Billy Etheridge was starting to question his decision to be a lawyer.
He wasn't sure if the firm of Grabemann and Ross had just seen better days, or if its entire history -- the entire history of the legal profession -- was just like this. Endless shuffling through paper, reading really bad prose and, what was worse, writing it, for cases that didn't change society or anything like that, and even if they did the firm would probably be representing the guys on the wrong side anyway.
Billy had been an intern for three weeks. He'd been telling himself that things got better, when you were actually, you know, a lawyer, except from what he could tell from his limited interactions with the younger lawyers, they didn't. They stayed late at the office, did a lot of horrifically boring work, and trudged back the next day to do it all again. They were making good money, sure, and Billy was starting to see why. The law really, really sucked, and no sane person would want to work at it for a living unless they were paid very well. Or chained to their desks. Or both.
The movies had totally lied about being a lawyer. There weren't even any beautiful female clients.
Or there hadn't been, until he'd turned the corner to find one standing beside his desk.
"Hello?" Billy said.
"Hiya!" the woman said. "Is this your desk? You got a lotta papers!"
"Um, well --"
"Gosh, I didn't think anybody'd be working back here in the library. I mean, it's getting kinda late'n all. Shouldn't you be havin' dinner?"
"We don't exactly keep bankers' hours," said Billy. "Lot of work. Even for the lowly peons like me." He set the latest stack down on top of the others. "Can I help you with something?"
The papers fluttered in a sudden breeze. He quickly placed his hand on top of them, then found a glass paperweight and weighed them down. It wasn't hard. He had about fifteen of them.
"Nice collection!" the woman said. "Me, I like snowglobes."
"It's the vent system." Billy pointed to his bane. "There's one right there. Blows air a lot." He rummaged through the papers. "Biggest duct in the building, and I'm right next to it. Listen, I'm really not the person you should be talking to. I'm not even a paralegal. If you want, the front desk -- "
"No way!" said the woman. "I went to a lotta trouble to sneak by 'em!"
"Huh?" said Billy.
The woman pointed. "Look!" she said. "Isn't that the late Mario Lanza?"
By sheer reflex, Billy glanced over his shoulder. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the woman rummaging in her oversized purse. By the time he turned back, she was already swinging the large wooden mallet at his head.
Sneaking through air ducts wasn't anywhere near as easy as the movies made it look. For one thing, they were really small and flimsy, so you had to be little and skinny and flexible. Harley Quinn was all of that. You also had to pick the right duct. That took work, both in finding it and getting to it. But if you did it right --
Harley popped on her goggles and rummaged in her bag of tricks for the cutting torch.
The steel circle popped out and fell to the floor, twenty feet below. Harley followed, twisting in midair and landing on all fours to absorb the drop. She jumped to her feet and whipped off her dress. Her costume was underneath, and she took a quick moment to whiten her face, don the mask, and raise her jester's hood. She kicked the dress away, grabbed the bag of tricks, and sprinted for the far wall. When she got there, she whipped a wrapped parcel out of the bag and slammed it against the wall. It stuck.
Harley pulled the end of the package ribbon and dove for shelter behind a concrete supporting column. She opened her mouth wide and pressed her hands hard over her ears to equalize the pressure, and waited for the blast to come.
Harley peeked cautiously around the corner. The package shivered, and a jack-in-the-box popped out of the top.
"Huh," said Harley. Okay, wrapping presents and shaped charges at the same time probably wasn't a good idea. Note to self: call cousin Cheryl before her squalling little brat's lousy birthday next week. Or was it last week?
Oh, well. Bygones.
The second shaped charge worked just fine, at least. Harley dove through the hole in the wall into the adjoining building. She tucked and rolled -- perfect form, ta-DA! -- and came up with a handful of oversized popgun.
"All right!" yelled Harley. "This is a stick-up! Get on the floor! Hands behind your backs! I'm gonna tie you up, and I'm gonna rob this joint -- blind?"
All the employees in the bank after closing -- the tellers, the managers, the security guard -- were in the middle of the lobby. They'd gotten on the floor, hands behind their backs, and they'd even tied themselves up already.
"Boy," Harley said. "This bank's got great service!"
"WHERE IS IT?" somebody yelled. The vault door -- Harley noticed, too late, that it was already open partway -- swung freely, and a man stormed out. He was wearing insectoid armor, and one hand held a strangely shaped pistol. The other hand held a wad of money, but then he dashed that to the floor and yelled again. "I said, WHERE IS IT?"
"Killer Moth?" said Harley. She scratched her head with the muzzle of the popgun. "Okay. What gives?"
The antennaed helmet swung slowly in her direction. "Harley?" said Killer Moth. "Harley Quinn? What are you doing here?"
"This is my bank," said Harley. "So you c'n just run along now, 'kay?"
"This is my bank! I was here first."
"I was here better!"
"I hid inside the ATM until the guard locked the doors and they started closing up!"
"Hah!" said Harley. "I crawled through the ventilation system of the building next door, dropped down to the sealed dead space the bank keeps between the buildings, figured where the wall was weakest, and blew my way in with a shaped charge. That's how you do a professional break-in, Mr. Bug-Eyes."
Killer Moth glared at her. "If you're so professional, where are your henchmen? ... oh, wait. I forgot. You are one."
"Hey!" said Harley. "You ain't got any henchmen either! Can't say as I blame 'em, though -- yer a lousy boss, the benefits stink, and plus they gotta say they work for Killer Moth."
"And I suppose the Joker gives you health care and a dental plan? Please. He sinks all his money into those abandoned carnivals and death-traps for Batman. How cliched can you get? Abandoned carnivals. I'm actually glad to see you robbing banks. At least it'll put a little money in his wallet. Unless you're just planning to blow it all on something..."
Harley hesitated a moment too long.
"Oh, no," said Killer Moth, his voice dripping with disgust. "You're not."
"It's the sweetest little place," said Harley defensively.
"I can't believe this."
"It's got a carousel and a hall of mirrors and everything!"
Killer Moth clutched the sides of his helmet. "I'm not listening, la la la la --"
"What's wrong with a carnival?!"
"Oh, nothing," said Killer Moth. "Nothing, nothing at all. I'm just wondering -- does it ever work? Batman beats you two up, throws you back into Arkham Asylum, and when you break out your great idea is 'get another carnival.'" He shook his head, and the large antennae dipped from side to side. "And you think you're helping him. You know what, Harley? You're the most disposable henchman ever. And this is coming from somebody who shot two last month. It's a good thing the Joker doesn't care about you. When's the last time he ran a scheme that worked? He couldn't afford to pay you, anyway."
"You -- that -- DON'T TALK BAD ABOUT MISTER J.!"
The popgun was aimed at Killer Moth before she knew she'd raised it. Killer Moth raised his hands. "Wait," he said. "We should do what the heroes do. Fight a bit, then have a team-up."
"You know. First we fight, then we decide we can get along okay, and then we go find somebody to beat the crap out of. The guys on the other side do it all the time."
"Say!" said Harley. "You're right!"
"Tell you what," said Killer Moth, raising his cocoon gun. "I'll go first."
He fired, and Harley dodged.
"Yippee!" screamed Harley. "Missed me, missed me, now you gotta kiss me!"
She slid the bag of tricks along the floor in the direction she was going -- it was easier to get all flippy without 'em -- tossed the popgun into the air, and launched herself into a series of back handsprings that ended with a round-off and a flip up onto the tellers' counter. She caught the popgun as it fell and fired several shots. She'd mixed the ammunition at random, for fun, but that didn't work out too good: one sandbag, two streamers, and a whipped-cream. Harley was sure she'd meant to load the mustard gas in there, somewhere, but that probably wouldn't be fair if they were going to have a team-up later. Hard to team up with somebody who didn't have lungs anymore. Or a face.
Some of the bank employees were screaming, and Harley glimpsed one wriggling around in a funny way, but she had other priorities. She flipped back off the counter, out of the way of Killer Moth's next blast, then took cover and opened the bag of tricks again. Something was fizzing not far away. It sounded a little like the acid Mr. J. used in his squirting flower, but Harley couldn't waste time worrying about that. She chucked a few super-duper bounce balls, instead. They made a shrieking noise, almost like a laugh, especially when their speed really picked up after the fourth or fifth bounce. Of course, that was usually about the point they melted down or caught on fire. Downside of trying to turn potential energy into kinetic, or something. She wrote a letter complaining to STAR Labs one time, and Dr. Hamilton was really nice when he wrote back and told her she shouldn't complain because Mr. J. had stolen the prototype, and even that had been developed on some alien planet so it wasn't his fault anyway. He also sent Harley some pretty alien goop that changed colors but couldn't do anything lethal at all, even though both Mr. J. and Ivy had really tried. And the super-duper bounce balls were fun. Even if, to go by the thumps, they hit the hostages a lot more than they did Killer Moth.
Harley ducked back behind her cover and reloaded the popgun. Flash-o'-flame and Blue Whistlers. Still no mustard gas!
A shadow fell over her as she finished reloading, and something stumbled by. It was the hostages. The security guard had a penknife in his hands, and he'd cut himself free. The others were still tied, and he was pushing them along.
"Hey!" said Harley. "Knock it off! I'm fightin' here!" They staggered through, ignoring her. "Vamoose! Mush! You're spoilin' my shot!"
They cleared out of the way just as she slammed the breech of the popgun shut, so she didn't have to waste ammo on them. When she stood up and fired her last rounds at where Killer Moth had been, he wasn't there.
"Poop," said Harley, as the gun's hammer fell on an empty chamber.
Something moved to her left. Harley turned and saw Killer Moth, with his gun extended. "Just you and me now," he said.
He had to raise his voice over a high-pitched whistling.
Harley said, "Oh, yeah?"
The last of the bounce balls hit the floor and, flaming, rebounded into Killer Moth's arm. The impact jarred his arm up and he fired into the ceiling above Harley. She swung the empty popgun hard, putting hip and shoulder into the blow, angling for his chin under the helmet.
Killer Moth fell heavily to the floor.
"Ha!" yelled Harley. "Gotcha!" She lifted her hands above her head in victory. "Da winnah -- and new champeen!"
Then the ceiling fell on her.
It took a little time for her head to clear, and when it did she saw Killer Moth struggling to his feet. He used the cocoon gun to push himself up from one knee, then slowly limped toward Harley. Harley still didn't understand why the ceiling had fallen on her, so she looked up. There was an irregular hole there, where Killer Moth had fired into it. The hole's edges looked melted.
Killer Moth walked up to Harley.
He aimed the cocoon gun, pointing straight at her. The muzzle looked a lot bigger from this end. A small piece of goo dripped from the end. The goo hit the floor, but it didn't make a little cocoon. It sizzled.
"Ooh," said Harley. "Is this the part where we go to the team-up?"
"About that team-up?" said Killer Moth. "I lied."
He leveled the gun -- and then stopped. He cocked his head for a moment, as if he were listening to something, then lowered the gun and ran away.
He took the same route the hostages had, across the lobby, through her shape-charged hole in the wall. A few moments after he disappeared, there was an explosion. Harley's hole sealed up behind him. There was another rumble, moments later. Sounded like the wall of the dead space. Maybe he'd blown his way through there and out.
Her bits and pieces were still working, so she propped herself up and then stood. Some bits of ceiling were stuck to her costume. She brushed those off as best she could, then staggered toward the vault. She picked up a couple of the wads of bills along the way.
The huge steel door sat open on its hinges. That was good, anyway. She didn't want to waste time cracking it, and she was out of shaped charges, anyway. And if Harley leaned on it a little when she was supposed to be going inside, who was there to talk? Anybody?
There wasn't anybody in the vault, for sure. The money was there, though, in a nice big pile. And so were a bunch of safety-deposit boxes. One of them -- Harley noticed the number, 4473 -- hung open. That was it, except for the duffel bag. The one on the floor. Beeping.
"Oh," said Harley. "Rats."
It was downright amazing how fast you could get your wind back when you had a bomb counting down behind you! Mr. J.'d never believe it! He kept saying she held him back, but he hadn't seen this. Amazing what a girl could do when properly motivated. Even if the lobby floor was wobbly, and the bank door -- the bank door was locked!
Harley grabbed one of the metal stands for the velvet rope by the tellers' window and smashed through. The first set of doors were slow going, because the glass was really thick, but she made it through and powered the stand through the second.
She'd gotten two steps onto the sidewalk when the bank exploded, and she felt the sudden sensation of flying through the air.
When Harley opened her eyes, she was still flying.
Far below her, she saw her feet, and even farther down was Gotham City. It was snowing down there, and the cars that weren't driving were just little mounds of white, but Harley felt warm and safe. She couldn't hear the city sounds. She couldn't hear much of anything.
I guess I'm going to heaven after all, Harley thought. She wasn't sure what heaven looked like, but she'd know for sure it was heaven, if Mr. J. was there. Oh, sure, he wasn't dead or nothing, but heaven was supposed to be the best, and how good could heaven be if it didn't have Mr. J. in it?
She decided she wouldn't be needing the popgun any more -- it was empty, anyway -- so she opened her hand and let it drop to the street below. It twisted and turned as it fell, and got very small, and finally hit one of the snow-covered cars with a thump and the muffled sound of breaking glass.
It hadn't been an imaginary popgun. Which was odd, because if it was real then she was too. And if Harley was real, then she hadn't left her body lying in front of the bank. Which meant maybe she wasn't dead. Or maybe she'd been so good that the angels had decided to let her take her body along, but Harley kind of doubted that.
Harley craned her neck and looked up. Somebody else looked back.
The somebody else was a woman. She was taller than Harley, and lots curvier, and there was no way she could ever fit all that hair under a mask, so that was probably why she wasn't wearing one. Well, and her skin was kind of golden orange, and her eyes were solid green with no white parts or pupils or anything, so a mask wouldn't have done her any good anyway. Plus there was a weird energy around her so she was sort of glowing.
The woman was strong, too, because she was flying along holding Harley by the armpits and didn't seem bothered by it much.
"Oh, good!" said the woman. "You're awake!" She smiled at Harley. "I was worried. Are you feeling all right?"
Harley blinked. "A little fuzzy, I guess. No more'n usual."
"It's a lucky thing I was flying by," the woman said. "I was looking for you, of course -- I just didn't think I'd catch you right out of the air."
Harley opened her mouth to ask what she meant, but the explosion somewhere to the left distracted her. "Hey!" she said, whipping her head around. Her vision blurred, and things got swimmy for a minute. Boy, concussions were fun! She was almost disappointed that Ivy's inoculations meant it'd heal right up. "What was that?"
"Explosion at the docks," the woman said. "Several of your crime families are battling for supremacy, so things are going a little crazy in Gotham tonight. No offense."
"None taken! -- ooh, what was THAT?"
The woman glanced to the right, where flames were leaping into the air. "Fire at the chemical plant. It's under control. Anyway, there's a lot going on, so I came in to help. Just for the night."
Things were starting to make a little sense now. "You're not an angel," accused Harley. "You're one of them heroes!"
"My name is Koriand'r," said the woman. "Starfire, if you'd rather."
"Doctor Harleen Quinzell, M.D., Ph.D.! ...but you can call me Harley. Pleased to meetcha!" Harley frowned. "So Bats called you, huh?"
"Nightwing called me. We're old friends."
"Ooh, Nightwing!" said Harley. "He's a cutie! Listen, I'd love to stay and gossip about whether you mean ol' friend, ol' buddy, ol' pal or you mean wocka-chicka-wocka-chicka-boom-boom-boom, but I gotta lotta stuff to do! So if you could just let me off here..."
"I'm sorry, Harley," said Starfire. She really sounded like she meant it. "I have to get you back to the asylum. You can't just break out of it any time you want, you know."
"Aw, c'mon! They never let a girl have any fun in there! No mallets, no shaped charges..."
"Is that really a bad thing?" said Starfire. "You could have killed yourself with your own bomb. It's a good thing nobody else was hurt when you blew up the bank."
"It wasn't me!" said Harley. "It was Killer Moth!"
"Nightwing said you say that every time."
Harley thought about it. She was right.
Harley said, "Crap."
She sulked for a moment. The night hadn't gone according to her plan at all. Oh, sure, she'd be home soon, and that would be nice, because she'd get to be with Mr. J., and Ivy, but she hadn't actually robbed the bank or gotten the carnival or anything. And Killer Moth really had gotten the drop on her, and now he was running around laughing while Harley was being lugged around by a do-gooder in an armored bathing suit. It wasn't fair!
Harley began to struggle. She rocked her body back and forth, swinging her legs to build momentum.
"What are you doing?" said Starfire. She sounded more curious than worried.
"I -- nnf -- told you -- urr -- I gotta -- nng!" The grip on her sides wasn't any looser. Harley struggled against it for a while, then threw back her head and wailed, "Lemme goooo!!"
"All right," Starfire said, and dropped her.
Harley shrieked as she fell.
She hadn't realized how high up they were before, and Starfire had gone higher when Harley wasn't looking. She couldn't grab a building or flagpole or something, because there weren't any buildings. Not yet, anyway. Oh, they'd be coming up, but by the time she reached them she'd be going too fast to grab anything. She clawed at the air a little, but nothing happened. The ground was getting closer all the time.
Then she felt a sudden breeze and a rush of warmth, and she was in Starfire's arms again and heading upward. "Got you!" said Starfire.
"That wasn't fair," said Harley sulkily. "There weren't any buildings or anything for a girl to grab onto and flip off of and run away!"
"Can you do that?"
"You bet I can! There ain't nobody better. Look, you gotta let me go. Killer Moth got the drop on me! I can't let him get away with it! I gotta find him and rip his wings off! My credibility's at stake here!" When Starfire didn't answer, Harley gritted her teeth. "lhlpybnghmn," she said under her breath and very fast.
"I'll help you bring him in!"
"You'd really want to play hero for a night?" said Starfire.
Harley's face twisted. "Yecch! No, thanks!"
Starfire laughed. "It's not all bad, you know."
"But you gotta keep doing what people expect of you! You gotta think of everybody else, set a good example for the kiddies, and you can't even blow anything up! Where's the fun in that?"
"You get to help people," said Starfire. "Protect them." Harley made a face. "There's really nothing about being a hero that you'd like?"
"Well, the movies do make it seem kinda glamorous. Usually there's rewards and riches and praising and stuff. And at the end of the story, the hero gets a great big kiss!"
"I didn't know it worked like that," said Starfire, laughing.
"Ahem," said Harley. "Nightwing?"
"Well, maybe sometimes."
"I knew it! Wocka-chicka, wocka-chicka -- "
"I don't know about this, Harley," said Starfire. "I'd still have to take you back to Arkham afterwards. How do I know you won't run away? Besides, would you even know where to look? If it was Killer Moth -- and I'm not saying it was -- he could be anywhere."
"No," said Harley. "We can find him, and we can do it tonight! Easy!"
"He was madder'n a wet hen when he came out of the bank vault. He's lookin' for something, and he didn't find it, but he thought it was in that bank!"
"So?" said Starfire.
Harley crossed her arms proudly and beamed. "So there's two other branches across town!"
"Harley," said Starfire, "you must promise me that you were telling the truth."
The rooftop wasn't the nicest one Harley had ever been on, but it was okay for an ambush. It had a really good view of the bank across the street. Harley would have to remember that, in case she ever wanted to rob it.
Harley raised her right hand. "Scout's honor! ...though I never was a Girl Scout. Except this one time, when I got all dressed up and brought Mr. J. some cookies, and -- " Struck by a thought, Harley broke off. "Hey, is this weird for you? You know, helping somebody like me?"
Starfire smiled a little. "We try to help everyone, Harley," she said.
"Even people like me?"
"Sometimes especially people like you. That's why I'm taking you back to the asylum as soon as this is over. That's why I can't let you kill Killer Moth -- " Harley pouted " -- no matter how much you want to. I do not want you to do anything you'd regret later."
"Hah!" said Harley. "I don't regret nothin'! ...'cept buyin' into Killer Moth's baloney about a team-up." She frowned, then looked at Starfire. "Hey! We can't be a team-up! We haven't fought yet or nothin'! That's how you guys always do it, right?"
Starfire blinked. "What?"
"You fight somebody, then you team up. Ain't that how it happens?"
Starfire smiled. "Surprisingly often, yes," she said. She glanced down at Harley. "Do you wish to fight?"
Harley shrugged. "Hey, when in Rome!" She pointed an accusing finger at Starfire. "But this time, I get to go first! An' no dirty tricks!"
Starfire said, "All right."
Harley blinked. "What?" she said.
"Go ahead, Harley."
Harley punched Starfire in the face as hard as she could.
Harley curled up around her hand and whimpered.
"Team-up?" said Starfire.
"Yeah," said Harley faintly. "That's good."
Starfire leaned over the edge of the roof and peered down at the bank across the street. "Are you certain this is the closer of the two other branches?" she said.
"Yeah," Harley said. "The other one's... ow... way up north, on the way to Bristol. He ain't gonna hit that one till later, unless he feels like takin' a really long drive." She caught Starfire's skeptical expression. "What?"
"Look at it from my perspective, Harley," said Starfire. "How do I know you aren't making this up?"
The bank across the street exploded.
Starfire threw herself between Harley and the explosion. Small pieces of rubble rained down. A car parked in front of the bank flipped over and spun halfway around until it came to rest upside down on the other side of the street. Something flaming fell from the sky and bounced off Starfire's shoulder. Car alarms sounded up and down the block as the street disappeared under a cloud of smoke.
Harley said, "Toldja!"
Starfire stepped back and soared into the air. "Wait here. I'll find him."
"His bombs use timers!" yelled Harley. "He's long gone by now! If we go to the next bank right away, maybe --"
"Harley," said Starfire, "stay here. No -- go check in the bank. Make sure it's empty. Somebody could be hurt in there."
"So?" Harley said.
Starfire didn't say anything. She just looked at Harley, the way Harley's grandma had looked at her after she'd been caught stepping out with her professor, but Harley had needed those grades and it'd been silly anyway because later she realized the guy wasn't nearly as handsome as Mr. J. Her Nana hadn't said anything to her about it, or been mean to her after that, but she'd just looked so disappointed.
Starfire looked like that, but worse. Like she'd hoped for better, but really hadn't expected it at all.
Harley looked down, looked away.
"The bank, Harley," said Starfire. Her voice was firm, but there wasn't any meanness in it.
Harley hesitated, then nodded. When she did, Starfire soared up and away.
"Hmph!" said Harley. She mock-saluted, and then stuck out her tongue at Starfire, who was flying higher and higher in a spiral. For a second, she thought about just going after Killer Moth herself, but she'd go lots slower than Starfire, so that was no good. She could still run away, and Harley considered that, too. She could pack it in for the night, get Killer Moth later. But then she'd have to find him first, and he might blow town.
And Killer Moth had cracked the bank vault. Maybe there'd be something good left to steal.
Harley shimmied down the side of the building and picked her way through the rubble to what was left of the bank. It didn't look much like a bank any more, because the bomb had gone off in the lobby. The tellers' counter and the other desks had been blown to smithereens. The vault was still there, though, and it was shut tight. That was funny; Killer Moth had put the last bomb inside the vault. Harley jiggled the handle some, but nothing happened. She leaned forward and experimentally turned the dial, pressing her ear to the door. She didn't hear anything from the dial... but she heard something.
Harley took her hand off the dial and leaned harder against the door. Inside the vault, something pounded against the door, twice.
Harley blinked. She pulled away from the door, looked at it, then listened again. After a pause, there were another two knocks.
Harley raised her own hand and knocked twice in reply. Two more knocks came back. "Huh," said Harley. She knocked three times, then pressed her ear to the door. Three knocks came back. Grinning, Harley knocked "shave-and-a-haircut." Whoever was inside knocked, "six bits."
That made Harley smile. Then she started thinking. The vault was a top of the line job. She could crack it, maybe, and get whoever was in there out, but Killer Moth would get away. She didn't have the time.
Harley turned away from the vault to see Starfire landing in what used to be the lobby. "Anything?" said Starfire.
Harley beamed. "Nope!" she said. "Next bank. Let's go."
Inside the vault, the person pounded on the door.
"What was that?" Starfire said.
Harley tried her best to look innocent. "Uh... mice?"
Starfire crossed her arms and arched an eyebrow.
"Okay, okay," Harley said. "There's some guy alive in there, but if I try breaking in, we'll be here all night, and we're already losin' time!"
Starfire stepped forward and grasped the vault door. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
Harley said, "Oh, no way."
Starfire gritted her teeth and pulled. The muscles in her arms and shoulders stood out, and her thighs flexed as she applied growing pressure. She made a choked little grunt, then took in a deep breath and pulled again. The steel of the vault door began to make a strange, creaking groan. Harley tiptoed backward until she was out of the way. Starfire tugged one more time, and Harley heard a screech and a snap as the bolts bent and then sheared off and the vault door swung slowly open.
Harley whistled, long and low.
Starfire stepped back from the vault door. A light sweat had broken out on her skin, but she was smiling. "I think we can make that time up," she said.
"No kiddin'," Harley said. "Hey, you ever think about goin' into safecracking? 'cause I was thinking -- "
A little man stumbled out of the vault. His face was drawn with pain and worry. He was limping, and his slacks were torn and partly melted at the right thigh. He winced as he took each step. Starfire caught him by the shoulders before he fell.
"Hey, look!" said Harley. "Box 4473's open! Just like the last bank!"
Starfire turned to the man. "What was in the box?" she said. "Did he find what he came for?"
The man babbled nonsense syllables back at her. Harley stared at him. "Oh, great," she said. "He's a nutjob!"
"Don't say that," said Starfire.
"What?" said Harley. "I'm a nutjob! I know it when I see it!"
"Ludzu," the man said. "Vai jus runajat Latviski? Man ļoti nepieciešama palīdzība!"
"He's not a madman," said Starfire. "He does not know your language."
"Oh," said Harley. "I can fix that." She grabbed the man by the shoulders and shook him roughly. "Hey! You!" she shrieked. "TALK ENGLISH!"
The man flinched, but he kept babbling. He just did it slower. "Atvai nojiet," he said. "Ludzu. Man ļoti nepieciešama palīdzība -- "
"Okay," said Harley. "That's it!" She groped around inside her bag of tricks until her hand closed over the comforting shaft of her mallet. "Now -- "
Starfire leaned forward, grasped the man's face, and kissed him.
He didn't fight, but that didn't surprise Harley, because the guy who didn't want to get kissed by a seven-foot covergirl with ginormous tatas either hadn't been born yet or was looking for a walk-up apartment in Robinson Park.
"A-HEM!" Harley said. "If you're done with the smoochies, I'm gonna re-order his brainpan until he learns to talk right!"
The little man stared at Starfire helplessly for a moment. Then he said, weakly, "Tev ir skaistas acis."
Starfire said, "Paldies."
So did the little man. Then he seized Starfire's hands in his own and began babbling again, faster this time. Every once in a while, Starfire said something back that Harley couldn't make out. Was it them, or her? Harley didn't think she'd flipped another gasket, but sometimes she couldn't be sure.
She was still trying to work it out when Starfire finally turned back to Harley.
"This man is a night watchman," Starfire said. "Today, he forgot his lunch." Her voice was flat and cold. "His daughter brought it to him. Their apartment is around the corner. He told her she shouldn't have come out alone. She is only ten. She is all he has." Starfire shook her head. "Killer Moth arrived when the girl was here. He used her as a hostage."
Harley nodded thoughtfully. "Smart move," she said. "Keeps the guard from shootin' or makin' a fuss! Killer Moth wears a dopey costume, but he sure ain't dumb."
"Is that what you would have done?" Starfire said. "Hidden behind a child?"
She was looking at Harley in that funny way again, like she was angry and upset but mostly didn't understand. It made Harley feel uncomfortable. "Nah," Harley said, more brightly than she felt. "They ain't big enough. No cover. Ooh! Unless the kid was really fat! Was the kid really fat?"
The man was babbling again. Starfire listened. "He says Killer Moth didn't find what he was looking for, and he was angry. He opened fire. The watchman's daughter pushed the gun aside. Spoiled Killer Moth's aim. She saved his life. So he left the guard to die from the bomb, and took the girl with him."
"And he couldn't move the bomb too far, or run, not in time, with his leg like that," said Harley. "So he hid in the vault instead. Huh. He's a nutjob, but he ain't stupid."
"He is not insane!" said Starfire. "He's from Latvia."
"Ludzu," said the little man. "Ludzu." He sank to the floor, weeping. Outside, sirens split the air.
Starfire rested a hand on his shoulder, then turned to Harley. "We have to find that little girl," Starfire said.
"Yeah, yeah," Harley said. "Whatever." She cast an accusing glare at Starfire. "We're still gonna pummel Killer Moth, right?"
"Yes," said Starfire. "We're going to pummel him very much."
"Woo-hoo! Lemme at 'im! ...okay, you hold him down, and I'll pummel him! Then you hold him down again, and I'll pummel him some more!"
"...and after I pummel 'im, you can give 'im a headbutt right in the breadbasket! And then it's my turn again and I get to clobber him real good, and -- "
"Harley," said Starfire.
Harley looked up. "Huh? We there already?"
"The rooftop," said Starfire. "It's the girl."
Harley looked. The last remaining branch of Gotham Bank & Trust lay below. On a low rooftop across the street from the bank, she could make out the form of a young girl. The girl was curled up on the roof; her arms were behind her back, so she must be tied. Killer Moth was nowhere in sight.
"He's here!" Harley squealed. "Look, just put me down on street level, I'll go into the bank, and then -- "
"The girl first, Harley."
Starfire swooped in low and fast. "I'll take a quick circle of the block to see if I can see him. Free her. Now."
"He's armed, you know," said Harley.
Starfire smiled coldly. A pale green glow surrounded her hands. Looking at it made Harley feel funny, and left little black spots around the edge of her field of vision. "That will not be a problem," Starfire said.
She zipped away, leaving Harley to do the boring thing and free the hostage. Harley made a face. This team-up was getting old. She reached in her belt for a knife. The little girl began to make frantic noises through the duct tape that covered her mouth. Harley said, "Aw, shut up," and got to work on the bonds. The kid was smaller than she'd expected, and she was a skinny little thing; how'd Killer Moth even use her as a human shield, anyway? She got the cords off pretty quick, then sighed and helped the girl up so she could pull off the gag. The little girl looked up at Harley with big, tear-filled eyes. Her jaw was trembling. Her thick, puffy jacket fell open, and Harley heard the beeping.
For a moment, the world froze. Harley felt a chill deep in her spine, and she wondered if her face looked anything like the little girl's did right now.
"Harley?" said Starfire, landing on the roof behind her.
Harley tore the bomb loose and jammed it into Starfire's midsection like a football. Her other hand grasped Starfire's shoulder and tugged. Surprised, Starfire bent at the waist, curling over the explosive.
The bomb exploded with a muffled WHUMPH.
Starfire's body absorbed most of the shock. It felt like the world had ended, anyway. Harley was thrown against the wall with a force that rattled her teeth and everything inside her chest. Her head swam, and she quit hearing for a little while. When she opened her eyes, she saw the little girl's face, inches away from her own. Harley was lying on top of her. The girl stared at Harley in frozen terror, too scared to cry.
Harley struggled to the side enough to prop herself up with an elbow. She looked cautiously over her shoulder. Starfire had collapsed where she'd stood, falling flat onto the rooftop. Little wisps of smoke rose around her. She wasn't moving.
"Not bad," said Killer Moth.
Harley turned her head.
Killer Moth was climbing up the ladder from the fire escape. He took his time about it, so Harley figured she looked even worse than she felt. That wasn't too comforting at all, because she felt lousy. Her head was spinning, and her gut felt like somebody had punched her a lot and really hard.
"Actually," Killer Moth said, "I was pretty resigned to going back to jail. I was just trying to kill you first, Harley. I figured she'd take me in after that." He looked over at Starfire and shook his head. "Thanks for taking out the heavy hitter."
Harley groped for her bag of tricks. All she found was the strap. She tried, in vain, to pull it closer. Her arms weren't listening.
"I saw you two earlier," Killer Moth said. "From a distance, of course. Oh, Harley, I'm disappointed. Throwing in with a hero. Well. What else can you expect? Once a sidekick..." Killer Moth knelt down beside her. "Still, once you're all dead, I can get back to robbing box 4473. The right one this time. In case you're wondering, it contains an extremely large and valuable diamond."
"You don't like diamonds," said Harley. "Freeze likes diamonds."
Killer Moth nodded. "That's the beauty of it," he said. "He's on the outside now. So if a big diamond gets stolen, everybody thinks Freeze. Nobody thinks Killer Moth. I leave town quietly, have the stone cut, sell the new stones, and retire to a tropical beach far, far away from this lousy city."
"Yeah!" said Harley. "That'd work!" Except... no, she thought, as her head cleared, it wouldn't. "But you'd kinda have to kill every single person who saw you. And take care of the security recordings. That's why you blew up the banks ...ooh, but all those hostages at the first bank got free. That musta pooched your whole scam up."
"Oh, yes," Killer Moth said heavily. "Yes, it did. Somehow I never planned on what I would do if a complete lunatic fell into the middle of things and rescued the witnesses by accident. Thus crippling my entire plan."
"Don't look at me," said Harley. "You got the wrong bank!"
"Yes," said Killer Moth. "I'll be paying my informant a little visit on the way to Rio." He shrugged. "Unfortunately, this whole thing leaves me in a more exposed position than I'd like. And that's your fault. Now I can't kill all the witnesses. They've talked to the police already. So now I've got to invest in plastic surgery and a new identity."
"Why?" said Harley. "Steal the diamond, sell it to Freeze. Then go to the cops and roll over on him. Long as you hide the money good, you're a winner."
Killer Moth whistled softly. "Good idea," he said. "Of course, I'll still have to kill anybody who could tell the cops about that."
"Who's gonna know?" said Harley. "Nobody except us, right?"
Killer Moth laughed and stepped away. The muzzle of his gun brushed against the top of his high, armored boots as he drew it from its holster.
"Oh," Harley said.
She propped herself up to a sitting position. It took longer than she'd planned on. At least her arms were working again, sort of. She wasn't sure if she could stand yet, but she didn't think Killer Moth would let her try to if she asked. The bag of tricks was in reach, if she could only get a chance to rummage in it.
"Sorry, Harley," said Killer Moth. "It's been fun."
Harley tried to shift her weight and grab for her bag. Her hands felt all clumsy when she tugged on the strap. The bag was open in front of her now, but when she risked a glance up she saw she was looking down the muzzle of Killer Moth's gun.
Then there was a flash of movement, and something was in her way. For a second, she thought it was Starfire, but then she realized that if it was then Starfire had gotten really short. After a blink, Harley realized it was the little girl. She wasn't blubbering any more. The girl stood between Killer Moth and Harley and spread her arms out, blocking his aim.
Killer Moth pointed the gun right at her. The kid just lifted her chin stubbornly. When he flicked off the safety, she didn't flinch or move.
"All right, kid," said Killer Moth. "Have it your way."
His finger moved to the trigger.
Harley grabbed the girl's shoulder and shoved her aside, hard. The girl stumbled a few steps, then fell heavily to the rooftop. Killer Moth watched her fall, but didn't shoot. He chuckled softly. He lowered the gun, then turned back to Harley, shaking his head.
"Getting soft?" said Killer Moth.
"Nah," said Harley. "She ain't fat enough!" Then she added, "Plus, she was in the way if I was gonna use this."
The mallet felt heavier than usual, but she brought it up from the rooftop and propped it on her shoulder. With a grunt, she brought it in front of her and held it out.
Killer Moth laughed. "You really think you'll get close enough for that?" he said.
Harley said, "Who's gotta get close?"
The end of the mallet flew open, and the spring-loaded boxing glove nailed Killer Moth spang in the face.
He staggered back, and reeled, but he didn't go down. So Harley struggled to her feet, pushed the rewind button, and did it again. The second blow hit high on the shoulder. She was even more wobbly than she'd thought, and her balance was way off. He dropped the gun, at least. She rewound again. The third blow caught him in the gut, and the fourth tagged the side of his head. He was stunned, but still on his feet. She rewound one more time for the coup de grace, and the mallet jammed.
She shook it, hard. Nothing happened.
Killer Moth turned toward her. He moved slowly, carefully. His legs wobbled almost as much as Harley's. The gun was on the rooftop just behind him. He bent, carefully, to pick it up. When he straightened, it was in his hand.
"Whatcha gonna do now, Quinn?" he said. "Ask real pretty... for a team-up?"
Harley threw the mallet.
It bounced off his head with a sound like a gong, and he slipped and fell off the roof. Harley hoped he'd splattered on the pavement, but from the sound he made he'd landed in a dumpster instead. She'd thrown enough people off roofs to know.
Harley staggered to the edge of the roof. It took her longer than she meant it to. When she finally got there, she leaned carefully on the parapet and looked down. Yup. Dumpster.
She felt someone behind her, and wearily looked back. Starfire, looking disgustingly unmussed, was looking down over her shoulder. "Oh, sure," said Harley weakly. "Now you wake up."
The little girl scampered to the edge of the roof. She peered over the edge, looking down to where Killer Moth lay beaten and unconscious, and then threw her arms around Harley and hugged, hard.
"Ewww!" screamed Harley, her arms flailing. "Get it offa me! GET IT OFFA ME!!!!"
"This is it!" Harley said.
It was funny how she got to missing Arkham Asylum. Sure, the folks there made life difficult, what with their rules and guards and incapacitating medications, but boy, after an adventure, seeing it was like coming home!
"You sound happy," said Starfire. "Do you like it here?"
"Yeah!" said Harley, vaulting onto the roof. "It's not so bad. C'mon in if you want. I'll show you my padded cell! And Ivy -- boy, you'll really get along with Red! And Mr. J.'s terrific, really he is, and --"
Harley glanced back. Starfire was standing at the edge of the roof. She was tall and golden against the night sky. She looked like a hero. Made sense, Harley remembered. That's what she was.
Starfire said, "Harley, this is where we have to say goodbye."
"Oh," said Harley sadly. It was strange, but she hadn't thought about that part. "Um, well, zie gezunt, I guess."
Starfire blinked. "I'm sorry?"
"It's Yiddish. My grandma taught me a little. It means -- mmf!"
Really, some girls just kissed people at the drop of a hat. Harley wasn't complaining, exactly, because Starfire was warm and curvy and really good at kissing, so Harley was too busy keeping up to say anything other than "eh?" or "mm" or "ooh," and you couldn't make a complaint out of just those three words, so she just held tight and hoped for the best. It was nice and all, but she knew Mr. J. would get real jealous, so after a while she broke it off.
"Thank you," said Starfire. "I like Earth's languages!"
"Well," said Harley weakly, "you sure know French." She shook her head to clear it. "I guess you know some Yiddish now, too?"
"Nu," said Starfire. "Eins, a bissel." She smiled as Harley giggled. Then her face got serious. "You know, Harley," she said, "We could go flying again, sometime. If you want."
Harley blinked. "Really?"
"Really," said Starfire. She took Harley's hands in hers. "You did something good tonight, Harley. Very good. I know it started out just as a way to get back at Killer Moth, but you saved that little girl's life tonight. And mine, too. If you hadn't been there -- "
Harley's cheeks grew red. "Aw, shucks," she said. "It wasn't nothing."
"Yes, Harley," said Starfire. "It was." She took a hand away from Harley's for just long enough to put a finger under Harley's chin and lift her face again. "If you want... things could be different for you. I could see about arranging something. You don't have to keep coming back here. You could help people -- you can, I've seen you do it. You could be really good at it. I could help. If you'd like to... if you'll let me. Please?"
Harley looked up into Starfire's big green eyes. They glowed softly, like her skin, and in the unbroken shiny color Harley could see a little bit of her own reflection, just the powdered face and mask and the outline of her smile.
For a fleeting second, she thought, she glimpsed Mr. J.
Tamaranian skin was warm, and the outside air was cool. She released Starfire's hands, and let them fall.
"Aw, look," said Harley, "that'd be nice and all, but -- look, I got things to do, big projects. Ivy and I have Arts 'n' Crafts on Wednesday, we're makin' tea cozys. And Mr. J. needs me. He does. I just... I couldn't run out on him. Y'know? You ever have anybody like that?"
Starfire didn't answer. She just rested one warm hand on Harley's cheek. Her eyes were big and green, and for a second Harley wondered if maybe Starfire would kiss her again -- though she didn't know why; Harley didn't know any other languages -- but instead the other woman just stepped back, looking sad. "Go on inside now," she said.
Harley ran for the roof door. If she sneaked just right, she could be back in her cell by the late-night bed check. Boy, wouldn't the guards be so surprised!
She didn't see Mr. J. until she was out of solitary and back into circulation. By then, it had been nearly a week, and when she finally walked into the common area and saw him there, her heart swelled up so big she almost cried.
"Oh," Mr. J. said, glancing over his shoulder. "Harley. You're back."
Harley's heart skipped a beat. "You noticed I was away?"
Mr. J. waved a hand. "One of the guards mentioned it this morning. Otherwise, no. I suppose I'm going to hate myself for asking, but what were you getting into?"
"I was gonna rob a bank and buy you a carnival," she said.
"A carnival? You were going to get me... a CARNIVAL? Another rotten, abandoned, falling down, useless battered old carnival?" His voice spiraled higher, until he was shrieking. Harley shrank back. His hand grasped her face. "Harley... you're a champ!" He let go. Harley's legs didn't quite work right for some reason, so she slumped to the floor. Mr. J. looked happy when he turned away, but he wasn't when he turned back. "So... where is it?"
"I kinda got caught. But I did beat the snot out of Killer Moth! Sent him right to jail! An' I got into a team-up! Saved a little girl, too!"
Mr. J. shook his head and rolled his eyes. "You saved a child? Beat up Killer Moth? Gave him to the police?" He shuddered theatrically. "I don't know, Harley. It's almost like you were some kind of hero."
"Gosh, Mr. J.!" Harley said. She hadn't thought of it like that before, not before Mr. J. said it. He was so smart! "I guess it kind of is, a little."
One thing Harley knew was that the hero always got kissed in the end.
She moved just as fast as she had running out of the bank, and Mr. J. couldn't squirm away in time.