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An Intertwining of Strings and Blades

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A sigh, the smell of blood saturating the air, a dissipating scream, and a corpse in his arms. He grinned like a maniac, watching pretty hazel eyes stare at nothing. He’d gone and done it again. Someone’s life was over because he couldn’t help but want to sink a knife into another’s flesh and watch them suffer until they’d breathed their last. It was a strange, fixation of an urge he’d found himself bound by for the last few years. He never did figure out how it started.

Minutes ticked away, and his fascination with the lifeless doll in his arms had dwindled. Now came the part that was a hassle at best. Dispose of the body, don’t get caught, keep it secret. Luckily, this particular killing was neater than his usual, blood-spattering torments. Not a drop of blood had even hit the ground of the slum’s alley, and even if it had, it would’ve joined the rest of the filth and been lost. Best of all, no one would be missing a homeless hooker for a while. He had plenty of time for any trail he left to go cold, and any mistakes to be drowned by time.

Nonetheless, he was careful in carrying her back to his car and depositing her on a lump of old towels in his trunk. He glanced about briefly, seeing no one. Not a surprise, it was well past the dead of night yet long enough till daybreak that only the odd soul here and there might be twitching. With the trunk shut and locked, he swiftly made his way to the driver’s door and scooted into the seat. After double-checking that he hadn’t left anything behind he jammed the key in and started up the engine. Soon as the car roared to life his foot had slammed down on the petal, wheels squealing as he sped out of the neighborhood.

A good while later, once they’d made it over a town or two and into the woods he slowed and pulled over. As much as he loved killing, burying the bodies was just annoying. On the bright side, not getting caught meant he could continue without disruption. He went through his usual procedure: hauling the body far off from any trail or road; digging a hole no wider in diameter than 3 feet, but 7 feet deep to keep animals from digging it up; dumping the body and the towels it had lain on; and finally burying them before covering the freshly filled hole with debris and brush to hide his work, just in case. He only bothered to go through all this, not so much for the sake of the person he was burying, but so human remains with teeth that match his victim's wouldn’t have the potential to be discovered before any ties that could be traced back to him were severed and buried along with his victims.

When he was finally finished and back home he took care in burning the clothes he’d worn that day in the old furnace in the basement. He was also sure to dunk his knife in bleach and return the shovel to his backyard shed, as well as preparing the supplies to clean out his trunk, before purposely dirtying it up again with garden supplies. The garden out front was very nice, after all, and needed plenty of tending. Every action was meticulous, he couldn’t afford to have any loose ends and end up like all those sloppy killers that were convicted as soon as suspicion arose. Even if he had the cops picking through his house with a fine-tooth comb, they would find nothing to convict him.

Being too perfect could also lead to suspicion, so some things were still left in an almost suspicious way, but not quite. He surely had an abundance of cleaning supplies and the potential means to be rid of a body, but an avid gardener and his cat in the suburbs had just as much reason as any suburbian to own such things. No reason to suspect the knives in the kitchen, they’re a kitchen necessity and he loves to cook. The old furnace? Old house, old things, poor minimum wage Jack and his side jobs just can’t afford to replace it. There was not a single hole in his plans and preparations.

As things were winding down and his mental checklist of everything was muttered and ticked off, he sat down in the living room with his little calico cat to watch the news. Typical of him, really. Despite his careful nature and attention to the most infinitesimal details, he was still the paranoid type. That, and he was actually looking forward to one particular story that had been flaring up recently. While Jack himself could certainly be considered a spree killer, no one knew he existed. All his victims were shown as missing persons and nothing more. Now the Puppeteer, he was a relatively recent and well-known killer with an incredibly specific killing style that Jack adored.

This was a man that wanted to be known. He wanted the people to recognize that he was there, and that his kills were a beautifully intricate, absolutely perfect work of art. Not only did he kill at least two people in one week and not get caught, but the way he killed was breathtaking. It didn’t matter who his victims were, he made them gorgeous. Strung up like lovely little puppets by hooks and wires, suspended as their blood pooled at their toes that almost brushed the ground. They weren’t cut up brutally, nor hacked at and slashed with random, harsh anger. No. Every cut was specific. Deliberate. Perfect.

A single slash across the neck and around every joint, then hung by a hook through their back and wires around their wrists. A puppeteer he was indeed, as his puppets were always so perfect in placement and look. It made Jack wish he could be perfect. He almost wanted his own, widely known style of killing. Something that really screamed Jack’s adoration of perfect beauty.

But he was too scared. He was almost afraid of himself sometimes, like when he was driving a knife through a woman’s breast to her heart, or dragging one through a man’s stomach. All his life he was taught things like that were wrong, horrible, disgusting. Yet here he was, killing, killing, and killing again. Ever so carefully though, so discreetly it was unknown that his victims were even dead.

He paused his thoughts, noticing that the news channel had finally turned towards his beloved Puppeteer.

“Yet another victim has been found dead and strung up by the infamous Puppeteer, the spree killer that has been terrorizing this city since early this August. This time, though incredibly similar to all of this dreaded killer’s previous victims, the victim has been posed differently. As you can see by the picture, this victim has been secured with even more wires and posed as though beckoning someone.”

Jack’s breath hitched, catching in his throat as his heart pounded and adrenaline rushed through his body. This had to be some sort of message, some sort of calling for something, or someone. He hoped he wasn’t over analyzing it, but he was sure that the Puppeteer was calling for someone to do something. Something like… a rival. This was certainly a possibility. Better still, it could be a beckon for a companion. This was his chance! If he could show the Puppeteer that he was out here, that he wanted to join them, he could finally see their perfection up close. Meet the glorious soul behind such beauty and learn from the best.

“This is it, Marvin.” He turned to his cat, running his hands over its fur as he whispered excitedly. “I can do it, I can get their attention.” He pressed his nose into Marvin’s fur, hugging the furry creature close to him with a sigh. This was the best news of his life.

Chapter Text

Jack found himself eagerly planning the next morning, grinning as things slowly fell into place. Although he was ever so consumed by his mulling over details and variables, multitasking was required. So, as he planned and prepared mentally, he also took care of his life outside of his obsession. Jack was the loner gardener of these suburbs. So, like every morning, he gathered his tools from the small backyard shed and skipped his way out past his classic picket fence styled gate. A few more cheerful bounces and he was stood before the garden, which was pushing its leaves away from the brick of his house and out towards the grass.

He knelt himself down in the grass by the clay-stone boarder, setting himself to weeding and tending the flowers and various herbs. Fingers pushed into the dirt and danced across leaves and petals, the feeling ever so calming to the man. It was a stark contrast, such the opposite of the adrenaline rush that engulfed him whenever he killed. The thought buzzed briefly in his mind as he took liberty of his autonomy and paused his busywork to stroke the petals of his roses—reveling in the soft texture and delicate nature of the sweet-smelling flower.

“Good morning, Jack!” A familiar voice rings out from his neighbor’s yard, a waving hand accompanying it.

Jack pushed his fingertips over the rose one more time before he stood to greet the one calling his attention. On his ascent his pointer-finger snagged on a thorn, tearing his skin. He flinched a bit, bringing the injured finger into his mouth for a few seconds in an attempt to sooth the slight pain. He turned to face his neighbor and strode to the edge of his yard, waving in return.

“Good morning to you too, Detective Nestor.” He teased.

“Shut up!" Said detective laughed, shoving Jack playfully. "It's just Ethan to you and you know it. Besides, it's been at least three and a half months since they promoted me; you don't have to rub my success in my face garden boy.”

"Alright ‘just Ethan’, but I'll have you know that my plants are ten times as successful as you'll ever be.” Jack stuck his tongue out childishly.

“Don't you even go there, you fiend!" Ethan gasped, smacking Jack's shoulder with mock aggression.

Jack laughed, “You know it's the truth!"

Ethan gasped again, a brief 'how dare’ escaping his lips just as Jack brought his hand up to retaliate. Ethan reacted quickly, the instincts drilled into him during training snapping to the forefront of his mind as he caught the oncoming jab, twisted Jack around, and pinned his arm against his back. Not enough to hurt, just enough to keep him from following up on his initial attack

Jack hissed unexpectedly, and Ethan noticed the blood trickling down from Jack's finger onto his hand.

“Sorry!” Ethan panicked slightly, hastily releasing his hold and backing up.

Jack waved him off, saying it was no big deal.

“I guess, but what happened?” Ethan pressed, deciding to come forward again to snatch Jack's wrist and inspect the wound.

“Just a rose thorn.” Jack chuckled, allowing the young detective to maneuver his hand and look him over.

Ethan huffed and dropped Jack’s slightly stained hand before taking a small step back. They brushed off the incident and instead elected to discuss some small things, as they both had time to spare in further idle conversation. His garden, in particular, was brought up in multiplicity, as it had brought him injury that day. Jack happily ranted about his plants, clapping his hands excitedly as he spoke of every flower, leafy plant, and occasional herb or vegetable. He brought up Dragon’s Blood, a beautiful flowering plant he desperately wanted to add to his collection, but couldn’t find in stock anywhere.

Ethan’s smile faltered at the new mention of blood. Sure, they weren’t really talking about blood, but the word itself always brought him back to his work.

“I hate to interrupt your plant rant,”

Jack snorted at the unintentional pun.

“But can I ask your opinion on something? Maybe some advice, too, while we’re at it.”

Jack shrugged, gesturing for the shorter man to continue.

“You’ve seen the news, right? The stories on the Puppeteer?” Ethan began, sighing softly.

Jack’s heart thumped in his chest, his breath stuttering slightly as a wave of wild excitement coursed through his veins. Just hearing his beloved Puppeteer mentioned had his whole being in a frenzy. However, he did his best to hide his sudden shift, covering is erratic breathing with a short bout of coughs. Less than a beat and he composed himself, clearing his throat and apologizing for the seemingly out-of-the-blue coughing fit before replying to the simple question.

“Yeah. Yeah, I have.” He murmured, twisting his still bleeding finger in the rough fabric of his shirt. “What about it?”

“Well, I guess I wanted to know, just, what you thought of him?”

Jack paused. He couldn’t possibly tell anyone, let alone a police detective, what he really thought. He wracked his brain for an appropriate response, sifting through to see if he could bring up something that wouldn’t sound like he was madly obsessed with this killer. A few ideas shifted to the forefront of his mind and, seeing as he’d been standing in silence for a good minute, he settled on one quickly.

“He scares me.” Jack finally murmurs, hoping his expression matches his words. “His kills are so careful, he’s not just someone killing for the sake of killing, ya know?”

“I thought the same thing.” Ethan huffs, any sense of uncertainty gone from his stance and his words. “And for the life of me, I can’t seem to figure out why everything this guy does is so... calculated, so to speak.”

Jack’s tongue twisted itself in knots as he forced himself not to blurt out what he thought to be an obvious answer. That the Puppeteer was creating masterpieces. Taking any ordinary person and making them beautiful and perfect. It wasn’t beyond him why Ethan couldn’t see it, he knew that the young detective had never experienced the thrill of stealing someone’s life away from them and watching, in that fleeting moment of dulling eyes, how gorgeous they were. He also had enough sense to know that, just like any hobby or preference of entertainment, Ethan might not find killing quite so entertaining as he did.

Or rather, Ethan would view his favorite pastime as sick and wrong, something to be punished. It was sad, really. Not every hobby was just a hobby to an outsider’s eye.

Ethan startled him out of his daze with a soft tap to the cheek and a brief 'hey’.

“Sorry, I just uh… just got lost in thought, I guess.” Jack mumbled sheepishly.

Ethan chuckled lightly, “It's alright, man. I need to get going or the chief'll have my badge. Doesn't like me much, so he's looking for anything he can use to get me away from his department.”

“It's cool, I'll see you around?”

"Yeah, yeah I'll see ya later.”

Jack smiled, waving to Ethan who walked backwards to his car in order to wave goodbye a little longer before turning and unlocking the driver door. Ethan got in and waved one more time before backing out of his driveway and speeding away.

Now that Ethan was gone, Jack returned to his garden and inspected the rosethorn stained by his blood.

His plan just got a little more interesting.

Chapter Text

A week went by and everything was progressing as usual. He killed one other person to calm his urges and disposed of them without a second thought. They just weren’t right. He needed someone better, someone he could truly make beautiful. He so desperately wanted to execute his plan as soon as possible, but he just couldn’t find anyone that was right for what he had in mind. He needed someone… delicate. Yet this world was so full of force and abrasion that no matter where he looked lately that was all he could see in people.

His frustrations continued to occupy his mind, even now as he was doing the weekly tending of his garden. He simply couldn’t find the same pleasure as usual. A small frown graced his lips as he tugged weeds from around the base of his small rose bushes, careful not to prick his finger this time around. He tried humming to distract his mind briefly but achieved nothing more than the sound of his action, mind still churning unpleasantly. Jack huffed, throwing the weeds down beside him and sitting back on his heels. He was so sick of this back-and-forth with himself and yet he had nothing significant to pull his thoughts away from it.

The scraping swish of his screen door alerted him to his cat’s presence, the small calico having nosed his way past the door and bounded through the grass to sniff at the catnip curling its way up against the porch. Jack smiled just slightly, leaning over to pet the furry plant assailant. He murmured that he would not let Marvin ruin his plants, but that a few bites would be fine. Marvin seemed to take this to heart as he bounced around the leafy plant a few moments before snagging a few stems in his jaws and flopping on his side to chew them almost frantically.

Jack shook his head, smile still tugging at his face as he turned to go back to weeding.

He jumped suddenly, “Ethan! You nearly gave me a heart attack.”

“One can only hope.” Ethan grinned.

Jack rolled his eyes, actually returning to his task of weeding now. “So, what brings you to my yard uninvited? You know I don’t like strange gremlins near my garden.”

Ethan snorted, much like the implied gremlin, and took a moment to sit down in the grass and pull his knees up to his chest before replying. “I missed your stupid face, obviously. It’s been, like, a whole week since I saw you last.”

“Oh, god forbid I don’t go outside at the same time as you for a whole week. How indecent of me.”

Ethan laughed a bit, only to get a face full of weeds from the gardener. He sputtered, spitting some leaves from his mouth and pulling the remaining vegetation away from his face. A dandelion shred landed in his mouth briefly, and the grossly sour taste of it was enough to have him spitting even more. It was Jack’s turn to laugh now, loud guffaws and wheezes puffing from his smiling lips as his friend struggled to escape the hell he’d been given.

“What the fuck was that for?” Ethan grumbled, finally managing to rid himself of at least some of the cruel dandelion taste.

“You called my face stupid.” Jack deadpanned, grin gone. Yet his lips twitched as though trying to hold one back.

The silence lingered for just a moment, and then Jack was laughing again.

Ethan smiled as well, any negativity towards the man forgotten as he made the effort to laugh it off.

“Okay, but back to the reason I actually came over here.” Ethan started, relaxing his legs down into a criss-cross position.

Jack turned to face him fully and inclined his head for him to continue.

Ethan took a deep breath, “I wanted to ask if, uh, if you would want to go to dinner with me?”

“What, like a date?” Jack asked immediately, throwing the smaller man off with his bluntness.

Ethan panicked, shaking his head and stuttering a confused-sounding no.

“So not like a date…?” Jack tried.

Ethan seemed to struggle a moment before his shoulders drooped in defeat and he simply nodded. Jack raised his eyebrow but ultimately agreed to the request. They decided on tomorrow at 7 pm, Ethan would choose the place and drive them over. It wouldn’t be anything formal, just a nice sit-down restaurant where they could, well, sit down and have a nice time.

Neither paid much attention as Marvin trotted over, wobbling and carrying something in his dirt-stained jaws. He plonked himself down on Jack’s lap and butted his head against the resting hand. Jack paused his sentence, smiling down at the cat.

“What have you got there, Marvin? More of my poor destroyed plants?”

Marvin meowed loudly, purr rising in his throat as the dirtied object fell from his jaws and onto Jack’s leg. Jack picked it up, brushing a few dirt clumps away. Bone. He recognized it immediately. His mind went into a small panic, he knew who this finger belonged to and he was not ready to be outed before he could get to his beloved puppeteer. His mind flew through every possible excuse, each one flashing vividly through his head before dissipating just as quickly.

Ethan interrupted his thoughts, “So what is it?”

Jack jolted out of his own head and landed on the first thing that came to mind, “Uh, bone, Marvin must’ve dug up a mouse he killed or something.” He stood up before Ethan could get a closer look and tossed it into the bin around the side of his house.

“Alright then.” Ethan shrugged, though his eyes lingered on the bin as Jack headed back over.

They went to return to their interrupted conversation, but it was cut short once more by the ringing of Ethan’s phone. The smaller man sighed, shooting Jack an apologetic look as he swiped the call to answer and held the device up to his ear. It might as well have been on speaker with how loud the man on the other end was yelling, Ethan holding the phone away from his ear and wincing as he was berated.

This continued for several minutes, the screeching shouts from the other end pausing only for Ethan’s mumbled replies. He was frowning by the seeming end of the “conversation”, sighing as he finally hung up and dropped his phone-holding hand into his lap. His dulled eyes wandered back up to Jack’s concerned face.

“Guess I have to go, then. Chief isn’t happy with me.” Ethan chuckled dryly.

“Work troubles, as usual?” Jack quipped, a failed attempt to bring the smile back to his friend’s dejected features.

“Bullshit, as usual.” Ethan retorted, getting to his feet. He gave Jack a half-hearted smile before he turned back towards his own house.

“See you tomorrow night then?”

Ethan spun on his heel, nodded with a slightly brighter grin, waved, and spun back around with a lighter bounce in his step.

Jack pet Marvin absentmindedly, watching Ethan as he climbed into his car and pulled out of his driveway, lips mouthing lyrics and head bobbing to a beat Jack couldn’t hear. It crossed his mind that the instance already fading into time was probably a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for both parties, being him and Ethan, and it was only mildly concerning that he didn’t quite notice a flux in his emotions during the majority of the encounter.

Finally, he turned his gaze to his cat, glaring almost accusingly at the furry pet stretched out in the grass beside him. “You know, you almost got me caught.” Jack whisper-shouted. Though, his scolding remarks did nothing to faze the small animal. Marvin simply moved to look up at him, blinking as if to say ‘so what?’. Jack snorted, the response he’d fabricated for his cat fitting surprisingly well with its personality. Marvin did everything with no remorse, not a hint of guilt in his subtle tail twitches or the way he carried himself. It was silly for Jack to admire these things in his cat, a naturally proud and generally uncaring creature that was the equivalent of a furry, comforting leech that curled in his lap to steal his warmth and purred to encourage his massaging hands.

Jack shook his thoughts away and let his fingers dance over calico fur briefly before finally going back to complete the gardening tasks he’d begun earlier.

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The next day was nothing short of irritating. Jack had woken to find he'd misplaced is favorite switchblade and, ironically, Marvin had scratched up the curtains.

Jack gave his first of many sighs that day before reluctantly moving to get started. He cleaned up the shreds that had come loose from the curtains after Marvin's attacks, stopping to pet Marvin each time he walked past, and by the time he was done any anger he'd had had vanished. He wanted to be mad at his cat, but in the end they were just curtains. He could easily replace them.

The next issue would be locating his switchblade. He turned over the entirety of his house and came up empty-handed. This wasn’t exactly a drawback, seeing as he had plenty of other knives to choose from, but it still left him disgruntled. He swiped a butterfly knife from his sock drawer with a huff, stuffing the weapon into his pocket and shuffling to his kitchen. He briefly considered making himself an actual breakfast, but as it always does, laziness won over and he simply grabbed a stack of crackers and a water bottle.

A good start to any morning is catching up with things. In Jack’s case, that meant catching up with what his wondrous puppeteer was up to. So, with a shaky breath—stuttered since he had started thinking of the puppeteer—he sat gingerly on the edge of the couch cushions and snagged his laptop from the coffee table. Unfortunately said laptop was notorious for taking absolutely forever to turn on. Again, a sigh, and Jack resigned himself to munching idly on his over-salted crackers.

He ended up zoning out, eyes not focused on anything in particular as he stuffed ridiculously dry carbs past his lips and washed the sticky mush down with bottled water that quite frankly made his face scrunch in disgust. Whatever mineral combinations they were adding "for taste" clearly weren't working as intended. His attention snapped away from his pointless thoughts as soon as his screensaver appeared, hurriedly wiping crumbs off on his jeans and logging in. Immediately he pulled up his browser and searched for news on the puppeteer. The very first article, from only a few minutes ago, caught his eye.

“PUPPETS” APPEAR IN PARIS. PUPPETEER ON THE MOVE?

He opened it eagerly, eyes scanning the words as soon as the page loaded. What greeted him excited him to no end. The title wasn’t just clickbait, the puppeteer was definitely on the move. While previously his lovely string master’s puppets were mainly appearing around Italy, there were now several surfacing in France. Especially Paris. That was just a hop skip and a jump away from Jack's home in Brighton.

He hugged himself tightly, a large smile plastered across his face. If his Puppeteer was moving North, maybe he'd hit Jack's country next? The very thought of being in such close proximity to the one he adored so dearly sent delightful shivers to wrack his body. He clapped his hands together several times as dopamine flooded his veins, already mapping out exactly what he'd do to snag his beloved's attention. First his original plan, and then more. So much more. Jack should definitely go victim hunting before his not-date with Ethan. Now, any dismal mood that plagued his mind earlier was all but gone and replaced by the giddy excitement of a child just told they were going to Disneyland.

Marvin plodded into the room, yowling for Jack to feed him. Still not a single dim to his mood. He hopped up on his feet and bounced his way to the kitchen to fill Marvin's bowl, all the way chattering his ecstaticism to the cat trying to trip him as he weaved and wound around the Irishman's legs. With as good as he was feeling, he figured Marvin deserved a treat. Instead of dumping dry kibbles for his adorable little calico, Jack went through the extra effort of scraping shredded wet fish from one of the various cat food cans in his cupboard into the ceramic bowl deemed Marvin's.

Said owner of the dish padded over and sniffed the contents before wolfing them down like he’d never eat again. Jack pet his cat extensively, running his hands over every bit of fur and grinning as he watched the feline eat. When he decided Marvin had been pampered plenty, he stood straight and walked swiftly to his front door.

There he pulled on his shoes and tugged a jacket over shoulders before yanking open his door with a little too much force and exiting to begin his search for the day. Previously he’d scouted local parks, the downtown mall, and several neighborhoods, so this time he decided to spice things up and prowl Main Street—a street that truly lived up to its name with all the various shops lining the pavement and the thick crowd that wandered it. Jack inhaled deeply, sighing as the scent of fresh rain met him and his nose urged him to walk to his destination and further enjoy the enticing smell lingering in the misty air.

He did just that.

His eyes, once lazily focused on the path ahead of him, darted attentively the moment he reached the churning streets. This way and that, there at that man and then over at that tall girl in that shop then staring straight down the middle of the stylistically old-fashioned cobbled road. He shuffled with the mass for hours, eyes never resting and mind whirring endlessly until his phone chimed with a reminder. He pulled the device from his pocket and glanced at the notification lighting up the screen.

Dinner in 30, be ready!! :)

Disappointment.

He didn’t curse or scowl, just hefted another sigh from his lungs as he swiveled and started towards home. Since the Irishman was already dressed to go out, there was no reason for him to rush. The only thing he had to be sure of was that he arrived home soon enough to meet his certainly early-arriving chauffeur and companion with which he planned to dine. That in mind, his steps remained regular and even, not slow and ambling nor quick and bouncing. Simply, he walked home.

Jack arrived at ten to the hour. Keys were pushed into locks and his door swung open to reveal a twitchy Marvin once again meowing his head off with pleas for food. Jack obliged, tilting the kibbles he’d kept on the shelf earlier into Marvin’s bowl and petting his cat once before leaning against his counter and unlocking his phone to check up on things once more. He grinned happily at a breaking news story of three people having been strung up by his puppeteer in the backroom of a club. Fingers ran distractedly through his hair as he scrolled through various articles on the subject, smile only stretching wider as he continued.

The jingle of his doorbell dragged at his attention and, reluctantly, he slipped his phone away in his pocket and strode to open the door. Just as his fingers brushed the doorknob he became aware of the ache in his cheeks, and one glance at his reflection in the glass of a framed picture gave him the insight that he looked a bit unhinged. Not to say he wasn’t, I mean, who can tell in this day and age? Though he knew others would find such a look disturbing, so he schooled his expression into something milder and more welcoming. Comforting, so to speak. At least for the untrained eye; one who couldn’t see the subtle twitch at the corners of his lips as his muscles begged to pull them taut.

Having done this, Jack finally turned the knob and pulled open the door. His eyes met Ethan’s and he noticed a nervous grin on the man’s face.

“Hey.” Jack gave his casual greeting, eyes meeting the Detective’s as he waited for a response.

Ethan visibly swallowed, Adam's apple bobbing with the action before his tongue darted out to wet his lips. Jack watched the display curiously, still standing with his hand on the door as he waited.

“Heyy Jack—er, Seán. Jack. Uh, ready to go?”

Jack nodded, electing to ignore the Detective’s obviously jittery state and turning to swipe his keys from their dish by the door before stepping out while closing said door. He locked it, a small click echoing in the silence. Deft fingers retreated from chilled metal and Jack turned back to face the flustered man about to drive them to their “not-date” location.

“Let’s go then...?” It was almost a question. Maybe Ethan wanted to do something else before they left? Unlikely, but perhaps a customary hug, even though this still was not acknowledged as a date. It was definitely a date, but if the Detective said it wasn’t then Jack would just pretend to agree and go along with it.

After far too long a silence, which brought a slight discomfort to both parties involved, it was Ethan’s turn to nod. Slow, unsure, tentative in a way. Jack could see why others might be legitimately attracted to his friend. The two made their way to Ethan’s car, all the while lugging the silence with them. Neither was saying a word. Jack was perfectly happy to not speak until the other was ready, but perhaps Ethan was waiting for him to break the silence. He sure hoped not. Jack had nothing appropriate to say for the situation. Though he considered defaulting to their usual teasing, he wasn’t sure how it would be received in this context.

For whatever reason, Ethan didn’t even bother to turn on the radio once they actually got in the car, and the long, dragging, tearing silence still saw no end. The hum of the car and slight shuffling of its passengers became the only sound flittering in the air. Ethan’s eyes stayed staring straight ahead, supposedly focused on the road. They hadn’t crashed yet, so Jack supposed that he really was at least somewhat focused on driving.

They pulled up to a quaint little place called the Brick Oven that boasted the best pizza in the area. Now, pizza Jack could get behind. He hoped the advertisement wasn’t lying. The two got out of the car, still not talking as they walked inside and up to the reception desk. The old lady behind it smiled welcomingly, asking how many were in their party. Jack looked over at Ethan, waiting to see if he would respond, seeing as he chose the location and asked Jack here in the first place.

Ethan did in fact stutter that it was just two and the lady called a waiter over to escort them to their table. Their waiter introduced himself as Zach and lead them to a small booth in the middle of the restaurant.

They both pointed out which drinks they’d like to start with and thanked him as he left.

“So, any particular reason you wanted to take me out?” Jack began, more as a way to get the conversation started than out of actually wanting to know what Ethan’s motives were.

This showed in that his attention wasn’t particularly on Ethan, as he was opening his menu and scanning the different kinds of pizza and pasta. Nonetheless, it seemed the Detective was still incredibly flustered, seeing as when Jack glanced up after the prolonged silence, Ethan was blushing and hiding behind his own menu. Yeah, this was definitely a date. Jack almost felt bad, he wasn’t really looking for a relationship at the moment. Ethan was plenty attractive, looks and personality-wise, it’s just that Jack was a little too busy with his hobby.

Their drinks arrived, still not a word spoken between them besides the opening line from Jack. Ethan, Jack supposed, was feeling rather awkward about that. They sipped at their beverages, Jack’s not-date avoiding eye contact while Jack simply watched him curiously. He had never seen Ethan this nervous in all the time he’d known him, so to see him like this was certainly an interesting turn of events.

“Ethan, sweety, my eyes are up here.” Jack purred teasingly, batting his eyelashes. He figured messing with his friend would be a great way to get the man to lighten up and get back to their usual banter so the whole dinner wouldn’t just be awkward avoidance. There was no Awkward Avoidance Viking to save Ethan now. Jack saw something like that in a sketch on the internet once.

A small smile started to creep its way onto Ethan’s face, but he still wasn’t talking. Jack resolved to try harder.

“Are my eyes not pretty enough for you, darling?” Jack whined, pouting as he continued to flutter his lashes much too fast to be anything but odd.

“No, sorry, it’s just that the menu is so interesting I can’t help but stare at it longingly. Just look at this pizza, mm perfection.” Ethan cooed, stroking the menu lovingly.

Jack gave an offended gasp, hand over his heart as he fell back against the seat. He murmured something along the lines of ‘how could you betray me like this’, while Ethan snorted at his theatrics.

The next half hour or so of their dinner went similarly, trading banter and munching on their shared oversized pizza, which was, in fact, above average. In one of the quieter moments, both with mouths full and Ethan apologizing as he answered a quick work email between bites, Jack’s gaze had begun to wander. A small commotion drew his eyes to a corner of the restaurant where a server was seemingly apologizing to a customer for something or another. Though the shimmering of liquid on the table and the damp look on the customer’s clothes spoke leagues of what had likely taken place.

Jack, of course, was not paying attention to that as several other people around them were, rather he was eyeing up the apologizing server. She was a bit on the small side, delicate hands clutching a tray to her chest and small feet pressed together at the ankles. His own fingers twitched as he watched a few tears glimmer at the corners of her eyes. Beautiful, brown, soft, innocent eyes that hid behind blinking lids.

Perfect.

“Wha’s go’ you so dis’racted?” Ethan mumbled, mouth full and muffling his words.

Jack hummed in question, not quite hearing him.

The detective swallowed and spoke again, “Why are you so distracted?” Then his eyes were following Jack’s to the incident a small bit away from them.

In his head Jack knew Ethan was speaking, so he forced his gaze back and deliberately moved his mouth to speak.

“No reason in particular.” Jack said, a little too loudly. He hadn’t meant to do that.

After a startled moment, Ethan nodded and went back to their food. The last bit of dinner was quiet, but Jack’s mind was racing.

That girl would be perfect for what he had in mind.

Chapter Text

When it came time to leave the restaurant, Jack was struggling to contain himself. He couldn’t go after the girl now. He’d need his car in order to do this properly, and since Ethan had driven him, he didn’t have it. Besides, he couldn’t have the Detective being any more suspicious than Jack figured he already was. He’d seen that lingering gaze when he’d thrown out the bone. It’d be quite the shame if Ethan were to discover him. Jack liked having the man as a friend.

So Jack kept quiet about it; got in the car and chatted idly with Ethan until they made it to Ethan’s driveway.

They pulled in, the car was put in park, keys removed, and then it was quiet. Both men sat a moment, neither really saying much of anything.

“This was… nice.” Jack finally said, clicking the release on his seatbelt but not yet making a move to exit the car.

“Yeah, yeah it was great.” Ethan leaned on the steering wheel, eyes focused on Jack. “Wanna, maybe, do it again sometime?”

Jack hesitated. He wanted to say yes; after all it’d be a bit rude to say no after they both affirmed that it was a positive experience. However, he also heavily suspected that this would be a start to a romantically inclined relationship, at least in his friend’s mind. Romantic relationships demand so much more attention than platonic ones and Jack did not have the time to commit to something like that. No matter how likable the person, it would interfere with his work. He needed as much time away from prying eyes as possible to execute his plans. Which was a bit strange to say, considering he worked five days a week, morning to night, bagging groceries and also took on one-off side jobs like yard work on the weekends.

Fingers snapped in front of his face and Jack flinched, realizing he’d gotten lost in his head again. He apologized, brushing his fingers through his hair and biting his lip to shake his thoughts off for later.

“So about doing this again at some point?” Ethan gestured between them.

Jack sighed, not yet his last of the day, and let his lip ping back into place. He noticed how Ethan’s eyes followed the movement carefully, like examining it for clues on its nature. Then he spoke, “Listen, Ethan, I—how do I put this? You’re a great guy, but I—”

Ethan’s whole body seemed to deflate and his face fell as his voice cut into Jack’s, “But you’re not interested in me.”

Jack paused. That wasn’t really his exact reasoning; in fact if it weren’t for his dedication to the puppeteer he probably would’ve said yes right off the bat, but maybe Ethan thinking this was better?

He spoke up anyway, “No, it’s not that. It’s just—well I don’t really have the time to commit to a romantic relationship right now.”

A beat, and Jack expected Ethan to respond in some way or another, but the man barely moved aside from the slow rise and fall of his shoulders as he breathed and the occasional blink. Then he swallowed audibly, pursed his lips and nodded.

Some minutes passed, neither saying anything, and finally Jack turned and reached for his door handle.

“I guess I’m just a little disappointed, is all.” Ethan muttered suddenly, shifting to unbuckle his seat and climb out.

Jack exited the car as well, shutting the door quickly and giving Ethan a smile in an attempt at cheering him up somewhat. Hopefully the Detective would get over this little incident quickly and they could go back to being just friends. Though it wouldn’t hurt Jack much if he were to stay distant for a while, seeing as he’d have that extra bit of time to focus on the puppeteer, he would be rather disappointed to not have that exchange of banter whenever they were outside at the same time.

“I’ll see you around?” The query in Jack’s tone really didn’t help to ease the situation, a fog of uncertainty hanging in the air.

Ethan didn’t turn towards him, simply acknowledging his words with a hum before trudging to his door and letting himself inside and out of Jack’s sight.

Another puff of air escapes as a sigh and Jack wishes people would move on from these things quicker. The small relief that creeps in at the potential for more time and less scrutiny of his actions with Ethan out of the picture is something Jack pauses his thoughts for. He acknowledges to himself that he might not be so right in the head after all, as this was probably not the correct reaction to the potential loss of a friend. Though he ponders on this for a bit while he enters his own home, it doesn’t really bother him.

Once the door was shut Jack took a deep breath and strode forward determinedly. All the pieces were ready, he just had to put them together. He bent to pet Marvin in passing, but after that it was strictly business. He went to his shed and grabbed three duffel bags he’d prepared in advance, then after some debate he snagged some wire cord. ‘Just in case’ he told himself, after all you never know when you might need something a little extra.

He made sure to leave his phone and smartwatch at home on his bedside table, also turning on the TV and leaving the lights on. This way it’d at least look like someone was at home, despite the car missing from the driveway. Oh well, he couldn’t be perfect. As an extra measure he threw on an old, oversized hoodie he hadn’t worn in years and a pair of boots a few sizes larger than needed, stuffed with paper to keep them snug. For a moment he considered going the extra-extra mile and smearing some makeup on his face as well, but he figured the only one who’d be seeing his face was his victim, and he was perfectly content with that.

With everything ready to go he carefully made his way back outside and tossed his duffle bags in the trunk before driving back to that lovely little restaurant. He pulled into an abandoned lot across the street and behind it, just enough out of the way that no one would notice and turned off his car. There he waited a few minutes, and when no one stirred he slowly opened his door and crept up to the back of the restaurant. The window he found himself peering into was the kitchen window, but despite that he saw that delicate girl somewhere just past the line that was being wiped down.

She had a bag over her shoulder and looked to be speaking to someone just out of his view. But that didn’t matter, what did matter was that she looked like she might just be getting ready to leave.

Jack was proven right exactly 17 minutes and 36 seconds later when she exited the building out a side door and started toward the bus stop. Perfect. Jack couldn’t believe his luck. Now, apprehend her at the bus stop and drag her to his car or pull in with his car to get her. Both had the potential to raise suspicion, but someone might catch his license plate if he pulls up to the stop. Better to get her on his own and to his car after.

He followed at a distance, close enough to keep up but far enough that it would be perceived that they were simply going in the same direction. She sat down on the designated bus stop bench underneath a small roof, and Jack joined her a moment later, making sure to sit as far as possible to keep her guard low. Okay, there may be people watching, so he’ll keep force as a last resort. He watched her out of the corner of his eye, looking for something he could use to start a conversation without seeming too much like a creep.

A pin for a popular videogame, that will work. Jack knew enough about this title to keep a conversation going long enough to hopefully get him somewhere.

“I like your Detroit: Become Human pin.” Jack started, flashing a practiced smile that looked incredibly genuine.

“Oh, thanks, it’s one of my favorite games.” The girl replied easily, but there was a hint of caution to her tone.

It was pretty late, and here Jack was, a fully grown man talking to a definitely underage girl at a bus stop. Damn. Not much he could do about that now. Though he figured no matter what time of day or where he approached her, her tone would be similar.

“Mine too!” Jack enthused, false excitement trickling into his voice. “Who’s your favorite main character?”

The girl relaxed minutely, shoulders slightly less tense as she turned herself toward him a bit more. So far so good.

“The first time I played I was really partial to Connor, but now that I’ve gotten more into it I think I like Kara and her story more.”

“Ooh, yeah, Kara’s a good choice. I fell for Connor first and forever, though. He’s my little robo-son.” Jack sighed and put a hand over his heart, looking off into the distance dramatically.

The girl giggled, one of her delicate hands coming up to twirl a strand of black hair between her fingers. “Connor’s really just the baby of the family, isn’t he?”

“You said it.” Jack laughed, another one of his moves he’d perfected. In reality this conversation was rather dull to him. He hadn’t even played the game.

“Does that make Kara the mom, then?”

She seemed to be enjoying herself. Good.

“Oh definitely. And Markus is the rebellious teenager.”

“Exactly!”

“Hey, what’s your name by the way? I’m Chase.” He said, like a liar.

It wasn’t very likely this would be enough to get her to come with him. Maybe he should change his approach. Jack was good-looking, he knew this well enough, so maybe he could use that to his advantage. He decided to take a risk and slid closer to her, placing a hand on her thigh.

The girl bit her lip, and then she was blushing lightly. This might be easier than he thought. Hormonal teenagers are always the easiest to trick, but this girl dropped her guard like a hot pan.

“...Maya. I’m, uh, Maya.” She stuttered, fumbling with the hem of her shirt and avoiding his eyes.

This was definitely too easy. You’d think a pretty young girl like herself would be a bit more cautious to strange men trying to coerce them with familial talk and suggestive actions.

“That’s a beautiful name.” Jack grinned when he saw her blush increase.

He wanted to lay into her a little more, get her even more flustered, but he could see the bus approaching a few blocks down and he needed to get her before it arrived.

“Do you want me to drive you home? Maybe make a pit stop at mine.” Jack purred in her ear, squeezing her thigh deliberately.

He felt her legs tense and push together, rubbing slightly. This was going very well.

“We’re… both waiting for the bus, though?” The girl frowned behind her blush.

“Don’t worry about that, doll. Let’s just go have some fun.”

She nodded, allowing him to grab her hand and pull her up. Perfect.

They walked over to his car and he opened the door for her. He got in next, locking the doors and pulling her seatbelt down for her, deliberately trailing his fingers along her jaw, down her neck, and over her breasts on the way down. Couldn’t have her panicking too quickly. She was already jittery, shifting constantly in her seat and biting her lip with apprehension. Too bad what she was getting tonight wasn’t a one-night stand but a last-night stand.

Then they were off, driving down the road toward a very specific destination. Jack had scoped out the abandoned warehouse previously and it set a very nice scene for what he had planned. Maya would be great for this little art project of his. He wondered briefly how he’d replicate it later if he truly planned to imitate the puppeteer by setting up his victims a specific way, but that was a concern for later.

A dilapidated warehouse came into view, surrounded by foliage and all but overtaken by nature. It was a bit out of the way, but Jack was sure once the girl was deemed missing they’d track her phone to the location and everyone would get to see his masterpiece. If not, he’d just have to find another way to bring attention to it. Which was actually quite out of character for him. Usually he tried to keep his killings discrete and unnoticeable, but this time was different.

“Chase...? W-why are we slowing down?”

Jack glanced at Maya, seeing her knit her brow in confusion. He debated revealing his plans now, but he didn’t want her to try running before he could get her inside.

“My house is a little too far, so I figured a little secret hideout of mine would be better. Don’t worry, the inside is much nicer.”

Maya’s shoulders relaxed, tenseness gone as she turned and said with a teasing tone, “What are you, 10 years old?”

Jack frowned but quickly turned it into an embarrassed grin. Not that he was embarrassed, of course, but until he had her exactly where he wanted her he needed to keep up his facade.

“Only sometimes.”

Maya seemed to find this amusing, as she puffed a small laugh and suddenly leaned against him. He ignored the irritated prickling under his skin as he put his arm around her and increased the contact between them, he wanted her to think that he was into this.

The car finally slowed to a stop in front of the warehouse, and Jack pressed a kiss to her temple before climbing out. He circled the front of the car and opened her door for her, helping her out once she’d undone her seatbelt.

“Wait for me by the door, lovely, I need to grab something.” He breathed against her ear, watching as she shivered and nodded.

Jack patted her ass as she was walking off and she jumped with a small yelp that dissipated into flustered giggles. His smile changed to one of malice as soon as he turned around and went to his trunk. He could probably get her all the way into the warehouse and tied up before she caught on, so long as he did it under the guise of getting a little kinky. He grabbed a small coil of rope from his trunk but left it open since he’d be coming back for the rest of his equipment shortly. He stuffed the rope in the large front pocket of his hoodie and made his way back to the girl.

“What is it you were getting?” She asked curiously since his hands were empty.

“Just a little something for our night of fun.”

Then Jack put one hand on her cheek, stroking it lightly before leaning in to kiss her. The reciprocation from her was messy and unpracticed, nearly pulling a grimace on Jack’s face. This was probably the least enjoyable kiss he’d ever had. Thankfully it’d be over soon. Jack slid his hands onto her shoulders and opened his eyes to make sure hers were closed. Perfect. He started to guide her backward into the warehouse, putting minimal effort into the kiss until he had her backed against a wooden beam in the center of the building.

“Hope you’re good with things getting a little kinky.” Jack murmured against her lips, sliding his hands down to her wrists and bringing them behind the beam. He held them there with one hand, expertly tying the rope around them with the other.

“Whatever you’re into, I’m down.” Maya breathed, eyes still closed and cheeks flushed.

Perfect.” Jack grinned much too widely, tone completely different from the fake lust he’d been expressing earlier.

The girl’s eyes snapped open, widening like saucers upon seeing the crazed look on Jack’s face. Her breathing picked up, hyperventilating.

“Just let me go get my tools, lovely, and we’ll get started.” Jack giggled, genuine this time, and clapped once before spinning and skipping off to retrieve his duffel bags.

He grabbed all three and the metal cord before happily bouncing back into the building and setting them all down near the girl.

“What are you… What are you going to do to me?” Maya sobbed, tears gathering in her eyes and spilling down her cheeks. This only added to Jack’s exhilaration.

“I’m going to make you beautiful.”

The girl continued to sob as Jack opened the first duffel bag, pulling on the pair of gloves sitting at the top before producing carefully coiled rose stems and parts of a rose bush, all woven into one long rope. He set them down next to her and went on to the next bag, this one holding some of his gardening supplies such as shovels, spades, and a few trimmers; among the miscellaneous sharp scrapey things. The final bag had some rose bushes that still held their flowers, ranging from white and yellow to red and pink, and a carefully protected bouquet of red roses.

He set those down as well, then grabbed the rope out of the gardening bag and started approaching the girl again. This time she kicked out at him when he came close, but he caught her legs and held them by the ankles before securing them to the pole with the rope. Unfortunately, he hadn’t thought quite this far ahead, and he wasn’t entirely sure how he wanted to set this whole thing up.

Jack stepped back and looked the crying girl up and down, trying to decide just how he wanted her.

“Why are you doing this!” She shouted suddenly, struggling against her binds.

Another sigh tumbled from Jack’s lips, he sure was sighing a lot today, but he decided to respond, “Because I want to, love.”

“That’s a dumb reason.” She huffed, lip trembling.

This time Jack didn’t grace her with a response, instead observing her body carefully before a lightbulb seemed to go off in his head. He knew exactly what he wanted to do. Snatching the butterfly knife he’d tucked into his pocket earlier, he flipped it open and went to grab the collar of her shirt. Then he dragged the blade through the fabric, tearing it off before doing the same with her bra.

Maya struggled even more now, spitting, “What kind of sick pervert are you?!”

“Me, a pervert? The very notion is absurd.” Jack chuckled, moving down to remove her skirt and panties as well, “I’m not interested in your body like that. I just think the whole piece will look better this way.”

Next were her shoes, and then she was completely naked aside from the necklace she wore. Which was, ironically, a rose. Perfect. Her clothes were tossed to the side and Jack reached behind her to undo the binds around her wrists so he could move them to a different position.

“Make one move against me and I stab your eyes out.” Jack hissed in her ear, knife poking at her cheekbone.

She gulped, thankfully staying compliant as he moved her hands to be stretched up above her head as high as they could go.

“Hold that pose sweetie.”

Jack turned to grab the metal cord, and he was quite pleased to see that she had in fact held still. The cord wrapped around her wrists once and then around the beam, holding them in place. Time to see if his vision was achievable. He took the flowerless stem rope first, wrapping it in a simple spiral starting at her feet and climbing up. The girl cried out as the thorns pierced her skin and allowed little drops of blood to trickle from the punctures. This coil made it up to her shoulders and he managed to get the end to sit lightly around her neck.

Then he moved on to the flowered stems and used his knife to cut them into two fairly equal pieces. He took one and started at the fingertips of her right hand and wound down, around and around until he reached her shoulder. There was still quite a bit left, so he wound that down her body with the plain thorns. Much the same was true with the second strand, wound from the tips of her fingers on her left down to her shoulder, but this time Jack cut it there and wound the remainder from her feet up so that she’d have flowers everywhere. And since this was meant to be an artistic piece, Jack decided to follow the trope of strategical covering of nudity. So he took three roses from the bouquet and wound them around parts of the rose ropes so they sat over the girl’s nipples and crotch. He stepped back and looked over his work, grin stretching his cheeks to their limit.

Maya’s sobbing was choked and her eyes were puffy. She started babbling about him letting her go and promising that she wouldn’t speak a word of any of this if he just released her. Those pleads were starting to irritate Jack, and his smile was turning into a disappointed frown.

“Stop talking, you’re ruining the aesthetic.” Jack grumbled, tapping his fingers on his arm impatiently.

Unfortunately, and quite annoyingly so, Maya continued to choke out pleas and cries for help that were nearing nonsense. Jack’s eyes wandered back to the remainder of the bouquet and a lovely idea came to mind. One that would not only solve the problem of this still living girl’s verbal vomiting but would add wonderfully to his piece.

He snatched up the flowers and walked right up next to the girl, removing one from the bunch and holding it up to her face. Though he considered saying something before he went ahead, he decided that it’d be easier if he just did it. So with his free hand he gripped her cheeks, forced her jaw open, and pushed the thorny rose down her throat stem first; leaving the bloom poking out. Maya gagged, blood welling in her throat and starting to drip from the corner of her soft lips. He added another, a satisfied feeling settling in his chest when her throat convulsed and she definitely couldn’t talk anymore. There was still a whole bouquet, and Jack didn’t have anything else to do with the flowers, so one by one he pushed them in.

The thorns punctured and ripped at every part of her throat and mouth and blood poured thickly down her chin, a coppery tang tinging the air with its addicting scent. Any light in her eyes faded and her movements ceased as she suffocated on the flowers and her own blood filling her lungs. Jack observed her stilled body, a delightful shiver fluttering through him. Now. Now she was beautiful. So lovely and pretty and perfect. Just how he wanted her. Though he longed to, he dared not smear her blood with his fingers, no matter how wonderful the sticky red would feel between them.

Her lithe, delicate form was framed wonderfully by the rose thorns and their flowers, enhanced by the overgrown nature around her. The innocence one might attribute to a flower nymph was absolutely radiating from the image. Jack wished he had his phone now so he could take a picture of his work, but the memory would be enough. Though surely some reporter or another would post his masterpiece to the world, and then he could admire his work forever. Along with everybody else. Including the puppeteer…

Jack gasped as a jolt of elation shot through him, tingling every part of his body in the most pleasurable way. His puppeteer would see this, and he could only hope that whoever they were, they would love and appreciate his work as much as he did. They’d know that he was here too, and that he wanted them to know.

Tonight was certainly perfect.

Just perfect.