I was going to post this in Batman Begins. But then I thought it didn't really belong there. I'm not sure if it really belongs here either so let me know.
I'm using the characters from the comic but it's more of a movieScarecrow. I'm a great admirer of the comic Scarecrow but the movieCrane has I'm afraid become 'my' Dr Crane. Which is why he's here.
I'm a shameless romantic. In a melancholy kind of way. This is a Crane/Wayne story but only to the extent that you want it to be. Nothing graphic . . . nothing even that overt. Take it or leave it . . .
You can't own people. I don't either.
Jarvis Tetch is the first to go. Mugging a little old lady at a bus stop for petty cash when his heart just cracks and implodes. She hits him five times round the head with her handbag before she realizes that he's actually begging her for help.
Batman doesn't attend the wake. But he hears the stories for days afterwards. How Harley and the Joker danced the lobster quadrille till dawn. The wreath that arrived from the police department, a mock turtle rampant on a powder blue sea of forget-me-knots. The living wreath that arrived from Poison Ivy, snapdragons hissing like angry serpents. How the tea flowed like rivers and the Riddler reigned supreme over the table. Riddle me this . . .
- - -
High on the Gotham skyline a masked figure adjusts the aim of a device closely akin to a sinister water cannon. From beneath the canvas hood can be heard the occasional nervous giggle. The Scarecrow glances briefly over his shoulder and lowers his face to look along the sights of the gun.
From the empty sky a caped figure drops down to the roof like a lightning bolt.
"What the . . ." Batman's hand shoots out just in time to pull the Scarecrow back from the edge of the building. Below them the traffic crawls across the city like flies trapped behind a pane of glass, buzzing angrily. The cannon topples gracefully over the edge and disappears down into the swirling pattern of lights. A few moments later there is a brief crunching noise.
Batman smiles a satisfied smile and pulls the canvas sack ever so gently away from the Scarecrow's head.
"Four weeks of work ruined." Crane snarls at him like an angry kitten. Batman yields all too easily to the urge to shake him by the scruff of the neck until all the fight goes out of him.
For a long time after the Bat has gone Crane lies just where he fell, the back of his head nestling in the gravel, staring up into the stars.
- - -
Oswald Cobblepot finally retires. Hangs up his fedora and his cane for the final time, says his goodbyes to all of Gotham society from the highest to the lowest. The opera girls are inconsolable for weeks.
The last Bruce hears of him he's on a cruise ship down in the Antarctic, sipping champagne and watching the penguins glide through the icy water as if they were flying through the thinnest air. The Joker gets the odd postcard from time to time.
- - -
Batman runs across the train tracks, cape billowing behind him, intent on his prey. The Scarecrow is only a few hundred yards ahead of him and with one final push he knows that he will easily overtake him. Track sports were never Dr Crane's strongest suit. The trouble is he's beginning to suspect they might not be his anymore either.
Lungs burning, he stumbles clumsily into the side of a crate. Leans against it gasping. He prays that Crane can't see him. He doubles over, coughing and wheezing uncontrollably. I'm getting too old for this nonsense, he thinks.
When he staggers back out into the moonlight he has every expectation that the Scarecrow will be long gone. In fact he's sitting patiently waiting on an upturned orange box a few feet away. Batman only gets a few paces further towards him before Crane is on his feet. The doctor turns to run, flutters one hand, a glimpse of mask, looks over his shoulder like a beset Victorian heroine. Then he is off.
Batman sighs. Swears. And reluctantly follows the Scarecrow's zigzag path across the sidings. Neither of them run quite so fast this time.
- - -
He never finds out what happened to Catwoman. One day she is there, teasing and wisecracking, all haunches and black black leather and the next she is simply gone.
He looks down every alley, pets every stray cat he meets. Takes some of them home and feeds them for a while. Eventually they wander off too.
Months later a small package arrives. Alfred brings it to him at the breakfast table. There's no postmark. When he unfolds the brown paper there is a small bronze statue of Bast curled sleepily in the bubble wrap. Her eyes are carved from tiny sapphires.
He puts it away somewhere safe. From time to time he takes it out and runs one finger slowly along the arching curve of the spine. The metal is cold and unresponsive.
- - -
Crane breaks out from Arkham one Sunday afternoon. Bruce hears it on the radio, dozing in the afternoon sun on the porch.
By the time Batman makes it to the scene the Scarecrow has incapacitated most of the city's police force. Gordon is livid. "This isn't the retirement present I promised myself," he snaps at Batman. It's the first time Batman realizes exactly how tired Gordon has started to look.
When he finally tracks the Scarecrow down in the basement of an old timber yard Crane puts up no resistance.
"It was fun while it lasted," he says. And lets Batman carry him most of the way back to Arkham even though they both know he could easily have walked.
- - -
After Alfred's funeral Bruce loses interest in Batman for a while. Loses interest in everything really.
Alfred gets a half page obituary in almost every newspaper. Turns out that he had been a bit of a philanthropist on the side. Directors from each of Gotham's children's homes write glowing accounts of how his regular donations gave them the confidence to keep going. The President of the Gotham Creek Croquet Club pens a tribute to the finest short stroke player he has ever known. Every single article uses the word 'gentleman' more than once.
Bruce thinks about secret identities. Then he tries to stop thinking.
The Batsignal is dark for days, and he realizes that maybe Gordon is smarter than he'd ever allowed himself to believe. It takes the Scarecrow three weeks of increasingly audacious schemes to get Batman back up on the rooftops.
- - -
Harley dies in Vegas. The details are sketchy at best. The rumour mill has it that she'd run away from the Joker one last time, gone to start a new life in a different city. For a week or so at least. It didn't work out. The thugs who stab her in an alleyway not far from the bright circus lights of the Venetian don't even know who she is. "Mister J's going to find you," she says. A couple of the muggers claim later that maybe that last word was actually "me". Then Mister J finds them.
The Joker doesn't last more than three weeks without her. When he finally goes down in a hail of bullets it hardly merits the front page. There are different villains in Gotham now.
"All the voyeurs and the lawyers who can pull a fountain pen, and can put you where they choose, with the language that they use." Batman finds himself singing that song a lot now, even though nobody else can remember all the words. Bullets make no impression on the marble façade of City Hall.
Bruce ends up writing the obituary himself, submitting it anonymously to the press. He tries to make it as balanced as he can.
- - -
He's driving the Jag back from the garage. It seems like every time he wants to fill it up he has to go further and further to find a pump that still serves four star. It's all gas these days. The mechanics at the station come out in a noisy crowd to admire the car. A real classic. That's what they say.
He thinks that things really were better in the good old days. And he remembers that his own father never had the chance to think that.
When the hitchhiker steps out of the ditch he has to swerve out into the opposite lane to avoid him. Angrily he reverses back to the man's side, the string of curses already forming on his lips. And looks into a pair of guileless blue eyes.
And it is as simple as that.
"Passing Arkham?" Crane already has the car door undone. "You can drop me on the corner of Fourth. It's on your way home anyway."
Bruce opens his mouth. And then closes it again. Chauffeur to the stars, he thinks.
They drive the rest of the way in silence. It's not uncomfortable.
- - -
Gordon passes away in a hospice bed surrounded by his grandchildren and their children. Even though Bruce had known it was coming for months he still can't really believe it.
The night that Gordon dies Batman climbs up onto the roof of the building behind the police station. Points the burning spotlight at the clouds and lets the Batsignal blaze out over Gotham's heavy sky. When the sun finally comes up he carefully cuts the Bat template away from the front of the light, wraps it in his cloak and drops away from the railed edge of the block to the waiting Batmobile below.
For the first time ever he drives home with the windows down.
There is an envelope lying on the mat behind his front door. He opens it, speaks the words out loud into the flat empty silence of the hall. "If you are reading this then I am dead . . ."
Hours later he's still reading it. None so blind as those who cannot see, he thinks. Gordon kept his secret far better than Bruce ever had. He puts the letter away in a safe place. With the bronze cat and the Batmask.
- - -
The city goes on without Batman. Without any of them. Twoface is found floating face down in a canal, both sides of his personality finally submerged, and the pathologist is unable to establish whether or not he needed to be pushed to reach that position. The court reach a verdict of death by misadventure and the epitaph seems to fit.
The Riddler moves to Vegas. He claims it's to start a new career in show business and no-one disputes that. Before long the papers are full of the amazing cabaret successes of one of Gotham's own. They don't specify one of Gotham's own what exactly.
Only Bruce knows that Harley's grave is always covered in fresh flowers, some of which have a tendency to growl savagely at tourist gawkers. So he guesses he knows where Ivy must have ended up as well.
- - -
Nowadays he doesn't tend to leave the house much. He can't get used to the speed of the new cars, the bustle of the hopelessly overcrowded city. Most of the empty rooftops he used to prowl have roughly built shacks on them now, housing the poorest of Gotham's poor.
Every so often he goes down to the Batcave. Sits in the car and thinks about the past. Holds the grapnel gun clenched in his fist and imagines the cord snaking out to claw onto a balustrade and snap him away into the sky. Then he goes back upstairs and pours another drink.
He doesn't listen to the radio so much anymore. Which means he misses any news from Arkham. He doesn't want to feel responsible for anything.
He wonders what Crane is doing. He always admired the purity of the doctor's motives. Not for power, or money, merely for revenge. Revenge against the world. But the world always wins in the end, he thinks.
- - -
It gets harder to remember the past. When he tries to think about things he gets confused. Was that the Riddler's plot or the Joker? Who said what exactly? And how did the schoolgirls end up involved anyway? He wonders if he should write it all down.
Gotham is different now. Clean, peaceful, prosperous. At least for those at the top. The only real criminals wear pinstriped suits and talk like lawyers. He can't bear to watch the news any more.
When the doorbell rings it takes him a moment to remember what the sound means. He gets unsteadily to his feet and wends his way down the hall to the door.
"Can I help you?"
On the doorstep Crane smiles up into his face like a carved angel. He hasn't really changed in thirty years. Age cannot wither . . . Bruce thinks and he tries not to remember what his own face looks like in the mirror on the rare occasions that he bothers to check.
"Yes." The doctor's voice is perfectly self possessed but his lips are trembling. "I think maybe you can."
Bruce looks down at him, stares deep into the blue eyes that had once looked right through him, who knew how many years ago. He notices the tired lines around the mouth, the cracks appearing in the face that has seen so much.
He reaches down from the doorway, and the hand that softly touches Crane's parchment skin is that of an old man.
"Maybe," he says, gently. And the years fall away behind him like a long dark shadow.
The flash of light that sparkles in Crane's turquoise eyes is that of a starry night over a city skyline. And he lets himself into the house and closes the door quietly behind him.
Thanks for reading.