Eleanor didn't allow herself to register the fact her hands were shaking. That would mean processing what had happened. She couldn't do that until she had washed the blood from her face.
It took three attempts to slip the key into the lock. In fact she had only just fitted it in when the door swung open. Eleanor looked up blankly into Jonathans face.
"I thought it must have been you," Jonathan said running his gaze over her body, taking in the blood thickly matted in her hair.
"You thought it must have been me what?"
"At the museum," He hooked an arm around her waist. "I'd recognise your derrière anywhere even pressed against glass on prime time."
Eleanor feebly pushed him away, hands squarely on her chest. "No flirting, Jonathan."
"What's wrong with you?" Jonathan's voice was serious. Eleanor tried to slide past him but Jonathan grabbed her chin and not gently. He surprised himself at the jolt of panic he felt at her vacant expression.
Eleanor wrapped her fingers around his wrist softly. "Jonathan, I'm covered in someone else's blood, I've had no sleep and The Joker has been taken in to custody."
Jonathan searched her face for a moment longer than pulled her into an embrace. Jonathan wasn't a tall man but she fit neatly into his body, head tucked under his chin. She clutched his jacket so tightly her knuckles were white.
Jonathan was a dangerous influence on her life but at the moment he was the only constant. He was the first to pull away, softly untangling himself. He took her hand and led her into the bathroom.
Eleanor was as cooperative as a child. Jonathan started the water in the bath and then began easing the zip down on her dress, slowly exposing the soft skin of her back. He couldn't resist trailing he fingers of his free hand down that naked flesh.
His fingers grazing lightly elicited a sharp inhale of breath from Eleanor.
Jonathan smirked but decided to behave himself. He tested the temperature of the water while Eleanor removed what remained of her clothing. Modesty didn't mater where Jonathan was concerned.
"It's good." Jonathan indicated the water and Eleanor sank gratefully into the warmth, feeling it ease her tense muscles. Jonathan was kicking of his shoes and socks. There was just enough room at the end of the bath for someone to sit and Jonathan manoeuvred himself there after rolling up his pant legs. His feet were in the water, legs encasing Eleanor.
Eleanor smiled for the first time in a few hours. Jonathan, always so composed in his nice suits, with his feet in water, perched awkwardly on the edge of a bath. Jonathan was too busy reaching for the shampoo to notice.
Carefully he worked the shampoo into a thick lather in her hair. He took time to massage her scalp, relaxing her, watching the strain leave her shoulders.
"So he did what you hinted," said Jonathan.
Eleanor laughed humourlessly. "In kind."
"It fitted his motive. Lately all his attacks have been random."
Eleanor shook her head. "He's taunting Batman. Trying to get him to snap. Also…"
"It's just a theory but I get the feeling he's waiting for something. Something to happen maybe."
"Why do you think that?"
Eleanor shrugged. "Doesn't matter now. He's caught."
Jonathan narrowed her eyes at the unexpected emotion in her tone. Was she fond of the madman now? Jonathan hadn't anticipated this. He felt a little surge of jealousy. He couldn't bring himself to comfort her.
Her hair was clean and smelt good. All traces of blood had disappeared from face tinging the water red. Eleanor sat in the water until it started to get cold, Jonathan lightly stroking her shoulders.
"Come on, El." He used his infrequent endearment for her. He pulled her out of the water and towelled her dry. Eleanor was compliant in his firm but tender hands. With her wet hair combed off her face she looked much younger than thirty and more vulnerable but Jonathan knew that was deceptive.
He hoped it was deceptive. He didn't want to believe that The Joker's capture had her so fragile. She hadn't spent enough time with him and her mind would have to be much more pliable than what it was for The Joker to have converted her so entirely to his cause.
She was just tired and a little shocked after seeing a live man burned before her eyes, he told himself.
Once she was dried he led her towards the bed. Relief flashed through her eyes at the sight of her plush comfortable mattress. It was obvious that she desired nothing more than to lie down and sleep but she spared the time to look speculatively at Jonathan.
Tonight was not a typical night in their relationship. Jonathan playing the nurturing type was not a role he assumed much and never for anyone else. It was so deeply out of character for him to be sensitive that Eleanor appreciated the effort. She really couldn't have dealt with the virtual minefield their usual interaction was. She scrutinised his overtly handsome face from his fine cheekbones to his big blue angel eyes. Her expression was reflected on his face as they watched each other and tried to ascertain what the next move was.
They were back to their old games and that made Eleanor sad. It would be nice if this could last the night. She was feeling an odd sense of despair growing in her stomach. If she paid too much attention to it she knew it would spread to her heart. Eleanor point blank refused to contemplate the possible reasons for this moroseness. She wanted a distraction. She wanted Jonathan. If the world was falling to pieces he could still make her smile.
Jonathan was about to say goodbye and leave her with her own thoughts when she spoke.
"Stay the night with me."
Jonathan looked as startled as he felt. What was she asking of him?
"Just…" She took a deep breath, steeling herself for what she had to stay. "Just hold me, please. I don't want to be alone."
She held his eyes unwaveringly. With that statement she had declared weakness and dependency but instead of feeling triumphant Jonathan merely felt protective. Of her. She must have buried her way deeper into his heart recently with her few encounters with death. He wasn't certain it was a good thing or a bad thing but he would asses it another time. Not tonight.
He slowly took off his clothes until he was as naked as her. Jonathan lay on his back with Eleanor's head pressed against his chest. Both his arms were wrapped around her and her hands pressed flat against his ribs, their legs entangled. They had as much of their bodies touching as possible.
Her eyes were closed but, despite the soft breath against his skin, he knew she was awake.
Eleanor was awake and just savouring the sensation of Jonathan, warm, alive and whole, against her. His heart beat steadily as he held her tightly to him. She felt secure and safe, not caring when he fell asleep.
After he got a dose of his own medicine Jonathan had succumbed to the fear effects but since he understood what was happening to him, he managed to claw his way back to sanity. Slowly but surely he rebuilt his mental health until all that plagued him were the nightmares.
They weren't as bad tonight. Muted by a warmth and a glow that seemed much more important. He didn't jerk and moan in his sleep as he would have normally.
There was the occasional twitch. Eleanor observed them, understanding the reason behind it but it didn't bother her. In fact it helped her. Earlier today the world had begun to seem very empty and she wanted to be reminded that there were other people still there.
For days Eleanor thought she was living in a dream and she despised herself for the flaw it implied. Who cared if The Joker was in jail, facing jail and, perhaps, the death penalty?
He had wandered into her life, injected some bedlam and heat, and now he was out of it again. As it should be. Eleanor had had a lot of free time to think about him and she had likened The Joker to a drug. Unpleasant and overwhelming at first but, as time progressed, became exhilarating. Addictive. Fatal. She was well shot of him.
So why did the world seem bland? There were other lunatics, ones who would worship her so she didn't need him. In the next three days she threw herself into activities. Attending University, inquiring after jobs, meeting people for lunch. Conducting herself with absolute normalcy.
She hadn't sought out Jonathan after the one night of indulgence. He was a reminder of what had transpired all too recently.
If Eleanor was honest with herself she could confess that she missed Him. His influence and the threat. She had begun this absurd endeavour because she had too much free time and because of Jonathans request. Now she wanted to be there with him, interested and living on the edge.
She had come home from lunch early, feigning another appointment but really she desired nothing more than to roll in self pity for an hour or two. Maybe with a side order of self mocking and loathing, definitely to be accompanied by a full glass of red wine.
Eleanor had let herself into her apartment surprised to find a brown package on the floor. Her doorman was still the crazy henchman and he didn't interact with people unless they asked a direct question, sometimes not even then, so there was no chance he would have forewarned her.
She slowly unwrapped the oddly sized package. Eleanor raised a trembling hand to her mouth when she realised what it was. The painting posted… as promised. This could only mean one thing unless Gordon had relaxed his mail regulations significantly.
With barely concealed haste she turned the TV on flicking through too many channels before she found one espousing the news. They were talking about some war in some country. Eleanor sighed, expressing her inappropriate boredom. She knew she should be concerned but found it hard to invest any real interest in human wars.
"And now to other breaking news, the criminal known only as 'The Joker' has escaped."
Eleanor grinned automatically and then quelled it. She ignored the thrum of excitement in her stomach and focused every inch of her will into being professional and calculating. It was one thing to get emotional about him when he couldn't know and couldn't hurt her. Now he was free she would have to return to detached insouciance and a considered, measured response.
Certainly she would let him come to her this time round. Eleanor was woman enough to know men liked to be the chasers, especially The Joker. He enjoyed the thrill of the hunt, obviously for other reasons than most men.
Another smile graced her face, one far less sweet than before. Game on, she thought and poured herself a celebratory glass of wine.
Eleanor had woken up, unsure why, unable to explain the feeling of unease. It was rainy and cold outside, typical of Gotham, and she was warm and safe in her bed.
After her eyes adjusted to the dark and her ears were accustomed to the silence she realised she could hear someone breathing. Someone that certainly wasn't her.
She looked around almost frantically to ascertain where it was coming from.
Eleanor couldn't see anyone lurking in the shadows and went to stand up. As she made to swing her legs out of bed she found the source of the noise. The Joker was curled in the foetal position on the floor. He was half under the bed and Eleanor noticed with a shock that he was asleep.
Eleanor went very still, not wanting to wake him, wanting time to think. Why was he here of all places? Did he feel like her home was a safe haven?
Eleanor thought this was very stupid of him because she had a very good idea. As carefully as she could Eleanor rolled to the other side of the bed and pulled out a bedside drawer. This had a whole range of interesting items including a needle filled with strong sedative. Taking into account the amount of unstable people she slept with this had seemed a wise precaution.
It would also come in handy tonight.
The back of The Jokers neck was exposed. She expertly and deftly slid the needle into his skin. His eyes sprung open but it was too late.
"Princess?" The word was muddled and confused. He sounded lost enough to pinch the sympathy of most normal peoples hearts. Eleanor just blinked at him impassively.
He slumped back into a much deeper slumber and Eleanor got out of bed. She only had maybe an hour to prepare.
The Joker was dreaming again. He was standing in a world full of misty nothingness that stretched forever. He was strangely aware that that bitch had put him here.
He had been exhausted. Two days with no sleep and he was going to collapse. He was close to her apartment and for no logical reason his feet had led him there. The Joker had let himself in. He looked at the large bed. Plenty of room for him but he had lain down on the hard wood floor.
He squinted into the murk. There was a shape emerging from the dark. If it was Eleanor he was going to teach her a lesson. Even if it she was only a construct of his mind it would give him immense satisfaction to beat her senseless.
It wasn't Eleanor. It was a man dressed all in black.
The Joker crowed with delight. "Batman!" he sung out. "Batty batty Batman."
The figure just shook his head. He got closer and The Joker narrowed his eyes. Now this just didn't make any sense.
"Brian?" He couldn't keep the incredulousness out of his voice.
"Yeah, I know man!" Brian shrugged and sat down in a seat that had previously not been there. The second last time The Joker had seen Brian he had been weeping, wailing and begging. The last time he had seen Brian, he had been dead.
"Brian, long time no see. How's it been?" The Joker swapped pleasantries, seating himself in another chair that miraculously just happened to be there.
Brian shrugged again. "Not bad, man." This Brian was calm and confident, unperturbed by the presence of his murderer.
"Why you here, Bri Bri?"
Brian looked at The Joker like he was an idiot. "You should know, man!"
The Joker merely looked confused, not liking this in the slightest.
Brian sighed heavily. "This is your mind. I'm just a construct of it. If I'm here then it's your fault."
"So everything you're saying and doing?"
"You're imagining it. Oh and by the way, I'm almost positive I didn't use the word 'man' in such ridiculous quantities. I was a lawyer by day."
Brian shrugged again. Already that was too annoying for words. "How should I know. You invented it. Did you want to be a lawyer when you were a kid?"
The Joker stared at Brian, disconcerted by his gall and utter lack of reaction to him. "I uh, I don't think so. I killed a lawyer once. Think that's got anything to do with it?"
Brian raised an eyebrow. "Possibly. What do you think?"
The Joker didn't like the round about way things were going. Brian answering every question with another question. He only enjoyed a head spin if he was the instigator.
"But you are the instigator," Brian noted casually.
The Joker snarled. "Get out of my head." No one was allowed to read his thoughts. Not even fantasy people.
Brian actually snorted.
"What?" The Joker snapped. He was increasingly losing his light hearted whimsical tone. His lack of control bothered him almost as much as the fact the dark rasping voice he used in his fury had once elicited tears from Brian and now induced nothing but condescension.
"I know you are crazy and everything but you know how nuts its sounds to order a dream out of your head. I am your head."
"You're starting to bug me, Brian."
Brian held up his hands defensively. "This is not my fault. I'm on a script and guess who the writer is." Brian dropped his voice to a stage whisper and pointed at The Joker. "It's you."
The Joker was starting to wonder whether he could kill Brian again. If he had known the first time round that he was going to end up being such a pain in the ass, he would have made it more painful initially.
"So are you a regular sufferer of hallucinations?"
The Joker shot Brian a scathing look. "Not usually. This is the bitch's fault."
"Bitch? There's a girl involved. Ohhhhh."
"She's not a girl. She's a shrew…. A dead shrew," The Joker amended.
"Joker and the bitch sitting in a tree. K.I.S.S.I.N.G!" Brian sang joyfully then looked ashamed. "That's unfair to make a grown man sing that."
"Believe you me, Bri Bri, if I had any control over this little, uh, pickle you wouldn't be here at all let along singing."
"How does that make you feel?"
The Jokers tongue darted out of his mouth. "You're starting to sound like her."
"Only because you want me to."
The casual statement snapped something inside The Joker. He grabbed Brian, tackling him to the ground and bashed his head hard against the ground.
"So, uh, why is this happening, Brian? Why you?" The Joker slammed Brian's head against the floor hard again for emphasis. He was infuriated when Brian giggled. It sounded like him when he sniggered.
"I have no idea. Maybe to resolve some deep seated issue."
"You think this will cure me? That'll I start hugging kittens, get a job and donate money to starving children?"
"Or it could simply be a drug induced hallucination, fuelled by exhaustion and the instability of your mind."
This suggestion was even more frustrating. He had put up with Brian's irritating behaviour for no good reason? Worse. He had created it. He must really be a glutton for punishment.
The Joker fished his knife out of his pocket and waved it in front of Brian.
"Point made, Bri Bri. Hey here's a nifty idea. Wanna hear how I got these scars?"
"No," Brian answered simply.
Brian met his gaze purposefully. "Because I already know."