Disclaimer: Like I bother with these anymore...
A/N: This is part of the CATverse, the timeline of which can be found at http/ www . freewebs . com / catverse . htm (delete the spaces, if you have any sense at all) and is something that's been jiggiting about in my head for months.
For the Captain. Because it's her fault I had the idea.
"Shhh! We're on the lam, remember? We're supposed to be quiet."
"Well then stop bumping into me! I'm sore!"
"Stop complaining, you wimp, it's just a sunburn."
"Just a sunburn? Easy for you to say, little miss 'I could sit on the sun and not feel a thing'."
"It's called a terminal subway tan, Al, we've been over thi--"
"All of you shut. Up."
Jonathan Crane's henchwomen stopped chattering at the very deadly hiss that their employer released and went still.
Only very rarely did he speak so harshly to them anymore--or perhaps it was fairer to say they'd learned the difference between his usual prickliness and the "So help me, if you don't shut up I will gas you and leave you for dead" tone of voice that said he meant business.
This time, they could identify the fact that he wasn't screwing around, so it was definitely in their best interests to comply.
"Sorry," they all chorused in an identical whisper.
He glared at them, but said nothing more, simply motioning for them to continue following him.
The alleyway was like every other alley that Gotham had to offer--dark, dank and depressing--but at least with the three dimwits following so closely behind him, the chances that he'd make it out of this particular alley without any extra bruises were quite good.
Provided Batman didn't catch up with them before they could find a suitable place to hide, that is.
Even as he moved forward, Crane reflected on the way things had been going lately. It seemed to him that since his minions' return, his injury rate fell (which he wasn't complaining about) but his time spent on the run tripled. They had the innate ability to make people very angry very fast so it felt as if they were always fugitives from some irate crime boss or another.
On the up side, at least there weren't any other actual villains out for their--or more importantly, his--blood. Whatever the Captain, Al and Techie had been up to in the months between their deaths and resurrections, it had put them all in relatively good standing with Gotham's criminals and that good standing seemed to rub off on him.
However, if the way all three of them went lily-white at the mere mention of Metropolis was any indication, he had a feeling he should be avoiding Superman's patron city for a good long while yet.
Something about a deal with Lex Luthor gone horribly wrong…
Crane stopped in his tracks, barely feeling it as the Captain knocked into his back, lost her already tremulous balance and toppled backwards, taking her two idiot friends with her on the way down. The Scarecrow took no notice of their clumsy struggling on the damp pavement behind him.
He was much too preoccupied with the great intimidating shadow that loomed over him.
The distinctly bat shaped shadow.
And the fact that the Bat wore a very out of character smirk was not comforting in the least. If there was one thing more terrifying than an angry Batman, it was an amused Batman.
Men in capes and cowls were not allowed to smirk as surely as the Joker was not allowed to be sane. It was simply contradictory to the nature of the universe.
Crane's reaction to the abrupt appearance of his nemesis was violent and immediate--he responded naturally and without thinking, throwing a dose of fear toxin directly in the Batman's face--but as was the case so many times before, Batman's reaction was a fraction of a second faster.
It's amazing what a difference a few milliseconds can make if used to their fullest potential; and if ever there was a man who knew how to use the advantage those few milliseconds afforded, it was the dark knight.
One gloved hand grabbed Crane by the collar and yanked him off the ground, even as the capsule of toxin his Batman and burst, releasing the milky green cloud of chemicals.
Not surprisingly, Batman didn't flinch or give any hint that he was affected by the toxin.
Damn those filters…
But in spite of that, as a chunky platform boot flew past his head and smashed Batman squarely in the forehead, Crane had to think that maybe the battle wasn't lost quite yet.
It was Techie's furious voice he heard from somewhere down the alley as the matching boot sailed by. "Pick on someone your own size!"
Batman hauled him to one side so that he could deflect the wayward boot and Crane found himself smirking beneath his mask. If Batman had the advantage of brain, brawn and an excellent sense of timing, his girls had the advantage of barely bridled insanity and the unpredictability factor it added to their encounters with those who would do him harm.
He heard the sound of metal on metal (someone brought their tire iron. Al, most likely.) as the voices of his jolly little minions/maniacs got closer and the lethal edge to their seemingly innocent banter wasn't lost on someone who was used to hearing that very timbre day in and day out.
"Techie," it was the Captain who mock-scolded, even as they continued to advance on Batman's position, "We have weapons. You have weapons. You didn't need to hurl footwear at him."
"Yeah, you could have just used that aluminum pipe you keep lashed to your belt."
"Are you kidding?" He heard her say it, but it was accompanied by the sound of her clunky belt buckle being undone, indicating that she was indeed taking the pipe off its chain. "That would have taken like…logical reasoning capabilities. Romulan here, not Vulcan, remember?"
"I vote melee!"
How it was that they managed to keep up their chitchat, even as they launched themselves at Batman and pummeled him with their weapons of choice, Crane would never know, but he suspected it had something to do with their need to lend some sense of normalcy to an abnormal situation.
Well, that and the fact that sarcasm covered fear quite effectively and gave them the appearance of being in total control when they knew they didn't stand a chance.
The perfect synchronization of their alternating quips and blows made it seem almost as though they had scripted the entire fight, down to the choreography, but really, the Scarecrow couldn't care less. What mattered was the fact that Batman had been forced to drop him so that he could focus on fending off the attacks of the three ferociously protective henchgirls who circled around Crane like lionesses protecting their kill from a scavenger.
On second thought, maybe that was a bad analogy. A fair comparison to their behavior, but the fact it placed the Scarecrow in the role of prey was absolutely unacceptable.
Crane scrambled off the ground as the Captain and Techie continued their assault on the caped crusade, while Al appeared at his side, dragging him up and pushing him back down the alley the way they'd come, away from the immediate danger.
The remaining two henchgirls must have been putting up one hell of a fight, because Batman didn't fling them aside in favor of trying to capture the more worthwhile of his quarries.
That didn't stop him from throwing what Techie had dubbed "The wire with the little metal balls on each end of doom", catching Crane around the ankles and forcing him to fall face first on the pavement. Al had narrowly escaped the same fate and she swiftly pulled him back up, dropping to her knees and disentangling him much faster than he'd have ever given her credit for.
Once his feet were free, he heard the Captain shout "On three?", the question punctuated by the sound of metal colliding with solid muscle.
And just like that, Al had him by the arm and was pulling him down the alley at such a pace that he had a hard time matching her strides for the first few moments.
He could only assume that his other two henchmen had delayed their own escape by a few moments to give him a head start and then had taken flight, because usually, when they said "Melee!" that's what followed.
"They'll be fine," Al said from around a few gasps as they ran, as though he actually cared what happened to the other lamebrains.
(His only concern for them was that they lived so that he wouldn't be stuck alone with Al forever.)
Al hissed when they broke free of the shadowy alley and were hit by bright sunshine, but they kept moving despite her discomfort. It was early yet, probably only ten thirty or so, and the streets were deserted aside from the occasional nanny or parent with a below-school-age child, so they met very little resistance as they fled. Rush hour was long over and the lunch crowd wouldn't be out and about until noon…
But that didn't mean he liked traveling, exposed, in broad daylight much. At least if it were night, despite the dangers that darkness posed, there were shadows to take refuge in. With the sun high, gloom was in short supply.
Al had taken it upon herself to lead the way, dictating which direction they would wind up, and the closer they got to the business district, the more uncomfortable Crane became.
As if reading his thoughts, Al glanced over her shoulder at him, still gasping but valiantly fighting off the asthma attack that was surely trying to squeeze her lungs and spoke wheezily, "Abandoned…gasp, gasp…television…gasp, gasp, wheeze…station."
She pointed towards a three story building sandwiched in between skyscrapers, somewhat dilapidated in comparison to the pristine buildings on either side of it and he got the hint.
They darted down the slim passage between the structures and burst through the back door, met by a cloud of dust and debris that sprang up immediately to greet them.
That sent Al into an asthma attack; the sudden dusty assault in addition to her gasping made breathing impossible and Crane spent several moments with her clinging to his arm, nails digging into his skin, as she tried in vain to catch her breath.
Thankfully, Crane was prepared for this eventuality and reached into his pocket to retrieve a rescue inhaler.
It wasn't that he carried it for her benefit, but when one had three henchgirls who were all asthmatics of varying degrees (Al's lungs were the worst, Captain's were marginally better and Techie had the best deal of all three--which wasn't saying much), one learned to take precautions. After all, they were no good to him dead. They'd tried that scenario out once already.
Al gratefully snatched the inhaler from him and took three puffs, each growing less desperate than the last as her airways cleared to a manageable level. She handed the inhaler back to him and he pocketed it, trying to disengage himself from her death grip to no avail.
"Still alive?" he asked, tearing off his mask so that he could get a few gulps of oxygen himself.
Al decided to forgo speech in favor of flashing him a thumbs up; apparently, she was breathing, but not in any condition to talk yet.
Crane tried not to think of it as a bonus.
There was a sudden whoosh of air, followed by the sound of a door slamming and both Crane and Al spun on their heels to be greeted by Techie and the Captain, Captain clinging to Techie much the same way Al was clinging to Crane, with an inhaler already in her mouth.
"Fancy meeting you here," Techie said raggedly before she nodded at Al. "Suck lungs?"
Al nodded and attempted verbal communication, "Suck lungs."
For a little while, the only sound in the room was heavy breathing, but after close to five minutes, everyone had recovered enough to converse without utilizing huffing and puffing.
Of course, it's said that the moment things are starting to look up, something will have to go wrong.
And, as per usual, such was the case here.
The Captain was just about to open her mouth and make a suggestion about what their next move might be when the entrance to the room that served as their hiding place--not to be confused with the door they themselves had just entered through--burst open to reveal a short, anxious little man with a clipboard in hand.
His hair was gray and was frazzled but the look of terror and worry that had graced his features melted the instant he spotted the four people before him.
"Oh thank God! I thought you'd never get here! You know the success of this network depends on you being punctual!"
He looked at the Captain, Al and Techie in turn, flicking the pages on his clipboard quickly. "Good, good, good. You're all exactly what we wanted." The man with the clipboard looked Crane up and down and his relieved grin morphed into a disappointed frown. "You can't be the one the agency sent! You'll never fit the costume!"
Crane had been about to retrieve his last dose of fear toxin and gas the babbling idiot in front of him when the man glanced behind himself and shouted, "Rocky! Ringo! They're here!" and two beefy men appeared in the corridor behind him, squashing any plan Crane had in place to drug the clipboard guy and make a run for it. "Get them to wardrobe and get them changed a.s.a.p.; we've got ten minutes till air!"
Rocky's face split into a grin that didn't fit with his teamster image in the least. "Sure thing! Right this way!" and both he and Ringo got behind the four confused people and shoving them out the door, down one hallway and then another until finally shoving them all unceremoniously into a claustrophobic room filled with racks and racks of costumes.
"Remember, today's a farm theme show! Make sure you look cute for the kids!" Ringo exclaimed excitedly, slamming the door shut and leaving the bewildered villains trapped.
"One exit. Guarded, at that."
"And there's no window."
"Not if we play along."
"Playing along would suggest we know the game."
"We'll wing it. The guy said 'network', 'costume', 'wardrobe' and 'farm theme'. Do the math, former film major, we're going to be on TV. A kiddie show, no less."
Jonathan turned to glare at his minions only to find them stripping out of their street clothes brusquely, grabbing at different costumes on the garment racks and quickly spun back around. He didn't need to know that the Captain was wearing her Wednesday panties on a Monday. "You can't be serious!"
"What choice have we got?" There were a few accompanying grunts as the girls slithered into their respective costumes with some difficulty. "They'll call the cops if we say we aren't the ones the agency sent, for trespassing if nothing else…and then the second the cops show up, we'll be recognized and carted off to the nearest--ouch! Smegging zipper! Tryin' to do me injury, it is!"
"Button me up, Captain."
"Okay, just give me a second to get this thing buckled here."
"Sunburn aside, blue really is your color, Al."
"Ooh! Captain, you look like a rag doll!"
"I'm supposed to be a scarecrow. Techie, why are you...bwahahahaha!"
"Don't. Just don't. It was the only thing on the rack that would button over my chest without threatening to pop."
"Not. One. Word."
Al and the Captain giggled and he could imagine just how irate Techie must've looked, before they chorused, "You can turn around now!"
Curiosity was one of Jonathan Crane's faults, and since he didn't really have much choice in the matter anyhow, he turned to look upon Al, Captain and Techie...
A milkmaid in blue gingham, a cheery scarecrow and a Guernsey cow, respectively.
He stared at Techie.
She stared back.
"Moo," she deadpanned.
He burst out laughing. He couldn't help himself. Even as they descended on him and started adding things to his sack cloth costume to make him look like a farmer, he continued to chuckle.
help me God," Techie had been muttering as she scrunched a straw
hat down over his ears, "If this ever gets around--"
"You're doing your home state proud!" The Captain proclaimed, forcing Crane to step into a pair of overalls. "Pick up your feet, Squishykins, or I'll let Al put your pants on."
"And I'll cop a feel!"
Grudgingly he lifted one foot and then the other and yanked the overalls up and secured them in place.
It was done not a moment too soon because the door to the wardrobe room practically exploded open. "You're on!"
And suddenly, both Rocky and Ringo were behind them again, shoving them out down the corridor and on set, behind a cheap pressboard backdrop and talking a mile a minute.
"We just need fifteen minutes worth of footage today, folks, a bunch of cartoon segue ways, maybe a pie in the face or two, keep it simple. Okay? Okay!"
With one final, unnecessarily forceful shove, the Scarecrow and his minions stumbled onto the soundstage, which was decorated the way you'd expect a low budget children's show to be decorated. There was a bale of hay here and there, stuffed animals that were in cheaply made cardboard pens, the painted backdrop (a stereotypically bright red barn beneath a blue sky and a rainbow) and worst of all…an audience.
At least thirty children under the age of seven were sitting in bleachers, applauding the entrance of this week's hosts and were it not for the man off to one side waving cue cards frantically, they might have panicked.
The Captain plastered on an enormous grin that would have made Tom Cruise envious and ignored the cue cards all together. "Hi there kids! I'm Susanna Scarecrow!"
She used one hand to create a shell around her ear and waited for the echo of the children.
They obliged excitedly. "Hi Susanna Scarecrow!"
"These are my friends, Greta Gingham and Molly Moo-Cow!"
Again, they echoed with their excited greetings and the Captain clapped in encouragement.
"And this!" The Captain bounded up to Crane in his oversized overalls and gestured at him with all the over-dramatics of a silent film star. "This is Uncle Squishy! And welcome to…Uncle Squishy's Sunshine Hour!"
Crane glared at the Captain with such ferocity that if looks could kill, the Captain would've been better off putting herself in a meat grinder.
The guy with the cue cards was waving wildly, mouthing "NO AD LIBBING!", which the Captain ignored pointedly. She only took notice of the name of the cartoon she was supposed to be plugging and pressed on ahead without the scripted dialogue that was supposed to go around it.
"How about we cut right to our first cartoon, hm? I happen to know it's one of Molly Moo-Cow's favorites! Gerald McBoingBoing!"
The happy squealing of the children was nothing in comparison to the squee released by the woman in a cow suit. Techie took to bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet--er, hooves--and flapping her fur covered hands. "Gerald McBoingBoing! I love Gerald McBoingBoing!"
Crane resumed staring at her. He was used to seeing his henchgirls hopping around in excitement, but something about the cow suit made the absurdity of the activity all the more blatant.
Al had seemingly gotten over her initial stage-fright (or else she'd gotten courage from the fact that her fellows were acting dumber than she ever could and she therefore had nothing to lose) because she pranced up to Crane and grinned at him.
"Oh, Uncle Squishy!"
(He could tell she was taking perverse pleasure in calling him such not only in public, but on television and he vowed to kill her for this later)
"You're not smiling, Uncle Squishy! Susanna and Molly are both excited, won't you give us a smile?"
He glared at her so hard he thought he might have sprained something.
"You can do better than thaa-aaat!" She sang before turning to the audience. "Don't you think Uncle Squishy should smile?"
Raucous applause and childish cheering indicated that his audience agreed heartily, and though he glared at Al, he made an effort.
One side of Crane's mouth turned upwards, followed by the other side, but the smile took an agonizingly long time to get it set into place and it was just as fake as any used car salesman's had ever been. It was such a painfully slow process that he could almost hear his face making creaking noises as he used muscles that were very near atrophied.
There, that should be satisfactory--
A little girl started to wail inconsolably somewhere in the back row, as though she was coming face to face with the monster in the closet.
It promised to be the longest fifteen minutes of fame in the history of mankind…
Three cartoons, an impromptu sing-along of "Old MacDonald" (which Crane refused to participate in) and three pies to the face later, Jonathan Crane and his minions managed to make their way back to their lair.
The girls were still giggling and wiping whipped cream off themselves, amazed that they'd pulled off the ruse so effectively that the Batman hadn't burst into the studio looking for them, but even more amazed that their master had kept his temper the whole time.
"If you three tell anyone about what transpired today," he warned, not needing to finish the threat.
"Aw, we'd never do that to you, Squishykins. Besides, what're the odds anyone would recognize us?" Al asked, smoothing out the flouncy skirt of her 'borrowed' gingham dress.
"Yeah, the costumes were far from being our usual fare. Nobody will realize it was us. Your dignity remains intact."
He was not comforted.
"You know what I don't understand?" Techie began, trying to get a piece of pie crust out of her hair. "Why didn't you just gas the whole studio and have done with it?"
He had no answer, but he glared and scrambled for one anyway. "There were more than two dozen children present!"
"You mean you've got a soft spot for kids?"
He glowered at her. "No. I do not have a soft spot for anyone. I didn't have nearly enough fear toxin left on me to dose that many people, children or not."
"You're such a liar. You didn't wanna hurt the kiddos."
The Captain released a squee. "You're like a marshmallow! No! A Squishmallow!"
"What she means Squishykins, is that you're getting soft and gooey inside."
"I am not."
All three sang in identical chirpy, smug voices. "Are too!"
With a flick of his wrist, his last capsule of fear toxin hit its mark at the feet of his minions, released its contents and all three women dropped to the ground, screaming.
Comparing him to a marshmallow. Humph.
He watched them writhe on the ground before him, feeling absolutely no pangs of regret over his action.
After all, it's not like he wasn't going to give them the antidote.