The origin of this story is a bit complex: I was watching Return of the Joker for the bajillionth time (it's just that good) and something occurred to me: When Barbara follows Harley out of Arkham, she says "How could you help Joker do it, Harley?" To me, it sounded as though they had spoken at length before. There seemed to be some kind of understanding there. A little bit of "I'm disappointed in you."

So I had to acquaint them in a fanfiction. It was surprisingly simple - they do create the perfect dramatic foils for one another, after all.

This is in the Joker and Harley categories because it's mostly about their relationship, and Barbara is sort of a side-character looking in, just as the reader is.

All that said, R/R, guys.

To Understand You

Harley Quinn sat in the corner of the Gotham City Police Department's main interrogation room, well-restrained by a double set of handcuffs linking each of her wrists to the chair in which she sat. Though she had stopped making smart remarks and unnecessary noise, it was clear that she was bored out of her mind.

Batman, Robin, and Nightwing had all gone back to Gordon's office, leaving Barbara alone to make sure Harley didn't pull any crazy Evel Knieval escape routine. Nothing so far. The disappointed henchwoman mostly stared up at the ceiling, twitching her nose because she couldn't reach up and scratch it with her hands bound. Her mask had already been removed, leaving small lines where the white paint had been wiped away.

Barbara couldn't help but pity Harley, just a little. She seemed delusional and weak-minded, but she was a woman, somewhere in there. She had dignity, or did at some point. And she wasn't ever going to get it back if they treated her so carelessly.

Well, Bruce, Dick, and Tim were busy and out of the way – why not show the poor girl a little pity?

Barbara made sure her cowl was on securely and opened the door to the sound-proof room.

"How are you doing, Harley?" Barbara asked, taking a step closer to the girl with the smudged clown make-up. Contrary to Barbara's expectations, Harley didn't seem surprised by the gesture of kindness.

"Bored. Tired. Bummed," Harley sighed. "But what else is new?"

"Can I get you anything?" Barbara asked.

"Nah. I'm not hungry, and it's not like you could let me out to change clothes or anything."

Barbara paused.

"Well, how about I take that make-up off?" she persisted. "It's got to be annoying."

Finally, Harley seemed a little hesitant.

"What are you bein' so nice for, Bratgirl?" she demanded. "If your boss thinks it'll make me squeal, he's wrong."

"No ulterior motives, Harley," Barbara promised, holding up her hands as though to surrender. "I just felt kind of bad for you. Batman is being unreasonable, keeping you tied up like this for an indefinite amount of time. We are living in America, you know."

Harley chuckled a little.

"I guess you're right. Yeah, the white stuff is a little annoying. You got anything that'll take off greasepaint?"

"We'll have to see," Barbara replied. "Be right back."

Hardly a minute later, the Batgirl returned with a few cotton balls and a pan of what looked like dish detergent.

"It said it cuts grease," she offered, shrugging helplessly. Harley smiled.

"Worth a try, I guess. But if you get it in my eyes, I'm tellin' Mistah J the next time I see 'em, and your little boyfriend Nightwing is toast."

"He's not my boyfriend, but fair enough," Barbara chuckled as she took the first cotton ball to Harley's cheek. She didn't think it would be worth it to point out that her side – that is to say, the law – wanted to arrange it so she never saw "Mistah J" again. It probably wouldn't work that way anyway.

But why Harley herself wanted to see him again… now that was the real mystery.

"Is it comin' off?" Harley asked, squinting and trying to make out what she could see of her own face through the suds.

"Yeah, so far so good," Barbara said. "There's just this one smear of black on your cheek… it's not budging."

"Oh, that's because it's not paint," Harley said casually. Realizing suddenly what was being insinuated, Barbara dropped the cottonball in shock.

"Oh, I'm - uh…"

"Chill, Bratgirl," Harley drawled, suddenly defensive again. "Ain't-cha ever seen a bruise before?"

"Of course," Barbara replied, more sharply than she intended. "It's just… I mean, you didn't get it during the heist today. It's not new."

"So?" Harley demanded, her clear blue eyes narrowed in frustration.

Barbara didn't reply immediately. She was still trying to take in the evidence – while scolding herself for being so naïve. Of course Harley wouldn't escape the Joker's violent nature just because she was supposedly his girlfriend. She'd probably get the brunt of it, in reality.

And that was a bruise she had gotten from him – why else would she get so defensive about it?

Blinking and trying to focus on the moment at hand, Barbara looked up at Harley once more. And noticed that all the paint had been washed away.

Beneath it, there was a shy-looking blonde twenty-something with shiny – albeit downcast – eyes and a bruise on her left cheek.

"Harley, why do you keep going back to him?" Barbara demanded, pulling a chair up to face the other young woman. Harley glowered.

"This isn't an interrogation about my personal life," she shot back. "Givin' Mistah J second chances doesn't make me a criminal."

"You're right," Barbara agreed. "But work with me here. I'm not the enemy, Harley – at least not this second. I'm about your age. We'd probably be friends if we weren't on opposing sides like this."

"I have no idea who ya are," Harley replied dryly. "For all I know, we might be friends."

"Exactly!" Barbara emphasized. But she sobered quickly. "So can't you just talk to me, honestly, for a second?"

"Honestly? Honey, you don't know what you're askin' for."

In that moment, Barbara couldn't think about anything but how old Harley seemed. Not in an appearance sort of way, of course; she could have passed for late teens. But something about the self-proclaimed villain's demeanor made her seem so world-weary and tired.

"Maybe I don't," Barbara finally sighed. "But try me."

"Okay," Harley sighed, as Barbara began to brush out her tangled, sweaty blonde hair. "I'm not gonna give ya the gory details. You're a crimefighter or whatever, you can probably figure most of them out for yourself. But anyway. Just think of somebody you love."

Harley saw the change in Barbara's eyes even underneath the cowl, and smiled triumphantly.

"Now, do you think he'd ever rough ya up?"

The idea of Dick Grayson punching her in anything other than an organized sparring match – in which case he was often still hesitant – jarred Barbara immensely. She shook her head quickly.

"Of course not."

"Exactly," Harley agreed. "None of us go into a relationship expectin' it. But tell me – if he shocked you one day and did, would that mean you'd suddenly quit lovin' him? No questions asked?"

"No, I guess not," the Batgirl replied quietly. "I'd want to know why."

"And you'd give him another chance," Harley finished.

Barbara nodded, looking guilty.

"And how many more chances would you give him?" Harley demanded, not giving her companion a chance to reply before going on. "It's a hard question. So you just keep giving them. Over and over. What else is there to do?"

"I don't know."

Barbara found it hard to meet Harley's gaze. The woman she had pinned as weak and perhaps even slow-witted had thrown her for an unexpected loop. When did love become insanity? Was there a fine line between admiration and irrational worship, or did it blur at a certain point?

"Harley, I – "

Barbara was interrupted by the door opening.

"Batgirl, what are you doing?" Nightwing demanded, stepping into the room. "You know the commissioner told us to wait and let Batman interrogate her."

"It wasn't an interrogation," the Batgirl explained. "I was just taking off some of her make-up. It's not fair of Batman to keep her chained up for so long like this."

"You and your soft heart," Dick sighed, rolling his eyes. "Okay. Makeover time ends now – Batman is headed back this way."

As she followed Nightwing helplessly, Barbara heard Harley's voice behind her.

"Think about that, Batgirl."

Barbara noticed for the first time that she had been called by her proper title – not "Bratgirl." Also, Harley's exaggerated Jersey accent had become less and less prominent as their conversation progressed. In those final words, in fact, it seemed hardly present at all. That had to mean something.

"What did she mean, 'Think about that?'" Dick demanded, giving Barbara a look of confusion.

"I wish I understood," the Batgirl replied honestly. "I really do."