Crane was carefully applying pressure to Harley's cut with a dry cloth as she leaned against the arm of his old couch. She would wince her face when she felt the stinging sensation and Mike sat at the small table in the attached kitchen and watched the doctor mend her wound. He would catch Harley's glances and he noticed that her eyes were wide with both shock and sadness.
"He didn't pierce too deeply, Harley," Crane muttered as he worked, now applying small drops of peroxide onto her shoulder as she sniffed.
"Thank you, Jonathan," she whispered, and placed her face in her folded arms. "It was...terrifying...he's...he's never done that to me before..."
Crane sneered at her naivety and shook his head. "I guarantee, my dear...that if you go back to him, he may do worse..."
"It doesn't matter," she said. "He's coming to get me; I know...I gave him this address."
"What?" said Crane, nervously.
"Well, he did beat it out of me," Harley replied through gritted teeth.
Mike kicked at the floor with his shoes and finally stood up to join them at the sofa. "And you, Mikey," he heard Harley's voice say. "If he finds you, you're dead."
"What about you?" Mike asked her. "You left, too."
"Yeah...but I didn't hit him with a frying pan."
Crane snickered. "How cliché, Michael."
"What was I supposed to do, Harl?" Mike demanded. "Just let him beat you into a pulp? Jesus, when I came in, he was raping you!"
Crane suddenly stopped wrapping her wound and he snarled, "Raped you?"
"He..." Harley slowly sat upright. "He wasn't...I mean, he didn't..."
"There's no way around it, Harley," Mike told her. "He was holding you down and having his way with--"
"Stop it!" she shrieked, covering her ears. She jumped up from the sofa and walked to the window, staring out into the early morning darkness. "He was...just so angry at me...I shouldn't have lied to him..." She sighed and wiped her perspiring brow. "I deserved it."
Crane's eyes grew wide and he stepped over to her. "Deserved what?" he asked softly. "The kick in the ribs? The welts on your back? The forced sex? He could have killed you, Harley..."
"He wouldn't do that!" she declared, turning to face her friend. "It's just...he...he had a bad job tonight; he was already sore about it and I didn't make things better by--"
"Harley! Snap out of it!" Crane yelled. "Are you listening to yourself? You're defending a maniac who just tried to carve his name into you! Why are you denying what happened?"
"I'm not denying it," Harley said, calmly. "I'm accepting it."
Mike's jaw dropped. "Accepting it?"
"It's what I get...for breaking his trust...for lying to him and for insulting him..." she explained as she sat on the sofa again. "Mikey?" she said, looking at the rookie as he walked over to her. "If there's anyone that needs to leave town, it's you. I know Mistah J; he doesn't take too kindly to defiance...especially in the form of a frying pan to the face."
Crane once again snickered and rolled his eyes. He sat next to Harley and put his arm around her back, carefully. "You're not actually considering...going back to him, are you?"
She sighed. "Where else can I go, Johnny? My family has practically shut me out and I don't have any money to move. I'm stuck...I made the choice months ago when he escaped from Arkham and I followed. And if he comes to take me back, I'll gladly go...no matter what the outcome of it...I deserve it."
Suddenly, a loud sound from downstairs, like that of a door being kicked in, echoed up the stairs. Crane jumped and walked to his door and peered through the peephole, and his heart began to pound in anger when he saw The Joker following his henchman. His gloved hand pounded a loud knocking on the wooden door and Harley closed her eyes when he heard his voice eerily speak, "Open the door, Crane..."
Harley pulled on The Joker's coat as she looked over at Crane, who was standing still. "Johnny..." she whispered, but when she saw him not make a move for the doorknob, she demanded again, "Jonathan...open the door..."
He looked into her beautiful eyes and, although the sad hue in them made him angrier, he quietly obeyed her wish and stepped back as The Joker walked into the efficiency, leaving Bobby to stand at the doorway.
The Joker stopped in front of his host and his brow instantly furrowed in anger. "Crane..." he growled.
"Clown..." Crane snarled back at him.
The Joker held his gaze for a few more seconds, but then slowly walked to the sofa where Harley was sitting looking straight ahead of her. He looked down at her small frame as she wrapped herself with his big coat. He sighed when he saw that she wasn't going to look at him, but he knew she was being cautious, and he was grateful.
He blamed the strange feeling inside him, but he was unsure of how he would react if he looked into her pitiful eyes.
The Joker turned and met Mike's gaze and he licked his lips as he narrowed his eyes at him. "Bobby..." he addressed his henchman at the door.
"Yeah, Boss?" he replied quietly.
"Take Mike and Harley downstairs," he said. "I need to have a talk with...Dr. Crane here..."
Mike's gaze dropped to Harley, who didn't comply, but The Joker noticed this and said to her, in a deep voice, "Harley...go downstairs..."
She slowly stood up, lifted her first aid bag, and walked to the door, not turning to look at him as she met Bobby at the door, Mike following quickly behind her. The Joker sniffed as he called to Bobby, "Don't let them leave, Bob..."
Bobby and Mike looked at each other, as if they were trying to convince the other to act defiantly. "Sure, Boss..." Bobby answered, and escorted the two downstairs to the cars waiting outside.
The door shut behind them, leaving The Joker and Crane glowering at one another. Crane stayed by the door as his opponent stepped closer, stopping only a few feet from him. He cleared his throat and said, "I know...what you think of me, Crane. I know...what others think of me...what they call me..."
Crane smirked. "You're a monster," he finished his thought.
"Exactly," The Joker said, pointing at him. "I'm a monster, because of what I've done to supposed...innocent...people...of what I want to do to this city...but that's not the real me. Deep down, I'm a normal guy..."
Crane tilted his head, intrigued. "Really now?"
"I'm normal...when it comes to what's mine...Harley, for instance..."
"You don't own her," Crane said.
The Joker had a sense of deja vu but shook his head. "Ah, but you see...I do, actually. I'm the one that showed her...who she truly is, what she was meant to be. And it's because of who she became, that I claimed her. She is mine because I cared enough to listen to her wants...her needs...and I comply, happily." He stepped closer and said, "So, forgive my normality when I get just a bit ticked off...when another man tries to take what's mine..."
"What are you talking about?"
"Don't play stupid, Crane!" The Joker yelled. "She told me what happened here. Thought you could steal a little kiss from my Harley?"
Crane narrowed his eyes and grinned. "So...that's why you threw a little tantrum? Is that what merited Harley a beating on the back?"
"No, no...that had nothing to do with it. Little domestic spat, is all. But...you and I need to have a little discussion about boundaries..." His growl sent slight chills down Crane's neck, but he stood his ground.
The Joker put his hands on his hips as he glared darkly at Crane. "I remember all the sick things you used to tell me about Harley...in the asylum...about your tainted little desires."
Crane gulped. "I don't know what you mean..."
"Oh," he chuckled. "You know perfectly well...you may have been able to...talk about that all you wanted...but now, she's with me. And I want respect...not just for me, but for her." He paused as the angry glare grew deeper into his face. "You forced yourself on her...just like Nigma did in her office..."
Crane put a hand in front of him. "Slow down, Joker. I would never do what Nigma did to her. What he did was deplorable! Much like what you just did to her...you forced her, too, you know..."
"Like I said, Crane," The Joker growled. "Boundaries..."
"I'll admit: I stole a kiss, as you put it...but she hated it. She was distraught; don't ask me why," he scoffed. "Of all the men that beautiful creature could have chosen...who would've thought that she would become your Harley?"
The Joker's grin slowly crept across his face as he replied, "I think the same thing every...single...day."
Crane stared, dumbstruck at the gentle tone of his voice, but snapped out of it when The Joker suddenly shot toward him and wrapped his gloved hand around his neck, slamming him against the wall. He took a deep breath and snarled at him, "I don't know how you got her number, but I'm changing it."
"What do you want, Clown?" Crane asked, slightly choking underneath his firm grip.
"An apology," he simply stated. "For doing what you did to her."
"All this...for a kiss?"
The Joker frowned. "No...it's more than that. You see...you did force her...she lied to me."
He dropped Crane from his grasp and he coughed to catch his breath. "Fine, Joker. I'm sorry...I...wasn't a gentleman."
The Joker gave him a sideways glance then shrugged his shoulders. "Eh, good enough."
He began to walk to the door, but stopped when Crane shouted, "You don't deserve her, Clown!"
The Joker licked his lips and turned to him, saying, "You don't think I know that?"
He finally walked out the door, leaving Crane with a realization of his true self, and he knew that, as a fellow patient and as a man, The Joker could trust him with what he just shared.
"Bob!" The Joker said as he stepped outside to find his henchman standing by the old Cadillac, Mike at the wheel and Harley in the front seat. Bobby trotted over to him and he ordered, "I'm gonna hitch a ride with these two. Why don't you go home?"
Bobby blinked in disbelief, but soon nodded. "Yeah, Boss." He looked back at Mike and Harley before slowly walking to the car and soon he was pulling into the icy street as The Joker got into Mike's car, taking a seat behind him.
"Drive," he commanded.
Mike gulped and Harley glanced nervously at him as he submitted to his order.
Minutes later, they pulled into the lot of the old theatre and Mike turned off the ignition. Harley could feel her eyes begin to water again when she heard The Joker shuffle into his pocket and take out his pistol. "Harley..." he said softly.
She licked her lips. "Yes...Mistah J?"
"Go inside...and go to bed.."
She looked at Mike then quickly looked at The Joker and tried to plead, "Puddin'..."
"Harley," he said again. "Say good night to Mike...and go upstairs."
She gave their driver a pitiful look and whispered, "Good night...Mikey..."
He looked back at her. "Good night...Miss Quinn," he replied as a tear rolled down Harley's cheek.
She quickly jumped out of the car and limped inside, and when she got upstairs to the bedroom, she closed the blinds of the window tightly and threw herself on the bed. She sobbed into her pillow, hoping her cries would block out the impending gunshot.
Back in the car, Mike's heart began to pound as the silence was broken by the cocking of the gun in The Joker's hand. His sudden sigh made him jump. "You, uh...you hit me pretty hard there, Mikey..." he said.
The rookie didn't reply as his tongue appeared to be glued to the roof of his mouth.
"Do you know why...I let you be alone with Harley?" The Joker asked.
Mike could only shake his head, and The Joker continued, "Because...you recognize...that I trust you around her. That you wouldn't do anything to compromise your work relationship with that of your feelings for her..."
"Boss, I don't feel anything for her--" Mike started to say, but The Joker interrupted him.
"Shut up!" He placed the tip of his gun into the back of his neck. "You must have some feelings, Mikey...some tiny little speck of sentiment for Harley...why else would you attack me like you did?" When the rookie didn't respond, he took the gun out of his neck and un-cocked it, placing it in his pocket. "Although you hurt me...and you did, Mikey Boy, you hurt me really bad...I'm gonna go against my priciples...and forget what happened."
Mike's eyes grew wide as his breath came back to him. "Thanks, Boss..."
"No, no, Mikey. You've proven to me that you would protect my girl while I'm not around...now, go home."
"What?" Mike asked, surprised.
The Joker smirked and shook his head. "Go home, Rook. I'm taking the day off..." With that, he got out of the car and, when he saw his boss go inside the theatre, Mike started the car again and sped off into the street.
When The Joker went into the bedroom, he found that Harley had stripped herself of clothing and had gotten under the thin satin sheet. He walked closer to her and turned on the lamp on her bedside table, and he saw the red welts across her back that were interwoven with small bruises. He reached into her first aid bag, took out a tube of cooling antibiotic and pulled the sheet away from her, making her flinch awake.
"Don't touch me..." she whispered, angrily. However, he took off his gloves and began to administer the ointment on her back, making her whimper in pain but also making her muscles relax as he rubbed her. She didn't look him in the eye when she asked, "Why'd you kill him?"
The Joker kept applying the cream and said, "I didn't. I gave him the day off..."
Harley lifted her head, but still didn't turn to him. "You did? Why?"
"Hold still, baby..." he said, calmly as he popped open a cold pack and placed it under her ribs where he had kicked her.
She finally looked at him and he saw new tears stream down her cheeks. "Why are you doing this?"
He held a somber expression. "Because you're hurt..."
"Just go away..." she said before laying her head back on her pillow.
He sighed as he stood up and wiped the excess ointment from his hands onto his slacks. The Joker picked up his pillow and turned off her lamp, and said as he closed the bedroom door to go to his study, "Good night, Harley."
Later, after dawn peaked over the Gotham City skyline, Harley finally got out of bed, groaning in pain as she got up and put on her robe. She went into the bathroom and looked at the bruise under her ribs, and she noticed that the burning in her back was slowly leaving her. She limped out of the bedroom and went to The Joker's study, stopping at the door when she found that it was ajar.
She peeked in and saw he was lying on his back on the sofa and staring at the ceiling. She didn't know why she knocked on his door, but she was relieved when he lifted his head and their eyes met and he grinned at her. "Come in, doll," he muttered.
Harley went inside and closed the door behind her, walking to the sofa. The Joker sat up and patted the space beside him, and an awkward silence followed when she took a seat.
He rubbed his hands between his knees and soon cleared his throat, "Sleep alright?"
"Not really," she replied. She gulped back the tears that were forming in her eyes again as she felt his hand cup her thigh. She shut her eyes and sighed. "Mistah J?"
"Yeah?" he whispered, stroking her skin with his thumb.
"Do you...love me?"
His thumb stopped caressing her leg and instead of answering, he moved closer to her and pulled her into his lap. She winced as his arm embraced her back and she was made bend her waist to adjust to his hold. "Baby..." he started. "You've asked me that before..."
"And you never answered me..." she pointed out. "I know; I betrayed you. I lied to you...and I'm sorry. Please forgive me..." The tears left her eyes once again and he wiped her cheeks with his cold hands. "I couldn't sleep, Mistah J. I was scared that you...hated me for what I did..."
"Harley...I don't...I don't hate you...would I keep you around if I hated you?" he said, putting his lips to her forehead. "I couldn't sleep either."
"No?" she asked, looking at him. "Why not?"
"I don't know. I was left with my thoughts. It was like I was in The Box again. It was quiet...all I could hear was...nothing...not even your breathing..."
"You should have stayed with me..."
"You told me to leave you alone. You were angry with me."
Harley began to sob. "No...no! I wasn't..."
"You were, and it's okay..." The Joker assured her. "You were upset about...what happened...everything."
He held her close as she cried, and she finally wiped her eyes and said, "You still didn't answer me..."
"Puddin', please!" she begged. "I wanna know...how do you really feel about me?"
The Joker sighed, really not knowing how to answer her. After what he did to her and when he saw her willingness to come back to him, it confused him as to why this fragile woman ended up crying in his arms, begging for his forgiveness.
"Puddin'..." she sighed. "If you cared for me, then you wouldn't...you wouldn't..."
He suddenly cupped her chin with his hand and gazed into her blue eyes, now shining at him. He took a deep breath and leaned into her ear and whispered his answer to her, making a small grin grow onto her bruised face.
The Joker came back to look at her, the same expression on his lips. He moved a strand of hair out of her eyes as she asked, "Ya mean it...Mistah J?"
He chuckled and kissed her gently. "Of course I do. Trust me."
By the way, I hope you paid attention in this final chapter as it talks about an event that is going to happen in Painted Faces. ;-)