Who: Sadie and Jonah Where: Excalibur food court When: Backdated before the memories plot What: Jonah has a freak out about Joker and Sadie tries to make things better Warnings: Talk of violence. Cuteness.
Sadie didn’t like the idea of meeting Jonah in public, but there was no changing his mind about it. She thought about how often people broke down in casinos over lost money or a nightmarish party and decided it couldn’t be that bad. This town was different, it ignored, it looked away, it minded its own business. The two of them had used this to their advantage since they met, so why should they stop now? If it wanted to turn its attention away from a broken man and his crazy counterpart, then it wouldn’t be that different if she got him alone. Right?
She insisted that they meet somewhere silly, Excalibur, down by the food courts that buzzed loudly with tired vacationing families and lost tourists. She bought them a bag of donuts and slushies, thinking they’d cure everything (even a little homicidal depression) and found a table somewhere near the back for them. Despite this need for privacy, Sadie was still easy to spot in a crowd with her loud flowery pink dress, hair up in two tiny separate buns and a purse with space cats on them. She was in Vegas, after all, there was no such thing as tacky. When he found her, she was staring off towards the claw machine in the distance, looking at the morphed, blue Batman that refused to be caught. Both her and Riddler wondered how much money was poured into that machine in hopes of winning such a strange little toy.
As far as Jonah was concerned, the public setting was an absolute necessity when it came to arranging a meeting place. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred he would have trusted himself to be strong enough to be around Sadie without worrying about the clown being able to take control, but now - fresh on the heels of such a vicious episode - he couldn’t take any chances. Wouldn’t. Not with Sadie. If the Joker made another appearance, at least they would be in a public place with lots of witnesses that would hopefully pressure him into behaving himself. The Joker didn’t want to see Jonah locked up in a psychiatric prison anymore than Jonah wanted to be in one, so at least on this point they could form a very sketchy sort of truce. Maybe. Hopefully.
After the phone call, Jonah had taken some time to clean up the shower (wrapping the bloody clothes up in a garbage bag and storing them above a maintenance panel out in the hallway, where he could come back and dispose of them later) and scrub himself down again with scalding water. He’d finally gotten the last bit of blood out of his blonde hair without any apparent staining, and dressed in a clean beige sweater and an old pair of black jeans. His hair was still damp and he pushed it back from his face when he skirted around groups of tourists and tired families, searching for Sadie’s trademark disturbance of the peace amongst the crowd. There, purred the voice in his mind when they spotted the bright pink dress, and he winced, giving a stern shake of his head as if warning the clown to be silent. Now was not the time. He’d had his fun, and now he needed to let Jonah deal with the aftermath if he didn’t want Jonah to check them both into a hospital immediately.
“Thinking of giving it a shot? I’ll tell you right now, those games are all rigged,” he said in what he hoped would pass for cheerful-casual, taking up the empty seat opposite of his friend.
Sadie’s eyes brightened at the sound of Jonah’s voice, her brow raising a little as she smiled. “Batman games are always rigged.” She replied, as both of them clearly knew this to be true. It didn’t matter how smart or insane or powerful you were, Batman always won. Always. And, while he admirably refused to kill any of his foes, it certainly never changed anything. That brief moment when Riddler went sane had little to do with Batman and everything to do with himself. Or at least, that’s what Eddie claimed. Even if Batman had helped Riddler, there was no aiding the Joker. He was a different kind of crazy every day.
“I got you a slluuussshiiiee.” She sang up at him, patting the seat next to her as she pushed the rainbow colored sugar ice drink at him. “Maybe if you drink it fast enough, you’ll get a brain freeze and shut him off for a second.” Sadie gave him a look like she was pretty much the smartest person in the whole casino, complete with an assuring head nod. “And if that doesn’t work, donuts.” She held her hands in front of her, making creepy crawling motions with her fingers.
Jonah knew that he probably looked like death warmed up; after several days of no sleep and the mental-slash-physical exertion required by a violent murder and the subsequent clean-up (yeah, thanks for leaving the labour for the traumatized guy), he was pretty much a zombie walking around with dark blue circles under his eyes and a slight tremble to his hands. His leg was aching and he’d been limping as he approached, because he’d been too stubborn to use his cane on top of everything else that was upsetting him right now, but Sadie worked her magic and actually elicited a real laugh from the depths of his chest.
“You always know the best remedies. Have you considered going pre-med?” He grabbed the slushie with both hands, hoping that it was his favourite mixture of watermelon and grape, and obediently slid out of his place across the table and into the seat next to her. Even as he took a long sip from the watermelon-grapey goodness, he was cautious: he sat towards the edge of his seat, slightly away from Sadie, as if he could guarantee her safety with proximity alone. Sure enough the slushie froze the roof of his mouth and he experienced that temporary moment of brain-hurting, but it was sharp and it brought him a bit out of his own despair and so he didn’t mind.
“Thanks for this,” he said softly, when he could speak again. He wasn’t just talking about the slushie, of course.
Sadie leaned closer to Jonah when he sat down, stealthily looking over his features to see how deep in trouble he really was. This wasn’t the first time that they had encountered problems together, but this was the first time he had tried to push her away for her own good. That both worried and annoyed her. Sadie thought she was built for this sort of thing with the sympathy and understanding it took to keep wolves like Joker and Riddler at bay. She kept thinking If I can charm one, I can charm the worst, but she didn’t really know how wrong she was about that. Joker was a different animal than Riddler or any of the others in the rogue’s gallery. There wasn’t a heart buried somewhere and if there was, it loved cruelty more than anything else. This was something Eddie tried to tell her a thousand times, but she just didn’t believe it. She read the Killing Joke. This Joker wasn’t as far gone as that one. All of this, just to keep Jonah the way he was.
“Come here.” She ordered, seeing him inch away from her on his chair. She stuck her bottom lip out in a pout like he was really hurting her little feelings. “People will think I didn’t shower today or something.” Sadie took small sips of her slushie. “Once I tried to brain freeze Eddie away, but it turns out it’s easier for him to take over that way. When I’m drunk, too.” Everything was said like Eddie was a puppy that liked to take poops in her nice shoes.
Jonah actually had to look up at that, peeking at her through lowered lashes and worrying at his bottom lip with his teeth. He reluctantly moved closer to her, and for a brief moment he could smell her perfume and his hesitation had almost nothing to do with the danger of having a psychopath in his head that liked to go all stabby. He swallowed thickly and focused on his slushie, fiddling with the straw so that it made a hollow sound every time he slid it up and down through the lid.
“He - he’s like that too. For me, I mean,” he fumbled over his words for a minute, clearing his throat a couple of times before he could actually finish the thought. “You-know-who. When I drink?” This part slipped out almost like a question, with his eyebrows all raised and his brow wrinkled. Really, the clown could take over whenever he felt like it. It was just much easier when Jonah had alcohol coursing through his system and the bad guy could just smother him with awful things.
“He can take over way easier when I drink. Like all he has to do is flex his grip and I’m useless.”
Jonah couldn’t help but deflate a bit, then. His shoulders slumped and it took a great deal of effort for him to meet Sadie’s gaze. He was ashamed, and it hurt way down in the pit of his stomach. He wanted her to tell him it was alright. He wanted to touch her hand and feel her warmth and let go of the pain that ran through him like electricity, and all he could really do was sip his slushie and savour the taste as it stained his tongue.
Part of Edward Nigma’s charm was that he enjoyed messing with people. In fact, it could have been part of the Gotham baddie code considering how much the other dastardly foes liked to do the same. He struggled, trying to leap out of Sadie so he could talk to Jonah directly. To shake him further and possibly get him away from the sweet little princess whose mind he inhabited. But, he couldn’t. Not out of some moral step into goody-goody land, but because Sadie was stronger than him in certain ways. She had conviction that grew like a sidewalk daisy between her love for the bad side of things. Sadie would always insist on sitting in the Dragon section of the jousting events just so she could boo all the heroes, but when her team lost (and the evil team always lost) she would let little kids rub it in her face after the show. This was all supposed to be fun to her. No one, not even Eddie, was allowed to hurt Jonah.
“You drink without me!” Sadie said, suddenly and almost too loudly. A look of mock jealousy on her face that Jonah could tell was fake due to the creeping smile. “That’s your problem. You’re being punished for having fun without your best friend.” She knew very well that Jonah likely drank alone and the amount of fun he had doing that was next to nothing, but her thoughts lingered on how easy it would be for him to pick up beautiful women. To buy them drinks and charm them into his bed. And, for a small moment, that look of fake jealousy actually turned real. She could feel it on her features, so she turned her attention down to the donut and chomped down.
Oh, if only somehow Jonah Keller could have known the thoughts that flitted through his best friend’s head. He could have used the laugh. Instead it was simply the case that Sadie’s raised eyebrows and affronted tone seemed comical, because how could Sadie ever pretend otherwise and expect to convince Jonah that she was somehow jealous of his lonely, dangerous life?
“Okay, okay - I admit it!” Jonah held up both of his hands in mock defense, palms facing out and his shoulders raised defensively around his ears. “It was a horrible mistake!”
He couldn’t help but peek at her out of the corner of his eye.
“I’ll never insult you again, I swear. You can take me out drinking every night - I’ll start drinking every night so that you can take me. Just don’t hate me!”
A long moment later, after he’d established that Sadie wasn’t going to throw any hard objects or slushie cups at his head, Jonah was able to lower his hands. A lopsided smile tugged at the corners of his lips, a real live smile when he believed that he’d forgotten how. Jonah could blink away the nauseating memory of a bathtub full of blood and gore, and take another cold slurp of slushie that made his brain ache and shiver. The brain freeze was good. Useful. At the moment, with old haunts lingering around Jonah’s ankles, it was good that he didn’t have the clown present in his brain.
Sadie pinched a little section of his skin with her tiny, pale fingers. Not hard enough to hurt, but more like a baby crab. “I forgive you.” She whispered with a smile and went right back to her own sugary treats. It was sort of funny how there wasn’t a hint of Joker when she was around. More proof to her that they didn’t actually need to meet in public or act like there were terms and conditions to their friendship. When had it ever been like that? She was tired of giving mixed expressions of worry and hesitant happiness. As much fun as Eddie could be, part of her wanted to have things back to the way they were.
She leaned on him, arm pressed against arm as she sighed. “When I was buying these donuts I thought about how no matter what I needed to stay brave for you. That’s my job, you know. To be brave.” Sadie looked up at him and smiled earnestly. “Maybe we got to be more careful. But, taking risks is what we do. We’re two wild cards in the same deck, you know?”
As soon as her fingers reached out to do their tiny-pincer thing on his arm, Jonah almost couldn’t help himself - he gave her a hand a little retaliatory smack, gentle but with a very faux-severe look in his face that was entirely Jonah and zero percent Joker. In an unspoken assignation of punishment for her offense, he grabbed the vanilla-dip donut out of her hands and bit down hard on the other side. He ripped it neatly in half with an exaggerated shake of his head and a small growl, scattering dozens of those little round sprinkles all over the table-top and their laps. Then he finally handed her back her half of the donut, beaming at her around the treat clamped between his teeth.
Somehow, Jonah managed not to freak out too much when she leaned against him like that, with her warmth spreading to him through their clothes and all over his skin. He managed not to falter or shiver or stare too long at her mouth when she smiled up at him, focusing instead on slowly chewing his half of the donut.
“You know,” he mumbled sheepishly once he’d swallowed, taking another slurp of watermelon ice to wash it down. “I didn’t expect to come here and have you convince me that we need to take more risks. How do you do that?” Jonah leaned back in his chair, but not to get further away from her - this time he just wanted to get a better look at her, a wider picture.
“How do you manage to make me feel better than I have any right to feel? Are you into voodoo?”
“I don’t think you want to know the details of that necromantic venture.” She smiled, all fake evil and silliness. Sadie wasn’t a schemer the way Eddie was. She couldn’t plot her way out of this problem even with his help. It was all friendship and emotions and blackest fears. Riddler wouldn’t know anything about that. He was alone in his little riddle tower, or he was until Sadie showed up. She really believed that her charm and sweetness could stop evil, cure insanity and keep life the way it was for a little longer. And, from the way Jonah looked at her, maybe she was right.
Sadie blushed suddenly with a shrug and then tugged at his sleeve. “Let’s go walk down Fremont street. I love those sad little casinos that are all mustard colored. We can pretend to be Hunter S. Thompson until they throw us out.”
It hardly took an insistent Sadie-tug to get Jonah up and moving around on his feet. In fact, his chest cavity had lit up, fire-hot at the sound of Sadie’s dulcet tones curling into his chest and his stomach and his darkened throat, and he wished for a moment that he could have an ounce of self-control. For a day, for a minute - even a single second.
Instead, of course, let himself be tugged into position by Sadie’s deft fingers. It occurred to him as he surged backwards and forwards on a current of bodily electricity, but that moment when he stood and near-collapsed into Sadie’s grip was something else entirely. He was whole. He was in pieces. He was a puzzle that struggled to put itself together in a mess of colour and ragged chunks of skin. Jonah clutched the world tight to his chest and even still he felt his heart tumbling out of him, and only his arms could hold himself together. He grabbed pieces of his heart and he moved them about, and for a few seconds at a time -- he was whole. He was an entire piece.
Sadie would never be so easily fooled, though. She knew he was broken. She was too smart, and too funny, and when she smiled it made aches push through Jonah’s bones and tendons and ligaments. His chest pounded and his pulse throbbed because his soul ached for her. Because he loved her. She squeezed his hand tight and his brain was happy to be jostled around inside a hollow skull, but he knew that as long as she had a reliable connection to the bad guys, the longer the evil clown would begrudgingly allow Jonah to try and protect her from danger.
“But I forgot my mirrored aviators and my shotgun at home,” he pretended to protest, linking his arm through hers at the elbow and allowed himself to be led through the glittering streets, through masses of living bodies with blood and fire pounding through their veins.
Sadie bounded through the casino, slushie in one hand as her other grasped Jonah’s tightly. She was oblivious to the internal breaks and mending Jonah felt, and if anyone tried to tell her the truth about all that she wouldn’t believe it. No one could love her, not really. They could think she was cute, that she was fun to be around, but no one wanted to look past that. Everything about her built up a superficial wall. The cute hobbies, the way she let Riddler take over her brain, the endless amount of energy. It all made her seem almost unreal to most people so they kept their distance. Sadie wanted it that way. There were only a few people that were really allowed to get close. And, Jonah was at the heart of it. Being partners in crime turned to him being the true center of her world, even if that kind of mindset destroyed her before with another man. But, Jonah was different. He didn’t have anything to prove.
She turned to look at him, catching just a glimpse of something she didn’t understand. He looked so vulnerable in her wake, like she had cut his stomach wide open. Her heart instantly jumped up her throat and told her what she really wanted. No more nights of silliness without substance. No more dancing like strangers. No more Jonah sleeping on the floor. It wouldn’t happen tonight, she didn’t have the courage to take charge of something like that, but at least she knew something was there.
Her mouth flipped back into a sweet smile, warm but not completely honest. Tonight, that was the best they could do.