Batman didn't jolt when he awoke, and instead remained still as he tried to take stock of the situation. The last thing he remembered was realizing too late that Poison Ivy had filled the vents with sleep poppies.
He really needed to build some kind of automated sensor into his mask, so it could activate when his hands were tied. Literally or metaphorically. He kept meaning to, but it kept getting put on the back burner in favor of more pressing projects.
Sometimes he wondered if his subconscious was deliberately guiding him toward forced naps.
He wasn't in a research lab. He was in a bed. A comforter had been pulled up over him. He was still in full costume. Someone was singing Duke of Earl, muffled by at least one door.
Slowly, he sat up. He slid out from under the covers until his boots touched the floor. He kept the lights off, and remained silent as he opened the bedroom door, entered the living room. The apartment wasn't large enough to accommodate a hallway.
Standing between the couch and the dining room table, he had still somehow managed to go unnoticed. She was still singing Duke of Earl. She made it sound like Duke of Oil.
"Harley." His voice rasped in his throat.
She twirled around in surprise, her eyes wide. She'd changed out of her costume. She might have been wearing a black hoodie dress, or she might have just broken into the closet of a man Batman's size. The primary source of confusion was the fact that the neckline went about halfway to her navel, in order to show off a bra stitched to look covered in roses. She may have stolen it from Ivy. The fact that it was too small for her supported this idea. The rose print ribbons in her hair matched her choker. If she was wearing shorts, they weren't obvious beneath the hoodie. The stripes on her thigh-high socks were mismatched.
It was unclear what this outfit was intended to convey. If anything.
"You're up!" she said, a wide grin of delight, voice as high and nasal as ever. The headache he did not yet have didn't appreciate it. Her lipstick was a lighter shade of red than usual. She was holding a metal spatula. "Pancakes'll be done in a minute, Red says it's important to eat after ya get up if ya don't wanna be sick. There's water for ya, too, you're probably dehydrated." She pointed with the spatula to a bottle of water on the counter.
"Harley," he repeated, a tone of warning underneath the rough texture of it. He considered the best way to express the sentiment he wanted conveyed in as few words as possible. "What the fuck."
It was neither eloquent nor intimidating. Both were pointless where Harley was concerned. She and Ivy had moved well beyond the point where he could maintain any kind of a mystique. He was just lucky that neither had any interest in killing or unmasking him.
Harley giggled. "Ya sound awful," she said, and when she said the word it sounded like it contained at least three Os. "Drink your water," she insisted, turning back around to flip her pancakes.
Cautiously, Batman claimed the rectangular bottle.
"We weren't just gonna leave ya there, obviously. Findin' Bats all sleepy on the floor, how embarrassin' would that be? And then all the boys in Gotham'd start acting up, thinkin' they could get away with it, and nobody wants that."
Batman had already finished the entire bottle of water. He was still thirsty. His skin felt sticky.
"Red wanted to steal your clothes and leave ya in a dumpster again, so you're welcome for changin' her mind."
She hummed, swaying her hips as she poured more pancake batter onto the skillet. He kept his eyes on a random cabinet door. One of the hinges was missing a screw. "I had her help me bring ya back here, instead. I dunno how comfy it was, sleepin' in your suit, but I thought ya might be shy about your ballerina pajamas."
"That's not what those are."
"Whatever ya say," she sang. "Ivy's already way outta Gotham, and I'm not tellin' ya where."
"Harley." She looked over her shoulder at him. "Are you off your meds again?"
She giggled. "Kinda."
"It's a yes or no question."
"It's complicated." She flipped more pancakes. "The old stuff made me feel nothin' but mad and everythin' else gave me seizures and even when it worked I was tired and fat and twitchy. That's one good thing about gettin' dunked, I don't have those tics anymore."
"Don't make excuses for him."
"I'm not makin' excuses!" she said, defensive. "I'm just sayin', is all. I don't think he knew it'd help with that." She frowned. "I think he thought it'd kill me."
She sighed. "When I'm all flat I end up goin' back to him and goin' off my meds anyway, so what's the point?"
"You're not yourself when you're unmedicated."
"I'm not totally off them! Can't ya tell?" She turned around, and grabbed her own breasts. "Lookit all the weight I've gained."
Batman averted his gaze pointedly to an art poster on the wall.
"Ya remember how skinny I was."
Harley turned her attention back to pancakes. "Ivy and I've been workin' on growin' somethin' I can use."
"That sounds inadvisable."
"It's workin', though! It's sorta workin'. I'm not hallucinatin' much, anyway. Still gettin' fat, but I'm not tired."
"You're not fat."
"I'm really not."
Harley presented him with a plate of pancakes. He did not accept it. "Don't make me have done all that for no reason," she warned. Once-rich skin had an unnatural pallor, color leached out of it with acid. There were red rings around the gray of her irises. They used to be brown.
Silently, he took the plate from her. He made no move to actually eat it. There was a sound at the front door, and Batman and Harley both turned their heads to look. It opened, and an unfamiliar brunette froze at the sight of them. She was holding a phone up to her ear.
She stared at them. They stared back.
"Honey, can I stay at your place tonight?" she said into her phone as she shut the door again.
Batman looked back at Harley, and said nothing.
"What?" she asked, putting up her palms. "I never said it was my apartment."
"I wasn't just gonna steal her food, either," Harley added. "I was gonna run to the store before ya took me back to Arkham."
"I'm not letting you rob a grocery store."
"So you're just lettin' me rob this girl, instead? After eatin' all her pancakes?"
"I'm not eating these."
"You'd better! And I'd wanna get her some food even if ya didn't, because look at this." Harley swung the door to the fridge open, and pointed inside of it. "She can't be livin' like this! It's unhealthy."
The fridge contained nothing but sparkling fruit drinks and yogurt.
Batman and Harley Quinn were standing in the middle of a Green Market that had not yet opened for the morning. She'd put her costume back on, her coat in red and black with a harlequin hood, bells on her collar. She still hadn't zipped it up. The sports bra was a minor improvement. The leggings were marginally more practical. Her high-tops didn't match.
She frowned at the label on a bottle of juice.
"These prices are a lot better than I woulda thought," she said. "I figured it'd be all frou-frou organic stuff."
"It's sustainable. Not organic."
"Yeah! Red's always tellin' me how those're different." She dropped the juice into the basket on her arm. "I feel like your lecture'd go different than hers, since hers always end with how everybody oughta die." She gasped in delight as she spotted a display of pawpaw fruit. "Are these local?" she asked. She did not wait for a response. "I didn't know they had these here!" She grabbed three. "They need to work on their advertising."
"Is this where ya shop?" Harley asked. Batman did not respond. "I always thought it was funny, imaginin' you and Robin goin' grocery shoppin'. Did he go off to college? I figured it'd happen eventually, once he got taller than me. Course, ya had that other Robin for a minute there — real firecracker, that one. I always thought that first Robin was yours, but that second one..." She shook her head. "What happened to him, anyway?"
The silence this time had a weight to it.
Harley wilted a little. "Oh, no."
"It wasn't that."
"Is he okay?"
He opened his mouth, then shut it again without a word.
"He didn't get shot or nothin'?"
"It's okay if ya don't wanna tell me what happened," Harley assured him, looking over produce, basket hanging from her hands.
Her grip on the basket tightened. "Oh."
They were both quiet, then.
"It wasn't anyone's fault but Joker's," Harley said finally. "Whatever the kid did."
"What are you doing here, Harley."
"Makin' sure that girl gets some fiber in her diet?" she suggested as she dropped apples into her basket.
"You know what I meant."
Harley pursed her lips thoughtfully. "I'm goin' back to Arkham." She slid the hood back off of her hair. "He's out, so I wanna be in. The stuff Red's growin' ain't perfect yet. I keep thinkin' I heard him, or I saw him, and it's gettin' harder for her to talk me down. He could still get me in there, but at least there'll be cameras and people watchin' me. And I don't mind it so much, really, since they got the new doctors in there. The ones that didn't know me, before."
"She's letting you go alone?"
"It's not the same for her. And this way she can get me out when ya put him back in." He did not protest her planned escape attempt. Her coat fell down off her shoulder. "We're hopin' she'll have the kinks worked out by then. She wants it to be flowers — eatin' flower petals instead of takin' pills. Do ya not like this?" She stuck a finger into her cleavage to tug at her bra, red marks where the stitching pressed into her skin.
"I can zip it up if you're uncomfortable."
"My comfort is irrelevant to how you choose to dress yourself."
She giggled. "You're sweet." She pulled her coat up and zipped it to her neck, bells jingling when she hit them with the zipper. "How old are you?"
"How old do you think I am."
She squinted at his jaw in the half-light of the store, street lamps filtering through the windows. "Forty-five."
He was thirty-one. "Good guess."
"Ya always seemed old-fashioned." She headed for the dry goods, and he followed at a distance. Just enough to keep her in his sight. "But in a nice way, not the judgey way." She set the basket down so that she could compare different bags of wild rice. When she bent, it was straight-legged and at the waist. It was bad for her back. He turned his head to keep her at the edge of his vision.
"It's hard, ya know," Harley said, "meetin' nice guys."
"You have Ivy."
"And I love her," she said, with a vicious fierceness. "Sometimes I just want somethin' she can't give me, is all."
"You don't need to explain."
"I've just come to terms with it," she continued. "I know what I like, and what I like is weird shit."
"You really don't need to explain."
"Bein' ashamed of it's what got me into trouble. I know ya don't like it when ya think I'm cuttin' him slack, but I think it worked out for the best. I'm closer to the person I always secretly wanted to be. Maybe people make assumptions, but I used to do everythin' right and people made assumptions then, too. At least now I'm actually gettin' laid sometimes."
"You really don't need to explain."
"It's just hard, ya know?" she said, as if he had not spoken. She carried the basket against her thighs with both hands, though she was probably strong enough to carry it higher and one-handed. "Ya meet a nice guy, and ya tell him you're into weird shit, and he gets all excited 'til he finds out ya don't just mean silk scarves and anal."
"I cannot overemphasize how little you need to explain."
"And then ya meet a guy who's into all the same stuff you are, except he don't just wanna play, he's actually just garbage. Garbage that's really good at—"
"Please do not say anything that I cannot unhear."
She held up her basket. Batman took it, carrying it for her as she wandered toward the refrigerated cases. "It's too bad you're such a prude."
She dropped bottles of water and a jug of milk into the basket. "A lotta those tight-pants guys in the League are probably into weird shit, right?"
"I wouldn't know." This was a lie.
"In costumes like those? Gotta be. If ya ever wanna play matchmaker..."
"There's a problem with your idea." He took a detour on their way out through the aisle with basic hardware supplies, in order to grab a small box of screws.
"The fact that I'm askin' Batman where to find good dick?"
"There are multiple problems with your idea."
He stopped; she didn't. She used his stopping as an excuse to put herself into his personal space. He was put into the peculiar position of suddenly and involuntarily looming. It was not as unusual as it could have been. He sometimes loomed as a reflex.
"Matchmaking," he said, "would require me to find a man who I would trust not to hurt you, and who I would trust you not to hurt."
Harley frowned. "Yeah," she said finally, "I can see how that'd be tricky." He resumed walking toward the checkout. "Not impossible, though."
"Ya could keep an eye out."
Harley stuck her tongue out at him and crossed her eyes. He opened a pocket on the back of his belt, and set two hundred dollars on the counter. She whistled. "Ya keep that kinda cash on ya?"
She huffed and punched him in the shoulder. "Just for that, I'm stealin' your belt for real next time Red whammies ya."
He looked down at her. His mask meant that raising an eyebrow would accomplish nothing. His meaning nonetheless came across.
"I didn't mean like whammy whammies."
"She tries not to do that to ya," she added, "because we like ya."
"... if ya did get whammied, though," she began.
"I have hands," he finished for her.
"I could still supervise."
"I'm going to pretend you never said that."
She rose up on her toes to give him a quick peck on the cheek. "You're sweet."
He sighed. "I'm really not."