A horse-driven brougham patiently rumbles through a noisy and colorless street in Arkham division. Inside the carriage is only one passenger, Harleen Quinzel, on her way to Blackgate Penitentiary. Somewhere in between the neighs of the horses, the constant stinging sensation in her nostrils from assault of the cold fog droplets in the air, the bustle of the roadside hawkers and the thuds from the carriage’s constant bumping against potholes and rocks, Harleen’s mind begins to drift off, slowly floating into a reverie. She finds herself sitting her old office, the first proper one she ever had, in Arkham three years ago. It was the day she first met Jack. The rest is a tragedy, or rather, a tragicomedy. Depends on who you ask, Harleen supposes. The sounds of the road are slowly replaced by the pitter-patter of rain outside her office window (instead of a winter morning, it’s now a gloomy afternoon in the summer) and by the quick lub-dubing of her nervous heart, Jack being such a high-profile patient.
“Hi, Jack,” she confidently begins. “My name is Dr. Harleen Quinzel and I’m--”
“Wait, wait!” Jack jumps off his seat like he is really uncomfortable. “There must’ve been some kind of a misunderstanding. I’m Joker.” He forces a wide grin on his face. “See?”
Harleen looks up from her notebook and raises an eyebrow. “But you are Jack Napier. That is your name, isn’t it?”
“Oh.” He sits down again. “I guess it is. But that’s not what people call me.”
“Well, that’s what I am going to call you. I mean, if it’s alright with you, of course.”
Jack looks to his left and then to his right. He even checks beneath the chair. Harleen stares at him, perplexed at first, but then laughs. “Is this some sort of a trap?” Jack says. “Why are you being nice to me?” His speech begins to take on a stutter. “Something fishy is going on in here. I can tell! You shouldn’t trick a trickster, you know?”
“Easy!” Harleen holds her hands up. “You’re safe here. And I’m not giving you special treatment. It’s a personal thing. I like to call patients by their--”
“Their real names?” Jack puts on a serious face.
“No, I… I mean, yes.”
“What’s wrong with our usual names? What it is that makes them less real than the ones given to us at birth?”
Harleen sits quiet, wondering how bad she just messed up. “Wait, let me explain--”
Jack cackles, bringing his hands to his chest and throwing his head back. It goes on for a minute.
“What?” she asks out of pure shock.
“I’m just messing with you!” Jack says, still out of breath from the episode of hysteric laughter. “Oh trust me, we know our names sound funny, straight up ridiculous at times too. I mean… Penguin!”
Harleen chuckles despite trying not to.
“Or, Two-Face! Yeah, real subtle, Harvey. As subtle as a permanent burn scar.”
She doesn’t laugh this time. The joke is a little too insensitive for her taste. Jack realizes that.
“What I’m saying is that we’re aware of the oddity but we go along with it.”
“Why?” Harleen asks.
Jack shrugs his shoulders. “Why not?”
Jack leans back on his cushioned seat and looks upward, thinking. “But maybe there’s more to it.”
Harleen completely puts aside her notebook and listens.
“I think the weird names might be some sort of a coping mechanism,” Jack begins, “owning your disabilities and the things you originally hated about yourself. In fact, it has become impossible to make fun of those bastards now! This one time I told Harvey, ‘Hey, you dropped something. The other half of your face. Oh wait.’ I waited for an angry reaction but he just told me, ‘Thanks for the reminder, mate.’ And then he walked away. For a second, I actually felt horrible.” Jack laughs. “Just for a second though.”
“What about you? Is ‘Joker’ a coping mechanism as well?” Harleen finally asks.
“Yes,” he says. “I’m the guy who jokes, among the other things. You can’t hold it against me. It’s literally who I am and what I do.”
“I have noticed that you make a lot of jokes at other people’s expense.”
“So?” Joker asks, genuinely clueless.
“Isn’t it the point of comedy to make other people laugh?”
“Oh. Yes, of course it is! But no one has ever told me jokes or tried to make me happy. I’ve had to do it myself.”
“Would that make you happy?” Harleen smiles. “If someone… if I told you a joke.”
“You’d do that?” Jack almost whispers. He looks at her with awe in his eyes and before he can tell, he starts to cry. Harleen’s mouth gapes. She waits a few second to check if he is fooling around but no. Tears are streaming down his cheeks like rain on the window panes of Harleen’s chamber.
Harleen wonders how she could help him and then it occurs to her… She could try telling him a joke. “What did sodium bi-carbonate say to hydrochloric acid?” she begins.
Joker looks up at her, sniffling and rubbing off tears. “Wait… Are you…” He smiles in realization. “Okay, what did it say?”
“Nothing. Chemicals can’t talk, silly!”
Joker cackles again and this time ends up crying laughing.
Harleen feels proud of herself. “Was that good?” she asks.
“No!” he says, to her shock. “It was horrible. But…” He holds up a finger. “That’s what made it funny! Bad jokes are totally my thing.”
She laughs out of relief. “Well, that’s good to know!”
Outside the rain seems to have stopped.
“I can’t explain this,” Jack says, looking into her eyes, “but I feel like you and I are going to get along swimmingly.”
Harleen feels an unrest in her heart. It’s a strange sensation—a mixture of happiness and hope with a touch of sorrow. She stares back into Jack’s eyes and says, “I feel the same.”
She hears a neigh and is snapped back into present day, sitting inside the carriage. She stares at the semi-empty sidewalks of a Blackgate division street and begins to wonder: Jack was right, of course. They got along, became friends and then more than that. Was any of it real or just a performance for him? After all, he used her. He spent three years gaining her trust just to betray it. Even now it’s hard to believe for Harleen. She cringes and shakes her head. “How dare you, Jack?” she mutters. “How dare you?”
Now the tables have turned. She has had time to think about what Bill told her: Jack is the centerpiece of the commissioner’s scheme. She loathes Jack for all he has done but she knows exactly what it’s like to be used, like a tool, taken advantage of and then forgotten. She won’t let the same happen to him … She can’t. Deep beneath the layers of hate in her heart, there is something more, something blindingly bright and powerful. Jack may have put up an act but her love for him has always been real, as real as heartbeats, as real as rain, as real as anything. It’s not just about him either, is it? Not anymore. If Gordon’s plan isn’t thwarted, half the inmates in Sector-I will hang.
Harleen looks down at the bag on her lap. It’s mainly carrying two things: an entry pass signed by Billy Sharp and a .476 Enfield revolver. She knows what must be done. No one else will do it. Especially, Batman. This is her burden to carry and only hers.