SIX

She came to with a start, something sharp and foul smelling beneath her nose. She didn't see what it was as Joker replaced it on the cart, pulling the cowl off of her head as he did so and tossing it against the tiled wall where it slid to the floor and slumped like a curled up spook. She swayed, a ringing in her ears, realised she was no longer tied to the bench, would've fallen except Joker grabbed her arm and hauled her upright.

"You needn't thank me," Joker said, his voice a dull bell echoing through the ringing. "I had a great time, really. You were quite unexpected, in the end. I'd say let's do it again sometime, but I think we've probably shared all we can, don't you sweetie?" He was pulling something down over her ears, something soft and scratchy. Her Cookie-Monster dress, the loveable monster with a wide-eyed grin on the front, a fistful of cookies. "Don't feel too used and abused, I think we really had a moment or two there. But when it's over, it's over." Joker pushed her down into the chair he'd been sitting on, and she raised a hand to her forehead, watching the room lurch crazily around her, blurring in and out like a tunnel of light, the bright blob of violet and green, orange and turquoise that was The Joker shimmering and flickering as he bent to shove her feet into her boots.

"Get up, get up," He snapped, spontaneously jittery and excited, a mess of jerky movement, yanking her to her feet. "Walk around, get some feeling in those legs back." He pushed her and she stumbled, her feet tripping clumsily as she struggled to obey, confused about what exactly was happening. He jerked her back towards him again and she lurched drunkenly, then he grabbed her hand and snapped her broken finger quickly back into place and she yelped, sudden sensation flooding back into her body.

She was awash with a thousand agonies, all of them creeping and crawling across her skin and headed straight towards her centre, the fiery knob on her belly. Her hand leapt automatically to it, then jerked back in alarm as her fingertips made contact. Even through the fabric the pain was raw.

"Now," Joker said briskly, reaching into his trouser pocket and withdrawing a dark purple leather wallet. "I've really never done this before. I'm not sure what's appropriate. Will this do?"

He thrust a wad of notes at her and she took them, her weakened fingers slipping off them several times before she concentrated enough strength to grip them. She had to squint to see them clearly, the intricate green and off-white design. She had no possible hope of counting in the state she was in, but as she fumbled through them the number in their top right hand corner swam and separated before drawing back together. One hundred. He'd given her a bunch of hundreds.

"Oh. That's very generous." She heard herself saying numbly. "Are you sure?"

He flapped his hands benevolently, dismissing her query. "Of course, of course, you crazy kid. You run along now. Go on. Get out of here! You've given me a good chuckle. Did I say thank you? Thank you!"

He chucked her under the chin and led her with a hand on her shoulder, kneading it gently, to the door in one corner of the tiled room, gallantly opening it for her, waving her out.

"Uh – thank you. " She said again, confused. Was she dead? But wouldn't he have to carry her out if that were the case? "Very kind of you."

"Don't ever change, now, you hear?" He said merrily, handing her her bag as she left the room, turning about confusedly in a long dark corridor. "It positively warms my heart to think of your wretched little soul out there, its ruthless war for self-gratification. What a nasty little slice of honesty you are. Not really the sort of thing I want to gift-wrap for him though. Better to have you out there making your own little contribution. Just keep on going to the left, follow it straight out. Toodles, sweet pea."

She followed his pointing finger down the corridor, feeling her way gingerly in the dark. Behind her his laughter faded into the darkness as he went back into the tiled room, shutting the door behind him.

After a few metres she came to a door, set into the wall and felt about for the handle. The knob was slippery in her hand and loose in its setting but after a moment of jiggling it gave way and opened outwards to admit a stream of pale golden light. It was morning.

She lifted a hand to her eyes, squinting in the new light. Directly in front of her was the glittering golden expanse of Gotham River. She was on The Hill Docks. Spinning around she saw that the building she'd emerged from was some sort of old factory, or storage warehouse, that there were dozens of them stretching out to either side, big industrial places looking out over the water, long finger wharves stretching out into the river running from the huge double doors set into their walls. She spun back around and stumbled over to the edge of the docks, following it along as she shivered, the pale morning sun doing little to warm her dimpled skin, her boots rubbing against the torn flesh of her ankles, bloody bracelets circling her wrists, the finger that had been broken a dark, mottled purple, to say nothing of the dozens of small cigarette burns and cuts and bruises that decorated her body.

When she finally stopped and turned back around to look where she had come, the warehouse she'd emerged from had blended into the row, perfectly invisible. She would never be able to pick it out again.

She let her legs give way beneath her, flopping down heavily onto her rear, swinging her feet out over the edge of the dock staring tippily down into the choppy black-green water below, swimming with foam and scum.

I just lived through a night with The Joker. She thought.

She jerked forward and a fountain of bile leapt out of her mouth, arcing in the air before plummeting into the water below.

Holy shit.

The motion of puking awakened a thousand tiny pains across her body, her muscles tender and protesting, and one vicious ache on her stomach bright as sunshine. Gingerly, she lifted the hem of her dress and peeled it upwards. The cotton clung to the wound and she winced as she carefully pulled it off her sticky, charred flesh.

There, obscuring her belly button, seared into her flesh, was a stylised representation of The Joker's face, grinning venomously with eyes as dark and burned black as the ghoul's own were.

She let her dress fall back down and wiped her face, the back of her hand coming away smeared black and red. She fumbled in her bag for her bottle of gin, her trembling hands still finding it difficult to grip anything properly, and took a long, hard swig.

Then she stood up and began to negotiate her way through the maze of warehouses to find her way back towards the entwining streets of the city. She was going to grab the nearest cab she saw and direct it to the highway. She'd shoot up in the backseat and let herself blink out. The money Joker had given her should be enough.

Time to go back to New York. Time to find Raphael.

She took a few more shuddering gulps of her gin as the memory of his lewdly intimate touch and unashamedly probing gaze wiggled back into her consciousness, as the final moments of pain revisited her body, squeezing down on her heart so hard she thought it would rupture, of what she had shared with him, what she had let him see that no one else ever had, that he had that now, within his tightly closing white palm and would have it forever.

He'd been right. From the beginning, he'd known.

She was alive. But she hadn't survived.

-----

Man, this turned out a lot different (and longer) than I thought. I was thinking to myself : 'no ordinary person could survive a night with The Joker if he didn't want you to.' Then I thought of Amber and began thinking… hrm… how would she. And this idea presented itself.

Originally, when it first occurred to me how Amber would survive a night with Mistah J, I planned for this to be quite an entertaining piece, ending up with Joker and Amber sharing a laugh over the outrageous things that she'd done. Her way of 'outsmarting' him if you will. But, as it turns out… no ordinary person can survive a night with The Joker.

This is a lot darker than I wanted it to be. C'est la vie.

Read some of Amber's other stories (accessible from my profile page) for some of the events she's talking about towards the end there. I'm aware the narrative does assume some previous knowledge of Amber. I hope it doesn't make it impossible for newcomers to engage with her.

This was also a way of practicing writing The Joker, who is an incredibly difficult character to write well. I hope it pleases.

Remember from the outset he has decided Amber will eventually die, and the whole little night is enacted for his amusement during a period of boredom while he's undercover, so it's not intended for anyone else's benefit. I figured some of his behaviour would end up being a little different than it would be for a more public crime.

This was so difficult to write. It's taken a lot outta me!