Author's Disclaimer: Don't own them. And don't have any money worth suing for. Just taking them out for a spin.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and places are the property of the WB, Warner Brothers Television, Tollin/Robbins, and DC Comics. This piece of fan fiction was created for entertainment not monetary purposes and no infringement on copyrights or trademarks was intended. Previously unrecognized characters and places, and this story, are copyrighted to the author. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author. . This site is in no way affiliated with “The Birds of Prey,” the WB, or any representatives of Dina Meyer, Ashley Scott, or Rachel Skarsten. This site contains stories between two mature, consenting adult females.
Author’s Notes: This is an alt-universe -- because Wade isn't going to die. But he won't get the girl, either. And, Helena had trusted Dr. Quinzel enough to tell her Everything.
Dedication: As always, this is dedicated to my very dearest friend Quire. I do it all for you, Mulder.
My Heart Belongs to Daddy (Gerri Halliwell)
While tearing off a game of golf
I may make a play for the caddy
But when I do, I don't follow through
Cause my heart belongs to Daddy
If I invite a boy some night
To dine on my fine finnan haddie
I just adore, his asking for more
But my heart belongs to Daddy
Yes, my heart belongs to Daddy
So I simply couldn't be bad
Yes, my heart belongs to Daddy
Da, Da, Da, Da, Da, Da, Da, Da, DAAAAD
Ten Days Later
This, Dinah mused, was one of those situations where having an adult around would be damned handy. Because she really didn’t know what to do. Things were going very quickly straight to hell, and she realized with some chagrin that, as childish as it was, she didn’t want to take responsibility for the decisions she was making
She’d really thought that having the Joker discontinue Quinn’s injections would take some of the pressure off of both of them. But it hadn’t.
She’d watched with increasing alarm as Quinn had slowly but surely returned to her normal self. Her normal, un-medicated psychotic self, that is. A person who Dinah forced herself to remember was not only very dangerous but also fully capable of passing herself off as a fairly normal human being.
Five Days Previously
Five days after the injections had stopped and long past midnight, Quinn had entered their dimly-lit bedroom and had been surprised to find Dinah reading in bed.
“I didn’t think you’d still be up.”
“Couldn’t sleep. Where’ve you been?”
Quinn began to change into her pajamas.
Quinn’s face was bland but her eyes sparkled with sardonic amusement as she purred, ”Hmmm…want the play by play?”
Dinah’s attention snapped back to her book. “No.”
Quinn, finished with her changing, climbed onto the bed and sat facing the girl. “Honestly, Dinah darling, what a dirty little mind you have. We weren’t doing…that. We were just making some plans.”
Now, Dinah was all ears. “What kind of plans?”
“That I can’t tell you—it’s a secret.”
Dinah looked searchingly into Quinn’s eyes, trying to gauge the older woman’s mental state. “Quinn…we’re not supposed to keep secrets from each other. Especially not his secrets. You’re on my side…remember?”
Dinah could see Quinn was caught off-guard by this, and for the slightest beat, she thought she saw confusion in her eyes. But, just as instantly, Quinn’s mask of insouciance was back. She tilted her head to one side as she replied brightly. “Of course I remember, cupcake.”
But, as Quinn turned and flopped back onto her pillow, grabbing her own book as she did so, Dinah couldn’t, for the life of her, decide whether the other woman was telling the truth.
After about an hour of reading in silence, Dinah was startled by the quiet sound of Quinn’s voice. “Thanks for having him stop those injections.”
Dinah turned as Quinn stretched, sighed happily. “I’m feel like I’m finally getting back to my old self again.”
The girl paused before replying. “That’s…great Quinn. Really. I’m glad.”
Dinah winced as she saw she hadn’t pulled that one off—because Quinn was smirking. “I know what you’re thinking—you’re thinking maybe you’re going to get stuck in a jam with good old, bad old Quinn, right?” As Dinah winced a smile, the woman leaned over and bumped against her shoulder. “Try not to worry so much, darling.” She changed gears in a beat. “Hey! I betcha I can do something you never guessed I could do. Wanna see?”
The girl smiled wanly. “Okay.”
”Touch me. Touch my mind.”
Dinah reached out, touched Quinn on the arm and…blinked. Her brow furrowed and she closed her eyes—pushing….pushing….but nothing. Not just nothing, absolutely alarming nothingness. A brick would have been more accessible.
The older woman watched the astonishment in the young woman’s face as her brain registered what she was encountering. Quinn leaned over and murmured into her ear. “Compartmentalization. When I’m not medicated, I’ve got it down to a science. Just like a firewall for my brain.”
Quinn turned back to her book as she finished her thought. “Handy, huh?”
She didn’t even notice that Dinah looked suddenly quite sick.
Five Days Later
It wasn’t all that late but Dinah yawned as she looked around the staging area of Joker’s lair. In this cavernous room, a girl could find everything she needed to pull off almost anything. She hopped up on one of the tables against a wall and watched as the Joker’s men packed the few things she and Quinn would need for the museum job they were planning for the next night. It looked like a fairly boring and straightforward, in-and-out sort of thing. At the sound of a merry laugh ringing out through the room, followed by a tremendous answering cackle, Dinah turned to watch Quinn and the Joker.
Quinn had spent the past two nights with him, only returning to their bedroom to change clothes for the day. She was always perfectly charming and affectionate with her, but there was a distinct cattiness in the charm and distance in the affection. Quinn was playing some sort of game and Dinah knew it. And she knew Quinn knew she knew it. Which only seemed to amuse the older woman.
She watched as Quinn looped her fingers through the belt loops on the Joker’s pants and pulled him into a kiss. Naturally, the Joker took that opportunity to give a little grope to everything that was grope-able on Quinn.
Dinah’s face registered nothing. Dinah’s mind and heart, however, were whirling with emotion—but exactly what emotion was predominating, she couldn’t say. She was jealous, angry, hurt and confused. What concerned her most, though, was that she was frightened. Very frightened.
Barbara had taught her to always respect her fear because fear was based in instinct, and instincts rarely lied. Well, her instincts weren’t whispering, they were screaming at her and sometimes lately it was only her knowledge of her own incredible powers that kept her blood from running cold and her knees from buckling.
And it didn’t help to remember that even the strongest swimmer could be drowned in a riptide.
Meanwhile…in the Clocktower…
Helena yawned, struggling to stay awake during the longest goddamned Monopoly game she’d ever played—though that wasn’t, admittedly, saying much, since she’d only played a few times with Barbara when she was a kid.
It was her turn.
She dutifully rolled the dice but, as she started tapping her little dog ‘round the board, she saw where he’d land.
Boardwalk with a hotel.
Dick’s grin split his face, “Read ‘em and weep, baby! Time to pay daddy!”
Bruce and Barbara were circumspect enough to watch the ensuing transaction with stern faces, although both of them were literally sobbing with mirth inside. Helena scowled ferociously as she paid Dick almost all of her remaining funds.
This was entirely her father’s fault, she thought darkly, handing over the small bills. He had the damnedest ideas suddenly about what families did together. First pool; then fishing—which Dick had told her about—and now, Monopoly.
She wanted to tell him most families these days retired to their separate televisions or computers after dinner and that he was about a thousand years behind the times. But she found, somewhat to her surprise, that she liked him enough at this point that she wouldn’t hurt his feelings or disappoint his arcane ideals if she could possibly help it.
Which, again, made it his fault that she was getting her ass handed to her at Monopoly. She looked around the table. Fucking billionaire Wayne, fucking ace student/boy-wonder Dick, and her…sweet…sexy…genius Barbara. What chance did she have against them?
None. That’s what.
Naturally, Barbara won.
Helena felt a grim satisfaction in that fact. She hated, despised losing—but if she had to lose, she wanted to lose to Barbara.
After they said their goodbyes and the elevator doors closed on Bruce and Dick, Barbara looked up at Helena, smiled and patted her lap. “Wanna ride from a high-rolling capitalist?”
Helena didn’t smile, but her eyes did. “Depends. Will I have to put out for it?”
Barbara’s tone was firm. “I’m afraid so—you know we capitalists. Everything’s always…tit for tat.”
Helena almost smiled at this, but didn’t. “You know what? I’m gonna leave that one alone.”
She sat very gently in Barbara’s lap and kissed her. And Barbara quickly found out that it wasn’t easy to maneuver a chair, even the short distance to their bedroom, with a supernova in your lap.
The Next Afternoon
While Barbara sorted through the mail, she came across what was quite clearly an expensively printed invitation.
As she touched it, opened it, she remembered and suddenly groaned.
Of course…this would draw the Joker out if nothing would.
She’d known it was scheduled, had been told about it long ago and had stored it somewhere in the back of her mind. And…therefore, it had slipped her mind. A dinner was going to be held for her father—to honor him for his work as police commissioner. The mayor would be there.
Actually, everyone who was anyone in New Gotham would be there—even, perhaps, the governor.
And, of course, she would be there, for her father.
All of them perfect bait for the Joker.
Meanwhile, in the Joker’s lair
So…this—this man was going to be their accomplice, their driver. As Dinah watched him scurry into the room, even she was unimpressed.
But she was chilled by the fact that he snapped, regardless of the menacing presence of the Joker in the room, to attention, an obviously terrified attention—as he caught sight of Quinn.
Quinn walked over and stepped firmly into his personal space as she looked up at him and…then, the only sound in the room was the sound of her shoe tapping against the floor. After a few beats, during which Dinah watched a sheen of sweat appear on the man’s face, Quinn finally spoke, “Long time, no see, Bernie.”
“You’re late, you know.”
The man gulped a bit before answering.
“Old habits die hard, huh?”
”My Puddin’s giving you a shot—but surely you realize at this point it’s a ‘last chance’ sort of thing. Which means…you mess up—you die. But—hey—“ her eyes widened as she tilted her head to one side, “No pressure, right?!”
The man gulped again. “Ye…I mean no, ma’am.”
Quinn stepped back and smirked as she considered him for a beat, then waved her hand in his general direction and said, “He’ll do.”
The man almost collapsed with relief, then asked, “Is there anything I can get you before the job, ma’am?”
Quinn smiled. “A double shot of espresso and…” she gestured toward Dinah, “a latte for my friend.”
”Yes, ma’am.” As he turned to exit the room, he thought, and then turned back toward them.
”Did you want a bow on yours?”
“You remembered! How sweet! No—no bows this time. But I think those little chocolate covered coffee beans are festive, don’t you? How about a few of those?”
Bernie nodded, almost bowed. “Yes, ma’am.”
Barbara seemed entirely absorbed in Delphi, but Helena knew better. She crossed the room to stand next to her and asked, “Thinking about the kid?”
It was a terse response, a response Helena almost took personally—because she didn’t think Barbara knew that she was also worried out of her mind. Hell, she could barely sleep at this point, thinking about Dinah in the lions’ den.
“So,” Helena offered, “what are we going to do?”
”I don’t know—I only know that soon I’ll be in the one place I’m bound to be a target.”
Helena’s stomach turned over. “What the fuck does that mean?”
Barbara nodded toward the invitation on her desk and, as Helena picked it up and read it, she felt her stomach sink lower…and lower.
It was perfect.
Of course he’d try that. And he’d know that everyone would know he’d try that. Which meant he’d be planning something really…special for all of them.
Dinah, Quinn and Bernie slipped through the darkness at the back of the museum and came to a stop yards away from a back entrance.
“Alright,” Quinn whispered, “by the book. Dinah—you disable the camera—I’ll get past the alarm.”
Dinah pointed at the security camera above the door and it immediately drooped downward. If it was still working, it was capturing asphalt.
They all ran to the door and Quinn ported a small device into the security keypad. It blinked three times and she tested the door.
They were in.
After they entered, Bernie remained at the door, guarding, waiting for their exit. In each successive room Dinah disabled the security cameras, knowing that would eventually have to draw the attention of the three security officers on duty.
Quinn held her arm up. Stop. She waved her on. Time to split up.
Barbara smiled at her monitor. “Silent alarm at the Museum on 10th.”
<I’m on it—that’s that traveling gem collection, right?>
Barbara could hear Helena moving incredibly swiftly. “You’re a dark horse, aren’t you? I didn’t know you keep up with traveling museum exhibits.”
<Only those that look steal-able. Is that a word?>
“If it’s not, it should be.”
Dinah hated knocking people out—she always wanted to leave them a few Advil next to their bodies after she’d done it. But there was no other safe way to get past them. So—the security guard felt himself rammed, by some invisible force, against one wall, hitting his head hard enough for immediate unconsciousness. Dinah graciously eased his fall—and he floated to a rest on the floor.
She crossed to the enormous display of gems.
Quinn hated knocking people out—it was so much easier just to kill them. But she rather unceremoniously cold-cocked her security guard and waited, in a main corridor leading to the gem display, for Dinah to finish.
She wasn’t alone for long. She was startled by a flurry of motion and, before she could raise her gun, she was face to face with the Huntress.
Helena was even more startled to find herself face to face with Quinn.
Quinn looked Helena over appreciatively. “My, my, my, aren’t you a tonic for the eyes?”
Helena ignored this. “Where’s D?”
<Quinn? Is that Quinn?>
“Yes, it’s Quinn.”
The woman in question smiled. “Oh—almost forgot. You’re on comm., aren’t you? Hello, Oracle, dear.”
<Tell her to go fuck herself.>
“Oracle says hello. Where’s D.?”
“Off doing her chores.” Quinn’s eyes widened. “But don’t mind me. Don’t ask me how I’ve been.”
The voice turned bitter, “You know, you shadowy crime-fighters and criminals are all the same. Wham bam, thank you, ma’am.”
Helena winced at this reference to their past and knew that Barbara was wincing too. But there was something else…something about Quinn’s voice that made the hair on her neck stand up. It was such a familiar voice—but it wasn’t Quinn’s—it was Dr. Quinzel’s. She was so rattled by this realization that she almost didn’t hear Quinn’s question.
“How’d you get in?”
”Through the back door—there was some poor nebbish laid out on the floor.”
Quinn jerked to attention. “Bernie?”
They were both jolted by the sound of gunfire.
A burning leaden bolt of pain.
So this was what it was like to be shot.
Dinah flung the security guard who’d shot her into the nearest wall and he slid, unconscious, to the floor.
She looked at him for a beat. Not much older than she was, probably. And scared. Which is why he’d probably just shot her, rather than trying to negotiate a capture.
She was somewhat amused that she wasn’t all that interested in looking at…
Quinn and Helena rushed to Dinah, who had fainted, bag of gems in hand.
<Huntress—what’s going on?>
Helena could hear the panic in Barbara’s voice.
”It’s D. She’s been shot.”
Blood. There was so much blood. Helena was used to it in a vague sort of way—but not when it came to her family. She’d seen too much of her mother’s, Barbara’s…she suddenly felt like she was going to faint…or throw up.
But Quinn didn’t. She gently cradled Dinah into her lap, looked at the entrance wound in the girl’s shoulder, then for an exit wound. She exhaled sharply with relief when she saw a relatively clean exit to the side of her scapula.
<Huntress—what the fuck’s going on?>
Helena looked at Quinn. “What’s the…”
Quinn knew there were two people asking.
”Oracle, she’s been shot in the shoulder, below her left clavicle—couldn’t have hit her lung—from the look of it, didn’t hit anything but muscle—maybe nicked her scapula.”
Helena heard Barbara’s sigh of relief and felt better immediately.
<Bring her home. Now.>
Dinah opened her blue eyes…and looked for a long beat into Quinn’s blue eyes.
What…where…the pain in her shoulder reminded her. Oh, shit—she was—and suddenly she saw Helena’s blue eyes. What the hell was she doing…
She wondered suddenly if she had died—was this what it would be like? Pain, forgetfulness and blue eyes?
She turned back to Quinn and remembered feeling scared of her—but if she didn’t care, why did she look so very pale and frightened?
She shook her head violently to clear it.
<Bring her home.>
“I’m taking her home.”
Dinah suddenly sat up a bit, with Quinn’s help.
“No—it’s not—we’re not…finished.”
<I don’t give a shit.>
“We don’t give a shit, D.”
Dinah looked to Quinn, not to Helena, for an answer.
Quinn only smiled faintly and said “Your choice.”
Dinah’s voice was a whisper, ”We gotta get out of here.” She smiled at Helena. “I’m going with Quinn.”
Helena’s heart and stomach jumped—because she could see and feel, right down to her bones, not only that Dinah was in tremendous pain but that she was also terribly afraid.
And though the girl was still faintly smiling, Helena felt Dinah’s eyes burning into hers as she whispered, “But please…be ready for…anything.”
Dick watched with alarm, but no little interest, as Barbara laid into Helena—and as, astonishingly, Helena fought right back.
He noticed even Bruce was holding back during this…clash of the titans.
“She was SHOT, Helena. She should be HOME! She should be HERE!”
”She’s not a fucking BABY, Barbara. She WANTED to stay—so I let her!
“That wasn’t your decision to make!”
”RIGHT! It was HER’S. Not mine. Not YOUR’S.” Helena snorted, “I mean…hate to break it to you, honey, but you don’t get to make EVERY decision in this house.”
Bruce and Dick’s eyebrows shot up at this. That was sort of a low blow to someone with the control issues Barbara had.
Sure enough, Barbara’s face immediately turned cloudier than it had been—and it had already been cloudy enough.
Her voice was a low murmur. ”What did you just say to me?”
Helena was rattled for a beat— this wasn’t how she wanted to spend the evening. She’d just seen Dinah shot and Dinah’s blood and she just wanted to crawl into Barbara’s lap and cry—but FUCK THAT! She was right—and she knew it.
“Oh, I’m sorry, was I MUMBLING? I SAID YOU DON’T GET TO MAKE EVERY DECISION IN THIS HOUSE! Copy THAT, ORACLE?
Dick was impressed. He’d never said anything to Barbara that was half as snotty as that. But, then again, it was pretty damned rare that he was right and Barbara was wrong.
And he thought Barbara was wrong.
So did Bruce. Though he could certainly understand Barbara’s concern. He would have done what Helena had—left Dinah to finish the mission. Which, perhaps made Helena just a bit too much like him—maybe they were wrong, maybe Barbara was right.
No. Cancel that—they were right!
“Barbara—I really think that—“
Barbara turned toward him, glaring so ferociously that he stopped mid-sentence.
“When I need your opinion, Bruce, I’ll ask for it.”
He blinked, then stammered out, “Right. Okay…I think I’ll be leaving now.”
Suddenly, Helena was standing right next to him. “Give me a ride?”
“Where the hell do you think you’re going? We’re not finished with this conver--”
”YOU’RE not finished, Barbara. But I am. And what does it matter, anyway? You always win—everything always goes your way. Why do you need me around? Ready, Dad?”
She stalked out of the room toward the elevator, with Bruce following reluctantly behind her.
Leaving a stunned Barbara and Dick watching their retreating forms. And then, they were gone.
Dick wasn’t quite sure what to—“Hey, uh…how ‘bout those Yankees?”
This remark won him the scornful look he knew it deserved.
The Joker watched with interest as Quinn tended her patient. She had entered holding the girl and had tossed the bag of gems at him with, what looked to him, disgust.
As she helped the girl onto a table, though, he was pleased to see that the girl was afraid of Quinn—naturally enough, he thought. He was half-afraid of her, too.
But as Quinn reached for her shirt, Dinah shook her head no. “Not in front of him.”
Quinn turned and glared. “Leave! Now.”
Was he smiling? Dinah couldn’t tell. But his face seemed to lift, somehow, before he left.
As Quinn treated her wound, Dinah felt deeply confused—there was such tenderness beneath the woman’s malicious exterior. What was right? What was true?
After Quinn helped her into their bed, she gave her two pills and a glass of water.
”An antibiotic—just in case. And a pain pill. It’ll help you sleep.”
Dinah swallowed her pills and downed her glass of water. “Thanks.”
”You’re welcome. Get some sleep.”
Dinah’s voice, to her own ears, seemed almost childish. ”Are you….will you be here?”
She almost hated how much she’d doubted Quinn lately when she saw the gentleness and concern in the woman’s face. “Of course I’ll be here. Right here—next to you.”
And, before she drifted off to sleep, she opened her eyes to find Quinn watching over her and remembered, with some amusement, that she’d thought heaven would be populated with those eyes.
What beautiful eyes…he thought.
Bruce watched as Helena’s beautiful blue eyes glared at her bottle of beer. She was slowly, methodically tearing the label off of the bottle, lost in her anger. She hadn’t said anything since she’d ordered her beer.
She ripped the last bit of the label off and downed the rest of the beer. As she smacked the bottle down on the bar, she gestured to the bartender for another.
“I’m right, you know.”
”Yeah. I know.”
”She wouldn’t think twice about sending me into hell itself, as long as I had my comm. on. She’s just pissed that she can’t call the shots this time.”
Bruce’s eyebrows rose at this, though he didn’t know why. He’d quickly learned that it was always a mistake to underestimate his daughter, no matter how much she underestimated herself.
“She’s afraid, Hel. She feels responsible for…everything…and she’s afraid.”
Helena scowled at the bar. “I know!…I know that. But why does she have to take it out on me?”
Bruce paused for a beat, took a swig of beer before answering.
“Because you’re there. Because she loves you—and she knows she can—because you’ll always be back in the morning.”
Helena pondered this for a few seconds, then stood up from her barstool and, to Bruce’s surprise, kissed him on the cheek. “She won’t have to wait ‘til the morning. Thanks, Dad.”
And then she was gone.
But the feeling of her kiss—and her words—were not.
The bartender, bringing Helena’s beer, hesitated at her absence.
Bruce smiled. His first true smile in years. “My daughter had to leave—but I’ll be happy to pay the tab.”
Helena’s eyes adjusted immediately to the darkness of her bedroom. She could see Barbara lying there just as clearly as if she were in daylight.
As Helena began to undress, she heard her Barbara’s sleepy voice…”I’m sorry, honey—I shouldn’t have—
”No—I’m sorry. We can talk about it some other time. Alright?”
And that was all it took, amazingly. For either of them…
As she crawled into bed, Helena raked her naked skin over Barbara’s. And, then, as she lay next to her, she asked, ”Now that that’s all cleared up—could I interest you in a few X-Treme sports tonight, Ms. Gordon?
Barbara smiled, really smiled, for the first time in months…
As Dinah woke up the next morning, she felt terribly disoriented and, as she moved, she winced and remembered why. Bullet. Pain pill. F-uck.
She opened her eyes to find Quinn looking at her with concern. “How are you feeling, darling?”
”Sort of like I’ve been shot through the shoulder.”
Quinn smirked, “You know, there’s a reason for that.” She helped the girl sit up in the bed, “after a bit of breakfast, I’ll give you another pain pill.”
Dinah shook her head. “No—I don’t want to be groggy around—“
Quinn’s voice was firm, “Don’t worry about anything. If anyone even thinks about laying a finger on you, they’ll be pushing up daisies.”
Dinah looked into Quinn’s eyes, entirely sure the woman meant it, and entirely unsure what that meant for her.
Quinn touched Dinah’s cheek. “I promise. Nothing will happen to you.”
“But something already did.”
Dinah saw Quinn wince. ”I know. And I’m sorry. We were too sloppy. That won’t happen again.”
Before Quinn could leave to get her breakfast, Dinah grabbed her forearm. “What’s going on? Please tell me.”
Quinn looked at her for what seemed like a minute but Dinah realized it was probably only a few seconds. “Don’t ask me again. You’ll know when you need to know.” She hesitated, “Are you afraid of me, Dinah?”
Dinah nodded her head yes.
“Good.” Quinn smiled. “You should be.”
But even as Quinn said that, Dinah felt a chink in the wall around the woman’s mind fall, and though she could barely make out anything intelligible in a sandstorm of troubled, disordered thoughts, what she could feel was tenderness. Even love.
Be afraid of me. I love you.
Dinah shook her head to clear it. What did that mean?
As Quinn walked toward the kitchen, she forgot where she was going. She stopped for a second and thought. And thought about thinking. Then said aloud, ”Think about thinking, she thought.”
Where was it? What was it that she was trying to do? She forced herself to move. Step. Step forward. Onward. Onward into the valley of death rode the six hundred. Who was that? Tennyson? Yes. “Charge of the Light Brigade.”
Light brigade. Light, lamp, wall, picture. Picture this. Picture perfect. Perfect is as perfect does. Does it have to be this way? Curds and…whey?
Breakfast! Breakfast was the ticket!
A task in hand. Something to occupy the next few minutes. And after that, walking with the breakfast, presenting the breakfast, cleaning up after the breakfast.
She knew, but had to remind herself nearly every half-minute, that she could only present normalcy for brief bursts of interaction—with Dinah, with Puddin.
But yes, there was…there was a plan.
The Joker looked at his map of New Gotham for the 100th time that morning.. Even though he knew the city as well as anyone, even and especially, Batman.
Looking at all those neat little squares and tiny little writing helped to clarify his thoughts. And he really felt like he needed clarity before his next move.
Of course they’d expect him at the dinner honoring Commissioner Gordon. Of course they would. And he didn’t really think he could disappoint them. It was almost too good to pass up, though he would never have believed that plot possibility if he’d read it, even from the most untalented hack.
What to do.
What to do.
It occurred to him that the old ‘divide and conquer’ routine was in order. There was really no reason he should have to fight them all at one time. When he really only wanted one thing.
He sighed as he folded his map, and neatly folding his map made him think of his domestic situation. Which was wearing on him. She was cute—she made him laugh—she was fantastic in the sack and on the job.
But she was always there. Day in, day out. It was almost like they were—he cackled wildly at the thought. Now, THAT would be a marriage made in hell.
No, no, no. Domesticity didn’t suit him and he’d have to take care of it.
Which was easy, actually, because while he was surprising Batman, there was no reason on Earth why he couldn’t surprise Quinn while he was at it.
Quinn looked at the eggs and bacon that she’d prepared, that she’d slid onto a plate for Dinah. Looked at the plate for a full minute.
No. They were too close—she used a spatula to move the eggs and bacon away from each other on the plate. It was all her fault.
But…she could always divide. Divide and conquer.
Dinah winced, sitting up a little straighter in the bed as Quinn entered, her smile genuine enough but her eyes entirely glassy, unreadable.
Dinah yelped despite herself as she reached for a coffee cup with her injured arm. Quinn answered with a “careful, darling’.” And her voice sounded nearly normal.
Two weeks later
For a couple of years, since he’d quit school, Robert had jumped from job to job, boss to boss, always wanting to move up, go big-time. So he’d nagged one of his friends incessantly until he’d finally gotten him an appointment to see the Joker. Robert was smart—he could think on his feet; he was strong—he could get himself out of a jam. But he was also very, very young, so he imagined that he’d seen it all.
He’d been bundled into a van and hooded for the trip. When they stopped and helped him out of the van, he could feel his heart hammering in his chest. One of the men removed his hood and, as he stood blinking in the bright light, he was stunned by the size of the room. Almost a warehouse.
A number of men were milling about, obviously busy and on task, but it wasn’t quite obvious what those tasks were. The sight of an attractive young woman crossing the room, smoking a cigarette, caught his eye. She said hello to a few of the men and crossed to where he stood. She was nearly as tall as he was.
He smiled at her, “Hi.”
Although her eyes were as hard as they were blue, she looked very young. She didn’t smile as she asked, “You’re the interview?”
She nodded, threw her cigarette on the ground, covered it with her boot, then crossed the room and sat on one of the tables against the wall.
Robert heard the Joker before he saw him. And he was ashamed that he felt his blood running cold.
“Dinah, darling! You’re early! Did you have breakfast?”
The girl sounded, looked bored. “Sure did, Green Giant.” Robert felt immediate and immense relief as she answered. If this girl wasn’t afraid of him, could tease him, surely—
There he was.
The Joker had merely used one of his favorite little entrances, stepping to a person’s side and spinning quickly into view. But he’d perfected it over the years and, to Robert, it was as if the man had materialized in front of him. He felt his knees weaken.
Robert suddenly had the feeling he’d done something he was going to have to pay for—plus the terrible nagging feeling he might not be able to afford it.
The Joker was so much taller than he thought he’d be. His eyes were cheerfully and entirely malevolent—they didn’t even look human. In fact, he looked so surreal that it was difficult to believe he existed. And he didn’t even remotely look as if he could be teased.
He realized suddenly that the man was speaking. “Have you met Dinah?”
He motioned toward the table.
Robert’s throat was dry, “Yes—well, sort of.”
”Dinah, dear, this is Robert. Robert, Dinah.”
Robert nodded. “Pleased to meet you.”
“Not for long.”
The Joker cackled, “Don’t mind her—she has a rather dry sense of humor. Now, Robert—may I call you Bob?”
“Do you know why I’ve agreed to meet you, Bob?”
“I hope it’s because you’ve heard good things about me.”
”That’s right!” The man could have been smiling—but Robert couldn’t tell. “Such good things that we may choose you to participate in a very special assignment.”
”Great. I’m ready to go.”
“Not so fast. First, you’ll have to get one other person’s approval.”
”Oh. Okay.“ Robert was confused—surely the Joker had the last—
“Morning, all.” The merry voice was a female’s and he could hear the sound of heels quickly crossing the floor.
The woman walked past him without looking at him, leaned up and kissed the Joker on the cheek. “Morning, Puddin’”
Although Robert was no expert, he could tell she was very expensively dressed. Armani, something in him said. The woman crossed to the girl named Dinah and now the girl did smile. He couldn’t hear what the woman was saying to the girl but she was running her hands through her hair.
Maybe her daughter? The woman leaned in and kissed her. And kissed her.
Nope. Definitely not her daughter.
Dinah lit a cigarette for the woman and then the woman turned toward him. She pulled on her cigarette as she crossed to him and it was everything he could do not to cringe.
Surely not. Couldn’t be.
She smiled as she approached, stopped in front of him and inspected him. “Me-fucking-ow, said the cat to the mouse!” She pulled at her cigarette and her eyes widened. “Pretty!”
He forced himself to smile down at her even as he tried to formulate a plan to get the hell out of there.
”Hi. I’m Robert.”
”How old are you, Robert?”
She turned to the Joker, “You’re kidding, right?” He only shrugged.
She turned back to him, “Nineteen!” She tilted her head, blinking her eyes rapidly, “Tell me, aren’t you a bit young to be playing in my sandbox?”
“Well no, I…don’t…think so.”
She nodded her head, considered this for a moment, then spoke incredibly rapidly. “Do you have a therapist, Robert? No, stop! Don’t answer that—I know you don’t. A trained professional would have suggested you consider the ramifications of entering employment with the King and Queen of New Gotham’s Underworld.” She brought her head upright, “Don’tcha think?”
He tried to follow her speech but he was distracted by her eyes. They were very, very slightly but incessantly darting back and forth, as if she were trying to take in everything at once. Was this what crazy looked like?
She stepped closer to him, which got his full attention. “Robert, I haven’t told you my name but can see by the sweat o’ your brow that you already know it. Truthfully—is the word out there about me so very bad?”
When he started to answer no—she lifted one eyebrow, her eyes bright and knowing, “Note that I said truthfully.”
”Well, uh…yes. It is.”
”And entirely deserved, if I must say so. Let’s have it—what do they say about me?”
He blinked, hesitated.
”That wasn’t a hard question, Rrrob.” She smirked as she rolled the Rs out of her mouth.
“That you’re a psychopath. That you kill people for kicks. And to stay as far away from you as possible.”
She brightened instantly, “Is that all? These days, that’s nothing a bit of charity work won’t sweep under the rug.” She ran her hands over his shoulders and spoke around the cigarette in her mouth, “I mean, who wouldn’t want me as a candy-striper, right?”
He smiled, wanly, back at her. Everyone he’d ever known was scared shitless of her. And he could see why. She was, somehow, scarier than the Joker. Maybe it was dichotomy of the monstrous reputation and the slight, almost petite, and pretty person in front of him. He looked into her eyes, which kept darting, but were still strangely warm.
She took a pull from her cigarette and her face, so close to him, was suddenly serious. “Tell me, Robert, do you have any siblings?”
The question was so unexpected that he answered it. “Two sisters.”
She instantly tucked her bottom lip under her teeth as if to stifle a laugh and when she glanced at the Joker, Robert could see her eyes were laughing. As they were when she looked back at him. And he thought, but instantly thought that he was imagining it, that he saw relief in them as well.
“Tell me, Rrrob,” her voice was a mocking singsong, “what part of telling a psychopath who kills for kicks that you have two sisters is a bad idea?
He started to answer, then stammered to a halt.
With a dismissive wave of her hand, she turned away from him to the Joker. “Too stupid.”
The Joker cackled, “You heard the lady! Back in the van! Dinah—make sure he’s hooded.”
Robert found that he was almost weak with relief. The girl joined him, handcuffed him and helped him into the back of the van. As she held his arms to help him sit, he saw a strange look wash over her face.
”You can take it easy now, Robert.”
“What? What do you mean?”
”I mean you don’t have to be so frightened now. It’s over. They’ll let you go.”
This embarrassed him because it was true so he didn’t answer it.
She finally smiled at him. “You know, she did you a favor, man.”
”What are you talking about—she’s a fucking—“ He suddenly stopped, realizing to whom he was talking.
She finished the sentence for him, “She a fucking psycho who just did you a big fat fucking favor. Why don’t you return it.” Her face was serious again.
”Get outta the business. It’s a dog’s life,” her face disappeared as she put the hood over his head, but he could still hear her voice, “and you know how long dogs live.”
The van door’s closing rang in his ears for a very long time.
It was very dark in their bedroom—almost too dark, Dinah thought. And now there was not only darkness, there was a palpable sense of what she could only call something-about-to-happen. She didn’t know what it was—but she felt like a swimmer with something dangerous moving toward her in water too deep for her vision. Her thought was interrupted as she felt Quinn shift, easing a kink out of her neck as she rested on Dinah’s good shoulder.
Quinn felt it, too. Neither of them could sleep these days, settling for long hours of wakeful quiet interrupted by small naps through the night.
Since Dinah had been shot, Quinn had spent her days with the Joker but every night with her. It was both comforting and unsettling to be close to Quinn now. She’d stopped being snarky, was always affectionate with her and had taken care of her wound with tenderness, compassion and skill.
On this particular night they’d been awake and entirely silent for nearly four hours after getting into bed.
Dinah broke the silence, “You know, that was really nice what you did for that guy today.”
”That guy Robert.”
Quinn didn’t answer and Dinah knew that Robert was long forgotten.
After another hour, Dinah heard Quinn say something, but the whisper was more like an exhalation of breath than expression.
”What’d you say, honey?” Dinah ruffled her hand through Quinn’s hair.
”I said, did you hear that.” Quinn’s voice was still barely audible.
Quinn was quiet for a few moments before answering, “You didn’t hear that voice, did you.” It was a statement, not a question.
“No. What did it say?”
“Does it matter? It wasn’t real.” Quinn’s voice was dead, wooden.
She exhaled again. It was almost a sigh.
“There’s something really wrong with me, you know.”
Dinah resisted the urge to sigh. “I know.”
”I don’t know why, sweetheart. But it’s not fair.”
After a few minutes without an answer, Dinah closed her eyes.
Quinn had settled into two gears in the past two weeks. It was as if holding the tension between the facets of her personality was too exhausting at this point and Dinah knew that she really no longer tried. She was either nearly fully Harley Quinn or a woman who laid on her shoulder wondering what and why and who she was. And Dinah didn’t know which was harder to deal with.
Harley Quinn was erratic, violent, sadistic and sexy. Quinn was always sad—and her serious memory lapses left her continually bewildered, knowing there was something wrong with her but always forgetting she’d ever known what it was. And, although Dinah tried, both sides of the woman were closed to her touch—unreachable, unreadable.
Quinn interrupted Dinah’s thoughts as she whispered quite audibly, “He’s going to kill me you know.”
Dinah could feel the cold chill of goose bumps on her neck.
Quinn giggled, “Geesh, who ya think? Work with me here.”
Dinah smiled into the darkness. Every once in a while, out of nowhere, and sometimes for even a half hour at a time, the person she considered the real Quinn emerged. Usually in the dark and usually after hours of quiet.
”Bingo is your name-O.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Sometimes a girl just knows things.” She pulled Dinah closer. “I’m not the only one he’s going to kill, though.”
Dinah kept her voice carefully neutral because she’d learned that no pressure and no emotion worked best, “Oh yeah? Who else?”
Quinn thought about it for a few seconds. “I think it was…no…wait-a-second…it was right…there. What the fuck’s wrong with me?” Quinn’s voice was a frustrated hiss. “I’m so fucking stupid! It’s not like it’s rocket science! Rockets…rockets red glare?”
“Quinn, shhh,” Dinah
Quinn swatted her on the stomach, “No, you donkey!” She sat up suddenly, her voice exasperated, “I mean, I know that I’ve been the queen of nonsensical non-sequitur lately but just hold on a second.”
Dinah sat up beside her.
After a full minute, which seemed like an hour, Quinn whispered to the air, trying to remember…”Rockets…the…rockets’ red glare…and…bombs bursting in air! YES! That’s it! Bombs! Two of them. But not in the air.”
Dinah felt like she was speaking around a thumping heart that was suddenly lodged in her throat. “Ohmigod. That’s great, Quinn! Where?”
Quinn thought for what seemed like another hour, “Fffffuck it! I don’t—I can’t—I don’t know! She slumped back on the bed and her voice was disillusioned and angry. “I mean, maybe he didn’t even tell me. He probably didn’t but who the fuck knows. I’m sorry.”
Dinah lay back down beside, gathering her into her arms. “That’s okay, sweetie. That was fantastic. I’m sure you’ll remember later.”
“I certainly hope so. If not, I have no idea how this all is going to work out.”
No shit, Dinah thought, but she said, “It’ll work out. You’ll see.”
Quinn sighed and, as she often did, changed the subject mid-conversation, “You know what? I wish we were the same age—and had met somewhere else.”
“Like a therapist’s office?”
Dinah snickered. “Okay…you’re on. We’re the same age. How do we meet?”
”We’re walking in New Gotham and we both come to a corner at the same time. You run into me and spill my coffee.”
“Hey! I’m not that clumsy.’
”Uh—yeah you are.”
Dinah smiled. She’d better enjoy it while she could.
“Okay, I spill your coffee.”
”On my blouse. And you make it worse by trying to help me clean it up.”
”Jesus, Quinn. I’m really sounding like the catch of the day.”
“But I think it’s cute. So I ask you if…”
They talked for the rest of the night.
The Next Day, Commissioner Gordon’s Office
Helena wondered how long five people could possibly be expected to go over the same blueprints and plans. The venue for the dinner honoring Police Commissioner Gordon was, admittedly, large and not all that easy to secure, but for God’s sake! They’d already been discussing the plans for an hour and although she’d passed bored going ninety 30 minutes ago, Barbara’s father, Barbara, Bruce and Dick were still looking at them with the same interest. She watched, as everyone chipped their two cents in for the twenty-fifth time, Barbara’s green eyes flicker over the blueprints again…and again.
What a circle-jerk, she thought, as she turned away from the table. Although she would never have admitted it, if she were shown a diagram of a building, her ability to formulate strategy based on spatial and operational parameters was equal to Barbara’s. The plan was as good as they were going to get without calling in the National Guard. She knew Barbara had already memorized the building and had come to the same conclusion. Unlike she, however, Barbara actually liked churning for a while.
Helena threw herself into one of the leather chairs in front of the commissioner’s desk. But, because she was Helena, she wasn’t exactly sitting in the chair. Her legs were hanging over the one of the arms and, as she watched them, she began to softly kick her legs, letting the drumming sound of her heels on the leather soothe her.
Only, it didn’t for long, because the sound won her, simultaneously, one stern glance from a parent and one stern glance from a former-guardian. She scowled at them but she stopped.
Barbara thought for a few seconds before suddenly nodding, having evidently made up her mind. “I think that’ll do.”
Bruce frowned at the blueprints. “No. I don’t think so. We need more men.”
Commissioner Gordon’s voice was tired. He was just as anxious about the event as any of them. “We don’t have more men, Bruce—we have to send most of them out to the park. The concert, remember?”
“What concert?” Bruce and Barbara asked at the same time.
“U-2,” Dick and Helena answered.
“And it’s free,” Helena, “so no offense,” she nodded toward the older man, “but you should feel *really* loved if anyone comes to this damned thing.”
Jim Gordon laughed as he took a seat behind his desk. “At ease, Barbara. She’s right. Who can compete with free—and Irish?”
Bruce was all business, “How many guests?”
”About 250 so far.”
“I’m with Barbara—looks adequate to me.” Dick was not only backing Barbara, he was trying to give Bruce some peace of mind—something he knew Bruce would never have until the Joker were back in prison—or dead.
“Adequate isn’t good enough. I’ll only accept foolproof.”
”Well, you can’t have it,” Barbara’s voice was gentle but determined, “this is as good as it gets.”
“Not necessarily. I can hire more men.”
She smiled up at him. ”Oh, c’mon, Bruce. You know as well as I do that there’s a point in every plan where too much complexity gets you in trouble.”
Helena, Dick and Jim Gordon watched, all of them knowing that the final decision would be made by the two people discussing it.
Bruce looked at her for a long moment, “Are you sure?”
Barbara’s eyes brightened, “Absolutely.”
Bruce turned to Helena, who had decided to lounge with her eyes closed, her neck and head on the other arm of the chair, “You haven’t said anything, Hel—what do you think?”
Helena pulled her head to an upright position and opened her eyes. “I think it was time to eat half an hour ago.”
Bruce turned back to the desk, “Alright. One more time.”
They all ignored the loud “OHMIGOD!” from behind them.
The Clocktower: That Night
Bruce and Barbara were seated in front of Delphi, going over their plans for the billionth time. Dick and Helena had disappeared to spar in the training room an hour before but suddenly crowded loudly into the room, flush with their exertion.
Helena leaned in and kissed Barbara on the check, then Bruce. “I just wanted to stop in after kicking junior’s ass to say I’m taking a shower if you need me.”
Dick made a scoffing sound in his throat and as Helena crossed the room, he caught her entirely unaware, flipped her over his shoulder onto her back, straddled her and pinned her arms next to her head.
Nothing on Barbara's or Bruce's face suggested that either registered this development.
Helena growled, “You, right now, are so very dead.”
Dick looked down at her and laughed. “Funny, I don’t see it that way.”
Barbara uttered a peeved, “Would you two please take it in the training room?”
Helena was so furious that she was beginning to see double and she really didn't know why that was. Well…actually, maybe she did. For one thing, he’d suckered her and that wasn’t fair. And it certainly didn't help that he looked so goddamned pleased with himself.
Barbara and Bruce looked merely irritated.
What none of these four only children really understood was that Helena and Dick were simply practicing a rite of passage for all siblings. But even if Helena had understood, it would not have made a difference to her.
“I’m warning you, Dick. Get off me now.”
Dick smiled down at her, “Oh, hell no. I’m not getting off ‘til…Thanksgiving. Maybe even Christmas. Hey, Barbara! Can you wrap presents so Hel can open them with one hand on the floor?”
Nothing about this sentence was funny to anyone but Dick, who was evidently imagining the scene and finding it killingly hilarious.
Helena’s voice was low and cool, “Christmas is coming early this year, Dick.”
Dick was too busy braying with laughter to hear her but Barbara heard, and slid her glasses down on her nose. Uh oh, she thought, it’s on.
Dick suddenly felt his hands lift slightly. He looked down at Helena, who had closed her eyes and was, yes, lifting him up. No WAY! He looked at the position of her arms. It was bio-mechanically impossible to move his weight at that angle.
But, no doubt about it, he was moving, ever so slowly, up. Even as it was happening he couldn’t believe it. Nobody had that sort of muscle strength—let alone the unimaginable tendon, ligament and joint strength to—he watched Helena open her yellow eyes just as he was thrown into the air.
But he was too well-trained not to take the opportunity to run, Helena in hot pursuit, shouting “Ho ho ho, motherfucker!”
Barbara repositioned her glasses and she and Bruce listened to the cacophonous chase as they gazed at Delphi.
Bruce took a deep breath, then asked “What’s wrong with them?”
The corners of Barbara’s mouth lifted almost imperceptibly, “They’re both physical people and they’re anxious.”
Bruce thought about this. “But we’re both physical people and we’re anxious.”
”Yes, but we’re also cerebral, so we just tie ourselves in knots internally.”
He lifted his eyebrows in agreement and neither of them reacted to a tremendous crash, followed by a series of smaller sounds of impact.
After ten minutes, Alfred appeared at their sides. “Miss Helena begs me to inform you that she has committed an entirely justifiable homicide, and that after she bathes, she would like for you to join her for a dinner in Master Dick’s honor, which will provide you all with an opportunity to mourn his premature passing.”
Barbara smiled at her screen, “So—dinner in fifteen minutes?”
Dick was not dead. Throughout dinner and to Helena’s immense irritation, and despite the fact that he had a badly bruised eye and a cut lip, he still looked amused every time he looked at her.
After dinner, they tried to pretend to each other that they were relaxing.
It was 9:30 when they got a call they knew would come eventually.
Everyone in the room shot to attention.
<Don’t have much time. You know that bar O’Malley’s about ten blocks from the tower?>
<Meet me there in five. Come alone.>
As Dinah hung up on her, every bit of levity in the room vanished.
Free for one half hour.
Dinah took a deep breath.
She hadn’t realized, until the weight was off, how heavy it was.
And that it so easily didn’t have to be. She was free—she could tell Helena—tell all of them that she couldn’t do it—and they wouldn’t ask any questions.
She was free. No one would drag her back. She would have to willingly walk back to Quinn in thirty minutes. She couldn’t imagine that.
But she couldn’t imagine leaving her, either.
Helena was there in four minutes and walked into the bar ready for anything. What she found was a fairly quiet crowd and Dinah sitting on a barstool. She crossed the room and sat next to her. Any impulse to say ‘hiya, kid!’ was doused when she saw Dinah. Although her face was as youthful as ever, all of the youth was gone from her eyes. She smiled but her eyes didn’t.
“Wanna drink?” Dinah tossed down a shot of what looked, to Helena’s practiced eye, like whiskey. She raised a finger at the bartender, he poured another and Helena motioned that she’d have the same.
Helena held her shot glass in the air. “Salut.” Dinah tipped her glass up just enough to touch Helena’s. “Salut.”
After their shots, Dinah leaned forward and hugged Helena tightly.
As they pulled away from each other, Helena asked, “How’d you—“
”We’re on a job. It’s close and Quinn can handle it alone for about 45 minutes. She wanted me to come give you the scoop. Or what passes for the scoop.”
She lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply.
”You’re really smoking now?” Helena gently punched her arm and said playfully. “Barbara’s gonna kill you.”
“Oh yeah?” Dinah, amused, lifted an eyebrow. “Fine. Tell her she'll have to get in fucking line.”
Helena hesitated at this, at a complete loss for words.
She was so used to the energetic puppy Dinah used to be, that it was startling to be faced with such weary bitterness. She fished for a topic. “Hey—uh—how’s the shoulder?”
”Good. Great. Go team meta-human, right?”
“Yeah…you look tired, D.”
”I should. Neither of us has slept in days.”
“What do you mean? Why?”
”Doesn’t matter. Look, I only have a few minutes but what I have to say won’t take long.” She forced herself to sound more cheerful. “So what I wanna know is, how are YOU guys?”
Helena forced the cheer right back, “Well, you know—about the same. Bruce is brooding and taciturn, Dick is boyish and irrepressible, Barbara is smart and sexy, I’m…well, I’m just sexy and Alfred’s…English.”
Dinah smiled, leaned into Helena’s shoulder and let the side of her head rest on Helena’s for a few moments.
Then she sat up and returned to business. “Look, it IS going to be the night of the commissioner’s dinner. There are two bombs but we don’t know what kind or even if they’re going to be in that venue. Either way, very small teams involved. Quinn knows he’s planning to do some sort of execution killing so we can also count on small arms. In other words, not much better than nothing and everything’s up in the fucking air.”
”And that’s the best she can do?”
The answer was firm. “Yes.”
”Are you sure? I mean—what’s—how is she?”
Dinah snapped, “How IS she? She’s mentally ill, Helena. And if she had a psychic fever of 102 when you knew her, it’s 106 now. She’s redlining it every minute of the day—so that means she’s alternately loving, affectionate and gentle or disturbed, disturbing, suicidal, sadistic and sarcastic—you name it.”
Helena’s shoulders slumped. “Oh, Jesus Christ, D. You can’t go back there.”
“Sure I can.”
”No you can’t! Do you really think you can trust her?”
”So? No! You can’t go back.”
“Leaving her alone is not an option for me. Besides, she can keep it together if I’m there.” Dinah stood up from her barstool. “We’ll get the intel to you. But you’re going to have to keep on your toes because it’s going to go down to the wire.”
Dinah took one last drag at her cigarette and stubbed it out, “And we’re talking a matter of minutes. Which--hey—you gotta love when bombs are involved, huh?”
At the sight of Helena’s somber face, Dinah reached, cupped her face in one hand and teased her, “To think I’d almost forgotten how beautiful you are.”
Helena did smile at this, ”What? Hey—even Quinn can remember that.”
Dinah shook her head. “Not anymore.” She hugged Helena. “Tell Barbara thank you and that I love her. And tell everyone else I love them, too.” She pulled out of the hug. “And I love you, too. No matter what, okay?”
As Helena watched her leave, she realized, in her sinking heart, that she didn’t believe she would ever see her again.
Quinn was waiting on the street at the rendezvous time and was visibly shaken when Dinah rounded the corner, which the girl noticed.
”What? Didn’t think I’d come back?
“I wasn’t sure.”
“You think I’d leave my girl? You crazy or something?”
They both laughed as they walked to their car.
They were in bed before 11:30.
“Dinah felt Quinn stir, then get up. ”Where are you going?”
”I just realized what I have to do. I have to talk to him.”
”Now? No! No you don’t,” Dinah sat up in the bed. “Really, you don’t. Talk to him tomorrow.”
”No. It has to be tonight.”
She left without giving Dinah a chance to talk her out of it.
The Joker was seated in his office, thinking over the next few days—which promised to be…explosive! He cackled to himself and barely heard the knock on the door.
But there it was again. He frowned. “Come in.”
The Joker was surprised to see Quinn enter—at this time—and in what appeared to be pastel colored flannel pajamas. Hardly the attire for her usual—
”Jack, I need to speak to you.”
The Joker blinked a few times as he adjusted to what he’d just heard. She’d never called him Jack. Ever.
He looked at her closely. There was something different about her.
“Did you hear me, Jack?”
”Yes.” He shook his head, “What? What is it?”
“You’re planning to kill me, aren’t you?”
Okay. Hmmm. This was sort of eerie—she looked so soft and she was speaking so gently.
She pressed, “Aren’t you?”
“Why would you think that?”
“Because you’re predictable.”
“Is that right?”
“Yes. That’s right.”
The Joker was more perturbed by this than he wanted to show. She looked so small and…normal…and she just kept staring at him—and, he realized as he shook his head to clear it, speaking to him.
“That’s why I’m asking you not to force the issue—because I’ll win.”
The corners of his perma-smile lifted perceptibly. “Oh? You think so?”
She didn’t answer him; she sat in a chair and looked at the wall. “You know, Jack, in all of our years together, we’ve never talked about our feelings. Mostly, of course, because you don’t give a damn about mine and you—well,” she shrugged, “you don’t have any.”
“But I have them.” She turned to him. “Would you like to know how I feel, Jack?”
He blinked again, found himself speechless. He! At a loss for words!
”Well, I’ll tell you. Every day, no matter which way I turn, all I see is a flat grey expanse of Godforsaken bitterness. And I do mean Godforsaken in the literal sense.”
She let her head tilt slowly to one side. “You see…God has forsaken me, Jack. Nothing I will ever do can change that. And do you know how that makes me feel?"
She didn’t get an answer.
“Sad. And lonely."
He stared as she moved her head, tilted it the other way, speaking very softly, “I’m in pain, Jack. Did you know that? I’m sad. I’m lonely. And I’m in pain. Do you know how all of that combined makes me feel?”
She stood and crossed to his desk. “Do you?”
”No,” he whispered.
Her eyes wandered rather aimlessly over his face, his body, ”It makes me feel terribly…terribly desperate."
She seemed to be having trouble focusing, but had no trouble speaking, “You’re an evil…evil man, Jack Napier.” He found that he was a bit breathless at her approach. He hardly knew what she was looking at now—she was tilting her head back and forth as if to steady it.
Then, suddenly, she was looking directly into his eyes. “But you’re not sad. And you’re not lonely. And you’re not desperate. But I am. And that makes me,” she whispered as she placed one finger on his chest, “more dangerous than you.”
She leaned in to kiss him on the cheek, “’Night, Jack.”
It wasn’t until he exhaled as she left the room that he realized he’d been holding his breath.
Evening, A Few Days Later
The Joker watched from across the expanse of his staging area as Dinah and Quinn sat side by side on top of a low table, holding hands and laughing at whatever they were saying to each other.
Quinn, Quinn, Quinn.
He’d been thinking for days, trying to come to some sort of conclusion about what she’s said to him—every bit of which had rung truer to him than any spoken sentiment he’d ever encountered. So few people ever told him anything that he didn’t want to hear, and for good reason, that it excited him in a strange way.
Of course, she’d been right. He’d wanted to and, as she’d evidently been able to tell, had planned to kill her as soon as the big job was over. There were a hundred little drearily domestic reasons to do it—most of which amounted to the fact that he didn’t like being tied down and, after all, it was much easier to kill a girlfriend than to break up with one. And then there was, of course, the one big reason—a reason that was underscored by the presence of her little dark-haired psi-powered-trick-princess Dinah Wayne.
His thought was interrupted by Quinn’s merry laugh and the scowl in his eyes seemed to be magnified by the fact that it could never reach his face. It was possible that she might really understand him, he thought grimly. Harley Quinn. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know what that said about him. But, because he was by nature a cheery guy he didn’t mope over this any longer than it took to think those few thoughts. He looked across the room at his long-time lover. She was so familiar to him—and yet, now he felt unsure.
What was that idiotic song she liked so much? ‘What a Difference a Day Makes?’
I’ll say, he thought.
Now he knew it was possible to look at a person you’d known for years in an entirely different light from the basis of one ten-minute conversation. The hair on his neck suddenly stood up again as he watched Quinn and the girl hop off of the table and cross the room. He remembered Quinn’s warning—was it possible? Was she really more…
As they left the room, he realized afresh how very small they were, snorted to himself, and dismissed the thought. No! Of course she wasn’t!
At the same moment, Barbara and Helena had been having for the last 30 minutes what most parents would tell their children was a disagreement, *not* an argument. But It was the sort of disagreement that never fooled children for one moment, phrased in increasingly tense and pleasant tones, ever increasing politeness and clenched smiling—all the hallmarks of a disagreement that was actually a tremendously civil knock-down-drag-out.
”You’ll be more help with the perimeter than on the inside,” Barbara stated.
“No,” Helena countered calmly, “I’m riding with you and I’ll be by your side the entire time.”
Barbara’s voice was ominously calm. ”Tactically, given your talent for intervening in the situations we’re likely to encounter, that’s out of the question.”
Bruce and Dick, who’d arrived for dinner, and Alfred, who was preparing to serve it, all suddenly wished they were anywhere out of earshot.
“I don’t care, Barbara. I’m not leaving your side.”
“That is just not an option.”
Helena had reached the limit of her very small reserve of calm. “I don’t give a flying fuck, Barbara, whether you think it’s an option or not. It’s what I’m going to do.”
Barbara’s face assumed its best Oracle expression and her tone was Oracle’s, as well, “No. You’re on the perimeter. And that’s an order.”
Everyone’s, except Barbara’s, eyebrows crawled toward their hairlines at this.
Barbara was startled to see the sudden feral yellow of Helena’s eyes before the young woman answered, coolly, “You know what? I’m going to take an hour to decide how I feel about that.”
She stalked toward the balcony and disappeared as suddenly as she usually did.
Bruce, Dick and Alfred watched as Barbara stared after Helena, nodded as if to a question that hadn’t been asked, then scrubbed over her face with both hands. When she finally looked at the others, she chuckled dryly though her eyes were red, “Well! Ready to eat?”
Before Bruce or Alfred could reply, Dick said, “You’re such a—why do you always do that, Babs?”
He strode toward the balcony and disappeared.
Barbara sighed as she turned to look up at Alfred. “Don’t take it personally, Alfred. I’m sure dinner’s great.”
Neither Alfred nor Bruce smiled. Barbara sighed again, “Wow. Tough room.”
Dick knew Helena almost never went very far when she was having an argument with Barbara. She was too attached and too protective to put much distance between herself and the Clocktower.
Sure enough, he found her sitting on the roof of a building about two blocks away. She didn’t turn as he approached but greeted him, “Hiya bro.”
He took a seat next to her and leaned over slightly to bump her on the shoulder. “How ya doin’?”
”Why aren’t you having dinner, man?”
”Couldn’t eat. Too pissed off at Barbara.”
Dick was amused to feel Helena flinch at this—God! She was such a sucker! She was insanely pissed off at Barbara, too, but cringed at the possibility that anyone else could be.
“Go eat—I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
”Screw that. I’m not hungry.”
Helena heard a strange tone in Dick’s voice, turned and looked at him, and saw a twinkle of amusement in his eyes. “Fuck you. Don’t laugh at me.”
“I’m not laughing at you. She’s wrong—you’re right and I’m sticking up for you.”
Helena digested this for a few moments before answering, “Actually, she’s probably right. It’s probably better that I stay on the perimeter. I’m just being too—“
”That’s not the point—my problem is the way she talks to you. You’re not her fucking kid, for God’s sake.”
Helena turned away, the muscles in her jaw twitching, and Dick knew he’d hit a nerve.
After a few moments, she replied, her voice low and cool, “She doesn’t mean it when she talks to me that way.”
Dick’s voice was serious this time. “Then why does she do it so much?”
Helena’s jaw twitched again, “I guess it’s a hard habit to break. I mean, after all—she was my guardian for a lot of years. And Oracle is sorta Huntress’ boss.”
“No, she’s not.”
“What? You’re telling me Batman wasn’t Robin’s boss?”
”Well, yeah, sure. But he’s not Nightwing’s boss.”
“Okay, maybe—but you’re telling me Bruce doesn’t ever forget—and treat you that way?”
Dick started to answer, then stopped. She had him there. He couldn’t count the number of times he’d had to remind Bruce that they were both adults now. He sighed, “Maybe that’s what it’s like to have parents—no matter how old you get, part of them must always see you as a child.”
Helena snorted her assent, “I guess we’d have to ask Barbara about that. She’s the only one of us with a living parent.” Even as she said it, she remembered she was wrong. She had a living parent.
“Alright—I know—I have Bruce, but he’s not exactly a parent, is he?”
”I don’t know about that. He thinks about you—and always has—more than you’d probably believe.”
“Go eat. I’ll be there in a few—and I’ll handle it later.”
Dick could tell that now she really wanted to be alone, so he leaned over, pecked her on the cheek and stood up, “Remember, I’m on your side.”
As Helena smiled up at him, Dick was struck, yet again, at how beautiful her eyes were and at how well he knew them, since he’d known them since the day he’d met Bruce Wayne.
Since Dick had disappeared, then reappeared at the Clocktower, Barbara had been sitting with the stern reverberating disapproval of Bruce and Alfred. Every attempt on her part to start conversation went nowhere. She wondered at some length if this were how Helena felt during the many instances where she’d gone off half-cocked and had incurred the wrath of everyone in the room. She wondered if Helena were ever this confused about what, exactly, she’d done.
“She’ll be here in a few—and ready to eat.” Dick said as he smiled at Alfred. Alfred nodded and moved toward the kitchen. Dick didn’t even look at Barbara as he crossed toward Bruce, so Barbara decided to follow Alfred into the kitchen and make herself a much-needed drink.
As she entered the kitchen, Alfred was re-heating the serving plates. He turned toward her, “A drink, Miss Barbara?”
“Yes—but I can make it.”
”I will make it. Scotch, neat, perhaps?”
”Yes, thank you.”
She watched as he made the drink, then asked, almost under her breath, “What did I…how am I wrong here, Alfred?”
Alfred turned, handed her the drink, and cleared his throat. “Would you like for me to speak as your butler or as someone who’s known you for most of your life?”
Barbara leveled her eyes at him, “The latter, please.”
”Very well, Barbara.”
As he took a deep breath, Barbara realized she was suddenly nervous—he’d never called her just Barbara in her life.
”You have always had the habit, during times of stress, of treating Helena as a sort of child employee, who has neither the right nor the experience to bring anything to the table. And, of course, the entire time Dinah has been away has been a time of considerable stress for us all. Consequently, you have fallen completely into Oracle mode with Helena, a fact that has alternately dismayed and irritated everyone around you. Everyone, that is, except Helena, whom it alternately devastates and enrages.”
Alfred placed a hand on Barbara’s shoulder, “Helena is a grown woman every bit as competent and intelligent as you are in her own way. You have developed a very bad habit and, although it’s understandably ingrained from the facts of your past, it has become insulting. You must break it, young lady. And immediately.”
Barbara blinked her eyes. Wow. Even her father had never put the smack down on her like that. Maybe that’s what grandfathers were for. She took a few moments, then nodded her head. “Thank you.”
”My pleasure. Do you require anything else, Miss Gordon?”
Back to butler.
“No, Alfred. That will be all.”
Twenty minutes later, Helena reappeared, looking as if nothing had happened. She spoke lightly as she moved toward the dining room with everyone in her wake, “Man, I’m starving! Alfred, whatever it is, it smells great—let’s eat, crime-stoppers!”
As Bruce and Dick took their seats, they began, offhandedly, to discuss something that was clearly meant to give Barbara a few seconds to speak to Helena, which she took.
”Helena, look—I’m really sor—“
”We’ll talk about it later.”
“I said,” Helena intoned firmly, looking into Barbara’s eyes, “we’ll talk about it. Later.”
As Helena spoke, Barbara recognized the tone, the very words, she’d used with the younger woman countless times in the past, and as she felt the mixture of frustration and panic they invoked, she knew she had more apologizing to do than she’d realized.
As Dinah felt Quinn’s lips brush over her neck, she thought for the hundred thousandth time that civilian life was certainly going to pale to this. She and Quinn had been making out a lot more, mostly at Dinah’s insistence—and mainly because the more Quinn touched her, the more she seemed to remember whose side she was on.
Quinn pulled away from her, “Better quit there, darlin’, or I’m not going to be able to stop.”
Dinah smirked as she ran her hand over Quinn’s stomach, then around her waist, pulling her closer, “I think you’re holding on to a very antiquated age bias, Ms. Quinn. “
Quinn smiled, then nipped Dinah on the cheek. “Be that as it may, the buck stops here.”
Dinah threw herself on her back on the bed. “Quinn! You do know what’s going to happen, don’t you? I’m going to leave this situation so keyed-up, I’m going to fuck the first person who’ll put out for me!”
Quinn giggled. “So? What’s wrong with that?”
”Hello?! High school? You know what my options are going to be? Football players!”
”Surely you have cheerleaders, too.” Quinn purred.
Dinah grinned despite herself, then narrowed her eyes, “You know what? You’re a tease.”
Quinn’s eyes widened, ”Oh my God—oh my goodness. Not that! Never that! Call me a psychopath! Call me a murderer—but not a…a tease!”
Quinn giggled insanely before continuing, “You listen to me, baby. I’ve teased more cocks than you could wrap your mind or mouth around.”
“You started it. If you can’t stand the heat, stay out—“
”Yeah, yeah. I was just kidding.”
”Me too, though not about the cock-tease part.”
Although they had been kidding around, Dinah felt her stomach sinking suddenly. She’d come to understand that, with the very real sexual jealousy she felt for Quinn, she could only kid so much. She waited a few moments before continuing, “I guess you wouldn’t be talking about the Joker here, right?”
Quinn stiffened as if struck. Obviously, this had been a blow Dinah hadn’t realized would be below the belt. Quinn shrugged it off and smiled smarmily, “No, I wouldn’t. But here’s a lesson, Dinah darling. You don’t tease the people you actually want.”
Dinah swallowed hard. ”So, from that, I can infer that you don’t want me, right?”
The young girl could not decipher the look Quinn gave her before turning over in the bed and replying to the wall. “I’m tired. Of everything and everybody. Go to sleep, kid.”
Dinah turned the other way, muttering, “Fine. Fuck you, too.”
But Quinn didn’t answer.
Dinah felt tears sting her eyes.
She gently rocked back and forth on her side, her thoughts wanting her to move but knowing she had no place to go.
‘Cause If she ever made it out of this fucking hell-hole, what the fuck then? Go back to being the baby in the Clocktower and being fucking zipper-girl at that fucking high school? She wasn’t ‘that’ now. Not anymore. She didn’t know what she…
She’d had to immerse herself so completely in this experience that she didn’t know what to think, or feel. What was right? What was true? Who was she, now that she was physically, hell—in every possible way—entirely out of context?
She heard her heart pounding in her ears, behind her eyes, which made the room seem to throb as she stared at the wall. She tried to breathe deeply, but she knew it didn’t matter. She was going to die—she knew it. She was going to fail and Barbara would die and Helena. Bruce, Dick and Alfred would hate her.
The last few nights she’d lain awake knowing this and feeling so panicked that she felt her heart would beat out of her chest. Textbook panic attacks. And of course, she’d felt that way off and on for many weeks, but then she’d done what she’d always done in her mind to calm down. Although she’d never played softball or baseball as a kid, she imagined hitting ball after ball right outta the park. Smack! Home run. Smack! Home run. Thwack! Home run.
But now…now, the only thing that made her feel better, the only thing that calmed her, was to imagine destroying every last goddamned thing, and killing every last person in this shit-hole of the Joker’s. Everything and everyone but Quinn, whom she would *have* and whether Quinn wanted it or not.
So…she breathed deeply and concentrated…played out this fantasy to the end and it calmed her, as it always did. And then she cried, quietly, as if her heart were breaking, because it was.
Barbara woke up feeling as tired as she ever had in her life because she hadn’t really slept at all. She had, rather, stayed parked in her mind’s garage, engine idling in a strangely irritating half-sleep. She opened her eyes and found herself looking into Helena’s eyes. Which was startling, because Helena had insisted on sleeping on the couch.
Barbara began to speak, realized she was croaking, then cleared her throat before yawning as she asked, “I’m sorry about—“ She stopped, remembering Helena had told her she didn’t want to talk about it, so she settled for, “Couldn’t sleep either?”
Helena spoke through an answering yawn, “Nope. But I enjoyed watching you pretend to sleep for a while.”
“Why didn’t you say something?”
”Because you’re cute when you doing what you’re obviously not really doing—and even cuter when I can tell you think I don’t know.”
Barbara raised herself up on one elbow, rested her head on her hand. “What does that mean?”
Helena rolled her eyes, “Ohmigod. You’re kidding, right?”
“No—what? Name one time.”
Helena rose, matched Barbara’s position, to answer her, then looked down at the comforter as if deep in thought, murmuring, “Gee whiz, there’re…so…many, I can’t…”
This earned her a play-smack on the hand from Barbara, who chuckled as she said, “You’re full of shit. Name just one.”
Helena looked up at her, her eyes alight with amusement.
“Okay, how many times do you think you’ve acted all angry-like after something I’ve done on a sweep and undressed me with your eyes at the same time you’re yelling at me?”
Barbara’s blush was her only response.
“And I promise you, you pull out Oracle with me all the time.” Helena’s tone was teasing, “I think it’s cute, though. I do! But c’mon! You don’t think I can tell what you’re thinking?”
“I would imagine it must be boring for you to live with someone who’s so predictably transparent.”
Helena realized the woman was misunderstanding a vital point. She reached forward and took Barbara’s hand. “Barbara, you’re not transparent at all, darlin’, and half the time I have no idea where your mind is. “
“Oracle, though, is a different matter. I can read her like a kid’s book. So when you get all discombobulated and try to be all ‘stern and Oracle’ with me off-comm, at home—which you *do* more than probably realize—I have to admit sometimes I’m laughing my ass off inside.“
She hesitated before somberly adding, “Though actually I’m usually feeling about 15 years old and like I’m getting busted by my guardian Barbara again. Which sorta hurts my feelings.”
Barbara’s face was serious, “I do that a lot?”
Helena was gracious, “Not ‘a lot a lot’—but more than you probably think. And especially more so since this Dinah/Quinn thing started.”
“I’m sorry, honey. I guess when I’m worried, I do go into Oracle-mode.”
“Yeah well, that’s probably just one of the hazards of having crime fighting alter-egos.” Helena moved closer to Barbara and took her into arms and hugged her before resting her head on her shoulder.
“I think you’re right, and you certainly deserve better than that from me.” Barbara sighed before she continued, “can we talk more about this after the gig? I don’t think I can concentrate on anything else right now. Just know that your message has been received and that I’ll really try to change because, more than anything, I want us to be okay.”
Helena pulled away to look at Barbara and her smile was beatific. “Oh, we’re okay. It’s just been on my mind lately and it suddenly seemed like a good time to clear the air a little.”
Because Helena had no way of knowing Alfred had already read Barbara the riot act, she couldn’t know that Barbara had watched and been moved by how kindly the younger woman had skirted around the subject, had appreciated how much slack Helena had given her and how easily she’d let her off the hook. She also couldn’t know that Barbara had a new, surprised, respect for how much kinder, and more tolerant, her partner was than she.
They lay there for a few minutes, then Barbara offered, “Wanna make out?”
Helena thought about this for a beat, then said, “Nope.”
“Why do you think that is?”
Barbara tousled Helena’s hair. “Because danger is sometimes sexy; foreboding never is.”
Helena knew exactly what she meant.
The Next Afternoon ***
Just before lunch, Quinn joined the Joker to go over the plans for the Commissioner’s Dinner. After he’d finished briefing her, Quinn’s smile was brittle.
“But Puddin’, I thought you said there were going to be explosives!”
”There are—just not…there.”
The Joker pulled her into a hug and as he pushed her away again, he slapped her on the ass, and said with a sing-song voice. “I’ll never tell-ell—I’ll never—tell-ell.”
His voice grew stern again, “That’s a ‘day-of’ piece of information. Too many cooks spoil the broth.”
“But…Puddin’, Quinn moved right back to his side, slid one hand toward the zipper in his pants, “surely you can tell me.”
He grabbed her and threw her on her back on his desk, looming over her, “why do you want to know so bad? Or, shall I say *who*, exactly, wants to know?”
He was dragging her pants off and undoing his, which made her head throb as she looked at the ceiling. Fuck! She hated how much she—
She inhaled sharply as he moved and his face was suddenly leering over hers, “WHO wants to know?”
She could never think straight when this was happening—who was it who wanted to know? Who?
She looked up into his eyes and ran her hands through his hair. He was such…a…brutal man—and she hated him but she really—
She whispered, “You. Harder.”
He cackled as he bent closer. “What’s this little plan called again?”
She gasped. “Divide…and…conquer.”
She grabbed the cloth on the back of his shirt, pulled him tighter. He laughed again—what a pushover--she was almost there…he pulled away slightly and looked at her as he said, “And you know who’s going to be divided?”
She felt hardly conscious at this moment, only vaguely nodded her head no. His leer seemed omnipresent, then he leaned in to whisper as he moved, “Dinah Wayne—from that Bat-Daddy of hers.”
As Quinn felt her brain nearly explode with her climax, her eyes flew open.
Minutes later ****
A very pale Quinn entered the kitchen as Dinah was fixing sandwiches for their lunch. Dinah recognized with growing trepidation that she was being kept rather ostentatiously out of the loop in the final preparations for the Commissioner’s Dinner gig. She really didn’t know whether it bode well that Quinn seemed to be, to some degree, back in the Joker’s good graces and whether that had anything to do with the previous night’s unpleasantness. Either way, disgusting as it was, there was nothing she could do but wait, play the good little housewife and make lunch.
Quinn pecked her on the cheek and hugged her. “I’m sorry about last night.”
Dinah shrugged, “Doesn’t matter.”
”Yes it does. I heard you crying.”
Dinah turned to her, her face stony. ”So?”
”So, I’m sorry that I can’t give you what you want. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you.”
”Yeah.” Dinah turned back toward the food. “Whatever.”
The girl felt, rather than saw, Quinn start abruptly as she looked at the cheese Dinah had just placed on her turkey. She stared at it, transfixed, for a few seconds and then said almost inaudibly, ‘declaration of independence.”
Quinn was speaking to her sandwich, “when, in the course of sandwich events, it sometimes becomes necessary for an ingredient to dissolve the bands which have connected it with another.”
Dinah’s heart leaped into her throat—not this, not now! Her voice was suddenly pleading, “Quinn? Are you—”
“Am I what?” Quinn turned to Dinah as she lifted the cheese off the turkey, “I don’t like Swiss on turkey.”
Quinn looked into Dinah’s anxious eyes and burst into laughter as she put the cheese on another plate, “Honest to Pete, Dinah, look at your face! I was just kidding.”
Dinah was too absorbed in her own thoughts to see the pinched, pale look in Quinn’s features, noticed only kindly humor in her eyes, and grinned despite herself. “That’s not funny, crazy-woman!”
“Yes it is, baby, and you know it.” Quinn laughed feebly and kissed her again.
Dinah growled as she poured two glasses of water. “I’m still pissed off at you.”
Quinn tilted her head to one side, “I know—but you still think I’m cute, right?”
Dinah rolled her eyes, then relented with a smile, knowing that these would be the few happy-ish moments this day would contain. Yet another thing this experience was teaching her—just like Quinn, she could be murderously angry, violently aroused and wretchedly happy with the same person, all on the same day, and sometimes even in the same hour.
Robert placed the box he was carrying softly on the ground, stood up and stretched. No wonder people led a life of crime—the straight life was so much harder on the back He lit a cigarette and retraced his steps to the truck, one of many, that he knew held hundreds of back-breaking boxes that he’d be carrying or dollying a tremendous distance over this field.
He cursed himself—he’d let a girl—that Dinah girl—get to him. As he approached the truck, his sense of honor made him admit to himself that it wasn’t just that Dinah girl, it had been that Quinn woman and that Joker…freak who had scared him straight. He wondered whether and how long this change of heart would last. On one hand, the pay sucked and it was killing his back—on the other, it was sorta nice to drive somewhere and have a cop slip behind him in traffic without panicking. Not to mention all the cops that were surrounding this workspace.
He thought again about the paycheck he’d be getting at the end of the week and cursed softly. He took another drag, tossed the cigarette on the ground and stubbed it out. As he picked up the butt, a thought came to his mind unbidden—maybe his father was right—maybe he did need to go back to school.
Jesus! Where did that come from?!
He’d found, as young an adult as he still was, that it was a particularly galling part of growing up—to find out that your parents had been right—about a lot of things.
He walked up the ramp into the truck and was met by two strange workmen: They’d placed a large box on a handcart for him.
“Where are Pete and Kenny?”
One of the new workers replied, “Comm needed them on rigging prep—so they sent us over.”
As Robert maneuvered, he looked the two men over again—they looked familiar. Where had he seen them?
“Do I know you guys?”
The other man looked at him with cold eyes. “No. You don’t.” The answer was not just an answer—it was an order. He wasn’t to know them, even if he did.
A liquid thrill went through him. That’s where he’d seen them! In another staging area—these were the Joker’s men!
Robert shrugged, “My mistake.” Whatever this was, he didn’t want to be on the wrong end of it, so he played dumb, “Hey—what kind of audience are they expecting?”
“They’re thinking at least 750-800,000, easy—or as many as the Park will hold.”
“Damn! That’s huge! Pretty ballsy in this day and age.”
“Uh huh. Sure is.” The man’s face was expressionless.
Robert chuckled nervously, “Well, better get to it!” As he took the handcart and wheeled the box down the ramp, he noticed he’d smudged the paint on the black hard-case, freshly stenciled paint that read:
Robert had finished his work for the day and was walking through the park just as a corpulent man walked past him, braying into a cellphone.
"Yeah, the fire marshal already approved them. Honest to God, they're just fireworks! You act like none of us have done this before."
The man listened to whatever answer he was getting before his face softened a bit, "Yeah, well, I know you're nervous, but there's no reason to be. You'll see. Everyone's going to have a great time. It'll be amazing."
The man's conversation disappeared into the other noises of the park as Robert continued walking. He had every reason to believe things were not going to go well, but he felt a morbid desire to find out just how badly things were going to go. Not that he wanted to be on the bad end of it—he just knew that the presence of the Joker's men had to bode badly for the concert-going experience.
He hesitated as he thought about whether he should attend the concert or not. He had the equivalent of a backstage pass and it would be a shame not to use it for U2. He'd been quick enough to get out of the Joker's way once; surely he could do it again?
The Morning of Commissioner Gordon's Appreciation Dinner
"I'm telling you, it's never what you think it'll be, Barbara. He always goes for something that surprises you."
Barbara's answer was so deadpan that Dick almost smacked his forehead. Barbara was the last person on Earth who needed a helpful warning about the Joker.
He turned toward Helena, whose expression and tilted head said, "Duh, dipshit." Okay. Maybe she didn't need any advice either.
He looked around the room, then down at the table, then stood up and started pacing. He, or rather Nightwing, was going be outside the venue—at the periphery of the event. It would be tactically unreasonable to have all of them in the same room. Which made him nervous. They were all nervous. The bait of Barbara had to be offered in a convincingly vulnerable way or the rat wouldn't enter the trap. They were counting on having a bigger trap than the rat's but were well aware that, while planning to trick and surprise the Joker, he was planning to trick and surprise them, too. This, however, was what they'd been waiting for and he felt almost nauseated by the desire to have the evening over and done with.
Even after the seemingly millionth iteration of their plan, Bruce was still not satisfied. They were used to his brooding but this something else. His mood was almost a physical presence—like having Bruce, Batman, and perhaps Hamlet's ghost in the room at the same time. Although Barbara had as good, or better, reason to be anxious, it was Dick and Bruce who were giving her heart palpitations.
"Bruce, Dick, for the love of God, *please* sit down."
Dick sank into a chair. Bruce didn't. "I can't, Barbara. There's something I'm missing."
"You aren't missing anything—except the chance to relax before this evening."
Bruce exhaled slowly, then went outside.
"Wow. I think he's literally worn a path in the floor," Helena observed.
As soon as her last word left Helena's mouth, Bruce reappeared, retracing his steps excitedly. "That's it. I knew there was something else!" If they anticipated an explanation, they realized they weren't going to get one as they watched him stride toward the elevator, saying over his shoulder, "I'll see you there—time and places as planned." With that, the doors closed and he disappeared.
"Okay. Bye, Bruce," Barbara offered dryly to the vacant space.
They looked at the elevator and each other but didn't even bother to make a conjecture about his departure. They had no idea where he was going but knew that he'd show up exactly as planned for the event, dressed as formally and impeccably as always. As they would all be.
One Week Earlier
Actually, planning evening wear for the event hadn't been as easy as it might have been. Barbara had found it difficult to find a dress that was formal, would cover the Kevlar vest she'd be wearing, and not make her look like she was wearing Moms-R-Us. Wayne Corp. scientists had taken a lot of the bulk out the vest, but it remained a vest and difficult to dress around. So she was stuck with choosing a dress that was a great deal more matronly than she would have liked. She didn't mind particularly—she was in no mood to be shot by the Joker again and knew that crime-fighting sometimes had fashion consequences.
Helena did not know any such thing and wouldn't have acknowledged it if she had. She'd tried on many dresses for Barbara's opinion and had gone into the bathroom to change because she felt Barbara would be able to concentrate more fully if not watching her taking off her clothes multiple times. She did not tell Barbara this—she told her that she wanted each dress's effect to be all-at-once visually.
They were on the fifth dress, which Helena felt really good about. She stepped out of the bathroom, twirled around and asked hopefully, `Whaddayouthink?"
Barbara's eyes widened, "Oh. My. God."
"Only if Bruce's having an aneurism is good."
Helena stamped her foot. "Damnit! You're kidding, right?"
"No. I'm not. Look—you're the one who said you wanted something Bruce would approve of."
Helena had actually said that she wanted something that she could move quickly in yet not so skimpy that Bruce would feel awkward seeing her out of the house in it. As Helena had voiced this apprehension to Barbara, the older woman had smiled inwardly, thinking that only a few months before, Helena would never have taken her father or his feelings into consideration.
"Look how modestly it's cut! What's wrong with it?"
"Nothing, honey—except the material is a bit sheer, don't you think? I mean, it's cut modestly because you can see right through it. "
"You can see through this?"
"Look in the mirror."
Helena eye's widened much as Barbara's when she turned toward the full length mirror. Evidently it was stealth material—it certainly hadn't looked like this in the light of store or the bathroom.
She raised an appreciative eyebrow. "Wow. Not bad, Kyle." She turned, looked over her shoulder, "Not bad at all."
"When you're through admiring yourself, go try on something else."
"Look—you can see my tattoo!"
"Yes. I see that, sweetheart. Run along and put on some clothes."
A certain tone in Barbara's voice made Helena look down at her with a smirk.
"Barbara Gordon. Are you saying you really want me to put on some clothes?"
Clearly, Barbara wasn't as transparent as Helena's dress. "Actually, I'm saying the sooner we find your dress, the sooner we can get you out of it."
Quinn lay in bed mulling over some of the particulars of the entertainment they would be providing that evening. She felt clearer than she had in weeks. She'd kept one of Barbara's injections for this day—a secret even from Dinah. She hadn't told Dinah because she wanted the girl to be hyper-vigilant where everyone was concerned, even with her. Quinn had gotten up and used the injection in the middle of the night. If this were going to be her last day on Earth, she'd spend it sane.
She'd gone back to sleep and had woken up an hour previously but didn't want to wake Dinah. The girl needed as much sleep as she could get before their evening's work. She touched Dinah's hair softly. One way or another, this night would be the end of their time together. She would never again wake with this person next to her and just as likely never see another morning at all. Quinn looked at Dinah's soft, peaceful features and felt even sadder than she'd imagined. She sighed and turned her mind to the issue at hand. Crime, and crime-fighting for that matter, was no place to be sentimental.
The big bang was going to be a really big bang and the mathematics of that was unquestionable. She had calculated the amount of explosives that had gone out of the staging area. Wherever it was going off would cause massive damage and/or loss of life. That amount of explosives would evaporate the venue where Gordon's dinner was being held. It had to be somewhere else, because that would be entirely unlike the Joker—to blow the dinner up would mean he'd miss Barbara's fear and pain. As well as her family's and Batman's. No.That wouldn't be her Joker.
The Joker. She thought about how very strangely the world had turned out for her, after all. Strange that she'd fallen for Jack all those years ago, stranger that Jack was planning to kill her, strangest of all that she was going to betray him. Just like Julius Caesar.
Et tu, Brute?
You too, Harley?
Dinah heard the faraway sound of someone calling her, then felt herself jostled forcefully. She sat up like a shot. "What!? Let's go!"
Quinn's eyes were as big as golf balls. "The bombs! I know where they are."
Dinah felt a surge of adrenaline course through her, "Where?"
"Somewhere at the U2 concert. Think about it—there'll be more than half a million people there."
The girl thought about the ramifications of that. "Of course. Has to be—that would be perfect. We have to tell the Clocktower now."
"There's no way. Even If we can get to a houseline, it'd be bugged."
"Aren't there any cells that work down here?"
Quinn thought for a few seconds. "He has one that he uses in his office but that's still questionable. Get dressed and go keep him company and I'll see what it looks like."
"What about tonight?"
"This doesn't change anything about tonight. We have no choice—he may not stage something like this for another year. We've both got to stay with him or the gig's up. The folks in the Clocktower will just have to split up when we get them the news."
As Dinah hurried to dress, Quinn felt a chill as she remembered the name of the Joker's plan—Divide and Conquer.
Quinn would have been surprised to know that the Joker was, even at that moment, still having second thoughts about killing her. He weighed the pros and cons for the fifteenth time that morning.
Pro: 1. V. funny, 2. Fantastic in bed, 3. Ruthless, 4. V. smart 5. Crazy as batshit
Con: 1. Crazy as batshit 2. Feels like wife 3. Annoying amount of civility shows through 4. Blonde psi-princess potentially dangerous 5. V. secretive. Secretive about big things.
The pros and cons were even up to the last point but that point was the capper—the thing that tipped the scale over to the `have to kill her' side.
Because, if Quinn was sleeping with Wayne's daughter, she had to know the big Wayne secret. Not, of course, that *he* didn't know it—just that he knew she hadn't known he knew it. And after she knew it, and hadn't told him, that meant she was capable of keeping almost anything from him. He could also tell she hadn't told Dinah that he knew it, which was doubly deceptive.Batman's civilian identity. Surely she knew he must know it—she couldn't be stupid enough to think that he was that stupid, could she?
Sure, he'd had to sit in Arkham Asylum for a few years before it'd come to him—and in a Eureka! moment as pure as surely any such moments in history. He'd cackled wildly, doubled over in mirth at his years of idiocy. It was the purest sort of empirical deduction: 1. Batman was some lantern-jawed justice freak. Check. 2. Bruce Wayne, a lantern-jawed billionaire, seemed always to be nearly everywhere anything was about to happen. Check. 3. As soon as things got sticky, Bruce invariably disappeared and Batman appeared. Check. 4. He'd looked at Bruce Wayne's build and his face/eyes; and encountered Batman again and again and looked into those dark brooding blue eyes…
He cackled again at the memory. The people working in the staging area turned toward him and although he, naturally, continued to smile, the look on his face made them turn back to their work immediately.
After having given it more thought, he'd decided that he and Bruce must have had, over the years, an implicit sort of gentleman's agreement between them. Bruce had to know that he'd find out eventually. He'd probably also known that the Joker wouldn't dream of blabbing it to anyone when he did find out. Perhaps, after all, they truly understood each other on a level most people couldn't appreciate. Maybe that's why he'd never killed Batman, although he'd had the chance more than once. Then again, for some people, hurting the people around them was far more brutal than actually killing them.
The result of the bungled Barbara Gordon caper and his imprisonment had surprised him at the time. He'd known it would hurt Batman, but he hadn't counted on how much. Barbara was, for some reason, so important to Batman that he'd disappeared for years after she'd been shot and had only resurfaced after his nemesis had escaped. No Joker, no Batman. Maybe that was it. They needed each other. He had to admit that crime would be far, far less satisfying without Batman around. Almost too easy. Maybe crime-fighting was too easy for Batman without him around.
Who knew? He only knew that there were no circumstances he could imagine in which would he kill Batman. He would hurt him as badly as he possibly could, would happily make Batman wish himself dead, but he wouldn't kill him. He knew Batman felt the same way about him. The Joker also recognized that he'd have the advantage forever because, while Batman only wanted to capture and imprison him, he considered everyone connected with Batman fair game for as rough as he wanted to play.
He really could hardly wait for the excitement to begin. A movement across the room caught his eye. Speaking of excitement.
"Dinah darling! How are you this morning?"
Dinah was walking toward him, smoking her morning's first cigarette. "Great, Bozo, how `bout you?"
"On top of the world. I've never been married, thank God, but I imagine this is what the lucky groom feels on the day he's to be wed."
Dinah play punched him in the chin then took a seat on the table the Joker was leaning against. They watched as the men continued their preparations.
"Just like a wedding, it's such a production when you think about how so little actual time is spent during the ceremony itself."
Dinah took a pull on her cigarette. "Is that how you think about it? As a ceremony?"
"Of sorts. Where's our girlfriend?"
"Ah. Speaking of dressing, I took the liberty of stealing a few dresses for you to try on for tonight."
Dinah's heart leaped up in her throat. "I'm not wearing a dress. I'm working."
"I know. Working your father."
"But he'll know something's up as soon as I show up."
"I want him to know something's up."
They both looked up to see Quinn walking across the staging area waving a cellphone. "What's up with this phone?"
The Joker's voice was as smooth as silk, "Why do you need a phone, lambie-pie?"
Quinn's voice was smoother. "I want to order a pizza, Puddin."
He threw his head back and cackled. "For breakfast! That's so like you," he said to Quinn. He turned to Dinah. "Maybe you've noticed that? Imminent danger always makes her hungry. "
Quinn reached the table, tip-toed up to kiss him on the cheek, smashed a kiss onto Dinah's mouth and turned so they were all facing the same way. "So, what about it?"
"Sorry, my dear. I think it's best that we stay electronically incommunicado today."
"Fine. Send someone out."
"Alright. I'll do that while you help Dinah decide what she's wearing to meet Daddy tonight."
Quinn didn't bat an eye. "Oh? So we're showing Wayne some of our cards right away?"
"It would be helpful if he were out of the way, don't you think?"
"I suppose so. What's she going to say that'll get him out of the way?"
"If she tells him where our two little bombs are, he'll really just have to do something about it, won't he? I'm sure you've both noticed that he can't keep his nose out of other people's business."
"You have a point."
Quinn could, without looking at her, feel Dinah's anxiety rising over the thought of what the Joker might know about Batman. Quinn's mind worked at light-speed. So—he wanted to get rid of Batman—and presumably Nightwing if there were two bombs. Leaving she, Dinah and Helena to protect Barbara from 50 armed men and the Joker. Well, well. Goddamn, he was good.
"I'm starving, Puddin."
They were all going to be on comm; the miniature size of the equipment would make its effective range fairly short but within and just without the building would be all they really needed. Part of their plan was to leave too few people guarding two of the entrances so that Joker could infiltrate the building relatively easily. They were counting on the fact that the Joker very rarely held hostages and had always felt it somewhat beneath him to stage a bloodbath he'd have to watch. Not that he minded bloodshed—he just liked it wrapped in a surprise or something unusual. The unusual would not include shrieking dinner guests begging for their lives. They assumed that robbery would not be the motive—that grabbing Barbara and getting something out of Bruce via his faux-daughter Dinah would be the actual targets.
Helena and Barbara stood while Dick walked around the Clocktower testing their transceivers and speaking test phrases into their ears. After they'd done the last bit of preparation, they sat quietly for a couple of minutes. Helena had chosen sleek black pants with a scandalous top that was covered, for the most part, by a sleek black jacket. There had been literally no dress she'd consider wearing that Barbara thought Bruce would approve of. This was probably better anyway.
Barbara didn't look at all as if she were bundled in the most hi-tech ballistic protection on the planet. She looked surprisingly slender and fashionable, if a bit modestly patrician.
"I think we're ready. What do you think?"
Helena and Dick felt less sure of themselves but stood up, ready to get going.
As Barbara rolled toward the elevator, she said, firmly, "We'll be back in five hours. All of us."
"God willing." All three of them whispered it under their breath.
"Well, Dinah my dove, don't you look pretty?" The Joker offered as she entered the staging area. He was dressed in a dark green tuxedo and was adjusting his tie. Later in the evening, when Dinah and Helena saw each other, they'd be stunned by how similar their outfits were.
"You didn't like the dresses I got you?"
"I did—but a dress doesn't really go with how I'm feeling tonight."
Quinn walked into the room in her full Harlequin regalia.
"You don't feel like a dress either, Harley darling?"
"I thought this would be nice—for old time's sake."
"That's my girl—sentimental to the bone." He kissed her on the cheek as his men began to file into the staging area. All of them wore tuxedos; masks were hanging at their necks and they had shouldered their weapons.
"Hello, boys!" The Joker turned between the men and the women—"No reason not to keep the look of the evening formal, is there?"
He turned toward the women. "Dinah. I'll tell you the exact location of the bombs in the van. You'll enter the room, go directly to your father and give him this location. After you do this, you will immediately disable the security cameras in the room; they are located over each entrance and exit. When we see the cameras go black, we'll enter the room. When that happens, wait for further orders. Quinn, you'll stay with me."
"Always, Puddin'," Quinn purred.
This was it. Dinah felt her mouth go dry. "Don't we need to know where we're taking Barbara Gordon?"
He looked down at her and his eyes were very cold. "Who said we're taking her anywhere?"
It was unfortunate that the evening was going to be spoiled, Commissioner Gordon thought as he looked out at the crowd. It was really a lovely affair. The mayor, the governor and both senators were here. That probably wasn't wise—but Batman was very sure that they weren't targets. They, had of course, been told of the possible danger but the fact that it was an election year wouldn't let any of them back down once the mayor insisted on going. The mayor was in a tight race and any bit of derring-do, followed by press coverage was likely to help. Bruce Wayne was there, of course, sitting close to the stage with a table of Wayne Corp. guests.
Gordon had been working the crowd, going from table to table as his guests ate. He went to the front of the room, climbed the few steps to the low stage and took a seat at the table of honor. He noticed that Barbara and Helena had barely eaten a thing. He looked down at his plate. Come to think of it, he wasn't very hungry either.
Barbara smiled at her father, leaned over and kissed him. She had been talking to Dick and Bruce during the evening and no one beside Helena had seemed to notice she was talking to her own neck.
Forty-five minutes after the beginning of the event, they all heard Nightwing's quiet <Okay, guys. Here we go.>
A couple of minutes later they watched as Dinah appeared at the entrance, looked over the crowd and walked straight toward Bruce's table.
Bruce stood to greet her, and kissed her on the cheek. "Dinah. So good to see you." She smiled up at him and whispered through her smile. "Two bombs. Under U2's stage, Central Park. Must be disarmed simultaneously. He said *you* should go stage right." She continued to smile as she reached for his arm and slid his sleeve up to reveal his watch. "You have 19 minutes."
Bruce merely muttered, "Copy that?" to his transceiver. He heard three affirmatives as he watched Dinah point to the exits in turn. All three watched as the security cameras crumpled, one after another, into useless metal on their platforms.
They watched from the floor and the stage as the Joker's tuxedoed masked-men fanned into the room. The speed and overwhelming force of the intrusion were astonishing.
There were shouts and sharp screams of alarm that hushed immediately when the Joker and Harley Quinn entered the room. The hush that fell over the room was ominous.
Broken only by the Joker, "Let's get this party started!"