She had lost everything.
She had wanted it all, wanted to have her cake and eat it too. She left Ivy – her last, and maybe only, true friend – once again, for the Joker. But could she really blame herself? She loved him… she knew him like nobody else did, and only he could truly understand what dwelt in the heart of Harley Quinn.
If only he was willing to take responsibility for that.
After Catwoman and Ivy had gone their separate ways, she had gone back to Arkham and they’d broken out. It wasn’t exactly a challenge anymore, not with her and Mr. J working side-by-side, just the way it should have always been. They had slipped out without a sound – nobody even noticed, not until they found their presents… and opened them! – and then they’d been loose in Gotham.
Just the way it should have always been.
But, Mr. J was Mr. J. He was a kook, and she could never hold that against him. So maybe he forgot her? Left her inside the top vault of Gotham National Bank when he’d heard the cops coming? So what if he’d left fifteen pounds of lit dynamite in there with her? She couldn’t blame her puddin’ for that. He had a lot on his mind when they were out on the town. She knew she could never have ALL of his attention.
Fortunately the consequences were never so bad. The burns healed after a couple weeks and Arkham wasn’t that bad a place to do it, nice and warm in her cell. The sounds of the committed psychos crooning and gibbering all night helped her sleep, too. What could she say? It was home.
Though… was it ever really home without Mr. J there to make her smile? Or… or Ivy?
Harley Quinn frowned a little, turning onto her side and trying to get comfortable. All of a sudden her little cot didn’t feel so comfy anymore. She hated to admit that she missed Ivy, but… she’d always been there. Ivy was there when her puddin’ was gone, Ivy took care of her when she was sick. Ivy kept her warm when she was cold. She wasn’t as funny as the Joker but she was a friend. Maybe Harley’s only friend.
Why had she said those things? Why had Ivy forced her to choose? She could never leave Mr. J by himself, Ivy knew that. He couldn’t even cook a decent meal without Harley to do it for him, and then what would happen? Her puddin’ out in Gotham, hungry on the job?
Her stomach rumbled faintly. She hated Arkham. It was so cold and creepy and everyone was always so serious, shouting and smashing each other’s heads against walls and stuff. She didn’t belong here. She wasn’t even crazy.
Okay, so maybe she was a little crazy. But aren’t people allowed to be crazy if they do it for the right reasons?
Harley Quinn broke out of Arkham that night, her burns almost fully healed but her heart still in… not the best repair.
Breaking out had been a tough decision, actually. Where should she go? Joker was gone – last she’d heard he was somewhere in Scotland, reenacting Braveheart in a nursing home, with old people in the place of the English (bless his heart) – and Ivy was... well… she wasn’t sure where Ivy was.
So where should she go? Who would take her in now? She thought about making her own gang, but she didn’t have the heart for it. She wanted a friend, and there was only one person she could think of who might not want her dead.
Selina Kyle yawned and stretched out, popping several vertebrae and pressing her lithe form out against each bedpost. What was that sound, so damn late at night? Maybe it was just the rain (it WAS really coming down), but nonetheless, she slowly rolled to the side of the bed, setting her slim feet carefully onto the carpet.
Isis looked up at her lazily, the slinky black cat’s expression clearly expressing its distaste at her being up at this hour.
“I know, Isis, I know. Did you hear what it was?” Catwoman’s feline friend looked back at her with a half-lidded glare.
Selina sighed quietly, reaching over to gently trail her hand from Isis’s neck, along her skinny back and the length of her tail. “Of course you didn’t.”
“What in the world? Alright, Isis, scooch. I need to get dressed.” She swiftly tugged her light white shift from under her furry friend, the silk dotted with little black hairs. She slipped it cleanly over her uncovered form and stood up, making her way down each stair soundlessly.
One thing was for sure, it wasn’t Bruce. Bruce didn’t play games like this. If it had been him, she would have aready known. Odds were it wasn’t Dick either, but it was definitely coming from the door.
Selina’s hand seamlessly swiped up her cat-o’-nine-tails as she drew closer to the door, her head lowered slightly, eyes widened slightly, not missing a thing. No sound, but for the rain, and….
She took a deep breath and reached out, twisting the doorknob and flinging open the entrance to her home. She began to raise one hand to strike, just in case it was—
So this is what it looks like when a drowned rat mates with both black and red licorice. None other than her – former – teammate stood on her doorstep, her bi-colored hair wet and stringy from the rain, her makeup worn off. She wasn’t even wearing her festive, if not exactly conservative, “jester” costume, but a faded orange jumpsuit – barely concealed by a heavy brown overcoat that looked like it was taken off of a dead hobo. Just a pale, wet young woman.
“Harley, you’re soaking wet! What…? What are you doing here?”
She looked up and offered a weak smile. Selina supposed they hadn’t exactly left on the WORST of terms – she’d left Harley to do what she had wanted, and it seemed that decision had played itself out. Selina Kyle – or Catwoman – was certainly not to blame for that.
“Would you mind if I come in?”
“Harley, what are you doing here?” Selina questioned awkwardly – but, against her better judgment, she did move out of the way, letting the soaked, troubled young woman step through the threshold into her home.
“I, uh… I missed you!” Harley half-turned on her way inside, flashing a bright smile that nearly managed to conceal the torment that she was going through. “Didn’t… didn’t ya miss me?”
Selina arched one thin brow as she closed the door behind her visitor, turning to face Harley as the freshly-rinsed clown shuffled awkwardly up the stairs. “You missed me? Is that so?”
“Naturally. You were always my favorite.”
“Now I KNOW you’re lying. Why are you really here, Harley?”
Harley spun on her heel, throwing herself at Selina. Catwoman flinched, her hand raising the whip she still held to defend herself, until she realized that Harley was only hugging her.
Hugging her and sobbing.
“I… I didn’t have… I didn’t have nowhere else to go-ho-ho-hooo…” the Joker’s former henchgirl bawled into Selina’s shoulder, her sopping wet hair now soaking both women. Catwoman swallowed and then closed her eyes, wrapping her arms around her old teammate and hugging back. Whatever had happened must have been bad. She’d seen Harley run the gamut of emotions between joy and fury, but seeing this much sorrow in her was… admittedly, a bit stunning.
“It’s alright, Harley… shhh….” This was nothing if not awkward. Selina wasn’t above taking in strays, and she had a compassionate side when one suited her. But with her arms around a sobbing clowngirl who’d taken countless lives, this was a whole different animal. She tried to rub Harley’s back reassuringly, which seemed to make the impressionable ex-sidekick open up further… and cry harder.
“I just didn’t know what to—and Mr. J was—and dynamite—and Red’s gone and neither of them are ever comin’ back and I’m all alo-ho-hoooone! I just… I didn’t know where to go….”
“Hush, Harley… come on, let’s get you cleaned up.” Catwoman took a deep breath, her chest swelling against the jester girl as she took Harley by her shoulders, pulling the two apart. “Go on upstairs and take a shower. I think I may still have a couple of your old t-shirts that got mixed in with mine.”
“…Y-yeah?” Harley Quinn’s lips trembled slightly, and then curled into a hesitant smile. It was disturbing how much care this girl truly needed. She was symbiotic at best, parasitic at worst, but now Selina was seeing what happened to Harley when she was truly alone.
“Yeah.” Selina returned the smile awkwardly and gave the other girl another reassuring pat on the shoulder. “I’ll have some clothes waiting on the bed when you get out.”
“…Thanks, Kitty.” Harley leaned in for another hug, giving Selina a quick kiss on the cheek before turning and heading up the stairs. She seemed genuinely grateful – and Catwoman was sure that she’d have known if this was just another con. Then again, you could never really be sure with those clowny types. They were uncontrollable, unpredictable, and Harley Quinn was just as bad as any of them.
Would the water rinse her away?
Would it wash away the Joker? The history that they had? Would it wash the bleach from her skin, these colors from her hair?
Would it wash away Ivy?
Harley hung her head in the shower, letting the water beat at her. Letting it clean away her cold and the blood and whatever had been on that filthy coat. It wouldn’t wash away her twisted mind or her need to be cared for. It wouldn’t turn her back into Dr. Harleen Quinzel, wouldn’t get her out of Gotham or the world she’d made for herself.
Harley turned the hot water off and took a deep breath, grabbing one of Selina’s towels and wrapping it around her modestly (ironically, it wasn’t until living with Pam and Selina that she’d been forced to pick up the habit) before heading back out to the master bedroom. Catwoman was where she had left her, sitting on the bed and playing with that scrawny black cat, but now there was a nightshirt and some shorts lying on the bed, already coated in little black hairs. She could hear the washer going down the hall.
“Better?” Selina asked, looking up and scratching the back of her head gently. The question drew a hesitant nod from Harley. “I set a pot of hot water on, if you want something. Didn’t know what you usually went for.”
“I… thanks, Kitty, but I think I just need t’ get some sleep, ‘kay?” Harley reached down onto the bed, grabbing the pair of shorts first. As her arm moved past Selina, she almost froze – after all of her sadness and her loneliness, she had managed to find someone who would take her in. Who would still treat her well after everything she’d done. The feeling was both comforting, and shameful. Even as certain areas of her mind, encouraged by the perceived safety of a companion, began to wander and frolic, the more serious side of Harley Quinn began to seriously wonder if she deserved such compassion. So many second chances.
She turned around and dropped the towel, Selina respectively turning her head. She wiggled into the plain white shorts and then grabbed the oversized Freakazoid! t-shirt, throwing it over her head. “Ta-daaa!” she said as she turned back around, the clowngirl looking shockingly… normal, especially for a girl with split black and red hair, Joker-white flesh, and the kind of body that can only be acquired by years of effort and maybe a botanical performance-enhancing potion or two. “Ya have any hair-ties, Kitty?”
Selina arched a thin, arched brow and pointed to her own hair, midnight-black and cropped short. “Never found a use for any. Isis never added them to the shopping list.”
Harley frowned slightly, but then shrugged. She didn’t need the pigtails! She was part of a new team! Harley and Kitty! And this brand-new Harley didn’t use pigtails… she’d just, uh… wear it long! Maybe get a haircut tomorrow if she could score some money, even! It’d be great. A broad, spacey smile spread across her face from the thought of it all… her and Selina, side-by-side, a couple of tough chicks out on the town, with no silly masterminds or plant-goddesses, just two (mostly) powerless humans with a grudge against Gotham!
“…Do you need to use the bathroom?”
“That look on your face.”
Harley paused, then stowed away her joyous, maniacal grimace in exchange for her most innocent face, putting her hands behind her back. “Ah, no, I went earlier.”
“If you say so.” Catwoman gently lifted Isis, setting her on the other pillow and starting to get in bed. “There’s a couch down the hall, if you want.”
“Couch?” the innocent smile immediately fell, the mercurial clowngirl’s expression being replaced yet again, this time by a sorrowful pout.
“…Yes, a couch.”
“Red and I always shared the same bed… I just kinda thought that we’d….”
Selina pulled the covers up around her before wiggling out of her night shift and tossing it onto the floor. “I’m not Ivy, the couch will be just fine.”
“It’s right next to the washin’ machine! It’ll be noisy!”
“They’re your clothes!”
The coming torrent was heralded by soft sniffling, a slightly extended bottom lip. A slow, steady whine began to escape Harley’s throat, her eyes beginning to moisten–
“Okay, okay, fine! Get in! Just don’t do anything gross.”
The whine changed into a squeal on a dime, the jester girl pouncing forward and quickly burrowing under the covers on the other side of the bed, leaving Isis to burrow for cover. “Thanks Kitty!”
“Harley, cut that out.”
“Whaaat? Red never used to mind! I have problems with body heat!”
“Then go grab a hot water bottle or something! Circulation problems or not, it’s no excuse to snuggle with me!”
“I thought that was a really good excuse!”
Selina let out an exasperated sigh that bordered on a warning growl. “Harley, stick to your own side. And stop hogging all the blankets!”
“I wouldn’t have to hog the blankets if you’d stay next to me!”
“The couch is still an option.”
Harley huffed childishly and flopped onto her side, pushing a few of the blankets back over to Selina’s side and curling up with her own.
“Harley, are you shivering?”
“I told you I have body heat problems!”
“For heaven’s sake, are you eight years old?”
Selina flicked the light back on, grumbling tiredly. The little digital clock beside her bed stung her eyes with the red LED’s, reading “3:14”. She tossed her own covers over the hapless clowngirl and started to burrow under them herself – when her cell rang.
She tossed the covers back down and reached into the drawer on her bedside table, pressing the little green phone and roaring “WHAT?!”
“It’s Eddie. We have a problem.”
Catwoman glanced across the bed at Harley, who had her big blue eyes open now, staring at Selina expectantly. “What is it--?” she tried to ask before Selina shushed her.
“Okay, where? …Alright, I’ll start getting ready. …Right. …Ah, Eddie? Do you mind if I bring someone along? …Er… Harley Quinn. …Yeah, I thought so too. …Okay, I’ll be there soon.” Catwoman flicked her cell off and flopped back onto the bed for a moment. “Harley, you may want to piece together some kind of outfit. We’re working tonight.”
“Who was that?”
“I’m delighted to see you could make it, Selina,” Edward Nigma said smoothly as he shut the door behind the two women. They had arrived as soon as possible (after Harley stopped at an old hideout to pick up an outfit, a mallet, a gun and a couple bombs), and were kitted up and ready for action, despite being a bit sleepy. Eddie – or Riddler, as he was calling himself again – was in his classic green suit and bowler, adorned with a question mark and leaning on that cane of his. However, different from usual, this time he appeared to actually need the cane… he’d been working, and there was a dribble of blood down his leg.
“Yeesh, what happened, Eddie?” Harley piped in immediately, apparently smelling the blood and immediately noticing the brainy villain’s cut, despite the darkness of the little warehouse where the group had met.
“I got lucky, that’s what happened,” the Riddler snapped mildly before hobbling back into the big shack he’d made into his latest hideout. Selina and Harley stood at the doorway, observing the man quiet as he flopped into an overstuffed green chair in a decidedly villainous slouch, his hat tipped down just enough to mostly conceal his lean, stubble-coated face. “Whoever found me was good, too good. I wasn’t ready for him, and he had skill, and the kind of intellect that seems deeply reminiscent of a certain acquaintance we all share. But it wasn’t the Bat – this upstart was out for blood, and he got it. He would have killed me if Clayface – that cretin, of all people – hadn’t shown up and distracted him.”
“There are a lot of Batman impersonators out there, Ed,” Selina said, prowling over to the Riddler and into the dim light of the room’s one small, dingy lamp. “And we’ve met a lot of them. What makes this one so special?”
“He was good, that’s what was so special! It was like he knew me, knew my next moves. When Karlo intervened, this guy already had incendiaries and liquid nitrogen prepared.” Eddie replied, glancing up at the leather-clad woman in front of him with only the faintest traces of the lust that most men looked upon her with. “Also… how much do you know about the Joker’s origins?”
“Joker? Christ, he’s involved in this too, now?”
“I know about it,” Harley cut in, her voice sounding serious. “At least the stories he told me… a lot of them were different. Only one thing remained constant – the chemicals, the red hood, and Bat-brain making him the way he is now.” The clowngirl stepped out of the shadows herself, now, her head tilted slightly. “Why is that relevant?”
“The hood,” Riddler said, whipping his bowler off and spinning it around one finger idly. He looked tired – as both women knew, Gotham had been hard on Eddie. He was unstable, but not to the point that he could drown himself in his own madness, like Scarecrow or the Joker. He understood he had a problem, and that internal struggle that he went through made going up against the Bat, and the rest of Gotham’s underworld, more of a challenge than it was for some others. “This bastard wore a bright red helmet, very distinct. Didn’t match the rest of his outfit. It was a deliberate statement… my only guess is that he’s shouting out to the Joker, possibly the factor of becoming a monster against his will.”
“I thought you said he was a Batman impersonator?” Selina’s voice wavered very slightly – she didn’t like the implications of a new villain in Gotham, skilled and prepared, who had roots with both the Bat and the Clown. Her mind wandered in the split second after she spoke, a droll train of thought tumbling around as she considered her and Harley’s connections to Batman and Joker, respectively. Maybe they’d be the perfect team after all.
“He seemed to be. No gimmicks or goofy pranks, no big theme to make himself stand out. He was a new brand of vigilante, mobile and utilitarian. But he had everything he needed to put Clayface on ice.”
“Waitaminnit – it wasn’t that old Robin, was it?” Harley said, arching a brow and striking a comically inquisitive pose. “Mr. J was always talkin’ about how happy he was to put that little brat six feet under, brought it up at least every week. Then after a while he stopped… actually, now I think about it, he scrapped his old red hood souvenir too, said it “didn’t belong to him” no more.”
Eddie looked up at the black-and-crimson-clad villainess, his eyes suddenly going wide as the pieces tumbled together in his mind, finding their corresponding slots and fitting beautifully. “Ms. Quinn, never let anybody tell you that you aren’t a genius,” he said, standing up again and grabbing his cane, starting to pace. “It makes sense, if you think about it… born to the Bat, killed by the Clown… attacking villains by night, but the brutality of it all… obviously unsanctioned by the actual Dark Knight.”
Harley didn’t hear past the first sentence. A tiny squeal erupted from her as she beamed at the green-suited mastermind. “Ya really think so? Aw, thanks Ed, you’re a really great guy, y’know?”
“Don’t think I’ve forgotten about that fiasco at Wayne Manor, jester. I still have Big Barda’s footprints tattooed on my posterior.”
Harley wilted. “Sorries.”
“But we have a piece now,” Riddler continued from his old train of thinking, pacing back and forth through the dim lighting, his cane making an audible ‘clack’ every few steps. “If it is the knight’s dead Robin, he’ll have Batman’s training, his knowledge, his skills. Imagine someone like that who isn’t afraid to spill a little blood? He could be disastrous to our way of life in Gotham. Even you, Selina – you won’t get any free passes for being pretty if this new Hood comes to dinner.”
“Then it’s a good thing I have nine lives,” Selina purred, lounging casually against the arm of the now-abandoned sofa. “And let’s be honest, Eddie. Just because he isn’t the Bat doesn’t make him immune to my… wiles.”
“After years of crime and misadventure, I honestly doubt you have any lives left.”
Harley snorted awkwardly, falling into a frantic gigglefit that seemed to have no proper origin.
“What?” the two other villains said in unison, turning with looks of mild concern and distinct annoyance.
More giggling followed for a moment as the clowngirl tried to catch her breath, unladylike snorts echoing throughout the room as she tried to steady herself. “You said misadventure! It’s just, I… bwahaheeheehee!”
Selina sighed softly and clapped her hand over her face, turning back to Edward. “This is what I have to deal with.”
“Do I have to?” Harley whined miserably.
“Yes, and keep your voice down,” Eddie growled quietly, securing the rope around Harley’s waist. “You’re the fastest of us, you have the best chance of getting down and getting back up without… well, dying.”
“Yes, and keep your damn voice down!”
Riddler, Catwoman, and Harley Quinn had gone together, back to the site that Eddie had barely escaped. Some scorched, gelatinous clay that smelled like excrement and looked worse was splattered near a drainage pipe – either Basil Karlo’s method of escaping the new Red Hood, or merely one of the many tortures that he had been subjected to before being taken elsewhere.
The trio had immediately heard voices nearby – ground level, on the side of the shabby old drug trade hideout where Edward had been picking up a certain “package”, probably for one of his schemes (he had enough problems without adding a drug habit, as Riddler himself had admitted). Looking over the roof’s edge had provided no information – the source of the voices was concealed in shadow from an adjacent building, and they were too quiet to hear.
As a result, and much to her dismay, Harley had been selected to jump down and inspect it.
“Why can’t Kitty do it?! She’s a cat burglar, she DOES sneaky and jumpy! I’m just… y’know, cute!”
Selina smirked wickedly, swatting the clowngirl’s hip gently. “Because I’m too valuable to send plummeting into dangerous conditions. You’re always talking about how tough you are to keep down? How quick you heal? Let’s see it.”
Harley extended her bottom lip, her wide blue eyes misting up. “Kittyyyyyyyyy….”
“Selina, would you do the honors?” Riddler said with the most truly happy look he had had on his face since Selina’d seen him.
“I would love to,” she replied, before extending both hands and pushing Harley off of the roof. She let out a short squeal, eyes bulging with surprise as the rope went spiraling down behind her. However, true to her claims, she quickly rotated, her feet touching against the wall and slowing her fall for long enough to be able to grab onto the rope. She jerked down with a slight “unf” before quickly turning, her free hand going to her popgun while the other held onto the rope.
“I tell ya, I don’t know nothing, waugh!” she heard when she got her bearings. Obviously Penguin.
Too valuable, huh? I’ll show her what Harley Quinn can do while the two masterminds sit up on the nice warm roof, the ex-psychiatrist thought to herself smugly, stalking quietly closer to the shadowy negotiation just around the corner from her.
“That’s very interesting, Oswald… because Sionis seemed very confident that you were in the center of this deal… and I want more names.” This second voice… this was the guy. She knew that much. Years of training made her very sure of when someone was in control of themselves, even if the thoughts and actions they were so in control of belonged to a madman. The voice was smooth and filled with tranquil fury, and carried the metallic echo of a helmet.
“Sionis? Waugh! He’s been in Arkham for who knows how long, he ain’t in the game no more! What would make you trust him?” Penguin’s voice was desperate. Harley could hear it in his voice, and she knew that this new Hood could hear it too, if he was as good as Riddler seemed to think.
“Oh, he seemed trustworthy enough. I find that most people – even idiot crooks like you and Roman – are honest at heart. You just have to know how to push… how to make them feel like opening up.” His voice was cold and crisp, the voice of an unrepentant killer. Harley knew that kind of voice. He continued. “So. Unless you’d like for me to… make you feel like opening up, I suggest you start giving me some names. Who organized this little get-together?”
There was a long silence.
It was broken by a little perturbed grunt from Hoodie, a sound of slight muscular strain… and then a scream from Cobblepot. “Dent! It’s Dent! Two-Face!” he squawked.
Gee, who would have thought that the Penguin would be a stool pigeon? Harley thought to herself, following up with a little giggle.
“What was that? Friends of yours, Oswald?” The Hood sounded angry – she heard the cock of a gun.
“Eek!” Harley peeped out, turning and somersaulting back around the corner, grabbing onto the rope with both hands and starting to run up the sheer brick wall. She could hear him behind her, that fury not so tranquil anymore as he roared out his rage, chasing after her in the dark.
Fortunately, he never looked up. Before he could catch up with her quick, powerful legs, she had nearly sprinted up those three stories and found herself tumbling into Catwoman and Riddler, who had been leaning slightly over the edge.
“Run!” she squeaked, grabbing both of their hands and rushing to the fire escape they’d used to get here from the tunnels in the sewers.
Later, back at Selina’s house, Harley hurriedly blurted out the things she had heard, as well as the conclusions she had drawn. About Penguin and the Red Hood, about Sionis, and about Harvey.
“Then we have to find Two-Face before the Hood does,” Riddler said calmly, stroking the stubble on his slim chin with two fingers. “He’ll make a powerful ally… or, at the very least, we’ll learn a little more about what the Hood is trying to accomplish.”
“We don’t want to fight, Harvey. This doesn’t have to be hostile at all. We’re trying to help you, can’t you see that?” Catwoman, along with Harley and Riddler, hadn’t had too much difficulty finding Two-Face’s new hideout. Once Eddie remembered the pool hall on 22nd street, everything had been smooth sailing. However, now that they’d found him, Selina was having some difficulty getting him to see them as something other than enemies.
“Well… maybe you are. And maybe you aren’t.” Two-Face growled firmly, reaching into his jacket pocket for that damn coin. The side of his face still capable of non-malicious expressions slowly twisted into a little grin, his free hand sliding slowly to his holster as he flipped the coin.
Catwoman held her breath as she waited for the verdict. She knew about Harvey’s… little habit, and how dependent he was on it.
Harvey reached out and snatched the coin, glaring at the three intruders before glancing down to the coin – heads, or, to be specific, the side with no scratches.
“What do you want?”
“We need to know what you’re getting into, Harvey. What you’re doing that involves Penguin and the Black Mask. Something that might make someone want to kill you.” Selina kept her voice calm, and soft. She didn’t like negotiations that didn’t involve her claws sinking into flesh, but sometimes they were necessary. In this particular case, not being gentle could have her end up with a bullet in her.
“Penguin and the Black Mask? Hah… well, Sionis is in Arkham now, isn’t he? So I certainly can’t be doing anything with him.”
“And having only a single partner must be frustrating, mustn’t it?” Riddler kept his head down slightly, hoping that his hat would disguise the knowing grin on his face. There was no way Two-Face would tolerate having only a single partner.
“Maybe it was. Scarecrow was out of the game… got scared when he learned what we were trying to do.”
“What’s so funny, harlot?” Two-Face roared, turning to her and staring deeply with the bulging, dry eye on that side of his face. From the tone of his voice, he hadn’t forgotten what had happened when she’d offered herself as his sidekick.
“It’s just… Scarecrow got scared… obviously that’s funny, right?” the Cupid of Crime held her arms up helplessly, offering an apologetic smile.
“Yeah… he did. And Freeze had better things to do.”
“Harvey, can you please get to the point? We – and you – don’t really have that much time.” Selina spoke again this time, chewing the inside of her lip and glancing towards the door. The Red Hood could come at any time, and none of them were really sure what he was capable of yet.
“We got Deadshot. I don’t like him much so far, but he’s better than Oswald… and fearless enough to do what we’re trying to do.”
“Harvey, what are you trying to do?” Selina asked desperately.
“Simple really,” he answered, turning to the little bar behind his desk and pouring himself a drink, leaving the “human” side of his face exposed. “Kill the Joker.”
Harley could barely hear the Riddler’s shouts as the pool hall started to collapse around them, chunks of debris falling down as the very foundation was shaken. Only seconds after Two-Face’s confession, there had been a massive blast, some kind of bomb that had liquefied the beams that held the place together, causing the entire structure to begin crumbling.
“Harvey, what the hell?!” Selina screamed as she nimbly dodged another chunk of falling rock, rolling away and trying to crawl for the exit. It all sounded very… fuzzy, to Harley. Riddler holding his cane above his head like it might deflect something, Two-Face savagely shoving a fallen pool table off of himself. It was all like a haze around her.
“Where’s Harley?” she heard Eddie ask… just barely, but she could hear it. The sound of crumbling rock, the pain in her head, it all made it hard to tell if she was actually hearing what she heard, or just pretending that someone she considered a friend cared enough about her to look for her.
Hah, you know they aren’t looking for you, she said to herself, that smart part of her that she tried to ignore, the psychiatrist that came out to play from time to time. They don’t even consider you a proper part of the team, Harley. You’re a liability.
Harley Quinn sniffled, salty tears streaking down her face and mixing with blood. She was right, Harleen was right. They wouldn’t come looking for her.
“Where the hell is Harley?!” Selina shouted. At least, that’s what Harley thought she heard. “Two-Face, do you see her?”
“Maybe I do… maybe I don’t….”
“No damn games, Dent!”
Riddler’s voice again. “Selina, I think I see her!”
How far you’ve fallen. Hallucinating that your friends would care enough to come and find you. Even that clown you considered your true love wouldn’t come looking for you buried under all this rock, you think a couple of felons who don’t even know your last name will come?
“Oh jeez… Eddie, there’s a lot of blood… Harvey, get the hell over here and help us dig her out!”
“Is that brain?”
“Let’s hope not… Harvey!”
“Got better things to do, toots,” Two-Face’s voice, followed by a low chuckle as he reached beneath an insofar un-destroyed pool table, withdrawing what appeared to Harley’s watery eyes to be a… bazooka…?
“Come on, put that damn thing down! What’s wrong with you?” Riddler.
“Plenty,” came the returned growl, followed by a quiet whir of the machine powering up. A second later, and a bright streak raced through the pool hall, blasting away the jammed, steel double-doors.
“Oh God… oh God, she’s hurt bad, Ed….”
“I can see that, Selina.” Eddie’s voice sounded a bit edgy, Harley could feel hands all around her, prying away the chunks of rock and wood and trying to lift her.
“Has she been working out? Don’t remember her being this heavy.”
“She’s stuck! Look, her ankle!”
Do these fantasies entertain you, Harley? Thinking that they would go through so much to save you, risk their own lives?
“They’re… they’re my friends… they’d nevah leave me behind… they wouldn’t….” Harley whimpered.
“Of course we’re your friends, kiddo,” Riddler said, his voice rushed as he tried to dig her ankle out from the rock it was buried in. “This will hurt a little.”
It didn’t hurt, not much. The darkness behind her eyes seemed to spiral, twisting imperceptibly and pulling her into oblivion. Maybe she’d go to heaven… maybe Mr. J would be there… though that was doubtful.
Maybe Ivy, instead. That would be nice. Harley had always liked clouds.
Harley’s eyes flittered slightly, seeing light. Comforting light – the yellowish-white luminescence of a ceiling light that hasn’t been replaced in a few years. The kind of light she was used to seeing. “What’s… what happened…?” she whimpered, closing her eyes for a moment to let her mind adjust to consciousness.
“You got hurt pretty bad,” Selina’s voice. Selina was with her… they hadn’t abandoned her. “The first beam that fell landed right on your head… you bled out quite a bit.”
Harley slowly opened her eyes all the way, her vision was a bit blurry but clearing, and her head ached pretty distinctly. Like an ice cream headache that’s just starting to come on without hitting its peak, but staying steady at that point. “Ya came and got me,” she whispered.
“Of course I did,” Catwoman said, arching a brow. She was sitting in a little folding chair beside the bed, she noticed, leaning forward slightly. They were in her apartment again. “I wasn’t going to just leave you to die, you know me better than that.”
Looks like you didn’t.
The clowngirl bit her bottom lip and turned her head away, looking away from Selina. Her eyes welled up, just a little, enough that she could ignore it, maybe hide it. “Thanks,” she said anyway. “It… it means a lot.”
Selina frowned and leaned in, placing one soft hand on Harley’s forehead and feeling her for a fever before gently caressing Harley’s face like a mother would to a sick daughter. “Don’t worry about it. You’ll be okay.”
“Odds are.” Harley said softly, closing her eyes again. “I’m just tired of having bandages around my head.”
“I must say, I’m impressed.” Selina clucked, standing over the bed with the bloody bandages draped over her arms. Harley’s erratic, red-and-black locks were matted, sticky, and overall totally repulsive. But the lack of the wound that had nearly killed her was clear – it had healed completely in just over a day. “What exactly did that potion do to you again?”
“Oh, y’know…” Harley smirked, trailing off into a playful giggle. “Just some vitamins and minerals, makes a big girl strong.”
“You never mentioned exactly how… um… much, it worked.” Selina tossed the old bandages into the laundry hamper and inspected the wound-mark a bit more closely. There was a very small scar, not even a scab. “And there’s no way I can get my hands on some of that?”
“Aw, like you need it!” Harley chirped. “I need a little edge to stay in the game, eh? What would the other villains say if I couldn’t even hang with the likes of Penguin?”
“I thought you were some kind of world-class gymnast?”
“I was! But being able to do flips doesn’t make me a world class fighter. It just keeps me… supple.” She grins and runs her fingers over her own abs, the action seeming almost lewd, considering the clowngirl’s childish demeanor.
“Well that was a mental image I really didn’t need.” Selina sits down by the Joker’s former henchgirl’s side, tucking the blankets around her a bit more firmly, despite the fact that Harley seemed to be in perfect health. “So… Harley… how are you holding up? Besides the head thing?”
“Whatcha mean, Kitty?”
“I’m talking about what Two-Face said. His plan, the thing he’s in on with Penguin and Deadshot.”
“Oh.” Harley lowered her vibrant blue eyes slightly, picking at her fingernails idly. It was obvious that she had already put some thought into it during her time of bedrest. “I’m not actually worried about it. It isn’t like Mistah J hasn’t gone up against chumps like that before.”
“He hasn’t gone up against Deadshot,” Catwoman warned. “He seems to be their ace in the hole. He never misses.”
“If he never missed, the Bat wouldn’t still be alive, would he?” Harley snapped. Her eyes glistened with something, some emotion that was rare for her, but in no way unknown – rage. The flare-up died down almost immediately, however, and she looked back at her hands. “Joker’ll be fine. He’s always been fine. It ain’t like he hasn’t taken a little lead before. My puddin’s tougher than he looks.”
“If you say so.” Selina said quietly. “I’ll go put these in the wash, and bring you some new clothes, okay? I think Riddler said he was coming over to see you in a few.” She leaned down and gave Harley another little kiss on the forehead – it was nurturing, more motherly than romantic, but Harley thrived off of them. Just the attention, the thought that she still had a companion in this world. That Catwoman cared about her in some way.
When the other villainess left the room, Harley let out a deep breath, pouting. She was worried about the Joker, she was always worried about him. Without her there to keep him safe, and remind him about who he was fighting? He might use the wrong gas, or accidentally load the bombs with confetti. It was always Batman with him – Batman Batman Batman. He didn’t seem to remember that other people wanted him dead, and when he was thinking about Batsy his head wasn’t in the game. Well, it was. But it was a different game he wanted to play. Someone like Deadshot wouldn’t want to play that game.
A quiet rapping came at the door, the kind of rapping caused not by a fist, but by a cane.
“C’mon in, Ed,” Harley sighed. “It’s open.”
Riddler opened the door and limped inside, his leg still bandaged from the hit he’d taken from that Red Hood fella. He’d shaven since she’d last seen him, but it looked haphazard, like he’d used electric clippers.
Harley felt sorry for him, in a way. Whenever she considered her own problems, her constant, driving need for attention or a sense of accomplishment, she found herself thinking about Riddler. Riddler was constantly alone with his psychosis, drowning in it, second best at a game that only one other person played. And now what little fortune he had had been squandered in his wild schemes and deathtraps, and he was forced to resort to the kind of shabby old warehouse that wasn’t good enough for someone like Boneblaster.
She wondered how Boneblaster was doing these days, actually. Where did she see him last…?
“How are you holding up, Harle—“
“What ever happened to that Boneblaster mook?”
“He blasted bones.”
There was a short silence.
“So… what happened to him?”
“You know how people like to joke that the Joker dresses random people up as Batman, then slowly tortures them for hours on end, both psychologically and physically?”
Harley snorted and giggled. “Yeah. I like those ones.”
“Well, they may have the wrong target.”
The theme song from Jeopardy! looped a few times in Harley’s head as she stared blankly at Eddie Nigma. “Oooooh. Hardcore.”
“…Bruce,” she whispered, dropping the bundle of Harley’s old bandages onto the ground.
The dark knight stood silently in front of Selina Kyle, his broad, stubble-coated jaw set firmly, his powerful, armored body still. She hadn’t even seen him enter her home. The feeling was too familiar, even if she’d done the same to him on more than one occasion. The sensation that she was dealing with someone beyond her abilities, someone she could barely stand… and someone she could never get enough of.
“Why are you here?” was all Catwoman could force herself to say, staring up at him.
“To warn you,” he whispered. His deep, rumbling voice carried that hint of kindness – of emotion – that he only used with her. “I’ve been following you and Quinn, I know what you’re into. Don’t get involved with this.”
“What? What are we into that’s so damned scary, Bruce?” Selina’s eyes flared up, the fiery green orbs mirroring the feline… no, predatory… frenzy that suddenly filled her heart. She stepped close to him, her teeth gritted as she stared up at Gotham’s dark protector.
She leaned closer, her lips parting slightly as she felt the heat from his body, then snarled and bashed her small fists uselessly against his armored chest. She wasn’t trying to hurt him. If she had, she would have attacked differently. She was just taking out her frustrations on the shadowy avenger, the man who only came at these times, the man who was too damned stoic to talk to her when he wanted to be close to her. Who only came to talk about business.
Bruce closed his arms around her gently, firmly, letting her beat at him and lean into his shoulder. It was unlike her, he recognized that. He had been gone for too long. But that was his lot in life – he was Batman. He had to make certain sacrifices for Gotham’s sake, and if that hurt someone he cared about… then it wouldn’t be the first time.
“The new Red Hood, the man you’re trying to track down,” he said darkly. “He was one of my partners… a long time ago. He’s dangerous, and he has training. More importantly… he’s out of his mind.”
“He’d have to be to be trying to take down a triumvirate of dangerous villains that are trying to kill the Joker,” Selina growled, pushing him away and turning so that she didn’t have to look at him, folding her arms across her chest. “If we leave him to his plans we won’t have to worry about him for much longer. That sniper will take him down before he can interfere with Two-Face’s plan.”
“And what do you kn—“ she turned to face him, teeth bared. But he was gone. The window was slightly ajar, a light breeze blowing the curtains.
“Okay. What do we know?” Riddler stood in front of a massive blackboard that he had, supposedly, pulled out of his hat. Heaven knew Selina didn’t keep one in the apartment. On the billboard were a few crudely drawn images: Joker, the Red Hood, and the group of Penguin, Two-Face, and Deadshot.
“Well, you’re here, and Kitty, and me. We make a great team!” Harley exclaimed quickly.
“Allow me to rephrase, you insufferable simpleton. What do we know that’s in any way important?” Eddie rapped the blackboard harshly with the silver tip of his cane. His leg seemed to be doing a bit better, and he was much more animated with the little accessory, as opposed to using it like an actual cane.
“The Red Hood is trying to take down a trio of high-profile villains.” Selina said helpfully. She was laying on the bed with Isis on her lap, still in her black silk pajamas – a sharp contrast from Harley’s red cotton nightdress.
“Aaaaaaand why is he trying to prevent the death of one of the world’s most despised and reviled villains?”
“Hey!” Harley yelped, looking up from her bowl of Cookie Crisp, accidentally dropping the spoon and immediately coating it in cat-hair.
“I stand by it,” Riddler said firmly.
Catwoman took a deep breath before screwing up her face, picking a small burr off of the scrawny black cat’s neck. “I don’t know. It doesn’t make any sense to me – didn’t Harley say that the Red Hood is an old Robin that was murdered by Joker?”
“He has such a way with kids…” the clowngirl sighed dreamily, wiping the spoon off on one bare, chalk-white thigh and squeaking at the cold metal against her skin.
“Oooh, you’re getting warmer… why would someone who should hate the Joker try to save the Joker?” Edward Nigma twirled his cane around his fingertip, leaning against the blackboard with a bored expression. “Come now, we haven’t got all day.”
Selina took a deep breath. She hadn’t told the others about her meeting with Bruce last night – hadn’t mentioned his warning. When it came down to Batman, and specifically, his meetings with her, she had a tendency to be decidedly… private. But Bruce had been concerned, even worried about a group of three convicts and psychotics (well, Harley and Riddler were psychotics, anyway).
“He wants to kill the Joker himself.” Catwoman finally said, her voice low and quiet.
Harley’s head whipped around, her face disbelieving. “Huh?”
“He wants to kill Joker, the Red Hood does. It’s always been about Joker. He wants to stop Two-Face and his gang, and maybe scavenge whatever plans they’ve made. If he had his hands on Oswald and that wretch Sionis, then who knows how far he may have already come?”
“Bravo!” Riddler cried out, leaning his cane against the wall and clapping his hands snobbishly. “You’ve finally come up with the answer that I figured out as soon as Dent revealed his plan. You should be proud.”
“Go sit and spin, Ed!” Harley snarled. “I’ve worked on plans with a man who’s far smarter’n you!”
The cocky grimace never left Riddler’s face. “Oh? And who might that be, Harley?”
“The only man Bat-brain could never figure out!”
“Harley…” Selina said softly, sitting up on the bed.
“Harley what? We’re supposed to be a team! Teammates are nice to other teammates!”
“You call the way Joker treated you “nice”, then?” Catwoman could control this, if she was careful. She knew Harley after the time spent with her – she could be manipulated, as long as you remembered that she wasn’t as innocent as she seemed.
The pigtailed villainess opened her mouth to retort, letting out a long, strained grunt before relenting, her mind drifting to a very different place. “Yeah… I guess we weren’t much of a team, huh?”
Riddler rolled his eyes. “If you two are through sorting out Harley’s ex-love life with a psychopath who’s soon to be killed by another psychopath who’s back from the dead, maybe we should make some kind of plan regarding the situation at hand.”
“Why are we even getting involved at this at all? This is a group of extremely dangerous and extremely volatile people that we’re trying to get involved with for no good reason.” Selina finally hopped up off of the bed, pointedly not looking at Harley Quinn, who was now silent and staring into her cereal bowl, pushing the miniature cookies around with her spoon.
“Either way we win. If the team kill Joker, Joker’s dead. If the Hood kills Joker, Joker’s dead.” She dragged one bare finger over the blackboard, smearing a lazy white X over Joker’s crudely-chalked face. “And with Joker dead, Gotham becomes a better place. So why in the world would we take any sort of action to save his life?”
Riddler let out an exasperated sigh. “Dear, sweet, whimsical Selina. You aren’t much of a chess player, are you? You can’t look at the obvious moves to make. Letting Joker die is like pushing a pawn forward to take a knight, ignoring a chance to get rid of the queen and inadvertently putting ourselves in checkmate.”
“Explain yourself,” Selina retorted.
“This Hood fellow… he’s driven. Motivated in a psychological fashion. He was wronged, and he wants revenge – but he’s proven that simply having the Joker die is insufficient. He wants to do the deed himself.”
“If he can be prevented from reaching his goal, his ruined ambitions could cripple his mind, make him a wreck. More importantly, make him leave Gotham. The Joker is a menace, and he’s a thorn in everyone’s side. But he doesn’t hunt villains. The Red Hood was able to take down Clayface, one of Batman’s more physically challenging foes, in a matter of seconds. He almost killed me. What do you think he’ll do to you and Harley, especially when he’s seeking you out?”
Selina slumped down, sitting on the edge of the bed and staring at Riddler. He had a good point. Joker was violent, but Red Hood was violent against villains. A new, more vicious brand of vigilante that she really didn’t need as part of her night life.
“Then you’re right. We have to make a plan. And that means we have to know what the Hood knows… which means we need to pay a visit to the Iceberg Casino.”
“Waugh! I’ll never talk! And ya’d best get outta here before I call security!”
“Never talk, hm?” Selina said quietly, stalking in slow circles around the Penguin, her goggles down and her face set seriously. “Funny, that. Because a little bird told me you squealed for the Red Hood. Told him all about your little scheme with Two-Face… and Deadshot.”
Oswald Cobblepot narrowed his eyes, gritting his filed fangs together and glowering at the cat-themed villainess. “I didn’t wanna call Deadshot into this. He’s scum. No manners, either! Waugh!” He flopped backwards into an overstuffed chair behind his desk, laying his umbrella menacingly over his shoulder. “You know what we’re trying to do has to be done. That clown has been the scorpion on the back of the duck for decades now, and it’s a matter of time before he stings us all! Waugh!”
“Oh, I know,” Catwoman agreed, tilting her head to the side and observing Penguin casually. “And under any other circumstances, I would fully support you in killing him. Actually – I do support you in killing him. But we can’t let the Hood get what he wants. If he does, he could shack up in Gotham permanently. Clayface hasn’t been seen in over a week.”
Oswald offered a high-pitched, nasal little snort, grumbling to himself. “You’re right, of course. But it’s out of my hands now! This is Harvey’s gig, and it always has been. Deadshot never backs down from a contract and it’s a coin-toss with Harvey, like always. Even if it’s suicide, he’ll go head to head with the Hood if it means getting the Joker.”
“So, are you going to cooperate, then? We need to know what he found out from you.” Riddler stepped in from behind the door, grimacing. “I get the little villain game, you don’t trust her, she doesn’t trust you. But if we’ve come to an agreement, maybe you can get it into your insignificantly small mind that we may need your help to prevent Gotham from burning.”
“Dammit, Gotham will never burn, waugh! Just because the Hood may have goons like you and Clayface around his finger doesn’t mean nobody will fight back! You think Joker will just offer himself up? He’ll turn the Hood into birdseed, if someone like Azrael doesn’t do it first!”
“You’re still avoiding the question, Oswald. What does he know that we can use against him?” Riddler closed in. With Catwoman behind the fat, suited man now, and Eddie leaning in close, Penguin wiggled uncomfortably, trapped between them.
“I didn’t tell him nothin’, ‘cause I don’t KNOW nothin’! Harvey was the thinker, the organizer. I provided the money to hire Deadshot in the first place, and a place for us to convene. I squawked on Two-Face and that was all he needed from me. Ya want plans, ya go to him.”
‘Two-Face ain’t gonna tell us anything, Ed, ya know that doncha?” Harley spoke now, licking the stray sugar from her fingertips and stuffing the wrapper of her pixie stix crudely into her pocket. Up until now, she had been occupied with the treat Selina’d given her. “I just got an idea, though, but ya won’t like it much.”
Riddler sighed heavily and turned his head, still leaned in against the Penguin. “From what I’ve seen from you, this idea has an approximately fifty percent chance of making me want to strangle you, Harley. What is it?”
“Well, everyone keeps sayin’ that… that he may not even be able to get to Joker in the first place. What if we warned Mistah J? Have him take the offence instead’a us?” Harley Quinn twirled one of her pigtails – the red one – around one finger casually, one leg crossed over the other. “Say Ozzie, ya got any chips or gum or somethin’ in this place? I’m feelin’ a little munchy.”
“…You punched me in the nose.”
“That was me? Gee, I thought penguins were supposed to have a two second memory or whatevah?”
Penguin’s eyes widened with fury, baring his teeth again. “That’s goldfish, you nincompoop!”
“Yeesh. Look who’s a trivia geek?”
“Why you little--!” Penguin reached forward with his crude little flippers, bumping Riddler out of the way as he lunged for the little group’s resident clown. His progress was suddenly halted by a certain someone’s whip around his midsection.
“Now, now, Oswald. Everyone wants to strangle Harley sometimes—“ Selina began, eliciting a little ‘Hey!’ from the other villainess. “—But we’re trying to be civil here, aren’t we?” She tugged back swiftly, the whip yanking Penguin back into his seat and holding him fast, the little man grumbling.
“You love your clown so much, why don’t you try her plan? It’s better than anything I’ve got right now. Let Joker deal with his own problems and slaughter the baby bird himself. Unless Two-Face survives and finds me here, I’m washing my hands of the whole damnable thing. It’s been my neck on the line this whole bloody time, waugh!”
“Actually, the Hood bombed Harvey’s hideout,” Riddler corrected annoyingly, his reward for which was a futile offhand swat from Penguin.
“Get outta my casino, all of you! Go find Joker and set him loose on the Red Hood, see what it gets you. Maybe he’ll kill Harley while you’re there.”
Eddie smirked lightly, rapping Oswald gently on the head with his cane before turning on his heel and striding from the roof, Selina and a still-hungry Harley close behind. “Thanks for nothing.”
“Do these leering clown faces ever stop scaring any of you? I know I’m petrified every time I come through one of these damnable carnivals,” Riddler complained as the little trio pushed a small purple gondola through what looked (and smelled) to be a river of sewage. Around them was a cave of sorts, spraypainted with erratic “ha”s and psychotic faces and eyes, most of them self-portraits done by the Joker himself.
“Aw, I always thought they were really comforting. It’s like an old, familiar wallpaper,” Harley said wistfully, leaning her chin on her palm as she let Selina and Eddie row, sighing as she re-experienced so many old memories. Part of her missed Joker, of course – part of her always would. But, despite the others telling her she was dense or pitiful, she had learned from her mistakes… maybe. Despite her doubts about her own mettle, she had brought her warhammer along, the massive slab of steel sitting on the floor of the gondola, with the crimson handle laying on her knee. She wouldn’t be taken advantage of again.
Selina glanced across to the clowngirl, twisting her lips slightly in a concerned expression. Going to Joker, while suicidal, seemed like their best option to keep the Red Hood out of Gotham. She just hoped that they all got out of this alive, with Harley’s soul more or less intact. The things that man did to her were astounding, he made her a different person – and even in his absence, Harley carried the shadow of his twisted personality in a corona around her heart.
The tunnel led onward, a light appearing at the end of it. Rather apropos, considering who they were going to meet. The hysterical laughter that was also growing louder, however, was significantly less symbolic.
“Well at least he’s home,” Riddler growled. “Saves us from having to use his answering machine.”
The slim boat bumped gently when it hit the makeshift dock. An old phonograph was playing some jazz song from the 20’s, and the man himself, the clown prince of crime, was waltzing in circles (despite the song being in 4:4 time), his arms wrapped around an invisible partner as he laughed and laughed and laughed, his voice going hoarse. Selina’s eyes widened slightly, the majesty and horror of the Joker’s mere presence not at all lost on her, while shivers ran up Ed’s spine. Harley sighed again, biting her bottom lip as she watched the man she loved – just watched him, watched him dance and wished, in her deepest heart, that he were holding her, erratically dancing to a song that didn’t fit. The song never mattered to Joker; when he was by himself, when he was with Harley, he loved to dance. He always laughed like that when he did, and the sounds of his mirth were always more musical to her than whatever was playing on the phonograph.
She glanced down at her pointed boots, a tear slowly wetting one of her big blue eyes. She couldn’t think that way, not anymore. Whether or not she wanted it, whether or not she… she wanted him… whether or not she thought it could work, she knew now that she was wrong. Joker would never love her the way she loved him, and to be near him was to risk her life daily. The problem was, it was almost worth it.
“…Puddin’?” Harley said softly, the first to stand. She took a step forward onto the dock that led into Joker’s psychotically furnished cave, pushing aside a thin curtain that felt like it had been fashioned from thinly-sliced human skin.
Joker paused, mid-step, and held the position for a while. The song continued on, and finally the clown dropped his arms and stood straight, still facing away from his old squeeze. “Harley…” his grating, sing-song voice finally rang out, after a silence which threatened to kill Riddler and Catwoman. “I didn’t think you’d come back.”
“I… it ain’t like that, Mistah J. I just need to talk to ya… okay?” Harley put her hands behind her back, her heart racing violently in her chest. Her knees felt weak, her breath caught in her throat. It was him, her love. His voice.
“Talk away, poo,” he chirped, slowly turning to face his ex-henchgirl. His vibrant green eyes bore into hers the second he came into view, and his stretched, red-lipped rictus grin was fused the same way it had been when she had left. The same way it had been when he left her in that building… filled with dynamite he had left there.
“Sorry, pumpkin!” he had said. “Hope there’s no hard feelings? The feds shouldn’t rough ya up too bad – that is, if you survive the blast! Ahaha! Ah, but you’re a tough girl, eh? You’ll be fine.” He had been on the helicopter when he said that, already pulling away from the bank and the timebomb he had left with her. That bomb had nearly killed her.
She squeezed her eyes shut tightly for a moment, trying to speak past the lump in her throat. “We… w-we just wanted to… w-warn you… Mistah… Mistah J, that….”
“That there’s a madman coming after you. He’s calling himself the Red Hood – your old name, yes?” Selina laid a hand on Harley’s shoulder and the clowngirl melted into her, a solitary tear streaming down her cheek. She tilted her face so that Joker wouldn’t see.
“Ooh, that wouldn’t be the Bat’s little brat, would it?” Joker said excitedly. “I already had the pleasure of killing him once, I think about that every night when I say my prayers! I’d just LOVE to murder him once more!”
“Go for it,” Catwoman replied, holding Harley tightly against her. “He’s out in the wild now, attacking villains. We still haven’t seen Clayface and he almost killed Riddler and Harley. He’s been hunting down Two-Face to find you, and Harvey can’t handle him. We need you to take the offensive if we’re going to get him out of Gotham.”
“Aw, he wants little ol’ me? I can’t imagine why,” Joker said casually, gazing at his gloved fingers as if he were checking his nails for blemishes.
“Maybe because you killed him?” Riddler said, stepping up to Harley’s other side.
“Ooh, the girlygirl has a couple of friends now. Big strong villains to keep her safe from the big…” his smile began to widen. “…Bad…” he ran his tongue along his teeth suggestively, sliding a revolver from his belt.
“Get down!” Selina screamed, dragging Harley to the cave floor.
“…Joker.” He pulled the trigger, causing a massive red flag proudly stating “BANG!” to pop harmlessly out of the barrel. That laughter began to echo through the chamber again, washing over the trio that had come to meet him, hoping for the best but expecting the worst. “Ahahahahaha, heheheheeheheahahhaha, heeheeheeheehee, ohohoho, hohoohohoh, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! THE OLD BANG TRICK! YOU FALL FOR IT EVERY TIME! AHAHAHA!”
“Come on, Harley,” Catwoman whispered to the sniffling clowngirl, knowing she was doing everything in her power not to weep openly. “We’re getting out of here.”
“Oh, and don’t worry about that Todd kid! I’ll wear the skin of his feet as my socks! – say, I wonder if they come in argyle? – and his guts as my new necktie! The hunt is on! HAHAHAHAHA!!!” Joker’s voice rang out behind the trio as they crawled back into the gondola, each one of them shaking and trying to paddle away. Even Harley, at the prow, tried to push the boat through the water with her bare hands, not having an oar.
“I’ll find you, Harley! I’LL FIND YOU! AND THIS TIME, MY LOVE, YOU WON’T SURVIVE! YOU’LL JOIN THE BAT’S PARENTS IN HELL!!!”
“He said he loved me, Selina! He said “my love”, didn’t ya hear that?! He wants me back!”
“Harley… please don’t tell me we’re having this discussion. He said ‘my love, you won’t survive’. You’d think that would be somewhat off-putting.” Selina clapped her hand over her eyes, sighing deeply. “He’s bad news.”
“Yeah, I guess so…” Harley muttered lowly, picking up a round, lumpy rock and tossing it at the lake in front of the two women, causing it to plunk to the bottom unceremoniously.
“You need the flat ones if you want to skip them, you know.”
“Yeah… I know.” Harley grumbled, throwing another rock into the lake.
“You two aren’t still sulking, are you?” Riddler said, laying his hands on the back of the park bench the two girls were sitting on, leaning his hips against it casually and tilting his hat down, keeping what little sun leaked through the canopy of trees out of his eyes. The three had stayed at Selina’s last night, after which it had been obvious that if Harley didn’t have ice cream in a stunningly short time, someone wouldn’t survive.
Now, they were at the park. Harley had finished an entire half gallon of cotton candy flavored, slow-churned ice cream on her own, and had ended up taking a few scoops out of Selina’s personal-sized chocolate. Eddie had gotten away with a single buddy bar.
“M’not sulkin’,” Harley sulked, picking up another rock and flinging it as hard and far as she could. It cleared the small lake, landing with a muffled thud on the other side.
“She never does well when she sees him,” Selina whispered, turning her head to face Ed with a small frown of her own.
“If it makes you feel any better, Harley, a building is burning down a few blocks away?” he tried, turning to look at the smoking rising up over the trees not too far away. “You could loot something? I think it’s a record store?” He slowly forced his lips to curl, something that did not generally occur often, not when he wasn’t sneering at some inferior opponent or other. The result distinctly resembled a lowercase U that was trying to crawl out of its skin.
Harley sniffled, glancing up that the man with a half-smile of her own. “A… a record store?” she whispered.
“A record store,” Eddie confirmed.
A few minutes later, the three had suited up and were cruising towards the little burning shop, Harley riding behind Catwoman on her motorcycle and Riddler riding what appeared to be the most manly alternative to a power scooter that he could find. He had difficulty keeping up, but he managed.
“Alright, punks, this is a lootery!” Harley proclaimed proudly when she somersaulted into the burning building, her massive mallet in one hand as she posed dramatically for the few quivering victims still inside.
And, of course, Azrael and the Red Hood.
I have to say, I didn’t sign up for this. Well, perhaps I did get a little more involved than I probably should have, but when you’re dealing with two beautiful imbeciles… it can be hard to stay impartial to the affairs at hand.
Needless to say, however, I was out of my league here. Without time to plan, without resources to create traps and diversions, without henchmen, without anything at all besides my body and my cane, I’m less imposing than that hack Scarecrow. Obviously, if I did have a moment to gather myself I could easily leave all of these blubbering morons drowning in their own individual vat of hydrochloric acid, but I don’t have that. I’ll have to think fast.
When I offered Harley the chance to loot a burning record store, I had no clue it would come to this. I expected some panic, fleeing pedestrians, perhaps a hapless idiot like Firefly burning the place up and scurrying away with the Greatest Hits of Judas Priest, or whatever that neanderthal listens to in order to fill the void in his pitiful, meaningless life. But when we got here we were greeted with something far, far less inviting – the fire had been caused not by a stick of dynamite, not with a flamethrower, not even with some form of fiery metagoon trying to make a name for himself. The fire had come from Michael Lane’s flaming sword.
The battlefield was inferior from the start, obviously. Such a clash of titans – infuriatingly predicted by that bird-brain Cobblepot – could not be contained in the cramped aisles of a little music shop. I couldn’t help but ponder how the battle had even begun there in the first place, but it wasn’t worth thinking over just now. Selina and Quinn were already in the thick of things, charging like mentally damaged lemmings into a battle they had no way of winning, as if they didn’t even fear death. Catwoman’s whip lashed out at the Hood’s arm, trying to ensnare his gun, but he managed to leap over it completely, lunging for Azrael, who managed to both deflect the blow and steer away a charging Quinn – that preposterous warhammer of hers smashing through the wall of the store as if it were so much tinfoil.
She squealed out some nonsense – “I’ll get you for that, you creep!” or whatever it was – and attacked again. It was meaningless. Harley seemed to be a decent fighter, and above the game when it came to her strength and speed, but she was up against a zealot, a sword-wielding maniac that nobody here had a chance to defeat. I was stunned that the Red Hood had lasted for this long.
Resources… with resources I could make a difference in this losing battle. Even a simple rocket or explosive, aimed properly, could be sufficient to knock Azrael out of the fight, or at least stagger him long enough for Quinn to get a solid blow, or Selina to slash his throat out – despite her being quite occupied with that ex-Robin, presently. The problem is resources. I could make an explosive given a modestly-stocked supply cabinet if I had one, but a quick scan around the building confirms an utter lack of one. I bring one hand over my mouth to protect myself from the smoke, and glance outside of the record store.
Selina will thank me later.
“Hey, look up, you simpleton!” I shouted as I flicked my lighter open, “You feed me, I live – but if you give me something to drink, I die. What am I?” I spark the makeshift fuse that I’d created, causing quite the chain of reaction. Using the exhaust pipe as the barrel, pounds of fiery shrapnel began to burst forth from the quickly-dismantled motorcycle, rocketing directly towards the Lane fellow who was seeming to have quite the advantage in this particular battle, as far as I could tell. He turns quickly, moving his fiery sword in front of him but unable to move aside due to the cramped fighting area -- his eyes suddenly widened as the blast smacked into his chest, sending him flying backwards. His large form smashed into the already-damaged wall behind him and brought it down, the charred rafters of the roof beginning to collapse down around all of us (except for me, obviously).
I duck backwards, hiding behind the mostly-destroyed bike, its insides seeming to have been blown out from being used the way I just decided to use it. I would have had my concerns for Selina and Quinn, considering that the record shop was tumbling down around them. But when I saw that black, pointy-eared shape slide out of the gathering dusk, I began to realize that things may not be so dreadful after all. They’ll be fine… at least, Catwoman will.
Well, we’re in it now. After all we’ve been through, it eventually came down to a brawl between us and the Red Hood – no Batman, no Joker, no Two-Face, nothing. Only that lunatic Lane can be considered an ally, and he seems to be trying to kill us more energetically than the Hood.
“You shall pay, sinners… for your misdeeds, you shall find PUNISHMENT!” Azrael roars, swinging that flaming sword from side to side, managing to rake the tip of his blade against Harley’s shoulder. She’s doing better than I had expected – that hammer is keeping Azrael on his toes. He’s strong, but doesn’t seem to have what it takes to deflect the momentum of the thing, and to try to take the hit would be suicide.
I can’t worry about them, however. I’m locked in combat with the Red Hood, and as Riddler had suggested when we first met up with him, he’s no slouch. The waved blade of his dagger strikes like a serpent, his attacks shockingly quick. I can also tell that he didn’t learn all of his moves from Bruce… his attacks are too erratic, too deranged. He’s striking to kill, not incapacitate, and he’s skilled in doing so.
It’s all I can do to keep him from gutting me, with the cramped area around us. I dodge attack after attack, trying to keep him on his guard by lashing out with my claws. He’s agile, fast, strong. He’s good. If only I had more room to maneuver—
I find my thoughts suddenly fulfilled as Riddler, somewhere away from the battle, suddenly fires a blast of flame and shrapnel our way, sending Azrael flying through the already-damaged wall and bringing the roof down, burning beams crumbling away into ash as the record shop begins to collapse.
“Harley!” I scream as I watch the roof start to fall, a huge fake record that had been hanging from the ceiling falling between us. I hear her squeal, and she throws her hands up above her. The last thing I see before the record obscures her from my vision is her desperate blue eyes, turning to me, silently begging for me to help her. “No!” I yell out, but the roof is piling down on top of her, covering her.
I throw a quick side kick, enough to send the Hood hurtling backwards outside of the burning building, and try to crawl over the record, trying to get to Harley. Maybe she’s a goofball, maybe I barely even like her. Maybe she’s a childish parasite. But at the moment, she’s my childish parasite – she came to me when she had nobody left, and I took her in. That makes her my responsibility.
When I feel a strong pair of arms suddenly wrap around me, pulling me up and away out of the record store, I claw and kick desperately, screaming, “No! Wait!”
“I can’t save all of you.” It’s Bruce’s voice, that deep, comforting rumble that I used to get chills when I heard. I gouge my diamond-tipped claws against his gauntlets, eliciting only a pained growl from him as he ziplines me away to the roof of a nearby Walgreens.
“Let me go, Bruce!” I shout, slamming one fist backwards into his shoulder. Safe on the roof now, he lets me go, and I take a few hurried steps away from him, my red lensed eyes turning downward to look at the burning building. I see Michael Lane sprawled out against the scorched wall of an alley, and the Red Hood standing above him, dagger in hand. Harley is nowhere to be seen.
“…I couldn’t save her,” I whisper. Bruce places one hand gently on my shoulder, but I shrug it off. She was my responsibility, and she was on the right track for once. Was this the price she had to pay for redemption? “I hope you’re happy, Batman,” I whisper.
Bruce set his jaw and remained silent. I know what he wants to say… something infuriating like ‘I’m only human’ or ‘what was I supposed to do?’. But he doesn’t say those things, because he’s the dark damn knight and to admit that he let someone die would destroy him.
“Are you going to do something about the Hood?” I ask quietly, a cold feeling creeping over my heart as I watch the continuing stillness where Harley was buried.
“Jason has a lot more to worry about than me,” Bruce says, and I turn to him for a moment before looking back down to the alleyway.
“But Azrael is already--?”
“Laaaaaadies and geeeeentlemen, bats and cats and preachers and clowns, lunatics and vigilantes alike!” Comes a voice from below me. A very familiar voice. “Allow me to introduce… me!” My eyes widen as a bright yellow sphere with a smiley face and a lit fuse rolls out into the alleyway, followed by a strutting man with green hair and a purple suit.
“…Did ya miss me, kiddo?!”
Y’know, I really gotta say? I didn’t think I had it in me. It was always kinda in the back of my head, one’a those things ya just know, that buildings as a general rule are really heavy. That turned out to be true, but what I didn’t know was that I’d be able to hold up a large section of one.
Selina’s safe, I think. Last thing I saw was a flash of black and a zipline, before this big wall fell on me, anyway. If that ain’t bat-head, then it’s someone pretendin’ to be, so Kitty’s probably gonna be alright… not that that helps me much. I feel my enhanced muscles start to twist and quiver, every part of me tensed up as I try to hold… something. My eyes are still squeezed shut, but as my knees start to bend and the wall starts to close down on me, I finally open them.
The entire west wall of the record store is laying on me, and I’m becoming increasingly aware of the fact that it’s about to smash me. Hoodie’s startin’ to stand in the alleyway across from me, and Azrael seems to be down for the count, having taken the brunt of Eddie’s blast. Catsy’s nowhere to be seen.
I strain slightly and close my eyes, trying to do anything to lift this offa me – straighten my legs, or my arms, or my… er… spine… or anything, but I can’t budge. Even with the enhancements I got from Red, I ain’t no Superman, and I can’t just push this off.
“…Allow me to introduce… me!” I hear that voice, a voice I never forget, ever. A voice it’s impossible to forget. My Joker. The sound is followed by a blast and a loud groan, followed by a couple gunshots. Damn debris is in the way, now, I can’t see nothin’. Not Joker and not Hood – they’ve moved, the blast from that happy little bomb seems to have moved the location of the fight to somewhere else. All I see is Azrael, not twitchin’ so much, just kinda layin’ there. Don’t think he’s dead but I’ve been wrong before (kinda a lot, now I think about it).
Be perfectly honest, I’m not sure who I’d help if I did get outta here. Kinda a funny thought to have considerin’ I’m about to get slowly squished into a Harley-flavored pancake when I run outta juice and this burning building falls down on me. I can feel it gettin’ warmer as the fire on the roof starts cookin’ through the wood and plaster and whatever walls are made of.
“You won’t escape this time, Joker. I’m not him. I won’t let you go.” That Robin kid’s voice. He sounds pretty steamed but he usually does, so it ain’t that special. Then again, not crazy about people threatenin’ my puddin’.
“Why my dear Hoodie! Pillow talk like that’s going to get you a spanking one of these days, don’t you think? Though I’m sure the big bad bat has given you enough of those over the years, mm? Hahahaha!” Another gunshot, a grunt. Then some shouts and huffs of close combat.
“Make all the jokes you want… I’ve got you now. Any last words?”
“No… no no please… it can’t end this way! You can’t do this to me!” Joker’s voice again. He sounds so scared… wish I could see what was happenin’ but… this wall’s… closin’ down on me… is it just me or am I always the one who ends up in dire peril? Eddie gets a booboo on his leg, I get crushed by a building… twice….
“Not much for last words, you giggling scum. I’ll enjoy murdering you.”
“Last? Ahah, those weren’t my last. My last words…” he sniffled dramatically. “With my last breath, I just want to tell my dearest Harley how…” a half-sob of pain. My baby! “…I just wanna tell Harley… how much I love her. I just want to hold her one last time. You understand, don’t you, Hoodie? You gotta give a man his goodbyes before you snuff him… especially when the love of his life is so close by.”
“Hah. Love of your life. Like you could love something besides yourself.” Ooh, if I could get my hands on that creep.
“If you knew my angel, you would understand. Dear Harley… I’ll miss you. Get it over with, then.”
I narrow my eyes and grit my teeth. Nobody’s killin’ my baby today! “PUDDIN’!” I scream out, the adrenaline caused only by true love coursing through my veins. I let out a roar of power and stand up, pushing the slab of burning wood up and off of me, tossing it to the side and causing it to topple. My arms and back are covered with burns, skin crispin’ up and flakin’ off like the burnt skin of a hot dog.
I see him there; his hands held up helplessly, his revolver layin’ on the ground beside him with the “BANG!” flag stickin’ out. Poor baby brought the wrong gun. The Red Hood’s standin’ there, his own automatic pointed right at Mistah J.
Joker turns to me, and his face lights up. Tears in his eyes. I knew all that stuff about killin’ me was a lie… he probably had just had a bad day, or, or he was tryin’ to protect me from somethin’. He would never do anything to hurt me. My puddin’ loves me.
“Harley,” he whispers, and he opens his arms. I run to him, throw my own burnt arms around his middle and squeeze him, laying my head against his chest.
“Puddin’, I’m so sorry it took so long… I couldn’t let him hurt you… not without me by your side,” I whimper softly against him, lifting myself onto my tiptoes to press my red lips against his. He’s so soft and warm and sweet, and I feel all that love again, remember everything I felt for him and why I can’t live without him. He kisses me back, so soft and gentle, so caring, so strong.
“Have fun with her in hell, Joker.”
I hear a soft click and the Joker tenses up. His pursed lips curl into a sinister smile and he twists his body just as I hear the gunshot go off.
…He puts me in the way.
I let out a soft gasp and fall silent as the echoes from the gunshot fade. My ears ring as I look down. Big tear in my top, and a red hole in the middle, right at my sternum.
Joker drops me like the shield I was and tosses a volley of sharpened cards at the Red Hood, laughing wildly, maniacally. That laugh I loved so much. Their battle seems so fuzzy. Hood loses his gun; Joker gets some good hits in with his knife, opens him up good. I see the kid roll back and hop onto the guardrail, moving out into the street. Joker smiles and tosses the knife, and I hear a cry of pain. I see Joker start to walk away, but that zipline again, that flash of black. When the Bat passes by, the Hood’s gone.
I look down at myself again. Blood. Lotta blood, pooling out around me. Bullet went right through, high caliber, big hole. I guess buildings weren’t my arch-nemesis after all. It was bullets all along.
Coulda sworn it was gonna be buildings.
I blink a few times and look up again. Joker’s gone, Bat’s gone. Everyone’s gone.
“Selina! Selina, where are you, dammit?!” Ed’s voice. I feel like I went through something like this not long ago, but this is different. I was scared then, scared of dyin’, scared of leavin’ everyone behind. But Joker left me behind this time, like he always does. He used me, and I took the bullet for him. I was just his fool, one more time.
“Ed? Oh my God, is she okay?”
I feel a cold hand around my wrist, and then it all goes away.
“In so short a time, I didn’t think I’d have to meet again, / The romantic little lunatic, the “villain” known as Harley Quinn.” Came a deep, rasping voice. The terrain was decidedly warm, in an “open flames licking at your knees” kind of way.
“Yeah… don’t worry about me, Etsy,” Harley said softly, flopping down onto her backside and pulling her knees up, wrapping her arms around them as hellfire engulfed her. She barely even seemed to care.
“Be not a fool, I do not care, though I neither need you in my hair, / I kicked you out last time you came, but now you’re back – so who’s to blame?” There was a beat of wings, and the massive, golden-skinned, armored demon known as Etrigan slammed down to his feet, holding his head up and tilting it as he observed the woman, curled up with her head down, not even whimpering, not crying.
“The Joker,” Harley whispered, her voice barely audible over the crackling of fire and screams of the damned. “He hurt me for the last time, the last big joke he’ll play, last laugh he’ll have at the expense of Harley Quinn. Now I’m safe… safe in the only place I can’t get back to him. Hell. I belong here.”
Etrigan stroked his chin gently with a large, clawed hand, twisting his lips in an expression of perplexity. “So yet again, love is why you’re here – how can I know you’ll ever learn to fear? / Hell’s no place for those like you. To escape, you already know what to do. / We lost our best man last you were around, so I’m of no mind to keep you underground.”
“No! Please,” a single tear streaked down Harley’s face, and she reached a hand out to place it on Etrigan’s. “Don’t send me back to him. I can’t bear to see him again.”
“If he’s your worst nightmare, what do you think, / You’ll happen to find, in the eternal clink?” Etrigan replied. “Your cell’s been prepared, and Joker is there, / Yet I’m starting to find I might actually… care.”
“Great, I find the one demon who wants me to have a happy endin’….”
“Hah! A foolish mistake, you insolent girl, your happiness, to me, isn’t even worth mention. / I’m sending you back to your bright shiny world, so that I can kick back and watch you have your VENGEANCE!”
“I’m… Harley, I’m… I’m so sorry,” Selina whispered, holding the clowngirl’s limp, pigtailed head in her lap. “I couldn’t get to you in time, and Br—Batman, Batman wouldn’t… couldn’t….” She gently caressed one gloved hand over Harley’s milk-white skin, gritting her teeth but not crying. Riddler stood behind her a short ways, his hat in his hands, though he didn’t speak.
“If I had made it in time, if we had acted instead of pretending Joker could possibly be of any help, I… I could have gotten you out of there. I could have disarmed the Red Hood. And you’d still be alive.” Selina lifted her goggles and laid her forehead against Harley’s, letting out a long, deep sigh.
“…Yeesh, Kitty, have a few too many sardines? Your breath is like, mega-yuck!”
“…Har-… Harley…?” Catwoman opened her eyes to find her gaze met by a pair of big blues she thought she’d never see open again. Harley stirred in the woman’s arms, and it was then that tears began to form at the corners of Selina Kyle’s eyes. “Harley, you’re… you’re alive,” she whispered.
“Yeah, sorta. This really kinda hurts though, gotta admit. But this is better than last time.”
“You’ve died before?!”
“How d’ya think I got out so quick? But last time I got vaporized so things got real awkward with that green guy and some dame in fishnets.” Harley shrugged and placed two fingers back to her bullethole. The wound was no longer gushing, but if blood loss showed on the girl’s mime-white flesh, it would have been a bit more obvious that she had literally just been to hell and back.
“Nah, with the top hat.”
“Yeah, that’s right! I can never remember her weird baby-talk name.”
“…Harley, you… you almost scared me to death.”
“Hey, imagine how I feel.” A broad grin spread across Harley’s face, showing a bit of blood between her teeth.
The walk back to Selina’s apartment was a long one. Despite her good-natured behavior, it was clear that Harley was being tormented by something, something big. Selina would never understand something like her relationship with Joker – what she had with the Batman always seemed so easy. Off and on, fight and kiss, but they always loved each other. In her relationship, Harley had been the only one who was ever in love.
“So… what’s hell like?”
“The rooms are kinda dirty but they’re thoughtful enough to leave the little chocolate minty thing under both pillows.”
“Maybe another time, then,” Selina tried to offer a comforting smile, but the other woman didn’t seem to notice.
“Where’d Ed run off to? Thought he was with us.”
“He left after you… well, died. Said he didn’t sign up to watch a clown die. He sounded miserable – I think you were starting to grow on him, Harl.”
“Aw. Well, I’m flattered, but I think I’ve had enough egomaniacs with too much green in their color scheme for a good long while, thanks very much.” Both women shared a quiet laugh as they stepped up onto the stoop to Selina’s apartment. While the career burglar fiddled with the key to her own lock, Harley twirled one of her pigtails awkwardly. “So, what happened… after? To Joker and Hood?”
“The Red Hood is in Arkham. Batman used his moment of weakness to bind him – when he went back for Joker, he was gone.” She opened the door and stepped into her house, taking a quick glance up the carpeted stairs that led to her living room. “Are you coming in?”
“…Nah,” Harley said softly. “Just gonna see if I got any mail, and… and I’m gonna take off. You’ve done enough for me, and I’m holdin’ ya back at best.”
“I know, I know. Ya don’t have to say anything, Kitty. You’ve been great to me, and… seems like you’ve been the best friend I have out there. Never tried to do any of that Sweet Dreams stuff and ya never talked down to me much. For a while I felt like I was just part of the gang, but now…” she took a deep breath, hanging her head slightly. “Ya might say I’m feelin’ a little hellbound.”
“You… you made a deal?” Selina said, her deep green eyes softening. “Harley, please tell me you didn’—“
“Not a deal, Kitty. More like a suggestion. It’s just time for me to make things right, I think… maybe next time I die, I won’t go down, eh?” She smiled. “I’m just gonna go grab my other hammer from the garage and check the mailbox to see if I got anything. I hope… maybe I had a positive effect on you, too, for the time we were together.” With that, the clowngirl turned and walked away, heading for the garage like she’d said.
“You did teach me something, Harley.” Selina whispered as her friend walked away without so much as a ‘goodbye’. “I’m not sure what, but you taught me something.”
“Detective Nigma. It sounded good, didn’t it? I thought it did… or should I just stick with Riddler? It had a nice ring to it, certainly has a bit more pull with the underground.”
Edward Nigma paced idly across the floor of his warehouse hideout, compulsively tapping the tip of his cane against each and every object that came in sight. “But do I want to stay underground? What has that gotten me? A lot of question marks on a lot of Arkham walls and a lot of beatings from a lunatic in a batsuit. ‘Detective Nigma, Private Eye’. What could be wrong with that? I did it before, and it was… it was nice. So why not again?”
He paused in front of the cracked mirror that mounted his writing desk. The question mark decorating his hat marked him as the Riddler. But how many more riddles were there for the Riddler to tell? How many more challenges to give the Batman when he’d been beaten so many times? Maybe it was time for the Riddler to go away. He swatted the bowler from his head and took a deep breath, his hand trembling as he reached up and pushed his dark hair back, slicking it with the sweat of his palms. Detective Nigma. He could do it again.
Her hammer slung over her shoulder, Harley Quinn reached into the black, undecorated mailbox marked “Selina Kyle”. She hadn’t gotten much mail since she officially moved in with Catwoman. A letter from an old fan of the Holly Chance article… letter from the Daily Planet… letter for Dr. Jessica Seaborn – should probably take this to the post office so they’d know she didn’t live there anymore – and a letter for Dr. Harleen Quinzel.
Harley’s eyes widened. She glanced from side to side before opening the letter. It was closed with black sealing wax, stamped with a little image of a songbird.
It had an address, and a note that simply said “I want him gone too”.
“Perfect!” Joker cried out, starting to laugh maniacally before spinning suddenly, tossing a sharpened joker card at a polaroid of Batman that was hanging from his wall. “The Hood is locked up, that little brat Harley is gone for good, that little dream-team of lukewarm villains is disbanded, and the Bat is holding none of the cards….”
“…The only one who wins is ME! ME ME ME ME ME! Aahhahahaha, eheheheheh, hahaha… heheheheahahahaa, hoohoo, AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!”
For more Harley Quinn, check out Secret Six.
For more Riddler, check out Justice Society of America, vol. 1 -- Stranger On Mars. He also returns later in his own series, Riddle Me This.
For more Catwoman, check out Delphic's 'Tis The Season.