A/N: I didn't mean for this to happen this way. I had it all planned out: drama and pathos. Then the Comedy Bus came along and, well--

Part One: Bait

As headlines go, this is a doozy.


And in smaller print underneath it:



"Classy," murmurs the painted lips, clicking tongue over yellowed teeth. "Wonder how long it took 'em to think that one up."

The accompanying photograph is fuzzy in the extreme, not lending much mental clarity to the imagined larger picture. The dark figure may or may not have been the actual Batman— as the Herald has a history of jumping the gun (this is the fifth time this particular headline has been called into play, with varying degrees of punctuation) there was really no way of knowing how accurate the story was. But no, there it was repeated in the Times, a much stuffier newspaper, less likely to leap to conclusions about the demise of masked vigilantes. Especially when its cohort kept getting sued by the irate people of Gotham for misinformation.

So, possibly it was true.

Well, it had to happen sometime.

That doesn't make him feel any better, though. It wasn't just that the Bat was dead— if in fact he was— it was that he didn't kill him. He hadn't been in control. Someone else— the newspaper speculated that it was that idiot, the Riddler. Now, there was a psychiatrist's nightmare.

The Joker slaps the papers down on the desk and taps his fingers along them idly— one two three four, one two three four. Perhaps it was time to think this through? Decide where to go from here? Contemplate life post-bat? Figure out his arguably conflicted emotions, the arguable point being that he had any emotions at all apart from whatever led to his instant gratification?

Without haste but with mess, he began to remove the picture from the paper.

"I hope that doesn't screw up the comics," says Harley, walking up behind him swinging her hips. "You and those newspapers. You're always ripping them up or using them for death threats before I get a chance to look at 'em. What's a girl supposed to do when she can't get any news?"

"Make history," says the Joker, holding the freed picture, ragged-edged and torn, in both hands and smiling at it in satisfaction.

"Alright for you to say. They're giving you a regular feature on the eleven o'clock news— Joker's Wild." She snorts, tosses her head. "Not one word about little Harley. What do I have to do, hold the Mayor's chihuahua for ransom?"

Her man, only half-listening, makes a thoughtful face at this suggestion. "Couldn't hurt. Well. Could hurt the dog."

"Nasty little anklebiter," says Harley resentfully, rubbing at her shin. "What's the big news, Mister J?"

He flourishes the picture at her and she dodges side to side trying to get a good look at it as he waves it through the air.

"There's a change in the wind," he says. "A shift in the teutonic plates."

"In the what?" says Harley, grabbing the picture from him at last and scrutinizing it. "Gee."

He closes his eyes and nods a little. "Mm."

"It's kinda fuzzy, isn't it?"

He slits his eyes open and looks sideways at her. She's tilting her head to one side, then the other, to get the best angle. He snakes a foot out and catches around her ankle, dumping her on the ground, and then he's up and hunched over her, crooked shoulders curving, a knee on either side of her. He folds his bare arms across her chest, sleeves rolled up above his elbows, presses down with all his weight and speaks conversationally as her air ebbs out.

"Kind of a tragedy, hmm? Don't you think. To lose a bat in his prime. A prime bat, too, a credit to his city."

"Terrible," squeaks Harley.

He looks up, stares off into the middle distance. "After all the times we've had, to lose the Bat to someone else—" His tone is possessive; he doesn't like having his toys taken away from him.

"If you don't mind my saying, Mister J, you seem a little—" She's using the last of her breath to get it out. His gaze drifts back down to her, and he tilts his head to one side as he watches her turn blue.

"Conflicted?" he prompts.

She nods, her mouth open but dumb.

He leans closer. "Conflicted ain't the half of it," he purrs, and slides his arms away till his hands rest on her shoulders. She sucks in breath and he scratches his fingernails gently over her throat, feeling the movement beneath the skin.

"We'll throw him a party," he says decisively. "Send him out with one last hurrah, a final shout-out to Gotham's twisted finest. A wake for a weirdo, a shroud for a simpleton—"

"A funeral for a furry," suggests Harley, and he contemplates choking her again. But he's trained her well, and she would just like it. Abuse has ceased to be the punishment it was when he first got hold of her. He lunges and bites her noisily on the neck instead, and she squeals.

"A tragedy of epic proportions," he says, sitting up again, bouncing on her a little (she grunts rhythmically) and smacking his lips. "My favorite."

It is not the publicity bonanza he'd hoped. There's less of a blitzkrieg about it, more of a general hinting. Even the banner ad he's threatened the Times into displaying is conspicuously lacking in luster. He grinds his teeth as he looks it over.

"They misspelled nemesis!" he complains. "Two i's instead of two e's. Can you believe that?"

Harley looks up from cutting jack o'lantern smiles into paper dolls' faces. She frowns, confused. "I thought there was three i's."

"Deliver me from idiots," spits the Joker, and pounds his gloved fist on the offensive paper. Celebrate the Passing of a Celebrated Nemisis, it says, with a certain amount of redundancy sprinkled in amongst the typos. Memorial Service for Batman. Black Tie Optional, Bring Your Own Bottle. (Unattended Children Will Be Given Kittens)

"And I never said that last part! Why would they put in that last part?"

"Maybe for comic effect," suggests Harley, and he draws back, aghast, at the idea. Before he can loose the bile that rises at the thought, he's interrupted by a message. It arrives wrapped around a brick, thrown through the window, and dings off the side of Harley's head before it bounces to his feet.

He picks it up, ignoring Harley as she slumps, stunned, to the ground sideways; he undoes the green ties that hold the message on. It's written in acrobatic script on green paper. He's beginning to scent a pattern.

"RSVP," he reads aloud, and glances at Harley, who twitches and gurgles. "Did we ask for RSVPs? No. We did not."

The Riddler accepts your invitation. Or— does he? This. Is. A. Conundrum.

The Joker shakes his head, and breathes in a deep shuddery breath, sliding a hand through his greasy hair. It goes through easier than expected, and he frowns. It must be time to tangle it again. This is Harley's job, and she appears to enjoy it, though she always insists on washing her hands afterwards. As though she's going to catch something from his hair that she wouldn't already have caught from his other parts. Harley, the Joker considers, is not a little ridiculous, and it's to her advantage that she's also a little delicious, and such a devoted slave. Comic relief in a serious, serious world—

He has to face it. He's going to miss the Bat. Who's he going to get smart with, now? With whom is he going to pursue the endless struggle of the immovable force and the unstoppable object— he frowns again— or was it the other way around?

It, well, it just irks him that he wasn't there for the ending of it all. And what can he do about it, at this late date, except exact a little revenge?