AN: For those who've read my other fics, remember how I used to indicate section breaks with two hyphens before I figured out how to work the horizontal line thing on the site? Well, I suppose the site must have changed its formatting again, because the other morning I discovered that all of the section breaks, from all nine of those fics, had disappeared, and I had to add new ones in, chapter by chapter. I'd meant to start on the next chapter, but that took the better part of the day, and then my morale with the site was extremely low.
Also, for readers of older fics, I noticed while looking through the previous chapters that I have the wrong links for the two fan arts by RiddlesxandxRoses, Promises and Shadow Selves: Comic Panel, and I'm too inept with technology to find the correct links on Deviant Art, so if anyone knows them, I'd be much obliged.
Thanks for the reviews!
"So give them blood, blood, gallons of the stuff; give them all that they can drink and it will never be enough.
So give them blood, blood, blood; grab a glass because there's going to be a flood."
—"Blood," My Chemical Romance
For a man who called himself "Scarecrow," he didn't look much like one.
He sat on the edge of Adrian's bed, sliding on a pair of socks. Jackie hadn't said that he needed supervision, but between Jackie's love of chaos and the Scarecrow's mannerisms—as if he noted the world around him but couldn't be bothered to actually interact with it—Abigail didn't feel it was in his best interests to leave him alone, particularly in the room with all the medical supplies.
He was skinny enough for a name like Scarecrow, sure. And when he'd been wearing the ill-fitting orderly's uniform, she could have seen it, even if the color scheme was all wrong. But Abigail wasn't feeling it now that he was dressed in Adrian's jeans, shirt, and socks. White socks, boring and ordinary—her own feet were clad in toe socks decorated with stripes and penguins—but from how happy he'd looked upon being presented with them, they might as well have given him the One Ring.
She'd heard horror stories of Arkham Asylum for years growing up. In the Narrows, it was the closest thing to a haunted house that the kids had to scare each other with, and despite the drugs, murder, and crime all around them, stories of the madhouse never lost their edge. It was by far the oldest hospital in Gotham, and the only one whose founder had lost his mind and become imprisoned in his own institution. The legends practically wrote themselves. Over the years, she learned to sort the fact—abusive orderlies, low recovery rates—from the fiction—haunted cells, patients lobotomized into zombies and kept as slave labor—and the truth was disturbing enough. But for all the stories Abigail had heard, she'd never heard anything about an asylum policy that made sense of the Scarecrow's affinity for socks.
Maybe they took his away. His arms were all scraped up and they might have taken his socks if he was a suicide risk for fear that he'd suffocate himself with them. Or maybe he was just insane.
Whatever he was, he needed a more fitting costume.
"You don't have hearing aids." He said it as though he'd just now noticed, which, for all she knew, was the case.
"No. Anika had head trauma." Abigail wasn't sure if the Scarecrow would be pleased, saddened, or uncaring to know that he'd caused it by proxy, so she didn't mention it. "That's my sister. Anika. And my brother's Adrian." If he'd listened to the conversation on the doorstep, he knew all of that, but that was a big if.
"Oh," said the Scarecrow, straightening the toe line on the left sock.
He wore a burlap mask, right? Not the most comfortable fabric, but it allowed for the passage of air, and never had there been a more fitting scarecrow material. Now, if the rest of his clothing matched that…gloves, with the fingers cut off to allow more dexterity, tattered cloth, perhaps—
He'd noticed the otoscope resting on the nightstand, then. Abigail decided to lead him out of the room before the scalpels or scissors or other fun, bladed instruments caught his attention. "Adrian is."
"Was he the one who stitched up the—" He paused as if searching for the word, fingers tracing the sides of his mouth to mimic Jackie's scars.
"No. If Adrian had done it, it wouldn't like someone tried to sew him up with a darning needle and a shoelace." Unlicensed didn't mean unskilled, legality aside. "Do you like cookies?"
"What?" He looked at her—really regarded her—for the first time.
"Anika makes them every time Jackie comes over." She extended a hand, which he didn't take. "So if there's any particular kind you want, you should go into the kitchen and tell her." Maybe he didn't like cookies. Someone that thin didn't look as if he enjoyed food at all. "She'd probably be willing to make something else, if you asked."
"I don't think I'm hungry." Hungry. He mouthed again after he'd said it. The man was starting to make Jackie look sane in comparison.
She took the hand that wasn't appreciating his newfound socks, and though the Scarecrow's fingers twitched, he didn't pull away. "Well, you never know. We should check."
The Scarecrow didn't look particularly open to the idea, but he allowed himself to be led.
A hat, that's what he needed. That or straw hair, though the later would shed and need frequent replacement. But something to make his ensemble more scarecrow-ish, and less "I needed a disguise and all I had was this potato sack." Maybe he'd treat her costumes with more respect than Jackie, if he could focus long enough to figure out that he was wearing one.
They found the others in the kitchen, with Adrian clearing away their gaming supplies and Anika rummaging through the cabinets for chocolate chips. Abigail left the Scarecrow with her twin, giving him another glance over her shoulder as she walked toward the table. He was too skinny to cut an imposing figure, but she was at a loss for how to counter that.
"You kept playing without me?" Jackie's expression could be annoyed, disinterested, or just tired. There was no way of knowing with him. He had Abigail's four-sided die in hand, tossing it up and down.
"It's a different quest." Adrian transferred the handbooks to the counter, where Anika was setting out mixing bowls. She was dragging the Scarecrow around by the hand. He didn't seem pleased about it. "Why, did you want to pick up where you left off?"
Jackie took another die from the table and made an unsuccessful attempt to juggle them. "Where did I leave off?"
"The last I remember, you'd tried to start your own adventure, and when I pointed out that the Dungeon Master was in charge of the storyline, you declared anarchy and challenged me to a duel to the death, which I declined. And while you were deriding me as a coward, my sisters' characters were conspiring to murder yours so that they could make it through the quest without laying waste to every village they encountered."
"Ah." He could juggle three dice better than two. "Maybe it's best if we keep that on, uh, hiatus. It is the holiday season."
"Not for another hour." Abigail had the distinct feeling that she wouldn't be getting her dice back. Good thing they had spares.
Jackie pursed his lips. It made the skin around the scar tissue pucker ever so slightly. "What, there's some law preventing you from setting off fireworks a little early?"
"We don't have fireworks." Anika was trying to hand the Scarecrow an apron. The Scarecrow, having returned to his book, looked less than enthused about the idea.
Jackie gave her a long look, then glanced at the dice in his hand. Probably wondering if there was a way to commit murder with them. "Why not?"
"Everything you people do is illegal."
Anika shrugged and began measuring flour.
"Tell me you've got beer at least."
"Vodka." Abigail shifted her chair back, though she doubted he'd ask her to retrieve it. It was the only alcohol they kept in the apartment—apart from the rubbing kind—and it was only for clients who wanted it to dull the pain. Family history of alcoholism, and all that.
He looked at her as though she'd just slaughtered the Easter Bunny. "You don't drink vodka on the Fourth, woman. It's beer. Beer and hot dogs and lemonade and hamburgers. Have you no patriotism?"
"We've got hot dogs," said Anika, pulling a carton of eggs from the refrigerator.
"It's not the same." He pulled a wallet that may or may not have been his own from his pocket and extracted a bill, which he threw it at Adrian. "You. Get thee to the nearest convenience store and grab a six-pack."
"I don't drink."
"That's irrelevant." Jackie reclined in his seat, propping his feet on the table. "I'm not comfortable walking the streets of Gotham after dark, and our car is with our chauffeur who, at last check, was, uh, passed out in front of Zuzu's Petals, thus I'm not venturing out into the cold and uninviting wilderness. So it's either you or the twin of my choice."
Adrian slipped the bill into his pocket and stood. Abigail watched his progress until the walk to the front door took him past the counters, where the Scarecrow caught her eye again. If there was a way of making his shoulders broader…but scarecrows and shoulder pads didn't go hand in hand. No, scarecrows had sweaters, or flannel shirts, nailed into the wood—the wooden frame.
If he could maneuver around it, it could work. Adrian hadn't moved the character sheets from the table. She grabbed hers and flipped it over, free hand taking the pen beside it, and began to draw.
"So 'Gail. If you wanted to fix this sleeve—"
"Can't talk. Designing."
Jackie, who didn't handle being anything other than the center of attention in the most constructive way, took the pen from her hand and threw it across the room. She retrieved it and carried on sketching, while the clown amused himself with sneaking cookie batter when he thought Anika wasn't looking.
"Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and days of auld lang syne—"
"Wrong holiday, Jackie."
The Joker narrowed his eyes at Anika and gave a moment's consideration to throwing his can at her. No great loss; it was piss-water beer, which he supposed he'd brought upon himself by sending out someone who never drank out for alcohol. But if he threw it, he'd have to buy Anika a rose for staining their carpets, and risk sending the message that he actually cared about their feelings, and that wouldn't lead anywhere entertaining. He settled for flipping her off as he took another sip. The taste made the Arkham cafeteria fare seem downright palatable in comparison, but it was the first beer he'd had in months, and that kept him from tipping the contents down the drain. For now. "I'm drinking. It's excusable."
"That's your first beer."
Resisting the urge to throw the can at Adrian was harder. The Joker settled for moving away from the pair on the loveseat and relocating to the couch, beside Jonathan. "Never claimed to have a high tolerance. How's the book, Jonny?"
Jonathan didn't say anything. He was half-asleep, judging by the frequency and duration of his blinks, and it appeared that all his remaining energy was focused on the pages in front of him. He'd been reading ever since he changed clothes—there was something highly amusing about seeing someone so anal in clothing as causal as blue jeans—apart from the interlude when Anika had brought out the cookies, and he'd wandered around nibbling on his while examining his surroundings. Jonathan explored rooms the same way a cat would: wandering from object to object and giving each his full attention until he was either satisfied or distracted. It had been entertaining while it lasted, but then the cookie was gone and he'd returned to Ulysses.
There had been novelty in the change of location and company, but that had likewise worn off. Not that he wasn't still relieved to be in a room that wasn't padded, or amused to have friends so utterly fucked up that they had no qualms in associating with the Clown Prince of Crime, but now all the little issues were starting to dig at him. He'd have to regroup his men, see which had kept out of prison and which had remained loyal. Those who hadn't—well, dealing with them would be fun, but he needed to amass his weapons and reorganize his motley crew and get back up to speed on the situations of the various gangs of Gotham. It wouldn't be difficult, but it would be so tedious.
The Joker didn't handle tedium well in the best of circumstances, and he was especially bad at it when he was pissed. Which he was.
Hadley hadn't been sorry.
The Joker had taken his time making that bastard suffer. He'd repaid every injury the orderly had inflicted on him, and on Gilda, and then some. He'd made Hadley swallow his own flesh and choke in his own blood and every other agony that had come to mind. Hadley had screamed himself hoarse while his throat still remained intact. He'd cursed and threatened and made unintelligible sounds and all the other things that were usually so much fun, but he'd never tried bargaining. And he'd never apologized for what he'd done to Gilda.
An apology wouldn't have spared him. It wouldn't have hastened his death. If anything, it would have made the Joker lash out harder. As if saying "sorry" would take back the fact that he'd murdered Gilda. It would be an unforgivable insult, and the Joker hadn't set out to extract an apology from the bastard.
But…he'd killed Gilda. And he didn't feel a flicker of remorse. Not that the Joker was one for remorse himself, but…it just didn't make sense. How could he not feel it, after what he'd done?
And as such, his death provided no catharsis.
The Joker ruffled Jonathan's hair and stood.
"Need anything?" Anika asked.
He was too lost in thought to offer a sarcastic response, wandering down the hall without much thought to where he was headed. He wanted to hurt someone. No, needed to. Maybe multiple people. As long as it took to make this feeling go away. He'd never had anger linger like this before. Someone pissed him off and he killed them. Fast or slow, that was the end of the story, and he didn't look back. But this…this had to be inflicted on others. He didn't know how many, only that he was unsatisfied and until that changed, there would be blood.
Wonder what Ruthie would say about that.
Ruthie. There was no way Arkham could cover this up, between the murders and the escape of the asylum's most high profile patients. Something would have to change, if only so that they could claim to be addressing the problem. He couldn't see why they'd fire Ruth—she hadn't been the one to strangle Gilda or beat the shit out of him at night—but she'd be affected, directly or not. Everyone would. He almost longed to be back there, if only to see how his actions would shake things up.
"Did you want another cookie?"
The Joker blinked and found himself in the kitchen. Abigail was where they'd left her: still seated at the table and still sketching. Around her sat their empty plates and glasses and, in the center of the table, the platter of chocolate chip deliciousness that he no longer had an appetite for. "Not at the moment." He sat beside her and regarded the paper.
His scarecrow, to be sure, but the way she'd dressed Jonny up looked unlike any description of Crane's reign of terror that the Joker had heard. He'd never seen the Scarecrow in full swing, true, but he was fairly sure that the costume had consisted of a burlap sack thrown over whatever Jonathan was wearing at the time, and not what Abigail was envisioning, which appeared to be a cross between a scarecrow and the Wicked Witch of the West.
The Scarecrow. That was the other wrench in the works.
Oh, Jonny was fun, to be sure. Anyone who was afraid of being attacked by birds was entertaining, and doubly so if said person was also capable of biting sarcasm, given the right circumstances. The Joker had no qualms with the mentally ill; they made for the best conversationalists and some of his most enthusiastic henchmen. But the madmen he employed were devoted, and would, if given the command, pick up a weapon and fire it into a bus full of nuns. Jonathan, if he even knew how to fire a gun, would stare at it blankly before returning to observing the lint of the carpet, or sunlight on the wall, or whatever else had captivated his attention. Besides, his habits of muttering to himself and forgetting the train of conversation mid-sentence would get old fast.
"You don't look happy."
How she managed to see him without looking up from the drawing, he wasn't sure. "You wanna design for Jonathan?"
Abigail looked up at that one. "Would he let me?"
The Joker shrugged. Really, it could go either way. "Wanna keep him around for a few, uh, weeks and see if he warms up the idea?"
Her eyes narrowed. For a seamstress whose hobbies included making and cuddling Joker ragdolls, she nearly came off as intimidating. "You're leaving, aren't you?"
"The thought had crossed my mind."
"And leaving your friend here?"
"He doesn't like travelling."
"Let me rephrase." Abigail straightened, tugging at the ends of her hair. "You want to leave your mentally unbalanced, potentially dangerous friend in our apartment for an indefinite amount of time, while you're off doing God knows what?"
She opened her mouth to protest and the Joker shoved a hand over it. His other hand disappeared into his coat pocket and returned with Strange's wallet. It wouldn't cover a month's rent for a new housemate, but it was more than the average Gothamite would comfortably carry on their person, particularly to a workplace in the Narrows. "I'm not saying for free, 'Gail."
He removed his hand as she lifted the stack of bills, filtering through them. "You want us to take him in for this?"
"I never said there wouldn't be more to come."
"I'm offering you your own life-size Barbie here, you know. You can dress him up however you want. I doubt he'd even notice."
She shook her head, pushing her chair back. "Give me your coat."
"Eh?" The Joker gripped the cuffs of his sleeves, not quite defensively. "Dress Up the Scarecrow" wasn't about to extend to his attire. Scarecrows wore rags, after all. It would be an insult to his ensemble to put it on Jonny.
"You want the sleeve repaired, don't you?" Abigail was trying her best to look resigned, but she couldn't hide the smile playing at the corners of her mouth. "I'd rather sew it now before you can be irresponsible again and shred it completely."
He shrugged the coat off. "Blame the Batman."
"I would if he was here."
"I, uh, don't think he'd feel properly chastised, but you're welcome to try."
"Where's the trench coat?"
Anika. Of the three, she had the least sense of self-preservation—likely as a result of having her brains scrambled when she went half-deaf—and as such was the clingiest. The Joker decided that he'd be out of here much quicker and with much less of a headache if he left by the fire escape, without mentioning it to her. "What trench coat?"
She looked away from GCN—so far, the Arkham breakout hadn't been leaked—and tilted her head. "The one you just had on."
"No idea what you're talking about." Again, he sat beside Jonathan on the couch. Jonny was making a valiant effort to carry on with the novel, though every ten seconds or so his eyes would drift shut and he have to snap himself back to attention. "Hey, Jonny."
"Ah." Not much of a response, but he could always pretend it was a "hello, Joker, how are you?"
"Is Abigail fixing the sleeve?" Anika asked.
"I never had a trench coat. Fine, Jonny, thanks for asking."
Jonathan yawned, which the Joker decided was Scarecrow code for "I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors."
"That's nice of you." He ruffled his friend's hair for the second time that evening—morning, now—and leaned in to whisper, "You'll be all right with these guys, won't you?"
"Eh?" Which, of course, was Jonathan-speak for "I'll be fine, don't worry."
"Good." He leaned back, laying his arm over the man's thin shoulders. "I'm glad you understand."
The whir of the sewing machine from the twins' bedroom stopped. There was a pause, then a sound of footsteps, and then Abigail appeared in the hall, trench coat in hand. "Here, Jackie."
"I knew you had a trench coat," said Anika, as though she'd actually doubted herself for a moment.
He took it, gave her a pat on the back, and, with a wave to Jonathan while Anika was facing the other way, started back toward Adrian's room, and the fire escape.
It was cool outside.
In Gotham City, that was nothing special. The wind in Gotham might as well be sentient, what with its ability to hunt down anyone it caught outside, knocking off hats and scarves and freezing down to the bones. But tonight, the breeze was faint, and the humidity that plagued the air during his walks through Arkham's grounds had dissipated, though there hadn't been rain to relieve it. The Joker didn't question it. He wasn't one for miracles, but standing there, feeling the wind in his hair and knowing that there wasn't a cell to return to, orderlies to drop in, or a psychiatrist trying to pry into his mind, he couldn't bring himself to put forth the effort to be cynical.
Freedom. He hadn't realized how much he missed it, even when he'd been stuck inside clawing at his own skin.
If only Gilda were here.
No. She wasn't, and dwelling on it didn't make her any less dead. His friend was gone and he couldn't reserve it, even after he took her murderer's life. The orderlies, though, the others that had associated with Hadley, and stopped by night after night until Jonny had killed Lotter and they'd wised up, they were still out and about. For now.
Hadley's blood was still on his face. His makeup was gone, as were his knives, and apart from lint and various dice, his pockets were empty. But he had names, and he had faces, and that would be enough.
The Joker raised his head and stared at the sky. The stars were blocked by the lights of the city.
"Maybe this time you'll consider me a threat from the start, Bats."
The next morning, the body of an orderly returning from the night-shift would be discovered in the by his wife in the garage, seated at the steering wheel with his throat slit.
On the grounds of Arkham Asylum, a dozen white roses would be found in the same spot where Dr. Ruth Adams reported seeing the corpse of the Joker's dog.
AN: The outfit Abigail's sketching is Tim Sale's Scarecrow design, as you can see on the first post of this page: everydayislikewednesday. blogspot. com/ search/ label/ scarecrow%20week (If any of the images don't show up, the right click and show picture combination should make them show up.) It's my favorite Scarecrow design.
Zuzu's Petals: Yes, I named the flower shop as an It's a Wonderful Life reference.
And that's the end of this fic. I am plotting a sequel, though I've got the next installment of my other series to work on in the mean time. However, I'm envisioning that as a one shot, so I should be back to this soon. I hope you enjoyed the story, and thank you all for reading and reviewing!