Disclaimer: This fan fiction is not written for profit and no infringement of copyright is intended. It kinda goes with my other Harli stories, "Everlasting Love," and "Boys," though it should be readable as a standalone too. It's also not nearly so fluffy. Hope you enjoy.
A FINE ROMANCE
She cleared the entrance to the Bat-cave by a good hundred feet before the engine ground to a stop. The huge, tank-like car growled in anguish, its brakes having been abused beyond belief, and then it finally died, the front lights blinking out. It was covered in mud and the remains of gravel, the tyres smoking ever so slightly. Its rear windshield had been smashed in, and the paint was cracked like chalk in several places. In short, it looked in worse wear than Alfred had ever seen it, and he had seen it through some rather painful experiences.
Harli popped the door and tumbled out, coughing as she did so. In the dim light her brown eyes looked comically large and doe-like, set in a face streaked with soot.
Alfred cocked the gage of his shot-gun. Loudly.
"A little help over here..?" the young woman managed to croak, still on her knees. Her hands were bleeding, and she looked like she'd had a fight with an oven and lost, but Alfred still made no move to help her. The last time she had been in the Cave, she had nearly killed Master Dick, and he felt little inclined towards civility.
"C'mon, Jeeves," she managed to muster. "He's built like a Tijuana tanning factory: I'm not gonna be able to get the B-Man outta that thing on my own." And she gestured towards the car, which gave a sad little moan.
No, not the car: it's owner.
He realised it in an instant: Master Bruce was inside.
Immediately Alfred lowered the shot-gun and walked gingerly around Harli to the car's side. From his new vantage point the could see a huge crease where the right bumper used to be. It appeared the car had had an altercation with (by the looks of things) a truck. The fender was hanging off, a sad little bit of metal ribbon. The back tyre was, he suddenly realised, completely blown out. With the car in that state it was a wonder she'd even managed to drive it in at all. He peered in through the windows, still trying to keep an eye on Quinzel, still wondering whether this was a trap. He wouldn't have put it past her. In fact he wouldn't have put anything past her.
That girl was trouble, and no mistake.
Instead he saw Master Bruce, the upper part of the Bat-suit torn to shreds and exposing a heavily bandaged upper torso. The cowl was still on his head, and one arm was still encased in rubber armour, but the rest of him appeared to have been through a meat grinder. It had clearly been a night of misadventure, and Alfred wondered how Quinzel could possibly have done him that much damage-
"It was Bane," she muttered raggedly from beside him. "He said it was Bane."
Alfred stared down at his employer, the closest person he had to family in this world, and forced himself not to panic. He began mentally cataloguing the injuries, wondering whether he was going to have to wake Lesley Tompkins and have her make a house-call. Gingerly he reached forward and pulled the other man into a sitting position, feeling for the Master's pulse: it was thin and thready, not its usual robust beat at all. Up close he could see that one eye was bruised shut, and Bruce was missing some teeth. But without removing the rest of the Bat-suit he could make no further diagnosis.
"I can help you get him out," Quinzel rasped beside him, having pulled herself to her feet. "You take one arm and I take the other?"
Alfred turned to eye her, weighing up his options. Experience told him to keep his hand on his weapon whenever that woman was around. Despite Master Bruce's claims to the contrary, he still felt Harleen Quinzel to be dangerous, and unstable, and definitely unworthy of trust. And yet-
She needn't have brought him back here, he realised. She needn't have given Alfred a chance to save him. There was nothing to be gained, so far as the butler knew, from her entering the Bat-cave under these circumstances; in fact she had the most to lose. He might well have shot her on sight. And the sheer damage done to Master Bruce was ferocious: The Harlequin might be formidable, but he couldn't see how anyone that tiny could have pulverised Batman in the way he had obviously been pulverised. It wasn't physically possible. He stared hard at the young woman, looking for answers, but she met his gaze easily. She certainly didn't look guilty.
"Look, on a schedule here Mr. Belvedere," she began, trying to smile. The gesture died on her lips at Alfred's stern expression. "He lost a lot of blood before he got to me, and I'm not sure how much else Bane did before he got away, so can we have the interrogation session later and help the hottie now?"
The hottie? Inwardly Alfred shook his head. He sincerely hoped that was not a prelude of what was to come: Master Bruce had a taste in unsuitable women that bordered on the perverse, but surely even he would be immune to the tiny woman's obvious charms?
And obvious is exactly what they were, he thought, taking in her skin-tight clothes. There were strippers with more decorum, he mused. And yet…
She was smiling down at the Master, the expression surprisingly tender. Ten minutes ago Alfred would not have believed it possible, and yet here she was, taking his hand in hers, whispering to him in a gentle voice. Bruce stirred as he heard her words, trying to fight his way back to consciousness. It was as if she were calling him back to her.
She needn't have come here, Alfred thought. She needn't have taken the risk.
"If you take the right side then I can take the left," he announced, inclining his head curtly as he did so. The young woman nodded, lifting Bruce out as gently as she could. It took a moment for the two of them to settle his weight comfortably, and then they began to stagger towards the medical room in the Cave. Bruce's head lolled forwards, dragging most of his weight with it, and she nearly stumbled. but just when Alfred thought she would drop him she forced herself upright again. Muttering swear-words under her breath, she continued to carry him all the way to his sickbed.
With the skill born of practice Alfred began pulling off the suit. In places the Kevlar was torn through as if by a human hand. Underneath it he could make out bruises, the marks of nails and fingers, pale skin streaked with dirt and violence.
Harli was right, he realised: he had lost a lot of blood. Once again he wondered whether she could have done it, whether this could be her fault. But when he looked up at her, her eyes were suspiciously bright. She was biting her lip to herself, trying not to cry. She looked tiny and fragile in the light from the motion sensors, her form as wavering as a ghost. "C'mon, B.," she kept whispering, "C'mon, don't be a dufus. Fight this, you know you gotta fight this." She brushed the hair back off his forehead, laid her fingers against his cheek. Again, Alfred wondered whether there was something going on here that Master Bruce had failed to inform him of. "C'mon, Brucie," she whispered softly into his ear, "Channel your inner stubborn sonofabitch. It's my favourite super-power."
"Could you step away, Miss Quinzel?" he asked. He hadn't meant it to come out quite so coldly, and she blinked up at him in surprise. For a moment he thought she might disagree, but instead she shook her head and tottered backwards a few steps, apparently unwilling to argue. She was most unlike Miss Kyle in that respect, he found himself thinking. "I really must scan his injuries," he said more quietly, nodding to her. He felt oddly contrite, that he had snapped. "If anything is punctured I- we must know right away."
She nodded bravely, looking like nothing so much as a small child being told she had to take her medicine. "Sure, do what ya gotta," she murmured, folding herself into a chair behind her. Her hands were shaking, Alfred realised; By the looks of things, she was genuinely worried. When she saw his eyes on her hands she clasped them tightly together around her knees, the knuckles forced white with the effort of keeping them still. And once again he wondered whether Bruce had been keeping something from him.
That man was made to keep secrets, he thought to himself.
The scans came up negative, which was to say there were several broken bones but nothing life-threatening. The worst fear he had entertained, that Bruce was bleeding inwardly from his injuries or suffering from a punctured organ due to bone breakages, were proving to be unfounded. Though it was, he mused wryly, a sign of the peculiarities of his job, that he could think, "Only a concussion and a couple of broken ribs," with relief. Harli had managed to hunch herself entirely into the chair, her knees against her chest, wide eyes peeping over her legs. She was rocking ever so slightly, like a scared child, though she ran and fetched supplies for him whenever he asked. She didn't even ask for explanation. Once the last of the suit had been removed, Alfred could see that she had indeed treated the Master's injuries earlier that night, as she had claimed. It was probably this fact which explained his survival: she had staunched the flow of blood from a set of nasty lacerations across his back and chest some time before the fight which had damaged the Bat-mobile. There were stitches in Bruce's back, made with what appeared to be steel wire. They were all incredibly neat and tidy, the handiwork of someone who obviously knew what she was doing.
"Bane used a piece of barbed wire," she supplied when Alfred noted the stitches. "Wound it around his fist and then started gouging away. By the time B., got to me he was barely conscious." She looked away, her expression disturbed. "I hope it hurt his knuckles like hell," she muttered vindictively to herself, the tiny fingers clenching tighter together.
"You and I both, Miss," Alfred said softly. She looked up at him, her face accusing as if she thought he was jeering her, but the Englishman kept his expression sympathetic. The more he saw of his employer, the more convinced he became that Master Bruce had been saved by this young woman. And judging by her injuries his rescue had been achieved at great personal cost. Her face was cut and bruised; occasionally she winced as she shifted in her seat, as if she were injured and trying not to show it. She had risked life and limb for Bruce Wayne, there seemed little doubt of that, and she had yet to ask for medical aid for herself.
Curiouser and curiouser.
"Will he live?" she asked eventually in a tiny voice. Her words seemed to echo hollowly through the cave, mournful and unreal. She sounded very, very frightened.
"I believe so, Miss," he answered quietly. He looked back at the bruised body of his charge, and sighed. He felt old, he suddenly realised. Very, very old. He had been through too many nights like this for his liking. Though at least tonight he wasn't on his own. "Those stitches were fine work, Miss Quinzel," he said after a moment. "You have a steady hand."
She stared up at him, surprised by the praise. Something told Alfred she had rarely been complimented. "When you're the girl in a gang," she explained tentatively, "You, you basically get to play nurse-maid a lot." She shook her head, twirling one lock of hair around her finger. Her eyes seemed to be far away. "Least Bruce stays still," she continued after a moment. "You taught him good manners, Jeeves."
"It's Alfred," he said softly. He wasn't sure why he told her that. Of course, she probably already knew his name: if she and Bruce were involved then he would have come up in conversation. But it felt somehow proper to introduce himself. It felt like the right thing to do, to make himself known to the woman who had saved Bruce's life.
She blinked at him, apparently surprised at his proffered hand. Her eyes looked enormous in her thin, wan face. "I'm Harli," she said after a moment. "You can call me Harli."
"Would you like me to make you up a bed for the night, Miss Harli?" he inquired. "I imagine you would like to stay and make sure he's alright tomorrow?"
She nodded again, looking somewhere between relieved and suspicious. It was the expression of an animal which suspects any kindness, because it has always previously been a precursor to cruelty. He felt the tiniest stab of pity for her. "I can sleep on the couch if you wanna stay with him-" she began.
"That will not be necessary." Again she blinked. "I will be alerted if he wakes," he explained, getting swiftly to his feet. He had to be no-nonsense about this: he could not allow his worries to slow him down. Getting through the night while Bruce fought for his life was one process with which he was painfully familiar. "The Wayne family take their hospitality seriously," he elaborated with a small smile when she said nothing. She looked slightly suspicious still, and it belatedly occurred to Alfred that he was not the only one who had found this night trying. She was in unfamiliar territory, and she seemed to know it; it felt unsafe beneath her feet.
And yet she had still brought Bruce home to him.
"There is a bedroom near mine," he explained as they left the cave. He waited until she was ahead of him at the foot of the elevator shaft before he re-set the security system. If she noticed she gave no sign, or maybe she just understood his reticence. "If anything happens in the night I shall wake you. Is that amenable?"
"Cool," she nodded. She craned her neck as they entered the elevator, trying to get another glimpse of Bruce. Alfred put his hand on her shoulder.
"If anything happens, we will be the first to know," he whispered kindly. "But right now he needs to rest, wouldn't you agree?"
"I guess." She crossed her arms defensively against her chest, slouching against the wall of the lift. She scuffed her shoe along the ground, her brows knit and angry. "He dies," she muttered, "And I will personally kill Bane."
Alfred found himself nodding. He had no doubt that the young woman would follow through on her threat: she looked more than capable of it. She had nearly killed Master Dick after all. And yet, had Dick not in fact spoken in her defence at her last parole meeting, just as Bruce had? Clearly he did not feel the need to hold a grudge. The young woman had nearly killed herself to bring the Master home, she had been harmed defending him. And she had sworn to avenge him were he to fail to make it through the night. Standing there in profile, tense as a whip and frightened as a child, she reminded him dimly of Barbara Gordon, swearing vengeance on criminals after she had discovered that her condition was permanent. Such fierceness, such strength. The will, he knew, to do great and terrible things. The young woman tottered and swayed, clearly exhausted, but her expression was resolute. Were it required she would doubtless have headed straight back out into the night to find Bane and bring him in. Alfred could only marvel, and thank the heavens that it was not so. It would serve her better to sleep and tell him the whole story tomorrow. Though he knew that he would probably end up sleeping in the Cave, no matter what happened: He would need to know that Bruce had survived the night. And once he was certain of that then he could find out the whole story of Harleen Quinzel and Bruce Wayne. Something told him this would not be a tale for the faint-hearted.
Though staring at her as she stepped into the cold light of dawn Alfred was forced to one somewhat disconcerting realisation: Perhaps for once, he mused, Master Bruce had chosen wisely after all.
A perverse taste in women notwithstanding.
A/N Hope it was diverting at least. Let me know:-) I've never played with Alfred before...