A/N: It's not often I write for a story that takes place in a different universe simply because a fanbase has multiple universes. Most of my fanfic takes place in one reality – the reality of the novel, movie, play, whatever. This gets complicated with Myst, since it by nature is a series that spans many worlds, but it's not really set in an alternate reality – just a single, expanded one with endless possibilities. Granted, I do also write PotO tales, and the PotO universe is a trifecta of the novel, movie, and musical universes, but all of my PotO PhanPhiction is set in the world of Leroux's original novel – a place where Christine is much more genre-savvy and Erik actually looks like a hideous corpse. Even the AU stuff I write isn't really "Alternate Universe" persé, since it technically is more of an answer to the question of "What If…?"

This is not the case with comic books, and certainly not the case with DC comic books and its Elseworlds and alternate Earth timelines. The story I've presented here is not AU, as it could feasibly happen in the DCU, and is not a What-If to be answered, as it presents no alternate scenarios. It's more of a first foray into a different part of the Batman universe – after spending so much time writing for the Nolanverse Joker, I felt it was time I actually read some of the comics and got a better feel for the character as a whole. There's a good reason I didn't choose to set this tale in the Nolanverse: because the Joker in that particular world is too cruel to be affected by this plot. Comic!Joker would be more likely to let you live unless you've just handed him the perfect punchline. Granted, I'm only a casual reader and the Joker isn't one of those characters you can easily define, but I feel I have a fairly good grasp on the character and can finally cross over into more mainstream comic book/Graphic Novel territory with him. Be aware that my take on him is not one take, but a blend – the Joker is indefinable but classic, and as such there's more than just the many versions in the comic. Don't be surprised if Hamill!Joker shows up, or if Alan Moore's Joker from The Killing Joke appears, or even if a bit of Ledger Joker or Nicholson joker sneak in. The plot to this story might seem unfeasible at first – who would save the life of a mass-murdering madman, after all? Just remember that not everyone in the world runs on Joker-logic – and not everyone is quite that heartless.

DISCLAIMER: I own nothing of DC Comics, I am not affiliated with DC comics, and I am not writing this story for profit. I own only the protagonist of the story and the idea for the story, nothing more. Also, I'll give you fair warning: this is not a fluff fic. It's got a somewhat fluffy ending, yes, but it's not meant to be a feel-good story – it's meant to get you thinking about what you would do in a similar situation. If you get that out of it, more power to you; if you don't, that's great. Just remember that it's only a story, not a non-existent WMD in Iraq.


Resuscitate

A horrific squeal of tires, followed by a hideous crunch-crashing noise, broke the uneasily still smog-air of Gotham's inner city. The elaborate purple Ferrari had gone into a skid on a sudden, freak patch of black ice, sending it careening into a nearby lamppost. The front end of the vehicle looked like a hellish accordion; the windshield was a spider's web of cracks upon cracks. A chrome hubcap spun down the cracked pavement of the road, sadly coming to a rest against a grimy city curb. Not a sound came from the surrounding buildings and no light flickered to life in a dirty window – to those inhabiting these grimy hovels, it was simply another one of Gotham's nightly sounds, as familiar as the sound of gunfire and wailing sirens; as unnoticed as the cries of a dying woman. No city native grew up without these noises, and so no city native took them to heart.

Irene White was not a Gotham City native. The sound of the impact so jolted her from her novel that she nearly dropped it as she stood, trembling. She was barely twenty-eight and single. Fresh out of graduate school, she'd been unable to find a nursing job in her small hometown, so she had gone to the next best source – the city.

What on earth had possessed her to move to this city, of all places? She'd had her homed robbed twice and been mobbed once, and that was just in the first two weeks. About the only good thing she'd gotten out of her new home was that she easily found work the first day – Gotham had at least six hospitals, not counting that Arkham place she'd heard so many horror stories about, and each always had patients. On an average day at Bridgewater, the oldest and largest hospital in the district as well as the one Irene now worked at, no less than a hundred new patients found their way into an in-patient bed. In one day, Irene had seen burn victims, bullet wounds, razor slashings, poisonings with various drugs, and more. At least one man had come in laughing uncontrollably, while several doctors had looked on with clear "Oh Lord, not again" looks on their faces and run after the patient. The growing number of patients led the hospitals to hire a growing number of new staff members, of which Irene was only one. To top that, every news report on every local station had something to do with some well-known criminal that made their home in the city – Irene counted at least fourteen of them that she knew about from horror stories told back home. There were tales of plant-women and monsters that fed on fear, of a living Wonderland resident and of murderous clowns. Of course, these were all highly embellished folktales told by city expatriates...

Or were they? Irene constantly asked herself. Were they really, when she had seen with her own eyes the things they could do to their victims…?

A knocking at the door of her ground-floor apartment pulled her from her thoughts. Who could possibly be knocking at this time of night? What if it was a trap?

A pained sob drifted weakly through the door.

"Please… someone answer… I n-need help… W-we crashed… Please…"

Irene grew concerned. The voice sounded young and female, and distinctly Gothamite in her accent. Clearly, she was a victim of the crash she'd just heard and needed help. It would be heartless of Irene, a trained nurse, to allow the person to suffer…

She walked to the door and opened it, her heart nearly breaking at what she found there. In the doorway stood a trembling, bleeding woman, wrapped in a thin black and red jacket. Her blonde hair was in shambles, hanging in her face in limp tangles. She wore what appeared to be a torn, bloody jester costume – the usual for the end of October; no doubt she'd been on her way to some costume party or another when the crash occurred – and her carefully applied greasepaint ran with her tears. And it was no wonder she was crying. Her left leg bent behind her awkwardly and painfully, a clear sign of a break, and she bled from multiple small gashes covering her body, surrounded by quickly forming bruises.

Irene said nothing, not even daring to look concerned. The least she needed was the girl to panic and hurt herself more.

"P-please help me…" the girl whimpered between moans of agony. "W-we crashed… a-and I'm hurt and can't help him…"

"It looks to me like you need more help than him right now," Irene responded, speaking in the matronly tone she used with her patients. "Here… lean on me…"

The girl quietly obeyed, looping an arm around Irene's neck.

"There we go… you need to keep as much pressure off that leg as possible… Looks like a nasty break."

"B-but he won't wake up!" the girl sobbed, seemingly unconcerned with her own well-being. "M-Mista J won't wake up!"

The girl fully burst into tears then, nearly collapsing onto Irene's shoulders in grief and pain.

"P-please… ya gotta help him or he'll die! I'm scared… I'm… I'm not feelin' so…"

The girl collapsed in a dead faint, and Irene barely managed to catch her as she fell. She rested the costumed girl on the floor quietly concerned that somehow her impromptu patient had hit her head in the crash, and only now were the injuries apparent. But she had no markings on her head, aside from a split, bleeding lip, and a concussion seemed unlikely unless she'd forcefully restrained her head during the crash. She'd been walking, so it was unlikely she had spinal injuries, though whiplash seemed to be a possibility.

Irene left her head and neck alone, just in case.

Her second suspicion was that the girl had lost too much blood. This indeed seemed the case, as several patches of the red liquid stained the girl's jester costume, darkening the red and black patches there. However, she wasn't bleeding all that profusely from what Irene could tell, and what was apparently a deep gash to her stomach was in fact a transfer stain, probably from bending her deeply wounded good leg to her stomach as she worked herself free of the car. In fact, the only real main source of blood loss the girl had was a large bit of metal stuck in her right thigh – and Irene didn't dare try to remove that. Pulling it out might cause the wound to bleed more, or worse, it could damage the muscle more. Besides, it wasn't bleeding too badly for such a deep wound… all it would need is a good bandaging and she could get someone to bring her to the hospital easily.

Irene would have wrapped the leg herself if what the girl had said weren't so troubling to her. She'd mentioned another person in the car, an enigmatic 'Mr. Jay' who, from what the girl had said, was unconscious. If she didn't get to the man soon, he'd surely die from lack of oxygen…

Irene quietly ensured that the girl was breathing, feeling for breath with the back of her hand. It came steadily, but troubled – she'd probably passed out from the pain. Her pulse was elevated, but otherwise normal. She'd be just fine for now.

Irene ran outside. There was little time to lose, and she feared she'd already lost too much to save the man. Oh God, if that happened when she could've done something…

She pushed the thought from her mind as she surveyed the crash scene. The car was of an abnormally pricy make for the denizens of the Narrows; the couple had probably been taking a shortcut through here when the crash happened. Other than the obvious odor of gasoline permeating the air, there wasn't any apparent danger…

Irene jogged up to the wreck, peering in through the cracked glass. It was difficult to tell, but she just barely thought she saw a lanky, masculine silhouette behind the wheel – and he didn't seem to be breathing. But the windows were severely damaged, and it was so hard to see…

Without thinking, Irene pulled the wrecked door open and peered at the limp figure inside. It wasn't bright enough in the car for her to pick out details, but this surely had to be the Mr. Jay of which the girl had spoken. She could tell that the man was very tall and thin, garbed in a violently purple overcoat and an older styled fedora. The hat, along with the angle at which his head rested, made it hard for Irene to ascertain the details of his abnormally pallid face.

Fearing the worst, Irene felt his ashen skin. It was cool to the touch.

Oh God, he's probably in shock…

The thought shook her to the core. She knew first aid for the treatment of shock, yes, but she didn't have the right equipment for the blood transfusion this man needed, let alone knew what his blood type even was! But none of that would matter if she didn't get him out of the car right now.

Clasping her arms about his thin frame, she carefully pulled him from the wreck and began to drag him back to the house by his overcoat.

Irene was livid. Why had nobody cared enough besides her to notice the wreck? Why hadn't anyone called 911? If it was one thing she'd learned from living here, it was that people in Gotham were horribly selfish and horribly cruel towards their fellow man, just because he was better off than they were. The very idea that someone could ignore a person in such immediate danger sickened her.

She slowly reached the front door of her apartment building, propping the door open with her foot as she slowly dragged the unconscious man in and rested his head gently on the floor. Irene was no athlete, and merely dragging the man that far had nearly winded her, for he was much heavier than his near skeletally thin frame let on. She stopped to catch her breath as she surveyed her second haphazard patient for injuries.

Much like his blonde lady friend, the man's flamboyant clothing had large tears in several places. His left arm looked painfully dislocated, but nothing else seemed to be broken or injured in such a way. Blood trickled from a wound somewhere under his hat, but otherwise there wasn't any major blood loss, not to the point that it could cause such ashen skin…

But what about internal bleeding?

Irene's anxiety grew as she undid the man's neon orange dress shirt, revealing a strikingly sinewy torso for the man's height. No massive bruising in the abdominal or chest area was apparent, and yet his skin, from head to toe, was all the same unnatural shade of ashen white…

If it wasn't blood loss, then what was it? Why was he so deathly pale?

It was then that Irene realized he wasn't breathing. His chest showed no rising and falling motion; no wisps of air came from his hidden nose and mouth. What was worse, perhaps, was that she couldn't feel his heartbeat even though her hand rested exactly over where his heart would be, not even a faint one.

Irene knew CPR, but she'd always hoped that she'd never have to use it outside of a hospital setting. Now the situation had gotten much, much more dire – this man could die if she didn't begin rescue breathing immediately.

She knelt next to him, gently pulling the hat off – and almost immediately jumped back in fear. This man… she knew this man all too well…

Shit. It's not Mr. Jay, it's Mr. J. Mr. JOKER. How didn't I realize that?

Irene backed away as if entreating a King Cobra not to strike. She was by no means an expert on every single criminal in Gotham City, but she certainly knew this particular criminal. She'd heard his name muttered throughout the hospital as patients with his same hideous grin rolled in on stretchers, several already dead and a lucky few simply in a long, laughing coma. She'd seen the kinds of burn and stab wounds he could inflict; she'd seen corpses wheeled to the morgue with his mark clearly visible. Just last week a man had come in with a flag-tipped spear from some sort of spear gun sticking out of his chest; it had mercifully missed his heart by mere centimeters…

And now he was in her house. Of all the possible criminals in Gotham City, she had to wind up dragging the most dangerous mass murderer of all of them into her home. And chances were he was going to be very pissed when and if he woke up…

Irene quietly weighed her options. Option one, she could do nothing and let this horrible criminal who certainly deserved it die. Option two, she could resuscitate him and feel like a good Samaritan even though she'd be bringing back a monster and ensuring the deaths of multiple innocent people. Then again, she'd seen too many deaths in her time at the hospital to just watch someone, even such a horrible person as this, die a slow death by suffocation. On the other hand, if she helped him and he was bluffing

Irene flicked her eyes towards the desk drawer that she knew held her pistol. After the mugging last week, she'd decided on a gun permit and gun, just to play it safe… If he tried anything, she could always use that for protection…

Irene looked back at his ashen face. His frozen, eerie smile didn't budge an inch; his eyelids lay unflinchingly still. He looked, for all the world, like an absurd, slumbering, terrifying child.

It… it might be safe, Irene thought, inching closer. He might really be unconscious…

She gingerly prodded his hat off with her foot. The Joker lay limp and still, making no movement towards it. His viridian hair mingled with blood that poured from a large gash, stretching up from his forehead and across his scalp, staining the tan living room carpet.

Irene didn't dare touch the blood. She was no stranger to the ruddy liquid; she was a nurse after all – but she made it a practice to never touch blood, no matter who it belonged to.

Irene found her courage again, kneeling next to the wounded clown once more. The absurd teal ascot wound tightly around his neck, so tightly that it probably was blocking his breath. She slid two fingers beneath it, and to her great surprise, it loosened considerably. She rested her fingers against his neck, feeling for the groove she knew the carotid artery rested in. A very faint pulsing sensation greeted her fingers.

Irene let out the breath she hadn't known she'd been holding. He had a pulse. She had more time than she thought – but it was still precious, precious little…

The sheer absurdity and danger of the situation suddenly struck her like a brick to the head.

God, what the Hell am I doing? She thought, looking at the downed jester. He's just as likely to stab me as he is shoot me dead! He's only going to kill more people if I save his life; he by all rights deserves to die here and now…

She almost stood and walked away.

She almost did… but couldn't bring herself to do it.

If I leave now… what will that make me? A coward? Or something far, far worse…?

She glanced at the Joker again. He was helpless; his life was in her hands. And she didn't want to admit it, but he probably liked being alive just as much as the next guy did. After all, he did have a life, even if it was one of destroying the lives of others…

"Oh, fuck me!" she cried, feeling her own guilt trip her up like wire as she knelt beside him. Her eyes clamped shut, not really wanting to watch herself lock lips with someone who probably didn't care about his oral health, judging by how yellowed his teeth were…

She breathed for him. His skin felt cold against hers, but it didn't concern her right now. She didn't have the necessary equipment; she'd have to make do for now. What was important was that she kept breathing, kept the air flowing into his lungs, kept him alive…

Ten, fifteen, twenty minutes ticked by with no response. Irene wished she had someone else around so she could ask for help. She wished that her stupid nursing reflexes would shut up and let her run away so she'd never have to revive a man she'd surely regret reviving. Damn her caregiver instincts; damn them to Hell.

Suddenly, the previously unconscious Joker grabbed her with his only functioning arm, pinning her small frame against his body. Irene shrieked in startled fear at his sudden strength, and her eyes flew open, staring into his own poisonously green eyes…

"Well, now…" His voice was surprisingly soft and smooth for a madman's; his eyes sparkled with evil mirth as he surveyed his situation. "I always thought you were supposed to wait until at least the third date before you got even this far!"

He cackled madly, an uncannily high sound in comparison to his soft voice, and Irene shuddered. He released her from his embrace, catching her wrist with iron talons only at the very last second.

Now, Irene… Don't panic, Irene… That's what he wants… Don't panic…

Her thoughts had no calming effect, and she whimpered as his grasp tightened further. Mercifully, he didn't seem to notice Irene's small admission of defeat – but he did notice his half-undressed state.

"Well, that's a new one!" he cried out in bemusement. "Kidnapping, fine; being out cold for several minutes, great. But undressing me? Just a tad bit creepy for my taste, lady… Not that I didn't enjoy it, you sly devil, you…"

The implications made Irene blush furiously, something the clown before her seemed to take great pleasure in pointing out.

"I was awake you know, awake for… oh, say about ten minutes longer than you probably thought." His impossible, frozen grin stretched wider yet. "Couldn't help it. You're irresistible. And I mean that sincerely – woe betide any man fool enough to meet you. One kiss, he's yours…"

Irene squirmed uncomfortably, her emotions a mixture of fear and indignity. It seemed impossible that the Joker, undoubtedly the most insane, evil man in Gotham City, was hitting on her. And yet he was, purposefully trying to put her in a state of fearful unease so he could destroy her even more easily…

She shuddered at the idea of it.

"Not if you were the last man on earth," she grumbled, flushing a furious maroon.

"Oh?" He drew her closer to his face, his eyes mere inches from hers, his tone conveying the same amusement as a mother watching a child at play. "And what if I was the last man on earth, hmm? What if the whole world suddenly vanished save you and I and we were just stuck in this big, big city for the rest of our lives? Wouldn't that be a cruel, sick joke? And that, my child, is why God cannot possibly exist, because if he did he would have done so already. Up we go!"

With an alarmingly graceful twist of his body, the Joker flipped into a standing stance, releasing Irene's wrist as he did so. He stood a little too proudly, all six feet of his lanky frame drawn to the apex of its height. His eyes glinted with mania and inward laughter as he looked down at Irene, the eyes of a coyote surveying its next kill.

Irene could say nothing. His entire being conveyed the power of a ringmaster before an enthralled audience, a strangely frightening aura that stole the words from her mouth.

"… I would really rather you sit," she finally murmured. "There's a g-good chance that your head –"

"Is gloriously demented, yes!" he interrupted, bowing dramatically. "I'm well aware, you know. Not all of us crazies sit in a padded cell all day thinking we're sane. No, not at all! I'm quite, quite mad, and I'm all the happier for it!"

He lifted his head to stare her in the eyes, reading the clear look of fear there, smirking in amusement at it. The idea of it froze Irene's blood near solid. Her fear was funny to him. She was nothing more than a toy to the lunatic.

He must have seen the shudder that shook her stocky frame, for he stood slowly and came at her at a slow walk, a long-legged, bouncy stride that made him seem absurdly whimsical and graceful…

Irene began to panic, backing away slowly as she glanced at the dresser drawer. The pistol was her only hope now. Her only hope…

"Genius through dazzlingly dreadful delirium," he continued, his smile widening in delight as her frenzied terror grew with every step he took towards her. "Demented artistry at its very apex… and a few decks of cards, all of them missing a few cards, you know…"

"Y-your head is bleeding," Irene stuttered stupidly, pointing out the obvious. Hopefully he at least cared enough to notice a wound to his head…

Sure enough, he stopped dead in his tracks, remaining abnormally still.

"Oh," he said dismissively, suddenly noticing the blood dripping down the side of his face. He gingerly prodded the gash with a pale finger, drawing it back to examine the now bloody digit. No wince crossed his features as he peered at the blood, but Irene thought she saw the faintest look of delight flash across his face…

"Why, so I am!" he crowed. His grin, undoubtedly intended to be amiable, instead came off as demented. "Ah well, 'tis but a flesh wound. Perhaps I should tend to –"

"I-I'd really r-rather you sit down… a-and let me take care of it…" Irene interrupted, only intending the best. "You… You could hurt yourself even more if…"

Her words trailed off as she glanced back up at the nightmarish harlequin before her. The Joker's eyes, once such a dangerously bright green, were now positively black with all the hatred the world could ever hold. The effect of such a malice-filled glare, when paired with that eternal smile of his, was positively unearthly…

God, if looks could kill...

"Did nobody ever tell you," he hissed darkly, "Not to interrupt when a houseguest is speaking…?"

And he resumed his slow, menacing walk towards her, the grace of his movements a stark contrast to his purpose.

It was only then that Irene realized that she'd let him corner her, her back against the wall with no escape route in sight.

"P-please…" she whimpered pitifully. "P-please don't hurt me – I was just trying to help!"

That response only made his hellish grin widen further, a sickening inward cackle of delight at her oncoming demise.

"Oh, but what good is a dead hero?" he quipped, clearly relishing every moment of her fear. "A dead hero can't help anyone…"

He slid a handgun from his breast pocket, cocking it in preparation.

Irene inwardly panicked.

"N-no! God, no! I didn't mean to, I swear… I-I was only joking!"

She had apparently said the right thing, for the Joker abruptly halted in his steady march towards her. He seemed to contemplate her for a moment, an absurd Cheshire cat made real, before doubling over and bursting into wild peals of insane laughter. The gun went off accidentally, pointing at the ceiling; a flag, comically reading 'Bang!' unfurled from the barrel.

Irene felt anger and relief well inside her. Her death, his menacing approach, the gun… was it all a joke? Her life was not some toy for this freak to play with!

Meanwhile, the Joker continued to laugh wildly, as if affected by the world's most hysterical joke.

"Lovely!" he quipped between hysterical giggles. "Splendid! Marvelous!"

The laughter abruptly halted as he regained his stance in one agile, fluid motion. His toxically green eyes glimmered with a look of alarming, exaggerated severity, a look to put a man into an early grave.

"Seriously, though," he murmured in that silken-smooth, calm, uncanny voice of his. "Don't interrupt me ever. Again. Otherwise, I'll have to splatter your pretty little head all over the walls of your house, just. Like. This."

And he aimed carefully at her head, and Irene panicked, trembling in terror. He pulled the trigger again, and the flag discharged into the wall, the pointed tip lodging firmly into the plaster mere inches from her head.

"Get the point, Nurse Nightingale?" he asked, his voice as low and menacing as a snake in the grass.

Irene gave a miserable, frightened sob in reply, her hands shaking uncontrollably. She needed to get to her pistol before he changed his mind about letting her live…

"Good."

He smirked triumphantly, sliding the now spear-less gun into his pocket. Irene thought she heard him mumble something about his head before he turned away from her and began pulling what appeared to be a long string of colorful handkerchiefs from his coat. He looked as if he were about to start wrapping his wounded head when he noticed that one of his arms wasn't moving… quite right.

"Oh dear," he sighed in seeming irritation, setting the handkerchief chain aside to pondering what to do about his situation.

Irene glanced at the desk. It seemed so far away from her attacker, but she thought she could just barely make it… After all, it was her only shot of dealing fairly with this madman…

"Ah!" he said, seeming to have discovered a solution to his current conundrum. "Yes… that's right, I can just…"

He grasped his dislocated arm suddenly, and pushed it upwards back into the socket. It aligned again with a sickening pop as the end of his bones met with the cushion of cartilage beneath his shoulder blade.

Irene winced. The man had to have been in enormous pain this whole time from that dislocation; how could he stand simply realigning it himself? As if to answer her own question, thousands of ideas slammed through her head – none of them pleasant to contemplate.

"There we are!" he crowed, turning back to Irene as he tested his arm to ensure its stability. "Ow. A few muscle tears here and there… but what's a slight tear, after all? Ow. I tell you, it pays to know how to rearrange your bones at will…"

Irene felt her heart sink, dragging her features down with it. He wasn't going to even let her out of his sight long enough for her to arm herself…

"Now, what's with the sad face, hmm?" he asked. His tone held fatherly concern, yet his features told a different tale. "I'm okay… You're okay… We're all okay! So smile, darn ya!"

Irene felt only sheer, unrelenting terror, but managed to muster a vague smirk, hoping it would appease the nightmare before her.

"There we are… See? I think you'll find smiling through a bad situation always helps. Why else would I do it so often?" He rested a hand on her shoulder, chuckling softly and giving a smile of his own that meant to be winning, but looked quite the opposite. "Now… where's my darling, demented little Harley Quinn, hmm…?"

He turned again and resumed wrapping his head, this time peering around for, presumably, the girl passed out on Irene's couch. Irene wasted not a bit of time in her quiet, quick trek to the desk drawer. The whole time she traveled, she prayed he'd stay turned, stay inattentive, stay unaware…

As soon as she made it, Irene grabbed the drawer, yanked it open, and pulled the pistol out. She watched the Joker stalk impatiently towards the poor, unconscious girl, quietly praying he didn't undo all the life-saving work she'd done on her…

"Harley, Harley, Ha-ha-Harley… Wake up, sweetheart… Wake up or daddy's going to have to hurt you…"

No response came from the incapacitated harlequin. Not even his attempts to shake her awake fazed her.

"Useless!" he sighed dramatically, his hands flinging into the air in exaggeration. "Ow. So difficult to find good help these days… Wouldn't you say s-"

He was facing her now, his speech halting upon viewing the pistol in Irene's trembling hands.

"Oh… Oh, now that is hysterical…"

And his laughter echoed dissonantly in the tense air, adding yet more layers of fear to Irene's already frazzled nerves.

"Whoa, Nurse Nightingale's packing!" he cracked. "I'll tell you something – some days you're the lamppost and some days you're the car!"

"S-stay back or I'll shoot!" she cried, astonished at how pitiful her voice sounded. "I… Y-you're both staying right here; I'm calling Arkham, I-"

"Um, no," he murmured, thoroughly unimpressed with her faux show of courage. "No. No, you won't shoot…"

He began towards her yet again, this time with no intention of stopping as he quietly dared her to do something, anything.

"And you won't call Arkham, either. Because, darling, if you so much as lay a finger on your phone, you'll find yourself quite dead before anyone ever answers…"

Irene squeaked in fear, waving the gun in a panic and trying desperately not to have a nervous breakdown as he came ever closer to her. Her hands trembled sadly; she wanted to cry…

"P-Please don't make me shoot you!"

And astonishingly, he was right. She didn't want to shoot him; she couldn't shoot him. She was much too afraid to aim for anything lethal – she didn't even stand a chance of hurting him, let alone killing him…

"Put the gun down," he threatened, pushing the barrel of the pistol so it aimed harmlessly between his feet. "Put it down now. You're not going to shoot anybody with poor aim like that…"

The Joker's tone so promised danger that Irene complied, dropping the gun mere inches from his feet. He unceremoniously kicked it, sending it skittering across the carpet and into the far wall. His eyes positively glowed with malevolence; his rictus grin bore the triumph of a wolf's over a downed deer…

Irene burst into tears, sobbing uncontrollably. This whole ordeal was turning into a nightmare, a nightmare she couldn't awaken. She just wanted to save a life, not lose hers!

A hand slammed hard across her face, leaving a stinging red mark in its wake.

"Shut up!"

She complied, allowing the tears to roll silently down her cheeks.

"There's a good girl…" her assailant muttered smoothly. "Oh, don't cry… there, there…"

His hand petted her face gently, as if consoling a lover, and the idea of it only made her cry more. He tilted her face up to meet his eyes, ignoring her pleas for mercy.

"Now… There's two things you're going to do for me, and you're going to do them without so much as a peep. One, you're going to splint Harley's damn leg and make sure she's drugged; I'm not listening to her whine all the way home. Two, you're going to keep all this quiet – think of it as our little secret… Not a soul needs to know about it, including this."

Irene felt terror surge through her in a fresh wave. What was he going to do to her now?

"W-what… W-what do you mean…?"

"This."

And he grasped her suddenly and harshly, drawing her close and pinning her against himself in a sinister embrace. And for some inexplicable reason that made sense only to him, he began to waltz around the room with her, humming some made-up, off-key tune under his breath the whole while.

Irene grew confused. What in the Hell was he doing? Something that would end in a nasty surprise, she figured…

He spun her around once, twice, thrice before again pulling her close and lowering her into an abrupt dip, his face uncomfortably close to hers.

"You saved my life back there, Nurse Nightingale…" His voice was a whisper of hot breath into her ear; his eyes danced with mad glee. "I mean that, truly. But breathe one word of tonight to anyone, and you'll easily find yourself six feet under. The question is, though… will you actually be dead?"

And he released her, cackling wildly as she fell flat onto her back.

"Go fix her leg," he said dispassionately, nodding in Harley's direction. "And don't you dare follow me…"

The next few minutes were a blur. Irene quietly and securely splinted Harley's leg, but she'd woken up shrieking in pain right in the middle of setting the wounded limb, and Irene had to have her bite on a washcloth to help her concentrate. It didn't help that she insisted on moving the whole time, nearly kicking Irene in the face once or twice, but eventually she got the leg set and properly splinted. Snippets of conversation floated down the hallway; the Joker seemed to be speaking to someone via cell phone. Harley kept complaining about the pain in her leg; Irene gave her some extra strength Ibuprofen to dull the pain and left her alone.

After what felt like hours later, the Joker returned to the living room, collapsing lankily onto the recliner.

"Ugh, good help," he complained, rubbing his temples in irritation. "So hard to find…"

At this point, Harley gave an excited squeak like an overjoyed mouse, her expression that of a child's on Christmas Eve.

"Mista J!" she squealed excitedly. "Yer alive!"

"Shut up, of course I'm alive," he snapped, glowering at her. "Can you walk?"

"I'd really rather she didn't," Irene mumbled sheepishly, contemplating her feet. "I mean, for her own good… That leg's not quite strong enough yet…"

The Joker rolled his eyes and stood, groaning in exasperation.

"Might as well as carry her to the car," he sighed, striding over to Harley gracefully. "I don't need her crippled; then she'd be even more useless. Oh well… Up we go, dearest!"

He gathered his long arms under her back and thighs, gently lifting the wounded harlequin like some strange knight carrying an equally absurdist maiden. Harley threw her arms about his neck and sighed contentedly, muttering something about "Puddin'," and in this odd fashion the strange couple left, the door sliding shut behind them. Irene had to admit, it did look oddly romantic to watch them leave like that – if in an absurd, vaudevillian way.

Not five minutes later, a small something slid beneath the door; what appeared to be a playing card.

Curious, Irene wandered to the door and picked up the card – a joker, unlike any she'd seen from any deck before. The clown printed there leered silently at her a moment before she flipped it over. Printed on the red back was a note, scribbled in a surprisingly elegant, if flamboyant, hand:

Nightingale –

You live for now. May need you again in future.
Expect blood; hope you aren't squeamish!
Thinking of you on my next crime spree. Sure
to be loads of fun! Remember to smile
really pretty for me!
– J

A car squealed off somewhere into the dark Gotham night, its engine roaring with impunity. It was one in the morning on a chill autumn night, and in the middle of her living room, Irene White quietly questioned if she had really done the right thing…