AN: Well, this is it. The second year anniversary of my time writing Batman fan fiction on this site. And, much like I did last October fifth, I decided to celebrate the occasion with a one shot. And, also like last year, I have no idea how this story came into my head or why I felt compelled to commit it to writing. And, as if this fic didn't have enough in common with The Horrible Sickness already, it's also rated M although there's nothing outright explicit in it. The Horrible Sickness was rated as such for its rather graphic depiction of the effects of varicella on the male reproductive system, and this fic is rated for its subject matter, the very most intimate apparel.
Reviews are greatly appreciated.
Jonathan Crane had been pacing up and down aisle nine of the convenience store for approximately twenty-six minutes, and he showed no signs of stopping in the near future.
Jonathan knew he had been pacing for approximately twenty-six minutes because a full eighteen of them had been spent staring down at his watch: the first five when he'd reached his current aisle, before he'd begun to pace. After realizing just how much attention he was drawing to himself by standing there and counting off the seconds, Jonathan had pulled his cell phone from his pocket and meandered up and down the aisle for eight minutes, as if searching for a signal.
He'd pocketed the phone again for fear of a surprise call. He knew, even as he slid it back into his suit jacket, that the fear was completely irrational. The only calls the phone had ever received were either from the DA's office, asking for a professional opinion, or from Arkham Asylum itself, in the case of an emergency. It wasn't a number he gave out. Jonathan had always valued his privacy, and his superiority to those technology addicts that walked around with their phones practically glued to their ears at all hours of the day.
Besides, he didn't have anyone to give it out to.
Hadn't, anyway. Not until Wednesday.
Wednesday was the day he'd made the mistake of leaving his office and taking his lunch in Arkham's break room, a choice that was now perhaps the greatest regret of his life. Wednesday was the day he'd found himself seated across from an ambitious new intern, a woman who never missed the opportunity to start a conversation about treatment methods or hospital procedure or the asylum's décor. Or anything else that came into her mind when he was in the vicinity. Wednesday was the day when he found himself an unwilling participant in conversation with her yet again, but unlike other days, Wednesday was the day she'd asked if he'd like to get a bite to eat on Friday. Today.
And Wednesday was the day when he'd apparently taken leave of his senses, because Jonathan had agreed. And gone so far in his madness as to give her his number, just in case there was a change of plans. In case her senses returned and she called to cancel.
After eight minutes of seemingly aimless wandering with the phone, Jonathan had been overwhelmed by the fear that it would ring, infrequent and unlikely as that was, and that any onlookers would call his bluff. So the phone had gone back into his pocket and he'd returned to staring at his watch, pacing up and down the aisle for the next thirteen minutes.
Get a hold of yourself. Jonathan took a slow, shuddering breath, as if the admonition had had the slightest effect. He had to pull himself together and get out of here. His lunch break would be over before he was through if he didn't, he'd be late for his next session, and then Thomas Schiff would want to know why he'd taken so long. And Jonathan couldn't very well tell his patient that he'd had a nervous breakdown while trying to buy condoms.
He forced himself to stand up straight and face the shelves. The packages stared back, their glossy cardboard exteriors seeming to glare with judgment. Lubricated. Ribbed. Flavored. Ultra-thin. The words were swimming before his eyes much as what little lunch he'd forced down on the ride over was swimming in his stomach.
The fact that he wouldn't need condoms hadn't escaped Jonathan. It had been playing in his mind like a record that couldn't jump the scratch all day, blaring almost painfully loud by the time he'd set foot into the store. It was a first date. It wasn't even a date, not really, just a meal between coworkers. She may be overly friendly, but she wasn't unprofessional. It wouldn't go anywhere. Logically, he knew that. But logic didn't stop the what if.
What if he became spectacularly drunk? What if they both did? What if there was a sudden and unavoidable spark of passion? Suppose the location she'd chosen was particularly seedy and one of their drinks ended up contaminated with Rohypnol? Each possibility was more ridiculous than the last, but that didn't negate any of them, and as long as the risk existed, he had to be prepared.
The preparation would be easier if he had the slightest idea in hell what he was doing. The last time he'd had condoms, Jonathan was an undergrad and they'd been handed out during a Psychology of Sexual Behavior class. He'd kept it stashed in his wallet for two years and then thrown it away. Knowing that it would have been useless by this point didn't make him regret throwing it away any less. Not now that he found himself here.
Pull yourself together. You're a grown man. Jonathan took another breath. He'd just walk over and take the package that looked the simplest. No special features or added benefits to worry about. The cashier wouldn't even give him a second glance. He'd filled the shopping basket to the brim with other items in his panic: aspirin, three different kinds of soup, a nail file, laundry detergent, gardening gloves. He didn't even have a garden. But that was beside the point, and the point was to buy more than just a pack of condoms in the middle of the afternoon.
Jonathan gathered his resolve and took a step forward.
Of course that was the exact moment than an elderly woman and what Jonathan presumed to be her preteen granddaughter came around the corner. The girl, oblivious, began examining the menstrual products on the other side of the aisle. The grandmother caught Jonathan's stare and gave him a look that could have stripped wallpaper.
He tried to swallow, only to find that his throat was too dry. His vision was flickering and the shelves seemed to tilt. Breathe. Breathe.
The disapproving stranger just had to have the exact same shade and style of hair as his great-grandmother, didn't she?
His great-grandmother. Jonathan did stop breathing at that, mind overpowered by the thought of what she'd say if she was alive to witness this. If there was an afterlife, knowing her, she was witnessing it, and screaming into his unhearing ears that he was condemning himself to hell for all eternity for even thinking of gaining such carnal knowledge, that he was an adulterer for looking at a woman with lust in his heart, that he was scum that she should have thrown onto the garbage heap in his infancy. If she'd caught him with such a thing in his youth, there would have been no discussion. She'd have beaten him within an inch of his life and then let her birds finish the job.
Jonathan gasped for air, forcing himself around the corner into aisle eight as he did, so as not to draw any more attention to himself. Stop. She's not here. It doesn't matter what she'd think. Knowing the words were true didn't make his heartbeat any less rapid. He grabbed the shelf for support, nearly upending several bottles of shampoo in the process. His fingers were going numb but his breath was almost regular, so he kept at it. Wait. Wait for them to leave the aisle and then go back in. You don't have to explain yourself to her. Just wait.
After what seemed like an eternity and what his watch recorded as fifteen seconds, they left, the girl darting off to aisle ten to look at the cosmetics.
Jonathan charged in like a cat with a pack of dogs on its heels, grabbing the first package that grazed his hand and shoving it into the basket without giving it a glance. It didn't matter what he bought. It would suffice, and if it didn't, he'd pray that tonight was uneventful and order something off the Internet if there was to be a repeat of this dinner. He should have done that in the first place, would have if the invitation hadn't come on such short notice. No, he wasn't going to dwell on it. It didn't matter. He wasn't a child anymore and this wasn't Georgia and he didn't have to explain his actions to anyone—
He was halfway across the space from aisle nine to the registers when the girl stepped out of the makeup aisle and he had to swerve to avoid a collision. He looked up, startled, and met the grandmother's eyes again. She was glaring. It was exactly the way his great-grandmother would glare before she swung her cane at him. Or worse.
The room was spinning again. This time, when the walls titled, he tilted with them, colliding into a display of china. He struck his head against a gravy boat and the store went mercifully dark.
Jonathan awoke in the hospital with a mild concussion and four stitches. When he called Joan Leland so that she could inform the others that he wouldn't be back for the rest of the day, he asked her to relay the message to the interning staff that he wouldn't be able to make any appointments that night.
Harley had been using a diaphragm since college.
She had no moral objection to hormonal birth control and she doubted that her mother, if she'd found out, would have complained. Her brother hadn't finished college after his girlfriend's accidental pregnancy, a fact her mother never failed to harp on about during their phone conversations before Harley's career had taken a less than legal turn. So religious or not—and the entire family, her mother included, was Jewish more in race than in practice these days—she had the feeling her mother would have given her the "be safe if you mate" routine had they ever discussed her sex life, which they thankfully hadn't.
No, Harley didn't use birth control because the stuff the campus health center had prescribed made her sick. Vomiting, heavy bleeding, curled up in bed with a heating pad and praying for the sweet release of death sick. Even at the time, she'd acknowledged that the problem was probably the brand rather than the contraceptive pill itself, but when her education depended on her gymnastics scholarship and her spot on the gymnastics team depended on her ability to be performing, not huddled up in agony back in her dorm room, it wasn't worth the effort to go brand by brand until she found something that worked. So she'd been fitted for a diaphragm and had gone with that ever since. It had never seemed a hassle to use it and anyway, she'd rarely needed it in college, being preoccupied with practice and classes and her social life in general. She'd used it a few times with her boyfriend as an undergrad, and once in graduate school, when that bastard of a professor had tried refusing her thesis just because her organization and clarity could use a little fine-tuning.
She'd been careful every time she used it. Harley'd had a degree to earn, and she wasn't about to let an accidental pregnancy or a STD get in the way. Every time she'd used it, bar the meeting with her professor, she'd insisted that the diaphragm was accompanied by a condom.
Now that she was on the run with the Joker, that rule hadn't changed.
She was worried, when he'd slid his hands around her waist and she'd told him things couldn't progress without the right supplies, that he'd take it as an insult. A suggestion that she didn't trust him. That he wouldn't see it as for his protection as much as hers, keeping his plans for Gotham from going on hold because of any surprises. It wasn't like she could go into a clinic for the pills without holding the place up these days, after all.
To her relief, he'd agreed. Driven her there, even, giggling the whole way like they were a pair of horny teenagers seeking around behind their parents' backs. Harley found herself oddly happy at seeing him act that way. The Joker had never brought up his youth in their sessions, but she gathered that he didn't have a lot of the happy experiences of the average teenager.
But that relief dissipated when she found herself in the aisle. In college, it hadn't mattered. She'd grabbed whatever had looked good to her and Guy could deal with it or go without. But this…this relationship was different. She was the one making him step out of his routine. She had to choose something he'd like.
The condoms for "her pleasure" would enforce the idea that she was making tonight all about her. Those were out. Ribbed or vibrating could make things more exciting, but this would be their first time together, and she'd never asked him about his sex life. Suppose both of those sensations turned him off? Lubricated was the safest choice, but he might prefer ultra-thin, and depending on where the night would go, maybe it would be best to get flavored…wait, what if he was allergic to latex? She'd never thought to ask that either. Maybe she should go with polyurethane. It was less likely to cause a reaction and it was just as effective, but it was more likely to slip off or break…but wouldn't the condom choice depend on the type of lubricant?
At her wit's end, Harley took one of each box and carried them to the counter, ignoring the sheepish smile the acne-ridden cashier cast her way. It wasn't until she'd stepped into the parking lot carrying a bag with at least fifteen different packages that the stupidity of what she'd done hit her. The Joker was prone to theft, but suppose he'd actually need money for something? All that she had left of what he'd given her was a nickel and a few pennies. And even if he didn't need the money, this would make her look spacey. Indecisive. The sort of girl he didn't need around while he was working. What if he thought she resented his sending her in alone and had decided to overwhelm him with options to get back at him?
It took every fiber of resolve she had to open the door and slide back into the passenger's seat instead of running back inside to return her purchases and choose something sensible.
"So." He was still smiling, almost giddy. Harley wondered how quickly that would fade when she opened the bag. "What'ya get?"
Wordless, she handed the shopping bag to him.
The Joker opened it, glancing inside. Had a double take. Glanced at her, then back down at the bag.
And started laughing.
It wasn't a mocking laugh. There was nothing in his tone except good humor, and she couldn't help but laugh with him, relief washing over her. It went on for what felt like an eternity, and the Joker was wiping tears from his eyes by the time he finished, shoving the bag off of his lap as he leaned forward to hug her. "Baby, you're the greatest."
Edward Nigma had the apartment ready before she arrived. Cleaning hadn't been an issue. Edward couldn't think if he was surrounded by clutter, and as such kept his home as ordered as his mind. No, the apartment hadn't needed much in the way of tidying up, apart from vacuuming the carpet and making sure the bathroom was free of soap scum. It wasn't about the order of the bedroom anyway. It was about the feeling.
And if there was one thing Edward prided himself on, apart from his brilliant mind, it was his ability to set the mood.
There were candles on the night stand, far enough from the bed and the curtains to be safe while still providing the atmosphere. There were rose petals scattered across the bed—not too few, but not too many either—and trailing across the carpet into the bathroom, where there were more decorating the bottom of the shower.
The nightstand drawer was stocked with contraceptives—for her pleasure, not that he couldn't provide that on his own—as well as lubricant and massage oil. The room was dimly lit, not enough to inhibit vision, but just enough to create the right ambience.
When she arrived, dinner was just coming out of the oven.
It was at the table that the evening had taken an unexpected turn. They'd been discussing Middle Eastern literature, contemporary, and somehow or another that had turned to Arabian Nights, and the character of Scheherazade in particular. He'd thought that from there they might turn to a discussion of strong female characters before their time, or feminist writing in general, when she'd said something he hadn't anticipated.
"I loved her riddles."
Riddles? There hadn't been any riddles in Arabian Nights.
Well, no, she'd replied, but there had been a sequel written years and years later, on the premise that Scheherazade had run out of stories and turned to riddles for the next thousand and one nights. She'd preferred that to the original, she said, because she found riddles so entertaining.
Edward had responded that he found riddles entertaining as well.
She'd suggested, a smile growing on her face, that they challenge each other.
By the time she left, far past midnight, the candles remained unlit, the oil untouched. The rose petals on the bed were undisturbed, and the nightstand door unopened. Neither of them had set foot in the bedroom, or even outside of the dining room, engaged in a game of wits for the entirety of the night.
"Just get those."
"We can't get those. We don't know what color they are."
"They're purple. See? The box is purple. They're purple."
What had started as a stress headache was rapidly developing into a migraine. Ballard rubbed at his temples, shutting his eyes tightly. As if wishing the situation away would make any difference. "It doesn't matter what color the box is. Do you think the Magnums are black?"
It had all started with a shopping list.
Ballard had learned long ago not to question the Joker's demands. Not to question anything the Joker did. If you wanted to survive in the clown's employ, you didn't question him. Or provoke him. Or stand in his vicinity when he was in a bad mood. And even those weren't surefire ways to guarantee safety. The Joker was a living minefield; his men tiptoed around him as carefully as possible, but even the most cautious person could still lose a limb. Or a life.
Ballard was surprised they'd made it out of the apartment with their lives this morning.
It had started with the shopping list. The Joker's shopping lists were always nonsensical, and each of them contained something that was either deadly or requested in an absurdly massive quantity. Today's list had been innocuous enough for the clown—hair dye, Wheat Thins, twenty pounds of all-purpose flour—until they'd reached the bottom of the list.
Just condoms. No size, no type. No explanation.
And of course, no one else in the apartment would ask the clown to clarify.
The Joker had looked up from the news station, thankfully not annoyed at his show being interrupted. Not visibly annoyed, anyway. "Eh?"
"I—the list—" If he didn't get killed for asking the Joker about his sheathing preferences, he'd die anyway from the embarrassment that he was never going to live down. "The—the condoms."
The Joker had only stared. "Yeah?"
"Well, that is…whatkinddoyouwant?"
"Come again?" He wasn't bothering to conceal his smirk. Ballard supposed he should be thankful that the Joker wasn't reacting with anything worse than amusement. It was hard to care about that now.
"What kind do you want?"
The clown's smirk faded. "Seriously?"
He didn't answer.
"The purple kind." He didn't add a "well, duh" to the end of his sentence, but his tone made it more than clear.
"The purple kind?" Ballard had repeated, at a loss.
The Joker waved him out of the way, impatience tinting his features. "Yeah. Now go. You're talking over Summer Gleeson."
And so he ended up here, wishing he could sink into the floor tiles while Marshall and Fred argued over what kind of condoms the Joker would use. There had been less humiliating moments in his life.
"The box is purple. I'm not seeing any colors listed on the boxes. It's the best shot, okay?"
"Those say extra-sensitive. If you bring him something that says extra-sensitive, he's gonna blow your head off."
"And if we come back empty-handed, he'll do that anyway."
This was what his life had been reduced to. Buying psychopaths condoms. Assuming they ever got around to the buying.
"Why the hell does he even need condoms? Who's he gonna fuck?"
"He can't hear us, Marshall. He doesn't have us bugged."
"That's not the point."
"The point is, we have no fucking clue what color these are, and there's no way to—"
Ballard pulled the box from their hands and tore the side open, glancing at the wrappers inside before he handed it back. "It's purple. Happy?"
They stared, dumbfounded. Ballard sighed, took an identical, unopened box from the shelf, and walked to the register.
Pamela Isley made it a point to be prepared for any situation. In her line of work, she had to be.
As a scientist, she'd been meticulous in her experiments, making sure that everything was perfectly measured, that the planned procedure was followed step by step, and that she was fully equipped for an emergency should something go wrong. Now that her experiments and attempts to save the environment had to happen on the run from the law, she'd become doubly cautious.
Isley had survival kits, so she called them, and each time she escaped from Arkham, her first priority was to restore what the police had confiscated. There were the basic first aid kits, of course, supplies such as water and blankets in case of a natural disaster, sewing kits, toiletries, and a change of clothes in case she needed to flee the premises quickly. And, because she'd planned for every possibility, there was also a kit to provide for any intimate needs that could arise.
The experimentation on her own body had removed her vulnerability to all poisons or viruses from plants. Isley had no idea if that protection carried over to human infections, and these days, she didn't have the time to test it, or the resources to watse. The kit protected from this with the boxes of condoms. Latex, lubricated and non-spermicidal, because the nonoxynol-9 used to coat spermicidal condoms could not only irritate the lining of the vagina and make infection more likely, but also raise the risk of a urinary tract infection. A box of polyurethane condoms in case the man in question had an allergy to the latex, and a box of lambskin on the off chance both the latex and the polyurethane presented problems.
It was a shame the lambskin was so much less effective. It was far better for the environment for its counterparts.
She carried lubricants as well, water-based, oil-based, and silicone, and made a point to label the oil-based with the warning that it shouldn't be used with latex. Theoretically, she would be the one applying it, but it wasn't a risk she felt like taking. The kit was also equipped for situations beyond vaginal-penile intercourse, with dental dams and latex gloves, which, if in a pinch and in possession of a pair of scissors—which the kit, of course, was equipped with—could function as a dental dam as well. There were also spermicidal sprays, jellies, and creams, as well as contraceptive film and the sponge. For Isley, it was for the most part unnecessary, as she couldn't bear children, but it gave her piece of mind and besides, she never knew if there might be another woman involved who would need it.
After all, when no man or woman could resist her, it paid to be prepared.
Bruce let his head collide with the smooth wood of the desk, lifted it, collided again. He stayed in that position, skin pressed against the cool surface, and glanced to his side at all the actual work he could be doing for Wayne Enterprises while he was in his home office. But no. Instead he found himself wasting away the daylight hours, obsessing over condoms of all things.
Bruce could count off on one hand the number of times he'd been intimate with a woman in the last year, and that number was zero. Dedicating his life and his nights to protecting Gotham from crime didn't leave time for much of a social life, but maintaining the appearance of that lifestyle was tantamount to protecting his identity. It didn't matter that he never used condoms. A playboy would be expected to keep them on hand.
But his had gone missing after the last party Alfred had persuaded him to throw at the manor. Every single box. And for the life of him, Bruce couldn't remember what kind he'd had.
Being detail-oriented—detail-obsessed—like this was an asset in tracking down criminals. When he had a date that evening and the clock was ticking to replace what his houseguests had helped themselves too, it was hardly a benefit. He ought to just run down to the store and pick up some boxes before Alfred could come in and ask what he was moping about. Discussing condoms with his butler. There was a conversation he never wanted to have.
But grabbing a few boxes wasn't enough. Even something as trivial as condom choice reflected on the user, and if being conscientious about his selection of contraceptive managed to protect his playboy identity, then it was an investment of time he was willing to make, no matter how infuriating it was.
Magnums. That was a playboy choice, wasn't it? Any rich idiot would be convinced that an ordinary condom wouldn't be enough to contain his manhood, and it wasn't as if he planned to use it. Magnums. Problem solved. He'd just go to get some and—
Magnum. Like a gun.
He slammed his head against the desk again. It was a completely moronic thought, but now that it was there, there was no chance that it would leave. Like a gun. And guns were dangerous. Rich playboy idiots were not dangerous. And if there was even the slightest chance that a woman would have the same response to "Magnum" as he did, then the illusion would be threatened. Too much of a risk.
Now that he thought of it, Trojan was a term based on war. Not to mention a horrible name for a condom in the first place, considering that the Trojan horse had slipped through the gates and released the Greek soldiers all over the city. The latter was the sort of idiotic mistake a playboy might make, but the Trojan War still brought to mind death and violence, and as such it was out of the question.
Bruce slammed his head into the desk a third time when he realized he didn't even know the names of any condom brands besides Trojan, and rather than Googling "condom suppliers" and running through the list of names until he found one that seemed suitably stupid and nonthreatening, he opted to go into the bathroom and take some aspirin for his growing headache.
The manor was silent on the walk to the bathroom. Alfred was probably out shopping, a thought that brought some relief, however minimal. Important as the butler was in his life, Bruce would rather his father figure not see the bruise he'd given himself while panicking over what sort of contraceptives he wasn't going to be using.
There was a box of Durex sitting beside the Excedrin in the medicine cabinet, with a note in Alfred's handwriting:
"Next time, just ask me."
AN: Rohypnol, also known as roofies, is a date rape drug.
Harley does have a brother, at least according to the Gotham City Sirens comic. You can see her interacting with her family at Christmas here: scans-daily. dreamwidth. org/ 13585645. html
According to the Harley and Ivy comic, Harley's Jewish, and the Mad Love comic is the one in which she sleeps with her professor to have her thesis approved.
"Baby, you're the greatest," is a line of the Joker's from the animated series episode "Harlequinade." Summer Gleeson is a news anchor from the same show.
In Arabian Nights, the character Scheherazade tells a different story to a king for a thousand and one nights to keep herself from being put to death. There is another book, The Riddle of Scheherazade and Other Amazing Puzzles, which operates on the same principle, but with riddles.