“Our Jervis? Really?!” Harley squealed with anticipation; “Who’da thought it! We ain’t had many visitors here, save for ole’ Two-Face’s gal… Who is it?! Who!”
“If I knew that I wouldn’t be so interested in finding out, would I Miss Quinzel?” Carefully fixing the capacitor in place the slight, red-haired man turned the device over, flicking the adapted radio into life with a crackling hiss of static. He allowed himself a smirk of victory. “There, that should do.”“Where’dya put the bug?” The beaming girl poked the contraption eagerly, as if this would somehow reveal it secrets to her. Jonathan Crane batted her hand away sharply.
“Miss Quinzel, would you kindly refrain from tampering with that? I couldn’t exactly obtain any solder, let alone a soldering iron- this is a rough job at best. Knocking the wires loose isn’t going to assist any potential eavesdropping that you wish to partake in.”
Harley sat back with her arms crossed poutingly, but ceased her assaults on the receiver, to Crane’s relief; an unparalleled expert in fear and fear inducing toxins he might be, but electronics had always been more Tetch’s field, and he could hardly have asked for his assistance in this exercise. Strangling the parts of a purloined walkie-talkie and a simple radio into a suitably effective spying device had taken him the better part of the night, but he had no doubt that Harley could undo his work in minutes given the chance.
“As for your inquiry, where else would I put it? He never lets that blessed hat of his out of his sight.” Goodness knew it had been difficult enough managing to get the tiny electrode behind the over-sized blue ribbon without his noticing. He would have to thank the Joker for distracting the guards at that particular moment later- although he never could fathom where he managed to get those custard pies from.
“Even if I couldn’t tap the entire phone call, we ought to hear every word of this exchange.”
“Peachy! Why’re you so curious about it anyways, Craney?”
‘The Scarecrow’ shuddered at the irreverent addressal; when had things sunk to this degree? “I believe I asked you to never refer to me as that again… and I am a Professor of Psychology, Miss Quinzel- naturally I’m interested as to the nature of this rare discussion, and its effect on the subject.”
The blond pig-tails jolted merrily as Harley’s head tilted at an inquisitive angle from her upside-down seat on the sofa. She knew well enough that Jervis and Crane had formed a sort of alliance together during their time at the Asylum- a friendship, even- but it was still puzzling to her to see Crane as engrossed as this. “How come y’think it’s gonna be interestin’ at all? It might just be some dull old relative from sleepy old England or somethin’, tryin’ to wrangle some benefits outa his ‘condition’...”
“I have a theory.” Crane tweaked the bandwidth dial around experimentally, refusing to explain further.
“You’re positive she-?”
“That is what she said, Mr Tetch.” Leland repeated for the third time to the unusually anxious looking inmate. Out of all her patients, Jervis Tetch was generally one of the easiest to deal with, but certainly not the most reliable. Prone to falling into a daydream or reciting his favourite books at the most inconvenient moments, he was at once polite, shy and obliging whilst being temperamental, secretive and stubborn at the same time.
Trying to talk to Jervis was remarkably like talking to the Mad Hatter himself; her initial theory that he had developed a split personality of sorts occasionally seemed to hold some bearing, but as always, the very next sentence he would say would throw her off once again. He never seemed to be in opposition to his ‘mad’ self, and never referred to the Hatter as his own person; no, Jervis and the Hatter were one and the same, and perhaps that was the reason he was so interesting, and so difficult. At times he seemed so sane that it felt ludicrous to have him here at all, and then she’d catch him directing a group of mind-controlled security guards in a game of life-sized chess in the grounds. Childlike, brilliant, mild mannered by default and wildly insane at the drop of a hat; that was Jervis Tetch.
Today, however, Jervis seemed as sober and sane as a court judge, if somewhat bewildered, which was more than understandable.
“I thought… she’d never… she couldn’t possibly want to see me, not after all that, and after all this time…” The explosive mass of blond hair shook from side to side, as he expounded more to himself than the doctor beside his burly-armed escort as he tried to understand. “Why now?”
“I can’t say, Jervis. Although, perhaps you can ask her that yourself-?”
Dr Leland swung open the grey door that led out of the grey corridor into a small grey room, which seemed doubly grey due to the large sheet of finger-width reinforced glass that divided the space into two. One side with an uncomfortable plastic chair, one side with an uncomfortable plastic chair and an equally uncomfortable-looking young lady with long, pale yellow hair.
Leland could see that it was pointless for her to say; “You have five minutes,” as she left. Jervis’ face was such a shocked blank she would have been astonished if anything had got through to him at that moment.
It took him a moment to figure out how to walk over to sit down opposite the small circle of holes partway above the desk in the glass, as he spoke the name cautiously with wide-eyed disbelief, as if he thought she might disappear from his saying it.
A noise somewhere between a whoop and squeak escaped the excitable Harley, as she covered her mouth with her hands with such a grin of fascinated glee that anyone would have thought it was her birthday come a second time that year. The guards looked up curiously whilst Crane hissed at her, trying to look disinterested as he lounged on his chair.
“Child! Have some mind! Do you want those dunderheads to figure what we’re up to?”
“Sorry~!” Harley sang quietly, barely able to contain her jubilation- she felt as if she were splitting at the seams, as she repeated to herself in a high-pitched triumphant whisper. “I knew it I knew I knew it!”
The guards glowered suspiciously at the pair before one shrugged at the other; “Guess even the nuts like the Soaps.”
In the meantime, Alice (for it was, indeed, the same), rubbed a hand timidly against the fabric of her sleeve, looking meekly at the hem of her dress.
“Y-yes… hello, Jervis.”
The girl sat in front of him was no less beautiful, no less charming that he remembered, and yet… she looked older. Tired, even. She’d always loved to wear bright colours, but this dress wasn’t her usual light blue, or even the vibrant red her coat used to be, but a demure shade of something that was nearly green but wasn’t quite. Viridian, perhaps; viridian with great long bell-like sleeves that went right down to her hands. The only thing that seemed the same was the little black hair band that tucked in around her free-falling locks. Why any of this would even strike him as odd he couldn’t explain (she was visiting a mad man in an asylum, after all), but he realized after a moment that he was still staring at her in disbelief. Coughing determinedly he strove to amend this.
“H-hello. Er…” How on Earth did one start a conversation with a girl that you’d inadvertently kidnapped and mind-warped? To say that this was an awkward situation was to say that the Titanic had suffered a small case of damp on it unfortunate voyage.
“How are you?” He offered, feebly.
She smiled feebly in return at the corner of the room, her eyes flicking up to meet his for a second, but only a second. “Oh, I’m just fine.”
“Good, good…” His fingers trilled inadvertently on his knees, as he wound up enough impetus to force himself to ask; “-and, Billy?”
She nodded shortly at the corner.
“We’re married, now.”
“Ah, of course, yes.” Something stuck in his throat before he managed to say; “congratulations.” It earned another short nod.
The conversation stalling horribly with every step he dropped his own sight to his feet with a sigh, reaching up to his head as if it might help him break out of this case of the doldrums. Lifting the characteristic headwear off his haystack of hair Jervis placed the tall black hat on the table, buying himself time whilst still trying to convince his brain that his eyes weren’t lying. Alice Pleasance. Alice Pleasance had come to Arkham Asylum. Had come to Arkham Asylum to see him. He found his voice asking the question before he quite realised he had started saying it.
“Alice… Why are you here?”
“Well, I…” Alice started, looking a little confused as she ran a hand around the back of her neck, Jervis feeling a pang of guilt at having asked so forward a question without her having so much as asked one. Still, it had needed to be asked, and had been, and that was that; so he sat quietly to wait for her answer, although the reply, when it came, was hardly an answer.
“I… I’m not really sure why I came here.”
I ca’n’t explain myself, I’m afraid, Sir… because I’m not myself, you see… Jervis tried to box his brain away from Carroll’s words and back into the present, as he returned the look of confusion.
“You’re not sure?”
He regarded his visitor anxiously, noticing that she looked almost twice as nervous now as she shook her head, her eyes now fixed on the right-hand corner of the room. A panicked thought occurring to him he held his palms up placatingly.
“I assure you, I’m not… it’s quite impossible for me to use…”
“Oh! No I didn’t mean, I know you aren’t using- that.” Saying ‘mind control’ seemed a little beyond her politeness, as she finally made eye-contact with him, her hands sweeping up into the same defensive position reassuringly, causing her sleeves to slide down to her elbows.
Now, it is to be noted that Jervis had never been terribly given to being perceptive, his habit of drifting off on some train of thought having served him well in his scientific endeavours, but not his observation of personal details- however, in the instance of Miss Pleasance it was quite hard for him to ignore anything about her.
Certainly not a patch of conspicuously discoloured skin halfway down her left forearm.
“Miss Pleasance… what is that?”
‘Miss Pleasance’ blinked in innocent confusion before following his gaze, which resulted in an expression of abject alarm as she rapidly put her hands down, tugging her sleeves firmly down with a confusion that was markedly less innocent.
“What was what?”
-“What was what?”-
Harley was set to pick up the radio and give it a frustrated shake, but compensated by hugging a large cushion in aggravation with a screech stifled by gritted teeth. “What’s what, what’s that, what’s which- eurgh! Don’t they realise we can’t see what they’re talking about?!”
Having to restrain himself from reminding the impetuous girl that this was not, in fact, a radio program, Crane’s fingers dug into the upholstery as he tried to focus on what the pair were talking about now. Really, the whole thing had been excruciatingly dull so far; not even so much as a second mental break down. He was beginning to question whether there had been any point in spying on this at all…
-“That mark there.”
-“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”-
-“Contrariwise, my dear Alice, your hand is precisely over where it was.”-
-“Yes, and therefore, there needs must be an it…”-
“He’s going to get himself kicked out of his session before five minutes is up at this rate.”
Harley rolled her head upwards to see her flame-haired companion walking over, cradling one of her beloved potted plants in her arms with a bored expression. Evidently she’d been listening in for some time. “Oh, heya Red! Nah, I don’t think so- Jervy’s too sweet on Alice to be mean. He’s just…”
“Will you both, please, be quiet.” Crane growled out between clenched teeth as he massaged a temple with his finger; “This is a matter of some scientific interest to me, and your conduct is most distracting…”
“Of course it is, Jonathan…” Pamela arched an eyebrow with graceful disdain, “although you may want to enquire after from ‘scientific’ hearing aids; you haven’t missed anything, because they haven’t said anything else yet.”
Indeed, the radio sat there, producing not so much as a crackle of white noise as they looked at it. Frowning with annoyance Jonathan sent a hand out to pick it up; “Damn, must have a loose connection…”
His hand paused, as did the expressions on the three listener’s faces before Jonathan hastily returned to looked utterly bored along with Miss Isley, Harley leaning forwards in cross-legged intrigue with a finger to her chin.
-“I saw it, Miss Pleasance. There’s little use in denying it.”-
-“Oh, y-you mean that? That’s nothing…”-
-“That was quite a nasty looking nothing.”-
-“Alice, is there anything you need to tell me?”-
-“No… there’s nothing. I just… I slipped the other day, that’s all.”-
“I’ll bet she did.”
Pamela earned a sharp ‘shh!’ from both Harley and Crane.
-“Listen, I really… I don’t think I ought to have come…”-
-“So why did you?”-
A muted sound, like a gloved hand being put up against a pane of glass followed.
-“Alice? Please, you must tell me- Why did you come to see me?”-
“Oh no ya don’t!” Harley seized the radio, shaking it up and down fiercely like an etch-a-sketch, as if it would erase Doctor Leland out of the room. “He wuz just gettin’ somewhere you no good spoilsp-”
“Harl! That isn’t going to-”
“Miss Quinzel! Please desist!” Succeeding in wrenching the object out of Harley’s irate grasp, the professor finally tuned it back into the correct wavelength in time to hear a selection of footsteps and a door closing before the contraption sputtered and whirred out of life. Sighing reluctantly he deposited it back on the table; “I don’t think we’ll have missed much else.”
Ivy was unable to comply, as she was doing her utmost best to suppress Harley’s temper by doing the same to her head; pushing her back down onto the sofa and hissing at her to “Calm down!” before the guards become too interested in their spat. It appeared that Harley had no intention of calming down, however, as she flailed her fists wildly into the back of the sofa in a fine tantrum.
“Why that low down no-good rotten stinkin’ slimey son of a-” She concluded her diagnosis with a remarkable noise that might have been described as a scream of consternation if she hadn’t muted it by biting into the cushion. Ivy nodded in accordance with a grim glint to her eyes.
“I have to say, I can’t say I much care for this, ‘Billy’, from the sounds of things.”
Crane said nothing but sat with his fingers steepled under his chin with a deeply analytical look on his face; he almost looked pleased. Harley resurfaced from the cushion with a melodramatic shuddering gasp, her lips pulled downwards in sympathy.
“Poor Jervy~! An’ after he went loco for her an’ all, she winds up getting married to- eugh! It’s just so tragic!” She swooned, sadly, evidently finding the whole thing completely romantic.
“One can only imagine what that piece of news is going to do to him.” Jonathan contributed, with a grin that described that he was already imagining it. Pamela placed a hand on her hip, sending him a semi-amused smirk of disapproval.
“But what’re we gonna do?”
The pair looked at Harley with matching expressions of incredulous perplexity.
Harley crossed her arms, pouting with indignation. “Well a’course we’re gonna do something! We can’t just leave him going even more outta his mind while she goes on getting covered in ‘nothings’! We’re bustin’ him outta this joint! Tonight!”
“Harl, are you crazy? It’s not that easy, and why would we want to do that for him anyway?” The aloof woman tossed her auburn locks with contemptuous disinterest. “It’s not your problem, and it most certainly isn’t mine. If anyone is busting out of this joint, it ought to be me.”
“Miss Isley makes a valid point- if we were to plan an escape, why wouldn’t we involve ourselves in it?”
Harley pondered on this point for a second, before nodding decisively.
“Okay then! We’ll all bust outta here!”
Evidently this hadn’t quite been the intention of the duo contesting the point, but, looking at each other, they couldn’t find any real reason to object.
“I suppose it could work…”
“The numbers are in our favour, and I can’t say I have any particular ambition for staying…”
The bubbly girl squealed excitedly, clapping her hands like a cheerleader; “Alri~ght! It’s a date! An’ we’ll get old Jervis out too! Come on-” She wagged a finger at her companions’ uncertain expressions. “You really want to go leavin’ a poor gal with a brute like that Red? An’ don’t try faking it, Craney; we know you’ve been pals with Tetch ever since he walked in Arkham’s revolving door. ‘Sides, we all owe him for that one time we put the Bat on trial…”
That earned a smile from Ivy. “That was kind of fun.”
“Well, that seems to settle it,” the professor eased himself from his seat with a yawn that disguised the grin that had been forming on his face, “it’s been a while since I stretched my legs anyway.”
The next twenty minutes was subjected to fervent discussion before the trio conceded the plan was satisfactory, and there was some silent agreement that they might have been wise to have thought to do it before now; although two were too proud, and one too unaware, to point this out. Although there was one thing which could not be denied by any one of the party, and that was that there was a thrall of excitement amongst them, for the coming events- whether they were successful or not- would certainly be entertainment enough for an evening.
There was one person involved in this plan, however, who was not at all excited.
At least, not at all in the good way; Jervis Tetch had not spoken a word on the journey back to his cell, and now that he was back in it all he could think of was how very much he wanted to be out of it again. It had been several weeks since he had been deposited back there from his latest jaunt by the caped crusader, and whilst he hadn’t exactly been enjoying his stay at Arkham, he had been content, for the time being.
Leland shut the sliding panel on Jervis’s door with a frown after watching the scientist pace across his room for the thirteenth time. Perhaps she’d been wrong to allow this visit; she had no idea what had transgressed, other than neither party seemed to have been that badly affected, and certainly Alice Antrim had been quite calm on her departure, so Jervis hadn’t done anything untoward (unsurprisingly, to her). Patient confidentiality stated that any visits, as long as they didn’t involve open threats or violence, were strictly the private property of the inmates. There was constant CCTV and audio surveillance, but unless circumstances demanded it to be investigated it was absolutely off limits. Tempting though it was to see what had transgressed, the doctor was a fierce defender of these rules- having been one of the people to forward the motion herself. She would simply have to wait to see what the outcome, and potential damage, of this turn of events would be.
“Keep an extra careful eye on him- I want security stepped up for the next week, ‘you hear?”
She directed a look up at the imposing warden that brooked no argument before striding back to her office in a manner more befitting of a sergeant major. The warden stood at ease as the double doors swung closed behind her before casting a look back at the relatively harmless looking Englishman pacing his cell. The Hatter had never struck him as that dangerous of a man before; compared to some of the other ‘guests’ in this place, he was practically a gentleman, but he knew better than to take the doctor’s words lightly, as he dutifully penned down the security changes in his planner.
Heedless of these external exchanges, ‘the Hatter’ continued to wear down his soles, wracking his brain for a means of escape, but every time he tried to think straight his mind was distracted. Directed to agonised thoughts of what might be happening, what might have happened, what might happen yet…
As it happened, at this very moment Alice was equally concerned with these exact same questions; most especially the question of what was to happen next.
“Here we are- this is your stop, isn’t it Miss?”
“Hm?” Her blue eyes looked rather startled, as she looked up at the kind brown eyes in the reverse mirror of the escort car. She glanced at the familiar steps they had pulled up to, surprised at how short the trip back had been. Curious; it had seemed ten times longer on the way to Arkham.
“Oh! Sorry. Yes, yes this is it, thank you very much…”
Ducking out of the car she waved an uncertain goodbye to the slightly puzzled driver, who drove off in a slightly puzzled way, watching the young lady with long yellow hair in his mirror as she rummaged in her purse for her keys to let herself in. He shook his head lightly to himself.
“Strange sorta dame…”
Alice looked after the receding shape of rounded, dun coloured chassis, part of her willing it to break down and stay, part of her willing it to leave faster; if he found out about this… no, that didn’t bear thinking about. She let herself in and set about erasing the evidence of her absence, setting the dinner she’d prepared before she’d left to start lifting the atmosphere of the cramped, two-person apartment. Sitting down in the worn wicker chair she allowed herself a long pent-up sigh. Out of everything that had happened today, even compared to visiting an infamous asylum for the criminally insane, returning back here with the possibility of Billy having arrived before her had been the most frightening.
She still couldn’t quite believe she’d made the phone call yesterday, but when he’d called to tell her he’d be out until late today at a meeting, something had reached up inside her and started dialling Doctor Leland’s number. Pulling a hand down her cheek she sank a little further into the chair. What an idiot she was. She could have called anyone. Gone to see any of her old friends- but no, that would have been more risky, if anything. People who could walk could talk, and it had been so very long since she’d seen any of them, they almost certainly would have. Had that been why she’d gone to see Jervis? She wasn’t sure. She wasn’t sure about anything anymore.
The kettle sounded its arrival at boiling point, and Mrs Antrim stood up to tend to it. The good little housewife; keeping the place clean, running like clockwork, changing the beds, doing the laundry, cooking the meals, making herself presentable. At first it had seemed natural- wasn’t that what little girls were supposed to grow up into? Well mannered young ladies who made sure that their handsome hard-working man could come home to a place that was warm and full of cheer? Looking around at the cosy kitchen with its neat chequered table cloth and neat wooden chairs and neat sets of crockery and cutlery Alice found herself sighing in a most decidedly un-cheerful way. Compared to where Jervis was staying it seemed a little cruel to say it, but a cage was a cage, no matter how gilded it was; this house was as much a prison as it was a home to her.
And yet it was still home; after all, where else would she go? Billy looked after her, kept her safe; he’d made it clear that she couldn’t keep safe by herself… no, that wasn’t fair, she had. All of that, stuff, that had happened, it had been her own stupidity that had led to it. Not seeing the signs, being too naïve- the world was an unfriendly place, Gotham City even less so. No, best she stayed at home. Stayed away from all that… and yet, even seeing the grounds of an asylum had been, well, nice. For all its grey oppressive interior, Alice had been surprised at how green the lawns had been, how tall the trees, how blue the sky; they couldn’t take that away from the inmates, and having spoken to the kind and open-minded Doctor Leland, Alice got the impression that they didn’t want to. A rare, timid smile crept onto her face as she took the broccoli off the stove. Jervis had seemed practically the same as always. Just as hesitant and kind as she remembered him; knowing he was in good hands, and not just locked away, was more of a relief than she’d imagined.
The sound of the door closing for a second time startled her out of remembering what colour his eyes were, as she caught herself before she managed to send the carrots flying into the stew.
“Billy! You always have amazing timing, I just finished dinner!” A painted smile lit up Alice’s face, as she beamed innocently, standing by the table like a porcelain doll with her hands clasped behind her back. She was happy to see him. Yes, she was happy; if Billy was happy, Alice was happy, and besides… he was someone to see.