For his part, Rick was unsurprised when Harley broke out of Belle Reve. The woman was many things, but never one to fall in line. As for the Joker being alive, well, that bastard never seemed to stay dead. It was probably too much to hope that he met a fiery end in that helicopter crash.
Waller was extremely unconcerned about Harley’s escape. “Don’t worry. She won’t stay away long.”
“You’re awfully cavalier about one of your agents breaking out of prison,” Rick commented. “Especially considering you were willing to cut your losses by executing Quinn in the field.”
“Quinn has valuable attributes that would make it worth our while to accept her again.” Waller informed him. “However, if she doesn’t return, then good riddance. She was hardly cooperative during the initial mission, though I suppose it did become significantly derailed.” She fixed Rick with a cold gaze, as if the entire disaster in Midway City was on his shoulders, and she herself played no part in it.
He ignored the underlying jibe, refusing to let her passive-aggressiveness rattle him. “But you think she’ll return. Why? What could her motivation possibly be, now that she has her freedom?”
“Because she came back to the team the first time,” Waller said simply.
Rick shook his head. “Quinn’s hardly a creature of habit. The whole reason you wanted her for Task Force X was because she was unpredictable.”
“But she is a social animal,” Waller reminded him. “When she thought the Joker was dead, she went straight back to you and your team. She didn’t want to be left alone—which she will be soon. Her on-again, off-again relationship with the Joker is too unstable to be ‘on’ for long. They’ll be ‘off’ in less than a week.”
“You don’t think she’s capable of functioning on her own?” Rick questioned skeptically. Harley had seemed plenty competent to him.
“I’ve no doubt she’s capable, but I don’t think she finds the prospect desireable,” Waller replied. “Out of all Batman’s enemies, she’s the only one who’s interested in making friends. And I’ve done my homework—her gal pal Poison Ivy is off somewhere in the Amazon rainforest terrorizing cattle ranchers. With the Bat and his new superhero club, none of her fellow criminals are in any position to offer assistance. Trust me. Quinn will return, out of boredom if nothing else.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Rick said, both unimpressed and unconvinced. He turned to leave.
Waller called him back. “Oh, and Colonel?”
He glanced at her from over his shoulder, one hand on the doorknob.
“I just finished reading the latest intelligence report on Dr. Moone,” Waller said off-handedly.
Rick did not respond verbally, but merely acknowledged her statement with a nod and exited her office, even as regret seared through his being.
After the events in Midway City and June had been cleared to leave Task Force X, the Enchantress now gone, she ended her relationship with Rick.
“I’m sorry,” she said, her expression wretched and her voice fraught with desperation. “But I can’t. I just can’t.”
“It’s fine,” Rick rushed to reassure her. “I understand. Really, I do.”
And he did. The entirety of June’s time at Task Force X had been a waking nightmare for her, and freedom from the Enchantress, from Waller, must have been a relief. He himself hadn’t helped the matter; getting involved with one of his operatives under their particular circumstances was not only unprofessional, but colossally stupid. But during their relationship, he had lost all perspective where June was concerned. He had been so eager to prove himself as her knight in shining armor that he had never considered the situation was far too complicated to simply carry her off on a white horse. And his hubris had cost hundreds of lives—civilians, soldiers, and the intelligence agents Waller had executed without a second thought, just to name a few.
Whenever Rick thought back to their time together, his memories were always overwhelmed by self-loathing, wondering how he could have been so stupid, so blind as to think there wouldn’t be any consequences for his reckless behavior. Every time, he wondered if June felt the same way, and was torn between hoping she had the self-awareness to realize the mistakes they had made and wishing that she was able to look back fondly on at least a single part of their romance.
June moved on from Task Force X, and hopefully, their relationship as well, leaving to teach at Metropolis University. Of course, Waller had her monitored, and though every once in a while, Rick was tempted to check the reports himself, he never let himself get that far. As it was, he already spent far too much time think about June and berating himself for letting his feelings for her get out of control.
Life with the team continued; on their very first mission after Harley Quinn escaped from Belle Reve, she found them and finished the fight for them. They were attempting to subdue the A.M.A.Z.O. android, and unexpectedly, she charged in as the calvary, albeit on a motorcycle rather than a horse. One second they were fighting a losing battle in a partially destroyed LexCorp warehouse, and the next, Harley, on a Harley motorcycle, burst in through what remained of the east wall. Wielding what appeared to be a paintball gun, she took aim at the android and fired without a second’s hesitation. The resulting impact not only put A.M.A.Z.O. out of commision, but partially melted its metal armor, leading it to collapse into a sizzling heap.
Harley pulled off her helmet, a smirk on her red lips. “I’m baaack!” She sing-songed. Hopping off her bike, she reached for the nearest teammate—Katana—and pulled her against her side in a partial hug. “Y’all miss me?”
“Girl, what the hell are you doing here?” Lawton demanded. “You were free!”
“The hell was that ammo?” Boomerang surveyed what remained of A.M.A.Z.O. admiringly. None of their weapons, not Lawton’s guns, Katana’s swords, or even Diablo’s fire, seemed to have any effect, yet Harley had downed their foe with a single blast.
“I was free, but then I decided you guys needed me more.” Harley pushed aside the blade Katana was holding at her throat and twirled over to Lawton, briefly touching her forehead to his, before sashaying over to Rick. “So I whipped up a special recipe of some of Pammy’s poisons and Joker venom, and, well, it was a lethal combination.”
“Welcome back,” Rick said noncommittally.
Harley leaned in close to him, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Does that mean I get to be back?”
“You’ll have to debrief with Waller,” Rick warned her. “And since it will ultimately be her decision, I wouldn’t get your hopes up too high.”
Harley waggled her eyebrows at him, pressing herself up to his chest.. “How ‘bout you debrief me, honey? They gave me a bed in my cell again.” She shimmied against him. “You could come and visit. Or if you like, we could do it the other way around.”
Rick stiffened, shoving her off of him and walking forward, focusing on directing the team. “All right, we need to collect all of the pieces of the android and any other components for duplicates that might be stored here.”
“Like we're working in a sodding assembly line,” Boomerang grumbled as he experimentally tossed one of his namesake weapons at the dismantled A.M.A.Z.O. With a metallic clang, the boomerang hit the fallen android and then clinked to the floor. Both weapons remained still on the ground.
“Looks like I touched a nerve,” Harley muttered to Lawton.
“Ya think?” Lawton shot back.
“Get to work, you two,” Rick growled at them before stalking off to examine the the various crates within the warehouse.
Waller allowed Harley back on the team in a rare display of forgiveness, though Rick suspected her sudden charitability was due to Harley proving her predictions correct more than actual generosity. However, Waller was not entirely taken in by the most wayward of her operatives.
“Watch Quinn,” she commanded Rick. “I won’t have her make a fool out of me a second time.”
And Rick did watch Harley. On missions, during transport, throughout the field exercises, and even while she was back in prison. Hell, the entire reason why Harley had been given a cage while Croc and Lawton had their cells was because of her wild card nature compared to their readily discernable MOs. Waller had wanted her in an atmosphere with more freedom so that her behavior could readily observed and analyzed.
Of course, this assignment wasn’t the first time he was charged with monitoring a female operative under his command. Admittedly, the circumstances were very different: whereas June was possessed by an ancient spirit of chaos, Harley was simply a lunatic. Or maybe she wasn’t—there was disagreement amongst the various shrinks who had contributed to her psychological profile.
She caught him watching her several times; she would grin as he stared her down unflinchingly, refusing to look away. Usually their eye contact was only broken by interruption, a person or event breaking their focus from each other.
Harley wasn’t the only one who noticed Rick’s attention.
“Hot girl, isn’t she?” Lawton asked him, ambling over to join him. They were pausing to regroup after escaping from behind enemy lines, and Harley was several yards away, carefully reapplying her lipstick.
June hadn’t worn much makeup. A touch of eyeliner, maybe a hint of blush. Of course, given her situation, appearance probably wouldn’t have ranked at the top of her concerns. Not every woman had the same priorities as Harley and needed to look their best during a life-or-death scenario.
Rick shrugged. “If you say so.”
“Not just hot,” Lawton went on. “Drop dead beautiful.”
Rick scoffed. “What are you trying to do? Play team matchmaker?”
Lawton chuckled. “So you were checking her out, then. Not that I blame you. She’s worth looking at.”
Unamused, Rick glared at him. “What’s your angle, Lawton?”
Lawton held up a placating hand. “I just like to know the score, that’s all. What yours?”
“Waller may have reaccepted Quinn, but I’m still questioning her return to the team,” Rick informed him, keeping his tone level and professional as he discussed Harley. His gaze drifted back over to her. “The only thing about her that interests me is her motive.”
As if she sensed his gaze, Harley snapped her mirror compact shut and raised her head to meet his gaze directly, sending him a wicked smirk that spoke of chaos to come.
June had never smiled like that. Her expressions were usually measured, soft and gentle, like the rest of her. She didn’t have Harley’s self-satisfaction, her aggression.
Once Rick found himself comparing Harley to June, he knew he was in trouble. But he also knew that he had learned from past mistakes. He would not be repeating the same professional errors.
He would make sure of it.
Nevertheless, Harley sashayed up next to him as they were walking back to the helicopters, her bat slung across her shoulders and her arms tossed over either end. While he ignored her, he could feel her glancing at him every few steps, and it wasn’t long before she was casually bumping up against him every couple of paces.
“You want something, Quinn?” he demanded.
“Heh.” Harley’s lips morphed into a self-satisfied smirk, and she leaned in closer to him, her mouth just next to his ear. “I just wanted put you on notice that I noticed you noticing me.” She pulled back from him, meeting his hard stare easily.
“You finished?” Rick asked her, entirely unimpressed.
Her blue eyes sparkled with mischief, and she deliberately swung her hips into his, ignoring the venomous look he shot her. “Well, also . . . you should know that when you were noticing me, I noticed you, too."
With that, Harley sauntered ahead of him, leaving Rick glaring after her in exasperation.