The last chapter. Wow.
A reviewer kindly reminded that I should not point out reviewers at the end of the final chapter, as new reviewers might drop by and could feel slighted. (I hope this story meets new readers, and vice versa!) I agree. I want to thank you all, from the bottom of my Cranezy heart, for reading this story, for all your amazing reviews and support. You know who you are. You made this journey so much better than it would have been otherwise. I will thank you all individually via PMs, but really, a shout out to all of my amazing readers and reviewers, past and future. If I could, I would give you muffins, but we all live too far apart.
Thank you for journeying through this story with me!
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The ending is a bit open, as you will see. This story will not have a sequel, but I hope it will get to haunt you for just a little while longer as it is now...
Again, many, many thanks!
DISCLAIMER: Crane would like to point out on this occasion that the Gotham police will NEVER EVER own him. Hopefully. He would also like to express his gratitude for your following his crazy, uh, shenanigans? Oh, Crane, I wouldn't put it like that...
The City of Gotham was in a state of recovery after it had been dealt a terrible blow and pushed into a state of shock and fear. But as much as the city had suffered in the course of one hellish night, it would survive. Gotham always survived, only its inhabitants were vulnerable; but the city itself – never. It was rotting from the inside, but it still stood, especially now that it had a saviour in the form of a large, terrifying bat.
It was the same man, the Batman, who defeated an ancient enemy. Of course, the city would never know the full story of one man's desire to purify it by crushing it into dust. The people of Gotham believed that a terrorist simply did what terrorist usually did best: he destroyed. To them, the unknown leading terrorist was important one day and soon became insignificant when a new tomorrow came. They would never know the truth about the League of Shadows and how close they actually came to complete destruction.
Batman defeated the league, but he did not destroy it. He knew those things were much beyond him, and as long as the city was safe, the league could move on to other ideals. He left them unexposed; he did his job. Gotham was still breathing.
Gotham would survive. That city always did.
Pearl exited Detective Jacobs' car nervously. She had met with him several times now, revealing to him all of her memories connected to the night when her sister was taken away from her by the very man she fancied herself to be in love with for a little while. She had been bound by the past for many years, but with every revelation, with every word she said to Detective Jacobs, the ropes that had been keeping her in the same miserable state of mind, bruising her, causing her so much pain and grief, snapped, one by one. The cold case of Sherry Squires' murder was re-opened and only two more ropes remained. Pearl was ready to cut the first one now. The very thought of doing it frightened her, but she wanted to finally put that behind her.
She followed Detective Jacobs into Robinson Park, trying to imagine how her sister must have felt when she followed Jonathan Crane down the same beautifully tended path. The place was really beautiful, which, to Pearl, was an almost grotesque notion. The lovely park was a place of murder; the makeshift Eden amidst the rotting corpse of Gotham presented Hell to Sherry Squires sixteen years ago.
Detective Jacobs veered off the path and walked over the grass, the frozen ground crunching beneath his feet. Pearl swallowed hard as she followed him; she could feel they were close now. Soon, the detective halted his step and pointed to a random spot beneath a bare birch tree.
"It happened here," he told her solemnly and Pearl fixed her gaze on the patch of ground he had pointed at, trembling.
She walked to the spot with shaky legs and knelt down slowly. She splayed her bare palms across the cold ground and closed her eyes, trying to imagine and then, to let go and forget. She gasped as images of Sherry came to her mind, images of how Sherry might have been on that night, during that very moment... And then, Crane's face slid through her mind and she jarred her teeth, willing herself not to scream.
"If everything turns out okay tonight, Pea, I will introduce you to my boyfriend very soon," Sherry's voice from the past echoed in her thoughts, the memory of her last moment with Sherry seeping into her brain and unfolding like the petals of a bitter sweet flower.
"But I already know Bo!" the little sister chirped back, pouting. She did not like Bo by far. Every time he came by the house, he would greet her with a "Hey, Bratsky," or "Hi, Midgette," which she really disliked. He thought he was being cool, but she disliked him.
"No, no, I broke up with Bo and he's not coming back," Sherry explained, which made her little Pea beam a smile at her.
"Who is your new boyfriend, Sherry?"
Sherry sighed rather dreamily. "He is...beautiful. He accepts me. He doesn't see me as a piece of meat the way Bo did. He is misunderstood at school, you know. They call him Ichabod, sometimes, because he's a bit gangly. But he has such amazing blue eyes, Pea." Sherry sighed again, but then she grew sad. "He is angry with me now, but I will explain everything to him tonight and I'm sure he'll understand. We...like each other."
Little Pea shook her head. "I am a little confused."
Sherry chuckled. "You'll know it all soon enough. For now, it's enough you know that I'm in love with this boy."
At that moment, a pebble hit the sash window in their room and it was Sherry's new boyfriend, the blue-eyed gangly Ichabod, as far as Pea remembered. Sherry dashed out of their room and as she did, Pea took a quick peek of the new boy and gasped as she saw that there was a scarecrow standing in their garden. It was Halloween, but he looked so real. She thought of the new word she had learned from a book that day and put it to use: a genuine scarecrow.
Little Pea fluffed after her big sister to tell her that she did not feel so comfortable about Sherry going out with a scarecrow boy, but Sherry did not listen. Her thoughts were entirely dedicated to the boy. Little Pea sighed and decided that Sherry probably knew best. She waived at Sherry in her Dorothy costume and even at the scarecrow boy, but she was invisible to them. She only hoped that her sister would come back from Oz soon.
The memory evaporated. Tears were crawling from underneath Pearl's eyelids, leaving a stinging trail down her cheeks as the liquid pearls met with the cold winter air.
"She loved you, you bastard," she whispered grudgingly. "You just have to destroy everything you touch, don't you, blue-eyed Ichabod?"
She scoffed and wiped away the tears. She could finally imagine what her sister must have suffered on that night. He did not accept Sherry, as her sister had believed. She shook at the knowledge of everything. Detective Jacobs had described the possible way of how the murder happened. She had been dreading to go anywhere near Robinson Park for sixteen years. But now, she was finally here and as much as remembering and imagining things was horrible, it also felt good, if not quite cathartic. She finally faced her past and her fears, and she could feel the weight leaving her soul. Liberation was blissful.
"Are you alright?" Detective Jacobs asked with concern and she got up.
"I will be now, detective," she said, smiling a little. "Thank you for taking me here. I needed to visit this place to finally move on."
The detective nodded and they went back to his car. That rope snapped.
Only one rope remained: she would soon be invited to testify against Crane.
A month had passed and Pearl had been busy arranging everything for her new life. She was returning to Sacramento, as there was nothing left for her in Gotham. The city was where she was born and raised, but home was in Sacramento, with her friends and with her in-laws who were like a family to her. She only forgot that she had a great life in Sacramento and noW she finally remembered. Sacramento was made of colours; Gotham only knew shades of gray.
She also changed her last name back to Squires. She married Dom to make him happy before he died, but she was not a real widow, so she was not obliged to bear the name of Jones any longer. She had been a Jones until now because the last name Squires had been painful. Now she was proud to be Pearl Squires once more.
She could leave Gotham once she had testified against Crane, who had been charged with several crimes: workplace violence, aggravated assault, co-operation with a terrorist, attempted (mass) murder, homicide (his toxin, sadly, claimed many victims on that black night for Gotham) and suspicion of attempted murder of Sherry Squires and Bo Griggs. Pearl was happy to know that Crane was facing a long future spent in Blackgate Penitentiary, or perhaps even in the Arkham Asylum, amongst the criminally insane he had been torturing for so long. Both Blackgate and Arkham would suit his black soul just fine. She expected to have some remnants of feelings for him, but there were none; just complete indifference and the satisfaction that justice would be served. She was not haunted by anything or anyone anymore. She was absolutely free.
She was full of energy. She already bought a nice little apartment in Sacramento. She would not pursue a career in psychiatry. After all that had happened, anything to do with psychiatry was not on her wish-list. She did want to be a nurse anymore, either. She would give herself time to find her true self, or rather to re-discover the girl she had pushed away. She also arranged and paid for her sister-in-law's – Jessica's – rehabilitation at a strict, but very efficient clinic in Canada. She wanted to spend her inheritance money left to her by Dom for something good and now was the time to do it. Pearl was even sporting the idea of buying herself an exotic pet in Sacramento – a tarantula. Suddenly, spiders did not seem so scary anymore.
She was not dreading the trial; she was actually looking forward to it. The associates of the unknown terrorist were never found, so Crane was left alone. Revenge was sweet and so was justice. Well, Crane would not be entirely alone in the courtroom. The police had also apprehended Dr St Clair, who was Crane's accomplice in crime. Rachel Dawes, ADA, would certainly be merciless in the courtroom, as she did not particularly appreciate Crane's attempt to murder her with his toxin. That made Pearl very hopeful.
The day of the beginning of the trial finally came and it was quite a spectacle for Gotham. Pearl was informed that she was due to testify in three days' time. The moment had come and Pearl smiled. She would certainly make the most of it.
One day before the trial, however, she received a call that changed everything and the blow was delivered by Rachel Dawes over the phone.
"I'm afraid corruption won, Miss Squires," Miss Dawes said gloomily. "Crane has managed to escape from custody and Detective Jacobs is already on his way to your apartment, together with two police officers. Erm, Miss Squires, are you there?"
Pearl could not determine whether that was the truth or just a prank call. But she feared that it was the truth.
"He...escaped?" she repeated silently. She was glad she was already sitting, otherwise she would have crumbled to the ground easily.
"Yes, he escaped. I can assure you that we are going to do everything to find him, but until we do, I'd prefer if you moved to a safe place under police supervision, or accept to be guarded in your apartment, as I understand that Dr Crane holds a few grudges against you."
Pearl stared into the wall, stunned. Her hopes for a new, free life were falling apart like a badly assembled house of cards. It seemed that Crane, after all, had the final word. He was the one who could free her or bind her. He certainly was clever and he knew how to cause torment even from afar.
Pearl wanted to cry, but she couldn't. She was frozen inside, so very frozen. She felt absolutely pitiful.
She fucking lost.
She felt haunted again, haunted by Crane and the never-ending uncertainty. Life was still unfair, infuriatingly unfair.
Pearl took a quivering breath and spoke into the phone.
Pearl exhaled. "I just want to go home."
Pearl could leave Gotham for Sacramento, but she would be obliged to return as soon as Crane had been apprehended again, to testify against him at last. She didn't care what happened now; she just wanted him out of her life, for good. She would be escorted to the airport by a police officer and a member of the Sacramento PD would be waiting for her in Sacramento to take her to the house of her in-laws. Miss Dawes insisted that Pearl abandon the idea of living on her own for the time being and Pearl agreed willingly; she really did not want to be alone now.
Pearl felt like a robot. She did not allow herself to think and feel; she only obeyed the people who wanted to protect her.
Whatever it takes, she thought, just rid me of him.
After two days of packing and making final arrangements, she was ready to leave. Angela, her best friend, was going to accompany her. In fact, Angela entertained the idea of moving away from Gotham too. As far as Pearl was concerned, Gotham would become ancient history. Once her phone was disconnected (the phone company had assured her it would be done the next day), she would really have no ties to Gotham.
Just before Pearl, Angela and the police escort left the apartment, the phone rang.
"You can leave it," Angela said.
Pearl huffed. "It might be Miss Dawes. I really should buy myself a new cell phone already. Can you wait for me by the car, please?"
Pearl hurried to the phone and picked it up. "Hello?"
Silence. Pearl would have rolled her eyes a while ago, but this time, her heart began to beat wildly. Instinctively, she said, "...Crane?"
Silence, then a familiar chuckle.
Pearl slammed the phone handle down on the cradle. She was shaking all over. She let out a shuddering breath. The phone did not ring again, but it was ringing in her head. She should have plugged it out, she should have, but she forgot, stupid.
She left the apartment slowly, unable to walk at a faster pace. She felt like collapsing, almost wanted to collapse and drift away, but nothing happened.
"Is everything alright, ma'am?" the police officer asked and Angela joined him with a worried expression on her face.
Pearl knew she should tell them the truth.
He called me. He had me know that he'll be breathing down my neck.
But she didn't. Perhaps, she could convince herself that it was just a dream, that the call never happened...
"I'm fine," she lied.
But in truth, she felt as if the beginning of the end had just begun.