House Of Cards

"…To change the minds of men can be simpler than it may seem, and once a person has seen the fallacy for what it is, they can never return to belief. Starve the nation of minds, and it will fall more easily than a house of cards."

- Anonymous

1. Group Therapy

"Thus Sir, you see what human nature craves:

Most men are cowards, all men should be knaves."

- A Satire Against Reason and Mankind, lines 168-9,

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester

Harley winced as the buzzer went off behind the huge steel door. It signaled her clearance to proceed through the checkpoint, into the inner sanctum of Arkham – in a way, it signaled her entrance through the door of a new career, a new chapter in her life. She was happy about that. She just wished it wasn't so loud.

She heard the locks clinking inside the door and it opened, revealing an orderly in white scrubs waiting to escort her through the final desk checkpoint, the one that separated her from all her future patients. He held out a big, muscled hand as he introduced himself.

"Adam Lowitz. Welcome to Arkham, Doctor."

"Harleen Quinzel. But you can call me Harley. In fact, I'd prefer it." She offered her own hand, and he shook it good-naturedly.

"Well, welcome to Arkham Institute, Harley. Although I think our superiors would prefer if I called you by your title. At least while we're on the job." He glanced over at the desk, where a woman with a clipboard was getting up to approach them. "Speaking of superiors…." Adam moved off to the side as the tall, dark skinned woman tucked the clipboard under her arm and offered Harley a firm handshake of her own.

"Doctor Quinzel?" Harley nodded. "I'm Doctor Leland. Glad to see you made it up here all right. Follow me, and I'll show you around – I'll have to ask you to leave your purse here at the nurse's station." She indicated a row of cubbyholes behind the white uniformed woman who was answering phones. Harley smiled as she handed over her bag.

"Gotta make sure I won't try and break anyone out, right?" Dr. Leland gave her a look that may have masked a grin.

"You'd be surprised what some of these prisoners can do if they get a hold of anything from the outside. Now. Our offices are all along this hall; mine is just to the left of the nurse's station. Yours will be the last one on the right – I'll take you to get settled in after we see the patients. I want you to observe one of our group sessions today, get a feel for the people you'll be working with." Harley grinned excitedly. She was positively giddy at the prospect of working with some of Gotham's most …interesting minds. Harley followed Dr. Leland toward the final steel door, framed by a metal detector. Her superior turned. "Did they give you your clearance badge?"

"Got it," Harley answered, holding up the plastic-jacketed ID card on the breakaway lanyard around her neck – Dr. H. Quinzel, Psychiatric Intern. Fingerprint, barcode, personal information, prerequisite ugly photo. She had taken the photo yesterday in a beige blouse that she now realized made her look washed out, and the photographer had given her no time to smooth her hair and no warning to smile. She hated the way the picture had turned out, but – she admitted resignedly – at least it looked better than her driver's license photo.

"Good," Dr. Leland was saying. "You'll have to scan it before you go through to the cells." And having passed through the metal detector, Dr. Leland held her own badge up to the scanner, which beeped cheerily, reminding Harley of that little robot from the Star Wars movies. Harley turned and waved to Adam the orderly, and then followed Dr. Leland through the detector, scanning her card and receiving a cheery beep in return. The buzzer sounded again, and the door swung open, revealing the dark corridors that would soon come to dominate Harley's new life.

He sat on the edge of his bunk in the semi-gloom, listening to the approaching click-click of two pairs of high heels; the sound bled into his cell through the tiny rectangle of glass imbedded into the thick metal door. It was double layered, with metal reinforcements woven in a diamond pattern between the panes. The window in the wall opposite was reinforced in the same way; he liked the darkness, of course, but he kept the curtains open in the late evening so the purple light cast bright violet diamond shapes on the floor in a harlequin pattern.

The bunk creaked beneath him as he rose and walked over to the door. He had been cooperative enough when Batman had brought him in that they hadn't bothered with restraints. Other than the reinforced doors and computer locks, of course. The irony of his own phrasing amused him, and he cackled eerily. No, he admitted as the laugh died away. He was glad they hadn't put him in the jacket. His arms got cramps in them just from looking at it, and besides – it was that sick, ugly off-white color. That was what he hated most about this place, the nauseating… white… sterile environment. He always felt like an amoeba under glass, surrounded by white featureless countertops and gloved hands, and not a germ of inspiration to be had. But then, they had to keep him contained, didn't they? He was a virus, and Society was a big juicy cell waiting to be invaded.

The jumpsuits for the High Security ward were green, though, instead of nasty white. So that was something, at least.

He pressed his face to the glass and grimaced out at the hallway. That's when he saw her.

"Well, hello, Beautiful…."

Harley clung close to Dr. Leland as they marched down the dimly lit corridor; one of the prisoners in the first cells had jumped at the glass and snarled as they passed by, as if on cue, and it had unnerved her a bit. She cleared her throat nervously, painfully aware of the sound her heels made on the tile.

"So, this is the Maximum Security ward…." It sounded like a cliché movie line, and Harley figured Dr. Leland thought so too, judging by the mild amusement on her lips as she answered.

"I know we make it even worse by the dim lighting, and all, but Doctor Arkham likes to squeeze what he can out of the budget, which translates to fewer light bulbs wherever possible." She stopped to point some things out to the new intern. "Okay, that hallway down there that intersects this one leads to the group room. We'll be headed there in just a minute. The phone here on this wall can call the security desk, and it's also linked to the intercom system – and here's the panic button beside it. In the event of an escape, an attempted escape, or a patient causing someone bodily harm. Got all that?" Harley nodded absently, half mesmerized by the patient in the cell behind Leland. He was leaning his thin, sallow face nonchalantly against the glass, dark hair falling into his eyes and a smirk playing on his full lips. He winked at her just as Dr. Leland turned. "Hmph," she snorted, shaking her head disapprovingly. "That would be Dr. Jonathan Crane. Otherwise known as the Scarecrow."

"Scarecrow?" Harley gasped. Her first half hour at Arkham, and she was already meeting the real celebrity criminals. She looked at him again. Sort of cute, if it wasn't for his resemblance to a jerk she had known in high school. Dr. Leland saw her face and stopped her in her tracks.

"And let him be your prime example. He got a bit too… close… to his work, and now he is a piece of work. That's your lesson as a newbie, Dr. Quinzel. Don't get wrapped up in it, don't let yourself get sucked in by any of the patients. Because believe me – insane they might be, but some of them can be exceedingly persuasive."

"No problem, Dr. Leland." And Harley meant that. She did.

"Hmm…. Hm – hmm, hmm…." Someone was humming behind her, in one of the cells on the left of the hallway, vaguely tuneful but not any recognizable song, a strange rich baritone, low and raspy and… very intriguing. It sent a surprisingly pleasant tingle up Harley's spine. What had Dr. Leland just said? Harley realized that she didn't remember.

The Joker nodded against the glass, leaving a smear where his skin grazed the surface; the sweet treat in the doctor coat was walking over to his cell. The humming had gotten her attention, good… good…. He kept up the tune under his breath, feeling chipper today and inclined to preserve that feeling. He slid his dark eyes up and down her figure and chuckled down in his throat. Nooootttt… a psychiatrist, he thought. Not this one. At least, not your standard issue. She looked like a Doctor Barbie stepped out of her plastic packaging. Dirty blonde hair up in that classic Barbie ponytail, brown roots just beginning to show through, bright blue eyes – looking very large and nervous behind ugly eyeglasses that did nothing for her face…. And she was built a little like a Barbie, too. As much as a real woman could be without snapping at the waist. This gave him the mental image of a pair of doll's legs running around like a beheaded chicken, streaks of poorly color-matched blood painted onto the rubber, and he giggled. And then chuckled. And then lost himself in a wave of hooting laughter.

Out in the hall, the Little Doctor stopped, and he realized the laughter had frightened her. Just a bit. Good. That was how he wanted her – new, young, unsure, and frightened. But just a bit. He put a hand to his lips in mock apology and motioned for her to keep coming. And she did. Ooh, too curious for her own good. That could be useful. Curiosity KO'd the feline, after all.

Thinking the word "feline" made him look back at her, at her body, at how she moved. She was petite, and athletic, although he could see it was an athleticism of the past, that she hadn't used certain once-developed muscle groups in a few years. She had delicious curves. The thin fabric of her pinstripe skirt – just a half inch tighter than appropriate, just half inch higher than professional – clung lovingly to every rise and fall, every hill and hollow of her perfect little rump, and her thighs looked lightly muscled but still soft and yielding. And her calves were gorgeous. The Joker jammed his tongue against the scar tissue inside his right cheek, where it couldn't get any ideas. Never on the first date. No, no. No need to scare her off yet; he wanted some time to play with her before she ran away screaming.

She's trying too hard, he thought as he appraised the rest of her. Trying toooo hard to be respectable; whether she is respectable or not remains to be seen, but people have always believed that she wasn't. The Doctor Barbie bit, the hair, the coat, the glasses, the pinstripes… that's all an act. A very carefully maintained display. He giggled gleefully inside his head. Oh, so fun to tear off people's masks.

Dr. Sweet Treat stopped outside his door, and he hid his amusement as she stared at him the way a preteen girl would stare at a Jonas Brother. Star-struck. Of course, what fresh meat intern wouldn't be? He was the most famous (infamous?) inmate in all of Arkham. She looked as though she was anxiously waiting for him to speak, so he pretended to ignore her.

"Ahem," she prompted, and the Joker almost vomited at how… cute… and girlish it had sounded, even muffled through glass. "I believe that gesture of yours meant you had something to say to me," Harley continued. She brought her arms together in front of her, clasping her hands, trying to look severe and professional. The Joker looked up a fraction, and noticed how the position forced her cleavage a little further up and out of the white coat. Ah, now that's more like it.

He dragged his tongue across his lips slowly, pretending to be thinking of something very important. Then he pressed his face and hands against the glass. "Monkey, monkey, bottle of beer; how many monkeys have we here?"

"Pardon?" Harley replied, a little unnerved by the nonsense statement. The Joker wasn't known for that sort of incoherent speech. Upon seeing her reaction, he flung himself back from the glass, cackling hysterically.

"Woo… ho… ha ha ha! You... you should have seen— Ha! Oh, you…. ha ha!" Harley pursed her lips as the form behind the glass went into a little hopping sort of victory dance.

"Really? I had expected more from someone of your philosophical caliber," she scolded, crossing her arms. The Joker's expression changed in a second, his brows drawing together dramatically.

"Rookie mistake, Doc," he smiled against the glass. "You can't expect chaos."

"Doctor Quinzel?" Harley jumped as she heard Dr. Leland's heels on the tile behind her. "We need to move on to the group session room now, Dr. Quinzel. There will be a doctors' conference before the patients are brought in, and some of the participants need to have their treatments administered first." She said this last part in a firm tone, with a glare in the Joker's direction. He made a face at her as the two women turned toward the far hallway. "Scare you?" Dr. Leland asked as they walked away.

"Of course not," Harley assured her. "He just…."

"Didn't do what you assumed he would?" Leland finished. "Trust me, Dr. Quinzel. They never do." She patted Harley's shoulder and led the way into the hallway intersection, starting another speech about hospital group session policy. Harley hung back a step. She peeked around the corner, looking back at the row of cells on the far wall. The Joker's face was still against the glass, watching her, and as they made eye contact again, he gave her a wink.

"Aaaaahrright…." Dr. Johnstone sighed in a tone that was thick, nasal, and heavily Midwestern. As he spoke, he waggled his clipboard up and down in his hand, as if trying to "bend" it like children did when they swished a pencil back and forth in their fingers. He was one of the four doctors sitting in on the group therapy session, and his clipboard held the roster of patients who would be attending. "Let's see what brand of craziness is on today's menu." He flipped a page. Harley stared at him, one eye slightly narrowed; when he said the word "brand," it came out "breey-and," and she felt sure that if she had to listen to his intense Midwest-ese all session, she would go crazy. She tried to pinpoint the accent; Wisconsin? Maybe Minnesota? "Crane, Jonathan," Dr. Johnstone read, and Harley cringed. Definitely Wisconsin. "Jones, Waylon; Tetch, Jervis; Wesker, Arnold; aaaannnd, Mr. I Don't Have A First and Last Name, the Joker." Harley was in the middle of wincing at the way Johnstone put a "y" in the word "have" ("hyave?" Really?) when she heard him read the last name on the list.

The Joker. Gotham's public enemy number 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. And she had just met him, within her first 15 minutes on site. Somewhere down inside her professional exterior, Harley shivered with glee. She had spoken to the Joker – and seen the face behind the makeup. Indubitably the most thrilling moment of her career thus far. And since her career thus far only spanned about 48 hours, she was pretty sure she could top it without much trouble. After all, she was about to be in the same room with him, and a host of other celebrity criminals, separated only by about 6 feet of space across the circle. That deep-inside part of her shivered again. If only Rickett could see her now.

Insanity may be in many cases a social construct, Harley remembered him droning one day from his podium, but there are instances when crazy ceases to be a state of mind and becomes a physical reality. Dr. Rickett, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Gotham State University, was a short, balding man with an intensely pointy nose and beady eyes that reminded Harley of her friend Nikki's pet ferret. Harley had taken one class under him, Criminal Psychology, the spring semester of her sophomore year. They met in Lukersen Hall, a stuffy annex building at the back of campus that hadn't been renovated since the '60s. Harley sat at the far right of the front row, next to the window – mostly so she could stare out at the grove of oak trees behind the Hall when Rickett's lectures became too pompous to be borne. Dr. Rickett was full of himself (and full of a couple other things Harley could have mentioned), and his classes were often a recital of how wrong every other theorist in the field was in comparison. Mostly Harley ignored his ramblings, but that day she had been forced to turn from her view out the window and speak out.

You see, class, in many of the most extreme cases of criminal insanity, the abnormal behavior is occasioned not by a mental disconnect but by an actual physical deformity of the brain. Actually, I would say this is true of most insanity verdicts. In such cases, there is little to nothing that can be done for these patients in the therapeutic sense. In other words, there are some kinds of crazy you just can't fix.


Yes, Miss Quinzel?

I don't mean to criticize your lecture delivery, but surely there are better terms one can use in the description of these cases. I find the word "crazy" to be somewhat offensive.

Titters, nods, and other mumbling from the class. A few people stirring in their seats. Yeah, Doc, says the bearded football player in the back row. Aren't we supposed to say "mentally ill" or something?

That is the politically correct term, yes, Dr. Rickett concedes. However, I find political correctness to be overrated, Mr. Bowman. As I find many concepts concocted by the bleeding hearts club that currently runs the APA. No, class, I do not use the term "mentally ill" because calling someone "ill" implies that they can be cured. And simply put, most of the cases we will review in this course are not curable. Their very physiognomy dictates that—

Their physiognomy? More murmurs as Harley sits up straight and puts down her pen.

YES, Miss Quinzel. Biological factors that dictate behavior. The—

So according to your view of things, Dr. Rickett, insanity in these cases is completely biological. (A nod from the professor.) Which means that theoretically, if I follow your concept, one could correctly diagnose, even predict mental illnesses by examining a person's brain. Is that a logical step to make? (Whispers from the back of the classroom.)

Miss Quinzel, I—

Doctor, what you're saying amounts to a revival of phrenology!

Miss Quinzel, I hardly think that my theory is quite so simple or so crude as to be compared to the feeling of skull bumps. (Getting flustered now. More students whispering and giggling in the room's corners as Harley comes halfway out of her seat.)

It is EVERY bit as crude as skull bumps! Doctor, you just finished saying that the structure of the brain is the only component in most of these cases, that these people are basically doomed to suffer from these mental illnesses based on the anatomy of their cerebral cortex! Listen to yourself!

Compose yourself, Miss Quinzel.

Anatomy is NEVER the only component, Doctor Rickett. (Coming out of her seat now.) In every case, even the most obviously influenced by biology, there is still at least one environmental or experiential factor that can be pointed out as contributing to the patient's mental decline in some way. If you ignore that… if you ignore one clue among the many, then how can you say you have done your best work as a psychologist?

Take your seat, Miss Quinzel!

Doctor, do you have any interest at all in helping the people you study? How can you go into this field having such a bleak outlook? If there's no help for them, then why study psychology in the first place?

Are you saying, Miss Quinzel, that there is a therapeutic option for every patient? (A pompous look on his face. Classmates all turning to look at her.)

Yes, Dr. Rickett. That is what I am saying.

All of them? You hold out hope that there is a therapeutic cure for every psycho in our criminal justice system? Men like Dahmer? Manson? Bundy?

YES. (Crossing her arms.) Maybe not a complete cure, obviously. But therapeutic options, treating the environmental issues, the emotional factors, that could better these patients' conditions… yes. Absolutely. And if you reject that concept, then perhaps it's a good thing you're stuck teaching sophomores at a rundown state college instead of practicing psychiatry in the field.

A hush over the class. Rickett looking more like a rodent than ever. Then, from the back of the room, a few students clapping. Murmurs of "Tell him, Harl!" and "Preach it, babe!"

Shut UP, all of you! (The class goes quiet as Rickett comes around in front of the podium.) Miss Quinzel, let me tell you something. You may be an idealist. I've seen your kind before. Just like the rest of the bleeding hearts club. A fix for everything, a cure for everyone. Well let me give you some advice. If you go anywhere in this field, anywhere at all, you will drop your idealistic notions quicker than Bowman back there dropping a tackle. (Hey! Bowman grumbles, and is ignored.) If you don't drop them, if you continue with your noble but quixotic quest to cure all the poor, traumatized criminals of the world… I think you'll find you don't make it much further than the bus depot, waiting for a greyhound to take you back to your mameleh in Jersey or… Grover's Corners, or… whatever other backwater it is you came from. That will be all. Class dismissed.

All the students filing out, shuffling papers, mumbling about the argument. Missy Godsey getting up from the seat behind her and putting a hand on her shoulder.

Don't listen to him, Harl. He was way out of line and everybody knew it. Especially that last part. That was practically an ethnic slur. Want me to call the ACLU for you? Or at least the Dean? Get him reprimanded or something?

A little grin at that. Nah, she replies. No ACLU for me. Too much paperwork.

They head out into the hall and hit the stairs. Missy shrugs her bag higher on her shoulder. Look on the positive side, kiddo, she grins. At least he didn't call you a kike or make a Holocaust joke.

They laugh together. Harley sticks her tongue out at Missy. As they pass Rickett's office in the first floor hall, she glares at the door. Putz, Harley grumbles, and flips him the bird. I'll show him. In a few years, I'll be working with the biggest, most complex cases, the ones they put in textbooks. And he'll be reading about me to his classes in this dump. I'll show him.

I'll show him, she was still thinking. She'd been repeating it to herself all through her undergrad at GSU, and all through her graduate work, and now on the first day of her internship she was saying it again like a mantra – like her grandfather repeating psalms – as she listened to Dr. Leland review case files beside her. If Rickett could see her now, he would see a collected, well-prepared, if somewhat nervous, psychiatric intern about to begin an interview with four of the most complex mental cases the country had ever seen. And where was he now? Harley allowed herself a smug half-smile. Probably still sorting through badly cited research papers in his tiny Lukerson Hall office. She was showing him, all right.

"Doctor Quinzel?" Harley jumped, startled out of her thoughts. Dr. Leland was holding out a folder, which Harley took with an apologetic smile. Leland shuffled the folders in her own lap as she leaned over to brief Harley on the paperwork. "That's a summary of the case files for the patients we'll be seeing today in group. Sorry we can't give you full information, but you'd have to be fully assigned to the cases for that. These short files will give you everything you need to understand what's going on in our therapy today – limited background, diagnostic information, and treatment regimens. Notice that I said to know what's going on. And that's strictly all you'll be doing. No participation, not at this stage of your internship. Got that?" Harley flipped the folder open, scanned the first page, and smiled up at Leland professionally.

"Got it, Dr. Leland." She thought about saluting, decided it would look childish, and went back to scanning the papers. Maybe there would be some interesting tidbits buried in all the banal medical spiel that she could use to gain insight in the discussion.

CLUNK. Harley's head snapped up as the double doors of the group room swung inward, pushed by the backsides of the two orderlies leading in the first patient. She noticed one of them was Adam Lowitz, from the front desk earlier, and she gave him a grin. He didn't return it; his attention was completely taken up by his charge, and a moment later Harley saw why.

Walking with long strides, as if he were leading the orderlies and not the other way around, the Joker sauntered over to the group circle and began nodding to everyone in mock-polite greeting. Harley held her breath. He was even more fascinating here than he had been close up in his cell; there, the dimness had only upheld the mystery of his character. Here in the fluorescent lights of the group room, it was like seeing him for the first time. His hair, washed and disinfected but still stubbornly retaining traces of its green dye, hung in relaxed waves that framed his face and spilled over his ears. Harley thought she could detect a hint of the natural color under the mossy tint – perhaps a dark blonde? One curl dangled loosely in front of his eyes, which were ringed with dark circles that stood out distinctly from the pallor of the rest of his face. The eyes were brown – a dark, rich brown that demanded attention, as did the strong eyebrows which were already raised in curious amusement. But what Harley was really looking at, what she couldn't stop looking at, were the scars. As part of his costume, covered in paint and surrounded by the theatricality of the rest of the Joker's persona, the scars had almost seemed to become characters themselves; but here, in the white, unflattering lights of the Arkham group room, Harley could see them for what they really were, and she shuddered. On the right side of his face, curving up in a perfect imitation of a cartoon smile, the first scar seemed almost superficial. Whatever had cut it had made a fairly clean slice up from the corner of his lips to the center of his cheek, and the wound had healed with only minor puckering at the edges. Connected to it was a smaller, Y-shaped scar that reached over to touch his bottom lip, pulling it down slightly, giving his face its characteristic look of amused displeasure. That one looked like it had healed fairly cleanly as well. It was the left cheek that made Harley cringe. That scar was shorter, deeper, its edges jagged, as if the job there hadn't been done so confidently or so completely as the other side had been. Its poorly-healed edges pulled at the skin of his face in strange ways, puckering up the corner of his mouth and adding to the illusion that he was always about to break out in a grin. Harley looked his face over and decided that he might actually be about to grin, but after seeing the scars in such detail, she wasn't sure she wanted to see that. Watching all that scar tissue wrinkle up as his cheeks lifted in a smile… that might be too much.

Leaving his orderlies behind, the Joker strolled over to the group circle nonchalantly and lifted his cuffed hands in greeting, as if he were simply joining some friends at a café for lunch. "Ah, …howdy, folks," he quipped. Reaching out with a slippered foot, he hooked one of the chairs by its leg and turned it around, sitting down solidly and scooting it into the circle – directly across from Harley. Stretching his legs on either side of the chair's bars, he propped his elbows up on the backrest and laid his head on his hands, eyeing Harley with a look of cool humor. "What's up, Doc?" Harley's mouth dropped open, but she remembered herself and looked to Dr. Leland for direction. Leland's eyebrows came together and she glared at the Joker in annoyance.

"You are not to address Dr. Quinzel during this session, is that clear, Joker? She is beginning an internship and is sitting in on this session on an observatory basis only. Do you understand me?" The Joker smiled winningly at her and saluted.

"Read ya loud and clear, Captain." He settled his head comfortably on his hands and fell silent. But as the other patients filed into the room, Harley noticed that his eyes remained focused straight ahead, across the circle, watching her every movement. And as soon as Dr. Leland turned her attention to one of the other patients, the Joker lifted his head and gave Harley a covert, conspiratorial wink, followed by a cheeky grin.

It was 8:00 that night when Harley slipped into her new office and closed the door behind her, leaning against it for a moment to take in her surroundings. She hadn't had a chance to do more than duck her head in and peek after the group session – the Joker's behavior had caused such a stir that the doctors had decided to pull her aside in Leland's office to discuss it. They were concerned. The Joker had shown an unusual interest in her, trying to draw her into the session multiple times, and they had finally just ended the session early and taken him back to his cell. While they had been pleased that she had remained professional and hadn't responded to him, they had decided that it might be best if she didn't sit in on any more sessions with him for a while. A long while. That was upsetting, but she could deal with it. For a while. And she would still be allowed to observe other doctors' sessions with him from behind glass.

It was mostly dark in the office – the window cast only a small grid of moonlight onto the grey carpet, and just the area around it was lit by its pale nimbus – but she could make out shapes of furniture in the shadows. A desk, empty and waiting for her clutter, lurked to her right; behind it, an ugly ergonomic desk chair; a half-stocked bookshelf loomed to her left – she saw what she thought might be the latest DSM at the end of the top shelf, and she had plenty of files and books in her apartment to fill up the others. It would do… although it needed a homey touch or two. Some art, a plant, a cushion for the chair, maybe? And a rug. Definitely a rug. Speaking of….

Slipping her purse off her shoulder, she tossed it onto the corner of the desk and reached down to unlatch her shoes. They were stilettos, and she found herself wondering for the tenth time that day why she had chosen them from the pile in the closet that morning. Why not a tasteful flat? Or if she just had to show off her calves, why not a wedge heel? She rolled her eyes, kicked the heels off, and dug her toes into the carpet, testing it. Oh yeah, she would most definitely be bringing in a rug to put under her chair. Black. Plush. She nodded decisively to herself, considered the idea of also getting a nice mirror, and agreed with that too. Now she just had to get settled in. It was late, and she'd have to get home soon before the real nasties came out of the woodwork in the Narrows, but she could at least poke around in the desk, maybe try out the chair. And she wanted some quiet time to sit and think about the day.

The session she had observed had been a rather new development at Arkham; the institution had been, due to the opinions of its director, stuck firmly in the traditional camp for decades, but that had begun to change with the arrival of Dr. McKnight the previous year. McKnight, Dr. Leland had told her, was young, spirited, and more than willing to experiment with newer methods that he pulled from the latest psychological journals. It was his spirit of innovation (and his brilliant skill at negotiation) that had convinced Arkham to let him begin using psychodynamic group therapy with some of the hospital's more intense patients. Leland had told him that if he thought he could safely pull off group sessions with the personalities in this institution, then he was as crazy as the patients. Arkham had said that it was all "sentimental fluff and nonsense," but if McKnight wanted to try it, he was welcome to. They had been conducting the therapy groups weekly ever since, and to the surprise of the established staff, especially Dr. Leland, progress was beginning to show. Harley liked Dr. McKnight before she even met him – he was willing to push the envelope to help his patients, and that was something she could get behind one hundred percent.

Dr. McKnight had been the fourth doctor present for the session that day. Harley had sized him up from across the circle as the other patients were escorted in. He was young – not much older than Harley herself – and he had a bright look about him that the older doctors had largely lost. Part of that look came from his large eyes. They weren't excessively big, but they were much rounder, more open than most people's eyes, and they were a lively, distinct blue. He had grinned at Harley and given her hand a vigorous shake when she'd met him, and she had just enough time to decide that his eyes reminded her of Jake Gyllenhaal before she had been ushered off to meet Dr. Johnstone. Harley felt a lot better about her internship after that. At least she wouldn't be stuck in this prison with no one to talk to at lunch.

"Okay, everybody," he had begun as the session got underway. While Dr. Leland, as the ranking physician, would be conducting the actual therapy, McKnight had the best rapport with the patients, and so he was always called upon to get everyone settled in. "Since everybody's here, let's get started by welcoming our observer, Dr. Quinzel." He had nodded in her direction, and after each of the patients had acknowledged her with a nod or a smile (or in the case of the Joker, another saucy wink), he had proceeded to introduce her to each of the patients and their particular therapeutic needs. To her immediate right had been Jonathan Crane – the Scarecrow – who, in light of his personality, build, and background, had been deemed the safest patient to seat next to the rookie. On the other side of Dr. Leland had been Waylon Jones, a humongous specimen with a thick Louisiana drawl and an awful case of epidermolytic hyperkeratosis – a nasty-looking skin condition that had earned him the nickname "Croc" among the other patients. He had been admitted after bludgeoning a sewer worker to death last month. Across from Harley, to the Joker's left, had been Jervis Tetch, a rather mousy-looking man with tiny eyes who had apparently suffered a complete breakdown and kidnapped a co-worker after she had refused his offer of a dinner date. On the Joker's other side had been Arnold Wesker, a timid older man who seemed to fold up at all his joints in an attempt to make himself look as small as possible. He had been a professional ventriloquist until the loss of his job had triggered a psychotic episode – during which he had mowed down his old manager and the whole theatre staff with a Tommy gun and then blamed it on his puppet, which he claimed was sentient and evil. He had been diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder, with at least two identified alternate personalities. Wesker had been the focus of that day's session, Harley had been informed, with the goal being to draw him out of his shell and begin engaging the other patients. They had begun by discussing each patient's individual goals and progress – a rather disjointed conversation in which Tetch had compared Dr. Leland to the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, Jones had rambled something in a disjointed mixture of Creole and English (in which Harley wanted to believe she heard the words "Bubba Gump"), Wesker had mumbled something about being very pleased with every aspect of his therapy thank you very much, the Joker had found a way to somehow make everyone else's statements sound like complete idiocy, and Crane had refused to participate. That took up about fifteen minutes of the session, at which point Dr. Leland decided that she had had enough of the pre-show, and would Dr. McKnight kindly get on with the main circus act?

"Okay," Dr. McKnight had begun then, gesturing for quiet like a beleaguered middle school teacher. "Now in today's group, we're going to do a little work on how we interact with each other in certain situations. Does everyone remember what the rule is for how we should interact?" The group had been completely silent, at which point McKnight had turned to the big Cajun on his right and gestured to him. "How about you, Waylon? What's the rule?"

"Umm," Croc had mumbled, scratching the back of his neck in puzzlement. "Is she dat one abou' da always sayin' 'scuse me in a crowd?" The rest of the group had sniggered at that, and Dr. McKnight had smiled before prompting him again.

"No, I mean the rule for how we communicate with each other. Remember? From last session? 'We should always interact in a way that is not just good for us but… what?"

"Oh," Croc had grunted. "Not jus' good for us, but fo' de other one, too, hmm?"

"That's right, Waylon," Dr. McKnight had grinned, turning to the others. "We have to remember that just because we are communicating in a way that feels good or is appropriate for us, it doesn't mean that way feels good or is appropriate for the other person. So always consider what is good or appropriate for the whole group when you interact. All—"

"So, ah…," the Joker had interrupted, holding up a cuffed hand. "Does that mean if we all agree that having a naked chat session is appropriate, we can start stripping?"

"Hoo!" Croc had assented, proceeding to start tugging at the zipper of his jumpsuit. "I like dat idea mighty-fine! Dees scales, dey itch me somethin' fierce, dey do!" He had gotten the jumpsuit half unzipped before an orderly managed to stop him. Harley had looked over at the other doctors and had almost lost it laughing; Dr. McKnight had a look on his face like he had just swallowed a sour grape, Dr. Leland was irritably covering her eyes, and Dr. Johnstone had developed a seeming fascination with his pencil. Harley had hidden her laughter behind the folders in her hand and looked across the circle, just in time to see the Joker get out of his seat and start mimicking a strip-tease in the lap of a thoroughly disgusted Jervis Tetch. He had caught her glance peering over the folders at him, and had wiggled one dark eyebrow suggestively at her before allowing the other orderly to drag him back to his chair.

"Okay, come on, everyone," Dr. McKnight had begged with his head flat against his clipboard. "Let's try to get started without any more of those outbursts, what do you say?"

"Yeah," Crane had agreed indolently. "I could do without seeing any of you naked." Then, after a pause for thought, he had added, "Except perhaps Dr. Quinzel here."

"Yeah, come on, Doc," the Joker had put in with a snarky grin. "Be a good sport and show us some leg." The rest of the patients had all gotten a good laugh at that one (even Wesker, who had chuckled quietly into his hand and tried not to be noticed), and Harley had started to put on an indignant face until she realized that it was all a good joke to them. Most of them, anyway. As Dr. Leland had called the group back to order, Harley had time to note that the Joker's eyes were locked on hers in a way that was anything but a joke.

"That is quite enough, gentlemen," Leland was grumbling in a way that had made McKnight look like a bad substitute teacher. "I already told you that Dr. Quinzel is not to be addressed. If you can't follow simple instructions, maybe you'd all be better off back in your cells." She had let that threat sink in for a moment before going on. "Now as we said, today we're going to be working on your interactions in specific situations, especially you, Mr. Wesker. Today's group is going to be a controlled family reenactment." She had waited for a chorus of groans to subside, then she had continued. "Don't get all worked up, not all of you will have an active role each time. We will assign one or two roles for each scenario, just like usual. Now, Mr. Wesker, would you please tell us what we have been discussing in your individual sessions?"

"St…" the older man had begun muttering, not finding his words until Dr. McKnight had offered him an encouraging glance. "Standing up for myself," he had whispered. Harley had felt a little sorry for him.

"And why is that our goal, Mr. Wesker? You are learning to stand up for yourself because…."

"Be… cause…." He had faltered again until looking to McKnight for encouragement. "Because if I stand up for myself, I don't need Scarface to do it for me…." He had kept his head lowered the entire time he was speaking, and Harley had felt even worse. The poor old thing, she had been thinking as she glanced through the files she had been given. Apparently Scarface was the name of one of the old man's puppets (and the identity he had assigned to his more aggressive alter). The doctors believed that the alter was an active memory of Wesker's late brother that his brain had turned into an entity and had personified in the old-school wooden ventriloquist dummy, which Wesker apparently kept dressed like a 1940s style gangster. Wesker had a history of being extremely passive, to the point of retreating from social contact and allowing himself to be manipulated. McKnight believed that Wesker's brain used the Scarface identity to accomplish aggressive purposes and to complete tasks that Wesker himself would not do because of anxiety and his submissive personality. If Wesker could be taught to do these things himself, and in a safe and law-abiding way, then his need for Scarface (and thus Scarface himself) would disappear.

"Exactly, Mr. Wesker," Leland had said, flipping through her own file folder. "So today, we're going to work on learning how to stand up for ourselves in a constructive way, and your friends here in group are going to help us with that. Now. We are going to role-play a little scene today, and in that scene, Mr. Wesker, you are going to develop an appropriate reaction to intimidation from your brother. The situation is that your brother has taken your baseball glove. You would like to have it back. How about we have ….Mr. Jones. Would you like to pretend to be Mr. Wesker's brother for us?" She had looked at him expectantly, as if he couldn't dare refuse her. Croc had shrugged his massive shoulders slightly and looked back at her, a little bemused but compliant.

"Well… don' look much like 'im, me, but I s'pose I could make-believe…."

"That's good, Waylon," McKnight had offered reassuringly, patting the man's scaly wrist. "That's very good. So you can pretend to be Arnold's brother for today."

"And…." Leland had flipped through her charts again. "We will need someone to play the role of Mr. Wesker's mother. If—"

"Ooh, pick me!" The Joker's hand had shot up immediately, and there was a devilish gleam in his dark eyes. "I wanna be the mommy."

"No," Leland had responded quickly and deftly, prepared to steer the conversation in another direction.

"Oh, come on," the Joker had pleaded mockingly. "I can be the mommy, let me do it! Whaddya say, Arnie, can I be your Mommy Dearest? You know, I know a great trick you can do with a wire hanger—"

"NO, Joker," Leland had said firmly. The Joker's eyebrows had drawn together in mock indignance, and he had tilted his head to the side. He had caught a glimpse of Harley laughing behind her folder at his joke, and he took it as an initiative to continue.

"Hmph," he had grunted; then he had gestured toward Harley with cuffed hands. "Well then what about Hello Nurse over there? I'm sure Doctor Quinzel would make a great mommy…." He was looking her up and down from across the circle, and Harley had wondered again if maybe a tasteful pair of slacks would have been a better choice than the skirt. Beside her, Crane had lifted one eyebrow slightly.

"Yeah, I'd say she'd look good in an apron."

"And nothing else," Tetch had commented. The rest of the patients had laughed at that, Wesker again trying to hide his chuckles, and that time Harley had allowed herself to smile – although her level of discomfort had been on the rise. Funny or not, the Joker was giving her an odd, appraising look that she was not at all sure how she felt about. He had been grinning, but it wasn't just a grin at something amusing. It was the grin of a man at the end of a fast day who has been promised a whole roast lamb.

"ALL right, that's it," Leland had spat, turning a displeased gaze on Dr. McKnight. "You see what a circus you've put together, McKnight?" Turning back to the patients, she had slapped her folder closed decisively. "Mr. Crane, you can be Mr. Wesker's mother. Mr. Crane?" She had glared at him impatiently, but Crane had looked as though he couldn't be bothered to return her stare. Finally, Dr. McKnight had tried his hand.

"Jonathan, it would make everything much better if you participated. Just for a little while."

"Not until that hag starts calling me by my real name," he had smirked, looking past Leland in disgust. Dr. Leland had returned his gaze with an equal distaste that seemed almost personal.

"Mr. Crane, "doctor" is not a name, it's a title, and it's a title which no longer refers to those who have had their licenses shredded. Do I make myself clear?" Crane had simply remained silent, sitting with long arms folded and lazy eyes turned toward the window behind her. In the pause, the Joker had cleared his throat theatrically.

"So, ah… that means Doctor Barbie still doesn't get to be the mommy, right?" His look had been one of complete innocence, eyes wide and unassuming in their dark sockets. Leland's face had stiffened.

"NO, Joker. And if you don't stop interrupting with comments about Dr. Quinzel, I will have you sent back to your cell for the remainder of the day." The Joker had folded his arms huffily and leaned back in his chair. Then one eyebrow had risen, almost conspiratorially, and he had leaned forward toward Harley.

"Well, you can still be my mommy, Doc. I, ah… I only need to breastfeed for a couple more months, tops." Harley had felt herself blushing before she could stop it, and beside her, Leland had been digging her nails into her folders.

"That's it, Joker, you've—"

"Um, may I make a suggestion?" McKnight had stepped in, attempting to prevent any verbal altercations that would set the session back even further. Harley had thought he looked a lot like a matador stepping in front of an angry bull. "Since the Joker is so willing to participate, and he's obviously in a mood to speak and interact, why not just allow him to take the role? If he interacts inappropriately, we can always stop the session."

"Yeah, what he said," the Joker had agreed, gesturing toward Dr. McKnight convivially. Harley had thought for a moment that Leland would bury her face in her hands. Then finally she had relented.

"Fine, Joker. You can play Wesker's mother. Just…. Just don't make me have to remove you from the session." The Joker had laughed victoriously then, offering Wesker a little fist-bump, which the old man had returned timidly, and attempting to offer Tetch a high-five, which he had sneered at and refused. Left hanging, the Joker had simply shrugged and clapped his hands together.

"Okay, son…." He had given Wesker a mock-loving glance then. "Let's get this party started."

The remainder of the session had been more of the same. Wesker had been prompted to confront his "brother" in order to regain his glove (and Croc had needed prompting to remember when to say his part). The confrontation had been quiet and timid and all the things they had expected from Wesker; however, he had at one point phrased his desire for the glove as a statement ("Give me my glove. It's mine.") rather than a plea or a question, and that had been marked down as progress. The Joker had behaved himself admirably well for a while, which was also a sort of progress, although he had continued his inappropriate remarks at Harley's expense. That had been what had prompted the doctors to end the session. His final comment had been something about Harley's hips not lying, except on a bed, of course, and the Joker had been promptly hauled out of the room by both orderlies, cackling and hooting with wild laughter. The session had been brought to an abrupt close, and Harley had just had time to get a look in the door of her office before being called to the meeting which decided, in no uncertain terms, that her presence in live sessions was not good for the health of anyone involved. Harley sighed as she looked around the dark office. It wasn't good that she had lost direct access to the Joker, but observing from behind glass would do for now – until she could convince them otherwise. In the meantime, she realized, she had been reflecting on the day so long that now she really would have to hustle to get home before all the criminals started their rounds.

Picking up her purse and her shoes, Harley walked around the desk, mentally sketching out how she could decorate it. The silver name plate her mother had given her after graduation would go right there on the front; maybe a flower in a coffee mug; the picture of her, Erinn, and Mindy at Six Flags last year could sit on the corner; the matching pencil cup and folder tray set…. Harley stopped as she came around the edge of the desk, letting her purse and shoes slip out of her hand. There was something lying in her chair. A welcome gift, maybe? That would be a nice surprise after a long first day. Who from, though? That orderly, Adam? Maybe, she thought, but he would have been hard pressed to get it on his lunch break, since there were no shops nearby. She picked it up gingerly and held it up in the moonlight, and then a slow smile spread across her face.

It was a rose. Just one. Long stemmed, full of petals, the kind you always wanted to get on Valentine's Day but never did because all the ones in the flower shops got wilted and squished. The leaves were brilliantly green, as though it had just been cut, and the petals were so thick and soft they looked like red velvet. Harley was impressed. Whoever had left it obviously had good taste in flowers – and knew how to take care of them, too. The stem was freshly cut on a sharp diagonal, and drops of water still clung to the lower half. She held it up to her nose, and was impressed again. It didn't smell like a funeral home – which was her one complaint about flowers. Instead it had a sharp sweetness about it, the kind you usually only smelled in flowers that grew wild. It was a lively sort of smell, and she smiled, spinning the rose between her fingers cheerfully.

"A broch! Oy, vai!" she whispered vehemently, letting the rose drop to the desk. They may have good taste in plants, she thought in annoyance, but the putz forgot to snip off the thorns. She shoved her finger in her mouth, grimaced at the coppery tang of the blood, and glanced down at the rose. Her eyes had gotten better adjusted to the light, and now she could see the rows of spines along the crisp green stem. The one nearest to the bottom, the one she'd rolled her finger over, looked particularly long and vicious. Making a face, she explored the wound on her finger with the tip of her tongue. It had gone in pretty deep, but she didn't figure it had severed anything vital, so she supposed it could wait until she got home to get bandaged. She glanced around for something to wipe the blood on – and that's when she saw the scrap of paper lying in the chair where the rose had been. It was roughly square, and ragged on two edges; it looked like it had been torn from a small pocket notebook. Drying her finger on the hem of her jacket, Harley reached down and picked it up.

In the center of the paper, scrawled hastily but boldly in red Sharpie, was one letter – J.