Disclaimer: Batman belongs to DC Comics and Warner Bros.

A/N: Written for the "Escalation" theme at http/batfic-contest(dot)livejournal(dot)com.

Just Business

Crime was just business to Dr. Jonathan Crane. When an opportunity as grand as the one Ra's al Ghul offered him presented itself, he took it without pause for ethics or morals. Crane was nothing if not an opportunist; how else would he have become the youngest Head of Psychiatry in the history of Arkham Asylum?

Ra's al Ghul's League of Shadows supplied the drug compound; Carmine Falcone smuggled it into Gotham and shipped it to the asylum; but Crane had the most vital role in the operation of all: Chemically engineering the fear toxin and dumping it into the city's water supply. His private, illegal research would determine the poison's effectiveness; success rose or fell on his shoulders alone, and Crane smiled at the thought that these two powerful crime lords depended entirely on his genius. It proved his favorite adage: Only the mind can grant you true power.

Of course, some people didn't agree with that saying. Some people needed convincing.

"You know what your problem is, Eddie?" Crane said, checking to make sure the man's restraints were secure. "You just breeze through life with no consequences. You do whatever you want. You've never learned the meaning of fear. If you'd been born just three weeks later, you'd have gone to juvie. But your boss likes you, so I did what he requested. I kept you out of jail. You think you'd show your savior some respect."

Eddie looked up at him. "You know you have a girly voice, right?"

Crane frowned and jerked the last strap tighter. Eddie groaned.

"That's better," said Crane.

"You get some sort of kick out of this, Chicken Legs?"

"Outside, you may have had the power, but in my asylum, you'll address me as Doctor Crane."

"Whatever, pretty boy. You can't be more'n ten years older than me. Trying to act all high 'n mighty, like you're intimidating or something. Look at you. You're a skinny, girly-faced worm. Don't matter how many times we do this," Eddie laughed. "You can't scare me."

Crane narrowed his eyes through his wire-rimmed glasses, staring down at the punk kid on the gurney. Eddie was barely 18, shorter than Crane but nearly three times as broad, with a mean face, a thick neck, and an insubordinate expression.

"Tell me, Eddie," Crane said, taking off his glasses, folding them, and placing them on a metal tray next to an array of various sized syringes, "do you remember our last session?"

"Heh," Eddie laughed, "you know the answer to that, Beanpole. Every time you bring me here, I wake up two days later drugged out of my mind. Lucky to remember my own name after that. But I know what you're doing. Trying to intimidate me."

Crane smiled, cold and knowing. He picked up a brown briefcase and placed it on the table next to Eddie, looking like he possessed a coveted secret and wasn't telling.

"At our last session, you said something to me quite interesting, Eddie. Perhaps you would remember that?"

Eddie tried to shrug, but found the straps across his chest much too tight.

Crane stared intently at him. "You said that I wasn't any more frightening than the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz."

Eddie's brow furrowed, trying to recall the memory. Eddie always looked constipated whenever he attempted any sort of mental taxation, which wasn't often, in Crane's opinion. Suddenly a light bulb of recognition flashed over Eddie's head. "You got it all wrong, Doc. I said you're a bigger pussy than the Scarecrow!"

"Hm," Crane said quietly over the sound of Eddie's loud, grating guffaws, "yes, you said that."

With that, he unclasped the briefcase, taking out a very ratty piece of material.

Eddie's laughter began to subside. "Hey, Dorothy, you torturing me with fabric now? What is that?"

Crane smiled sardonically, holding the thing up. It was some sort of small burlap sack with poorly, crudely stitched up holes. "Come now, Eddie. Surely even a man of your intellect can attempt a guess."

Eddie looked at him uncertainly. "Some sorta mask?"

"Why, Edward, you're smarter than you look! So there is hope for Cro-Magnons. But this is not just some sorta mask." Crane waved his hand in front of the mask like a magician revealing the missing Ace of Spades. "It's a Scarecrow. I have you to thank for the idea."

Crane turned his back to Eddie, pressing something inside the mouthpiece that Eddie couldn't see, and began to pull the mask over his head.

Eddie chortled, highly amused. "So, what, you gonna start playin' dress up now, you f—"

Eddie's screams drowned out the rest of his speech. Crane, fully masked, had turned and dowsed the punk in the face with a spray from the toxin canister hidden in the briefcase.

"I told you," Crane said, his voice coming out distorted and monstrous, "this is my asylum. I am its master. You are nothing but a pawn. Here you will know true terror."

Eddie screamed and screamed, writhing uselessly against his restraints. Crane felt a thrill up his spine. He knew what Eddie was experiencing now. He no longer saw the tall and gangly Jonathan Crane. His eyes beheld a monster; his eyes beheld a true Scarecrow, perfectly tailored to the susceptibilities of Eddie's psyche. Through the poison's hallucinogenic qualities, each victim's greatest nightmare would be projected onto that tattered, emotionless, burlap face. Crane was someone to fear now.

The experiment was a complete success, Crane judged, as the minutes passed and Eddie's screams showed no sign of abating. It had taken a steady escalation of doses, but he had finally determined the correct levels of toxin to permanently break his victim's mind. Previous attempts on Eddie had failed, leaving Crane humiliated and furious. But he never truly allowed himself to believe that something could have gone wrong with his calculations. There had to be something external, something beyond his mind's control, keeping him from causing the fear he so wished to wield. His mind was perfect; it was his physicality, then, that must be altered. His face, his voice… the Scarecrow persona had raised the stakes appropriately and afforded him more power than he had ever felt before.

The operation could move into the next phase now: Manufacturing the toxin on a large-scale level, and contaminating the city's water supply through the pipes below the asylum. A lot of money as well as his professional and intellectual reputation depended on success.

"Thank you, Eddie," Crane said casually as he packed his mask away and readjusted his glasses, "you've been very helpful."

Tormenting arrogant pieces of scum was just part of the job at hand. Just what Ra's al Ghul had hired him to do.

Just business.

Well, Crane thought, patting a careless hand on Eddie's writhing shoulder, and exiting the room to the delightful sound of the bastard's tortured screams.

Perhaps business could mix with pleasure, too.