AN: hi all, promised I would be back.

I'll try to update more frequently. PS – I'm well aware my OC is pretty fugged up, it's kinda apparent in this chapter. That's how I've always intended her to be. She's a mess. Just a heads up.

As always, I don't own batman/joker/etc.

enjoy, xo


ten

For an eternity I found myself lost in the empty hollows of his eyes, fully aware that the steady rhythm of the heart pressed so close was perfectly in-sync with my own. Every fiber of my being was alive and thrumming with a slow-simmering heat, every detail about him was so vivid and real and perfect. The warmth and the firm length of his body remained motionless over mine, the scent of Jack detectable under the blankets of gunpowder and smoke and cheap paint. His breath was heated and rancid and fanned over my mouth and I was rendered unable to move or breathe or focus on anything but him. The blackness of his eyes still fixated on my face with a hard relentlessness that had seemed to consume him. The malice that spread over his features brought forth a disturbing realization that had always been there. Any decency in this man had long ago been swallowed whole. Jack was gone.

My mother's voice was soft in the back of my mind, gentle and wonderful, and I took to a suggestion she'd give me often when faced with hardship. Close your eyes and count to ten, she'd say softly. And think of anything and everything that makes you happy. And so in that moment, under the much larger body clothed in nothing more than a thin robe, I followed her advice and let my eyes flutter shut.

I saw holiday parties and my favorite ice cream and my pet retriever practically glowing under the warm summer daylight. I saw the first snow of the season and felt the sweet breeze of spring and heard a soft piano tinkling from the living room of my former home. I saw my childhood, the swings. Jack.

And it was Jack in all of his glory – the dark golden hues of his hair shimmering brilliantly in the early morning hours or the glow of the setting sun. It was a sprinkle of light freckles over the straight bridge of his nose, the deep evenness of his voice. The gentle motion of his fingers against the chain on the swing. The upward quirk of his mouth that only I'd see. His face came into full view in the back of my mind and for a moment I was at peace with this vision of the man I'd once known.

For that brief instance, I was content.

A pain erupted along the delicate bones of my wrist, moving up into my arm and collarbone, and soon the seventeen-year old image of Jack fell away and my eyes opened to find what was left of him. He'd pulled me up by my wrist, wrenching my body like a sack from the mattress, forcing me from the bed and to both feet. I swayed slightly, a hand coming up to rest at the sore area where he had just roughly gripped at, and I could see him saunter away from me, long legs moving quickly towards the door.

"What are you doing?" I asked him, my voice hushed and a feeling of panic moving through me. He regarded me with a quick glance before brushing his fingers along the handle of the door, and I moved rapidly towards him, that horrifying panic building. "No, wait!"

He paused, hooded eyes lifting to fix on my own. He was waiting, I realized. Anger was evident on his face – it hadn't left since the knocking had echoed through my apartment – but he was waiting.

I swallowed hard against the lump in my throat, carefully considering my words. This could be very bad, I knew. Inhaling shakily, I forced myself to remain composed. To stay in that state of relaxation brought on by my mother's stress relief technique. To stay with that person I'd known.

"I don't know who that is," I stated lamely, my voice trembling.

"I, uh, figured as much," he remarked dryly. A slow smile spread over his lips in response, and he cocked his head lightly. "That's what I'm going to find out."

Another deep, uneven intake of breath and swallow. "What are you going to do?"

His fingers fell away from the handle and a rush of relief flooded me momentarily. However the feeling was fleeting and dissipated upon the sight of his fingers dipping into the front pocket of his disheveled navy slacks, and when the deep brown hue of the knife handle came into view, my blood chilled. "Welll, you see," he drawled, playfully pointing the head of the blade towards me with a wink. "That depends on who our lucky guest is."

Pure terror is something that is truly indescribable. A horrid swooshing sensation floods your head until you feel that you cannot stand and a sickness like nothing you've felt before consumes your entire body. I hadn't experienced anything like this – not when I fell to the cold concrete of the street that day at the parade and found myself looking up into the familiar face. Not when he'd smashed his cold, painted mouth against mine in the jail cell. Not even when he'd had me against the wall and had let his eyes fall to the glittering rock resting atop my ring finger. This feeling was new. It came with the image of gentle green eyes and soft dark hair and a crooked smile. It came with the sight of the knife in his hand and what he'd do with that knife if the person at the door was –

The sickness crept into my mouth, my stomach turning. I felt woozy. Oh, God..

"Don't hurt him," I gasped, moving forward at the thought of it. Stumbling over my footing, I reached forward blindly, grasping onto the exposed flesh of his lower arm, my fingers firm there. I fixed my focus on him, my eyes begging him to understand. You're in there, Jack, I wordlessly pleaded. Come back to me, come back to me, come back to me

His eyes slowly moved from my face down to the positioning of my fingers on his arm. Staying there for a few deafening moments, his gazed lifted to mine again and the entire world stopped beneath us. I sucked in a sharp breath as he neared closer to me, his head lowering to level with mine. Shaking his head slowly, a few loose dark blonde curls falling over his forehead in a way that was so horrifyingly reminiscent of our earlier years, his features remained stoic. "I'm going to welcome him," he murmured evenly, his eyes glittering black. And then I felt another sensation, a brush just over my knuckles. With astonishment I found my eyes sinking to where my hand was, at his arm, and saw his own longer fingers resting over mine. Affectionately. "Aaand – " he continued quietly, his fingers brushing against mine softly. I found that although his eyes were still impossibly dark, they were much softer as he looked at me. "I'm going to remind him that I don't share."

The softness drained from his face, the gentle brush disappeared from my fingers, and then a rush of cool air wafted against my face. The door had swung open and he was gone, leaving me stunned and speechless in the thin robe, and the woozy feeling I'd just felt with him and his fingers and eyes was quickly replaced with that horrible panic again. In a rushed moment, I followed after, finding him moving like a predator towards the front door, his frame tall and menacing and his footsteps heavy against the hardness of the floor.

I could do nothing but stand there as it happened like a blur, his arm coming up and the heavy front door pulling open in one swift movement. And in slow motion his other arm came forward, thrusting violently and I was powerless. My insides liquefied into a thick sludge as another sound rang out - a strangled, horrible sound that would forever be burned in my mind. A guttural noise – something between a cross of a choke and a sob – resonated from across the room and I knew. And then came the thudding noise. I couldn't open my eyes – I couldn't – and when I fell to my knees and a warm stickiness seeped around my legs everything became real.

My mother's voice returned dimly in the back of my mind, a whispered hush like the sound of a breeze through the trees. Count to ten, she urged gently. It'll all disappear..

One… two… three…

"Aw, come on," I could hear his voice, gruff and hoarse in the distance. Inhaling deeply, my fingers clenched in my lap, I willed myself to open my eyes.

Four… five… six.

He was standing across the way, his tall frame swaying slightly as he balanced against the wall and examined his foot, ankle propped in hand. A dark substance was dripping from the tip of the shoe onto the floor below.

Seven… eight…

My eyes followed the path from his shoe and the dark liquid to a metal pan lying beside him. Confusion swept over me as my eyes traced the outline of a pot roast, the dark brown liquid immediately recognizable as gravy as it dribbled out like a river across the foyer floor.

Nine…

He continued to balance himself against the wall, wiping away at the sticky gravy. "These are my good shoes," he sighed heavily, dropping his foot down and kicking at the handle of a spoon ladle lying near him. When my eyes moved away from the metal gleam of the pot, my heart clenched painfully. The body of an older woman was sprawled out, her salt and pepper hair cut short and coiffed and the soft roundness of her face visible. The lines in her face were smoothed out, her mouth parted. The acidic bile in my stomach seeped up into my throat as I traced her features. I knew her to be Ethel, an elderly woman who lived alone on the floor above after her husband had passed away years ago. A deep red color seeped from the floral tunic she wore and dripped onto the white linen of her pants and in that moment the realization of the situation set it.

Ten

My eyes moved from Jack and the irritated expression on his face to the bloodied knife in his hand to the large body of the woman slumped over, lifeless, in my apartment. A scream bubbled deep in my chest, threatening to move up and out. Black dots flooded my vision and my chest tightened painfully and then all I could see was the brown slop staining my kneecaps and his long legs and the bright flowers on her tunic. And I could hear mom's voice, soft and so nice, telling me it's alright, everything will be okay. And then everything was black.


When I awoke, I was engulfed in a comforting warmth. It was warm and wet and a sweet smell was floating through my nose, almost suffocating me. My eyes fluttered open and after a few bleary blinks and slow glances around, I found myself in the bathtub in a cloud of scented bubbles. Confusion set in as I brought one hand up to my head, pressing at the damp hair and the ache ringing in my temple.

Had it been a dream?

Shifting up and propping myself up with both arms, I found that my robe was still on, soaked through and clinging to my frame like a second skin. The water had been running for some time, I'd determined, noticing that the tub had been near-full. Situating myself back, I attempted to bring back something, anything that would indicate what had transpired. Why was I asleep in my robe in the bath? Was I losing my mind?

It was when the door opened quickly and the shadow of a tall figure came into focus in the corner of my vision that everything had slowly come back to memory. He moved in slowly, coming next to the tub to sit on the toilet, his legs spread and his face stoic. I noticed that he'd shed the dark blue sports coat, sitting in just the slacks and the wrinkled button-down undershirt. The sleeves were rolled up to his elbows and when my eyes trailed upwards and fell on his face, I was jolted. Not an ounce of paint was visible on his visage – I could see the bare flesh of his cheeks, the familiar curve of his jaw, the fullness of his lips and the subtle curl of his eyelashes.

He leaned forward towards me, resting his face in his hands and his elbows against the tops of his thighs, and I could see the little details that made him Jack. The dusting of the freckles, the specks of light warmth in his irises. The uneven threading of his eyebrows and the soft pink tint to his mouth.

My face flushed with heat at the realization that my nipples were hard and visible under the thin material of the robe, and I quickly moved an arm over my chest. He seemed unfazed by this, however, and instead kept his eyes locked firmly on my own. A moment passed before he spoke.

"You owe me a new pair of shoes," he drawled, sighing heavily. The mention of shoes brought a new rush of images to my mind, the door swinging open, that horrible thud, the deep brown gravy from the roast seeping out onto my floor. The pastel-colored daisies etched over the tunic were all too vivid in my mind. My thoughts were burning, my brain was on fire. Oh, god… no..

No..

"I suppose I should have spared her," he continued, strumming his fingertips along the underside of his jaw. He pursed his lips slightly. "That roast looked a lot better than what you had in your fridge."

"You didn't…" I sputtered, struggling to grip onto the slippery edge of the tub. "You didn't kill her… you didn't…"

His face screwed up as he regarded me for a long moment, pausing to lean forward and place a hand over my arm. "Ah, ah. Don't try to get out yet," he said lightly, dipping his fingertips below the water to brush against the hem of my robe. "We need the stain to soak longer."

"Let me out…" I groaned, pushing his hand away and reaching for the ledge of the tub again. My sight blurred considerably and that familiar wave of sickness surged through me, trickling like a slow poison in my veins and I was unable to breathe or register what was happening and I had to get out…away..."Let.. let me out.. I need… I can't…"

He stood quickly, reaching forward in one strong movement, and then both of his hands were gripping my wet shoulders and he was hovering over me. Eyes darkening to the color of spilt ink, he shook his head at me very slowly. "Don't," he spoke quietly, tongue clicking with the last syllable. "I don't want to have to get in with you."

"You killed her," I spoke, my voice breaking as my eyes flooded with hot liquid. Shaking my head and choking back I sob, I let my chin fall to my chest. I couldn't look at him. "She was just an old woman a-and you… you … "

He sighed heavily in response, his hands leaving my arms. "Whoops!" He exclaimed, both arms coming up. "I didn't know that at the time, now did I?"

"You murdered her!" I exploded, cold tears staining my cheeks. "In cold blood, Jack.. you.. how could you?"

"Come on now," he drawled, leaning back on the toilet to gaze down at me with a slow smile. Legs spread open lazily, he opened his arms to me. "Do I really look like a guy who would kill for fun?"

The rancid sensation that had consumed me grew worse as I settled my gaze on the man before me – on the smoothness of his face, the emptiness within his eyes. "You're sick," I whispered, shaking my head slowly. Drops of tears clung to the tips of my eyelashes. I was going to be sick. "You are despicable."

"I'm not," he drawled, eyes rolling upward as he moved to stand. Reaching for Nate's black razor resting on the countertop, he extended it towards me. "If I was, uh, despicable, I wouldn't bother to clean out this after using it." He paused, running the pad of his thumb over the surface of the blades, frowning to himself. "I dunno why they market these things with five blades as being the best…" his frown grew as he stroked absently along his cheekbone. "I've gotten closer shaves with box cutters."

I blinked up at him, my mouth drying and my fingers shaking uncontrollably under the warmth of the water. "Where is she?" When he ignored me, I grew frantic. "Jack, where is she? What did you do with her?"

He hummed lightly under his breath, turning the razor between his fingers as he examined it. "Uhh, well I guess you could say she's flying highhh with the angels above," he sang playfully, turning to offer me a faint smile and a shrug. "If you believe in that sort of thing."

The sickness that had settled within me had been steadily boiling into a simmering rage, bubbling just below the surface and threatening to spill out. "I hate you," I managed to get out between clenched teeth. "I hate you – "

"Nope," he returned evenly, crouching down beside me. With one swift movement, an arm came between my legs and moved below, the plug in the drain being quickly pulled away and the sound of water gurgling down the drain following soon after. Leaning back and focusing his eyes on me, his face remained unreadable. He licked at his lower lip and spoke slowly, deliberately. "You couldn't hate me if you tried, cupcake."

As the water slowly drained away from my body, leaving the soaked material of my robe cool and uncomfortable, Jack leaned forward. He was so close, so impossibly close, and I couldn't breathe or think of anything but him and of that knife and my neighbor's slumped-over body in the foyer. When both of his hands came up to my face, the palms rough and warm as he pushed damp strands of hair away from my face, my eyes fluttered closed. The hands on my face were not of the homicidal maniac-slash-terrorist ruling the city and burning everything and everyone in his path. These hands were his.

The tone of his voice was softer than I'd expected it to be when he spoke up again. There was a gentleness to it that I'd only heard a handful of times since I'd known him. "Open your eyes," he commanded quietly. His fingers twitched against the cool flesh of my face.

I obeyed wordlessly. When my eyelids fluttered open and I found myself so close to his face that the tip of his nose was grazing mine, I couldn't comprehend anything within that moment. And then there was a gentle, warm pressure against my mouth. His lips were scalding hot and smooth and his hands were still at the sides of my face, holding me. I could feel the scars tickling the sides of my face and it was so strange but I knew right then that it was Jack kissing me and touching me. There was no malice in his touch this time and when he pulled away, I was breathless.

He stood without a word, brushing off the front of his slacks as the last of the water disappeared from the tub. He moved to the mirror then, adjusting his collar as he surveyed his reflection. With a sigh, he reached for the razor beside him, picking it up and twirling it once more. "I'm taking this," he announced flatly, dropping it into his pocket. "He'll know what it's like to have to share now, hmm?"

I was unable to move from my position in the cold, ceramic enclosure of the tub as I gazed up at him. He shifted then, moving back towards me and crouching down to become level with me. Offering one last grin, he brought one hand to my face. Brushing his fingers softly, he cocked his head at me. "I'll see you soon, doll."

When he leaned forward again, I half-expected to feel the warmth of his mouth again, but instead a sharp pain erupted over the side of my head and I could see his figure disappear from my vision before all was dark again.

And then I could hear my mother's voice yet again, sighing softly, saying you are such a fool.


Hooray, back in business.

I truly hope you guys haven't given up on me. I love this story too much and the characters in it wayyy too much to ever abandon it.

xo epic