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Spoilers: References events that occurred in the episode "Harlequinade" from Batman: The Animated Series
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It's the Thought that Counts
Should he read it? That was the question that ran through his mind as he considered the folded envelope in his hand. If he read it then he'd be obligated to respond in some way or be held responsible for ignoring it. However, if he didn't read it he could just say he didn't receive it for some reason. Though he supposed he could say that anyway…
Not five minutes ago, one of his henchmen had approached him with this letter in agitation. He couldn't be blamed for his nervousness; the front of the envelope did read 'Joker' after all.
"Should we read it?" Both sides of the man were unsure. Two-Face tapped the card on the table he sat next to while considering his options. Perhaps Joker needed a favor. (Two-Face never liked dealing with the clown.) Or maybe it was a threat, in which case, it'd be nice to know if he had something to worry about.
He hated when neither side knew what to do. How the hell could his coin make a decision for him if both Harvey and Two-Face were clueless?
"Screw it," they finally decided, though he wasn't quite sure who ultimately made the decision, and ripped open the envelope. The card read:
Happy Birthday to me!
You've been graciously invited to a party in my honor at the Iceberg Lounge.
Remember to dress smartly and bring me something shiny.
"What the hell makes the clown think I'd ever come to a party of his? 'Bring something shiny'?" Two-Face exclaimed before even finishing the letter. The very idea was almost amusing. Surely he wasn't the only one that had received an invite and he was certain there wasn't a soul that would actually attend. Two-Face pictured the clown all alone surrounded, no doubt, by gaudy decorations. He smirked at the thought and then returned to the letter.
PS- I highly suggest you attend. I'm rather untidy and this letter
may have come in contact with something quite unpleasant. Don't you worry though,
I'll be passing out antidotes as party favors. Someone will be contacting you soon
with the date and time. We don't want any Bat-problems after all.
No need to RSVP.
Two-Face quickly examined his hands to find them dusted in an almost invisibly fine, powdery substance. He instinctively ran to the nearest sink and began scrubbing them thoroughly, but this action was merely reflexive and, even as he rubbed his hands together under the running water, he knew there was little point.
"Goddamn clown," he muttered while pondering just what sort of present you get a homicidal maniac.
Two-Face wearily approached the Iceberg Lounge. He had been dreading the evening for several nights but was relieved at the same time; he hadn't been feeling all that well.
The Lounge had been done up as extravagantly as was to be expected. Bright florescent colors danced across the ceiling, an extremely upbeat dance version of "Happy Birthday" blared through the room and, at the center of this sensory overload, sat the clown, who seemed to be enjoying himself very much.
"Just give him whatever you brought and he'll hand over the antidote without a fuss," Two-Face heard from behind him and turned to find the Riddler accompanied by Scarecrow, who was nursing a drink. "At least he hasn't yet," Riddler continued, "But you never know with him. Good thing too, I've been hurling all day."
"How do we know the antidote's legit?" Two-Face asked.
"I was worried about that myself so checked it out," Crane offered. "It's fine."
At that moment, one of Scarecrow's henchmen could be heard staggering behind them, after obviously having had quite too much to drink, happily slurring to anyone he came across, "The boss says I'm his favorite. He got me a drink!"
"Crane, isn't that one of yours?" Riddler asked, indicating the man distastefully.
The Scarecrow smiled. "He barely noticed that I injected him with the antidote after I got him hammered and, as you can clearly see, he's still alive…unless he keels over from alcohol poisoning."
"So what's keeping you two here?" Two-Face inquired again.
"Open bar," Crane answered matter-of-factly while presenting his glass in demonstration.
Two-Face rolled his eyes, as was his nature, but secretly decided he would rather not be sober just right then and approached the bar, Eddie and Crane following out of lack of anyone more interesting to loiter around with. While surveying the area with his newly acquired brandy Two-Face commented, "I don't see Pam."
"Well, poison doesn't work on her," Crane replied.
"Besides," Riddler added, "He wouldn't want any attention drawn away from himself where Harley is concerned today."
The mention of the clowngirl brought one thing to mind: Her noticeable absence. "Speaking of which, where is Harley?" Two-Face asked.
"Now that you mention it, I haven't seen her at all tonight," Crane noted with curiosity, bringing a smile to Two-Face's visage. That could mean something very interesting.
"Maybe she's going to jump out of giant cake!" Riddler exclaimed, a bit tipsy. "There hasn't been a cake yet…"
Two-Face grimaced again and decided he should go ahead and get meeting his 'host' out of the way. He made his way across the room, approached the table where Joker sat, and unceremoniously plopped a large wad of cash on the table.
Joker regarded the offering with disdain. "How unimaginative," he commented as he shuffled it among the other piles of cash he had received from guests with an equal lack of imagination. He then indicated the table next to him where a man was sitting with needles and small vials at the ready. Two-Face removed his jacket and rolled his sleeve up.
"This was a stupid move, clown," Two-Face pointed out while receiving the injection. "We all have a pretty good memory and none of us tend to take this sort of thing lying down."
"I'm trembling," Joker lacklusterily replied.
Two-Face noted that something seemed to be annoying him so jumped on the first reason he could think of. "Haven't seen Harley anywhere. Perhaps she's upset that you didn't invite her girlfriend."
Joker glared daggers back at him and Harvey had never been happier to see him so pissed.
Harley didn't want to wait until the last minute to do her shopping. She always swore that the next time she went gift hunting she'd do it well in advance, but she always ended up back to panicking the day before anyway. However, on this particular occasion, she could honestly say it wasn't her fault.
She had been beating her brain out for an idea the last couple of weeks, but, to her chagrin, nothing came. It was very frustrating to adore someone so much and not know how to please them. On previous birthdays she had done herself up, chosen something lacy to wear, and presented herself to her puddin', but each time he'd simply comment about what a waste of space she was. "Why would I want something you throw at me every second of everyday?" he'd snap in an annoyed manner, making Harley feel incredibly depressed.
She once tried a variation of this along with a trampoline. "Happy Birthday!" she had squealed while jumping as high as she could, her babydoll nightie flying around her. He didn't pay her much mind, but he did enjoy the trampoline...until he got bored with it five minutes later.
This year she was determined to prove herself by getting something that would be worthy of him. Something he wouldn't expect, something that would make him think she was wonderful. …But what was that something?
When the idea finally struck her she knew it was perfect and, unfortunately, as equally impossible to get. She desperately tried to come up with something else, but nothing even came close to her first idea's perfection. Harley eventually decided, impossible or no, she would at least make the attempt. Better to fail and spend time in Arkham than face his disapproval.
For weeks she had spread rumors through the Gotham underworld of a child porn ring and their next fictitious meeting. The issue being one that even those who found themselves charged with horrible crimes looked down upon, she knew the Bat would have to show and waited impatiently for him at the location she had given.
Harley knew she was late for the party, but what could she do? Batman hadn't shown yet. What if he wasn't going to show? What if he got caught up with something else? What if he didn't get wind of her rumor? Harley nervously began considering turning herself in to the authorities rather than showing up empty handed, when she finally saw the familiar sleek black car she knew all too well.
Harley rushed stealthily to where the car was parking and slid down the side of the building silently, keeping to the shadows, wishing she had her trusty giant mallet with her. It'd make the task at hand easier, but wasn't very inconspicuous. The roof of the vehicle opened with the sound of something that was vacuum locked. (She had always thought it was funny that he put the car door over his head, like he didn't quite know where it was supposed to go.)
Harley summoned her courage and, as the dark man exited his vehicle, she quickly attacked.
Back at the Iceberg Lounge…
Some minor excitement was aroused when Killer Croc entered the party, not because anyone was particularly interested to see him, but the trail of blood following his path was indeed a curious thing. Croc spared no time and headed straight for the Joker's table, a small crowd following behind him, no doubt wondering what kind of gift would involve such gore.
At about that same moment, Harley burst onto the scene and raced happily over to her puddin', an old Polaroid camera hanging around her neck bouncing against her body as she ran. She didn't warrant the same attention as Croc because nothing of interest accompanied her, however she did make it to the Joker's table first.
"Where have you been?" Joker hissed, grabbing hold of her wrist painfully.
Harley's genuine smile quickly vanished. "I was just…"
"Nevermind!" he snapped quickly, releasing her from his grip before Croc and the others reached them. "I'll deal with you later."
Croc roughly tossed a, very fresh by the amount of blood present, severed arm on the table and gruffly asked, "Where's the medicine?"
"An arm?" Joker considered the gift for a moment, prodding it with the tip of his finger "Well, it's different, I'll give you that. I think I could have gotten it on my own though."
"Huh?" Croc grunted in confusion. "Not the arm. The watch."
Sure enough, upon second glance, the arm was indeed wearing a watch and, when Joker flipped the limb over, it proved to be a large, diamond encrusted Rolex.
"Oooh, Mistah J! Bling bling!" Harley squeaked happily.
"I appreciate the presentation, Croc," Joker laughed heartily as he directed the antidote to be administered.
A few feet away from the table, Scarecrow leaned his head towards the Riddler and inquired curiously, "Do you think he just walked here and, on the way, ripped the arm off the first person he noticed?"
"The first person with a decent watch anyway," the Riddler agreed with a chuckle.
To their disgust, Joker had taken the arm and started doing an impression of "Thing" from "The Addams Family" while singing the theme song. Happy to play the role of girlfriend again, Harley snapped a picture of him playing with the odd gift.
"So, how old are ya anyway?" Croc asked for no particular reason after receiving his injection.
Joker was following Thing's performance on the table by making it crawl all over Harley who giggled back. "Ten," he answered simply.
Croc looked confused, which honestly wasn't out of the norm for him, but everyone else was looking confused with him for a change. "…Yer ten?" he asked again, obviously thinking he had heard wrong.
"Amazing, isn't it!" the Joker exclaimed as he slammed the limb on the table. "They said I'd never last a decade and here I am!"
From her place behind his chair, Harley quickly made a diving gesture with her arm to catch everyone up. Clearly, Joker had made the day of his accident his "birthday" and only counted the years following, if he indeed even remembered the years previous.
Two-Face took this opportunity to change the subject, as he was still far more interested in ruining Joker's evening. He hoped to accomplish this by regarding Harley with a questioning look and stating, "You're pretty late," and had expected Harley to become nervous at her indiscretion, but was, like so many other times in his career, disappointed. Instead her eyes lit up and she began to jump up and down excitedly.
"That's 'cause I was getting Mistah J's gift!" she explained, causing Joker to groan, slumping back in his chair. He could do without her failed attempts to please, especially in public.
"Come see!" Harley continued, undaunted, and started to pull on his arm. "All of ya come see!" She led the crowd of, now mostly drunk, guests outside and into an alley beside the building. "Wait here!" she instructed excitedly, disappearing around the corner.
"Can anyone tell me why we're hanging out next to a dumpster?" Eddie complained with a wide gesture of his arm, causing a good portion of his vodka to slosh out of its glass.
"Who knows," Crane replied, rather annoyed at the Riddler's drink splashing his boots. Suddenly, they were all blinded by the glow of headlights at the alley's entrance and shielded their eyes from the beams as the vehicle slowly approached them and stopped. The lights switched off and before them sat the Batmobile.
"He can't take all of us," Riddler asserted quickly while reaching for his weapon with the hand that wasn't holding vodka.
"You always say that and he always manages to!" Scarecrow returned quickly.
The roof of the car slid open but, instead of the grim figure expected, out popped Harley Quinn with a heartfelt, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MISTAH J!"
Joker was dumbstruck and, for once, speechless.
Two-Face was the one who broke the silence by saying what they were all thinking: "Holy shit."
"B-but…How did she…WHAT THE HELL!" Eddie sputtered.
"I think I just had an orgasm," Joker finally spoke up, prompting everyone else to take a step away from him. "Screw you guys," he said in a way that those gathered supposed meant 'see ya' and jumped into the passenger seat of his hated rival's most prized possession.
Harley was about to begin by giving him a tutorial when he excitedly pushed the first button that caught his eye. Out of the front bumper, a large net shot out and ensnared those who were standing immediately in front of the armored car.
"Son of a bitch!" Two-Face screamed, along with the other ten or so rogues and henchmen that were also caught.
"Whoopsie," Joker cried, giggling madly.
A fight had broken out between Riddler and Scarecrow as to which way was best to twist the net in order to get out, and shouts of "This way" followed by "No, this way" were exchanged between the two. As amusing as it all was, Harley wanted to get the show on the road. She closed the roof and backed the car out of the alley, the others angrily watching the car disappear out of sight.
Two-Face seethed. "We hate him. We hate him so fucking much."
The Joker literally didn't know what to do with himself and bounced excitedly in his seat like a kid on a sugar rush. When he had finally found his voice again he exclaimed, "I wanna drive!"
"Sure thing, Mistah J!" Harley giggled as she pulled over and parked on the side of the road. "Let me show ya a few things first. This button is the ignition," she pointed out knowledgeably. "And this button opens the door. You'll see that it's extremely responsive. A slight turn of the wheel makes for a large turn of the car. Oh, and this button…"
"Hold it!" Joker suddenly interrupted her while giving the time-out signal. "Just how the hell did you manage to steal this car and how the hell do you know how it works?"
"Do you remember the time you stole that atomic bomb and took the mayor hostage?"
"Yeah, good times, good times," Joker replied, smiling at the memory. "What's that got to do with anything?"
"Well, me and Bats drove all over the place lookin' for ya. I played stupid, but I really tried to pay attention to everything he did. Y'know, just in case. As for getting it, all it took was luring the Bat someplace and taking him out before he locked it up. He wasn't expecting me. I left him unconscious in an alley," Harley explained quickly, thinking herself rather accomplished.
Joker patted her lovingly on the head. "You clever little minx!"
"I did good?" Harley inquired happily, soaking it in as long as she could.
"You did very good. I'm extremely impressed. This is, without a doubt, the best present I've ever gotten and I want to drive."
Harley knew he had given all that he was going to give and so the two immediately switched places. When he was settled in the drivers seat Harley reached for her camera. "Say homicide," she sang and took the picture. She then slid herself into the shot and held the camera at arms length, taking another with the both of them. Joker shoved her back into her seat roughly, far too interested in giving the car a test run at this point to pose for another snapshot.
"One more thing!" Harley shouted before he started the car. "You see this button here?"
"That is definitely not the radio."
"So where is the radio? I could use some tunes."
"Well, figure it out. Just keep punching buttons while I drive."
"Roger that, Mistah J."
The car started with a purr and suddenly they were off at an alarming speed. Harley screamed and covered her eyes as they tore down the stretch of road before Joker quickly slammed his foot on the brake. They were both flung forward and slammed back into their seats from such an abrupt stop. "I barely touched the gas!" the Joker joyfully exclaimed.
"I know. The same thing happened to me the first time I started it. You have ta be really easy with it."
Joker's eyes lit up gleefully. "How fast do you think it goes?"
"I don't know, but I have a terrible feeling we're about to find out."
"You know what I need?" he stated, ignoring her. "A large, empty parking lot."
They had found the perfect location in no time. It was a large parking lot for one of bigger office buildings in Gotham and, at this time of night, it was virtually dead silent and empty save for only a couple of cars belonging to those burning the midnight oil dotting the landscape.
Joker pulled the car to the far side of the parking lot, facing all the open space. Knowing what was to come, Harley had sunk down in her chair as low as she could, as though she'd be better protected there if something horrible was to happen. She covered her eyes with her hands and pleaded quietly, "Just get it over with."
He floored the gas as Harley screamed and they tore across the empty lot at such speed that he almost instantly had to switch to brake before he reached the end of the pavement. After they stopped, Joker clapped giddily and Harley hesitantly peeked out from between her fingers. "We're not dead!" she commented joyously.
"You think I can't drive!" Joker snapped. "Watch this." He directed the car to the center of the lot and turned the steering wheel hard to the right, holding it there, so that the car spun swiftly in a continuous three-sixty.
Harley, less nervous now, laughed as the trick sent butterflies through her stomach. "Open the roof! Open the roof!" she squealed. The roof slid open and Harley flung her hands up over her head. "WHEEEEE!" she shouted as though she were being tossed about in a roller coaster.
After a few minutes this had gotten old and so they decided to go cruising in the most notable car in the city.
Harley loathed bringing up what she was about to. He was so happy; ruining the moment for him felt so wrong. Something had to bring him back to reality though…or as close as he came to reality anyway.
She attempted to build up the strength to say what she had to while still pushing buttons in search of the radio, and was just about to speak, when a button she pressed caused oil to spill out the back of the vehicle. The car behind them slid on the liquid and crashed into a neighboring car parked on the side of the road.
"It's not fun, is it?" Joker called back to the car with a laugh.
"M-mistah J," Harley squeaked meekly. "Y-you know ya can't actually keep the car, r-right?"
Joker abruptly slammed the brakes and turned on her angrily. The car that was now behind them couldn't brake fast enough and slammed into the back of the Batmobile. Despite being sure the armored car could more than take the beating, Joker shouted back, "HEY! Watch the paint job!" before focusing on Harley once more. "What kind of gift is that? You can't give me something and then take it back!"
"Mistah J!" Harley pleaded. "Be realistic! The entire batcrew is going to be tearin' apart the city lookin' for this car. The only reason they ain't found us yet is 'cause I took out the tracking device as soon as I stole it." She pointed to a busted panel on the dashboard.
Joker crossed his arms in front of him and sank down in his seat, pouting. Cars were now honking from behind them, eager to move on.
"Don't be like that Puddin'," she said soothingly. "You should enjoy your present tonight while you can. I think if we keep it any longer than that, we might as well be expecting to spend tomorrow night sleepin' in Arkham."
Harley had continued pressing buttons during this conversation in the hopes that something would happen to distract him. At that moment, she just happened to have finally found the radio as sound filled the cabin. What they heard wasn't music though.
"…all units. Attention all units…"
"A police radio," Harley muttered. "Figures."
"…410 in progress, last seen driving along the Aparo Expressway. Repeat, 410…"
Joker suddenly sprang to attention, immediately forgetting his previous disappointment. "Do you know who this sounds like a job for?"
"Who?" Harley giggled. It wasn't hard for her to guess where this was going.
"This sounds like a job for Batman!" he proclaimed dramatically, while pointing an index finger up on either side of his head, and they quickly took off toward the Aparo Expressway.
"What's a 410 anyway?" Harley asked while waiting to arrive at their destination.
"Reckless driver," he answered. "But we'll make short work of him, chum," Joker stated seriously, continuing to play the role of his adversary. Harley was pretty sure Batman would never utter the word 'chum', but picturing it coming out of him was funny and she supposed that was the point.
As they approached the expressway, a couple of police vehicles were found on the scene following a swerving car. Harley couldn't help but feel uneasy at the cops' presence. She figured they were pretty safe in the Batmobile but she had no idea what her puddin' was about to do. Things tended to escalate where he was concerned.
Joker sped up between the cop cars, which seemed to be quite willing to give him the room. (Of course, their drivers had no idea who was behind the wheel tonight.) They were on the bridge crossing Miller Harbor when Joker decided to violently strike the offender's car from behind. Harley screamed at the impact as the victim spun out of control and through the bridge's barrier into the water below.
Both the clown and the two police vehicles stopped, the cops gawking at the Batmobile as the roof slid back. "Let that be a lesson to you, vile miscreant!" Joker shouted to the harbor before he turned to the police. "Good job, fellows. There'll be no driving under the influence in my town."
"FREEZE!" they commanded as they trained their guns on the madman.
Joker sighed and closed the roof once more. Bullets panged harmlessly off the shielded car. "This is what I get for doing my civic duty, chum," he directed wearily to Harley. "They act as though vigilantism was a crime of some sort."
"Actually," Harley said after a moment's consideration, "I think it is."
"I know!" Joker laughed, now through with this round of the game. "He's such a nutcase! Wanna play again?"
"Kay," Harley chirped back, knowing full well it didn't matter whether she wanted to or not.
They spent some time cleaning up the city's local drug dealers…or hobos; they weren't sure which, but Joker was quick to point out that they were improving the city either way. Most of this was done by randomly hitting pedestrians with their car. He'd occasionally stop long enough to let Harley take pictures of their victims.
Harley's favorite moment was when they used one of the car's nets to drag a couple of prostitutes down the road while Joker yelled, "Gotham will be whore free! This I swear!" She took a snapshot of them being dragged down the road through the back window.
The first signs of morning were creeping upon the horizon when they finally decided to abandon the vehicle. Harley was surprised at how calm Joker seemed about letting it go, but then he wasn't stupid. He knew as well as Harley how dangerous it was keeping it around and he wasn't quite ready for another stint in Arkham. They parked it in the alley where Harley had left Batman. Joker had half-hoped he was still there, but no such luck, and they both sat silently in the car, unwillingly to leave.
Harley finally broke the silence with a heartfelt, "I had a really great time tonight, Puddin'."
"I have always imagined what I'd do if I ever got my hands on this car," he said quietly, more to himself than her.
"Did you get to do everything you wanted?" she asked cautiously.
He turned to smile at her slyly, replying in a husky voice, "Not everything."
"I found it," Robin announced over the comm. "It looks okay."
"Wait for backup," he heard Batman order through his earpiece.
"Yeah, yeah, I know," Tim muttered to himself while waiting on the rooftop. He surveyed the alley below to see if any movement came from the car parked there and yawned, tired from the night of searching. The alley was quiet, but not everything was always as it seemed with the Joker. Reports had come in from all over Gotham of people sighting him with the Batmobile. Batman was more than angry about it, even for him, going so far as to call Dick in from Blüdhaven to join the hunt.
Batman showed up next to Robin rather quickly and Tim was thankful as he was beginning to nod off. It was somewhat rare that they'd be out in uniform past daybreak. He often wondered if anyone realized that while the adults got to sleep through the day, he had school to attend.
"Seen anything?" Batman asked.
Tim quickly shook away his drowsiness. "No sir. Nothing at all."
"I'll check it out first and then wave you down."
"Sure thing." Robin watched as his mentor circled the car, examining it carefully, then he hurried down the side of the building when Batman indicated it was safe.
"Well, at least it's in one piece," Tim commented brightly as he looked the car over. "I'm kinda surprised he left it for us. Would have thought he'd dump it in the river or something…or paint it fluorescent pink." Feeling a bit loose due to lack of sleep, he chuckled audibly at the mental image of that.
Batman did not return the gesture. He had opened the door, ready to search the interior, when he noticed a Polaroid picture laying upside down on the driver's seat. After flipping it over, his face contorted into a disgusted grimace.
"I don't want to know, do I?" Tim asked easily, taking the picture from him anyway out of morbid curiosity. He had expected the picture of a frightened victim or a mangled body, but was surprised. And not in a pleasant way.
"They did it in the car! That's disgusting," he exclaimed as he stepped away from the vehicle. "I say we either burn it or dump it in the river ourselves. It's not like you can't afford another."
Batman ignored the suggestion and went about searching the inside of the cabin.
"Fine. I'll ask for a second opinion," Tim stated evenly before contacting Nightwing on the comm.
"How's the car?" Dick asked.
"Oh, it's totaled," he answered seriously.
"Well…no, but it should be. They did it in the car and left a picture!"
"…I could have gone my whole life never hearing that."
"Hey, you didn't have to see the photo. Anyway, I vote that we trash it."
"Definitely. I'm not getting into that thing again."
Tim directed the conversation to Batman once again with a quick, "Dick agrees with me," but Batman continued his thorough examination. After being ignored once again, he called Barbara to get her opinion, but his report was quickly followed by a dial tone.
"She hung up on me… I'm going to take her silence as another vote in my favor."
At this point, Batman was confident that the car was safe and jumped into the driver's seat.
"If you think I'm getting in there, you're crazy," Tim commented as the car started. Batman simply shut the car's door and took off, leaving him there in the alley.
"You think I mind walking?" he said to the now empty space in front of him. "I don't mind walking." At that moment, his watch started beeping and he looked at the time and groaned. He was late for school. Again.