Everything went back to normal... and I hate it. It's ridiculous and irrational, but I'm appalled at how easily things swung back into their natural grove once again. It's as if everyone is trying to pretend that the Joker had never even been at Arkham. I've tried to talk to the other doctors about him a few times, trying to analyze his escape, but they just brush it off. I understand that people want to move on, forget about the two dead doctors and the mayhem that the Joker caused, but never speaking about it? It's as if they're denying it ever happened.
My annoyance is short-lived because I've tried my best to push it aside, trying wholeheartedly to forget about the Joker entirely. I stuffed his file away in the archives, documented and put away my notes, and tried to move on like everyone else. I file my paperwork at eight am sharp every morning, attend my patient interviews, assess disorders, and perscribe medicines. But no matter how hard I focus my attention on helping all of my patients, he always lingers in the back of my mind.
Sleep became well known to me again, and my horrendous Thursday bouts of insomnia have vanished. He creeps into my dreams every once and a while, waking me up in a cold sweat, but that was it. Life's routine regained its course and the Joker became a memory. A very sharp, vibrant memory.
"You hung that up?" Selina demands on a mid-December evening. She'd stormed into my apartment minutes earlier, claiming that if she stayed in her apartment any longer that she would kill her obnoxiously loud neighbors. I follow her gaze to the painting hanging at the front of my living room. "Don't you find it creepy?"
"It's a nice painting," I reply with a shrug. The painting that the Joker made is nice, if you think about it. It's also kind of funny, considering that the very skillful artwork was painted by the hands of one of Gotham's greatest criminals.
"The Joker made that," she tells me slowly, as if I'm having a hard time comprehending. "The psychotic clown who shot your boss made that and you think it's nice?"
"Well, yeah," I reply honestly. "I didn't say that the artist is nice, I just said that the painting is."
"It depicts you with pigtails, a mask, and his creepy smile. Doesn't that bother you?"
"No, not really. If that's how he sees me, then that's how he sees me." Selina responds with a long, incredulous stare. "At least he was focusing on something other than toying around with people or slaughtering them," I point out. "At least he was making that instead of shooting people or slitting their throats with paperclips."
"Yeah, and what he was focused on was you," she replies flatly. She shakes her head and then shoots me another look. "Fine, fine, it's your house, you can hang your weird patient obsessions up. I won't say another word."
I don't reply for a long moment, then out of the blue I ask, "Is robbing a bank fun?"
She peers at me strangely for a moment. "I guess so. I've never really robbed a bank, aside from a few tiny neighborhood ones. Banks aren't really my style. Why?"
"Just curious," I reply, not really sure why that particular conversation between the Joker and I floated through my mind. "Is it the rush that makes it fun?"
"Uh, I suppose so," she replies contemplatively. "Personally, for me the fun part is afterwards when you're sitting there with all of your cash or jewels, knowing that you've successfully outsmarted the cops and gotten away with all the goodies."
"Ah," I muse in response. The Joker had said that the rush was the fun part, but then again, the Joker and Catwoman are two very different criminals. The Joker lives for the fun, he wouldn't do what he does otherwise. Catwoman, on the other hand, lives for proceeds. As we've discussed, she does enjoy it, but she isn't fueled entirely by the amusement of it.
Actually, from a psychiatrist's point of view, I have a feeling that she robs now mainly out of an addiction to it. It didn't start out that way, I'm sure she really had been doing it to get by at first, but now I think it has turned into a compulsion for her. She said that she could stop at any time, but I'm not so sure.
"You want to try it?"
"Try what?" I question.
"Robbing somewhere." I peer at her for a moment, making sure she's serious, which she appears to be.
"No, of course not," I brush off. I can't be robbing anywhere, I'm a respectable doctor. It's my job to keep people from doing stuff like that, not partake in it. "No, I was just wondering, that's all."
"Don't bullshit me, Harls. I know you want to," she tells me with a smirk.
"I do not," I defend diligently. "Getting caught doing something like that could ruin my career. I didn't slave four years of my life away in med school just to lose my license to practice over petty theft."
"Petty?" she repeats, sounding mock offended. "Stealing is an art! And I'm hurt that you think I'd allow you to get caught. You'd be running with the master and the master never gets caught," she informs me with a wink. "Besides, even if we did get caught, which we won't, you wouldn't lose your medical license over robbing some little convenience store."
"You're an even worse influence than Pam," I tell her pointedly.
"You know, something about you has changed," she notes. "I don't know what, but I like it. Before, we could hardly bring up crime around you without you changing the subject. Now, you want to partake in it."
"I do not," I repeat, waving her off. "Nothing in me has changed."
"Yes it has. Trust me, Harls, Pam and I can tell. I think it's got something to do with that little," she points to the painting, "patient obsession with yours."
"Don't be ridiculous."
She holds up her hands in defeat. "Fine, nothing's changed. But if something had, I'm not sure whether I should be thanking the Joker or getting mad at you."
"Mad at me?" I repeat incredulously.
"Yeah, for letting him have a greater criminal influence on you than Pam and I combined."
"Oh hush," I retort, throwing a couch pillow at her. She catches it and twirls it in her hands, grinning ear to ear at me. "Nothing in me has changed. I'm the same person I was before I started treating the Joker."
I am the same person I was before I started treating the Joker, I'm almost sure of it. He might've changed my sleeping habits and how I spent my evenings, but he didn't change me. How could he have? He couldn't have done it psychologically, I would've noticed that kind of a change. There were a few minor changes in my mental health from trying to understand and see things from his perspective, but nothing life altering, nothing noticeable.
"Whatever you say, Harls." She stares at me for a moment, eyebrows furrowed in whatever she's intent on finding in my expression. "You're sure you don't want to help me rob the store?"
"I'm sure," I tell her firmly. "It's too risky for me. I can't risk my career like that. Besides, what kind of example would I be setting for my patients if I went out, robbed a store, and then chided them for robbing?"
"I didn't ask if you should do it," she clarifies. "I asked if you wanted to."
It's clear what choice is the right one, but what I want isn't so clear. I hadn't actually thought about if I wanted to do it, I had just thought about which choice made the most sense. I didn't want to throw away my career or ruin any chance I have of making a respectable name for myself at the asylum, but I'm not so sure that I'm content with rotting behind paperwork all night.
"No, you go on ahead," I prod her, deciding that I ultimately shouldn't. "I've got a lot of work here I need to do. I've got to get these reports done and have them on Arkham's desk first thing in the morning. When he comes back from the hospital, I want him to see that everything's been taken care of."
"Harley," she says flatly. "Come on, live a little. Do you really want to waste away behind these files all night?"
"Well, no," I answer slowly. I don't necessarily want to be doing paperwork all night, but it needs to get done regardless of what I want.
"Then come on, let's go have ourselves a great night!" she enthuses. "You aren't going to get caught, I promise. I've got everything we need back at my place."
I stare at the papers on my desk hesitantly. I could get up early and do the paperwork, but I doubt that I'll have enough time to finish it if I do it that way. I know how Dr. Arkham would react to late paperwork, but he's still in the hospital with a bullet wound and I don't know when he'll be back. And I don't know how his temporary replacements, Dr. Strange and Dr. Leland, will react to late papers. I'm sure they'll cut me some slack since it'll be my first offense, but the paperwork's really not that hard to do in the first place.
"We don't even have to rob somewhere. We can just go to the bar," she offers. "You need to get away from this hospital work. You spend way too much time there, it's going to be the death of you."
"No," I begin, but my thoughts just now begin clicking together in my mind. The Joker had been right about me being afraid of ending up alone with my job as the only thing to show for my life. I don't want to wake up one morning and find that I'm some boring, uptight, old doctor with nothing exciting to reminisce about. Yes, I realize that robbing a convenience store is an incredibly reckless and extreme kind of fun, but I'd only do it once. Just once, I promise myself.
"Let's go rob a convenience store, but no one gets hurt," I accept. "I don't want whatever we steal either, it'll make me too paranoid having it around the house."
I stand up, but then the doubt starts to settle in. It twists itself into a tight knot around my stomach and begins to squeeze. "Maybe I shouldn't do this," I begin to renounce.
"No, Harls, don't back out on me now. It'll be that fun rush you were asking about, I promise."
That fun rush, huh? I do want to see what the Joker was talking about. The thought of what he described has kept me up wondering a few times. And maybe, if he came back to the asylum and I hinted subtly at my understanding of it, then maybe I could get him to open up to me more. Maybe I could get him to talk about some of his experiences. Besides those possibilities, I have a slight hunch that my subtle hints at experience might impress him as well. Not that I want to impress the Joker, but still, it could be helpful in therapy.
I feel slightly less conflicted once I convince myself that I'm doing this for work related reasons, despite the fact that it completely goes against what this entire thing is supposed to be about, which is what I want. Or maybe it doesn't go against that, considering I want the knowledge to use for my own benefit, even if it is a work related benefit. I want to do this, but I'm not sure if I'm wanting to do this for my own benefit.
Successful in confusing myself enough to give me a headache, I follow Selina out of my apartment and into her car. My thoughts grow no less rampant or demanding in the quietness of her car. In fact, they seem to be roaring even louder. Out of all of the contradictory thoughts that battle in my mind, the thing that worries me most is that these thoughts are about robbing. I'm trying to figure out why I'm about to commit a felony. A jail-worthy felony.
"I can't do this," I tell her. "I just can't, I'm sorry."
She looks at me worriedly, puts the car back into park, and shuts off the engine. "You don't have to if you don't want to, Harls. I'm sorry if I came off a little firm about it before, but you really don't have to do this."
"I'm doctor at an asylum for the criminally insane. I can't be setting those kinds of examples. I can't be chiding my patients on things I've done too," I explain. What were you thinking, Harls. You could've just thrown your whole career away. You could've just become a big hypocrite and for what? You don't even know!
"There goes that spark of change," Selina mutters.
"It's not just that either. I don't know if I would've been doing it for my benefit," I confide. "My thoughts are a little too jumbled up with people and possibilities and things that don't apply to my express benefit. My minds really cloudy right now, I don't think I should be doing anything drastic while it's like this."
She puts a hand soothingly on my shoulder. "A word of advice, if you're going to do something you're unsure about, just make sure that you do it just for you. Do it for you, that way you don't have any regrets. Take it from me, I know."
"Any time. You know cats are very wise animals, always watching, observing, and learning."
"I think you're mistaking them for owls," I reply with a smirk.
"Not a chance. Well, since we aren't going to rob anyone or anything, let's go to the bar," she suggests. "Actually, let's go to the Iceberg Lounge. Do you think Cobblepot will let us back there without Pam?"
"I don't know, maybe," I reply honestly. "It's only six o'clock, everyone's going to think that we're alcoholics. Even the Joker got that impression."
"We're simply avoiding work, which is exactly what you need to be doing. Another word of advice, it's never too early to avoid work."
About a month has passed since the Joker left and it's now Christmas Eve. His presence grows dimmer and dimmer at Arkham as my mind finally slips back into its old habits. There is one word that sums up my life nicely at this point: boring. My life revolves around paperwork and patients again. I've pushed those ideas of robbery out of my head and settled my attention on what I do best, which is my job.
As of right now, my job requires me to be at Arkham Asylum's annual Christmas party, which is being held on the elite floor of some fancy hotel and is undoubtedly being paid for by our benefactors. Tonight will consist of small talk, business, and lots of drinking. Even Dr. Jeremiah Arkham is here trying to make deals with the old and new potential benefactors, when really he should still be resting.
I grab a glass of champagne off of a passing waiter's tray and take a sip, watching the crowd of people. Everyone sort of blends together between the long dresses and the tuxedos. They all appear to be wearing something designer or boasting about diamond encrusted watches and whatnot, whereas I'm simply wearing my dress from last year, not that I'm complaining. It's a very pretty one shoulder dress, consisting of dark red chiffon and a satin black bow tied around the waist. I don't mind wearing it again and I doubt that anyone here will even remotely remember it.
"You look entertained," a voice from beside me observes. I turn my head to see Bruce Wayne, Arkham's biggest benefactor, standing beside me. "Hey, don't I know you from somewhere?"
"No, I don't think so," I reply politely.
"I'm Bruce," he tells me pleasantly, sticking out his hand. "Bruce Wayne." I shift my champagne to my other hand and shake his hand politely. Here comes the small talk.
"Harleen," I introduce. "Dr. Harleen Quinzel. I'm one of the resident psychiatrist's over at Arkham."
"That's where I know you from," he muses. "You saved Dr. Arkham's life."
"I'm glad someone remembers it that way," I mutter bitterly. Louder and clearer I add, "I was just doing my job."
"Aren't you the doctor who treated the Joker?" he questions curiously. I take a deep sip of champagne, downing half the glass.
"Do you think he's really, you know?"
"Crazy?" I finish for him. He nods. "I think that he's in need of psychiatric help, yes. Other than that, I can't really disclose anything else about the case to you for patient confidentiality reasons." Typically I would've leapt at the chance to talk about the Joker, but not with Bruce Wayne. People like Bruce don't even want to begin to understand what goes on inside a criminal's mind, they just want them off the streets. I don't blame them, but I have a certain annoyance towards people who just assume why people do the things they do. Then again, I'm assuming that Bruce Wayne thinks like that, aren't I?
"Right, right, sorry." He takes a sip of his drink, then asks, "So, how do you like working at Arkham? I bet it keeps you busy."
"It really does, but I don't mind." The work keeps me focused, preoccupied. It keeps my thoughts firmly rooted instead of going astray. "It can get a little chaotic at times, but I like it there. How's Wayne Enterprises doing?" I ask conversationally. I don't know much about the Wayne family business, only that it's incredibly profitable and generous to charities. I know that the company has various branches, the most famous one being technology, but other than that I'm clueless about Wayne Enterprises.
"Good, good. Our environmental science division has some prospects that are starting to look very promising and the technologies division is making a small expansion that I'm excited about, but other than that everything's pretty much the same." He takes another sip of his drink. "So, tell me, Dr. Quinzel, what do you think Arkham needs to make it a better place for rehabilitation?"
"You can call me Harley, everyone does." Even the patients do, I think to myself. "You'll have to ask Dr. Arkham, he knows all there is to know about what we're lacking in terms of numbers and such. I'm sure he's around here somewhere," I muse, eyeing the crowd.
"I'll talk to him later, but I want to know what you think the hospital needs from a staff's perspective."
"Um, well we never seem to have enough straitjackets," I offer. "Actually, we seem to be having a shortage of lots of things these days. To be honest, I think having the Joker at Arkham scared away some of the benefactors." It wouldn't surprise me if that thought was actually true. Why would anyone want to invest their money in a hospital where the patients slaughter the staff? The more doctors that die, the higher they've got to pay the ones who are still alive to keep working. Half of our paycheck is for the risk and the other half is for the actual work.
"That's a shame," Bruce announces. "I would think having the Joker there would bring in more money."
"Why's that?" I question curiously.
"Well, he's a special patient. I figured that people would pay more to keep him in there than off of the streets," he tells me with a shrug.
"I wish that was the case," I mutter. "Everyone wants to lock him, and all of the extremely dangerous criminals for that matter, away behind steel walls. They want them to remain in the sublevels of Blackgate, completely isolated and away from everyone and everything all together, regardless of if they need mental help or not."
"The other benefactors don't think that Arkham's doctors can reform them?"
"I don't know, some of them might. A fair share of Gotham doesn't even think that they need reforming. They just think that they're evil."
"But you don't?"
"Of course not. It's my job to try and help them," I reply. "Besides, no one is born evil and no one is ever purely evil. There is no distinct line between good and bad. Somewhere, somehow these criminals were made into what they are now. That's the root of it all. If the doctors can find that root and touch down on it, then yeah, I think that they can be reformed."
"Well if you think they can, then so do I. If you happen to see Dr. Arkham around, tell him I'll be waiting for him with a check. Nice talking to you, Harley."
"You too, Mr. Wayne."
"Please, call me Bruce." He gives me a bright smile, then disappears into the crowd of people. I stand there for a moment, stunned. Did I really just close a business deal with Bruce Wayne?
I shake those thoughts aside and take a sip of my drink, watching the crowd. Some people are dancing to the slow, classical tune and others are talking and drinking. The bar is relatively crowded, mainly by the potential benefactors. The seats placed sporadically around the room are mainly occupied by groups of gossiping girls. I don't recognize any of them, so I assume that they're all of the benefactor's dates. Among the faces that I don't recognize, which is a lot, I manage to find a few familiar ones.
I spot Dr. Leland talking to Amy, Dr. Arkham's wife. I'm tempted to go over there instead of standing alone in the corner, but something tells me that Amy's going to be entirely too thankful towards me. Ultimately, I have the choice of standing alone or fake smiling my way through a conversation with my boss's wife. I remain in my corner and down the rest of my champagne.
Somewhere near the elevator entrance to the ballroom, people begin to gasp. The sharp, loud sound of bullets being fired fills the room as several bullets hit the ceiling. Several people shriek and scream, filling the room with the sound of panic. Several chunks of ceiling fall from where the bullets hit and the sharp sound of shattering glass hits my ears as champagne glasses fall from the hands of shocked party goers. I peer over the crowd of people, trying to get a glimpse of the gunman.
"Good evening ladies and gentlemen," a voice calls. My heart skips a beat, then resumes a faster pace. I know that voice, I'd know it anywhere. "We are tonight's entertainment!"