|Birds of a Feather
Author: Crow's Talon PM
At the end, Pigeon realized that they had more in common than he'd thought. This is the tale of Jonathan Crane's dismissal from Gotham University and its consequences, from the perspective of the man whose prize student became his greatest failure.Rated: Fiction T - English - Tragedy - Johnathan C./Scarecrow - Words: 5,936 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 2 - Follows: 1 - Published: 01-20-13 - Status: Complete - id: 8927994
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer:I do not own Batman or any characters therein.
Birds of a Feather
The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.
- Marcus Aurelius
Before he got to know the boy who would become Professor Jonathan Crane, Professor Pigeon wasn't sure what to make of him. He was a quiet boy and never said very much, keeping to his desk and listening attentively while other students gossiped about who was going out with whom or reading comic books behind their class texts. His grades were exceptional, and his papers superb. There was no getting around that. Straight A grades throughout his first semester - no one else in the class could make that claim.
And yet there was something different about the boy, something that gave Pigeon a particular interest in him. His work tended to have a dark streak to it, focusing on topics like control, fear, and the more bestial side of human behavior. That wasn't it, though. Pigeon also had a suppressed taste for that kind of thing.
It wasn't that Crane was antisocial, either. Pigeon could sympathize with him there - he also preferred the company of books. Even so, he had a handful of people on the college faculty whom he was friendly with. He wasn't above a cup of coffee in the lounge or a friendly chat with an old colleague. Crane, however, never talked to anyone if he could help it. The other students talked about him plenty. More than a few thought that he was more than a little creepy. He didn't have any parents, for one thing, or at least none willing to claim him. School rumor had it that he'd been raised by his hag of a great-grandmother until her disappearance and assumed death.
If the gossip bothered him, he didn't show it. Instead, he focused strictly on his work, and it showed. He was easily the best student in Pigeon's psychology class. He was always raising his hand to ask questions, his main interest in fear as a motive for human behavior. Pigeon, glad to see a student active and engaged in his class, was pleased to indulge him. Crane might have been an outcast to people his age, but being Professor Pigeon's top student didn't count for nothing.
After setting up that day's lesson, Pigeon stood in the middle of his lecture hall, watching the students come in and make their way to their seats. As soon as everyone was settled, he instructed the class to discuss among themselves the differences and similarities between Watsonian and Pavlovian behavioral psychology for an essay assignment due at the end of the block. He knew that at least one person would appreciate it. Sure enough, Jonathan Crane sat alert during Pigeon's brief introduction to the subject. Instead of joining the discussion brewing at the center of the room, he took out his own textbook and read, taking notes and setting to work on his paper.
Thankful for the break, Pigeon found his chair and pulled out a well-worn copy of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius from his desk, spending the rest of third period reading. He didn't even look up as the students shuffled by, one at a time, to turn in their assignments. The very last of them was Jonathan, his face emotionless. He silently handed Pigeon his essay, a ten-page monstrosity, and turned to go.
"You only needed to write five pages," Pigeon said, only partly surprised.
Jonathan stopped, folded his arms and shrugged. "This subject is one I have great interest in. If I may ask your permission, sir, I would like to ask you a question about my project at the end of the semester. I'm doing some independent research on behavioral psychology, in particular the question of whether phobias are innate or learned. My work on the rats in the laboratory has been fascinating."
He sounded genuinely curious, and Pigeon saw that the other students were gone as soon as the block ended. There couldn't be any harm in having a chat with Crane, as long as the boy had some free time. It was good to see him talking.
"Don't you have the next block to get to?"
Jonathan shook his head. "No, sir. Not for an hour and a half." Pigeon was free, too, until his office hours were over. It would be a good chance to get to know the boy a little better. He flipped through Crane's essay, surprised by how much effort had been put into it. For someone who said so little, Jonathan knew a lot about psychology. He'd most likely done some independent research on the subject before coming to Gotham. Either that, or Pigeon was dealing with a potential child genius.
"Well, then, step into my office for a little while. We'll talk for a bit."
Jonathan nodded stiffly, stepping aside and letting Pigeon lead him through the hallway. He didn't say a single word throughout the trip up the stairs to Pigeon's office on the third floor. No one waved when they saw him. Pigeon even saw a sophomore snickering about Crane's shabby brown jacket. Crane didn't reply, but his eyes narrowed. Pigeon took the boy by the shoulder, almost protectively, and guided him into the hallway. No one was outside, most of the professors hard at work. Room 304, Pigeon's office, wasn't that far down. He turned the knob and opened the door with a polite gesture.
"Step inside," he said, and Crane silently obeyed, shutting it behind them. The thin boy found a chair and sat in it, giving Pigeon the first chance to properly study his face. Now he could see what unsettled some people so badly about Jonathan Crane. There was a weariness in his eyes that didn't fit his age. It was almost as if he saw a world-weary adult in the body of an eighteen-year-old boy.
While Pigeon was busy wondering what in Crane's past could have haunted him like this, Jonathan found a worn brown book lying on the desk. The freshman showed it to his teacher, more confused than anything else.
"I thought that you were a psychology professor, sir. Why do you have a copy of The Lives of the Twelve Caesars?"
Pigeon chuckled to hide the slight embarrassment he felt. He hadn't touched history as a subject for some time, and his interests weren't exactly the kind a reputable scholar would touch. The work of a troubled young man with blood on the brain, nothing more. "Psychology is my doctorate, yes, but I have always had an interest in Ancient Rome."
"Ancient Rome," Jonathan repeated. "They fed people to wild animals for sport, yes? I knew people who I wouldn't have minded seeing thrown to the lions." He laughed, a little darkly, and reached for the Suetonius again. "An interesting hobby, Professor. If I may borrow that book, I'd be happy to discuss it with you later."
Pigeon didn't have any need for the The Lives of the Twelve Caesars at the moment, and Jonathan appeared genuinely interested. A long time ago, Pigeon had written an essay on the more salacious escapades of the crazed Emperor Caligula, one of several on the more infamous Roman emperors. The Lives, his main source, was a bit of a dirty secret. "Take it. I'll need it back in a week or so. It's my only copy."
With a quick nod, Jonathan pulled the book from the desk. "Thank you, Professor. I'll give it back as soon as I'm done." He turned briefly, a slight smile on his gaunt face. "And you're welcome for the essay. Behavioral psychology is a special interest of mine. I'm strongly considering choosing it as my major."
"I hope you do," Pigeon said, and for a moment the boy looked genuinely surprised before, book tucked under his arm, he slipped out the door.
Watching the boy go, Pigeon felt rather sorry for him. Crane needed a little encouragement to break out of his shell. He was smart, but keeping to himself the way he did wouldn't make him any friends.
Pigeon would take care of that if he could. Whatever darkness was in Crane's past didn't have to decide his future, as Pigeon himself knew. Father's death had damaged him, but he felt as if he'd redeemed himself from his demons. Besides, he felt that he would have made a very bad priest anyway.
Jonathan followed Pigeon's recommendation and chose psychology as his major, juggling his time between his classes and private sessions with his mentor. Pigeon, for his part, did his utmost to help Jonathan decide on a topic for his final paper. The boy had it in mind to write something truly splendid. Under Pigeon's guidance his essays had moved from merely being good to being superb. They'd sat in the cramped office in Room 304 for hours upon hours, discussing everything from the lives and times of the Roman emperors to Jonathan's favorite subject, the psychology of fear.
"I'd like to thank you," Jonathan said, "for providing me with the motivation and the practice to pursue my major. I doubt I'd have made it as far as I have without your guidance."
"You're very welcome," Pigeon replied with a smile. "You earned it with your work in class. Why, I think after graduation you could get a degree in psychology and become a teacher at Gotham. We could use another professor of psychology on staff. I'll vouch for you in front of the President."
Jonathan nodded excitedly before swigging his coffee. "Thank you, Professor."
"I have a great deal of faith in you, Jonathan," Pigeon told the thin man, who hunched in a chair that was too small for him. "Remember, though, to keep your personal tastes in check. There's more to psychology than fear."
In an instant the shadow in Jonathan's eyes came back. His hands gripped the edge of the table tightly, knuckles turning pale. "But Professor, fear is the primary driving force, if not the only one, behind our behavior. It's an essential part of human nature."
"That may be," Pigeon replied sternly, "but Gotham's psychology curriculum is more diverse than that. If you're going to be a teacher, you have to focus on other aspects of the subject. There's more in the human head than phobias, Jonathan."
He didn't say it, but he found Crane's intensity when it came to the topic of fear more than a little unnerving. He was reminded a little of himself as a young man, only his interest was the misbehavior of the Roman elite. He'd cured himself of that and channeled it into something more acceptable. Jonathan could do the same, or at least restrain his appetite.
A little interest in fear was only natural - Jonathan was right that it was an important and powerful emotion - but too much of one thing wasn't healthy, especially given the thin man's growing fascination with the darker feelings.
Jonathan grit his teeth, but replied with only a hint of anger. "Yes, Professor. I suppose you have a point." He wasn't happy, but he'd acknowledged that Pigeon was right. That was a start.
"I didn't mean to discourage you, but it's only a suggestion," Pigeon said, realizing that he might have been too harsh. Crane wouldn't listen to his advice if he was angry. "Moderation and control, Jonathan."
"I'll be sure to keep those in mind," Jonathan replied, but the acid in his voice was less than encouraging. "Have a good day, sir." He got up to go, leaving the chair and an empty cup of coffee behind him.
That went well, Pigeon thought, drinking from his own mug and mentally slapping himself in the face. Making Jonathan upset was not the best way to show his student how to act around other people. Jonathan had enough problems with his emotions and that fascination with fear. While Pigeon didn't mind, it explained why some of Crane's peers found him at best strange.
A position at the university was well within his protege's grasp. Perhaps that would be enough to calm his troubled young companion. Crane had the skill and the enthusiasm he needed to be a good teacher.
Whether he chose to come back to Gotham after senior year or not, Pigeon wished him all the best.
Jonathan came back, sure enough, with a psychology PhD in hand. He made a personal request that Pigeon present him before President Martin and, pleased to see that his student had done well, Pigeon agreed. He himself had a good reputation among the faculty, and his blessing would count for a lot.
"My name's Jonathan Crane," Jonathan said to Martin, his voice trembling slightly as Pigeon gave a gentle smile. "I have a doctorate of psychology, and I understand that you have a free space in the staff. If it's possible, sir, I'd like the job."
Pigeon nodded, bringing out Jonathan's senior thesis. It was fifteen pages long, all spent on the learned nature of phobias and the ethical ramifications of the infamous Little Albert experiment. "I can vouch for him. Doctor Crane's extremely skilled with the subject in question and all of his work for me has been of extremely high quality. I strongly recommend that you consider his application, as I feel that he could contribute a great deal to Gotham's psychology department."
Martin took Pigeon at his word, and so Jonathan Crane became Gotham University's new professor of psychology, of course under Pigeon's wing. As Crane's mentor and chief benefactor, he made protecting Jonathan his business. The rest of the faculty was very distrusting of the newcomer, partly because of his strange behavior and partly, he thought, out of jealousy. He heard their snide comments about Crane's clothes. Pigeon swore that they were circling him like a swarm of hungry sharks, waiting for him to make a mistake.
Luckily, he was good enough at what he did that he was untouchable. Crane's knowledge made him very skilled at teaching, and his style was noted for being particularly engaging. He quickly rose to become Gotham University's success story, its prodigy. While the other teachers didn't like him, they accepted his existence once Pigeon showed them Jonathan's contributions to Gotham. Pigeon felt very proud of himself and proud of Jonathan. He knew the boy had it in him.
Crane himself, while still quiet and reclusive, was friendly and polite to Pigeon. To be fair, the rest of the college elite hadn't gone out of their way to befriend him. He thanked the older man for helping him with his application by buying him a book on Roman history, presenting it the day after his acceptance to the faculty. To celebrate, they went out to a Gotham coffee shop together, under Crane's invitation.
In return, Pigeon agreed to sit in on one of Crane's lectures a week later. Sure enough, he taught behavioral psychology, and no one fell asleep in his class. No one dared. He was energetic, certainly, and very clear in his explanations, especially given that they were on his favorite subject - fear. He rattled through phobias like a grocery list, explaining his theory that fear was the dominant feeling in all living things.
When a student questioned him, bringing up more positive emotions, Crane responded with startling aggression. "No. Fear is what keeps us alive, not hope. We live because we fear the inevitable. Not that it does us any good, understand, but our fear doesn't know that." He flashed a grin, stalking along the desks like a wild animal hunting its prey. "And what, Mr. Stanton, is the scientific term for the fear of death?"
"Precisely!" Crane wrote the word on the board. "Thanatophobia! Now, there will be a test on the kinds of phobia that I have taught you about next Tuesday, so I'd study if I were you. Good luck." The students got up to go, leaving Crane and Pigeon alone. The younger professor cleaned the desk and sorted his papers before coming to see Pigeon, a smile on his thin face.
"They're paying more attention to you than they ever did to me," Pigeon said with a laugh. Jonathan joined in as he sat down beside his old mentor. "I have to say, Crane, you've grown up to be quite the teacher."
Jonathan gave a sly grin, sitting back in his chair. "But of course. I learned from the best, after all. So, Professor, I've done it, and I have you to thank for making it possible." He offered a hand to Pigeon, who shook it. "Well, I'll be seeing you tomorrow after final block. It's a busy day for me. Papers to grade, you know."
"How are they doing, grades-wise?"
Jonathan chuckled, flipping through sheets of paper. "So far, everyone's passed the midterm exam. Practically all solid As. Unbelievable, eh? My methods may be unconventional, but I assure you that they work. Thank you for all of your support, Professor, and good luck with your own class."
"If you ask me, Gotham University needs some new blood. The only advice I'd offer is showing a little more self-control. You have a good brain, Jonathan, and plenty of enthusiasm for the subject. But you don't want to frighten the students. You aren't so high that you can't slip. Don't give them an excuse to kick you out. People here can be ruthless." Pigeon stood to help Jonathan ready the board for fourth period, noting with a little worry that his student hadn't seemed to hear the warning.
Even though Jonathan Crane was now the toast of the university, his personality stayed the same. No one bothered to invite him to the annual faculty parties. They knew he wouldn't come. He was only willing to go out with Pigeon, who in turn picked up news about his protege from student teachers and observers from the board.
They were impressed by Crane's ability, knowledge of the subject, and skill, but found his energy in front of the students slightly worrying. Pigeon defended him, although what he'd seen while sitting in on Jonathan's classes showed him that there was more than a little truth to the accusation. Passion was welcomed, but Crane showed a little too much glee in teaching fear, to the detriment of other areas of psychology. He'd never managed to understand his mentor's warning about control, either.
On his side of things, the college board was planning to consider granting Pigeon tenure as a reward for his years of loyal service at Gotham. At least part of it, he felt, was because his patronage of Jonathan had been such a success. Jonathan himself didn't know yet, but Pigeon knew that he'd be glad to hear the good news. His old friend, with any luck, would be staying at the university for a long time.
And then there was the incident with the gun.
He wasn't sure what to make of it when he first heard. Apparently Jonathan had suddenly pulled a gun during third block and fired a blank at the students. There were no deaths or injuries, but it was enough to show that Gotham's golden boy wasn't all he seemed to be. Robert Stanton, a tall, redheaded junior who had initiated the episode by displaying a water pistol, confirmed the story, scared out of his wits. The students themselves were every bit as afraid, many refusing to go back to psychology class as long as Jonathan Crane taught there. Pigeon was horrified by the story, hoping that it was some stupid rumor or an accident. Jonathan knew better than to risk his job in some damn publicity stunt!
Sadly it was the truth, and there were plenty of witnesses to what Professor Crane had done. He made the front page of the school papers again, and this time not in a flattering way. Jonathan Crane had gone from pride of the university to potential psychopath and dangerous liability.
This time, protecting him would be impossible. Crane had crossed a line. His classroom demonstration was too serious to be covered up or ignored. The makeshift college jury in charge of the case, of which Pigeon was chosen as a member, was seriously considering the possibility of firing Jonathan Crane to protect Gotham University's reputation and the students. If Crane had pulled a blank, one teacher argued, what would stop him from one day firing a real shot? What if someone was injured or killed? The general consensus was that, for the good of everyone else, the offending professor had to go. He was clearly a troubled man, not someone to have around college students.
Crane stood before them, defending the indefensible as best he could. Before the scandal, Pigeon knew, most of the people in the jury already disliked him and were all too happy to see him fail. He presented that semester's grades, almost all solid As. He took particular pleasure in showing Robert Stanton's A-plus. Most importantly, his record beforehand was clean. Pigeon noticed that the young man's eye was fixed on him the entire time, an urgent look in it, almost pleading. The board was unsympathetic, although they decided that, if one man was willing to defend Crane, clemency would be granted due to his extraordinary teaching record before the incident.
Pigeon felt his heart twist in two. If Crane was fired, his reputation would be savaged. No reputable school would hire someone who fired off a gun in class. Crane would be lucky if the angry parents of the children he'd endangered didn't sue him or run him out of town. Most importantly, his protege had a very delicate mental state, and heaven only knew how Jonathan would take a betrayal. If he let Crane go, who knew what the man would do next? If Crane stayed and did something worse, Pigeon would get some of the blame, and he couldn't afford that, not with tenure within his grasp. He'd brought Crane to the school. Now it was his responsibility as a teacher to destroy what he had created.
"It was a harmless experiment," Jonathan told them, almost breathless. He looked at each member of the board, their faces blank and unsympathetic. "Nothing more than that. I had no intention of harming Mr. Stanton or any of the students. Professor Pigeon can testify as to my contributions to the school and my character." He jerked his head, a motion for Pigeon to speak.
Pigeon said nothing. Jonathan's eyes widened with horror and pain, as if he knew that his time of protection was over. "Pigeon, please! I did nothing wrong!"
A teacher asked Pigeon if he had anything to say, as, after all, he was Crane's chief ally at the university.
For one long moment, Pigeon looked deeply into his old student's eyes. He saw fear, anger, and a growing awareness that the fallen professor was about to lose the only man he'd ever considered a friend. Still, he reminded himself, Jonathan should have thought about the consequences before shooting off firearms in public. Pigeon had tried his best, but Crane's impulsiveness had won out in the end.
He stayed quiet and turned away, as if that would cover up his sense of failure. Jonathan was his responsibility, and his firing would hit both of them. The only comfort was that if Jonathan went, Pigeon might keep his tenure and stay in President Martin's good books.
"Very well. Doctor Jonathan Crane, you are no longer a professor of this college," a board member said, his voice cold as he handed Pigeon a dismissal form.
He shook his head sadly, disappointed in both of them, and looked down, showing it to Crane. Jonathan turned away without a word, outwardly emotionless aside from his clenched fists and slouching posture. He shot one last glare at Pigeon before opening the door and shuffling outside. They all heard his footsteps as he slowly went down the hallway and out of Gotham University.
"It was for the best," the professor beside Pigeon reassured him, but he sat down and put his head in his hands. He felt selfish, but it was as if he had failed alongside Jonathan.
Crane disappeared from town in the next few days. No one knew exactly where he'd gone, but given the fact that he was drummed out of Gotham in disgrace no one expected to hear from him again. The episode with the gun was forgotten in due time. As for Professor Pigeon, he got his tenure, but things were never the same again. The other teachers looked at him more skeptically, seeing as he was the one who brought a gun-toting lunatic into the university's walls in the first place. He wasn't fired, but chose to leave. It wasn't worth staying. Gotham held too many memories for him, and every time he sat in the cafeteria or his old office he thought of the pain in his protege's eyes.
One warm Thursday afternoon, he packed his bags and got a plane to Iowa.
Despite the sour end to their relationship, Pigeon found himself hoping that Jonathan would somehow turn out a functional, if not decent, human being. As for him, he left Iowa soon enough, moving around the country and taking teaching jobs where he could find them, eventually ending up back in Gotham City. Now he lived in a small mansion with servants, led by a fine butler named Renlon, good wine, and quiet. His last hopes that Crane, too, would somehow find peace were dashed to pieces some time later, when he read about the Paul Herold murder in the local papers. It was a particularly tragic and deeply disturbing case.
The poor man first claimed that he'd been visited by a walking scarecrow, who threatened him and fired a shot, wounding him. The next day he was found dead in his chair, his traumatized son confirming that the "scarecrow" had returned to finish the job. A businessman named Frank Kendrick later confessed to hiring the Scarecrow and setting him on Herold, claiming that he'd only meant to spook his old business partner out of suing for embezzlement. He was unable to identify the man inside the costume to the police. They described the Scarecrow as a hired killer, one of a particularly strange kind who sold himself to unscrupulous businessmen, driving away or killing his clients' competitors. Rumors were that even the vigilante Batman, who Pigeon had never seen, was hunting the costumed madman down.
Pigeon knew who the Scarecrow was and also knew that, sooner or later, his own personal demon would come knocking at the door. Frankly, he was surprised that it had taken Crane so long. His student, his companion, had become a vicious monster who was free to satisfy his growing appetite for others' fear. From the sound of it, his "harmless" experiments evolved into cold-blooded murder. Part of him wanted to confront Crane one last time, even if it meant dying in the process.
Sure enough, the Scarecrow dropped by in a matter of days, incapacitated Renlon with a spiked drink, and subdued Pigeon with a tainted glass of wine. As he struggled with whatever the intruder had slipped into his drink, which left him awake and aware but trapped in an involuntary fear reaction, the Scarecrow identified himself.
Pigeon wasn't surprised to see Jonathan Crane's familiar ice-blue eyes and red hair beneath the mask. He had changed, certainly, but not for the better.
The professor's old protege was furious and, more likely than not, rid of what little sanity he had left. A cup of coffee and a friendly talk wouldn't sate him this time. He offered a drink, but the gesture was fake. Pigeon's death had come to fetch him. Rather than kill him immediately, Crane chose to lecture Pigeon about his childhood. Pigeon couldn't leave - Crane had dosed him once already to sedate him. He was still recovering, and the man's lean muscles were surprisingly strong. He deftly tied Pigeon's hands together to prevent him from fighting back or trying to run.
But now he began to see why Crane was such a mess, hearing the man describe his family history and his early life. His great-grandmother was beyond wicked, tormenting the child and tearing the innocence out of him with crows' claws. Bullies tortured him day in and day out. Pigeon hadn't been bullied, but he understood the kind of household Crane must have grown up in. His own father hadn't been an especially kind man, urging his son to follow in his footsteps in the Church and ignoring Pigeon's bookish ways. But Pigeon had chosen his own path, as had Crane from the sound of it.
But what Crane did in return was every bit as sick. A boy, barely in his teens, plotting a woman's death! A murderer had attended Gotham University all the while, walked among the students, worked beside the professors. Pigeon had shared coffee with an unrepentant killer. Now he knew that Crane would never let him go. The young man had just confessed to a serious crime. If Pigeon was freed, he could run to the police, and Crane was intelligent despite his insanity. He never left loose ends.
He now knew what had so fascinated him about Jonathan Crane. It was like looking into a mirror and seeing a cracked reflection. They had things in common: religious, hypocritical caregivers, a fascination with human brutality, and personal failures that destroyed them. Pigeon had overcome that and kept his sanity, while Jonathan retreated into his basest instincts. Even as he challenged the man who threatened his life, he found himself feeling a small amount of pity for Jonathan. If it hadn't been for his conscience, he could have become a creature like the killer about to destroy him, consumed by anger and vengeance. All the same, Crane, for all his ranting, had a choice. He hadn't been forced to murder poor Herold and leave his son fatherless. No one made him poison Renlon or scare Stanton half to death.
Such a waste! Crane's lack of control over his darker impulses had ruined his teaching career. Jonathan was improving, he had a future in front of him, and he'd utterly destroyed it. One damn-fool act of pure emotion, probably a subconscious reaction to the ugliness in his past. With his death inevitable, Pigeon wondered what the hell had happened to Crane, and when the man had slipped beyond all hope. Was it scarring over his childhood murder, a conscience abandoned because it was too much to bear? Or was Crane right, and Pigeon to blame for shoving a damaged mind over the edge? Or was the thin man bad from the start, his childhood horrors only exposing what was already there?
Pigeon himself had no choice in the matter, something Crane violently disagreed with. Imagine Jonathan Crane, wunderkind of Gotham University, working as a janitor at some second-rate school, because his trusted friend and mentor of all people had stabbed him in the back! Pigeon defended himself as best he could, but Crane was too far gone to listen to sense. He'd had a difficult life, yes, but so had Pigeon, and he hadn't turned out a bloodthirsty lunatic. Suffering as a child didn't justify destroying the lives of other people. Renlon and Herold hadn't done anything to Jonathan to deserve being terrorized.
By the end, Pigeon could barely stand to listen to Jonathan's prattle about decisions and neurotoxins, watching the tall man preen and strut as he pinned his bigger victim down to a sofa with tape. Reasoning with the man did no good. He was well beyond help from Pigeon or, most likely, anyone else. Anyone crazed enough to tail a man across the country out of petty vengeance wouldn't be talked out of the hunt. At long last he remembered that he was there for murder, not conversation, and he went in for the kill, taping Pigeon's mouth shut before fetching this new "fear toxin" that he had gloated so much about during their final discussion.
As Crane injected a needle into his arm, Pigeon managed one final look at the man's eyes through the tape holding him fast. All pretense of humanity was gone now, only shadow left behind, the failings of both men bound together. From that moment forward, Pigeon knew that he was a dead man even before the poison Crane put into him took effect. All he could do was deny his torturer the pleasure of hearing him scream. With the tape tight around his mouth, he couldn't.
Relishing his control, Crane presented Pigeon's own failures before him, matter-of-factly discussing Father's dismissal from the Church and his later suicide like Sunday morning's weather. He twisted the knife by claiming that Pigeon's own actions had driven the priest to suicide. They had done more-or-less the same thing. Both escaped the clutches of their hated guardians, although Crane's methods were bloodier. Somehow he'd even found out about Pigeon's essays on Suetonius. Not that it mattered any more.
The room dissolved and Pigeon found himself in a vast Roman arena, much like the ones in his books. He was tied by his hands to a marble column. Struggling did no good, and his heart jumped when he heard a deep snarl. An enormous male lion emerged from the arena's bowels, pacing toward him and licking its jaws, its roars drowning out the applauding crowd. Pigeon told himself that this was an illusion caused by the injection, it wasn't real, but its claws and fangs looked convincing enough.
He looked up to see the Emperor Caligula, his long white robes trailing as he rose from his seat at the center of the audience. The mad emperor's face, however, was that of Jonathan Crane, his eyes shining with delight and triumph. He looked every bit as hungry as the prowling cat.
Trying to free himself from the rope, Pigeon didn't listen to what the lunatic had to say. Instead he noticed two more of the tawny monsters slinking toward him, drooling in anticipation of a fresh meal. As Crane raised his arms, a signal for the games to begin, the nearest of the lions tensed its haunches and sprang.