Summary: The Joker sets out to prove, beyond any doubt, that the Scarecrow is a nerd. The Scarecrow wants to show everyone, perhaps himself most of all, that mad scientist is not synonymous with geek. Can he overcome the Clown Prince with any dignity intact?
If there was anything worse than houseguests that wouldn't leave, it was uninvited houseguests who wouldn't leave. If there was anything worse than uninvited houseguests who wouldn't leave, it was uninvited houseguests with big, slobbery, mangy pets who wouldn't leave. If there was anything worse than that, Jonathan Crane hoped he died before he ever saw it.
In all fairness, Harley wasn't bad. She washed her own laundry, made excellent ice cream sundaes, and didn't hog the bathroom. Crane would have happily shared his home with her, and maybe, since she was just so damn cute, with her Babies.
99.9 percent, decimal repeating, of all Crane's problems stemmed from Harley's grinning Clown Prince. The Joker had no respect for personal property, space, or income. He ate what little food the Scarecrow bothered to amass, then complained he was hungry. He watched television when Crane tried to sleep, then shot the idiot box when nothing good was on. He played with fear toxin, having no aversion to it himself, and then had a problem when a mouse he exposed to it ran up the leg of his trousers and tried to nest there. He laughed straight through Schindler's List (back when the Scarecrow still had a TV), couldn't wash any of the mountain of dirty dishes he created daily, and 'accidently' lit the curtains on fire.
It was no wonder the clown's last lair, a condemned comedy club, had burned to the ground. The Joker was a walking fire hazard, if not an outright arsonist. He tossed poisons together without so much as a pair of safety goggles to save his retinas should an explosion be the result. Was it honestly any wonder Harley and her diseased Puddin' were homeless every other week?
The Scarecrow brooded about his situation down in his lab. Most people suffered when the housing market collapsed; Jonathan Crane thrived. With foreclosed and empty homes dotting the city, he had his choice of digs. His current hideout had a spacious basement, perfect for setting up scientific equipment. Sure, knowing or threatening the right people to keep the utilities running was sometimes a pain in the ass, but living rent-free had its charms.
The basement was his dark, private hideaway. Anything on the first floor was neutral territory. Harley, the Joker, even Bud and Lou the hyenas, were free to roam around the living room, bathroom, kitchen, and parlor. The second floor had only one restriction: Crane's bedroom. That sanctity had all ready been violated. Three times the Scarecrow had thrown a fit over finding purple suits in his closet. So far, he's only had to chase the Joker out of the cellar once. Thanks to the terrified lab mouse, Crane dared to hope the clown would stay out for good.
Down in the lab, the stress of the day could finally be forgotten. It was terribly hard to stay angry, even at the Joker, when beakers bubbled and elements fused into mind-altering toxins without so much as a hiccup in the machinery. Who needed a hot tub or prescription pills when you could play Frankenstein in your basement?
Right now, Crane was working on something new and diabolical. There were millions of pets in Gotham. Most of them drank tap water. Every day, dogs and cats, hamsters and parakeets, had their dishes filled with unfiltered water. The Scarecrow's master plan was to concoct a water-soluble version of his fear toxin that did not affect humans, but only creatures in the lower zoo. It was more difficult than he first thought; some versions of the drug only affected mammals, others killed cats, passed over gerbils, and turned birds into creatures from a Hitchcock film. Lately, thanks to the antics, and whip, of Catwoman, he had been unwilling to pursue any more feline subjects.
Even with cats currently out of the equation, at least until Catwoman cooled down, the problem was immense. The Scarecrow wanted mass panic when normally gentle pets turned into terrified, uncontrollable animals. He wanted to see police dogs turn tail and run from criminals, hedgehogs to bristle at any and everything, exotic birds to shriek from morning to night. He also needed the humans sane enough to see it happen.
"Maybe some variation on Phencyclidine-" Crane muttered. He opened a notebook, dismayed to see he had totally filled it over the past two days. With his miniscule, cramped hand-writing, that amounted to enough words to write a trilogy.
"Time for a new notebook, Johnny?"
The Scarecrow leapt from his chair, grabbed one of the beakers, heedless of what was in it, and turned to hurl it at the trespasser. His arm was drawn back in the windup motion of a major league pitcher before he realized who was standing in his sacred space. It was unlikely whatever the glass beaker held would hurt the Joker, unless it set his clothes on fire. Then he would probably just get naked in a hurry, and Crane would rather drink whatever was in the beaker than see that.
"This is my part of the house. Didn't you see the damn signs on the door? No trespassing. Private property. Stay the bloody hell out. This means you, clown. I practically stapled them to the entire door! How did you miss them?" Crane demanded.
"You didn't have any newspaper." The Joker replied.
"What does that have to do with anything?" Scarecrow asked.
"The hyenas have to go somewhere. You didn't have any newspaper, so I had to improvise. There was all that paper just hanging from the door, so I figured I could use it." The Clown Prince replied.
"Get out of my laboratory! I swear to God, I'm going to install a deadbolt on that door!" Crane yelled.
The Joker grinned. "You're an atheist, Johnny."
The beaker, and its mysterious contents, came flying straight for the Joker's smirking white mug. He ducked easily. The glass shattered against the wall and a thick pall of green smoke poured out. The smoke was nearly the exact shade as the clown's vest.
"Oops. Clean up on aisle nine." The Joker said.
"What did I do to deserve this? What crime could I possibly have committed to warrant being forced to share my home with that?" Crane moaned.
"Gassing those kitties wasn't very nice." The Joker said.
"So I was told." Crane said.
"Catwoman found you, huh? I would have paid good money to see that." The Joker said.
"I've still got the marks. For a woman, she's got no sense of restraint whatsoever. There's absolutely nothing appealing about a belle dame sans merci." The Scarecrow said.
The Joker laughed loudly enough to rattle Crane's chemistry set. "A what?"
"A beautiful woman without pity, you gutter-dwelling clown. Have you ever picked up a single book in your life?" Crane snapped.
"I'm more of a graphic novels kind of guy." The Joker said.
"You're not earning any points with me. Save what little standing you have, and leave me alone. Go feed your pets, or feel up Harley, or stick your head in the toilet. I don't care, as long as you get out of my face." The Scarecrow said.
The Clown Prince frowned. "I like toying with you, Johnny. You're funny when you're angry. This crazy thing happens to your eyebrows. Yeah, there you go. Right there, you see?"
He was not letting the Joker touch him. Crane ducked under the clown's arm and was up the basement stairs before the Joker knew what happened. He slammed the door, wishing more than ever he had installed a lock.
Harley was kneeling on the kitchen counter and digging through bare cupboards. When the Scarecrow strode into the room, Harley greeted him cheerfully. She failed to take note of the severe frown he was wearing.
"Hi, Professor Crane. I was just checkin' ta see if you had any more Ramen noodles. Bud really likes 'em, and I do, too." Harley said.
"No, child. I have no food whatsoever. That creature you incessantly cling to ate it all. He's a black hole, consuming all in his path." Crane snapped.
"Bud doesn't eat that much." Harley said.
"Not Bud, the Joker! I have no more money for food. If you want to eat, make that clown go out and steal something. By something, I don't mean candy and snack cakes." The Scarecrow replied.
"Ok. Where is Mister J, anyway? I can't find him anywhere. He isn't even messin' around in your room. Oh, I wasn't s'posed to say that." She said.
This really was too much. He couldn't have one moment of peace, even in his own hideout, all the food was gone, the television was murdered, and he was going to find all his underwear had mysteriously turned purple.
"I'm going to kill that clown. My toxins won't do it, fine. If a high-school student can build a bomb, so can I. No, maybe that would be a waste of nitrate. I'm sure one of my chemistry books, applied properly to the head, would result in severe brain damage." The Scarecrow said.
It wasn't that Professor Crane wasn't interesting; he was plenty fun to watch, and not all his lectures were boring and reminded Harley of high-school. The problem was, once he got off on a tangent, it was pretty hard to make him stop without setting his pants on fire or kicking him in the shins. Since she really didn't like to abuse friends, unless she knew her Puddin' would get a laugh out of it, she zoned out the furious Scarecrow and continued to raid his pantry for any forgotten cans.
"Professor, Pro-fess-or, Earth to Captain Crane, come in, Captain Crane. Hey, hey, HEY!" Harley finally yelled.
The Scarecrow swiveled around. "What? What's going on? Why are you shouting?"
"What's okra? I found a can of it, way in the back on the top shelf. Can I eat it?" The clown asked.
"Yes, it's perfectly edible." Crane replied.
"Ok. Uh, how do I eat it? Do I have ta cook it first?" Harley said.
This is what a culture raised off of fast food and frozen dinners got. People had no idea what real food even tasted like. It wasn't like okra was some bizarre tuber from the wilds of Borneo; it was eaten in one form or another all over the world!
"Cooking it would be preferable, yes. If I had any more food, which I don't, we could have a decent meal with that okra. If you like Cajun food, we could make a lovely gumbo. Or, since your boyfriend would eat dog food if I placed it in front of him, breading and frying it would be less time-consuming and have the same results. You know, okra is actually a major source of-"
Blah, blah, blah, yak, yak, Nigeria. That was what Crane sounded like to the Joker. The Clown Prince had just emerged from the basement. He had discovered something interesting down there, and wanted to show it off.
"Hey, Scarecrow, have you got a dictionary?"
In the middle of his sermon about Vietnamese uses for okra, Crane snapped his mouth shut. He turned to face the Joker very slowly.
"Why do you need a dictionary? Are you going to burn it?" The Scarecrow asked.
"No, I need to look up about half of what you just said. For a supposed super villain, you're a nerd." The Joker said.
Nerd. Four letters that brought back all the misery of high-school. All the times he'd been jammed in lockers, beaten up, robbed, stomped on, mocked, belittled, humiliated, tormented, teased, spat on, picked last in gym class, and stood up at any dance or school function.
"I am not a nerd."
"Okra is actually one of the most drought-resistant plants, making it suitable for cultivating in Sub-Saharan African nations like Nigeria and nerd, nerd, and nerd. You, Professor Crane, could put Ben Stein to sleep." The Joker countered.
"I am not a nerd."
"Don't you ever listen to your own speeches? They might have kicked you out of the university, but you still talk like you're in front of a captive audience." The Joker said.
"I am not a nerd. And why in the hell are you wearing that? It's mine." Scarecrow said.
The Joker was wearing a lab coat, and had found Crane's safety goggles. The only time the thick glasses didn't look pathetically geeky was when some deadly chemical was boiling madly inches in front of them. Then they looked mad-scientist chic. In the dull, middle-class kitchen, the lab coat and glasses took any social status and feed it to the garbage disposal.
"Only a nerd would wear this." The Joker said.
"No. Anyone dealing in poisonous chemicals would wear it to preserve his sight, should something go awry. I have a sense of self preservation. I don't want to spend the rest of my life looking like Two-Face because I neglected safety." Crane said.
"You're lecturing to a chemistry student you just caught pouring the experiment on his partner. It's impossible for you to turn off the nerd, isn't it?" The clown asked.
This was a nightmare. Had he accidentally gassed himself and was hallucinating all this? No, probably not. The hyena lying on the floor with its legs in the air would probably look much scarier in the dark world the fear toxin took its victims to. As was, it just resembled a misshapen dog in need of a good tummy-rub.
"Yes, all right. That's who I am. I'm too brilliant for my station, so I don a burlap mask and a terribly itchy, stifling costume, and run around the town scaring people." The Scarecrow said.
"That only proves you're a nerd! How long did it take you to make your precious poison?" The Joker asked.
Why was the painted psychopath so interested? Never mind, never mind. How long had he actually tinkered? The first primitive batch had been in his senior year of school. A trilobite compared to what came later, but sufficient in its purpose. He'd been planning, at least day-dreaming, about poisoning his tormentors since at least Freshman Year.
"Four years, give or take."
"I mean, from the day you thought it up, to the day you stuck your head in a potato sack and went nuts on Gotham." The Joker said.
"It isn't just a potato sack! Why does everyone feel the need to belittle my mask? Honestly, all Nigma ever wears is this little purple thing, and you haven't mocked him for it. It's a perfectly decent mask for a scarecrow."
"If that helps you get through the day. How long's it been since you decided to become a terrorist, and how many drawn-out hours did it take you to sew that hideous thing?" The Joker asked.
Harley, still perched on the counter with the can of okra sitting beside her, found this exchange all very fascinating. Of course, if her Puddin' had been having a one-way conversation with a jar of tomato sauce, she also would have been equally enamored.
"I am not a terrorist. You've been watching the Republicans too long." The Scarecrow said.
"I haven't been watching anything too long. The TV is broken and you don't have a replacement." The deranged clown said.
"You shot it."
"Oh, right. I forgot about that."
Mister J and his selective memory! Most women would have gotten furious with a man who couldn't remember anniversaries, yet alone to pick up something to eat so they wouldn't have to mess with mystery veggies, but Harley found it appealing. No use dwelling on the past, after all. It's dead and gone, bye-bye, adios, get lost. Besides, her J was just so funny. That made up for any tiny, insignificant faults he might have.
The Joker and Scarecrow had forgotten what a civil conversation sounded like, and were now shouting at whose fault it was that the TV had died a violent death. Somehow, the Joker managed to blame it on Crane for not having cable television, and only depressing DVDs. Scarecrow, holding up fingers to illustrate his points, counted off ten reasons why it was the Joker's fault. His gun, his bullets, his lack of self-control, his lunatic mind, his gerbil attention span.
"Do you invite the local D & D club over every Saturday night to watch movies with you? I can't think of anyone, besides a nerd, who would have a movie about elves and midgets."
"It won 11 Oscars!"
"And you're a nerd to know that."
"Best picture, director, original score, original song-"
"You're just proving my point, Johnny. Hey, that gives me an idea. I'll prove, scientifically and beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you are a nerd!" The Joker said.
Harley popped in. "How are you gonna do that, Puddin'?"
"Every time Spooky does something nerdy, I'll document it. Then, an independent source, namely you, Harley-kins, will decide if the data backs up the hypothesis." The Joker said.
The Scarecrow snorted. "That's an unsound experiment on so many levels. Harley hardly counts as an unbiased outside observer, you have no set laws defining what a nerd even is, and you haven't even formulated an 'if-then' hypothesis. You'd be laughed out of any serious scientific gathering, voiding all your results."
"Nerd! There's one, and the experiment started two seconds ago. This is going to be easy."
Jonathan Crane wanted to explode, but the words threatening to fly out were all over the Joker's head, anyway. This was the most pseudo-scientific experiment he's ever heard of. It was worse than hunting ghosts with an EMF detector.
"Fine. I'll prove to you both that I am not a nerd. If you catch me doing a dozen decidedly bookish things today, I'll rob a supermarket and get whatever you'd like to eat. You don't find 12 incidents, you both have to feed me." Scarecrow said. "What do you say to that?"
"I give it two hours." Harley said.
"45 minutes, tops." The Joker said.
Author's Note: EMF stands for electromagnetic field. The EMF meter measures changes in electrical force. Some people, such as the Ghost Hunters, believe the EMF meter can detect the energy of spirits. If you've never watched Ghost Hunters, you should. It's pretty damn neat.
Phencyclidine is PCP. It has wildly different effects on animals than on people.
D & D is Dungeons and Dragons.