Jonathan Crane woke up at precisely 6:00 A.M., the same time he does every weekday morning when he has work to do at his lab across town. Even this early in the morning, the shouts of his rebellious neighbors and the constant TV buzzing above his apartment room were still as loud as ever.
Something crashed upstairs and the man who sat around and got drunk all day yelled at his wife. The whole city could have heard their argument. Jonathan rolled his eyes as he came out of his morning shower and put on his clothes, making sure his vest and tie were neatly fastened and looking sharp. He wiped his glasses clean and ran a comb through his midnight black hair quickly so it would be only slightly wavy, not tangled, when it dried.
He fed his black cat and left his apartment room with a few loving strokes to the feline and another check on his appearance through the mirror on the wall. He walked down to the parking lot of his apartment complex with his hands in his jacket pockets, accepting the daily greetings of the city. Cars in the distance, people murmuring to each other on the street, a few homeless people pushing dingy old shopping carts on the sidewalk. Not the best part of town, but it sure could be a lot worse.
He slipped in his old grey car and drove the long twisting route to his lab, hidden in an even junkier part of town. The trip took an hour to complete, and he always observed his surroundings for any suspicious signs of cops on his trail. You never know. Maybe Batman was secretly an officer himself. Maybe he was an expert detective of the GPD. Maybe he stalked his city's biggest criminals during the day as well as the night. Jonathan was always careful, and hence, he never got caught. Well, almost never.
Crane slipped into his lab just as the sun rose over the smoggy city. It was a nice cloudless day, and Jonathan wanted to spend it inside his lab, testing out his new concoctions and experiments. He worked for a few hours at the lab, happily concentrating. He checked his calendar on one of his many frequently used desks, jotting down dates and formula I.D.'s as his eyes flickered back and forth.
November 16th. That was the date today. He ignored the number. Crane hadn't celebrated his birthday in years, and it really didn't matter anymore. He stopped having parties when he stopped having friends, and that dated all the way back to junior high school. Children celebrate birthdays, he had grown up.
Suddenly the back double doors swung open and bashed against the wall with a bang. Jonathan jumped, scared shit as the one man he did NOT want to see on his birthday strolled right into his lab, purple coat billowing behind his stride. "Jonny, Jonny, Jonneh!!!" Joker bellowed enthusiastically, delivering a poor excuse for a greeting.
Jonathan cringed, standing as still as a stature like a fawn hiding from its hunter. Joker pointed at him and grinned with a smirk, still approaching with a little hop in his step. "I hearrrrrd
. that someonnnne
has a BIRTHday today
If Jonathan had a gun, he would have shot himself. This crazy bastard knew his birth date!!! Much to Jonathan's relief, Joker stopped walking toward him and spread his arms with a turn of his head, basking in his triumphant victory and seeming to be asking for a hug. Jonathan yelled at him, getting over his shock and astonishment. "You get outta my laboratory!" He took a big step towards the intruding clown and shoved him away as hard as he could. "Or I'll experiment on your dead body!" How did Joker even know where his lab was!? Why did he keep coming here every few weeks and interrupt his work!?
Joker laughed at the scientist's little rage. Jonathan gritted his teeth and planned his next attack. Joker stopped laughing and looked genuinely sorry. "Aw, I just wanted to give you a present, come on Jonny!"
Great, now the clown was having puppy eyes. Jonathan stared him down. "I'd rather die than receive a gift from you. OUT!" He threw his scolding finger at the door showing him the exit. Joker started to pull something out of his pocket. "It's not even a 'gift', reeeeeally, it's just a"
"Gun? Knife? Grenade? I'm not stupid!" Jonathan stepped back and grabbed a needle off his desk to defend himself with, certain that the madman would whip out some sort of weapon.
Joker rolled his eyes and smiled to himself. "I love my reputation." Jonathan tensed up, ready to fight or duck or dodge or something as Joker simply flipped out a harmless piece of paper. "It's just a note, Jonny! Jeez, paranoid or something?!"
Jonathan just eyed the paper suspiciously. Joker held it out to him and Jonathan leaned away, looking at Joker's painted face to detect any sign of danger. "You remind me of a henchman I used to have. Schizophrenic. Shiffy, I think his name was
or schiffy, or shifty? I don't remember. Some Arkham patient." Joker looked around the lab, still holding out the paper to Crane. "You gonna take the paper or am I gonna stand here all day?" He sneered, finally getting impatient.
"It came from you, who the hell knows what it could be." Jonathan stayed still, his hand still resting on the needle on his desk, just in case.
"It's not a damn bomb, good grief!" Joker unfolded the paper himself and flicked it carelessly in Jonathan's general direction. "I've got places to go, people to interrogate yadda yadda yadda. I'm going to leave the almighty 'Master of Fear' to analyze his stupid paranoia of a silly little paper."
Jonathan took his eyes off the paper on his grey laboratory floor and watched Joker walk out with a dramatic salute. After a few minutes, Jonathan sighed and decided the paper was truly just a paper. He was surprised to see nice handwriting in a dark red pen, looking so flawless, it was hard to tell if it was printed from a computer or not.
Jonathan smiled slightly to himself. Harley's handwriting. He would recognize it anywhere.
Dear Mr. Fear
First of all, happy birthday! How old are you now? 50? I'm just kidding, we all know you're 150. I haven't seen you in a while and I thought it would be nice of me to take you out to lunch today. How about the sandwich joint on 33rd and Arcellion Street? 2:00? Alright! See ya there!
Giggles from The Diamond Queen
P.S. This is NOT a date, no matter how much Joker wants it to be!
Jonathan couldn't stop a humorous smile from bubbling up. He folded the paper back up and grabbed his jacket from his chair.
"Who is that old man!?" Harley grinned as Jonathan approached her in the alleyway next to the sandwich deli. Jonathan ignored her joke and they exchanged a small friendly hug. They were both dressed as normal people, and Harley wore as little red as possible, much to her obvious disappointment. Her blonde hair was down, swishing along her shoulders with every move of her head and dyed with some streaks of brown that Jonathan assumed were able to wash out easily with water.
"How are you?" He asked, leaning against the building calmly. "Super duper!" She grinned with a small energetic fist pump in the air. Jonathan liked the pleasantly good mood she was in. She was always so positive and happy.
"Should we go in?" Crane offered, smiling into her sparkling blue eyes. She checked her watch and glanced around him to the street where a few cars passed and shoppers talked amongst their groups. This was a classier part of town, empty of homeless people or punks ready to pull a gun on you for no reason. "Well, actually I need to give J something first. He's gonna go play around while we eat." Harley stated plainly. "In fact he's laaaate!" She sang softly, fidgeting in the cold air. It was the time of year where fall transfers into winter.
Jonathan helped her look around, hoping to himself that Joker wouldn't be here long. How was he going to show up outside in public? Was he going to be disguised, or in his famous purple attire? Turned out, he showed up only partially disguised, with a big brown coat instead of his purple one and a wide brimmed hat that hid his half painted face when he tilted his head a certain way.
Harley hugged him as he came up from another alley behind them, keeping out of the public eye as much as he could. He ignored her and adjusted his hat as she snuggled up to him for warmth and pulled a gun out from her purse, which was nothing but a temporary prop for today. Joker made sure the gun was fully loaded, then slipped it in his inside pocket. "You kids have fun. I know I will." He smiled down at Harley, seeming as if he acknowledged her only after she gave him what he came for.
Jonathan scratched the back of his neck, looking away as Harley stole her chance to delve into a passionate kiss. The awkward moment lasted a good 10 seconds, and the time went by painfully slow. Finally Joker made Harley stop, smiling down smugly at his little worshipper. Jonathan's attention turned back to the couple as Joker gave Harley a hard pat on the cheek. It was really more of a little slap.
Harley smiled as he left, walking back down the way he had come, still keeping out of the public eye. Jonathan led her in the deli, discreetly looking at her face to see if her 'boyfriend' had left a red mark. She smiled up at him innocently, without even a hint of a red mark, as they got a table together and ordered a couple of sandwiches.
As the waiter left their table, Jonathan folded his napkin in his lap, looking up at Harley across from him. "Really? How are you?"
"Really, I'm super duper." She grinned. Jonathan decided to let the subject go. She was apparently fine. They talked and ate for a good half hour, laughing and smiling constantly, like two old friends. She listened to his ideas and scientific studies while he let her talk about her frequent and intense encounters with the Batman himself. She didn't talk about Joker a lot, since they were in a public restaurant, and Jonathan was glad.
Harley paid for the check, but they still stayed at their table and talked after they paid. "I'm sorry I couldn't get you a real present" She smiled with a good-natured wink at him. "I owe you one."
"There's really no need, its fine." He protested. This little get-together was great enough.
"It's your birthday! Of course there's a need! Just a little favor or something!, I owe ya!" She insisted happily.
.A time machine." He said after thinking. "I don't suppose you can get that, though." He put his napkin on the table from his lap, thinking deeply.
"What would you use it for? Oh wait let me guess!" She grinned still in good spirits. "League of Shadows! When Batman first appeared. You want to change one thing about that moment, don't you? So your plan could work?" She whispered to him enthusiastically.
I wish I could change something far
far before that." He thought out loud quietly, staring down at the wood table in front of him.
"High school?" Harley was starting to calm down and focus on the faded regret in his voice. "Yes," Jonathan nodded. "High school."
Harley was quiet for a while. "I'm sorry." Jonathan looked at her and let her speak. "But
I wasn't right for you. Hell, I was dating that football guy, shit what was his name? Ha! I don't even remember his name!" She sighed after a laugh. "We were total opposites
you know that."
I was the one who rejected you."
Harley cocked her head, trying so hard to remember. Everything that didn't include Joker seemed like someone else's life now.
Jonathan looked in her crystal blue eyes. "I was the one who told you to stop flirting with me. I was the one who pushed you away." She remembered that night at prom. She had a crush on him for a few weeks and eventually went up to him and obviously acted flirty towards him. He told her to stop acting like a child, and he walked away. "I remember
" She said sadly.
"I regret that night. Right now, I regret it." He was resting his head on his fist. "If we ended up together
things would be
better for you."
Harley hardened her gaze. "Jonathan, things are the best they have ever been for me right now."
Jonathan raised his voice in a harsh whisper, covering his mouth slightly so others wouldn't hear. "Like that bruise on your stomach? Like the cut on your back? Harley, you think I don't notice those?" He commented only on the wounds he had caught a glimpse of in the past. He was certain she was hiding much more under her clothes, and hiding much pain under her joyful spirit.
"I am happy. I am in love, my life has a purpose. Do not question that." She said sternly, tired of everyone (and she meant everyone) shaking their head at her relationship.
"You could have been happy without any scars." Jonathan tried to convince her.
"Jonathan!" She raised her voice, but luckily no one stared. She waited before continuing. "He's not JUST my boyfriend." She stood up, putting her black purse over her shoulder. "He's also my best friend. He was there for me when you never were."
Jonathan kept her gaze, still thinking back to their high school years together.
"He doesn't roll his eyes at me like you do. He's not disappointed in me like you are!" She walked out briskly, gone in less than a second, and Jonathan was stunned into silence and he slowly realized, everything she just said
was entirely true.
College, he remembered those college years with Harley. She tried to be his friend, maybe not his girlfriend, but his friend. He kept pushing her away. Jonathan held his face in his hands now. He was so focused on his studies and grades back in college, he never hung out with her once. Not once, in four years. She never stopped trying to be his friend, not even after college, when they ended up working at Arkham together.
She was just looking for a friend. He took a sharp intake of breath as the painful truth crept in his mind. She was looking for someone to cling onto. He could have been that person, but it ended up being Joker. Why him? Why him, of all people!?!
He knew why. Because Jonathan had forced her away. He had pushed his chances away, all of them. He was selfish and blind and stupid.
Jonathan grabbed his jacket and went back to his car in its parking spot on the side of the road a few blocks away.
Later that night, Jonathan laid in his bed and tried to think of what to do to make things right. He turned on his side and was about to go to sleep when someone knocked quietly on his door.
He ignored the knocking until a voice spoke up. "Jonny?...It's me
Harley!?" Crane shot out of bed and opened the door, expecting to see her bleeding from a new gaping cut somewhere on her body or strikingly bruised beyond belief. But there was no blood, and there were no bruises. She half smiled up at him, holding her arm in the chilly outdoor hallway. "Can we talk
for a while?" She asked, obviously cold.
"Of course." He brought her in and locked the door behind her. "What happened?" He gave her his jacket to keep warm.
"Nothing, I just
wanted to talk." She sat on his bed, wrapped in his black jacket. "I didn't want to end your birthday with a fight. I'm sorry."
"It's my fault; I'm the one who is sorry." He said, sitting with her and putting his arm around her. There had to be something wrong; she had to be hurting somewhere. He desperately wanted to know what happened.
She kept the subject focused on him, and she insisted on getting him some kind of present for his birthday. They talked about high school and college, and they said apologies that were wrongly forgotten and necessary to unload form their list of regrets.
An hour passed and they lied on their backs under the warm covers of Jonathan's bed in the cold drafty room, staring at the ceiling and laughing about old times. "Now will you tell me why you are really here?" Jonathan looked at her after they finished chuckling about an old inside joke.
..He didn't hurt me
He just told me to leave." Harley assured him, smiling and cheered up by their talk.
Jonathan sighed. "Why?"
Harley inspected her painted yet chipped fingernails. "
.He was mad
and he told me he didn't want to hurt me. So I left." She clarified and shook her head over at her old friend. "He's not abusive, Jonathan, you shouldn't stereotype him like that."
Jonathan had no comment. She could just be saying that because she loved him and was in denial. Harley didn't give up on her quest to justify her boyfriend. "Gentleness is something he's never
had to give to someone. You can't give someone a car if you don't know anything about buying or driving a car, you know?"
Jonathan nodded slightly, thinking about the metaphor Harley gave him. It made sense. "Being gentle isn't hard."
"That's like saying driving a car isn't hard. It's only 'easy' to you because you've had practice and experience." Harley stared at the ceiling again. "But
if you never even
saw a car before
it's a very foreign thing to you."
A few minutes of silence passed before Jonathan spoke up again. "What was he mad about?"
Harley smiled. "He didn't have as much fun as he wanted to today. Gordon apparently was right on his heels all day after he left us at the deli, and he wasn't able to shake the cops off for a long time. Leading cops on a wild goose chase is only fun if you're in the mood." She giggled, pulling the covers up to her chin. "He was so excited to use that new gun today! Poor guy."
Jonathan laughed as well, his spirits lifted by her cute girlish little giggles. "So in the morning
. you probably have to find some new henchmen, right?" He grinned. He was pretty sure Joker used that gun tonight, and he was happy it wasn't on Harley.
Harley laughed long and hard, so hard that she curled on her side, burrowing her face into his chest, muffling her laughter with his shirt. "Yes, yes I do!"