Chapter 17 - Hate Me

And with a sad heart, I say bye to you and wave, Kicking shadows on the street, For every mistake that I had made, And like a baby boy, I never was a man, Until I saw your blue eyes crying, And I held your face in my hand, And then I fell down yelling,"make it go away!" Just make a smile come back,
And shine just like it used to be, And then she whispered, "How can you do this to me?"

Hate me today, Hate me tomorrow, Hate me for all the things I didn't do for you

Hate me in ways, Yeah, ways hard to swallow, Hate me so you can finally see what's good for you, For you, For you, For you

- Blue October

Jack lay staring up at a crack in the ceiling above him in the dim light of early dawn. Though he was tired beyond the point of exhaustion he hadn't been able to sleep at all during the night. At first he had simply watched Madeline as she slept beside him. Marveling at how peaceful she was in spite of everything that had happened to her recently. Everything that had gone wrong because of him. Maybe her life hadn't been a happily ever after before he arrived on the scene, but at least she'd had a life. Now all she had was something worse than hell, and he knew the fault could only be laid on him.

He had held her and watched her eyelids flutter and soft smiles cross her face until the batteries in his little camping lamp had burned out. Then he'd had plenty of time in the silent darkness to remember every moment they had spent together and find the flaws in what he had done. To see that she had been right when she tried to keep him at arm's length, and that he had been selfish in asking for more. He had known she deserved better than him, and the night before had only proven that fact. That thing living inside him had shown just how devious and malicious it could be, and he had been powerless to stop it. He was worse than worthless, and he couldn't allow Madeline to stay and live in fear that he would lose control. He would never be the man she feared, the man leaving blood and bruises behind. He refused to become his father. No matter how desperately he wished she could stay, he knew it was no longer an option.

No, all that silence had given him plenty of time to plan how he would send her off. He knew she didn't want to leave, but she had to. He would wait just a little longer, then slip out of bed and pack her bag, making sure she had plenty of money hidden inside. Enough to start a new life somewhere wonderful and live that life any way she chose. Then he would slip out and steal a car for her, something nondescript and easy to drive. Once he got it back to the apartment he would write her a letter telling her exactly what to do, slip it under the door and walk away. That was the most difficult part of his plan, the part he wasn't certain he could do. He knew he would be tempted to go in one last time to see her for a moment, just to watch her sleep one last time, but he would have to be strong. For her. To prove that he wasn't completely worthless… that she meant enough to him for him to do what she needed. He just prayed he would be able to follow through.

And then he would just fade away, and his dark side could burn Gotham to the ground for all he cared.

He was going over his plan one last time, cementing his resolve when Madeline shifted in her sleep. Though she had been right up against him all night it seemed she could sense his thoughts and she suddenly rolled over, throwing her arm and leg over him and pulling him tight against her. He had been certain he could slip away without disturbing her before, but this new position threw a wrench in his plans. If he didn't know any better he would have thought she was actively working against him on this whole thing.

He sighed melodramatically, and rolled his eyes. The gestures completely theatrical since he was in no mood to react that way, but he felt he should in the hopes he could perhaps fool himself with his actions.

"You're not very good at the whole morning after thing, you know?" Madeline's soft voice shattered the silence in the room and Jack nearly jumped out of his skin at the unexpected sound coming from her.

"H-ho" he cleared his throat, and tried again, "How so, doll?"

She chucked sleepily into his shoulder. "For one thing you're so tense I wouldn't believe you got laid last night if I hadn't been there, and for another you're supposed to snuggle and sleep in after something like that."

Yep, she was definitely awake. That was really messing with his plans. She was supposed to sleep in, just like she was talking about. There was no way he could do what he hoped if she was awake. He couldn't bear to see her when she found out he was sending her away. He could hardly stand to think about it, much less actually watch her break down. Or perhaps she would be relieved, even pleased. He knew that would hurt him even more deeply.

"Well I guess neither of us are very good at it then," he said with a forced chuckle.

"Mmmm," She hummed, "but I'm awake to rectify the problem." With that statement she began languidly kissing his collarbone and softly scratching her nails if small circles across his chest. "You see, the way to fix an overactive mind in the morning is to give it something better to focus on."

Jack wanted to stop her, or at least the sensible part of him did, but that part seemed to be getting shut out very quickly and the man that was crazy about the woman beside him was only too happy to take over. "Is that so?" he asked softly.

She halted her kisses and peered up at him with heavily lidded eyes. "Do you have a better idea?" She asked shyly.

He knew he did, but at that moment those ideas seemed far away and he was almost certain this had been his plan all along. "Nope," he replied with a soft smile. Then he tilted his head down and claimed her lips in a gentle kiss. She matched his speed and intensity and her hand continued its lazy caresses of his chest, slowly moving down to his stomach. He discovered that his hands were also busy, one lightly rubbing her back and the other had already found its way to her breast. He wasn't quite sure how that had happened, but he decided it may have been an intelligent action when Madeline began to moan against his mouth.

They continued their languid exploration of one another for some time, and he was pleased to note that while there was the passion of the night before, it didn't feel as frenzied. It simply felt right. Normal even. Like it was something they both were destined for and it was exactly what they were supposed to be doing in that moment. Thoughts of sending her away slipped from his mind as he focused simply on pleasing her.

Madeline had slowly shifted until she was laying on top of him and she gracefully sat up, trailing kisses down his neck and chest as she did. He rested his hands on her hips as she straddled him and began lazily grinding against him. He groaned and slid his hand down between her legs to return the favor, but she playfully swatted his hand away.

"Nope. It's my turn to play with you," She said with a self satisfied smirk on her face.

He wanted to respond in some witty way, but it seemed he had lost the ability to form words when all he could manage was a growl in reply. Instead he busied his hands by running them along her thighs and eventually up to her sensitive breasts. He had feared she would suffer nerve damage from her attack, but those fears had been put to rest the night before and he was delighted by the pleasure it clearly brought her when he would caress them. He was careful of her stitches, but didn't avoid them because he didn't want her to feel self-conscious about the injury. He thought she was perfect just as she was and he wanted to be sure she knew it.

Madeline bent down and kissed him passionately, their tongues caressing each other with the same patience the rest of their bodies were displaying. Jack lightly nibbled her lower lip like he had wanted to every time he had watched her chewing on it, and she responded by grinding harder against him.

Jack could barely form coherent thoughts much less words, but he knew he had to warn Madeline that he wasn't going to be able to stay a gentleman much longer if she kept up with her current level of torment. He opened his mouth to say just that when there was an insistent knock on the front door of the apartment.

It was like a bucket of ice water got dumped on his head, and there was nothing distracting him anymore. He could see Madeline's eyes wide with terror as she froze inches above him and he knew his expression was most likely similarly horrified. They had been caught with their pants down. Literally.

He grabbed her by the hips and swiftly lifted her light frame off of him and laid her down beside him instead. He was on his feet an instant later pulling his boxers on and searching the room for his coat so he could grab a gun and a knife. He spotted it and crossed the room in two large strides, crouching down and rummaging in the pockets as quickly as he could. He came up with the gun he had taken from Vinella the night before and a large, black switchblade.

He glanced over his shoulder and stared at Madeline for a moment, knowing this could be the last time he would see her and wanting to memorize her face. Then he growled "Hide," and swiftly stalked through the bedroom door, quietly shutting it behind him.

He cautiously crossed the small, empty living area and headed towards the door and the continued knocking. He internally cursed himself for not checking for a peephole when they first arrived at the apartment when he reached the door and discovered that none existed. That created a dilemma, he would have to open the door to see what was on the other side, but if he opened the door then whatever was outside would have easier access to them. He didn't like his options one bit and tried to consider another solution to the problem, but found no way around it.

The knocking stopped abruptly, and was replaced by a gruff voice, "I know yer in there, so you may as well open up."

Jack racked his brain to place the voice, but there was nothing familiar about it. He let another moment pass and when he heard a single set of feet shuffling outside he raised the gun to chest level and swung the door open.

The man on the other side was not at all what he had expected… It was just a single old man. He was dressed in old slacks, held up with suspenders over a formerly white wife-beater. His ensemble was completed by an old, wool coat and a cigar stub hanging out of his mouth. Jack didn't let his gun drop its aim from the man's chest, but he nearly did in his complete confusion.

The old man looked Jack up and down and a lazy grin spread across his face. He slid his thumbs into his suspenders and met Jack's eye, "Caught ya at a bad time, eh?"

Jack didn't feel like discussing just how bad a time it was, so he got to the point. "Who are you and what do you want?" he asked in a growl.

The old man chucked and stuck his hand out for Jack to shake. "Earl's the name, and I'm here to collect your rent and discuss your lease options. I do enjoy good conversation as well, but I guess I'm out of luck with you. Maybe your pretty lady will do better?"

Jack bristled at the mention of Madeline and didn't even bother to glance at the outstretched hand. It was bad enough that the guy knew he was there, but it was a whole different kind of bad that he knew about Madeline. Lying seemed his only option at that point. "I don't know what you're talking about. There aren't any 'pretty ladies' here."

The old man raised his eyebrows and shifted his gaze behind Jack and toward the bedroom. "Bit of a jerk this one. Saying you're not pretty."

Jack's head instantly swiveled behind him and he spotted Madeline standing in the doorway dressed in nothing but his shirt, holding a second gun on the old man. He cursed under his breath and returned his attention to the man, Earl.

"I told you to hide," he said to her, though his eyes were on Earl.

"Uh huh, and I thought that was stupid, so I came out to be your backup." Jack noted that she sounded a bit haughty, but her voice was steady, and for that he was thankful.

Earl's smirk widened around the cigar as he looked back and forth between them. "Yep. I think she'll be fun to talk to. Business first though. How long will you two be wantin' to stay here?"

Jack saw Madeline slide up beside him out of the corner of his eye, and was surprised to find that he relaxed with her at his side. He knew having her in danger with him should make him more tense, but he couldn't deny her calming influence.

"Well since you know we're here I believe we'll be leaving immediately," Madeline responded.

The old man waved his hand at them in a dismissive gesture and huffed out a long suffering sigh. "No need for that. I've known you were here since that first night after you all burned that house down a couple blocks over. I ain't a rat, and there ain't a better place for you." He paused and scratched his chin. "Well that's not entirely true. The apartment above this one would be much better, but that there is just details." He waved his hand again and smiled in a friendly way.

Jack was at a loss. This was a new situation for him and he was not pleased with the way things were playing out. It seemed that Earl knew more than enough about them, and was clearly a threat, but as far as Jack could tell he hadn't done anything to put them in jeopardy yet. Logic told him the best way to handle things was to kill the guy and get Madeline out, and he shifted the knife hidden in his hand to do just that.

Then the old man abruptly took a step back and raised his hands a bit in a placating manner. "Well I see I spooked you. I 'pologize for that, it wasn't my plan at all. Just wanted ya'll ta know you were safe here. I'm no snitch. I'm a businessman, and I like to jump on an opportunity. You two are an opportunity, and if I'm seeing things right, I think you're a good bet." He stopped and looked them both in the eyes for a long moment, then continued. "Now there are a few ways this can go. Ya'll can kill me and run. Not good for business for either of us. Ya'll can not kill me and run. Again not good for business. Or, my personal favorite, I can come in and you," he pointed at Jack "can get the folding chairs out of the closet, and then we can work out a rental agreement that helps us both out."

Jack liked option A best, and didn't see how it was bad for him in any way. He adjusted his aim to the old man's head and prepared to pull the trigger when Madeline put her hand on his shoulder. "Let's hear him out. If anything sounds off then we can act. I don't want to always be running away though."

Earl grinned and nodded at Madeline, "Wise words there. You should listen to that pretty lady, she has a good head on her shoulders."

Jack grunted and lowered his gun. "For the record I think this is a bad idea." He mumbled. Then he shrugged and walked over to the closet, where he found a stack of folding chairs, just as the old man had said. He pulled three out and set them up so he and Madeline had their backs to the bedroom wall and Earl's faced the door. He waved the old man and Madeline over to their assigned seats.

"Talk old man," he growled, and was rewarded by Madeline lightly swatting his arm.

He turned to her with a look of disbelief and found her smiling at Earl in an apologetic way. "I'm sorry for him, he's a bit cranky this morning."

Jack snorted, and was just glad she only thought he was cranky. If she knew how he was really feeling she would probably be crying. Though he had been distracted by her attempt to seduce him - and his groin was still aching from the abrupt discontinuation of that seduction - he had his mind back now and he was even more certain that he needed to get her out of Gotham and away from him. The old man showing up at their door and spouting things about them no one should know only illustrated that fact.

Earl snorted at her remark and shook his head "Well I can't say I blame him. If I'd been interrupted while I was taking care of a bombshell like you, I would be cranky too." He finished his assessment by winking at Madeline, which caused her to blush furiously and laugh. Jack on the other hand didn't find his comment to be funny at all. He had always been possessive, and though he knew Madeline was her own person, he was incredibly jealous of another man looking at her like that. It didn't matter that the man was probably too old to act on any desires he might have. He also didn't consider the fact that if he sent her away there would be many men having those thoughts, and there was nothing he could do to stop that.

Jack cleared his throat to get everyone's attention and glared malevolently at the old man. "I suggest you get to your business and stop talking like that if you want your organs to stay in your, ah, body," he said conversationally.

Earl just chuckled and nodded his head, "Of course. Here's the deal, there's an apartment up one floor that I have set up for guests like you. It's furnished, though you might want to make it more personal if that's your thing, but it's got power, hot and cold water, and I can turn the heat on in there. Best part for ya'll is the locking door at the top of the stairs for added security, and it wouldn't take too much to get the old surveillance system up and running again if you wanted. Now all that can be yours for the low, low price of only ten grand. That gives ya'll the whole floor for six months, and you can always renew if you want to stick around." He beamed at them, and indicated his cigar to Madeline, "You mind, hun?" Madeline just shook her head.

Jack found that he couldn't sit still so he hopped up and began pacing between the other two, waving his hands as he began to speak. "All of that sounds great, but there's one problem. You." He spun around to face the old man, his knife extended at him. "You're still here and you already know too much. Ten grand isn't much, and I don't see what would stop you from telling anyone where we are and what we're up to. I imagine there are a few people around that would happily pay your price just for a few words. You already said you like conversation… It stands to reason you like that conversation with anyone." Jack was surprised to note that the old man didn't even flinch at the knife or his menacing attitude. He may not like the guy, but he had to respect his courage.

Earl took a puff on his cigar and blew out a large cloud of aromatic smoke, making Jack desperately crave a cigarette. He hadn't had one in a few days, and now that the stress was truly coming to a head he realized he would really like one to help him calm down and think things through. Unfortunately he didn't have any, so he would just have to suffer without.

Earl narrowed his eyes at Jack and took another pull on his cigar, "I'll tell you the truth son, I don't have any love for the people of Gotham. I hate this city and most everyone in it. I see no reason to tell anybody shit 'bout what goes on in this building and ain't never have. People come and go all the time, and for the most part I don't really care. If they stay a day or two I leave them to it. It's only when it looks like they'd like to settle down that I pay 'em a visit and make them my little offer. Every once in awhile they take me up on the deal, most of 'em just move on. It's all the same to me." He paused to take another drag, and it seemed he needed to collect his thoughts as well. Then he forged on, "I don't care what you two do any more than I cared what the rest done. I'll stay in my house either way. Well, unless you kill me that is," he chucked.

"I want to tell you a story though." He paused and looked to them for permission. Before Jack could deny it, Madeline nodded her head, and Earl began his little tale, "I worked at the docks when I was a young man. It wasn't a bad place to work back then. The Narrows were headed downhill, but weren't all bad yet. A respectable man could do all right, and that's what I was. I worked hard and saved every cent I could, and when this building came up for sale I bought it. I lived in my little apartment downstairs, and rented the rest. I kept working and one day I met a wonderful woman. Ramona Falcone. She was the love of my life and we got married, even managed a happy life for a few years. Then her younger brother got affiliated." He paused again and looked up at the ceiling as if he was trying to hold back tears. "I'm sorry, it's been awhile since I've talked about this," he said softly.

Madeline smiled sadly, "Take your time she said kindly.

Jack had lowered his knife while the old man told his tale, but he was still on edge. He didn't like where the story was going, or how he thought it would end. He didn't want to know the old guy's life story, he just wanted to get this over with and get out of there. Even if the deal did sound pretty good. It was simply too much of a risk.

"Yeah, take your time. May as well confess your sins in your last hour," he said harshly, waving his knife around.

"That's enough," Maddy snapped at him, and he turned his glare on her. She just raised her eyebrows at him and returned her attention to Earl.

He finally seemed to have composed himself, and continued his tale of woe - much to Jack's annoyance - but Jack was too distracted to listen anyway. His mind returned to his plan to send Madeline away and he realized he was even less certain he could do it. He knew she deserved better, and that by keeping her there he was just being selfish, but having her there beside him gave him strength. That other part of him was still there, but maybe he would be able to control it better. He could always send her away later if he couldn't control it, and now that she knew she could avoid him when it started taking over. Then there was the offer Earl was making… though he couldn't trust the old man, it did sound like a good place. Especially if he could get surveillance set up. Maybe he could make a safe place for Madeline. Safe from everyone else anyway. He was the real threat, but he was no longer sure he was strong enough to walk away. He didn't want to put her in jeopardy, but he had somehow managed to talk himself in circles long enough that he had decided to do just that. He was ashamed of how weak that made him, but he simply couldn't dredge up the power necessary to do the right thing.

He tuned his mind back into the story as it seemed to be winding down, "... one day I came home and found Ramona carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey, a note tied around what remained of her neck. She'd been gambling and lost it all. Didn't want to tell me about it and make me sell the building. She never thought her own brother would hurt her. I wouldn't have thought it either. He killed her though, and because he did he moved up the ranks. Showed 'em all that his new family was more important. That's how he became the Boss of Gotham." He took a long drag on his rapidly diminishing cigar and let that settle in.

"I quit at the docks after that. Lived off the rent money, and then my savings when all the good tenets started leaving. I became a bit of a recluse and only left to buy groceries. Eventually I just found a kid that would pick 'em up for me and deliver 'em for a small price. Then I never left the building. Haven't left these four walls in over 20 years now. When one boy grows up, he just sends a younger friend over to take his place. I get my stories from them boys. That and my vittles. The boys tell me Falcone thinks I died a few years back, and I've never corrected that. Point is, I ain't goin' no where to tell 'em 'bout you, and they ain't coming here to ask."

Jack turned to Madeline and found a tear running down her cheek and her hands clasped tightly together. He knew there was no way he was going to be able to kill the old man now. He could tell the story was true, and really there probably wasn't any reason to kill the guy, but there was the principle of it to consider. It didn't matter anymore though, Madeline would never forgive him if he murdered a harmless old man. He internally groaned and sank into his chair. He couldn't fathom how things had gone from sending Madeline away to not killing people to keep her happy in under an hour. Women really were a lot of work…

He stared at Earl, and Earl stared right back without flinching, or looking fearful at all. Jack saw it then, he didn't have anything left to lose so he didn't have anything to fear. Even his dark side wasn't interested in killing him. Jack had to wonder if that would be him when he lost Madeline. He knew it was a when, not an if, even if he didn't want to admit it. Would he just become some man with nothing left to lose and nothing he gave a damn about? Maybe, but he doubted he would be content to hide in his house for 20 years. His dark side would make sure that didn't happen.

Finally he closed his knife and held out his hand, "Well I guess you better show us to our new appartment, old man." Earl took his hand and gave it a firm shake.

"Think ya'll might want ta get some clothes on first," Earl chuckled once he'd released his hand, and Jack knew it was good advice. He didn't know if he would come to regret his decisions, but just then he couldn't seem to find the strength to care.