Disclaimer: I do not own The Dark Knight or anything pertaining to Batman. I do not make any money writing this story.
A/N: Hey guys! I was so blown away by the excitement in the feedback I received for the teaser/trailer at the end of Housekeeping. I'm so happy you guys are excited for this sequel, and I can't wait to hear what you think. If you haven't already read Housekeeping you should probably do that first, as both stories are first person narration.
It was the 15th of the month. I think you know what that means. Old habits die hard.
The bathtub in the guest bathroom wasn't as big as the one in my apartment in the Narrows, nor was it the biggest one in Amy and Matt's apartment, for that matter, but it was newer, not as stained, and it had jets, though I hadn't figured out how to use those yet. Since I moved in, I found myself asking Amy a few times if it was okay if I had a bath, to which she would give me this mortified look and tell me I didn't have to ask every time, that's what the bathtub was there for, sure, go ahead, whatever I wanted.
Whatever I wanted. It was almost surreal.
I stuck my toes out of the bubbles and wiggled them, admiring the pearly blue nail polish on my nails; Amy had a ridiculous collection of damned expensive nail polish, and one of the first nights after I moved in, when Matt was away at some business dinner, we got pizza and sat in our pajamas painting our nails and gossiping, like we were a couple of teenaged girls. I sighed contentedly, lying in the bathtub, while Henry sat on the toilet seat watching me, confused, reaching over every now and then to bat curiously at the bubbles sneaking up over the rim of the tub. If I reached out to pet him with wet fingers, he'd curl his nose and look at me indignantly. Must not get water on his majesty. Then again he could have just wandered off, yet he'd been all but attached to my hip since we moved into the condo, despite the fact it was three times the size of my apartment in the Narrows and I figured he'd disappear for hours on end exploring the place. Curious and curiouser.
Amy knocked on the door before letting herself in; she looked at Henry sitting on the toilet seat, who peered up at her as she came in, and frowned as she turned towards the mirror. "That cat threw up in the pantry again."
I couldn't help but grin; since fleeing with his mother from the Narrows to his aunt's home in high Gotham, his highness had adorned many nicknames, that which included the cat, that cat, that damned cat, that fur thing. He was rarely addressed by his given name (sometimes Matt called him Harry, but mostly just to be a jerk). Amy was not a cat person, and Henry seemed to have it all figured out, taking each and every opportunity to unnerve her in his own little way, and I could tell it was all intentional. Throwing up in the pantry was quickly becoming a favourite, it seemed.
"Sorry," I told her, stifling a laugh as I reached out to pet Henry's head. "I'll clean it up when I'm out."
"Nah, it's okay," she said, dotting her lips with lipstick in the mirror, and I had a flashback to this exact moment, way back when, in our parents house, where I'd be in the bathtub watching Amy put on her makeup as she got ready for the dance, or a date, or something equally glamorous, a habit since early childhood. I think she liked the feeling of having an audience. "I got Matt to take care of it before he left this morning."
It was a delightful thing to think of my dashing brother-in-law cleaning up cat puke in Armani.
Amy peered down at her watch before capping her lipstick. "We should get going soon; who knows what traffic will be like heading into the financial sector."
I nodded. "Okay," and as Amy left the bathroom, closing the door behind her, I gripped both sides of the tub and hoisted myself up to stand and reached for the towel on the rack, still covered in bubbles. Henry watched me and I shook my head at him as I wrapped myself in the towel. "You best watch yourself, mister," I told him, scratching one of his ears. "They're only gonna put it up with that for so long."
Henry gave me a rather dismissive curl of his nose as I grabbed my housecoat and quickly put it on, tying the sash with fingers that were trembling, all of a sudden, and it made me huff and shake my head. Honestly, we were meeting with Dad for lunch, not going to a parole hearing, and yet the butterflies in my stomach had not stopped since I woke up that morning.
I tried to shake it away, and told myself everything would be all right, and I opened the door to go into the guest room to quickly get dressed and ready. Henry followed hot on my heels.
Despite the fact it was lunchtime and the restaurant was totally packed, I saw my Dad straight away, and my heart gave a very breathtaking plummet into my stomach.
"Thank you..." Amy chimed behind me as the coat checker helped her wrestle out of her coat. Her baby bump was already drawing eyes and smiles from several patrons, though she ignored them all as she brushed her curls out of her eyes while taking hold of her clutch purse in both hands, and she gestured out into the dining room. "There he is, I see him."
The butterflies in my stomach that had started in the car ride over worsened as we made our slow steady way through the dining room. I hung behind her and let her take the lead, all but clinging to Amy's back like a baby koala bear watching the diners as we passed, elitist Gothamites in fine clothing picking at their gourmet meals and liquid lunches; most were engrossed in their own conversations, but many smiled up at Amy as we muscled past them.
I watched over Amy's shoulder as my Dad stood up from the table to greet us with a big smile on his face. I took in a shaky breath and let it out slowly; his black hair had grayed at the roots and at the sides, and he'd gained a little weight, but more or less he was completely the same, still ridiculously tall, clean-shaven, immaculately dressed. He grinned his great big Tyrannosaurus smile as Amy went in for a hug. "There she is," he said, kissing her cheek and embracing her. "My pear-shaped pumpkin."
I couldn't help but smile; I knew that wouldn't go over well. "Daddy," Amy said in a stern tone. "You call me that one more time and you won't be allowed to see the baby when he's born."
Dad laughed, his heavy booming laugh that I suddenly remembered all too well, and he released her. "All right, all right..." He took her hands and looked down at her belly, shaking his head a little and smiling. "You look fantastic, Amy, you really do. Half the eyes in this restaurant are on you."
"Yeah, whatever," Amy set down her clutch on the table. "Okay, I have to pee for like, the millionth time today," she turned towards me, setting a hand on my shoulder to help anchor herself around me to head back to the front. "Would you please order me a sparkling water?"
I nodded. "Sure."
I watched her go for as long as I could, and then when I turned around, Dad was staring at me pointedly, almost as if he couldn't quite believe what his eyes were seeing, that he was seeing me there, in the flesh, for the first time in years. His brown eyes were wide and shiny, as if he were about to cry, and although I could tell he was trying to smile, he almost seemed afraid to. I flexed my arms to keep them from shaking and I mustered as much of a smile as I could.
Finally, after what seemed like a long time, as some of the surrounding diners were looking at us suspiciously, wondering what exactly was going on, Dad managed an awkward little chuckle. "Janey."
I swallowed tightly, feeling tears pricking at the corner of my eyes. "Hi Daddy."
At that, he opened his arms and I hugged him, wrapping my arms around him and gasping just a little as his arms closed around me very tightly, as if he were afraid I was going to struggle and try to get away. But nothing was further from the truth; I closed my eyes and rest my forehead against his chest and took in his smell, the smell of my childhood; I couldn't remember the last time I felt so safe, loved, protected, so close to home, than in that single moment.
"It's so good to see you," he said, and I could hear the emotion in his voice. "It's been so long."
The emotion washed over me and caught me then, and with it came the underlying dread I'd been feeling since Amy told me he was in town and wanted to see us, and then the shame of how I had acted years before, when last I saw him. It'd been almost seven years. "It's really good to see you too."
He didn't let me go for what felt like a very long time, and granted I couldn't keep back a few tears. I had always been his little girl, taking after him way more than I took after my Mom, in both looks and personality; he and I had always been very close when I was younger, given how Amy took great interest in clothes and makeup and everything quite refined and girly and therefore was more attached to my Mom, whereas I had been more interested in hiking and going to the zoo and the aquarium. I know it hit him really hard when I met Eric and my behaviour took a turn for the worst; I couldn't imagine how he felt when I left Metropolis.
After a few moments, he let me go, though I could sense his reluctance; I pulled the chair out from the table with a shaky hand and sat myself down while Dad sat down on the other side of table, smiling at me whole-heartedly, and I struggled to smile back at him. I don't know why, but my heart was pounding so hard that it hurt.
"So..." Dad said, transitioning into conversation, as he straightened his jacket and cradled his hands down on the table in front of him. "Amy says you're upgrading your high school marks."
I took in a breath and let it out, nodding. "Yeah, I am, doing some online stuff...it's been really great so far."
It really had been. Picking up on my high school biology and chemistry was a big improvement from pulling drenched bedsheets out of toilets and finding dead bodies during the first early morning rounds.
Dad smiled widely and nodded his approval. "That's good, I'm really glad. You have any idea what you'd like to do with that?"
"Well," I shrugged a little. "I'd like to go to university, at some point."
His eyes widened and glowed a little; Dad was a doctor and always held post-secondary education in great regard, understandably. To memory, I don't think I'd ever really confided to him that I wanted to go into zoology, unless he understood given the trips we took to the zoo and the aquarium when I was little. "Do you have a major in mind?"
I smiled, nodding. "I think so, yeah."
Dad nodded, and then he looked down at the table surface and shook his head from side to side, almost as if he couldn't quite believe it, but he was thrilled nonetheless; I think I knew how he felt. I know once or twice he must have wondered if he'd ever see me again, given how I'd disappeared in the Narrows. I imagined my resurfacing and describing plans to get on a healthy, more scholarly track was more than he could have hoped to hear.
"That's spectacular, Jane," he said, looking up at me, unable to keep the smile off his face. "It really is, good for you."
I smiled back, and opened my mouth to tell him I was thinking about zoology, but at that point the waiter came to the table, standing and smiling down at the two of us. "Good afternoon."
Dad smiled up at him. "Good afternoon, oh..." he leaned towards me, pointing. "Jane, what would you like to drink?"
"Just an iced tea, please." I told the waiter, smiling up at him.
Dad considered me curiously for a moment before ordering. "I'll have an espresso, and..." he pointed next to me, to Amy's seat. "This one over here will have sparkling water."
The waiter nodded. "Certainly," and then he was off. I watched him go for a split second, for no particular reason, and caught a glimpse of the other diners sitting around us: women wearing beautiful clothes with expensive jewelry, men in perfectly cut suits, the kind Matt wore, and snappy, expensive haircuts. The Gotham elite really was elite; it was so weird to see how the other side lived.
"Jane," Dad said, pulling my attention back to him, and he was looking at me inquisitively. "You're not drinking?"
I smiled a little, and opened my mouth to tell him no, actually, I'd stopped drinking since leaving the Narrows - I knew he'd be delighted to hear it, since I'd been doing a lot of underaged drinking when I still lived in Metropolis - but at that point, Amy came back and sat down beside me with a scowl and a huff. "Some woman in the ladies room put her hands on my stomach like it was a bowling ball."
I tried not to laugh; I'd always heard of those women who loved being pregnant; Amy was not really one of them. Dad, on the other hand, just laughed out loud. "Kinda goes with the territory."
Amy shook her head as she opened her menu. "Yeah, well, I'm gonna start pepper-spraying people who even make a move to touch my belly."
"Oh really?" Dad laughed. "And have your baby born in Blackgate?"
I felt my amused smile fall off my face with the mention of Blackgate, but they hardly noticed; beside me, Amy made a face and held out her spare hand as if to say c'mon. "Nobody goes to jail for pepper-spraying, Dad," She shook her head as he laughed at her. "Besides, even if I was sued, nobody's gonna touch me, not with Matthew Walker Hartz representing me."
"Ah," Dad replied, and I couldn't help but smile once more. I knew Amy adored Matt, but when she called him by his full name, that, oh - that was meant with the highest form of praise I'd ever heard anyone give anyone. "How is Matt, by the way? Did he get that card we sent him for his birthday?"
Dramatically, Amy gasped and let her menu fall down onto the table. "Yes, and do you know what he said about it?"
Dad was already laughing, and I prepared myself for the story, because his reaction to their birthday card had been hilarious -
But then, from one of the tables behind me, I heard it.
"All I'm saying," said a diner to his companion, with a rather defensive tone in his voice. "If he stole the money from the mob funds, how do we know that the Joker-"
I felt the blood leave my face, and sucked in a breath while fighting the urge to double over and cover my ears with my hands, though I know now that it'd been spoken aloud, I'd be hearing it in my head for hours. The Joker. The Joker. The Joker.
I did a poor job at hiding it, too, because Dad looked at me and his eyebrows furred in concern. "Jane, are you all right?"
Nodding, I shook a hand at him dismissively. "Yeah, I'm fine-"
"You don't look fine," Amy said beside me, sitting back to get a better look at my face. "You've gone all pale. Did you have breakfast this morning?"
I didn't answer her; instead, while struggling to smile at the two of them reassuringly, I stood up from my chair, placing my napkin on the table. "I'm okay, I'm just gonna splash some water on my face."
Maternal instincts kicking in already, apparently, Amy griped the back of her chair, looking up at me earnestly. "You want me to come with you?"
I waved her off. "No, no it's fine, I'll be right back."
I could feel their eyes on me as I walked away from the table and made my way towards the front of the restaurant, pressing a hand against my stomach absently and keeping my eyes on the ground, dictating my careful footsteps, not paying attention to the other diners I passed. Once I reached the solace of the poshly furnished ladies room, I felt light-headed, sat down on a chair set in front of a cherrywood vanity, and bent over to place my head between my knees to take a few long breaths in and out.
The Joker, he called himself the Joker, it was almost laughable!
I had succeeded in not giving him a single thought for the eight months - eight months - since leaving the Narrows; living with Matt and Amy had their fair share of fun and shenanigans and all that, thankfully, had kept me from dwelling on the past longer than a minute, a minute where I could stop myself and take a breath and remember the promise I made to myself that I would move on. I would forget everything that happened and try to carry on with my life; Jack didn't deserve the afterthought, and I didn't deserve the stress.
But now he was back, but he wasn't Jack anymore, no no no no. He was the Joker.
How did he do it? How did he crawl up from the gutter to pull off the heist on the bank? A prestigious bank, at that, housing all the funds and personal accounts of some of the city's highest and most dangerous mob men...how did he do it, and why? Was it because he was sick of living poorly in the Narrows?
The door opened and an older woman stepped inside, jewels glittering from her ears and neck, and upon seeing me she stilled and a look of concern crossed her heavily made-up features. "Are you all right, dear?"
I eased her a smile and nodded. "Fine, thank you."
I wondered, as she walked past me to go to one of the bathroom stalls, how she would have reacted if I told her that the masked bank robber known as the Joker was a stone-cold murdering psychopath who once left me to die in an alley in the Narrows after I'd been stabbed. I almost wanted to shout it out, not just to have someone hear it, but just to get it the hell out of my head, just to have it out in the open so I didn't have to keep it so bottled up.
Sighing, I stood up and went to the sinks to splash a little water on my face, and as I pat my cheeks dry, I looked at myself in the mirror, remembering for the first time in a long time that I had my father's hazel eyes, and they looked far more clear, and the circles under my eyes had disappeared and my skin seemed more rosy and healthy. Moving to Matt and Amy's was the best thing I could have done after everything that happened; I'd slept for days and when I woke up, Amy was calm and understanding and doting, the way she was when we were little, and Matt was charming and funny and came home with hilarious stories about his coworkers, and suddenly there were breakfasts in a sun-filled nook and lunches out and shopping trips and watching movies with pints of pricy ice cream and discussions about the future and a queen-sized bed and entertaining banter between Matt and Amy during dinner and talking to my parents again and more tears than I could shed and more thanks than I could give that I was alive and I was away from the Narrows and that life had meaning once more.
All to come crashing down around me because of him.
I stared at myself in the mirror and then took a washcloth and wiped the mascara from underneath my eyes, fixed my smudged lipstick, took in a deep breath and let it out slowly as I shook my head at myself.
Well, at least now he had more money than he could ever need.
He could disappear once more, and he would, if he knew what would good for him; he couldn't evade the cops for long, not dressed up the way he was, not parading around in greasepaint the way he was. He would disappear or they would find him, that's how it would be done.
I smiled at myself then, not only because it seemed to be the only thing I could do aside from scream, but because I realized then that this was the first time in a long time I'd looked into a mirror in months. I'd become so careful to avoid them since leaving the Narrows, since visions of broken glass and writing in sloppy red greasepaint danced across my dreams and woke me up from cold sweats once or twice. I looked upon my reflection and couldn't believe how silly it had been, really; mirrors were nothing to fear. My reflection wasn't broken the way his had been.
Clearing my throat, I stood to attention, checked my hair, my makeup, my clothes; things had changed; Jack wouldn't change that. He would disappear.
I tipped my chin to myself, very professional. "Welcome back."