I know what everyone thinks about me. They think I'm a dumb blonde who craves abuse, a pathetic doormat, a pushover, with no self-esteem, so desperate for the approval of my man that I'll put up with anything. They're right about that, but wrong about the reason behind it. I ain't got issues with self-esteem. Nope, on the contrary, I think I'm the prettiest, luckiest girl in the world, to have Mr. J. Not that I really have him, y'know, not that he belongs to anyone. But he needs me, and that makes me feel pretty good about myself. I must have done something right somewhere along the line, to be with such a special guy. Whatever else you might think about him, you can't deny that he's special. Unique. An individual. He stands out from the crowd. And this pretty special man thinks I'm pretty special. And that makes me feel good, special, unique. One of a kind.
I used to be a psychologist, y'know. I ain't stupid. Even if you think psycho-babble is a load of crap, and most of it is, you learn stuff about the mind. The way it works. Why people behave the way they do. And you can use this kinda stuff to think about yourself, and the people you care about. I don't do it that often – I'm a feel-more, think-less kinda girl now. But when I'm alone, when Mr. J is off on a heist, or we've had a bust-up and he's thrown me out (literally), or when the Bat's caught us and locked us up seperately in Arkham again, you don't have much else to do but think. About your life, and the people in it, where it's going, where it's heading, and whether you like it. Whether or not you regret anything, or did anything wrong. That's the stuff that keeps you awake at night, and lemme tell you, I've had a lot of sleepless nights in my time. I've done a lot of thinking. I've had my share of regrets, same as anyone else. But I don't regret Mr. J. I don't regret forgiving him and coming back to him. 'Cause I love him.
See, I never had many relationships before Mr. J. Heck, I never had any really. My life was pretty boring and routine – I was a good kid, did good in school, got into Gotham University on a scholarship, studied really hard all the time. I had to. I came from a poor background. If I wanted any kind of future, I had to do my best all the time. Stay out of trouble. Behave. Be good. Study and work. Not a lot of time for relationships in that environment. My friends and roomates went out on dates, had guys over, and I locked myself in my room, trying to focus on Freud while the people next door were moaning and shouting things that would have made him blush.
But it paid off. I graduated with great grades, and had my pick of internships to various institutions all over the country. I went with Arkham because I had heard a lot about it over the news. Not that I cared about working someplace famous – that wasn't the reason at all. I had (and have) a real interest in people who are extreme personalities. Big personas. Extra special. See, I always thought I was special too, but no one else had ever seen that. No one had ever cared enough to try to date me, no one had looked beyond the glasses and the hard-working demeanor. Nerd. Bookworm. Loser. I had been called all these things before. They called me those names because I wasn't like them. I didn't conform. I was special. I knew I was; why else would everyone hate me so much? I didn't fit in. So I suppose I had a kind of sympathy with people who, for whatever reason, also didn't fit in. It's why I went into psychology in the first place. I wanted to try to understand these people, and maybe try and figure myself out too.
My first day interning at Arkham, Dr. Joan Leland met me. We've met many times since; she's the one who tries to treat me. Cure me, she calls it, as if I've got some sort of disease. She doesn't understand – she's like I was back then. Hard-working, straight and narrow. Small-minded, who thinks that order and control and conformity are important, at the cost of your freedom, of your personality, of your very sense of identity. She thinks psychology is for the crazies, the people she treats, not for people like her. So she don't think about stuff, and that's her problem. She won't ever cure me. I'm not the one who's crazy.
Still, she was nice to me on my first day. Met me at the door, chatted, tried to make me feel comfortable. I'm sure she could tell I was nervous. I had been nervous since I had been accepted for the internship, and that had grown about a hundred times since I had seen the Gothic turrents and imposing fašade of Arkham Asylum. It's a nice building – I still think that, every time I'm dragged back to it after a battle with the Bat. Unique. Individual. Extra special. I like its twisted beauty, and I like it for the memories it contains. Like seeing Mr. J for the first time.
Joan had been chatting with me as we walked down the hall – I don't remember about what exactly – I think about how the last intern had been fired for writing a tell-all book breaking doctor-patient confidentiality. I remember feeling appalled at the thought – what a completely unprofessional thing to do! And then I saw him, standing in the corner of his cell, whistling to himself.
It wasn't love at first sight or anything like that. It was more like awe – I had heard a lot about him on the news, and I'd seen pictures, but they didn't do him justice, seeing him in person. He was taller than I'd thought he'd be. I think that's because usually you'd only seen him after Bats had beat him up, and he was being dragged away hunched over or crumpled in a heap. I had only ever seen his face in similar circumstances, bruised and battered, with black eyes and bleeding lips and a broken nose. Seeing him now, in the flesh, I was immediately struck by how strangely handsome he was. Ok, I know he's got white skin and green hair and a permanent smile, but I love his smile. He's got a couple of them, y'know. One is the one you see all the time, the one he has to wear, disingenous. You can tell the difference between that one and the smile when he's really happy. At least, I can. He's got really pretty eyes too – sometimes blazing in fury, in passion, in intensity, in amusement. But always alive and bright and unique. The most beautiful eyes I have ever seen.
He lifted them to up me when he noticed me staring at him in his cell. He smiled, one of his fake, just for show, smiles, and winked. That's my puddin', always putting on a show for the audience. I suddenly felt bad for staring – this was a hospital, not a zoo, and these were people, not animals, and they deserved to be treated with a little respect. I averted my eyes, but he has a magnetic presence, and I was pulled back into his gaze almost against my will. Joan was saying something, but I couldn't hear a word. Mr. J didn't do anything else, just looked at me, smiled, and then started whistling again, shutting his eyes and leaning back against the corner of his cell.
I felt like a spell had been broken. Dazed, I turned back to Joan, who was looking at me in concern. I don't think I looked any different, but maybe I was blushing, and I felt a little sick, and strangely warm. I spent the rest of the tour only half-listening to Joan, who showed me to my office at the end of it. I found a surprise awaiting me there.
It was a single red rose, with a note attached. Come down and see me sometime – J. I was stunned. I thought for a moment J must be Joan, and I began to wonder if I had given her the wrong impression of myself. But she hadn't seemed to be interested in me personally at all – I don't think she asked me one question about my life or myself outside of my professional qualifications. And anyway, the handwriting looked more masculine to me, but I hadn't met any of the male employees here yet, not properly, and I couldn't remember any of them having names beginning with J…
And then it hit me. J. Joker. He had set this up, somehow. He had seen me for about thirty seconds and had already taken more interest in me than anyone else in my life ever had. I was even more shocked than I would have been if the flower had been from Joan. Shocked, and also a little flattered. What girl isn't when she's shown a little attention? I mean, he'd got me flowers. No one had ever got me flowers before. And how had he even got out of his cell, and into this office? It had been locked. He could have been caught. It was a pretty amazing feat, and a pretty big risk, all for a little flower. All for me.
He's always doing stuff like that. Little things for me. But it's the little things that matter. It's the little things that forgive the big things, when they go wrong. It's the little things that always bring me back to him. Even an apology, the tiniest apology. Maybe it seems like nothing to you, but when you know Mr. J, when you know how rarely he apologizes to anyone, it becomes a big thing. It's all a matter of perspective, see? And when you know Mr. J, and how little he cares about anyone but himself and the Bat, any kind of attention is a big thing.
Anyway, I didn't know that then. I stood there, shocked, flattered, and confused, all at the same time. I went home that night still feeling all those things, but slept on them, and returned the next morning determined. If the Joker had been loose, he ought to be reported. But first I was going to get an explanation.
I returned to his cell and saw him lying on his bed, arms behind his head and eyes shut, with his perpetual smile on his face. I was struck again by how handsome he was, by his nice build, thin, but strong, his well-defined, white cheekbones contrasting beautifully with his deep red lips.
I was surprised at the direction my thoughts were taking, so shook my head, crushed them, drew myself up and said, sternly, holding up the card, "Care to tell me how this got in my office?"
He opened his lovely eyes again, and a chill ran through me. He might have noticed that or not, anyway, he grinned, a real grin this time. "I put it there," he replied, simply. I hadn't ever heard him speak before, and was surprised at how pleasant his voice was. I couldn't place his accent really, but it was different and unique to any voice I had ever heard before. It was beautiful.
"I see. I think Dr. Leland and the guards would be interested to know you've been out of your cell," I said, keeping the firmness in my voice, and folding my arms across my chest.
He laughed, one of his deep, throaty chuckles. My puddin's got about a million laughs, all of them different, and I love them all equally. His maniacally happy cackle, his soft chuckle, his naughty little giggle, and this one was a little naughty too, a little mischevious. It promised fun, dirty, wrong fun, but fun nonetheless, and it made my heart race a little.
"If you were really going to tell them, you already would have," he retorted, shutting his eyes and smiling to himself. And suddenly, in a spontaneous burst of energy, he leapt up on the foot of his bed near the glass, quick and agile, like a cat. It startled me, and I stepped back. It doesn't startle me anymore. My puddin' often has those random bursts of energy, spontaneous and unexpected, and more often ending in pain than pleasure. I sometimes prefer it that way.
But he just crouched there this time, staring at me with his intense eyes and smiling. I found myself wondering, as I still continue to sometimes, what exactly he was smiling about, what really made his eyes burn with such life. Then he suddenly spoke. "Y'know, sweets, I like what I've heard about you."
I was taken aback, both by his sudden action and his words. Nobody had ever heard anything about me ever. "Uh…really?" I managed to stammer. "Anything in particular?"
"Mostly the name," he replied. "Harleen Quinzel. Rework it a bit and you get Harley Quinn, like the classic clown character, Harlequin, the very spirit of fun and frivolity."
I don't know if you believe in destiny, but I kinda do. It's no more crazy than most of the other stuff people believe in. Y'know, justice, equality, humanity, that kinda thing. And that thing he said about my name really resonated with me – it was almost as if we were meant to be. That he was my destiny, my soulmate, that we were made for each other. I didn't think that exactly then, but I do now. It can't be just a coincidence that both our identities were shaped around clowns. I don't really believe in coincidence. I believe in things happening for a reason. That ain't crazy – it's inspirational. There's tons of them motivational posters saying so.
"You can see how I'd be attracted to it," he finished, in his sharp voice, cutting into me like a knife and making me shiver in delight. He was smiling at me, his naughty, mischevious grin, the one where he makes a joke that only he fully appreciates, baiting me to respond. And I did, really lamely.
"I guess. Now if there's nothing else…" I began, about to walk off, but he interrupted.
"A name that puts a smile on my face. It makes me feel there's someone here I can relate to. Somone who might like to hear my secrets."
He knew me even then. Knew it was a temptation I couldn't resist, both as a psychologist, and as a woman. We like challenges. And figuring out what made this particular man tick, what made him act the way he did, was a challenge I was incapable of resisting.
I asked Joan to let me interview him. She said no. But I ain't the kind of girl who takes no for an answer. When I want something, I get it, because I don't give up. People have always said determination is one of my best qualities. So after months of begging and pleading, of proving myself, even a little bribery, I got to interview the Joker at last. I had done tons of research – read every report ever written about the guy, went through all the numerous files. They all claimed a different psychosis, all analyzed him differently, and no one came to any conclusion about him, who he was, why he acted the way he did. My appetite for the challenge had been whetted, and so when I was finally left alone in the room with him, I was bursting in anticipation, wondering what he could possibly tell me that I hadn't already heard or read.
And he did tell me. Told me all about his abusive childhood, how his alcoholic father used to beat him, how his mother had left him, how trying to make his father laugh after a visit to the circus had ended in him being battered and bruised in the hospital, and how it now seemed like the cycle was just being repeated with Batman. He had lots to say about Batman – how he was crazy, as crazy as anyone in here, how it wasn't fair that he was kept locked up and Batbrain was free, honored, respected, admired. He had a point. He was rational, clever, logical. Not a raving madman at all, but a clear, concise, intelligent man. Sure, he had an odd sense of humor, but everyone has their quirks. The more I talked with him, the more I began to like him, and the more attracted I became to him. It was sympathy at first; pity for the circumstances that had made him the way he was, which is what he was counting on. He's a smart guy, and he knows how to get people to do the things he wants them to do. Which is why he told me about his abusive father and absent mother.
Yeah, that was all a lie. At least, it might be – Puddin' doesn't remember anything before the accident so good. I think it was probably a lie, but I've forgiven him for that. After all, I was just another doctor then. How did he know he could trust me with the truth, even if he did remember it? I wasn't special to him then, not like I am now. Now he tells me he don't remember, and I believe him. I think he would tell me if he did. I think he trusts me, as much as he ever trusts anyone. At least he knows if he tells me to do something, I'll do it. I think that's a big relief to him – he's surrounded by incompetant henchmen. At least he can always rely on me.
Anyway, like I said, the whole unhappy childhood story was just to win my sympathy, which it did. But he had to do more than that to win my love, and that's the important point no one seems to get. Yeah, he lied to get what he wanted. Lots of people do that. Don't tell me you never have, because that would make you a double liar. But I was attracted to him from the start, even before the lies started, and just pitying him wouldn't make me stay with him as long as I have. I don't stay with him because I feel sorry for his abusive childhood. I stay with him because I love him.
I realized that about a month after our sessions began. He was lying on the sofa talking about Batman, and I was listening intently to his every word, whilst simultaneously fantasizing about how it would feel to be near to him, pressed against him, how warm and safe his embrace would be, and the scent of him as he brought his grinning red lips to mine and kissed me, tenderly, harshly, I wasn't sure what I wanted. I'd never been kissed before.
"…set himself up as some kind of almighty, all powerful Savior of Gotham. But the thing is, sweets, the thing that nobody understands, is that Gotham's only real Savior is me."
"Yeah, I see what you mean," I replied.
He looked startled. "You do?" he asked.
"Yeah, of course I do," I replied, looking down at my notes. "B-Man…sorry, I've written him down as…Batman, I mean, sets himself up as some sort of absolute authority, a bastion of morality and sanity and justice. But if the world, as you so persuasively state, is, in your own words 'on the funhouse slide into madness,' then sanity is madness, authority is nonsense, and justice is ridiculous, and everything he stands for is meaningless. He's the clown, really. You're like the fool in King Lear, speaking apparent nonsense but with a wisdom underneath the surface that only the educated, the enlighted few can truly understand. I get it."
He stared at me. "You get it?" he repeated.
"Sure. I'm not an idiot," I retorted. "And I've lived long enough in this world to know that it's pretty messed up. Even if you weren't out there killing people, there'd be other freaks who would. Batman's fighting a losing war – the world isn't made for justice or sanity. You can't change that basic fact, no matter how you dress it up. It's a crazy world, and the best thing to do is to be crazy in it. Anything else is just dishonest."
"You think that, do you?" he asked, quietly.
"Yeah. I guess I do," I murmured. "I mean, take people for instance. People, y'know, sane people, like Dr. Leland and me, we…we pretend we can cure people like you. We pretend we can fix things, because we like to fool ourselves into thinking we have some sort of control. But we don't, not really. Nobody ever really has control over their own lives. You could kill me right now if you wanted to. I don't know how you'd do it – there aren't any weapons to hand, and the guards would probably hear, but you've comitted the impossible murder before. So I could be dying, lying bleeding on the floor, and realizing with every last breath how much of my life I wasted trying to be sane, orderly, conforming to everyone's expectations, and never knowing what it's like to truly be free. To truly be myself…"
And that was when he did it. In one of his spontaneous bursts of energy, he bounded up from the sofa, seized me in his arms, and shoved me down onto it, pressing his red lips against mine.
I will never forget that first kiss. It was everything I had imagined and more. I surrendered to him immediately, putting my arms around his neck and crushing him deeper into me.
I don't know how long it was before I regained my senses, or, as I see now, pretended to be sane again. Thoughts suddenly shot into my head about people bursting in on us, the guards, Dr. Leland, the ruin of my reputation, of everything I had worked so hard for all of my life, all the things that seemed so important then. I shoved him off me, tried to look indignant, and gasped, "What the hell do you think you're doing?!"
"Sorry, toots, but if you didn't want me, you shouldn't have started the dirty talk," he murmured, grinning. "All that stuff about dying and bleeding on the floor really puts me in the mood."
"You're sick!" I gasped, struggling to sit up. I tried to fix my hair and my clothes, both of which had become disordered. My heart was beating in excitement and I was unbelievably happy. It was difficult to keep a stern face.
"Don't pretend you didn't want me to," he replied, still grinning. "I know what you've been thinking about me, Doc. I know all your dirty little secrets, just like you know mine. And they are very dirty indeed, aren't they, Harley?"
It was the first time he ever said my name. I still get chills whenever he says it, whether tenderly or angrily. It sounds perfect on his lips. It sounds like who I want to be. His Harley.
"My name is Harleen Quinzel, but you will call me Dr. Quinzel, Mr. J," I retorted.
The "Mr. J" had just slipped out as a placeholder; I had never called him that before. What was worse, I was so flustered that I said it in my accent. I had worked damn hard most of my life to repress my natural accent and talk like everyone else, and not sound like some freak from Brooklyn. But he didn't seem to mind; in fact, his grin widened.
"Mistah J?" he repeated, mocking my accent.
"Shut up," I growled, standing up. "This interview is over. I'm calling the guards, and you'd better hope I don't report you to…"
He seized my hand as I passed. "I like Mistah J," he murmured. "In fact, I like the way you talk naturally, Harley. You shouldn't try to be like everyone else. I hate conformity, and you…you're different. You're special, dollface. I don't kiss just any dame. And not just any dame turns me on. You've got something, kiddo. And whatever it is, I like it."
I was frozen to the spot. He drew me into his arms, still holding my hand. With the other, he reached behind my head and freed my hair from its confinement in a tight bun. He played with it, drawing it back over my shoulders and studying me with his burning, intense eyes. At last, he drew it up into pigtails, and smiled. "That's better," he murmured. "There's my Harley girl." He released my hair and tilted my chin up, murmuring as he gazed into my eyes, "Don't be like Batman. Be my little Harley Quinn."
He kissed me again, and I surrendered to him. Everything that had seemed so important before suddenly became meaningless. It was all over. He had me. I gave into the madness of love and it made me sane.
See, people say he corrupted my mind or something, but that's a load of crap. Geez, ain't you people ever heard of romance? Ain't you ever heard of the transformative power of love? Mr. J did me a huge favor. I never would have fully found myself without him. I became who I was always meant to be. For the first time in my life, I was truly happy, and I never looked back.
Shortly after that, Mr. J escaped from the nuthouse. He was gone for a week, and I missed him like crazy, as well as being crazy with worry that he was going to get caught and hurt. And sure enough, at the end of the week, Batman marched into Arkham Asylum, dragging my puddin' with him, bruised, battered, and unconscious. He fell into my arms and I looked up at the Bat with all the hatred, rage, and pain I was feeling at seeing my angel like this.
Just think, for a moment, what it's like to see the person you love most in this world maimed almost beyond recognition, bones broken, face bruised, clearly in the greatest pain and agony. Hurts, don't it? Maybe more than it hurts him; at least he's unconscious. Having to actually see it does more than hurts. Seeing my puddin' like that was what made me snap. Bats was never going to leave him alone, never going to stop abusing him. He needed help, and protection. I had to be that. I had to be with my Mr. J, to save him from Batman, to help him with his dreams and ambitions, to love him. He needed me, and I needed him. That hasn't changed.
But I changed. I threw off my clothing of conformity and adopted a harlequin outfit. I stopped talking like everyone else, and returned to my Brooklyn roots. I busted Mr. J out of the nuthouse, and freed myself from the oppressive yet imaginary chains of sanity. I guess I'm considered crazy now, but I don't feel crazy. I feel like I finally see the world for what it is. Mr. J was right – it's a mad world, and we should adapt to its madness. Anything else would be crazy.
We've had a lot of good years together - sure, we've had our rough patches, like every other couple. He's pushed me out of a window, and tried to kill me a few times. I've tried to kill him, but I always feel bad about it afterward, and I'm sure he does too. He's always forgiven me, and I've forgiven him. It's just a joke. It's who we are. It works.
You just have to learn not to care what people think, or say about you. People are always going to try to tear you down, ruin your happiness, because they're jealous, or they don't understand, or they just want to cause trouble. You have to learn not to listen to anyone but yourself.
You see, the thing you have to get about me, is I don't mind the violence. In fact, I kinda enjoy it. It don't get me off exactly the same way it do Mr. J, but if that's what he wants, I'm happy to submit. I like it. I like seeing him happy. Even though he's always smiling, he ain't always happy. I can tell the difference.
See, the secret to being happy with Mr. J is don't try to analyze him. Don't ask too many questions. Just accept him for who he is, and enjoy the ride. It took me a long time to figure that out – I was insecure about myself at first, about us as a couple, and I wanted answers. I wanted to know why he wanted me, why I wanted him, why he treated me badly some days and great some other days. But that was all wrong. You should never ask why with Mr. J. He don't always have reasons, they don't always make sense, and they don't usually matter. He does what he does because it's fun. You don't think about fun. You don't analyze it, or try to reason it out, or make sense of it. You just enjoy it. So I do.
The B-Man's still a problem for us, but not in the way he used to be. I used to think that if Batman was gone, Mr. J and I could be happy together. I didn't realize that we already were happy together – we were happy because we were together. And fighting Batbrain makes Mr. J happy. So again, I'm fine with him being in our life. But he kinda scares me, when you get right down to it.
Mr. J calls him Bats, and he's got the truth of it, as usual. Now that guy's crazy. The psychologist in me would pay about a million bucks just to sit down and analyze him. He's got problems out the wazoo. See, I've always kinda thought love's really important, like the most important thing in life. I guess it's because I never had any until Mr. J, so I know how much people need it. It's like oxygen – you need it to breathe. You need it to cope with the insanity of life. And Bats is crazy because he don't love anyone. He can't, you see. He's obsessed with unattainable ideals – justice, mercy, righteousness. They're perfect concepts, so it's really easy to follow them, to believe in them. It's like God, y'know? God's perfect, he's flawless, so if you have faith in him, you can't go wrong. You always know right from wrong – your world makes sense. It's a lot harder to have faith in people, because they're imperfect. They do ridiculous, unpredictable, hurtful things, and they don't always make sense. Bats can't stand imperfection – that's why he's always trying to lock freaks like us up. He has to make the world as orderly and sterile as his own disturbed mind. A world of darkness and night. A guy could go nuts living in the dark for that long. I dunno about you, but I prefer my life to his. At least I've got my sunshine in between the shadows. Batman thinks I'm crazy. But joking aside, which one of us is really the crazy one?
Chapter End Notes:
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.