I can't sleep. I can not sleep. I cannot sleep.
I'm restless, so unbelievably, uncontrollably restless. My body screams for sleep, but my mind screams for answers. Why me? Why me? Why me?
It's only been the past two days that insomnia has reared its ugly head this bad, but it feels like I've gone weeks without sleep. The most I get on a normal basis is only four to five hours, but this... this is unbearable. All I want to do is sleep, that's all. I don't want to think or analyze or painstakingly note and pick apart every little detail. I don't want to dream or have nightmares. All I want is a sound, dreamless, long sleep.
Instead, my mind is alive and whizzing with his words. I'm not like him, I'm not like the Joker, am I? No, I'm Doctor Harleen Quinzel, a resident psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum. I'm a bit of a workaholic, but I like my job. I'm not a bad person, I don't kill people for fun. Harboring criminals doesn't make me a bad person, it doesn't make me like him. It just makes me a good, caring friend, that's all. Right?
I'm not dependent on Pam and Selina and I'm certainly not being manipulated by them, I'm just... looking out for them. I'm just keeping them from being beaten by Batman and the orderlies at Arkham. They aren't monsters, they're just different. Pam has the power to do what is right in her mind, so she does. And Selina, well, she gets by with what she does. Both of them aren't the most wholesome people, or the nicest or the safest, but they're my friends. I can't abandon them or turn them into the police. What kind of person would that make me?
Apparently a good, sane one in Dr. Silvers' opinion, but what did she know? Sure, we have the same training and psychiatric knowledge, but she couldn't possibly imagine my standpoint. The Joker made me try to show her, but she just refused. She denied that she would ever make any of the choices I would, but how could she really, truly know? She wasn't faced with the dilemma, she was only hearing about it. I knew and I acted, she only listened. She couldn't possibly imagine what she would do in a situation like mine unless it actually happened. The Joker had been right about her and her oh-so-righteous views.
I clutch my head in frustration, willing with all my might for sleep to come. As usual, it doesn't listen to me and for once, I simply can't take the thoughts demanding my attention. Deep down, the rational part of me knows that it's wrong, but I grab the prescription book out of my lab coat pocket. I scribble down a prescription for Ambien for myself and forge Dr. Arkham's signature at the bottom. I study it for a moment, satisfied with the authenticity of it, then get dressed and run over to the twenty four hour pharmacy down the street.
Forty five minutes later I return home and all but rip the pill bottle open. I'm tempted to down the entire thing, but logic stops me. I take two of the tablets and chase them down with a glass of water, then climb back into bed.
I wait for the pills to kick in and I wait. I wait and I wait and I wait. I wait and I wait, right up until the moment my alarm clock goes off.
I groan and shut the alarm off, glancing tiredly at the time. 6:15 am. There is no doubt in my mind that today is going to be horrible. Running on zero sleep all but guarantees a very long and headache filled day at the office.
I force myself off of the bed and wander over to the bathroom, feeling like a zombie. I turn the shower on and make the water as hot as I can bear. I step in the shower and stand there, allowing myself to just mindlessly be until the water turns lukewarm. I wrap a towel around myself tiredly and wipe the fog off of the bathroom mirror to check my refection.
Purple circles line my eyes and my eyes themselves are bloodshot. I grab a bottle of eye drops from beneath the sink and apply them generously, attempting to make the glazed, red eyed stare somewhat normal. The drops take some of the redness away, but not enough. I dab a light coat of concealer under my eyes instead, giving up on the idea of looking rested.
I abandon the bathroom and make my way over to my wardrobe, considering my options. It's too cold for anything short sleeved, but I don't want to deal with anything uncomfortable either. I finally settle on one of my more comfortable black pencil skirts and a dark red collared shirt. I tuck the shirt into my skirt, then scrounge around for my glasses, trying to remember where I had left them.
I successfully find them on the coffee table and put them on, then I slip on the pair of black heels by the door. My cell phone chimes loudly, adding to my already growing headache. I fumble around in my purse for it and then check the caller ID, which reads Jeremiah Arkham. Oh great.
I clear my throat, attempting to get rid of any tiredness, then pick up the phone. "Dr. Harleen Quinzel," I greet.
"Harleen, are you alright?" Dr. Arkham asks. "You sound sick."
"No, no, I'm fine," I assure him, trying valiantly to work the sleepy grumble out of my voice. "I just woke up," I lie. "Did you need something?"
"I was calling to tell you that there's going to be an emergency board meeting today," he informs me. "It's about whether or not we should move the Joker to Blackgate. I'm going to need you to gather up any Joker files that you have and bring them to the meeting."
"I thought that this was a court decision," I question, confused.
"Well, the court has decided to leave it up to us," he replies. "I'm the only actual board member who's going to be there, but two of our benefactors will be at the meeting as well. Some psychiatrists from the state will be there too and so will several of the other doctors who analyzed the Joker, including yourself."
"What changed? Why are we doing this now?"
"That was the third doctor he killed last night," Dr. Arkham replies, as if it were obvious. "We need to rethink our strategy with him. Even if we don't send him to Blackgate, the doctors and the rest of the staff are there to help us get a game plan together. He's going through our doctors like candy and that's just not... it's not normal for patients to be so... look, just gather up the files, okay?"
"This isn't the first time we've had an unruly patient," I remind him, partially in disbelief at his logic. "How many people did Killer Croc kill when we first brought him in? Not to mention all of the times that doctors have been hunted down and killed after one of the patients escaped. How is the Joker any different?" I demand.
"I'm not arguing with you, Harleen," he snaps, quickly diminishing my points. "Gather up the files and be in the board room at four o'clock sharp. We'll figure it all out then." The line promptly goes dead, leaving me in a partial state of anger.
Nothing has changed about the Joker or his usual antics. Only Dr. Arkham has changed. His original purpose of keeping the Joker at Arkham had angered me and now his reason for sending him off angers me. It's always selfish intentions with Dr. Arkham. He isn't the only person who has suffered abuse at the hands of the Joker, but he seems to think that it makes his wants more important than anybody else's.
The Joker doesn't belong in Blackgate, it's as simple as that. But it seems, as of right now, that I'm the only person who can see that.
There's blood everywhere. It stains my hands and fills the air with a thick metallic smell. There's so much blood. Thick, red, slimy blood. There are puddles and puddles of it everywhere. There isn't a source of it all, it's just everywhere. I back away from the disturbing, bodiless sight in front of me, but I trip. I land on something soft, something warm.
I scream, realizing that what I've landed on is a person. His chest is covered in bullet holes that ooze with blood. He's wearing an awful clown mask streaked with red, but soon the mask moves, the rubber contorting and moving like the skin of a face. His head lifts up and turns to me, the big red clown smile expanding.
"Hello Harley," he greets in a snakelike voice. "Wanna play?"
He lunges towards me and I scream, throwing myself backwards. Suddenly I'm falling into darkness. I can't see anything, it's all pitch black. There's no light, no sound, nothing. The only thing I can feel is the whoosh of air beneath me.
I hit the ground hard and a light comes on. I push myself to my feet to see the Joker walking towards me. He's no longer in an orange, Arkham issued jumpsuit. Instead, he's wearing a purple suit, an expensive looking purple suit. It's like his usual one but newer, as if this is the first time he's wearing it. It looks nice on him. "I've missed you, Harley," he tells me in a low growl, stopping about a foot away from me.
"Where are we?" I ask, glancing around. We appear to be on the rooftop of Wayne Enterprises. But how did we get here?
"We are where we've always been!" he replies with a cackle of laughter. I glance around curiously, wondering where all of the cars and people have gone. "Don't ya like it up here? Ya think this is why the Batman likes heights?"
"It's nice up here, quiet. Maybe Batman likes the quiet," I offer. "Where is everyone?" I question, noticing that it's far too quiet. There isn't a single sound, not even a soft whoosh of a breeze or a quiet flicker of a street light.
"They're gone," he tells me. "It's just you and me... forever." I step back nervously, wondering why he's acting so strange. He had always talked about the future, but never forever. Something's changed, I can't put my finger on what just yet.
"Where did they go?" I wonder out loud and the Joker takes another step closer.
"You saw who they really were," the Joker tells me. "You saw behind all of the masks. You can't look at any of them the same again. You don't want to be a part of all of their little, uh, lies and schemes anymore. It's just you and me, Harley Quinn."
"Forever?" I repeat, echoing his words. I smile, but something doesn't feel quite right. I can't place my finger on the feeling, but something feels wrong, like something bad is about to happen.
"Why so serious?" the Joker questions, stepping towards me. He produces a knife from his coat pocket with a gleaming smile. Blood begins to trickle from his lips as he steps towards me, as though his mouth is being torn in two. I step towards him instinctively, worried for him.
"J, you're bleeding," I tell him, gripping the sides of his mouth with my hands to stop the bleeding. He returns the gesture, gripping my head with one strong hand. He waggles the knife towards my face with the other, but I'm not afraid.
"Let's put a smile on that face."
There's a loud bang and I find myself looking at Dr. Leland. I glance around, discovering that I'm no longer on the top of Wayne Enterprises, but in my office. The Joker's nowhere to be found. I let out a deep breath, trying to gather myself. It was only a dream.
"Here are the rest of the Joker files," Dr. Leland tells me, gesturing towards the stack of files on my desk. They must've been the loud sound that startled me awake.
"Thanks," I tell her, rubbing my eyes. I glance at the clock above the door. 3:02 pm. I've been asleep for two hours. How could I have fallen asleep for so long? I sigh and sit up straight in my chair, pulling the files towards me. The board meeting is in an hour and I'm already behind on my documenting. All I have is fifty eight minutes to sort these files out.
"Are you alright?" Dr. Leland asks.
"I'm fine," I tell her with a shrug. "I just didn't sleep much last night."
"This job will do that to you," she muses. "The things we see and hear in here can really take a toll on a person. Just look at what happened to Dr. Crane." She glances at me, then a look of realization crosses her face. "Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that you were like Dr. Crane."
"I know what you meant," I reassure her with a smile. Beneath that smile, I can feel myself cracking under the weight of this board meeting. "Thanks again for the files."
"No problem. I'll see you at the board meeting." She exits my office and shuts the door behind her, leaving me alone with my stack of requested paperwork. Now, if I don't fall asleep again, maybe I can pull myself together in time for the meeting. If I have any chance of convincing the board (which includes the benefactors paying a large sum of money to keep him here) that the Joker really does belong in Arkham, then I've got to be beyond prepared.I'll admit, I do want to laugh at the irony of the ordeal. I'm going to great lengths to be extensively prepared to defend someone who hates the idea of preparedness. It's a joke in itself and I half wonder if maybe I should go in there unprepared after all. It would seem fitting at least.
After around fifty more minutes of meticulous analyzing, jotting down notes, and frustration, I exit my office with a stack of Joker files in my arms. I take the elevator up to the seventh floor and make my way down to the last door on the right, otherwise known as the board room. I finagle the door open, barely balancing the files with one hand, and take a seat in the half empty room.
I've only been in here a few times to discuss various patients, but even though the room's half empty, I've never met with this many people in it. Typically the meetings I went to involved a lawyer or two, sometimes (but rarely) a state psychiatrist or someone from Metropolis, and two other supporting doctors. Not once in all of my meetings had a benefactor been present. Then again, my meetings had never involved incredibly dangerous patients. I usually dealt with the minor and semi-significant ones. Don't get me wrong, all patients are important, but some need a lot more help (and money for that matter) than others.
A few minutes trickle past and two more people enter the room. Dr. Arkham clears his throat at the head of the table and I take it that everyone has arrived. I glance around the large table, assessing who might be hard to convince and who might be easy. Dr. Arkham and the two state psychiatrists would be hard, that was a given, but I silently wonder about the others.
Dr. Leland and Dr. Strange could go either way based on their own personal analysis of the Joker. Although, Dr. Strange's opinion might get thrown out due to the fact that he did try to electrocute the patient. Dr. Arkham's opinion, despite the similar circumstances, won't get thrown out simply because he has been overseeing this entire case. That and he's the director of the asylum, which makes his decision weigh even heavier.
Bruce Wayne would be easy to sway, I know that at least. The other benefactor, however, I'm not so sure about. There isn't a lawyer present, which could either be a good or a bad thing as well. So far, it seems that the odds aren't really in my favor.
"Now that we're all here, I think it's time to begin," Dr. Arkham announces from the head of the table. "As you all are aware, today we'll be discussing the wellbeing of Patient 4479, otherwise known as the Joker. It's up to us to decide whether or not he should stay here at Arkham based on what we've analyzed and seen so far. Before we begin getting into all of the facts and diagnoses, does anyone have any questions?"
"Yes, I have a question," Bruce Wayne announces from his lounging position in the seat across from mine. "What's the rush of this meeting?" I'm tempted to smile at the fact that I'm not the only one questioning Dr. Arkham's haste, but I force myself to refrain.
"Well, another doctor was killed by the Joker's hands last night," Dr. Arkham replies. "I just think that it's in everyone's best interest if we solve this problem before anyone else gets hurt." Bruce laces his fingers together and narrows his eyes, thinking over the response carefully. "Any other questions?" The room remains silent. "Good, then let's begin. Who wants to start?"
No one volunteers, so I reluctantly lean forward in my chair. "I'll start," I offer.
"Good. For those of you who don't know, this is Dr. Harleen Quinzel. She's one of our resident doctors, but she's overseen Patient 4479's therapy sessions the most out of anyone here," he informs them. "She was previously his primary psychiatrist."
"Previously?" the second benefactor, Dr. Thomas Elliot, speaks up. "I was under the impression that he had one primary psychiatrist."
"Well, Dr. Quinzel was his primary psychiatrist for quite some time, but he grew to be a little too fond of her. So, for her safety, I took her off the case," Dr. Arkham answers. "Aside from Dr. Quinzel, we've had multiple doctors treat him."
"My patients are fond of me," Dr. Elliot replies, referring to his surgical patients at Gotham Memorial Hospital. I'm not sure exactly what he specializes in, but from time to time he does various procedures here at Arkham. "Does that mean that I should stop scheduling follow ups after successful surgeries?"
"I doubt your patients are as unstable as these," Bruce replies with a chuckle. "Although, you bring up a good point."
"Of course I do," Dr. Elliot all but snaps at him. "She's isn't dead, which is more than can be said for the other doctors treating this patient, or so I've heard." It's good to see that I'm not the only person in the room doubting how useful it was to take me off of the Joker's case.
"The decision has already been made to remove her from the case," Dr. Arkham dismisses flatly. "However, let's let her explain her thoughts from previous sessions."
"Okay," I begin, trying to gather my thoughts. "The Joker is quite possibly the most complex patient we've ever tried to treat here at Arkham. He shows signs and symptoms of many mental disorders, however, he doesn't fit enough of the symptoms to actually be diagnosed with them, not yet anyways. What we've found is-"
"Wait a minute, you're saying that he doesn't fit any mental disorders?" Dr. Elliot interjects. "I'm only an M.D., but isn't that a dead giveaway that he isn't crazy?"
"No, not necessarily," I tell him, trying to keep from gritting my teeth in frustration. "It just means that his thought process and his mind in general don't fit the book. For example, one of the symptoms of a psychopath is the failure to have a life plan or live in an ordered way, aside from destructive purposes. The Joker fits that spot on. However, another symptom is lack of true insight or the inability to see oneself as others do. He knows how people see him, especially the doctor's here, therefore the symptom doesn't fit."
"Well, nobody's going to fit all of the symptoms," he argues. "That would be too simple."
"We don't diagnose patients because they fit all of the symptoms," Dr. Leland clarifies. "We diagnose patients if they show most of the signs. What Dr. Quinzel is trying to say is that Patient 4479 only fits a few symptoms here and there. He doesn't quite fit any of them enough for us to classify him with any one disorder. His symptoms are, in a word, scattered."
Dr. Elliot remains silent and I shoot Dr. Leland a thankful glance. "We do know that he has an impulse control problem," I begin again. "Other than that, his results are, for the most part, inconclusive. However, I believe that-"
"This is what it comes down to," Dr. Arkham announces, cutting me off. "We need to decide here and now if the Joker is faking insanity or if he genuinely needs psychiatric help. We simply don't have the resources or the staff to cater to his needs if he is indeed faking. Let's start with Dr. Stanford and Dr. Isaacs," he suggests, turning towards the two state psychiatrists. "You've both seen the therapy tapes and read the files. In your professional opinion, do you think that Patient 4479 is genuinely mentally unstable?"
"As Dr. Quinzel voiced," the younger of the two begins, "the sessions are, for the most part, inconclusive. It would seem that the patient is very capable of misleading and swaying away from the topics that would give us insight into his sanity. Some of his opinions are very... unstable, you could say, however, from what I've seen so far, those thoughts could easily be made up. It's quite possible that he is unstable, but it's also quite possible that he's faking."
"I agree with what Dr. Stanford is saying in the fact that this patient is very misleading," the second state psychiatrist agrees, "but from what I've personally gathered, this all seems to be some kind of a game to him. With his ever changing diagnosis and the fact that he appears to plan and think logically, I'm more inclined to believe that his act of insanity is all a façade for his own amusement. Would you agree, Dr. Quinzel?"
"His thought process is logical," I admit, "but the thoughts themselves are... different. He has his own view on the world and how it really works. He believes that everyone in Gotham is corrupt and that when push comes to shove, anyone can be dragged down to his level. That's why he's so fixated on Batman, because he's so hard to break, so hard to corrupt. Trying to break people down, show them who they are without the mask, amuses him.''
"Different, Dr. Quinzel, doesn't answer the question," Dr. Arkham shoots at me.
"Well, sir, I don't think that simple answers apply to the Joker at all," I reply. "It's not just black and white when it comes to this man."
"Let's put it to a vote," Dr. Arkham suggests after two very long and stressful hours of debating. "Raise your hand if you think that Patient 4479 is faking insanity and should be transferred to Blackgate Prison."
I watch nervously as Dr. Arkham is the first to raise his hand. Dr. Isaacs hand goes up next and Dr. Strange's hand follows. Please don't let one more go up. Please don't let one more go up.
"Three in favor," Dr. Arkham mutters. "Alright, all in favor of the Joker remaining at Arkham for further psychiatric rehabilitation?" My hand shoots up a little too quickly, but I'm far from caring at this point. Bruce's hand goes up next, then Dr. Leland's, then Dr. Stanford's. Finally and surprisingly, Dr. Elliot's hand goes up as well.
"Alright, then it's settled," he announces, failing to keep the disappointment out of his tone. "The Joker will remain here at Arkham. Thank you all for your time." I quickly gather my files, anxious to get out of there, and make my way over to the elevator.
"Wait!" Dr. Elliot calls, and I reluctantly place a hand against the elevator door. He slides in between the opening of the metal doors and I remove my hand, allowing them to shut. "Thanks," he tells me with a bright smile, pressing the first floor button. "Good job in there. You had me convinced."
"No problem. I've always been a fan of young potential and let me tell you, Dr. Quinzel, you've got it," he boasts. I manage a small smile, wanting desperately to go home and be left alone. "You remind me of myself a bit. Of course, I was always extremely competitive, but you're like me in the fact that you take what you believe in to the end, even if people aren't likely to believe it or like it for that matter."
"It doesn't matter what I believe in or what I like, what matters is the truth," I tell him.
"Yes it does," he retorts smoothly. "Whatever you believe in is going to be the truth, to you at least. Otherwise you wouldn't believe it." The elevator dings, stopping at the third floor. "Nice meeting you, Dr. Quinzel. I expect to hear great things about you one day. Or rather, bad things. I find that either can be just as beneficial."
I nod with a small smile and step out of the elevator, paying him no mind, distracted by the one thought that keeps pulsing through my head. The one single, irrational, unnerving thought.
I almost lost him.