"Tell me the truth, Hazel. There's someone else, isn't there?" John spoke in a gruff voice, moving the guinea pig he held in his right hand to indicate it was talking. The creature was beige, dressed in a suit, and very much wanting to be put down.
"Why, I declare, Jeremy! How could y'all even think such a thang?!" The guinea pig in John's left hand who apparently spoke in a rather unconvincing southern accent had black fur, a simple dress, and no desire to be part of any of this.
"Don't lie to me!" continued John, switching back to the first animal. "I've seen the way you look at that hamster from the discount pet store. You'd rather be with him, wouldn't you? I get it, I get it. The guy's way furrier than I am. And he has a great set of wheels."
"Hush, Jeremy! You're speakin' right nonsense! Y'all know you're the only one for me!"
"Then why, Hazel? Why can't we be together?"
"It's…it's my pa. He think you're too old for me."
"Too old?! Well…I was born two months before you. In guinea pig years, that's almost a century!"
"I know. But, Jeremy…I don't care. I love you! I plum wanna be with y'all forever!"
John hit the creatures' faces together while making kissing noises. Hazel closed her eyes and bowed her head, waiting for all this to be over, while Jeremy struggled to get away.
John let out a contented sigh. "Oh, you lovebirds." He placed them back in their cage, where they proceeded to ignore each other as they usually did. "Well, I can tell the two of you want to be alone, so…." He tapped his phone which began playing 80s porn music, and set it by the cage. He gave Jeremy a wink before leaving the room and shutting the door behind him, thoughts of little, furry grandbabies scurrying through his head.
No thanks to John's encouragements, Hazel did, in fact, become pregnant. John was overjoyed and made haste sewing the happy couple a gown and tuxedo for their shotgun wedding. It was a lovely ceremony, complete with flowers, cake, and a plush doll of Bruce Wayne serving as the minister.
In the weeks to come, John spent more time than usual doting on his pets. He made sure to steal plenty of pickles and ice cream for Hazel, and frequently imparted life lessons to Jeremy that he'd picked up back in Arkham. John had a lot on his plate outside of his home, but the guinea pigs were rarely far from his thoughts. Coming home to them, being sure to feed them regularly, cleaning the melted ice cream out of their cage – these helped provide well-needed structure to his life outside the asylum walls. He was eager for the birth of the pups to the point of frustration, which he channeled into creating several tiny outfits of various different styles.
When John finally came home to find that two new healthy, happy family members had been born, he let out an excited gasp and clasped his hands together it utter joy. He pulled out his phone, and was about to snap a picture, when he noticed something. A third pup had crawled out from behind Hazel. But this one was different than the others – white as snow, with red eyes and adorable pinkish ears. It was quite possibly the most lovely thing John had ever seen. He put away his phone and reached into the cage with an uncharacteristic tenderness.
"Come on, little buddy." He allowed the little creature to sniff his hand, before gently coaxing it into his palm. He raised it up slowly, reassuring it. "It's okay. I gotcha." It was so soft, so cute, and it didn't seem scared of John at all. Choking up a little, John held it to his cheek. "You're perfect." He lowered it to look at it again, and smiled. "I'm gonna call you…Bruce. You're gonna do…great things, little buddy! I just know it." He then carefully returned it to the cage.
"So!" John grabbed Jeremy abruptly and held him up, grinning. "You and I…we gotta talk." He looked at Hazel. "Excuse us. This is sort of a man-to-man thing." He took Jeremy into the next room, shutting the door behind him, then set the guinea pig down next to a set of tiny clothes. "Wow! Big day for you, huh?" John started dressing the animal in a new plaid, button-up shirt. "This changes everything! No more nights getting plastered at the bar. Might have to pick up a few extra shifts at work to make ends meet, am I right? But, hey, all part of being a good dad! And you're definitely gonna live up to the part!" He finished buttoning the shirt and admired his handiwork. "You certainly look it." John cupped the back of his hand to his mouth and lowered his voice a little. "And, uh…just between you and me? If any of the kids ever feel a little…um…different? Just make sure they know you love 'em. Let 'em know…they're beautiful just the way they are. Kay?" He looked at the animal for a response and, getting none, moved it with his hand and said in a gruff voice, "Don't worry, John! You can count on me!" John smiled and responded, "That's what I like to hear!"
He returned Jeremy to the cage. "Your turn, missy!" he said, lifting up Hazel. The usually compliant animal squirmed and struggled, looking nervously at the cage. "Separation anxiety, huh?" asked John. "I get it. But Dr. Leland says you shouldn't get too fixated on one thing. We'll be back soon, I promise." He took her into the next room, shutting the door behind them. For her he had a polka dot dress and white apron, which he fastened around her as he spoke. "So, how often do you think we should throw them birthday parties? What's normal in guinea pig culture? Once a month? Once every couple weeks? We gotta be careful not to spoil them. Eh, who am I kidding?" He chuckled to himself. Once he'd finished dressing her, he held her up and signed happily. "Look at you. All primmed and ready to be on the front cover of Better Rodents Housekeeping." He rubbed her head affectionately.
John opened the door and carried Hazel back toward the cage. "Alright, kiddos, time for…"
He stopped suddenly, dropping Hazel to the ground.
He looked silently at the cage. All three of the babies were dead. Bitten, scratched, bloody corpses. Jeremy was there, looking relaxed, eating Bruce's remains.
It was over.
After a few moments of staring, John closed his eyes and clenched his teeth. "You weren't supposed to do that." He grabbed Jeremy and held him in front of his face, glaring. "You weren't supposed to do that!" The guinea pig struggled to get away. "You're not! A good! Father!" With the last word he threw Jeremy against the wall. The creature fell to the floor, injured and frightened, but still alive.
"That won't do." John walked over to a baseball bat he had propped up against a wall and grabbed it. "Not at all." Jeremy tried to scurry away, but was having trouble in his crippled state. "You think you can run?" asked John approaching, eyes wide. "You can't run from justice!"
He brought the bat down again and again. Shattering bones, splattering blood, decorating the wood with red pulp. John didn't know why he was laughing so hard. But it didn't matter. He kept beating the creature until its eyes bulged from its head and it's body stopped twitching.
John was focusing on his breathing when he heard a noise behind him. He turned to see Hazel scratching desperately at the doorframe, trying to get out. John thought back to how anxious she had been when he'd taken her from the cage. And then it hit him. "You knew!" He dropped the bat and ran toward her. She tried to flee, but he caught her under his foot, then picked her up with both hands and shook her fiercely. "You knew this would happen! And you said nothing!" He looked her in the eyes, a pained expression on his face. "You were their mother! You were supposed to protect them!" Hazel struggled, terrified.
"But that's okay," said John, his voice quieter now as he squeezed his fingers around her as hard as he could. "You can join them." Hazel felt herself being crushed, felt the air being squeezed out of her lungs, as she struggled desperately to free herself. But it was no use. The last thing she saw before she died was her caretaker's hideous grin.
Once John was sure that all the life had been squeezed from her body, he relaxed his grip. He observed the animal casually before tossing it over his shoulder. Then he turned and looked at the cage with a frown.
He walked over to it slowly, then very carefully lifted Bruce's body out. He sat on the floor and cradled the guinea pig corpse against his cheek.
"It's okay, little buddy," said John softly. "I gotcha. I gotcha."