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Within Five-Hundred Square Feet

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You have an ad in the paper for half of a week before you get a phone call in the middle of the night, asking about rent. You are in sweatpants, the drawstring undone, barely coherent as the voice on the other side (raspy, rushed) asks if there was room for two. “It’s two in the morning.” You say, one eye practically shut, then hang up. It’s two in the goddamn morning. It’s too early for actual thinking and discussing rent.

So, you need a roommate. Not that your previous roommate had been anything of a hassle- a tall, dark-haired Greek woman who never told you her name and didn’t know the names of any popular singers. She liked signing her cheques in Greek (she never said where the money came from) and leaving you dinner whenever you came home late from a night of waiting tables. Sometimes she left notes to remember to stay hydrated or remind you of a paper due the next day.

When she left, she kissed you on both cheeks and said that she’d paid for next month’s rent in full. There was “family” business that needed to be taken care of, and she’d been a fool to postpone for so long. She said that she loved you, in a way that didn’t mean her blood sped up in her chest when she saw you, but that she’d been so used to your presence that leaving felt like losing a limb.

She’d then said something about how amputation was sometimes necessary in battle, really vaguely, then cast a sad look at you. You’d cried a little. She’d cried a little. She kissed your wet cheeks and told you to keep her refillable water bottle, and take it to work, you were always so dehydrated whenever you came home.

And then she’d flown out the window.

She never told you her name, but you’d spent the days after she left with a circle of checked-out books on Greek, trying desperately to figure out her name. The ‘D’ and ‘T’ were familiar enough, but someone having the name “Donna Troy ” seemed a little farfetched to you, considering her ethnicity. When finding her again (you’d planned to see her again- make her banana bread or take her shopping for sunglasses) hit a dead end, you’d definitely been disheartened.

Which is why you were in no mood to entertain whatever drug dealer was trying to negotiate rent with you over phone at too-damn-early o’clock. You peacefully go back to sleep, almost no time lost.

-

They call back at ten in the morning, definitely a more reasonable time, and you pick up because you didn’t recognize the number from earlier. The first words are, “Don’t hang up.” Followed by, “I forgot that you were in a different timezone- you said to call you between the hours of seven in the morning to ten at night.” A pause. “I’m making a shitty first impression, but I promise, it was past seven in my timezone.”

You yawn. “To whom am I speaking?” The newspaper is unfolded on the counter and you’re not particularly worried about rent until the month after. To which you’d have enough saved up, even without a roommate to split halfsies. Donna had done you a crazy favor.

“Uh.” It’s very obvious that they cover the receiver with their hand, turn to speak to someone else. When the voice comes on, it’s very... confidential. “Roy Harper.” Was that supposed to mean anything to you? You write down his name on the margins of the comics page. “Me and my boyfriend?” He questions it- you’re certain you can just about hear whoever else is in the room nod. “Are looking for a place to stay. Y’know, in the area- just a drive away from Gotham, but far enough that the toxins from the water supply don’t do anything deadly.”

“Fair enough.” You respond, then introduce yourself. “In case you didn’t see that part of the ad.” You clarify, then continue. “So, it says that there’s three beds in here, but that’s a bit of an overestimate, if I’m being honest. One of the beds is, like, the kind that pops out of the wall. You know those beds? If one of you is willing to sleep on that.”

You hear a very loud snort on the other end of the line that didn’t come from Roy. Roy, who does sound vaguely amused, affirms that that’s perfectly fine. “Trust me, I’ve slept on worse beds.” A pause. “Is there any good time for us to meet? We’ll be heading into Gotham in a few hours, so we can probably pop by for you to check our... credentials.” He sounds like he’s never had a stranger for a roommate before.

You check the clock. “Will you be here by three? Whenever is good for you is good for me- I’m off today.” You’d doodled squiggles around the name Roy, wavy lines and cartoon jagged lines. “You already have the address, but I can give you directions, if you’d like.”

“We’ll be there by three.” He assures you, as if he makes punctuality a part of his personality. “The rental car has a GPS, so there’s no need to worry.” You hear grumbling, faintly, in an accent you can’t identify. You blink down at a cartoon of Snoopy, trying to piece together words.

“See you at three, then.”

“See you.”

You push the newspaper to the side and open up your computer, quickly running a background check on Roy Harper. One of those freebie sites that skimmed the surface. Donna Troy hadn’t even given you her name and you’d trusted her (something about the way she smiled and held herself), but you still hadn’t see Roy, and couldn’t get a good read on him over the phone. First scan returns nothing. Second scan reveals that he’s definitely not a sex offender. Third scan reveals that he’s really not much of a person.

There’s practically nothing there. Sure, there are things like hair color (red) and eye color (green), height (too tall for you to effectively fight him), those things, but there’s nothing about his history, or who his parents were, or where he’s even moving from. Image searches don’t bring up anything either. You’re in another Donna situation.

You change your clothes into something more formal before resuming your search- not because Roy seeing you in casual wear would’ve bothered you, but because formal wear gave you a sense of control. Also, early Spring was still a little chilly.

Image searches proved fruitless, database searches proved even worse, and you’d just been hopelessly looking him up in the Arkham criminals database (you really never could be sure) when the doorbell rings. You close your laptop, slowly, like he could see you and would catch you (you weren’t even doing anything wrong), but your movements are slow and deliberate as you go towards the door. You’d always been remotely trusting, but Donna had put in a peephole for you.

You’re pretty sure Donna was a superhero, but you weren’t going to question it.

Roy’s on the other, flanked by a man of a similar, but not quite exact build. A little over the peephole’s height (to be fair, it was even a little low for you to comfortably look through), his red hair is visible, pulled back into a tight ponytail. He looks like he’s counting and, at ten, he knocks. You undo the second lock (not a safety measure by Donna- all of the apartments had two locks) and twist the knob open, watch as he struggles to figure out what to do with his raised fist.

He sets it down at his side, wearing what you can only assume is “formal-casual”- white dress shirt tucked into (admittedly nice) jeans. He’s making an effort. “Well, hey. I’m Roy- we talked on the phone. And this is-” The other man cuts him a sharp look. Roy looks back at you. “You, uh, wouldn’t happen to be a native Gothamite, would you?”

“I’m just here for the school, man, I don’t think anyone would live near Gotham if they had a choice.” A little too much oversharing, but Roy’s “boyfriend” (yeah, he shouldn’t think you didn’t catch his extreme hesitance over the phone) visibly relaxes.

He steps forward, a calloused hand out for you to shake. “Jason Todd.” That’s not a name that means anything to you either. When you respond with your own name and shake, he turns to look at Roy, one eyebrow raised.

“Uh, Roy?” Roy says, holding out his equally calloused hand, but it’s obvious that he doesn’t think that shaking hands is necessary when you already met over the phone. You shake his hand anyway, then motion the both of them inside.

They look really small sitting at your dining room table. You’d need to buy bigger chairs if they stayed with you. “So, what brings you both to town?”

Jason says “Job opportunities” at the same time that Roy says “Nightlife”. They both look at each other, looking borderline betrayed. What the hell have you gotten yourself into?

“Are we going to treat this like an interrogation or are either of you going to stop acting like I’m holding you at knifepoint?” Jason scoffs and Roy gives a faint, inside-joke kind of smile.

“Nah, we’ll cooperate.” He says, hands up. “Jason’s here looking for a job, trying to, well, settle down- and I’m here because I like the way the city looks on brochures.” His eyes twinkle . You don’t think you’ve ever physically seen someone’s eyes sparkle like that.

They’re hiding something.

“Why do you want to live here, then?” You pause, then clarify.  “I mean, with me, instead of by yourselves.” Roy seems relatively relieved that you aren’t as cold as you were on the phone.

“Living with you is a lot more cost-effective.” Jason takes over, sitting straighter. “We take odd-jobs, usually, so until we get settled we don’t have much of a choice as to anywhere else.” You don’t miss how Roy’s elbow goes straight for Jason’s ribcage, as if Jason being honest about how available your apartment was had hurt your feelings. They act like an old couple, but something about their body language shows something missing. You can’t quite put your finger on it.

“Alright.” You wish you had some papers to shuffle. You’d have to contact the landlord and talk to him about accepting the two of them into your apartment, get the official paperwork and whatnot. “I’m afraid there isn’t much to see- we’re in the frontmost part of the apartment, and there’s a door right there that leads to the bedroom with two beds. Bathroom’s to the right- the sink is outside.” Pictures had been included with the ad- there wasn’t a lot of show and tell.

“That’s it?” Jason looks like he might actually chastise you for being so lenient with who you let sleep in your apartment. But you guess he realized he shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, and closes his mouth.

“I’m not here very often- this is one of my two days off.” You pause. “Plus there’s nothing to steal. I don’t keep cash around the room, and you couldn’t find anything of value if you tried.” Money went right into the bank, for bills and student loan payments. “Plus, if you’re interested in the nightlife, I doubt you’ll be around a lot at night. I get to sleep while you’re out partying. Seems like a good deal, as long as you don’t bring the party home.”

Roy shakes his head at what seems to be nothing short of a small miracle, then looks at Jason. “It’s gonna be hell to get our stuff out of the car.” As the both of them leave, Jason barking out a “Speak for yourself”, you see a very faint red gathering of light, just outside your window, and wonder if the art students below you were working on another project.

You think, very briefly, that it looks like hair, but shake the thought off. You just need more coffee- the long hours were getting to you.