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05 February 2013 @ 06:49 pm
[fic: white collar] Jack-of-Smiles (Fallen London 'verse)  
This one requires some explanation first.

Fallen London has a serial killer, Jack-of-Smiles. Although actually Jack isn't any one person — someone becomes Jack as a result of picking up an extremely bloodthirsty semi-sentient knife. Then they lose their mind and go on a killing spree, with lethality varying between "throat cut but will recover from being dead very soon" to "sliced up into a lot of little pieces".

…I was rather obviously going to write this fic sooner or later. I am even less good at writing things which aren't angsty hurt/comfort in this 'verse than I normally am.

Title: Jack-of-Smiles
Author: [personal profile] frith_in_thorns
Characters/Pairing: Jack, Peter, Neal, El; Gen
Rating: T
Word count: 2300
Warnings: This is very dark. Graphic violence and character death which is non-permanent
Notes: Claiming for the Serial Killers square on hc_bingo.
Thank you to sholio and helle_d for persuading me to post this!

Summary: The knife is in his hand and it tells him his name. Tells him to let no one get in his way.


The knife whispers to him. Its voice sings in his blood. Jack. Jack. JackJackJack —

He wants to drop it and he never wants to let it go because it's become as much a part of him as if had grown from his bones. It fits into his hand and his body was only made for the purpose of fitting it.

It whispers, Jack. It whispers, Give me blood. It whispers, Jack, kill for me.

The knife murmurs inside his heart and he gives it blood, gives it red smiles on exposed throats. The knife tells him that London is not real, that the Neath is insubstantial, that nothing matters except the desire to give it the death-offerings it craves.

Time is nothing but his heartbeat, pounding as he runs.


He flees from his name, running swift as a shadow, swift as terror.

Footsteps thud against the pavement behind him and the knife shrieks, Faster, Jack, faster!

Not fast enough. The knife screams but his body is failing at last, unable to sustain his flight. Tendons stretched thin and muscles run ragged from exhaustion. Run, Jack! Useless! Run faster!

The pursuer gains and the street ends abruptly in a wall, solid and dusty and smooth. He claws his fingers into the cracks between the stones, nails and skin tearing. But there's no purchase, no way out. No way but the knife's way, and it makes him turn.

The knife sees Man, strong, frightened. Kill him for me, pour me his blood.

"Peter?" the man half-whispers.

No, the knife assures him. No, you're Jack, my Jack. Don't heed him.

"I'm Jack," he says.

Jack you are and Jack you shall be. Mine.

"Peter," the man says, his hands spread open and empty. Fool. His pulse-beat is so exposed in his wrists and neck. So close to the surface, beneath skin that can tear like paper. "It's Neal. Don't you remember me? I'm Neal and you're Peter, Peter Burke."

Don't you listen to him. The knife trembles; the hilt twisting and the blade sharpening in the dim gas-lit glow. And the name Jack thrums in his veins, razor-edged and bloodthirsty.

"Get away," he moans. The knife wails in his hand, resonations running through his bones.

"Peter, I know you won't hurt me." Neal takes another step forward, eyes wide in his white face.

The ravenglass blade trembles. Bleed him, bleed him, it urges. Jack, my Jack.

"Run!" His voice cracks sharply. "Run, go, get away!"

Don't betray me, Jack-my-Jack. Look at all I've given you. You're better for being mine.

"Peter, I'm not leaving you." Neal closes the final pace between them, reaches for his arm.

Kill him! the knife shrieks, the sound-that's-not-a-sound tearing through sinew and muscle and bone. JACK!

Jack lunges forward, the dark knife wailing its lust for blood. And Neal screams as they crash together, and they both go down hard to the flagstones, rolling over and over, fighting and flailing with elbows and fists and feet. Then there is a fierce cry of delight from the blade and Neal screams again, discordant. "Peter," he gasps. "Peter."

The world stops. There is a dark slash down the side of Neal's neck, growing darker and wider with every moment.

The knife is humming. Good Jack, good Jack, see, all shall be well…

"Neal?" he whispers.

"Peter?" Neal breathes. He brings a hand up, slowly, to clench over the wound.

Peter can only nod, very, very slightly.

"The knife. Please, drop it."

The knife is as near quiescent as it gets, gorged and somnolent. But it still keeps up that comforting whisper, reminding him of his name, that it will look after him, he needs it… His fingers are wrapped tightly around the handle. "I can't," he moans.

"Please," Neal gasps. Blood is welling up between his fingers.

Peter tries, fights to let go, but his hand doesn't move. Won't move. Can't move. "Neal, I can't!"

"Think of El," Neal pleads. "She… so worried. And me. Have to… come back."

Neal is dying on the cold stone. And El… He doesn't know how long it's been, but she'll be afraid for him. He needs to see her again. Has to. He's supposed to protect them — protect them from things like Jack —

He cries out as he stands in one swift motion, flinging the knife away with all the strength he has. It sails up in a smooth arc, high over the wall and into the dry ruins of the Forgotten Quarter, out of sight. He cries out because it hurts like tearing bones from his arm, like dragging his palm over burning coals. He expects his hand to be marked, mangled, bleeding, the skin gone, but there's no outward sign at all to show for the pain.

Neal breathes out deeply.

Peter drops to his knees beside him. "Neal," he says, urgently. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry."

Neal brings his eyes sluggishly to focus on his face. "S'ok."

"It is not okay!" Peter's hands are pressed over Neal's now. He doesn't dare let go to look for anything to use as a bandage. And calling for help would probably not be a good or safe idea. "Neal, stay with me, alright? Oh god…"

Neal makes a soft little noise, something between a whisper and a sigh.

And dies.

"Neal!" Peter orders. "Neal!" But Neal's eyes are open and glassy and the pulsing of warm blood from the knife wound has ceased.

Shaking, Peter takes his hands away. They're covered in Neal's blood and he wipes them against his trousers. There are other darkened, dried stains on the filthy cloth and he gags, swallowing hard. He is filthy, with dirt and grime ground into his skin, and he's bruised and bleeding from a multitude of small injuries.

"Neal," he whispers. He's murdered Neal. He let the knife take him and he's done terrible things, things he can't even remember beyond nightmare flashes of darkness and blood. The thick blood-smell still surrounds him, permeates him. He crawls a few paces and gags again, retching, but there's almost nothing in his stomach. No memory of when he last ate, or slept.

He finally crawls slowly back to Neal. His abused muscles are spasming, and he can barely move. He's lying in the dust now, staring into Neal's sightless, lifeless eyes.

He doesn't have the strength to keep his own eyes open for long.

- - -

The false-stars gleam hazily in the cavern roof. Peter gazes blearily up at them, and it's some time before he notices that something keeps leaning over him, blocking his view.

Then his cheek is slapped, hard, and things swim into somewhat better focus. "Ow," he mumbles.

"Peter, can you hear me?" Neal demands. He looks terrible, grey and washed-out, and there is a horrible quantity of blood on his neck and collar and face. The knife-wound still looks deep and painful, even if no longer lethal.

"Neal," Peter croaks.

Neal sighs shakily, and sits back on his heels. "I thought you were dead. And I hadn't seen you on the boat, so I was afraid —"

Peter tries to sit up. He needs Neal's support to manage it, and then he can't bring himself to let go of Neal's arm. "I killed you," he whispered. "Why are you here?"

"It was Jack, it wasn't you."

"I was Jack. Me."

"It wasn't you. I know that," Neal says, but his eyes keep flicking to Peter's empty hands.

"I don't know what to do," Peter whispers. Suddenly he's crying, sobs shaking his chest even though he's trying to suppress them, tears burning his eyes and spilling down his face. Neal stares at him, momentarily frozen, his own eyes wide in alarm.

"Peter…" he says, hesitantly.

Peter scrubs furiously at his face with a fist, trying to force the tears away.

"Peter, don't, please, it's okay," Neal says, helplessly, and he reaches out awkwardly to put a hand on Peter's shoulder. Peter gulps out another sob and wraps his arms around Neal, being careful of that ugly wound but clinging to him as tightly as he can, his face pressed now into Neal's shirt collar and the unhurt side of his neck.

"It's going to be okay," Neal promises. His grip on Peter has gone from hesitant to firm and secure.

"I killed people," Peter whispers.

"None of them died permanently. You've been one of the more non-lethal Jacks."

"I killed you."

"So have lots of other people," Neal says, and Peter hiccoughs a laugh.

"Is that supposed to make me feel better?"


"Well, it doesn't."

Neal is rubbing a hand comfortingly up and down Peter's back. Peter leans into him some more, closing his eyes.

"Can you walk?" Neal asks, after a while.

Peter forces his bleary eyes to open. "Where to?"

"Your cottage, of course. Elizabeth will be overjoyed."

Peter stiffens, his breaths suddenly coming faster. "I can't. Neal, I can't go back."

"What do you mean?" Neal demands.

"Neal, I've been Jack! What if — What if something happened, and I —"

"No," Neal says, his voice low and urgent. "Peter, you would never hurt Elizabeth. I know that, and so does she."

But he would have thought that he could never hurt Neal. He would have sworn to it. But the honeyed voice of the knife had slid its way inside him, and he hadn't been able to resist it.

"The knife's gone," Neal says, as if he can read Peter's thoughts. Not hard to do — he's begun to shake. "You threw it away, remember? You, not Jack."

"I can't take that chance," Peter says. "I can't risk El's life, Neal! You should understand."

"You have to let her decide that," Neal says. "She told me to bring you back, no matter what. No matter what, Peter."

"I can't," Peter whispers.

"You have to," Neal says. "We need to go. Please." His voice is strained and exhausted. He's only just recovered from being dead, after all. He needs help. Peter can't leave him here.

"I'll talk to her, then," Peter says. "Make her understand."

"Okay," Neal says. "Okay, we'll talk with her."

They lean on each other as they stumble through town, each helping to hold the other up. It's a nightmare of pain and exhaustion, and a stupefying fog sets in in Peter's brain, through which he can make out only the next step ahead, and then the next. And the next.

He barely notices the slope of Watchmaker's Hill, or the way the city recedes around them. He barely notices anything, in fact, until they're suddenly stumbling over a doorstep and Peter clings tightly to the lintel as the door opens.

"Neal! Peter!"

Elizabeth's arms come up around him and he tries to move away. "Neal's hurt," he croaks, but he barely needs to state that as Neal is already sliding down Peter's shoulder towards the floor. El catches him, exclaiming in horror at the amount of blood he's lost.

This is his moment to slip away. Peter turns towards the door, but at that moment it opens again, Diana striding through, stopping abruptly. "Peter?" she says, and he's never seen her look that startled, ever.

"I have to —" he begins, and then she's all but pushing him back further into the room.

He sways, and catches her shoulder.

"Are you alright?"

"No," he says, and shakes his head, No. "I shouldn't be here. Shouldn't —"

"El," Diana calls, urgently, and suddenly Peter is on the floor and Neal is somewhere he can't see but is talking very fast and El and Diana are crowding over him. He flinches away.

El makes soothing noises of distress, and then her hand is in his filthy hair, holding up his head. "Drink this," she says, and touches a small bottle to his lips. The smell is bitter.

He shakes his head. "No, no, I can't."

"Please, hon." Her face fills his sight; the most beautiful thing he's ever seen. "You know it'll help. You need to rest."

She doesn't understand or she wouldn't be looking at him like that. "You don't know what I've done," he whispers.

Her expression doesn't waver, not for a moment. "I do know. Neal's told me."

"I'm dangerous."

"I'm not afraid of you," she says, calmly and very firmly. "Not now, not ever."

It isn't true. It can't be true, because he saw the raw terror on Neal's face in those last moments as Jack, and if El had seen him then she would have been just as afraid.

"Not ever," she repeats. "Not of you."

It isn't true. He looks into her eyes. And understands — she would be afraid of Jack, anyone would. But she's looking at him.

"I know who you are," she says. "Do you trust me?"

He's so tired, run ragged right to the very end of his endurance. Far too tired to trust himself. "Trust you."

She touches his face. "Look at me. Look at me."

Her eyes are so very, very blue. Like the surface-sky he's almost forgotten. He stares into her beautiful, trusting eyes, and he swallows down the laudanum, and her eyes continue to hold him safe while everything else fades into soft white sleep.


Posted at http://frith-in-thorns.dreamwidth.org/87681.html with comment count unavailable comments.
nieseryjna: Caffreynieseryjna on February 5th, 2013 08:21 pm (UTC)
I don't know Fallen London, but all your fics are excellent, thrilling and scary and soo very, very good!
Frith: White Collar - Neal - purple shirtfrith_in_thorns on February 5th, 2013 11:57 pm (UTC)
Thank you so very much! :D
Sholio: WhiteCollar-Peter with gunsholio on February 5th, 2013 08:30 pm (UTC)

I just adore how you write the character dynamics here - there's so much love and affection between the three of them. Because of course, they aren't going to let any of them go, and no one gets left behind.

I think I said this already in email, but I think it's hilarious that Peter killing Neal is really just a small part of the main plot. :D I do love, though, how slashing Neal's throat is what brings him back to himself and gives him the strength to throw the knife away (which I'm guessing people almost never are able to do). And that whole scene with Peter crying in Neal's arms -- it's the sort of thing that could easily be OOC under other circumstances, but here, it's right and perfect and really the only reaction that makes sense. Poor things ...

These characters bring a kind of unselfish love to Fallen London that's completely out of place in the dark, backstabby world as it exists. I don't know if it makes them more or less capable of surviving here, but I'm glad they have each other to lean on in the middle of everything.
Frith: Zundry - squidflailfrith_in_thorns on February 6th, 2013 12:44 am (UTC)
:D :D :D

Thank you so much! (And for your comments in email, too -- today's been manic and I didn't have time to answer them properly between throwing this up and running out the door again.) I really do love writing the characters banding together against the world. *hugs them*

Actually, in the first draft of this fic I had Neal being Jack. And there was stabbing, but no actual dying. Then I thought about it for a while, and decided I'd taken the easy route and it would be much more interesting having Peter as Jack, with all his morality and determination to help people. (This was also why it took me so long to type this up -- by the time I'd finished re-working it my notebook was a mess :P) And I thought his reaction, even more than Neal's, would be such pure horror. I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've written Peter actually crying, and I'm really happy that it worked in this context.

Interesting about your last paragraph. The Bazaar really likes love... *smiles evilly*

Anyway, again, thank you so much! And for encouraging me to post, because I was really worried about this one!
Frith: Fallen London - mushroom hatfrith_in_thorns on February 6th, 2013 12:46 am (UTC)
Re therapy: have you encountered Dr Schlomo yet?
Sholiosholio on February 7th, 2013 09:02 am (UTC)
Only kinda. I've gotten early Dr Schlomo cards, but haven't really found out anything about him yet.
saphirablue on February 5th, 2013 08:32 pm (UTC)
I love you for making Peter Jack. And knowing that Peter has to deal with having been Jack? I love you even more for that!

And, I love you that Peter killed Neal and know this knowledge is between them. They'll deal with that and Neal knows that it was Jack on the inside but the face was still Peter and that will take some time to put behind him. And Peter? Peter will need some time but someday he'll accept that Jack killed Neal and not Peter.

Just, I love this fic. I love this 'verse. And I love you and sholio for writing these fics! ♥

Thank you very much!
Frith: Fallen London - mushroom hatfrith_in_thorns on February 6th, 2013 12:59 am (UTC)
Thank you so much!

My first instinct was actually to make Neal be Jack. But I thought about it and decided that I was definitely taking the easier way out -- Peter being Jack was harder to write but I think also much more interesting. And yeah, very difficult for him to deal with. *feels a bit mean now*

Again, thank you! I'm really really happy you enjoyed this, and the 'verse, we're having so much fun writing in it! ♥
helle_d: Melisandrehelle_d on February 5th, 2013 10:24 pm (UTC)

I do really love this; this visceral wrongness of Peter-as-Jack (and how perfect it is that the lawman, persusuer-of-justice even in a world where justice seems a laughable concept, stubborn adherant to what is right, should become part of a monstrous self-perpetuating killer). Peter's subsumation into Jack is great, as is his subsequent struggle out of that darkness and sense of responsability for Jack's actions.

Neal trying to take care of him (and viewing death as a monor hazard) is adorable; the love and trust shines thrugh. And I do like the different attitudes they have to death in general and Neal's death in specific. That particular exchange made me laugh out loud in between my Squeaks of Angst.

The reconciliation scene at the end is an excellant way to end it. I especially like this line:
It isn't true. He looks into her eyes. And understands — she would be afraid of Jack, anyone would. But she's looking at him. - a really nice conclusion.
Frithfrith_in_thorns on February 6th, 2013 12:25 pm (UTC)
Aaaargh my phone/ LJ keeps eating my comments:( But thank you so much! And also thank you for your Squeaks of Angst, they are always very reassuring :D
Laura: Neal approvescookielaura on February 5th, 2013 10:57 pm (UTC)
Wow, this is amazing, so atmospheric and the bits with the knife-voice were breathtaking. And the boys and Elizabeth are so awesome!

Also...sigh! I have now signed up for this game!! Now to spend the next figuring out what to do!
Frith: Fallen London - mushroom hatfrith_in_thorns on February 6th, 2013 12:34 pm (UTC)
Heee, it is the best game :

And thank you so much! I was very nervous about putting this one up. And I do feel a bit mean to poor Peter!
surreal_44: Evil Fansurreal_44 on February 6th, 2013 12:17 am (UTC)
\o/ Wow, what a fic! This is so, so good. I love that Peter is the one who ended up with the knife (I wonder how that happened, poor baby).

You did a great job pushing through his terror. I love how even under the spell of the knife, Peter tried so, so hard to save Neal.

I loved El at the end, and her determination to keep Peter safe, and Peter's willingness to trust her when he can't trust himself.

In other words, excellent work! \o/
Frith: Fallen London - mushroom hatfrith_in_thorns on February 6th, 2013 04:02 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! I actually started writing this with Neal being Jack, but then I thought that Peter would actually be even more interesting to write in this situation, as there's the added horror of this being so against his whiole image of himself. (And now I feel a bit mean :P) And he probably became Jack while trying to *stop* another Jack. Poor Peter

I'm really glad you liked how I wrote them in this! Thank you again!
aqwt101aqwt101 on February 6th, 2013 05:32 am (UTC)
Whoa! That was ... disturbing, but awesome. I think you did a great job depicting Peter as Jack and his feelings afterwards.
(Though I wouldn't mind of Neal being Jack, too:D )
Frith: White Collar - Neal - hat bluefrith_in_thorns on February 6th, 2013 06:39 pm (UTC)
I'm glad it wasn't too disturbing, I was putting off typing up/posting this fic because of worrying about that! Very happy you enjoyed it, thank you very much :) :)
pipiljpipilj on February 6th, 2013 07:54 am (UTC)
I haven't played Fallen London.But your tale is fantastic. Neal dying murdered by Peter. Peter's guilt is beautifully portrayed.Loved that Neal coming back to find Peter. congrats on finishing a line on your bingo card.
Frith: Fallen London - mushroom hatfrith_in_thorns on February 6th, 2013 06:40 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! And yes, I've finally completed a line XD I'm really glad you enjoyed reading :)
m rohrmrohr1 on February 7th, 2013 07:37 am (UTC)
I'd never heard of Fallen London before you mentioned it, so I don't know anything about it at all. But I've been very much enjoying the Fallen London/WC fics you've posted. It's fun to see them being the same people but in a different environment. I really like how Neal is even *more* of a risk-taker in this world. It totally makes sense. I mean, he barely grasps the consequences of his actions in the WC world. ;) And Peter is Peter, wherever he goes. ;) --m
Frithfrith_in_thorns on February 10th, 2013 02:58 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! I'm really happy that you've been enjoying these even without knowing Fallen London. It's a huge amount of fun to write these characters in a world so completely different and try and keep their characterisations straight.

And yeah, Neal with no fear of death would be terrifying, especially to Peter! *gg*
kanarek13: yay!Peterkanarek13 on February 13th, 2013 01:29 pm (UTC)
Mega late to the party but wheeeeee \o/ This story is amazing!!! Awwww... I love this verse, it gives us the best kind of death fic - not permanent :D But with all heart-tugging pain and drama :D Awww...

Pure greatness :D
sanuye12sanuye12 on March 7th, 2013 04:20 am (UTC)
Obviously I am late with this but I wasn't familiar with Fallen London at all. This story, however, intrigued me to no end, especially when it turned out to be Peter as Jack. (For some reason, I assumed it would be Neal.) Anyway, I got totally hooked on it and I think I'll have to read some more in this universe. Thank you for an interesting story.