A/N: With a squeal of wet sneakers on tile, the author slides into the author's note and waves a sign around: "Revised! Revised! What once was old is new again! Revised!"
Originally written and posted August-October 2007, revised March 2009.
Harley Quinn lay on the ground, her eyes fluttering as she tried to force herself into consciousness. She hovered on the brink of the abyss with one foot in the world of waking, the other firmly planted in sweet oblivion and while the darkness urged her to give into its irresistible embrace, she fought it with what little might she still had left in her body.
Every bone, every muscle and every joint ached and protested as she tried to move, clawing her way inch by inch into full awareness. A strangled cry forced its way past her lips as she shifted and tried to turn over onto her side, a sound that was pathetic in its weakness. Her eyelids drifted open a crack and she wheezed, her lungs hurting with the sudden, sharp intake of breath as she came fully awake.
She lay there for several minutes, just watching as her shallow breaths turned to warm vapor in front of her eyes, clouds of gray that stood out against the blackness of the night sky above. Her ribs felt as though they were cracking with every small gasp of air she took in and when she began coughing, Harley was certain that she was dying. The shuddering that accompanied every cough was so violent she was sure she would shake off the very face of the Earth.
With effort, she focused on her breathing, in, out, in, out, careful not to breathe too deeply--very careful not to let her lungs inflate too much…and oh, God, but it hurt. How could such a mundane activity hurt this badly? The grinding of bone on bone that came with every exhale was like red hot cinders buried beneath her skin, wedged between her ribcage and her spine. She scrunched her eyes closed and concentrated as hard as she could, taking mental inventory of all the places that felt wrong and what they meant.
There was something warm running into her eyes.
Blood. Must have a gash in my head…that's going to be a few stitches…
She tried to lift her arm.
Shoulder's out of its socket. Going to need to get that set…
Harley shifted again, moaning. Fresh tears sprang to her eyes.
Broken ribs, probably a punctured lung…
None of it mattered. She had to get up. She had to go help her Puddin'. He would berate her for being weak if she didn't get up. No matter how much pain she was in now, it would be nothing in comparison to what Mister J. would do to her if she didn't go help him. As she lay there on the ground, she convinced herself that no matter what he'd do to her, she would most likely deserve it. After all, he needed her and here she was taking a rest. In effect, she had abandoned him in his hour of need to take a nap.
Oh God, but it hurt so much.
She carefully rolled onto her back, feeling every pebble beneath her digging into half a dozen bruises that were scattered over the expanse of her back. Harley cried out when her dislocated arm shifted as she moved but she shoved the agony away, replacing it instead with the image of her beloved Joker, encouraging her to come back to him.
Come on, Harley. Get up. Get. Up.
Blinking rapidly, swallowing the huge lump that was forming in her throat, Harley tried to sit up. Her abdominal muscles coiling and straining to bring her to a sitting position.
She made it about three quarters of an inch off the ground before she fell back again.
She wasn't strong enough to get up. She just didn't have any fight left.
"I can't," she wept, her normally squeaky voice coming out in a weak gravelly whisper, "I can't. I'm sorry."
Her eyes slid shut, tears leaking out from between her lashes, running down the greasepaint on her face. The salt stung as it ran over the cuts and scrapes along her cheeks, mingling with fresh blood.
Darkness was pulling at her, promising rest. Something she hadn't indulged in for a very, very long time.
Maybe if she just lay still for a while...maybe she'd feel better if she took a breather. Then she could get up...then she could, she was sure of it.
Just a little sleep...just a little rest...just a few minutes...five at the most...
She barely felt it when the snow started coming down, small flecks of cold hitting her, numbing her further.
There was something strangely comforting about the icy chill that was setting into her body. It was easing the pain somewhat, the frigid cold replacing the aches in her bones.
She almost screamed when something slipped underneath her and lifted her battered body gently off the ground, but the whimper that came dropped pathetically from her lips, nowhere near the volume she thought it should have been to properly communicate the searing, blinding agony that was overcoming her.
Her eyelids shot open and all she saw in her field of vision was a black and yellow symbol. A black and yellow emblem that every law abiding citizen in Gotham saw as a symbol of strength, righteousness and protection.
For her, though, and others like her, it meant the end of the road. That icon which was pressed against her face belonged to a man who was going to take away her freedom...
If only she were stronger. If only her body would cooperate and fight back.
A sharp pain in her side caused her vision to explode in a shower of green and burgundy sparks, and the darkness finally claimed her as she lost consciousness once more.
The clinic ceiling was almost identical to those in the Arkham hospital ward. Starched white and slightly dimpled.
Harley stared at it, her legs immobilized by the plaster casts wrapped around them and in traction. Her lower lip quivered every few seconds as she stared fixedly at the ceiling, eyes welled up with unshed tears.
The death of the Joker was all that anyone was talking about. The nurses, the doctors...even the janitor who had walked past the open door to her room.
He was gone. Really gone. It was confirmed, they'd said. The body was in the Gotham City Police Department's own morgue awaiting final examination.
Furthermore, it was reported that his loyal henchwoman was missing and presumed dead after a fall that no one would have been able to survive without the aid of a God given miracle.
Harley's throat constricted tighter as she choked back a sob. The Bat had brought her here, he knew she was alive, even if none of the employees of the clinic were aware of her identity. Why didn't he tell anyone she was alive? Why did he let them keep thinking she was dead? Why hadn't he taken her to Arkham?
The world as she knew it was upside down, inside out and wrong way around. Nothing made sense anymore.
Mister J. was dead, the Bat was abandoning procedure, the reporters on the TV were saying she was MIA...
Her jaw twitched as she clenched it tightly, willing the reality away. Forcing herself to think of other things.
She couldn't...it all came back to Joker.
It always came back to Joker.
She knew they shouldn't have taken little Robin. She knew it would end badly…she'd even tried to tell him so, but he wouldn't listen. He never listened. To take one of Batman's children and make him over in the Joker's own image, to twist his young mind and warp him into a Joker Junior…that was too much.
It was her fault, she knew. If she hadn't said she wanted a child, he might not have gotten the idea to take one of Batman's. If she hadn't given him the idea to kidnap Robin, he wouldn't have died at the boy's hands…
Harley's spine stiffened at the hard voice coming from the shadows. She turned her head away as best she could, but found that it hurt too much. Even with all the pain killers pumping through her veins, the dull ache that remained was still above what she could bear.
"What're you doin' here?" she asked bitterly, her tone betraying her hurt, confusion and fear. "Wanna rub it in my face, huh?"
He was slightly closer, she could feel the strength of his presence. A pillar of warmth in the otherwise cold and sterile hospital room. "Quinn, I won't lie and say I'm sorry he's dead, but I am sorry that you ever became involved."
"You killed him," she accused in a raspy whisper, turning to stare at Gotham's patron hero, pouring every ounce of hatred she had for him in her gaze. "You killed him."
His eyes narrowed at her as she continued in an anguished voice.
"I'm alone," she murmured angrily. "My Puddin' is gone and everyone thinks I'm dead. You let them think so. Why? Why not just dump me at Arkham where I belong?" She started crying in earnest. "You should have let me die, Batman. I can't live without him! There's nothing for me now that he's gone, nothing at all!"
She flinched when he took another step forward, his stride so long that just another footstep brought him to stand right next to her bed. "He manipulated you into thinking that you're nothing without him, Quinn. If anything, now that he's gone you have the chance to really start fresh."
Harley let out a small, hysterical laugh. "Why bother? What am I without him?"
The Batman looked at her for a moment, as though weighing his options carefully before speaking. His eyes were narrowed to nothing more than slits as he said words that made her blood run cold: "A mother."
A few seconds passed in silence. She suffered a moment of faintness as she tried to process what he'd said.
"You mean I'm...I'm..." Her eyelids fluttered for a moment and she gulped. "I'm pregnant?"
His eyes narrowed another fraction of an inch and he stepped back. "You are."
Harley wondered if the world had really slipped out from under her or if it just felt that way.
"But what about the fall?" she asked, bewildered.
"It's a miracle, the specialist said." He sank further into the shadows. "There was no damage to the baby at all. Plenty of damage to you, but not to the child."
She was left speechless. Batman turned away from her, his shoulders squared. "You'll have the best care throughout your pregnancy, physical and psychological as well."
"Why not at Arkham?" she asked, squeezing her eyes shut, some of her anger ebbing away against her will. "That's where they send people like--"
"The Joker was your illness, Quinn," he said, cutting her off. "Without him, you can really become a functioning member of society again."
The meaning of his words sank in. She realized what he was spelling out.
He was offering her a clean slate. A real fresh start.
That's why he hadn't told the cops that she was alive. That's why she was in a clinic and not at Arkham. He was giving her the chance to get better away from the public eye. Away from the place that would remind her of the Joker.
She opened her eyes and turned to look at him, to thank him, but found the room empty and the window curtains billowing.
Harley turned back to look at the ceiling, her eyes growing moist afresh as her fingers crept towards her abdomen.
She held them there and gently pressed into the flesh, ignoring the pain in her shoulder at the movement.
A sound, somewhere between a sob and a cry of glee burst from her throat.
Something of her Puddin' had survived after all.
A/N: The Dee Dees are Harley's granddaughters, and I could never picture Harl getting married and settled down after being with her beloved Mister J, so this explains away that aspect of canon. I totally didn't buy it that Bruce had no idea where Harley disappeared to after she went over that precipice (seriously, who gets up and walks away from something like that?) so I found this to be more plausible. It would fit that he'd feel some guilt and want to help out, right?