Sweet Inspiration

Author's Note: Written for the livejournal batfic_contest prompt "Crackers" in more than 500 words; first posted there on 24 June 2010.

The burden of trying to bring laughter to Gotham was a heavy one, and since Mistah J had opened her eyes to the cosmic joke of existence Harley had devoted all her energies to trying to smooth out the wrinkles of his day-to-day life. No one with a genius like his, answering such a vital calling, should have to worry about things like arranging health insurance for the hired-help or darning Batarang-tears in suit jackets.

But there were some things that, painful though it was, she just had to accept she couldn't help him with. The first time his comedic inspiration had run dry she'd tried to make a few creative suggestions – delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to his brilliant work. But he had quickly and painfully made it clear that her corny and old-hat ideas were not worth the paper she had keenly drawn them out on. She was wiser now, appreciating how lucky she was to be able to help him 'behind-the-scenes' with the gift of a regular walk-on part in his capers. But there could only be one director and leading light.

Mistah J was stuck in the middle of another dry spell, staying up all hours of the night at his desk trying to glare his half-finished blueprints and notes into submission while she tip-toed around and tried to keep the babies from disturbing him too much. She hated to see him miserable and frustrated, and it even barely raised a chuckle when she accidentally-on-purpose tumbled down the stairs while bringing him a jug of scalding hot coffee. When pratfalls and blisters couldn't make him smile she knew this rut had to be a bad one.

Running out of ideas, Harley had decided to try making a delicious treat to cheer him up. If nothing else it might tempt him to eat – the Cheeto sandwiches she'd left at his elbow around breakfast time were still untouched, and if he got any thinner she'd have to start sneaking maple syrup into the endless cups of coffee that he seemed to exist solely on when he was working.

Harley had recognised long ago that she was not blessed with the genes for culinary brilliance, but she had chosen to focus what talent she did have into concocting colourful treats to satisfy her Puddin''s sweet tooth. Her cream pies might not have been perfect but she made pretty good krispie treats, her cupcakes were always generously frosted and ice cream sundaes were a speciality. This time, though, she felt she had outdone herself.

Jiggly lime Jello, in a shockingly artificial green colour that would rival her Puddin''s handsome flowing locks, was layered with mint-chocolate ice cream in a large sundae glass and dotted with rainbow schools of Goldfish crackers. She'd toyed with trying to construct an empty vat of Joker toxin out of a salt shaker to "float" on the surface in order to complete the dessert diorama, but in the end she'd settled for coating the whole thing in a inch of spray cream topping, chocolate sprinkles and chopped nuts.

The rainbow colours of the fishy crackers all turned slightly murky when viewed through a haze of green Jello, but she could still make out their tiny smiles as they bobbed in Jello-suspension. She stuck a tiny sign reading 'no fishing' into the topping like a jaunty cocktail umbrella and gave a nod of satisfaction. How could Mistah J resist a colourful parfait filled with happy smiling fish?

If this didn't buoy his spirits she was going to have to try accidentally-on-purpose setting fire to her hair or spiking the goons' doughnuts with laxatives, and that could get messy. She crossed her fingers, picked up the sundae glass and headed down to his office with a cheery grin plastered to her face.

The cheerfully tuneless humming was the first warning, and it set his teeth on edge as it grew louder. A flashbulb of an idea struck – the first, seemingly, for several hours: would cutting a person's vocal cords prevent them from humming?

"Knock, knock Puddin'!" Harley chirruped as she bounced down the stairs, unfortunately not collapsing in a crumpled heap at the bottom this time. "I've brought you sustenance!"

Staring fixedly at the blank sheet of paper did not seem to answer his vocal cord query or make Harley go away. He gave a long suffering sigh.

"Good grief woman, you're always trying to feed me up – don't you exhaust all your mothering on those dratted hyenas?" He glanced at the sundae glass balanced on the tray she carried and begrudgingly acknowledged that at least it appeared to contain something palatably sugared and artificially coloured. "What is it anyway/"

"It's a special smiley fish parfait I made for you, to keep your spirits up while you're working so hard." She held the glass up, twirling it as she admired her handiwork. "It's got lots of happy smiling fishes, and the green is supposed to be like your happy gas but in the water. I would have made a smiling octopus too but they don't make octopus shaped crackers. Or sealions. Or even crabs. Maybe there's not a big market for sealife crackers? But the fishes are tasty and cheerful!"

She presented the glass to him proudly and he took it, sniffing it cautiously before spooning out a small amount to try.

"It's edible," he conceded, waiting for any unfortunate side effects to kick in before making further judgement. When none did he accepted that maybe this was one of Harley's rare culinary less-than-complete-disasters. He took another bite and Harley beamed with satisfaction, bouncing on her toes.

"I knew you'd like it Puddin'! I'm gonna call it a Fishy Joker Jello Surprise. There's more Jello left if you want another one later, and I can go out and get more crackers, and maybe some strawberry syrup too..."

Joker rolled his eyes as he tried to collect as many fish as possible onto his spoon. "I said it's edible, not that it's a new dessert-based cure for cancer. And now I'm eating something so stop fussing and take your smothering elsewhere. Shoo, go and dress Bud and Lou up in bonnets and push them around in a pram or something. Some of us have work to be doing."

He watched as she skipped away back up the stairs, mildly disappointed that the sundae had turned out to be tasty enough to not justify tipping it over her head.

It was actually one of the more creative and less burnt-to-a-crisp offerings she had produced from what he hazarded a guess was a kitchen upstairs, and not a small domestic-sized foundry. He held the glass a few inches from his face and wobbled it from side to side, watching as a fish jiggled about inside the Jello and ice cream. Their little smiles were a nice touch – little happy Joker fish.

He ate a few more spoonfuls and picked up his pen, twirling it as he pondered how to get the attention of the lemming-like masses in a way they couldn't ignore. Inside the sundae glass the Joker fish still bobbed back and forth, almost hypnotically. Somewhere in his magnificent and unique brain, disparate synapses fire and connections were formed, with a plan began to coalesce. A plan that would bring a Joker-smile to plates, ponds and ice boxes across Gotham.

"Harley!" he yelled, certain his ignorant assistant wouldn't have strayed too far. "Go and find me two dozen live fish, several tanks to keep them in and whatever books you can get about marine biology. Daddy has some experiments to conduct."

Author's Note: I doubt Harley would get any actual acknowledged credit for inspiring anything, but I think she plays her part in Joker's schemes and plans.

In the UK we don't have proper Goldfish crackers with little smiles. Food that smiles at you is a slightly creepy but nice thing in my book.