This takes place just as Joker is becoming a known entity, but before any elaborate explosions start happening. Ninjallerina therefore feels that this oneshot is entitled to be placed in the Batman Begins catagory even though Joker is never seen onscreen.
Ninjallerina would like to alert all readers to the fact that this fic contains swearing, profanity, questionable language, and all that jazz. If this offends you, please do not read. Ninjallerina herself is offended by it, but feels that this is essential to the portrayal of the unnamed protagonist.
The protagonist herself is an enigma to Ninjallerina and her Muse does not feel like enlightening her.
This is an experiment for Ninjallerina: she usually doesn't write in first person, write about homocidal clowns, or write sarcasm/humor. This is also her first Batman fic of any sort. That being said, please let her know how she's doing by reviewing or even flaming!
All for the Love of Coffee
When you live in Gotham City, you take your life in your own hands every time you breathe. Every innocent outing from grocery shopping to strolling down a park is an opportunity to be mugged, kidnapped, killed, or worse. Don't ask me about the worse part. I haven't actually figured out a fate worse than death, but I'm sure somebody in this hell hole has. If anyone could, they'd live in Gotham.
Staying at home is just as dangerous. You never know when there's going to be a drive by, or your apartment building will "mysteriously" catch on fire, or some other, equally deadly, nonsense.
Even so, when this shit happens, it's always a little surprising to find yourself on the short end of the stick. I've always considered myself streetwise. A survivor. I'm a lifer. I was born here and odds are good I'll die here too. And judging by my current predicament, that day is looking like today. More about that later.
As per usual, I'd been walking home from work, well sort of. Actually I'd just been fired on the grounds that I, and I quote, "make customers cry". In my defense, this is only in the morning, and only before I've had my coffee. Really, with the people I have to deal with, they're lucky that's all that happens.
This morning had been especially bad, even before the firing part. I'd gotten to Buck-a-Star at four to set up, after nearly being hit by a drunk driver, and proceeded to find a voicemail telling me that my partner in crime wouldn't be making it to work this morning. I'd be working all by my lonesome.
Now usually when there are two of us, I would have enough time between setting up and unlocking the place to snag a tall cup of coffee. This, for some reason, makes the world a better place. By myself, I'd be lucky to get all of the brews and teas going before the 5 o'clock crowd came running in. A cranky barista/till sitter does this make.
Buck-a-Star didn't always depend on its staff of two, it's just that the rest of the help kept dying and disappearing. Our turnover is unbelievable.
I made it to 5:30 before I lost my temper. I gave a portly man the vente lowfat soy macchiato, two shots of orange, one shot raspberry, over ice, extra foam that I had slaved over, and returned to entering orders in the register one handedly, while boiling 12 oz of milk with the other. Sometimes I even impress myself.
The portly man pushed his way to the front of the line. I ignored him. This was Gotham. Someone in the back likely would be packing and put this line cutter in his place. When no civil intervention presented itself, I got involved.
"Sir, if you'd like something else you'll have to go back to the end of the line."
"It doesn't have enough foam!" he sputtered.
That got me. Here I was working my ass off to make sure these people got their precious floofy drinks in a timely manner and he was complaining. He hadn't even tipped me.
"What did you say?" I asked quietly, dangerously. If he had the brains of a goldfish he would have had the good sense not to say anything.
Apparently he didn't.
"It doesn't have enough foam!"
"Really. Is there anything else you'd like to bitch about?"
He was slightly taken aback, but only momentarily.
"How dare you talk to me that way!"
"Yeah, I dare. Anytime some egotistical, stuck-up bastard comes in and complains about the way I make my drinks when I'm running around doing the job of two people so that self-centered, spoiled jerks like you can bless me with your complaints about the hardships of your gilded little life there's gonna be hell to pay. I'm getting paid minimum wage to make your flippin' drink. And you think that I really care whether or not it has enough foam! Would you even be able to make it on your own? Don't think so. Shut up and leave me alone."
I took a breath. I'm usually not a very talkative person, but it turns out I can really get going when I'm riled. It left me breathless.
"There are wars and genocides going on in this world and here you are complaining about your life's tragedy, your," my voice dripped sarcastic poison, "lack of foam. For your information, what you spend on coffee in a day would feed a family in Uganda for a week. Have you ever considered that maybe some of us would do anything to be able to have such a perfect little life that a lack of foam counts as a calamity? When was the last time you did anything for someone other than yourself? Have you looked around here lately? Gotham isn't exactly pamper central. Don't you think that some of the people here would like a hand? If someone showed them compassion would so many of them need to kill to survive?"
I'd guess from the look on his face that no one had ever talked to him like that before.
You. Are. Freakin'. Kidding. Me.
That was the last straw. At this point, I may have gone ever so slightly ballistic. I don't really remember anything after that point, just incoherent flashes of memory: the collective intake of breath, the portly man sobbing on the floor, driven there (I can only assume) by my moral guilt trip, Colleen (my boss) arriving to take my name tag away from me.
That's how I found myself walking the streets of Gotham at 6 am, still fuming. I made my way to my ex-employer's greatest rival, Frères du Café, determined to get my cup of coffee. You'd better believe that I wouldn't order anything overly complicated. Coffee, black as my heart.
Still, when I entered and found no one working the counter despite the assembly of people, I nearly launched into another bitchout session. Looking for the unfortunate employees to give a piece of my mind to, I realized that a bunch of the people wore clown masks and carried huge guns. It took me two whole seconds to realize what was going on: I'd walked in on a robbery.
I suddenly found myself feeling a lot more sympathetic to the workers.
This day was totally not going my way, but you know what they say. Life sucks and then you die. As I said earlier, it was looking like that day was going to be today.
If the clowns were here, that meant HE was here. I looked at the crowd. Now that I knew what was going on, it wasn't difficult to spot him. Not too many guys in Gotham blacken their eyes, paint their faces white, and cover their scars in crimson smiles. He looked back at me, then stretched his already present smile impossibly broader. Life was either going to get interesting or very, very dead.
I had no idea what had attracted him to me, but approach me he did. I mean I'm not bad looking, but I'm no beauty. There were a good dozen people he could have menaced. It was probably my belated arrival. I don't consider myself easy prey. Maybe he wanted a challenge, I don't know. I'm a fighter, not a fleer. Still, I would have run for it, had I thought I had a fraction of a chance. I'd heard of him. All of Gotham had. Only one person ran around with a face painted white, black, and red killing people.
You didn't run from him, unless you wanted the knife in your back. I still might have made it. I was City Champion in the 400 meter sprint back in highschool and kept myself in excellent condition. I probably could have beat him and his knife. His goons and their guns…well, I may overestimate my own abilities on occasion, but I held no illusions about my chances of outrunning a bullet. Too bad Superman wasn't in town.
Really as suicidal as this is gonna sound, it was almost refreshing to have someone else to take out my anger at the day on. I was in too deep to leave now.
First thing was first. I'd come here for a coffee and dammit I was going to get it!
"Can I get a coffee? 12 oz, black?"
He laughed, though whether because of my request or because that's just what sociopath guys dressed up as clowns do, I don't know. I didn't find it particularly funny, but then again few things strike me so before my first cup of jo'.
I got no answer either way, so being the qualified barista I am, hopped the counter and attempted to fix myself one. He made a big deal of primping his way across the floor. What were we, in high school? Was that supposed to intimidate me, or was he so emotionally stunted that he thought he was being subtle? I chose to ignore him.
I picked up a paper/Styrofoam blended cup that would probably take a good thousand years to decay in a landfill. Turning around to get to the coffee thermos, I saw him vault the counter. Apparently I wasn't the only one who kept themselves in great shape. In two shake of the lamb's proverbial tail he was in front of me. He was between me and my coffee. Asshole. As he closed the gap between us, I about gagged, in part because of the heavy-handedness of the intimidation attempt, but mostly because his breath reeked.
I brought my arms up from my side, crossing them in front of me. It would give me a little more opportunity to maneuver or fight back should he give me a chance before killing me. There was also the added benefit of putting a few more inches between us and making me look defiant. The cup I kept in my right hand, still hopeful about acquiring a jolt of java.
Fat lot of good it did me. He stepped forward another half step, reached one arm around me, effectively pinning me to him. I suppose to an onlooker it would have looked like a hug, but let me assure you, it was anything but. Hugs have a sort of nurturing energy to them. This didn't.
Not that he wasn't gentle, but then again, he didn't have to use any excessive force. I wasn't going anywhere without his blessing. He knew it, I knew it. It was something that did not have to be said aloud. My arms were trapped helplessly between us, useful in preserving a small bit of my personal space, but ineffective in doing much more. His other hand fluttered in my peripheral, holding something shiny. A second later the object came to rest on my cheek, icy and sharp. One of his many knives, no doubt. Those black smeared eyes of his bored into me, no doubt trying to see what was going through my mind. I returned the stare. He had stopped me from getting my coffee and that made me pissed enough to be fearless.
As if to test my resolve, he traced and twisted the blade up and down my face. He was playing with me. I'd play back. I didn't react, didn't even blink as the point neared my eye. I just kept looking at him, daring him to do it. He was the first to break the silence.
"You seem a little uneasy. Is it my scars?"
I scoffed. "Of course not. It's the fact that you have invaded my personal bubble, have a knife next to my face, and have the temperament of a lottery. I've been up for three hours and I still haven't had my coffee, which you so rudely interrupted me from getting."
I'd heard about this guy, a killer, volatile, with an extraordinarily uncanny ability to manipulate people. He called himself the Joker.
"Do you want to know how I got them?"
Had he even paid attention to what I had said? I had a feeling that this was some sort of ritual for him. Even so, I wasn't amused. I'd had a crappy day thus far and wasn't in any mood to deal with his shit. I was tired of being a wage slave, being anyone's slave. I'd submit to no one or die standing.
"I don't care."
And I didn't. He needed to get over himself. Yet, as if he hadn't heard me, he started in on some story or another, likely making it up all on the spot. Or maybe he sat at home on the days when he wasn't terrorizing Gotham and thought up more stories. I really didn't know, I wasn't paying attention. I was too busy analyzing his character, which led my caffeine deprived mind to a multitude of other things.
It seemed the man had Cyrano complex…always assuming that people were obsessed and disgusted by a single feature, when in reality it was the attention that he drew defending his nose that made people take notice. And when they did, well, that was the cue for the fit to hit the shan.
Oh, I didn't read it in school…oh no, I read that completely on my own. The Gotham Public School System leaves a lot to be desired. We did Animal Farm in our Senior Year for Pete's sake! And when I say "did", I mean we watched the animated movie adaption. Nope, the future of Gotham can't even be bothered to read a puny, transparently symbolic, critical look at the Bolshevik Revolution. We had to watch the frickin' movie!
Bluntly, it sucks. Not only do we hold the national record for percentage of high school dropouts, but those who do graduate aren't much brighter. The educational system, or the lack thereof, is definitely a contributing factor to our plethora of crime.
It's a broken system. I've often wondered if they try to keep us stupid so we don't turn in to smart criminals. I wondered if the Joker was an alum of the system.
Speaking of which…I realized that the Joker was still in front of me. Doing a quick mental inventory, I realized I was still alive. He had this look of disbelief on his face, but didn't say anything. Apparently he'd already gone through whatever scar story he'd chosen to use on me. I pick the best moments to space out. I'm really not so bad once I've had a good dose of caffeine.
"I'm sorry. I wasn't paying attention. Could you please repeat that?"
It's not that I have a deathwish. I don't. It's just that when you live in Gotham, you sorta have to be mentally ready to die at any moment. I'll be honest. I've never harbored any dreams of living to be an old lady. I'd come to terms with the fact that the life expectancy in Gotham isn't the longest. I once read about this theory that there are five stages of death: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I guess I'd already gone through all of those. The prospect of death really didn't faze me anymore. I know I'd gone over every scenario in my head, okay, except this one. I never thought I'd actually meet, let alone be killed by the Joker.
He eyed me like I'd told him a joke and he was still trying to figure out the punchline. None of the mugshots or news footage of him ever portrayed him as so…so…confused.
I'd made him uncertain of the situation. How's that for an accomplishment? Little ol' me confusing the Joker!
Slowly, ever so slowly, the creases in his running forehead eased. His eyes, dark pits, softened as he let out a laugh like a hyena. The sound set my hair at attention. That was the laugh that preceded bloodshed.
What have you gotten yourself into now, girl?
The laugh continued and deepened, traveling in waves through his body. The hand holding the knife was not immune and my cheek was soon riddled with small cuts. I stood still through it all.
"I," he licked his lips, a darting motion almost like a snake "like you. You've got spunk." He patted my now bloody cheek with the blunt of the knife.
Spunk? No, I didn't have spunk. I had piss and vinegar. There's a big difference. At this point, I didn't even care. All I wanted was my coffee.
"Cool. You want something? I'm gonna get a coffee." I said, slightly ridiculously, seeing as he showed no indication of releasing me. In fact, at my words, he pulled me tighter. Wow. Uncomfortable. The coffee cup cracked from the pressure, the only sound besides his wheezy breathing.
"Don't you like me?" he asked, seemingly hurt. Yeah, like the wounded bird routine would win me over.
"I don't like anyone before I've had my coffee," I snarked back.
"Well then, we'll just have to resolve that, won't we?" He said with that perpetual grin of his.
Unexpectedly, he pulled away and backed off, allowing me room to grab another cup and fill it from the thermos. The flavored water rolled out of the tap in bountiful rivulets. I don't think I've smelled anything that amazing in my life.
Ah, delicious brew! Drink of the gods! I sipped it. Its warmth filled me and made me whole. My outlook on life took a turn for the positive and I felt myself smile. There's something about the bitterness and the caffeine rush that make life seem absolutely perfect. This was an especially good blend. In that last sip I felt that if I died now I would not care in the least.
The coffee gave me strength. Just as my pursuit of it had numbed me from terror, my acquisition of it bestowed comfort upon me. It's impossible to be afraid when you are comfortable. Really, I didn't care what happened next.
I turned back to him of the perpetual smile.
Do your worst Joker. Bring it.
I had my coffee and that was all that mattered.