"Hello," I greet, answering my incessantly ringing phone with one hand and brushing my teeth with the other. I grimace at my reflection in the bathroom mirror, eyeing the thin slice of open flesh across my cheek. My nose is swollen and an awful purplish blue color and there are heavy dark rings beneath my eyes because of it. There are several other small nicks and cuts around my face that aren't that noticeable by themselves, but they really add emphasis to the beaten, hurt look as a whole. Just wonderful.
"Merry Christmas!" the familiar voice of my mother singsongs excitedly from the other end of the phone. I groan and spit out my toothpaste, glancing at a tube of concealer as I wash my mouth out. I decide against using it, knowing that despite how awful they look, the cuts will heal faster if I leave them untouched. Unfortunately, there is nothing I can do about my nose.
"Hi Mom," I greet, wandering back into my bedroom. I put the phone on speaker and throw it on the bed before yanking on a red sweater with black and white argyle print. I pull a simple black skirt on, just then remembering the cuts on my legs. I look down to see the bottom of one thick gash and several noticeable smaller ones. The gash on my thigh could probably use a couple of stitches, but frankly, I don't have time for that. Looks like I'll be wearing slacks today.
"Hi honey," she greets warmly. "You sound sick."
"I'm fine," I reply, although I do feel rather hazy this morning. My head is heavy, my nose is stuffy, and my throat aches, but work won't do itself. Besides, compared to everything I went through last night, a little cold is nothing. I grimace at the thought of last night, trying my best to block out the memories that keep threatening to hijack my thought process. "How are you and dad doing?"
"That's good, it's probably just the phone connection then," she decides. "We're doing just fine, dear. Your father started training dogs for the Brooklyn police again. He gets so bored just sitting around doing nothing. He says the retired life is the lazy life," she informs me with a sigh. "He picked up a German Shepard at the pound and named it Caesar. I think he's halfway done with training it, those dogs are quick learners."
"They sure are," I reply. "That's good he's keeping himself busy. What about you?"
"Oh, me? I'm the same old same old. I'm always busy down at the hospital, they never seem to have enough nurses," she tells me. "Oh, I didn't even look at the time. I didn't realize it was this early. I hope I didn't wake you up, dear. You know how your father and I are, always being the early birds."
"No, you didn't wake me," I assure her. "I had to get up for work anyway." I glance around the bedroom, looking for my shoes. I could've sworn that they were in front of the bed. I get on my knees and lift the dust skirt of my bed up, successfully spotting them. I must've kicked them getting into bed last night, I think to myself.
"Work?" my mother repeats as I slide on my heels. "It's Christmas."
"Patients don't heal themselves, even on Christmas," I mutter, twisting my blonde hair up into a bun. "In fact-"
"The suicide rates double around Christmas," she finishes for me with a sigh. "I know, I know. That's what you told us last year. It's just that we miss you, Harleen. You're always working so hard, you even work through the holidays. I just think that you should take a break and spend some time with the family. Your dad and I really miss you, you know?"
"I know," I mumble, frowning at the crumpled doctor's coat hanging off of the back of my desk chair. "Work's just going really great for me." I grab the white coat and shake it out roughly, getting rid of most of the wrinkles. Oh well, it will have to do. I don't have time to iron it.
"That's great, honey," she tells me warmly as I shrug my coat on. "Maybe your father and I could come up and visit you later tonight. Trains aren't that expensive these days and it would only take a couple of hours. I'll even cook us a nice home cooked meal," she offers.
"I'm going to be working really late," I tell her, riffling through my purse for my Arkham ID. "There was a mishap with one of my patients last night that I've got to get sorted out. I'll probably be stuck doing paperwork for a while."
"Oh, okay sweetie," she replies lightly, but I can hear the disappointment in her voice. I clip my ID to the front of my coat pocket and sigh. My mother and I have never really been close, I had always been closer to my dad. Then, when I got to high school, it was as though they (mainly my mom, but my dad just had to take her side) thought that my life was suddenly spinning out of control. It wasn't of course, but suddenly it was join this club, volunteer there, stay home and study, get straight A's. Eventually, all of those boring things and habits became a part of who I am. Maybe part of me resents her for that, I don't know. I'm in no mood to psychoanalyze myself. I have bigger things to worry about than my family issues at the moment.
"I'm sorry, Mom," I lie into the phone. "I just don't want you to have to wait up on me for a while."
"It's alright, it's just that we're worried about you," she tells me. "Ever since Pam died, you've thrown yourself into your work. You don't come to see us anymore, all you do is hang out in that institution. To be honest, dear, I don't think it's good for you to be spending so much time in that place."
I exhale sharply, here we go. "Pam isn't dead, mom. They thought she was, there was enough blood to think so, but she didn't die. She came back different, but she came back. And that place is where I work, it's where I'm supposed to be spending my time."
"Pam might as well be dead," she tells me. "That's got to hurt, honey, knowing that for once you can't fix someone, knowing that she'll never be the same Pam again."
"Pam is not broken," I tell her steely. "There's nothing to fix about her. Her boss tried to murder her and ended up poisoning her beyond repair. She uses that poison to her advantage, trying to save the plant world from human life. Yeah, she could be trying to fix the world in a better, less dangerous way, but she's doing what she believes in."
"I won't argue with you on this," she retorts with a sigh. "I just want what's best for you."
"Mm-hmm," I mutter, grabbing my keys. "I've got to go to work, Mom. I'll talk to you later."
I knock on Dr. Arkham's office briskly and wait for a response. "Dr. Arkham," I call after a long moment of silence. I don't particularly want to see Dr. Arkham because I know he'll ask about my injuries and I'll have to lie, but I want to find out if there's anything that I can help him with about the Joker's arrival. I bang on the door again, but he appears to be out.
"He's back at the hospital," Dr. Leland tells me, emerging from the office next to his. In her right arm rests a rather large stack of files, most of which probably revolve around the Joker's paperwork. "The Joker beat his stitches in, don't you remember?"
"No, I left the party early last night. I wasn't feeling good," I lie. "I heard about what happened on the news, though. Are you alright?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," she replies, shifting her files to the other arm. "I don't mean to be rude, Harleen, but how did that," she gestures towards my face, "happen?"
"I slipped and fell on a patch of ice outside my apartment," I reply smoothly. "The groundskeeper forgot to salt the sidewalk."
"Ouch," she retorts, glancing at my nose. "That looks bad. Anyway, until Dr. Arkham returns, Dr. Strange and I are running the place. There's not much to run, though, seeing as everyone took the day off. We've got a lot of stuff to get done with the Joker's arrival and only half the staff to do it, so I'm really going to need your help today."
"What do you need me to do?"
"Well, Batman didn't exactly bring the Joker in here all nice and neat," she replies. "I'm going to need you to do a medical report on his injuries. I know that's not your specialty, but all of the physicians took the day off, which leaves us. The report doesn't have to be all fancy with big medical words or anything like that, we've just got to document what injuries he came in with for court's sake. Do you think you can do that around," she glances at her watch, "nine or so?"
"That's fine," I assure her, although something in my stomach flutters nervously. Part of me had expected to talk to him today, but part of me is worried that I might break.
"I'll send some orderlies to get him and bring him down to the second floor. You can pick whatever examination room since no one's here, just wait for the guards in the hallway and tell them. Hmm, what else." She taps her foot for a moment, thinking. "Oh, Bruce Wayne's coming around twelve today to check inventory or something like that. I told him to wait until Dr. Arkham comes back, but he's a persistent one. I'm not sure if Dr. Strange is going to take care of that, but if he can't, I'm going to need you to supervise Mr. Wayne and show him around."
"Supervise?" I repeat with a small laugh.
"Yeah, you know, just in case he tries to grab something out of the medical closet or something like that," she explains. "I don't think he will, but you never know with these benefactors. Oh, and if you do watch him, make sure he doesn't get into anywhere too restricted, like the maximum security holding cells. We don't need Gotham's richest man suing us because one of the patients managed to grab him coming down the hallway or something like that."
"Got it, no stealing and no allowing him into restricted areas," I gather.
"That's right," she agrees. "Look, I know it's the holidays and all, but I'd really like the Joker's examiners report on my desk before you leave for the night."
"No problem, I'll have it on your desk before five."
"Thanks, I really appreciate the work, Harleen." She strides past me and presses the down button on the elevator. "Oh and Harleen," she calls, turning back towards me, "I'd cover up those nicks and bruises as best I could if I were you. The Joker's going to feed right off of that."
I laugh softly to myself. Of all the things the Joker knows about last night, the cuts and bruises would be the least of his fixation. He has much more entertaining things to feed off of than a broken nose and a cut cheek. I can only hope that he won't use last night's newfound information against me in front of the staff.
I stand in the medical hallway on the second floor outside of examination room two. My heart doesn't beat hard, but it does beat fast, making me a little lightheaded. I'm genuinely worried and I hate that because I know that the Joker's going to pick up on that worriedness the moment he sees me. The Joker's got the upper hand here. He has last night's events and my increasing stress over it against me. I'm practically in the palm of his hand.
Calm down, I tell myself sternly. You aren't making the situation any better by fretting about it. But fretting, at the moment, seems to be the only thing that I can do. I hadn't been too initially worried when I woke up this morning, but as I arrived at work and time passed, a knot had formed in my stomach and has begun twisting, constricting, and gnawing at me. What if the Joker knew that I was the one who shot one of his goons? I don't feel guilty about what I did, but I don't want him to play off of it either. I don't want him to know, I don't want him to come up with the theory that I hadn't felt anything at all when the gunman died. I don't think I can handle that, not today.
There isn't going to be a camera in there, I tell myself reassuringly. The only person who's going to be analyzing you is him. It's just going to be you and him. That last thought doesn't exactly reassure me. I can't figure out if it only being me and him is a bad thing or not. Us being alone meant for a more personal conversation, but there wouldn't be an audience or a show and the Joker likes an audience. So, will he seize the opportunity to break me down while we're alone or wait until he can spin it into an elaborate show?
Maybe he won't break you down, my mind suggests. Maybe he enjoys toying with you too much. Maybe you're too much fun to get rid of now. That last thought scares me. I don't want to be the Joker's plaything, but it's pretty clear by this point that I'm being strung along for the ride. Although, I can't help but feel that I'm somehow more than just a plaything. I mean, he had expected me to come home after last night's ordeal, why else would he have put a bazooka in my apartment?
Or maybe he's already broken you. With that thought, I draw the line. That is enough unhelpful theories and mind puzzles for one day. Instead, I focus my attention what I should do later tonight. I still have to drop off Pam's Christmas gift, so maybe I’ll go over to her place sometime tonight and hear about her trip. Selina is bound to be there as well. Maybe we'll just have a girl's night or something.
The door to the medical hallway buzzes open and two guards walk in, dragging the Joker along with them, breaking my train of holiday possibilities. When I see the Joker, my heart drops, not out of nervousness, but out of anger and disbelief. His face is covered in bruises and welts, injuries that I know for a fact he didn't receive last night. Injuries that the guards more than likely took it upon themselves to give him.
"Put him in room two," I instruct them, squashing my anger. It would be pointless to accuse them or even yell at them for his injuries. They'd make up some excuse, the guards always do. They might've even been paid to do it. It certainly wouldn't surprise me, not with some of the things I've seen around here.
I wait patiently by the door until the guards reappear. "Do you want one of us in the room?" one asks.
"No, I'll be fine by myself. It won't take too long," I promise, entering the examination room and shutting the door behind me. My eyes land on the Joker, who's strapped to the steel examination table. He licks his lips, not even bothering to fight the restraints.
"Harley," he greets. "Did you sleep well last night?"
"I slept just fine," I reply, snapping a pair of latex gloves on my hands. "But I can see that you didn't," I observe, wheeling the doctors chair over to him. "So, which guards did this to you?"
"I didn't catch their names," he tells me with a sardonic grin. "I was a little, uh, busy." He smacks his lips together as I glance over his chart, making sure that they've already got his general information, which it seems they do. "So, does this mean that we're delving into my, uh, what do you doctors think it has to be? Traumatic past?"
"I'm not your psychiatrist today," I inform him. "Right now, I'm your physician. You can talk about the past if you want to." I stand up and go around to the back of the table. "Can you lift your head up please?" He lifts his head up and my fingers gently probe along his skull, looking to see if any of the guards managed to give him a concussion.
"Ah, so we're, uh, roleplaying?"
"What? No, no," I quickly defend, caught off guard. The Joker lets out a hearty chuckle. "You need a medical report for your arrival and all of the physicians are out today. Dr. Leland and Dr. Strange are both busy, so that leaves me." I let his head fall back into place and mark down his head exam on my notes. "The guards didn't give you a concussion, but try not to get your head banged around anymore."
"No promises, doc."
I touch several of the more gruesome looking bruises on his face gently, making sure that the damage is mainly external. I examine his nose for a long moment, trying to decide whether or not it needs to be snapped back into place. I decide against it, realizing that it will probably be more beneficial to let it heal on its own. I grab my clipboard and scrawl out several more notes and observations.
"Your nose is broken," I tell him. "It'll heal on its own and so will the bruising, just try not to mess with any of them. I can't give you any painkillers, that's a general rule with unstable or highly dangerous patients. I can prescribe you some Motrin, but that's about all I can do."
"You doctors and your labels," he announces with a melodramatic sigh. "It's always so black and white."
"You disagree that you're highly dangerous?" I question incredulously. "You killed two doctors, shot the director of the asylum, and mentally maimed several other doctors."
"Well, nobody's perfect."
"Do you really think that you should be trusted with narcotics?" I question, genuinely curious.
"You're missing the point," he tells me flatly, popping the last t. "It's not about painkillers or high security cells, Harley, it's about all of the neat little, uh, categories you're taught to put people in. Insane, freak, psycho, they're all categories. Sane, organized, trustworthy. The world isn't divided up into these nice little titles, no, no, there's more to everything than what meets the eye."
"I know that."
"I don't think you fully do, not yet."
"Does anywhere else hurt?" I question, swiftly avoiding this train of conversation. I'm not going to let him sucker me into a deep conversation, not today, not when I'm at my most vulnerable.
"You're worried today," he observes. "You're afraid, but not of me. No, you're worried about your, uh, sanity."
"You threw me off a roof, I think that would mess with anyone's nerves," I tell him dismissively. "Now, does anywhere else hurt? Otherwise-"
"I think that you wanted to see me, Harley," he announces. "That's why you came into work after such a bad day. You wanted to see me, you wanted to talk. You just can't get enough of me."
"As appealing as that sounds, I came into work today because I'm trying to forget about last night," I inform him. "No one saw me there, no one asked me any questions, and I didn't tell anyone anything. I came into work because that's where I need to be, that's where I'm supposed to be. It's as though last night never even happened."
"But it did happen. You know it, I know it, Batman knows it," he points out. "Denial's an ugly thing, Harley, you ought to know. You wanna know what I think?"
"No." The Joker raises an eyebrow, but continues on anyway.
"I think that it's eating you up inside. I think that you need to talk about it. It's not healthy to keep things bottled up, isn't that what they always say?" He lets out a loud cackle. "Things have changed, Harley. The world's no longer black and white to you anymore. Now it's splattered with color."
"If anyone or anything has changed, then it's the world," I correct. "I don't see things any differently."
"The world hasn't changed, Harley. It's just picked up and moved on without you. The world never changes, only the people do. You're starting to see the world as it, uh, truly is. You're starting to see behind the masks. It's why you didn't expose Batman's little mistake."
"I didn't expose Batman's mistake because this city needs him," I clarify. "There is nothing but crime in this city and no one gives a damn about it. Without Batman, there's hardly any hope for this place."
"Now why," he begins, his tongue darting at the corners of his mouth, "why do you feel the need to protect all the mindless little citizens, hmm?"
"Without Batman you'd be out of a career," I point out.
"We aren't talking about me."
"I don't know why," I admit. "Maybe it's because we've all done things we aren't proud of. He shouldn't be shot down and torn to pieces over one mistake. Even if that one mistake ruins someone's life," I finish quietly, more to myself than to him. "I'm all done here," I inform him, ending the conversation. "Have a nice day, Mr. J."
I turn on my heel to leave the room, but this time he offers no parting remark.
"You haven't changed," I tell myself, wandering aimlessly and restlessly around my apartment. I haven't changed, I'm still the same me, even if the Joker and Selina think differently. I know myself better than either of them do. The only thing that's changed, I will admit, is my view towards Batman and the criminals of Gotham. Batman is no longer purely a savior in my eyes and I'm no longer satisfied with the simplicity of calling the criminals crazy and moving on. Sure, I've never liked the term "crazy" or "freak," but these days it tends to strike a nerve much more easily.
If I had changed drastically, I'm sure I would've noticed it by now. I'm a psychiatrist, my main job is picking up on things patients don't even know about themselves. My job requires me to be intuitive. If I had really changed that much, then I would've noticed by now, I'm sure of it. But, if that were the case, why am I so determined to convince myself that haven't changed? Shouldn't I just know?
I don't exactly like Batman, but he did let me fall off of roof. That's a pretty valid reason for disliking someone in my opinion. However, is my reason for letting him off the hook so valid? I couldn't make out from the Joker's facial expression in the exam room whether he thought it was or not. Clearly he has to be happy that Batman is still in business, but something felt approving towards my reasoning. The people of Gotham do need Batman, I don't have any other reason to let him get off scot-free, do I? But why would the Joker approve of me doing something for the people, assuming he really is approving after all?
If he does approve of my choice, what choice could I have made that he would disapprove of? Exposing Batman? Maybe, but it seems like it has to be more than just that. I did tell him that I was trying to forget about the night before, maybe that's the answer he was expecting for why I didn't expose Batman. But that answer seems dubious too.
Maybe it's because I hadn't exposed Batman because of some misplaced need for justice or had a personal vendetta against him. Then again, the Joker didn't really seem like the type to disapprove of vendettas either. Maybe it's because I didn't let him off the hook just because Batman is some nice, caring guy. Maybe it's because I didn't act on the general assumption that he was good, but because I worked on the assumption that even the best of us can fall.
Hmm, that answer seems to be the most likely. Well, it's the best that my sleep deprived mind can think of at least.
Then there are the Joker's subtle, but reoccurring uses of "not yet." It's as if he has planned some new, elaborate life for me in his mind. Not to mention he has talked about my lack of fun and smile. He seems to think that I'll turn out to be different one day. From what I gather, maybe he thinks that one day, when I can "fully" understand or see the world the way he can, that I'll change. Maybe he thinks that one day I'll lose it, quit my job at the asylum and live a life devoted to fun.
Then again, he had called me Harley Quinn once. He'd even picked up on the clown-like name when we first met. Maybe he thinks I'll join his side.
I laugh at the ridiculousness of that thought. You need to sleep before you come up with any other insane ideas, I think to myself, climbing into bed. I glance at the clock and blink twice, making sure that the time I'm seeing is real. 4:12 am. Have I really been up that long? I sigh and burrow myself beneath the covers, but no matter how hard I try, sleep refuses to come, leaving me alone with nothing but my thoughts.
Eventually sleep comes, but dreams of gunshots and clowns ruin any chance of restfulness.