Hi all! Guess who's writing again? I honestly gave up on this story, but i was still getting reviews and got inspired to do some more. I really hope you like this one, it went through sooooo much editing since i wanted my return chapter to be bomb.
Please let me know what you think, reviews are my motivation :):)
As always, I don't own any Batman/Begins or Dark Knight characters, but the rest are all mine.
QUICK POLL-please take the time to answer this, it will really help me finish the story:
1) Who is YOUR favourite character so far?
This will affect the ending, and specifically what happens to certain characters (no spoilers tho ;) )
Thank you so much! I'll try to update again soon.
Love to all! XOXOXO -Improbable Dreamer
Cherry and Douglass were waiting for them at the end of the short corridor. Cherry had her head turned into Douglass' chest and seemed to be murmuring against the soft fabric. Cat's breath hitched in her throat when she noticed a post-crying blush over Cherry's nose.
'Is this it, then?' Cat thought miserably, 'Am I leading everyone to their death?'
She sighed and glanced across at the wall almost absentmindedly, when she noticed a beautiful silver engraved frame for a painting. She walked over to it, and plucked it from the wall easily. Joker glanced over at her quizzically, as she dug out the ornate silver hook used to hang the frame, but didn't question her actions.
"Douglass, come here for a moment."
She twirled the ring between her fingers, pressing the open end together to form a perfect loop. It was simple, a little plain perhaps, but it would do the trick.
Douglass lowered his head to press a kiss to Cherry's lips, before making his way over to Cat. "What is it? Everything alright?"
"Yeah, I mean- "Cat almost laughed, "-not really. Four years ago, that was the last time I was alright. But, I want you and Cherry out."
He blinked at her, uncomprehendingly.
"I don't understand."
She forced a watery smile and bit down on her bottom lip. "After this, I want you and Cherry out."
Across the room, Joker had joined Cherry against the wall. The two seemed to be getting along, at least Cherry was smiling again as Joker retold a joke he knew about pencils.
Douglass squared his shoulders quickly and crossed his arms, in such a way that made his biceps look huge. "We've been through this, Cat, it should be our choice-"
"Oh god, just shut up," Cat pleaded desperately, running a hand through her hair, "I'm so fucking sick of people lying and pretending. You're my friends, and I've already lost enough of those!"
With that, she held up the silver band between her thumb and forefinger and brandished it to Douglass.
"You're gonna have such a good life," Cat's voice faltered slightly, she shook her head and cleared her throat. "Don't let that go, not for me, not for anyone. I hope….I hope you never think of me again."
Douglass stared at the ring, it reflected brightly off his deep brown eyes. He seemed entirely lost for words, and his jaw was quivering as if he was restraining some sort of outburst.
"Please?" Cat whispered and fought a wave of tears from spilling from her eyes. "I think it's about fucking time."
Douglass stopped, his face relaxed, and then he sighed and took the ring into the palm of his hand. He shook it slightly, testing its weight. "You're right," He formed a twisted smile, "You're so goddamn right. I'm sorry, Cat, but I'd like to formerly resign."
"I accept your resignation." Cat smiled meekly. Douglass nodded again to reassure himself. Then, he puffed out his chest, smoothed down his curls, and confidently took Cherry down the end of the hall by her forearm. She seemed pleasantly confused by his confidence, and giggled softly.
"I assume you had something to do with that." Joker said quietly and took Cat's hand again, he was nodding over at the couple who were murmuring intently to each other and exchanging kisses.
"Believe it or not," Cat wiped at her eyes, which were shamelessly leaking her mascara down her cheeks, "I used to believe in love too. I mean, everyone else around me gets to play pretend, right?"
"I guess." Joker clicked his tongue in thought. He glanced down at the frame which was leaning against the bottom of the wall. He sent Cat a sideways look of questioning.
The frame had two hooks.
"Don't even think about it." Cat laughed humourlessly. Then she wearily leaned her head against the wall, the smile and façade fading. "You think that's what I really want? All that time with you, three years in the Asylum, you think that kind of life is still in the picture anymore?"
"I thought that's what you wanted." Joker admitted and chewed determinedly on his bottom lip. "God knows I'd be a nightmare of a husband. But, I mean, waking up to you is something that never grows old." He glanced away, clearly embarrassed by the amount of…legitimate emotion he was showing: to Joker, at least, feeling was the real 'f' word.
"You're kind of…beautiful in the morning," he breathed softly, "I don't know if I ever told you…I mean, you drool, but beautifully, y'know?"
He leaned over and brushed the tip of his thumb under Cat's lip, as if picturing it. She couldn't help herself- she smiled, then she laughed, then the laughter shook her shoulders and chest so violently that she was entirely doubled over and gasping for air.
"o-oh my g-god." She hiccupped and wiped her streaming eyes- she was crying again, yet somehow Joker had managed to make her laugh-cry in the midst of everything, in the middle of a battlefield.
"Y'see," Joker smiled too, his eyes flashing. He lifted her chin lightly and tapped his index finger against her chin, "I told you, drool, what a disgusting unlovable beast you are."
In all the laughing and crying, Cat had managed to get a decent amount of spit and tears over her chin. "I knew it all along," she giggled. "And they all said it was the homicide."
"Ridiculous, a man can handle a little murder."
Cat's laughter faded, and she realised that Joker still had a hand against her jaw and was gazing down at her with an odd expression.
And around we go.
Cat sighed, she shook her head weakly, and pushed herself from him with her palms facing outward.
"You're right." Cat struggled to keep her tone even and her face blank. Ultimately, she failed, and was forced to turn her back to hide her glassy eyes. "You would be a nightmare of a husband."
Before he could stop her, before she let herself be stopped, Cat strode past him with her heart in her throat.
Holding hands was one thing, flirty banter was another. But it was a slippery slope, like being a recovering alcoholic in a bar, it was a slippery slope back into madness.
"Crane?" Cat pushed open the front door cautiously. As soon as the room was exposed, a huge chunk of plaster crashed to the floor with a thunderous 'BANG', and a cloud of white dust.
Yvonne's apartment was, if possible, the most 'intact' place in the whole complex. There were no vines trailing the floor and ripping holes through the walls. In fact, most of the furniture was intact, though scattered over the many rooms.
"Somehow," Cherry joined Cat in the doorway, a silver band sparkling on her ring-finger, "This place is creepier than the others. Where's all the 'blaargh'?" She gestured her hands together to indicate explosions and destruction.
"Where's Crane?" Cat asked quietly. She took a nervous step into the dark corridor. Dark green vines ran over their heads, spidering over the ceiling like dark and hairy veins. The two men trailed them into the apartment with guns raised.
"I don't want to add to the creepiness or anything," Cherry gestured up to the ceiling, "But do those vines seem to be…leading somewhere?"
Cat too glanced up and hummed in agreement. She elbowed Cherry gently and beckoned for her to follow Cat into the dining room. As they took slow, deliberate steps forward, Cherry felt the need to fill the eerie silence with spurts of whispered conversation.
"Y'know, I've been thinking about Crane and Yvonne," Cherry hissed and ducked under a particularly low-hanging vine, "You don't think it's awfully convenient that Yvonne stole the formula and Crane got out alive? I mean, just consider, if someone wanted to destroy you, there's no better way to do it then to burn the people closest to you."
Cat exhaled through her nose. She turned into the spare bedroom, swiping a tendril-like vine beside her face. "You think this is all some obscure plot to destroy me?" She asked distractedly. "We both know it'd take a lot more than that."
Cherry shrugged slightly. "I do think that you're not giving it enough thought though. Crane's kinda a bad guy, I think you're too soft on him."
Cat stopped in her tracks to stare across at Cherry, her eyebrows raised in disbelief. "You're calling Crane bad?" She shook her head. "I honestly think that people are more afraid of me."
Cherry merely shrugged again and started forwards. The vines above them were growing denser now, connecting with vines from other rooms and forming a single, thick, trail. "Nah, you're pretty chill," she glanced over at Cat with a sideways grin, "I mean, for an ex-serial killer."
Cat laughed softly and turned again, until the corridor opened up into the windowed-living room. All the vines conjugated from all over the apartment to a single spot on the ceiling. A great and terrible mass of twisted green ropes, intertwining, fighting for dominance over the white plaster. Cherry stopped, a squeak of distress echoing from the back of her throat. Her brown eyes were cemented to the centre of the living room, and to the funnel of leafy veins.
"What-" Cat too glanced over and focused her gaze. From the doorway to the living room, it was fairly difficult to see anything due to the lack of light. But Cat could see that it wasn't just vines hanging and trailing from the ceiling.
A torso. Two limp arms. A dark shape on top, crooked and lifeless.
His feet were barely brushing the white plush rug, still wearing smart dress shoes. His eyes…were so open.
And he was just swaying gently, side-to-side, almost peacefully.
Cat was frozen in place, like an iron chain had been tied to her ankles and bolted to the floor. She hadn't cried out; her throat was far too dry to make a sound- it must've been Cherry's distressed voice.
Cat tried to comprehend what she was looking at. More importantly, what was looking at her.
Johnathan Crane is dead.
A thick vine was wrapped six times around his neck, and he was hung from the ceiling in such a distasteful way; it really did look like he had hung himself. Perhaps there was some sick logic behind that, some revolting humour.
'Look here; such an intelligent, cunning man. Look what I can make him do.'
Douglass and Joker entered the room behind them, and sounds of distress and shock were exchanged like clockwork.
"It was Yvonne, it must've been."
"What do we do now?"
"I-I think," Cat swallowed and hugged her arms to her chest, trying to stabilize her quivering, "I think we should c-cut him down. I need someone to…to lift him, so I can cut the vine without him falling."
Joker stepped forward without a word.
The two of them struggled for a while, as Crane wasn't particularly light and the task, being what it was, required Cat to show a lot more bravery than she felt. Finally, he was freed from the tangled mess of vines and leaves, and Joker set him down carefully on the white rug.
"I gotta be honest," Joker huffed and wiped his hands on his pants, slowly stretching out his back, "I wasn't exactly his 'biggest fan'." He added exaggerated air quotations, in case Cat missed the sarcasm.
"Maybe not," Cat managed in a quiet voice, "but you don't need to like someone, in order to respect them. Say what you like about Crane, but he wasn't stupid or weak. But look. Just look at what Yvonne did."
"He threatened you." Joker added simply, as if this phrase justified Crane's demise.
"Compared to what you've done?" Cat narrowed her eyes at him menacingly. "That's like a trip to Disneyland."
The four of them left the apartment in absolute silence. Cat called the police to notify them of a number of corpses, and then headed off in search of the nearest bar. In reality, it seemed to be a fairly normal reaction to cutting a man loose from a hanging vine.
The entire street down from Yvonne's apartment was completely deserted. Houses were left unlocked in a hurry, stores and restaurants still had lights and music playing; it was like a post-apocalyptic film.
They turned into the nearest bar; a small building with a low-hanging ceiling, and yellow fairy lights wrapped tightly around the front sign.
Cat immediately served herself a glass of vodka, and downed it like it was water. A large flatscreen tv was attached to the brick wall, and Cherry had settled herself in a plush red couch to watch it.
"Mass panic induced as thousands flee a small street in down town Gotham," A suited News reporter announced, as photographs of Yvonne's obliterated apartment were projected behind him, "There have been three confirmed dead already, and police have yet to investigate the source. Though, we hear that this may be linked with a recent attack on a Gotham Asylum. Where two armed perpetrators broke in and shot and killed more than 35 staff members, unfortunately security tapes where expertly wiped and no witnesses were left alive."
The camera then cut to a smartly dressed woman standing out the front of a large, white building surrounded by amber-coloured security tape.
"Thank you, Jim," She nodded and gestured behind her, "As you can see, Arkham Asylum is once again the victim of a terrible mass shooting. It has only been 15 months since the last attack, where a dangerous criminal was freed, and yet there seems to be no end to the violence."
The news anchor leaned forward in his chair and inquired in an authoritative voice, "Could this be the return of the infamous criminal, The Joker?"
"That is not confirmed yet," she replied, "Though, experts are saying that it is highly unlikely that the shooting at the Asylum, and the attack on the apartment-complex is related. The number of inconsistencies in the case is too prominent. It is, instead, very likely that a new threat has risen in Gotham, and all citizens are advised to follow the recommended curfew and stay away from populated areas while the investigation is underway."
"Thank you for the report Meghan," Jim straitened his papers, and leaned back casually in his office chair, "And now, sporting news- "
The television screen flickered to black, as Cherry held up the remote with a scowl.
"Oh sure, sure," she grumbled quietly, "Mass panic? Let's cover more of the story, I'm sure that will calm everyone down."
Cat sighed and stared down into her empty glass. In her reflection, her hair was a tangled mess of plaster and leaves, her mascara was smudged heavily under her eyes, her red shirt was more grey-stained than actually red.
When was the last time she actually looked decent?
Cherry was still droning on about the flaws in Media representation of terrorism, but only a single idea managed to catch Cat's attention.
"-Terrorists aren't just the enemies of heroes and humanitarians," Cherry said quickly, "they're enemies with the 'Free-world' as a whole. I mean, even people like us don't want Gotham obliterated into chunks of concrete and glass and vines. We're some of the fuckers who live here, and I think we wanna keep doing that."
Cat froze, her fourth glass of vodka mid-way to her lips. Cherry's voice faded out into white noise, the bar around Cat melted into a shapeless mass of brick and fluorescent lighting.
Her mind was whirring, faster than she could process.
Terrorists aren't just the enemies of heroes.
Going up against Yvonne had seemed entirely impossible. That was why the League had retired to the closest supply of alcohol, and failed to dictate an actual plan of attack. Because, no one wanted to say "going to our deaths" out loud.
But Cat was desperately -probably stupidly- piecing together a vague and dangerous scheme.
This….this doesn't have to be a suicide mission. Not for all of us.
Without another word, Cat reached into the pocket of her pants and fished out her cell phone. She only knew one number, one way to reach them; but she prayed that that would be enough.
Meanwhile, across the bar, Joker and Douglass were standing next to each other with a drink in hand. They looked as tired and defeated as Cat did.
"Yvonne, huh?" Joker said casually, holding his glass to his lips. "If I'd known she was going to be so much trouble, I would've just killed her when we met."
"I don't doubt it." Douglass replied instantly. This reply caused Joker to lower his drink, and send him a quizzical frown.
"What?" He asked. "Aren't you glad to be working with me again?"
Douglass laughed curtly. He leaned forwards with a smirk, his forearms resting against the bar top. "I'm not working with you, I'm working with them." He lifted his glass, gesturing to the two girls who were caught in quiet conversation. "You might have Cat fooled, or whatever, but I'd sooner kill you then trust you."
Joker nodded, "That's fair." He said with a slight shrug. "But what do you mean by 'fooled'?"
Douglass coughed into his drink sarcastically. "C'mon man, look at you. This isn't you. Hand holding? Rings? I don't believe in change, I don't believe that you've 'turned over a new leaf.' You're mad, and you always will be."
Joker hummed in thought. He was running a hand through his short curls of hair, and seemed to be deliberating Douglass' statement heavily. "Y'know what I think," he said after a moment, pointing his index finger at Douglass, "I think that you're so obsessed with redemption, you've convinced yourself that you're a good man."
It wasn't an accusation, or an attack meant to rile him up. Joker was merely voicing his thoughts aloud, but that didn't mean that Douglass didn't clench his jaw or dig his nails into his palm.
"Did I hit the nail on the head, Dougy-boy? Now, you call me 'mad'," Joker mocked his low voice, and did a fair impersonation, "You call me such mean things, and I wonder what you're base of comparison is."
"Try years of working with you." Douglass retorted with a cold scowl. "You were a serial killer. You didn't care, you didn't help, and you certainly didn't let yourself be domesticated by a woman."
"Alright, that's fair," Joker nodded again, "Over here, I'm 'mad'," he gestured with his right hand, again making fun of Douglass' use of the word, "and here, I'm -what was it? - Domesticated." He held up his left, indicating two different points in time.
"Now, which came first?" He began to hover one palm over the other, switching their positions. "Can you be so sure? Which one was first?"
Douglass watched Joker's hands creating circles and spirals. He shrugged and swallowed another mouthful of alcohol. "It's like the 'chicken and the egg'." He said with a splash of humour. Joker's face broke into a smile.
"Exactly," He ran a tongue excitedly over his scarred bottom lip, "It's true, I had a plan for Caterina. And it's also true that it didn't go exactly to plan."
"She got to you first." Douglass offered in a low voice. Joker didn't reply, instead, he sighed through his nose and reached for the bottle of alcohol to fill up his empty glass.
"Another thing I'm gonna teach you," he retorted casually, the golden liquid filling up his glass with gentle splashing sounds, "Is about dominance and submission, and not the 'fun kind', the real kind." Joker added this last statement with a quick smirk. Douglass raised his eyebrows exasperatedly, but made no noise of objection, so Joker continued. "I thought I was manipulating Cat, twisting her mind, breaking her; but, y'know, this is where we are now. So, I guess it comes to this; Submission is loud, dominance is quiet. It's often the opposite to what you expect."
He paused, and glanced down again in thought. Then, after a moment, he looked up with a twinkle in his eye and a smirk on his lips. "I guess that kinda does work for the 'fun kind', doesn't it?"
This time, it was Douglass' turn to fall silent. They stood side-by-side, drinking, and eyes strained forwards. The two men had somehow managed to reach a state of confused harmony, where both had delivered personal attacks and failed to phase one another.
"Y'know," Douglass' top lip quirked upwards, "when this is all over, I'll kill you."
"I look forward to it." Joker held up his glass, a gesture of mock-toasting, before mirroring Douglass' smirk. "I don't know how the Missus would feel about it though. Doesn't she think you're…y'know…a 'cherub of goodwill'?"
There was the slightest movement in Douglass' shoulder that conveyed a momentary discomfort. But, he managed to regain his composure quickly, and instead laughed coldly into his glass. "Maybe you're right about one thing," he commented lightly, "I have convinced someone that I'm a good man-." He then leaned forwards, closing the distance between them and hovering a few inches in front of Joker's face. He bared his teeth, eyes flashing, before continuing in a dangerously low voice,
"-But don't think, for one goddamn second, that it's myself."
If Joker was going to reply, he wasn't given the opportunity. Cat leaned against the bar to his right, and Douglass' menacing expression faded to a handsome smile. "Hello Miss Morgan- all good?" He brightened his tone easily; too easily.
'More than meets the eye,' Joker decided, 'He might actually be the one to kill me…how unexpected.'
"Yeah, all good." Cat replied quietly, she obviously had more on her mind. "I've….well, I've done something; it may either be the best or worst decision of my life."
And taking into account the fact that Cat was a serial killer who actually made decisions constantly to end someone's life; both Joker and Douglass appeared justifiably alarmed.
"Sugar, Sweetheart, Pumpkin," Joker addressed her with a number of stupid nicknames, "Light of my Life, Crunchy Potato Chip- Y'know I support any decision you make."
"Well, this'll be the ultimate test then." Cat sighed. Joker's obvious and pitiful flirting had no effect on her. That, or she was offended at being called a 'potato chip'.
"What exactly could you possibly have-" Joker stopped abruptly, the remainder of the sentence was caught in his throat. He was staring past Cat and Douglass, past Cherry who was still draped over the couch; his gaze was fixed on the bar's front doors.
He made a squeak of alarm, the sound echoing in the sudden and uncomfortable silence.
Cat too turned her head to regard the entrance. Sure enough, a tall figure was standing broodily in the doorway.
It was the first time that Cat had seen Joker speechless. The deranged criminal was frozen in place, as if preparing to run away at any moment. His hands were clenched, a forgotten glass of alcohol on the bar top. Cat noticed a small twinge in the man's shoulders; he was actually shaking in fear.
"Holy fucking hell." Joker breathed. "Cat….what have you done?"