The Rule

June 01, 2018:

Harley Quinn gets an unlikely save from Red Robin through no deserving of her own.

//The Driftwood Paradise and then the Thompkins Medical Clinic, Gotham //


NPCs: Dr. Thompkins & Nurse

Mentions: The Joker, Boomerang


Mood Music: None.

Fade In…

Sometime just before the New Year, Harley Quinn was given a little button by a Big Bat. The instructions with it were simple. If he comes, 'he' being her infamous laughing beau, press the button on this to signal me. Me -or someone I trust- will know it was you being harassed by that psychopath and find you if we can.

Well, there was also the very grimly delivered ‘don’t abuse this, Harley’ clause. But, to her credit, she hasn’t. Which is pretty impressive all considered since she’s run out of bubblegum several times since then, and we all know that grape bubblegum is VERY hard to come by some days.

If that ain’t an emergency…

It’s been months. But ‘months’ was also the rough time frame that the Big Bat had given her that the battery—‘Bat’tery. HA! That’s still funny.—would last. She’d still kept it in her pocket whenever she was out by herself. She still pressed it when she was abandoned to die.

There was something in the news about a series of bars being the victim of some sort of arsonist. Exploding pool cues and dartboards and the like. Just the sort of detail that is lost easily in the grind of Gotham.

What Red Robin arrives to find puts all of those incident reports to shame.

The Driftwood Paradise—a themed dive bar in a not-terrible part of a terrible city—is a blazing inferno. Littered outside are several bodies in various states of bloody disassembly, the expected end that comes of being at the receiving end of a shotgun. Of a submachine gun. One by the door. Several along the sidewalk. Blood pools upon the warm sidewalk in thick, coagulating ponds with shores of obliterated flesh and shattered bone. Runs through the cracks when it comes into contact with the water pouring from the spray of a hose.

The air smells of burning wood and roasting meat, thick with rolling plumes of black smoke. Fire pours out of windows, the glass all having blown out after a sizeable explosion.

The fire trucks have arrived and have gotten to work, but there aren’t nearly enough ambulances to shepherd the dead to the hospital for their private allotment of hours at the morgue. The chatter on the police bands and emergency channels puts several ambulances that were on the way in trouble of their own at different intersections while attempting to respond. Two are running about a block away, waiting for the all clear.

The plateglass window at the front of the bar, once lined in kitschy neon lights, breathes flames that protest and defy the firemen’s first attempts to get it hosed down and under control.

The fire walls are doing their part so far, the thick brick keeping the bar’s untimely end from spreading to the deli on one side and the pawn shop on the other. Rats are still pouring out of the barred vents of the crawlspace beneath, fleeing the heat above in a frenzied and desperate state.

And there’s still a signal coming from that small little device, six months old.

It's a testament to the resilience of the sort of people who work for Gotham's fire department that they don't just let it burn and see how much of the city it takes with it.

Oh, sure, the City of Yesterday is nowhere near as bad as it used to be, before the Bat, when the syndicates ran everything and anyone working emergency services in the city was either on the take or in the ground. Nowadays, there's a decent chance that the police, fire department and paramedics will actually do their jobs, and a decent chance that the destruction of the Driftwood Paradise wasn't just the opening salvo in a war between rival criminal families. No, these days it was far more likely that something like this was the result of one of the city's more colourful maniacs, the madness that had filled the vacuum created by the Dark Knight's war on the Falcones, the Maronis, the Aquistas.

In time, the GCPD's crime scene investigators would get their chance to check and catalogue, to take pictures and fill evidence baggies and hope to maybe get a lead to figuring out what happened, instead of placing it in the enormous cold case pile that not even the (off the books) presence of some of the finest investigative minds in the world have managed to completely wear down. The GCFD would rule it an arson, because come on, and their part in things would end. The corpses would be identified, such that could be, families would be notified, charred remains interred. Life would go on.

This is not how I wanted to spend my night, Red Robin thinks to himself, approaching the building from another angle. The firefighters wouldn't let him in, because it was hellaciously unsafe. The police would back them up, of course - he was, technically, as much of a criminal as the people who burned the place down, whatever Gordon might think of the Big Bad Bat - and moreover even if he did go in he'd just be disturbing their crime scene. From a place of pure, cold logic, it was clearly unlikely that anyone could've survived in there. But the signal was still pinging, the heat having not yet melted it: It was possible that Harley had set it off while she was shielded from the heat and the flames. The odds were miniscule. A fool's bet.

And so a figure, caped and cowled in heat and flame-resistant materials, lept through one of the blown-out windows, hidden from the cops and firefighters.

Inside, thermographic was useless. Light amplification was useless. There was only fire, and smoke, and darkness, a small rebreather covering the Red Knight's mouth and nose against inhaling anything likely to do him serious harm. He couldn't call out for Harley as a consequence, but that probably didn't matter. The fire was like constant, raging thunder.

He moved carefully, briefly checking any bodies that seemed like they might be still living, without much hope. The inside of the bar was practically a crematorium. Even with the temperature regulation in his suit, he could feel himself sweating. Time was wasting. So he moved closer to the signal. If he could save one person in here, well… It wasn't enough, really, but it would have to be.

The inside of the bar is a picture of Hell.

There is nothing living here, although our hero will find that many of the bodies that aren't already burnt to a crisp show signs of bludgeoning. A burst eye here. Missing teeth there. A bashed in temple. Fingers splayed the wrong way. Everything has bullet holes aplenty.

The electricity has been cut, which is good since numerous exposed wires hang like vines from the ceiling. Several beams have already come down. From underneath one, there's the body of someone large with a gun beside him with a barrel that has exploded in what may have been a backfire. His clown mask—still smiling blindly—has half melted, mixing with the grey matter the aftermath exposed.

A large aquatic fish tank novelty billiards table is buried under another couple of beams, half empty with saltwater fish blithely awaiting their deaths in the rising temperature of the bath that will spell their doom. One butterfly fish already floats at the top. A dry riverbed of ash flows to a broken hole in the floor with smouldering edges, indicating where a gush of water emptied itself uselessly into the low-ceilinged crawl space below. Another beam there, although it has fallen flat just shy of covering the hole entirely.

The beacon is still going, seemingly indicating a place near an exterior wall. A sitting area with nothing to show for itself except a few doomed empty tables and a hula girl statue - grinning serenely with her eyes closed, grass skirt already burned to nothing.

If there wasn't already a very singular reason why this beacon was meant to be set off, well, the presence of dead goons with melted clown masks would scream exactly who was responsible. Given that particular factoid, the apparently backfired gun might have been completely intentional. Even among the supervillains who called Gotham home, even beside guys like Black Mask, the Joker was infamous for being a bad boss. Which maybe just spoke to the kind of desperation that forged the lives of low-level criminals in the city. How benighted must you be that you have nowhere to go except to work for the Joker?

Or maybe he knows a really good hiring service that doesn't ask a whole lot of questions. Maybe there's a whole secret placement agency out there that trucks entirely in themed goons.

Every second Red Robin lingers in there makes it less likely that he'll find Harley alive. Makes it less likely that he will get out alive, without the roof collapsing on him or the fire spreading to trap him or his rebreather getting overwhelmed and giving him a lungful of smoke that slices his pulmonary system to ribbons and fills it with carcinogens. The practical play, the cold and pragmatic thing to do, would be to leave now. Cut their losses.

Instead, the heads up display in his cowl, the other application of those featureless white lenses besides hiding his eyes, changes. Thermographic was still useless with all the fire around, but there were other applications. The system discarded useless data, searching for electrical impulses. The power was out, so that meant less interference from what he was looking for: The electrical impulse coursing through a living human body. A heartbeat.

Weighing his options, he eventually, briefly pulled out his rebreather.

"Harley?" the young man called out. No voice modification, a young man's voice, low and confident. "If you're alive in here, I'd appreciate it if we could get out of the burning building."

Our be-cowled hero might not see it at first because Quinn long since abandoned the floor where everything was burning around her. The windows burst at some point after she'd burrowed into the crawlspace beneath the floor, where there was something still left to breathe.

She's honestly no idea how long she's been lying on the dirt there, trapped behind a steel access door leading outside that was locked. Locked with the padlock half-sawed off, painted with a merry smile of green and purple grease pen, and left in place. All effort to shake it loose was met with failure. And then she couldn't find a way out at all.

When she hears the voice - hears her name above the roar, she looks up and narrows her eyes groggily at the floor. Is she hallucinating? She could be hallucinating. Eh. Even if she is hallucinating, what's there to lose? Coughing, the bedraggled blonde—caked in blood, soot, ash, sweat, running makeup, burns, rat poop, crunched up dead cockroach, and God only knows what else-—shoves herself back into a sit. There's half a cinderblock beside her… It's been her friend against the rodents that tried to get too friendly. There’s a small pile of furry bodies kicked to one side.

She lifts the block and scrapes it against the scorching hot underside of the floor. And then she pulls down the tank top she'd wrapped around her face, and tries to call out something. Anything. 'Here! I'm down here!' Except that it's just a hoarse whisper by the time it actually escapes, and more coughing.

Yeah, the coughing's louder than her screaming. It's been a great night. Really.

Probably most people wouldn't have heard it. Even if, say, the firefighters had been able to contain the blaze enough to enter the building, they likely wouldn't have, unless one of them was secretly a metahuman with mutant super-hearing or something. It's not like they'd have access to equipment that would pick up sounds like that, or any of the other signs of life. It's not like they'd have access to peculiar, esoteric training from mysterious sages and supremely long-lived master assassins.

Even then, he barely hears it. Barely hears the scrape of cinderblock against the underside of the floor. Barely hears the coughing of someone whose lungs and throat have been tortured with heat and smoke and particulates of who knows what. The floor is hot, too hot to pry at. Explosives are a risky proposition under circumstances like these, even the stable compressed gel. Which leaves…

There's a sudden, seeming paradoxical coolness that creeps its way into the crawlspace. It starts as a small spot, about the size of a quarter, and then stretches out, a mote of arctic chill that grows as a section of the floor flash freezes. This is dangerous, too. The admixture of searing heat and sudden implacable cold can create all sorts of violent effects, the air stirring, greedy flames reaching for it. The ice - and it is ice, the sudden creation of matter that drains the energy from surrounding atoms with alarming speed, using the cryonic technology devised by a certain Dr. Victor Fries and reverse-engineered by the only people who really dare to stand up to his icy rampages - won't last, it's already weeping, melting. It doesn't need to last, though.

"Stay back if you can," comes the muffled shout, before a heavy, booted foot crashes through the frozen section of the floor, the weakened wood simply disintegrating, weakened by the application of so many elemental forces in quick succession. That foot retreats, before it's replaced by a hand, gauntleted in black before giving way to red. Not the Bat, then. A former Boy Wonder, instead: The last time Harley'd seen this one, he was spoiling her and Owen's fun.

Still, there were probably worse people to find her in this situation.

It had been freezing cold that night, and she'd worn arguably less than what she wears now. The heavy rubber soles of her own boots are half melted. The jeggings, too. The shirt's gone. The jacket she'd started the night with, abandoned in the corner with its lining melted, too. Stay back, he says, and she is uncharacteristically compliant as she cowers against the door and its maddening fresh air.

Fortunately, time in Arkham removes things like any semblance of shame. You don't survive if that stays intact. It must be shed for survival's sake. The therapy. The drugs. The guards. Nothing protects the soft and vulnerable.

The gloved hand reaches down like the dark hand of God, just not the BatGod.

Quinn is so relieved that she's not hallucinating - She's not hallucinating, right? - that she doesn't even roll her eyes. Her hand - the back of which has several angry blisters from the heat - drops the cinderblock to weakly grab hold after crawling back in its direction.

And it's only then, really, that the psycho blonde actually accepts that the hand that reaches for her actually exists. Her fingers - her chipped manicure lost nearly entirely in the caked mud that both coats her nails and fills underneath them - weakly dig into his wrist.

He ruined her fun. Red Robin has evened the scales for himself in the harlequin's estimation tonight. …Because he desperately cares about this, of course. He will, doubtless, be relieved to learn of this balancing.

In the beginning, there was the Rule.

The Rule might even have come before the Bat; it certainly came before the Work, and all the others who followed after, the Robins and Batgirls, those who died and those who lived and those who were permanently maimed. The Rule, like all rules, is an attempt to enforce order upon chaos. No guns, says the Rule. Guns are the weapon of the enemy. But that's only the first clause, the less important clause. The clause with exceptions, because they use grapple guns, and science guns, and occasionally riot control guns with rubber bullets on a vehicle. No guns is flexile, permeable. No, the important part is this: No one dies.

It isn't just 'no killing,' though that is certainly more than implied. 'No killing' is how the Rule is generally interpreted, but that's not what it means. What it means is exactly what it says. No one dies. Save every life you can. Even a monster's. It's a foolish rule, childish, for it's a child's attempt to if not change history then at least to recontextualise it. It is defiance in the face of entropy, in the face of the certain end of all things.

And so, Harley Quinn, a woman surely complicit in more deaths than she could begin to count if she even wanted to - and directly responsible for who knows how many more - is saved, in flesh if not in soul. It's possible she was complicit in the death of the second Robin, Jason Todd. It's possible she was in some way connected to the events that led to the crippling of Barbara Gordon at the hands of the Joker. But the Rule doesn't make that distinction. Red Robin does not make that distinction.

Instead, he pulls Harley out from the crawlspace, and pulls her under the cover of his cape, a shield against the heat and the flame. An imperfect shield, but better than nothing. Besides, in a second or two it won't matter.

Because about two seconds later, the back wall of the bar simply stops existing. Cheap brick, cheap wattle and daub and cheaper plaster, they all disintegrate under concerted pressure, putting a hole in the wall that is replaced by a sleek vehicle, black with a mirrored red wraparound canopy. The car, the Redbird, doesn't even look scuffed from its impromptu demolition, heeding the electronic call of its master. The canopy opens, unfolds, enough that Red Robin can deposit the madwoman on the passenger seat before he hops into the driver's, the thing closing around them, shutting out the heat and replacing it with a manmade chill, pushing back the muggy heat of spring in Gotham and the rather more violent heat of the burning bar with equal vigor. The whole canopy is a HUD, the computer marking and tagging everything the car 'sees', and there are several warnings that pop up, because if the bar wasn't going to collapse on itself before, it definitely was now that somebody blew out a wall.

"Buckle up," the vigilante says, because yeah of course he does.

She is wrapped up. Gathered up. Saved from the broiling coffin beneath the floor. She shouldn't —by any right —be alive. But Poison Ivy intervened so many months ago, bolstering her up for just these occasions. Because without that intervention, Quinn would be hard pressed to survive the nights like this. She shouldn't have any right to a hero who will come when Survival Plan A fails.

Harley is deposited on a seat, a wreck if ever there was one. She bleeds on his seat and smears it with the filth of forgotten spaces. She melts into it, gasping for air and never quite finding it. Her skin feels too tight, and her blonde tresses stick to her face in mats. It had been in pigtails at some point, but not anymore. Her bruised and scorched limbs are like lead. All she can do try to keep her eyes open as she takes in the car’s myriad of technological wonderments and the new burning of the sudden chill.

A little toy monkey watches the impressive exit, failing to look impressed as he stares from just beyond the kitchen's back door and into the alley the Bat's former pupil utilizes for his exit.

Buckle up, he says.

Quinn's head lolls in Red Robin's direction. Her cracked lips move to say something. Twitch, really. Nothing comes out but a hacking, wheezing cough. But her eyebrows, man. They're screaming Really?! at him.

Fortunately, Red Robin is able to benefit from the years of experience accumulated by his mentor. The interior of the Redbird is actually very easy to clean blood and other gunk out of!

For a long moment, Red Robin stares silently at Harley as she looks at him after he tells her to buckle up. He watches, impassive, as her mouth twitches faintly. As she lets out something that resembles a laugh, a corpse's laugh, really. He's serious, though. Road safety is important.

The burned-out husk of the Driftwood Paradise groans ominously.

Red Robin sighs, backing the car out of the ruined bar, until he has enough room to turn around and get driving properly. The Redbird is almost unnaturally silent, the combustion engine only picking up when he starts to go faster, using back paths and alleyways rather than main roads. He can't take her anywhere that her presence would compromise, of course. No Batcave. No Nest. He definitely isn't going to take her to wherever she's currently calling home. The temptation to drop her off at Arkham is there, like a leaden weight, but God knows what would happen if he took her there now. If the Joker wanted to burn down a bar with her in it, there's probably someone in the asylum who would happily help her shuffle off this mortal coil in the hopes of currying some favor with the Clown Himself. That rules out most hospitals, too. Which leaves…

  • * *

The Thompkins Medical Clinic is, in fact, a completely legitimate clinic. It has regular patients, it has a fully accredited staff, they pay their taxes on time. There's nothing at all to suggest, even for a moment, that Dr. Leslie Thompkins might have any connection to any shadowy vigilantes in Gotham City, or that she might provide medical services to any members of that community. Nothing, that is, except for a few entirely off the books hospital rooms in the back of the clinic. Ostensibly, these are so the clinic can offer medical attention to those who otherwise couldn't afford it, and they do indeed see use for that at times… But other times, they get put to more unusual purposes. Like now, as the older woman and a seemingly mute male nurse who honestly looks like he should be working as a bouncer, tend to Harley Quinn.

Also, she's not very happy about it.

"—bringing a violent psychotic to my clinic," Dr. Thompkins is saying, though her attention is almost entirely on the work of checking Harley's injuries. Oxygen, to help treat the smoke inhalation. Painkillers and a few other things, though she's cautious about the use of pharmaceuticals when she doesn't know the first thing about the younger woman's body chemistry. Around Gotham, there's no guarantee of 'normalcy'. "This isn't what I signed up for, you know."

"Under the circumstances, I'm sure Harley's going to behave herself," Red Robin says, lifting his hands placatingly, though he's looking right at the clown when he says this. "She's been through a lot, doctor. We couldn't save anyone else who was in that bar, we can at least save her."

She didn't mean to fall asleep. And she shouldn't have, if her ex-honey really did give her yet another concussion. She did. That means when Harley does wake up I'm a new space, and she does with a start, her pale eyes are deathly wide and frantic. Because, as a helpful red little bird suggests, she has indeed been through a lot. She doesn't know where she is; the clinic's Florence Nightengale doesn't strike her as immediately familiar.

She'll behave, she hears Red Robin promise for her. It's a promise that someone might believe only precisely because she can't make it for herself. Because someone a hell of a lot more trustworthy than her is making it, lending his much more valuable credibility to words that would otherwise ring hollow. His word means more than anything she has any right to borrow.

A lot of people died tonight who didn't deserve it. She didn't deserve to survive, and yet here she still is, playing the part of this evening's consolation prize.

One might think she should be grateful.

Instead, she begrudgingly agrees by means of fixing her wild stare in his direction for a long moment and then shying away from it. Her fingers twitch a little at her side as her thoughts race to and fro - years ago, hours ago, now, minutes from now, days from now, and back to the beginning - but she still doesn't talk. Given Harley's very particular gifting for unending streams of obnoxious one-sided conversation, it might be a little disconcerting. Or promising, if you look at it from the right perspective. She can care enough about her own pitiful self-preservation to rein herself in, to appreciate how few places she can go.
And she isn't being particularly annoying.

Look. Here she is. Being so very good, and carrying the debt of his promise - the weight of a thing she cannot steal nor earn - as though she understands it.

There's an open question as to how much of her grousing Dr. Thompkins really means—plenty of her regular patients are people from the wrong side of the tracks, people who out of interest in their own safety can't go to a regular hospital. Admittedly, the wrong side of the tracks is a pretty large stretch of Gotham.

But also, there's a world of difference between some kid with a drug habit and a rap sheet and, you know, a supervillain.

"We do have restraints," Dr. Thompkins notes, though this has the sound of more musing aloud than actually trying to convince Red Robin, or threaten Harley. Eventually, though, the older woman lets out a faint sigh, straightening up and checking her clipboard, the chart listed for one DOE, JANE. "The burns and smoke inhalation are bad enough… Honestly, it's a miracle she's even alive now. She'll need a CAT scan for possible head injuries, some stitches… I'll go make sure the imaging lab is clear." It's obvious she doesn't want anyone to know that the Joker's apparent ex is in her clinic, but it's equally obvious that she won't let it interfere with the quality of her work. She has her own Rule, which is hardly surprising, given her career. As she leaves, the burly nurse takes up a position outside the door, with the vigilante seemingly left to keep Harley company in the meantime.

It's easy for him to blend into the shadows of the room. His cape falls around him, covering up the red of his suit, until he's just a splinter of darkness… Two white, featureless eyes, the bare patch of face around his mouth, and the yellow emblem on his chest, the stylised bird's head in profile, the only marks of colour.

"Harley," he says, after a long minute of silence. It wasn't awkward, at least for him. Silence is something he's used to. "Are you okay? Do you want to talk about it?"

The weird part is, despite the litany of reasons why he shouldn't, he sounds like he means it.

The doctor leaves. The vigilante stays.

Quinn doesn't hear silence, but instead hears replays. Red Robin does indeed fade to the point that - when he dares intrude on her vibrant internal world - it startles and jars her all over again. She tries to laugh. She coughs more instead.

She has a spot to talk. An invitation. Compulsion drives her; she must answer.

"Ain't nothin' new, Tweety," she tells him, although her tone is all smoke and no fire. "Y'know how Mistah J gets. You stop Him from blowin' up one lousy boys' school and He gets his dinner jacket all up in a twist." She shrugs her shoulders, but still doesn't look in the bird's direction.

She pauses, and then offers: "I think that's what it was, anyway." There's likely something to be said for the fact that she's not at all certain. She coughs a little more, arms folding in on themselves defensively. "Whatever. Different day, same freak show.”

The stillness from the young man doesn't change. He could be a statue, for all he moves, hardly even seeming to breathe as he watches Harley's responses, listens to the way she chooses to answer, or not answer, his question.

Red Robin doesn't quite have it, that presence like gravity which the Dark Knight wields so easily, but at the same time gone are the days when he was just some kid playing a grownup's game, just a child soldier in a war where everyone else was bigger than him. Now, he was something else. Something in the middle, like Nightwing. But Nightwing smiles more.

"Okay," he says, though he does notice that uncertainty. Files it away. The detective in him wants to poke and prod, of course, though the thread that sticks out the most is of course Mercer, and that was a tender subject, for a whole host of reasons. "You'll be safe here for now, at least until they're satisfied you won't drop dead on the street outside. After that…" After that, there's the possibility the Joker will come after her again. Or that he won't. Whatever he thinks is funnier, one supposes. "If there's anything you know about what he's up to, Harley, we can put him back in Arkham and the next bar you visit doesn't burn down."

Well, really that last part is guaranteeing a bit much.

It is a grand promise, really, and it's one that draws Harley's gaze back in Tim's direction. Blue eyes drink in all of that carefully composed tableau that makes Tim Drake stand out among his costumed peers. Color and pose. When she smiles at him, it's of the half-hearted variety. Months can stretch into a lifetime when the men around you never last long, and Quinn is downright ancient in her twenty-seven years by that measure. Grown men aspire to fruit flies.

She knows how thin the promise really is, but she doesn't call Red Robin on it. She doesn't need to, really. The twist of her dry lips and darkening of her gaze says more than enough. She doesn't have anything to offer him, so what's the point?

"So, if you've got a list of bars you like, jes' hand it over. I'll be sure to not drink there. My way of sayin' thanks fer keepin’ me from the flambé funeral."

Some would say that it's a flaw in the way they do things, that they're always playing defense, always playing catch-up against maniacs like the Joker. They do something horrible, they get beat up by somebody dressed like a bat, they get tossed into Arkham or Blackgate… And then they get out, sooner or later, to do it all again.

That's why there's always those advocating for a more permanent solution. Why not just put the Joker in the ground, they ask.

Some days, it's a harder question to answer than others. But of course, that's not the job, not really. Even 'stopping the bad guys' is a secondary goal, in and of itself. Job one is saving lives, as many lives as they can. Good, bad and indifferent.

"I'm not old enough to drink," is Red Robin's wry-but-honest response to Harley's probably not entirely serious offer. The shrug of his shoulders is barely visible, with the cape, with the way he blends in with the darkness of the room. "What about Mercer?" he wonders, finally deciding to open that particular can of worms. "Is he in danger from the Joker too? He might be able to watch your back."

What about Mercer? The question wipes all upward turn from her lips, Harley brought away from even the pretense of good humor.

"I ain't seen him," she offers at long last, sending her face back towards the wall. The confession is nearly a mutter, already over-stretched feelings quickly thrown in a blender. The disappearance could mean enough things that Harley doesn't want to think about. "But… But yeah,” she admits hesitantly. “Might be." Baked fingers lift from their place resting on her stomach, only to settle back down again before completing whatever mission she'd willed to them. "Course, he could also just be takin' yer advice. So…" Her head lolls back in her rescuer's direction, eyebrows lifted pointedly. "I'd warn him, but that'd mean he'd have to actually return my calls." A spark of amusement, grim and desperate distraction, flares. "Ha! I nearly ghosted him this time. Ha ha—-" Hack, hack, wheeze. Mrf. Despite herself, Quinn looks fairly upset when her own body refuses to indulge her theatrical, defensive laughter.

She'd sink lower down the bed, but there's not really a whole lot that would be able to convince her to move at this point. "Bah."

In recent days, Red Robin has learned more about Owen Mercer than he'd ever expected to.

For one, and rather confusingly, he learned that Mercer was the half-brother of one of his best friends - meaning said best friend's mother had been involved with the man who'd killed Red Robin's father and stepmother. Now, it turns out that Owen is also a bad boyfriend. That part is less surprising, let's be honest.

Though it's also possible that the Son of Boomerang was getting tortured in a basement somewhere by an evil murder clown, or maybe he'd already been chopped up and tossed in the harbor. Part of the young detective's mind is already telling him that it's not his problem… But he knows that's not true.

"I'll see what I can do," he offers, because while he might not particularly like Owen for a whole host of reasons, he doesn't want the man dead. "For now, Harley, just… Be a good patient, okay? They'll get you fixed up, and then you can go back to being a pain in the ass."

Quinn is very rarely a model anything nowadays, save a model sociopath. But the evenings like this - the bad ones that creep into the dark corners of a person and devour from the inside if one but lets them - seem to be good for extracting the behavior that the hero wants from this exercise: compliance.

She's played many parts in her time. Tonight, it's going to be the model patient, it seems.

Her eyes narrow as the fingers of her one hand - the better of the two, albeit by inches - twitch alongside her, unable to still as she considers the possibilities. The consideration doesn't last long before she rolls her eyes - along the ceiling, down the wall they go before begrudgingly returning to the hero. Her mouth purses up to one side, coupled with a snort. "Yeah, alright," she croaks, feigning an unspoken protest for her pride's sake. "Bur only 'cause you asked so nice, Birdy. Next week, I'm definitely back to show form." That's her form of 'thank you for everything'. Really.

It is what it is.

Maybe part of the Rule, part of the insistence on saving lives over ending them, includes the possibility that no one is beyond saving. That even the worst of them, even Harley Quinn, even the Joker, could somehow be made whole. Be fixed, whatever that meant. Be healed. But wouldn't that be in its own way a more horrific punishment? How would a sane person with a fully functional conscience cope with having done the things they'd done?

At the very least, Red Robin can hope that Harley's sense of self-preservation will be strong enough to keep her out of trouble in the short term. The possibility that mischief now could tip her already precarious position over into the abyss. For the moment, he'll have to take her at her word.

"Thanks, Harley," the vigilante says, out of an effort to be polite. It's funny, maybe, because in another situation he'd hospitalize her himself… But tonight, she's the victim. The lone survivor, barely surviving, when others had been slaughtered. He doesn't bother with a fancy exit, he doesn't do the vanishing act: Instead, he simply walks out the door into the hallway, giving a nod to the nurse who might be half ogre or something.

Even for him, this was a weird night.

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