*peers around corner* Hi, there. Miss me? Sorry I took so long. But here is Painted Faces, Part 2...finally! Enjoy!
The old Buick pulled up to the quaint two-story home, the pea green paint chipping away from many years of weathered neglect. Azzarello shifted into park and looked at the steering wheel in contemplation before raising his eyes to Jack, whose eyes drifted slowly across the details of the home he had not seen since he walked away from it at fifteen.
'Home.' That was an understatement. It was merely a house of terror for him, as long as he could remember. Turning every corner with caution, jumping at the slightest sound on the stairs, wondering when the pain will happen again and if it would ever end.
No one else came to the wake, as Jack had discovered as he walked into the sanctuary of his former church, Our Lady of Perpetual Bliss. Well, it had seemed 'Our Lady' had grown tired of Her congregation. Her floor was dusty, Her walls held a thick, pungent odor that wafted through the rafters, and the basin in the middle of the aisle stood empty, bereft of the ability to hold its Holy Water given all the neglected cracks in the marble.
Jack was quite relieved at seeing this, and he stared at the empty basin and crossed himself for the first time in years, albeit without the lingering, cold drop of Water that had always clinged to him before Mass.
There would be no Mass for Evelyn Napier, as her husband wanted to bury her quickly. Perhaps it was because his grief was so great that—
"No," Jack muttered quietly as he approached the closed casket. His father was a man of different means. A quick burial meant that no gossip would spread during Mass and Charles Napier would once again be able to hide behind his fists and unexplainable rage against his wife.
This, too, relieved Jack. Had he'd seen his father sitting quietly in the front pew, he wouldn't have hesitated in slowly cutting his throat and letting him bleed out onto Our Lady's dirty floor.
He stopped in front of the casket which was draped in a solid black cloth. His hand froze over the handle to lift it as he shut his eyes and tried to picture the last image of his mother in his mind. It never came, and he sighed as he opened his eyes, his hand succumbing to the cold bar that was plated to the dark, oak wood.
His gaze lingered on her face. The sockets of her eyes were sunken in and her flesh remained a dun color. She was wearing a purple flowered dress and her frigid hand gripped a small bronze crucifix. Evelyn Napier was at peace, but Jack didn't want to believe that she was dead.
Pneumonia, he had been told by Mr. Difato. He didn't want to hear that excuse. She had died a broken woman, merely five years after he had disappeared. He also didn't want to take in the fact that he had inherited their house, the empty shell that he was now gazing quietly at in the silence of Azzarello's Buick.
Three months had gone by since Harleen had placed her broken patient's head in her lap as he lay on the floor snickering and bleeding onto her jeans. The image of his swollen eyes had taken roost in her mind as she had looked at him through a cloudy muddle of tears. Why had she been so quick to save him? If she hadn't arrived in time, he might have been dead.
Richard was placed on paid leave until further notice by Dr. Arkham as he hoped to make an example of him. Harleen sneered. If he had wanted to make an example, he wouldn't be paying any kind of compensation.
So this was where the tax-payers' money was going, she thought to herself. Paid leave for attempted murder.
That's how she saw Richard now and she made no attempt in responding to his phone calls and text messages, as abundant as they had been these past few months.
The thought was constantly forced out of her mind in order for her to concentrate on their sessions, which had taken a different turn now.
The day before, she had allowed her comfort level to get the best of her, which resulted in an unexpected move on both their parts. Harleen was willing to discuss what happened with her patient, however, as he needed to be reminded, through several of their meetings after his attack, that there was a line that was too dangerous to cross, even for him.
She buttoned her coat as she made her way through the arboretum and into the yards of Arkham Asylum, where a dozen or so patients walked the grounds, talking to one another in the grass or along the razor-wired fences. Some were smoking eagerly on cigarettes and some just gazed into empty space, lost in thought and dreaming of escape.
She nearly tripped over a flower bed hadn't it have been for a voice hissing at her. "Watch it, Doc! I just planted those impatients!"
Harleen darted the poor plants and gazed down at her accuser, a thin woman with bright red hair, delicate features, and a hint of green just slowly fading along her jaw line. "I'm sorry, Ms. Isley. I wasn't paying attention. I didn't know you were building yet another bed of flowers."
Ms. Isley smirked and looked away from her as she slowly stroked the frail yellow and black petals in front of her. "This place could use a bit more natural beauty in its dark recesses." Her gaze slowly drifted back up to Harleen as she grinned, "You're not so bad yourself, ya know? It can't just be us 'flowers' that people need to take notice of…or even talk about."
Harleen furrowed a confused brow at the woman on her knees, now dingy with compost. She carefully squatted next to her and asked, "What do you mean 'talk about?'"
Ms. Isley only smiled wider and turned her head to the hunched form on the wooden bench just a few yards from them. Harleen turned, too, and saw The Joker sitting there with his head down and hands cuffed as an orderly stood nearby watching him.
Harleen raised herself up and dusted her slacks as she continued to look at him, his hair hanging loosely around his temples. She cleared her throat, "Sorry, once again, Ms. Isley. Excuse me…"
The woman only rolled her eyes and huffed as she continued her work, not seeing Harleen take her place beside her patient.
"Good afternoon…Mr. J," Harleen grinned.
She saw the corner of his mouth lift slightly in amusement, but he did not look at her. Instead, he held his gaze steadily on the dying grass under his slippers.
The white sleeves of his issued thermal shirt were already a dirty brown that paired perfectly with his bright orange jumpsuit.
"You've been sleeping on the floor again, haven't you?" she muttered to him.
Since his near fatal beating by Richard, Harleen, along with Dr. Arkham's assistance, saw to it that The Joker was never confined to solitary again and that if any patient were ever confined, that security would be fully screened before taking guard over the ward.
The Joker was allowed a more spacious cell with a bigger cot and double the pillows, but he had been refusing to sleep on it for two weeks now.
"With the continuing healing process of your ribs and back, Mr. J," Harleen said, "It would be much more comfortable to sleep on the cot…wouldn't you think so?"
He sighed. "I don't like…being coddled…"
Harleen grinned. "I find that difficult to believe."
The Joker shot his eyes to her and they pierced through her. "Oh? And why's that?"
"Because you're just now complaining about it," she replied. "You would've been giving the staff and me a very hard time about it, yet in our sessions every week, you never bring it up. Why now?"
He continued to stare at her, his tongue locked to the roof of his mouth in frustration.
"Hmm…" he heard Harleen ponder as she pulled the pack of cigarettes from her coat pocket. "Here."
He stared at the cigarette in her hand and took it, letting her light it for him. He took a long hard drag as she lit one for herself.
"These things can kill you, ya know?" he said with a grin.
"Of all the things you've seen and done," she smiled back, "Why are you so worried about one little stick of tobacco?"
They didn't speak for a few minutes and when The Joker finally snuffed out his cigarette under his slipper, he closed his eyes as her soft voice fluttered through his ears.
"I want to talk about our session yesterday…if you don't mind."
The Joker's lips transformed into a full smile as he remembered very fondly what happened in her office. She had let her guard down, once again, when she had sat next to him on the couch, as she had been doing so since his attack. Her level of awareness had been lulled into submission by him talking of his life in Arkham so far. The food, the walks around the arboretum, the library…lovely company.
That was when she finally noticed his hand on her thigh and his rough index finger gently stroking her skin. She didn't react right away; just looked at the way he touched her, wondering why. It wasn't until she looked into his eyes again that she jumped off the couch and took a seat behind her desk, desperately praying that the flush in her cheeks would ebb.
"Was I…too forward?" The Joker smiled at her.
Harleen raised an eyebrow. "Extremely. Our relationship is strictly as doctor and patient, Mr. J. I don't want you…" She stopped herself, and then took a short breath to stave off the memory of his hand from her mind. "I don't want you to take advantage of when we're alone together. I had to pull a lot of strings to get you into my office for our sessions, but I don't think…"
"Are you a virgin, Harley?" His voice was low and abrupt.
Harleen's mouth dropped open and she stared at him, shocked. She didn't come out of her state until the long ash of her cigarette dropped onto her pants. She gasped and wiped it away. "I…I don't…how dare you!"
He groaned silently as her drawl slipped out again. "You've been dropping the vocal formalities lately, too, Harl. Are you teasing me?"
"Stop it…right now!" she scolded in a harsh whisper.
"I'm just curious," he chuckled. "Come on. We're both adults. I just want to understand why you're so uptight, yet you wear short skirts and high stilettos." He was amused at how her jaw still remained slack. "You're sending out mixed messages, doll."
Harleen's face began to flush again as he drew closer.
"You don't seem to mind sitting so close to me in our sessions…just like you are now," he whispered.
"You're crossing the line, Mr. J," she said through gritted teeth.
"Hmm…" he moaned. "I think we're far passed the line of professional decorum, Harley." He looked behind him to find that the orderly was playing on his cell phone. The Joker looked at her once more and inched closer. "I think you enjoy avoiding the line…much like you enjoy this…"
She lightly gasped as his rough hand grabbed her thigh and his thumb began moving smoothly across the material of her slacks.
Harleen sneered at him. "What's gotten into you?" He didn't answer, but just looked at her with dark, amused eyes. "You're only doing this to scare me…aren't you?"
He chuckled. "I think this is doing more than scaring you, baby."
"Stop it…get your hand off me." He didn't, but just squeezed her thigh wantonly. "Quit playing your games." She stayed silent and looked at the orderly, who was still on his phone. She praised the fact that their backs were turned to the yard, but she had to stop him. "I will get that orderly's attention…if you don't—"
Her breath caught in her throat as his hand slid suddenly inside her thigh, his fingers just an inch from the crotch of her pants.
"The line doesn't exist anymore, Harley," he whispered seductively. "There is no going back once it's been crossed. Besides, you don't want me to stop."
"I do…" Harleen stammered.
"No," he growled with a grin. "I can tell you don't want me to…by the look in your eyes."
Harleen couldn't believe what was going on at that moment. There was no telling The Joker's agenda; she knew that. However, this was different. This was a very intimately presumptuous side that she had never seen. She had been touched before, hit on, chatted up by many different men, but this was the first to ever read through her. The Joker was good at that, and he knew it, but she couldn't react. He wanted her to, but she told herself to stand strong and not do anything that would bring her to his level.
The Joker suddenly got closer to her, nose to nose, and whispered, "The look in your eyes is telling me something else…" Harleen baited her breath as his fingers stroked the inside of her thigh.
Harleen's palm swiftly met his scarred cheek and he bolted away from her, his hands now on the bench. She quickly stood up and stomped away from him, glancing at the orderly that finally gave her attention. She growled as continued to march to the door, and she threw it open in frustration.
"Dr. Quinzel?" a nurse at the station asked. "Are you okay? Your face is all red."
"I'm fine!" her sharp response echoed down the hall as she pushed on the bathroom door.
She trotted to a stall and slammed it behind her. She noticed that she was alone and her tears fell, and she mentally kicked herself as her palm continued to throb from her slap.
Harleen tried to catch her breath as she pondered over what just happened. What was he doing? Maybe it was a mistake to put him alone with her. She didn't expect he would have some sort of…infatuation!
But was it infatuation? No, she couldn't believe that. He didn't have room for that in his dark soul. He was just trying to play with her. He had been doing so for months, asking her personal questions, she trying to skirt around them, but he would twist her words so she would have to defend her person.
And now, he had the gall to touch her like he did! This was a feeling far more fearful than when he had grabbed her wrist in one of their first sessions. It was much more dreadful, much more…sinister.
Yet, she couldn't deny it. Harleen unzipped her slacks and reached into her panties. She was very wet, and she trembled as she touched herself, stroking her clitoris fervently until she was gripping the side of the stall to keep still on her trembling legs.
She finally caught her breath and wiped her eyes. "What's wrong with me?" she said aloud, her weak voice echoing off the bathroom walls, just like it had in her room the night before as she laid naked on her bed.
"You know, Jacky," Azzarello finally said, breaking the long silence between them. "I can go in with you, if you want. If that bastard's in there-"
"Won't be necessary, Dante," Jack replied, his voice deep and monotone. "He wouldn't be here. Difato said he'd moved out as soon as she died. I'm all that's left of this place."
Azzarello smirked uncomfortably, then put his hand on Jack's shoulder. "Hey, I lost my mother when I was young, too, man. I know what you're going through. Hell, I still think to myself, 'What the hell happened to me?', ya know? As good as my mother was…I still don't know…how I ended up like this."
Jack looked at his boss and frowned. "That's where we differ, Dante. It's because of how my mother was…that's the reason that I know that I'm like this."
Azzarello licked his lips as he made a quick glance at the young man's scarred cheeks. "Jacky, the shit you told me about your father…it's not her fault-"
"IT IS!" he screamed as he pounded the dashboard with his fist. A throb of pain shot through his arm when he pulled his fist away and covered his face with his other hand to hide his eyes.
Azzarello had never seen his best man this way. Jack was normally very quiet, an introvert when it came to his emotions. He never stated his opinions, but always followed instruction and followed it well. If Azzarello said 'Jump,' Jack never even questioned 'How high?'
But now the kid was in shambles. Lost in a chaotic maw of desperation, mourning, and blame. He only kept his hand on Jack's shoulder as he tried to keep the tears from falling from his own eyes.
"I'll…I'll help you clean up the place," Azzarello muttered. "If you decide to sell it, me and the boys will help you move everything out. We're your family, Jack."
Jack took his hand away from eyes and stared at his boss.
Family. He had none. Not his mother, never his father, and certainly not Dante, no matter how good he was to him.
He was alone.
The Joker sat on the floor of his cell later that evening watching everyone leave to go home. When the final lights of the hallway had shut off, he took a look around to his cot and reached under the mattress to retrieve the journal his doctor had given him. He had only written two entries in the duration of his stay at the asylum, but he took out his black crayon and began to write.
He couldn't lie to himself anymore. He was attached to her, drawn to her somehow, and the fact that he couldn't explain why made him angry. However, seeing the look in her eyes on both occasions of him fondling her, he didn't want to explain.
But The Joker didn't have her yet. He discovered that when she had struck him, and he knew he had to restrain himself for the moment. Just a while longer, though. He would make his move and it would be over.
No more Arkham, and no more disillusioned Doc.
Only him…and Harley Quinn.