Chapter 013 - How to fail at being a Wallflower
I wake up the next morning to a cold bed. The sheets are on my bare skin - why? I never sleep out of my pajamas, this city is always way too cold for that - and as I try to move, I realize what a horrible idea that is. Because it hurts - everything hurts, like I worked out at the gym and did too many squats only it's muscles I've never used before hurts - and fuck. That's not what happened. That's not what happened at all, is it?
The memories flood back and - and I slept with Red Hood last night. Why? What was I thinking? What possessed me to do that - what possessed him? Am I going insane? I try not to think about how amazing it was and how amazing he felt. And - and shit. I'm screwed. I am so screwed (literally and figuratively) because after a night like that - I think he ruined me for anybody else. I don't think anyone can measure up to - well, him.
I can tell he's gone, because I'm strangely cold, and I peek an eye open to see the clock by my bedside - it's ten in the morning. It's not too terribly late considering what time I got home and how I spent the evening - don't think about it, you'll just want to go for another round.
Except it's Tuesday and ten o'clock means work. Work that I'm late for. Work for the Black Mask who Red's trying to bring down.
And it's not like I can even tell the truth, "Sorry I'm late. I spent last night sleeping with your enemy." That would not go over well.
I struggle to convince myself to move and the only thing that really gets me going is my grumbling stomach - not the thought of work (that actually almost convinces me to stay in bed) and not the thought that Red Hood might still be here - I'm not sure I can handle seeing him after that fantastic night - No, my stomach (demanding food) is what finally convinces me to crawl out of bed, grab an oversized shirt and head to the kitchen - following the smell of coffee.
He made coffee - bless you, Red - and just beside the machine is another one of his notes.
Don't go to work next week. Say you're sick.
Which, easy enough. But, Falcone won't like it. And neither will Ms. Li.
But first, I need food. I'm too tired to deal with this. I'm almost relieved to see him not in my apartment at this point. Another part of me is annoyed. How dare he just disappear like that, without even a goodbye?
As I'm putting toast into the toaster, I turn on the news - and immediately regret it.
"Back to our developing story; early this morning, Gotham and Metropolis both experienced a low level earthquake, leaving scientists baffled. Seismologist Dr. Jolene Relazzo, you have more information, tell us what scientists know as of now."
The screen switches to a Guest speaker and there's an awkward silence as technology struggles to catch up.
"Yes, thank you Megan. Right now, there isn't very much damage to any main structures in the city, but we don't know if this was the foreshock or the mainshock just yet. If it was the main shock, we should still expect aftershocks, which we haven't seen yet, and that's what makes this so unusual as it was a relatively weak seismic event. If it was a foreshock, we haven't seen the last of this, and should be prepared for the worst. What makes this really unusual is Gotham isn't known for earthquakes."
"When can we assume we're safe?"
"We can't. We can only keep an eye out until the aftershocks begin."
The screen returns to the anchor.
"Thank you Dr. Relazzo, keep us posted. You've heard it here on Action News. We'll be back after the break to give you the morning report and the weather forecast."
I shut the tv off.
Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. I - I caused an earthquake? I thought that was - fuck. No wonder I'm hungry.
And why is my phone ringing?
"Ms. Simon you're late."
"Oh, Ms. Li." Fuck. "I'm not going to be able to come in today. I'm not well. I just got up and - I'm having stomach troubles."
"I was going to tell you not to come in. The small earthquake from this morning made the office unstable, and until we can get it habitable again, I thought it would be best to have you just stay home."
Fuck. I'm causing all sorts of problems today.
"I'll send you a message to let you know when to come back."
Only I don't think I am going to come back. But, I'm not about to tell her that.
She hangs up, and I'm left in my apartment - left completely unscathed by my vibrations - and wondering what to do. The news doesn't seem to think the earthquakes are done, and I briefly wonder if I should give them the aftershocks they're waiting for.
But first, food. I need food. I finish making a sandwich - toast, cheese, and turkey slices - and drink my coffee, trying to not think too much of Red's hands on me, and -
I shouldn't think about it, otherwise I'll never get anything done.
I start with sending small vibrations through the floor - and I can see the whole city shaking just a bit.
I feel only a little bad about it.
And then it occurs to me that I still have the piece of robot under my bed. A robot I haven't tried to link up to my laptop. I went through all that trouble to get AMAZO's leg, and - I guess I have my project for the day.
I've never been more frustrated by a piece of technology in my life. It has very few data files - all encrypted - and is otherwise practically useless scrap.
It might have been better to just leave it to the Bat.
I briefly consider calling them up - just to see their faces when they see it - but decide against it.
If they were willing to wipe my computer because of information I had on it from Wayne Enterprises that I already knew, I'd hate to see what they'd do with the new data I'm getting from this piece of junk.
And I really don't feel like rewriting my senior research paper - which is due tomorrow. Even if it's synced up to the cloud, I don't trust them. Red Hood - sure. I'll trust him with this, even if he doesn't trust me with much. He helped me with the paper, but Dick and Tim?
No. Nope. Never.
They're not getting within ten feet of my computer.
And I don't need them snooping around my apartment. Chances are they'll find some evidence to Red's presence or whatever and then accuse me of crimes against humanity.
It's a few days later and I'm getting annoyed. I'm getting annoyed because Red Hood hasn't contacted me. At all. He slept with me and left, and I haven't heard a word from him since. And I don't want to sound clingy - because that's not it at all, but -
What, does he think I do that every day or something, that I'll just sleep with anyone that crawls into my bed? Or is he scared because of the earthquake?
Because if that's the case, he has more reason to be scared by avoiding me.
And I'm just so sick of this silent treatment. I swear if I see him and he acts like nothing's happened I might break his face - or helmet, whatever.
And then I see the nightly news the night before graduation, and I panic a little. Because that's the Joker there and since when did he get out of Arkham? He was in Arkham, I swear he was - he's been in Arkham for years now and how the fuck did he get out?!
"Reporting Live from Gotham Bay Bridge! There's a multiple car pile up as police are on the scene and the Joker holds hostages in a truck. All lanes are blocked, both southbound and northbound. Beware, the following footage may be graphic."
Joker's on top of a truck laughing maniacally. He bows, and then he's crouching over this opening in the truck and singing about teapots - and they really have great microphones to be able to catch that - while he drops something into the truck. It looks like he's emptying a jug of some liquid. Knowing what I know of the Joker, it's probably extremely flammable.
Fuck - he's a maniac. I've never actually seen him live before - the DC live action movies do not do him justice - they don't capture the terror of his insanity. And he's got something in his hand.
Why are they turning the camera away from him? Are they insane too?! Only, the camera is pointed up where some floodlights are pointed and then there he is - Red Hood. And what the fuck is he doing? He's standing on the bridge like a maniac or some over dramatic prima donna. It's like he's going out of his way to be over the top. Why is he even there?
And then Joker and Red are talking back and forth and I'm struggling to keep up. Because what the fuck? I thought - he never made it seem like Joker was his end goal.
"One second. I'm setting fire to your gang."
"Go ahead. You think I care if that scum dies?"
"Don't know. I just wanted your attention."
"You've always had my attention. But what I really wanted was an audience with you."
Red what are you doing? What the fuck are you doing? Joker's a maniac, and I'm stuck here at home while you try to get yourself killed? Why on Earth would you do that?
"I'm sorry, that seems to imply that you organized this little clambake."
"I did. Sure I had lots of plans, but the endgame was getting Black Mask so desperate that he'd cut a deal. He was the only one with the connections to get into Arkham and get you out."
What the fuck? He really didn't trust me at all, did he? This was his plan?
"So I've been bamboozled. Oh my."
"I wouldn't undersell it. It took a lot of work to bring about our reunion."
"Reunion? Have we met before?"
"Yes we have."
His words there are angry. And - and I've never heard him like this before. And when did he meet the Joker? Not many people meet the Joker and get away with it - what are talking about Red?
"Well, here's to warm memories."
Joker drops something into the truck and the whole thing goes up in flames and I almost think he's done it - killed more people - and where was Batman? But then there's a jet - that has to belong to the bat - and it's putting out the fire.
A long hook seems to grab hold of Joker and he's being taken away by the jet, when Red grabs a hold. It's all happening so fast, I can barely keep up - it doesn't help that the camera man can't either. And then both Red and Joker fall into the Bay, and I'm sitting on the edge of my seat, waiting to see them come up for air.
But they don't.
"You've seen it live, here on Action News. This is a developing story, and we'll keep you updated."
What? No! No, no, no!
Red - what the fuck are you doing? You - how stupid could he be? And I slept with that moron?! I - I don't have words for how stressed I am that night as I keep the news going all night.
I don't get that much sleep, and the explosion that I hear not too far away makes me almost leave my house and go searching for him.
The only thing that stops me is the fact that Batman is probably near there and as much as Red Hood is important to me, I'm not about to let Batman know Red Hood and I - that we - I don't even know what we are, but I sure as hell don't want Batman trying to figure it out.
By the time it's eight o'clock in the morning, I've had less than an hour of sleep and I'm getting my cap and gown on. I also get a text from Ms. Li - Black Mask's in prison, and I need to find another job because it's not likely he'll be out any time soon.
I go through graduation in a haze. It was supposed to be in the large arena downtown, but after the earthquake - oops, my bad - it's been deemed structurally unsound and needs renovations and to be cleared by the Building Code Authority.
Despite that, graduation is not postponed. It's held outside.
I feel a bit guilty (but it's hard to keep berating myself when it had felt so amazing - Red Hood felt amazing - and it's even harder when a large part of me wants to do it again).
I only feel annoyed with myself when it begins raining at the end and everyone runs for cover.
But I have my degree. Kind of. It's going to be mailed to me.
A small part of me notes that Dick Grayson is not among the names of the graduates - he's not even listed in the program.
I mean, it's not like he needs the degree. Whereas I - I need the degree for a job that doesn't involve the mob.
But it still gives an unreasonable amount of pride.
Which brings me to the message on my phone. It's from Sofia.
Where are you? Black Mask's organization has gone belly up.
I mean, wasn't that the plan?
I've been fired.
I send the message and then leave the apartment to visit Ms. Janet. I need to tell her the news.
"Annie?" She seems surprised to see me.
"Oh, dear, come in, you look so tired, have you been sleeping well?"
"I got my degree," I say instead and smile, waving the diploma cover.
She smiles and sets up her tea set, with earl grey and cookies - chocolate chip cookies. Have I mentioned how amazing Ms. Janet is?
I smile and eat them, revelling in the taste and the company. She tells me about her bingo dates with the other widows at the Center for the Less Fortunate. She tells me about this little cat that keeps stopping by her fire escape and how she's feeding it - she suspects it's pregnant, and when am I going to give her great grandkids?
I roll my eyes, and try not to think of Red Hood.
"I don't have time for a relationship." Not if I'm going to take down Luthor. And Red Hood, the only person that even came close to . . . well I don't even know where he is.
"Well, of course you didn't. You were in school. But now? Now, you get out there and get knocked up. You don't even need a guy these days to have kids."
Oh my lord, she really went there, how bad does she want me to have a baby?
I roll my eyes and eat a cookie to keep myself from biting back at her and as she takes a sip of tea, I take a moment to observe her. She looks really sad. As if - as if she wants to say something, but at the same time doesn't want to put whatever it is into actual words.
My curiosity gets the better of me.
"Why do you want me to have a kid so much?"
She looks at me, eyebrows up, and smiles for a second before she looks down. "I like to think of you like the daughter I never had. Or granddaughter, but I never had either of those. My Michael, God rest his soul, didn't want children because of how much travel his company had him do. He didn't think it would make for a good environment.
"I never really regretted it, but . . . now. I'm lonely. And -" she grabs my hand, "I don't want you to end up like me. Children make life brighter and give you a reason to live - they're all over the Center and they want mothers or they have mothers that are drug addicts, and - you'd be a good mother."
No I wouldn't. I'd ruin someone's life just like I ruined mom's.
She pats my hand and we continue to talk about the center.
I leave with a heavier heart than I expected.
My phone buzzes next to me that evening while I'm eating takeout at the dinner table and I don't even turn to look at it because I'm so hungry. More than usual, that is - and isn't that strange?
My phone buzzes again to remind me of the message and I check my phone to see it's from Sofia.
Daddy wants you back on Monday.
I go back because I have nothing better to do at this point. Red hasn't contacted me. He hasn't stopped by and - and this is the longest he's ever gone without stopping by. And I need some busy work so I don't freak out over the possibility that he might just be dead - because he can't be dead. He's not allowed to give me the best night of my life and then die. It's rude!
It's not at all because I'll miss his presence in my kitchen hunched over me as he reaches to add something on my laptop - or his amazing arms or -
No. It's not at all because of that.
By the time June is half way gone, I completely give Red Hood up for dead - he's either dead or avoiding me - which is as good as dead at this point.
Which is why it's a surprise when there's a knock on my door.
I don't check the peephole. I keep the chain lock in place and open the door a little.
Only to find a gun and fuck fuck fuck - why the fuck is Joker here?
I'm surprised by the force of two guys kicking my door open and ripping the chain from the wall. Fuck.
I back up as the psycho comes waltzing into my apartment.
"Do you know the moron who masquerades as Red Hood?" he asks as he points the gun at my face.
He looks so surprised at my answer, and he drops his gun, and looking around my apartment.
"Well, what am I supposed to do now. This was supposed to be the place."
"Why? Are you looking for him?"
"Well, Bats mentioned a girl when he was talking to the boy wonder. And I figured I'd figure out who she was and pay her a visit. It was something about a childhood friend or lover or whatever. I've been tracking everyone in his elementary class down."
What the fuck is he talking about? Red wasn't - he wasn't in my elementary school.
"I already stopped at the other place that has an Annie Simon in property records - I'm going in alphabetical order of the first names, you see."
Fuck. What is he even talking about? And - Ms. Janet? What did he -
"What the fuck did you do to Ms. Janet?"
His eyebrows raise and he points the gun back at me.
"Well, now what makes you think I did anything to - Ms. Janet you said?"
He hurt her - he did something - the psycho.
"What the fuck did you do to Ms. Janet?!"
"Now, don't you think you should watch your language?"
He's taking a tour of my apartment now and - he's getting too close to AMAZO's leg and -
"What do you want?"
Thank God he turns away from my room, I haven't hidden the leg at all, and I know it'll be a big flashing sign, if he sees it, that I know Red.
"Well, I want to know what you know about Red Hood."
"Go fuck yourself."
He smiles - it's terrifying really and points the gun at me. I'm almost not fast enough to stop the bullet - definitely not fast enough to send it flying straight back to his head like I want to. And then he's standing there dumbfounded.
He's trying to use percussive maintenance on the gun, and hitting the grip against his other palm, as if that'll fix it. As if it was a problem with the gun not going off, even though the shot clearly rang out, and not because I crushed the bullet.
"There's nothing wrong with your gun."
He smiles that crazy smile at me.
"What did you do? You're getting more and more interesting."
He leans forward and I raise my hands and point them all three of them.
"Ooh, what are you going to do? Are you going to shoot lasers from your hands or are you going to -"
"Get out of my apartment, and I'll let you live."
"You know, it's impolite to interrupt people.
"It's also impolite to kill people, but I'm feeling rude today."
He laughs at that, and I hold back a shiver - I made a joke that made the Joker laugh. That is not an accomplishment to be proud of. It should make me afraid of who I am and who I'm becoming.
"We should have come here first." He's telling it to his henchmen, but I know it's for my benefit. "That way we could have had fun with her instead of the old lady. This girl would have been able to handle it."
"And she has such a colorful vocabulary."
His voice is grating on my last nerve.
"And it would be poetic! I killed him, he comes back, he tries to kill me, and I kill his girlfriend. Instead, I just got the grandma of the girlfriend."
No. Ms. Janet's okay. I just saw her. And who the fuck is he even talking about? Whose girlfriend am I supposed to be? Batman doesn't know about me and Red.
"You have three seconds."
"You're no fun." He wanders to the cabinet again. And I've had enough of this shit. I quickly send vibrations out and all three stumble, falling to the floor. I hope I broke their legs. If not, that's easily fixed. The distraction allows me to grab the one gun in Jokers hands.
He stops talking the moment the gun turns to dust.
"I warned you."
I punch him in the face and try not to cringe at the feeling of cartilage breaking under my fist.
He's definitely out, though, so I grab AMAZO's leg and, stick it in one of my backpacks - I have to vibrate the metal into compliance - and rush out of the apartment.
I'm having a hard time trying to calm down and for a good thirty minutes I sit on a curb with my head between my knees.
I can't go to Ms. Janet. I can't go home. Emma and Sarah are off on another Holiday trip to Daytona Beach in Florida for the summer holidays. I don't know where Red Hood is.
And Black Mask basically fired me.
I really have only one place left to go - Falcone's office.
It's quiet and practically abandoned at this time of the night in the office. Mostly because people want to be home at eight in the evening.
I slow my breathing, trying not to think about how Ms. Janet's probably dead and I'm alone again, as I head up the stairs and - there's still people here.
"You think we can trust Annie anymore?" That's - that's Mario.
I don't know him well, Sofia's always been the Falcone I spent more time with.
"Annie's a smart, loyal girl. Not like her mother. I'm sure we can trust her. And if not, well - just think of how we took care of Mary."
What? What is he talking about.
"I still feel a little bad about that, dad."
Bad about what? What are they talking about? What do they mean took care of -
"Mary Simon knew what she was doing when she got mixed up with Lex Luthor."
"Yeah, but I mean, did we have to - I mean - it wasn't strictly necessary, and she was just trying to take care of her kid."
"It was a business deal."
He's frustrated, I can tell over the sound of papers shuffling. My mom was a business deal? Why was my mom a business deal?!
"I still don't think - after all that time she spent with Black Mask's crew . . . you think she'll be okay with working here again? I mean, Black Mask had a much larger empire."
"Oh, please. She was a part of the last days there with Black Mask. She's been loyal for the four years she's worked for me, and she did such a good job with this latest assignment."
"That's what I'm saying dad. She did a great job infiltrating the Black Mask. That can't be a coincidence. She approached you. How do you know she's not a pawn of Luthor? I know it's different businesses, but -
I'm honestly not trying to eavesdrop. That's not the reason I'm here. I'm just trying to hide from the Joker.
And now - what? Falcone offed my mom? I thought - I thought that was Luthor.
So I enter the office, close the door, and stare at them. They've become very quiet and don't seem like they want to break the silence.
So I do.
"What do you mean? When you talked about my mom just now, what do you mean?"
They don't say anything and the longer they're quiet the more angry I get.
"What did you fucking mean when you said you mentioned my mom just now?"
I don't think I've cursed that strongly in front of Falcone before.
"Annie," Falcone says slowly as if trying not to rouse a feral animal. And I get even angrier.
And then Mario brings up his gun, and I laugh.
"Oh, this - this is perfect. You have no idea - do you?"
They look confused now.
"You had my mom killed, didn't you? For Luthor?"
Mario doesn't put his gun down, even as Falcone nods. He must feel safe with that gun pointed at me.
And so I nod. But immediately after, the whole building starts to shake. There's a prickling under my skin as the floor starts to break apart and - Bang - Mario shoots at me only for the bullet to find its way into his skull - spraying blood over his father who barely registers it when a metal beam falls onto his head.
And the room keeps shaking.
I've worked for this maniac for four years. And he killed my mom - or had her killed and -
I sit on the floor while the rest of the building slowly stops shaking and try to understand. Because I thought - my whole life has just been one big lie, hasn't it?
No matter what I seem to do, they just want to control me and -
Something happens in that moment - I feel the vibrations of five different hearts - and I've never felt hearts before.
And there was only me, right? There should only be one heartbeat.
I turn to the voice - Sofia? What's she - that makes two.
"Annie, what happened?" She rushes into the room, checking her brother - and throwing up when she sees his face. Or lack of one. Whatever.
And then she turns to her father who - he's still alive? That makes three. As Sofia tries to lift the beam - good luck with that - the minutes pass. And soon, I can hear sirens and - I have to get out of here, don't I?
"Annie, help me!"
Sofia's distraught, and I feel a little bad because she loves her dad - like I love mom and -
"She's the one that did this." It's quiet, but there. Falcone's still alive? And awake?
"What? Dad? What are you saying?"
He coughs, and I vaguely register that I should do something. Like finish killing him.
"She's the one that -" He coughs a couple more times. "- that brought the building down on us."
"What? Annie? What is dad saying?"
"I brought the building down."
She looks confused.
"I brought the building down." I say it stronger, looking her in the eyes when I say it.
And now she looks angry, and she's grabbing Mario's gun, while I just sit here and - why does it even matter anymore? I don't care. Just - I just want this to be over. I'm tired of being controlled - even if I didn't realize it. Because fuck you, Falcone! I concentrate on his heartbeat and focus on absorbing it - I've never done this before? What am I doing? Does this make me a horrible person?
And I feel his heartbeat flicker out and stop as I stare at the bullet in Sofia's gun and see her finger begin to twitch in her hand.
Sofia's got a bullet in her head now and - I didn't do that.
I turn to see Red. Red - who I haven't seen in over a month. Red who - last I saw him - was bantering back and forth with Joker on the nightly news. Red - who might -
That makes four.
He lowers his own gun and I'm staring at him and -
I don't say anything, and he kneels beside me, grabbing my shoulders.
"Annie, what happened."
I'm crying and I never fucking cry, what is wrong with me?
"He killed my mom for Luthor. And Ms. Janet's - she's - Joker, he -"
The building shakes a bit again.
And he's still as he seems to process my words before he moves, sticking a bunch of wires and gadgets throughout the room and -
"Let's go, Annie."
But I just -
His hand is held out, and this ticking noise is grating and seeming to count down my time and - and he's still waiting for me to take his hand. He's putting himself in danger to make sure I'm okay. So I take his hand and follow. We make it a block away before the place blows up.
"Where are we going?"
I ask to fill the silence, not really expecting him to answer.
And I'm so tired, and I used way too much energy tonight. And I need food.
I faint before we make it three more steps.
I don't find out who heartbeat number five is.
The dialogue between Red Hood and Joker is credited to the animated movie Batman: Under the Red Hood.
Thus ends The Life and Time of a Gotham "Wallflower". Stay tuned for The Life and Times of a Would-Be Gotham Anti-Hero which will be coming out soon.
NOTE: Thank you so much for all the reviews! I reread them multiple times and it keeps me going!