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Lullaby

by Te

     Subject: [glass_onion] Batman (Beyond): Lullaby
     Date: Tuesday, October 08, 2002 10:03 PM

     Lullaby
     by Te
     October 2002
     Disclaimers: No one here is mine, something for which I find
     myself rather grateful.
     Spoilers: Big ones for Return of the Joker.
     Summary: He doesn't, particularly, like being called
     'Junior.'
     Ratings Note/Warnings: R. Includes content some readers may
     find disturbing.
     Author's Notes: This veers wildly AU from the events of the
     movie, specifically the events in the flashback. Man, I hope
     this appeases the twisted fuck that puts ideas in my head.
     No, not you, Webrain. The twisted fuck inside my head.
     Acknowledgments: To my Webrain for audiencing, support,
     shrieking at appropriate intervals, giving me a title, and
     generally proving that everything goes better when you have
     friends.
     Feedback keeps me sane. thete1@earthlink.net

(Hush little baby...)

The Mountebank made his yo-yo loop a few moderately impressive loops and settled more comfortably into his chair.

It was an easy trick, and really more than a little boring, but he'd built the yo-yo himself. Anything too exciting and it started spitting carefully filed metal thorns on every spin.

It was a nice toy.

Not his favorite by any stretch of the imagination -- and the Mountebank's imagination was really something special, according to those few psychological evaluations he hadn't been able to avoid --

(You have to know you're safe now...)

The string tangled and the yo-yo clattered to a stop.

If he was capable of more than a few very basic expressions, his face would've gone through several. As it was, his smile remained admirably... fixed.

He would never regret forcing the formula for what the late and entirely unlamented Joker --

(Call me Daddy, boy...)

Sometimes the Mountebank does regret not being able to smile very much wider, though. It was amazing how easy it had been to get rid of the psychotic old bastard, once he'd finally set his mind to it.

And amazing how satisfying.

Like some piece of himself he hadn't even been aware of had spent his whole life tensed as a bowstring, just waiting for it. The first cut of the knife. The last goodnight kiss.

Like the first real breath after one of Harley's hugs. The everything's-gonna-be-just-fine specials, and he can't even remember how old he was when he started calling them that, if they'd been... before, or not.

The Mountebank doesn't lack self-awareness. That's the sort of luxury that keeps most of Gotham's criminals under lock and key, after all. The sort of thing that let dear old Dad -- eventually -- show him his back.

He knows what he was, if not, precisely, who.

He remembers quite a bit of life at Arkham, actually, and sometimes his dreams flicker like the film on an old movie projector. The Joker pinching his own nose shut and making an exaggerated moue of disgust at the smell of burning hair. Harley leaning in close with stage makeup. Harley tucking him in, a strait-jacket of blankets over a strait-jacket of canvas.

Harley sneaking into his room on her toes like a cartoon character, finger pressed to her lips. Curling in beside him and mindful of his bruises and cuts and everything else as she held him close, so close, and sang him to his rest.

Harley.

When they took him back, when they threw Harley off that cliff and beat the Joker insensible, when they took away his pretty, pretty clothes and mussed his hair and wouldn't even give him his old uniform as something, anything, fuck, anything to fill --

He remembers waking in that mausoleum of a mansion to the whisper of lullabies unsung.

He remembers a Bruce too broken to talk to and a Batman to cold to approach.

He remembers Barbara, who always held him like something half-crumbled to dust and never, ever smelled like the back of a darkened theater, safe and quiet.

And so, when the word came through that someone matching Harley's description was seen in someone matching Poison Ivy's description...

It wasn't hate.

Even though he'd been reduced to listening at keyholes, desperate for anything to connect him, bring him back to the night he'd lost. That had been taken from him.

It wasn't hate that brought him to the library that night with a knife carefully hidden in his sleeve. It wasn't hate that made him dredge up the words that would make Barbara soften. That would make her turn her back.

It wasn't even hate that made him collect one of the tranquilizer guns from the Cave before heading to Bruce's rooms. After all, hate is an emotion that clouds the mind, and the Mountebank remembers being very, very clear.

Even when Alfred tried to stop him.

Even when Bruce had called him by that name again, before losing consciousness.

No, he'd been very clear in himself. Cleaning up as efficiently as he ever had as... Robin before leaving the mansion on the specially designed mini-bike Bruce hadn't gotten rid of yet.

So clear as he'd made his way to the various possible hideouts he'd heard them discussing until he found the right one.

Just a moderately-armed boy on a very special motorcycle.

Poison Ivy -- Pam -- hadn't wanted to let him in. By then, he'd felt... a little less patient. He left her heavily tranquilized body just inside the old warehouse door. And then he'd heard her.

"Fucking Christ this hurts, Pammy, are you sure I'm not due for more painkillers?"

And he wasn't clear at all anymore because...

She was in pain, she'd helped the Joker hurt him, and now she was in pain, and he'd just --

But as he got closer to the curtained off pile of mattresses and blankets, he'd smelled old theaters.

And when she finally saw him, she didn't look afraid, or angry, or anything but... joyous.

"You came back!" Smiling with all of herself, reaching for him and struggling to get up despite the strangely green and apparently alive cast on her leg, and there'd been nothing to do but go to her.

Crawl in beside her, careful of her leg, and let himself be held like something living again.

"I knew you wouldn't forget me," she'd said.

And he'd pulled out the knife, and laid it between them. "This was for Barbara."

"Honey?"

And he'd pulled out the gun, and another, longer, knife. "This was for Bruce."

She looked at them for a long time, tracing clotting blood with her ragged fingernails. "We really got you good, didn't we, baby?"

He looked her in the eyes, watching them go round as child's. "I don't want to be called 'Junior' anymore."

There were new clothes for him, then, and a new name.

By the time the Joker managed to recover enough to manage an escape, he was The Mountebank, and Harley...

Well, that was always the problem, wasn't it?

He snapped the yo-yo once, just barely soft enough to avoid releasing the thorns, just barely missing Harley's slack face.

She blinked.

She hadn't been the same since she found him removing what was left of the Joker, but really, what could she expect?

Six years of dealing with that psychotic's rages, with his abuse, with his obsession with Batman -- and wasn't it a nasty little shock to find out he'd screwed that one up? He should've sawed through the bastard's leathery neck instead of just stabbing him a few times.

Bruce always was a lucky son of a bitch.

Of course the Joker could never leave it alone, never mind that he'd never come even remotely as close --

No.

But, no. The criminals of Gotham all had just a little bit too much of the wolverine in them to let anything go, and never let it be said that their... family was any different.

The Mountebank gritted his teeth and watched Harley shiver until he couldn't take it anymore. Slipped the yo-yo into his pocket and walked over until he was standing over her.

Unclenched one fist and stroked her hair, lank with lack of washing.

Forced her head up until she was looking vaguely at his face. "Harley."

Slow, sleepy blink. "Hey, baby..."

"This has to stop."

"I --"

He yanked her hair. Just a little. Enough to make her focus. "Harley, are you listening to me?"

"Y-yeah..." Cautious now. Aware.

"Good. You haven't been taking care of yourself. You've been... positively depressing, I'm sad to say."

Her face... rippled. "You killed him."

"Mm-hmm. But sad clowns are just a bit too Mexican velvet painting, don't you think?"

"He --"

"Harley. I think you want to be careful with what you say next, don't you?"

Her face scrunched up like a little girl's, but her eyes were on him.

And her eyes were clear.

"I... yes."

And he had to smile. "I'd kill everyone who called you stupid if it didn't do us so much good."

Something like a blush with her small smile, and he strokes white fingers over her cheek trying to catch the heat of it. And then just because the skin is so soft. Even after all these years, and all the paint...

"Baby?"

He touched her mouth, pressed for just a moment before backing away and offering her his hand. "You always sung me to sleep. Do you remember?"

She nodded, hand in his as she stood. Watchful.

"Sing to me tonight, Harley? For old times' sake?" He watched her throat as she swallowed, and led her toward his bedroom. His Harley. His.

"O-okay, honey..."

"And call me... 'Mister M.'"

He caught her before she could stumble too badly.

It was a shame that leg had never entirely healed.

End.


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