She must have been daydreaming and took a wrong turn or something as she didn't recognize the part of Gotham that she was walking through. She had been on her way home from a painting class in the middle of the busy city; she had taken the same route back to her apartment a hundred times at least but now the structures surrounding her were abandoned, forlorn-looking things instead of the filled, bright buildings that welcomed her back each evening. The silence outside of her shuffling feet was daunting but she didn't let fear take hold, knowing it wouldn't do her any good and might even cause her to get more lost or worse—draw even more attention to herself.
Besides her feet disturbing the never-ending quiet, she seemed to be the only person out in the open and she was also lugging a large, painted canvas about half of her five-foot-six frame under one arm and a large messenger bag over the other. She would have been hard to miss even in the bustling crowd she had accidentally strayed from.
This was not always entirely true. When she wasn't toting around seemingly random large objects, she didn't exactly stand out. Her makeup was simple and so were her clothes; her hair was a natural burnt umber, but it was looking more on the dull brown side these days as she didn't take too much care of it. That day she was wearing her usual jeans, t-shirt and grey knit hat. She thanked her lucky stars she had thought to grab her black pea coat because when the sun set on Gotham, a chill always set in that you could feel in your very bones. She brought her chin closer to her chest in an attempt to try and bury more of her face in her collar.
The sight of a warm glow and the sound of muffled voices at the end of the street perked her up a bit and she sped up her stride while also staying wary. She was hoping the cross-street would lead her back into the heart of the city so she could find her way home, but you never knew who or what you would find on these back-streets. When she was about fifty feet away from the last building on the street she heard something that made her come to a halt and almost trip over herself. A high-pitched maniacal laugh most of the city had heard over their televisions, unmistakable, echoing off of the buildings around her and making that fear she had pushed down rise to the surface. Just as she started cursing under hear breath about her stupid, absentminded wanderings and before she could start thinking about escape, she was knocked off of her feet.
She didn't know how long she was on the ground but the timing seemed endless before she could see or hear again. Her world had exploded in a blinding whiteness and the looming deafness in her ears eventually turned into a high ringing. Her hearing came back first as the ringing turned into the distinctive roars and crackling of fire. Next came her vision and the sight looming over her paralyzed her in fear. Things were still hazy but a pair of charcoal-laden black eyes looked down on her, the sky blazing behind them. The pain came last. Her face and hands stung, her head swam and her back had sharp, shooting pains working their way from her neck to her hips. The pain overtook her senses and she started to stand without thinking about the maniac so dangerously close to her.
The Joker stood back and allowed her to stand, watching her with a placid look on his face she couldn't hope to find an emotion in, even if her mind wasn't reeling from the situation at hand. She matched his gaze as she straightened herself, rubbing her sore limbs. When neither speech nor action occurred, she allowed herself to look away as she had been yearning to see the distracting blaze that could have killed her. Her eyes fell upon an entire building engulfed in flames. Her guard was let down again and she turned her full attention to the burning wreckage, completely entranced. She vaguely noticed that the Joker came to stand beside her, tilting his head as he watched along with her.
"Wow," she whispered. What else could she have said? It was the only thing that seemed even slightly appropriate. He giggled lightly in mirth as he disappeared from her side. She turned to watch him make his way toward the street opposite them at the same time that she picked up the sound of sirens in the distance. She didn't know what made her do it but she called after him, her voice hoarse, "What should I tell them?"
He stopped and then turned slowly around, one eyebrow reaching toward his matted hair. He shrugged lazily and smacked his lips. "Tell them I'm, uh…back!" he brought his arms out and laughed, flourishing dramatically as he disappeared into the darkness between buildings. She smiled strangely and turned back to the terrible but beautiful inferno before her. She tried not to think about some homeless person squatting possibly burned to death in the wreckage. It couldn't be helped, the sight was truly amazing. She tried to burn it into the back of her mind so that she could paint it later…perhaps after a good night's sleep. It was then that she noticed she was no longer holding her canvas. Coincidentally that was when she heard two resounding snaps as police cruisers and fire trucks pulled in around her.
She put her hands to her mouth as she spotted the broken canvas under one of the police cars, all four corners sticking out in places they shouldn't. She walked toward the car keeping her hands over her face, vaguely noting to herself that being more angry and shocked about her canvas than she was about almost being blown up wasn't exactly rational. Lost in the misery of the thought that it had taken her a week to finish the now demolished painting and she only had two days to cough up another one to the buyer, it took her a minute to register that an officer was trying to get her attention. His hand on her shoulder made her jump.
"What?" she asked with a tone of annoyance.
"I asked you if you were okay," he said to her slowly to mask the flint in his own voice. He was only slightly younger than her 26 years, a jock with a brush-cut if she had to guess; dark brown hair, regular brown eyes—just normal. A patch on his uniform read "Lafferty."
"I was just fine until you ran over my thousand dollar paycheck," she snapped.
"It was an accident," he spat, affronted, "I was a little too distracted by more important things; like the very large building on fire."
"This is a crime scene now. What if that canvas had been evidence, hmm?" she asked, knowing full well she was acting childish but she couldn't really stand to reason at the time as her head started to swim again. And besides, his mouth snapping shut with nothing to retort with made it all worth it.
"Miss?" came a different voice from behind her. "Is that your blood on the pavement?"
She turned around to face someone else she had seen on television all too often and then looked to the ground where he was pointing. There was a small puddle of blood reflecting the flames and she knit her eyebrows in confusion.
"I don't think so, Commissioner Gordon," she patted herself over her front and then her back. "Couldn't be mine."
He smiled at her sympathetically and tentatively took her left hand, patting it. "What's your name?" he asked her.
"Aristophane Smitte. Call me Aris," she answered.
"Aris dear, the back of your head is bleeding," he told her matter of factly, waiting for her reaction. She reached up with her free hand reflexively and immediately regretted it. Her world went white again, this time from pain instead of an explosion. She cringed and hissed, biting back a yell. When she brought her hand back in front of her face it was wet with blood.
"Shit," she muttered, more annoyed than shocked. Gordon chuckled at her nonchalance attitude and led her toward the ambulance. She was unhappy about the prospect of a hospital visit but her mood lightened considerably upon seeing her messenger bag intact a few feet away from the emergency vehicle. She scooped it up and gave the burning building one more wistful look before disappearing behind the ambulance and climbing inside.
"I want to question you so don't leave the hospital, I'll be there in an hour or so," he told her and started to walk away.
"It was the Joker," she called to him and he froze mid-stride. When he turned around he looked apprehensive.
"That's quite an accusation, Miss Smitte. The Joker did break out of Gotham a few months ago but he hasn't been heard from since then."
Aris rolled her eyes. "It was him. I may have hit my head but I was less than a foot away from him. There's no mistaking that man. He told me to tell you 'he's back'," the effect of her words was immediate. The Commissioner sprang into action, grabbing a male EMT and whispering something to him she couldn't hear. The EMT called to someone else as Gordon came back to the ambulance. He looked her straight in the eye, all business.
"I have to make one stop and then I'll be at the hospital to question you, Miss Smitte. I've instructed the EMT's to tell the hospital staff not to let you go anywhere, so no taking off on me, all right?" he asked her with a smile but his tone was very serious.
"Wouldn't dream of it," she answered, managing to smile back. He nodded appreciatively and was gone from sight. It seemed like less than a minute before the EMT's were loaded up and they were on their way. One of them wrapped her head on the way there and she couldn't help but sigh heavily at the thought of how long this night was going to last.