Just a piece of mindless but slightly sinister fluff.
The universe where this takes place is a very different kettle of fish to that of my other Batman Begins story 'Once I Was You'. Try and imagine that Jonathan Crane and Bruce Wayne have somehow got together. Before any of the Scarecrow/Batman shenanigans really kick off. Neither of them have any idea about the other's alter ego.
Yes, I'm a Wayne/Crane shipper. So shoot me. I know it's wrong. Don't draw any hasty conclusions about where the other story is going . . .
The warm shower gently washed the blood away from his face and he watched as it swirled around lazily in the clear water. The wound was sore but not dangerous and with a little care he figured that his hair would easily hide the damage.
He hadn't intended to go out tonight at all. But he couldn't ignore the signal that had so briefly lit up the cloudy sky above Gotham. Gordon had needed him, and although the job had been quick it had still taken up more time than he could really afford.
He stepped out of the cubicle and onto the hard slippery tiles of the bathroom floor. Dark bruises crisscrossed his arms and legs, some older than others. All of them were aching a little in the cooler air outside the shower, although not nearly enough to distract him from the task at hand.
They were going to be late. It didn't really matter so far as he was concerned, he was positively expected to be late. Bruce Wayne, Gotham's richest bachelor, was always fashionably delayed. But for Jonathan Crane, recently director of Arkham Asylum and reluctant presider over its infrequent social functions, punctuality was a different matter.
He had never known Crane to be late for anything. Control freak, he thought, with a lack of generosity that surprised him a little. Despite the number of times that Bruce had come home late 'from the office', the number of times that he had failed to come home at all, Crane had never made any comment.
Of course it wasn't as if the psychiatrist was always waiting for him. Crane worked long hours, often at antisocial times of night. But he always left a little handwritten note detailing his schedule pinned to the fridge. And kept to it to the minute.
Bruce only wished his job could be so regular.
He peered warily around the bathroom door. The long hallway was barren and dark. It looked like the best opportunity he would have to make a break for his room. Cautiously he stepped onto the soft carpet, feeling it crush between his bare toes.
"Going somewhere?" The wintry voice made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He would never know how Crane moved so silently through the creaky timbers and floorboards of the old house. It unnerved him more than he cared to admit. Even Alfred made some noise when he approached, and Alfred moved like a cat.
"I was going to get dressed." He tried to maintain a dignified composure, all too aware that a towel was an unsuitable garment for dignity. He would not give in and turn round.
"I can see that." Crane's voice was acerbic. "You are of course aware that I am already meant to be at the City Hall?" He didn't say "Where have you been?" but Bruce could hear all the insinuations without needing them to be stated out loud.
As if it wasn't enough to have Alfred lecturing him, he thought. No, he'd had to import someone else to tell him off. Sometimes he really thought that the fighting the bad guys part was the easy bit.
He had got used to having Crane around, learned to trust him, learned when to offer affection and when to hold back. Some times the psychiatrist could be as cold as ice, the pale blue eyes staring right through Bruce as if he were no more than an interesting patient. Or a beetle impaled on a pin.
Control freak was a kind way of describing how Crane had behaved in the early days. It had been a steep learning curve. There had been consequences to every choice that Bruce made, and some of those consequences had been less than pleasant.
Now he was beginning to develop a system for handling the bad days. He knew the work the doctor was doing at Arkham was stressful, and some days seemed to be significantly worse than others.
There were many nights when Crane would already be peacefully asleep in the car that Bruce sent to collect him from the asylum before it even pulled out of the Narrows. Other evenings the small figure would rattle around the empty house, far from sleep, wired with a crackling rush of nervous energy. Those were the worst . . . those long nights when it took all of his patience to coax Crane into an uneasy state of rest.
"I'll be ready in five minutes. I'll get them to send round the car." The careless sound of his own voice gave him a little kick as he spoke. Bruce Wayne, billionaire playboy strikes again, he thought.
He felt rather than heard Crane launch himself at his unprotected back. Instinctively he pivoted and let the rapid force of the doctor's own momentum carry them both to the wall. The small wiry body could be surprisingly forceful at times, he was already carrying a few permanent scars from previous assaults. They rocked together from the side of the hallway to the floor.
Crane's hair smelled faintly of disinfectant and lemon, not a smell that Bruce naturally warmed to but one which he was learning to like through association. He pushed Crane away from him reluctantly, the temptation to stay sweetly tangled there on the hallway carpet was strong.
Sometimes these little fights were the only physical contact he was permitted. Not for the first time he wondered what the devil had got into him, why he had allowed Crane to come so far into his life, when he was only ever allowed to take as much as the doctor was prepared to give.
He could hear Crane breathing hard, feel the twisting limbs beneath him reaching out for some solid surface. Crane's feet found the wall and pushed away hard, sending Bruce tumbling over, his face skating over the floor. As he fell he shot out a hand and latched firmly onto the other man's ankle, pulling him back towards him.
Laughing he pinned Crane down with his body weight, taking a tight hold on the psychiatrist's wrists. After a few moments the doctor stopped struggling and lay limply below him.
Bruce smiled smugly. "Are you going to let me get dressed now?"
Crane did not smile back, and Bruce saw to his mounting dismay that the psychiatrist's face looked less than happy. His breathing was faster than normal and his pupils were unnaturally dilated. The skin around his mouth was a sickly shade of grey.
"Shit," Bruce thought. Sometimes he forgot that Crane was smaller than him. That this wasn't Batman fighting for his life in a filthy alleyway. That he didn't require all that much force to overpower the doctor, physically at least.
He gently released his hold on Crane's arms, let his own tanned hands slide slowly away from the milk pale skin. The marks of his grip remained vividly red upon the thin wrists.
Crane looked up at him, his expression opaque. Far behind the blue eyes something flashed briefly and then died away as if it had never been.
"We're going to be late." he said mildly. And Bruce really wished that one day he would finally succeed in breaking through the doctor's impenetrable self possession. He wanted to hear Crane shouting his name, wanted to hear the man lose it. Just for a moment.
Then he stood up and extended his hand down to the fallen figure. There was a short pause before Crane reached up his own arm and gripped Bruce's hand firmly.
Back in his own room Bruce changed quickly into the suit Alfred had left lying spread over the end of his bed. Getting dressed quickly was something he'd been getting better at recently. There was no time to do much else except pull his hair forward over the cut and hope that no-one would notice. After all, his face was going to be covered up for most of the evening.
He didn't know whose idea it had been to designate the annual Arkham Asylum fundraiser as a masquerade ball. He couldn't imagine that Crane had been particularly amused by it.
His gaze travelled away from the mirror and over the walnut dressing table, and he paused to reach down and pick up the scrap of burgundy velvet that lay folded beside the mirror.
Ah. Yes. He had asked Alfred to procure the necessaries. He raised a thin dark eyebrow at the peculiar irony of Bruce Wayne being required to attend a masked ball. He could have provided his own disguise. With a motion that spoke of long practice he pulled the soft mask down over his eyes
A small noise from the hall made him look up sharply. In the mirror he caught a fleeting glimpse of his face, the velvet mask covering the top third. He looked like Zorro. He looked ridiculous.
Jonathan Crane stood smirking quietly in the open doorway. As always he was immaculate; not a hair out of place, the black suit fitting to his slim body like a tailored glove. His face was thrown into mysterious shadow by the light from the hallway but Bruce could see that his disguise was not yet complete.
And he thought that there was something disturbing about the strangely confident way the doctor was standing. The way that his eyes were shining like grey glass in the half light.
"I wonder?" Crane said thoughtfully. "Would you like to see my mask?"
Reviews make me happy. Thanks for reading . . .