Chapter 2

Sofia made her way back down to the main floor. The music thumped against the walls around her as she descended the stairs, and then she found Emilio standing like a statue below, eyeballing every person in the crowded building. He reanimated when he saw her.

"Signora," he addressed her, his eyes skimming over her body for any sign of injury.

"Emilio," she smiled, "we're staying longer than expected. Tell the boys."

Confusion flashed across his hardened expression, but he said nothing about it, only bowed his head with reverence. When he looked back up, he shot a glare past her shoulder and went off to do as she asked, disappearing into the crowd. Daniel usually led her security detail, but since Emilio had arrived from Italy to attend her father's funeral, he insisted on taking the lead, especially when he heard about her meeting with the Joker.

Honestly, she wished Emilio had more confidence in her. Sit-downs were her specialty, and if there was one thing that her father taught her better than anything else, it was how to deliver a message with utter swiftness and finality. By the end of the night, the Joker would declare war on the Italian Mafia, and in a matter of months, she'd have Gotham and everyone in it in the palm of her hand.

A hand slid around her waist, pulling her out of her reverie. She turned her head to find the Clown smiling down at her.

He leaned in. "Everythin's on the house for you and your people," he told her.

"That's kind of you, Joker, but my men are working."

"That's too bad. Fellas look like they could use a drink." He gave her side a light squeeze. "And it's Jay to you, darlin'."

Sofia looked at him for a moment, wondering if he really wasn't like any other red-blooded man. Was this Clown that much different than every fool that believed she was free for the taking?

"Jay," she corrected herself, giving him a sweet smile. It didn't hurt to find out.

Pleased with her response, he grinned and then led her into the crowd.

When Sofia first entered, she needed a small army to keep people away, but now, they simply parted like the red sea. Bodies scrambled and shoved each other with haste to make sure they stepped out of their way, and not a single pair of eyes looked in their direction. Father had been the most feared and respected man she'd ever known. He could make people tremble with merely the sound of his gentle voice, but this… People skitted like Joker was the plague—as if one look would strike them dead—and yet...they still paid for the price of admission.

In the VIP area, large U-shaped yellow booths filled the club's intimate section, and down the far end rested a minibar stocked with expensive liquor. Sofia sat closest to the entrance, facing the crowd, so Emilio, who was lurking about, could see her. Joker shrugged off his jacket, handed it to Frost, and then took the seat across from her. The only thing between them now was the open space and a champagne bucket resting on a small table. As Frost ordered the other patrons in the room to get out, Joker leaned back, swinging his arm over the backrest. His shirt parted even more. Without the desk in the way, she could see more of the defined ripples of his abdomen—a set that could rival Emilio's any day, and Emilio had done underwear modeling. For a madman, the Joker was quite in shape.

"Hey, cookie." A woman approached them, her one-piece gold suit shimmering in the light. She slid her arm over Joker's shoulders and grinned down at him.

He tilted his head. "Trixie," he hissed with delight. "Long time, no see. How's the baby?"

"She's good. She'll be three months tomorrah."

"They grow up so fast," he said. "Trixie, this is Sofia. Sofia, this is Trixie."

"You're the Roman's daughtah," she discerned. "Sorry t'hear about your dad. He was one of the good ones."

Sofia smiled and gave Trixie a small nod of appreciation. Clearly, she never met Don Falcone before, but at least she had manners—unlike someone who had yet to provide any source of condolence. "Thank you, Trixie," she said to the woman who couldn't have been much older than her. "He was. I miss him dearly. If you or your child ever need anything, you may consider me a friend."

Trixie's eyes widened to the size of the moon. "Really?" she gasped. Sofia nodded. The shimmering woman let out a breath and then grinned from ear-to-ear. "T-thanks." Her eyes flickered around as if she was trying to find some way to repay her. "W-well, what canna getcha, sugah? Mistah Jay says everythin's on the house."

"A Manhattan, please."

"You got it! An' for you, Mistah Jay?"

"The usual."

Trixie nodded. She gave Sofia another smile and then hurried away with a small pep to her step.

Sofia watched her leave before turning back to Joker. "I like her," she said, "I think I'll keep her when I reform the staff."

"She doesn't like workin' weekends."

"Neither do I."

Joker threw his head back and laughed. "I doubt a pretty thing like you has ever worked a day in her life."

Sofia pursed her lips, not appreciating the comment. "I've been running parts of my father's empire since I was fifteen. Work is all I know."

"Mm, sounds like you need a vacay. I have a place in Dubai if you wanna run away together."

She cocked an eyebrow, finding it difficult to believe he wouldn't burn alive in the scorching heat with that bleached skin. "Thank you, but I'll pass."

"Suit yourself," he shrugged.

Sofia folded her arms over her lap and let her eyes roam over to the lively dance room. Much couldn't be seen through the gold-beaded curtains that hung along the couches' outline, but she could still see bodies sway and bounce. No faces stood out to her, as expected. The more influential people, the ones that'd wonder what she was doing in this part of town, came during the weekdays or odd hours to avoid the crowd. That's when the real parties happened at the Ball Pit. Or so they said.

After a few moments, she felt eyes on her. Turning, she found Joker's intense stare on her again.

"Yes?" She asked, certain that there was nothing on her face—she checked it regularly.

"You got a boyfriend?"

Well, that was a little forward. Then again, Joker had grabbed her face a few minutes ago. Boundaries clearly didn't bother him. "I don't date," she replied.

"Why not?"

Sofia shot him a look, warning him to tread carefully. "I'm much too busy. Trying to take over the world as you so elegantly put it."

"Hm."

"And yourself," she inquired. "Any boyfriends?"

"Not at the moment," he replied, unperturbed.

"Why not?"

Joker shrugged and looked over at the crowd. "Women are just so much more..." he gestured at the air with a roll of his wrist, "delicate," he decided.

"Hm... Well, I beg to differ. We can be just as resilient as men."

He turned to her then, his gaze unflinching. "Everyone's got a soft spot, sweetheart. It's just all about...finding it." The word rumbled deep from within his chest, and she knew if she'd been like everyone else, something akin to a chill would've run down her spine.

Holding his gaze, she countered, "I couldn't agree more."

At that, his jaw shifted in place, a thought slithering behind that unreadable expression. "Whaddaya think of my club?" he asked, changing the subject.

Joker had lost that brief game and Sofia couldn't help but be pleased with herself. "It's impressive," she replied. "Surprisingly clean. Efficient. And very high-end. Must have cost a fortune."

"It did."

"How much do you make in one night? A quarter of a hundred grand or so?"

A smile stretched across his face. "Why? You lookin' for a sugar daddy?"

How ridiculous, she thought, for her to need someone—anyone—to depend on. Ridiculous. "Only wondering how much my cut is going to be once I rip this place apart," she explained. "Financially, of course."

"Well, my books are upstairs. I can, uh, bring 'em to your place anytime ya like. Where you stayin'?"

"I'm sure I don't have to tell you where to find Falcone Manor."

"I can stop by tomorrow."

"Yes, of course, and then we'll have a sleep-over as well."

He cooed. "I love sleep-overs, but I gotta warn ya, I sleep a-la-nude."

Of their own volition, her eyes trailed back down his hard body again, her mind conjuring up images of what could be beneath all that cotton and gold.

"Careful there, cupcake. I might get the wrong idea."

Sofia lifted her gaze to find Joker smirking at her. She hadn't quite mastered the art of blushing yet, but the rosy powder she'd brushed on earlier in the day would suffice as she responded with a coy, close-lipped smile, her cheeks pulling back enough for her dimples to deepen—a trick Sofia learned in grade school for when she wanted to sway the boys. Because that's all men really were—boys.

"And what idea could that possibly be, Joker?"

"It's Jay," he reminded her. The tip of his red tongue passed over his bottom lip. "And that you want a little more than just what I own."

"The only thing I want from you is your signature."

A sly grin stretched across Joker's face as if he knew something she didn't. "Oh, but I can give you so much more."

Her eyes narrowed onto him. He knew what she'd come for. She practically spelled it out for him, so what else could he possibly offer? What cards did he have up his sleeve?

He shifted onto the edge of the couch. "This," he began, gesturing to the club with a dismissive wave of his hand, "is nothing compared to what I can give you."

She decided to bite. "Which is?"

His chin dipped low, his eyes darkening. "What you really want. What you really need."

Sofia shot him an annoyed look. She didn't like vagueness. Not when it came to deals. "There is nothing else I need or want," she assured. "Surrender Gotham, or I'll take it by force."

"Nah-ah-ah," he sang, wiggling his finger at her, "that's not how it works. Even if you owned every building in this city, it'd still be mine. I am Gotham."

The taste of bitter bile eroded into her mouth at the thought. She refused to acknowledge Joker's vice grip on Gotham, preferring to ignore it altogether, but at the end of the day, it was true. His name—his legacy—was etched across the city and onto every citizen's soul. He could show up at any moment and take it back with no real effort because he ruled through fear, and fear was power...and power was everything. It was absolute and infinite. He had what she wanted, what was rightfully hers—everything.

"Are you saying I should kill you instead?"

"I'm sayin'," he growled, "... I'll give it to you. I'll give you everything. Everything you've ever wanted and more."

As empty as they were, his soft and alluring words still found their way into her mind. They cooed at her inner demons, coaxing the gentle storm that churned within her—a gyrate of perpetual hunger, an all-consuming appetite that left her wanting for more.

Always more.

He held her gaze, and the longer he did, the deeper she fell into those pools of blue, the darkness around them engulfing her. The words slipped out of her mouth before she could stop them. "In exchange for what?"

Joker slid back against the booth, a triumphant look plastered across his face. "For now, just to keep an open mind about me. Don't make any crazy decisions."

The spell broke, and she shot him a deadpan expression. "That's not how counter-offers work."

"Nononono," he shook his head as if it was all giving him a headache, "this is between you and me. It's got nothin' to do with that"—he swatted at the air—"mumbo-jumbo crap you've got goin' on with thing one and thing two."

Her body stiffened.

"Oh," he grinned, rows of metal teeth appearing under the warm, yellow light. "Was that a secret? Was I not supposed to know about your new little club?" The grin dropped. "Nothing goes on in this city without me knowing about it."

"It's no secret that Cobblepot and Sionis want you gone."

"Yeah, but I got beef with them. You, on the other hand..." Joker slowly looked her over. "Well, we just met."

Sofia had lost the element of surprise, but it changed nothing. She'd simply have to hit him twice as hard. "So, you're proposing a side agreement?"

"Exactly." He smiled. "Something you can fall back on in case your dynamic trio goes up in flames. Which it will."

Contingency deals, she cooed inwardly. Now Joker was speaking her language, and best of all, he wasn't asking for anything tangible. Just to keep the door open for him. He made it so easy to say yes.

A man like him could be useful, Sofia.

Yes, he could be. With his influence, I could take Sionis and Penguin without lifting a finger. I could take Gotham within the month, and with his experience with the Batman, I could—

Sofia's thoughts came to a stop. Oh, he was good. He convinced her to listen to him, and now she was actually listening to him. Like a mouse that went for the cheese.

She smiled to herself.

Joker's green head tilted to the side. "What's funny," he asked.

Sighing, she crossed her knee over the other. "You," she smirked, "and your little games. Playing on my desires and using them to create a rift between me and the others? Bravo, you really are as conniving as they say. And it would've worked if I was just another gangster," her smirk dropped, "but I'm not. I'm Sofia Falcone, and the days of allowing the Joker to slither through the cracks are over." Any semblance of cordiality she'd been conveying disappeared, her expression hardening into a pointed look.

"So listen to me, Clown. I don't care who you are," she pouted and shook her head sadly, "I don't. If you stand in my way, I will cut you down like everyone else. This is my city, not yours. Therefore, I suggest you be the good little Jester and accept your new Queen before you end up in the river because everyone knows," Sofia sat up straight, holding her head high, "Queen beats Joker every time."

Joker said nothing in return. He simply sat there like the Buffone he was and stared.

In this game, she'd won.

"Here you go," Trixie's nasally voice appeared again. She offered Sofia her drink first.

"Oh," Sofia smiled at the girl, apologetically. "I'm actually leaving, but here." She pulled a hundred dollar bill from her clutch and offered it to her.

Trixie's eyes widened. "Thanks, girl!"

The young woman placed the tray of drinks next to the champagne bucket with a broad smile and then turned to accept the generous tip when the side of her head exploded.

Blood spattered over Sofia's face and chest, her eyes flinching shut. Shrill screams and howls erupted in the building, drowning out the music before it was abruptly cut off. Her eyes opened after a few moments and landed on the waitress slumped at her feet, a pool of red growing beneath her head. Skirts of dresses fluttered in all directions as women screamed and ran to the front door. Sofia turned her eyes to the source of the blast.

A shiny, gold pistol and metal teeth glistened in the light as Joker cackled, his shoulders shaking with absolute mirth. Sofia glanced down at herself—bright red blood slid down her chest and into her expensive dress—and then around for Emilio, but he was nowhere to be found. When the feeling returned to her body, she jumped to her feet.

The barrel turned in her direction. "Ah, ah," Joker sang, "didn't say ya could leave." He gestured to her seat with a flick of his pistol. When she hesitated, he scowled. "Sit."

Swallowing the knot in her throat, Sofia sat back down, shifting her legs to the side to avoid the blood.

A pale hand ran through green hair, and then Joker sighed with content. He adjusted his sleeves, pulling at them, before pausing. "Oh, shut up!" He shouted at the panicking party-goers and then let off a few more shots into space. Sofia flinched with each one. Shaking his head, he huffed. "Can you believe these people? I should file a noise complaint. Ha!" His tone was eerily lighter, more playful.

Placing an elbow on his knee, Joker rested his chin in his palm. "Oh, Sofie," he sighed, "what am I gonna do with ya?"

Sofia, she wanted to correct him but didn't. Her left eyelid fluttered as something wet dripped over it.

"I know," he chirped. Sofia stiffened when he pointed the gun at her face. "I'll just kill ya."

Well, this was it, she thought, the end of her great journey. She held her head high, facing her death with dignity, just like Father always told her to do. Her body was still, but her heart rattled against her ribcage.

After a long time, he sighed with annoyance. "But it would be such a waste... On second thought!" The leather of the couch squeaked as he stood from it. She watched as he stepped over the young, dead girl's body, careful to avoid the blood. He turned to Sofia, and when she gave him a questioning look, he said, "Italian leather's a bitch to clean," as if it made all the sense in the world.

Reaching into his suit pocket, he pulled out a grey handkerchief and offered it to her. "You've got Trixie on you."

Sofia blinked at his callousness. Sure, Trixie was nothing special, but she was kind, and Sofia liked kind people. Accepting the cloth, she gingerly wiped at her face and chest, cleaning off as much as she could, though the copper scent lingered.

When she was done, she handed it back to him. He eyed it with disgust. After flinging it over his shoulder, he holstered his gun into his waistband and then bowed at the hip. "M'lady," he said with a regal voice. "May I have this dance?"

Well, she thought. She didn't have much choice. Her men were probably dead, and he had a gun. He'd easily overpower her if she fought back, so it was down to buying time.

Carefully, she took his hand.

Her legs felt like noodles as she stood. Joker led her down the steps and onto the dance floor. They passed the three bodies sprawled on the floor until they reached a clearing. A strong arm slid around the small of her waist, and it pulled her flush against him. His left hand took her right one, the roughness of his palm a contrast to the softness of hers. Expensive cologne assaulted her nostrils as she stared at the pale skin of his throat, his neck making a sickening crack as it stretched around his shoulders. With a deep sigh, he straightened and began to sway.

Keeping her breathing steady, Sofia forced her body to move, though she still couldn't shake the rigidness from her bones. She glanced past his shoulder, hoping to see Emilio or one of the boys.

Nothing.

They swayed together for a long time, to no music but the eerie silence of an empty nightclub on a Friday night. She'd underestimated the Joker. Emilio tried to tell her, but she wouldn't listen. She assumed he'd be rational enough for the night to go well, and that mistake may have very well cost her her life. Time, Sofia reminded herself, just needed time and give him no reason to kill her. Perhaps she could feign frailty, make him believe that it was simple foolishness that brought her here. Maybe he'd take pity and let her go...which would be a colossal mistake.

Joker took a sharp breath between his teeth. "You're so quiet, Sofie. You had soooo much to say earlier," he taunted. He looked down at her, his jaw slack and eyes unblinking. "Cat caught your tongue?"

She could handle this. Joker was just a clown, she reminded herself, and she was a Falcone. "It doesn't have to be this way," Sofia said in a calm voice. "You can still stop this before it becomes very bad for you."

He cocked a naked eyebrow at her. "Is that so?" She nodded. He looked at her for a moment and then smiled. "Thanks for the concern, sweetheart, but I'm liking how things are going. Aren't you?"

"I don't think you understand," she continued. "Once you kill me, there won't be a place on Earth where my people won't find you. They will hunt you down."

"Whoa," he stopped, horrified, "who said anything about killing?" She blinked with confusion. His cherry lips quirked at the corners, and then she was being twirled away from him. She was spun back, and her backside hit his firm chest. The hardness of his muscles held her in a truss as his arms encircled her small fame. Sofia held back a wince as the pressure dug into her wound.

He rested his chin on her shoulder and smiled into her ear, "Ohh, I'm not gonna kill ya," he whispered, "I'm just gonna have a bit of fun with ya." His body swayed with hers to a rhythm only he could hear. "But I did warn ya about upsetting me, didn't I?" When she didn't answer, his arms tightened around her. "Didn't I?"

"Yes," she exhaled, holding back a whimper, "yes, you did." Any tighter and the stitches would surely rip, ruining her dress.

Joker's grip loosened, thankfully, but then she was turned around to face him. His head cocked to the side, his piercing blue eyes scanning her body. "You hurt?" He asked. When she didn't answer again, he grabbed her by the chin. "I asked you a question."

"Yes."

"Show me." She looked up at him with surprise. "Now, beautiful," he ordered.

Biting back her pride, Sofia lifted her hands to the front of her dress and began unclasping each gold button until she stood there with her brassiere exposed. Taking a breath, she carefully pulled her dress to the side to reveal the white bandage.

To his credit, his gaze only focused on that area. "What happened?"

"I was shot," she explained, "when my father was killed."

"You know who did it?"

She shook her head. "No one's made a claim."

He pouted. "You poor thing."

Sofia huffed inwardly. He didn't have to be so condescending about it.

She stiffened when his hands lifted to her dress but then relaxed when he started clasping the buttons back together. He did it slowly and carefully, and when he was done, he smoothed down the sides of her arms, looking her over to make sure everything was in order.

Satisfied with his work, he let out a sigh. "So listen," he began, "I think I've been pretty decent tonight. I mean, with you coming in here like some Prima Donnaacting like you own the placeI should've slit your throat twenty minutes ago...but there's just something about cha that I just can't…" He sucked in a breath between his teeth, his jaw shifting as he did. Then his eyes rolled to the back of his head, a low, feral growl rumbling deep within his throat.

Sofia wondered how far she'd get if she made a run for it. A few meters, perhaps?

"So I've decided," he blurted, his eyes snapping back in place, "not to do anything about this little brain fart of yours 'cause I'm a nice guy, ya see? And ya caught me in a good mood." Red lips stretched across metal teeth and then pulled down into a sneer.

"So I'll only say this once because I don't like repeating myself." The lighting in the room grew darker around them as he leaned in close, his eyes boring into hers. "I'm the King of Gotham. This is my town. Always has been, always will be. The Roman and I settled this...disagreement years ago. Ask around, before all that chit-chat gets ya even more hurt." He pouted, "and I'd hate for somethin' to happen to that pretty little face. So not another word about it...got it?"

She responded with a glower.

He rolled his eyes at her. "C'mon, dollface. Don't make me do something you'll regret. Tell me we understand each other."

Sofia knew she could be as stubborn as a mule, her Father and brothers having spared no chance in reminding her, but she wasn't stupid. So, against every fiber of her being, she forced herself to nod.

Joker smiled, enjoying her submissiveness. "Good." His cold hands then reached up and slid around her neck and jaw. Panicked, she pulled back, only for his grip to tighten and hold her in place. "Settle down," he growled. "I already said I wouldn't hurt ya. Now...give me a smile." She furrowed her eyebrows at him. "Go on. Do it," he whispered to her. "Show me those pearly whites."

She forced a grin.

He grinned back widely, his hands pulling away into clenched fists. "Yes," he groaned. "Perfect." He held her face again between his hands, gently this time. "You're gonna be perfect." Before she could inquire about what the hell he was talking about, he pulled his hands away and let out a whisper.

"Do me a favor, darlin'," he said, turning back to her. "Don't get yourself killed. When the knives come out, and they will…you come find me."

"You're letting me go?"

"Well," he smirked, "we can go back to my place if you want. Keep the fun going."

Sofia glared. "In your dreams, clown."

"Ooooh, feisty," he purred. "Might just haveta sneak into yours and teach ya how to talk to daddy." The ends of his fingers trailed along the side of her jaw. "Would ya like that, sweetness? Would ya like me to teach ya how to be a good girl?"

"Good girls don't win," she huffed, pulling away from his grasp.

His hand dropped. "They don't get punished either. Maybe Trixie's brains wouldn't be spilling all over my floor if you'd behaved."

"You killed her."

"Did I, though?" Sofia narrowed her eyes at him. "Okay, fine, I did. But you upset me."

She scoffed. "Try your mind games on someone else. You killed her because you're a fucking lunatic with a temper."

"Well, that wasn't very ladylike. Do I have to teach you how to be a lady, too?"

"Enough," she snapped. "I am not your plaything, Joker. I am a Falcone. You'll do well to remember it."

Joker threw his head back and laughed. "Oh, baby, that's just a name. It doesn't mean anything."

He has no honor or regard for titles, Emilio's words echoed from the back of her mind. They rang true, but fell on deaf ears. The Joker would respect her one way or another. She'd make sure of it.

"It's the name that will have you in ruins," she promised. "I guarantee it."

Joker's blue eyes flicked between hers, seemingly looking for something before a deranged grin slowly stretched across his pale face. "There she is," he cooed with joy, "I was wondering if it'd been my imagination. Can never really tell these days." Sighing with content, he said, "you and I…are gonna have so much fun together. I just know it."

She shook her head. What a waste of time this had been. "You are crazy."

"We're all crazy," he deadpanned. "I just don't mind…and you shouldn't either, darlin'." His gaze felt hot over her skin as he took in the details of her face again.

"Stop it," she demanded.

"Stop what?"

"Stop trying to read me."

The corner of his mouth quirked upward." That's cute." The warmth of his hard body hovered over hers as he cut the space between them. "Baby…I saw you the moment you walked through my door."

An odd tingle pricked across her skin then, making the hairs on the back of her neck stand, and for the first time in a long time, Sofia felt...exposed. She turned her face away.

"Don't," he snarled, making her look back at him. "Don't ever hide from me. That's all people do. They hide from the truth. Makes them liars. I hate liars."

She held back a scoff. Fantastic, she thought—another existentialist. Gotham was littered with them.

"I'm not hiding," she retorted. "I'm surviving. Lies are what the world is built on, Joker. What makes us function as human beings. Otherwise, we'd all end up like you—insane."

"Is that what dead ol' daddy told you?" She shot him a warning glare, but he still shook his head at her. "They filled your head with that dog shit because they were afraid of you. Afraid of your potential. Because, you see, for people like us…there is no limit, no bar or line we can't cross. We're free to do as we please," his fingers fluttered through the air, "and one day you're gonna realize you don't haveta lie anymore or pretend to give a shit about their boring rules because," he paused and then lifted his hand to her cheek, a soft grin gleamed back at her, "because this our world, Sofia, and they just live in it."

That dark voice echoed his words from the back of her mind as if it were a mantra, this our world, and they just live in it. This is our world, and they just live in it… This is your world, and they just live in it.

Sofia looked at him then, really looked at him. The Joker was irrefutably a tornado of chaos and destruction, but he was also what one might call a free agent. He did what he wanted because he feared nothing. Feared no one. Cared for no one. He felt nothing behind those pale, blue eyes, and he didn't bother to hide it. On the contrary, he wore it like a badge of honor.

Father would have sooner seen her dead than allow her to roam the world like that. It was always 'you have to smile, Sofia,' 'you have to be nice, Sofia,' 'you have to care, Sofia,' 'people aren't toys, Sofia.' She'd been groomed to pretend, made to believe it was the only way she'd thrive, but seeing the Joker now in all his mad glory…maybe things could be different. Perhaps she could be different.

He's a good friend to have.

And there he was again, pulling at the seams of her resolve and stirring the dark pools of her mind. How did he do that?

She shook her head. "As I said before, Joker, try your mind games on someone else. I won't be dragged into your delusions and grot. You're crazy, not me."

"Oh, but you must be," he purred, pulling his hand away and onto his mouth. That awful red grin tattoo smiled back at Sofia, "or you wouldn't have come here."

Sofia furrowed her eyebrows. She'd heard that saying once before. Where had she-

And then she was smiling. Not from her own lips, but through his palm that felt cold over her cheeks.

"Sofie," his low, guttural voice trailed around her like a fog again, filling her head until all she saw was those blue eyes. "Beautiful Sofie… The things I could show you." He leaned in until his face was inches from hers. "Give me the chance," he said to her, "to show you how fun life can really be."

She should've pulled away when his head dipped low, but something inside her, something unfamiliar, yet unyielding, held her in place as he pressed his lips against the outside of his hand. Her eyes closed, and for a moment, she could feel his soft lips on hers.

"Sofia!"

Yanked from the fog, Sofia took a step back and turned her head to find Emilio entering the room from the hallway like a breath of fresh air.

"Emilio," she gasped. She nearly darted to him, but then stopped, turning back to Joker. "You didn't kill them."

He shrugged. "I'm a nice guy, remember?"

No, he wasn't. The Joker was not known to be a nice guy, yet he had been. All things considered.

Emilio called to her again, insistent that time.

"Don't forget what I said," he told her, "Sionis's got a kink for the slicin' n' dicin'." He didn't say anything else, but she could see it in his eyes that he told her to be careful. As if he cared.

Oh, he was really good.

"Thank you," she smiled sweetly, "but I can handle Sionis."

Joker didn't smile back. If anything, annoyance flashed across his face. After a moment, he took a step back and slid his hands into his pockets, his jaw clenching beneath his slim cheek.

"Are you hurt?" Emilio asked her as she stepped into his arms.

"No," she shook her head.

Emilio checked nonetheless, and when he found not a hair out of place, he cursed under his breath. "His men ambushed us and locked us in a closet," he explained. "I swear, Sofia. If anything happened to you…" He shot a dark look past her shoulder. As beautiful as he was, Emilio was also just as deadly, and she knew he was silently swearing to have that Clown's head. Or die trying.

He turned back to her with a gentler expression. "It is time for us to leave."

Sofia nodded and then followed him a few steps before pausing. Her eyes trailed back to the green-haired man in the silver suit.

A grin stretched across those red lips. "See ya soon, Sofia," the Clown Prince of Crime promised. "See ya real soon."

oOo

Two days later, Oswald and Sofia stood on Gotham Docklands, watching the fires of their burning cargo ships blaze into the dark sky.

"Well," Oswald said, turning to her with a tight smile, "at least we can't say we didn't try."

As he limped away, his cane tapping along the concrete, she inhaled deeply and exhaled. Joker had made his move. Sionis's weapons, Oswald's liquor, and Sofia's heroin were floating off into the air as dark puffs of ash, but she smiled to herself nonetheless. It all went according to plan, and in the next few months, war would break out across the city. And in the end, one of two things would happen: she would own Gotham...or destroy it.

With the flames roaring behind her, she turned away and left.

In the future, when she'd look back at this moment, she'd curse herself for not scurrying back to Florida and never looking back; better yet, for not having grabbed the pistol in Joker's waistband and blowing his head to smithereens. She'd look back at this moment and regret mistaking the tingle that ran down her spine as a surge of excitement...instead of the blaring warning that it'd actually been.