I'd like to poke them in their prying eyes
I'd like to poke them in their prying eyes
with things they never see
if it smacked them in their temples
-Arctic Monkeys, The Fire and the Thud
Shortly after Crane left me there at the window, my peace was disturbed once again. An orderly approached me, and I glanced from the window to his face for just long enough to see that he looked vaguely familiar.
"Come on, Miss Quinzel," he said, affable but firm. "It's Friday. You know what that means."
I remembered then that I liked him. Most of the orderlies were forceful, superior—this one was always polite, good with a needle but not too hasty, but I didn't know his name. I made a point not to learn any of their names. You never knew who might be sacrificed as collateral damage in the event of a breakout; it would be foolish to get attached, like making pets of chickens on a poultry farm. I'd learned this lesson the hard way with the henchmen. Still, I found myself idly hoping that this one would be away from the asylum when the trouble inevitably began.
I didn't like Friday's sessions, but I didn't make a fuss, instead giving him a hard little smile as I slipped off of the window sill. Spitting and cussing was the quickest way towards crippling sedation; I might as well submit with good grace.
Once we reached the examination room, he motioned for me to put my hands together. I was still working off the Porter incident; they no longer shackled my feet but I still had to wear the cuffs. As he cinched them—gently, I noticed—I watched him and said, "You're a big fella."
"So I hear."
"You're not looking for a job, are you? You know, we're always hiring."
He finished with the cuffs and met my eyes, and I read wry amusement and a little bit of apprehension in his. "Thank you, ma'am, but I think I'm fine right here."
"Well, think about it. I like you."
He pointed at the chair. I grinned cheekily at him, spun around, and plunked down as he left the room.
The silence settled over my shoulders, and I was comforted by it. The asylum wasn't much for quiet—even at night in the cells, the air was punctuated by the sounds of other prisoners, crying, moving, talking to themselves, working through night terrors… it made it difficult to imagine oneself away. Here, this quiet calm before sessions, was the best part about Arkham. Here, I could close my eyes and imagine myself back home with him.
The peace, as always, was shattered abruptly by the opening door, and I took a deep breath through my nose before opening my eyes. By then, Dr. David Wilson had taken his seat opposite me.
I made no secret of the fact that I hated these sessions more than most, but he insisted. I thought it was a severe conflict of interest; he thought it could only be good for me to have accountability to someone from my "former life." I'd reminded him of the history behind the asylum, of the way our illustrious founder had "counseled" the man who'd murdered his wife and daughter right into the electric chair, and Wilson had just looked incredibly wounded.
That was the worst part, really—looking up to see that wounded look in his eyes, like a dog that had been kicked. Maybe once upon a time, that look would have inspired pity in me, but now, it just infuriated me beyond measure.
I had once quite liked Wilson. That was before he'd come around poking and prodding and shoving his nose into my business. (It was also before I'd put a knife in him, but that was mostly irrelevant.)
"How are you, Harley?" he asked quietly, making the first move, as always.
I wasn't interested in playing ball. Instead of responding directly to his question, I just stared at him and asked levelly, "Why do we keep doing this, David?"
He didn't seem put off by the question. Regarding me with dead-eyed calm, he quietly replied, "We're doing it for your sake. We're doing it because you're unwell, and because I hope that eventually, you'll see that. After all—"
"Recognizing that you have a problem is the first step to recovery," I said, baring my teeth in a not-quite smile. He sat quietly, wisely sensing my irritability and refraining from provoking it further, and I let the quasi-smile drop, leaving my face bare and dead. Quietly, I said, "I don't have a problem, David."
Staring back at me, equally deathly calm, Wilson said, "You put a knife in my arm, Harley."
"You were in my way."
"That doesn't sound like a highly illogical reason to stab someone to you?"
"Not if you know what's important to you," I snapped.
"Well, what is important to you, then?" he challenged.
"That night? It was getting through that door you were blocking."
He stared at me for a couple of seconds, long enough for me to notice a look in his eyes that I'd never seen before—not frustration. Not quite. It was something a little more unnerving, but before I could place it, he glanced down to scribble something on his clipboard. By the time he looked up again, it was tucked neatly away.
"Off to a rough start today," he commented lightly.
"Nothing unusual about that," I sighed, folding my arms over my middle and slouching just about as far down in my chair as I could without falling off.
"Tell me something, Harley. Don't you want to get out of here?"
I took a slow breath before glancing deliberately up into his eyes, not blinking. "Not if it means cutting myself open and forking my guts over for you bloodsuckers to sift through."
"As I recall, you used to be one of those bloodsuckers," he pointed out dryly.
"Used to be," I said pointedly.
"Which is one of the factors that makes your situation so… odd." He paused, folding his hands together on the desk. "As a trained psychologist, one would think you'd have recognized the warning signs. Even now, it seems strange that you don't see the problem."
"Well, it's a matter of perspective," I said easily, shrugging. "From a psychologist's perspective, sure. I see problems. I see plenty of them. I can also see how to fix them."
"By talking about him," Wilson interjected.
"However," I said pointedly, ignoring him, "having spent some time outside of the office, it's become quite clear to me that a psychologist's perspective is cripplingly narrow. Everything has to be dissected, labels neatly attached- you know, for a field meant to detect and tend to abnormalities, there's surprisingly little allowance for the existence of the other."
"The other," Wilson repeated, watching me patiently. "What exactly do you mean, other?"
He was considerably more experienced than Dr. Porter, and so if he hoped he had finally found the way in, he didn't show it. Still, I was on guard, careful not to let the discussion spin away from me and into the forbidden topic.
"I mean the indefinable. I mean minds that defy study, minds that call for… I don't know, a customized diagnosis, one that will only ever fit them, because they're not quite antisocial, not quite borderline, not quite schizophrenic—nothing fits. And yet psychology tries to cram them into tiny little pre-existing cubes, you see? It's inflexible."
"I see," said Wilson slowly. "And… what minds are you talking about, exactly?"
I paused, staring at him, then caught the edge of my tongue between my molars and grinned disingenuously at him. "Minds like Batman's, for instance."
I saw his lips twitch in exasperation. "Harley."
"Look, psychology is flawed. In theory, it's good for the everyday mental kinks that people suffer, but it can't keep up with what's actually happening in real life, David. You're asking me to put my faith in a field that's never seen anything like what's happening in Gotham? Why?"
Wilson studied me for a moment, then appeared to reach a decision. He flipped open the folder resting on the desk in front of him. "Well," he said, "the Joker's an enigma, certainly, and I can't speak for Batman, but you're not as difficult to work out. Let's see… I've got obsessive behavior, antisocial tendencies, Stockholm syndrome, now apparently delusions of grandeur… what do you think, Harley, am I missing something indefinable in you?"
I didn't take offense; I'd heard it all before. Leaning back, I shrugged. "Hey, sounds just fine for your typical psych black-and-white."
He stared at me, and I was certain that he was going to push further, try to force me to offer a defense, but suddenly, abruptly, he flipped the file shut and stood up. "I think we'll cut today's session short," he said.
I wasn't quite sure how to react. He'd never done this before. He always seemed to want to milk our sessions for every last second.
Maybe he's finally had enough of the abuse, I thought with wary optimism as he sidestepped the table and went to the door, which buzzed open to accommodate him.
It seemed to take a long time to fall shut—and when it locked into place, the lights went out.
I couldn't help but flinch at the sudden darkness, even though I was half expecting some kind of trick. Darkness outside of the asylum was fine (even welcome, often providing a neat cover under which to perform mischief), but inside… inside that particular establishment, darkness was dangerous.
Unbidden, my mind darted to Jonathan, thinking about his brief term as asylum director, the rumors I'd heard while working there about experiments conducted on unknowing patients, and a chill shot down my spine. I refused to go flying to the door, refused to show just how spooked I was, but I felt a little too insecure to sit completely still, so I straightened up and pulled my knees up to my chest, waiting there for the orderly to come fetch me.
A sudden laugh ripped through the blackness, sharp and choking and instantly recognizable.
I froze. He's here, was my first, uncensored thought, though almost immediately I realized that it was impossible. Defying logic, though, the voice went on: "Where've you been, huh? Why so glum, Haaarley?"
Don't say anything, I told myself fiercely. It's a trick. Still, I couldn't quell my physical response—like a junkie kept too long from a fix, my body began to tremble, and I tightened my arms around my knees to try to control it, to little avail.
"Aren't you feeling… ahh, restless? Why're you still waiting around in this dreary old building?"
I realized that I was forgetting to breathe and pulled in some air, shakily. With oxygen came a bit of clarity; I realized that the words were familiar, patched together from various sessions we'd had when he was my patient at Arkham. It didn't help much—I hadn't heard his voice in months (part of my 'therapy'), so having it tear into me so suddenly while sensually isolated in the dark did a number on me.
The voice started again, and I didn't care who might be watching through the darkness. I screwed my eyes shut and lifted my arms, working around the cuffed wrists to press them so hard against my ears that I couldn't hear anything but the blood flowing.
I sat like that for a while, until from behind my eyelids I saw light and opened my eyes to see that the door was open, the light was on, and the same orderly who brought me here was standing at the door, looking concerned. "Miss Quinzel? They said you wouldn't be through till seven o'clock."
Carefully, as though I might break into pieces if I moved too quickly, I stood from my chair. "Change of plans, apparently," I said, immediately embarrassed by how small and decidedly not-intimidating my voice was but suddenly too drained to fluff up my feathers and try to act tough.
He took a closer look at me and came into the room, quickly taking my elbow. "You're white as a ghost. What'd they do to you?"
"It's nothing," I said faintly. "I just… I'd like to go to my room for the night, please."
He looked at me doubtfully. "You're scheduled for dinner and social time in the cafeteria…" He trailed off, and I must have looked pretty pathetic, because he cleared his throat and said, "I reckon there'll be time for that tomorrow. Come on, let's get you to your quarters."
He escorted me through the barren halls, and I found myself grateful for his hand on my arm as we went—the shakiness and weak knees didn't subside once I got out of that room, unfortunately.
I was fortunate enough to have a room to myself. While the men's area was overcrowded, sometimes resulting in four people to a room, the women's section was comparatively sparse. The rooms were set up to accommodate two inmates apiece, but the women of Gotham, by and large, seemed to either be holding on to their sanity or losing their minds in quieter, less criminal ways than the men—there weren't even enough of us to fill all the available cells.
The orderly took me to mine and removed the cuffs in silence. I went shakily to my cot and sat on the edge, and the orderly, standing in the doorway, cleared his throat. "I'll… see if I can bring you up some supper."
I glanced up, having expected him to leave, already halfway to my own little world. "What? Oh… no, I'm not hungry. Thank you, though."
"You need to eat, Miss Quinzel," he said, a hint of warning in his tone. I glanced up, and it really didn't take much effort to make my eyes bright with tears—for some reason, they were on the verge anyway. He saw, shifted his weight from one foot to the other, then muttered, "Oh, hell. Just this once, you understand? I don't need to get fired for letting you break routine."
I nodded quickly, reaching up to touch the skin just beneath my eyes, making sure it was still dry. The orderly nodded, and then stepped back and closed the door. I heard the sound of the heavy lock sliding into place, and then, finally, I was alone.
Slowly, I toed my shoes off and then pulled my legs up onto the thin mattress. I laid down facing the wall, closed my eyes, and for the first time in a long time, I allowed myself to think about the night that had landed me in this hellhole in the first place.
Three Months Ago
It was obscenely hot for a May evening in Gotham, and as I pulled the black ski cap free of my hair, I reminded myself to ask Ivy again about the best ways to reduce the effects of global warming in an urban area. Not that my partner would give a damn; if I was going to terrorize the city council into saving the trees, I would be doing it alone.
I happened to be away from him that night, though not because I was pursuing my own interests—no, the goal that night was to perform a multi-zoned operation of the Joker's own design. He himself was just a few miles to the north, in Midtown, and still more men were Uptown, close to the borders of the city proper. The group up north would act first, blowing up a monorail station and drawing attention away from the city's center. Once the police were focused on the crime scene, I would move.
I was planted outside of a warehouse in the Meatpacking District, near the Admiral Docks. Not just any warehouse, though—no, as it so happened, this particular warehouse belonged to Sal Maroni. The Joker had intel that Maroni was using the place as a safe house for cash from a recent take. However, the object was not, as Ace had first suggested, to take the money—a Maroni cash house was far from an easy target; external security was limited so as not to rouse suspicion, but inside, the place would be crawling with guys armed to the teeth and lacking a sense of humor. No, there wasn't much the Joker liked better than throwing his colleagues well off-balance, so our goal that night was simple—warehouse go boom.
So, we'd been sitting across the street from the mark for about thirty minutes, scoping it out, sitting against the tires on the side of the van opposite the warehouse, and waiting for the call. Not surprisingly, we'd started to get bored.
"Okay. I've got one."
Javier and I turned our heads attentively towards Kenny, a fairly new henchman, younger than he looked—a bit defensive, but one of the more normal guys we worked with overall. Another henchman, Toots, sat in the driver's seat of the van, sulking in silent protest of the fact that Javier and I had taken it upon ourselves to teach Kenny the finer points of Would You Rather.
Kenny, assured of our attention, proceeded. "Okay, so, would you rather… have to deal with a five hour nosebleed, or be locked in a room with Batman for one minute?"
I snorted, and Javier said, "I'm pretty sure that in a minute, Batman would give you plenty of other injuries that would bleed for five hours."
"Oh, come on," I disagreed. "All you have to do is dodge him for sixty seconds."
"Harley, he's hard enough to hide from in the open air," Javier argued. "In a twelve-by-twelve room? I don't like your chances."
"Whoa, when did we specify the size of the room?"
Kenny, looking from me to Javier and back again, asked, "Is this… part of the game?"
"Yes," Javier and I said in unison, and Javier went on: "I imagine that if we're being locked in with the Batman, it's going to be your average police interrogation room—that is, not very big. Even the boss wasn't able to escape a beating in that scenario."
"Wait, what?" I demanded. "The Joker was in an interrogation room with Batman?"
"Yeah, during the whole Harvey Dent situation, before he went to the nuthouse for the first time."
"Why didn't I know about this?" I asked, frowning.
"I doubt the cops publicized it. They weren't working with him, remember?" Javier reminded me, cracking a sardonic grin. "Unless you heard it from the boss himself, I'm not surprised you didn't know, and he's not really one to sit around reminiscing about his jail time, so since you weren't there…"
"Damn," I said, making a mental note to ask J about it later.
"Um. Guys?" Kenny ventured softly, and we both glanced at him again.
"Nosebleed for five hours," Javier said.
I shook my head. "Uh-uh. Room with Batman for a minute."
"Well, of course you're gonna say that," Kenny chuckled.
I paused and glanced sideways at him. "What do you mean by that?"
I felt Javier go still, doubtless refraining from moving until he understood the line of questioning. Kenny obviously picked up on the shift in mood, glancing rapidly from me to Javier and back again, and he stuttered an answer: "Just… I feel like he'd have trouble hittin' a girl, that's all."
I watched him contemplatively, and after a moment, I nodded, hearing Javier shift and relax as I said, "Well, if he does, that's his problem." Kenny all but wiped nervous sweat from his brow.
I didn't blame them their nerves. For a while, conscious of my relatively fragile status in their eyes, I'd openly called out anyone who even implied I wasn't up to the task—especially due to my gender. This habit of mine was pretty effective for three reasons. First, the Joker never intervened—my battles with the henchmen were mine alone. Second, they almost always ended in violence, and third, I'd been trained for six months by the Joker, meaning the threat of violence from me had grown considerable. They may have been stronger, but I was faster, and by this point, much sneakier.
However, as I'd stayed with the group for months on end, as henchmen had rotated endlessly and I'd stayed put, people seemed to get the message, and far fewer taunted me than used to. Kenny's statement—not even questioning me; just the truth—was far from over the line.
Staring at the rundown old building we were parked in front of, I said, "You know, he saved my life once."
"Who? Batman?" Javier demanded. "Why didn't I know about this?"
"Yeah, during the boss's first escape from Arkham. You know—he threw me off the roof." Kenny was gaping by then. "Batman had to choose between following him and saving me, and—well, he chose me. Obviously."
Kenny, having quickly adjusted to the image of the Joker throwing someone off a roof, laughed: "I bet he wishes he hadn't now."
I frowned, wondering for a moment if that was true. The Batman had always been very careful with human life—with the exception of Harvey Dent, but the Joker seemed so adamantly convinced that that was somehow a frame job that I'd begun to believe him. It was hard to see him wishing death on me, despite the extra trouble my new role had caused him throughout the past few months. I wanted very much to pretend that I simply didn't care, that Batman was the enemy—worse, a considerable rival for the Joker's attentions (possibly even affections).
The truth, though, was that my feelings towards Batman were complicated. On the one hand, he was the enemy, a brute totally lacking sophistication, seemingly believing that he could pound crime out of existence with his bare fists. On the other hand… well, he had saved my life, which I supposed was worth taking into consideration. Additionally, as much as we all lived in fear of the Batman showing up while we were working one of these errands, there was also next to no chance the Joker would end up dead at the end of one of his encounters with the Bat. With the police, on the other hand, there was always the possibility that some cop would finally decide that some limited jail time would be a small price to pay for permanently ridding Gotham of its biggest menace and just open fire. Although Batman was the biggest and most consistent threat to our operation, at least I didn't have to be afraid that he'd someday shoot J in the back.
Before I could mire myself too deeply in that train of thought, the cell phone in my pocket beeped. "Finally," I breathed, fishing it out. The text I'd just received just said "Rube Goldberg." I grinned and tucked the phone away again, standing. "It's time to go, boys."
The henchmen clambered to their feet, and I gestured at Javier. "Give me the stuff," I said, referring to the knapsack full of C4 I was supposed to slip in through one of the basement windows.
Javier, however, was not as gung-ho about the idea as I was. "I don't think you should do it."
I frowned, irked. "Oh, okay. Let me just call up the boss and tell him the plan's off because Javier got cold feet. What the hell?"
"Harley—finger off the trigger, okay?" he said irritably. "I didn't say I wanted to call off the job completely. I've just got a feeling."
"A feeling," I repeated, awaiting clarification. Javier got feelings a lot—he was a superstitious sunovabitch—and most of the time, the Joker declined to indulge him by hearing him out. I, on the other hand, had a soft spot for him, and more often than not, I was willing to do things his way.
"Yeah," he said, a touch defensively, glancing over the roof of the van at the silent warehouse up the street. "It's been… really quiet. I think Kenny and I oughta do a casual walkby, make sure everything looks all right before you go in. Fair?"
I studied him for a minute, then shrugged. "Hey, fine with me. Hurry, though—and take your phone, call to tell me the coast is clear and I'll follow."
"Wait, what?" Toots spoke up from the driver's seat, sitting up from his slouch for the first time since he'd retreated there to sulk half an hour ago.
I shot him a glance. "What?"
"That's not the plan," he said, scratching at his neck nervously as he glanced down the road at the warehouse.
I shook my head dismissively. "It's recon, Toots. Don't be so prescriptive; he's just gonna go check things out then I'll follow right away."
Toots' scratching grew more intense. "Boss wouldn't like it," he all but whined.
"Yeah, well, right now, I'm the boss, and I say it's okay," I said, exasperated—usually, the henchmen assisting me on jobs didn't raise any concerns, and the delays were starting to annoy me. "Javier, can you hurry up and check it out before Toots scrapes all the skin off his neck?"
"Will do, boss lady." Javier turned, grabbing Kenny by the shoulder. "C'mon, kid. Get your hood down; you don't have to worry about anyone in there IDing you and it just looks suspicious."
Kenny scrambled to obey, and the two of them set off towards the warehouse, crossing the street without looking both ways (and I almost called out to scold them before resigning myself to the fact that it wouldn't do any good). Toots sat back, giving up but still making little distressed noises in his throat. I ignored him, leaning my shoulder against the side of the van and watching as the others approached the warehouse. On cue, my phone rang.
"How's it look?" I asked by way of answer.
"Ghost town," Javier replied. "You sure there's people inside?"
"Hey, that's what he told me."
"Yeah, well, I'm not seein' anything by way of security. No cameras, no guards, nothin'." I watched as he and Kenny paused in front of the gate; Javier put a hand out to stop him and then slowly approached the fence.
"What?" I asked, craning my neck to try to see what he saw.
"There's something right inside the gate. Looks like… an old jacket or something."
I frowned, walking around to the back of the van to see clearer. "Javier. It's the city. There's trash every—"
"Shit," he hissed, and I saw him jump back.
"Red light—" is all he managed to get out before the gate spat out a cloud of blinding fire and ear-shattering sound, consuming him and Kenny. A hundred and fifty yards away, a wave of heat smashed into me, making my complaints about the hot spring night earlier laughable, and asphalt and gravel shaken loose from the street peppered my face and body as my hearing cut out. Reflexively, I held up my hands, dropping my phone as I tried to protect myself from the shrapnel. As I hunched down, trying blindly to occupy as little space as possible, I remember thinking numbly one-quarter kilo of C4 has a blast radius of one meter, I must be eighty meters away, that means if they used more than twenty kilos then I'm done for—
And then, it stopped. A few little stones spattered against my shielding arms, and then my hearing slowly swam back to me, announcing itself by the shrill whine in my ears. Slowly, I lowered my arms from my head and tried to stand. It was asking too much from my shock-weakened knees, and instead of moving upright, I found myself suddenly sprawled on the ground behind the van.
I was still facing the warehouse. The front of it was ravaged by the explosion, on fire, and smoke billowed up thickly from the bomb site, obscuring my view of anything detailed.
Even though I saw no bodies or blood and my mind was sluggish with fear, I knew. Javier was dead, and if he hadn't insisted on checking things out beforehand, it would have been me.
I dragged myself, gasping, out of the memory, back to the cold reality of the asylum. I wasn't surprised to find my face wet, and as I struggled to breathe, more tears slipped from my eyes to join the others.
I didn't want to think about this anymore. I knew, though, that unless I did something to prevent it, I would go on reliving that memory against my will.
Not all of the cells were padded. Those were reserved for patients with a history of self-harm or psychotic breaks that might lead them to hurt themselves unintentionally. I, however, was neither prone to psychosis nor self-injury—usually—so I had a regular old hard-walled cell.
I turned my face to the wall to which my cot was bolted. Without a second thought, I reeled back and bashed my forehead against it as hard as I could.
Stars exploded in front of my eyes, lighting up the darkness of my room for a split second. It'd been a while since I'd seen those stars; I remembered what they meant. Gratefully, I fell backwards against the pillow as dizziness seized me, knowing that the vertigo would shortly yield to oblivion.
The stars disappeared, and I was smiling in exhausted relief when the blackness seized me.
A/N – So… does Harley's annoyance with the field of psychology sound familiar? To be fair, she's not parroting anything—what she said was very much her own heartfelt opinion, but it's definitely not one she would have reached had she not been living in open exposure to the Joker and all his… everything. Has a bit of a decaying effect on one's sense of social obligation, I imagine (also one's concern for one's physical wellbeing, apparently). Although to be fair, when faced with Wilson the way he's been of late, we might all start delivering anti-social tirades.
Oh, and it didn't start out this way, but I'd be lying if I didn't say eventually the unnamed orderly in this chapter (and a few more along the line) started looking and sounding a hell of a lot like Barney from the Hannibal series. I've plucked elements from those books like a big ol' hack from the beginning; Polite Orderly might as well join the list.
Er… and I'm sorry about Javier, truly. I loved him, but you know, when your boss is an asshole, things tend to go south unexpectedly. So there's part one of the two-part tale of how Harley ended up as an inmate in the asylum where she used to work. Part two—the longer, more complicated part—is coming soon. In the meantime—this chapter's song is on the blog, thank you guys for talking to me, keep talking to me! I'm tidying up certain parts of the (still unfinished but we're getting there fast- I've officially exceeded the word count of the original and we've probably got 15k to go) draft, and interaction with y'all motivates me. So until next time!