Hello! Thank you all so very much for reading this story and for your reviews!You are wonderful.
It only took me a month to update this time, so there's definitely progress.
This chapter was not the easiest chapter to write, but I hope it doesn't disappoint. I wonder what you'll think after you've read it. I hope you tell me in your reviews.
I would just like to point out that there is no romance in this story.
The Joker is gone. I don't know where he went after I took his measurements, but he left the storeroom and placed Vincent inside the room, by the door, to play the part of my guard. Vincent, who is as big and tall as a wardrobe, whose bald scalp is tattooed with terrifying images and who is, simply put, crazy.
I am supposed to work on finishing the rest of the Joker's attire in the storeroom and the Joker had Vincent bring in my sewing machine and all the necessities I requested, but although I'm a good seamstress, I wonder how I'll ever make a good job with trembling fingers. There is another problem. By now, I can't ignore my stomach anymore. Despite the stress I've been through, and despite the fact that I was sick only a while ago, I am as a hungry as a wolf. I could eat a whole turkey by myself, including the dessert. What I wouldn't give for a bite of my sister's cranberry pie. Sarah makes the best pies in the world. I can't stop thinking about her pies and when my stomach growls like a little forest monster, I actually make myself look at Vincent, so that I can forget about the hunger. Looking at the huge, frightening, unbalanced Arkham-escapee definitely shrinks my stomach and shuts it up for a few minutes.
I open the suit bag with the finished pieces of clothing. I take out the coat, put it on a hanger and then on the rack. I will iron and press it later. Not that he asked for such meticulous treatment, but I don't want him to find any fault with me, again, and complain – his way. I do the same with the suit jacket, briefly admiring my predecessor's work. The tailor had great skill and I wonder if I ever met him anywhere, out on the streets, not even knowing he was the man sewing the Joker's clothes. I actually feel sorry that he died, although I never knew him. I'm sure that I didn't because all the tailors and seamstresses I know are alive. I wonder how the Joker killed him. I remember him saying that the tailor left the world with a smile on his face, which can only mean one thing – the infamous Glasgow smile. I begin to suck on the inside of my right cheek, trying not to imagine how painful such a wound must be. It is possible that the tailor died because of blood loss. It sickens me to think that he was gulping down his own blood because, with the amount of it spraying from the wounds in his cheeks, the man really had no other choice but to let it flow down his throat. I suck the soft, untouched insides of my cheeks between my teeth, a nervous reaction to the vivid picture I conjured up in my head, of a silver blade sliding through tender flesh, of the fiery pain enveloping the brain, of a cackling laughter being the last thing you hear before you die.
I revert to my sister's pies again. My stomach begins to spasm from hunger again, but at least I'm not thinking about the deceased tailor anymore. I hang the shirt on the rack, too, and put the bole tie, the purple leather gloves, the diamond-patterned suspenders and the argyle socks on the shelf next to the rack. From the other suit bag, I take the materials for the trousers and the vest that I need to finish. The cloth for the vest is Italian wool and lycra in hunter green with no pattern, and the material for the trousers is the same, only that the colour is purple and the pattern striped.
I steal a look at Vincent, who hasn't moved for the last twenty minutes. He is standing by the door, his hands clasped at his stomach, the image of an impenetrable, merciless guard. His face is a blank canvass, but I'd hate to test him and see if he's capable of looking expressive, so I sit back at my working desk and sketch out the vest and the trousers in detail, adding the measurements and my notes in the margins. Every few seconds, my gaze wonders to Vincent. I am truly glad that the Joker is currently gone, but the still presence of Vincent, whose pills they conveniently forgot to take with them, is unnerving. I can't decide which man scares me more, but it is logical to say that so far, the Joker is in the lead, since he is the one who has hurt me so far.
You might look like a banana to this gentle giant and he'll just...try to peel you apart.
I grit my teeth. "Asshole," I whisper to myself, wishing I had the guts to say it in the Joker's painted face, and Vincent's head snaps into my direction. His sudden, direct eye contact makes my back collide with the back of the chair, my heart beat accelerating its pace.
"Boss said no talking."
It's the first time I hear Vincent speak and his gruff bass is definitely how I imagined he'd sound. The booming quality of his voice makes me shudder a little. I wish I could be invisible. I so didn't want to get this guy's attention. His eyes are actually very expressive, all of a sudden, not blank anymore, but filled with an emotion I'm reluctant to identify.
"I'm sorry," I reply with a thin voice.
I have every right to be scared. This guy could easily squash me like an over-ripe pumpkin. Or peel me like a banana. My skin feels raw and tender just at the thought and I protectively embrace myself.
"No talking," Vincent replies, more fiercely this time, and I simply nod, swallowing down my agitation.
From my point of view, the tension in the room is so thick that I could easily cut it with the proverbial knife. Or my scissors. I look at the scissors I'll soon be using to cut the cloth, an idea forming in my mind. I have two pairs of scissors and on a whim, I decide that as soon as Vincent looks away and goes into his blank, empty mode again, I'll tuck one pair of scissors behind my jeans, like the cops and criminals do in the movies. I have no idea if I'll have to use them and how I'll do it, but it doesn't hurt to have some protection on me. I'm sure the Joker knows he left me behind with sharp tools, but if Vincent tries anything, I'll defend myself. Perhaps the Joker wants me to do something, for the fun of it, or to test me, or God knows what. Or maybe, he doesn't even want me to do anything, just finish his damn wardrobe.
It's hard to think straight right now, what with Vincent staring at me and my stomach rumbling like a boar. But I feel comforted by the promise of those scissors resting against my spine soon.
Carefully, I turn on the sewing machine, grab the hunter-green cloth and hope to get to work without any interruptions performed by Vincent. An interruption does happen, but it doesn't come in the form of Vincent. The door opens and Vincent's head snaps in the direction of the intruder. I am ready. In the few moments before the intruder makes his presence known, I grab the extra pair of scissors off the desk and shove them down the back of my jeans, scratching my back a little. I don't care if I hurt myself a little; I feel much better now.
The intruder steps into the room and grins. It's Jack, the one I nicknamed Smooth Criminal. Handling one thug at a time is a lot. Two thugs in the same room and at the same time put me further on edge.
"Go help Laurence," Jack commands and Vincent, the huge, dangerous Vincent, simply nods and leaves.
I feel inclined to hang my jaw in disbelief, but I don't. I exhale in relief. I'm just happy to be rid of Vincent. Jack, although one of the Joker's henchmen, seems less scary. On the outside, at least. He might be a real beast on the inside, for all I know. The cold, silver blades of the scissors are soothing against the skin of my back. Perhaps my desire to protect myself is not such a smart move on my part. I have tried to run away, and the attempt nearly got me killed. However, I was unarmed then. I'm not so defenceless now. I won't try anything, of course, unless they provoke me.
A rustling sound makes me look at Jack's hands and I see a McDonald's bag between his fingers. My mouth begins to water and my stomach produces an embarrassing, belching sound.
"Right on time, I see," Jack says lightly, walks over to my desk and deposits the bag next to the sewing machine. "Dig in, sweetheart," he adds with a wink and I try to ignore both the wink and the endearment he used.
He sits down on a carton box filled with cloth, pushing it next to the desk. Of course, I won't be left alone, but I am so hungry that I don't care. I practically tear apart the bag and grab a cheeseburger, which suddenly tastes like the best burger I've ever eaten. My eating is not very ladylike, but Jack doesn't comment on it. Instead, he is regarding me with benevolent curiosity, his dark eyes sparkling. He looks almost as if he's happy to watch a person eat. But really, I don't care. I'm as hungry as a wolf, I need to keep my strength and he is not doing anything strange, just sitting and observing me calmly, so I eat. After three cheeseburgers, a pie and a big cup of Coca Cola, I feel much better.
"Thank you," I say as I throw the bag and the cup into the bin under my desk.
Jack chuckles. "No problem. I figured you might be hungry, so I convinced boss to let me buy you some food." He flashes his white teeth at me. "I feel it's my duty to make such a pretty girl happy."
I could smirk at his comment. I've never liked his type: the handsome macho who thinks he can make any girl swoon with his pretty smiles. I feel like I can speak more freely with Jack, though, and, emboldened by my delightfully full stomach, I say, "Letting me go is what would make me really happy."
He laughs out loud and crosses his arms over his chest. "Yeah, well, I obviously can't do that for you," he replies, still laughing a little. "Not yet, at least. You just do what he wants and you'll be fine."
I perk up an eyebrow at him, showing freely how ridiculous his statement is. "Really? Can you guarantee that?"
His smile fades, but the amused sparkle in his eyes remains. "I don't know what he plans to do with you, but you just be good, do your part and you'll stay out of trouble."
"That's very reassuring," I retort and try to focus on the sewing.
"Hey, how long will that take, anyway?" he asks and points at the hunter-green fabric in my hands, leaning forward a little on the box.
I don't look at him. My focus is on the fabric. "Am I on a deadline?" The tone of my voice is even. It figures: just another thing that the Joker forgot to mention.
"Yeah. Will you be done in three hours?"
I look up at him. Three hours? Three hours for making the vest and the trousers and ironing the Joker's wardrobe? Yes, I can do it, but I will have to be very fast, and fast is not an adjective to be associated with good, quality sewing. If I make a few mistakes, will they be noticed? It's hard to be perfect under stress.
"Yes," I finally reply. I have to add the following question. "And... And then what happens?"
Jack's lips lift with a cheerful smile. "And then we do our job."
My fingers are shaking as I'm measuring the cloth, drawing lines across it with chalk and then cutting through it. Perhaps Jack's good behaviour so far has made me a bit reckless, but I can't keep quiet.
"What are you men going to do to Gotham?" My question is a whisper, a bit of a plea, and if I actually get an answer, I'm afraid of it.
Jack chuckles. "You know I can't tell you this, sweetheart! There's no room for spoilers, sorry."
He's not sorry. None of them are. They will create chaos and they will love every single moment of it. I can imagine there will be blood, there will be suffering, and the Joker and his partners in crime will triumph over the city. The city in which I was born, where I grew up, where I have family and friends, where I learned to drive a car, where everything I have is, where I realised my dreams. I have wondered before, and I begin to wonder again: Where is Batman? He disappeared after the Joker's arrest. No, he disappeared after the death of Harvey Dent. The city mourned Gotham's White Knight, choosing the dark caped crusader as the scapegoat, as the target of their despair and hatred. I myself was surprised to hear on the news that Batman killed Dent. I couldn't believe it; I didn't want to believe it. For a week, I was alternating between feeling disappointed and resentful. Then, it struck me: Surely Batman didn't kill Dent on purpose. It was a mistake, one tragic, fucking mistake, I was certain, and after all the good he'd done, the city shouldn't take it into their minds to crucify him because of a mistake he never intended to commit. He couldn't have intended it. But they did and they chased him away, and look where it's lead us. The Joker is free, only hours away from wounding the city once more, and this time, I somehow became a part of this new mess.
Gotham shouldn't have shunned the vigilante. I admit, he has broken the law countless times, but precisely by breaking the law, he's saved lives, he's exposed criminals and cleaned the city good. Now that he's gone, things have turned for the worse again. Crime has escalated, according to the news, and the Joker, the most notorious criminal Gotham has ever hosted, escaped and is already preparing for a new rampage, right now, at this very moment. In my store. I am beginning to believe that, without Batman, I actually won't make it. Batman would have found the Joker, I know he would. He did once. Now, there's no one else. I'm stuck. I'm fucking stuck.
"Hey, hey, sweetheart." Jack's voice snaps me out of my self-destructive ruminations. I look up, startled. "Where did you wander off?"
I clear my throat. I have to collect myself. "Nowhere," I choke out. I say the first stupid thing that comes to my mind. "Anyway, I'll need to do a fitting with the Joker after about an hour, before I finish off the sewing."
It's true, sadly. I don't want to do it. I don't want to stand close to him again and touch him, but I have to if I want to finish his wardrobe properly. I have a feeling he wouldn't like a vest that was too tight or trousers that were loose.
"Oh, right, you're right." He stands up from the box and points at me. "You stay right here and don't do anything stupid."
My heart jumps to my throat in excitement. He is going to leave me alone? He just asked me not to do anything stupid before he was about to do something stupid himself. I think I'm beginning to like Jack for this. I have no idea if I'll actually be able to do anything while I'll be alone, but still, I'm thrilled by the prospect.
Jack saunters to the door, opens them, casts me a look over one shoulder, accompanied by a wink, and leaves me alone. I jump to my feet immediately. I begin to roam my storeroom with my eyes, looking for any means of escape. Then, I sink into my chair. Oh, who am I kidding? The room has no backdoor, no window, and the ventilation shaft is too narrow for me to crawl through. I huff in frustration, fighting back the tears that come to my eyes because I feel as useless and as trapped as I did before. The Joker destroyed all of the available phones. I am only left with needles and two pairs of scissors.
Still, I stand up once more, determined to carefully check if anyone's at the door. I tiptoe to the exit from the storeroom and tentatively turn the doorknob. I open the door only a little, but what I see is enough to make me shut them again. Vincent and Laurence are in the workroom, but so are about five other guys that weren't there the last time I was in the workroom.
My store has been converted into some sort of criminal base.
I splay my back against the wall by the door and take a deep breath. I try to be rational, although that's very hard to be in such a crisis situation. I will never get past those men, so I have to rely on the questionable fact that the finished suit is my way out. I take another deep breath, promise myself to have a secret backdoor made in the storeroom once – and if – I make it tonight, and dart to the working desk. I begin to work, harder than I've ever worked on a suit in my life. I shut off my mind and focus entirely on the feel of the fabric between my fingers, on the sewing machine, on the needles, on the patterns, on anything but my situation. I work like an automaton, minutes ticking away incredibly slowly. I consult my wrist watch every now and then, but otherwise I am filling the silence of the storeroom with the whirring of the sewing machine, with the slicing of the scissors and an occasional sigh.
The vest is finished; only the fitting remains. No one has come in, which strikes me as odd because it's the first time I've been alone all evening. There are voices outside the door, so I'm sure no one is worried that one little seamstress will run away. No wonder, since I can't.
As I start working on the trousers, the door opens and an unfamiliar man steps in, only to check up on me and my progress, and then he simply leaves, not a word spoken. I ignore the interruption and continue.
I am almost done with the trousers. No one has come to see me since that guy. Two hours have gone by, my back is killing me and I am still delightfully alone. However, the solitude is disconcerting because I can't stop thinking about what will follow.
What will happen once I'm done?
I dread that moment, as much as I've been anticipating it.
As I'm working on the trousers, the door pushes open again, but this time, the sight before me propels me to my feet, my throat unable to contain the scream that pours from my mouth. The sewing machine whirs to a stop as my body is adjusting to the sudden adrenaline rush pumping through me.
The Joker is back and he has brought company with him. It's not seeing him again that unhinges me this time. It's her.
"Look what I found!" he exclaims, kicking the door closed behind him, as I stare at the person he is holding by the neck, her back against his chest, her fingers grabbing at his strong arm lodged under her chin in a futile attempt to free herself.
Louise. My best friend and co-worker Louise.
"No!" I shout out and make two fast steps forward, but the Joker stops me.
"Ah-ah!" he pronounces, showing me the knife in his other hand. I jerk to an immediate stop, my eyes widened in horror.
"Meg, help!" Louise pleads, her voice sodden with fear, but that only makes the Joker push her against himself harder and she lets out a high-pitched yelp.
"Please, don't," I demand, tears streaming down my face. "She is my friend, she just came looking for me," the words are coming out of my mouth. "I had plans for tonight, a-a-a family dinner, and since I didn't show up, obviously, my family probably called her to go check up on me at the store. Please. Let her go, please."
"It's true," Louise wheezes.
The door opens again and Jack steps in.
"I'm here, boss," he states simply, not surprised at all by the drama playing in the room.
"Join Meg over there," the Joker commands playfully.
Jack walks over to me and snakes an arm around my waist, pressing me against his hip. I don't fight him; I'm afraid to do anything stupid because now, it's not only my life that's on the line. Louise is involved, my best friend Louise. I'm falling apart as I am watching Louise struggle in the Joker's vice, her long blonde hair getting wet with her tears, her green eyes two pits of fear drowning in them.
"Please, let her go," I plead, forgetting my pride, for Louise's sake. "She doesn't need to be dragged into this. You came to me. No one else needs to be involved."
"Oh," the Joker begins, "I should just...let her go, hm?"
I don't like his carefree tone, his light smile, his fucking arm nestled around Louise's thin swan's neck. He caresses her wet cheek with the hand that's holding the knife and Louise whimpers pitifully. I do the same, wringing my hands in front of me.
"I, uh, I don't think I can, Meg."
I know he can't, but I just want him to let her go, to not hurt her. I try to take a step forward, but Jack pins my back against his side harder. The scissors dig into my flesh and I grunt involuntarily.
"She can help me finish your suit," I offer pathetically. "We're b-both seamstresses. She w-works for me."
"R-really?" the Joker mimics my stuttering speech. "But see, I wanna play... a game."
That makes me begin to wriggle in Jack's arms. I'm not playing any fucking game devised by the Joker, I am not.
Ignoring the struggling Louise, the Joker points to my desk with his free hand. "I, uh... I left you with two pairs of scissors, Meg, and ah, I see only one." He licks his lips and nods. I feel my blood beginning to run cold and I stop wriggling. "Search her, Jack."
"I'll be gentle, sweetheart," Jack whispers into my ear, grinning lewdly, and his hands descend upon my shoulders, gently sliding down my arms in a seductive manner. I can't stand him touching me like this. I suppose this is part of the game too. The Joker knew it would make me suffer. That's why Jack is here, I guess. Bastard.
"Stop!" I scream and, regardless of the consequences, push him away from me, pulling the scissors from behind my jeans and showing them in plain sight, the object resting on my outstretched palm. "Just take them, but don't touch me," I hiss, my nerves on edge.
"No, no," the Joker interrupts, "you ah, keep the scissors, Meg, and you, Jack, you just watch."
I stare at the Joker, not liking the sound of this one bit. Louise is crying in the Joker's vice and I am allowed to keep my scissors, to play a game. A realisation begins to dawn on me.
Oh, no. Oh, God.
Will I have to... fight for Louise?
"Oh, you look horrified," the Joker comments innocently, but he doesn't hold back the obvious enthusiasm in this voice. "I see you're beginning to understand, Meg."
This time, I take a step back. "No. No."
He tsk-s. "You haven't even heard what I have to say. Now don't be rude." He sighs gently, squeezing Louise a little harder. "You are a just girl, aren't you, Meg? You don't believe in revenge because justice takes care of it for you, hm?" He chuckles a little. "You didn't kill your guy because justice took care of him for you. You don't believe in murder, do you, Meg?"
When I don't reply, his gaze becomes black and he repeats the question with acid in his voice. "Do you?"
"No, I don't believe in murder. I could never kill anyone, no matter what," I reply fiercely, my gaze resting on Louise.
He nods. "Not even in... self-defence?"
I grit my teeth. "That wouldn't be murder. It's called self-defence for a reason."
"Ah," he pronounces emphatically, "so you don't entirely rule out murder."
"I never said that. You are twisting my words." I am growing incredibly nervous. I'm sure my knuckles are white from squeezing the scissors so hard.
"How about," he drawls, "we put your justice theory... to the test?"
Louise begins to struggle more fervently and he shakes her a little with his arm, making her yelp and then grow still once more.
"I say that the only way for you to save your friend is... to kill. Will you do it, to... save your friend?"
I stare at him in utter horror, and then I look at Louise, and his knife suddenly pressing against the tender skin of her neck. I am secretly crumbling, but still, I say fiercely, "I will not kill anyone. Never."
The Joker looks amused and he grins. "Y'know, you kind of remind of the Batman," he growls the vigilante's name a little, "and I never thought I'd say this to anyone. But, there you go, hm? Things change."
What sort of sick, perverted game is he playing?
"I'm not Batman," I retort.
He sighs. "No, you... are not the Ba-t." He licks his lips and rests the blade of his knife flat against Louise's cheek, making her sob out loudly. I can't watch this.
"Let her go," I ask, weakly.
"Oh, see," he begins, "I was thinking that you should kill Jack with those scissors of yours and I let her go, or... she dies because you... did nothing." He smiles. "Now."
"Wait, what?" Jack exclaims. "Boss, don't! I have nothing to do with this shit."
Almost at the same time, I shout out, "What are you trying to prove?"
The Joker ignores Jack and looks at me. "What is the greater evil, Meg? Doing something, or doing nothing? Just...watching the innocent suffer and die because you were too just to act."
"Batman doesn't kill and he still manages to save lives," I offer smugly and the Joker laughs his shrill laughter, making me – and Louise – cringe.
He smirks. "Oh, he will. Give him time."
His cold words are a biting snake and the poison is spreading through me, making me feel sick. I watch him as he gently cuts Louise's cheek. She screams and so do I, while a drop of her blood is trailing slowly down the skin, dropping down from the tip of her chin.
I contemplate that the noble thing to do would be to kill myself for Louise, but that would be stupid. He'd kill her anyway, then, wouldn't he? And the thing is, I really don't want to die. I don't want anyone to die!
I don't fucking know what to do!
"I have killed, oh, I have," the Joker continues, his voice filled with pleasure at torturing me and Louise. "And Jack, over there," he nods towards Jack, "who is, by the way, unarmed at the moment," he giggles, "has raped before, ah hah." He grins. "Picture him as the one who harmed you. It'll make it easier."
"I won't kill anyone!" I scream and as if on cue, the Joker stabs Louise in her arm, and before I can scream again, he removes the blade and penetrates her thigh with vicious strength. Louise's blood-curdling shrieks are too much for me. The sight of her blood makes me gag. I want to sprint forward and pull her from the Joker's murderous embrace, but my legs have turned to stone. I'm so shaken that my body can't react the way my mind wants it to.
"The next time I stab her," he says, his voice lowering dramatically, "will be in the stomach. It won't kill her. I can make it last." He pauses. "Long."
"I'm outta here, boss!" Jack says and makes a move forward. The Joker bites into the bloodied knife to free his hand and takes a gun from behind his pants. Without a preamble, he shoots Jack in the leg, just above his knee. Jack, Louise and I all scream in unison. Jack falls to the ground, grabbing at the wound in his thigh.
"Finish the job," the Joker tells me after he puts the gun back behind his pants and takes the knife back into his hands. I swallow down bile as he licks a drop of Louise's blood from his lip.
"Why him?" I ask, my voice raw, and I don't know why I even want to know.
The Joker rolls his eyes at the wailing Jack. Then, he sighs. "He annoys me." He smiles. "He's not important. So, he's good practice."
"What if I just kill you?" I counter, though I don't mean it. He would finish Louise before I got to him and honestly, he has had a lot of practice. I don't stand a chance against him. And then, there is also the fact that I simply cannot take a life.
He smirks. "Try me."
I look at Louise, at her bleeding wounds, at how her sobbing is growing fainter as she is losing blood. I look at the pain on her face, at the bloodied knife in the Joker's hands, at Jack trying to nurse his wound with his bare fingers, and then, finally, at the scissors I've been cradling all this time.
"I... can't," I sigh out, feeling faint.
The Joker looks at the ceiling emphatically, and then drops his head to look at me. "You... disappoint me, Meg."
He shoves the knife into Louise's stomach so very easily. The pain awakens Louise and forces a banshee's cry out of her throat. I drop on my knees, the weight of my emotions felling me easily.
"Louise!" I scream, "Louise!"
"Go on," the Joker teases, smiling. "Save her. Kill."
Kill to save.
I hear Louise whisper, "Meg, help, please…"
The look on her face, that pleading look of a suffering girl who only wants to live, is my undoing. I close my eyes, my tears falling freely, a few drops landing on my hands.
I can't do this. It makes me sick. I can't give him the satisfaction.
I open my eyes and Louise is still suffering. She'll die if she doesn't get help. My help. He will kill her.
If I don't save Louise, her face will haunt me until the moment I die. If I kill Jack, I'll never be the same. I'll die inside. I can't win, no matter what I choose. I can't even carve a chicken without feeling bad about it. Stabbing a human being is an impossibility. It's the greatest sin.
"Meg…" Louise whimpers.
"Oh, God," I wail and begin to crawl towards Jack. He is unarmed and hurt. I could do it.
"Come any closer and I'll strangle you," Jack threatens.
I ready the scissors. I suppose I'll just… throw myself at him and… stab him.
I shed one final tear. My humanity will soon be gone. I jump.