CHAPTER 14: SACRIFICE
The chosen music for the ride; The Rite of Spring. Specifically, the Sacrificial Dance, and the mood is perfectly set for what The Joker has to do. He has the volume cranked past eleven, hoping the jarring bass will move her the way it moves him, even despite the fact she's currently bound and gagged in the trunk. Such lovely images of death and destruction, of self mutilation – a march made for war, a piece of music fitting for them both. At any rate, it should be dissonant enough to make it impossible for her to comprehend where they're headed, or worse, follow where they've come from. It is essential that she not be able to trace her way back to him, because if she could, the police could, and that is something he refuses to let occur. He sticks his head out of the window while he drives, wind whipping his hair as he swerves down the vacant country roads, smiling like some idiotic puppy. He speeds along, playing road-hog with the few other motorists he comes across, and slow-sally with the ones that come up right behind them. He likes it when they try and pass – he doesn't speed up, he doesn't slow down, but let's them zoom by just so he can see their expressions when they catch a glimpse of him behind the wheel. Whatever they were expecting, it's never him, and he just loves to see them silently gasp and quickly avert their eyes before pulling out ahead and disappearing off into the horizon at a momentum that shows their blatant panic.
When The Joker reaches his destination he pulls over. The road is empty and the sun has almost completely set. Twilight brings the mosquitoes and the fireflies, a peculiar mix of beauty and ugliness. Deep forest brush crowds either side of the street, and as he steps out he inhales, taking in the fresh, crisp sent of pine.
Martha Aiken jumps when the trunk pops open. Her head is reeling from the noise, and she is dizzy from the swerving. Disorientation makes her legs wobbly, and when he hauls her to her feet in one firm jerk she is barely able to stand up. She holds her breath as he removes her blindfold for what she can only hope is the last time, and when her eyes hit him they meet the clown mask instead. Bozo incarnate, an ugly thing that stinks of cheap Halloween rubber, something he's put on in-between pulling over and letting her out. She recognizes it apart from the others, from that night so very long ago, when she was taken from her bedroom in the darkness by him and his pack of rouges.
"I came in first." He says behind the mask, voice muffled slightly. "I picked the lock and opened the door, Martha. I came in first and put the chloroform over your mouth."
She nods, knowing it's true and accepting it all with one small movement of her head. Her hands are bound with string, the same purple yarn that made up his scarf. She looks at the mask and supposes it must be for security reasons – no kiss goodbye means no relapse of captivity. A smart move, although somewhat upsetting in a strange and disconcerting way.
"It's only fitting it should be me who does this last part." He adds quietly, and she can tell he's smiling even behind the poorly painted rubber. A false smile, no doubt.
He withdraws a small apple peeler from his coat pocket and turns her about-face. He kneels down behind her and works on cutting through the yarn.
She holds her breath and feels the yarn fall away from her wrists. Every mental instinct she has screams for her to run, but she remains rooted to the ground, patiently waiting for his next sentence.
"I'm not a bad guy, Martha. Do you think I'm a bad guy?" He asks her softly as he rounds her. "I don't think I am. I don't think bad and good are really valid options in this kind of situation, because if you consider things, you're just as bad as I am really. I mean, if 'bad' were a valid label."
He barely catches her mumble "The destruction of the universe is inevitable."
"Did you fake it?" He hisses, "With me? In the wine cellar? Did you?"
Her response is immediate.
His face dips just the once. "I believe you."
"I wouldn't lie to you about that."
"Yes, that's why I believe you." He snaps back, making her flinch.
"Would you let me again?"
"Where do you want to be?"
Martha is rousing and she thinks that she wants to be no place that she's previously been, and that if her cage is broken she won't fly home, and if she can't stay then she'll go some place new.
"What would you have done? If I was just another customer at the bank? If I had acted normal and pretended not to be crazy? If I really had been just another –"
"I would have looked right past you. You're so unlike anybody – anything I've ever experienced. I hate you for that. I hate you for being unique."
"You won't forget me." There's a hint of promise to this statement.
"Do you hate me?" It sounds like he is sincerely interested.
"No." She says after a moment.
A touch of urgency in his tone as he asks her "Do you love me?"
"Have you ever been loved?" She counters. "Keep in mind that love is not fear or reversion, or obedience."
He bristles, patience suddenly gone. "Have you ever been loved? Just answer the question, Martha. Do you love me or not?"
"I don't think so. Whatever it is I feel for you is indescribable. It can't be named."
"Try to name it." He demands, sounding both vexed and desperate.
"It's irrelevant now." Says Martha.
He strikes out, fist stopping inches from her cheek.
"Try." He seethes.
The answer comes not from fear but out of pity. Even with the mask on, she can tell that he is beside himself, more confused than even she must be.
"I think it's . . . Something like the way Buck felt for John Thorton, in 'Call of the Wild'." She begins, trying her best to classify it. She feels incredibly silly, comparing herself to a dog, but in truth it's the best example she can find. "Or the way he feels for any of the men in that story. First you caught me, then you broke me, but I wasn't quite broken. I licked your hand but I still wanted to bite it. And then, I don't know. I got used to you? No, that's not it. I could never get used to you. But there was something about you. You protected me, maybe that was it. Maybe you hypnotized me a little bit at a time. I don't know, but in the end I was torn apart between wanting to stay with you and wanting to go my own way."
The speech, containing things she would never have said, things banned from her conscious mind, comes from some hidden part of her. The voice with which she speaks, unabashed and proud, is that of the actress.
She pauses to inhale. Stoic, he listens.
"In the end John Thorton dies." She says gravely. "He has to die because otherwise Buck would never leave him. I guess I stopped caring in the end because the call of freedom was just too intense for me." She concedes. It is a divulgence that makes her shiver. "More intense than you."
Forgetting to bite back her anger, she adds "Should I feel privileged to have known you, to have been the fish caught on your hook? To have slept with you? Does it even matter now?"
He gives himself a moment to let that sink in. Pattern is a thing blindly sought out by Martha Aiken. Speaking to her in the delicatessen dinning room, pressing up against her in the booth as she wept, The Joker had found an important one for Martha – control through planning. She let him see this in her because his own obsessive behavior bordered on it, or so she theorized, but she gave up trying to analyze him early on in their relationship. He imagined she had labeled his an impossible mind to master. Nevertheless, her escape attempt, almost successful had it not been for his scrupulous cunning, was driven by her need for control.
Remembering the actress's wise words now, Martha Aiken comes to understand that only those who have no control seek it out so compulsively. She had made her last weak effort to plan, to regain control, but in trying to regain it she had lost it entirely by allowing The Joker to ravage her. And what was worse, she had enjoyed the feel of her own defeat. That riveting sensation of him inside her had been earth-shattering. Her begrudging of the very real injustices she had suffered at The Joker's hands was charged with the anger at herself that she could never properly acknowledge. She could not forgive herself for failing in her attempts to achieve control, and she could never allow herself to fully comprehend her feelings for The Joker, and the fact that she could not entirely break down her behavior doomed her all the more into pitiful self-disgrace.
He sighs grimly. "No." And he begins to pace. "What do you think we're doing out here? Let's hear your guess?"
Choosing to try and be optimistic despite the circumstances, she picks the most hopeful option. "You're moving me?"
The Joker mimics the sound of a game-show buzzer. "Wrong! Try again."
"You're going to kill me." She tries, thinking of the actress.
He chuckles at her naivety.
"Do you know what I'm going to do with you, Martha?"
"I never know what you're going to do, Mister Joker."
"I'm going to make a sacrifice."
The word is a knife that stabs her. She starts to get a clearer picture of the evening's probable events.
"For the sake of the heist, I'm going to sacrifice you." He chuckles giddily. "It's appropriate for the crime, don't you think?"
"I suppose so. But define sacrifice."
The sound of his tongue wetting the corner of his mouth from behind the rubber mask is muffled.
"I'm going to let you go, Martha." The announcement leaves her speechless, and she instantly understands why he used the word 'sacrifice'. She waits for him to continue. "If you go to the police –"
Martha quickly cuts him off. "I wouldn't. Never."
He nods again. "Good girl."
A beat as she brings her freed hands around to look at them, staring at the veins by her scars as she clenches her fingers tightly together. These hands held him not more than ten hours ago, and looking from the old wounds to his mask she notes that he holds her in high regard, and that she resents him for it.
"What do I do now?"
She feels incredibly stupid for asking, but what is more disheartening is that she really has no idea where to go from here.
"I suggest you leave, Martha." He tells her, and takes several steps away. "You do want to go, don't you? You certainly gave me that impression last night."
"I – " She starts, unsure of how to finish. It's almost over now and she is so close. So close to earning the freedom she has tried so hard to gain, that she has surrendered her dignity for. Why can't she move? She deliberates on apologizing to him for the acts committed in the wine cellar and eventually decides against it. He waits until, finally, she whispers "I can't. I don't know how."
"Would you prefer I shoot you?" He asks, pointing to the car. "There's a gun on the passenger's seat. Just give me two seconds and I'd be happy to –"
"No!" She screams, loud enough to scatter several crows from the canopy overhead. "No." She says again, approaching him.
He stands stock-still as she pulls the mask from his face and tosses it aside to reveal a resigned expression devoid of makeup. She frowns, wishing it had been a real smile along with the carved one. They stand together, eyes locked. He becomes aware of how cold he is. Now that the sun has gone down the breeze has turned brisk, and he thinks about how warm she felt when she was on top of him, surrounding him. He remembers her treachery and grasps that there is no punchline for this joke. His eyes narrow, and all the seething hatred from that night coils in his stomach like a caged viper waiting to strike. Still, he bides his time.
"I don't want you any more. I'm done with you. If you stay with me, I'll grow comfortable again, and then you'll betray me and my self esteem will plummet and I won't get anything done." Broods The Joker, scowling. "And that, my dear Martha of the big shiny bank downtown, that is really bad for business." He teases, visibly angst-ridden.
"Then mark me." She demands, reaching for the apple peeler. "That's what you do with a dog, isn't it? With a stray animal? Brand me so I'll remember. So we'll both remember, and maybe some day when the planets align . . . "
She trails off, leaving the suggestion open-ended.
He jerks away, at the same time snatching her hand and dragging him into her. He spins her so that he's pressing up against her, pinning her to the side of the car.
She holds her breath, waits.
The kiss is cruel and painful, with him biting hard enough to draw blood, but she doesn't pull away or struggle. In fact, she shoves herself into it with such ferocity that it makes The Joker moan openly over her parted lips. Dressed in his shirt from the night before, she is still naked from the waste down, and the wetness begins to pool at her center almost immediately. She squirms under him, trying to get a hand free to unbutton her shirt – his shirt, theirs.
The words of the actress echo in her ear.
She can't understand why she would want him again – the last time had been for a purpose, the seduction had taken place in order to ensure her freedom, and when the attempt had failed she had found herself debased and guilt-ridden. So why now should she want him inside of her again, when she had already been granted the freedom she so craved? When she was sure it wasn't a joke, that he thoroughly meant to release her?
The destruction of the universe –
The sex had been explosive, but had it turned her somehow? Was such a thing even possible?
– is inevitable.
Breathless, he manages to pull away from her.
"John Thorton has to die. He has to, for the dog to live freely." He recites, pained. "Do you want to kill me, Martha? Did you want to, down in the wine cellar?"
He is manic, laughing and tortured and struggling with himself. At this moment in time he is not The Joker, he is just a man whose face is scared and whose perception is so horrifically distorted he can not help but to corrupt the section of space and time he occupies.
"Yes." Is her blunt reply.
Eyes squeezed shut he holds her against the car, contradicting himself as he tells her to go, leave, that this was what she wanted, that freedom was why she hid the gun and that now she doesn't have to try and trick him again, she can just go, that he wants her – needs her to go. She takes a moment to realize that he is begging, actually begging, and in that moment her heart bleeds for her solicitous, sadistic captor.
In a move that some might consider foolish, she brings her lips to his ear and whispers "I want you, though."
His eyes pop open and Martha gapes. Seeing the affection, the strange fondness in the eyes of the man who's volatile mood had always remained a mystery to her, it is far too jarring to disregard. Lightly, she brings her lips to his in a sensitive, affectionate kiss, the first of it's kind shared between them.
It's something in-between pure love and utter hatred.
The request is made again; "Mark me."
The Joker sighs sweetly and leans into another kiss, this one far more tender than any previously given by him. He slowly undoes his trousers with the one free hand, holding both Martha's left wrist and the apple peeler with the other. As his trousers drop to the ground she catches a glimpse of him, rock hard and tempting in his size, before he positions himself over her and starts to spread her legs. She takes him in her loose hand as she had the night before and he starts to say something, but the words die in his mouth as she focuses on the more sensitive bits of his hardened length, gently massaging the head before spitting in her hand and spreading the saliva over his shaft. He trembles at the sleekness as she begins to work on him, fevered strokes causing him to buck involuntarily.
The sun has set and the world is dark. The road beside them is empty, and they are alone in their own, private place.
He brings his opposite hand down to that moistened spot between her legs, eyes on her and unmoving as he rubs at her sensitivity for several long minutes before sliding two nimble digits into her. She tilts her head back against the cold metal behind her, sucking air sharply through her teeth with each motion of his digits. Again, his knowledge of how to please her goes unmatched, and as he arches his fingers inside her she whimpers and continues to stroke him, hoping to elicit in him the kind of frenzy he is causing in her. Withdrawing his fingers, he swats at her hand and she removes it from him. He turns her gently to face against the car, breasts pushing up against the glass of the back side window as he enters her.
A pause and then he begins. There is no steady build-up. He pumps into her unabashed, knowing this is the final time he will ever get to do so, her cries escalating rapidly in strength until her body seizes in silent desperation. Even then, he keeps thrusting, face red, eyes half-lidded and his lips parted slightly as he grinds away into her.
The Joker does not often feel empathy. The emotion is a foreign one to him, but on very rare occasions he has been known to express a small amount of compassion. He is being compassionate now, in both his physical and mental actions – although he does not entirely want to be. Something alien has taken over him; instinct maybe, or something that used to be a part of him that he thought he cut away when he gave himself the scars. In either case, the end result will be pleasant enough, so he decides to starve his mental agitation and just enjoy it.
It's over very quickly.
Too quickly, for both of them.
The end leaves him slumped up against her, pressing her into the cool metal of the car door with him panting slightly and rubbing his nose into the crook of her neck. Time does not exist here, and Martha Aiken is torn between wanting it to change, and wishing that it wouldn't.
She stares off into the forest sleepily, watching the fireflies dance. The trees are very still, and she feels sated and satisfied with The Joker resting against her back, his member still thick and heavy just inside her opening. She focuses on the mingled sound of their breathing and the chirping of the crickets, and thinks she could stay this way forever.
Minutes pass, and slowly she feels him ease away, withdraw from her. She hears him pull his trousers back up and adjust himself. It's surreal, this last exchange.
She turns to face him. His cheeks are flushed and his eyes are on the ground. He won't look at her, even though he is still quite close, and she reaches out for him, the remnants of their act leaking down her inner thigh. He seems small and lost then, like a sad child, and she hugs him while he remains stony and unmoving. She feels the rise and fall of his chest, hears him sigh and then his hands are wrapping back around her midriff and pushing under her shirt to feel her bare back. And he's shuddering, laughing again, erratically repeating the word go in-between fevered gasps as his mouth nestles against her forehead.
She feels like a dog being told to run away by it's master, and part of her hates that. But another part of her feels happy, almost relieved, to have ever belonged to somebody in the first place, and to be allowed to go now. She is his, and will be forever, and while the thought partially elates her, she has no idea how she'll feel about what they've done together once she's been away from him for a good amount of time. Perhaps his memory will sour in her mind, or perhaps it will bloom into something more, something unique to anything or anybody else that's happened in her life. Either way, it will remain a memory preserved.
She pulls herself away, understanding that she must leave, absolutely must, or she will never get another chance, and if she were permitted would follow him to his certain doom. She loathes him for this.
"Come with me." Martha pleads.
He rolls his eyes. "Ordinarily I'm a risk-taker. I revel in risk, as a matter of fact. But I'm playing this one pretty close to the chest, Martha. It needs to happen. Sorry."
"No, you could still come. The men could do it without you and I could take you with me. I could hide you." She implores. "You don't need to do the bank. You don't need to, not really. What would somebody like you do with all of that money anyway? And – And even if you got revenge on the men that gave you those scars, on the ones that killed your family . . . What then? What would you do afterwards?"
It was true he had not thought that far ahead. When all was said and done, once he had broken Gotham and unmasked the Batman, once he had proved to society that all men were mad and he was normal in his madness, where would he go from there?
Perhaps, perhaps afterward, after everything he could –
With the sting of her brokenhearted gaze over his face she tugs incessantly at his hand, and his soul.
No, he thinks, and wrenches away from her.
He is an unstoppable force, and he has not quite met with a truly unmovable object, but were she to remain there, with him, the distraction would be overwhelming. He might begin to develop real emotion, proper feelings, and act sanely. Were she to remain with him he would be far too close to stopping; his ability to burst the bounds of artifice and create art that bleeds had to come from somewhere. Imagination needed roots, and while she gave him this giddy feeling of inspiration, he could not allow her to be those roots. Besides, she had been ambling through his fun-house mind with an unshakable comfort for some time now; better to cut the umbilical, let her loose. Poor girl deserved it, after all.
Martha was still speaking, still begging.
"If you come with me, we can –"
He puts a finger against her lips, cutting her off.
"You think you're so smart, don't you?" He begins haughtily. "Well I'm smart too. I've had so many psychiatrists try to analyze me that it's almost comical. You don't go through all that without picking one or two things up, Martha." He spits, making her wince.
"A little bit of subject knowledge to fair thee better. For instance, do you know what this is called? This undeniable thing that's between us now?" He points back and forth between them wildly, "I mean, besides the fancy psychiatric names. Helsinki, Stockholm, besides those. Do you know what's behind it all?"
Martha shakes her head.
Doing his best to parrot the stereotypical academician, he continues. "According to the doctors it's evolutionary, well partially evolutionary. Any egg-head with a white coat will tell you that the mind is a complex little machine, made so by natural selection and man's affinity to solve adaptive problems. It's all to do with natural selection, Martha. As a matter of fact, one of the main adaptive problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors, particularly the female ones, was being abducted by outsiders. By strange men, like you see in the movies. They would come in the night and drag them away by their hair. Well, the women, they had a choice in these situations – fight back and risk being killed for their disobedience, or . . . adapt to survive."
He pauses a moment for dramatic effect.
"What's so wrong with what you did to me, Martha? You adapted to survive. You shed your polite exterior and you fought back. I mean, I wish you hadn't, I would have liked to have had you around – permanently, that is. But part of me is proud of you, Martha. You proved my point. You achieved enlightenment!" He exclaims happily.
"You forgot one."
"Oh?" He pipes, perking an eyebrow, "Did I?"
"You forgot Lima Syndrome – when captors develop sympathy for their hostages." Martha explains quietly, the last of her outrage seeping through to hunt for closure. "Can you attend for your own actions, Mister Joker? You could have pushed me off of you after I had the wine on our first date. You could have knocked me out and let me go right then and there. And if you had your suspicions about our little arranged agreement, why not just end it there? Kick me out, end my life. What gave you the right to keep me? What gave you the right to keep mefor yourself? You didn't even ask meif I wanted to stay. I don't think you can stand to be apart from me. I think you'll miss me when I'm gone."
He throws his head back to cackle boisterously, voice carried far by the breeze. "Is that a joke? If it's not a joke then I don't want to hear it, Martha. You're terrifically unfunny when you want to be. I hate that about you."
She blinks at him, weary. "Fine . . . I'll shut up."
"Much obliged." And he thanks her with one last kiss, quick and light under the rustling branches of the wind-blown pines.
Lost in the deep black of his mellow eyes, she barely notices the sting of the apple peeler as he soothingly slides it across her right wrist, using part of the old scar to carve the letter J into her bare flesh.
His brand, her mark.
When he pushes her away she looks down at the cut, deep and red and beautifully painful, and in that instant acknowledges that he loves her in his own misguided way, and that the sacrifice of setting her free is his to bare.
No farewells are said.
Biting keeps the words at bay as they struggle to slither free like snakes under a stone. Nothing else is said whatsoever.
Martha Aiken does not watch The Joker get back into the car, and makes it a point to ignore the start-up of the engine despite how thunderous it sounds. She does, however, watch him drive away, staring off at the horizon until the speck on the line disappears and she is undoubtedly alone.
She wonders if he watched her shrink in his rear-view mirror.
The walk toward Metropolis is a long one. The sun comes up as she plods along the ditch, blood dripping from her wrist and leaving a meager trail. But eventually she catches a ride with a random motorist who is kind enough to wipe the dried blood from her arm and bandage her wound with a piece of cloth. Conversation is sparse between herself and the stranger. When he asks her if she is hurt and wants to go to the police station or the hospital, she simply shakes her head. When he asks her how she got the scar, all she can do is smile and lie. The stranger gives her a spare pair of trousers and volunteers to dispose of her shirt – The Joker's shirt, but she politely refuses, saying she'd prefer to keep it. When he asks her where she wants to go, she quietly corrects him.
"Where do I want to be, you mean? I don't know."
"I can take you anywhere." Offers the stranger.
"Not Gotham, please. Not Gotham."
In the end she winds up in a homeless shelter on the edge of Metropolis.