Behind the Coat

Author's Note: Written for the livejournal batfic_contest prompt "Camouflage" in less than 500 words; first posted there on 26 November 2009.

A stolen keycard gave Harley access to the laundry as well as opening her cell; she needed something to hide the distinctive (and hideously shapeless) asylum pyjamas before she slipped past the final dozing security guard and out into the night. She quickly rummaged through the stores of staff clothing before slipping on a freshly-starched white coat, experiencing a disconcerting wave of deja-vu.

Despite having been an unwilling resident of Arkham for several months, she'd barely given any thought to her time as a doctor on the other side of the cell door. Those memories seemed to belong to another time and another person – Harleen. But the heaviness of the starched material, the smell of the institutional detergent, the way the cuffs hung down a little too far giving her the feeling she was wearing an ill-fitting hand-me-down she would have to "grow into", all instantly transported her back to that first day.

Putting on that white coat for the first time had been the culmination of everything she'd worked for, called in favours for, strived for. She had finally arrived. She was a doctor and now she was going to make a big name for herself at Arkham Asylum.

The realisation that she was one small, unrecognised intern in an impersonal machine that focused primarily on keeping the patients from killing or maiming each other (or the staff) toooftenwas a harsh truth she'd been quickly confronted with.

As she went about the wards her white coat became her identity and her armour – she would rattle off the standard prescriptions, nod and murmur empathically and tick the standard boxes, hoping no-one could see that behind the coat and her clipboard shield she had no idea if anything she was doing was actually helping her patients.

Of course then she'd finally been allowed to hold sessions with him. With his brilliant and piercing intellect he'd seen past the white coated-shell in seconds, to find the real Harleen – the real Harley – underneath.

Freed from the constraints of her former life she had embraced his theatrical view of the world, donning an elaborate costume and makeup as she cartwheeled at his side across the stage of Gotham. But rather than hiding her as another faceless doctor, this costume shouted who she was and whose she was to the world. Behind her mask she was no longer hiding.

Now the starched collar of her borrowed coat dug into her neck, and the overlong sleeves made her feel swamped. She couldn't wait to slip into the smooth, perfectly tailored red-and-black chequerboard fabric that fit like a second skin.

As she nodded at the half-asleep security guard who buzzed her out (just another junior doctor burning the midnight oil) she was already mentally shedding her disguise. She just had to figure out which abandoned toy factory/warehouse/comedy club her Puddin' was holed up in, and hope that in her absence he'd hired some goons who kept on top of the dry cleaning.

Author's Note: I sadly ran out of words, but would have liked to add a bit at the end with Harley being stuck wearing just one of the Joker's shirts since all her outfits are still in a mess how she left them. Which probably would have bumped up the rating, but would have been cute! (To me anyway) ;D