Brand New Day, Same Old Oatmeal
Author's Note: Written for the livejournal batfic_contest prompt "In With The New" in more than 500 words; first posted there on 6 January 2010.
An unforgiving electronic siren sounded throughout the asylum as banks of corridor lights were switched on by security staff, announcing the dawn of a new day at Arkham.
Most inmates greeted the morning ritual with grunts of disgust; scratchy institutional blankets being pulled over heads in an attempt to drown out the intrusion of light and sound. A few slowly stumbled to their feet, eager for any prospect of time out of their cells – even if it was only for the dubious delights of an Arkham breakfast. Others simply snored through the piercing noise and light in a pharmacological stupor.
But for one particular inmate, in a cell located in the furthest reaches of the high security wing, this morning was special.
"Today's the day!" Harley announced to world as she bounded out of bed and sprung into a cartwheel that took her to the door of her cell. For once she barely noticed the cold concrete floor or the chill of the air conditioning that would usually keep her huddled under the blankets right up until the guards rapped on the perspex wall and insisted she get up under her own steam or with their motivation.
"Good mornin'!" she chirped to the pair of guards who approached her cell to escort her to breakfast, tutting when both chose to ignore her cheery greeting. "Gee you're a pair of sad-sacks today, aren'tcha?" In answer she got only the usual handcuffs and a firm grip on each arm as she was propelled down the corridor towards the dining hall.
The Arkham catering staff consisted of the less dangerous and psychotic inmates from the medium security wing. This had an understandable effect on the range and quality of food on offer, which meant that breakfast was usually a choice of plain oatmeal, oatmeal with applesauce or – on special occasions – oatmeal with instant chocolate milk powder stirred into it.
Harley was disappointed the catering staff didn't seem to share her opinion that today was worthy of shelling out on chocolate powder, and settled for 'with applesauce' as the lesser of two evils. Harley had always hated oatmeal. Luckily the apron-and-hairnet clad inmate who ladled out her bowlful had the glassy stare of someone on a high dose of anti-psychotics and paid no attention as she snuck a dozen sugar packets from the kitchen to try to make it more edible.
After collecting her breakfast Harley made a beeline for the far tables unofficially reserved for occupants of the high security wing. She'd spotted the striking red-and-green figure of her bestest gal pal eating alone from across the room and wanted to seize the chance for some emergency girl talk before the others arrived.
"Hey Red, good gloop this mornin'?"
Ivy didn't look up as she continued to push the oatmeal around her bowl. "It's over-processed and full of various unnatural carcinogenic preservatives. The usual."
"Yum – sounds great." Harley seized the chair next to her and began tearing open two sugar packets at a time, jiggling one leg. "You ever consider workin' in advertising? You'd make a great spokesperson for an oatmeal conglomerate. If they even have oatmeal conglomerates. If they don't maybe you could set one up, and use the proceeds to find a plant-friendly alternative to cardboard cereal boxes…"
Having ignored the rapid-fire nonsense Harley was spouting while she finished her token few spoonfuls of breakfast, Ivy turned away from her bowl to begin another lecture about consuming more than an entire recommended daily allowance of sugar in one meal. Then she noticed that Harley hadn't actually eaten any of it yet, but was still buzzing more than a bee trapped in a honey factory.
"Harley, were you given a double dose of medication again? Honestly the slapdash way the staff handle pharmaceuticals in this place-" Ivy grabbed for Harley's wrist causing her to drop several unopened sugar packets into her oatmeal. As far as Ivy could tell her pulse seemed strong, if a little fast…
"Don't be silly, Red," Harley interrupted, snatching her arm back. "I'm not wired on pills. I'm just super-excited – I got some really great news and couldn't wait to share it!" She bounced a little in her seat, barely able to hold it in much longer.
Ivy narrowed her eyes suspiciously, reluctantly guessing where this was most likely heading. "Good news in the traditional and widely-accepted sense, such as Batman driving his ridiculous car off a bridge and drowning? Or good news in the more narrow, grinning-lunatic-centric sense?"
Harley just grinned, Ivy's scathing words skidding harmlessly off her ecstatic mood like they'd stepped onto a well-placed banana skin. "Puddin's gettin' out of solitary today!" she announced gleefully, scattering torn sugar packets into the air like celebratory confetti.
"Oh yes, that's truly wonderful news." Ivy said dryly, heaving a sigh of disgust. "Has it really been four weeks already? My, how time flies when you're not being disturbed by that awful cackling laughter filtering down the hallways every five minutes all day every day. And when the place isn't in lockdown because someone decides to stick broken shards from a keycard into a guard's eye. And when there's no one making obscene comments while I'm trying to watch nature documentaries in the common room."
As she listened to the tirade of complaints Harley adopted a slightly soppy, glazed expression. "Aww, Red, you're remindin' me how much I've missed him..."
"Don't you remember why he was put in solitary for four weeks in the first place? And why you ended up there for two weeks yourself?" Ivy stared at the still-soppily-grinning blonde disbelievingly.
Harley stopped grinning and shifted uncomfortably on the bolted-down metal chair. "I guess I got a bit caught up in the heat of the moment," she conceded, "I was just a bit worked up over Mistah J being assigned another female doctor..."
"That was what all the fuss was about?" Ivy thought back to some of the previous bloody incidents with Arkham staff. "But Joker's gone through dozens of doctors here and they haven't all been men. You've never had an...'episode' about it before."
"Well yeah, but gee Red, have you seen most of the female staff around here?" Harley pointed out. "And for some reason after I lost my licence now they're real strict on only letting senior doctors hold sessions with him, and they're usually fifty-plus spinsters who said goodbye to their libido around the time they got their doctorates. But that hussy of a visitin' psychiatrist musta been barely out of medical school, her skirt was too short and her top was too low." She sniffed dismissively. "That tramp looked so unprofessional."
"Right, Joker gets an unprofessional tramp doctor," Ivy said, still trying to piece the full story together. "And you were afraid Joker might fall for her?"
"No!" Harley protested, looking scandalised. "Mistah J would never do that! He's got standards! But I thought she might fall for him. After all, even tramps like her are only human and he's just so brilliant and all…"
Ivy could see several of their compatriots in the queue to be served breakfast and knew that if she wanted to finish the conversation without being interrupted by Eddie's riddles and Jervis's ramblings it had better conclude quickly.
"So, let me get this straight: after Joker started seeing this woman, you were afraid she might be unable to control her hidden, smouldering passion for psychotic clowns. And that's why you arranged to gatecrash one of his therapy sessions with her?"
"Yeah." Enthusiastic nodding.
"And you decided to demonstrate your position on this matter by trying to suffocate the tramp-doctor with her own lab coat, while declaring your undying love for Joker?"
"Yeah." More enthusiastic nodding.
"But as it turned out, Joker had actually hired this not-very-bright actress to pretend to be his psychiatrist in order to smuggle various items into Arkham and arrange an escape, hadn't he? And you somewhat impeded this plan by attempting to strangle the woman, after which guards turned up and found the two of you arguing while she was still passed out on the floor?"
"…yeah." Harley admitted with a sigh and a wince, much of her earlier excitement deflating.
Ivy rolled her eyes at the ridiculousness of the situation. "Well if he'd actually told you about this plan in the first place you wouldn't have ruined it, would you? So it's his own stupid fault."
"No, no!" Harley protested. "I shoulda guessed he was arrangin' something – no real psychiatrist would've worn heels that high, come to think of it," she reasoned. "But anyway Puddin' wasn't best pleased about his plans bein' messed up; I hope he's not gonna still be sore about it when he gets out later…"
"Who's going to be sore about what?"
Harley and Ivy looked up at the enquiring voice to discover they were being joined by half the high security wing, including the ever eager for gossip Edward Nygma. Most settled further up the table and began conversation between themselves but Nygma took the seat opposite the pair.
"Hey Eddie," Harley offered, some of her brightness returning. "We were just talkin' about Mistah J getting out of solitary today."
"Joker?" Nygma gave a sly grin. "You ladies over in the women's area must be behind on the latest news – he escaped from the solitary wing last night."
"Escaped?" Harley repeated, uncertain confusion written on her face.
Nymga nodded. "I heard he killed another guard, apparently with a styrofoam cup – though lord alone knows how – and hightailed it out of here in the early hours."
Ivy waited for the cascade of tears to begin. She wasn't sure whether they would be self-pitying (that he'd left her behind) or angry (that he'd left her behind), but she was sure that waterworks were about to begin one way or another.
But after a long silence she turned to discover Harley sporting a delighted grin.
"A styrofoam cup? Mistah J is such a genius. He's a real artist when it comes to break outs, y'know?"
Eddie looked on in vague amusement as Ivy shook her head in despair. "Aren't you mad he didn't break you out as well?" she asked.
"Nope." Harley replied cheerily. "He would've done that if he was still mad at me, so he could make it very clear exactly how much I screwed up. But leavin' me here just means that a) he's not mad anymore, and b) I didn't entirely mess up his plan to escape! I'm sure he'll arrange for me to get out in a few weeks anyway, once he's found new hideouts and got things up and running..."
"And remembers he needs someone to cook his meals and fetch his dry-cleaning?" Ivy muttered.
"Among other services on offer." Eddie chipped in.
Harley kicked Nygma under the table and stuck her tongue out at Ivy.
"If you're both quite finished, I'm late for an art therapy class. I think I'm gonna make Mistah J a 'congratulations on your escape' card." She got up from the table and collected her tray. "See ya later Red, and enjoy your oatmeal Eddie."
As Harley was escorted out of the room by two of the guards stationed at the door Eddie rubbed at his rapidly bruising leg before picking up a plastic spoon and poking cautiously at the contents of his bowl.
"So, Pamela… is it good oatmeal today?"
Author's Note: I think this was all inspired by a not-very-subconcious desire for oatmeal, which is weird since I don't actually like it that much...