A/N: So, this isn't my favorite chapter so far, but I promised I'd have a new one up by Monday and here it is. Basically a lot of set up for later plot, but there's more Joker so that's always good. We got 2 reviews for the last chapter, so could I at least ask for 3 brand new reviews before the next chapter is put up? Because reviews make me happy! And you always want to make the writer happy, right? ;) Enjoy!
"Is he dead?"
Dot. Dash. Dash. Dash.
I tapped the words against the wall, smiling the whole time. When I had finished there was a pause, and then another series of taps came from the other side.
Dash. Dot. Dash. Dot.
It was a 'C.'
He never called me by my name—well, never called me by my first name. He liked my middle name more. Carine. Our dad had picked it out, mom had told us once. She didn't like it all that much, and she hated it when J called me by it, but I didn't care. I liked it better than the boring old first name mom had given me anyway.
What a stupid name.
Jack Louis and Jillian Carine. Twins named Jack and Jill. God, how lame could you get?
But J called me Carine. He had other names for me, too. Names to tease me with. Sometimes he called me 'Lillian,' or 'Carina,' 'Carnie,' sometimes 'Carrie' when I was really angry or he felt like I was blowing things out of proportion. And there were plenty others.
An hour or two passed before I heard another knock on the wall. It wasn't anything fancy, wasn't even really a code. It was just a single, soft tap. I stared at the wall for a moment before tapping once in reply.
He wanted to know if I was asleep yet.
A few minutes later I heard my door open and close, heard footsteps cross the room before I felt the edge of the bed sink a little.
"Still awake?" he asked quietly through the darkness, and I only nodded. He laid down beside me on the bed, and I let out a sigh.
When we were kids we'd shared a room. I think I'd liked that better. If I ever had a nightmare he would always know, and he'd wake me up before it got too bad; I'd do the same for him, too. And when he was there, I always knew I had someone watching over me. 'Cause J wouldn't ever let anything bad happen to me.
But when you got to be teenagers, things changed. Mom said it wasn't right for us to share a room—we were too old, and brothers and sisters shouldn't sleep in the same room once they got to be so old. It was all about privacy and junk.
If our mom only knew...
"I don't feel so good..."
I was quiet for a moment before rolling over to face him. He had his back to me, and I propped myself up on my elbow to try to get a better look at him.
"Why? What's wrong?"
"I dunno, I just feel kinda... lightheaded..."
I watched him at first, then touched his arm. He hesitated, then rolled over to face me, and I felt the color drain out of my face. I slapped both hands over my mouth to keep from screaming, but I really think I couldn't have screamed even if I wanted to—I was sure I had stopped breathing, sure I didn't have the air in my lungs to muster up a whisper let alone a scream.
There was blood everywhere. In his hair, on his face, dripping down his throat and soaking through his shirt. And it was coming from a pair of scars cut into the corners of his mouth, scars just like the ones that had been cut into that trucker's face, just like—
"Lightheaded, Carnie. Get it?" Jack prompted, sitting up slowly with a broad smile on his bloody face. "'Cause it's a lot of blood. I'm lightheaded."
Never look away from something you're afraid of.
"Is he dead?"
Dot. Dash. Dash. Dash.
Dash. Dot. Dash. Dot.
When I sat up, I was drenched in sweat. My terror had soaked through my scrubs, had bled into the blankets, I wouldn't have been surprised if it had dripped right down into the sheets...
I pulled my hair away from my face, out of my eyes, breathing hard the whole time, almost panting, trying to wipe the sweat off my face and get a sense of what was happening.
"Just a dream," I gasped out loud, shaking my head as I jumped off a bed and onto my feet. "Just a dream, wasn't real..."
Who are you trying to convince? a voice from the back of my crazy-fogged brain asked.
"God, you've been around him for less than a day and he's already inside your head..." I said, trying to drown out the voice. "You're a real piece of work..."
Oh, he was in our head a long time ago. When we first started tapping out that letter—J's letter—to him from our cell, he was in our head even then. It didn't take much, either, did it? Just a single look and we were smitten. Moths to a flame and all that, remember?
I shook my head, turning in circles once or twice as I tried to get my bearings. What did I remember last? There had been the trucker, and then I'd checked us in—
If I were you—and I am—I'd get myself back to the crazy house before we get ourselves into real trouble. This guy is nothing but problems. He's already killed one person—
"To protect me," I murmured to myself, eyes roaming the motel room without really seeing anything.
And God knows how many other people he'll kill. We've heard the stories, we know what he's capable of. No, better we went back to the padded cell before the men in the white coats have to drag us back kicking and screaming.
"But I don't want to go back there..."
Better than what he's got us in for. He's a whole different kind of crazy. We can't handle him. And he'll make us worse, break us right along that fracture we've got running along inside our head. Are you sure we're ready for that?
'Cause I sure don't think so.
And that means you don't think so either.
I was quiet for a long time, standing very still. No, I wasn't hearing voices. No, I'm not that crazy. But I had to admit that the logic was there, plain as day. I wasn't wrong... he could break my already damaged brain into a hundred little pieces and then some. Even I had to admit that I might not be able to handle whatever it is he had kept me for...
But then again, I'd never know if I didn't try, would I? And what was the worst that would happen?
I'd go back to Arkham? Hell, I was headed there anyway if I didn't stick it out and see this thing through.
I'd go even crazier? Pfft, I wouldn't mind a good dose of the crazies. What I had was so simple, so basic. No hallucinations, no voices, no split personalities, no obsessions. Just a head full of bad memories I couldn't quite remember and work through, memories that came to me in dreams and nightmares like broken pieces of an already-too-complicated jigsaw puzzle. That, and a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Then there was the possibility that I'd die, that he'd kill me or I'd get killed while tagging along...
"What the hell," I said to myself. "You're as good as dead if you go back to that hell hole anyway. Might as well make the most of it."
By now I wasn't panting anymore, and I'd coolled off a bit. A sense of calm was creeping over me, up my spine and over my head before it rushed down to my toes like a roller coaster ride. I had my wits about me, and I started to reason through what had happened. The trucker, the room, and then...
Oh yeah, that's right, he'd knocked me out cold.
"Really knows how to treat a lady," I grumbled to myself, glancing over at the bed I had gotten up from only minutes ago. The blankets and sheets were all twisted up, like I'd been tossing around in my sleep.
Huh. He'd actually taken the time to put me on the bed...
Before he'd left, that is. He wasn't here, I could tell that with one look around the tiny motel room. But I could tell he'd been in and out. For one thing, there was a set of clothes laid out on the other bed, the one I had't destroyed during my nightmare, and they looked like they were about my size. I crossed to them, running my fingers over the fabric.
My first outfit that hadn't consisted of scrubs or an inmate's uniform in years.
It wasn't really special. A black jacket, black pants, a deep purple tanktop. But no, that wasn't true, it was special 'cause I'd be wearing something other than this ridiculous scrub set that I could never quite pull off.
I grabbed the top and pants and went to the bathroom, flipping the lightswitch on a bit hesitantly. It was a grimy bathroom, that was true, but I'll give it credit—it wasn't anywhere near as bad as I thought it would be. The shower was a little yellowed, just like the tile and sink, but everything in this place looked a little worse for wear.
I walked to the sink and heard myself laugh. There was a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, a razor... We're talking above and beyond Gotham motel hospitality. No, my fellow escapee had been so kind as to grab the essentials whenever he'd gotten my outfit. How thoughtful.
I folded up the clothes and laid them on the toilet lid before closing the bathroom door and turning the water to the shower on. It took me a minute to figure it out—I hadn't taken a private shower in forever; I was more used to the group hosing they called a communal shower at that hell of an asylum—but I got it eventually, and I let the water heat up while I slipped out of my prison uniform for what I hoped was the last time.
By the time I'd gotten into the shower, the water was so hot it practically burned my skin. But in all honesty, I didn't care. To me, warm showers were a rarity. Just as rare as any other amenity. And I'd use up every single drop of hot water this hole-in-the-wall motel had if I could. 'Cause it felt great.
When I started soaping down, I realized I still had the trucker's dried blood on my arm. There was even some on my neck and cheek that I'd never had the chance to notice. I scrubbed it off as quick as I could, but I couldn't shake the feeling it was still there. Like I couldn't get it off, a kinda crawling on my skin, y'know? The blood, the grime from that asylum that I don't think I'd ever be able to wash off, that gross feeling that I couldn't ever really get clean... But I had a wild imagination, even I knew that.
Shaving was a treat. I mean, I might have still felt the prison on me, but I still hadn't felt this clean in ages. I used a whole handful of that freaking shampoo. A handful. You couldn't see what color my hair was past the white of those soapy suds. Hell, I don't think anyone had ever had as much fun in a shower as I was having then.
Well, I'd take that back...
When I'd finally gotten a good deal of the shampoo out of my hair—and out of my eyes—I turned to let the water run down my back again, and that was when I saw him. It was really quick, just a glimpse, and when I blinked he was gone. Even now I don't know if it was just a trick of the light, the soap in my eyes, or what. But I'd swear I'd seen him standing in the doorway, and that as soon as he realized I'd spoted him he was gone.
It was only a couple minutes later that I ran out of hot water. It was a sudden burst of cold and then nothing but cold water, and I knew my time was up. Sadly I killed the water, grabbed for a towel, and dried off. Pretty soon I was dressed up in the clothes he'd brought me (ha, like a little dress up doll) and had gladly brushed my teeth.
When I finally came out of the bathroom still towel drying my hair, I found him pacing back and forth beside his bed, his face turned down and his bright eyes on the floor. It was like killing that trucker had been his fix, and now he was high as a kite, jazzed, and ready to take on the world. But that wasn't all that had happened.
I had changed and so had he.
He was dressed in a pretty nice suit, by the looks of it. A very purple suit, too. Purple overcoat and pants, a green vest, a sort of brown and orange neck tie, and a blue shirt with a funky geometric pattern.
His face was different, too. White greasepaint all over, red along his lips and scars, black ringed around his eyes. And his hair... he'd put some kind of gel in it, I guess, to make it stringier, curlier, and I think even a little green.
"You knocked me out," I said pretty plainly, and he looked up at me a bit more darkly than I would have liked. He took a moment to think my words over, I guess, but then he smiled.
I'm gonna take that as a good sign...
"I had some, ah, errands to run," he said before standing up a bit straighter, as though modeling his outfit. "Whaddyou think?"
"I think you just enjoy jerking me around, like a mad dog with one of those rope toys," I said as I moved to a rickety old dresser, looking over the assortment of knives he had laid out since he'd come back. These were so different from the knife he'd killed the trucker with. They were lean and light, some of them had retractable blades. These looked more like his style, looked more like something he'd kill with.
"And the suit's very nice, by the way," I added as I picked up one of the sharper blades. I don't think he cared all that much about what I thought of his suit, though. He was a bit more fixated on the way I was fondling one of his knives. I glanced up at him with a small smile, catching him in the act as he started to cross the room to me. He froze, but I thought it was funny. He didn't want me handling his babies. "Mind if I use this?"
"Yeah," he answered coldly with a lick of his lips, but I took it anyway and walked back to the bathroom. He was watching me pretty closely—I'd even say nervously if I thought someone like him could be nervous.
I stopped in front of the mirror and lifted the knife, bunching my hair up in my hand before I began shearing it off. He had followed me a few more steps and I had the feeling his eyes were stuck on the blade sawing back and forth. You'd think he had a thing for knives or something.
Ha. What a crazy thought, right?
"Are you, ahem, upse-t about what happened to our frrriend, the truck driver?" he asked, now standing in the bathroom's doorway. He never looked away from the knife, though.
"Nope, not a bit," I said calmly, trying to make sure I cut the hair as evenly as I could. The odds were against me, though.
"Mmhmm, hmm, you sure?"
"Positive," I answered, but I wasn't so sure to be honest. Not anymore. Mostly because he was bugging me about it. He moved even closer, and I froze as his gloved hand wrapped around mine, loosening my fingers and taking the knife from me.
"Well, you were talking in your slee-p," he said as he lifted the knife to the back of my hair, cutting through the tangles with a lot more experience than me. "Something about, uh, blood-uh."
Talking in my sleep, I thought to myself. I didn't like that. I'd never done that before—least, not that I knew of. But I tried to pretend like I didn't care. But I could see him staring at me in the mirror's reflection, and once again I had that feeling that he could see right through me.
"Just a bad dream... Nothing special."
He laughed, his gaze swaying from my reflection. He was slowly working his way around my hair, and soon his arms were practically around my neck to get to my bangs.
I didn't like it. It'd be so easy for him to just break my neck if he wanted to...
"Now, now, if you're going to be par-t of our little t-eam, you can't be keeping secrets." He was giggling to himself now, cutting of a good chunk of my hair before lowering his hands to my shoulders. We both looked at my reflection in the mirror, and then we looked down at how he was holding the knife to my throat.
Lightly pressed against the skin, almost casually, as though he didn't even realize it was there, but he did, he sure did...
"Who says I want to be a part of your team?" I asked, staying perfectly still.
"Oh, I think you would have run faster than tha-t if you didn't want to," he said matter of factly, turning the blade in his fingers so that the point turned against my skin. He wetted his lips, let his eyes roll back for a moment like he was thinking, and then went on. "No, if you want to earn your keep-uh like a good little carney, you'll—"
"What?" I said in a breath. In an instant, I didn't care about the knife, or about him, or anything. It was what he'd said that bothered me.
If you want to earn your keep like a good little carney...
"Problem?" he asked, his head tilting to the side a bit. He wasn't looking at my reflection now, he was looking straight at me.
But I wasn't in his hold for much longer. I quickly jerked away, glaring at him as I backed away. I didn't even notice that when I did, his knife dug its way into my throat and cut a clean slice right down my neck with a little curve at the end. Kinda like a 'J' now that I think about it.
But right then I didn't care.
"What did you just call me?"
"A carney, I think-uh," he said with an arch of his eyebrow, twirling that knife. "Do you have some kind of aversion to, ah, circus fol-k?"
I looked down at the floor and shook my head, but my eyes were wide and I wasn't seeing the floor. I was seeing the bloody face of my brother as he smiled at me with those grotesque, dreamed up scars...
Lightheaded, Carnie. Get it?
But that had been my brother, and this wasn't my brother. He didn't know my nickname. He was talking about carnival workers, carneys for short...
I was making mountains out of mole hills here. Blowing things out of proportion. I just needed to chill out. 'Cause if I didn't, I was gonna get myself killed.
When I finally looked back up at my captor, he was leaning with one arm against the sink, still twirling that knife, smirking, holding in a laugh.
"You're, uh, bleed-ing all over your new ou-tfi-t," he said, motioning to my neck with his blade.
I lifted a hand to my skin, feeling the blood on my fingers, looking down at the red liquid on my hand and swallowing hard. I moved to the sink and quickly washed it off—
(Hate blood, can't stand it, gotta get it off, J, get it off me, oh, God, J, get it off...)
Then grabbed up a hand towel to soak and press to the cut. It wasn't too deep or too serious. Just a cut, nothing more. I glanced up at the mirror and saw that the damage was already done. There was a pretty line of scarlet that had soaked into my shirt, blending with the purple to make a black-ish color.
And in the meantime, he hadn't even moved. Not once. He was still leaning against the sink, and now I was inches away, and his eyes were on the cut and the blood. I heard him breathe in deeply through his nose, and for a second I thought he was trying to smell me, but then I thought he was trying to smell the blood. And that didn't realize surprise me.
He leaned a bit closer, and I watched him—or rather, his reflection. I watched his hand—the one free of the knife, thank God—lift and touch my hair, rubbing the now-short blond locks between his fingers. When he pulled them away, I could see blood from my neck, from my hair, on the purple leather of his gloves. He rubbed his fingers and thumb together, eyelids fluttering for a moment, and then he smiled with a soft growl.
"Mmmm, get cleaned u-p," he said in a low voice, tilting his head again as his eyes rolled up to meet mine. "We're, ah, we're gonna go ou-t for a while."
"Where?" I asked, pressing down on the towel a bit harder to try to stem the bleeding.
"You've been cooped u-p in a six by five cell for, ah, years, and when I say we're going ou-t, you're gonna ask where?" He said this all very casually, before smiling with those scars curling up at the ends. "Now tha-t's funny."
(Oh, brother, you better cut out the jokes...)