A very wise man once said that it is not enough to hide things in the last place that someone will look. Rather, it is best to hide them where no one will look at all. And so, much like the final locations of a set of car keys, a left sock, or the crew of the Mary Celeste, Sorrow had led Grief to a hiding spot where they would never be discovered.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Grief asked, his flashlight illuminating a door hanging half off of its hinges. Just above the handle, the door bore a wide series of cracks that corresponded nicely with the sole of a long-ago firmly applied boot.
"I'm sure," Sorrow said curtly, swinging the remains of the door wide and stepping through. Her flashlight beam bobbed as she padded down the dusty wooden stairs.
"Couldn't we have left town or something?" he asked, wincing as the stairs creaked under his booted feet.
"At two in the morning with no car? On Christmas? Dressed like this?" she asked incredulously, tugging the skirt of her coat out and flashing the light on it for emphasis.
"We have a car!" he protested.
"Yeah, and if it has a tracking device hidden in it, all Batman has to do is wait until we park somewhere and wham!" She smacked the flashlight into her hand.
"Good point," he admitted as she opened the equally ruined door at the bottom of the steps and disappeared through it. "But coming here -"
"We're safe here," she said, flicking her flashlight beam around the deserted basement. "No one would ever think to look for me down here." A sickly grin twisted one corner of her mouth. "No one ever did, anyway." She shut the door and fumbled for the light switch.
The dark, windowless room flared with bright fluorescent lights that illuminated everything just as she'd remembered it. There was the television, with a beat-up folding chair thrown roughly on the floor in front of it. There was the sink, there was the garbage can -
There was the strap-laden gurney that had been her home for eight humiliating, horrible days last August. Had it really been four months since Teng had brought her down here? It felt like yesterday.
She crunched across the shattered glass that carpeted the floor and swung herself up onto the empty lab table, curling into a tiny ball on the smooth metal surface. Troy uneasily clambered up onto the gurney, doing his best to avoid the curled piles of restraints as he stretched out for the night. She closed her eyes, pillowed her head on her bent arm, and did her best to try and block out her surroundings until she could get to sleep.
She dozed fitfully, waking with a start, searching for trouble, and drifting back into something that wasn't quite sleep but wasn't quite wakefulness either. A voice wound its way into her ears. It sounded...familiar. "Oh, Simeon!" a female voice called joyfully.
Sorrow came awake in a fraction of a second and swung herself to the floor, ripping off her gloves as she frantically searched for Teng in the shadows. The room was empty except for Grief, who was crouching in front of the television. "Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you up," he said. "I couldn't sleep, and there was still a movie in the player..."
Sorrow yanked her gloves back on. Then, with a stony look on her face, she stalked over to the television and ejected the DVD. The shining disc took very little effort to snap in half. She broke the halves into tiny bits and threw the pieces into the garbage can. The pieces of plastic clinked against the mound of broken glass piled inside it.
"Nothing's wrong. Go to sleep," she snapped, stomping back to her cold table.
"Something's obviously wrong. You're upset," he added.
"I'm fine!" She curled back up on the table, eyes firmly shut.
"You're not. It's because of this room, isn't it?" he asked.
She slitted one eye open just enough to see him watching her. "Brilliant work, Dr. Freud. Will you just go to sleep already?"
"I can't." He flicked a strap with his gloved finger. "Being here, in this room...with all of this," he added, pulling the cabinet open. An array of dusty syringes lay neatly in small piles. "Did you know that I talked to Teng in Arkham once?"
Sorrow wearily sat up and folded her arms. Her booted feet dangled over a swathe of broken test tubes and dented lab equipment. "If I listen to you, will you go to sleep?"
"Yes," he sighed.
"So what did the lunatic have to say? Anything useful?"
"Sort of." He shut the cabinet and leaned against the sink below it. "He told me that I'd never know you as well as he did."
"Bullshit," Sorrow snorted.
"He had a point!" Grief kicked a piece of broken glass irritably, watching it pinwheel into the wall and shatter into pieces. "I don't know anything about you! What you've done, where you've been - I mean, you know everything about me. I've told you all sorts of stuff about school and growing up and my family. I even took you to their house for Christmas!" He hoisted himself onto the gurney, knocking a strap out of his way as he let his feet dangle over the side. "I know more about the Joker than I do about you!"
Sorrow rubbed her forehead. If she told him about her past, maybe it would drive him off. And that would be a good thing. Not for her - for him. He could go back to his parents and live a normal life again. Okay, so it left her alone, but she'd survived being alone before.
Besides, if she kept her secrets, wouldn't that mean that she was keeping him with lies? If the truth was enough to drive him away, and she didn't tell him, did it really mean anything if he stayed with her?
And anyway, if she didn't tell him then Teng would be right, and that was a squirmy, uncomfortable notion that had to be squashed as soon as possible.
"All right," she said, tucking her legs into a crosslegged position and tugging her coat down over them against the cold of the basement. "You really want to know about me?"
So she told him. She told him about Teng, and his experiments, and her days locked in this room and others like it waiting for rescue and praying for death. She told him about trying to kill herself by biting Ivy, and how Harley had force-fed her a sandwich, and how Eddie had let her crash on his couch for a few days. She told him about Diego's betrayal and the long, terrible hours in Arkham's basement.
She paused, eyes locked on her twisting hands. Should she tell him about her parents? Even Teng didn't know about them. No one knew. And suddenly, the urge to tell someone - anyone - surged forward and took control of her mouth.
"You wanted to know about my family?"
"Please," he murmured softly.
"I was born south of Gotham. We had a little house there, not much, but it was home. Dad had a job in construction, driving the big machines, and Mom stayed home with me." She smiled, remembering scraps of a pleasant childhood. "And for nine years, we were happy."
The smile disappeared. "And then my hands started itching. It wasn't long before they started turning black. We went to doctors. They sent us to specialists - we didn't have the money for it, but they took me anyway - and no one had a clue. But my mom still tried to take care of me - washing my hands, rubbing lotion on them, hoping something might help. She touched my hands every day. Every day. It didn't hurt her right away...maybe it wasn't as strong back then. But over time, it built up in her system. She was sad, we could see that, but everyone thought it was something temporary. She did her best to hide it. No one knew how serious it was until we came home one day and found her...dead. And in the autopsy, they found...this...in her brain." She held out her hand, glaring at the glove covering her skin, trying not to think about what they'd found beyond her mother's bedroom door. "They didn't know what it was. They never knew it was my fault."
She wrapped her arms around herself, shivering. "My dad was beyond angry. The man he had been died with my mom. The man that was left was a robot - moving through his day, ignoring me, ignoring everything but going to work and watching television. And one day, he saw me in the kitchen eating cereal - it must have occurred to him that the food wasn't safe around me. He came home the next day with gloves that he could ziptie around my wrists. But what if something happened? Better to keep me in the basement while he was gone. And when he came home, it was better that he didn't have to look at his wife's murderer. So I stayed down there for years."
"Finally someone realized that I hadn't been in school, hadn't even been seen for, oh, three years? and the police came to find out what happened to me. They found me in the basement, filthy, starving, with about six pairs of gloves ziptied to my hands. They brought me upstairs while they were handcuffing my father. He saw the cops cutting the gloves off of me and...snapped. He started choking me, and I tried to push him away...the cops dragged him off of me and he grabbed one of their guns and...he looked at me, and he put the gun under his chin and...and then of course the cop who grabbed me had gotten it on him as well, and he..." She shook herself, trying to forget that moment when that friendly man had stuck his gun barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
"After that, they sent me to juvenile hall. I killed a cop - clearly I was dangerous. They let me out when I was eighteen...not that it helped me much. I didn't have anywhere to go. No one would hire me. If it wasn't because of growing up in juvie it was because I couldn't take off my gloves. It wasn't long before I ended up on the street. It was getting cold, and I was trying to get some sleep, and then this enormous car roared by. It was the Atomic Skull, in Gotham to steal some big science thing. I only saw him for a second, but it was enough. He wasn't normal, like me, but he wasn't starving. He was well-fed, well-dressed, he had a flock of men obeying him and okay, so he was being chased by the cops and the capes, but nothing's perfect. So I thought - why not me? I got some henchmen, put on a costume, and ended up in Arkham."
Silent eons ticked by. She risked a glance across the room. He sat, slightly open-mouthed, on the gurney, looking at her with...no, it wasn't disgust. It wasn't hate. It was...pity?
"And you've been carrying all of that around for all those years," he said softly.
"Well, who was I going to tell?" she said uncomfortably. "The only one who would have given a damn was Teng, and I certainly wasn't going to give him any more ammunition."
"I care," Grief said fiercely. "It's not fair, what happened to you."
Hot tears threatened to force themselves into her eyes. "It's not fair what happened to me? What about my mom?"
"That wasn't your fault!" He slid off the gurney and crunched through the broken glass to her side. "You didn't know what would happen. No one did."
"That doesn't change the fact that I k-killed her!" She bit her lip, breathing hard, trying to hold her emotions back. The tears escaped her self-control and dripped down her face, streaking her coat with gray makeup. Sobs bubbled up in her throat, choking her as she tried desperately to stop crying.
Grief hugged her tight. "Oh, sunshine, sunshine," he said, holding her close, pulling her in until her face rested on his shoulder.
"I'll get your coat dirty," she mumbled through her gasping tears.
"I don't care."
They held each other, clinging close as she cried. The poison leached off of years of memories as Sorrow sobbed on the shoulder of the only person who'd ever felt sorry for her. He stayed by her side, rubbing her back and murmuring soothing nonsense until Sorrow shakily pulled herself away. "We'd better get some sleep," she said, looking at the broken clock on the wall. "We've got to find a new hideout tomorrow."
"All right." He hugged her again, hard, and slid off of the table. "Thank you for telling me everything. Good night, sunshine."
"Night," she replied, curling back into a ball.
The lights clicked off.
The Grey house, which had been so festive just a few days ago, was rapidly falling into disrepair. Dishes, showing the beginning signs of mold, were stacked high in the sink, and empty takeout containers spilled out of the overflowing trash can. The air in the house stank of sweat and coffee.
Jack and Kathy Grey sat at their kitchen table, a half-finished pizza laid carelessly between them in its greasy box. They sat in silence, sipping coffee, staring at the walls.
A shadow detached itself from the window and paced toward the table, accompanied by a gust of bitterly cold wind. "Where are they?" Batman growled.
"You think we know?" Kathy yelped, lip quivering as she stared at the vigilante.
"We've been searching for him for days," Jack explained. He gestured at the stack of photocopied flyers laid haphazardly on the countertop. They were fairly typical - Have You Seen This Man - accompanied by a picture of Troy in happier times, posing with a dog. "No one's seen him."
"When was the last time you saw him?"
"Christmas," Kathy choked, scrubbing a tear off of her cheek with the back of her sleeve. "He was here for Christmas. Him and that...that criminal," she spat. "She was calling herself Rebecca...how could we have been so stupid?" She buried her face in her hands, shoulders heaving with hysterical sobs.
"We looked her up in the library," Jack said. "What she did to that doctor..." He shook his head, refocusing on Batman. "Is my son safe with her?" he demanded.
Batman stared levelly back at him. If Dick had been here, he'd probably have made some quip about how completely ridiculous that question was. Then again, Dick wasn't here, because he was making his own life in Bludhaven, and that meant that any attempt at comic banter was out of the question. "Your son has convinced himself that he's in love with a convicted criminal," he said coldly. "People in that situation are rarely safe."
"You've got to find him. Please. Please," Kathy insisted, grabbing his hand. "You've got to get him away from her!"
He gently tugged his hand back and slipped a small black device out of his belt. "Here." He passed it to Jack, who gave it a suspicious once-over. "It's a tracking device. You activate it by pressing that button. If you find him, turn it on and I'll be there as soon as I can."
"Thank you. Thank you, Batman," Kathy said, gripping his hand once more, hopeful tears bright in her eyes. "Thank you."
Villainy in Gotham was not restricted to members of the local rogues' gallery. Because Gotham was one of the leading centers of science and industry, it was frequently home to inventions that villains in other cities desperately, desperately craved.
Wax Street in downtown Gotham was the latest casualty from visiting villainy. Heat Wave had arrived in Gotham to get his asbestos-covered mitts on the very latest in firethrowing technology. The Flash had been fast enough to stop him before he got away with it, though he hadn't been fast enough to keep him from torching everything around him with his new toy. The street itself had been largely deserted by its inhabitants, since it was easier just to move than to wait around for their apartments to be rebuilt.
Sorrow and Grief had found themselves a new home in a building that had only been half-destroyed. Yes, the top rows of apartments had been burned away, but the firefighters had managed to put the blaze out before it touched the lower two stories. A sign on the glass window read, in fancy script, "Niobe Jewelers". The window itself bore a large, spiderwebbed crack in the middle.
It had taken three days to find the place, but it had taken a further ten to make it livable. The swarms of street people that called Gotham City home had left the bottom level full of newspapers and garbage. They'd broken the countertops, built fires in the remains of the metal jewelry cases, and used the small vault as a convenient dumping ground for any unwanted trash they might find in their possession. They hadn't found the door leading to the upstairs apartment, though, since it had been buried under a stack of unwanted office equipment in the store's tiny office.
The upstairs apartment was tiny - one room, with a miniscule bathroom - but it was large enough to safely hide in for a while. They'd brought home furniture and groceries, a hot plate and a small refrigerator, and everything else that they'd need to be comfortable.
Tonight, they'd had a lovely dinner - how Grief had managed to cook that wonderful meal on that lousy hot plate, she'd never understand - and now it was time to kick back and relax. Sorrow lay on the couch, flicking through a book, while Grief browsed that day's newspaper. He hissed, wincing.
"What?" Sorrow demanded.
He mutely held up the paper. The headline, in bold black ink, read 'SCARECROW CAPTURED'. There was a large color picture of Jonathan Crane, mask in shreds around his neck, being led into a large police van. Both eyes were starting to bruise, and his swollen lip gaped open to reveal at least one missing tooth.
Sorrow shuddered. "Guess Batman's still mad," she said, turning away from the paper and burying herself in her book. She tucked a fold of her coat, which was serving double duty as a makeshift bathrobe, firmly around her feet.
"Guess so," Grief said. "Good thing we moved."
Something thudded repeatedly against the outside door. Sorrow rolled off of the couch, creeping across the floor silently on her bare feet, and peeked out of the window. "You have got to be kidding me," she muttered as she recognized the two people standing on the street below them.
"What? Who is it?" Grief whispered.
He scrambled to his feet and peered out the window. "Oh my god, it's my parents."
"How'd they find us?" she demanded, trying to look up and down the street for waiting police cars.
"I don't know!" He threw himself away from the window as his parents looked upward. "I think they saw me," he hissed, back flat against the wall.
"TROY?" his father bellowed.
"What are they doing here?!"
"I don't know!" He hurried toward the small staircase that led down to the main entrance.
"What are you doing?"
"Letting them in. It's freezing out!" he said defensively. "And besides, if they keep yelling, the cops will show up."
"TROY! WE KNOW YOU'RE IN THERE!" Jack's stentorian voice echoed through the quiet night.
"All right, fine, let them in," she said. He thundered down the stairs. She heard the door unlock. "What are you guys doing here?" he asked urgently.
"We need to talk, son," Jack said.
"Okay. Let's talk upstairs. It's warmer up there." Grief bounded back up the stairs, followed closely by his parents.
Sorrow coughed uncertainly as they appeared in the doorway of the little room, uncomfortably aware of her bare feet and gray pajamas showing through the gap in her unfastened coat. "Um. Hi," she said tentatively. "What brings you here?"
"We got your note," Jack said, ignoring Sorrow and focusing on Grief.
"Okay," Grief said hesitantly.
"And we think that...oh, hell." The stack of photocopied flyers in Jack's arms fluttered to the ground. Jack fumbled in the pocket of his fluffy parka and pulled out a heavy-looking handgun, aiming it roughly at Sorrow's forehead. "Son, get your things. We're going home."
"What are you doing?" Grief gasped, horrified, as Sorrow slowly raised her gloved hands. "Put that gun down!"
"Do as your father says," Kathy pleaded.
Grief shook his head. "I told you. I'm staying here."
Tears rolled down Kathy's face. "Troy, honey, you're not well. I don't know what she's done to you, but we're going to fix it. Come on, sweetie. Come with us." She held out her hand and stepped toward him, careful not to get in the way of her husband's weaponry.
He ignored her. "How'd you find us?"
"We've been out looking for you for days. Mark, Karla, and James too - Elaine stayed with all the kids - but we've searched and searched this city looking for you." Kathy twisted the hem of her thick wool coat as she looked plaintively at her son. "A man down the street said he saw you carrying a couch in here a few days ago."
"And now we've found you. Go get in the car with your mother, Troy." Jack raised the gun, letting Sorrow stare right down the barrel. She swallowed convulsively. "I'll stay here with her until Batman gets here."
"You called the bats?" Sorrow gasped.
Jack snorted disdainfully. "Like we were going to leave you running around loose. Let's go, Troy."
"I'm not going anywhere." He stepped between his parents and Sorrow, glaring at his father over the raised gun. Jack immediately pulled it to the side, ready to re-aim it once his son was out of the line of fire.
"Troy, don't do this," his mother begged.
Rubble shifted above their heads. "Batman!" Sorrow choked.
Jack and Kathy raised their eyes to the ceiling as if they'd be able to see the caped crimefighter scowling down at them. In that brief moment of distraction, Sorrow bolted around Grief and flew down the stairs, ducking as gunshots rang out behind her. She tumbled out the front door as glass shattered upstairs - presumably that was Batman making his grand entrance into their hideout through the side window - and raced down the sidewalk, bare feet going numb as they slapped down on the icy concrete.
The sound of thudding feet echoed behind her. She risked a quick glance over her shoulder. It wasn't Batman - it was Grief, doing his best to catch up with her. "You left?" she panted as they took the next right.
"Damn straight. They tried to shoot you," he panted. "I don't know what's gotten into them."
"Must be my charming personality." They leapt over a fallen garbage can, fighting to keep their balance as her bare feet and his slick dress shoes hit the pavement.
"Where are we going?"
Sorrow grabbed his arm and yanked him into a nearby alleyway as she heard the distinctive hiss-thunk of a Bat-grapnel latching onto one of the many gargoyles lining the rooftops above their heads. "The Iceberg," she wheezed, dragging him through the maze of dumpsters and discarded refuse lining the alley. "It's not far!"
Hand-in-hand, gasping for breath, they ran onward through the city. Sorrow couldn't help but smile. Yes, Batman was on their tail, and yes, Grief's parents had just tried to kill her, but he'd chosen her over them - all of them - and having someone to run with made all the difference in the world.
Author's Note: This storyline continues in 'Beach House'. And now that all of my loose ends are tied up - tune in next week for 'Housebreaking', the next installment of Eddie's adventures with Jackie. I hope you enjoyed my story. Thanks for reading!