One week after the Joker's most recent breakout from Arkham Asylum and subsequent vanishing act, Lieutenant Adam Carter, relatively new head of Gotham's MCU in the wake of Jim Gordon's promotion to commissioner, paced quickly through the halls of Gotham General Hospital, searching for one room in particular.
It didn't take him long. The guards posted out of Dr. David Wilson's room, present in case Wilson's attacker decided to come back and finish the job, made his location obvious to anyone who was looking. Carter went to them, showing his badge impatiently. He'd been waiting to talk to the patient for a week—a week Wilson had needed to recover from the considerable injuries he'd suffered, sure, but a week that slowed Carter down nonetheless.
The guards stepped aside and Carter breezed past them into the room. He was pleased to see that Wilson was conscious and alert, pulling himself upright in his hospital bed at the sight of the newcomer. Carter, having suffered several gunshot wounds himself, recognized the coiled energy—Wilson was probably impatient to get out of that bed, betrayed by the sluggishness of his own body, and Carter immediately sympathized.
"Officer?" he asked, not exactly suspicious but wary, and Carter held up his badge, waiting until Wilson was satisfied and nodded at him before putting it away again.
"Dr. Wilson, I'm Lieutenant Adam Carter," he introduced himself then, pulling a chair up to the hospital bed. "I'm sorry I couldn't give you more recovery time before conducting this interview."
"No, no," Wilson said abruptly. "I'd have done it sooner if the tyrants that run this place had let me."
Carter's mouth twitched a bit as he produced a recorder, balancing it on his knee, the microphone angled towards Wilson. "This will be recorded," he informed Wilson dutifully. "You're not a suspect, you're not under oath, and I don't expect you to be able to answer all the questions I ask. Just do the best you can. You understand?"
"All right. Maybe you can start by telling me exactly what happened that night, beginning with the moment you were taken hostage."
"I was leaving the Asylum for the first time since the Joker was captured on Halloween night," Wilson said after taking a moment to clear his throat. "I was walking through the halls, going to my car in the parking garage. I turned a corner and… there she was."
"I'm sorry—there who was?"
"It's… it was Harleen Quinzel, a former resident at Arkham Asylum. She was wearing clown makeup and had a gun." Wilson paused, but when Carter didn't immediately ask more questions, he continued, sounding almost reluctant. "She… forced me up to the top story, where the Joker was being kept. She ordered me to put in the security code that would open his cell. When I refused, when I tried to escape, she shot me and put a knife through my wrist." Again Wilson paused, eyes wandering, apparently lost in thought as he touched the bandage covering the mangled arm.
Carter gave him a few seconds, and then, not unkindly, he prodded: "What happened then?"
Wilson looked back at him, glanced away again, and said, "I yielded. I typed the code in to save myself."
Carter thought Wilson struggled a bit to get this out, but he didn't blame him. If some woman had bullied him into freeing Gotham's public enemy number one, he'd feel pretty ashamed, too. "Then?"
"Then she pistol-whipped me and I lost consciousness. When I recovered, they were both gone."
Carter took a second to absorb this, nodding slowly, and then he asked, "Why would a former resident of the Asylum want to help the Joker?"
"She was his favorite therapist during his first incarceration at Arkham. Dr. Stratford, the director preceding me, thought that he might respond better to her youth and obvious attractiveness than to some of the older, more experienced staff, and he was right. The bond between them… quickly moved beyond an appropriate patient-doctor relationship."
"In what way?" asked Carter. He was deviating a little from the script, but he was curious—understandably so, he thought. Not much was known about the Joker. Anything that came out in therapy would probably be worth knowing.
Wilson was thoughtfully silent for a moment, likely trying to think of how to explain without violating asylum procedure and confidentiality rules. Finally, he said, "Well, he fixated on her to the point where he attacked anyone else who tried to work with him. As a result of his single-minded attention, she started to respond to and empathize with him in a way nobody thought was healthy. Stratford took her off the case with my wholehearted support, but it was only a temporary measure. The Joker just got worse, and Stratford started worrying that the state would remove the patient from his custody. He eventually yielded, and, over my protests, he sent her back in.
"Ultimately, this resulted in the Joker's first prison break. She had nothing to do with that one, as far as we can tell, but she was at the asylum the night he broke out. He took her hostage but left her alive at the end. I attempted to reach out to her after this, but the trauma made her unresponsive and irrational. I asked her to take a leave of absence from the Asylum, since she was not in a state to deal with patients, and she obliged. When I tried to reach her the next day, she had disappeared."
"Do you have any idea where she went?"
"Initially, I thought the Joker had abducted her. The police theorized that he'd killed her. However, the other night, she told me that she'd gone out and found him."
Carter raised an eyebrow. "She just… found him? She did what the police can never seem to do in, what, a matter of days?"
"I assume he'd left her with some indication of his whereabouts," said Wilson moodily. "I didn't see or hear from her in that period between the two breakouts, but I assume the Joker took advantage of her fragile state and her trauma to twist her mind however he saw fit. My theory is that she suffers from a sort of proactive Stockholm syndrome."
"Could you explain what you mean by that?"
"I think she subconsciously thought he would inevitably find her again, and so she went and turned herself over to him rather than wait for him to take her by force. I think she did so in an effort to earn his favor. I think her instinct to survive bypassed her will and rational mind—indeed, I think that survival instinct has twisted her mind to the point where she believes she is there of her own free will and not a captive."
"So, in your opinion, Harleen Quinzel is insane?"
"As someone who was a friend and knew her before she even met the Joker, yes, I think she is."
"In your opinion, is Harleen Quinzel dangerous?"
"At the moment? Very. She's stronger than she looks, and the Joker has uprooted every trace of the conscience she used to have. He has provided her with weapons and has taught her how to use them, and her appearance the night of the most recent breakout—the face paint, the colorful outfit—seems to suggest that she intends to serve as his accomplice from now on."
"You really think she'll be able to survive in the company of a guy like the Joker?"
Wilson considered this for a second, and then nodded slowly. "In my personal opinion, she'll last for at least a while. She's his… creation, his very own Frankenstein's monster. I think he's proud of what he's done to her. I think he'll want to see the people who love her despair of ever getting her back."
"Do you think she can be restored?"
"If we manage to catch her and separate her from the Joker for long enough to break her obsession with him… I hope from the bottom of my heart that she can."
Gotham City is in the thrall of Christmas cheer, though admittedly the season isn't quite as festive as it is usually. How can it be, with the madman known only as the Joker on the loose? Gotham is holding its breath, waiting for the Joker's next move, and his silence only worries them more. This anxiety is only compounded by the fact that now, our Clown Prince of Crime apparently has a companion.
Her identity has been disclosed for the sake of public safety, not that it has helped. The papers are starting to call her Harley Quinn, having taken their cue from the makeup she wears on the rare occasions when she and the Joker are sighted.
They've been keeping it casual. Just a few bank robberies. One assassination. Nothing big. Not yet. What troubles Gotham is that they are rarely seen independently of one another anymore.
One crazy clown was bad enough, but two?
Gotham is not deluded. It would not be afraid of Harley Quinn if she were alone. However, the fact that she is with the Joker earns her a modicum of the populace's respect. The Joker is known for killing those who work with him. The fact that she's managed to survive next to him for a whole month—or longer, if the rumors surrounding the assassination of Senator Jordan can be believed—is very frightening to them all.
How crazy would one have to be to be able to survive living with the Joker?
We leave Gotham to its troubles and join the new couple on a dark rooftop in Cathedral Square.
Harley stands to the side, her head down and arms at her side, silent. She is dressed in red and black and shivering, her arms exposed to the freezing air, and there is a new set of diamonds carved into her left shoulder, almost fresh enough to bleed. She is not sulking—not exactly—but she's clearly upset about something. The Joker is clearly unconcerned by her mood. He steps away from her, pacing up to the wounded body of a groaning man who is lying on the rooftop several feet away.
The man's hand is covered in blood, and it is stretched out towards an old music box mere inches from his fingertips, dropped when he was stabbed, spattered with his blood.
Who is this man, and why did this pair decide to hurt him?
Does it really matter?
The Joker doesn't seem to think so. Carelessly, as though performing a mundane task, he drills a silenced bullet into the man's head—and indeed, murder is likely mundane to a man like the Joker now.
The clown holsters the gun. "Well," he croons, "that's that."
He turns away, but then a thought strikes him, and, fingers twitching, he bends down and picks up the music box. He holds it in his gloved hands for a moment, fascinated, and then winds it up and sets it on a skylight to let it play. He listens with a cocked head to the tinny tune that emerges, then turns and jerkily strides over to his girl.
He grabs her hands and pulls her into a dance, and her face lights up as she realizes that he isn't angry with her anymore. The two move jerkily over the rooftop, careening dangerously close to the edge, either not noticing or not caring. He twirls her away from him, and as she spins back, she treads on his foot by accident.
His eyes flash and he lifts his hand, backhanding her hard. She bends over in pain, but makes no move to retaliate, accepting the blow. Within seconds, he appears to have forgotten her transgression and pulls her to him again, resuming the dance.
Does Harley love him?
Well, it's either that or sheer obsession. She craves his attention and his affection, feeds off of it enough to ignore the pain and the manipulation. She gets annoyed when her love is questioned. When she is advised to leave her J, she maintains that other people don't know what true love is.
Does the Joker love her?
That question must be answered with another: can the Joker really love? The answer is almost certainly no. It is true that he recites the words to her occasionally, but these words are used as a tool, cold, calculated, far from an expression of genuine feeling. However, Harley is an ideal companion for a guy like him. She flatters his narcissistic ego, she doesn't flee from the pain he inflicts upon her and often, thrillingly, she fights him back, she is happy to take the backseat to his grand-scale plots as long as she is afforded some of his attention, and she doesn't demand things that he cannot (or will not) give. He appreciates how dangerous she's become in so short a time, loves that he is the reason she now can kill without a second thought and can justify her actions to herself with the fervent passion of a convert.
Sometimes when she sleeps, he watches her and thinks about killing everyone she's ever known—her clueless father upstate, that insufferable tree-hugging best friend she runs off to whenever he's a little too rough, her sweet, hopeful Dr. Wilson—everyone. The temptation tickles at him. The prospect of making her isolation utterly complete—the idea of forcing her to depend on him alone—practically makes his mouth water, but thus far, he has resisted. After all, death is the end of pain—and he knows they're in pain, knowing that their precious girl sits willingly in the palm of his hand, that at any moment he could… squish. He thinks about paying her father a visit just to taste that pain. He thinks about looking at him in false sympathy and saying, "Ya know, this is your fault," pointing out his sad inadequacies, his inability to protect his only child, his sweet daughter.
Why would he ever take mercy on any of them and release them from their agony?
Taking this into account, the devotion she gives him and the twisted pleasure she affords him, it can possibly be said that in whatever skewered sense of emotion he has left, he genuinely feels affection for her. If the Joker was capable of love, then he would love her.
However, he is not. So, he will continue to play with her mind, to hit her and cut her and hurt her.
Harley doesn't take this without a fight, and he wouldn't like it any other way. She has a very clear breaking point. When she reaches that point, she will scream at him, tell him she hates him, and go stay with her friend Pam Isley, who is nursing her very own grudge against Gotham City, making some devious plans of her own.
However, she always comes back. She knows this. The Joker knows this. She always comes back to him, and is always welcome. A wolf would be foolish to turn a lamb away from its den.
It is quite possible that in the future, one of them will totally destroy the other. The Joker is rather careless with his toys, after all, and Harley may eventually refuse to put up with the abuse that is showered upon her, may some day open an artery in his throat as he sleeps. However, they could just as easily go on like this indefinitely. Masochists and sadists work well together, after all.
In fact, as twisted and wrong as their relationship seems to the rest of the world, it works. Odds are, they will still be together long after the other couples of the world disintegrate and die.
Something about them defies death. Perhaps it is their aversion to rules. Perhaps it is the fact that they refuse to believe that they could ever become Death's subjects. In their own minds, they are immortals.
And so far, no one has proved them wrong.
This is The End for now
Don't be sad
We'll be back someday
Final Note - If you're craving more, you can find followups to Bad Jokes listed under my profile- a small completed piece called Malady, and the official, still in-progress (as of August 2014) sequel, The Ringmaster. Additionally, there's another Jokercentric saga (sans Harley) called the Pastimes series for those of you in the mood for a little something different. Jokerfic for everybody!
I think the only thing left is to say that the initial process of writing this story kept me busy while I was going through a move that could have been difficult, and the response was beyond anything I'd hoped for. I love hearing from anyone who has something to say (hell, even if you've just discovered this story years after its completion, leave me some feedback; I adore it so very much) and you've all been so positive and such great readers. I mean this from the bottom of my heart: thank you, and I'll see you on the other side.