The most useless piece of advice ever given is this: "Expect the unexpected." It's impossible. The unexpected, by its very definition, is unexpectable. If the unexpected happens, then you've hardly expected it, have you? It's this kind of logical conundrum that sends philosophers mad at an early age.
The most useful piece of advice in any situation, however, is this: "Watch out".
Doctors at Arkham Asylum were generally unfazed by the antics of their patients. In a way, it was like caring for a fox that had been born with the ability to pick the lock on the henhouse door. Every day, they heard about the nighttime depredations of their charges, and every day, they vowed to keep the doors locked tighter to avoid another nasty incident.
It was easy to dismiss some of these occurrences. With the detachment of those who watch the news every morning, the doctors noted each murder and moved on. But now...well, now things were different.
Sorrow had tracked down her ex-doctor and killed him. The rogues just didn't do that. Okay, so the Joker had bombed a staff meeting and killed Dr. Jackson - but that was different. For one, it was the Joker, and he was likely to do anything that caught his fancy. There probably hadn't been any kind of personal vendetta involved, just a need to watch those in charge panic and flutter about like frightened pigeons. Were there personal vendettas among the rogues and the doctors? Absolutely, but the rogues tended to forget them after they slipped their leashes. After all, in the big, bright, shiny world, who had time to worry about some stupid doctor back in the asylum that they definitely wouldn't be seeing ever again?
Sorrow did. And certainly, he'd deserved it - anyone with those kind of sadistic tendencies deserved to be neatly removed from the population at large - but no one had expected him to actually die. Everyone had simply assumed that she'd play with him for a while until Batman got involved.
The staff of Arkham, who bore at least part of the blame for Teng's death after their game of Hide-the-Paperwork, didn't take it well at all. They couldn't be held responsible. This could not be their fault. They were the good guys! And so, with this guilt bouncing in the backs of their brains like a dancing imp, they began to play a new game: Pass the Blame.
Sorrow lazed on her bed, enjoying the feel of her own rather stiff mattress after another round in solitary. This time hadn't been nearly as entertaining as the other - there had been a man crouched outside, watching her through her door, ordering her in an almost plaintive bark to keep her gloves on and keep her hands off the walls whenever she moved.
The only good thing about it had been the occasional guard passing by. Sorrow, feigning sleep on the floor, had listened in to hours of conversation and asylum gossip. Eddie had a new girlfriend, apparently, and the guards were taking bets as to how long this one would last. The tale of Batman's arrest of no less than four rogues at the local amusement park entertained her for most of an afternoon. When the guards were quiet, though, all it took to bring a smile to her face was the thought of Teng, by now nothing more than a lump of rot in a coffin somewhere.
After a long, boring few days, she'd been allowed back into her cell. She wondered how long she should bother to stay this time. Two? Three days? She chuckled to herself. They hadn't yet replicated Teng's gloves, and the only attempt they'd made to lock her hands down was a double-thick layer of dishwashing gloves wrapped at the wrists with duct tape. She could have that off in minutes.
An orderly opened her door. "Time for walkies," he said warily. Sorrow oozed to the floor and stretched, pulling her hands behind her back for just long enough to make the orderly nervous. "Uh - you gotta wear this. Doctor's orders," he added hurriedly, moving inside so she could see the straitjacket clutched in his right hand.
She tilted her head questioningly. "Why?"
The orderly, looking somewhat like a child at his first trip to the dentist, gulped. "Uh…see, it's your hands. The doc thinks that if this is on, you'll, uh…"
"Not be able to use my hands?" she finished with a smirk. "That is the point of asylum attire, isn't it?"
"Please, just put it on." Sweat began to drip down his neck and darken the neck of his green scrubs. Sorrow slowly tilted her head, examining him closely from head to foot. Nervously, he extended the jacket and jingled the straps against the floor.
In one smooth motion, Sorrow whipped her hands around at the level of his throat and leaned forward. The orderly scrambled backward, tripping on the straps of the jacket, and slid on his backside into the hallway, kicking frantically in the air as he tried to right himself.
"What's wrong?" she said brightly as the man rolled to his feet. "I thought I had to put my hands up to put the jacket on!" Innocence coated her words as thoroughly as chocolate on a Snickers bar. Unfortunately, the innocence in her voice didn't stretch as far as the expression on her face, which was currently displaying the nougat of amused mischievousness.
The orderly scowled at the sight of her thoroughly gloved hands, still raised in the air, and yanked the jacket open. Sorrow allowed herself to be wrapped in the jacket, smirking as she felt the man fumbling with the buckles in the back. She'd go to see this doctor, to break up the monotony of being in the cell if nothing else, and perhaps she'd overhear something useful regarding the guard's schedules. And, of course, she'd have to come up with a new plan to get her door open - the old 'I hurt myself and need help now' excuse probably wasn't going to be useful again in the near future.
She was so busy thinking about the future that she very nearly forgot about the present. When she stopped toying with her plans, she was surprised to find that they had made it past the huge steel door that protected the therapy offices from the rest of the asylum. In fact, the orderly had dragged her halfway down the hall already. Using one hand, stiff with anger, he propelled her over the threshold and directly into the little office. She stumbled, trying to stop before she rammed into the little chair bolted to the floor in front of the desk, and caught herself just as a white-coated arm reached out to steady her.
Oh. Him. Sorrow had almost forgotten about Dr. Grey. She had been rather busy, after all, what with the escape, the murder, running around the city and meeting up with Batman. She jerked her arm pointedly out of his grasp and seated herself regally in the little chair, staring right past him to the barred window. The handful of trees on the lawn below, stripped of their leaves, swayed in the cold fall wind.
Her view was cut off as Grey seated himself behind his desk. "Uh...hi," he hazarded, fidgeting with a pen.
She shifted her gaze to the bare white wall. The dirt of years outlined a pattern of rectangles on the wall, where the posters that had been stuck there with masking tape had been removed.
"I, um, haven't seen you for a while. Is everything...all right?"
The masking tape had been there long enough to dry out and adhere permanently to the paint in little crosshatches. It almost looked like some kind of fungus.
"Remember when we used to talk?" he said wistfully. "I really liked that."
Maybe it was a fungus. No...they'd never let plants grow in the offices. Not with Ivy around. The whiteness of the wall was blotted out by the whiteness of a lab coat as Grey stood firmly in front of her. "Hey," he said. "I'm trying to - "
She turned to view the other wall. He skipped around her and planted himself in front of her again. She turned. He skipped.
He wanted her attention? Fine. She focused her best I-Hate-Everything stare on him and glared.
"I know you're angry at me," he wheezed, coughing from the unaccustomed effort of playing Ring-Around-the-Rogue. "I don't know why, though!"
She continued to glare at him.
"Could we at least talk about it? I mean, it is what you're here for..." he smiled tentatively. An attempt at a joke deserved a double helping of glare. He wilted slightly under the stream of visual fury and leaned against his desk.
Humans, as a rule, don't like silent stares. People are social, because the niceties of social interaction make us aware that we're safe. If a stranger approaches someone at a bus stop and starts gushing about a puppy, it's a pretty safe bet that the stranger's not out to punch them in the head. Smiles and chatting are for people who are safe. Silent stares are for predators.
"Look, just tell me what I did, okay?" he pleaded. "So I don't do it again?"
Sorrow continued to glare at him through narrowed eyes. It wasn't what he did, it was what he was. Relationships at Arkham were generally difficult to define, since there were many unnameable layers between 'friend' and 'acquaintance'. Some people could be shuffled into the category of 'will converse politely, provided you agree that their delusions are reality'. Some people could be counted on to interpret you as part of the delusion and worship or attack you accordingly. Thankfully, some people could simply be relied on for a laugh, a funny story, or at the very least knowledge that they saw you as a person and would maybe notice if you disappeared one day.
Troy Grey had been in that third category - that is, until he'd shown himself to be an uncaring bastard as he waltzed past her cell that day. She'd been concerned about him - she'd actually been stupid enough to care if the Joker had killed him! - and he'd strolled past with barely a 'hello'. Well, if he didn't really care, then neither did she.
So, in answer to his question, she merely turned up the intensity of her glare. Grey shifted uncomfortably in his spot for a moment, then sighed. "All right. Fine. You're not in the mood to talk, for some reason, so maybe I'll do some talking instead. Let's see what the orderlies have to say about things recently." He retreated behind his desk and flipped open a folder, pawing through it until he reached a few pages full of multicolored scribbles. "Eight AM - patient displayed aggressive behaviors toward me. Ten AM - patient informed me that I'd be dead soon. When questioned, her only response was the phrase 'Everyone dies'. Four PM - The bitch faked like she touched me and I spent half a day in the hospital wing tied to a bed before they figured out it was just pudding. To hell with her and to hell with this job!"
Grey flicked the folder closed. "That was his version of a resignation note. You're not making it easier for yourself by doing this," he said quietly. "You can't threaten the orderlies like that!"
"Can't I?" Sorrow snapped.
"You shouldn't!" Grey said, his authoritative indignation somewhat overshadowed by his joy that she'd deigned to speak to him. "The other doctors are starting to notice, Sorrow, particularly Dr. Carlson. They're not happy."
"To hell with them. What else could they possibly do to me?"
Grey blinked. "A lot, really," he said cautiously. "They wanted me to double your meds, or put you back into solitary at the very least. It took me half an hour to convince them that maybe talking to you first would be a good idea."
Sorrow shrugged carelessly. "Whatever."
"Would you rather have had me not argue?" he said incredulously. "Do you like solitary? I'm only trying to help you as best I can -"
"Oh, knock it off," she snarled. "You don't really care about me, so you can stop pretending that you do!"
His eyebrows furrowed as if she'd presented him with one of the Riddler's puzzles. "What?"
"You. Don't. Care," she explained, slowly and patiently.
"Of course I do!" He slammed a hand down onto the desk. "I'm here, right now, doing nothing but trying to help you!"
"It's your job. You'd be doing the same if I was any other schlub in a straitjacket."
"Bullshit!" He slapped a hand over his mouth, instantly regretting the obscenity. "I mean, no, that's ridiculous," he corrected. "Now that everyone's back out of the hospital, you're my only patient, and I like it that way. The rest of them are..." He bit his lip, possibly trying to think of a polite way to say that they were irreparably broken. "...they're sick," he said definitively. "You're the only one who's actually got a chance at walking out of here one day!"
"I walked out of here two weeks ago," she pointed out.
"And if you'd stop doing things like that, you could be out of here - for good - in less than a year!" he snapped.
"Less than a...you're kidding me," she said flatly.
"In order to leave, you've got to be sane. In order to be sane, you've got to behave yourself and get your doctor to sign your release." He ran a hand through his hair. "If you really, truly tried, I could help you get out of here...because I care about what happens to you," he added, mostly to himself.
Sorrow was taken aback. He couldn't mean that. "Do you really think that -"
The orderly flung the door open. "Sorry to interrupt. Session's over, right, doc? Right," he went on, not even letting Troy speak. "And we've got the next client coming in, and Dr. Palmer wants her new office back, so we've got to get you back home."
"Why-" Troy glanced at the other doctor's schedule splayed on the desk and blanched. "Good man. It was nice talking to you again, Sorrow," he said amiably as she made a face at him.
The orderly pulled her to her feet and yanked her toward the door. "What's the rush?" she said, dragging her feet.
"Just come on," the orderly begged, tugging on her arm. "Hurry up before-"
A familiar chuckle from the outer office made Sorrow realize just who the next appointment was. She narrowed her eyes and allowed the orderly to pull her out of the room. As they walked into the outer office, they saw another pair of orderlies waiting patiently with the Joker, who was also tucked neatly inside a straitjacket.
"If it isn't our little Sorrow!" he giggled. "Sad to see you."
"Shut up, Joker," she hissed as she walked past him. She knew what would come next. A laceless-shoed foot would snake around her ankle and she'd be on the ground. She pointedly high-stepped over his extended foot and began to stalk away.
Unfortunately, there was more than one way to trip someone, as Sorrow discovered when the Joker kicked her hard in the back of the knee. She staggered forward, colliding with the doorframe, and whirled around to glare at the clown as he giggled. "Grow up," she snapped as her orderly steered her into the hallway.
"See you soon!" he called after her airily. As he sauntered past Troy, he grinned conspiratorially. "Women, eh?"
Sorrow entertained herself in the following days by scaring the orderlies. It was a petty and small pleasure, to be sure, but then again, no one was claiming she was sane enough to demand a better class of happiness. Well, Dr. Grey may have been, but he was hardly a reliable source.
At the moment, she was engaged in a one-sided staring contest with Horace Stufington. She stood in front of her door, staring at him through the tiny window, as he rattled her tray out of the food cart and carefully counted her silverware onto it. He glanced up, met her eyes, and focused on the tray again as he maneuvered it down to the slot in her door. As it slid halfway through, he kept a careful hand on the edge so that it wouldn't tip and spill her dinner.
She reached to remove it from the slot and playfully tapped him on the hand. He cursed and scrambled backward, examining his hand for any signs of a black mark.
"Tag! You're it!" she giggled, waving her hand…her gloved hand…at Horace. He let out another curse as he grabbed the meal cart's handle and stomped down the hallway toward his next delivery.
Sorrow moved away from the slot in the door, dropping the tray on the foot of her bed as she took a seat next to it. In the back of her mind, she scolded herself for playing tricks on him again. She wasn't behaving any better than the Joker.
Speaking of the Joker…her gaze wandered over to the knife mark in her floor that they hadn't bothered to fix. She walked over to it and attempted once again to stomp the tiny flap of linoleum flat. What was it he'd said to her? "See you soon." She knew, and presumably he did too, that she wasn't technically allowed out of her cell until she started behaving herself again. She'd also heard via Horace's continuous stream of curses and invective that the Joker had gotten himself committed to the solitary wing once again.
Maybe that's why I tease him, she thought. I know he'd never tell me anything if I was nice to him!
The meal, when she bothered to go lift the cover, was tuna casserole. She groaned and slammed the lid back on. Nearly anything was better than Arkham's tuna casserole. A deep-fried brick with extra mortar, for example. And thanks to her prolonged bout of refusing food, they watched what she ate almost as closely as they watched the schedule of inmates to prevent certain personalities from contact with one another.
The hallway looked fairly empty. She crept to the window and looked down the halls as far as she could for any sign of orderlies. No one was there. She grabbed the plate and scraped all of the revolting tuna into the toilet bowl, placing the plate neatly back on the tray before flushing the evidence.
Horace showed up fifteen minutes later with a matched set of scratches on either side of his face, mumbling something about inmates who didn't know what was good for them. He peered closely at her plate when he took it out of the room, counted the silverware, and tossed it in the rack.
"What's up with the face, Horace? You lose a fight with a weed whacker?"
Horace's glare snapped in her direction. He slammed the empty tray down on top of the others without looking and growled "No. This damn system of assigning inmates to us has got to go, like, now. I don't know how I got picked for both you and clown face, but tassel-head won't stop bugging me about either of you. It's a good thing I'm not in charge of the green queen, or I'd probably lose it. I'm not allowed to tell tassel-head about her lover boy, but she won't stop with the questions whenever she sees me. I finally told her she wasn't ever going to see him again if the docs had their way about it and she attacked me! Her doc tells me her meds are making her violent. Ha! Like that's an excuse. And as for hat-hair and question-boy arguing over that damn raven riddle every time they see each other…"
Sorrow watched, fascinated, as he dug through the cart while making his complaints known to anyone within a two-foot span of him. He didn't stop talking even when the spoon container fell to the ground and spat out a shower of silverware.
"I'll be back for you in half an hour. Sessions today."
"Casual dress?" she joked.
"Oh, no. We're doing you up in a formal jacket today. Made of velvet and jewels." He rolled his eyes at her as he picked up the last spoon and threw it in the box. "And maybe if you're good, doctor will give you a lollipop," he taunted as he rolled the cart down the hall.
Sorrow grinned and plonked herself down on the bed. They'd still stuck to that stupid policy of putting her in a jacket every time she left the cell. Rumor had it that they were trying to rebuild the gloves that Teng had locked to her hands. She'd made certain that rumors went back the other way that anyone trying to lock gloves onto her would live to regret it.
Grey was wrist-deep in a pile of paper when Horace ushered her into his office. As usual, Horace made sure she was sitting quietly before he left - and as usual, when he turned to leave she stuck her tongue out at him.
Horace left, letting the door click audibly behind him. Grey glanced up, momentarily baffled, then saw Sorrow sitting in the chair opposite him. He sighed and looked back down at the papers. "What's up, doc?" she asked playfully. He didn't answer until after he tapped the papers into neat piles.
"I've…we've been going through records recently, Sorrow," he said in a solemn tone. Sorrow was instantly on guard. He was never this serious so soon. "And the senior staff has decided…" Grey bent the corner of a report back and forth, twiddling it around and not meeting Sorrow's eyes.
"What? What did they decide?" she blurted out.
"They've decided to move certain inmates to a different part of the asylum. A more…secure part," he added at her blank stare. "The rooms in the basement have been specially remodified and reinforced. They started the work months ago, before the Joker killed Dr. Jackson. It was mainly for him…he gets out of the upstairs cells so easily…"
He coughed. "Anyway, since they had the workers there, they decided to remake a whole wing of the basement to accommodate…the dangerous inmates."
"So the Joker's going down there? Nice," she smiled. If that was all there was...
"They've also decided that…well, you've been threatening your orderly, and you did escape so easily last time…"
Her eyes widened with surprise. "No. No, you can't mean…Hey, I was just…I was kidding…and I-"
"Kidding?" He flattened the corner of the report with the palm of his hand. "Well, because of that, you're now the Joker's neighbor. Congratulations," he snapped bitterly.
"You can't let them stick me down there!" she gasped.
"I don't have a choice in this, Sorrow!" His hands gripped the sides of the desk as he fought to get some control in his voice.
"Who else?" she demanded. "Who else-"
"I am not telling you who decided this," Troy stated grimly. "I'm not allowed-"
"Screw that," she interrupted. "I don't care who decided it. I want to know who else is going down. Who I'll be living near."
Troy fumbled for the right paper. "Uh. You and the Joker…"
Sorrow shot him a poisonous look. "We've established that."
"Historically, when Ivy's first brought in, she's trouble for the first week or so, so whenever she's caught, she'll be down there for a while."
Sorrow glared at him. "But who now is going down there?"
He glanced at the paper and then set it down softly. "You don't know them."
"What do you mean?"
"They're from other parts of the asylum. Arkham's not just for rogues, you know. There's whole wings full of schizophrenics, sociopaths and split personalities...well, mostly schizophrenics - "
Sorrow was feeling ill. "You mean, it's me and the Joker, and a bunch of garden-variety whack jobs?"
"I wouldn't use that term, but in a nutshell, yes."
"He knew," Sorrow muttered. "That damn-"
"Who knew?" Troy interrupted.
"The goddamn Joker knew!" she hissed. "Last week, he told me he'd see me soon. Dammit!" She kicked the desk irritably. "Why just me and the Joker? Why not anyone else? Harley's killed more people than me by a long shot! Jervis takes over people's minds! What about Eddie or Clayface or Mr. Freeze?"
"I know. But you…well, I mean, you're more of a threat than them." He forestalled her angry shout with an upraised hand. "Victor can't be in the warm without his suit. Keep the suit away, and he's harmless. Clayface isn't even in the building right now, but when he is, he has his own private cell that he can't break open. And the Riddler, the Mad Hatter, even Harley in some respects can't operate without their weapons. When they're unarmed, they're in our control."
"And I'm uncontrollable, I suppose?" she sneered.
"I'd say you're unpredictable. We can't lock gloves on your hands. We don't have an antidote for your hands. If you had your gloves off and you decided I should die, I'd die. When the Riddler threatens an orderly with death, they aren't afraid to touch him and-"
"And sedate the hell out of him. I know, I know. I've seen it," she sighed.
"I didn't want you to go down there," he said abruptly. "I was against it. But when you tease the orderlies…I couldn't get them to listen to me."
Their time had passed almost before they knew it, and Troy winced as he heard the door open. Sorrow craned her head over her shoulder to see a pair of absolutely massive men lurking in the doorway. "We're here," they announced rather redundantly.
"The session isn't over yet," Troy pointed out.
The two men shrugged. "Like it matters. We gotta have her down there now. Orders."
"Oh. Um, well, Sorrow, I'll see you tomorrow - "
"You mean next week," one man corrected as he effortlessly picked Sorrow up by one arm. She yelped as the straitjacket bit into her skin. "We're only supposed to bring 'em up once a week, 'cuz it's too dangerous to keep haulin' em in and out."
Grey sighed. "Then I'll see you next week, I guess."
"No, wait!" Sorrow said desperately. "I'll stop! You don't understand!" But the men had already dragged her out the door and into the hall.
(to be continued)