I stand in front of the interview room door, my thoughts whizzing with possibilities and my nerves electrified with anxiety. The sedative weighs heavy in my pocket, but I know that I won't get to use it. The Joker would slit Dr. Silvers throat the moment my fingers enclosed around the syringe. Even if she died, he'd apprehend me before I'd even be able to get it out of my pocket.
A fight, however, is not what's causing the nervousness coursing through me. I am afraid of what he might do in there, but I'm more worried about what he'll say. This will undoubtedly be the personal conversation I've been dreading. This will be the breaking point. The point that tests my sanity against his picking and pulling and twisting and tearing.
I draw in a deep breath and open the door, bracing myself for what may come. I shut the door behind me and turn my attention to the Joker. Beneath his rough grasp is Dr. Silvers, who is unsuccessfully trying to kick and fight at him. He dodges the blows and controls the doctor easily, her efforts seeming to bore him rather than irritate.
"Harley, I'm glad you could make it," he greets, as though this were a casual meeting. I squash the urge to giggle at the irony quickly, realizing that now isn't really the time for laughter.
"Mr. J," I greet cautiously. "Why don't you put the knife down and we can talk?"
"Don't talk like them," he snaps. "You're not like them. No, no, you're different in a good way, Harley. You've got the potential to do things that none of these doctors ever could. You're special, like me. Only when the chips are down will these people, these doctors, realize that they're like us. When push comes to shove, they'll act like we do. They'll throw away all of their, uh, morals and come down to our level."
"You and I are very different, Mr. J," I argue calmly.
"Not so much," he quips. "We both want to help the world, open its eyes to the issues at hand. You're trying to cure the incurable and I'm trying to help the blind see."
"You try to destroy the world," I correct. "You burn buildings, kill people, heist banks. What does that make them see?"
"I'm trying to show them that the only sensible way to live in this world is without rules. Their order, their morality, it's all a bad joke. It's not about burning buildings and robbing banks, Harley, it's about sending a message. All of these, uh, righteous citizens are breakable. It's not that hard really, not to bring them down to our level, not to truly rip away the mask of sanity and conformity for good. Just look at what I did to this city in a few months." He smacks his lips, waving the knife at me pointedly. "I turned these, uh, good little citizens into pariahs. I showed them that deep down, they're just as messy and bloodthirsty as the rest of us. Just look at what happened to Harvey Dent. I brought him down to our level and he just lost it. Ya think his little, uh, ‘car accident’ was really an accident? No, no, no, he just couldn't take it. Some people... they can't take the madness. Others, well they thrive on it."
"You killed the love of his life," I argue. "That would tear anyone apart."
"No, no, no. That was only the tip of the iceberg," he tells me with a short, gleeful laugh. "I used all of that anger and pain to show him what he truly was beneath that politician façade. I took Gotham's white knight and turned him on himself. I showed Gotham that even the, uh, best can fall down to our level."
"Harvey Dent died in a car crash," I tell the Joker calmly, although part of me wonders if what he's saying might have some truth behind it. "Harvey Dent didn't fall down to anyone's level. He died a hero, he's why most of this city's criminals are locked away in Blackgate."
"Mm, that's what they want you to think, Harley. This city covers up all of its flaws with duct tape, all you have to do is tear it off and it all just comes pouring out. You'll see."
"Let's finish this conversation," I begin lightly, noticing that subtle insinuation again, "when Dr. Silvers is safely out of the room."
"I'm afraid not, Harley. Dr. Silvers here plays a very important role."
"An important role in what?" I question, afraid of what the answer might be.
"We're going do a little experiment," he informs me with a smile. "Or a, uh, therapy session, as you doctors call it. I want to show you just how easy she'll deny that she could ever act like you. I want you to see how easy it is for these citizens, these doctors, to deny that they'd ever do anything so... horrible. I want to show you just how easy it is for them to tear you down, Harley."
"I don't think that's a good idea," I tell him calmly, trying my best to figure out how to dictate the conversation. "Why don't you show me when we're alone. I'll stay here and you let Dr. Silvers go."
"Oh, don't be nervous, Harley. No one here can say a word, right doc?" he quips, roughly yanking Dr. Silvers head up to look at him. Mascara stained tears streak down her face and her lipstick is messily smudged from the Joker's rough movements.
"Y-yes," she stutters. "Nothing leaves this room for patient confidentiality reasons," she adds cooperatively, regaining some of the professional calmness to her voice. The Joker lets her head fall back into place and turns to me with a smile.
"See?" the Joker drawls, wagging the knife towards me. "What would you say, doc, if I told you that Harley here, uh, protects her criminal friends from incarceration?" My heart drops. Why did he have to bring this up now?
"I'd say that they must be some pretty special friends," she replies, her voice relatively even. The Joker, in one swift movement, slices her cheek with the knife. She lets out a whimper of pain as blood begins to drip down her face.
"Don't lie," he growls. "In your doctoral opinion, tell us what you think of Harley's little, uh, problem."
"I'd say that she was weak," Dr. Silvers begins tentatively. "Too weak to properly be doing her job. I'd say that something in her mind makes her susceptible to manipulation by these criminals and that until she properly understands what it is, then she shouldn't be allowed to practice psychiatry. I'd say that perhaps she has a dependent personality disorder."
"I do not have a dependent personality disorder," I argue before I can stop myself. I am perfectly capable of making decisions on my own and I certainly don't need others to take on the responsibilities of my life. I hardly fit any of that disorder's symptoms at all.
"Mm, and why is she wrong?" the Joker asks me.
"I don't fit the symptoms," I tell him truthfully. "I don't work poorly with others and I don't have difficulty making decisions without the assurance of others. I don't feel helpless when I'm alone and I definitely don't go to excessive lengths to obtain support from others."
"Tell her why what you do for your friends is, uh, reasonable."
"She wouldn't understand," I reply lightly.
"Then make her," he challenges, smacking his lips together in conclusion. I take a deep breath and look at Dr. Silvers reluctantly. I'd never thought that I'd actually be spilling my problems out to a shrink, let alone this specific secret. I had planned on never talking about my relationships with Poison Ivy and Catwoman, but it looks like I don't have much of a choice now.
"I don't protect them because I have to," I explain begrudgingly, looking down. Here I am spilling my deepest darkest secrets to the Joker and a psychiatrist who's being held hostage. I'm revealing crimes that I had the intention of taking to the grave or keeping until I got caught, which I had never planned on doing. "I do it because I want to, because they're my friends. I can't bring myself to abandon them just because they can't help but do bad things."
"Mm, and what do you think of that, doc?"
"She's a good friend-"
The Joker slices at Dr. Silvers face again, this time cutting right above her right eyebrow. "Honesty is the best, uh, how does that go?"
"Policy," I finish for him quietly. "Honesty is the best policy."
"Yeah, that. Now, doctor, would you please tell us what you honestly think about Harley's little speech? For the sake of, uh, learning." The Joker lets out a sharp cackle and Dr. Silvers flinches away from the sound. I watch as the Joker roughly pulls her back into place, his laughter already beginning to die down.
"Friendship doesn't justify breaking the law," Dr. Silvers begins, her voice cracking slightly. "If anything, you aren't being a good friend, you're being a bad friend by not helping them get the treatment they deserve. They can help what they do, you as a psychiatrist should know that. I think that your friends are clouding your psychological judgment, manipulating you into thinking you're doing the right thing. I think you're scared of the thought of losing them, having no one to depend on, and that's what keeps you from turning them in."
A bubble of anger wells up in me. I know it's irrational and that she's only doing her job, but I feel the intense need to defend myself. "You're right, as a psychiatrist I do know that. I also know that through all of the talks we've had and the things I've tried, that nothing can help them. I've tried and that's just the way they are. No one can change that, no one should try to change them."
"You're mistaken, Dr. Quinzel," she replies lightly. "You aren't fit to treat them because they're your friends. All of your opinions and treatments would be biased, that's why you can't seem to help them. They're helpable, everyone is with the right doctor and the right treatment. Someone should try to change them if it will make society a better place. That's our job, isn't it? To mend the minds of the unstable, to change their irrational thought process?"
The Joker chuckles, breaking the tension in the room. "You have to make her see, Harley. Prey on the thing she cares about most and use that to, uh, bend her judgment."
"I don't want to play this game anymore, Mr. J," I tell him honestly.
He repositions the knife at Dr. Silvers throat. "There's no use carrying around dead weight as my father used to say-"
"No, no," I quickly interject, eyeing the knife carefully. As much as I dislike Dr. Silvers at the moment, it's my main job to get her out of here alive. "Do you have a sister or a daughter?" I ask her.
"I've got a sister named June," she tells me, her voice an octave higher. I can hear the panic beneath her attempt at a calm tone.
"Imagine one summer morning that a police officer came to your door. He told you that the police have reason to believe that June is dead, that they had found too much blood at the crime scene for her to be alive and that a table full of toxins and chemicals had been crashed into. There were signs of a struggle. He tells you that they think she was murdered by her boss on the business trip of a lifetime, a business trip that she'd been excited about for weeks. So you imagine her bleeding out, battered, and writhing in pain from all of the poisons that had entered her bloodstream. They never find the body, so you fill the casket with disappoint and sorrow and you bury her. You sit there and you realize that she's gone, that she's really truly gone. You will never see her again. Then one day she comes back. She's changed, but she's alive. Would you abandon her then? Would you let her go a second time?" I question, surprised to find myself nearly choked up.
"I'd get her the help she needs," Dr. Silvers tells me evenly. "I'd do whatever I could to help her get better again."
"No you wouldn't!" I argue incredulously. "You wouldn't drag her kicking and screaming to this place. You wouldn't abandon her here. You wouldn't be able to deal with that... that guilt of knowing that she hates you for putting her here, that she would never forgive you."
"She would forgive me when she realizes how wrong her actions were," she argues smoothly. "She'd thank me when she got better."
"There is no getting better for her," I snap. "Her boss tried to murder her and instead turned her into some kind of monster. Everyone turned on her the moment she came back, all because she was angry and just wanted them to listen. Why on earth would she even try to get better?"
"Harley," the Joker drawls, snapping me out of my haze of emotion. I attempt to regain my composure, but the conversation with Dr. Silvers has left me emotionally drained. "I told you, only when the chips are down and push comes to shove will they do the things that we do. Doctor, uh, doctor-"
"Silvers," I finish quietly for him.
"Uh, Dr. Silvers here thinks that you've gone off the deep end, when really you're just ahead of the curve, like me. You know that you're not crazy, you know that she'd do the same thing in your place. Ya wanna know why you're ahead of the curve?"
"Why?" I question, playing into the game.
"When these masks come off, when their morality falls to shreds, they'll all fall down to our level. You'll see. You're already ahead of 'em. There are no good people, Harley, only people with good intentions."
"So you're saying that all people are bad?"
"No, no, no. Things aren't so black and white. The board is splattered with colors and streaks," he replies, moving his hands enthusiastically with the knife, making Dr. Silvers cringe. "The world is a funny place. Thieves and murders are on one side and great, uh, contributors and benefactors are on the other. But what about the little things, hmm? What about the hustlers and the cheaters or the liars and the schemers?"
"There is no pure evil and no pure good," I deduce. "There isn't a definite line dividing the two." This conversation sounds familiar. The Joker couldn't possibly have overheard me talking to Bruce Wayne the night of the Christmas party, he had been too busy about to ruin it. So then how did he know my views on the subject?
A single thought scares me. Maybe he doesn't know, maybe our views on the topic really are the same.
"Unfortunately for Dr. Silvers here, she's blind to the world." The Joker raises the knife, but I quickly step out to stop him.
"Wait!" I exclaim and he raises an eyebrow. "You don't have to kill her."
"What about all of the, uh, dirty little secrets she knows?" he challenges.
"You won't tell, right?" I shoot at her.
"No, I won't tell. I promise!" Dr. Silvers vows. In one swift motion, the Joker slits her throat. There's an awful gargling sound as she tries to breathe through the pain. She sinks to the floor, holding her neck which is horribly squirting and dripping with blood. She gasps and reaches out to me, her hand stained red with blood.
Against my better judgment, I rush over and sink to the floor next to her. I wrap my hands around her neck, trying to stop the bleeding, but it's no use and within moments the gargling and gurgling stops. Her body goes limp, giving up its fight, and her eyes stare hollowly up at the ceiling. One minute she's there and the next she's gone. I'd felt the life slip out of her and instead of disgust or anger, all I feel is failure.
Long fingers snake their way into my hair and pull up hard, forcing me into a standing position. "Did you feel it... the life leaving her?" the Joker asks, grabbing the sides of my face with his hands. I stare him in the eyes, refusing to flinch away from his touch. He's so close that I can feel his breath on my face.
"You killed her."
"And you," he begins, dropping his hands from my face, "you killed one of my henchmen." He points an index finger at me knowingly, a smile playing on his lips.
"Different?" he finishes for me with a short cackle. "We both did what had to be done. That's the way it is, even if it's got to be done just for, uh, sport."
"I'm not a bad person," I tell him, my voice disappointingly shaky.
"You're just ahead of the curve," he repeats, tilting my chin up towards him. The place on my chin where his fingers rest feels... electrified almost.
"I'm not like you," I tell him.
"We'll see," he retorts. "Smile, Harley, you're so pretty when you smile."
"I don't feel much like smiling right now, not when there's a dead body at my feet."
The Joker stares at me for a long moment. "Now's the best time to smile, when the world least expects it. You can make a grim situation into a, uh, laughable one." I snort at the irony of that statement, unable to help myself. "Now there's a smile."
"What are you going to do now?" I question, genuinely curious. "There's nowhere to run."
"Oh, there's always an escape, Harley. There's always a back door."
"And what's that?"
"Madness," he answers, as if it were obvious. "It's the emergency exit. You can just step outside, and close the door on all of those dreadful things that happened. You can lock them away... forever."
"Is that what you did?"
"Now," he begins, his tongue darting at the corners of his mouth, "is not the time for that. I want to be here... for now. I'd go call in the hounds if I were you, otherwise they might that something's... up between us." I back away as his laughter fills the rooms, reaching for the door with one hand. I stop by the door for a moment, watching him become consumed in his own amusement, then open the door back into the world of sanity.
After about an hour of being chewed out and interrogated by Dr. Arkham himself, I park my car in the parking lot of my apartment building and get out only to hear someone excitedly call my name. I lock my car doors, then look up to see Selina, with a familiar billionaire, walking towards me. I glance down at myself, knowing that there are splotches of blood all over my coat and probably on my face. There are probably more bloodstains that I haven't noticed yet, since the stuff has a gruesome tendency to get everywhere.
"Harley, I was hoping we'd catch," she stops mid-sentence, taking in my rumpled and bloodied appearance. At least this time I don't have a broken nose or a black eye. "Whoa, are you okay?"
"I'm fine," I reply with a yawn. I haven't slept a full eight hours in a very long time "What do you need?" I question, eyeing Bruce Wayne suspiciously. I silently hope that she hasn't been caught stealing from him and has somehow involved me in a deal not to turn her in.
"We can get to that later. What happened to you?"
"Just another day at the office," I mutter.
"Really, Harls, what happened?" she demands worriedly.
"I was volunteered to be hostage negotiator. As you can see, I clearly didn't do a very good job," I inform her, gesturing to my stained coat. "I'm freezing out here, can you get to what you wanted to say, please?"
She peers at me for a moment then turns to Bruce. "You should go," she tells him. "You'll see me at seven." I glance between the two of them, confused. I seem to be missing something here. I don't recall Selina ever being friends with Bruce Wayne. In fact, I don't even recall her ever meeting him.
"Let's go inside," she suggests. "If that's alright with you."
"Go right ahead," I tell her, gesturing towards the building. We take the elevator up to the fifth floor and I unlock my apartment door, kicking my shoes off beside it and setting my things down on the side table. "Make yourself at home," I tell her, wandering into the bathroom. I cringe at my undeniably tired expression in the mirror and hastily wash off the few splotches of blood from where the Joker had touched my face. I grab a half empty bottle of peroxide and a bag of cotton balls from underneath the sink before making my way into the bedroom.
"What are you doing?" Selina asks as I lay my white lab coat on the bed. I place a cotton ball in the tip of the peroxide bottle and turn it over for a second, then begin dabbing at my coat with the soaked cotton ball.
"Getting the blood out," I inform her. She peers over my shoulder, watching the process.
"Good to know," she muses. "So, tell me about this horrible day of yours."
"It wasn't that bad," I tell her, throwing the now red tinged cotton ball into the trash. "Aside from watching someone get their throat slit open in front of me."
Selina stares at me incredulously. "You're talking about it as if it's nothing."
"How am I supposed to talk about it?" I question. "It happened. It's done. There's nothing anyone can do about it now. It's not really even a surprise anyway, Arkham should've known by now what happens when he sends in state officials," I mutter.
"State officials," she repeats. "You mean like the asshole who threatened your job?"
"Exactly like the asshole who threatened my job," I tell her with a sigh. "Arkham took me off the Joker's case today, he said that the Joker was starting to bend me and that he didn't want to see me get hurt," I snort. "So, he called in a state psychiatrist to try her luck with the Joker. That turned out real well."
"The Joker managed to get a knife off of one of the guards this morning. When the doctor was talking to him, he dragged her across the table and put the knife to her throat. He said he wanted to talk to me and that if they sent anyone else in he'd kill the doctor."
"He said he wanted to talk to you, why?" Selina questions. Something in my gut keeps me from telling her the truth. I'm not sure what it is, but I have an overwhelming urge to keep everything that was said in that room a secret, even if Selina and Pam were mentioned. The conversation just seems too... personal.
"Nothing in particular really," I lie smoothly. "I think he just did it to string Arkham around, he's really starting to get to him." Selina nods in solemn agreement, believing my answer, which isn't a total lie. "So, what's up between you and Bruce Wayne?"
"Well, it's kind of a classic story," she begins with a smile. "The other night I snuck into one of his parties, pretending to be a maid of course. I stole away upstairs and found a nice little safe to crack. It was all innocent fun, really. Unfortunately for him, he walked in right as I was stealing a lovely strand of his mother's pearls. I couldn't let him apprehend me, so I had to improvise a bit."
"What do you mean by improvise?"
"Well, I might've smashed a vase over his head, nothing too bad. It gave me enough time to get out the window. Then, yesterday morning, I was surprised to find him standing on my doorstep. I don't know how he found me, but I'll admit, I was impressed."
"And after that he threatened to press charges?" I guess.
"Hardly. We had some playful banter, then I stole his wallet and sent him on his way," she retorts. "He bumped into me like twenty minutes later at a coffee shop and offered to buy me dinner. He suggested we double date, so I suggested you. He said he knew you so he drove me here, where I said we might catch you if you weren't working late."
"Wait a minute," I begin, furrowing my eyebrows in confusion. "You stole his dead mother's pearls and his wallet, so he asked you out on a date?"
"Guess so," she replies with a shrug. "I'm not going to turn down the chance for someone to buy me a five star dinner, that would just be rude."
"Right," I agree slowly.
"Besides, I gave the pearls back. Well, he marched into the apartment and took them, but I didn't stop him," she tells me, as if that's a big step for her. "It's the least he can do to buy me dinner."
"Uh-huh," I muse. She smirks, knowing that I don't really agree.
"Anyway, I just dropped by to see if you wanted to come. It is a five star dinner after all, something I couldn't afford unless I stole and sold a diamond necklace. I just thought I'd share the rewards, but you're probably not up to dressing up and whatnot, considering you watched a woman die and all." She taps a finger against her chin for a moment, debating something mentally. "Although, I think a night out would really do you some good."
"No, that's okay. I've got a lot of work to do here. Dead doctors come with a lot of paperwork," I tell her. "You go ahead and have fun."
"Harley, you can't sit here and obsess over the Joker all night," she chides. "Look at you, you're hardly getting any sleep."
"I don't sit here and obsess-"
"Ah-ah," she cuts me off. "I've changed my mind, you don't have a choice in the matter. I won't allow you to sit here and pick apart everything that psychotic clown says to you."
"He's not psychotic," I correct on impulse. "Not according to the book anyway."
"That kind of talk right there is why I'm not going to let you hole yourself up in here all night with a therapy for dummies book," she tells me pointedly. "Leave all of those crazies at the asylum for tonight and come eat a free, five star meal with your best friend."
"Who's my date?" I question, giving in.
"I think Bruce said his name was John Blake. He works for Jim Gordon," she replies. "So what do you say? Wanna have dinner with a thief, a cop, and a billionaire?"
"Okay," I agree halfheartedly. I want to take Selina's advice, but the Joker won't stay quietly at the asylum. He follows me home every night and invades my dreams with his quizzical and lingering words. His words from today cling to me like a second skin and ring hollowly in my ears, demanding me to analyze and pick them apart piece by piece. Even a fantastic dinner with Gotham's finest can't stop the slew of Joker-related thoughts.