Two weeks have passed and I haven't been allowed near the Joker. Dr. Leland and Dr. Strange ultimately decided that the only psychiatric meetings the Joker should have until Dr. Arkham returns are five minute long, brief sessions. They alternate doctors each visit three times a week, and so far each time the doctor either got absolutely nowhere or was broken down. None of them have been killed yet, but I have a feeling that the Joker will tire of this tactic soon enough. And when the Joker gets bored, people tend to start dying.
I sit at my desk Monday morning absentmindedly doodling on a piece of paper as I wait for the verdict of Dr. Arkham's arrival back at Arkham. He's currently making the decision of what way we should go with the Joker's therapy from now on. Essentially, he's deciding my fate on the Joker's treatment. As far as I'm aware, the choices are to continue on with me as his primary psychiatrist, continue doing the five minute session bursts, or try our luck by sending in a new doctor for a full length session.
There's knock on my door and I answer with, "Come in," far too excitedly. I squash the enthusiasm and anxiousness, trying to erase it entirely from my persona. Dr. Arkham walks, or rather limps, in and I quickly shut my notebook of doodles.
"You're back on the case," he tells me, resting his weight against the door. "I want you down in the interview room in five minutes."
"It's Monday," I remind him, making sure he didn't forget that the Joker's sessions are usually on Thursdays.
"We're changing up the schedule," he mutters as he turns and exits my office, shutting the door behind him. I can practically feel the loathing in the room. He hates the Joker, it's blatantly obvious. And as horrible as it sounds, I don't think Dr. Arkham is fit for making any decisions involving the Joker. Picking me is probably going to be the most effective choice, but still. Emotion is overclouding his judgment, which is something us therapists are never supposed to act on.
But who am I to talk? My reasons for keeping Pam's hideout or Selina's alternate identity a secret aren't exactly logic driven either.
I glance up at the clock on my office wall, which reads 9:56 am. I have four minutes to get down to the interview room, only four minutes to gather myself. It'll be fine, I tell myself as I stand up. Unless he brings up Christmas. I grumble to myself and hastily go to exit my office, accidentally knocking the notebook off of the corner of my desk in the process. It falls open to the page that I had been doodling on, which turns out not to be doodles at all.
I killed a man. I killed a man. I killed a man. I killed a man. I killed a man. I killed a man. I killed a man. I killed a man. I killed a man. I killed a man. I killed a man. I killed a man. I killed a man. I killed a man. I killed a man. I killed a man. I killed a man. I killed a man. I killed a man. I killed a man. I killed a man. I killed a man. I killed a man. I killed a man.
I rip the page out and tear it to pieces, then toss it in the trash can by my desk. I pick up my notebook and place it neatly on my desk, assuring myself that it's rational for me to have written that. It's my inner subconscious telling me that I want to talk about it, which is perfectly normal. The only thing is that I can't talk about it, even if deep down I really want to.
I make my way down to the interview room, pushing those thoughts out of my mind. He'd be able to smell them from a mile away and I don't want the Joker to have anything else to tear me to pieces with. I'm nervous enough about this meeting already, nervous that he'll break me down in front of everyone, nervous that he'll tell them where I really was when the clock struck twelve on Christmas. The only reassuring thought I have is that if he told, then I wouldn't get to be his psychiatrist any longer, ruining any plans he has in store. And the Joker's not one to disregard plans. That thought alone is my leverage, it's what keeps me from fleeing the scene entirely.
I buzz myself into the interview room, pushing all of the jumbled thoughts out of my head and turning my attention towards the Joker. He looks healthier, he's still far too skinny, but the wounds on his face have healed quite nicely. Although, I do notice several fresher looking blows to his face and beyond that I spot several other recently delivered bruises in various stages of healing. Most of the newer bruises aren't too obvious, but some stick out painfully from the rest. They're no doubt the result of a guard having a bad day.
"Harley," the Joker drawls into a greeting, drumming his fingers along the steel tabletop. "Long time, no see."
"Mr. J," I greet pleasantly in response, knowing that he can see through all of the cracks in my calm act. I turn the camera on with a sinking heart, willing my hands not to shake as I do so. Thankfully they don't, or if they do it's hardly noticeable. "This is Dr. Harleen Quinzel overseeing Patient 4479. The date is Monday, January 6th at ten o'clock in the morning. So, how are you doing?"
"I'm not used to seeing you without your glasses," he muses, the observation throwing me off. My eyebrows furrow in confusion and I touch my face briefly. My fingers only meet with skin instead of the plastic of my black framed glasses. Huh, I must've forgotten them this morning. "Don't worry, it's a nice look. It, uh, suits you."
"Thanks," I reply politely, still a bit frazzled. "You've been back at Arkham for two weeks now, how do you feel?"
"You seem nervous today, doc," he says with false sincerity, as if he's actually worried. "Is it the scars? You wanna know how I got 'em?"
"Only if you're comfortable discussing it," I reply cautiously. I know from the other doctors and several witnesses that the Joker's story is always changing. There's no guarantee that he'll tell the truth, but I have a strange trust in the fact that he wouldn't lie to me unless it suited a purpose. And what purpose could telling me about his scars possibly serve?
"My father was a drinker and one night, at dinner, he's going real heavy on the strong stuff. He tries to make a joke and it's a real bad joke, the kind that makes you cringe. My mother... well, she laughs and not 'cause it's funny," he tells me, waving an index finger in my direction. "I don't laugh and my father... he doesn't like that. Not one bit. So, he grabs the kitchen knife and sticks it my mouth. 'Why so serious?' he asks. My mother's screaming, trying to get him off me, so he hits her head real hard against the table while I watch. 'Let's put a smile on that face,' he growls and," the Joker makes the gesture of a knife slicing through his cheeks, "why so serious?"
"That's horrible," I tell him softly.
"Look on the bright side, now I'm always smiling." The Joker leans back in his chair for a moment, studying me. "You, on the other hand, don't smile nearly as much as you should. You're getting there, though."
There he goes again with that insinuation that I'll somehow change in the near future.
"I'm sorry that happened to you," I offer, genuinely sympathetic. "If you don't mind me asking, whatever happened to your father?"
"Oh, I'm sure they found him in a ditch somewhere," he drawls nonchalantly. "At least I could leave. Your parents trapped you."
"My parents are very nice people," I inform him. "They didn't do anything bad to me."
"They broke you, Harley. They molded you into the perfect little daughter," he replies, pointing an index finger knowingly at me. "You were every parent's dream. No parties, no going out, studying, studying... studying. They molded you around rules and order. Everything you did was part of some big plan for your future."
"Having a plan for the future isn't necessarily a bad thing," I point out.
"You hated it," he growls, staring intensely into my eyes.
"We're getting off topic," I announce. "Let's get back to-"
"It was always rules, rules, and more rules, wasn't it, Harley?" he questions, his tongue probing at the insides of his cheeks. "You couldn't ever have any fun, you never got to smile. They weaseled all of these little, uh, habits and rules into you. It was all work and no play." He leans towards me, resting his arms on the table. "You hate them for what they made you."
For a long moment, the room remains silent, the Joker's eccentric brown eyes locked on my blue ones. Do I really hate my parents? No, I couldn't, they are my parents after all. They did, in a way, ruin most of high school and part of college for me, but could that really cause me to hate them? Stop it, Harley, I chide myself. You're letting him get to you.
"I don't hate my parents. Our relationship is just a little rocky, that's all," I reply with a shrug. "We don't always see eye to eye."
The Joker laughs, the sound high pitched and gleeful. "I like that honesty, doc. The other doctors should take a lesson from you." I'm tempted to laugh along with him, considering I shouldn't have even added anything personal to the conversation at all. The other doctors are going to take a lesson from me all right, a lesson as to what not to do.
"I thought that today we might talk about masks," I tell him, watching his expression closely. He raises an eyebrow but doesn't protest, so I continue on. "When we first met, you said that people wore masks to protect themselves and the people they love. But I think that the masks serve another purpose."
"Enlighten me, doc."
"Well, I think that they can be symbols. For example, maybe Batman doesn't wear a mask just to protect the people he loves. I think that his mask is supposed to be a symbol of hope," I explain. The Joker drums his fingers along the tabletop, his eyes boring into mine with a sparked interest. "For criminals, I think that the mask is supposed to be a tool, something used to insight fear. Anyone can be a criminal, but put an unmistakable face on them and suddenly they've attracted everyone's attention. Suddenly everyone knows who they are."
The Joker draws an invisible pattern on the table, tracing something absentmindedly with the tips of his fingers. "I think you're starting to get it, doc." He smacks his lips together and leans towards me, resting his forearms on the table. "Would you like to know what would happen if I were to kill you right now?"
"What?" I ask sharply, caught off guard. I glance over him worriedly, looking for any signs of violence or a weapon. He licks his lips, then smacks them again, appearing quite calm. I should leave the room right now. Any sane person would, but I want to see where he's going with this. I want to see just what kind of a point he's trying to make.
"They wouldn't even bat an eyelash," he tells me. "They expect it to happen," he explains, drawing out the sentence. "It's all part of the plan. You're just a tool for them to use, a pawn in their game of chess. And everyone knows that you sacrifice your pawn to benefit the most, uh, important pieces."
"Who are the most important pieces?" I question, giving into the conversation.
"Well, there's me of course. I'm the main reason they've kept you in here this long, even if they don't think it's, uh, safe for you. They're trying to break me open and pick at my insides. They want to study me... like a lab rat and you, my dear, are their scalpel. You might be the sharpest right now, but there will always be others prepared to take your place."
"I can assure you, Mr. J, that no one in this building is prepared for me to die," I reply. Someone prepared to take my place, on the other hand, is probably true. Even if the Joker did kill me, which is a nerve wracking thought, his patient treatment wouldn't stop because of it. "My death is certainly not part of any plan."
The Joker gives me a disapproving stare in response and raises an eyebrow knowingly. "Who are the other important pieces?" I continue.
"There's the district attorney's office, but I'd say they're playing for the other team. They'll sacrifice you in a heartbeat if they have to. I'm sure you remember what happened with their little, uh, chaperone." He lets the memories of job threats and bullet holes sink in before continuing. "Then there's Dr. Arkham, who controls the plan. Technically speaking, he's the king. Everything in this hospital rests in his hands, if he dies, then everyone loses their minds. Isn't that what happened, Harley, after I shot him?"
"It was a bit rough at times, but I wouldn't say that it was-"
"You take down the big player and suddenly all the little players have to think for themselves," he interjects. "They don't have anyone to make the most important decisions for them and it drives them crazy."
There's an abrupt knock on the door which startles me out of the conversation. I turn away from the Joker and watch as Dr. Arkham enters the room. "That's enough for today," he announces, shutting off the camera. The Joker eyes Dr. Arkham for a moment, looking like he's got something to say. Dr. Arkham notices and rushes out of the room, leaving me no choice but to reluctantly follow him. I shoot the Joker a somewhat apologetic parting glance and he responds with an expression that says 'See?'
"What do you think you're doing?" I demand once we're further down the hallway. "I wasn't finished talking to him."
"He was starting to manipulate you, Harleen," Dr. Arkham snaps. "You should've ended it when he suggested what might happen if he killed you. Since you couldn't end it, I decided to."
"How was he manipulating me?" I challenge. "I let him dictate the conversation, yes, but it wasn't like I was giving him the keys to his cell!"
"He addressed you by your first name multiple times and called you ‘my dear.’ You didn't correct him, not once," he replies sternly. "You included personal information and opinion into the conversation as well. I don't know what was going through your mind, Harleen, but the next time you get that involved or that careless in a therapy session, you're out. Understand?"
"I understand," I reply, wielding all of my self-control to keep from screaming in frustration.
Even a decent two hour long gymnastics workout can't dispel all of my negative energy after work. What does Jeremiah Arkham think I am? A child? I knew perfectly well what I was doing in there, I'm perfectly capable of handling of myself. The man has sent me in that room more than enough times for me to determine the situation and continue how I see fit. By now, I am more than aware of how to talk to and handle myself around the Joker.
Taking me out of the session because I had let the Joker call me Harley a few times is completely and utterly ridiculous. I don't see a point in trying to correct him anymore, he'll call me whatever he wants to regardless. Incessantly repeating "It's Dr. Quinzel" will do absolutely nothing and Dr. Arkham knows that. He'd seen the previous sessions, he'd seen the Joker's blatant disregard for my official name. There was no need to chide me for not doing something that's entirely useless.
And so what if I added personal opinion and information to the conversation? The Joker's the one who knowingly brought up my parents, it wasn't as if I told him something he didn't already know. My opinion on the purpose of masks is hardly criminal either. I'd simply been stating my opinion to see how he'd react. What was the harm in that?
The only legitimate reason that I can come up with for being pulled out of there so early is that the Joker had been right. That they were expecting me to die one of these days. That suddenly I had slipped out from under their reigns. That I'd lasted longer than they'd planned. And although that idea screams lunacy, it's the only one that I can come up with.
"You're off the case," Dr. Arkham tells me Monday afternoon, although I had already gathered that from the fact that he didn't come get me to treat the Joker this morning. "I've called someone in from the state to look over the Joker's case. She's got a meeting with him today if you'd like to watch." He glances at his watch. "It's in about ten minutes, I'd really like you to be watching with all of the other doctors."
"Why would I want to see her get torn to pieces?" I respond bitterly.
"Watch the attitude," he snaps, reminding me of a disapproving parent. "I'd like you to watch because you know the Joker better than anyone here. I want you to look for certain movements, ticks, and things of that nature during the session. Sometimes you can tell a lot about someone through their body language. Maybe you'll catch something we won't."
"Maybe," I mutter in response.
"Stop acting like someone ran over your dog, Harleen. I'm doing this for your benefit. The Joker's bending you. I couldn't see it before, but I can now. I don't want you to get hurt and he's not going to talk to anyone else here, or at least I don't think so. Sending someone in from the state is our last option. If that doesn't work, we'll have to start trying new doctors."
"I was getting through to him," I tell him pointedly. "He was talking to me."
"He was getting through to you, Harleen," Dr. Arkham rephrases grimly. "The fact that you can't see that only adds to the point further. I'm not arguing with you over this. Now, you can either come watch the session and try to help the Joker, which was your goal all along, or you can sit in here and sulk like a child. It's up to you."
I grumble quietly to myself, grab a notebook, and follow Dr. Arkham down to the viewing room. The Joker was not getting to me. He might've changed some ideas around in my mind, but he wasn't getting to me. If I had thought that, then I would've stopped our sessions a long time ago.
The screen at the front of the viewing room flickers to life as the state psychiatrist turns the camera on. "Good morning, my name is Dr. Silvers. The date is January 13th and the time is 4:30 pm. Mr. Joker is it?" she addresses politely. The Joker drums his fingers leisurely atop the table, then clenches his fists together with an unamused stare. "I'd like to talk to you today, if that's all right." The Joker eyes her passively and licks his lips, clenching and unclenching his fists.
"Where," he begins slowly, drawing out the word, "is Harley?"
"Dr. Quinzel has been taken off of this case," Dr. Silvers informs him. The Joker turns from Dr. Silvers and leans towards the camera. "However, I hope that-"
"You see that, Harley?" he quips, speaking into the camera. "You didn't even have to die for them to replace you." He lets out a short cackle. "Ya see, they don't think you're, uh, controllable anymore. And that's what made you their ideal tool all along. They liked you 'cause you were manageable and played by the rules. Dr. Silvers here is predictable and controllable. They started to see through the cracks in your mask, Harley, so they threw you away and replaced you with someone more... manageable."
Everyone in the room glances at me, but I'm too transfixed on the screen to return the looks.
"Let's not talk about Dr. Quinzel," Dr. Silvers suggests. "You killed a guard this morning, I'd like to know why." I glance angrily at Dr. Arkham for a brief moment, wondering why he hadn't told me about this. "What was going through your mind when you killed him? Anger? Need?"
"Corruption?" she repeats, mulling the word over in her head. "Was the guard corrupt?"
"Mm," he answers, putting his hands back in his lap. There's a certain gleefulness in his tone that tells me he's up to something.
"How was he corrupt?"
"Well," the Joker begins with a smile, "he did give me this knife." The Joker pulls a pocket knife out of his orange jumpsuit and lunges across the table as far as his shackles will allow him to go. He grabs Dr. Silvers by her hair and pulls her across the table in one surprisingly strong movement. He puts the knife to her throat and gives the camera a big smile.
"I want to talk to Harley," he tells the camera. "Send anyone else but her in and the doctor gets it." He laughs loudly, the sound turning maniacal as he reaches across the table and turns the camera off. Everyone in the room sits in silence for a long moment, processing.
"We can't send her in," Dr. Arkham announces, breaking the silence. "It's far too dangerous."
"What else do you propose then?" Dr. Strange challenges. "That we let Dr. Silvers die?"
"We'll sedate him," Dr. Arkham plans. "Send for two guards and one of the stronger nurses. We'll equip the nurse with Thorazine and send them in. The guards will take the Joker down, allowing the nurse to sedate him."
"He'll kill Dr. Silvers before they even touch him," Dr. Leland interjects. "It's pretty clear that the Joker's calling the shots here. If we don't play by his rules, then he's going to end the game. I agree that it's dangerous, but we've got to at least try."
"You're right," Dr. Arkham agrees. "I'll go in and talk to him."
"He made it pretty clear that he's only going to talk to Dr. Quinzel," Dr. Strange points out. "Don't you think it would be the wisest decision to send her in, even if it is dangerous?"
"Fine," Dr. Arkham agrees with a sharp exhale. He turns towards me and I return his frustrated gaze with a calm one. "Go in and get out as fast as you can with as little bloodshed as possible. I want you to be equipped with a sedative just in case things go sour."
I nod, knowing that this will be the second time I've talked to an armed Joker. I can only hope that this time it won't end with any dead bodies, including my own.