Disclaimer: Batman belongs to DC Comics and Warner Bros.

A/N: Written for the "Escalation" theme at http/batfic-contest(dot)livejournal(dot)com.

This story is set in the Nolanverse sometime after Batman Begins. There are no spoilers for The Dark Knight. This is just my version of how Joker and Harley might meet in the Nolanverse.

The Essence of Comedy

The essence of comedy, the Joker knew, was timing. One could not rush through a joke and expect the punch line to get a laugh. No, a well-executed gag required a well-paced escalation to the climax. And the joke he was working on now needed a particularly slow and steady build-up.

Her name was Dr. Quinzel.

That was all he knew about her before he met her. That's what the guard told him when he brought him to the office for his first round of therapy. "You're with Dr. Quinzel," he'd said. That was it. Sometimes, the Joker knew, you didn't have much material to work with.

She was pretty.

That was the first thing he noticed after realizing she was indeed a woman. A female doctor, that in and of itself was a laugh, but it was downright hysterical when he discovered she was an incompetent one.

And discover it he did.

His tactics were subtle. For the first few weeks that he met with her, he kept his mouth shut, sitting on the lumpy old couch, arms crossed against his body, unmovable, in the straitjacket. He never uttered a word in her presence, and he watched in silent glee as she floundered with inexperience, trying to get him to open up.

She grew desperate quickly.

And how could she not? The Joker gathered that she had been promoted to a very high position very quickly, though he didn't know why. This was her opportunity to prove herself, analyzing the highest profile comedian in Gotham City shortly after his killer debut. And she was getting nowhere.

She walked right into his trap.

In her foolishness, she did something she was never supposed to do. She told the Joker about her personal life. Little things at first, hoping it would lead him to talk about himself. Then she started divulging larger secrets, and the Joker listened silently with a smile on his face. After a few weeks of this, he had a pretty good picture of her entire life (except for her first name, but the Joker hardly cared about that). He even devised from her vague references of writing ambitions that this was more than about proving herself; this was about fame, fortune. No doubt she was planning on cashing in with an exclusive book on Gotham's new most notorious entertainer. And she was still getting nowhere.

Now she was primed and ready.

When her desperation reached a fever pitch, he finally changed his tactics: He spoke to her. She was shocked, unable to hide her elation. She thought she'd made a breakthrough with him. She had no idea that he was in control.

"You intimidate me," he said. (What a joke.)

"I've always been scared of women…" (Oh, this was killer.)

"I've never been close to a woman…" (I've always been dangerously close.)

"But with you I feel a certain bond…" (I'd like to bind and gag you.)

"I want to tell you a secret… my biggest secret…"

She failed horribly at hiding her elation. This was exactly what she wanted. What a fucking idiot.

The Joker looked bashfully at his feet and sighed.

"But to tell you the truth, I'm nervous… I've never shared this secret with anyone before…"

He could practically see the dollar signs reflecting in her pupils.

"I don't know if I can do it…" He made a big deal of looking scared and anxious. After all, the Joker was nothing if not a showman.

"Maybe… maybe if I could just whisper it to you…"

Dr. Quinzel nodded her head vigorously and assured him that that would be just fine.

And so, looking quite terrified, he whispered something into the air. Something that she couldn't hear. Perfect.

She leaned forward as far as she could behind her desk, visibly shaking with excitement. He simply must repeat it louder for her.

But he couldn't. He was too shy about it.

No matter. Dr. Quinzel leapt out of her seat and joined him on the couch. Completely unprofessional. Perfect.

"I can't do it, Dr. Quinzel. You're too beautiful up close. My secret is too horrible. I'd be ashamed to tell a righteous person like you."

Nonsense, Dr. Quinzel insisted. She wasn't that righteous. She would prove it to him. Perfect.

Completely disarmed, guard down, she scooted close to him, leaned in, and whispered her biggest secret.

"I used the previous Head of Psychiatry to get my job here. And I kept using him until I was promoted directly beneath him. And then he had an accident… went insane. And now I have his position, and he's a patient here." There was a devilish gleam in Dr. Quinzel's eyes, and a strange smile on her face. "And… this is really horrible… every time I think of it, I can't help but laugh!"

She began to giggle, defenses completely down, and the Joker began chuckling with her until they were both in uproarious laughter. By the time Dr. Quinzel was wiping tears out of her eyes, she said, "Do you think I'm a terrible person?"

"Oh, definitely," the Joker smiled. "It's very attractive. But now, my dear, I feel it's only fair that I tell you my biggest secret in return."

"Well," Dr. Quinzel feigned hesitation, "if you think you're ready…"

"Oh, yes," the Joker insisted, "in fact, I would say the timing is perfect."

Dr. Quinzel leaned in eagerly, and the Joker whispered coyly into her ear.

"I know how to escape straitjackets."

With that, he knocked Dr. Quinzel upside the head with his right arm, which had been free the whole time. She fell backward onto the couch cushions, and he got on top of her and wrapped his hands around her neck. Her eyes bulged as he began choking the life out of her in a rage. Her body convulsed underneath him but he easily overpowered her. She would be dead soon.

By chance, his eyes caught sight of her I.D. badge.

The print was tiny. He'd never even noticed it before. But there in bold letters was her full name:


Something clicked in the Joker's mind as his fingernails dug deeper into the doctor's pretty white neck.

Harleen Quinzel… Harleen Quinzel…

The name began to blur in his mind…

Harley Quinzel… Harley Quinzel… Harlequin… Harlequin… Harlequinn…

"Harley Quinn!" the Joker suddenly screamed out loud, and burst into a raucous laughter.

He released his hands from her throat, sat back in the couch, and giggled incessantly while she coughed for air and the color slowly returned to her face.

He had just thought of the set-up for a much better joke to pull on her.

"Thanks, Doc," he said as she spluttered with gasps. "I feel much better. Same time next week?"