Author's Note: Written for the livejournal batfic_contest prompt "Swan Song" in more than 500 words; first posted there on 25 May 2010.
"Swans are actually pretty big, aren't they Puddin'…" Harley observed as she gazed at the groups of majestic birds gliding silently across the lake.
"That depends on your frame of comparison." The Joker replied, staring out at the water through a combination of binoculars he'd borrowed from an eager-to-oblige birdwatcher further along the lake and an over-sized pair of sunglasses serving as a basic disguise. "Swans are smaller than a blue whale. Or an elephant. Or an average-sized district hospital."
"I guess so," Harley conceded, flopping down on the grassy bank with a huff, "but we're not tryin' to grab any of those things and bundle them into the back of an SUV. They've got a vicious, we'd-eat-you-if-we-had-teeth look about them. I bet they could still take your arm off if you got close enough."
She fanned herself with the Book of North American Birds thatthe Joker had liberated along with the binoculars, glad this low-key daytime trip hadn't required her usual 'working clothes'. On a blisteringly hot day like this she was sweltering enough in denim cut-offs and a cute tee shirt advertising a brand of Japanese cupcakes; a trip to the park covered from head-to-toe in spandex and greasepaint would have been significantly less fun.
Then again this trip wasn't exactly hitting a ten on the fun-o-meter yet either.
"C'mon Puddin'" she wheedled, "don't you want to enjoy the park for a bit before we go swan-nappin'?" She tried fluttering her eyelashes in his oblivious direction. "We could ride the swings together? Or just sit in the shade and eat ice creams?"
"The whole point of coming out here was to get the swans, not to dilly-dally on children's play equipment." Joker returned the binoculars to his jacket pocket, seemingly unaffected by the heat in a full suit and broad-brimmed hat. "Although I have nothing against ice creams once the swans are safely strapped in and watching a Spongebob DVD in the back of the car. Or Transformers, or whatever the previous occupants sticky-fingered offspring had in that entertainment system. I'm sure swans like animated sea creatures and killer robots."
Joker produced a set of plans and notes from another pocket and looked over them thoughtfully. His only concession to 'low-key' had been to wear a bottle green suit rather than the usual vivid purple he favoured, but from the lack of police sirens heading in their direction it seemed to be working quite effectively. That or Gotham's populace just refused to believe they were seeing the Joker bird watching in the middle of the park in broad daylight.
"We can't leave the swans in the car on a hot day!" Harley protested. "They're probably like dogs; they'd overheat. Can't we just get ice creams now?" She clasped her hands together in a pleading gesture. "Pretty please?"
Joker turned and gave her what she could tell was a burning look behind the mirror of the sunglasses. "I think my little pumpkin pie should quit complaining – you're always saying I don't take you anywhere nice, and here we are out in Robinson Park on a horrifying sunny afternoon amongst crowds of Gotham's great unwashed," he waved at the park behind them which was dotted with picnicking families, touch-football games and sunbathing office workers grabbing an extended lunch break. "What more could you ask for?"
"We haven't got a picnic basket," Harley replied, a touch of sulkiness creeping into her voice. "Or a pretty red-and-white checked blanket to sit on."
She saw his jaw tense and instantly regretted her comments. "That was very much intended as a rhetorical question, Harl."
"What we're doin' is good too, though," she quickly added, shrinking back slightly. "Out by the lake, watchin' the giant killer birds and plottin' how to catch them – it's fun! What gal wouldn't want to go swan-huntin' with her man?"
Apparently accepting this, Joker turned back to the water. "I don't think that tiny butterfly net you brought is going to cut it though. You might just about fit a swan's head in it, but that about all."
Harley picked up her net and waved it like a jouster's staff. "The pet store didn't have any swan-size nets Puddin'!"
"We should have borrowed some of Arkham's comfortable and stylish straitjackets; that would've sorted them. Or maybe some of Batsy's fancy-schmancy gadgets." Joker gave a snort of dismissive laughter. "I bet he's got a canister of swan knock-out gas on that gadget-belt of his. All those bells and whistles to play with, but such a bore…"
At the mention of Batman Harley gave a tiny sigh, suspecting this could be the start of Mistah J getting lost for a while in his second favourite subject to talk about after himself – which was understandable because he was brilliant, but Batsy was just dull.
She decided to occupy herself in the meantime and rooted through her purse for the bag of stale hot-dog buns she'd brought as 'bait' for the swan-napping project. She wasn't sure swans actually liked hot dog buns, and decided now might be a good time to test it out. Still nodding and agreeing with Mistah J every now and then she tore the stale bread up into little pieces and started throwing it out onto the water. She soon attracted some avian attention.
"Aww, hiya little ducks! You're much less scary that the big ol' mean swans, aren't you?"
"…and if the Dork Knight can't even see the hilarity in that, what hope is there that he'll ever crack a smile?" Joker paused and suddenly seemed to realise that Harley's attention had been drawn elsewhere. "No, no, please carry on ignoring me." He frowned at the crowd of ducks that now pushed and shoved to get closer to where Harley was feeding them. "What are you doing? They don't look much like swans."
"The swans are still all sulking off over there. But d'you really need swans? How's about we get a whole bunch of ducks instead? They're a lot smaller and cuter." She knelt down on the grass and leant further over the edge of the water, throwing a few cubes of bread to the shyer birds at the back. "Look, they're practically eatin' out of my hand!"
"Stop wasting the bait on those freeloaders! Ducks won't do – they're the class clowns of the waterfowl world; no natural dignity." Joker scoffed, waving dismissively at the excited ducks who seemed to think he was throwing them more bread. "Besides which the whole idea of getting swans is for the wider metaphor."
"Is it a Swan Lake thing? Doin' Swan Lake with real swans?" Harley asked, reluctantly putting the bread away. "When I was little I always wanted to see that at the ballet…"
"That's a metaphor a six year old could come up with. Yes the charity performance is of Swan Lake, and yes the be-caped one will no doubt foresee the very obvious sabotage I've got lined up and gatecrash our gatecrashing. And it's then that the real plan is put into action and Batsy will take his final bow on stage in front of all of Gotham's bigwigs and socialites. Saving the show will be Batman's final act…" he paused, giving her the opportunity to jump in. She stared at him blankly.
"His last hurrah?" she guessed. "His last gasp?"
Joker picked up the abandoned Book of North American Birds and swatted the back of her head slightly harder than necessary to get his point across. "What has any of that got to do with swans, nitwit? His swan song! Swan song!"
"Oh. That's really clever Puddin'!" She rubbed the back of her head cautiously. "Do swans actually sing though?"
"What am I, an ornithologist?" he shook his head dismissively. "It won't matter. I've got some tapes of bird song to play from the wings during the final scene when I heroically slay the wicked Bat-creature while the swans lament the passing of all his hopelessly deluded dreams of truth, justice and getting in the way of me expressing my true comic genius."
"Aww, Mistah J your plans are always so…" she struggled to find an appropriate word to fully express her thoughts, "so… really, really well-planned and great, Puddin'."
Always open to praise Joker puffed out his chest slightly and allowed himself a moment to appreciate his own genius, while Harley gave him a minute or two for the compliment to fully sink in.
"So," she started again gingerly "with you being extra-geniusy and all, what's your actual plan for the swan-catchin'?"
"I already told you to get a net." He tutted at the tiny plastic implement. "It's not my fault if you picked one that's more suited to sparrows than swans."
"So what – I'm supposed to just wade in and try to grab one of them then?" she asked incredulously, remembering the evil look she's spotted in their beady black eyes.
"Not one; remember we need a pair," he reminded her blandly. "Try not to use up all your energy and lose both your arms wrestling with the first one."
After a few seconds it dawned on her that Mistah J wasn't joking, which was something she usually found ironic on the rare occasions it happened. This time she was too distracted on wondering how the nice trip to the park was somehow heading for the minus figures on the fun-o-meter.
With a final miserable look in the Joker's direction Harley gave a long-suffering sign and turned back to the lake. She put one foot into the water gingerly, suspecting that the coolness might have been pleasant if it wasn't for the generous quantity of weeds, algae and goodness-knows-what-else lurking in the slightly murky depths. She made an 'eww' face of disgust as the water squelched in to her sneaker and the group of ducks swam away with an angry chorus of quacks. Following it with a second foot and taking several steps away from the bank she was soon up to her knees.
"Mistah J, if the swans eat me can you tell Pammy she can have that half-dead pot plant she gave me for Hanukkah? She'll be mad I didn't take care of it properly, but she might still be able to bring it back to life."
"Sure Harl;" Joker replied absently as he scribbled some further ideas about how best to bring the house down with the big Bat-killing show "tell the weed about the half-dead weed, got it."
As she waded deeper Harley wondered if her death by swan-mauling would being Pammy and Mistah J together in their grief. She suspected that might be slightly optimistic. She also wondered whether it would make the front page of the papers. That was a bit more likely, given the mixture of her criminal past and the bizarre soundbite nature of death-by-swan in the middle of a city park. It was then that she noticed that the groups of swans that had been keeping an eye on them were all steadily moving in the opposite direction towards the centre of the lake.
"Uhh, Puddin'?" she called back across to the bank. "The swans are kinda swimming away… how deep is this lake?"
"What am I, a… lake-studying-person?" Joker shook his head and glanced at his watch. "Well you'll never catch up to them if you're paddling along at that speed. We'll have to turn to plan B and borrow one of the rowboats from the jetty at the other end of the lake."
"There was a plan B?" Harley snapped, gesturing at where she was still standing almost waist-deep in murky water. "A plan B that didn't involve me wadin' into a lake in my new sneakers, gettin' soaked to the skin and covered in lake-yuck?"
"Yes, but it was plan B. You don't go to plan B until you've tried plan A – that's very basic alphabetical sense, pumpkin." Joker raised a warning eyebrow. "And what did I say earlier about being grateful you're out for a nice day at the park? Now you're going to get to lark about on a lake in a rowboat, trying to net some disgruntled swans with a strangely tiny plastic net. I really don't know what you could possibly still be complaining about…"
Author's Note: This ended up as another one of those really quite bizarre ones! I started writing an entry three times, with the first effort being all a bit depressing, angsty and not getting off the ground, and the second along the same lines as this but getting stuck in the "plotting a scheme" stage which seemed a little dull. So I brought them out into a park and it ran away into randomness.
Remember kids: it's not nice to harass swans with butterfly nets or force them to watch Spongebob.