No Good Deed
Disclaimer: Characters copyright DC Comics.
Summary: Welcome to Arkham.
Notations: Gen, possible disturbing content.
Thanks to Maggie for the look-over.
Your wife hates your new job.
It pays exceptionally well, and that's why you took it; work is still hard to come by in post-No Man's Land Gotham, and your first responsibility is to your family.
You've worked in the field for a long time, and you don't have any black marks on your record. The warden at Blackgate--well, the last surviving administrator, anyway--gave you his highest recommendation as a guard. The people you interviewed with here kept saying that this wasn't a *prison,* it's a place of healing, but you've seen the cells. It's a place meant to keep the people inside from being outside. That's all you need to know.
"Welcome to Arkham Asylum," the interviewers finally said, and the signing bonus they gave you smoothed over the superstitious prickle that ran down your neck at the words.
You go through a long orientation before you ever pick up the key card required to get anywhere past the lobby. The basics aren't much different from the prison. These are highly dangerous individuals, the guy in charge tells you and the other newbies. And *if* you are assigned to guard the special ward--he doesn't say "freak ward," but you all know what he means--there are particular precautions for each and every individual in the section. These precautions, he says, raising his voice so he's sure you all hear him, are *not* optional or arbitrary, and I'll show you why. The doctor passes around pictures of the freaks' victims. They aren't pretty.
He starts to go through the extensive list of rules and regs: Do not talk to the patients. (He says "patients," but you know he really means prisoners.) Do not approach the patients. Do not touch the patients. Do not under any circumstances bring anything unauthorized into the cell areas. Do not under any circumstances accept anything from a patient.
You listen closely. The job is good, but not worth dying for.
Your wife still has reservations about your job, but the money's coming in and it's starting to look like the house repairs are actually manageable. You haven't told her that due to the continuing shortage in personnel, your responsibilities have increased along with your security clearance. You've graduated from the "normal" inmates (patients, you have to remember to say patients in front of the doctors) to the low-level freak ward, where they keep the ones without powers. The ones who like to bite and cut and *eat.* Some of them seem normal, even polite, but you know better than to "engage with them," as the shrinks say. A friend of a friend of a passing acquaintance of your wife's brother-in-law was killed by one of these freaks a couple of years back, you don't know which one, but it doesn't matter. They're all dangerous.
Days turn into weeks slide into routine. You're good at your job, and you're careful. Your superiors take notice. One morning you come into work and there's a new key waiting for you, the one to the maximum security wing.
"Congratulations," your boss says. "Welcome to the big leagues."
The pay bump is nice, too.
It's work as usual, except in the ways it completely isn't. These inmates really are...different. It's not just the specialized cells and the science-fiction-looking monitors that could've come straight out of those make-believe movies your nephew likes to watch. It's the way they stare at you through the bars or the glass or the tiny, tiny slits in the solid metal doors.
There's a guy who looks like an *alligator,* and the creepy little man with the hat fetish, and the one who shouts out questions from his cell every time you come by. You've never been good at riddles, so you don't bother to think about them. Some of the patients don't even look human, and some of them look like you could snap them in half with your pinkie. There's only one woman down here at the moment, the one with red hair, and you try not to think about her when you go home to your wife.
There are empty cells with names on them, designed for specific patients and never to be used by anyone else. Those are almost creepier than the rest.
There's one final cell down in the lowest levels of the asylum, separated from the rest. No one says that inmate's name if they can help it. No one goes down there unless they're ordered to.
The name shows up on your rotation and the other guards breathe sighs of relief for themselves even as they tell you it'll be *fine,* just fine, as long as you for God's sake follow procedure.
You always do, you tell them. It's the truth.
You finally see him.
He looks so *small.*
You've lived in Gotham all your life, so you can't help knowing about the Joker's rampages and death tolls. But it's hard to reconcile those stories with the thin crumpled body, the unhealthy paper-white skin, and the ridiculous hair of the guy in the cell.
You've never understood people who say they don't like clowns. They're not scary, they're *funny.* And, well, there's nothing funny about what the Joker has done, but he's pretty much just a weird-looking guy in a ten-by-ten concrete room with no windows.
That's not so scary.
He doesn't talk to you. You don't talk to him. That's how it should be.
It bugs you a little, though, how the guards who take him upstairs to therapy treat him. Like he's not human. Like he's an *animal.*
It's not *professional.*
He's not just thin, you think one day, he's *emaciated.* (You learned that word from one of Arnold Wesker's discarded crossword puzzles.) So you grab an extra roll for the kitchen when you pick up the lunch trays, saying you'd skipped breakfast. You put the roll onto the tray and slide it through the pass-slot. At first there's no response from inside, and you really hadn't expected any, but then he looks up and nods to you.
He doesn't smile. He must know how that smile looks.
You nod back.
As a matter of routine you're rotated out of the maximum security wing for a few weeks. "To take the pressure off," your supervisors say. It's all the same to you, as long as they're still paying the same. Almost like a vacation. But really, working in the super-freak ward isn't that much different. A few more rules, a couple more checks and double-checks and security systems to monitor, but it's not that bad.
The other guards look at you funny when you say that. You don't mention it again.
When you return to the wing, you notice things you hadn't seen before. In Blackgate, even the worst murdering rapist scumbags got medical attention when they needed it. Here, the inmates practically have to be bleeding out on the floor before they get sent up to the infirmary. And yeah, you get that most of them are probably faking it--that Crane guy is a hypochondriac of the worst kind, diagnosing himself with a new fatal illness every other day--but even crazy people get sick for real.
The Joker's been coughing a lot lately. No one seems to care.
It sounds like *pneumonia,* you had that once, thought you were gonna drown in your own phlegm. You tell the doctors, but they order you to mind your own business and get back to work. It's not like you were *neglecting* your job, you were just trying to look out for the health and welfare of the patients. Patient.
When you hear him wheezing for breath, that's the last straw. You go to your own doctor and tell him you're having a flare-up of that sinus infection you had last year. He listens to your heart, peers up your nose, and writes you a prescription for antibiotics.
You pass them over on the tray and the Joker looks at you, still not smiling, and dry-swallows the pills. Just like that. There are guards here who'd cheerfully poison their own charges for an extra buck, and every bit of medicine is precisely doled out by a white-coated physician, not a guard carrying a tray. But he swallows the pills anyway, because you gave them to him. Because he trusts you.
You don't know why that matters, but somehow it does.
The course of antibiotics is long gone, and the cough with it. He's still never said a word to you, or you to him, but that's okay. You heard this saying once, that if you saved a man's life, you were responsible for him from then on. It sounded crazy at the time. You think you understand it now.
You slip him extra food when you can. They've started a round of shock therapy and it gives him migraines, so you got him a couple of vicodin out of your wife's medicine cabinet. Once, when he was out of the cell for supervised PT for his shattered kneecap, you grabbed some cleaning supplies and sterilized the cell. It was really *filthy,* the cleaning people don't like to come down here any more than the other guards, and when they do they leave as quickly as possible. You thought you might get busted for that, but no one seems to be paying attention. He notices, though. And you know he appreciates it, with the nods and the lack of smiles.
You're passing his dinner through the bars when you feel a pinprick on the back of your hand and glance down, realizing all in a single instant that he's reached a hand through the food slot and that the nail on his index finger has been filed to a point. A drop of blood wells from the cut and he's much *stronger* than he looks, that absurdly thin arm is holding you up as your bowels turn to water and your legs go out from under you. He's actually pulling your body toward the cell, hauling your dead weight up so that he can reach the magnetic keys in your pocket. He's smiling now, and it's horrible.
As your vision falls to black, you finally understand why people are terrified of clowns.
Continuity: Jim Gordon shot out the Joker's kneecap at the end of the No Man's Land storyline.
Alternate pseudointellectual title: Sarracenia (the pitcher plant). Creatures fall in, but they can't climb out.