Take The Bad With The Good
Author's Note: Written for the livejournal batfic_contest prompt "Bad Day" in more than 500 words; first posted there on 19 October 2008.
If Dr Leland had to choose, then a 5am phone call from the duty doctor at Arkham would not be her number one choice for the best way to start a day. But re-admittance of a patient courtesy of Batman was not exactly something she could tell the night staff to delay until a more civilized hour. Forty minutes later she arrived at the asylum mostly awake and reasonably presentable. Unsurprisingly she had to make her way to the medical wing to assess her patient.
"Nice to have you with us again, Harley." Dr Leland said; her forced cheerfulness strained with more than just the early hour.
Her former colleague shrugged half-heartedly from the infirmary bed, rattling the cuffs that attached her left wrist to the rails. "What can I say? I just can't get enough of the good ol' Arkham hospitality." She looked pale even without the usual white makeup, which had evidently been removed along with her costume when she was admitted. Instead she wore a shapeless, patterned hospital gown.
Joan gave the woman a tight smile, noting the uncomfortable way she held her right arm against her chest. A familiar feeling of resignation settled over her as she quickly scanned the admission notes. One fractured arm, several cracked ribs, and the usual catalogue of unexplained half-healed scars. Not the best, but certainly not the worst state she had seen her patient arrive in.
"I see Batman only brought yourself along today though. No Joker this time?"
"Yeah, I don't think Mistah J was really up for a vacation. He's too busy workin' an' bein' all genius-like to take a break right now."
Joan looked up from the notes. "What about you?"
"Well I was kinda only half-conscious at the time, so I didn't really have much say in the matter, yanno?" She shrugged again. "Still it kept the B-man busy for a while. Batsy still seems to have his 'thing' about not roughin' up injured girls too much, which made it real fun to keep pushin' his buttons. And his fancy cars buttons too – I know that thing has to have a radio, and I'll find it one of these days!"
Joan gave Harley another small smile, but it was fleeting. She knew from experience that away from the Joker, and with the resumption of her medication and therapy regimen, they could once more attempt to stabilise her thought processes. But just after admission was always the most difficult time to hold a conversation with the woman who had once been such a bright young psychiatrist.
Dr Leland moved on to what she hoped would be a more straightforward question. "How does that arm feel?"
"Like I fell twenty feet and landed on it funny." She wiggled the fingers of her right arm cautiously. "Mostly it tingles."
"Courtesy of some pretty strong painkillers according to your chart." Joan tried to mentally evaluate how she should adjust her patient's usual prescribed medication to compensate. Anti-psychotics and opioids didn't mix well. "The duty doctor who assessed you said he doesn't think surgery will be necessary, and it should be possible to just set it in a regular cast."
Harley seemed to brighten at the prospect of this. "That's not so sucky; maybe I can get Ivy and the rest of the gang to sign it later. Do they have pens in the rec room again now?"
"No; it's still crayons only I'm afraid."
Harley gave a resigned sigh. "I told Mistah J he shoulda used spoons or somethin' rather than the pens. I liked havin' the pens. And it's not even like pens are that sharp!" She paused and looked suddenly thoughtful. "Although maybe that was the idea…"
Not wanting to be reminded of one of the Joker's more creatively violent recreation room 'incidents' – she honestly couldn't understand how he had convinced his own doctors and the director to let him back in there again after that one – Joan decided to stop dancing around the question she really needed to ask.
"So if you already had the broken arm by the time Batman caught up with you, how did it happen?"
"Mistah J was just havin' a bad day. It's no biggie."
Inwardly, Joan quietly groaned. So far the Joker's 'bad days' had been Harley's explanation for previous arrivals with a dislocated shoulder, a broken ankle, several concussions and more black eyes than she cared to recall. Joan hated seeing the young woman trivialising the injures she sustained, particularly as Harley continued to insist that the man who caused them loved her.
"Harley, a broken arm is not a minor matter – what happened?"
"It was Bat-breath's fault again, as usual." Harley pouted, looking deceptively innocent. "If he'd just done what he was supposed to and fallen' in Mistah J's pit trap thingamajig, then Puddin' wouldn't have been so mad and accidentally pushed me in! It's not like he was tryin' to break my arm…" She raised her injured right arm as if to demonstrate expansively, then seemed to think better of it and gingerly laid it back down with a slight wince. "He was just frustrated…"
Joan sighed, feeling a migraine coming on. "I know you think that Harley, but this isn't healthy. Time and time again you turn up here with injuries caused by the Joker, and you always make excuses for him. Today he broke your arm and left you behind for Batman to pick up. What might he do the next time he has a 'bad day'? How many 'bad days' will it take before you realise this can't continue?" She saw the blonde woman's eyes roll, and shared her frustration in the pair of them going through this circular argument once more.
"I'd happily have a million bad days with my Puddin' rather than one good day without him." Harley shrugged again, evidently trying to let the older woman down gently. "That's just the way this cookie crumbles."
Joan felt her mind hit a brick wall. How was logic and rationality supposed to argue with a statement like that? Hallmark-schmaltz aside, it was clear that Harley wholeheartedly meant what she said. Joan knew that this was the reason psychiatrists were not supposed to let themselves get dragged into debates with patients suffering from delusional psychosis, particularly when they had been off their medication for several months, but it was still demoralising to see the injured woman so infatuated.
She tried to return to her former forced cheerfulness. "Well let's talk about this some more tomorrow when your sessions start up again. Hopefully it'll be a better day for everyone."
"Well if I make it through tomorrow without breakin' another arm then I'll be doing pretty well, dontcha think?"
Dr Leland left the young woman asking a nurse if she could choose the colour of her cast – seemingly wanting it either red, black or bubblegum pink. Unsurprisingly none of those seemed to be an available option.
It was almost frustrating. Being injured seemingly by a minor tantrum from the Joker, left behind, then being picked up by Batman and brought back to Arkham – and Harley seemed perfectly content with the whole situation. Sure she was probably upset the Joker and her were temporarily apart, but Joan wouldn't put it past her to already be plotting about how to escape and get back to the him as soon as the cast on her arm set.
It wasn't as though Joan had never seen Harley upset or depressed before. There had been one memorable occasion where she'd spent three consecutive therapy sessions crying continuously (something to do with a missed anniversary, if Joan recalled correctly). The Joker always seemed to be the cause of whatever fit of emotion she was overtaken with. But somehow this misplaced contentedness – where it was clear she had good cause to be angry and upset with him – seemed worse. It wasn't that she wanted Harley to be depressed; she just wanted her emotional state to at least partially reflect the reality of her life. Until it did she would always be living in a fantasy.
But even as she thought this, Joan signed the prescription chart that would allocate Harley her usual cocktail of anti-psychotics and mood stabilisers with a heavy heart. By bringing Harley closer to 'normal' she couldn't help but feel she was only going to make the days at Arkham worse for her, rather than better. And worst of all she knew the young woman would only truly be happy when she was reunited with the Joker again – either through him being delivered to the asylum by Batman, or by her making an unscheduled early discharge via the laundry chute, or whichever route she found next.
Despite these negative thoughts preying on her mind as she made her way to her office to begin the scheduled morning sessions, Joan knew she would persevere. With Harley and all her other patients as well. Because maybe she was crazy too, but she would take a million days of therapy sessions that achieved little or no progress, for one where just one patient turned a corner. At Arkham that was all you could really hope for.