Under the Red Sky

Under the Red Sky (Joker) Part 38.a.

“Oh dear…What the hell is he doing in there?”

The entirety of the room threw a glance at the doorway leading to the kitchen, the source of the commotion, before returning to the television, though our efforts to hear even an ounce of the news were futile; no one could hear a thing over the clanging of pots and pans, the hiss of water and heat.

“Cooking something,” grunted Sam, sinking into the collar of his jacket and struggling to keep his eyes open.

“That’s a laugh,” I murmured, crossing one leg over the other and adjusting my position on the couch, “Do I even want to know what?”

Maude perked up beside me, tearing her eyes from the television. She sniffed the air disgustedly. “Something’s burning.”

“Boss, don’t burn the place down!” cried one of the goons at the table in the corner and his buddies roared with laughter. I shook my head and will a roll of my eyes, stood and stretched, savoring the feel of my cracking spine. I moved to the door, scratching my scalp.

“What’s with all the ruckus, Jack?” I drawled, setting my hands on my hips, “You woke me up with all that banging.”

He appeared in the doorway suddenly and I gave a start, glancing at the plate of food in his hands. He smiled, a mad chuckle rising in his throat. “Yeah and it put you to sleep last night too!”

The room erupted in jeers and mock groans of displeasure at his joke. Maude clapped her hands as he strode further into the room, plopping down beside her on the couch, the silverware clinking against his plate.

“Help yourselves boys,” he called over his shoulder and the goons got to their feet and shuffled from the room, voicing the immensity of their hunger as they brushed past me. Sam didn’t move; simply shrunk further into his chair and sipped his coffee groggily.

I was still for a moment, standing beside the doorway. Shaking my head, I moved back to the couch. “Eggs?” I mused, eyeing his plate and flouncing down beside him.

He nodded heartily and threw me a look, his mouth full of food. “Always the tone of surprise.”

I shrugged. “Didn’t know you were capable of creating.”

He smiled, egg in his teeth. “I made you, didn’t I?”

“You helped,” I laughed with a roll of my eyes.

“Well,” said Maude her face splitting into a wonderfully phony grin as she stood from the couch, “I’m going to get some breakfast before this any more awkward.”

The Joker hissed with laughter and I felt my face fill with blood as she bounded away, disappearing from the room with a creak of hardwood panels. I idly listened to the chatter in the kitchen, the playful, amiable way the goons talked with her as my gaze flitted from the listless news to the man beside me.

Eating eggs. How mundane. Didn’t know he could cook…My mind wandered lazily to the night previous. He had been rough. More so than usual. Held me down with too much force, too tightly. Nothing that I couldn’t handle but I could feel the bruises blooming on my thighs, on the insides of my arms. He was…muddled. It was panic maybe, loss of control. Over me or the situation. I couldn’t tell and I’d get no further. Not if he refused to tell me anything.

“Anyone home?”

There was the clink of silver on porcelain and a wheeze from the couch as Maude crashed down between the Joker and I, chirping and smiling brightly. I was wrenched from my thoughts and managed a dizzy smile. “Not today.”

“GEEZ,” the Joker groaned, scowling at us, “I’m sitting with a couple of chatterboxes. Can’t hear the damn news. Turn it up won’t you, Sam?”

Sam fumbled for the remote control, which had fallen into the dark depths of the arm chair, before aiming it for the television and raising the volume. I watched the little green bar inch across the screen until Mike Engel and his orange cohorts were yelling at me; I reluctantly reigned in my listless mind and paid attention.

A press conference, with Harvey Dent as our darling host. I felt a little pang in my chest as I watched him climb to his little podium. I hated that I felt something like warmth for the man and that Dawes woman; good people that would no doubt rather cut my nails and throw me into a rubber room than admit we had one time discussed politics over wine and violin.

Maude sighed wistfully, letting her head loll to one side. “Isn’t he just a dream?” She wore a silly smile when she turned to look at me. “Like a prince from a fairy tale.”

I raised an eyebrow, a smirk curling over my face. “Oh yeah, a regular stud.”

The Joker threw me a glare, slamming his fork down onto his plate and chipping it horribly. He told me to shut up and I obliged, smirking still at his flagrant jealousy. All of us turned once more to the television, leering, sighing, scowling.

Dent began. “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming. I’ve called this press conference for two reasons. First, to assure the citizens of Gotham that everything that can be done over the Joker and Catwoman killings is being done. And second, because the Batman has offered to turn himself in-″

“So where is he?” called one of the reporters to a roar of reaction from the crowd.

“But first,” continued Dent, holding up a hand to quiet the crowd, “Let’s consider the situation: should we give into these terrorists’ demands? Do we really think-″

Another interruption. “Rather protect an outlaw vigilante than the lives of citizens?”

Dent was visibly nettled by the cries of concurrence from the crowd and he motioned for quiet. They settled, if reluctantly.

“The Batman is an outlaw…” he began again. The Joker shifted beside me, the plate in his lap chattering quietly, and I could’ve sworn I heard a murmured “alleluia” roll off his scarred lips.

“But that’s not why we’re demanding he turn himself in. We’re doing it because we’re scared. We’ve been happy to let the Batman clean up our streets until now-″

A heckled cry. “Things are worse than ever!”

I rolled my eyes. A sigh from the couch as Maude tucked her feet beneath her. A strangled belch from one of the goons. Dent fixed his face with a look of determination and kept on.

“Yes. They are,” his passion struck up once more, “But the night is darkest just before the dawn…”He looked at the crowd, leaning over the podium. “And I promise you. The dawn is coming.”

“Booooooring,” the Joker groaned, the couch jostling as he got to his feet. He gripped his dirty plate in his dirty hands and stomped back into the kitchen, mumbling about stupid words and silly, pretty, useless promises.

Harvey continued and the sounds of meal-time recommenced. There was a quiet sigh from Sam, sinking further into his chair. Maude paused a moment, watching the doorway, before taking advantage of the Joker’s absence and stretching her dainty limbs along the length of the couch. She set her head in my lap and her dirty plate on the floor.

I couldn’t help but be somewhat touched at her affection; never had she let me get this close. I savored her affability and set to stroking her mane of black hair with a tentative hand. I noted then that she smelled…strange. Like paint. And turpentine. But as I opened my mouth to question her about it, the press conference caught my attention once more.

Dent’s crowd was getting unruly. He had lost them to their whining.

“So be it,” he murmured, looking slightly defeated. He turned to two nearby officers, nodding to them. “Take the Batman into custody.”

At this, a hush settled over the crowd. Confused murmurs replaced their bitching. And then, Dent did the ridiculous. Offering his own wrists toward the bewildered officers, he squared his shoulders and addressed the crowd.

“I am the Batman.”

All at once the mulling quiet of the room split down the middle. Forks were dropping, porcelain shrieking, balls of food sucked into throats, mad choking. Sam snuffled awake and Maude sat up too quickly, slamming her feet down onto the floor where they collided with her plate and sent it wailing. But above it all I could hear blood clapping in my ears and raucous, barmy laughter filling every dusty inch of the room.

There was equal chaos on the screen, but that was little consequence to me now. I left Maude to wallow in her shock, striding across the hall and into the kitchen just in time to see the Joker turn the corner for his office. I followed after, hot on his heels.

“I’m assuming you heard that,” I murmured when we had shut ourselves once more into his office and adjourned to the bedroom.

“Mmm-hmm,” he managed through a new wave of giggles, shrugging into his vest and fixing his tie at his neck before slipping into his jacket. He grabbed up his makeup bag and staggered into the bathroom; I lingered in the doorway. “I’m out,” he spat, smearing white across his forehead, eyes glinting in the mirror

I made a face. He was going to leave again. Fuck and run. Like always.

He noticed my displeasure and giggled, turning to me as he unscrewed the cap on his lipstick. “Don’t worry, kitten. I’ll only be gone for an hour or two. Gotta get all my cards in order.”

“I don’t care,” I spat. He giggled in response and after a moment, I resigned to the end of the bed, scratching my head. “It’s not Dent. It can’t be.”

The Joker smacked his lips. “I know.”

I raised an eyebrow, an expression unseen by my partner. “How?”

He shuffled from the bathroom, throwing his ratty bag into the corner before sauntering over to me. “Oh, Bijou...I do my homework before I pick fights. Always.” I felt his hands curl around my neck, wanting, dangerous. There was a pocket of manic silence; I could feel his pulse against my skin and was suddenly struck with the notion, as strange as it was…to make him hurt me.

“Go ahead,” I purred, baiting him, “I know you want to…try again.”

Something like mad rage flickered across his face; my face broke into a smile. Bingo.

He shook his head like a dog and I felt my grin falter. “Useless. It wouldn’t do any good…not now…it’s too late.”

He kissed me then and I could taste the red of lips; I did not kiss back. I suddenly found myself filled with inexplicable fury, hate. For him. I could feel my insides constrict, tight, leather bound heart and seething blood. My lungs flapped furiously in my chest and I wanted him gone.

He withdrew and smacked me lightly, giggling, shrugging into his coat. He moved for the door and I felt my mindless rage subside slightly; like an enormous weight had been lifted from my chest.

“I, uh…” he paused at the doorway, setting a hand on the jamb and taping it thoughtfully. “I want you to be home when I get back. Don’t uh …run off.”
I shrugged, examining my nails. “Whatever.”

His face broke into a leer and his eyes darkened suddenly with a familiar kind of spite. His red mouth moved to form three little words. And I felt that weighty wrath settle into my lungs once more:

“I love you.”

A malicious chuckle. The clack of shoes. The whisper of a coat. He’d gotten what he wanted: a reaction.

And then he was gone. Just as I pleased. But an ill sensation began to spread itself across the pink, bloody plane of my insides and I felt I would be sick. Or cry. Suffocate. Or all three. At once.

I wanted to scream at him, hurt him. How dare he feel...It wasn’t that I didn’t love him. That was irrefutable. But for him to say it back…it didn’t fit. He was supposed to hurt and tear and burn. Not return my affection or kiss me with more than hunger, than feral, indifferent want.

This thing we had was…animal, chemical. I could feel; worry, disquiet, desire…love. But not him. Not ever.

I slid from the end of the bed and felt the cool of the concrete beneath me; far away I heard the sound of rattling porcelain, a breaking-broken sound. I held myself close, smelling like heat and blood and poison and him, and in frustration, in my senseless rage, I cried.