The Sequel to Clockwork

Synopsis: The pieces of the puzzle all make funny shapes, but in the end they fit together. Every. Single. One.

Author's Notes: For those of you who have not read Clockwork, it is not necessary for you to read that story in order to understand this one. I have tried my very best to design Blackout so that it will work as a standalone; reading Clockwork is only necessary if you wish to know what happened to the protagonist, Taylor, when she was a child.

This story was originally going to be titled Welcome to a World Without Rules, but I thought the title was too long. Regardless, I hope Blackout is a good substitution. As always, feedback is more than welcomed. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I loved writing it.

Chapter One

Sticky hot air and bleeding red lights punctuated the night.

From above, the flickering neon sign flooded the dark alley. The red glow sliced through the thick steam and smoke that poured from the rafters of the building up ahead, enveloping the darkness. From further inside the city, the sound of cars gliding against the pavement filled the quiet of the Narrows, accompanied by the low, rhythmic beats of club music pulsing from The Underground.

The pavement, slick from an earlier rain, was black and spotted with puddles. Water gushed from overflowing gutters, trickling into the sewage drain beneath the road.

Tilting his chin upwards and placing one hand over his throat, the Joker nimbly adjusted his tie from side to side, loosening it a bit as he moved down the alleyway at a swift pace. His shoulders were drawn forward and hunched at a sharp, predatory angle, his tongue snaking out to wet his mangled red lips.

His purple jacket thumped against his chest and abdomen as he moved closer towards the direction of the building, his switchblades and other assorted necessities all tucked safely away in the recesses of his jacket.

Two of his assailants followed distantly behind him, fiddling with the AK-47 in their hands as they walked. One of the men, with the gun strap slung over his shoulder, kept moving the safety switch back and forth in a distracted manner. He was tall and gangly, and had numerous piercings along his eyebrow and upper lip. He only had one arm.

When the Joker reached the back entrance of the building, his assailants stopped several yards behind him, turning their backs to him and holding their guns close, watching to make sure that no one was following them.

He didn't bother glancing behind him as he climbed the three steps in one simple stride; his boys knew what they were supposed to do. Above him, the blood red sign cloaked his painted face in a harsh glow. He squinted his eyes in annoyance as he ducked out of the light and pushed open the metal door.

With deliberate slowness he entered the dark room. The cool relief of air conditioning and the smell of cigarette smoke accosted him upon entry. The Joker licked his lips and rolled his shoulders, briefly shutting his eyes. His clothes were damp from the summer heat and clung to his sweaty frame. He could feel sweat beading along his hairline, no doubt smudging his greasepaint, but he ignored it.

In the back of the room, a large desk was set up in the corner, with a heavy-set, balding man sitting comfortably behind it. A woman dressed in a glittery silver dress was draped provocatively over his lap. She let out a quiet moan and arched her back when the man blew a puff from his cigar into her face.

With lines etched deep into his forehead and skin sagging around the corners of his mouth, the man was nothing if not old and haggard—meaning the woman in his lap was definitely getting paid. She let out a breathy sigh as she nuzzled his neck, her smooth, black hair trailing down the curved contours of her back as she whispered into his ear. With a throaty laugh, he moved his hand lower and stroked her backside, as if she were a cat and he the master, rewarding her for good behavior.

In the dim lighting, the woman's gold, hooped earrings glimmered, sashaying from her ears as she giggled. She ducked her head to trace a wet pattern on the man's neck with the tip of her tongue.

The Joker watched without interest.

Then, without warning, he kicked the door closed behind him, making it shut with a sharp bang and alerting the couple behind the desk of his presence. Both heads shot up instantly, but after an initial moment of surprise, they both relaxed; or at least pretended to.

"Oh, you invited the Joker," the woman purred, her voice a distinctive mix of husky excitement and a thick, city drawl. Without another word, she crawled off Antonio's lap and sashayed to where the Joker stood by the door.

With hunched shoulders and hooded, predatory eyes, he watched her approach, unblinking.

She smiled when she stood in front of him, staring up into his dark eyes with not the slightest hint of fear. "Come to play, have you?" she whispered to him. Without looking away, she placed her hand between them and cupped him firmly between his legs, laughing huskily when he merely raised his brows. "You're so big," she purred.

"I am," he agreed, unsmiling. "And unfortunately for you, doll, not interested." With a speed she hadn't been expecting, Jessica suddenly found herself on the floor with a blade wedged in between her ribs, stunned at what had just happened.

It took only a second for realization to kick in. The blood rushed from her face and she turned as pale as a sheet. With a gasp, she pulled the knife from her side and let it clatter to the ground, her lips trembling.

Antonio merely rolled his eyes from behind the safety of his desk. "Get out of here, Jessica," he said, exasperated and bored. "Show's over."

With wounded pride and ribs, she shakily got to her feet and winced at the pain that flared up her side. She glared at the Joker.

"You ass," she mumbled on her way out.

The Joker merely shrugged his shoulders as he watched her limp towards the door that led out into the club. Bright, flashing colors and pulsating music wafted through the room for just a moment before the door was closed once again.

"I apologize for her . . . impudence."

The Joker licked his lips. "Perhaps you should keep your pets on a leash."

Antonio took a drag from his cigar, studying the Joker's tall frame. "Sit down."

The Joker did not.

"Very well," he mumbled around the cigar in his mouth. He leaned back in his chair and folded his hands over his protruding belly. "I have to admit, Joker, I didn't think you'd show." His voice, like chafed metal and gritty sandpaper, was rough and unpleasant to the ears.

"We-ll," the Joker drawled, stepping closer as his eyes moved around the room in one quick sweep, observing everything—especially the security camera in the corner, "I ah, didn't want to disappoint anyone now, did I?"

Antonio smirked. "In that case, maybe you'd like to do me a little favor."

The Joker laughed, though his eyes were dark. "Do I reaaally look like the type of guy to do favors?" The word tasted like sour candy on his tongue, and he pulled an unpleasant face.

"No," Antonio said. He leaned back in his chair. "But I'm bettin' you're gonna wanna do this one."

The Joker smacked his lips and cocked his head to the side. "That depends on what kind of favor we're talking about, hm?" He raised his brows.

Sighing, Antonio opened his mouth to speak but then promptly closed it again, hesitating. It was obvious he was wrestling with what he wanted to say. If his client knew he was contacting the Joker for the job he had ordered, he would surely have Antonio's head. And Antonio quite liked his head where it was. Fact was, Antonio only wanted to get on the Joker's good side. He was a mob boss, yes, but he wasn't quite up there with the Falcone and the Maroni families. Not yet, anyway. Needless to say, he was desperate to make his mark in the Gotham underworld. He desired only fear and respect from his peers, something he knew he might be able to achieve with a little help from the Joker.

"Look," he began quickly, his weathered, gray eyes darting around the room as if to double check that no one was lurking in the shadows, "I'm gonna let you in on a little secret." He pulled his cigar out of his mouth long enough to twirl it between his thumb and forefinger. "Something big is about to go down in the city and I uh, being a nice guy and all, figured that you'd wanna be a part of it. So I says to myself, why hire a thug who'd mess up the job, when I could just hire that uh, that Joker man, who'd get it done right?"

The Joker raised his brows as if to issue the man along further. Could he just get to the point already? He didn't have time to play twenty questions.

Noticing his expectant gaze, Antonio cleared his throat and locked eyes with the Joker. "There's uh, somebody that needs to be . . . disposed of, if ya catch my drift." He winked exaggeratedly, as if he thought that was cute or something, but the Joker stared with a blank expression, working his mouth and tonguing at the inside of his scars. He couldn't believe he had come down here for this.

"I don't . . ." his voice was nasal and high as he waved his hand, searching for the right word. When he spoke again, his voice had plummeted to a lower octave. "I don't do that, if ya catch my drift." This time is was the Joker's turn to wink exaggeratedly, and the man paled at the action and scooted forward in his chair, sensing the Joker's irritation.

"Listen, listen," he urged, anxiously slicking back nonexistent hair, "I've already been offered a hefty sum for the job." He paused, waiting to see if the Joker was still interested. He looked bored, an expression that Antonio was half expecting, but he wasn't deterred. "I'll give you eighty percent, yeah? Boss just wants it done quickly and efficiently—hell, you can even dress it up a bit if you want. Make it all theatrical and whatnot. You like that kind of thing, don't ya?"

A deep frown pulled at the corners of the Joker's lacerated mouth. He narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. "Tell me something. This 'boss' of yours . . . he thinks I can be bought with money?" the Joker asked with exaggerated incredulity. "Does he think I'm some kind of whore who'll do whatever he wants just for a couple green slips of paper? Is that what you think I am? Do you think I'm a whore, Antonio?"

Antonio scratched the underside of his jaw, clearly uncomfortable with the question as he mumbled around the cigar lodged in the corner of his mouth. "Look," he said gruffly, putting up his hands as if to defend himself, "I wasn't even supposed to mention it, alright? I just want the job done right." The Joker seemed unconvinced, so Antonio hurriedly continued on. "All I know is he's up to something and it's big." He swallowed, leaning in closer over his desk to whisper in a conspiratorial tone. "He's gonna bring this city to its knees, Joker." He paused, letting that sink in as he eyed the Joker up and down. "You want in or not?"

The clown slowly sauntered forward to place his palms on the edge of the desk, gripping the metal as he leaned forward, growling. "I am the city."

Leaning back in his chair, Antonio smiled, pleased. "You'll take care of the job, then?" The Joker chuckled. It was a low, throaty sound that made Antonio's skin crawl. It was all the answer he needed. "I'll get you the address," he said, a hesitant smile flickering across his weathered face.

The Joker grinned. "Now we're talkin'."

Taylor was having nightmares again.

Austin had been in the shower when he heard her crying, and without a second thought he turned off the faucet and wrapped a towel around his waist. Steam poured from the bathroom as he opened the door and hurried to the bed where Taylor lay tossing and turning.

"Hey, it's alright. I'm right here." He knelt down next to the bed where his wife's face was pressed against the pillow, her cheeks wet from tears. She sobbed when she opened her eyes, seeing her husband with soap suds still in his hair and his face twisted into a worried frown.

"Austin, I'm sorry I—"

"Sh, sh. You don't have to be sorry. It's not your fault." He touched her hair and smoothed it with his hand against the pillow, staring into her eyes as he whispered to her. "I'm right here," he said again, more softly this time. Taylor sniffled and pulled her hand out from beneath the covers, reaching for his. She clutched it tightly and he let her, still running his other hand through her hair in a smoothing gesture.

In the early hours of the morning, the sky was a pallid shade of slate gray, half hidden behind billowy white curtains that hung from the window. Outside, the neighborhood lay silent and still, the sun having yet to crest the horizon. Already it was humid and sticky out, and the grass and trees were damp from the summer heat.

As dark rain clouds loomed in the distant sky, a static electricity also seemed to hang in the air, a small warning of the impending thunderstorm that was scheduled to arrive sometime later that afternoon.

Austin noticed this after Taylor had fallen back asleep and he stood in the kitchen pouring himself a cup of coffee, staring out the window and contemplating his day. He wished more than anything he could stay home with Taylor and just hold her in his arms, promise her that everything would be alright and that he'd always be there to protect her no matter what. He set his cup on the counter and gripped the edges of the sink, bowing his head with a quiet sigh as he closed his eyes.

He was startled when warm hands slipped around his waist and Taylor hugged him from behind. He relaxed at the feel of her presence behind him. "I'm sorry I woke you," she said quietly.

Austin turned to face her, his heart practically swelling in his chest at the sight of her. Those big, green eyes would be the death of him. God, he was so in love with her. "You didn't wake me, baby," he assured her kindly. "Are you alright?"

Taylor sighed as she put her hands on his chest and leaned into him. In turn he hugged her waist and held her close. "They're getting worse," she confessed in a whisper, as if she were ashamed to admit it.

Her nightmares. She had them almost every night, without fail.

Austin felt his heart crack in two, and he held her tighter. "I'm so sorry." He ran his hand along her back but didn't know what else to say. It made him feel like a fool. He wanted to fight her demons, but he always felt so ill-equipped at doing so. More than anything, he wanted to be her knight in shining armor and fend off the monsters that breathed in her ear and haunted the dark cellars of her mind. He wanted to rescue her from all of her fears and be the hero and savior she so desperately needed.

But he couldn't, not when the monsters plagued her every thought and he couldn't be with her all the time to protect her.

She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear as she pulled away, sniffling. "I'm sorry," she said again, smiling halfheartedly in an attempt to erase the images from her nightmare. "Can I make you breakfast?" she offered.

Austin smiled sadly at her, watching as she went about the kitchen. "I think you should see a psychiatrist again," he said quietly. He watched her reaction carefully, noting the way she slowed as she placed a pan upon the stove.

"I know," was all she said, and Austin knew better than to push the matter further. Her psychiatric sessions were completely private—he knew nothing about them or what went on—and while they had seemed to do some good at first, something had gone wrong during the third month—terribly wrong. She hadn't gone back since then, and Austin had only asked about the incident once, never to receive a response. He thought that maybe if she could just push past that barrier that haunted her that maybe—maybe—things could slowly begin to get better and her wounds would begin to heal.

Deep down though, in the recesses of his mind, he knew that there were some wounds that had cut too deep, wounds that would probably never heal. Taylor had been scarred in more ways than Austin could comprehend, and he knew it. He didn't pretend to understand what she was going through—how could he? He knew some of her traumatic past—but there were some things that she was unwilling to share, even with him. He had his suspicions, had wondered on more than one occasion if she had been sexually abused as a child. But he didn't ask. A part of him didn't want to know. He couldn't bear the thought of her being so humiliated and ruined at such a young age. But he did his best to offer himself as her constant shield of support and encouragement. He promised himself he'd be everything she needed him to be.

He swallowed the lump in his throat and decided to change the subject, attempting to take her mind off her troubles by telling her a funny story about an incident that had happened at work. They laughed like little kids as they sat at the counter and ate breakfast together. Taylor giggled and her eyes lit up as he told his story, and for a moment everything felt good like it was supposed to, and it was one of those rare moments that Austin wished would never end.

He cursed when he glanced at the clock.

"You have to leave already?" The disappointment in Taylor's voice was enough to make him want to call-in sick to work, but he'd done that enough times and knew he couldn't risk another. He had an important article to revise for tomorrow's paper anyway.

"I'll be home early tonight," he promised.

Taylor sighed, pulling her bathrobe tighter around her as she slid from the barstool and gathered their plates. "I'm working double shifts at the hospital. I won't be back until midnight."


"Can you stop by for lunch?" she asked, hopefully.

Austin smiled. "Of course I will." He sighed then and pulled her close, hugging her to his chest. "I love you so much," he whispered.

"I love you more."

Austin always laughed when she said that. "I doubt that, baby," he teased. He grinned and blew a raspberry into her neck as Taylor giggled and playfully swatted his arm. They hugged once more by the front door, and after she had closed it behind she watched from the window as he backed out the driveway and disappeared from sight.

The house was eerily silent then, and Taylor tried to ignore the way the hairs on her arms stood on end as she shed her clothes in the bathroom and turned on the shower. As she waited for it to warm, she stared at her body in the mirror, scrutinizing herself and wondering what Austin saw in her. She was bruised and scarred and too thin and scared of the dark . . . she sometimes wondered why Austin put up with her.

She thought back to the day when the two of them had first met, back in that grocery store parking lot so many years ago. She had been nineteen and still in college, and Austin only three years her senior. It had been raining all afternoon, and she'd been carrying her groceries out to her car. The pavement was slick and the plastic bags filled with food that weighed down her arms were heavy. When she slipped and fell flat on her back onto the cold, wet pavement, Austin had immediately rushed to her aide, kneeling by her side in the pouring rain and asking if she was okay. Things had progressed steadily from there.

Austin was studying journalism at a school in Delaware, later transferring to Gotham University late during his senior year of college. While the two of them were dating, Austin had been a complete gentleman, always polite and charming her with his laid-back, calm, and genuinely kind demeanor. In the six years that they'd known each other, Taylor could easily say that he was truly the most loving and caring man she'd ever met. He was the type of man who rarely lost his cool and almost never showed animosity towards anyone. He wasn't perfect by any means, and the two of them had their fights and disagreements with one another, yet he'd always be the first to apologize, even if it wasn't his fault.

Their relationship had been surprisingly easy from the start, even despite the fact that she had never dated anyone before him. Austin understood and sympathized with her turbulent background, Taylor having been in foster care for a significant portion of her life.

She had been only four years old when first put in the foster care system. It was at age ten when she was adopted into a kind and loving family whom she got along with well and eventually came to love dearly. Clara, her mother, worked at a small bakery in the city and always brought home cookies for her and her older, non-biological brother, Terrance, to snack on while the two of them did their homework in the kitchen.

Her father, William, was a short, happy man with an infectious smile and laugh. He was a counselor at the high school and was well-loved and respected by everyone who knew him.

Taylor and her older brother Terrence got along well, being only two years apart in age. He would always allow Taylor to hang out with him and his friends whenever they came over—although Taylor suspected it was mostly because their mother would always make him. Regardless, she enjoyed their time together. Even now, she could still remember sitting on the front porch steps of their townhouse and listening with interest while Terrance and his friends sat on the steps in front of her, playing with the wheels on their skateboards as they joked or talked about school.

Other times when they were alone, her and Terrence would sit on the floor in the in the living room while the afternoon sunlight poured in from the window and warmed their backs. She would watch him shoot Storm Troopers and save the galaxy on his PlayStation, cheering him on by offering him small smiles of encouragement whenever he looked over at her.

Very much like her husband, Taylor had been shy, growing up, and it was something she had never really grown out of. She sometimes wondered why she was the way she was—so demure, quiet, and introverted—but life before Clara, William, and Terrance had always been blurry for her, especially as she grew older and it became harder to remember things. The past was a muddled place, like an old swamp on the side of the road she only sometimes passed. She only seemed to remember small clips and phrases—most of which didn't seem to make any sense to her at all. She didn't remember her real mother or father, or if she ever had any brothers or sisters. She had asked Clara and William countless questions, even at one point having the audacity to scourge the attic for her adoption papers, hoping to dig up some information on her past life. In the end, she had discovered little other than what she already knew.

The very first family she had been adopted into she could hardly remember at all. She figured that she must have only been five, at the time. The only memories she could recollect from that time were those of pain and misery. She remembered tears, sobbing with anguish, and being locked in dark rooms. She had been a nervous wreck when that first family had adopted her into their home. Like a paper doll crumpled one too many times, her paper was starting to tear.

She had been so emotionally broken—always crying and screaming—that the family didn't know what to do with her. Nothing they could say or do would coax her out of her strange, skittish behavior. They tried to calm her, tried to console her cries of panic and frustration, but she would only scream the name of a man, (her biological father, maybe?) that she now didn't even remember. As a result of her behavior, she would find herself locked in the basement, her "parents" too frustrated with trying to figure out what was wrong with her and just giving up altogether. When the authorities finally found out six months later, she was placed back in foster care. Again.

Five years later at age ten, when Clara and William were in the process of adopting her, the adoption agency was required to explain some of her past life to them—her past life that she couldn't remember but was desperate to know.

Over the years, she had overheard snippets of conversations. The information she had garnered, however, made no sense to her at all. For the first four years she had spent in foster care—having spent six in total—she learned that during that time, she would scream the name of a man. She would scream for this man to save her, to come back and to take her home. She'd sob into her pillow every night, murmuring his name and whimpering pathetically, all the while clutching a silver necklace he had supposedly given her.

Even though she didn't remember this man, (was he her father, brother, uncle, or friend?) she still wore that necklace. She couldn't even remember a time when she had ever taken it off. The memories of that necklace—the memories that she couldn't even remember—still haunted her. She wanted to remember, was desperate to know of the past she had forgotten . . . but she couldn't. She couldn't remember, except for the small, frightening glimpses that often appeared in her dreams.

When she would ask, no one would tell her anything. Clara always said it was for the best that she didn't know what had happened to her as a child, and after a while, Taylor finally gave up. She was happy in her new home, anyway. Clara and William were kind to her, even despite the fact that she rarely spoke and kept to herself most of the time. It wasn't because she didn't want to be with them or because she was anti-social, but because she was scared. She was scared of something that she thought might happen, was scared of people, scared to show affection, scared to say what she was feeling, and scared to place any kind of trust in others for fear of getting herself hurt.

But, even despite those irrational fears, she silently basked in the love that her mother and father showered her with—even though for a while she was hesitant to receive it. For reasons she couldn't comprehend, she had convinced herself at an early age that she couldn't let herself get too emotionally attached to anyone. She didn't know why she had let herself think that, but it was a standard she had followed religiously. Past experiences that she couldn't even remember had taught her to not get too close to anyone, to not get too attached. She had convinced herself that everything good in her life would always, at one point or another, be taken away. And in a way, it had proven to be true. Whoever this "man" was that she used to cry over at night back when she was in foster care must have really meant something her. She often wondered what happened to him and why she was "taken" from him, as she'd often overheard people say. Had he died? Had he been sick and unable to care for her? Had he just not wanted her anymore? Taylor didn't know the answer to these questions, but she tried to convince herself early on that perhaps that was for the best.

After only two years of living with Clara, William, and Terrance, a strange but lovely sense of normalcy—something she had never experienced before—began to blossom within her. She was growing accustomed to the home life that her new mom and dad had so graciously welcomed her into. She loved her family, and even if she never spoke of or showed it, she knew deep down in her heart that they knew it, too.

Growing up in their brick townhouse that lay nestled right in the heart of the city had been a wonderful experience.

That was until her mother abruptly passed away of a stroke.

The death had been so unexpected, so random, that it eroded and tore at the foundation that had been holding her perfect little family together. Her father started drinking in heavy quantities, an action that shocked both her and Terrance.

He was never abusive whenever he was befallen in a drunken stupor, but instead became emotionally distraught. Taylor and Terrance would always find him sitting in the living room recliner, beer cans littering the floor at his feet while he quietly sobbed in anguish, the glow of the television illuminating the tears that streaked his cheeks.

He became distant after that, always pulling away when Taylor or Terrence would try to reach out to him, to comfort him or offer him hugs. Taylor didn't know what to think and inside she felt broken. Her father had always been such an affectionate and jovial man, and now he refused to even hug her. It was strange to see him so sad and broken, and she felt hurt and lonely. It was like another person entirely had invaded his body. When Clara was still alive, he had been a bit on the heavier side, with round cheeks and belly and shining blue eyes. After her death, he began to drop weight, and fast. He had stopped eating, his face had thinned as had his hair, and his eyes had turned gray, dull, and lifeless. This wasn't the father who had taught her how to fix the flat tires on her bike, nor the father who always said prayers with her before she went to sleep. This was a different man entirely. He was practically a stranger.

Taylor remembered one time, after a night of drinking when William was particularly distraught, he brought home a woman with him from work, a woman whom, as Terrance later told her, looked just like mom. Terrance had watched the two of them disappear into the bedroom, and, having been fourteen years old at the time, knew exactly what was going on between them. Taylor, however, was twelve and incredibly naïve for her age. She hadn't understood what was happening.

After that fateful night, Terrance had become rebellious, always causing fights at school and eventually getting caught up in the dangerous world of drugs. At home, Taylor had found him cutting his arms in the bathroom one afternoon after school, the dried blood on the sink later proving that what she had seen had not been imagined, as she would've liked to of made herself believe.

William was aloof to everything that was going on, or at least pretended to be. This left Taylor to try and convince Terrance that what he was doing was wrong and that he needed to stop his destructive behavior; but she never did tell him. She hated herself for it—hated that she was too scared and too afraid of how he might react—so she didn't say anything at all.

When she looked back on her life, and even as she was growing up, she hated how fragile and emotionally broken she was. She'd always hidden behind her self-made blanket of fear and denial, unable to deal with it all and shielding herself from the things she wished weren't happening. Past experiences that she couldn't even remember had made her unreasonably scared and wary of everyone and anyone she met. And as William progressed further into his state of aloof depression and Terrance descended further into his blind rage, Taylor found herself becoming increasingly afraid of the one person she had come to trust over the years, come to love. She felt ashamed of the fact that she had become terrified of her own brother. When she was fifteen and he seventeen, it had gotten to the point where she couldn't even look him in the eye anymore.

When she graduated high school and went off to college, everything changed. Terrance had long since disappeared. He finished high school, went to community college for two years—and then abruptly took off, her father and her didn't know where. No one did.

When she met Austin, her life began to take a needed turn for the better. They fell deeply in love with each other, and the connection they shared was one of mutual understanding. Austin, an only child, grew up in a wealthy family where his parents smothered him frivolously with their money and high expectations. They wanted him to become a lawyer, to marry a nice, wealthy girl and carry on the family legacy. Taylor, on the other hand, had spent most of her life in foster care and had grown up in a broken home, too scared and too frightened to stand up for herself and to confront her brother and father with her feelings. Growing up, their lives had been on completely different sides of the spectrum, and yet they were still able to form a connection with one another, a deep bond of trust that Taylor had so desperately craved during her childhood.

As the water from the showerhead rained over her skin, she let herself laugh. Her life sounded like something straight out of a bad soap opera, and she was well aware of it.

Now, at twenty-five years old, she still kept in touch with her father. He was still drinking, still sulking in his own misery and self-inflicted emotional pain, but Taylor still cared deeply for him. He'd shunned the outside world completely; only fifty-eight years old and already he'd quit his job and was living off the funds he had set aside for retirement. Taylor called him once a week to check up on him and stopped by every month to give the house a good cleaning and make him dinner. She knew that he appreciated that because it reminded him of her mother, made him realize that he wasn't alone in the world and that he still had family out there who cared about him.

As for Austin, he wasn't in contact with either of his parents anymore. When he had informed them of his plans to marry Taylor—a timid, shy girl who only wanted to be loved and cared for—they shunned him completely and cut off his funds for school, which in the end forced him to transfer to Gotham University, a cheaper school.

He had given up his whole life and broken all ties with his family to marry her. Taylor's heart swelled every time she thought about it. Sometimes she felt that she didn't deserve him, but she was thankful to have him all the same. They'd been married for four years now, and lived in a little suburban neighborhood just outside of the inner city of Gotham. Their house was small and surrounded by trees, a privacy they enjoyed, especially during the summer time, when the trees were so thick and full of green leaves that you could hardly see the house next door.

They had, early on in their marriage, lived in a swanky, upscale apartment deep in the inner city. It had glass elevators, revolving doors, polished marble floors—and that was just the lobby. It wasn't long before they began to realize in their first months of marital bliss, however, that they couldn't afford such costly living, especially with the salaries they were making. Austin refused to ask for money from his parents, whom they both knew had more than enough to share, but it was something that Taylor respected him for. She was proud of him for wanting to make it on his own, and she wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

During the day and sometimes the night, depending on which shift Taylor worked, the two of them kept very busy. Austin was a journalist for The Gotham Times and Taylor a nurse at the hospital, Gotham Medical.

Despite her often hectic schedule, Taylor loved her job. She didn't know when she had decided that she wanted to become a nurse, but she supposed it was because she had always felt a need to help others in a way that her words couldn't. She had spent the majority of her years hiding behind a veil of fear, afraid to speak up and say what was on her mind. But now, by being a nurse, she felt that she could say what she wanted by speaking through her actions, and it made her feel good, knowing that she was helping people in such a substantial way.

Taylor sighed as she turned off the shower and retrieved a towel from the bathroom closet. She wrapped it around herself and wandered into the bedroom, sitting on the edge of the bed as she combed her fingers through her hair.

With a sigh, she glanced at the clock and realized that it was time to start another day.

Silently, she prayed she'd be able to make it through it without breaking down.