Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile

September 09, 2018:

The Joker's homework assignment comes due, and Quinn gets an incomplete. A tutoring session follows, and a re-do is offered.

An abandoned park in NYC.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Tony Stark, Batman, Owen Mercer, Impulse (Not by name.)


Mood Music: None.

Fade In…

It's been a bit of an adjustment period, but never let it be said that the Joker can't behave when it suits him.

Of course, there are scales and grades of behaving, and most of what the clown prince of crime has done in New York hasn't been enough to raise the noses of even the most suspicious detective. After all, who would think that a few sharpie-drawn smiles and bullet-ridden corpses were anything close to the executive bombast and wig-whipping-off thrills that everyone's favorite Pagliacci-grinning ghoul of the graceful could command on even his most gauche days?

Honestly, if anyone were smart enough to make that leap, he'd be /offended./

Even so, boredom is the absence of a good idea, and there's work to be done. The little run-down amusement park — playground, really, is more the right color — in the projects is where he's elected to do some of his work while waiting for the fruits of his other labors to grow ripe. A place where a chainsaw could be mistaken for a seesaw, and the tetherball just might be live and armed. Just the right place for a man looking for a spot to stay unnoticed. Or such is the idea. In all truth, the playground was once a funded and shining star of the neighborhood economy, flanked by a boardwalk with a row of old dilapidated food vendor stalls whose signs have long since lost a letter or two. Now, it's really the site of so many ghost and witch stories that the local kids won't even come near.

The rumors have intensified since the carousel ride went operational a week or two ago, warbling out a haunting calliope rhythm in the dead of night. Dogs, cats, horses and comically undersized elephants rendered in candy colored fiberglass pump absently up and down as they traverse around an endless loop as the ice cream ditty fills the air, right at 10pm every night.

Not a kid in the world is coming near that thing.

At least, not the literal kiddies.

But then there are the perpetually young at heart.

She debated whether or not to show. She definitely took her time in doing it. Some of that was due to greater allotment of time that was required for her particular task the day before. Some of it was due to the extra brain power she had put towards trying to devise a Step 2.

But, like the wall clock during a particularly trying examination, time proved to be both an inconvenient external construct and the Enemy.

Eventually, one Harley Quinn comes to call.

In the current climate, it's hard to tell what one wears to such an affair. In the void left by the etiquette guides, Quinn is left to choose for herself. She chooses to retain her clothes from the day before: legging tights, a black skirt with darling Mary Jane heels, a pair of tee shirts - one red and one black - made into one new creation that respects her motif with quartering and diamonds and hangs off of her good shoulder and show off the strap of a tank top underneath. Her still-healing shoulder and its corresponding arm has been immobilized in a brace, but she tries to gloss over the offense of it by painting herself up in the arsenic white and black cosmetics that her on-again-off-again paramour prefers.

She's got her military surplus bag hanging off of her one shoulder as she tentatively steps onto the unholy soil of the park, her expression altogether uncertain. "Puddin'?" she calls, peering into shadows and blind turns. Between the rounds of her adapted game of Marco Polo, she tries to smile. She even sings a motivating tune under her breath: "Hey, hobo man… Hey, Dapper Dan… You've both got yer style… But, brother, yer never fully dressed without a smile…"

This is gonna be fine. This is gonna be fine. Just don't think about it. Thinking makes it worse.

And after all, whatever use was thinking when lives were on the line, as they may very well be? She was something to behold, the slender well-dressed coquette, all painted up in her checker and chessboards, cutting a very fetching harlequin red and black against the very pointed dark. Pointed being the key word, since even the most innocuous limb of the monkey bars could conceal poisons or explosives more than willing to separate life from limb, irrespective of the mood the man is in. And what a mood that would be, after the fact, wouldn't it? It's all about the fun of the thing…

Her lonely game echoes throughout the park, catching only on the points of metal where the paint's flaked off just a little too much, the pitch of her voice dulling against the sand and rust as much as it keens sharply off of other angles. The sound is faint against the tinny and distant warble of the distorted calliope surrounding the merry-go-round, dull mirrors reflecting the light cast from the few bulbs not yet in dysfunction from disuse. The bulbs are themselves dim but only by design, the old Edison-style transparent sorts, the filament glowing plainly within. It is meant to evoke an older time, a better time, a romance for the older generation and an enchantment to the new. A romance, indeed.

Just about when she reaches into the hook of her sotto voce ensemble tune is when the crescendo of the calliope hits.

When the Joker appears, it is with that sort of absurd sense of timing that has grown to be as much a favorite theme as the contrasting eye-bleedingly eye-catching theme of Quinn's makeup. He is, somewhat true to expectation, on the carousel. Though the same cannot be said for his appearance. For one round of the carousel, it is simply empty, and without approach. Then on the next approach, he is standing there, a long and lean too-tall thing leaning against the mirrors obscuring the inner workings of the carousel. He appears, and before she can even say hello, he's gone again.

Well, he IS on a revolving carousel..

It's a little like a kind of cruel magic. He isn't wearing his trademark purple dinner jacket today, in favor of simpler attire, the dress shirt he's always preferred beneath, with a collar sharp enough to cut leather. His suspenders always keep his slacks in perfect alignment, but he seems odly dressed down for the occasion yet still. Of course, was he expecting anyone? Well, he did leave the time table open, after all.

He sees her, and grins. The sensation is momentary, before he disappears around the bend again, replaced by an elephant eating peanuts. After all, the greatest showman of all time is without question the type that likes to see results, and if someone like the Joker has to impose a deadline, well… it really is all in the name, isn't it?

"Your clothes may be Beau Brummelly… They stand out a mile… But, brother, you're never fully dressed without a - "

As the Joker comes round the curve, she nearly misses him. She certainly missed his entrance, having watched the carousel spin round and round in metaphor twice before declaring a third watch the thing of neurosis.

He would show up on the third time. Granted, with more time, she'd also declare that he'd know if it was the fourth time - or fifth or sixth - that would be the perfect time to swing round and make it clear that she's not alone.

Her eyes turn in his direction, and her breath catches. 'He already knows,' Quinn thinks to herself, and the terrible thought makes itself known in the wideness of her celestial pale eyes.

But there's no time for hello, or goodbye, before the Joker is gone again. She waits another round through to be sure. One heeled foot crosses behind the other as she takes a half step back into a lovely fourth position a la ballet. Her good hand tightens on the strap over her shoulder.

"Mistah J, I got some good news," she tries with a laugh, the bazooka on her back lifting momentarily as she raises that shoulder and sets her be-pigtailed head towards it in a pulse. Her eyes dart to the sides of the carousel now, looking for the paths by which a clown that tall could make himself disappear.

He mirrors everything she thinks, in all the worst ways.

Insofar as her eyes widen when they meet his, his eyes are green in that wild almost-glowing way when one shines a flashlight into the dark wilderness and finds themselves suddenly and distressingly not alone. His reflection is wild and unkempt in the smudged, distorted mirror as he makes the rounds, watching his lady love for far longer than should be polite or natural along the orbit of his jolly way, never actually extending a greeting to her until she gives in, her long legs settling into a perfect grace to belie the unnatural tilt of everything around her.

And he is cruel. Even as she speaks up, even as she lifts her proof to him, he seems categorically unimpressed, and he raises one hand to his eye. As he carefully inspects fingernails that aren't visible underneath the purple gloves he wears, he disappears again around the bend in mid-sentence, the tempo of the carousel ever so irregular. It's like it's not quite following the exact same time or rhythm with each pass, confounding even the most rudimentary attempts to talk with him. And he's perfectly fine with that.

"Good news? For moi?" The Joker asks, incisive. "No, no no…"

It all changes when he decides to speak, leaning out of his resting position in a long and languid stride. It's just enough to hold his position, that one long step, to buffer what he has to say. Whimsy and whim in equal measure doubles the gesture, and time for her attention is knit at will.
There is no visible place where he could have secreted himself onto the carousel, though certainly there could be more construction behind it, should he feel the need for subterfuge. Even so, his stride bears out little patience for anything other than what he gives her — his undivided attention. And he is particularly insistent about the matter, at least when he needs to be. His pistol is just barely visible, a revolver holstered at his back.

"No, no…" he continues, his mild disapproval plain, though he makes no show of knowing anything as of yet. "Don't just tell me the news… give me the news, the whole kit-and-kaboodle, you know.." he orders, his stride locking him in place, the elevation of the carousel allowing him to overlook the well-dressed jester at the angles of his choosing. "Because then I'm going to give you the greatest news of all!" he announces, loud enough for half the park to hear, the verve he injects into the motion throwing his entire body into a jump. Sudden and electric, the Joker slams into the bar of the nearest horse, slinging wide his ghastly-long arms around the bar and the bar of its neighbor, a monkey who seems to have lost the peanuts that his elephant friend on the other side of the carousel seems to be enjoying. He leans, leans long and hard into the slowly moving bars, the motion causing the sleeves of his dress shirt to bunch up at the crooks of his arms, exposing the pale, pale skin of his wrists.

The color gives his purple gloves all the more emphasis, fingers spread theatrically in claws that could give the Phantom of the Opera a run for his money. He laughs excitedly, leaning all the way out of the carriages in progressively longer and longer motions to stare at Harley with a whiplash grin that cuts the distance between them to a fourth without him ever coming closer. His voice is long, seductive, and dangerous in the next.

"So come on already and king me, sweetpea.."
Just like that, he's gone around the bend again.

Harley's smile strains to hold, and her hand twists on the strap of her bag. Her laughter is forced, transparently nervous and decidedly at odds with the good news she claims to herald.

"I went to Stark Tower, jes' like we talked about. He ain't doin' so well."

For most, that might not be good news. But the fact is paraded out to the clown with tresses the color of fine emeralds like it shouldnl be.

Quinn watches his circling, his popping in and out of her reality, transfixed. Her dainty back foot twists anxiously.

But he doesn't want to hear the news. He wants to see the news. That is… difficult.

Her eyes fall to the bag on her shoulder. Salvation, perhaps.

She sets the bag down and unzips it for the Joker to see at his pleasure, the piezooka covered in fruit and filling. "I got into the lobby!"

And then what comes next is a rush, as Harley bounds forward with an ease that defies the restrictions her pretty shoes attempt to impose. She leaps up onto the cement-footed queue rail, leaning hard to the right to accommodate for her useless left arm, and then leans her belly against it to hang there. Her feet dangle carelessly.

"There was a big fuss, but I ended up meetin' this guy and sweet talked him into taking a gift basket up to Tony Stark. I mean, I couldn't stay long, because SHIELD was there, but I absolutely got into the lobby."

The Joker never does seem to stop smiling. Of course, part of the effect is due to the infuriating jangled rhythm of the carousel. The entire process is likely due to some mechanical flywheel being slightly out of plumb with the rest of the whole 80's era contrivance, the bending calliope some vinyl recording whose turntable sits just a bit off kilter. In that sort of pen, a man could be clinging to the ride for dear life and look like he's having the time of his life, and vice versa.

"Pah! The Batman was never laid up like that! …" the Joker begins, a quickly ratcheted snarl banding his voice. There is still something lazy in the way he moves, something sinuous and patient, more than calm enough to let his thought travel around the whimsical with him. There is something topsy-turvy in the way he thinks, and the style he holds as he watches Quinn as he disappears around the corner. His eyes settle on her bag of dried custard and what he believes is rhubarb. Disappointment palpable, he frowns, content enough to let the warbling music set the tempo for a time. "On my honor as an honorary no-goodnik," the Joker abruptly swears absurdly, a long breath sliding out of him between thoughts, "if the Iron Manicure decides to kick the bucket before we get to our big dance number, I'll put a bomb in his.."

Pause. Another period of silence as he disappears, punctuated by awkward calliope music.

Of course he could fix the carousel, restore it to all of its former glory; is he not the mechanically-minded madman who is constantly on the hunt for tall, dark and squeaks-in-the-night? But then, there's no fun in things being easy. He likes things just as they are. He watches her mount the queue rail with all of the grace and aplomb of any gymnast, the effort and handicap obvious enough to challenge even an Olympian on the balance beam. It is enough to catch his attention from distraction. To return to the matter at hand. He likes things. Just as they are.

All twisted up.
"But that's not what really interests me."

One arm slips out snake-fast on the next pass. If she leans even an inch farther, if she even holds a breath for a second too long, he will have her. The brass ring, in every way a woman could be. The Joker will snatch her right off the rail by the arm, fast and harsh. He wastes no time at all.

It's a delicate balance that she's struck on the rail, and a complicated dismount. Harley is very focused on maintaining it, except that then he says he's not interested in his plans for funereal pyrotechnics. Her! Clearly, this means that he's interested in her! Because why wouldn't he be?

She coyly leans in, satisfied in the knowledge that her lobby intrusion and the sacrifice of her beloved weapon of Great Comedy has been accepted by the Lord of the Joke. She expects praise. She expects some pretense of affection. "Yeah? And what interests you, then, Pud—" she replies, her voice the grating variant of come-hither that is playful without really being demanding at all. It's a careful balance, too.

What she gets instead is the seizing of the arm that supports her and she starts falling forward. Her sweetness is interrupted with a graceless cry. "AUGH."

The constrictor snaps tightly.
"Well, what interests me is…"

He's always been of the opinion she's too light for her own good. Things all slender and grace don't exactly contribute well to remaining on stable ground. For certain activities, it's fine. But it's not great for staying anchored, to keep from falling out of the second stories of windows, to keep from being thrown about like rotten fruit. Of course, the falls are much easier on the bones, the clown would later reflect. She is, after all, much lighter than the Bat.

But there is a certain muscle memory, no matter how the fond years pass. And by now, he knows just how to handle her fairyweight.

To the Joker's merit, Harley will only come hairs-close to hitting the ground face-first. Truth, her initial pratfall coming dangerously close to an intimacy with the concrete, or even worse the mechanisms underneath the carousel. But that is a perfect waste of surplus carnival equipment, and the Joker would so hate to take his favorite ride out of commission. Ha. ha. ha.

No, today the Joker plucks her off of the rail with the grace of a master fisherman. It's still not a gentle motion, the way he almost snatches her arm out of the socket. But it is deliberate. And truthfully, it is an old, familiar thing, the practice in which he pulls her in just enough to catch her about the waist with his other hand, leveraging her fair weight from one hand to another. Just before her arm dislocates. Just before the pain becomes unbearable. Just before she knows if he really means to mangle her.

They do say the anticipation of a thing is better than actually doing it, after all.

The spin comes quickly, as the clown prince turns on a well-polished wingtip, transitioning smoothly from brutal drag to graceful whirl. From his insensible inamorata's viewpoint, it's a little bit like falling into another world entirely. When her weight is fully over his center of gravity, he hurls her across the back of a white horse, festooned with bouquets of flowers moulded into its fiberglass body. The motion is, like so many other things he does, inverted from the usual: Where he wants her is effectively riding the cartoonish horse backwards, her back against the pin. She'll only see where the trip has been.
"—Is that I've left you alone for days and you didn't even get to so much as second base with Stark Tower!!!"

His rage is explosive when it occurs, beyond violent, and in many cases simply lethal. But it's not exactly the pitch that he takes with her, and Harley is long enough in the world to be intensely aware of the difference, should she be paying attention. His excitement is vicious, tense, and in the whirling world, the blame for his mood is completely hers to own. He mounts the horse only a few seconds after sitting Harley there, comically frog-jumping onto it to fill what little space on the horse that isn't filled by the waif herself. And he has no trouble filling it, leaving precious little breathing room for the both of them.

His breath is jagged, irregular, and his eyes are sharp in their glare, like a hound fresh from the kill. His hands are straight between them, gloves tensely gripping onto the back edge of the saddle, and low enough to leave very little room for Quinn to think a stray thought that he wouldn't hear or feel. Because he leans all the way forward. So close that his hair, a green mop rendered a mess from the sudden exertion, will drop in front of his face. The curled strands hang lower than usual, threatening her eyelashes. He is only inches away. And she still commands every ounce of his full attention.

"So…" he begins in a grade school polite manner. "Tell me about this gift basket. What did you choose? Napalm? Korean killer bees? Korean killer bees armed with napalm? A head of a loved one? A really tiny guy who will unlock the doors after everyone goes to bed?"

As he speaks, the manners bleed away. To something crushingly more deliberate.
"Surprise me. Vex me. …Regale me."

Harley is pulled through the familiar motions. The ecstatic highs - the thought of recognition and the saving from being mauled by a pack of wild carousel creatures and the uncaring ground - and the terrible lows. The moment of humiliation is a private one at least, and the young woman tries to rally herself around the point. She is a woman of discernment as far as these sorts of interactions go, from as far back as passionate and wild explosions of her childhood to the ones like right now where every last breath is carefully considered.

She's dragged over, hauled up. She squeaks and squawks the expressions of pain as her good shoulder is put through its paces. But the tendons hold. Her untethered hand, wrapped in black fingerless gloves, splays for the pain of it, however.

But then she's up on horseback next, back up against a pole, and no escape in sight save through the venomous creature that is both in front of and behind her by nature of their arrangement and course. She sinks against the once-elegant brass metal, and then shrinks down fearfully.

Napalm. Bees. Midgets. Body parts. What was in the basket? he asks.

Quinn would blanche if she wasn't already the shade of bleached paper.

"Silly putty," she tells him quietly. "And those really neat-o champagne bottle poppers. They had glitter in 'em, and I couldn't say no when I saw 'em." Quickly after, she explains. "I can explain, MistahJ!!! Ihadtoputthebaskettogetherinahurrywiththeguywhotookitup-" Breathe. "-sothatIlookedlikeIcaredsothattheycanletmeupanotherdaywhen SHIELD ain'tthere." And then her abused, slender, but unhindered arm swings upwards so she can cower under it with eyes tightly closed shut.

He knows exactly what to do with her.

The Joker is inimitably dangerous, and the odds for survival are poor for anyone even peripherally in contact with him. But the woman sitting caught in his clamp is something different entirely. She has survived more hours with him than any other single person on the face of this earth. In that end, he will never hurt her more than he intends, because of any other living person, the Joker has had more practice with not hurting Harley Quinn in very specific ways than he's had with any other. He keeps her exactly as he likes her. She still has all of her teeth, after all, not that he's bothered to count recently. She is, to an indescribable extent, an object of his fascination. Because for all of her failings… every so often, the good doctor will come up with something truly vicious. Something that truly surprises him.

This is absolutely not one of those times.

There is no chance for escape when caught between a smile and a staff, and the Joker with Quinn is no exception, the clown prince much closer than should be prescribed in any case, let alone when she is admitting achieving exactly nothing in the days he's let her free to go do what she was told to do. And in that, the prince stares at her a long time, blunderbussed by her utter vacuum of success. Just like that, the images of tiny men with cyanide twinkies and lockpicks wink out of his head, an entire constellation of imagination dying a sudden and catastrophic death.

And yet, the Joker is not mad.
- dead silence -

— Not exactly true. There is a quite merciless length of time in which the only sound in the air is the painfully warbled circus theme between them, the slow and irregular rise and fall of the horse they ride on giving an agonizing meter to the moments. The lights travel the Joker's ghost-white face, the cast from Edison provincials illuminating an everpresent and never-perturbed smile. She panics, the moment shattered along with his dream of a Stark accosted by a mini-man with a knife. The river of babble she winds around him in this case is completely secondary to where his attention shifts.


The word is like a gunshot, punctuated by the Joker's eyes rising over the edge of her arm, twin green eyes brimming with the mania of someone never far from killing and closer to it than usual. "Shut up." His smile never breaks.
And yet, the Joker is not mad.

"I want you to listen to me." He pointfully moves his hands further up, gripping onto the cheap finish of that horse and pulling himself ever closer until they come to almost share the saddle, as if under the pretense of getting more comfortable. To the contrary, considering the tight space they were in before, it makes for a truly uncomfortable ride, as his gloves are almost certainly somewhere under her legs now. The tick of his knuckles in the white-tense grip he has on the horse underneath her will not be a great sensation. If he wanted to hurt her now, it would definitely not be her head she would worry about guarding.

"Now," the Joker begins, as patriarchal as he is playful in his explanation, even as his tousled hair becomes ever more unkempt as the slow, unyielding motion of the ride bobs him inexorably up and down. "You understand how important this is to me, right? I spent a long time trying to decide if you were the right man for the job, as it were. If I could trust you. Now, Tony Stark is getting away with a lot of things, like breathing, and trying to be a low-rent Batman, and there's exactly none of those things that are going to fly with me, right? But here's the thing. I know you do so want to do right by me after all that's happened between us, darling. But you're integral to everything right now."
"Here's the good news. If you do what I ask, and get it done, I am going to be very, very happy. And I'll know that we were right for each other all along," the clown offers, instructively. "And then, after the party's over, I'm going to make you very, very happy," he continues, his voice cutting a little low and into one ear.

"But if you don't come through for me, I'm going to be left with a party and no one to invite. And what do I do with one of those? Who knows what I would have to do then. It would just get in the way. And you do remember how much I hate it when there's nobody around to hear the punchline, right," he asks, innocently.

Could she shrink in on herself anymore? Pull herself into a pinpoint and disappear like a cartoon blackhole - a vacuum of shame and painful self-awareness until she ceases to exist?

Not today. Although, it could be said, that is not for lack of effort.

His eyes move back into Harley Quinn's field of vision, dipping across the horizon of her mostly bare arm like a pair of poison suns and she continues to wither beneath their rays despite the distinct lack of imminent murder in his tone. She tries to back up away from the uncomfortable bone of his knuckles beneath her, but it pushes her partially up the hard pommel of a saddle made Victorian perfect in shades of dusty rose and lilac. It bumps her up a degree, she tries to slouch down, but there's only so much space to go round with that stupid pole that skewers their mount and bids it roll up and down.

She twists a little, getting her compromised and braced up shoulder just a little further away from the man who is not hurting her. It's not enough to actually be a movement of use, but it's one that makes her feel better. It's one that means something. Means something to her, anyway.

He calls her name.

She answers it by peering around her raised arm with a tight, concerned contortion of her painted up features. And she listens carefully, just like he tells her to , her hand finally reaching up and back to seize the pole in an attempt to counter her focus on him and the way it makes worse the vertigo when it meets the circular, dizzying backwards ride.

He tells her that she is integral.

Essential in the Joker's plan to hurt the man who helped build her Zook. Who didn't throw her back into Belle Reve - the darkest of dark holes - when she went after him in a frantic search for the missing Owen Mercer. Didn't even just let her go and turn a blind eye, but rather he drove her home all the way to Gotham instead. She doesn't particularly want to hurt Stark, but more pressing is the matter that the gaunt clown murmurs in her ear. Her eyes close again as he makes things abundantly clear:

He is giving her something that only she has ever really earned from him.

A second chance to get it right.

It shouldn't matter to her, but she's so relieved at the reprieve that it short-circuits her common sense. It gums up the gears that govern self-preservation and makes them stick and stop until she's not sure how best to do it. Worse yet, she's fairly certain that she's feeling grateful for the opportunity. And that way leads to… To… Round and round… Just like the rundown carousel. And when the confusion comes—when she's alone with him, shrouded in the cloud of it—she smiles. She laughs, dark and low, in the way that promises are made.

"I'll get in there, puddin'. All part of the plan. It's jes' a longer set-up fer a better punchline. You'll see!"

"Mm." The Joker seems pleased enough with the answer, the manic — maniacal, really — energy suppressed with the faintest hint of a shiver on that featherweight space between a laugh and a breath. His mood is smoothing out, the slow and languid contours matching the tone and color of his slacks, the motion of his breath syncopate with the slow bob of the carnival ride, his weight shifting with each dip and rise to the extent that she can feel it. The record scratches suddenly, harshly, the calliope music cutting out abruptly to leave the only sound filling the boardwalk being the sound of the motors churning beneath the ride, and an ominous creak of stressed metal that one would never had heard had the music simply gone on. The removal of the pretense renders the thing a little more dreamlike, the veneer and theatricality of it being ripped away, one shred at a time.

"I believe you," the clown prince soothes his nettled minx in his own way, his wry whip of an accommodating grin drawn on more lopsided than usual. "But there is a little something I want you to know."

The Joker isn't unaware of her slow retreat to the spaces where he isn't, a transparently droll means of trying to get away. He would be blind for it. But as Quinn slips away from over him, so too does he follow her, setting hands on her thighs with a calming gunshot pat. He doesn't treat her with a fourth of the boldness he takes with the horse, and she can feel it. But he is still not gentle. Hands that have wrapped themselves around many a throat in their time are more than enough to leave faint red marks across the skin underneath her leggings, if she so happens to look later.

He could pull her back to him. But that would be beyond good taste, and crass is not the kind of person the Joker is. Instead, he lets her have every inch of the hard-won space she's eked out between them. The only thing he really has to do is lean. It's enough that he slowly maneuver his center of gravity over his shoulders, to press her, pin her in the uncomfortable place she's lodged herself.
Enough running, he thinks. Enough attention's been paid to the missus for the night. Now is the time for her to listen.

"You saw the world for the bad joke it really is," the Joker confides. "And you know that they're going to throw you out the moment they realize you saw the trick. But I want you to remember that you did. And that's what makes you mine. We're part of the initiated, you and I. And we're going to make them love to laugh again."

In the worldview of the Joker, there are no loyalties worth keeping. Whatever life she thought she had was just an illusion. A pointless odyssey of whimsy even more arbitrarily gaudy than the carousel. It doesn't matter what mercies Stark plied. The idea of a social contract is altogether a gag they had to explain even before the punchline. "Think about what we're saving them from! A life of dullardry — perish the thought! Even saying it bores me to tears."

"And life can be so much more interesting," he remarks, entwining his low tone with her own. "So much more interesting than a bullet to the back of the head, wouldn't you say….?"

He mates his own promise to hers, a knot of meaning. The promise that only they can see things for what they really are. The promise that he will kill everyone she thinks to protect. And, most provocative of all, that there are lengths to which he's willing to go to make her own life interesting. Lengths that extend much deeper and further than they would for many others in the clown prince's attentions. You see, he never really has to resort to pulling her back.

All he's ever needed to do was ask her to come.

The reference that hails back to the reinsertion of himself into her life—the bartender who ended his life filling shot glasses with chunks of his own brain when she tried to intervene on his behalf, to put herself between her ex-lover and a near-stranger who dared to be kind—is not lost on Harley. She sees it clearly. Understands it for what it is.

It is a threat, true, gentle and vicious both. But it is also so much more.

The newly revealed groan of the long-neglected machine was forever long before he spoke, and it hangs long again once he’s done. It takes Quinn a near eternity to find breath enough to pass over her vocal chords.

They’ll throw you out, he says. And it’s true, isn’t it? They want you vulnerable and transparent, but only so far. Only as far as they can fix and claim credit. But she’s so far beyond that, so far past what they want to see.

Reveal too much, and you get what she’s become. She’s the punchline that better people tell each other to make themselves feel better. The one they label crazy, lunatic, psychopath, and nutbag.

And that grates.

She should be a better person. She has tried to be a better person. She wants to let this go, and be rid of it. Be above it. Be above caring.

But there is the dark place, the place that is just so angry that no good thing she does is ever good enough. That nothing she does is ever good enough. It is the place once found and tended into a treacherous secret garden in the hands of a master gardener. It’s been long neglected, but stirs to life under the Joker’s careful ministrations.

Harley’s brow furrows no more than an inch from his as the back of her head stops against the pole. Her heart pounds. She swallows, hard, and pushes her smile back up onto her lips with a new uncertainty.

“Absolutely,” she says despite it, her leg shifting uncomfortably.

‘Stop thinking, Harl,’ she silently bids herself as she grips the carousel pole tight, although that spin-drunk daze that makes her feel like some spiral-eyed cartoon helps to make her look more than a little confused.

Creak, creak, creak, says the carousel. Like a boat, if you listen right. A rundown horse with chipped paint becomes a boat on a dark sea, boundless and fathomless, and the madman speaks with a captain’s authority.

How do you sort it all? The pleas and insincere promises, the unspoken and unreasonable expectations and the incomprehensible efforts to anticipate and rise to meet them?

You can’t.

Reason is a trio of sirens upon a treacherous shore, calling for her to dash herself upon the rocks. To drown.

But the captain has come after her, and he stretches out his hand. She must merely swim towards the sound of his voice, and her eyes fill with the ravenous desperation of drowning men.

“You know I would.”

But if she was so sure, would they be having this conversation? The trouble with tides is that they can always turn. Will always turn… eventually.

His grip tightens, ever slightly.

The discomfort is partially self-inflicted, the things that force her down into her own mind driven by impulses way more compromising than anything the clown could levy on Quinn. The storm of it was fascinating, intoxicating. Where it entered his notice, it was just exciting enough to get his attention. And that is where the Joker comes in. For all of her uncomfortable squirming underneath his hands, he doesn't give her an inch of play, pinning her down sharply on the saddle's pommel. He stares down the length of her, his eyes wandering aimlessly to follow the suggestion of her silhouette as she holds onto the pole above her head, listening to her breathe and her heartbeat. Everything she has, every breath, every inch of space and every mote of affection will be something she has to fight for.

She has to fight for it, and like any gentleman, he obligingly gives it to her.
But for everything before, he makes her hurt for it so.

The moment passes in silent struggle. He is so close, and yet never comes any closer. The ambient sounds around them lose meaning, and the Joker offers no more words, his eyes slowly rising across her to follow his thoughts, locking onto her bright baby blues. She swears she knows. He stares her in the eyes, dead silent for a longer time than is truly reasonable for anyone sane.

The sound of the mechanisms beneath them harbinger the soft rock and whirl of the carousel. It's all a little relative. From their perspective, it's the rest of the world that's spinning round and round. The ship rocks, bobbing them both, and his arms remain locked square, to the extent that any movement on Harley's part translates directly into his shoulders, causing him to rock gently before the inevitable press. Always inevitable, the weight of him, and the weight of his attentions. As inevitable as the storm of feelings in her head.

From here, it's just a matter of knowing where to stick the lightning rod.
"There's my girl." He places emphasis on one word solely.

Mercifully, he relents. The character of his grasp on her changes entirely, as he pulls her down from the cross, pulls her against him for the chance moments she has to consider the kindnesses he shows. He lifts one gloved hand between them, his fingertips unspooling until he produces through some process of slight of hand her reward: a crisp coupon, good for 50% off any large cone at Cold Stone Creamery.

"So, omnia vincit amor, et nos cedamus amori — the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it, darling. Here. This is for you." He offers the coupon to her, at the same time slipping away from her, dismounting from the horse between them and slithering free of her with one slow, deliberate motion. The contact between them, if any at all, will be brief, and only for as long as it takes her to accept his favor.
Any more would be in poor taste and ill timing, after all.

"Now get out there and do Daddy proud."

As his hand bears down, Harley flinches and a sharp breath stutters through her nostrils in an audible inhale and exhale as her leg tries to pull back again and finds itself stuck. Under his stare, the blonde grows increasingly uncomfortable despite her best efforts to hide it.

She prepares for the worst, but she doesn’t look away. Her bright eyes stare back, and he’ll be able to watch the waves and ripples of sentiment crash and flash as they pull her along. Draw her nearer, drag her further out.

And when he speaks, she breathes. Eyes close and her exhale is soft.

In the tender moment that the Joker bids her let go of the carousel pole—to let go of more, really—and pulls her near him, Quinn rests her spinning head against his shoulder and drinks in the heady contact.

It doesn’t last.

When the Joker’s gloved hand squeezes between them, she lifts her head in a near stupor. She blinks vapidly in confusion as she processes what he’s offering her. Then her laugh is a drunken sort, the kind that so many attribute to her own madness.

She takes it in her good hand with a chirrup of joy, and then rolls forward to fall into the space made empty for the Joker’s step down. The coupon crumples, losing its crispness as it is pushed against the curve of the saddle’s cantle and her dreamy smile bares her pretty teeth. She rides backwards with her hand planted under her on the horse’s hindquarters as she sets her belly against the horse with her bum arm between, lifts her shoulders up just enough to not touch the wounded one against the bobbing horse, and curls her feet demurely up to cross at the ankles against that pole now in a show that—even compromised—she is still ever the gymnast.

“You can count on me, Boss,” she tells him brightly, hoping that the desperate concern that she won’t be believed doesn’t convey.

The movement, as always, starts in the hips.

Like a fine dance, the Joker leads the former psych to a new way of looking at things, something as real and as firm as the cheap fiberglass beneath them. When his pull becomes strong, she flutters away from any other mooring, in every way one can. It's really worth much less than they say it's worth, you know. A stable grip on reality, that is.

Disengaging expertly with his slender accomplice, the Joker lands neatly off of the horse on his wingtips. Admittedly, his limbs seem to go on forever, and there is very little drop to his step, a long thing that seems to go on forever, smoothly transitioning to his fastidiousness. The Joker has always self-admittedly been a little vain, and even the slow exult of his once-upon-a-time exclusive doesn't draw his attention as he straightens himself out. Slipping out of one glove, a lick of the palm, and a slide through the hair will smooth out his crooked past, while he takes great care to pull at the hems of his sleeves, until his shirt bunches just right at his belt. He does take a bit of a madcap, devil-may-care arrangement with his suspenders, leaving the purple fringed bands cocked ever slightly on his shoulders. It's truthfully an aftereffect of where his hands were for the past few spare minutes, after all, a visual reminder of exactly where the Joker is willing to go. The holstered pistol still sags at his back, though he's not felt a dire need to draw it where Harley's been concerned.

There is a certain deliberate nature to how he appears, even where his enamored is concerned. Every length of him is a reminder of exactly what type of person he is.

As she slings herself over the length of that saddle, stretching out in a luxury barely blunted by disability, the Joker looks up. She promises him her reliability, and crosses a set of finely polished Mary Janes to seal the deal. Finally, intensely, he grins for her. The sadistic and the twisted wind together in knots pon knots for her. For once, he might not be thinking about killing the poor girl.

The Joker raises a pale hand with painted black nails. He engages her, reaching out to cup her cheek fondly. Without his glove, she can feel his cool touch, something deliberate, and something he wants her to feel. The notion is itself nothing normal. It's like every shadow opens up. A world that opens only for the initiated. A world that only opens for those who are well and truly mad. And by the end of the absurd, every mouth in every dark spot whispers when the Joker does.

"I wouldn't expect anything else."

The crackle of the skipping record player intensifies as the Joker backs away, the carousel's nature suddenly reasserting itself with the harsh reminder that nothing is really what it seems. The Joker never breaks eye contact with Harley as he slips his glove back on, his backwards stride seeming as effortless as it is nonsensical, as if each step spooled her further and further away. He sets her loose there, as he never moves, slowly disappearing around the bend.
And then, just like that, he's gone.

The carousel will remember itself a few minutes later, calliope music crackling to life, filling the air with warbling joy once again.

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