Title: Meet the Friendly Neighborhood Monster (I formerly published this as "Crash and Burn" on livejournal; the ending and dialogue are reworked)
Summary: The Joker lets something slip about his past, and Harley learns that every weakness can be a deadly weapon in her new patient's hands, even his own. A self-made tragedy from the Joker's strange, darkly comic perspective.
Disclaimer: Batman, the Joker and Harley Quinn are the property of DC Comics and affiliates, and the film rights for Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are the copyright of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and affiliates. I am not making any money off of this story. "Sympathy for the Devil" is the property of The Rolling Stones.
Warnings: Rated M for familicide, implied child-abuse, violence, psychological torture and Joker logic.
Author Notes: This story is a one-shot right now, but I would like to continue if inspiration strikes.
Characters: the Joker, Harley Quinn, Batman (indirectly)
Sympathy for the Devil (the Rolling Stones)
Please allow me to introduce myself
I'm a man of wealth and taste
I've been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man's soul and faith
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name
But what's puzzling you
Is the nature of my game…
Part One: Transformations
The Joker had an appointment with Dr. Harley again in five minutes. He licked his lips as he thought of her. This was their third date now, and today he thought he finally knew enough about her to make his move…ah, figuratively speaking. It was nearly time to free her of all those boring little conventions other people liked to call sanity.
In Dent's case, it hadn't taken the Joker long to detect his inner fragility. The coin flipping thing had given it away, of course, but it was more than that. Anyone that smooth, that fearless, that polished picture p-errrrfect, had to be hiding all his skeletons somewhere very deep, very dark. People who were so blind to their inner ghoul tended to be the easiest to shatter. He should know. He'd been one of those fools once.
Doctor Harleen Quinzel (just call me Harley, everyone does) had been a little harder to figure out; she guarded personal information like she was in the witness protection program, but in the end it was what she hadn't done that gave him the key to her sanity. For all her caution around him, she didn't seem to be nearly as disgusted by him as any of his previous psychiatrists. In fact, she genuinely seemed to enjoy his company, and appreciated his unique sense of humor more than any truly sane citizen of society had a right to.
Now, what could have happened to dear Harley to elicit this kind of strange reaction? The Joker was well aware that he was a frightening and repulsive individual. It was a persona he cultivated. Like mold. So why would sweet, beautiful and not-so-innocent Harley Quinn take a shine to a bile-inducing fella such as himself? Why wouldn't something inside her just rebel at the thought of becoming attached to such a man?
Someone must have remade her long before he'd gotten to it, and it had messed her up to the point that she couldn't help wanting a bad man over a good one, or simply couldn't tell the difference between them. The Joker put his money on daddy, if she was really messed up enough to fall for the likes of him. Nothing messed you up like daddy issues. He should know; his psychiatrists had been telling him that for years. At least he thought so.
His memories could be a tad unreliable at times.
His ears perked up as he heard the distinctive sound of Harley's high heals taptaptapping on the linoleum floor of the hall, and he grinned lazily as the door clicked open. Three muscle-bound orderlies that wouldn't have looked out-of-place as circus strong-men walked into his cell carrying a straitjacket and a syringe full of sedative. The first one twisted his right arm behind his back and the second held his left arm straight out in front of him, while the third came at him with the syringe. He bared his yellow teeth at them in a parody of a smile and laughed gleefully when they flinched, but only put up token resistance before he allowed the orderly to jab the needle into his vein.
He let his head loll back against the wall lazily, giggling to himself as he felt the drug start to take effect, and made like a limp doll as they put the straitjacket on him. This sedative didn't have as much of an effect on him as he let them think, though. The dose they gave him would have robbed most people of the ability to exercise their creativity, but not him. It did, however, slow his thoughts down to the point that he would probably have time to rethink the impulse to stab Harley with the switch-blade he'd hidden up his sleeve if she made him angry, and he was willing to let that stand for now. He wanted to keep his new toy around at least long enough to make her understand the futility of her boring little existence. He didn't want to break her until he broke her.
A moment later, Harley entered the room, her blue, blue eyes meeting his without fear as she clickedy-clacked over to her chair. She smiled brightly at him as she crossed her long, silky legs, flipping her light blonde hair over her shoulder with characteristic dramatic flair as she did so. Her nauseatingly pink skirt-suit didn't leave much to the imagination, and the combination of her lack of clothes, genuine good will towards him and penchant for drama invoked a strange mixture of amusement and, well...need in him.
Joker had no clear memories about his personal life for more than a year into the past, so he couldn't remember having any women beyond the whores he'd used after he became the Joker, but he did retain some impressions in his mind. They flitted in and out of his mind, the shards of whoever he had been before: there was a flash of a sinuous, mischievous smile, affectionate laughter, the smell of a ridiculous, flowery shampoo as he bent over to taste her... He hadn't ever been a good man, but he knew there had been a time when his life was made up of more than explosions and death.
Hunger had flooded his mind when he first set eyes on Dr. Harley Quinzel, oh, no, when he first smelled her. She smelled like that same silly shampoo, and it made him want to cut her not-quite-professional skirt-suit from her body and make her smell like blood and sex instead.
Joker didn't want to know who he had been; no, that would be too boring compared to what he was now, but he had to understand how she could feel so familiar when he'd never seen her before a week ago.
"Harl, Harley, Harlequin," he sang tunelessly, liking the way the name sounded rolling over his tongue.
"How are you today, Mr. J?"
She had insisted on called him Mr. J from the start, saying that it would give him the freedom to develop an identity beyond the persona he had created for himself and the past he couldn't remember. Joker thought it was a cheap trick, but he felt strangely flattered by the idea that she would make the effort to try to see someone like him as human, especially when he really wasn't.
He was both more and less than human; as the embodiment of Chaos, of both cosmic truth and mortal weakness, he needed to be destroyed. He showed people their inner truths by driving them mad, pointed out the ridiculousness of life by ending it; he was the ultimate pariah, the Jester of Death. The only reason he defended his own life when he did was so that he could continue to have fun spreading his message to the rest of the world—but especially, oh yes, specially—to the Bat, his predestined playmate, his cosmic foil. But his idealistic, all-too-human psychiatrist would do until he and his Batman were reunited. Flicking his serpentine tongue out to taste the bumpy, ruined skin of scars, he considered what song he should sing to his curious little lark today.
"I'm, uh, a little bored with our routine, cupcake—same old, same old—'What's your real name, how old are you, do you have any contagious diseases that we should know about'—all so arbitrary. Does it really matter how old I am? I, ah, blow people up for a living—would knowing my name make it alright? Would knowing that a man and not a devil did those terrible things help you sleep better at night?"
"…No, it wouldn't. I already know you're a man, Mr. J., even if you're a monster, too. I think it's you that doesn't want to see that."
"Oooh, he-he-he-ha, always so blunt, Harley, even when it might be safer not to be. A girl after my own heart."
"Please stop evading me."
She sighed in frustration, her petite shoulders lifting in one of those refined displays of melodrama that she was so fond of. Her play-acting made him giggle slightly. She got a real kick out of pretending to be all lady-like and fragile when he doubted she was anything of the sort deep down. Despite whatever instinct was broken in her that prevented her from finding him repulsive, he sensed that she was a survivor, just like him. Strong people didn't shatter with life's little difficulties, they…evolved.
"So you're fully aware that your crimes are wrong?" she finally asked, trying another tack. "You may have...left that out during your trial."
He favored her with his most unapologetic stare.
"Ah, yes, civilized society's amazing ability to undermine its own legitimacy to uphold human rights. Any legitimate government would have killed someone as dangerous as me in order to protect its citizens, whether I was out of my mind or not. Oooh, and in case you're tempted, if ya mention this ta anyone, I'll cut your cheeks out. Just a public service message from your local monster, sugar."
Her eyes flashed with defiance.
"You'd have tah escape, first," she snapped, and he smiled at the way her Jersey accent came out more when she was furious.
"Don't, ah, tempt fate, as they say. There're flaws in every security system, as long as they rely on flawed individualsss. Besides," he leaned towards her, confiding with mock coyness, "I won't talk to ya anymore if ya tell on me."
She rolled her eyes at his antics, but began worrying her bottom lip uncertainly. Oh, he could see the curiosity warring with her need to do the right thing. And, adventurous little feline that she was, curiosity won out in the end, like he knew it would.
"I—fine. I won't say anything. You can't be tried for your crimes again, anyway."
"Thatta girl. Rationalize your decisions. Be a good little shrink and make daddy Freud proud."
"I just agreed tah help you. Who's temptin' fate now?" she asked dryly.
"I'm an Agent of Chaos. It's my job to tempt fate—ah, especially my own. If you really want to break my confidence, it could only make my life more entertaining."
"And if ya ever killed someone again, a helluva lot shorter."
"Oooh, he he ha," he cackled. "Yeah, that too."
She blinked, looking a little caught off guard by his sudden change in attitude, as if she wasn't sure if he was trying to use reverse psychology on her or had actually decided he didn't care. Joker watched her mental struggle with amusement.
He would prefer it if she didn't say anything, because that would mean he was making some progress with her, but he seriously didn't care one way or another if it became common knowledge that he had pulled the wool over both judge and jury's eyes. He had done it to mock the system, not to save his life, and prison would probably be easier to escape from, anyway, if only because they wouldn't drug him as much.
He almost never feigned his capricious decision-making style, just exaggerated, concealed and misled like the illusionist he was, and she would just have to learn that about him. He smiled as the realization started to light her eyes, and then there was this beautiful moment when he saw her just get him. A surprised little laugh escaped her before she covered her mouth with her small hand and tried to stifle it. There it was again. She didn't want to be amused by his unique take on life, didn't want to like him, but she did, and she couldn't hide it from him any longer.
"Speaking of—"her lips tried to twitch into a smile again and she paused to give herself time to dispel the, in her mind, inappropriate amusement. "Speaking of what you said about legitimate governments, I thought you were an Anarchist. Anarchists don't believe in government authority at all, do they?"
"It depends on which Anarchists you ask; there's no central authority in Anarchy, after all. I don't, but just because I hate the government doesn't mean I don't understand its purpose. I hate it because I understand it's purpose too well—authority, safety, stability, brainwashing. I force people to think, break them out of their socially ordained preconceptions, their gray, boring ways of seeing the world." He leaned forward and shrugged his shoulders effusively, feeling more confined in his straitjacket than usual now that he was talking about one of his passions. When he wasn't able to gesture with his hands, he always felt like he was only getting half of his meaning across. "So of course I understand that what I'm doing is wrong, immoral, eeeevil. I committed my so-called crimes because they're evil, honey-pie (1). It's the only way I can get people to see the truth about themselves, about society. Life is mad, and there's a monster like me in everyone, even idealists like you and the Bat. All it takes is a little push to let the, uh, inner madness loose into the world."
"…You think I'm an idealist?" she asked after a slight pause, her eyes fixed on him attentively like she had been tempted to say something entirely different but thought better of it. He knew what she wanted to say. That he was wrong. That he was delusional. That the world couldn't possibly be as insane as he was. He knew, because he had once felt the same way, once thought there was meaning and order to the world, so he didn't hold it against her. You couldn't know, you couldn't know until it hit you. He could help her. He would make her understand.
But it wasn't quite time. No no no, not yet. He needed to wait for that perfect moment when he could see the key to her sanity as clearly as if he was watching all her thoughts through a shiny windowpane, watching all the gears working inside. Then, then the truth would come to her. He would just help her see it when the moment arrived.
"You don't think you are?"
"I work in an institution that treats patients who are often medically untreatable or refuse to change. I don't think an idealist wouldn't be able to handle that."
He felt a pleased smile tug up the marred corners of his mouth. Oh, hmm, now they were getting somewhere. Tick-a-tick-clock, what makes Harley Quinn tock?
"That just makes ya more of an idealist, not less, in my book. You know that your patients are hopeless, yet you force yourself to experience their personal hells again and again because you wanna try to save them anyway. You're either an idealist, or you're batty like the Batman."
"I thought you said that he was an idealist. Now he's insane?"
"Oh, Batty is a little bit of both. He's on this…impossible crusade to prove the innate goodness of human nature, even after I went through so much trouble to help him understand The Truth. If he was just an idealist, he would have killed me to save all the innocent people that I might kill in the future, and, because people who do such heroic things know they're better than people like me, out of misplaced sense of self-righteousness. Instead, he kept me alive so he could prove me wrong. That's not heroism, that's desperation. He needs to believe that people are innately good, or everything he did would be for nothing. The world, the world he created when he became Batman, would end."
"Couldn't that be said about you, and your belief that humanity is inherently mad? What would happen to the Joker if that was disproven?"
He burst into raucous laughter.
"And how exactly would you disprove that, m'dear? War, genocide, familicide, infanticide, there are just too many sides to chose from, sweet-cakes. If people are sane when they do all those things, I'd really love ta see what they'd be capable of if they actually lost their minds!"
"I see your point, Mr. J, but Batman could give you almost the same argument for why people are innately good. Disaster relief efforts, food pantries, women's liberation, the civil rights movement—those are all instances in which people have come together for the sake of improving lives, whether on a small or world-wide scale. There are also plenty of examples of good people, including Batman himself."
He dipped his head slightly in agreement, glad that doctor/patient confidentiality had allowed him to tell at least one person that Batman was innocent. He didn't want to ruin the show by letting it get out to the media, yet. Cover-ups never worked for long unless you eliminated all witnesses, in his experience, and Batsy's little scheme would probably fall apart without his help.
"Exactly. That's why we need each other so much. Batman is incorruptible, and it's my job to corrupt the everyday folk of Gotham, peel away the layers of civility until the only thing left is who they really are. We're two sides of the same coin."
"It almost sounds like you…have feelings for him."
He looked at her sharply, confused at first by her choice of words. Then he noticed the intrigued, yet mildly disturbed look in her eye, and he giggled when she realized that she was assuming.
"Oooh, hoo-hoo-he, not in the way you're thinking, honey-pie. I need him the way a shadow needs the light that creates it. The Joker wouldn't be possible if not for him."
"You do know that he probably hates you, right?"
"Of course. That's why he's so fun. He hates everything I stand for, so he'll never give in and kill me, but he'll never stop fighting me, either. Plus, that tormented expression he makes when he can't save someone from me is…just…too…ent-er-tain-ing."
Her expression flashed with both anger and…was that pity? before she could remember herself and plaster her neutral shrink expression back on. He felt a surge of hatred for her. It wasn't his fault if other people couldn't understand the futility of their lives until he showed them.
"Mistah J, how did ya really get those scars?" she asked, her voice frosty with controlled anger, but her eyes still gleaming with that awful pity. He could hear the other question in her voice. How could someone turn out this way?
"I told ya the first time we met," he snapped, his mouth curl into a sneer.
"No, ya told me that ya think I'm a whore, ya didn't tell me how you got your scars. I read the witness accounts of all those stories you told about them. They're some kind of…reverse morality tales."
He raised his eyebrows incredulously, her unexpected observation momentarily derailing him from his anger. He didn't do morality tales, he did satire, but he was intrigued to hear what her little mind had come up with this time.
"You're telling your victims why they deserve to have your scars when you force them to become part of your stories. You never tell them why you have them."
Welllll. He just invited people to become part of his…performances, but he supposed he had inadvertently been telling morality tales of a sort.
"So, what are you gettin' at? Do ya need a medal for statin' the obvious again, sweet-cheeks?"
"No, I'm just wonderin' what ya did tah deserve such a horrible punishment."
"Well in stories like that, the one who commits the sin is the one who pays for it. What'd ya do, Mistah J.? However ya got those scars, they were a consequence of your actions, and you deserved it, didn't ya?"
There was a moment when his mind was just a haze, and by the time he became aware again he had already cut through the straitjacket and slammed her against the wall, his shaking hand slick with sweat against her quivering, fragile throat.
"I think you're getting a little bit too comfortable with me. It's almost like ya think I want your opinion, like ya think we're friends…or somethin' more. But I think you'd find that if we ever got close in that way, you'd be in more danger from me, not less. So, for your sake…I think that I'm going to have ta cure you of your little crush."
"I don't have a c-crush! I don't even like you!"
"It's my job to listen to you!"
"Hmm…" He cocked his head to the side, pretending to consider her words, then wrenched her jaw open and shoved his knife into her mouth, digging the tip of it into her tongue to ensure that she couldn't talk at him anymore. She made a funny gurgling sob, but otherwise remained quiet. Oooh, but he did like the sound of silence; she was so much more charming that way. "Well, just in case I'm right and you're lying, let me tell you a little morality tale that might… hmm… discourage these strange and wonderful new feelings you have for me. There was once this boy, see—no, he's a young man, let's not insult him. He's bright, a little too bright for his peers to tolerate, but doesn't care too much for school, always in trouble. He gets a girl knocked up his last year of high school, and after he graduates he realizes that he doesn't have many options to support his new family, so he joins the army.
"His Lieutenant is as demanding and cruel as his old man, but he's used to obeying, and it turns out that he's even better at killing people than he is at his chemistry experiments, so he does everything the C.O. asks, even when his orders get more irrational and violent, even when he goes rogue and orders him to drag civilians from their homes and gut them like animals. He's screaming in his head because it goes against everything right and decent and the children are crying and begging, but it's for the cause so he has to obey. He has to has to has to. He follows orders 'til he's numb. Follows orders 'til he isn't even human.
"He can still hear children crying when he finally gets home, and discovers that the only way to make them stop for a little while at least is to drink until he can't think, can't remember anymore. Well, his wife decides she doesn't like this new coping style of his. Not. One. Bit. This one night, he comes home more drunk than usual, and she just won't stop crying—I don't know you anymore, stop hitting me Jack oh pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease—He just can't take—the CRYING! So he hits her more, hits her until she stops crying, stops breathing, but the crying won't stop, no no no, THAT AWEFUL NOISE! But it isn't—it isn't in his head this time, his daughter saw the whole thing from where she was hiding under the table. She's staring at him in horror, sobbing in this soulless way, all soft and silent. He just wants her to be happy again, but she won't smile at him, even when he asks nicely, so he grabs a kitchen knife off the counter and draws a nice…big…smile on her face. She's—she's laughing now, all he can hear is her laughter, so he decides that he needs to be just as happy as she is, and draws a grin on himself to match. Now he never stops smiling!"
A laugh tore itself from his throat and he thought his scars would split open with the force of it. Tears streamed down his cheeks silently, washing the world away, and he just could not stop laughing. He was suddenly kneeling on the floor with no memory of falling, his entire body convulsing with painful, laughing sobs. He stared up at his Harlequin, who was just watching him in a daze, her jaw hanging open comically, her eyes alight with hatred.
"How dare you!"
As if someone had flipped an on-switch, she suddenly leapt on top of him and started punching every part of him she could reach, but he was so caught up in his laughter that it didn't really occur to him that he should stop her until she got him with an uppercut beneath his jaw that almost sent him sprawling backwards. He caught her wrist easily when she moved to hit him again—she was surprisingly strong for such a small thing, but his regular sparring partner was the Batman, so it just wasn't the same—and used the forward momentum of her body to grab hold of her and pin her to the ground beneath him.
"You're right, you're a monster! You're right, ya sick freak! Get off'a me, get off or I'll kill ya!"
He started shaking with laughter again, but suddenly felt all his energy leave his body at once, and went limp in her arms.
"Thank you thank you thank you. I'm a—no, no, Jack's the monster, wanted to save them but couldn't, so weak, so weak! Just stood there, killed them, killed them, killed them—"
The words kept spilling from him like water, and it was like watching someone else say them, until he felt somebody shaking him. He looked down in surprise at his psychiatrist, having almost forgotten she was there. Her eyes were wide with terror like a doe's and her mouth was opening and forming words with abnormal slowness but for some reason no sound was coming out. He went on like that in that strange, soundless limbo for what seemed like hours until she slapped him, jarring him back into reality.
"Jack? Jack?! Come on, snap out of it!"
"What?" He stared at her, mystified. "That's not my name. What are ya goin' on about?"
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it, I don't wanna kill you, I was just—your past just shocked me, that's all—"
He realized with a start that she was crying.
"What are you talking about?!"
"You—you were goin' on about killin' your kid—"
That stopped the Joker in his tracks. He didn't have a kid. Honestly, who would ever trust the Joker with a kid? She'd be dead before sundown. He'd probably…chuck her out a window for crying too loud, or something.
Wait, didn't that little story have a kid in it? He chuckled. So that's why she was so upset. Yeah, that was one of his more frightening stories. Honestly, you'd think that someone who worked with psychopaths and psychotics for a living would be a little less gullible.
He looked into her eyes, gave her a pleasant grin, then dipped his head down to lick off the nice salty tears rolling down her cheeks.
"Why—" he paused to lick again, heedless of her squirming protests underneath him. "Why so serious, Harley-girl? You didn't really believe my little story, did ya?"
"Who's Jack, Mistah J.?" she said in a sort of demanding voice.
He scowled. How the hell should he know? And he really didn't like that tone of hers. It was almost as if she thought her opinion was as important as his. He couldn't have that.
"No, no, none of that, now, pay attention to me, PAY ATTENTION TO ME! I'm the one with the knife." He patted her cheek twice with the flat side of his blade when she obeyed, shutting her mouth with a clap and looking him steadily in the eye. "There's a good girl. Now, as I was saying. How come you got so riled by my little…story earlier, hmm?" He paused, pretending to contemplate the answer himself. "What's the matter, daddy give you one too many rounds with his belt? Or…" he giggled, suddenly feeling playful, "a few, ah, rounds without his belt?"
"How dare you! My father was a good man!"
He studied her face, her furious blue eyes filled with the liquid terror of unshed tears, and got all the answers he needed.
"Now, that's not true, we both know that, sweet-cheeks. No need to lie to me. Or yourself!" he said, putting his hand up to his mouth and feigning a scandalized gasp.
"I'm not lyin' to yah, my father did not molest me."
"But he didn't do anythin' else to ya, did he."
"He didn't neglect me, either."
"He wasn't even there," he guessed, reading the deception in her eyes. Did she really think she could mislead him with the truth? He was the master of that particular game. "A father can't ignore a kid he's never met in the first place. Her boyfriend, on the other hand…or boyfriends? Was it more than one?" he cocked his head, watching her curiously when she tried to hold back a sob. Hmm. It seemed he had guessed right. He loved being right. "They probably gave ya a little too much attention. In fact, I bet that they had plenty of time to do whatever they wanted to you, 'cause mommy just didn't care."
"Stop," she whimpered.
He grinned, then grabbed both of her arms, which had been pushed defensively against his chest, and pinned them over her head with one hand.
"What was that, sweet-cakes? You'll need to speak up, I can't hear you."
"STOP IT! GET OFF, GET OFF, GET OFF!"
"Does it bother you, to have my heavy weight on top of you," he whispered in her ear, letting his hot, humid breath caress her neck while he forced a knee between her legs and spread them open wide beneath him, "to know that you'll never get away? To feel my knife caressing this smooooth, mmm, smooth skin of yours? You know, you're just as smooth as butter. I could…" he licked his lips and groaned in a deliberately exaggerated, horrible parody of lust, then growled in her ear, "I could cut you like butter—"
An animalistic shriek tore from her as she flailed against him, scratching and kicking every inch of him she could reach, her eyes wild and unseeing. Joker was laughing so hard that he couldn't defend himself, but he didn't want to, anyway. He was willing to accept all the pain she could give him if it meant that she was one step closer to seeing The Truth. This was just the catalyst, and the layers of her so-called sanity were already falling away like shattered glass.
He could only stare into her feral, desperate eyes for a moment, so moved by the beauty of her transformation that he didn't even notice that the orderlies had entered the room again until he felt the jab of a needle in his neck, and the world started to fade. The last thing he saw before he lost consciousness was a crying and screaming Dr. Quinzel trying to attack the first orderly that came near her before collapsing, sobbing, in his arms.
(1) 'Honey pie' is the name of a very strange song by "The Beatles". It just seemed like something that the Joker would turn into one of his little condescending nicknames.