A long overdue chapter, but at least it's super long! Enjoy!
Early November left Gotham's air crisp with a lingering chill coming down from the north. The city had transitioned smoothly into fall, which was starting to show the beginnings of the bleakness of winter. I was settling into my role as the Joker's therapist with equal ease.
I managed my days with precision, even more so than when I attended classes, to keep my mind sharp enough to handle the Joker at his most devious. But even I knew I hadn't seen that yet. I knew that someday I would. In the depths of my soul and 'academic curiosity', a part of me longed to see that side of the Joker, to witness the extent of his knowledge, to see what he saw. Deep within my own unconscious, I already did. I understood part of his truth. Weren't we all just wandering around, pretending our lives were simple, that we were normal?
But I was content with normality as it was. It allowed me to live comfortably. Right now, normality was waking up at 8 in the morning, and arriving at Arkham at 10:45 on Wednesdays.
I strolled into Arkham Asylum one Wednesday that early November. Wrapped snug in my violet peacoat, I greeted Bianca at the reception desk with a smile and my purse for her to take.
"Doing well, Bianca?" I asked as she handed me my white lab coat.
The dark rings under her brown eyes had slowly been disappearing over the past month since I met her, and her mood had been gradually becoming more chipper.
"I'm great," she grinned. "How about you?"
"About the same. How's Momo doing?" I gathered my notebook, file, and this week's book choice, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, into my arms after shrugging on the coat, covering my striped pull-over sweater and chambray shirt. She pulled out her iPhone and brought up a video, displaying a King Charles Spaniel puppy chasing after a ball and skidding on hard wood floors after it. I cooed at the adorable video of Bianca's puppy before leaving for the top floor with Allen Push, who was always waiting to escort me.
"Dr. Push, if it takes up too much of your time to escort me to the therapy room, I can always take myself there. I know the way by now, so there shouldn't be any need. I'm sure you have some important work to handle," I brought up to him as we entered the elevator.
"It's no problem at all," Allen Push replied as stiffly as usual. "In fact it is part of my job to escort you to the Joker's therapy room. I am under direct orders from the faculty of the the Psychology Department at Gotham University and elsewhere."
My eyebrow twitched. I shook it off. "I'm sure they are overreacting. I trust that I am perfectly safe here in Gotham, especially since you seem to run a tight ship."
Not even my compliment made him smile. The closest I got was a narrowing of his gray eyes and the sucking in of his cheeks. "You most certainly are, and yet this is still the most secure mental hospital in the country. No guests, not even part-time employed therapists for the most dangerous criminally insane psychopath in the world can be walking around Arkham without an escort."
It made sense, but part of me was still embarrassed that I couldn't be trusted yet. They trusted me enough to pick the most dangerous mind in the country and yet they didn't trust me to walk to the therapy room alone?
I was about to mention the paradox when the elevator door opened and he strode out ahead of me, not even giving me a chance to open my mouth. I dodged a couple of doctors with files in their hands speaking to one another, trying to keep up with Allen Push's unnaturally long strides, wondering if they got longer every week. I glanced up at a corner, something black in my peripheral vision. A blinking security camera, watching my every move. They really were everywhere. Nothing went amiss here, and I couldn't help myself but feel a little violated as well.
Like always, the therapy room sat at the end of this hallway. Easy enough. I don't know what I would have done if there were turns right and left through the labyrinth of halls and passages in the confusingly named wards. Right now, we were in Ward 6F. Glancing down a hall of patient rooms, I saw that hall was called Ward 6T. Wait, what? There had to be some order to it. Or a map somewhere.
Right at the end of the hallway from the stepping off the elevator. Simple and uncomplicated.
We stopped at the heavy metal door, as always guarded by two heavily armed men, who I found out two weeks ago were named Josh and Pedro after I realized I felt more comfortable knowing who would likely have to interfere if things with the Joker got out of hand. I gave them both a nod and they returned it with equal friendliness.
"I understand you know the drill by now, Dr. Woodward. I will be here at the end of the session to escort you back. If you need anything, please tell Josh or Pedro here." Allen Push sounded like he was regurgitating the old news. I forced a smile on my lips and nodded. "Very well." He turned without saying another cold word and walked off, tight and straight as a pencil. I caught myself rolling my eyes, but shook my head, wondering where that bit of rudeness came from.
"Careful, Doctor," Josh warned me. I blinked at him for more. "He's been disruptive lately. Causing a lot of ruckus. Next week he may be in a straitjacket. If things look like they're going to go awry in there, just call out for us."
Problematic. But not unmanageable. At least I hoped so. I gave him a nod and I turned the door handle to enter the therapy room.
"Y'know, Dr. Woodward," the Joker drawled, his voice a pleased growl, "I've come to look forward to our weekly meetings together. Making the most of my time with you...it's the highlight of my week."
My smile was genuine. "I'm happy to say the same."
His hands rested on his lap as he sat up on the chaise longue, twitching and stretching as if he wanted to do something with them. I often found myself observing his hands, not just to make sure I knew where they always were, but because they fascinated me. He had such large hands, long experienced fingers, prominent knuckles, and just by looking at them, I could see the tendons running through from the backs on his hands down his fingers, sinewy and forceful. I believed you could always tell a lot about a person based on their hands and his surely told an incredible story. I wanted to discover it. No, I needed to discover it. It was a desire I couldn't shake.
"So what is it this week?"
I was wondering what Josh and Pedro were warning me about. The Joker was relatively calm, his voice drawled out more and his energy was lessened. The only thing that made me on edge were his hands of course, tense, like he was trying to break free of something.
Complying, I lifted my book for him to see the cover, and then handed it to him. Shaking, his hands grasped the book.
"Ahhh, Frankenstein," he cooed.
"My thirteenth reread," I admitted.
He kept his face down at the book, but his eyes watched me, all-seeing.
"And what is it about Frankenstein that calls to you to read it so many times?"
All of our sessions started out this way. It fell into the normal routine with the Joker, he would ask about my book and we would strike up a conversation about it and it would launch off into something else, his thoughts and beliefs on something. But we never talked about personal details, however. Just his thoughts.
"The writing mostly, it's beautiful. And the message it notates. Gothic Victorian Literature is similar in that respect," I replied.
"And what message is that?" He asked, handing me back the book. Part of me wondered if he knew already. He was incredibly intelligent, that much I knew. The fact that he was also immensely educated was something that threw me for a loop sometimes, so he obviously knew more than he let on.
"Who the real monster is."
He gave me his signature smile. "Go on."
I swallowed, every inch of me wanting to know what he was thinking and where he could possibly take the conversation. I learned from our sessions these past weeks that he always someway to tie whatever I'm reading into a conversation about philosophy, more importantly, his philosophy. How he saw everything in the world. I found his thoughts to be more interesting than my favorite book, but they were only the effects of a life full of causes. His story remained hidden to me.
"Between the creator and the created. Dr. Frankenstein created a man, playing God, without fully realizing his responsibility and consequences of his actions. The Monster was an innocent and was driven to do horrible things by the Doctor and others calling him a monster, in order to be loved. They called him a monster, so he became one. But is it the Monster, the created, that is truly the evil one, or Dr. Frankenstein who treated him like one until he turned into one," I explained.
He listened intently, the smile still plastered on his face. "You said he was an innocent. How so?" He knew, I could see it in his bright gray-green eyes, sparkling with intellect. I never thought green eyes dulled by gray around the irises could still appear bright, glowing with a knowledge about the world that I could only dream of understanding. All part of his past. I've only had a handful of sessions with the Joker, and I was as close to learning about his past as I was to making Allen Push smile. He always seemed to control where these conversations went, which was fine, beneficial to the patient, but not him. He was too smart to let me take control. I tried to steer the conversation but it never came around. There would never be a straight story or mention of his past from him. I still had to figure out how to dig deeper.
"He was born with no experiences or hatred to taint his mind, or hands..." I said, eyeing him carefully. The corner of my lips lifted into a smirk. "No one is born evil."
"And this 'monster' is cast out upon creation because of his looks, correct?" He speculated. He knew.
"And here we delve into the misfortunes of disability in society," he continued on. "His looks were subject to societal shunning, like many others—"
"The Phantom, Quasimodo," I listed.
"Yes, and it bleeds into modern society," his tone seemed to darken, and his hands trembled even more. "Those of us unfit to meld into what society wants us to be are crammed and forced into a life of the big boy's making."
My eyes kept fluttering to his hands. "But there must be a way to fight back." I wondered if he did at some point. If he still was.
He tilted his head and leaned forward. "Y'know about as well as I do that it's not that easy, Doctor."
I broke away from his gaze. Instead of blushing, I felt my face go cold, knowing what he was referring to.
This is what happens when you let him into your head. Dr. Carlson warned you.
But the voice wasn't warning me, it was mocking me. Laughing at me.
"How's your anxiety doing, Babydoll?" He asked, slowing forming another menacing grin.
My jaw clenched together, my breathing shallow, suddenly feeling like a pawn. I must have been out of my mind to reveal something like that to him, who could use it to manipulate me and get more of what he wanted out of me.
I met his gaze again, my face straightening. "It's been perfectly manageable."
"But it hasn't always been," Joker reiterated. It wasn't a question.
Why did I tell him that?
Because he understands.
"And how did the world treat ya because of it?"
I parted my lips to answer, but closed them again. A small sheen of sweat had started to form on his temples. Distracted, I shook my head. "I didn't...tell anyone about it. Only close friends and family."
"And why is that?"
I swallowed, my throat, my throat dry. "For the sake of being normal. For others to see me as normal." Here it was, the normality topic again. Most of our conversations came back down to this.
"Continue," he pushed. His voice was strained. I knit my eyebrows together at this.
"To function in a society that would otherwise deny me opportunity. Anxiety is seen as taboo, and to those who don't understand it it is an issue that can be easily fixed, even though it's not that simple. Anxiety that is treated through medication and therapy is a problem people think can manifest into something worse in certain situations, like a workplace. I've seen it happen too many times. It's the price one pays, I suppose. It's a vicious cycle, no way of winning. I'm sorry, but are feeling alright?"
His breathing, I noticed, had gotten heavier, but not in the way he did when he got angry or peeved. His shaking hands, the sheen of sweat, strained voice, now this.
He didn't reply, and strained himself not to. I could sense the anger and tension. I slid from my chair to my knees on the floor in front of him.
"Let me see your hands," I ordered him. This was probably one of the stupidest things I'd ever done. It was bad enough I was in the same room with him, but ordering him and being so close to him like that...I had to be asking for it.
His hands reluctantly released some tension on his knees, resulting in a low growl escaping from his lips. They were cold, almost clammy in my own warm hands. They were so big, mine felt like a child's in comparison. The tremble in them was like a wild, shaky, uneven vibration. I turned them over, observing them more closely.
"I'm not much of a hand holder, but I must admit it is pleasing to see ya on your knees in front of me like this," he drawled with a smirk.
I narrowed my eyes at him, unappreciative of what he was insinuating, but I continued observing.
"Do they have you on any new medications?" I asked. They better not have. While I was his therapist, he also had a psychiatrist assigned by Arkham to prescribe him medications. Dr. Carlson informed me that he and the staff at Gotham worked with the psychiatrist, but all medications that the Joker was on were listed in his file. He had been fine for weeks. What changed?
"Not that I know of, Babydoll. But I have been downing more than one pill of the usual in the past week," he admitted.
My eyes widened. "Are you telling me they increased your dosage?"
"You sound so surprised," he growled. I released his hands and he curled them into tight balls on his thighs.
"They're supposed to inform me and ask permission if they can change medications or the dosage. This is unacceptable," I huffed, standing.
"That doesn't seem to be the only thing they're keeping from ya," he added, his head cocked to the side. I must have looked like an idiot staring at him. "What do you mean?"
"They always seem to have eye everywhere don't they?" His voice was a whisper, the danger and venom as prominent as ever.
My breath got caught in my chest, my body freezing. I finally forced my eyes to dart to a corner of the room. Nothing. And then back to Joker. Was he playing me? His eyes rolling slowly to a corner behind me. I jerked my head around. At first I didn't see anything, until I saw a small blinking and a minuscule black box resting in the corner where the ceiling and the walls met. I approached the wall slowly, not taking my eyes from the blinking. When I was able to confirm my fears, my heart sped up and my fingers curled into fists, my fingernails piercing my tender palms. A camera. A security camera. They were recording our sessions. After I was assured they wouldn't.
"I can't believe this," I breathed.
"Oh, I can," Joker said behind me.
I spun on my heels and grabbed my file and notebook from the chair.
"I'll be right back," I hissed.
"I look forward to it," I heard him say as I knocked on the door. A second passed before Josh opened it, peering inside at me with a puzzled look on his rough face.
"I need to speak to Allen Push," I snapped. When Josh didn't say anything either out of pure surprise or refusal, I added, "Immediately, please!"
He nodded and turned to Pedro who muttered into his walkie-talkie.
Josh peered again at the Joker, who still sat on the chaise longue, stagnant. He wasn't going anywhere. Josh opened the door a little more to let me through. Not a moment later another heavily padded and armed guard arrived to take me to the security room where he explained that Push was filling out some paperwork.
Winding through the corridors of Arkham, an over-saturated, twisted maze, I didn't waste a single moment when I recognized the security office door and flung it open. To say that Allen Push looked perplexed would be an understatement. His stern face was harder and bored an expression of extreme annoyance. And I couldn't give two shits. He put his pen down on the paperwork he was signing.
"Dr. Woodward, what is the meaning—"
I didn't give him a chance to finish before my eyes darted to the security screens and spotting the Joker in one of them. I jabbed my finger at it, interrupting him:
"Care to explain this?"
His eyes regarded the screen, but his face remained blank.
"I was assured by the Psychology Department that his sessions were not being recorded," I nodded.
Allen Push cleared his throat. "Dr. Woodward, I understand you are still a novice, and trust me, I was initially against bringing you in until I felt I had no other choice but to call Dr. Carlson, however, you must understand that with a patient like the Joker, certain security protocols must be upheld—"
"I was assured that our sessions would be confidential. This is a serious breech of privacy not just on the patient's part but my part as well," I vented.
He stared at me, his eyebrows risen in displeasure and nonchalance. Unimpressed. Like I was being unreasonable. Like a child throwing a fit over something I had no power to change. Fuck that.
"I request that you turn off the recorder and the monitor," I demanded.
He looked at me like I was a kitten trying to be a lion. And maybe I was, but I refused to go down without a fight. I was willing to bite, gnaw, and roar to win.
"Dr. Woodward," Push finally said, "I don't believe you have any authority to make such a request."
I felt my eyebrow twitch. I swiftly maneuvered around him to a desk in the far corner of the room and grabbed the phone, lifting it to my ear.
"Dr. Woodward—!" He began to protest.
"I hope you don't mind that I'm using your phone," I interjected.
"And who are you calling, if I may ask?" He demanded.
"Dr. Carlson," I replied. "I'm sure he'll have something to say." My fingers began to push phone keys.
Allen Push snorted. "You will not find much support from your Psychology Department."
My fingers hovered over the keys for a moment as I stared at him. For some reason, my head couldn't interpret what he meant, but the sinking feeling in my stomach did. The lack of action with the phone resulted in the line going void. I had to think quickly. I clicked the receiver.
"Fine. I'm sure the police would have something to say about the contract here in my file that assures me that our sessions would be kept private," I said. My finger hovered over the 9 for a split second until alarm flashed in Push's eyes and he stepped forward.
"Police arriving will only cause alarm to the patients," he warned me. Bullshit excuse.
"I'm sure it will be a hassle for them as well. But a violation is a violation and my contract clearly states confidential sessions with my patient," I replied dryly.
I gave him a moment to stand there with his thoughts before I did anything. He finally stepped up to the monitor. I surveyed his actions carefully as he typed the camera number, pushed the record button until the red dot on the screen disappeared, and pushed escape until the screen went black. I placed the phone down onto the receiver.
"Thank you. I will be having a serious conversation with Dr. Carlson about this," I told him. He snorted once more and I strode out of the security office, the guard waiting there curiously. I gave him a nod towards the direction we came from, signaling him to take me back to the therapy session room.
Josh and Pedro gave me worried looks that I casually ignored as I entered the room. Glancing back at the suspicious corner of the room, I noted that there was no blinking, meaning that Push hadn't turned it back on as soon as I left. The clock on the wall read 5 minutes till 12:30. I had wasted so much time. Glancing at the chaise longue, I realized that the Joker was not there.
My breath caught in my throat as I glanced around the small room. I stepped further into the room, placing my folder and notebook on the chair. I began to pick at my nails. I should have alerted the guard immediately, but maybe they thought I had called off the session when I stormed off. My heart beat hard and rapidly. I finally convinced myself to go to the guards.
Before I took the step to turn around, I felt a body slam into my back and an arm wrap around my neck, keeping me in a head lock.
A shrill gasp launched from my throat, my hands shooting up to his arm curled around my neck and shoulders. He took the opportunity to snake his other arm around my waist, holding me to his tall, lithe, and muscular form.
Don't scream, don't scream, I told myself. It would only provoke him. But God I wanted to.
"Much appreciated, Babydoll," he purred in my ear. "I wondered how long it would take ya to notice that they've been watchin'."
My face burned, my breathing was heavy. How I wanted to scream.
You need him to trust you.
What was he going to do? I couldn't do anything that would give him the reason or opportunity to hurt me. But he was the Joker. Unpredictable was in his nature. I just had to tread carefully.
"How long have you known?" I asked, my voice trying to to sound calm. Inside I was screaming and slashing.
"Oh, I've always known," he growled. "Ever since I met those fucks with the Psychology Department, drugging me and pounding me for information. Testing me and bringing more useless assholes to pester me. Oh no, Babydoll, they've been watchin' long before ya got here. Them and that pussy blonde pretty boy they've had treating me lately."
My heart ceased it's rapid thrumming. Who?
"S-Staz?" I uttered.
I didn't need to see the Joker to know that he was grinning. "Yeahhh...him. A frienda yours?"
Be careful how your answer.
"A friend and colleague," I swallowed.
"Hmmmm, is that so?" He cooed in my ear, his breath warm against my neck, sending an unwanted strange chill down the length of my body. "Some friend, right? Doesn't tell ya he's dopin' up your patient."
I'm sure he had a reason.
Rip his head off.
I took a steady breath in. "Yeah, it's too bad. He's a great karaoke partner."
"Ha ha ha..." his laugh rang in my ear as he began to rock us from side to side. My hands still clutched his arm bidding him to let go. The rhythm of the rocking somehow calmed me and I had to force myself not to loosen my grip. I had to stay on guard.
This must have been what Josh meant earlier. I wondered when they started increasing his dosage to make him act like this. He was strong, even now as medicated as he was. Still he was calm now. Maybe...
I slightly pulled at his arm and tried to turn my body to spin out of his arms but he gripped me tighter around the waist.
"Not so fast, Babydoll." His breath against my skin once more made me release the tiniest whimper. "Mmmmm...Y'know, it would be so easy to crush you like this," his arms tightened even more around, making it that much harder to breathe, "but that would mean wasting such a brilliant mind to disassemble."
Not comforting. A sharp pounding on the door sounded and he released me. I stumbled forward and spun around just as the door opened. Josh and Pedro entered with two nurses, straitjacket in their hands. He merely glowered at me with that scarlet smile on his face as they wrapped him up. He didn't blink. Not once. His gaze unwavering.
It wasn't until he left and I was alone in the therapy room did I remember to breathe.
I hated doing this. Sitting outside of Dr. Carlson's office, my foot tapping on the linoleum floors, impatient and nervous, with a side of nail picking. I could hear the muffled voice of my mentor through the door, sounding perplexed in a lengthy phone call. It was three days following my last session with the Joker and it had only been one day since my near melt down in the office of my own therapist. I had held back. I had been keeping it in all the while I called her for an emergency meeting as soon as they possibly could, and still I couldn't bring myself to just let it all out. The sheer panic and alarm I had felt in that room with the Joker holding onto me and breathing into my ear. Anything could have happened. Anything.
I had fought with myself for the past several days that maybe having the cameras wasn't a horrible idea, especially after what I had just encountered. But I knew I couldn't have been in any horrible danger. Josh and Pedro had been waiting just outside the door, a single scream from me or a brash knock on that door would have brought them in. I had to remind myself of that. Right now it was the principle. It was the breech in my contract that brought me here. Yeah, maybe it was a good idea to keep him under tight surveillance, but what if his knowing that he was being watched was what was making him hold back revealing certain information I could use to help him?
My foot brushed against my bag on the floor, the rattling of a bottle full of pills interrupting the quiet of the hall. I checked to make sure no one saw before I pulled my bag onto my lap and read the label on the bottle, still hiding in the bag.
I hadn't been on medications for my anxiety in awhile. It had been manageable, everything falling into a peaceful routine and keeping my mind busy. I had the occasional attack when things got rough but it was usually contained with some breathing exercises and tricks my therapist recommended.
But after my last session with the Joker...
I hadn't taken any yet. I was still hesitant to, wondering if I was overreacting or if I should just suck it up. But that fact that my hands were still shaking at the recurring thought of his arm around my neck, squeezing tighter as he purred in my ear was enough the make me pop the top off the bottle and pour the recommended two pills onto my eager hand, downing it with water from my water bottle.
I was twisting the cap back on the bottle of pills when Dr. Carlson's office door opened.
"Ah, Woodward, there you are," Dr. Carlson noted. Where else would I be? "Come on in."
Letting the bottle slide into my bag and slinging it over my shoulder, I followed my professor into his office and let him shut the door as I sat in the chair in front of his desk.
Dr. Carson cleared his throat. "I, uh...heard what happened at Arkham a couple of days ago..."
I stiffened my shoulders. It took me a second to decide what I wanted to say. "A lot happened at Arkham."
"Yes..." He pondered, studying me as he sat on the edge of his desk in front of me. "Well, frankly, Woodward, I'm not sure what to say."
That you were wrong?
"Sir..." I began. My heart pounded, for fear that I was going to come off as a fool, naive, that I didn't know what I was talking about. But that feeling in my gut was churning all the way up to my heart; I knew what had happened was wrong. It said specifically on my contract, resting in a folder in my bag next to my medications. "It has come to my attention that my contract has been breached." It felt good to finally say it to him, what I've been wanting to say since that day in Arkham. Of course, seeing the blank, almost scrutinizing expression on his aging face made me doubt again. Almost. I took in a breath. "Multiple times." The addition was necessary, not only because it was true, but because it made me feel like my claim was more valid.
"How so?" He simply asked, questioning for enlightenment. As if he didn't already know.
I pulled the folder out of my bag, the edge of it snagging on the strap. "It clearly states on page 3 that all of my sessions with my patient would not be recorded, they would be 100% confidential, except when approached by his psychiatrist, whom I was never approached by, nor was I actually given his name, to discuss relative information about the patient and to be informed about medical dosage increases, decreases, or changes." I flipped through the packet of papers to the third page where lines of text flashed neon pink. "It was several days ago when I learned that our sessions have been recorded by Arkham Asylum, and the psychiatrist had increased his dosage of a medication that has effected the patient without my knowing nor consent."
I bent the corners of the packet back, fully revealing the page and held it out for Dr. Carlson. A simple raised hand at the offer was all he needed to say that he knew what the contract said. It would have passed off as a mistake if he had taken the time to look at it. But he knew...he knew what the contract said and that I was right.
Dr. Carlson removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers. "Woodward...I appreciate your regard for professionalism within the workplace and your craft, but...you must understand the circumstances with your patient."
I blinked several times, wondering if I was truly hearing this as I shoved the contract back into the folder.
He sighed. "I can understand your, er, disappointment. Allen Push alerted me of your encounter with him and what you...threatened to do."
I stared at him with glassy, unimpressed eyes. "Given my alarm and the breach, it most certainly would have been appropriate."
He scrunched his face, showing off the aging lines his otherwise mostly calm expressions hid. "Ah, Woodward, that's where you're actually wrong."
I knit my eyebrows together.
His face softened and he donned his friendly smile with a trace of empathy in his eyes. "Listen, Woodward, you're new to this. I know you're extremely intelligent, and you have the guts to take on a project that one else wanted to. But this is also a...to describe it...a delicate case. As you know, the government is...somewhat involved, him being a high profile criminal. It's not as simple as simply turning off the recording cameras."
The doubt started to creep into my brain. He was my professor. He had been in this profession for about as long as I've been alive. He was right, the Joker was a high profile criminal, someone the government had to keep tabs on. But...why my therapy sessions? Especially when he had a psychiatrist as well...Staz. Did they record his sessions too? Did he know about it? Why wouldn't he tell me about something like this?
Dr. Carlson must have seen the ease on my face right then because he crossed his arms and leaned in a little. "Does this...sort of clarify some things for you?"
I cleared my throat, not finding the words to say.
He sighed. "Now, I assure you that Allen Push will not be recording your sessions anymore."
"What about the psychiatrist?" I inquired.
His lips thinned into a line for a brief second. "The psychiatrist will be spoken to, I assure you. He will make sure that all notes regarding the Joker's meds will reach you in due time."
"Yes, sir, thank you, but I would also like to know who they are."
He stared at me. "Right now, Dr. Woodward, I would like for you to focus on the patient. Your insights are truly valuable. But right now...we would like to separate the two of you until we can get some more information regarding the Joker from the psychiatrist. You see, he was recently added as his new psychiatrist, that's why there was a change. But right now, we are looking into any changes with the two of you as his primary therapists and seeing what results can be noticed until we bring the two of you together to coincide."
They still wouldn't tell me who he was. So I wouldn't track him down. But that meant this was some sort of experiment on the Joker. And I was still not informed. Why all of the secrets?
"I assure you, Woodward, that as soon as we have enough information, we will bring the two of you together, alright?"
My mind flashed to that day. Walking back into the therapy room, the Joker trapping me in his arms, breathing and purring in my ear. It was so frightening, the one day he was without a straitjacket was of course the one day he attacked me.
"Alright?" Dr. Carlson's voice urged through my memory. I snapped back into the moment of my being in his office.
Without fully thinking, I nodded. I trusted Dr. Carlson. He had given me so much, faith, knowledge, and this opportunity, when it was clear that I wasn't qualified nor was I wanted by the Asylum.
"Good, glad to hear it," he confirmed, clapping me on the shoulder. He straightened up from the desk and I stood myself, my eyes glued to the musty, old rug that adorned the floor.
"Woodward," he said. I snapped my head up to him and concerned etched in his face. "Did...anything else happen that day at Arkham?"
I hesitated before shaking my head. "N-no."
He didn't look convinced but he was willing to let it go. For now.
As I made my way to the door, I turned suddenly. "Sir, I just had one last question."
"Of course, Woodward. Anything."
"Staz," was all I said. He blinked at me, placing his glasses back on his nose.
"Er, yes, what about him?"
That was all I needed. The confirmation was there is his feign ignorance.
I shook my head. "Oh, uh...nothing. I guess I was just wondering if you happened to know where he might be."
"Ah...yes, he should be wrapping up with Dr. Peabody and their class down the hall."
I nodded. "Of course. Thank you."
Out in the hallway again, I nodded to Dr. Carlson as he closed his office door just as Dr. Peabody's class was filing out. I stood by, waiting for the last of the stragglers to make their ways into the stairwell or elevator.
I inched closer to the classroom and peeked inside to see if I could spot Staz without catching the notice of Dr. Peabody. Chances were, she heard about what happened at Arkham, and the last thing I wanted was a condescending stare and snippy lecture. But Staz wasn't anywhere to be seen within the classroom. Dr. Peabody sat quietly at the table in front of the whiteboard, her usual spot, typing away on her laptop.
He must have left early, and I just missed him.
I slung the strap of my bag onto my shoulder and tightened my shoulders, marching out of the hallway and into the stairwell as quickly as possible.
I hadn't realized how much I needed the fresh air until I stepped outside, a brisk gust of wind attacking my face on the street outside of Lowry Building. My bangs fluttered about my head, and my french braid jerking around the collar of my violet peacoat. I looked both ways on the sidewalk, searching for an opening within the lines of people going about their normal lives.
"Emily?" I heard a voice say.
My head snapped around to see Staz standing right behind me at the entrance to the building I had just stepped out of.
He made a face. "You okay?"
I shook my head, finally realizing what was happening. "Uh, yeah. Hi, Staz."
He snickered, stepping around me onto the sidewalk. "You look confused. The Joker finally getting to your head?"
I knew he was joking, but for someone reason I couldn't bring myself to laugh, or even smile. All I could do was stare at him, his hands shoved into his coat pockets, securing the strap of his brown leather messenger bag. I saw his expression drop when he saw a lack of response.
I blinked, revealing a small smile. "Ha, yeah, sorry, it's just been a long week." That was for sure.
He nodded, giving me the same expression Dr. Carlson did when I said nothing else happened at Arkham. "Yeah, I heard you had a small fallout with Push earlier this week." So he had heard. Why would anyone tell him, unless he worked at Arkham himself? "Don't worry about it, Push is a creep with a picked up his ass."
I nodded slowly. "Yeah...I know." I grasped at my bag's strap. "You know...The Joker mentioned you the other day."
There was something in Staz's eyes that I couldn't place. His expression was unreadable and I wondered if he would respond with what I wanted him to. He flashed his perfect smile, completely unfazed.
"Did he really?"
"I can't believe he remembered me after my final over a year ago. What did he say about me?" Staz chuckled.
Why was he playing along too? Maybe I was wrong. Maybe he wasn't the Joker's new psychiatrist. Maybe the Joker really was just playing with my mind, trying to drive me insane, to doubt and suspect those I could trust.
I grinned and released a laugh. "That you were some pussy blonde boy, more or less offensive"
He seemed pleased with the comment. "I wouldn't expect any less." He waved at me before turning away. "See you around, Woodward."
I watched him disappear into the thread of people wrapped in their dark coats to protect themselves from the cold. Though the doubts crept into my mind slowly, I desperately didn't want to believe them. My mind was betraying me so often these days, and my gut still told me that something was off. I just couldn't decided which one to believe. I decided to wait until my meds kicked in to see how I felt about it later. Intuition never failed me in times of need. But neither did my brain when my anxiety wasn't kicking in. There wasn't any knowing right now.
A cup of tea was much needed, and perhaps a new book. I wove through the crowds of people down the street, thinking about where the nearest bookstore was.
I'm so sorry I haven't posted in so long! I was originally going to make this a two chapter thing to post simultaneously and then when I realized how big these chapters were, I hit a block. That and numerous other life things. A friendly reminder, my lovely readers: please take care of yourselves. It's good to be busy but don't overwork yourself. Take the time you need to take care of yourself; not just your job, your friends, and family members. Make sure you're taking the time to pursue your hobbies and what makes you happy. Your sanity matters too :)
The next chapter may take a little while, but I made sure I had a nice long chapter for you. The next one will be even more important, and even more thrilling ;D
Thank you so much to my beta for getting back to me so quickly with this massive chapter.
LouisianaSiren96: you have been the greatest push for me to continue writing this fanfiction, and the best person to vent to. I hope you enjoy this long overdue chapter!
Lili: You've been commenting since the beginning and I greatly appreciate it.
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Thanks for reading!