Rating: T (PG-13) for mental games, violence, and murder.
Summary: Sequel to Steady As She Goes. One night with an alluring stranger shattered Doctor Harleen Quinzel's well-ordered life, and now she's scrambling to put the pieces back together while dealing with the madman known as The Joker.
Quick Notes: This story treads a fine line between being romantic and being disturbing; considering who the subjects are, I find that appropriate. This is a romance, but a twisted and non-traditional one.
Broken Boy Soldier relies heavily on the events that took place in Steady As She Goes. If you have not already read that, I would recommend doing so, because this one won't make nearly as much sense otherwise.
MCU is, I believe, short for Major Crimes Unit. That's what Gordon called his department in the movies, anyway.
Again, my Joker mostly follows Heath Ledger's example, but he does have some elements of Mark Hamill's Joker.
And, finally, this story has been broken up into four parts for your reading convenience.
Broken Boy Soldier
"I'm child, and man, then child again.
The boy never gets older."
The trouble started on a Tuesday. Harleen should have known it would; Tuesdays had never been good for her. She had received her first rejection letter on a Tuesday, her parents had died on a Tuesday, and the list went on. While most people bemoaned the first day of the workweek, she dreaded the second.
"Please, Joan, I'm begging you!" Harleen pleaded desperately as the two doctors walked toward Joan Leland's office.
"I'm sorry, Harleen," the older woman sighed, "but it's simply out of the question." She ushered the blonde woman into her office. "Under any other circumstances, I would review the case and take your request into consideration, but…"
"The board of directors won't let you," Harleen finished bitterly.
Joan rubbed her temples as she sat behind her large desk. "You have to understand how this looks to them."
Harleen sat down, absently playing with a pen that had been lying on Doctor Leland's desk. "I do understand that, but he's-"
"I know this is hard," Joan interrupted, "but you're the first doctor that he's stayed with for more than a few days."
"It's been two months," Harleen replied forcefully, "and we haven't made any progress!" She began to roll the pen between her fingers. "Please-"
"Harleen," Joan interrupted once more, a weary note lacing her voice.
"Listen to me, Joan!" Doctor Quinzel nearly shouted, a deep, almost hysterical note in her voice. "You have to get him off my roster," she was starting to lose herself in blind panic, not even noticing when she stabbed Doctor Leland's pen into the surface of the wooden desk. "I can't see him any more!"
Joan quickly came to Harleen's side, looking up into the frightened blue eyes. "Has he threatened you?" she asked quietly. "You know we have a strict policy about that; even the board wouldn't be able to force you to continue working with him if he's threatened you."
"If only it was something that simple," Harleen moaned. "No, he hasn't threatened me, not overtly. It's just…" she paused struggling for the right words. "When I'm in that room with him, I can't tell who the doctor is anymore, Harleen or The Joker." She folded in on herself for a moment, shaking. "He gets inside you, Joan. Sometimes he'll be as gentlemanly as you please, and other times he'll put the most horrible ideas into your mind and you'll begin to wonder if you're not being tainted with his lunacy."
Doctor Leland made soothing noises, holding Harleen about the shoulders for support.
"He makes me feel dirty and alive, all at once," the blonde continued to tremble. "I'm on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Joan. I can't continue to be his doctor if you want to keep me on the employed side of Arkham."
Joan patted her shoulder affectionately, and stood up. "It's not the best grounds for removal in this situation, but the fact that you didn't lie to me, when saying you'd been threatened would have been the easiest way to get rid of this patient, makes me trust you, Harleen. If you say you can't handle him anymore, then I'll believe you." She slipped her suit jacket on, and grabbed her briefcase. "I can't promise that I'll be able to change the board's opinion on this, but I'll see what I can do." And with that, Harleen was left alone in her superior's office.
Slowly, a sense of relief began to flood her. After two mentally warping months of seeing The Joker three hours a day, five days a week, she might actually be free.
But she should have known that even if something went well on a Tuesday, its eventual consequences would have to be disastrous.
The Joker sat in his bolted-down chair, seeming to lounge across a surface that hadn't been designed for comfort. He never appeared uncomfortable, Harleen noted confusedly, even when he'd gotten into fights with other patients and had sustained some nasty injuries. He always looked so relaxed, as though he hadn't a care in the world. But then, maybe he didn't have a care in the world. The more she worked with him, the more Harleen began to feel that there were very few things The Joker held close to himself, the foremost being chaos. He considered his followers expendable and viewed most people as pawns, so he didn't seem to have any meaningful relationships with anyone.
Except for her.
He'd had fun warping his doctors, sending them howling back to their wards needing treatment for the very dysfunctions that they had been considered specialists in. But her, he had only played with for two months. He had poked and prodded Harleen, planted terrible thoughts into her mind, but he hadn't tried to break her. Or perhaps he was trying to break her, but he was taking the slow approach. Either way, it had to end. Harleen was done playing. Joan had come through for her, pulling enough strings with the board to get The Joker's case reassigned. A replacement doctor had already been picked out; Harleen was just covering this last session.
She had wanted the chance to say goodbye.
And she hated herself for that. The Joker had played some pretty twisted mind games with her, had left her logic warped for hours at a time after their meetings but, in the end, he was still her Mr. J. Still that enigmatic and compelling man that she'd met at the Halloween party. Somewhere, amidst all the lies and confusion, he had grown to be a familiar figure in her life.
"Why the long face, Doc?" The Joker spoke up, jerking Harleen from her thoughts.
She sat down stiffly, placing her briefcase at her feet. When she finally looked up, The Joker had her pinned with his darkly mesmerizing eyes. She quickly looked away; she couldn't handle that stare right now. "The board says you and I aren't making any progress," Harleen said calmly, glad now that she'd practiced the line on her way to the observation room. "They're reassigning your case."
"You get a gold star for effort, Harley, but a demerit for form," The Joker shook his head. "That lie was just sloppy." His paint-free face pulled into a wicked smile, his scars standing out boldly. "Is the honeymoon over already, sweetheart?"
"Your new doctor is named Daniel Marsch," she ignored his baiting. "I haven't met him yet, but he's very capable from what I've heard. Promise me you'll cooperate with him."
The Joker quirked an eyebrow mockingly, "I'm always cooperative."
"Yes, but only after you've caused trouble," Harleen frowned. "And only if it fits into your scheme."
"I don't scheme," he said, a vague frown furrowing his brow. "Scheming would imply a desired sequence of events. I just like to shake things up," he shrugged, lazily throwing an arm over the back of his chair. "I don't care how it happens, just so long as it happens."
"Well, feel free to discuss that with Doctor Marsch," Harleen rubbed her temples tiredly. "I just came-"
"To say goodbye?" The Joker offered mockingly. "If you're going to miss me so much, then why are you running away? We have fun, don't we? Why end the game so soon?"
"Because this is my career, not a game," she hissed. "And you're really starting to-" get to me, she left the final part unsaid. It wasn't wise to show someone like The Joker how much power he really had.
Judging by the look on his face, however, he already knew. Slowly he leaned forward, until he was only inches from her face, the cold metal table between them. "There are four stages to all things in life, Harl: denial, avoidance, acceptance, and then change. What stage are you in?"
"I've accepted that I can't handle your case, and soon you'll be changing doctors," she hissed once more, backing away from him.
"Really?" he rumbled. "Because that sounds like denial and avoidance to me." His tone was pleasant, but there was that ever-present needling quality to it, like he knew he could get her to see his point of view and wouldn't stop bothering her until he had succeeded.
"What do you want from me, Joker?" she snapped, reaching the end of her tether. This last session had been a bad idea; she should have known better than to confront him.
"You?" he snapped back, showing a rare hint of temper. "I don't want anything from you, Doctor Quinzel. I'm waiting to see if Harley Quinn can come out to play."
"She never really existed," Harleen sighed, shaking her head. "She was just a figment of your imagination."
"You'd like to think that, wouldn't you?" The Joker licked his lips. "But you and I both know that you were the one who came to me. You played my games willingly; you became what you were meant to be." His voice deepened until it was nearly a growl, "It wasn't Harleen Quinzel who kissed me that night."
"I didn't know who you were!" she protested hotly.
"But you trusted what I had to say?" he asked with a laugh. "Hide all you want, Doctor Quinzel, but sooner or later you'll have to come to terms with the fact that you're the one who dreamt up Harley." He shrugged, an almost innocent look in his eyes, "I just gave her a name."
Harleen wanted to cover her ears and run from the room. It was easier to believe that The Joker was responsible for her supposed alter ego. She didn't want to entertain thoughts that she had some sort of split personality; she'd just had a wild night at a party, and she would eventually forget about it.
"And, try though you might," The Joker's rough voice was purring now, "you won't be able to suppress her forever." He leaned back slightly, gesturing with his hands. "Go ahead and bury her in a shadowy corner of your mind, try wrapping her in that gentle soul of yours, Harleen; I dare you. It will only make it sweeter when Harley Quinn comes screaming to the surface."
She stood abruptly, grabbing her briefcase. "It will never happen," she replied levelly, turning to the door.
"We'll see," he laughed after her retreating form.
She opened the door, but paused halfway through it, resisting the temptation to take one last look at him. He was like a narcotic that way: poisoning her very being with everything that he did, and yet he was dangerously addictive. Quietly, she murmured, "Goodbye, Mr. J."
"See you 'round, sugar lips," he promised ominously.
A handful of days passed in pure bliss, each day a little more relaxed than the one before it. Slowly, bit-by-bit, Harleen could feel herself returning, could feel her normal thoughts and ideas sweeping away the mess that The Joker had left in her mind. And yet…
Her evenings had fallen into a strange pattern. Sometimes, late at night, she would jerk awake in a cold sweat, haunted by the phantom memory of demanding lips and a chilling laugh. On those occasions she had crawled into her closet until she'd found the box that she had shoved her harlequin costume into. With shaking hands she had gripped the dual-colored fabric, wrapping it around herself as she sat on the floor, reminiscing. Sometimes she breathed in the smells clinging to the red and black clothes, letting the scents of sugar, sweat, and The Joker invade her; sometimes she thought about how he had held her, back to front, teasing her senses until that kiss they had shared seemed inevitable; and sometimes she thought about that illusive and dangerous sort of fun that Mr. J had tried to introduce her to, how she had let go of everything society expected of her and had thrilled in the face of absolute freedom. How, for those few short minutes, Harley Quinn had truly lived. Inevitably, she would wake up on her closet floor the next morning, muscles aching from not sleeping in a bed, as a deep sense of personal weakness flooded her. She had gotten away from The Joker's influence, so why did she continue to cling to reminders of him and what he inspired in her?
Her days were blissful, but her nights were hellish. She was more relaxed than ever, and yet deep, purple shadows bruised the skin under her eyes. Harleen felt like a walking contradiction, or like a recovering addict: she knew she was doing the right thing by quitting—making the wise and healthy choice—but deep down she couldn't help the longing that burned inside her for that familiar rush. She had found herself walking to the observation room on more than one occasion, her mind having switched to an outdated autopilot; usually she managed to catch herself before she had even made it halfway there, scurrying back to her office in shame or disappointment, although there had been a few close calls. On one very notable occasion, Harleen had made it all the way to the observation room before she'd noticed where her wayward feet had led her and, like a child being pulled in two different directions, she had stood in the hallway, unsure of what to do. The majority of her had wanted to turn and run, but small part of her had wanted to press her ear against the door, to listen for a hint of Mr. J's rumbling voice.
She had always thought that admitting to a problem was the hardest part, but Harleen was now beginning to suspect that, when it came to The Joker at least, the hardest part was getting away. She had achieved physical distance, and yet he still plagued her thoughts.
Her days began to fall into rigid routines and she threw herself into her work. With such a tightly set schedule, she knew she wouldn't have time to think about him and, maybe, given enough time, she would be able to wipe him from her mind without having to exhaust herself. The shadows under her eyes darkened, but she was more than willing to sacrifice vanity for peace of mind.
It was two weeks, to the very day, since Harleen had managed to get rid of The Joker's case—and felt as though her thoughts were finally moving in the right direction—when a knock sounded at her office door. If she had known who stood at the other side she wouldn't have offered a cheerful, "Come in!" If she had known that her traditional Tuesday bad luck was about to catch up to her, she would have pretended to be out to lunch.
"Doctor Quinzel?" Daniel Marsch stood in her doorway, looking tired but pleasant. He was a fit young man in his early thirties who bore an intriguing likeness to Bruce Wayne. Daniel was bit stockier than the angular billionaire, however, and his hair was closer to a cinnamon color. Overall, he was an attractive man, but Harleen couldn't help shuddering at the too-serious air he carried about himself.
"Please, come in." She waved to one of the empty chairs across from her desk, "Have a seat." Harleen almost cringed when the man set himself in a plush chair, looking so very stiff and brittle. Had she really gotten so used to lazier postures? "So, what can I do for you?"
"I meant to meet with you sooner, Doctor Quinzel," Daniel cleared his throat nervously. "I wanted to go over your notes on this case," he held up The Joker's file, "if that's all right with you. I was curious as to whether you had noted any eccentricities that the patient exhibited."
Harleen quirked an eyebrow. "The Joker is a roiling mass of eccentricities, Doctor Marsch; you'll have to be more specific than that."
He flushed under her amused stare. "Well, like behavioral eccentricities, for a start," he clarified, taking out his notes. "I know I've only been working with The Joker for a short while, but his behavior has seemed very inconsistent. He rarely stays on topic, and some days I can barely get him to talk at all."
Harleen cocked her head. Mr. J giving someone the silent treatment? That did sound pretty unusual, seeing as the man loved to talk. "He's probably trying to throw you off balance," she offered. "There are few things The Joker loves more than to keep people guessing."
He sighed. "I just can't get into his head the way you did."
"I never got into his head, Daniel," she shook her head sadly. "If anything, it was the other way around."
"But you knew how to deal with him," he insisted. "After all, you worked his case longer than anyone!"
She tucked a blonde strand of hair behind her ear and leveled her replacement with serious stare. "The Joker is like a child, Doctor Marsch: he likes to pull the head off your doll, not because he hated the doll, but because he thinks that your reaction will be funny." She shrugged, "And just like a little boy, he's only as powerful as you let him be; if you stop reacting, he'll stop acting out." Harleen turned away from him for a moment, staring blankly at a serene painting that hung on her wall. "Unfortunately, he knows how to scare people a little too well; I doubt there will ever come a day when no one is terrified of him anymore."
"That's deep, Doctor Quinzel," Daniel sounded impressed. "Do you think it was some kind of childhood trauma that stunted his mental growth?"
She shook her head again, turning back to her guest. "I don't think his mental growth was stunted at all. Despite the fact that he completely lacks a moral-center, he is a genius." She thought of his wicked grin—the grin of a man who knew how to cause all kinds of trouble—and had to suppress a shiver. "No, I think he was a violent man to begin with, and he reverted to a semi child-like mentality as the result of some sickness that he's always struggled with. I just wish we knew what had set him off, or where his philosophies on life and people came from."
A silence stretched between them, almost too long to be considered comfortable. "I've been treating him as paranoid delusional," Doctor March finally offered, sounding as though he were looking for her approval.
Harleen sighed heavily. Marsch wasn't the first doctor to try that, but the symptoms didn't exactly fit Mr. J's case. There was something else at work with that man, something illusive. "He's too coherent for that."
"Well, then he's a pathological liar," Daniel replied immediately. "You wouldn't believe some of the stories he's told me!"
"He's just yanking your chain, Danny," Harley chuckled, and then paused. It wasn't funny, she reminded herself; The Joker's antics were enough to cause anxiety in even the most brilliant of minds. The fact that she had to remind herself of that didn't bode well, however. She was slipping again. "He likes to see how you'll react. The Joker loves to get under your skin."
"He asks about you, you know," Daniel said quietly. "Every day he asks me who his—Harley Quinn?—is working with, what she's wearing, if she's looking tired. It gives me the creeps," he finished hotly, a sneer pulling at his lips.
Harleen let out a dry, humorless laugh, "Now you know why I left."
He nodded understandingly. "It's great that he felt connected to you—I mean, that's more progress than any other doctor was able to make with him—but if that's how obsessive he gets over the people who manage to develop some kind of relationship with him, I don't think I'll be working his case for very long."
"That's probably for the best," she agreed. "I hate to say it, but with the way that man burns through doctors, I honestly think he's untreatable. Everything's just a game to him; he's not looking for rehabilitation, he's looking for recruits." And that thought led her down a dark and winding path she did not want to take; she really had been doing better without reminders of Mr. J creeping into her mind. She wanted to get rid of Doctor Marsch so that she could get back to the semi-peace she had found.
Reaching into a desk drawer, she pulled out a key and offered it to the man sitting across from her. "Here," she said, holding the object out to him. "This key will open the audio-closet in the archives. All of The Joker's sessions that were recorded have been stored there. If you want to prepare yourself for his tricks, I would recommend doing a little homework."
Daniel excused himself after that, an eager gleam in his eyes, but Harleen—despite reclaiming her Joker-free solitude—was left with a bad feeling deep in her soul. Something wasn't right. Daniel had already been working with The Joker for two weeks and was only now starting to show the smallest signs of fatigue. Why was Mr. J playing with the man? He should have gone through three or four doctors by now, but instead he was sticking with the grim and humorless Dr. Marsch? It didn't make sense… but then, The Joker rarely did until it was too late to change what he'd set into motion.
She was being pulled in two directions again. She had gotten her peace back, and a part of her wanted it to stay that way, but another part of her couldn't help but worry for Daniel.
The days began to trudge along after that, seeming to drag out endlessly no matter how much work she filled them up with. Her mind refused to settle on the mundane tasks she had set before her, and she frequently found herself making excuses to leave her office and roam the halls. Because of Daniel, Harleen reasoned; she was just trying to keep an eye on him. After all, she knew how draining it could be to work with someone as unpredictable as Mr. J. And, sure enough, with each day that passed Doctor Marsch looked a little more harried, a little more rundown—Harleen ignored the fact that she looked infinitely worse than Daniel, and she wasn't the one working with the psychotic clown anymore. She even managed to convince herself that their comforting chats in the break room were for Daniel's benefit—her small way of helping him adjust to the stresses of his new case, of helping him relax when work was over—and not out of plain curiosity for Mr. J on her part.
Harleen watched Daniel confusedly today. The man was starting to develop bags under his eyes, and his face was beginning to take on a pinched look. More than that, though, he was nervous today, which was unusual; for as dry of a man as he was, Daniel was normally pleasant company. "What's wrong?" she finally asked, pouring herself another cup of coffee—maybe she could skip sleep entirely if she was caffeinated enough.
"We need to talk," he said urgently, a strange note in his voice. "Alone."
Harleen frowned and looked around the break room; it was empty, aside from them. "We are alone," she offered carefully.
Daniel's eyes darted from side to side, and he lowered his voice conspiratorially, as though he suspected that someone was listening in somehow. "I went through all the recordings of your sessions with The Joker."
She nodded absently, stirring a little milk into her coffee. "They're an interesting listen, aren't they?"
"They most certainly are," his tone was confrontational now. "You kissed him?"
Harleen jerked, spilling her hot drink over the side of the cup. "Not as his doctor," she answered stiffly, moving to the faucet so that she could run her burnt fingers under some water. The coldness cleared her panicked mind from the shock—she should have known that someone would discover that out sooner or later. She had made a habit of recording all her sessions, after all. "It was the night he escaped," she clarified. "I was at a Halloween party, and I just thought he was another guest. I didn't know he was the real Joker," she defended quietly.
"Even so," Daniel had moved behind her, close enough to startle, "you shouldn't have worked on his case for so long, if at all."
"I know," she answered, gratefully accepting the towel he offered her. "But the board thought I was making some kind of progress with him, so they refused to reassign the case. I was stuck."
He was frowning when she finally turned to look at him, the faint bruises under his eyes giving him an almost menacing look. "I kept the tape," he said quietly. "I didn't want you getting into trouble after everything you've done to help me these past few days." He sighed wearily, moving back to the small table. "But even so, that recording still bothers me."
Harleen frowned, resuming her seat across from him. "I don't see why; it's not like anyone is going to guess what happened."
"It's not that," Daniel replied quickly. "It's just," he paused, running a hand through his already disheveled hair. "Everything about your sessions with him was different; he was responsive, playful even." His hand shook as he took a sip of his cooling coffee. "With me, he's always ambivalent, and I feel as though I'm constantly playing a stubborn game of Twenty Questions."
"You should be thankful for that difference," she muttered. "He nearly drove me up the wall during our sessions."
"That's what worries me," he insisted. "Why did he treat you so differently? Why is he still fixated on you even when you're no longer his doctor?"
"You could work with that man for a decade, Daniel," Harleen rubbed her temples, "and still not understand him. Who really knows what's going on inside that mind of his?"
"Look, I'm not going to pretend to know what happened between you two," he said quietly, "but I think that kiss made him curious. And then, after two months of getting to know the real you, curiosity turned into obsession."
"It wasn't the real me that he met over those two months," she sighed. "Not in his opinion, anyway. He thinks the real me is the one that played with him at the party. The only thing he's obsessed with is trying to prove that fact to me."
"Either way," Daniel replied nervously, "having The Joker's attention focused on you is not a good thing. It's nearly been a month and he still asks about you, even though I never tell him anything."
Harleen ignored that bit of information, ignored how it so handily mirrored her own inability to let Mr. J go. "Has it really almost been a month? You've handled his case for longer than most."
"Well, not for much longer," he said firmly. "That's why I came to tell you about the recording. The board is reassigning The Joker's case because I accepted a job at Gotham City Medical Center," his face lit up when he said it, as though the thought of getting away from Arkham was like a breath of fresh air. "I just wanted you to know that your secret is safe now."
The fact that she had never thought it was in danger in the first place should have been a bad sign. Somewhere, in the back of her mind, she had always assumed that The Joker would make sure that particular skeleton stayed in the closet, despite the fact that it would have been logically impossible for him to do so. "Thank you, Daniel. That's more than most people in this profession would do." Because it was unethical. Had Mr. J blurred Danny's views of the world as well, or was Doctor Marsch just concerned for a friend? "You'll have to tell me how your new job goes," she offered a faint smile.
"You know," he took her hand from across the table, "if you ever want to get away from this madhouse, I have friends in several hospitals; I'm sure they would be more than happy to interview you."
She was splitting down the middle. Half of her desperately wanted away from Arkham, away from the criminal insanity, away from the doubt and the fear, away from The Joker. The other half of her cherished the ambiguity of her job, enjoyed the constant uncertainty it inspired, wanted nothing more than to keep guessing what would happen next. "My work here isn't finished yet," she replied quietly.
"Will it ever be?" he asked, something like pained disbelief flashing through his eyes. "Arkham is a dead-end, Harleen. Doctors are becoming patients here faster than patients are being rehabilitated." He finally let go of her hand. "And as long as The Joker's sitting pretty in his little cell, you'll never be free of him. When his next doctor has questions, who do you think they'll turn to?" Daniel's voice was beginning to rise, and he gestured wildly. "You, that's who. And they'll keep asking you questions, because no one can figure him out, and he'll keep howling for you like a lonely dog. How long do you think it will be before the board caves in and reassigns you to his case?"
Harleen sat silently in her chair. Daniel was right, of course; as long as she stayed at Arkham, she would always be trapped in The Joker's shadow. But, in a sick way, she was starting to have trouble picturing how life had been before that fateful Halloween, maybe even feared the thought of losing Mr. J a little. "I'm in deep, Daniel, and I don't know how to pull away without falling apart," she admitted in a small voice.
"Think about my offer," he encouraged, taking her hand once more. "You helped me through working with The Joker; now let me help you recover from your own work with him."
Harleen looked into his pleading eyes, noting the concern swimming in their depths. Had she really been reduced to this, she suddenly wondered. Had The Joker twisted her so badly that she was willing to ignore the first legitimate means of escape she'd been offered? It wasn't as though she couldn't do the same job in other institutions; there was nothing holding her to Arkham, other than job security. But if Daniel really could get her an interview, then what was to stop her from leaving?
"Please," Daniel urged. "We all walk a fine line between sanity and insanity, and all it takes to cross that line is a little push."
She shivered. Hadn't Mr. J said something like that to her during one of their sessions once?
He continued, oblivious to the note he had struck in her, "You could be free of all this madness."
She could be free. Free to treat her patients without the fear of violence hanging over her; free to have her own thoughts again, to sleep like a normal person, to live without the taint of obsession. "Do it," she said after a brief hesitation. "Talk to your friends." It was time to break away. The Joker had been an interesting acquaintance, but he was toxic. If she was ever to get her life back to the way it had been, she needed to get away from all traces of him. "Get me out of here."
A/N: Thus endeth part one. The next part will be posted tomorrow.
Quick Disclaimer: I own nothing. (The full disclaimer is at the end of the story, as well as my shout-outs and random notes.)