down into my breakfast, fighting the nausea.

 

It was bad enough that I was smelling scents that weren’t around me, but now I was hearing things as well? Was this a product of some mild form of post-traumatic stress? I mean, sure, I had been scared as hell last night, but I don’t feel traumatized by what had happened. Looking back, I couldn’t even remember much of it at all.

 

Just bits and pieces that stood out brighter than the rest that all seemed to fade into the fog of my mind. And what did stand out, were the memories I didn’t want to have. 

 

Frustrated and fed up with my thoughts, I hurried to the kitchen and dumped the yogurt cup into the trash. I hated wasting food, especially since I didn’t have the funds to replace it most of the time, but the thought of trying to eat anything at the moment was just too much for my stomach. I needed to move on from this and focus on how I would be paying the next month’s rent and half of the utilities. 

 

If I was going to take my resume into the bank and ask for a job, then I was going to have to spruce it up a bit. Sure, lying on your resume was never ideal, but desperate times call for desperate measures and honestly, would anyone ever check to make sure all the facts were...well, facts?

 

I saw at the desk with Chelsea’s laptop and figured she would only get a little annoyed for me using it. As soon as she saw that I was working on getting a job, she’d shut her mouth. As the computer booted up, I pulled my feet into the chair and chewed on the corner of my thumbnail, a thought popping into my head.

 

Did I even want to work at a bank? What if he decided to come in and rob it while I was working? God, what if he recognized me? 

 

That was ridiculous. He had barely looked at me. He was just trying to intimidate anyone he could find and I happened to be the one who had fallen into his sights. And the thing with my ribbon? 

 

I shook my head, not wanting to think of him still in possession of something of mine. Even though I had no emotional hold on that particular ribbon, hell it hadn’t even been mine --it was Chelsea’s, it still felt personal somehow. Like he was out there, in whatever hole he hid in between appearances, with something I had on my body, something I chose to wear and just knowing it was with him now made me feel...strange.

 

The sound of the water shutting off with another shriek of the knobs made me jump and blink down at the computer screen. I hadn’t even realized I had spaced out for so long. But thinking about it again put me out of the mood to get anything done and before Chelsea could come out of the bathroom, I closed her laptop and hurried into my bedroom. 

 

My head was still too loopy, still too foggy from everything. I obviously hadn’t gotten enough sleep so that was the only thing I wanted at that moment. My resume and job search would be waiting for me when I woke up in the morning and hopefully these stupid, unrelenting thoughts wouldn’t be. 









 

Chapter Text


 

I shouldn't be here right now
But you got me figured out
Pushing my pieces round
I know this game


 

My bedroom floor looked like a cyclone had touched down and tore through my drawers, scattering clothes in its wake. A shirt hung off the knob of my underwear drawer and I frowned down at it. Twenty minutes ago, I had decided against wearing the top on the basis that the color washed my complexion out. I don't even know why I bought the damn thing. Yellow looked terrible on me and even if it was in style at the moment, that didn't mean I could make it work. 

 

I snatched it off the knob and threw it back in the drawer, moving to the rolling rack I used for my more nicer pieces of clothing. These were what I would wear to job interviews or dates...if I ever had either of those two. It had been seven months since I had lost my job and even longer than that since I actually had a date. Of course, I blamed that on the lack of eligible men in this city but the truth was, I didn't have the energy. 

 

The men of Gotham required so much attention and pampering of their egos and I just was not into that kind of thing. That begged the question; what was I into? I didn't have an answer for that question. 

 

My track record of men was an abysmal account of just how low a girl will lower her standards to have a boyfriend. One boyfriend had been the guitarist of an indie band that was always on the verge of being discovered. He had been the tortured artist type and I thought he was the end all be all when I was seventeen. Thank god I grew up and saw him for what he really is; a mopey dude who wanted a groupie instead of a relationship. 

 

By twenty, I hadn't learned much though and decided to look on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. I dated a "Chad" type for about six months and while he had enough money to spoil me rotten, he also had the attitude and anger problem to ruin our relationship. It was like throwing off a wet blanket the day I dumped him, though he said I would regret it one day. 

 

And I did. Every time I had to pay rent.

 

But I didn't want a sugar daddy or to live in the back of a van while my boyfriend toured dive bars for the next ten years. I wanted…

 

With a sigh, I stared at the rack of clothes and shook my head. I wanted something decent to wear. That's what I truly wanted. What clothes said, "hi, I'm responsible and desperate, please give me a job"?

 

The only option I had that didn't immediately disgust me was a dress that was three years old. It was a dark blue, almost navy, with a line of tortoise shell buttons down the length of the front. It was sleeveless but I had a decent cardigan that I could pair and make a decent looking outfit with. Not too short, not too low cut, and while I thought it made me look a little too much like a kindergarten teacher to wear on a date, it was good enough to job hunt in. 

 

I slipped it on and found the gray cardigan, hoping no one would see the missing button on the bottom. I wore it open anyway. After pulling my hair into a ponytail that looked too much like how I had worn it that night , I pulled it down and combed through it with my fingers. It would have to do. 

 

With my feet in a pair of flats, I moved into the living room to grab the small stack of resumes I had printed off earlier that morning. Chelsea, being the ever responsible and organized woman she was, found me a folder to keep them in and promised me it made me look professional. 

 

The door to the apartment opened suddenly, making me jump and throw my hand to my chest. Greg smiled as he moved into space and kicked the door shut behind him. He held up a small, red toolbox. "I hear there's a leak in the bathroom."

 

"Oh, yeah. The faucet on the sink. You scared the shit out of me." I pushed an earring into my ear and scowled at him as he chuckled to himself. 

 

"Sorry about that. You going on a job hunt?" He pointed to the folder lying on the desk and I sighed with a nod. "Good luck! Be sure to ask for Brenda. That's my mom." 

 

He moved past the kitchen and headed down the hallway toward the bathroom and I watched him for a moment before taking a deep breath. Might as well get this day over with. I scooped up the folder and grabbed my keys from the bowl on the table before calling back to Greg. "I'll be back later."

 

"You might want to avoid downtown. That funeral procession is today." 

 

I was out the door just when his words hit me and I frowned down at the deadbolt before twisting my key into it. What funeral? It took ten blocks for the answer to hit me and I felt monumentally stupid for forgetting that the Gotham City police commissioner had been murdered by the man I was trying very hard to forget about. I had been so focused on the tiny moment he and I shared that I forgot people had lost their lives because of him. And here I was, complaining because he smelled good.

 

My steps faltered and I tucked my hair behind my ear, glancing back to see what I had tripped over. There was nothing on the sidewalk and I refused to let myself think about that little admission, pushing it down to the depths of my thoughts where other nasty little ideas and musings laid like dust swept beneath a rug. 

 

The closer I got to downtown, the busier the streets were. It seemed that everyone and their mothers had come out to attend the funeral and everyone that was left was stuck in the traffic on the streets. Horns honked and people craned their heads out the windows to shout at one another, though it did no good to move the cars along. I crossed between a backed-up line of cars and hurried down the sidewalk to the 12th Avenue Trust Bank. 

 

The doors were heavy, with thick glass and metal frame. I pushed my way into them and made my way through a set of revolving doors just inside. Beyond them, the marble floor stretched down the length of the lobby and a row of ten or fifteen tellers sat behind a sectioned counter. 

 

There was an office set up down at the other end of the lobby for credit and loan appointments and I looked around for any sign of Greg's mother, Brenda. Was she a teller? A loan officer? Why hadn't I asked him to give me more details about her? 

 

"Hi, may I help you?" The teller closest to the end smiled brightly to me and I waited for a man to step aside before I took his place.

 

"Yeah, I'm looking for Brenda Dunn?"

 

The woman gave me a bright smile and folded her hands together on the counter. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Dunn is in a meeting all afternoon. Can I take a message for her?" 

 

"Oh," I said, shoulders falling in disappointment. "I'm a friend of her son's and he suggested I bring her my resume in case they're hiring."

 

"I do know we aren't hiring right now, but we can always take your resume and keep it on file. Would you like me to do that or you can come back tomorrow when Mrs. Dunn is free." 

 

I opted to leave my resume. It was better that she had it as soon as possible. After she has it, I can just call back for questions about the job. No need to come all the way back down here. The teller took the paper with a smile and though I didn't exactly see her turn to give the paper to Brenda, I hoped she would. 

 

Once I was back outside among the honking horns and angry shouts, I let out a sigh of annoyance and set off once more. I had passed by a boutique earlier and retail may have been a shit job, I couldn't exactly turn my nose up at anything at the moment. A job was a job. 

 

The woman behind the boutique counter wasn't as friendly as the teller at the bank, but she took my resume and slid it into a file while I stood there. It didn't make me feel much better about the prospect and I set off once more. I figured I could work my way from the top to the bottom of the job ladder. Put my resume in at banks and nicer clothing stores, and when that didn't produce any results, I'd try grocery stores and chain retailers. And if that didn't work...gas stations and laundromats. Not that there was anything wrong with working those places.

 

It's just I was already twenty-three. I needed to find something that could be more permanent, more opportunity for me to advance. 

 

My stomach rumbled after I had dropped my resume off at a department store where a woman older than my grandmother ran the customer service counter. She had taken my resume and promised to put it right on top, but I doubted she would remember me the second I stepped away from her. I was starving and feeling a bit hopeless and with only one more resume to hand out, I decided it was time for a little food. 

 

And if I didn't feel like going anywhere else, I could always leave it for the restaurant. I had experience waitressing. Surely fast food would be similar. 

 

I crossed back over onto 11th avenue and hurried along, the grumbling of my stomach pushing me to pick up the pace. There was a slice of greasy, cheese pizza calling my name from several blocks away and if I could just make it around this funeral parade, I could get to it and fill my empty stomach. 

 

There was no going through the parade route. The police had barricades set up down the entrance to every alley that would cut through it and one of the men, who was quite unfriendly, told me to go around. An extra five blocks. There was no arguing with them and honestly, I should have been a bit more understanding. 

 

Their fellow police officer, commissioner and possibly their friend had been killed in a brutal way. I turned away with a frown and blamed my attitude on my hunger. I had never been very good at controlling my annoyance on an empty stomach. But it's not like I was the Joker. Did they honestly suspect me of wanting to cut through the alley to cause trouble? 

 

I just wanted some pizza.

 

Through the alleyways, I could see the uniformed policemen standing in procession on the next block and the Mayor’s voice echoed over the microphone. He was giving some speech, calling for a boost of morale from the citizens of Gotham in the face of a terrorist and I was thankful for that. I truly was. But I didn’t exactly believe his words or believe that it would do any good for us. 

 

The damage had been done and people were running scared. Too bad they weren’t leaving their jobs behind for those of us who couldn’t exactly leave the city. 

 

The Mayor’s speech came to an end and I glanced down the next alley to see the officers raise their hands in a salute. The next building blocked my view and I turned my thoughts back to pizza. I wondered where I could find a decent Margherita pizza on this side of town that wouldn’t cost me too much money. I was already running low on my rainy day fund as it were. 

 

A round of shots was fired from the next block over and I listened to the sound echo between the buildings. I hadn’t been expecting it but since no screams or shouting followed it, I figured it was part of the ceremony. Another shot rang out and I came closer to the next alley. Just a few more steps and I’d be able to see the head of the parade. 

 

But immediately following the next shot, the screaming did break out and I dug my heels into the sidewalk. Had I been hearing things? Horns honked loudly and I spun around to face the way I had come. The police at the barricades were rushing down the alleyways and the screaming grew closer as more shots rang out.

 

A small crowd jumped the blockade and a man in one of the cars popped his head out the window. “What’s goin’ on?!” He shouted, throwing his hands up.

 

“Someone shot the mayor!”

 

Someone…

 

I wasn’t too stupid to know that someone was more than likely him

 

My pulse raced and I turned back to the direction I had been going. I clutched the folder to my chest and raced down the street, hoping I was far enough away that I could get somewhere safely. I could duck around the corner and find a business that would let me in to hide. Or maybe I should just keep running. 

 

I didn’t know which was a better choice. Both seemed wrong somehow but all my body could do at that moment was keep going. 

 

I stepped off a curb and hurried past an alley that would have led right to the end of the funeral procession. And just as I looked to the right to make sure I wouldn’t see anything I didn’t want to see, I slammed right into someone racing toward me. I yelped and stumbled backward but a pair of hands reached out and took hold of my elbows to keep me steady. 

 

A curtain of dark hair fell in my face and I blew it away, cursing myself for not securing it in a ponytail after all. I quickly blew it out of my eyes and shook my head to clear the rest, intent on telling whoever I had run into that I was sorry. The dark gaze that stared down at me was rimmed in black like they had hastily wiped makeup off and in just a fraction of a second, I concluded that whoever they belonged to was quite handsome.

 

But the smile that stretched across his lips pulled my eyes downward to his lips and the jagged scars that ran along his cheeks and I felt my stomach drop to the ground. Oh, no...No, no, no! My fight or flight instincts kicked in and I struggled against his hands to no avail. He kept his grip tight and he glanced over my head, eyes darting around the street, before steering me up the avenue. I noticed, with fear gripping my spine, that he was wearing a black, military jacket buttoned up to his throat. The gold stitching and buttons stood out in contrast and I focused on them to try to keep me from passing out. 

 

“We gotta stop meeting like this, sweetheart,” he said, somewhere between a purr and a growl, and I tried to jerk away from him again. He adjusted his grip and brought be back against his chest, leaning down to press against the side of my head. “What’s everyone going to think, seeing us like this?”

 

Ahead of us, a van screeched to a halt and I managed to catch the side of the door before it slid open. It was a painting company’s logo on the side and I opened my mouth, hoping that whoever inside was someone intent on being a hero. But the clown mask on the driver’s head quickly shut my mouth and my eyes went wide. 

 

The Joker dropped one hand from my arm and pushed it against my back, propelling me forward. I stumbled into the van, putting my hands out in front of me to stop my face from smashing against the window and just as I whirled back to face the door, it slid shut. And he was sitting right beside me on the bench seat. 

 

I scrambled as far away from him as I could get and watched him smack the driver’s seat twice with his palm. The driver peeled away from the curb without any questions as to who I was and I looked from his mask in the rearview mirror to Joker sitting next to me. He wasn’t looking at me, as if I were a ghost that had got caught in the van. 

 

The driver peeled his mask from his face and took a deep breath, tossing it to the floor with a string of curses under his breath. “Damn thing makes it hard to breathe.”

 

Hearing him speak must have signaled something in my brain and I opened my mouth before I could stop myself from uttering a sound. “Please let me go.” Neither of them even glanced my way. Had he killed me in the alley without me realizing it? Was I truly a ghost? “I won’t tell anyone, I promise--”

 

The Joker slowly turned his head toward me and narrowed his eyes. It wasn’t a glare of anger or annoyance. Just a curious, searching stare that immediately made my throat clamp around any word I wanted to say. Oh, why had I even said anything at all? Having him ignore my entire existence was better than him looking at me this way. 

 

It was too similar to how he had stared at me while reaching up to tug at the ends of the ribbon in my hair. It felt like he was looking through me like his eyes were cutting into me so deep that I couldn’t move or breathe. 

 

The van screeched to a halt, snapping me out of my daze enough that I was barely able to put my hands out on the seat in front of me to keep from smacking my head on it. The passenger door opened and I blinked up at the sight of a man jumping into the seat. He ran his hands over his hair several times and bounced his leg with erratic, nervous energy that wafted off of him like a bad smell. 

 

Three against one now. I didn’t like these odds. Especially since I had no idea how to fight. I’d never even so much as slapped someone in my entire life. How was I going to fend off three guys, one being the goddamn Joker ?

 

My eyes darted up to the man who had climbed into the van last and he swung his head around to look at me as well. His eyebrow lifted as he let his gaze slither down the length of my body and I quickly pulled my skirt down to my knees. “Who’s the chick?” He asked with a scoff, abandoning his hair to slide his finger and thumb over the patchy goatee surrounding his mouth. 

 

Beside me, the Joker was still staring at me and I looked at him, expectedly, as if I were waiting for permission. My cowardice made me sick. 

 

“He asked your name, sweetheart.” 

 

I closed my eyes and nodded, taking a deep breath through my nose to try and calm my racing pulse. “N-Natalie.”

 

When I opened my eyes, I found a scarred smile on the Joker’s face. He turned back to the man in the front and leaned an elbow against his seat. “ Natalie ,” he said my name, rolling every syllable over his tongue. “Was at the fundraiser for Harvey Dent-ah. She was passing out drinks to Gotham’s elite and wealthy.”

 

“Yeah? Well, what’s she doing here?” The man in the front asked, holding onto the seat as the van took a sharp left. I slid along the leather seat and couldn’t catch myself in time before my hip met the Joker’s. He didn’t say anything or attempt to move down and I scrambled back against the window.

 

“I-I don’t--” Again, my words were cut off. The Joker waved his hand to the man and tutted. The man shut his mouth but didn’t turn back around. He simply dropped his eyes and stared down at my skirt, as if he could see through it. I lowered the folder onto my thighs and frowned. 

 

Joker noticed the folder suddenly and pointed down to it with a tight, forced polite smile. “May I?” He took it from me before I could answer. Not that I would have denied him. At that moment, I could barely breathe through the terror. He flipped the folder open and plucked one of my resumes from the front pocket. “Hmm. Natalie Jacobs. Highly motivated individual seeking employment… what a coincidence,” he turned to me with a grin that exposed his yellow teeth. “We have an opening on our staff.”



What ? I must not have been hearing him right. I knew he was toying with me, just trying to scare me, but I couldn’t process any of this right now. There were no rational, sane thoughts in my head. Just fear and the overwhelming need to get out of this van.

 

“Oh,” I said quietly, swallowing to clear my throat of the lump that had found its way inside it. “I-I’m flattered but I don’t know if I’m the right fit--” What the fuck was I even saying?

 

“Have you ever used a gun, Natalie ?” Why did he have to say my name like that? No one had ever said it like that, like every single sound of it filled his mouth and he was tasting it. I never wanted to hear it again. I looked up at him as he leaned forward and peeled the coat away from his upper body. “Ever killed anyone?”

 

He had on a plain, white shirt beneath it though it looked a little worse for wear as if he wore it a lot between washes. There was a faint, pink stain near the collar and I hoped it was the paint from his makeup and not blood. I blinked up at his face, eyes still piercing through me, and shook my head. “No, I’m a pacifist.”

 

He scoffed with a slight roll of his eyes and reached back to grab something from the waist of his pants. When he pulled out a pistol, my eyes widened. God, he was about to kill me. I might as well make peace with it and try to absolve all my sins. Not that I really cared about all that, but I didn’t know what else to do. 

 

Joker ran a hand over his hair, still tied back behind his head, and he held the gun out in the palm of his hands for me. I glanced quickly to it and back up into his eyes with a shake of my head. He sighed and snatched me by the wrist, barely batting an eye at my struggle to take my arm out of his grip. The gun met my hand, heavier than I was expecting, and he closed his fingers around mine to make me take it. I blinked up at the man in the passenger seat, finding him still staring at me, still smiling like he could see my body through my clothes and I grimaced. 

 

“Don’t be nervous,” The Joker soothed closer than I was expecting. He gestured to his face. “Is it the scars?”

 

“No,” I answered truthfully, eyes darting to the man in the front seat. The scars aren’t what bothered me with the Joker. It was his eyes, and how he seemed to be able to look right into my soul. But at the moment, the man leering at me was what made me flinch. Joker looked at him and jutted his thumb toward the seat.

 

“He’s making you nervous? Don’t mind him. No one ever taught him any manners.” He turned to face the man and sighed. “Do you mind? I’m in the middle of an interview.”

 

With a curl of his lip, the guy gave me one more glance over before turning to face the front and I swallowed down a gasp as the Joker turned back to me. “Now, where were we? Oh yes.” He lifted my wrist and the gun with it, closing his other hand around mine. “You were saying something about being a pacifist. No one is a pacifist, by the way. You've either killed someone or haven't had the opportunity yet. Let me show you."

 

He slid closer to me, his thigh pressing against mine and I glanced down to where our bodies met. I hadn’t expected him to be so...warm. It was almost feverish and for the first time, I noticed how much I was sweating. It collected on the small of my back and between my thighs and I clamped my teeth around my bottom lip as he tilted the tip of the gun up to the ceiling of the van.

 

I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t speak. All I could think about was how my life was about to end with a bullet through my head. I wasn’t even the one pulling the trigger, despite my hand holding the gun. But it wasn’t my head the Joker pointed it to. It was his

 

He set the end of the barrel right between his eyebrows and looked up at me through his lashes. I watched, slightly in awe, mostly in terror, as his tongue, so much brighter than I imagined it would be, darted out to lick the sides of his lips. My tongue was dry as I tried to swallow and I quickly looked back up to meet his eyes. 

 

“Now, you look like a smart girl,” his voice went a bit deeper and I pursed my lips tightly together. “I’m sure you’ve been watching all of my exploits playing endlessly on the news and you’re aware that I’m not a nice guy . You hold the power to stop all of this in your hands. No more people will die if you just pull...the... trigger.

 

I could feel my eyes widen but all rational thoughts flew right out of my head. Was he being serious? There was no way. He wouldn’t put that kind of power in my hands, even if he was trying to prove a point to me about being a pacifist. There was some kind of catch. There always was when it came to him. I had seen enough about him on the news to know that.

 

The cool metal and plastic of the window pressed into my back as he shifted in the seat, leaning closer to me. His fingers adjusted around mine and I noticed the length of his fingernails. Definitely long enough to scratch me. The thought made me tremble harder for some reason. 

 

The van rolled over a bump and I gasped, taking my finger quickly away from the trigger just in case it was sensitive enough to fire at such a small touch. As fucked up as it was, I didn’t want to kill him. Not because I thought he didn’t deserve to die but because I shouldn’t be the one to do this. It wasn’t supposed to be me. It was supposed to be the police, or Batman, or someone better. 

 

I was just me. 

 

Why did this fall to me?

 

After a moment that seemed to stretch into eternity, he seemed to realize that I wasn’t going to do it. I didn’t fall into whatever trap he had laid for me. With a sigh, he sat up and wrenched the gun out of my hands and once his touch left my body, it was like a switch had been thrown.

 

With time still moving slowly, my eyes cut to the two men in the front seat. They were concentrating on the road ahead of them and with a quick glance, the Joker was occupied with slipping his gun back into the waist of his pants. My body moved before I could second guess myself and I launched myself across the van, over his lap and my hand grabbed the handle of the door. I could hear the folder and my last remaining resume fall to the floor. 

 

Even if I couldn’t escape, maybe I could open the door and scream for someone to help me. At the very least, maybe they would remember my face and tell the police that I was kidnapped and probably dead. That way my family wouldn’t be left wondering. 

 

But while my hand grabbed the handle of the door and wrenched it back, the lock was firmly in place, preventing it from opening. A sob at the back of my throat quickly turned into a scream as a pair of arms circled around my waist and hauled me back up. I didn’t find the seat beneath me again. This time, it was something worse.

 

My back pressed into the Joker’s chest and he wrapped one arm around my neck as the other looped around my arm and held it back far enough to make pain shoot through my shoulder. That was enough to scare the piss out of me. The knife at my throat, however, nearly made me faint. Dizziness swam through my head as the blade pressed against my skin and I had no choice but to lean my head back against his shoulder to relieve some of the pressure. 

 

At my ear, I could feel his warm breath and it made me shut my eyes tightly. “You know, I almost thought you wouldn’t try to fight at all. I’m glad you changed your mind.” His laugh made my skin crawl and I winced away from him. “It’s a shame you couldn’t pull the trigger. Could’ve saved a lot of lives. I suppose not everyone can handle that kind of power ,” he whispered into my ear, making all of the struggle in me suddenly stop. The tip of the blade pushed upward into my jaw and I bit my lip hard enough to taste blood. “Or maybe you just prefer someone else to have it all. Hmm? Is that it?”

 

In the rearview mirror, I caught the stare of the driver and whimpered. He didn’t look at me with sympathy or even pity. It was nothing but a passing glance as if this was another Friday afternoon for him. And next to him in the passenger seat, the other one was back to staring at me. His eyes were on my lap once more, looking right up the front of my skirt that had become bunched around my thighs.

 

I clenched my legs shut tight and the sudden movement pushed my ass down into the lap I was sitting on. My eyes widened and my hands froze around the Joker’s wrist. He was... hard .

 

Terrifying thoughts of rape sprung to my mind, nearly clouding my vision with horror, but I didn’t have time to focus on it because he shifted beneath me and I could feel him even more now. My mouth opened to gasp, but I could find no air to suck in. Still gripping the handle of the knife at my throat, he reached up and took my chin in his fingers, turning my head to the side. I kept my eyes shut, not wanting to look at him, knowing that what he was doing, this game of intimidation was turning him on. 

 

“Open your eyes,” he snapped, making me flinch. “Look at me.” The harshness of his demand scared me more than looking at him and I slowly opened my eyes. His breath came out in warm puffs across my face and he stroked his thumb down the side of my cheek, scraping my skin with the edge of his fingernail. I could practically feel his gaze moving across my face but I was too distracted by the quick flick of his tongue. When he spoke, my entire body shivered against his. “Ah, that’s exactly what it is.”

 

The tone of his voice made all the fight and struggle inside me fade away and for the first time since meeting him, I relaxed. His arm loosened around my elbow and the ache in my shoulder remained, but I could at least move it now. He reached up and pushed my hair from my face with the free fingers of his hand, the rest still gripped around the knife. 

 

For a moment, just a quick, single beat of my heart, him staring into my eyes and finding whatever it is that he thought he had found, I thought he might kiss me. Anyone normal would have at that moment, suddenly spiked with so much tension that it sucked the breath right out of my lungs. Then again, anyone normal wouldn’t have thrown me in the back of a van, put a gun in my hands, and held a knife to my throat.

 

My lips parted and again, I glanced down to his mouth, watching his tongue dart out and back in between his lips. He made a sound, something between a groan and a hum deep within his throat and the next thing I knew, I was back on the seat, nearly toppling over. He had dropped me as quickly as he had grabbed me and I looked up to see him tap the driver’s seat the same way he had when I got in the van. 

 

The tires came to a quick stop with a slight shriek of the rubber on the pavement and I shrank back as the Joker reached across my body. A part of me thought he was grabbing me again, but I blinked in surprise when he took the door handle and wrenched it open with a slight grunt. 

 

His hand was at my back, practically shoving me out of the van and I stumbled forward on trembling, wobbly legs. I spun back around in confusion and stared at him, pulling the edge of my cardigan back up around my shoulders as he dumped my purse out on the ground. Joker offered me a quick, sly grin and tilted his head to the side. He braced one hand against the frame of the door while the other still had a hold of the handle. 

 

“Well, Natalie --” It made me shiver again and I hugged my arms around my waist. “It was nice to meet you. We’ll call you if you’re the right fit for our... organization .”

 

And with that, the door slid shut once more and the van took off down the street. I followed it with my eyes, too stunned, too traumatized to do much else. It turned a corner and disappeared around a warehouse taking up the block. In the seconds after they drove away, abandoning me in a part of town I had never seen before, I could only focus on one thing; breathing.

 

Deep breaths in, slow breaths out. I had to repeat it several times, concentrating on nothing but the air coming into my lungs and slowly leaving through my nose. It helped calm my pulse but the adrenaline was rapidly fading and it’s absence left me trembling from head to toe. I had no idea my scalp could even shake like this, but it was. 

 

I felt as if they had hit me with the van, backed up, and ran me over again. Every muscle was tense and sore and I could barely keep myself standing on my feet. I wanted to scream, wanted to cry and ask the gods why, why me? I couldn’t though. 

 

What I did manage to do was reach down for my purse and pull out my cell phone. Why hadn’t I even tried to grab it when I was in the van? For years, I had listened to my parents warn me about being out late at night in the city, and to never ever get into a car with someone I didn’t know. They drilled it into my head what to do in case I was abducted or attacked and all of that advice had flown right out of my head the moment I looked up into that pair of dark eyes.

 

He had caught me completely off guard and seeing him there, towering over me with his hair pulled back and without makeup had been such a shock. One that I was still trying to process, one that was making me react in ways I never dreamed I would. 

 

Somehow, my fingers had found the number to the nearest cab company and I stared down at the screen as it displayed the call. A moment later, a bored sounding voice answered and I could barely think to put the stupid thing up to my ear. 

 

“Hello? Gotham City Taxi Company,” he repeated, making me lift the phone to my ear to speak. 

 

“I-I need a cab.”

 

“What address?”

 

I turned and looked up at the warehouse behind me. It didn’t have a name that I could see but on the corner, I spotted the street names. I told the dispatcher where to find me and he hung up after a promise that the cab would be here in about fifteen minutes. I didn’t want to be alone for fifteen minutes. Not here, not exactly where he had left me. My eyes kept darting to the corner he had disappeared around, expecting that white van to pull back around and finish what they had started.

 

Nothing happened, which scared me just as much. Why? Why did he do any of this? Why me? 

 

When the taxi pulled up to the curb, I almost wanted to tell it to go on, that I didn’t want to get in just in case it was another one of his tricks. But the older gentleman behind the wheel looked at me, then to the street and rolled his window down. “Hey, you alright?” He asked with concern evident in his voice.

 

My shoulders relaxed...not much, but just enough and I swallowed with a nod. “Yeah,” I croaked, reaching up to put a hand to my throat. My finger pressed into a tender spot and I flinched. Had he cut me with the knife after all? 

 

I climbed into the back of the cab and sat on the seat, wishing it hadn’t been leather. It felt too similar to the seat in the back of that van. The driver turned and looked me over once more, obviously not believing my lie. “You sure? You look like you might need to see a doctor.”

 

Was I pale? I felt pale. I didn’t need a doctor though. I needed to go to the police station to report this and give them everything I knew, which was...nothing that they didn’t already know. I could give them the name of the painting company on the side of the van but whoever it had originally belonged to was probably long gone, bought by the Joker, or dead. 

 

As I shifted on the seat and pulled my skirt down as far as it would go to my knees, I frowned and finally noticed that the dampness between my legs that I had shrugged off as sweat felt a bit different. I knew it wasn’t my period...which left only one other thing and I refused to acknowledge that possibility entirely.

 

“No,” I finally said with a shake of my head. “I just want to go home.”


 

Chapter Text


 

Are there some aces up your sleeve?
Have you no idea that you're in deep?
I've dreamt about you nearly every night this week
How many secrets can you keep?


 

It was strange that after the Bruce Wayne party, I had been so exhausted that sleeping an entire day away hadn’t felt like enough. Nothing had even happened to me aside from having a psychopath pull my ribbon out of my hair and yet, it had drained me emotionally and physically. But being thrown in the back of a van, tormented by that same psychopath, made to fear for my life, hadn’t exhausted me in the slightest.

 

If anything, I felt wound up, too nervous or too scared to sleep. I didn’t know which. All I knew was that after tossing and turning for three hours the night before, I had given up on the thought of sleep and decided to clean everything

 

It was long overdue. My drawers were stuffed with clothes I had been holding onto since high school and there were still boxes beneath my bed that I hadn’t yet unpacked from moving in last year. The sun wasn’t even up when I got started with the clutter beneath the bed but by dawn, I had cleared most of it out. 

 

It took two garbage bags, stuffed with a ton of things to give away to goodwill and I felt better to be rid of it. Like I was shedding the skin I had been holding onto for far too long. Next came the dust that had been gathering at the baseboards and after that, I organized all of my shelves and books. 

 

A little part of me was aware that I was doing this so I wouldn’t have to think about what had happened and I was alright with that. I didn’t want to think about it. I didn’t want to remember the way he had looked down at me in that alley, the dark of his eyes piercing through me and how for just a fraction of a second, I had found him to be handsome.

 

No.

 

I wasn’t going to think about it. 

 

Not when I could be busy doing something productive. By the time Chelsea was getting ready to leave for work at 8 that morning, I had moved out of the bedroom and into the kitchen. We kept things relatively clean, but wiping out the fridge and freezer or organizing our cabinets had never been a top priority. Until today.

 

“What’s gotten into you?” She asked, slipping her feet into her heels as I dumped the two garbage bags on the living room floor. 

 

“I just feel like cleaning. It’s overdue anyway.” I ignored the look she was giving me and passed her to move into the kitchen. At the fridge, I ducked my head down to peer into the shelves and sighed. “Is there anything you’re sentimental about? I’m tossing anything out of date.”

 

“No, that’s fine. Just don’t clean my room.” She called over her shoulder and headed to the front door. “I’ll bring some takeout home tonight. Greg’s coming over so--” She waved her hand toward my clothes and I glanced down to my t-shirt and shorts. “--put some more clothes on.”

 

Without waiting for my response, she let the door shut behind her and I blinked at the spot she had been standing. I should have stormed to the door and shouted down to her that it was her boyfriend who had walked in on me in the shower. He was the one who stared when I wore what was comfortable for me. 

 

I rolled my eyes and turned back to the fridge, taking a seat on the floor in front of it before grabbing the first container. It was some fad, vegan butter that she’d bought a few weeks ago, swearing it was just as good as the real thing. It had sucked and without even checking the date, I tossed it into an open trash bag beside me. 

 

It took an hour to get the fridge really clean. And I could have stopped after tossing the outdated things and wiping down, but I couldn't let my mind drift for one single second. Each time I slowed down to take a break or just close my eyes for a second longer than a blink, there he was. His smiling face, the press of him beneath me, his hands curling around mine as I held that gun. It was all there behind my eyelids, replaying over and over any time I stopped to rest. 

 

So I didn't. I kept going, taking all the drawers and shelves out, wiping up every spill or drop that had sat for too long in the fridge. The freezer got the same treatment and after I was done, it looked brand new. There was no time to stop and admire my work. The rest of the kitchen needed to be done and I spared no dusty corner.

 

It was four in the afternoon when I stood up from scrubbing the bathtub and stared down at my work. I had conquered my bedroom, kitchen, living room and now the bathroom was finished. Peeling the gloves from my hand, I tossed them beneath the sink and washed the cleaner off my hands.

 

The faucet was leaking still, despite Greg's attempt at fixing it and I figured, if all else fails, that could be my next project to keep these thoughts out of my head. I gathered my supplies and put them back where they belonged and once I was back in the living room, I sat down in front of the small entertainment center holding our tv.

 

I busied myself with organizing our DVD collection and CDs but twice, I stopped to read the description on the back of two of the movie cases. It was a mistake. A flash of the Joker's laugh fluttered through my head, making me flinch and the second time, I could almost feel his hand on my face again, forcing me to look at him. And his voice, so deep and gravely that it was unsettling even now echoed through my head. 

 

Open your eyes… look at me.

 

I could still hear it just as clearly as I had while sitting on his lap. With a sigh of frustration, I threw the DVD case back onto the shelf and cursed at myself for letting my thoughts drift. I had been so good up until now. Why was I letting him get back in my head? 

 

From my bedroom, a shrill ringing made me lift my head and I hurried to find my cellphone where I'd left it. The screen lit up with Abby's number and I almost let it go to voicemail. If she was calling to talk about that night, I would hang up on her. 

 

"Hello?" I asked after a moment's hesitation.

 

"Who needs money?" The sing-song tone of her voice made me laugh and it felt good to do it. "Because I got a job for you."

 

"More catering?" 

 

Abby sighed. "Well, yeah. It's nothing glamorous so we don't have to worry about shotgun-toting clowns or anything." My teeth gnashed together at the mention of clowns but I didn't hang up. I needed the money after all. "It's some science convention this weekend. Two days so the pay is going to be worth it. Oh, and it's buffet style so we get paid to stand there."

 

"This weekend?" Not like I had plans. I never had plans. With a glance around the apartment, I realized I should have probably kept some cleaning to do tomorrow or the next day. There was nothing left to distract myself. "Okay, I'm in." 

 

"Good. I really didn't want to have to call Rebecca. She thinks she can just stand there and get paid while everyone else works. You're much more fun!"

 

I laughed and reached up to scratch my eyebrow. It was nice hearing Abby joke around and try to be her normal self. Then again, she didn't exactly go through what I had dealt with the day before. It made me wonder if she had been in that alley yesterday, would he have recognized her and thrown her in the back of the van? Would he have teased her and forced her into his lap? 

 

Something bizarre swelled through me and I swallowed tightly. Was I actually jealous ?

 

"Nat? You still there?"

 

"Y-yeah! Sorry. I was just lost in thought. What should I wear?" 

 

"It's the usual uniform this time. I'll pick you up at your place Saturday morning and bring you an extra shirt." She didn't seem to notice my sudden bout of strangeness and I decided it was probably a good idea to ignore it as well. Trying to figure out what the hell I had been thinking was going to be too much for me at the moment. 

 

We said our goodbyes after agreeing to meet up at 9 on Saturday and by the time I hung up, the key was twisting in the deadbolt. Shit. Chelsea and Greg were home already and I was still wearing my shorts and t-shirt. I quickly shut my door just as they came in and sighed. 

 

It wasn't like I cared what she thought. I really didn't. But I didn't exactly like Greg gawking at me either and if he couldn't keep his eyes away from my body parts, then I'd have to cover myself up. Or I could smack him in the head, but Chelsea would more than likely kick me out of her apartment if I did that. I wasn't trying to be homeless any time soon. 

 

So for the time being, I had to comply with her wishes. I pulled on a pair of pajama pants and a long-sleeved t-shirt, despite the rising temperatures outside. I felt better in it anyway; hidden, not so vulnerable. 

 

When I strolled back into the living room, Greg was at the table, lifting boxes of takeout from a plastic bag. He lifted his head and looked at me with a smile. “Just in time,” he commented and I didn’t let him see me wrinkle my nose at their food.

 

They never considered my preferences when ordering takeout and didn’t exactly expect them to this time. But I was starving and the smell of fried rice and steamed veggies was making my stomach growl in protest. With Chelsea changing out of her work clothes in the bedroom, I snuck a bite of broccoli. The sound of a snicker made me look up, holding my hand in front of my mouth while I chewed.

 

Greg shook his head as he opened a pack of soy sauce and dumped it over his rice. “She doesn’t mind if you eat with us.”

 

“Yeah, right,” I mumbled around the bite of broccoli. “I’m already a burden without having a job and all, but eating your food without paying? No thanks.”

 

He shrugged and took a seat at the small, round table in the kitchen, not offering me any more of their food. I leaned against the counter and only momentarily regretted not taking him up on it. It seemed that another peanut butter and banana sandwich was in store for me for dinner, even though it’s exactly what I’d had for lunch. 

 

Chelsea blew out a sigh before shutting her bedroom door behind her. She didn’t smile at me or even look my way but that wasn’t exactly rare. She usually treated me like a minor inconvenience and I looked around the apartment, wondering if she even noticed the effort I had put into cleaning it up. 

 

“Oh,” Greg said, dabbing the corner of his mouth with a napkin. “Mom looked at your resume today. They won’t be hiring until the end of the month, but I think you’ve got a good chance. They actually need a good worker…”

 

His voice kept going but I could hear nothing but the sound of my own heart pounding in my ears. I could see myself in my memory, handing the bank teller my resume, handing it to the woman at the boutique and then at the department store. Each time I had handed it to someone, I had looked down at my name at the top, center of the page…with my address typed out beneath it. And now he had a copy.

 

My hand was trembling as it came to my mouth and I could feel tears start to burn at the back of my eyes. How could I have been so stupid? Why hadn’t I thought of it before? I had been so busy trying not to think, trying not to remember any details about yesterday that I completely forgot the one thing that could potentially risk my life.

 

Ignoring the looks from my roommate and her boyfriend at the table, I turned to stare at the door. The deadbolt was in place and the knob was locked as well, but that wouldn’t stop him. If he wanted to find me, he’d have no problem kicking down the door. But why would he even want to? 

 

I was nothing to him. Just a momentary plaything, caught in the heat of the moment at the wrong place and wrong time. I had nothing to offer him.

 

“Nat?” Greg asked, setting his chopsticks down on the edge of his plate. I looked at him and then to Chelsea who had a bite of chicken positioned right at her mouth. They were both staring at me as if I had just grown a second head. “You okay?”

 

They deserved to know. If it were the other way around, I’d want to know that there was a possibility that a psychotic terrorist clown could burst into our apartment at any moment. But what would they think? What would they say to me or do? They would kick me out, or possibly move out and leave me behind. 

 

When I found my voice, it was barely a whisper and I cleared my throat. “Y-yeah. I think the bleach fumes got to me.” I needed to get away from them and their confused stares. I couldn’t think when they looked at me like that. “I need to take a shower.”

 

I was in the bathroom before Chelsea could even take a bite of her sesame chicken, back pressed against the robe hanging on the back of the door and breath coming out in quick, shallow puffs that left my lungs aching. I was panicking, dizzy and light-headed. I needed something to distract myself.

 

The shower turned on with a loud shriek of the metal knob and I twisted it to the hottest setting, needing the steam to fill the room. My head was filled with images of him breaking down the front door, or his goons coming to snatch me from my bedroom to bring me back to him and my stomach lurched. I dropped to my knees in front of the toilet and threw up the peanut butter and banana sandwich I had eaten for lunch. 

 

It didn’t help my nausea and I reached up with a shaking hand to flush the toilet, hoping no one had heard me throwing up. There was only so much I could blame on bleach fumes. With a groan that I tried to keep as quiet as possible, I sat back on the fuzzy rug beneath me and swiped the back of my hand across my mouth. 

 

With a glance to the door, I swallowed the taste of bile on the back of my tongue. I couldn’t tell them. They would take me to the police and get me deeper into this nightmare than I already was. There was no guarantee that he would even seek me out again anyway. He’d had his fun with me. What point would there be to coming back for more?

 

It was a lie I was telling myself, a lie that I would cling to and clutch like a lifeboat on an endless sea. 

.

.

I had suggested, a day later, when Chelsea was on the phone with Greg, that we get a gun for protection. She thought I was being ridiculous. What did any of those criminals want with either of us? They were going after the people who mattered most to the city, not two, random women who meant nothing. 

 

Greg assured her that with him being there most of the time, there was no need for a gun, that he would protect us. It had been an attempt to make the conversation light-hearted but all I could think about was how easily the Joker would slaughter Greg if given the chance. The subject was dropped with Chelsea turning back around to face the television and her conversation picked back up with her boyfriend about his sick aunt. 

 

If I couldn’t have a gun, then I would keep the next best thing on me at all times. At least when I was in the house. I knew exactly where I had organized the knives in our kitchen, and knew exactly which one was the biggest and sharpest. I kept it under my mattress for the next two days, right beneath my head so that I could grab it at the first sign of an intruder breaking into the apartment. Maybe they would come to my room first and I could fend them off before they got to Chelsea.

 

It was safe to say that by Saturday, I was exhausted from the lack of sleep. I had tossed and turned every night and when I did sleep, my dreams were so bizarre and alarming that they woke me up with a gasp and kept me awake. 

 

And I knew the exhaustion was written on my face the moment I opened the door to Abby’s face blinking at me in surprise. She took one look at me and winced. “Damn, Jacobs. You feeling okay?”

 

“Yeah,” I mumbled, stepping out into the hallway with a bag of clothes hanging from my shoulder. With a twist of my key in the deadbolt, I turned back around and forced a smile. “I just haven’t been sleeping very well.”

 

She nodded her head and I could see by the look in her eyes that she understood and maybe she was experiencing the same sleepless nights. If she was, she didn’t mention it. We turned to make our way down the stairs and out to the taxi waiting for us. I didn’t even want to think about the price of the fare after this trip. 

 

The convention was right outside the city and would take at least half an hour to get there, not to mention the trip back. There goes the last of my rainy day fund. Hopefully, I would be able to take Greg up on his offer to share takeout with me, even if Chelsea would disapprove. 

 

As we climbed into the back of the cab, Abby handed me a bundle of black material and I straightened it out to see a button-up shirt. I groaned. “Don’t tell me it’s too small for me.”

 

“It should fit this time, but I brought a safety pin, just in case.”

 

I changed in the cab, not even caring about whether or not the driver could see me in just my bra from the rearview mirror. Abby didn’t seem to mind. She opened her compact and dabbed a bit of powder over a blemish on her cheek with a sigh. I quickly buttoned the shirt up to my chest, ignoring the little voice in the back of my head reminding me about cleavage, and was pleased to find that there were no gaps made by my chest. 

 

I pulled my hair out of the collar and sat back against the seat, eyeing the makeup she was pulling out of her bag. At least I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t prepared for the day. 

 

It took about an hour to get to the convention center thanks to all the traffic on the bridges. It seemed that more and more people were abandoning the city in the face of the Joker's threats and antics. More than once the idea of going back to my parent's house crossed my mind. At least until this nightmare was over. 

 

The Joker couldn't keep this up forever. Eventually, he was going to piss Batman off enough that he'd put a stop to it once and for all. At least, that's what I and the majority of Gotham citizens were hoping for. 

 

Abby and I were immediately given tasks upon entering the convention center and since we showed up a few minutes late, Brad had saved us the honor of carting trays of food back and forth from the kitchen to the banquet hall. It wasn't like the Wayne fundraiser. These weren't petite little hors d'oeuvres arranged prettily on a platter. This was enormous, buffet style trays full of piping hot food to be served in the next hour or so. 

 

My arms had acquired quite a few burn marks after just the first few trips from the kitchen to the banquet hall and by the time we had finished, Brad sent us right back out to serve the food. Abby stood at one end of the long buffet and I was at the other, ready to scoop vegetables onto plates for the many people in attendance. 

 

Most of them had white coats on and I assumed those were the doctors, separating them from the regular folks in suits and ties. The reporters were in normal clothes and took their time snapping photos and grabbing quick interviews while a line formed for lunch. I did my job with a polite smile and hoped my exhaustion didn't read clear on my face. 

 

It was bad enough that Joker was infiltrating my sleep, but now I had to worry about how awful I looked while doing my job because of him? Why hadn't I just stayed home? Why did I have to go out that day and at that time? I was always making the wrong choices, always doing the wrong thing. I hid a yawn behind my arm and glanced up the buffet line to Abby.

 

She was bright and bubbly like always, making friendly conversation with the people in front of her. I was jealous of her attitude. If only I could have slept a decent night's sleep just once the past few days without worrying about a terrorist clown man coming into my bedroom to torment me. Just the thought of it made the fear and panic start to bubble beneath the surface and my eyes darted around the room. I was paranoid, beyond paranoid actually. What if he was here, planning an attack for God only knows why? 

 

"I know that face," a feminine voice said to my left, nearly making me drop the serving spoon in my hand. It belonged to a woman who was a few inches taller than me, wearing a white lab coat. Her hair was a fiery red and piled into a bun of messy curls on top of her head. She was strikingly beautiful and I couldn't help staring at her for a moment while she smiled at me. 

 

Finally, I found my voice. "I'm sorry, do we know each other?" 

 

The woman shook her head with a laugh. "No, but I recognize the look on your face. Trouble with a boyfriend?"

 

Heat flared up the sides of my face and I ducked my head, looking down at the vegetable casserole I was serving. It shouldn’t have made me react like this like I was a twelve-year-old whose crush was just revealed to everyone. I quickly shook my head and cleared my throat.

 

“Ah, so no boyfriend,” the woman said, holding her plate out for a small helping of the casserole. “Girlfriend?”

 

“Oh, no. I’m not... He’s not my boyfriend. He’s just…” A psychopath, a terrorist, evil, insane, possibly trying to kill me--

 

“Toying with you?”

 

Her words made me blink at her. I wondered how she could be so astute. Sure, he wasn’t my boyfriend, thank god , but apparently my feelings about the situation had been written clearly across my face for anyone to see. Maybe I was just that transparent. As she sidestepped down the buffet line, she brought her finger to her nose and tapped it twice to indicate she understood though I didn’t confirm her suspicions. 

 

“They’ll get in your head if you let them,” she said with a smile that didn’t make me feel any better. “Boys aren’t worth all that anguish.”

Before I could respond a man stepped up to her and put a hand to her shoulder. “Dr. Isley, I’ve been meaning to find you to chat.”

 

“Great,” she said with a tight forced smile. She gave a glance back at me and rolled her eyes playfully as if her previous statement to me was relevant as ever. With a wink, she turned back around and followed the man down to where the drinks were being poured and I was left to serve the next person stepping up. 

 

Even after she was gone, I couldn’t help repeating her words in my head. Boys definitely could get in your head, but this was no ordinary boy. If he were, I’d have dumped his ass by now and moved on. But how can I move on when twice now, he’d popped up into my life and left me feeling violated and stripped and vulnerable? I’d only spent half an hour in his presence at most and he had me terrified and paranoid.

 

I just had to hold onto the hope that he would forget about me and that my resume was still lying on the floor of that van, trampled and forgotten. 

 

By midnight, I was exhausted, starving, and still feeling as if every few minutes I had to look over my shoulder to make sure I wasn’t being followed. Abby didn’t join me for the cab ride home, unfortunately, but I was able to take a plate of food home. The entire drive back into the city, I had been stealing little bites of roll and couldn’t wait to get back inside and heat up my leftovers. 

 

After paying the driver, I hurried up the front steps and gave a good look around the main floor of the building. There were no shadows lurking beneath the stairs and though I had a heavy plate of food in my hand, I kept my keys between my fingers of my other hand. If anyone tried to sneak up on me, I’d at least be prepared to stab them with keys.

 

But there was nothing waiting to reach out and snatch me. The apartment was quiet when I got in and I sighed and stared into the darkness. I had forgotten that Chelsea stayed with Greg on the weekends and I almost wanted to call Abby and ask her to come stay the night. She lived a bit far away and we both had to get up early for the next day of the convention.

 

There was no way to avoid it. I would be alone tonight. 

 

I dropped my purse onto the table and kicked the door shut behind me, hurrying to the kitchen drawer to grab the quickest knife I could. With it gripped tightly in my hand, I went through the apartment, turning on the lights in each room and checking closets, under the beds, and behind the shower curtain. 

 

If he was in here, he was hiding well. And I was much too hungry to keep searching. After I kicked my pants off and shed my button-up shirt, I strolled back into the kitchen in just my panties and camisole. I didn’t abandon the knife, even after pulling my food from the microwave and taking a seat in front of the television. 

 

I avoided the news stations. No point in freaking myself out with stories about what Joker’s done this time. Then again, it might help me put my mind at ease knowing he was out there, not thinking a single thought about me. 

 

Instead, I settled on late night cartoons, something mindless that I didn’t have to focus on while I ate. The food was a bit bland, but I ate it as if it were the most delicious thing I’d ever had in my life. Hopefully tomorrow, I could snag a few more plates and wouldn’t have to spend any of the money I made on groceries. 

 

With my stomach nice and full, I laid on the couch for another hour and channel surfed. It helped take my mind off of things and while I kept my knife as close as I safely could, I still wasn’t ready to sleep. Even with the idea of waking up early to get ready. And though I wasn’t ready for sleep, my body was.

 

My eyelids drooped and I had to stifle the hundredth yawn into the cushion before I succumbed to the idea and decided to move to the bedroom. I wedged a kitchen chair beneath the front door that might hopefully stop an intruder, and armed with my knife, I shuffled into my bedroom. The mound of pillows and blankets was calling my name and I wedged the weapon beneath my mattress with the other before collapsing onto the bed. 

 

I reached over to the alarm clock sitting on my nightstand and pulled it toward me, not wanting to even lift my head to see the time. But before I could set the alarm to go off at 7 the next morning, my fingers brushed against a slick piece of paper and I peeked out from behind my eyelid.

 

Just beyond my hand, sitting propped against my lamp was a bright red ribbon tied into a neat little bow. My entire body froze and I stared at it with no air entering or leaving my lungs. It hadn’t been there before I left. In fact, I had no other red ribbon and after Chelsea’s had been taken, I was pretty damn sure she didn’t own any more either. 

 

Slowly, I rose up from the pillow and could see beyond the black box of my alarm clock. The ribbon was tied around a single playing card; a Joker playing card. The sight of it made the food I had eaten threaten to come back up and I quickly clamped a hand over my mouth to stop it.

 

I didn’t dare pick it up. Just seeing it was enough to terrify me. But it was hard to ignore the haphazardly typed words on the front. 

 

One for me

One for you


 

Chapter Text


But I think I got the devil hiding in the driver's seat
He's staring at me like I'm good enough to eat


 

 




This wasn't happening. This was not happening. There was no way this was real. I must have fallen asleep on the couch and was experiencing a hyper-realistic nightmare. Because if this was real, if somehow, he had been in my house, in my bedroom , then I was going to pass out and possibly die of fright. 

 

I had never experienced terror like this. It gripped me by the spine with icy fingers and refused to let me go, refused to let me just breathe. And so, for far too long I sat on the edge of my bed, staring at that horrible little playing card like it was a sign from the devil himself. In a way, I suppose it actually was. Because he certainly wasn't human. 

 

He was a demon.

 

Wicked and hateful and terrifying and he had been in my home, leaving it tainted and wrong. Even the clothes I was wearing felt different. I wanted to strip them off my body, strip my sheets from the bed and burn everything he might have touched. 

 

But I couldn't. All I could do was sit there and stare at the words he had typed on the front of that card. I wasn't sure how much time had passed, even with my alarm clock sitting beside it displaying the time in glowing green numbers, because all of my thoughts were on the fact that he had been in my room . God, just thinking about him possibly going through my things, walking through my room, peeking into my drawers...it was enough to make me finally turn away from the card.

 

I put a hand to my mouth, shut my eyes tight to fight back the urge to throw up and stood to pace the length of the floor beside my bed. I had to go to the police. There was no avoiding it anymore. I should have gone the day he had forced me into that van. I should have told Chelsea and Greg and figured something out because now…now I was alone and had no idea what to do. 

 

A groan rose up into my throat and I let it out with a sob, lifting my hands to comb them through my hair. I didn't know what to do, but I knew I had to take this down to the police station and see what they could do about it. At the very least, maybe there were fingerprints or something to give them a clue as to who the hell he is and where he came from. 

 

Aside from the pits of hell. 

 

I dressed quickly, throwing on a t-shirt over my camisole and stepping into a pair of gym shorts. I snatched my zip-up jacket from the hook behind the door and slipped my arms through it, trying to glance around the floor for my other sneaker. It was hiding behind the door and I pushed my foot into it before turning back to face the bedside table. Right where I’d left it, too afraid to even touch it, was the ribbon and card. 

 

God, I could barely look at it. How was I supposed to pick it up and carry it with me? How was I supposed to put it in my pocket and know something he had touched and left for me was so close to my body. I couldn’t. I spun on my heel and hurried to the kitchen while dialing the number to the cab company. With one ride to the police station and back, I would be officially broke, but this was imperative. I had to turn this in and get help. 

 

As the dispatcher picked up the phone, I told them my address and grabbed a sandwich bag from one of the cabinets. It felt safer to put it in something rather than just carry it in my pocket. Besides, I didn’t want to even touch it. I ended the call and hurried back into the bedroom, using the plastic Ziploc bag to wiggle the card and ribbon into it. I sealed it and shoved it into the pocket of my jacket.

 

It would take a while for the cab to pull up and my body refused to sit still. Anywhere I touched felt wrong, like it could have been touched by him and if I brushed against it, it would be like I touched him. My fingers shook as I reached up and pulled my hair into a ponytail. For some reason, I was shaking as if I were cold but every inch of skin on my body felt flushed and warm. 

 

There was a ton of nervous energy sinking into my fingertips and toes, catching at my joints and leaving me jumpy and fidgety. A strand of hair fell from my ponytail and brushed against my cheek and I jumped, convincing myself it was a finger reaching out to brush my face. When I whirled around, there was no one there. No one but me.

 

I was alone in an apartment that he had invaded and the walls were closing in on me. Ignoring the wave of shivers down my spine, I crossed to the window and pulled the curtain to the side to peer down to the street. No cabs, no headlights turning the corner, nothing but the cars parked on the curb. It wasn’t too hard to believe. It was close to three in the morning. 

 

Even in a city like Gotham, with seemingly never-ending night life, no one in their right mind would be out this late. Not when the Joker was terrorizing the city. 

 

My fingers curled around the fabric of the curtain and I had to resist the need to reach into my pocket, pull out the card and rip it to pieces. I wish I could be that brave. I wish I could toss it in the trash and prove to him that he didn’t scare me, that I wouldn’t allow him to bully me into terror like this. 

 

But I couldn’t.

 

I wasn’t some heroine from a story who stood up to her cruel attacker and saved herself. I was the girl who had a mild fear of horses thanks to a particularly bad experience at summer camp in middle school. I was the girl who was too nervous to call and make my own doctor appointments. And for some reason, now I was the target of a man that scared me so badly, my entire body felt as if it were paralyzed. I wish I could be that heroine, but I’m not.

 

A horn honked outside on the street and I leaped an entire inch off the floor, my hands flying to clutch at my chest. It was a perfect example of my previous observations about myself and I tried not to let it bother me as I spun on my heel and raced out the door. I paused to lock the deadbolt, though what was the point? The one person I was afraid of didn’t exactly need a key to break in.

 

The proof of that was sitting in a plastic sandwich bag in my pocket. 

 

I ran out the front door of the building and down the steps to the cab. Metal music poured out of the car as I threw the door open and the driver reached to turn it down just enough to hear my directions. With a nod, he pulled away and drove through the city, taking me right to the Gotham City Police Department. 

 

I had never been in the police department before, never had a reason to. I hated that he was my reason now. It wasn’t fair. Why was this happening to me? What did he want with me? Just to get in my head and annoy and terrify me? He didn’t need to leave his card for that. One thirty-second experience in his presence had done enough damage.

 

In a way, I blamed myself for the van incident. I shouldn’t have been in that part of town, should have fought more, should have just stayed in bed that day. I had walked right into him and what happened was all my fault. 

 

Of course, he didn’t have to snatch me up, force me to hold a gun to his head and put me on his lap. 

 

My teeth clamped hard over my bottom lip and I shook the thoughts out of my head. The last thing I wanted to think about now was sitting on his lap, feeling him beneath me and the way he had made me turn to look him in the eyes. And his eyes... god , those eyes. They were so dark, two unfathomable abysses that were both closed off and told me everything I needed to know about him at the same time. 

 

They were the reason I had been having so much trouble sleeping lately. Every time I shut my eyes, every time I let my mind wander and start to relax, there they were, right over my shoulder, watching me and staring so deep into me I felt as if I were suffocating. 

 

Exactly how I felt right now.

 

Even with the AC blasting from the vents of the cab, even with the window cracked right beside my head to let in the fresh air, I felt as if I were breathless. I let my head fall back against the headrest and blinked at the city lights passing us by. As the light ahead turned green, the taxi turned to the right and pulled to a stop just outside a block of a building. I stared up at the small set of concrete stairs and the double doors at the top. Letters spelled out GCPD above the doors and the cab driver turned to look back at me. 

 

"Need me to wait?" He asked in a gruff voice that made my body twitch with surprise. I shook my head and handed him enough cash for the fare before stepping out of the car. 

 

When the cab pulled away from the curb, I almost turned around to call it back. I wasn't sure what I was so afraid of. It was almost like I felt as if telling someone else, saying what I had been through out loud, would have made it more real. If I kept it bottled up inside, it was easier to convince myself it had all been in my head. 

 

My hand flattened against the pocket of my jacket and just beneath the material, I could feel the card and plastic bag I had put it in. This wasn't my imagination. It was real and I had to put a stop to this tonight. 

 

I hurried up the steps and pushed my way into the doors. A night security guard slowly stood to his feet with a sigh as I paused at the two metal detectors just inside the building. "Put your cellphone, keys, wallet or purse in the bin," he instructed, stepping around the conveyor belt to pass his wand over my body. 

 

After he had deemed me clear of any weapons, I stepped through the metal detector and took my cell phone back from him. He didn't offer much else and as he returned to his metal, folding chair behind the conveyor belt, I hurried into the lobby and glanced to the small seating areas on either side of the room. The chairs were set up in an L shape and there was a crowd of people sitting in various positions around it. I hadn’t expected to see so many faces and my steps slowed as I took in the nearest group sitting closest to me.

 

Three of the women looked to be prostitutes and with a quick glance down to their very short skirts and knee-high boots, I turned back to the reception window. It was a thick pane of glass that could slide open and just inside, sitting on a seat in front of an aging computer, was the receptionist. She was in a dark blue uniform that resembled the one the security guard wore and I stepped up to the counter and cleared my throat. She didn't look up from whatever she was typing. 

 

"Excuse me," I said, knowing my voice was muffled behind the glass. "I need to speak to someone about...about a break-in." 

 

The woman reached for a clipboard beside the computer and slid it to the window before pushing the glass to the side. I managed to grab the clipboard before it could fall to the floor and a second later, the woman handed me a pen. "Fill these out and when you bring them back up, I'll need a state-issued ID."

 

I opened my mouth but the glass panel slid back into place, making me blink down at her. Maybe I should show her the card. Surely it would get her attention. 

 

I scrambled to pull the sandwich bag out of my pocket and managed to hold it up to the glass before tapping my fingernail against it. "You don't understand," I started, glancing at the card. It still felt wrong to be touching it. "I need to see someone who can help me with this. It's the Jo --" 

 

The woman stood up and snatched a page that had just printed off before turning her eyes to me. She didn’t even glance at the Ziploc bag I was still pressing into the glass. “Ma’am, we’re a little busy tonight. Everyone has problems. If you fill out the report, someone will be with you as soon as they can.”

 

Without another word, she turned on her heel and stormed to the back of her office where a series of filing cabinets were set up. She wrenched one open and kept her back to me, letting me know that there would be no arguing with her. I took the clipboard and turned to find a seat. I picked the empty one beside a hooker that was dozing off with her head resting against the wall and crossed my legs.

 

The plastic bag was situated between my leg and the clipboard and I tried not to think about it’s close proximity to me as I filled out the information. For some reason, I skipped the basic information, not wanting to give them anything until I knew they could help me. The less I was tied to him, the better. 

 

I jumped to the important parts. There was a larger box with ‘Reason for Report’ and I quickly scribbled in that the Joker had broken into my apartment and left me a card. But as I finished the sentence, my pen stilled on the paper. Would they even believe this? It was too complicated to explain in a little box on a piece of paper. I needed to be face to face with someone who would listen.

 

My eyes lifted back to the reception window and I frowned. It was obvious that the woman wouldn’t give me a chance to explain. This was my only option if I wanted help at all. I quickly filled in the date and estimated time of the break-in and sighed. Once more, the pen in my hand came to a stop and I stared down at the black letters on the page.

 

A voice, so sinister and echoing right in my ear, whispered through my head and I closed my eyes. Or maybe you just prefer someone else to have all the power... He did this because he knew I was weak. He knew I would let it happen, knew I would cower at the apartment, possibly cry and sweep it all under the rug. 

 

He wanted me to be powerless.

 

My teeth clenched and I lifted my head to look back at the window. The woman had returned to her computer and was typing away once again. Before I could stop myself, I jumped to my feet and made it back to her in three quick strides. She didn’t look up at me as I dropped the clipboard onto the counter. It was only when I slapped the sandwich bag, card and ribbon against the glass did her head whip up and eyes go wide at the sight of me. Her mouth was open before I could even speak. “I know you’re not beating on my window like that!”

 

“I need to speak to someone now . The Joker left this for me.”

 

For a few beats of my heart, the woman blinked between the card and my face before she slowly pushed her chair back and stood to her feet. She cursed beneath her breath and reached over to slap her hand against a button on the wall. A few feet away, a thick steel door buzzed and clicked open, making me stumble back in a bit of a surprise.

 

I hadn’t exactly expected her to do anything but snap at me again, but apparently mentioning the Joker was what I should have done in the first place. Before she could change her mind, I scrambled through the door and found her walking out of the office with quick steps. She didn’t look back to see if I was following and I clutched the sandwich bag tight against my stomach. My fingers were trembling so badly that I thought I would drop it. 

 

We stepped into an elevator that took us up two floors and when the doors opened, she stepped out without a backward glance. I had no choice but to follow her and I did with quick steps. The hallway opened up into a large room with a half-wall partition separating an area of desks from the heavy traffic areas. A few detectives and other officers stood around, sipping coffee or looking over paperwork and I tried not to stare too long.

 

But as I said, I’d never been in a police station before and didn’t quite know what to expect. The woman pushed through a swinging door on the partition wall and I barely caught it before it could slam into my knees. I scowled at the back of her blonde head as she took a left and stopped in front of a messy, cluttered desk. “Hey, Marshall. Got a live one for you.”

 

A man, who was looking as frazzled and hopeless as I felt sighed and peered up at the woman, a frown pinching in bushy eyebrows. “What now?”

 

The woman finally looked back at me as I stepped up to the desk and she crossed her arms over her chest. “She says the Joker left her a card.”

 

He glanced at me with a scoff. “C’mon, Francine. We’re just believing any person that comes in off the streets about this guy? You know we’ve been flooded with calls that never check out.”

 

“I’m not lying,” I said, wishing my voice didn’t crack halfway through it. I held out the sandwich bag and he snatched it from my hands with a sigh that blew out his cheeks. Francine stepped back to let me get closer. “He knows where I live and when I came home from work tonight, I found this.”

 

Both Francine and Marshall looked up at me with looks of doubt and I felt my hopes starting to fade. But they had to believe me, right? It was their job to believe me. I blinked down at the detective, watching him swipe his palm across his face before his eyes lifted to meet mine. 

 

“Why would he want to leave you his card?”

 

Shit. I really didn’t want to answer this question, but it was inevitable. I crossed my arms over my chest and shifted from one foot to the other while trying to think of the best way to explain all of this. “Well,” I started, figuring it was best to go back to the beginning. “I was at the fundraiser party that Bruce Wayne held, as a caterer. I guess, the Joker thought I was an easy target to torment. That ribbon--” I leaned over the desk to point down at the red strip inside the bag. “I was wearing it that night and he pulled it out of my hair and left with it.”

 

They shared a look, eyebrows arched in disbelief and I knew that if I didn’t convince them soon, they were going to kick me out the front door. So I launched into the full story, from the day of the funeral parade, getting snatched up and interviewed by him, leaving my resume and coming home to find the card and ribbon on my nightstand. All the while, the two of them stared at me, unblinking and unresponsive.

 

When I finished, glancing between them for any sign that they believed me, I found Francine throwing her hands up in front of her with a shake of her head. “I gotta get back to work,” she scoffed. “She’s all yours.”

 

Wow.

 

What a bitch.

 

She pushed her way through the swinging door and I let my arms fall to my side. The detective sat back in his chair and tossed the bag onto his desk. “You’re telling me that the same guy who is targeting specific people in the public eye all over the city has also set his sights on a random caterer?”

 

“Yes.”

 

Marshall sat back up and shook his head with a laugh that made me narrow my eyes into a glare. “You know, we got a call two days ago--a psychic--she told us the Joker is actually Elvis Prestley who has come back from the dead to seek revenge on Gotham.”

 

My jaw clenched tight and I swallowed back the urge to cry. God, I hated being an angry crier. With my hands tightening into fists at my sides, I blinked down at him and ignored the burn at the back of my eyelids. “I’m not crazy. I need your help, okay? Isn’t it--I don’t know-- illegal to ignore evidence? That is my ribbon. He pulled it out of my hair and gave me half back. His card is a threat ! What if his fingerprints were on this or some other evidence and you just ignored it?”

 

The detective sighed again and scrubbed his hands over his face before standing to his feet. For a moment, I thought he was going to walk away, tell me to get the hell out of there and walk away laughing. But instead, he pointed a finger at me and shook his head. 

 

“Stay here, don’t move.”

 

I nodded but he was already walking away, heading deeper into the precinct. The room was lined with small offices toward the back that were mostly dark for the night. He hurried past them into a part of the station I couldn’t see and once he was out of my sight, I lowered myself into one of the chairs in front of his desk. 

 

My legs bounced with that same nervous energy from before and I pulled my jacket tighter around me. Despite the warm night, the inside of the police station was kept chilly and I was regretting shorts. Goosebumps trailed down the length of my legs and I glanced at the plastic bag still sitting on Marshall’s desk.

 

It was the first time I felt alright to actually look at it. The black letter J in the top left corner and the printed Joker figure in the center pulled my eye across it to the words he had typed. One for Me. One for you . Before I could stop myself, I reached out and took the corner of the bag, sliding it toward me.

 

The bow he had tied was prettier than I could make and I let out a scoff at the thought. Each loop was even and the ends fell against the card as if he took his time to make sure it was close to perfect as it could get. Which was a bizarre thought. Everything about him seemed messy and chaotic, from the way he stormed into Bruce Wayne’s penthouse to the makeup smeared across his face. Why would he put so much care into this?

 

Maybe he likes you

 

A voice piped up in the back of my head, making me wrinkle my nose and shake my head. I tossed the bag back onto the desk, turning my head away from it. Apparently, my lack of sleep the last few nights was making me a little crazy. 

 

From the other side of the room, a policeman’s radio hissed with static and a moment later, the last remaining officers in the room hurried down the hall where Marshall had disappeared to. Seeing them in such a rush left my stomach clenching with nervousness, but honestly, what could happen here? 

 

This was the safest place in Gotham at the moment.

 

I just wish I could find a little bit of peace in knowing that. Fear and dread still sat within me and left me jittery and paranoid. And with every passing minute that Detective Marshall didn’t return, the worse that paranoia became. 

 

What was taking him so long?

 

It had to be passed four in the morning by now. The adrenaline was starting to wane and my body was begging for the crash. After the past four days of barely any sleep, it was starving for it. There was no way I would be able to work tomorrow and I wondered if I should leave Abby a message now.

 

I pulled my cell phone from the pocket of my jacket and pulled up my text messages. She had already commented on me looking like shit. Maybe a generic ‘I’m sick’ excuse wouldn’t be too far-fetched for her to believe. 

 

If only I wasn’t missing out on good money. 

 

Once it was sent, I put the phone back into my pocket and sat back in the chair with a sigh. Twenty more minutes, and I was going to get up and leave, no matter what he said. I could understand if it was in the middle of the day, but this was--

 

Shouting toward the back of the room, exactly where the police officers and Marshall had disappeared to, pulled my attention and I sat up in the chair. My heartbeat like a drum as it grew closer and I could hear several people shouting threats. Through the darkened offices along the back of the room, there was a rush of commotion and I blinked at the sight.

 

Several detectives and uniformed officers had their guns drawn and were pointing it right to a figure holding something to a man’s neck. Not just any figure though...Even in the darkness of the office, I could see his messy hair and smeared, white face.

 

Every drop of blood in my body ran cold and I felt that same terror seep from my head down to my toes. He was here. 

 

“What do you want?” Someone shouted, making all the sound rush back into my ears. I stood to my feet, the back of my legs knocking into the chair I had been sitting in. 

 

I turned on my heel and hurried to the swinging door. Before I could kick it open and flee, something stopped me. I turned back and stared at the bag still sitting on the detective’s desk. What if Joker saw it? What if he found it and knew I was here? He would come looking for me.

 

I rushed back to the desk, my sneaker slipping on a piece of paper on the floor and my knee went down hard on the tile. I managed to keep myself from falling all the way and reached over to snatch the bag. And just as I shoved it back in my pocket, the entire building was rocked.

 

An explosion ripped from the back room and I felt myself screaming before I could hear it. The force of it shook the walls and sent me to the floor on my hands and knees, the bag still clutched within my fist.

 

I blinked down at the tile beneath me as the lights flickered before going off. At the exits, the emergency lights came on and the smoke detectors came to life and the sound pierced my ears. I put my hands over them and stood up, turning to face the offices where he had been. They seemed empty upon first glance but a shadow moved in front of the window, pulling my eyes toward it.

 

Everything faded away and time slowed to a stop. The erratic shrieking of the alarms, the sprinklers going off down the hall, it all disappeared the moment he turned the corner and spotted me. His gaze, quickly flicking down the length of my body froze me to the spot even from across the massive room. I could only stare, my lips parted and throat clenched tightly around a sob as he darkened the doorway and lifted the corners of his lips. 

 

“Well, hello again,” he said and even through the constant beeping of the smoke detectors, the sound of his voice made me flinch. There were a thousand things I should have said, but I could barely form a thought let alone a sound. And when his eyes fell to the bag I held down at my side, my knees started to shake. 

 

He didn’t say anything else but didn’t exactly have to. The slow grin that stretched across his mouth told me he knew what it was, knew what I was doing there and that I fell right into the trap he had set. Without waiting around for me to finally regain my ability to speak, Joker turned to the left and pushed his way into the emergency exit, leaving me to stare at the space he had just occupied. 

 

As soon as he was gone, whatever trance he had over me lifted and I stumbled back on my heels. I should have checked to see if everyone was alright if anyone needed my help. But I couldn’t think beyond getting as far away from this building, far away from him as I could get.

 

I didn’t look back. I ran to the elevators, ignoring all of the warnings that in case of fire, take the stairs but I was more afraid of what was on the stairs than a fire. Luckily, the elevator still worked and I slapped the ground floor button over and over until the doors were sliding closed. In the reflection of the metal, I could just make out my face and how ghostly pale it was.

 

As soon as the doors opened, I ran. I shoved the heavy steel door open and ignored the security guard on his feet, speaking to an emergency dispatcher. Even as he shouted at me to stop, I burst out of the front doors and ran as fast as I could, as far as I could. 

 

I never looked back.

 

I was too afraid that if I did, he would be there, following me. I wasn’t safe at home, I wasn’t safe surrounded by police...I wasn’t safe anywhere.