The restaurant is pitch black, but the crowd is far from silent. As I creep silently out of the kitchen and towards the main dining area, several screams break out amongst the dinner guests. There's several hushed gasps and a few frantic voices, but as of the moment, there are bigger things to worry about than the crowd's franticness. In the midst of panicked noises, I hear a high pitched cackle from the Joker, the sound of breaking glass, and a loud thud.
The lights flicker back on, flooding the room with clarity once more. The Batman stands on my side of the room, hoisting the Joker up by his waistcoat. In front of them is a collapsed table, along with several broken wine glasses. A rush of anger goes through me as I realize that Batman had probably sent the Joker flying onto the table.
"I was wondering when you'd show up," the Joker tells him with hyena-like laughter. Batman roughly throws him towards the main entrance. The Joker hits the half wall surrounding the dining area hard and falls to the floor. He giggles loudly and stands up, wiping the dust from his thighs.
"And you didn't disappoint," the Joker announces, wagging his finger knowingly at him. "You let three people die and doctors at that." Batman comes over and shoves him up against one of the tables, roughly holding him up by the neck. "How many people have to die for you to realize that you can't, uh, save them all?"
Batman yanks the Joker off of the table and sends him hurtling into another one. The Joker crashes up against it, knocking the entire table over. He laughs hysterically at the gesture, not even bothering to pick himself back up. "Look at you go. I think I'm finally getting to you."
Batman hoists the Joker up by the neck, dangling him in the air. "Are you going to break your one rule? 'Cause I'd be flattered-" He's cut off by Batman violently throwing him back down. The Joker falls to the floor hard, but he continues to laugh, as if it doesn't even hurt. "As much as I enjoy our little, uh, chats... you've got to make a choice."
"A choice?" Batman growls, shoving him up against the half wall, his black gloved fingers around the Joker's neck.
"Mm-hmm," the Joker drawls. "You remember this game, don't ya Bats? You had to choose between the district attorney and his blushing bride to be. Too bad they both, uh, died. Let's see Harvey... well, I brought him down to our level. I killed the good he was so very fond of. I twisted him, turned him into a monster. Well, he would've been one and a great one at that had there not been that pesky car crash. As for uh... uh..."
"Rachel!" Batman snarls.
"As for Rachel, you were all just... too... late. At least she went out with a, uh, bang!" the Joker finishes with a loud cackle. Batman hits the Joker savagely across the face, the punch so hard that I can almost feel the sting from here. The Joker isn't fazed by the pain, instead he seems to enjoy it, his laughter growing louder and more amused.
"What's the choice?" Batman demands in a low growl, but the Joker's too caught up in the whims of his own laughter to answer. He hits the Joker's chest hard, causing him to cough through his fits of laughter. "Tell me what choice," he demands again.
"Oh, I'll tell you," the Joker replies, taking in a deep gasp of air and wiping the tears from his eyes. He clutches his side as if it's about to split in two and the laughing's left him quite breathless. None of Batman's abuse so far has seemed to bother him. "There's a bomb strapped to both sides of the building. One of the two bombs is going to go off and kill over half of the people in this restaurant," the Joker announces with another laugh.
"I have to pick which bomb to disable?" Batman deduces.
"No, no, no. That would be too easy for you," the Joker replies with a grin. "What time is it?"
Doubting that the Batman carries around a watch, I glance up at the wall clock. "It's 8:52," I call, making sure to keep my Brooklyn accent extra thick around Batman. He won't be as easily fooled by the accent as everyone else.
"Right on schedule," the Joker sings. "In eight minutes, Jim Gordon's going to leave the police station and get in his car. And when he does," the Joker chuckles, "let's just say that they'll be, uh, picking pieces of him off the street for days."
Batman reaches to touch what's probably a built in ear piece, but the Joker quickly thwarts that idea. "His phone's off and I'm afraid that everyone's already gone home," the Joker tells him with derisive sympathy. "You've got just enough time to disable one bomb and save the com-mission-er. You better, uh, run along now. Time's a ticking."
Batman shoots the Joker one last look, then disappears out the door. The Joker giggles to himself, walks over to me, and then wraps an arm around my shoulders. "Do ya get the, uh, punch line?"
I nod in response, not failing to miss that the Joker had refrained from telling Batman about the indoor bombs. No matter what Batman does, someone's going to die tonight. It could be me and the Joker or it could be the other half of the room and maybe even the commissioner. Either way, Batman's hero card will falter.
A few minutes trickle by and the Joker leans in my ear and asks, "Would you do us the, uh, honors?"
The Joker grins widely as my finger hovers over the detonator in my hands. This could be it. This could be the end, but I don't think I have any regrets now. I've lived, at least for a little bit, the Joker had given me that. I don't want to die, but someone has to tonight. I lean upwards and bring the Joker in for a short hug since I can't exactly kiss him through my mask. He's clearly surprised by the action, but he doesn't pull away. And as soon as my arms leave his neck, I press the little red button.
A loud ringing sound engulfs my ears, blocking all other noise out completely. There's a bright orange blast in front of us and the force of it throws me backwards. Smoke fills the air quickly and bright orange flames flood my vision. The smoke is heavy and accumulating quickly, obscuring everything aside from the ball of flames across the room. I'm faintly aware of something wet hitting me, but it takes me a very long, dazed moment to realize that it's the sprinklers.
My ears continue to ring, but a few muffled sounds reach me. One of those sounds being my violent hacking from all of the newfound smoke. As my mind begins to adjust to what just happened, I'm able to focus on more than just the flames. I glance around to see that I've landed somewhat close to the kitchen. I look beside me only to find that J hasn't been blasted anywhere near me.
My head swivels in each direction, a sense of panic growing in my chest. "J?" I call, not entirely sure if I'm saying anything at all. I stagger to my feet, somewhat woozy from the explosion. "J?" I call again, squinting through the smoke to try to find his clownish figure. My heart drops when I can't seem to find him anywhere. "J, where are you?" I yell, hoping that he can hear me. I don't get a response.
He's fine, I tell myself, stumbling half blindly towards the kitchen. He was right next to you. If you didn't die, surely he didn't either, I reassure myself, coughing loudly as I push into the kitchen. The smoke burns at my eyes, causing tears to sting at the corners of them, but thankfully the smoke isn't as heavy in the kitchen. I yank my mask off and let it fall to the floor, my need for fresh air more important than my need for secrecy. He's probably waiting for you outside right now.
Something catches the tip of my shoe and I lurch forward. I barely catch myself on one of the counters, silently cursing myself for not remembering all of the dead bodies on the kitchen floor. I continue on my way towards the door, carefully side stepping each of the bodies. I cough and hack a few more harsh times, but the smoke isn't nearly as bad as it was in the main dining area.
I push through the exit of the kitchen and the cold night air rushes at me. The feeling's nice and helps to lift the haze from my mind, but I don't take the time to savor it. "J?" I call, beginning to walk around the side of the building and towards the main parking lot. In the back of my mind, the doctor in me knows that I'm somewhat delirious from the shock of the situation, but I'm far too focused on finding the Joker to care. I have to find him. I have to.
I stop in front of one of the side alcoves of the building, searching for the Joker's van. There isn't a big white van parked in the alcove, but there is, however, a dark colored car parked inside. I squint at the car, trying to peer inside the windshield. Before I can make out who it is that's in the driver's seat, headlights flicker in my vision.
I turn to see a white van driving towards me and a grin stretches across my face. "J," I call excitedly, but my voice is thrown off by the loud roar of an engine. Bright lights fill my vision suddenly and the loud squeal of tires on pavement fills my ears. I turn towards the source of the light, but it all happens too fast. Something hits me hard and before the pain even registers. I never even saw it coming.
"What do ya know," the Joker mutters to himself in pleasant surprise, driving towards the staggering figure of his ex-therapist. "She made it out alive." From what he can see, she looks rather excited to see him. He grins at the image of her smiling, soot covered, and slightly disoriented face. It isn't everyday that he has that kind of effect on people.
A bright light casts itself over Harley in the form of headlights and one of the Joker's eyebrow's goes up in confusion. An engine roars loudly as someone pushes hard on the gas. There's a loud, sharp squeal of tires burning against the asphalt and suddenly a car shoots out from beside Harley. The car hits her hard, sending her tumbling over the top of it.
The Joker slams on the breaks of the van as Harley falls lifelessly to the ground behind the car that hit her. There's a long moment of uneasiness where he's almost certain that his new toy is dead. One hand wavers on the machine gun beside him, but the other rests on the wheel, observing her broken figure for a long, curious moment. Knowing that no one's going to get away with damaging his property, he steps out of the car, gun in hand. He spots movement in the broken figure on the ground and stops in his tracks.
He can see Harley's blood stained mouth beginning to move, as if in some kind of a gasp or groan. Her arms move to push her body up, but she simply can't do it. She falls to her side and coughs, the sight almost pitiful. It's like watching someone with two broken legs trying to walk.
There's a loud slam of a car door as Harley's attacker exits the vehicle. "What do we have here," the Joker muses in surprise as Dr. Jeremiah Arkham walks towards Harley. Dr. Arkham forces her roughly to her feet, a gun in one hand. "It looks like the, uh, good doctor made it to dinner after all."
"You think you can hurt my wife and get away with it?" Dr. Arkham demands, his voice on the verge of insanity. "You see, I'm going to hurt your little girlfriend here. I'm going to break her mind far worse than you ever did," he vows.
"Hypocrite," Harley croaks, surprising both the clown and the doctor. "What gives you the... right? You wouldn't even," she takes a deep rasp, "let me in a room with... Pam's boss after they told me that she was... murdered." She has to take pauses in between words, along with a few painful sounding breaths, but her words are clear. And although the Joker would never admit it, he's in awe that she's conscious after that entire ordeal, let alone up and talking. She certainly is a tough one.
Dr. Arkham raises the gun and points it at her head. "I think shooting's a little too merciful, Harleen, but if you keep talking I might have a change of heart."
"I hope you have to... bury nothing like... I did," she hoarsely replies. "I hope that... they won't find... anything left of your wife."
"You're really pushing it," he snaps at her. "My finger is ready to slip. Are you coherent enough to know what would happen then? Well, are you?"
Before Harley can answer, there's a loud thump and Dr. Arkham pitches forward. The same doctor that the Joker had allotted to help the bleeding woman in the restaurant stands there with a crowbar in his hands. He drops the crowbar and it clatters to the ground loudly as he quickly and efficiently catches Harley. Dr. Arkham lands face first against the asphalt and remains still.
"It's going to be alright," the unfamiliar doctor tells Harley, hoisting her into his arms. He turns towards the Joker and says something very simple. "Follow me and she dies." The Joker doesn't reply and instead watches him place Harley in the backseat of a nearby car. He gets in and they begin to drive away.
"Should we follow them, Boss?" one of the goons ask.
"No, no, no," the Joker refuses. "Let if she lives or dies be a surprise."
Beep. Beep. Beep.
I groan inwardly at the annoyingly incessant sound. I can't tell what it is exactly and my eyelids are far too heavy to be bothered to open. It continues to constantly ring in my ears, not once stopping. What is that? I think to myself grumpily.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
I force my tired eyelids open, looking for the source of the sound and flickering florescent lights meet my eyes. I squint, slowly allowing my eyes to get used to the light, but as soon as they do, the incessant beeping is long forgotten. Where am I? I think to myself nervously, glancing around. There's an IV stand next to me that's connected to my arm and beside that is a heart monitor. If it weren't for the peeling green walls and flickering, nearly broken lights, I'd think that I was in a hospital.
But why would I be in a hospital?
The memories soon come crashing back to me. The restaurant. The explosion. The bright lights. I remember that I had been looking for J and then pain, there was a lot of pain. I can't figure out what it was from but I remember someone dragging me to my feet. But who was it? I rack my mind for answers and eventually Dr. Arkham comes to mind.
He was angry about something, but so was I. He was threatening me, but I don't remember caring. I think he had a gun, but I'm not sure. What was it that he had been so angry about? I know it had something to do with the explosion, but what? Mrs. Arkham, that's the entire reason we went, I remember. He had been mad that his wife was in the explosion and I was mad about... Pam, that's right. I was upset because he thought he had the right to avenge his wife when he never even gave me the chance to talk to my best friend's attempted murderer.
What happened beyond that point, I'm not so sure.
Along with my newly remembered memories, the pain comes flooding back as well. It's not as vivid as it was and it's undoubtedly dulled with medicine, but it's there. My head throbs, my entire left side aches, and several various bruises and cuts that I can't see sting painfully as well. I don't think anything's broken, but a concussion is definitely a possibility.
"Hello," I call, my own voice surprising me. It sounds rested and unused. How long have I been out for? "Hello, is anyone there," I call again and footsteps begin padding down the hallway. The door to my room opens and in walks Dr. Thomas Elliot. I let out a painful sigh of relief when he walks in, not realizing until that moment that I could've been caught by the police and taken to Arkham.
"Good, you're awake," he announces, coming over to me.
"I feel like I've been hit by a car," I tell him and he laughs as if I'm joking.
Catching onto my confused expression, he asks, "Do you remember what happened?" I shake my head. "You were hit by a car," he tells me seriously and I resist the urge to laugh. No wonder I feel so banged up. "You've got a minor concussion, a few bruised ribs, some cuts and scratches, and you had some internal bleeding, but you should heal up just fine. You're lucky that the car had just started because if it would've had time to build up momentum, you and I wouldn't be having this conversation right now."
"You patched up the internal bleeding?" I ask in surprise.
"I'm a surgeon," he replies flatly, "but I'm going to assume you're really asking me where I patched it up. The answer to that would be here. This used to be Sacred Heart Convalescent Home, but it's been boarded up for years. I've sort of turned it into my own hospital you could say. Don't worry, the surgery room you were in is just as sterile as any other operating room," he assures me.
"Anyway," he continues, "I've stopped your internal bleeding and patched it up quite nicely if I do say so myself. Don't move around too quickly or do anything strenuous, though, otherwise you might pop the stitches and that would be rather painful. You can leave here whenever you want, but I'd suggest staying hooked up to the IV for a little while longer. I recommend a five day stay at least, but it's up to you."
"I think I'll rest long enough for it to be, uh, safe for me to return to work," I tell him, knowing that going back to the Joker's hideout right off the bat wouldn't be so good for my recovery. I want to see him incredibly badly, but I don't want pop open any internal stitches either.
"Sounds good," he replies, patting my blanket covered leg. "Sometime tomorrow, when you're feeling up to it, I'll show you around. After tomorrow, however, I'll be at work for most of the day and I don't know when I'll be getting off. I'll drop by of course, but you're going to have to do a few things yourself. You're a trained doctor, though, so it shouldn't be too hard."
There's a moment of tentative silence before I finally ask, "What do I owe you for this treatment?"
"Nothing," he answers. "You let me escape from the restaurant, remember?"
"Oh," I reply.
"You sound surprised. Were you just letting me escape out of the goodness of your heart?" he asks, and I sense an undertone of mocking in his voice.
"No, no," I answer, part of my mind somewhat hazy at the question. "I agreed to be your ally. Sending you into a room full of dead doctors just didn't seem like a very allyish thing to do. Besides, you probably would've gotten away anyway. All I had was a handgun and you had the surprise advantage over me."
Dr. Elliot laughs. "I think you're the most... well, not nicest considering you just killed two people and shot one in the arm at the restaurant, but you're the most honest criminal I've ever met."
"Thanks," I reply and then after a moment add, "I think."
"If you do want to help sometime when you can properly stand without shaking or doubling over after ten minutes, there are a few things you might can help me with. I'd like some advice from a fellow colleague, but I'm not so sure that I trust you enough yet. It's nothing personal, but what I'd be showing you is my own personal work and I'm not so sure that I'm ready to present it yet. You understand, don't you?"
"I get it," I answer honestly. The Joker's plans, although they're usually rough, somewhat nonexistent, and can hardly be called plans at all, are presented at the perfect moment. Sometimes they're delayed, like tonight- or whatever night I had been at the restaurant, but they don't happen unless the Joker wants them to happen.
"Don't get up and wander around just yet," he tells me. "You need to lay down and rest for a while longer. I'm going to give you another dose of painkillers in a moment and that should put you out for a few solid hours. You'll have time to walk around when I show you around tomorrow, but just stay put for now. As for after tomorrow, unless I give you the explicit OK, don't go searching around or looking in the rooms that I don't show you."
"Okay," I agree, having a feeling that it has something to do with this work of his. "When you said that you made this a hospital of sorts, did that imply that there are other patients here?"
"The things that happen inside this building will stay in this building," he tells me seriously. "I don't want to lie to you, Harley, but take my word for it that anyone in this building deserves to be here and those who might not deserve to be here are too far gone to care. You shouldn't hear anything in your stay here, but if you do, shut your eyes and ignore it. It'll go away once the automated IV drip releases your pain meds again."
His words don't scare me, but the unknowing of what might go on in here slightly does. I'm sure what he's doing isn't as horrible or sadistic as it is in my mind. I'm not afraid of him and I'm not worried that he'll hurt me, but the unknowing of what lies inside the walls around me makes me uneasy.
Dr. Elliot goes over to the IV stand beside me and gives me a reassuring smile. "You're safe here, Harley. The only thing you have to worry about is getting better." A drip of some sedative painkiller begins to drip into my system and as my eyelids grow heavy, he pats my hand. "Just remember that, no matter what you might hear." With those oh-so-reassuring words in mind, I drift off into the deep blackness of sleep.