It was raining.
Appropriate, Diana thought. Somehow there were so rarely clear nights in Gotham, and even when there were, some part of her could not stop expecting rain anyway. It felt warranted, always, to set the scene.
She was getting close, now. She leapt from a rooftop, swung her lasso out and caught a jutting gargoyle and let herself be drawn into an arc as she came down, and she landed on the wet pavement on one knee and looked up, and understood immediately why Bruce had called her.
She hadn't expected it. The League worked together effectively on problems that required a team; but Bruce did not consider Gotham one of those problems, and was not inclined to request assistance even when it might be better if he did.
And tonight he had been tracking a known quantity, insofar as that term could be applied to Harley Quinn. She had been involved in a theft, as Diana understood it. An artifact, an ancient horn of uncertain provenance—Pheme's, or at least that was the story it carried along with it, though of course Bruce did not believe it.
Tonight, she had been meant to deliver it to whoever it was who had hired her to obtain it for them.
And the identification Bruce had bitten out over comms, before giving Diana coordinates, had been correct. The buyer was Veronica Cale.
She stood at the far end of what appeared to be simply an empty lot, beginning to grow over here and there with weeds; but there was a wavering flicker in the air, there and gone and there again, that suggested something concealed there, lying in wait. She looked almost the same as the last time Diana had seen her, all pale hair and sharp eyes—Diana's arrival had not gone unnoticed, and her mouth was twisting into a furious sneer.
But she had not always had a staff like that one. And Diana had some unpleasant suspicions as to who might have given it to her.
Bruce was down—had been struck, somehow, though Cale was not near him and Diana could not see Harley Quinn anywhere. But he remained so for only a moment before rolling smoothly to his feet, and the motion of the rain and the dimness of the evening made it easy for him to duck low and nearly vanish.
"Veronica Cale!" Diana shouted, the better to keep Cale's attention on herself where it belonged. Whatever that staff was capable of, she had no doubt she could survive it better than Bruce.
"You," Cale bit out in return. "Didn't think you'd see me again, did you?"
On the contrary, Diana thought wryly. She had become exceedingly familiar with the tendency of past acquaintances to resurface, repeatedly and relentlessly.
But Cale wasn't asking in order to receive an answer.
So Diana didn't give her one. She swung out with the lasso instead.
Only in Cale's general direction—only to see what she might find. And, sure enough, the air kindled up, abruptly bright, a wall of pale light sizzling its way into place; rain hissed, steam curling away, and the place where the lasso touched it spat fat sparks.
Magic, then. No doubt the work of the staff. Veronica Cale was brilliant, but she was no sorceress, no demi-goddess. And the artifact, the horn: that must have some power, too, something the staff could not do, and she meant to have it for her own and use it.
But where was it?
"Um, 'scuse me?"
Diana turned to look.
It was Harley Quinn.
Diana had seen photographs of her, video captures stored among Bruce's files. She found herself thinking they did not do Harley justice. She had known already how Harley painted her face and colored her hair, the way she dressed herself, the way she liked to smile. But in person, Harley was more than the sum of those parts: there was a wild tense energy in her, crackling, barely leashed. Everything about her that had looked exaggerated to Diana, affectation and excess, was now comprehensible—an effort to make the outside of herself match the way the inside must feel.
Right now, she was standing at the edge of the lot, between Wonder Woman and an enraged Veronica Cale, and she was bouncing a little on the balls of her feet, leaning in and looking back and forth at each of them in turn with exaggeratedly wide eyes.
"You gals seem like you got a few things to work through, here," Harley said, in a warm, understanding sort of tone. "And I get complicated relationships—boy, do I ever! But, look, I have places to be, all right?" She turned toward Cale. "We had a deal, lady. I just want to get paid, and then I'll get out of your hair, and you can work through your inferiority complex and your sense of entitlement—which is masking some pretty desperate loneliness and a huge fundamental self-esteem issue, by the way—on your own time. How's that sound?"
Cale's face twisted. She raised the staff in her hand, the dark wood of it wet and gleaming in the rain, and her hair began to lift around her head, though there was no wind. "Shut up, you useless—"
"Hey!" Harley looked affronted. "Useless? Of all the—listen, which one of us was able to get a hold of that horn thing, huh? You or me? You got every insult in the world to choose from, some of which I couldn't even argue with, and you pick the one that couldn't be less applicable if it was trying?"
"I would have let you leave alive," Cale said, almost calmly.
"Veronica," Diana said, and took a step forward.
But Cale wasn't looking at her, wasn't listening to her. She was staring at Harley with cold glittering eyes. Harley meant nothing to her, had only been a tool she had intended to discard once it had outlived its usefulness—but now she was angry, and Harley was in her way, and Diana knew she would happily crush Harley on her way to Diana, and would enjoy it all the more for knowing it was an unnecessary cruelty.
Veronica Cale already had too much blood on her hands. She blamed Diana for every drop of it; but Diana could not help but believe the day would come when she would no longer be able to make herself decide that responsibility lay elsewhere.
The staff rose. Light gathered. Cale's eyes filled with it, bright stark blue.
And it was for Harley's sake, but also a little bit for Cale's own, that Diana threw herself forward.
She crossed her forearms before her as she lunged. Her glowing gauntlets met the half-visible glimmering wall that surrounded Cale with a flare of crackling red-gold light, and she squinted and gritted her teeth and didn't slow down. She could feel the magic of the wall, hard like stone—but, like stone, it couldn't hold her. It cracked, with a sound that was not sound, and she drew one fist back and punched the place that had weakened before her, and it crumbled.
Harley had been saying, "Hey, come on, that was not the deal—" and then had flinched, startled, from the explosion of light at the first impact of Diana's gauntlets against the shield. That was why the bright white streak of lightning that tore down from the sky did not hit her.
It struck the pavement beside her instead, broken chunks bursting up and tumbling away, smoking. The light and the sound were simultaneous, overpowering; but only for an instant, and Diana leapt the rest of the way and caught Harley by the elbow.
Harley—Harley was human. Her ears must still be ringing, and she blinked dazedly up at Diana but did not seem to see her.
"You are all right," Diana said, in case Harley would be able to hear it, or could see her mouth move; and then she drew Harley up. She had only a moment to think the air felt strange—she caught Harley around the waist and moved, instinctive, a long awkward stride, and then another bolt of lightning struck the ground behind her.
Cale was screaming. Diana couldn't hear any words in it. She almost hoped it was anger, fury, and not that the staff was exacting a price for its labors.
"What the hell is her problem?" Harley shouted, staggering in Diana's arms, eyes huge and dark in her white-painted face. She was louder than she needed to be, even with the rain, the rising wind, and Cale; she still evidently couldn't hear herself quite right. "This was supposed to be easy! Sometimes a girl just needs a quick paycheck! Nobody said I was signing up to get hit by fuckin' lightning—"
"Harley," Diana said, as slowly and clearly as she could. "Harley, where is the horn?"
"What?" Harley said, blinking. "Oh, the thing. I gave it to her right before Batsy showed up."
Diana set her jaw. "So she has it."
"No way. First rule of doing business in this town, sweetheart: be smart. Which in this particular case means don't give up the goods until you get paid." Harley swayed in and winked unsteadily. "Got it right here."
"You stole it back," Diana said blankly.
Because she had: she had reached beneath her jacket, and there it was in her hand, a curved hunting horn, hammered of strange metal, pale and faintly golden. Diana had never seen it before; but there was something in the look of it that made her think perhaps it had once belonged to a goddess after all.
A flare of light made Diana look away—but this one wasn't lightning. Or was, but the lightning wasn't Cale's. It was Barry.
The League. That was why Cale hadn't struck them again, not yet. That was Bruce's shadow, high on the corner of that scaffolding; and Clark was dropping down through the air in front of Cale, red cape swirling in the unnatural wind; and Barry, Barry was surely clever enough to circle in and take the staff from her, and he could do it before she even knew it was happening—
Cale shouted something, and this time there were words in it, but Diana did not know them. She brought the staff down against the ground between her feet, and a rippling wave in what seemed to be reality itself moved away from her. It caught Clark, Barry, and flung them both away, and Diana reflexively drew Harley close against herself and braced her other forearm before her in the face of it—they skidded back together, Diana's boots digging crunching furrows in the pavement, but didn't fall.
"Enough," Cale spat, and she raised the staff high again and then brought it down in an arc to point at Diana.
"Oh, fuck," Harley said.
"Yes," Diana agreed.
She could cover Harley, at least. That part was easy. She took the strike of lightning between her shoulder blades, and it felt as though it ripped her apart; she couldn't tell where she began or ended, she couldn't breathe; there was nothing in the world but the light, the sound, the searing heat of Cale's borrowed magic burning its way beneath her skin.
It was an instant. It was forever.
And then it was over.
She was gasping. Her eyes were wet. She was on the ground, but she hadn't failed: she was over Harley, caught on shaking elbows to either side of Harley's head, and Harley was staring up at her.
"What the hell'd you go and do that for?" Harley said, and for once there was no laughter in her voice. She sounded strange and young and bewildered.
"Harley," Diana heard herself say unsteadily.
And then Harley turned her head and looked at something else, and said, "Okay, okay, all right, look. I don't know how to use this thing, but it's—this is your whole schtick, right? Ancient magic stuff?"
She had the horn in her hand. Pheme's horn, Diana remembered, though the thought seemed to be at some kind of distance from the rest of her. And she was—she grabbed for Diana's arm, her wrist, fumbled Diana's hand up off the ground, and together they clutched the horn. Harley looked at Diana with her eyebrows raised encouragingly, like she expected Diana to do something impressive; but Diana's skin was still hot and shivering, her bones aching, her head full of sifting ash.
"Hey, lady, I'm talking to you," Harley said. "I hate to rush you, but I'm going to need you to get with the program, okay?" She reached up with her free hand to pat Diana's cheek—to pat it and then turn it. Because Veronica Cale was striding toward them, light pouring from her eyes and her open mouth, from the tips of her fingers, and the staff was still in her hand.
Diana sucked in a sharp breath, and gripped the horn with purpose, Harley's fingers twined between her own.
And the horn gripped back.
That was what it felt like, at least. It was dizzying, disorienting. Diana was seized; she moved, or thought she moved, except her body was still curled over Harley Quinn. Harley was moving too, she began to understand—they were hurtling along together, and the shape and color of Harley in this motion was unmistakable, though it had nothing whatsoever to do with her face.
Their bodies could have been stopped. Cale had those shields of light, those lightning strikes. But like this, moving in this way, the two of them were unhindered. Flung, perhaps, from the mouth of the horn; that was as much as Diana pieced together, and then she and Harley Quinn struck Veronica Cale.
Cale hadn't felt them coming, couldn't perceive them in this place where the horn had sent them. She was small, like this. Small, and clenched tightly in on herself, and very much alone. It was easy for Diana and Harley to surround her—they didn't even try, really. They just did, and then Diana curved herself closer and reached out with something that was not her hand, and touched the surface of Veronica Cale very gently.
And then there was nothing.
Diana woke in the Hall of Justice.
It was strange. Not something she had done often—not like this, feeling as though she were swimming up a very long, slow way through thick and murky water. Her head felt wrong, sore and tender. Except of course it wasn't her head, her unbreakable goddess's head, but her mind.
She didn't try to think about it. She lay quietly, and breathed. A piece at a time, she became aware of herself: her face, her arms and hands, her legs and feet. She began to feel, dimly, as though she might someday be able to open her eyes. She was lying on something, she understood. A bed of some kind. The medical wing?
And then it was all there, around her. She knew where she was; she could hear the distant sounds of Barry, Arthur, Victor, conferring together quietly on another floor. She felt the shape of the room, the air circulating gently against the skin of her cheeks, the backs of her hands. And there was someone here with her, too.
She drew a deeper breath, bracing, and blinked, and looked.
"Bruce," she said.
It was impossible to know whether he'd been aware she was waking or not. He didn't startle, because of course he didn't. He turned, and gave her a sharp look over his shoulder, and—ah, he was doing it because he was still in the suit, cowl over his face. He wasn't pleased that she'd used his name.
"Batman," she amended, and watched his shoulders drop a fraction of an inch.
"You're all right," he said.
It didn't sound like a question, but coming from him, like this, that was what it was: a tacit request for confirmation of what seemed to be true but could not be trusted. He got like this with all of them; besides Bruce himself, Barry was the only one who was close enough to unaltered human baseline for ordinary medical equipment to be of any use in evaluating his condition, and he healed so quickly it was rarely necessary.
"Yes," she said, and then, in the spirit of full disclosure, added gently, "I believe so." She paused. "It was the artifact. The horn. I wasn't injured by it physically. But it had magic, old and powerful. It touched my mind. It was too much, too strange. I—lost hold of myself for a while, that's all." She pushed herself up, and frowned a little. The light slanting in said it was day, now; morning. She was still in her armor, but that made sense enough. It wasn't easy to remove, especially from a limp and uncooperative wearer. But Bruce—why was he still in his suit?
She was about to ask. And then she stopped.
There was something in her head.
She let her eyes fall shut, trying to understand what it was, trying to chase down the feeling. Something present, where there had never been anything before except Diana herself. But it was—it was as though it were behind a closed door, as though a curtain had been drawn across it to hide it from her.
She didn't understand it. She followed helpless impulse, that was all, in turning toward it, trying to bring it closer to herself; and she meant to turn only in the space that lay inside herself, but that was such a strange thing to have to do, and she had so much less practice with it than she did with her body. She moved physically, too. And then she opened her eyes, and she had her answer.
She had turned away from Bruce, seeking the thing that touched her mind—and she had turned toward the next bed over, in the medical bay, which held Harley Quinn.
Little wonder Bruce remained suited up. Bruce Wayne's presence at the Hall of Justice was easy enough to explain, to those who had no reason to look more closely. The world at large tended to assume he enjoyed basking in the reflected glory of the League, who put up with him because he had been undeniably generous in surrendering the Hall to their use.
But there was no particularly good excuse for Bruce Wayne to be standing at Diana's bedside, speaking to her with quiet sternness—asking her whatever questions he no doubt wanted desperately to ask about the horn, and about Veronica Cale, and about what exactly it was that Diana and Harley had done to neutralize her.
He needed information, needed to debrief. And he couldn't do it as Bruce Wayne, not in front of an audience that might regain consciousness at any moment.
"I intended to have her," and Bruce tilted his chin fractionally toward Harley, "secured and removed from the scene. But we couldn't get her more than about fifty feet before she started seizing. It took ten minutes to ascertain that the key factor was not standard medical treatment or the lack of it, but proximity to you."
The rest was easy enough to fill in. Diana had shown no equivalent distress; magic worked on her, but not the same way it worked on humans. She would most likely have suffered no harm, no matter how near or far Harley had been taken from her.
Harley Quinn had done many reprehensible things. Some of them to Bruce himself. But that didn't mean Bruce would willingly inflict an unknown degree of injury on her.
So he had had her brought here instead, though Diana could not guess what it must have cost him to do it.
Diana offered him the shadow of a smile, reached out and touched the back of one gloved and gauntleted hand. "Thank you," she said quietly. "Before you tell me anything else—I think it was the horn. It drew our minds together, and they remain so even now."
Bruce went utterly still.
"I don't believe every secret of my mind is now hers," Diana said, before he could pull away from her. "When it happened, I had a sense of her, but not more than that. If we share thoughts, it is only what is pressing. What is—" She paused, trying to decide how to put it. "What is brightest, clearest, closest to the surface. She cannot pry your name from me, not without my aid."
Bruce's jaw remained taut. But his hand shifted fractionally beneath her fingertips, and she could hear him breathing again.
"You're sure," he grated out.
"As sure as I can be," Diana said, calm.
He looked at her and then away. It was not his way, to give himself into the hands of others and be easy. But it meant something to him, she knew, coming from her, and he wouldn't take it lightly.
"All right," he said at last, very low.
"She, too, had heard that the horn was ancient, a thing of power," Diana added. "You know already that it is said to have been Pheme's."
"Fame," Bruce agreed. "Renown. Or notoriety, if you angered her." His mouth went flat. "You think it's true."
"In the stories my mother told me when I was a girl, Pheme was always 'she whose words carry far'. She was the goddess of fame, yes, but also of rumor, of gossip. Of," Diana added pointedly, "communication that ventured further than you might have intended it to."
Bruce let out a slow breath. "And her horn—"
"Was her tool," Diana agreed. "What she murmured into it was repeated, loudly and more loudly still, until all the world could hear her voice." She paused. "Veronica Cale hired Harley Quinn to steal it for her. She wanted it. She wanted to use it. Perhaps on all the world, or perhaps simply on me. To—to try to make me shout what she wanted most to hear."
"And instead," Bruce said, "you used it to knock her out cold."
"Is that what happened?" Diana shook her head. "I hardly remember. It happened so fast. I only understood that she was there. I touched her, that was all. Or—we touched her, I suppose."
And then, without warning, she found herself squinting.
"Diana," Bruce said.
Diana understood, dimly, that the sudden flare of color, hot and blazing and almost nauseating, wasn't in front of her eyes. "She's waking up," she heard herself say, and it was true.
Harley Quinn didn't wake the way Diana had.
A lit match was tossed into the tinder of her, and she came alight all at once, bright as magnesium, the sharp hard glow of a neon bulb an inch from burning out. She didn't know where she was, Diana perceived, and didn't particularly care, except insofar as the bed, the pale walls, the lights, suggested an institution of some kind.
A stab of something, so intense Diana jerked with what she recognized only belatedly had been pain. It was too much, fear and rage and grim hard amusement, sharp as the blade of a knife, all at once. Her throat ached. She wanted to tear the walls apart with her bare hands; she wanted to throw herself out the window, except that was only worth it if she was high enough that she'd make a splash—a splat, ha!—when she landed. Something was prying its way out of her mouth, and Diana was expecting so much that it would be a scream that she was surprised when it turned out to be a laugh instead.
Bruce was staring at her, eyes like stone. And beside her, Harley blinked and pushed herself up and said, "Okay, I'll be honest, you are not who I was expecting to see. So I guess this ain't some fancy new wing of Arkham after all, huh?"
Her gaze flicked past Diana to Bruce. Another rush of thought, feeling, both at once, but this time Diana was almost braced for it, able to hold and to let it sweep over her without being pulled under by the deep sucking current of it. Terror-pain-guilt-resentment-disdain—mockery, porcelain-thin, a defensive shell of jeering scorn that was covering something else, something whose shape Diana could not quite pick out before it had already slipped past her and was out of her reach.
Harley grinned, and Diana felt it, the impulse to do it, as if it stretched her own mouth.
"Looking after me, Batsy? Isn't that the sweetest thing!"
She crossed her legs, swinging her feet, and blew Bruce a kiss; but in Diana's head she felt so vicious with thorns that it was briefly difficult not to flinch from her.
"Harley," Diana said, because she couldn't bear it—because she wished to draw Harley's attention somewhere, anywhere, else.
And Harley looked at her, eyebrows high, and then paused and tilted her head, eyes narrowing. "Huh. I figured you'd have gone away by now."
"I'm not going anywhere."
"No, no," Harley said, with an expressive roll of her eyes. "In my head."
And under any other circumstances, Diana thought, it would simply have been Harley, sideways to the rest of the world, saying something that seemed like nonsense.
But not this time.
"I cannot," Diana said aloud. "As you cannot 'go away' in mine."
And that—that, somehow, made Harley's mind begin to creep with frost, slow cold dread.
"What?" Harley said, and then laughed, though Diana could feel clearly that she wasn't amused in the least. "No. No, no way. You mean—wait, is this because of that thing? That trumpetmajig? It is, isn't it? I can tell. The magic fucking trumpet made us psychic?"
"We have it here," Diana said, because it had to be true; Bruce would not have allowed such a thing to be left behind. "It can surely be undone," because that, too, must be so. Veronica Cale would never in life have bound herself to Diana in a way that could not be reversed. "It will take some time, that's all."
Harley swallowed. "And until then, we're stuck with each other, is what you're saying."
The flicker of her thoughts moved more quickly than her words: she was already beginning to grasp that they wouldn't, couldn't, let her leave, not like this. Not until they had worked out how to make it stop.
"No one here will harm you," Diana said, soft.
Harley's mouth twisted, a sneer forming—and then it slid away again, and she stared at Diana and said slowly, "You honestly actually mean that."
"I do," Diana said.
That icy dread did not depart from Harley's mind, not entirely. But something in the flavor of it changed; it was no longer sour seeping fear, the memory of bars, the thought of being pried open and exposed, but something quieter, more bitter, a sticky shadow clinging.
Harley sighed aloud, and flicked one of her pigtails as if in thought. "Fine," she said at last, light, flippant. "Guess you wouldn't be much use on a heist, would you, sweetheart?"
And Diana—Diana thought of a stone tower, a leap, the satisfying crunch under her fists and the gifts of the gods piled up in her arms, the sweet wicked delight of doing what no one had expected and getting away with it.
Harley felt it. Of course she did. Diana could tell as much, could see the flicker of earnest curiosity and sudden real amusement cross her face even as they sparked up bright inside her head, too.
"You might be surprised," Diana murmured. "But yes, I cannot imagine any of your usual business partners would be pleased to see Wonder Woman at your heels."
"And you and your League of Do-Gooders aren't interested in having me tag along crashing all your parties, either," Harley concluded, and then sat up straight and looked around. "So, what is there to do in this place, anyhow? You going to give a girl a tour, or what?"
It should probably have been more difficult than it was to keep Harley entertained.
There were places she could not go, of course. Even if Bruce hadn't made his feelings abundantly clear, Diana wouldn't have risked taking her to the server room, the monitor room, the equipment lockers or tech development labs.
But Bruce had gone to a great deal of trouble to make the Hall comfortable—he had, after all, intended it for the use of individuals other than himself, and lengths he would not otherwise go to had suddenly become bare minimums.
There was an awkward stifled silence, at first, when Diana led her into the lounge on the main floor. Bruce had commed ahead, of course, and Barry and Victor were arranged in a carefully casual way, Victor on the enormous curving sofa and Barry in the satellite chair beside; but it couldn't be anything other than strange to have one of Gotham City's most famous criminals standing in what amounted to the Justice League's living room.
But they couldn't send her away, and Diana refused even the thought of locking her up in a room somewhere. And so for the moment, she was, in effect, their guest.
Barry cleared his throat. "I, um," he said, and vibrated just a little bit in place before clearing his throat again and gesturing to the massive gently-curved screen that dominated one wall of the lounge. "You—want to watch something? Or, um, we've got some controllers, too, if you'd rather—"
"Wait, you got games?" Harley said, bouncing on her toes and clasping her hands together. "How many? What kind?"
Barry darted a glance at Victor.
"Anything we don't have," Victor said mildly, "we can get. Two minutes to download and we'll be good to go."
"No way," Harley breathed, eyes alight. And then she stopped, and stabbed a finger at Barry, and—Diana caught the shape of the thought and hid a smile behind her hand, a moment before Harley spoke it aloud: "And you're going to stay regular-people-speed the whole time, right? No Flashing your way through the QTEs or nothing?"
Barry looked aghast, openmouthed with affront, and then paused. "I mean, would we call you regular people? I feel like we wouldn't. Not in a bad way or anything, I'm just saying—"
"All right, all right, don't hurt yourself," Harley said, and grinned. "It was a compliment anyhow, far as I'm concerned. Seriously, though, I catch one single spark coming off of you and you're dead meat."
She bit out the last two words with abrupt sternness; and then, just as quickly, she laughed.
Barry stared at her with round eyes. "Yes, ma'am," he said.
"And I guess that means I have to use my hands," Victor said.
Harley tilted her head and looked him up and down. "What do you usually use? I like to do toes sometimes," she added, in a confiding sort of way.
Victor gave her a steady smile. "My brain, mostly."
"Oh, sure," Harley said, with an expansive shrug. "Why not?"
And then she turned and looked over her shoulder, and raised an eyebrow.
"You coming or what?"
"I am not very good," Diana warned her gravely.
"Too much time swinging a real sword around," Harley diagnosed pityingly. "But I guess there had to be something you were bad at, huh? Come on anyhow. We'll crush you and then you can watch for a while."
Diana was about to demur again. But she could feel something she didn't understand, something that wasn't roiling whirling technicolor or dark seething mire, something that didn't hurt at all. And she felt abruptly sure that to refuse and retreat to the kitchen, as she'd intended to do, would send it flickering away where she might never see it again.
"A generous offer," she murmured instead, with a smile, and for a moment, before Barry dug up the controllers with a victorious cry, it was—she and Harley were caught, reflecting a tentative warmth back and forth between them, a sudden spiraling multiplication that startled them both.
The games held Harley's attention for a time. She liked the ones that involved fighting or racing, cackling at death and fiery explosions and car crashes—but the one they ended up playing the longest was quiet, simple, a game of farming and trade and islands. She felt, once, the way Diana looked too long at the trees and sloping beaches and bright water; Diana caught herself and stopped, and found Harley watching her, the controller loose in her hands, temporarily forgotten.
Then it was cartoons. Cartoons, a detour for popcorn that turned into poking through every cupboard in the Hall's vast kitchen just to see what was inside. As with so many other things about Harley, Diana was learning, it should have been frustrating but wasn't: there was something else she was looking for, Diana could feel it. Something she was trying to understand, about this place or about them or about herself, or perhaps all three at once. And if she thought going through their kitchen cupboards would help her, Diana couldn't rightly argue.
She was quick, and strong, and skilled. She could leap onto the counter and do a flip back to the floor—the kitchen, happily, was more than large enough to allow it without incident, though Diana suspected that if it hadn't been, that wouldn't have stopped Harley.
Three-quarters of the way through the popcorn, Victor and Barry relaxed and laughing, Harley wandered off with an idle wave of her hand in Diana's direction. Diana would have worried more, except by now Bruce had surely welded shut every door he did not wish Harley to be able to open. And Harley understood already that she could not go too far in any case; surely they would have some warning, feel some pressure or attenuation, before the magic began to hurt her, now that she was no longer unconscious.
Besides, if Harley got herself in trouble, Diana would see her glee inside, and know it.
She couldn't stop thinking that it should have been worse. To have someone she had never met before yesterday, someone who had done the things Harley had done and walked away laughing, inside her mind—she had decided she would need to be calm, and kind, and patient. She had known she would be capable of it. But she hadn't expected it to be so easy. It was simply that there was so much of Harley, a vast and undiscovered country; and Diana had always loved to go new places and see new things, to do what she was not supposed to do because she wished to and felt it was worth doing.
Knowing Harley was worth doing. She felt sure of it already. And she couldn't claim it troubled her to think of being known in turn, either. Harley was not impressed by Wonder Woman, nor stirred to hatred of her like Veronica Cale. To her, Diana was good at magic and old things, and bad at video games, and had intriguing memories of having stolen now and then. Her expectations were so low as to be nonexistent—she hadn't anticipated that Diana would promise her she would not be harmed and mean it—but she was trapped and she knew it, and promptly endeavored to take her mind off it in every way possible.
Diana frowned, just a little, and rose from the sofa.
"Something wrong?" Victor said.
"No," she said slowly. "I don't think so."
She walked out of the lounge, leaving Barry and Victor chuckling behind her and elbowing each other over the rest of the popcorn, and followed her sense of Harley, feeling her way along. Fifty feet, yes; but the main staircase was within fifty feet of the lounge, and the ceilings in the Hall were generous but not so high that Harley couldn't have reached another floor and remained well within range.
Diana paused with a hand on the banister, and reached out. Down, she decided, and went.
Harley's thoughts were indistinct, from here. Pleased, even delighted, a rapid bursting rush of them like fireworks set off all at once. The feel of them had changed somehow, and Diana didn't understand why until she realized her feet had led her to the open doorway of one of the sparring rooms.
Harley was just pushing herself up, using one of Arthur's thighs to give herself the extra momentum to drive a knee into his chin—except he was moving, too, ducking away and swinging an arm as if to catch her around the shin, trying to drag her down and tackle her to the mat where his weight and strength would be more of an advantage.
It didn't work. Harley redirected, planted a foot on his shoulder and then kept going, throwing her head back so that the rest of her body would follow it into a flip.
She loved this, Diana understood. She loved this. To move like this, with such skill, to feel her muscles working, to have nothing in her head except the next motion—
It was a kind of peace. The closest Harley ever came these days, Diana thought, and something squeezed itself tight in her chest.
She didn't intend to say anything, or to interrupt. But as Harley landed on the mat, something changed; she turned her head toward Diana as if drawn, not because Diana had moved or made any sound. She felt Diana's presence as clearly as Diana had felt hers, and again there was that strange mirrored doubling and redoubling, each of them aware of each other and of each other's awareness, looking and caught looking and conscious of being seen, a closed loop.
A loop Arthur wasn't in.
He was lunging—Diana saw it, and so Harley became aware of it even without looking. She yelped and leaned back, caught herself on her hands and bent her legs and kicked him in the stomach. Which might have worked if it hadn't been Arthur, but Diana herself had learned exactly how hard it was to knock the breath out of him, and he grinned and caught Harley by the ankles.
"Okay," she cried, "all right, uncle!"
He made a satisfied face and let go—and she kicked him in the head.
"Having fun?" Diana said, arch.
Arthur turned to her, and the scowl he'd been aiming at Harley vanished entirely, all show; his mouth slanted, just a little, and then he flattened it out again and shrugged his shoulders and said, "Eh. She cheats."
"Oh, come on, you got a weight class all to yourself over there!" Harley protested. "What's a girl to do?"
"Fast, though," Arthur allowed, after a moment.
And almost as soon as he said it, Harley was on her feet again, beaming at him. "Well, aren't you a charmer when you want to be, huh," she said, and darted in to kiss him on the cheek—and to aim a kick right between his legs.
He allowed the first and dodged the second, giving Harley a flat look. But that slant had returned to one side of his mouth, and it didn't go away.
When Harley and Arthur were done, they went upstairs.
Harley had taken her shoes off, to fight on the sparring mats; she had one dangling from each hand by the strap at the heel, whistling to herself. And then, at the landing, she turned to Diana and said, "So you live here, huh? Sweet deal, I guess."
"I stay here, sometimes," Diana allowed. Diana Prince's present-day identity leased an apartment in Paris, and had a standing arrangement with a hotel in Metropolis for the use of a particular suite at her convenience. But she supposed that in a way, the Hall had become a different sort of home from either of them. She had not been Wonder Woman in so long, and a great deal of the time she still wasn't; but here, she could be.
She could not live that way all the time. At least not yet. But—she got to stay there, sometimes.
She looked up to find Harley was watching her, and with such dedication that she was climbing the stairs backwards in her sock feet.
(The socks, of course, did not match: one was lime green, and the other was deep indigo patterned with raccoons in bowties.)
"You got a room or something, though," Harley clarified, after a moment.
"And I assume you'll be enjoying the pleasure of my company tonight," Harley added, "seeing as we still ain't getting more than fifty feet away from each other?"
Diana paused. She felt foolish for not having thought of it; but she imagined making Harley return to the stark clean beds in the medical bay, the place that had made Harley think of institutions, and could not abide it.
"Indeed I will," she said aloud, because even if Harley had felt the drift of her thoughts, the sudden firm agreement blooming, she didn't wish for it to go unspoken.
"Well, all right, then," Harley said, grinning, and then waggled her eyebrows. "Show me your digs."
Diana might have thought it was only boredom, the desire to see something new, except she could tell there was more: genuine curiosity, and a flurry of increasingly ridiculous supposition as to how Wonder Woman might have chosen to decorate a bedroom—including a very clear image involving a great deal of silk and solid gold, which was actually close enough to the way Diana's bed had looked when she was a girl that Diana had to laugh.
There was something else, too. Tentative, flickering, pushed so far to the edges of Harley's mind that perhaps Harley didn't even know it was there. Diana had only a moment to wonder what it was; and then Harley went wide-eyed and grabbed for the memory of Diana's childhood room with such electric-pink delight that everything flooded over with it, obscured completely.
"Oh, man, you have got to be kidding me," Harley breathed.
"Never," Diana assured her. "But I'm afraid I did not ask that my rooms in the Hall be designed to match."
"Missed opportunity," Harley said, wagging a chiding finger—from which one of her shoes still dangled by the heel strap—in Diana's face, and then she spun around on her toes and skipped the rest of the way up the stairs.
She didn't need to be led, neither bodily nor mentally; if Diana had to guess, she was able to feel Diana's own intent as Diana moved down the hallway, where she would go and which door she would open, and just stayed five steps ahead in doing it.
She stopped short of actually opening the door herself. She reached for it, and then jerked her hand back and gave the door a long lingering onceover. "Don't suppose you got this rigged up with a few hundred volts or anything," she said, over her shoulder.
"No," Diana said mildly. "The corridors are monitored, of course. But if anyone has reached this particular floor, they've already bypassed so many security measures that there would be little purpose in one more. Especially since—" She shrugged a shoulder. "It is only my rooms. The Hall contains many other areas of much more interest to the League's enemies than that."
Harley was looking at her strangely. She didn't know why.
"The League's enemies," Harley repeated, and raised her eyebrows. "Like, say, me?"
Diana tilted her head. "Is that what you are?" she murmured.
Harley laughed. It was not a pretty laugh. "Ain't I? Come on, sweetheart, you're talking to Harley fuckin' Quinn—"
"You have history with Batman," Diana said, calm. "I know that. But I'm given to understand that you killed Roman Sionis; Batman had been endeavoring to collect evidence that might be used against him properly for years."
"And you think that's a good thing," Harley said dubiously. "All that effort to get the guy legal-like, and I swan in there and blow him up, and you're fine with it."
"I am not Batman," Diana said. "He operates by the rules he does for good reasons, reasons that matter to him deeply. But I am the daughter of warriors. I was taught that death is nothing to fear, nothing to hate; it simply is, and if you bring it down upon your enemy before he can do the same to you, that is victory. Killing is not glorious, but it may be honorable, and it may be necessary, and if you are able to walk away with your eyes and mind and heart clear—there are worse things in life than to be responsible for the death of one like Roman Sionis."
Harley looked amused, now, amused and incredulous; she chuckled and shook her head and said, "You tell him that?"
But—there was something shy and tentative in her mind, some soft half-illuminated thing. It was entangled, obscured by bitter green guilt and seeping red regret, but it was there.
"I didn't have to," Diana said. "The Birds of Prey vouched for you." And then she leaned past Harley, and opened the door to her suite. "Coming?"
If Diana had expressed no preference to him, she could easily imagine what Bruce might have treated as default interior decoration: the impersonally, coolly lush refinement characteristic of the sorts of high-end hotel suites where Bruce Wayne had undoubtedly spent a great deal of his time.
But Diana Prince had spent a great deal of her time in such places, too, and that wasn't what she had wanted from rooms that were meant to be hers.
So Diana's suite at the Hall was not done up in chrome and glass; there was no gold leaf or marble involved. She had indulged a little here and there, certainly. The dark wood that formed the headboard and bedframe, used also for spans of paneling across the walls, had been carved with angled radiating patterns—Themysciran. The rooms were open, airy, all straight clean lines and high ceilings. The furniture was simple; Diana had made much of it herself. But she had not made the mattress on the bed: that was enormous, expensive, and entirely worth it.
Harley's eyes went to it immediately, and she clutched her chest and made a loud greedy sound and threw herself at it. "Man, you have got it so good," she said, bouncing on it delightedly. "That TV! That fuckin' sofa! And now this? Nobody told me if I'd been a superhero I could land a pad like this."
"We are lucky Bruce Wayne chose to be so generous to us," Diana said.
And it was easy, in the end, to think of Bruce only as he had been that day, inviting them into the manor: sober-faced, sleeves rolled up, attempting to sketch out for them the many wonders the space could be made to hold if they wished it, awkward with his own awareness that they might refuse and shadowed by all that this building's bones had once meant to him.
Everyone knew Bruce Wayne had lost his parents, had struggled. And everyone also knew about the night Wayne Manor had burned. It was not a betrayal to think of him earnest, serious, sincere. It gave Harley no pause.
"Yeah, exactly," Harley said. "I got to get my own pet gazillionaire or whatever, is what I'm saying." She flipped herself around, rolled onto her stomach and bent her knees, propped her face up on her hands and looked at Diana thoughtfully. "You know, you guys advertise this hero gig all wrong. Like, put all the helping people off to one side, okay—you guys must have the best slumber parties in here, am I right?"
"I ... think that might be one of the few teambuilding activities we haven't undertaken," Diana admitted. Barry regularly showed up at the Hall with exercises of various kinds that he had found online, meant to bring people closer and generate harmony; but those attempts always seemed to work out better when they started arguing, or simply talking, and allowed the exercise they had been intended to attempt to be forgotten.
"Psh, you don't know what you're missing," Harley said. "Do you ever really know a person, if you haven't stayed up till three in the morning trying to lift them off the floor with just your pointer fingers?"
"I choose to believe it's possible," Diana murmured, but she found herself smiling.
"Plus, there's questions you can ask after midnight you just can't ask any other time. And if you feed somebody enough cocktails, they might even answer 'em!"
Diana tilted her head. There was something in Harley's mind just then, some flicker of wistfulness. "There are questions you wish to ask me?" she said, and she knew already she was right.
Harley stuck out her tongue. "Man, this thing is just as bad as that rope you got," she muttered. "You can tell, huh?" She pushed herself up on her hands, and drew her legs in beneath her—within a moment, she was seated crosslegged. "Well, okay, so normally I make it a policy not to ask too many questions, right? Just good business, at least if you do the kind of business I do. But that lady, whatsherface—"
"Veronica Cale," Diana said.
And Harley snapped her fingers and pointed at Diana, eyes narrowing. "Yeah. And see, when you say that, there's a whole bunch of stuff in your head about her, but you got like fifteen things going on at once and I can't make sense out of any of it. Why'd she want to make you psychic? Or make herself psychic at you, or whatever? That horn thing was seriously hard to lay hands on, I was going to make her pay through the nose—and she'd have done it, too."
Diana closed her eyes. She became aware only then that Harley was entirely right: she was filled with a rush of impressions and sentiments, regret and anger and sorrow all at once. "She wanted to know something. She believed she could extract it from my mind. I think she meant to use Pheme's horn to do it. She—her daughter's soul is bound, and the price that has been asked of her is the location of Themyscira."
"And you won't—" Harley stopped. "You would. You would if you could," she amended, sounding both bewildered and morbidly fascinated. "You'd have helped her, even though she was going to do that to you. But you can't. Is that it?"
"I have no answer for her," Diana admitted. It felt strange to say it—strange to say it to someone who would believe it, who would know to, who could feel her mind and understand that it was truth. She'd tried to tell Veronica Cale as much; but Cale had never been inclined to listen to Diana, and would not have chosen to start with something so terrible as that. That Diana could not help her, that no one could—Diana could not blame her for closing her eyes to that truth. "I sometimes think that perhaps if I tried, I could—feel the way back. But it may be that I only like to believe it. To tell myself that it would be possible, if ever my need were great enough.
"When I left, I knew I could not go back. And I had to leave. I wouldn't be myself if I hadn't done it, and I can't regret it. But it would have been so much simpler, so much easier, to stay. Sometimes all I want is to be there again, though I would not give up what I have now for the world."
She was expecting Harley to make a face at her again. To be finished talking about feelings, to be bored.
But in her head, Harley had turned soft and blurred, a bitter poisonous green seeping in brilliant trails.
"Yeah," Harley said. "I get that." And she laughed; and then she covered her mouth with her hand, like she wished she hadn't.
"And you, Harley Quinn," Diana said quickly, casting about for something else. It was strange to feel the need, when Harley was usually quicksilver, attention there and gone again—but sometimes the heart clung to what hurt it harder than to what did not.
Harley and Bruce were, perhaps, a little more alike than either of them would have cared to acknowledge.
"You don't mind being—made psychic at me, so far?"
"What?" Harley said, blinking. "Oh, nah. Not the worst thing that's happened to me." She paused. "Not the weirdest, either, come to think of it. And of all the places I could've woken up after passing out in an empty lot—"
She shrugged, and grinned, and waggled her eyebrows. But this, Diana did not need the work of Pheme's horn to understand.
"You thought you would wake up in Arkham," she said softly. "In Arkham, or in Belle Reve. You think you still might."
"Well, not now," Harley said, abruptly pragmatic. "Y'all couldn't afford that, with me jacked in like this." She gestured to her head, and then Diana's. "And no way could I give you the slip, with you jacked in like this, even if it wasn't for that whole seizure thing you guys told me about." She grinned again, mirthless. "Got enough going on up here in my brains without going the extra mile to scramble them some more, am I right?"
"Don't worry about it, sweetheart," and Harley put on an even broader accent than usual, a mob boss from a movie: schweethaaaaht. She gave Diana a long dark-eyed look, head to feet and back again, and then she smiled wide and winked. "I can be a good girl when I want to be. And boy, do I want to be a good girl for you."
It was deliberate, Diana understood. Distraction, deflection. But it was no wonder, considering where Diana's attempts to change the subject had landed them; Diana could feel it, the itch under Harley's skin that was driving her along, how desperately hard she already was trying not to steal anything or break anything, not to scream and scream and scream.
"Then I have no doubt that you will succeed," Diana said aloud, gentle.
Whatever Harley had been expecting her to say—the options had flickered past too quickly for Diana to pick any apart, barring one particularly clear image of Diana thumbing her nose, deliberately ridiculous—that hadn't been it. Harley stared at her, and in Diana's head she threw a sudden flurry of sparks in a dozen different colors, bright and hot and pleased.
"So," Diana added, "what exactly does a slumber party with Harley Quinn involve?"
"Pizza," Harley said instantly. "Pizza and Cosmos."
Pizza was easy to obtain. Cosmos were more difficult, as the League hadn't made it a priority to ensure that the Hall was stocked with a variety of liquors; but Harley was willing to work with what she had. Her primary concern seemed to be whether the results were pink enough.
Diana might have expected Harley to want a change in either scenery or company—but almost the moment the thought crossed her mind, Harley went still and looked at her in a sharp sidelong way, and stacked up pizzas and drinks alike in an unsteady tower before skipping back upstairs to Diana's rooms. "Last one up's a rotten egg," she cried over her shoulder, and Diana laughed but didn't rush. If Harley deemed her a rotten egg, then so be it.
Harley did well. Diana only found one smashed cocktail glass on the stairs, which was impressive considering Harley had mixed at least twelve and was carrying them all at once.
And for someone so vibrantly unusual, she was clearly soothed by these small creature comforts: hot pizza, and pink drinks, and Diana's enormous bed. She ate happily, smearing sauce all over her mouth, gesturing with her pizza now and then without seeming to care whether the toppings stayed on—though they always did. She wished to hear more of Veronica Cale, and of Themyscira, and Diana obliged her; and she returned the favor by telling Diana the story of how she had come to meet the Birds of Prey. She leapt back and forth and didn't recite events in their chronological order, and yet it was engaging nevertheless. Diana could not decide what it was about her that held Diana's attention so well—the expressiveness of her face, her voice, her features, or the energy with which she spoke, or the endless kaleidoscoping colors of her mind at work.
Then she asked Diana for tales of the gods. Of Pheme, first, but then the rest of them, as she learned exactly how much there was to tell, and how many squabbles and grudges and vengeful schemes had gone on among them. Diana had gone all the way from the most minor gods she could think of to the tale of the gods' death, which she had thought Harley might like, when she realized the feel of Harley's mind had softened. She looked, and Harley was half-asleep, propped up on the stack of empty pizza boxes, eyes closed.
It was almost three in the morning. Diana had not felt the time pass, but then fatigue had never come to her readily, even when she was a girl.
Harley allowed herself to be moved to the bed, though she made quiet grumbling noises about it. Her clothes were well-used, comfortable-looking for all their electric coloration. She wouldn't suffer for having slept in them, Diana decided.
Diana had removed her armor once they had left the medical wing that morning; she had not chosen to make herself uncomfortable when she did, knowing even then that the day in front of her had been likely to be a long one. She, too, could sleep as she was.
And she found, looking at Harley lying there, that she wished to. The gentle dark heaviness that was filling Harley's mind was pulling her in. It would be easy to simply let it.
She lay down. She was facing Harley once she had, and it was strange, fascinating, to see that mobile face so still.
The lights dimmed on their own after a while, with no one moving about actively, and then went out. It didn't matter. Diana could still see Harley—could still feel her, and followed her down one step at a time into the quiet dark of sleep.
She stood at the edge of a cliff.
It was beautiful. A clear bright day, full of light. Water stretched out before her, blue and endless. She smiled.
The cliff was high. It was
—oh, god, it was so fucking high, but it didn't matter; it couldn't. It couldn't. Not if she loved him, and she did, she did, whether he believed it or not—
beautiful, too, ragged pale stone climbing up away from the surface of the sea. She closed her eyes and let her head fall back, the sun warm against her face, and she breathed. She breathed, and
—she was going to do it. She had to do it. He wanted her to, and she wanted to do what he wanted her to, no matter how much it was going to hurt. She wanted to be hurt, as long as he was the one doing it—
everything was quiet: the soft distant sound of the waves, the breeze that swept her skin. She breathed, and she was calm, and she was still, and she
dove from the edge, and below her was the deep brilliant water, blue as a jewel
—vats, filled with fuck even knew what, and she didn't even know whether she was going to hit one of them or the floor, she had her eyes shut; she didn't care. She didn't care, as long as there was a chance he might finally believe her. She fell, and she laughed, and she screamed, and the laugh and the scream were the same sound—
Diana jerked, and woke, and in waking she had already reached out, had grasped Harley's hands. Harley came awake on an indrawn breath, and in the darkness her eyes were like holes in her white painted face, and she stared at Diana and rolled away as far as Diana's grip would let her, tipped her head back against the mattress and laughed.
"Harley," Diana said.
"Oh, god," Harley said, the words smearing in her mouth. In Diana's head she was filled with a creeping crawling seeping blackness that left marks everywhere it touched, hot blue-white faultlines of pain cracking through the murk of it like lightning. "Get the fuck off me, what the fuck is wrong with you—"
She was spitting it like nails, like she hoped desperately it might hurt. Diana loosened her hands, but did not let go.
"You want me to be a good girl for you, huh? You think I can be a good girl? Surprise, sweetheart, I'm garbage. You got a hot pile of garbage stuffed inside your head." Harley grinned like it was funny, though it wasn't. "Jesus, you're an idiot. You're a fuckin' idiot, you hear me?"
"I can feel it," Harley bit out. "I can feel it. You're sorry for me, huh? Is that what it is? You think you can make me better—" She laughed again, wild, jagged. "Yeah, I know what that's like. You think you can help. You think if I just let you in, if I just open myself up and let you stick your fingers in there and put my pieces back together, I'll just—"
"I don't," Diana said. She was still—she felt heavy, too slow, full of the lingering gravity of sleep. She ddin't know what to say, she didn't know what to do. Harley's mind was crackling, fierce, incandescent, as hot to the touch as Diana's lasso burning, and Diana held on as best she could but it was hard to think around it, hard to make her own mind work. "I don't. You are as you are."
"What I am is terrible," Harley said, suddenly softer, almost dreamy. "You know what he did, don't you?"
Diana felt her heart go cold.
"You know what he did to that kid. Batsy's little bird. Batsy's—apprentice," and there was weight, meaning, behind that word that Diana didn't understand, a blurring image in Harley's mind, dark eyes and dark hair, brows scrunched, fury and bitter hurt—not the boy who had been Robin, Diana felt, someone else, but she couldn't grasp who before the thought whirled away again. "I wasn't there. But I helped him. I helped him set it up. You have to own that shit. You have to own that shit, don't you? I told him how fuckin' smart he was, how brilliant. How much it must have hurt, how Batsy was going to crumble for sure. I told him every damn thing he wanted to hear, just to get him to look at me for a half-second longer." She sneered, vicious, mouth twisting. "You like that? Huh? You still telling yourself my company's a pleasure, lady?"
"It is," Diana said. "You've done terrible things. I cannot forgive you for them. But they are not the sum of you. They are not all you are, Harley Quinn."
Harley laughed in her face. She wrenched herself up, away from Diana; Diana followed, moved with her and sat up, slid her hands from Harley's wrists to her elbows, her shoulders. Harley's eyes were wet, glittering in the dark.
"Harley," Diana said.
"Don't kid yourself," Harley spat. "Letting me wink at you is one thing, okay, but you don't want any of this. Understand?"
Diana kissed her.
She didn't quite mean to do it. It was only that she couldn't help it, couldn't stop herself any longer. Harley was tense and sparking under her hands, and she wanted to acknowledge that, to soothe it, and to prove her wrong, all at once.
Harley went still under her mouth, and then jerked away. "Look, you want to fuck, fine. You're hot. Can't say much for your taste, but don't—" Her voice wavered. "Don't start thinking you—"
Diana found Harley's face with her fingertips, touched her cheek, the corner of her mouth. Hardly any of the paint had come off on Diana's sheets; it felt dry, chalk-dusted, against her hands. She wished dimly it wasn't there, that she could touch Harley's bare skin instead.
"You can't stop me," she said aloud. "I will think what I believe to be true. I am as I am, too." She smiled, just a little, soft. "And I have never taken much time to decide how I feel about anyone."
She thought of Steve; of how few days she had really known him, and how little it had mattered. She'd known what was important, and she'd known what she wanted.
And Harley surely felt the thought.
"You're that hard up, huh?" Harley's tone was sharp, a hard parody of teasing.
"Not at all," Diana said calmly, and kissed her again.
"So this is going to be a thing with you," Harley said when she was done, "you kissing me whenever I say something you don't like?"
Her voice was unsteady. But she was—it was actually teasing this time, and the heavy black weight in her head wasn't so heavy now as it had been.
"You knew I would," Diana said, because it was true: she hadn't moved quickly, hadn't sped as if to stop a bullet. She had leaned in close and thought about what she wanted to do—and Harley had stayed there and let her do it.
"And you really—you're really—"
"I grew up on an island of women," Diana murmured, and raised an eyebrow, reached out in her mind and let her amusement show where Harley could see it. "The way most men look when they learn that—like they've been hit on the head! Like they think they have so much to teach me."
Harley laughed. And this time it wasn't brittle, cracking. This time it was because she wanted to.
She bit her lip, after, and looked at Diana through the dark. And then she leaned in, quick and darting, and kissed Diana first this time.
It was—it went so quickly, from there. Suddenly there was too much to do, not enough room or time to do it in; Diana drew Harley close between her thighs, skirt caught between them, and kissed her some more, and Harley was wearing shorts, stockings, socks, what seemed to be at least three different layers of shirts. It was too much, and Diana didn't want to stop kissing her.
Harley didn't want to stop, either. Diana felt it in pieces, flickers crossing the surface of Harley's thoughts that made her heart tight in her chest. Harley hadn't kissed like this often. Her—puddin', that was the word that slid into Diana's mind, and Diana felt briefly and involuntarily queasy at the thought of calling the Joker such a thing—he had been fascinated by her insistence as to what she felt, at the lengths she would go to in order to prove it to him when he told her she must. He had loved to see all the things he could make her do, to test all the strings there were to pull. He'd put up with the rest of what she tried to get from him, for that.
She was surprised, dimly, to be held for so long. Diana could feel it. She was surprised to be indulged, that Diana's awareness of what she wanted resulted not in Diana dangling it at a distance from her or asking what she would do to get it, but giving it to her, instantly, wholeheartedly. She liked Diana sucking on her tongue; thinking it made her laugh into Diana's mouth, made her feel silly and dirty and wicked, but not in a bad way—in a hot shivering way that pleased her. She liked having her thighs parted around Diana's, liked moving down against the solid strength of Diana underneath her. She distantly regretted not having bounded out of the bed and stripped herself naked ten minutes ago, because she definitely didn't want to stop long enough to do it now.
She was glad Diana had had what was clearly the good sense to choose to wear a skirt, so she could push it up. She liked how Diana's blouse felt under her hands, crumpling the silk of it happily in her fingers; she wished vaguely that she had one of the little knives she sometimes liked to carry, so she could have indulged in a sudden whim to cut the buttons off it. But undoing them one by one, drawing the sides apart and letting her fingertips skim teasingly against the weight of Diana's breasts—that was almost as good. Maybe better.
Diana perceived all of it, followed the darting speed of her mind without strain or effort. And she echoed herself back to Harley in turn as best she could: how thwarted and impatient Harley's layers made her, ripped jacket over the halves of two different t-shirts somehow strung together, a tank top underneath—how tempted she was to simply use her strength, pin Harley to her bed and tear through them all at once. How much it pleased her, to feel Harley moving over her; how much she liked to hold Harley close against her.
In the end, they hardly got any of their clothes off, the first time. Harley said, "Fuck it," against Diana's mouth, kept kissing her and moved at the same time to press one of her legs between Diana's instead of around them, and oh, that was good. Diana drew in a sharp breath and kissed her harder, more deeply—rolled her hips and clenched her thighs around Harley's, and there was something about it that was wickedly delightful: that Harley had made such a mess of her, tugged her hair loose and opened her shirt and shoved her skirt up; that Diana was herself too eager and too greedy for this to stop and do anything about it.
And of course the touch of their minds made every part of it so much more, feeling not only their own pleasure but each other's. So perhaps it was little wonder that they came like that, simply moving against each other, frantic and hot and only moments apart, shuddering and gripping each other's hair, panting against each other's mouths.
"Jesus," Harley said after, and then laughed, breathless, delighted, and Diana laughed with her, and couldn't help but kiss her some more.
And then they did it again, and again. By the third time, they had managed to get nearly all their clothes off, except for Harley's stockings—she had felt how much Diana liked to look at them, stark fishnets that crisscrossed their way up to the tops of Harley's thighs, and had grinned and waggled her eyebrows and left them on. They touched each other everywhere, used their hands and mouths as they pleased.
It was easy. It shouldn't have been so easy.
And it was Pheme's horn that had made it so. Diana knew it, and could not forget it. How could she ever have made Harley understand that she meant what she said, if Harley couldn't feel it for herself? How could Harley ever have trusted her, even a little, when she didn't even trust her own mind most of the time? Like this, it was all right there, laid out before her: how much Diana liked her, and wanted her; how lovely she was, how good it felt to touch her, what a pleasure it was to be able to kiss her and kiss her and kiss her. It was there, and she could see it, and she believed it.
Lying in the dark with her after, as she pressed against Diana sleepily and began to drift away, Diana thought—how lucky. How lucky Diana was that things had happened just as they had, that they had made the mistake of touching that horn together and using it on Veronica Cale. How lucky that it had stayed, that it hadn't undone itself.
And if all Bruce's research yielded nothing, if they couldn't undo it after all—
Diana could no longer mind the thought of remaining so, for either her own sake or Harley's.
In the morning, they woke together.
As they had before—but it was easier this time. They had drifted in a vast warm quiet, neither sun-splashed cliffs nor chemical vats before them. Their dreams had still been shared, but more softly; even in sleep, Diana had felt aware of Harley beside her, relaxed, draped close, and there had been no nightmares.
Then, between one moment and the next, she found she was awake, and opened her eyes, and Harley was looking back at her, still blinking.
"Well, hey," Harley said, after a moment.
It was nothing compared to what tumbled through her mind. Half a dozen terrible jokes about awkward morning-afters, telling Diana to call her sometime, jumping out the window—and a flatteringly detailed mental image of Diana at a stove with a frying pan, wearing an apron and nothing else.
Diana smiled, helpless to prevent it.
And Harley looked at her and bit her lip, and shook her head. "What the hell is your deal, huh? You give everybody who wakes you up to scream at you in the middle of the night a bunch of mindblowing orgasms, or what?"
Diana made a considering face, as if she were thinking about it. "Not all of them," she murmured at last.
But Harley didn't laugh. She was still staring at Diana, eyes wide, strangely serious. "I didn't mean to put that shit in your head."
"Hot pile of garbage," Harley repeated—the same words she had used when they'd woken before, and Diana discovered she hated hearing them just as much the second time. "Sorry." She fell silent, and then reached out and touched Diana's face, her mouth. "Got some paint on you."
"It's all right," Diana said, though it wasn't half what filled her heart.
"I ain't planning to hold it against you," Harley said. "Just so you know. I get what it must be like."
Diana frowned. "Harley, what—"
"You're a treat, you know that? Like that ocean you got in your head every time you think about that island of yours. That blue that doesn't even look real, all full of light. Like some Greek resort or something. That's you." Harley smiled, lopsided. "But that ain't me. That ain't me, is it?"
And of all the words Diana might have used to describe Harley's presence in her head, she had to admit those were not among them. "Not quite," she allowed, soft—and there were more words waiting, but Harley leaned in abruptly and kissed them from her mouth. She closed her eyes and kissed back, and let it fill her mind instead: the wild crackling beauty that was trapped within Harley, the searing electric color and relentless energy. It was so much, and it was dangerous, and it hurt a little bit sometimes. But that was all right. Lots of lovely things were dangerous, and hurt a little bit sometimes.
"I won't blame you," Harley repeated against her mouth, almost gently.
And before Diana could understand for what she might or might not be blamed, Harley rolled away and grinned, and bounced her way out of the bed.
It took a little while to convince her to put all her clothes back on before they went downstairs. It took even longer for Diana to dress, too, when Harley kept sneaking a hand in to pinch her or tease her, to make her gasp and laugh and twist away.
But in the end Diana was glad that it had. Diana was glad for every extra moment in that room, the two of them and their joined minds and the tentative balance they had found between each of their selves, the sunlight streaming in, the quiet warmth and shared pleasure.
Because once they had managed to make themselves leave, and had come down the stairs to the main floor again, Arthur was waiting for them.
Arthur was waiting for them, and he held the horn of Pheme.
"Hey," he said, and cleared his throat. "The Batjackass himself couldn't be here in person—"
Hadn't wanted to be, Diana interpreted, to limit the risk as much as possible; she gave Arthur a knowing look, and he responded in kind.
"—but he did some research and he got in touch with some of his contacts or whatever," Arthur continued, "and he thinks it should actually be a pretty simple fix." He lifted the horn, and waggled it a little in his hand, eyebrows raised. "Basically, you get out of this the same way you got in. You both grabbed it, and you kind of—opened up to it or whatever, trying to figure out how to use it on Cale. You waded into it together. So you have to touch it again and wade back out." He paused. "He used longer words. But that's the gist."
"Seriously?" Harley said, after a moment's silence. "That's it? Just—touch it again? Why didn't we try that when we got here?"
"Because," Diana said, "for all we knew at the time, that would have only tied us together more tightly, made it more difficult or even impossible to undo."
She drew a deep breath, and met Arthur's eyes, reached out and took the horn from him. In her hands alone, it was simply a horn, shining white-gold metal that was cool against her skin.
She looked at Harley, and smiled just a little. "Shall we?"
They went to the lounge—to the sofa, big as it was, which Harley pointed out was probably a good idea in case they passed out again or something. They sat and faced each other with their legs folded up beneath them and the horn between them.
Diana closed her eyes, and breathed, and curled her hands around it. And after a moment, Harley's came down over hers: just as it had been then, fingers overlapping, the horn caught between their palms.
There was nothing, for a long moment. Diana felt Harley just as she had already, that itch beneath her skin that picked up whenever she held still for too long and the flickering shadows of her uncertainty, and—
And something else, something deeper.
Diana frowned, absent, and without even meaning to, reached in instead of away, opening up wide, seeking to understand—without even meaning to, waded further.
The horn was there, alive, alight, in that space. And in an instant, she understood.
She understood everything. Just as the stories had said, the horn could capture a whisper or a shout; could make a whisper into a shout, or a shout into a whisper. She and Harley had—they had stumbled, accidental, into the middle of that range. But now, without intent, Diana had plunged them deeper, and for a single split second all Harley's mind was there inside hers, every whisper a deafening scream.
But the horn was still in her hands. She could feel it, somewhere beyond all that was within her head. She breathed, and she held on to herself, and she waded out again.
And now—now she knew the thing she hadn't been able to catch hold of. Now she grasped just what it was Harley had been trying to say to her, lying in her bed and looking at her in that steady unflinching way.
Her eyes were wet. Her throat ached. Harley felt it, but didn't understand it, and that knowledge ached, too.
She made herself go further still. Harley's mind grew fainter, quieter. It slipped away from her, and surely it was only illusion, that she felt so colorless without it. She was—she liked herself, the flavor of her own thoughts. She would grow used to it again, to being alone inside herself, to not knowing what Harley meant or felt, to being held at the same distance from Harley as everyone else.
It was almost done. A whisper was almost a whisper again—less.
And then Diana stopped, and tugged her hands out from beneath Harley's.
She hadn't meant to. She shouldn't have. Her own sense of loss couldn't have made her do it, no matter how acutely she felt it.
Hot pile of garbage. I ain't planning to hold it against you. I won't blame you. I get what it must be like. You're a treat. But that ain't me, is it?
Harley thought Diana wanted to be rid of her. And Diana abruptly couldn't bear that the truth should not be clear to her—now, like this, while even a fraction of her would still be able to look into Diana and understand that truth was what it was, that she could trust what Diana meant to tell her.
"What?" Harley was saying. "Hey, it was working, wasn't it? What're you doing? Don't you want to—"
She stopped short. Diana opened her eyes, and looked at her.
"Holy shit, you don't," Harley said, staring back.
"It's quieter now," Diana said unsteadily, because it was: only the dimmest shape of Harley was left in her head, though she thought she could still have touched it with a very great effort, straining for a thing that was almost out of reach. "We could leave it like this. If you didn't mind—"
"If I didn't mind," Harley repeated.
"I know," Diana said. "I know that you—that you feel you are left, always. That when you aren't, it's because you've left first, because you didn't linger long enough to allow it. The Birds of Prey: you left them behind so they couldn't do it to you. But people are not garbage, and I don't wish to be rid of you."
Harley blinked. "Jesus," she said after a second. "You're crazier than I am, you know that?"
And Diana reached up to wipe at her wet eyes, and laughed. "Yes," she said. "I do. Just this, please. Only enough to—to know you are there. To know that if you needed me, I might feel it and come for you. That's all."
Harley narrowed her eyes, and searched Diana's face. "You'll have me back here in two days," she muttered, "begging me to grab this thing and undo it the rest of the way."
"I won't," Diana said.
"Bet you anything," Harley said. "Bet you a room full of pizza and Cosmos."
"If you like," Diana said, even now, steady—because that was a bet she knew already she could not lose.
"Sucker," Harley crowed; but at the edge of Diana's mind, she was bright, lit up with dawning hope, there. And when Diana reached for her across the space between them, the gleaming horn, touched her face and her mouth and kissed her, Harley let her, and did not run away.