The basement of Arkham Asylum was cold and dark – the air dank and stale; and yet, in this dismal place, Jonathan Crane found solace. Away from the constant stream of depression and insanity, he was left with only his own thoughts, finding them more sinister than the madness on the floors above. He could not remember the last time he had slept and dark circles had claimed his eyes for their own. He fancied himself unrecognisable – a stranger stalking the halls like a condemned man with a mask of stubble. The staff whispered about him, barely concealing their contempt. His carrying off of Harley Quinn had not gone unnoticed and now the Arkham personnel regarded the administrator with suspicion, wondering what exactly he was up to with the corrupted inmate. He paid their concerns little notice.
Shadows dipped and bucked over Crane's face as he studied the television set left to rot in the basement in its disuse. He had agreed to watch the tape to offer the police whatever advice he could, and now the Joker's face illuminated his own through the television like a horrific Jack-o-Lantern – mocking him with its eternal grin. The Joker's presence in Crane's sanctuary was unwelcome but still he could not turn off the tape. Instead he stared into the madman's dark eyes, desperate to see deeper, to see his soul, to see what Harleen must have seen to drive her into his arms. All he found was cruelty and despair. The news reports were brief, the Arkham footage distorted – there was nothing Crane could offer the police and less he could offer himself. Harleen was their only key to understanding the Joker but she would never tell them what they needed to know, of that he was sure.
Turning away from the screen, Crane felt the crushing grip of his frustration seize him again. He despised Harleen to her very core – he despised her unwavering devotion to the Joker; her weak moral code; and he despised the way he saw her face every time he closed his eyes. She was burned into him and he hated her for it – cursed her very existence for it. Each day since her arrival back to Arkham in chains, his hatred had grown and with it, his obsession. While he could scream from the rooftops his loathing of the battered harlequin, there was still a small voice, silenced before in his childhood, that wondered how much of him was hatred, and how much was love. It was this small voice that kept him from sleep – this voice that launched his anger at the Joker. He supposed it was his graving grace, his last chance at sanity, at least, if it could not be Harleen's.
In the cold basement, the tape whirred to its close, shaking Crane to his senses. The fire in his veins cooled, giving way to a weak despair. With trembling hands, he opened his briefcase, fumbling through the files to find the package he had tried to forget. It had been the second unremarkable package to arrive on his desk, six months after the first, with no postage or return address, in between sessions when he had believed his office to be locked. The first had contained one of Crane's own published papers and a single dried blue flower, wrapped in tissue paper. He had been perplexed at first, but on seeing the paper that the sender had included, he had found himself struck with a mix of dread and excitement.
'Hallucinogens, and their role in the understanding and acceptance of fear.'
He had known at once what the flower was for and had leapt into preparing it with little moral restraint, fuelled by his college interests that the working day at Arkham had stamped from him. He had selected a test subject from his own patient list and dosed him with the entirety of the compound, posed as a gifted cigarette. The poor wretch had clawed his own eyes out.
When the second package had arrived with its mass of blue flowers and Crane's paper on the use of fear in warfare, he had hidden it away, simply pretending it did not exist. Now he sat with the abandoned gift in his lap, wondering if he dared to put it to use. On the final page of the paper, a spiky hand had scrawled a promise in red ink:
30% of what a city would pay to save its mind.
The offer that had once seemed unthinkable slipped under Crane's skin as he stared at the page until his eyes began to water. Images slowly filled his mind – a city cowering in fear and himself above them, wielding the power. His entire childhood, he had been kept at heel, with fear and rejection; now he had a chance to level the playing field and take control. He did not know who the packages were from, but it mattered very little to him. With a feverish speed, he restarted the tape; staring into the Joker's eyes, willing the darkness to eat up the blue of his own. He could break Gotham, break this painted clown... He thought of the city at his feet and of Harleen, broken and wounded, making her way up from the rubble like a phoenix, finally in her right senses. That kind of power could crush her idolatry of the Joker and turn her to love him as she once considered before the madman widened her perspective.
For what could have been hours, Crane stood, temptation holding him unmoveable. As the dawn rose above him, he slowly eased himself into a chair, exhausted. What at first had seemed so perfect now looked bleak as the noise of normality filtered down from the asylum above. He had no way of knowing if the offer was genuine and even if it was, should anything fail, he would simply be another broken inmate in the cells, long forgotten by Harleen. He was to provide the threat for a ransom demand – a threat and nothing more. His employer would not want to see the city as he did, torn apart at the very seams by fear – they merely wanted the means to do it so that they might never have to use it as they all got rich. Crane's own ambitions were nothing more than a boyish sort of fantasy.
Walking the halls, his muscles aching and throat dry, Crane kept his eyes downcast, ignoring everyone he passed. When he reached the door he wanted, he paused, straightening his tie and pushing his slipping glasses back onto the bridge of his nose. He was a doctor, once a well-respected one at that, and he had a duty to uphold, however much it pained him. Scanning his security key, the door opened and Crane dragged his feet down the corridor to the last cell in the row. Behind the glass, Harleen sat with her back to him, pulling her long hair into pigtails. At first she did not notice him, so Crane simply watched her in silence, committing each last detail to memory. When she turned, her eyes were full of tears that she was fighting to keep back and she smiled sadly at him.
'You know what tomorrow is, don't you?' She asked quietly.
Crane nodded. He had been able to keep sight of Harleen's impending court date when all other days had blurred into one. He was due to take the stand and tell the court whether or not Harley Quinn was mentally competent. While it mattered little for her verdict, his word would determine the sentence Judge Faden settled on her head.
'You're not crazy, Harleen,' Crane murmured, the words stabbing his throat as they were spoken. 'You might put on a good act but that doesn't make it true.'
She stopped fighting the tears and cried openly, scrambling to press her palms against the glass and stare up into Crane's eyes.
'Please,' she begged, 'you can't let them take me to prison. I'd die in there, Jonathan, you know it.'
Swallowing the sorrow that threatened his already-flaking professionalism, Crane spoke, his tone so soft he wondered if she would even hear him. 'I have to.'
Harleen sobbed, sinking down onto the floor of her cell, her head turned away from him. She cried until her breath came in spasms and she fell silent, Crane wondering if she had cried herself to sleep. As he turned to leave, however, she spoke.
'I remember, y'know,' she began quietly, 'that Christmas party – I remember it.'
Her words stopped Crane in his tracks and he stood, his back to her, hardly daring to take a breath. He heard her move in the cell, knowing she had turned to face him again.
'I messed up, Jonathan. But I can fix it. Keep me here, we can work something out – we can be together...'
'Don't.' Crane spat, his teeth clenched and his hands balled into fists. She was playing him, and he could not stand to be mocked. 'Tomorrow I take the stand and I won't lie for the sake of a twisted little whore like you.'
He did not look back as he made his way back down the corridor and away from the cells, almost running in an attempt to silence his emotions. She had offered him everything he wanted and nothing of it all the same. When he reached the gate, he stopped, barely able to catch his breath. Tomorrow he would condemn Harleen to her fate and tomorrow he would seal his own.