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Fool Me Once

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After the rush faded and sex was over, Harley pulled away from him. Though she could never be described as snuggly, she had no issue invading others’ personal space in daily life. Rick was perplexed as to why she seemed reluctant to engage in any type prolonged romantic contact.

“You’re awfully skittish considering you’re the one who suggested this relationship in the first place,” Rick observed, propping himself up on his elbow.

“Hmph.” Harley rolled over to face him. “What’s the matter? Was June a cuddler? Do you miss holding her against you, feeling her womanly curves?”

For the first time in the weeks since June’s departure, Rick did not feel a rush of regret at the mention of her name. The realization at once startled him and heartened him, and he did not respond to Harley’s jibe.

Harley rose from the bed, the light gleaming on her platinum blonde hair. “She was just the type to trace her fingers down your chest, asking about your scars,” she went on, pulling on the turquoise silk robe that had been a gift from Rick. “That’s why you fell for her as hard as you did, I bet. Here was this sweet, gentle damsel in distress who needed to be saved from herself. She wore glasses, but that only made her approachable to you, not ugly. She probably sent your down-home soldier heart racing the moment you met. You couldn’t wait to rescue her and prove yourself. Am I right?”

Wrenching open his mouth to rebut Harley’s all too accurate analysis, he was distracted when her words brought a change in her appearance to his attention.

Rick frowned. “Your scars are gone. So are your tattoos.” When the heart had vanished from beneath her right eye in the weeks since he had seen her, he had at first assumed it had simply been makeup all along. Now it seemed like there was another reason entirely.

Harley grimaced. “I know, right? There were perks to getting my healing increased, but it had the downside of erasing all my ink. Not so upset about the scars, though—sometimes they caused me trouble when I was trying to avoid attention.”

“Did you have a lot?” Rick asked. Harley didn’t often talk about herself in any meaningful way; it was always a trick to make herself look relatable, to gain the confidence of her partner in conversation. Even when she was technically telling the truth, she was putting on a mask to disguise an ulterior motive. He suspected that she had perfected this technique years ago, back when she was still a psych student.

“Eh.” Harley shrugged, lying back down on the bed, but on top of the covers. “You tangle with the Bat often enough, you’ll get a few marks on you. Pammy used to call him a recurrent tumor. Clever girl, Pammy. I don’t really hold it against Bats, though—we’re all just trying to do our jobs.”

‘Jobs.’ Well, that was one way to described wreaking havoc and destruction all across Gotham and wherever else she went.

“You loved Pammy? Poison Ivy?” Rick studied Harley, wondering if she would play off the question entirely or devise some way to answer, but twist it to be more about himself than her.

She scoffed. “Of course I did. And you know it. No way my long and varied history with Pammy ain’t included my file.”

“But you left her,” Rick pointed out.

“Kind of like how June left you, isn’t it?” Harley asked with a smirk. “It’s the age-old adage, Flag: if you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever.”

“But Poison Ivy didn’t let you go,” Rick realized. “You were letting her go.”

The soft lines of Harley’s face hardened, and her tone cooled slightly. “Pammy came back when I asked her. I’d just killed the Joker, but when I contacted her, she released a few of her plant clones into the Amazon to continue her work, and then flew straight back to help me.”

“But she left again,” Rick guessed.

“She has her own life, and it’s separate from mine.” Harley’s voice took on a practiced indifference. “Saving the trees is her passion. I would never keep her from it. Besides, I know she would never give it up, and that she would resent me for asking.”

“Being a criminal is a job for you, but being an eco terrorist is a life for her.” Rick eyed Harley skeptically. “Next you’ll be telling me one day you just want to give up villainy and settle down with a family.”

Harley lounged back. “I know I’m one hell of a broad, Flag, but I’m not going to be able crush people’s skulls with a baseball bat forever. What’s wrong with retiring to have a family one day?”

“You really thought you could start a family with Poison Ivy or the Joker?” Rick questioned. The idea struck him as ridiculous; the Joker had obviously been an unstable psychopath and Poison Ivy prized vegetation over human life. How Harley thought either would make a reliable spouse or partner was beyond him—then again, so were most aspects of Harley’s personality. But Katana had relayed Harley’s conversation with Diablo in the Midway City bar to him, including her scorn for the idea supervillains could one day have normal lives.

“Well, part of the problem was that I knew I couldn’t.” The novice would have mistaken Harley’s tone for conversational, but Rick could detect the slightest hint of irritation that crept in. “The Joker was always far more of a fighter than a lover—he paid more attention to Bats than he ever did to me. And then once he killed Bluejay—”

“Robin,” Rick corrected.

“Whatever.” Harley waved a hand dismissively. “I knew then I wouldn’t ever be able to trust him around children, but then I’d always suspected that, anyway. And Pammy always told me she wanted a family, but she was never quite ready to settle down. I knew that I would never be able to tear her away from her rainforests, and that if I ever did, she would resent me for it. If we ever tried to have a family, we’d just end up hating each other. I would hate her for never being around, and she would hate me for always nagging at her. Better we separated and remained friends.”

“She could use her plant clones, either for parenting or eco terrorism,” Rick suggested.   

“Either way would be too impersonal.” Harley sighed. “I’d want the real Pammy to be with me, and the real Pammy would be out in the jungle.” A heartbroken  expression crossed her face. “I just wish we could have made things work between us.” She looked away, but Rick didn’t miss the glisten of tears in her eyes.

Harley’s earlier words regarding June drifted back into Rick’s mind. “ Sweet, gentle damsel in distress who needed to be saved . . . and you couldn’t wait to rescue her and prove yourself.”

So this was Harley’s soft sell. Strike up a relationship with him, mention her past loves a few times, and then use her breakups as a sob story to garner sympathy from him. She was trying to con him into believing she was another woman in need of rescue, all the while bringing up his failed relationship with June to remind him of the differences between June and herself, in an attempt to convince him he really wasn’t making the same mistake.

Fine, then. He would play her little game for now, until he could figure out exactly what she wanted.

“Here,” Rick said, reaching for Harley and gathering her into his arms. He tried to make his tone gentle but also make the effort known, so he would seem realistically awkward and at a loss for how to comfort her. “If I know one thing for sure, it’s romantic relationships gone wrong.” Bringing the conversation away from her and toward himself would make it seem like he had fallen for her act, he reasoned.

She chuckled at his remark. With her head tucked against his neck, he could simultaneously feel the vibrations of her laugh and the hot tears that dripped down her face onto his chest. He held her until she stopped crying, and then laid her down on the bed, wrapping his arms around her, unsurprised but wary when she returned the gesture. To seal Harley’s conviction that she had successfully tricked him, Rick placed a gentle kiss on her forehead and drew her close.

Long after Harley was asleep, Rick remained awake, other snippets of their conversation rattling around in his mind.

“If you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever.”

Harley had escaped from Belle Reve, but she had returned, despite freedom being hers. She didn’t even have the Joker to worry about anymore. And yet, here she was, with him and part of Task Force X once more.

Glancing at the woman who was sleeping beside him, her face deceptively serene, Rick wondered what that meant, if anything.