A/N: This story is part of the CATverse, a massive, mostly in-character Batman fan fiction endeavor. You can find the list of stories at catverse. com. For those of you that are already following the universe, know that this story takes place in arc seven, after the (as yet) unposted story 'Girls on Film'.
I am a bad man. I am a villain. I am a bad man. I am a villain.
This was Jonathan Crane's creed as he impatiently paced back and forth across the worn carpeting of his latest lair with a screaming bundle of baby in his arms.
I am a bad, bad man!
He had to keep repeating it as though it were his mantra to drown out the wails of the little beast in swaddling clothes that he held. Stalking back and forth with a slight bounce in his step, knowing just how ridiculous he must have looked, he got more and more ill tempered.
It had been what Techie would have called a "Rodney Dangerfield kind of day" in that absolutely nothing went right.
First, Crane had made a batch of toxin that was horribly, horribly flawed. Rather than striking fear into the heart of the intended victim, they were filled with joy and laughed and laughed and laughed until the oxygen deprivation got to them and they passed out. That sort of thing was all well and good for the Joker, but laughing gas was far from being an acceptable weapon for the master of fear.
That alone had put him in a bad mood and if that weren't enough, it seemed that Kitten had come down with a case of colic. The three idiots were gone (running an errand he sent them on, not that he was acknowledging that fact) when this particular bout of crying started so of course it was up to him to deal with it.
Ye Gods, he was getting sick of this. Almost an entire decade had passed since his entire universe had been tossed neatly on its head by Al and just as he'd originally thought, he did indeed live to see the day when he cursed the day he set eyes on her.
Almost every disruption in his nice normal little existence was their fault. He could remember, fondly, the days when he led an orderly life with some semblance of privacy, peace and quiet.
(When he was irritable like this, he made a point not to remember the fact that with that old privacy, peace and quiet had also come more jail time, more bruises and more broken bones. That wasn't the point and he would be damned if he was going to let little things like logic and fact get in the way of his annoyance.)
Things had been getting progressively worse and worse all day and his patience was wearing thinner and thinner when the thing that sent him from touchy to outright snit occurred. The girls had managed to procure a subscription to the Gotham Examiner and from the front page of the morning paper, a photograph that could conceivably ruin his reputation stared up at him. Some photographer, who obviously fancied himself the heir apparent to Jimmy Olsen, had somehow snapped a picture of Jonathan Crane with a baby. If that weren't enough, the accompanying article went a long way to making sure his reputation would be irreparably ruined.
Sure, it was a tabloid, and sure, almost nobody took the Examiner seriously, but it was the principle of the thing. The article depicted him as some kind of misunderstood genius with a soft gooey center. If he hadn't known better, he would've accused one of his henchgirls of writing it, so unflattering was the portrayal. He might not have been quite the hard hearted bastard of years past, but he'd only softened up with the people he actually…ugh…trusted.
Kitten's wailing shot up another octave and Jonathan wondered if a baby had ever shattered the eardrum of a man through sheer lung power alone. It was almost as though the child could sense his frustration and was acting out in tandem with it.
"It's okay," he muttered, patting her on the back as gently as he could manage with his current temperament. "Uncle Jonathan is just…tetchy. I'm not upset with you."
The caterwauling ceased almost instantly and Jonathan stopped in mid-stride. He pulled Kitten away from his chest and held her up in front of him as best he could, eyeing her strangely. Her face was covered in snot, but she gurgled happily at him.
He sighed and pulled her close again. She snuggled against his chest and he rolled his eyes. He could hardly help this sort of softness. Who could hate a baby? Biology dictated that the things were designed to be inherently appealing, with their tiny little bodies and their large, innocent eyes. He could dislike children just fine; Kitten was…something else. Maybe because she was an extension of the girls had something to do with it…
The baby shifted and he adjusted his arms into a more comfortable position, staring over the top of her head. His eyes landed back on his copy of the Gotham Examiner and he spared the offending newspaper a glare. Without disturbing the happy bundle held against him, he walked to the table and turned it over.
After doing that, he carried Kitten over to the sofa and plopped down, intent on turning on the little thirteen inch black and white to watch the news.
The moment he reached for the dial, she started to cry again.
He frowned at her, puzzled, until a cloying scent reached his nostrils and his eyes started to water.
In that moment, the thought of just how terribly undignified being a baby was crossed his mind. With resignation, he struggled up from the couch, his kneecaps popping as he went. Damn, but he was getting old…
The Captain had set up a diaper changing station of sorts in the kitchen. It was a yellow chest of drawers that came to about waist height. Its top was covered in several blankets and a homemade railing had been attached to it so that Kitten wouldn't roll off it. The drawers themselves were filled with all the typical baby changing accoutrements, baby powder, wipes, etc., and he still cringed a little every time he approached it, remembering the very first time he'd been instructed in how to properly diaper a baby's bottom.
He had figured that it would be relatively easy, but had learned the hard way that there was a certain art to the activity. The Captain had insisted on cloth diapers for environmental reasons in most instances, with a small stash of disposable ones for emergencies and quick changes. Whenever they had to vacate a lair quickly, the cloth diapers were usually left behind and, until they could find new ones after the move, disposables were used. Both varieties were difficult to get the hang of. With cloth, there was the intricacy of pinning the thing closed without accidentally poking the child with a safety pin; with disposable, the evils of Velcro and sticky tape.
Since they had recently switched hideouts, today's menu consisted of sticky tape and he was not looking forward to his task. The very first time he'd changed a disposable diaper, he'd pulled a little bit too vigorously on one of the sticky tabs and accidentally punched Kitten in the face. Her mother had not been amused.
With great care, he laid Kitten on the blankets. Her chubby little fingers reached for him and pulled at his shirt as she continued wailing, but he pried himself loose, reaching into the bottom drawer where the diapers were kept. "Yes, yes, I know."
His fingers closed around empty air.
He drew back and frowned at the drawer. The only thing inside it was a crumpled plastic diaper package. Jonathan made an unhappy noise. Oh, now this was just the last straw. He glanced at his watch. The girls weren't due back for another couple of hours, at least; there were no suitable pieces of cloth in the lair to substitute for a diaper--all he had was old lab rags and that was unacceptable; he couldn't leave Kitten alone so he could go pick up another package of disposable diapers; what was he going to do?
The baby's crying continued, seemingly growing in volume by the second.
"I know, I'm thinking."
A frown twisted his mouth severely and he dug around inside his pants pocket. Pocket lint, a penny, a receipt…no, no, no…
He pulled a crumpled, crumbling ten dollar bill out and inspected it. It didn't look very pretty, but it would do the trick.
For the first time in years, Jonathan Crane was going to be the legitimate patron of a business establishment.
Good God, he was going soft…
Gotham was undergoing an early spring thaw, making the temperature much warmer than it had been in springs past, but he bundled Kitten up in several layers just the same. She wasn't happy about it--especially considering her smelly diaper--but she quieted well enough when he cradled her close and--wince--cooed at her.
The Scarecrow's latest lair was in yet another rundown area of Gotham where the small shops had closed one by one as they were run out of business by the MegaMart that had been built a couple miles away. A single gas station/convenience store was still in business, though it was falling into disrepair just like the rest of the neighborhood. If you had asked Jonathan what he thought of the whole thing, he would've said it was probably part of some realty conspiracy to seize ownership of the block. He wasn't far off the mark.
The MegaMart would have been cheaper, but the gas station was closer and much less likely to be crawling with shoppers. The fewer people that saw him lugging an infant around town, the better. His scarf concealed the lower half of his face, but he wasn't entirely confident that would keep people from recognizing him just the same.
The bell on the door to the gas station jingled merrily and Jonathan noted with detached interest that the owner hadn't bothered to take down his Christmas decorations yet. String lights of various colors lined the windows and a plastic cling-sticker Santa, with his hand raised in greeting, smiled at him. Stepping inside, Jonathan's nose was assaulted by the smell that is so undeniably convenience store: coffee, floor cleaner and the sterile scent of mounds and mounds of plastic.
There wasn't anyone behind the counter, which he registered as being somewhat odd, but he shrugged and started for the aisle that looked like it might have household items. Antifreeze, funnels and work gloves gave way to a small selection of batteries and other odds and ins that people on the road might need. Past cans of overpriced soup, boxes of brightly colored cereals and two liter bottles of soda, he found two different packages of diapers. He thought it strange that the diapers were sized according to weight rather than some other, more standard unit of measurement like inches, but he let his curiosity slide.
Kitten had miraculously fallen asleep with her face pressed into his shoulder, dirty diaper somehow forgotten (oh, how he wished he were able to forget it) so he had to be very careful when he tested her weight in his arms. He looked quite strange, standing there in the middle of a convenience store, bouncing slightly as he tried to determine just how much the baby in his arms weighed.
He finally decided she probably topped out at twenty pounds and, squatting down cautiously, he grabbed the package of larger diapers. He turned and started for the front of the store.
When he reached the counter, an olive skinned man not much younger than Jonathan himself was stepping through a door behind it, a newspaper and cup of coffee in his hands.
Ah, so they were switching shifts. That made sense.
Automatically on his approach, the clerk smiled, his eyes fondly sliding over the small bundle in his arms and then back to Jonathan again.
The speed with which the clerk's expression changed was almost comical. He was smiling widely, then his brow furrowed with confusion and then realization crept over his features, followed shortly by terror. The coffee cup tumbled to the ground, shattering on impact with the floor.
Well…that's just great.
Under ordinary circumstances, a capsule fear toxin would've been out before the man had the chance to scream; but with Kitten in his arms, unprotected, he couldn't do that. Another course of action was necessary.
Using his most commanding 'Professor Crane' voice, he rasped, "Remain calm."
Jibbering in Lebanese, the clerk was the very picture of not calm. He reached for the old fashioned register and pulled open the cash drawer, digging out all the bills inside it. He retrieved a paper bag from under the counter and stuffed it full of cash, shoving it at the Scarecrow across the countertop when it was full. He then raised his hands above his head, still chattering with agitation. The words themselves were not familiar to Jonathan, but their tone was: Take whatever you want, just don't hurt me. His eyes darted to Kitten, snug in the Scarecrow's arms, and the message was clearly appended, or the baby.
He hesitated for but an instant before clumsily snapping up the bag of money, trying not to drop the package of diapers in the process. He managed with some difficultly and, walking backwards as though Kitten were a human shield, kicked out at the door. The bells jangled angrily with the force he exerted in opening it as he slipped off into the night.
The clerk had time to breathe a sigh of relief before Jonathan Crane's arm slipped back through the door and tossed a capsule of fear toxin toward the counter. The door slid shut, but the satisfying sound of screaming was still audible from outside.
Jonathan smiled down at the bundle in his arms, which bubbled over with baby giggles. "The day is looking up."
The lair was quiet and empty when he returned, but it didn't stay that way for long. He had stripped Kitten of her winter vestments and finished changing her diaper when his henchgirls bounded through the door, laden with sacks full of equipment he'd ordered them to purloin.
They all stopped and stared at him for a moment before three identical grins broke out on their faces. They were the 'Aw, look how cute Squishykins is' grins that he had come to loathe over the years.
He ignored them to the best of his ability and finished dressing the baby. "Did you get everything I asked for?"
"Everything except that whozit with the whatchamacallit," Techie answered, dropping her bag on the floor as carefully as she could manage.
The Captain spared her friend a reproachful but good natured look as she went to retrieve her child. "The microscope, Ops?'
She shrugged. "Yeah, that."
"Did Uncle Squishface have a good time with the baby while we were out?" Al asked in a slightly sing-song voice, setting her bag down and tugging her coat off. "I don't see any blood or mashed peas on the walls. Should we count today in the 'win' column?"
"Don't antagonize him, Al," the Captain scolded, "he did a good job."
"Yeah, I guess…"
"I thought we were out of diapers," Techie commented casually, leaning against the kitchen counter as Jonathan dropped the new package into the bottom drawer of the dresser.
"Then where did those come from?"
He shut the drawer and straightened up again. "I went out and got them, naturally."
The girls glanced at each other and simultaneously sprinted for the common room. He followed at a more leisurely pace, curiosity piqued. Al flicked on the TV and fiddled with the rabbit ears until a solid picture of the nine o'clock news emerged from beneath all the static.
"This just in: Jonathan Crane, the masked villain more commonly known throughout Gotham City as The Scarecrow, robbed a convenience store this evening with a hostage in tow--an infant."
The girls continued to stare at the broadcast in silence for a few seconds. Then the Captain spoke, her voice calm and steady, "Techie, would you take Evelyn for a minute, please?"
Without question, Techie did as she was asked. The Captain rounded on Jonathan, striding up until they were nearly nose to nose and glared at him.
She swatted him on the shoulder angrily. "What were you thinking?!"
The slap stung, but nowhere near as badly as it could have. "Calm down, woman. Nothing happened."
"And what if it had?! My baby was involved in a robbery! BABY!" She smacked him again. He looked at Al and Techie, pleadingly. The other two were not forthcoming with defending him. In fact, they were watching with barely contained amusement. "Her first home movies are going to be security camera footage! My baby robbed a convenience store!"
The Captain ceased her tirade suddenly, her hand still raised to strike. "My baby robbed a convenience store."
She dropped her hand and gasped loudly, flinging herself at Jonathan and throwing her arms around his neck.
He was thoroughly confused by this turn of events. First she was slapping him around, then she was giggling with glee? What the hell?
She pecked him on the cheek and chirped, "My little girl's first robbery! I'm so proud!" and then, remembering how stupid he had been, pulled back away from him, looking stern.
"But don't think that gets you off the hook, Mister. No hugs for a week."
He tried not to look too elated.
A/N: I wonder what that hugless week was like, I surely do.