When I returned home later that evening, I was, at first, oblivious to who had been traipsing through my apartment only hours before.

It was my second day back to work after the incident with Ben had transpired in front of the entire office, and I was still receiving furtive stares. Half-whispered gossip spun its way around my cubicle and throughout the entire floor, like spiders spinning webs in far-off corners.

For the most part, it was easy to bury myself in my work and ignore the chatter. I realized I didn't really care what my coworkers thought of me. I was the hot topic at the moment, but the water-cooler rumors would only last to the end of the week, as most rumors usually did.

Samantha, though, had wheeled herself inside my cubicle at the end of the day, once again wearing a ridiculous pair of pumps that were as tall as the scrapers outside my window. Her lips were colored her signature shade of blood red, and for a moment, I imagined a Glasgow grin stretching her cheeks wide, and black greasepaint surrounding her eyes, offset by a white face.

I shook my head, startled by the thought.

The Joker was having more of an effect on me than I thought.

"So..." she said, letting the silence stretch between us as she waited for me to give her my full attention.

I turned in my chair only a little to face her, hoping my shielded body language would convey the rest.

"Did you need something?"

Samantha shrugged, easy. "No," she said, and I watched as she picked up the tape dispenser on my desk that was shaped like a stiletto. A gift from a coworker. "That was quite something the other day, huh?"

Great. We were going to talk about the Ben Thing. Really, I was surprised she hadn't come to me about it sooner. I resisted the urge to rub my temples, tired of the subject already.

In lieu of a reply, I shrugged.

"You know... I went out with him once. Before I met Harry, of course," she added, raising a manicured hand as if to ward off the inevitable question I hadn't been intending to ask.

Her revelation came as something of a surprise. Even if Samantha wasn't my favorite person, no one could deny she was nothing if not head-over-heels in love with her husband, and faithful to boot. I cast a sidelong glance at her cubicle. It was a garden of color, with fluorescent Post-It notes from Harry covering every available inch of wall space, a vase of fresh roses next to her monitor, and various framed pictures chronicling her travels with her husband. They were smiling in every picture. She'd been with Harry for as long as I could remember, and gushed about him often and freely.

I turned back to her with a quirked brow. "You did?"

She sighed, nodded. "It was when I first started here, before you came along."

"Oh. Must have been a while ago."

"It was," she nodded. I watched the way her eyes seemed to flicker when she looked away, like she was recalling memories that weren't all that pleasant. She snapped her eyes back to me and her posture slouched a little. "Listen, I just wanted to say... well, I think what you did the other day took a lot of guts. Ben's a complete asshole and he deserved every word you said." She paused, like she wanted to add more but couldn't find the words. "I just wanted you to know that."

"Um. Thank you?" I stared at her, unable to hide my disbelief. "I mean, thank you. Without the question mark." I smiled, and maybe it looked a bit hesitant and unsure, but Samantha's smile was kind and confident enough for the both of us.

"Right." Her posture straightened and she wheeled the minuscule distance back to her cubicle, but not before laying a hand on my forearm and ducking her head close to mine to whisper. "Oh, and just between us girls... he does have a small dick."

I smiled to myself as the wheels of Samantha's chair skittered across the floor, and I was still smiling when I went back to my spreadsheets at the computer and began typing.

Samantha really wasn't so bad after all.


After work, I went to my doctor's appointment and called Nancy on the way there to reschedule our evening. I told her I'd been feeling really well the past few days and that I could take care of the cleaning and cooking myself.

That was a flat-out lie. My apartment was a mess. I hadn't cleaned it in days, and truth was, I felt like shit. I also hadn't made a proper meal for myself in weeks. In my health journals, I lied about what I'd been eating. Didn't seem like it mattered much anyways, not when death loomed at every corner, as morbid as that kind of thinking was.

I'd been canceling on Nancy a lot, recently, and the last time I'd seen her was when we had gone shopping together for a dress for my date with Ben. That felt like years ago, and I knew she missed me. I missed her, too. We almost never went this long without seeing each other, but I couldn't have her over, not when the Joker had a knack for showing up at the worst possible time, or when I least expected him. I was not about to put Nancy's life in danger because of my little... whatever it was with the Joker. Infatuation, if you would. Desperate Need for Companionship, maybe.

Maybe I could write a book about it before I died. 'How to Befriend Murderous Psychopaths and What You Need to Know.'

At the back of my mind, I knew that Nancy's safety wasn't the only reason why I kept canceling on her. And that was worst of all, because her safety should have been the only factor, not one of five. The truth was, I felt afraid that if she came over, she'd somehow find traces of the Joker and know instantly that he'd been there, that he'd been sitting on that same spot on the sofa that she always liked to sit in when she came over.

Worse than my paranoia, though, was my guilt. Nancy was the sweetest, most self-sacrificing person I knew. She was always putting others before herself, and she did it so unconsciously, like it was second nature to put her own needs aside in favor of everyone else's. You didn't meet people like that very often.

And then, in comparison, there was me: selfish and self-serving and only out to fulfill my own egotistical desires and tanked self-esteem. If Nancy had known what I'd done, if she'd known that I'd served the most wanted man in Gotham dinner, if she'd know that we'd played Monopoly and talked for hours and were… maybe/sort of friends… I couldn't imagine her disappointment. She'd be so confused and hurt. Why haven't you called the police, why haven't you turned him in? What's wrong with you?

She'd probably think I was a monster, just like him.

Maybe I was a monster.

Sometimes I felt like one.

After an uneventful check-up at the doctor's office (nothing new to report, I was dying right on schedule), I came straight home and put on a pot of coffee. I needed some caffeine in my system to wake myself out of the perpetual pity-party I'd been throwing myself for the past two days. As I waited for it to finish, I undid the straps around my heels and tossed my jacket over one of the chairs at the kitchen table, glad to flex my toes. I was convinced that heels were designed by Satan to torture woman. Samantha might not agree, but she'd be the only one.

At the sink, I washed my hands and stared blankly out the window where the garbage man had his truck parked below and was emptying the large, green metal bin there.

It was when I reached for a nearby dishtowel that I realized there was a cup in the sink I didn't remember using.

And the only reason it struck me as odd was because I almost never used it. It was always at the back of my cupboard because the handle was chipped and the cup itself was an ugly shade of purple….

And that's when it dawned on me.

The Joker.

I paused drying my hands and listened for a moment, half thinking that he might still be here.

Slowly, I began to tiptoe towards my bedroom, stopping in the hallway to peer into the bathroom. I turned on the light and peeled back the shower curtain. Nothing.

In my bedroom, nothing had changed. I inspected my room with careful eyes, making sure everything was just as I had left it.

And everything was. The bed was still unmade, magazines were sprawled across the floor, and my vanity a mess from when I hadn't put away my makeup earlier this morning.

Was the coffee cup in the sink just a weird happenstance? Had I perhaps been so out of it these past few days that I'd forgotten that I had used it?

I pondered it as I stripped out of my clothes and pulled on a silk nightgown—coincidentally, the same one I had worn on the night the Joker and I had first met.

I thought back to how scared I had been, how frightened and terrified and completely alive I'd felt, every nerve in my body on fire. Nothing had ever felt so... good. The sheer energy he had exuded that night, the smoke that clung to his clothes and the weight of his heavy, black stare—it was exhilarating and exhausting and overwhelming and a thousand other emotions I shouldn't have felt at the time.

He had no idea what he did to me.

I stared at my reflection in the mirror as I took out my earrings and tucked them in my jewelry box. I wondered what the Joker saw when he looked at me, if he saw the same tired, depressed woman that I saw.

I was about to go back into the kitchen to retrieve my coffee when I noticed something askew in the mirror. Behind me, my closet door was open a crack.

It was almost always closed.

"No way... "

Abandoning my reflection, I went to the closet and slowly tugged on the door, entirely unprepared for what I was about to find.

When the door opened, I screamed.

A full, head-to-toe skeleton was dangling from the clothing rod, courtesy of a rope tied around the spinal cord of the neck, just like a noose.

And I knew it was real because of the traces of muscle and tissue that clung to its bone.

The stench was maddening.

Stuck to the ribs on the left side, where the heart would have been, was a yellow note. I didn't dare touch it, and I put a hand over my mouth and nose as I leaned in closer to read it, my eyes wide.

Looks like I'm not the only one with skeletons in the closet.

It was scrawled in black ink, in chicken-scratch. It looked like the handwriting of a five year old.

I knew it was the Joker instantly, and my mind was spinning as I reread the words in my head, over and over. What was he talking about? What on earth could he be talking about?

I swallowed the panic I felt in my throat as I backed away, my hand slowly dropping from my mouth.

Oh my God.

He'd put a skeleton in my closet, a real skeleton.

Whose body was that? And how did he kill them?

Suddenly I wanted to vomit. A burning sickness crept up my throat and angry, disgusted tears stung at the back of my eyes.

I made it to the bathroom just in time to dry-heave into the toilet. My hair created a curtain around my face as I sunk to my knees and gripped the edges of the seat with a vice, sobbing into the dark.

You stupid, selfish idiot.

This was my fault. Somebody had died because of me, because the Joker had wanted to make some kind of point, some kind of stupid joke because we were friends.

I don't know how long I sat there on the bath rug crying, but by the time I was able to pull myself together, the coffee in the kitchen had grown cold and the sky was blue and purple, the color of day-old bruises.

I drained the coffee in the sink and made sure the door and all the windows were locked.

In the bedroom, I closed the closet door without glancing at the hanging skeleton inside. In my mind's eye I could see it clear as day; I did not need a refresher.

I quickly retrieved my bedspread and a pillow, and, after pulling shut my bedroom door, made camp on the couch in the living room. There was no way I was sleeping in my bedroom when there was a skeleton hanging in my closet, like some god-awful Halloween decoration not yet tucked away with the others.

As I lay down and pulled my blanket up to my chin, the moonlight streamed in through the blinds across from me, like the long, pale fingers of ghouls. I thought about what to do.

I knew what I should do, but I also knew I probably wouldn't.

I should call the police. That was what any normal, sane person would do. I should have them stage a stake-out in my apartment and catch the Joker red-handed, where they would then proceed to cart him off to jail and then court, and hold him accountable for his crimes.

But I couldn't. Even though there was a damn skeleton in my closet—the remains of a dead body—I still couldn't turn him in. I couldn't do it and I wouldn't do it and I hated myself for it more than I had ever hated myself before.

He'll kill more people if you don't do something. You have him in the palm of your hand. Do something!

But I liked him. That was the only thing stopping me. I liked his company and the way he made me feel so alive. And it was so oxymoronic—a killer making me feel alive—but it was the absolute truth. There was a undeniable thrill to be found in not knowing if he was going to kill me, in knowing that every next second could be my last. He'd made me an adrenaline junkie without ever leaving my own home.

That night, I hardly slept at all. Every time I closed my eyes, I was plagued with images of dead bodies and flesh tendons and the bony remains of skeletons flashing behind my lids, inescapable night horrors. At three AM I woke with a jolt, shooting off the couch like I'd been struck by lightning. My forehead was slick with sweat and my legs tangled in the thick, stuffy comforter. I fought the blankets off and staggered to the bathroom in the dark, bowing low over the sink to splash cool water over my face.

I shut off the tap when I was done and closed my eyes, leaning my forearms against the countertop and laying my head there as I listened to the water gurgle down the drain and the steady thump of my heart.

I had to end this. I had to end this insane—friendship—with the Joker. It was sick and it was disgusting, and every time I thought of him, my skin crawled as if covered in mites and my heart burst like fireworks in my chest. How was it possible to feel such conflicting emotions towards another human being?

I sniffled and wiped the remaining water from my face with a nearby towel.

Maybe if I was lucky he'd forget about me altogether and I could go back to my miserable, self-depreciating, morally-stable life.


For the next few days, I didn't see the Joker at all.

It drove me mad.

He'd left a skeleton hanging in my closet that I didn't know what to do with, and it haunted my thoughts every moment of every day. Each time I stepped outside my door to leave for work, I felt nausea wash over me in waves of green. My vision blurred and my lungs constricted for breath, and I felt like everyone knew. The second I stepped outside my apartment, I had opened myself up to become a target; I was the bulls-eye. My eyes darted away when they came in contact with a stranger's, and I avoided conversation and small-talk if at all possible. When one of my coworkers came to my cubicle to inquire about some paperwork, my hands shook at the keyboard. I hid them beneath my desk but kept my eyes glued to the screen as she spoke. For the life of me, I could not meet her gaze.

On another day, when a police officer on the street passed as I waited for a cab to take me home, I felt my knees go weak with panic. It was a wonder I did not collapse right there. My mind conjured a hundred ridiculous scenarios where I'd gotten arrested and brutally hauled off to a prison for a crime I didn't commit.

Except, I had committed a crime, and that crime was not turning in the most wanted criminal in all of Gotham.

When a cab finally pulled up to the curb, I nearly tore off the door in my haste to get in, to hide from the prying, suspicious eyes of the city around me.

It felt as if even Gotham herself knew of my secret and had ordered the wind to whisper it into the ear of every passing stranger.

On the fourth day, even my apartment was no longer a safe haven, and my stomach had twisted itself into sharp little knots that poked and prodded at my ribcage with every move. I called in sick to work on Friday and hid myself beneath a mountain of covers on the couch, even despite the torrid heat that raged outside. I slept until late in the afternoon, tossing and turning and getting up only once to get a glass of water and use the bathroom.

You have to do something. You can't just let that skeleton rot in your closet. Who knows if he'll come back to claim it? And what if this is all some kind of warning? What if he's trying to tell you he's going to kill you?

Suddenly, I was struck with a desire to see it. I hadn't looked at it since the day I'd first seen it hanging there in my closet, and the urge to do it now was overwhelming.

God, this was so wrong. But what was I supposed to do? I couldn't get rid of it, couldn't just dump it in a trash bag and toss it out with the other disposables. Somebody would find it—the stench would give it away, if the weight of the bag didn't, surely—and then the whole building would be under investigation, and they'd just know it was me and—

I stopped.

My breathing had gone erratic, and I paused halfway down the hallway, gripping the wall for support.

With the current way my life was going, I would probably die of a heart attack before I died of my disease.

The Joker would probably find that amusing, I thought as I opened the door to my room.

And then I screamed.

He was standing right there, hand poised as if he were about to open the door and let himself out of my room. I had beaten him to it.

I felt his eyes on my face and t took me a moment to gather enough strength to find words. I wanted to say a million things all at once.

"You!" I cried. So articulate.

"Me," the Joker supplied, matter-of-fact, standing tall above me and looking down at me as if I were nothing but a mere bug to be smashed beneath his boot.

Cradled by the edges of my doorway, I felt all my emotions—pent up since the last time I'd seen him—collide like a star burst inside me. Anger, excitement, fear, relief; all of it came crashing together into one giant mass of energy to give me the biggest adrenaline rush of my life.

"You!" I said again, this time with more authority, more power. In a moment of pure, adrenaline-fueled anger, my face twisted into a snarl. "What the fuck were you thinking?" I shouted, my voice coming out twisted and gnarled with hysteria. At the same time, before I could register what I was even doing, the heels of my palms were planted against the Joker's chest. I shoved him back with all the force I could muster.

The movement and force of it caught him so off guard that he went stumbling backwards into my room. I felt success wash through me for the briefest of moments, but it disappeared just as quickly as it had come.

And then I stood, breathing hard in the doorway. The Joker's eyes snapped to mine.

I watched the way his eyes flashed red with rage, and he looked like he was about to throttle me. I took a step back instinctively, placing a hand to my chest as if the added pressure would somehow keep my heart from bursting forth from my ribs. Not likely.

The Joker's face broke into an ear-splitting grin.

"Look at you!" he hooted, anger gone. "My, my, what balls you have." He seemed proud of this, emphasizing the b. "Who knew beneath that sick-girl exterior, you were just playing me all this time. What else can you do, sugar? What other secrets are you hiding?

Here he grinned, wide and devious.

I felt like I was going to be sick.

"What's the matter, cupcake?" The Joker feigned an exaggerated frown, and I watched him move closer, slithering forward—snake-like in his movements—until he was just a breath away, crowding into my personal space. I kept my hands raised at my waist just in case I needed to use them. It was no secret the Joker moved quickly, efficiently, and when he stood this close, it was stupid not to be prepared.

He cocked his head at me, and even in the semi-darkness of the hallway, trapped between the doorway to my bedroom and the closed door to the office at my back, I could see the creases beneath his eyes, the smudged greasepaint.

"You don't look so happy to see me. You didn't like my surprise, baby?"

My anger had not deflated, and it flared even more at him calling me the pet name. It immediately brought back memories of Ben.

I stood up straighter and forced myself to keep my hands at my sides, to not push him again. "How could you do that?" I bit out. "You killed someone—for me—"

The Joker snorted. His eyes held no mirth. "You're flattering yourself again," he said, and his voice was flat. "Y'know, that's your problem, that's everybody's problem, they think it's aaaall about them. Me me me. Well you know what?" The Joker leaned in close, dipping low so our noses almost brushed. His breath was hot and rancid as it wafted across my face. His gaze was black. "Nobody gives a f-uck."

I swallowed.

I don't know if I'd ever heard the Joker say the word 'fuck' before, but the effect was jarring. His mouth seemed to savor the word, the way he drew it out and punctuated it in a way that made the hairs on my arms stand on end. I could not force myself to look away from him, and I felt my earlier confidence and aplomb flagging the longer I stared at him. The whites of his eyes had all but disappeared.

"You left a skeleton hanging in my closet. What was I supposed to think?" I whispered, and only then did I avert my gaze. "Why would you do that? Why would you kill someone for—for some sick joke and then leave it here, to show me?"

The Joker cooed, all understanding and mock-sympathy. "Is that was this is about? Do you feel guilty?" The word tapered off his tongue slowly, reverently, like he loved the taste of it. "Do you feel guilty because it's your fault?"

I shook my head at him. My voice felt tiny and small when my reply tumbled out, and goose bumps pricked at my skin. "No, you did this. You did."

The Joker glowered at me. It was a moment before he spoke, drawing back a little and up to his full height to tower over me. "You're really not getting this, are you?"

I clenched my hands into fists, and was just short of stomping my foot like a child. "I don't know what you're talking about!" I shouted, and I only recoiled a little when he gave me a sharp look, like I better watch myself. "Please just—please get rid of it. I can't—" God, now was not the time for tears to start welling in my eyes. My voice cracked. "I can't sleep knowing it's here and everywhere I go I feel like people are watching me, like they know and it's driving me insane. You have to take it away."

The only one watching me now was the Joker, burning holes through my skin with acidic black eyes. I let his gaze rake over me freely—not that I could stop him if I wanted—and let myself fall back the two steps it took for my back to hit the door, needing something to support my weak limbs.

The Joker would laugh if I told him that I got weak-kneed every time he was around.

"You really don't know?" he pressed. "I woulda thought you'd have figured it out by now. You're a smart girl, after all. But we have time. All the time in the world, in fact. I'm not going anywhere, you're not going anywhere." He licked his lips. "And neither is Bill," he said, inclining his head towards the closet in my bedroom with a sharp node. "Or maybe it was Ben?"

I felt the blood drain from my face in an instant. My heart followed, dropping to the pit of my stomach with a sick feeling of dread.

I hadn't seen Ben at the office ever since our little encounter. I had assumed it was because our paths hadn't crossed, or because he was avoiding me, but now...

"No, no you didn't," I breathed, hardly daring to believe his words. "If you killed him—"

The corner of his mouth upturned, just a little, like he'd caught me in his little trap; hook, line, and sinker.

"Oh, but sweetheart, I'm not so sure now," he feigned, brows drawing together in concern. "I can't really remember. Maybe I've repressed the memory because it's so awful." For a moment, he dropped the pseudo-distress and spoke in a conspirational tone, lending his hand to the side of his mouth so the sound could travel better, like this was a secret that could only be shared with me. "Therapy can do that to you, you know," he whispered. "Make you forget, make you tuck away your secrets in those nooks and crannies in that little old noggin of yours." Here he tapped his index finger against my skull, just in case I didn't know what a noggin was. "Is that what happened to you? Did they make you forget?" He cocked his head and offered a sickly-sweet smile.

Rage flashed in my eyes. Why did he have to be so fucking cryptic?

I glared at him and clenched my fists harder. He watched me as I leaned forward, inclining my head towards his.

"Fuck off," I whispered to him, spittle flying from my mouth.

That was a stupid thing to say.

There was a half second where the Joker just looked at me, looked at me with a cold, blank expression, like I hadn't said anything at all.

Then his face twisted into an angry grimace and he growled—God helped me, he growled—and it sounded like it'd come from the jaws of some wild animal, sounded like every nightmare I'd ever had, like something so terrible it had been cast out of the depths of Hell itself.

He shoved me back against the door with a hand around my throat, forcing me to stand on my toes. I couldn't breathe.

"You reaaaally know how to push my buttons, don't you? DON'T YOU?" His breathing was ragged as he adjusted his grip, and my hands had flown to my throat in a futile attempt to pry his fingers away. He growled again, displeased with my struggling, and pulled back just enough to slam me into the closed door for a second time. It rattled in its frame. The knob dug into the small of my back.

"If you're going to kill me just do it!" I gasped. I was trembling as I watched his eyes linger on my fluttering pulse, the pale column of my bared throat and the strain of muscles there, pulled taut. "Go on," I urged, even as I struggled for breath. "Do it."

The Joker frowned. "Not if you're gonna beg me for it," he snarled. Then he straightened, let me go with a shove that sent my skull cracking against the door. "You're better than that. And we're going to play a game."

That did not sound like something I wanted to be a part of.

I cried out when he snatched me by the hair, gathering the bulk of it into his fist and pulling, forcing me to stumble after him and into the living room.

"Let me go!"

He promptly dumped me on the couch. "Fine. You're let go. Now pay. Atten-tion," he ordered. I sat up, breathing hard, and watched him shove the coffee table out of the way. The rug bunched up beneath it as he pushed it towards the window. I didn't understand why he had done it until he was kneeling in front of me, down on one knee, like he was going to fucking propose or something. His gaze was level with mine.

Then he smiled at me. The most lecherous, shit-eating grin I'd ever seen; blood red mouth stretched wide, fleshy, puckered scars pulled taut. There were crinkles around his black eyes and cracks in the greasepaint where slivers of pale skin sliced through.

"What are you doing?" I breathed, unable to look away.

The Joker was still smiling when he slid something cool and solid into my palm.

It was a gun.

My gasp was swallowed up by the Joker's voice.

"Sh, sh, sh," he cooed, and his large hands were cupping my face, brushing my hair back even as my own hands started to tremble. "Sh, sh. Daddy's right here."

"What is this? What are you doing?"

"We're playing a game," he said, just a touch exasperated.

I looked at him, at the gun, then back at him. Something told me the game was 'Russian Roulette'. I felt his hands on my face, thumbs brushing over my cheekbones almost tenderly, and I wanted to scream.

"I don't want to play," I said, and my voice shook along with my hands when I offered the gun back to him.

He didn't like that.

He shoved it back into my lap and forced my fingers to curl around the handle, making me grip it tight.

"Ah, ah. Not so fast, cupcake."

I looked at the Joker, wondered if he could hear the way my heart slammed against my ribcage as I struggled for breath.

I didn't think it end like this. Not with a bullet to the head. Maybe I naively thought my disease would take me before the Joker did, but I could see now that was no longer meant to be the ending to my story.

That was why I was so surprised when the Joker guided my hand so the gun was pointed at him.

I let out a sharp breath as he forced me to nuzzle the tip of the barrel against his skull, just above his ear, until he was comfortable.

"What are you doing?"

He looked at me like the answer was obvious. I watched his tongue trace his lower lip. "I want you to shoot me."

I stared at him, at the slivers of fading sunlight that scattered orange beams across his neck and chest. "What?"

He moved forward, so the sun was a crooked, rectangular slit over his eyes. "I said, I want you to shoot me."

I felt his fingers crush mine as he forced me to grip the gun tighter. His eyes were narrowed, mouth pulled into a straight line.

"Come on," he murmured, and he lowered his head—the barrel following the movement—so he was staring at me from beneath his brows. "Come on, I want you to do it. I want you to."

I shook my head at him, hair whipping around my face. "No—no, I can't."

"Do it!" he shouted, making me jump in my seat. There was a manic gleam in his eye as he maneuvered my hand so my finger was pressed against the trigger. "Think about all the people I've murdered. All the innocent little children and the happy couples who go to church every Sunday, and the single mommies and the helpless old lady who can't cross the street, and the cripples."

He was grinning at me.

I stared at him, open-mouthed. Guilt pooled like acid in my gut and tears gathered behind my eyes.

"I can't—I can't kill you!" My knees knocked together when the Joker grabbed my arm and gently urged me so I was sitting on the edge of the couch, forcing us closer. His exhales were hot on my face. He was still grinning.

"Do it. Do. It. I dare you."

I shook my head at him again, tears spilling over my cheeks, running down the curve of my nose to fall over my lips. I licked the taste of salt away and cried harder.

The Joker groaned suddenly, a full-body shiver wracking his frame. His free hand moved to grip my bare thigh, small as it was, fingers curling around the flesh there and instilling goose bumps in their wake. My mouth opened in a silent cry when he dug his nails in.

"Come on, I want you to. Just shoot me. Think of all the lives you'll save. You'll be a hero, Riley." He breathed my name like a prayer. "Everybody wants to be a hero."

My finger trembled against the trigger. I squeezed my eyes shut and looked away.

"I won't do it!" I cried. "I won't. I won't do it!"

Suddenly, the Joker was ripping me towards him, pulling me forwards by cupping his hand around the back of my neck. I watched his throat bob as he swallowed. Then he brought our foreheads together and stared at my mouth.

"Why?" he breathed, and he was grinning like there was nothing to lose. "Is it because you've done it before?"