There was something small and squeaky on him, a solid, gentle weight that was rocking from side to side. It woke him with a start and he half-shouted, yet rather than trying to throw the thing off of his chest, his arms went around it. The warm pressure that had been at his side left, followed by a thump and a cry of protest, and then there was a comforting shushing from above him as fingers danced through his hair and covered his hands and whatever was laying on him.
"Shh, shh, Jack, wake up. It's all right, Jack, it's fine. Susie, are you okay? Jack, open your eyes."
"I'm okay . . ."
Jack finally opened his eyes and stared up at Rachel for a few moments before more soft squeaks distracted him. They were steadily turning into short squeals, punctuated by a cough or sneeze, and he looked down at his chest suddenly. His arms were around Ava, keeping her from falling off of him. That was why he'd brought his arms in, rather than throwing them out to ward off any blows coming his way.
"Oh," he coughed. "I made her cry."
Rachel laughed and stroked his hair, smoothing it behind his ears. "No, she's just hungry. If you sit up, I can feed her."
The idea certainly held some appeal. "I can help?" Jack asked hopefully as he held Ava steady with one arm and grabbed the back of the couch with the other, swinging his legs off the edge of the couch and pulling himself upright. Ava's eyes opened as soon as she was vertical, and after turning her around to face him, he wiggled his fingers at her with a grin. "Why hello, there, beautiful." She was looking mighty displeased, so Jack bent his pinky and offered her the knuckle. She latched on right away and sucked with enthusiasm. Her wide blue eyes stared up at him, and Jack stared back with equal fascination. "No way," he breathed. "Are you really mine? Did I really make you? Am I holding you right?" He looked up at Rachel. "Am I ---"
"Perfectly," she said with a smile and a nod. Her lower lip trembled and she reached out, curling her fingers at the back of Jack's neck, and he twisted just enough to leaned toward her and kiss her. Rachel exhaled shakily as she returned it, raising her other hand to his shoulder and holding it tightly.
Quite interestingly, there was nothing going on in Jack's pants at that moment. Even when he bit her lower lip and worried gently at it, even when Rachel's breath hitched and he felt her body tense, when her nails duck into his neck,, there was a distinct lack of response. It was . . . fascinating. He pulled back and closed his eyes halfway, taking deep breaths of Rachel's perfume and underlying scent, nuzzling where her throat met her jaw and kissing her gently.
Rachel laughed low in her throat before pushing him gently away. "I need to feed the baby," she whispered as he rested his forehead against hers.
"My baby," he responded. He didn't want to hand Ava over, but she was starting to make more noise than he was comfortable with.
"Your baby," Rachel assured him. She reached out and gently took Ava from him, having to pull just a little to get him to let go. "Susie can show you how to burp her once she's done. We tell her bedtime stories every night," she continued, adjusting her maternity top and looking down as Ava started rooting enthusiastically. "We use the recordings you made, so she can remember your voice."
"And we show her your picture, too," Susie put in from across the room. She'd been taking the cushions off of the other couches and was making a fort, but now she crawled out and came over to Jack and Rachel. Jack was watching Ava latch on with an intensity that passed for awe, for him. When Susie crawled up on the couch he pulled her over one leg, then, when Ava was suckling intently, he draped his free arm around Rachel's shoulders and she leaned into his embrace, shifting for a while until she was comfortably leaning against Jack and feeding Ava, the construction of her top keeping her breasts covered except for minute flashes of skin.
Jack grinned down at all of them. Rachel and Ava were watching each other, Ava's brown eyes only blinking occasionally. She ate in stops and starts, suck-suck-sucking, pausing, swallowing, then repeating. She made small grunting noises as she ate, and Rachel covered one small hand with her own. Susie had Jack's hand and was playing with it, growling as it fought her hand. She was leaning back against him and seemed content, laughing and squirming when Jack suddenly tickled her stomach.
"I'm hungry," she declared as she turned in his lap and kneed him in the groin. Jack whined in pain, lifting her up by the waist and tossing her onto the couch across from him.
Rachel straightened in alarm. "Jack!"
"What?" he asked as Susie shrieked with laughter. "She put her knee right on my dick. It may not be active, but the nerves aren't dead!" He groaned a little and carefully shifted, waiting for the pain to pass. "Damn it, that hurt."
"We don't need the guards thinking you're trying to kill her," Rachel admonished.
"She knees me like that again and she Iwill/I be dead," Jack muttered darkly as he glared at Susie. "You watch where you put yourself, you hear me?"
"I'm sorry, Daddy." She crawled over and hugged his leg, and he ruffled her hair. "I'm hungry."
"I don't control the food around here, toots."
"I do," Nasir said as he opened the door. "I'm the real brains behind this organisation. Don't let that Arkham guy tell you different." He held the door open for a nurse to wheel in a cart of food and drinks, then closed and locked the door before standing off to the side. "Lunch, courtesy of my crew."
"This is Nasir Barad," Jack introduced him. "He's as loony as the rest of us, apparently."
"We've met," Rachel said with a smile as she sat up straighter and reached for a dish. "Here, let me ---"
"Oh, don't you worry, Mrs. Dawes," Nasir said cheerfully. "You just feed the baby. Matilda'll be done soon enough."
"Nasir's too busy looking dashing to help," the nurse said with a smile for Rachel and Ava. "It's all right, ma'am, I've got this."
"If you're sure . . ."
"She's sure," Jack said as he relaxed. He tugged Rachel back. "Come here."
"I saw that blow Susie landed," Nasir went on cheerfully. "Must've hurt."
"Nothing a good blowjob wouldn't cure." Rachel elbowed him and gestured at Susie, who was frowning up at them. "Oh, wait, I can't get it up these days. Never mind."
"What's a blowjob?"
Rachel sighed noisily and glared at Jack. "It's ---"
"It involves penises," Jack interrupted.
Rachel turned to lecture him when Susie screwed her face up. "Ew! I don't wanna know!" She scooted away from Jack, around the low table, and waited patiently for the nurse to finish putting the food out. "Thank you," she told the woman.
The nurse smiled at her. "You're welcome. You have a good visit, sweetie," she said as she left.
"Okay," Susie chirped as she started dishing herself up food.
"See? No problem," Jack murmured as he kissed Rachel's cheek.
Rachel wasn't convinced. She frowned. "We'll talk about what's appropriate to say in front of children and what isn't later."
Jack leaned forward to get them both food and winked at Susie. "I'm in trouble again."
"You're always in trouble," she pointed out.
"Yeah, guess I am. Something's wrong if I'm not in trouble. So, tell me about this author guy who likes Rachel. Do I need to beat him up?"
"Yes," Susie said empathically. "He's rude, he's mean, he pokes me with his cane, he thinks he smarter than everyone, and," she finished triumphantly, "he doesn't like Ava."
"Mr. Nashton doesn't like children in general," Rachel cut in as Jack sat back and looked at her as he handed her a plate of food. "He doesn't dislike children, he just . . . doesn't care for them. Sort of like you, Jack."
"I like kids," he claimed defensively.
"'Cause we're crunchy, and taste good with ketchup!" Susie giggled.
Jack scrunched his nose up at her. "Exactly! Kid en flambé is my favourite meal."
She threw her hands up, imitating flames. "Fwoosh!"
Rachel got his attention with a light touch to his arm. "Nursing baby and a plate full don't mix," she told him.
Jack took the plate from her and leaned down to kiss Ava's soft head, then forked some potato salad and offered it to Rachel. "She's got buggy eyes and a Mohawk."
Rachel snorted with laughter as she chewed, looking down at their daughter. True, Ava's eyes did bug out a bit, giving he a wide-eyed look, and the majority of her curly hair lay on the top of her head and back a little. "She gets it from you."
"You're the one who had the Mohawk hair; Bethy showed me."
"I never had big eyes like that; you must have given them to her." Rachel took another bite as it was offered, rolling her eyes when Jack leaned over to lick a bit of salad from the corner of her mouth.
Susie sighed hugely from across the table and took her food into the cushion-fort she'd made and making buzzing and laser sounds once inside. Rachel let Jack feed her for a few more minutes before she raised her eyebrows at him and tilted her head toward the fort pointedly. "She really misses you," she murmured.
Jack had to think for a moment about what Rachel wanted. Then he nodded and set his now-empty plate on the table before sliding to his knees and crawling around to the back of the fort. Susie's feet stuck out, her shoes under the couch, and he grabbed her ankles and yanked with a huge growl. Susie shrieked and toppled the fort as she flailed. Jack flipped her onto her back and snarled as his fingers found her ribs and dug in, and her shrieks of protest became shrieks of laughter.
"No, Daddy, no!" she gasped, kicking at Jack's stomach and showing at his arms and hands. "Don't tickle me, Daddy!"
They were both laughing as Jack kept tickling. "Arrr! Rawr! You can't get away from me!" He pulled her shirt up and then blew a huge raspberry on her stomach, which induced more howling laughter. "Om nom nom nom nom!"
"Aaaaah! No! Don't eat me, noooooo!" There were tears of laughter in Susie's eyes when Jack pulled back, and he let her go when he got a foot in the jaw. He reeled back and Susie scrambled up, head butting him in the chest and jumping on him when he fell back with a cough.
"You think you can beat me?" he asked with a laugh.
"Yeah!" Susie was going for his sides, but Jack lifted her up by the waist and held her above him, grinning at her. She kicked and reached for him, her fingers centimetres from his face, and growled.
"God, you're like an ROUS," he told her, shaking her a little. Susie reacted by opening her mouth and sticking her tongue out at him, wiggling it around as she growled. "Hallo!" he intoned. "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!"
"You keep on using that word," Susie replied. "I do not think it means what you think it means."
"Fezzick! Are those rocks ahead?"
"If they are, we all be dead!"
"No more rhymes now, I mean it," Rachel cut in as Ava let her nipple go.
"Anybody want a peanut?" Jack and Susie chorused. Then Jack let Susie fall to his chest, holding her tightly as the two of them laughed.
"Come here and burp Ava," Rachel said as she smiled. She didn't know how much of this Jack was faking, but he seemed happy, seemed like he was doing well. There was a sense of released tension in him as he and Susie untangled and nudged each other as they crawled over to her feet; Doctor Morgenson must have been minimizing the severity of Jack's stress when she'd spoken with him. She patted the seat next to her and Jack reclaimed it, and then she kissed him as she handed the baby over. "Helna made her the onsie."
Jack kissed her back, took Ava, and held her up, his hands beneath her armpits and his fingers holding her head up as he read the onesie and grinning hugely. "'Daddy's Little Anarchist' . . . Hah! Damn right you are!" He laughed and brought Ava in to rub his nose against hers; his mother had done that. It had always made him laugh. Then he looked at Rachel with raised eyebrows. "What do I do?" he asked as he. "Is it like burping the Mitzi-thing?"
"Exactly like that," Rachel nodded, pleased that he liked the onesie. "Just be a little more gentle." Jack let Rachel put a burp-rag on his shoulder, then gently lay Ava against it and pat her on the back.
Susie watched him for a moment, then climbed up onto the couch with them. "Put her up more, Daddy. Put her tummy on . . . What's this part called?" she asked, touching his collarbone. "Put her tummy right there and it makes her burp better."
"It's my collarbone," Jack told her, shifting Ava. The baby made a small noise, then burped a little. "Hey, it worked."
"Duh," Susie told him. "I'm the best at burping Ava. I'm even better than Charles."
"I'm not sure Charles has a maternal bone in her body, so I don't see how that's an achievement. Go pick up the cushions."
"Bones can't be maternal; they're bones," Susie muttered as she slid off the couch and picked a cushion up. "Ew! It fell on my food!"
"Why were you eating on the floor?"
Susie frowned and looked at the floor, shrugging and muttering, "'Cause you and Rachel were eating together."
"Oh. Well, the staff'll clean it up." Jack leaned his cheek against Ava's head gently before kissing her, rocking a bit as she let out a few more burps.
Rachel sighed and reached for a napkin, but Nasir, who had been quietly watching from the corner, stepped forward. "Don't worry about it, Mrs. Dawes. Matilda'll take care of it."
"I didn't mean to make a mess," Susie said. "Daddy scared me."
"It's fine," Nasir assured her. He piled the soiled cushions against the wall and Susie helped him.
While dragging a cushion, she let it drop and then got on her hands and knees, looking under the table. "Hey! There are games under here! Can we play one?"
"You've got another hour," Nasir reminded them. Jack glared at him and moved Ava into the crook of his arm, taking the burp-rag and dabbing at her mouth. Then he held her protectively, like Nasir was going to take her away any moment. "Hey, it's not my fault, Dawes. I just enforce the rules. You're lucky to get visiting rights at all. Tell her about Wayne."
Jack perked up. "Oh, yeah." He grinned at Rachel. "They're moving me in with Brucey in a couple weeks."
"What?!" Rachel stared at him as he grinned and grinned, and Susie hollered and threw herself at his legs, hugging them tightly. "Why?"
"What, you're not happy?" Jack asked.
"No, I am, I am, just . . . Iwhy/I?"
"I'm gonna lose it if I stay here much longer," he explained with a shrug, looking down at Ava as her eyelids fluttered. He offered his pinky knuckle and she sucked it out of reflex. "They figure, it's safer for you guys to come visit me there, and they can make sure I don't leave."
"You and Bruce hate each other."
Jack laughed softly. "I never hated Bruce, moonshine. I'm quite fond of him. I'm sure we'll be fine; hell be at one end of the house, I'll be at the other, and Alfred'll snipe me if I try to leave." He paused for a few moments, then looked out the corner of his eye at his wife. "Are you happy?" he asked again, quietly.
Rachel covered her mouth and looked at him. In the corner, Nasir shifted, possibly picking up on Jack's subtle tenseness. Jack, out of Arkham. Jack, in Gotham --- or close enough to it. Jack, under the care of Bruce and Alfred. Jack, where he could see his baby every weekend, where he could see her every weekend.
"I'll still have therapy, I'll still be on drugs, I'll still be under constant surveillance," he murmured, returning his attention to Ava. "I'll just . . . be out of Arkham. Be able to see you guys more often. You don't like the idea."
"I love the idea, Jack," Rachel reassured him. "I really do. I'm just worried about how legal it is. I don't want you locked away because we did something wrong."
"Well, Doc and Arkham both told me it was fine." He was getting snappy, his chest stinging a little when he thought that she didn't really want him that free.
"They can make suggestions and recommendations," Rachel told him. "They can't say for sure, if you get that much freedom."
"Yeah, well, they're putting a tracking chip in me, and they said they're fortifying Wayne Manor to make sure I don't get out. Unless Bruce is lying in order to get me thrown away for good ---"
"I don't think he'd lie about that," Rachel said soothingly. "This just seems . . . It's too good to be true."
They were quiet for a moment, Susie clutching a game box to her chest and looking between them with worried eyes. Then Jack shook himself. "Okay, sure," he said. "What do you wanna play, popsicle?"
"This one . . ."
"Well, let's play." He looked at Rachel again as he helped Susie set the game up one-handed. "Why don't you call Hideki, ask about it?" Rachel had been shuffling cards, but now she bent to the task with much more gusto, her hair falling in her face. Jack let it go for a few turns, mulling it around in his head. "He hasn't called you, has he."
"No," she said shortly. "Susie, your turn."
Jack took a deep breath as Susie rolled the dice and moved her piece. He knew Raoul hadn't known much about what had been about to happen. The kid hadn't been trusted with that information, and Jack said so. Rachel closed her eyes and pressed the pads of her fingers against them. "Rachel, Raoul couldn't have known. I . . . made sure that he was telling me the truth. And he trusted me. I told him I had everything under control, and he trusted me. I was wrong. It wasn't his fault."
"Shut up," Rachel muttered. She flipped her hand toward Nasir and the mirror, indicating that they weren't completely alone, and her lower lip trembled as Jack took his turn.
They were just finishing up when Nasir gave them a five-minute warning. Rachel didn't take Ava back until it was time to go. Jack was holding Susie on his hip and Ava over his shoulder, and Rachel leaned into his chest while Nasir opened the door. She looked up at him and he kissed her softly, giving her a smile.
"You're coming back tomorrow?"
"Of course," Rachel nodded. "I can make Janet come, if you want to see her."
"No," Jack said. He shook his head. "No, she'll come see me when she wants to. Tell her I said hi, but don't make her come. And . . . Susie, go wait outside." He hugged her tight and kissed her cheek. "I miss you, popsicle."
"I love you, Daddy." Susie slid to the floor and Nasir held his hand out. "I'll be back tomorrow!"
"Me, too," Jack told her. Nasir took her out and he turned back to Rachel as soon as the door closed. "So. Uh, Janet and Dick, uh . . ." He frowned. He didn't quite know how to say what he wanted to say.
"Mom took them both to her place to help her move furniture. I guess she ordered a new set." Rachel reached up and was touching his face gently, fingering his hair, and Jack smiled.
"Yeah. He really likes her, huh?" She nodded. "Well . . . Look, I'm just sayin', I'm not an expert, but . . . Janet's probably scared shitless of sex right now, but that doesn't mean she doesn't still want it, right?" Rachel frowned a bit and nodded. "And dick, well . . . He's there for her, see? Just wants to make her happy? Is a guy, and therefore thinks he's got a magical healing cock that can make all her troubles go away, including cancer and lesbianism?"
That made Rachel laugh, even as serious as the situation was. "Do you want me to encourage her to take advantage of him, or warn her against it?"
"Do whatever you think you need to, sweet cheeks. It was just a thought, you know? I don't want any more traumatised people around me." Rachel pulled him down for a serious kiss and he sighed as he melted into her arms. After a moment there was a knock on the door and they pulled apart, and Jack lifted Ava up and kissed her cheeks as she looked around in wide-eyed wonder. "You be good, minion," he told her, then brought her in for another hug before kneeling down and buckling her in her carrier. He traced the letters on her onesie with a smile. "Damn right, you're my little anarchist. Damn right." Nasir opened the door again and Jack stood up, handed Ava to Rachel, and hugged her tightly. "Get me out of here before I go crazy," he murmured in her ear. "My tongue needs some exercise."
"Jack!" Rachel giggled. "We'll be back tomorrow. I love you. Be good."
"Yeah," he nodded. "Yeah. I will. Me, too. Just go." He watched them walk off, looking back at him frequently, and then sat heavily once they were out of sight and cradled his head in his hands.
Nasir gave him time to collect himself.