A/N: And so another part ends. There is a cliffhanger and I'm not apologizing. It's how it goes. Of course, I'll take the opportunity to say to you, dear readers, that I am so happy and completely overwhelmed by how many people love this story and give me such compliments. It boosts my ego a little, I have to admit. There will be a part 8, no worries. I have no plans for it yet, to be honest. I will think about it and sooner or later, it will pop up on here. Haven't even considered a title. Oops. I'll get on that. Waiting for inspiration.
As always, keep reading this crazy fic. Read and review. Peace love and oreos. Something like that. - Kelztastic
Chapter 17: Take Me to Church
I was born sick, but I love it
Command me to be well.
Amen. Amen. Amen.
Take me to church
I'll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I'll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
"Take Me to Church", Hozier
Maggie's wedding day. Deep breaths. Have to walk down a church aisle with a bunch of people watching me and secretly hoping I'll fall down and embarrass myself. Maybe I'm paranoid. But I'm not taking any chances.
I don't think I've stepped foot inside a church since Mom and Dad died. I was never much a churchgoer as a child; my mom was Greek Orthodox and my dad was raised Protestant but neither of them ever gave much thought to religion. I understood God and Jesus and all that but it was never something that brought me any sort of comfort. Not even when they died. I always found churches to be cold and a bit unfeeling.
But this town was all about that Jesus stuff, I'll tell you. At Maggie's rehearsal dinner Ryan's parents were saying grace and I felt super awkward but obviously so did Maggie. We were never raised with that mentality. She wanted to appreciate Ryan's lifestyle and he compromised by not making her go to church every Sunday with his parents. I'm sure that was a blessing. His parents seemed very nice but his mom was overbearing. She kept showering Ryan with compliments about what a wonderful son he was and what a great father he was going to become. Ryan only had one sister but she was married and constantly pregnant, so I'm sure she was happy to have some new feminine energy around. Maggie seemed to like her enough, and that was because she loved Ryan. I guess I'm weirdly lucky that I don't have to deal with in-laws or anything. I said that to him at the table while we were eating the salad course.
"You wouldn't want to have met my mother." The Joker had said, shrugging, "She was a weak-willed person with no interests of her own. My father is rotting in hell, so you know how I feel about it. I think my mother would have liked you, though."
"Did she like your wife?" I asked.
He flinched, "Wow, um…I don't know. I haven't thought about her in so long. I don't really remember. Probably. She didn't want me to get married so young, but she never had much influence over what I did."
"Were you there when your mother died?"
"Regrettably, no." he said, feeding Olivia some mashed peas, "She died in the hospital. I found out after the fact that she had been sick. Kidney failure. I paid for the whole funeral, but I wasn't there. I was already a wanted criminal so I couldn't show my face. I sent one of my associates to make sure everything was going as planned."
"That had to have been so awful for you. When did she pass away?"
He shifted uncomfortably, "Well, she died not that long ago, actually. It was when you were engaged to Bruce."
My forkful of lettuce halted on the way to my mouth, "What?"
"Yeah." He said simply.
"Are you kidding?" I had to hush my voice because I remembered we were at a social gathering.
"No, I am not kidding. I wouldn't joke about my mother dying."
"So, you mean to tell me that your mother has been alive since we met, and I never even got to talk to her, to meet her?" I felt incredibly sad at that moment. I never even pictured her to have parents or a family, let alone ones that were alive and well when I knew him.
"I wasn't exactly speaking to her then. I hadn't talked to her in quite a while until I was admitted to Arkham. She was at my arraignment. I didn't know she was there but she came. I think she recognized me from the news photos. I guess a woman will never forget her child's face."
I was speechless.
He continued, "Anyway, she visited me at the police station and I told her about everything that had gone on in the past few years after my father died. That was when she told me she had kidney failure and that she wasn't sure how long she was going to make it."
I grabbed his hand, "How did you react?"
"I mean, I was stunned. I felt terrible that I hadn't been there for her. She thought I was dead for a while, to be honest. But I couldn't risk talking to her. My enemies would have found her in a second. I guess it was just very bad timing."
"Did she ever visit you at Arkham?"
"Once. A few weeks after I first met you."
I felt a shock to my system. I remember that. I remember a middle-aged woman asking to see him at the front desk. I really wished I could remember more than that; maybe she had darker hair, short, average height and weight. Just a normal-looking woman. I had vaguely wondered why this woman was coming to see him. Now it all made sense.
"Did you tell her about me?"
"Yes, I did, actually." He said, looking surprised that I asked, "I told her that my psychiatrist was a very beautiful woman."
I flushed in spite of myself, "And what did she say?"
"She said that she thought I should go for it. That I shouldn't let my situation hinder me from being somewhat happy. Maybe it was her terminal illness talking, but I did do that, didn't I?"
I had to smile at that, "Yeah, you did." I looked down at our daughter and felt a little bit out of my body. I had a child with this man. A few years ago he was in a straightjacket in a cell. But let's focus on the present, shall we?
"Why didn't you tell me she had died?" I gestured for him to give me Olivia, and I settled her in my lap. She cooed happily and shook her chunky little arms and I grasped her wrists to keep her from falling off my lap from the sheer vehemence of her arm shaking. She was going to be rather active, this one.
"It wasn't necessary to tell you. You didn't even know she existed."
"I wish I had."
"I guess I thought I'd told you before."
"Uh, no, dude, you kinda just told me about your past like less than a year ago. Your mother dying was distinctly before that."
"You were with Bruce. You were pissed at me. You wouldn't have listened to me anyway." He shrugged, "It's honestly not even a big deal, babe."
"Your mother dying is a big deal." I said firmly, "Where is she buried? Before we go to Europe, we are going to her grave and putting flowers or something on it. Have you been there since she passed away?"
"That's what I thought. And while we're at it, flowers on my parents' graves too. Let's be good people for once." I said, feeling refreshed and generous.
He grinned at me, "You are way too good for me."
"I know." I said.
And here we were at the back of the church. The music (Pachelbel's Canon of course) was playing as the bridesmaids and groomsmen walked down the aisle. Ryan was standing there, waiting eagerly for Maggie to walk down to him. It was all rather adorable.
I stood next to her in my taffeta and silk, never-gonna-keep-it bridesmaid dress, holding her elbow in one hand and my bouquet of pink and white flowers in the other. The Joker was sitting at the very back of the church, holding Olivia in his lap, helping her wave her one arm at me. He pointed and mouthed, 'Look, there's Mommy.'
Mommy. Mommy. Wow. That is not a name I will ever get used to.
Maggie was basically sweating, a pink sheen on her face. It was a bit unseasonably warm for May, and the church's air conditioning was subpar. I was walking her down the aisle because, oh, you know, our parents were dead and the guy who inadvertently killed them was there with our child. Super normal.
"Are you ok?" I squeezed her forearm.
"Yeah, yeah," she said quickly, "Do I look ok?"
"You're gorgeous. Stop worrying." She did look beautiful. Her brown hair was pulled back into a half-ponytail and curled at the bottom, her antique veil (borrowed from Ryan's mom) tucked into the strands. Her makeup was flawless and she was glowing. Her dress – a mermaid-style pure white dress with some beading – fit her perfectly.
She'd been asking this all morning and I had told her the same thing every goddamn time, that she was gorgeous and to stop worrying. She was being paranoid. I get it. Been through two wedding days. Wow, that's embarrassing. Then, suddenly I realized something.
"Oh my god, you think he's going to fuck this up?" I whispered harshly.
She turned sharply, "No swearing in church!"
"No, don't shove me off like that. It's going to be fine. He promised no shenanigans. It's only my weddings he will screw up."
She gave me a dead-pan glare, "Harleen…"
"I promise. Everything will be fantastic and beautiful. Let's walk down that fu- I mean, that very nice aisle right there." I steered her toward the red velvety runner on the floor.
The music lifted as we stepped into the entryway. Everyone stood up and was watching my sister so fondly, so lovingly that it almost made me burst into tears because I'm an emotional disaster. I just focused on the aisle in front of me, and saw Ryan's face. He was a bit pink around the cheeks, and his eyes looked a little glossy. I had to wipe at the corner of my eye briefly to keep myself in check. Keep it together. My sister was grinning from ear to ear as we stepped up onto the riser where the altar was. I pushed back her veil and took her bouquet as she took Ryan's hands. I quickly smoothed out the small train behind her dress for the impending photographer. Her other bridesmaids were all smiling and tearing up, and I vowed that I would hold it together just for that reason. I would not look like a simpering fool.
Ryan and Maggie said their vows and both were choked up; they put the rings on their fingers, and that was that. They were now a married couple. My little sister was a married woman. Everyone cheered as he dipped her in a romantic movie style kiss, and the photographer took a ton of pictures and almost blinded me.
The next couple hours were like a blur. We took a shitload of cutesy bridal party photos and they were all outside and I was sweating like a bitch. Blargh. Thankfully the focus was on the couple, so we could get a bit of a break. The Joker was standing by with Olivia, laughing at my misery. I limped over to him – high heels are so lame – and leaned against his arm.
"You doing ok there, Princess?" he asked.
I glared at him.
"I love the nickname. I'm not getting rid of it. Sorry I'm not sorry." He added when I didn't respond.
"Whatever. I'm too tired to argue."
"This is a landmark day." He declared triumphantly, "The day that Harleen Quinzel has nothing snarky to say!"
"Shush." I said, putting a hand over his mouth, "We are in public. My name means nothing here."
"Yeah, yeah," he said dismissively.
"Ugh, this day needs to be over." I whined, "I hate my shoes and my dress and it's hot out. And there are no goddamn trees here. Because it's middle of nowhere Nebraska, population 100."
"Tell me about it." He looked around, "I mean, this is a nice cornfield and all, but I had higher hopes."
"Honey, you don't even know the half of it. I always thought my sister would get married in a garden with a wreath of flowers on her head or something. This is so not what I pictured for her. I mean, life isn't what you picture it in general."
"You mean you didn't dream about ending up with a world-renowned fugitive?" the Joker feigned offense.
I rolled my eyes, "You know, wasn't doodling 'Harley + Joker' in my diary at 13."
"Can't imagine why."
I smiled, "You know, I love you."
He almost dropped our daughter, he was so shocked, "You mean that?"
"I only say it when I do. You know that."
"Well, as always, I love you too." We kissed briefly, and Maggie screamed, "AWWW" across the field at us. I flipped her off, and one of her bridesmaids gasped. I hate this town.
We finished taking pictures and then headed off to the reception. It was about an hour away to the hotel. I was starving to fucking death so mostly I wanted to shove my face in some appetizers. I told Mr. J that he had better save me some of the good stuff or he was dead to me.
It came to the moment where I had to do my maid of honor speech. They handed me the microphone and I cleared my throat. I was never much good at public speaking but I just had to pretend that no one was listening to me anyway.
"Well, here we are." A few scattered chuckles came from the crowd, so I felt a little more courage, "My little sister is getting married. Well, she's actually married, they did the whole kiss and everything."
I glanced at my sister who was shaking her head from embarrassment at my awkwardness, "Those of you who don't know our family very well, we have been through some serious hardships in our life. Our mother got diagnosed with cancer when we were very young – Maggie just a toddler – and we thought we were going to lose her. Thankfully, we didn't at that moment. We never took for granted her being there for us. But as you can see, our mother and our father aren't here today. They died on my wedding day a little over 3 years ago."
Some people in the crowd were covering their mouths, surprised or some other emotion.
"Maggie and I had to start over then. She came here to Nebraska, I stayed in New York. We both pursued our dreams, and we both found love. It wasn't easy on either end. I had to fly all over the world to find my inner peace. Maggie found it right here, with Ryan. Obviously more of you here know Ryan and you love him. It's easy to love him. He's kind and generous and cares incredibly deep for my sister, and I'll never be able to thank him enough for that. He gave Maggie back her spirit. I knew when I met him that he would be the best brother-in-law one could ever have." I turned to them, fighting back my tears, "You guys are truly an example of what love can do for a person. I am so happy for you both. Ryan, you better take damn good care of my sister, or I'll hunt you down."
Everyone laughed, and the sad silence was broken.
"Let's toast Maggie and Ryan!" I shouted, and everyone's glasses clinked in cacophony. Maggie and Ryan kissed. Maggie looked at me, tears fresh in her eyes, and mouthed, 'Thank you'.
I smiled at her and made my way back to my seat next to her, basically gulping my glass of champagne.
"Slow down, champ." Ryan teased, "The night is just beginning."
"That's why I'm drinking." I said, dead-pan.
They both laughed and then looked up because Ryan's best man – his brother – was giving his heartfelt and funny speech about being brothers and playing football or something. I have to admit I wasn't paying a whole lot of attention. I was just glad my moment in the spotlight was over. After the speeches and toasts, they brought out the meal (a soup, chicken and mashed potatoes and vegetables) and I devoured it wholeheartedly. I'd really only had a granola bar and some coffee all day. The Joker had given me some fruit snacks while we were taking pictures, but that wasn't exactly a meal.
As I finished my food, I glanced around the room. Everyone was talking and laughing and enjoying themselves. My boyfriend, along with my daughter, were sitting in one of the middle tables with some of Ryan's cousins who were around our age. I was surprised to see that he was talking animatedly with the people at the table and one of Ryan's girl cousins (I couldn't remember her name for the life of me) was cooing and playing with Olivia's hands. It was so normal I wanted to vomit. Or maybe I drank too much champagne too quickly on an empty stomach. Who knows.
It made me think, to be honest. Was this what we could be? Normal? The whole idea still made me anxious. I was accustomed to being on the run, worrying day and night about whether or not this whole relationship was going to blow sky high. I had spent a couple years reading magazines and books because all we could get were scrambled TV channels and pirated basic cable, trying to be on the down low. Living in Italy had made me realize that we could live like real people and have a real relationship that wasn't founded on fear and intimidation. Weird concept. And a little emotional abuse thrown in there, too. I'm messed up, I know.
Before I knew it, Maggie was doing the bouquet toss, which I promptly avoided like the plague. One of Ryan's friends caught it and she showed it triumphantly to her boyfriend, who looked a little bit excited and a little bit pale at the same time. The DJ played some decent music, a good mix of 90's and 2000's pop music – Maggie – and some current country – Ryan. Everyone was dancing and having a great time. Even I slow-danced with Mr. J and my daughter a couple times.
The night was winding down. The older people and couples with young children started leaving. Maggie and Ryan were both pretty buzzed bordering on tipsy and also extremely tired. I was sitting at one of the front tables with the Joker and Olivia, and Maggie put her head on my shoulder, "I am done. I think I've had enough of celebrating my love today."
"Agreed." Ryan groaned, "My aunt and uncle are way too drunk and won't leave."
"I can take care of that." My boyfriend said.
"Ah, no that's ok." Ryan said quickly, and disappeared to start helping people from his family disperse.
Maggie laughed, "My husband, everyone." She halted, "Husband. Husband."
"Did your brain malfunction?" I asked, bemused.
"No, I'm just trying to get used to that word. Husband. I like it."
"Yeah, I bet." I chuckled.
She went to find Ryan, and I turned to the Joker, "Ready to turn in soon?" I glanced down at our daughter, who was passed out in his lap, "I think she's made her choice."
"Oh, yes." He smiled, and stood up slowly, gingerly as not to wake her, "I'm going up to our room. I'll get Liv settled. Just meet me up there when you're done cleaning up and everything."
"Ok, thanks." I said, giving him a swift kiss before he made his exit.
I helped push in all the chairs and talked to any lingering relations. Maggie and Ryan made their way out to the hotel entrance to get their limo. They were going back to their house for the night and then driving to St. Louis for a long weekend. Some of Ryan's college friends lived there or something. I don't remember. Again, didn't pay a lot of attention. I never said I was perfect.
Maggie embraced me, "Thank you for everything."
Ryan added, "Yeah, seriously. We are so happy that you were able to be here."
"I wouldn't have missed it. You know that. You're my only family." I shrugged, trying not to cry all over again.
"What are you guys going to do now?" Maggie inquired.
"We're going to stay the night here and then get to the airport. Gotta catch a connecting flight to New York, and then London-Heathrow after that." I said, "Going to be a long road."
"I mean, have you guys even picked a place to live yet? What will you do when you get there?"
"We'll stay in a hotel for a little bit and then attempting to find a flat in Hyde Park, probably near Kensington Gardens. It's gorgeous over there and not far from the underground." I sounded so very British. I had been to London before for like a week because my college ex, Rob, studied there for a semester. I was getting used to the idea already. I was ready for a change.
"Well, you'd better keep me updated." She insisted, and Ryan nodded.
"You guys can come visit us whenever you want. We'll give you money for plane tickets."
"Not necessary." Ryan shook his head, "You're already paying for our honeymoon."
"Alright, fine." I sighed, "The offer stands. Free lodging, though."
"We'll take that." Maggie said.
"Ok, good." I hugged them both again, "Have fun in St. Louis."
"We will." She looked at me lingeringly.
"Go." I nudged her, "Be with your husband."
"Alright, alright." She took Ryan's arm and they got into the limo. They both waved as the limo pulled away.
I went to the elevator and as soon as the doors closed, I kicked off my high heels. I was so over it. It was getting close to midnight – I'm old, fuck it – and I was ready for bed. I got off on our floor and walked down the hallway to our room. I swiped the little key card and the door clicked as I opened it. I entered the room to find it completely dark other than a few candles lit on the nightstand and on the TV cabinet in the center of the room. I blinked to adjust my eyes.
I opened my mouth to call for him, and then I saw him. He was kneeling down on the floor, with a box in his hand.
You've got be fucking kidding me. No, no, no, no, no.
"Will you marry me?"
When you fall, I'll take my turn
And fan the flames as your blazes burn
We can't wait
To burn it to the ground.