Disclaimer: DC owns everything, except the things they don't.
It's raining in Gotham City again. A cold frigid drizzle that chills and slithers down the collar of your fake fur coat.
(You try to ignore the way it smells like wet dog. A cloying, musty scent that crinkles your nose and hangs in the air around you like a cloud, reminding you of just how cheap and tawdry you've become.)
An empty beer can skitters across the pavement with an eerie, echoing scrape as it collides with your scuffed red pump.
(They used to be fire engine red, but now the color is more like three day old pasta sauce. The elements aren't kind to patent leather. Remember the Ferrigamos that you used to practically swim in? Back when you still had daddy's money to fall back on, back when you still had some standing in this city?)
You tell yourself that you don't shiver at the sound.
(This is a lie, of course. So many things are lies these days…)
You just need a fix, that's all. A fix and a place to flop for the night. You'll be fine.
(This too is a lie. You've gotten so very good at lying lately--to your Johns, to your dealers but most of all to yourself.)
Your name--the one you were born with--doesn't matter. There was no life before you became Cherry Dixon. As far as you're concerned, you sprang forth fully formed from a filthy east end flophouse mattress at the age of fifteen.
(You're twenty-three now. Nearing the end of your illustrious career. Some part of you--the part of you that laughs hysterically every time you spread your legs for another nameless, faceless prick--wants to retire at twenty-five, because ten years on the street is a good, round number.)
You're not like the other girls--they know it and you know it. Against all convention, you don't have a pimp.
(The other girls call it working without a net. As many beatings as you've taken from overzealous clients, you understand why…but the still healing bruise that rings your wrist is a small price to pay to remain independent. You know what pimps do, you know they're more trouble than they're worth. You can take getting slapped around.)
This isn't the only thing that makes you different, though…no, you've got class.
(Had. You had class. Right up until daddy shot himself and the government seized his assets…but it's okay, it's okay. You'll have class again. At twenty-five, the trust fund is yours. Five million dollars that your mother put aside for you before she died. You just have to hang on for another two years. Just two more.)
It's that class that makes you one of Ozzie Cobblepot's favorites. He plays sugar daddy to a different girl every week, girls who could still pass for respectable, but he likes you because you've got class.
(Deep inside, you know that's not why he calls you. He calls you because you're one of them. A blueblood who's fallen from her pedestal and landed in the mud. You're old money that he can slum with, feel superior to, and dangle a meal in front of. He's using you up, chipping away at your soul, and doing it just because he likes to watch it happen. And you let him.)
It wasn't always like this. At the very beginning, you still had friends, people to take care of you. Your daddy's money bought lots of friends, right up until those same friends found out he was selling their secrets. He was selling their secrets to the mob, to the cops, to whoever was offering the biggest reward.
(It was selling to the cops that got him killed. You know he didn't pull that trigger himself, but the GCPD made some evidence disappear. Magically, a Moroni hit became a suicide.)
Suddenly, you didn't have any friends anymore…and nobody wanted to take care of the orphan daughter of a rat.
Oh, sure, the government tried to put you in foster care, but you ran away.
(You didn't like the clothes they gave you, the food they fed you, the sheets on your bed were too scratchy. They were a good family to take you in--you, the eternally too good for anyone pretty, pretty princess--but they weren't good enough.)
You figured you could handle a life on the street. You were smart, pretty. Sure. Living by your wits in Gotham? No sweat, right? You'd just take up theft.
(You thought you'd be the next Catwoman, didn't you? Stealing from the rich and giving to yourself. You pictured the occasional rooftop rendezvous with Batman, a meeting that would be rife with sexual tension but that ultimately wouldn't go anywhere and you'd get off scot-free, dancing into the night, leaving nary a trace but your perfume.)
Trouble is, you were a terrible thief. You got caught the very first time--but not by the cops and not by Batman, no. You tried picking the pocket of a member of Falcone's gang and he caught you.
(He didn't beat you, the way you thought he would. He dragged you into that east end flophouse, pinned you to that mattress and…gave you a stern talking to. That's the version you've been telling yourself, anyway. That's the version that lets you sleep at night.)
He let you go when he thought you properly chastised and as you wandered aimlessly out of the building, a car stopped on the street right in front of you. The man inside gave you the once over from the top of your head to the toes of your designer sneakers and said he needed a date.
(Naively, you thought he was interested because you were pretty. You still looked like a child then. You didn't realize until later that's why he wanted you.)
You remember exactly how it felt to say the words, "Why not?" and mean them. You remember the way he got out of his car--how he walked, the spidery, jerky movements that seemed so unnatural and how he loomed large in your vision, even though he wasn't that much taller than you. You remember the hundred dollar bill crossing your palm, the smell of stale garbage that permeated the alley, the feeling of brick wall digging into your spine…
(Most of all, you remember the strange scars on his shoulder: three perfectly drawn lines, all uniform in depth and length, as though they had been carved there intentionally.)
You remember the glint of the blade that seemed to come out of nowhere and the large--so large, so strong--black gloved hand that stopped the blade from sweeping down and gutting you like a fish.
(Later, you realized that a hundred dollars was far too much money for a quickie in an alley and that a John never pays up front. Much later, when you learned how to recognize a serial killer just from the look in his eyes.)
The Batman was like a moving shadow, weaving in and out of darkness seamlessly, effortlessly, as though he was born of the gloom itself. He dodged every blow, avoided every slash of the knife while you watched, mesmerized, by his skillful motions. It was like ballet, perfectly choreographed, and the John went down with only a token struggle, knocked unconscious by those powerful fists.
Then, he looked at you.
(The one detail that remains fuzzy in this memory is the color of the Batman's eyes. You remember being transfixed by them, but you can't remember what color they were. In the night, sometimes, you close your eyes and replay the memory, but you still come up blank.)
This was not the rooftop rendezvous. This was not the glamorous meeting you envisioned. You were bloody, your clothing torn from two encounters with violent men and probably a little bit in shock, but your spine stayed ramrod straight.
"Zsasz," the Batman had said. You still remember the way his voice sounded--deep and menacing, scratchy and with a hint of tires crunching over gravel. "Are you all right?"
You heard the words come out of your mouth, but they sounded like they came from far away. "I can take care of myself."
(Stupid girl. Stupid, proud little girl.)
"Do you have a name?"
"Cherry. Cherry Dixon."
(He saw the way you cast your eyes around the alley--saw the way they lit up when they landed on a Cherry Zezty Cola can beneath a crumpled flier for Dixon's Fried Chicken--We Deliver! You thought you were being clever, but he saw straight through you.)
"Get home, Cherry."
He melted into shadow then, taking your client--the man who would have been your killer, if he'd been a few seconds later--and leaving you alone again.
(You've been alone ever since.)
A black cat crosses your path, a raggedy creature with a patch of fur and a foot missing, and you're pulled back to the present. It isn't August in the east end the day you narrowly escaped death--hot and sticky and dry--it's April, wet and cold and you just want to find a place to sleep.
You teeter along the street, cursing the four inch spike heels that are part of your uniform. They give you blisters, but in your line of work, you don't spend too much time on your feet anyway.
In your pocket, there's three hundred dollars, a fine night's haul, considering what a downright shitty night it is, and there are motels lining the street on either side of you, but after all this time, you've learned which ones not to stay in. The first time you saw all these neon signs casting their hellfire glow onto the boulevard, you finally understood why they call it the Red Light District and you still smile a little bit at the memory.
You were bunking with a hooker named Jasmine at the time, just a few weeks after Cherry Dixon was born.
(You still remember being jealous of her when you met--she was more beautiful than you'll ever be. More beautiful than most women will ever be by half, at least.)
She treated you like a sister, even though daddy had always told you that her people were less than human--dirty, filthy slave stock--and you were glad to have the guidance that she gave you, the friendship, the understanding. She had smiled at you like you were the cutest thing she'd ever seen when you saw the Terminus hotel and muttered about finally understanding what all those hardboiled detective novels were talking about.
(Jasmine is dead now, a hack and slash job by some villain-of-the-week named the Headhunter. The Terminus burned down years ago. Yet, in your mind's eye, they both still stand perfectly preserved inside the memory like figures in a snapshot that can never be touched by time or circumstance.)
You kick another can and this time, the sound honestly doesn't make you shiver. There are other things to be worried about, after all. There's a car following you--you know this sound better than any other in the world, the predator stalking his prey--and the wheezy muffler resonates in the quiet of the night.
Without hesitation, you turn.
A town car. Long, sleek, black, immaculately kept. It's probably never seen a night outside a garage. Yet…
(It unnerves you. Something in the back of your head sets off the warning bells, but you figure it's just because you're tired. You're tired and you need a fix, but what's one more trick?)
You have no illusions about this turning into a Hollywood romantic comedy scenario--whoever this man is, he doesn't want a companion or an escort, he just wants a fuck. That's all you are to anyone anymore. A piece of meat.
But at least, you console yourself, as the window rolls down with a mechanized whirr, he'll pay well.
You don't find it at all odd that it's the Chauffeur who's looking for a hooker. This has happened before. It's probably some rich kid--some rich kid you would have gone to college with if your daddy hadn't screwed things up for you so royally--with a bunch of friends who needs a breathing blow up doll for the night, sending poor Jeeves out to find him one 'cause he wouldn't be caught dead on this completely unfashionable side of town.
With a practiced shimmy, ignoring the agony in your feet, you approach the car, all your womanly charms used to their fullest advantage. You notice your nails are chipped as you brace your hand on the car door and lean inside--lucky for you, your nails aren't what he's interested in.
Your line is as practiced as your walk and is delivered with just as much sexual accuracy. Your voice is just husky enough to set any straight man's blood to boiling. "Need directions?"
The driver won't look at you. If he were a regular John, you'd tell him to get lost--never trust a man who won't look you in the eye--but the drivers…the drivers never do.
"How much?" he asks the windshield.
"My base rate's fifty," you reply with ease, as though discussing the weather and not the sale of your body. "It gets more expensive depending on what you want and how long you want it."
(Of course he won't get out and open the door for you--you, the heiress turned hooker, who was once too good for anything and is now good for nothing. But that's okay, you can do it yourself. You can do everything yourself, can't you? You're self sufficient and independent.)
The car is warm as you slide into the backseat, the leather burning against your ice-cold skin and you sink into the middle of the seat, enjoying the change of temperature. You strip off your coat immediately and forgo the use of a seatbelt as the car pulls away from the curb.
"So, Jeeves," you say to the back of the driver's head, "Am I doing you or your boss tonight?"
"Oh, you're for me," he replies, pulling the car into a parking garage and finding a shadowy place to park on the third level.
(He wants it in the backseat, then. Fine. The town car is a lot roomier than the back of that Pinto you frolicked in just a few hours ago. Compared to usual, this will be a treat.)
He opens his door and steps out of the car. You arrange yourself as attractively as possible and the door to your left opens, leaving you to see nothing but the driver's uniform. He tosses his hat into the car where it lands in your lap and you giggle a little at his flair.
"So, you got a name, handsome?" You watch as he pulls off his jacket and starts unbuttoning the white shirt underneath. "Anything in particular you want me to call you?"
He pulls the shirt open, leaving just a strip of skin exposed. The blood freezes in your veins, the smile dies on your lips, the giggle seems like a million years ago instead of just a few moments. You're colder now in the car than you ever were on the street.
(He has so many more marks now…so many, so many. All the same size, all over, everywhere…groups of five. Oh, God, so many.)
He ducks down to look you in the eye and his chilling blue gaze, more crazed now than it was back then, pins you to the spot just as surely as Falcone's man first pinned you to that mattress. Paralysis lasts for but a moment and scrambling, you reach for the handle of the other door.
(It's locked and there's no button to press to open it, not back here. You're going to die.)
"I'm Victor." He says pleasantly, lunging forward and trapping your wrists in his hands. His breath is foul on your face, the smell of unbrushed teeth and rot makes your stomach roll. "And you're the one that got away."