Author's Note: Written for the livejournal batfic_contest prompt "Birthday" in more than 500 words; first posted there on 9 March 2009.
It was a strangely quiet night in the Ha-Hacienda. There were no "guests" enjoying the Joker's special brand of hospitality since the last pair had permanently checked out a few days ago. The hyenas were dozing in one corner, their soft snores doing little to disturb the night. There wasn't even the ever-present skritch skritch of plans and blueprints being drafted, with pencils and paper laying discarded across the Joker's oversized desk on the mezzanine.
The cause was one of the henchmen stumbling across a showing of "Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man" as part of an all-night Abbott and Costello Movie Marathon, which had led to the couch and television being commandeered by the Joker several hours previously. The henchmen had all long-since retired to a local bar, knowing their services wouldn't be required for the rest of the night. All that remained were the tinny voices trickling from the ancient television set, and the occasional bubble of laughter echoing from the mountain of cushions the Joker had surrounded himself with.
Harley woke from her late afternoon/early evening nap (her sleep patterns becoming increasingly nocturnal) to discover that there didn't seem to be any murder and mayhem planned for the night, so rather than donning her costume and makeup she stayed in her pink pyjamas and followed the distant sound of laughter to its inevitable source.
"Heh! Manholes." The Joker said, muttering to himself as he stared at the screen. "They don't write 'em like they used to."
"I think you have to call 'em 'maintenance holes' now Puddin'." Harley pointed out, leaning over the back of the couch to plump up some of the stray cushions. "Gender quality an' all."
"Is that right, pumpkin?" Joker replied distractedly, deliberately squashing the air back out of the cushions as fast as she plumped them. "Remind me to do something about that sometime. Possibly involving the phrase 'political correctness gone mad', the city utilities commissioner and a large quantity of paint."
Harley affably plumped the cushions again. "Okey dokey Mistah J." He immediately squashed them once more, and she abandoned her attempt to make him more comfortable in favour of fetching food instead.
Once she had delighted in making enough popcorn for a small movie theatre (in case her Puddin' both needed sustenance and wanted to throw something at the television during the commercials) Harley joined the Joker on what space was left of the couch, taking the opportunity of a quiet night in to do some running repairs on her costume. Her skills with a needle were limited to say the least, but necessity was proving to be an efficient teacher – what with Bat-shaped knives at one end and Mistah J's liking for sharp objects, she always seemed to be picking up new tears and rips. She'd only been back together with her Puddin' a few months since that misunderstanding with the rocket and the whole trying-to-kill-her thing, but already her stitching was starting to look less haphazard.
After sticking her thumb for the second time in as many minutes, she sucked on it briefly and gazed over at the object of her affections, taking up a good two-thirds of the couch half buried beneath his mound of cushions. He looked so adorable, and she wanted nothing more than to snuggle into the pile with him. He also seemed entirely unaware that she existed, focused completely on the flickering screen. Snuggling didn't look like it was on the agenda.
Harley sighed wistfully, and then remembered that there was something she'd been meaning to ask Mistah J about. After a few incidents where interrupting his work had left her with several nasty bruises (who knew chemistry textbooks had such pointy corners?) she had begun to realise that there was a time and a place for trying to get her Puddin's attention and not having a book thrown at her face for her trouble. He didn't look like he had any textbooks hidden under the cushions, but she didn't want to risk interrupting him while he was immersed in the film.
She carried on with her sewing, but a few minutes and several cackling laughs later, an ad break gave her the opening she was looking for.
"Hey Puddin'?" She enquired casually. No books were flying in her direction, so Harley took his grunted acknowledgement as an invitation to continue talking. "I've just been thinkin' about something. Back at Arkham – you know all those files and reports they had on you? Well I musta read them all a dozen times while I was your therapist-"
"Hang on," Joker interjected, turning away from the atrocious acting of some washed-up Z-list celebrity trying to sell haemorrhoid cream. "Are you telling me you actually did some research, and that all those amazing insights into my psyche weren't just off-the-cuff theories you got from the back of a cereal packet each morning?" He adopted an exaggerated expression of shock. "I'm stunned."
Harley giggled in response to his teasing and picked up one of the ratty old cushions, swatting at his arm. "Don't be silly!"
The Joker raised a disbelieving eyebrow and was momentarily tempted to smother her with the cushion until the giggling stopped.
"…and anyway," Harley continued, oblivious, "outta all those boxes and boxes of files? Not one of them included your date of birth. Zip. Zilch. Nadda! I know most of the quacks up there aren't exactly thorough with the record keeping, but that's kinda a big oversight don't you think?"
If she had been paying attention she probably would have noticed the warning in his tight-lipped frown, the television now forgotten. But having resumed her sewing she was watching carefully as she added more stitches instead, and innocently continued down her road of conversational disaster.
"I know you haven't dropped any big hints, but I just thought it would be nice to do somethin' special for your birthday – really paint the town red! It'll take a bit of advance planning though – so when is it?" Harley chewed on the handle of her dressmaking scissors thoughtfully. "Because I'd have you down for a Taurus, which'd be April or May. Although you could be on the cusp of Aries I guess, with a prominent Mars…"
The Joker snapped his hand across to grab one fluffy pigtail, regaining her attention instantly as he stared down into her startled face. "Stop that pointless twittering! No birthday parties. Is that quite clear?"
"But birthdays are fun!" she squeaked, her neck bent at an uncomfortable angle as she smiled up at him hopefully. "Parties are fun! So birthday parties are double the fun!"
His grip tightened on the fistful of hair with a sharp tug. "Which part of 'no' didn't you hear just then?"
"But…" he tugged again and Harley finally fell blessedly silent as she gazed up at his unsmiling face.
"This is not up for negotiation, pumpkin. If you try to arrange a birthday party for me I will force-feed you an entire cake-worth of magic relighting candles."
Seemingly having received the message, Harley was nodding her head as enthusiastically as she could while he still had a tight grip on a fistful of her hair. "A-okay Mistah J, I got it, no birthday parties!"
He stared down at her for a long moment as though considering whether to believe what she was saying, then let go of her pigtail and gave a dismissive wave as he turned back to the television.
Harley massaged the protesting side of her scalp and debated whether to play it safe and return to her costume mending (if she could find where the scissors had gone since she'd last seen them) or scoot across to Mistah J and try to make up for however she'd inadvertently antagonised him. She thought about it for a few seconds, and then remembered that she'd never gained anything from playing it safe before.
The Joker scowled as he felt Harley squeeze through his wall of cushions to cuddle up next to him, but he allowed her to stroke his arm since she was at least doing it quietly.
"I'm sorry Puddin'."
Well she'd been quiet for all of five seconds anyway. For her that was almost a record. He made a noncommittal noise that could have been an acknowledgement of her apology, and for a short while all was quiet aside from the television as the ad break came to an end and the film resumed.
"When is your birthday though – was I right with Taurus?"
If Harley's reflexes hadn't been Ivy-boosted he probably would have got a good grip on her throat. As it was he caught nothing but air as she shot back across the couch as far as she could go, finding the missing scissors as they reappeared to jab painfully into her thigh.
"You understand nothing, do you!" the Joker growled, advancing on his pyjamaed girlfriend who was now clutching one of the cushions as a makeshift shield.
"I'm sorry! I didn't mean whateva it was, honest!" Harley squeaked, doing her best to burrow deeper into the couch without making it look like she was trying to hide from him. "Tell me what it was and I promise I won't do it again!"
"Try using your head for more than just anchoring those pigtails then! It's not just the parties that are pointless you nitwit – it's the whole intrinsic concept of birthdays." He suddenly span on his heel and gestured to the empty Ha-Hacienda at large.
"What achievement are people celebrating here, Harl?" Sensing this was rhetorical and he was getting into his stride, she chose not to answer and stayed frozen as still as possible. "That this tiny rock we live on has passed around the sun another multiple of 365 days since your were squeezed out of your mother?" The Joker gave a humourless bark of a laugh. "Well congratulations! Get the birthday boy a cheap paper hat and a big slice of cake! Send out folded pieces of card with sappy messages and completely un-funny jokes written on them to celebrate!"
Harley looked across at him, still standing with his back to her, and chewed at her lip. She thought back to the several dozen birthdays she could remember – from a childhood party where she'd been sick after eating too much ice cream cake, to her parents getting her a microscope the year she'd asked for a new paint set because "she needed to focus more on her academics". Even at college her birthdays had mostly passed unremarkably; she'd been too tied up in her gymnastics to do much celebrating and her parents usually forgot to post her a card until it was a week or three late.
At the time she'd felt like she was missing out, that somehow she just didn't "get" the fun. But Mistah J was right – maybe birthdays really just weren't all they were cracked up to be after all.
"If you're going to celebrate being alive then what's the point of doing it just one day a year?" The Joker continued, gesturing his exaggerated confusion at the walls. "What about the other 364 days? It's just ridiculous. Even more ridiculous than most of society's pointless social customs." He paused, turning to scowl at her. "If you don't understand now I'm not even going to bother trying to explain it to you again."
"No – I get it, I get it!" Harley said, throwing aside the cushion as she ran over to tug at his sleeve. "I really do this time, and I won't mention birthdays again. Or Bar mitzvahs, or Christmas or President's Day or anything. Promise." She gazed up at him eagerly, willing him not to frown and push her away again. To her great relief he suddenly smiled back and laughed.
"I didn't say anything about public holidays being pointless, you silly thing. A day off work, people get together with family and friends in nice large gatherings, often in poorly secured public areas… I always like to see the 4th of July go with a really big bang, for a start."
Happy that it seemed his anger had dissipated as quickly as it had appeared, Harley allowed herself to be led back to the couch where the Joker resumed his place amongst the cushions (once she'd collected them from where he'd scattered them across the floor) and she curled back up on the seat next to him. She found the dressmaking scissors with her bare foot this time, as the Joker laughed even though the television was showing an advert at the time.
The peace and tranquillity of the Ha-Hacienda lasted for all of five minutes before a niggling thought prompted Harley into another ill-advised interruption.
"Mistah J? What're your thoughts on anniversaries?"
The film might have been harder to follow while holding a cushion over Harley's head, what with all the thrashing about and muffled squeaks, but the Joker was confident that after a minute or two the lack of oxygen would give him enough quiet time to at least get to the end of "Abbott& Costello Meet Frankenstein" without further disruption.
Author's Note: Oh I don't know. I actually started out wanting to write something with meaning and plot and y'know – actual thought behind it. I end up with more twisted fluffy nonsense!
If you're interested in overly subtle sub-plots that never quite developed, then the Joker isn't just annoyed with birthdays because they're pointless and Harley won't shut up – going by the theory that he doesn't really remember life before the dip in acid, or remembers it in lots of different ways, he probably doesn't know when his real birthday is. Later he takes up celebrating the anniversary of his "rebirth" and Harley enthusiastically helps by coating herself in pie and going all Marilyn Monroe, but I still think the actual birthday topic might be a bit of a sore spot.
So I don't imagine Harl gets birthday breakfast in bed either. Woe. D: