AN: Just so we're clear, this is slash. Or will be, eventually. If that's not your cup of tea, fine, but don't say you weren't warned. It won't be slash for a while, though, as I plan on building it up slowly.
If you haven't read the previous fics leading up to this one, I'd recommend that you at least read the one directly before this, The Knight and The Prince, as it sets up the opening for this fic. If you'd rather not, I have tried to fit a recap of the story into the first chapter.
The title comes from Jungian psychology, in the idea that everyone has a "shadow self" or "shadow aspect," an unconscious side made up of repressed darkness and creativity.
Thing should have been easier once the Joker left.
The Joker was, after all, the one responsible for the whole fiasco, the puppeteer pulling the strings. He was the one who'd forced Batman to bring him—along with Jonathan Crane—to the cave, under the threat of having his henchmen detonate explosives somewhere in the city. Explosives that may or may not have existed, and the knowledge that all the suffering they'd gone through might have been for nothing gave Bruce the overwhelming urge to break something—preferably the Joker's neck—every time he thought about it. Even if his actions had protected the city, it didn't make things much less infuriating.
And in a way, the situation was easier. Certainly, it was less stressful going to work during the day or patrolling the city at night knowing that the Joker wasn't locked up in the cave or the mansion, with the risk that he'd break out at any moment and end up attacking Alfred. It was also better for his blood pressure when he didn't have to sit through the Joker's constant lectures on how alike they were; how Batman was as much a monster as he was and it was only a matter of time before he crossed to the dark side.
Much as he knew that while the part of him that enjoyed beating Gotham's criminals unconscious was never far below the surface, it was his actions that defined him as monster or savior, that didn't make the Joker's words any less intoxicating. The clown was like a drug, the sort that would destroy the body beyond salvaging but provide such a high that it was nearly impossible to realize the damage being done until it was too late. That was probably why he had so many henchmen, despite his obvious insanity and reputation for ditching people whenever he felt like it. That, and the fact that most of his men were insane in the first place.
So in those respects, life had gotten easier.
In all other respects, it remained just as bad.
The Joker was a problem, of course. He always managed to be; even in Arkham, he was just a ticking bomb waiting to break out and fire acid-filled water guns at businessmen or something else equally sadistic and ridiculous. The fact that Batman and the authorities were still unable to track him down a week after his escape, even though he'd broken both legs while getting away, was just adding insult to injury. And the knowledge that the Joker knew Batman's secret identity didn't help matters in the slightest.
At least Bruce couldn't be blamed for that one. Most everything else could; believing the Joker's threat without proof and taking him back to the cave, Crane's discovery of his identity, moving the villains out of the cave and into the mansion, not keeping up on how many antipsychotics Crane had left and as such essentially allowing him to have a mental breakdown, and letting the Joker get away. But the Joker had already surmised his identity before he started all this madness, so on that one, at least, Bruce was free of guilt.
Knowing that the Joker could, at any time, reveal his secret, was somehow worse than knowing the damage the man could do to Gotham if the mood struck, and that selfishness only added to the guilt. It wasn't that he expected the Joker to reveal the truth, or even thought it likely; the Joker had made it clear on more than one occasion that he considered Batman "his," and letting the secret slip would put Bruce either behind bars or on the run. Either way, he'd be exposed, and made "human," something he knew the Joker didn't want to consider the Batman as.
Still, the man was insane. Beyond insane. There wasn't an adequate description for his mental state. Not in English, anyway. There was always the slight but incredibly real possibility that the Joker would let the truth out for no discernable reason, or in spite for "not getting enough attention" or some other mad thing.
He was never sure what he'd do, if he was exposed. During the Joker's first attacks on Gotham, turning himself in had seemed obvious. Until he'd seen, after Dent's arrests, that the Joker would continue his attacks regardless. It hadn't helped matters when he'd made himself an outcast, allowing corruption to filter back into the police force and making protecting Gotham that much more difficult. And to be honest, he needed Batman. Odd, given how little time in life he'd spent as the Bat, that he couldn't imagine life without it anymore.
Not that the prospect of life on the run had much appeal. And Batman would hardly be as effective if cut off from Bruce's resources.
Even ignoring the threat of exposure, there was the massive problem that was Jonathan Crane.
Jonathan Crane, Gotham's first "super criminal." Jonathan Crane, who'd terrorized Gotham and nearly killed Rachel Dawes. Who would have driven Bruce to permanent madness as he had with so many of his patients had it not been for Lucius Fox. Who, as fate would have it, had sustained irreversible brain damage from being exposed to his own weaponized hallucinogen that caused hallucinations and constant panic without antipsychotics. So of course, he'd run out of the antipsychotics while in Bruce Wayne's captivity.
He'd heard the saying "life isn't fair," often through his own life, and he knew that despite the tragedies in his past, he had much to be grateful for. Aside from his wealth and all the opportunities it brought, he had food and clothing and a room over his head, which was more than too many people could say. And there was the fact that he'd managed as vigilante for years now without being killed or disabled.
None of that kept him from wondering why life couldn't be unfair in way that benefitted him even more than it already did. Far too often. And this was definitely one of those situations.
Keeping a villain captive was one thing, and that was trying enough. Keeping a captive who had to be kept under constant sedation while they waited for his antipsychotics to kick back in was a whole new—and unpleasant—experience. And the fact that said captive seemed to regress to behavior more typical of a small child than a dangerous criminal when sedated and unmedicated was the icing on the cake. And the icing was made of cyanide.
When Bruce began as Batman, he'd expected a number of things. The bruises and lacerations and burns and other injuries he accumulated each night, for example, or forcing the image of a social life to fend off over-curious reporters. What he had not expected was that he'd end up holding a sobbing super villain while he waited for the tranquilizers to kick back in. He doubted he could ever be prepared for such a thing. He knew hundreds of ways to knock a person unconscious, or how to trigger each and every function on the Tumbler, but never in his studies had the comforting of criminals come up.
At least he didn't have to wear the Batsuit around Crane anymore. Much as he hated having the man know his secret, he doubted the suit or voice would be anything but nightmare-inducing.
Still, a clingy, panicked villain wouldn't be so much as a problem on his own, off-putting as the situation was. Crane was certainly a danger to himself as well as Bruce and Alfred when he wasn't sedated, but under the effects of the tranquilizers, the most he could do was wander aimlessly, if he had enough strength to do some, mutter to himself, and sleep.
The fact that he wouldn't stay in that state forever, and that he knew Bruce's secret, and that Bruce didn't exactly want to keep him here indefinitely, that was the problem.
Crane, unlike the Joker, wasn't the type to keep the secret out of some twisted need to have a Batman to oppose. Bruce could see him keeping it for purposes of blackmail, perhaps, wanting to be allowed to leave Gotham without interference or carry on his "research" in the city undisturbed, but as Bruce wouldn't give into that—standing for justice ranked above even his secrecy—there was no reason why Crane wouldn't release the information out of spite, should he ever get out of the mansion. Or sell the secret to the highest bidder; he was opportunistic, as well as sadistic and dangerous.
Which made it all the more unnerving when, exactly one week after the Joker had left, Bruce woke up to find Jonathan Crane sitting by the edge of his bed, watching Bruce with the teddy bear in his arms, and looking less "mad criminal with no empathy" and more "small child who had a bad dream."
He held back a sigh as he glanced at the alarm clock. One hour since he'd finished as Batman and gone to bed. Half an hour of sleep, really, considering all the tossing and turning he'd done before blacking out. Playing nursemaid to one of the people he'd set out to stop was not what he'd had in mind when he became Batman. It hadn't been so bad right after Crane had lost it, when he'd had to be sedated into unconsciousness to keep from giving himself a heart attack through panic, but as he'd regained a bit of lucidity, Bruce had lightened the amount of sedatives, if only to reduce the risk of damaging his captive's health by overmedicating him.
Reducing the amount almost meant that Crane's body burned through it faster, however. Thankfully, the antipsychotics had built up enough in his body that he didn't immediately sob or hyperventilate after regaining a normal state of consciousness, but that didn't prevent him from wandering around or hallucinating.
Bruce sat up, reflecting that he really needed to start locking the door to the guest bedroom where Crane slept. Of course, if he did that, and Crane decided to hurt himself, the situation could get deadly very quickly. "Come here." He flipped on the lamp that sat on the nightstand, picking up an empty syringe and a bottle of some drug whose name he couldn't be bother to recall at this hour of the morning. He taken to keeping such things on hand, over the last week, as had Alfred.
He lifted one hand, rubbed his temple. "It's empty. So…alone. Silence shouldn't be this deafening."
Bruce had given up trying to make sense of anything the man said a few days ago. Clear statements such as "can't sleep," "cold," or "hungry" were few and far in between among rants on emptiness or birds or anything that Crane was seeing or hallucinating at the time. He guessed that the emptiness referred to the Joker's absence, but that was the furthest he was able or cared to go into understanding. Gazing into the abyss and all that. "Come here."
Crane stared, blinking. "You…I know you."
Wonderful. He was beginning to recognize Bruce Wayne, while he was still too mad to go around without a stuffed animal security blanket. He couldn't see this going over well. "Yes. You do." He waited a moment, and upon no further reaction or movement from Crane, risked moving forward on the bed.
Luck or karma or whatever was on his side for once, as Crane didn't react. "Let me see your arm."
Wordless, he offered it. Well, that was a welcome development. Before, it would have been a struggle. It appeared that Crane was grounded enough to realize that he didn't enjoy being conscious and miserable either.
Bruce loaded the syringe with the maximum amount he could without overdoing it, injected. Crane gave the smallest of flinches. "You're all right."
He blinked again, eyes starting to cloud from the drugs. "Empty."
"So you've said. Come on." Bruce stood, bringing Crane with him. The doctor could almost walk, provided that Bruce supported him. Easier to just carry him. So he did.
The guest room was on the first floor, a distance that felt longer than it should have, likely due to fatigue. It wasn't as if Crane was heavy, especially given that he didn't eat much when he was out of touch with the world. He put him on the bed, turned to go.
"I know you."
He stopped in the doorway. "I know."
Crane stared, brows creasing in whatever thought he had. "You…your eyes glow."
He had no idea how to respond to that. "Just…try not to wander around the house, all right?"
Crane didn't answer, so after a moment, he left.
There was light filtering through the window shade, Jonathan noted upon opening his eyes, and it was blood red.
He stared for a moment, stomach clenching in anxiety. I don't see that, he told himself, hands clenching on the bed sheets. I don't see that.
Of course he did, and telling himself otherwise didn't make a bit of difference. But at least he knew that he was seeing ordinary sunlight, and only imagining it to be something twisted. He considered getting up and lifting the shade to confirm it, but given his state of mind, he'd only hallucinate something hellish if he did. Likewise, he knew that the crows he saw flying around the room were imagined, as was the pain he felt when they pecked at his skin.
He didn't remember more than a few flashes of the time since that damn clown had convinced him to flush his meds in a misguided escape attempt, but he got the feeling this was the first time since losing it that he'd been lucid enough to realize that.
Jonathan glanced at the bedspread, looking past the hallucinations as best he could. These were the Batman's sheets. He was still in Wayne Manor, then. He hadn't expected the Batman to be stupid enough to return him to Arkham in such a state—especially given how his identity could be revealed so easily if he did—but he wouldn't put it past a man with judgment poor enough to think that dressing as a bat would be a good idea.
One of the crows landed on his hand, and he jerked away before he could be bit, hand brushing against something soft. Stupid reaction. The crow wasn't there, and even if it had pecked him, there would be no effect beyond what his mind told him there was. Not that it made things any less terrifying, but he ought to have better control than that. He tried to shrug it off, glanced down at whatever it was he'd put his hand on.
Was that—no, it couldn't be—it had to be another hallucination, there was just no way—
A teddy bear?
Jonathan didn't swear often, not because the baseness of such language offended him, but because he had a wide enough vocabulary that he could express himself perfectly well without resorting to vulgarities. Still, there were occasions—usually around the Joker—where obscenities were perfectly warranted as they were the only thing to adequately portray his reaction.
Thus, his immediate reaction on realizing that the bear was not his mind's fabrication was a well-deserved What the fuck?
Reviews of any kind are always appreciated. The next chapter will be less Previously in the Last Fic, I promise.