"At what age did you realize what your father was doing was wrong?"
"I've known he was a villain for as long as I can remember. It wasn't ever a secret."
I wished, idly, that the lounge was softer. Or that I could just be given these questions on paper and make answering them slightly less awkward. Laying back on a lounge like I was visiting a therapist was intensely unnerving, and being drilled with stupid questions made me even tenser. Harding had such a specific routine for these sessions. They dragged on, with his scratching pen the only sound apart from our voices. I tried to keep my breathing slow and soft, inaudible despite how tense I was.
"Describe your earliest memory of understanding your father's actions."
"I'm not sure how old I was… I snuck into his workshop and ended up with a face full of laughing gas. I don't remember a lot about it. I couldn't stop laughing and crying. The Joker heard me, and gave me the antidote. It made me extremely tired, and he carried me to my room. As he was putting me to bed I asked him why he made the gas. I told him it hurt. He told me that it was supposed to hurt, and that if I snuck in again he might not have the cure to give me. I understood that he used the gas on people, and that they weren't so lucky to get the antidote. I knew that was awful."
I had been in bed for an entire day after getting hit with that gas. I kept asking why the Joker made it. He hadn't hidden its purpose. It was meant to hurt, and after some tweaking with the formula, it was meant to kill. I tried to explain that it was wrong to hurt others; I had learned that from my Saturday morning cartoons. He had just laughed and told me he wasn't worried about that – he wasn't concerned about what was good or bad, as long as it was worth a laugh.
"Did you ever confront him about his actions?"
I was silent at that question. I had, for the most part, just accepted that the Joker was bad. I had never demanded he change. I had, in middle school, tried to figure out why he was such a bad person.
"When I was twelve we got in a fight over it. I asked him why he had tainted half of Gatham's water supply with that poison Joker Juice. He told me it was for the laughs, but I wouldn't accept it. I just kept asking, over and over again, trying to get a better answer from him. Eventually he got so made he broke two lamps, smashed in our television's screen and left. That was a few months after Harley had started living with us. She spent all night looking for him, but he didn't come back for over a week. When he did come back, the car was full of random things he had stolen and he told Harley to redecorate. We never spoke of it again… until a couple weeks ago when everything fell apart."
"You really expect me to believe all of this?" Harding stood suddenly, his chair clattering back and knocking against his desk. He threw his notebook on the desk with a thud and turned, breathing heavily.
I sat up quickly, but didn't stand or speak.
"You were raised by the most evil to ever haunt Gotham City, and you really expect me to believe he never hurt you in some way? "He turned back to me. He looked furious, his eyes hard and frightening and his face slightly red. Some of his hair had escaped its tie and it fell about his shoulders. "Well?" he demanded.
"I don't know what you want me to say!" I said quickly, softly. I didn't know how to appease him and he was clearly on the verge of doing something that did not bode well for me. "I've told you the truth!"
"You've lived with him for almost all of your life, and he's never so much as slapped you? Threatened you or used you to test his venoms and weapons?" Harding stepped towards me and I moved quickly back on the lounge, my eyes flicking to the door. He stopped and closed his eyes for a few moments.
Harding turned away and strode to the other side of his desk, reaching up and retying his hair. He picked up his notebook and straightened a few bent pages.
"We will continue this session tomorrow," he said softly.
I glanced to the door to see Alyssa there, waiting for me with the same neutral smile she seemed to always wear. I followed her back to the stairs, where she locked the door after I walked into the stairway.
When Harley woke to a rose on the table beside her bed she frowned. She was certain it hadn't been there when she went to sleep – and she hadn't gotten the chance to talk to Red in a couple of days.
She reached out and picked up a note that sat beside the rose.
See you in a bit. If the kid survived twelve years living with me, it wouldn't be a very good punch line to have her killed by some moron.
Harley's eyes brimmed with tears and she clutched the rose to her chest with a joyful squeal that had the guards on duty running to her cell.
"There are too many clubs, Alfred, I need them narrowed down," Batman spoke without looking at the small video screen built into the dash of the Batmobile.
"I'm sorry, Master Bruce, the list I sent you includes of all the clubs in Gotham that have ever been considered hang outs for thugs and criminals."
"I need more than that, Alfred. Look into any clubs that have live singers. The Joker mentioned Miranda's mother was a singer."
There was the faint background sound of Alfred typing into the main computer of the Batcave.
"I'm afraid the list is not much smaller than the original."
"Keep trying, Alfred."
"I will Master Bruce. In the meantime, what am I to tell Master Dick concerning the matter?"
"Tell him he needs to stay there and help you. His affection for Miranda would get in the way, and he hasn't had to do this type of work yet. He doesn't know how to handle the people I'll be seeing."
"Very well, Master Bruce," Alfred's picture flickered and the screen shut down.
Batman turned down a street that would take him into the heart of downtown Gotham, hands tightening on the steering wheel. He had so few leads. How was he supposed to find the right club? Had the Joker been going there before or after he had become the monster he was? The Joker's past was a complete mystery to him. He knew small details of the accident that had caused the Joker's transformation. The time-line was sketchy at best, who knew if Miranda had been conceived before or after the Joker had become the madman he was today.
The thought led him to an even stranger query. The Joker was a madman and a cruel villain, but he had never committed crimes of a sexual nature. Even the perverse jokes the monster made were more jest than threat. What woman would not only have a relationship with him, but leave their child in his sole care?
The young woman on the stage had a soft voice. Her dress was tight and left very little to the imagination. She was probably no older than eighteen or nineteen. She was hardly a woman, and probably already in debt with the owner of the club.
The Joker knew this world. He didn't reflect on it, or think about how he had come to know it – but it was just a fact that he did. He made his way through the drunks and thugs to the bar.
"Kind of a weak little voice for that stage, isn't it?" he asked the bartender in a low voice.
The man glanced at the stage. "She's nothing compared to what our headliner could do. But when you've got a spot to fill, you fill it the best you can. She shows a lot more skin to make up for her singing. The clientele have mostly stopped complaining." The bartender finally looked at him. "What d'ya want?"
"I need to see Joe."
"Joe the owner? He expecting you?"
"He's never expected me," the Joker looked up and tilted back his hat with a grin. "Why don't you let me in the backroom, Johnny-boy. Your brother Joe and I need to chat."
The bartender went rigid. "Of-Of course," he fumbled with a key ring on his belt and met the Joker at the end of the bar by a door. He quickly unlocked it and pushed it open.
"Thanks, Johnny. I did always like you. But lay of the sweets, eh pal? You're not as young as you once were," the Joker patted his own stomach mockingly as he entered the room.
He made his way down the familiar hall that opened into a small, low-ceiling room. A short, jittery little man sitting at a round table in the middle of the room was sorting through what looked like a folder. A single empty chair sat across from him. It had been a similar scene the first time the Joker had come to this back room to speak to the clubs former owners. Joker stepped into the room fully and the man looked up at him and went wide eyed.
"J-Joker! What are you doing here?" the papers the man was looking at flew about as his hands jerked. "Erhm… what can I do for you?"
"Hello, Jo-Jo," the Joker pulled up a chair across from the man. "Perhaps you've seen in the funny papers, but it seems someone is trying to get at me through my kid, Elle's kid. I need to know where she is."
The man's face drained of all color and she stammered something unintelligible for a moment., trailing off at the Joker's eyes narrowed.
"Maybe you don't quite understand, Jo-Jo. I will find her, whether you tell me willingly or I make you choke it out between the giggles."
"She's dead!" the timid man blurted out. "She's been dead for a couple months. She didn't come to work one night, and Johnny found her in her apartment… I-it was your gash that killed her!"
The Joker stood and flipped the table in a fluid motion. He grabbed the little man by the collar and drug him out of the chair and into his tip-toes.
"I haven't been to this club in twelve years. Twelve years since I found out I not only had a kid, but that the kid was in danger because you were dealing with criminals too powerful for you to stand against. You really think I came back and killed the woman after more than a decade!"
"I'm sorry! Please! What were we supposed to think? She was just sitting there, in a chair, this blank grin across her face! No one else makes their marks laugh before they die! Not like that!"
The Joker let him go with a shove, and the man fell back with a heavy thud.
"What did you do with her apartment?" Joker growled dangerously. "Was she still above the club?
"Yeah," the man nodded quickly. "She was. We just… we just locked the place up. I mean, we couldn't call the cops – and we were sure it was you!" he flinched when the Joker's eyes narrowed again. "We buried her real nice! Had a ceremony and everything, lots of singing and all that. Everyone around here really liked Ell."
"Give me the keys to the apartment," Joker said softly, holding out his hand expectantly.
"What are you gonna do?" the man scrambled up and quickly went through his keys to find the right one. "Who else would want Ell dead? Are they the ones with your daughter?
"I didn't kill Ell. Whoever did managed to replicate my toxin. I can't have a copycat roaming the streets, now can I?" the Joker's hand closed around the man's hand and the key, digging the metal into the man's palm as he pulled him forward and loomed over him. "And if I find out you're not telling me something, and the kid gets hurt, crossing the old mob kings will be the least of your worries."
The Joker left and Joe pulled out a handkerchief, wiping his brow with it as he pulled his chair upright and looked around the mess of the room. The upturned table lay against a wall and the papers were crumpled and torn where they'd been trod on.
When a figure appeared in the hallway Joe tensed, but relaxed when he saw it was his brother.
"You alright, Joe?" John frowned, taking in the haphazard room.
"I'm fine. But I almost pity the bastard that killed Ell. If he hurts that kid, something tells me Joker Juice will be the last thing on the Joker's list of painful deaths."
AN: Eh? Eh? I really am trying to finish this I swear! There will only be a few more chapters - I've got the ending pretty much all planned out. And I just updated within a week! A record for me, I'm sure, haha.