A/N: Ok, here we are at the last chapter, and it's a long one! Hope you don't mind...anyway, I'm kind of sad to end it, but I think it was time. PLEASE, please review even if just a few words to let me know what you think! I've enjoyed writing this and reading all your comments, and thank you so very much for reading!!
* * *
Jack dragged himself off of the bed and painfully made his way to the easy chair, where he collapsed with a pathetic groan. His brain felt like mush, and his body ached, his injuries burning and throbbing as if a hundred-car freight train had run him over, then backed up and done it again--slowly. He had never been so exhausted, and every still-functioning synapse in his mind told him the fun was not over yet, not by a long shot.
Rachel was perched on the edge of the bed, feeling flushed and buzzed at the realization that her baby would, hopefully, be born soon. Vague pangs of weak contractions prickled her lower back from time to time, and a constant sense of pressure in her pelvic area let her know that the fetus had shifted its position to low in the birth canal in preparation for its journey into the world.
She was uncomfortably aware that Jack was now peering at her with his one good eye, clearly worried and, she suspected, reaching new heights of stress over what might happen next--on top of everything else he had just gone through. She put her cool hand on his cheek and lightly traced the path of one of his scars down to his mouth, playfully pinching his scarred bottom lip before leaning forward to kiss him. Annoyed, Jack pulled his head away from her and hissed, "Lie down!" as he attempted to work his body into a less painful posture.
The expectant mom shot him a mischievous grin.
"Now, that's a tempting offer, handsome, especially with the dirty hair and smudges of leftover makeup around your mouth. And they do say orgasms bring on labor faster. But, I have to say, you don't look like you'd be up to your usual level of performance, and it might get awfully messy here on Bruce's clean sheets, and besides my--"
"I love funny women. Makes me want to put a permanent smile on their face. Now, lie the fuck down and have this damn baby before I pass out again...." Jack snarled irritably.
Rachel shook her head and stood up, pressing her hands into the small of her back.
"I don't want to lie down just yet, sweetie...I'm kind of antsy, I feel like I should walk around while I can," she explained simply.
Jack gave her a stern look, and gestured at the bed.
"No, no, your water broke, you could get a, whattya call it, an infection...that's what it said in that book...."
Rachel's smile deepened; sometime during her sixth month of pregnancy, Jack had suddenly taken a rabid interest in the whole gestation-to-birth process, and he'd spent quite a bit of time with an expression of horrified fascination on his face as he studied various books on the subject. He had a stack with everything from "What to Expect When You're Expecting" to stomach-turning medical texts on abnormal births, and Rachel had frequently found herself the subject of inexpert poking, prodding and puzzled frowns. At one point she was genuinely afraid that Jack would demand to deliver the baby himself, one hand holding a textbook, the other inside her, attempting to judge her level of dilation.
And now it occurred to her that if Bruce couldn't contact Dr. Marx, it might come to that, not that Jack was in any shape to deliver a baby. She wondered if Alfred had any experience in that department....
"Jack...please stop staring at me like that. You're making me feel like a science experiment gone wrong...."
That brought a lop-sided grin to Jack's battered face and he ran his tongue around his bruised lips in lascivious amusement.
"Well, yeah, sugar! I filled up the ol' petri dish about eight months ago, you think I'm not curious to see what incubated?"
Rachel gave a deadpan quirk of her eyebrow.
"Well, we got Jacob the first time, I'm hoping for something similar--or do you know something I don't?"
"Nah, it'll be a baby. Gonna be a girl, though...."
"Oh, yeah? How do you know?" Rachel asked, intrigued by his certainty.
Their speculation was cut short by Bruce, who briefly stuck his head in the room, cell phone in hand.
"The doc's coming, but it may be a while, he's on the other side of town...." he announced grimly.
"Oh, God," breathed Rachel in dismay. The stab of a serious contraction suddenly struck her lower back and she winced as she dug around in the nightstand for a pen and piece of paper.
"What're you doing?" Jack asked suspiciously.
"Contraction. We have to keep track, remember?"
Jack brightened and nodded with a studious expression. "I wanna, I wanna do it," he demanded, taking the pen and paper from her. Rachel allowed him to do so, realizing how much he wanted to participate in this experience. He again reminded her to lie down, and this time she obeyed. Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea, she thought as she closed her eyes. She was suddenly exhausted.
Almost two hours passed. Rachel's contractions were erratic; sometimes strong, sometimes weak, and without a discernable pattern. Her body itself was weak, just barely recovered from the stress of surviving Harvey's insane attack on herself and her family. And now, going into the hard physical demands of labor, she was having trouble finding the strength to face it, especially without the comforting hubbub of a hospital environment.
"Don't be stupid, Rachel," she thought to herself. "This is your second child, and you're well-prepared for natural childbirth. Jacob's birth went flawlessly, there's no reason this one won't also...women have been having babies in jungles and fields for centuries, I ought to be able to make do with a damn penthouse...." Of course, it occurred to her, for centuries women have also been dying while giving birth under primitive conditions, and the beauty of natural childbirth was supposed to be attended by Elena, a seasoned midwife, who was inconveniently back in Mexico. And, this baby was close to a month early. She stubbornly pushed aside more such disturbing thoughts and tried to focus on her breathing.
As the minutes ticked away, Jack was becoming increasingly agitated, unable to stay seated. He was now hulking around the room in impatience and upon hearing footsteps in the hall, he stepped out and collared Bruce.
"Where the hell's that sawbones?" he hissed, supporting himself with his good arm against the wall.
"He's doing the best he can, Jack. Traffic's terrible. You need to calm down, everything will be all right."
"You don't know that. Something's not right. Rachel's not in enough pain...."
"You know what I mean, the contractions aren't getting the job done. This is her second kid, it should be moving along faster...."
"Oh, you're such an expert...."
"I did my homework...I'm telling you, Wayne, something's wrong." He threateningly pointed a shaky finger in Bruce's face. "If my wife and kid are in trouble, I blame you...."
Bruce stared into the dark, angry eyes, thinking how feral the man appeared when he was like that, hunched in pain and tensed like a coiled spring. He looked dangerous, even without his makeup, and the billionaire was getting ready to bitterly spout a line in his own defense, but the words died on his lips. Damn it, the clown was right. Bruce had brought them all here, he'd known there was a chance of real danger, and now....
Bruce calmly put his hand on the Joker's uninjured shoulder.
"You're right. You're absolutely right. I...was so sure things would work out differently. I never meant for Rachel to be put in danger, I never meant for her to go through such a terrible ordeal...I'm...sorry." The two powerful men stared at each other like animals, one with barely contained fury, the other with raw sincerity and sorrow. Finally, Jack relented, took a deep breath and fixed Bruce with a disgusted sneer.
"Jeeze, you're such a goddamn 'good guy', I can't stand it. How'm I supposed to get my mind off my troubles if I can't beat the shit out of you?"
"Well, not that that would happen on your best day, but surely even you can see that you're at a bit of a disadvantage with all of this business," replied Bruce, indicating the bandages covering Jack's otherwise bare torso. "Maybe you should focus on doing something constructive instead."
A shadow passed over Jack's face.
"Like what? I can't do anything for her...I can't help her."
Bruce started to answer, but just then the elevator doors opened and Alfred stepped out, pushing a cart laden with various types of medical equipment, along with little Jake, importantly struggling with carrying a large leather doctor's bag, and Dr. Marx following behind with another bag of equipment. Jack straightened himself as best he could and took a deep breath.
"All right. Apology accepted. Let's just...let's just get this show on the road."
Bruce nodded as he went to greet Dr. Marx.
* * *
After Alfred and Bruce helped the doctor set up, and Jack and Rachel had had a bit of quiet time with their little boy, Alfred announced that it was time to go watch cartoons and to let the doctor see after Mom and the expected new arrival. Jacob whined reluctantly, not wanting to miss out on any potential baby action, but Jack spoke quietly to his son, and the little boy suddenly smiled, hugged his father, then cheerfully took Alfred's hand and willingly accompanied the older gentleman downstairs.
Rachel watched the exchange in amusement, and called Jack over to her.
"What in God's name did you say to him that he changed his mind so quickly?"
"I told him that after the baby was born, I'd take him up on the roof and we'd set off some fireworks."
Rachel gave him a frown of disapproval.
"Oh, for heaven's sake, Jack, that's dangerous, and probably illegal. Where would you even get fireworks at this time of ye...oh. Never mind, I forgot who I was talking to," she quipped at Jack's sly grin. Rachel shook her head, realizing the man probably had enough explosives in his suitcase to set up an excellent Fourth of July display.
* * *
The doctor was at first determined that only Rachel's husband be allowed in the room while he performed the examination, but Bruce took him aside and said softly, "Jack's under a lot of pressure--I think I'd better stay nearby. Don't worry, I'll be out of the way." Dr. Marx cast a glance at the smoldering expression on the face of the man he knew to be the notorious Joker, and hastily nodded agreement.
Afterwards, the physician stood and cleared his throat.
"I'm afraid this isn't looking good. Rachel--you're only dilated to three. The contractions are not strong or regular. It's very likely you'll need a Caesarian section, and there is no way I could in good conscience perform that kind of surgery here, especially since the child is coming early. We need to get you to a hospital." The doctor made his firm announcement in a strong and slightly pompous voice, but inwardly he was trembling--it didn't take a genius to know that the Joker would not be happy about this development.
Indeed, the madman was at the doctor's side like a shot, and both Rachel and Bruce saw the glint of a shiny steel blade in his hand. Both froze for a moment as the Joker wrapped his good arm around the doctor's neck, pressing the knife to his throat before he growled into the physician's ear.
"I'll tell you what's not lookin' good, doc, YOUR life expectancy...my wife's not going ANYWHERE, do you understand me?"
"B-b-but, please! I'm only trying to help...." squawked the doctor in a choked voice.
"JACK! What's the matter with you, LET HIM GO!" yelled Rachel.
Bruce strode over to Jack and was pleased to note that the blade was carefully being held flat against Dr. Marx's skin, showing that the Joker wasn't actually planning to harm the doctor, although inducing a heart attack in the stout, older gentleman certainly would be a problem in itself. Bruce put one hand on Jack's upper arm, the other on his hand and tried to pull him away. He discovered he had to use his full strength to get Jack to release his captive.
"This is NOT how we get the nice doctor, who is working under the radar, to HELP us...." hissed Bruce between gritted teeth as the Joker's grasp was finally broken. Bruce hastily removed the knife from Jack's hand, and the clown shot him a grim look and slammed his now empty fist against the nightstand in frustration, startling the already aghast Rachel. She reached out her hand in an attempt to help him calm down, but it didn't have the desired effect.
"DAMN IT! I knew it. I knew something wasn't right. So, now you're telling me I'm going to miss this kid coming into the world, too, huh? Great, just fucking great." He angrily strode over to the window, fighting with every ounce of self-control and stress-relief techniques he'd been taught in therapy over the last two years not to take yet another knife out of his pants pocket and apply it to the fucking doctor's belly, followed quickly by a quick jab into Bruce Wayne's throat.
"Stop it," Bruce gruffly commanded. He hastily went to Jack's side and spoke earnestly into the injured man's ear. "I know this isn't what you wanted. I know it's really important to you to see your child get born. But, without proper care, you could lose the baby AND Rachel--you've fought so hard to protect them, do you really want to take that chance?"
Jack turned from the window and to Bruce's shock, he saw there were tears in the clown's eyes, and his mouth was contorted with the effort of fighting to not cry. He caught a ragged breath before speaking hoarsely.
"I don't want to lose them. You're right, you're right...I just...this was going to be kind of...it was going to be like graduation day."
"You know...my whole life's been fucked up. The few things I ever had that really mattered to me were always taken away. I've spent years trying to...to become the man Rachel wanted me to be. That I wanted to be. And, I thought...finally...I was seeing it all come together. A normal life, you know? Well, ha ha, guess again." He spoke bitterly and his voice cracked as he turned away from Bruce to gaze out the window once more.
"I guess I don't deserve it. I guess I never will...I just thought, you know...this baby...it was kind of my chance to...start over...." His voice was soft and Bruce wondered if he was still actually talking to him. "Take it from the top, a clean slate...I thought this kid...might not be touched by it...the crazy man, one step away from a straight jacket and padded cell...I thought she'd be...free...."
Bruce glanced nervously back at the doctor and Rachel, who were deep in conversation themselves. He then awkwardly patted Jack's back.
"Look, guy...I feel for you. I do. But, things will work out. I've got a fake ID for Rachel, we'll get her checked in, she'll have the baby, we'll get her out, and all of you will go back home just as we planned...."
"Unless the kid's sick and has to stay in the hospital...unless something happens to Rachel...unless I lose it and you have to commit me...unless, unless, unless...." Jack put his hand over his face and Bruce realized he was again stifling a sob.
Bruce took a breath and rolled his eyes. This was still the man he would have loved to have had the opportunity to beat to a bloody pulp followed by a good hard kick straight into Arkham, but he couldn't help but be touched by the hint of raw humanity the Joker was brokenly allowing him to see. Girding himself, he slipped an arm around the bandaged shoulders and spoke again.
"Jack...you have to keep it together. Please don't throw this away...now listen, give me every weapon you have on you. Please."
Bruce's words penetrated the Joker's distraught brain and he turned to look at him with a wry grin pulling at the corner of his scarred mouth.
"Aw...I wouldn't have done anything to the doc. I just wanted to get him thinking about options. I hate fucking doctors, they always think they're the last damn word about everything...."
"I know, but still. Come on, I bet you've got enough cold steel in those trousers to outfit an army...."
"Ah, Bruce, always thinking about what's in my trousers...."
"Jesus, do NOT make me pat you down, I'd have to break your other arm...."
Jack's grin spread across his whole bruised face and he reluctantly began fishing additional weaponry from various places on his lower body and handing them to Bruce. When both of the billionaires hands were full of an assortment of knives, a small pistol, mace and some sort of incendiary device, Jack raised his hand in surrender. Then, an afterthought--he reached into the bandaged area on his torso and pulled out yet another knife.
"Ok, that's it. Swear it."
"I doubt that. But thanks for the effort." Bruce took the arsenal out of the room and called to Alfred to take it off his hands before returning to the aggrieved doctor and assuring him that things were now under control.
Rachel picked up where she had left off in her conversation with the doctor.
"So? Can't we do that?"
"It's most ill-advised...I cannot support the idea...."
"What's going on?" asked Bruce worriedly.
"I don't want to go to the hospital just yet," Rachel spoke in her firmest Assistant DA voice. "Dr. Marx said he could set me up with an IV, and give me pitocin...I want to try that before we give up...."
"What's pitocin?" asked Bruce delicately.
"A drug that brings on labor," Jack answered sourly, as he shambled back to Rachel's side. He knelt awkwardly next to the bed and took her face in his hand, staring earnestly into her eyes. Rachel felt the same tug of excitement she had felt the very first time she'd looked into those brown eyes, and realized he was finally in full control of his demons.
"And, what if it doesn't work, doll? You'll still have to go in, and we'll lose time. Besides, the kid's, whaddya call it, premature...might need some help or something...I don't like it, you need to go on to the hospital," Jack reluctantly pronounced.
"NO. The baby's strong, this is only a few weeks early. I'm getting my strength back. I don't...I don't want to have this baby without you...." Rachel stared up at Jack with tears about to brim over her lashes. Jack, stricken, leaned forward painfully and kissed her. He never failed to be amazed at the realization that this smart, strong, beautiful woman loved him. He felt as though he were coming out of a fog, and he now knew one thing for sure-- he had to let go of his natural selfishness and take care of her and his unborn child.
"No, kid. It'll be ok...I'll see her after she's born, it's no big deal! I'm not taking any chances on losing you two, see?" he said softly.
"Doctor, please. Don't we have some time before we absolutely have to go?" beseeched Rachel.
"Well...let me see if you've made any progress...." The doctor checked Rachel again, and a look of surprise spread across his wrinkled face.
"Hmm. You're up to four, now. That's encouraging. The baby's heartbeat is excellent. Your blood pressure is good. I suppose the pitocin might work...all right," he said, casting a sideways glance of wariness at Jack, "...let's give it a try." The doctor began setting up the IV equipment and Jack and Bruce watched, glancing at each other with a look of uncertainty.
Jack pulled himself to his feet and grabbed Bruce by his shirt collar and led him back out to the hallway. He turned to his reluctant host with his good arm outstretched in confusion and an expression of utter helplessness on his face.
"What should I do? Make her go? Let her stay? What would you do?" he asked in bewilderment. Jack's ability to "do the right thing" in the face of his wife's stubbornness was easily derailed and he knew he needed reinforcements.
"Well...since the baby seems to be doing fine, I guess it's ok to try this," said Bruce thoughtfully. "The doctor will make the call if things don't improve...we're not far from a hospital, and the doc has a lot of experience in this area...." Jack stared at him in consternation.
"You mean, I might actually get to be with her when the kid comes out?" he said, barely willing to acknowledge the possibility.
"Maybe. Come on, let's go back in there and see what Dr. Marx really thinks. That means no intimidation tactics from you."
Jack sighed heavily.
"Maybe I should just stay out of it altogether. I'm in way over my head, here, Bruce. You're better at this stuff, you can make a rational decision...."
"You're the father, Jack. It's your family. Your doing fine, don't worry...you and Rachel, somehow--you make a great team." Bruce couldn't believe he was saying the words, but the former madman clearly needed a vote of confidence, and the strange thing was...Bruce really meant what he said.
Suddenly, they heard Rachel cry out.
Jack, now oblivious to his injuries, yanked open the bedroom door and tore inside.
"What's wrong??" Jack spoke sharply.
"Contraction...shit!" Rachel gasped.
Dr. Marx smiled. "Let me check your progress, my dear...."
The doctor did another examination, and turned to look at the two men who were now hovering over his shoulder. He had a look of pleased surprise on his face.
"Well! This is most unusual. Rachel, you're now dilated to five. That's very good progress in a short amount of time, and..." The doctor's observation was cut short by another cry of pain from the mother to be.
"Dammit, Jack--whose fucking idea was this?!" asked Rachel, through gritted teeth.
"Uh...all yours, lovely lady," said Jack, now smiling slightly. He looked at the doctor.
"So...what does this mean?"
"Well...it's beginning to look as though the baby wants to come out right here, right now. I think we can do this the old-fashioned way after all...let's get ready."
The doctor barked orders and a semi-sterile environment was hastily created.
The door creaked open and a small boy peeked in, with Alfred close behind.
"Is Mommy ok?" asked Jacob querulously.
Jack quickly went to his son's side, took his hand and led him to the window.
"Hey, pal! Yeah, Mom's doin' ok. Your little sister's decided to come out and meet you, isn't that cool?"
"I guess so...but, Mommy sounded hurt...."
"Yeah...well, remember, the baby lives in Mom's tummy until it's time to get born, right? Don't you think that if a person was trying to get out of your tummy that it would hurt a little bit, huh?" Jack playfully poked at his son's belly, making him giggle delightedly.
"Yeah...." acknowledged Jacob reasonably .
"Yeah, it would. That's why we're all going to do everything we can to make this easy for Mom and the doctor, right? So, how about you go hang out with Alfred and as soon as the baby comes, we'll get you up here to see her right away, how does that sound?"
"Ok, Daddy. I just want Mommy to be all right."
"Me too, son. And, she will be. Don't worry, ok?"
"Ok." The pair smiled at each other for a long moment, then Jack gathered his son into his one useful arm as best he could before sending him back to Alfred's care.
Time stretched on...the doctor monitored Rachel's and the baby's conditions, and Jack settled in next to his wife, murmuring encouragement to her and holding her hand. As the contractions gained in strength, frequency and regularity, Rachel became increasingly agitated and angry. It gave Bruce no end of amusement to see his old adversary wince in pain every time Rachel's contractions--coming every three minutes, now--caused her to violently jerk and squeeze his good hand in a grip of steel.
"Damn it, Jack, if your dick ever comes near me again without a condom, I'm going to goddamn kill you," Rachel groaned.
"Umm, don't worry, babe, I'll fucking glue one on after this little adventure, maybe five or six of 'em...hey, Wayne, come on over here and let her cripple you for a while, huh?"
"Sorry, Jack, you wanted to fully experience the wonder of birth, I wouldn't dream of taking away a single second of your bliss...."
"Can't you give her something for the pain?" Jack plaintively asked the doctor.
"NO DRUGS," Rachel pronounced between clenched teeth. "This baby's facing enough challenges, I don't want it to--"
"Her," corrected Jack. Rachel glared at him before continuing.
"...I don't want her to be slowed down with a bunch of chemicals in her system...."
"A very sound decision," said the doctor approvingly.
More long minutes ticked by.
Suddenly, Rachel made an outcry that was a combination of a scream of agony and a groan of black horror torn from deep inside her body. The sound sent chills down the spines of both the Bat and the Clown, two men who had heard--and inflicted--more than their share of the sounds that human beings in pain can make, and they tentatively snuck a glance of worried bewilderment at each other. Neither had ever heard such a sound of primitive, hopeless distress in their lives.
"What's...uh, what's the matter, dear?" asked Jack uncertainly.
"MY FUCKING PELVIS JUST SEPARATED, THAT'S WHAT'S THE MATTER! I CAN'T STAND THIS, GET ME DRUGS, RIGHT NOW, you MOTHER-FUCKING BASTARD!!!" ordered Rachel irrationally, her eyes wild, her grip on Jack's now-bruised hand almost unbearable.
Jack gave the doctor as intimidating a look as he could muster and said "Give her something, NOW!"
Dr. Marx straightened after doing another check on Rachel's progress, smiling cheerfully. He was now on solid ground and in reality, Jack was acting no differently than any other "normal" father-to-be that he had faced over the years, and he was unfazed by the criminal's unspoken threat.
"I'm afraid we've crossed the threshold on that. We're about to have a baby and Rachel's going to need every bit of focus for pushing. It's too late for pain medication now."
"No! No, Jack, do something, I can't survive this, I need to be unconscious, tell him, tell him I need something right now, tell him, Jack!" In the aftermath of the wracking, wrenching pain, Rachel was reduced to pleading weakly like a junkie in the throes of withdrawal.
Jack glanced back at the doctor who firmly shook his head and said, "Actually, my dear, the worst is over. You won't have any pain stronger than that during the birthing process," he assured her.
Jack took a deep breath and lightly ran his hand over his wife's strained face.
"It's gonna be ok, angel. I'm right here, do your worst to me if it helps--look, I got a couple of spots with no lacerations on 'em, go for it...." he teased gently.
"Oh, Jack...." she said brokenly, clinging to him.
"You're doin' so good, you're my favorite little tough guy, you know that? Hell, I'd put you up against anybody, who's that guy that bites people's ears off?"
"Mike Tyson? "answered Rachel in a miserable little-girl voice.
"Mike Tyson, yeah, I'd have you go a few rounds with him and you'd lay him out flat, TKO, no problem, wouldn't ya?"
"Yeah! So, what's one little baby got that you can't take, huh?"
"OH!" Another strong contraction wracked her, but she found the doctor was right, it wasn't nearly as excruciating as the earlier pain, and the doctor performed another exam, then announced that Rachel was in full labor.
"It won't be long now," Dr. Marx said, beaming. "But, don't start pushing yet."
"But, I NEED to!" hollered Rachel. The urge to push was almost overwhelming.
"Don't push, sweetie," ordered her husband. "Listen to the doc, he's gotten us this far...here, squeeze my hand instead, there're a few uncrushed bones left, you don't want to leave the job unfinished...."
"AUGHHH!" Rachel screamed, focusing her need into clamping down on Jack's hand, making him squeeze his eyes shut in pain, which in turn caused the bruised areas on his face to throb anew. "Good thing I was abused as a child, otherwise this would kind of piss me off," he cheerily quipped in an aside to Bruce, who grinned with more sympathy than he thought the clown deserved, but he was impressed that Jack was keeping the Joker part of his persona so well in check.
From his vantage point between Rachel's legs, the doctor suddenly announced, "The baby's crowning! All right, Rachel, the time has come to PUSH."
Rachel gratefully responded, bearing down with every bit of strength she had.
The process was repeated once, twice, three times, but when the doctor again barked "PUSH!" Rachel lay back in exhaustion.
"I can't..." she gasped weakly.
"You have to, we're almost there," directed Dr. Marx.
"I CAN'T!" Rachel protested, almost crying.
"Come on, baby, I'll help you," said Jack. He slipped his arm under hers and pulled her slightly forward, then got behind her and pressed his weight against her back. At the same time, she forced herself to make one last, strength draining effort, and Jack saw the doctor jerk with effort as he pulled the tiny baby from Rachel's body.
"It's a girl!" he announced.
"Oh, thank God...." Rachel groaned as she lay back, exhausted and shaking.
Jack hesitantly got up and moved down to where the baby was being tended to by the doctor. The entire room was still and quiet, heavy with anticipation.
Abruptly, a raw cry pierced the silence as the newborn made her first sound in her new world. Everyone heaved a sigh of relief, and the doctor looked at Jack.
"Would you like to cut the umbilical cord, son?"
"Uh...yeah, ok." The Joker--the clown, the criminal, the new father--reached deep within his purple pin-striped trousers and brought out a knife. Bruce groaned in exasperation.
"Dammit, I knew I couldn't trust you!" he exclaimed bitterly.
"What? You know me, I'm always prepared," said the Joker mildly.
The doctor indicated a bottle of sterilization fluid and Jack carefully cleaned the blade before gingerly slicing through the thick membrane attaching the baby to her mother. The doctor smiled and had Bruce go off to the bathroom to prepare a sink full of warm water to bathe the squalling infant in before handing her to Rachel.
Jack returned to Rachel's side and cradled her to him as best he could.
"You're a champ, you know that? A fucking champ. I think I'll take you on the road, I'll be as rich as Wayne here, betting on you!" He continued to murmur sweet, funny little words of encouragement and admiration into her ear and she nuzzled closer to him, catching her breath, trying to grasp the enormity of the experience she had just been through.
"Is the baby ok, Jack?" she asked softly.
"Uh...I think so. Hey, Doc, how's that kid comin', we wanna take a look at our handiwork!" he called.
The doctor came in with the squirming infant wrapped in a soft towel and placed her in Rachel's arms.
"For being a little early, she's doing wonderfully," Dr. Marx assured the new parents.
"Oh, my God, she looks just like you!" Rachel gasped, amazed, as she carefully counted fingers and toes.
"She looks like my grandfather," Jack sniffed critically.
"Oh, she does not! Unless your grandfather looked like an adorable little princess, did he?"
Jack smirked in relief and amusement, and after one last check that his wife was relatively at ease and his daughter was outfitted with the traditional arrangement of facial features and the correct number of appendages, he stood and lumbered painfully back to the window. Bruce saw his shoulders slump, then shudder as his head sank low onto his chest. The vigilante sighed and reluctantly made his way to stand by his former arch-nemesis, leaving Rachel to be tended to by the doctor.
"Yeah...you kind of have to envy the male praying mantis, though."
"The female bites his head off after mating. Imagine--you get your rocks off, and then? Sheer oblivion. What a way to go. Lucky little bastards're spared all this stress."
Bruce rolled his eyes. "You're called the Joker for a reason, aren't you? Admit it, you wouldn't have missed a minute of any of this."
"I dunno, Arkham's beginning to look pretty good to me...."
"Rachel really would kill you...."
Jack turned and gave Bruce an honest smile.
"Hey, you want to be the kid's godfather?"
Bruce stared in amazement at the Joker.
"You're kidding. We hate each other."
"We do? Oh. Well, ok. Never mind. Just thought you might like to be a positive influence on the poor little thing's life. You know, show her what a man who's NOT dosed up on Thorazine all the time looks like...."
"You're going to be fine. Apparently, you're a good father to Jacob, so--"
"But, girl's are different! I want her to grow up and marry somebody like you, not like meeee! How's she ever going to know what to look for if you're never around?"
For a moment, the thought of being "Uncle Bruce" to another of the Joker's children struck the billionaire as being unbelievably absurd, but the sight of the battered man before him struggling to maintain his sanity reminded him that he really could serve as some sort of "alternate" influence in their lives. Maybe Jack had a good point.
"Oh, for heaven's sake, fine, I'll be her godfather! What, exactly, does that entail?"
"Oh, I don't know, attending her christening, coming to school plays, sending greeting cards with lots of money? You can do that."
"Yes, I can do that," the billionaire said with a grin.
"Jack?" Rachel called. "The doc and I are all done, can you get Jacob up here? And Alfred?"
"I'll go," assured Bruce, glad for a break. He headed downstairs and found the pair in the kitchen, busily assembling a ramp for some toy cars.
"Gentlemen, there's someone upstairs who wants to meet you," Bruce announced. Alfred looked up, a happy smile on his face, and Jacob was already out of the room, dashing up the stairs at a break-neck speed.
"You survived, Master Wayne?"
"I guess I did. I'll never be the same, Alfred. The Joker...Jack...somehow, I don't think he'll ever be out of my life completely," he mused ruefully.
"Presumably, that means neither will Rachel, eh, sir?"
"Yeah, and that's a good thing...you know what's weird about all this?"
"What's that, sir?"
"I kind of feel like I've got a family again. Besides you, I mean."
"Of course, sir. I know what you mean. I haven't spent this much time in the company of a three-year old in a very long time, and I have to say, it's been quite nice. Exhausting, but nice."
Bruce nodded and clapped a hand on Alfred's shoulder. "Come on, let's go see a baby."
The two men made their way upstairs.
* * *
Five days later, Jack, Rachel, Jacob and the new baby, Sophie, were standing with Bruce, Alfred, and Jim Gordon, preparing to board Bruce's private jet, bound for Mexico. Jack's face was pale and thin, one arm was in a sling, and he still limped from one vicious blow to his anatomy or another. He held his son's small hand tightly in his, preventing the adventurous child from running off to investigate other aircraft parked around the private airfield.
Rachel, still feeling the after-effects of her recent ordeal both physically and emotionally, held the sleeping newborn securely in her arms. After almost losing her entire family, she felt as if she would never put this baby down, would never relax without having Jack, Jacob and Sophie close within her sight or earshot at all times. She knew this anxiousness would eventually fade, but she thought she just might accompany Jack to his next therapy appointment and ask for an emergency session with the doctor. Couldn't hurt.
Bruce Wayne watched as the pilot helped Alfred load the families' bags into the storage compartment and found himself welling up with emotion. Not that he wasn't glad, ecstatic really, to see the Joker get the hell out of his house and out of his city, indeed, out of the entire country, but still...after all the dread, all the disaster, the pressure and the excitement, there had been a few days in which his houseguests had simply...been there.
He'd gotten to spend long hours chatting with Rachel, awkwardly helping her care for her precious new baby. He knew he'd always love her, and his admiration for her strength and humor and intelligence grew even more as he listened to her stories and watched her interact with her adorable, headstrong little son, who would stand solemnly before him and ask question after question about Batman and all his cars and gadgets and adventures.
Sometimes, the thought that those could have been his children, that she could have been his wife, struck him like a fist to the belly, and he almost felt like throwing himself at her, begging her to come to her senses and ditch the insane clown, to stay with him so they could finally start the life together that they should have had in the first place.
But then, said clown would amble in from a nap, bellowing loudly for his wife, noisily kissing first her, then the tiny baby, and deposit himself into a chair as if he owned the place, and Bruce would see Rachel's eyes light up and a deep smile cross her lips. Jacob would unceremoniously throw himself in his father's lap, eliciting a highly theatrical groan from the man, and then something electric would happen in the room, an energy--joking, teasing remarks flew back and forth, the TV got switched on but no one watched, a pillow would be thrown across the room--by whom? at whom?...Laughter....Did that energy come from madness? Or love? Bruce couldn't put his finger on it, but there was no question...they were Jack's family.
He smiled a bit to think of the times he'd faced off with the grease-painted madman, one hand clutching him by the front of his idiotic outfit--who the hell ever dressed like that??--the other fist reared back, ready to deliver the next punch, and he found it hard to reconcile that...that maniacal creature with the tall, slender blond-haired man standing quietly before him, ready to depart at last.
"Well, Wayne...I guess everything worked out in the end. Sooo, good news, I've decided not to eviscerate you. Merry Christmas...."
"Gee, thanks. I feel bad, I only got you a tie," Bruce responded acerbically.
"Yeah...well, so long! Pity we can't hang around to see a couple of shows, you and me coulda taken in a game or two...oh, wait, I'm a wanted man, guess that wouldn't have worked out so great, huh, Commissioner?" he asked, turning to Jim with a grin.
"Actually, Jack, I'm not one to arrest a dead man."
"Oh, yeah, as far as the official record is concerned, the Joker died on his way to Arkham, remember? Since then, no one's ever made a police report about anyone matching his description--and even if they did, it would be hard to verify his identity, seeing that I just found out this morning that all of the Joker's documents, both computer files and hard copies, have been mysteriously wiped out of all public records." Jim glared accusingly at Jack, who looked genuinely bewildered.
"Well, I didn't have anything to do with that!" he protested. Then a thought...Scalini! Oh, yeah...he'd jokingly given him some shit about letting Bruce find out about the hit he'd ordered on Maroni, and Al had promised to do something nice for him sometime. Well, this was it...he resisted breaking into a broad smile and simply gave both Jim and Bruce a look of wide-eyed innocence.
Rachel stepped up, and with a happy tone in her voice said, "So, Jack, if you covered up your scars and changed your appearance a little bit, we could come back to visit Gotham whenever we wanted to! That's fantastic, Jim! Bruce? Isn't that great??"
All three men were staring at her in utter consternation, when Bruce broke the tension by laughing uproariously.
"Rachel, honey, your idea of 'great' and mine differ quite a bit...but, yes, it would be nice to see my goddaughter once in a while....What do you think, Jack? You want to be my houseguest again sometime?"
Jack gave him a baleful look and shook his head adamantly. "No thanks, there's not a fucking thing in this town that I want...whole goddamn berg can fall into the ocean as far as I'm concerned...you want to see the kid, come take a Mexican vacation, I'll show ya a good time...come on, kiddoes, let's get on this bucket of bolts and head for home, huh?"
Rachel gave him an sorrowful look, but said in a whispered aside to Bruce, "Don't worry, I'll get him to change his mind...I bet you'll be seeing a lot of us!" and she flashed him a mischievous smile just before stepping onto the plane.
"Wonderful," said Bruce ruefully. Yeah, that's what he needed, more of the Joker in his life....
Alfred returned from helping with the luggage, and the three Gotham residents stood by as the plane began to taxi away. Bruce and Alfred saw little Jacob excitedly waving goodbye through a window, and they returned the farewell. After the plane was in the air, Alfred looked at Bruce.
"I've a bit of a catch in my throat Master Wayne. I'd never have believed it, but I'm sorry to see them go...."
"Yeah...well, I have a feeling we'll see them again someday. Hopefully, under better circumstances."
"I hope I NEVER see that son-of-a-bitch clown again," spat Jim irritably.
"I hope I don't either....Jack's not so bad, though...." said Bruce, mostly to himself.
Bruce and Alfred got in their car, and Jim headed back to the office. Back to normal, or what passed for it in Gotham.
* * *
Rachel watched the ground below them recede into the distance. Although she wished they could have actually spent some "fun" time in Gotham--if that was even possible--she was grateful as hell to be leaving, heading home with her family intact if not unaffected by the terrible events of the days before. She cast a sideways glance at Jack, sitting next to her with a dour expression on his face. She felt certain that months of therapy had been set back and she'd noticed he'd been taking extra doses of his anti-anxiety medications every day. She placed her hand on his and gently squeezed. He looked at her in surprise and smiled.
"Hey, watch it there, mean girl. I just about got the use of that hand back after you used it like a stress ball for a few hours...."
"Sorry about that! At least I didn't grab your balls, which is what had occurred to me originally...."
Jack grimaced and said, "Well, that might have solved the birth control problem...."
"I think she'll solve the birth control problem," said Rachel as she looked down into the face of their sleeping daughter. Jack put his arm around her and peered at the tiny bundle as well.
"We did that?" he asked, pointing at Sophie..
"Yep. On purpose, this time."
"Hmm. Well, I like her."
"Good, me too."
"I like you, too."
Rachel smiled teasingly at him.
"Just can't say the other 'L' word, can you, tough guy?"
Jack stared at her for a long moment. He thought of her, helpless but unbroken, tied to a chair with Harvey Dent standing before her, a gun pressed to her belly. He thought of her gentle touch as she wiped the sweat, blood, and the makeup from his battered face. He thought of her, wracked with pain, giving one last push to send their daughter into the world, when she had no strength left at all. He smiled, and Rachel could see a kind of peace in his eyes that almost made her cry.
"I love you, Rachel," Jack said softly.
"Yeah. And don't fucking forget it."
He tiredly settled back in his seat and closed his eyes. Rachel shifted Sophie up onto her shoulder, pleased that she'd managed to get him to say the word "love" in connection with "you", a maddeningly rare occurrance, and she had some moments of blessed unconsciousness before she had to rouse herself to help Jacob fish a small toy out of his backpack.
"Rachel Dawes, Gotham's Assistant District Attorney," she thought in amusement, "married to the Joker, Gotham's most wanted criminal...." She looked at her son, wild blond curls falling around his face, cheerfully humming to himself as he played. So like his father...yet so different. What would Jack have been like, if he'd been raised by two loving parents? If he'd been spared years of unimaginable abuse and neglect? she wondered sadly. And, where would he be now, if not for the little spark of love left in his battered heart, waiting to be kindled for a tiny baby born three years ago?
And, where would she and Harvey be?
Rachel nestled as close to her husband as possible and allowed herself to drift into nap mode once again. She didn't want to think about any more bad things. She was going home, with clothes to wash, a nursery to set up, and doctor appointments to make.
She was going home, her children and the man she loved were with her, and that was all that mattered.