Chapter I

Small Talk

"In vino, veritas."

"In wine, [there is] truth." – the Greek poet Alcaeus

Note: I blame this on a friend of mine (who shall remain nameless, but it's the same friend who inspired "Unfinished Business," so that should say something right there). Somehow, the two of us got to talking about what Jonathan would be like drunk, since we figured that that the only way someone so antisocial would be able to enjoy himself at a party (without spreading his toxin and watching all the guests convulse with fear, of course) would be to get completely smashed, or at least tipsy. Although, to me, it just doesn't seem in-character for him to drink, period.

But still. It got me thinking. You just know he'd be a total lightweight. And he might not be one of those 'talk your ear off' drunks, but he'd at least be very giggly. And every so often, he'd blurt out something about himself that no one ever knew. Then he'd stumble around for a bit, fall over, and pass out.

And so…this.

And also, for once you're getting a one-shot that's set in the Fear and Malice universe, sometime after Jonathan's been made director of the asylum.

He had always hated these charity get-togethers—or any sort of social gathering, for that matter. Too many people packed into an overheated space—the noxious fumes from all the different perfumes and colognes coupled with the natural stench of the human body was more than enough to make him feel claustrophobic. The music was almost always in poor taste, and then there were those ridiculous little hors d'oeurvres that were either completely bland or overly flavorful, but always overpriced, he was sure. Not to mention the fact that he was always forced to strike up awkward conversations with people that, quite frankly, he would rather see dead.

However, the soirées that were held for charitable purposes were the ones that he detested the most. Since becoming an established and rather prosperous doctor, he had realized just how sickeningly ersatz people could be. Those who, had they seen him in his childhood state—all frail limbs, wide eyes, and ragged clothing—would have looked down their noses at him, were suddenly more than eager to schmooze their way into his good books, complementing him on this and that, their smiles immaculate and false. Yet while he knew now that people were inherently phony, it seemed that they went out of their way to be so at charity functions. Perhaps it was because he knew that these people would never dream of wasting their money on those less fortunate if it didn't do anything to improve their images, making them out to be kind, selfless individuals. Disgusting.

Although, he supposed that he shouldn't have complained too much. The proceeds were being donated to Arkham Asylum, which meant that the money used to improve the facility wouldn't be taken out of his salary.

Still, he failed to see why he had to attend… Well, he supposed that being the director of the asylum on top of being one of the state's leading psychiatrists had something to do with it.

Which reminded him, where on Earth was Harleen? He knew that his up-and-coming colleague enjoyed exercising the fashionably late rule, but at the moment her tardiness was becoming rather irksome. She was already thirty minutes past the point of being fashionable. Unless she had decided to simply forego Arkham Asylum's annual black-tie affair? He wouldn't have put it past her; that young lady never was one to conform. It wouldn't have surprised him if Harleen actually had some unclassified condition that prevented her from following a crowd. Lemmiphobia, or something like that. Nonetheless, he was beginning to regret declining her offer to attend the function together.

"That way," she had explained, "we could keep each other entertained and bow out later when people-watching gets boring."

It would have been strictly platonic, of course, but he had argued that the last thing that either of them needed was for rumors of a romance between the two to circulate. It had been bad enough at the asylum ever since that gossipy Dr. Leland had walked in on him and Harleen in his office. Alone. In what had been, admittedly, a rather compromising position. Of course, it didn't matter that they had simply been discussing outdated treatments for mental illnesses, and he had mentioned having a book on the subject, which was unfortunately located on the highest shelf of his bookcase. No, that didn't matter to the rest of the staff, just like it didn't it matter that, brilliant though she was, Harleen was a stubborn little nitwit who had insisted on scaling the damn bookshelf instead of using a stepstool like any sane person would have done. Nor did it matter that he had just been doing the gentlemanly thing when she had lost her balance, jumping to his feet and grabbing her awkwardly around the legs. And he didn't know how it happened, but they had been top-heavy and somehow reversed positions so that he had suddenly found his back pressed against the bookcase. And Harleen had been slipping sideways to begin with, so as her feet hit the floor, she had wound up facing him, her skirt bunched up suspiciously from when his hands had unwillingly slid from her legs to her waist. He couldn't recall a time when he had felt more uncomfortable, but then, Leland hadn't seen it that way, nor had anyone else. He doubted that it would have made a difference if Leland had walked in on the two of them when they had simply been sitting there, talking. Honestly, the human race was so dense… He was beginning to think that Freud might have actually been right—

"Doktor Crane," greeted a deep voice with a thick German accent. "How…good it is to see you."

Sighing inwardly, he slowly closed his eyes, holding back a groan of despair with an ease that only came with one who was accustomed to not showing his true emotions. Even so—Oh Christ, not Strange—the last person that he wanted to encounter that night was the eerie Dr. Strange. Not that he was intimidated by the man, but the other doctor irritated him to no end. It was Strange's air of confidence that did it. It wasn't a built up, false sort of confidence like Cavendish's; it was seemingly real, like his own. Only he could not, for the life of him, figure out just what Strange had done to earn such self-esteem. The man's recovery rate and contributions to the field of psychiatry were hardly remarkable. Nonetheless, Strange was always so sure of himself, as if he knew something. Almost like Harleen—she had a look about her that said that she had a secret, but she wasn't telling. Strange, on the other hand, looked like he knew everyone's secrets and was simply waiting for the right time to use that information to blackmail them all.

Although, if that day ever came, he knew that he was more than capable of taking care of Strange. The Scarecrow would certainly enjoy watching that, as would he.

"Is this seat taken?" Strange was asking now.

He glanced to his left at the only seat left available at his table. Damn it, no, then where is Harleen going to sit?

Let that whore find her own seat—in the lap of some wealthy bachelor, no doubt, the Scarecrow hissed. Besides, it's her own fault for being late.

You're right, he thought, yet he only agreed with the second half of that statement (there was little point in arguing with his inner darkness, however; it was unwavering). While he was reluctant to surrender Harleen's seat to a less favorable colleague, doing so might dispel any rumors that he and Dr. Quinzel were romantically involved, whereas informing Strange that he was saving the seat for her would only add more fuel to the fire.

So it was with conviction yet faint regret that he shook his head at Strange, muttered a cool "No, I don't believe so," and tried not to look too displeased as the man pulled out the chair and sat down.

As long as he doesn't bring up hypnosis as a relative form of therapy again, I'll be able to make it through this.

"Have you seen Doktor Quinzel, by any chance?" Strange asked him.

"No, I'm afraid I haven't," he replied shortly in a tone that clearly indicated that he had no desire to talk to the man.

"That is…too bad," Strange said in his slow, calculating voice. "The other day, I was having an…interesting conversation with her concerning the effects of hypnotherapy…"

He closed his eyes.

It starts.

"…I was hoping that we could resume it," the other man continued. "Dr. Leland interrupted us before we could finish, you see."

"I'm beginning to think that that is a bad habit of hers," he muttered.

A knowing smile stretched across Strange's face. "Ah, yes, I believe you have had a…similar experience?"

In his mind, the Scarecrow lunged forward, wanting to rip the grin from the older man's face, to claw open that gleaming bald head and tear out the secrets that Strange kept hidden inside, but such behavior was hardly acceptable in public, especially at a formal dinner, so he kept the darkness in check.

"She has entered my office several times without knocking, yes," he admitted, deliberately feigning ignorance to avoid what Strange was really hinting at. "Quite frankly, I'm growing rather tired of it."

Strange frowned, clearly annoyed that he had been dodged so easily, but quickly hid his irritation with a wry smirk.

"Perhaps I could use hypnosis to make her stop?" he joked. "It has proven to be quite a successful method for breaking habits."

He sighed outwardly this time, determined not to have this conversation. Again. Hypnotherapy was a waste of time, utterly pointless when there were far better, more reliable ways to pry information out of patients. And on top of that, though he would never admit it out loud, the idea of surrendering control of his mind like that unnerved him greatly. Having the Scarecrow hiss opinions, snarl violent demands, and constantly crave the fear of others was bad enough, but he could restrain that. He didn't want to think about what might happen if he ever underwent hypnotherapy.

"Dr. Strange…" he began wearily.

"Please," the other man interjected, "we have known each other for how long, now? Call me 'Hugo.'"

"If you don't mind, I would prefer it if we kept this professional," he said curtly. Especially when you, yourself, never refer to anyone by their first name.

Strange waved him off. "Nonsense—you are on a first name basis with the other doctors, are you not?"

His eyebrows rose. "I think you might be mistaken."

"You call Doktor Quinzel 'Harley,' don't you?"

He grew tense before shaking it off with a mild shrug.

"Everyone does."

He wasn't about to point out that he rarely called her by her nickname. Oddly enough, that was usually reserved for moments when he was being especially serious, when he felt that being slightly more personal would better ensure him her unwavering attention. Not that she was ever inattentive.

"You know, I think I am a little mistaken," Strange mused. "Everyone does call her that…but not you, Doktor Crane. You call her 'Harleen.' May I ask…why that is?"

It was innocent enough, it really was. Questions like that were harmless—simply a means of making conversation. He knew that, but he would never understand exactly why people felt that they needed to know so much about his personal life. What he called Harleen and his reasoning behind it was his business. And the fact that the question had been posed by Hugo Strange didn't help in the least. In this case, he felt certain that Strange wasn't trying to make idle chitchat; the man was searching for something. However, if he did not answer, he knew that he would only succeed in giving the other doctor more reason to pry.

Sighing a little and feeling slightly dehydrated, he replied, in the plainest tone he could manage, "It bothers her."

Strange looked intrigued, damn him. "Oh?"

"Yes," he sighed again. "She would prefer to be called 'Harley,' which, as I said before, practically everyone does. Ergo, having a person call her something other than that would bother her."

"I see," Strange murmured before leaning forward a little. "And…may I ask why you…enjoy bothering her?"

Because the little slut must suffer!

Oh shut up, he ordered dismissively.

He pursed his lips, wishing more than anything that he had a glass of water—of anything, really. Taking a drink would grant him a reasonable, excusable amount of time to think of an appropriate answer without taking too long to come up with something, thereby making Strange wonder just what was going through his head, what didn't he want to reveal, what answers was he rejecting. Unfortunately, there was no glass of water and so he was forced to sit and ponder his response, letting the pause grow more and more awkward and suspicious.

Finally, he begrudgingly muttered, "She calls me 'Jonny.'"

He felt ridiculous even thinking it, which was nothing compared to actually saying it. The desire for a beverage increased ten-fold.

Strange's eyebrows arched behind his thick spectacles.


The Scarecrow screamed its fury and he barely managed not to snap.

"'Jonny,' she calls me 'Jonny,' which I find to be childish and unprofessional, and so I call her 'Harleen' as a form of retaliation."

God, he wanted a drink.

"Ah. I suppose that makes sense," was all that Strange said.

Now that he thought about it, it didn't even have to be water, as long as it was cold and refreshing and took this insufferable tension out of his throat. Maybe not wine; it was too heady and it seemed like a bad idea to have even a small amount of alcohol in his system when he was around Strange. He liked orange juice, but that was a little juvenile for a black-tie affair. Hot tea was also good, but he desperately wanted something cold… Iced tea, then? That sounded nice.

"I am curious, however."

He glanced over at Strange, and one look at the other doctor's face was all he needed to know that he wasn't going to like what he was about to hear.

Strange leaned forward, eyes flashing menacingly.

"Why does she call you 'Jonny?'"


Too many people packed into an overheated space – this just makes me think of that one episode of Daria where they all go to one of those warehouse stores (think Sam's Club), when Daria is complaining about how unhelpful the sales people are and Jane says, "You don't do well in overheated, overcrowded, grimy warehouse stores, do you?" Which, I guess makes sense since my Jonathan's dry wit and blunt comments are definitely influenced by Daria.

Lemmiphobia – to my knowledge, such a thing does not exist. The name, however, comes from the myth that lemmings, a type of rodent, will mindlessly follow one another over a cliff and to their doom. This isn't exactly true, but the idea was made popular thanks to the footage shown in an old school Disney film called White Wilderness where the crew actually faked the scene of the lemmings jumping to their deaths by using a turntable to launch them off of the cliff. It's one of those cruelly hilarious things, isn't it? Though this might just be me, since I can't help but picture them using potato cannons to do it. I'm awful, I know.

"Why does she call you 'Jonny?'" – for anyone not following my other stories, the whole 'Harleen and Jonny' thing is explained in Scene One, Chapter IX of Fear and Malice.

Disclaimer: Not mine, though I guess I could stake claims on the term 'lemmiphobia,' if I wanted.