continued from Doppelganger part 3
The Next Afternoon
Just before lunch, Quinn joined the Joker to go over the plans for the Commissioner's Dinner. After he'd finished briefing her, Quinn's smile was brittle.
"But Puddin', I thought you said there were going to be explosives!"
"There are-just not...there."
The Joker pulled her into a hug and as he pushed her away again, he slapped her on the ass, and said with a sing-song voice. "I'll never tell-ell-I'll never-tell-ell."
His voice grew stern again, "That's a 'day-of' piece of information. Too many cooks spoil the broth."
"But...Puddin', Quinn moved right back to his side, slid one hand toward the zipper in his pants, "surely you can tell me."
He grabbed her and threw her on her back on his desk, looming over her, "why do you want to know so bad? Or, shall I say *who*, exactly, wants to know?"
He was dragging her pants off and undoing his, which made her head throb as she looked at the ceiling. Fuck! She hated how much she-
She inhaled sharply as he moved and his face was suddenly leering over hers, "WHO wants to know?"
She could never think straight when this was happening-who was it who wanted to know? Who?
She looked up into his eyes and ran her hands through his hair. He was such...a...brutal man-and she hated him but she really-
She whispered, "You. Harder."
He cackled as he bent closer. "What's this little plan called again?"
She gasped. "Divide...and...conquer."
She grabbed the cloth on the back of his shirt, pulled him tighter. He laughed again-what a pushover--she was almost there...he pulled away slightly and looked at her as he said, "And you know who's going to be divided?"
She felt hardly conscious at this moment, only vaguely nodded her head no. His leer seemed omnipresent, then he leaned in to whisper as he moved, "Dinah Wayne-from that Bat-Daddy of hers."
As Quinn felt her brain nearly explode with her climax, her eyes flew open.
A very pale Quinn entered the kitchen as Dinah was fixing sandwiches for their lunch. Dinah recognized with growing trepidation that she was being kept rather ostentatiously out of the loop in the final preparations for the Commissioner's Dinner gig. She really didn't know whether it bode well that Quinn seemed to be, to some degree, back in the Joker's good graces and whether that had anything to do with the previous night's unpleasantness. Either way, disgusting as it was, there was nothing she could do but wait, play the good little housewife and make lunch.
Quinn pecked her on the cheek and hugged her. "I'm sorry about last night."
Dinah shrugged, "Doesn't matter."
"Yes it does. I heard you crying."
Dinah turned to her, her face stony. "So?"
"So, I'm sorry that I can't give you what you want. It doesn't mean I don't love you."
"Yeah." Dinah turned back toward the food. "Whatever."
The girl felt, rather than saw, Quinn start abruptly as she looked at the cheese Dinah had just placed on her turkey. She stared at it, transfixed, for a few seconds and then said almost inaudibly, 'declaration of independence."
Quinn was speaking to her sandwich, "when, in the course of sandwich events, it sometimes becomes necessary for an ingredient to dissolve the bands which have connected it with another."
Dinah's heart leaped into her throat-not this, not now! Her voice was suddenly pleading, "Quinn? Are you-"
"Am I what?" Quinn turned to Dinah as she lifted the cheese off the turkey, "I don't like Swiss on turkey."
Quinn looked into Dinah's anxious eyes and burst into laughter as she put the cheese on another plate, "Honest to Pete, Dinah, look at your face! I was just kidding."
Dinah was too absorbed in her own thoughts to see the pinched, pale look in Quinn's features, noticed only kindly humor in her eyes, and grinned despite herself. "That's not funny, crazy-woman!"
"Yes it is, baby, and you know it." Quinn laughed feebly and kissed her again.
Dinah growled as she poured two glasses of water. "I'm still pissed off at you."
Quinn tilted her head to one side, "I know-but you still think I'm cute, right?"
Dinah rolled her eyes, then relented with a smile, knowing that these would be the few happy-ish moments this day would contain. Yet another thing this experience was teaching her-just like Quinn, she could be murderously angry, violently aroused and wretchedly happy with the same person, all on the same day, and sometimes even in the same hour.
Robert placed the box he was carrying softly on the ground, stood up and stretched. No wonder people led a life of crime-the straight life was so much harder on the back He lit a cigarette and retraced his steps to the truck, one of many, that he knew held hundreds of back-breaking boxes that he'd be carrying or dollying a tremendous distance over this field.
He cursed himself-he'd let a girl-that Dinah girl-get to him. As he approached the truck, his sense of honor made him admit to himself that it wasn't just that Dinah girl, it had been that Quinn woman and that Joker...freak who had scared him straight. He wondered whether and how long this change of heart would last. On one hand, the pay sucked and it was killing his back-on the other, it was sorta nice to drive somewhere and have a cop slip behind him in traffic without panicking. Not to mention all the cops that were surrounding this workspace.
He thought again about the paycheck he'd be getting at the end of the week and cursed softly. He took another drag, tossed the cigarette on the ground and stubbed it out. As he picked up the butt, a thought came to his mind unbidden-maybe his father was right-maybe he did need to go back to school.
Jesus! Where did that come from?!
He'd found, as young an adult as he still was, that it was a particularly galling part of growing up-to find out that your parents had been right-about a lot of things.
He walked up the ramp into the truck and was met by two strange workmen: They'd placed a large box on a handcart for him.
"Where are Pete and Kenny?"
One of the new workers replied, "Comm needed them on rigging prep-so they sent us over."
As Robert maneuvered, he looked the two men over again-they looked familiar. Where had he seen them?
"Do I know you guys?"
The other man looked at him with cold eyes. "No. You don't." The answer was not just an answer-it was an order. He wasn't to know them, even if he did.
A liquid thrill went through him. That's where he'd seen them! In another staging area-these were the Joker's men!
Robert shrugged, "My mistake." Whatever this was, he didn't want to be on the wrong end of it, so he played dumb, "Hey-what kind of audience are they expecting?"
"They're thinking at least 750-800,000, easy-or as many as the Park will hold."
"Damn! That's huge! Pretty ballsy in this day and age."
"Uh huh. Sure is." The man's face was expressionless.
Robert chuckled nervously, "Well, better get to it!" As he took the handcart and wheeled the box down the ramp, he noticed he'd smudged the paint on the black hard-case, freshly stenciled paint that read:
Robert had finished his work for the day and was walking through the park just as a corpulent man walked past him, braying into a cellphone.
"Yeah, the fire marshal already approved them. Honest to God, they're just fireworks! You act like none of us have done this before."
The man listened to whatever answer he was getting before his face softened a bit, "Yeah, well, I know you're nervous, but there's no reason to be. You'll see. Everyone's going to have a great time. It'll be amazing."
The man's conversation disappeared into the other noises of the park as Robert continued walking. He had every reason to believe things were not going to go well, but he felt a morbid desire to find out just how badly things were going to go. Not that he wanted to be on the bad end of it-he just knew that the presence of the Joker's men had to bode badly for the concert-going experience.
He hesitated as he thought about whether he should attend the concert or not. He had the equivalent of a backstage pass and it would be a shame not to use it for U2. He'd been quick enough to get out of the Joker's way once; surely he could do it again?
The Morning of Commissioner Gordon's Appreciation Dinner
"I'm telling you, it's never what you think it'll be, Barbara. He always goes for something that surprises you."
Barbara's answer was so deadpan that Dick almost smacked his forehead. Barbara was the last person on Earth who needed a helpful warning about the Joker.
He turned toward Helena, whose expression and tilted head said, "Duh, dipshit." Okay. Maybe she didn't need any advice either.
He looked around the room, then down at the table, then stood up and started pacing. He, or rather Nightwing, was going be outside the venue-at the periphery of the event. It would be tactically unreasonable to have all of them in the same room. Which made him nervous. They were all nervous. The bait of Barbara had to be offered in a convincingly vulnerable way or the rat wouldn't enter the trap. They were counting on having a bigger trap than the rat's but were well aware that, while planning to trick and surprise the Joker, he was planning to trick and surprise them, too. This, however, was what they'd been waiting for and he felt almost nauseated by the desire to have the evening over and done with.
Even after the seemingly millionth iteration of their plan, Bruce was still not satisfied. They were used to his brooding but this something else. His mood was almost a physical presence-like having Bruce, Batman, and perhaps Hamlet's ghost in the room at the same time. Although Barbara had as good, or better, reason to be anxious, it was Dick and Bruce who were giving her heart palpitations.
"Bruce, Dick, for the love of God, *please* sit down."
Dick sank into a chair. Bruce didn't. "I can't, Barbara. There's something I'm missing."
"You aren't missing anything-except the chance to relax before this evening."
Bruce exhaled slowly, then went outside.
"Wow. I think he's literally worn a path in the floor," Helena observed.
As soon as her last word left Helena's mouth, Bruce reappeared, retracing his steps excitedly. "That's it. I knew there was something else!" If they anticipated an explanation, they realized they weren't going to get one as they watched him stride toward the elevator, saying over his shoulder, "I'll see you there-time and places as planned." With that, the doors closed and he disappeared.
"Okay. Bye, Bruce," Barbara offered dryly to the vacant space.
They looked at the elevator and each other but didn't even bother to make a conjecture about his departure. They had no idea where he was going but knew that he'd show up exactly as planned for the event, dressed as formally and impeccably as always. As they would all be.
One Week Earlier
Actually, planning evening wear for the event hadn't been as easy as it might have been. Barbara had found it difficult to find a dress that was formal, would cover the Kevlar vest she'd be wearing, and not make her look like she was wearing Moms-R-Us. Wayne Corp. scientists had taken a lot of the bulk out the vest, but it remained a vest and difficult to dress around. So she was stuck with choosing a dress that was a great deal more matronly than she would have liked. She didn't mind particularly-she was in no mood to be shot by the Joker again and knew that crime-fighting sometimes had fashion consequences.
Helena did not know any such thing and wouldn't have acknowledged it if she had. She'd tried on many dresses for Barbara's opinion and had gone into the bathroom to change because she felt Barbara would be able to concentrate more fully if not watching her taking off her clothes multiple times. She did not tell Barbara this-she told her that she wanted each dress's effect to be all-at-once visually.
They were on the fifth dress, which Helena felt really good about. She stepped out of the bathroom, twirled around and asked hopefully, "Whaddayouthink?"
Barbara's eyes widened, "Oh. My. God."
"Only if Bruce's having an aneurism is good."
Helena stamped her foot. "Damnit! You're kidding, right?"
"No. I'm not. Look-you're the one who said you wanted something Bruce would approve of."
Helena had actually said that she wanted something that she could move quickly in yet not so skimpy that Bruce would feel awkward seeing her out of the house in it. As Helena had voiced this apprehension to Barbara, the older woman had smiled inwardly, thinking that only a few months before, Helena would never have taken her father or his feelings into consideration.
"Look how modestly it's cut! What's wrong with it?"
"Nothing, honey-except the material is a bit sheer, don't you think? I mean, it's cut modestly because you can see right through it. "
"You can see through this?"
"Look in the mirror."
Helena eye's widened much as Barbara's when she turned toward the full length mirror. Evidently it was stealth material-it certainly hadn't looked like this in the light of store or the bathroom.
She raised an appreciative eyebrow. "Wow. Not bad, Kyle." She turned, looked over her shoulder, "Not bad at all."
"When you're through admiring yourself, go try on something else."
"Look-you can see my tattoo!"
"Yes. I see that, sweetheart. Run along and put on some clothes."
A certain tone in Barbara's voice made Helena look down at her with a smirk.
"Barbara Gordon. Are you saying you really want me to put on some clothes?"
Clearly, Barbara wasn't as transparent as Helena's dress. "Actually, I'm saying the sooner we find your dress, the sooner we can get you out of it."
Quinn lay in bed mulling over some of the particulars of the entertainment they would be providing that evening. She felt clearer than she had in weeks. She'd kept one of Barbara's injections for this day-a secret even from Dinah. She hadn't told Dinah because she wanted the girl to be hyper-vigilant where everyone was concerned, even with her. Quinn had gotten up and used the injection in the middle of the night. If this were going to be her last day on Earth, she'd spend it sane.
She'd gone back to sleep and had woken up an hour previously but didn't want to wake Dinah. The girl needed as much sleep as she could get before their evening's work. She touched Dinah's hair softly. One way or another, this night would be the end of their time together. She would never again wake with this person next to her and just as likely never see another morning at all. Quinn looked at Dinah's soft, peaceful features and felt even sadder than she'd imagined. She sighed and turned her mind to the issue at hand. Crime, and crime-fighting for that matter, was no place to be sentimental.
The big bang was going to be a really big bang and the mathematics of that was unquestionable. She had calculated the amount of explosives that had gone out of the staging area. Wherever it was going off would cause massive damage and/or loss of life. That amount of explosives would evaporate the venue where Gordon's dinner was being held. It had to be somewhere else, because that would be entirely unlike the Joker-to blow the dinner up would mean he'd miss Barbara's fear and pain. As well as her family's and Batman's. No.That wouldn't be her Joker.
The Joker. She thought about how very strangely the world had turned out for her, after all. Strange that she'd fallen for Jack all those years ago, stranger that Jack was planning to kill her, strangest of all that she was going to betray him. Just like Julius Caesar.
Et tu, Brute?
You too, Harley?
Dinah heard the faraway sound of someone calling her, then felt herself jostled forcefully. She sat up like a shot. "What!? Let's go!"
Quinn's eyes were as big as golf balls. "The bombs! I know where they are."
Dinah felt a surge of adrenaline course through her, "Where?"
"Somewhere at the U2 concert. Think about it-there'll be more than half a million people there."
The girl thought about the ramifications of that. "Of course. Has to be-that would be perfect. We have to tell the Clocktower now."
"There's no way. Even If we can get to a houseline, it'd be bugged."
"Aren't there any cells that work down here?"
Quinn thought for a few seconds. "He has one that he uses in his office but that's still questionable. Get dressed and go keep him company and I'll see what it looks like."
"What about tonight?"
"This doesn't change anything about tonight. We have no choice-he may not stage something like this for another year. We've both got to stay with him or the gig's up. The folks in the Clocktower will just have to split up when we get them the news."
As Dinah hurried to dress, Quinn felt a chill as she remembered the name of the Joker's plan-Divide and Conquer.
Quinn would have been surprised to know that the Joker was, even at that moment, still having second thoughts about killing her. He weighed the pros and cons for the fifteenth time that morning.
Pro: 1. V. funny, 2. Fantastic in bed, 3. Ruthless, 4. V. smart 5. Crazy as batshit
Con: 1. Crazy as batshit 2. Feels like wife 3. Annoying amount of civility shows through 4. Blonde psi-princess potentially dangerous 5. V. secretive. Secretive about big things.
The pros and cons were even up to the last point but that point was the capper-the thing that tipped the scale over to the 'have to kill her' side.
Because, if Quinn was sleeping with Wayne's daughter, she had to know the big Wayne secret. Not, of course, that *he* didn't know it-just that he knew she hadn't known he knew it. And after she knew it, and hadn't told him, that meant she was capable of keeping almost anything from him. He could also tell she hadn't told Dinah that he knew it, which was doubly deceptive.Batman's civilian identity. Surely she knew he must know it-she couldn't be stupid enough to think that he was that stupid, could she?
Sure, he'd had to sit in Arkham Asylum for a few years before it'd come to him-and in a Eureka! moment as pure as surely any such moments in history. He'd cackled wildly, doubled over in mirth at his years of idiocy. It was the purest sort of empirical deduction: 1. Batman was some lantern-jawed justice freak. Check. 2. Bruce Wayne, a lantern-jawed billionaire, seemed always to be nearly everywhere anything was about to happen. Check. 3. As soon as things got sticky, Bruce invariably disappeared and Batman appeared. Check. 4. He'd looked at Bruce Wayne's build and his face/eyes; and encountered Batman again and again and looked into those dark brooding blue eyes...
He cackled again at the memory. The people working in the staging area turned toward him and although he, naturally, continued to smile, the look on his face made them turn back to their work immediately.
After having given it more thought, he'd decided that he and Bruce must have had, over the years, an implicit sort of gentleman's agreement between them. Bruce had to know that he'd find out eventually. He'd probably also known that the Joker wouldn't dream of blabbing it to anyone when he did find out. Perhaps, after all, they truly understood each other on a level most people couldn't appreciate. Maybe that's why he'd never killed Batman, although he'd had the chance more than once. Then again, for some people, hurting the people around them was far more brutal than actually killing them.
The result of the bungled Barbara Gordon caper and his imprisonment had surprised him at the time. He'd known it would hurt Batman, but he hadn't counted on how much. Barbara was, for some reason, so important to Batman that he'd disappeared for years after she'd been shot and had only resurfaced after his nemesis had escaped. No Joker, no Batman. Maybe that was it. They needed each other. He had to admit that crime would be far, far less satisfying without Batman around. Almost too easy. Maybe crime-fighting was too easy for Batman without him around.
Who knew? He only knew that there were no circumstances he could imagine in which would he kill Batman. He would hurt him as badly as he possibly could, would happily make Batman wish himself dead, but he wouldn't kill him. He knew Batman felt the same way about him. The Joker also recognized that he'd have the advantage forever because, while Batman only wanted to capture and imprison him, he considered everyone connected with Batman fair game for as rough as he wanted to play.
He really could hardly wait for the excitement to begin. A movement across the room caught his eye. Speaking of excitement.
"Dinah darling! How are you this morning?"
Dinah was walking toward him, smoking her morning's first cigarette. "Great, Bozo, how 'bout you?"
"On top of the world. I've never been married, thank God, but I imagine this is what the lucky groom feels on the day he's to be wed."
Dinah play punched him in the chin then took a seat on the table the Joker was leaning against. They watched as the men continued their preparations.
"Just like a wedding, it's such a production when you think about how so little actual time is spent during the ceremony itself."
Dinah took a pull on her cigarette. "Is that how you think about it? As a ceremony?"
"Of sorts. Where's our girlfriend?"
"Ah. Speaking of dressing, I took the liberty of stealing a few dresses for you to try on for tonight."
Dinah's heart leaped up in her throat. "I'm not wearing a dress. I'm working."
"I know. Working your father."
"But he'll know something's up as soon as I show up."
"I want him to know something's up."
They both looked up to see Quinn walking across the staging area waving a cellphone. "What's up with this phone?"
The Joker's voice was as smooth as silk, "Why do you need a phone, lambie-pie?"
Quinn's voice was smoother. "I want to order a pizza, Puddin."
He threw his head back and cackled. "For breakfast! That's so like you," he said to Quinn. He turned to Dinah. "Maybe you've noticed that? Imminent danger always makes her hungry. "
Quinn reached the table, tip-toed up to kiss him on the cheek, smashed a kiss onto Dinah's mouth and turned so they were all facing the same way. "So, what about it?"
"Sorry, my dear. I think it's best that we stay electronically incommunicado today."
"Fine. Send someone out."
"Alright. I'll do that while you help Dinah decide what she's wearing to meet Daddy tonight."
Quinn didn't bat an eye. "Oh? So we're showing Wayne some of our cards right away?"
"It would be helpful if he were out of the way, don't you think?"
"I suppose so. What's she going to say that'll get him out of the way?"
"If she tells him where our two little bombs are, he'll really just have to do something about it, won't he? I'm sure you've both noticed that he can't keep his nose out of other people's business."
"You have a point."
Quinn could, without looking at her, feel Dinah's anxiety rising over the thought of what the Joker might know about Batman. Quinn's mind worked at light-speed. So-he wanted to get rid of Batman-and presumably Nightwing if there were two bombs. Leaving she, Dinah and Helena to protect Barbara from 50 armed men and the Joker. Well, well. Goddamn, he was good.
"I'm starving, Puddin."
They were all going to be on comm; the miniature size of the equipment would make its effective range fairly short but within and just without the building would be all they really needed. Part of their plan was to leave too few people guarding two of the entrances so that Joker could infiltrate the building relatively easily. They were counting on the fact that the Joker very rarely held hostages and had always felt it somewhat beneath him to stage a bloodbath he'd have to watch. Not that he minded bloodshed-he just liked it wrapped in a surprise or something unusual. The unusual would not include shrieking dinner guests begging for their lives. They assumed that robbery would not be the motive-that grabbing Barbara and getting something out of Bruce via his faux-daughter Dinah would be the actual targets.
Helena and Barbara stood while Dick walked around the Clocktower testing their transceivers and speaking test phrases into their ears. After they'd done the last bit of preparation, they sat quietly for a couple of minutes. Helena had chosen sleek black pants with a scandalous top that was covered, for the most part, by a sleek black jacket. There had been literally no dress she'd consider wearing that Barbara thought Bruce would approve of. This was probably better anyway.
Barbara didn't look at all as if she were bundled in the most hi-tech ballistic protection on the planet. She looked surprisingly slender and fashionable, if a bit modestly patrician.
"I think we're ready. What do you think?"
Helena and Dick felt less sure of themselves but stood up, ready to get going.
As Barbara rolled toward the elevator, she said, firmly, "We'll be back in five hours. All of us."
"God willing." All three of them whispered it under their breath.
"Well, Dinah my dove, don't you look pretty?" The Joker offered as she entered the staging area. He was dressed in a dark green tuxedo and was adjusting his tie. Later in the evening, when Dinah and Helena saw each other, they'd be stunned by how similar their outfits were.
"You didn't like the dresses I got you?"
"I did-but a dress doesn't really go with how I'm feeling tonight."
Quinn walked into the room in her full Harlequin regalia.
"You don't feel like a dress either, Harley darling?"
"I thought this would be nice-for old time's sake."
"That's my girl-sentimental to the bone." He kissed her on the cheek as his men began to file into the staging area. All of them wore tuxedos; masks were hanging at their necks and they had shouldered their weapons.
"Hello, boys!" The Joker turned between the men and the women-"No reason not to keep the look of the evening formal, is there?"
He turned toward the women. "Dinah. I'll tell you the exact location of the bombs in the van. You'll enter the room, go directly to your father and give him this location. After you do this, you will immediately disable the security cameras in the room; they are located over each entrance and exit. When we see the cameras go black, we'll enter the room. When that happens, wait for further orders. Quinn, you'll stay with me."
"Always, Puddin'," Quinn purred.
This was it. Dinah felt her mouth go dry. "Don't we need to know where we're taking Barbara Gordon?"
He looked down at her and his eyes were very cold. "Who said we're taking her anywhere?"
It was unfortunate that the evening was going to be spoiled, Commissioner Gordon thought as he looked out at the crowd. It was really a lovely affair. The mayor, the governor and both senators were here. That probably wasn't wise-but Batman was very sure that they weren't targets. They, had of course, been told of the possible danger but the fact that it was an election year wouldn't let any of them back down once the mayor insisted on going. The mayor was in a tight race and any bit of derring-do, followed by press coverage was likely to help. Bruce Wayne was there, of course, sitting close to the stage with a table of Wayne Corp. guests.
Gordon had been working the crowd, going from table to table as his guests ate. He went to the front of the room, climbed the few steps to the low stage and took a seat at the table of honor. He noticed that Barbara and Helena had barely eaten a thing. He looked down at his plate. Come to think of it, he wasn't very hungry either.
Barbara smiled at her father, leaned over and kissed him. She had been talking to Dick and Bruce during the evening and no one beside Helena had seemed to notice she was talking to her own neck.
Forty-five minutes after the beginning of the event, they all heard Nightwing's quiet
A couple of minutes later they watched as Dinah appeared at the entrance, looked over the crowd and walked straight toward Bruce's table.
Bruce stood to greet her, and kissed her on the cheek. "Dinah. So good to see you." She smiled up at him and whispered through her smile. "Two bombs. Under U2's stage, Central Park. Must be disarmed simultaneously. He said *you* should go stage right." She continued to smile as she reached for his arm and slid his sleeve up to reveal his watch. "You have 19 minutes."
Bruce merely muttered, "Copy that?" to his transceiver. He heard three affirmatives as he watched Dinah point to the exits in turn. All three watched as the security cameras crumpled, one after another, into useless metal on their platforms.
They watched from the floor and the stage as the Joker's tuxedoed masked-men fanned into the room. The speed and overwhelming force of the intrusion were astonishing.
There were shouts and sharp screams of alarm that hushed immediately when the Joker and Harley Quinn entered the room. The hush that fell over the room was ominous.
Broken only by the Joker, "Let's get this party started!"
Helena's eyes were yellow before she could blink twice. She'd never seen him in person-this tall, leering freak who had murdered her mother, who'd crippled Barbara. As she gripped the sides of her chair, she could hear it cracking. Barbara patted her with one hand and whispered to her but never took her eyes off The Joker. "Helena, remember, our main objective is to get everyone out of here alive."
Barbara felt her partner force herself into some semblance of calm. They both saw that Bruce's back had become a steel rod and that it was only superb self-control that kept him in his seat.
"Commissioner Gordon, it's so nice to join you on your special night. I'm sure you appreciate my dropping in like this."
"Joker-you scum!" Although the Commissioner had expected to see the green-haired bastard, he hadn't counted on being so angry. As always, he tended to feel freer to act than others in similar situations, primarily because Batman was always around to get him out of the scrapes he walked into. He jumped down off the stage like a man half his age and strode toward the interloper.
The Joker clucked at him, "Temper, temper, Jimmy boy. This can all be over in a few minutes. I'll just need your daughter for a while."
"Over my dead body!"
"That could so easily be arranged."
"Dad!" The Joker and Gordon turned toward the stage. Barbara was pale but she looked meaningfully and encouragingly at her father. "Don't. Just-don't. I'll go."
The Joker laughed, "Ah, Barbara, we meet again!" His smile became brighter and more mocking. "You might not actually remember our last little encounter, except of course, for the lingering after-effects."
With a snarl, Jim Gordon lunged at The Joker, only to be unceremoniously knocked flat and cold with one punch.
Helena would have been over the table if not for Barbara's cool hand on her arm.
The Joker looked down at his work, then up at Barbara. "See? That's what you get from sitting in management instead of working in the field. Poppa's a little rusty." He bent over, touched the older man's face, then stood. "No worries. Didn't even break his jaw."
He crossed immediately to the table where Bruce was standing, Dinah behind him. The room was utterly silent.
"Bruce Wayne. We meet again."
Bruce's face was inscrutable but his tone was cordial, "Yes. Good evening."
"Don't you have somewhere you need to be, Bruce? Tempus fugit and all that jazz."
"You're never getting out of here." The muscles in Bruce's jaw flexed as if he were chewing on nails.
"We'll just have to see about that." The Joker made a great show of pulling up his sleeve to look at his watch, then back at Bruce. "You really need to be running along. Shoo, little billionaire, shoo!"
Bruce gave the Joker a look that would melt titanium, turned and crossed the room toward the exit. The Joker called after him, "You should probably take that someone special with you, Bruce! It's a two-man job."
It didn't take three minutes before Batman joined Nightwing on the roof of the building. "Jesus, Bruce. We're going to be cutting it sorta close, aren't we?"
They were already moving as Bruce replied, "No more than usual."
Robert was enjoying the U2 concert as anyone could when expecting something bizarre to happen at any moment. The crowd was into it and it was difficult not to just relax and enjoy the music and the night. The fire marshal estimated the crowd at 700,000 and it certainly looked like it. From backstage, all Robert could see was an ocean of humanity. Although he was on call to do any grunt work too crappy even for the roadies to do, he hadn't had to do a thing except listen and watch.
Only force of will kept him from playing the air guitar a couple of times and it was during one of these urges that he saw one of the roadies motioning to him. He walked over quickly and the roadie cupped his hands to shout into his ear, "Get under the stage and see if there's anything weird going on under there. The hair on Robert's neck stood up. He shouted back at the roadie, "Why? What's going on?" The roadie was in no mood to shout, "The sound man is picking up some electrical interference." Robert screamed, "Probably something on stage. I don't hear anything." The roadie looked daggers at him. "He does, motherfucker. Get under there and check it out."
Robert took a flashlight, climbed down off the stage, pulled a heavy drape aside and walked underneath. The stage was 10 feet off the ground, so he could easily clamber through the braces holding the stage sections up and together. The sound of the crowd and the music was bizarre from below, muffled but insanely loud; he only realized how loud when he heard the volume of the muffled sound. Must be why all the roadies were wearing earplugs. Note to self, he muttered, as he walked toward the front of the stage.
He didn't need his flashlight for what came into view as he walked forward. On either side of the stage, they were lit up like pinball machines and cheerfully labeled Bomb 1! and Bomb 2!. He would have thought it was a joke except for the fact that they also looked so highly engineered and plugged into the stage itself. He didn't have enough spit to swallow as he moved forward a few steps and read the counter, 18:05:54, watched it spinning with a speed that took his breath away.
His first impulse was to run like hell. Yeah. Every man for himself. He pulled at his hair as he ran out from under the stage. Shit. Shit. Shit. No. He couldn't do that. But he couldn't tell the roadie-the roadie'd pull the band and...everyone would-what to do? What to do?
He ignored the roadie waiting for him, looked wildly around the stage, then felt and did something he'd never done in his life. He flushed with relief at the sign of a policeman and ran to him for help.
Batman and Nightwing's comms had shifted to police radio as they moved through the night air. They heard the call for the Bomb Squad as it went out.
Bruce broke in on the police channel. "This is Batman-Nightwing and I are on our way."
The voice on the other end of the line sounded uncertain and frantic. "Yes sir-but we have a bit of a problem-if we don't evacuate, we could lose a lot of lives. But nothing short of an emergency's going to move 'em. We demand an evacuation, we might lose just as many if they panic."
Bruce thought for only five seconds. "Don't tell them. We'll be there-we'll defuse the bombs."
They could hear the officer's blood pressure spike, "Don't tell them. But that-Jesus! Are you sure, sir?"
But no pressure!, Dick thought, as he heard this. Despite his experience, his heart began pounding wildly and he looked at Bruce as they swung from building to building. He could see nothing but Bruce's body language, which was extraordinarily relaxed. He knew this meant that he was extraordinarily stressed. His hands suddenly felt very cold against his cable.
"Now, everyone! I'd like you all to step down from the stage except for Ms. Gordon. Line up down here against that wall."
Barbara smiled thinly at this command from the Joker and her tablemates hastened to clear the stage. Everyone except Helena.
The Joker cocked his head, "You too, cutie-pie! Harley, go up there and keep Ms. Gordon company. Dinah, please help that young lady down."
The two women leaped up on the stage and took their places next to Helena and Barbara's chairs.
Helena's eyes stayed on the Joker and she shrugged Dinah's hand off her shoulder. "I'm not going ANYWHERE, scumbag."
"Your bodyguard?" The Joker's question was for Barbara.
"Among other things," Barbara replied.
The man thought about this for a second, threw back his head and cackled. "My God! Isn't anyone heterosexual anymore?"
Commissioner Gordon chose this moment to sit upright, felt his jaw and looked around the room.
The Joker kept his eyes on the stage but sang out gaily, "Mornin' Sunshine!"
Jim Gordon was feeling just as belligerent as before. "You're never getting out of here, you bastard."
The Mayor felt he really should offer something if this was going to be worthwhile, "You'll be in prison tonight!"
"Oh? I wouldn't count on that. Over the years, I've found Gotham's police force woefully inept, inane and inadequate."
"Perhaps. But I don't think you'll find the National Guard as easy to deal with."
The smile on the Joker's face lifted higher. "Don't bullshit a bullshitter, Mr. Mayor. The Posse Comitatus Act makes that, as they say in French, a non-non. Nobody has that authority except..."
He smacked his forehead as he looked down the line of guests, where Governor Jenkins was standing. "Except me," finished the governor helpfully.
The Joker scratched the side of his head with his gun, then cackled. "Oh well!"
"How do you plan to get out of here?"
"Well, we have all sorts of just-in-case plans." He put his hand to his ear with dramatic flair, "Listen-there's one of them."
The guests heard the approaching sound of a plane-and then a helicopter-a big helicopter.
"What do you know about Blackhawk helicopters? I wonder if the Guard brought theirs? I hear ours."
This became instantly apparent as the plane and helicopter buzzed the building, drawing heavy gunfire from the police and soldiers outside the building. This caused many shouts of terror as well as the instinctive shrinking of everyone inside.
"That's my ride! Now-these nice gentlemen are going to escort you outside, where you'll be safer."
No one moved, the guests clearly considering the matter a 'worse of two evils' situation-everyone looked at each other questioningly.
"Hey! Listen up." Everyone turned toward Quinn, who was shaking her head with wonder. "If I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times. Doesn't anyone ever prepare for their hostage crisis? Okay! Hostages-this is a hint-that's you!-have only one job: to follow the instructions of..." she waggled her gun in the air for emphasis, "the people with the guns. So. Let's move it. Governor, Mayor-oh-and let's not forget the senators," she said with a smirk, "why don't you brave civil servants show these nice folks how it's done."
The brave civil servants did not, actually, appear to be feeling particularly brave but they dutifully marched forward. The masked henchman started moving everyone from their tables toward the exit in the far center of the room.
"Sorry about dinner, folks,"Joker offered as they filed past him, "but I can promise your next meal will be the best you've ever had. Nothing whets the appetite like a near-death experience."
Under the orders of their captors, the guests began to file outside very slowly and in an orderly fashion. As they emerged from the building, they were astonished to find everything, as far as they could see, glowing super-bright green. In fact, the passing plane had dropped a fluid that could most appropriately be described as slime onto the building and everything and everyone around it. The helicopter had covered the plane, drawing fire from the bright green policemen and soldiers with bright green guns.
The Joker's helicopter pilot hadn't expected the Guard but whirled back into position and watched as the dark figures walked out into the green world below. He knew the Guard was even now scrambling helicopters for him but he decided he probably had the three minutes it would take to grab The Joker off the roof.
In their relief to reach safety, not one of the hostages noticed that, slowly but surely, the masked men had placed their weapons and masks on the ground, placed their gloves in their pockets and filed outside with the rest of the formally dressed guests. The Joker had bought tickets for all of them.
Batman and Nightwing swung as close as they could before hitting the ground running, approaching from behind the stage. They hadn't anticipated the sea of people who'd be behind the stage and each foot they gained seemed to take disastrously long. The people, packed together tightly, moved as quickly as they could out of the way when they realized who was barreling through them. As they passed, the people continued to watch them, wondering what the hell was going on.
As the two men moved through the security barrier, they saw a knot of policemen, who visibly exhaled as the two arrived.
One of them jumped forward and pointed to Robert, "this guy found them-they're under there at the front of the stage."
"Good job. Relax, everyone. This will soon be over." Batman said this as a matter of form, though it was, in a sense, true. One way or another, it would soon be over.
Batman and Nightwing slipped under the stage and rushed toward the blinking devices.
"I'm on the right, according to instruction." Batman said, feeling his throat tightening.
As each moved forward, they could see the time spinning dizzyingly fast 0:38:15.
Okay. Each looked at their bomb. Both had a yellow and red wire ostentatiously displayed on top, with the same instructions in small print over them.
"To disarm, pull the yellow wire. For optimal results (i.e. absence of dismemberment, death, mass carnage), wires must be pulled at the same time."
Batman could feel the sweat running down his face under his mask and watched the seconds rushing by as he thought. Pull yellow wire. Too obvious-so pull the red wire? Or, perhaps, he'd be expected to think he's going to be fooled so he should actually pull the yellow wire?
Nightwing's heart was thudding behind his eyes as he thought at the same time. Pull yellow wire. Too obvious-so pull the red wire? Or, perhaps, he'd be expected to think he's going to be fooled so he should actually pull the yellow wire?
They looked at each other.
"Okay. On three."
Batman pulled the red wire.
Nightwing pulled the yellow wire.
And the bombs' counters stopped.
As they emerged from under the stage, the two men looked as if they hadn't a care in the world. "Alright. That's done, officers." The policemen's shoulders fell, and they all shouted their relief.
Batman continued in his usual stoic tone, "Have the band cut the evening as short as you think they can. Get the people out of here as quickly as humanly possible, then bring the bomb squad in. No one else goes under there.
Robert jumped as Batman clapped him on the shoulder and almost smiled but not quite. "Your vigilance is appreciated."
"Now we're needed elsewhere." As the two masked heroes departed, Robert and the policemen all thought the same thing.
As the people continued filing out of the room, the Joker stepped on stage with them all, walking in front of the table where Helena and Barbara were still sitting with Dinah and Quinn standing to their sides.
They could here the sound of more than one approaching helicopter, some scattered gunfire, then some shouts and screaming. The gunfire stopped, but the rotors of the helicopters sounded ominously close.
"Well. Well. What an evening." The Joker brandished his gun like a baton a bit as he spoke, all the while holding it so casually that it looked like he could drop it.
"You know, there are few things more satisfying than finishing a job you've been waiting years and years and years to finish. "
All eyes in the room were on his gun. Dinah was ready to move as soon as the last guest left-no jumping the gun, so to speak, before the last hostage and henchman was out.
The Joker turned his head away to watch the people's departure, but they could hear him saying, "I would say that I wish things were different-but that would be a lie." He stiffened his wrist and shot Quinn in the chest, then immediately fired another shot.
After the first shot, time seemed to stop-for all of the women. They all looked at Quinn. Registering that she'd been shot and taking in the disbelief at that fact seemed to take forever, though it might have only taken a second, maybe a fraction more.
Quinn felt like a cinder block had been thrown at her chest. But, in all truth, she'd expected this. She didn't bother with her gun. She'd watched his wrist and jumped forward into the shot when she might have been rocked backward. Forward crossways over Barbara and her chair, knowing that the second bullet would...there-Quinn felt the bullet meant for Barbara instantly scream into her back and then she heard scuffling, shouting and running-but as if they were at a great distance and under water.
Dinah had ripped the gun out of the Joker's hand with her mind as soon as he got the second shot off and tore after him. Helena was transfixed by the sight of Barbara holding a bleeding Quinn, with blood soaking her shirt.
At Helena's approach, Barbara said, "It's her blood-not mine. Help Dinah."
Helena rocked on her heels once and flew down the hall where Dinah had followed the Joker.
As Barbara looked down on Quinn, she called for an ambulance with her comm. She tried to apply pressure to the smaller woman's chest and back but was afraid to move her at all until they had a backboard. Quinn rolled her head slightly and said, with a gurgling laugh, "This sucks."
Barbara smiled thinly despite herself. "I know-just hold on and we'll get you to the hospital."
"I made a backup of everything he has on computer." Quinn concentrated with ferocity, needing to get her words out before she lost consciousness, which she could feel coming quickly.
"You'll be able to shut down everything. Accounts, money...people...everything. Mailed it to you...yesterday."
"Shhhh. We'll do that-just relax and stay with me."
Helena ran down hall at warp speed only to skid to a stop at the sight of what confronted her as she entered an empty foyer. The Joker was pressed against the wall with his arms outstretched. It had to be Dinah's mind that was holding him that way because nothing physical was doing it. Dinah had both hands around his throat and seemed to be choking him very slowly.
Helena took in-in an instant-that Dinah was making it last because she was enjoying it. As she watched the veins in the Joker's throat and face fill and throb, she felt a surge of undiluted elation. All she had to do was stand and watch. The bastard would be dead-her fondest dream come true. Watch for half a minute and the Joker would be dead. And she would have seen him die. And she didn't even have to do a thing. She wouldn't have broken any of Barbara and Bruce's precious rules. Dinah would the responsible one.
So easy. All she had to do was wait-just turn away and it'd be done. Done. Dead. And Dinah would-
She felt a bomb go off in her head, growled out a "SONOFABITCH!" and launched herself at Dinah.
"D-stop it! Dinah-Dinah! Let him go!
"Fuck that! He's dying!"
"No! Dinah! Let him go! We don't kill people!"
She grabbed the girl's shoulders but she was no match against the sheer psychic power Dinah was using to hold the Joker fast to the wall.
A thousand ideas went through Helena's mind in two seconds. She took a deep breath and forced her feral side down...down...down...down. She felt her eyes changing and she gently touched Dinah, "D-let him go."
She knew Dinah could feel her. The change of tension in the steel of her back was almost imperceptible but she could feel it.
"Dinah, sweetheart, let him go."
At that moment, although the Joker's vision was tunneling, then reopening as Dinah squeezed then released the pressure on his trachea, the Joker looked into the eyes of the woman behind Dinah. The blue, blue eyes behind Dinah. Such familiar blue eyes.
Dinah and Helena were stunned to hear him suddenly hiss out a small laugh that sounded like a soda can opening.
He'd been hoodwinked! Look at those eyes!! The woman behind Dinah was Bruce's daughter! They'd sent some sort of doppelganger into his lair. He wheezed out another laugh-because that was, objectively speaking, pretty damned funny.
"D-let him go."
Dinah's shoulders relaxed and then, though she hated herself for it, she began to cry. "He deserves it-look what he's-"
"Dinah. Let him go."
Dinah hesitated, then opened her hands. The Joker collapsed on the floor, barely conscious. Helena felt her hands shaking as she dragged his tie from around his neck and tied his hands behind his back.
"I'll stay with him-go check on Quinn."
Dinah half staggered as she shook her head, as if trying to throw some malign enchantment from her body. Then, she flew down the hall.
Helena looked at her prisoner, Dinah's handprints red against his supernatural white skin. She grabbed him by his tuxedo shirt and hauled him off the ground with one hand, the other cocked to punch him into the next universe. She looked down at him with pure loathing and he looked up her and steeled himself, despite his anguished gasping, for what he saw was coming.
Helena watched him heaving for a second. From close up, he was just as larger- than-life horrific as she'd always imagined. But when she looked into his eyes, she saw the tiny capillaries that had burst while he was being choked, the throbbing of the veins in his face and neck, his utter primal relief at having oxygen.
He was just a human being. Entirely evil. But a human being. She dropped him and pushed herself away from him, shuddering with hatred and pity.
"You're Bruce Wayne's daughter, aren't you?" His voice was thin and dry.
"That's a good one."
"We thought so."
He looked at her for a few seconds, then said, "Thank you for saving my life."
Helena took a deep breath. Her reply was, "You murdered my mother."
He cocked an eyebrow. "Really? Gosh. That's certainly...awkward. I guess I should say thanks a lot, then."
Helena was horrified to find herself barking out a laugh, then made a lightning movement to punch him in the face, the speed of which made The Joker shrink with fear. She stopped a fraction of an inch from his wincing face and gently tapped him on the cheek, "You're welcome, pussy-boy."
The police and soldiers suppressed their gunfire as the hostages emerged, waiting for signs of their captors. The Joker's pilot had waited past the time for the rendezvous but when he saw the two Blackhawk helicopters that had scrambled, he took off with them screaming after him.
The police heard a woman's voice on their radios and sent three teams into the building at once. They found Barbara and Dinah holding Quinn, with Helena holding the Joker by the scruff of his tuxedo. The women stared in wonder at their bright green compatriots.
As they fanned out into position, one of the policeman asked, "Where are Joker's men?"
"Where's the ambulance?" Helena answered.
"WHERE ARE THEY?"
"They're OUTSIDE, jackass. Where's the ambulance?
"There's nobody but hostages out there."
The Joker erupted into another soda can laugh, which was not missed by the team leader. He looked at the room-at the exit. "Aw FUCK."
The ambulance was there. Everyone from the Clocktower, including Alfred, met at the hospital and waited in the Emergency Room waiting room. For hours. And hours.
Dinah pacing up and down the entire time, despite anyone and everyone's attempt to comfort her.
Finally, a young doctor came pushed his way through the doors and walked toward them, his scrub hat almost matching his green eyes.
"Hello, I'm Dr. Tobias. I was told you're waiting for Dr. Quinzel."
"Yes. We are."
The doctor blinked twice at the sight of Bruce Wayne, then continued, seriously but kindly. "We just took Dr. Quinzel to Intensive ICU from surgery." He paused. "I'm going to be very frank with you. Although I never tell a family or friends that there is no hope, I can tell you that it is very, very rare for a person as grievously injured as she is to live."
"What are her injuries?" Barbara's voice was very quiet.
"She has a broken sternum and six broken ribs, plus a collapsed lung. Unfortunately, the shot from the front drove shards of bone into her liver and the shot from the back not only destroyed her spleen but also gravely damaged her liver, almost cutting it in half. We needed 70 units of blood to get through the surgery. The bleeding has stopped for now but we're going to have to watch her extremely closely for renewed bleeding, then infection."
"Is there any good news?" Barbara was, again, the one to speak.
"The only good news is that she lived through the surgery. Most people wouldn't have."
He paused for another second before adding, "I'd like you to understand that the only quick resolution to this will be death. Life will mean a daily struggle for potentially months. Now-if you'd like to stay, IICU has a waiting room of its own on the third floor. No visitors for now. We'll be keeping her anesthetized for some time-we don't want her to move and her injuries are very painful ones."
"Thank you doctor." Bruce shook the doctor's hand.
Dr. Tobias disappeared and all six of them stood quietly for a few seconds, taking it all in. Helena turned to Dinah and saw big tears running down her cheeks, the younger girl's face stony and bleak.
Helena was trying to think of some-any-words of comfort when Dinah's fist hit her in the face, a brutal blow that rocked her backward. Dinah launched herself onto Helena, knocked her on the ground and started pummeling her. Everyone jumped at once to drag Dinah off a dumbstruck Helena, who was not fighting back.
Dinah's voice was ferocious. "GODDAMN YOU, YOU BITCH. I HATE YOU!! YOU SHOULD HAVE LET ME KILL HIM WHEN I HAD THE CHANCE. I FUCKING HATE YOU!
Dick was the one who actually succeeded in prying and lifting a struggling Dinah into the air. As Bruce and Barbara tried to assist with her, Dinah suddenly went limp in Dick's arms and said, "Okay, okay. You can fucking let me go."
Bruce and Barbara were between Dinah and Helena. Before anyone could speak, she merely spat in Helena's general direction. "I will never forgive you as long as I live."
She stormed out of the hospital into the parking lot.
Alfred looked at Bruce.
Bruce looked at Barbara.
Dick looked at all of them.
They all turned toward Helena, who was still sitting on the floor, elbows on her knees, holding her hair pushed back and her head in her hands. The side of her face was already swelling and beginning to discolor and her eyes were bright with unshed tears. She felt their gaze and but did not look at them. She said, almost whispering, "Don't touch me; don't talk to me."
So Barbara, Bruce, Dick and Alfred stood silently, looking through the tall glass walls into the night. In the distance, illuminated in the harsh glare of the parking lot lights, they watched Dinah smoking a cigarette, her back to the hospital.
It had begun to rain.
Actually, when Quinn had arrived in the Emergency Room, she'd luckily been lucid for some time. She knew, right away, that things were desperately wrong with her lungs and abdomen. She'd lied and told them she could keep breathing and that everything was alright, although she knew one lung must have collapsed. Because she was still able to tell them she could breathe, they stabilized her with fluids and did everything but give her a chest tube for her pneumo/hemothorax and intubate her before they took her to CT, for her CAT scan.
They did their work in a very orderly fashion; probably very few minutes were involved.
However: she knew she was hurting and knew where.
"Hellooo? How much longer?"
"Just a couple of minutes, Dr. Quinzel."
"I know but I'm in a lot of pain here. Seriously-and I can tell you exactly where."
"Just a few more minutes, Dr. Quinzel."
She waited for a couple of minutes and tilted her head at the top of the CT circle.
"Hellooo? I'm really uncomfortable here."
"You'll be out in a couple of minutes."
She could tell they were only now moving from her skull to her chest. She waited two more minutes before losing it. "Goddamnit, I need surgery-now-get me out of here."
She thought if she started pounding on the inside of their expensive machine, they'd relent. She pounded her fists on the sides of their scan.
She was right. They immediately took her out of CT. Her surgery was begun as exploratory.
The Next Morning
Alfred had hoped that he would never have this smell permeate his life again. The smell of this hospital, this floor, this situation. The time he spent here with Barbara and the young Helena was as miserable a time as he could remember. Well, there was also taking care of Bruce after his orphaning. He wondered why this didn't seem normal to him by now, after all these years. This tempestuous life that courted tragedy and, because human evil was never vanquished, a constant sense of futility and sadness. One could only tempt fate so long before, without the slightest effort, it brought all of your triumphs to a bloody, regrettable end.
He'd considered retiring more than once but had tried to think of his work as his contribution to protecting the innocent. He sighed, deeply. Perhaps that really was all an illusion.
The elevator bumped to a stop and the doors opened. He could navigate these halls with his eyes closed and knew intimately every picture he saw, although the carpet had been changed.
As he rounded the corner, he stopped short. Here was another thing that had changed. On a couch near the end of the waiting room, Bruce was sitting on one side, Dick on the other. Helena had balled up Bruce's coat and was sleeping with her head in her father's lap, her feet on her brother's lap. They were all asleep. Although Alfred walked quietly toward them, Bruce's eyes snapped open immediately. Dick continued to sleep with his neck in a position that might require traction when he woke and Helena was as unaware as a piece of timber. This amused Alfred because he knew both Dick and Helena would have been up like a shot if Bruce had not been there. But they slept-because they trusted him to take care of them-which, of course, he always did. No one ever stayed awake for Bruce. Except for his butler.
Which is why he couldn't retire.
Barbara and Dinah were the first to be admitted back into the Intensive ICU. Visitors were allowed every four hours for fifteen minutes. As they walked down the hall toward the unit, Barbara said quietly, "Dinah, this is a telemetry unit-she'll be connected to machines reading her temperature, heart rhythm, pulse rate, blood pressure and blood oxygen. She'll also be on a ventilator which will be breathing for her. It's a bit overwhelming to see someone like that for the first time but it's all necessary to keep track of her condition. The patients in IICU are the sickest of the sick-they have nurses with them 24 hours a day."
"Were you here?"
"For seventeen days, before I was stepped down to ICU."
Dinah nodded but didn't comment and they arrived at the room. The room had six patients and, as Barbara had said; six nurses were hovering over their individual charges.
As they approached the farthest bed on the left, Dinah began to feel light-headed. There was almost no Quinn to be seen-her hair, maybe, her arms. But everything seemed to be connected to something.
The nurse, a woman with long grey hair, a pleasant smile and a soft Southern accent, looked up and said, "I'm Betty. Are you friends or family?"
"I'm Barbara and this is Dinah. We're good friends of Dr. Quinzel."
Betty took a long look at Barbara, then a second look at Dinah and said, "Here, darlin' why don't you sit in this chair. You're looking a little pale."
I'll say, Barbara thought, as she shot a glance at the girl. Her lips were white. The nurse had probably saved her from fainting.
"Put your head between your knees if you feel faint. It's perfectly natural to be upset when you see someone you care about so sick."
Dinah gave her a tepid smile.
"And feel free to talk to her-she's under anesthesia but lots of people remember their loved ones' presence after they come out from under. "
Dinah looked at the vast amount of tubing and asked, "How's she doing?"
"Just fine." The nurse gave Quinn a gentle pat on the leg, "She's tiny but tough. When she was in the CT scan she wanted to get out-but they wouldn't let her. So she was more than a bit feisty."
Dinah smiled, bleakly, "What's all that blood?" The girl pointed to tubes in Quinn's chest and abdomen.
"She had thoracic and abdominal surgery and those are just the drainage tubes for those areas."
At the word 'drainage', Dinah put her head between her knees. Betty looked at Barbara and they smiled at each other.
Barbara rolled forward, put a gentle hand on Quinn's blanketed leg and looked at the telemetry, "Not bad. So far, so good, huh?"
"Exactly," Betty replied. The look they exchanged let them both know that they understood how tenuous things were.
Dinah rose in her seat and there were tears in her eyes, "Is she hurting?"
"How can you tell if she's knocked out?"
"Blood pressure, heart rate. Believe me-we're all going to keep this gal comfortable. It's important to keep her pain-free so she can get better. Come on over here and talk to her for a minute."
Dinah stood and stepped the few feet to Quinn's bedside. "Can I touch her?"
Dinah put a hand on Quinn's forehead, gently stroked the woman's hair. She swallowed hard. Everything smelled like...tape and medicine and sterility.
"Hey, Quinn? You're not going anywhere, you hear me? You owe me a vacation after these past few months. So...you gotta keep fighting, okay? 'Cause I'm waiting for you to get better-and so is Barbara, and Bruce and Dick and...Helena. We all can't wait to bust you out of this joint."
Dinah bent forward and kissed her on the forehead.
Barbara rolled closer and said, "Quinn, this is Barbara. I'm going to tell the truth. You're very sick. Very, very sick. Things don't look good for you-but you can beat this-you can live-but you have to fight. You must fight. There are people here who love you and depend upon you. Don't forget that."
Dinah and Betty looked at Barbara for a few seconds, then Betty offered, "Dr. Quinzel-you need to listen to Barbara Gordon, because when I had her here all those years ago, you couldn't see her chance of living with a microscope or telescope. And look at her now. She knows what she's talking about."
For the first time in months, Dinah and Barbara smiled unpremeditated smiles.
"How's she look?" Helena asked Barbara, since Dinah wouldn't meet her eyes and, indeed, stood off to one side of everyone.
"It's a cliché but she's doing as well as can be expected. Can't hope for better than that."
Helena nodded. "You know, if we're going to stay, we may as well start shifts. I can take the next four hours if you guys want to go home."
"I'm staying," Dinah said belligerently.
"Miss Dinah?" Alfred paused to make sure she was paying attention. "Helena and I have an inordinate amount of experience with a loved one in this very hospital. We simply must take shifts if we want to be available if Quinn needs us. All things being equal, no one will be able to see her for another four hours. Why not go home, get some sleep and come back and relieve us?"
Barbara wheeled toward the girl and took her hand. "I could use a shower and a nap. How about you?"
Dinah eyes were intense as she answered Alfred, "You'll call if anything's wrong."
Alfred nodded. "You'll be the first to hear anything."
"Can I join you?" Dick asked.
"Of course," Barbara gave him the briefest pat as they headed toward the elevators.
As they headed toward the Humvee, Dinah said, "I'll walk, guys-I've got some thinking to do."
"Dinah-you should come-"
"Barbara. I love you. I'll be in the Clocktower after a while." As she said this, she reached for a pack of cigarettes.
"Dinah, you shouldn't be smoking."
"Yeah and I shouldn't be robbing banks either. Que sera sera and all that shit, right?" The look in the young girl's eyes made Barbara and Dick think twice about asking her again to join them.
"Go on!" Dinah said. "I'll be there soon."
As they pulled out of the parking lot, Dinah pulled on her cigarette. The one thing that was great about being a criminal was that you always kept cigarettes and cash readily available.
After a brief trek of about a mile, Dinah had found the salon she wanted and, after 45 minutes, looked at herself in the mirror as a blonde again. She wanted nothing to do with Helena now-and she might as well get a fresh start on her life.
She wondered what her life would be like now? Going back to the Clocktower, starting sweeps, going back to fucking high school and acting as if nothing had changed.
When everything had. She didn't know how to even start making sense of what she was feeling. There was the overwhelming horror of knowing that Quinn was so ill, mingled with the horror of her old regular life, which no longer (in her mind) seemed to suit her.
Who was she? She didn't know.
Bruce, Alfred and Helena took the couch after the others had left.
"Hey-Alfred, Bruce-want some of that relatively shitty coffee from the cafeteria? I want some."
They both assented and Helena disappeared into the elevator.
Bruce kept his gaze on the carpet, "Well, Alfred, what do you think?"
"I think we have a former enemy potentially having given her life to save Barbara. Which is strange, to say the least." Alfred paused for emphasis, "But true, nonetheless."
Bruce only blinked. "Yes. I'll have to think about that."
"I hope that Miss Dinah will find a way to get past her animosity toward Miss Helena."
"I do, too. At least she doesn't seem as bullheaded as Helena." They glanced at each other.
"But we won't say anything to Helena about that, I presume."
The coffee was at least as half as shitty as Helena had promised.
Barbara and Dick had been surprised, but delighted by Dinah's blonde appearance in the Clocktower. She'd spoken briefly before excusing herself for a shower and nap.
After her shower, her eye makeup was smeared over her cheeks. She used cotton balls to remove it, remove it, remove it, down to her pale blonde eyelashes.
Until she looked like what she was-a blonde teenaged kid. She sat down on the floor of the bathroom, naked, forlorn and cried.
Two Weeks Later
They had finally extubated Quinn and she was breathing for herself and resting peacefully, without having gained consciousness.
Dinah had still not really given Helena the time of day and everyone else's agenda was based on the fact that the two women could not be placed together, in a waiting room or on a sweep.
It was Helena who first heard Quinn's voice. "Hello?"
Helena jumped from her chair, "Quinn?"
"You're in the hospital. Everybody's okay. The Joker's in prison-and we're all out, because of you. Your data gave us everything. We've shut him down so totally it would take him ten years to get back to where he was."
Quinn drew a ragged breath of relief over that. "I don't know why I don't want him dead. Why do women want what they do?"
Helena chuckled and asked, "Doesn't matter. You're getting out of here in a few weeks, baby."
There was a sudden non-sequitar, "Is Dinah back in school?"
"I need to speak to her then."
Helena paused. "I'll let Barbara know. Dinah doesn't actually talk to me anymore."
"Uh...sorry...but because I wouldn't let her kill the Joker."
The Joker's soda can opening laugh was matched by Quinn's slight chuckle. "Send her in."
Helena went outside the room and pointed Dinah toward the room, "She's awake."
Dinah hurried into the room and took Quinn's hand. Quinn gazed at her young friend's short blonde locks, "Look at your pretty hair."
Her voice sounded so dry that Dinah moved toward the little ice container at her bedside and gave her some water.
There were tears in Dinah's eyes. "How you feeling?"
"I've been better," Quinn rasped. "What's this about your not talking to Helena?"
"She shouldn't have told you."
"She should have if it got you into this room to see me."
"It's nothing-I'm just mad about the Joker, is all."
"You wanted to kill him."
Dinah hesitated, then offered quietly, "Yes."
Quinn lifted herself a little. From her movement, Dinah understood that she should raise Quinn's pillows. She pulled Quinn up and arranged the pillows that she could be more upright.
"You wanted to kill him, even though that was the only condition for our plan-that you not kill him?" Suddenly Dinah felt very cold and sad. She didn't answer.
"Yes, I did," she blurted out, "how can you not after all the things he's done to-"
"I didn't want him dead. I told you that." Quinn said, with the most force she'd been able to offer.
"You're sorry? I'm glad Helena was there to stop you," she wheezed out with difficulty.
"Suppose? You should know so, Dinah. I don't know what to say."
"Quinn, I'm sorry-you know-"
Dinah looked up to see Quinn's face sunken back into incomprehension.
She was unconscious again.
One week later
Doctors were beginning to suggest that Quinn might actually recover, something they'd not even believed themselves might be possible.
She was making her way up to solid food. Although she was nearly a skeleton, from her long deprivation, she was a very feisty skeleton.
She played UNO with Helena and Barbara and usually beat them. She flummoxed the psychologists who came to find whether she was adjusting to her life-changing injury.
Barbara could tell that she had little patience for those who wanted to psychoanalyze her with the average formulas. God help them.
One day, when Dinah was alone with Quinn, she stammered before asking a question. "Do you think you could give me an answer to something about the Joker?"
"He shot you-then tried to shoot Barbara. But he knew I could stop him, absolutely, at any time-why didn't he go for me first?"
Quinn's tiny gaunt face was bright as she tilted her head to one side and rasped a small chuckle. "Isn't that obvious?"
The look in Quinn's eyes made Dinah feel uneasy.
Dinah hesitated, then offered, "So you're saying it's obvious?"
"Uh huh. Use your noodle."
Although Dinah was perfectly willing to use her noodle, that organ was resisting her.
Quinn smirked a bit at the girl's hesitation. "Maybe you should ask himself yourself."
"Who else? He could probably tell you a few very interesting things. And why not? I'm sure Jim Gordon could get you closed circuit access- which is the best you should have if you want to kill him."
"Why not tell me yourself?"
"Because it would mean so much more-like a Hallmark card-coming from him."
Quinn had become increasingly and irritatingly Harley-like since regaining consciousness. She was being given her psychotropic medication, although in measurably smaller doses because of her liver damage. Dinah had considered asking whether it might not be enough.
"Why aren't you back at school?"
"Duh. Because you're in the hospital?"
"Doesn't matter-time to get back-you need to get back to your real life."
"That's not my real life."
Quinn reached and patted Dinah's hand, "No. That is your real life. Your life with me was unreal. It was a job. We did it and it's over. Don't make it something it wasn't."
Dinah felt stung by the harsh simplicity of this statement but also unsure if there was merely tough-love motivating it. Despite their touch, Quinn's emotions were behind the lead shield she had so much facility placing between them. She hated when Quinn played psychologist with her. Despite this, when she looked at Quinn's wasted frame, it was difficult to feel anything but pity and concern.
Helena was sitting on the terrace of the Clocktower, watching the traffic and the people beneath her. She realized that she neither knew what or how to feel. Although Quinn was making a miraculous, albeit slow and painful, recovery, Dinah was still avoiding her housemate with a vengeance. When they were in the same room, Dinah was coolly civil and nothing else. Helena didn't have any idea what to do about it and it bothered her more than she would have imagined it could. That she had visited the same treatment upon her father so many years before did nothing to make her feel less hopeless, saddened and angry. Helena had never liked the phrase 'payback's hell' when applied to herself. But, then again, who did?
When she thought about that night's event's, of having saved the Joker from Dinah's chokehold, she didn't quite know whether she had betrayed her mother or not. She hoped not. She thought not. Although it shamed her to admit, she thought that she'd grown somewhat beyond her mother's simpler ethical system and into Barbara's and her father's. Was this unfaithful? Was it something that her mother would have scolded her for-for her stupidity? Or was it something that Selena had been reaching out for herself-in choosing Bruce as a mate and in choosing Barbara as her child's guardian?
She sensed, rather than heard, Barbara rolling up behind her. The woman positioned herself so that it was easy for Helena to place her arm over her knees. Helena felt, with particular gratitude, the gentle tousling of her hair.
"It's going to be okay, sweetheart."
"You think?" Helena wasn't sure.
"Easy for you to say."
Barbara tugged at Helena's hair gently. "You think it's easy living with two people who aren't talking?"
Helena reached back with one hand and gave Barbara's hand a squeeze. "I know-I'm sorry. What'd you ever do to deserve us two punks, huh?"
"I ask myself that all the time."
The two women turned to see Dick walking toward them, dressed in a dark pin-striped three-piece suit.
"Alfred let me in."
He kissed Barbara on the cheek, gently knocked on Helena's skull with his knuckles.
"What the hell's that you got on, Boy Blunder?"
Dick smiled down at Helena, "Clean up nice, don't I?"
There was a time that Helena would have been apoplectic with rage because he was, indeed, devastatingly handsome. But because she loved her brother, sort of, she offered grudgingly, "Yeah. I guess."
"I agree. You do look handsome." Barbara noted that Helena was discomfited by Dick's splendor, and found it both touching and entertaining. "But, seriously, why the suit?"
"Bruce is sending me to a special meeting with the U.S. Marshals."
"Top secret from us?"
"Bullshit," Helena explained.
"Well-one part's not so secret. Expedited Witness Protection Program for Quinn. But other things are in the works-and out of town. Very interesting."
"I hate you when you're like this."
Helena could feel Dick's shiny white teeth lighting her face from his toothy grin. "What? Handsome? In on 'a secret'? You're such a baby, Hel."
Helena leapt to her feet and Dick skipped back with a laugh. "I'm just teasing you! Damn. Lighten up!"
That he'd jumped back with such alacrity immediately soothed Helena's feelings, and she dropped her shoulders. "I'm a bit touchy these days."
"No shit?" Dick grinned, "But no problem. Like they say, winning the war is one thing; managing the peace is another."
Barbara smiled, "Is that what you're doing, Dick? Managing the peace?"
"Working on it, anyway. I came by to see whether you guys would like to go out to lunch?"
Barbara glanced at Helena, who caught her eye, then replied. "I don't think so...but we'd both like for you to stay for lunch."
As they turned to go inside, Helena looked daggers at Barbara, who uncharacteristically stuck out her tongue.
Helena's eyes tightened but there was humor in them.
One Week Later
The Joker popped into the closed circuit monitor in his usual manner, throwing a leg over the chair and suddenly sitting in front of the camera as if he'd appeared out of air. He was wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. He tugged at the collar of it and asked, "Do you think it clashes with my hair too much?"
"Prison orange is the perfect color for you, Bozo."
He cackled softly, "Dinah, dearest! How lovely to see you! How is everyone?"
"Everyone's alive and you're in prison. All's right with the world."
"Oh, dear. One of the big lessons in life, darling. It's bad form to be a pill when you've won the round."
The Joker suddenly threw his head back and cackled immoderately. "What a joke you played on me!"
Dinah smiled, despite herself, "Yep."
"What's your real name?"
"Dinah's enough for you."
"And that rather luscious daughter of Mr. Wayne?"
"My God, you're circumspect when you're angry. And why so angry, my little poppet?"
"You mean that little shooting thing I did with Harley? Come now-even she expected that. And I bet she doesn't even hold it against me."
The tilt of his head was so like Quinn's when he said this that she smiled again. Bizarre to think the two were so alike.
"No-but she's happy you're here."
"Tsk, tsk. That's the problem with women. If you can't kill them, you shouldn't shoot them."
"You're scum. I hope you know that."
"Oh? Ya think?" His voice was utterly detached. "To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?"
Dinah was out of her depth with the man before her-but she was willing to risk the engagement. She asked the question that had been haunting her.
"I wanted to ask why you didn't try to immobilize me before shooting Quinn? You knew what I could do to you."
The Joker looked at her for a few seconds and his perma-smile lifted a few centimeters. "Isn't that obvious?"
"That's what Quinn said."
"She's my girl."
"WHY?" Dinah thumped the table in front of her-which did nothing to discomfit the man.
The Joker cackled until Dinah thought he would choke. But, finally, he stopped and wiped his eyes. "I did it that way because I thought you loved her more than you hated me. But obviously not. I thought that you'd rush to help her rather than chase me."
Dinah flushed with shame and anger.
"Dinah, sweetheart! Don't be embarrassed. Your hatred is stronger than your compassion. Perfectly normal in a certain kind of person. Wouldn't it be funny if we were more alike than you thought?"
This was the very thought Dinah was keeping from rising in her mind. She slammed the door shut on the idea, sat forward in her chair. "Maybe so. Maybe not. I'm out here and you're in there."
The Joker's eye's brightened, "True. But who's to say for how long?"
They glared at each other and Dinah felt fear fill her even as the Joker's eye's filled with what she'd never seen in them before: hatred. "Next time I'm out, I'll be coming to see you, little girl."
Dinah's hands went cold, but her voice was even, "That right?"
"That's right. So you can go back to...oh, let's say...good old Gotham High and keep that in mind." Dinah's feet went cold.
"And when I do, I will lay waste to everything that you and that Wayne girl own, love or even remotely care about. But take some time and relax-I won't send anyone else for either of you. It's a job I'm going to do personally."
Dinah response sounded like her heart was lodged in her throat, which it was. "I'll be waiting, then."
"Good bluff, Dinah. For your age." He leaned forward and his face nearly filled her screen. "See, they call me the Joker for a reason. I have a sense of humor. Admittedly maybe not the average sense of humor, but generally speaking, I'm really just kidding around."
He slouched back in his chair, eyes lethally serious. "When I get out of here, though, I'm not going to be kidding. I rarely take my gloves off, sweetheart, but I'll make an exception for you."
She'd heard enough.
"I suppose that's that, then. Thanks for the head's up."
She almost stood before he replied, "Please do take care, Dinah dearest. I wouldn't anything to happen to you before we meet again."
Her fear was swallowed by the hatred that buzzed behind her eyes.
"You too, scumbag." She held her throat and looked at his, "I won't make the same mistake twice."
"Say hello to Barbara and Helena for me-and of course, dear Harley."
"Will do and, as for Quinn, I really don't think she's finished with you either." That got his attention. "And I don't mean romance."
Was that sudden tension in the Joker's face? Or fear?
The next day, the hospital bent the rules so that everyone could meet in Quinn's room for a report on Dinah's meeting. Quinn was wearing a bright pair of harlequin patterned pajamas and was acting in a bright, sharp, hostile way that was fully Harley Quinn and suggested she was in intense pain. Except for the part referencing her own conduct, Dinah told them everything about her conversation with the prisoner.
When she finished, Quinn said, "Dinah! You're a prodigy! The only person who wanted to kill me when I was seventeen was our head cheerleader. And with good reason, I might add."
Off the dark looks of everyone, for whom this was no joke, she batted her eyelashes and said merrily, "Remember, laugh and the world laughs with you!"
This was not much more helpful.
Quinn rolled her eyes, "Oh my God, I can't handle gloom in a semi- recumbent position. Helena, would you please put me in the wheelchair. I'd walk but my pain pill hasn't kicked in yet."
Dinah jumped forward and said, "I'll do it."
Quinn looked up at her without expression, "Are you deaf? I said Helena."
Dinah and Helena blushed to the roots of their hair and there was an awkward silence as they switched places.
Helena easily lifted the frail woman out of the bed and couldn't help but remark, "You're as light as a bird."
"I know," Quinn purred, "and you can pick me up anytime."
Barbara ground her teeth.
No one spoke as Helena settled Quinn into the chair and spread a blanket over her legs; but the air was charged with 1000 volts of electricity when Quinn caressed her cheek as she did so. She then winked at Barbara, smirked at Dinah and addressed Bruce, "What can I do for you, Bat-o-Mine?"
It was a wonder that the glares from Barbara, Dinah and Bruce didn't set Quinn's hair on fire. Even Dick was not oblivious to the emotional undercurrent.
The muscles in Bruce's jaw twitched. "What's your opinion? Will the Joker send a person or persons to hurt Dinah?"
Quinn, whose lips were quite pale from pain, nevertheless spoke firmly. "No. If he said it's a personal priority, that's what he means. We've made him angry now-and he so rarely is, believe it or not. Vexed or frustrated, maybe. Almost never angry."
Bruce reiterated, "So it's your opinion that he would have to escape jail to make this threat imminent?"
"Is deafness spreading in this room? I said yes. Absolutely. 100%. Is that clear enough? I don't happen to have my crayons so I can't spell it out." She paused before adding, "And, of course, the threat would be quite, quite real if he were to escape. He really is an evil genius, you know."
"Yes, we know," Barbara answered a bit too snidely.
Quinn shot back, "Is that wheelchair pinching you, honey? Mine's fine."
They glared at each other for a beat before Quinn softened, sat back in her chair, looking as weak and desperately ill as she still was. "I'm in a lot of pain. Could we pointlessly go over and over this later?"
Bruce looked into her eyes searchingly, this strange criminal person who had taken a bullet for one of his family. He noted the eyes glassy with pain, the circles under those eyes, her hollow cheekbones, and her body awash in pajamas that were a child's size. "You're right. You're too ill for this. It can wait. Everyone, could I have a moment alone with Quinn?"
Everyone, including Quinn, goggled at him. As the three people who'd been dismissed departed for the waiting room, they couldn't wait to ask each other what was going on.
Bruce took a chair and placed it facing Quinn. "Can I get you anything?"
"A new liver."
He nodded, "You don't need a new one. The one you have is healing."
"And it's taking it's sweet time. So! What's up?
"I want to know something."
"Shoot. Well-actually-don't shoot. Ask away."
"Why are you doing this, Quinn?"
"What? What am I doing?"
"Acting like...well, like-
She helped him, "Harley Quinn?"
"Because that's who I am. You should know that. We're old friends." She smiled as she said this, looked down at her knees.
He touched her knee and she looked up into his eyes. She'd never looked into Bruce's eyes. Even unmasked, she'd only seen the stern, judgmental eyes of Batman. These eyes were kind. "Why are you doing this, Quinn?"
She stared at him in wonder. She pursed her mouth and sniffed, sat for a full minute and threw up her hands in surrender.
"Oh alright, if you must know...I'm doing a little covert aversion therapy."
"For Dinah, I assume?"
"Yes. You see, the problem is that our Dinah is a little too fond of me. And I won't deny I'm a little too fond of her. Which is flamingly inappropriate. Beside that-she needs to get back to real life. I don't need to tell you that she could use this experience as an excuse to acquire a lot of problems."
Bruce nodded. "And your being cruel will accomplish that?"
"Cruel to be kind. I won't tolerate her using this to derail herself. Get the fuck over it kid. That's what I'm saying with my behavior. I won't have her mooning over me. And even though she saw and experienced some really awful things she wasn't old enough for, I won't feel sorry for her. And you shouldn't either. She can bounce right back."
"Do you really believe that?"
Quinn jerked her chin at him, "I do, actually." She touched her forehead, then tapped it.
"How can I put this? She's one of those kids who's had a tough life but managed to stay all light and sunshine inside. This mission has stirred up some truly bad weather for the first time so now she's thinking that a cloudy day just may be who she is. But she's not. I'm a cloudy day and so are you, by the way. But not her. She just needs to get back to herself. This was a bad dream."
Bruce's expression was dubious, "So-pretend like it never happened?"
"No. Know that it happened and that it doesn't matter that it happened. It's done. Get back to high school and get on with life."
"You might try kindness, instead."
"I don't know about that. It would be a novel approach for me."
"Try it-I don't think she needs a stick." Bruce folded his arms and looked at her long enough for her to look away.
"I want you to answer something else. Did you sleep with Dinah?"
Quinn was astonished to feel herself blushing, and answered in a mock Southern accent. "Why, Mr. Wayne, what a question!"
"I slept with her every night," she responded, flatly. "If you mean did I consummate a sexual relationship with her, then no, I didn't. I won't say I wasn't tempted but-I'm not entirely amoral. Amoral Lite, maybe."
"Why the interest in sex?"
"There are a couple of reasons. You don't need to know them now. You're tired."
He stood up and, to Quinn's bewilderment, picked her up very gently and lay her in the bed, pulled the cover over her. She marveled, "Bruce! Can you even imagine the odds against your putting me to bed-except in the eternal dirt-nap sense?
"I'll go to the nurse's station. You clearly need more pain medication."
Quinn exhaled a sighing laugh, "My pain isn't all physical, Bruce. There's no pill for a lot of it."
"Yes. I think I see that now."
His face and voice were so kind that Quinn cocked her head, "Who are you, masked-man?"
"Who are you? There used to be a Harleen Quinzel, didn't there? Who was she before all of this?" Bruce paused at the door. "That's the question."
After Bruce departed and the nurse had given Quinn I.V. pain medication, the three women re-entered the room.
Helena immediately grabbed the ice bucket to refill it, saying "Dick said goodbye-he left with Bruce."
She knew the room would be a little chilly in emotional temperature, which is why she wanted to run away with the ice bucket.
Quinn sat up a bit, clearly feeling much more comfortable, "Before you go, Helena, I'd like to apologize for my behavior earlier. Barbara, Dinah-I was very rude to you both and I'm sorry. And Helena, I'm sorry because my acting that way puts you in an uncomfortable position."
"No problem." Helena was glad to be finished with her part of the apology and she hurried away for the ice.
"And speaking of uncomfortable positions, Dinah-would you help me with these damned pillows."
It saddened Quinn and Barbara to see how quickly Dinah leapt into action. "Sure thing." As Quinn leaned forward, Dinah repacked the pillows behind the woman so that she could sit upright more comfortably. She caught Dinah's hand as she did so and kissed it. "I really am sorry."
"And, Barbara, I truly am sorry. My guilt makes me lash out at you, which you deserve the least of anyone."
"Apology accepted, Quinn."
Dinah shrugged, "So-we're all cool. What do you want to do tonight?"
"You know what," the woman responded, "I'd really like to be alone tonight. I appreciate your staying but I need to think. Okay? I've needed so much help that I haven't been alone to think in, what, a month?"
After the two women took their leave, Quinn lowered the lights in her room and closed her eyes, which was no hardship with so much morphine onboard. When she had met the Joker, he had engulfed her entirely but it was no use and not true to think that Harley Quinn was just a fabrication. That person was part of her. And part of her liked her. Was there anything, anyone else?
C'mon, she thought to herself. You're the therapist and it's staggeringly obvious. The shadow self. 'Part of adulthood is making acquaintance with and accepting your shadow self,' she said in a bored monotone in her mind. 'But you can't live it, you jackass. It's part of you-not all of you. If you take your medication, it's not even all that much of you.'
'But what if you don't know how to get back to the other part,' she countered to herself.
'Act as if you know how and fake it 'til you make it.'
'I can't believe I just said that to myself. I hate those phrases.'
'You hate them because they're corny, simplistic adages that express profound truth. You want Dinah to get the fuck on with her life. What about you? You always want to talk too much, think too much.'
'Oh my God. You know what? Go to sleep.'
So she did.
The Next Morning
When Barbara and Dinah arrived the next morning, they were surprised to find Quinn in tremendous spirits. They chatted most pleasantly, with Quinn the soul of hospitality. It was two hours after they'd arrived that Quinn asked, "Dinah, would you go to the cafeteria and get one of those crazy big chocolate cookies for me?"
"Sure. Anything else?"
"As a matter of fact--" Quinn patted the side of the bed and Dinah took a seat.
"Yes. I want you to go back to school next Monday, if you and Barbara can arrange it. Wouldn't you agree that would be a good idea, Barbara?"
Barbara was taken aback by question, still shocked by the abrupt change in Quinn's attitude from the day before. And that after talking with Bruce? She rolled forward. "I would. The school has agreed to let me tutor her on the months of subjects she's missed."
Dinah looked from Barbara to Quinn. "Please, Dinah. For me." Quinn's eyes were so gentle-in a way they hadn't been in more than a month.
Aw, man. The young girl looked down at the bed and heaved a sigh, and said with a mock-pouting voice for their benefit, "But I don't wanna go to school."
The two older women glanced at each other, then back at Dinah, who sighed again mournfully before saying, "Okay. I'll go for you."
Quinn took Dinah's hand and squeezed it, "You're going because you're my very dear young friend and it's for the best." The woman did not put any extra emphasis on the word 'friend' but, to the girl, it sounded like a cannon shot because Quinn was allowing her to touch her telepathically. Friend. Period. She meant friend. Except.
Dinah instantly swiveled her head toward Barbara and asked, "Would you mind if I talked to Quinn privately for a few minutes?"
Barbara's eyes flew between the two women holding hands and she swallowed what she wanted to say. "Alright. I'll be back in 15 minutes." That was clearly a warning.
As soon as the door closed behind her, Dinah said, "I'll be legal in seven months."
Dinah's face was filled with such delight that Quinn laughed aloud, "You're out of your mind!"
"No-but I've just been in yours." She play-slapped the woman's arm. "I know you like me. And as more than a friend."
Quinn played-slapped her back. "I was under the impression we'd established that months ago."
"Then why don't-"
"You're. A. Child?"
"But I'll be legal."
"Yes. To have sex with other children."
"How fucking old do I have to be?"
Quinn thought for a second. "Thirty."
"THIRTY? You'll be a hundred years old by then!"
"That's exactly the point!" Quinn said through laughter so hard that she would need pain medication sooner than she'd thought.
"Make it lower," Dinah said.
Quinn considered. "27"
"19," Dinah bid.
"That's crazy. Higher."
"Make yours lower."
"20." Dinah countered.
"You can't even drink legally at 20."
"Is that important?"
"No-but you must grant it's symbolic."
"Alright. The symbolic age of 21. How about that? Do we have a deal, Dr. Quinzel?"
Quinn looked into the girl's eager face and shook her head in disbelief. "I tell you what. Go back to school, go to college. Go on with your life-because you can't imagine how much you'll change in four years. Enjoy the relationships you WILL have. However, if you're still interested when you're 21 and if I'm not otherwise attached, we can talk."
Dinah grinned. "Talking isn't what I had in mind."
"Am I in hell?" Quinn asked the air.
She pulled Dinah forward by her shirt and kissed her tenderly on the lips, then gently pushed her away, making a shooing motion, "Now, that's IT, damnit. That's all you're getting. Get my cookie and tell Barbara to get in here."
As she watched Dinah leave the room with a considerable amount of pep in her step, Quinn sighed with affection for the girl. It was entirely unlikely to work out the way Dinah imagined it would. But- hey-fake it til you make it.
That Sunday Night
As Dinah handed a requested soda to Barbara at Delphi, the woman asked her. "You've been really quiet lately. Would you like to talk for a bit?"
"Does that mean you'd like to talk for a bit?" she responded as she sat down.
"I suppose it does." Barbara's smile was sheepish.
"Okay. What's up?
"That was what I was going to ask you."
"Nothing. Same old," she shrugged, "I already have my gear ready for school in the morning."
Barbara turned from Delphi to face Dinah. "It's just that you've been home for more than a month now and you don't seem to be getting any more..."she struggled for an expression, "I suppose, any more like your old self. I know that you've been through an ordeal but you're--"
"Look, Barbara, I appreciate your concern but there's nothing wrong. This is just me now. The old Dinah doesn't exist anymore."
"Don't say that! You can't-"
"I don't mean," the girl raised both hands, "that I've disappeared or totally taken on a new personality. I'm the same person-just without the bubbly 'gee whiz!, isn't this exciting!, I've never seen this before! stuff.' I'm not depressed-I've grown up. You and Bruce don't run around here like I used to-and notice I'm kindly leaving Dick and Helena out of this. And before you say anything, I know that I still have plenty of growing up to do and that I'm not a full-fledged adult. But in certain experiences in life, I've gone from 17 to 30 in a few months. I can't go back."
Barbara felt a lump rise in her throat. "I know. And I'm sorry. I don't know what to say."
Dinah pulled herself up and kissed Barbara on the cheek, "Don't say anything. Just try to get used to me now that I'm un-carbonated."
The girl pulled herself upright, did a few dramatic neck rolls, like a boxer getting ready for the ring. "And now I'm going to make up with Helena."
Barbara's eyebrows shot up and she blustered, "But what-why-"
"Because it's the mature thing to do," Dinah said with a wink.
Helena was sitting on the terrace looking up at the stars when she felt Dinah come out, hesitate, then continue forward. Helena tensed as she felt the girl's approach and supposed she should get up and leave it to her. To her shock, the girl sat right next to her. "Mind if I join you?"
"Uh. No. 'Course not."
Dinah offered a cigarette to Helena, who declined, then lit one for herself. "This is my last one. Barbara put her foot down. She's already got the nicotine patches in my room."
"Yeah. She's like that about smoking. Especially with teens."
Dinah nodded, then said "I'm sorry, Helena."
Helena turned toward Dinah, who didn't turn to face her. The girl's face was emotionless, matter-of-fact. She took a drag on her cigarette, "I don't know what else to say. I'm sorry. You were right. I was wrong. That about covers it, doesn't it?"
"Yeah. That's about it, I guess, but-why? What's different?"
"When I visited Bozo, he told me something I've been rolling around in my head." She blew a couple of smoke rings.
Helena goggled, "Fuck! I could never do that!"
Dinah turned toward Helena and lightly bumped the other woman's shoulder with hers. "As a good friend once told me, 'when you got it, you got it, kid'."
"Am I your good friend?"
"I hope so."
Helena pulled her head back a little, "But isn't this a little abrupt after all that screaming and hitting me?"
"What do you want? You want me to cry?"
"No! I don't want you to fucking cry," Helena bridled, raising her voice. "It's just that-fuck-you go off on me and treat me like shit and hate me and then-what-it blows away and everything's supposed to be the same? That's a hell of a mood swing, Dinah."
"Oh my God," Dinah said in disbelief, "Hello, Pot? This is Kettle speaking from Mood Swing Central," she finished merrily, blowing a cloud of smoke in Helena's face.
As Helena blinked her eyes in the smoke, she saw the affection in Dinah's. "Fuck you," she offered.
"Even if I cried, it wouldn't be any more sincere than the fact that I'm saying I'm sorry-and especially for hitting you." She stubbed out her cigarette on her leather clad leg and placed her hand on Helena's.
"I owe you big time-more than I can ever repay you. You saved me from doing something that would have forever made me more like a man I hate than like the people I love. And you're one of the people I love."
Helena swallowed hard, then asked, "You're staying out of my head, aren't you."
Helena put her arm loosely around Dinah's shoulder and they looked out over the city.
"It's not like I can't exactly...relate to what you were feeling and going through, Dinah."
"Uh huh-almost the same situation. I know it's tough-it took me more than a month to stop acting like a baby. I forget-how long did it take you to-"
Dinah couldn't finish this sentence because she was laughing in Helena's headlock.
As she watched over Delphi, Barbara heard crashing sounds from outside and smiled into the screen. Nice to have everyone friends again.
It was indeed, Dinah thought later that night as she lay in bed and wondered at how far she'd come since spending the first night home laying in bathroom crying. It was this Sunday night that she coolly accepted the fact if she hadn't wanted to grow up to be a crime fighter, it was too late now. She could bitch and moan, but there was such a thing as duty. She was born into it, fostered into it and given metahuman abilities for a reason-and she knew that it was a serious and important one. That night, she placed her focus on her duty. The centered sureness of her path would always make her different than the children, and many of the adults, around her. As Quinn had thought, she was no cloudy day but neither was she the sunny spring of Quinn's imagination; she was the focused sun of the desert.
Chewing her gum, feeling her nicotine patch fading fast, Dinah walked into Gotham High and found it more surreal than a Fellini movie. Was this really the same place? So colorful and fast moving and loud? And everyone looked-and acted-so incredibly young. A few people called out welcome to her as she walked to her locker. When she got there, she was happy to remember her combination and throw her stuff into it. Just like old times.
Dinah didn't have much time to react as Gabby pounced on her, pulling her into a ferocious hug. It was one of those girl hugs where you have to bend side to side but Dinah returned it. Gabby finally detached herself and exalted, "I'm so glad you're back! I love your new clothes! You've got to tell me everything!"
Dinah found herself smiling shyly, "It's good to be back." She reached out, gave Gabby's sleeve a tug. "And good to see you, too."
Off Dinah's quiet reception, Gabby, no fool, toned her voice and volume down many notches. "Are you okay? How are you sweetie?"
"Fine-great," Dinah lied.
Gabby looked at her friend closely, "No. Your eyes are different."
"Nah. More makeup."
"No. Not makeup." Gabby smiled gently and said, quietly, "I'll fill you in on all the dope and you tell me whatever, whenever-how 'bout that?"
"You rock, Gabby. Let's go."
Dinah grabbed a notebook and her two textbooks and they were off to first period.
The students in their first period class, doing the usual milling around 10 minutes before class, were tremendously surprised to see Gabby entering with Dinah. A different Dinah with really different clothes. As a few people called out their hellos, she returned them with calm warmth. A few girls came over to hug her and Dinah could hear that the murmur of voices around her was about her. As she'd expected, eventually, there was a semi-furtive cry of Zipper Girl!
Dinah looked at the offender as he had never been looked at in his young life. In later years, he would understand it was an unfavorable sexual sizing up and a none-too-subtle contempt for his manhood that made him unworthy of further consideration. All he knew at his age, however, was that he should shut the fuck up.
As Mr. Reed entered the class, he smiled cheerfully at Dinah who'd taken a seat in the first row, "I heard from Ms. Gordon you'd be here today. We're so glad you're back."
Even the speech was different. "As am I, Mr. Reed. Thank you."
Mr. Reed's smile was frozen on his face for a second by this answer, but he regained his composure and the class moved on.
When Mr. Reed paused, Dinah realized she'd underestimated how much of Quinn's manner of expression had become her own. She had learned the value of formality and simplicity, the enjoyment of toying with language. One of the marks of the high school leper. Not talking like your peers. As she subtly looked around the class at the boys and girls listening to the lecture, she came to another realization. She didn't give a fuck.
At lunchtime, Dinah went straight to the teachers' table where Barbara was ensconced. A couple of the teachers who had yet to do so greeted her.
Dinah nodded, "Thank you-everyone's been great-made me very comfortable." As Barbara took a sip of her soda, Dinah leaned down to cup the woman's ear and whisper, "As comfortable as having a Tonka truck shoved up my ass."
Barbara's soda came out of her nose and she yelped with pain and laughter, apologizing at the same time. This was deeply cheering to Dinah. She rejoined Gabby with the sense that the day was looking up.
As she sat down to her lunch, one of the most unmitigated bitches in the school walked over to the table. They weren't in any classes together and Dinah took a deep breath, knowing Miranda was coming to take her down a peg.
"Glad to see you're back, Dinah."
"Thank you, Miranda."
"I like what you've done with your style. So much better than that tacky old stuff you used to wear."
Dinah sniffed, took a bite of sandwich, spoke through her chewing, "Go back to your table, Miranda. We're eating and you're disturbing us."
"I'm just saying-"
"Miranda." She took a swig of water, "if you existed to me, I'd speak to you. But you don't. Goodbye. "
Miranda could not, evidently, solve the riddle of non-existence, so she stormed back to her table. Dinah couldn't believe how palpably relieved her tablemates were.
"What? Did you think we would fight?" Oh. She got it. "You thought she was going to score off you-embarrass you? Embarrass me? Who gives a fuck?"
She could remember feeling the same way-that terrible social anxiety. But it was so far from her mind now that she felt really sorry for these guys. What a way to live.
By the end of the day, the school was a hive buzzing over what horrendous circumstances could have caused such an enormous change in this hitherto inconsequential and now arresting girl. They all admitted that she was polite, helpful and pleasant to other students. But she was also something different, and something darker and you very clearly couldn't trifle with her. The rumors circulated and quickly became spectacular.
And so Dinah Redmond spent her last 1.5 years of high school. She went to football games, took part in activities, dated-but she was always slightly above and apart from it. Consequently, Dinah became a woman who was emotionally distant and always kept her own counsel. As she matured she wondered whether it was because of her experience with the Joker, with school or because her touch telepathy into other people's feelings made her doubly careful not to expose her own. In the end, she knew it did not matter.
Four Years Later
Arkham Asylum Maximum Security
The years had been relatively kind to the Joker. He did well in prison because he liked to read, liked pacing to and fro and found his own company most invigorating. He had even begun to write his memoirs between escape attempts. There had been many attempts-three of them serious-but he had not gotten away. He didn't like to think that he was getting rusty-although the gray in his hair was becoming more prominent.
In the middle of his fourth year of imprisonment, he was surprised to learn that his old friend Bruce Wayne had come to see him. They put him in a Hannibal Lecter-esque enclosure and Bruce thought, as he sat down, that he could be looking at a rare caged species pacing in a zoo.
"Hello, Jack. How are you?"
"Great. Things couldn't be better. How are things on your end?"
"Very well, thank you."
The Joker leered, "And the kids?"
"Seen Harley around?"
"Now, Jack, you know I can't say anything about that-but I hear that she's doing very well."
"Not that I don't like visitors but to what do I owe the pleasure?"
Bruce rubbed his lantern jaw, put a hand on each thigh. "I've been feeling guilty about something concerning you-and I need to get it off my chest."
The Joker took a seat. "And you know I'm a lover and forgiver, not a fighter. Tell Uncle Jackie all about it."
"Do you remember three years ago when you had an appendectomy here?"
"Like it was yesterday-they have butchers here, not doctors."
"Yes, well, while you were under anesthesia, two devices were planted in your body. They're incredibly small-the cutting edge of technology. They don't show up under conventional x-ray-there's really no way, almost, to find the damned things once you've planted them."
The Joker felt an emotion he couldn't recognize-it was either fear or fury. "What are these devices for?"
"They're GPS devices, Jack."
"What right did you have to put those things in me?"
"None. That's why I'm feeling guilty. I was feeling especially guilty that you were wasting all your time trying to escape when we know exactly where you are at all times."
"Where are they?"
"I don't think you'd want to go fishing for them. One is in your spinal column and one is in your liver."
The Joker identified the emotion-it was fury. "That BITCH!"
"Yes. Quinn knew you'd nearly had to have an appendectomy recently. Since you were bound to need the surgery sooner or later, why not pop those in while they had you open? The placement was her idea, too."
The Joker felt the pulse pumping in the veins in his forehead and he didn't know why his eyes didn't pop out of his head, why his hair didn't fly off his head. WOMEN!
Bruce waited as the Joker composed himself-for he did have his pride.
"I've got to go, Jack. I just wanted you to know. I feel much better now."
"This isn't over Bruce."
"No, I know. Not until we're old, old men." Bruce put his hand against the glass and the Joker placed his hand on the other side.
"Be well, Jack."
"You too, Bruce."
The Millay School for Girls was housed in a building that had been built for it-along imaginative lines. The original headmistress was something of an Arthurian scholar as well as an oddly authoritarian personality and the resulting building was strange and stern, like a castle in a gothic prison movie. It was certainly imposing and it imposed just outside of a small town in rural Vermont.
Millay had originally begun as a school where badly behaved, wanton or frankly pregnant girls could be educated out of the sight of the rest of the world. The modern school housed 200 girls with behavioral problems, criminal propensities or who were frankly street thugs. Its rural setting was still counted a blessing, as the girls had nowhere to run and little to entice them in the nearest town.
The current headmistress, Dr. Beryl Campbell, had come to the school when it had become clear that the former head had entirely lost control of the place. The school's board of directors thanked heaven every night for Dr. Campbell, who had made it a world-class education center for troubled girls.
The fourth year of her tenure, as in every year, Dr. Campbell gave a speech on the first school day for the incoming class, so that the girls would learn what kind of place they had arrived in and what would be expected of them. As in every year, the class filed into the auditorium and seated themselves in loud, unruly bunches. They did not notice as a petite, impeccably dressed woman walked in from the side of the auditorium, tapping along with a black silver-tipped walking stick with a large silver knob on top.
She didn't take the stage, but stopped in the middle of the auditorium, between the two rows, and waited with one hand on the walking stick and the other on her hip. And she began to tap one elegant shoe against the floor as she waited for the students to come to attention. This tapping was not audible above the noise of the students but somehow it never failed to hush them quickly. Dr. Campbell did not like to wait and the force of her personality when displeased in this way dispersed like a fog in the room. The girls began to notice her-others noticed them, and soon they were facing forward. And quiet-because this was strange.
"Hello girls. I'm Dr. Campbell." Her voice was conversational but perfectly audible. "I'm glad you're here. Whether you're glad you're here will be entirely up to you. Every one of our teachers is exceptional-every one of them strict but fair. Your work will be challenging-and you will be expected to rise to the challenge. The food served here is superb-and you will find your accommodations lovely and comfortable. This is a very special school and, with our help, you can become happy, useful women educated for matriculation in top-tier colleges."
"Now-your parents or guardians have placed you here because you have a propensity for naughtiness, nastiness and/or evil. I understand that. But something you must understand is by the time this year is out, not one of you will be acting that way habitually anymore." She looked over each side of the room. "I can promise you that."
She moved her walking stick in front of her and placed both hands on it. "You will, of course, laugh at this, disbelieve it, mock me amongst yourselves. You will think that you are slick and that you can get away with breaking my rules. I assure you, however, not one of you is as slick as I am. If you break my rules, I will find out and I will deal with you."
"My next statement may seem bold and even a bit odd. Cast around in your minds for the meanest, most terrifying, evil, cold, vicious, maniacal person you've ever known or thought about-someone who frightens even you, as tough as you are. Imagine placing me in a fight against that person. Imagine placing money on a fight between me and that monster in your head. I tell you now, you had better bet on me. Because I would win. And that is true. You will not believe this and, indeed, there's no reason you should. The older students here did not believe it either. Feel free to ask any of them, after having been here a year, if they believe it now. "
"There will be further orientation after this little welcome and you'll soon feel right at home. Or maybe not. Because there is no violence here, no verbal abuse here. None. It doesn't happen because it's a rule. And again, if you break the rules here, I deal with you. If you do, I won't hit you. I won't shout at you. But I promise you that I will fuck. you. up. Welcome to Millay, young ladies."
She smiled cheerily and left the room and its stunned freshman. She went to her office immediately and cackled 'til her eyes watered. Her freshman speech was a rare chocolate bonbon she looked forward to all year. She grabbed her coat and while she put it on, placed her stick, with its knob in the shape of clown's head, on top of her desk. She was already late for a meeting with two of the directors on the school's board.
When she opened her office door, there they were. Helena Kyle and Dick Grayson.
"Get in here, you two."
They entered, and closed the door as she removed her coat, put her stick in its holder. She turned and beamed at them. "I could eat you both with a spoon."
"Come here, Quinn, you nut." Helena hugged her tightly and then Dick took his turn.
"Sit down-want some coffee? I'll answer for you-yes." Quinn ordered her secretary to fetch a pot from the cafeteria.
As she took her seat, she whispered, "I'm positive my secretary's a masochist. I keep her hopping, let me tell you."
"The scholastic life agrees with you, Quinn-you look like a million bucks."
"You know, it's strange. With me, benevolent dictatorship is like a beauty cream."
She continued to beam at them, "I'm so glad you two can stay a few days. You're a feast for the eyes."
"We miss you-we're happy to come," Dick answered.
Helena thought, as she watched Quinn, how perfectly her father had read her. All of them had been staggered when he told them he had bought a girl's school, and a school for troubled girls, at that. That he was underwriting scholarships for half the students each year. And then the disbelief that Quinn was going into witness protection there. To run it. But he was right. She was blooming as Helena had never seen her.
Later, as they all walked arm in arm through the beautiful campus, a very small, scrawny and tremendously timid girl approached them with a look of utter fear.
"Dr. Campbell, excuse me, may I have a word with you?"
"Of course," Quinn said, disengaging herself from them. "Step over here."
"Your name is?"
"How may I help you, Miss Gibson?"
The girl took a deep breath and blurted, "I've broken a rule and I don't want you to think I think I'm slick."
Quinn's mouth twitched, "My God, Miss Gibson, that may be a record. You've only been here a couple of hours. And are you even old enough to be here?"
"I'm 11 and a prodigy, which they think is what makes me bad. Anyway, I forgot to leave my Swiss Army knife at home-I always carry it in my bag-but it's not allowed here and I didn't mean to bring it."
"Where is said knife?"
The girl produced it from a pocket and placed in Quinn's hand. "I'll put it in an envelope, write your name on it and keep it in my desk, okay?"
"Thank you, Dr. Campbell. I'm ready to be punished-but if it could be soon-I can't stand suspense."
"It was an accident, Miss Gibson. Look me in the eyes." Quinn placed her hand on the girl's cheek, "We're going to treat you fairly, dear. And not one student here is going to bother you because you're so young. You have my word. Now, get along."
"Thank you, Dr. Campbell." The girl was so relieved that she cut and ran, before the woman could change her mind.
As Quinn turned toward Dick and Helena, she said, "Shut up."
"Quinn! You old softy."
"Not at all, Dick. Tough but fair. Give 'em some carrot, give 'em some stick."
"Is that why you're still carrying that ridiculous cane?"
"It's a prop, Helena. It makes me more ominous."
"Actually, you're pretty fucking ominous solo."
"Yeah, I'd second that."
"Shut up, you two, and look at this glorious day!"
As Quinn, Dick and Helena marveled at the splendor of Vermont, there was no way for them to know that, over the 25 years of her career, Dr. Campbell would send thousands of young women into the world who were better behaved, law-abiding, and educated than their families could have ever imagined before sending them to the school. They would leave the school, every girl, scared to death of her but also revering and loving her, because she loved them.
Later that evening, in Quinn's quarters, Dick turned in early on purpose, in order to Quinn and Helena a chance to catch up.
As soon as he'd closed the door, Quinn said rapidly, "I've been thinking all day that it's a shame you're so deplorably faithful to Barbara. And, I suppose that Barbara's my friend-all of which make it impossible for you to-actually, it's not simply put. The things I want are extensive and detailed." Quinn drummed her fingers on her thighs.
Helena smiled her dazzling smile, "Sorry about that, baby. What's wrong? A little keyed up?"
"I haven't had sex in four years, Helena. I'm surrounded by children who talk of nothing but. What do you think?"
"I think you'll live."
"Said the Sex Machine of Gotham." Quinn grinned, "I know I will. But a visit with you just isn't complete until I proposition you unsuccessfully. Now, tell me how things are. "
"Never better. Oh! I got a puppy! He's a little Jack Russell named Prowler."
Quinn tilted her head, "Barbara and Alfred agreed to a dog?"
"Actually, I just sort of brought him home."
"Helena. What were you thinking?"
Helena shook her head at Quinn's tone, and whistled. "Don't I know it? It was a hard sell. A hard sell."
"Naturally, you had no idea how much work a puppy is."
"No-but I found out quick. Barbara and Alfred shunned him to teach me responsibility. But I've been on to that trick of theirs for years."
"Do they like him now?"
"They adore him-but they pretend like they don't."
Quinn smiled, thoughtfully, "You people never change, do you?"
"No. I suppose we don't."
Quinn stood up and put another log on the fireplace. As she sat down, she asked, "And how is Dinah?"
Quinn never knew, directly, how Dinah was. She hadn't seen or spoken to her in four years, which were the conditions she had set. She wanted Dinah to be free and clear to experience her life.
"Dinah is...Dinah. Let's see-she's moved out since I saw you last year. She's learned another language. She interned at Wayne Corp and Bruce was so impressed that he hired her. I guess part of business is knowing who and who not to trust and, with one shake of your hand, she knows. She's running all over the world as a proxy for him and she's really involved in the philanthropy side of it. Barbara and I think he may seriously have an eye on her for the big job"
"No! CEO of Wayne Corp? Dinah?"
"Yeah, Dinah. None of the rest of us are going to do it. But anyway, when she's in town, she still does sweeps with us and she's working on some sort of violence prediction software with Barbara."
"Wow. Sounds like she's a busy girl. Is she dating anyone?"
Helena almost smiled. "Nope."
"That's too bad. Good to have a well-rounded life at her age."
"Quinn," Helena said, taking the woman's hand, "Is it hard to breathe when you're so full of shit?"
"You would know better than I."
Helena barked out a laugh. "Touch. But my point remains."
"Just tell her I asked about her."
"I certainly will."
"Do not embellish it."
One Week Later
Barbara was sitting at Delphi with Prowler sleeping in her lap. He took a big breath and sighed and she patted his head. Cute little guy.
She thought about the day Helena brought the puppy home. Alfred had been the one to inject realism into the situation. Barbara was watching Helena on the floor with the new arrival, when Alfred stepped into the room.
"Miss Helena? Is that a guest or will it be staying?"
"It's a he-Alfred-his name is Prowler and he's our dog now!"
Alfred was aware that neither Barbara nor Helena had ever owned a dog, much less a puppy.
"Miss Helena-do you know how much time raising a puppy requires? Do you understand that you will need to take him out many, many times a day if you're going to successfully housebreak him? That you have taken on nearly the same amount of work, if you want him to be a happy and obedient animal, as for a human baby?
Helena was abashed by the tone in his voice, "I'll take care of him."
"You will," Alfred said. "Because I will not. I am available for advice, as I have raised many puppies in my life. But the work will be yours. I'm a butler-I don't tend livestock."
Barbara patted his arm and said, "We understand, Alfred. Helena's willing to fully take on the responsibility she's brought upon herself."
With that, Helena realized Barbara was out, too. Damnit! She hadn't thought about him as work-but she couldn't lose face by giving him back. Besides, she liked him.
"I'll take care of him-you guys stay out of it."
Alfred had looked into Barbara's eyes and they shared another one of the thousands of silent laughs they'd had since Helena had come into their lives.
Barbara looked down at the tiny animal. He was so energetic, naughty, impulsive and loving that she couldn't help but see him as a canine Helena.
When she looked back up at the computer screen, she heard "AHA!"
"Helena! DON'T sneak up on me. You know I hate that."
"Answer my question!"
"Did you ask one?"
"Have I or have I not caught you with Prowler in your lap?"
Barbara blinked twice, which meant she was processing. "He jumped up here of his own accord. I couldn't be bothered to throw him off."
Prowler, hearing his name, stood at attention on Barbara's lap. Helena grabbed him, "Prowler, you vicious thing!"
"I know he just woke up. I'm taking him out."
Because Barbara and Helena were a happy couple, there lives together were composed of tens of thousands of unremarkable episodes like this one, some happy, some sad. Unlike some couples, who come together easily and just as easily fall apart, the two women had had such a difficult time getting together that they couldn't imagine their lives without each other. There is nothing terribly dramatic about romantic contentment. It consists of incalculable acts of kindness, patience, and forgiveness and is terribly difficult to describe. That's why drama's greatest love stories have always been tragedies.
After she'd taken Prowler out and accused Barbara again of loving him, Helena went into the kitchen with him tucked under her arm like a football, where Alfred was preparing the night's dinner.
She grabbed a soda from the refrigerator as he stirred a pot on the stove. He said without looking up, "Miss Helena, Master Prowler is teething and, if you don't want him to savage your shoes, you had better get him something to chew on and teach him to use it. "
"Thanks, Alfred. I'll get right on it."
Alfred smiled at his pot. He had known the mention of shoes would expedite matters.
Later that evening, Helena, Barbara, Bruce and Dick were gathered for dinner and waiting for Dinah to arrive. She had been in Paris but was supposed to have landed in plenty of time to join them. Alfred decided a drink was in order and that is what they had in their hands when Dinah arrived.
Barbara looked at her and marveled again. The woman had changed in the four years as none of them had. Physically, all trace of baby fat had departed, leaving a tall and lean body. Her blonde hair was at her shoulders and Barbara never knew what she'd be wearing, from couture to street bum. It was her manner, however, that had changed the most.
She had continued to be a loving, warm and friendly presence. But even with them, whom Barbara knew she loved, she was slightly aloof, slightly formal. Barbara had no doubt that her personality played well in a business setting-she was sure of herself and smart. She also gave the impression that she might know what you were thinking, which was intimidating when she chose it to be.
It sometimes seemed to Barbara as if Dinah were looking at all of their lives, hers included, at a slight, bemused distance from the action.
"Bon soir, mes amies!" Dinah rushed in from the elevator wearing what, basically, Helena was wearing. Sweep-wear-lite.
"Nice duds!" Dinah kissed and hugged Helena first, then Barbara, then Bruce, then Dick.
"Alfred!" She shouted, "It smells wonderful!"
"Sorry I'm late-I had to book a flight to nowhere, basically, which is more difficult than you'd think. Let's eat!"
After the first course had been consumed, Dick announced, "I think I'm going to get married."
All heads swung his way.
"We weren't aware that you were dating anyone special."
"I'm not, Babs. I just thought I should start dating with an eye toward marriage-a different kind of woman."
"Men! You guys-"
"Women do it too, Hel. Boyfriend material. Husband material. I've heard it."
Bruce looked at his nearly lifetime companion with paternal interest, "What's got you thinking of matrimony, Dick?"
"Well, I see Barbara and Helena so happy-and I could probably find someone, too, if I looked. You too, Bruce."
"I'm sure you're right about yourself, Dick. But I'm too old to change my life to accommodate another person-and that wouldn't be fair." He looked pointedly around the table, "I have my family and my work and I'm more content than I've ever been."
"How 'bout you, Dinah?" Dick asked.
"That would depend."
"On whether the right person said yes."
At that moment, Alfred came into the room with another course. "Alfred?"
"Yes Master Dick."
"You ever think about getting married?"
Alfred placed a serving on Bruce's plate. "I am married to all of you and a man can only take so much."
"Look at that moon!" Helena stepped out onto the terrace after they'd finished dinner and was astonished by the night's full moon, one of those that seems larger, brighter and closer than usual.
Everyone, including Alfred, stepped out onto the darkened terrace into the refreshing night air to look at the lunar glory.
"Look at our city. Isn't it beautiful? Dick's voice was hushed.
They stood, quietly, for a few minutes: Dinah, Helena, Barbara, Bruce, Dick and Alfred, marveling at the sky and their city.
Barbara took a second to look behind them and, sure enough, there were ethereal moon shadows. She smiled fondly at these figures, so well-known, so well-loved by her-the city's mysterious crime fighters.
She turned back to the night and her family, Gotham's shadowy people of myth.
Ten Days Later
Quinn's heart was in her throat. Dinah entered and closed the door.
"Dinah!" She leapt to her feet behind her desk.
Dinah quickly crossed the room, took a seat opposite Quinn with the desk between them. The other woman sank into her chair. "Quinn." Dinah said gently, sighing, as if relieved of a burden.
They looked at each other for a full minute.
"Happy birthday, beautiful." Quinn finally broke the silence.
"I was hoping you'd remember."
Quinn looked at her from beneath her eyelashes. "I can't believe it's you-you're so..."
Quinn actually blushed.
"I hear great stuff about this school."
Quinn shrugged, "You know how I am with girls."
Dinah smirked at this but didn't rise to it.
Quinn smiled, "You, too-I hear you've become a captain of industry. I wouldn't have pegged you as the business type."
"I'm not-I'm smart enough to understand the facts but the psychology of it is what's interesting to me. So sublimated and refined even when it's vicious."
Dinah sat forward in her chair, "But I didn't come here by charter plane and damn near canoe and dogsled to chat about business."
"You didn't?" Quinn sat forward and rested her chin in her hands with her elbows on the desk.
Dinah fought to keep her voice even. "No. I came to ask if you're otherwise attached and, if not, would you like to talk?"
Quinn immediately covered her face with her hands. Dinah's heart was in her throat, having absolutely no idea whether that was good or bad.
After thirty endless seconds, Quinn sniffed and emerged from cover, quickly wiping her eyes. "Seriously?"
Dinah smiled a slow, lazy smile, "Seems to me I was always serious."
Quinn looked at Dinah as she had never allowed herself to look at her before-a look that said she wanted her and would have her.
Dinah exhaled as if she'd been punched.
Quinn stood up and maneuvered from around the desk, "I'm glad you stopped by, because I do have a birthday present for you-I just have to finish wrapping it."
She peered into a cabinet, retrieved something and, after five seconds, turned around with a bow between her collarbones, herself as the present. "I hope it fits."
Dinah stared. "I know it will."
Quinn sat in Dinah's lap and Dinah put her arms around her. They could each feel their hearts hammering.
Dinah looked her over and said, "The wrapping's so pretty, I almost don't want to unwrap it...but I guess I'd better."
"Yes. You'd better."
They looked into each others eyes, finding again the thing they always had found with each other-no barriers, no distance. The distance they felt with everything and everyone else did not exist between them.