When he first sees her, he’s limping home from work, ridiculous clown wig and scalp balled in his fist. He trudges past the hoard of Gotham’s night population, eyes glassy, when he hears the sound of a slap, bright and visceral like glass shattering into a hard floor.
She’s cradling her cheek in one hand, eyes brimming and shiny even in the near lightless street, and a man twice her height stares down at her with a scowl marring his face. Eyes wide, he slows his gait to stare at the two of them, raking up her frame, from her scuffed heels and conspicuously short dress- he shuffles a bit closer- to her bite worn bottom lip that she takes in between her teeth as the man with her starts shouting.
Whore, the man shouts down at her, and he grabs her by her forearms, so small that his fingers meet his thumbs and overlap. He rattles her hard in the middle of the street, her head snapping back and forth like a toy locked between the jaws of some furious dog. Arthur watches her stumble when she's released and his stomach churns.
Get your ass back inside, he says, yanking her along the sidewalk, and she tries her hardest not to trip in her platform heels that look a hundred feet tall on her.
Arthur carefully prises open the door to his apartment, lighting a cigarette and blowing smoke out from his nose like a dragon. He walks like a man entranced, leaving a trail of ash and smog gray smoke all the way to his bedroom, the bathroom, the kitchen, the living room, filling the space with it like a decaying incense, til he sits on the couch, TV blaring away. He doesn't hear the voices or the music, but he watches all night long until his eyes grow too heavy to stay open, and he lets them slide shut, the thought of a saccharine, honeyed mouth entering his mind before he succumbs, head fuzzy.
When he makes his way downtown late one night, he sees her again, swaying on her feet at a street corner. The heels are even taller this time, laced up and tied to the middle of her calves. Tonight, she wears another dress that hangs high above her knees, all covered in sequins and fringe, and when he looks at her, he sees that she's wearing lipstick, blood red and too old for her face.
A police officer whistles at her from across the street, the sound cutting through Arthur's reverie, and he watches as her head snaps towards him. Hands on her hips, she makes her way over to him, a poorly practiced swing in her narrow hips, and he almost balks at the gesture. He wonders who taught her that, if she'd practiced in the mirror before she'd left for the night.
"Yes, Sir?" he hears her ask, leaning on the window of the officer's car, and she's clambering into the passenger's side.
She looks at Arthur as the cop drives away with her in tow, his hand already slithering higher and higher up her thigh like a climbing ivy, and she fixes him with her blank-eyed gaze until she's been whisked out of sight completely.
The laughter claws its way up Arthur's chest, hot like cauldron water that scalds his insides, until it forces its way past his sealed chapped lips and splits him wide open. He wheezes from the force of it, head pounding, and he's brought on all fours, hands pressing into the asphalt. He's choking, he's dying, and he thinks about the way the girl from the street corner- the Angel- had smudged mascara underneath her lower lashes. Tears hit the sidewalk like acid rain, and Arthur's laughed himself hoarse when he can finally crawl to his feet. Arthur has nowhere else to go- no family to worry of his absence, no work in the morning- so he stands there, motionless, the tips of his fingers brick red as the cold bites into him.
She steps out of the police cruiser hours later, the strap of her dress torn and lipstick smudged. Gathering herself, she makes her way back to the corner, and she flits her gaze to Arthur, shame sitting high on her cheeks. Wrapping her arms around herself, she waits.
Arthur knows she's trying to avoid his gaze, and so he stares even more fervently, brow furrowed when he sees a splotch of purple and maroon at the base of her throat. He wants to scrub the filth away, and he clenches and unclenches his fists until another car pulls up, and the backseat door flings open. She runs as quickly as she can without tripping, keeping her face as turned from Arthur as she can, and when she slams the car door shut, he sees that she's shut the door on her dress. It flutters helplessly as the car drives away.
He begins a new routine after that, making sure to go places that seem reasonable for her to be at, and he waits in the shadows, his frenzied breathing the only hint of his presence. He hangs around the alleys of Gotham, heart thudding like it'll burst through his bony chest, and for the first couple of days he doesn't see hide or hair of her. He thinks about what could have happened to her, if she's hurt, dead, bleeding out in the streets somewhere, and chews on a hangnail, silently begging her to turn a corner, even if she's covered in a thousand mottled, wine colored hickeys that run down her neck and stain her. Arthur could think of a million things he would give, if only to see her wobbling, unsure step as she rounded the corner, and-
She's here. This time wearing a two pieced outfit, shorts so high up he wonders if it's illegal, even on women older than her, her hair tied into pigtails, wearing a cropped T-shirt that exposes her midriff, and a golden sliver of her belly, the wink of her belly button, shines out at him. Arthur feels his throat go tight, and his eyes widen in knowing dread. Not again, not now. Oh God, please not now...
He forces the laugh down, into the bowels of his own soul, it feels like, heaving until he might be sick, and she turns to face him again, eyes detached, and then a flit of life sparks behind the glassy stare. She's recognized him, Arthur realizes, and he beams, paper thin lips too wide, too feral- like a chimpanzee, a dog baring its teeth. She doesn't smile back at him; instead, she turns and walks the other direction, glancing back once she's far enough away to ensure that he isn't following.
Once she's out of his sight, he finds a new path to walk down, his footsteps whispering along the ground. It's beginning to snow, and he blows on his hands, head bowed, following her trail from the safety of buildings, and later, alleys. It takes him a good while, but finally he's upon her, close enough that he can see snowflakes that have began to stick to her hair. She shivers hard, her thin frame wracked with spasms, and Arthur feels his underwear grow tight.
He's about to hide behind another building, when she wheels around to face him, eyes harried and mouth set into an ugly, grim little line.
"What the hell do you want?" she demands of him, shaking from cold. The snow is falling harder now, it's beginning to lightly coat the sidewalk. Her nose is bright red, clown red, and he laughs once, hard and guttural. She winces. "I saw you the other night," she continues, eyes unsure of herself but pressing on nonetheless. She takes a bold step towards him, faltering when Arthur doesn't move backward, or show that he's shaken by her show of courage. "You were there on the sidewalk last time..." she trails off, words quieting to a near whisper when she sees him, really looks him in the eyes. Arthur can almost feel her pulse spike, and she takes a tentative step backward.
"It's cold," he says, voice low enough that she leans her head in, despite her wariness. "Come with me."
The words come from him unbidden, and he works to hide his own shock; instead he looks down at her, at the feathery down on her arms that's standing tall, the blooming rosebuds beginning to form on her knees. She sniffles, and when he meets her eyes, she looks like she's filled to the brim with a resignation she's been expressing since the day she was born. He looks at her, brows lightly knitted, and she gives a curt little sigh.
"Okay," she capitulates, and she flinches when he brushes up against her as they walk.
"You live far," she comments uneasily, shivering again, childishly wiping her nose with her hand. She quickens her pace to keep up with him. They continue on, footsteps disjointed.
"One more block," he answers, long legs striding ahead. He's itching to grab hold of her, to take her by the hand; she's surely endured worse, Arthur thinks, but he refrains and stuffs his hands into his pockets, and they walk in silence until finally, they round the corner to his apartment.
"Don't be afraid," he says to her, after they climb the flight of stairs. He palms the key in his hand before unlocking it, and he ushers the girl inside. He takes note of the feline curve of her spine, how her shoulder blades faintly protrude from her back, testing the skin on top of it.
"I'm not." The answer is terse, clipped, a blunt little lie that reverberates through her body, and Arthur nods, and pretends to believe her.
She takes a look around his little apartment, and makes her way to the couch, perches on top of it. Her knees are sharp, like knives rest just under her delicate skin. Arthur puts the kettle on, lets it heat on the stove, and joins her. He lets himself sit a touch too close to her, the edge of his thigh ghosting against hers.
The TV lights up her face, and he gazes at her then, the unforgiving slope of her jawline. Arthur shifts in his seat, moving to hide his straining cock, and he thinks about skimming his nose down her cheek, soft like the skin of a nectarine, setting his lips on top of her pulse and kissing-
"So, are you going to..." she begins, a crease forming between her faint brows. Her eyes dart to the tent in his pants and immediately flit away, the fairest hint of disgust set in the lines of her face.
"No," he responds, hands clasped in his lap. He felt his body howl in retaliation, every cell in him screaming its protest, but he turned to her, eyes glued to the couch.
"No, I’m not."
Rather than relief, like he’d suspected, her eyes grew fearful, and darted towards the door that he’d locked upon entering.
The question trailed off, and her face grew pale as she dared a look at Arthur, who still had yet to meet her eyes.
"I’m not going to do anything," he tells her, finally raising his eyes to hers. She waits one second, two, a minute, and finally realizes that he really does mean her no harm tonight. She lets herself close her eyes and breathe.
The shrill whistle of the tea kettle alerts them both, and when he goes to take it off, and pour the both of them a cup, he hears the distinct sound of her leaping off the couch, tearing towards the door. She flings it open, and sprints down the stairs.
Arthur rushes after her, beginning to make his way down, but she’s already too far; he sees her dash across the street, and onward, growing smaller and smaller by the second.
He can’t help but to laugh, the sound coming from him almost inhuman. The maniacal sound reaches her ears, even as far as she is, and she turns back, face white with terror. She keeps running, and twenty minutes later, Arthur wipes the tears from his eyes and trudges back to his apartment. He flings the cups into the sink, savoring the shatter of glass, tea splattering against the backdrop.