It was too dark to see properly. He knew this and yet still he searched, frantically breaking branches in the bushes. His hands felt sticky and his head was painfully dizzy… he was losing too much blood he knew that. And no Doctor anymore to help him. Even his skeleton arm felt close to shattering.
But he couldn't stop now. Somehow he'd got away… either that young Earl…No, he still could only think of the boy now as Smile. The boy must have felt lenient with him, enough to let him go. He knew how easily it could have been for him to have ordered Black to kill him. He wished he could feel grateful for that but in truth his own life meant little.
But the others… yes, he must find the others now and help them escape. If they went now and left the town perhaps they could be well away, find a new place, start again. Father was no more, he knew… that prospect both terrified and liberated him. Beast had been right after all, hadn't she? They should have left long ago. But he'd felt so indebted, so… needed by Father. He couldn't have just abandoned him, not after he'd saved them. But Father was no more.
He stumbled slightly on his unsteady wigs and let loose a racking cough. More blood he knew as he placed shaking fingers to his cold lips.
"This isn't good… but… they can't be far."
Then there was a crash in front of him and he instantly tensed his body for a fight - not that he'd be much good in his state. But then he relaxed, recognising the slight figure and freckles of the girl.
"Doll…. y'er safe! I…"
His legs gave out and he collapsed down to the parched grass. His eyes found Doll's searchingly… there was something wrong there, he could see. She wasn't focusing on him properly and her face was wet… tears?
"Boss. I… They told me t' come back for you. But… It's gone. S'all gone!"
He sighed, trying to keep his vision in focus.
"Come closer… I can't hear very well f' some reason. What's gone? Where are the others?"
She shook her head as if she didn't want to hear but thankfully moved closer, leaning down to the ring leader.
"Noah's ark is as good as gone! When you left… well, the rest of them took it on themselves to see to Smile and Black. I didn't want them too but… they left and…"
She broke off, breaking into sobs and Joker already knew what had happened.
"They're dead, aren't they?"
She nodded, wailing loudly in the night air. He winced at the sound and felt sobs of his own come, bowed his head down so she wouldn't see. Not that it mattered. Why did it matter?
"Then we are no more… no more. Go, Doll. Go now from me. I can be of no help to you. I… you're strong. You can carry on but this is it for me now. I…"
have no reason to keep living. His mind unbidden brought back the faces he'd seen every day, the faces he'd loved so well. Dagger with his constant smile, Beast always so desperate to please him. He wondered how there bodies were broken… as broken as when they had first met him but now beyond repair.
Doll was clinging to him he knew and for a second he clung back, holding her warmth close. And then he let go and pushed slightly to send her on her way.
"Boss, I… I'll get revenge for this! I'll…"
"No." He said faintly. "There's no point. There has been too much bloodshed tonight. I will not have you stainin' your hands as well. Go now and be free. Promise me, won't ya? You'll survive….?"
Why was he finding it so hard to concentrate on the words, on just making sounds come from his throat? Everything looked so red now to his eyes and he wondered exactly how much he'd bled.
"Go…." He managed to whisper pointing the way with an outstretched bone finger. Doll gave him one last look and turned, running fast on nimble legs.
Good, he thought. Let her not be caught… Please. If only she should survive then I can die at peace.
But then in the distance he could see the silhouette of the butler against the fire of the house. He could see Doll running in the wrong direction, not away from there but to the flames. And he knew that a peaceful death was simply not meant to be.