A/N: I'm still alive! Sorry for the delay; it's a little bit longer chapter this time around. I hope people are still here to read it. Had a few summer classes and severe anxiety issues this summer so it was tough finding time to write. College starts next week, so I'll be just as slow with the next update. I'm apologizing in advance for any grammatical screw-ups or if this is absolutely terrible. It was a beast to write.

Thank you for ALL the reviews! I'm shocked there are still so many; I would be happy with just one at this point.

My OTP is tough to choose, but I'm willing to bank on Zutara. Either that or Clara/Doctor (any of them).

Disclaimer: I own nothing in the comics nor in Nolanverse Batman. Or any lyrics and songs that are used. Off you pop.


Chapter Thirty-Four: Clear as Mud

I'm creeping back to life.

My nervous system all awry.

I'm wearing the inside out.

~Pink Floyd, Wearing the Inside Out


"Ames?"

"Hm?"

"Put down your book."

"Nah."

"Put down your book and look at me."

I reluctantly set my copy of Cujo aside on the couch and look my dear mother in the face. "What?"

"I know you don't tell me about school, but I know your prom is in two weeks"

Piss. She knows. "I'm not going." I pick up my Stephen King novel again. Yes, I'm that kind of girl. I hear Mom heave a heavy sigh but choose to ignore it as I finish the line I was reading and turn the page. I experience a small pinch of guilt as I realize I do nothing but stomp down on what could be making my mother happy. It's my senior year, my last semester to boot, and I'm finding it harder to care about what I do in high school. "I didn't go last year, and you didn't say anything about it then."

She lets that go. "It's a high school experience that you won't get to have again. I'm pretty sure with your empty track record you won't be getting married. So when else will I see you in a pretty dress?"

I wince. Ouch. "Rude," I remark, my eyes moving to the adjoining page. She's probably right. "It's not like I have anyone to go with. I'd have to drag them kicking and screaming." I swallow pathetically.

A pause. "What about that Jonathan boy?"

I choke on my spit.

"He seems to be the only friend you have," she continues.

Wheezing, I gargle out, "You don't know him at all!" The thought of Jonathan with his round glasses and long hair in a tuxedo is nearly impossible to conjure up. Once I manage to, I almost send myself into a fit of laughter.

Mom pouts as she drums her fingers on her slim thigh. "Why not?"

I smile painfully. "He's the coldest and stuffiest person I know. No chance."

She doesn't let the topic expire for another ten minutes. I'm forced to shake her off by going outside into the night spring air and sitting on our front step. I rest my head in my hands, pressing the heels of my palms into my eyelids. I see the blackest black before my eyelids start to throb. Unfortunately, the topic of our discussion is something that wants to stay in my head.

Jonathan, not the prom. I could care less about that hogwash. Jonathan and I are a problem. With a month and a half left in our senior year, we don't have much time left together. In the time we've had, I still, STILL, have no idea what we are. I've asked myself a thousand times.

A warm night breeze rustles my hair.

Are we mere acquaintances? Friends? Saviors? Romantic interests? As for the last one, most people might think so. He doesn't.

…do I?

When I'm with him, I'm happy. Does that count? I show my fullest range of emotions with him. His snarkiness and cold demeanor, both of which can be irritating at times, I do like. I admire and fear his wit, intelligence, and passion for the human mind. His eyes are gorgeous and his face is pretty, and he's not as short as he used to be. We are cruel and kind to each other in turn. For some reason, he is what I think about most of the time, even if not romantically.

What I suddenly realize is that when I'm thinking about him, my mouth slips into a smile. Like it has now. Startled, I make it melt away as I let out an exasperated hiss.

Well holy shit. I have a crush on Jonathan Crane.

Friend crush, I correct myself. I wouldn't call it romantic in the slightest. I want to be with him, but I don't want to be with him. I've never once dreamed of couply things like cuddling or holding hands. For us, that would be utterly wrong. God, it's taken me this damn long to admit I've been feeling any kind of attraction to him, and I can't even say it's romantic. It's hard to explain; it's almost as if Jonathan has the power to repeatedly cast me away and draw me in.

He's never forced me to be who I'm not, he listens to my ramblings even if he rolls his eyes at them, and he shared some of the most intimate details of his life with me, and I, with him. It's safe to assume for both of us that's a first.

Everything I'm thinking and feeling is foggy, like powdered milk being spilled into clear water. I don't know what I want anymore, from him or myself. At least that itchy feet thing from a couple weeks ago stopped.

My butt has fallen asleep on the cold step. Standing up, I furiously slap out the pins and needles that prick me. At the same time, I gaze off into the distance at the Crane house. One light is on where his bedroom is and the rest of it, terrifyingly dark.

I'm awfully tempted to loiter on the lawn and throw rocks at his window, but it's practically midnight. I'll leave him be. There you are, wanting to do the teasing, flirting thing again.

A constipated sounding groan pours from my throat as I scold myself. Foolish girl, would he really accept you if he knew what you were thinking or what you felt for him? You would be thrown out of his life.

Accurate. I need to avoid screwing up; I'll keep my mouth shut. The hardest part is going to be acting natural around Jonathan, as well as keeping Mom off my arse about prom. It's going to suck having prom shoveled into our faces every moment at school by my fellow students. Thank the stars we only have less than two months to go until it's all over.

As I turn to go back inside, a crow shrieks in the distance I shiver. I haven't heard a single one of them for a few weeks. One caw leads to another, and before long, it escalates into a hoard frenzy that sends goosebumps skittering up my body. Rubbing my upper arms, I furiously hope this isn't a bad omen.


"Just make her shut up already," I hiss under my breath. My complaint drifts across the table to Jonathan, who glances up from his books and mediocre spaghetti. He too practically cringes at the scene taking place in the cafeteria. "Please, can't I throw my garlic bread at her?"

"Be my guest."

I don't have the balls. Summer snagged a nomination for prom queen, probably at the expense of her little clique. She's campaigning, and the teachers aren't doing jack shit about it. Summer is perched on Craig's shoulder with a megaphone, wearing a cheerleading uniform and swinging her perfectly styled blonde hair around.

I'm also happy to see the majority of the cafeteria wrinkling their noses in disgust. In fact, the only ones interested in the campaign seem to be her clique and foaming-at-the-mouth fanboys. Attention seekers… What I wouldn't give to see her tumble from Craig's broad shoulders to the floor. They've stationed this little party right outside the restrooms.

Summer lets out a high-pitched giggle into the megaphone when Craig nibbles on her lean, tanned thigh. "Can you not?" I gag.

"What?" Crane asks, attention back on his reading.

"You don't want to know," I groan. I think the teachers are trying to do something but they're being blocked off by the barricade of high school guys. They don't stand a chance.

Jonathan has little concern to or interest in anything outside his books. I mean, I like reading too, but I don't think I could read what he does and absorb it to boot. And so much of it! It's amazing really… Shit. Am I drooling? I don't think so. He's too busy with his nose in his book to notice. I'm not sure if it's one from the library. "What are you reading that's so interesting anyway?"

"Psychopharmacology. I thought you would expect that by now," Jonathan responds coolly.

I raise my eyebrows. "Again? How many books is that now?"

He ignores me as per usual and continues, "Or a least, I'm trying to read. It's difficult with the uproar."

"Then why don't you do something about it?" I challenge.

He snorts. "It's obviously bothering you more than me. That's your business."

"One: I don't have the guts. Two: as much as I would love to, there are too many people watching. But, depending on how you look at it, there are also a lot of people involved. Would anyone notice?" I'm proud of my logic, but wait…are we just plotting to hurt someone? "They wouldn't be able to pick out who did it."

Both of us sit in silence for a while. Indeed, putting an end to all the commotion would make eating my spaghetti more appealing. However, ten minutes pass, and I could swear we both forget about the idea until Summer's high-pitched giggle slowly drives us even more insane, as do the catcalls and wolf whistles. Was I honestly friends with this girl not even a year ago? With only ten minutes left in the lunch period, more people are watching blankly and fewer are scarfing their food.

I'm starting to give myself a headache from rolling my eyes so much.

"Excuse me," Jonathan says, suddenly standing from our table. I watch in fascination as he finally and nonchalantly makes his way over to the restrooms, going right behind Summer's display.

What happens next happens so quickly and smoothly that even I, paying attention, almost miss it. Jonathan glides slickly behind the group, and he slides something silver and shiny out of his sweater sleeve. Before I can think, Craig howls and lurches to the side. Summer shrieks, wobbles one way, and totters another, waving her arms about wildly. For a moment, it looks like she's managed to steady herself.

She falls. Jonathan is nowhere to be seen.

I stand up as everyone else gasps, but as fortune would have it, she manages to catch the shoulder of one of her clique members on the way down. I rush forward to be stopped short by Jonathan coming out of the bathroom, casually observing the action. Summer has been dismantled enough that she won't start up again with so little time left for lunch. We're both close enough to see Summer pouting and chewing out Craig. Craig has shirt hoisted above his lower back and is cursing up a storm. "I got stabbed! Someone stabbed me!" he howls.

I squint and can see a line of tiny red puncture wounds in his beefy lower back. "What did you do?" I mouth at Jonathan. He gestures at our lunch table and we sit back down. Discreetly, he places a fork back onto his tray with a delicate hand.

I'm unsure if I should be concerned with the obvious violence, laugh at the notion of a jock like Craig being unmanned with a fork, or be impressed with his gall "Why?"

"Annoyances," is all he says. I shake my head in wonder. We get a few suspicious looks as the personal pep rally swaggers by us when the bell rings. "Keep it flowing, Craig," Jonathan says evenly. "Prevent the infection by making it bleed."

"Nerd," Craig sneers.

Jonathan adjusts his glasses as if to say, "Yes, that's me. What of it?" His confidence warms me. Bullied for years, and he hasn't let it take over him. Add his grandmother's abuse on top of it and him having to take care of the very woman who beat him… His mental stronghold must be outstanding. I've never known another human like him, which is part of the reason why I'm so drawn to him. I don't think he has a copy on this planet. I still haven't gotten any response on what happened to his grandmother, though I'm sure he's behind it. The thought doesn't necessarily bug me; after all, she had it coming.

Jonathan and I aren't going to be together much longer, and other than the occasional rendezvous at the grove, we haven't been together a lot outside school. Hell, I don't even know if that's what he wants, even though I want to see him more before the school year ends. I'm assuming too much to act like he gives a damn about me, but he hasn't told me to get lost yet. I can't screw up again.

Because Jonathan pretty much has free reign for whatever reason, he still hasn't broken up our after-school meetings. I'm pleased it hasn't stopped, and I know I don't always initiate it because sometimes, Jon does seek me out. Today, he's already waiting for me, leaned up against Black Jack with his arms crossed over his chest. He must want the next round of books. He literally does nothing other than read. "Hey, stranger," I greet him.

He smirks.

"More books? Is that all you want?" I automatically open the passenger side door.

"I'm not allowed to talk to you if I don't want something?" Jonathan reaches over and quickly shuts the door. I snatch my hand out of the way before it gets crushed. He is still surprisingly inconsiderate.

I nearly blush. "Well, no."

"But you always question it."

I shrug a shoulder. "You can't blame me."

"Maybe I can."

That snark. "Fine," I huff. "And here I thought we might talk about your violent impulses."

"Keep your voice down," Jonathan hisses. I flinch. Sometimes it's tough not to get pulled into our own world

"Sorry," I say flippantly.

"We discussed it at lunch; I'm not sure why you want to continuously rehash old issues."

I kick a rock with my shoe and send it skittering across the cement. "Because regular, nice people don't go to the extent of jabbing people with forks in hopes of making someone else shut up."

"I'd like to point out that you were complaining as well." Sunlight flashes across the lenses of his glasses as he rolls up his sweater sleeves in the heat. His thin, pale arms are flecked with dark hair and free of bruises. I catch myself staring at his glowing skin when Jonathan clears his throat loudly. What's wrong with me?

"You know what? I'll leave it alone," I say. "There's actually another thing I'd like to talk to you about. Or ask you, I guess…"

Jonathan's face becomes wary as it always does every time I have a request for him. "Yes, Ames?"

Goosebumps when he says my damn name. Here it goes. "As I'm positive you know, prom is this Friday."

Jonathan's expression morphs into a look of pure horror. "Ames. No. Are you really inviting me to go to such a trivial event? I can't even begin to explain my distaste for it."

"NO! No," I hurriedly protest. "No, I never would." It was the reaction I was expecting. Eat it, Mom. I bite a nail on my right hand. "If you'll let me finish, I was going to suggest that the two of us meet up and do our own thing before the school year ends, and then I won't see you or bother you again. It seems like our notes stopped and we only exchange books and interact at school. Jonathan, it's not enough." I freeze, hoping I haven't given too much away. I never meant to spill out such a substantial amount.

To my relief, he doesn't address my fears and takes it all in stride. "And here I thought you were being a typical, silly girl."

I shake my head at him. "After all we've been through, you know me better. Anyway, I want you to meet me at Kerrigan Park at 8:30 Friday night. I just want to talk. Honest."

The request hangs in the air for what seems like an eternity. Then slowly, he nods. "It's the park near the butcher's shop, correct?"

"Yeah."

He scours my face with those eyes, as if he thinks I have some hidden agenda. "All right." There's a cold softness in his gaze, like pity.

"So you'll meet me?" I allow myself to get hopeful.

Jonathan raises a shoulder into a half-shrug. "If anyone else asked, Ames, perhaps not, but I have no reason not to." Just like that, he spins around on his heel and strides back to his station wagon. His unpredictability is endless. This leaves me with nothing to do but get inside Black Jack, go home, and wait for Friday.

The rest of the week crawls. When I get home from school that day, I do my best to ignore Mom's disappointed looks. I must be a failure for having no interest in prom. I read more Stephen King, in my room of course, to pass the remaining hours. Once the clock hits six forty-five, I eat a small, silent supper with Mom before trotting back upstairs. Call me silly, but I'm going to try to freshen up for tonight. Maybe I'm trying to impress Jonathan or maybe I'm doing it for me.

Gingerly, I raise my nervous hands to my face and sniff them. "My hands smell like potatoes," I mutter aloud. Wow, Ames. Random.

Pulling out my dresser drawers, I gaze wistfully at a Guns N' Roses shirt but pass over it in favor of a peach blouse that will fail to flatter my less-than-delicate structure. I throw a pair of jeans on and because the clock says it's half past seven, I decide to leave.

I hope to the stars he'll be there.

I drive to Kerrigan Park slowly. It's not quite dark yet, and my heart is thundering like a war drum in my chest. I have no idea what to expect tonight. I'm still shocked he wants to "hang" with me. There's a funny mentality to it, I suppose; while the rest of the high school is showing off or getting laid on prom night, the two oddballs are elsewhere in their own world. I'm aware that we probably aren't the only two skipping, but it feels like it. Especially considering we don't exactly associate with anyone outside of ourselves.

As I cruise through Gotham, I hum along to a Foreigner song that graces the radio. Every so often as I pass a street, the blue and red flashing lights of a police car stain my eyelids. Later in the evening like this, crime usually spikes, but oddly enough, I could swear the city becomes almost peaceful. Less traffic, fewer people traipsing out and about.

Kerrigan Park is located near one of the quieter streets of the city, eerily so. The name itself means "dusky" or "dark," and it's true. The entire entrance and majority of the park are engulfed in shadow at night and in shade during the daytime. It's an Irish name. "Ames," my name, is French, and I always thought it odd considering my father was of Irish descent. I guess my parents didn't want to showcase it.

I also smile to myself. As I had researched at the library one day, my name also means "friend."

Pulling into the parking lot, I spy Jonathan's station wagon on the far end and settle next to it. I cut the truck's engine and sit in my seat for a brief moment to collect my thoughts. I still my trembling hands, slowly exit my truck, and lock the door behind me. To my frustration, I have to struggle against being frozen by my nervousness. Why do I feel so afraid? This isn't that different from our meetings at the grove.

Silly girl. Stupid girl.

Jonathan is nowhere near his car. I scratch my head. He must be in the park already. I change directions and walk toward the entrance. It's dark, a tad creepy, and unsettling as well as soothing. Rubbing my arms, I step into the shadows.

There's a large fountain at the center of the park and a tall statue of a stag perched in the middle of it. The lighting throughout the park is dimmer than any other I have been in, probably to uphold its name. I walk up to the fountain and sit on one of the many benches in the area, and I bask in the eerie gold glow illuminating the walkway and surrounding trees.

"Of course, how stupid am I? Teen girl, even unattractive, sitting in a creepy yet comforting park alone at night is an opportunity for trouble," I ponder out loud. I should've reconsidered, but why wouldn't Jon have waited for me on the outside?

I sigh. "Jonathan, where are you?"

"You called?" a chilling voice answers from behind me.

I jump out of my skin and bite back a scream so all that comes out is a garbled sort of honk. "Cheese and rice, Jon! I'll end you if you ever sneak up on me like that again!" My fuming does nothing to cover up my quaking voice or shivering heart, so I'm sure he can hear it all. Holy adrenaline rush… I try to shake off the cold pinpricks that ghost over my body as a result.

Jonathan's spindly frame comes into sight, and he looks quite mysterious with the dewy glow of the lampposts drenching him in orange. I can't necessarily see the eyes behind his glasses, but I sure as hell can guess there's a glint in them.

I jab a finger up at him. "I know you enjoyed that." I feel very small sitting on this bench below him.

"You tend to call me that when you're not thinking."

"Call you what, exactly?" I frown, trying to remember.

"'Jon.' I don't mind it as much as I used to. It doesn't have meaning; it's simply an observation of your laziness to call me by my proper name."

I'm sure my face is flaming red; the trickling of the fountain seems to be mocking me. "Bad habit, I suppose." I won't explain any further than that. I rise from my seat. "Would you like to take a walk?" I gesture vaguely at the path in front of us.

"I would like that to an extent." And then, so quickly I nearly don't see it, Jonathan gives me a once over. It might have been flattering if he wouldn't have asked, "What are you wearing?" The way he says it sounds as if he has found me eating human remains and is asking me what I'm eating.

"Just a blouse," I mutter, suddenly feeling dumb for dressing up. With an ugly sweater and khaki slacks, he doesn't look any different. His sleeves are rolled up again and his collar unbuttoned, as it is getting warmer out.

I wish I had brought a jacket to cover up with now. Should have gone with the Guns N' Roses shirt.

My embarrassment aside, we leave the safe light of the fountain area behind as we take our walk down the path around the shadowed park. It's silent for a while, and the padding of our shoes on the cobblestone echoes. I count six lampposts that we've passed without saying anything. As the seventh one nears, I decide to blab.

"So Jonathan, can I tell you something?"

He clasps his hands behind his back and raises an eyebrow. "The past has shown that you will tell me whether you actually have my permission or not."

I grin anxiously. "I'm not going to deny that, but to be honest? I'm scared."

Jonathan nearly stops our walk by faltering. "I know you're scared, but I haven't heard you admit it outright before."

"You've really only seen me react to birds. That's it."

"And Paul."

I'm afraid of a lot of things right now. One of my fears includes being in a dark, barely-lit park with a sort-of-crush obsessed with fear and how it affects the universe. I'm afraid of my feelings. My uncertain future. Out of the three I just listed in my head, there's only one I can actually tell him.

"I'm going to Gotham University in the fall, and yet, I have no idea what I want to do with my life."

Jonathan snorts. "Considering you were seriously thinking of acting not too long ago, why am I not surprised?"

Ouch.

"I grew up. Maybe you had influence." I notice I've unconsciously stepped closer to him and he hadn't, miraculously, increased the distance between us. "My problem is that I have too many options. I wouldn't mind getting certified as a librarian. When I was younger, I liked to imagine I was running a coffee and sandwich shop." I sigh. "I also love animals but wouldn't be able to handle birds." I pause. "Would you like me to stop?"

He's staring off into the distance. "Please, go on."

Something in his voice makes my breathing hitch, but I respect his wishes. Ookay. "Gotham is a piece of shit, and I'd like to expose that or help people because there will always be a place for it. If I can't have acting, journalism. To help people, social work. To be fair, I'm leaning toward that one. It feels right." I finally stop for a breath and gulp air after my longwinded speech.

Deafeningly quiet again. We pass another lamppost kicking off a copper glow. The sky is dark, and we've only been here an hour or so.

"It's a pleasant thing, hearing you use logic for once."

I fight the urge to grab Jon's arm. "Oh?"

His voice is soft but still steely and hard. "You're such an irrational creature, Ames."

"I am." A light breeze ruffles the leaves of trees on each side of the walkway, and I shiver. "You see right through me. Every time."

"You're an open book. You don't hide your emotions, and while it's a bit vexing, it's honest. I appreciate honesty."

I stop mid-step, take a few strides back, and give him a searching and nearly scathing look. "You're being very complimentary tonight, even if it is a bit backhanded."

"Am I? Or is that what your brain is perceiving and trying to tell you?"

I attempt to cover my tracks. "You know, you're probably right."

It's the second time I've made him hesitate tonight. "You're never this agreeable, Ames."

"I don't want to argue all the time. I feel like I'm having an existential crisis. My dad is dead, I'm responsible for someone else's death, and Falcone's in prison and I don't know when he'll be out; I'm sure he'll be after me when he does. Don may or may not be dead because you haven't told me." I wave a finger at him, and Joe doesn't even remotely look guilty. "I have no idea what I want to do with my life. I don't know what I want anymore." My voice cracks and I veer off to the side and sit roughly on the small curb surrounding the stone path. I'm proud of myself for not crying.

After a moment, Jonathan gingerly settles next to me, his shoulder almost touching mine. The air becomes charged.

"I don't know why I'm telling you all this," I say miserably.

"It might be because you consider me a friend and you're an emotional girl."

Always. "What's the matter, Jon? Don't you consider me a friend?" I sound very bitter.

He focuses straight ahead, face a smooth, blank mask behind his glasses. "I suppose you're a…friend…of sorts."

I almost throw my hands into the air. "You haven't even told me where you're going to college."

He sighs in defeat. "Fine. There are very few schools in the nation that offer psychiatry programs with a focus on psychopharmacology. Gotham University is not one of them."

I look down at my feet. "Oh." What was I expecting? Of course he would want to get out of Gotham.

"Nova Southeastern University. It's in Florida. I can get my bachelors and doctorate there if the testing goes well."

I blink at the darkness around us. "Never heard of it. Good for you, I guess."

"Is there a problem?" He knows.

I shift uncomfortably. What's the point of hiding it anymore? He knows. "I'm afraid of missing you, my friend. I'm afraid. You'll be gone. Jon, I'm scared, and I don't know why." I fold my hands across my knees.

"You're a disappointment."

I can't even take a stab at what he means by that, whether it be teasing or serious, from his voice alone, so I turn my head to read his expression.

Our faces end up two inches apart. I'm suddenly very, very frightened of what might happen if I can't stop myself. His eyes are black in the faint light; any trace of blue is erased by shadow and dilated pupils. I swallow, my heart pounds, my breathing trembles, and neither one of us moves.


A/N: Sorry for the cliffie. I really hope no one was OOC or rushed. I should be finishing up high school life next chapter. I'll probably just brush over the college years and give a quick summary or something. I'm banking on making Ames a social worker. For the record, I know in the comics Jonathan was a teacher at Gotham University for a while, but forgive me for taking liberties with Nolanverse because that's not going to happen. I have a time crunch between when this story is taking place, the year of Batman Begins, and Jonathan getting a bachelors and doctorate degree whilst having some work experience at Arkham. Can't afford it. Nova Southeastern University wasn't randomly pulled out of my butt. It's a legitimate school that offers pscyhopharmacology.

So I'm taking a poetry class this semester. I've written about three so far, in advance, and I'm absolutely dreadful. Do any of you have hints or tips for a poetry newbie? I've never dabbled in it before.

Question of the Day: Going along with the previous here, what is your NOTP?

Check out Markiplier on YouTube and give him a sub. He's wonderful. See you all in the next chapter! Review, fave, and follow!