(A/N): Hello and welcome back to our Friday update! This time around, we're bringing back the Joker and the talented abrokencastiel.
Thanks as always to our writers who reviewed the last chapter. We love hearing from you all!
Chapter Thirty-Seven - It's All a Joke in the End
Interviews for Districts Five Through Eight
Jack Hamill of District Eight
Written by abrokencastiel
"I think a lot of psychopaths are just geniuses who drove so fast that they lost control." -Criss Jami, Kilosophy
The prattle from the stage droned on, with Jack paying attention intermittently. There had been a few interesting developments, such as Slade mentioning Thea's brother, and Harvey had done a remarkable job, but overall, it was all the same. Tribute went up, the idiot on stage asked a few questions, the crowd reacted appropriately, then the teenager would be hustled off. The whole interaction took less than five minutes.
I'm surprised the Capitol morons can keep their attention focused on one thing for that long. They always need something shiny and new to look at. Jack's emerald eyes drifted to his Harley, dripping in sparkling gold from head to toe. Her hair was done up in soft curls that bunched at her shoulder, perfectly parted to keep her blue- and red-dyed tips separate. Her sparkling dress sported a plunging neckline and hugged her curves in all the right places.
"Like what ya see, Mistah J?" She batted her eyelashes seductively when she noticed his appraising look. "Honey made me look real nice, didn't she?"
The pale tribute gave a tight smile. "It certainly is going to get you lots of attention."
"That's the plan," she giggled. "Is it working, Dickie?" She turned to the Seven boy, clad in a deep blue tux with electric blue accents, and he pulled his attention back from staring behind him at the redhead from Twelve.
"I'd say ravishing," Dick whispered back with a teasing grin.
The girl fluffed her colorful curls "That's the least ya can say."
The Joker's white-gloved hands clenched despite the smile on his face. This constant, albeit harmless flirting of Harley's was wearing on his last nerves. Something had changed since they left the district. She'd been perfectly happy doing whatever he said back then. Then she started talking to the dynamic duo. His gaze turned to the adopted siblings sitting on the other side of Harley, and his teeth gritted. What he really wanted to do was punch the bird-brain in his smug face. In fact, the whole row was full of people Jack wanted to have a secluded moment with.
The Joker patted Harley on the knee and breathed through his nose while he tried to keep his annoyance under control. He focused on the stage and the interview that was beginning with the girl from Five. Her halter top dress was cut short in the front and extended to the floor in the back, flowing behind her as she walked up to Tivan. The color transitioned from a deep blue to a fiery red at her knees, matching the colors her district partner wore.
"Kara Danvers, what a pleasure it is to meet you," Tivan gushed as the girl settled across from him, obviously hoping for a better-behaved sheep than the fishboy from Four.
The blonde gave him a winning smile. "I'm just as excited to meet you. All of you." She turned and gestured to the audience, who cheered.
Tivan chuckled and waited for the crowd to settle a bit before continuing. "Now, Miss Danvers, there is one question that everyone is asking. What is your relation to Carol Danvers? You can't tell me the names are just a coincidence."
Kara clasped her hands in her lap and took on a sad smile. "Carol became my cousin after I was adopted by the Danvers."
"I see." The concerned face Tivan pulled played the moment perfectly. "And were you two close? Perhaps you two trained together?" he enticed.
An appropriate giggle preceded Kara's diplomatic answer. "You know we aren't allowed to train for the Games before we get here, but she did show me a few moves," she stage whispered.
"Don't worry, I won't tell a soul," the man whispered back just as loudly, earning a chuckle from the crowd.
Jack rolled his eyes and tugged at the velvet sleeve of his purple tuxedo jacket. Boring. Just another girl playing it up for the crowd.
"It's my understanding you have another cousin who actually followed you here, and we are going to be talking to him next. I can't imagine it's easy for you to have the possibility of facing him in the arena. You seem to share quite a few things in common. You're both orphans, you both scored nines on your assessment, not to mention you share identical tokens. I imagine you must be close."
Now, this question, Joker was interested in. He'd sensed the animosity between the District Five tributes through their looks and avoidance of each other. Knowing the reason behind it could prove useful.
"Oh, yes." Kara's fingers ran over the S pendant hanging around her neck. "We do."
"You do what?" Tivan latched onto the slight hesitation in Kara's voice like an attack dog.
"Share the same token."
"But not a mutual closeness," the showman stated, a snarky smile spreading across his face that Jack could appreciate.
"I, well, not exactly. We didn't really ever talk before coming here." The girl was stumbling. Jack smirked. Amateur.
"Why ever not? Surely you could find solace in each other after the unfortunate demise of both of your parents." The shocked face barely covered for the borderline mocking tone.
"Well, our parents weren't really friends—"
"Ah, a family feud that has passed generations." Tivan turned to the audience, who gave a quiet murmur.
"No, that's not it exactly." She was desperately trying to take the reins back, but Tivan was driving now.
Jack glanced over to her dark-haired district partner, who was watching the interview intently over steepled fingers.
"I guess her and Big Blue really don't have anything goin' on between 'em." Harley leaned forward and stage whispered to Clark across the other tributes. "Hey! Muscle boy! This all true? You guys real mortal enemies or somethin'?"
"Quiet!" a Sentinel hissed.
Harley stuck her tongue out at him. "You gonna try an' make me before I go out there, tough guy? You betta bring a friend if that's the plan. You're gonna need 'em," she shot back before turning back to the boy. The other tributes in the row were looking his way as well; even the stoic bird-boy from Six inclined his head to see Clark's response. There was no answer. The teen simply kept his blue eyes on Kara and Tivan. "I think he's a little slow," Harley whispered, earning a chuckle from Jack.
Back on the stage, Tivan was still digging at Kara. "I can't imagine the emotions you must be feeling." He spanned the gap between them to grasp one of her hands. "Having to decide whether to trust someone you've been told to hate or honor your parents' memory. Truly a story that we will be anxiously waiting to see play out. Won't we?" The audience loudly demonstrated their enthusiasm until Tivan waved them to silence. "But that's enough of that. We'll have questions for your cousin when he comes up. For now, I want to briefly touch on the superb score you received. A nine is no small feat."
The change in topic seemed to calm Kara down a bit, and she gave him a small smile. "I simply did my very best."
"Well, your very best is better than many," Tivan chuckled. "I was certainly impressed. You surpassed the scores of Steve and Carol from last year to match that of Elektra, who made it quite far. That alone certainly earns you the nickname Supergirl."
Kara laughed lightly. "I plan to prove it even more once I'm in the arena."
"Of course you will. I'm sure you will not disappoint us." Tivan stood and assisted Kara to her feet as well. "Kara Danvers, everyone!"
The crowd applauded the girl off stage. She passed Clark as he moved to take her place, their eyes meeting a moment as her smile faltered. He briefly placed a hand on her shoulder before he strode onto the stage with a golden-boy smile.
Harley gave him a standing ovation and a wolf whistle before Jack pulled her back into her seat, covering the abrupt motion by leaning toward her ear with a whispered comment. "Careful, Harl. You don't want to bolster his confidence too much. Who knows what that small brain of his would do? The poor boy might start believing he's immune to bullets and knives."
Harley snorted and playfully pushed him away, turning her attention back to the interview. Jack kept an arm draped over her shoulder. Superbrat was keeping a much cooler head compared to his cousin. He gracefully answered questions as he tried to undo a bit of the damage Kara's interview had caused. No doubt, he was a king in these games.
The late hour was Jack's favorite time. It was when the world was quiet that he did his best planning. He relished the silence seated alone in the sitting room of their floor. His hands deftly shuffled his dingy stack of cards over and over. Everything was coming up Joker. He was head of his own pack, and his plans were going smoothly, more or less. The few things that were causing issue, such as Harley's annoying flirting, could be sorted out easily either before the arena or as the Games began. After a few moments' contemplation, he leaned over the coffee table and, with a satisfying flick, laid out the first card.
The queen of hearts. Obviously Kory Anders. She knew how to use her beauty to her advantage, but she wasn't the strongest woman. That honor rested on Diana Prince, the queen of spades. Whatever training she'd had in Four had set her up well for the Games.
The next card was the king of spades. Clark Kent. Seemingly invincible. Naturally good at everything. But there was a weakness. There was always a weakness, and Jack would find it.
The rest of the deck was laid out. The kings at the top. Dick and Jason, the bird brains, were thorns in his side. If not removed promptly, they could cause issues. Slade rounded out the line-up simply due to the pruning he received in One. The queens were joined by Helena and Kara. The jacks, the most useful sidekicks, with Harvey, Angela, Jonathan, and Cisco. Underneath, a few pointless number cards that didn't matter. They would be lucky to survive the bloodbath. To the side, he lined up the aces: Jade, Pamela, Jervis, and Harper. Those were the ones that could be top of the deck, but could also turn out to be incredible disappointments. Finally, Jack placed the two jokers at the top. Wildcards. The ones that no one could predict.
A loud whistle from his district partner jerked Jack out of his reverie. On the stage, Clark was shaking the hand of Tivan and giving a final wave to the crowd.
"What a hunk," Harley giggled. "He makes you look downright scrawny."
Red lips twitched into a smirk. "It's not the size that matters, but how you handle yourself."
"Well, sure, that's what they say, but ya gotta admit, size sure does make the whole thing more enjoyable. Ain't that right, Dick?" Harley winked flirtatiously, making the boy blush, though he maintained a smirk.
Helena gave an unladylike snort and covered her mouth with her hand to keep her laughter muffled. Then she leaned closer to her brother and whispered something in his ear that multiplied his smirk into a choked laugh. Jack gritted his teeth through his forced grin.
A cheer from the audience drew Jack's attention back to the stage before he could do anything rash. There, the pale girl from Six was dancing around Tivan's questions.
"Angela," Tivan said with a smile. "It's my understanding you recently had a birthday. Sixteen! Quite a milestone in a young girl's life."
The girl shrugged. "For other girls, maybe."
"Not for you?" The man put a hand to his face in contemplation.
She leaned forward. "I'm not most girls."
"But surely there's something you want for your birthday. If you tell, maybe someone watching will get it for you." He winked at the crowd, earning an excited mumble.
"What I want isn't something that can just be given to me." She shook her head. "I'm going to earn it. I'm going to win."
"Of course," Tivan agreed with a smirk. "Tell me, my dear Angela, what is your strategy? You earned a respectable six for a score, but it's hardly anything compared to the high scores of the others this year."
The dark-haired girl shifted slightly. "I know things about every one of these tributes that they don't even know about themselves." She leaned forward and smiled sweetly. "Tell me, what is it you fear most when you lie alone at night? Surrounded by all the bits and pieces of the dead on your walls? What are you trying to ward off? Could it be your own mortality?"
I'm beginning to really like this girl, Jack grinned to himself.
"I'm simply a purveyor of antiques, my dear," Tivan chuckled, but he couldn't hide the sweat beading his forehead from Jack's keen eyes.
"My mistake." Her confident smile didn't match her words. "I must have misread you."
"Well, we all make mistakes." The man suddenly seemed in a hurry to get the girl of the stage as he stood quickly to his feet. "Angela Hawkins the Third, everyone!"
The girl stood, her short green dress making her legs look even longer. She leaned to Tivan and whispered something that no one could hear, but it made Tivan's smile fall apart completely for an instant. With a final wave and smile at the audience, Angela left the stage, passing her district partner as he took her place.
"I don't know, Puddin'. Ya sure ya wanna mess around with her? She kinda gives me the heebie jeebies after that." Harley pursed her lips and considered the girl.
"No worries, my dear." Jack's green eyes met Angela's as she sat backstage, and he graced her with a wide grin. Yes, he thought. She will definitely be useful. He chuckled to himself and patted Harley's knee. "I have everything under control."
She raised an eyebrow but said nothing more about it. Instead, she turned to the television screen. "Hey, lookie there, Mistah J. It's yer friend!" she giggled to herself.
The more stoic bird-brain sat across from Tivan silently, not returning the man's smile.
"Jason Todd, what a pleasure it is to make your acquaintance."
"It certainly is," Jason responded, a slight smirk crossing his features. The crowd chuckled in response.
Tivan chuckled as well, though not as amiably. "In most cases, people would respond with 'it's nice to meet you as well.'"
"I would say that, but I've been trying to work on being honest." There was a low 'ooo' from the crowd.
Harley laughed gleefully and clapped her hands. "Looks like he don't just hate you, Mistah J. He has it out for that creepo, too."
The receiver of the insult didn't seem to appreciate it as much as Harley. "That sort of attitude won't earn you many friends," he chuckled darkly.
Jason shrugged and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. "My attitude just means that I'll stick with people I trust, not leeches who will use me and then throw me away." He sighed and rubbed a hand along the back of his neck. "Listen, can we just get this over with?"
The Capitolite pursed his lips and nodded. "Of course. Let's get down to business. Chatter is superfluous anyway, isn't it?"
The dark-haired boy gave Tivan a withering look that even made Jack give him a tight smirk of approval.
Tivan cleared his throat and leaned forward to match Jason's pose. "How about we talk about your score? A respectable six for District Six." He chuckled at his own joke.
"Now that was just lazy," Jack sighed. "I didn't think he could make me dislike him anymore, and then he does that."
"A right crime on comedy," Harley agreed with a sad shake of her head.
Jason responded cryptically, saying, "I got what I wanted."
"That's wonderful, but could you perhaps give us more insight?"
The tribute simply raised his eyebrows in answer.
"Say no more! You obviously don't want to give away those secret plans of yours. How about your friends back in Six? Is there anything you would like to say to them? Give them a little hello while you're on television?"
"I already told you," Jason said, his volume rising slightly in annoyance. "I don't want to have any pointless chitchat. Do that with someone else."
Tivan tried a few more times to get an actual conversation out of the teen, but every question was met with a short answer that often ended with an insult to the interviewer. Finally, Tivan surrendered.
"It was great talking to you, Jason." He held up his hands and smiled. "Don't worry about responding! I know you probably don't feel the same." The audience laughed lightly.
"You would be right." Jason stood as the audience laughed a little bit louder and began to applaud. He turned to leave with a wink and a smirk at the crowd before Tivan was even standing.
Helena was already waiting in the wings and smoothly walked onstage as Tivan announced her, the purple gossamer of her gown floating with each stride.
"So, Dickie, how do you think the girlie is going to do?" Jack leaned forward and looked past Harley to the dark-haired boy. "Will she survive? Keep a cool head? I'm personally hoping for some waterworks."
"You'll be waiting a while," Dick shot back. "I haven't seen her cry in years."
Jack frowned thoughtfully. "Hmm, maybe it was you I heard boo-hooing below my room last night." He sat back in his seat and turned his attention to the stage with a smug grin.
Helena was already partway through answering a question. "...not that I expect much to change at this point."
"Of course not. What about having the newest victor coaching you?" Tivan paused for the cheer that erupted from the audience. "How has his mentoring been? It's no doubt that he has the most recent experience, but experience does not always equate to teaching ability."
"Logan has done a wonderful job. I've learned a lot about what to expect and how to deal with any sort of issue that may arise." Helena glanced offstage with a smile meant for the young victor.
"He certainly does have experience with taking on problems bigger than himself," Tivan chuckled.
Helena did not return the smile. Instead, her expression changed to one of chilled, barely polite disdain.
The man cleared his throat. "Helena, it is no secret that the Waynes are one of the most prominent and influential families of District Seven. No doubt you will be getting help from your father, Bruce Wayne."
"I'm sure he will do everything he can to support us." Her voice had turned a bit hard.
Possible daddy issues? Jack mused.
"Us? Of course! Your brother was also reaped. How silly of me to forget. No doubt you two will be teaming up."
"If it seems in our best interest," she answered evenly, returning to her normal tone with the topic change. "And telling all Marvel what our plans are probably isn't." She turned a royal grin toward the audience, all the more welcome for its rarity.
"Very good. Now, I must ask." Here Tivan looked troubled. "Do you think that Bruce will split his sponsorship evenly between the two of you, or do you expect him to pick a favorite? Having two children as tributes in the Games is quite the conundrum when trying to decide who to support."
"What a very odd question," Helena said, the edge to her voice returning. "How could a person possibly choose between their children? He has always treated us equally."
The man's eyebrows raised. "In that case, do you think you'll be in need of extra sponsors with your father willing to give all he can to support you both? Certainly, the good people willing to donate to tributes might find more thanks when giving to someone less fortunate."
The young woman paused, obviously getting herself under control before she answered the claim. When she finally spoke, it was with a comfortable charm, born of many a society event.
"Oh, Taneleer," she said, using the familiar form with impunity. "I'm afraid you're mistaken on several of your assumptions. While I can attest to the fact that we are one of the better off families in Seven, our wealth certainly cannot compare to the affluence of the Capitol." She took a moment to look back at the audience, who seemed to be hanging on her words. "My brother and I would be honored by any contribution to our survival in the Games. We aren't deluding ourselves, assuming that we can do it alone, and equally — we do not expect our father to give up everything he has worked for." She gave the audience a thoughtful nod. "I assure you. Just because we come from relative wealth does not mean that we are going to be any better off than any of the tributes here today." Helena gave them one last smile before turning back to Tivan.
"I see." Tivan nodded with a smile. "Well, you've certainly swung me. Thank you for your time, Helena."
Dick stood before the Sentinels even gave him his cue, rushing past them to give his sister's hand a quick squeeze and whisper quietly. "Nice going, Hel. Logan's gonna be impressed you made it through that without punching the guy."
She rolled her eyes and whispered back. "Did I sell it?"
"Sure did." Helena tapped his hand and gave him a wink before he turned toward the stage and straightened his dark blue suit.
"Hey, bird-brain, do a flip when ya get out there, 'kay?" Harley ordered with a wink. "I'll be watchin'."
"Honestly, I'm afraid I'd rip my pants if I even tried." He stretched minutely to show how fitted his outfit truly was, flashed a cheeky grin at Harley, and then shot a more substantial smile toward Kory Anders. When the girl from Twelve returned the smile, he added, "But I might figure something out," before he strutted onto the stage.
"I do love to watch him go," Harley sighed, her eyes trained on the tribute's backside.
"On that we can agree," Jack said, staring daggers at the perfectly coiffed hair.
Helena didn't sit until her brother passed through the curtain, and Harley clapped along with the Capitol as Dick took the stage. He seemed to love the attention of the crowds, throwing his arms out wide for a showman's bow just before he vaulted backwards from a standing position into the seat to land with his hands behind his head and a crooked grin on that only got wider the louder the crowd roared for him.
"Welcome, Richard Wayne." Tivan smiled and joined him seated on the stage.
"Grayson. Dick Grayson," he responded as he unbuttoned his jacket to sit more comfortably.
"That's right." Tivan's eyes widened in mock shock. "I completely forgot that you were taken in by the Waynes. You just fit in so well. It's almost like Bruce picked you out of a catalogue." The audience gave a murmuring chuckle.
Dick smiled right back, not letting the sting under his skin. "I owe the Waynes more than I can ever say. They took me in and gave me a family."
The sentiment earned an "aww" from the audience. It made Jack want to gag.
Tivan nodded his understanding. "It is wonderful to see that you and Helena have such a wonderful relationship. It's almost like you're real siblings."
A frown overtook Dick's face. "We are siblings."
"Well," Tivan chuckled. "Not really. Not by blood at lea-"
"What does blood have to do with anything?" Dick broke in before Tivan could even finish.
"It seems our little Dickie is getting all hot and bothered." Jack smirked.
Tivan was obviously happy the boy had taken the bait and continued to dig. "Perhaps you have a point, but answer me this." He leaned forward and took on a serious expression. "If it comes down to it, who do you want to win? You or Helena?"
"Helena," he answered without hesitation.
Backstage, an audible groan escaped from his sister. "Idiot," she murmured.
"What's so bad about that? He wants ya ta make it, don' he? Ain't that a good thing?" Harley asked.
The older girl's blue-eyed gaze went to Jack before resting on Harley. "It's difficult to hear someone you love more than anything say that they would rather die so you could live."
It's a weakness, Jack smiled to himself.
Back on stage, Dick had recovered his composure and was telling a story about some silly thing he'd done involving a tree and someone named Alfred. The story seemed to entertain the audience, who laughed heartily at its conclusion.
"It certainly sounds like you have good friends back in Seven. Tell me, do you have any such friends here?" Tivan smiled like he knew more than he was letting on.
"Sure," Dick said smoothly. "Half the kids, and even half the adults, I've met are pretty great."
"That's wonderful. We always hope that you young folk feel at home here in the Capitol. Is there anyone in particular that you'd like to talk about, perhaps?" The interviewer raised his white eyebrows expectantly.
Dick paused. "Well, if you're looking for someone fun, there's Gar. You haven't interviewed him yet. You'll know him when you see him." He leaned forward conspiratorially. "He's green."
"Yes, yes." Tivan nodded quickly. "Anyone else?"
"Lots of people, but I don't want to waste the Capitol's time going into all of that. I'm a people person; we'd be here all day." Dick smiled innocently.
Tivan appeared a bit crestfallen as he continued. "I suppose we will just have to be surprised with who you team up with, yes?"
"Looks like it." Dick's innocent look turned more playful as he took his cue to jump to his feet with a flourish and bow and waved to the crowd. "I'll see you guys on TV."
As the crowd began to applaud, Harley pulled her tube of lipstick out from wherever she had stashed it in her slinky dress and stood with a lengthy stretch of her arms. "Guess it's my turn."
"Show 'em how it's done, Pumpkin." Jack grinned up at her.
"I wasn't gonna do nothin' less." She winked and tossed her hair as she turned to the stage, batting away the Sentinel that attempted to assist her.
Jack watched proudly as his Harley glided onto the stage, striking a pose and blowing a few kisses to her adoring audience. The stage lights flashed off her golden dress with every move she made. Tivan finally got the crowd under control as she perched on the edge of her seat.
"My, my, Miss Harleen Quinzel. You certainly changed your look from what we saw during the parade."
She giggled and reached out to brush a hand along the man's knee. "Mistah Tivan, I ain't just some one-dimensional girl. I got layers! I like sparkly dresses just as much as spandex."
Tivan chuckled. "So I see, Harleen."
"Harley. All my friends call me Harley."
"Am I your friend, then?" The man smiled in a way that Jack didn't like.
"I guess that depends, Mistah Tivan. Are you?" She leaned forward and cocked her head so her curls slid to one side of her neck.
"I'm certainly not as close of a friend as your district partner." Tivan dramatically waved to the screen behind them, where the footage of Jack kissing Harley at the Reaping played. The audience oohed appropriately. "It seems you two have a history."
"Duh." Harley rolled her eyes and leaned back in her chair. "What was your first clue?"
The audience giggled, while Tivan shifted uncomfortably. "Let me rephrase. Would you mind telling us what your relationship is with him?"
Jack bristled in his seat. Of course he's trying to get to me through her. Trying to find dirt before he calls me up so he can slaughter me.
Harley frowned at Tivan. "That's all anyone ever wants to talk about. Everyone's always askin' 'bout him. 'What's Mr. J doin'?' 'What's Mr. J thinkin'?' Even when they're talkin' 'bout me, it turns into talkin' 'bout us. 'What are you two plannin'?' 'Why're you hangin' with him?' Well, you know what? I'm tired of it. I wanna talk about me!"
Jack was positively giddy. He laughed to himself until a Sentinel told him to be quiet, then laughed some more. That was his Harley, not taking anything from anybody. "That man had no idea what he signed up for when Harley walked on that stage" he told Dick, briefly putting aside the contempt he felt for him.
Harley was still running her mouth off at Tivan, who was struggling to get a word in edgewise. Her arms moved animatedly as she talked, seeming to propel her forward. "And ya know what else? I'm awful tired of all us girls gettin' overlooked like we ain't got nothin' to offer but bein' pretty."
At some point, she had seamlessly slipped from her seat and into Tivan's lap. The man seemed at a loss for what to do despite the smile on his face. Harley wrapped her arms around his neck and let her legs dangle over the armrest. "Somethin' else has been buggin' me too, you know?" She tipped her head to the side, her open expression a bit wide-eyed as she got him off his guard. From the wings, Jack began to grin with anticipation. "You mind if I call ya 'Double T', Mistah Tivan, 'cuz I'm gonna do it anyhow, you're way too formal the way you talk ta these kids."
"I suppose if you want to call me 'Double T,' I won't say no." Tivan looked perplexed as he tried to figure out where Harley was going.
"What's a fella like you doin' hangin' around all these teenagers, huh? What's the big idea? I mean …" She let out a little giggle and smiled wider. "It's not like you got any kinda clue what these kids are thinkin'. And ya sure ain't doin' anything to give most of 'em a fair shake — unless you want up their skirt, right?"
Tivan took the opportunity of Harley taking a breath to interject. "Excuse me, Harley, but I think you're misunderstanding me." He smiled. "I'm not trying to do anything but give the good people of Marvel a chance to get to know you."
"I don't think so," she said, her gaze focused on some point far past his shoulder as she shook her head, twirling a curl between her fingers. "At least … from where I'm sittin', I think it's safe to say I know what I'm talkin' about, Double T."
"Harley, please." Tivan let out a nervous laugh and tried to nonchalantly remove Harley from his lap. "Your jokes are perhaps going a bit too far."
"What makes ya think I'm jokin'?" she asked, back to the doe-eyed, innocent expression before she very primly got to her feet and looked over her shoulder at him. "You're still lookin', Double T."
"What a riot, isn't she folks? Beautiful and hilarious." The man tried to get the crowd on his side.
The audience cheered raucously, and Harley beamed. "Aw, shucks, you Capitol types are somethin' else. Yer gonna make me blush." She shifted gears quickly and reached out a hand to shake his, clamping down on him with a grip beyond what he was expecting. "Thanks for makin' me feel so welcome. I hardly remembered for a second there how much of a predatory grade 'A' creeper you are. Flash and glitter aside an' all that, don't think that me or anyone else missed you takin' a peek, Double T."
Tivan again laughed nervously and stood to join her. He placed his other hand on her upper forearm and smiled. "Please, call me Taneleer. We're friends, aren't we?" He was desperate at this point to get as much of a positive spin on things as he could.
Backstage, Jack frowned, and his green eyes stayed glued to the man on stage. Tivan was presenting Harley to the crowd, his hand placed on her bare back.
"You're up." A Sentinel nudged Jack to his feet.
The tall tribute stood and cracked his neck. "Showtime," he grinned as he buttoned his velvet tuxedo jacket and perfectly positioned the green flower in his breast pocket. The audience was still applauding Harley centerstage, but that didn't stop Jack from striding out.
"Wait here for my cue before — Hey! Kid, stop!" The Sentinel reached out a hand to pull Jack back, but the young man slipped from his grasp. The audience noticed his arrival, and he dramatically held a finger to his lips while he snuck up to Harley. He grabbed her around the waist and spun her to his other side, putting himself between her and the Capitol Creep.
"Did ya miss me, sweetheart?" He dipped her in a long kiss that had the crowd roaring. Jack pulled her back upright and hugged her to his side. "Helloooo, Marvel!" he cried, his free hand sweeping through the air. "What do you think of my girl? She's somethin', ain't she?"
The crowd cheered, earning another wave from Harley.
Jack turned to Tivan. "I don't think I've been properly introduced to you yet, though it appears you've gotten to know my Harley quite well." His smile flashed, and he stuck out a white-gloved hand.
"Not officially." When their palms touched, the green flower in Jack's breast pocket shot a spray of water that made Tivan jerk back in surprise.
"Sorry, sorry, I couldn't help myself," Jack laughed.
Harley laughed along with him, her heels putting her at the perfect height to comfortably lean on his shoulder.
Tivan brushed the water droplets off his jacket as best he could. "Yes, well, if you don't mind, Miss Quinzel, it's Jack's turn for an interview."
"Aw, we back to last names now? Guess ya ain't thinkin' of us as friends no more, Double T?" Harley pouted.
"Don't worry yourself about him, dear. He seems to be having a rough day." Jack smirked and leaned in to stage whisper to her. "And I plan to make it worse!"
"You better." Harley laughed as she danced off the stage.
Jack turned abruptly to find Tivan intently watching Harley's retreating form. "Careful, Taneleer, you don't want to get drool on that flashy suit of yours." He fell back into the large chair and crossed his long legs.
"You two really are peas in a pod. Quite the couple, aren't they?" he asked the audience, who applauded again. Tivan adjusted himself in his seat, visibly trying to pull himself back together for the interview. "So, Jack Hamill, I have quite a few questions for you."
"Do you?" Jack raised an arching green eyebrow.
"Indeed. Ever since your appearance, there has been a fashion trend sweeping through the Capitol. I believe they are calling it clown chic. I simply have to ask: what inspired your look?" Tivan waved a hand in a circle around his own face.
"My look? I don't know what you mean. I find my appearance incredibly normal." Jack's ruby lips parted in a wide grin. "Especially in comparison to your, shall we say, striking image."
"I see your point." Tivan smiled, obviously wondering how a question about looks ended with a jab. "In that case, why don't you tell us a little about yourself? Harleen didn't divulge anything about your home district."
Jack's nostrils flared, and his grin grew to almost gruesome proportions. "You really like my Harley, don't you? Can't go three minutes without mentioning her. Would you like me to call her back out? I bet she'd have more to say about you."
"No," Tivan said too quickly. "There's no need for that. This is your time to let Marvel get to know you."
Jack sighed and rolled his eyes. "Why in the world does that matter? This is all a joke anyway. The lights, cameras, fancy outfits, it's all just giving the predators a chance to learn a bit about their food before they kill it. So primitive." The uncomfortable silence from the audience and Tivan made Jack bark a harsh laugh. "So serious all of the sudden! Loosen up a little!"
A smattering of laughter rose from the audience and the man on stage. "Well, it certainly seems like you have a stance you've taken, Jack."
"Please, call me Joker," he grinned.
"Joker, yes, well, just one more question, then I'll let you go."
Jack stuck out his lower lip in a comic pout. "Only one more? But it sounded like you were just itching to ask all sorts of things. I really feel like we were just beginning to get to know each other, Taneleer."
"I just wanted to bring up your score. Pardon me for saying it, but I can't remember the last time we had a tribute receive a one. Can you perhaps tell us how you're feeling about that?"
"I'm feeling just spiffy! Why do you ask?"
Tivan chuckled lightly. "Surely you know that the scores are a way to determine how prepared a tribute is for the Games. The lower the score, the less likely they are to survive."
Jack's expression became one of outright shock. "And here I was thinking that I got first place! Oh, how embarrassing." He put a hand to his cheek and looked out at the crowd. "I feel downright sheepish!"
Again, Jack's reaction seemed to have thrown Tivan off his game. The man seemed a bit at a loss for words, and Jack happily jumped back in.
"You have to admit, my dear Taneleer, that it's intriguing not to know what to expect. I'm sure the good people of the Capitol are interested. Besides, aren't you wondering how it was possible for me to get that score? What kind of fool did I make of myself? It almost sounds like all I did was slip on a banana peel!" The audience laughed along with his cackle.
As they quieted, Jack's smile shifted into something not quite right, and his voice progressively lowered a full octave. "Perhaps the real reason I received a one is because I did something worse than any of the Gamemakers have ever seen. Maybe I went too far, and they hope that if they single me out as easy prey, the rest of the tributes will take me out before the real Games even start. I doubt they want a repeat of last Games, with that classless cannibal." The smile grew impossibly wide, stretching the scar tissue on his lips and cheeks. "Or maybe I made myself look weak on purpose to lull the others into a false sense of security just so I can easily take them out." Tivan began to say something but was cut off quickly by Jack, who had reverted to a peppier, almost laughing voice. "Or I'm really just that bad and totally deserve that low of a rating. Who really knows?" Jack chuckled. "Well, I suppose I do!" He laughed harder, slapping his knee as he rocked backward and forward.
"We can't wait to see what you have in store." Tivan raised his voice to try and talk over the non-stop laughing. He stood and motioned for Jack to stand with him.
"I can't wait to see either," the tall tribute barely managed to say before launching into another laughing fit. Jack's laughter began to make some members of the audience laugh as well. Soon, the majority of the crowd was giggling with him. "Laughter really is contagious, isn't it?" Jack looked to Tivan, who seemed legitimately at a loss.
"It was very nice talking to you, Joker." Tivan continued to hint that Jack should take his leave with slight gestures.
The lanky teen rolled his eyes and finally relented, slowly rising to his feet. "Oh, lighten up, Taneleer." He reached over and straightened the man's tie. "It's not like you'll have to deal with all of us again. Next time, it'll just be me and you for a nice, long exit interview." The almost cringing smile incited another spurt of laughter as the Joker took his leave, the sound trailing after him and hanging in the air even after he'd disappeared from the stage.