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

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.


(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...)

-- had oh-so-originally named Smylex out of him before the man
had... died.

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

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

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.


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

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

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."


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

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 --


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

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

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

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


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.