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Escaping the Valley of Ashes

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This is a valley of ashes – a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of ash-grey men, who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air, Harley read, and it reminded her of nothing so much as Gotham.

She took a sip of her espressso and flipped to the next page of The Great Gatsby. She'd taken it out of the prison cart, now that it had been going from  cell to cell - thanks to Croc. She had picked this one because she had enjoyed the cover; not that she had much else to base her picks on. The guards didn't let'em get close enough to the cart to read the back of the book. 

Still, this had been a good choice. She hadn't cared much for the previous one, Vanity Fair -  the woman gazing at herself in a cracked mirror had been promising, but the story had nothing to do with a woman who saw someone else in the mirror, like her. It had been all social niceties and knives behind the back - which was all society was. Duh.  

Gatsby though, that held some promise. She was getting to Gatsby starin' at the green light and how romantic it was, him all fixated on the house on the shore, when the familiar sound of bullets made her look up, the green light's spell broken. 

She stood, listening as carefully as she could, her breath catching. The bullets were flying fast; semi-automatics. A decent gang if they were able to get more than one down here; no one down here ran as intense a gun game as the Joker's gang had. She watched the hallway as guards scrambled toward near her cell. That was interesting. Her breath caught in her throat as she considered the options - she was a relatively low-value prisoner, now. The Suicide Squad hadn't been called in months, not since they'd sent Floyd back up north to Gotham. For them to all be amassing on her door meant someone thought she was worth something, which meant two options: the Joker and their gang, or someone who hated Joker and the gang. 

There was a familiar rat-a-tat-tat against the door; Harley popped her gum, hoping against hope that it was her Puddin'.

A man in a swat mask approached her door; she swallowed, nearly sendin' her gum down her gullet, but then the man popped off his helmet, and a flash of green put her at ease. Unanswerable questions sprung to mind - Where did you go? How did you escape the helicopter crash? Why did you leave me behind -- again?  but they were swallowed by the brilliant pulse of her heart as her green light-of-her-life gave her a grin and held out a hand.

"Puddin'!" She squealed, and just like that, they were off. 

 She followed him out of darkness, her feet moving quickly as Joker and the disguised henchmen pushed her forward. The old prison was more dilapidated than she thought possible, the walls a filthy ash-grey. The whole courtyard smelled of smoke, though how much that was due to Joker's crew was uncertain. Dick Tracey, his ironic fedora cocked half of the left, gave her a salute before stetting a flamethrower on a poor, unsuspecting camera. It collapsed into grey slag, and the Joker pulled her forward.

Within seconds, they were in front of stars for the first time in months. It was so romantic, she thought, sighing happily despite the screams of the dying echoing behind her. The Joker shoved her forward roughly until she saw their escape vehicle ca few yards in fornt of them, but then he'd never been the romantic type. 

Harley laughed when she saw it. It was fit for a queen, at least a Gotham one; a motorcycle, spray-painted purple and green, with a unicorn horn glued messily onto the handlebars. It had two engines blazing fire in the back; it thrummed hot and warm, and Harley grinned. It smelled like gasoline, and something else, something she couldn’t quite place - but then, she’d been in the pokey for a long time. Anything that wasn’t dirty air, caffeinated sludge, or stinky, itchy fabric was something new to her.

“Your cha-cha-chariot awaits,” Puddin’ whispered in her ear, before roughly shoving her down onto the bike. She winced as she hit the seat, but then he wrapped his arms around her, and she felt the cold glint of his grin in his low chuckle.

“Let’s gun it!” she said, her voice hoarse. Her blood was pumping — not just from the espresso. His weight behind her was solid, a hint of danger coursing through her veins. She shivered, the discordant straight between her orange rags and the hot bike obvious- Joker was burning hot, a hunka-hunka hunk of heat, but she was so cold. He hadn’t brought a coat or a longer outfit for her, but then the shorts and t-shirt had felt fine the last time she had been out.

She wondered, exactly, how many months she had been down there, with little more than an espresso machine and some paper to keep her company. She realized with some sadness that she'd left her book behind, but knew better than to ask Joker to grab it for her.  His hands were busy at her sides, and she wondered if he was going to take her here, rough — but then his fingers thrummed the ignition. She grinned as the two engines on the side, with their own canisters of gas, roused to life.

And then they were off. She wrinkled her nose at the smell - must be a new high-octane fuel her Joker was using. It reminded her of the nitrous at Arkham, down in the medical labs. She laughed, though she wasn’t really sure why; maybe it was just that she was free again, that she was seeing, feeling moonlight, for the first time in months.

She felt alive, awake in a a way she hadn’t been since she'd been locked up in the pokey. 

Once she started laughing, she found she couldn’t stop. Her jaw ached after a few moments, but she was beyond caring about the physical pain. She gripped tighter onto the handlebars. Her fingers hit his; she traced them for a moment. There was fire behind the touch; fire that burned and crackled her skin, but it felt so good she did not truly mind. It was the first time she’d felt happy in months, since the old witchy poo went and exploded.

She glanced back at him for a moment; the leer on his face in response told her that he had felt the spark as clearly as she had. He wasted precious seconds, leering at her menacingly, and she leered back, still laughing, mad and in love. Harleen would have been afraid of this, this all-consuming madness; Harley embraced it, for the good times at least. And this was definitively definitely going to be one of their good times. His eyes reflected the flame of his desire as he looked beyond her, revving the engine.

The machine hummed between her legs, the first taste of real action she’d had in forever. She would have whimpered, had she not still been laughing. She had been doing it long enough her lungs hurt, burned; but this was nothing compared to the acid, the electricity, and it felt so good that she kept doing it despite the pain.

There was an alarm going off in the distance - a klaxon warning that their oh-so-high-tech security system had been breached.

“Take the wheel, sweetheart,” the Joker cackled as he leaned over behind her; she saw the glint of a sharp knife as he pulled one of the canisters and punctured it. A thick, noxious gas spewed out that made her eyes water; she tried to gasp, but choked, gagging as her laughter sputtered into a cough.

Nitrous. It had to be. She was unable to stop herself from seeing it again - her body on the table, Joker cackling above her, a thick smell of gas in the air as he administered shock after shock - and blanched. She leaned down, eyes tearing up. She throttled the engine. She didn’t want him to see her cry. Mister J never took her crying well.

A guard ran at them from the doorway; Joker threw the canister toward him. She heard him gag and retch, and didn’t bother to turn around as she pulled away.

The guards were aware of their escape now; she caught another guard scrambling to hit an alarm, and swerved toward him. Joker grabbed him and threw him easily, laughing. She heard the man splat wetly against the pavement. She did not hear him get up again.

She pulled the throttle harder. They were near the gates now; somehow, they weren’t closed yet. She wondered if he’d broken anyone else out, but there wasn’t time to ask. She hoped that the old guards Joker had brought into her cell to break her out - she’d recognized Patches for his eyes, and Panda for the costume - had made it out of the building.

She gunned it faster; the engines were racing now. She pushed hard, leaning forward, and the Joker threw a knife up into a tower; she looked up for a moment, then wished she hadn’t, as a body slumped forward; female. She looked for a moment like a unicorn, with her mane daintily tied into a bow, then the ash-black figure crumpled, like a doll after play-time.

“Sharp shooting, eh?” he cackled in her ear, his voice dry. She did not laugh now. She shivered, unable to stop the physical recoil, but the Joker took it as a good thing, his voice laughing boorishly as an explosion sounded once more in the distance and they cleared the streets.

And then they were on their way to Gotham.

- - -

They changed vehicles in Atlanta, and not a moment too soon. She knew they were close to being free when Patches and Panda caught up to her and Joker; she recognized them, even in the leather disguises. Patches and Panda were both old hands of Joker’s; they had run in the crew longer than she had. Both were her favorite kind of minion, ones who were fun to play with — but otherwise silent. They never tried to one-up Joker, never tried to do more with her than she wanted. Patches and Panda knew the limits of the game, and she was thankful.

For their sake and hers. Puddin didn’t play nice.

She hoped that they would take a car after the painful hours of riding from the prison. Her thighs ached from the vibration, and the fumes from the nitrous made her dizzy. But when they pulled into a garage - nondescript, closed; Panda and Patches had scouted ahead - and inside there were another three motorcycles. Clearly Joker had paid someone a “visit” and convinced them it may be best to have preparations in place.

She sighed.

Puddin grabbed a pair of leathers off the rack; there were three of them, nice full suits. Protection. Warmth. Meant for men, but she was confident she could fit the smallest. She reached out a hand toward it, but Joker yanked it ahead of her, tossing it to Patches.

“Baby…” She pouted.

He didn’t bother to dignify her with a response, slipping the jacket over his shoulders. Harley was too angry to even acknowledge that she liked how he looked in leather. She folded her arms, one over the other, and he didn’t even realize it until after he’d put the chaps on over his own pants.

“What?” He grunted, pointing toward the other end of the store. “Women’s side is over there.”

She stalked over to the other side; it was far less helpful than the men’s, and somehow even emptier. There were only two things left - a thin, pink helmet that she doubted would offer that much protection, and a leather bra top.

She grabbed the helmet, but left the bra. She did not see why she should have to wear such thin clothing when the henchmen wore full jackets, but she knew better than to demand the clothing off their backs. There were limits to Puddin’s hospitality.

“Hey Mister J,” she said, slipping the helmet over her face. “Can we maybe go to another place? I’m - “

The Joker raised a hand and she stopped, instantly. He walked over to her, a leer on his face but his eyes were cold. She did not dare say more. She caught the henchman glance at one another out of the corner of her eye; they knew, as well as she did, that the boss was in a dangerous mood. He grabbed the bra off the shelf, his fingers caressing the leather. Harley’s stomach dropped - she knew what was coming.

“Put that on,” he growled. He was quite taken with it, she could tell, much to her chagrin.

“But — “

He made a soft shushing sound; she stopped talking. He placed one hand on her chin, his grip at first tender and then hard. It hurt, and tears strung in her eyes, but she’d be damned if she let them fall.

“I made a simple, reasonable request, babe. I came all the way down from Gotham for you. You ,” he said, letting go of her jaw. She rubbed it fiercely; the skin was red, irritated. “You put me through a lot of trouble, Harley.”

“I’m sorry, Mister J, I’m — “

“Shh, shh, shh.” He patted her head reassuringly. “Go on, now, Harley. Be a bad girl. 

She nodded, swallowing her discomfort. There was a part of her that was turned on by the expression on his face. He did not look away as she took off her top, his eyes filled with burning need as he handed her the leather bra. Harleen’s voice in her head, however, was not so easily fooled; she wondered, loudly, how they had to come to this, to being watched by three men as she undressed.

Harley found she had no answer.

- - -

It was dark when they got back home; Joker had taken the scenic route, all dark-alleys and country highways - and a few off-road trails as well. She felt numb; exhausted. They had driven hours - she had seen the sun go from a mere sliver in the sky to painfully full to nothing at all.

It was cold in Gotham. There was snow on the ground; there had been none when she was last out. In her impossibly small top, she shivered; she felt exposed, and not in a sexy way.

It was dark enough there weren’t many stragglers about; Joker left the helmet on as he gave orders to Patches and Panda. With his hair hidden, he reminded her of the vision the Enchantress had left in her; she could almost pretend his hair was brown, not green. He married me , she mouthed, concentrating on the memory. We were nice. Normal.

Would he ever do that in the real world? She thought of it a moment, tried to imagine him holding a child between their arms, dancing with her; king and queen of nothing but their own kitchen.

Even Mr. J had to retire sometime, right?

- - -

Joker had no plan to retire for the night, but, mercifully, he did not drag her to the club.; Instead, they went back into one of his many hide-aways, tucked away in the edges of the city. It was a bad part of town, the type Harleen would never have been seen in; the type her father would have all but disowned her for going to. It was a shabby little place, barely more than a one bedroom lil’ hole in the ground, the kind with the mattress on the floor. And it was home. Sometimes.

He hadn’t been kidding about the bear-skin rug, though; it was a scrappy little thing in front of a trash can filled with newspaper, but it was there.

“Make yourself comfortable,” he growled, all swagger. She sat because she was told to; he pulled a couple drinks from the fridge. She watched — because she liked the way his hands looked, the rings glittering off them…and because she wanted to make sure he didn’t poison the drinks.

She laid out as best she could on the rug; it was clean, at least, the one thing in this place that was.

“So…” The Joker said as he popped the tops off of two glass bottles of grape soda; his favorite, not hers. After so many days of bread and water, her mouth salivated at the thought of it anyway. “You miss me, babe?”

“You know it,” she said, forcing a smile; he did not see it, still working on pouring the sodas. She marveled at his delicate hands.; his fingers were long, the movements precise. He could have been something respectable; nice. A doctor, or a watch-maker. Not a super-villain.

He turned toward her, walking back from the small little kitchen to the floor and. He nestled the drinks between them. There was also a rag and a box of match; the rag smelled strongly of gas, and she wasn’t surprised when he tossed it in the newspapers and sparked a match - Puddin’ wasn’t much for decorating, she supposed, but he liked fire. She grabbed her drink, took a quick sip, but quickly put it down again when he gave her bedroom eyes - hungry and intense blue, drowning her whole.

“Show me,” he whispered, his voice hoarse. He wanted her; she knew that, had known it from the moment he’d sprung her coup. She leaned forward, smiled, and he pressed his head down, his lips meeting hers. Fireworks. She grinned against him as he pressed harder, his mouth opening, his tongue begging for entrance. She teased him, denied him; bit him, once, hard, but it did nothing but multiply his passions toward her.

For all of Harleen’s misgiving's, the warnings she shouted in the little voice that still, somehow, clung to life in Harley’s mind — this, this was something she had never experienced anywhere else. No one else could incite this in her, the way he clung to her, like she was the only way he would ever feel; the only way he ever could.

Would you live for me?  He had asked, once, with his eyes this passionate, this alight, and she had answered by way of baptism, drowning in the acid as well as he had. Even now, as they separated, she found herself lost in his steel-blue eyes; cold eyes, a killer’s eyes, but ones that looked on her with naked, all-consuming want.

“You missed daddy a lot, I see,” he growled; possessive. His hand tightened on her hip. She moved the sodas. “Bet this is a bit better than fighting some ol’ witch bitch, right?”

“I dunno, puddin’,” she teased him, her fingers tracing his tattoos with her fingernails. The blue on her left hand suited him; it played in pleasing contrast to the dark black of his tattoos in the firelight. “She showed me us , you know.”

“That so?” He grunted. “What would she go and do that for?”

She could tell he was intrigued, despite the impatient tap of his fingers at her waist.

“She was trying to trick me by giving me the one thing I wanted,” she said, her voice baby-soft. This placated the monster in him, she could tell; he grinned, a twenty-four carat glowing smile. It looked like a shark’s grin.

“She give you nasty thoughts, baby?” he asked, and she giggled as he pressed a soft kiss into her neck, and then bit. He bit hard, but not as hard as he would later, she knew; by morning, she would be covered in black and blue bruises, little love-notes from him that would hurt and sting.

She debated lying, debated nodding and getting on with it. But then, if she loved him - and she thought she did, surely she did, for why else would she have thrown away everything to drown in him? - she knew she should be honest.

“Not quite that,” she said, softly; she reached up, unbuttoning his shirt as she talked. “Was more of a retirement scene.”

“All wrinkly and gross?” He laughed, but stopped when her hand caressed his chest. “Not my kind of porno.”

“It wasn’t like that, Mr. J!” she said, indignant, her hands flustered as she reached for his belt buckle.

“You’re wearing far too many clothes, my dear,” he said; he was, no doubt, bored of the story now. His long fingers pulled down one shoulder and his mouth followed, leaving a trail of kisses that made it hard to focus on telling him.

“It was - “ She bit her lip, suddenly a bit ashamed. She wondered what he’d think of it; if he would think it too pedestrian, too ordinary . “You and me, and we were in a kitchen, dancing.”

“I prefer dancing on the living room floor,” he growled; he was almost on top of her now, his hands fighting to foil the double-knot she’d tied to keep his favorite bra on during the rough rides.

“It was nice. Calm, quiet.” She smiled; he freed her breasts and flashed her a dizzying smile before his mouth was on her left tit, tongue swirling lazily around her areola. She sucked in a harsh breath, but continued - “Just you, and me, and baby — “

“And baby?” He jerked up abruptly. “Who else you gonna call your baby?”

"Our baby,” she said, her cheeks flushed pink. “That’s what she showed me.”

He stared at her for a moment, his mouth open; eyes curiously still. She watched him, her hand rubbing his side, but he made no movement for a bit. Then he laughed; a crow’s caw, loud and rough.

“J?” She whispered.

“What a dumb idea,” he said, still laughing. Then, as if nothing had happened, he bent down, pressing a soft kiss into her navel. “Stupid witch.”

“Y-Yeah,” she said, blinking back tears in her eyes as he pushed down her shorts, pressing soft kisses all the way down. “A stupid - stupid idea. Can you…can you believe she thought that would work?”

She closed her eyes and tried to focus on the moment; the feel of his hair between her fingers, the pleasant pain of being touched after so long. But a part of her kept focusing on the dream Enchantress had shown her - and now she knew it was just that, only a dream.

In her dreams, Joker swung her around their Formica counter-top, pressing tender kisses into her skin as their child laughed.

In reality, he bit her, claimed her as his as he poured himself into her, their only companion the fire-light of a trash heap.

She knew which she preferred, and it hurt, more than any scar.