Gotham is a city with a sickness.
Maybe it’s something in the water, something in the smog that drapes itself across the skyscrapers like a bodybag over a steel cadaver.
But there’s the joke, Nayeon thinks. It’s not dead yet.
For a scavenger and a stray like her, there are still scraps left.
Tonight, Nayeon is looking for better prey. Jeongyeon will be disappointed, but she’s used to that now. The hard edges of their — what to call it? Partnership? — have been worn down over the years. It’s friendly. And what Jeongyeon doesn’t know won’t kill her.
Nayeon stretches her arms over her head, the leather pulling tighter around her body. Below her, the atrium of the museum presents itself like the vulnerable, fallow underbelly of a hare. She unsheaths her claws from her glove, carving a circle across the now-tender glass.
The actual pleasure of burglary isn’t just in the trespassing. Any idiot can hop a fence or break-in an apartment door. Those are simple, silly boundaries.
The idiot looks at a building and simply sees the paths the architect intended for the idiot.
But burglary is usually a tribute to the true, artistic spirit of the person who sculpted a structure of concrete and steel out of one blank square of space on Gotham’s map. This is something Jeongyeon will never understand. Nayeon has made her peace with that.
Sometimes, however, burglary is like the divine punishment of mistakes. Nayeon’s eye has been trained for the blind spots of corners, the misplaced windows, the forgotten skylight left ajar on the roof.
An atrium over a museum is too easy. It’s as bright and easy as a dish of milk left out.
Nayeon snorts at the thought as she lowers herself into the pristine, jarringly white interior of the museum. She stalks through the halls, her steps light and invisible on the white marble tile, before coming to the jewelry displays.
It’s all gaudy, ridiculous stuff. Nothing Nayeon would wear, but it sells.
Gotham has really given up, just leaving priceless jewels laying around for any old thief to snatch.
It’s too easy.
Which is why, when Nayeon delicately lifts the necklace from its blue velvet cushion, the alarms blare.
Nayeon hates loud noises. Jeongyeon has always said that’s ironic, considering what type of person she is, but her heartbeat rockets and an instant sheen of sweat coats her body beneath the leather jumpsuit and —
Oh fucking hell. It’s Jeongyeon.
“Well, I can’t say I’m surprised,” the other woman says. She’s perched up on one of the signature gargoyles that dot this city like chicken pox. Nayeon has always thought that Jeongyeon would be out of a job in any other city in America. There just isn’t an explanation for why every architect agreed to make the perfect environment for a bat obsessed—
“Nayeon,” Jeongyeon huffs. “Put it back.”
Nayeon spins the necklace around her fingers. “No.”
“You don’t even need the money.”
“True,” Nayeon grins. “But it would be nice.”
The alarms are still wailing.
“Better get going quick, Jeongie. Wouldn’t want them to know you let me go again.”
With one last frown, Jeongyeon grapples away, swinging back out to Gotham. There are better villains to hunt. That’s the entire spirit of their pact. Nayeon doesn’t snap any necks, Jeongyeon doesn’t arrest her. Easy.
Another condition of Nayeon’s agreement with Jeongyeon is that she’ll go to therapy for her ‘kleptomaniac tendencies.’
In all fairness, it’s Nayeon’s opinion that some addictions are responsible for keeping people alive. Anyone who survives in Gotham doesn’t do so without some substance, some obsession, some easy feedback of pleasure that lets them clear the monotony of living in Hell on Earth.
Myoui Mina sits across from Nayeon in an antique armchair, glasses pushed to the end of her nose.
“I stole something from the museum,” Nayeon begins, in a drawl.
Mina scratches lightly at her notebook with a fountain pen. “Did you try not to?”
“Nope.” Nayeon pops.
“Ms. Im,” Mina sighs. “Your time slot could be better used for a client that actually wants to change their behavior. Every week you sit across from me and list everything from low-level misdemeanors to life-in-prison felonies. I’m beginning to think what you really want is just companionship.”
Nayeon scoffs. The nerve. “I’m paying you, aren’t I?”
“Yes, but ethically I’m compelled to end our professional relationship.”
“Ethically,” Nayeon screeches. “You’re dating the Joker!”
It’s one of the unfortunate little quirks of living in Gotham. It’s a big city, but the people never change. Especially in a business like Nayeon’s, you end up knowing all the dirty little secrets of even the most prim psychologists.
“Jihyo is lovely, thank you for asking.” There’s a flash of something else in Mina’s eyes. Something wild, even when her voice is so soft.
“Well, do me a solid and keep sending the bills to Batwoman.” Nayeon rises from the chaise she was splayed out on, pushing past the door before Mina can make any other moral stands.
Nayeon has friends. Jeongyeon, basically. And her little sidekick can be funny. And Jeongyeon’s butler has a soft spot for Nayeon, she swears it. And —
Another component of the deal with Jeongyeon is to attend Sunday dinner every week at her mansion.
It’s a classic ‘my family is dead’ move. Nayeon has suggested that Jeongyeon get a therapist too, solve her own swarm of issues, but the woman just smirks into her wine glass.
Fucking rich people.
Tonight, Jeongyeon’s butler has prepared prime rib.
Personally, Nayeon prefers chicken or fish or just not having to be in the presence of other people, but it’s a free meal.
Jeongyeon sits at the head of the table, cutting her steak meticulously into smaller and smaller pieces.
The butler, Tzuyu, hovers beside her, a handkerchief already pulled from her pocket.
Chaeyoung, Jeongyeon’s annoyingly loyal sidekick, is smacking happily on a dangerously large slice of meat.
Chaeyoung’s mouth pops closed, but she reaches across the white tablecloth for the bottle of ketchup.
“Please don’t,” Tzuyu whispers, but it’s too late. The prime rib is smothered in sauce now, all natural flavor down the drain.
“How was therapy?”
Nayeon chews thoughtfully. “You know, I think we made a breakthrough.”
“She’s joking,” Tzuyu whispers helpfully in Jeongyeon’s ear.
Tzuyu had offered to drive her back into the city, as the butler always did, and Nayeon rejected the offer, as she always did. It was nice to be out at night, even just in her street clothes. It was a brisk night, the light pollution from inner Gotham making the whole sky glow orange.
She’s passing one of the city graveyards when her shoulders tense.
It’s one of the weird quirks that have become instinct. That her body sometimes senses something before her mind does.
In this case, it’s a woman over a grave.
No. She isn’t weeping. She’s holding a shovel.
Curiosity gets the best of Nayeon. She slips her mask out of her bag — just in case — and quickly scales one of the drooping willows over the graves.
The woman has offensively bright red hair. She hacks at the earth, a pile of dirt rising with each strike. Her outfit, where it isn’t stained with soil, is an iridescent green.
Nayeon is aware of Poison Ivy. It’s hard to not be with how much Jeongyeon complains about her. But the reality is that Nayeon has never actually met the woman. It’s against her personal code of criminal ethics to work with anyone else.
“Grave robbing,” Nayeon calls from her perch. “I didn’t know you were into that type of thing.”
The other woman, unconcerned, peeks over the top of the hole. “A girl has to eat.”
“You’re disgusting,” Nayeon scoffs, slinking down the branches to pad across the soft, horrifyingly lush grass.
“There’s actually —” Poison Ivy grunts as she flings another shovelful up, nearly hitting Nayeon, “radiation in this coffin. It’s hurting the —”
“The plants, yeah. I’ve read through your criminal record.”
“Oh, so you’re a fan?” Again, Poison Ivy gets on her tiptoes to stare up.
Nayeon is about to reject this, but she hears wood crack open and then a squeal of delight from below. Just as Nayeon prepares another quip about the other woman’s obvious perversions, she hears the too-close wail of a police siren.
“That’s probably for me,” Poison Ivy sighs, lifting herself out of the open grave. In her hands, she cradles a large, purplish mushroom.
Red, blue, and white lights flash through the trees, fracturing the calm dark of before.
Nayeon leaps back to the willow. “I’m assuming you have an escape plan.”
“Not really,” Poison Ivy smiles.
“What kind of half-baked necrophiliac are you, not having a —?”
“Then save me.”
Ten minutes later Nayeon shivers on an apartment complex rooftop, Poison Ivy peeking over the edge, mushroom still cradled in her arms as if it’s a child.
Below them, the cops are scrambling through the streets, searchlights out. But they won’t find them. Nayeon made sure of it.
“You’re quite the hero,” Poison Ivy smirks, but there’s no toxicity to it.
“Don’t get used to it.”
She’s unperturbed.“Can I have your number?”
Nayeon gawks. “We’re not, like, a team now.”
“That’s not why I was asking.”
It doesn’t even sound like her own voice when she says, “Yeah. Okay.”
Poison Ivy bounces giddily, offering her own cellphone from a hidden pocket in her green suit. Nayeon types in her contact, saving it as simply ‘Catwoman’. Poison Ivy does the same, though she saves her name as ‘Sana’ with a smattering of plant emojis beside it; a mushroom, a hibiscus, a cactus, a four-leaf clover.
They pass their phones back. Before Sana can get another word out, Nayeon hops down, then scales across the rooftops toward her apartment.
Nayeon bursts through the door of Mina’s office, five minutes early for their appointment. “I made a friend,” she pants, sinking onto the velvet chaise.
Mina huffs, flipping to a fresh page in her notepad. “A friend.”
Mina gestures at the space between them, which is usually her consent for a monologue.
“We had one conversation, but I think it went well. She’s a little weird, but, you know. Beggars can’t be choosers and all that.”
“How did you meet?”
“In a park. We went for a walk.”
Mina frowns. Damn that psychology doctorate. “You went for a walk in a park?”
Nayeon shrugs. Jeongyeon really just pays this hack to repeat her own words back to her.
“Did you steal anything on this walk?”
“No,” Nayeon retorts. It’s natural to lie. But — oh. She hadn’t actually stolen anything that day. She had been planning to loot a gas station before she got to her apartment, just to take the edge off, but after she met Sana she had just gone back to her apartment to lay in bed and stare at the blank lockscreen of her phone.
Mina doesn’t need to know any of that.
“Well, this is certainly progress,” the therapist nods, scratching quickly on her notepad. “What’s your plan?”
“My plan.” Two can play at the copycat game.
“For the progression of your friendship.”
“Oh.” Nayeon looks down at her hands. She hates seeing them like this, just bare skin and short-cut nails, instead of leather and steel. “I’m waiting for her to call me.”
“Why can’t you call her?”
What an idiot. “It would be weird.”
“She gave you her number,” Mina says flatly.
“That doesn’t mean—”
“It’s exactly what it means, Nayeon.”
Nayeon paces in her apartment, the weight of the cellphone in her pocket more like a ball and chain than anything else.
She snatches a wilted flower from one of her many Ming dynasty vases — all stolen, of course — and begins to rip the petals off.
Don’t call her.
Miraculously, Nayeon’s phone buzzes erratically in her pocket. She yanks it out, only to see Jeongyeon’s unflattering contact photo light up the screen.
“Fuck it.” She rejects the call and flips through to Sana’s. She hits the call button before she can stop herself, and waits.
The dial tone mocks her.
But then —
“Hey.” Sana’s voice sounds different over the phone, a little higher pitched.
“Hey.” Nayeon bites her lip.
On the other end, she hears a little rustling. Then, “I’ve been wondering when you’re going to call me.”
“I was wondering when you’re going to call me.” Nayeon means for it to be teasing, but her voice is too slow, too dark for that.
“I made the first move.” Sana chirps. “The call was up to you.”
“Well. Here it is.” Nayeon begins to pace again, twisting the stem of the flower in her hands.
“Cute,” Sana sighs. “Oh. Hold on a second.”
Nayeon can hear the other woman place the phone down, and then some inhuman snarls and squeaks.
A minute of confusion later, Sana pants into the receiver. “Sorry, Momo required attention.”
“What’s a Momo?”
“Who is a Momo,” Sana corrects cheerily. “I’ll send you a picture.”
Nayeon’s phone buzzes and she glances down at a picture of a gigantic, gaping Venus flytrap.
“She’s cute, right?”
Nayeon takes another look at the photo. It almost looks like it’s smiling.
“Yeah. Listen, I was actually calling to ask if you wanted to do something.”
Sana hums. “Like what?”
“Maybe go for a walk. In a park.”
Alright. Fuck Mina, fuck Jeongyeon, fuck Sana. Nayeon is about to hit the end call icon when Sana’s laughter floats through the phone.
“Come over, kitten.”
“I don’t know where you —” Her phone buzzes. It’s an address. “Alright. In an hour?”
“In an hour.”
“What should I wear?”
“Something comfortable.” She can almost feel Sana’s smile. Maybe because she’s smiling too.
Nayeon doesn’t actually dress comfortably. It’s a little too vulnerable to turn up to a supervillain's greenhouse in a hoodie, so she comes prepared. Full leather bodysuit, claws, mask, the whole thing. She nabs a bouquet of flowers outside a florist on the way.
Poison Ivy — no, Sana, — lives on the outskirts of Gotham. It’s funny, because Jeongyeon has been searching for the actual location for months, and here it is. A towering, overgrown greenhouse lit inside with purple lights.
Nayeon knocks on the glass door and it immediately swings open. Not because Sana opened it, but because the tendrils of a thick vine have hooked around the handle.
“Hello?” Nayeon doesn’t want to overstep. She peeks her head in. There are misters spraying the plants. All overgrown, all lush. It’s not like anything else in this sick, dying city.
“Hey.” Sana jogs across the lane between plots. She’s dressed in an over-sized, slightly ripped t-shirt, with baggy jeans and worn sneakers. Her hair, however, is as offensively red as always. “You’re hurt!”
Sana snatches the bouquet of flowers from her hands. “Thank God you rescued them,” she mutters, snatching an empty pot and a hoze, quickly filling it and then tenderly placing the flowers inside.
“You’re such a stereotype,” Nayeon half-laughs, wrapping her arms self-consciously around herself. The bodysuit was a mistake. Coming on a little too strong.
Sana just cocks her head to the side, eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “See. Now I’m a cat.” Her face breaks into an easy smile.
After that, Sana gives a way too thorough tour of the greenhouse. Every plant has a name, which Nayeon apparently needs to know, as well as an origin story which Sana relays animatedly, even when it only amounts to ‘I saw it outside.’
Momo is, by far, the most interesting and temperamental of the plants. ‘She’, as Sana dictated, towers over a flimsy mattress in the center of the greenhouse.
“Is it — she friendly?”
“Not really,” Sana smiles affectionately. “I wouldn’t—”
Nayeon pokes Momo’s stem. It’s about as thick as her arm. The wide pink mouth of the plant suddenly dips and well, Nayeon thinks, it was a good life, all things —
Sana snatches her by the shoulders, pulling her back and out of Momo’s reach. But it’s equally dangerous, just in a different way. Sana’s breath is warm against her neck, her fingers curled protectively around Nayeon’s shoulders, her sickly sweet scent emanating.
“Now we’ve saved each other,” Sana breathes. There’s humor to it, but her voice is so quiet it betrays something else. Something Nayeon isn’t ready for.
“Damn it, I just came to collect my check.”
Sana retracts, her lips trying to twist into a smile.
“I mean, because now we’re even. So now you don’t have to pay—”
“I get it.” Sana plops down on the mattress. “It’s funny.”
Nayeon shifts awkwardly, looking for any sort of distraction, until Sana takes pity and gently pats the space next to her.
The woman sits, leaving a fair amount of space between Sana’s legs and her’s. “I’m sorry,” she starts. “I don’t really have any friends. So I’m not really sure how to do this.”
“You want to be friends,” Sana repeats slowly.
Is everyone in this city a goddamn therapist?
“Yes.” Nayeon crosses her legs, as uncomfortable as it is with the tight leather. “Because that’s what you want, right?”
“I think you’re hot.”
If Nayeon had a penny for everytime she heard that one, well. No. She’d still be a thief.
She waits for Sana to take it back, to apologize or fluster or do any of the myriad of things that mean she realizes it was maybe a bit of an overstep. But the woman just smiles, her eyes never wavering from Nayeon’s. They’re a honey color, brown but refracting the light in prisms and —
“Cute,” Nayeon breathes.
This week, Nayeon is ten minutes late for her session with Mina. She likes to keep the therapist on her toes. It’s one of her many acts of rebellion.
“Did you call your friend,” Mina starts, pushing her glasses down her nose.
“Yes. But not because you told me to.”
“Right.” Mina jots something down. Probably a note to ask Jeongyeon for more money. “So what happened?”
“We went to the zoo.”
Mina simply nods.
“And we talked. I don’t know. It was nice.”
Again, Mina is silent. Nayeon has figured out this is one of her techniques — just let other people do all the talking. Unfortunately, she always falls for it.
“I think she has a crush on me. And you’re going to ask me how I feel about that. And I’m going to say that I don’t know how to feel, because I basically don’t know her at all. But it might be nice. To be with someone again.”
It had been two years since her thing with Jeongyeon ended. Since then it was nothing but casual flings and some colorful trips to the —
“Does she know you’re in recovery?”
“Why would she need to know that? Also I am not recovering. You’re doing a shit job.”
Mina is immovable. “Did you steal anything this week?”
Nayeon huffs. “No, but that doesn’t mean anything. I’ve just been busy.”
“She texts me a lot.” Sana sends pictures of her plants almost constantly, demanding a stream of emoji reactions for each one. She also sends links to fairly depressing articles about the environment. Nayeon has read every single one and responded with appropriately angry rants about Gotham’s water management policies.
“You, a kleptomaniac, are not stealing things because a girl is texting you?”
Before Nayeon storms out, she makes sure to give a diatribe about how a PhD doesn’t mean shit anymore in the convoluted inflation of —
For the next week, it goes on like this. Late at night, when she can’t sleep, she slinks over to Sana’s greenhouse. The woman is always busy, but it’s nice to watch her make her rounds, watering the plants and cooing to them and feeding Momo rats.
Momo has actually become acclimated to Nayeon’s presence, to the degree that she can safely sit on the mattress for extended periods of time without fear of being lunged at.
It’s one of these nights, Nayeon splayed out, Sana busying herself with compost pile, that Jeongyeon calls. Again.
Nayeon’s been rejecting her, but —
“Where the fuck are you?”
“Hey to you too,” Nayeon grins against the receiver. “Miss me that much?”
Sana looks over her shoulder, eyebrows quirked.
‘Batwoman,’ Nayeon mouths.
“I’ve been calling you.”
“I’ve been ignoring you. Guess that’s how it works, huh?”
“Joker is on a rampage at city hall.”
“Alright, fine. I’m very busy —” Nayeon catches Sana’s smirk. “But I’ll see if I can fit you in.”
She hangs up before Jeongyeon can curse.
“Hero duties,” Sana asks gently.
“I hate that word.” Nayeon gets up off the bed. She’s been toning down her attire bit by bit. Today she’s just in an oversized hoodie and trackpants, but the leather tracksuit is underneath. Just in case. It’s hot as hell, but now it’s come in handy.
Before she leaves, Sana snatches her arm and presses a brief, warm kiss to her cheek. “Be safe.”
That’s the fun part, Nayeon thinks, as she scales city hall’s walls. Everything with Sana is new. With Jeongyeon, they had played the hot and cold game for years before it — well, it didn’t exactly go well.
But with Sana, even at such a slow pace, every conversation and look carries something exciting. It’s actually fun.
By the time she gets inside, Jihyo has already been arrested. She sits in her purple pinstripe suit on a pulled out chair, Jeongyeon pacing in front of her while Chaeyoung catalogues the Joker’s many handguns.
“Seems like you got it all figured out,” Nayeon drawls, coming up to lean into Jeongyeon’s side. It’s still a bit too natural. Something about the suit makes her feel like her old self, when it was like this.
Jeongyeon, however, stiffens and shifts away. “A lot of people got shot.”
Jihyo mumbles against the handkerchief stuffed in her mouth. Nayeon prances up, bending down to whisper, “I’ll say hi to Mina for you.”
The therapist looks a little worse for wear this week. There are bags under her eyes, a twitch in her fingers, as she tiredly begins their session.
“Sucks about Jihyo,” Nayeon starts. She can’t resist.
“She’s mentally ill.” Mina clicks her pen erratically. “She needs help not Arkham.”
“Sure.” Nayeon leans back on the chaise, stretching her arms. “Let’s talk about me.”
Mina slumps, but dutifully pulls out her notepad.
“My friend and I are doing well.”
“Are you still only visiting her at her home?”
Nayeon frowns. “I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”
“It seems like this girl has been a good distraction for you,” the therapist says cautiously. “But an important component in any relationship is sharing yourself. Letting her into your space, your apartment, could be a good step in establishing that.”
The irony of taking relationship advice from the Joker’s girlfriend is not lost on Nayeon.
But, all things considered, if Mina can make it work with a total psychopath, Nayeon can make it work with a more stable supervillain.
She calls Sana a few nights later, simply saying ‘come over’ and hanging up. That way, if there’s a rejection, she’ll be fine. She’ll be totally okay. She’ll get over it. She’ll —
Sana texts ‘where lol.’
Half an hour later, Sana is standing outside her door. Through the peephole, Nayeon can see that she’s cradling a small purple pot with a cactus in it.
Jeongyeon had never come over. She would have hated the decorations — all stolen, all priceless.
But Sana dances through the apartment, grinning up at the Edward Hopper paintings and royal jewels and terracotta soldiers. She places the cactus on the windowsill, instructing that she shouldn’t keep the curtains closed during the day anymore.
“I don’t really have anything to cook.” Nayeon hunches in front of the fridge. “But I do have some day old take-out.”
They eat on the couch, little bits of rice dropping down and getting wedged between the cushions.
“You stole all of this,” Sana asks between bites, gesturing at the living room with her chopsticks.
“Even the food,” Nayeon grins.
“I’ve been wanting to ask you,” the other woman hums, dabbing at her lips with a napkin. “Why are you friends with Batwoman?”
“I’m not.” That’s the instinctual response. Not the honest one. “Well. It’s sort of complicated. We used to have this thing, and then we didn’t, but we’re — I think we care about each other on a basic, human level.”
Sana nods thoughtfully, then tucks back into her food.
The silence is not comfortable. Not anymore.
Fuck Mina and her stupid degree. That was clearly the wrong thing to say, even if it was true.
Nayeon is festering when Sana reaches out, laying her hand on Nayeon’s knee.
“How did you feel when I kissed you?”
“You didn’t kiss me.”
“I did.” Sana smiles. It’s almost sad. “On the cheek.”
“Oh.” Nayeon bites her lip. Does Sana want the truth? Or will it just lead to another silence?
“Because I want to kiss you again,” Sana continues, her honey-colored eyes imploring. “But I don’t want to misread this.”
“It felt good.” Nayeon blurts. “I thought about it all night. I was smiling like an idiot the whole time I —”
Sana cups her cheeks, angling Nayeon’s face delicately. “Make it even.”
Nayeon stretches upward, because Sana is sitting up on her knees. Her lips are soft, gentle, but playful. The kiss changes every few breaths — simple at first, but then there’s a dart of tongue and a hand in her hair and Sana’s legs frame Nayeon’s hips.
Nayeon arches up, wanting more contact, more skin against skin. The leather bodysuit she’s wearing beneath her button-down and jeans strains against her muscles.
Sana must feel it too, the layers, and she retracts slightly. Her face is flushed, but her eyes are calm.
“What will it take,” she pants, “for you to let your guard down?”
There isn’t an answer. Not an easy one, anyways, not a short one. She tells Sana this. Because honesty, or whatever.
“I can wait,” Sana murmurs, her hands smoothing Nayeon’s hair back down.
Miraculously, it isn’t awkward. They watch a documentary and Sana holds her hand through the whole thing. When both of them begin to helplessly yawn, Sana presses a too-brief kiss to Nayeon’s lips and slips away.
When Nayeon wakes up in the morning, awkwardly curled up on the couch, the first thing she does is part the curtains beside the cactus. Usually she likes to keep them shut. Any old weirdo with binoculars could peek in and see her collection. She really can’t stand burglars.
She’s dreading her next session with Mina, so she makes sure to arrive twenty minutes early. They might as well both suffer.
She explains the basics of her night with Sana, all while Mina writes furiously on her notepad.
“This is actually good,” Mina hums, flipping to a fresh sheet. “Boundaries are a fundamental part of building a healthy relationship.”
“I’ve never exactly been good with boundaries.” Nayeon thinks of buildings. Without walls and roofs and awnings, burglary wouldn’t actually be possible. You need the physicality of it, the puzzle. Otherwise you’re just conquering empty space, which is the same as politely walking on a sidewalk. Which Nayeon will never get caught dead doing.
“This is an opportunity for you,” Mina stresses. “Do you actually have an answer for why you won’t let your guard down?”
“Well, it’s not like last time worked out super well.”
Mina nods. She’s heard this before. The trademark Jeongyeon Rant.
“But Sa — this girl isn’t Jeongyeon.” Nayeon knows she’s playing right into Mina’s hand here. But whatever.
“Exactly!” Mina claps her hands together in a rare show of emotion. “This is a clean slate, and so far you’re doing very well.”
“Don’t get too excited.” But Nayeon is smiling. Desperate not to meet Mina’s eyes, she glances around the room. On the windowsill, there’s a small cactus. “Wait. What is that?”
Mina turns, following Nayeon’s pointed finger. “Oh. That’s just a gift.”
“From a client?”
“No.” Mina clicks her pen. “From a friend. Well. An ex.”
Nayeon is aware that what she does next is not exactly in line with the whole ‘being a good, sane person’ deal.
But fuck the deal.
The second Sana picks up the phone, she starts. “Is that your slick little move Sana? Go over to a girl’s house with a cactus, leave it on the windowsill, marking your territory like some sort of sexy dog that —”
“Kitten,” Sana whines into the phone. “I just woke up.”
“It’s the middle of the goddamn afternoon,” Nayeon spits. Then, small. “Did you have a rough night?”
“Yes, I couldn’t stop thinking about you.”
Nayeon rages again. “You’re a two-timing, tree-hugging —”
“You saw Mina’s cactus,” Sana hums. “I didn’t know you were going to therapy.”
“I’m in recovery,” Nayeon seethes.
“Mina and I broke up when she met Jihyo. It’s sweet that she’s still taking care of Hal.”
“Hal.” Somehow, this is the most shocking revelation.
“Have you named your’s yet?”
“No.” Nayeon chews her lip. “Maybe.”
“Tell me,” Sana croons.
After that, it’s different. A whole burden of truth was laid out, and they piece it together side by side. Sana talks about her break-up with Mina, and Nayeon talks about her break-up with Jeongyeon.
At the next Sunday dinner at Jeongyeon’s mansion, everyone comments that she is ‘chillingly upbeat.’
“I’m in love,” Nayeon blurts. She half means it as a joke.
Tzuyu instantly pours Jeongyeon another glass of wine.
“With who,” Chaeyoung asks, smacking on her pork chop.
“A very pretty girl,” Nayeon smiles. “Thank you for demonstrating interest in my rich inner life.”
Before she leaves that night, Jeongyeon pulls her aside to the library. “I wanted to say I’m happy for you.”
“An empty platitude, but I’ll take it.” Nayeon tightens her coat around herself. She’s not wearing her bodysuit under her clothes. Because she’s going to Sana’s after this. Because she’s ready.
In the purple light that bathes the greenhouse at night, Nayeon is itching for Sana to touch her.
But the other woman, god damn her, is busy potting pitcher plants.
“You’re neglecting me,” Nayeon whines, flopping on the mattress. Hopefully it’s enticing.
“This is a delicate process,” Sana calls. There’s dirt smeared on her cheeks. “Give me ten minutes.”
“Five,” Nayeon bargains.
Sana is done in seven. It’s a happy enough medium. She comes to drift by the bed, an uncharacteristic timidness shaking her hands as she takes off her gardening gloves. “What’s that face?”
“What face.” Nayeon exaggerates a frown.
“That whole — your eyes. I’m suspicious.”
“I’m not wearing my bodysuit.” Nayeon lifts the front of her shirt up, just to show the skin of her stomach. It’s marred with indents from the toll of constant, tight leather.
Sana’s face lights up. “I can’t even tease you.”
Nayeon hooks her fingers in Sana’s worn belt loops. “You should still tease me.”
“Did she watch,” Nayeon pants against Sana’s ear, looking up at Momo hovering above them.
“She can’t watch.” Sana taps her nose. Her stamina is — well. It’s what Nayeon’s used to be. She’s out of practice. “But she’s sleeping.”
“I told you that!”
Nayeon hums. She probably did. Hoping to distract her, Nayeon traces a finger along the stems that thread across Sana’s body like exposed veins.
“Did it hurt?” She’s heard the origin story from Jeongyeon enough times. Apparently, Sana had injected toxins into her blood. Making her one with plants or some other unscientific but nonetheless apparently possible feat.
“Yes. But it was worth it.”
Nayeon nods, but she’s not sure. The leather was less of a commitment, and now she’s not sure she ever even wants to wear clothing again.
“I want to tell you something else. But you need to remember this one.”
Sana presses her thumb to Nayeon’s hipbone. “Did you know,” this is how her facts always begin, “that the continents are moving away from each other at the same rate fingernails grow?”
Nayeon didn’t. But it makes her so suddenly, unspeakably sad she’s not sure what to say.
“We aren’t continents,” Sana whispers as they fall asleep beneath a thin sheet.
“We fucked,” Nayeon announces, barely through the door of Mina’s office. The therapist is on the phone, her eyebrows raising in abject horror at either the physical intrusion or the sonic one. They’re one in the same.
“I’ll call you back,” she harshes into the phone, then refocusing her glare on Nayeon.
“Back to me.” Nayeon collapses on the chaise. “It was sexy. Intimate. Dare I say, good?”
“When I said you needed to open up, I meant it metaphorically.”
“Beggars can’t be choosers, Mina. Unless you’re really good at it.”
Mina takes her glasses off, pinching the bridge of her nose. “I’m supposed to decipher what you mean all the time, but this one is impossible.”
“That’s a good thing.” Nayeon yawns against her elbow. “Because I think I’m cured.”
“You’re not. You’re distracted, but you haven’t actually gotten to the root —”
Nayeon quickly starts tapping on her phone, sending Mina quotes to Sana. “Keep going.”
“See. This isn’t exactly healthy. I’m glad that you haven’t fallen into your old patterns, but it’s possible you’re replacing one obsession with another.”
“Maybe I need an obsession, have you considered that? Maybe everybody needs a little something that makes Gotham, yes, a little unhealthy, but overall still livable. That’s the point right?” Mina has heard this rant before. Nayeon doesn’t care. “To just figure out how to live?”
“That’s an incredibly low bar,” Mina sighs.
Nayeon and Sana are laying on her couch. It’s a bit too small for both to be long-ways, so Nayeon is curled as best she can around Sana’s body, scratching gently under Sana’s shirt.
“Would you let me do lines off you?”
“Of coke?” Sana coughs.
Nayeon grins. “Perfect. Mina says I need a new addiction, so I’m thinking of—”
“Mina said that?” Somehow Sana manages to inflect each word with an abject, unique horror.
“Well, she might have said I need to not be addicted to you. So clearly she meant—”
“Kitten. That was almost romantic.” Sana wraps her arms around Nayeon’s neck in a stifling hug. “But I doubt Mina wants you to start doing coke.”
“Which provides a compelling reason to start.”
Sana just frowns, cupping Nayeon’s cheeks. “Let’s go back to the part where you confessed to me.”
“It’s not a big deal.” Nayeon blows a puff of air straight into Sana’s eye. “You already confessed, so I was just paying you back.”
It goes on like this.
Sana leaves an extra pair of overalls and underwear at Nayeon’s apartment, Nayeon gifts Sana a few vases to keep at the greenhouse. There’s a venn diagram of objects strewn between their two homes, and when Nayeon walks from one to the other, through Gotham, it’s different. Yes, it’s a sick, stupid city. Yes, there are robbers and vigilantes and one particularly ineffective therapist. But nestled in all that, there’s her and there’s Sana.
One night, Sana had a new fact. It was that, when a whale dies, they sink to the bottom of the sea. The dead whale can support eighty years of life, bacteria and scavengers and even sharks coming down to feed.
Gotham is one great steel whale, wall-eyed and rotting, but there’s still enough to take from it. There’s some joy in living in its shadow.
The esteemed therapist Myoui Mina chews at the cap of her pen. “What is that?”
Nayeon glances down at the flowers in her lap, wrapped up in a wax paper cone. “Oh. These are for you.” She flings them across the room, landing off-center. “It’s our anniversary.”
“You and Sana have only—”
“No, our anniversary. One year of overpriced, wildly ineffective therapy.”
“Did you buy flowers just to spite me?”
“No, Sana gave me flowers to give to you to spite me.” Nayeon crosses her arms. “So then I decided to lash out at you, but, as usual, I have immediately admitted the truth, leaving us again at square one in the crusade against—”
“Thank you, Nayeon,” Mina sighs, leaning down to gather the bouquet. “I know it’s difficult for you to express affection, so. We won’t discuss this further.”
“I’m not expressing—”
“We’re on the clock.”
Nayeon bites harshly on the side of her tongue. Every week, when she walks the Gotham streets in disgusting daylight, she thinks ‘I’m very happy. I don’t need to go play conversational chess with a therapist for an hour that I could be spending watching Sana scrub out her overalls.’ But the second she sprawls out on the chaise, there’s suddenly this big, fat, stupid feeling that makes her want to scream or cry.
“Is there anything you want to talk about?”
“No,” Nayeon hisses.
“Mhmm.” Mina sweeps her pen over her notebook. “Just spit it out.”
“Well.” Nayeon looks down at her bare hands. They’re so weak and bright. “I’ve sort of. Well. You know how, like, when I started dating Sana, I stopped wanting to steal shit?”
“If by shit you mean priceless cultural artifacts, yes.”
“Well. I kind of want to do something bad.”
Mina nods, completely undisturbed. Which disturbs Nayeon. “Define ‘bad.’”
“Like, I don’t know, sort of stop talking to everyone and get a plane ticket to Egypt and just go totally ham on a pyramid. You know, they worshipped cats, which I think—”
Nayeon pulls at the hairband around her wrist. “First off, you.”
Mina smiles. “Obviously.”
“And Jeongyeon, I guess, because she’d just— you know. Get all disappointed. And if I’m not talking to Jeongyeon, I’ll have to stop texting Chaeyoung. And Tzuyu fits in there somewhere, too, I’m not like, a classist on top of everything else, so—.”
“And what about Sana?”
Here’s the bad part. The actual bad part. “She doesn’t want to leave Gotham.”
In the nine months they’ve been dating, Nayeon has brought it up a handful of times. She always starts with her speech. That Gotham is a city with a sickness, that half the plants here are rotting, that they could run away to a lush forest or a beach or literally anything else, and they’d be happy, because they’d be together. And Sana just smiles slow and beautiful and says no.
“So is the core of this, uh, Egypt fantasy about Egypt, or about your friends, or about Sana?”
Nayeon rolls her eyes. “No matter what I say, you’ll tell me it’s really about me.”
“You really are useless.” Beyond the window behind Mina’s desk, a yellowish layer of fog is dusting across Gotham. “I think, if we’re getting psychological, I want to sort of fuck up what I have and see how hard Sana will try to be with me. What I have right now— it’s comfortable and nice, but I still get this urge to take something that isn’t mine. And Sana just gives me everything.”
“You’re bored.” Mina clicks her pen rapidly. “Which, for you, is a form of self-destruction.”
“So fix it.” Nayeon glances at the clock. “You have forty-two minutes.”
“What’s going to ‘fix it’ is being honest with Sana, rerouting your impulses, and.” Mina stiffens. “Are you and Sana still having sex?”
“Like, thirty times a day.”
“Once a week.”
“And how does that—”
“It makes me feel like the thrill is gone for both of us, as cliche as that may be. You know, we used to be fist-deep in—”
“Okay. Okay. Have you talked about that with her?”
“I’m not going to beg, Mina.” Again, Nayeon looks to the clock. “Thirty-eight golden minutes left.”
“Communication isn’t as demeaning as you think it is,” Mina sighs. “I can guarantee that Sana has noticed the same things you have, she might just be waiting for you to bring it up.”
“Why wouldn’t she bring it up?” Between the two of them, Sana has always been braver.
“You don’t exactly react positively to being asked uncomfortable questions. Sana is respecting your boundaries, but unfortunately your boundaries are built a little too far from the castle.”
“I would say your ‘heart’,” Mina lifts her hands for the air quotes, “but—”
“See? You can’t even talk about an ancient symbol for emotion without some sort of distancing.”
“It is.” Mina runs a hand through her hair. It’s gotten long. It really has been a year, Nayeon thinks with an uncomfortable stab of nostalgia at her, uh, castle. “But you don’t have to be charming anymore, Nayeon. Someone loves you. Someone wants to know you, even the bad parts, even the parts you think they won’t like.”
“You don’t know that.” Nayeon hates her voice right now. It’s too small.
“I do.” Mina uncrosses her legs and leans forward, elbows propped on her knees, all serious.
“Oh god, I smell a breakthrough.”
That doesn’t even earn an eye roll.
“I like you, Nayeon. I really do. I care about you. I didn’t like you at first, to be completely honest, and it’s not my job to like you. But now I think I do know you, and I care about this Nayeon much more than the one who first waltzed in here and stole my fragrance diffuser.”
“Those things are a waste of money,” Nayeon says as she slams the door behind her, back out into the chaotic, comfortable swirl of the city. She’s lost again in all blank faces that don’t notice her at all.
Nayeon doesn’t feel like going back to Sana’s greenhouse after a session like that, so she scales the fire escape and breaks through her own apartment window. There is a small but substantial thrill in warranty fraud. Though Sana had pointed out, the last five times she did this, that it’s not really fraud, because the window does need to be replaced, and she’ll have to make all the calls, but it’s the principle that matters. It’s the fact that sometimes Nayeon needs to hear glass break or she’ll rip her hair out.
Today, however, she was a little clumsy. Put a little too much force in the elbow. Nayeon Jr., her cactus, is splayed out helplessly among terracotta shards and sand on the Turkish rug.
Nayeon curses to herself. Ten minutes later her phone is ringing but she’s tied up— leather gloves tenderly lay a lopsided Nayeon Jr. in a duct-taped together pot. She glances down at her phone screen and of course it’s Sana. She probably felt a disturbance in the delicate Gotham biodome. Or she just wanted to talk. Nayeon shivers.
“Hey,” she answers just before the call goes to voicemail. “You’re on speaker.”
“Are you with someone?” Sana sounds concerned. Not good.
“I’m sure Jeongyeon is tapping this phone, so. Say hi.”
“Hi, Jeongie.” Sana clicks her tongue. “Actually, I could use your help. There’s this thing with Momo, and—”
Nayeon brushes the sand off her lap. She’ll vacuum later. “A thing with Momo?”
“Nayeonie,” Sana whines. “I’m talking to Batwoman.”
“You have her number!”
“She never texts me back! Anyway, it’s okay Jeongie, I know you’re busy, but I would really appreciate it if—”
“Sana, just tell me what’s happening.”
There’s five seconds of infuriating, terrifying silence. Then: “Momo is sick.”
One intensely confusing group chat later, Nayeon is standing on the curb outside her apartment complex. The leather bodysuit is tight and unfamiliar underneath a big hoodie and— yes, shoplifted— sweatpants.
The sunset is too bright, refracted through the prisms of skyscrapers like a toddler psychopath with a magnifying glass crouched over an ant pile.
When the Batmobile screeches up, parallel-parking with unfair ease, she calls shotgun and Chaeyoung reluctantly clamors into the back beside Tzuyu.
“Seatbelt,” Jeongyeon orders. She’s in her full suit. It’s ridiculous.
They tear through the alleys of Gotham, dodging public buses and sports cars until the factories even out to the browning fields on the outskirts. Chaeyoung tries to strike up a conversation three times, but the serrated roar of the engine cuts off every question. When they park beside Sana’s greenhouse, Nayeon is the first to spring out. She doesn’t bother to knock.
Sana is sitting on the mattress at the center of her personal jungle, staring up morosely and gorgeously at Momo. Her stem is limp so that she’s bent at an odd angle, her mouth pulled into what would be a frown on a person.
Nayeon sits beside Sana, looping an arm around her waist and pressing a kiss to her shoulder before Jeongyeon can burst in and just be a—
“Okay, Tzuyu, you get the test kits ready, and Chaeyoung you’ll take the sample.” Jeongyeon’s heavy boots click on the floor as she marches straight up to the diseased Venus Fly Trap.
Normal Momo would lunge at her to try and get a bite, but now her leaves just flutter weakly.
“She ate a mushroom,” Sana murmurs. Her hands grip Nayeon’s. “I think it was radioactive.”
“You just had a radioactive mushroom lying around,” Nayeon whispers. God, she loves her.
“I’m a supervillain.”
Two hours and one buffalo chicken pizza later Jeongyeon is pacing in front of the Chernobyl tulips. Tzuyu and Chaeyoung, without invitation, have decided to sit on Sana and Nayeon’s mattress. No manners.
“Momo is pretty fucked,” Jeongyeon begins. “Either it’ll wither up—”
“She,” Nayeon corrects with a proud side-eye at Sana, who seems too tired to muster a smile. “She’ll wither away.”
“Okay,” Jeongyeon blanks. “She’ll wither up in a couple days, or her cells will duplicate at such a fast rate that she’ll grow astronomically and, based on the way this week has been going, end up eating the city.”
“We have two options,” Tzuyu cuts in, primly straightening her soil-stained shirt. “Well. We have one option. Which is to put Momo out of her misery right now. Later would not be advisable.”
Jeongyeon spins a batterang around her fingers. “Well, I’m sure it was a good—”
A vine shoots up from the earth, curling around Jeongyeon’s neck in a headlock. Chaeyoung springs up, her staff flicked out to clip Nayeon harshly on the jaw.
“I didn’t do a—”
Another vine snatches Chaeyoung by the ankle, dragging her into a thick spread of flowers while she calls out.
“Please don’t bother,” Tzuyu sighs, flopping back on the mattress in total surrender.
“I’m really sorry, Jeongie,” Sana says, wrapping her arms around Momo’s pot and hoisting it up. “But I can’t let you do this.”
By everything Nayeon has experienced in Mina’s office, she would never want to end up ringing the doorbell at her brownstone apartment in downtown Gotham.
But she is, Sana panting beside her, Momo hung over their shoulders.
“I know this is a little crazy,” Sana says for the tenth time since they ran away from the greenhouse.
“It’s really hot,” Nayeon corrects. There’s something about hotwiring the Batmobile that just really gets her going, and something about Sana sweaty, and something about how late at night it is and—
Momo whimpers. She’s still such a moodkiller.
Even worse, the door opens.
Even worse, it’s not Mina.
By everything Nayeon has read in the outdated psychology magazines in Mina’s waiting room, the Joker is undeniably a psychopath and a danger to society and the kind of thing that should be dumped in the river with an anchor tied around their waist.
But here Jihyo is, grin plastered across her face, in a gaudy smoking jacket. “Mina,” she calls back into the house. “Did you order me flowers?” She moves to snatch Momo, and Nayeon kicks her hand away.
The world is so fucking sick. Mina drifts out of the dark in just a towel. Her hair is down. It looks nice.
“Nayeon,” she says stiffly, peeking over Jihyo’s shoulder. “Sana.”
“Hi, Minari.” Sana smiles. “Can we come in?”
It’s an absolute nightmare. Nayeon has probably fucked up any of the goodwill Jeongyeon had left, Momo is rotting in an overpriced and legally furnished apartment, Sana is holding her ex-girlfriend’s hands and weeping quietly, and Jihyo is trying to show off her straight-jackets like it’s a goddamn fashion show.
“I’m gonna take a walk,” Nayeon announces, hoisting herself up from the leather couch.
As she paces past the parked cars and dog shit and anemic trees that can’t grow in the constant shade of Gotham’s downtown, she tries to sort out every mysterious strain of her feelings, as Mina would call them.
First, the easy feeling. She’s afraid. Of course she’s afraid, for Momo and for Sana. And herself, because maybe she’s a little unequipped in the grief and panic department.
And that leads to jealousy. She’s jealous that Sana had wanted Jeongyeon’s help, and now she’s jealous that she wanted Mina’s comfort.
And that leads to— what?
Is she sad?
Did she want to, maybe, talk to Sana about her ‘feelings’, and now her ‘feelings’ were selfish and small in the face of losing Momo, and every alley is like an open door to a world where she could be free of having any of these complicated, shitty thoughts; and yes, those are worlds without Sana, but maybe it’s time to just let everyone not worry about her so much and just—
“Nayeonie.” Sana’s hands tug at the back of her shirt, and Nayeon lets herself be pulled until Sana is around her. It takes a second to relax, because Nayeon feels like if she lets the tension go in her muscles she’ll just be a puddle on the piss-stained sidewalk. But that isn’t what happens. She sighs and Sana holds her up. “It’s been a long day.”
“I’m really sorry,” Nayeon tries. “About Momo.”
A raccoon slumps across the street.
“And me. I’m sorry about me.”
“You don’t have anything to—”
Her hands tighten around Sana’s wrists. “No, I do. And this isn’t a good time to tell you, but— I’m such an angry person, Sana.”
Sana is maybe the bravest person alive. She kisses Nayeon’s shoulder. “And you’re angry with me.” It’s brave and it’s gracious that she isn’t asking. It’s a miracle that Sana knows, and Nayeon loves her with a force that makes her dizzy.
“I don’t want to be,” Nayeon says. “Sometimes I’m just— sometimes it feels like you’re the door locking me in. Like I’m only in Gotham because you want me to be.”
“I’ll love you if you leave,” Sana whispers. “I’ll love you anywhere.”
“But you’ll always be here. And I hate here. And I shouldn’t even be saying this, because Momo—”
“Momo is going to be okay.” Sana’s voice trembles, though. “There’s— well, you know how I became me? We’re going to try to do the same thing with Momo, except instead of starting as a human she’ll just start as a plant.”
“We,” Nayeon repeats.
“Jihyo has the serum. Well, she stole the serum from me at gun-point a few years ago, but she was going through a rough patch.”
“I could have stolen it back,” Nayeon pouts.
“That’s not how I want you.” Sana’s arms tighten around her waist. “I just want you sitting by my side while Jeongyeon makes speeches about justice an hour after dinner is over, or holding my hand while Jihyo plays Russian Roulette with herself.”
“Is she really?”
Nayeon finally finds the grit to turn, folding her arms over Sana’s shoulders. They share their weight, leaned against each other in the smog-poisoned streets. “You know, this conversation is going to get old one day. You’ll get tired of having to bring me back.”
“Then stop leaving.”
Sana pulls her by the hand back up the steps.
A week later, Nayeon has rejected every single one of Jeongyeon’s calls. She has, however, slipped up and replied to Chaeyoung. She’s skipped her appointment with Mina, but the therapist seemed relieved on the phone.
Currently, she is babysitting Momo.
Sana argued that Momo couldn’t ‘grow up’ in the greenhouse, because she needed to learn how to be a human and what better way than to grow up in the razzle-dazzle lifestyle of Nayeon’s studio apartment stocked with very shatterable vases.
Momo stands in front of the still-broken window, photosynthesizing in the pale strips of sunlight that scatter past the skyscrapers.
Nayeon sits on the couch, sneakily taking a picture to send to Sana. She replies with at least fifty heart emojis.
“What happened to Dahyun,” Momo asks flatly. Some of her Venus Fly Trap looks have been retained even as a human. Her teeth are sharp.
“Her.” Momo points at Nayeon Jr., still looking like hell on the windowsill.
“Oh. I broke the window and she fell.”
“Why did you break the window?”
Momo asks a lot of questions, but Nayeon doesn’t mind it so much. She’s not exactly judgmental.
“I like breaking things,” Nayeon says. “It’s fun. Didn’t you like breaking my Faberge egg?”
“Not really,” Momo sighs and slumps. She has a habit of body language. She’ll recoil instantly when afraid, spread out on the floor when calm. “It was loud.”
“It was expensive,” Nayeon corrects.
Sana comes over with bags of fertilizer for Momo and take-out for her and Nayeon. They eat on the couch, watching the local news. A grim-faced anchor introduces a video clip of Jeongyeon suplexing Jihyo in a bank lobby.
“I should call Mina,” Nayeon huffs at the exact same time Sana sighs, “I should call Mina.”
“You’re on speaker,” they say together when the therapist picks up. A joke about Batwoman monitoring the call might not be appropriate.
“Do you want to talk about your feelings,” Nayeon sings instead.
“It was a big misunderstanding.” Mina’s voice is too tired to be as snappy as she probably intends. “Jihyo was just trying to apply for a debit card. But the media will never acknowledge how difficult it is for a felon to get financial equity in this—”
“Right, right, right,” Nayeon yawns.
“How’s the Momo situation?”
“Wonderful,” Sana coos. “She made a friend.”
“A third friend,” Momo murmurs. Nayeon Jr.— no, Dahyun— is in her lap.
Later, Nayeon lays on the bed while Sana gets into her pajamas. Momo is already tucked in on the couch.
“I think we should talk,” Sana says as she closes the curtains against the light pollution blaring into the room.
“Oh no,” Nayeon groans, and she hopes for a laugh, but Sana turns and her face is grave.
“Momo is okay, and now that we’re on to problem number two.” She sits at the edge of the bed. “You know, with every relationship I’ve been in, I hit this point where there’s this question of ‘do we break up or do we stay together forever?’ And. It sounds like we need to answer that.”
“Forever,” Nayeon whispers to make the word more real.
She had imagined only a few things being forever: Jeongyeon always being a stick in the mud. Jihyo always being fucking insane. Mina always sitting in her armchair, drawing shapes in her notebook. And she would forever be a thief, maybe. That was the only way she imagined herself being anything at all.
“I know we’ve moved past the honeymoon phase.” Sana runs a finger up Nayeon’s shin. “And maybe I’ve been neglecting you.”
“Maybe,” Nayeon admits softly.
“I’m glad you have Mina to talk to, but the fact is that her job is to make you feel responsible for yourself. But the way I see it, we’re responsible for each other.” Sana dips a kiss to Nayeon’s bare knee and she wishes she had remembered to shave. “I’m used to taking care of plants, and I can feel how they feel, all the time. It’s kind of overwhelming. But you— I can’t always know, Nayeonie. That’s overwhelming, too. So if you could tell me, I’d appreciate it.”
Nayeon gulps. “I want to go to Egypt with you. I looked it up. Everyone thinks it’s so much desert, but there’s the Nile, and actually it can be quite lush, so. Yeah.”
“What if we made Gotham better?” Sana bites her lip, like she’s embarrassed.
“Gotham is fucked.”
“But what if it wasn’t? What if everyone could change and we tore down the skyscrapers and the sun could shine here again and the trees would grow and the air would be clearer?”
“Baby, you know righteous eco-terrorism is so sexy to me, but it’s not exactly pragmatic.”
“I can’t leave.” Sana crawls forward, nestling her head against Nayeon’s chest. “Even if it’s a rotting corpse, it’s my rotting corpse. I’m going to believe in it and hope for it no matter what happens.” Her nail traces the line of Nayeon’s collarbone. “I feel the same way about you.”
For all the times Nayeon has been arrested, she’s found a way to wiggle her way out of community service every single time. Usually by just not showing up.
So maybe it’s karmic that she’s out in broad daylight with an orange vest on, dragging a trash bag behind her, stabbing at litter with the claws on her leather gloves. Maybe it’s something about love.
Momo drifts behind her, apologizing to the vines she wrestles a can of Vienna Sausages— really, the perversity of Gotham citizens knows no bounds— from its clutches.
“People are disgusting,” Nayeon harshes, inspecting a crushed beer can. “And lazy. And gluttons.”
“We don’t deserve this world,” Momo says sagely. She’s developing a personality. Right now, it’s erring on the side of gloomy.
“Save it for your blog.”
Momo has started a Wordpress to catalogue her wandering thoughts and couple pictures with Dahyun. It has two followers. Nayeon is one of them.
Sana, glorious follower number two, skips across the sidewalk. Blades of grass lift to offer spat out chewing gum, which she plucks like berries and tosses into her own trash bag. She plants a kiss to Nayeon’s cheek. “Should we call it a day?”
On a good day, Nayeon can only manage about ten minutes of hot water before the shower almost freezes up. She scrubs Sana’s shoulders and upper back, pausing before drifting down.
“I think we should make anti-littering signs,” Sana says as she massages the shampoo into Nayeon’s hair. “Momo says shame can be very motivating.”
“Momo is two weeks old,” Nayeon says, but she likes the idea. Something like ‘eat your own trash’. Or ‘Vienna Sausages are you fucking kidding me?’
“Are we going to fuck?”
Sana’s eyes are so big and bright.
The water is losing heat fast.
“Remember,” Sana murmurs, fingers pinching Nayeon’s canting hips, “when we first met?”
“Mhmm,” she shivers.
“Did you think about this?”
Sana is inside her, a smile pressed to her shoulder.
“Us in a shower after, ah, after unpaid— oh, God, I—”
“Don’t try to talk, baby,” Sana coos. “You’re so messy.”
“You asked me— Sana— you asked me a question!”
“I thought about it,” Sana sighs even as the rhythm picks up and Nayeon feels like she can barely catch up, can barely process anything, which is how it always is, which is why— “You look so good in that tight little suit. But I like this better.”
“You’re gross,” Nayeon keens.
“I didn’t know how much you hated the leather,” Sana continues, unperturbed. Her eyes are so impossibly dark and deep and it’s an affection that Nayeon will never, no longer how long she stares, understand. “I didn’t know so much about you, and sometimes—” Her voice falters. “I really do wish I had known everything, right then, and maybe I could have loved you right from the beginning.”
Leave it to Sana to say something that makes Nayeon want to cry at the exact same time as doing something with her hands that makes it absolutely certain Nayeon will cry.
So she’s crying in the shower as the hot water turns to cold, and Sana yelps and apologizes and cries too, and when they’re laying on the bed in tatters, clawing to be closer to each other, Nayeon wants to know the words to cure everything in herself and cure everything in Sana and cure the world, all with one big breath.
Tonight, “I love you” has to do. It has to be enough.
“I would like to save the world,” Nayeon says the next time she’s in Mina’s office.
The therapist collapses in melodic, totally unnecessary laughter.
“Mina, I’m serious. The one time I’m serious, and you do this.”
“I’m sorry, I really just—” Mina turns around her notebook. Written in swooping calligraphy is ‘add to case file: delusions.’ “Oh, God. Thank you, Nayeon. I really needed that.”
“Problems at home,” Nayeon inquires, sickly sweet.
“Don’t go there,” Mina brushes off, still red-cheeked. “Anyways. I’m sorry. You want to save the world.”
“Is Jeongyeon crazy for wanting to?”
“Yes,” Mina says flatly.
“Well, institutionalize her! I’ve been calling in anonymous tips to Arkham for the past five years!” She’s had a few burner phones blocked.
“We’re talking about you, Nayeon. Not Jeongyeon.”
“Give me one hint.”
Mina bites her lip. “Childhood trauma.”
“That’s fucking cheating and you know it. Anyway, back to me. I want to save the world. I think it’s pretty fucked up. Do you have any idea the impact of littering on the paltry Gotham ecosystem?”
Mina’s pen moves furiously over her notebook. “Littering?”
“Didn’t you go to college? It’s when people just throw their Vienna Sausage cans— yes, you heard that right, Vienna Sausage cans— out in the park like it’s their own personal dumpster. It’s disgusting. It’s offensive.” Nayeon can feel her cheeks heating up, her hands curling into fists.
And her therapist is still fucking laughing. “I just didn’t expect— is littering your chief concern?”
“Yes! It’s representative of everything wrong with Gotham and, by extent, the human race, and, by extent, God. If you really think about it, He littered humans on the Earth. So it all goes back to Him. So, because I cannot kill God, I will save the world.”
At last, Mina is speechless. Her mouth is open in a dumb little ‘oh.’ “I do not agree with your suppositions but I am intrigued.”
“As you know, I have millions of dollars of precious cultural artifacts holed up in my apartment,” Nayeon says. It always is so fun to lay out the evil plan. “They’re great decorations, but I’m going to send out some ransom letters. When I get the money, I’m going to start an ad campaign that shames litterers into oblivion. Did you know there are literal islands of trash out in Gotham bay? In a few years, if enough people clean up after themselves, that won’t exist. And the water might finally not be black, and the trees will live better, and Gotham will be clean again.”
“Sana really got to you.”
“Sana has nothing to do with this,” Nayeon sneers, before it softens into a smile.
There are three types of people in Gotham.
There are the supervillains like Jihyo. People who are always going to do the wrong thing. Maybe because they get bored, maybe because they’re evil, maybe because they’re trapped in an ugly life and have nothing to do but blow bullet holes in the lock.
There are the superheroes like Jeongyeon and Chaeyoung, who are always going to try to stop the wrong thing, maybe even sometimes manage to do the good, right thing.
There are just the normal people, caught between a glock and a batarang. People like Mina and Tzuyu, who do their best to live without power, to hide when things go wrong.
Nayeon never wanted to be normal. She never wanted to be saved by Jeongyeon, or gutted for one of Jihyo’s jokes.
She couldn’t be like Jeongyeon. She tried.
Being a villian was the easiest, the best, the most natural. If she had a career counselor, they would have called it a perfect fit. Her war wasn’t against art collectors or billionaires, but against Gotham. It made her sick the same way it was sick.
But things had changed. Mina would say, in that serious, cheesy way of her’s, that Nayeon had changed. And now Gotham was changing, healing back like a blood brother sewn against Nayeon’s thigh.
Momo has taken over the greenhouse. For Nayeon, it was an emotional goodbye to Dahyun. She was bullied into pressing a quick kiss to the side of the duct-taped pot.
Nayeon and Sana are sitting on the fire escape, two half-full beers between them. Long, angular shadows cut across the streets.
“Can you believe,” Nayeon takes a swig, “that some people would just throw these down in the alley when they’re done?”
Sana cuddles into her side. “It’s heinous.”
“Thank you,” Nayeon sighs into her hair, “for not breaking up with me.”
“Are you going to say that every day?”
“If you don’t break up with me every day.”
Sana lifts one of her hands to her lips and kisses each knuckle. “Thank you for not going to Egypt. Or anywhere that isn’t here.”
“Sometimes my castle gets bigger than my head.” It’s happened a few times, now. That impulse to do something rash and painful. And then she tucks herself beside Sana in their bed and wakes up and it’s impossible to want to be anywhere but there, in the pale morning light, breathing beside Sana.
“Your castle,” Sana teases, her breath tickling Nayeon’s ear.
“My heart,” Nayeon whines. “My big stupid heart.”
don't dump vienna sausage cans on my street
There is only one important thing on Earth, and it is how Sana’s face scrunches up every time she takes a sip of her Bloody Mary.
“I could finish it for you,” Nayeon offers, for the third time this brunch, scooting her chair a little closer on the restaurant deck.
“You can’t go to your appointment drunk,” Sana says, tearily taking a gulp of water. “Mina will kick you out.”
Nayeon snatches the Bloody Mary glass. “Promise?”
“It’s so hot when you scold me,” Nayeon grins around the biodegradable paper straw. “Now tell me I can’t go to therapy because you want to dry hump me in the—“
It’s also so hot when Sana pretends to be scandalized.
A certifiably better way to spend the afternoon would just be making a list of all the best things about Sana, instead of watching the clock tick behind Mina’s desk and answering ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to every question regardless of the truth like a conversational choose-your-own-adventure until Mina realizes the labyrinth of Nayeon’s mind is far too complex for a measly DSM-5 to possibly—
“I can tell you're ranting,” Sana says fondly. “You should go.”
“What does it mean if your main stressor in life is your therapist?”
“Maybe you should ask her.”
Confrontation, in Nayeon’s experience, has always been a little bit of a double-edged sword.
On one side, there’s a special thrill in marching up to someone and telling them they’re a half-baked parasite on the bloated cadaver of mental health care and they’re the reason for every problem in your life.
But a rash confrontation can also be like overextending a punch and leaving your ribs open for a baseball bat to the gut.
So, as Nayeon sits on the subway, she decides to dig a little deeper. Maybe beat Mina to her own job, as Nayeon has been accustomed to doing. What a waste of money.
If she thinks past the beige cardigans and the clicking pen and Mina’s constantly placid smile— which are infuriating, yes— there’s not much she actually knows about her therapist. It’s been over a year. In a lot of ways, Mina is— Nayeon almost gags— her friend. She’s told Mina things before she’s told Sana. Just to rehearse. And Mina has seen Nayeon experience the whole of her broken emotional compass. And Mina has kind of maybe sometimes barely helped her solve some minor problems.
All the details Nayeon has garnered about Mina’s life haven’t come from the source.
For example, she only knew about the therapist’s relationship with Jihyo because Jeongyeon was told by Chaeyoung who was told by Tzuyu who was a frequent reader and, Nayeon suspects, contributor to the Gotham Gazette blind items column— anyway, Tzuyu read that a prim psychology intern had fallen in love with Arkham’s consecutively worst-inmate-of-the-month after ‘the world’s most romantically illuminating Rorschach test.’
Nayeon has interrogated Sana a few times for details, but Sana is allegedly a good person who will never divulge even the most rote secrets of Mina’s life or relationship.
Nayeon taps out a quick Google search. Mina’s Instagram is private. There are a few news articles, mostly interviews where Mina politely lambasts Arkham’s treatment methods, but it’s all entry-level stuff.
So maybe it isn’t that Mina is the worst person she’s ever met.
Maybe it’s that Mina’s kind of— dread fills Nayeon’s chest— her best friend.
And Nayeon is just her patient.
“You seem nervous.”
“I’m not.” It’s the first thing Nayeon has said in today’s session, ten minutes after closing the door tentatively behind her.
But it’s not like it’s been quiet. There’s an escalating vortex of bewildering feelings, and it would be nice if Mina didn’t interrupt them with her faux concern.
“We can just sit,” Mina says, placing her pen on the table beside her and settling back against her chair.
Nayeon is aware, from popular and not exactly relatable memes, that this is a precious sign of friendship: comfortable silence.
“Nope. I’ll just go.”
Nayeon stays rooted to the chaise. “You’re not going to stop me?”
“The customer is always right.” Mina smiles mirthlessly.
Which is fantastic. Because it finally ignites a familiar streak of distaste for the therapist.
“Oh, yes, I forgot you get $300 an hour regardless of if you manage to make a dent in my maladaptive coping mechanisms.”
Mina snatches her pen. “What’s wrong, Nayeon?”
“That was a lazy quip and you know it.”
Nayeon groans. She sort of doesn’t hate when Mina gives it right back. It’s almost like a normal conversation. “Okay. I’m having. Feelings.”
“Please don’t take offense to this,” Mina says, straightening her glasses, “but humans constantly experience feelings.”
“Confusing feelings, does that clear it up?”
“Not at all.”
“Okay.” Nayeon takes a deep breath. “Let’s scratch that. Literally, cross it out, get a new sheet.”
Mina rolls her eyes but obeys, flipping the notebook over in her lap.
“I’m evaluating my friendships.”
Which isn’t actually a better thing to say, because now Nayeon is thinking about Jeongyeon too. She has been a very good pain in the ass to Batwoman, but she’s been slacking in the…well. More personal areas.
“What triggered this?”
“Please don’t use your washed up academic buzzwords on me.”
Mina’s frown tightens. “What inspired this?”
“Self-reflection is one of my hobbies.”
“Uh-huh.” Mina rubs at the back of her neck. “The reason I ask what tr— brought these feelings is that you have a tendency to overreact to, should I say, a lack of stimuli.”
“Well, I was not thinking about it, and now I'm thinking about it. So that’s what, as you say, ‘happened.’”
“But there wasn’t an interaction or a conversation that spurred this on.”
“You really do know a lot of synonyms for triggered.” Nayeon seethes. “But does that not happen to you? Where you’re just having brunch with your beautiful girlfriend and then suddenly you’re on the subway and you realize that—“ And here Nayeon falters. It wasn’t easy to think it, and she can’t imagine how pathetic it might be to actually say it out loud. “Okay, let me make this more relatable. Are you ever at Arkham, waiting for them to drag Jihyo out with a muzzle, and that makes you happy for some sick reason and then the weight of your student loans and —“
“Nayeon.” Mina takes her glasses off and pinches the bridge of her nose. “You need to shut up.”
“Perfect.” Nayeon is desperate to get out of the office. She takes the elevator down a few levels, to the lobby, and crouches in front of one of the vending machines. It takes a little of contortion, but she’s able to snake her up through the hatch and snag a packet of Sour Patch Kids.
Two minutes later, she’s fine. She’s good. She opens Mina’s door and tosses the peace offering on her lap. “I’m sorry. I guess.”
“Miss Im.” Mina’s eyes don’t rise to meet her’s. “I think we need to take a break.”
“I just gave you candy.”
“Uh.” Mina picks the bag up at the corner, inspecting it like a dead fish at the docks. “Thank you.”
“I also said I was sorry. So. I don’t really know what has your panties in a wad.”
“Well.” Mina rips the corner of the bag and pops a piece in her mouth. “You’re being verbally abusive and uncooperative.”
“You get paid.”
“I’m a person, Nayeon.”
“Okay! Let’s talk about it!”
Here’s the part where Mina opens up to her, and lays everything bare, and in the inevitable destruction of revealing herself Nayeon can finally start to know—
“No.” Mina’s fingers drum nervously on the edge of her desk. “You’re my patient. I’m supposed to help you, and right now…I feel a little incapable of it.”
“Is it Jihyo? You can tell me, in fact, I’m kind of dying to—”
“No, it’s you, Nayeon. If you could listen to me instead of rerouting all your attention to what your next jab would be—“
Nayeon doesn’t know why Mina stops. She should keep going. She should get all the venom out. She should let herself be ugly.
But Mina bites her lip, closes her eyes, and says, “You should go before either of us say something we’ll regret.”
Which is worse.
“So that was a disaster,” Nayeon growls, not even halfway through her apartment door when she sees that the entire living room is flooded. The carpet is swollen with water. A TV remote floats by her already soaked shoes.
Sana is squatting beside the water heater in rain boots with a wrench in her hands. “Nayeonie, I’m really so sorry, I think the connector is rusted and—“
“You wanna get out of here?”
So that’s how they end up on the doorstep of Jeongyeon’s mansion.
“Master Yoo is out,” Tzuyu sighs when she opens the door, sounding purposefully bored.
“We’re actually here to see you, Tzuyu,” Sana chirps, breezing past the butler and into the dark house. “We need a room.”
“Why?” But she’s already snatching Nayeon’s suitcase and marching up the staircase.
When they’re settled in one of the thirty guest bedrooms, Nayeon starts opening the drawers to find something to nick. But then there’s stupid, needling voice in her head, asking ‘what does this solve?’
And it solves nothing, she thinks back to the voice. But it’s all she can do.
But that’s black and white thinking.
Which a certain, unnamed person would say is an unrealistic and catastrophic way to look at the world.
So she’s back to square one.
“Sana,” she sighs. She can’t bear to turn around, to look at this person who thinks she’s the best thing on Earth when Nayeon knows she isn’t. “I kind of fucked up today.”
“I think it was your landlord’s fault that—”
“No, I mean.” Nayeon really doesn’t want to do this. Maybe if she whispers. “I had a fight with Mina.”
“A fight?” Sana perks up on the bed.
“No, an argument. A little one.” Nayeon slumps against the dresser. “She’s really mad. Overreacting to a lack of stimuli. You know. Classic Mina stuff.”
“That doesn’t sound classic,” Sana says, and her voice is tentative, and Nayeon doesn’t like being the only tornado in the room.
“I made a little joke about Jihyo and she just exploded.” Nayeon stiffens as Sana’s hands come around her waist. “And by exploded I guess I mean she said some reasonable things about how I could be nicer. And you really shouldn’t be hugging me because I’m— I really don’t deserve it right now.”
"You deserve hugs all the time,” Sana huffs into her sweater. “Especially now.”
“I just made someone you care about really mad,” Nayeon tries.
“And I’m going to call her in the morning, but right now,” Sana presses a kiss to Nayeon’s neck, “we’re going to take a bath.”
The tub is a big, gaudy clawfoot one. It’s nice.
Nayeon sits on the floor, testing the temperature with a hand over the edge while Sana picks out their pajamas for the night. It’s a little too tender for Nayeon’s tastes. She’d like to be yelled at. She’d like someone to be angry with her right now so she doesn’t have to do it alone. Because all her brain can do at the moment is attack itself, and if Sana could just kick down the door and unleash— like Mina had been so close to doing before— then maybe she’d be able to remember how to defend herself, and find the perfect logical fallacy to hitch herself to, and get pulled from this guilty slog and just be a normal kleptomaniac again.
Sana sinks into the water first with a little yelp at the heat.
“I fucked that up too,” Nayeon baits, shrugging out of her clothes, but Sana just squirms and laughs until Nayeon lowers herself in too, back against Sana’s chest.
“This just means the water will stay warm longer.”
“We could talk about it.”
“Or?” Nayeon has seduced Sana in less ideal situations. There was that time on the oil rig, and then the Portapotty which was surprisingly—
“You know calling me that is a little counterproductive if you’re not planning to touch me.”
Sana pinches her thigh, a little too low to be just right, but—
“Sex isn’t as good when it’s a distraction.”
“That’s not true at all,” Nayeon whines, shifting closer, trying to get Sana’s hand to slide up higher. “I like it when you’re the only thing I can think about.”
“Mm,” Sana purrs, and it’s so unfair, because she’s taking Nayeon’s hands in her's and pulling them up to rest on her stomach. “Tell me.”
“I did. We had an argument. Mina’s mad. That’s it.”
“Why did you say something mean about Jihyo?”
“Because it bothers Mina.” Because maybe Mina deserves better than a basket case. Because it’s the one splinter of personal information she can push at.
“So you said something to hurt Mina, and now she’s hurt, and that’s it?”
“Yep,” Nayeon pops.
The bathroom is quiet. Drops of water fall from the faucet to the otherwise still surface of the tub, the ripples fading out against the islands of Nayeon and Sana’s entangled bodies.
“Okay, fine.” Nayeon sits up, hugging her knees to her chest in the steam. “Do you think Mina sees me as a friend?”
“No,” Sana says automatically. It stings. “She’s very professional.” A fingertip traces down the bumps of Nayeon’s spine. “Do you want her to?”
“Yeah,” Nayeon croaks. “It just feels weird for someone to know everything about me, and just be a— a fat paycheck to them. I just got this freaky feeling, when I was on the subway, like. I want to know things about Mina. And not just gossipy things that I can trade for port wine bottles from Tzuyu. But at the same time, I know Mina can’t be my friend if she’s my therapist, and she’s like. Not the worst therapist. But I fucked that up too. And now she probably doesn't want to talk to me ever again. Which she would say is extreme, and now I'm just arguing with her in my head and I don't know what to do,” Nayeon finishes breathlessly.
“You know, the best person to talk to about how Mina feels—“
“I’m not calling Ji—“
Sana’s not wrong.
That’s why, the next morning, Nayeon rehearses her speech in the mirror while Sana lounges on the bed, talking to Mina with the phone tucked against her cheek. That’s why, when Sana carefully asks Mina if she’d like to talk to Nayeon, the world ends as a clear ‘no’ pierces through the bedroom.
Nayeon finds Jeongyeon in the Batcave, desperately scrubbing soapy circles on the graffitied Batmobile.
“You didn’t change the passcode,” she says instead of a greeting.
Jeongyeon doesn’t even turn around. “I’m not trying to keep you out.”
“That’s pretty dumb considering I packed spray paint in my overnight bag.”
“That’s what I like about you,” Jeongyeon says easily, dropping a rag in the bucket.
“Do you really?”
“Uh. Among other things.”
Nayeon splays out on the stone floor, staring up at the stalactites. The nominal bats scrabble around in their own miniature, upside-down city. She used to spend hours down here, just watching Jeongyeon tinker with her gadgets, listening to the drone of the police scanner. “Could you tell me?”
“And you can get yourself out of anything.”
“More,” she demands.
Jeongyeon leans against the side of the Batmobile, surveying Nayeon a little too much for comfort. “Well, you think about problems differently than I do. And when I really need you, like mortal danger need you, you’re always there for me. And you always have something interesting to talk about. And you know how to cheer up Chaeyoung when I don’t. And you have good taste in nearly everything. And you’re a better listener than you think you are. And you’re a good gift giver, even if it’s usually stolen, and—“
“Okay, we get it, you love me.” Nayeon hoists herself up with an indulgent yawn. “Please keep in mind, when I say what I am about to say, that you love me.”
“That’s easy.” Sometimes Jeongyeon can be so damn charming. The worst part is Nayeon knows she always means it.
“I think Dr. Myoui and I aren’t going to be seeing each other anymore. Which, for your trust fund, is probably an insignificant but still welcome development.”
“So you’re like. Cured?”
Nayeon’s laugh is harsh. “Of some things, I guess, yeah. But— she doesn’t want to be my therapist anymore.”
“Do you want me to find another?”
“Uh.” Nayeon hasn’t considered this. A new person to introduce to everything. Or, more honestly, a new person to lie to until even that gets exhausting and she ends up letting out slivers of truth until they see her like Mina did, and then don’t want to see it anymore. “Well. Not right now. I think I need…”
“Time,” Jeongyeon suggests.
“It’s kind of like a break-up. You need some space to grieve.”
“Why are you being so understanding,” Nayeon asks suspiciously, looking for any mockery in Jsongyeon’s sympathetic frown.
“Can’t I be nice?”
“Swearing an oath to never murder people isn’t the same as being nice.”
“Well, you won’t like it,” Jeongyeon warns. “But. Y’know. When we broke up…I didn’t really…we sort of jumped right in to being partners. Which was great, of course. Well. It was okay.”
“I wasn’t dating Mina, though. She doesn’t even like me.”
“Right, but. In principle. It's the same thing. You should give yourself some time, and then we'll figure it out.” Jeongyeon is so earnest.
They sit in silence again, in the still, damp air of the cave where Jeongyeon will always be and the passcode will always stay the same.
So Nayeon had a shitty weekend, no matter how divine Tzuyu’s choices for dinner were.
But now she’s back in Gotham proper. She has a flooded apartment, an angry landlord, an astronomic water bill, and a plan.
The plan is, not shockingly, completely unrelated to any of these problems that can be solved with a phone call and a Bitcoin transfer. That’s boring. Nayeon wants to hunt.
And maybe, if she still had a therapist, that therapist would say ‘stalking your ex-therapist could get the cops called.’ And to that, if Nayeon had a therapist, she would say ‘cops are pigs.’ To which Sana would point out that pigs are actually quite intelligent and compassionate and she would tell Sana that’s not the point of the rhetoric and why is Sana even in this imagined therapist office which is a stupid question because of course Sana would be in any fantasy she has on a—
Mina is leaving the office building, straight into a tag. Nayeon hops along the rooftops, parallel to the car. They aren’t heading south, toward Mina’s brownstone, but north. Toward Arkham. Of course.
There isn’t much Nayeon is scared of. She doesn’t like loud noises or shark movies or thunderstorms, but those are the kinds of fears that get cured when Sana spoons her.
But Arkham has always terrified her. It’s Gotham’s stomach, where hard-working criminals like her go to rot. A concrete promise of punishment. A guillotine that’s always had her name inscribed on its blade.
Every decision Nayeon has made has been a safeguard against Arkham; her alliance with Jeongyeon, her therapy. It would shock anyone to know that there are actually crimes she had planned to commit, but the idea of Arkham had kept her on a leash. Maybe that leash wasn’t tight. But it was still there.
So, even if she isn’t a prisoner, she doesn’t like to be anywhere near the fortress. She likes to keep herself deep enough in Gotham’s streets that she can’t even see the silhouette of it against the setting sun.
But Mina goes in, and Nayeon shimmies down the fire escape, and she follows.
For a maximum security psych ward, it’s alarmingly easy to slip through the bomb-proof doors. Nayeon leaves her wallet and keys and a few switchblades with the receptionist. She keeps a fair, unsuspicious breadth between herself and Mina, until she’s in the cell block. Here the hallways are too long for her to risk directly following, so she waits around the corner until the click of Mina’s heels is far enough away.
It’s Jihyo’s particular capillary in this sick heart, of course. There’s a smiley-face sticker on the door, which might be cute in any other context, but here it’s eerily childish.
Nayeon presses her ear against the cold metal seam between the door and the frame. She prays to whoever is listening that they aren’t fucking.
But no. It’s worse than that. Mina is giggling helplessly, and Jihyo’s piercing laugh bounces off the walls.
When Nayeon storms out, there are three missed calls from Sana.
She calls back once she finds a cab. “Hey baby,” she sighs, hoping that Sana will be able to read everything from her voice and spare her from actually explaining it.
“Kitten where have you been,” Sana sings cheerily. “I had to pick out the new rug without you.”
“I’m sure it’s very tasteful.”
“It isn’t. Momo and Dahyun came to help me and. Well. Dahyun can’t see, but Momo argued for it and— well, it’s a shag.”
“I can work with that.”
For all its many aesthetic sins, there is one gorgeous virtue to a shag carpet, and that is this:
Nayeon has something to hold onto when Sana pushes the waterlogged coffee table out of the way and fucks her on the apartment floor.
It is not a distraction. Nayeon is fully, totally aware of every micro-movement of Sana’s hands, the ingenious angles, the laughs and purrs coming from behind her and she is not thinking about anything else.
Though, Nayeon considers, muffling herself against the rug, there is a lot she could be thinking about.
But why think about That when Sana is doing This?
“Sana,” she murmurs. “I think we should stop.”
“Oh.” Sana flushes, skittishly retracting. She reaches up to the couch and pulls off one of their blankets and tentatively covers Nayeon as best she can without letting her fingers graze the still too warm skin.
“It’s fine, it’s just.” Nayeon chews her tongue, trying to find the kindest, best way to say it.
It’s not that she isn’t in the mood.
It’s just that, for once, getting fingered by the love of her life might not, in fact, be what she needs right now.
In the emotional sense.
Which is gross.
Sana’s eyes get wide, and Nayeon worries that maybe she blurted it all out, but Sana is just that intuitive. Damn her.
“If you say we can talk about it,” Nayeon warns, “I might start bawling.”
“You feel like bawling,” Sana whispers, devastated.
“Not because of you.” Nayeon sits up, not caring that she’s bare or that the angle isn’t exactly flattering as she hunches forward to snatch Sana’s hands. “I wish everything was about you, because then I’d be criminally happy all the time.”
“That’s very sweet. But I would feel better if I could help you.”
Sana’s thumbs rub circles on her palms.
“That’s not your job.”
“You know I adore Mina,” Sana says slowly, “but she’s not the only person who can listen to your problems or help you understand yourself better.”
Well, if Sana wants a peek into Hell, Nayeon will give it to her.
“I followed Mina to Arkham.”
The other woman nods in pure, martyristic understanding. “And?”
“Um. I stalked your friend? And spied on her?”
“So then what happened?”
“Nayeonie, please don’t get upset,” Sana says gravely. Her eyes are honey. “But that’s one of the least interesting crimes I’ve ever heard.”
“It’s a Class C felony!”
“Okay, fine, I also broke into Arkham.”
Sana’s eyebrows arch deliciously.
“I mean, I gave them my license at the door, but when the receptionist asked if I had a reason to be there I lied. Which is a venial sin, by the way.”
Sana taps the tip of Nayeon’s nose. “Get back to me when you commit a mortal one.”
“So you want me to do something even more violating?”
“No, kitten, I want you to do something worth the trouble.”
“Like what,” Nayeon pouts.
“Hmm. You’re the greatest burglar that ever lived. So, I would say, steal something.”
“I already nicked some Sour Patch Kids from the vending machine—“
“Baby. You’re the greatest burglar that ever lived.”
Three hours later the walls of their apartment are strung with newspaper articles and mugshots and a map of Arkham’s pipelines as drawn by Sana.
“Getting in was pretty easy,” Nayeon is saying. Her hands are stained with ink, a few nearly microscopic cuts along her fingers where the pushpins slipped.
“Getting out isn’t.” Sana was one of Arkham’s ‘patients’ for a couple of months a few years ago. She doesn’t like to talk about it, so Nayeon hasn’t pushed.
“Give me the rundown again,” Nayeon says, twisting the top off a beer bottle.
“Okay.” Sana hops up to stand by the map. “First, the bad news. Arkham is protected by a security system that rivals nuclear test sites. The cell you were able to access by following Mina was just a visiting room, not the actual place Jihyo is typically held. As one of the most high-profile and dangerous criminals, my bet is that Jihyo spends most of her time here—“ Sana indicates one of the deeper, subterranean floors of the asylum. “To get there, we’d have to get through six sets of doors. Each one has armed guards and a security code that changes every twelve hours.”
“So the elevator,” Nayeon prompts.
“The elevator needs fingerprint identification and vocal clearance. Otherwise it goes into lockdown, and we’ll be sitting there until the SWAT team comes to get us.”
“Could we just ride a vine down the elevator shaft?”
“No, it’s rigged with motion detectors.”
“Fascinating.” Nayeon can’t help it— this is what she was made for. It’s a puzzle with only one possible answer, one perfect piece that fits and collapses the whole stupid structure. It’s silent and small and beautiful. She just has to find out what to do.
“Mhmm.” Sana pauses. “So basically the easiest way to get Jihyo out is to snitch her during one of her visits with Mina.”
“Not exactly,” Nayeon sighs. “That would mean just walking out the front doors with her, all of us unarmed.”
“Even if we could get down to her cell, though, we’d have an even slimmer chance of getting back out.”
“First, I love it when you say we. Second, there’s a problem here that we could turn into a solution.”
Sana smirks. “I’m on the edge of my seat.”
Just a week ago, Nayeon would have absolutely no qualms breaking into the Bat Cave and riding off into the night in the Batmobile.
But, all things considered, it might be best to talk to Jeongyeon before she breaks her arch-nemesis out of Arkham.
Worst case scenario, Jeongyeon says no and Nayeon does it anyway.
Best case scenario… Well. Nayeon isn’t going to get her hopes up. She’s going to play it by ear.
The manor’s cook has prepared Peking duck tonight, which Tzuyu introduced with a depressing speech about the mistreatment of animals that ruined everyone but Jeongyeon’s appetite. Chaeyoung spends most of the meal picking at her salad with a raised eyebrow, while Sana tries to spoon soup into Nayeon’s mouth every time she tries to get a word in.
Jeongyeon is beaming at the head of the table, and it’s almost enough for Nayeon to unleash the details of her plan now. But. Impulse control.
Pros to a dinner party confrontation:
- Everyone pays attention to you for at least three minutes
- You can blame anything really bad you do on the wine
Cons to a dinner party confrontation:
- Too public for raw emotional honesty
- Tzuyu and Chaeyoung will definitely be anti-breaking-the-Joker-out-of-Arkham
So Nayeon waits until the tiramisu is served to pinch Jeongyeon’s knee under the table. "Can we talk?”
They go out to the rose garden. The moon is insignificant. Jeongyeon sits on the edge of the fountain, fingers drumming out nervous patterns on the stone.
This is where they first kissed. Nayeon remembers— it had been pouring, her body shivering and wet under the leather suit when she hooked a finger in the collar of Jeongyeon's shirt and pulled their mouths together. It was a wonderful impulse, regardless of what had happened after. It was worth the screaming matches and long, quiet nights after. The times they'd take the Batmobile through the Wendy's drive through just for the looks or when they’d go to phone booths in downtown Gotham to prank call Tzuyu.
“So.” It's best to just jump in. Jeongyeon can always uncannily intuit what Nayeon is about to say, and she doesn’t want to be on the defense tonight. “There's something I'm going to do. And you aren't allowed to get mad about it.”
“Okay,” Jeongyeon says slowly. “Do you want to try that again?”
“I'm about to do something, and it would be easier if you don't get mad about it.”
Jeongyeon looks consummately unimpressed.
“I am not asking for permission,” Nayeon pleads.
“You don’t have to ask,” Jeongyeon says softly. “I want you to be happy.”
“I like Sana a lot.” Jeongyeon smiles in that way that means she’s waiting for Nayeon to smile back. “You’re really cute together.”
“Don’t say ‘cute’,” Nayeon flushes. “It doesn’t suit you.”
“It’s just really big for you, you know? That level of commitment. But if you’re ready… Well. Like you said. You don’t need to ask my permission.”
Jeongyeon smirks. “So where’d you steal the ring from?”
“Some people might say it’s kind of fast, but everyone has their own pace,” Jeongyeon continues breezily.
“Jeongie. You gorgeous idiot." Nayeon laughs at the sky. "I’m breaking Jihyo out of Arkham.”
Nayeon has experienced three interventions in her life.
Tonight is the fourth.
She’s sitting in one of the leather armchairs Jeongyeon’s office is stocked with. Sana, angel that she is, is curled on the floor, her head tucked against Nayeon’s knee.
Jeongyeon paces back and forth across the carpet, muttering to herself.
Tzuyu and Chaeyoung are bent over the computer, queuing up the Powerpoint they used at the last intervention. Nayeon hopes there’s at least a few additional slides. Otherwise this is going to be a real bore.
“Can we just get this over with,” Nayeon huffs. Her fingers pass through Sana’s hair idly. “I have a Batsuit to steal.”
Everyone’s face goes pale, like someone just flicked on a fluorescent.
“Oh come on, it’s not that—“
But then Nayeon gets it. Because the door is creaking open and an unfortunately familiar perfume is filtering into the room and Mina is taking a seat across from her.
She doesn’t look good. Her shirt is wrinkled around the collar. There are dark, purplish half-moons under her eyes.
Sana’s hand tightens around Nayeon’s ankle, an anchor that will ground her in this room that every instinct in Nayeon’s body is telling her to run from.
“Okay,” Tzuyu says. “Everyone’s here. Let’s get started.”
Tzuyu’s Powerpoint, dutifully operated by Chaeyoung at the keyboard while the butler stands in front of the monitor with a pointer, is predictably thorough. They flip through various press releases and ransoms and bounties for Nayeon and her, uh, repossessed decorations. Sana insists that they pause at every mugshot so she can label it either ‘hot’ or ‘cute’. And maybe, under slightly more normal circumstances, that would make the entire experience bearable. But Mina is there, eyes downcast, hands folded in her lap.
“And now,” Tzuyu raises her voice just a little, but it’s enough to recenter everyone’s attention. “This.” She nods stiffly to Chaeyoung, who clicks to the next slide. It reads:
‘So You Want To Break Your Best Friend’s Archnemesis Out Of Arkham Asylum.’
“So you want to break your—“
“I’m not illiterate,” Nayeon scoffs.
“Next,” Tzuyu says. Chaeyoung obeys immediately. The slide changes to a bullet-pointed list, the font so small it's illegible. Because. Well. There are a lot of reasons not to break your best friend's archnemesis out of Arkham. “The Joker is a violent psychopath who does not belong in society,” the butler reads, squinting at the screen.
“Sociopath,” Mina whispers. Her fists are clenched at her sides. “Jihyo is a sociopath.”
“Okay, well.” Chaeyoung spins in the desk chair. “If we go back and edit it the whole narrative tension will just kinda break, so. We can all just mentally agree that she’s a sociopath, yeah?”
There’s a hum of agreement.
“Jihyo,” Tzuyu corrects herself with a cough, “Is a violent sociopath who doesn’t belong in—“
“This is a waste of time,” Nayeon spurts.
“Can you let her finish a sentence,” Mina seethes.
Something burns in Nayeon’s gut. “So Tzuyu can criticize your girlfriend but I can’t?”
“A diagnosis is not a criticism,” the therapist replies evenly. Her eyes don’t meet Nayeon’s. “For the record, you’re likely a sociopath too.”
Nayeon is preparing the scream in her lungs when Sana softly says, “Darling.”
Which Sana has never called Nayeon before.
Because it’s not for her.
There are tears welling in the corners of Mina’s eyes.
“Darling.” Sana reaches out, taking the therapist’s hands in-between her’s. “Please don’t.”
“I think,” Jeongyeon says tentatively, “we should maybe take a break.”
Chaeyoung, Tzuyu, and Jeongyeon practically dash out of the office, leaving the other three women alone in their odd triangle.
“Do you want me to go too,” Sana asks. Nayeon can’t tell if it’s for her or Mina, so she waits. The silence thickens to an unbearable heat. “Kitten?”
“No,” Nayeon says automatically.
“Let’s all sit on the floor.” Sana pats the places beside her. In sync, both Nayeon and Mina slump down and hug their legs to their chests. “Okay. I’ll start. But you both have to hold my hands.”
Again, Nayeon and Mina obey. Sana grins, squeezing their palms tightly.
“I feel like I’m in a difficult position. On one hand,” Sana raises Nayeon’s hand to her lips, pressing a quick kiss to her knuckles. “Nayeonie who makes me laugh. Nayeonie who I love. On the other.” Sana pulls Mina’s hand into her lap. “Minari who is my friend. Mina who I love.” And then she does something so consummately Sana that Nayeon’s heart rushes with a combination of adoration and discomfort— Sana brings Nayeon and Mina’s hands together in her lap.
Nayeon has never touched Mina. She’s never really noticed before— they’ve always kept a respectful, careful berth of at least six feet between their bodies. But her skin is cold and her hand is small, laying limp over Nayeon’s fingers. It's new.
“I think you love each other,” Sana says quietly. “And you want to be friends too.”
Nayeon doesn’t dare to move. She hopes neither Sana or Mina can feel her heartbeat even as it shakes her entire chest.
“Okay,” Sana chirps. “That’s all I wanted to say.” She rises from the floor and Mina and Nayeon’s hands fall back to the ground. “I’ll be right outside if you need me.”
And just like that, a little more of Nayeon’s buffer has been whittled away.
“Sana doesn’t deserve this,” she mutters when the door clicks shut.
“I agree.” Mina slides her hands down her shirt, trying to smooth the wrinkles. “God, I look like Hell.”
“You do,” Nayeon tries, smiling in her best impression of friendly, unself-conscious ease.
Evidently, it doesn’t work. Mina’s lip just trembles dangerously.
The silence presses down again. Nayeon hopes that if there is a God, He isn’t all that offended for all the shit she’s talked in the last two decades of her life, and maybe He’ll see fit to cut Jeongyeon’s mansion in half with a tornado or a lightning bolt or anything to end this corpse of a conversation.
But no. Sana is waiting outside the door, and she’s hoping, and it should be so easy. It’s just I’m sorry. That’s all she has to say. Nayeon takes in a deep breath, and—
“I’m sorry,” Mina croaks. “I’m really sorry, Nayeon.”
“Oh.” Nayeon thumbs against the carpet. It’s not a shag. “That’s okay.”
“You don’t have to say that.” The therapist looks up bravely. “I was acting horribly unprofessional.”
“Unprofessional? You think I give a shit about that?”
“I give a shit about it.” There's strength again in Mina's voice.
“Oh, fuck jobs.” Nayeon pulls at the fabric of her jeans. Mina just doesn’t get it. Ten years of so-called college and she can’t figure this one out. The whole system is a—
“Is my life really some big joke to you?” The therapist’s eyes finally lift to meet Nayeon’s, still so eerily, frustratingly calm even as her voice rises in pitch.
“I was going to break your girlfriend out of prison.”
Mina crosses her arms, unimpressed. “Why?’
“Because the Sour Patch Kids weren’t good enough for your posh tastes, I guess.”
“That’s your problem. They’re delicious.”
“No, Nayeon, why did you actually want to break Jihyo out of Arkham?”
Nayeon chews her lip. “Because I thought you’d like that. Or. Like me. More. If I did.”
“You are a patient I am treating for kleptomania. I don’t want you stealing anything.” The therapist covers her face with her hands. “If I’m indirectly influencing you to commit crimes, then we need to end our relationship.”
“I just.” Nayeon swallows. She can feel all the tell-tale signs of tears— her warm cheeks, a tightness choking at her throat. But that would be pathetic. That would be stupid. Mina doesn’t deserve her like that anymore. “It’s all I can—”
“No. It isn’t.”
“So tell me what to do,” Nayeon pleads.
“This is it. Sitting, talking. That’s all we can do.”
It’s different, here. Instead of the chaise and Mina’s chair, pulled out from behind her desk, they’re on the floor. The space Sana left is between them, their hands still laying limp just inches from each other. Maybe it could look like friendship, like two equals, but Nayeon knows that isn’t how Mina sees her. Mina sees her as an experiment gone wrong. That’s as close as they’ll ever be.
“Nayeon,” Mina whispers. “I can’t like you more.”
The quiet is too perfect for Nayeon to risk speaking.
“I already like you more than I’m supposed to.”
Nayeon slides her hand across the carpet so that the edge of their pinkies touch. Mina is so cold.
“There are certain boundaries in the relationship between a therapist and a patient. But, sometimes, they get blurred. You’ve been to my house. You know who I’m dating. According to that,” Mina points at Tzuyu’s slide, still emblazoned across the computer monitor, “you followed me to Arkham?”
Nayeon shrugs. “Class C felony.”
“None of that is appropriate. And it’s my fault for letting you escalate to this point.”
“I can escalate all by myself, thank you.”
“Nayeon.” The corners of Mina’s mouth lift, just slightly. It’s almost a smile. “I really like you.”
Praise has always been a bit of an Achilles heel for Nayeon, though she still considers herself a connoisseur. The classics, like flattery about appearance or intelligence or talent, don’t really work on her. Sana is the best at blessing out random, flattering observations— complimenting how she sliced the squash for dinner or the new drapes she chose for the bedroom; little noises of shock and awe when Nayeon demolishes a Jeopardy category or pickpockets someone on the subway.
So Mina’s little throwaway, half-assed attempt shouldn’t cut through her like it does.
But it does.
Maybe because, like Sana, Mina has seen her at her worst, her ugliest, her most cruel. And to still like her. To really like her. It’s brave and generous and all she’s ever really thirsted for from the usually stoic, calculatingly polite woman.
“I really like you too,” Nayeon whispers. “As more than a therapist.”
“You could be nicer then.” Mina is smiling wide and pink.
“I can work on it.” Nayeon laces their fingers together. Relief flushes through her when Mina squeezes back. “But you have to help me.”
for kai and nico <3
Chapter 4: 4!
For the many psychological ailments that have befallen her, Nayeon has luckily never had trouble sleeping.
This doesn’t mean it doesn’t take a little bit of work.
Her patented technique starts at 10pm. Back when she was a thief, this would have been ridiculous— nighttime is a perfect stage for robberies. But now she’s a back-alley environmental activist, so some things needed to change.
First, she has a little wine after dinner. Just enough to get hazy and heavy.
Then an hour of whatever documentary Sana has queued up, though they talk through most of it. She can’t sleep if she leaves anything unsaid, so it’s officially a vent session. Though, weirdly, there has been less to vent about lately.
Then lavender lotion.
Then a few more sips of wine, just to swallow down the melatonin.
But Nayeon’s rituals don’t exactly work their magic on Sana. She tosses and turns every time Gotham’s nightly lullaby starts— trains rattling over the unkempt bridges, a drunk throwing a beer bottle against the brick alley, stray cats screeching in the dumpsters.
Sana jolts in panic every time the air conditioner clicks on like it’s a smoke alarm.
Which has the effect of making Nayeon jolt in a panic as her angelic girlfriend jolts in a panic and they’ve both woken up screaming and it sucks.
So here they are tonight. The alarm clock beside the bed reads a ghastly 3:32 AM. Sana lets out a whine of frustration and falls back against the sheets.
In the dark, with only the laptop charger blinking out a weak blue pinlight at the corner of the bedroom, Nayeon’s hand flutters through the bedsheets until she finds Sana’s shaking wrist.
“It’s nothing,” she slurs.
Sana’s voice is clear when she says, “I think I’ll just get up.”
“We slept for, like, three hours.” Maybe they got a little carried away with the bedtime routine this time.
“You can sleep more,” Sana says, wiggling away. “I’ll be on the balcony.”
Ever since Dahyun moved into the greenhouse with Momo, they’ve been building up a healthy stock of houseplants out on the fire escape. Honeysuckle vines tangle up the rusted metal. A pitcher plant hangs off their windowsill. Old styrofoam slurpee cups are filled with jade plants and aloe vera.
Sometimes Sana will sit there for hours, the smog-weak sunbeams moving in long lines across her face.
Nayeon snatches the glass of water from beside the bed and swallows another melatonin.
“This is very public,” Nayeon frowns.
“It’s a coffeeshop,” Mina sighs, sipping at her mug. The steam rises and blurs her glasses.
“Right, but. I’m not going to talk about my feelings in a coffeeshop.”
“You aren’t my patient anymore so this is where we talk.”
Nayeon takes a bite of her croissant. It’s decent. “Can’t I just go over to your house?”
“That seems a little fast.”
“We aren’t dating.” She points her fork accusingly at her former therapist. “Stop being weird.”
“Friendships also have natural progressions. Whereas, romantically, there might be a first date, a first kiss, and then a first copulation—”
“Copulation,” Nayeon hisses into her mug.
“—for friendships, there are other benchmarks of closeness.”
“That’s very clinical. The way I see it, we know each other pretty well. We don’t need to meet in public places like I’m some crazed stalker or something.”
“You did stalk me, Nayeon.”
“Platonically,” Nayeon corrects. Maybe, before, this sort of back and forth would have bothered her to the point of uninhibited, blind rage. But there is something different now— maybe it’s that there isn’t a clock in the corner, or a pen pressed to a notebook listing all of her faults, or just Mina laughing even as she rolls her eyes. “So what’s the next benchmark? Let’s do it. Let’s get it over with.”
“It has to be natural.” Mina dabs at her lips with a napkin. “One day, I’ll be upset about something, and I’ll call you and you’ll ask me about it, and we’ll be closer. Or one day you’ll be upset and I’ll do the same for you.”
“I’m gonna fall asleep,” Nayeon groans, letting her head fall against the table.
And then something a little shocking happens:
Mina kicks her under the table, still smiling. “You’re a jerk.”
Just a little static. A socks on the carpet kind of shock.
They settle into the comfortable chaos of the shop— the butter knives clattering against ceramic plates, the machines behind the counter stuttering on and off, the bell against the door ringing as each person comes in.
“This isn’t bad,” Nayeon says. She means the croissant. She means being here. She means Mina.
“Is there anything you want to talk about?”
“Don’t do that.”
Mina’s grin splits her face. “Do what?”
“Look so eager.”
“So there is something.”
“No. It’s stupid.”
Mina narrows her eyes. “You’re rarely self-deprecating.”
“It just seems more like a therapist issue than a friend issue.”
“How about you tell me, and then I’ll tell you if I think I can handle it.”
“Fine. Sana has been having trouble sleeping.” Nayeon takes a long, suffering breath. “And, for me, if I’m having trouble sleeping, that usually means that I’m—“
“No psychology gibberish,” Nayeon says through a mouthful of a lemon tart. “You’ll ruin my appetite.”
“Sana is— and I say this affectionately— simpler than you are.”
“You mean less insane.”
“Yes. So she’s probably not having trouble sleeping for the same reasons you might.”
“This may horrify you,” Nayeon drawls, “but I think the world would make a lot more sense if everyone was as insane as I am.”
“You should put that on a t-shirt.”
“I was quoting your girlfriend’s podcast.”
Mina’s fist clenches around the mug. “She’ll be touched that you listen.”
“I do it to make fun of her,” Nayeon says flatly.
“I know.” Mina looks like she wants to say something else, but wisely takes another sip of coffee before shifting the conversation to a more comfortable topic. “Have you tried regimenting bedtimes and—“
“Yep. Everything. I even checked out some baby books.”
Mina raises her eyebrows skeptically.
“I have a library card.” Nayeon’s voice drops to a conspiratorial whisper,.“I even read her a bedtime story.”
“Maybe she’s having nightmares about being treated like a child by her girlfriend.” Mina fights a smile and loses gracelessly.
“I don’t want banter, I want a solution.”
“I’m going to make the assumption you haven’t talked to Sana about this.”
“Wrong, as usual.” Nayeon is a little proud. She’s been making a habit of talking to Sana first about everything. Not because Mina always suggests that, it’s just convenient. When it came to the sleeping issue, Sana seemed as distressed and confused as Nayeon.
“This might be a violation of ex-girlfriend confidentiality,” Mina says cautiously, “but Sana has always had bouts of insomnia.”
“So how do you fix it?”
Dread fizzes in Nayeon’s stomach. “You can’t?”
“There isn’t a cure for everything, Nayeon.”
Whenever Nayeon used to sneak into art museums after hours, sometimes she’d pause in front of the paintings.
Most of them were too big to risk snatching, too big to fit through the holes she carved into the glass with her claws, but she could still appreciate the time and skill that went into each one.
Though some of them made her uneasy. She never liked the simple ones— a scene of a woman laying alone in a rye field, a man staring out at the world below him on a mountaintop— though she’d drift the longest in front of them. What always bothered her was what these people were thinking about.
Mina would call it projection or some other meaningless jargon, but the fact is those paintings always made her feel a little guilty, a little inadequate. Like maybe she should be having these big, grand revelries on rooftops. Maybe under all the petty annoyances, all the criminal triumphs, there’s supposed to be this deep well of understanding and peace that she’s supposed to tap into and the painting is supposed to remind her of that, of herself, but they never could.
Which is maybe a thought she’s having only because she’s alone on the subway, and watching the weak reflection of her face flicker against the window as the sun sets on Gotham, and she’s thinking ‘what if this was a painting’ and she’s thinking of a museum wall and beside her painting is one of Sana alone on their fire escape, eyelids heavy but never heavy enough. And maybe if she had been gifted with a little more emotional intuition and a little less restlessness and just generally a perfect, deserving person she would be able to look at that painting and know Sana exactly, and the Nayeon in the painting would break through the canvas and heal the painting of Sana in her arms.
So Nayeon maybe needs to do something other than think.
For an officially diagnosed narcissist, Nayeon has weirdly always enjoyed the anonymity of being at clubs.
Yes, the drinks are watered-down and over-priced.
Yes, the music is at the mercy of a self-important DJ.
Yes, everyone is sweating and steeped in perfume.
But the people are dancing like they know the meaning of life, and Nayeon dances with them so she might learn it too.
When Sana gets there she’s leading a starry-eyed Momo by the hand, other arm tucking Dahyun and her pot in a hug against her chest.
“That’s a safety hazard,” Nayeon shouts into her girlfriend’s ear, indicating the cactus as the dancers’ elbows jab dangerously at the spines.
“I’ll take her out to the patio,” Sana shouts back brightly.
Which is a shame, because she has on lipstick and her dress is just right and Nayeon wants to dance with her, but she’s disappeared into the mass in a millisecond and Nayeon is left with Momo.
Momo, who is a decent dancer. She keeps stretching her arms up toward the disco ball like it’s the sun and she can grow toward it.
Nayeon slings an arm over her shoulders and rocks their bodies together with the beat.
Maybe it’s an hour before all the drops start to sound the same and the musk of the fog machine starts to rise and Nayeon starts to think of a painting of Sana in the smoking section with Dahyun on her lap.
So she goes out into the humid night air and Momo follows. Nicotine and tobacco and weed synthesize into a single cloud drifting along the patio.
Sana is at one of the picnic tables, chin propped up by her fist, nodding emphatically at the cactus in front of her.
When Nayeon clambers onto the bench beside her, Sana tucks her head against Nayeon’s shoulder.
“Tired,” Nayeon half-asks. “We can go home.”
Sana shrugs. “You have to dance with me first.”
It’s a good bargain.
On the dance floor, they get so close Nayeon can only smell the shampoo they share. They’re bouncing to a standard club banger, but look, sometimes the miracle of being a person who is squished against another person and loving them so much it’s like together they’re as magnetic as moons is enough to make Nayeon’s heart leap out of her chest. She doesn’t know if it’s sweat or a tear but it doesn’t matter because Sana is kissing her even as they tremble with the mass of dancers like grass on a hillside.
As they walk home on the sidewalks, swinging their linked hands together, they’re still singing a nonsense song.
“Let’s cut,” Sana interrupts her own wandering arpeggio, pointing at the spindling graveyard gates.
“I don’t know how much sentimentality I can handle,” Nayeon says when Sana perches herself on the tombstone where they met. The grass has regrown over the dirt Sana had hacked up a year ago.
Nayeon is a little superstitious, so she seats herself on the ground according to standard cemetery etiquette— not right over the coffins, and definitely not next to Sana on some ghost’s tombstone. “When you’re alone, what do you think about?”
“You.” Sana winks lazily.
“Right, but like. What else?”
“Momo and Dahyun and Mina.”
Nayeon strips a blade of grass between her fingers. “What else?”
“I don’t know what you want me to say,” Sana tries cautiously.
“Well. You’re alone a lot. On the balcony. And Mina says it’s projection, but when I’m alone I usually think about things I don’t know how to say. And then I figure out how to say it, and I feel better. So I thought. Yeah. But she also said you have insomnia, which I didn’t know, and she said it’s not curable so.”
Sana laughs half-heartedly. “It’s not like a disease, kitten.”
“But what am I supposed to do?”
“Nothing,” Sana says a little too quickly for Nayeon’s comfort. Like this is rehearsed, like it’s an argument they’ve had a million times, and Nayeon knows it isn’t.
“Okay,” Nayeon says in that tone that means it’s not okay at all. “I looked it up and apparently insomnia typically comes from some unaddressed psychological distress that can be—“
“I know, Nayeonie.”
“Right, but if you try—“
“I have tried.”
“Well, have you tried hard?”
Sana looks down at her hands.
Nayeon knows that was maybe the wrong thing to say, but she can salvage this. “Because, like, for me, therapy was hard. And I get being afraid of it, and not really wanting to go there mentally, but if you can make your life easier why wouldn’t you want to?”
“Kitten. May I offer a small critique?”
“I don't like your apartment.”
“What?” Nayeon doesn’t mean to raise her voice. She mentally apologizes to the graves.
“It’s loud and in one of the most heavily polluted sections of the city-proper,” Sana counts out on her fingers, “the electricity is inefficient and overpriced, and because of the water damage there’s a village of mold growing in the—“
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Well, I don’t want you to kill the mold, you brought it into this world but that doesn’t mean their life is yours to—“
“I mean about my apartment being the ninth ring of Hell.”
“See, you overreact,” Sana says fondly. “Plus, I’m your guest, so it’s uncouth to—“
“You’re my live-in almost biologically human girlfriend.” Nayeon’s voice gets smaller. “You can tell me anything. Even if it is technically slander.”
“I think I just need to adjust.”
“You’ve lived with me for almost a year.”
Sana leans down to slip off her heels. “Redwoods take nearly three decades to spread their root systems.”
“Redwoods live for over five-hundred years.” Yes, Nayeon has flipped through a couple National Geographics. “We’ll move.”
So maybe Sana had a point.
Moving is demonic.
If there is an eternal arena of punishment waiting and Nayeon ends up there, it’ll be this— packing up boxes while the air conditioning unit weakly spittles; assessing each object in her apartment and assessing if it’s worth the effort of tucking it up in bubblewrap; all the lost socks and underwear piled like an iceberg on her bed.
Sana is helping, of course, both physically and in the morale department. She calls for frequent breaks that turn into perilous naps on the fire escape.
And okay, maybe they’ve unearthed a few convenient treasures.
Case in point, the nun costume.
Nayeon had nabbed it from one of those seasonal Halloween pop-ups a few years ago after Jeongyeon made one too many comments about her catsuit being 'too much’. She finds it balled up in the corner of her closet.
Two hours later, Sana is in a— yes, sexy— nun costume and Nayeon is wiping her chin off with the back of her hand because it is a sexy nun costume and they have enough time for maybe a round four when—
The fucking doorbell.
Sana is in no state to answer, smiling all silly and fucked out and Nayeon would rather hover here in love, but rage pricks up her back and she flings the door open to see an image of apocalypse:
Myoui Mina in a cardigan, a bottle of Barefoot tucked under her arm, standing beside a grinning Joker on Nayeon’s assuredly ironic ‘welcome’ mat.
“If this is your idea of emotional shock therapy, I have to say the student loans were absolutely worth it.”
Mina raises an eyebrow. It's a warning shot.
“Lovely to see you,” Jihyo says, patting her on the shoulder and waltzing in. Nayeon can admit she looks nice. Without the make up, she looks like she belongs in just a run of the mill maximum security prison. Which begs the question—
Jihyo pulls her pinstripe pant leg up to reveal a blinking ankle monitor. “I’m on house arrest.”
“This isn’t your house," Nayeon hisses. She looks to Mina for help, for any sliver of sanity, but the therapist has made a beeline for the kitchen to find a bottle opener.
“Squatter’s rights.” Jihyo collapses on the couch and flicks the TV on.
“You could have called,” Sana says, flicking the edge of her veil over her shoulder.
“Your phone was busy.”
From the kitchen, a cork pops free. “Jihyo,” Mina scolds without any bite. “You said you asked and Nayeon said yes.”
“Does that sound like something I would ever say?”
Nayeon and Sana sit on the couch, hands intertwined. Mina pours another dip of wine into the mug she’s cradling in her shaking hands. Jihyo is catching her breath after an informative but excruciating step-by-step of how she broke out of Arkham.
“Can you be careful with the rug,” Nayeon sighs as the other woman paces over and over the same corner. "It's new.”
Jihyo spins a gun in her hand. It's probably one of the gag ones that has a little red ‘bang’ flag, but that doesn't mean Nayeon and Sana don’t tense up every time she waves it around.
“We actually came because Jihyo had a question,” Mina prompts.
“Oh, yes.” Jihyo cocks the gun and holds it to her temple. “Play a game with me.”
“Will you play a game with me?”
“Take the coercion out and try again,” Mina says in her copyrighted therapist-voice.
“Fine.” The gun slips out of her hand, clattering to the floor. “Will you play a game with me?”
“No,” Nayeon and Sana say in perfect sync.
So Jihyo is throwing a tantrum on the new rug. Sana, damn her compassion, is trying to explain the circumstances— they’re trying to pack— all while Mina is attempting to shout affirmations as her girlfriend blabbers about how she should have stuffed her pockets with dynamite.
Nayeon glances at the clock on the wall. “What game?”
The Joker's face peels into a grin.
Nayeon knows that she’s suffered more than the average person.
She’s been dirt poor and bullied and during middle school she was briefly unbeautiful. She’s been shot at. She’s been shot. Every girlfriend she’s ever had has broken up with her. She’s been arrested and kidnapped and subjected to over a year of frustratingly enlightening therapy.
But none of that holds a light to how excruciating, how pointless, how inhumane it is to play a game of Monopoly with Jihyo and Mina.
They’re sitting on the floor of her living room, a board spread out on the box Nayeon packed all her early Mesopotamian relics in. Jihyo has managed to establish an empire of yellow houses and hotels across the entire landscape.
Sana is still in her nun costume. God bless her.
Mina laughs helplessly at everything the Joker says.
Nayeon is in jail. Again.
Sana, with an adventurous smile, slides Nayeon a few of her own paper bills across the space between their legs.
“I don’t want to play,” Nayeon proclaims for the tenth time this since they started, even as she tucks the cash up into her stack.
Mina rolls the dice across the table. “Declare bankruptcy.”
“I don’t want to lose.”
Sana takes her turn, nudging Nayeon with the sharp of her elbow until she acquiesces and bends to blow gently across the dice.
It’s useless. Sana get’s a three and a four, but she applauds herself anyway, and a smile does itch itself across Nayeon’s lips.
Then Jihyo gets double sixes again.
“Okay,” Nayeon grits her teeth. “Explain how I get out of jail.”
Jihyo smiles venomously. “Play the game, kitty.”
It’s apocalyptic. It’s a human rights violation. Nayeon pays $50 and Sana pops a kiss to her cheek.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” Mina announces once her own turn is finished.
“I’ll escort you.” Nayeon doesn’t care that it seems eager to pop straight up, even if Sana glances at her questioningly.
“I mean, it’s a small apart—“
Nayeon breezes past Mina into the hallway. Once they’re to the bathroom door, she subtly blocks it by leaning against the jamb.
“Don’t block the door.”
So not subtly.
“Why didn’t you tell me Jihyo was on house arrest,” Nayeon whispers.
Mina almost rolls her eyes. “It was on the news.”
“I’ve been busy getting laid.”
“Well. Next time I'll make sure to call you personally.” Mina might even mean it.
“And you just bring her here,” Nayeon hisses. “To play Monopoly. The other day you said that whole thing about how we need to have boundaries in our friendship. Are you really the type to overlook your principles for a girl?”
“First off, yes.” Mina crosses her arms over her chest. “Second, she was restless.”
“She’s been out for six hours.”
“She wanted to see you,” Mina brushes off.
“Why? We hate each other.”
“Before release, she had to list her support network. She was very touched by your plan to break her out of Arkham, so she listed you.”
That’s bat shit insane. It’s also sweet. A little sweet. Barely sweet.
If Nayeon is being honest— and she’d rather not make a habit of that— she been feeling bad for Jihyo lately. It isn’t like in the maternity ward there was one baby with a face full of disastrous clown make-up. Something made her the way she was, some sick part of Gotham took Jihyo into its mouth and chewed her up and spit out this little menace.
Also, she’s made some points on her podcast.
“That’s bat shit insane.”
“You know,” Mina says, and she’s wiggling a little, so she must have actually had to go to the bathroom, “there’s this psychological principle that says if you do a favor for someone, your brain convinces itself that you did the favor because you like the person.”
“I already like you,” Nayeon seethes.
To no one’s surprise, Jihyo wins. Nayeon is almost violent in her fervor to pack up the board and send the two on their way. When she finally shuts the door, halfway through Mina’s whispered ‘thank you’, Sana yawns.
Because they’ve already deconstructed their bed frame and propped the mattress up against the wall, tonight they roll out two sleeping bags over the shag carpet. Which was one of Sana’s most brilliant ideas, as Nayeon points out at every given opportunity.
The bluish light from the muted TV splashes over their faces.
“You know, Jihyo said something interesting earlier,” Nayeon says. Her voice is rough— too much shouting during Monopoly— but she doesn’t want to fade into sleep yet. She wants to be alone with Sana a little longer.
“The thing about chemtrails?”
“No, about squatter’s rights.”
Sana squeezes her hand. “I’m listening.”
“Well, we could move into a boring, overpriced brownstone like,” Nayeon coughs, “Mina. Or we could do something incredible.”
“Tell me more.”
“Jeongyeon has that mansion.”
“The bathtub was nice.”
“Exactly. And it comes with one whole Tzuyu.”
“And it’s in a quiet part of town. And it has a rose garden.” Sana’s voice rises in pitch whenever she gets excited. It’s one of three-hundred and two quirks that Nayeon adores. “I think we’ve found our next barely legal hijinx.”
Nayeon slips into a perfect, dreamless sleep.
In the morning, Sana looks a little worse for wear. There are hazy, purplish circles under her eyes, and she’s barely able to stifle enough yawns to drink her coffee.
Which just reconfirms the moral righteousness of Nayeon’s new crusade.
In a matter of hours, the U-Haul is all packed up and they muscle their way out of the city’s traffic into the hopelessly posh neighborhood where the Yoo mansion rises from the hills.
For old time’s sake, Nayeon decides to be polite and knock first on the door of her new house.
Just as her hand fits itself around the golden handle, the door whips open.
“We’re moving in,” Nayeon announces. “And we’re not paying rent.”
“I’m aware,” Tzuyu sighs, standing aside.
“Mhmm, found your bug when we were packing.” Nayeon tosses the little black box she discovered duct-taped underneath the coffee table into the butler’s hands.
Tzuyu, bless her, has already cleared a room. She even helps with hoisting the mattress through the too-long halls of the mansion. They take their dinner in the dining room, though Jeongyeon and Chaeyoung are absent.
“Some big mission,” Sana inquires politely.
Tzuyu folds her napkin nervously.
Nayeon smirks. “Karaoke again?”
“No,” the butler lies.
“Why didn’t they invite me?”
Which is a stupid question. Nayeon has been life-time banned from most of the gloomy bars that use karaoke as a pathetic publicity opportunity only to cut the mic after a humble contestant, such as herself, sings six consecutive Christmas songs during the off-season. She asked for that statement to be inscribed in the white space of the polaroid that hangs behind the hostess pedestal as a warning to the employees.
After dinner, Nayeon takes Sana on a tour through all the hidden passages in the Yoo mansion. She points out which rooms will be the office, and where Momo and Dahyun’s guest room will be, and how maybe she’ll be able to have Mina over for coffee in the library so she won’t have to make Tzuyu drive her back into town whenever she wants to have a conversation.
Sana says she wants to see the bat cave, so Nayeon leads her through the courtyards and out to the totally suspicious keypad inlaid against the dark rocks.
Sana politely gasps in awe as the doors open into the drafty cave. The bats flutter over their heads, out into the night. Nayeon shows off the computers and weapon cases, as well as the extra suits Jeongyeon keeps around in case she’s in the mood for something a little more flashy.
Nayeon follows the line of Sana’s gaze up to the painting hanging over the mini-fridge. It’s an Edward Hopper, one of those bleary paintings of a person seen through the windows of their apartment, lounging on a white bed, staring out the window. Whenever Jeongyeon used to come to the museums to intercept Nayeon’s heist, the Batwoman would give it a couple stray glances.
“A birthday present,” Nayeon says, taking interest in her thumbnail. “From a couple years ago.”
“You took it?”
“No, it's a forgery.”
“You know how to paint?”
Nayeon chuffs a laugh. “I paid Chaeyoung. I actually thought I’d swap the one in the museum with this,” Nayeon taps the frame, “but I didn't want to look at it any longer.”
And now she's looking at Sana looking up at the painting.
Another nauseous wave of self-reflection threatens her stomach. She feels top-heavy, like she's against the railing of a rooftop high above of the city, not in a subterranean hide-out just an arms-reach from Sana.
She takes in a slow, filling breath and Sana turns because she's always been too attuned to the slightest shifts in her, as if Nayeon fills the atmosphere of any room they're in and Sana is a faithful barometer.
Which is not always a wonderful feeling.
“Do you think I’m a good person?” It's a lonely, silly thing to say even in a cave.
Nayeon expects a hurried but nonetheless genuine ‘of course’, or the sweetly scold of ‘kitten’, but Sana is herself and Sana is surprising.
"I think every good song is about you.”
Nayeon tenses. “Not every good song is happy.”
“You’re right.” Sana closes the distance between them, looping her arms over Nayeon’s shoulders.
“I had one of my subway thoughts,” Nayeon sighs, slumping to hide her face against Sana’s neck. It would not make a beautiful painting. “One of those pathetic, useless thoughts about being alone, and who I’m supposed to be now that I’ve sort of side-lined my whole life mission of creating financial chaos for museums. Like I know I’ve changed,” Nayeon lets a hint of self-mockery serrate the word, “but how am I supposed to know if that’s really made me any better for you or anyone?”
“You decided to move the second I said I couldn't sleep well in your apartment. You played Monopoly.”
“First, I’m infesting in my ex-girlfriend’s mansion. And Jihyo held us at gunpoint.”
“Tzuyu cleared a room for you and that gun was plastic.”
“Let me steep in my misery,” Nayeon whines.
She can feel Sana's smile against her cheek. "Isn't that getting a little boring?” And then, softer, "being better doesn't mean being good or happy all the time.”
“I want to be,” Nayeon whispers. “I want to be perfect.”
Sana's hands run down the length of Nayeon’s arms, down to her wrists. “I just want you to be real.”
If Nayeon is taking a ride on her philosophical high-horse, she would be thinking ‘you shouldn't need other people to teach you how to be kind to yourself.’ Ideally, that code would be branded into your DNA and no one would ever hopelessly suffer over thoughts spurned by lonely paintings or lonely commutes. No one would ever have to pay a prim little therapist to repeat their own words back with slightly gentler synonyms. No one would have to ask for affirmations every week like a subscription to feeling okay.
But tonight, as Sana so dutifully explains during the wolf documentary they're watching in the den with a coerced Tzuyu, humans are pack animals.
"Cats aren’t,” Nayeon says proudly. Her head is resting on Sana’s lap, the safest place on Earth.
“That’s a misconception.” Sana smoothes her thumb over Nayeon's lips to hush her. “They just take some time to warm.”
When they’ve taken their wine— straight from Jeongyeon’s cellar— and their melatonin and rubbed the lavender lotion up their arms and then settled into their old bed in a new room, Sana nestles against Nayeon’s chest. Idly, with two fingers, Sana taps out something like morse code against Nayeon’s waist.
Their heartbeats sync them into sleep.