All for You

May 31, 2018:

Harley's transgression against her ex-honey exacts a heavy price.

Driftwood Paradise

A kitschy seaside-themed dive bar in Gotham.


NPCs: A bar full of drinkers and a bartender who dared to be kind.

Mentions: Batman, Boomerang, Taskmaster


Mood Music: None.

Fade In…

It's a little Gotham dive known as the Driftwood Paradise. It's super kitsch, in a sea theme. The walls are painted in a garish set of stripes, white and sea foam blue. Everything is emblazoned with sea shells, rafts, and palm trees. Christmas lights hang from the fake palms, and a string of carved coconut lights swath the bar.

It is not a bar that Harley visits with any regularity.

Which is precisely why she's here tonight with a dozen shot glasses upside down to one side of her in a tidy little pyramid, a college kid probably only a handful of years younger than her and twice her size across from her, and a half empty bottle of Jack between them. Tonight is 'spending money' night, and she's already racked up a small pile of fives and tens from the local crowd. She's folded it up and shoved it into the spaghetti strap of the black tank she's wearing.

She bats her eyelashes coquettishly at the kid and smiles. "C'mon. You and me! One more. I'll put $40 on it." And to that end, she extracts two twenty dollar bills and sets them on the table. "Jes' don' puke, and that's everything you got back again." Her heel bounces nervously as she rests it against the leg of her chair, setting the bells that she's woven onto the shoelaces of her beat up combat boots to a merry and bright jingle. It vibrates the rest of her enough that her curled pigtails dance a little.

Definitely not the sort of dive that one expects to find a minx like Harley Quinn.

It's a lively sort of place, though. Between the Christmas lights and the coconuts and the faux pirate with the parrot in his shoulder digging up a treasure chest full of menus, it looks like just the sort of spot for a few guys with troubles to drink away their problems. Of course, that's also just the sort of person that an enterprising con could make more than a little bit of spending change from. A coincidence, surely. A quintessentially Gotham sort of situation.

It takes a few loans from more than a couple angry friends, but a stack of bills inevitably hits the table, an array of wrinkled ones and fives with history slapped onto the table in a haphazard pile next to the still-warm pair of twenties. The stack of bills equals $43, but nobody at the little hole in the wall is really equipped to notice it.

It really is a nice place, the little bear notices.

Under the cloying melody of 'Mele Kalikimaka' being played for what was probably the eighth time that evening, a small motor whirrs as a stuffed bear drives his pint-sized Corvette into the room, passing under the long legs of a waitress who is far too hurried and under the table of a patron who is far too drunk to notice. The 'vette is a stylish little scheme, only a few years dated from the latest model and probably some sort of promotional radio controlled little number released by the company. The bear is wearing a comically oversized poker visor and - of all things - billiards gloves. Speaking of, the bear quietly scans the room, head ratcheting a slow left and a slow right. He decides, ultimately, he likes the place.

That's when someone overshoots their masse, clearly and in spite of the 'no jump shots' clause painted on a faux frond next to the nearby pool table, which has a transparent surface to display the aquarium underneath, filled with tropical fish. Just the sort of impractical and gaudy kind of thing that tips the bar over from lame to chic. At least, in the estimation of some.

The cue ball bounces for a long time on the tile. More than one or two people stumble after it. It causes a bit of a commotion in the back, truthfully, as the various people playing and even a few enterprising bystanders stumble over themselves trying to catch it. It slips out of hands, bounces hard to the left, to the right, and then underneath one of the tables, as if it had a mind of its own.
The bear watches it quietly, smiling.
That's about when the cueball pops audibly, and carries off at a sharp right angle from the apex of a jump that vaulted one of its pursuers. It's really a very sharp right angle. The sort of right angle that causes it to shoot across the bar, and knock out a patron on the other side, knocking him fully out of his chair and putting him and a mug of Hennessy on the ground. It's at this point the cursing starts. And the cue ball keeps bouncing on. It might be under a table by the time anyone on the other end realizes what just happened.

For his end, the bear is shocked by the apparent lack of safety standards in the bar.

Harley's hand, with its chipped black and red manicure, reaches out to pour a new measure of booze into the two waiting shot glasses as the money hits the table. Her jegging-covered knee bounces harder, but her hand is dreadfully steady.

The young man across the table may soon realize that he's made a mistake in underestimating—again—the tiny blonde. Particularly when she sets down the bottle, picks up the shot glass, clinks it against the other, and then waits for the green-around-the-gills challenger whose friends are whooping up a storm.

Although her blue eyes glance in the direction of the noise on the other side of the bar, they ultimately turn back so that their owner can set herself to drinking her portion as her opponent does the same. …and then she waits for the vomiting to start.

"Welp!" she exclaims, loudly and brightly, "Y’alright there, buddy? Should I get ya' somethin' to eat outta the kitchen? Hot greasy bacon, dripping with oil? Somethin' like a tuna melt…"

The teddy bear on the ground is missed. Ignored.

With a kid who's any second from erupting in a jet of this morning's warm clam chowder on the other side of the table, it's easy for someone who's invested in dodging the victory fireworks to disregard the ongoing slapstick on the peripheries of the bar. Really, as a few more people get involved with trying to track down the terrifically difficult cue ball, the situation only gets worse, with inebriated patrons a few years too old to be at a theme bar climbing over themselves trying to get to the misplaced game ball, with the ball at its last known location bouncing off of a table. Seriously, it's like someone declared a singalong out there and all the world's carpeted with lyrics. Literally hundreds of dollars of alcohol is getting spilled as patrons knock over glasses and move tables trying to catch the ball.

Between this and the vomit fairy coming to visit tonight, the janitor is literally about to quit.

The kid, somewhere on the corner of 'churning' and 'she's like, thirty pounds soaking wet!!' is all too happy to recoup his lost cred in front of his buddies, who will likely literally disown him if some fox in jeggings puts him under a table. With a grasp that comes somewhere way close to grabbing at least six or seven things other than the shot glass, young Phillip manages to get ahold of and ring in the new year (it's January, right?) with Harley, a short and abbreviated clink being the gunshot that puts him over the finish line and putting the jack where it belongs, in his stomach.

He slams the glass down with some gusto, force and all the verve of a college kid with something to prove, proud in a very, very Icarus kind of way. "Yeah!!" he hics. "Now, you cough it up, lady. The paper! It better have Benjamin on it, or your phone number. Or both!" he crows, proud of himself in a rare moment of wittiness. A pair of people in the back exchange fistbumps. "Yeah, I'll take a tuna melt to go…. ermmm…" he starts thinking about grease and fish, mid-innuendo. "Hrmmm. To—go… ugh," he starts, trying to look smooth and spit proper victory game.

For the record, it's hard to look smooth in this sort of situation.

That is, when spitting game rapidly becomes spitting… ooh. Ooohhh.. Oh, there he goes. It really sounds like he's crying. Agh, is that really clam chowder? Move your shoes. Man, some of his buddies aren't going to eat for a week. What a smell. He's really putting his back into it. He has a promising career in yoga at this rate. You can hear it splash. Oh, hey, jack's back!

The bear grudgingly backs up the corvette, minding the spreading pool of chunky Campbell's underneath Harley's table.

While all of this is going on, the bartender is not even looking over to give Harley a dirty look this time, as he's currently trying to get security over to do something about the cue ball situation, which is rapidly getting out of hand. The thing bounces off of someone's head and across another table, disrupting a game there. It wouldn't be that hard for sober people to catch it, if it didn't have a habit of suddenly and bizarrely cutting across the bar at random, physics-defying angles. Truthfully, it would be a great bar game. If it wasn't quite as dangerous as it's proving to be. Finally, somebody in the back manages to jump on it, grabbing it with both hands. "HA!"

On cue, the white ball pops again, and knocks out the man's front two teeth and breaks a finger as it shoots out of his grasp, into his face, and out beyond his reach. That gets some attention. And it goes downhill from there. The ball bounces off of a shot glass, knocking it to the floor. And then it pops, hitting the far wall hard enough to crack the cement. Then it pops again, hitting the mirror and breaking it. It pops, going right through the liquor shelf, and spraying alcohol everywhere. It pops, and someone loses an eye. It pops, and someone's hand is broken. It pops, and one of Phillip's friends forgets what Phillip owes him because of a staved in skull. It pops, and a ribcage shatters. The cue ball pops, and pops, and pops.

The bear looks annoyed as blood sprays across his car's paint job. It's an impressive feat to adopt any kind of mien when you only have one facial expression.

As eight ounces of pure fun goes bouncing off the walls and through people's brains, a few people get the idea to get the hell out of there. The paranoid drunks do this first, bursting out of the bar and stumbling onto the sidewalk out there.

That's when you can hear the good old-fashioned submachine guns.

Actually, they sound a little bit like when Phillip was puking, come to think of it.

Or vice versa. Way to go, kid. Heh heh.

Harley, for the record, had the cash from the table and her feet pulled up at first retch. Sure, she was willing to play along, all rambunctious laughter and open-mouth grins and daring feats of flirting-do. But then, inevitability. Not everyone has a BFF who likes to boost your toxin resistance, although Phillip would have likely rigged the game if he could have. But he can't, so Harley shoves her rigged-game earning into her bra strap, just in time for all hell to break loose.

Harley shrieks, ducks, and covers her head at several near whizzes. And Quinn - being of the wisely paranoid sort - decides that she would be best served by a swift exit, stage left. She gets approximately ten feet into the chaos before the gunfire starts. Her head promptly jerks in that direction, blue eyes wide. Then her face screws up as she think, think, thinks. “Schnikes," she hisses as a stream of blood splatters her face from a nearby strike, and then starts racing her way towards the kitchen and a back door.

Because maybe whoever is outside that front door hasn't got the alley behind the bar covered. The Russians, maybe, that she and Taskmaster pissed off? Or maybe they do, and she's falling into the second line of engagement. The gangsters from her first outing with Owen, come to call?

She grabs a pool cue on the way out and breaks it in two over her thigh—right over the stitched on diamonds she put there—to get a good sized splinter-edged weapon of limited practical use, jumping over bodies as she keeps going. She's probably the only one who hears the contradictory brightness of the jingle bells on her boots. The doctor in her rears its head to tell her that she probably doesn't actually hear it. That it's a stress-induced trick of the ears. But, she counters herself as she runs: perception makes reality for the individual experiencing it.

Bells twinkle. Another round of gunfire. "Schnikes, schnikes, schnikes."

Through the swinging door with its round window and into the kitchen she goes. Where the gunfire isn't. Where the dancing cue ball of destruction isn't. Where someone else may be, and Quinn's got a pointy stake ready to go. ….Too bad she isn't fighting vampires.

The guns are snapping, popping out a rich staccato rattle to form the deadly percussion behind the bass beat of the lethal cue ball that sows havoc through the bar. The pyramid of shot glasses is dashed into pieces with the meteoric-like passage of the ball, sending a spray of glass dancing across the blood-and-chowder stained floor. No bullets actually fly through the building, as cue sticks snap in half underneath the bouncing hammer, but the ball does more than enough to ravage the bar in their stead, crossing over into a crowd of people and hammering between them at least 13 or 14 times and breaking twice that many bones before sailing on to shatter a neon Girl in the Moon sign over the bar. It goes on to pound even people who are already floored by the passage of the hammer, bodies twitching under the steady up-and-down cannonballing of the diminutive billiards appliance.

Eventually, the popping stops, leaving the cue ball to hit the ground and bounce a few times. By the time it does, it's entirely black and red, a series of divots in its surface clogged with blood. Silence reigns for one inert, stillborn second.

The ball rolls slowly, traveling biased along the fresh cracks in the tile, leaving a slow repeating trail in stains of blood along its path, slowly rolling past the bartender, who has long since taken cover behind the bar. He stares at the machined ridges in the shelled ball in shock for a sick moment. Of course, it only takes Phillip a moment to recover from retching his guts out under the table, realize what has happened, and book it for the door. Of course, as would be expected for a guy with really poor luck who doesn't pay attention, he also gets cut in half with a shotgun the moment he opens it.

"Eight ball, corner pocket. Ha ha ha…"

He steps in, his wingtips immaculate right up until they step in a pool of blood. He's used to it, obviously. The key is to get shoes made with a little bit thicker tread than usual on them. The man walks into the room of cowed and broken individuals with all of the dash and aplomb of a show host, the still-smoking barrel of a Mossberg 500 pistol grip slung high in the air. Unequivocally, he is dressed for a night on the town, in a rich Italian-style cut suit that hugs his frame in all the little places where it counts, though a few concessions in his individual American taste do dominate, especially in the dangerously low hem of his pant cuffs. The purple of his suit shines as he raises a gloved hand to adjust his bow tie, a dark color too black to be pinned down at first glance.

Especially against the sickly garish white of his face.

"So!" the Joker begins, filling the entire room with the indescribable satisfaction of his voice. "Where's the Mai Tais?" he asks, looking from person to person. Many are simply not equipped to answer him. As he does, a set of men in painted white faces burst in after him, each wielding SMGs. He thumbs another shell into the shotgun absently. "No?" the Joker guesses, looking for the bartender. "I'd be surprised if a joint like this didn't sell rum by the gallon…" he continues, hinting at a dirty secret only he seems to know. "Cointreau?" he asks again, when no one answers. He racks the round loudly into the chamber. Then promptly fire, liquefying someone who was barely alive to start with on the ground. It was one of Phillip's pals. "How about just a dash of simple syrup?"

No one answers.
"Hmm. I have to admit, this is a bit of a snooze crowd," the clown admits.
He levels the shotgun on the nearest person trying to crawl behind the pool table.

"If you can't mix a good drink, maybe you just sing me a song, instead. I've got a date tonight, but I'm feeling a little jilted. All day, and not so much as an Instagram. Do I look like the kind of guy who likes to be stood up?" the man wearing lipstick asks. He grins. "Well…do I?"

In the kitchen, the chefs and waitstaff have all but disappeared. Sizzling food burns on the ranges, the scent of faux Chinese and Hawaiian cuisine crackling on the skillets filling the air, slowly being burnt in their pineapple slice reductions. While there's no evidence as to where they might have gone, the back door is wide open. It would be unguarded.

But a small wind-up monkey bangs a cymbal in the middle of the doorway, stationed clearly as a lookout.
He looks fierce.
A shotgun blast goes off in the front room again, followed by an audible splash.

As soon as Harley hears that voice, something in her gut twists. It twists until she can barely breathe and she digs the corner of the door frame into her back as an empty hand threatens to send fingers through the drywall for how hard she grips it.

He's here.

There's not enough time for the whirlwind rush of feelings in all of their conflicted glory. …Or maybe it's too much time. Maybe there's no time at all; it stopped.

And then there's a sudden calm and clarity.

Quietly, quietly, sneak, sneak, sneak. As The Joker waxes eloquent, Quinn looks to the cooking range and makes her way in its direction. Seizing a towel, she wraps the handle of one heavy steel pan, gingerly hefts it into both hands as she trades its burning hot metal for the broken pool cue, and empties its contents into another burning pan.

She's never been a domestic sort, so its unsurprising perhaps that this is her election of the skillet's best use. She goes back to the doorway and hides there with her sizzling cookware.

And when the petite jester in common disguise sees the monkey at the door, she grits her teeth.

She'll bash Mister J's face in, and then this will be done. Bash it and burn it, and then this will be done. …She'll bash it, burn it, and then she'll get the shotgun she heard, reload, and shoot him, and then this will be done. …She'll bash his face in and burn it, get the shotgun and shoot him in the head, and then bury him under the pool table with the grass hula skirts wrapping its sides. Then possibly explode the building with his corpse in it. And then this will be done.

The never-ending what-ifs. The should-she, shouldn't-she's. All of it. Done.

Right, then.

She nudges the door barely ajar with her foot, trying to get any sort of a glimpse of the path she needs to take in order to get to her former beau. Her always and never beau.

It's amazing how loud a sizzling pan can be when you're trying to get the drop on someone.

Still warm underneath the towel, the pan trails smouldering steam as she carries it over to the doorway, the kitchen now overtaken with the garish scent of cloves clashing dangerously with bubbling coconut milk. It smells like a baked ham chocolate cake back there, and luckily Phillip isn't with her or he might have put himself back together at the waist for another shot at the old tile tribute.

With the back door being guarded by an incorruptible monkey, it leaves the hidden jestress with only one direction to go. Back to the main room.

Back in the main room, the clowns are currently doing a great job of mopping up the mess, like any good goons might, using their SMGs to put bullets in everyone who might still be breathing in the main room, finding everyone disabled by the cue ball and putting them out of their misery in a rattle of three round bursts. However, even as they go, they are counting off the rounds in their mags audibly, in eerie coordination. It's telling, when one of them hesitates. "Ah," he starts, "sixteen, seventeen…eighteen?" This is enough to get the Joker's attention. Everyone else is up to their twenties, and one or two other guys have already raised their hands, indicating they're up to twenty-nine. The clown shoots him a glare.

"Nineteen?" the thug guesses.


A body hits the ground, painted face covered in blood.

"Twenty," the Joker corrects, over his shotgun barrel.

The other thugs look at each other, exchanging worried glances.

"Buck up, boys!" the Joker assures them. "Now your pay's only divided three ways!" he reflects brightly. "You can do the math, can't you?"

"Now, what was I saying?" the clown prince asks, scratching the side of his deep green hair with the shotgun barrel quizzically. Nobody dares to bring up gun safety to him. "Oh yeah! My swipe-right. Listen, who all's left in this heap? I'm looking for my date. Now, who's seen her? I'm all dressed up and with nowhere to go." BOOM! Something unidentifiable splatters across the wall next to the doorframe, not three inches from where Harley sits. "You've seen the lass, haven't you?" he asks. He holds his purple glove oh-so-high. "About this high. Blonde? Little bit of a jade, come to think of it..!" he rouses, whipping his head with the motion triumphantly.

One of the thugs seems terrified to point out that the man the Joker is talking to is missing his head.

"Ohh… hm," the Joker reflects, disappointed.

"Put his drink on my tab." G r i n.

In the meantime, the bartender, who is hiding behind the bar, has spotted Harley peeking out of the kitchen, a skillet in hand. Wide eyed, he shakes his head at her. Hard. He tries to wave her off, furiously. No, get the hell outta here! He mouths. 'Don't you know who that guy is???' he points. If she doesn't get the idea, he'll point more violently.

In the meantime, the bear is actually looking dead at Harley. More appropriately, his head has swivelled to face her while she tries to get an appropriate angle on the Joker. Because of where he's standing, she can really only see his shadow, and maybe even the barest hint of purple at his back if she cranes her neck just right. A few of the thugs are behind the Joker, but are mostly not paying attention to her. The bear, though.

That bear has her number, and is staring right through her spirit.

There's purple so close. And then there's a bartender trying so hard to do the right thing, protecting the one thing that The Joker seems to have come for. Great for the troubled and occasionally faulty conscience, that. She silently mouths 'shhhhhhhh' back to him.

Which is about when she sees the bear. And notices that the toy's head has pivoted to take her in. She stares back at it. As it stares into her soul and she communes with its terrifying void, the blonde suddenly remembers that inside her jacket pocket is the little beacon that the Bat had given her, just for this occasion. Well, not this occasion exactly, but in the eventuality that her Prince would come to call. She could have backup.

She could have someone steal this moment from her.

The bear stares on, his glass eyes like a viper's hypnotic sway.

She lets the door close.

Harley thinks for a moment more, mulling over the fact that He came for her. Because she helped someone steal His stuff. But He came for her. Probably to kill her, too. But He came for her. If she wasn't busy trying to not scream or cry or die, she'd perhaps be touched. Like, sentimentally. Not literally or in the head. She's already touched in the head.

But sometimes, you just have to hit while the frying pan is hot.

So, after opening the door and giving the bear one more daring stare, the hellcat in black and red twists her foot to make sure she's got good traction on the floor.

And then she's just going to go for it. Because better the clown with the shotgun than the bear with the unknown twist. She starts out in the direction where she saw that purple, pan held high and dripping pineapple juice in thick, congealing spots behind her.

"This time, I'm going to kill you!" she shrieks in declaration, ready to swipe at where He's standing.

Well, the boys are running out of bullets. Luckily, they are also running out of heads to put them in. Honestly, between the cue ball and at least 126 bullets and four or five shotgun shells full of buck, there's not too many bars you wouldn't be able to clear out in short order, even in a party town like good ol' Gotham City. There's more than one straggler or two who met their grisly end outside, and not too many people brave enough out there to call the police in this kind of neighborhood. As a few of them reach bullet 29 and resort to gun-whipping anyone who seems like they might still be surviving, particularly in the bathrooms, the Joker has noticed the half empty bottle of jack and a few stacked shot glasses that survived the cue ball when it whizzed through.

He is pouring himself a shot and examining the shotglass absently by the time one of his thugs steps up in front of him. The Joker's bloodshot green eye is distorted through the glass, making part of his face appear for all the world like a distortion funhouse mirror, allowing him to look at his minion (currently the favorite) through it and ponder what the slim goon would look like if he fed him, foie gras style, until he were 400 lbs.

He'd certainly call him Tiny. Heh heh..

"Eh, ah…." the thug starts, scratching his own spraypainted head with a healthy sum of trepidation. "We're all on our last shot, boss… we got still a couple more guys, you know. Um.. ya sure we can't like, you know… shoot real careful on the last one? Like, or maybe mag up?"

"Is that the mewling of a kitten, I hear?" the Joker asks, holding his gun to one ear. "Get it together, man!" he barks harshly, poking him in the chest with the gun, an act that makes his man flinch noticeably. "Choke the little cretins with the soap dispensers if you have to!! And don't be such a little milksop… after all, remember who we're saving the money shot for," he hisses, his voice going now. "Now, get on with it. I don't want my date interrupted by anyone. Not a soul. Understand?"

As the goon leaves to finish the grisly business, the Joker is left to ruminate on the uselessness and transient nature of thugs as he swirls his shot in the glass. That's when he sees a flash of red and black in the reflection of the shotglass. "Hrnnn??" he asks, stirred out of his reverie as Harley bursts out of the kitchen and comes out swinging her pan. This surprises everyone in the room but him, and many of the goons manage to avoid shooting Harley right there on the spot by pur dint of the fact that the Joker's already killed several of them for disobeying his instructions. Fear is an effective motivator.

It is, however, a shame that it is not an effective martial art.

At least one goon gets knocked down by Harley's best Yankees-meets-Boyardee impersonation on her way to the Joker, being knocked over a chair and crashing unceremoniously to the ground, sending his near-empty SMG spinning across the floor. What then follows is the most bizarre fight in the history of couples therapy. To her merit, Quinn manages to hit the Joker. After all, he is kind of a big target, trying to get out of the way of a furious girlfriend is, as any rogue knows, more of an exercise in endurance than agility. "Hey—" he starts, likely being hit no less than three times in the process of getting out of the way.

That's when Harley might notice that the Joker has not actually spilled his shot yet.

Haphazard and bizarre, the clown manages to get the shotglass to the table while being beaten in the midst of the fight, half of the alcohol splashing to the table and the bottle upending. The headshot she goes for remains maddeningly out of reach. His suit stains readily with pineapple juice and blood, doubling his laundry bill for the week. But he is so, so very long, that hitting him in the face seems like something far off and flung, like she'd need a set of wings to hit him around his arms, around his shotgun. "You ingrate—HEY!!"

The bartender, to his own merit, tries to burst from behind the bar and save the blonde before thugs get ahold of him, gripping him in a chokehold.

"Little tart—sit!!" the Joker hisses, his voice angry and low as he fights.

Finally, the clown prince of crime seems to have had enough of that, and moves. If she's not fast enough, he'll flip his shotgun by the trigger, lay hold of her by the hips, pick her up off her feet, and throw her bodily across the novelty island-themed aquarium/pool table, scattering balls in every direction. Lit from below, it'll put her on her back at the center of a couple live submachine guns with a few thugs on the other end of them. Not to mention a few very, very confused fish swimming under the surface of the billiard table's slightly cracked glass, who'd very much like to know what all the noise is about.

To his own merit, the bear knows.

Harley should be able to hit His face when she gets close. It shouldn't be a problem.

Except that it… is?

Her perception of Him is suddenly off, and it throws her off her powerful frying pan game as she rears her head back and her snarl becomes bafflement. It shouldn't be the booze… She should be fine, except that she's not.

She hesitates and one of her historically sure steps stumbles, even when she knows she needs to keep swinging.

The problem comes when she hesitates and is off-balance just long enough.

Just long enough for Him to get hands on her and send her flying onto the table. The back of her head impacts the table hard enough that it momentarily disorients her as the glass cracks beneath her skull, and the heavy pan dents the oak floor deeply when it clatters out of her hand. She tries to roll defensively onto her side just in time to see that there's a machine gun in her face, and the bartender held just beyond.

For what it's worth, the bartender gets a look of apology through the wince and soft groan.

But then Quinn laughs a familiar laugh, nervous and too high, as she rolls back onto her back and slowly slides her empty hands up towards and past her head with fingers splayed.

"H-hi, Puddin'," she stammers with wide eyes blinking up at Joker, trying a conciliatory smile on for size as she giggles. Then, with a musical lilt, she asks of Him, "How ya' beeeeen?"

She lies back, and greets him.
He walks away.

By the time his erstwhile female caller is contained adequately, the Joker has set his shotgun down across the drinking table, and is now doing his best to fix himself up. The mirror behind the bar, shattered as it is by a cueball gone rogue, is his only frame of reference for doing so. He makes a great and elaborate show of it, pointedly ignoring his one-time painted paramour as he fixes his loose bowtie until the emerald green hangs just right to taste. Adjusts his dinner jacket, and the vest underneath.

He is icily silent for barest moments, before finding his carnation on the ground, leaning down to quietly pick it up before it starts to sop up the blood. She will notice, as he tucks the flower back into the custom keyhole on his jacket, that it is actually a real flower this time. This is as opposed to the times where he's used it to put people into the intensive care unit, minus a few layers of skin for his trouble. But it is very clear that this isn't one of those times, and he is very deliberate in what he does with her. He is mercilessly quiet with Harley, and even his thugs start to look a little confused, as he runs a comb through his mottled mop of lime hair, straightening it out. "Do be kind," he begins fondly, voice like a pit of vipers.

"Good grooming," he remarks mildly, thumbing away a stray red mark just above his lip, "and manners go hand in hand, after all…"

Her voice is a few pitches too high, and he notices. He never turns to face her, his face reflected in the broken mirror he is currently invested in. Really, at the angle she lays at, and the ribbons of light dancing across her eyes from the reflected water of the aquarium beneath the pool table, the only thing she can really see of his face is his smile, reflected six times in the broken mirror. His knifelike grin seems to go on forever, even when it doesn't seem like he's very pleased.

It's hard to tell what parts of this scene are him are him, and what parts are just figments of the imagination. The show is always like that. But the hyperreality of the thing slithers in with the scent of blood as the Joker finally seems to reach a level of composure that is unreal, casually picking up the Mossberg as he turns to face her again, eyes green enough to glow as he fixes a stare, needle sharp and unblinking, at his plaything.

"It has been some time," her showman beau reflects. "But it feels just like yesterday, I know." The gun makes a reverberating sound as the pump grip slides across the table as he takes it while approaching her, a warmer, more inviting version of nails on a chalkboard.

"But it's not to say I haven't been keeping track," he explains.
"And the little birdies have been telling me so many things, Harley…"

He has the mien of a rattlesnake in that moment, watching his jestress' reaction. His gloved hand twitches on the shotgun grip, settled at his side. It's hard to tell if it's a subconscious tic, or something quite specific, meant only for Harley. His grin is pearl white in that moment. But he never explains any further, suddenly and violently changing the subject. "So! Let's start with something fun. Me and you, eh? It'll just be like old times…" He hints, but he also wags the gun knowingly at her. "But just for the laughs. Wouldn't want you to go getting any handsy ideas for our second first date, now…"

"So… let's see.."

Ever with a flair for the dramatic, there is a crisp whirl in his step as the Joker makes a great show of having to decide what to do. It's only a second or two before he snaps his fingers. "AH!" he barks. "I know. A character exercise. Kinda like all those 'is she the one' tests on the web. Here—" he says, gesturing to his men to raise their guns. "Something simple," he explains, before he picks up the shotglass, stepping smoothly over to the bartender, who by now has had all the fight strangled out of him. "And you know how much I love games with a little bit of danger and a little bit of romance in the mix," he continues, swinging his free arm with care for his shot for emphasis.

"I call this one, 'Shot for shot.'"

The Joker puts the barrel of his shotgun to the bartender's head.
"You, or the barkeep. You've got until I'm done to decide."
He takes his cruel time finishing the drink, eyes never leaving her.

Harley's smile becomes ever so fragile in the silence. As it drags on for eternities on end, it even falters. Several times over. But she pulls herself back together and pastes it back on to try again. Over. And over.

We all know what the definition of insanity is.

The Joker's silence is deafening, and the disapproval thick in it is soul-crushing in ways that the ache of her swimming head could never match. All of her therapist's work to bolster her up begins fraying away when Quinn's truer, thicker strings are placed in the hands of a master puppeteer. It's been months that she's managed to stay clear of His influence. Nearly a year. He starts undoing the progress she's made in minutes. Her rapid, anxiety-ridden collapse can be measured in breaths.

Her whole body twitches as the sound of the shotgun's movement shoots to the core of her. It's hard to miss the twitch of his finger—a thing ever so subtle—and her breath shudders in kind. He knows her, and how best to play her. He's heard things, He tells her. And He doesn't elaborate.

And then, when He breaks the silence at last, she wishes she could close her eyes. He goes on, and she turns her head to finally and briefly look in the bartender's direction and offer more silent apology. The recovering Quinn has not really been a regular, per se, but the older man has been good to her when she shows up. He's let her run her games without complaint, playing college boys for suckers to make pocket money. He's hooked her up with food, because—hey—she was getting the bar tabs up. Good for business all around.

By the time He looks back to her with His bright emerald eyes, however, the tall man will find He has her rapt attention from where she lays, blood-splattered face framed by her halo of be-pigtailed golden hair.

The rules of a rigged game are explained, and she runs through her options. She could explain the man's small kindnesses and probably get the bartender killed. She could ask Gotham’s funnyman to choose her for the bullet and probably get the bartender killed. She could ask Him to kill the bartender… and maybe get the bartender killed.

Of course, she could do any of those things and get the exact opposite result. She doesn't know. That's part of the problem. Part of the thrill. The way her once-love's mind works is a piece of living art, a horrific weathervane constructed almost entirely out of razor blades and dancing upon each turn of the breeze.

She decides to slowly start rolling up into a sit if she's allowed by the two men with their guns pointed at her, hands still on fanned display and money sticking out of her spaghetti and bra straps, poking out from under her black jacket like a tacky wedding boutonniere. Her head is swimming as soon as she starts moving, but The Joker's boys will find they get no resistance from her to lie back down if they ask it of her. She can look at the Clown Prince just as easily from either place. "Ya wanna kill me, Mistah J?" she asks with a voice somehow simultaneously both bright and grave, slender shoulders shrugging beneath her leather jacket. "Jes’ do it. I'm right here, waitin' fer ya. Ain’t much more a gal can ask for than to go out with a bang! Ha!"

Cue slow cackling as her grape-gloss-covered lips part in an open-mouthed grin.

It seems like an eternity for the Joker to finish his shot, one sickeningly pale eye half-lidding as he keeps his eye on his favorite Lilith in pig-tails. He has no trouble at all holding her attention. He's watching her carefully, her slightest movement or breath regarded with the sort of lion attention that doesn't have to say a thing. When she sits up, the boys have no objections at all, though their alarm is plain. It's a surprisingly sane reaction, dealing with clowns. Especially when the Joker finishes his drink, and she's made her decision.

// Lifting it from her, you can see him hold up the gun to the man's head. You can see him pull the trigger. //

He responds with a violent grimace too bold to be explained away by a particularly noxious batch of Jack Daniel's. "Harley, perish the thought!" he coos, wounded in the extreme. "It's just a game. I wouldn't even dream of just killing you. What kind of no-account rake do you take me for?"

// You could've heard the clatter of the gunshot. It sent a jet at arm's length to fill abandoned lowball glasses with grey and red across the bar. //

"Of course, you do know," the Joker reflects thoughtfully, taking on the role of the educator. He sets the shotglass on the table again, empty, but without the promised bloodshed. "If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times. If you can't take a joke, stay out of the front row."

// Before the ringing of the gun's report wore off, the body of the barkeep was on the ground. On the plus side, there wouldn't be a whole lot left over then to look pitiful. //

"I really should give you credit," the garishly painted clown remarks fondly, smoothing out his suit, always self-conscious. "You did go through a lot of trouble just to catch my eye. Every time I think you're getting a little over-the-hill, you go ahead and surprise me…" He steps a little closer to her. Close enough that even his thugs start to look a little uncomfortable. There is nothing about what she says or does that puts him off his footing, the strangely kinetic way he claps a hand on her shoulder, the movement a little harder than it has to be, rendered impersonal by his gloves. "And that's my girl. I knew you had it in you."

Personal is in the way he tucks his shotgun's barrel experimentally into her brastrap, his finger on the trigger. He always liked to modify the trigger assemblies of his personal guns to under a pound, so that they'd go off with even the slightest brush, oftentimes almost at random. Killing as easy as breathing. His attention drifts from the gun, his finger on the trigger. If she doesn't resist, he'll lift the strap slightly from her shoulder. "After all," he reminds her in the worst way, "It wouldn't be too untoward to say that I know exactly how deep your rabbit hole goes…"

If she doesn't stop them, he's going to relieve her of every dollar she made today, scattering them in the fall to the blood on the floor, the ruined petals of a pale green flower. And he laughs, brief and haunting. He laughs lightly, and it isn't a kind sound.

// It makes the worst mess, and of course he has to wipe the blood from the barrel of his gun, and he has to borrow a rag from one of his thugs to do so. He steps back, over the body. //

The Joker won't really think to remove the gun from the good doctor. To the contrary, even if she doesn't offer objections, he will slip his gun free from her, but won't do much more than let it rest across the embroidered diamonds at her leg, the gun's full weight resting at her thigh and the barrel only a few inches from her navel. Grandiose, the clown prince sweeps his hand wide, indicating the bodies all over the bar. "When a woman puts in that kind of time, I just couldn't help myself! I spent so much time putting on our little get-together. Just imagine all of the bottles of liquor adulterated. The number of nine-ball games ruined!"

There was something in the news about a series of bars being the victim of some sort of arsonist. Exploding pool cues and dartboards and the like. Just the sort of detail that is lost easily in the grind of Gotham. The Joker snaps the fingers of his free hand, giving Harley a 'here's looking at you, kid' point. He pats her consolingly in the followthrough. "So, when I say I wouldn't dream of just killing you, you know I'm telling the truth."

He grins, his kaleidoscope mood reaching a fever pitch.

"Because I was really thinking to kill you both."
// See above. //

Don’t blink. Don’t blink. Don’t blink.

The world spins as she sits and turns a little in order to face The Joker’s new position fully. Her hands are still up in surrender, although perhaps not as tautly as might be the case otherwise. Her chipped-paint fingertips sag and curl, even as pale blue eyes slip over the machine gun beside her covetously. Her lower lids twitch as she briefly plots.

Quinn could grab it, maybe. Speed would be the most important part. Pull it hard with both hands. Use the rifle barrel to go through the man’s eye behind her. Maybe his teeth. It’s hard to think when your front teeth are missing. Turn the gun. Kill Him, and then the goon should fold. Then it would be done.

She’s not sure she trust herself. In a split-moment, her eyes are back to her verdant-tressed jilted lover. It works out that it’s about when he begins his slow walk over, and she swallows.

Don’t blink. Don’t blink. Don’t blink.

He touches her with a shotgun notoriously unreliable, and Harley abides. Her money - maybe a couple hundred dollars at most and a pitiful price for so many lives even by her own warped estimation - falls to the floor without her fighting for it. He recalls past history in less-than-glowing terms, and she lets him speak his perspective without interruption. She does know how, after all. Isn’t that what they trained her to do in school? Listen?

But the smile does fade. He could end her. And then it would be done. Except…

Don’t blink. Don’t blink. Don’t blink.

She blinks, slowly at last. She listens, and her eyes spark something deep as the gun rests at her belly. That prompts the drawing of a deep breath and the barest roll of her spine. Three guns, pointed at her.

The odds are definitely not in her favor.

But He came for her.

Her head tilts sideways, making her look much like a perplexed cocker spaniel. Her chin tilts down, and she looks up at Him demurely.

“Ya could,” she agrees quietly with a lift of her eyebrows and a resigned smile, biting her lower lip hard. She stares hard and deep back at him, the serene skies of her eyes readily meeting His toxic emerald. “Is that the punchline ya want, puddin’?”

She should have grabbed the machine gun when she had the chance.

He stands there for a long moment, looking down in thoughtfulness. Showing a knife-line flash of white skin at his wrist underneath his sleeve, he brushes a ragged blade of trending-neon hair out of his eyes. A glove is sprayed in red, leaving the faintest residue of crimson on his forehead with the exhausted motion. A second seems like an hour, and by the time someone remembers to hit the 'Continue watching' button on their Netflix account, the barkeep is gone from the world, leaving only a room filled with clowns. Some are of varying moods and attitudes. Some are much more fun than others.

But there is no doubt that they are all clowns.

The Joker, for a time, forgets his vicious mind. "Hey," he asides, conversationally. "On the bright side, I'm sure we can talk his dentist into a discount." He sighs, melodramatic in all of the worst ways. "If only 'Find my iPhone' worked on teeth…. ha-ha…"

"Anyway!" the clown prince snaps brightly. "On to proper business."

"You see, I've spent a lot of time thinking about all the things that I could do to you when I found you," the Joker explains, gesturing a roundabout through the air. "You know, something to really put your heart through the wringer! Maybe I'd buy you some nice flowers. Maybe treat you to a nice steak, bloody and rare. Then again, maybe I'd just light your cigarette…"
During this, he makes a great show of weighing his options, pantomiming a set of scales, if a set of scales could balance with a shotgun on one plate. It's worth noting that the thug he has on his right is desperately trying to stay out of the way of the Joker's shotgun barrel as he talks to Harley, as he's well aware how finicky that hair trigger actually is, even when the Joker isn't deliberately killing guys just like him.

"But then I realized. Why not just let our old history take its course," the Joker relates to his rapt audience, opening one hand at the side of his head in a genuine 'eureka!' lightbulb mime. He was always one to talk with his whole body, after all.
It gets even more apparent when he leans closer.

The next few moments pass in silence, as the killer goes through all the ways he could say this.
And he has no problem holding those sky blue eyes while he does so.
"It's been /so/ long since I've gotten into your head, after all.."

A grinning cobra.
The Joker leans a little closer, as he did a hundred times before at Arkham.
Except this time, he's not wearing a straitjacket.
The bloodstained barrel of the shotgun lifts between them.
"I'll even bet you want my gun. Don't you?"

She very much wants his gun.

The female of the group has historically been—for those who know her tells—very bad at lying. Now is such a moment. She keeps her chin at present height. Keeps her eyes looking straight at him. And, when He leans in close enough to smell her cheap perfume over the smell of the gore that splatters the bar and leaves traces across her face and form, Harley doesn't back down. There's no sign of her discomfort, save the swish of spit in her mouth and a hard swallow.

Her mind races ahead of everything he's said, overthinking the spiral that she's presently caught in. His silences aren't empty, but rather filled to the brim with her own internal chatter as thoughts travel in loops at light speed. When things get rough, this proximity is what she comes back to. He's been thinking about her.

He may be getting back into the familiar dark depths of her head, but she got into His, too.

She smiles as her brain catches up to the conversation, to the gun between them. And she shrugs with a shallow attempt at lightheartedness as her eyes finally break the siren's hold He's held in order to lift ceilingward theatrically. "Ya know." Her eyes come down to resettle on His. "I fergot to bring my own an' all."

"YOU? Forget a gun?"

There is a dichotomy in their interactions, as stark and as real as the gun between them. For all of the Joker's elaborate ability to command the room and knock 'em dead, there seems to be a different chord struck where it concerns the sly nymphet in the frame of his mood. Some times, he can watch her, so closely that he might as well be staring into the back of her skull. Other times, it's as if she didn't even exist at all, and the difference is so subtle, so sudden that his mood can shift between words.

This is not one of those times.

When she mentions that she forgot her gun, the clown looks at her. For the first time in quite some time, the Joker makes it plainly evident his attention is on nothing else but Harley Quinn. She works very, very hard to hide it, what she's feeling, and what she sees. Against him, she is demure, and brave, not chilled at all. Just like he would like. Right? But through it all… He never. stops. smiling.
"Now, that doesn't sound like any girl of mine…" the Joker all but purrs. "Maybe you have let yourself go..?"

The insinuation he makes is like a razor that cuts through the perfume and goes to the throat, for all of the edge he puts in it. Even so, he laughs accommodatingly, a long lilt to his chuckle as he leans back, authoritatively waving to his men. They lift their submachine guns obligingly. "Lucky for you," the Joker asides, examining fingernails he clearly cannot see with a glove on, "I've brought extras."

The bloody barrel of that gun lifts inches from those shining blue eyes. By now, the barrel has cooled, and the blood has set just a bit, becoming waxy on the mouth. This close, Quinn can see the irregular edge where the end of the barrel was sawed off. Given the style of shotgun, there is no normal reason to do this, unless one wants a slug to tumble right out of the gun. Hitting someone with a 12 gauge slug sideways would be his style.

An inch closer and he will touch her face with it, cautiously and carefully drawing lines from either side of her painted lips. Obsession drives him entirely, as he draws in waxy red along her cheeks. The lethality of his side of the world is unmistakable. It is the only room he's ever built for her. He whispers to her in intimacy, and a more inviting hiss couldn't be imagined.
"After all, I'm just here to put a smile on a tired face.."
When and if he is done, she will have a long and irregular drawn smile on her face, stretching well past her natural lips, and making her seem for all the world like a porcelain doll happy to be broken.

The brief and heady contact is broken, as if the Joker were forcing himself free of his myriad obsessions, even taking a moment to step back and breathe, straightening his suit. "Now, down the irons, boys, I want the last shot of the night to really make a mess," he finally instructs, making the same lightbulb motion by the side of his head, only this time he isn't miming an idea going through the mind. Consequently, his thugs lift the SMGs, each holding their heads down the barrels and along the iron sights, fixing them on her.

"I did save the best for last, and I do so like ending my dates with a little bit of fireworks," the Joker reflects fondly. "Now, say bye-bye, my sweet," he says fondly, waving.

"I want you to remember that I did this all for you."
He gestures, giving the order to shoot his girlfriend dead.

The men do their jobs. The triggers are pulled, and she can hear the guns go off in staccato pops, the guns that killed her. The flashes she sees are nothing but color, bright lights. The sound of her death is deafening, and the Joker makes it a spectacle to remember, the last rounds in each magazine being as special as she is to him. Each one is a valentine written just for her, to be signed in her own blood. Flares of bright red and green and blue fill the bar.
And then, all is dark.

By the time Harley Quinn's hearing comes back, she is laying in the middle of more bodies. Submachine guns have backfired violently, each blown in half and having taken a large part of their triggerman's head with them. And just like that, the clown prince and his lost little jester are the only two left in the room. The scent of blood and pyrotechnics is overwhelming. A small fire burns by one of the guns. It will probably end up burning down the bar.

The Joker is quiet, looking down at one of the bodies distractedly. He reaches into his back pocket absently, the shotgun still held at his side in one hand. Drawing out his smartphone, he opens the unlock screen, and selects the 'Find my iPhone' feature.
Tinny music starts to play, breaking the quiet. 'Baby Come Back' by Player, from a miniature Bluetooth speaker, lodged in.. whatever's left of the thug on Harley's left. It is probably best not to think on how many speakers it took just to get one to work after all that.

"Well, what do you know," the Joker hums, clearly impressed with himself.
"I've always said if you can't say it right, you should say it with song…"
// Trying to forget you is just a waste of time~~ //
Then the Joker starts to laugh. Hard.

Owen was her closest approximation of "normal". How many times had she'd told him that he was never going to be normal? That she wasn't normal? Reveled in the sociopathic freedom of her confession?

She kept hoping if she told herself the familiar line one more time, it would make the ache stop. Because wanting normal wasn’t going to fix her. Wasn't going to make her fit. Wanting and obsessing over a fairytale of a well-adjusted world for herself just made her heartsick.

She isn’t normal. She is unfixable.

She wants it anyway. Or, at least, she does when she’s with Owen. He’d wanted her. Sought her out. They hovered in the unsettled limbo between normal and abnormal, reality and fairytale, and made something there. Hadn't they? Or maybe she’d imagined it. Set it to the tinny tune of Swan Lake’s theme, like the tune of that cheap cardboard music box her Daddy once stole for her to make up for the days he'd made her skip school to hide the black eye and swollen jaw he'd given her first. Round and round, the plastic ballerina made in Hong Kong had gone, trapped in an endless, dizzying pirouette with her tiny stiff tulle tutu. Round and round and round…

The singular focus of the state has brought out the worst in her. Always has. The obsessions… Especially the obsessive comparing of everything to the Joker as the only real marker she has left.

Is this better?

Is this worse?

Round and round and round…

The pursuit of normal functioning becomes an exercise akin to baking a cake when all you have is a recipe without exact measurements, that you heard maybe a few times from your grandmother. Quinn's done her best, but…

…about this much sugar…

…when it feels like this…

Her old life had given her markers, touchstones of tests and models and spectrums, but it never gave her the practical exercises in relationships that could pull neurotypical behavior from textbook pages and use it as a frame to build a healthy life around.

It wasn’t right, was it? None of it was right. Her cake—whatever it had been with Owen, with Taskmaster before that—was half-baked. Leaning to one side. Insufficient. Like baker, like cake.

Is this better?

Is this worse?

…about this much sugar…

…when it feels like this…

And now He is here, stirring all of it up again. The insecurities and the gaping hole. He draws on her, and she lets him. Her eyes close softly, her lungs shudder a few breaths, and then tears actually escape to mingle with her hopelessly smeared mascara and eyeliner, and wet her cheeks with the black of it. He’s drawing a death mask for all she knows, and she’s glad for it. Secrets will die, too, and that’s good.

Her brow creases, and she tilts her face up a degree to help Him with the task. The frown on her face, expressing the deviation from prior gleeful reunions and rebounds, is hidden within the artificial bow the Joker crafts for her. Even now, He can put a smile on her face. That’s her Mistah J. All hers. Who else would earn such care from Him?

She finds a sort of serenity there.

Say bye-bye. Quinn tries to mouth the words, like He wants, but her trembling lips fail halfway. She tries to open her eyes, but all she can do is furrow her brow. He’s right; she shouldn’t have left her pistol at home. Not knowing what she’d done. She knew a reckoning would come. She’d begged Taskmaster for anything other than to cross her Ex Puddin’.

And then her world explodes, in love and heat, pain and glorious screaming. …just not her screaming.

She’s completely confused after infinitely long stretches of moments pass and she can finally open her eyes to look over at the Joker and his music overtakes the ringing. What? No. No no no…

“What?” she squeaks with full transparency, voice uncertain as she curls in on herself to protect herself from the wash of new feelings. Relief and despair. The machine guns are gone. The bar is burning. So much effort and planning, by Gotham’s most notorious gangster. All for her.

“I don’t…” The words die on her lips as readily as the Joy Boys beside her, as her beloved and dreaded Joker laughs.

"—Of course you do, pumpkin. Oh, you REALLY do!"

Ha. Ha. Ah. Ha. AhHa. AhAHahAAAAH HAAAH HAAAHH… His laughter is merciless and long, the sort of earsplitting cackle that could wake the dead. The row rattles the rafters, worse than a pair of college kids going at it in a decade-old shed built by a drunk Scotsman on payday. He doesn't stop until he's had his fill, far from unaccustomed to being the only one laughing. The jangled mess that is his sense of humor is entirely inappropriate, and the peg never fits any of the holes he slides it into.
Except one.

She says she don't. And he responds quickly, easily, finishing her thought for her with his own. "Who else really could?" he asks, leading the conversation away from whatever nonsense has her curled up like an armadillo on the freeway. A woman's heart is always a little bit of a mystery, isn't it? Here comes the next truck.

The worst part is, the microspeaker under the tooth is still going. In the sort of crippled, muffled reverb that can only be managed by a high treble speaker drilled into a henchman who is currently laying dead under a pool table, the Joker's playlist is still setting the mood for the next few minutes, just as planned. Right now, it is doing its best to fill the room, and in the last few minutes, it has had moment to change track. It's currently on 'Oh What A Night.'

// Oh I, I got a funny feeling when she walked in the room //
// And I, as I recall it ended much too soon! //

"Think of all the nights we spent together," the Joker reminesces warmly, mocking a waltz as he spins an imaginary Quinn around the room, dancing past the bodies gracefully. "The warm fires. The cozy hacienda. The dynamite, the poison, the screams! We've had loads of laughs together, you and I, and there's no accounting for history, is there..?" he remarks devilishly, stopping by the bar. "No, no. Not at all," he agrees with himself.

"Harley, my girl, I've got an entire theme park of laughs planned for us. And who else would even appreciate it like you? You know how I hate to have to explain the joke. Imagine if I had to start all over with someone new. I could," he thinks aloud. "But it would be positively monstrous. It's not worth missing out on all the fun!"

Threading her mind through the loom, the Joker discards his young charge's misery, an unimportant thing not to be considered in the face of a brand new campaign of laughs, a ship whose captain still needs a first mate. He laughs brightly before stopping, slinging himself into a stool smoothly enough that he faces her, an opportunity for him to get a good up-and-down look at her. "Besides. Look at you, sweetheart. You're all dashed to pieces. Don't worry, I'll take you shopping, and you can buy what. ever. you want. You always were the best at making yourself look good for me. Come on! It's the chance of a lifetime, and you know it." He grins.

"Who else really knows how to knock 'em dead?"

He's all words, of the kind that don't really need much of a reply to continue. There's the way the world wants to be, and the way it is. "Are those tears of joy I detect?" Finally noticing the run in her thick mascara, the Joker slams the bar with the flat of his palm. "BARKEEP! A few glasses of your finest for me and the missus. Spare no expense, this is date night!!…."
It's only when no response comes for a long sick moment that the Joker pauses, looking down.
"Oh! Sorry. Maybe I should have tipped him better. Ha ha. Hold on."

And then, the Joker hops behind the bar with a long vault, to secure the perfect drink. Bottles of triple sec and grenadine come flying from behind it, shattering on the floor haphazardly. For a moment, for one chilling moment, he's not talking anymore. He's not looking at her. No one's about to kill her. And no one's about to die.
The door to the bar is still cracked open from when the cue ball smashed in the frame.

The music is still playing in the background while the Joker rummages.
It crackles and breaks, as the Joker is quite far from the speaker.
// STOP! In the me of love…. b-re you break --art… //

Slowly, ever so slowly, Quinn melts over the edge of the glowing billiards table like a clock in a Dali painting as the spinning of the room and the super-twitchy nerves die down to a manageable roll. She stoops beside it, half-straddling the knee of a dead man, so that she can gingerly run her fingertips along the side where a few butterflyfish swim meekly by. They're unaware that they're going to die here, too. Once the bar burns down, it will just be her and Him to know what really happened here. She starts to sing 'think it over' in her nasally soprano but then she coughs, lightly, into her black jacket's sleeve as the smoke begins to thicken in the air.

While the Joker sings and serenades—promises her fulfillment as she sits in a place (almost) only she can fill—the blonde finds her feet. She also hears that stupid therapist from Belle Reve in her head, Every time you fall for him, you know he's going to drop you when it's convenient. And then there's Waller and her threats. And good jolly green giant, this was easier when they started. When He was her everything and she still wore the shine of newness on her.

For a moment, He won't possibly see the way that she eyes the door. Eyes the ruined machine guns. Eyes her commandeered frying pan. Eyes the money that is now sopping up blood and the stench of death.

Textbooks say smell is one of the strongest triggers for memory; Harley proves it true as she slides into half a dozen memories at the same time. The carnage, the exhilaration of survival, and His arm about her waist as a shield against the unreasonable expectations of a world that could never understand them. …How could they? When she's away for long enough, she doesn't understand them.

"That all sounds really good, Mistah J," she says as she stands up from her reverie at the table-cum-fishtank. And it does. She wants desperately to be lost in Him again, swept away in His thoughts and plans again. No thinking. Just living. Not laughed at. Not mocked. Not kept like a pet by Waller, leashed by threats. Feared as He is feared.

She wants to run. She wants to stay. And so she's paralyzed by her indecision, unable to do either. At least, until there's a hoarse whisper. "But I can't."

It's all too true. There was a time, of the 'once upon' variety, where Harley Quinn commanded real power. Living like a queen, where the very mention of her could send a man quaking to his knees. Entire gangs could fulcrum off of her whim, just on the basis of his cult of personality. Even her slightest displeasure could mean being sent on one of the most painful of deaths. Men easily five times her displacement learned to follow her moods and needs as quickly as a child, lest they meet a grisly end at the wrong side of a cheese grater. She could do, take and kill as she pleased, without any fear of reprisal.

Even when he ignored her, he had her back.
It was a taste of real power.
A shame, how far away that world's grown.

"Aha!" the clown prince exults, producing a darkened bottle from behind the bar. Despite his initial excitement, he is considerably less than impressed after he actually examines the dark bottle. "Well, I suppose we can't ALL be from Champagne," he decides, setting down a set of glasses, and popping the cap on the prosecco, filling the air with a bright aroma, and the sound of fizzy celebration. The glasses fill with the popular and cheap sparkling wine, the lighter amber tones settling to something straw-colored as they settle.

And as the pair of champagne flutes settle, they reflect Harley, crushingly staring at the door.

When he gets back from behind the bar, she hasn't left. And that's the funny side of it, isn't it? It's just so that his sick green eyes catch her standing at her word, a knowing grin crawling knifelike across his teeth. It's an exercise in futility to read him, impossible to tell what he's thinking the moment he sets his shotgun down, stepping past the fire whose cozy smell is starting to clash garishly with the Prosecco. Striding through all the bodies he's made just for the payoff of this moment right now, she stops him with three words.

But I can't.

There is the mildest flinch in the merry prince, the most unassuming flare in the mood of an otherwise completely satisfied grand psychotic. He's told 'no.' And it is definitely not a color that suits him. People have died for less, and it's a testament to her that he lets it slide. "Darling," he assures her, "You're just having a moment. And your moments are what I love the most about you." He breathes out, once, the barest unhinged edge breaking past a fine showman's veneer. The words are assembled on the spot, pounded until they're made smooth.

"Of course you can," he replies, saccarine and soothing, the gravity and weight of his presence redoubling as he grows closer. "What else could you even do?" he asks, the gyre on her. Grandiose, he offers his called a glass, like a proper gentleman. If she falters, even for a moment, if she stretches out a hand to take it, he's going to whirl her right into his arms, sweeping her across the bloody floor to join in the dance.

He's going to hold her close enough that she can catch the scent of the flower in his lapel.
One door is cracked open. But the gate to the funhouse is open wide.

Harley does indeed reach for the prosecco when he offers it, because of course, she does. It’s kindness, and His rare kindnesses are not to be wasted. They are to be savored. Relished. But that means that she’s easily caught, easily moved into the familiar place where she can set her pale, blood-smeared cheek against His heart and feel it beat.

The delicate perfume of a flower, mingling with smoke and ash and destruction, fills her nostrils. She closes her eyes to drink it in. Here she is, for one more fleeting but shining evening, the center of someone’s world. It’s glorious. Poisonous and forbidden.

Maybe it’s the booze from before. Maybe it’s love. Maybe it’s the concussion from hitting the table so hard. Whatever it is, it doesn’t really matter. Her lightheadedness and His light footsteps, nimble and sure as her guides her so masterfully over the wreckage of lives and property, meet. She coughs a little harder as more of the bar starts to go up in flame.

He’s right, of course. She is having a moment. His creation just isn’t really certain at all what kind of moment she’s having. But He has her hand in His gloved own, and her other hand settles with an easy familiarity at his shoulder. Just don’t think for a moment that she didn’t surreptitiously feel along the front of the jacket with the heel of her left palm to make sure he’s not hiding anything in an interior pocket as it travels up.

Assuming that she doesn’t find anything there, she’ll press just a little tighter and enjoy a moment of silence. Of course, it’s Harley Quinn. So it’s a very brief moment of silence.

“We ain’t good for each other,” she protests timidly. It reads like a hungry plea, Tell me again that you need me.

The flower is real. Unlike a hundred times before, the flower isn't plastic, isn't some chintzy replica to hide the acid pump. It speaks to something about his state. It means that getting dressed in the morning today, he decided that he wouldn't need to melt anyone today. It means he decided, for one reason or another, that he didn't need to murder anyone with venom, or gas, or universal glue, or any one of a hundred compounds that he could have synthesized. She won't find anything more involved in his jacket than a few pins that went to grenades once upon a time and handkerchiefs. For the Joker, a man whom dresses with an eye for killer fashion first and foremost, the choice has meaning.

It means that every weapon he picked out today was meant all for her.

She barely has enough time to drink the wine. He leads her across the floor like a pro, four steps to spin her in a ravenous waltz over dead bodies and wreckage. Even now, the fire's climbed up through one of the rafters, and a garish neon light in the shape of a palm tree finally succumbs to the fire and the battering, cracking in half at the frame and knocking the bottle of Prosecco off the table, to join his own glass, which was drained and then unceremoniously thrown over a shoulder the first chance he got.

He slips an arm around the small of her waist to hold her tightly to him. His sleight of hand is top of form for a man like him, and even if he did decide to respond in kind and check her for something untoward, her noticing is hardly the kind of thing that he'd be worried over. The Joker is, as she once learned, a consummate gentleman in all of his obsessions, a criminal prince with taste and class. As such, his hands never drift further south than needed to let her know he cares.
A care, dangerous and cavalier.

She protests, and he whirls her around him in response, breaking that brief and warm contact to twist her world around. His laugh fills the hall. That laughter. His timing is merciless, even as he chases along her form, one wingtip crossing over the other in mid step as he holds her at arm's length. A moment ago, she said they're no good for eachother, her voice meek, her will pocketed. His constrictor logic slips around her like a cinching belt.
"My dear," he counters warmly. "We're no good for anyone."
His approval is a wandering thing, never quite in reach.

"But what's the fun in being good, when bad is so much better…?"

It takes only one second of indecision. One second of sway in her legs, one second of thoughtless, careless relief. Just one eyeblink to see his world. It takes only one breath, one moment, one thought, one want, one need, at the end of his hand. One regret from being away. It takes one second for him to see what he's looking for. She'll know exactly what he means. He's offered her every opportunity to run, after all. Doesn't that mean something? One moment, and he will pull her back in, completing the whirling dance by catching her around the waist, and pulling the light jestress off her feet.
He will end his argument in a kiss that could pop every corked bottle in the house.

And all she has to do is not run, while her prince burns the world down around her.

Two clowns dance, and Quinn suddenly very aware of her state of underdress and the combat boots that still twinkle with every step as she mitigates the weight of their thick rubber soles while tripping lightly the familiar fandango. Her beat-up shoes feel wrong in the old dance, but along she goes, swept up in Him. She feels graceless, although she is anything but. In another time, with less natural black and crimson, the Joker and Harley Quinn might have been envied for their mutual elegance of movement. Spin and advance. Metered retreat. Lead and ever-devoted follow. He with his gaunt figure and perfect posture. She with her crisp step and effortless entanglements.

She coughs again as lungs protest harder, although she tries better to stifle it this time. To hide it. It's easier to do when He just pulls her along and through with deceptively strong and achingly familiar arms.

Sirens wail somewhere in the distance, but Harley loses them under the sound of cracking wood and crackling sparks. She shouldn't stay. They both should go. But the Joker drips hemlock into her ear. We’re no good for anyone, he says. She is every bit as toxic as He is. He identifies her as a different poison, perhaps, but no less deadly. It’s an internalized identity, built on the shifting foundation of a cracking soul. But He’s right about that, too. For where does she ever go that she doesn't bring Him with her?

And then He pulls on her, gathers her up, and kisses her full and deep in the ways that dreams unfold. The good doctor wraps an arm around his neck to help with her slight weight, remembering at once every surge of sentiment that has ever brought her back to this place of unhealthy complement. She curls up against the lean form that holds her, and she melts until her resistance is gone. And then, when she resurges, her mouth is desperate and greedy. He loves her. He forgives her. Those things don't need to be said, do they? They're implied in the way He holds her. The way He kisses her. He needs her, like she needs Him. ‘For now’ becomes ‘forever’ in her mind, even though it never lasts. This never, ever lasts.

….Except maybe this time. Maybe this time she was gone just long enough for her murderous prince to realize that He can’t replace her. That she’s good for Him. Maybe this time, this time…

She won't break the kiss for all the world, and she kisses him harder. Her free hand travels up along his neck. Fingers gently curl along the sharp angle of his jaw.

Okay, fine. She will break the kiss if the sirens get closer. Which they are.

"I can't go with you," she tells him again, though her squeaking protest feels like peeling her skin off when she rears her head back to look squarely in the eyes. Surely, He can see the devotion there? …Or maybe the pain is just a by-product of the ever-increasing heat of the room. No. No, it’s him. It’s this. It’s now. She explains, voice full of apology. "They're watchin' me, Puddin'."

She surges again, like a natal siren, rising from the acid pool.

It's strange, the way the world works. She can slog through the miserable underbelly of law-abiding life for as long as she pleases. The struggle never gets easier, being spat on and made into something less, climbing and trying. Having to bargain and bleed for everything she wants, even those she would consider family. With him, all she really needed to do was ask. When everything is upside down, the world fulcrums on your whim. 'Life is funny sometimes,' he used to say. 'So why not laugh?'

The gravity of psychosis around him is intense. He bears out the length of her body with the disposition of a master florist handling a hand-cut bouquet. In that ephemeral moment atwist, he cares for her, providing substrate for the paint of her heart. One arm buried in her jacket at her back and the other at her hip, the scent of carnations, blood and gunpowder lacing with cheap lip gloss. He drowns her in the senseless nothingness of it all, and she kisses him ever harder for it, lacing her arm around his neck so tightly.

The noose is one of his favorite affections.

The Joker's danger is plain past his lips. She can drink in and feel him at once, a prince who could put an end to every dream she's ever had. The theatre of the thing breaks in the midst of the showstopper, the need of his never reaching past her own. He never holds her too tightly, restrained by style and his nature. It belies the razorwire in every second. Every moment that passes is another moment to taste blood on her lips, in her need. And in response, the tighter he winds. The prince takes his jester on, meeting her need in every way, but never reaching out farther than that. Though his delicacy is beyond reproach, he responds to her as he has a hundred times before, as if it aches to let her this close and not have everything. His glove tightens at her side for each whiling moment, burying itself in her jacket and winding until she can feel its tug at her side. For all of his brutalities, the Joker's restraint with her is legendary, and she is the only one he's ever seemed aware of the word with. He kisses as if he aches to kill her.

Leviathan are the madcap's obsessions, vast in benthic deeps.

The Joker doesn't seem to notice the heat of the room, the ominous crack of plaster and head beams above. He pays no mind to the sirens any more than the dead body. He only rouses when she breaks that heady contact with him, a nettling thing that jars him into the world. At first he stares at her, suspicious but detached, as if his mind was a few iterations away from reality. She gives him the truth, and he doesn't seem surprised. While still sideways, he tilts his head back. His green eyes will leave her, faraway and distant as he searches for something unknowable.

"Honey.. no one's allowed to watch you but me," the clown replies, his umbrage mild but vivid. "But don't worry… daddy always knows what to do."

A grin, exultant and knifelike, creeps across the Joker's face. He never actually releases her from that deep pose, instead reaching to his back pocket again. He shows her his phone, his eyes finally locking onto something that exists. Absently, he punches in a phone number in a haphazard hunt and peck way. "I'll just call in some backup," he hints, his voice low and dangerous.

He calls the bear.

The bear in the fast car has been sitting on the floor this entire time. As he gets the call, he inanimately looks to the side. A soft ringing sound pops the hood of the car, causing an old-school flip phone and three unpinned grenades to pop out by pure mechanical tension, the handles releasing when they do. The grenades are named as follows: "BUNDLES," "OF" and "FUN," with smiley faces painted on them.

"This will be our little secret," he explains. "Now, don't spill a drop~"
A second later, the Joker takes one preternaturally long and graceful step, moving his entire scarecrow frame into rolling Quinn under the pooltable, and hundreds of gallons of water. Another moment later, he finishes what he started, and blows the bar to kingdom come, bringing the whole structure down.

It’s been so long since she’s felt secure and truly cared for that the disguised harlequin feels invincible in the rush of restoration. He’s not telling her to abide. To settle. To accept what is. Instead, he’ll fix this. She brings a knee up to rest against his hip as she smiles in relief. Her eyes are filled with nothing but gratitude and adoration.

The Joker will cut the leash that binds her to anything but Himself, and she’ll be free again. This time, she’ll be cherished and loved. She will reign by His side, a queen restored to her glory.

But as He looks up, Quinn’s curiosity seizes her with all of the voracity of Lot’s wife. Her head falls limply backwards to hang fully upside down, fully reliant on the man who holds her to support the extra pull as she drapes off of Him to see what He sees.

Harley sees a bear. One damned toy bear in his comically large billiards visor.

“Uhhhh, sweetie?” she asks, her nasally voice suddenly uncertain. The blonde has so often served as the unfortunate bridge to reality. She mentioned the sirens. She still has a visceral, unconquerable instinct for survival. And so she feels the need to pipe up and say that maybe the bear in the toy car isn’t the best solution? Unless he’s done something to it, in which case… She really doesn’t like not being in on the plan. She finds herself as a pillar of salt, frozen in place by a sudden trepidation.

Harley then sees one damned toy bear arm itself for death. Yeah, she really wishes she’d be in on the early planning phases for that. They’re in a burning building, and she turns her gaze towards the front door just in time to see a rafter come down and block the way. But there’s still the back door. They could get out through the kitchen, but—in order to do that—she needs to get Him to move. Her voice rises in pitch, in insistence. Her eyes, wild and wide, look to the one who is both savior and destroyer. “Sweetie?

But this will be our little secret, He tells her, still wrapped around her. It’s not the kiss that seals her back within His good grace. It’s those six little words, making her at once the most unique creature on the planet. The one in whom the Joker has entrusted a secret.

And she trusts in Him, despite her logic screaming its fool head off. Despite everything.

…She really doesn’t have a whole lot of choice at this point, she rationalizes.

So, she curls up in His long shadow, her second arm joining the first around His neck as she squeezes her eyes tightly shut and buries her head beneath His pointed chin. As when they dance, long gloved fingers press against her shoulder blade to prompt her and training does the rest. He leads and moves in that violence-marred purple suit, and she thoughtlessly pulls up her other leg and goes wherever He wills it.

It’s as natural as breathing.

Which is rather funny, considering that they are soon beneath the table of water that will leave exotic fish to boil to death above them or fry on the ground beside them. Possibly drown them. There are worse endings in the world than dying in a rain of fire and water and blood.

Just ask her Puddin’. He came up with a few.

This was the fun part.

If they stayed here like this even a minute or two longer, they would die. As Harley becomes increasingly uncertain, the Joker continues looking onwards, his mind vacant of anything approaching concern or even self-preservation. It is the depth of his particular brand of psychosis that gives him the intensity to focus, even as everything is falling apart all around them, literally.

The color of madness brings out his eyes.

He grins, a wild and manic thing. In the apex of their dance, he carries her to the air, hitting the bloodied floorboards rolling along the axial with his spritely inamorata. In one twisted-up moment, he is atop her. In the next, he breaks his hold on her, continuing on suddenly, recklessly, violently, leaving her under the table alone, in the burning, collapsing building. First, he leaves her under the table.

And then he leaves her behind entirely.

She is alone. The boards and beams fall across the table, driving the legs into the boards with a horrific crack, sagging through the floor and against the floor joists. Doom is in every direction — but there. Harley can see it now, because the battery-operated neon underlighting of the table cast dim illumination of the underside of the cramped space. The upper of the table is not a glass, but a thick impact-resistant plastic. The underside is a thick wood, of the sort that would take a long time to catch and burn. These types of novelty tables are reinforced much further than the originals, to cope and bear with their great weight. She is left there, for the entire building to fall. He left her there.

To be buried alive.

With the Joker gone, his intentions are opaque at the very best, deliberately confused at most obvious. He's left her in a spot she is absolutely free to try and escape at any time. But is it already too late? Has he left her with a good chance of survival, or has he doomed her? What are the chances of a fire engine being with the approaching sirens? Would he go so far so as to sabotage their entry, even if they are there? What are the chances of her survival if she moves? What are they if she doesn't? How much does Harley really trust the clown prince of crime, the man who loves her as if he were killing her? How much does she trust that man with her very life?

He's left her in her own coffin to decide. Decide if she is alive or dead.
The tinny speaker on the floor is winding down as the Joker leaves range, the last song clicking on.

'pleased — meet you — hope — guessed my name….'

There are seven stages of grief. And we are about to watch a very lovely and vivid demonstration.

First, shock.

As Harley feels that firm and reassuring hold slacken and then let go entirely without warning or cue, she is initially powerless to do anything about it. She doesn't even cling beyond that initial gut-instinct attempt to counter the Joker's release. "Puddin'?" she squeaks.

Next up, denial.

Clearly, this was a mistake. She rationalizes. He tripped. No, no, He didn't trip. This must be part of the plan, then! …Except that He doesn't follow her. There's confusion, certainly. But then she crawls to the edge, expecting Him to be there, ready and waiting with the next stage of the Secret Plan. Maybe dressed as a fireman; for surely, He knows how much she always loved the games of dress-up. He'd be the fireman, and she'd play the damsel, and it'll be just like old times. …Except that when she comes to the table's edge, there's nothing except the shower of sparks as a rafter crashes atop her hideyhole. "Puddin'!" A mistake. A mistake. A mistake. Steam and smoke make it hard to breathe.

Then, in swift succession, anger.

"I trusted you, you slack-jawed, paste-faced doom goon!" Quinn screeches, impotently slamming her palms on the floor in frustration as it creaks. "When I get my hands on ya, I'm gonna wail ya into next week! I'll rip yer throat out and shove it in a…" A hacking cough interrupts. "…garbage disposal! YOU'LL NEVER TELL A JOKE AGAIN IN YER PATHETIC LIFE FOR WHATEVER WILL BE LEFT OF IT, YOU TWO-BIT BACK-" Hack, hack. "BACK-ALLEY SHEISTER! I'LL FIND A WAY TO GIVE YOU MRSA…" Long fit of coughing. "…WHILE THEY'RE TRYING TO FIX YOU-" Because they inevitably will. "-AND YOU'LL DIE SLOWLY. UNTIL I DECIDE TO COME AND KILL YOU QUICKLY BECAUSE I HAVE A VERY DISTINCT, PARTICULAR, AND OCCASIONALLY CRIPPLING INABILITY FOR DELAYED GRATIFICATION."

Her diminishing ability to breathe in the heat leads us promptly to stage four: bargaining.

"PLEASE, MISTAH J!" she cries at the table's edge once the initial flare of the fallen beam dies down. "I'm sorry! Please! PLEASE! Come back! I can't…" Hack, hack, hack. "…I can't…" Hack, hack, hack, hack. A hand smears across her face, shoving his lipstick and bloody paint job across her cheek.

When the depression of stage five hits, realizing that she's been abandoned to die, she just lies down on the floor beneath the table, stretching out on her back in the middle and giving herself a long moment of resignation. She deserves this. He left her because she betrayed him. She deserves this fate. She'll die, and then it will be done. At least he did give her a very dramatic final curtain call. She lies beneath the pile of one tangled blonde pigtail and prepares for this inevitability.

Then, ever onwards still, onto testing.

We mentioned Quinn's visceral instinct to survive, yes? As another beam comes down, it stirs her back to life. She rolls back onto her hands and knees suddenly. "I ain't gonna give ya' the satisfaction of dyin' here, you useless mook," she mutters to herself, fingernails desperately clawing into the floor as she tries to find a loose joint to sink into. Nothing gives. Despair surges.

She looks out from the other edges of the table, and sees no exit out. Devil only knows how her ex-honey got out. More despair.

Beams overhead shift and send more sparks up in a spray. And then… a few feet away, she watches as one collapsed beam finally burns a hole through the floorboards and subfloor to the crawlspace below.

And hope surges. A grim, determined sort of hope.


And then? Then Harley Quinn, in her most delightful resourcefulness, decides to turn all of this horror to her benefit. She's the victim here. Why shouldn't she?

She reaches into her pocket and depresses a button there. "Make yerself useful, Batsy," she mutters amidst more coughing, and then she wiggles her fingertips. Time to embrace the pain. Which is what must always come of ever loving a creature as volatile and passionate as the Joker. Pain and joy. They alternate so often that they look more like a Maypole than separate entities.

Her slender hand snakes out from under the table and begins searching for the access port for the water tank. She needs the gallons of water to douse the floor so she has a hope of crossing it. To get to the hole. Eventually she finds it when her scorching hand untwists the gasket as Harley sobs through it, and hundreds of gallons of water begin to spill out. The hand retreats, blistered fingers curled protectively, and then disappears through the poly lining of her leather coat as she takes it off. It goes, and so does her tank top. Her shirt is doused in water and tied around her face to make breathing possible. And then the coat is doused next.

The once-queen snarls, takes as deep a breath as she dares, and then goes racing for the beam with her coat in her hands to try to lift the beam out and get into the gaping hole where it was. In the crawl space, there's hope. In the crawlspace, to the edges of the foundation where the concrete is colder and firmer than joists. And maybe, maybe if she's very very lucky… A crawlspace access that leads outside. One that isn't locked with steel doors and padlock. …But it is Gotham, so. If it is locked? Batman or one of his little fledglings should be on the way. Here's to hoping the gamble pays off.

Everything is burning.

The water from the cleaning port seems to take forever to drain, disgorging onto the floor in great bubbling splashes like an upended soda bottle. Grandly, the water mixes with the blood-covered floor, gouts of steam and waves of water traveling the boards in vast heaves as water cuts into the raging fire, slashing out a path through the conflagration for anyone graceful enough to pick through it.

Smoke wreaths the room like lethal tinsel, decorated well past the point of good taste, rendering her makeshift tank top mask a necessity. The water extinguishing the flames at the graceful gymnast's feet is not helping affairs either, all of the breathable air nestled close to the floor now cut through with white and grey. At the very least, her combat boots are finally doing her some good.

Freshly bared skin sears in mere proximity to the turning timber, the glowing wood putting off oven-broiling heat. The poly lining of the wet jacket peels almost immediately as it's laid against the beam. Even worse yet, the beam is heavy, in that sort of unreal way that one reaching the upper limits of their strength often finds where their muscles almost snap, rebelling against the body in bizarre and unpredictable ways. It will take everything she has to move the beam away from the hole, and then some. Every ounce of strength she has, just to dislodge the structural support. Even as she struggles, part of the building collapses onto the table, only a few feet away. Only then, does the beam budge, lifting aside and out of the way to offer her the barest glimpse of room to get under the floor.

The dead corpses of roaches and fresh rats flee from her as she bursts down there, finding space only barely larger than the coffin to slither through. Beams and cables sag beneath the floorboards, with pools of steaming water and blood pouring through broken seams and collecting in great dingy pools, mixing with dust, grime and exposed, sparking wiring to present a filthy and potentially lethal challenge to the escape of an enterprising victim. The hatch is just up ahead, a vented door offering succor, air, and a glimpse of the outside. Above, the light seeps through the floorboards, a chaotic and orange thing punctuated by the flares of blue from popping neon bulbs and electric flares. Then, the distant sound of radios pour in from outside.

The electricity is cut to the building, lights flaring off to leave only the orange. Beams of bright white stab past, along with the sort of red and blue that illuminates the dark and painting the faces of buildings hundreds of yards away. Massive trucks outside whirl and crush outside, churning the street. She can see all of this from the grating in the door, which has been mercilessly locked. Even a minute becomes an eternity. The padlock holds fast against any attempts to shake it loose, jostling, shaking, but not budging from the solid iron hasp.

Then, slowly, the padlock separates, the shackle sheared through with an angle grinder. The body of the lock, barely visible from the grating, rotates on the axis of its shackle, still hooked through the hasp to render the door shut and useless — but not locked to anyone who can physically touch the padlock to slide the hook of the shackle free from the hasp.

The body of the lock has been defaced with a grease pen, a giant neon smile drawn across it, halfway between green and purple.
One last joke for the road.
The monkey posted at the back kitchen door, also in view of the vent, stares at the lock.

Quinn has had better days. Covered in blood, soot, mud, rat droppings, an electrical burn or two from where she got just a little too close to the smaller cabling, and her skin protesting at every stretch and crease from being half broiled and half boiled, her seething rage serves her well. It pushes her forward. Keeps her going. And when it comes time for her to be face to face with her freedom: a toxic smile remains between them. And is it really freedom when there seems to be every law enforcement officer from the local precinct here?

There's no room to kick really. No room to run, barrel into it, and try to shoulder it free. Quinn shrieks. Loudly. And one hand comes up to pound loudly with the meat of her fist. Better to be in jail breathing, than not breathing at all. Except that the one she chooses to use for the attempt is the one that she burned to hell before, and she screams for the pain of it and stops.

She's going to kill Him. She's going to kill Him.

"You stupid monkey!" she screeches through the crack, voice hoarse. "WHAT GOOD ARE YOU? YER AS USELESS AS THE COPS. STOP STARIN' IF Y'AIN'T GONNA DO NUTHIN'." She presses as far as she can against the door, breathing whatever she can get through the crack in the access. And then, if no one comes, she tries to turn herself so as to get her back against the hatch so she can use it and what's left of her failing strength to try to rattle the sawed lock free.

Worst. Night.

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