Alice watched him through the bedroom's window, as he arrived enveloped in an orange glow that turned darker by the minute, as the sun slowly died. She frowned as she saw red stains in his shirt and what she thought was a black eye in his face. How much time would this last?
She lost sight of him when he entered the orphanage. He had been gone a whole day, but now he finally returned home. If such a place could be called 'home'. It was an old, deteriorated grey building, with almost a hundred other kids like them, sad and abandoned. It was a cold place to grow up in, the sisters that run it weren´t especially cruel, just detached and strict. They fed you what they could get, they gave you something to wear and a bed. That was their job and they did it well, they just never provided much love and they were harsh when they found someone misbehaving. They would put you in what the older kids called 'solitary', just like in prison. They had a special room for that, in the basement, where you couldn't hear a single word from upstairs, not one kid shouting or singing, and you could hardly see anything. The place was damp , cold and empty, except for a single bed with an old mattress, and they used to leave you there the whole night, without dinner. That´s where Jack used to spend his night's as a kid. That was before they started being afraid of him, before he became too much to handle.
"What are you, uh, daydreaming about, love?"
She hadn't heard him opening the door, so his voice took her by surprise and she almost stumbled as she turned around. There stood Jack, towering over her, with his dark eyes digging into her. She had been right, it was a black eye, and it looked painful. She frowned at him and pushed him aside to grab a purple shirt that was tossed on the floor. With one swift movement she threw it in his face.
"Put this on, what if someone sees you? Is that even your blood?" She tried to keep her voice down and calm, she didn't want him to see how much his absence affected her. "You should get some ice for that eye, by the way."
"As if anybody in this place cares about a bloody shirt. It's the Narrows, you see blood as soon as you've stepped outside your doorway," he said casually, slowly licking his bloodied knuckles. He reminded Alice of a cat she'd seen that very morning, licking it's paws with indifference after killing a bird and leaving it dead on the grass.
"Is that your blood or is it somebody else's?" she asked again.
"Probably both," he said with a wicked grin. "What are you doing in my room by the way? Did you miss me?"
He put on that charming smile that he knew she loved. But Alice wasn't about to let him distract her, she knew his tactics too well. She was going to make him listen this time. It wasn't the first time she stood by his window for an entire day, waiting desperately to have any news from him. She wasn't a little girl anymore, she knew where he went at night, the things he did and the risks he took.
"You were gone since yesterday, Jack, I was worried. I kept thinking that you weren't coming back. You have to stop doing this," she said as she sighed in frustration. "Do you think those mobsters would care if you died in one of the jobs they sent you to? They would have you killed just for fun. It isn't worth it, we don't need them," she said, looking at him with angry but tired eyes.
She sat down on his bed and hid her face in her hands, she didn't like looking this weak and helpless. Almost immediately, she felt the mattress dip by her side under his weight. She slowly relaxed as his fingers brushed through her cheek. The lack of sleep was starting to get to her. Alice had gotten almost no sleep at all last night, because she couldn't stop picturing Jack in horrible scenarios. She knew he had gone to meet the Falcone, as he had done almost every night the last couple of months. He had promised her it would only be for a while, him working with the mob and doing their dirty business, that as soon as he saved the money they would runaway. But sometimes that dream seemed too far away for her, as her present looked gloomier each day. Jack started keeping secrets from her, about what kind of jobs he did for the Falcone, about where he'd been. She saw him less and less with each passing day.
"You started this for the money, but sometimes I ask myself if you don't do it just for the rush now," she whispered, so softly it seemed she was talking to herself. "It's like you get off it, the risk and the games you play there. We always used to say that the Narrows wouldn't trap us, Jack, that we would get out of here when we could. But now you're digging yourself deeper and deeper into this place. Some days you come back home and you have this look of disappointment in your eyes, like you'd like to turn around and head back..."
Her words were cut, as Jack grabbed her chin and forced her to look up straight into his eyes. He kissed her gently and she felt her fears evaporating slowly. Then he parted his lips from hers and laughed.
"Alice I love you, but that little head of yours gets trapped in Wonderland sometimes. If there's something I'll never get bored of in this whole rotten world, it's you. Do you think I like to take orders from those dumb greedy Italian mobsters? They can't see anything except money, they don't even understand anything apart from that. Not even what real power is. If they had it, they wouldn't know what to do with it. It's just fun to see them kill each other when I whisper the little word treason in their ears. They just go crazy. They would murder their own family in cold blood if someone just dared to take a single coin of what's theirs. I just want to play a little with them, take my share and get out, honey. I thought that's what you wanted too, to get out of, uh, this place," he said, looking around the room with disgust. He hated this place of abandonment and they old hypocritical hags that ran the place, as much as he loved Alice.
He ran his fingers through her dark short curls. He sometimes felt a pang of guilt, touching her, who was so naive and innocent, with his dirty and bloodied hands. At the same time, it also fascinated him just that, the contrast between those two opposing elements, her white skin and his bloodied fingers. They matched, in a crooked kind of way. Her eyes stared at him, as if she was looking for something in his face, in the purple bruises under his eye, that would unveil the events of last night. She was better off not knowing.
"We don't need the money, I don't want it," she said. "It's bloodied money. I never wanted you to get into this, Jack. Listen, I talked with the manager of the pub down the block, and he said he could consider giving me a job, even though I'm seventeen..."
She saw his eyes darken and she knew the answer before she finished her phrase. They already had talked about this.
"No," he said, with a harsh tone. "I won't let you serve tables while some fat mongoloid stares at your ass. Besides, love, you, uh, wouldn't make much money anyway, and they're kicking us out of here in just a couple of months, remember? Turning eighteen and all. Why do you think I chose my line of work? You really think we could get out of this place if I had a real job? We would die in the Narrows. You should just finish high school as you're meant to. After all, we all know there's no chance for me to, uh, be a respectable person, so at least one of us can try. I'm rotten Alice, the sisters and teachers weren't wrong after all," he said laughing. "If I had stayed just one more day in that damn school I would have probably burned it to the ground. So just trust me, love, leave Jack to have his fun around Gotham's finest filth, and in a couple of weeks I'll have more money than you've ever dreamed of and we'll leave this dirthole. I have a plan," he said, as he winked an eye at her.
She just stared at him in resignation and disbelief. He was always so careless, nothing seemed to ever worry him.
"The Falcone may be dumb Jack, but they know their business. If you go against their backs, they will find out. Let's just leave, tomorrow, please. This is changing you. What if tomorrow they make you kill someone? An innocent person? Just get out of there."
He smirked. Killing innocent people? There were no people of that kind left in the Narrows anymore. She might be the only one, the only innocent person left in that place, and she loved him, God knows why. He felt pleasure in knowing that. That he owned the last shard of innocence in this decadent and corrupted Gotham, and he was holding it in his bloodied hands.
"I'll quit, in a couple of weeks. You're tired, just relax and get some sleep. Come here."
He laid down completely on the bed, kicked off his shoes and took off the purple shirt she had thrown at him, and held her close.
"I like that color on you. Purple. You should use it more," she whispered in his chest, after a while. Her voice sounded soft and tired, she was beginning to fall asleep. She must have stayed up the whole night, he thought.
With a smile, he answered, "It looks kinda clownish on me, but if you like it."
"Yes, I do... Besides, Jack, you are a clown. Half of the things you say or do are always an act. But I can see right through it." He looked at her, his smile suddenly evaporating. But she had her eyes closed and seemed almost lost in dreams. "I see through you and I love you all the same, Jack."
He heard her as she started to softly snore on her pillow. He couldn't help laughing at the scene, him thinking she might have just started to unveil his monstrous self, while she was just talking in her sleep. But maybe there was some truth behind her words, maybe she did suspected the dark thoughts that lingered in his mind. How much could he show her without scaring her away, he wondered. What if she knew he had already killed, more than once, without much remorse. Could she see that in his face too?
A particularly loud snore broke his train of thought and he laughed again, pulling her closer and deciding to join her in her sleep. He had a big day tomorrow, the day when he would put in motion his orchestrated plan. The Falcone's wouldn't see what was coming. This bloody clown would destroy their empire, bit by bit.