Nearly everyone likes taking a day off. No matter how much someone loves their job, no matter how much the passion of what they're doing grips their soul, on a rare day off that person will wake up and think - 'Ah, time to relax'.
Jonathan Crane did not like taking days off. He ate, breathed, and slept his work - perhaps not literally, since that would have been rather fatal - and he never, ever stopped thinking of better ways to make Gotham scream. However, sometimes he was required to step back, hang up the mask, and take a forced vacation.
This time, though, it wasn't Batman or the police confiscating his weaponry and sending him on a long tour of the fabulous Arkham Day Spa, where all of one's needs were halfway met and mostly ignored. No, this time it had been a mugger - a mugger, of all people - that had jumped him in an alley and knocked him cold before he'd been able to spray him with concentrated terror. The man had probably been shocked to find that he'd cold-cocked one of Gotham's most infamous. Regrettably, he hadn't been shocked enough to forget to look for Crane's wallet, full of fake IDs and stolen credit cards, or to loot his toxin stash.
When Crane had woken up, he'd been greeted with bright, searing daylight. Not a cloud was in the sky to cover the brilliant fall sun, which glowed cheerfully and provided almost no heat to the shivering ground below. A brisk wind danced through his alley, swirling trash into tiny tornadoes as it sailed along. All in all, it would have been a lovely day, had he not greeted it from his back in a puddle of his own blood.
Crane levered himself up to a sitting position, wincing as his head pounded like a tribal drum, and dragged himself over to a wall. With bruised arms - apparently the mugger had decided to break in his new shoes by breaking him - he tugged the mask from his face and dropped it on the ground. Long, thin fingers explored the gash in his head. Sticky blood matted his hair together, and random bits of filth from the ground stuck to the mess like sprinkles on a cupcake.
He swiped his hand on his pant leg to roughly clean it and began unbuttoning his costume. He couldn't be identified as the Scarecrow - not now, when the city was crawling with people. The buttons under his fingers stubbornly stayed buttoned. He scowled and ripped the shirt open.
At least, he tried to. New head injuries were not conducive to playing Superman, and all he really accomplished was to put a layer of friction burn on his fingers as the coarse fabric jerked out of his grasp. Muttering curses, he peeled the shirt up over his head and tossed it onto his mask. It took slightly more effort to wriggle out of the tattered pants, thanks to his new concussion making the world spin around him when he moved too quickly.
Finally, dressed in the ragged black sweatsuit that he wore to winterize his costume, the Scarecrow gathered the bits of burlap that made him recognizable and lurched to his feet. He balled up his costume and shoved it down his shirt, making it appear as if he'd just swallowed a terrier, and staggered homeward. Good Samaritans didn't really exist in the world - or, at least, within Gotham - so he wouldn't be bothered as he stumbled along with his nearly-new head wound.
To add insult to injury, the mugger had attacked him less than three blocks from his lair. He shuffled along, fighting the urge to lay down and the slightly more urgent need to throw up. The sidewalk swayed under his feet as he tottered along, one hand on the brickwork of the nearest wall to support him.
His current residence was an abandoned restaurant. The scattered assortment of dusty industrial cookware had been surprisingly useful in mixing up his latest batch of toxin. The few remaining tables had been shoved together along one wall in order to hold the tall pyramid of jars, which had been filled to the brim with slightly green liquid.
The door slammed open, letting in a swirl of dry, crisp leaves and a hobbling Jonathan Crane. He shoved the door closed, panting as pain pulsed through his head, and collapsed safely onto the floor. Why was it that everyone felt the need to give him bruises? Why couldn't anyone ever give him anything nice, like cake?
At the thought of cake, his stomach rumbled into life. He grunted a sigh of exasperation and winced as his battered abdomen twinged. He hadn't eaten for two days, he hadn't showered for twice that long, and he hadn't slept properly in a week. (While he had possibly gotten a solid eight hours sprawled in the alley, it wasn't exactly restful.) He'd been working around the clock to finish his preparations for his big Halloween plan. Now, thanks to an anonymous thug, he was in no condition to spread his kind of holiday cheer across the city. He was fairly certain that he couldn't manage to haul one jar of toxin around town, never mind loading up the van, dosing the city, and running from the Batman.
It wasn't right. It wasn't fair. He hadn't missed a Halloween in years, excepting those that he'd been locked away in Arkham. How was he supposed to strike fear into people's hearts when he couldn't go out?
Oh. Oh. His eyes brightened behind the bruises. They'd be expecting him, wouldn't they? They'd be looking for him around every corner. If he didn't show, they'd just assume that he hadn't come out to bother them...yet. As the night passed, they'd get jumpy. Parties would end early, and people would hurry home. By two AM, the streets would be deserted...
He snorted at his own nonsense. It would work that way, if people weren't so utterly convinced that bad things happened to other people and would never dare to happen to them. Still, he'd probably cause at least a moderate amount of worry, and that was realistically all he could hope for in his condition.
Speaking of which...there was no sense in laying on the cold tiles here when he had a warm, soft bed a few blocks away. A thin hand snaked up and grasped the doorknob. Using it as anyone else would use a friendly hand, he pulled himself upward and balanced precariously on his own two feet. It was daylight - that meant he still had time to get there without any kind of vigilante supervision.
Muttering curses against his unknown assailant, he shuffled toward the bathroom to sponge blood out of his hair.
Graham Williams was a quiet, friendly old gentleman. He always wore a crisp, clean hat with his outfit, no matter what it was, and he used a shiny black cane to aid him as he limped through the building. His neighbors, if they thought about him at all, clucked over the fact that he was so alone, with no children to look after him. The man obviously had money, though, since he went on regular extended vacations to exotic places, so no one ever thought to drop by with a plate of cookies or a cheerful smile. Graham liked it that way.
Jonathan Crane, alias Graham Williams, tried his best to make his eyes twinkle cheerfully at the pack of brats in the lobby. The cheap white hairspray stung as it encountered his head wound, thanks to the hat pressing his hair firmly down over it. Heavy beige stage makeup was plastered over his various bruises, leaving him looking like someone who'd spent a little too much time in the tanning bed recently.
"Looking good, Mr. Williams!" the mother of one of the brats said cheerfully as her offspring ran at full speed into a potted plant. "Did you have a nice vacation?"
He nodded stiffly. "The islands are nice this time of year."
"I'll bet," she said enviously. "Get off of that plant! Did you go to the beach often?" she said wistfully, turning her attention back to him just in time to miss seeing her child stick his tongue out at her.
Crane, who hadn't been to the beach in his entire life, said "Every day." Where is the elevator, come on, come on, his thoughts growled as the lighted numbers slowly counted downward. Three...two...one! The doors slid open with a muted ding. Crane tucked himself into the back corner of the elevator, wincing as the frolicking handful of children crowded in beside him.
"I love the ocean," the woman nattered, pressing a pastel-pink fingernail on the button for her floor. Joy of joys, she was going to the same floor that he was. "The water, the sand, and that nice hot sun...Oooo, it's my favorite place."
"That's nice," he said, pretending to care. "It's my favorite too - damn it all to hell!"
The boy, who had obviously thought that elevators were boring, had decided to entertain himself by bouncing off of his siblings like a tiny undernourished sumo wrestler. His older brother, not taking kindly to this, had bellyslammed the kid away from him in the nearest convenient direction, which happened to be directly towards the Scarecrow.
His black, shiny cane clattered away as he crumpled to the floor on top of his neatly folded newspaper. Pain thumped through all of his joints in a reminder that his last savage beating had been pretty recent, and wasn't it too soon to get another one?
"You little brat," he snarled, slapping his fallen hat away from his eyes. It fell noiselessly in his lap.
"I'm so sorry," the mother gushed, untangling her offspring from around his throbbing legs. "Samuel! Say you're sorry to Mr. Williams!"
The boy glared at him as if it had been his fault. "Sorry," he grunted.
"He's been hyper all day - oh my God! Are you all right?" she gasped as he bent forward to retrieve his hat and cane. "You're bleeding!"
One hand instinctively darted to cover his head wound, which had cracked open ever so slightly as it was whacked into the elevator wall. "I'm fine," he growled, shoving the hat tightly over his injury.
"It looked pretty bad. I can take you to the hospital," the woman offered.
"No!" He swayed to his feet. "I'm fine. It looks worse than it probably is," he assured her, his newly reacquired fake composure starting to crack around the edges. He could feel a trickle of blood slowly creeping down his neck.
The elevator dinged open, and the quartet of siblings and their mother spilled out into the hallway. Crane hurried away, letting himself into the little apartment as quickly as his aching fingers would allow him. Finally, as the door latched securely behind him, he breathed a sigh of relief.
Every rogue had multiple lairs. In a town like Gotham, it was absolutely necessary to have as many boltholes as possible. This lair, though, was unique.
To begin with, it wasn't a lair, per se. Casual passersby, if they could have seen inside, would see nothing but average furniture and average paintings on the walls. There was nothing in the place that could tie the owner to any sort of crime - white-collar, blue-collar, or even red-collar. It was where Crane went when he could no longer be a rogue, such as the times directly after a beating, or when he'd fear-gassed the wrong person and had the entire police force after him. No other rogue knew where it was, or even that it existed in the first place. Here, he could be safe.
He limped into the bathroom and opened his exceedingly well-stocked first aid kit. Bandages, yes, and antiseptic...and after the fun of trying to sew the back of his head together, he'd dig out a frozen dinner and relax for a while.
Dinner had been soggy, tasteless, and ridiculously oversized. And yet, even with all of those drawbacks, it still managed to be better than anything they ever served at Arkham.
Crane was currently relaxing on his extra-wide, extra-soft couch. True, it was an eye-jarring shade of orange, but who cared? He hadn't bought the thing to look at it. His socked feet were crossed neatly on the edge of a huge, soft pillow, which extended all the way under his calves to end just at the hinge of his knee. A matching pillow was behind his back, holding him up while he idly paged through the newspaper. A warm mug of hot chocolate steamed gently on the table beside him. Aside from the dull ache in the back of his head, he was actually starting to enjoy himself.
Suspicious blue eyes peered up over the top of the paper at the door. He never had visitors here. His neighbors knew he didn't like visitors.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
Whoever it was would go away sooner or later. He rustled the paper firmly between himself and the door and tried to focus his attention on the article he'd been reading.
Knock knock-a-knock knock, knock knock!
The paper fireworked into pieces and the pillows flew as he leapt up. He knew a handful of people that would knock Shave-and-a-Haircut like that, and the thought of one of them out there in the hallway was a shudderingly terrible one. What if...he hated to think it...what if the Joker had tracked him here, looking for a favor?
He threw the door open. There was a distinct absence of clown. In fact, there was a distinct absence of anyone...that is, until a grubby little hand tugged on his pant leg. He glared down at the owner, who was dressed in a tiny, cheap replica of Batman's cape and cowl. His comrade, a young girl of no more than seven, smiled up at him from under a black cat-eared headband, her pink-triangled nose with its glued-on whiskers wriggling as she giggled at him.
"Trick or treat!" they chorused.
He stared blankly at them. He hadn't counted on children. "Trick or treat," he repeated flatly.
"It's Halloween, mister," mini-Batman informed him in a lisp. "Now gimme some candy!"
Bossy, just like the real Batman. He put a regretful look on his face, taking on the role of Mr. Williams once again, and shrugged at the kids. "Oh. I'd forgotten all about Halloween," he lied, thinking of what he should have been doing right then. By now, half of Gotham was supposed to be screaming for their mothers. "I'm afraid I don't have any candy, so you'll have to move on." The children stood there expectantly, as if he was about to pull an armload of candy from under the doormat. "I don't have any candy," he repeated, slowly and loudly, like the new guards did at Arkham to Killer Croc before they eventually realized he had a brain behind all that crackly green skin.
"You don't?" Another unwanted intrusion. He poked his head out into the hallway and saw his neighbor to the left, Mrs. Grackle, looking back at him.
"No, I don't," he said. "I've been out of town, and the holiday completely slipped my mind." He turned back to his pair of brats, intending to shoo them off and close the door.
Instead, Mrs. Grackle waddled out into the hallway, clutching a massive bowl of sweets between two arms that must have taken hours to force into the sleeves of that Cinderella dress. "Here," she beamed, shoving the bowl at him as if she was doing him a favor.
"Oh, I couldn't deprive you of the pleasure of..." he trailed off protestingly.
"I insist!" she said, with a look of pleased happiness that made him want to punch her square in the face. "Besides, I've got enough candy for the army in here. Let me know when you need more!"
He looked down at the gigantic pile of processed sugar in colorful wrappers stacked inside his bowl - a bowl printed with scarecrows and witches, as if the night wasn't bad enough. His inner temperature dropped even farther into bitter coldness as he realized what she'd said. Not if, but when. He was expected to participate, and to participate well beyond the time when this massive bowl would be empty. And, of course, Mr. Williams, the cheery old gent, would be expected not to let the little ones down...
"Here you go, I suppose," he said, offering the bowl to the kitten and the miniature vigilante. And I hope you choke on it, he added silently.
For a full hour he hobbled back and forth from couch to door, dispensing sweets to every child that knocked. He smiled, and laughed, and carefully said something complimentary about every twelfth costume to keep up appearances.
His cocoa was cold by now. He sipped it anyway while he flipped through the paper, looking for anything of note. Finally, he'd read every bit of the paper except the last. The section. The one he waited all year to read.
He slipped it free of its surroundings and grinned. There, on the cover of the Crime section, was a full-sized picture of him, gloating as the crowd below him exploded in terror. True, it wasn't a real picture - photographers succumbed to fear gas just like everyone else - but the artist they'd gotten this year was superb.
He looked longingly at his article. Maybe he could ignore just one group...
Knock. Knock. Knock-knock.
No, that nosy Grackle woman would bother him about it. Sighing regretfully, he abandoned his article and opened the door. "Yes - "
Slam. He rested his back against the door, eyes darting in panic as he mentally took in what had been out there. Men. Big, muscular men, dressed in official-looking black jackets. Shit. Shit. Shit.
"Mr. Williams?" they called through the door. "Mr. Williams, are you all right?"
Mr....Williams? Not Mr. Crane? Oh, thank God, they weren't the cops. "Of course I'm all right," he called back.
"Mr. Williams, someone called and said you hurt your head. Can we take a look at it?"
Of all the things that old gentlemen didn't do, stitching up their own heads had to be top of the list. Besides, the white hairspray wasn't good enough to fool anyone who was closely examining his head. "I told you, I'm fine. Please leave."
The two men outside held a murmured discussion. He thought he heard them mention something about his brain. "Mr. Williams, if you're worried about paying for the hospital visit, you don't have to. Mrs. Hosker said she'd pay for it -"
"It was Sam's fault, and I feel responsible," a woman's voice chimed in. Crane sighed. If he'd seen the woman out there to begin with, he wouldn't have panicked so much. "Please, let us help!"
He carefully clipped the door chain into place and cracked the door open slightly. "Listen," he said crossly, "I'm fine. It was just a scratch. I don't need to go to the hospital."
"Mr. Williams," one of the men said, looking stern, "we're going to have to insist that you come with us. Open the door."
The EMT was trying to sound like a cop. Cute. Well, Crane didn't even listen to real cops, so why should he bother obeying a fake?
"I know the law," Crane said firmly. "You can't take me unless I want to go. I don't. Get out of here." He slammed the door again.
There was another discussion outside. "Mr. Williams, we need you to sign a waiver, then."
"Fine." He opened the door, with the chain still attached, and snatched the waiver. With the pen from his top pocket, he scribbled something that vaguely resembled his fake name and passed it back through.
"I hope you feel better, Mr. Williams," the first one said cheerfully. The second one gave him a measuring glance, as if trying to warn him that staying home was a fool's move. They wandered back the way they came.
Crane unhooked the chain and stomped back to the couch. Of all the...
He stomped back and flung the door open. "What?" he snapped.
"I'm sorry I upset you," Mrs. Hosker stammered, twisting the hem of her appliqued Halloween sweatshirt. "I was only trying to help."
He summoned the thinnest of thin smiles. "Make no mistake, Mrs. Hosker. I will remember your helpfulness for some time," he assured her in tones that suggested that she hadn't just become name one on his list of People to Test the New Toxin On. She smiled gratefully at him and left.
A pack of children dressed as some kind of brightly-colored space ranger looked eagerly at him. He sighed and held the bowl of candy out to them. "Take it," he muttered, as eager multicolored hands dug in.
Hours passed. They felt like days. This single night of repetitive, eternal generosity dragged on and on as if he was in the dentist's chair. Ten o'clock - when any normal child of his generation would be in bed - passed by with no hint of the crowd diminishing. Mrs. Grackle had already kindly refilled his bowl - twice - an act which had earned her a spot right next to Mrs. Hosker when the time came.
Knock. Knock. Jonathan Crane wearily gathered up his bowl and opened the door again.
Batman - not a kid, not a man in a mask, well yes a man in a mask but this man was the man in the mask, the Batman - glared at him.
Reflexively, he threw the bowl of candy into Batman's face. He didn't have any weapons - why hadn't he at least thought to bring a gun here? Non-criminals had guns! - no toxins, no defenses of any kind.
Candy bounced harmlessly off of Batman's mask. A Jolly Rancher lodged itself in a gap between two stylized muscles. Robin wriggled cheerful green fingers at him as if they were two small girls, the best of friends, who were meeting one another for some social occasion. "Trick or treat!"
Then pain happened.
It took surprisingly little effort to knock Crane out. Well, it was surprising only to the heroes, who were unaware of the beating he'd taken less than twenty-four hours ago. As the solid black fist crunched into his nose, he only had the time to be vaguely irritated that it had been broken again.
Batman gathered the limp, lanky form of the Scarecrow off of the floor and slung him over his shoulder. Blood from his freshly broken nose dripped in a steady splut, splut onto the carpet.
A neighbor woman in a blue dress that was at least two sizes too small for her tremulously said, "Why did you hit Mr. Williams?"
Batman glanced at her as Robin made the rounds inside the apartment, looking for toxins, plans, or henchmen. "He's not Mr. Williams. He's the Scarecrow."
"No, he's Mr. Williams!" the woman said authoritatively. "You've got the wrong man. He's too old to be the Scarecrow!"
People ordinarily knew better than to tell him that he was wrong. Batman narrowed his eyes at the woman, focusing a rather ordinary specimen of one of his I'm-Batman-and-I-know-everything glares on her.
Robin nodded to Batman, indicating that the scene was clear, and smiled at the woman. "He really is. Look." Green-gloved fingers rubbed against the man's white hair. The white rubbed off, revealing the bright orangey-red of the Scarecrow's real hair.
"But how did you find him here?" the woman asked. "He didn't...oh, God, he poisoned the candy, didn't he?" She slapped a lollipop from a nearby child's mouth. "Don't eat it!" she instructed hysterically.
Batman looked at her, thinking for a moment about the mass panic inside the building if he actually had poisoned the candy. He doubted that he would have - poisoned candy didn't have that Scarecrow feel about it - but just to be sure, he scooped a handful of fallen candy from the ground and unwrapped a piece, scanning it with a small toxin detector. It blinked green.
"The candy's fine."
"But if he didn't poison anything...how did you find him?" the woman insisted.
Robin finished sealing off the door as Batman considered his answer. It had been fairly easy, actually. One of the EMTs from a visit earlier in the evening had recognized him from a prior transport from the holding cells in the MCU to the hospital. His partner had accused him at first of being ridiculous - after all, since it was Halloween, people were seeing the Scarecrow everywhere - but he insisted on calling the cops. The cops, thrilled to have a lead, immediately turned the address over to the Batman, and it was a simple matter to go upstairs and retrieve him.
But that hardly sounded heroic. Besides, if Crane ever found out that the EMT had turned him in, he'd probably find a way to reduce him to psychological rubble the very instant that he broke out of Arkham. "He's a criminal. It's my job to find him," he explained in a not-really-very-explanatory way, and hauled the unconscious man toward the elevator.
Robin waved merrily at the kids, who were regarding their candy bags with deep suspicion. "Happy Halloween!" he said, following the trail of blood drips - and his boss - to the nearest handy place to dump the Scarecrow.
Author's Note: One of these days, I might let Crane win. Maybe...Nah. I like him better when he's broken.
I've still got stories in progress, and stories planned, and an infinite number of words to put on the page. The only thing standing in my way is writer's block. Bah. The good news is that it'll be gone soon, since I won't be working at the haunted cemetery for much longer. Acting like the Scarecrow really is psychologically exhausting.
Anyway, I've still got Medical Help to finish up (it's almost done, I swear) and an ever-expanding number of chapters of Reinventing. Then, my darlings, Beach House! It'll be great. Thanks for reading!