The Gods Too Are Fond of a Joke
"Unhand me! I am the Master of Fear, the Lord of Despair, cower before me in witless terror…oh, pardon me, madam, I…Harley?!"
Jonathan Crane, otherwise known as the Scarecrow, paused in his rant, too astonished to continue, at seeing the woman he had just knocked against whilst being dragged down the hall of Arkham Asylum by Batman and Robin. It was indeed Harley Quinn, but she would have been almost impossible to recognize by anyone who didn't know her well. She was dressed in a formal, pinstriped suit, and her blonde hair, usually done up in pigtails when not hidden under her clown hat, was tied up in a neat, tidy bun. She was wearing glasses, and the whole impression was one of seriousness, intelligence, and perfect sanity – the exact opposite impression of the one she normally gave.
She beamed at Crane. "Hi, Johnny! Back again, huh? Well, keep trying, you'll make sanity someday!"
"Harley, you look…you look…" Crane was struggling not to say "absolutely gorgeous" – his feelings for Harley had long been deeply romantic ones, although he would never have admitted it to her. "You look…well," he finished, lamely.
Harley laughed. "Yeah, I guess I am now!" she replied, beaming. "I've just come from my competency hearing, Johnny, and they've declared me legally sane! I'm getting out of here and rejoining society, as a healthy, happy, productive, normal member! What do you think about that, Bats?" she asked, smiling at him smugly. "Bet you never thought you'd see the day, huh?"
"Congratulations, Harley," said Batman, sincerely. "I always had faith in you. I wouldn't fight so hard to keep putting the mentally ill back in here if I didn't believe the system worked."
"Sure takes its sweet time, though," said Robin. "Congrats," he added, noticing the look Batman gave him.
"Thanks, boys," said Harley, smiling. "I gotta say, I feel better than I've felt in years. Like I've got the real Harley back, y'know? I'm in a real good place, and it's all thanks to Dr. Leland and her incredible team. So you be nice to them, Johnny, and try your hardest to get sane. You'll feel so much better for it, I promise. And I know you can do it."
She kissed his cheek tenderly. "Get well soon, Johnny. See you later."
Batman nodded at Robin to drag Crane away, who just stared after Harley, dumbfounded. "What are your plans now?" asked Batman.
Harley shrugged. "Find a place and a job. Dr. Leland says she'll recommend me for a psychiatric position at a different hospital. She doesn't think it would be a good idea for me to resume my job here – too many painful associations, y'know…"
At that moment, they heard another loud rant as another inmate was dragged down the hall toward them. "Why can't any of you take a joke?! Don't you get it?! It's funny because he was fatally allergic to peanuts, and he died from having a spoonful of peanut butter rammed down his throat! Jesus, I have to explain everything to you losers, you're worse than…Harley!" Joker shouted, noticing her. "Don't just stand there, help me out, you dumb blonde! Take out the guards!"
Batman studied Harley's face as she stared back at the man who had ruined her life for so many years. There was no way to describe the pain reflected in it, and yet a firm light shone in her eyes as she shook her head. "Sorry, Mr. J," she murmured. "You're on your own now."
"What?" snapped Joker. "What the hell do you mean, you useless dame?! You do what I tell you, and you do it now!"
She shook her head again. "Not anymore, Mr. J. I've been declared legally sane. You can't tell me what to do anymore. You don't have any power over me anymore."
"I don't have power over you?!" shouted Joker, furiously. "I created you, you stupid woman! You'd be nothing without me! You'd be less than nothing!"
"I was and am Dr. Harleen Quinzel," said Harley firmly, drawing herself up. "I am a good doctor, a good psychiatrist, and a strong, independent woman. I am sane, and I am going to live the rest of my life free from the burden of insanity. That includes insane clowns. So see you later, Mr. J, although I really hope I don't. You'll never know how much you hurt me, how much you really damaged me, and how hard it was for me to overcome all that. But I have. I'm better than you. I've cured myself, and you won't ever be able to do that. I'm mature and rational enough to wish you the best, although if I'm honest I kinda wish you were lying dead in the gutter somewhere. You heartless, abusive, disgusting monster."
Joker gaped at her in astonishment. Then with a roar, he broke away from the guards and rushed at Harley, but Batman stepped in front of her and struck Joker a blow to the jaw that sent him flying. The guards piled on him and held him down, dragging him away as he shouted threats and abuse at Harley. "You worthless little bitch! You don't talk to me like that, nobody talks to me like that! I'll get outta here, Harley, and I'll find you, and I'll kill you, you stupid whore! You hear me, Harley?! You're dead!"
Batman turned to see Harley shaking, tears in her eyes. She wiped them away hurriedly. "That felt kinda good," she whispered, managing a smile.
"Don't be afraid of him," said Batman, firmly. "I'll be keeping an eye out for you, Harley. He won't be able to touch you."
She smiled again. "Thanks, Bats," she murmured. "You're a good guy. I see that now, now that I…I…"
The tears sprang into her eyes again. "Bats!" she cried, suddenly embracing him. "I'm so sorry for everything I did to hurt you! That was wrong! That wasn't me, that wasn't the real Harley, that was some pathetic puppet of his! But she ain't coming back! I won't let her! You hear me, Bats?! I won't let her!"
Batman hugged her gently, overwhelmed at her sincerity and emotion. He had always known that Harley was really a harmless, sweet little girl at heart, but like every child she had a dark side that needed to be controlled. The Joker had always spoiled that child, letting it run wild and do whatever it wanted. But now that Harley was in control of herself once more, her natural goodness, sweetness, and innocence had reasserted itself, and it was incredibly touching.
"It's ok, Harley," he said, quietly. "There's no need to apologize. It wasn't your fault. The best thing you can do to make it up to me is to live your normal life to the fullest. Make friends, have relationships, and laugh lots. You deserve to be happy."
Harley beamed at him. "Yeah. So do you, Bats. You shouldn't waste your whole life having silly fights with Mr. J. Settle down, find a gal, and smile. You got a real nice smile."
She kissed his cheek. "See you later, ok?" And she strode off down the hall, smiling a very pretty and very sane smile.
"I don't buy it," said Robin, returning at that moment and folding his arms across his chest. "I mean, what are the odds of Harley Quinn actually regaining sanity? About a billion to one?"
"She was genuinely afraid of Joker," replied Batman. "I believe she wanted to change, and she has. Willpower is an incredible force, and Harley was always a strong-willed woman. I believe she can accomplish anything she puts her mind to."
"Well, look at you, Mr. Optimist," said Robin, shocked.
"Does that surprise you?" asked Batman. "I have to be optimistic. Otherwise what's the point?"
He turned and strode from the asylum. "If Harley's really rehabilitated herself, it's just proved what I've always thought," he said, climbing into the Batmobile. "People can change."
"Some people, yeah," conceded Robin. "But think about it, Bruce. Can you ever see the Joker changing? Or the Scarecrow? Some people never change. What makes you think Harley's one of those who will?"
Batman shrugged. "What happened to her was never her fault. Joker twisted and manipulated her mind. She was a victim of his, and I like to think that all victims can one day find the strength to be heroes."
"What, like you?" asked Robin. "Can you honestly see Harley turning into a hero?"
Batman shrugged again. "Not all heroes are caped vigilantes. If Harley succeeds in her rehabilitation, she'll be enough of a hero. I'll certainly admire her."
"Is that what this is all about?" asked Robin. "You admiring her?"
Batman glanced at him. "I don't understand the question," he retorted.
"Aw, c'mon, Bruce, she's an attractive woman, I'll admit it," said Robin. "But honestly, crazy was never my type. But I don't blame you if you have a soft spot for her, somewhere in that hollow stone otherwise known as your heart."
"For Harley Quinn?" asked Batman, turning to face him. "Are you being serious?"
Robin shrugged. "Like I said, she's attractive. If you like crazy."
"She is…was…the Joker's girlfriend," retorted Batman.
"Right. And you've got some sort of nemesis code that means you can't date each other's exes, am I right?" asked Robin. "Sorta like how guys can't date their friends' ex-girlfriends?"
"Anyone who was romantically interested in the Joker cannot possibly be romantically interested in me," retorted Batman. "And vice versa. We're two completely different people."
"More alike than you think," muttered Robin.
"How?" demanded Batman.
"You're both crazy," retorted Robin. Batman didn't respond. "And you both got the hots for Harley Quinn," he murmured.
"Joker never had the hots for Harley Quinn," retorted Batman.
"But you're not denying you do?" pressed Robin.
"Just drop it, Dick," snapped Batman.
They drove in silence for some minutes. "Bruce, I know it seems like I'm joking, but seriously, be careful," murmured Robin. "Stay away from her. I don't trust her. She's trouble."
"Thanks for the words of wisdom, Dick," retorted Batman. "But I can handle myself around women. I'm Bruce Wayne, playboy billionaire, don't forget."
"Hard to forget when you keep reminding me," retorted Robin with a grin. "When is your next gala, Mr. Social Elite?"
"You'll have to ask Alfred," retorted Batman. "I have more important things to keep track of."
"Right. Like Harley Quinn's phone number."
"I said drop it, Dick!" snapped Batman. "It's not funny!"
"You wouldn't be so touchy if I wasn't close to the truth," muttered Robin, looking out the window.
Batman didn't respond. He was perfectly sure of his feelings toward Harley as a victim, someone who needed his protection, especially now that she was on her own. Robin's childish implications wouldn't prevent Batman from keeping his eye on her. It was for her own good.