Disclaimer: Don't own. Don't sue.
This story is part of the CATverse. You can find the story listing at freewebs dot com slash catverse. It takes place in arc three, directly after "April Showers" by Twinings.
Revision Note: Originally written in February, 2007, rewritten/revised September, 2012.
MacGuffin's Reel Fun Midnight Madness! Going Out of Business Sale! VHS! DVD! BETAMAX! LASERDISC! ATM inside!
Tires screeched on blacktop as Al slammed on the brakes of the Scarecrow's latest stolen getaway vehicle. The girls piled out of the car in front of the twenty-four hour video palace, armed to the teeth, with their employer close behind. They stuck close to him, forming a protective shield around him, and burst into one of Gotham's last great hole-in-the-wall movie rental joints.
It took the clerk behind the counter a second to spot them, and another second to duck down behind a stack of DVD and video cases, but the customers—preoccupied as they were with the mad grab at all the movies lining the walls—were much slower to react.
The Scarecrow grabbed the nearest customer and slammed a capsule of fear toxin into his face. The man dropped his purchases and started screaming, falling to the ground. The Scarecrow, meanwhile, kept a firm grip on the man's collar, holding him up and using him the way one would use a warning siren if warning sirens screamed "No, please! Not the snakes! Not the snakes!"
"Ladies and gentlemen," he said calmly, throwing his victim aside once he gathered the attention of the store's other patrons to his satisfaction, "This is a robbery."
All three of his henches moved to different areas of the store, pointing guns at the clusters of people gathered in the Suspense, Comedy and Horror sections—"Stick 'em up!" "On the ground!" "Get over there!"—and herded them into one corner, near the door with a sign reading "Adults Only."
They cowered there in a most pleasing fashion as he approached, one hand filled with capsules, the other with an aerosol can of fear toxin. He nodded almost imperceptibly at his helpers and they all moved to take care of their predetermined jobs.
Al broke away from the group and made for the counter, snagging the clerk behind it and shoving him out into the open where he joined the other unfortunate souls who made the mistake of movie shopping at midnight in Gotham. She punched a few buttons on the cash register and it dinged, popping open without the least bit of resistance. Snatching dozens of bills from the drawer, she flashed him a thumbs up. "No silent alarm!"
Captain started collecting the wallets and jewelry of the hostages, throwing back anything that she deemed of little value (Though Jonathan suspected she was going easier on those who had very little on them, he couldn't be sure—and if she was, he was going to have to have a little talk with her about the price of empathy in Gotham City) and Techie made a made dash toward the ATM, nestled between two shelves of horror films. She dropped to her knees and inspected the machine, pulled a ring of keys out of one pocket and tried them one after the other and, after a few failures, popped open the case.
So far, this was going exactly as planned. Better, in fact. It was supposed to be a quick, easy job and it was living up to his expectations. He had hostages, the police weren't on the way and Batman was nowhere to be seen.
"Oh my God!"
So naturally, it was too good to be true.
At first, he thought something was wrong, That perhaps one of the patrons had been smart enough to duck down out of sight and had taken it upon themselves to play hero, but then he spun on his heel, fear toxin at the ready and found...
Well, not what he was expecting.
He was expecting something violent. Maybe one of the girls with a piece out of her bleeding all over the place. Or a broken bone. A bruise. A scratch. Hell, a broken nail…
Something painful, damn it!
He did not expect to find Techie on her knees next to the ATM in a pile of money, her task abandoned, clutching a video case to her chest as she rocked back and forth muttering something and stroking the box tenderly. The way she acted wasn't that concerning—henchmen often got distracted during a job by something of extreme value and if she'd spotted something of that nature, it could only benefit him in the end—but the fact that both Al and the Captain looked extremely puzzled was...worrisome.
Techie muttered quietly as she rocked, holding the box as though it were the only thing that rooted her to the earth. "Oh...oh baby, oh you're comin' home with mama. No more cold, impersonal video store for you. No more selling yourself every other night to a different VCR. You're gorgeous. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous." She touched the case with trembling, almost reverent fingers as she held it in front of herself.
One of his employees was talking to an inanimate object in the middle of what was turning out to be the easiest heist in recent memory. He could feel a migraine threatening to develop.
She continued to coo at the box lovingly, "You're going to live on my shelf with my others. But you'll be loved above all of them. Would you like that? Would you like to come home with me to the lair?"
Crane found himself prickling involuntarily.
Surely the fact that she'd referred to the lair as 'home' during an obvious psychotic break shouldn't have bothered him. That was just irrational. But bother him it did. It downright irritated him.
"What's the matter with her?" Al asked as she finished filling her sack with money from the cash register.
Crane looked at her warily. "You don't know?"
"You're the psychologist here," she answered.
As the Scarecrow sent a glare in Al's direction, the Captain carefully approached Techie from behind.
"Techie?" She reached out a hand to touch the other woman's shoulder gingerly, "Techie, you're scaring Squishy."
With a flick of his wrist, 'Squishy' sent his handful of toxin capsules flying at the hostages, effectively punishing them for the Captain's sin of calling him that infernal name in public. The capsules broke open in a fine mist of greenish-white powder, incapacitating more than half of the trembling customers. Then, he turned his glare on the Captain.
He wasn't scared. He wasn't concerned. He was...curious. That's all. Just curious. He wasallowed to be curious. After all, it wasn't every day that one of them had a nervous breakdown out of the blue and started talking to inanimate objects.
"Techie, sweetie," the Captain said cautiously, raising her voice enough to be heard over the crying and begging, "What's wrong?"
"It's Evil Dead 2," Techie murmured, as though she were describing something holy and looking up at the Captain with shining eyes, "The Special Edition Director's Cut."
Whatever illness Techie caught from the video seemed to be contagious, because the Scarecrow watched with interest as both of his other henchgirls went still and their eyes took on that same shiny, dreamy look to them.
"Work shed," Al said quietly, her lips spreading into a smile.
"Chainsaw," the Captain replied.
"Groovy!" All three squealed in unison, completing some kind of secret coded message that only they understood.
And Crane wondered—not for the first time and certainly not for the last—whether or not they really were off their rockers. He cleared his throat noisily, kicking the loudest of the sobbing wrecks to shut them up.
Techie was suddenly on her feet and then standing directly in front of him before he even had time to register the fact that she moved. Still holding the video case to her chest protectively, she looked up at him with what the Captain often referred to as The Eyes, all big and pleading and shiny...
Actually, on her it was quite unsettling. He was used to it from the Captain, even from Al on occasion, but to the best of his recollection, this was the first time Techie had turned hers on full power. He was glad of it too. It was odd, and he fought the urge to take a step away from her.
"Can we get it?" Techie asked him in a whisper. "Please?"
He gave her an appraising look and then glanced down at the item that she held to her chest so desperately. "Is it valuable?"
"It's out of print."
Initially, his instinct was to say no. However, one of his weaknesses was his inquisitive nature. He didn't particularly care that Techie was acting this way, and had made the others act similarly with the mere mention of this film, but anything that had such a profound effect on them was bound to be tactically useful at some point. It could yield some insight into any holes in their armor and...if he gave in now on something they all wanted so badly, he could use that to his advantage later by putting them in the position of owing him.
"Please?" She repeated. "Scarecrow? Jonathan? Sir?"
His eyes widened for a moment, then narrowed immediately at the emphasis she put on the word sir. Whatever this thing was, it was important enough to make her show respect. He allowed the most cunning, conniving part of his brain to take over and gave her a predatory look."If you swear that this will keep the three of you out my hair for the rest of the evening..."
Techie glanced at her compatriots, who seemed torn about giving up their cuddling rights for the night, but then they stared wistfully at the box Techie held so tightly and nodded.
She turned back to him. "You have my solemn oath. We won't come near you."
He wondered idly if her solemnoath would be as solemn as that of the Captain—that is, not very solemn at all, given that her resolve when it came to keeping her end of bargains was about as firm as room-temperature Jell-o—but she seemed earnest enough and he waved his hand dismissively.
"Fine. Take the whole store for all I care."
He realized his error when Al vaulted over the counter and knocked over one of the shelves so that she could stand on it and reach the highest new releases on the wall, the Captain scooped up an armful of DVD cases, tossing them in with the wallets and Techie lurched toward the shelf next to her, snatching money off the floor and videos off the shelves.
He didn't think they'd take him seriously...
Then again, he thought as he turned to finish menacing his victims, he probably should have known better.
He fully expected that the very moment they returned to the lair, their promise to leave him to his own devices for the night would be forgotten. He was shocked that they stayed true to their word. They were far too engrossed with sifting through their bags of video tapes and DVDs to pay him any attention at all as he skulked off to his lab.
The last he heard of them before he slammed the door and locked it was their good-natured bickering over what to watch first.
"I want to watch Re-Animator."
"No, no, I say we watch Singin' In The Rain."
"Yeah, but I got the trilogy."
And then there was silence. Blessed, welcome, all too infrequent silence.
It took all Crane's self restraint to keep from sighing in contentment. While living with the three twits wasn't nearly as torturous as he originally anticipated—though he still wouldn't rate it as more than tolerable—the quiet times were few and far between and he relished them when he got them.
Crossing the room to one of the many tables that was set up for conducting experiments, he had to control the urge to rub his palms together in anticipation. Finally, time to work without fear of interruption or interference.
First things first, he retrieved one of the black binders he kept his notes in and started scribbling the night's activities. He wrote the batch number of the toxin he used, then began taking down what he could remember about the reactions from the hostages in the video store. Once this was done, he compared the notes to the others he had on the same batch, made marks next to the shared behavior from previous trials to this one and began making notes about the next possible revisions of the formula.
He worked quickly and efficiently for quite a long while, not looking up at the clock until more than an hour had gone by.
In fact, it was such a long while that the quiet started to...
Well, it certainly didn't bother him, but after being without peace for so long, it was…unfamiliar.
But not unnerving. Most definitely not unnerving in the least.
Crane looked up at the clock, finding that he'd been hard at work for more than an hour, and cleared his throat.
Not to make certain that he still had his hearing. Surely not. That would have been absolutely preposterous.
It was just quiet.
'Quick! Look behind you, the killer is right there!' quiet.
He hadn't even noticed that he was holding his breath until his lungs started to ache.
Something must have been amiss for it to be this quiet. Every other time the girls had left him to his work, he could still hear them talking or laughing or shuffling about outside in the common area of the lair—and no, no matter how many times Al referred to it as such, he would never ever call it the Family Room—but there were none of the usual noises now. The only thing he could make out was the low hum of the television and he had to strain to hear even that much.
Something in the panic family of emotions tried to tear up through him as the possibilities for why it was suddenly so deathly quiet occurred to him.
What if—just what if—something had happened to them? He didn't care what happened to them, but if they were dead or gone or...something else...it would have been useful to know that he was suddenly without a brute squad for protection.
Crane's eyes went wide suddenly.
What if the Bat was the one who'd managed to silence them?
If ever there was anyone who could finally shut them up...
But surely he would have heard a commotion if that were the case? After all, they'd held up against Batman before. Granted, they'd come back looking worse for wear, but they certainly put up a fight.
Cautiously, he took two tentative steps towards his door and listened hard.
The melodious rise and fall of a male voice from the television, but nothing more.
He reached out, unlocked his door and gave his doorknob a careful turn, allowing himself to open the door just enough to peep out.
The room was dark, with the exception of the icy blue light that flickered every now and again from the television screen.
Well, they were still there. He could see the distinct forms of two heads poking up over the back of the—wait a second. Two?
Where was the third of the infernal trio?
He slipped from his lab, and padded up behind them in absolute silence, craning his neck to look over the back of the couch.
Ah. All present and accounted for.
The Captain was hanging onto a sofa cushion tightly, watching the screen and Al was at the opposite end of the sofa, idly dipping her hand into a bowl of popcorn to retrieve some. Techie was on the floor in front of the other two, knees drawn up to her chest and her arms wrapped around them.
They still hadn't noted his presence, which intrigued him. It wasn't often that they were in a position where he could catch them off guard.
What on earth was so enthralling?
One of his eyebrows lifted of its own accord as he glanced at the flickering images on the television screen.
So...the girls had a thing for...well, whoever this fellow was. He'd never really paid much attention to such trivial matters as which actors caught the fancy of females, so he was quite clueless about who it was that held their attention so rapt.
He did note that this man was most definitely not the type that young women typically swooned over. Indeed, he had at least thirty years on the three who were watching his every movement so intently.
For the second time, he cleared his throat loudly—but this time it wasn't to assure himself that he wasn't going deaf—instead, to gather the attention of his minions.
The Captain and Al both started and made little squeaking noises but Techie's response was the most violent. She screamed and was up off her place on the floor like a shot, rounding on him, chest heaving and eyes wild as soon as he made his little 'ahem' sound.
"You...you...you! YOU!" She shouted angrily, her vocabulary seemingly gone as she grabbed the sofa cushion that the Captain had been clinging to and hurled it at his head. He dodged it masterfully. "Don't ever scare me like that again!"
"Scare?" he asked with interest, cocking an eyebrow. She paled and the other two started giggling uncontrollably on the sofa.
"Startle!" Techie corrected loudly, glaring at her companions and trying to keep herself from blushing, "I meant startle!"
A loud peal of hysterical laughter and a noise that could only be described as squee erupted from the Captain. "And you said we couldn't find anything that could scare you."
"I was too...too...involved with the movie to be paying attention to any sneaky snake slithering up behind me, so this does not count!" She took a deep breath and let it out in a huff.
"Admit it, you were scared," Al teased, garnering a flustered but angry look from Techie.
Crane found himself smirking against his will at her discomfort. It was so rare to see her looking so very...ruffled.
"I was not scared! I was startled! I'm going to go make some more popcorn." She straightened herself out and said with as much dignity as humanly possible, "And in conclusion, I hate you all."
She stalked off in the direction of the kitchen, leaving three very amused housemates behind in her wake.
"We're never going to let her live that down, are we?" Al asked the Captain with a wolfish grin.
"Of course not!" The Captain turned to look at the man who'd almost terrified Techie out of her skin without any effort at all. "You cut quite an imposing figure in the soft glow of the telly, Squishykins."
He couldn't force himself to bristle at hearing the pet name. Seeing one of his tormentors terrified beyond belief was too much of an adrenaline rush for him to care. What else would get that kind of response, he wondered. Was it the darkness that made her so edgy? Or the content of the film? A combination of both?
The Captain suddenly popped up in front of him, kneeling on the couch and looking up at him. "Come watch with us."
"I would rather not."
"Techie startles easily," the Captain said in a sing-song voice.
"Tempting, but no."
"So does A-a-a-l," she continued.
And just like that, he found himself talked into parking on the couch between them.
Whatever they'd been watching before he entered the room came to an end before Techie returned with a fresh bowl of popcorn. She looked at him, nestled between Al and the Captain and trying his best not to touch either of them, and seemed confused, but she shrugged and reclaimed her place on the floor.
Which turned out to be with her shoulders wedged between his knees.
And how was it that he wound up with the Captain and Al both plastered to his sides?
Techie ahem-ed. "Now then, if we could watch something not quite so..."
"Scary?" The Captain said with an innocent expression. It was about as convincing as a story about an anvil that could swim.
"I was going to say dramatic," Techie answered with a long suffering sigh.
"I vote more hack-and-slash flicks," Al said, snuggling her head into the Scarecrow's shoulder. He pushed her off. "It'll be better with Squish face here to watch it with us."
"You'll protect us from the big scary evil serial killers, won't you Squishy?"
"Do reflect on the irony of that statement," he grunted, trying to extract himself from the clump of girls that he had unwittingly allowed to pile on him from all sides.
"But we need you to keep us safe," Al said, twisting her fingers through his hair, "you big strong hunk of manly man meat, you."
He slapped her hand away. "As I recall, you all agreed to leave me alone for the evening."
"Ah, but the exact wording of the deal was we won't come near you," the Captain corrected. "You made the deal null and void when you came to us."
"And so Techie's solemn oath remains intact. Yay loopholes!"
"Shylocks," he muttered under his breath as he wriggled uncomfortably in the iron grip of his henchgirls.
The novelty of seeing one of them startled was wearing off, to be replaced with irritation that he had just rather effectively allowed them to trap him. In all honesty, he was more irritated with himself than he was with them, though he was plenty irritated with them. If he hadn't felt the ridiculous compulsion to look in on them, this never would have happened.
The incredibly obsolete VCR, obviously on its last legs, kicked into gear when Techie popped a video in. It wheezed and choked and whined, but the movie started without a single hiccup.
The first film was juvenile, but amusing and bloody enough to keep his attention, as was the second, third and fourth, though the quality and strong points of each varied wildly.
Dawn started to break halfway through their fifth film and he felt, other than exhausted, the need to stretch his legs after being sedentary for so very long. There were complications, though.
The Captain was asleep on his shoulder, her eyes still halfway open and Al was out cold, her arms around his middle. Techie was curled around his leg, dozing with her head resting on his kneecap. It was like being stuck in the middle of a great big warm blanket, if the blanket were holding him against his will and snoring.
If it wasn't so much trouble, he would have struggled out of their little cluster now that they weren't in any condition to protest, but he yawned and stayed focused on the film that was playing, determined to find out whether or not the Brain That Wouldn't Die would die. After a few minutes, his head lolled back and his eyelids started slipping shut.
He didn't want to fall asleep there, but it happened so quickly that he had little choice in the matter. He drifted for a few seconds, thinking nonsense about Hitler's head in a jar and Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde before he lost consciousness entirely.
And if he was content in those few seconds when the boundaries of ego were loosened, before he slid into dreams about being Witchfinder General, he certainly didn't know about it. Even if he had, he never would have acknowledged it.
In fact, he would have killed anyone who even suggested such a thing.
Wondering what happens next? Read "Modern Art" by Twinings to find out!