Harley Quinn pelted up the moonlit street of Gotham city, feet splashing in puddles.
She turned a corner and darted down a dark side-alley, but abruptly stopped and turned.
No one was chasing after her. This didn’t make sense.
Harley was puzzled. She’d just attempted murder, so why wasn’t Batman hot on her heels?
Pressing herself to the brick wall, the jester peeked round it and up the road she’d just run down.
In the near distance by the disused chemical factory, the pitch-black form of the Batmobile waited like an obedient guard dog.
Then, the unmistakable outline of Batman separated himself from the others shadows.
But he was not moving as though he were about to give chase or hunt anyone at all. In fact, he was rushing like a panicked man, for he was carrying Alfred in his in arms, who he lowered into the Batmobile.
The Joker had shot the old man moments earlier at the exact same moment Harley Quinn had shot The Joker.
Harley watched now as Batman shifted Alfred into a comfortable position, but then he did something happened which made her jaw drop.
Far from leaving The Joker to bleed to death, Batman returned to his docile body and dragged the psychopath to the Batmobile as well.
Before stowing him inside however, Batman handcuffed Joker’s wrists behind his back.
This may seem harsh for a man that was near-dying, but Harley had known The Joker longer than most, and she reasoned this was wise.
People who thought The Joker died after mere trifles such as shots to the chest were naïve … and often ended up dead at Joker’s own smoking gun-hand.
Harley slowly closed her mouth, her eyes flitting from The Joker to Alfred, then to Batman as he got into his car.
She felt a lump in her throat, and realised that she feeling touched by his compassion.
She watched, shoulders heaving now, as the Batmobile sped off into the night, aiming for Gotham City hospital.
He was saving them. Both of them!
Harley was blinking rapidly, and was surprised at herself.
“I need therapy.” she moaned, miserably.
At that moment, the pitch-black street was filled with light and she turned to face it, raising her arm to shield her eyes.
A cab had swept into the street, and in split-second Harley seized this as an advantage.
The supervillain darted in front of the cab, planting her feet squarely apart, and pointed her gun at the driver.
He screeched to a halt in alarm, trying to keep his hands on the wheel whilst surrendering at the same time.
The result caused the car to swerve until it halted, diagonally, across the road.
Harley strode over, ripped the door open, and pointed her gun at the driver’s face.
“Please don’t kill me!” The wretched man cried, ringing his hands.
She glared at him. Then her eye flitted to a photo on the dashboard.
A family photo … He had three children. Three!
She froze for a few moments, and felt her will dissolve away into nothing. She looked from the photo to the cab-driver, and couldn’t help comparing her own life-style to this single piece of information.
She couldn’t have felt more jealous if she tried.
She had wanted to have a family with her Puddin’, and had expressed love to him on countless occasions.
He’d done nothing for her in return, and now she was threatening to destroy a life that she could have had.
Harleen wilted, gun hand sinking to her side.
Without a single word, she left the cabdriver alone to his very confused, and frightened, thoughts.
As she shuffled down the street in a sleep-walker-like state, it dimly dawned on Harleen that she didn’t want to do this anymore.
It all meant nothing without him.
It was just a desperate fight for survival, full of pain and suffering, living on luck and wits.
That was the life of a wild animal, not an intelligent woman.
Harleen realised that she had only one option left to her if she were going to make it in Gotham City and not in Gotham prison.
A week later …
Dr. Jonathan Crane was a thin man with shadows under his eyes and greasy hair, but even he looked trustworthy compared to the figure sat opposite him.
He had entered the room moments earlier on this most miserable of nights, at a very late hour, too. But then it was to have a very “socially unfriendly” kind of conversation.
“I am surprised that a man of your, er - position - would want to be involved with someone like that.” Crane replied, mildly.
“Who said I wanted to be involved?” the other answered, darkly.
“Chance over choice again?” Crane smirked.
Unfazed, the man opposite composedly brushed some non-existent dust off his sleeve.
“Haven’t you worked out the reason why I’m telling you this at all?” he asked.
Crane went quiet for a while, and as he worked out the answer his goggle-eyes bulged even further.
“That’s right.” The other said, silkily. “We’re not the only person whose minds he requires. This could spell out seriously big things for us.”
“By ‘us’, you’re addressing yourself. You don’t mean ‘you and I’.” Crane answered, coldly, snapping his brief-case shut. “And in any case, will there be the reward as promised? He’s not exactly a business-man.”
“You know how much he wants to kill Batman.”
“In financial terms: Nothing.” Crane answered, carefully.
“Or rather: As much as it takes. I have a hunch that the bribe of Batman’s life will be enough.”
“Then you’d better add that hunch to your list of other ugly mistakes, because you’re clearly not listening.”
“Neither are you. Very poor for a doctor, wouldn’t you say? If the worst comes to the worst you can just ‘cure’ him with your magic medicine.”
For the first time since the start of this discussion, Crane smiled. That was an excellent point he couldn’t deny.
Damn it felt good to be powerful!
Harleen had mixed feelings about being back here.
Entering this building as a patient was one thing, yet returning as a psychologist was dream-like.
It was like she’d imagined life before being a supervillain.
Arkham Asylum was where she’d previously worked, and as it made good money, it made sense to return. There was something about the fact it made clean money that felt odd.
She didn’t have to dodge the cops and whack them over the head with a giant mallet anymore – Oh that had made Puddin’ laugh! – Stop! You don’t do that anymore, Harleen …
She was Harleen Quinzel again.
As she sat in her clean, white office, she caught sight of her reflection in the window.
What she saw made her smile for the first time in weeks.
She looked like a good citizen again.
Her blond hair was pulled back into a neat bun. Her outfit gave her a smart but approachable impression. She looked like someone who deserved respect and admiration.
Then the bubble of happiness popped.
That was all a big fat lie, and she wilted with sadness.
She wasn’t someone whom anyone could respect or admire.
She was a criminal on the run. A trouble-maker who had attempted murder.
Harleen felt guilt churn in her stomach, and the feeling was not helped by the talk she overheard in the corridor.
A couple of people were passing her door, discussing that the Riddler’s dead body had been found, and that the killer had got away.
She almost ducked out of instinct as they passed, before re-remembering who she was again.
Oh god, they even acknowledged her with a gentle smile of greeting as they passed, and it was all she could do to smile back.
Harleen had greatly disliked and distrusted Riddler during her and Joker’s brief stay with him, but she hadn’t exactly jumped for joy witnessing his death.
It had been a brief but grimly ironic death. He had been killed by the same man he had wanted to kill himself: The Joker.
Harleen gave a start and rushed to the window – That had sounded like a gun-shot! – But then she saw it had only been a car-backfiring and breathed out in relief.
She returned to her desk and idly shuffled some papers. She really should get on with some work …
But the bang had forced her to dwell on the crime scene again, and she saw Alfred and Joker being shot.
She gripped the papers in her hands, blinking back tears for the second time in so many hours.
What had she been doing with herself all these years?!
Playing Russian Roulette, that’s what she’d been doing! Constantly in danger for the thrill of it, and she’d forgotten what had been so thrilling.
She’d been injured so many times … and how many times had been by the man meant to protect her?
She frowned jealously as she thought of Batman saving others.
Where had her hero been when she was being beaten? Slapped? Knives thrown at her? That wasn’t love!
She’d been kidding herself for all these years …
Harleen stopped and looked down, aware for the first time of what she’d been holding:
They were The Joker’s history files! Oh my god he was everywhere-
There was a knock on her door and a colleague walked in.
She jumped (Stop it girl, you’re not her anymore).
She stuffed the papers away in her drawer and locked it.
The colleague must be new because she hadn’t seen him before.
He was dark, had a shaved head, and was carrying a clip-board.
“You must be Dr. Harleen Quinzel.”
He offered her his hand. “I’m Dr. Mock. The other guys told me you were back and sent me down here to give you some work – I hope that’s ok with you?”
He smiled charmingly at her.
“You mean you hope it’s ok they sent you, or, you hope it’s ok that I have to actually work at work?” Harley joked.
“Both!” he chuckled, good-naturedly, “because Dr. Crane’s delivered the Asylum a new patient. I hope you’re feeling up to a challenge.”
Harleen was on the alert now: Dr. Crane?
She was handed sheets from his clip-board, and was staggered by what she read:
Harvey Dent a.k.a Harvey “Two-Face”.
“Oh my God.” Harleen responded, softly. “How on Earth did they catch him in the first place?”
Her colleague shrugged. “A giant mirror?” he suggested, smiling.
Harleen read on.
“Patient has an extreme case of split-personality. I know this already! I mean, everyone in Gotham knows.” She added, cautiously, for Dr. Mock had raised an eyebrow.
She sighed inwardly and shook her head.
“Why is Harvey Two-Face in Arkham rather than prison? Just when I thought things were getting better.”
Her voice petered out, and she took her glasses off and put her face in her hand.
“Are you alright?” Mock asked, gently.
She removed her hand, nodding and smiling bravely.
It was all so typical! Just when she thought she’d gotten away from two-faced scum …
“Thank you for sending me these.” she answered, composedly.
Dr. Mock nodded and left.
Alfred was recovering in hospital, slowly but surely.
Bruce paid him regular visits, and had promised himself Alfred would be the only one he’d check up on.
The Joker’s condition was no longer on his list of priorities; Alfred’s life was more important to him than anything else.
At Wayne Manor, Bruce had shouted at his own reflection, and cried at strange moments. Here and now, he felt nothing but affection for the old man, and the guilt melted into insignificance.
“’House feels weird without you.” Bruce murmured. “I keep expecting to hear the clink of a tea-tray, or the hiss of an iron … I don’t like not hearing them.”
Bruce hung his head, looking at Alfred’s hand rested on the blanket. He was on the verge of reaching out, when -
“Maybe you should do your own bloomin’ housework, then.”
He looked up in time to see Alfred crack open an eye and grin at him.
Bruce laughed, but felt more pleased than embarrassed by what he’d said.
Now, he took Alfred’s hands as he was offered them both, and helped the old man lever himself into a sitting position.
“How do you feel?” Bruce asked him.
“Like I could knock a clown out with my bare hands.” Alfred answered, energetically.
Bruce laughed again, but briefly this time.
He didn’t want to think about The Joker just now.
“The doctors say you’ll be able to leave pretty soon. They didn’t say you’ll be capable of martial arts, but, you’ll be back home, and that’s the important thing.”
“I trust you haven’t been having too many wild parties while I’ve been away?”
“No, just the right amount, as promised.”
“As always, you mean.”
They grinned at each other, and for a moment Bruce could fool himself that things would always be this fine. Then he reminded himself how close things had gotten to the worse. It was that instant the image of his parents’ death snuck, cruelly, into his mind’s eye. A tear leaked from his eye.
History had very nearly repeated itself the night Alfred was shot, and Bruce was on the brink of telling the old man that he loved him, in case he never got another chance.
Alfred sensed Bruce’s thoughts, and saw the look in his eyes.
He put his hands on Bruce’s arms and held them there.
Neither said anything, but they didn’t need to.
Late that night
Harleen Quinzel’s House
TV was especially dull tonight. Where there wasn’t garbage there was commercials.
Finally, as a last resort, Harleen flicked over to a repeat of the late-night news. She was startled to see a recording had been made at her own Asylum.
When had the Hell had this happened?
The scene was of a simple, grey room with three people in it.
One, a cubby cop, was stood to the side of the grey, oblong table the other two men were seated at.
One of them was Commissioner James Gordon, and opposite him - Harley nearly fell out of the chair - twiddling his grubby thumbs, sat The Joker.
The chubby cop to Gordon’s right was nervously comfort-eating eating sweets from his paper bag.
Gordon drew in a deep breath, apparently preparing himself for a long night.
“Why did you kill The Riddler?” he began, bluntly.
The Joker was quite hysterical at the question.
He clapped Gordon a few times and blinked back tears of mirth.
“I know you get a kick out of murder,” Gordon continued, speaking over the howls of laughter, “But, typically for you, that’s out of killing innocent people. Why him?”
The Joker coughed and slapped his chest, catching his breath.
“It’s understandable why you’ve made that assumption, Commissioner,” he drawled, “but just because a genocidal gentleman, like myself,” –he smoothed his tie- “is involved in a crime scene, it doesn’t make him the first clown you should throw in jail.”
Harleen gave a start at the use of the word ‘clown’, for Harley Quinn was a clown too.
Gordon raised his bushy eyebrows. “Innocence? That has to your worst act.”
“You know, they – Why, thank you – You know, they didn’t give me a lollipop when I was in hospital?” Joker muttered.
His gaze slid to the now-sweating chubby cop and smiled hopefully at the bag of goodies.
The man trembled, grabbing the lollipop sticking out his paper-bag, and throwing it to The Joker in sheer terror.
“You’re too kind.” Joker smiled as he caught it.
“So why did you kill The Riddler?” Gordon repeated.
“Ah cmm understmm wha yur say-mm.” The clown mumbled round the shape of the large sweet.
Gordon pinched the bridge of his nose and shut his eyes.
“Do I have to get Batman in here to beat the answer out of you?”
“No, he’d die of old age before that would happen,” Joker answered, casually, “and I haven’t the heart to let him die like that! Riddler had to die because he knew who Batman was. And I felt the duty to make him forget, because, between you and me … and Gotham,” he added, nodding at the camera, “that guy was a little unstable.”
He sucked the lollipop for a bit, then leant across the table.
“Ok, here’s the real deal. I don’t trust people with secrets dark as Batman’s. Dark secrets equals dark knights.”
Goosebumps rose on the back of Gordon’s neck at these words.
“You know who he is.” he murmured, barely moving his lips.
The Joker bit the head off the lollipop stick and spat it out on the table-top.
“Tell me, Commissioner,” he said, softly, subtly twiddling the stick so that he held it in a fist. “How does it feel to get the fuzzy end of the lollipop?”
He lunged at Gordon, aiming for the man’s eye, but the Commissioner had dodged a split-second earlier, and punched Joker in the face.
The chubby cop jumped a foot, scattering sweets everywhere.
The Joker had fallen backwards over his own chair, and landed on the floor where he wheezed with laughter.
Harleen clapped her hands to her mouth.
“Who else knows?” Gordon barked.
Joker only giggled as rainbow-coloured jawbreakers rolled all around him.
He virtually sprung back into his chair again, and stared straight into the camera - or was that at Harley, because he spoke next with an air of gathering storm-clouds.
“There is someone beside me who knows who Batman is.”
Oh my God, this message is for me.
“Who?” Gordon barked, but Joker ignored him.
“They will be keeping quiet as an eaten mouse. Shhhh …”
The Joker put a finger to his lips.
Harley froze where she sat, barely daring to breathe.
The psychopath cupped a hand, theatrically, to his ear.
“Listen to that!” he smiled, charmingly. “That’s the sound of no one saying anything at all.”
He mimed a zipper all the way across his Joker grin, reclined in his chair, and didn’t say another word.
The newsflash ended, and as far as Joker was concerned, so had the conversation.
He remained uncharacteristically silent for the entire hour Gordon demanded to know who else knew Batman’s identity.
After she had switched the TV off, and long after turning out the light, Harleen tossed and turned.
Confusing and unanswered questions circulated her head:
Joker had been on air, so why hadn’t he told everyone Wayne was Batman and caused more chaos? Why hadn’t he told Gordon that she, Harleen, also knew who Batman was? And why hadn’t he so much as mentioned her being at the crime scene?
That’s most unlike him, she thought, suspiciously.
She needed a second opinion, someone who knew almost as much about Joker as she did. The question of ‘who’ was answered at once.
I must be mad even considering him, she thought, but what do I have to lose? … No, seriously, what do I?
There had been a storm, but now the last of the rain was trickling down the window-panes of Wayne Manor.
Alfred was home, having been diagnosed as fully-recovered, but now, he entered the room with a solemn expression.
“Master Wayne, there’s someone at the door for you.”
Bruce made to pass, but then Alfred caught his arm.
“I’ve got to warn you, she’s not a friend of Bruce Wayne’s.”
Alfred pointedly handed Bruce a gadget from the Bat-cave.
Bruce took it, nodded to show he understood, and went to the door.
He froze upon sight of their visitor.
Harleen Quinzel stood there. Huddled, and freezing.
She shrank upon meeting Bruce’s eyes.
Her blond hair was loose and plastered, soaking, to her head. She looked pale and exhausted.
Bruce was shocked by her appearance, but that was nothing compared to how he felt seeing her on his doorstep.
He gave the criminal a steely, unsympathetic look.
“Are you alone?” he asked firmly, eyes darting warily about the Manor gardens.
She nodded urgently and began to reach into her coat.
“Keep your hands where I can see them.” Bruce ordered.
Harleen showed him her empty palms.
Bruce was half-in, half-out of the doorway, holding Batman’s device close.
Alfred was next to the phone. Just in case.
“Why are you here?”
“I need your help,” Harleen replied, softly. “I don’t know if you saw the News last night, but-”
“I saw it.”
“I … I’m afraid that if I go back to Joker he’ll … punish me.”
“The Joker tried to kill my butler.” Bruce answered, bluntly, and as Harleen gibbered, trying to find a reply, he abruptly made his decision right there: “I don’t protect criminals.”
He began to close the door -
Bruce halted and looked at her through the crack in the door. One of Harleen’s blue eyes peeped back.
“I have The Joker’s history files.”
Bruce glimpsed some sheets that she held up for him to see, but he frowned heavily.
“What do you take me for? You’ve been in league The Joker’s for years, and both of you have tried to kill Batman, myself, and everyone I hold dear on numerous occasions. I don’t accept emotional blackmail, and I don’t protect criminals.”
Before he shut the door, Bruce glimpsed the look on her face.
He returned to his luxurious living room.
The polish was on the table but Alfred wasn’t cleaning. He was seated on the sofa, watching television.
“It sounds like you’ve stopped doing compassion as well.” he commented without looking up. Clearly he’d overheard the conversation.
Bruce moved over and stood to one side of the sofa.
“If we’d kept Harley Quinn at Wayne Manor we’d be leading The Joker straight to us.” he answered, crossly.
“What happened to hope, Master Wayne?” Alfred asked.
His tone softer but he still didn’t look at Bruce. “Neither of us believes there’s hope for The Joker, sir, but it wasn’t him who was on that doorstep just now.”
“I know that.” Bruce said, irritably. “And what exactly makes you think she deserves better than him?”
“I’ve already told you: Hope.” Alfred repeated.
“And that’s it?” Bruce asked. “Well call me crazy, Alfred, but as someone speaking from experience in dealing with criminals, it takes more than hope to keep them from hurting people! It takes a pair of handcuffs.” he added, grimly.
“It takes Batman.” Alfred answered, sternly, rising to his feet.
“Batman can’t stop bullets, Alfred!” Bruce shouted.
Alfred went silent and pale as he realised what Bruce was saying. As if to confirm his thoughts, Bruce gently put his hand to the area on Alfred’s chest.
“I can’t stop bullets.” Bruce murmured, unblinking.
He was certain that if Harley had stayed here, then he’d only have to leave her and Alfred alone in the room together, and that could be it.
He would never risk Alfred’s life for any reason.
No matter how compassionate it may sound.
Dr. Crane’s Office
“You heard me correctly, Dr, and don’t try to convince me that you doubt she’d do such a thing. She’s a very fine lady.”
“I must admit I don’t know what to say to that.”
“Good, then that should make you a good listener.”
Crane’s eyes narrowed a little.
“To business. As the two of you – Sorry, three of you - are aware,” he added, addressing the whole of the group. “My interests still lie in showing Gotham its true ego. Gotham has a head like a pickle jar, and it’s up to us four to pry open the crown of its skull. In gratitude to you both, I will reward you with Bruce Wayne’s billions.”
When he next spoke, his voice was very low.
“We will show Gotham what it most fears, and what it most hates: Itself.”
Crane smiled like a hungry vampire. Fear. Now the man was speaking his language.
“I understand now why you requested me.” he murmured. “My only question is how it could be done on such a grand scale.”
His new boss crossed the room and turned the tap on.
“Just add water.” he replied, pleasantly. “I’d love to join you, Dr, when it’s all being done, but my work involves me being elsewhere.”
Crane was perfectly still now. He wasn’t entirely comfortable about this, er - person’s - mysteriousness, but knew better than to ask.
“And what’s our role in this?” The last of the group asked, impatiently.
“To do what you do best,” the boss replied, charmingly. “Be honest. Be honest in the way Gotham will be when the Dr.’s medicine is going down … in the most delightful way, of course.” he added with an unusually broad smile.
Harleen Quinzel’s psychologist’s room
“Harvey Dent.” Harleen began.
“Please address the both of us,” Two-Face replied, inclining the left side of his face, “I don’t like being ignored.”
“Harvey Two-Face.” Harleen continued, shifting slightly in her chair. “How would you describe your lifestyle?”
Two-Face snorted and looked the other way so that the handsome side of his face showed.
Harleen waited patiently, but didn’t get an answer.
She removed her glasses. “Do you miss being just Harvey Dent?” she asked, gently.
Silence except for one corner of Two-Face’s mouth curling upwards. Unfortunately for Harleen, it curled on the other side where she couldn’t see.
“Would you like to be him again?”
“If you’re suggesting I live a double-life then I’d say that’s very hypocritical of you.”
Her empathy was instantly replaced by tension. “Excuse me?”
He slowly turned his head towards her, glaring with both eyes, and he spoke in a slow, dangerous voice.
“Don’t play innocent with me.”
They stared at each other for a few seconds then sprang to their feet. Harleen dived for the door, but he grabbed her wrist and whipped her round, slamming her against the wall.
She lashed out with her free hand but he grabbed that too.
“Help!” she shouted.
To her astonishment, someone heard her, and not just anyone.
Harleen gaped at the sight of her rescuer.
He lunged at Two-Face, driving him across the room with all his force, knocking him out with a single punch.
He towered over the schizophrenic’s limp form, shaking slightly, and then turned to Harleen with a look of … concern?
“Are you alright?” The Joker breathed, and, astonishingly, he fainted.
The door burst open for the second time.
Doctor Mock was standing there, panting as though he’d been running. He stared, confused by the scene before him.
Harleen could only shake her head and puzzle over the answer.
“The Joker has changed.”
Bruce and Alfred did a double-take at the TV.
“He has undergone a most curious transformation, details unknown, but one which has resulted in the psychopath being cured during his stay in Gotham’s District Hospital.”
“Turn that up.”
Alfred increased the volume on the TV.
“Napier will be leaving the building this afternoon, and this needs to be seen to be believed, Gothamites. No one knows exactly how but The Joker has mysteriously, and miraculously, recovered in hospital. His true name is Jack Napier and we will finding out what he has to say.”
Bruce stared, dumbfounded, at the television, feeling shock at the possibility of an enlightening future for Gotham.
“But that’s impossible.” Alfred whispered.
“Is it?” Bruce murmured, uncertainly.
“Let’s find out, shall we?”
That afternoon, Alfred parked the Rolls Royce as close as they could get to the hospital. That is, they were practically on the doorstep.
Crowds of people had gathered to witness the historical moment.
“Hmm. It didn’t take much to convince them.” Alfred commented, dryly as he held the car-door open for Bruce.
It wasn’t hard to see who Alfred was talking about.
Some Gothamites were holding placards saying “JACK NAPIER BRINGS A SMILE TO GOTHAM’S FACE” and “WELCOME BACK JACK!”, but others were clearly angry to judge by their gestures.
Bruce was in no doubt that these were friends and families of The Joker’s victims.
Suddenly, the main doors parted … and Jack Napier appeared.
A roar of noise greeted him, a strange clash of welcoming cheers and angry shouts.
The make-up and frightening grin had been cleaned away, and in place of the trade-mark, purple suit was a white one with a sky-blue shirt.
Bruce gave a start at the transformation, for if he didn’t know any better, he would never have guessed this gentleman had been a criminal, let alone Gotham’s Most Wanted.
Alfred made a slight movement by Bruce’s side, but said nothing.
The crowds were stood at a distance from the hospital, but Jack Napier was surrounded by paparazzi and news reporters as he approached at a passive walk.
“Mr. Napier,” A reporter jostled, pushing her microphone towards him, “how does it feel recovering from being The Joker?”
“Oh God, er … It feels like …”
Jack hesitated, and, in the silence, he stopped walking and became very still. His eyes were downcast.
The reporter waited for his answer, but Jack could only shake his head, unable to answer the question. From where he stood, Bruce shifted his shoulder uncomfortably as he imagined how Jack may be feeling.
“He certainly looks shocked.” Alfred whispered.
The crowd had quietened now, surprised at Jack’s response.
The reporter changed her question.
“Mr. Napier, can you tell us what was it like while you were The Joker?”
Jack thought a moment and a shadow crossed his face. “Have you ever been in a car that someone else is joy-riding?” he asked.
The reporter blinked a few times and licked her lips.
“For me it was like being in the back seat of that car while The Joker is driving.”
Bruce cringed as he imagined what that would be like.
“There were countless times when I thought he would crash, and numerous times that he killed people. I felt powerless to stop him.”
“W-well, you’re back now,” the reporter stammered, reassuring herself as much as him, “and what do you plan to do with your new life?”
Murmurs of interest rippled through the crowd.
Napier straightened his tie and held his head a little higher.
“I hope to work with Batman.” He answered in a clear voice. Bruce blinked, and there was a general clamour of discussion. “I hope to help him catch those who work and associate with The Joker.” Napier went on, having to raise his voice now. “It’s the best I can do to make up for his … our damage.”
And on that last note, Bruce saw something in Jack’s eyes no one ever saw in The Joker’s, and that was guilt.
The billionaire half-smiled in appreciation as Napier’s audience applauded.
“Maybe he should apply for District Attorney.” he suggested pleasantly to Alfred.
“Not if he’s going to be anything like the last one.” Alfred muttered to himself; and Bruce, who had been getting back into the Rolls Royce, didn’t hear him.
Alfred looked in the rear-view mirror as he drove them through Gotham town. He saw Bruce resting his chin in his hand.
“I think Batman should keep an eye on him, sir. Just in case.” Alfred said, guessing his thoughts.
“I agree. There was a happy gathering back there, but there are a lot of people who want revenge on The Joker. Batman must remind them that The Joker’s not Jack Napier.”
That’s not quite what I meant. Alfred thought, frowning slightly.
“You want to give him that level of protection?” he asked aloud.
“I want to give him a chance.” Bruce replied, reasonably.
“I’d call that very risky, if you don’t mind my saying so, sir.”
“I call it ‘hopeful.’” Bruce countered, then - “Hang on, what are you doing?”
Alfred had just pulled them over.
He turned right round in the black leather seat so that he could face Bruce.
“I take back what I said about Harleen.” Alfred said, looking both concerned and apologetic. “You made the right choice.”
“I made a selfish choice, Alfred.”
“What do you mean?” Alfred asked, his tone not unkind.
“I mean that I didn’t care her life was in threat by The Joker.”
“Was or is?” Alfred asked, steadily, pointing back up the road towards Jack Napier. “And is that you speaking, sir, or Batman?”
The Scarecrow was active once more, causing panic in the streets of Gotham. His cronies were surrounding him, armed to the teeth with weaponry, waiting for Batman to make an appearance.
Of course, Batman was not exactly a person who rolled out the red carpet, so to speak, but you always knew it was him when he made a show.
The stray Gothamites had fled, leaving the street eerily quiet.
The criminals felt Batman’s arrival before they saw him.
A small explosion flashed sparks behind them, while a shadow, more solid than the others, flashed past on their left.
The thugs whirled instinctively. Afraid and confused, they shot randomly in the hope at least one bullet would find its mark.
None of them did.
How was that possible?! They were firing Uzis for God’s sake!
Without anyone noticing, Batman swept one of the men away in his wings and vanished. The man didn’t even get time to cry out, and as the others sweat where they stood, they continued not to notice his absence.
It was only as the second henchman vanished that Batman caused something approaching panic.
Even Scarecrow appeared to have lost his composure, his eyes flitting back and forth beneath his sack mask.
He was picking them off too easily. They were sitting ducks.
“Form a ring, you idiots, or he’ll take us all!” Scarecrow hissed.
At that thought, there was no need for the men to be told twice.
“I don’t need to take you all,” came the soft growl from the blackness.
Scarecrow froze in the centre of the ring.
He had virtually teleported into their midst, right next to Scarecrow, whom Batman whirled round in a head-lock, and plucked from the ground, before ascending into the pitch-black sky.
The henchman appeared as life-like statues goggling after them.
Batman swept gracefully over the edge of a high balcony where he landed with barely a sound.
He tugged off Scarecrow’s sacking before whipping him round to face him. The man quailed in the superhero’s grasp.
Batman’s teeth grit in frustration: He thought that taking the Scarecrow without getting a blast of fear gas had been odd.
“Where’s the real Scarecrow?” he snarled.
“He didn’t tell me where he was going.” The man quivered. “Just to create a diversion.”
Batman’s frown appeared to deepen at this news. Directly below, right on cue, he heard the sound of police-car sirens.
“Then he’ll be disappointed. I’m never diverted long.”
Moments later, the fake Scarecrow found himself dangling from the balcony by a black wire, just waiting for James Gordon to please, please get him down.
Later that night
Ring–Ring … Ring–Ring … Ring-
“Hello, Mr. Wayne?”
“Yes, it’s me. Who’s calling, please?”
There was a short, strange silence, and Bruce was about to speak, when-
Bruce went completely still. Now, he was the one being silent.
“Jack Napier.” he said in a barely audible whisper.
“Something’s wrong with me. I don’t feel so good.”
“Why have you called me?” Bruce murmured, a crease forming between his eyebrows, “Surely a doctor can help you.”
Or therapy, he thought, but didn’t say that aloud to Jack as he felt certain that would upset him.
Behind Bruce, Alfred peered round a corner, then the butler moved quietly back, dodging Bruce’s gaze as he looked round.
There was a pause as Alfred listened to Bruce listening to Jack.
“I understand …” Bruce was saying. “… No, I can’t imagine.”
His voice was soft, as though speaking to someone who had limited time left.
“I want to talk, in person.” Jack told him, earnestly.
Bruce hesitated, unsure if he was comfortable with the idea.
“Bruce?” Jack sounded anxious now.
“Alright.” Bruce gave in without thinking twice. “Where?”
Unawares to Jack, a figure was approaching his phone-box at a silent prowl.
They waited a minute or so until Jack had finished on the phone.
Napier put the receiver down, head slightly bowed as though he’d just made a hard decision.
He drew his coat a little closer round himself as he stepped out of the phone-box, looking timidly left and right.
As he began to walk away, the figure crept soft-footed behind Jack, and raised a baton –
As Bruce made to leave Wayne Manor, Alfred made up his mind and approached Bruce more hastily than usual.
“Are you sure meeting Mr. Napier would be wise, sir?” he asked, cautiously. “Particularly considering the fight with Scarecrow’s crowd,” he added, patting Bruce down, “you could join the dots with those bruises.”
“Alfred, I’m fine.” Bruce answered, looking at him strangely. “He wants to talk, and I want to talk to him. I’m sure I’ll learn more from him than Harley Quinn’s files.”
I hope so, Alfred thought as he watched him leave. The patting-down business had merely been a cover-up as Alfred attached a homing-device to Bruce from the Batcave.
Just in case.
When Jack Napier came to, he wished heavily that he hadn’t.
He had a splitting headache where he’d been hit, his joints ached where they were pulled, unforgivingly, by the tight knots that bonded his wrists and ankles.
As if that weren’t enough, he was tied to a chair that reminded him of schooldays.
Jack blinked groggily for a moment, worrying for a moment about his eye-sight.
Then he realised that he was seated in the room’s only light-source, which was a white spotlight, trained on him from above. Then, a very recognisable figure melted into the light from the surrounding darkness … Oh dear god.
“Hello, Jack.” Harley Quinn smiled, her tone as sweet and innocent as though she’d just made him a daisy-chain.
In her hand however, she was holding a knife.
Jack’s eye was upon it, but he was choosing to keep still and silent.
“Don’t move too much,” she murmured, her tone one of fake concern. “You’ve been out a long time, so, naturally it’ll take a while for the sedative to wear off. You weren’t expecting this, were you?” she asked him, softly, still smiling. “I bet you’d planned Two-Face to attack me again … or Dr. Mock to carry on spying on me to tell you where I was?”
She stopped at the look on her captive’s face and chuckled.
“You look so surprised! Very convincing too, but you shouldn’t be. You see,” she sat on his lap, putting one leg either side. She wrapped her arms round his neck and pressed the tip of the knife to the back of his head.
“The problem is, Jack, that I know you. You clearly take me for a fool! Our henchmen wear may masks all the time but I know what they sound like, for crying out loud! There’s only so much a voice can be disguised by an accent.”
She brushed a (green-tinged) lock of hair away from his eye, and went on smiling.
“You must have had a spy in the hospital giving you news while you were poorly from that naughty bullet I put in you.”
The knife dug in a little.
“There had to be a spy at the Asylum as well, if it wasn’t Two-Face.” She added, lazily. “I know you told him to hurt me.”
The point of the knife was starting to hurt now.
“There are even ones here, right now, inside this warehouse, but I’m not worried about them.” Harley shrugged, calmly. “They’re Two-Face and Scarecrow, back from doing the job you set them. Oh, Two-Face told me everything,” she continued, for Jack’s eyes had widened now. “He and Scarecrow were polluting Gotham’s water system with Scarecrow’s medicine – Not the fear gas though, it was something new … Something to make Gotham mad with aggression once they drunk it. They’d fight each other like rabid dogs. Well, you’re not going to get to enjoy Gotham’s madness this time, Jack.”
The knife had pierced his skin now.
“You’re staying here with me … Oh, and did I mention that instead of getting Wayne’s money, Scarecrow and Batman decided they’d rather destroy your life’s purpose by killing Batman? He’s tied up in the other room right now, except that he’s kind of without his cape and mask and the moment. So he’s helpless!” she added, in a cheery voice.
Jack continued to remain silent, something Joker never did.
Harley’s smile vanished and was replaced by an ugly look.
“How dare you!” she snarled. “After years of being Gotham’s Most Wanted you just put on a new suit, clean up your face, and suddenly you’re Gotham’s Most LOVED?!!”
The last word echoed in the big room.
“Is that why you’ve done this to me?” Jack asked, quietly, meaning the knife-wound in the back of his head.
“I’ve not even started. I’m doing this to you because I know how it feels to be on the receiving end of violence.”
Without warning, she cut the back of his hand.
Jack winced but Harley wasn’t in the least bit impressed.
“Who do you think you’re fooling?” she breathed. “Gotham believes you because they’re gullible, just like Wayne was during your little phone-call. But now you’re getting back what you gave me. And what better style to do it than your own?”
Harley Quinn produced a remote control out of nowhere and clicked on a radio in the dusty corner. It started playing a recording of ‘Crazy’ by Gnarls Barkley.
“I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind -”
Like a small explosion, Harley laughed with abandon and punched Jack square in the face. It was a blow that knocked him backwards, all the way to the ground, where he lay winded.
‘- There was something so pleasant about that place -’
Outside in Gotham City, everyone who had drunk Scarecrow’s water began feeling uncontrollable anger.
‘- Even your emotions had an echo, in so much space -”
It built in a chain reaction as arguing began bellowing, which fast became pushing, then grappling.
‘- And when you’re out there, without care, yeah, I was out of touch -’
Harley smiled at how clever she’d been, working out Jack’s plan.
‘But it wasn’t because I didn’t know enough, I just knew too much. Does that make me crazy …’
“Welcome to The Festival of Fools!” Harley beamed, blinding Jack with the power she now switched on, illuminating the multi-coloured decorations which filled the room. There were hundreds of balloons with smileys on them, each one of which had a red Joker smile added over it.
From another room, you could hear a man yelling at the top of his voice. No doubt it was Bruce as Two-Face and Scarecrow tortured him.
Harley kicked the bleeding Jack in the stomach before turning him over so that his face was to the ground, still in a sitting position where he was tied to the chair.
She screeched with laughter at he looked ridiculous as he did helpless, and turned cartwheels all around him.
‘-And I hope that you’re having the time of your life … but think twice … that’s my only advice -’
She stopped dancing and began sauntering towards him, singing along. ‘-Who do you think you are?’ – and whipped him round onto his back, both hands on his shoulders – ‘Ha! Ha! Ha! Bless your soul. - ‘You really think you’re in control?’ – She sat on him where he lay and kissed him, hungrily.
‘Well, I think you’re crazy … I think you’re crazy … I think you’re crazy … just like me.’
She felt him shaking against her and drew back to look at him.
He was in peals of horrible, silent laughter.
“There he is!” she cried triumphantly, indicating his face. “At last, we’re being honest with other again!”
“You’ve got to admit it was a powerful performance.” The Joker replied, and it was unmistakably him now, grinning back at her. “And I’ve got to admit I had no idea that you knew.”
“Really?” Harley asked, flattered in spite of herself.
“Oh yeah.” The Joker was looking at her with admiration she’d never seen him show her before. She felt herself blushing beneath her face-paint, and Joker continued to smile back.
“You know, we had some good times.” The psychopath said fondly to his clown girlfriend who was holding a knife and crouched over his tied-up form in a warehouse crammed with party-poppers.
She cut him free but didn’t get up.
“Are our good times over?” she asked in a high voice that sounded tearful, one eye twitching.
Joker reached up and put a hand, tenderly, on her face.
“You’re always mine.” he whispered.
She melted and rubbed noses with him before helping him get to his feet.
“Did you miss me?” she asked, sweetly.
Joker put both his hands on her face. “I miss you every time you leave the room.” he told her in a voice of utmost charm.
She cooed back at him and gripped his lapels, standing on tiptoes as she did so to kiss him again.
‘- But maybe I’m crazy –‘
“Come on.” Joker purred. “We don’t want to miss the party.”
‘- Maybe we’re crazy -
He guided Harley Quinn by the hand towards Bruce’s screams of agony.
‘- Maybe we’re crazy … probably.’
Joker entered the torture room as though it were his sitting-room.
“Did I ask you two – sorry, three - to start without me?” he asked, irritably.
Scarecrow and Two-Face had bloodied knuckles, and tied to the chair between them was a black-eyed, half-conscious Bruce Wayne.
It appeared, to judge from the equipment on the floor, that Scarecrow had been drugging him with fear gas to increase desperation.
Scarecrow and Two-Face jumped at the sight of The Joker, and both gave Harley glares that said ‘You were meant to keep him tied-up’.
Harley’s wink answered ‘You’ve been double-crossed, boys.'
The Joker sighed, genuinely disappointed as he indicated Bruce.
“No one likes to miss the start of a movie.”
“Joker?” Scarecrow said, curiously. “I thought you were Jack.”
“Why, thank you, my performance was much better than his though. You couldn’t have done it. No half-decent man would stand being someone as wholesome-” -he spat on the floor- “-as Jack Napier.”
Two-Face had just flicked his coin, his eyes drilling into The Joker who was kissing Harley’s hand, pretending not to notice.
“I congratulate you too, my dear,” he was telling her, “on your performances of innocence and devilry! Not even Two-Face there could have pulled it off. You three,” he added to Scarecrow and Two-Face, “should be thanking her too, you know, for giving you him.”
He indicated Bruce with a gun he seemed to produce from nowhere.
“We knew you wouldn’t keep your end of the deal, Joker,” Scarecrow told him, composedly.
“What’s double-crossing for?” Joker asked in a reasonable tone, “It would be like having a Harvey with no dent.”
Two-Face’s left eye twitched now. He was getting irritated by the jibes, and secretly considered killing Joker once this was over.
“I told him you weren’t a businessman,” Scarecrow sighed, “but he didn’t believe me. You’re uninterested in money. She on the other hand,” He nodded at Harley, “Is, and so are we, and yes Harley, we do thank you. There’s just one catch, Joker: You didn’t keep up your end of the deal … so we didn’t get you Batman.”
Joker blinked, looking from Scarecrow to Bruce and realised that Harley hadn’t told them it was him!
He fairly threw his head back and laughed his vocal-cords raw.
“What’s going on here?” Two-Face growled, eyes flitting from the bleeding Bruce Wayne to The Joker but no one answered him.
“Ah, that’s better.” Joker wheezed when he had finished. “I didn’t get any of that while Gotham thought I was cured.” “Laughter is the only medicine.” Harley chipped in, winking.
“I love you for that!” Joker beamed.
“Laughter is not the only medicine,” Scarecrow hissed. “I’ll be the judge of that!” He was preparing to give Bruce another dose of fear gas.
They had all turned towards him now, and were slowly closing in like hyenas on a kill.
Harley had her knife, Scarecrow had his poison, Two-Face and Joker had guns, and all of them had fists.
Joker was rubbing his hands together, gleefully.
“Sadly, it looks like Batman isn’t here to save you, Bruce.” he drawled.
Harley sniggered beside him and they swapped winks, smugly enjoying their secret.
“Where do we start?” Joker speculated. “So much to choose from, so much time!”
Bruce grunted as he was smacked across the head by Scarecrow.
He groaned and coughed as Two-Face punched him in the stomach.
“Keep it tasteful, Puddin’, you might make him sick!” Harley leered as Bruce turned pale.
Bruce half-registered the coldness in her eyes as she looked at him. They said ‘This is what you get for not helping me’.
“I’ve a feeling that it’s going to be a long, dark night,” Joker said with relish, “and we all know how messy parties are when they’re over. So, all that’s left for us to decide now is what to do with your husk of a dead body, Mr. Wayne.”
“That’s ‘Master’ Wayne.”
Everything that happened next appeared to Bruce in slow-motion through a reddish haze.
He dully registered shouting and the stamp of many black boots – Gotham Police Department – spilling into the room.
Two thuds either side of him indicated that Two-Face and Scarecrow had been knocked to the ground, either by fists or bullets to the legs, he couldn’t tell.
Throughout, he heard Harley screaming Joker’s name repeatedly, but he couldn’t see why because he was being embraced by a very familiar old man.
It was James Gordon who had first recognised changes in the Gothamites. He and the Police Department had been lucky, drinking mainly coffee throughout their day, but there were many Gothamites who had drunk Scarecrow’s drugged water and were rushed to hospital.
Until Gotham’s water supply was cleansed of the potion, only fruit juice was to be drunk.
Alfred had decided that he wasn’t taking any chances when Bruce left without the Bat-suit.
“How did you find me?” Bruce asked him as he lay in the soft, forgiving bed of Wayne Manor.
Alfred lifted the Bat-Beacon, the little homing device he had slipped into Bruce’s suit before he left.
“I rather felt that my advice on hope would lead you to do something dangerous.”
“I think ‘gullible’ is a more accurate word.” Bruce breathed.
Alfred said nothing in response, but was looking guilty.
“It wasn’t your fault.” Bruce told him, gently, realising how he’d sounded.
“Then it wasn’t your fault either. Either that or it was both.” Alfred answered, grimly. He reached out tenderly to apply a cold cloth to Bruce’s forehead.
Bruce caught his arm gently.
“He fooled us both. He fooled us all.” he told the old man, reassuringly. “Everyone in Gotham wanted to believe there was hope left for The Joker.”
“Lesson learnt, eh?” Alfred muttered, attempting a smile but failing.
Bruce decided to shift the focus a little.
“The Police were probably surprised, catching four villains all at once.”
“’Gave each other pay rises, I expect.” Alfred added, grateful for the slight change of subject.
Then he looked at what the supervillains had done to Bruce. The cuts, the bruises, the black-eye, and he knew there was no amount of money that would make up for what could have happened.
Bruce saw the look in his eyes.
Bruce could tell what he was thinking. “Hey.” he said.
Alfred looked at Bruce to see him smiling back.
“I haven’t lost faith in you.”
Paris, 6th January, 1482
The Festival of Fools
The Fool had been even livelier this year than the last; buoyant almost to the point of chaos, and nothing it seemed would stem the flow of his energy. But if one were only to look deeper into his eyes, they’d have glimpsed more than the spark of hysteria in their pupils, indeed, a glint of insanity.
The story tells that the villagers immensely enjoyed The Fool’s light-footed performance, swearing he lept higher than the acrobats. Man and woman alike couldn’t resist joining in when his raucous laughter pierced the air, like the first cock-crow of dawn.
The king had retired to his chamber, claiming to feeling a touch ill.
“Nonsense! The old coot’s drunk!” the Fool had shouted, the response to which was laughter from all who surrounded him.
Today was the Festival of Fools, the only day when you could insult royalty, behave chaotic, and become your opposite, all whilst not being killed for it.
“And if he is drunk, Fool, perhaps you had best guide him back to kingliness with your wisdom?” a villager called before winking, discretely, at the others: ‘He’s wise today but tomorrow he will be a Fool again!’. Unfortunately, the Fool had seen the wink and become enraged.
The people surrounding him, who seconds ago had been laughing at his jokes, were laughing at him.
How dare they! Even on the Festival of Fools!
Something cracked in the man’s head, and a savage twist of rage and hysteria fused tightly together like the strands of barbed wire.
The sound of his new laugh shot winter into the hearts of the villagers, and the story tells that, on that very moment, the clouds blocked out the sun.
It is also written that the villagers promised in earnest how the Fool had sprung onto the wall of the king’s tower, and climbed it like a creature of the night. Raising a knife he’d hidden on his person, he dove in through his majesty’s open window with all the grace and bad omen of a black cat.
The guards themselves heard the Fool scream as they burst in through the door “For the Festival of Fools, when every king’s a clown … and this clown shall be king!”
Shortly after dawn, the Fool stood at the gallows, surrounded by the villagers who now eyed him with hatred and fear. The looks amused him, and the story tells that the manic light in his eyes was reflected only in his grin.
“There will be another Festival of Fools,” he declared in ringing tones for all to hear. “But it will not happen next year – Not in the way you fools – created it!”
His voice echoed off the stone houses.
“Inside the head of every rule-maker there buzzes the brain of a vicious criminal, and beneath the breast of every innocent maiden there beats the heart of a lusting she-devil! There will be another Festival of Fools day, and when this world sees me again … it shall last forever!”