That word, her name, probed gently into into her dreams. No—no, not dreams. Into her void. She hadn’t dreamt in months. Not since she was sent there again, with them; the screamers, the devils, the true madmen.
Air forced its way out of her throat in sleepy disdain—she was already asleep, what did they want to do? Dope her up more? Stick another needle into her skin? Interrogate her under the guise of trying to help her?
Help, bah. Brainwashing, more like. Attempted suicide by proxy, they said. Masochist, Stockholm’s, psychosis.
Sleepy, drugged limbs awakened and twitched, and Harley’s face tightened. That sounded like him, but it couldn’t be. Three long months of her incarceration and he’d gone the whole time without being committed—impressive for him, at least lately. There was a period before where he was nearly going in every other week, like a teenage girl slicing her wrists and wearing short-sleeved shirts the next day. He wanted to be caught, savored the attention, loved the conflict.
But no, they hadn’t brought him in, not lately—she would have heard him, his laughter ringing out, startling the other patients and provoking fresh screams. And she would have smiled, alone, in the dark, as though he could see it.
“Goddammit, girl! Get up!”
Sharp pain filled the back of her head and fireworks exploded behind Harley’s eyes. Her skull was splitting, cracking, fissures creeping across her bone—but wait, no, wait, no, it just hurt. Pain ebbed through her neck, her back, just as it always did, and she arched back, eyes shooting wide and striving for focus. Her lungs expanded in a gasp—not from pain, but from joy.
That red-lipped smile, those laugh-lined eyes, strands of green hair sticking from beneath a still-bloody guard’s cap! It really was him!
Pain forgotten, limbs now bubbling with blood and adrenaline, Harley lept up from her cot and hung from his broad shoulders. Him, him, him; her sluggish thoughts became a flurry his face, his antics, his brilliance. A hand wove imperceptibly into her blonde hair and she hugged him closer, pulling him down at the waist, ignoring how he stiffened at her embrace. After all, that was just his way.
Giving her a moment to release him, the Joker finally pried her arms off of him and straightened. “How’s my sweet little Harleykins, hmm? Did you miss me?”
“Oh,” she squeaked, her stomach tightening her smile ever-growing, “every minute I was gone!”
His lips closed in a smaller smile, one that crept up only one half of his face. “I would have missed me, too. What do you say you and me get outta here, hum?”
She was quick to oblige, springing up and onto him, placing a tight kiss on his cheek before relaxing into arms that curved lovingly around her body. Delicious and warm, like nothing she’d felt for three long months. Her face disappeared into his chest, into a shirt that was not his, and listened to a heart that was. Her own sped as he moved towards the door, out into the yawning hall of Arkham, and towards freedom.
“…And that was the end of it, doc,” Harley confessed quietly, staring blindly ahead.
Dr. Leland finished a sentence in the notebook she kept for Harley and glanced up, her mouth curving into an apologetic frown.
“It might be the medicine we put you on to maintain your blood pressure.”
“I wouldn’t have blood pressure problems if you didn’t pump me so full-a lithium,” the patient said, her voice a growl. “I know what that stuff does to a person. I’m young, I shouldn’t have to deal with that. But there ain’t much room to be a human in Arkham, I get that much now.”
Sighing, Dr. Leland said, “If you really want us to lower your dosage, I suppose now would be a safe time to do it. Are you through with your fits, do you think?”
“We’ll find out, won’t we?”
Another sigh. “Regardless…I’m sorry for your experience. Lisinopril can cause vivid nightmares in people. I know that you’re making an honest attempt to get better this time around, and such dreams can hinder progress significantly. We should be able to take you off of it as soon as the lithium stops affecting your blood.”
Harley’s eyes were far off, though, past Leland, back with her dream. That dream man, she knew it hadn’t been her Joker. He was tender with an edge of violence, when it should have been the other way around. It was the Joker she daydreamed about, sure, but she still preferred the real one when push came to shove. Even if the real one couldn’t make up his mind about loving her, even if the real one wouldn’t come to get her, even if the real one would one day kill her.
In spite of all that—or, perhaps, because of all that—she did truly love him. And that was Arkham was for, trying to cure love. So she and Leland would sit there for what seemed like hours, and Leland would try to deprogram her, and she would pretend to take it. But deep inside the untouched confines of her mind, Harley would fight back and fall into his arms. Ghastly white hands would press over her ears and kisses were laid upon her face, and his voice wove its way into her soul.
“Don’t listen to them, pooh, you know that I love you. Far be it from them to understand me, let alone my feelings.”
“Will you ever come for me, Mistah J?”
“…Of course. Maybe not today, but soon enough.”
Even in her mind, he couldn’t answer straight. But sometimes, that was good enough. After all, that was just his way.
“Mmkay, Mistah J.”
“…Are you listening to me, Harley?”
Her mouth curved down into a frown. “Yes ma’am, Dr. Leland.”
An exasperated sigh, a slump of the shoulders. “Are you thinking about him again, Harley? I thought you wanted to get better.”
“I’m not,” she breathed shallowly, “and I do. I promise I do.”
“You know he’s not coming to get you, don’t you?”
“Yeah.” Her voice rose an octave at the end. Baby blue eyes fluttered to the side and a hand swept up to demurely cover her mouth, to hide a revealing twitch of the lip. Then, grinding her tongue against her teeth, she said, “Doc…I think I’d kinda like to go back to my cell, now.”
Leland was quick to order guards to oblige her, and they were even quicker to transport her. Suddenly she was in her wing, when seconds ago she’d been in the office—or had it been ten minutes? Lithium killed time. But yes, this was her wing, her hall, and Ivy’s, too. Even though her head was low, she could feel Red’s gaze on her. Did she know what Harley thought? Sometimes it seemed like she did. Sometimes it was staggering, the way Ivy could asses her moods with little more than an idle glance. But sometimes it was helpful, too.
Harley tilted her head to the side, about to wave to her friend, when suddenly her ear was all the way down the hall. A staccato, high-pitched laugh echoed from around the corner, down into her heart, and her eyes grew wide.
The guards gripped her arms with sudden ferocity and scooted her forward, as though keeping her from seeing him would keep her in the dark. But she delayed, refused to move her feet, stiffened her body in the magical way an infant does when it wants to be put down—just long enough to see him escorted around the corner by a small militia of men in riot gear.
“Ooh, puddin’! Whatcha do now?”
The guard on her right clapped a gloved hand over her mouth and she whined through it, still squirming, still drinking in the sight of his wide grin and wilder eyes. His gaze fell upon her and his laugh heightened, his cuffed leg stretching out to the side imperceptibly to hook around the ankle of an officer and knock him over, slamming his foot down on the joint with a sickening snap. The guard screamed, his comrades in shock as one leaned down to readjust the chain between the Joker’s feet, to tighten it so as make capable only the slowest shuffle. The Joker laughed, and Harley laughed, and the Joker wiggled his arm in the straightjacket and Harley’s arm twitched in the guard’s grip.
Suddenly he was gone, and she was in her cell—thrown in, the door slammed behind her as quickly as possible. She hadn’t even realized they’d gotten there. Her guards ran down the hall, their radios to their automaton mouths. Harley threw herself against the glass, warmth and chills spreading through her body at the same time. All thoughts of rehabilitation vanished with his laughter. Her smile hurt her cheeks and she stood, trying hard to see down the sharp angle, knowing that even with the riot gear, even with the straightjacket, Mistah J was causing trouble. That he’d be out again in a week. That he might not take her with him.
But even if he didn’t, she didn’t really mind. Not too much.
After all; that was just his way.