Under the Red Sky

Under the Red Sky (Joker) Part 30.b.

“I don’t know. I think Mr. Wayne might be compensating for something.”

I peered up at the top floor of the luxurious penthouse apartment through the smudged glass of the backseat window. The Joker, who sat beside me, stopped his incessant, incoherent mumbling to giggle at my comment. He leaned across me to get a look at the lavish edifice himself.

“Nifty. But I think you may be right,” he concluded before sliding back across the seat and opening the door on his side. He hopped out and Sam, abandoning the driver’s seat, followed suit along with the other goons piled in the back. I slipped from the van, careful not to rumple my dress, adjusting my whip so it trailed behind me. The dress fit like a glove and I wore it well. It went brilliantly with my bloody nails.

We strutted up the stone steps leading to the building and into the lobby as though we owned the place, smiling and waving to the few flustered people who, until now, had been lounging amongst the plush furniture, chatting.

“No, don’t get up, folks,” the Joker called gaily, raising a purple gloved hand to the uppity looking men and women behind the concierge desk who watched us walk by with wide, frightened eyes, “We’ll find our way to the party.”

We crammed ourselves into the first available elevator, the Joker and me at the head of our group. The pair of us stood facing the glossy doors of the lift, staring at our reflections. Sam pressed the round button marked with the highest number and, with a cheerful chime, the elevator began to rise. I fluffed my hair. The Joker cocked his gun, humming along to the smooth jazz floating down from the speakers above our heads.

I paused, my hands falling away from my thick nest of hair, a sudden thought striking me like lightening.

“What if Shrek is here tonight?” I asked, pondering aloud.

The Joker looked up, drawn away from his pistol. “Huh?”

I rolled my eyes. Not listening. Typical.

“Max Shrek. He did business with Wayne. He could be here tonight,” I recurred testily, as the lift continued to climb to the uppermost floor.

“Go for it. Kill the buffoon.”

I shook my head, smiling wickedly. “No, no. I think I’ll play with my prey a little first. Death will be sweet relief for Maxie when I’m through with him.”

There was a moment of stunned silence, and I could read the unease on the faces behind me, both unmasked and masked alike, reflected in the glossy elevator doors. The Joker was staring. I shot him a sideways glance.

“Something wrong?”

He shrugged, turning away. “Nope, nothing at all. Though I think I may be rubbing off on you.”

“Don’t flatter yourself.”

And then with another light-hearted ding, the elevator came to rest as smoothly as it had departed. The doors slid open, our reflections disappearing, a tasteful party scene unfolding before our eyes. The beautiful affluent, soft jazz, pyramids of glass and golden bubbles.

“We made it,” the Joker affirmed, raising his pistol and stepping through the threshold of the lift and into Bruce Wayne’s penthouse. My head rang with gunfire as he fired lazily.

A collective gasp. And the attention was ours.

The goons shuffled past us, guns hoisted, keeping those anonymous brave idiots at bay. The Joker and I paraded onward.

I eyed the crowd, sneering at them, baring my fangs, hands placed proudly on my hips. Their faces were all fixed in similar expressions: fear, shock, awe. I kissed at the men in the crowd as I passed, my whip trailing lazily at the end of my arm, my eyes as wild as my appearance. The air was heavy with apprehension. The downy music had stopped.

“Good evening, ladies and gentle men,” the Joker called, tossing his greasy head of hair this way and that looking around at all the guests, sure not to exclude anyone. “We are tonight’s entertainment.”

Someone somewhere dropped a metal tray. A cough. A shaky laugh.

He approached a tray of hors d'oeuvres sitting on a small table off to the side, and looked them over before picking up what looked like a shrimp on a stick and walking off.

“I only have one question,” he announced, chewing noisily as he moved back into the clearing. He gazed out at the crowd, a preacher addressing his congregation. “Where is Harvey Dent?”

Silence. Another cough.

The Joker’s eyes swiveled in his skull, flitting back and forward, waiting for someone to speak up.

Did he really think it would be so easy? Did he really think they would simply offer up Dent on a silver platter for us to devour?

To be honest, this hunt for Dent came as no surprise. The mob wanted him dead, so did Shrek. But the Joker…he had plans all his own.

He turned suddenly, moving towards the crowd. I looked on slightly amused as he stole a glass of champagne from a cowering woman’s shaking hands, spilling half of it on the floor, and tossing back what little remained in the bottom of the glass before setting it down on a nearby table.

I couldn’t help but feel as though I were standing around like an idiot. I began to move with languid elegance along the edges of the crowd, gazing at them, eyeing them curiously.

So much fear. It was nearly contagious. Seeing their pallid faces, I almost began to worry. Before I realized it was me they were afraid of. I felt little shame. Only an overwhelming amount of complacency.

I was wondering idly whether I would’ve ever been invited to this shindig when I was Selina Kyle when I saw him.

A disembodied head of dark, graying hair, just another sweaty face in the mass of people, scared blue eyes peering through the crowd trying, like so many others, to catch a glimpse of the party crashers.

But I had found him first.

I turned slightly, so I was facing Shrek directly. I looked over my shoulder. The Joker was busy harassing the guests. The few I was nearest too were staring at me horrified and somewhat awestruck. I winked cheekily at them.

“Watch this,” I whispered, laughing darkly before straightening up and strutting into the crowd. They parted before me like the Red Sea, stepping back from me, afraid of my disease.

Shrek glanced around hearing the whispers of those who surrounded him and those icy blue eyes, eyes that had once chilled the very core of my being, found my face. A clearly audible gasp of fear escaped his lips, horror like I had never witnessed shattering his solemn, cold demeanor. He stared at me, open mouthed, aghast, and I smiled wickedly.

“Hello Maxie,” I cooed, wiggling my fingers at him, “Miss me?”

The glass of champagne in his shaking hands fell with a spectacular crash to the marble floor and Shrek turned on the spot, pushing and shoving people out of the way in a frantic attempt to escape me.

I rolled my eyes, shaking my head. Silly, so silly.

I wound back and cracked my whip violently, binding his legs with thick cord. I tugged and Shrek fell like the giant from Jack and the Bean Stalk, hitting the glossy marble with a loud thud. Smirking, I pulled him back like a fisherman reeling in his catch.

He twisted about like a worm on a hook until he was looking up at me in horror from his back. I crouched, straddling him and pinning his arms to the floor with my knees.

“Now,” I purred, leaning down towards my prey, “That was awfully foolish don’t you think? It’s not like I’d let you run away without having a little chat with your old employee.”

He squirmed beneath me, whimpering. I smiled.

“Well, what’s the matter, Maxie?” I held his face in my hand, forcing open his mouth. I pinched his tongue with my fingernails and he screamed in pain. “Cat got your tongue?”

I cackled manically, dragging my nails across the bumpy, pink surface of his tongue. He wailed and shrieked until, with one final pinch, I let go. I sat up, sighing as a smile crept over my face.

“So Mr. Max, how’ve you been lately? Tossed any other women out of thirteenth story windows?”

“F-Fine. I’ve been f-fine. And no I h-haven’t,” he stuttered, finally managing to find his voice as he blinked the tears of pain from his clouded blue eyes.

“Yeah, I thought so. Seeing as your last go at murder turned out to be a fiasco,” I murmured, examining my nails and admiring how the bloody polish shined bluntly in the rosy light.

“I never asked,” he began, writhing under me uncomfortably, “H-How did you survive?”

I peered down at him, an eyebrow raised in interest. He was speaking in full sentences. The fear was fading.

Couldn’t have that.

I rammed my knees harder into his arms, pinning him even further. He cried out in pain. I smiled.

“Wish I could tell you, Maxie. But I can’t say I really know,” I mused, smacking his sweaty face idly. “I suppose I should thank you, actually. If you never had killed me, who knows where I would be now? Probably working for you! Ha, imagine that!”

Shrek’s lipped curled, despite the look of distress on his face. “Yeah, and you wouldn’t have met that crazy son of a bitch. I hope he kills you, I do! I hope he finishes what I started!”

I frowned, leaning down and hurriedly untying the bow tie from around his neck and then promptly stuffing it into his mouth to shut him up. He continued to gripe and yell through his gag and I slapped him again, harder this time. I opened my mouth to retaliate when suddenly, from somewhere nearby, came a collective gasp from several awe-struck guests.

I turned slightly, glancing over my shoulder. My gaze settled on the scene that had roused so much astonishment from the small cluster of people close by: someone had actually stepped forward from the crowd to confront the Joker.

An elderly man, bespeckled and dressed in the traditional tuxedo, like most of his comrades. I watched them from a distance, transfixed like the rest of the crowd.

“We’re not intimidated by thugs,” he cried stoutly, puffing out his chest and addressing the Joker as he passed. His face, though set in what should have been an intimidating scowl, was evidently wracked with uncertainty. And fear.

The Joker, who had been eating off the man’s plate, made a face. He set his gun aside on a nearby table and began to rummage around in his jacket pockets, all the while nibbling on what looked like a baby carrot.

“You know,” he murmured and my eyes caught a flash of silver as his hand slipped from his jacket, “You remind me of my father.”

This comment caught the man off-guard long enough for the Joker to strike. In the blink of an eye, he had the man’s aged face in his purple-gloved hands, a knife wedged in between his lips. By now the man’s eyes were wide with fear and the Joker’s dark gaze was blazing with malevolence.

“I hated my father,” the Joker growled, wrenching the man towards him roughly, shoving the knife farther into his mouth.

And then from an unseen source came yet another voice of protest.

“Okay, stop.”

A woman’s voice. Strong, clear. The voice of someone in charge. Or at least someone who thought they were in charge. It was somewhat familiar.

I whipped back around to face Shrek, who had been watching the scene from his awkward position on the floor. He eyed me warily, afraid I might start hitting him again.

“I think that’s my cue,” I laughed, patting his chest playfully. I made to get up but stopped abruptly as Shrek attempted to wiggle out from under me.

“Oh and one more thing,” I hissed, pinning him to the floor again, one hand around his neck. He froze, staring up at me, waiting anxiously for my next move.

“Don’t get too comfortable,” I purred, “I’ll be back real soon.” My hand left his neck, but before he could breathe a sigh of relief, my hands were on his face, nails poised and ready.

“A Merry Christmas to you Maxie,” I growled, dragging my fingernails down his cheeks as he wailed in pain through the gag in his mouth. It seemed the nail polish was a success. “And a Happy Go-to-Hell.”

I clubbed him hard in the face and he fell silent, his screams echoing around us, reverberating off the glossy marble floor. I stood, unwinding my whip from around his legs, and after curtsying to the guests who had been watching me with unease, I made my way through the crowd and back into the clearing.

The Joker was standing a few yards away, his purple back to me. I moved closer and in the corner of my eye, I spotted the foolishly brave elderly man being shoved back into the crowd by one of the Joker’s goons.

As I neared my partner, I saw that he was talking to someone. The woman who had spoken out. He had her face in his hands, his knife flashing in his fingers. And then I realized who she was.

Rachel Dawes.

I stopped abruptly, some feet from the pair, staring at her from over the Joker’s shoulder. Neither heard me approach. But I could hear him clearly. He was telling her some warped version of the story behind his scars.

I watched, riveted, my gaze fixed on Rachel.

How long ago had it been? Just yesterday it seemed. We were laughing, talking. She smiled at me. She listened…

And I had felt an inkling of tenderness for her, a stranger, someone I knew nearly nothing about.

But that was enough. Enough for me anyway.

“Wait,” I murmured, stepping towards them, clutching my whip with a sweaty hand. Rachel heard me, and her eyes flickered from the Joker’s face to find my own. And for an instant, an instant that seemed like a millennium, there was recognition in her eyes, however vague.

“Now I see the funny side,” I heard the Joker mutter, a black hilarity dancing on his voice. Rachel looked to him once more, trying hard to keep her pretty face void of emotion. I could almost see the horrible grimace of a smile reflected in her eyes as the Joker finished his fiction.

“Now I’m always smiling,” he laughed, holding out his hands, drawing the knife away from her face. I stepped forward, placing a firm hand on his shoulder. He turned, a moment’s rage on his painted face. And then upon realizing it was me, he smiled.

“Oh, hello Bijou,” he laughed, smoothing his lapels, “I was wondering where you wandered off too. Did you have a listen?” He gestured to Rachel with the point of his knife.

“Don’t hurt her,” I spoke with conviction, though my breathing came in sharp bursts, tearing at my lungs.

His smile faltered for a moment, his eyes flashing darkly. But then just as quickly, his mirth returned. He made a sympathetic sound.

“Oh, come on, Bijou. Why would I go and do a thing like that? We were just having a little chat,” he chuckled, stepping toward Rachel, his dark eyes flickering between her and me.

Rachel was looking confusedly from the Joker to me and then back again. I was sure she knew who I was. I avoided making eye contact again. The Joker noticed.

He peered at me, narrowing his eyes in suspicion. He looked back at Rachel.

“Well, well,” he murmured, straightening, “Looks like you too have a bit of a history. Care to illuminate, Bijou?”

I opened my mouth to snap at him but before I could retaliate, the heavy silence between the three of us was broken.

Rachel saw her chance and took it. She stepped forward, wound back, and punched the Joker in the stomach. It was a pitiful blow but the Joker seemed to humor her as he stumbled back a few feet, giggling the pain away, and I stepped aside to avoid being trampled on.

The Joker straightened up, still laughing, shaking his knife at Rachel. “A little fight in you,” he chuckled darkly, coming toward her again. His tongue flicked over his lip habitually, his blade poised, ready. “I like that.”

“Then you’re gonna love me.”

I hardly had time to react as a black mass of cape swept past me, striking the Joker and knocking him away from Rachel. As though on cue, the Joker’s goons swarmed, each taking their shot at bringing down the bat.

I stood rapt for a moment, unsure of what to do. It was as if I were watching a movie and someone had switched on the slow motion. I wasn’t sure what to do with myself and I knew I must’ve looked like an oversized kewpie doll, standing there, eyes wide and glazed.

Then time was pulled taut before my eyes and everything quickly fell into place.

I clenched my whip, blinking away the confusion, the fog that had settled in my mind beginning to slip away.

The Batman was all black muscle, clouting goons left and right. Guns were knocked aside, punches flew, bones cracked. There was a flash of purple and my eyes followed the Joker as he moved along the edges of the scuffle, grabbing other henchmen and throwing them into the fight.

And then, an immaculate opportunity presented itself to me in the form of ignorance. My momentary bemusement had made me somehow invisible. Even to the bat. And so as he turned his back to me, striking out a goon in the process, I struck with wild impulsion.

I cracked my whip fiercely, snapping it around the thick Kevlar neck of his cowl and catching the other end of jagged wires as it swung around to meet me. He let out a gargled cry of surprise and pain as I wrenched him back, tugging hard at the cord around his neck. I brought my knee up into his back, making direct contact with a break in the rubber armor. He fell to one knee, twisting this way and that, trying to shake me off.

I held strong, snarling as I pulled tighter. The Joker, cackling at the bat’s pitiful grumbling, sprang forward with a fierceness I had only feared I would ever see. His kicks were blocked, but I watched, amused and amazed, as he produced a blade at the end of his shoe with a simple stomp. He lunged forward once more and I wrenched Batman up by his neck, just in time for the knife to pierce his middle.

There was growl of pain from the bat and then all of a sudden, my feet left the floor. A moment of disorientation, the white flash of lights. And then I was gasping for breath, blinking away the birds in my eyes, the marble floor beneath me, my whip hanging limply from one hand, the intense pain in the back of my skull and ass slowly deadening into a blunt ache.

The bastard had flipped me. Right onto my ass.

I snarled, rolling over onto my side, my fingers clutching at my whip. I looked about dazedly, air slowly refilling my lungs, and barely had time to reassess my surroundings when-

The blast of a gun shot. Shattering glass and the biting chill of the harsh night air.

My eyes flickered from the gun in the Joker’s hand to Rachel in his grasp, half hanging from the gaping hole in the window. Both my heart and my mind were howling at me to move, to do something, anything. But some stronger force kept me glued to the floor, and there I stayed.

“Let her go,” growled the Batman, the slightest hint of fear in his black eyes.

The Joker made a comical face, his eyes rolling back in his painted skull. He shook his head decisively. “Very poor choice of words.”

A soft moan escaped my lips and I felt my lungs deflate in my chest, what little oxygen I had slowly seeping from my being.

Time hindered once more and in a moment of delirium, I saw myself slip from the Joker’s grasp.

Little Selina. Rabbit eyes wide with fear, mouth ripped wide in a silent shriek. By God, I could almost feel the chill of the wind on my flesh, running across my scalp like the steely fingers of some demon….

“You...y-you,” I murmured jaggedly, my heavy lips slurring the words, “You’ve killed her. Y-You’ve killed me. Curiosityyyy…” I trilled on and on, spinning nonsense like golden thread.

And then I was falling. Blood thundered in my head, veins pumping, racing, stopping. I felt my mind frazzle, split, tear away. My stomach churned and red flowers, spots of silver yellow and black danced in my eyes. And everything was sideways.

I felt the cold of polished stone against my cheek, could hear the Joker’s footsteps in the ground like a woodsman hunting the beast. Or the beast hearing the approach of the hunter, no longer strong enough to fight its fate.

And then, silence once more. And ininite, cordial black.