Chapter 1: Player
To an outsider, it would've been hard to tell who was the more nervous of the two. To the keen observer however, it was evident that one was a player in his own sick, demented game whilst the other was inexplicably being played.
According to her credentials, Harleen Quinzel was a model student in psychiatry. Her impressive grades had earned her an internship at Arkham Asylum; a position most psychiatric interns only dreamed of. But Harleen was so new at the game that others more qualified than herself did not take her seriously. It didn't help that she was tall, leggy and blonde as well, making her an easy target for those who believed she had landed the job based on her looks.
The thought caused her to purse her lips as she gazed at the exchange between Dr Dane Reddman and his patient from behind the safety of the glass barrier in the next room. She had been at Arkham for well over three months and still her superiors had yet to allow her to analyse a patient. She played with the hem of her sleeve, feeling her agitation get the better of her. Harleen was talented at reading people and it was quite plain to her that Dr Reddman was not getting far with this patient. More to the point, the patient was regarding him with barely contained malice.
The patient…Arkham Inmate 0801.
"He's annoyed," she remarked to the man standing next to her. If she was honest, annoyed was putting it mildly.
Dr Jason Jennings almost dropped his clipboard, fumbling with his pen as he muttered a quiet obscenity. His gaze quickly returned to the patient session. This was the first time Harleen had seen this particular patient and she was curious if Jennings or Reddman had picked up on his irritation. Arkham was filled with unusual subjects, it was even part of the reason she had accepted the internship, but this man was different. He was a special brand of insane.
"Of course he's annoyed," Dr Jennings replied offhandedly, trying to compose himself. "He's with the Joker."
Harleen raised her eyebrows. "I was talking about the patient but… you actually call him the Joker?"
"He calls himself that," he replied, frowning.
"And you indulge him?" she asked, surprised.
"You're new at this Harleen," he sighed, rubbing his right temple. "The Joker is a violent, schizophrenic sociopath. We indulge where we must."
She gritted her teeth at his self-assuredness. "You've only been here a month longer than I have. I read Reddman's notes and the inmate report; there was no mention of schizophrenia."
His eyes snapped to hers defensively. "Oh and what's your diagnosis then, Harley?"
Her eyes narrowed at the impertinent nickname. Her male colleagues had begun calling her Harley of late, believing her to be ignorant of its meaning but she had overheard its vulgar origin while walking past the male restroom. Despite having only had one long term relationship in college, her colleagues called her Harley in reference to the motorbike, insinuating that she was only good for a ride.
"Psychosis," she observed, rising to her colleague's challenge. Before she could continue however, he let out a bark of laughter.
"Oh very good, Harley," he sputtered sarcastically. "He's psychotic. Perhaps that's why he's in Arkham."
She felt her blood boil. "Psychosis is measured on a scale," she snapped at him. "Not by your usual mental diagnostic criteria. And you didn't let me finish-"
She was cut off by the abrupt entry of Reddman as he banged the door open in exasperation. Both Harleen and Jennings turned to him, puzzled.
"That's it," he muttered, wiping the sweat beading on his brow as the door swung shut behind him. "I refuse to trade pleasantries with that… that goddamned clown again."
Harleen scoffed, unable to believe that she was supposed to seek guidance from this man. Couldn't her superiors have paired her up with someone else? She was stuck with an intern like herself and a resentful yet politically incorrect doctor.
Jennings nodded. "Joker still giving you grief, Sir?"
Harleen stared at him in disgust. Sir? Really?
"I can't find anyone to stick with that crazy fucker for longer than one session," he growled in annoyance but he immediately seemed to regret his choice of words when he noticed Harleen. He cleared his throat, pushing his glasses further up his nose. "My apologies, Ms Quinzel."
Harleen forced her lips into a tense smile. Jennings stared back through the glass at the patient. "Is he laughing… by himself?"
"Yes," Dr Reddman sighed. "You get used to it." He looked down at Jennings' clipboard, assessing his notes. "Maybe I can have him transferred to solitary," he muttered, more to himself. "Really wish he'd given me more on the Bat though…"
Harleen's eyes flicked back to Inmate 0801. She wasn't sure what was worse; that the patient file held no name for the man, only an inmate number or that the 'Joker' was this man's only other known identity. This man was flesh and blood… a person and they had already decided that isolation would suffice as a treatment program.
"I'll do it." Three little words had slipped from her lips before she even had the sense to recall them. Both doctors looked at her in shock.
Jennings sniggered slightly but Reddman hushed him. "Ms Quinzel," he began uncertainly. "I'm sure it is frustrating to not have had a patient yet, but I assure you that you are nearly ready. You don't want your first subject to be with the Joker, trust me. I can arrange for-"
"No, I want to," she said firmly, surprising even herself. "Please." She hurried to reassure him when he continued to look uncertain, smiling confidently. "How bad can my other patients be after him?"
She could tell she had won by the defeated look on Reddman's face and the incredulous look on Jennings'. Dr Reddman silently nodded his assent.
Pleased and feeling slightly elated, Harleen returned her gaze to her soon-to-be first patient. His shoulders were still shaking as he laughed quietly to a joke all his own, and Harleen was curious to note the genuine glee radiating from his body. His green hair, pale skin and twisted grin did indeed give him the appearance of some demented clown but Jennings and Reddman were too quick to judge, unable to see his true soul shining from within. Moments before, his irritation poured off of him in waves yet now he seemed quite content without the toxic presence of Dr Reddman. Yes, Harleen smiled, she would help this man to overcome his internal demons. He needed someone to listen to him, someone to truly understand what he was going through and not to pass judgement, but to offer counsel and companionship.
Harleen's smile faltered momentarily when her patient abruptly stopped laughing, turning to stare at her directly through the glass. His face remained impassive as his head tilted ever so slightly to the right, observing her with blank, unreadable eyes. Harleen's breathing hitched, finding herself unable to tear her gaze away yet equally unnerved by the indecipherable look he was leveling her with.
"Freak," she heard Jennings mutter beside her but Harleen felt something cold and dark slide down her back and settle at the base of her spine. Slowly, ever so slowly her patient's lips turned up, parting to reveal a wide toothy grin. But there was nothing reassuring about that smile, nothing friendly or clownish and nothing meant to charm her.
It was the smile of a predator.