Disclaimer: I write for pleasure, not profit, and I own nothing.
To those who've read my other stories, and were hoping for something a bit longer, I've got more sequels planned, and am hoping to get one up within the week.
To those who haven't read my other stories, you can still read this, but you might want a bit of backstory: Jonathan Crane's mind was damaged by the toxin in Batman Begins, and without taking medication to counteract it, he continues to feel the fear gas's effects. Crane and the Joker began a relationship, during the course of which they discovered that Harvey Dent was still alive, and revealed to Gotham that he was behind the murders Batman took the blame for. Shortly after, Crane and the Joker had a violent breakup, that would have ended in Crane's death had Batman not discovered him before it was too late. Crane was taken back to Arkham, the Joker remained free.
Any reviews are appreciated, and I hope you like the story!
Scarecrow lay the knives out on the table, some long, others short, some smooth, some serrated. Some of them were older; the blades spotted with rust that persisted no matter how much he scrubbed them—though he was less obsessive about it than his alter ego, he did like things to be orderly—others gleaming and nearly brand new. A few had twisted, curved blades, designed to go in ugly and come out even worse. He stroked his hand alongside them, smiling at the touch of the cold metal.
Tied to a chair seated at the table, his captive whimpered.
It was February now, a week or so past Valentine's Day. He hadn't bothered to keep up with the exact date. He barely slept anymore, and the days tended to run together.
He'd spent nearly two months in the hospital, recovering from the Joker's attack. Harley and the Joker had managed to escape, and deliver the video exposing the fact that Harvey Dent was still alive to GCN. He hadn't seen the news report, being in surgery to put his lung back together at the time, but he knew the plan had succeeded even before he knew which hospital he was at; he'd awoken to find a flood of reporters trying to beat their way past security and into his room. They hadn't gotten through. He wouldn't have spoken to them even if they had.
He tapped the handles of the knives, considering the options. The curved blades tended to inspire the best response, doubtless due to their striking appearance, but he'd used one on the last captive and besides, cutting was cutting when it came down to it. He moved his hand down to a paring knife, picked it up.
The woman broke into tears.
He'd been brought back to Arkham a week before Christmas, greeted by Isley and Tetch, who'd escaped the night he and the Joker attacked the asylum, but had been taken into custody again while he was recovering. Nigma was still at large somewhere, and he would sit with Isley as she watched the news, hoping for word of her lover, not even bothering to feign interest. His friends cared for him, he knew that, and likely they'd looked for signs of him the same way when he was gone, but he hadn't been able to bring himself to be concerned. That was before Scarecrow had come back, when it was just Jonathan Crane, all alone. And Jonathan couldn't care anymore. His mind seemed to have shut that function down, not wanting to be used or hurt again.
That first week in the asylum had been…acceptable. There was no Joker around, at least, and when the doctors tried to get him to speak about his experiences with the clown, he simply didn't answer. He didn't answer anything at all, actually, not the doctors' questions, not the threat of inmates who'd survived the massacre and were seeking revenge. Not even the statements of his friends, who were careful to keep their voices quiet and calm when they spoke to him though he could see the concern ever-growing in their eyes. He didn't want to hurt them with his silence, but he couldn't bring himself to speak. Somewhere deep inside of Jonathan Crane, where there were still emotions to be felt, he was afraid that if he said anything at all, everything that had happened would come spilling out again and it would hurt, even more than it already did.
He walked toward the woman, weapon in hand. She struggled against the rope holding her to the chair, though she'd already done that about a hundred times since she'd been secured and must know by now that it would do her no good.
He could have carried on that way, at Arkham, had it not been for Christmas morning. Yes, he'd been slowly wasting away—he hadn't eaten at all at the hospital, to the point that they had to feed him intravenously, and he'd only eaten when his friends forced him to at the asylum—and he spent the days about as active as a coma patient, but he could have coped, even with Scarecrow gone. It wasn't pleasant, wasn't much more than simply surviving, but the state he'd been in, the quality of his life hadn't mattered at all. It wasn't even that bad, by typical Arkham standards; he'd fully expected a beating from the guards upon returning, given that he'd helped to kill almost half the staff, but none came. He'd briefly flashed back to the Batman's words that he'd be safe in the asylum before brushing it off as coincidence. As if Batman would care what happened to the inmates he'd helped to put away.
But then there was Christmas morning, and waking up to find that damn rose.
He wound his fingers through her hair, slowly, pulling her head back to expose her throat. Her hair was long, and had once been a clean, bleach blonde before it got so bloody when he'd beaten her over the head to subdue her. One wouldn't think that a man who was rapidly approaching the low weight of an actual scarecrow would be able to take down anyone, male or female, adult or child, but all it required was the element of surprise, really. Even in a city like Gotham, the people were more than willing to turn a blind eye to the things that could hurt them.
He lifted the knife and raised his arm over her head, at such an angle that she could watch as the blade passed over, coming down close to her throat.
He'd woken up on Christmas morning hours early, content to lie there for the next few hours and pretended he couldn't hear the idiotic instrumental Christmas carols playing at low volume through the speakers. It helped the patients relax, apparently. Had he put forth the effort to care, he would have liked to track down the inmates who enjoyed it and show them why he was called the master of fear.
Falling back asleep was out of the question. It was hard enough to sleep in the first place, now that his nightmares were worse than ever, and by the time he managed to get to sleep, it would be time to eat breakfast. Or rather, sit there until Isley's coaxing got him to take a bite or two. So he lay on his side, staring at the wall for an hour or so, before the position became uncomfortable and he rolled over, to find something lying beside him on the pillow.
He knew what it was before he put the glasses on, he could tell by the scent, but he kept praying that he was wrong, even as he slid the frames on his face and the room came into focus. A rose lay on the pillow, a single yellow rose with a note attached to the stem, reading only "J."
The woman tried twisting away from the blade, and he yanked on her hair to keep her still, hard enough to make her cry out. He moved in a way to keep the knife in her view until the last second, bringing it down to rest gently against her neck. She sobbed, and the sob turned to a scream as he dragged the dull end of the knife across her skin.
The screaming stopped a moment later, when she realized she hadn't been stabbed. Her eyes flicked up to him, face terrified and confused, and he let the knife dropped, nicking shallowly against her wrist. Blood rose to the surface and she screamed again.
He would have stayed at Arkham, were in not for that rose. The sight of it only shattered his security, removed any distance he'd managed to put between himself and the pain of the betrayal. It was like being back in that parking lot again, bloody and beaten, seeing the Joker smirking down at him and unable to express the rage and the hurt that he felt. He'd been reduced to a sobbing, helpless mess, much like the pathetic captive he was tormenting now, and Scarecrow hadn't returned yet. Left there panicking, with no one to talk to, he'd tried to kill himself.
His first thought had been to slash himself with the thorns of the rose, only to realize they'd been clipped. Shoving the stem of it into his eye socket wouldn't work either, it had far too much give and would only break halfway through, leaving him missing an eye and still very much alive.
Finally, he'd decided to leave the rose out of the equation entirely, and just open up his veins with his fingernails.
Easier said than done. Being a nail biter, he had almost no cutting edge to speak of, and tore up his hands just as badly as he did his arms, scraping the skin over and over for hours until blood blossomed in the cuts. He'd just gotten it deep enough to do serious damage when a nurse had come in to do morning rounds, and rendered all his effort useless by summoning orderlies to rush him to the infirmary.
His captive was moaning, making quiet, animalistic sounds that he recognized as words, after a moment. She wasn't enunciating well at all. Terrified or not, that irritated him, and to silence her he brought the flat of the blade across the bridge of her nose, pressing the tip of the knife just barely into her skin as he finished. She went so still he thought she'd fainted, for a moment.
It had been the nasogastric tubing that brought Scarecrow back.
He'd deserted Jonathan for a time after the attack, out of disgust at first, at the way Jonathan had refused to heed his warning about facing the Joker. The body they shared was in for a world of hurt, and he definitely didn't want to be around for that. And once the attack was over, both the body and mind were still in bad, bad way, so he kept his distance.
After the botched attempt at suicide, however, Jonathan had stopped any method of caring for himself, refusing to move, or to sleep, until exhaustion took him, or even to eat. And that had led to the force feeding. That wasn't the proper name, Scarecrow was fairly sure, but that's what it had been. And even that wouldn't have drawn him out, had the tubing they put through Jonathan's nose and into his stomach not been slightly larger than the passage they tried putting it through.
"Slightly larger" didn't sound so serious, when considering things like trying to move a piece of furniture through a doorway. All one had to do there was tilt it a little, and push. So what if it scraped the sides of the door frame? It would only leave a few scratches, and those could be repaired. Replace couch with plastic tubing, on the other hand, and doorway with nasal passages, and it became a lot more cringe-inducing. Scarecrow, watching from a distance, where the pain couldn't reach, could have sworn he heard the cartilage crack as Jonathan lay there, silent to the bone, screaming on the inside. He gagged once, and was made to drink water so the process could continue, but besides that he had no reaction, and his stoicism was enough to convince Scarecrow that things were stable enough to come back. And beyond that, Jonathan needed him.
Leaving the asylum hadn't been too hard; no one bothered to restrain him anymore, or sedate him. What was the use? And no one kept a close guard on the patients who wouldn't move without someone dragging them. He'd pulled the tubing out, biting back screams as it slid through, nearly choking once he'd gotten it out of his stomach, and whatever they were feeding him through it dripped into his windpipe. The not quite asphyxiation made him panic a bit, and he fled, without so much as stopping to get his mask or the pills necessary to counteract the brain damage done that night in Arkham when Batman had forced him to inhale the fear toxin.
He regretted that, looking back. Without the medication, there were periods like this when things were calm and he was in control, but there were also times when the toxin hallucinations came back, and he lost that domination to Jonathan, who didn't hold up well under the pressure. And it seemed as of late, that Jonathan's periods of control were becoming more and more frequent. They'd had to come up with some rather creative ways to combat that.
His captive was speaking again. He glanced down at her, taking a moment to listen to what she was saying.
"—seen you on the news. Crane, r-right? You worked at Arkham?" Her voice was shaking, attempt to sound calm utterly useless. And no, stupid bitch, he didn't work at Arkham, he ran it. Not being able to tell Scarecrow from his alter ego, that he could understand, but demeaning his position…he felt tempted to ram the knife into her mouth, to the back of her stupid little throat.
But he wanted to see where she was going with this, so he nodded.
"M-my name's A-Amanda," she said. "Amanda Shearer. And look, my husband, h-his family's got money. L-lots of it, and—"
He zoned her out, her words shifting back into white noise. The bribes were boring enough, each of his victims apparently had a billionaire second cousin or some such nonsense, but it was the name telling that really annoyed him. One viewing of Silence of the Lambs and everybody thought all they had to do to subdue the big bad psychopath was to exchange names, to make themselves be seen as people, not objects. Only he did see her as a person already, and that's precisely why he was doing this. He'd found the best way to deal with Jonathan's inner turmoil was to take it out on others, convince himself that he was better than these idiots at least.
Jonathan had always been too interested in his little chemicals, and studying their effects. He'd forgotten that all one needed to be terrifying was to show the ability to cause pain, and then build up the anticipation of that pain. That's what he'd been doing, in the hopes that it would pull the fragmented bits of Jonathan's mind back together, and for his own amusement. This girl was seconds from passing out, and he'd only cut her once, and then, just barely. It felt so good, watching her fear. His last two victims had died this way, hearts giving out, before he did anything above moderate damage. Of course, one of them had been older, and one obese, so he couldn't conclude it was their ill health or his influence that had pushed them over the edge. That's why he'd chosen a young woman this time. That, and she'd looked so infuriatingly happy when he'd first seen her. Bitch.
He brought the knife down on her face this time, just gently enough to hurt without cutting. How would she handle her pretty little face being carved up? he wondered, pushing down a little more. Blood welled around the point of impact, mixing with her tears and running down her face, pinkish.
Amanda Shearer screamed, and he felt an acceleration in his heart rate that was not entirely excitement, accompanied by a twinge of anxiety. Oh hell. Jonathan again? And it seemed only a few hours ago that his other half had been in control. He lowered the knife, and realized she'd stopped crying, staring past him, eyes wide. Dissociation? he wondered. Such a severe reaction would be rare for a well-adjusted person, so early on. Perhaps she had some past trauma, or a mental illness, or—
He turned, slowly, to find the Caped Crusader standing in the doorway, where his captive had been staring. Behind him, Amanda Shearer burst into tears again, but this time they sounded relieved. He thought he heard an "Oh thank God!" but once again, she wasn't enunciating well enough for him to be sure. And before he came up with a plan of attack, he felt his heart race, and the room began to shake around him, knife slipping out of his hand and clattering to the floor as he lost control.
Jonathan Crane took one look at the Batman, and he ran.
Amanda Shearer had clung to him as if her life depended on in, refusing to let the police take her until he told her, in the gentlest possible way he could make his voice while keeping it disguised, that they would keep her safe, and he had to go after the man who'd tormented her. He couldn't imagine how that exchange would have gone if he'd still been Gotham's public enemy number two, and had to convince her to walk outside on her own, so he wouldn't have to risk arrest. There were times, like this one, when he was almost happy that the truth behind Harvey Dent's murders had been revealed. Then he caught himself feeling relief at something that had made morale even lower for the citizens of Gotham, and made life hell for the GPD once the media had found out, and buried the relief, disgusted with himself.
Batman was supposed to be more than just a man, above petty things like caring if his job was easy.
Of course, he was supposed to be above things like revenge as well, and he couldn't help but reflect as he reentered the construction site—what was it with villains and unfinished buildings, anyway?—that while Jonathan Crane had always been mad, it was his actions that had completely shattered the man's grip on reality. It might have happened even if he hadn't poisoned him, but there was no time to reflect over what could have been, much as there was no time for remorse.
He stepped back into the skeleton of a building, to track down a man more than likely armed, and absolutely dangerous. The odds of this ending without a fight were low, and he knew better than to underestimate Jonathan Crane. He'd made that mistake once before, and he still had the scars on his face—though they were faint, he'd let Alfred stitch those—to remind him never to do it again.
Moving at all was difficult during a panic attack, due to hyperventilation. Running was nearly impossible, but run Jonathan did, as fast as his malnourished legs could carry him, ignoring the ever-constricting feeling in his chest. The hallucinations were harder to ignore, given that in his current state, it was hard to remember they weren't real, and not exacerbated a panic attack like having a flock of crows descend on you, tearing at the skin. God, he hated crows. Why couldn't his grandmother have trained less horrific birds to attack him, like finches?
Don't focus on it, he commanded himself, trying for that reassuring calm Scarecrow's voice always had, and not quite hitting it. Scarecrow had left, for the moment, he tended not to hang around when the hallucinations started up. Anyway, comfort wasn't important at the moment, what mattered was pulling himself back together before the Batman could return. He remembered their last encounter all too vividly, that in itself an indication of how serious the matter was; it was usually hard to remember things, or at least recall them correctly, when he was hallucinating. And he doubted the Batman had forgiven him for the whole face biting incident.
He managed to stay upright until he got to the room where he'd been keeping his supplies, where he slept, on the rare occasions sleep took him. This particular winter had been frigid enough to halt construction on this building, so he'd be able to stay, uninterrupted, for a few weeks. Until now, anyway. If he got out of this, he'd have to find a new home.
He collapsed to his knees in the doorway, smiling for a second at the pain the impact caused. Then the crows were back, and the moment was over. Shaking, he crawled to the center of the room, where he kept his few possessions, besides the knives that had been left downstairs. A few boxes of food, a notebook, a jacket, and the nail gun.
Pain, he'd found, kept the toxin's effects at bay, gave him the focus that brought Scarecrow back out. He'd started with the knives, and his body was really little more than a mass of scar tissue anymore, aside from his face. He hadn't touched the face; that would remind him too much of a certain someone he never wanted to think of again. Besides, his lips were torn and bleeding enough, both from biting and dehydration. He drank about as often as he ate, which was never unless he had to.
But like an addict building up a tolerance, the effectiveness of the knives had started to lessen. He'd had to cut deeper each time, eventually targeting the most sensitive areas such as palms of his hands and the skin between the fingers. Which worked for a while, but after a time he'd had to abandon the blades entirely. Hence, the nail gun.
He'd never shot the nails into his body, so much as laid the gun alongside an arm or leg and let them tear off the top layers of his skin as they fired out. However, like the tolerance to the knives, that had become less effective lately, and besides, Bat-induced panic reduced logic even more than ordinary hallucinatory panic. So this time he laid his palm across the barrel of the nail gun, and with his other hand, fired.
Only about a minute later did Jonathan realize that had been a very bad idea.
The first minute, the pain made thought almost impossible. It was hell on Earth, but Jonathan welcomed it, because it hurt too much for the hallucinations to matter anymore. It was hard to focus on shaking walls and demon birds with two and a half inches of steel poking through the bones, vessels, and sinew of one's hand. He didn't enjoy pain, but in moments like these he could see how some did; for that one beautiful minute, the world returned to the way it was supposed to be, and it was like seeing everything for the first time, so vivid, so real. And even physical agony was preferable to being out of his mind. Miserable, but not scary.
But that first, sudden wave of pain faded, and to his quickly increasing horror, he did not fade with it. For whatever reason, be it Batman or just bad luck, for once the focus the suffering gave was not enough to force Scarecrow back out. It was still Jonathan, alone, and the pain was becoming less helpful, rapidly. And that was when he reflected that impaling his hand might have been a rather huge mistake.
If Scarecrow had taken charge, he might have focused on all the complications such an injury gave; the risk of infection, the fact that it would heal wrongly unless they sought help, the way it would make grasping weapons in the left hand near impossible. Jonathan was only focused on the pain. It was agony, like fire under his skin, worst at the actual wound, but extending all the way up to the elbow. There was blood leaking out of the injury on either side, though not much, and the shaft of the nail, he realized, feeling sick, was glistening with blood and bits of his insides. He tried moving his fingers, just a bit, and felt the shattered pieces of bone shift inside him, the pain so bad he had to bite down on the other hand to keep from crying out. Shaking, he closed his eyes and, feeling the lesser pain of the crows' assault on his body, discovered that the hallucinations had come back.
There was a sound of footsteps, and he opened his eyes, finding himself face to face with the Joker.
He appeared the same way he had the last time Jonathan had seen him under chemical effects; the black makeup of his eyes turned to dark voids in the face, white paint like dead, bleached skin, the scars reopened and the lipstick coating them now blood. The sight of him made Jonathan forget the pain, shaking harder than ever, too paralyzed by fright to even move as the Joker knelt down beside him, glancing at his impaled hand. He smirked, facial wounds leaking red.
"Aw, Jonny had an accident. Want me to kiss it and make it better?"
He reached out, and Jonathan pulled away, losing his balance and falling over. He just avoided landing on the injury by twisting to the side at the last second, shoulder slamming hard into the concrete. He got back up, wincing, and shuffled backwards, good hand up to defend himself. As if that would do anything at all. "S-stay away from me."
The corners of his mutilated mouth turned down, in a mockery of offense. "Nice. Don't let me stop your great self-destruction. This is what I get for, uh, trying to help a friend, huh? Fine, crucify yourself."
"You're not my friend." What the hell does he want? As if he hadn't gotten his revenge and then some after their last fight, he had to taunt him when he was injured and scared? And for that matter, how did the Joker know he was here to begin with? He was like the serial killer from a horror movie, always able to track targets down no matter where they ran. He was a fucking nightmare.
The Joker waved a finger back and forth in his face. "You know, it's one thing to say that it's over between us, and quite another to pretend we never happened." His voice dropped into a lower register, reverberating through Jonathan's body like music did when one stood too close to a speaker, making him shudder. "I gotta say, Jonny, it makes me angry when you lie about us like that. Do I need to remind you what happens when you make me mad?"
Heart racing, he shuffled back again, good hand grasping the doorway to pull himself up. The unfinished wall cut into his palm as he gripped it. Great. So now it's both hands. He glared at the Joker, trying not to let his terror show. Not that it mattered. Joker could probably smell fear. "Leave me alone."
Making a horrible rasping sound that was supposed to be a laugh, the Joker stood, stretching. Around him the purple coat shifted around as if blown out by the wing flutters of those damn crows. "Not gonna happen, sorry. Just 'cause you wanna ignore everything we had doesn't mean I'm gonna desert my friend in the middle of his mental breakdown."
Jonathan. Why the fuck are you still here, idiot? You need to be running right now, have you forgotten the Batman's after us?
Anger in his tone or not, hearing the Scarecrow's voice nearly made him cry in relief. It was like the day he'd returned in the asylum, after two months of silence, giving Jonathan the power to escape. It was like being reunited with an old friend, one who always knew what to do in times of crisis, and how to cheer him up. I'm sorry, but there's a major problem here, too. He waited for Scarecrow to take note of his surrounding, tell him what to do.
Inside of him, Scarecrow sighed. He's not here, Jonathan, he said slowly, sounding as if he were trying to keep from shouting. It's only in your head.
It was like a slap to the face. What?
He could feel Scarecrow's patience snap. You're hal. Lu. Ci. Na. Ting. Idiot. What the hell do you want me to do, fight your imaginary friend for you?
"Oh, I'm imaginary now. What, like the voice in your head's got room to criticize?" the Joker asked.
Jonathan blinked. Had he spoken out loud?
Jesus Christ. Pull yourself together, Jonathan. There's an angry Bat headed our way and I think that's more pressing than a hallucinatory lover's spat, don't you?
He let go of the doorframe long enough to straighten his glasses, staring at the Joker. He didn't look hallucinatory. Then again, neither did the crows.
Jonathan, focus. We need to get out of here.
The Joker snorted, blood spraying from his mouth. "Yeah, good luck with that. You could never get away from him even before you went off the deep end."
"Shut up." There was no way this was a hallucination; toxin-damaged or not, his mind couldn't be this sadistic to him. The combination of fear and anger was almost enough to overshadow the pain in his hand. Almost.
He went rigid, turning his attention to the doorway on the opposite side of the room. He couldn't make out features in the dark—odd, that he could see the Joker so clearly in the same conditions—but the silhouette was unmistakable.
Joker threw back his head and howled with laughter. "Speak of the devil…"
He didn't need to be told twice, sprinting as if he was being pursued by the forces of hell. Really, there wasn't much difference between the Bat and Satan anyway.
He didn't run straight after Crane at once, instead taking the time to scan the room, see if there was any hint as to how well-armed his opponent could be, a sign of what weapons, if any, he may have on his person. Crane hadn't been running in the direction of the stairs, so he had no way of escape beyond doubling back. Besides, he got the feeling this wasn't going to be his easiest of fights, so there was no point in rushing into it.
He reflected on what he'd just witnessed and held in a sigh. The incidence reports at Arkham regarding Crane's escape hadn't mentioned any stolen antipsychotics, as the man usually took when he broke out, but Bruce had almost hoped—much to Batman's disgust—that Crane had gotten them somewhere else, somehow. Certainly there had been reports of pharmaceutical companies robbed since the doctor's escape, though in Gotham, robberies of any kind were hardly a rare occurrence. But cunning as Jonathan Crane was in his right mind, Batman couldn't help but imagine the coming confrontation would be much easier if the doctor was lucid. The mad ones were always the most elusive, it seemed, and talking to himself the way he'd heard Crane doing as he came up the hall definitely qualified him as mad.
He learned little from his search of the room, beyond that Crane had apparently been subsisting off of Ramen for the past two months—uncooked, it seemed, as there was nothing that could heat water in the room—and that apart from a nail gun lying on the floor and whatever he might be carrying with him, his only weapons were the knives left downstairs. By the nail gun there was a trail of blood splatters on the floor, leading across the room and out the door Crane had run through. He could guess where the blood had come from.
Well, this can't go too badly, can it? he wondered, following after the trail of blood. After all, Crane was wounded, malnourished, and probably too far gone to know the days of the week, let alone fight effectively. It might not be too difficult. Sure. And the Joker might make a full recovery and become the next Gandhi.
You dropped the nail gun, you idiot.
We've got no weapon now. And no way to get out of here except past the Batman. God damn it.
You should be.
Jonathan didn't bother to respond that time. Nothing he said would make a difference, he knew from experience. Scarecrow was his best friend in the world, but with the worst temper, and the only way to deal with it was to let him calm down on his own. Which, due to their current situation, didn't seem likely to happen any time soon. He didn't have time for apologies anyway. The throbbing in his hand made running even more difficult to keep up than it had been, and the crows, along with the way the floor seemed to move beneath him weren't helping in the least.
Nor was the Joker.
"You think they'll put you in the same cell at Arkham, or give you a new one this time?" he asked, running alongside Jonathan, flecks of blood from his scars trailing behind him as he moved.
"Hey, it's a serious question. Gotta know where you're at if I wanna send you more flowers, after all."
The mention of the flower brought back the memory of Christmas morning as though it had happened only seconds ago. He felt the hurt, sorrow, and humiliation all over again, and mixed with his fear, anger, and pain, it was overwhelming. He almost screamed. "Shut. Up."
"Touchy today, aren't we? Look, I know you're pissed that Batsy's about to kick your ass, but don't take it out on me, kitten."
"Don't call me kitten." He gritted his teeth. "And you're going to get caught too, so you can wipe that stupid smirk off your face."
Joker laughed. "Somehow, that really doesn't concern me, Jonny."
Jonathan felt his foot catch on something lying across the floor, a beam, it felt like. Balance thrown, he was falling forward, hands out to keep himself from hitting the floor full force. Only he'd forgotten the nail in his hand, and the impact seemed to drive it further in, making him scream. Tears came to his eyes, but much like the last time, he refused to let them out. Holding his injured hand to his chest, he lay on the cement, screams fading into moans, and wished more than ever that he was dead. In retrospect, the nail to the hand had been a really stupid move.
"Why'd you choose the hand anyway?" Joker asked, standing over him. "Got a Messiah complex now or something? 'Cause Jesus actually got nailed through the wrists."
Gingerly, Jonathan pulled himself back to his knees. The room was spinning worse than ever, probably due to disorientation from the pain. "I swear to God, if you don't shut up, I'll tear this damn thing out and shove it through your eye." He couldn't, though. That would move the bleeding from minimal to severe.
"There are worse things than bleeding out, you know." As if reading his mind, the Joker pointed a shoe at the impalement injury. "In olden times, they used bloodletting to treat illness. 'Course, it didn't do much, but it did feel good. Endorphin rush and all, and enough bleeding causes euphoria—"
Having no weapons, Jonathan improvised by pulling off his glasses and throwing them at the Joker. The clown dodging, giggling, and he heard the glasses hit the floor some distance away. Fantastic. Now he was injured, terrified, and half-blind. "Go away."
"Well, if that's how you're going to be, then maybe I—hey, we've got company!" He pointed, rocking back and forth on the heels of his feet in excitement, at the Batman entering the room.
Shit. Shit shit shit shit shit. And because his life wasn't miserable enough already, apparently, the hallucinogenic effects of the toxin let him see the Batman perfectly, though his vision should be too blurred to do so. He appeared the way he had last time Jonathan had seen him while hallucinating; enormous, fanged, cape turned to huge, horrible wings, darkness seeping from the mouth. Whimpering, he shuffled backwards, realizing only when his shoulders hit the wall that he'd moved into a corner. The Batman advanced, and from under one of his boots, there came a sound of breaking glass. He stopped, looked down.
"You…you broke my glasses," Jonathan stammered, and broke into tears.
Things could never go easily, could they? Just once, Bruce would have liked for a criminal to give himself up calmly, let himself be cuffed and escorted to the authorities without any trouble. Batman craved the fight, and Bruce did as well, but there was only so much he could take before it seemed fruitless. Pounding someone's head into a wall gave satisfaction, yes, satisfaction he was guilty to feel, but it was also a reminder that he couldn't solve everything. He may be able to subdue the forces of evil, but he wasn't able to stop them from hurting people again.
Or hurting themselves, he reflected, glancing down at Crane's bleeding hand and the nail shoved through it, steel glistening with blood. He felt disgust and something dangerously close to pity. He couldn't afford to feel pity for the man; the last time he'd been stupid enough to do so, he'd let his guard down and narrowly avoided having half his face ripped off. "They're only glasses."
"I need them."
Incredible, really, how the tears had been brought about by something so insignificant, rather than the pain or the pursuit. Incredible and depressing. "They'll give you a new pair at Arkham."
"I'm not going back there." He straightened up, almost managing the dignity he always held when sane, even when he'd been living on the streets for weeks. He was too terrified to quite manage that scathing look though, and the crying detracted a bit.
He held in a sigh. "Yes, you are."
Crane shook his head, eyes shut. "Shut up."
"You need to go back. Look at yourse—"
"I wasn't talking to you." He opened his eyes, focusing on something past Batman. "He will not. He doesn't do that, so shut the hell up."
Wonderful. As if he wasn't unstable enough already, he was also hallucinating. Bruce had hoped he'd only been talking to himself earlier, not someone who wasn't there. This was shaping up to be all kinds of fun. "Crane."
Crane's eyes moved to him, body pressing even harder back against the wall. "Stay away from me."
"I'm not going to hurt you—" Crane laughed at this. Batman ignored him, and went on. "I just want to take you back." He tried taking a step forward, and Crane half-screamed.
"Don't come n-near me." His voice was nearly that commanding, condescending tone he had when lucid, though the slight shake gave it away. "I swear to God, I'll make you regret it."
With what? he almost asked, but if Crane did have a weapon concealed somewhere, he didn't want to provoke him into bringing it out. "Look, I don't want to fight. You're injured."
"As if that would stop you." His eyes darted back and forth like a caged animal looking for an escape, though by now he must have realized the only way out was a fight.
"We've had this conversation before. I don't want to hurt you."
"I don't care," Crane said, and before he could ask what he meant, the doctor was staring off into the distance again, muttering under his breath. "I don't care, I don't care, I don't—fine, why?"
He decided to hazard another step forward. And, as there was no response to that, several more.
"You are not." He was shaking more than ever, only now he looked angry at the same time. Batman couldn't imagine the other end of the conversation and wasn't sure he wanted to. "You are not. That's not true."
He took advantage of Crane's distraction to close the space between them, kneel down beside him and observe his condition. He was shaking, breathing fast and shallow, and obviously agitated. And while those could well be only symptoms of madness and fear, they were also signs of shock. He had no definite way to tell the difference, only the knowledge that shock could kill, and quickly. When it rains, it pours. "How do you feel?" he asked softly, voice more Bruce than Batman.
Crane went rigid, turned to face him. The realization that there was no longer a safe distance between him nearly made him faint. Whatever semblance of sanity he'd been managing to show dissolved, expression wild and terrified. "No. Nonononono, leave me alone."
"Are you thirsty? Or feel like you're going to be sick?" Both signs of shock, and helpful in determining whether or not he needed to speed things up, but Crane was in no state to answer. Which, potentially, was a sign of shock itself.
"Go away, I won't do anything, I won't hurt anyone else, please, just go away." He moved as if to stand up, and Batman put a hand of his shoulder to keep him in place. He jerked away as if he'd been burned. "Leave me alone, please, I won't do it again, I promise." His eyes jerked from the gloved hand holding him secure to somewhere over on the other side of the room. "Get him, he's worse, he's never going to stop, get him."
"Who?" He shifted his hand up slightly, fingers brushing against Crane's neck. The man whimpered and tried to pull away, but otherwise did not react. He was freezing. Of course, it was freezing in here, but once again, sign of shock. They needed to get out of here fast, or at least have the injury attended to.
"Don't touch me," Crane whispered, crying again. His tears slid down his face and onto the glove, and Batman moved his hand back to Crane's shoulder. "He doesn't like it when you touch me, the last time you touched me he almost killed me, and he will this time if you do it anymore."
"He's not here."
"He said he loved me," he muttered, staring down at his shoes. "He gave me a rose and he said he loved me and I thought he meant it. He said he wouldn't let anything bad happen to me, he said I was beautiful, he said that he loved me. I thought he meant it. He didn't mean it. He didn't mean it at all. He didn't mean it and he tried to kill me and I wish he had."
"Hush." He took his hand off Crane in order to reach back, pull the cape from the Batsuit. Insulating from the cold was the first step in treating shock, but he had no idea how he was going to get Crane to lay down on it, let alone allow him to attend to the injury. "You need to lie down."
"No," he muttered, watching as Batman spread the cape on the floor. "No no no."
"It'll help you."
"I don't want help." He looked somewhere over Batman's shoulder again. "Leave me alone."
"Well, you need it." Gently he took hold of Crane's shoulders once more, easing him back with care to avoid brushing his hand against anything, further aggravating the wound. Apart from going stiff and muttering under his breath more than ever, Crane didn't fight him. Once he was lying on his back, Batman wrapped the rest of the cape around him, taking care to leave his arms free. It wasn't until he tried elevating his legs to rest on a nearby pile of boards that Crane protested, trying to pull away. "I'm not going to hurt you. Can I see your hand?"
"No." He pulled his arm away, leaving blood drops on the cape. "It hurts."
"I know. I want to help. Which I can't do unless you let me see."
He shook his head rapidly, like a dog trying to shake water out of its coat.
"If that isn't taken care of, it could get infected. Do you want to get sick?" Sicker. Part of him wanted to shout from frustration at the ordeal, but against his better nature, he was also feeling sympathy. He hadn't tried searching Crane—given how he'd reacted last time, doing it again may well kill him—but he didn't seem to have any weapons, and he was in no state to make an attack, even if he had. If he made a move, he could be subdued easily.
"But it'll hurt," he whimpered, sounding so much like a petulant child it was hard to remember he was an amoral, homicidal maniac.
"It'll hurt more if it goes septic. Let me see."
"Don't hurt me."
"I'll try not to." Carefully, he took hold of Crane's wrist, lifting his arm as he unhooked the first aid kit from his utility belt. "This is going to sting," he cautioned, pouring disinfectant over the wound.
Crane hissed, biting his lip hard enough to draw blood, but his eyes went clearer than they'd been since the encounter began. "Don't forget the other side."
"I won't forget." Gently, he turned his hand over and poured. Crane winced. "I need to keep this up for three minutes, at least."
"Why are you helping me?" He looked confused, but grounded, unlikely his earlier expression of mad bewilderment.
"I don't want to hurt you. I just want to bring you to justice." He continued pouring the disinfectant, holding Crane's arm away from his body so the excess wouldn't fall on him. It could irritate skin, and the last thing he needed was a psychopath in even more pain.
Crane stared at him, face guarded against the fear that had been so evident minutes ago. "You fascinate me."
He didn't respond, and went on irrigating the wound. By the time he'd reached for the gauze, Crane seemed to have adjusted to the sensation, and lost whatever hold on sanity that had given him, back to muttering to himself, eyes following someone—or thing—that Batman couldn't see. Packing gauze into the space between his skin and the nail was nearly impossible, which he'd expected, but holding his hand still enough to wrap around the nail was harder than it should have been; there was the shivering, and Crane's body kept making tiny jerks as if being bitten or scratched all over. "I'm taking you back to Arkham once this is over," Batman informed him, bracing himself for a violent reaction.
"I can't. Nononononono, I can't. Don't make me go back there, you said you didn't want to hurt me, don't take me back, don't." His other hand grabbed Batman's wrist, jerking back when he felt the spikes there.
"You need to go back there. You need help."
"I can't. You don't understand." He grabbed Batman's wrist again, this time above the spikes. "I'm afraid," he whispered, teeth gritted, and insanity or not, Bruce could tell it pained him to say.
"Sometimes you have to do scary things to improve your situation." He wrapped closer to the nail and Crane shuddered, that spark of sanity coming back into his eyes.
"You don't understand," he repeated. "It's not just the hospital. The Joker—he can get in and out whenever he wants. He's gotten into my cell, and I can't go back to a place where I can see him again. I can't. Last time he showed up I tried to kill myself. I wish I had. I wish he'd killed me that night, it would have been better and then I wouldn't have to live with this hurt, wouldn't have to live with him, he's still here, he's always around and I can't make him leave."
Bruce really wished the lucid moments would last longer than a minute. It would make the conversation so much easier. "Well, you can't stay like this. Look at what happens when you're not being treated. Don't you want to get better?"
"Arkham doesn't help, it just locks you up forever and ever and hurts you and shocks you and shoves pills down your throat and tubes up your nose and electrodes onto your head. You don't go to there to get better, you go there to rot."
Batman looked at him, dispassionate, seeing a heartless criminal who needed to be taken off the streets, for his own good as much as the safety of the city. He would have been perfectly fine with picking Crane up and ignoring his protests, putting him into the Batmobile and driving him back to Arkham, where he'd be the staff's problem. At least until he broke out again. But Bruce, while seeing all that, could also see wasted potential, a brilliant man who'd gone insane, genius being used for evil when it could have been used for so much good. He wished he would recover, as he wished all the villains would recover, and that was the worst thing about being Batman. No matter how many times he apprehended criminals, he couldn't make them change.
"Do you even try to cooperate with the doctors?" he asked, thinking of the reports of resistance in all the rogue's Arkham files. "Or is the asylum unhelpful because you don't want to be helped?" He taped the gauze into place, moving his hands just as Crane reached up, unexpectedly, and pushed on the nail. He groaned, face twisting with pain.
"Don't do that!" Batman pushed his hand away. "You'll make it worse."
"I need the pain," Crane said, through clenched teeth. "I need the focus."
"What you need is to quit before you push a fragment of bone into a vein and end up puncturing the walls of your heart. I can restrain you, if you don't stop."
"Fine. I won't do it again." His voice sped, as if trying to say as much as possible in the limited time the lucidity would last. "Don't take me back to Arkham. I don't care what you do to me, just don't take me back there."
"I have to."
"You don't have to anything. You're not a cop, you aren't bound by the law. And even if you were, in a city like Gotham that doesn't mean a damn thing."
"The Joker will track you down if he wants to, regardless of where you are. The asylum's not the problem, he is. And do you want to spend your life afraid of him? The asylum can help you get through that experience."
He laughed, the sound humorless. "I highly doubt that. Arkham couldn't help a chronic masturbator to a box of tissues. Anyway, it's more than just the Joker. It's everything about the place. Don't take me back. Kill me for all I care, but don't take me back."
"I wouldn't kill you." He felt offense, that Crane would think him willing to commit such an act. "I'm a judge, not an executioner."
"They're not that different."
"They're different enough. Can you walk, or do I need to carry you?"
His good hand closed around Batman's wrist again. "Don't. Please. I'll do whatever you want, I'll leave Gotham and never ever ever come back, just don't."
Christ. Fights, he could handle. Plans to destroy the city and all he held dear, fine. Being stuck in an overly elaborate death trap with seconds to get out and no chance of escape, perfectly acceptable. But emotional breakdowns? That was a job for someone else. Too bad there was no one else. "All right, I'll carry you."
"Please, please please please don't." He buried his face against Batman's shoulder and sobbed as he was lifted. "Please. Stop."
"You need to go back." He tried to ignore the way Crane's legs kept kicking into his side.
"Fine, take me back, just put. Me. Down."
"Put me down, put me down, please, I'll be good, I swear, just put me down. He used to carry me like this, when he and Harley broke me out, and when he took me out in the rain and we kissed and I thought he loved me and I loved him, he used to carry me like this, just like this, just like—"
"All right." He set him down, gently, holding tightly onto his arm. "You can walk, then?"
He nodded, cape sliding down his shoulders. Batman readjusted it with his free hand, reminded of the way Gordon had helped him with his father's jacket, long ago. If Crane was in the slightest bit reassured by the gesture, he didn't show it.
"Come on, then."
He wasn't quite dragging his feet, but it was close. "Do we have to go there?"
"You said that you would." He put force on Crane's arm, not enough to be painful, but enough to get him moving.
"I was hoping you'd forgotten."
"No. Wait." He bent down, picked up the glasses. "The frames aren't broken, just the lenses. You can keep these." He knocked out the broken glass before he handed them over. The last thing Crane needed was something with a cutting edge.
Crane took it in his shaking hand, silent.
"Some things you do aren't horrible." he muttered, demeanor suggesting it hurt to say.
"Nice car, huh?" Joker asked, from behind the passenger seat of the Batmobile.
"Shut up. And yes." He might appreciate it more if he wasn't panicked and strapped down, but it was nice. As nice as what was essentially a tank could be, anyway.
The Batman glanced over at him from the driver's seat. "What?"
"Your car is nice."
They rode in silence for a few minutes, Jonathan trying to inconspicuously pull at the straps. It was hard, given that he couldn't move one hand at all, not without horrific pain—which wasn't so bad, it gave him focus, so he'd been moving it every few minutes or so—but he thought he'd got the hang of it. If he could just get loose by the time they reached Arkham, maybe he could make some sort of escape. He'd have to distract the Bat first, of course, possibly by—
"Don't." There was a hand over his own, halting his movement.
"I know what you were doing."
"Busted," the Joker muttered, giggling.
He withdrew his hand. "Is Arkham really that terrible?"
Jonathan tried to think of a smart remark and, for once, couldn't. Maybe some other time, when he wasn't malnourished and injured. "Yes. It's awful. Why do you think everyone breaks out?"
"Did it ever occur to you that if you expended energy on recovering instead of escaping, you could get out legally?"
No, because there's nothing wrong with me. Aside from the hallucinations and panic attacks, but those didn't count. They were the Batman's fault. "No one ever recovers in Arkham. It's like a…like a…"
"Hellmouth?" Joker suggested.
Jonathan turned his head. "You watch Buffy?"
The Batman turned to face him again. "What?"
"Nothing. It's just…not conducive to mental wellbeing. Do I have to go back?"
"But what if I—"
"It's not negotiable. And stop moving your hand."
"Why do you care?" he asked, stopping his fingers mid-flex. "Just because you won't kill me doesn't mean you have to help me. My death would make protecting the city easier, wouldn't it?"
"Because I'm supposed to protect everyone. Criminals included. Just because you break the law doesn't mean your life is worth less."
Jonathan considered arguing. Certainly it sounded like the world's most idiotic reasoning to him. Rules of society dictated that those who chose to break the law should not be valued over those who didn't, or even on equal footing. But unable to cause the pain necessary to stay somewhat lucid, he quickly lost interest.
By the time they reached Arkham, he was completely out of it once more, actually clinging onto the Batman against the onslaught of crows, whimpering from the Joker's verbal assaults. It struck him, somewhere under the terror, that the sight of Batman actually escorting a patient back into Arkham as opposed to dragging them in unconscious was just bizarre enough to be funny, but he wasn't feeling up to laughing. It didn't help matters at all when Joan Leland showed up.
"Jonathan!" She stroked his hair out of his face, a caring, maternal gesture that made him sick. "I'm so glad you came back."
Leland ignored that, taking his uninjured hand in her own. "Everyone's missed you so much. Thank you," she added to Batman, sounding less as if she was addressed an outlaw vigilante and more as if she was speaking to a teenage boy who'd brought her daughter back before curfew. Apparently professionalism is no longer required. She took in Jonathan's injury, eyes widening before she could stop them. "Oh dear. That must hurt."
No, really? "Not as much as I would like," he muttered, wishing more than ever he was at full snarking capabilities.
"Come on, Jonathan. The infirmary can sort it out." She pulled him forward, albeit softly, and he began to wonder if it was too late for an escape attempt.
"Good luck," the Batman said from behind him, and by the time Jonathan had turned around to respond, he was gone.
"People come and go so quickly here," he muttered, allowing himself to be led. Beside him, the Joker was saying odd combinations of threats and double entendres. His hand was burning unlike any pain he'd ever felt, and irritatingly, still not enough to put an end to the hallucinations, and he could feel the crows tearing at his skin. He felt terrified and helpless and trapped, and if Leland made one more sweetly condescending remark, he might have to hit her. But there was a promise of morphine and antipsychotics to come, and in what words of Leland's he managed to listen to, Edward Nigma was also in the infirmary, in the bed next to the one he was going to have. The situation was still miserable, but for the first time since he was no longer administrator, Arkham felt oddly like home.
"Don't let me stop your great self-destruction" is a lyric from Jesus Christ Superstar. "People come and go so quickly here" is from The Wizard of Oz.
Hellmouth: Portal to hell from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy's high school is built over one.
The nasogastric tubing idea came partly from Wikipedia's article on force feeding, and partly from those horrifying scenes on Heroes where Sylar has an IV stuck somewhere inside his nose. Gah.
In the comics, Scarecrow can inspire suicide and madness by words alone. The knife idea came from my wondering if he could do it without words or toxin. Also, one of my friends informed me that I write Jonathan Crane as a whiny little bitch, so this was partly to counteract that. And if you're wondering how a malnourished, small person could escape/kidnap others, Rule of Scary. Never let logic get in the way of telling a story.
Once again, reviews are appreciated!