A/N: On the "Ask the Squishykins" tumblr, Twinings and I are currently offering ourselves up for two full weeks of filling fic prompts for our readers, varying in length from a hundred to three thousand-plus words. The project has been dubbed the Free For All Fic For All—or FFAFFA for short. This is one of those stories—and this is the boilerplate author's note you'll see on all of 'em. The current round of FFAFFA is temporarily on hold due to IRL circumstances (hi, Hurricane Sandy!), but we'll be starting it up again in a few days, so if you want a custom fic written to any particular specifications, drop by and ask for it!
Prompts: Mr. Zsasz makes a friend; Zsasz shows weakness; Zsasz forced to have a conversation with someone instead of killing them; Zsasz shows a softer side, if only for a millisecond.
Warnings: Victor Zsasz sees the world around him as nothing more than a series of potential murder victims; expect violence, sometimes with sexual undertones, death, disturbing imagery and a heavy sprinkling of misogyny. He's a murderer, not a cuddly bunny, I must portray him as such. Please be advised, this story is really fucking dark. I'm not even joking.
A million twinkling stars above Gotham City blur in front of the Batman's eyes. His feet stamp across the rooftops, leaving the impression of thick boot treads in not-quite-set roofing tar. His heart beats in time with his footfalls. So fast. Too fast. His lungs burn.
Victor Zsasz stands on the roof's edge in the distance. His hostage, on her knees at his feet, does not move. Is she dead? Is she not? Her head is thrown back, the serial killer's fingers entwined in her hair the only thing keeping her upright. Her hair twists in the wind, silver in the moonlight. The breeze paints with it, ever moving brushstrokes against the black, black sky.
A shadow moves across the moon. There is something otherworldly about Zsasz's face in its starved light. Teeth too sharp, eyes too bright, shadows and contrasts too stark.
Something glints in the dark. High above Zsasz's head, he holds it aloft. Small. Sharp. The fingers in the girl's hair tighten into a fist.
His arm sweeps down. The blade bites his own flesh, carving a mark in his cheek. His other hand pulls up, pushes back. The girl falls back into the abyss of nothingness at the edge of the roof, her silk shirt fluttering against the wind.
"One hundred twenty-seven," Zsasz says as the vigilante sails past, diving over the edge, toward the street below.
She is a pretty little thing, the flight attendant, all dimples and sparkling green eyes as she leans down to hand him his ginger ale. Her badge reads "Jennifer" and oh, Victor Zsasz thinks hungrily, she looks like a Jennifer. Her teeth are capped, white and even and perfect—a cheerleader's smile, a beauty queen's smile—and her makeup is the kind of flawless that comes with years of practice at the art. Oh, yes, definitely a Jennifer. Popular girls are always named Jennifer.
(At least, the popular girls he'd known.)
His eyes trace the curve of her jaw as she hands a club soda to the man sitting next to him, moving lower, ever lower, until they fix themselves on the tick-tick-tick of the pulse at her throat.
Zsasz's tongue darts out of his mouth for a moment to wet his lips. He counts the beats of her heart in the space of six seconds, multiplies by ten.
Heart rate, one-ten. Bleed out time from jugular vein, eight to fifteen minutes.
Taking a sip of his ginger ale, he imagines the warm, wet rush of Jennifer's blood running over his hands. Imagines his thumb brushing over her bottom lip, staining it crimson as the life drains out of her eyes. She would sputter. Claw. He imagines her fingers twisting in the fabric of his coat jacket as the knife cuts cleanly. She might even beg…or…
"Is there anything else I can get you, sir?"
"No. Nothing." Victor raises languid blue eyes to hers, hooded by heavy lids. He feels his lips stretch into a smile that gives only a false impression of genuine emotion. "You've done more than enough."
He sees that she thinks him handsome; that she thinks the man in the expensive suit sitting in first class on a flight to Paris is not only a meal ticket, but also good looking enough to warrant her attention. It's in her smile. Her pretty, pretty plastic prom queen smile.
"If you need anything…"
"You'll be the first to know."
With her little beverage cart, she continues down the aisle, sparing him one last backwards glance, careful to look at him through her lashes.
He watches her head turn, watches that glorious pulse disappear, hidden by the high collar of her uniform and finishes his drink.
Just a few more hours.
The walls of the cocktail bar are a deep and violent shade of red, the color of a lipstick worn by a woman of scandalous reputation with flashing eyes and hot blood and a taste for danger and…
Zsasz exhales very slowly through his nostrils, clutching the arms of his chair. The sensation of plush leather beneath his fingertips does little to cool the burning beneath his skin. Neither does the lovely, voluptuous lady who takes a seat next to him.
His head swims in a bouquet of Chanel No. 5. Thick. Rich. Cloying. It presses in on him, more oppressive than cigarette smoke and twice as addictive besides. He turns burning eyes on the woman beside him, his gaze caressing the delicate curves of her form, from the rolling hill of her shoulder to the slick black leather ankle strap of her shoe.
Her raven curls make him think thoughts he should not entertain. What that thick sprawl would look like behind her head on the ground, dampened by her pooling blood; how her skirt with its obscenely high slit is the perfect opening for a knife to slide across the creamy pale skin of her thigh.
Femoral artery, bleed out time, five minutes. Tops.
Melting into her chair with easy grace, she crosses her legs. He catches the slightest glimpse of the lace edge of a garter. In the space of a heartbeat, he envisions the sound it would make if he split it in half with a blade. Slight, but audible. Like the sigh of the dying.
His pulse quickens. Beats loudly in his ears. Deafens him for a moment.
Victor's fingernails dig into the arms of his chair more fully as he wrests control from the gaping jaws of his darkest impulses. The monster does not go quietly.
"Mister…." her accent is very thick, but not so thick that he can't understand it. "Zsasz, yes?"
"Yes," he breathes.
"My name is Marie. I believe," she reaches into her purse, withdrawing a cigarette, "you are looking for something. Small, silver…"
Ever the gentleman, Victor produces a lighter and flicks it open. The reflection of flame dances in her eyes as the tobacco lights. She too thinks him handsome. "Where is it?"
After taking a drag, she produces a folded piece of paper from her purse and offers it to him. "You will find it—"
Victor grabs her wrist rather than take the paper. His eyes bore into hers. Her pulse beats under his fingertips. He only barely keeps from smashing his wine glass to slit her throat with the pieces so that he can feel it more fully. "I thought you would take me to it."
"I am only the messenger, not the guide." Her pulse remains steady and her eyes don't waver. She's no fun at all. "Release me."
Instead, he squeezes harder. "No."
She still does not seem afraid. She is like him, he realizes. She has a monster of her own. A monster more terrifying than he is. In this moment, he understands her. Believes, perhaps, she understands him. How could she not, if she's here, giving him this information?
Later, in his hotel room, they tear each other's clothes off. She takes the phone off the hook so the front desk can't complain about the noise. They leave bruises on each other. Welts. Scratches.
In the morning, he has bite marks and she…
She makes a pretty corpse.
The folded paper leads him through the streets of Paris. What the paper does not tell him, helpful people on the street do. He pretends his French is not flawless, stumbling over his words with an overly helpful flower vendor. The round faced man is only too glad to help such a rich looking American find his way, pointing him straight to the door of the shop he is looking for.
The bell on the door jingles as he enters. The shop is empty.
Victor looks around at the various curiosities. A pile of animal bones here, a dusty leather book there. Behind the front counter, a heavy curtain rustles and an elderly man comes into view. He adjusts his round spectacles to sit more fully on his nose and peers at his customer. Victor notices the man's hands as they move. The skin is thin, like paper, veins crisscrossing beneath it in deep blue and purple.
He has never seen such hands. Never cut such skin. What would it be like, he wonders, how fast would the blood drain from a man so old?
"You are Zsasz?"
The old man rummages around behind the counter and pulls out a leather satchel. "A map," he says, patting the bag, "lights. Tools. The history. Everything you will need."
Victor reaches into his pocket. His fingers touch the handle of his switchblade and he thinks about the papery skin and how it will fold under the metal.
No. Control. Always control.
Instead, he takes out his wallet and lays down the agreed upon sum. Takes the bag. Leaves the shop.
The police find the body of the flower vendor around midnight, scattered with white and yellow rose petals.
In another hotel room across the city, Victor feverishly reads the history of the relic he seeks in Paris. The blade of Joseph Vacher. L'éventreur du Sud-Es—the South Side Ripper.
The history is more myth than fact, he thinks, the blade's origin nothing but a fairy tale: it is supposedly a broken piece of a sword belonging to a demon god.
Victor Zsasz has never felt the need to worship any deity other than his own vices. He will not start now.
But the blade…it is something special. He has heard whispers of it for years. No matter how fanciful the stories about it may be, it is a blade blamed for the body counts of Jack the Ripper, Joseph Vacher, even Erzsébet Báthory. It is passed from owner to owner, letting blood along the way.
He must have it.
The sun goes down.
When it is the dead of night, he slips into the city, then beneath it, and into the catacombs. Armed only with a book of maps and the satchel the old man gave him, he begins the search.
Zsasz emerges from the catacombs, filthy. Hungry. Triumphant.
His canteen is empty, and his rations have all run out, but it matters little. At the hotel, he can eat and drink until he bursts. All that matters is the little box he carries. This hidden treasure, left to rot by the superstitious executioner of Joseph Vacher, is more important than all the water in the world.
At the hotel, he showers. Changes into clean clothes. Sleeps fitfully, dreaming dreams of silk under his fingers and blood coursing under his hands.
The little box is tucked safely away beneath his pillow. Tomorrow, he will christen the blade. It will yield to him, his willing consort. He will master it.
The pain that wakes him is sharp. Stunning. Beautiful in its intensity.
Victor sits up and sees the instrument of his injury, glittering on the crisp, white sheets. The blade escaped its little box in the night. Clever thing. It's eager, he thinks.
He picks up the small dagger and turns it over in his hands. The cool metal seems to heat under his fingertips where his blood touches it. Etched markings in the silver almost glow as his lifeblood fills their grooves.
"Soon, my friend," he whispers to it.
That night, he leaves the hotel and haunts the club scene. Picks up a girl with pink hair and lets her take him home.
He does not notice the fliers outside her flat, advertising a reward for any information about a missing elderly antique dealer.
The flight attendant bends down to give him his ginger ale.
"We meet again," he says smoothly, taking the little plastic cup from Jennifer.
"I'm flattered you remember, Mister…"
"Call me Victor." He tries not to ogle the creamy expanse of her throat. "I never forget a lovely face."
She blushes prettily. "Thank you, but we're not allowed to…fraternize with clients."
His carefully maintained control slips and his fingers twitch. Outwardly, nothing has visibly happened. Inwardly, he nearly lunges at her to throttle the breath from that pretty little neck of hers. The sensation is utterly foreign. Unwanted. Unnatural. It shakes him.
He recovers his composure before she even has the chance to blink. "I won't be on this plane forever. I won't always be a client. Are you from Gotham?"
She nods and, to keep from disturbing the man sleeping next to him, says quietly, "I have tomorrow off, if you would like to…"
"Oh, yes, I would like to."
After she's gone, he gulps down his drink and lurches toward the lavatory. Victor locks himself inside, braces his hands on the edge of the sink and stares at his reflection.
His blue eyes are too dark in the mirror, pupils wide. He splashes water on his face and breathes deeply.
"Control," he says steadily to his mirror image. "I am in control."
It winks at him.
Just a trick of the light, he assures himself. That's all it is.
Jennifer is so boring in bed that she isn't worth cutting up. He strangles her with the sheets halfway through their tryst, then drags her body to the closet where he hangs her up with all the remorse one might feel when putting away an overcoat.
He drags the blade across his skin to mark her passing. It hums between his fingers, the vibration so pronounced that he can almost hear it.
After, Victor dresses himself and wanders back out into the cold, cruel, unforgiving gray that is Gotham City.
He hails a taxi cab three blocks down from her building, just in case the police come snooping around later. This is the smart thing to do.
"Where to?" the cabbie asks, glancing over his shoulder.
Victor smiles at the man behind the wheel and says, "Third and Park." As the words escape, he catches a glimpse of himself in the rear view mirror.
His reflection's teeth glint, shiny silver and much too sharp.
He looks away.
Returning to Gotham has reminded him of all the reasons why he left. Being one of Gotham's elite is not without its irritations. His return is heralded in the society pages. His phone rings off the hook. Bunny Blake is throwing a "little party" to celebrate. She isn't really celebrating for him, of course, she's just looking for an excuse to show off her new dress.
He accepts her invitation.
Victor dons his tuxedo for the night's festivities. He is kissed and glad handed and welcomed back by a hundred disingenuous drones with champagne glasses in hand.
He listens to them prattle. Pretends to care about yachts. Thinks only about how pointless their existences are.
The night wears on and a debutante out to catch an eligible bachelor flirts with him until he asks her to dance. He leads the young lady in a perfect waltz, staring intensely into her clear brown eyes.
When their dance is through, she asks him to accompany her out of the mansion and into the garden. There, they make meaningless small talk for the appropriate amount of time.
Up against the hedges, her white satin gloves slip off her hands easily. She giggles as he traces the inside of her arm, from the pulse at her wrist to her inner elbow. She does not notice that he's tracing the delicate web work of her veins.
She is all too eager to get a scandalous reputation. She doesn't even protest when the fabric of her dress tears in his hands, just reaches for him and pulls him closer.
His hands fist in her hair, jerking her head back. She goes along with it, baring her throat. Victor breathes in the smell of her lily of the valley perfume. His vision clouds around the edges, lust and violence converging.
Her neck breaks so easily. So easily that he scarcely realizes what he's done until it's too late to take it back.
The fog lifts with the snap her vertebrae make. He does not feel cool and detached the way he usually does after a kill. There is an element of panic in a tidal wave of thrill.
The pool, a soft, humming voice urges.
He scoops up the girl's lifeless body and starts across the grounds. He throws her into the shallow end.
As the waves settle, he sees himself. His body too long and spidery, his shoulders too angular.
He returns to the party. No one even saw him leave. The fresh cut in his arm wets the shirt sleeve beneath his jacket, but no one notices.
The girl is not found until the next morning. The police rule her death an accident. Very tragic.
He wakes up. Thinks about killing the doorman. The bag lady he passes on the street. The businessmen on the street corner waiting for the WALK/DON'T WALK sign to change. There is an urgency to it. He does not think of how pleasurable these kills would be, only how much he needs them. It's like a hunger pang rather than a desire.
In his pocket, the blade sings. He can feel it with every step as it brushes against his leg through his trousers. It begs to be released. It begs to be fed.
He rides the subway all day until nightfall. Chooses a random stop. A teenage boy crosses his path.
Victor sees red. Loses control.
When the boy is dead, he makes another mark upon his skin.
The singing grows louder. It rings in his ears.
On his way home, his reflection in a store window laughs at him.
His hands are bleeding.
Victor Zsasz has smashed all the mirrors. Victor Zsasz has lost control.
From beneath his feet, a million splintered versions of the the darkened reflection stares up at him. It's more shadow than human now, long and lithe, adorned with patches of pitch blackness and silver slivers that shine like moonlight.
Blood drips on Joseph Vacher's blade, discarded on the ground. It glows the hot orange of an ember with each drop.
Pages of the blade's history lie scattered amidst the debris. He remembers so blithely dismissing them in Paris.
Vacher's blade is the blade of a god. But…not just any god.
It is the blade of dieu du rasoir. God of the Razor.
The blade is cursed. Whoever is cut by the blade and does not die…
Whoever is cut by the blade and does not die. Does not die. Does not—does not—
—becomes the vessel.
All the cuts. All his cuts. All his marks. Every kill he's commemorated with this blade. Every drop of blood, swallowed by the blade. Each one strips him of autonomy. Each one makes him weaker. More vulnerable.
"The blade's edge is the mouth of the God," the million mirror shards speak in unison. "It needs feeding."
Leaping from the edge of the roof, Batman dives after the girl. Miraculously catches her. Saves her. But then, doesn't he always?
Zsasz, high above, raises his arms heavenward, blade glistening in the moonlight. The God slithers within his skin, reaching for the million brilliant pinpoints of the stars. They've been a good team, these three months. Their partnership fruitful. The blade has not gone hungry.
The world tilts as his feet are swept out from under him. Victor lands on his back, but doesn't stay there for long. Batman drags him up by the collar and holds him out over the edge, threatening him with the empty space he threw the girl into.
His face splits into a grotesque grin. "You won't kill me, Batman. You can't kill me, Batman."
The blade sings as he swings it through the air. Such a pretty little melody.
Batman deflects what should be a killing blow with his arm, his costume slashed by the knife. But…
The singing stops abruptly. The God goes silent. Still.
Zsasz feels the loss. Feels a deep, cavernous hole blossom within his heart. It…hurts. The God has been ripped from him. Why?
Batman pulls him closer, so the two of them are face to face. Zsasz's reflection in the Batman's eyes is…his own. No silver, no black, no—
Victor's eyes go wide with panic. No.
Blood not his own splashes on the rooftop, black as pitch.
The power. No. No. No. Nononononononono—
Curses can be passed, his mind whispers.
The Batman's teeth are a little too sharp. A little too silvery. The slash in his costume is dark around the edges.
The killing blow did not kill.
Whoever is cut by the blade and does not die becomes the vessel.
"The blade's edge is the mouth of the God," the Batman says, plucking it from Victor's hand. "It needs feeding."
Probably the longest Author's Note Ever: My very favorite story in The Further Adventures of Batman prose volume is an amazing story called Subway Jack by Joe R. Lansdale. It features his original character the God of the Razor, who is actually part of Lansdale's own universe. Basically, Lansdale's established character got to crossover with the DCU in that story (he wrote Batman fanfic and got paid for it!) and it was awesome, and all the God of the Razor stories are awesome, and I've always wanted to play with the character. Zsasz, frankly, was probably going to be my only opportunity. I hope I did okay because NERVES.
I took great pains to make sure this story fits with the continuity of Subway Jack, even though it doesn't have anything to do with the events that take place therein. I did this because a.) I am a nerd and b.) I wanted the two to fit together in the universe for anyone who has read or will ever read Subway Jack. Reading that isn't necessary to understand this, obviously, but it's a fantastic story and remains one of my favorite Batman tales ever. If I had to say where this fits in that continuity, I'd say that this story comes a considerable amount of time after the events in Subway Jack.
Also, I'd like to state for the record that I waffled for a very long time about whether or not I should e-mail Mr. Lansdale and ask his permission to write this fic, because Subway Jack is kind of holy to me as a story. Then I freaked out over the prospect of him possibly knowing I exist and decided not to.
Um. This story also owes a huge debt to Richard Matheson's story Mad House. What you should learn from this is Matheson and Lansdale are awesome oh my god I just want to hang out with them and fangirl at them if they will let me.