I sure am looking forward to meeting you on Tuesday. I've been hoping so long I can hardly believe it's going to come true. We're going to have a great time in Gotham, me and my best girl!
But remember what I said last time--if you aren't ready, you don't have to come. I know the doctors say you're better now, but if you feel funny at all, you stay where you can get help. I won't mind, I promise. I'll wait for you forever if I have to.
"Do you really think this is a good idea?" Tim frowned, doing chin-ups on one of the parallel bars.
"Harley's problem has always been that she's easily influenced," Bruce said, folding up the letter. "Every time she starts to get better, someone drags her back down. The Joker tells her he loves her and Ivy--Ivy actually does--and so she ends up back in Arkham again. If she has someone else to hold onto, she's much less likely to go back to her old ways. And that means a lot fewer people will get get hurt."
"Yeah, but why does it have to be you who marries her? Couldn't you find somebody else?"
"It wouldn't be safe for anyone else, Tim. And nobody else would be able to keep an eye on her."
"I don't think it's safe for us, either!" Tim protested. "In case you haven't noticed, she's crazy."
"Not according to the doctors at Arkham."
"Right. And they're so good at their jobs. Are you sure you haven't been breathing the Scarecrow's special gas again?"
Bruce almost chuckled. "Very sure."
"Well...I'm not going to call her 'Mom'!" Tim swung himself over the bar and stuck the dismount.
"As long as you don't call her Harley Quinn, everything will be fine," Bruce said evenly, and didn't add, I hope.
Harley held her breath as she stepped through Arkham's gates, scanning the road in front of her. When she saw that there was no man waiting for her, she sighed a little, and her shoulders slumped. She should have known he was only fooling. Any guy, even a tough guy like Matches, would be scared off by her reputation. There wasn't going to be anybody to sweep her off her feet and carry her away to normal-land; she was going to have to walk. The problem was, she always seemed to get lost on the way.
As she bent to adjust her bag, a car--no, a limo--pulled over at the side of the road. The back window rolled down. "Harl? Harl Quinzel?" a man's voice asked.
"What's it to ya, bub?" she snarled, turning away. She wasn't Gotham's own walking freak-show, after all.
"A lot, I hope! Harleen Quinzel has promised to make me the happiest man alive!"
"Matches?" She jerked her head back to peer in the window. The man in the back seat was tall, dark, handsome, and vaguely familiar-looking.
"Well, not exactly," he said, with an easy smile. "But your fiance anyway."
She matched the face with the name. "Bruce Wayne? But I almost killed you!"
"Get in the car, and I'll explain."
She almost refused, but at the last second changed her mind. It wasn't like she couldn't take the guy if he was after revenge. He was obviously just some Dapper Dan. So she opened the door and plopped in, clutching her certificate of sanity across her chest. "Okay. Explain."
"That night you and Poison Ivy kidnapped me was one of the most fun nights of my life," he said. "Except for the part where I almost died, of course. It was a real adventure! And you were so beautiful, and funny, and sweet--so different from all the boring debutantes in Gotham. I just knew I had to find out everything I could about you. So I wrote you a letter."
"Signing it Matches Malone," she pointed out, working hard to keep a scowl on her face. More beautiful than all the debutantes!
"Well," he hesitated, "I wanted to see if you could love me for myself, instead of just my money. You didn't seem to notice me as much as my credit cards that night."
Fair was fair. "I probably would have kissed you a few times, but Ivy was there, and she doesn't like that sort of thing," she confessed.
"Anyway, I wanted to tell you later, but by that time I was afraid...I was afraid you'd be angry at me for lying to you. So I kept putting it off, and putting it off..."
"Afraid I'd be mad because you're rich?" she squealed, seizing his hand. "That's looney-tunes, mister!" Then she stopped. "I mean--unless you were lying about the other part, too. About liking me."
"Of course not," he said, and leaned forward and kissed her, right in front of the chauffeur and everybody.
She nearly swooned, but when she got her breath back, she said, "Then what are we waiting for? Let's get this show on the road!"
The paper landed on the table in front of him, smashing the very delicate train-wreck set he'd been assembling all day. There was a muffled thump, and smoke curled up from the edges of the paper. "Have you seen this?"
"I never read the news. It's too depressing." Joker looked up at Poison Ivy, who was standing in front of him, one hand on her hip, the other hand pointing sharply to the front page. "How did you get in here?"
"Oh, I'm a social climber," she said impatiently. He looked over at the window, which was now choked with vines--vines which were also strangling his men. "That's not important. What's important is this!" She jabbed at the headline with her finger.
"What in the world would make you stupid enough to come in...here..."
His voice died away as he took in the headline. BILLIONAIRE SOCIALITE WAYNE TO MARRY REFORMED CRIMINAL QUINN.
"Wayne?" he snarled. "Marry Harley? Over his dead body!"
"Exactly," Ivy said, tight-lipped. "We have to stop them."
"We?" he laughed, getting up. "Oh, I see. Breaking up Harley's wedding..." He walked his fingers up her arm. "And hoping to get a little action for yourself in the meantime with the most eligible bachelor of the underworld? Maybe she'll throw you the bouquet!"
The next second, he was staring at the floor, vines wrapped around both his ankles and another squirming upward to get a stranglehold on a most uncomfortable place. "Get this straight, Joker," Ivy said, glaring at him upside-down, and he was shocked into seriousness for a second. "I'm not doing this to get Wayne, and I'm certainly not doing this to spend time with trash like you--"
"I'm a bad punny, I know." He threw a handful of itching powder towards his feet, and the vines shuddered and recoiled, then twirled frantically about each other. What do you know--it did work on other species. But just as he was about to get up, Ivy planted her boot firmly in his back. "Ouch."
"I'm doing this strictly for Harley," she finished. "She's better off dead than with some useless rich man. He'll only use her and throw her away, and she's gotten enough of that from you. Are we clear?"
He smiled happily. "Clear as mud."
"Good." She withdrew her foot, and he got up. "Then here's my plan..."
Harley waited on the concourse at the baseball stadium while Bruce went to buy snacks. A man passing by did a double take and sneered, "Crazy witch!"
She gasped. "Why, I oughta rip your eyes out and donate them to that umpire!"
She drew back her fist...and Bruce caught her arm, twirling her into a dip (and coincidentally, she couldn't help noticing, elbowing the twerp hard in the side). "Having fun, Harl?" he laughed, and handed her the biggest, fluffiest, pinkest cone of cotton candy she had ever seen before pulling her back up.
"Only if you dance with me!" she said.
He grinned and spun her out the length of his arm. Clutching his hand and leaning back, she took a big bite of the cotton candy.
It tasted sweet.
The diamonds sparkled from the jeweller's window, reflecting back the gleaming lights of the city at night. Harley stared longingly through the glass, thinking about how nice they would look on her. A little smash-and-grab job, it would be fun--nobody would be able to react in time--
Her fingers were already reaching into her purse for the pick when Bruce's reflection suddenly moved up into the glass as well. "See anything you like?"
"All of it?" she joked, a little nervously.
Half an hour later, the jeweller bowed them both out the door, laden with boxes.
Harley wasn't sure whether he or she was happier.
Harley rattled the handcuffs hopefully.
Bruce caught her hand and took them away. "Darling, I just want to get to know each other better first. I don't want you to feel pressured, or rushed."
She pouted, but only a little. "But it's fun--"
He kissed her forehead. "There will be plenty of time for that after we're married. I promise you, I have toys you've never dreamed of."
Harley sighed happily. The Joker usually turned her down by pushing her out of a blimp. This meant way fewer broken bones.
Harley crept slowly down from her window and across the grounds. Somewhere nearby, there was a sound like a shower of gravel, and it made her start and look a little wistfully back up at the window. She'd never felt guilty going on a caper before. It was just that the Manor was so far out, and quiet, and she couldn't help it, she got bored when Bruce was busy.
A twig snapped loudly. That reminded her. She paused and looked in her bag. She'd cached a few things, but mostly she was going to have to improvise. She hoped she hadn't gotten too reliant on the props to pull off a gig--
Abruptly, a tuneless humming came out of the darkness, quickly getting louder and louder. She turned her head and peered. Sure enough, a small figure ducked too late into the bushes.
"Timmy," she called, "isn't it past your curfew?"
He straightened up, looking disgusted. "No?"
"Look, kid, you're gonna have to get up a lot earlier in the day to put one over on Harley," she said, in a friendly kind of way. She did want Tim to like her. Bruce obviously loved him bunches. "I'm an old hand at sneaking around joints like this. Back to the Big House with you!"
She started to take his arm, but he jerked away. "I'll go myself," he said. "I just want to...um...see how the petunias are coming up first."
"Right, kid," she laughed. "Petunias, schmetunias. You're a real horticulturist, I can tell. I should introduce you to a friend of mine. She'd think you were a doll. Come on."
His face stony, he let her march him back to the house. Bruce met them at the door. "Tim, have you been sneaking out again?"
Tim said nothing as she waited. She stepped on his foot, wishing she had a shoe-buzzer. Maybe she could talk Bruce into buying her one. They were good for livening up boring subway rides.
"Yes," he said finally, through his teeth.
"Good boy," Bruce said, and Harley smiled. Bruce was fair, he really was. "Now go straight upstairs and don't come down til I call for you."
Firm, too. He was going to be such a good father.
"All right, but this is stupid!" Tim yelled as he scampered up the steps.
"Kids!" she said, grinning. "Gotta love 'em!"
"I do," he said.
"I know. It's sweet." She kissed him, ignoring the faint gagging sound she heard from the top of the stairs. It was almost like they were a real family.
Tim had just reached the bottom of his slide down the bannister when someone clapped a hand over his mouth from behind and yanked him backwards. He sent an elbow flying as he tumbled, but only succeeded in slamming his funny bone against armor. "Owwww," he said against the gloved hand.
"Shh," said a voice he recognized as Nightwing's.
"You know, some people knock on the door or even call ahead when they want to visit," Tim said when he took the glove away.
"Some people don't get wedding invitations from Harley Quinn." Nightwing dropped him, and Tim took special pleasure in landing on his foot on the way down. He was carrying a big tranq gun, with several similar-looking weapons strapped to his waist, arms, and thighs, and there was a large metal case by his feet.
"Wow, either an elephant escaped that I didn't even know we had, or you brought a lot of wedding presents."
"Not an elephant. I didn't believe the papers, but when I got the invitation--"
"Yeah, I know." Tim rubbed his face. "I can't believe it myself. But it's all part of some big Bat-scheme to keep Harley on the straight and narrow, and so far, it seems to be working."
"By marrying her? When he won't even call Selina--and by the way, you'd better watch out for--"
"A mysterious herd of cats already ate all the hydrangeas. Alfred's distraught."
"Well, that's understandable, it's just so unfair--" Nightwing interrupted himself. "I can't believe I'm even talking about this like it's going to be happening! It's Harley Quinn!"
"Well," Tim said reluctantly. Very reluctantly. "It does seem to be doing Bruce some good."
Nightwing furrowed his brow.
"He's more relaxed. They're actually..." He dropped his voice. "Having fun. He gets a kick out of thwarting her little schemes. She's...she's..."
"What?" he asked darkly.
"Made him laugh. At least twice."
"Oh, my God." Nightwing stared, then dove for his case. "She's drugging him!"
Tim caught his arm. "Don't you think I already sent samples to the lab? He's clean."
"Then I can't understand it. What about you?"
"Oh, Harl loves kids," Tim said dryly. "Lucky me. But...it's not as bad as I thought it was going to be. Except the way I have to keep 'accidentally' finding her criminal equipment. Last time it was in her lingerie drawer. That wasn't easy to explain."
"So you think this is for real?"
"I think you had better bring me your morning coat for tailoring, Master Dick," Alfred said, making them both jump. "You are to be best man."
"Alfred. You're buying into this, too?" Nightwing appealed.
Alfred looked extremely discreet.
Tim grinned. "Harley's been trying to cook. Alfred's attempting to rise above."
Nightwing looked back and forth between both of them. "Fine. But I'm not calling her 'Mom.' Ever! And if anything goes wrong--"
"...then you should be at the wedding to help?" Alfred said mildly.
"That's right. I'll have the coat here within an hour."
Nightwing bounded away.
Harley had wanted a great big wedding, with a cathedral and a long train and searchlights and carefully coordinated explosions along the limo's route to the reception. What did she care if that meant a bunch of looky-Lous would show up and stare? She wanted everyone to see that she'd finally made it, that she'd done something real and good. But Bruce had disagreed: "The press, Harl," he said, "and I hate to say it, but maybe some other people you don't want to see--"
"Well....can there be a few explosions, at least?" she wheedled. "Just some little ones?"
"When we get to Paris, there will be fireworks over the Seine. I promise."
Just like Grace Kelly! Now there was a dame with class. Bruce always knew just what to say. Harley sighed and gave in.
The other big problem was bridesmaids. Harley didn't exactly have a lot of friends outside of the joint, and the commissioner was very unreasonable about day-passes. Sure, Ivy was on the loose, but Ivy...Harley wasn't totally insensitive. She was about to give up in despair when she heard an ad on the radio and realized that Livewire happened to be trying to go straight this month. She would do. She might even throw in a few tiny explosions for old times' sake--maybe just the church sound system.
When Harley first called, Livewire started out a party-pooper. She said, "C'mon, Harl, your wedding? I'm a big-city girl. I think weddings are bourgeois."
"Don't be silly! They're fun! You get to dress up, have fun with your sweetie, and then get lots of loot! It's just like a caper!"
"But bridesmaids don't get a cut. Not to mention, what will happen if your ex shows up? That would be way too awkward a scene for me."
Harley had thought there might be a problem like this. "Just look in your fax machine, will ya?"
"Look, girl, you're not going to change my mind about this. I never think a wedding is anything to--" She heard Livewire cross the room, and then a faint gasp. "Is this a groomsman?"
"The best man. And I happen to know he's single."
"...All right. But I'm not wearing a bridesmaid's dress. Little black dress or nothing!"
"No problem," Harley sang, and crossed that off her list. Dick would thank her some day.
So Harley was aglow with happiness as she waited to march down the aisle. She took a little peek with the x-ray specs she'd tucked into her purse, and Bruce was already standing at the altar, the handsomest man she'd ever seen. He had his hand to his ear and was muttering to himself--probably trying to remember their vows. It was so sweet that he was nervous.
Then the music started, and she floated down the aisle between the pews dolled up with the biggest white calla lillies she'd ever seen, while the photographer went snap-snap-snap in the background. She felt like a prom queen, a princess, and a movie star all rolled into one. When she reached Bruce, though, everything faded away but his eyes and his smile.
She hardly even heard the words of the ceremony, til the minister reached: "I now pronounce you--"
"All right. Banns in the air and no one gets hurt," someone announced behind her.
Harley spun around, lighting up. Ivy was leaning against the front pew, pretty as a picture in her green dress. "Ivy!" she squealed. "You came!"
She was just about to launch herself at her for a hug when another voice cut in dryly. "Yes, we figured that our invitations must have gotten lost in the mail."
Harley gasped as the Joker unfolded himself from behind the camera. Now that she was paying attention again, she realized that all the guests were slumped over beneath the lilies, which had opened even wider than before. And on both sides of her, Dick and Livewire were frozen like deer in headlights. The old stun-cam trick! The only people left stirring in the church were the three of them and Bruce.
"I'm afraid you're wrong about one thing, Ivy," he said. "Someone really does have to get hurt." He aimed his gun at Bruce. "This one."
"It's a waste of time, Joker," she disagreed.
"He led my Harley astray. He made me a cuckold! And that's no joke. He dies. Either now or later, and now sounds like much more fun."
"But Mr. J!" Harley cut in. "I didn't think you cared! Last time, you kicked me out of the escape car and left me for the cops!"
"Just because I abandoned you doesn't mean I don't want you, Harley darling," he said. "Don't we always make up our little lover's spats? Except when some overdressed underbrained fop sweeps in to take advantage of you. Well, soon his brains will be the last of his problems, because he won't have any."
He clicked off the safety on the gun. Harley stared at Bruce, who had gone very still. He almost looked...afraid. He wasn't even going to speak up for himself! She sprang in front of him, her hands outstretched. "Take advantage of me?" she cried. "Are you kidding? I don't love this mook. I never did. I was only marrying him to get his money. And this schlemiel fell for it. Tonight it was going to be curtains for him! And then all the Wayne millions would have been ours, baby, ours."
"Really?" Joker demanded.
She had started out uncertain, but the more she thought about it, the more she realized that it must be true. Her, Harley Quinn, settle down with some ridiculous high-society type like Wayne when she could be the Joker's Queen? Why...she must've been crazy!
She was almost sure.
"Cross my heart, hope Batman dies," she said. "Let's just go, Mr. J." She turned back and rifled Bruce's pocket without looking at his face. "I got his wallet...and these rings. That'll keep us in the black for a while."
"But I still want to kill someone," he pouted. "It's a special occasion."
"Oh, you'll get your chance," Ivy said. "The police are outside."
"All right," he relented, and raised the camera instead of the gun. "Say cheese, Brucie."
Harley sat on the other side of the glass and wouldn't look at Bruce. She was still in her wedding dress, which that awful Batgirl had completely ruined in the fight after they came out of the church. Well, she would get her true colors back soon enough. She guessed it didn't matter. She guessed.
"I'll stand by you, Harl," Bruce was saying. "I'll get you a doctor--a lawyer--a cheese sandwich--"
He tried to smile. Poor big dope. Big, sweet, handsome schmuck. "Not interested."
"But you don't have to do this alone. I can help."
She lost her patience. Help? Against the Joker? Maybe by giving him someone to redecorate on a boring Sunday evening after the Three Stooges went off! She didn't even want to think about it--it was too stupid. "Don't you get it, you patsy?" she said scornfully. "I never cared about you! Never! I'm the Joker's moll--a lady who punches, not a lady who lunches! Now go on. Get lost! Scram!"
Surprisingly, he didn't move, just looked at her, more serious than she'd ever seen him. "Didn't you love me at all, Harley?"
She couldn't have, she couldn't, because she loved Mr. J, and she loved Ivy, and they would never, never--"Not a bit. Now beat it!"
Bruce's face fell, and he got up heavily to go. He stood there, big and solid, for a minute longer, eyes big and dark and soft, and she had to scowl and turn her back on him.
If her lip quivered, it didn't mean anything at all. Anyway, she was sure he didn't see it, so it couldn't count.
"I still think it was a risky scheme, Bruce," Dick said, leaning forward in his chair in the Cave and frowning.
"Not at all," he disagreed. "If Harley stayed on the straight and narrow, that was a victory for us. If not--"
"You mean when not."
Bruce raised an eyebrow. "I knew the wedding would draw Ivy and the Joker out. Now they're all back in Arkham."
"Yeah," Tim said, "but you had to let her kiss you!" He shuddered.
Bruce was deadpan. "I've had worse, Tim."
"Well," Dick said. "I could argue with you about this some more, but I'm hungry. Race you to the hors d'oeuvres, Tim."
He leapt up, spinning Tim's chair backwards, and sprinted for the stairs. "No fair!" Tim yelled, and threw an oil-slick in front of him. Dick somersaulted through the air onto the stairs, and soon the two of them were out of sight.
"Well, Master Bruce, I must say, if that is what matrimony will do to our household, I never want us to come near it again."
Bruce glanced back at Alfred, who had emerged from the shadows with a broom in hand. "Come on, Alfred. It's not like you've never had to get a pot lid out of the ceiling before."
"Master Timothy apologized."
"Harley is...a bit more of a free spirit."
"Indeed, sir." Alfred bent and began sweeping up invisible dust. "Although she did have some appealing qualities, I never believed that she could fit in here."
"Neither did I," Bruce said. His look was wistful. "Neither did I."