He got out – broke out, somehow – and thusly wasn't her problem anymore.
By all means, he should have been. She should have been worried. Guilt should have twisted her arm into confessing to Dr. Leland the entire mishap. But there just wasn't a way to capture it with words. Not the smell of his skin or the ice in his fingertips, not the feel of his greasy hair on her forehead or that chill just his few chuckles had run through her spine.
And certainly, not the way he'd removed her security pass from around her neck just as easily and carelessly as he'd removed the rest of her clothing.
It had all been a mistake. Really. This is what she keeps telling herself as she passes through the hall, by his door that now hangs open where he used to sit, sometimes for hours, lazing on his bed and flashing shadow-puppets on the ground in the dim, flickering fluorescent light. That is, until she walked by. It's the only time she remembers seeing him standing, paying attention to anything other than himself – peering with those black-painted eyes out at her through that slit of a window, grinning unseen but obvious.
They tried to make him keep his face clean, she recalls, but he always found ways. They started to get lazy.
Now she just wants to get her book written and get out, move on to some comfy job with her millions made in the heart of Arkham – first hand interviews and insights into the most celebrity psychopaths for three states wide.
This is the thought that's rolling around aimlessly in her head as she scribbles down her final notes on her sit-in session with Crane. She isn't really allowed to do any kind of solo analysis at this point in her internship, but she is persuasive and the keys are far too easy to get with a quirky smile and some flirtatious promise she never intends to keep. Perhaps, she supposes, she should keep that smile under wraps for a while. It's what got her in after hours, slipping into his room and questioning him as she might a real person – calling him by his alias obligingly, and begrudgingly accepting the fact that he refused to call her anything but "Harley."
"Doesn't it make you feel like puh-puh-purring?" He had said; it wasn't really a question, not with him. His smile was sick and she found herself already testing the limits of everything she had learned – was supposed to learn – in med school.
"Then I suppose 'The Joker' makes you feel like laughing?" She tried, with all the concentration in her body, to get back on track. To win.
"Not when you say it, doll."
She had to leave. He didn't even need to accent his meaning with a gesture. There was something inherently perverse about it, something so base.
Now she thinks that may be the very reason she went back. The very reason she let herself speak to him alone, without surveillance. She'd even let the janitor off his duties in that wing for the evening.
But now he's gone. And it just isn't her problem.
This is what she thinks when she offers a last glance through the window at the once-Dr. Crane. Scarecrow, he calls himself now. A mastermind in psychiatrics, in the study of the mind, then a duped mastermind of crime, then a pitiful drug-peddler, and now a patient on the other side of the glass.
She sort of likes that. It's a shock from her memories of listening to his lectures, studying his books, taking notes in his classroom. She likes being on this side of the window. It makes her feel powerful.
And that's when those chills find their way into her neck and down her back so that she straightens up like an arrow. She's sure, for a moment, that the far too familiar laughter is in her head. She's sure it's just a twisted, ill-placed recollection. But then she hears the orderlies scream, and that cackle sounds off like a beacon in the pale prison of the madhouse halls.
It's him. He's here.
It feels almost as perverse as their conversations, but instinct takes over, and she's racing down the hall with all her precious notes scattered behind her like the crackling feathers of a bird. For a split second, she thinks she can fly, and that door just two corners down with the gate above it ready to come down with a simple press of the security button to the left feels like the sky. If she can flap hard enough, run fast enough, take off smoothly enough, she can escape.
The alarm that wracks the building in a manner which he imitates with his laughter tells her the gate's already down. She can't turn that way anymore. She can't turn any way. Her whole wing has been shut down.
She cuts through the lobby where patients who exercise good behavior and competent social skills for psychopaths and schizophrenics are allowed to huddle and play checkers or watch the bolted-down black and white TV. Her heels are just scraping down the nearest nook of a kiddy-corner hallway when she sees a flash of his arm, a swing of a bag, and hears the sounds of dozens of guns clattering to the floor for all the alert and awake patients to find and pick up. Like toys.
"Ho, ho, ho!" His own crack makes him giggle. She can't see him anymore, but he's loud enough for his voice to burn in her ears as she bolts for the back part of this side of the building. She thinks, now, maybe she can hide. Maybe she's a mouse, now. Maybe she can find a hole in the wall and curl up there until he's sauntered his way through the whole building.
She laughs, but not because she means to. She's just never been so many odd things in one evening.
"Come get your presents, kiddos! But Santa needs an elf…"
It's the sudden shift in his attention that she can hear in his voice, even as she flings herself down the last available corner, that finally gets her blood pumping. She couldn't feel her heartbeat for the last minute and a half, but now it seems like the only thing in the world.
His casual footfalls are already catching up to her. She's trapped in this last expanse of linoleum floor lined with doors that never open. The solitary ward. His old ward.
It's the only door that's open, and even though she doesn't want to sink into the thick air of his old room, she dives through the entryway and immediately seeks a spot under his bed, curled up like a little girl.
That's three. Three things she's been in a matter of minutes.
The sound of another patient fills the hallway. She recognizes him. It's Ernie Michaelson, and he's too autistic to understand his own sociopathic nature. He doesn't even remember that he killed his mother.
Ernie's childspeak floods the calm before the storm, and she's almost willing to bet he's grasping at Joker's coat, asking him in that mush-mouthed way to tell him where to go, to ask him where his dolly is, why hasn't mommy come back.
There's a disgusted sort of hack, and she's sure it's him. A few shuffles of slippers on the floor – he must have pushed Ernie away – and a round of adolescent giggles that aren't Michaelson's at all.
"Here," oozes the only voice that can speak clearly, "why don't you –" there's another bit of shuffling, and Ernie wheezes in despair "—take this –" a metallic sound; another gun "—and go play in the street?"
There is a small stretch of silence before Ernie delivers a delighted grunt and stumbles back down the hallway like a kid with the biggest candy bar he's ever seen. She is almost touched by the near-kindness displayed here (if not in a rather twisted manner) until she hears the bang that shot out the rest of her life as a doctor, and the thud of what could only be Ernie's body somewhere down the way.
And then he laughs like some hyena, and there is no more Doctor Harleen Quinzel.
It seems like the longest few seconds of her life, and she holds her breath when she sees his tailored pant legs come into view. For a moment, she dares to hope that he simply assumes she isn't there, his turning this way and that in an exaggerated manner as if recalling fond memories within these walls simply a passing action – he'll go away. She lets herself believe it. He'll leave.
"Harley, Harley, Harley…"
She can't tell if it's real amusement in his voice, but two smiles greet her when he crouches down to peer amid the metal legs of the bed. At once there is the nose of a gun in her face – it's a pistol. She doesn't know why she notices this; she doesn't know anything about guns. But it's old-fashioned, classic, and when he cocks it with his thumb the barrel turns.
She must be simpering, must be crying, must be scrambling back against the wall, because he shakes his head and clicks his tongue in a manner of fatherly disapproval. "Now, now," he offers pleasantly, canting his wrist up so that the small, cool circle of the gun is touching her forehead, "Daddy doesn't particularly want to kill you, doll."
Somehow, this is not a relief.
"But you have to give me a reason."
She can't think. Not with her sweat forming a perfect, dry "O" shape at the center of her head. Not with that face blurry in front of her. Not with her wings clipped and her hidey-hole destroyed.
He sighs, and he gives her forehead a bit of a jab with the gun, as though this might jog her thought process into a faster gear.
Something in her shuts off. Perhaps she is resigning to die. Perhaps the last bit of sanity she clings to is dying under the weight of that dangerous hunk of metal. Whatever it is, for the first time, she looks past his ready hand, and her round gaze meets something she doesn't expect.
There is a gunshot, but it isn't his. A bloodied, frustrated Ernie is wandering back into the room, firing off his misbehaved toy in the general direction of its origin. His Santa has betrayed him.
He mumbles something through the jaw he no longer has, and a clinging tooth clatters to the white floor of the sterilized room.
Joker laughs as a rough, toddler-like hand grabs at the back of his collar and drags him away. Ernie is a large man. It's easy to forget when his eyes look up and down like a lost kid's.
There's a weight in her lap, and she distractedly feels at it with one hand. It's still cocked. Her finger fits on the trigger. It doesn't occur to her yet that this gun is so small – too small for him. He must have had trouble holding it. It almost feels like it was meant to be in her hand all along.
He's still laughing and kicking and clutching at the front of his shirt to pry it away from his neck as Ernie waves his gun around, pointing it haphazardly and occasionally striking at the top of that green head with wild abandon.
"Oooh, Harl!" He's giggling. It doesn't even bother her at this point. "What – whatwhat are you going to do?"
She doesn't understand, and she continues to watch like it's all a big train wreck. Maybe it is.
"He – he's going to kill me!" He doesn't sound too worried. "Oooh, he's going to do it!"
Her hand starts to comprehend before she does. It's already trying to lift the gun at the end of her arm.
"What will happen when their king dies, Harley-girl? They'll eat each other! They'll eat you! They'll – oh, ah-haha, not so hard, pally!"
There is a gunshot. She doesn't even realize this until after her legs begin to quiver.
She doesn't know how, but she's standing. Ernie slumps to the ground under a haze of smoke that leaks like a satisfied snake from the end of her pistol. She's not sure which one of them starts it, but she knows she laughing. She's laughing so hard her stomach hurts. She can hear him, too, crying out with mirth, but it's the sound of her own voice that consumes her.
She isn't quite certain whether or not she's laughing because she's crying, or crying because she's laughing, or if these are two separate events entirely. The only thing that becomes solid in her mind is that it all stops when he kisses her.
An indefinite amount of time goes by. She's lost her glasses and he's got his arm wrapped around her waist almost like an afterthought. He's laughing again, peering down from the window of the tallest wing in the hospital. This used to be Dr. Leland's office. She isn't sure what it is now.
He's whooping and hollering with a hand pressed up against the glass, leaving behind a white smudge wherever he pushes his nose into the window. "This – this will do it! This will get his attention!"
All at once, he turns to her, as if chaos is not occurring below them. As if they can't hear screams or shouts or running bodies all beneath the floor and outside on the grounds.
"But," he offers in a bored tone, already shrugging off his trench, bestial smile curling onto his permanent one, "what now?"
She can't help it. She laughs.
And the madhouse burns.