In Dreams, She Waits
Dr. Leland sighed and steepled her hands together, touching her forehead briefly against them, before lifting them up to her patient once more.
Harley Quinn – formerly Dr. Harleen Quinzel of that very institution – was laying passively on the couch in the small therapy room, her head bandaged and one arm in a cast. A swollen lip marred her pretty face and her throat bore the blackened evidence of an attempted strangulation.
Harley had been just recently recaptured – only the day before, in point of fact – and Dr. Leland had considered it imperative her therapy resumed immediately, if only to take advantage of the rawness of her wounds in attempting to once again break the compulsive hold The Joker had on her psyche.
It had been more than a little frustrating, therefore, to find that Harley bore little grudge against her man, despite the fact that he’d blamed her for the failure of his most recent scheme and took the time to beat her savagely before making good his own escape, leaving her to be found in the debris by the Batman.
Harley wasn’t happy with him, of course, but within five minutes of the session beginning, she’d declared that he’d make it up to her and she was just sorry to have disappointed him again. All relationships have their ups and downs, she’d stated – quite cheerfully.
That was when Dr. Leland had betrayed herself by sighing and bending her head to her hands. She hadn’t quite buried her face in them, but it was near enough and she had quickly sat up straight again.
“All right, Harley.” She said in a firmly controlled tone of voice. “This has been going on for over a year now. Frankly, it’s easy to understand how the Joker manipulated you when you were his doctor – you were far too young and inexperienced and should never have been allowed within ten feet of him.” She ignored Harley’s derisive snort – the patient’s conviction was that she had done more for the psychopath than any of the numerous experts he’d seen over the years – and continued: “What I have more difficulty in understanding is, why you persist in allowing this – this infatuation to consume you. Time and time again he abuses you, physically and mentally, tears you apart and leaves it to us to pick up the pieces and time and time again you willingly – wilfully, even – go back to him.”
Amazingly, she had her energetic patient’s full attention. Harley’s gaze was riveted to hers, her injured head lifted a little off the couch, blue eyes shining. Dr. Leland steadily met her gaze, concealing the unnerving sensation she experienced whenever she looked into those determined eyes, reminding her of what the girl had once been.
“You obviously know something we don’t. So come on, Harley. Give me one good reason why you do it.”
Harley held her gaze for a moment and then suddenly, a smile broke out over her face, puffy lips parting to reveal white teeth. She tittered a little and let her head fall back against the couch, turning away from Dr. Leland to stare up the ceiling.
Even as her doctor waited, Harley was drifting away inside, Dr. Leland’s words softly following her. If only they knew… if only they knew…
The thing about her Puddin’ was, he really didn’t sleep much.
It was one of the first things she’d noticed after she gave up the head-shrinkin’ and shacked up with him. Like any good little athlete, she needed a nice, solid eight hours – though nine or ten suited her even better if she’d been working especially hard – and that didn’t change immediately after she threw off the shackles of society to join her man.
She’d go to bed to the sight of the Joker pacing restlessly or tinkering feverishly and be jolted from her sleep by the sound of his crazed laughter or the clattering of random belongings as he maniacally attacked them in search of something which had spontaneously occurred to him. She’d drift off again and when she next woke, she might find him sitting upright and staring straight ahead with blood shot eyes, or cutting clippings from a newspaper or scribbling out one of his plans, tongue stuck sweetly out in concentration.
She wasn’t always allowed to sleep in his bed of course, not yet. Harley had never been a patient girl, preferring immediate gratification in all her desires, but she was prepared to make a little compromise for her Puddin’, and only for him. It hurt, but she understood – he was still so vulnerable and unused to having someone so close. He had to learn that he could trust her first and she was going to prove herself worthy, whatever it took.
But when he did allow her to curl up hear him, in whatever bed their current residence provided for them (she especially favoured the enormous cavity in the dark mouth of a fibreglass clown head, with purple satin sheets and numerous pillows) she would fall into deep and comfortable sleeps while he lay, motionless, beside her. His eyes would half-close and glaze, and he would be still as a grave. He, who otherwise seemed to be in perpetual motion, feverish, excitable, restless, constantly shifting and moving through one action to the next – if anything meant sleep, surely this corporeal and uncharacteristic stillness did?
But she could tell, in her moments of waking, he was not asleep. Not really.
If she shifted, his eyes would snap wide open and flicker over her curiously. It was unnerving to her in those early days. Perturbing, even. He never seemed any the worse for his lack of rest, whereas she would be ruined without enough. She supposed it was just one more way in which her Angel was so much more special than anyone else in the whole world.
But that night he had been asleep. She’d been lying awake and marvelling at it in the dim glow of the lamp near the bed, because it was so rare. Truth to tell, this might be the first time she’d seen him in true slumber.
She could tell he was asleep because, as with waking, he seemed to be constantly moving. Not a lot. Not frantically or violently. But still – his mouth twitched. His fingertips toyed with the pillow, stroking and tugging at it. His feet shifted, sometimes kicked out.
And his breathing was deep, heavy and unconscious. His eyes were softly shut and his lower lip was slack.
She couldn’t help but marvel at it. In sleep he was adorable. Her heart swelled and thudded to see it, to see his relaxed vulnerability, this display of rare peace. In sleep his face was soft and unconcerned, the laugh lines that burst from either corner of his eyes smoothed out, an uncombed lock of green hair tousled over his forehead. There was even a little drool collecting on the pillow beneath his cheek and for some reason that had tugged at her heartstrings all the more. She yearned to reach out and gather him to her, but didn’t dare risk disturbing him now that he was truly getting some quality rest.
She’d silently glowed, because she was the reason. Like sharing a bed, their quality intimate time was rather – infrequent – for Harley’s tastes. Again, she put it down to his crushing vulnerability, the betrayal and disregard he’d known all his life. She was sure with time that would change. Besides, her Puddin’ had grander concerns than mere cavorting of the flesh – he had important, worthy things to do for the world. Like the wife of a president, she just had to learn to accept that and patiently support him from the wings. Always be there, ready and waiting, when the burdens of the world weighed too heavy, or momentarily lifted, and brought him to her. Really, when you thought about it, she was just like Eleanor Roosevelt! Just without the buck-teeth and bad fashion sense.
It had paid off. Her Puddin’ had been in a playful mood, which meant several hours of bliss involving the use of a rubber chicken in ways she had never imagined. He’d not even been especially rough, and although the roughness was something that she’d surprised herself by ferociously enjoying, it had been rather nice to have him comparatively tender as well.
Harley was very experienced, but had always been rather conservative in her choice of bedroom antics and Mistah J took special delight in dismantling her taboos one by one, revelling as her weak protestations turned to cries of ecstasy. She gloried in it as well, loving that she was steadily transforming herself for his gratification, becoming more perfectly his ideal consort and shedding the remaining layers of Harleen Quinzel.
That night had been no exception, and afterwards she had been filled with a deep sense of satisfaction and her Puddin’ – well. He’d patted her softly on the cheek with a lazy smile, and then almost immediately drifted off.
But she hadn’t been able to, too much loving the sight of him that way, too much basking in the afterglow and the knowledge that their lovemaking had brought him rest. Her bottom still ached a little, but it was a pleasurable sort of ache, one that she could carry with her as a reminder of their love and the sight of him sleeping was one that she would tuck away in her heart for always.
Then suddenly he’d stirred. A frown flickered across his brow, and one leg jerked violently, bringing his knee up against his chest. Her pulse had instantly doubled at the abrupt movement and she froze in place, watching him with now-wide eyes.
A few moments of stillness had followed then he jerked again, more violently than before and she shrunk to the edge of the mattress, afraid the next flail of his arms might strike her.
He fisted his hand in the pillow again and then began to tear and pull at it, his lips curling as he bared his teeth and began to grind them.
She watched in mute horror as he wrenched at the pillow, his face contorted in some silent agony – and then, worst of all, a sudden low moan began in the back of his throat. It was so quiet at first it was like a throb, an undercurrent frightening in its softness, but it quickly rose to an even more awful groan. She clutched her own pillow frantically, not daring to move as he drew both knees up to his chest in an agonised foetal curl, his whole body trembling with the tension in his clenched muscles and his face twisted into a hideous grimace. Then he let out a long, shuddering breath, his expression collapsed into one of hopeless misery and he began to speak:
“Rebecca,” the name was hissed out softly beneath his teeth, so softly she barely heard it at first. Then he repeated it: “Rebecca.”
Her heart went cold.
It was a joke. It had to be. Her Puddin’ was teasing her, that was all. He was such a kidder that way.
“Puddin’,” she squeaked softly as he continued to quietly writhe, “are you playin’ a gag on me?”
She hoped his eyes would suddenly spring open and his mouth would open wide in a laugh as he delighted in his jest. She would happily join in, show her man she could take a joke – so let it be a joke!
Instead, his lip quivered – actually trembled – and he spoke again, still in the same hoarse voice of sleep.
“Rebecca, darling, I didn’t mean to leave you there. I’m sorry.” How strange these words sounded, coming from his throat – the tenderness in them, the raw pain. She’d only heard him speak like that one other time before, in Arkham.
She remembered that awful day, when his medication had been contorting his mind. And she recalled suddenly, her heart plummeting into her stomach, that Rebecca had been a name he’d mentioned then, too.
He continued to murmur it into his pillow; clutching it so tight the veins and tendons across his hands bulged. “Rebecca, I’m sorry, Rebecca, go in out of the rain, I can’t come back, I’m sorry, darling, I’m sorry…”
Then, awfully, in the half-light thrown by the single lamp they’d left on (it’s no fun in the dark, he’d said in a lascivious tone of voice completely alien to the one he used now, I want to see everything…) she saw the sudden glitter of tears on his pale cheeks.
They coursed down his face in two wet streams and as she watched them spill she began to cry herself. Her breath hitched and she felt the heat of her own tears as they ran from her eyes while she watched her man give into some secret anguish.
Who was this Rebecca? Where was she? Did she lie awake somewhere even now, wondering where he was – did she have more right to him than Harley did? Were they – and she couldn’t stifle the sob as the thought occurred to her – were they married?
Her chest felt hollow with her own pain as she watched the Joker cry in his sleep, numb with a horrible yearning she was suddenly afraid would never be satisfied. She lay there and watched him as he mourned some private loss and wept beside him, the arm’s distance between them across the bed suddenly seeming a gap she could never broach.
Then one hand untwisted itself on the pillow and lifted, stretched out, the fingers curled in an agonised reach for someone – someone who wasn’t there.
“Rebecca – “ he murmured again and her heart wrenched.
Rebecca wasn’t there – but she was. She was there, and she was always going to be there now. It didn’t matter who might’ve been around in some long-ago, long-lost former life. Harley Quinn was the Joker’s girl now – and she wasn’t giving that place up for anybody – not even some faceless dame who – and she hiccoughed around her resolution – who could make her Puddin’ cry.
At that last thought she determinedly closed the distance between them, wiggling beneath his outstretched arm and wrapping her own about his slim waist. Instantaneously, his body released its tension and his arm dropped around her, pulling her even closer against him. Their naked skin pressed together, his grip on her was fierce, even painful, and she felt herself swoon at the bliss of it, of how being so close to him was more wonderful than anything else she’d ever experienced. If Rebecca had given this up, she didn’t deserve him. Only Harley did.
Joker’s tears continued to fall but slowly his face was relaxing. He didn’t wake as peace once more crept over his features and she snuggled against him gratefully, her face lifted to his.
His breath hitched a little, his mouth opened – but before he could say anything – could say that name again – she reached up and pressed a swift, soft kiss against his lips.
Even in sleep he responded, pressing back into the kiss and once again, a warm glow began to fill her. He shifted, wiggling down, lowering his head into the crook of her neck, his breath hot against her and the moistness of his tears wiped away by her flesh.
After all, hadn’t she herself loved a guy or two before Mistah J? Though ‘love’ could hardly describe the pale and insignificant feeling of those trysts compared to the overwhelming emotion she had for her Puddin’. What were dreams anyway but fragments of imagination – the only thing that mattered was that she was there for him now. She was his girl now – and nothing was ever going to change that. He needed her. To help him heal. To show him someone would love him no matter what. No one else could ever understand. No one else had ever seen that poor, tormented soul within him. Only she had been allowed that.
They had remained that way all the rest of the night, and she’d fallen into sleep herself. When she awoke, blearily blinking away her scattered dreams, he’d been staring down at her with suspicious confusion, but his arms were still around her.
For a moment, she’d felt a twinge of anxiety. Her Puddin’ often liked to play a little morning joke by kicking her out of bed, and unconsciously, she tensed, anticipating it.
But it didn’t come, and after a moment she relaxed again. Then, in a moment of boldness, she tipped her chin up and kissed him good morning.
For a moment he did not respond, his mouth stiff against hers. Then she felt his lips soften, push back briefly against hers, and her much-beleaguered heart leapt joyously.
She pulled away and looked at him adoringly. He seemed his old self again, if slightly confused by their entanglement, though his eyes were bloodshot and red-rimmed. She hesitated a moment, then cautiously enquired:
“Do ya remember your dream, Puddin’?”
Maybe he wanted to talk about it. She was a doctor after all – she could help him work through his issues. And she wanted him to know she was there for him. Even if his dreams bore the name of another woman. She was still there.
But his eyes glittered dangerously and narrowed and he bared his teeth at her – and not in a smile.
“I don’t dream.” He said dangerously – and though she wasn’t sure if he was lying, or genuinely didn’t remember, she knew enough to recognise the warning in his voice.
“It must’ve been me.” She squeaked obligingly and his face relaxed into a smile and he lifted a hand to pet her sleep-matted hair.
“Dreams are misleading that way.” He cheerfully agreed.
The room was silent but for the ticking of the clock above the door. Dr. Leland sighed, glanced at it, then back at her patient who lay quietly on the couch, gazing blankly at the ceiling.
“Harley?” She prompted.
Harley started, glanced at her doctor – her former colleague – then tapped her toes together.
She could tell Dr. Joan of course. She could. Wouldn’t the head-shrinkers at this joint just love to get some insight like that on her Angel?
But no. No way. That was hers, and hers alone to know. She guarded her secret jealously, never dropping so much as a hint – not even to Ivy – of what her Puddin’ revealed to her in his sleep. That hadn’t been the only time. There’d been others. And other names as well. But it was always her he woke up besides and always her who earned his attention in his waking hours.
She knew enough to never mention it to him, of course. She’d gotten that message the first time. She didn’t know if he remembered his dreams, his sleeping torments – or if they passed out of his consciousness the moment he woke.
But it was rare these days that he denied her access to his bed. Her patience had paid off and her loyalty had been rewarded.
She could put up with a few broken bones, bruising and beatings given in anger rather than love (and there was such a difference between the two, one more thing these dweebs could never understand). She could endure his rage and disappointment, his cruel ridiculing, even the times he kicked her out – all because of what she’d seen. What she’d seen, that nobody else ever had. Or ever would.
The fact was, he’d let her seen it. And continued to let her. Her. Only her.
They asked her how she could stay with him, but for Harley that wasn’t even the question.
No, the question really was – after what she’d seen, how could she not stay with him?
Harley smiled, turned away from Dr. Leland, stared once more at the ceiling, painted in a soothing shade of blush pink.
“That’s for me to know,” she sang softly, ”and for you to never find out.”