Chapter 37:

He was pressed in to a corner, sunk down, knees brought up to his chest, arms wrapped tight around his torso. His eyes stared, blank and distant at nothing. No discernable expression on his face.

He hadn't moved, hadn't acknowledged or even seemed to realize anyone now standing outside his cell, hadn't seemed to hear them come in.

Jeannie gazed at him intently, her anxiety growing with each moment past he did nothing. He didn't even really seem conscious, like he was passed out with his eyes held wide open.

She swallowed thickly, feeling herself begin to tremble.

She turned, looking up at the giant form of Batman, stood still, eyes fixed with equal intent on her husband.

And then he noticed her looking at him, and he looked down.

There was questioning in her eyes, as if she were asking whether it would be okay or not to speak.

He gave her a single nod, and she turned back to the Joker, stepping closer to the glass which separated them.

A moment more would pass before she finally spoke.

"Jack?"

He started, abruptly shifting as though he'd been startled.

But still he didn't look up at her.

So she said his name more loudly.

"Jack."

And now his eyes rose, and for several, long seconds, he stared at her, confusion apparent in his features, like for a moment he didn't recognize her.

But then he blinked, straightening, his eyes seeming to focus as he pressed himself harder in to the corner.

"You're not…" he began, sounding almost dazed. "You aren't…"

His head shook.

"Why are you still here? You aren't… aren't supposed to be here. I told you to leave… you… you were supposed to have gone."

Jeannie pressed her hand against the window, looking down.

"Jack, I…"

"Oh Christ, am I…" his voice cut her short. "am I dreaming?" His hands came up, burying in his hair. "Is this a dream?"

Her eyes lifted, looking at him hard.

And his own had clamped shut, his face screwed up in pain.

"I don't know what's real." He muttered. "I don't know…"

She felt her throat tighten as emotion surged within her, a sinking despair dropping down through her stomach.

"Jack, no." Her head shook. "This is real. You aren't dreaming. I'm here. I'm right here."

The Joker's lids lifted, his gaze again focusing on her. And very suddenly his expression had morphed in to one of anger, his teeth grinding in frustration.

"Then why have you come?" He spit, his voice edged in tension.

His hands uncurled from his hair, messy and long from weeks of not grooming. He hadn't remembered to, hadn't cared.

"I told you to leave! I told you I didn't want you here! Why do you persist in torturing me this way when you claim so vehemently to care for me? Do you not see why I've sent you away? Do you not understand? It was for yourself as well as I!"

Suddenly he stood, stepping towards the glass.

"Your hope is foolish." He continued sharply. "Hope is for those too cowardly to face the truth." He looked abruptly to Batman, frowning deeply. "You should know something of what I'm talking about, eh Bats?"

The vigilante said nothing, arms crossed over his chest, watching the madman with unmoving eyes.

The Joker was desperate. Lashing out in hostility against what he thought was an attack. He was feeling cornered, an unfamiliar confusion having gripped his mind. Bruce could tell. He was battling against emotions he'd for so long thought himself free of, raging against them as they threatened everything he'd ever believed.

It was almost sad, to see a man of once unparalleled confidence, of absolute certainty in his proclamations, to begin so rapidly to fall apart.

Batman had never seen him so defensive, so utterly unsure of what to do.

The Joker continued to stare at him a long moment, his features contorted in anger, but his eyes filled with something entirely else.

Filled with despair.

And then, finally he shifted them back to his wife.

"I was going to spare you this reality, to save you from further pain." He said. "If you'd only stayed away as you were supposed to, you wouldn't now have to know. Your boy is gone. I've told you before, but I now know what it was that was drawing you back. Him breaking to the surface. Him gaining back control. It's what made you believe I could ever be that again. What made you think that's who I still was. So maybe you were right. Maybe Jack Napier still exists, somewhere deep inside this." He pressed a hand against his chest, looking at Jeannie hard. "But now that I know he's there…" his head shook. "I won't let him out. I won't let him out ever again. Your boy is weak Jeannie. He's a sniveling, pathetic, weak-willed nothing. And he could never win against me. Never against my will. So do away with that hope of yours. It promises you nothing but heartache."

She stared back at him with tear filled eyes, yet her face was set in an expression of grim determination.

Her head shook.

"You didn't need to tell me that Jack." She said, her voice trembling slightly. "I only…" She reached up, wiping at her face as a single tear fell. "I only came today to tell you goodbye. I'm moving back to San Francisco. I bought tickets for me and your son last night. Our flight is this evening, for ten o'clock. And I just thought you should… you should know."

And for the briefest of moments, the Joker's own, hard expression wavered, a flash of something like disappointment crossing his features before it was quickly erased, replaced again by cold indifference.

He said nothing, staring at her a long moment before finally turning, moving to his cells back wall, crossing his arms over his chest.

"Very well." He at last spoke, his tone flat. "Goodbye then."

A moment of silence past.

"… Jack."

He didn't move.

She continued.

"You're wrong."

And at this he glanced at her, from over his shoulder.

"My boy isn't gone…" she said, her voice quiet, strained with emotion. "He's standing right in front of me."

This drew a scoff from the Joker as he again faced away from her.

But she went on undeterred.

"You can tell yourself all you want that you aren't him. Or that the weak young man inside you has no chance, has no hope of ever coming back." She shook her head, tears continuing to form and fall from her eyes. "But you're wrong. You prove yourself wrong by showing concern for me."

"And who says I care for you?" The Joker spit in frustration.

"You do." Jeannie answered quickly, surely. "You want me away because you're afraid you'll hurt me. You didn't tell me of your plans to crush the person you really are because you thought it might cause me pain. Those aren't the actions of a man who doesn't care. You should know that better then anyone."

The Joker remained silent, unmoving.

"And another thing you're wrong about…" she went on, again wiping the tears from her face. "You were never weak Jack. You were never nothing. The boy I knew, the boy I fell in love with and married… who's child I had…" she cast her eyes down, needing to pause a moment as her emotion again overcame her. "He was a miracle." She finally managed, her voice straining and cracking. "He would have done anything for me. Would have…" She inhaled deeply, letting it go unsteadily as her tears grew thicker. "would have given his life for me… Did give his life for me…"

She brought her hand to her face, covering her eyes.

"It never m-mattered how scared he was… how afraid or… or unsure of himself. It never mattered how little he b-believed in himself. He wasn't going to let anything h-happen to me… even when it meant something was going to happen t-to him." A sob pushed its way past her lips, and again she shook her head, trying to reign in her emotions. "And no matter how sh-shitty people were to him, no matter how cruel… even when it must have… must have s-seemed like everyone in the world hated him…" she slammed her palm against the Plexiglas in anger at the memories of how people had abused Jack. "when he had no reason… no reason to b-believe in the good of a-anyone…" And finally she looked up, staring at the Joker, his back still to her, arms still crossed and head bowed down. She sniffed, rubbing the back of her hand across her cheeks. "He did." She at last said. "He still believed that everyone, even the people who'd made him feel like he was nothing, like he was freak, even the people who made him feel like he deserved to be treated that way, he still believed they were good, deep down inside them. He didn't hate anyone, even though they gave him every reason in the world to. He didn't. He didn't have that ugliness in him. And he couldn't… couldn't see it in anyone else then. Couldn't co-comprehend it. He thought... he thought everyone in the world would be as pure of heart as he was. And that was his only m-mistake. Your only mistake. But it was never a weakness. It was a strength. It was the weakness in everyone else that made them use your goodness against you Jack. It was always you who were the strong one, even if you… even if you couldn't see it in yourself. You were the strong one."

At last she fell silent, watching the Joker, watching for any indication at all that her words had gotten through to him.

For nearly a full minute, he didn't move, just continuing to stand there, like some kind of statue.

And then he shifted, uncrossing one of his arms, bringing a hand to his face. For a long moment he just stood there, still.

And then, finally, he spoke…

"Yes, well…" he started, his voice hushed, deflated. "I guess I learned my lesson then."

For a moment more, he kept his hand at his face, rubbing it across his eyes.

And then at last he turned, looking at Jeannie, unable to hide the troubled lines which formed along his brow.

"The world isn't built for people like that." He finished, a kind of resignation to his tone.

Jeannie shook her head.

"No Jack." She managed. "No, it's… it's them who should have learned. Not you. Jesus, you were beautiful. You were so beautiful. And look what they did to you. Look what they did."

The tears grew heavy in her eyes, falling fast, and he looked at her with pure frustration now, his face pulling tight.

"Well I'm sorry to have disappointed you!" He suddenly snapped, his voice angry as he turned from her and moved for his cells cot.

And she began to cry harder, weeping loudly as she buried her face in her hands.

The Joker fell on to his cot, sitting rigidly on its edge, clasping his hands together as they dangled between his knees. His entire frame tensed and he turned his head away, staring at the wall beside him. Anywhere but at her.

But he couldn't shut out the sound of her sobs, and suddenly he could feel his jaw tighten, his teeth clenching hard together as anxiety rose up in him.

He couldn't stand the sound of her crying, he realized. But not in the way he couldn't stand it in other people, when he would feel disgust towards them for their weakness. It was something else entirely with her.

It hurt him, a sinking depression consuming him at the sound of her distress, at the thought of her being hurt. He wanted to stop it, to take away whatever it was causing her tears. He didn't want to hear her pain. Didn't want to think of her in pain. Didn't want her to be in pain.

Hearing it now in her muffled and desperate sobs, he was taken abruptly by the need to do something, anything to relieve her of it.

He turned towards her, his lips pulled in to a thin line, and he exhaled loudly through his nose.

"Don't." He said. "Don't do that. Just…" his hands clasped more tightly together. "please…" the word came out grudgingly, but still he wasn't able to hide the undertone of desperation, of absolute longing and need.

Jeannie wiped at her eyes, reaching in to her purse to pull a tissue.

"I'm sorry." She said. "I'm sorry, it's just… it isn't you. You've never disappointed me Jack. I didn't… didn't mean for it to s-sound that way."

"But you're sorry for me, is that it?" He asked, his voice suddenly resentful.

She said nothing, continuing to look down, still dabbing at her eyes with the tissue.

The Joker huffed, looking away.

"Well don't." He spit.

Several moments would pass in silence then, Jeannie trying hard to control herself, knowing her display was upsetting him. But she found herself unable to quell the tears as they continued relentlessly to gather, thick in her eyes, streaming down her cheeks.

God she had wanted to save him. She had wanted to so much. But she'd finally realized she never could, not if he wasn't willing to let her, not if he couldn't let himself.

Her heart broke for him; for how sick he was, how lost. For the fact that he'd been made this way through people's cruelty. The fact that they'd stolen from him what made him beautiful, that they hadn't allowed him to be what he was.

They'd strangled all the hope from him, and now, no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't give it back to him, couldn't make him believe again that anything would be alright, that anything could be good.

Her love hadn't been enough to rescue him from people's hatred, to save him from their jealousy and their fear and their selfishness.

It hadn't been enough.

Batman stood, as still as before, watching the Joker closely.

What he'd said concerned him. The Joker's will was indeed a strong one. The strongest the vigilante had ever, really encountered, loath as he was to admit it. If he now was aware of Jack's presence within him, and truly determined to quash him down, the crusader feared there would be no hope then of Jack ever reemerging. If that was what the Joker truly wanted.

But something in the way he acted… He cared for Jeanette still. It was apparent, and something the madman hadn't even been able to deny to him. In all the years Batman had known the Joker, he'd never known him to care for anybody, for no one and nothing.

The fact he cared at all for this woman, no matter how miniscule the emotion may have been, like Jeanette had said, it was proof enough that the man within him, the man he had been, was still alive, still fighting.

And that gave Bruce hope.

It gave him hope that maybe, underneath it all, the Joker did want to be rescued. And maybe, now, because he'd seen again what it is to be loved, truly loved, maybe he wouldn't be able to shut himself off anymore, detach himself from the world, and from caring like he for so long had. Maybe that kind of apathy would now be beyond him.

Batman hoped.

For all their sakes, he hoped.

Jeannie continued to cry, still trying in vain to stop herself.

And finally the Joker again glanced at her, that same sinking depression returning as he took in her state.

He couldn't bare it.

He wanted to make it stop.

He sighed, rolling his eyes up to the ceiling. And for a moment, he said nothing, wondering if he should.

But then finally he forced himself to, disgusted at himself for his feelings of doubt.

"What about…" he started, hesitating a second longer. "your work?" He finally asked. "You were head editor at the Gazette. What are you going to do for money?"

Jeannie looked up at him, continuing to wipe at her eyes, unsure if she'd heard him correctly.

"I'm sorry?" She asked.

"Money." He shot, trying to sound exasperated. "What are you going to do for money? San Francisco is almost an expensive as Gotham. It won't be… easy…" his voice suddenly began to grow softer. "… supporting two people on a single income." He looked away from her then, his eyes casting to the ground, memories filling his head, the two of them together, struggling to survive on his meager wages, trapped in the hellhole of the Narrows.

"…O-oh…" she said. "I…" she ran a hand through her hair. "They gave me my old job back, on the San Francisco Times. The… the pay isn't as good, but it's a smaller paper."

She looked down again.

"We should be… alright… I guess." Her voice trailed off, sounding unconvinced of her own words.

He looked back to her, and the thought ran through his mind that he should contact one of his men, have him send her money. He had so damn much of it and he didn't care in the least about any of it. But no, he realized, that would probably make her angry. She wouldn't want it. Stolen cash.

But it was the only kind he had, and he had no other way to help her.

So he said nothing, turning away again and focusing on the wall ahead, his eyes then roaming over the only other fixtures in his cell, a neglected sink and toilet.

Minutes past in silence then, neither of them knowing what to say anymore.

She was afraid to go. Afraid to leave him here, by himself, with no one and nothing.

It seemed so inevitable, all of this; the terrible finality of it leaving her cold inside, empty.

That this time would be the last time she ever saw him again, and to know he would be lost to her then, for good now, forever, it was like knowing he was going to die, and her being powerless to stop it. Just like before, like fifteen years ago.

She'd thought endlessly about the night Jack hadn't come home to her, unable to get it from her head. It had kept her awake, unable to sleep as her thoughts filled with the terrible images and sounds.

Jack had been like a child. As vulnerable as a child, as innocent.

And her guilt all these years had been a near unbearable weight. Because, when he'd needed her, when he'd needed her help, when he'd needed someone to save him, she hadn't been there. She hadn't been there for him. Hadn't been there to protect him, to hold his hand and let him know he wasn't alone, let him know he was going to be alright.

The pictures assaulted her imagination. Of Jack, of her beautiful, sweet boy, her innocent boy, all alone, caught in a hailstorm of violence and corruption and cruelty. In a world he could never have possibly understood.

God, he must have been so scared.

And she hadn't been there to help him.

She'd had nightmares, terrible nightmares where she would see him, off in the distance. And it was always the same. He'd be sunk down, arms wrapped around himself, curled in on himself, the way he was whenever he was frightened. And somehow she knew he was crying. She would try calling out to him, try running towards him. But no matter how much she ran, she never seemed to get any closer, and he never seemed able to hear her. And then, from the ground around him, she would see hideous monsters, clawing their way up from the dirt, surrounding him, circling him and drawing in closer. She would scream, yell for them to stay away, to get away from him. But they never listened. And then she would hear Jack, crying out her name, begging her to help him, to save him, his voice desperate and broken. The monsters would come nearer, and he would stand, backing away. She would keep running, never getting any closer, calling back to him at the top of her lungs, telling him she was here, right here, that she was coming. But he couldn't hear her. And she couldn't reach him. The monsters would draw closer, within reach of him, and then they would lash out, grabbing hold, on to his arms and legs, and they would begin to pull him, drag him down. And she could hear him screaming, crying and pleading, still calling for her, still begging for her to save him. But she couldn't, she couldn't, she couldn't. The ground would start to open up, and the monsters would begin to pull him in, drag him beneath the dirt from which they came. And she could do nothing. Nothing. Until, at last, the earth swallowed him up, his cries silenced as he disappeared from her view, and she would fall to the ground, on her knees, her hands tangled in her hair, ripping at it, pulling viciously as her own, tortured sobs rose up from her throat, her entire frame wracked with heaving sobs.

Then she'd turn around and find herself in a house of endless passageways and rooms. Jack would be standing with his back to her at the end of a long hallway, still as a grave. He was covered from head to foot with the slime and dirt of the monsters. She'd cry out for him as she approached, but he wouldn't turn around until that last, terrible moment where she was standing but a few feet behind him. He'd turn around, his eyes dark and accusatory, filled with a hate she'd never seen before.

Then the skin of his face would melt away, revealing a bleached-white, grinning skull. Screaming, she'd wake up,

Jeannie was a rational woman who didn't believe in premonitions. But recalling the dream in the light of the last few months' events, she'd had to wonder if there hadn't been something to it.

She hadn't been able to save him. He'd cried for her, and she hadn't been there.

All she could think of sometimes was that night, and how scared he must have been.

That night when something so terrible had happened to him, that he hadn't been able to make it back to her. When she knew if he could have… if he could have, he would. He would have come back to her.

For years, she'd tortured herself, imagining he'd been kidnapped by mob dealers, imagined that they'd tortured him for days before finally killing him. Imagined them desecrating his body, cutting him in to pieces and throwing him in the harbor. Or worse still, that they'd weighed him down and thrown him in while he was still alive, letting him drown.

And like in her dream, she thought of him calling for her, needing her, like when he used to wake from his own nightmares, crying her name, lost and confused and terrified. Only then she'd been by his side, able to hold him and kiss him and tell him it was alright. But not that night. Not when it really mattered. And she would dissolve in to sobs at the thought, at how truly alone he'd been in that moment when he'd needed her most.

She'd found out since then what had really happened, that night at Ace, what had become of him, what had kept him from coming home to her, and the reality was no less worse then what her mind had conjured up. In some ways even it had been worse, him lost and alone, addled by mental illness for the last fifteen years, trapped in a constant state of confusion, no memory of his past to cling to, no identity, no connection. Nothing but the feeling of being utterly by himself, and the pain inflicted on him by years and years of abuse, no context for it, no memory of what had caused it. Only the pain and nothing more.

Her gaze shifted back up to him. There he was, sitting right in front of her. But still he was so far away. Still she couldn't reach him.

She feared so terribly what should happen if Jack were to resurface again and she wasn't here.

The Joker had said he wouldn't let that happen, that he would forever keep that part of himself repressed now. But she couldn't quite believe it, couldn't let herself believe it. The Joker was Jack, whether he would admit to it or not. Deep down, underneath it all, he was still the boy she fell in love with. And that boy was stronger then he'd ever given himself credit for. Stronger then he was giving himself credit for now.

She didn't want to leave him.

But he was leaving her no choice. She couldn't make him see her anymore if he didn't want to.

And she didn't want to force this on him anymore.

"Jack?" She began quietly, having finally gained control over her crying, her eyes now red.

And he looked at her.

"Jack, I… I don't have much time left. I have to be at the airport in an hour."

He continued to look at her a long moment until, finally, his eyes cast down and he nodded.

"Okay."

Her brow furrowed as her emotion welled back.

Oh Jesus, he was still so much like he used to be, and he didn't even realize it.

How was she going to do this? How was she going to leave him?

"Jack, I…" she paused, looking down, feeling herself begin to tremble with her nerves. "I wanted to ask you for something before… before I go…"

Again he looked to her, and she looked up to him. And in that moment, his face was nearly enough to bring her to tears.

All of the anger had gone, all of the meanness and indifference, all of the annoyance and frustration. And all that was left now was questioning, attentive expectation, him waiting patiently for her to ask, the expression so incredibly like how he'd looked, so long ago, when he'd been so young, and he'd listened to her whenever she spoke with the greatest care and most focused attention. When he'd paid her his absolute respect, never ignoring her, never dismissing her or only pretending to hear what she'd said. When he'd looked at her as though she were the most beautiful creature on this earth, treated her with a tenderness and a love so deep, it had at times been enough to make her cry. When she'd seen in his eyes and his actions that she was more important to him, meant more to him, then anything else in the world, and that he would have given everything for her, given his own life.

And now the tears did return to her eyes, sliding down her face. But she held his gaze, and when she spoke, her voice came out strong and steady.

"I want to kiss you Jack." She said. "Will you… will you let me kiss you? Like that day on the bleachers? Like that first time?"

He stared at her a moment, unmoving, his expression unchanging.

And then he blinked, his brow furrowing, and in his eyes shown unhidden pain.

"Y… you want to… you want to kiss me?" He questioned.

And there was the same sort of confusion in his voice as when she'd first told him so, twenty-five years before, the same disbelief.

And she realized it was the same for him now as it had been then.

He still didn't believe anyone could ever love him.

She nodded her head, once more wiping the tears which streaked her face.

"If… if you'll let me. If you want me to."

He stared at her a long time then, just sitting there on his cells cot, only his light green eyes moving, back and forth as they stayed transfixed on her own.

He was thinking, she knew. Maybe wondering if she was sincere. She was, and he would see it. Maybe wondering if he should, if he could allow himself that kind of vulnerability.

Maybe he was scared, like he'd been scared the first time they'd kissed, and he hadn't known what to do. When she'd had to show him, help him and reassure him. Like the first time they'd made love. Like the first time they'd done so many things together, and he'd always been so unsure because he'd never been allowed anything in his life.

And then finally, his expression changed. He blinked rapidly, repeatedly, as though coming out of some kind of trance, and he turned his face away from her, his hand coming up, wiping quickly at his eyes. He swallowed thickly.

"I'd like that…" he said, his voice just barely a whisper.

She exhaled loudly, shakily, the release of tension, and then a sudden nervousness.

"You… you would?" She asked, uncertain.

And he only nodded, his face still turned away.

For a moment longer, she looked at him, fearful somehow it wasn't true, or that he might suddenly change his mind.

But he only sat there, not moving, not looking at her, only waiting.

Until finally she knew he meant it.

And she turned to Batman, looking up at him.

The vigilante looked back at her, giving a vague nod before looking up, past her, beckoning someone forward with his hand from behind the corridor doorway outside the ward.

A moment later, and that door opened, and through it came a security guard.

"She'll be let in now." Batman said to him.

The man looked at him skeptically, then at Jeannie, before tossing a glance at the Joker before going back to the crusader.

"You sure about this Batman?" He asked. "You know we can't be held responsible should anything happen to h…"

"We're sure." He cut the guard off, looking to Jeannie, who in turn gave him a nod.

The guard shrugged, grabbing hold of his keys and moving for the cell door.

"Hey, it ain't my neck on the line here." He said carelessly.

He stopped cold when he looked up in to the cell and saw the Joker, staring directly at him, eyes unblinking and hard. And the man was fast to look down then, unable to hide his slightly trembling hands as he found the correct keycard, having a bit of difficulty placing and sliding it down the reader.

Inside was another door, leading directly in to the cell, a different key required for it.

Both Jeannie and Batman moved forward, waiting to be let in.

And as soon as the guard had slid the second key and the reader gave a loud beep, indicating the lock had been undone, the detective grabbed hold of the doors handle, opening it only a crack before he looked down at the other man.

"Leave." He said.

The guard didn't have to be told twice, scurrying off and disappearing through the corridor entry.

"I'll be right here." Batman said to Jeannie, looking pointedly down at her.

She only nodded, her gaze fixed forward.

She was anxious. Nervous. But not for fear of him. Not for fear of him hurting her. Somehow she just knew he wouldn't.

It was fear of her own emotions, of what she would feel when she… when she touched him… held him for the first time in… for the first time in fifteen years. She feared her ability to let him go then, to walk away.

But she had to do this. She had to do this for herself, and for him. To just give them this one, last moment together.

She remembered the evening before he'd left for the comedy club, that last night.

He'd been acting strangely for the past week, she recalled. Ever since that night he'd come home with his clothes cut to ribbons. But when she'd tried talking to him about it, he'd shut down. And she'd known then something was wrong. That something was terribly wrong. But she hadn't known then how to deal with it. What to do or say. She realized now, in retrospect, she should have forced him to tell her. He always had told her when she became stern, when she'd reprimanded him. But she'd been trying not to do that, she recalled, thinking it wrong to always treat him like a child. She remembered thinking he would never be able to function properly is she kept that up. But that one time… that one time, God damn it, she should have.

Instead she'd grown frustrated with him. Times had been stressful. She'd been six months pregnant, unable to work, and they'd barely been getting by on the wages he'd been making from his job at Ace.

And then he'd quit, wanting to try his hand at stand up comedy, the notion having somehow entered his head that it was necessary for him to focus 100 % of his time on it. She knew now of course where that notion had come from. That that man, Charlie Zucko, had convinced him of it. And she hadn't told him no because she'd known it was a dream of his, that it had been something he always wanted to do. And she'd known how much courage it took him to get up on a stage in front of people and try, when he'd always had so much difficulty even just talking to a person, face to face.

But because of it all, the money hadn't been there. He wouldn't get paid by the comedy club unless they'd decided to book him as a regular act. At the time she thought they had, because he hadn't told her he'd been let go after his initial performance. She'd understood, if he was booked as a regular, he would be paid weekly. And because he'd been at the club only a week when he'd disappeared, she hadn't suspected anything amiss when he hadn't yet brought home any money.

But she remembered losing her patience in that last week, the accumulation of everything becoming too much. Bills were piling up on the welcome mat, and her pregnancy hormones were going haywire. And she'd snapped at him. Yelled at him. Three days before she would lose him.

It had been the first time she'd ever, really done that.

And she'd never hated herself more then in the moments after, and then the days, and the weeks…

She could still hear herself, hear her hard-edged voice, telling him… screaming at him…

"God DAMN it Jack, when are you going to grow the hell UP? I can't keep CARRYING you like this! You act like a fucking child! You won't talk to me! And I can't HELP you if you won't fucking LET me!"

She hadn't meant it. She hadn't meant any of it. It had just been her frustration getting the better of her. But even as the words had been leaving her mouth, she'd already begun to regret it.

He'd flinched visibly, she remembered, his face lining in immediate pain as he looked away from her, his head bowing low, eyes casting to the floor. And then he'd stepped back, arms coming up, wrapping around himself.

He'd turned from her, and she'd known, even before seeing the tremor running through his thin frame, she'd made him cry.

And she'd hated herself so deeply then, the worst kind of disgust, aimed at her own stupidity.

"… I'm sorry." He'd said, his voice shaking, so soft she'd barely caught it.

And she'd immediately gone to him, wrapping her arms around him, pulling him as tight against her as she could. She remembered the feel of him, of him trembling in her grasp, and how her own tears had come to her eyes then, sickened by what she'd done.

"I'm sorry Jack. Oh God, I… I'm so, so sorry. I didn't mean that. I didn't. I love you baby. I love you so much."

But it hadn't been enough.

He'd eventually pulled out of her arms, muttering about how he was tired and wanted to go to bed.

They wouldn't speak again until the next morning, and when they did, he'd only been able to keep telling her he was sorry, over and over, and she'd known her words had stayed with him. But still he wouldn't talk to her, wouldn't tell her what was so troubling him, and eventually, she'd given up, once more allowing her stress and frustration to take hold.

It was almost as if he'd … he'd known.

Known that he'd be going away soon. Accepted that things could never get better for him, for the both of them. That there could be no happy ending to their story.

That last night, before he'd left, she remembered so clearly, and still her heart bleed with the recollection…

She'd been sitting at the kitchen table, reading a magazine or a newspaper… He'd tried hugging her goodbye, she remembered. He'd come up behind her, wrapping his arms around her, kissing the top of her head before gently resting his chin there.

"I'm going now Jeannie." He'd said.

But she hadn't answered, continuing to pretend as though she were absorbed in whatever it was she'd been reading.

She'd felt his arms around her loosen a little then, several seconds passing in silence. And she'd known he was waiting for her to say something. Anything. But she'd been so annoyed… so confused.

She'd said nothing.

And finally he'd shifted, straightening as he unwrapped his arms completely.

For a moment he'd kept his hands rested on her shoulders, and then she'd felt him move one to the top of her head, gently cupping her crown in his palm.

"Please don't be mad at me Jeannie." He'd whispered. "Please, I…"

"You're going to be late Jack." She'd cut him off. And she remembered how cold she'd sounded.

Why had she done that? Why had she spoken to him that way?

He'd fallen silent then, several more seconds passing without words. Until at last his hand slipped from the top of her head, and she heard his footsteps as he backed away.

A long moment more, and she remembered how she could feel him still standing there, looking at her.

And then she'd heard him say, his voice quiet…

"I love you Jeannie."

And her eyes had closed, tears stinging the backs of them, her head bowing down.

"I know Jack." She'd answered, her back still to him. "Now go. Y… you're going to be late. I'll… I'll see you later. Okay?"

But he hadn't replied. And so she'd pushed him.

"Okay!"

A few seconds more, and she heard him breathe out in a whisper, his voice shaking…

"Okay."

And then she'd heard the door open, a moment later closing behind him.

And she'd turned to find an empty space, him no longer there.

And only then did she realize that she hadn't told him she loved him back.

She didn't know it at that moment, but that space would never be filled again.

She remembered leaping from her chair, going for the door and tearing it open, running out in to the street, searching frantically for him. Because he needed to know, he needed to know she loved him. And she'd… she'd forgotten to say it… she'd only forgotten.

… But he'd already gone.

It had been too late.

And she wouldn't see him later.

Because he never came back that night.

Or the next.

Or the next after that.

Until the days he was gone from her life had all merged together in to one, great, unending nightmare.

Until at last she realized, really realized… he wasn't ever coming back. Because he was gone. Truly gone.

And she hadn't told him she loved him.

She hadn't been there to save him.

She'd telephoned the police, the hospitals; even the ones outside the city limits. Nobody had been admitted or booked under the name 'Jack Napier' in the last two months. She pounded the pavement each night, heavily pregnant, risking her life, visiting every single soup kitchen, bums' hostel and run-down hotel on the off-chance Jack was wandering with amnesia, lost and homeless. She spoke to everyone who'd known him, even vaguely or by sight alone, drawing a blank each time. She'd even gone down to Zucko's club, only to find the place in darkness and boarded up. From what little she'd managed to glean, Zucko had been arrested, sent to Blackgate, and his club shut down by the authorities.

One afternoon a hospital in Newark contacted her, confirming that they had recently admitted a Jack Napier, treating him for a dislocated thumb. Jeannie had allowed her hopes to soar for a matter of seconds before the receptionist informed her that the Mr. Napier in question was seventy-five years old and had lived in the Newark area since 1968.

A few days later, she'd gone into labor.

A few months later, her friend mailed her an air ticket and she left for San Francisco, with baby Rory.

A couple of weeks after that, the Joker made his first deadly appearance in Gotham City.

She looked down, feeling her heart pounding heavy in his chest as she tried to ready herself, praying, hoping beyond hope that she may be able to set right, if not wholly, then at least part-way that wrong, committed so very long ago.

Even if Jack wasn't the same man she'd let go that night, still, there was a part of him that was. She knew that. And he deserved to know she loved him. Even if she hadn't been able to save him, at least she could let him know she loved him, she still loved him.

Because she knew that was all Jack had ever been searching for. His whole life. Beyond the cruelty of people, beyond everything they'd ever made him suffer, he'd searched for love. And he had to know… he had to, that in her, he'd found it. He'd truly found it.

And maybe someday, if not today, if not in ten years, or in twenty, if not in thirty or even forty, maybe someday, that would be enough. To know he'd been loved, truly and purely, for himself and for nothing else, someday, maybe, that would be his salvation, and he would be delivered from the darkness which had so mercilessly followed him. And which had refused ever to let him go.

If she could do that for him, Jeannie knew, for her, that would be enough.

Finally she looked up, nodding.

And Batman didn't hesitate, pulling the door open.

She stood there in the threshold, her gaze immediately upon him.

And he looked back, sitting there still on his cot.

And for a moment which seemed forever, neither of them moved, each of their eyes locked on the others.

Bruce stood back, watching and silent.

He wouldn't enter the cell with her.

He had no place in there now.

He would only stand by, only move if the Joker gave him cause to.

But somehow he knew that wouldn't happen.

Jeannie realized then she'd been holding her breath. And with a shutter, she released it, stepping forward.

And not a moment past more, he rose to meet her, then standing still, waiting, not daring to motion towards her. Because it could only be disrespectful, he thought, he stepping to her. It would be her decision to touch him. Only hers.

He wouldn't interfere.

It would be only an instant more she hesitated, her eyes taking him in, before her years of desperate longing took hold.

She moved for him, covering the tiny space in seeming a flash.

And suddenly she was upon him, wrapping her arms around him, pressing herself to him, her head against his chest. Her hands locked together behind his back, as if to do so would keep him with her always.

He held her back as tight, resting his cheek atop her head, holding on to her as if she were the only thing left in the world to cling to, the only thing left at all.

It was all that mattered then. To have her for that one moment, even knowing he would never have her again, for that one moment, it was all that mattered.

Their eyes closed, and for a second, it was almost like being back in their apartment, like the day they'd moved in, just the two of them. Together.

Their future had seemed so bright then.

They'd been so young. The whole world stretched out before them, waiting. An endless road of potential. Of possibilities. There for them to take, and to hold, and to have.

There'd been hope, and love, and promise.

They'd had each other.

And that was all they'd needed.

That was all either of them had ever needed.

For minutes they clung to each other, neither moving, neither speaking, surrounded only by silence.

Tears ran down her face, soaking through the thin material of his shirt, and he could feel it against his skin.

His arms wrapped tighter.

And she shuttered, exhaling loudly.

"Jack…" she breathed. "Oh God, Jack, I love you. I love you so much."

Finally she motioned with her head to look up at him, and he let her, him in turn looking down.

She unlocked her hands, pressing one against his chest, reaching up with the other, cupping gently the side of his face.

Her fingers ran along the terrible scars which now adorned his once perfect visage, feeling the disfigured tissue. They were smooth, so unlike how they looked, ragged and gnarled and ugly. Like pain.

Her watched her, unmoving.

She blinked, more tears falling from her eyes, down her cheeks.

"I'll always love you Jack." She whispered. "No matter what. I'll always love you."

Her hand moved up, her fingers running in to his hair, running through it.

"And I'll never…" her head shook. "I'll never regret us meeting again. Even if it…" she had to pause, her voice seizing in her throat. "… even if it can't be the same for us ever again…" and now her voice broke heavily, strained with the sobs which threatened at the back of her throat. "I'll always treasure this time we had together. That we could… that we could find each other again, even if… even if only for a little while… it means everything to me Jack. You mean everything to me…"

He looked at her, looked in to her face a long while, his own lined in an emotion he no longer tried to hide. He said nothing, his eyes speaking of the intensity of what he felt. They were focused, seeming to shine, wet, like maybe there should be tears in them. But no tears came. Only his brow creasing in unspoken longing. And regret. And pain.

And then suddenly he shifted, taking gentle hold of her hand within his own, hers disappearing beneath the great width of his palm and long fingers. He pulled it from his face. And then he bent down, so that his lips were beside her ear.

And he whispered to her…

"I love you too Jeannie."

Her heart lifted.

And with it a sob, rising up from her throat and past her lips, and more tears. Tears of relief, of joy and sorrow, hope and longing and wishing and praying.

She wished this could last. She wanted it to last so much.

She reached up, taking hold of his face in her hands. And with no need for thought, with no doubt, no fear, she stood up on her toes, pulling him down the rest of the way to meet her.

She pressed her lips to his, kissing him gently, her eyes closing.

And oh God, he tasted the same.

The only thing keeping her from believing it wholly the scars which now ruined his mouth.

He kissed her back, his eyes drifting shut with her own.

And memory exploded within his mind.

A wave of emotion so strong it was suffocating.

He felt warm suddenly, safe. Like everything would be alright.

When all his life, he could only remember the feeling that nothing would.

Tears stung the back of his eyes. Threatening, threatening.

But he forced them away.

Because he didn't cry.

The Joker didn't cry.

Even when he wanted to.

She'd been the only one. The only memory from a better forgotten past which hadn't caused him shame, which hadn't humiliated and hurt him, or made him hate himself.

The only one who'd ever treated him as though he were worth anything at all.

The only one who'd ever loved him.

And made him think of what it was to be loved…

He couldn't do this.

Oh Jesus, he couldn't.

Because it was only her who'd made him realize himself even capable of such a thing.

But she was beautiful.

And he was ruined.

And he would ruin her.

Because that was what he did.

That was what the Joker did.

He ruined beautiful things.

He ruined everything.

And a beautiful thing he loved…

He knew himself. He knew himself well.

He would ruin her completely.

And he couldn't allow that.

He couldn't allow himself to destroy the one person who'd ever loved him. Who'd ever in turn made him feel the same.

He pulled back, forcing himself out of her reach. Forcing himself to let go because if he didn't now, he wasn't sure if he'd ever be able to again.

He feared his own undeterrable desire, and the inescapable truth of his destructive nature. How all things he sought out, he eventually sought out to undo.

His arms slipped from around her, his eyes casting down.

"Jeannie, you have to leave." And his voice was a whisper.

She looked up at him, her vision blurred by the still thick tears in her eyes.

"Jack, I…" she began to reach up, towards his face.

But he turned from her, moving away. Towards the opposite wall.

"Please, just… you have to go. Please just go now."

She watched him with his back to her, saying nothing, she silent in return.

He was suddenly tense, she saw. His hands clenching to fists at his side, his shoulders rigid, head bowing low.

This was so hard. God, it was so unbearably hard.

She hadn't thought it would be this hard.

She heard him exhale, the breath shuttering. His hands lifted, pressing flat against the wall before him, leaning in to it.

And then he spoke, and his voice was shaking…

"Just go now please, before it's too late. You have to leave me."

She blinked, her hands shaking as they came up to wipe at her eyes.

"T… too late?" She questioned. "Jack, what do you…"

"Don't you understand?" He cut her short, spinning suddenly round to face her. "You have to go while you can. While… while I'll let you."

She could hear in his voice he was straining, fighting against his threatening emotion.

"If you keep trying to give this to me, trying to give me what I can't have… eventually I won't be able to accept it. I won't be able to let you go. And I'll come after you Jeannie, I'll…"

His face crumpled, and quickly he again turned from her, pressing his hands against the wall, leaning his forehead on to it.

His head shook.

"Don't you see?" And his voice was so soft now she barely could hear him. "I'll come after you, and I'll… I'll ruin you. I'll destroy you and Rory both."

Long seconds past in silence then as he continued to lean against the wall, turned from her, too shamed to look at her.

"Everything…" he whispered. "everything around me becomes chaos."

His eyes closed tighter shut. He felt a single tear run down his cheek, and quickly he wiped it away.

"Please don't let me do that to you." He breathed. "Go now and leave me. Forget me. You have to forget me."

Her head shook.

"I couldn't forget you Jack."

"You have to!" He suddenly spit, his voice louder. "Forget me completely. Don't write to me, don't try and see me. Forget I exist. The boy you love is dead Jeannie. He died fifteen years ago and he isn't coming back. You knew that before. You have to know it again. Accept it as you had. For your sake… for… for our son's… I'm dead like you always believed. I'm dead."

Her head continued to shake, her tears relentless.

"No Jack. Don't say that. Please don't say that."

But he only shook his head in return.

"Just go." He said. "Just leave me alone. Don't you understand? That's all I'm meant to be. That's all I was ever meant to be."

For minutes then she stood in silence, watching him, his back still to her. He wouldn't turn around. He wouldn't look at her.

Until finally she did understand.

There was no changing this.

No changing any of this.

No changing what had happened.

It was done. It was over.

And with the realization, she had to look away from him.

Maybe he was right.

Maybe he always had been meant to be alone.

Maybe that had always been his fate.

Maybe she wasn't supposed to have gone up to him that day in class, 31 years ago. Wasn't supposed to have talked to him.

Wasn't supposed to have become his friend.

And then his lover.

And then his wife.

Maybe she was supposed to have ignored him and dismissed him, and treated him like he was worth nothing. Like all the other children had done.

And he'd never been meant to have anyone.

Meant always to be alone.

Maybe that was why everything had always seemed to go so wrong for them, why wherever they went, a darkness had followed.

And they hadn't been able to escape it, locked on a course with an inevitable outcome, no way off, no way out.

Fate righting a wrong.

She'd felt it, hadn't she? Since the beginning.

She'd felt it.

Something bad was going to happen to Jack.

And he wasn't going to be alright.

But she couldn't believe that.

She couldn't.

No matter how bad things had become, no matter how horribly they'd turned out… she and him had belonged together.

Jeannie and Jack.

They'd defied fate, broken through the barriers and every obstacle ever put in their way, and they'd found each other.

An unlikely pair.

A girl from the suburbs, and a boy from the Narrows.

She'd seemed to have it all, on the surface. Her beauty, her wealth, her talent. Parent's who'd provided her with everything she could possibly ever need. Except… except they'd treated her more as a trophy then as a daughter.

Their love for her had always been unsure.

And he…

He had had nothing. Poor, and abused, and stricken with a condition which had made it impossible for him to ever fit in. Blessed with an intelligence which, in the end, had also done to him the same.

And there had been no unsure love from his father.

There had simply been no love at all.

But through that, through perfectly opposite circumstances, and radically different social status, from opposite sides of one of the largest cities on earth, and an age difference of almost four years, they'd found each other. And given the other what each was missing from their lives.

Love.

A love stronger then any fate could ever be.

And that too she'd felt, above everything else.

They were for each other.

Fate be damned.

Their being together was as it should have been, whether it had been meant to be or not.

"Okay Jack." She finally said. "Okay."

And she moved for the door.

Batman stepped aside, anticipating her exit.

But suddenly she stopped, just beside it, and looked down, her hands clenching to fists. She shook, and waited…

Their love had been stronger then fate.

It had brought them together again.

And she would say one thing more to him.

One thing more.

"… Be good to yourself, Jack Napier... Whether you know it or not, you're still the boy I love."

She exited, Batman releasing his hold on the handle. And with the sound of the door locking shut, she fell in to him, crumbling, clinging to him in desperation as she sobbed uncontrollably.

It was over. It was over.

Batman held her back, moving her away gently, to the wards exit.

All he could do.

And the Joker stood, still, listening as her sobs grew further from him, fainter. Listening then as the ward's exit opened, and then closed, and her sobs were near inaudible.

Listening… listening…

Until he heard her no more.

He turned, met with his own reflection in the Plexiglas window of his cell.

For a long time he just stood there, staring at himself, unmoving.

Until finally he let go. And he exhaled with a shuttering breath…

"Jesus… I hate you sometimes."

And only his reflection was there to hear him.

… She was gone.

And he was… alone.

Fin

The end guys!

Okay, but before you get your panties all in a bunch, I've been working diligently on a sequel, which I've already written several chapters too. So there's an option for all of you out there.

Those who prefer the overbearingly sad ending of this tale, you can leave it at that, and simply ignore the sequel I have planned. And for those of you who prefer a continuation of Jack and Jeannie's tale, and not the total loss of hope, you can read the sequel, haha.

I'm going to have an epilogue to this story too at some point, hopefully very soon, which will lead in to the sequel. And you can read that to give you an idea of how we get to the beginning of the next story, sort of, what circumstances took place to lead to that beginning.

Anyway, I can't thank everyone enough for reading this story and for sticking with me through the whole thing, leaving me feedback and favoriting it, etc… Your support has meant the absolute world to me.

I've really loved writing these characters and creating this little world for them, and I'm happy you all have enjoyed it too. If you get the chance, please leave me a review and tell me your thoughts. And I promise I'll get back to all of you.

Hope you enjoyed.

Once more, a MASSIVE thank you to my beta, TheMadCapLaughs, for her amazing inspiration and contributions to this chapter and to this story all around. I never would have finished it without her.

Tell me what you think guys and Happy New Year!