Author's Note: Written for the livejournal batfic_contest prompt "Free-Fall" in more than 500 words; first posted there on 10 November 2009.
As Harleen stepped quickly down the dimly lit corridor her mind flashed back to some half-forgotten lesson in high school; the drone of the teacher's voice had provided the soundtrack as she'd daydreamed away the last period before she could escape to gym practice.
"During free-fall, objects are in fact weightless."
She'd been struck by the poetry of the curious statement even if she couldn't quite remember the reasoning behind it, other than something about a bowling ball and a feather being dropped simultaneously on the moon. She'd figured if the physics of bowling on the moon suddenly became important for her day-to-day life she could probably look it up in a textbook.
But as a gymnast weightlessness was something that she got.
Defying gravity. Throwing her body forwards or back, twisting and flipping in space. Striving to overcome the gravitational pull of the giant hunk of rock humans fondly called home. An ultimately fruitless battle she was always destined to lose in the end, whether it was neatly and tightly sticking a landing or a slightly more undignified tumble onto the mat butt-first. But for those few split seconds she managed to escape its pull, posed in a (hopefully graceful) position in mid-air, she was free.
Free of gravity meant free of the normal constraints that tied her down during her teenage years; school work, nagging parents, the usual pressures to be "popular" and "fit in". Did Derek really like her or was he just asking her out on a dare? How could she persuade her parents to let her stay out after ten? Would she be more popular if she dyed her hair blonde? When she was in the middle of a routine she would forget it all. It was addictive, and while her classmates all hung out in shopping malls or played video games she would be pushing herself harder and further each day to get that little bit higher in the spin, to hold onto that magical weightless moment just a little longer.
Looking back, gymnastics had been her entire childhood. And although there was a team to practice with it was ultimately a solitary pursuit. Whether on the balance beam, the bars or the open expanse of the floor, when competing you always stood alone. No one else was going to help her fit in that extra twist before she hit the mat, and no one was going to stand by her shoulder on the beam and keep her from falling. It taught her that if she wanted to achieve something she had to be the one to go out there and get it for herself, but she equally craved and resented the friendships that seemed to come so easily to those around her.
Earning a college scholarship meant she kept up practice and competing all through her first three years at Gotham State, but she'd finally abandoned her fight with gravity after being forced to take six months off due to injury. When she got back in the gymnasium suddenly moves that had been natural for years seemed forced and awkward, and she balked at the run up even the simplest of routines on the apparatus. The up-and-coming kids (she swore some were barely out of diapers) were all flying effortlessly through the air and she felt as though her feet had been encased in lead. She was permanently grounded, and it was a bumpy landing that came as a shock.
Unwilling to return to gymnastics if there was no real prospect of achieving her original goals of national and international championship, she turned back to the classes that had caught her interest during her time off – psychology. Given the ever-present media interest in the psycho-analysis behind everything from Bruce Wayne's latest car buying spree (trying to buy the love his murdered parents couldn't give him?) to the bizarre criminals that roamed the streets of Gotham (the Joker – mad, bad or both?) there seemed to be plenty of opportunities for an attractive and tenacious psychiatrist to make a name for herself.
Sure, studying textbooks might not have given her the same rush as a perfect dismount from the uneven bars, but she told herself she didn't really miss it. She was an academic now, and only brainless jocks were slaves to the buzz of adrenaline. She would work to prove theories and gain knowledge, cutting a few corners here and there where necessary. Because after all, an academic is as alone as a gymnast when it comes down to it, and still no one was going to be there to hold her hand.
And until she set foot in the secure wing at Arkham Asylum, she even half believed herself that the craving for that buzz was far behind her.
But then she'd been drawn over by that careless whistle, and caught her first glimpse of the knife-edge smile that had graced the front pages of dozens of newspapers. In the space of one breath it was as though she was back at the height of a perfect spin on the bars, caught in the moment as it stretched out to an impossibly long time. All the other nagging thoughts that occupied her mind – the need to prove herself in this new job, whether Dr Arkham had bought the reference she'd coerced from her old professor, student loan repayments being due when she didn't get paid till next week – none of it seemed to matter anymore. She'd forgotten what focus and truly existing in a moment could feel like. It sucked her back in instantly.
As she continued down the darkened corridor Harleen thought back to that perfect first meeting, and wondered how exactly every single session she had spent with him since then could also have been completely perfect. Even all the imaginary time she had spent with him between sessions had been perfect. Particularly that time where she'd daydreamed about him taking her out for an ice cream sundae, and somehow chocolate sauce had ended up in some very unusual places…
She shook her head and walked on with as purposeful a gait as she could manage when she was filled with butterflies and a dozen cups of coffee consumed throughout the evening as she'd worked towards this final plan. He would have probably said it was "show time", but to her the childhood gymnastics metaphors still seemed to fit better. This was the run up to her final event; it was all on her, alone on the mats as the audience looked on in hushed anticipation. If she wanted the gold she was going to have to make this one count.
All the gravity-defying spins and flips, the gasps and adulation of the packed stadium crowds; none of it could even begin to match the surge of adrenaline as she took the final step up to the glass. It was just a few inches, but felt more like stepping off the edge of a fifty-storey building.
"Knock, knock Puddin'!"
Although her stomach was doing it's own routine of flips and spins, for once it was her who wore the killer smile in response to his sedated puzzlement at his psychiatrist appearing outside his cell in the dead of night dressed in a harlequin costume. But it was a smile that was slowly matched as she dispatched the remaining Arkham security with efficiency, and as they drove away her heart soared in delighted at his glorious laughter. She was weightless once more, but for the first time she wasn't alone as she broke free of the constraints that had kept her grounded for so long. And this time she had no intention of coming back down any time soon.
Author's Note: To me Harley is that kid who shouts "again! again!" just after the rollercoaster takes that horrifying dive over a big drop and I'm crying and begging to be let off the ride. A gymnast turned criminal psychiatrist turned cartwheeling criminal who is devoted to someone with that many knives/guns/joke objects that contain horrible toxins has to be an adrenaline junkie.