Disclaimer: Don't own. Don't sue. Wouldn't get anything anyway. I'm broke as a cop's watch.
This story is part of the CATverse. The story listing can be found at freewebs dot com slash catverse. It takes place in arc four, directly after "A Measure of Trust" by Twinings.
He was alone.
He was well and truly alone.
Jonathan Crane was never more aware of his isolation as he was at this precise moment in time.
It had been one whole year.
He hadn't even noticed that it was today until he overheard some random hench who'd been under the employ of Edward Nygma say the man had started to brood over the past few days because-and he quoted-'Their anniversary was approaching'.
No, he didn't feel.
He should have felt ashamed about the fact that Nygma had kept track and he hadn't, especially considering the fact they had been his minions, but that would have sounded like he cared.
Which he didn't.
He was just having a hard time believing it had been a whole year that he'd had peace and quiet without their interference.
It was hard to reconcile that they weren't going to be pestering him ever again…
(Not because he missed it, but because that was just too good to be true.)
Occasionally he'd think he spotted one of them-a woman on the street with the same odd choice of hairstyle as the Captain, maybe one who had Al's stride…perhaps he'd overhear a tourist from the Midwest with a painfully obvious accent like Techie's.
And then of course there'd been those few close encounters of the Twilight Zone variety that made him question his sanity and whether or not they were really gone…
However, each of those times could be explained away by circumstance…seeing them after being beaten to the point of hallucination, for example, did not constitute proof that they were alive.
Nygma had a handful of his own close encounters, which he had confided in Crane the last time they'd shared a cell in Arkham (only a few weeks earlier at the very end of September)-but those times could also be explained away by extenuating circumstances. Dreams, head injuries, a fever…
Every time the three had ever shown up, there was a logical explanation that could attribute their appearances to hallucinations.
And yet, sometimes…
Sometimes he wondered if they were really hallucinations or if there was something more to it than that.
If not them back from the dead, then perhaps that they were never dead to begin with…
It was times like those when he doubted, that he'd suddenly find his feet carrying him to the cemetery quite against his will.
Somehow, seeing those stone monuments made it more real.
Even though he still hadn't figured out which one belonged to which girl…
Of course, every time he wandered past the graveyard-
(Not visiting. He was not visiting!)
He got even surlier and more irritable about his seclusion from the rest of the world and would return to the lair.
The lair the four of them had shared when he still had them as his minions.
He never went inside…too risky. Every other time he'd wandered to this part of town, he just glared at the building and walked away.
Today, something compelled him to go inside.
He hadn't been inside it in several months…there probably wasn't even anything left from when he was occupying it but…
Just this once. Just this once he'd go back and take a look around.
Not because he missed having a place to call 'home' (not that he ever called it that), and certainly not because they had died one year ago today…
He was just curious…no need to justify that curiosity or associate it with other emotions. After all, it had been his lair too.
The doorknob turned without resistance and he stepped inside, his nostrils violently assaulted by the smell of dust.
There was at least a quarter of an inch on everything in sight.
But other than that, it looked exactly the same.
Almost like it was just…waiting for them to come back to it.
It was miraculous that the place had yet to be discovered and everything remained just as it had been before they disappeared…
A tiny part of him thought they'd eventually return, regardless of all the evidence to the contrary…they were too persistent not to.
Back when he was still living in this place, sometimes he'd pass by their doorways and pause for half a second longer than he should have, but then he'd shake it off and continue about whatever he'd been doing.
On one occasion, he had actually dared to venture inside one of the rooms, telling himself he wasn't missing them so much as looking for insight into what had made them insane enough to want to be with him constantly.
He was a psychologist after all…the reasons behind strange behavior were supposed to fascinate him, so it was perfectly logical to be curious.
The three rooms were adjacent to each other on one side of the lair while his quarters and lab were on the opposite side. He knew that the one on the left belonged to The Captain-that had been the one he actually went inside, oh so many months ago-but the other two were still a mystery.
He tried the door furthest from The Captain's and found it swung in easily.
But it was also completely dark. When he went to flip the light switch, there was a brilliant flash and then all consuming darkness descended once again.
Of course the light bulb would blow. Typical.
He took two steps forward and stumbled on something, landing flat on his face.
When he tried to get to his feet, something else snagged his ankle and as he collided with the floor once more, he decided that this room had it in for him and was out to do him injury.
Must be Al's.
Crane scrambled off the floor and limped out of the room, glaring at the darkness angrily.
Once he was back out in the main area of the lair, he glared at the door in the middle.
Did he dare risk going inside it?
Approaching the door as cautiously as he possibly could with that limp, he looked at the door and the things that were stuck to it.
A very worn looking and obviously well loved black and white photograph of three men that had so many creases in it that their faces were hard to make out; two bumper stickers which proclaimed 'Question Authority' and 'Aliens Are Real. It's The Air Force That Doesn't Exist' and a postcard with a postmark from Tennessee that was addressed to 'TechTech'.
Crane turned to glare at the room that had tried to kill him mere minutes before. He'd been right. That one was Al's.
So then this one was Techie's.
He should have figured that out on his own…of course her room would be in the middle. That only made sense. Techie had night terrors every so often and the other two had to be able to get to her quickly and quiet her down before her screaming shook the foundations of the place to pieces.
That had interested him immensely and he wasn't even ashamed about admitting it.
The anatomy of fear-especially the anatomy of the fear of one of the people who tortured him on a regular basis-was useful information to have, if for no other reason than being able to make her squirm with his knowledge of what scared her so badly she screamed at night.
It most certainly didn't interest him to know because he was worried…or wanted to know what it was that made her do that because he was willing to tear the beast that haunted her dreams limb from limb…
'Cause after all…that would have meant he cared.
That he felt…protective.
And he didn't.
He reached for the doorknob and gave it a twist.
She would be the only one who locked her door. Paranoid little thing. Many a time she'd spouted conspiracy theories to high heaven and made a case that big brother was watching and that the government was the enemy and so on and so forth. It was one of the few subjects that got her hackles up. If you wanted a quiet evening, you did not mention the government, punk music or Catwoman: The Movie (the only person who was more upset than Techie about that travesty was the real Catwoman herself, who took it as a great personal insult to use her chosen identity as the basis for that piece of garbage) in any capacity…because you would never shut her up about it.
He glanced back at Al's door and pondered whether he'd rather spend twenty minutes picking a lock or risk breaking his neck.
Out came the lock pick and in a much shorter space of time than he thought possible, the door was open.
The place was Spartan in comparison to that of her companions. Very utilitarian. Her books were sorted in their shelf from largest to smallest-tall to short-so as to save space (though this didn't explain the fact that they were sorted by spine color as well…but that could be attributed to her obsessive compulsive tendencies) and the small collection of videos and DVDs were sorted in the same manner. A milk crate that was piled full of clothes was in the corner, another that served as a bedside table with a lamp on it next to her bed and that was it.
Very orderly and rather dull.
He poked around in her bookshelf for a few minutes before he turned with every intention of leaving.
A small patch of dark blue that was poking out from under her bed caught his eye.
He picked it up and sat down on her bed to investigate it's contents.
In comparison to her other belongings, this thing was absolutely chaotic. There was no order to it at all…
Arcade tokens, ticket stubs, postcards, old letters, stationary, pens, receipts…all of it piled together in a haphazard manner.
There were a few burglary tools as well…glass cutter, lock pick kit, things of that nature…
But beneath all of that was a book…
No, not a book. A diary. Techie's own personal journal.
He really shouldn't read it. It was wrong to poke about in the private thoughts of one of his girls…
Wait a second, he was a villain here. Since when had that kind of thinking stopped him?
Besides, it's not like she'd have anything Earth shattering to say…and she was dead. Not like she was going to scold him for reading it.
With that in mind, he opened the little book and started to read.
How did they talk me into this again? How did I wind up on a bus to meet people I've never even laid eyes on before? Oh, I remember now. "I don't want to be stuck in Wisconsin for the rest of my natural life. I want a little excitement!" "Well...we've got a spare room...you can come stay with us over Christmas and if you like it well enough, you can stay as long as you want. And hey, we're having one of our little Christmas shindigs again this year; you might actually get to meet Eddie!"
So now I'm on a greyhound bus in the middle of December, bound for Alabama...I can't possibly be this much of a push over. The remote possibility of meeting a villain shouldn't be able to make me want to cross God knows how many state lines just for the opportunity.
But then Mon Capitan had to go and mention the Scarecrow and I couldn't say no...damn her. Damn her to the ninth circle of the seventh level of hell...the one with all the prickly torture devices. She knows me far too well...getting to be a liability, that one. Might have to kill her.
So, this was before the Christmas party debacle. Hm. Crane flipped a few pages and found one dated after December Twenty Fifth.
That went well. Oh yes, this was such a good idea. 'Come spend Christmas with us and get a faceful of fear toxin! It'll be fun!'. Why am I still here again? Ok, so I can't really blame the girls for what happened-well, maybe I can blame Al a little for glomping the poor man and sending him into a panic that resulted in him gassing everyone in the room-but...well, for some reason, I don't want to leave just yet. The three of us get along frighteningly well, so I'm going to stick around a bit longer. No more than a week.
Another few pages later, he found an entry dated January third.
So much for 'no more than a week'. A news item that flashed across the tube this afternoon has seen to that...Captain was having hysterics and Al practically had to sit on her to keep her flailing down to a minimum. Eddie is in major trouble and the only thing that got Mon Capitan to calm down was my off the cuff suggestion 'Maybe we can help him?'
...I need to keep my mouth shut from now on. She got all excited and started packing. This will end badly. I can just tell.
Another page flip.
This was a bad idea. This was a bad idea. This was a bad idea. Bad. Bad. Bad.
We're going to Gotham. We're going to Gotham to see The Riddler.
Correction: We're going to Gotham to help The Riddler.
We're all gonna die.
What do you mean? I'm not a pessimist, I'm a realist.
And another page flip...
We're in an airplane...Mon Capitan is very at ease at the moment, Al is off in the lavatory, and I am having a freak-out of William Shatner proportions. Me and heights? Not a good mix. The plane isn't going to crash. There isn't a gremlin on the wing. We're all going to live long enough to get to Gotham. We aren't going to go down in a huge fireball that streaks across the sky and hits the ground in a pile of twisted metal and burning bodies. Ok, this isn't helping...oh Stewardess? Could I have a nice big bottle of whiskey and some horse tranquilizers, please?
He didn't chuckle at that image. Not at all. While he was not chuckling, he flipped to the next page. January sixth.
Ok...I've officially turned to a life of crime. No going back to being a law abiding citizen now...erm...not that I really was one before or anything, but my other extra curricular activities were more covert than coming to the aid of The Riddler...nothing that would actually get me thrown in jail for the rest of my life, at least. As a side note, Edward Nygma is the most adorable man on the face of the Earth, so that makes up for it somewhat. I'm still rather disappointed I haven't met the Scarecrow yet...I got a glimpse of him at the now infamous 'Christmas Party Of Doom™' but that wasn't exactly under the most ideal of circumstances.
The next one was dated over a week later.
I'm still alive. That's pretty much the only good thing I have to report at the moment. I don't want to think about the 'not good' parts. Let's just say it's been a long, painful week and leave it at that.
A conspicuous lack of entries throughout the rest of January and then one dated February first.
Batman is a scary, scary man. Scary, scary, scary. Mon Capitan, Number One and I got separated in the city and some two-bit hood decided to try and accost me. Bats swept in and played the hero and I'm still shaking.
I'm sure he thought it was because that guy tried to drag me into an alley and not because I happened to be a less than upstanding citizen myself and was worried he'd recognize me and take me off to jail along with my would-be attacker.
He's terrifying, but I gotta admit, he's definitely a bad ass. We all should get out of Gotham for a while...this has shaken me up pretty bad and I don't shake easily. I'm going to go talk to the Captain and try to convince her that we should beat it.
We're thinking about relocating to Metropolis for a while...just a couple of weeks. I'm not as enthusiastic about that as I should be. If there's someone I want to tangle with less than the Bat, it's Big Blue. I mean, Metropolis? Superman? Please. Big Blue is more two dimensional than a cardboard cut-out. "Oooh, lookit me, all truth, justice and the American way. Boy scout to the core!".
Feh. Batman's better. He's hardcore. He's obviously a messed up guy but he's got his own strict-albeit not exactly socially acceptable-moral code and he sticks to it. That alone is admirable. Ha. Sometimes I wonder if I should've been a Batman groupie instead of turning to the 'dark side'...then I remember that would mean...you know...conforming. Which is not something I do. Anyways...we need to pack and say goodbye to Eddie.
Well, in the 'pissing off people' department, my friends and I seem to have the formula down pat. Two days in Metropolis and we're already on the move again. Note to self: Do not insult Lex Luthor, he will send people to hurt you, as my sprained wrist can attest. The suggestion of Edge City came up so I think that's where we'll be heading next. At least life with these two is never going to be dull...
Crane laughed openly at that, not even trying to stifle himself. 'Never going to be dull' indeed. That was an understatement if ever he'd heard one. He skimmed the next few entries, noted that the name 'Ragdoll' came up once or twice, and then stopped.
We're back in Alabama. It's been a long three months (is it March already?) and I've got the bruises to prove it. We're going to have a few days of R&R before we think about going off all half cocked on our next adventure. It's nice and quiet here; everyone's off for Spring Break, so we don't have to worry about being disturbed and-Crap. I just heard somebody scream. R&R has obviously been cut short by forces unseen.
The next one didn't have a date, but from it's contents, he didn't have to see one to know when it was…
So...we're on the road again. This time it's The Scarecrow who beckons us. Well, he didn't exactly beckon us...but when word got to us that he's in need of assistance, Captain got all heroic and 'We must race to his rescue! Away!' and I'm along for the ride...ok, so I'm more than a little bit excited about this. Now that I'm used to the idea of being on the other side of the law, I'm actually...excited. Never knew how freeing it was to allow my inner criminal tendencies run rampant. It's actually...fun. And herein is the proof that these two are very bad influences on me. But I'm loving every second of it. I can't wait to meet him.
He didn't feel flattered at all. Not at all. He flipped to the next entry, which had a rather messy looking rust colored smear on it.
Again, I'm still breathing. Again, that's the best thing I've got to report. Next time I see her, I'm going to set Poison Ivy on fire. The bitch. I'm sore, Al is sore, Captain is sore, Scarecrow is developing a bump on his noggin that does not look healthy...we're all a big mass of tired out bruises. But hey, we're someplace safe and Captain is making muffins! Silver lining, right? Or maybe that's just the head injury talking...and now I've got a nose bleed. Joy.
Crane skimmed the next few pages, past the descriptions of their antics in Longboat Key, past his relenting and allowing them to become his hangers-on, past the entries she wrote while he'd had pneumonia, all the way through the summer, right up until something grabbed his attention that was written in mid-August.
I've finally figured out why I've always liked Batman so much.
He didn't bristle at reading that.
And why Joker has always been the villain who's gotten my favor.
He certainly didn't bristle at reading that the Joker was her favorite…
I don't know why it didn't occur to me before…it seems so painfully obvious now. They're both...me. I mean, a bipolar Gemini? Come on now. Duh. The whole thing reeks of duality. Batman is my dark, depressed, broody side and Joker is my manic, mildly homicidal, lighter side.
And the fact she likened the Joker to her 'lighter' side wasn't worrying at all…
Though Joker's kinda lost his status as favorite since I've been living here. He's still got enough charisma to choke a horse and makes me want to jump his royal purple-ness just to be close to that much unrestrained power, but I like-well, there are several people I like better than The Joker at the moment.
Crane turned the page, telling himself he wasn't at all curious as to whether or not he was the one she liked better...
I may call him other things to his face, but I've got too much respect for the man to insult him that way in writing-
Too bad she hadn't been able to let that respect to spill out into her verbal communication…
Did I just say respect? Crap. I respect him. That's bad. I don't respect anybody. Damn it. Not supposed to start feeling all…warm and protective inside at the thought of him. This is The Captain's fault, you know...she's the one with a Scarecrow fetish so bloody persistent it's catching. I didn't used to like him at all...ok, so that's not entirely true. He's always been fascinating-from a purely academic standpoint, of course-but then again almost every villain in Gotham is. Batman gets all the cool villains...
But I think…I think I love him. Not like romantic love and not like a father…it's hovering somewhere in between those. Mentor? Does that fit? Yeah…I think it does. At least, that's as close to a definition that I'm going to get. Mentor. Teacher. That sort of thing. Not father, not brother…mentor. I chose a villain as my mentor.
Realizing just how stupid he must have looked with his lips curling into a little self satisfied smirk, Crane shook himself, frowned and flipped another few pages. He continued reading, skipping a page here and there whenever he thought the entry too mundane, until he reached the last few pages, all of them dated in October.
There is no way we're going to be talking our way out of this one. We-and by 'we' I mean 'me'-just pissed off one of the biggest crime bosses in Gotham and he's put a hefty price on all our heads. I figure we've got a couple of days tops before we're on the coroner's slab. I've got a plan, but I don't know if we can pull it off. But we don't have much of a choice at this point...it's not like anybody will defend us or anything and running won't do us any good. A million dollars for all three of us dead? We're going to be wanted women all over the globe. This is our only option. I hate it, but...well, no other options are available. I know what kind of a risk we're taking here and if this doesn't work...
Crane narrowed his eyes at the book. Something about this seemed...off. What plan?
Andy Kaufman did it. Elvis did it. JFK did it. We can do this. How hard is it to fake a death and disappear, right?
His eyes widened in alarm and he turned the page.
October is my favorite month. I love October. I'm actually pretty happy that I'm going to be dying in October. If you gotta go…better to go the way you want to, right?
"Stop rambling and get to the point, woman!" He muttered irritably before he turned the next few pages, ignoring her musings on how pretty October in Gotham City was.
Ah ha! Here!
We're doing it tonight. I don't know if it's going to work...I hope it does...but I hate doing this, either way. We're going to disappear for a while...provided we live long enough to disappear. I'm going to miss Edward and Jonathan terribly, and I'm really sorry we can't tell them what we're planning; but it's safer for them if they don't know where we are. We'll come back to them eventually…If we even get to where we're going...that is. We have to go up to the store now...pick up some supplies and things and I've got a bad feeling about it. Like we won't even get to put the plan into action tonight because we'll be dead by then...
On the edge of his proverbial seat, his mind awash in activity, Crane continued reading.
Well, if I don't write again, you can bet I met a pretty grisly end, one way or another. So long, diary. It's been a real slice.
No! No damn it! No! There had to be more! More details!
Did they succeed? Were they killed before they got the chance to fake their deaths or did they manage to go into hiding? Why did he care?
There had to be some indication of where they were going…if they were still alive, of course. There had to be!
But the next few pages were completely blank.
Only the very last in the book had something written on it.
Something addressed to him.
What the hell are you doing reading my diary, Jonathan? Shame on you, you horrible man. Haven't you got better things to do with your time?
He glared at the book.
Now the doubt that they were dead was even greater than it was before.
Sure, he'd seen the autopsy photos (and what a treat those had been) and he'd been to their graves…but she had spoken of faking their deaths.
But surely that was giving them too much credit. All of Gotham believed them dead…three girls couldn't possibly pull the wool over the eyes of the entire criminal community…
It was then that the Scarecrow got an idea.
A horrible, cruel, wonderful idea.
His lips twisted into a wry smirk as he shifted the papers and things inside the shoebox until he found a large, dark yellow envelope that had several stamps on it.
After he hunted up a working ink pen, he scrawled an address across it's surface and slid the beaten up diary inside.
Lastly, he took out a sheet of paper and wrote a quick, anonymous note to the addressee before slipping it too inside the envelope and sealing it.
He left the lair whistling-yes, whistling-to himself with an almost imperceptible spring in his step to find a mailbox.
While what he'd scribbled on that note would never make any sense to anyone else, he knew that if those three were indeed still alive and in hiding somewhere...
Crane found the nearest mailbox and dropped the envelope inside, hoping that the amount of postage on it would be enough to get the diary to it's destination.
He would worry about the long term implications of what he'd just done later...
Because if this didn't flush them out of hiding, nothing would.
Early November was absolutely lovely in Metropolis and for three women who sauntered down the street side by side, chattering at each other with shopping bags swinging from their arms, it was companionable as well.
Seeing three young women practically skipping down seventh avenue with shopping bags wasn't an uncommon occurrence, so no one gave them a second glance, thinking that they'd probably just been on a shoe shopping binge and were on their way to have a nice ladies lunch during which they would dish and talk about guys and the latest fashions and other such drivel.
However, if one were to actually bother to look at these three, one would see that the shopping bags-which were from all the best couture shops in town-were actually full of things that most young women didn't go out to buy.
Burglary tools, bandaging and strange not-exactly-legal chemicals, for a start.
But since no one bothered to look inside the bags, no one thought anything untoward could possibly be done by these three girls off on a pleasant walk after shopping.
They were giggling and making pleasant conversation when one of them abruptly stopped and stared at the shop window they'd been passing, white as a sheet.
The book display caught the attention of the other two, 'Diary Of A Henchgirl: Book Reading And Discussion This Afternoon By Famed Psychologist Norma Victor'.
"You don't think…" The Captain looked at Al warily.
"No…no, no, no. There's no way," Al said dismissively.
The third of the trio gulped noisily and pushed her way past her companions and into the book store.
The Captain and her first officer shared a look before they followed her.
There was a young woman reading from the book, in front of an audience of a dozen or more people.
"He's still got enough charisma to choke a horse and makes me want to jump his royal purple-ness just to be close to that much unrestrained power," Doctor Victor said clearly, before she turned to the audience, "Now it's clear to me that this young woman is incredibly, inexplicably drawn to powerful men; regardless of their morals. She simply can't control herself around them…like a moth pulled to a flame."
"I AM NOT!"
The Captain clamped a hand over Techie's mouth and dragged her backwards into the Self Help section, garnering an odd look from an old lady in the cookbooks, but thankfully before any of the members in Doctor Victor's audience could get a look at who had been the source of the outburst.
"Shut up!" The Captain hissed as she released Techie.
"That is my diary!" She exclaimed, pointing at a display that was a stack of 'Diary Of A Henchgirl', "He published my diary! I'm gonna kill him!"
Al had picked up a copy of the aforementioned book and flicked it open, "Now wait, I think you're going to want to see this."
She was grinning like a complete idiot as she turned the book towards Techie, pointing at the dedication on the first page.
'In fond memory of 'my' girls.'
"Awwww," The Captain murmured, "He loves us."
Techie's face softened for half a second but it was fleeting as she harrumphed and crossed her arms over her chest, "Alright, so I'm gonna hug him and then I'm gonna kill him."
Wondering what happens next? Read my story "I'm Thankful For" to find out!