The clock on her wall glared an awful 1 am in her face and Ally knew she had to get out of her office at some point. She shoved her chair back, grabbed her files, the ones she would look at in the morning, or maybe when she decided she was done with the tossing and turning and the haunting images of pictures and words and –
She closed the door behind her. Locked it. Sunk her hand deep into her pocket, holding the key there for a while, leaning against the door. She pressed the file against her chest, just a moment, just for another breath, as a shield, deflecting the madness of the Asylum. She was a psychiatrist, not a meta-human, and she needed protection from the minds she tried to heal, from the darkness she plunged herself into, the shadows that struck for her when she wasn't looking, the insanity dancing around her like the wind playing with leaves.
She took another deep breath before she started the long walk down the corridor, past the cells, towards the door, outside, outside, home. She liked pretending she was impervious. Head held high, polite, confident smile in place, hands on her file, not shaking at all.
The first step was the hardest.
She took it without hesitation. Always did.
The next step was easier. Another. Another. Inhale, exhale, walk.
Just a matter of placing one foot in front of the other and not stopping, never stopping, just going, just smiling, just looking in front of her. She could do that. She could pull this off.
She didn't need to glance through the windows to see who was in the cell. The numbers told her enough. She reduced them to numbers and files and patients and images in her mind, just enough to survive and move on, just enough to keep her sane.
She didn't need a visual. Had enough of those.
Always enough, always too much.
First, the Mad Hatter.
Poison Ivy and Harley sharing a cell. It was easier to keep them calm that way. Harley was like a stubborn child and giving her what she more or less wanted was easier. Of course, they couldn't let her in the same cell as the Joker, the room small and isolated, just white nothingness and if it wasn't so awful, she would allow herself to think, how is that going to improve anyone's sanity? When she had not gotten that, Harley had demanded to be with Ivy. Ivy had shown the same kind of determination.
Ally had talked to them, both of them, about it, being the last pawn in the row to get a say in it. To evaluate their mental stability, to see if they could pull it off, to see if it wouldn't result in a breakout, and she had told them that friendship, no matter how twisted and deadly, was a thing to be treasured. Alone was the worst state to be in, lonely in a cell made of dirty walls, two feet across, a bed that wasn't any softer than the ground, a tiny window.
After her report, they had told her she was right, that she had done an excellent job, but Ally knew the real reason, knew that her report never mattered in the first place because there weren't enough cells anyway, and pretending to do one of the inmates a favour was always a good thing and –
There weren't enough cells.
This corridor, endless, swallowed by the darkness, a corridor she could walk forever and not see the end of it, filled with cells, filled with the criminally insane, with people who killed because they loved it, because they thought it was right, because the voices in their told them so, each one the cause of infinite suffering, of deaths, of children lost, of widows crying at a rainy funeral, of men with no houses, destroyed buildings, and –
And there weren't enough cells to hold them.
Not enough. Too much.
Keep walking. Inhale. Exhale.
Joker's cell was empty. Escaped. Again. Killed three guards in the process. She knew those people, Thomas, Nathan and Brad. Good people. Fathers and sons and friends. She had laughed with them, they had welcomed her, said, don't worry, sweetheart, we'll protect you from the scary freaks, we'll protect you, we'll protect this city, showed her the building, waved at her when she walked by, smiled, laughed, loved.
None of it mattered anymore. They were dead now. And he would laugh about it, like a game, like a play, was it good, was it funny, did you enjoy it, Ally? He would laugh and not remember their names and she would look in his eyes, insane with glee and murderous intent and she would listen. Talk for hours, knowing every word was a lie, knowing the next three guards would be dead in a month or so and this would all start again. But she would be there, every time. Without fail.
Killer Croc's cell next to it. Heavily guarded.
She inhaled, exhaled.
Clayface's. Harvey Dent's. No. Two-Face's. Black Mask's. Bane's. Scarecrow's. The Riddler's. Cell after cell after cell after horror after tragedy.
There were so much of them, and it was not enough. She remembered her first day, standing in the corridor, thinking, this is the end, it doesn't get worse than this, and how she was proven wrong. This city, she knew now, it did something to people.
Perhaps they had been lost from the day the Joker rampaged through the city the first time. Because insanity was like a virus and it infected this city. Killed the innocents and made the worst stronger. Fed them and cradled them.
Or perhaps she shouldn't blame the Joker, but the man who fed his sick obsession. Perhaps they had been lost from the first day this man took it upon himself to rid the city of crime. Petty crime. Crime they could have lived with. But he put on a mask and a cape, he started bending and crossing lines and people like the Joker found a reason to live. This so-called Batman, the gasoline on the flame, the definition of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
She heard laughter behind her and she stopped dead in her tracks, swirling around, feeling so vulnerable in the hallway, surrounded by the very souls she tried to mend.
Joker was handcuffed, bleeding, dragged up by the very man she had been accusing earlier. He was laughing, raspy and horrible, a sound that haunted her still, or perhaps not any longer. She couldn't tell. The guard accompanying them pretended not to see him at all and Ally got that, really. It was easier that way. It was so much easier that way.
"Open cell 032," the guard announced. The cell opened with a loud 'beep'. The sound of metal scraping on the floor. Ally watched, suppressing her shudder.
Batman pushed Joker in, no remorse and not even remotely gently. All power and intimidation and anger. All muscle and stealth and control. She could have such a lovely talk with him, hours and hours of analysing and getting it wrong and losing all the pieces of her puzzle and going again. Hours and hours of silence and trying to know, trying to understand.
She inhaled. Exhaled.
"Closing cell 032," the guard announced once more. The cell closed.
Batman had already turned around and was leaving the corridor, swallowed whole by the shadows. The guard waved at Ally, walking towards her.
"At least we've got him back," he said, but she doubted he was talking to her. "Shall I escort you back to your car, Ally?"
She smiled warmly. Everyone had always been so fond of protecting her. She had never needed it more and never pushed it away harder.
"I will be fine, Steve," she replied smiling. "See you tomorrow."
She turned around and left, leaving the corridor behind, controlled and dignified. At her car, she leans on it heavily, taking a few deep breaths, erasing the sound of the her pounding heartbeat and laughter in her head.
"The files," a voice said, next to her, gruff and dark and low.
She jolted up, pressing her back against the car. She couldn't make him out in the shadows, but she knew he was there.
"You're interested in psychological files?" she inquired, a little dumb founded, challenging.
"Yes," was all he answered.
"I –" Ally started, then frowned. "The copies are on my desk. First drawer. Go and fetch them there, really. I'm sure you can get in. I'm going to need these myself."
All that followed was silence and she hoped she wasn't talking to shadows, when she said: "That, and… And thank you. For bringing Joker back. For… For bringing them all back."
"You don't need to thank me," the reply sounded, from another shadowy spot and she swallowed the curse.
"I think you deserve it," she said as she opened the car door. She closed the door and started the engine, but through the roaring sound, she thought she could make out a soft, "you too."
It was easy to blame him, Ally thought, as she started driving home, easy to point the finger at him, for starting this contagious epidemic situation. Easy to talk about escalation, to cling to rules, to worship the law, to say, he's different, he's doing it wrong, he's the cause of everything.
That, however, didn't mean it was the right thing to do. Ally smiled to herself and glanced at the files next to her.
Tomorrow, she knew, she would walk the corridor less afraid than today and that should count for something.
. . .
. . .
Okay, so, usually, I really hate OC-centered stories. But, I wanted a new, fresh look on Arkham, really, not Bruce's or a villain's. I hope she doesn't come across as Mary-Sueish. If she does, please do tell me, I won't shoot you. I know it's a little different of what you're used from me... probably, but I hope you enjoyed it nonetheless ^^