Up In the Air
I don't want to die. I'm not ready to. It's too early, I haven't done enough in life yet. I spent most of my twenty eight years in school, not out having fun. I'd worked hard, always trying to get A's, always trying to be on top in high school. I had rushed through college, spending long hours on term papers and studying for finals. Medical school had taken up nearly any spare ounce of free time I had afterwards and for four more years I devoted my life to studying.
I haven't lived, all I've done is work. That, I realize while hurtling towards the ground, is what the Joker has been trying to tell me all along.
Something thick snaps around my waist, jolting me hard. The earth stops rising up to meet me and I start to sway. I touch my waist to feel some sort of cord wrapped tightly around me. It squeezes hard up against my ribs, but it's the only thing keeping gravity from finishing its work.
"Harley!" Selina screams, barely loud enough for me to hear. I glance up to see the vague outline of her head peering over the roof. In front of her is the starting point of the cord that's wrapped around me. "Are you OK?"
"No!" I shout back, clutching the cord for dear life. I'm dangling from a ten story building, about to splatter across the sidewalk, I am far from alright.
A wave of lightheadedness washes over me as I look at the ground. It's so far away, the impact would break every bone in my body if I hit the ground from where I am now. The impact would crush my skull, impaling my brain with bone fragments. If my crushed skull didn't kill me, then the impact overall would probably stop my heart and finish the job. I take a deep breath, shuddering as I do so. My heart races in my chest like a jackhammer, the sound flooding my ears. It's so far away. It's so far away. It's so far away.
I can't breathe. I cannot breathe.
"Harley!" Selina's voice calls, breaking through the panic. "Stay with me!"
Even Selina's words can't stop the overwhelming sense of doom. My breathing comes in ragged, short puffs, each one adding to the lightheadedness. I let out an unintentional choked sob and desperately clutch the cord around me. I'm going to die. I'm going to die.
"It's going to be OK!" she shouts at me from the rooftop. "I'm not going to let you fall!"
There's a loud BOOM and flames burst out of several windows three floors below me. The glass falls and shatters to the ground below and the burst of fiery flames dies down as it meets the frigid December air. The building shakes and there's a loud crash on the inside. I yelp loudly as I start to fall again, only to be jolted hard two feet down.
I'm almost certain that my heart just stopped.
"Sorry, sorry!" Selina frantically calls. "The rope slipped, do you..." her voice gets carried off by a sharp gust of wind.
"What?" I shout, my voice sounding more like a shrill squeak. My chest feels so constricted and hollow that I'm surprised any sound came out of me at all.
"Can you swing?" she repeats even louder, her voice barely reaching my ears.
"I can't lift you back up, the ropes too heavy," she explains in a shout. "Can you swing into one of the windows?"
The windows? I turn to glance at the building beside me. I'm even with the glass windows, but how on earth am I going to swing through them? My mind fills with the thoughts of several horrible outcomes. The cord could snap from the movement. You could successfully break the window and a shard of glass could cut the cord. If the windows are too hard to break and you crash into them, you could hit your head and pass out.
The onslaught of horrible possibilities is broken by Selina's voice. "Harley, did you hear me?"
"Yeah," I call back with uncertainty. Harley, you've got to do this. You don't have another option, I tell myself firmly. You're not going to fall and the cord's not going to snap. You're going to be fine. Just don't look down.
I move my arms and legs to the right, then to the left, not moving much. It's not going to snap, I tell myself as I continue the swaying motion. It feels like a lifetime before the cord starts moving an inch or so in each direction. It's not going to snap. It's not going to snap, I repeatedly assure myself, finally beginning to gain momentum.
"You're almost there, Harls!" Selina calls encouragingly. "Just a few more swings."
I reach towards the glass window, my fingers barely brushing it as I swing back the other way. You can do this, Harley, you're almost there. I swing my legs hard to the right and three of my fingers touch the window this time around. I push off the wall as hard as I can with those three fingers and bring my body weight towards the left, propelling my sideways swing.
I come back closer this time, close enough to prop my feet against the window and push off. I come back around one more time, not quite having the right power yet. I shove off of the window and snap my legs back quickly, fueling the speed and force I'd need to break through the window. Well, hopefully break through the window.
I hurl myself at the window legs first and crash into it. I squeeze my eyes shut as the sound of shattering glass fills my ears. I feel the cord loosen behind me as I crash through the window. Please make it, please make it.
I hit the floor so hard that it knocks the breath out of me. For a moment, I lay there wheezing, desperately trying to take in air. The feeling subsides and I push myself onto my knees, shards of glass pricking and poking at me along the way. I breathe in a sigh of relief, hardly even noticing the pain from the glass shards.
I'm not sure how long I sit there shivering for. I can't tell if the shakes and shudders are from shock, relief, or coldness. Probably all three. Time doesn't seem to pass at all, not to me anyway. It's like the world is holding its breath and all is still. Everything is very, very still. It all seems like a bad dream, a very bad dream.
One thought floats through my mind in the midst of stillness: I am alive.
The stairwell door to the room bursts open and Selina's worried voice fills my ears. "Harley!" she exclaims, rushing over to my non-moving spot in front of the window. "Are you okay? You've got glass all over you. Did any of the shards catch you? I can't tell. It's too dark in here."
"I don't know," I respond warily, my voice hoarse. "I feel numb."
"It's the cold," she informs me. "Damn, I wish there was a blanket or something up here. Hold on a second, let me find a light switch." She fumbles along the walls of the room for a few moments. "There we go," she announces triumphantly as a harsh light fills the room. Judging by the large space, unfinished walls, and lack of furniture, the light reveals us to be in some sort of master suite under construction.
Selina rushes back over to me and hastily unties the cord from around my waist. She reels in the rest of the cord, which she had apparently dropped after my landing, from the side of the building. She wraps it in a neat circle and slides it back into the black bag that she brought. From that bag, she produces a small red purse and a pair of black velvet platforms heels.
"These were lying around on the roof," she tells me. "I figured I'd get them back to their owner."
"Thanks," I mumble. Selina peers at my face for a moment, her face scrunched up in some kind of concern. She reaches forward and abruptly tugs at my face, tearing something out of it that I hadn't even noticed was lodged in there. She drops a reasonably large bloody piece of glass on the floor and I touch my cheek in surprise. When I take my fingers away from my face, they're stained red with blood.
"Hold on, you've got a few little ones." She plucks at my face twice, pulling out two smaller shards. "Do you have any on your arms?" I glance from side to side at my arms, but they seem to have avoided the glass. I lift my hands up to look at them and unlike my arms, my hands seem to be in bad shape. Selina frowns and takes my right hand first, picking out the multiple glass pieces.
"What happened to the last clown?" I ask curiously.
"Right after he threw you off the roof, he ran down the stairwell and probably locked himself away on one of the other floors. You'd think he wouldn't be such a coward, considering he threw you off the roof and all," she tells me with a snort as she pulls the last piece of glass out of my right hand. "Doesn't that hurt?" she questions with a grimace, moving onto my left hand. There's a faint pinch with each pull of glass, but it doesn't even hurt as bad as a needle prick.
"I can't really feel much right now, to be honest." Those little cuts and scratches would hurt like hell in the morning, I'm sure, but right now a mixture of shock and coldness blocks the pain out. My overwhelming relief has been hijacked by some sort of shock induced cold indifference, leaving me almost as numb on the inside as I am on the outside.
"Hey, Harls," she begins warily, eyeing my leg, "that looks like it really hurts." I glance down to see a rather large chunk of glass sticking through my dress and into my thigh. I touch the cold material gently, then pull upwards, yanking it out of my flesh. I let it clatter to the floor, faintly watching a splotch of dark red seep onto my dress in its place.
There's surprisingly barely any glass lodged in my feet, so I pluck out what is left and put my platforms back on protectively. I don't exactly feel like walking in heels at the moment, considering I'll be more than likely be wobbly and unsteady on my feet. However, it's better than the alternative of walking on glass.
"Do you need some help getting up?" Selina questions, jumping to her feet. I quickly shake her off and rise unsteadily to my feet. "You don't look so good, Harls."
"I don't feel so good," I reply, taking a deep breath to help ward off the wooziness. "I want to go home."
"Don't you think you should talk to the cops first? They're going to want to call you in for questioning. I can slip out the back entrance if-"
I shake my head firmly. "Not tonight. I can't... I can't deal with them, not tonight. They can find me in the morning."
"I'll take you home, is your car in the parking garage?"
"Yeah, I think it's on the second sublevel beneath the hotel," I tell her, faintly remembering where I'd parked. It seems so long ago. "Where's your motorcycle?"
"I took a cab here." I look at her suspiciously and she sighs. "No, I did not take a cab here dressed like this. I'm not that crazy. I changed in the bathroom of some frozen yogurt shop near here and then slipped out of the bathroom window," she explains, leading me slowly over to the exit stairs. "Will the stairwell take us down to the garage subfloor?"
"I think so. I took the elevator up to the lobby, but there are probably stairs."
"Good, let's go. Be careful on the stairs," she warns as we begin to descend. It seems like forever until we reach the sublevel first floor. I sit down tiredly on the last step and place my head in my hands, a throbbing migraine beginning to break through the numbness.
"Stay here," Selina instructs me. "I'll go get the car and bring it around. We'll deal with the actual part of getting out of here when the time comes. Where are your keys?"
"I'm fine, really. I can help you find the car," I assure her, handing her my purse. "The keys are somewhere in there."
"You are not fine," she tells me pointedly. "Stay here and just take a breather, okay? I'll be right back." She disappears down the ramp leading into the second sublevel, leaving me alone. I rub my arms absentmindedly, trying to coax some warmth back into them. I rest my head against my knees, giving up on the possibility of ever feeling warm again.
An amusing, ironic thought comes to mind and an uncontrollable laugh escapes my lips. I had been saved by a vigilante, a cat burglar. The hero of Gotham, the knight in shining armor, had been vacant from my entire hostage ordeal. While Batman, the hero, was dealing with the Joker in the ballroom, I was being saved by Catwoman, who is one of the "bad" guys.
I chuckle quietly, grasping my sides as the quiet laughter refuses to end. I've always been told not to trust the criminals, the vigilantes. It's my job to cure them, not befriend them. It’s been my job to turn them in as soon as I realize who they are or what they had become. But I never did, and they had continued to be my, an Arkham Asylum psychiatrist's, best friends. I burst into silent giggles. My friends, these bad people, have done more for me than Batman ever has. The thought is just so incredibly funny.
I wipe my eyes, beginning to regain my composure. A sound from further down the garage startles me and I stand up on impulse. There's a loud, familiar cackle, then the sound of growled words that I can't quite make out. There's a muffled thump against something that sounds vaguely metallic, high pitched laughter, then the sound of something close to that of a punch. Curious, but oddly not afraid, I creep slowly towards the right side of the parking lot and hide behind one of the large concrete pillars.
"Look at you go!" the Joker exclaims giddily from his stance in front of the giant hunk of black metal that is undoubtedly the Batmobile. Batman's fist comes down hard against the Joker's face and I almost flinch, feeling the pain of the powerful blow. "It's too bad about Harley. I really liked that one." Batman's fist connects with Joker's jaw, snapping his head to the right. The Joker lets out a high pitched cackle, enjoying the rise he's getting out of Batman.
"You let an innocent doctor die. Even to a guy like me, that's cold." He lets out a sharp bark of laughter as Batman throws him to the ground. Batman hovers over him and punches him hard and I watch as the Joker's head bounces off of the pavement. He rolls to the side, laughing hysterically, one arm holding his reverberating stomach.
Batman comes in for another hit, but I've seen enough. "You aren't doing me any favors," I call, stepping out from behind the pillars and walking towards them.
"Harley?" the Joker drawls with a gasp of air between laughs. "What a nice surprise."
"You said your men threw her off the roof," Batman growls.
"Oh, they did," I inform him. "Lucky for me, you aren't the only one in this city with a grappling hook." I kneel down next to the Joker, examining his bruised and bloody face for a moment. "Lift your head," I tell him. "Someone might've given you a concussion." Funny enough, I don't find myself too incredibly angry at the clown in front of me. It's his job to wreak havoc and hold hostages. I'll admit that I'm a little hurt that he pulled this stunt on me but, as strange as it sounds, I don't think he actually meant to hurt me.
"Looks like you're having a bad day, doc," he muses, lifting his head up. I run my fingers along the back of his head, probing for any dents, bumps, or abnormalities. His skin is oddly warm, I notice, and he feels, well... human. It still doesn't cease to surprise me that beneath the madness, he has flesh and bones and body heat just like everyone else. I don't know why it's still surprising. Had I really expected him to feel any different after tonight?
"You can say that again," I mumble. "You don't have a concussion," I inform him, removing my hands from the back of his head.
"If someone saved you from falling off of the roof, how did they manage to subdue the henchmen and get to you in time?" Batman questions in a raspy growl.
"We fought them off before I was thrown off the building," I retort, standing up. "Didn't you notice the unconscious bodies on the roof, or did you not even bother to check?"
"One was missing," he replies firmly. "They were robbed and two were dead-"
"So you just assumed that one of the henchmen shot and killed two of his friends and managed to subdue three other armed clowns?" I finish incredulously. "And did you assume that the bloodstain, and my body for that matter, had just disappeared from the sidewalk ten stories down?"
The Joker chuckles at my remark and stands up, brushing the dust off of his purple coat. "She's got a point there, Bats," he muses.
"Shut it, clown," Batman growls. "No, that's not what I-"
"I thought you were supposed to be some sort of great detective," I shoot at him pointedly. "You always manage to upstage the police force."
"Who saved you?" he questions, ignoring my previous remark. I cross my arms and open my mouth to reply with something sarcastic, but someone else beats me to it.
"I did," Selina announces from behind us. "It's a good thing I showed up when I did, otherwise you'd be in deep. You better be glad it was me who showed up and not Pam, because if Pam had been here," she lets out a short laugh at the thought, "you both would have been done for."
"It was you?" Batman repeats, glancing from me to her. "You saved her?"
"Mm-hmm. Come on, Harley, I've got the car waiting."
"There's a swarm of police outside, they'll never let you through," Batman interjects.
"I've got it taken care of," she replies smoothly. "Don't you worry your cowl covered head."
"Take him to Arkham," I tell Batman sternly, nodding towards the Joker. "Unless, of course, you think he's faking insanity. You of all people should know," I challenge, following Selina down the garage.
"Goodnight, Harley," the Joker calls with a cackle. His tone is light and almost... gleeful, and I can't help but get the impression that maybe he's happy that I'm still alive. The laughter fades from behind me as Selina leads me down the ramp to the second sublevel, where my car has noticeably been changed.
There's a police decal attached to the side and a set of lights on the top, not to mention my license plates are missing. I'm tempted to ask Selina where she got all of this, but I'm not so sure that I want to know the answer. "They won't suspect a thing," Selina assures me with a smile.
"Thanks," I tell Selina as she pulls into the parking garage of my building. Normally, I don't park in the underground garage, it's too much of a hassle in my opinion. I prefer parking out front where I don't have to pull up and press a button to leave or enter a code to get in. However, I'm sure it would seem a little suspicious to be seen talking to someone dressed in cat suit out in the parking lot. Not to mention that I'm covered in blood and probably look pretty banged up.
"No problem, I couldn't have saved you if you hadn't have saved me from that gunman earlier," she points out with a smile. "Let's go inside and I'll make you something warm to eat. It's freezing outside, you're probably close to getting pneumonia at this point."
"That's nice of you," I tell her, toying with one of the seams on my dress. "But I'd really like to be alone tonight." Did wanting to be alone make me a bad friend? She had just saved my life and got me undetected out of the building. I feel bad about it, but I'd be too distracted with her in the apartment to wrap my thoughts around tonight. Besides taking a shower and having a cup of coffee, all I want to do is wrap my head around things.
"Are you sure?" she asks worriedly. "You just had a really terrible night, Harls. Are you sure being alone is the best thing?"
"I'm sure. You can take my car to your apartment," I offer. "I just need it back around seven thirty tomorrow so I'm not late for work. I'll drop you off at your place when you bring it over," I assure her.
Selina looks at me with an expression of disbelief. "You're going to work tomorrow?"
"Yeah," I reply with a shrug. Why wouldn't I? Terrible things happen all the time at the asylum, it's not like I'm just going to take a free day because of it. What good would it do me to sit around all day and cry or obsess over tonight's events? Besides, I have a strong enough hunch that Batman doesn't think that the Joker is faking insanity and I need to be there for his first day back at Arkham.
"Harley, you were just thrown off of a building," she tells me slowly, allowing it sink in. "You killed a man. You had to do it, I'm not say you were wrong to, but that's got to take some kind of toll on you."
"Well, hopefully no one but you, the Joker's goons, and I know about that," I reply. "I doubt that the goons will tell anyone. And even if Batman has a hunch that I personally killed one of them, I don't think he'll tell anyone either, considering he let me fall from a ten story building and all."
"Harley, you can't run from this. They marked you off of the guest list, you paid for a parking ticket."
"I dropped in for a few minutes just to say hello and then I left," I tell her. "I wasn't feeling good so I just dropped by to be polite. I stayed in all night after that. If they ask about the car, I'll say that I lent it to you for the night after I got home because your motorcycle was having problems starting."
"How are they going to explain the broken window on the fifth floor?"
"The workers were careless, I don't know!" I exclaim. "How am I going to explain that Catwoman saved me from falling to my death? How am I going to be able to explain why the Joker picked me, of all people, to put on the roof? How's that going to look?" I demand. "It's going to look like I'm aspiring with a bunch of criminals. They're going to realize that Catwoman is one of my friends, Sel, and when they do it's going to lead back to you." I rub the side of my head agitatedly, a migraine throbbing angrily against the side of my skull.
"Not to mention the truth will completely ruin Batman's entire image, it'll make him look careless and unprofessional. The world will hate him for it, they'll realize that he might not be all that he's cracked up to be. They'll turn him into a monster, like they make everyone who makes a mistake or does something wrong out to be. Gotham doesn't need that, they don't need another person to turn against. Even if the man didn't save me, he doesn't deserve the world to turn on him, he doesn't need his mask to be ripped off," I finish. "Gotham doesn't deserve to be heroless because of one bad day."
Selina looks at me warily, studying my face carefully. "Alright, Harley. If you really think that's best, I'll go along with it, but I really don't think that you should be alone tonight, or go to work tomorrow. I think you need to stay home and rest."
"I'll be fine," I assure her, opening the car door. "Thanks, again."
"Harley, I don't really don't feel comfortable taking your car," she tells me. "I'm going to change right quick and give you back the keys."
"How are you going to get home?"
"I'll call a taxi," she assures me. "Just give me a second." I step out of the car and shut the door, allowing her some privacy. She emerges from the car a few minutes later in a black coat and black pants, her bag slung over her shoulder.
"Do you have cab money?" I ask her, opening my small purse. "I think I've got twenty dollars in here."
"It's fine Harls, really. Just go upstairs and go to bed," she instructs, handing me back my car keys. "Call me in the morning, if you get a chance. Oh, and be sure to pick up the phone tomorrow night, Pam's going to want the 411 when she gets back."
"Where did she go?"
"She went down to Metropolis to negotiate some important deal. I think she said something about an incredibly rare plant that she's going to exchange some toxins for. Although, she might be stealing it. You never know with Pam," she replies with a smile. "Goodnight, Harley."
"Goodnight, Selina." I walk over to the service elevator, glancing back to see her talking on her cell phone. The elevator takes me up to the fifth floor where thankfully no one's in the hallway. I escape to the confinement of my small apartment and breathe in a sigh of relief. It's going to be okay, Harley, it's all going to be okay.
I kick my heels off by the door and drop my purse onto the side table. I step into the living room, chaotic thoughts not yet ambushing my mind. I head towards the coffee maker, but something in the living room stops me.
Propped up against the wall, underneath the Joker's painting, is a bazooka with a big red bow on top.
I walk over to it warily and pluck the tag off of it. Merry Christmas, Harley. –J. The Joker had bought me a bazooka for Christmas. I laugh quietly to myself for a moment, then realize that he must've put this here right after I left for the party. If that’s the case, then he knew, or was under the assumption, that I would be coming home tonight in one piece.
I shake my head, too tired to even try and analyze that move. I pick up the bazooka cautiously, examining it for a moment, and then hide it in the hall closet. The Joker bought me a bazooka, I think to myself for the millionth time as I wander into my bathroom.
After a quick shower, I throw myself into bed, falling asleep before my head even hits the pillow. That night, I sleep better than I have in the past four months.