Admit it, you saw that chapter title coming.
I wasn't really sure about this chapter. It felt a little like walking a tightrope, a little too much either way and I'd fall off. I don't think I'll know whether I got it right for a few more chapters, to be honest. As a result the next chapter might take a couple weeks to get out. I held this one back in the hopes of some kind of breakthrough re the next chapter, but some thought will be involved. I might actually have to start PLANNING chapters out beforehand. (I know, omg, right?) So I may end up writing a few chapters before posting the next one, but it'll mean that I don't have to go back through and change things in a major way if I decide I've done it wrong.
--sigh-- When did this become so complicated?
The standard disclaimer still applies.
She froze; stopped in mid-step, one hand wrapped around her files, the other in her purse, clutching her keys.
Batman. He'd haunted the Gotham night for years, picking up criminals and depositing them in the welcoming hands of police… or here, at Arkham.
Theoretically, he was a Good Guy. Theoretically. And, it had to be said, he hadstyle. All that black… and that strong jawline, those broad shoulders. The swoop of his cape. Hmm. You had to admit, he had a little something.
So why did she feel a sense of danger? Why was there a dim animosity towards him?
As if you didn't know.
Batman stepped through the doorway, pulling a man after him. The man, garbed in a strange sort of armour, was gasping as if he couldn't breathe. The helmet that encircled his head was cracked, allowing an icy vapour to leak into the air.
Victor Fries. Harley set her bag and files down on the receptionist's desk and went to the man's side, her eyes checking carefully for injury.Couldhe be injured? She knew so little about his anatomy; how could she help?
"Nurse? Guards, get a nurse in here who knows how to deal with him!" she snapped, frustration wearing at her patience.
When Fries was taken into the hands of experienced guards and nurses, Harley turned to the arresting figure who stood, arms folded, beside her.
He's taller than the Joker, almost, Harley thought to herself, wincing as the act of looking up cramped a neck already sore from sleeping on her desk.
She summoned her courage. "Mr. Batman?"
It seemed as if he raised a brow under that mask. "Yes?"
She fumbled for her notebook and found it in the pocket of her lab coat. "I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions," she said, flipping it open and finding a pen. "I've recently been assigned to the Joker, and I really think you could help provide some insight on –"
"Don't bother," he said flatly. "No one has ever made any progress with the Joker, with or without my help."
Harley quashed a stab of annoyance and tried to stay polite. "This isn't about your help," she said, her voice tightening. "I don't want you to tell me your theories, or anything like that. I want to know about you. If I understand you and your relationship with the Joker, I'll be better able to understand him."
Batman shook his head. "Give up," he suggested. "Try to get yourself reassigned. He'll destroy you. You won't last two sessions."
Harley opened her mouth to tell him that she'd just finished her fourth, thank you so very much, but she thought better of it.
"Thank you for your co-operation, Mr. Batman," she said icily. She turned on her heel, only to feel his gauntleted hand drop onto her shoulder.
"Wait. I know that you're doing your job, and that you want to help him. You have to know that the Joker is a lost cause. Don't waste your life trying to help him. You'll never get anywhere, and he won't thank you for it."
Harley looked up at him over her shoulder. "Trying to keep me from disappointment, Batman? Trying to keep me from turning cynical like all the rest of the shrinks in here?" She shrugged, stepping away from him and spreading her hands in a gesture of acceptance. "I know that I'm caught up in the idealism of youth. Just out of grad school, I bet you see them all the time, all filled up with the certain knowledge that they can save the world." She smiled a grim smile. "Well, maybe I can't save the world. But I can try to save this little part of it. And maybe I'll fail miserably, but at least I'll have tried. And if you don't at least hope that you can make a difference, however small…"
He had caught the double-edged thrust of her speech, and nodded slightly. Good. She wasn't sure what she'd have done if he'd turned out to be a damned hypocrite.
"Just this little part of it, huh?" he said wryly. "You picked a hell of a 'little part'."
"So did you," she said, raising her chin slightly, almost a challenge. "Gotham's not the easiest town in the world to clean up. I bet sometimes you wonder whether you really make a difference."
He seemed surprised, as if he hadn't expected her to say anything even remotely intelligent. How the hell did he think she had made it through medical school? She was a goddamn psychiatrist, it was her job to know what made people tick. Public servants worrying whether they made a difference, that was textbook.
Batman narrowed those glowing eyes slightly. "Sometimes," he admitted. "I have to go." He turned, but paused in the doorway. "Think up some questions that I can answer quickly," he said. "I might be able to help you another night."
A swoop of his cape, and he was gone; another shadow among shadows in the dark Gotham night.
Harley stared after him a moment. Then she pouted. Scene-stealer. Here she was coming up with brilliant lines about how alike they really were, and then he not only gets the last word, he makes an impressive, swoopy exit! And suddenly, somehow, he's the one who came out on top!
Annoyed, Harley stuffed her notebook into her bag. She stalked off towards her car, muttering under her breath. Stupid bat.
Stupid, self-righteous, humourless, spotlight-hogging –
Harley shook her head as she unlocked her car and slid behind the wheel. Hedid offer to help her. Sure, he had been patronising, but despite it he had agreed to answer her questions.
Still, she thought as she drove towards home, it was easy to see why Batman and the Joker didn't get along. The Bat was just as straight-laced and… and boring in real life as he had always seemed in
Not so long ago you were just as straight-laced and boring yourself. You and Batman should get along well.
Harley felt a blush spread across her cheeks at the thought. Had she really changed so much, in so little time? A month ago she might have admired Batman's ethics, his dedication to going out there every night and doing what had to be done. Now she just wanted to tell him to loosen up and get over himself.
No wonder the Joker didn't like him. He was the manifestation of everything the Joker disliked.
Harley's brain kicked back into Psychiatrist Mode as she parked her car and began to gather her things. It was just as easy to see why Batman didn't like the Joker. Batman was rules, order, stability, laws, social structure. The Joker was none of those things. The Joker was a catalyst, a wildfire, a force of nature. He broke through rules, order, stability; he showed them to be the follies they were. Of course they didn't get along, they were polar opposites. Each stood for the bane of the other.
Harley climbed the stairs to her apartment, trying to quash the thought that batted around at the back of her brain: You used to be just like Batman. Just like him. How did you change? When did you change? Why did you change?
Another thought arose out of the ether and stopped her in mid-step: If she was, or had been, just like Batman, and the Joker didn't like Batman… did that mean the Joker didn't like her?
Her first reaction was to dismiss the thought as nonsense. Her second was to wonder at how her heart had stopped at the concept, the very idea, that the Joker might dislike her.
It was so… so stupid. He didn't like anyone, did he? She might be harbouring some affection for him, might even be falling for him, but had she ever truly thought, even for a second, that he might hold any feelings for her at all?
Tears began to well up in her eyes as she fumbled with her key in her lock. Yes, yes, she had to admit it to herself. She had been under the, thedelusion that he actually cared something for her. He was playing with her. He must be. Just a game.
Harley stepped inside her apartment and dropped her files to the floor. She closed her door, leaning back against it and desperately fighting the sob that was rising in her chest. How could it all have been a game? How…
She sniffed, and dashed the tears from her eyes. No. This was stupid. She had never given him any reason to think that they were more than friends, at the very most. He had no reason to feel anything for her, save a shrink-patient relationship. The little flirtations, the small demonstrations of trust… they were only that. Trust didn't mean anything more than trust. If it came to that, Harley would trust Batman with her life. That didn't mean she liked him.
Anything she had seen in the Joker's eyes was probably just a projection of her own attraction to the man. The psychiatrist within her brightened up, latching onto this idea like a life preserver. Yes, of course. It wasn't the Joker playing games. It was her own mind that was playing tricks on her. Minds did that constantly. It was only natural. Just a by-product of her attraction.
Harley sniffled, but a small smile crept across her face. Her trust in the Joker was restored, and stronger for the test. True, she should never have trusted him in the first place. True, every day she berated herself for feeling any sort of trust in him. True, she was an idiot for trusting him. But, and she could deny it no longer, she did trust him.
But she smiled as she gathered her files, took them through to her study. A little work would steady her mind, distract her from her issues. Tonight it was a pleasure.
Like I said, I'm not entirely sure about this one. I think I made Harley a little too insightful for this stage in her mental development. Nor am I sure about her mental processes near the end there. Is she too deluded, or not deluded enough?
There are things I will need to plan out, I think, like when exactly Harley admits her feelings to the Joker. I feel like the Joker is moving forward, and Harley just took a step back. This may be beneficial as far as the fic is concerned, or I may get really annoyed with it, decide that my current line of thinking spells doom, and rewrite this chapter entirely. So prepare yourselves.