Mad Love

Paperclip Problems

In the month that passed, from what I’d gathered, the Arkham staff has had no success with the Joker. So far, he’s snapped a nurse's neck, attempted to strangle one of the guards, and has successfully picked each psychiatrist off of his case one by one. Dr. Arkham wasn't the only doctor who had a violent outburst with him in the month that he'd been here either. Apparently, the Joker had made Dr. Strange so angry in regards to a remark about his wife during their second session that he had attempted to use shock therapy on him. They managed to stop Dr. Strange on the way to the basement, where the outdated and questionable methods of "healing" are kept. Needless to say, Dr. Strange was booted off of the case.

It’s unnerving just how easily the Joker managed to get under the skins of three of Arkham's best doctors. We're talking about trained and experienced doctors here. They’re all trained to be calm and collected in the presence of unhinged, ruthless, murderous madmen. It’s a requirement for them to be indifferent to the words of the patient. They have years of hands on experience to build up their walls of indifference and collectiveness in front of patients, but the Joker had torn those walls down as if they were made of fragile glass.

Dr. Arkham and Dr. Strange, two of the three doctors that have interviewed him so far, have already tried to kill or severely harm him. It’s incredibly surprising just how quickly the Joker had managed to get that kind of a rise out of them. They're two of the best doctors that I know, but the Joker had managed to break them with unbelievable ease. I think it was mainly the fear that got to them. I think they knew that the Joker's uncanny threats and subtle hints were something that he could easily follow through on without a second thought. He terrifies them, as much as they refuse to admit it.

Dr. Leland, the third doctor to try and treat him, hadn't quite broken like the other doctors, if she had arguably been broken at all. She, unlike the other doctors, had kept her composure and followed the typical rules and procedures with the utmost precision during their therapy sessions. She had kept her composure in the room with the Joker and hadn't snapped at him or attempted in any way to harm him. She had even lasted three full sessions with him, despite him preying on the fact that her daughter Penny had died of cancer. Halfway into her fourth session with the Joker, she calmly ended the session, walked out, and told Dr. Arkham that she was done treating him.

As of right now, the fourth psychiatrist is interviewing him. That psychiatrist being Dr. Adrian Chen. I don't know much about him, only that he examined Killer Croc once or twice. For the most part, he keeps to himself around the office, which is one of the main reasons why, even if I was allowed to, I wouldn't watch his session with the Joker. I don't want to hear the terrible things that the Joker will use against him.

I glance at the clock on my office wall briefly. It's only ten minutes into the session, but I wonder if he's been broken yet. Stop thinking so negatively, Harls, I chide. Maybe he'll be the one to break the case, you never know.

I hastily push those thoughts, negative and positive, out of my mind and try to focus on the file in front of me. The file belongs to Calendar Man, otherwise known as Julian Day, otherwise known as the file that they gave me when I first arrived here as an intern, otherwise known as a case still fitting of my "undeveloped" skills.

Don't get me wrong, Calendar Man is in need of psychiatric help and I'm happy to try and give it to him, but I'd like to move up the chain of importance one of these days. Calendar Man is just as dangerous as half of the other criminals in Gotham, with an obsession for dates just as bad as Harvey Dent's compulsion to flip his coin, but let's face it, he's not exactly the most high class criminal in Gotham. I'd like to think that I've worked hard enough in my two years of being here to move up from minor patients and lower class criminals.

A knock on my office door startles me out of my thoughts. "Come in," I call, closing Calendar Man's file and leaning back in my chair. The door opens slightly and Dr. Leland sticks her head in the room. I can already tell by her expression that Dr. Chen's session with the Joker didn't go so well.

"Dr. Chen's dead," she tells me solemnly.

The statement takes me by surprise. "What? How?"

"The Joker somehow acquired a paperclip. At one point during the session Dr. Chen leaned forward and the Joker lunged. He managed to slit Dr. Chen's throat with the edge of it. He had already lost too much blood by the time the medic's got to him."

"That's… that's…"

"It's terrible," she finishes. "It was barbaric and unnecessary."

"How are they going to punish the Joker for it?"

"How can they?" she scoffs. "It's not like locking him up in solitary will do any good. All they've done is taken away his cafeteria privileges, as if it's a punishment to have someone hand bring you your food. He didn't have any privileges or perks to begin with so we don't exactly have much to take away."

"I suppose not."

"Anyways, I thought I'd let you know the story of how Dr. Chen died before it starts getting twisted and altered. You know how they like to dramatize and distort things around here," she says with a sigh. "Oh, and before I forget, Dr. Arkham wants to see you in his office right away."

"Why?" I question, a sense of nervousness growing in my stomach. It’s similar to the feeling you get when a teacher tells you that the principle wants to see you, whether it be for a good or bad reason.

"I don't know, he just told me to come get you. I wouldn't keep him waiting too long, though. He's pretty frustrated already."

"I'll get right on that," I assure her. "Thanks, Joan."

"No problem." She shuts the door, leaving me alone with my worrisome thoughts. Had I done something wrong? I rack my mind trying to think of an explanation as to why Dr. Arkham wants to see me. Maybe I had filled something out wrong on one of my reports.

Oh well, we’ll see soon enough. I square my shoulders and exit my office, surrendering to the fate that I can't control. I make my way up to the fifth floor too quickly for my liking and knock on Dr. Arkham's door lightly, part of me hoping that he won't answer it.

"Come in," he calls and I swear under my breath. I push the door open and step inside the familiar office, shutting the door behind me.

"You wanted to see me?"

"Have a seat, Harleen." That sounds promising. I take my seat quietly in front of the desk he sits behind, searching his face for signs as to what I'd done. He doesn't appear to be angry, tired and frustrated maybe, but not overtly angry. That’s a good sign.

"Have I done something wrong?" I question, unable to take the suspense any longer. He raises an eyebrow and looks at me with a confused expression.

"Have you?" he retorts. "Is there something you want to tell me?"

"No, it's just that you called me up here without a reason," I explain.

"Oh, no, I didn't call you up here for anything like that," he quickly dismisses. "You haven't done anything wrong, I just thought that this matter should be discussed privately, that's all."

I breathe a quiet sigh of relief, although I'm not sure that I had anything to be worried about in the first place. "What is it that you wanted to see me about?"

"As you're probably aware, we haven't made much progress with the Joker," he begins, lacing his fingers together atop the desk. "Seeing as Dr. Strange and I can no longer be on the case and Dr. Leland won't rejoin it for her own sake, I'm faced with a problem. That problem being that if I keep sending doctors in there, then they might end up botching the session with violence or cracking under the Joker's jabs to their sanity or even worse, end up like Dr. Chen."

"Right," I agree slowly, wondering what point he's getting at. "To be blunt, Dr. Arkham, what does this have to do with me?"

"I don't want to waste any more doctors," he tells me. "I don't know how useful it will be to keep sending in new psychiatrists. So far, you're the only one he's talked to, really talked to. I want to send you in."

"You want to send me in with the Joker?" I repeat incredulously. "He might not even talk to me again."

"That's a risk I'm going to have to take. I hate to put you in the position that our most experienced doctors have broken under, but this is the best chance we've got. If we don't get anything out of him soon, I'm afraid they'll take him back to Blackgate. If you're right about him really needing some mental help, then we're going to have to prove it. You said you wanted to follow the case, right?"

"Follow it, not be a part of it."

"Look, I can't force you take the job-"

"I didn't say that I didn't want it," I quickly clarify. This is a huge opportunity for my career, I'd be out of my mind to dismiss it right away.

"Do you want some time to think about it?"

"No, I'll do it." I'd be a fool not to. "But I want some time to review the case first."

"I can't give you much time, Harleen, we're on a tight enough schedule as it is. There's someone coming from the district attorney's office in a month to review the case."

"Why's the DA getting involved so early?" I ask curiously. "Usually they give us three or four months to get patient cases together."

"We're dealing with the Joker here, Gotham's new superstar villain. He's done more damage to this city in a couple of weeks than half the criminals in here have done in months. The DA's getting antsy about him. They think he needs to be locked in a room with four inch thick steel walls, not some ‘escapable’ institution."

"If they didn't want him to be moved here, then why did they even let me psychoanalyze him?"

"It's not just them," he tells me with a sigh. "The Joker's making everyone nervous, including most of this city's law enforcement divisions, but they don't want him to know that. If they had demanded that he stay in the maximum security wing with six armed guards and not a single possibility of going to Arkham, then he would've caught on that something was up. They knew he would've played on their fear."

"What if he's already caught on?" I question with a hunch.

"It's out of our hands now," he replies. "We need to get something out of him soon, otherwise we'll never be able to study him again. This could be a big break for Arkham, Harleen. It could be a big break for psychological studies in general. It won't do anyone any good to have him rotting away in a cell."

"You don't want to help him," I realize, mentally smacking myself. I should've known. "You just want to study him."

Dr. Arkham shrugs and leans back in his chair. "I don't think this one can be helped," he says simply.

"It's worth a try," I retort. "Our job is to help people, not use them to our own advantage."

"Oh please," he shoots back. "As if you're taking this case to help him."

"I'd like to try."

"Then try, by all means, try. To help him, you're going to have to get something out of him first. So, while you're trying to help him, I'll be trying to help the psychology field with some of the information you've learned. We're working towards the same thing, Harleen. I'm not the bad guy here."

"You're right," I tell him, saying it to end the argument, not because I believe it.

"Here," he states, sliding a file towards me. "That's all we've got on the Joker so far. Take the rest of the day off and go study it." He digs around in his desk for a moment, then pulls out four discs and hands them to me. "Those are the interview tapes, one for each doctor. Study those too. I'll set up your meeting with the Joker for tomorrow at ten."

"Tomorrow?" I repeat. "That doesn't give me much time to-"

"Maybe it's better for you to be a little unprepared," he tells me. "I mean, just look at what happened to the doctors who were extensively prepared."

It doesn't take me long to reach my apartment on Lexington Avenue, only about twenty minutes or so. On a given day with traffic, it usually takes me somewhere around forty minutes to an hour. I don't mind the long drive, though. As much as I love my job, I’m happy to be away from it when night rolls around. It’s relieving at times, being able to distance myself from the job that has basically dictated my life since the second I applied for an internship. I had thought that the job was controlling then, but the days only grew longer once I started my residency.

I enter the main hallway of the apartment complex and make my way into the elevator, pressing the fifth floor button as the doors shut. Living on the fifth floor can be a pain at times, especially on grocery day, but I prefer it to living on the first floor. It’s not unknown for Arkham patients to sneak into unsuspecting doctor's homes. This way, if anyone tries to pay me a visit, they'll have to go through the main floor of the building first, which risks them being seen. Even if they aren't spotted on the main floor, there’s still a good chance that someone would see them on their way up to the fifth floor before they got to me.

I reach the fifth floor and enter the last apartment on the left. I kick my shoes off by the door, set my things down on the side table, and then nestle onto my couch with the Joker's file. It's already grown considerably since I first turned it in and as I flip through it, I spot several handwritten theories from various other doctors. I flip back to the front page, going over the basics first. The first thing I notice is that the initial information I submitted has been unsurprisingly altered.

Name: Unknown
Primary Alias: The Joker
Height: 6'1
Weight: 160
Age: 26-34

I sigh briefly before continuing. They had expanded my four year age gap to eight. I could admit that the Joker being twenty seven might be possible, but twenty six was pushing it a little too far. Thirty three and thirty four, on the other hand, might also be possible, but I highly doubt it.

I flip through the rest of the basics briefly, noticing that my initial notes about his arrival are still intact. Behind my analysis notes, several of the prison guards and police officers have reported things about his behavior on the night of the arrest, but aside from seeming to enjoy it, he hadn't given off any red flags. He hadn't even attempted to escape from or fight the arresting officers.

I glance at the various illnesses he has been diagnosed with or shown signs of so far. By the extensive list of things raging from schizophrenia to various delusion disorders, the other doctors appear to have had the same hard time that I had trying to find a fitting diagnosis. Some of the possible illnesses written down I gave a nod to, others made me raise an eyebrow. Some were good, thought out choices. Others seemed a little desperate.

I set the file down and wander over to my purse, grabbing the discs out of it. Which one should I watch first? Definitely not Chen's, that’s one nightmare I could live without. I've already seen Dr. Arkham's, but the other two I'd only heard about. So, which is it? Watching the Joker taunt someone with information about their dead child or watching him taunt a man so profusely about his wife that he attempts to kill him?

Ultimately, I choose neither and set the discs back down. I don't need to see what the Joker can do to break people. I don't want to see that. I’m already feeling anxious about our next encounter, I don't need another reason to be on edge about tomorrow. What I'd seen and heard is bad enough as it is.

I retake my seat on the couch, but leave the Joker's file on the coffee table. I need to get some sort of plan together, some sort of outline. It’s more for my benefit than his. I need something to keep the conversation on track and in the direction I want it to go. I don't want our first session to derail and end up in my personal life.

He'll be able to see any plan of mine coming from a mile away. He'd chide me for making any kind of plan, especially one that involved him. It won't work, I know that deep down. There’s no dictating the conversation with him. But maybe, just maybe, I can sway the conversation towards the direction that I want it to go.

Or maybe not. Maybe the conversation will go to hell right off the bat. Maybe he'll slit my throat with a paperclip.

I sigh, picking his file back up. This is going to be a long night.

I lie in bed wide awake. The clock beside me reads 2:47 am, or at least it did when I last looked at it. The covers of my bed have been upturned and twisted and jumbled into a heaping mess at the foot of my bed, mainly from being either frustrated or anxiously kicked around. There's a cold draft in the apartment from the winter air outside that crawls over my uncovered skin, but I'm too feverish with nervousness to be bothered by it.

Logically, I know that I shouldn't be as nervous as I am. I've talked to the man twice, twice. I wasn't nearly as worried then as I am now. Maybe it's because I know more about him now, maybe it's because I know what he can do to doctors ten times more experienced than me. I can't pinpoint where these nerves are coming from exactly, but I have a feeling they're from a multitude of things.

I keep asking myself what he can really do, besides kill me. I don't have some treacherous past or some tragic sob story. My parents hadn't died tragically in a car crash when I was three, nor were either of them unjustly murdered. My father wasn't abusive and my mother wasn't an alcoholic. My parent's love me and I had a relatively normal childhood. I can't think of much that he could actually use against me.

I don't really have any big secrets either, aside from being best friends with two of Gotham's criminals, but I don't see how the Joker could possibly know that. I'm not a widow or the mother of a dead child. I didn't grow up wondering if I'd end up like some crazy relative. I don't have a husband that he can threaten, or a boyfriend who cheats or beats on me. I can't think of any one thing that he can use against me to the point where I'll break.

There's little things that he could prey on, like the fact that I work too much, but that's hardly mind breaking material. He won't use Pam against me, I know that for sure. There's no possible way for him, or anyone else for that matter, to know that we're friends. That leaves me with nothing more than being a (questionable) workaholic with an almost nonexistent personal life.

If that's all that he could possibly have against me, then why are my nerves such a mess?

I roll over for what seems like the ten thousandth time tonight and stare blankly at the wall. I need sleep, I know that. It's not ideal for me to walk in there tomorrow with purple shadows beneath bloodshot eyes. It wouldn't be good for me mentally either. I needed to be alert and focused, both of which stem from the benefit of sleep.

Unfortunately, sleep seems like an unrealistic daydream at this point.

The Joker would pry at my lack of sleep, but then again, he'd pry at everything else too. Even if I don't have a horrible, traumatic life, he’s probably going to pick and pull at every aspect of the life that I do have. He'll dissect me, just like he did the other doctors, except he's already had time to analyze me. A little over a month to be exact. That thought isn't exactly comforting.

I didn't give him much to pick and pull at during our first encounter, nor did I give him much to go off of from my answers to his personal questions, but he had seemed content at the time. I doubt that he’ll stay content with vague, useless answers for long, though. Or maybe they weren't useless, maybe he had already learned what he wanted to know about me from them.

The knot of nervousness in my stomach tightens as I roll onto the other side of the bed. Personal questions from the Joker are inevitable, but I’m confident in my abilities to avoid and vaguely answer them. However, I’m not as confident in how long my abilities would last. The Joker might grow tired of me dodging questions and who knows what he might do then. I don't have anything to hide, but I don't exactly want the details of my personal life out in the open either.

I glance over at the clock. 3:23 am. In five hours, I'll be at work. In only six and a half, I'll be in a room with the Joker. The thought of that alone wards off any further possibility of a restful night.
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