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.
Characters/Pairing: Jack, Peter, Neal, El; Gen
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.
"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.
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 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.
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