"I'm glad to see that you could, uh, make it," the Joker calls. I can't tell if he's being genuine or if he's trying to cover up the fact that he was well aware that I could've died back there. I have a feeling that it's a little bit of both. "Go help her with the bags," he snaps at the only other living goon. The goon scurries over and lugs three of the money filled bags towards the middle of the main room. I follow in pursuit with the remaining two bags.
At that moment, a school bus comes crashing into the side of the building.
The building shakes and heaves, several portions of wall and ceiling of the bank crumbling upon the arrival of the bus. Several of the hostages scream shrilly, others gasp and go wide eyed. The Joker watches the sight in amusement while I, however, watch it in utter disbelief. The end of an actual school bus is inside of the First National Bank of Gotham.
"Haven't you already done this before?" the goon pipes up and I faintly recall hearing something similar about this in the news earlier this year. Huh, I think it had been a mob bank that he pulled this little stint on, but I could be mistaken. I hadn't really cared much for him or his antics until I had actually met him in person. Sure, they had been intriguing to watch on the news, but a lot of things have changed since then.
The Joker, in response, shoots the goon in the head.
"Why fix what isn't broken," I mutter towards the dead body, lifting one of the incredibly heavy bags into the back of the school bus.
"Exactly," the Joker tells me knowingly, tossing a bag into the back of the van with ease. Clearly I'm on the weaker end of the spectrum here. My leg muscles are strong from all of my gymnastics, but my arm muscles aren't as great. I can do handstands and bar tricks and such with ease, but lifting heavy things, on the other hand, is not one of my specialties.
"Sometimes it's, uh, healthy to shake things up a bit," he tells me, dropping the final bag into the back of the school bus.
"Did you shake things up a bit?" I ask, only faintly recalling the news story. The details are a mystery to me.
"You're still alive, aren't you?" he retorts. I can't help but grin beneath my mask. It's a very jerky statement, but it's true and that makes it incredibly amusing to me in a very illogical way. You're starting to lose it, Harley, I think to myself. Or maybe you already have, you did kill two people today.
"Harleen?" a voice calls, distracting me from my internal struggle. "Harleen... is that you?" I refuse to turn around and glance up at the Joker instead, who's looking more amused than concerned. For someone who had pretty much told me to keep my criminal career a secret, he seems to be enjoying the spotlight that's shining on me. "Harleen," the voice calls again and I finally turn around.
The man calling my name is Dr. Jeremiah Arkham, the director of Arkham Asylum and my former boss. And I had thought that this day couldn't go much worse. Looks like I have problems other than death on my hands.
"You talking to me, Mistah?" I demand, using my thick Brooklyn accent. I have to admit, allowing an enhanced version of my natural accent is a lot more fun than using my normal self-taught, regular tone. He nods and I let out a long, irritated sigh. "You must have me confused with some other broad."
"Harleen, is that you under that mask?" he demands skeptically. "You can say so if it is, we can get you some help. You can stop this, you don't have to do what this freak says."
In a sheer impulse of annoyance, I hit him across the face hard with the back of my gun. "Stop calling me that," I snap at his semi-conscious figure. He picks his head up dizzily, clearly dazed from the blow. I get a rather satisfied feeling from whacking my boss across the face, as if I'm finally getting my frustrations with him out. I'm tempted to hit him again, but I stop myself. One violent blow and two dead bodies are enough on my hands for this bank robbery.
With that, I turn to the Joker, who leads me into the bus and away from the crowd of hostages. He shuts the emergency back door of the bus behind us and I sit down on one of the cracking grey seats. "You didn't give a parting remark," I voice, confused. The bus rolls through the recently created hole in the wall and rolls onto the street, rejoining the crowd of late morning school buses.
"Sometimes it's not so much about the exit," he tells me, taking a seat beside me on the same bus seat. "Sometimes it's all about the entrance. It depends on the situation really, but you'll, uh, figure that out soon enough."
I rest my head against the window, a multitude of thoughts swarming through my mind now that all of the immediate danger is gone. You killed two people today, my mind repeats. Two people are dead because of you. Arguably both situations required me to shoot them, but it doesn't change the fact that it had been my finger on the trigger. It had been my bullets, my gun, and my actions that had ended their lives.
I hadn't felt anything when they died. My hands had been shaking, but that was from the realization of what I'd done. It hadn't been from shame or guilt or disgust. It was just like the goon I killed up on the rooftop on Christmas Eve. I had felt nothing, not a damn thing. That isn't... right, it isn't normal. What's wrong with me?
"Why so serious?" the Joker questions with a frown. I sigh and turn my head to stare up at him.
"I killed two people today," I reply back solemnly. "I shot down two people. They're dead because of me and I didn't feel anything."
"And?" he drawls, as if there has to be some further explanation as to why I'm upset. "I thought we already had this little, uh, conversation."
"I didn't feel anything, J," I repeat. "I didn't feel upset or angry or even satisfied. I felt nothing. Nothing at all. I shot them down like it was... like it was a chore! Like it was an act that had to be done. There was no emotional conflict, no logic screaming at me not to. I did it... just like that and I felt nothing. My chest didn't tighten, I didn't have an overwhelming urge to throw up in disgust. I was just there."
"You think that's a, uh, bad thing?" he deduces and I stare at him pointedly.
"It is not a normal thing," I stress. "It's inhumane. It's out of character. You're supposed to feel something when you kill someone." I hit my head lightly on the window in frustration. "There's something wrong with me, there's something that's just not right."
The Joker laughs, the sound sharp and hearty. "There's something wrong with everyone, Harley. But this... this is not what's wrong with you. No, no, you're all wrapped up in what you're supposed to feel, by society's standards. Ya think that everyone in this, uh, world of ours gets weak at the knees and cries when they kill someone?"
"Well no, but-"
"You think you're supposed to feel something because that's what they," he gestures to the world around us, "have taught you. Mm, but as we well know, society doesn't exactly follow its own, uh, rules. You don't "feel" anything because you just... don't. You're like a, uh, hunter. You kill to put meat on the table and ya don't feel a thing because it's what ya gotta do. And that, my dear, is why this little job of ours was well done. You've still got room to evolve, though."
"Evolve?" I'm not so sure that I like the sound of that.
"Mm-hmm," he quips slowly. "Someday when you've got all the food on the table, you'll start to enjoy the killing. You'll realize that it can be a lot more fun than you think it is. Just wait until you start killing innocent people." He lets out a high pitched laugh and I absorb the words warily. "Well, mostly innocent people," he adds on second thought. "No one is completely innocent."
He licks his lips and stares down at me knowingly. He makes sense, he always makes sense, but the idea of killing for fun is just so... foreign to my mind. I dealt with murderers on a daily basis at Arkham and I had to try to see things from their perspective, but imaging doing the action myself is hard to wrap my head around. It would drive me insane to dwell on the promising in his words. We'll find out soon enough, although I doubt that I could ever kill someone "innocent."
"Ya did a good job today, Harley, that's all that matters really," the Joker tells me. I'm surprised by the praise, he doesn't seem like the kind of guy to commend work other than his own. Despite my disarray of confused and solemn thoughts, the praise fills me with a sort of jitteriness.
"Thanks," I mumble, just now realizing how close his face actually is to mine. It's only a few inches away, if I just tilted my head up- Stop right there, Harley, I chide. Do not go down this road right now. As much as I will myself not to think like that, I can't help but notice how oddly soft his lips look, despite the rough scars surrounding them. I wonder what they'd be like to kiss... Harley! Stop it! Now is not the time for that.
I turn my head away from the Joker, erasing all temptation, and look out the window instead. The Joker abruptly laces his fingers through my hair and yanks my head roughly towards him. I look up at him, wide eyed in surprise, and his lips crash down against mine. I shut my eyes, reciprocating the deep kiss, and wrap my arms around his neck.
His lips are as soft as they appear and move in unison with mine. He tastes faintly of whiskey, smoke, and coffee, but I don't mind the flavor. The kiss is rough and I'm almost certain that he growls as our lips move in perfect synchrony. His kiss is full of possession and dominance, he's the one in charge here. My hands find themselves in his hair as I pull him as close to me as physically possible.
The Joker pushes me up against the window hard, one hand placed possessively on my lower back. His other hand is in my hair, tugging on it. My tongue snakes into his mouth and I can feel the roughness of his scars from inside his cheeks. The skin there is fleshy, tender, and somewhat dry. No wonder he's always prodding them with his tongue.
The Joker's lips trail away from my mouth and land on my neck, where he begins to kiss hard. I wrap my arms around him tighter as he sucks on the flesh at my neck, before eventually biting down hard. I wince at first, surprised by the movement, but the feeling of longing and desire soon replaces the discomfort. Each bite soon turns into the good kind of pain, the kind of pain that you can't get enough of.
I bring his face back up to mine and cautiously begin to try something new. I allow my lips to trail away from his mouth and roam up his scars, kissing them lightly. When he doesn't protest, I allow the movements to deepen and kiss along his scars with more force. They're rough and puffy, but the movement feels right all the same.
My lips trail back up to his once more and the kissing resumes just as rough as before. He yanks me away from the window and pulls me against him. Our bodies crash back together and his long fingers thread through my hair with dominance. His kisses become quick and incredibly well-handled, each one leaving me begging for me. I soon realize that's he's the best person that I've ever kissed.
The Joker pulls away abruptly, leaving me breathless and hungry for more. "Always take what you want, Harley," he tells me. "You might be, uh, surprised at how things turn out."
The next few minutes are silent, involving only our heavy breathing. You just made out with the Joker, I think to myself. Instead of being disgusted at myself, I feel... happy. I feel special. At that moment, it didn't matter that he was one of Gotham's greatest criminals. It didn't matter that we had just robbed a bank. He could've been some low class, unknown criminal with the same ideals that he has now and I wouldn't feel any different. He's beautiful to me and no amount of fame or fortune or pizazz can change that.
"Driver," the Joker calls towards the front of the bus.
"Take off your shirt and throw it back here," he instructs and I raise an eyebrow. "Harley here needs it more than you do. And you," he begins, turning back towards me, "are going to have to lose the jacket, shirt, and boots."
"Why?" I question, watching warily as the bus driver attempts to remove his shirt and control the bus at the same time.
"The cops are going to be looking for you and you can't exactly greet them in the same outfit as the bank robber they're looking for," he tells me. "Don't ya think that'd be a little suspicious?"
"Why would the cops be looking for me?" I ask. "I wore the clown mask the entire time. No one saw my face." The Joker sighs and picks up the shirt that the driver has hastily thrown back here.
"Now's really not time to be playing stupid," he replies. "Think about it real hard while you lose the clothes. I'm sure you'll, uh, figure it out sooner or later." I stuff my leather gloves in my coat pockets and shrug the jacket off, trying to find a reason as to why the cops are after me. I unbutton my shirt, hunching down further behind the seat as I do so. I pull the button up off and put it on top of my jacket. That's when the realization hits me.
Jeremiah fucking Arkham.
Even after I'm suspended he continues to inconvenience my life. How could I have been so stupid not to realize that the cops would follow up his stupid hunch? Half of the witnesses heard him say my name, surely someone was bound to mention it to the police. I guess at the time I had only been concerned with shutting him up and not so much with covering my tracks. The police were probably on their way to my apartment right now.
"Put this on," the Joker instructs, handing me the driver's shirt. I shrug the shirt over my head, thankful that it doesn't smell as horrible as I had imagined. It smells faintly of cigarette smoke and sweat, but that's mainly it. The long sleeve is much too large for me and falls off of my shoulders and the length of it comes down to my thighs. I slip the red boots off of my feet and set them on top of the clothes pile.
"It was Arkham," I tell him, shameful at how easily I had overlooked that detail. To make myself feel somewhat better about it, I blame the lack of remembrance mainly on our kiss. That made sense, or at least enough to lift the heaviness weighing over my chest. "The cops are on to me because of the oh-so-lovely Dr. Jeremiah Arkham," I finish.
"Mm-hmm," he drawls slowly. "Now you're getting it."
"So what do we do now?" I question.
"You went for a run," he tells me simply.
"In my socks?"
"No, take them off," he quickly demands. I take them off and shove them into my boots, raising an eyebrow. "There, you went for a run barefoot. It's much, uh, healthier that way," he informs me, his voice dropping to a whisper, as if it's some kind of secret.
The bus driver stops in an abandoned parking lot about fifteen minutes away from the bank. The three of us get out and the Joker and I climb into the backseat of the lone, unlocked car in the parking lot. The driver retrieves several items from the trunk of the car, making room for the five bags of money that he soon stuffs into it. Once the money is safely in the trunk, he picks up a large can of gasoline, which was undoubtedly what was stuffed in the trunk before, and goes about coating the inside of the school bus with it. He steps outside, throws a match into the bus, and it soon becomes engulfed in flames. Once the flames bust the windows open, they begin to spill out of the bus, lapping at the roof and sides of the big yellow vehicle.
"Where to, Boss?" the goon asks, getting into the driver's seat.
"Uh, go down to Maple Wood Drive," the Joker replies, tapping a finger against his chin, eyes squinted as he tries to remember. "Drive around until you find somewhere secluded."
"Maple Wood Drive?" I question, the name sounding vaguely familiar. I think for a moment, then realize that it's a street a couple of neighborhoods away from mine. I think it's mainly abandoned, or used for gambling or something like that, but I could be wrong. "What are we going to do there?"
"We're, uh, dropping you off."
"It's like two miles away from my apartment building," I reply.
"You're going for a run," he replies simply. "Remember?"I remember that going for a run is my alibi, but I don't remember agreeing to actually run barefoot for two miles in the freezing cold weather. However, I don't seem to have much of a choice at the moment. I mentally sigh, at least my alibi will be authentic.
It hurts to breathe and I can no longer feel my fingers or my toes. With each breath my lungs scream and ribs ache. My nose is runny and feels frost bitten and my feet ache with the pain of several rocks and pebbles. My heart hits my chest cavity so hard that it hurts and my throat is raw, scratchy, and I'm pretty sure bleeding from the cold wind that continuously makes it more painful to breathe. Running two miles with no shoes and in twenty degree windy weather is far from a pleasant experience.
I let out several ragged huffs as I enter my apartment building. The warm rush of air should've been relieving, but instead it burns. My body certainly does not like the drastic change in temperature. I take the elevator up to the fifth floor, taking the time to catch my breath. My heart slowly begins to stop thumping in my ears and I wipe a strand of hair out of my face. This plan had better work because I am far past the line of exhaustion.
I exit the elevator and the first thing that I notice are the two police officers standing outside of my apartment door. "How can I help you gentlemen?" I call, walking towards my apartment. They turn their heads towards me and I'm pretty sure that a flicker of disappointment flashes through their faces. It looks like the police were hoping that I wouldn't come home today. That certainly would've made their jobs a lot easier.
"Dr. Harleen Quinzel?" the taller of the two cops asks. I nod my head and nonchalantly adjust the neckline of my shirt, acting as though I'm airing it out. I let it fall back into place a little higher up on my neck, concealing most of the strangulation marks that I'd received this morning. If they noticed them anyway, I'll tell them that it happened a few days ago at Arkham.
"That's me," I confirm, patting my pockets for my keys. My pant pockets are flat, so I automatically check my jacket pockets instead, realizing that I must've put them there. I pat the sides of my stomach, but my hands are met with the smooth cotton of the goon's long sleeve. I had forgotten to take the keys out of my jacket before handing it over to the Joker.
Dammit Harley, my mind growls.
"I'm Detective Parker and this is Officer Cooper, we're from the Gotham City Police Department," he explains. "Do you mind if we ask you some questions?"
"Not at all," I tell them, making an obvious effort to find my keys. I plaster an expression of confusion across my face, then replace it with an expression of embarrassment. "I'm sorry, I would invite you inside, but I seemed to have left my keys in there," I lie. "I must've completely overlooked them this morning."
"Don't you have a spare?" Officer Cooper asks.
"Yeah, but I lent it to my friend this morning," I admit truthfully. "She's been staying here for a few days, but she must've gone out after I left this morning. I'll have to call her and ask her to come down. Would you gentlemen like to wait or-"
"Is there somewhere else that we can talk?" Detective Parker inquires, looking somewhat agitated.
"No, I'm afraid not. I don't mean to be a pain, but I really don't want to go out in a public place looking like this," I inform them. "I could go down to the police station if you want."
"We'll just talk here, if that's all right with you," he replies swiftly. "I only have a few questions. It won't take long at all."
"That's fine with me," I tell him with a bright smile. "What's all of this about?"
"The First National Bank of Gotham was robbed this morning," he informs me, studying my face for any signs of knowing. I keep my expression mostly neutral, with only a hint of surprise. When you hear all of the horrible things that I have from Arkham patients, you get rather good at faking facial expressions. "Dr. Jeremiah Arkham was one of the hostages and he's convinced that you were one of the robbers."
"Me?" I repeat in disbelief. "Why would he think that?"
"He described the robber as being blonde, about 5'7, and around 130 pounds. The other hostages agreed with the description, which is why we're here," he tells me. "Do you think you could tell us where you were between seven thirty am and now?"
"Hmm," I muse, trying to think. "At around seventy thirty I was here eating breakfast, then about fifteen minutes later I went for my run. Up until now I've been out running."
"With no shoes?" Officer Cooper asks, suspicious creeping into his tone.
"I never run with shoes on, unless I'm in the gym or another public place," I lie. "Running barefoot is much better on your body. The way your foot hits the shoe makes your ankles and heels more prone to injury and soreness. Plus, there's always the chance that you might get a blister when wearing sneakers. I prefer to avoid all of that together, hence the lack of shoes."
"Doesn't that hurt?"
"Not if you know the right places to run," I tell him with a grin. "Loose pebbles and whatnot can be a pain at times, but I prefer running this way."
"Right," Detective Parker agrees slowly, processing my reply. I get the slight feeling that my excuse is only believable because it seems so out of the ordinary that I can't possibly be making it up. "Can anyone confirm that you went out running during the time of the robbery? Like a neighbor or the friend that you said was living here?"
"Yeah, absolutely," I assure them, a knot tightening itself around my stomach. "I think she's out with a friend right now, but I could give her a call if you'd like," I offer, hoping with all of my might that Bruce doesn't answer her cell phone. Several what if's pop into my mind, the worst one being that she might pick up the phone and greet me with something along the lines of "I thought you were out causing mayhem with your psychotic clown boyfriend."
"That would be great," he replies. "Would you mind giving me her name and number?"
I give them Selina's name and number and remember with relief that I had left my cell phone inside of the apartment that I'm currently locked out of. That means that she won't initially know that it's me calling, which means that she can't let it slip that I was out robbing a bank with the Joker. I mentally sigh in relief, now somewhat thankful that I've been locked out of my apartment.
"Unfortunately, my cell phone is in the house," I tell them. "Can we call her from one of your phones?"
"Sure." Detective Parker hands me his phone and I punch in Selina's cell phone number. "We'd prefer it if you didn't tell Miss Kyle that we're here or mention the police at all. We've found that sometimes that can influence the genuineness of the response. If you don't feel comfortable in doing that, we can always go pay her a visit instead."
"No, this is fine," I quickly reply, although the knot in my stomach has grown tighter. "If I can't tell her that you're here, then what is it that you'd like me to say to her?"
"Talk to her like you normally would, but pretend like you don't remember what time you left the house this morning," he replies. I nod cooperatively while nervousness begins to run through my veins. Selina would catch on that I'm pretending and that something's wrong, right? She wouldn't announce anything or think that I'm calling from a henchman's phone, would she? It's too late to debate now, I think dismally to myself. We'll all see how she reacts soon enough.
I press the call button and the phone rings two times before someone picks up. "Hello?" Selina greets and a rush of relief courses through me. Although, the grogginess in her voice worries me. She'd probably just taken her pain pills, which could either be a good or a bad thing. She might be so out of it that she agrees with what I say or she might be so out of it that she'll talk about my newly found crime life. Or maybe she won't do either. Maybe she'll be calm and catch on.
"Hey, Sel," I greet in response, keeping my voice unusually bright. Hopefully she'd catch on that something's off by the change in character.
"Harley?" she grumbles in confusion. "Whose phone are you calling me from?"
"Someone was kind enough to lend me theirs in the hallway," I lie. "I can't get into my apartment because I locked my keys in, along with my cell phone and my wallet. I guess that I was just in such a rush this morning that my keys completely slipped my mind."
"Yeah, you did leave pretty early this morning," she adds and I can hear her yawn on the other end of the line.
"I know, I haven't gone running in a while. I was eager to get back into the groove of it," I tell her, hoping that she catches on. "Speaking of which, do you remember when I left this morning. I thought that it was around seven thirty, but I can't remember if that's when I left or when I actually woke up."
"Hmm, let me think," she muses, her tone changing ever so slightly. "I woke up around seven fifteen because your neighbor's damn cat wouldn't stop scratching at the wall. I'm pretty sure you had gotten up a few minutes before me. Let's see, you were eating breakfast when I woke up and then left about fifteen, twenty minutes later. Seven thirty seems about right, why?"
"I was just wondering," I reply, relief flooding through me. I feel bad that I had even doubted her in the first place. "You know me, it drives me crazy if I can't remember something. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that the landlord's probably going to be pissed that I locked myself out. So try not to bother him, okay?"
"Okay," she replies with a breathy laugh, engaging in our fake conversation. "I'll try not to. I would come over and give you the spare key, but I'm about forty minutes outside of the city."
"Don't worry about it," I assure her. "I'll talk to the landlord and be squared away in the apartment in no time. I'll see you when you get home later tonight."
"Sounds like a plan," she singsongs, then hangs up. I hand the phone back to Detective Parker, who studies me for a long moment. The conversation had seemed pretty convincing to me and thankfully didn't have any mention of clowns or banks. Selina had openly, without knowledge of police presence, admitted that I had been out running at the time of the robbery. It's a solid alibi.
"I think that clears everything up," Detective Parker announces after loudly clearing his throat. "Thank you for your time and cooperation Miss Quinzel."
"No problem," I tell them with a bright smile. "If you need anything else, feel free to come by."
"Thank you ma'am," Officer Cooper replies, "but I don't think that will be necessary. We've got everything that we need."
"Well, I'm glad I could be of help." The two cops nod at me and then continue down the hallway. Once their figures disappear behind the elevator doors, I sink down to the floor of the apartment building and rest my head tiredly against the wall. Crisis adverted, at least for now.