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). Despite the fact that this comes in one of the last two arcs, it has no spoilers for the major plot points that have yet to be revealed. This story is directly involved with the "Devil's Due" subplot, which was started in Cross Roads Blues (which hasn't been posted yet. Poke the Captain for it. Poke, says I!) and runs throughout the 'verse.
There were certain advantages to having henchgirls instead of the more common henchmen. There was no denying it.
For a start, they were usually underestimated by their enemies. The chauvinistic attitude that women couldn't possibly be a threat ran rampant in certain circles, especially the backwards ones that the Scarecrow tended to find himself in. Men named 'Lefty' or 'Mugsy' never did learn that if you came across a female criminal in Gotham, she was likely to be ten times deadlier than most men. That definitely worked to Crane's advantage.
One of the disadvantages was that henchgirls gained notoriety much faster than henchmen. Brutes who worked for Gotham villains were a dime a dozen, nobody took any notice of any distinguishing features they might've had when they committed some random atrocity on behalf of one of the city's rogues; but if you heard that three women were to blame for a particular crime, the underworld tended to talk about it for longer periods of time.
Having a trio of henchwomen made Crane all the more identifiable. It was exceedingly easy for a cop to wander up to some shopkeeper and ask "You see a guy go past here? Brown hair? Skinny? Had three girls hovering around him?" and get a confident "They went thattaway." in response.
That was a liability.
So, if they all needed to go somewhere--and it had been one of those weeks when they'd all been rather, shall we say, 'active'--they split into pairs.
When they needed a bit more cover, they had little back stories. No matter if it was Al and the Captain, Techie and Al or the Captain and Techie paired off together, the two women kept up the pretense that they were tourists.
Crane had no one-size-fits-all back story. If he traveled with Al or the Captain, they played the role of his daughter.
If he traveled with Techie, however, she played his wife.
Mostly because, much to his horror, they were married.
The little side trip to a chapel in Atlantic City that 'Seemed like a good idea at the time' made the marriage contract legal and completely binding.
The good thing about being legally married to her was that they could get away with playing a married couple without any worries of being discovered as frauds. After all, a ruse is so much easier to keep up if there's a grain of truth at its base…
Crane just wasn't happy that this particular grain was the size of a baseball.
Sure, if he was caught and stuffed in Arkham, he automatically knew she'd be coming to visit to let him know what was going on outside and whether or not there were certain vegetables he should forgo eating in case they were made of C4 (the mess hall had lived up to its name and been a glorious mess when a patient exploded all over it), but still…married.
Jonathan Crane. Married. Honest to God hitched. Who would have believed it?
If you were to believe the gossip in Gotham's underground, the answer was 'nobody'; and even Crane couldn't really dispute it. He was not the marrying sort.
Yet, that was neither here nor there. The 'payback' incident aside, it was probably the most amicable marriage in the history of the universe. She didn't bother him, he didn't bother her, there were no guilt trips or shouting matches and broken dishes; it was, in his opinion, the ideal marriage. All the legality without any of the responsibility and complications that 'feelings' brought into the equation. There were no illusions held between the two that they were a happy couple, but they were good at acting the parts when necessary.
And today, it was necessary.
On the run, yet again, they had split off from the Captain and Al and vowed to meet at a seedy little motel on the outskirts of Metropolis (he should have known better than to go to Metropolis after all the stories they'd told him, really) and they had played their parts to perfection. They were lovey dovey in front of the motel manager to the point that he couldn't possibly think they were anything but very affectionate newlyweds and he had gladly given them a room--at a discounted rate, no less, due to Techie's mentioning "Oh, we just eloped. My daddy forbade the marriage but I went ahead with it anyway." (apparently the motel manager was a closet romantic).
The second they'd set foot in the room and shut the door, however, the performance was over and they'd flung themselves away from each other; him taking a seat near the window where he could watch discreetly through the curtains for the other two and her flopping down on the bed as was her custom whenever a mattress was in the room.
Now, all truly seedy motel rooms have one crucial flaw:
There's nothing to do. At least, nothing to do if you aren't a happy couple, ready and raring to hit the sheets, so boredom comes very, very quickly.
The television didn't work, which was no surprise, and the only reading material in the room was the standard issue Gideon Bible, so that left the two fugitives with very few options.
Techie had picked up the bible and flicked through it long enough to reach somewhere in the middle, had smiled at one passage in particular without sharing what it was, and then slammed the book shut, tossing it back in the bedside table's drawer where it belonged.
He had glanced up at her and she'd shrugged. "It's not like there's anything better to do."
And more silence.
And even more silence.
The only noise in the room was the ticking of the wall clock and that got old rather fast.
"I'm bored," she said, somewhat unnecessarily.
Of course she was bored, what did she think he was, having a picnic?
"Set yourself on fire, that should be entertaining enough."
"Nah. Fire's strictly the Captain's shtick." She flicked her gaze to the television. "I wonder if I could fix it?"
Crane smirked at her. "Oh please do try. Watching you shock yourself would prove to be interesting."
She didn't return his snappy retort, instead she looked over at her purse--lying abandoned near one of the pillows on the bed--and became thoughtful.
"Hey, I know!" She bounced on the bed once, the springs squeaking in an obscene manner. "Let's play a game!"
"What, count the cockroaches?"
"Nope!" She exclaimed brightly. "Let's play chess!"
Crane scoffed. "Even if I agreed to such lunacy, where would you get a chess board?"
"Purse," she said simply, scrambling for the item in question and rummaging through it. She practically emptied it of its contents--bullets, a nine millimeter, gas pellets, breath mints and two black domino masks--before she withdrew a folding chessboard and a zip-loc baggie filled with white and black pieces.
He stared at her. "Why do you have a chess board in your purse?"
"Because they don't make pocket Risk."
"A game that celebrates global domination. Why am I not surprised?"
"Because you know me, Pinky. Besides, what else am I going to carry with me? Make-up? Please. Now, white or black?"
"I never said I was going to play," he said, before adding as an afterthought, "And don't call me Pinky."
"Oh come on, play with me."
"I'll make it more interesting for you," she said in a sing-song voice.
He glared at her. "I do hope you don't have strip chess in mind."
"Do I look like Captain to you? Or Al? I don't want to see you in your skivvies any more than you want to see me in mine, I assure you."
"Then how, pray tell, do you intend to make chess more interesting?"
Her grin grew enormous. "We'll play Veritaserum Chess."
"Verita...Latin." He eyed her warily. "Truth serum? You've been holding out on me."
"Real truth serum isn't involved, it's played more on the honor system."
Despite his misgivings, Crane found himself intrigued. "What makes you think I'd do anything on the honor system?"
"You're not truly evil, you're a chaotic good," she stated matter-of-factly. "Do you want to play or not?"
"And the rules are?"
She shook her head. "Nuh uh. I don't tell you the rules until you agree to play. Otherwise, I'm just wasting my breath."
He glared at her. That was incredibly devious, infuriating logic on her part…
"I'll play so long as there isn't anything untoward about the game itself. What are the rules?"
"A very clever way to answer," she said with audible pride. "It works just like regular chess, except every time you capture a piece, you get to ask me a question, which I am honor bound to answer truthfully, and vice versa."
"And how do I know you'll be as truthful as I?"
"You aren't the only chaotic good in the room, Squishums." She cleared her throat. "Additionally, I'm making an addendum to the rules for this particular match--"
At the look of incredulity he gave her, she sighed.
"It's for both our benefits."
"What is it then?"
"If there's any topic that either of us don't want touched with a ten meter cattle prod, the other person has to keep away from it. If it's brought up against either party's wishes, the game is forfeit and the one who brought up the forbidden subject loses."
"You mean to tell me you're giving me the chance to opt out of any issue I don't want to discuss?"
"I know, isn't it magnanimous of me?" She asked with a smirk. "My untouchable subject is family."
He grinned internally. She hadn't picked 'fear'…this might be more interesting than originally anticipated.
"And what do you want yours to be?"
His answer came up unbidden, without him even having to give it any thought.
Techie's face fell. "There went my first six questions."
Crane bit back a smile as he shambled over to the bed and sat himself opposite her, chess board between them. "I'll be black, by the way."
"You would be," she replied, setting out the pieces with care so that they wouldn't topple. "I hope you know you're going to get thrashed."
"Somehow, I doubt it."
And without further discussion, the game began.
She was a much better tactician than he would have given her credit for, but she was nowhere near as good a player as he. She thought two or three moves ahead, while he thought more along the lines of twelve.
It was no surprise then that he was the first to capture a piece. A pawn fell victim to one of his knights and he grinned ruthlessly at her, his question already prepared.
"What's your worst fear?"
"Should've known that'd be your first question." She pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes at him. "My worst fear is…aging."
That made him quirk an eyebrow at her. "Aging? That's a silly thing to be afraid of."
"No sillier than spiders or clowns or falling satellites," she defended, moving one of her bishops. "And it's not so much aging itself as the changes that come with it."
"Afraid of losing your remarkable beauty, hm?" He asked sarcastically, putting another pawn in danger.
"Ha ha. No. More like afraid of becoming my mother." She managed to snatch her pawn out of harm's way. "And that counted as two questions."
Another ten minutes passed before another capture was made, she catching one of his rooks this time. "Why did you let us start working for you?"
"You're useful. Sometimes," he replied, taking another of her pawns. "Why did you join up with them?"
"Boredom. Fate. Kismet. Something like that. Not sure, really. It just kinda…happened. We met, we got together, we fit. That's just the way friendship works sometimes." She shrugged and moved a knight to take one of his pawns. "Ever been in love?"
He paused and glared at her for her impertinence. "What about your self imposed rules of not touching certain subjects?"
"You said sex, not love," she pointed out. "The two aren't necessarily connected."
"Then no, I haven't been." He took her queen. "What about you?"
(At first he felt like a teenager, gossiping; but then he reminded himself he only asked to try and make her as uncomfortable as she'd made him.)
She laughed. "Me? Love? These things don't go in the same sentence any more than salami and peanut butter belong in the same sandwich," she said with a grin that seemed a little too broad to be real. "Thought I was once, but I was wrong."
Ten more minutes of silent play before he caught yet another pawn. He contemplated whether or not he really wanted to ask his next question or not.
Well, better to ask it when he knew he'd get an honest answer…
She looked up from the board and blinked at him like some empty headed blonde trying to understand the most simple of concepts. "Why not you?"
"I'm a villain," he said, as if she were intentionally missing the big picture here.
"And that means you're not entitled to any friends?" Techie snorted that disbelieving snort of hers. "Besides, it's not like our pasts are pristine. Buddy boy, I could tell you stories about my comrades--hell about me--that would make your hair stand on end.
Sure, we never did anything ostentatious before we came to you, but we weren't exactly bleached white little lambs, either." She tipped her head at him, amused. "I mean really, did you think I came to Gotham and somehow setting foot inside the city limits gave me the ability to pick locks and throw punches? Believe it or not, Jonathan, we had lives before you came along. Pretty damn interesting ones, at that." She got another one of his pawns. "Now, my turn; what did you think when you walked in on Cap, Al, Eddie and I playing strip poker?"
The question had the desired effect, because for half a millisecond he choked.
"I thought Nygma had finally gone 'round the bend." Crane recovered beautifully and caught one of Techie's rooks. "Why were you playing, anyway?"
Another pawn. "Captain wanted to see Eddie starkers; I only joined the game to keep things fair, 'cause I knew she would cheat to achieve her goal."
A knight. "So why is it he was the only one in his underwear when I walked in?"
"What can I say? I'm a card shark. And can I help it if Edward Nygma can't bluff to save his life?" She got Crane's other rook. "This isn't so bad, is it?"
"In comparison to having my arm ripped off by a disgruntled bull, no." He smirked and moved his queen. "And that counted as your question."
"They're your rules."
Techie jumped so violently that she very nearly upended the chess board. She clutched her chest and took several deep breaths before she carefully climbed off the bed and made her way to the phone.
Ordinarily, she wouldn't have answered; but the Captain and Al knew where she and Crane were staying--if they were in desperate enough trouble or had to give a warning, they would call.
It was odd the way she felt no anxiety whatsoever when she picked up the receiver. She had to assume it had to do with the good mood she was in due to the friendly chess game.
"Ops, here," she answered with such cheer it seemed somewhat out of character for her usual sarcastic, surly manner.
"Bishop to queen's pawn three."
Her brow furrowed impressively. "What?"
The voice on the other end of the line was thick and rich, smooth and hard all at once, barely above a whisper. "Bishop to queen's pawn three."
Techie glanced over her shoulder at the board, realizing that move would put Jonathan in checkmate.
Someone was watching them? Watching them with the precision to know what they were doing and who was winning the game?
A chill slid down her spine, making her arms feel a little bit numb. She was too creeped out to manage anything beyond a slight gurgling noise in response to the voice, but after several long seconds, she gathered her scattered wits.
"Who is this?"
"How you doin', Yankee girl?"
Six years certainly wasn't long enough to forget that voice and Techie dropped the phone with a clatter.
Crane looked up at the noise, but all he saw was her leaning over to retrieve the phone again.
She hissed, her voice just barely audible even to herself. "What do you want?"
The voice on the other end of the line rumbled with a chuckle that sent shivers spilling down Techie's spine. "Oh, nothin' yet. I'll be comin' to call on y'all three soon enough."
"Why? We didn't make a deal with you."
"No, no we won't."
Another chuckled sounded, rumbling like the thunder over the hills of Tennessee that had been present the last time she and her friends had met the otherworldly creature she was currently conversing with. "Shore you will, Yankee girl…ain't you never heard of the devil?"
"I'll do you one better. I've met the devil," she whispered with as much vehemence as she could manage without letting her companion hear what she was saying. "He wears purple and calls himself the Joker."
"Tha's the trouble with you Yankees. In the south they got a good healthy fear and respect for the likes of me…but you northern types…y'all never learn you gotta give the devil his due."
"You're…you're nothing but a specter. A shade. You're probably a lesser demon, or a harbinger, but you aren't him." To her horror, the slight Tennessee accent she'd picked up from her mother was creeping into her voice and morphing her words from the sharp northern twang to a softer southern drawl. She swallowed it down and steadied her nerves. "You don't scare me."
This time the voice on the line outright laughed. "And what would your papa the preacher say 'bout that, eh, little sparrow?"
She nearly fainted then and there, but kept her white knuckled grip on the phone.
"Or should I call you sputsie?"
Rage bubbled to the surface, "Nobody calls me that anymore." and she slammed the phone down, yanking the cord out of the wall.
She waited until she wasn't near tears before she turned back around and stalked back over to the bed to sit back down where she had been before.
"What was that about?" Crane ask, staring at the cord that had been nearly yanked in half.
"Nothing," she snapped. "Family matter."
"You're lying," he said.
She chuckled bitterly, knowing that nothing so trivial as a chess game carried any weight now that she had to find a way to convince her friends that they needed to return to New Orleans to seek out someone with more knowledge in matters such as these.
"Trust me, Jonathan. It doesn't much matter now." She moved her bishop, effectively trapping his king. "Checkmate."