Hellloooo kiddies :) Here's another (hopefully) long awaited chapter to my little Joker/Harley story. Those familiar with Harley's origin story in BTAS and 'Mad Love' will read through this chapter and perhaps sense how close we're coming to Harley's breaking point... If I continue writing in the way I'm hoping too, we should see Harley complete her transformation in no more then one or two chapters... Yay! :)

Chapter Eleven, Hostage

I'm a hostage of your heart,
You can twist me 'round your finger.
Your burning eyes are tearing me apart.
Turn my soul into a cinder.
Boy, boy, hostage of your heart.
Can you twist me 'round your finger? 'Hostage' Mike Oldfield

We think...
I'm glad it wasn't me
And turn up the TV
And squeeze our eyes shut, but leave a space to see 'Accident' Lisa Loeb


It all begun for her the following morning. Within moments of opening her eyes, two people were shown into her room, a man and a woman. Harley opened her mouth to protest the invasion of her privacy, but wisely decided to remain quiet when she noticed the woman was wearing a police uniform.

"Miss Quinzel," The woman was sort of grim looking, like she would have no qualms about laying down a serious ass kicking if she, Harley, so much as breathed too loudly, "This is Counsellor Westaway," She said by way of introduction, "He's assigned himself as your…legal aid."

Harley was familiar with Darrell Westway. Whenever any person of controversy was facing serious legal issues, he stepped in as their legal defence. He was a pro at making charges and unpleasant court cases just 'disappear'. However, of late, he'd faced some unpleasant issues himself over his latest case, in which he'd managed to turn the highly favoured death penalty into a stay at Arkham which, as of the previous evening, had proven fully inadequate as retribution. That would explain why this policewoman was glowering at Darrell like she wanted to stomp his skull in. However, Harley still had questions.

"What am I being charged with?" She demanded, sitting up sharply. The sudden movement made her a little dizzy and it was not the nicest way to wake up, but she couldn't look weak or vulnerable for this discussion. She was already at a disadvantage just being in a hospital bed.

"At this time, nothing." Darrell reassured her, "However, last night seems to have caused some… misunderstandings with our friends in the Police Department."

It was Darrell's turn to glower, even if it proved to have no effect whatsoever on the policewoman.

"Why?" Harley asked again, a little startled by how easy it was to pull off the 'innocent' act, "What's going on?"

"It's absurd Harley," Darrell said in a voice full of contempt aimed at the woman standing just behind him, "But your involvement is suspected in the Joker's escape from Arkham."

"What?!" Harley burst out, looking furious. She was really focussing on Darrell's seemingly instinctive knowledge of her new preference for the name 'Harley' instead of 'Harleen' however. There was only one way she thought he could know that… "But I didn't do anything like that!"

"Oh really?" The policewoman snarled, "Then how do you explain the mountain of evidence against you?"

Harley opened her mouth to give a nasty reply, but shut it again when Darrell shot her a warning look and turned to deal with the woman himself.

"Officer," He began in his most high and mighty voice, "What is your name and rank?"

"Renee Montoya, Detective." The woman responded, dislike for Darrell gleaming in her eyes, "Do you want my badge number whilst you're at it, Counsellor?"

"No thankyou," Darrell returned with a sickly sweet smile, "I believe your name and rank shall prove enough."

"For what?"

"To make a request that you be withheld from interviews with my client of course." Darrell said grimly, "If you are going to continue to treat her in this manner, it's only the sensible thing to do. If you find you can control yourself however…"

Montoya said nothing, choosing to sit in one of the visitor's chairs positioned around the room. Darrell did likewise.

"So… This is an interview then?" Harley asked meekly, "Not an interrogation?"

"Correct." Darrell responded with a kindly smile. "In order to further prove your innocence, I have agreed to let you answer some polite questions and show the Police Department you did no such thing as unlawfully release the Joker."

"Okay I guess." Harley bit her bottom lip, "I don't know how these things work though…"

"That's alright." Darrell said calmly, "That's why I'm here: to provide guidance."

Montoya shot both Harley and Darrell one last look before beginning the interview.

"Harleen, can you please tell me what happened last night at Arkham?" Montoya asked. She was being remarkably polite, although Harley got the distinct feeling it was taking a lot of effort to do so.

"I was just entering the building-"

"Why were you there?" Montoya leapt in immediately, "You weren't rostered for an evening shift that day."

"I needed to use the library," The lie was out of Harley's mouth just as fast, with no effort, "Working with the Joker was hard…I needed to do some research to try and find a fresh approach to his treatment. However, before I could reach the library, there was, well, I suppose a blackout."

"All the lighting and CCTV fuses were found to be severely damaged by way of a construction wrench found on the scene." Montoya said, "I don't suppose you'd know how that happened?"

"I do hope you're not implying that this structural damage was the work of my client." Darrell protested.

"Of course not." Montoya smiled, but the gesture did not warm up her eyes at all. "Perhaps, however, Harley saw someone else...?"

"No." Harley replied bluntly. "I saw no one. I never went into the Utility areas of Arkham. When the lights went out, I went to the front office because I knew Patricia would be working and maybe we'd be able to call someone for help."

"Patricia says she was attacked in the dark," Montoya said, a note of menace entering her voice now, "The blow to her head has made her a little fuzzy on the details, but she seems to remember seeing you at one point last night."

"I…" Harley bit her lip again and bowed her head, "I was so frightened in the dark… I wasn't sure if the patients' cell locking systems had failed too. I went into the front office, looking for Patricia. However, it was pitch black and when she appeared out of nowhere… I kind of, um, smacked her in the face with a door."

"Really?" Montoya sounded dry and utterly disbelieving, "So, you stayed with your friend and attempted administer rudimentary medial attention then I suppose."


"No?" Montoya repeated incredulously, although there was no surprise in her eyes, "Now that seems a little off, if I may say so… Patricia is supposed to be your friend, and yet you didn't attempt to help her when she was bleeding profusely from a head wound?"

"It was pitch-black!" Harley shot back, growing upset. She was starting to forget that this was all meant to be a lie, it was starting to blur into something else in her mind. Maybe an alternative truth that could have just as easily happened, if she'd chosen just a little differently. "I couldn't see where she was bleeding from or if she was even conscious! Meanwhile, there were orderlies running around with torches! What do you think I did? I went to try and ask one of them for help of course!"

Montoya seemed taken aback and Harley could feel angry tears stinging in her eyes. Darrell looked between the two women before clearing his throat.

"As you can see Detective Montoya, my client is becoming extremely upset… I suggest a short break, just so everyone can clear their heads."

"It's within your rights I suppose." Montoya muttered, looking more troubled and less angry then before. "And I need to make some calls…Speak with my superiors."

"I'm sure." Harley got the feeling Darrell was aiming for kindly when he spoke, but didn't quite manage to weed out all the contempt in his voice.

Montoya noticed it too, but didn't respond to it this time. She merely raised a brow, shook her head and left the room, pulling her cell phone from her pocket as she went.

"Well," Darrell said suddenly, making Harley jump, "You're doing well so far."

"Oh, um… Thanks." Harley blinked and a question suddenly occurred to her. "Hey, why are you defending me? I can't pay you or anything, I barely make enough to support myself…"

"Not to worry Harley." Darrell gave her a crafty, almost chilling smile, "That's all been taken care of by the same man who asked for me to act as your lawyer."

"And that would be…who?" Harley was starting to get worried. Someone very wealthy and powerful was taking an interest in her; she wasn't so sure this meant anything good.

"An old friend of mine actually who says he owes you a favour." Darrell seemed surprised Harley didn't know already, "A man by the name of Jack Napier… He sent me a note asking me to take care of you better then I took care of him. He also told me you prefer to be addressed as Harley these days, not Harleen."

"Oh." Harley frowned and pushed her tired, frightened mind into overdrive. "I don't know a Jack Napier… But he knows me as Harley so…"

She trailed off, a look of sudden comprehension crossing her wan face. Darrell nodded in approval.

"Oh." Harley's eyes widened, "Oh!"

"Indeed." Darrell nodded. "By the way, that necklace you're wearing… Charming piece of jewellery."

Harley's hand flew to where she'd forgotten to remove the red and black pendant from around her throat.

"Oh, t-thankyou." She said uncertainly. "Um, it was a gift I think from Jack."

Darrell smiled humourlessly and shook his head.

"There are no such things as 'gifts' when it comes to Jack, you should probably learn that quickly. In the mean time, I suggest you take that necklace off whilst Montoya is around."

"Why?" Harley demanded, unwilling suddenly to remove the pretty necklace. "I like it."

"Because," Darrell said slowly, warningly, "Montoya has proven herself a cunning and sharp woman before… She is sure to inquire about the necklace sooner or later, especially as you were not wearing it last night. Not to mention that it will look very suspicious if they discover you've received a delivery from someone named 'Jay'…"

Harley chewed at her bottom lip for a moment before sighing and removing the necklace as instructed. She also produced the note from where she'd hidden it beneath her pillow. She passed the two items to Darrell who quickly placed them in his briefcase.

"By the way Harley…" Darrell said thoughtfully, "I must make a warning about Montoya."

Harley said nothing, merely eyeing the door that Montoya waited on the other side of nervously.

"I have received rather… convincing information that Detective Montoya has a rather personal interest in your friend Patricia."

"Personal interest?" Harley repeated slowly, "You don't mean that she's a… you know?"

Darrell chuckled humourlessly at Harley's innocent surprise.

"A lesbian? Yes, Harley, that's exactly it. So, I suggest you tread carefully around any mention of Patricia."

"Sure sure…" Harley paused and then suddenly smiled. There was nothing innocent in her expression now. "But, uh, I have an idea concerning what you just told me… An idea that would help get rid of any problems Montoya might present."

"Oh?" Darrell smiled as well, "And what would that be?"

Harley grinned and told him.

"Commissioner?" Gordon's receptionist, a canny woman by the name of Laura Bullfinch, stuck her head into his office, "There's someone here to see you…"

Gordon looked up from the reports on the events of Arkham with a frown on his face.

"I'm not scheduled to see anyone, tell them to make an appointment."

"I don't…" Laura bit her bottom lip before starting again, "It's the D.A."

"Gertude Dennison?" Gordon resisted the urge to curse loudly, "What is she doing here?"

"Well, apart from her general desire to cause misery and chaos wherever she goes, I believe she is trying to, um…" Laura trailed off helplessly, bewilderment and anger in her eyes.

"She is trying to what?" Gordon asked, getting to his feet and walking over to the woman and shaking her gently, "Gertrude is trying to what?"

"Land your ass in a heap of trouble Gordon." A woman's voice replied nastily, causing both Gordon and Laura to look up in surprise.

Gertrude Dennison (or the 'Gertranator' as she was nicknamed by discontent MCU members behind her back) was a tall woman with unnaturally perfect black hair with what could only be described as a 'presence'. This was mostly likely due to the permanent scowl on her lips and the swarm of spiteful legal goons that seemed to follow her everywhere. A few of them were cops who, dissatisfied under Gordon, had turned to Gertrude in order to seek out conditions that suited their desires better. Usually, this meant revealing any of Gordon's less then perfect moments and policies and then settling down to enjoy the financial and social benefits of Gertrude's presence.

"Gerty." Gordon gave a brief, hard smile. "How nice to see you again."

"That's part of the problem with cops like you," She replied, "You're all cowards who won't say what you really feel."

"Well, we can't all be like you Ms. Dennison." Gordon countered, irritation sparking in him, "Which is perhaps just as well."

"Oh?" Gertrude shot Gordon a look through narrowed eyes. One could almost see the woman as a menacing dragon, complete with smoke billowing from one nostril.

"Well, it's like in the wild," Gordon replied, vindictive pleasure replacing the irritation as he formulated his reply, "There has to be many different animals, not just one species. For instance, the world would be a very… boring place if the only animals around were dogs."

There was a long moment of shocked silence. Gertrude looked momentarily taken aback before hissing in rage and glaring at Gordon.

"I do hope you're not comparing me to a dog," She laughed coldly, a poor imitation of humour. "Commissioner," She added in honeyed tones.

Gordon widened his eyes in mock surprise.

"Me?" He smiled in amusement, "Oh, of course not. My apologies for the… misunderstanding."

Gertrude gave her cold laugh again.

"Perhaps you won't be quite so amused when you hear what I have to say Gordon."

"And what is that?"

"I'm here to legally prosecute you."

There was a long, silent moment. Then, Gordon gave a disbelieving laugh.

"With what?" He demanded, "What have I done?"

Gertrude smiled and clicked her fingers at one of her nearby hovering goons. The young man passed her a folder which Gertrude scanned through quickly.

"Ah, perfect." She muttered, half to herself, before looking back up at Gordon. "It says here you are to be charged with the illicit detention of a Doctor Vahns of Arkham Asylum. You are also being charged with withholding Vahns' right to an attorney, therefore proving yourself to be in direct violation of the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution."

For near to a minute, no one said anything. Gertrude merely smiled at Gordon whilst he stared back fathomlessly. Then, the silence was broken as Gordon stirred suddenly, startling everyone in the room.

"That slimy son of a bitch…" He muttered, "He's having me prosecuted…"

"That's right." Gertrude's smile was one of utter delight and Gordon found it sickening to look at. "Now, would you like to hear your options?"

Gordon shot Gertrude a raised brow sort of look that normally, anyone with any common sense or respect for the Commissioner, would have quickly backed away from. Unfortunately, Gertrude Dennison was sadly lacking in both respects, and forged on, still with that sickening little smile on her smooth face. It made Gordon think that Gertrude would have been quite attractive if not for the facts that she rarely smiled properly and she really was an unforgiveable bitch.

"You have two options." She chimed, flipping through her folder again, pausing every now and then to sign something and pass it back to the underling who continued to hover nearby, "Firstly, you refuse to surrender your role as Police Commissioner-"

"-I like this option already."

"-In which case I arrest you and have you detained until further notice."

"And my second option?" Gordon demanded, trying not to clench his fists and therefore let Gertrude see how angry he was.

"You might prefer this one." Gertrude drawled, "Your second option… You relinquish your role as Police Commissioner to me until such time that the courts have decided upon whether or not you are suitable for the role you currently serve."

"When you say 'relinquish'," Gordon said slowly, "What do you exactly mean?"

"You will turn in your badge, gun and any ID that gives you access to this building or otherwise identifies you as Commissioner or a Police Officer." Gertrude rattled off, without pausing for breath.

"You must be joking." Gordon shook his head slowly, "This is absurd."

"Oh, I rarely joke, Gordon." Gertrude said quietly in a dangerous voice, "Now, have you reached a decision?"

"Say I don't like either of your options…" Gordon smiled suddenly. "You forget I have a third one."

"I doubt it." Gertrude sneered, "Unless you plan to do something like throw yourself out a window in some pathetic final protest."

Gordon winced at Gertrude's utter lack of tact.

"No actually." He said, a trifle angrily now, "See, you may have pages of legal terms to throw at me, but you forgot one crucial thing: An actual warrant for my arrest. As D.A, you aren't actually allowed to write your own warrants as that could be construed as a conflict of interests and a temptation to corruption. You'll have to go through the courts."

"Then I will." Gertrude snapped, "So really, you're merely prolonging the inevitable."

"Hardly." Gordon gave the woman before him a large, bright smile. "The courts won't grant you your warrant; they have far bigger things to deal with."

"Did Batman kill someone else?" Gertrude sneered, deliberately taunting Gordon with the discourteous reference.

"Actually," Gordon spoke through clenched teeth now, "The Joker escaped Arkham Asylum last night."

It seemed that the entire building fell silent in one sharp intake of breath. Everyone stared at Gordon with widened eyes full of hatred and terror for the Joker. The air suddenly felt close and tight, liable to snap violently.

'Well, the cat's out of the bag now.' Gordon thought, a little ruefully. He was not doing much damage anyway though, he'd received word that the mayor had been informed of the Joker's escape and was demanding a warning be placed in the newspapers early today.

"Why wasn't I notified?" Gertrude hissed, looking entirely capable of launching herself at someone at that moment, "This is…. Inexcusable!"

"I apologise for your being uninformed," Gordon said sweetly, "But you were busy, we didn't want to disturb you… After all, you were doing such wonderful work."

Gertrude opened her mouth to give a doubtlessly savage reply, if the amount of teeth she displayed was anything to go by. Gordon cut her off though, more then happy to exercise some authority over the thoroughly unpleasant woman.

"I'm sorry Ms. Dennison," He said in a harder, stern voice, "Since you have no further purpose here in the MCU building, I'm going to have to ask you to leave."

"You can't!-"

"If you refuse to leave," Gordon spoke over the top of her, having to raise his voice, "I will be forced to ask Detectives Troy and Skavinski here to remove you by force."

That struck Gertrude silent. Even the anger faded a little from the woman's face and a new, calculating expression come into being. Her eyes flicked between Detective's Troy and Skavinski who smiled at her humourlessly, and the small group of goons that watched her nervously, as if waiting for orders. Gordon understood what she was thinking immediately.

"You think your group of goons will scare me off?" Gordon asked, laughing remorselessly, "I'm warning you, don't start this with me."

"Start what?" Gertrude asked innocently, a false smile fixed on her painted lips even has her eyes flicked angrily from side to side. "I'm not starting anything."

"Troy, Skavinski…"

"Alright." Gertrude snapped, "I am leaving. However, you should be aware that I do not consider this the end of the issue."

"Of course not." Gordon smiled wanly, "I'm sure we'll go over this again later, when the Joker is not a catastrophic threat to Gotham."

Gertrude merely snorted and stormed out of the office, her flock of underlings trickling out behind her like dogs with their tails between their legs. All except for one.

Gordon didn't recall having ever seen this woman in MCU before, so he figured she'd been employed from a private legal or security firm outside of Gotham's Police Department. She had short blonde curly hair and features that Gordon supposed were Nordic or Germanic in origin. Certainly she had the bright blue eyes necessary for that to be true.

"Aren't you going to follow your mistress?" Gordon inquired, too tired of the absurd scenario to bother being polite.

The woman gave him a sardonic look and shook her head.

"I wanted to speak to you."

"Sorry, I'm a little tired of being abused today." Gordon replied, "Try again tomorrow, or even better, not at all."

"Actually Commissioner, I came to offer you some assistance." The woman said coolly, "Which I think you may appreciate."

Gordon sighed and motioned for Laura to go back to work. Once she'd left and it was just him and this odd woman, he leant back in his seat and raised a brow.

"And what exactly would you be assisting with?" He asked.

"Catching the Joker of course." The woman replied before allowing herself a tiny smile, "Which shouldn't be too difficult if he is the same freak as I used to know."

Gordon sat back up sharply, eyes fixed on the woman before him. Suspicion and a small amount of desperate hope battled painfully in his chest.

"Forgive my French, but who the fuck are you exactly?" He demanded.

"My name is Clara Bertram and I'm a… Well, I suppose you could describe me as a sort of Intelligence Analyst for Gertrude Dennison."

"Intelligence Analyst?" Gordon's brows shot up considerably, "Where did Gertrude dig you up? What do you do for her?"

"I was working for a rather exclusive law firm before Gertrude employed me privately." Clara responded calmly, "You won't have heard of them. As for what I do… Well, as you can imagine, the D.A receives a lot of information covering many different areas each day. A lot of this is useless data such as complaints from staff, interdepartmental gossip and criminal occurrences that are better off being dealt with by people of a more, hmm, operational level, such as yourself or the officers here in MCU. My job, very simply put, is to keep an eye out for issues of a more specific and special nature."

"Knowing Gerty," Gordon said bitterly, "I'm thinking that would mean issues like Batman and the Joker…. Gertrude has long considered those two to be a personal affront to her desire for an idealised Gotham where I'm no longer Commissioner; she's got total control over the Police Department and all the costumed heroes and freaks are either behind bars or non-existent."

"That is correct." Clara dipped her head, showing no signs of where her feelings on the issue fell. "Give or take a few smaller matters."

Gordon pursed his lips and considered that remark for a second before turning to Clara with eyes narrowed to slits behind his glasses.

"I have to wonder, Miss Bertram, what you would be gaining if I were to accept your offer of assistance."

"Well, I'll be honest and admit I would indeed being gaining something personal from helping you," Clara smiled vaguely, "But I wouldn't worry about it, it's nothing that would interfere with the investigation or prosecution."

Gordon wasn't convinced.

"Prove to me that you can help."

Clara's smile became suddenly more pronounced and something vicious entered her eyes.

"Okay, how's this for a pointer," She said nastily, "I'd enter the name 'Jack Napier' in your database. You might be interested in what pops up."

Gordon smiled back in a grim manner.

"Now, Ms. Bertram," He said calmly, "I do believe we're doing business."

"I'm tired of this place." Harley sighed, trailing her fingers along her newly shoed shins. The black leather knee high boots felt good, cradling her shapely legs like close friends.

Darrell Westway smiled good humouredly. Ever since the interview with Montoya, he'd been busy. He'd been given explicit directions by this 'Jack Napier' (he refused to refer to him by his more recognizable alias as even a paranoia that even his thoughts would get him caught had set in) to do everything within his considerable power to make Miss Quinn comfortable, using the considerable amount of cash he'd been given if necessary.

So far, 'comfortable' had entailed three new outfits from the most expensive boutiques in Gotham, five separate sets of expensive silk and lace lingerie, countless boxes of French and Belgian chocolates, a bottle of a rather pricey fragrance, fifteen new books on psychology, gymnastics, self-defense and oddly, one thick tome titled 'performing in a circus'.

To finish off this ludicrous but very important shopping trip, Harley had demanded a seven hundred dollar pair of black leather knee high boots from a tiny but exorbitantly priced and famed store downtown.

Harley was now sprawled laconically on her bed, dressed in the boots, one of the ridiculously short skirts she'd been bought and a red silk bra with a black lace overlay. She was chewing gum (a brand notorious for being a favourite with prostitutes all over Gotham due to its long last flavour and ability to make the chewer look more then a little enticing). Every now and then, she'd blow a bubble, let it pop and then lick her lips.

Darrell Westway thought that so far, this job was turning out be rather amusing.

"I said I'm tired!" Harley repeated suddenly, sitting up properly. "Mistah J is outta Arkham, and I'm just sitting here! Why? I don't know whether to be scared or happy or miserable he hasn't done anything yet!"

Darrell felt bad for the pretty blonde. It was obvious that despite her love for all things luxurious, all the presents he'd bought her meant nothing compared to news of the psychopathic clown who simultaneously spoilt and tormented her.

"Well, he's busy for one thing." He explained, cautious not to say too much without permission, "Besides, are you saying you want him to visit?"

"N-no…" Harley squirmed, obviously torn, "Yes… I don't know… It's so wrong Darrell, I know it is, but he… It's like I'm someone different with him… Someone who means something."

Darrell studied Harley for a long moment, thinking that he saw two very separate people at once: a bored, sad woman whose life had become a disappointment, a rut from which she could not escape. The other was a femme fatale, a harlequin, painted in shocking shades of red, black and white who knew what she wanted and that was to caper after her beloved 'Mistah J' like a delighted puppy and watch him burn Gotham down in a fit of giggles.

"I think I understand that." He smiled at her, "But I'm afraid I don't hold the solution to that particular conundrum. I don't like seeing you said though, so would you like me to buy something else?"

Harley smiled suddenly, her baby blue eyes glittering and her mouth upturned. She kissed Darrell on the forehead cheerfully.

"Naw, you're such a sweetie, Darrie-boy," she cooed, "You do more then you should for me."

Darrell laughed and waved Harley's admiration aside.

"Not at all," he replied, "I'm merely doing exactly as Jack told me."

Harley leant back in her bed, stretching like a cat so that her scantily clad gymnast's muscles rippled luxuriously.

"In that case," She fluttered her eyelashes endearingly at Darrell, "Be a honey and get me a coffee… None of that filth from the canteen."

Darrell laughed and stood, pulling his jacket on. As he left the room, he heard the pop of one of Harley's bubblegum bubbles.

"Um, yes, I'm here to see Harleen… Harleen Quinzel." Pam smiled past a wave of nausea at the nurse behind the desk, "I heard she was injured so I thought I'd come pay her a visit."

The nurse eyed Pam with an uneasy eye and quite frankly, Pam didn't blame her. She felt terrible and she knew she looked it took.

"I'll just call up and see if Harley's willing to see you." The plump, matronly woman said, picking up her phone.

Darrell hadn't been gone long when the phone in Harley's room rung. Pleased by a distraction from her scattered thoughts, she answered quickly.

"Hiya!" She chimed, "Who's this?"

"This is Nurse Delilah, I have a lady named Pamela here claiming to be a friend of yours. Is it okay if I let her up to see you?"

Harley gave a squeal of delight upon hearing that name of her visitor.

"I'll take that as a 'yes' then," Nurse Delilah remarked dryly.

"Pammy!" Harley started to throw herself at her old friend, but stopped when she saw the redhead's face. "Woah, what happened to you?!"

Pam grimaced and touched her face lightly. Her skin felt hot and clammy, coated in sweat. It felt like there were thorny vines writhing under her skin.

"I had an… accident." She replied, "It's kinda a funny story."

Harley grimaced and beckoned for Pam to sit on the nearby couch with her.

"Yeah, I think I know something about funny stories."

"Oh?" Pam smirked. "I dunno, mine's pretty nuts."

Harley desperately wanted to launch into her story, but decided that considering she'd barely seen her best friend of late, it would be best to allow someone else the limelight, however temporarily.

"Okay, tell me." Harley grinned. She offered Pam some of the chocolates she'd been bought, but her friend, usually so tempted by candies, grimaced and shook her head.

"I got attacked." Pam dove in right away, "By… Well, this guy."

Harley's eyes widened in shock.

"Oh my God," She gaped, "How? Who?"

Pam bit her lip, tossing up whether to tell Harley the whole story. They'd never really hidden things from one another before, but this was different: she'd been fraternising with Gotham's most wanted criminal.

"Pammy?" Harley cocked her head to one side, sensing her friend's unease. "It's okay, I won't be judgmental."

Pamela Isley smiled and decided on a rather edited version of the truth.

"Well, I got an offer from, um, a less then reputable man…" She hesitated, getting her story clear in her head, "He needed some of my botanical expertise."

Harley frowned, a little suspicious. Pam was studying as a chemical engineer, specialising in botanical sciences. She was at a loss as to what sort of 'less then reputable man' would have any sort of use for that sort of knowledge.

"And that resulted in you having an accident?"

Pam half shrugged.

"Well, I got into in argument with him… I might have been thrown into a lab table… I think I'm just having a bad reaction to some of the chemicals I was using."

Harley's mouth fell open.

"Oh my God, Pammy!" She yelped, "You should have gone to a hospital! In fact, why don't I call a doctor right now?"

Pamela shook her head empathetically.

"N-no!" She gasped, "You can't! I'd get in so much trouble!"

Harley hesitated.

"Who was this guy anyway?"

Pamela shook her head.

"Just some guy… He had a crap sense of humour whoever he was." She paused, "Now tell me your funny story."

"I'm being investigated by the GCPD." Harley said resentfully, "For something that happened in Arkham…"

Pam froze, expression freezing in place.

"Y-you don't mean-" She didn't need to continue. Only one thing of significance had happened in Arkham lately.

"Yeah, the Joker." The words fell flat from her mouth. The name however, caused something dark and unfathomable to stir in Harley's insides. "He escaped… You probably saw that in this morning's paper… They're investigating me because of it."

"Why?" Pam demanded, "What happened?"

"I went to work and whilst I was there, there was a blackout." Harley was a little surprised by how easily the lies popped out, and how close she was to believing them herself, "I heard strange noises from the Joker's room, so I decided to take a quick look… He knocked me unconscious and escaped. Director Banks was shot by GCPD by accident and Patricia, the receptionist, was hurt too."

"That's horrible." Pamela didn't look at Harley though, her head was down and her voice reflected some deep burden. "I hope you don't get in trouble."

"Me too." Harley laughed. She was about to say more, but at that moment, Darrell walked back into the room, carrying two steaming cups of coffee from a nearby café in a tray with one hand. When he saw Pamela, he froze and one hand seemed to drift towards his suit jacket's pocket.

"D-Darrell!" Harley jumped to her feet, voice becoming shrill with surprise and inexplicable guilt, "This is my friend, Pamela Isley."

Something flickered in Darrell's eyes at the mention of Pamela's name. He looked at her, inclining his head as a greeting with a condescending smile on his lips and taking his hand away from his pocket. Pam glared at the man before getting to her feet.

"Actually, I was about to leave." Pamela said waspishly, glancing at Harley briefly. "I'll talk to you again sometime soon Harl'."

"But…" Harley looked between her two friends, at a loss as to what was happening, "What's-"

Pamela just shook her head and kissed Harley before storming out of the room. In the silence that followed, Harley glared at Darrell.

"What was that?" She hissed, "What did you do to piss Pammy off?"

Darrell smirked, offering Harley one of the coffees he held. She accepted it without ceasing her glare.

"She, uh, and I know each other through… through a mutual friend of sorts." Darrell took a sip of coffee, still grinning. "It seems she doesn't appreciate the association."

Harley frowned, suspicious of what Darrell said.

"And who's the mutual friend?"

Darrell waved Harley's questions away, still grinning.

"No one you'd know," He told her, "It's just sort of funny."

Harley frowned and reclined on the couch, sipping her coffee.

"Isn't everything these days?"

Bruce Wayne was stressed. This in itself was nothing new, but this time, it seemed unavoidable. The Joker, a man he'd worked so very hard to put in Arkham, had broken out and was now at large once more.

To make matters worse, it was daytime, so it was impossible for him to be out and about. Bruce was constrained to sitting in the kitchen, trying very hard to relax and read the newspaper.

However, this momentary peace was destroyed when Alfred came hurrying into the room, a pale look on his elderly face.

"Master Wayne," The man sounded frightened, which was very unusual, "Turn on GCN!"

Suddenly just as frightened as his butler, Bruce did so. The scene that greeted him was one that froze his very bones.

Harley was flicking through a magazine Darrell had picked up whilst getting coffee when his cell phone rang. The man answered it.

"Westway… Oh, hey, what's… Uh-huh…"

It trailed off for a moment and Harley didn't pay much attention until she heard the next bit.

"What?!" Darrell screamed into his phone, "He's doing what?!"

Harley, startled, leapt to her feet and looked at Darrell with widened eyes. There was no doubt in her mind as to who 'he' was.

"No!" Darrell looked demented, yelling into his phone and dragging his free hand through his hair, "This is… Just try and… Argh!"

With that, Darrell tossed his phone aside and started searching the room for something. Harley hovered over him, panicking.

"What's going on?" She demanded in a shrill voice, "What's happened? What's-"

"Shut up for a moment!" Darrell begged her, "And just tell me where the remote for the television is!"

"It's on the bedside table!" Harley pointed, "But what's-"

"Shh!" Darrell found the remote and turned the TV onto GCN, "Just look!"

Harley clamped her mouth shut and looked up at the television. As the scene on the television registered with her, it seemed everything else faded away in face of her fear, horror and enthrallment.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this just in." The blonde anchorwoman paused, obviously shocked as she scanned through the notes in front of her, "Escaped Arkham patient and infamous criminal mastermind 'The Joker' has just taken a building being used for a business convention by a branch of Wayne Enterprises hostage."

Harley gasped and Darrell glanced at her, equally distraught.

It got worse though.

"No demands have been made," The anchorwoman continued, voice betraying her own fear and horror, "But this video has been released. GCN warns that the following footage may upset small children and is very frightening…"

Bruce felt his heart quite literally stop for a split second when the anchorwoman delivered the news. Almost at the same moment, his phone buzzed in his pocket. Already knowing it would be about what was happening, he ignored it. Everything felt utterly surreal, like a terrible, terrible dream he couldn't wake up from.

"-But this video has been released…"

Bruce shook himself and refocussed on the television.

"GCN warns that the following footage may upset small children and is very frightening…"

Then, the video began.

"Uh, helloooo Gotham City!" The Joker's face, painted anew and blazing with madness, hovered over the camera, "Loooong time no see…"

There was a split second of hesitation and the Joker's tongue darted over his crimson lips as he seemed to regard his audience through the camera itself.

"Which," He continued eventually, "I mean to amend. Now. So listen up."

The Joker seemed to right the camera on its stand and suddenly, his entire body could be seen. He wore an acid green shirt beneath a royal purple blackjack dealer style vest. Even without moving, he contained a frenetic energy, an animalistic restlessness that seemed barely suppressed.

"Gotham City hasn't, uh, hasn't seen anything yet." The Joker started again without warning, pressing his face back up to the camera. His eyes, almost black, contained a physical force. "If err, you thought that I was… that I made an impact last time, you were… wrong. You were wrong!"

Harley stared at the television, frozen. She shook from fear and awe. She wanted so badly to look away, to turn the television off and leave the Joker's insanity forever. Or at least, she knew that's what should want. Instead, she moved closer to the television and pressed her trembling hands against the image of the Joker's face.

All of Gotham was frozen, like a hare beneath the predatory hawk. Across the city, everybody was swept up in the Joker's presence, in his intimidating nature. Everybody knew they should turn away, that witnessing this was wrong somehow.

But they couldn't.

In the hearts of almost every human, there is the morbid desire, the urge to witness something horrific, even at one's own expense. It was like witnessing a train crash: you simply couldn't tear your gaze from this man, the self-proclaimed Clown Prince of Crime.

So, entrapped by their own terrible curiosity, all of Gotham City stopped and stared.

"Sooo, I've arranged a little… demonstration." The Joker nodded slowly, ghastly face twisted in some demonic semblance of a smile. "Which is, uh, why I'm here today…"

The camera zoomed out and suddenly, a room full of frightened, but very still, business men and woman was visible. They all sat against a far wall, guarded by five men wearing clown masks and carrying shotguns.

"…With these Wayne Enterprises employees." The Joker gave a giggle and capered over to the terrified hostages like the jester he claimed to be. "Wave hello kiddies!"

Trembling and ashen faced, the men and women raised their hands pitifully and waved, eyes begging for a miracle, for salvation from their tormentor.

The Joker giggled once more and focussed the camera once more upon himself.

"Now, uh, you may be wonderrrring," he seemed to have trouble containing the energy within himself, "W-uh-y Wayne Enterprises… Why choose a company that does so much good for Gotham City?"

"I'll tell you why," The Joker snarled, abruptly losing his comic expression, "B-uh-cause Wayne Enterprises is exactly the sort of thing I hate: p-uh-erfectly ordered, a regular little goody-two shoes company p-uh-rancing about like they actually care… I mean, where does Mist-ah Brucie-boy Wayne get off, pretending he knows about poverty, he knows about doing the, uh, the right thing? He and his little… Little company here… They are exactly the hypocritical, backstabbing little schemers that this city needs to learn to live without…"

The Joker trailed off, looking quite out of control for a moment. Then, he growled and the camera zoomed in even closer on him.

"So here's the bottom line, Gotham," He was speaking a quieter, yet somehow more dangerous voice now, "I am going to show you what happens to schemers… What happens to those who defy the absolute laws of chaos…"

It was then that the Joker produced a large canister from somewhere. He held it up and shook it. The sounds of something liquid sloshing around inside were audible.

"Watch closely Gotham." A maniacal smile twisted the Joker's face even further as he strolled over to a complicated piece of machinery. He fit the canister of unknown liquid in and put on a gas mask. The camera panned briefly to show the rest of the clowns doing the same.

"Watch and learrrn."

It was then that the Joker began to howl with laughter. Just before the video fizzled out though, something chilling happened.

Dozens of other voices in the room joined him in hysterical, agonised laughter.

As the video ended, Bruce felt like vomiting. Everything seemed all too real now. Dimly, he registered Alfred saying something, but his shocked, horrified brain couldn't process it yet.

Then, his phone buzzed again. Bruce stared numbly at his pocket for a moment before slowly fishing the phone out and looking at the caller ID.

He knew the number. He answered.

"Bruce…" Gordon's voice was barely in control. "We need you."

Bruce struggled to speak for a second. Eventually however, he found strength for the only answer that he could give.

"I'm on my way."

-Cue dramatic music and fadeout-

So, how's that for drama and a cliffie? :P

Review and I shall give you all purple vests and sticks of dynamite!

Love you all as always,

Vampassassin XX