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In Darkest Knights, The Brightest Sparks

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She was wearing the dress he’d given her.

It was light pink and simple, hardly worth the trouble it had caused.  It had only cost thirty dollars, but it clearly meant a lot to her.  She’d worn it the day she was released from Arkham, and again during the job interview at Wayne Enterprises, both courtesy of Veronica Vreeland’s good word.

He had watched both events, the first from the shadows of the Asylum as Batman, the second as Bruce Wayne, sitting in his office.  Now he perched on a nearby rooftop, paying careful attention to the former super criminal as she moved through her small apartment, looking for signs that she was anything other than a model tenant.  Very few of his nemeses had ever truly reformed, and Harley had already reverted once.  But everything appeared totally normal, no guns or bats or joker paraphernalia of any kind.  The scans he ran from afar also revealed no signs of “regular” illegal substances like drugs, aside from the ones prescribed by her doctor at Arkham.  Even her knives appeared to be unsharpened.

Only once he’d checked and double checked that there were no traps or other potential indications of danger, did he glide down and alight gently on the narrow ledge of her window.  It was already open, but he closed it softly as he stepped inside.  The apartment was miniscule, barely bigger than her cell at Arkham.  A kitchenette adorned one side of the room, a twin sized bed another, with a door leading to an equally tiny bathroom.  The walls were mostly bare, save for a single houseplant that he had scanned multiple times, in case it was one of Ivy’s.

Harley herself was near the kitchen at a little two person table whose rickety leg was being propped up by a newspaper.  She was cradling a mug of tea, and despite the fact that he’d made no noise when entering, she perked up as he approached.

“I was wonderin’ if you’d actually show,” she said brightly, not looking around.

He moved to stand next to her. “Gordon said you wanted to see me.”

“Yeah I did.  Wanna have a seat?” She motioned to the other side of the tiny table.

He hesitated, not liking that it would put his back to her apartment door.  But before he could decline, she rolled her eyes and stood, shifting both chairs so that his had a view of both the window and the door.  She reseated herself and looked up at him expectantly.  Somewhat reluctantly, he lowered himself into the worn wooden chair.

“I’d offer you somethin’ to drink, but I’m guessin’ you wouldn’t go for that,” she said with a little smile.

The statement didn’t require response, so he didn’t give one, instead opting to study her up close.  For the most part she looked perfectly normal; a pretty, if somewhat nondescript woman in her mid to late thirties with very little to hint at her checkered past.

However, the hints of Harley Quinn were still there for those who were looking, from the way that she had skipped out of Arkham, to the somewhat informal manner of speech she retained, and the tips of her ponytails that she’d left frosted in black and red.  More than anything though, it was the lines around her mouth, and the somewhat distant look in her eyes that gave a sense that there was something more to her.

He got the abrupt feeling that she was studying him just as closely as he was her.  Those intense, bright blue eyes were searching the unmasked portions of his face as if looking for something.  He reminded himself that once upon a time, she had been a talented, if inexperienced psychologist.  Her instabilities had hampered those gifts for years, but who knew what she saw now that she was away from the Joker’s influence.  Best to be cautious.

He decided to probe a bit, get a sense of her state of mind. “How are you adjusting?”

She shrugged. “Pretty decent.  Haven’t robbed anyone yet.” She smirked to let him know it was a joke. “Veronica helped me get a job.  Nothin’ too fancy, just data entry with a Wayne business.  But you probably knew that already.”

Indeed he had.  Veronica had come to Bruce, asking if he could help out her unlikely friend.  He was quite willing but had to play reluctant at first.  In the end he’d pretended to cave and set up a meeting with a Wayne Enterprises hiring officer.  He’d also surreptitiously intervened when the HR representative had nearly rejected Harley, put off by the prospect of hiring someone so notorious.  Lucius had been sent to gently remind the staffer that Wayne Enterprises did not discriminate on the basis of prior felonies.  In the eyes of the law, Harleen Quinzel was fully rehabilitated.

None of which he was about to reveal to Harley.

“Are they treating you well?” he asked.  He’d kept a very close eye on her from the moment she started, and while there hadn’t been any incidents, even he couldn’t monitor everything.

“I think they’re scared of me,” she replied with a tinge of sadness. “They don’t really like talkin’ to me.  Mostly I keep to myself.”

He felt obliged to comfort her, partly out of sympathy, but mostly concern for what might happen if she snapped. “Give it time.  They’ll adjust.”

She gave a little shake of her head, as if to say it didn’t really matter, but otherwise didn’t respond.  They lapsed into silence, Harley occasionally taking a sip of her tea.  For his part, Bruce was feeling unusually awkward.  Very few individuals, including Gordon, displayed as much comfort in his presence as Harley, who looked quite at ease.  She made no attempt to break the silence, undermining his most effective tool of interrogation.  Most people, criminals or otherwise, became increasingly nervous being stared down by a large, silent man in an armored bat costume.

Not Harley, though.  She appeared content to let them sit there until the sun rose.  Which meant if anything were to happen, he’d have to move it along.  Acknowledging that she’d won this round, he finally spoke.

“What did you want to tell me?  Do you have more information about the Joker?”

She frowned. “I already told you everything I knew.”

And it had been a considerable amount.  From stockpiles of weapons, explosives, and cash, to information on who Joker was blackmailing, and even the myriad ways he’d managed to circumvent Arkham security.  The idea that Harley might turn on him had clearly never occurred to the Joker.  While Bruce doubted he’d shared everything, what she knew had been enough to cripple Joker’s impressive criminal enterprise.

In the three years since Harley’s change of heart, Joker had not managed a single escape from Arkham.  Even if he eventually did, he’d find himself having to start virtually from scratch, with very few resources left to him.  He was also no longer able to bankroll high powered lawyers to stall psychiatric recommendations such as restraint or medical treatments.  He was, in fact, much subdued these days.

“What is it then?” he asked, beginning to lose patience with whatever game she was playing.

Harley glanced down at the table, looking uncharacteristically shy. “I wanted to thank you.  For the dress.”

He scowled in confusion. “The dress?”

She kept staring at the mug in her hands. “It helped.  During the bad days.  Whenever I wanted to kick the crap outta some idiot or run back to Mistah J, Dr. Leeland would have me put on the dress.  As a reminder, you know?  Not to give up.

“So, thanks.  For not givin’ up on me.”

Bruce's expression softened. “You’re welcome.  You know there will still be bad days?  Days that feel impossible.  You have to be ready for them.”

Harley nodded. “I know.  I take my meds.  And I got Veronica.  We get coffee once a week and chat.  And you, right?” She looked hopefully at him.

Knowing how important his response might be and that she had very little else, he gave her the barest ghost of a smile that she returned threefold.  After a moment, he stood.

“Is there anything else?”

She looked up at him. “Would’ya mind comin’ back sometimes?  Just to chat?”

He didn’t normally make house calls to former felons, but her expression was so open and vulnerable that he found himself nodding before he thought better of it.

“Yay!” She leapt up and wrapped him in a huge hug that he was too shocked to avoid or return. “Thanks, Bats!” she said, standing back and beaming. “Now shoo!  Go catch the bad guys or whatever.”

He fled out the window before she changed her mind and plied him with some other request.