Author's Note: It will doubtless help to read 'Sheharazade' to contextualise this one.


The first thing she did when she got back to the city was head straight to the Emergency Room at the closest hospital.

The Joker had given her over two thousand dollars. The cab ride had cost about a quarter of that. It was early afternoon by the time they arrived in New York City and Amber had never been so relieved to see the Manhattan skyline as she had been right then.

She would've preferred just to go back to her squat and gone straight to bed for a hundred years, but she knew she needed medical attention. She didn't like it, but there it was. She had no idea how much either, as the heroin in her system had completely obliterated any physical pain.

She'd sat in a plastic hard-backed chair, her knees drawn up to her chest and her arms wrapped around them, next to a roomful of kids with bleeding noses and teenagers with broken limbs, mothers next to them with faces mingled with worry and irritation. Such a different sort of crowd to the nighttime accidents. She would've laughed at any other time.

They stared at her, those mothers. Stared at her with slightly gaping eyes and she saw them place protective hands on the shoulders of their children.

Some of The Joker's words drifted back to her: "You are all the things they're afraid of becoming, all the things they fear their children will become." And she'd blinked, shook her head and buried her face in her knees to block out the sound of that cruel, seductive voice.

After a while she went into the bathroom and shot up again, sat back down on the chair and let her head loll backwards like her neck had been snapped, her burnt, cut hands cupped limply in her lap and watched the wall blur in and out until a nurse came to get her.

They assumed she was a DV victim, of course, treated her with the usual clipped nonchalance of overworked emergency room staff. Right up until they'd seen the brand on her stomach.

That had given them pause. They asked her a few pointed questions and she avoided them or lied. She just didn't want the drama.

So they'd cleaned her up and patched her up and sent her on her way.

She went back to her squat and found her room still unoccupied, JJ having seen to it for her. She showered in her grimy little bathroom and there, in the cracked, filthy glass of the mirror had laughed to see her reflection.

Her upper lip was swollen and red, pricked with three little scabs. Her face was pale, paler than usual, and her eyes sunken even further into her head. On top of it was the makeup, making the hollows of her eyes coal black, and her cheeks splotchy red. She quite uncomfortably looked like a drunken, drugged out clown reject. Her body was a mass of bruises and cuts and burns, one shoulder swollen more than the other, limping a little because one leg's muscles just refused to unclench.

She scrubbed the makeup off her face and tidied herself up as best she could.

Even still, she could feel Joker's gloved fingertips tracing their way over her skin.

She was beginning to feel she always would.

She wanted to shoot up again and nod out but knew she had to hold out.

She figured she owed him by now, two weeks without a word. Guess she'd learned something from her little overnighter.

She went and sat in the Red Eye diner and drank black coffee with too much sugar once it got dark. The usual misfits greeted her and she greeted them back but it was different and they could all see it. She didn't smile, didn't look up and kept her shoulders hunched inwards so they knew not to join her. Mostly they shrugged it off and kept moving. They all had their little moods now and then, after all.

Once it got late enough she left the diner and went and stood in her usual spot and waited.

Cars slowed down and honked at her but she remained oblivious to them all. Lenny came out of his Vintage Vinyl store and asked if she was going to dance for them, but she ignored him, sucking back on her cigarette and puffing out a lungful of smoke, her eyes fixed somewhere on the street beyond as the neon flashed and throngs of people surged past.

She waited three hours, smoking and drinking. Then she got up and headed back to her squat.

He was waiting for her. She could feel it as she opened the flimsy, ragged door. Feel his rage in the darkness, palpable, a barrage of fury heading for her.

She flicked on the small floor lamp, tossed her bag down in one corner and flopped down onto her mattress, not even looking at him.

"Where the hell have you been?" Raphael hissed at her and she knew he was too angry even to yell. He hit the wall with one fist when she didn't answer. He was scary when he was like this. She'd seen what he did to others when he was angry like this. But right then it comforted her.

She lit a cigarette and drew in on it coolly while he fumed, clenching and unclenching his hands, towering over her in the small space.

"Sit down," she breathed and he kicked her stool across the room with enough force that one of its legs came off when it hit the wall.

She raised an eyebrow and stared down at the mattress with a slightly sardonic tilt to her mouth, as though he was ridiculously overreacting.

He got in her face, bending over to thrust his large, inhuman features right into her personal space, quivering with poorly restrained fury.

"I thought you were dead." His voice cracked on the last word and she had to shut her eyes quickly to stop the tears she felt well up there.

He fell silent, she remained so. He didn't have to say what it had meant to him, that belief. How much agony he'd been through in the thinking of it. She knew. He'd tried so hard to protect her and he worried so much and he believed that ultimately he'd failed anyway. It had been a rotten thing to do to him.

But she was a rotten person, at the heart of it all. He just didn't know it yet.

"It positively warms my heart to think of your wretched little soul out there, its ruthless war for self-gratification."

She gritted her teeth against the memory of those words, rising in her head.

Finally she opened her eyes and looked up at him and he saw her face properly for the first time. She knew it was more than the swelling and the cuts that made his eyes widen, his expression open from rage and betrayal into fearful horror. She couldn't keep the wretched night concealed behind her eyes. It was there, like dirty laundry in a curtainless window. Anyone could peek in and see it. He could see it.

It brought him to his knees, slowly and softly, on the stained floorboards beside her. As quickly as that his rage dissipated and all that was left was fear. She wished he would touch her.

"What happened?"

He asked in a tone of voice that said all too clearly he wasn't sure he wanted to know.

"Alex? Baby?"

Christ, she'd missed him. She really had. She swallowed hard around the lump in her throat and drew back on her cigarette again, her chin wobbling dangerously, looking away from him, across the room.

She could feel the rage collecting inside him again, but this was not directed at her. No, now he was focusing his fury and madness at whoever had stripped her back like this, left her such a shivering wreck. He'd never seen her before like this, no, not like this. He was going to want to destroy and pulverise whoever had done this to her and the thing was, he wasn't going to be able to. Ha. No.

And then his hand was on her shoulder, gentle and strong and she felt herself crumple beneath it. "Tell me what happened. I'll fix it."

And that was what she loved about him. He really thought he could fix it. He didn't understand it went beyond some nutcase torturing her for the night. He thought he could fix the damage done with his fists, not understanding The Joker had ripped out her goddamned soul.

So instead she turned to him and let her frail body sink against his strong one, the hard bone of his plastron a welcome support to her tired frame, his heavily muscled arms moving quickly around her, engulfing her warmly, his large, strange head coming down so his cheek was against hers. She breathed in the cool, crisp smell of him, rubbed one hand on the pebbled flesh of his neck and let herself drift away.

"Hold me," she entreated him. "Just hold me tonight. Don't go away."

She knew she was safe now.