A/N- Wow. Um, okay. Long, long wait. I apologize to anyone who may have thought I'd abandoned this story. I haven't. In fact, save for like three chapters' worth, I have this entire thing outlined. So, why did it take so long for me to get back? Let me explain. I moved back to my hometown. Was jobless for about six months after that. Got a job. My mother passed away. Found out I was pregnant with my first baby. Had a little boy just this past August (happy and healthy, btw). Went back to work after six weeks. Got promoted at the end of October to Frontline Manager. And on top of all that, I've been wrapped up in livejournal fanfiction challenges, my original fiction, and so on. … I think that about covers it. But, to reiterate: I haven't abandoned this fic. It's just on a weird rotational with everything else in my life. Now, on with the show.
Chapter 17- Where the Lines Overlap
Giles had his glasses pushed slightly up, rubbing the bridge of his nose so fiercely that Willow was sure that just a bit more pressure and he might break it. But, she really could not blame his frustration. Even Xander, who sometimes had an unprecedented amount of patience, was standing in the corner, looking like he was about to lose it. Willow, from her place across the metal table that was bolted to the floor, leaned forward, a forced grin on her face.
"Miss Quinn, we really need you to focus for us," she said.
Harleen Quinzel, known partner in crime and girlfriend of the Joker, bounced in her chair. Her blonde locks were pulled back in puffy pigtails, and she was busy smacking away on a piece of pink bubblegum. She was the very picture of girlish fun, despite the fact that the redheaded witch knew that she held a doctorate in psychology.
Her bright smile flipped into a deep frown as she shook her head at Willow.
"Just so I can rat on Mistah J? No doin', Miss Rosenberg," Harley said, holding her head up with her eyes closed, like a child refusing a spoonful of veggies.
Willow ran a hand through her hair, noticing that Giles was doing the same thing. With pursed lips, she dropped her hands much faster than necessary. Xander, from his place in the corner, spoke up.
"We just need to know where he is. We're not going to hurt him, promise."
Harley let out a loud "Ha!" and huffed. "Oh really? I bet the Bat put you up to this! You know, he's done that before."
Giles arched a brow. "H-he's sent in civilians to speak with you?"
"What? No. He's used my knowledge of my puddin' to catch him. Totally tricked me. Told me he wasn't gonna hurt him either. Well, I can tell you how that turned out."
And this was how it had been from the moment they had gotten the woman—still in her straight jacket for obvious safety reasons, according to the orderlies. A flat refusal to give them anything on the Joker. It had been a total waste of twenty—Willow looked at her watch—thirty minutes. It was clear that it was pressing on everyone's minds. Every minute spent here, which could very much be a dead end, was another minute Dawn was with him. And possibly dead.
Willow pushed the thought away at the same time she decided that she was going to try a different approach. She slapped her hands down on the table, hard, and shoved herself to her feet. She leaned in close to Quinn, who was crossing her eyes to gaze at the witch.
"We need information about the Joker now!" Willow demanded.
Harley blinked. Her gaze slid to the side, catching Giles and Xander briefly, before returning to Willow.
"Or what?" she asked, seeming genuinely curious. "What are a little waif of a girl, a dweeb, and a dweeb in a tweed jacket gonna do to me?"
Willow sighed and fell back into her seat, head in her hands. To an extent, she was right. Willow couldn't very well threaten her with magic without a demonstration. But that ran the chance of an orderly entering at the wrong time. They couldn't take that chance—or waste that time.
"Look here," Giles said, "do you know where the Joker is or not, Dr. Quinzel?"
She shrugged. "Maybe I do. Maybe I don't."
Willow rolled her eyes. "We don't have time for this. Look at me, Harley."
The shock of such a blunt statement made the insane woman do just as Willow had said. It only took a second of holding the woman's gaze before Willow felt her own eyes flash. All the jumbled thoughts of Harley's mind flew through hers in the matter of moments, without Harley being one bit aware. Most of her thoughts seemed to be about the Joker in some shape, form, or fashion. Which would be useful if Willow wasn't in such a hurry for specific information. Finally, she stumbled across it. A recent thought, one of confusion.
She had no idea where the Joker was. And she was quite worried about him, since the last news report on him was his escape with his hostage. She was also a bit jealous that the hostage was a young girl, and she wondered if the Joker was interested in his kidnapped orderly. Willow broke the connection and sighed.
"She doesn't know anything," she said, standing and knocking on the door.
Xander stepped out from the corner as the nearest guard and orderly combination allowed the three to exit as they began to collect a dizzied Quinn. Xander watched as the dazed woman was led away. He jabbed a finger behind him in Harley's direction as he asked Willow, "She gonna be okay?"
Willow waved her hand nonchalantly. "She'll be fine. Dizziness is a common side effect of a mind reading so direct."
"So, she knew nothing of the Joker's location?" Giles asked as they three of them checked their visitor passes with the receptionist at the end of the wing.
"Nothing," Willow groaned. "All of that, and we're still no closer to finding Dawn."
They had lowered their voices, stopping just feet in front of the desk that the receptionist sat behind. Xander shook his head.
"So… now what?"
Giles took a deep breath, releasing it slowly.
"Sadly… I don't know," he said.
"Harley was our best shot," Willow added. "I mean, unless we break into the Gotham City Police Department and light up the bat signal."
"That!" Xander said, pointing at his friend. "Can't we do that? Why can't we do that? Batman is our next best shot! Everyone knows that nobody's better at catching that clown better than him."
"Oh, yes, Xander. We'll do just bloody that and get ourselves arrested. That's a good way to remain below radar!" Giles snapped.
Xander raised his hands defensively. "I'm just trying to think outside of the box here."
Giles sighed as he phone began to ring. "I know," He pulled the phone from his pocket and added, "It's from headquarters. Excuse me."
As the Watcher stepped away, Willow crossed her arms. She glanced around the dim front lobby of the asylum. She ended with another shake of her head.
"I really don't know what to do next, Xander."
"And… still no Key-like feelings in your magic? Dawn's… okay?"
Willow nodded. "Alive, yes. 'Okay' is really a different question."
Both of the Scoobies fell silent at that. Willow turned after a moment, more of a jerk than a turn, toward the hall they had just walked up.
"You would think, in a place full of crazies, that someone would know something about Dawn!" she hissed.
"Then… then maybe this isn't a dead end, Will. Maybe Arkham is exactly where we need to start."
The witch turned to her longtime friend. "What do you mean?"
He shrugged. "Well, it might sound like I've been watching a lot of crime shows lately, but this is the scene of the crime. This is where Joker escaped from. Where he nabbed Dawn from. And where Dawn worked at for a little while. Odds are… there's something here we can use."
Willow pursed her lips. Xander was right, it did sound like he had been spending a few hours in their rec room back home, watching CSI. But he had a point. Actually, he had several. The sound of soft footsteps brought Willow's attention to the returning Giles. The Watcher slipped his phone back inside his jacket, a sad look pulling at his face.
"What is it?" Xander asked.
"It's Buffy. That was one of our slayers on the phone. Buffy's condition is worsening even faster now. Time is running out, and both Dawn and the cure are out of our reach."
"Maybe not," Willow said.
"What do you mean?"
Willow and Xander explained their train of thought, which ended with Giles looking a bit more brightened.
"Of course. Well done, Xander. There must be something we can get out of this place, and this people, about Dawn."
Causing a bolt of shock to go through all three of the Scoobies, a deep voice from the shadows added, "I agree."
Stock-still, they watched as Nightwing, dressed in his black one-piece suit adorned with only an electric-blue bird, stepped into the light.
How many abandoned buildings were there in Gotham? It seemed to take Joker no time at all to find another one, right on the opposite side of town—Dawn guessed—from where they had been. Thinking vaguely on the economic conditions of Gotham, the Key was ushered from the vehicle at gunpoint.
Joker lost no time in grabbed her roughly by the arm, leading her into the large, former-factory. It was dark, and Joker lugged and shoved her about—gun in his other hand, of course—as he searched for the toggle that would turn on the lights. Dawn doubted that electricity would still be running to the building, but once again, both the Joker and Gotham surprised her as the clown found exactly what he was searching for and the fluorescents flickered to life.
There were still bits of furniture in the middle of the floor. Old metal chairs and desks, not to mention the actual conveyor belts still circling the perimeter of the room. Joker pushed her into the nearest chair, and she landed hard, an "oomph" falling from her lips. The Clown Prince then grabbed up another chair, pulling it up and leveling the gun at Dawn. She held up her hands defensively.
"Hey, hey! Remember our deal? I'm on your side," she gently reminded the madman.
Joker's grin stretched even further. "Yes, Dawnie, I also remember just how trustworthy you can be on your end of promises. So, I want to know every little teeny tidbit about Billy Cane that you know, or I'll leave you smiling for the Bat."
Dawn swallowed, hard. She nodded.
"Okay. B-but, it's not much. I had never even heard of him until he poisoned Buffy."
Joker huffed out a cackle. "Buffy? Who's that?"
Her lips pursed. "My sister. My dying sister."
"This 'Chosen One' or whatever that Billy mentioned… is named Buffy? Oh, oh!" Joker said, laughing so hard that he was actually gripping his sides with his free hand. "That's rich!"
Dawn crossed her arms. "Anyway. The only other things I know about Cane is that he's a dark magician, specializing in potions, who ran to Gotham. He created the poison that's killing Buf—my sister. And the acid that made you the way you are now is the cure to that poison. And you're the only one—the only thing—still connected to it. It's in your blood. And now, on top of learning that he wants to use me to create some crazy-ass poison, we both know exactly the same things about him."
Joker eyed the girl for a moment, and Dawn found his frozen grin even more unnerving. She fidgeted under the stare of both the clown and his gun, waiting for him to speak. But after what seemed like an eternity, she gave in to desperation.
"Cane can't be allowed to win," she all but pleaded.
Joker chuckled low. "I don't know, chicka. Creating poisons that are magic? Sounds like a good time."
Dawn's heartbeat was beginning to hurt. It felt like the organ was trying to bust right out of her chest. Her little deal with this sociopath was heading south, fast. Joker was the type to throw anybody to the wolves if it meant his good time being had, anyone could see that after just a few moments with him. She needed him, as much as it bothered her, to be on her side.
"I don't know how to do that. And neither do you," she pointed out plainly.
"Oh, but surely, Dawnie girl," Joker said, standing and moving closer to circle her like a vulture, "surely, with your little gifts, you must know someone who does."
She could feel that Joker did not believe this. He circled back around her chair, grinning like the crazy that he was. Of course, he was always grinning like that.
"Really?" he asked, his gun coming back into the picture.
"Cane will kill you, Joker. He'll kill you, and he'll kill me, and we'll both be played like fiddles. Is that what you want, just so you can have a little fun?"
That seemed to reach him. He dropped the gun, shrugging.
He put his back to her, humming some tune Dawn did not know, as he began to search through the other random items left behind in the factory. Meanwhile, stuck to the chair she sat in by nothing but her own weariness, Dawn felt a stone-like weight growing in the pit of her stomach.
It was amazing just how fast her plans were beginning to deteriorate.
End Notes: Well, that's that chapter. What did you think? I hope it was worth the wait. I'll try to make it back around to this one a bit sooner than I have been. Until then, read and review, please!
Fun Fact: Last chapter's title was inspired by Styx's "The Grand Illusion."