I can't breathe. I can't breathe. It hurts so much to try to breathe.
My eyelids fly open, awakened from a deep sleep, but the suffocating feeling doesn't stay behind in my dreams. There's something wound around my neck, prodding into my skin, squeezing my throat. I can feel five individual pressure points, four on one side and one lone point on the other. Fingers, I realize. The pressure is from fingers.
Someone's choking me.
I bring my legs and arms up hard, pushing and kicking. They connect with something solid, something human. There's a figure looming above me, that much I can tell, but it's too dark in here for me to see who. My blows and hits are easily avoided and my attacker's legs and body weight pins me down easily. I try to cry out, but the sound is garbled and cut off by the fingers laced around my throat.
"Now, now, Harley. Let's not do this the hard way," a familiar, high pitched voice quips.
"J?" I manage to rasp out in surprise. My mind's already hazy from the lack of oxygen, but I can't seem to wrap my mind around the fact that the Joker's choking me. Why is he doing this? I haven't done anything wrong.
"Mm-hmm," he confirms. "Expecting someone else?" He lets out a quiet, breathy laugh and I grab at the hand wrapped around my neck, weakly trying to claw and scratch at it. He roughly grabs my hand and pins it down with his other hand. The weight that he's partially putting on my stomach adds to the haziness and I manage to wheeze a small amount of air into my lungs.
"St... st... stop," I eventually manage to say, trying unsuccessfully to weasel out of his hold.
"You forgot to say please," he chides, mocking a scolding parent. An amused laugh follows.
"Puh... lease," I finish. His grip on my neck slackens, not a lot, but enough to let me breathe in a full, satisfying breath of oxygen. The grip's still strong, possessive even. It's enough to keep me in place. I hack for a few moments after several gulps of sweet air, coughing from the irritation in my throat. As oxygen returns to my brain, the haze clears enough for me to think somewhat clearly.
"Now that you're, uh, awake," he begins, his voice dropping to a low growl, "what are ya really up to?"
"What do you mean?" I question, confused. He roughly and abruptly throws me off of the bed. I crash into the nightstand, my head hitting the corner of it hard. My body tumbles to the floor beside the nightstand as my head rings with pain. The Joker creeps down to my level, looming his face over mine. He's so close that I can faintly see the brown in his eyes. And as my eyes slowly adjust to the darkness, I can start to see the lines and contours of his face.
"You showed up out of the, uh, blue," he announces, his face so close to mine that I can feel his hot breath on my face, "and said that ya want to throw your perfect little life away and come join me," he tells me skeptically.
"I do," I reply hoarsely, my voice sounding similar to that of a chain smoker's. I clear my throat painfully, trying to ease the harshness.
"Mm, but how does that benefit you, Harley?" he growls.
"It benefits me because I want to do this. I want to join you. Is that really so hard to believe?" I question, genuinely curious. "You kept talking about some new, fun life I'd have one day in our sessions and that one day I'd be able to see the world for what it truly is. Did you really doubt what you were saying that much?"
He grabs me and rolls us over, his fingers pinning my neck down. I scratch and claw in self-defense, but it proves to be no use. "Stop it, please," I snap. His fingers remain uncomfortably tight around my throat, but the pressure is light enough for me to still talk. "Knowing where you were at the factory, that was a happy accident. No one set me up, no one sent me to spy on you. Do you really think I'm stupid enough to spy on you? You'd kill me if you found out."
"Mm," he growls, confirming my last statement. I take a nervous gulp before continuing on.
"I didn't even think of what you told me in your cell the last time I saw you, about the sheep's clothing," I admit. "It didn't click until I saw the factory. My friend, the one that got shot, was hiding out in one of the abandoned houses further down the neighborhood. I took a walk, just to clear my head, and I found the factory. I found the joker card in your room, so I figured you must be there at some time or another. I came back because I wanted to. I came back because I wanted to find you."
"You're throwing your career away, your life away... to join me," he points out flatly. "Don't ya think that's a little, uh, suspicious?"
"Why would I want to go back to a job where I have to stand by and quietly watch as my best friend gets tortured?" I demand. "Why should I just stand by and watch as the world turns on the only people I care about? Agreeing with the world, my boss, and everyone else's views doesn't make much sense to me anymore."
"No?" he muses, his pitch going up in suspicion.
"You were right, about everything. The world, its views, its people. They're all hidden behind some mask of false morality. None of it makes sense to me anymore," I tell him honestly. "What you say does make sense. There is no good in society, it's a joke. No one is innocent, but they can't see that. They're all fools, thinking that what they do is right when it's not. They all do bad things, whether they realize it or not. You show people that and I want to help."
"I thought you wanted to help patients, Harleen," he says snidely. The use of my full name sends a shiver down my spine. It's clear that he isn't joking right now. "Ya know, the psychos, the freaks, the crazies."
"They don't need my help. They've got it all figured out, well, some of them do," I tell him, wincing as his fingers tighten. "Society, on the other hand, needs a lot of help. The patients in the asylum know what's wrong with the world, they feed off of it. They know perfectly well what they're doing, only a few of them are under the delusion that they're doing the right thing. But the normal people, the good people, they're just as bad deep down. They just don't know it, and if they do, they deny it. I want to help you expose these ‘good’ people for what they really are. This society doesn't deserve to be rewarded and commended for its righteous actions, it deserves to be broken."
"Would you change your mind if I went in there and, uh, put a knife to your sleeping friend's throat, hmm?" he questions, tilting his head towards me. I want to be angry that he's threatening Selina, but I know that he's doing it for a reason. And it's a good reason, in his mind at least, but I can see that the threat, although it worries me, serves a meaningful purpose.
I look the Joker directly in the eyes, surprised to find that his face is washed free of any kind of amusement. "I don't want to fight for those people, I want to stand by you. My only motive is you, okay? I like what you're doing, I believe in it. It makes sense more than anything else. You promised me a life of fun, so then give it to me."
The Joker chuckles, breaking the intensity of the conversation. "Oh Harley," he sighs, standing up. He grabs my arm and yanks me to my feet as well. I wobble unsteadily for a moment, catching myself on his purple coat. He's silent, clearly not going to elaborate on the end of the conversation. I stand there awkwardly for a moment, trying to decide whether or not I'm in the clear. Since he doesn't try to kill me or challenge me any further, I take it that I am.
"Are you hungry?" I ask, probing at the side of my head from where I hit the nightstand. There's a little bit of blood from where the corner cut the skin, but I don't think I have a concussion. It's sore and it's giving me a headache, but it'll heal on its own so long as I don't get thrown into anything else.
"Uh, sure," he retorts and I pad barefoot into the kitchen. I'm faintly self-conscious of the fact that I'm only in a thin tee-shirt and shorts, but the Joker really doesn't seem to care. I open up the medicine cabinet first, chasing down two aspirin with a glass of water that I left lying around. "What's that for?" he questions skeptically.
"You threw me off the bed," I reply flatly. I pull out a pan from beneath one of the counters and place it on one of the stove burners. "Are eggs alright with you?" I ask, pulling out a carton. He doesn't respond and I crack the eggs and add a dash of milk anyway. I stare at the stovetop, not sure what to say. I wasn't exactly prepared to have him over for breakfast this morning.
I scrape the eggs onto two plates and hand one to him. I'm wary about giving him a fork, but he begins to messily pick at the eggs with his fingers. I dig into my own eggs slowly, more interested in watching him eat than actually eating. His scars move in unison with his mouth, only resisting slightly at times. They don't impair his eating or his speech from what I can tell, but I wonder about what they do impair.
"Do they hurt?" I wonder out loud and the Joker raises an eyebrow. "Your scars, I mean. Do they hurt?" He stares at me for a long moment, as if trying to read my face. "Sorry," I quickly apologize. "That was too personal."
The Joker sighs, then waves an index finger at me pointedly. "Ya gotta stop with these, uh, personal boundaries, Harley. We're all on display for everyone to see."
"But the question was rude," I point out.
"No, no, no," he replies with a shake of his head. "It was an honest question. Nothing's too personal, not really. People dissect people, study 'em, judge them for themselves. They don't ask, because they'll think what they want to think. They just, uh, assume."
"Is this who you're helping move?" a voice demands, interrupting our conversation. I glance up to see Selina standing next to the kitchen, resting most of her weight on the counter beside her. I can't help but burst into laughter at the thought of her walking into the kitchen and seeing the Joker and I talking. I clutch my stomach, unable to stop laughing, my eyes tearing up. It's just so funny.
"I'm sorry," I tell her, the laughter beginning to subside. I wipe my eyes, regaining my composure. I look over to the Joker to see that he's drumming his fingers along the kitchen table, somewhat amused by my fit of laughter.
"I take it that this is your shot friend," the Joker drawls, his eyes glancing over Selina. She stares back him evenly, arms crossed.
"Selina, J," I introduce awkwardly, wondering how this will go. "J, Selina."
"Next time you invite your patient friends over, let me know," she instructs. "Keep it down in here, I'm going back to bed."
"Wait a minute," I call. "That's it? No lecture?"
"I'm a master thief. I dress up in a catsuit. I rob jewelry stores for a living," she tells me with a yawn. "I'm not really in the best position to tell you who you should or shouldn't hang out with." She turns and limps back to the couch without another word. I'm faintly surprised that she didn't lecture me about hanging out with, as she called him, "a psychotic clown," but she has a valid point.
"She's nice once you get to know her... kind of," I tell the Joker, turning my attention back to him. "I guess the catsuit rubs off on her."
"Is she going to be a, uh, problem?"
"Huh?" I question automatically, caught off guard. Once I realize what he's saying, I try to figure out in what context he means it. "No, I don't have to be at home all day, if that's what you mean. Her boyfriend's picking her up at eight."
"He's not my boyfriend," Selina calls from the couch. I sigh and roll my eyes, glancing up at the clock to see what time it is. I'm faintly surprised to see that it's about ten minutes after six. I'd thought that it was earlier than that.
"Let's go," the Joker tells me abruptly, standing up. I stand up with him, wondering where on earth we're going at six in the morning. The only places that I can think of that are open are gas stations and diners. And the Joker doesn't seem like the kind of person to waste his time robbing a gas station either.
"I'm in my pajamas," I tell him flatly. His eyes skim over me, as if just now noticing that I'm wearing anything at all.
"Oh," he realizes. "Go, uh, change then." I want to ask him what kind of clothes I should wear, since I have no idea what we'll be doing, but I doubt he'd be of any help. I walk past him and into the bedroom warily, somewhat nervous about leaving him alone. I don't care if he messes around with my stuff, but I don't want to walk in there to find him burning the place down or something. Not to mention that Selina's in there and I don't think that Catwoman and the Joker are destined to be friends anytime soon.
I lock the bedroom door behind me and wander over to my wardrobe. I shrug on a black long sleeve and the red leather jacket that Selina gave me, then her pair of thick legging type pants. I know I've worn this outfit a lot, but it's the only thing in my closet that's even remotely suiting for crime. Everything else is either too formal or professional. I have some summer outfits that might work, but it's frankly too cold outside.
I soothe my bedhead hair down quickly and haphazardly with my fingers, having a feeling that the Joker isn't going to wait around for me to prim and prep. On an impulse, I grab my pair of red leather gloves and shove them in my pocket just in case. I leave my bedroom and grab my boots over by the door. As I slip them on my feet, I see that the door to my hall closet is open. There's no doubt in my mind that the Joker's in there snooping.
"The bazooka's in the trunk of my car," I tell him, having a hunch as to what he's looking for. "I haven't had time to bring it back up here.""Mm," he mumbles, exiting the closet. He picks up my car keys, twirls them around his index finger, and then tosses them to me. "You're driving."
It's a very strange thing driving with the Joker in the car. I don't mind his company, but the experience overall is just... strange. I feel as though we should be in some big white van, not my tiny red car. He doesn't seem to mind the lack of space, although his long limbs do look a little cramped in the passenger side. I've never quite realized how tall he is and how small he makes me look in comparison. I only come up to about his shoulder and even in the car, he sits about a head taller than me.
The car ride is mostly silent, or it is for me. The Joker hums songs occasionally, songs with erratic, circus type tunes. I have a feeling he's making them up, but I don't ask. He grumbles to himself occasionally, as if marking off some checklist in his head and sometimes he quietly mutters what sounds like incomplete pieces of his thoughts. I find myself wondering if his thoughts are as chaotic and fast changing as his actions and moods are.
We pull up to the factory and the Joker promptly commands me to unlock the trunk. I step out of the car and wrap my jacket around my waist, somewhat hot from the car ride here. I watch as the Joker pulls the bazooka out of the trunk. He carries the weapon of destruction with ease and the sight of him holding it is very threatening. If I was an innocent bystander and not someone who was on his side, I'd definitely be peeing my pants. But seeing it from my perspective, the weapon suits him quite nicely.
"Come on," he growls, wrapping one arm around my waist. If he had been some other guy, the gesture would have been sweet, a way of showing affection. With him, I know that the gesture is possessive. I'm his and no one else's. I have a feeling that the gesture is just for his henchmen mostly, but for some reason, I like it.
What are you thinking, Harley? I chide myself. Now's not the time to start liking him, he just tried to kill you! But now isn't the time I started liking him. That professional intrigue I had turned into something deeper along the way, I realize. I can't place my finger on when exactly the, uh, attraction started, but it certainly makes sense as to why my actions leading up to the past week have been so out of character. They don't seem so out of character anymore though, to me they now seem normal.
The Joker leads, more like drags, me towards the factory. His legs are longer than mine, making his strides a lot longer. I almost can't keep up. When we enter the factory, the henchmen seem to be finished with all of their chores and are loitering aimlessly about the first floor. Several of them stare in surprise at the Joker's hold on me, but most of them quickly avert their eyes, not wanting to draw the Joker's attention.
The Joker releases his hold on my waist as we go up the stairs, him taking two at a time. I resort to my normal pace, giving up on trying to catch up to him. There's a loud thump and I'm guessing that he dropped the bazooka off in his room. I make it up to the landing, considerably after the Joker, and walk towards the open door to his room.
There's a loud snarl and sharp bark. I whip my head around to see two German Shepard's bounding towards me, their paws pounding loudly against the floor. Before I can run, the nearest one jumps onto me, knocking me to the floor. I let out a small shriek as its teeth come incredibly close to my face, chomping and snarling. I hold my arms up over my face, wincing as their claws scratch and their jaws bite at my arms.
"Stop! Stop!" a frantic voice screams. "Stop it! Bud, Lou, no!" I can feel someone yanking at the scruffs of their necks, but it's no use. I kick up with my knees, but their lunging and clawing and biting bodies won't budge. In my minds brief panic of desperation, I yell out in German, hoping with all my might that these dogs are police dogs.
"Aus!" I yell frantically. "Aus! Aus!" To my relief and surprise, their claws stop tearing into my arms and their muzzles stop chomping. They stand hesitantly over me, lips curled back in a snarl. They stop attacking me, but they look ready to at any given moment.
Testing my luck, I command, "Platz!" The two dogs obediently sit, their snarls beginning to diminish. "Bleib," I command firmly, telling them to stay. I stand up slowly, carefully picking myself up off of the floor. The dogs watch me intensely, but they stay rooted in their spots. "Platz," I snap again and they get down on their stomachs, whining at the scolding tone in my voice.
I certainly never expected my dad's police dog training to come in handy one day.
When I'm certain that the dogs won't stray from my commands, I allow myself to breathe. I take several slow, deep breaths, trying to soothe my erratic heartbeat. Excess adrenaline runs through me in an almost exhausting manner and my arms sting painfully from the bites and scratches. I shut my eyes for a long moment, trying to gather myself altogether.
"Who let the dogs, uh, maim my Harley here?" the Joker quips, his tone too light to be good. I open my eyes to see him standing next to the stairs. He had used the word my, clearly claiming me as his. He's making it perfectly clear that he's the only one here who can hurt me and I'm filled with a sense of... belonging and possessiveness in that statement. A kind of belonging and possessiveness that I don't mind.
Now's definitely not the time for that, Harley.
"I tried to stop 'em from attacking her, I really did," one of the Joker's goons hurriedly defends. "They wouldn't listen to me! I know that the police taught 'em commands and I tried those, but they just wouldn't listen."
"They didn't listen because you didn't use the right commands," I snap at him angrily. "Before you steal someone's dogs, figure out what language they respond to first."
"Language?" he repeats. "We're in America. American cops train their dogs in English, everybody knows that."
I let out a very long, irritated sigh. "Police dogs are not trained in English," I tell him slowly, allowing him to fully comprehend what I'm saying. "They're trained in German so that civilians like you can't order them around all willy-nilly."
"You speak German?"
"No, I don't," I answer shortly, rolling up my now wet with blood sleeves to look at my scathed arms. "My father trains police dogs for the Brooklyn PD. He taught me all of the commands in case one of the trainee dogs attacked me. It's a good thing he did too." I wince as I look down at the scratches on my arms. There's a lot of blood smudged around, so I can't make out the cuts and bite marks too clearly, but what I can see looks terrible.
The Joker pulls a handgun out of one of his coat pockets and cocks it, aiming it at the dogs. "What are you doing?" I demand.
"Harley, these dogs attacked you," the Joker tells me in a tone that suggests I'm the crazy one here.
"It's not their fault," I defend. "They aren't taught to wait and see if it's a friend or a foe before attacking. They will attack, unless a direct order is given. That's the way that these kind of dogs are taught to react. That's what they're trained to do."
"Hmm," the Joker drawls, mockingly deep thinking. He swiftly turns the gun from the dogs and up to the henchman. BANG! BANG! BANG! A clip of bullets from his gun lodge themselves into the henchman's chest. He stands there for a single shocked moment, then falls to the floor dead. I stare at his body more startled than I am afraid. Although I'm a little startled by the abrupt gesture, I'm not surprised. I had never thought that henchman lasted long around the Joker anyway.
"Come on, Harley," the Joker sings, unfazed by the ordeal. "We've got things to do."