Disclaimer: DC-verse, not mine. CATverse, co-owned.
Disclaimer: Batverse, not mine. CATverse, co-owned. Kinda sorta.
This story is part of the CATverse, the story listing of which can be found at freewebs dot com slash catverse. It takes place in Arc Three, after "Danse Macabre" by Twinings.
So. They were dead.
At least, that's what the word on the street was.
But since Jonathan Crane was never a man to believe 'the word on the street' nor take it at face value, he had dragged himself to Gotham Central Cemetery in the wee early morning hours to check.
He was sore and cranky from tangling with the Bat himself a few days earlier, but when word reached him of his protégés-
No, no, that wasn't the right word to use. Protégé suggested that he'd had a choice in the matter. They had rather latched onto him and refused to let go, like leeches. Giggling, flirtatious and mildly disturbed leeches.
(Who are we kidding 'mildly'?)
Whatever you called them, when he'd received word that they had met a rather nasty end, he found himself compelled to investigate.
He also found himself morbidly gleeful, which was not the sort of reaction one expected from a master criminal on hearing the news that his henchgirls had been flayed and butterflied like so many lamb chops.
Yet he was. He was gleeful. Those two-no, three, he amended-had been the bane of his existence for far too long.
He stomped across the freshly fallen snow, leaving deep impressions in the powder as he sought the headstones that were rumored to be around here somewhere.
Fresh graves were harder to spot under fresh snow, but the headstones themselves should have been absolutely shining in comparison to those that surrounded them…
Ah. There. Three relatively untouched monuments on that hill.
Crane pondered for a moment. That was an awfully steep hill…was it really worth the effort to go all the way up there just to find out if those graves belonged to his would-be apprentices?
He considered and then started up the slope.
He'd never get a decent night's sleep if he didn't know…
If he just assumed they were dead and then one day they showed up on his doorstep (as they'd done countless times before), it just might make him lose his already tenuous grasp on his sanity.
He'd heard about it from Nygma, of all people, who seemed quite broken up about the whole messy business.
(And messy really was a key word here; the autopsy reports had become infamous overnight, so gruesome were the details.)
Apparently, their antics had finally caught up with them and one of the more vengeful crime bosses in the city had put a price on their heads.
And various other body parts…
Not that they hadn't deserved it, of course. Kidnapping, murder, theft, vandalism, forcing Mister Freeze to do a jig, among other unspeakable acts.
Really, it was a wonder there weren't three heads on pikes on display somewhere as a warning to all the other presumptuous wannabe gung-ho henchgirls in Gotham. To commit an unspeakable act that even the most unspeakable of villains found distasteful was quite a feat indeed.
He was yanked uncerimoniously out of his thoughts as one foot slid along a patch of hidden ice and he almost lost his footing.
Crane's efforts evidenced by the little clouds of vapor that his laborious breaths were turning into in front of his face, he huffed and puffed all the way up the little hill to stand at the feet of three identical graves.
He read each of the stone markers in turn, coming to the realization that the names were unfamiliar.
As long as he'd known 'Al' (occasionally referred to as Number One), 'Nova' (almost always called 'Captain', except when Techie called her 'Mon Capitan') and 'Techie' (who had basked in being called 'Q' or 'Data' the handful of times she'd been referred to as such), he'd never actually found out their given names.
Well, that was rather troubling.
His brow furrowed as he reread the names, trying to fit them to their faces.
The first headstone was emblazoned with the name 'Lydia Mia Luisa'.
(What, were her parents sadists? One unusual name wasn't enough, they had to saddle her with three? He almost found himself feeling sympathetic towards this one…but he reined it in because he wasn't sure which was he was feeling sorry for and he didn't want to risk that it was Al).
He pictured all three girls and forced the name on them.
The trouble with that was that none of them looked like a 'Lydia Mia Luisa'.
That was the funny thing about names and nom de plumes and such; some people fit their nickname and their given name, the way Edward Nygma did, and others, like the Joker, had no identity outside of their persona, nor could you imagine them with an alter ego that could pass for 'normal'.
Crane shook himself. He did not just compare these three…whatever they were to Gotham's premiere criminal. That was giving them far too much credit.
He glared at the headstones, suddenly aware of the fact that if he didn't know their names, he'd never know if they were really dead or not.
Well…there were other things to go on, surely. The dates of death on the tombstones each matched perfectly, so they had all died together apparently. That was something that seemed to fit them. They would have been together taunting whatever villain had struck their fancy when they'd finally gotten the axe.
He grinned a little bit, involuntarily.
(After all, murder and mayhem? Oh so very much of the good.)
It's not that he hated them…he tolerated them pretty well; but tolerance was as far as it went and he couldn't honestly say he was sorry they were gone.
He had to hand it to them though…they lasted much longer than he'd thought they would.
Whether it was tenacity or dumb luck, he didn't know, but the three young women seemed to have plenty of both.
Something caught his eye, poking out of the snow beneath one of the monuments. Green.
Morbid curiosity made him brush the snow away from the item with his shoe.
A sad little bouquet of purple flowers tied with a green ribbon that was emblazoned with black question marks.
Crane turned and scrutinized the other graves and found similarly shaped lumps under the snow.
So, Nygma had been there already.
And was in mourning, seemingly.
But for all three? He knew that the Riddler was acquainted with The Captain and Al, but was unaware that the third had ever been introduced to him.
There was probably a story behind that…he'd have to ask Nygma about it the next time they were sharing a cell.
Not that Crane cared of course…he was just curious as to whether or not the flowers had been left as a true showing of grief or if Nygma hadn't a clue about which grave belonged to which girl and was just covering all his bases.
If the latter was the case, he would make a point of needling Edward-
(He tried to ignore the little feminine voice in his head that had tried to correct him by piping up 'Eddums')
About it later. His own little troupe of groupies going to their graves without him knowing who was who…oh, the sweet irony.
Of course, they'd professed to liking him best but the beauty of that was he didn't care.
They were occasionally useful, sometimes borderline entertaining, rarely engaging…more of an irritation and an inconvenience than anything else. Like a bad rash.
Constantly chasing him around trying to force feed him, giggling girlishly and wriggling in ways he wasn't comfortable thinking about, offering him their undying loyalty and various beaten thugs the way one would offer catnip to a cat…
Calling him 'Squishy' or any number of variations thereof.
The man at the headstones sobered suddenly, the reality of it all hitting him.
No one was ever going to call him Squishy again. Or Squish face or Mister Squish or Squishums…
Wait a minute. That wasn't…that wasn't regret trying to make itself known inside him…was it?
Oh no. No. No. No. Absolutely not. He was not going to feel bad about the fact that no one was ever going to call him Squishy again.
Or look at him with those big soppy eyes and say, 'Teach us about fear toxin? Please? We want to learn.'
Or feed him or hug him or look at him adoringly like he was the only man on the face of the Earth worth knowing.
He'd grown fond of them.
How had that happened? All the facts presented should have made that absolutely impossible.
There should have been universe shattering repercussions with a revelation like that. Some parallel universe had just imploded or something…
Damn. Damn. Damn.
Well…it was a good thing they were dead when he came to this realization; if they'd known while still alive he would have had to kill them.
He stepped back away from the graves and let out an indignant huff.
How dare they make him feel.
Well, he could take it as long as he didn't turn into the sentimental gooey mess that Nygma had clearly made of himself.
No, he was not going to leave flowers at the graves of the girls.
(Again, he ignored the voice that insisted 'Your girls' and stifled it with threats of physical harm.)
Instead, he sighed once, swept up his hand and tipped his hat the slightest bit to the resting places of the three. He did so grudgingly, but it was done none-the-less.
As he turned to stalk away down the hill, still angry at the fact he'd allowed himself to become fond of any living creature, a giggle floated across the wind to him.
He spun on his heel and scanned the horizon, half expecting them to be standing behind him with arms outstretched waiting for 'Squish lurve'.
But the cemetery was silent and remained as still as ever; the final resting place of Al, Captain and Techie untouched.
Shaking off the chill that had set into his bones and resuming his walk out of the graveyard, he convinced himself it had been his imagination that had produced the giggle.
He still stepped up his pace double time and booked it out of the accursed place as quickly as possible.
To decide to take his little gesture of respect as an invitation to haunt him would have been so like them.
Just beyond the next hill above the graves of the Scarecrow's 'girls', stood the women themselves, pressed into a bundle of limbs behind a large oak tree so as to stay out of sight.
The one who was somehow on top of the 'pile' (though whether this was because she was taller or because of the fact the ground was uneven was unclear) had one mitten covered hand plastered over the mouth of the woman nearest her.
Apparently, the Captain had a nasty case of the giggles (that was the last time she was allowed to eat a whole chocolate cake by herself) and Techie had seen fit to appoint herself 'snicker stifler'.
The mitten was removed (which the Captain playfully snapped at when it was withdrawn, making Techie jump) when Scarecrow was fully out of sight.
"He misses us," Captain said in glee, grabbing hold of Techie and hugging her until she was blue in the face.
Techie flapped her hands helplessly as Al pried the arms that imprisoned her away and once the Captain was detached, she bent over and grabbed her knees, coughing.
"I wanna go hug him," Captain said starting off out from behind the tree.
Al grabbed her by the back of her coat and yanked her back to her former hiding place, "Not now. We're dead, remember?"
"Yeah and I did not go to all the trouble of faking those gnarly autopsy photos for nothing." Techie stood up and looked at the Captain, "Do you have any idea how much Karo syrup all that blood took? And how many cans of corn and coreander soup did I have to go through to get the right vomit consistency for the crime scene pics? You're not going to ruin all that with one glomp to the Squishmeister."
"You never did tell me how you knew how to do that," The Captain said, narrowing her eyes.
"Guerilla film making tactics…came in handy when I was going through my 'I want to be a horror movie director' phase when I was thirteen." Techie shrugged as though this was a perfectly normal phase of adolescence, like the requisite boy-band phase of typical teenagehood.
"But he misses us," Captain said, looking after the Scarecrow dreamily.
Al patted the Captain on the shoulder, "It's not like this is permanent."
The Captain pouted, which was honestly a mirroring of the feelings of the other two women but there were other things to be considered at the moment.
Like the fact that if they were still 'alive', every two bit hood in town was going to be out for their blood.
"We're just pulling an Elvis," Techie said reassuringly, "No big. The second everyone forgets they want to kill us, we'll magically 'resurface'."
Captain looked at her companions thoughtfully, "I dunno…Do you think they'll ever forget?"
"Eventually," Al answered carefully.
Techie nodded, "I give it a year…five tops."
"Well…you did make me force Mister Freeze's head to do a jig. That one is going to live in infamy for a while."
"This is true," Captain admitted with a grin, "I'm certainly not going to forget it anytime soon."
The three started strolling down the hill away from the tree that had been their hiding place and towards the awaiting blue and white VW bus that Techie had 'borrowed' from a nearby parking garage and had immediately dubbed 'The Frohike'.
No one knew why…
"Well…let's hope the residents of Gotham have a shorter memory than you do. I don't wanna stay away for too long," Al said as she scooped up a glove full of snow and lobbed it lazily at Captain, who dodged it artfully while scooping up a snowball of her own.
She froze and suddenly glanced at the other in their trio.
Techie had made it a few feet ahead of her companions and the two of them shared a look as they leaned down and grabbed up handfuls of snow.
Just as they were about to pull back and hurl the packed powder at her back-
"Don't even think about it." Techie glanced back over her shoulder and smirked at the astonished stares that were plastered on her partners' faces, "Wisconsinite, remember? You guys lack the snowball-y stealth necessary to catch a northerner off guard. Snow lost it's shock value for me a long time ago."
Of course, that didn't stop her from getting pelted with the stuff.
Two minutes of intense snowy battle later (mostly because even the threat of 'every villain in Gotham wants us dead' can't stop the Captain from frolicking in snow...she's weird like that), the three made it to the beat-up van and scrambled into the front bench seat.
"So…we can't stick around Gotham, bein' dead and all," Al said as she started the bus.
"Can't exactly head back home…again with the…you know, dead thing," Techie replied.
The Captain's grin was absolutely monumentous as she chirped, "I hear Metropolis is nice this time of year."
To find out what happens next, read "So Long, and Thanks" by Twinings.