"Is it getting harder to pretend that life goes on without you in the wake?
And can you see the means without the end, in the random frantic actions that we take?"
…Pain ripped through her, a piercing, living thing that tore through her chest and whipped through her limbs. A cry bubbled out of her lips as she was jostled, and then she was floating…
…Something soft was under her now, but its pleasantness could hardly compare to the horrid feeling that was echoing throughout her. Something sharp was digging into her chest, ripping and pushing, only to be replaced by fingers that delved into her flesh, ripping and pulling. She wanted to cry out, to scream and rage and force the pain away, but she was having enough trouble just breathing…
…The pain dulled, or perhaps it had become so sharp that she could no longer feel it; either way, she was floating serenely on something soft. A hand whispered through her hair, not exactly gentle, but comforting all the same. Lips pressed to her chest, so close to where her pain had come from, but these lips were soft and curious. Her whole world focused on that single sensation, on the errant brushes of foreign flesh against her own; she nearly moaned when a tongue flicked out to taste her, but then the feeling was pulling away until all she had left was the lingering scent of toffee and gunpowder. And, in the absence of such unexpected pleasure, the pain closed in around her once more…
Harley woke up in the early morning light, gasping, a hand clutched to her chest.
She was alone, she realized as her senses slowly kicked in, alone and… in her bedroom? The curtains were shut tight and anything within the room had been displaced to the other side of the room—her clock was smashed against a wall, her nightstand was laying on its side in front of the door, and all her books had been tossed off their shelves—but it was still definitely her apartment. How had she gotten here? She remembered the gambling hall, the bomb, and Crane; after that she had a vague idea that the police had shown up and she'd been—shot!
Quickly, Harley pulled her had away from her chest, staring at the dried and congealing blood that stained her skin. Her shirt had been pulled off, leaving her in her bra, a nasty gash just above her right breast and the faint smudge of white makeup spread across her chest. The bullet had obviously been dug out of her flesh, but beyond that the wound had not been treated. It would leave a wicked scar behind, and she knew she'd be lucky if it didn't get infected.
Thinking along those lines, she stood up shakily—ignoring the large splotches of brownish-red that marred her bed sheets—and made her way to the bathroom. Her first-aid kit was small, but it had disinfectant and an emergency suture guide. The work was excruciating, awkward, and slow going, at best. Cleaning off the blood was painful enough, but taking a needle to her own flesh was something she had never wanted to experience. Honestly, if she hadn't been so paranoid about Commissioner Gordon, she would have gone straight to a hospital, instead.
What felt like hours later, she was bandaged—both her arm and her chest—free of paint, and wearing the comfiest pair of sweats she could lay her hands on as well as the gentlest shirt she could find. Her body was running on autopilot—woozy and a little disoriented from blood loss—and she wanted nothing more than to rest and think over what had happened last night. There was no respite to be had however, because there, on her carved up kitchen table, was another note.
The familiar, erratic, flourished script danced across the page. 'We're two of a kind, Harley. Both wanting to let go while we still can, and yet we're too wound up in our obsessions to be able to. I grabbed you when I should have just left you behind. And you… Well, I made my decision, now it's time for you to make yours.' She had made her decision, hadn't she? Harley glared at the note for a moment. She'd gone with him willingly, and she had carved up Crane, just like Mr. J had asked her to! She had declared herself Harley Quinn—it didn't get much more decisive than that! Why was he still acting like she had a choice left?
'You've tasted what life can be like if you're willing to live without rules. You can live your life in a cage, or you can live it with me. Come to the Rosenthal Plaza Hotel, if you're brave enough.'
'P.S.- Harleen Quinzel is: slightly malicious when she's cranky.' She almost smiled as she remembered what she had done to Crane, the pain she had caused him, and how good it had felt to wield her knife.
Her mirth faded quickly though, and she was left with the desire to scream. The Joker had always been a calculating and brutal companion, so why was he offering her a way out now? Was this some sort of test, a way of gauging her progress or loyalty? Or was he acknowledging that they brought out the worst in each other—for him, an almost caring side, and for her, darkness and insanity.
She didn't have time to think it over though; her morning seemed to be bouncing from one event to the next. A knock had sounded at her door, and she had a pretty good idea of who it was. Pained, and the slightest bit panicked, Harley shoved The Joker's letter into her pocket, put on her best "vulnerable woman" face, and answered the door.
Commissioner Gordon stood on the other side, looking concerned and just a touch sad when her saw her leaning against the doorframe for support. "Are you alright, Doctor Quinzel?" he asked, placing a hand on her shoulder.
Harley winced and shuddered. He hadn't touched the wound, but the pressure on her shoulder made it feel like claws were ripping into her. "Dandy," she quipped quickly, shaking off Gordon's hand. "Why?"
He cleared his throat in a nervous fashion, but his dark eyes were trained on her in… suspicion? "You look a bit pale, that's all," he hedged, then frowned. "What happened to your hair?"
"I got a haircut," she replied plainly, absently running her hand through the erratic locks.
"With a hacksaw?" he asked disbelievingly.
"I happen to like it," she defended. "It's very… asymmetrical." Her patience was starting to wear thin, and the wound in her chest was throbbing uncomfortably. "Was there something you wanted, Commissioner?" she asked sharply.
He sighed wearily. "I'm going to have to take you in for questioning."
Harley felt she was becoming much too familiar with the MCU. Once again, she was sitting in a depressing interrogation room, surrounded by tile and two-way mirrors, and Gordon was sitting across from her, a metal table between them. Only, this time, the Commissioner looked soul-weary and guilty, as though he'd failed her. And he had, in some sense; if Gotham hadn't been so corrupt, if Gordon had had a better unit to work with, maybe he would have been able to protect her from The Joker, maybe they wouldn't have been back in this room as interrogator and suspect. But, as things stood, he hadn't been able to save her, and that hurt him just as greatly as her life had been changed. And, even though the Commissioner had a lot of heart, he was still a shrewd man; it was going to be hard to get out of this if she wanted to get to Rosenthal Plaza before Mr. J gave up on her.
"What happened yesterday?" Gordon asked, setting a manila envelope on the table.
Two conflicting thoughts ran through her head, the first being to lie completely and the second being to only lie a little. The problem she was facing was that Daniel was a wild card; she had no idea what had happened to him after she'd been shot. If the police had found him, and he'd told them the truth, Gordon would know that she hadn't been kidnapped out of her apartment. He'd already had suspicions that she'd left on her own, anyway.
Her decision made, Harley called upon a tricky skill that she hadn't utilized in many years: she made herself cry. Tears gathered in her eyes and she sniffled pathetically, hoping she wasn't overdoing it. "I was so scared," she finally replied in the best lost-little-girl voice she could manage. "The Joker had gotten to me, even when I'd been under your protection. I though, maybe, if no one knew where I was, neither would he, just like you originally suggested."
Gordon sighed and took a deep breath, but didn't chastise her. "Where did you go?"
"To Daniel's. I thought," she gave a quiet sob. "Well, he got me away from The Joker once, maybe he could do it again."
"And when I showed up at Doctor Marsch's?" he interjected. "Where did you go then?"
She pasted on a confused look through her tears; this was really pushing the limit of her acting skills, and she was still in a terrible amount of pain. "You were at Danny's?" she asked blankly. "When?"
Gordon abruptly switched tracks, pulling out a photograph. It was a fuzzy surveillance camera snapshot from across the street of the gambling den. Through the green-toned night vision, two figures could be seen: The Joker and a female companion. "Can you tell me who this is?" he asked, pointing to the woman.
Harley studied the picture intently. Her face was clearly visible in the shot but, covered as it was by paint, it was unrecognizable. The only thing that could connect her to the woman in the picture was her hair, but it was much tamer now than it had been the night before. "No," she replied, quieting her fake tears into watery sniffles. "Should I?"
The Commissioner looked unimpressed. "You were The Joker's doctor for longer than anyone else; you said so yourself," he pressed. "And in all that time, he never mentioned any companions, allies, or lovers?"
"He was very much involved in teaching his own philosophies," she said, trying to inject as much Harleen into that statement as she could. "He didn't seem to care much about anything else."
"And yet he pursued you," Gordon countered.
"I'm sorry, Commissioner," she frowned, "but what, exactly, are you implying?"
"I know about the Halloween party, Harleen," he said impatiently, "I was there. Thanks to the recording that I found at Doctor Marsch's, I know now that The Joker I saw that night was the real thing, and the woman he was kissing was you, wasn't it?" His words came out forcefully, accusingly. "Your relationship with him was unprofessional before you even became his doctor, and it allowed him affect you in ways that he hadn't been able to affect his previous doctors."
"What are you saying?" she asked again, giving up all pretenses of crying.
"What few eyewitnesses we have from last night said that the woman with The Joker called herself Harley Quinn." He shuffled through the envelope until he finally pulled out a small stack of transcripts; each reference to the name Harley had highlighted. "That was a name Joker gave you, you admitted as much the day before, and we have proof that he used that name for you during your sessions." He raised his eyebrows and folded his hand. "You're being stalked by The Joker, but disappear from police custody, not to be seen again until the next day. Then, during your absence, The Joker shows up for some murder and mayhem with a blonde woman who calls herself Harley Quinn—and you honestly expect me to believe that it wasn't you?"
She found herself at a sudden loss; she'd been neatly cornered.
"Dr. Marsch has already sworn his full cooperation," he stated mildly. "The odds are against you, Harleen. If you cooperate now, the consequences may not be so severe."
So they'd already gotten to Daniel, she thought bitterly, and now Gordon knew, he had proof enough to lock her away for her involvement with Mr. J, and if she was locked up she'd never be able to get to Rosenthal Plaza. Panic closed in on her but, for once, fortune did her a favor. The heavy door buzzed open from the outside and a patrolman walked in to talk to the Commissioner. In hushed voices, the two officers turned away from her to have a heated conversation.
Gordon had turned away.
Steeling her nerves and ignoring the screaming pain in her chest, Harley prepared herself. She'd only have one chance to do this, and there would be no room for mistakes. As the patrolman turned to leave, she stood and, in one swift move, grabbed the back of her chair and swung it around until it whipped into the side of Gordon's head. The Commissioner blacked out immediately, and she quickly reached for his holstered weapon, ignoring the panicking officer and the small amount of blood that seeped into her shirt from her torn stitches.
"Put the gun-" the patrolman began to shout, but she neatly silenced him with a bullet between the eyes. Not even forty-eight hours ago she would have been horrified at how well she could use a gun, but right now she was simply thankful.
The door was open; freedom beckoned. Harley grabbed the weapon belt off the downed officer and dashed into the hall. Her interrogation room opened up into a depressing little corridor, with one interrogation room beside her and another two across the hall. Behind them were likely entrances to the small rooms that hid behind the two-way glass of each interrogation room, but it didn't seem as though any of them were full. As a matter of fact, the hallway was chillingly empty, despite the fact that she'd just fired a gun. Perhaps that's what the patrolman had been telling Gordon—that something big had just happened in the city and all available officers were responding. If that was the case, she really hoped it wasn't Mr. J who'd done something; she would hate it if he started a party without her.
She was safe for the moment in this empty area, but she needed to find a way out of the MCU. "What would The Joker do?" she wondered aloud, and the answer came to her immediately: create chaos.
Carefully, she snuck from one room to the next, chilled and exhilarated when she realized that her guess had been right—the viewing rooms were empty, but the interrogation rooms already had people waiting to be questioned. Taking a chance, she opened one door after another, watching the confused criminals walk into the open.
"What's going on?" one of the three released men asked thickly.
Harley plucked a set of keys from her new belt and waved them in front of her. "I can get you out of those cuffs and, maybe, out of the building, but you have to help me."
"Why should we?" another one asked sullenly.
"Because those handcuffs aren't coming off, otherwise," she replied patronizingly, then trained Gordon's gun on him. "And if you waste much more of my time with your stupidity, none of us will be getting out. So are you with me, or are you dead?"
They didn't seem to be following her logic very well, but they respected the power of a gun. Reluctantly, all three of them held out their bound wrists.
She eyed then skeptically as they all stood around, rubbing their chaffed skin; she didn't like her prospects. Oh sure, they could probably cause enough trouble for her to sneak over to the lock-up and release some real mayhem, but… could she trust them with weapons? The sad fact was that they needed weapons to pose any threat to the police, but putting a loaded gun in one of their hands was like signing her own death warrant. She had no other choice, though. Her plan was slapdash, at best, and she didn't have to time to go looking for people she could trust. If she had any hope of getting out—and she could practically feel the police closing in on them—then she would have to make-do with what was available.
Harley pulled the small taser and the nightstick from her belt, and threw them at the boys' feet, not caring who picked up what. "You two," she pointed to the ones who had hassled her, "go out those doors on the far wall and cause as much trouble as you can."
They straightened up, both now armed, and gave her a calculating look but, to her surprise, did as she asked.
She pulled aside the remaining man—the only one who hadn't asked a stupid question—and handed him the patrolman's gun. "You shoot me in the back, and I guarantee you that I will survive long enough to return the favor," she warned him.
He smiled crookedly. "You're Harley Quinn, aren't you? The Boss talked about you a few times."
She was fairly certain that Mr. J never had long-term henchmen, and that he didn't tend to employ the quickest or the sanest thinkers, but the fact that this man had worked for The Joker put her at ease a bit. "Yeah," she replied, "I'm Harley."
He held the gun tightly in his hands, but gripped it with an ease that spoke of long familiarity. His eyes weren't exactly kind as he looked her over, and she was beginning to wonder if handing him a weapon had been a terrible mistake, but he smiled once more. Leaning close, he asked in a stage whisper, "Where to, Boss-Lady?"
In that moment, Harley realized that it wasn't respect shining in the man's eyes—not for her gun or anything she had done to release him—but devotional admiration. She hadn't even made a name for herself yet, and already the very idea of Harley Quinn carried some kind of clout. Was this the sort of emotion that master criminals inspired in people? Did he look at The Joker the same way? Had she really been changed so much that a man like this would see something in her worth following?
"Boss-Lady?" he questioned carefully, looking as though he wanted to shake her shoulder but wasn't sure if she would lash out at him for it.
She pushed the thoughts from her mind. Now was not the time to get caught up in the whirlwind events of her life; she had to stay ahead of the game if she had any hope of surviving. "This way," she finally replied, exiting through the closest set of doors. "We need to find the lock-up."
"Lock-up?" he asked confusedly. "I thought you wanted to get out, not in!"
"The station seems to be pretty quiet right now—I'm willing to bet that something big is going on in the city somewhere—but, even so, they'll have enough people to guard the exits," she shook her head, carefully ducking around corners whenever she thought someone was approaching. "Right now, it's easier to creep around the inside than it is to make a breakout. What we really need is to unleash a little mayhem so that we can slip out in all the chaos."
He stayed close beside her, but didn't bother to duck and dive like she did. "So those other two…?"
"Just a diversion," she shrugged. "I wanted them to buy us some time and divert the officers' attention enough that we could free the other prisoners with relative ease."
"Think it'll work?" He sounded more excited than nervous.
She shrugged again. "I have no idea, but we're about to find out." She pointed to a heavy-looking door just ahead of them. "There it is. Are you ready for this? I don't know how many police officers will be in there, so just start shooting. We'll worry about details later."
"I can see why the Boss likes you," he laughed, firing off a couple of rounds as soon as the door was open.
To say that bedlam erupted would have been a vast understatement. It wasn't that there were more guards than Harley had been expecting—because she really hadn't had the faintest clue as to how many could be waiting behind that door—but they were armed much better than she had thought they would be. She had assumed that they would all have handguns like Gordon and the officer she had taken down, and they did, but a few of them had rifles as well. Apparently, the MCU was very serious about detaining its prisoners.
Despite the fact that she'd started it, she was hesitant to join the fray. She had less than twenty-four hours of experience with a gun, and now she was going up against people who were armed heavier than she was, and she didn't have The Joker to guide her. Plus, she'd already been shot once; she had no desire for a repeat performance. Still, her partner was jumping into the thick of things with gusto, and he did need some kind of backup. Harley gripped her gun tightly and, using the door as cover, began to fire into the melee. She was careful not to aim near her partner, but she was inexperienced and the shouts of the guards and the prisoners were getting to her, so it wasn't an exact science. Up until that point, she had been rather lucky with guns, but now she simply found herself aiming in a general direction and pulling the trigger, not caring who it hit so long as it hit someone who wasn't playing for her team.
The fight stretched on for what felt like hours, but was probably only seconds; they only had a finite number of bullets, after all. The pop and retort of shots were beginning to thin out, the cheers from the prisoners were getting louder, and she and her partner were still standing. It seemed like her crazy idea was going to work out. Just as she thought that though, something whizzed past her head, leaving the scent of fireworks and burnt hair in its wake. She was about fire in return, revenge clear in her mind—honestly, how many times was she going to be shot at in one day?—but the man was already falling to the floor, clutching a bloody hole in his side.
"Sorry, Boss-Lady, he slipped by me," her partner apologized. "I'll take care of him and the stragglers, so why don't you try to work some magic on that control panel over there?"
Harley didn't really want to leave the dubious safety of the door she was using as a shield, but time was against them, and they needed to work quickly if they were to have a chance of breaking any prisoners out before more police officers arrived. Swallowing her nerves and her anger for continually being a bullet-magnet, she dashed from the doorway to the far wall. The control panel was a series of monitors and button, levers and key-swipes and, sadly, there were no handy operators' manuals in sight. A few more gunshots rang out behind her as she poked and prodded some likely looking buttons, praying that she wasn't about to set off any alarms.
A loud cheer erupted from the prisoners as her partner sidled up beside her. "Any idea how to work that thing?" he asked curiously.
"Nope," Harley replied, reloading her gun with an extra clip from her officer's belt. She didn't have the time to figure it out, either. The commotion was much too loud to be ignored; they were probably only seconds away from having to fight another volley of guards. "No idea," she murmured, firing three shots into an important-looking protrusion.
Something whirred and sparked deep within the panel, and a loud, mechanical grinding filled the room until, finally, with a deafening groan, the cell doors buzzed open. The was an awkward moment as the prisoners filed out of their cells, as though they weren't sure whether to riot or follow her lead.
"We're getting out," she said to the room at large. "Grab what you can, and go!" She turned to her partner, quietly asking, "You're going to cover me, right?"
He furrowed his brows. "Yeah… why?"
"These are experienced criminals," she nodded to the crowd of looting prisoners, "my gun could do more damage in their hands than it will in mine."
"You'd be defenseless, though," he argued.
She tossed her gun to the floor—hoping that someone proficient would pick it up—and shrugged. "I've got you," she explained. "I'm not looking for a bloodbath, hun; I just want out." She turned toward the door and started to walk out with the crowd. "Besides, I have better chances of being mistaken for an innocent bystander if I'm unarmed, and you could pretend to take me hostage if we get put into a tough situation."
He shook his head and stayed close beside her, a smile tugging at his lips. "We've never had a thinker in the operation before. The Joker must really like you."
She laughed quietly to herself. "By the way," she began suddenly, carefully peeking around a corner in the corridor, "what's your name?"
He slowed his pace, letting the mass of prisoners get ahead of them. "Most people just call me Hyena."
"Why's that?" she wondered aloud.
He laughed then—long, loud, and in earnest—and damned if he didn't sound just like a hyena. It was an eerie, high-pitched, wailing laugh that had the hair at the back of her neck standing on end.
"Oh," she murmured plainly.
He flashed a smile as they rounded another corner.
Harley was just beginning to worry that things were going too smoothly when she ran headlong into someone. She had one clear, but thankfully brief, moment of panic, before she realized that she knew this person. The esteemed Doctor Marsch was looking down at her in horror, the side of his face bruised and his cinnamon colored hair disheveled. "Daniel," she purred venomously, "fancy meeting you here."
Hyena—who was either very good at reading subtext, or a much quicker thinker than she had given him credit for—grabbed Daniel by the collar and pressed a gun to his side. "Do you want me to take care of this guy, Boss-Lady?"
She stared into Danny's wide and panicking eyes, their chocolate depths pleading with her; she stared into the eyes of a friend, the eyes of a betrayer. He had helped her in what small ways he could, provided a solid presence to buffer The Joker's effect and had been an understanding and sympathetic friend. But he hadn't saved her—no one had saved her—and he was now willing to turn her in to Gordon. He was a friend, but not a foul-weather friend. He could hide her when she was in trouble, but not when she caused it. Did she need that kind of friend around? No, the real question was: could she watch a friend die?
"Harleen!" Daniel finally pleaded.
"We don't have time for this right now," she snapped, a hysterical note threading her voice. "Just bring him along," she told Hyena. "We need to get out of here first, then we can deal with him."
They edged down the hallway, passing bodies of the dead and dying, slowly making their way toward what Harley hoped was an exit. Guns fired in the distance, accompanied by panicked shouts and orders. So far, it sounded as though the prisoners were giving the police hell, which was exactly what she wanted. The trio's path had already been cleared by the mass of convicts ahead of them—convicts who were now earning the full attention of Gotham's finest. It was only a matter of time before they found a way out, a minimum amount of effort expended on gaining their immediate freedom.
"Well," Harley breathed a sigh of relief as they casually walked away from the rioting MCU building, "that went better than expected."
Hyena laughed quietly, thankfully careful not to draw too much attention to their already noticeable group. "You'll have bragging rights for weeks."
"You planned that?" Daniel sputtered, horrified. "Harleen, what's happened to you?"
"Here," Hyena said suddenly, inconspicuously handing her his gun. "I'm gonna go find us a car." He let go of Daniel, murmuring, "You do whatever you need to with him," before he loped quickly out of sight.
"I suppose getting you out of Arkham wasn't nearly enough," Daniel mused after an uncomfortable pause. He eyed her from top to bottom, his gaze lingering on her bloodstained shirt and the gun in her hand. "The Joker still got to you, in the end. But it's not too late, Harleen," he offered softly. "You could still walk away from him."
"Yes, it is, Daniel," she barked, frustration clear in her voice. "I killed today in the same way that I turn off my kitchen light: without thinking, without caring. You don't walk away from a murder like that; it lives inside you, waiting to be free." A laugh bubbled from between her lips. "And, even if I could ignore that, I can't ignore him. It's like he's under my skin, Danny. I tried to get away, but Mr. J found me, and now," she paused, a little frightened of what she was saying. "I don't think I could live without him."
He shuddered, pity clear in his eyes. "Turn yourself in," he suggested. "He's played you for a fool, but if you turned yourself in, you could get the help you need."
"Like The Joker did?" she asked sarcastically. "There are some things that just can't be changed; I get that now. Everything we did to him only fueled the fire; the more we tried to teach him how to be a normal person, the harder he clung to his ideals." She shook her head. "If you lock me away, Danny, it will only make me darker, more brutal; it will only make me worse."
"Your luck will run out one day, Harleen," Daniel warned, drawing closer to her. "You'll be back here at the MCU sooner or later, and on that day The Joker won't save you; he doesn't care for anyone but himself. What kind of future is that?"
Harley smiled at his naiveté. "You're wrong," she said firmly. "He doesn't care about himself at all. The only thing that keeps The Joker moving forward is entertainment. So long as I stay interesting, he'll always come back for me."
"So you're going to join forces with him?" he snapped.
"I'm just taking some advice," she shrugged. "He told me, 'Put your scars on display for the whole world to see,' so I am. Why should I hide what was done to me; why should I hide what I was turned into while no one was looking?"
He sighed heavily. "It wasn't supposed to happen like this, Harleen. I was supposed to save you from him."
"It's too late for that." She paused for a moment. "Maybe it was too late before you and I even met. I think that I might have been a lost cause the moment The Joker and I locked eyes across the dance floor."
"You won't change you mind?" he asked, but there was a resigned note in his voice—he knew how she was going to answer, but his innate sense of optimism forced him to ask the question.
She shook her head as Hyena pulled up in a battered-looking car. "No," she replied firmly.
"Then what happens now?" Daniel countered. "Are you going to shoot me?"
"I should," she said quietly. "I know I should." It was the absolute truth; Daniel had caused her a great deal of trouble. She should kill him, if for no other reason than simple revenge. But a small part of her was still thankful for the support he had offered to Harleen, back when it had mattered. She couldn't repay that favor with a bullet, not today at least. Shoulders slumping, she sighed. "But it's been a hell of a day, and I'm feeling a little sentimental, so I'll let you go." She turned the car.
"What should I do now?" Daniel asked from behind her, sounding lost.
Harley turned back around, fished out a cell phone she had accidentally grabbed along with the officer's belt, and tossed it to the man. "You could call the police," she suggested snidely. "I hear you're pretty good at that. They might be a bit busy at the moment though."
Harley was fighting the clock and it made her nervous; she didn't know how long Mr. J would wait for her—for all she knew, he could have given up on her hours ago. Urgency burned through her like fire, but she had Hyena stop at her apartment anyway. Harley had no idea how long Gordon would stay unconscious, but she had a pretty good idea that her apartment was going to become a police hotbed as soon as he woke up, and she wanted to get her knife back before that happened.
So it was roughly half an hour after she had broken out of jail that Harley found herself—a fresh bandage hastily slapped across her chest, wearing the dusty clothes The Joker had given her the night before, and nervously fingering the knife that laid in her pocket—standing before the massive Rosenthal Plaza Hotel.
If she'd thought the outside seemed intimidating, it was nothing compared to the inside. The lobby of the hotel was grand in every sense of the word. Marble floors gleamed silver and gold under the light of the cut-crystal chandeliers, while the wood-paneled walls glowed a warm cherry-red. The lobby was expansive, too; high ceilings vaulted above the crowd of people, opening onto second and third story terraces. Even the numerous clusters of large and expensive-looking furniture didn't detract from the sheer and overwhelming openness of Rosenthal Plaza.
Hyena left her side almost immediately, disappearing into the crowd with a cheeky grin. Harley felt more nervous and alone than ever; she stood out like a sore thumb among the pretentious and wealthy businessmen that surrounded her—she was a frazzled mess and she knew it. When—if—she found Mr. J, it wouldn't matter so much; the rest of the world seemed to vanish when she was with him. But she had to find him first, assuming he was still waiting for her, and until then she would continue to feel like a third-grader who had stumbled into high school.
With a sigh and a heavy swallow, Harley ignored the looks she was garnering and quietly made her way around the lobby. Trouble was, she didn't entirely know what she was looking for. The Joker would stand out worse than she was, so he couldn't be in plain sight, if he was there at all. Was he hiding behind a shadowy pillar, or was he waiting in a room above? A frenetic energy filled her as she searched, desperation burning her. She couldn't leave without talking to Mr. J; ever since she'd read his note, she'd had but one goal in mind, and she couldn't fall short of the mark now, not after she'd done so much to get here!
She was just passing a trio of seated businessmen—two of them chatting idly, while the third read a newspaper—when one of them snatched her wrist in an iron grip, yanking until she landed in the lap of the reading gentlemen. Shouts and screams rang out around them as the newspaper lowered until she was looking into the grimly amused face of The Joker.
She quirked an eyebrow, desperation and nervousness gone now that she knew he'd waited for her. "You hid behind a newspaper, and no one noticed?" she asked on a laugh.
"It's Gotham," he shrugged, a smile tugging his own lips. "You can't honestly tell me that you're surprised."
The screaming echoed louder, bouncing and reverberating off the marble floors until it sounded as though there were hundreds of panicking people, rather than dozens. Harley frowned and began to get to her feet. "Should we really stay out in the open like this?"
Mr. J tugged her back down, a heavy arm encircling her waist. "Let the boys handle it," he replied, gesturing to the clown masks that were suddenly popping out of the crowd. "You and I need to talk."
She settled against him, reveling in the feel of him surrounding her. They hadn't been this close since Halloween, and just like then she was thrilled and a little frightened by the strength of him wrapped so tightly around her. "I came, didn't I?" she shrugged. "What more needs to be said?"
"Who are you?" he asked teasingly. He threaded his unusually gloveless hands through her hair, playing as he explained, "Halloween was the beginning, the tiniest sip of what Harley Quinn could be, and last night was a longer preview, but still just a preview. So who came here today, Harley or Harleen?"
"I'm inclined to say Harley," she replied lightly. "I broke out jail today, you know, just so I wouldn't miss our date."
"Committable and committed," he sighed longingly. "It's such a heady combination. Still, I think Doctor Quinzel might be lurking in those eyes of yours."
She was silent for a moment; she couldn't entirely refuse what he was saying. While it was true that she'd done some wicked things over the past few hours that would leave her forever changed, she couldn't deny the fact that a part of her was still very much the doctor—still knew that what she was turning into was wrong. She still had a conscience, and that was of no use to someone like The Joker.
His dark eyes pinned her as her silence stretched out.
"Doctor Quinzel might always be there," she said slowly, trying to find the right words. "When you're around, or reminders of you are near, nothing else matters to me, but when you're gone…"
"But I'm never really gone anymore," he replied smoothly. "Every time you look in the mirror, I'm there. Whether it's you clothes, your knife, your hair, or this little thing," one of his hands drifted down to ghost over the wound on her chest, "that's going to scar so beautifully, I'm always with you now." His hands delved back into her hair, pulling her close. "But the choice is ultimately yours, sugar-lips. You have to want to change; you have to want to be Harley Quinn."
"Why is it," she growled close to his lips, "that you push and you push and then, once it's long past any opportunity to turn back around, you give me the pretense of being able to leave? Don't lie to me, Joker," she snarled, finally letting loose a temper that she had been forced to hold in for far too long. "Don't give me the pretty, but empty words you'd give a hostage. There's two of us now, and you know it."
"So eloquent," he laughed. "You really are a woman after my own heart." A questioning look suddenly lit up his face, and his hands paused in her hair. "What happened here?" he asked, examining a section of blonde curl that seemed more burnt off than sheered.
"I told you, I had to break out of jail to get here, and I was shot at," she pouted, petulantly adding, "again."
"Hm," he hummed, sounding more impressed that she'd dodged the bullet than concerned that she'd once more been inches from death.
"I'm going to get shot at a lot, aren't I?" she hazarded a guess.
He didn't answer—though, truthfully, what could he have said after she'd just warned him not to lie to her—which only made Harley grimace. She knew there would be a lot of difficulties facing her in her new life, but she doubted she would ever get over the irritation of being shot at.
"Shall we get this party started, then?" he asked after a pause. "The crowd is getting wonderfully anxious."
"That reminds me," she said, confusion furrowing her brows. "What were you doing at the Halloween party that night? I've thought back on it countless times, but I've never been able to figure out why you were there."
"I was considering what to do next. Scaring everyone is all well and good, but you always need to know what you're next big step is going to be; you have to know where to hit them to cause the most pain," he shrugged, an arm going back around her waist. "With Dent gone, Gotham's hope was stifled, but not shattered like it should have been. I needed something bigger, something better, something that Batman and the police wouldn't see coming and wouldn't be able to stop."
She swallowed thickly. "And did you get it?"
"Oh, yes," he pulled her closer, until they were nearly nose to nose, "I got it."
"Why me?" she asked, sounding lost. Out of everyone who had been there that night, the celebrities and high class of Gotham, he had picked her.
"Why not you?" he returned readily. "You stood out like a sore thumb at that party: the sweet and innocent little girl who was sick of everything around her. You were tired of playing by their rules, it was right there in the way you dressed that night." He paused, then laughed, "Not to mention, you seemed predisposed to my way of thinking. You want to be free, and you want to have fun. Was I wrong in picking you?"
She shook her head. "But I'm not a public figure like Dent was; I'm not a symbol to Gotham." And The Joker rarely did anything that wasn't grand in scale. Had he simply settled for her because she'd been available? That thought left an unpleasant tightness in her chest.
"Aren't you?" His eyebrows rose, and he continued mockingly, "The kindly doctor who spends her life trying to reform others—you may not have been well known, but you were trying to make this city a better place. Just like Harvey Dent," he added ominously. "And what happened to you—the average citizen who was trying to make a difference?"
"I got trapped," she replied, mesmerized by his strangely pitched voice.
"Just like they'll be," he nodded with a smile. "There's two of us now, Harley, as you so aptly pointed out earlier; two of us who got chewed up by the world. Gotham won't know how to deal with the consequences of its ignorance and apathy. Without someone like Dent to lead them, they barely even know which way is up; we could burn this whole city down, you and I, and no one will know how to stop us."
It was such a tantalizing image, to live freely and wildly with someone like him. What did it matter how they'd come together? Now that she was by his side, she knew she would never leave it by choice. Months of running and lying melted away with the sudden certainty that this was exactly where she was supposed to be. "So, about this party…?" she trailed, an impish grin blooming over her lips.
He grinned in response, but a commotion near the doors diverted his attention.
Surrounded by a circle of clown-masked men with rifles, stood a man drenched from head to toe in black. He painted a bold picture: tight armor spread over an obviously well muscled form, but what really drew the eyes of on-lookers was the strange-resemblance-to-a-bat cowl he sported. It was The Batman. As a doctor, Harleen had been clinically interested in the man—what sort of person would be compelled to take on such an image?—but as an unbalanced victim of The Joker's machinations, Harley was annoyed and worried at his presence.
"He's going to spoil our fun, isn't he?" she asked Mr. J as he slowly set her on her feet and stood from his chair.
But he just cocked his head to the side and smiled until his face seemed split in two. "Sometimes, Harl, he is the fun."
She contemplated that as Mr. J slowly made his way over to the fight. As she stood on the sidelines, watching the manic glee that crossed The Joker's face as he went hand-to-hand with the dark vigilante, Harley had to admit that she didn't quite understand it. Batman was stodgy, too firmly set in his views, and was forever trying to "clean up Gotham"—as though any one could. What could possibly make him fun?
"Help us," a warm, desperate voice interrupted her thoughts.
Harley turned her head from the fight, noting for the first time that a delicate brunette in her early thirties had approached her. The woman was a nymphish creature, sweetly rounded and dressed in luxury. She was either a very important woman, or a very expensive call-girl, Harley decided. "Why not put your faith in Batman?" she asked, turning back to watch Mr. J. "He's the one fighting for you."
"The Batman is an outlaw," the nymph replied plainly. "And… maybe you are too, but you were talking to The Joker earlier. He'd listen to you if you asked him to stop."
Harley turned back around to face the woman, raising an eyebrow as she did. "There are two problems with what you just said." She took a menacing step forward. "The first is that The Joker rarely changes his mind once he's decided on something."
"And the other?" the woman asked, taking a step back.
Harley swooped forward until she was close enough to whisper in the nymph's ear. "What makes you think I care?"
The brunette swallowed nervously at Harley's sudden nearness but, to her credit, she did not back away. "Look at all the lives you could save," she gestured around them, at the frozen and panicked people who littered the lobby. "You look like a smart woman to me, so why would you throw your lot in with these criminals?"
"Don't," Harley snarled, her hands whipping out to grab the woman roughly by the shoulders. "Don't you dare try to cozy up to me," she shook her harshly. "My life has been spiraling out of control since the moment I met The Joker, each minute darker than the last." Her voice was rising with every word, but she continued on. "I tried running at first, but people like Mr. J… they find you, no matter where you go. And once I was too tired to run anymore, there he was, waiting for me, ready to teach how to be a monster. And do you know what? I enjoyed it," she laughed hysterically.
The nymph looked decidedly shaken, fear shining in her eyes. "But," she began.
"So don't try to tell me," Harley interrupted her, "that this one little act of heroism will make everything better." She pushed the brunette away with a sneer.
The woman stumbled for moment, then caught herself. "You can stop this!" she persisted, as though she hadn't listened to Harley at all.
"No, I can't," Harley laughed, shaking her head. She paused at the woman's blank look. "You don't get it, do you?" she sighed. "Even if I did care, The Joker would still do whatever he wanted to; the fact that I'm here is just a bonus to him. He can't be stopped by pleas and petty words; they're just music to him, all part of his chaotic symphony."
"But," the woman trembled, "you could talk to him, at least!"
"Have you not been listening?" Harley asked, an incredulous frown pushing at her brows. "He can't be reasoned with, because there's nothing that he wants—not money or jewels or political clout—just chaos. He doesn't have plans, because that would insinuate that something could go wrong. He just does things for the fun of it, for the curiosity of seeing what will happen." She stepped close to the woman once more. "If I asked him right now to spare all of you, do you know what he would do?"
The nymph swallowed, her eyes glassy bright. "Kill you?"
She chuckled. "He would laugh, shake his head, and tell me, 'Idealism doesn't become you, Harley,' and then he would kill someone else." She leveled a pointed stare at the woman. "Maybe you." A stark, naked joy filled Harley as she watched the trembling woman quickly disappear back into the crowd.
Now she understood; she knew how Mr. J could consider someone like Batman entertaining. Antagonizing them, watching them hope and struggle for good, only to be caught in the mad delirium of a wicked plot was an absolute thrill. She turned back to the fight, watching it with new eyes. There was a strange element of love and hate that she hadn't noticed before. The Joker certainly wasn't pulling any punches and, at times, he seemed genuinely furious with Batman, but every time the masked vigilante landed a good blow, The Joker would howl with laughter, as though he savored the proof of how much he had frustrated and instilled hatred into Batman. From where she was standing it seemed as though Batman's anger burned just as brightly as Mr. J's smile; it seemed as though they were almost too evenly matched, as though their fight could go on forever.
But, just as she thought that, something skittered across the floor and hit her booted foot. Harley looked down to see a small, blinking detonator. It had slipped out of Mr. J's pocket and Batman had unwittingly kicked it to her. "How convenient," she murmured with a smile, bending to pick it up.
The detonator was a heavy weight in her hand, and on her soul. It was a hodgepodge device, made out of bits from remotes, phones, and radios, and it was absolutely begging her to turn its key and flip the switch. But what would happen if she did? Had Mr. J planted a bomb somewhere and, if he had, where? She didn't fancy the thought of blowing herself because she hadn't known where to stand. More than that though, did she have the courage to flip the switch, to become what Mr. J wanted her to be?
A flash of something red caught her eye, making her tilt the detonator until she could examine it properly. Along the side of the device, painted in small red letters was a message. 'Harleen Quinzel is: dead.'
She held her breath for a moment while she thought about it. It was true; Harleen was dead, destroyed beyond any doubt in the flash of gunpowder that had killed the officer in her interrogation room. She would have twinges on conscience every once in a while, she was new to this criminal business after all and whenever Mr. J wasn't around she tended to relapse, but the truth of the matter was that Harley was all she had now. There was no room left in the world for Harleen Quinzel.
Resolutely, Harley Quinn triggered the detonator.
For a suspended moment, nothing seemed to happen, then a luggage cart on the other side of the lobby split open, sending a thick cloud of… something into the crowd. Panicked shouts became hysterical as the people closest to the cloud began to cough and claw at their faces, some even dropped to the ground in shivering sobs, and a few began to scream and jibber nonsense. Fear Toxin, Harley realized after a moment; The Joker had rigged up an explosion of Crane's Fear Toxin. And, even though only a small number of people had been affected by the airborne drug, their delirious reactions sent ripples of terror through others, spreading across the lobby until it seemed she was lost in a sea of screams. A smile stretched her lips; true to form, The Joker had taken something small and turned it into something terrible. He had used a tiny batch of chemical fear to inspire real fear, and no one had been able to stop it.
A black-clad hand closed over her own, yanking the detonator away.
Harley turned around, coming face-to-face with The Batman. He was winded from his fight with Mr. J, but no less menacing for it, and right now he was staring down at her in a mixture of anger and confusion. "Why did you do it?" he asked, his voice absurdly deep and gravelly, as though he had recently choked on something.
"The question isn't 'why'," she replied calmly. "I spent my whole life asking that, and it got me nowhere. But Mr. J showed me the real way of things." She paused, letting a smile bloom over her lips. "I've realized that it isn't 'why', Batman; it's 'why not'."
He made a disgusted sound low in his throat as The Joker laughed loudly from behind them, but he continued to stare at her in disbelief.
"You'd better hurry if you want to save all these people from themselves, Batsy," she taunted. "That man over there looks pretty serious about his gun; who knows what he might do if he gets any more spooked?"
He looked torn, his body already turning to dive into the crowd, and yet he didn't move right away, as though he wasn't sure what was more important: preventing a full-blown riot or facing the people who had caused the trouble in the first place. "You'll answer for this sooner or later," he growled, then swept into the chaos like a dark avenger.
"He's a tad dramatic for my tastes," Harley said as The Joker wrapped his arms around her from behind.
"He'll get used to you in time," Mr. J replied mock-seriously. "A few stand-offs from now, he won't even remember what Gotham was like before you showed up."
She watched the lobby descend into insanity, grimly amused by the scenes playing out before her. "So what happens now?" she asked.
He nipped at her ear before drawing her to a clown-guarded exit. "Anything we want," he replied with a purr.
A/N: This story was influenced by a lot of things, but one I really must tip my hat to is the album Along Came A Spider, by Alice Cooper. Some pretty twisted music helped me write this story (especially The Dark Knight soundtrack), but Along Came A Spider made my imagination soar.
Props go to my friend Metanaito-sama for looking over this story (multiple times), and the previous one as well, and for contributing wonderful ideas when I got stuck. She practically co-authored the last fourth of the story. And, Metanaito-sama, words can not express how much I appreciated your help, especially when a lot of it was logistical silliness that wasn't actually being put in the story. We might have seriously disturbed everyone around us, but those long conversations really took this story from a vague idea, and turned it into a saga. Thanks, sweetheart!
I was thinking about writing a continuation for this, turning out a trilogy I suppose, but I'm left at a point where I don't think it's necessary. The story continues on, of course—Harley and The Joker are the dynamic duo of the underworld, after all—but I think the story of how Harleen Quinzel became Harley Quinn has come to a close. I may write other stories that are related, but probably not a direct continuation.
Disclaimer: As with the last story, this one was named after a Raconteurs song. The second and third "chapters" were titled after songs from Alice Cooper's: Along Came A Spider, while the fourth one was titled after a song from Amanda Palmer's: Who Killed Amanda Palmer. I do not own any of them, nor do I own anything that came from any of the incarnations of Batman. In all seriousness, I think the only thing I really came up with on my own was Daniel Marsch and, let's be honest, that's not something to brag about. Also, Hyena is a blatant hat-tip to Bud and Lou, Harley's pet hyenas in The Animated Series.