A familiarity with recent events in the comics will aid your enjoyment of this fic. No spoilers though.
Lost in the Amazon
"Ha! You shoulda seen it girls! What a laugh!"
Harley Quinn threw back her head and laughed uproariously. She was seated, legs out in front of her, weight on her hands, in the centre of a circle of women who'd gathered together on the mats after a hard morning's workout in the Athenian Women's Shelter.
Harley lifted a hand to her breast and adopted a mimicking tone:
"Scarface loves me! What we have is special!" She broke the mimic and shook her head. "Oy! What a kook!"
The women, of varying ages and backgrounds, half-giggled or blinked with curious eyes at the story and its teller, who wiped at her chest and face with her sweat towel.
"I suppose it was kinda sad in its way," Harley said with an air of graciousness. "I shouldn't be too rough on the chick. I mean, talk about a state of delusion – she'd sit there with her arm jimmied up this puppet's backside and look at him with this simperin' gaze – like this – " Harley pursed her lips together and fluttered her eye lashes, " – and say things like 'Oh Mr. Scarface, I love the way you handle them mooks. You sure got a powerful way aboutcha!' And then – no joke, girls – she'd get in all close to his neck and nuzzle it, yannow, and say somethin' like – 'Oh Mr. Scarface, it makes me weak at the knees when you look at me like that!' Yeah, " Harley shook her head sadly, drawing her knees up to her chest. "It sure was a sad sight. Gotta feel sorry for the girl. What a sucker!"
Holly Robinson rolled her eyes and hopped to her feet. "Well, be that as it may, we've all got a few grinning white skeletons in our closets, huh Harl?"
Harley's eyes boggled a little and she gulped, staring up at her friend. "Er – yeah, well. I'm not tryin' to judge or nothin', I'm just sayin' – well, Shug sure could use a place like the Shelter. I guess we all need to thank our lucky stars we've, uh, ended up in the bosom of the Goddess! Right, gals?"
The group of women murmured their assent and Harley leapt up to her feet, shaking out the skirt of her contemporary-styled toga.
"Woo! Well, stirrin' up old memories like that makes me feel in need of a little healin'. Who's up for a dip in the whirlpool?"
Only a couple had other commitments within the Shelter and so the group of women moved as one to the bathhouse, chattering happily together. Few noted that Harley had fallen strangely silent, worrying her lower lip with her teeth as they entered the dark, humid room.
"Hey, didn't mean to be catty back there," Holly said coming up beside Harley as they disrobed.
Harley started, then turned to her friend with a wry grin. "Catty? Gee whiz, Holl, I think I'm rubbin' off on ya!"
"Thought you'd appreciate it," Holly grinned as she hung her toga up. "Really, are you okay?"
Harley kicked off her sandals, laughing. "Am I okay? Are you kiddin', babe? I'm better than I've been in years!" Together the two women moved toward the whirlpool, which bubbled and steamed invitingly. "Really. After screwin' up my life so much, I've finally got things back on track. I mean, really, findin' the path of the Goddess has given me a sense of peace and contentment I ain't never known before!" Harley was smiling happily as she sank into the hot water, throwing back her head with a satisfied: "Ah! That's the stuff!"
"If you say so, Harl." Holly leaned her head back against the rim of the pool. "I'm proud of you, really. I mean, I never knew you before but from what I understood you were – well – "
"A doormat." Harley said flatly, her eyes shut.
"Well – "
"Nah, it's okay Hollers. It's true," Harley's eyes abruptly snapped open. "But that's the past. I've moved on from all that now. Grown up. Now I see things as they really are – were. Harley Quinn is a sucker no more." Her voice was fervent with conviction, her dampening ponytails shaking on her head with the vigour of her emphasis. Holly smiled to see it.
Harley leant back, luxuriating in the feel of the magical water swirling over her aching body. Funny, she couldn't figure why it suddenly seemed so sore and tired. There'd been a time when a sore body made her glow, made her feel owned and how right that had felt. She involuntarily shuddered, her brows creasing together.
"Come on," she murmured to herself, "feel the healin' magic, Quinn."
The chattering of the other women broke into her consciousness. One of the other women was talking about a relationship she'd left not so long ago. A man, who used to beat her. Who frightened her. But they'd loved each other, despite everything. She was thinking of phoning him.
Harley's eyes snapped open and she sat forward violently, making the water slosh and the others start in shock.
"What are ya, some kinda dummy?" She demanded of the woman, who blinked and stared at her. "You wanna get suckered back into some creep's head-jam? What, are you lookin' for an excuse to be a victim? Cos he'll give ya one!"
The other women had fallen silent and were all staring at Harley who continued passionately.
"They're all happy to do that, so long as you come crawlin' back! You really think he loves you? Ha! All that mug cares about is power – and if you go back to him, then you're enablin' that power trip." On some level Harley was aware she was repeating the words Doctor Leland had said to her a thousand times over the years and there was the slightest stammer to her voice as she continued: "But I s'pose you figure he only hits ya 'cos he loves ya – yeah, I can just see it. I bet you sit in front of a mirror, pokin' and proddin' at those bruises with a smile on ya face! Makes me sick."
"Harley – " Holly murmured, but Harley ignored her.
"There are right ways to have a relationship and there are wrong ways," Harley's voice was just a little unsteady, quavering as she spoke. "A proper relationship involves mutual consideration, respect, equity and an absence of violence and intimidation," she was reciting now; barely aware of the words she spoke by rote. "A relationship is comprised of two equal partners with independent needs and desires they unite for the benefit of both."
She fell abruptly silent and felt her lower lip wobble violently. The multi-hued figures of her fellow Athenians were blurred and indiscernible and she realised her eyes had filled with tears. She blinked them away rapidly to find the woman who had originally spoken darting her eyes around nervously and looking confused.
"I – I just wanted to phone him – " She stammered.
Harley stood up, water streaming off her body, feeling a little unsteady on her feet. No one spoke as she climbed out of the whirlpool and retrieved a towel from the nearby pile, wrapping it around herself. She did not stop to change, just grabbed her toga from its hook and hurried out, feeling their staring eyes following her.
"The Amazon way is the way of the Goddess," she whispered to herself as she hurried down the corridor, the air cool on her wet flesh. "Wise Athena, grant me the strength to heal myself and to face down adversity with the power of the Goddess that stems from within me!"
"Harley!" Holly's voice called out behind her and Harley broke into a run.
She dashed down the corridor, feeling the carpet pound beneath her feet, her pigtails flying behind her, clutching the towel up with one hand. She reached her room and darted inside, slamming and locking the door behind her before sinking down onto the floor.
"Breathe, Quinn," she commanded herself inwardly, and forced herself to draw in steadying breaths through her nostrils, blowing them out slowly through her mouth. "Centre yourself."
She realised with a start that she was shaking violently and pushed herself up onto her feet, heading for her adjoining bathroom.
"A hot shower is what you need, cookie," she told herself firmly. "A hot shower and a cup of good, strong peppermint tea. Oh yeah, that's the ticket!"
A bubble-bath and an ice-cream soda…
She ignored the jolt of yearning that coursed through her at that thought. Kids stuff.
She turned the faucet on good and hot and peeled the towel off her body, ignoring the trembling of her hands, forcing herself to hum. She pulled out her pigtails and turned to the fast-steaming up mirror to pin her hair on top of her head.
Then caught sight of the scar between her breasts.
Arrested by the sight, she paused and stared at it in the reflection. Her brow creased and her lower lip grew slack and, as though guided there by an unseen pull, one hand floated up to trace the outline of the scar.
She'd avoided the sight of it for a long time, never looking in the mirror without it being covered. It was pale pink now, almost entirely faded and she found herself filled with a prickling sorrow at that realisation. Soon it would barely be there at all and she was mildly shocked by how powerful the sense of mourning at that inevitability was.
Her finger traced the cross-stroke before following the curving length of the bottom-stroke. Once, she'd been so proud of that mark and of all it represented.
She swallowed hard and turned away, stepping into the shower stall.
"I am a strong and independent woman," her voice sounded strained and desperate as the hot water plastered her hair down, pounded her skin a bright pink. "I belong to no one but myself. I proudly stand up alone, a complete and fulfilled person."
Her voice cracked on the last word and she took in a great shuddering breath and ran her hands up through her wet hair, feeling the prickling spray of the water hit her in thousands of tiny places.
"A relationship is comprised of two equal partners with independent needs and desires they unite for the benefit of both."
"But that's what it's like!" Her own voice, whining, desperately needing Doctor Leland to understand. "It's just not in the regular way!"
"The Joker is incapable of love," the voice was hard and cruel, crueller than his ever was for the words that it uttered. "All you represent to him is power."
No, no, no, NO.
Harley sucked in a heaving sob and snatched her body wash from the shower caddy, pouring it onto her loofah and scrubbing it viciously into her skin.
She'd never been able to explain it. Not to anyone's satisfaction. She'd never needed the words for herself – she'd understood, with pure intuition, the way things were.
And so had he.
Hindsight was twenty/twenty. Harley saw it all so clearly now, the years they'd spent together and it made it all the more bitter a pill because now she'd given into the system, said what they'd wanted to hear, signed away her soul to their propaganda, they'd never listen to her again.
He'd abused her. She knew that. And never just physically. As cruel as his beatings were, the way he'd toyed with her mind had been far worse. He'd enjoyed it, she knew that too, took a perverse and sickening delight in seeing her cry, strive to please him, seeing how her devotion to him controlled her so completely.
But that was the price of being by his side. And when she weighed it all up, it had seemed an equitable exchange.
No one had ever considered she'd done that. No, they'd all thought she'd just been sucked in and taken unawares. That it was beyond her to sit down and consider the abuse and come to the eventual conclusion that it was something she was willing to accept, if the pay-off was – well, everything else. No, to them, she was just a stupid victim. She gritted her jaw at the memories, the hours spent locked in a small therapy room, having to endure them filling her mind with their half-truths and textbook theories. He'd known she was there because she wanted to be. He'd respected her more than they ever had.
Harley forced herself to whistle as she soaped up her body, scrubbing her skin so hard with the loofah it flamed red and stung. This was cleansing. More so than that weirdo whirlpool. The fierce scrubbing called to mind the long-lost feeling of his hands on her body, how they had made her tingle and tremble and glow.
His hands had often been cruel, but not always in anger. And she'd loved it, hadn't she, loved it as much as his peculiar gentleness and unpredictable tenderness. Enjoyed the feeling of his teeth sinking into her flesh as much as the softness of his mouth on hers in a kiss.
But that was wrong, that was wrong. That was the wrong way to do it. Everyone said so, so it must be true.
She'd let them talk her down, bully her into submission. With the Joker she hadn't been allowed to have needs and desires, they said, she'd been forced to comply with his.
They were so convinced. How could she tell them her needs and desires had never been so utterly fulfilled as they were when they were together?
Because it was wrong. That was the wrong way to have a relationship. It was sick and unhealthy. Sick to be delirious and drunk on the idea – no, the absolute knowledge – of being owned.
She paused in her scrubbing and slumped back against the tiled wall, her hand once again rising to trace the scar, the carved J that rested on her chest, between the breasts he'd so often licked blood from before kissing her in a way that brought her to her final ecstasy.
They'd never seen the way she changed his life, enhanced it. How she'd kept things in order for him, saw that he was well-fed and best dressed, tended to his wounds, cheered on his jokes and hailed his grand visions. How he'd swell beneath it, smiling in a way that made her swell bright as well. And even though she'd told them, they couldn't then know how utterly satisfying it had been.
The water continued to pound against her skin, the entire bathroom now clogged with steam. A vague and distant part of her brain murmured she would use up all the hot water and the other women would be furious with her, but her more conscious self felt only the faint tickling of her finger tracing her scar.
And they'd said – a lump rose in her throat, hard and unyielding – that everything else – the soft kisses and cuddles, the playful tickling and the snuggling together to watch old movies, the nights spent dancing away, laughing deliriously, the way he'd made her pulse in ecstasy against him over and over again, the times he'd sought her out and brought her little trinkets or given her an important part to play, even how nurturing he'd been and how solicitous in her education – all of that, they claimed, had been no more than fantasies she'd concocted to cope with the horror of her situation. Fevered delusions, dreamed up in pain or fancy. None of it real. Just figments of her imagination. No matter how hard she protested, they insisted she had to acknowledge her memories were false.
They'd told her she had to find her own voice, heedless of the fact they were silencing her completely.
It didn't matter. None of it mattered anymore. It was the past and it was over. She had a new life now. A better life – yes it was a better life. Harley twisted her hands up into her hair and squeezed her eyes shut, hissing to herself. It was a better life, it was, it was. She had been broken and now she was healing. She'd been wrong, her desires had been false. She was broken, but she could get better. It would take, it would. She was independent. Strong. She didn't need him. She belonged to herself.
She'd never felt so alone in her life.
Harley finally gave into the tears that had been threatening to spill, sobbing in great heaving gasps as she sunk onto her haunches in the shower stall, folding her arms over her knees and burying her head in her lap. The water pounded down on her head and shoulders, her pale skin flushed pink from the hot spray, her shoulders shaking violently as she poured out her grief in wretched tears.
She wondered if he missed her too.