Um, yes, hello.

As you can see, I'm back.

So, in case you weren't aware, it's been literal YEARS since I've posted in this. I just have to say, I'm SO sorry about those last... two... years... Ugh it's pathetic to even attempt to justify it. Life got in the way. BUT I love writing this, and I love that you read it. I don't doubt I've lost some if not most of my fanbase here, but if you're still with me, this one's for you.

I guess I should recap, since, you know, it's literally been years.

Ok, so, Jess escapes to our world, the Joker escapes from Arkham, then comes to our world to find her again. After much angst, they return to Gotham, where Jess is making it clear she wants to be part of the team, an inner-circle type. Joker seems like he's humoring her in that respect. Their relationship, all things considered, is going pretty well as far as Jess is concerned.

Meanwhile, Blake is ordered by the Joker to murder Keith when Keith refuses to rejoin the Twenty. Blake is not happy about this decision, but does it regardless. Also he's crushing pretty hard on Jess. Are you seeing any warning signs here? Me neither. That's ridiculous.

MEANWHILE meanwhile, Joker is planning plans and other such villainous business. He mentions multiple times that he wants their organization to grow. He tells Blake to find an Arkham escapee named Tommy Elliot and, last chapter, Joker finds Black Mask, who broke out of Arkham on the night Joker blacked out the asylum. He offers to team up with the other crime boss, and Black Mask accepts. Jess and Joker were attacked by Batman on the way out of the bar, except the Bat looks very not great - injured, suitless, slower than usual. They are able to escape relatively easily. So yeah. Everything's going really well, you guys.

Meanwhile meanwhile MEANWHILE, Sid, the head of the Russian crime family (the guy who replaced Alex after Jess killed him, who replaced the Chechen after the Joker killed HIM) is in cahoots with some dude named Edward Nigma. It's the Riddler, you guys, I already told you that in another chapter. Sid is pissed that the Joker apparently stole the rest of the money he promised them after betraying the Chechen (he did not) and Nigma doesn't seem to like clowns for whatever reason. So pretty much, for those of you keeping score, it's Joker + Black Mask vs. Russians + Riddler. But, oh, don't worry. It'll get way more complicated before the end.

Aaaaand that's it! I hope that helps remind you. I really don't deserve reviews, so I'm not even gonna ask. But, again, if you're coming back to this, or if you just picked it up, or whatever, thank you! I love you! My author notes are too long! I'll work on iiiiiiiiitttttttttt!


BLAKE

Blake was pacing the theater lobby, back and forth in long laps, in an attempt to release some tension. The anxious tightness in his chest was not something he was used to feeling - he was usually able to stay calm and centered, even under intense pressure.

But the thing bothering him now had nothing to do with pressure. The problem was tiny, in fact, and so stupid. Not a problem at all.

The Joker had taken Jess out with him, apparently on a job.

Alone.

The boss had never done that before. Every prior job had involved at least two or three other guys, or else Joker would just go out to do god-knows-what by himself. Not even Blake had gone out with him on his own.

And it wasn't as if he'd taken one of the seasoned guys to do something potentially (probably) dangerous. It wasn't even as if he'd taken someone who had proven themselves competent with a gun. He'd taken Jessica. Inexperienced, inept, unable to protect herself. And, despite himself, that worried Blake. The boss hadn't mentioned any kind of errand to him, so he wasn't sure what exactly they were doing. As ever, the Joker's overarching scheme was a mystery.

It was just as Blake was deciding to put this from his mind and go have a beer in the rec room that headlights flashed between the slats of the boarded up lobby windows. This always sent a rush of adrenaline through Blake, as you could never be sure exactly who was driving into the theater lot. They were on the outskirts of town, and more than once they'd had to shoo away teenagers looking for a seemingly empty lot to do the old park-and-fuck.

Peering through two wooden slats, he recognized the black Jaguar immediately - its paint dusty, its body dented with use - and felt a warm flood of relief. He watched as the car was haphazardly parked in the middle of the lot and the headlights dimmed.

The Joker got out first, from behind the wheel, looking up to the sky and stretching. He slammed the car door and stood next to it with a hand stuffed deep in the pocket of his pants, waiting. Jess stepped out next and he paced over to her slowly, slinging his arm around her shoulders. He fished a set of keys from his coat pocket as they made their way towards the front door and said something that made her laugh. She reached up to tug his hair, shot something back, and he grinned down at the top her head almost affectionately.

Blake walked quickly away from the window and stepped into the shadows of one of the hallways branching away from the lobby. He wasn't sure why he wanted to avoid being seen by them, but eavesdropping into their conversation was too tempting to pass up. How exactly did they act when it was just the two of them?

They came in through the front doors just as Jess was saying, "It's a good thing. Makes it easier, anyway, without that constant shadow looming over us."

"Yeah, sure it does…" the boss said, and Blake could see his look darkening considerably. He was chewing the insides of his cheeks and his gloved hand squeezed Jess's shoulder repeatedly. The girl noticed, too. She looked up at him, a crease of concern appearing between her brows as they neared the center of the atrium.

She stopped them in their tracks and tilted her head at him. "You're disappointed," she said.

The boss cast a look at the floor, working his jaw, then ran a hand through his hair and shrugged. "I, uh… I don't know, exactly, Jesster. See, you can't underestimate him. But... if he's out of the running, it won't be the same."

"Easy isn't fun," Jess said, nodding.

"Exactly." He cracked a grin. "Y'know, you always had a way with words."

"Let's make it easy on him, then," Jess said. "Give him a little time to recover. Lay low. We don't want to push him too hard. We have a lot of shit to do, but it can be done quietly, you know?"

"Hm…" the Joker mused, pacing away from her, his fingers wiggling as his mind worked. "You got a point," he said, but he didn't look happy about it. He kicked an empty bottle on the floor, sending it spinning across to shatter against the wall. "Only," he turned back to her, cracking his jaw with a frustrated grimace, "see, I wanna scare 'em. Y'know… show 'em what we can do…"

"Oh, sugar," Jess said, approaching him, "we can do that any time." She laughed and linked her fingers in his belt loops. "We're intimidating now, tonight proved it. But in a few months? We'll blow their fucking minds."

"Element of surprise..." The Joker was nodding, looking toward the window with distant eyes.

Jess made a sound of affirmation and tugged his hips against her, which got his attention. He lifted her chin with his thumb and forefinger and grinned at her.

"Not bad," he said. "I'll think about it." He swooped down to kiss her, quickly and forcibly on the mouth. When he pulled away and stepped back she remained in the same position for a few moments, eyes closed, head tilted slightly - it looked like she was trying to drink in the moment. It made Blake vaguely angry, especially given that her pretty face was marked by cuts from the Joker's knife. How could she kiss someone who'd done that to her?

The Joker was halfway out of the room by the time she noticed his retreat. "Need me?" she asked. He shook his head and made a vague, dismissive gesture, heading towards the basement.

Jess nodded and ran a hand through her hair, looking towards the hallway leading to her prop room. She almost started towards it, but turned quickly back to the clown disappearing into the shadows.

"J," she called. The boss didn't even slow down, but she continued nonetheless. "Did I do okay tonight?"

"Sure, kid." The Joker sounded bored, and he didn't even glanced over his shoulder as he disappeared into the shadowed corridor. "Juuuust peachy."

Jess grinned at that, widely, and quickly slipped down a side hallway.

Breathing steadily, Blake stepped back into the lobby. So she was alive, safe, and happy. The Joker made her smile easily, the way no one else seemed to. Self-content and pleased. It made him sick.

He thought again, as he had many times over the past few days, that the Joker shouldn't have sent him to kill Keith. They had been good friends, and murdering him had more of an effect on Blake than any of his other acts of violence to date. He should've spoken up, told the boss he should send someone else… but he hadn't, and he'd carried out the crime with swift brutality.

In those moments of clarity, which were becoming more and more frequent, Blake wondered if the loyalty was worth it after all. Keith's words kept echoing in his head "Ask yourself if this is what you really want."

Was it? What did he want? Nothing important. He wanted money. He wanted control over his life. He wanted respect. He wanted power. Those the Joker offered, in some capacity - he'd made Blake the leader of a team that was promising to grow. He'd made funds available to Blake that he could never have dreamed, and he'd given him easy access to women and booze and drugs.

But other things he wanted were impossible to have working for the boss. He wanted security. Life in Gotham was never secure. He wanted to see his old friends. Impossible. He wanted to be able to sleep soundly all the time. He wanted Jess.

But these things weren't worth risking his life for, he decided for the hundredth time. Betraying the boss, even just breaking it off with him, was extremely dangerous. A boring life in his hometown wasn't worth it. And neither was jealousy or lust. The girl was hands off; the girl was the Joker's.

And, on top of it all, Blake respected his boss. He was a genius - that was not a question. The definition of the word mastermind. Murderous, dangerous, scary, yes, but the way he saw the world, the way he juggled events and people… There was always more to be learned from him, and Blake had already learned a lot. His loyalty was wavering, but it was still present.

Still, he felt trapped. He couldn't just throw up his hands and say "I quit" without fear of a gun to his head. But how different was that from the gang he'd been in, in that other universe? Ah fuck it. He'd made his choice. He was staying.

Blake sighed, casting a long glance at the hallway towards the prop room. What had Jess and the Joker been doing? Who was out of the game and why couldn't they underestimate him? How did the Joker plan on gaining power? Would she tell him? Was it even his place to ask?

Making his decision, Blake followed Jess down the darkened hallway. He turned left at the junction that wound around the back of the stage and found himself quickly approaching the prop room door, which had been left open about three inches.

He paused in front of it and looked inside, only for his heart to plummet to the bottom of his stomach.

Jess stood with her back to him, just stripping off her red dress.

Holy fuck, he thought, then, Breathe...

But it wasn't like she was very exposed. Underneath the dress she was entirely wrapped in bandages - all the way up her torso, and around one arm. White gauze with rare, scattered spots of red, wrapped tightly. He'd seen her face back in Seattle, the shallow scratches there, and that had been enough to anger him. But this… These cuts were deep enough to bandage. He felt sick. What had the boss done to her? He stared for a moment, infuriated, before she bent over to pick up a pair of pants and his eyes were distracted.

His glance grazed along the curve of her ass, poured perfectly into lacy black underwear, and the shadowy smoothness between her thighs before he realized what he was doing and turned around. He closed his eyes, passed a hand over his face and tried to erase the curve of her smooth back and the long line of her legs from his head. She was injured - that was what mattered.

He gave her a minute to put some clothes on, then turned back around. She still had her back turned to the door, but now she was wearing faded skinny jeans. He watched the bandages disappear under the loose tanktop she drew over her head, only leaving her wrapped arm to raise any questions. He waited another thirty seconds. Then he cleared his throat and knocked at the door.

Jess jumped and spun around. She frowned when she saw him, but opened the door the rest of the way to let him in.

"Hey," he said as casually as he could, leaning against the doorframe. I wasn't just staring at your ass or anything. Her eyes softened and little smile quirked the corners of her mouth.

"Hey," she replied. A question mark hung at the end of the word, asking what he wanted. He wished he could tell her exactly what he wanted.

"Where'd you disappear to?" he asked, as though he didn't know she'd been out with the Joker. As though he hadn't watched them leave together, and hadn't watched them return.

"Oh my god, Blake, thank god, I'm dying to tell someone," she said excitedly, and Blake smiled. He didn't know why he'd thought she'd be secretive about it. She ushered him inside the room, pushing him impatiently to sit on the cot while she swung the door closed behind them. It creaked and didn't latch, but she failed to notice. Blake's pulse felt unusually elevated. Such a stupid bodily reaction. Like they'd never been alone in a room together before. Why the fuck did he feel like a hormonal teenager?

"Just anyone?" he found himself asking with an edge of insinuation. "Why didn't you just go to the rec room when you got here?"

"I was going to come find you as soon as I changed," she said, grabbing and throwing a pile of clothes into the crate by the door. Blake felt a rush of satisfaction. She'd wanted to tell him, specifically. Not Billy or Drew or Jackson. Him.

Well who the fuck else would she tell? the logic at the back of his head whispered. You're the one she's supposed to report to, you fucking idiot.

"So you found me," he said.

"J and I went to like seven bars in Crime Alley," she said. Her hands were busy at the sidetable along the opposite wall now, where she'd place a vanity mirror and had spread out beauty supplies. She was currently scooping up mascara and eyeliner to deposit in her makeup case. "Finally we found this group called the False-Face Society."

Blake's pulse sped up even further, forgetting her ass and her smile. Like any eighties kid, he'd read his fair share of DC comic books. He'd preferred Justice League to Batman and Robin, but he knew the Gotham villains all the same. This was compounded upon by his own real-life research when he came here.

"Well fuck me," he said. "Black Mask."

Jess turned around and pointed at him. "Yes!" she said, leaning against the table. "Do you know much about him? I was aware he existed, but I don't really know anything."

Blake shrugged. "I don't know much, either," he said. "He's a businessman. Roman Sionis. He inherited his parents' fortune and immediately invested in the Gotham underground. Before he went to Arkham he had a significant gang and a lot of territory, but that was like five or six years ago. I hear he escaped on the night we blacked out the asylum."

"Yeah," Jess mused. "He mentioned that."

"So what did the boss want with him?"

Jess came over and finally sat down next to him on the cot. "They seemed like old friends," she said, and laughed. "Like J has friends."

"Aren't we his friends?" Blake asked, but it was a joke. Jess elbowed him gently.

"They probably worked together," she conceded. "Or something. I don't know. But Black Mask took us to this back room in the bar, and we had a talk."

Blake settled back against the wall, folding his arms across his chest. "That sounds dangerous," he said lowly. Jess shrugged and turned towards him, folding her legs beneath her.

"J was there," she said simply. Blake had to fight not to scowl at her blind trust. "And anyway, like I said, it seems like they're friends. It was all very civil. They talked for a long time about what they wanted to do now that they were out of prison. Black Mask, he's been locked up for way longer than J. He mostly just wanted his territory back. He said he lost almost all his money when it was seized by the feds. And, like you know, we need more guys in our group. So then J offered to team up."

Blake's eyebrows furrowed deeply, and a frown pulled at the corners of his broad mouth. He'd thought something like this might be the case, but he wasn't sure how he felt about it. He trusted every member of the Twenty with his life. The False-Face Society? Not so much. Could be more than one problem in that group, especially one so long without a leader. Say some guy got it in his head that the Joker was better off dead? Say Black Mask himself had that idea? Joker's gang was smaller, even if they were richer. This put the Clown and his Twenty in a vulnerable position. Blake had never known the Joker to split power.

"You, uh, you like this idea?" Blake asked her. Jess stared at him as though she couldn't understand why he was skeptical.

"Well, yeah, I mean J was the one to think it up, so it can't be a bad thing," she said, her face telling him he'd put doubt into her mind all the same. It was somehow comforting to know his opinion meant enough to her that she questioned the Joker. She chewed her lower lip. "You don't think so?"

Blake hesitated. "I think it's risky," he said finally, passing a hand over his face. "I don't know Black Mask or his gang. I don't trust people I don't know. But if the boss thinks it'll work…" he shrugged. "I'm following his lead." Jess nodded. She seemed comforted by that.

She leaned against his shoulder, resting her head against him. Blake turned and pressed his face into her hair, breathing deeply and closing his eyes for a second.

"Listen," he said, "I wanted to apologize-"

"Don't," Jess replied, sitting up to look at him. "You don't have to. I'm the one who's sorry. I said some horrible things to you. I didn't know…"

Blake studied her face, her deep brown eyes, the full lips. She was close enough to kiss. He could lean forward a few inches and taste her. He wanted to. He could…

If he was a braver man, or perhaps a less intelligent one, he would have.

As it was, Blake just took her head in his hands and laid a lingering kiss on her forehead.

"It's forgiven," he said, his lips brushing her brow line, the scabbed cuts there. "And forgotten." He pulled away and Jess smiled her pretty smile and leaned against him again.

Blake swept his fingers over the bandages on her arm. He said, "What'd the boss-"

"Well isn't… this… touching."

Blake jerked away from Jessica as the door slowly swung wide. The Joker stood there, leaning against the frame, one hand deep in his pocket, the other spread against the door. It had been open a few inches. Who knows how long he'd stood there, watching them.

Blake got off the bed, but Jess just settled into it, smiling at him. She looked perfectly at ease.

"Hey, J," she said lightly. Blake wondered for the thousandth time if his chemistry with the girl was all in his head.

"Blake," the Joker beckoned, crooking his finger. A rush of fear bloomed through Blake. He stole one more glance back at Jess, who was now looking a little concerned, before following his boss out of the room.

Joker clapped a hand on his back and moved him down the hallway.

"I have a little assignment I need you to work on," the boss said, and his tone no longer carried the tension it had before. Blake relaxed.

"All ears, boss," he said, even cracking a smile.

But when the Joker told him what he needed, the smile faded and a cold wave of horror oozed up his spine.


SID

High above Gotham, atop a fifty-floor skyscraper in the Financial District, Sid stood with his price. "A token," the Riddler had said, "of your newfound loyalty. A bonding of our interests, if you will."

Proof was what it really was. Proof that Sid was willing to do whatever it took to stay alive and get into the Greenboys. And maybe, if they were lucky, some of the other Russians could follow. The greater good, he told himself. The greater fucking good.

But now, looking Fry right in the fucking eye, it didn't feel good at all.

Fry had started out a small time guy who'd infiltrated the Chechen's inner circle through years of hard work. He'd been so eager at the beginning, so ready to prove himself. He was one of the group who, with Sid and Alex, had led the mutiny once the Chechen started making a series of bad, selfish and stupid decisions. He was one of the most popular guys in the family, maybe even more popular than Sid himself - funny, resourceful, always full of optimism. People underestimated how important that was in a team. He was the guy who was friends with everyone. The guy who admitted when he was wrong, who showed proper reverence, who received respect in turn. The guy who rose quickly, despite being the cousin of a cousin of the sister of the wife of the Chechen.

Fry? Fry would be missed.

Sid thought the Riddler knew that. There wasn't much he didn't know about the Russian family, which made Sid wonder who the traitor was. Riddler had someone whispering in his ear, and that hurt. The vibe had been weird since the Chechen had flirted with the idea of the Joker - worst idea ever - but he hadn't thought it was that unstable. He hadn't thought someone would betray his family.

Then again, what the fuck was Sid doing at this very moment?

Fry was staring at him, anger filling his eyes. Sid was glad for the duct tape over his mouth - they'd known each other a long time, and he was sure Fry was capable right now of saying shit that Sid did not want to hear.

"My, my," Query, the Riddler's tall Amazonian colleague purred as she sidled up to them. "Look at those eyes. I think someone's furious with you, Sid." She put an arm around Fry's shoulders and he tried to shrug her off, his hands duct taped behind his back. She stepped away, unperturbed. "Such a pretty face," she said, grabbing Fry's chin. "Anger looks good on you."

"Yeah, he's always had a way with the ladies," Sid said, trying to sound casual. Trying to sound like he wasn't handing his friend over to be murdered. Fry growled at him, said something muffled by duct tape, and Query shook his head roughly, cooing at him in a patronizing way.

"Why is a quarrel like a bargain?" a low voice chimed in. The three of them looked up to find the Riddler striding towards them across the roof, an arm around the waist of tiny, gorgeous Echo, the other hand clamped firmly on the head of his cane. Query let go of Fry and moved to stand beside him, one elbow perched against his shoulder.

"Why?" Query asked, smiling sharply at Fry.

"It takes two to make it," Echo replied, and was graced with a broad smile from the Riddler.

"Exactly!" he said. "It takes two to make it. Sid." He let go of his girls and strode forward to clasp Sid's hand in his. "Well done, I have to say. Consider your loyalty proven. But tell me…" The Riddler put a hand to his chin in a flamboyant gesture of deliberation. "What is my reasoning behind this impending loss of life? Have you guessed?"

Sid glanced at Fry, his jaw tightening as his one time friend sent him another hateful look. He had guessed. He thought he had the riddle figured out.

"I think you have a couple reasons," Sid replied. "There's the loyalty thing, for one. And you obviously know Fry is big name in my organization. He's got a lot of my guys answering to him. But, uh, given your little addition to his wardrobe…" Sid gestured at the sign pinned to Fry's lapel, a white piece of paper with a huge green question mark scribbled on to it. "You're taking credit for this. You want people to know the Greenboys are responsible. Same with my guy in the police force last month. You're, uh, specifically making it look like our groups are pitted against each other."

"And why am I doing that?"

Sid shrugged. "Keep the pigs off our trail? Give 'em a surprise?"

The Riddler laughed, tapping his cane three times against the rooftop. "The cops have nothing to do with this," he said, gesturing at his hostage. "But you're close to solving the puzzle. Can you guess who else might need a little surprise in his life?"

"Joker," Sid said immediately, his suspicions confirmed.

"Very good!" the Riddler exclaimed. It made sense. The Russians had an in with the clown, even if their relations had become strained (to put it mildly) after Alex's death. They had personal experience working with a man who the Riddler found threatening. And he clearly wanted to keep him from knowing that the Russians and the Greenboys were working together.

"That clown's got a storm coming," Query said, smiling at Sid.

"And how is the clown like the Greenboys?" Riddler asked. "Echo?"

"He's recruiting, too," Echo replied instantly.

"Joker's hiring guys?" Sid asked. "Who's joinin'?"

"Hard as a stone and false of face... Roman has thrown his rats in the race," Query purred, making the rhyme up on the spot to the clear delight of the Riddler, who took her face in his hands and kissed her, laughing.

"Black Mask?" Sid said, cold fingers of fear inching up his spine. He knew Black Mask by reputation, and the reputation was intimidating. He and Joker made a scary team.

"Black Mask," Echo, well, echoed.

"Yes, yes, yes," Riddler said, bouncing on the balls of his feet. "All things we can discuss later, don't you think? Down to business." He paced toward Fry, who had been watching this exchange with interest, but whose eyes now narrowed in fear and fury. The Riddler reached forward and, with a dextrous twitch of his long fingers, ripped the duct tape from the Russian's mouth. Fry immediately spat at the ground near Sid's feet.

"Fuck you, man," he told him.

"Ah, ah, ah," Riddler admonished, tapping his cane firmly on the roof's ledge. "Nothing is ever lost by courtesy. It is the cheapest of pleasures. Erastus Wiman. These events are already in motion. What's done is done. Civility is key here."

"Yeah?" Fry growled at him. "Fuck you, too."

More quickly than Sid would have expected from a man who depended on a cane, the Riddler lunged at Fry, pushing him back to the very edge of the skyscraper roof. The safety ledge up here was very short, barely pressing against Fry's calves. The Russian teetered precariously for a heart snatching moment before Riddler steadied him by throwing the cane behind his neck, one hand on either end, effectively using it as a bar to keep him from falling backwards. His hands bound behind his back, Fry was powerless as the Riddler brought his face in close, nose to nose.

"What comes for all men," the Riddler hissed at him, a hint of madness in his eyes, "but will never come for you?"

Fry did not respond as the Riddler forced him to lean backwards, further over the empty air above a sidewalk fifty stories below. Riddler tilted his head, raised his eyebrows, and waited for a response. When none came, he answered his own riddle.

"Tomorrow," the Riddler said. And, with a flourish, he whipped his cane away from behind Fry's neck. Sid watched as his old friend, caught off balance, flailed wildly to attempt to regain control. But before he'd recovered, the Riddler laid one finger on the center of Fry's chest and pushed.

Fry disappeared over the edge, screaming. Sid shut his eyes, turning away from the ledge as the scream continued, a sound of pure animal fear and panic. It faded as Fry's body dropped farther away, and suddenly cut out altogether, presumably when his friend hit the street below. Then came a car alarm, blaring shrill in the stillness, before more screams joined its cacophony as unwitting passersby caught sight of the corpse.

"What goes up white and comes down red?" Query asked, peering over the ledge to look down at the mess that was Fry. Sid couldn't bring himself to look, though he imagined that, from this height, Fry was little more than a scarlet spot against the black concrete.

"Russians, apparently," Echo responded, and the bitches broke into high pitched cackling. Sid glared at them for a moment before moving up to their boss. The Riddler's expression had gone pensive, one hand cupping his chin as he tilted his head to look over the ledge.

"We done here?" Sid asked. He felt a hatred for Nigma and his bitches growing deep in his gut. It hadn't seemed real up until the very moment that Fry's screams had cut off so abruptly. He was suddenly no longer sure that this was the right move. What more would Riddler demand of him before the Russians were back where they deserved to be - on top?

"Yes, I think that'll be enough for today, don't you?" Riddler said mildly. He held out his hand again for Sid to shake and, swallowing his disgust, Sid did so. "Consider our families joined."

"The Russians and the Greenboys," Echo said, smiling, "together at last."


JESS

Jess folded her legs beneath her, sinking into the worn couch in the green room, and examined the strands of J's hair she wove between her fingers. He sat on the floor in front of her, leaned back against her shins, legs sprawled almost childishly in a wide V. He tilted his head back to look up at her, laughing at his own jokes, chattering aimlessly, reaching up to tap and pinch at her thighs. At times like this, easy and relaxed and enjoyable, Jess knew with certainty that she loved him. Sure, she loved his intensity, too, even loved his wrath in some ways. When it was bad, it was very, very bad. But when it was good, it was amazing. She was reminded how fun and interesting he was, how effortless it was to have conversations with him; she felt like the luckiest girl in the world.

She had to remember this moment, she thought, whenever a storm hit, when they fought and screamed and bloodied each other. She had to remember that the storms would always pass, that they could have this warm bubble of companionship. That it was worth it. That the Joker, the most incredible person she'd ever met, was worth it.

Besides, the violence just made it better by comparison.

Jess combed her fingers through his dark blond roots, catching on greasy snags and tugging roughly, careless of any pain she was causing. He simply grunted and grinned viciously at her, his fingers dancing along her's, trying to pluck her hands from his hair. Laughing, Jess slapped his hand away and continued combing.

"How long's it been since you actually brushed this mop?" she teased, tugging at a strand and unknotting another clump.

"Y'know, unlike some people," he replied, reaching up to tug at her hair in return, "I don't depend on looks to impress."

"Ouch, touche," Jess said and, grabbing a handful of his curls, wrenched his head backwards so she could plant a kiss on those full, scarred lips. Growling, the Joker seized the back of her head and forced her mouth harder against his, deepening the kiss roughly with tongue and teeth. Before allowing his heat to set her head spinning, Jess pulled away and stuck her tongue out at him. He bared his teeth at her, amusement glittering in his eyes.

Jess reached over and picked up the tube of green hair dye on the couch beside her, unscrewing it and tossing away the cap without even glancing at the instructions. She manually straightened the Joker's head on his neck and squeezed a large glob of the color onto the top of his head.

As she was massaging the green into his scalp, making sure to copiously coat each and every strand, Jess reflected that she was involved in something behind the scenes of the greatest mad genius in pop culture. It was hard, with his slimy hair in her hands and his warm skin against her legs, to think of him as the incomprehensible Being she was so used to. That almost made it better. A god sharing his vestiges of humanity with the only one in his life who saw this side of him.

"There," Jess said when she was done. "Should be good. We have to let it sit."

The Joker was on his feet in a shot, heading to the mirror he'd hung above the counters along the back wall. He examined his hair in it, running gloved fingers along the gooey strands, checking for any spots she might have missed. Jess sighed, watching him fondly over the back of the couch.

"It's gonna dye your gloves, stupid," she told him. The Joker cast her a long-suffering sort of look in the mirror and deliberately squeezed some dye between his fingertips, rubbing it in to the leather. Jess snorted and turned from him, snapping off her own plastic gloves and balling them in her fist before stuffing them between the cushions of the couch. She kicked the empty tube of hair dye across the room, suddenly feeling restless. She wanted to do something. She supposed his dying his hair again was a good sign. Up for a public appearance? Maybe things would start to get more exciting around here.

"We oughta do something about your hair," the Joker said from right above her. He'd come up behind the couch and planted his hands on the backrest, looking down at the top of her head. Jess felt him tug at the locks brushing the nape of her neck and was gratified to notice he'd removed his gloves after all.

"I like my hair," she told him, craning her neck to look into those dark eyes, shining with amusement. He wasn't wearing the greasepaint tonight, and Jess was starting to really love studying him like this.

The Joker sent her an exaggerated frown. "Okay, but what if it was, like, pink?" He roughly pinched her cheek, which she slapped away, laughing.

"I'm not dying my hair pink."

His hands were still buzzing around her face, tugging at her bangs, flicking her nose, pulling her earlobes. "Uh, blue then. Or - or purple. You'll match my suit." Jess swatted at his fingers, giggling harder.

"Fuck your suit," Jess said. The Joker fish-hooked her cheek at the curse and she yelped, then laughed. He grinned that crooked, vicious grin of his.

"Yeah? Fuck your hair," he said. Their arms got all tangled up in each other as Jess reached up to start to return the treatment he was giving her - playful slaps, gentle tugs. Her fingers ghosted along his scars, his warm and imperfect flesh. She didn't think he'd ever been more real to her than at this moment.

Gripping his suspender straps, wanting more contact, Jess pulled him headlong over top of her. He fell easily, laughing loudly, leaving streaky green smears of dye along the couch and Jess's t-shirt. His firm, sinewy body writhed to gain purchase on the couch cushions, his legs twisting around her in his pursuit for dominance. Jess struggled from between them, straddling his hip for an instant before he'd flipped her to her back and her head smacked the armrest. Their legs kicked and locked and pushed, their hands tugged and tickled and pulled. Jess was breathless with laughter, the Joker was chuckling and grunting and growling. He pinned her with his knees locked around her hips and bared his teeth at her before going about attempting to rip her shirt over her head. She fought for the sport of it, elbowing his hands away, squealing and pushing at his face. Every time her fingers went near his mouth he nipped; every time his hands grazed her breasts she bent their fingers back. They wrestled furiously like this for a few minutes, a little too violent, a little too mean, a little too hysteric. And more than a little fun.

Finally Jess kneed him in the gut, distracting him, and reared up to flip him over onto his back instead. He let her straddle him, his hands passively resting against her hipbones. The look on his face said gloating, though Jess had clearly been the winner. She leaned down and kissed that stupid, beautiful smirk for a long time. He was still smiling when she broke away and leaned upright.

"Okay, how about I just do bright orange?" Jess asked. "And perm it. Real classic clown shit. That'd get you off, right?" That got him. He wheezed, truly surprised and amused, the cords in his neck straining as he lifted his head off the armrest and shut his eyes with the force of his laughter. She loved making him laugh, with no malice or derision in it. She loved how he kicked his legs in the air like a child, how deeply he let himself feel every moment of it. He lived like that no matter what, in the good and the bad, so it was up to Jess to supply the good as often as she could.

He relaxed under her after a few moments, still chuckling, and opened his eyes to meet her affectionate gaze. "Oh," he wheezed, "oh, I, uh, I like you."

He said it lightly. It wasn't meant to be serious, any kind of confession of feeling. It was just a casual fact about how he felt in this moment. He might as well have said, "I like that lamp." But Jess could also read the truth in those words, knew he'd never before said something so candid about his feelings for her. And she couldn't fucking help herself.

"Oh yeah?" she said as casually as she could, her heart pounding. "Well, I fucking love you."

There it was. Finally. The confession she'd been holding on to for so long. She didn't know how she thought he'd react. Rage? Amusement? Scorn?

What she hadn't counted on was his lack of reaction.

He didn't say anything, just chewed on his cheek and looked away from her like a dog. He didn't look bothered or emotionally stirred. He just looked bored.

"But I'm sure you know that," Jess said, suddenly wanting to eat her words. She picked her nails, trying to look very unconcerned. She longed for the passion and energy of a few moments before. Declarations of love did not fit in the Joker's world.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," he said, meeting her eyes and seeming to realize she expected some kind of response. So he did what he usually did - he threw her that crooked, vicious grin, more a baring of teeth than anything. But he didn't try to move out from under her or push her away, which meant he was content with her contact. "I know a lotta things about you, Jesster."

Instead of disappointment or hurt or whatever emotion a normal girl was supposed to feel when the man she loved all but rejected her emotional spewing, Jess felt relieved. He'd given her an out.

"Oh, do you?" she purred, leaning into him again, changing the energy from borderline awkward to borderline sexy. "Do you know what my favorite part of your body is?" Jess nuzzled her face against his neck, pressing soft wet kisses against his skin. The Joker raised his eyebrows, looking down at her as his hands crept to her bare thighs.

"Uh, well, Jesster, I'll give you the benefit of doubt here. Is it my brilliant, independent mind?" he asked, wiggling under her in a mock-feminine way.

"Oh shit!" Jess said, popping up with false panic in her eyes. He was grinning at her, ready for the punchline. "I was gonna say your dick." She reached down to slide her hand across the area in question and was met with deadpan silence.

After a beat, the Joker simply said, "You're a goddamn sexist."

Jess shrieked with laughter, kissing his mouth again, and felt him respond in kind, hushed laughter forced through his nose.

"Yeah," she said between kisses. "And you're a chaotic terrorist with green dye in your hair." She shrugged, reached down between them again and unbuckled his pants. "We all have our quirks."


Ew that was gross. I'll try not to make it so damn sweet next time. ;P

I really hope you enjoyed!