Disclaimer: Not mine.
Summary: It was sort of like having a drink with friends after work. Just… with guns. Or. Harvey Dent is the sanest person in the room.
A/N: Brought to you by my happy bench at university, cold medication and home made peanut butter cookies.
Also. Harvey Dent is not dead, damn it.
Six months ago, Harvey Dent reflected bitterly, his Wednesday nights had involved working late at the office with a box of take-out and the promise of 'something to look forward to' from Rachel if he got through that one last stack of paperwork. Never in his wildest imaginings had the Harvey of six months previous considered the idea of being stuffed in the back of an old Ford pick-up truck with a man wearing a burlap sack on his head to be an opportunity for Wednesday night entertainment. Nor was it an opportunity he approached with much relish. The fear toxin would be an excellent resource once obtained; however, it was the process of convincing Jonathan Crane that taking down the mob families of Gotham was a worthy pursuit which was the unpleasant part.
After his encounter with Batman and Gordon (and hadn't that been a bushel of fun?) he'd spent an absolutely thrilling week in a nearby abandoned warehouse metaphorically licking his not so metaphorical wounds. It was lucky for him that the few other residents of the warehouse preferred to live their lives in an alcoholic fog and thus made no fuss when he paid them to bring him medical supplies and food. After that first week he'd started testing his mobility, limping out in the middle of the night gun clenched in the hand that wasn't using a wall for balance. Such escapades had eventually gotten easier, and by the third month he was back to normal – or at least as normal as he would ever be again. His goals hadn't changed. Gotham needed its streets cleaned up, there was no question about it. Harvey was just choosing the method that worked. He'd tried the legal, socially acceptable way for years and in the end it had brought nothing but failure and personal loss. He was not insane. He wasn't about to go around trying the same thing over and over with hopes of differing results. He changed his strategy. It'd started with the Joker. By the time he was holding a gun on Gordon's family he was living in a fog of grief and the all-consuming need for revenge. Once he was back on his feet and the painkillers had worn off he was ready to take an objective look at things. Batman had the right idea, sure. Hunt down the criminals with or without the police department's blessing. It was the part where he let them live that Harvey had a problem with.
Batman had let Rachel die. He would save the lives of murderers, thieves and rapists and he couldn't be bothered to offer the same courtesy to a brilliant, caring woman who was only doing her best to create sanity in an insane world. For this, the Batman would never be forgiven. But his life would not be one led by revenge. He had come to this realization after watching a mother and son shot to death in the middle of a gang shootout. The coin landed smooth side up and he called an ambulance from a nearby payphone and walked away. As long as there were events such as those occurring with great frequency, it would be unjust of him to spend the entirety of his time hunting down the bat. He flipped for it anyway, wondering absently if his compulsion to live by chance could be classified as some sort of disorder. He preferred to think of it as a lifestyle choice. The coin came up scarred. He didn't know which choice it represented.
He had seen the bulletins regarding Jonathan Crane's escape from Arkham on the TV in a convenience store five months into his new life. The reporter read the information out in the voice of one who has never experienced true fear or concern for their life. To her, it was just another news story. To the residents of the Narrows, it was a call to panic. To Harvey, it was a golden opportunity. It took him a while to get in contact with the former doctor. Nights spent in underground train stations, ramshackle warehouses and grubby all-night diners finally earned him a phone number. Of course the bastard already had a cell phone, he reflected as he shoved change into the payphone across the street from Wayne Tower.
It had taken a while to convince Crane – no, Scarecrow now – that he was who he said he was, and longer to coax him into a meeting. But Harvey hadn't spent years as a lawyer and public figure for nothing, and thus he was now breathing the fowl stink of leaking oil and trying not to think too closely about the various stains on the back seat. The men in the front were perfect examples of the stereotypical thug, made up of nothing more than muscles and tattoos, going by the names of Joe and Grunt, and completely, unequivocally terrified of one Jonathan Crane. Harvey had seen the news reports when Crane had snapped, releasing the toxin into the streets. If it weren't for the weight of the pistol at his hip and the fact that Crane really had no reason to want him dead, he might be afraid of the delicate doctor in his perfectly pressed suit.
"Where are we going?" Harvey asked for the second time. The other man shifted, peering out at him from the eye holes of his mask.
"My associate wishes to speak with you as well regarding the amount of toxin you'll require. She also wishes to be present when we discuss payment. We'll be meeting at our office."
This was the first that Crane had mentioned of a second party involved in his operation, and Harvey's eyebrow arched even as his entire body tensed up. "I thought you worked alone."
Crane shrugged slightly. "My toxin requires a particular organic compound which is rather rare. Unfortunately, I had a… disagreement with my original suppliers, and needed to find an alternative. It was sheer chance that I discovered a woman interested in the same sorts of things as I, and willing to provide the plant for my toxin in exchange for a little extra cash and some assistance in the area of psychiatry."
Harvey didn't want to know. "The fear toxin is deadly, correct?"
Crane laughed musically, hands fluttering. "Eventually. Unless you're the Batman, of course. Or myself. I was particularly lucky. Nightmare after nightmare, but I'd built up a resistance to my own toxin. Only took a while before we got ourselves under control again."
There was, Harvey decided abruptly, a very good reason that this man had been locked up in a mental institution. The way he spoke, lilting and strung-out like he was reciting one long nursery rhyme made him think of horror movies and breaking glass. "Wonderful." Images of entire rooms of mobsters lying on the floor screaming in unadulterated terror danced in his head and he smiled.
The car pulled up outside of a dilapidated office building in what had used to be a relatively good part of town. Crane led him in through the back door, and down a flight of tiled stairs to what he assumed to be the basement. Behind them, he heard the two thugs locking the doors and settling in to keep watch. Crane tapped lightly on a blank metal door, and a moment later it swung inwards, revealing a tall red-haired woman standing behind it.
Crane nodded to her, and gestured at Harvey with a sweeping wave of his arm. "Guess who's come to dinner."
"So it's true, you're alive," the woman commented, eyes sweeping over him in one disinterested glance before she turned away, walking back into the room which, when he entered, proved to be a cobbled-together sort of laboratory. A Bunsen burner sat on the table directly to his left, while a row of test tubes filled with mysterious liquids glimmered under the florescent lights at the far end of the room. To his left lay row upon row of wooden boxes, their open tops growing thick with greenery. It was towards these that the woman moved, retrieving a pair of clippers from the floor and kneeling beside a box of blue flowers.
Crane tugged off his mask, setting it aside with sharp, jerky movements. "Harvey Dent, Pamela Isley. Pamela, Harvey Dent," he mocked under his breath, glaring at the back of her head.
"Before we discuss pricing, I have another proposition for you," Crane informed him once it became clear that Pamela had no intention of rejoining the conversation.
"What sort of proposition?'
"Well, it's more of a favour for a… friend. Calls himself the Mad Hatter—I know –" He added, at Harvey's eye roll. "Ever since Batman and the Joker decided to play dress up every idiot with a grudge and a sewing machine thinks they'll be the next "theme criminal" to overtake the city. It's ridiculous."
Harvey very carefully did not look at Crane's own mask. "Ridiculous," he agreed blandly.
"Anyhow," Crane continued. "He's currently working on a device which renders its victims incapable of free thought. Considering you seem to have a rather large task on your hands, it might be profitable for you to be in possession of such a thing."
Harvey's lips thinned. "I'm not here to play games, Crane. What you're suggesting is science-fiction and we both know it."
"Hardly, good fellow," a new voice intruded. He spun to face the open door where two men stood, both smirking like they'd just pulled off a rather fantastic April Fools prank. They were both dressed very oddly, the shorter of the two sporting a ridiculous top hat and the taller an obnoxiously green suit.
"What is he doing here?" Crane asked coldly, jerking his head to the green-clad man.
"No room," the other replied promptly, and directed his gaze to Harvey. "It's not science-fiction at all. I daresay it'll be working within a month if we keep it clear of the butter."
"What, not going to offer your guests a drink this time, Jonathan?" the second man asked Crane. Harvey's eyes darted back and forth between the new arrivals and he felt a little as if he'd stumbled into the halls of Arkham Asylum by mistake.
"I believe I warned you that if you came here again you would not be leaving with your precious mind intact," Crane replied darkly.
The other man shrugged. "You wouldn't do it." The gun appeared in his hand so quickly that Harvey had to do a double take. "Really, you need to get over this bitterness of yours. I'm smarter than you. It's a fact of life that you really should be working on accepting."
"The price I ask isn't exorbitant," the first man continued speaking to Harvey. "And of course, we can negotiate at the time."
Crane walked away toward the back of the room, turning his back to the gun aimed at him. "Do you prefer Scotch or Rum, Mr. Dent?" he called over his shoulder.
"Harvey Dent?" the man in green asked, attention suddenly on him, gun falling to his side. "Rumors of your death were certainly exaggerated, weren't they? I'd already guessed that, of course. And I suppose, as well, that the Batman had nothing to do with those dead bodies that he's been accused of creating?"
"Yes. Yes. No. I don't want a drink, Crane."
"Edward Nygma. Pleasure to meet you." He held out the hand that wasn't wrapped around a gun. Harvey shook it, bemused.
"Yes. Clever, isn't it?" Nygma looked far too pleased with himself.
"And you're here because…" Harvey let the sentence trail, shifting from one foot to the other lazily.
"To piss off Crane, mostly."
"They're fumigating his apartment building," Pamela explained, rising to her feet with a jar of cut flowers, which she placed on the table beside the Bunsen burner.
"You know where I live? I'm flattered," Nygma moved out of the doorway, the door swinging shut behind him, to lean up against the table.
"Don't be. We make it a point to know where potential test subjects make their homes," Crane retorted dryly, pouring a drink.
"So you want a deal," Harvey turned back to the man in the top hat. "What do you want, money? I have to tell you, I'm not very interested. With the fear toxin that Crane is providing the men that I'm after won't have much of a mind to control."
"He wants test subjects," Crane explained, returning with his glass in hand. "If he provides you with the technology and it works he can start using it for his own purposes and fear no ill effects."
"And what purposes would those be?" Harvey was somewhere between amused and furious at the way his time was being wasted – not, really, that he had anything better to do with it.
The as yet nameless man spun on Crane with a sudden burst of fury. "If everybody minded their own business, the world would go round a deal faster than it does!" And then, turning back to Harvey, "It will work, it will work. Have no fear of that."
Harvey blew out a breath. "Talk to me when you've got a tested, working model."
Nygma laughed under his breath and holstered his gun, wandering back to pour himself a drink, as Crane seemed to have no intention of doing so. "I believe Jonathan said something about an arrangement between the three of us?" Pamela asked, blatantly ignoring the others in the room as she spoke to him.
He nodded. "I take it you're the 'associate' he was speaking of? He told me you were concerned with quantity and pricing."
"The flowers only grown so fast, you know. And they're rare. Far more precious than the humans that they destroy."
Harvey blinked. "I'm… sure."
"Don't mind her," Nygma said lightly. "I know she can seem a bit fanatical at points but one learns to tune her out."
"You don't know much," the man with the hat shot back promptly. This seemed to anger Nygma a great deal more than it had a right to.
"Oh do shut up before he gets it in his mind to shoot you, Tetch," Crane muttered, as if reminding a five-year-old that, yes, really, the stove is hot. "What happened to that blasted cane of yours?" This last was directed at Nygma.
His response was part embarrassment, part bitterness. "It met with an… unfortunate fate." Harvey wondered if one ongoing topic of conversation would be too much to ask for.
From outside of the door came the sounds of a scuffle. Harvey drew his gun. Nygma and Tetch did the same. Crane donned his mask; Pamela continued to look bored. The door opened with a slow theatricality that put Harvey's teeth on edge. What (or rather who) walked through it was possibly one of the last things he expected.
"I heard you were having a party," said the Joker. "I, uh, hope you don't mind if we drop in."
Harvey decided, quite practically, that this was not happening. The last he'd heard of the Joker, the psychotic had been on his way to be locked up in Arkham under the heaviest security they could manage, never to be heard from or seen again. He should not, therefore, be standing in front of their little gathering of… well, he wasn't about to call them psychotics – none of them could come close to the Joker's level of insanity. "I'll take that drink," he said to no one in particular.
The Joker wasn't alone. A woman walked in front of him, his arm around her throat and a gun pressed to her temple. She did not look scared, as any normal human being might be. Instead she looked positively furious and (Harvey had to look twice, but he was very sure) there were distinctly pointed ears on the top of her headpiece. She caught him staring.
"Meow," she said, very flatly.
"Hi, Kitty," Nygma waved with his free hand.
"Eddie. Imagine meeting you here.'
"You know everyone, don't' you?" crane asked Nygma rhetorically.
"You know, Scary," the Joker stalked closer to crane, still pushing the woman along in front of him. "It wasn't very nice of you to leave Arkham without offering to take me along. I was very… insulted. I had to find my own way out, naturally, to figure out why you would do such a thing. I thought we were buddies, you and me. Pals. So, when I heard you'd vacated the premises, I thought to myself, 'self, why would dear old Johnny boy leave me here to rot away?' And then I thought, 'Maybe I did something to offend him!' Of course I couldn't just let that lie on my conscience, keeping me up at night with worry. I mean, I'm a great looking guy, we all know that, but even I need my beauty sleep. So I decided I'd just have to come find you and make sure everything was hunky-dory between us. I mean, it took a few hours to get out… Killed a few guards, spilled a little blood; okay, more than a little, but let's not quibble over details. But now I'm here, and I've even brought you a gift. I mean, usually a stray cat's nothing to blink at, but this one was getting in where she didn't belong."
" Fuck you," said cat snapped coldly, and began to squirm in his grip, kicking up at his groin. He stepped to the side, jamming the gun even harder against her skull.
"Bad kitty," he reprimanded lightly. She reached up with a free hand -- Harvey was barely surprised at all that her glove sported a set of deadly looking claws – and made a swipe for his face. He caught the hand in his own, and without any fanfare or warning bent her index and middle finger back until they all heard the quiet snap of breaking bone.
To her credit, she didn't scream, nor did she shed a tear. Her face lost a great deal of its colour, but after merely a few seconds of shock she began fighting, this time with a renewed ferocity.
"Don't," Pamela cut in sharply, "Get blood on anything."
The Joker was laughing, even as she scored a direct hit with her good hand, drawing bloody tracks down his arm. Their fighting took them directly in front of Harvey, and she glanced up at him with irritation. "A little help here?"
The coin left his hand, spun through the air, and landed back in his open palm. He shrugged. "You're on your own."
Joker's eyes lit up, and he threw the woman away from him suddenly with more force than Harvey would've thought him capable of. "Well look who's here! Harvey Two Face, my good friend. How's life on the outside?" His arm was flung around Harvey's shoulders, blood seeping onto his jacket at the contact.
"You've got three seconds to get the hell away from me," Harvey growled. The bastard had been lucky the first time, when he'd come upon him in the hospital. He could only hope that his luck would not hold out. The Joker's arm did not move. On the other side of the room, the new woman was scrambling to her feet, brushing off Nygma's offer of assistance.
"Don't be coy, darling," Joker sing-songed right in Harvey's ear. "I'm sure these good people aren't going to mind if we display our relationship openly in front of them."
The coin landed scarred side up. It was the most beautiful thing he'd seen all night. The metal of the gun was warm from his hand, and the weight felt familiar and reassuring as he raised it. The Joker was still grinning, scars stretched up and made even more grotesque by the make-up. The good side of Harvey's mouth curved up in a matching grin. "This is the only relationship we have," he snarled, slamming the other man up against the wall, the nose of his gun pressed into the centre of his forehead. From behind him, the cat woman laughed gleefully.
"Tsk, tsk. Never took you for the type to endorse domestic violence, sweetums. Rachel never mentioned that part of your personality… then again, we didn't really have that much time to talk. Oh, wait!" he cackled. "We didn't have any time at all, did we? Because the Batman decided that you were more important than your little girlfriend, and he let her get blown into iddy biddy pieces."
"Shut up!" Harvey roared, slamming the man's head against the metal wall with such force that it reverberated along the length of the entire wall.
"Uncontrollable violent tendencies," he heard Crane's voice, detached and yet somehow still mocking coming from somewhere behind him. Before him the Joker's grin seemed to grow impossibly wider, his eyes glowing inhumanly. His laughter echoed in Harvey's head like that of a demon, sprung forth from the depths of hell. There was a buzzing in his ears. The Joker's face distorted, blood dripping from the ragged edges of his scars. Harvey was finding it hard to draw breath and his legs felt numb. The gun was solid and real in his hand, and he focused his entire being on pulling the trigger. He was not expecting the sudden explosion of pain in the hand that held the gun, nor the equally painful connection of the purple-clad man's knee with a rather sensitive area of his anatomy. He fell back, gun falling from fingers suddenly slick with his own blood. The Joker bent to retrieve the fallen weapon, and strolled, cool as a cucumber, away from him. He was bent over, gasping for air, pain bringing the world around him back into sharp relief. The Joker was still laughing quietly under his breath.
"You're supposed to be locked up, and he's supposed to be dead," Nygma commented. "I wonder who's going to pop out of the woodwork next." The Joker stopped walking.
"I, uh, don't think we've been introduced. I mean, of course you already know who I am, but I'm afraid I'm a busy man and don't really have time to memorize the names of the peasants."
"You can call me Riddler," Nygma replied, arrogance slipping into his tone.
The Joker smirked. "And you, pretty kitty?"
She glared, but replied. "Catwoman."
This snapped the Joker's control, and he flung his head back, gasping with hysterical laughter. He spun in circles, flinging his hands out to either side. "That's… that's… ha-hilarious! Priceless! Remind me to tell Batsy next time I see him that we've spawned!"
Catwoman stole Nygma's drink out of his hand and through it back in one long swallow. He frowned. "Why yes, I do mind. I was drinking that."
"I'll buy the first round if we get out of here alive," she replied. Her eyes flickered over to Harvey, and she seemed to ponder something. "You look ridiculously familiar."
Harvey clenched his teeth, and gestured mockingly to the burned portion of his face. "I think you'd remember."
She bit her bottom lip, still obviously trying to place him. Crane was busy moving any breakable objects out of the Joker's general vicinity.
Harvey cleared his throat. He wanted to be out of the room and free of the Joker's presence as soon as possible. "Dr. Crane, our deal?"
"Of course," Crane nodded, ignoring the Joker's antics. "A dose of approximately 100 ounces should take care of ten subjects, approximately ten more ounces for every person, though don't hold me to those precise measurements. You will be coming here to make the pick-up, I assume, as well as provide us with our payment."
"Which we'll want half of beforehand," Pamela added.
Harvey inclined his head. "I've got a man willing to make the drop-off and pick-ups."
"And you trust him?" Crane asked.
Harvey smirked. "I've got more blackmail on Brown than I could possibly know what to do with."
Nygma coughed, and shifted a little awkwardly. "Brown? Not Arthur Brown, I trust?"
Harvey frowned. "Yes, as a matter of fact. You know him?"
"After a fashion. You remember I mentioned the unfortunate fate of my cane?"
"By unfortunate fate, you mean somehow rendered useless by way of murder, don't you?" Pamela sighed.
"Eddie!" Catwoman spun on him. "I thought we had an agreement? Now what am I supposed to do when Blake gets bored again and comes knocking at my door?"
Nygma shrugged. "It's really not my problem that you've decided that you're too good and noble to kill. Deal with him like a mature adult."
She snorted. "Because that's obviously how you handle your problems."
"Snicker-snack!" Tetch exclaimed.
Harvey stared around at them. "You're all insane," he muttered. Suddenly the Joker was right up in his face, still grinning.
"No, we're not. If you really have to label us, let's go with creative, why don't we? We just happen to think on a wider scale than the rest of the world. We were those kids in pre-school who decided that it was no fun to colour inside the lines. No, we'd much rather fill the teacher's water bottle with anti-freeze and see what happened! That's true art!"
Tetch seemed very offended by this. "We're all mad here!" he objected. And then, to Harvey. "You're mad as well, you know, or you wouldn't have come here."
Harvey shook his head. "I'm sorry to burst your bubble, but I'm not anywhere near the rest of you."
"I do think I'm insulted," Catwoman commented. "Just because I happened to get dragged into all of this against my will by that freak, I'm suddenly ripe for the loony bin in your eyes?"
"Which reminds me," Crane turned to her. "Why were you here in the first place?"
She smiled at him, all innocence and seduction. "I was only curious," she lied. Everyone could tell it was a lie. No one called her on it.
"We're all mad here," repeated Tetch, more quietly. Joker smeared a finger through a droplet of his own blood that had landed on the table during his flailing. Catwoman cradled her damaged hand, tugging at the glove carefully. Harvey felt a little sick.
"Well," he said to Crane. "Thank you for an entirely unproductive evening. I'll be going now. I'd arrange a date and time for pick-up, but I'd rather not have to endure another of tonight's little get-togethers, so I'll wait until we've got a secure phone line."
Joker mock pouted. "But the fourth of July is coming up, Harv! Don't you wanna see what I can do with fireworks?"
Harvey pretended that he did not exist. "I assume you don't mind if I borrow your truck. I'll have someone drive it back in the morning."
He left without another word, the Joker's sporadic giggles trailing him until he got upstairs. He walked out, past the mutilated bodies of Joe and Grunt. The keys to the truck were on the floor, and he bent to pick them up. Footsteps pounded up the stairs, and Pamela stepped out into the dim light cast by the streetlights and neon signs outside of the windows. "Harvey, wait." Her voice was softer, less cold.
"What is it?"
"I'm sorry for everything that happened down there. I didn't know that Jonathan had told Jervis to come, and I certainly wasn't expecting the rest of them." Her lips were cherry red, her hands still fumbling to recap the lipstick as she spoke. "I thought… If you were still interested in talking price, we could go somewhere a little more… private, and do so?" Her voice had descended into a sultry purr, and she stepped closer, hips swaying.
He frowned. "Why the sudden change of heart?"
She tilted her head to the side. "I didn't want to advertise it while the others were around. Do you know what people like that do when they sense a weakness? I didn't want to get hurt, I'm sure you can appreciate that."
The coin was between his fingers before he'd even thought about it. She frowned, but waited. Smooth side up, and again he realized that he didn't know which choice it represented. The cruel cut across the back of his hand where Joker had knifed him to get rid of the gun, however, was an excellent deciding factor. Rachel's face swam across his vision, the way she had smiled at him, the way she looked when she'd just woken in the morning…
"I don't think so," he said, his voice hard. Her frown transformed into a glare.
"Harvey, you don't mean that. You could be so…" she stepped so close that she was almost brushing up against him. "Useful."
He pushed her away roughly. "Your friend was right," he said. "We're all mad." She launched herself at him, hands scrambling to disarm him, lips seeking his. The red on her lips was bright against her pale skin and he automatically flinched back, striking out hard with both fists. She hit the ground hard. He didn't stop to insure that she was alright, simply slammed his way out of the doors and scrambled into the truck. The motor revved, and he shot off into the night. As he drove, he told himself over and over again that he was leaving all of the insanity behind him. A little part of his mind found this uproariously funny. He did not acknowledge it.