A/N: You know…this was going to have a happy ending. I'm not entirely sure where it decided that's not what it wanted to be.
(Probably over dinner with the Captain.)
Jervis Tetch stares at the borrowed lime green suitcase. It's not that the suitcase is particularly interesting, it just happens to be in his field of view and, as he's too lazy (depressed) to bother with something so ambitious as turning his head, focusing on the garish, margarita hued case is convenient.
And so, he stares.
A small stack of books—Huxley, Orwell, Bradbury (no Carroll, no Carroll, no Carroll)—lies atop it, along with an overlarge, retractable clicky ink pen from a bank he's never heard of, much less visited and a book of puzzles and cryptograms that he's already finished half of. The puzzle book was a going away present from Nygma, the brainy books from Jonathan Crane.
Twelve hours out of Arkham as a legally free man, considered by every doctor in that travesty of a hospital rehabilitated (but not really, no never really) and this is what he's done. Lay on a mattress that's at least forty years old (the term 'firm' would be charitable; 'hard as a rock' far more appropriate) in the cheapest boarding house he could find and stared at his suitcase—his suitcase that isn't even his.
At first, when he finally regained his freedom, he's floated around on cloud nine and three quarters, but when he entered the city—the proper city, not the boonies where Arkham was built—the first thing he saw on the subway was a woman reading the society pages. Pages which had the glaringly bold headline 'Fairy Tale Wedding: Millionaire Bachelor Weds' and beneath it, a photograph of Jeffrey Addams, one of the silver spoon sons of the Gotham elite, and his blushing bride.
(But not his Alice. Never his Alice. Now more than ever, Not His Alice.)
His spirits plummeted and crashed to earth like a sparrow with a broken wing in just a few short moments, and all his happiness had drained, leaving him to mindlessly search for a place to rest his head for the night though he didn't particularly care where he wound up. He would be heartbroken either indoors or out in the street; what would anyone care?
He rolls over onto his back and stares at the cracked, molding ceiling.
He certainly didn't entertain the notion that now that he was viewed as 'cured', he could strike up so much as an acquaintanceship with Alice Pleasance, but he had thought that maybe—just maybe—he would find her to still be single…
(Which makes her seem more attainable...even if she isn't actually attainable.)
But, he reasons, she's a wonderful woman. Of course someone would've snapped her up in his absence.. If he'd been in the other fellow's position, why, he'd have swept her off her feet the moment he saw her.
Jervis sighs, lets his eyes side closed and thinks, perhaps, he feels a little sorry for Alice. Certainly, she looks very happy with her new husband (he hates that word), but no one alive—no one—will love her as much as he did.
The sudden surge of desire—a desire to show her just how much he still cares, even after all these years—is so strong that he has to take several minutes to remember his exercises. He takes a deep breath.
(No one will love her as much as he did.)
He holds it.
(As much as he does.)
Counts to five.
(As much as he always will.)
Lets it out.
He sits up and decides he wants a cup of (clean cup, clean cup, move down) coffee.
The sky is that picturesque shade of blue (Alice blue) as he steps out into the sunlight and the air smells of…well, it's Gotham. He can't expect it to smell as picturesque as it looks—but the slightest hint of hazelnut drifts to him on the wind and he follows his nose to a small coffee cart a little ways away.
This part of Gotham is nicer than where his chosen boarding house is, though it's a scant six blocks out, it's cleaner, nicer and generally better kept up. Gotham is funny that way. On one side of the street, the ghetto, on the other, middleclass America.
The coffee cart is perfect. It serves coffee, cappuccino and espresso—and that's all. His therapist recommended giving up tea, since it served as a way of furthering his delusions about being the Mad Hatter, so he smiles at the vendor as innocuously as he can and instead of ordering, says 'surprise me'.
(Ordering coffee goes against his grain. He knows he could never come to a decision by himself.)
The vendor has that look about him like a man trying to place where he's seen someone before, but he shrugs and hands Jervis his coffee in an environmentally unfriendly Styrofoam cup. Jervis pays and turns to leave, only to bump into the young woman standing behind him.
Two sets of blue eyes meet, one sky, one cornflower, and recognition passes through both.
(Fate is cruel.)
Alice Addams (Not Addams, Pleasance. To him she will always be Pleasance.) looks as though she's trying to make up her mind whether to scream or not.
She contains herself with effort so obvious it's painful to watch. It stabs at his heart that she has to swallow a screech at the mere sight of him. It cuts him—for the woman he only feels affection, for him she only feels terror.
(Rightly so, but not the point.)
Alice nods curtly and presses past him, treating him like a leper—trying to keep from touching him while still forcing her way through the line. "Jervis."
(Oh, but that she hadn't said his name…if only, if only she had said 'Tetch', he wouldn't be so lost.)
He stammers and runs his hand through his hair, a nervous gesture he picked up from God knows where in the intervening years. "Alice."
(I haven't seen thy sunny face, nor heard thy silver laughter…)
He wants more than anything to untie his tongue—to apologize, to make her understand, to declare to the world that—but no. This is not the proper time, nor the place.
(The proper time does not exist. The proper place one found only in his imagination.)
He doesn't linger.
Back at the boarding house, Jervis slides further down the vortex into depression, his coffee sits on the cheap pressed pine night table, cold and forgotten. His hands are pressed severely to either side of his head, elbows digging into his knees and his eyes squeezed shut, as he tries to regain control of himself. Why is the universe so bent on making his recovery impossible? Why couldn't he have overlooked that headline? Why couldn't Alice have gotten her coffee elsewhere?
(Why is a raven like a writing desk?)
Questions with no answers.
He thrusts his fists harder against his head and breathes, trying to kill the voice ( that whispers the beginnings of ideas—schemes, plans, conspiracies—things that will get him thrown back into the asylum and though he fights, the ideas will not leave.
Can he make her love him? No.
Should he try? No.
Will he try?
(I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.)
He releases a hopeless sob. He did so want to be good, he really, truly did.
Yet the mending of his mind is not in the cards. His mental mettle has been tested—pressed and pushed and shoved until it has lost what little integrity it still had.
It is here, at this juncture, that he understands: he has lost the will to try being sane.
A plan begins to form.
He will never hurt Alice as long as he lives, he decides. He will never take her will from her again—this too he determines. He does not want a pretty, mindless doll…he wants his Alice.
(Even though she isn't his anymore—if she ever was to begin with.)
Jervis doesn't want to hurt her, yet with each plan he devises and then discards, he finds that requirement the hardest to meet. He doesn't want to wipe her mind clear, but the remainder of the plans call for her to be a willing participant.
He's hit a brick wall.
He puzzles on the topic for days, in the times between his search for a proper job—
(He finally finds one—as a bookstore clerk—but that is immaterial. Everything is immaterial next to The Plan.)
As he backwards engineers the problem so as to understand it better, he realizes that his biggest problem is Alice's new husband.
(He wonders what happened to the infamous Billy. He hopes whatever it was, it was painful.)
With the husband out of the way, he could slowly, ever so slowly, try and reintegrate himself into her life. Perhaps as an acquaintance first, then as a friend, then more.
But the husband…
He will not make a move yet. It will be too obvious that he's to blame if he does so.
For now, he will live the semblance of a normal life, waiting for inspiration to visit him with an idea so brilliant, a plan so perfect, that nothing could possibly go wrong.
Like a cobra tightly coiled to strike, he waits.
Work is slow. It always is. The bookstore where he's been eking out a rather sparse living, is a dealer of fine, old books. There are paperbacks—which is what keeps the place from going bankrupt—but the majority of the stock is leather bound and upwards of half a century old. The place smells like an attic, dusty, musty and dry, but Jervis likes it here. He works every day, nine to five, just like an ordinary person, and he usually shares his shifts with a bookish brunette called Emily. She's the plain sort of pretty, but very kind, and she brings him tea on the mornings she knows they'll be working together because she lives above a café that serves the most divine Darjeeling.
His duties consist of shelving and reshelving, organizing, keeping the books dusted and the titles in their proper order, while she mans the register. The proprietor was wary of hiring a former convict, but Jervis is nothing if not knowledgeable about classical literature, and eventually the owner felt sorry enough for the madman to hire him on a weeklong trial basis.
A week became two, then a month, then three. Now he is the picture of a perfect worker. A true success story and example of a former criminal's reform and reintegration into proper society.
(And all the while, he strains to find a way to make a man disappear.)
It is on this lazy afternoon that the tiny tinkling brass bell above the door jingles, announcing the entrance of a customer. Jervis doesn't look up, just continues shelving the new acquisitions, but when he finally finishes with this batch and goes to fetch another, he looks up just in time to see a flash of blonde rounding the nonfiction section shelves.
The edges of his mind tingle with apprehension, excitement and anticipation. He's drawn, but composes himself and gathers up a handful of biographies that belong over there…it probably isn't her anyway.
(But it is.)
She looks less nervous to be near him, though she still takes a step away and fidgets nervously with the silk scarf around her neck. He nods at her in recognition and places the books where they belong. He doesn't want to overstay his welcome (give himself away) so he starts off once more.
Her voice stops him dead. "It's nice to see you again, Jervis."
(She sounds meek. Cautious. )
He looks back at her and smiles—but only slightly. He can't let her see how much joy those seven words have given him.
"It's…yes." He worries he won't be able to find words that won't scare her, so her simply parrots her own sentiment. "Very nice indeed, Alice."
"Are you…okay?" Her eyes are cloudy. Her brow, troubled.
He smiles reassuringly. (He hopes reassuringly.) "Yes."
"I'm glad," she gifts him with a smile so brilliant it makes his heart pause its beating inside his chest and continues fiddling with her scarf.
It's then that he sees something that makes his heart stop for another reason entirely. A flare of rage is barely kept under wraps. It takes everything he's got to keep from reaching out to tear the scarf from her small pale hands.
There is a ring of purple bruises, barely concealed by the flimsy fabric, circling her neck.
"I must return to work," he forces out, clearing his throat and stepping back.
She nods in understanding. "Yes, of course. It...I'm glad you're…it's good to see you."
He doesn't say anything in reply, but even as he walks away, his eyes stay surreptitiously glued to the discoloration on her throat.
(The same way Emily's stayed glued to him as he followed after Alice.)
The plan solidifies.
Alice (poor, sweet, in need of rescue Alice.) has married one of Gotham's most sought after, and clearly, most abusive, bachelors.
Jervis seethes as he adjusts the circuitry on his newest behavioral modification chip. His hands shake with anger, making the going rather slow and difficult, but he manages, with few mishaps.
If there's one thing that being in Arkham with the likes of Harley Quinn has taught him, it's about abusive relationships. Group therapy sessions—at least, when the Joker wasn't in earshot—oftentimes degenerated into Harley's rambling about her Puddin' and Doctor Leland's attempts to explain the difference between a functional healthy love and an unhealthy obsessive one.
(Jervis didn't listen to the latter.)
He understands that Alice—meek, helpless, wonderful Alice—will not break away without a push in the right direction, but it must be done in such a way she doesn't realize she's being manipulated. He also knows that she must reach a breaking point before she'll seek help…and that breaking point must be brought about at his hand, because it could take years to happen on its own.
He promised he wouldn't hurt her—promised himself that—but he sees no alternative. He will chip her husband, but not to control him. This new invention merely makes the subject's natural tendencies all the more severe, so—though it really pains him to do it—the abuse will escalate, hopefully to the point that Alice will call the police.
It's not a perfect plan, he knows that. He would rather take off his own arm than bring any misery to the woman he loves, but he's rational enough to know if he calls the GCPD with a tip about an abusive husband, not only will they not listen to him, they'll try and put him back into Arkham for slipping into his old patterns of stalking.
He puts the final touches on the chip.
Not a perfect plan, but foolproof, at any rate.
Jervis continues with his normal life. If only he were on the outside looking in, he would be so proud of himself, just as his psychiatrist is proud of him. He has existed as a model citizen for nearly half a year.
His routines are normal.
(He gets out of bed, goes to work, comes home; lives his life just as the status quo insists it is supposed to be lived.)
His relationships are normal.
(He still doesn't realize that Emily has started to fall in love with him. Despite his past, despite his flaws. )
Everything is normal.
(The part of him that longs to be accepted lamets: if only he could let Alice go.)
The opportunity to chip Jeffrey Addams presents itself in the bookstore presents itself and he does so by accidentally bumping into him. The effect is immediate as Addams shoves Tetch angrily for the trespass on his person.
Jervis suffers it without comment and even goes so far as to apologize.
The wheels are set in motion.
Jervis Tetch lies on the floor of his studio apartment, arms curled around the morning edition of the Gotham Times, and weeps.
Millionaire Goes Berserk: Wife Found Dead
(How many fools does it take to ruin a foolproof plan?)
How could he have not considered this possibility? How could he have overlooked such a dangerous variable in the equation?
Drawing breath has grown difficult and his chest aches with the effort. His sobs have grown to such proportions that he takes a mouthful of air only to release it once more as a wail. The Times published photos of the crime scene—the body bag on a stretcher smaller than any he's ever seen—and her face, her lovely, loving, perfect face, won't leave the forefront of his mind. With every thought, he grows a little weaker with sorrow, until his cries are simply pants—desperate searching gasps for breath—and he feels like a wrung out dishrag.
(Still she haunts me, phantom-wise, Alice moving under skies, never seen by waking eyes.)
He is not surprised when his door is broken down by a police battering ram. He heard the knocks but had neither the desire, nor the willpower to get to his feet to answer it.
The blue uniforms seem at a loss, but James Gordon has come along for this particular collar and he orders them out of their stupor. They're much gentler with him than the last few times he's been arrested, or perhaps he's simply numb. He can't tell.
At the station, he answers all the usual questions, but without rhyme or whimsy. He doesn't have it in him anymore. Tragedy has drained all the life from him and he answers like a drone; honestly, but without passion.
The district attorney's office presses charges: criminally negligent homicide.
He pleads guilty.
(He is guilty.)