Wow...I'm SO sorry for the long delay in updates. I will put up another chapter soon, kay? Work has been dramatic (leaving that sinking ship anyway), so I will have more time. Plus...I'm suddenly getting more ideas for Painted keep your eyes peeled. *wink* Enjoy this short chap, then, if you will. Just a glimpse at the beginning of Jack and Cat. Please read and review. - AS

Jack eagerly paced in front of a bench near a hot dog stand, peering out from underneath the shade of the tall elm at the people passing by. Some were jogging, others walking with a friend or even trying to keep an eye on their children as they ran ahead of their parents to make a beeline to the jungle gym.

He smiled at one little boy that happily ran up to the bars, climbed them and then jumped with arms outstretched, making his startled mother frantically shout his name as he successfully caught the bar just over his head.

Jack chuckled, remembering the time he did that to Harley, who nearly had a panic attack when she had looked up from her book and saw her son flying. "Jack Quinn! Don't ever do that again," she had scolded. "Geez, you think you're Superman or somethin'?"

"Look no further, Tiger," came a sweet voice behind him.

Jack turned and met the sparkling green eyes of Cat, who was smiling brightly. She had her black hair pulled back into a tight, low ponytail and was wearing a thin, long-sleeved turquoise hoodie shirt with low-rise black jeans.

He quickly skimmed over her body, but then blinked away, but Cat just smiled wider at his coyness.

"What?" he asked.

She shook her head. "Oh, nothin'. I'm just relieved it was you. I'd be a bit embarrassed if it were anyone else."

He laughed. "Well, I'm sure they wouldn't be..."

Cat bit her tongue and looked around. "I'm starving. Where's that hot dog you promised me?"

"Gah, you just got here and you're already expecting me to buy you food?"

She pursed her lips. "You should know by now, Jack, that girls never turn down free lunch."

They were soon sitting quietly on the bench as they ate, Cat watching Jack devour his hot dog that was dripping with ketchup. He saw her and she quickly cut her eyes away and took a big bite of hers.

Not a word had been spoken while they ate until Jack suddenly blurted, "Did you hear about the Buddhist who ordered a hot dog?"

Cat giggled. "I don't think Buddhists eat pork...wait, those are Buddhists, right?"

He smiled as he shook his head. "Look it isn't a philosophical question..."

"Okay, then," she said. "Tell me about him."

"He told the vendor to make him 'one with everything...'"

She laughed, slightly choking on the mustard from her lunch. "Funny...but it's still a philosophical question if it's got a philosophical answer..."

"It's a punch line, Cat," Jack said.

"For him, or the vendor? That had to be one expensive hot dog."

"Well, enlightenment isn't cheap, you know."

They shared a laugh and sat quietly as they finished their hot dogs, and wiped her mouth with her napkin as she watched him look out toward the park. "How's your eye?" she asked.

"Alright, I guess," he muttered. "Still stings a bit..."

"Man, I wanted to go over to that corner and sock Penguin," she said. "Dirty mother-fucker; he knew he was about to lose some money so he takes the chicken's way out."

"He is a bird...or so he wishes."

Cat sneered. "I've always wondered: why a bird?"

Jack grinned. "Why a cat? Why a plant?"

"Why a clown?" she said, raising an eyebrow.

He looked at her gaze and saw that she was serious. She was just as curious as he was about the other rogues and their identities, especially his father's.

She bit her lip, thinking she had hit a sore spot from the look he gave her. "Sorry...I didn't mean that, the way it sounded. I just find it interesting, is all."

"You're not the only one, Cat," he told her, easing closer to her. "I know there's something rooted in my dad's past that made him associate with the personality or the orthodoxy of a circus performer."

They were quiet again until she spoke, gently, " has nothing to do with the circus, Jack. You think maybe it's because it's his way of making fun of a clown's outlook? A clown makes people laugh, but...he's really the opposite of the customary way society sees a clown. Sure, he's a performer...but only to amuse himself, and not others."

He really had no words for her, but just looked at her with awe as her bright eyes made his heart pound.

She sighed. "Shit...I did it again. Forgive me if you feel I'm going too fast. I'm not interested in you just because of who you are..."

"You're not?" Jack asked. "Dammit..."

She giggled. "Again, not what I mean. That part of you is indeed interesting, but don't think that that isn't all that I want from you." She suddenly turned away and looked at the playground in front of them and Jack could see the slight flush in her cheek.

"Well, then..." he began. "What more do you want, Cat?"

"Okay...maybe I do move fast," she said. "I find you very...charismatic. In a good way, though, like...alluring..."

"I've never had that adjective thrown at me before," he said, smiling. "Thanks..." He sniffed and looked at the playground, too, then said quietly to her, "I find you alluring, too...enthralling, if I may be so bold..."

"Let's go on the merry-go-round," she suggested abruptly, hoping that the childish diversion would soothe her pounding heart as he moved closer to her.

She quickly sprinted to the playground as Jack shrugged and joined her.

Cat sat in the center between two bars as Jack made it spin at a steady pace and jumped onto it, placing himself across from her.

"I've always loved this thing," she said. "I still come out here sometimes when I need to get out of the house. I'd hold onto it and run real fast and then hop on, letting the wind whirl around me. It helps me let go..."

"Of what?" Jack asked.

She looked down and traced her thumb along the bar she was gripping. "Everything..." she whispered.

They let another moment of silence pass between them as they looked at one another. Without thinking, Jack rested his hand on her ankle and asked, " gonna tell me what got you expelled?"

Cat took a deep breath and chuckled, "I, in a fight...a bad one..."

"How bad?"

"Like, put-him-in-the-hospital bad."

"Wait...him?" Jack smiled.

"Yep," she said, grinning at him. "Bastard smacked me really hard on the ass in the hallway and I slapped him. He shoved me into a locker after that."

Jack's ears burned angrily as he imagined some punk pushing her frail body against metal, but his anger receded when she continued, "I pounced on him again, this time with my anatomy book and knocked him right in the back of the head. He went into the concrete wall and busted his nose...had a concussion and he had to stay in the hospital...asshole didn't get in trouble. No, no...the girl who didn't like the way the jock put his hands on her was the one that got expelled."

"That sucks," Jack told her.

"Not too bad...I get to stay home the rest of the year. But my mom was pretty devastated."

"Are you close to her?"

"No...she's actually my step-mom. My real mom was killed in a car wreck when I was five and dad died in a bank heist a few years ago..."

Jack gulped, instantly hoping that the heist wasn't one of The Joker's, but he quickly shook away the thought. "So, do you graduate this year, then?"

"I have to go to summer school before I do know, to take my finals. I could really give a shit, though. I've always learned on my own...I don't wanna go to college. My step-mom wants me to...probably to get me outta the house so she can screw around more with her boyfriend..."

"Speaking of boyfriend," Jack said. "Wouldn't yours be upset if know...saw us right now?"

Cat rolled her eyes. "Who cares? I've been wanting to get rid of that jackass for a while now. He isn't any fun. We've only dated a few weeks."

"You think you'd feel that way about me after a while?" Jack didn't know why that inane question escaped his lips, but he was relieved when she just laughed.

"I can tell that you know how to enjoy yourself...I can read people like a book, Jack," she smiled, slyly.

He smiled, too, and leaned in closer to her. "Then what chapter am I on, Cat?"

Her eyes glistened as she licked her lips. "The one where we make out..."

Jack's heart began to pound again as she giggled when she felt his thumb on her ankle slowing caress her. He looked down and chuckled, but then brought his eyes to hers again, saying, "Why don't we save that for later..."

Cat's anxious expression softly waned but she grinned as he said, "There are children present..."