A/N: My first time dabbling in any Batman universe, so reviews and especially constructive criticism is greatly appreciated. Enjoy!
"The Beginning of the End of the World"
"Arkham?" She gulped.
"You're not interested." It wasn't a question.
"No! I mean, yes, yes, I am! Interested. But…" She paused, pressing her lips together out of nervous habit. "Arkham?"
"They are in need of another resident psychiatrist." The Department Head bent towards her, steepling his fingers in front of his face, elbows resting against the polished mahogany surface of the desk that separated them. "Convenient, is it not?"
"What happened to him?" The question escaped before she thought better of it.
He raised an eyebrow in response. "You sound nervous, Ms. Quinzel. I was under the impression that you wanted this internship."
She pressed her hands into her lap to hide the shaking. So, so close… "Yes. I do want it. Very much."
"Though perhaps you would like more time to think—"
"No! I mean, er, I've thought about it." Too much. "I'd like to start as soon as possible."
The Department Head leaned back in his chair, steepled fingers following the smooth movement, remaining poised at his chin, staring her down in silence. Her gaze remained even, matching his measure for measure; she refused to be intimidated out of this opportunity.
After a long moment, he sighed, moving his gaze elsewhere while suddenly seizing a stack of papers on his desk to straighten them. She waited in quiet, victorious anticipation, until, "Very well. I'll inform the staff that you will be arriving at nine-thirty Monday morning; do not be late."
She stood, smoothing her skirt with still-trembling hands. "Thank you," she said, and turned to leave the stuffy office as fast as possible. Having almost made it to the door, however, his voice stopped her again.
"Oh, Ms. Quinzel? Harleen?"
She ground her teeth furiously at his usage of her first name, turning slowly to provide herself with enough time to force the grimace into a tight smile.
He smiled back, just as false, with a touch of menace. "Good luck."
She flashed her new clearance badge hurriedly at the security guard posted outside the gates, glancing at her watch—nine twenty-five. At least her early start had gotten her a few extra minutes; the traffic from her apartment to the Island had been horrible.
Apparently the badge only allowed for unquestioned admittance onto the premises, however, because once the gates closed behind her an escort of two more guards arrived, searching her belongings and patting her down before leading her into the large building.
"Will my car be all right?" she asked one of the guards. For some unfathomable reason, the parking garage was outside the gates; she was fond of that little Honda.
"Should be fine," he replied. His voice was harsh, almost a rasp.
Unsatisfied with this answer, yet no longer keen on conversation, she kept to herself as the two led her silently through the white-washed corridors that seemed almost to twist in on themselves, like a labyrinth of tile and drywall. The smell of bleach was everywhere.
After five minutes of this, they arrived at a lobby of sorts, where she was greeted by yet another guard and a woman sporting a white coat very similar to the one she herself wore. The woman smiled at her warmly, waving her over to the large receptionist's desk in the far corner of the room.
"You must be the new intern," said the woman, extending a hand. "I'm Danielle."
"Harley," she replied, taking the offered hand. They shook briefly.
"First thing's first—the tour. I'd take you myself, but I'm swamped," continued Danielle, gesturing towards the desk; stacks of paperwork adorned the surface. "Scott here will take good care of you."
Harley turned to glance at the new guard standing silently a few paces away. He nodded at her and smiled, but the expression fell just short of his eyes, leaving them cold and hard. She fought to keep from shivering as she met Danielle's gaze once more. "How long is the tour?"
"About an hour or so. Afterwards, I'll take you to the offices where you can get situated, and meet the others on the staff."
"This way," said Scott the guard, and she followed him through a door on the far wall of the small lobby that shut with such heavy finality, she wondered how many of the occupants here ever saw the light of day again.
The building was vast, far larger than she had once thought. No wonder the tour stretched on, endless, like the mind-numbing monotony of tile and steel door that greeted her as she rounded each new corner in every corridor. It was almost boring… had it not been for the screams.
The wards depressed her, despite the aching white of the bleached walls. She wrestled within herself for the clinical mindset that she had learned to adopt when working with patients so as to not get too emotionally involved as Scott went on about the inmates of particular cells they passed on their journey—a schizophrenic here, a psychopath there. She blocked his voice out after a while, wanting solitude, numbness.
The screams remained.
Things changed when they reached the top-most level of the building, however: the maximum-security ward. Guard presence increased, often making the corridors cramped as they patrolled. Harley took her mind off autopilot at last, becoming more tense and alert with each step. The walls were different here, too, a dark grey; it reminded her of steel plates, and she shivered.
"You all right, Dr. Quinzel?" It was Scott, noticing her shiver this time.
She smiled, pausing, distinctly enjoying the sound of her last name after the word 'Doctor'. "I'm perfectly fine, thank you."
They continued down the corridor.
"This cell is different," Harley noted with a start, stopping in surprise. White padded walls gleamed back at her through the large observation window.
The guard nodded. "Twenty-four hour surveillance with this one. Solitary confinement."
"What happened to video surveillance?" She felt herself drawn inexplicably closer to the thick glass window, wondering if the inmate could see her, should he happen to look up. He sat on the small bed in the corner, twiddling his thumbs idly.
"We don't trust him with cameras."
"Who is he?" she asked, not bothering to turn her head away. The sight before her was strangely engrossing.
"That's the Joker, ma'am."
Her breath condensed lightly on the glass as she came even closer, placing a hand on the cool surface. On cue, almost as if he'd heard his name, the inmate called Joker looked up from his twiddling thumbs.
The Joker. Of course she knew him. But he looked different without the grease paint and trademark purple suit. His scars still drew the eye, though, mildly horrifying in their nakedness. His hair hung lank and greasy, framing his pale face. He squinted, eyebrows creeping close together as he stared through the glass.
He was fascinating.
"Can he see me?" asked Harley, chills racing through her nerves as she stared back at him.
A strange surge of simultaneous relief and disappointment. "When will he be released from solitary confinement?" Her mind raced, formulating questions she could ask him, ways to get through to him. Gotham's most notorious criminal, and she, Harleen Quinzel, would work to understand him, to help him…
"I'm not sure," was the answer.
He went back to twiddling his thumbs, whistling this time. She could tell not from the sound—there was none—but rather from the position of his lips.
"No one has tried speaking with him?" She tore her eyes away from the bright cell, backing away from the window. She could see her smudged fingerprints on the glass where she had placed her hand.
The guard chuckled, taking a tentative step further down the corridor; he seemed restless, uncomfortable. "No one is crazy enough to try."
She fell into step beside him, glancing back into the cell one more time before moving on.