Je Ne Regrette Rien
Felicity Drake was moving through a series of basic tendu backstage at the Gotham Metropolitan Theatre, one hand resting lightly on the barre. Twenty-five minutes until curtain up.
She dropped into a deep plie rose, then carried through a grand port-de-bras.
Softly piping on the small portable stereo she carried, Edith Piaf sang Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien. In the foyer of the theatre beyond, people would be murmuring amongst each other, sipping champagne and nibbling on canapés, thumbing through the program, on the cover of which was a glossy photograph of herself in an arabesque, smiling with the joy and triumph only a prima ballerina could experience.
She turned to repeat the sequence on the other side.
She had completed her stretches and slipped into her costume, smoothing the tights and ensuring the tutu fluffed out perfectly around her hips. Her makeup was done – heavily accentuated eyes and deeply coloured lips the better to carry the distance to the back rows. Up close, it seemed hard and glittering but even from the first row it shaped her into the joyous teenaged princess who was the star of Sleeping Beauty.
The role she had always most yearned to play.
The one thing left to add was the crown of rosebuds atop her carefully arranged coif of strawberry-blonde curls. She would wait until just before curtain for that – her entrance on stage came later in the first act.
Her dressing room table was obscured beneath a fountain of roses in all different colours – pinks and reds, whites and yellows, their sweet scent perfuming the air. But it was not the sight of those that lifted her heart – that privilege was reserved for the tiny cluster of pink daffodils in a painted pot, almost lost amidst the grander blooms. She'd remembered – the daffodils had always been Felicity's favourite and Drew had remembered. Third row centre she would be tonight. Almost close enough for Felicity to rise en pointe into an extended arabesque, reaching out one hand to trace her forehead. Maybe now, that finally her career was establishing itself, she could stop denying her other desires.
Felicity completed her final port-de-bras and then placed a hand against her stomach, smiling. Beneath the layers of satin, embroidery and boning, she could feel the hard outline of the sterling silver charm she wore in her navel. Drew had given it to her on her fifth birthday, just a few months after she had first started ballet and already knew it was what she wanted to do forever. Of course, then it had been a pendant – one she'd never taken off except for performances.
It was only a cheap, generic little thing – a pair of ballet slippers, like a thousand other charms you could purchase at any dancewear shop. But the more time had passed, the more she came to depend on it as her lucky charm. If she wasn't wearing it, her timing was off, her arms not as graceful, her extensions a little strained. After she fumbled a series of fouettes one show, she'd gone straight out and had the piercing done. Now the pendant was firmly attached to the ring, constantly next to her skin, and her star was rising.
She was startled out of her reverie by the door of her dressing room slamming open.
She whirled around furiously, certain it was Henry, her leading man, playing yet another "practical joke". He kept on cracking "witticisms" about how it was his duty to be the queen, not her. Tiresome.
"Henry, for Chrissakes I have told you – " she spat, only to stop abruptly and stare at the petite blonde who stood in her doorway.
The girl was about her height, in a tight red dress with blonde hair tufted into two pigtails on either side of her head. From one hand dangled an oversized hat and a pair of sunglasses she'd evidently just swept off. In her other, she held an oversized gun, pointed directly at Felicity.
The blonde was smiling; a smile so wide and bright it threatened to crack her face, and her eyes were crazed. When she spoke, her voice was pitched uncomfortably high and undulated like a child's.
"Sorry cupcake, but there's been a last minute cast change. What can I say, the show's moving in a new direction and you're not quite – "
The blonde herself abruptly stopped and stared, gaping at Felicity. Then she suddenly flushed a crimson colour, from the roots of her hair to the cuff of her neck.
"Err…" the blonde said and Felicity blinked, her heart hammering in her chest and her mind whirling with confusion at the ever-stranger developments. A crazed fan? It wasn't impossible – she was becoming higher in profile and some of the hardcore ballet fans could be pretty whacky. Was her life in danger? She'd always anticipated a few creepy notes before a gun pointed at her chest, though. What was she supposed to do here?
"W-w-would you l-like an a-autograph?" she managed to stammer and it snapped the blonde out of her transfixion. She stepped further into the room, kicking the door shut behind her, her pretty face twisting into a grimace.
"You always did think ya were top shelf, huh Flick!"
The childhood nickname struck the chord of her memory.
"Harleen?" She gasped and then gaped at the suddenly familiar face of the blonde, who continued to pout and stride into the room, lifting her hands to her hips. "Harleen, what are you doing here?"
Harleen had stopped and floundered indignantly in Felicity's direction. "Whaddya mean? You're not the only one who's made somethin' of herself, ya know!"
Felicity flinched. She'd heard. Well, the whole country had heard. Harleen, lower lip protruding furiously, shoved a vase of roses off the dressing table, heedless of the crash they made hitting the floor, then perched herself there, swinging her legs and continuing to glare at Felicity.
"Ah, siddown!" Harleen snapped. "Yer makin' me nervous!"
Felicity abruptly obeyed, sinking into a nearby armchair, continuing to stare at Harleen. She couldn't believe how – fat – she'd gotten. Oh, she supposed by normal standards, Harleen had quite a nice body, but by a ballet dancers' or a gymnasts' – she'd really let herself go. Felicity was mildly shocked by it.
"So, dancin' the lead in Sleepin' Beauty, huh?" Harleen broke through Felicity's contemplations, causing the prima ballerina to lift her eyes back up to the blonde's. "You always were the teacher's pet!" Harleen's voice sounded light, friendly even but there was an undercurrent of something nasty there and Felicity bristled.
"I trained hard," she said, permitting a small flicker of a frown to crease her brows. Trained hard and sacrificed a great deal – more than anyone could know. But she'd wanted it more than she could want anything. On the carpet, the water from the roses was slowly seeping out into wide stain, crumpled stalks strewn in a messy pile.
"Well, we don't all got it!" Harleen's voice was airily philosophical but Felicity still squirmed.
The two women regarded each other quietly across the room, Felicity composed with her hands folded in her lap, back ramrod straight and her mouth in a small line and Harleen slouched over, hands on either side of her hips, swinging her legs back and forth and smiling in a quietly sinister fashion.
Harleen had joined Felicity's class at the age of ten on advice from her gymnastics instructor. The young Harleen showed dazzling promise as a gymnast in terms of strength, power and ability but was about as graceful as a sack full of knuckles. She could launch into a backflip or a somersault with barely an exertion, but her legs would splay, she'd land heavily, her arms would fly and her feet – they jutted out at all angles! Their instructor, Miss Heliotrope, had assigned Harleen to rigorous tendu series for a full three classes before she was permitted to join in the rest of the class.
Harleen had hated it from that moment on. The energetic budding young athlete was undisciplined and restless and would clumsily go through the tendu at the back of the class, fidgeting and squirming furiously. The number of times Miss Heliotrope had raised her voice to correct her waspishly – and Harleen would always flush brightly as a class full of neat little heads had swivelled to look at her.
The blonde's sunny disposition had temporarily returned when she'd been invited to join in the rest of the class, only to give way to poutings and huffs when the dainty steps and basic pirouettes eluded her. Out of Miss Heliotrope's class of twelve neat, precise well-trained little ballerinas, Harleen was markedly out of place, stumbling and fumbling her way through the sequences.
On top of that, her French was awful. Inadvertently, she had the class in constant stitches as she botched her "tan-doos", wobbled in her "arabeskies" and scrambled her "port-da-brass".
"I could never do what you could, Harleen," Felicity heard herself say, and inwardly marvelled at the composure of her voice.
Harleen's face contorted with sudden fury and she lurched forward on the table.
"Whaddya mean by that, huh?"
Felicity realised too late what her remark must've sounded like and hastened to explain:
"I meant gymnastics, Harleen, remember you were always excellent at that – I never could do that. My mother put me in some classes when I was younger but I always hated them. It wasn't easy for me, the way it was for you."
Harleen seemed somewhat mollified, settling back down and wiggling her shoulders with her nose in the air.
"Well, like I said, we don't all got it."
Felicity had already been the star of the class and Miss Heliotrope had asked her to assist Harleen with her carriage and technique. Felicity hadn't wanted to, thinking the clumsy oaf would only hold back her own progress, but she wasn't given much choice. She'd carried out her resentment in disparaging coldness and snappish impatience.
"You were never very nice to me," Harleen suddenly pouted and Felicity recalled the time, after watching her hunch forward and squat in a staggeringly ugly "plee-yay" that she'd cruelly remarked Harleen would make a better circus clown than a dancer.
The irony was not lost on her.
"Are you g-going to kill me?" Felicity stammered, her bony hands gripping each other tightly in her lap.
Harleen looked down at the gun in her hand as though trying to figure out what it was for, then shrugged.
"Yeesh, Flick, you sure look wrung out and strung out. Like a long string bean," Harleen giggled, rolling her eyes wildly and Felicity bristled despite herself, a memory of Harleen executing a pirouette only to slip to her bottom hard while the rest of the class laughed suddenly dissipating her caution.
"Do you need a crane to hoist you up onto the bars?" She snapped back, years of competitive backstage snipping rising to her aid.
Harleen only smiled. Edith Piaf's voice continued to warble softly on the stereo in the background, now singing La Vie En Rose, and Felicity felt her heartbeat rise.
"You're still not very nice," Harleen said and raised the gun. Fear swept through Felicity like ice.
"Please Harleen," Felicity tried desperately, "you don't want to do this. Don't you remember how much potential you had? You were going to go to the Olympics remember? I'm sorry I was cruel to you, I was just a kid. I made a mistake. But you had your own talents! You were going to be a star!"
Harleen's grip on the gun handle tightened. "I am a star!"
In her panic, Felicity did not understand her. "Of course you are. You've got it in you. But what's happened to you isn't my fault. I'm sorry about what's happened to your life but it wasn't because of me! You weren't meant to be a dancer but you were a great gymnast! An exceptional gymnast! They all said it, Harleen, that you'd bring home Olympic gold!"
Harleen's face had grown still, her eyes round and staring strangely at Felicity, an inscrutable glint in their depths. Felicity thought she might be getting through to her.
"Please, put the gun down and let's talk about this! Maybe I can help you – help you get back on track. You must have so many regrets – "
A flicker of fury sparked in Harleen's gaze then, but before she could react, the dressing room door slammed open again, so hard it cracked the wall.
"Harley! What in blazes is taking you so long! All you had to do was blow the lead's head off and get into her costume! Why are you so incomprehensively incompetent?"
Felicity quailed. Filling the doorway of her dressing room in lurid purple and green was The Joker. He stood there like a demigod, seeming at once to radiate and refract light, his bone white skin and furious grin like something out of Dante's Inferno while Edith Piaf's sensuous voice, an absurd contrast to the frightening figure, carolled the lyrics to Milord.
Harleen's expression at once turned simpering and adoring and she hopped off the dressing table to fawn before him, waving the gun around carelessly.
"I'm sorry, Puddin', I had an unexpected blast from the past! Just catchin' up with old acquaintances!"
Joker quirked an eyebrow and turned a curious eye on Felicity who had scampered around behind her armchair and was quaking there fearfully. Something about Harleen's words struck her curiously and she looked fearfully at her old classmate.
"Y- you mean, you didn't know? You w-weren't coming here to kill me?"
Harleen snorted and turned her back disdainfully to Felicity to survey the copious arrangements of flowers. "Ya seriously think I've given ya a second thought in the last five years, Flick?" She said scornfully, before her eyes lit on the small pot of pink daffodils.
"Ah, so you still got Drew taggin' atcha heels like a lovesick puppy!" Harleen held up the pot triumphantly before hurling it at the carpet.
"No!" Felicity cried as the pot broke, spilling earth and broken blossoms everywhere. Harleen ground a red high heel into the mess, smashing the petals further.
The Joker meanwhile had leaned against the doorframe, surveying the proceedings with an interested smirk, his eyes flickering over his petite and crazed girlfriend as she kicked at the trampled stalks. Why hadn't anyone heard? Why hadn't anyone come to investigate? Why wasn't anyone doing anything?
"Flick and I were in the same ballet class, Puddin'!" Harleen informed the Joker cheerfully, whose smile widened in an unpleasant fashion.
"Izzat a fact?" He sneered and Harleen nodded vigorously. Felicity had the strangest sensation they'd launched into some sort of routine, implicitly understood between them.
"She was the lovely swan and I the little duckling!" Harleen continued and Joker pursed his lips.
"How you've grown!" He remarked and Harleen smiled.
"Everyone loved her and everyone laughed at me. She laughed hardest."
Joker drew his mouth down in an exaggerated frown. "Grace does not lend itself easily to graciousness."
"Well, I have a feelin' she'll be knowin' what it's like to stumble with the rest of us real soon!" Harleen held the gun up cockily, tipping her head to survey Felicity with a wicked smile. "I wonder if Drew'll still worship the ground you tread on when ya can't walk no more."
Felicity was suddenly convinced she was about to die – before even once dancing the role of Aurora.
"Harleen – " she stammered hopelessly, the sting of mascara fierce in her eyes as her first tears began.
Harleen whirled on her furiously, grasping the gun hard between both hands, legs planted firmly astride.
"The name's Harley Quinn, you Fontayne-Phoney."
The blast of the gun was deafening and Felicity found herself suddenly crumpled on the ground, gasping for breath. As the ringing in her ears died away, the cackling sound of the Joker's wickedly delighted laughter rose around her in sickening waves.
A second later, the pain flooded through her, worse than anything she'd ever experienced – even the time she'd torn a ligament in her ankle.
The pain was erupting up through her right knee and Felicity gasped and choked, hearing herself moan in a ragged voice as she floundered, twisting at the waist to see her knee a mess of blood and ragged flesh.
The Joker continued to laugh, leaning against the doorframe to prop himself up as he held his sides in helpless mirth. Harley Quinn was smiling viciously as she stepped across the carpet, her eyes bright and strangely vacant as she stopped, one heel sinking into the blood that was spattering the carpet, and stared down at her.
"Jay nah regret ryan," Harley twanged, her French as awful as ever. "But I got a feelin' you'll have a few."
Credit for the idea for this one goes to jarec, who said in conversation a few months ago that Harley could impress Joker with cruel and inventive crimes such as blowing out a ballerina's knee. He gave me permission to use the idea – so here it is! :) And go and read his fic too!
I've had some comments elsewhere about the French. Most of it simply describes ballet steps – 'tendu' referring to a series of basic exercises involving pointing the feet, generally to the front, side and back. 'Tendu' means 'point'. 'Plie' is a bend, 'port-de-bras' refers to any number of arm sequences in accompaniment to steps, 'pirouette' is a spin in which one leg is bent at the knee and the foot tucked behind the supporting leg, 'arabesque' involves balancing on one leg and lifting the other straight behind you. 'Fouettes' are one of my favourite moves, they involves a continuous, smooth spin in which one leg is whipped around the body, while the supporting rises en pointe. Very fancy, requires great strength and grace. I think that's all of them.
'Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien' literally is 'No, I regret nothing' and is considered the wonderful Edith Piaf's signature song. As one reviewer commented – listen to it whilst reading this fic. The climax of the song in particular is glorious and will give you shivers.
'Fontayne' refers to Margot Fontayne, widely considered to be one of the greatest ballerinas who has ever lived.