The Reality of a Pair

August 19, 2018:

Harvest season is come. Joker comes to finally reap the next component he needs for a burgeoning plan: one misbehaving harlequin.

Harley's Not-So-Hidden Hideyhole

At this point, she's going to just need a new space. :|

Characters

NPCs: Bud and Lou, Hyena Hunters Extraordinaire and a Joy Boy or two.

Mentions: Taskmaster, Owen Mercer, Red Hood, Batman, Red Robin, Tony Stark (not all by name.)

Plot:

Mood Music: Devotion by Earth, Wind & Fire


Fade In…

A man on one ill-gotten prescription of Oxy too many glares at the exquisitely well-dressed man and his entourage as they come to the ratty little apartment building deep in the bowels of the Narrows. It takes a little bit of digging, but there's only a certain level of secrecy one could expect to derive when there's someone out there who thinks the same as you and breathes the same as you.

"Sure she's not there, boss?" a man in a thick coat and a feathered cap (?) asks him, a too-long clown in a suit that would put Versace to shame, if it weren't for the absolutely nightmarish shade of nigh-Stygian purple he's picked out for just such an occasion. The man wearing it grins a grin that goes on for a mile. "Pish posh, my good man. Where's your sense of adventure? Can't you smell it in the air? The electricity? The warm scent of apple pie? Hm. Or is it car exhaust? Fresh from the tailpipe!"

"Just like mom used to make," he reflects fondly.

"Well," the Joker finally decides, "No point in dilly-dallying. Get the wheelbarrow, and start spraying for vermin. Call the sitter! I don't want anything in the way!" At that point, the man on Oxy is picked up, unceremoniously hit with a blackjack, and shovelled into a wheelbarrow, to be carted away. Accepting it from a passing thug, the Joker shakes up a comically long spraycan.

""An artist must have room to work."
In the end, it takes just an hour.

The apartment building is empty and quiet, much more abandoned and dilapidated than usual. It is not festooned with the usual amount of criminals and less-than-fortunate laying about making loud and belligerent nuisances of themselves, their absence almost so total so as to suggest the building as a small isle of gentrification in the Narrows, if one could believe the process started with the stale odor of urine. The building is utterly empty, aside from the distant beat of some boombox playing Earth, Wind and Fire somewhere and the everpresent drone of overhead fluorescent lighting tubes, a sound that sets off the pea color of Projects Maintenance Green quite nicely.

The door to Harley's apartment, and Harley's apartment only, is ajar.
Usually a bad sign.

She'd only stepped out to walk the Boys. Her apartment - compromised twice more than she'd like to admit and still wounded from when one of those instances left one of her two small windows broken - is too small for them, really. Their daily constitutional keeps them happier as they transition back to life from Gotham after her 'rescuing' of them from a wildlife refuge in Texas, and it keeps Harley Quinn from getting too stir crazy. She's got too many thoughts again; the apartment feels too haunted for no subject of those thoughts to have ever been there.

Or, at least so she thinks.

The blonde looks cheerful enough at least, practically skipping along in her jumper with its ruffled skirt of black and white houndstooth with a grey harlequin pattern overprint, her fitted black zip up hoodie, her red leggings, and her high-heeled ankle boots with their slouched cuffs. Her messenger bag, rather than worn crossbody per her usual habit, hangs off her good shoulder alone.

She feeds the Babies while she's out, much to the butcher's chagrin.

And it's a couple of hours before she's back, not realizing that this is more than enough time for things to change.

Fun Fact: When Harley picked up Bud and Lou from their vacation spot in Texas with Taskmaster, saving them from their life treated as pampered creatures of exotic interest, she was fairly certain that they would provide some measure of protection. When they snapped at her because she no longer smelled like one of the pack and made her prove herself Mommy all over again, she was certain that there would be no exceptions to their security parameters. She thinks its a good sign when they pull her up the stairs, as though eager for home - such as it is. They seem happy. They pull their leashes out of her hand as they reach the top of the stairs, and she lets them escape her grip with a contented enough sort of laugh.

She is so occupied with them—with their eagerness and her desperate attempt to bury herself in a ridiculous task mocking the mundane—that she doesn't notice the empty halls or the clarity of music heard over silence. It's not until she's near that open door—a door that her beasts shoulder open wider and race through—that she stops. And listens. And feels her breath escape her lungs.

Then, bracing herself, her hand slips inside her bag to pull her snub nose revolver free, and then she slowly and evenly starts walking towards the door with her tongue curled against her molars and a look that tries to be anything but uncertain.

The slender blonde with her pretty pigtails would try to be quiet, but her pets have already ruined any attempt at surprise anyway. Her footfalls and heartbeat sound like thunder to her own lying ears.

Ha HA Ha hA
ha HA ha Ha ha
ha HA ha ha hA
HA HA Ha Ha ha HA

It's everywhere. In some places the paint is still wet. The entire apartment has been decorated with alternating shades of jade, magenta and crimson, silent film-grade laughter painted everywhere with haphazard abandon, across every surface and all over the floor. A veritable cornucopia of hilarity spread over the entire apartment, a scene made ever more bizarre by the spread of knives in the room.

Knives and guns, numbering in the hundreds, have been artfully laid out over the floor surrounding him, most very clearly having been used. The scent of old blood is overpowering, a familiar scent to those old enough to track it. There is one more familiar scent in the room as well.

One would imagine that it would take a full team of engineers to invent a shade of purple quite so gaudy and bright. Smacking of the old days, he's quite fond of his own particular scent of cheap and acrid cologne, a graceful scent yet still bordering on the level of chemical warfare, the kind of bright manufactured citrus scent a key note that takes a moment or two to leave the clothes even after an incidental contact with it. It is him that the hyenas find, a man silently reading the paper, a vast swath of the morning's occasion between him and the apartment's rightful occupants.

Curtained between them is the headlines for the morning edition of the Gotham Gazette, held between rictus gloved hands, cutting off any and all view of his easy chair and him other than his crossed legs. The headline is "CUSTODY BATTLES RISING IN GOTHAM FOURTEEN PERCENT." The picture is also upside-down, if you look at it right. It's hard to tell if the newspaper is real, unless you're the newspaper-reading type. In which case you know that is not today's headline at all.

So much of the predicament in which she presently finds herself, from Owen Mercer's abandonment to the Joker's sudden remembrance that she exists after a year and change of having settled into a void and grown comfortable in it, Harley attributes nearly directly to the desire to regain her fur children. Had she not sworn to recover them, things might be different.

But she did, and they aren't.

Imagine, however, the crack that threatens to rend her heart when Bud and Lou race towards the nightmare of Gotham who left her to burn alive with their terrifying laughter… only to stop short of him and his unworried self and dance around his perimeter in confusion without so much as baring their teeth. It has been some time, hasn't it? Their hackles may raise, but his scent - strong and unique to himself - is burned into their primal memories.

Quinn does not act confused, but rather she raises that revolver of hers and clings her work bag close. She looks around the apartment, and her features contort in fury. "You ain't got no right to be here! Getcher pasty ass movin' before I start puttin' holes in it!"

And then she fires, hopefully high enough to avoid her pets.

A hole is put through the paper.

Little comedic flecks of the news flutter through the air, leaving a gaping hole in an article about the prices of gasoline and what the mayor had said about their fluctuations. After the round punches through, there is no hope of finding out exactly what the mayor's staff is prepared to do to address the outright criminal prices, so if you were hoping to read about any of that, good luck!

A grin is seen from behind the smouldering hole, missing a tooth from where the round knocked it out. The moment she sees it, she'll know. The suit is old, too bright, too familiar, too safe. There was never anything safe about him. Never anything predictable, never anything square. The unresponsiveness he shows to the prancing yet vicious is not from disinterest.

By the time the newspaper drops, she can already guess the gag.
A dead man wearing clothes far too nice for him, his wrists tied to his knees. He wears his clothes, he wears his scent. But that grin. That flesh-twisting and stomach-warping grin. It's not him. But that smile is still a signature, nonetheless, a masterful Valentine penned by a knowing hand.

The Joker appears from the darkness of the door behind her.
"The smile might not be his, but he wears it well, I think.."

It's only one step for him, what might be three or four for someone else. His own scent is comparatively muted compared to the acrid aroma wreathing the cooling corpse in the chair, but when one gets as close as the Joker likes to get to Quinn, it's its own world in itself. The scent is nothing, compared to the warmth of the man himself, sudden, vivid, and all of a sudden simply there, like a magician's flourish. It is this one thing off, the one thing missing. The clown prince's scent is not about any one smell, any one sense. It's more about the sensation that things have gone horribly wrong. His scent is more like disaster.

He is subtle, he is calm, as a too-long limb draped in that Stygian, too-dark purple reaches around her to slowly lower a gloved hand over the raised revolver. Just one. He is not forceful, nor overtly mean. But in a thought, he is close enough to play Backgammon with every single one of the Harlequin diamonds on her dress.

And he wants her to know it.

"And here I was, thinking an apology would be in order, not a bullet," the Joker remarks, as provocative as he is disappointed.
"Maybe you got conciliation confused with caliber?"

She did it! She did it! This time, this time it's done.

Except…
There's a surge of panic as Harley realizes she's miscalculated, swiftly replacing the one that was relief and victory. She knows quickly that she's made the mistake and is nearly crushed by it, as her precious vicious ones try to decide what to make of the cold meat in the chair.

Her pale eyes open wide with the terror of it, and it's only then that she really begins to take in the extent of the vandalism of the place she's tried so hard to make something that could feel like home when the Gotham Arms got too full of questions and thoughts. A rage fills her, a grief given for all of the things she had that now are under a coat of spray paint. Covered in his veneer. She'll think later on his careful symbolism there. Of the art of it.

But 'now' has hold of her in its vicious teeth and she feels her shuddering breath escape and return in a hiss, and it affords her ex-beau the opportunity to again get the drop on her. He drapes his hand over her weapon, and she fights the urge to cry.

She rips herself away so long as he doesn't thwart that, too, and moves to take the revolver and center it back on the center of his chest. "Apology?! Apology?!" Her voice rises to a shriek that is so filled with bravado, she nearly believes the courage of it as she hurls it in the Joker's direction. "YOU LEFT ME TO DIE IN A FIRE!"

There's no one here to hear the gunfire.
At least, no one who wasn't already used to it.

The next few moments pass in a tumultuous spin of verve. The Joker rarely teases when it comes to physical contact, and much like so many other things about them, the moments where he is that close are chaotic. Like so many other things about them, he is not willing to let go so easily. The next few moments are like so many other things about them. She whirls, angry and knotting up bravery like a kerchief. And he takes it. Every ounce of it. She rips herself away and he steps along with her, his step jangled, like the broken dance of a marionette. He's not quite ready to release the revolver. He moves like a sidewinder, any grace that could be inferred in his motion rendered chaotic and alien. When is a dance a fight and a fight a dance?

He doesn't try to wrest the gun from her grip. Instead, he uses his longer center of gravity to lean against her, moving her imperceptibly off-balance. It would mean nothing for Quinn, the somewhat dichotomous clown's grace beyond losing out to a few degrees of tilt. But things being as they are, he expects that. And wants it. And uses it. It is one of the many things he is going to take. Because if she thinks, even for a moment, of doing something beyond falling to the ground, he will lead her by the gun whirling exquisitely into the wall, in an impact that will shake the plaster from the ceiling in the apartment three doors down.

If he has his way, she will have her way. She will face him. But in so doing, she will trade away even the liberty of being able to run, being able to escape. He will pin her against the wall, leaving no space left between them.

"You were there because that's where the gag needed you to be," he explains, venomously. "Why do you think I gave everyone else the punchline first? What do you think the firefighters were for? All that time I spent finding that bar with the that god awful aquarium pool table, and you still. Didn't. Get. The. Joke. To think, all that time I wasted feeding you the perfect story about little ol' me and you being on the worst outs of all time. After all that, and you're still going to shoot me?" He grins.

He lifts the revolver's barrel over his chest.

"Ah… I do so hate having to explain the joke. If you're going to shoot me… don't miss," he warns, his green eyes shining at her as he stares.

He knows her. Inside and out, he knows her. He carved the secret places of her, hollowed them out for himself.

So, when the Joker knows that a little off-balance physicality means nothing to an acrobat of Harley's calibre, he knows it. And she does precisely what he wants her to do, even if she doesn't realize it at first in her fit of pique.

When she steps to compensate in her less-than-steady heels—when she crosses her steps to accommodate for the way those black boots wiggle atop the blade of a knife beneath them, the curve of the hilt rocking just enough to be nearly catastrophic for her—he isn’t far behind her, but she still fails to realize it. It’s a few quick and chasing steps that are nearly a shuffle to the untrained eye, so easy to miss are the clean lifts and pivots as her feet and strong ankles adjust to stay under her and support her on instinct.

She doesn't even realize it as her back slams against the wall and the impact uncurls and elongates it, followed by the beat of her bag finding the wall as well after the back of her head. At nearly the same time, her wounded shoulder that still sports the threads of the Taskmaster’s patch job finds its place on that same wall. She cries out for her shoulder and her arm as pain races down it, and her head spins. He’ll find that her forehead briefly falls forward to rest against his torso, and she is a captive audience as he explains over the sounds made by two indecisive hyenas.

He explains a different story, and the blonde’s brow furrows away from view as she tries to brace her thinking against the shift in thought. It’s not right. That's not how the story goes. It wasn't like that. Quinn made a choice. She walked away. She was free of him. She did her therapy. They made her take the drugs. There was Waller, and the deals she spun. Quinn recalls that she made choices. She made choices. Hard choices. Hard choices, and the Joker wasn’t there.

He doesn’t get to just say that it was all his plan and diminish that. He doesn’t have the right.

When he lifts that gun to his chest, that be-pigtailed head lifts, too, so the princess can look him in the eyes with a poisonous fury. She’s so certain that she could take the shot and not miss. Absolutely certain. So… very…

Then, under that confident shine of the Joker’s and his declarations of failure over her, the lesser fire of Quinn’s defiance starts to die in her countenance. Mercer’s accusations come to mind, too, that she’s still the broken thing that the clown has made her. In the midst of the proverbial storm, his insults batter against her defenses and tear the storm shutters open to expose her.

She holds the stand off for the span of several heartbeats, her fingers twitch… and then slender shoulders, well and unwell, sag as her eyes turn away.

And then she lowers—or altogether relinquishes—her revolver.

It's a bit like staring down a cobra.

Over the course of his career, the Joker has made a bit of a hobby in hollowing out and getting inside the minds of some of the most dangerous personalities in the world, the Bat being the most dangerous of them all. He does have his favorites, those who by and by find his interest most often of all. And then, there's Harley. Every vicious impulse she shows is something he saw in her a long, long time ago. Ultimately, her trigger finger is the one he gave her.

But that isn't why he only has a cold grin for her, staring her in the baby blues. He never flinches, and the moment she loses her nerve, his mood shifts, his smile losing only a shade of intensity, but losing it nonetheless. There is something expected in his glance. Something … something disappointed. As her slender hand disengages from her gun, he takes it from her by the barrel, tilting it away from him and towards the ceiling.
He raises one finger behind him, for the sake of the children. Shhh.

"I'll let you in on this much," the clown prince whispers in an ear that was never anything but his.
"This is how it will always be for you in life, out there. Little old Alice, running just as fast as she can, right up until the Red Queen — shlick!" he interjects, drawing the barrel of the revolver across his neck with lethal finality. "'Off with her head,' she's going to say. And that's going to be the story of my little Harley, having all these thoughts that she thinks belong to her. Still running away from the funny side of life. All those drugs, all those rules. I guess you thought they were the ones protecting you all this time?"

Now, the Joker laughs at that idea.
"It was still me. Surprise!"

He insinuates himself ever closer to her, in that sort of way that makes telling their individual scents apart truly difficult. One arm slips around her, in the space between the wall and the small of her back. After the brief and heavy contact with the wall, there is the barest suggestion of space between them, a film of liberty left for her to breathe in, carefully pruned by the Joker until claustrophobic, womblike in its tightness. He never actually touches her. That's always been what the barrel of his gun has been for.

"My poor little turtledove," the Joker soothes in rattlesnake seduction. A quick sleight of hand, a magician's twirl, and the gun is righted in his hand, which he uses to punctuate his thoughts. "Did you think anyone, anyone at all was looking at you as a person? That you were anything to them other than a good shot or a great pair of …."
He pauses. "Eyes? Hm. No, that's not right.."

"No, no," the Joker decides, brushing the barest few misplaced strands of hair from framing her face, the barrel warm on her skin as it ghosts past her forehead. "I want to start over. You see," he intimates to his jestress, "they're …simple minds. And the little details are lost on them. We're Laurel and Hardy, and they're telling puns in the subway for nickels. And for all of the song and dance you've done, all of the galavanting about, all of the misplaced anger does nothing to hide the fact that they'll use you all up, and you'll never even get a single hoot from them. They'll never get you like I got you. But you turn the gun on me. And then you don't even have the good decency to pull the trigger. Now, tell me…"

He says it just for her. "Didn't I learn you better than that? What do you have to say for yourself?"

His lack of fear in the face of death is not new. She’s pulled the trigger before, although—clearly—to no real success. He’s still here, breathing. Every firing of her gun and swing of her mallet in his direction has to date only proven that she can fire a gun or swing a mallet.

He’s disappointed in her, and the words cut deeper than the knife that plunged into her shoulder weeks ago. It’s not an unfamiliar recipe. Pain, judgment, isolation, and then a renewed claim over her. Even the soundtrack of music and chatty hyenas settling down into a whine before slinking off to investigate the dead man whom they wish they could eat but dare not is achingly familiar.

It sounds more like home than anything else has in the past year, and the craving for it rumbles deep within her.

Harley returns her gaze to his, with some resistance sparking. He wants her to pull the trigger, and the fact that she’s denied him and is judged for it gives her some pale reminder of autonomy. A phantom. When she returns those pale mascara-framed eyes to him, one eyebrow arches up and there’s the smallest of smiles. "That's real funny."

“Yer wrong,” she spits. And then her voice drops low. “‘Cause I don’t need the gun.” And then she tries to impale his foot with the sharp heel of her boot, even as she tries to get enough space to twist and turn him with her good shoulder. Room means she can get into her bag. And in her bag, there’s her pop gun and knives. The ones she trusts, rather than the floor full of them. And the tiny beacon that can summon a Bat.

And regardless of whether or not any of it makes contact, she continues her vitriolic self-defense. “No one gets to start over! You can want to all you want, and no one gets to.

You can work for over a year to learn how to stand without somebody who was your everything, lose something you never knew you could want so much, and go through the grief of loss largely alone… Only to find that as soon as you’re in trouble and need someone to just say they believe in you… You’re in trouble for things you didn’t even do, ground in between contradicting expectations, helpless as the accusations fly… and you suddenly realize that you never stopped being alone.

What’s left is the hollows after everything else is gone. Like the the deep crags of a sea-worn cliff, those hidden hollows are made known as the wind roars over them.

"AND FER YER INFERMATION," she continues, her empty hand swinging back to point if she's got that much room although she needs neither room nor finger to make the point, "THANK YOU VERY MUCH, THERE'S A BULLET IN THE CORPSE BACK THERE THAT SAYS MY TRIGGER FINGER IS JES' FINE! AND IF YA DIDN’T KNOW IT THEN YA WOULDN'T HAVE PUT IT THERE IN THE FIRST PLACE AND RUINED MY WHOLE APARTMENT THAT I PUT HOURS OF WORK INTO." And that still smelled like forgetfulness and poverty.

Let’s forget that part.


Well, Laurel and Hardy were at their best when they leaned hard into slapstick.

For a twisting moment, the Joker watches Quinn carefully, the sort of sleepy predatory glare that exercises an efficient and lazy sort of attention. The angle of his head dips, his brow cutting a sharp shadow across white skin and haunting green eyes. The smallest of smiles brings with it the subtlety of a lit fuse. It's really a funny thing. Speaking of.

'That's real funny.' "Wouldn't you know, I was just thinking the same thing—!"

The dagger heel slams into his knife-point wingtips. It disrupts his train of thought for the second or so she needs to gain precious space, the coils of the constrictor slipping loose as he's turned away, opening his side, a path through his long limbs easily wormed through by the appropriately nimble. His pratfall is something of a sight to behold, as he's hardly the kind of agile that could match his slender counterpart. He steps back, intending a smooth retreat, but instead scatters knives in every direction, almost going down as he barely restrains himself from crashing to the ground, cackling brightly.

And that's the difference between them, isn't it.

"You don't. Because if you told it twice, no one would believe the story," he breathes quietly, regaining his composure with his hands on his knees. "It always gets a little less fantastic each time it's told," he continues, running a hand through a mop of green hair, revealing momentarily what is almost certainly the beginnings of a widow's peak. "You start to see all the little tricks, all the little lies you've been told. And make no mistake — you HAVE been lied to. But knowing the trick just ruins the whole thing, my dear…"

The clown prince straightens, primly adjusting the hang of his jacket with sharp, attentive, brisk movements. There is the illusion of him paying Harley no mind in the slightest, but the illusion is one with a very real gravity of risk indeed. "But then again, we've never needed to start over, have we? Life is much, much more interesting when the punchline is a final one, isn't it? If you're going to go out, I say, go out with a bang!"

Upon this, he whirls, spreading his hands wide in a showman's flourish, the gun in his hand like a conductor's baton. "And a thing farbeit for me to impugn!" he says of her aim, a neat riposte to her entire train of thought, the contradiction almost painful to regard. "The only thing a gentleman takes exception to is how he's handled," he opines, his voice dropping insidiously low, crawling through the space between them as he slowly lowers his arms. His mood, grandiose, seductive and all the while bombastic when it regards Quinn, finally dips low, as his myriad psychoses begin to rise.

The sun sets.

"And in regards to you and me…" the Joker reminds, "I have not been handled well."
Quietly, he cocks the hammer on the revolver.

In the space Harley has earned, she is not satisfied. Her boots pound across the floor as she dances over the cascade of daggers and darts sideways towards the hundred-and-fifty pound masses of fur, muscle, and sharp teeth that are her comfort on the bad days that come. But today is not a bad day. It is a terrible day with night rapidly descending, and the hyenas part to grant her passage through before crashing together again behind her with their paws clicking loudly across the floor as they dance with a persisting and frenetic energy.

But then? A cat.

The neighbor's stupid lean tabby cat makes the mistake of jumping up the fire escape as she starts to come home for the evening, now that it's darkening outside. That tortie has been taunting Bud and Lou almost as long as they’ve been forced to endure the too-small abode, feeling rather confident as it’s walked along the window sills behind the safety of glass.

The hyenas—who have been waiting for weeks for the just the right opportunity—finally find it. Harley is distracted by the argument at hand. The window is broken and poorly patched with grocery bags and broken up cardboard boxes.

The feline's doom seems to be at hand as the pair scrabble away from the confusion of their parents’ bickering and the man who both smells of food and poison with a singularity of purpose, for the kitchen counter so that they can try to get up and out.

But to take eyes off of the Joker is a dangerous liberty, particularly when he's been receiving no small amount of sass from you. Harley lives dangerously and is driven to her baser, instinctual self so easily in the presence of the master sculptor who chips away at her. That is to say, Harley pays the price for her distraction.

"No! SIT!” she screams with more concern than command, and they do not listen. The second gun in her bag - like the button that could summon help she's certain would get there too late - is forgotten when she instinctively stretches her bad arm out as she lunges for their trailing leashes. She stretches it too far too fast, and then curls in on herself as she feels like her arm is set on fire for the infraction. The hand that was going for her gun goes for her shoulder instead as her entire body curls forward again and her visage contorts with the pain of it.

It provides the Ex the perfect stage in which to deliver his stirring monologue. She hears the shift in his voice, and it chills her blood. When the revolver clicks to the ready, the once-doctor's face turns back to her once-patient's place in the room.

She's wounded him, and everything in her stirs towards the social expectation of apology. He's been wronged, he tells her. Soundly abused. She has been conditioned for apology. He does these things because she deserves them, yes?, and it's a sign of his enduring affection expressed in the ways that he knows how. Apologize, because he loves her so, and things can go back to the way they were. He’ll put the gun down.

But Harley fears that he knows the whole of her betrayals, and he'll see the hazardous shine of knowing reflect back at him from her face. Because he knows her far better than is good or healthy for her. He knows the cracks of her psyche and where to push at them for effect, the nurturer and the victim both, and he knows when the woman's better parts betray her from the corners of her soul and try to be honest.

Quinzel's been keeping secrets. If the Joker didn’t know it before, he might certainly know it now. If she’s lucky, he’ll miss it beneath the roiling rage. But when has she ever gotten lucky?

"How d'ya figure?" she growls back as she feels her bag fall from her shoulder to the crook of her bent elbow, feral and defensive. Anyone who didn’t know her would only see the indignation of a woman who is accused of victimizing a man who tried to kill her in a bar when she denied his advances. "Because that's not the way it looks from where I’m standin'." Or hunching and catching her breath under her beau's steady aim. To-may-to, to-mah-to. "Way I see it, I went easy on ya."

The hyenas finally get over their bickering, muscle through the cardboard over the broken window, and end up on the platform of the fire escape. When it nearly lowers under their combined weight, they panic and skitter for the edges of the landing. And there they alternate cackling for help and laughing as they catch wind of the cat that mocks them on the landing above them.

Harley fights a sigh of frustration, a growl of helplessness as that hope of their intervention literally goes out the window. …She really hates that cat.

"You weren't the one hackin' up soot fer a month." And wallowing in a deep pit of unrelenting confusion.

“Ya went after my friend,” she adds, a note of mourning creeping in around the edges. Who was technically quite a little more than just a friend, but who then also eventually kicked her to the curb for struggling with aforementioned confusion, so ‘friend’ seems like a decent compromise there. Also, moral high grounds must be stolen when they don’t appear naturally, and they are most certainly both thieves in this room.

The prince knows how to dance.

The ebb and flow of the showman's prestige is palpable, an electric energy suffusing him to rival any show under the big top. Behind the bacchanalian veil, she enjoys far more freedom than any other has ever enjoyed with the clown, his moods rarely allowing for anyone to survive being close to him for very long. For some insane reason known only to the Joker, his tenuous attachment keeps her breathing. As long as there is something of him remaining moored in reality, something that still calculates, something that still feels, she is always just put together enough. And in so doing, each breath she takes around him is a commentary on her worth, as being one of the few people he could kill — and doesn't.

But the game is one so carefully played.
And it changes so, so quickly.

The icy silence that fills the room is buffeted by the sound of claws on cheap knock-off laminate countertops, the spraypaint laughter etched in long dragging marks across it, the faucet cracked, the windows torn open. In a few moments, the heavy breath is going to be replaced with the sound of meat being torn to shreds on the fire escape. In only a moment, it's going to be the cat's back, hyperextended until it cracks and tears between two sets of slavering jaws. The mess is going to be obscene.
It may just be the Joker's natural mien, but he almost seems disappointed when the children succeed only in trapping themselves.

In the reality of it, the Joker pays it no mind in the slightest, watching the woman scramble to put it back together, scramble to find a counterpoint. He is silent, his green-eyed glare as intense as his grin, the whiplash thing that has no mooring in the reality of it at all. The curtain is drawn, the show over, and the room as impossibly dark as his suit. And to his eye, it is a scramble. He doesn't seem impressed upon by her complaints, her objections. She says something about him going after her friend.

"I know that in our line of work, delusion is as common as daisies," the Joker remarks wryly and idly, a knowing light to his vicious glare, "but I wouldn't say 'making friends' is really at all apropos of what you've done with what I've given. Not really, not even. one. bit."

He licks his lips.

"So!" he mentions, stepping towards her, now suddenly and very pointedly the most violent in the room. Minding the knives he's placed, the revolver is still at his side. With his free hand, he rubs his chin, working out a kink in his neck with a brief twist. He limbers himself up, as if getting ready for an intense workout. "If you're asking, then that means you're thinking that I'm a fool. And of course," so follows the venomous thought, "the problem is that you're thinking again. You think. And then you start lying. And you hide things, and you start to sound like them. The poor and simple schemers, trying to lie and hide their way through this little life. And you know what happens to them then. Or, not to put too fine a point on it, what happens when a person starts to turn on me."

"My dear, if you are good at any one thing, it's getting things so, so wrong."

The Joker's grin grows desperately manic.
And then he trains the revolver.
"I have to admit, it's actually kind of a turn-on.. I wonder what you'll come up with next?"

As her evening visitor closes the distance between them and makes it more than abundantly clear that the jig is definitely up on that front, Harley carefully and quickly weighs her options as she sees them. Make a play for the BatButton in her bag, get shot and die while waiting for the Bat to arrive. Tell him she has the button and offer it to him, and possibly get shot and die while definitely losing the button so the Bat definitely won’t arrive, then, except for too late. Leave the beacon where it is in her bag, and she doesn’t get shot.

So the button’s out, then.

Fight? Ehhhhhhhhh, not great odds, given her shoulder and the interaction so far.

Next up: trying to adjust the Joker’s perception of the situation. BWAHAHAhahahaha-No. That’s right out.

Which pretty much only leaves adjusting his position of her in the situation.

So.

Slowly, Quinn unfolds her good arm and lets the bag slip free, its leather strap pooling on the floor. “Yer right,” she says, her pale brow creasing. “I… I been thinkin’ a lot. It ain’t been good for me, puddin’.” She doesn’t uncurl all the way, but her hand moves to unzip her jacket. “But yer not right about everythin’. I ain’t turned on ya.”

As if anyone would tell him if they had.

Her slender hands lift, palms towards him to show they’ve nothing in them. It could be the start of a magician’s trick, but it’s not. If he allows it, she’ll peel that hoodie off and let it slip to the floor, revealing the sleeveless jumper dress beneath, and the bandage just beneath it on the left side. “Someone came lookin’ fer you,” she says, pointing at her shoulder as she nervously shifts her weight from one booted foot to the other, and back, then back. A quiet dance that more than adequately communicates that she knows the deep hole that she’s in. “An’ I didn’t say nothin’. The Bats were lookin’. And I didn’t say nothin’. I didn’t wanna take the job at the school, but that was the only way to get the Babies back. I couldn’t leave the Babies after they took ‘em from me. I lost ‘em. It was the only way I could think of to get ‘em back.”

Okay, so she wasn’t excited about him rigging a school, but she was even less excited about the idea of having to intentionally cross him.

“I…” Her eyelashes flutter, as she fights back tears. “I jes’ got caught up in it. And the more I went along, the more caught up I got.” A smile turns her mouth upwards, baring those perfect white teeth as she tries to hold the hypnotic green of the one who will probably kill her someday. …just maybe not today. She chuckles, nervously, her grating voice pleading. “You know how I get when I’m on my own, puddin’.”

There is a lot to do with a little. The idea of what could be and what is is very mutable, when it comes to the pair. There is very little that's rooted in reality, and as far as he's concerned, the insinuation he makes could be as illusory as it could be real. And that's where her protests die. No matter how well crafted the fact, it simply doesn't matter in the context of his idea. He has no qualm with questioning her every virtue on as deep a level as needed, again and again, until each of his impulsive suspicions are satisfied. Until the straitjacket is tailored to fit her just right.

Between them, what's real has never actually mattered, has it?
They still feel the way they feel, just the same.
He'll still kill her, just the same.

She starts to explain, and the Joker truly seems to stop listening. On the other side of the revolver, his bright-eyed sociopath stare is even and attentive to every cue that isn't words coming from her mouth. The way her palms lift. The click of her zipper. The way she slips out of her jacket, and the pool of clothing at the floor. At the foot of the bag she seems so very attached to. Regarding and concerning him, he is a long, sharply-dressed thing, the gun never wavering, his smile never quite breaking, even as the mania slowly builds in his vicious mien. There is a short there, when she moves just so. When the defiance breaks, and tears start to build in her eyes. She can only tell when the tone of his expression changes to recognition.

She smiles.
He returns the gesture.
"I know."

The Joker continues to approach her, his gait slow and reasoned. The mania leaps from moment to moment, from step to step. The last time he was like this, a man's grey matter ended up filling a series of shotglasses. Only they're the only two there. It's just them. And after ruining his plans once, he does not seem at all forgiving. The gun never strays from her chest until he gets close enough that he needs to raise it. "But being able to keep a secret isn't really enough, in this day and age…"

He does not make any great show of trying to overtake her, speed and strength having absolutely nothing to do with what he does next. There is a slow deliberation in the way he moves to take her up to him. One could almost call it an invitation. The way he loops his long frame around her again. He will run his gloved hand across her bandaged shoulder, the one he knows she favors, though the dress does an adequate job of reducing the linens to a mere suggestion. She can tell the vague lightning-brief surge of emotion he feels at that exact moment, a moment in which he notices an injury on her he didn't make. Someone is liable to pay for it, even if it's not the originator. It folds into his myriad mood.

"You see, I think you've forgotten what fun even looks like, at this point…"

In this case, she is free to shy away, invited to flinch, to escape. At any juncture, she could break away from him. It's not like before, where she had no choice at all. She can elect to stay, through every moment of what he does to her. She can elect to stay, even as he cradles her, resting the barrel of the gun on the pout of her lower lip. The hammer still cocked back, he will angle it just so, until the gunmetal clinks lightly against the enamel of her teeth, the bullet likely ending up somewhere at the base of her skull, should he find a reason to pull the trigger.
She can go at any time.

He doesn't make a show of checking the drum. Only she knows if there's a round in the chamber. He's fond of leaving a round out of the load, just to see what happens. And he is quite interested to see what happens, and how much of her attention he has. Because she has exactly what she wants, in the end. What she does next will determine exactly how he feels about her.

"So I think I'm gonna need you to do something for me."

As the Joker’s elegant form draws closer, Harley stands her ground. She’s always seen the beauty in him, a treasure store of rare gems nestled among razorblades. There is no collecting the precious without a sacrifice of blood. Every long and unhurried step he takes, she waits for him with a patience that is both enduring and fretful. To run is death. To stay is death of a different kind.

But… but this is love, isn’t it? This is love, the only lasting way she’s ever really known it.

She’s been apart from the Joker now long enough that she’s out of synch, out of step. She thought that perhaps that Owen Mercer could be a bridge for her across the chasm away from Him—Boomerang’s hopeless and relentless pursuit of worth and normalcy just enough to rein her in and make her belong. But he needed a bridge of his own, forward not back. This, ultimately, is why he left, she’s come to realize. He needed someone less broken. He needed someone better. She doesn’t really blame him, but it’s hard to think that nothing she ever did—could ever do—was ever going to be good enough.

She, meanwhile, must live or die by her prince’s good graces. She was a fool for believing anything else—that he’d ever truly just let her go. He winds around her with the smooth grace of a python, and the gun at her mouth is all the evidence of that she needs that he loves her. He needs her. She pulls her head back just enough to talk without chipping her teeth. She knows that the only round missing in that gun is the one that is presently lodged in her deceased guest’s head.

“Yeah, puddin’,” she says as the persistent complaining and rattling of the animals on her fire escape seems to disappear, so intense is her focus on those captivating eyes of his, daring enough to loose her shaky exhale without fear that it will be the last oxygen her lungs will know and letting the steel cloud and clear. And then she pulls her head back more and her nod is desperate, small but exuberant and repeated many times over. It sets her curled pigtails to bouncing. “Of course. Of course.” She laughs again, this time breathless and airy in relief as her hands tentatively lift to run her trembling fingers along the crisp pressed lines of his lapels. The red of her nails brings out the purple in his suit.

So few appreciate how hard he works for his immaculate and classic appearance, the look of a real gentleman, and how generous he truly is when he sacrifices that appearance for his work.

Harley has always seen it, just as she knows he’d sacrifice it for her in a heartbeat if he found himself so inclined. Her soft hand slowly and cautiously moves towards the revolver, to gently move it aside with her fingertips so that she can close the last of the distance and press herself to him. To reach up and murmur across the distance that separates his greater height from her lesser one.

“What d’ya need me t’do?”

It is true, almost all of it. He is perfectly willing to let Harley have her space, her freedom. A little bit of space, he's found, makes for a healthy relationship. It would be the last thing she ever did in this world, but never let it be said that the clown prince of crime is clingy. No, perish the thought.

There are some forms of psychopathy that blind a person to anything but what they want to hear, blind to anything but what's important to them. And while the Joker simply doesn't have the patience to entertain every thought that chances across that asylum-grade mind of hers, he is unnaturally good with paying her mind when it suits his purpose, the same as a clockmaker watches a timepiece to make sure it's following its timing. In the moment he holds the gun to her lips, the way he looks at her, she can tell he's searching her for her myriad preoccupations.

"That's my girl," he says, with a little more meaning than usual.
Owen is a dangerous thought to have in these trying times.

He lets her annex his mood, leading him away from killing her. She holds onto him, slowly brushing the revolver away, cautiously settling against him until her reds shine against the impossibly dark violet of his suit. He relents against this, letting her her room, before the gun falls away down her side. Running the length across her, he takes the gunmetal to the fabrics, smoothing out the fine lines in her dress idly, and outlining her slender figure. It is a pastime to occupy his interest, and his interest is such a pointed thing.

"Oh, nothing much," he finally replies steadily, idle and absent-minded with his ministrations. He is uncommonly cavalier with his words then. "We're going to play to what they expect from you for awhile longer, I think. Because I'm going to need you," he says, letting the gun hitch at the pause in his words. He wants her to hear it, pay attention to it. "I'm going to need you to take a trip to the Big Apple. We're going to have a party, you see, but first we need to get a little personal with that Steve Jobs with better PR and less pancreatic cancer, Tony Stark. I've got a few mountainsides in need of a new smile…."

"Of course, if you can't turn his head, I'm sure that we could always arrange for another trip to the hospital," the Joker offers, politely, tilting his head until it meets her own. His gun — hers, really — settles at her shoulder, letting his hand rest on her. Their exchange is brief, torrential, in the tight and heated space. "Though," he continues. "On that note, the children are in bed," he notices. "And I spent a lot of time making sure things were comfortable," he says, thumbing lazily behind him at the knives. There's not a space in the apartment that doesn't have them laid out.

He leans down, the space between them shrinking by handspans as he makes his intentions known to Quinn in sotto voce. "If it interests, I've got a calendar and a double-shot of espresso with your name on it," he suggests, provocatively, intimately. The greatest ill repute imaginable, from the way he says it.

"And there are more than a few things I'm going to need to do with you to make sure you have a healthy understanding of who to cross this time around…"

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