AN: There I go, announcing that I'm not going to disappear for two weeks again and then disappearing for two weeks again. It's not that I don't have my reasons—reports, writing a short film, reading two novels in a week, etc.—but it's hard to make even that justifiable to myself when I look back on the way I used to write and then look at this and realize that it's been going on for months now without even hitting the twentieth chapter yet. Earlier in the week my friend gave me a tarot reading after I asked why I felt so lethargic about this fic, and you know it's bad when the person reading your cards sighs at the outcome. It went something like this:
Me: Is that the Death card?
Me: What does it mean when the Death card is upside down? Is that good?
Him: It means a lack of change. It means stagnation and dragging your feet.
Well, can't say that wasn't accurate. So today, once I'm through with this chapter, I am sitting down and planning out every last nuance of the rest of this story, so I'll have a roadmap to follow and no excuse when I deviate from it. Of course I'd arrive at this conclusion right before the "novel in a month" begins.
And now on a completely random side note, because I can't stop thinking about it and thus won't be able to start the chapter until I've asked, what's everyone's favorite Tarot card? Mine's Strength. If there's anything more awesome than holding a lion's mouth shut with your bare hands, I'd like to see it.
Thanks for the reviews, and your patience!
Joan, at least, was adjusting.
Ruth should have been happy at that. And that wasn't to say that she wanted her colleague to suffer; the past week of tears and panic and despondency had been heart-wrenching to witness, and made Ruth's own day that much harder to get through. Ruth, Joan, and Teresa had been the employees most affected by the breakout, excluding the deceased—and Strange, though he'd made it clear that he'd been grilled by the police to the point of nausea and didn't want to discuss anything related to breakouts or clowns or ex-psychiatrists ever again—and between their emotional upheaval and her workload, Ruth had had no time during her hours in the asylum to sort out her own feelings. It should have been a relief that Joan wasn't constantly on the verge of hysterics. And partially, it was.
But the other part was envious and irritated and every other negative emotion it could wrap its hands around. Joan had a precedent for this. Jonathan had gone missing before, and Joan had struggled then, too, both with fear for her coworker's safety and her attempt to wrap her mind around the fact that he'd tried to poison the entire city. She'd adjusted then, eventually, as she was doing now, and Jonathan had been returned, albeit months later. For Ruth, it had been almost as though things had returned to the status quo. Jonathan Crane the patient was near identical to Jonathan Crane the doctor—when medicated, anyway—both were quietly condescending, standoffish, and an all-around pain in the ass. Really, the only differences were his lack of patients and that his mental illness was labeled as such, instead of just an eccentricity.
But for Joan, who had been on something resembling friendly terms with the man, his return after half a year's absence must have seemed like a miracle. And Ruth supposed that after one miracle, it was easier to hope for another.
She didn't have that luxury. Hell, Ruth wasn't even sure if shewanted the clown back at all.
"It's going to be absolute chaos."
Ruth looked up from her notepad, which she'd meant to be filling with notes regarding her last patient's session. Instead, she'd succeeded in driving the pen through the several of the pages, and nothing else. Across from her, Joan was holding up the day's paper. She wasn't smiling, but at least she wasn't on the verge of a breakdown.
"Don't you think?"
Chaos. Ruth tried to push the Joker's philosophies from her mind. Why was today going to be chaos? The morning had progressed as always, without any sudden or unexpected change to the schedule—the patient interviews. This was the afternoon that the GPD and the board started the patient interviews. When the doctors had no sessions and all hell was sure to break lose in the interview rooms. How had she forgotten that?
Probably because an afternoon alone in her office meant an afternoon alone with her thoughts. She might have welcomed that under other circumstances. A time to think about her next course of action with a patient, a time to check up with others in the break room, or a time just to smoke and relax, and put the madhouse out of her mind for a few extra hours.
She managed a nod. There was no way this set up wouldn't end in chaos. Chaos that Ruth would much rather participate in than have an afternoon absolutely alone. And it would be alone. She'd finally responded to the phone calls from concerned friends and family—though, to be honest, much of those calls had been spent with the phone away from her ear until the panicked rambling on the other end stopped—and her notes and schedule remained as orderly as always. At least, as orderly as she could focus long enough to make them. And as so much of their time since the break out had been spent in the break room, it seemed that the Arkham staff had collectively run out of things to talk about. Which left Ruth alone, whether she was sitting by herself in her office or surrounded by coworkers.
Alone was not a prospect she favored.
"Bruce Wayne must be here by now," Joan went on, pouring creamer into her coffee. "How do you think he'll handle it?"
Bruce Wayne. The thought of the city's biggest embarrassment—costumed villainy notwithstanding—sitting in with the rest of the board for the day brought a smile to her face. "I think by the end of the day he'll have an equal number of death threats and marriage proposals, and that'll be the end of his donations."
It was the first thought that came into her head, and to her credit, it made Joan laugh. It only made Ruth's anxiety worse. Joking aside, the fate of the asylum more or less hinged on Wayne's continued support, and should the playboy decide that Arkham was not worth salvaging, or if it simply failed to maintain his interest beyond this initial crusade, it was all too likely that they would go under. And she'd never get the chance to treat the Joker again.
Assuming that, when he was recommitted, she'd be able to sit through a session without strangling him. It wasn't that she feared being denied his case—Arkham could try to hold her back, but she'd proven more than once that she could intimidate him into getting her way—just that, mental patient or not, she was furious with the clown. He'd been bad enough as a patient, and the only thing that had kept her from throwing up her hands and declaring him impossible was her intense desire to figure out what was going on inside his mind. He'd been every bit as intriguing as he was infuriating, and while he was here, that was enough to keep her going. Then he'd escaped right as she'd realized how brilliant he was under the irreverence, and in seven days, he'd slaughtered five people. Five people that she knew of. Probably more. And as far as Ruth was concerned, the blame was left on her shoulders, because she'd been blind to what was happening beneath the surface. She'd allowed herself to be misled, and people were dead as a result.
Small wonder that she wanted to wring his neck when next they met.
Still, he'd been her patient. And rage-inducing as their sessions had been, she'd enjoyed the experience, enjoyed trying to sort through the layers of madness and misdirection to find just what had gone wrong to create a person like this. And beyond her own curiosity, for all his murderous, sociopathic behavior, he was a mental patient. He needed to be here, not out on the streets wreaking havoc, and not in prison, where each and every inmate would be out for his blood.
"Maybe Wayne's got a thing for mental patients," Joan suggested, and Ruth felt a smile creep across her face in spite of herself.
"I certainly hope so."
Thomas Schiff's shoes were not, to an outsider's perspective, anything special. They were the same white canvas as any other Arkham inpatient's, scuffed and stained from years of use, and a few months of wear away from needing a replacement. To Thomas, at this moment, they were the most important thing in the world.
He'd given them thought before—Arkham's shoes, like its uniforms, were washed and sanitized after a patient left, and then passed on to the next one committed. Thomas liked to think that his shoes—Wallace, the left one was named, and the right varied between Logan and Margery Elaine—carried the residual memories of their previous owners, and he'd heard them whisper asylum secrets to each other back and forth in the night. They had always been a good pair of shoes, sturdy, if lacking in arch support, and for all they got up to after lights out, they never failed to be waiting faithfully at the foot of the bed when he woke up.
But it wasn't until now, when Thomas had only two options, staring at his shoes or talking to the police, that Thomas realized exactly how much Wallace and Margery Elaine had done for him and how much they required his attention in return. The shoes that came with the police uniform the Joker had given him had never been so caring, not when he was shot, not when he was kidnapped and almost killed, and not when the real police arrived for him later. Those shoes had been police shoes, conspirator's shoes. These shoes had his best interests in mind and it was time he gave them his undying devotion in gratitude.
It was a member of the board, Thomas knew, though he couldn't, if pressed, say who, or what the board did, or even what room they were in. That information had gone out of his head the instant that Elizabeth had led him in here and he'd looked around to find that he was surrounded by the police—the ones who had questioned him after the funeral parade and who, unlike the Joker had promised, hadn't found the whole thing funny at all—and the board, and Bruce Wayne, that guy who was always on magazine covers and news reports, either due to lots of alcohol, or women who didn't wear a lot of clothing, or both. It was usually both. Thomas didn't trust himself to raise his head again. When people asked him questions, he tended to end up with guns pressed against his head. Well, to be accurate, something Dr. Adams was always urging him to do better despite his best efforts, that had really one happened once, but that once stood out more than any other time.
"Did you understand the question?"
Thomas had no idea what the question had been. He doubted anyone would be happy if he said so, so he concentrated on his shoes. They weren't giving him much to concentrate on. After all, they only spoke at night.
That was Dr. Arkham's voice. Dr. Arkham, who had taken Dr. Crane's job away and locked him up in here because, in Dr. Crane's words, they said he had been mean to the patients. That was the day Thomas had decided he didn't like Dr. Arkham, and now, it seemed that if he gave the wrong answer, which he was almost certain to, that he could be likewise accused of being mean to the police or the board or Bruce Wayne, that guy who was always on magazine covers and television, sometimes for alcohol, sometimes for women who didn't wear a lot of clothing, and sometimes for both. He wasn't sure what privileges he would lose, but he didn't want to risk it.
It was a voice Thomas didn't recognize, and he raised his head.
It was the rich one who they were always going on about on talk shows. Thomas remembered watching one while he was at the Joker's house, something about the ballet and how Bruce Wayne had prevented it, and boats. Maybe he'd taken the dancers hostage. Whatever he'd done, Thomas was stuck staring at him, and now that they'd made eye contact, it would be rude not to answer. One of the police was sitting to Bruce Wayne's right, the woman who kept coming in to see Dr. Crane after he'd stopped asking Thomas to bring him pills. "Is Dr. Crane coming back soon?"
"Do you know where he is?" Bruce Wayne asked.
Thomas shook his head, which broke his eye contact and allowed him to look back down at his shoes without committing an etiquette faux pas. After another few minutes in which no one said anything except "Thomas" or "Mr. Schiff" in tones of concern and exasperation, he was allowed to go back to the rec room, where he was able to assemble three-fourths of a puzzle before running out of the pieces in that box. In Arkham, that was a new record.
They wanted Lucy to go in there, sit down, and talk about her experiences in Arkham, in front of Bruce Wayne.
It had been pizza day in the asylum's cafeteria, and she'd had a hard enough time struggling to get that greasy mess of empty calories down in the first place. Now, she had to struggle to keep it from coming back up. Bruce Wayne. In Arkham Asylum. In the same room as her. On a day when she'd consumed God only knew how much fat, and was probably already breaking out from the oil.
Not that Bruce Wayne would glance her way on her best day. And as if being interrogated about life in Arkham wasn't nerve-wracking enough. This was like a bizarre mash-up of good cop, bad cop, and The Bachelor, and Lucy had the distinct feeling that she'd walk away from each game empty-handed.
"They said they didn't know when Dr. Crane was coming back," Thomas told her, as he tried to fit a jigsaw piece decorated with Dalmatian spots into a puzzle of a barn.
Dr. Crane? She was going to have to discuss her relationship with Dr. Crane? Just like that, the temperature in the rec room went up by about a hundred and twelve degrees and the floor started to tilt. "Wh-what did they ask about him?"
"They didn't." Thomas shrugged. "I did."
That hardly helped. She had no idea what to expect from this conversation and she doubted asking Thomas would help. Judging by Elizabeth's barely contained grin when she'd brought Thomas back in, his interview hadn't been anywhere near productive. What were they going to ask her about? Lapses in policy that she'd seen? Inappropriate behavior? What if she phrased something poorly and an innocent nurse or orderly—or even a doctor—lost their job because of her faulty testimony? And how many employees were going to disappear as a result of the interviews? How many of them would deserve it?
The room hadn't stopped tilting. It felt as if she was going to slide off the edge of the world.
Lucy closed her eyes. It was a command Dr. Crane had always given when she was on the edge of a panic attack, and though it should have been common sense, there was something about the way he instructed it that had always made it seem novel. Breathe, Lucy. Let whatever you're dealing with wash over you. You can handle it. It won't knock you down.
Elizabeth opened the door to the rec room, holding it open in front of her. "Lucy? They're ready for you."
Lucy fainted, retaining consciousness only long enough to be glad that she was lucky enough to be sitting on the couch as she collapsed.
AN: The Bachelor is this ridiculous American reality show—then again, they're all ridiculous—in which women compete to marry a man. I don't even know.