A Mad Tea-party
Disclaimer: I don't own Batman, but I am selling these fine leather jackets…
Jervis carried the tray to the table and set it down with a small thump, fussily smoothing the green tablecloth. He wasn't normally so persnickety…well, yes, he was, but today he was extra-choosy. He had a guest. A very special guest. Who would arrive at any minute.
He checked the sugar in the bowl, making sure not a grain had fallen from the neat little pyramid of cubes. He idly swept invisible crumbs into his hand, smiling at his reflection in his teaspoon. He made sure the handles of the bone china milk jug and teapot lined up perfectly, that the dish of lemon wedges had just the right amount.
It wasn't every day he had a guest. In fact, he could count the total guests he'd had in the past ten years on the fingers of one hand.
Besides, this one wouldn't be screaming. Not at first, anyway.
Suddenly there came a sharp rapping, as if someone not-so-gently tapping on his hideout door. He clapped his hands together.
"Ahh, 'tis my visitor." He said, and nothing more.
His ornate blue door opened to admit his guest, all six feet four inches of him. Jonathan Crane wasn't as scrawny as he seemed; rather, he was a man of average size stretched over a larger-than-average frame. He carried a small parcel under his arm, swatting at Jervis when he got curious with his fingers.
"This isn't for you, I have to take this to be mended later."
Though Jervis was a little hurt at the slight, on the outside he barely cringed. Beaming graciously, he ushered his guest to a chair and sat him down.
"I am so glad, glad, glad that you could come for tea today, Jonathan!" he exclaimed, sitting neatly down in a purple plush armchair.
Jonathan looked uncomfortable, which was more or less natural for him.
"You said you wanted to talk, Tetch, you never said anything about imbibing liquids."
"Please Jervis. Anyway, business is so dreary, so…formal." He grinned eerily at Crane. "Wouldn't you much rather have a spot of tea before we get to tedious transactions?"
"May I remind you, Tetch," he spat the name like an errant lemon seed, "that you insisted on conducting our deal on a day when I am most busy? I have not forgotten that I am a criminal mastermind, and as such am expected to keep up a certain amount of effort to be successful. I don't have as much time as some." He ended with withering disapproval.
He thought a moment.
"Really though, what have you been doing lately? You dropped off the radar about a year ago, why?"
Tetch still stared at him, grin wide as the moon.
"…Fine, forget this." Crane pushed his chair back in disgust.
"Oh, please don't go Jonathan," the Mad Hatter pleaded forlornly, "won't you at least have a little tea?"
Jonathan stopped. Something in the voice made him drop back into his seat.
There were literally thousands of things he'd rather do than take tea with Jervis Tetch.
"All right." He grumbled. Tetch beamed and nudged the tray a little closer.
He carefully lifted the full teapot and poured himself a cuppa, trying hard not to splash on the tablecloth. He set it down and picked up his tea, generous nostrils examining the aroma. He caught Tetch's hungrily interested look at him and sighed, setting the cup back down.
"Okay," he said, "I'm not going one step further until you taste it."
Tetch grinned somehow wider, and gladly threw half the cup down his throat.
Jonathan blinked. Maybe there was something about how often he drank tea, his throat must be like an armored truck after a lifetime of drinking scalding water. He watched Tetch for any sign of poisoning or fatigue. Tetch returned his gaze almost longingly, creeping him out even more than usual.
"So…um, how're things?" he said in a mock-bright tone. Tetch never took his eyes off Jonathan's, but he quirked his head.
"Oh…good." He said, in a breathy echo of Jonathan's voice.
"So um…" Jonathan hadn't felt this awkward since his performance in Death of a Salesman in high school drama. "Yes, well…I've…been good as well." He winced inwardly. A salesman's gotta dream…
"Well." Jervis said. "That's good." He remained staring blankly at Jonathan.
Jonathan shifted uneasily in his chair. To busy his hands so he would not wring them, he got himself lemon and sugar. Jervis's eyes followed his hands, his own mirroring them by pouring cream in his cup.
Several minutes of silent agony followed.
Jonathan Crane could not have been more uncomfortable if he had been frying under white-hot lights at the precinct. Jervis simply stared at him, touching his cup to his lips whenever Jonathan did.
Finally, Jonathan broke.
"All right, what!?" He cried, shooting to his feet and knocking back his chair. "Why am I here? Why are you staring-don't you laugh at me!"
It was true, Jervis's shoulder shook with constrained mirth, his bottom lip firmly between his teeth. Jonathan seethed, fists balling involuntarily. A childhood spent as a punching bag for older boys had left him extremely sensitive to ridicule, the laughter cut through him like a dentist drill. He had to restrain himself, he must notstrike Tetch in his own lair, that act was tantamount to suicide. Instead he forced himself to sit back down in the chair, hands angrily snatching at his teacup and slopping some of the contents onto the tabletop.
Tetch regained control of himself as well, wiping tears from his eyes and smiling almost fondly at him.
"Jonathan," he said in a voice that still held a bit of a giggle, "I'm surprised at you."
It was all he could do to keep from springing across the table and wringing Tetch's neck. He settled for twisting his napkin in his lap instead.
"Why?" he growled through his teeth.
Tetch smiled brightly. "You haven't asked me what I wanted to talk to you about yet. Surely you haven't forgotten?"
Jonathan was taken slightly aback. He had forgotten. Why did he let Tetch fluster him so easily?
"I wanted to talk with you, to tell you something I've just accomplished." He beamed at Jonathan, so proud of himself.
Jonathan felt deflated. He slumped in his chair, weak from effort. His hands were almost numb with how hard he had clenched them.
"Tetch." He whispered dryly. "What did you want to tell me?"
"Jervis, please." The Hatter looked thoughtful for a moment. "You remember I was working on a new control chip some time ago?"
Crane rummaged through the dusty attics of his mind. "…Yes, I remember that. But, wasn't that way before-"
"Of course you know I wasn't able to finish it, not really." The Hatter pouted at this memory. Then he smiled his sanity-free smile again.
"Well, that turned out to be a spectacular failure. The chip couldn't function under physical duress, was barely functional in normal circumstances. I nearly tore my hair out until I gave up trying to make it work."
He paused and looked back up at Jonathan. "How's your tea?"
"Hmm?" he said, still lost in his memory. "Oh! Oh yes, fine. I-it's fine."
"Fine…" the Hatter enounced, staring at his lower lip. Jonathan shifted in his seat again, bringing him back out of it.
"Well, as I was in the midst of a gleefully violent termination of the experiment, I got a frabjabulous idea! I got a wonderful, awful idea! I nearly dropped a chainsaw on my foot when I got it." He rested his chin on his hand. "Guess."
"Guess what it was."
"Oh! Umm…" Jonathan pretended to think, but trying to predict the thought patterns of a mind like Tetch's was like trying to catch a monkey with a revolver; it was a foolhardy and dangerous errand. He was the kind of crazy that made the other maniacs a little nervous, maniacs like him who relied on a certain amount of order. There really was no logic governing the Hatter's thoughts. He could change emotions on a dime, and that was on a good day.
The man was capable of pretty much anything.
This last thought came to Jonathan, who squirmed a little uneasily. Did he still remember?...
"…Let's see… ah-"
"Oh, you'll never guess." Tetch dismissed him with a wave of his hand.
"I've refined one of my devices down to a quite impressive scale."
An impressive silence hung over the table.
"That's it?" Jonathan asked. Tetch frowned.
"What do you mean, 'that's it?' This is a great leap forward for me! …Oh, why should I even bother, asking the likes of you to appreciate the fine subtleties of my craft-"
"Okay, okay." The Scarecrow make shushing motions with his hands. "I'm sorry, I believe you."
Don't make him angry.
You don't know what he'll do.
"So this- this-"
"Sensory Control Apparatus."
"This…SCA, exactly how small did you get it?"
The Hatter puffed up a little. "The size of a fine needle or a hair. Without, might I add, the benefits of nanotechnology." He said like a man talking about those newfangled horseless carriages.
"Quite impressive." Yes, despite himself, the Scarecrow was impressed. He entertained thoughts of what their combined forces could do before a question that had been fighting for attention since he got there managed to kick its way to the front and make itself heard.
"So…why tell me?"
"Hmm?" The Hatter grinned so widely it seemed like the corners of his mouth would soon meet with his ears.
"Why…why me?" It had suddenly become hard to talk, and Jonathan's cup slipped from his numb fingers and fell to the floor with a tinkling of glass. The Mad Hatter tsked and set his own cup down.
"Wha-…what the hell…" He was rapidly loosing control of his limbs, which felt like they were filled with warm water. His head reeled as he struggled, finally falling to rest on the back of his chair when his neck couldn't support it anymore. The Mad Hatter watched all this with politely manic interest, grinning so wide blood dribbled from the corners of his mouth.
"I'm glad you liked your tea, Jonathan, I took great care in preparing it. …However, I'm afraid I could not help, shall we say, tinkering with the sugar and lemon. I knew you were very fond of them."
"W…why…" He gasped, very afraid. The Mad Hatter stood up, shaking his head affectionately. He picked up his napkin and used it to store the broken pieces of Crane's cup, returning to his seat and taking a swig of his own tea afterwards.
"So," he said quietly. "You want to know why." His voice had a hardness to it now, and he sounded positively lucid. Jonathan groaned in panic. The Hatter logical was almost a scarier prospect than his normal, hyper-irrational self. This one was all business.
"Don't you find it funny, Jonathan, that I should invite you into my home? You of all people?" He downed the rest of his tea and wiped his mouth unceremoniously on his sleeve.
"Did you think I had forgotten the events of a year ago, that you kept me prisoner? Tortured me?" He pointed his teacup at Jonathan, who was struggling and failing to avoid a panic attack.
"Of course I remember, I remember every slight against me, from grade school to asylum. It was a bit silly to think I would let you, a most grievous offender, off the hook." He jabbed with his teacup to emphasize his point.
"Oh, you most assuredly did, don't I know that your arrogance knows no bounds? Trust me when I say that everything that has happened tonight has gone exactly according to my master plan."
"Of course," a sly look crossed his face, "I didn't count on you bringing something. I shall have to rummage through it later. But for now-"
He took a small box out of his pocket and opened it, holding it up so that Jonathan could see.
"Do you see this? No, I think it's rather hard to see such craftsmanship from afar, let me give you a closer look." He walked to Jonathan's end and grasped his hair, forcing him to look at the cotton lining. Something that resembled short, auburn hairs rested within. Jonathan found horror constricting his throat. Surely-
"Yes, I haven't forgotten, and I intend to pay you back full measure." The Hatter closed the box and placed it back in his pockets.
"However, there's no reason we can't talk first is there?" He smiled politely at Jonathan, who was shooting white-hot rays of hate from his eyes.
"Now, I have to admit, that was an impressive capture you made there. Not only detaining me for over eleven months but managing to break my will and body as well! Well done sir!" He smiled mockingly, lacing his fingers together, elbows on the table.
"However, you made two mistakes. One was that you didn't kill me. Oh, there was always the off chance that I would stay broken, keep my eyes to the floor and beg your pardon for disturbing you, but that was an off chance, and you should've known better."
"I shou-should've…k-k-ki-" It was getting easier to talk, was the toxin wearing off? Could Tetch really be foolish enough that he stood a chance of escaping?
"Another thing; you were a good torturer, but you were neglectful. You get all the joy in accomplishing the torture, and you completely neglect the afterthought. A good torturer can make the pain stay with his subjects long after he's done with them. You never took the time to learn that. I did." He smiled grimly, looking at nothing. Jonathan was looking around the table for the best object to bludgeon the Mad Hatter with. Why, oh why did he have such dainty flatware? The teapot was so thin you could practically read though it, what could it do to a skull?
"Your second error is more a matter of personal taste." Jonathan glanced up, and found himself locking gazes with the Mad Hatter. He was now paralyzed by something neither poison nor fear, something he could not name.
"Why did you just leave me?"
The Scarecrow blinked, not quite sure he'd heard right. The plaintive tone, the eyes begging for an answer…
"Why did you make me believe you would stay with me? I've never had anyone take such an interest in me before. It was…well, it was almost like having a friend."
Jonathan was speechless, though the toxin had worn off enough to allow it.
"Why did you let me get so used to being around you? I liked you, Jonathan." The Hatter's eyes were bright.
At long last, Jonathan found his voice.
"You sick, twisted son of a-"
"Well, I have you now Jonathan! And this time it's going to be different. Very different." The Hatter's face shone with barely contained glee.
"I'm not going to let you leave, oh no, this is your home now! And we're going to play, like gooood friends."
He bounce up and down a little.
"But I haven't told you the best news yet! And it's the very best news of it all!" He produced the case from his pocket again.
"Remember when I said I had refined it? Well, it wasn't just size I refined! This new model gives me complete domination over your voluntary muscle control, but you will still maintain a level of consciousness." His tongue slid over the word, tasting it. " How much is up to me, but I guarantee you it will be enough."
He sat back, eagerly scanning Jonathan's face for approval. Terror had glued Crane to the chair, but now he but up a renewed struggle, only managing to tumble out of it and land helplessly on the hard floor. The Hatter stood up and leisurely strode over to him, straddling his body and taking his face in his hands.
Jonathan was less than three inches from Tetch's face, and it was utterly terrifying. The Hatter was a bastion of calm, plucking a hair from the cotton backing as gently as he swept crumbs from the table. Jonathan searched his face for any sign of pity.
"Jervis." He pleaded. "Don't."
He smiled and held Jonathan's face steady with one hand, aiming with the other.
"Don't worry." He said. "You won't feel a thing."
And he didn't. Not at first.
Author's note: Well, now, that was good and twisted. This is a sort-of sequel to Ab Tenabrae, but I like to think the story's coherent enough to stand on it's own. Special thanks to highland girl 1592, who gave me a wonderful, awful idea for a story. I realize I have been picking on Jervis a lot, really, but how can I help it? It's just so fun. Again, I haven't forgotten about Cube, I'm working on a second chapter as we speak…I speak…whatever. Be seeing you.