From the outside, Arkham Asylum was a forbiddingly dark brick box that squatted on the ground like a crocodile, waiting for the unwary to venture close so it could snap its iron jaws down upon them. From the inside, though, particularly in the little recreation room, it was almost homey.
Almost is the key word here. There is only so much psychological comfort available from couches and televisions and magazines. It's fairly easy to tune out the noises on the ward and burrow into your own head, provided that no one is being loudly psychotic directly into your ear, and with a bit of imagination it can be a home of sorts.
Of course, at home, you can kick out unwelcome visitors. In the twelve days that Sorrow had been locked away, she'd gotten somewhat accustomed to the quiet routine of the place. The rec room was always fairly silent - the top-tier rogues were not pleased when other inmates acted out, and showed their disapproval in rather violent ways - so the zonked-out schizophrenics twitched and swayed silently in their own fantasies. The inmates today were gathered in their usual clusters, dreaming their normally abnormal dreams...And then, with a boom of slamming doors, the glaring light of the hallway shone in, framing a sickeningly familiar green-haired head.
Sorrow and Harley Quinn looked up from the little table where they'd been playing tic-tac-toe. "Puddin'!" Harley shrieked, jumping to her feet.
Sorrow cringed back toward the wall as Harley left their table and catapulted toward the Joker. He dodged her at the last moment and she smacked hard into the doorframe. "Watch your step," he sniggered.
She dismissed her bleeding forehead and clung to him like a starving man clinging to a ham sandwich. "Oh, Puddin', I missed you so much!"
"I know," he grinned down at her.
A guard, still framed in the doorway, cleared his throat. "You're not supposed to be in here together," he said uncertainly.
"Really?" the Joker said innocently, one arm snaking up around Harley's shoulders.
"One of you has to go back to your cell," the guard said, getting a little bit more courage as the Joker and Harley exchanged a comedically exaggerated pout. "C'mon."
Harley wriggled free and sidled up to the guard. "You wouldn't separate us, would you?" She winked at him. "How're you gonna pay for that new car without us?"
The guard gulped. "Um, have fun," he said, hastily backing out of the room and slamming the door. Harley hugged the Joker with a squeal of triumph.
So, the guards take bribes, Sorrow mused to herself, scratching out a line of O's on her paper. Good to know. Harley ushered the Joker to the best seat in the room, forcibly tossing its former occupant out before bowing him grandly down. He settled himself and waved to the room in a kingly fashion. Harley danced attendance on him, fetching him playing cards and anything else he'd want from the narrow little shelves.
Sorrow sighed. Well, there went her only entertainment. Harley hadn't been the best of companions - Sorrow had heard enough about the Joker's various qualities to write a ten-book series on him - but at least she'd been friendly.
Not like anyone else in this place had been friendly. Well, not many of them, at any rate. Not for long. For the first few days of her stay, her visits to the rec room had been a steady stream of rogues enjoying themselves by pestering her until Harley chased them off. The Riddler had talked to her in anagrams until her head spun, the Mad Hatter had recited a series of gibberish poems at her, the Ventriloquist's puppet had tried to flirt with her (well, at least she thought so. She had no idea what 'gams' meant, but apparently hers were quite nice, whatever they were) and even the Scarecrow had torn himself away from his book to inquire about her deepest fears and phobias.
She knew perfectly well that these visits were not friendliness. They were entertainment (for them, not her) or a way of gauging her threat level to them. At the very least, she was a new audience for their endless stories about how they almost killed Batman that one time, no, really, he was this close to death...Still, she would have gladly sat and listened to Hour Twelve of Ivy's interminable lectures on Corporations Raping The Earth rather than pay another visit to Teng's office.
Harley had curled herself around the Joker's feet and was doing an absolutely spot-on impression of a kitten begging for love. The Joker, on the other hand, was busy ruffling playing cards with one hand and ignoring her. Idly, she began to sketch the two of them. Maybe Harley would like it for her cell wall...if the doctors let her have it.
Psychiatrists. Bah! She wasn't crazy, she fumed as she sketched. She wasn't crazy and there was no need for her to even have a psychiatrist, let alone see him five days a week. Besides, he was crazier than she was!...and since she wasn't crazy, that was easy to do. He kept making up stories out of anything she did. If she sighed, she was depressed. If she was sarcastic, she was repressing her anger. If she was angry, she was exhibiting violent tendencies. If she stayed silent, she was in denial. There was no way to win, and she'd left every one of their handful of sessions in a state of towering fury.
"And what have we here?" Her charcoal stick skittered across the page, uncontrolled, as she looked up into the eyes of the Joker. Shitohshitohshitohshit. She should have been watching him.
"A drawing," she answered quietly.
"Let's see it." She gingerly passed over the sheet of paper. He held it up, turning it round and round as if he was uncertain which way was up, and sneered at it. "Back to the drawing board! AH-hahahahahahaha!" He made a grand gesture, as if to rip the paper in two.
"Don't-" The word had left her before she could stop it.
"Don't? And why shouldn't I?"
"For Harley?" He looked down his long, pointed nose at her. "Harley doesn't need anything from you." With quick, precise movements, he tore the drawing into quarters and flung the shreds in her face. An infuriatingly happy smirk stretched his face as he turned on his heel and sauntered away.
Oh, that was it. She'd taken nothing but abuse and humiliation for the past week, letting the other rogues walk all over her, letting her so-called psychiatrist make up whatever lies he wanted to about her just to stay out of trouble. Well, screw that! She was sick and tired of being everyone's personal punching bag.
Sorrow shot to her feet. The chair tipped over and slammed down into the floor behind her, echoing like a crack of thunder. The other inmates turned to stare. She was halfway across the room and accelerating, winding up as she approached the Joker's back. With a scowl of hatred on her face, she whipped her arm back and punched him in the kidneys as hard as she could. As he turned, a look of arrogance attempting to overlay the pain she'd caused him, she ripped off her glove and slapped him full across the face.
He put a pale hand to his face and drew it away, fingertips blackened. He looked at them and chuckled as Sorrow folded her arms and glared at him. The laughs grew louder, and louder, until he was almost breathless from hysteria. And then, as if someone had hit the mute button, the laughter stopped. His scarlet smile creaked downward into a frown as a pair of tears slid down his cheeks. As they were joined by more, his knees went limp and dumped him on the floor.
"Puddin'!" Harley caught him as he fell and laid him gently on the ground. With murder in her eyes, she balled up her fists and advanced on Sorrow, snarling "What'd you do to him?"
"Nothing that he didn't have coming to him!" snapped Sorrow.
It's dangerous to infuriate psychotic gymnasts. With a massive twist, Harley sent both feet directly into Sorrow's chest. Sorrow hurtled backward, slamming into the end of a couch. The inmates that had been occupying it scattered like a flock of quail at the first sound of rifles going off.
"You get over here and fix him!" Harley ordered shrilly.
"I can't," Sorrow wheezed, splayed across the arm of the couch. She slowly struggled to her feet, trying her best not to touch her bare hand to the couch.
Harley stamped her foot like a petulant toddler. "Cry on him!"
"I can't," Sorrow repeated. "You're still bleeding. Did you know that?"
"I don't care!" Harley snapped.
"Well, I do," Sorrow retorted. "You'll thank me for this one day."
"Like hell I will! You fix him or I'll kill you!"
Sorrow smiled. "Then go ahead and kill me."
Harley cast her eyes around for a handy weapon. And then it hit her, as Sorrow had hoped it would - if she killed Sorrow, it basically ensured that the Joker would never get the antidote. She shook with rage. "I was nice to you."
Sorrow sighed and knelt in front of the Joker. He was staring off into nowhere, sobbing quietly to himself. She tried to summon up every sad memory she could - but no, it was useless. She couldn't cry for him. He was a monster. How many news stories had she seen involving him? Thirty? Fifty? And all involving death - husbands, wives, old people, children, babies...He deserved to die and Sorrow simply could not bring herself to save him.
"I'm sorry," she apologized softly to Harley.
With a wail, Harley hit the floor next to the Joker, pulling him into her lap and hugging him close like an oversized doll.
All eyes were on the three-person tableau as Sorrow tentatively patted Harley's shoulder. Harley yanked it away, hissed, and cuddled the Joker closer to her. Slowly, deliberately, one tear fell from Sorrow's eyes. She captured it with one gloved finger and held it over the Joker.
"I can't cry for you, Joker, but I can cry for Harley. I want you to remember how you feel right now every time you raise a hand to her. I want you to remember how you feel right now every time you raise a hand or even speak to any of us. I want you to remember that holding the city in the palm of your hand doesn't ever really make you happy, because you'll never get to hold the city for longer than a day or two, Joker, and true happiness lies in what lasts. I'm giving you this tear hoping that someday you'll be able to learn how to cry for yourself." She turned her finger upside down and smeared the tear down the center of his pointed nose, got up and walked away.
"And next time, keep your art appreciation to yourself."
Arkham's guards watched the rec room from the safety of the guard station on the next floor down. It wasn't that they were cowardly, or that they didn't care - they cared a great deal about the safety of the rogues. After all, without them, where would they get the spare cash for all of life's little extras?
However, they were unfamiliar with Sorrow, so when they saw the Joker hit the floor, they were largely unconcerned. It wasn't until Harley Quinn kicked her halfway across the room that they realized there may be more trouble than first met the eye - and when a guard zoomed the little camera in on the stark black handprint on the Joker's face, they knew that something serious was going down.
So they responded as they had been trained to do - with full force. The doors slammed open again and a horde of blue-shirted guards poured in, shooing the uninvolved inmates to the corners of the room as a little cluster in the center broke off to deal with the three troublemakers. The Joker got five guards' personal attention. It didn't matter that he was basically comatose on the floor - he was still dangerous. The remaining four split themselves between Harley and Sorrow, who were both trying to angrily explain things at top volume to one another. A quick round of injections took care of that, and soon they sagged limply to the ground, overwhelmed with the mental coordination involved to keep their legs stiff enough to support them. The guards pulled back together like a massive blue amoeba and drew the troublemakers off down the hallway.
In the corner, Ivy slipped the discarded scraps of paper into her jumpsuit for further study and seated herself by the fern in the corner. Its fronds wrapped lovingly around her hand as she absently patted it.
"I wondered when she'd crack," the Riddler commented from a nearby table. A charcoal stick dangled from his fingers, forgotten in all the fuss.
"Did you," Ivy muttered, not really interested in what he had to say.
He rolled his eyes. "They gave her to Teng."
"In that case, I'm surprised she didn't snap days ago," Ivy remarked, watching a single leaf dance about. "He won't last much longer around here."
"He's lasted a full month," Eddie pointed out.
"Oh, and he's doing such a good job," Ivy sneered elegantly. "She'll probably deal with him like she did with the Joker." She brightened. "Do you think the guards got that on tape? I'd love to have a copy or twelve back at the lair. His face after she punched him! Priceless."
Eddie nodded agreement and went back to his puzzle.
The injection had knocked her senseless…almost senseless. Reality melted around her like that fake lava stuff in the lamps…the…lava lamps, yeah. She fought for some semblance of reason to her mind as the guards hustled her down the hallways.
The floors swayed beneath her feet. The walls buckled, caved, stretched out to infinity. Her feet were the size of elephants, of mice, of horse's hooves. She tried to prance, to canter, to gallop, and received a slap on the side of the head.
She could see everything.
Her cell door, her cell, her bed…she was home. Home away from home, it was like a camp, a camp for the criminally insane, did that make the psychologists the counselors? She giggled, because for once something was funny, for once there was humor in the world. Another slap, and that wasn't funny at all, and then she was locked back down in the bed, locked again, locked in the basement and the gloves, no, Daddy, no I didn't mean to hurt Momma and she was screaming screaming screaming…
Bees? she thought muzzily as she slowly regained her senses. There was definitely some weird buzzing noise in the air...how'd bees get into the warehouse? There wasn't some rogue she'd pissed off who kept bees, was there? Bee-man?
No, wait. Rogues. The fog of tranquilizers drifted a little farther away. She'd seen rogues recently, lots of them. Somewhere...where? She concentrated as hard as she could. Thinking while doped up on whatever they'd injected her with was like wrestling with a greased whale.
Arkham. That was the word that had been hammering at her thoughts. She was in Arkham, right? So why the bees?
Snap. Zzzzzzzzzzz. Oh. It was just the flourescent lights flickering. She slowly forced her eyelids up and confirmed her theory. Yeah. Lights. They hadn't been this bad this morning, though. She let her head roll to the side, expecting to see the pale grey stone of her cell walls.
Instead, she saw a bench outfitted with manacles. Huh? She shook her head sharply, willing the chemicals to leave her mind alone. Where the hell was she? She tried the other side of the room. The giant storage closet and the sink finally reminded her what room she was in - the intake room, with stacks of uniforms piled neatly in the closet along with intake forms and a selection of restraints for every occasion. She'd spent a good two hours there her first night in Arkham.
And why was she sitting up? Beds didn't sit up. But she was on a bed and sitting up, and the paradox left her blinking in confusion for a full five minutes. As she fought to get a coherent thought together, the door opened. Teng glanced in, smiled at her, and went on his way.
Her eyelids shut themselves without her consent as her body informed her that she was going back to sleep. She dozed for a while in peace.
When she finally woke back up, the medications had finally worn off enough for rational thought to once again join forces with her, along with the powers of observation. The first thing she noticed was the dry crust of drool adorning her chin. She instinctively reached up to scratch it off.
Her hands were firmly attached to the bedside. Her head snapped forward to examine this new indignity. She was expecting leather straps, maybe handcuffs, maybe that weird leather/lambswool combination that she'd seen in that movie about the bratty kid who made everyone think his new stepmom had rabies.
What she actually saw was much worse. Not the restraints - they were just thick canvas straps securing her arms to the frame of the bed. No, the thing that made her heart leap into her throat was the set of gloves that someone had stuffed her hands into.
She hadn't told Teng anything about the gloves her father had put her in. But great (and sadistic) minds often thought alike. If he had seen a picture of those gloves from years ago he couldn't have done a better job of re-creating them.
The gloves themselves were made of steel mesh. Someone had dipped them in latex, making them waterproof as well as impossible to cut off. A pair of handcuffs, sawn apart at the chain, secured each hand firmly inside the gloves. And in case she'd had any bright ideas about weaseling the glove down through the handcuff, there was a thin ring of metal spot-welded into the wrist that would be impossible to thread through the tightly clipped cuff.
She stared at them in rising terror. They wouldn't have had these just laying around somewhere. They had to have been specifically made for her use. And the more she stared at them, the more she thought about that girl she'd been years ago, locked in the basement, mired in the darkness and hearing her mother's voice sobbing in her nightmares...
She didn't realize she was shrieking and yanking frantically on the straps until the door slammed open. "Ah, ah ah! None of that, little girl," Teng said as he strolled in.
"Get them off!" she begged in a rising wail. Dr. Teng smirked at her.
"Ah, my dear, you've shown that you cannot be trusted to leave unlocked gloves on, and we really can't have you running around without gloves, no no, we really can't."
Well, obviously pleading wasn't going to help. Since that was all she could reasonably try, she gave up and let her anger surge up. "I'm not running anywhere with all these straps on!" She yanked pointedly on her wrist restraints again and glared at him.
"This is also true, my dear, but we also couldn't have you getting up before we gave you your new round of medication." He grinned at her, then went over to the cupboard.
"Medication?" Sorrow was instantly on high alert. Something was up. She didn't take medication. She didn't need it. She wasn't crazy.
"Yes, my child. Now, I've read and reread your history…fascinating, I might add," and here Sorrow growled at him, knowing full well that he'd made most of it up himself, "and I've come to the conclusion that the normal methods, well, those just wouldn't do! Not in your case. So what the boys in the lab and I have done…" He opened the cupboard and pulled out a tiny syringe and a little jar. He jabbed the syringe into the jar's foil top and began filling it while he continued speaking. "Well, we've created what we think is the world's finest anti-depressant."
"It may have escaped your notice, but I'm not depressed," she said coldly.
He shook his head disapprovingly, flicking his eyes over her face before turning back to his work. "You've obviously been crying. Don't lie to me."
Sorrow almost snapped I wasn't crying before she felt the tears on her face. "That's different," she said lamely, her anger derailed by the fact that she had been crying and hadn't noticed.
He raised the syringe, excitement bubbling up in his eyes. "You should be honored," he chirped merrily at her as he approached her arm. "You're the first person who has met my rather stringent requirements, and I've been looking for ages..."
She looked away from him, lips clenched tightly. She wasn't about to give him the satisfaction of watching her reaction to whatever he was he was doing. The needle pierced her skin and the new medication flowed silently into her system. She didn't see Teng back away from her, the syringe in his hand forgotten as he watched her with hungry eyes.
It was actually somewhat pleasant. Warmth tingled up and down her spine. Everything was blurring, wavering in and out of focus. She was starting to feel good. Really good. Happy. Suddenly it all clicked back into sharpness and she smiled with relief. She even let out a little laugh…wait, she was still laughing…she couldn't stop! "Wh-wh-aahahahahahat the ahaha hell did you ahahahaha do to me? AHAHAHAHAHA!"
The doctor wasn't smiling, in fact he was frowning at her. "I suppose the formula still isn't quite right. Still, we'll try to do better next time, dear!"
Most of her mind was taken up with the absolute, unshakeable hilarity of the situation. The tiny bit of herself that was still normal, however, was strong enough to allow her to scream "I'll AHAHAHAHAHA kill you AHAHAHAHAHAAAAA you sick AHAHAHAHA twiAHAHAHAsted-"
"Flattery will get you nowhere, my little hyena. Come now, back to your cell." With that, he wheeled her out into the hallway and back to her cell. The cells passed in a tear-streaked blur of hilarity. A blue blob was ushering a green-and-grey blob that had to be Ivy down toward the cafeteria.
"AHAHAHAHelp meAHAHAHAHA!" she gasped out, tears of laughter rolling down her face. Ivy stared at her in shock, green face going pale.
"Get to breakfast, Pamela," snapped Dr. Teng.
(to be continued)
Author's Note: You might have noticed that this story isn't tagged humor. There's a reason for it, as you've already seen. We'll get back to the wacky hijinks soon enough.