Arkham High

Chapter 10

"Where is Edward this evening?" asked Jervis Tetch, looking around the auditorium. "You think he'd be a Shakespeare fan."

"He said he had some important work to do," replied Crane, sitting down next to him. "Though what work can trump the words of the immortal Bard, I haven't the foggiest."

"Is Harley coming?" asked Tetch.

"I didn't get a chance to speak to her today, but I'm sure she will," said Crane. "An intelligent woman like that wouldn't pass up a performance of Hamlet."

"You should have asked her to go with you," said Tetch. "I wouldn't have been offended if you wanted to take her here on a date."

"My dear Jervis, this isn't a Midsummer Night's Dream or some sort of frivolous musical!" retorted Crane. "This is Hamlet! Shakespeare's greatest tragedy! It's full of violence, murder, and madness! It simply isn't the thing you take a nice girl to on a first date!"

"Apparently the Joker doesn't agree with you," murmured Tetch, looking past him at the door.

"What?" demanded Crane, turning around. He jaw dropped in astonishment and fury as he saw Harley enter the auditorium with the Joker following close behind.

"So…they're here together," snapped Crane, as Joker and Harley took their seats a few rows in front of them. "That doesn't mean they're on a date! You and I are here together, and we're not on a date!"

"True," said Tetch, nodding. "But contrariwise, if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't."

"Yes, quite right," agreed Crane, folding his arms across his chest.

The play began. As Arkham's finest actor, Basil Karlo, took to the stage declaiming Hamlet's most famous soliloquy, Crane was distracted from the contemplation of conscience making cowards of us all by seeing the Joker yawn loudly, stretch, and then drape his arm around Harley's shoulders. To Crane's fury, Harley made no attempt to remove it.

"If I did that to you, would we be on a date then?" murmured Tetch, leaning over.

"Shut up," growled Crane.

The Joker didn't wait until Karlo's five curtain calls were over at the end of the show – he took Harley's hand and hurried from the auditorium the moment the curtain came down. "Geez, that guy really puts the ham in Hamlet, don't he?" he asked once they were outside.

"Basil? I thought he was kinda good," said Harley. "Didn't you enjoy the show?"

Joker shrugged. "I ain't the kinda guy who enjoys nonsense, toots – that's more Tetchy's thing."

"It…wasn't nonsense," said Harley, slowly.

"Are you kidding? They were speaking in gibberish the whole show!" exclaimed Joker. "I would've fallen asleep, or stood up and interrupted him, but I didn't wanna embarrass the pretty girl sitting next to me," he added, smiling at her.

Harley smiled back, feeling guilt gnawing away at her. It was wrong of her to be doing this to use him, but she didn't feel like she had a choice. If she wanted that scholarship, she had to go through with this.

She took his hand. "So…you wanna go for a walk?" she asked, gently. "It's a nice night."

"Yeah, I need to stretch my legs after sitting still for hours," agreed Joker. They headed for the school grounds, hand in hand, in silence.

Harley was consumed by guilt, but she cleared her throat and said, "So…how's the campaigning going?"

"Oh, really well, toots!" he chuckled. "I hope you got a prom dress picked out, because that election is as good as mine!"

"Really? You sound so confident," said Harley. "You got some kinda secret weapon?"

He tapped his nose. "I do, sweetheart. I do."

"Sounds…kinda exciting," she stammered. "You wanna tell me what it is?"

"Don't wanna ruin the surprise, toots," he chuckled. "And I can't spill the beans anyway, not yet. I'll tell you all about it at prom, when you'll be on the arm of the class president of Arkham High. Bet you never thought anything like that'd happen to you when you transferred here, huh?"

"No," agreed Harley. "Actually, my experience in coming here has been a big surprise. It wasn't what I was expecting at all. But in a nice way. And I never thought I'd say that about high school."

"Yeah, I used to think this place was a total dump," agreed Joker. "But something's changed recently to make it a lot nicer. If I knew you were gonna be here another year, I wouldn't mind not graduating, you know."

Harley felt her insides being twisted, feeling genuinely touched and guilty at the same time. "J, I don't wanna wait for prom," she said, stopping and taking his other hand. "Can't you tell me about this secret weapon of yours now?"

"Why?" he asked, puzzled.

"I just…I wanna know," she stammered. "I mean, if it's gonna result in me going to prom with you, I wanna know that you won this victory fair and square. I'd hate to go to prom with a guy who won an election under false pretenses."

"Hey, that wasn't part of the deal, toots!" he snapped. "We shook on me winning the election, not winning it fair and square! You can't change the terms of the deal now – it's already been made!"

"So it is something underhanded," murmured Harley. "Tell me, J, please. I wanna know."

He sighed heavily. "I'm gonna…rig the election," he muttered.

"How?" she asked.

"I'm gonna get Eddie Nygma to do it," retorted Joker. "The guy's got experience in cheating at stuff – that's how he gets those amazing grades."

"Eddie's a cheater?" gasped Harley. He nodded. "And…so are you," she stammered.

"Yeah," he admitted, nodding. "But you can't blame me, toots. I can fight fair and lose, or I can cheat and take the girl holding my hand to the prom. It ain't a difficult decision. I mean, just look at you," he said, sliding his arms around her waist and pulling her close. "You can't blame a guy for cheating for you. You can't blame a guy for rigging an election for you. You can't blame a guy for doing a lotta dirty, crooked things for you, because you just drive him absolutely crazy."

Harley gazed up into his eyes, breathing heavily at the nearness of his body. All thought of right and wrong had vanished as his mouth drew close to hers, and she shut her eyes, tilting her lips up for his kiss.

And for a moment after their lips met, Harley could think of nothing else but how wonderful this felt, how much she wanted to throw her arms around his neck and pull him close. And to her surprise, she did. His arms tightened around her waist as his mouth pressed deeper into hers, and all thought was lost in the warm, sweet intoxication of his kiss.

And then the thoughts came rushing back in a tidal wave that overwhelmed everything else. Harley broke away with a cry. "N…no!" she stammered. "No, I'm so sorry, this is wrong!"

He stared at her, stunned. "What's wrong?" he asked. "Me?"

She shook her head. "No. No, me. I'm so sorry, J!"

"Sorry for what?" he asked.

"I'm…playing you for a fool," she gasped. "This date, it was all set up by Harvey Dent – he wants to know what you're planning and he used me as bait! I wouldn't have gone along with it, only he promised me a full scholarship to college and you know how much that means to me! But I can't…I can't use you like this! It's all wrong!"

She burst into tears, burying her face in her hands. He continued to stare at her, and then reached into his pocket for a tissue.

"No!" she cried, shoving his hand away. "Don't you understand?! I'm a fraud! I set you up! I was just using you to get information outta you! Oh God, I'm a horrible, horrible person! To build up your hopes, to play with you like that…I should never have done it! I'm so sorry! I have to go!" she cried, turning to run away.

He caught her arm. "You mean what you said was a lie?" he asked, quietly. "You don't think I'm funny? I don't make you laugh?"

"Yes, of course you do," she whispered.

He cupped her face in his hands. "You do like me?" he murmured.

"Yes…yes, I do," she whispered. "But don't you understand what I'm saying? I was using you! I would never have done any of this if not for Harvey Dent."

He nodded slowly. "Well. Thank God for Harvey Dent, then," he murmured, grinning.

"What?" she asked.

"I never would have gotten to go on a date with you if he hadn't set this up," he said. "I never would have kissed you without Harvey's interference, and you can't expect me to regret that, even if I got that kiss under false pretenses. A dame who can pull off an act like that is a dame after my own heart. I don't regret anything about tonight, and I certainly don't regret kissing you. In fact, I'm gonna do it again," he whispered, enveloping her mouth.

"Oh…J!" she gasped, trying to escape his lips. "J, please, you can stop pretending! I ain't gonna tell him anything you've said!"

"I don't care what you do as long as you keep that pretty mouth of yours pressed onto mine," he whispered, cutting her off with another kiss.

Harley moaned happily, returning the kiss and pressing him tightly against her.

"Mmm, I'm almost tempted to let Harvey win for this," murmured Joker, drawing his mouth away at last and grinning. "But I'm not gonna."

"I'm sorry, J…" she whispered.

"Stop apologizing and tell me when I can see you again," he said. "At school, obviously, but when can I take you someplace nice? Tell me I don't have to wait for prom."

Harley grinned. "Well, I…might be free tomorrow night."

"What a coincidence. So am I," he murmured.

They kissed again. "Now let me take you home," he said, taking her hand and heading for his car. "And maybe you can explain this play to me on the ride back. Was that Hamlet guy really crazy or was he only pretending?"

"I think the jury's still out on that one," replied Harley. "He claims there's a method to his madness, though."

"Don't we all, sweetheart!" laughed Joker. "Don't we all!"

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