AN: To readers of TDATNTAMS: I'm sorry I've taken so long on the updating. This week has been one unfortunate circumstance after another, and when I sat down to write the latest chapter today, nothing happened, so I did this for the sake of creating something. This is one of those ideas that just popped into my head and refused to leave until it was recorded in a Word document.
Rated Mature because, while there's no graphic content to it, it is all about Jonathan Crane's taste in…one-handed materials, so better safe than sorry.
Jonathan Crane was human, despite what the news reports and witness testimonials after the Narrows' poisoning would have Gotham City believe. Set apart from his peers in areas such as intellect and ambition, true, but human nonetheless. And like any human being, he had needs. Limitations, as Jonathan viewed them. Yes, food was essential for life and too much sleep deprivation would drive him mad as his test subjects, but the hunger and fatigue always seemed to creep up at the most hindering moments. At such times, he tried to push himself past it; set aside his needs for as long as possible.
Of course, there was only so long he could go without sleep before he found himself nodding off at his desk, and there was only so long he could go without eating before even Arkham's cafeteria fare looked like the eternal banquet of heaven his great-grandmother had so often spoken of. Between her ravings on hellfire, anyway. Likewise, the longer he ignored other needs—the sort of needs that would have brought up such a fit about said hellfire—the more he found his mind drifting toward that line of thought, oftentimes in the most inopportune circumstances. Such was the life he led.
Not that he minded indulging that need; not as much. It had the benefits of emerging less than most involuntary urges, and giving instant gratification, even if it was so very biological. His feelings for the rest of humanity ranged, for the most part, from disinterest to contempt, and one might think that would exempt him from desire, but he'd learned through experience that there wasn't necessarily a correlation between attraction and arousal.
And also that, annoyingly, he was one of those people that needed something—someone—to indulge his mind on in order to most effectively tend to his needs.
So, as any scientifically-minded asexual misanthrope would do, he developed a system. It was a well-planned system, with perfectly sensible standards, and the fact that said system had led to someone as peculiar as the Joker did not indicate flawed logic in the slightest.
The alarm was piercing, cutting straight through the fog of sleep and stabbing into Jonathan's ears. It was an entirely different sound from that of an alarm clock, which, in Jonathan's experience, could carry on for quite some time, inserting itself into his dreams before it roused him. This alarm lacked that pleasantry, and it was far louder.
Jonathan bolted upright in the bed—if the uncomfortably rigid cots at Arkham could claim such a title—clamping his hands over his ears as he searched for the source of the noise. When the remnants of sleep faded fully, about two seconds later, he regained the presence of mind to realize two things: first, that the alarm wasn't in the cell at all, but the hallway, and second, that it wasn't the fire alarm he was hearing. That alarm was lower in pitch, and sent forth short bursts of sound. This alarm was shrill, continuous. He couldn't place it, despite all the tedious emergency drills he'd been forced to participate in as a member of the Arkham staff.
Whatever it was, an alarm called for an evacuation, which meant the door to his cell ought to have automatically unlocked.
Jonathan lowered his hands, mind sorting through the possibilities as he pushed the sheets off. What else did they have an alarm for? Not severe storms or flooding. Tornadoes? Possibly, but yesterday the television in the rec room had been set to the weather station, and there hadn't been any mention of oncoming foul weather. Or had there? He couldn't think clearly, not with that sound ringing through his ears.
He stood, pressure in his lower abdomen suggesting that he had better relieve himself before he made his exit. Whatever the emergency, the evacuation would involve at least an hour of milling about in the parking lot, waiting to either reenter or be transported elsewhere, and he didn't relish the thought of spending that time in desperation. He turned, and halfway through the walk to the cell's toilet, Jonathan finally placed the sound. The carbon monoxide alarm.
Just what he needed: exposure to another odorless, colorless, potentially fatal gas. Jonathan suppressed a sigh—the last thing he needed was to breathe excessively—unzipped his fly. The toxin exposure had robbed him of his sanity, the Batman's interference had cost him his position, and his incarceration here had cost him the staff's respect, but he still had the shreds of his dignity. Death by asphyxiation or not, he'd rather risk it than end up pissing himself while the fire department tried to sort out which part of the ventilation system had been blocked.
He'd developed the system by first working out what would not constitute a healthy fantasy. Jonathan preferred to work within the restrictions from the start, when it came to something like this, something with such a risk of becoming a fixation. It would be damaging more than relieving if he let anyone who came to mind serve as a fantasy.
The first and most obvious restriction had been no one he worked with, be it in Arkham or the League of Shadows. While such a choice would have its advantages—namely, a much smaller pool to chose from and the fact that Ra's Al Ghul met all of the standards he'd decided upon—he hardly needed to test it to realize that fantasizing about someone he saw on a regular basis could only end badly. Even if he didn't let anything slip—and he trusted himself not to—it ran the risk of becoming an infatuation, so it was out of the question.
Shortly thereafter, he extended "no one I work with" to "no one I actually know." It had been the logical progression, and experience had taught him that becoming involved—even mentally—with someone that he interacted with would not turn out well. The first person he'd ever had a crush on had been that conniving bitch of a blonde back in high school, and considering how that had ended with Sherry dead and her boyfriend paralyzed, it would be safer to avoid a repeat circumstance.
Fictional characters and historical figures were also out of the question. There was no shortage of people in the world who acted as though Marilyn Monroe were still living—and young—or who fantasized over Princess Leia in that golden bikini as if she actually existed. He'd chemically castrate himself before he mooned over someone nonexistent or deceased.
The next restriction was to rule out pornography, as it was the opiate of the sexually frustrated masses, and he'd rather go without than use the lowest common denominator.
The hallway was empty. Either everyone else in this cell block was still sleeping, which he doubted, or they'd already cleared out. No nurses or orderlies had come through to check, though. They'd have opened his door if they had. He assumed that the patients capable of realizing the situation had gone, and those who couldn't would stay panicking in the cells until someone came to their aid.
The thought made him smile, though he didn't have time to dwell on it.
In the event of an evacuation, the patients in the high security ward had been instructed to move toward the west exit. It was the closest set of doors to the cells, Jonathan knew, but that wasn't the sole reason. The west emergency exits led to the back of the parking lot, the farthest from the front gates. It was the reason the high security patients were placed here, in fact. Going east would lead to the asylum's front, where the low security patients were sure to be exiting, and where the majority of the nurses and orderlies would be found. East was out of the question.
But the northern doors would be empty, presumably. The asylum's northern end housed the visitor's room and the doctor's offices. No one would be there at this hour, unless an ambitious or overworked psychiatrist was still reading through files, and even if that was the case, they should have cleared off as soon as the alarm started.
Jonathan stopped walking. The alarm was still shrieking in his ears, but he'd either adjusted to the sound or managed to partially block it out, invasive though it was. Arkham Asylum was, pathetically, the closest thing he'd ever had to a home. It was the place of his research; it still housed all of his test subjects. It was at Arkham that he'd first tried the toxin on a body other than his own, and it was at Arkham that he'd made his greatest breakthroughs. Honestly, he'd lived in Arkham, when he worked here. He might have slept in his apartment, when he did sleep, but that hadn't been his home.
The nostalgia didn't change the fact that spending time in Arkham as a patient was hellish. Being degraded and spoken down to by people who'd once been his subordinates would have been humiliating enough without their attempts to counsel him. And that was without mentioning the occasional visits from orderlies who'd hated working under him, and could express that now as often and violently as they wanted, provided it wasn't caught on the security tapes.
Jonathan turned to move the opposite way down the hall.
Beauty was one of the lower standards, as contradictory to a fantasy as that sounded. Many people were beautiful, and it didn't help that Jonathan's only standards for beauty were symmetry, proper hygiene, and attention to appearance. But there was more to it than beauty. Rachel Dawes was beautiful; well, she had been. That didn't mean he wanted an intimate encounter with her. No, beauty was simply one of many qualifications, and it wasn't high on his list.
Charisma was another story. Most anyone could be beautiful, or passable, at least. Not everyone could turn heads; make themselves the center of attention with little more than a few words and a smile. The right person had an electricity; a spark that made everyone else take notice. They didn't even have to be friendly, just confident, able to command attention to themselves. Not that he would choose someone known to be abrasive; that positively screamed of an unhealthy fixation. But given that he'd never get to know the people he chose, the specifics of their personalities didn't much matter. It was the lure that interested him, not what lay behind the hook.
Intellect was also relatively unimportant. It might have seemed odd—he prized his own mind so highly—but to be in a relationship, sexual or otherwise, with one more intelligent than himself would be infuriating. Anyway, it wasn't as if he needed a deep conversation with someone in the type of situations he'd be imagining. As long as the object of his desire wasn't completely mindless, it hardly mattered if his choice was mentally lower or at his level.
Intrigue was another matter. There was an excitement to someone he didn't fully understand. He always had been scientifically minded. There needed to be something mysterious to anyone he chose; some elusive quality that he'd never be able to pin, not without the chance to speak face to face. He'd been worried, while developing the system, that such a standard would severely limit his choices, but he needn't have stressed. Nearly everyone he chose was rich, or famous—most often, a combination of the two—and the fact that they were worlds apart in social standing and monetary value automatically gave them that mysterious quality. He could theorize all he wanted about the mindset of a millionaire, but even if he was right, he had no way of knowing.
But important as intrigue was, it couldn't top power.
Attracted to power. Jonathan could imagine all the fun conversations his psychiatrists would have with that information. Never mind that it was a perfectly natural desire, particularly now that all the power he'd managed to gain in his lifetime had been stripped. Everyone desired power in some form, and what was the purpose of a fantasy if not to provide everything he wanted?
Those were his standards: magnetism, beauty, enigma, moderate intelligence, and power, embodied in an actual, living person that he'd never meet. It was a system developed early on in his college career, and it had served him with perfectly acceptable, if somewhat predictable results. They'd all been wealthy, usually actors or socialites, as those were most likely to be featured in news broadcasts or tabloids, thus they were more likely to gain his attention.
And then the Joker had come along and uprooted that pattern, as easily as he'd terrorized the city.
The janitor—Matthews, Jonathan couldn't recall the first name—wasn't looking at him with suspicion. Not yet. At the moment, his expression was concerned. Jonathan had no idea whether that was for his wellbeing or the man's own safety. Considering that the hall they were standing in could be contaminated with deadly vapors—the alarm had yet to stop—Jonathan supposed it was the former, much as he supposed that he'd better come up with an explanation for going the wrong way quickly, if he didn't want Matthews to suspect.
He supposed he could play the part of the poor confused mental patient, but he'd sooner swallow his tongue. "What's going on?" There was a hint of his former command to his tone. Hopefully it seemed as though he actually cared about the breech in policy.
"I know that. But where are the orderlies? They're meant to come through."
Matthews looked overwhelmed. Jonathan couldn't say that he blamed him. The evacuation drills were painful enough; he'd been lucky enough not to suffer through the real thing at any point during his employment. "A fight broke out on another ward. They're breaking it up."
"And they sent you alone?" If he could overpower the man, knock him unconscious…but Jonathan was realistic enough about his limited physical abilities to realize that wasn't going to happen. Matthews was past his prime, but used to hard labor, from the look of him. Jonathan was not. Besides, the man still referred to him as "Dr. Crane," and that was such a rare courtesy these days that Jonathan couldn't bring himself to assault him, even if he had been able.
A short nod. "We'd better get a move on, Dr. Crane. They don't know where the gas is building up."
Matthews moved down the hall, opening the door opposite Jonathan's as he went and scanning the room inside. Jonathan shook his head, resigned himself to a lifetime of captivity and followed, resisting the urge to run. He wouldn't make it far.
The first patient they found still in the cell was cowering behind the door, sobbing and slamming his head against the floor in an attempt to beat out the sound. The sight improved Jonathan's day, but only a bit.
Jonathan replaced his object of desire every six months or so. Any longer and he'd risk either losing the novelty or developing a fixation. That was the first part of the anomaly that was his choice in the Joker; it hadn't been six months. It hadn't even been three before the clown had appeared on his radar.
He'd chosen the previous fantasy a week or so before the Batman had ruined his livelihood and brought Jonathan's operation to the attention of the authorities. He'd settled his attention on Bruce Wayne; an obvious choice, given the man's abrupt, intriguing return, and the fact that he was the wealthiest man in Gotham City. But he hadn't needed Bruce Wayne on the streets, when avoiding arrest and salvaging his mind had been his greatest concerns, and by the time the courts had thrown him in Arkham, he'd developed more than a bit of resentment toward the city of Gotham, and that included its prince.
It was about that time that the Joker had caught his eye.
Jonathan had heard of the man before his incarceration, of course; dressing up as a clown and committing crimes tended to get media attention. But he'd never focused his attention on it. It was silly, an obvious attention-getting maneuver, and most of all, it was taking a page from his book: crime in costume. It seemed ridiculous at best, and offensive to him, at worst.
And then he was committed to Arkham, where he saw the hostage video with the fake Batman, the one he'd been tied beside when the real Bat had destroyed his van in the parking garage. Jonathan had been rendered speechless, watching.
The Joker wasn't a common criminal wearing face paint. He was brilliant. The fear he'd conveyed in the city, with one tape and a few murders; it was stunning. He'd had them calling for the Bat's hanging before he'd even blown up the hospital. It was genius. It was incredible.
That was power. The type of power no Gotham socialite could command.
And as to what possessed a man to dress in garish makeup and spread anarchy; that was something Jonathan would never tire of trying to puzzle out. The Joker failed as far as hygiene was concerned, but he exuded a dark, dangerous beauty in spite of it, and anyway, it was a fantasy, so his filth could be ignored. He was beautiful, enigmatic, and destroying the order of the city Jonathan now so greatly hated.
He was perfect.
Jonathan had been briefly concerned when the Joker was admitted to Arkham; living together was rather similar to working together, after all, but the apprehension was easily dismissed. He'd been right in theorizing that the Joker would not be allowed to socialize, and in the months that they'd both been committed, Jonathan had yet to see hide or hair of the clown. They'd never met, so the Joker's near proximity didn't change a thing, and the fear of being so close to such a madman—Jonathan did maintain the presence of mind to realize the Joker was dangerous, fantasy or not—wasn't even to make his desire pass.
Time did pass, however, and the six months were almost up.
Jonathan knew he'd have to let go. It would be unhealthy not to, especially considering the sort of person he'd focused his desire on. Besides, the newspaper clipping of the Joker that he kept under his mattress was missing; presumably taken by an orderly or janitor during one of the periodic room searches. His cheeks still burned whenever he thought of someone discovering it, thinking it disgusting. Or worse, laughing.
It had been the clearest picture he'd ever seen of the man in the Gotham Times, and the best. It had been from his trial, and the Joker had been looking in the direction of the camera, though not quite at it, smirking. It was flippant and cocky and somehow reminded Jonathan of the Sid Vicious poster his college roommate had hung up in the dorm room, though the two men's facial structures were completely different. It was beautiful.
He imagined the photograph still existed in the archives of the paper's website, but the patients' computer and printing access was monitored, and he'd sooner die that let anyone realize what he was printing off. No, it was better to accept the loss and move on.
Though he doubted he'd find anyone else as satisfying.
They found only two other patients hiding in their cells; both too out of it from medications to realize what was going on. The walk to the exits was silent, apart from the first patient's sobbing, uneventful, and Jonathan was bored to tears until they stepped outside and he recalled a rather helpful bit of information.
He moved to the right end of the doorway, examining the area of the walkway by the bushes. It was paved with bricks bearing the names of donators. It was the path he'd led patient advocacy groups and potential funders down, when he'd shown them the grounds. And it was where, last winter, he'd nearly broken his ankle tripping over a loose brick.
Not that one…not that one…
"Everyone's getting together at the eastern end of—all you all right, Dr. Crane?"
He straightened, concealing one hand behind his back as he adjusted his glasses with the other. "Sorry. I had a dizzy spell."
Matthews looked at him with concerned that seemed entirely genuine. Jonathan felt a pang of regret, but given the choice between freedom and courtesy, he'd have to choose the former. "I believe they called an ambulance. Make sure they check you out, all right?"
Jonathan nodded, stepped closer, grip tightening on the brick behind his back. "I'll be fine. Do you need help escorting them?" He cocked a head toward the other patients—all three content to stand lifelessly, now that they were away from the siren—and waited for Matthews to turn his head, follow Jonathan's gaze.
He slammed the brick across the back of the man's head as he did, where the skull was thickest. He went down with one blow, and Jonathan grabbed the back of his shirt before he could fall, just barely supporting him on the way to the ground. He was still breathing, at least.
"Sorry," he murmured, retrieving the man's keys from his pocket. "If it's any consolation, I'll try to have the car returned."
There was a laugh behind him, high pitched and nasal. "Didya apologize to your patients too, Scarecrow?"
Jonathan felt as though someone had poured a bucket of ice water over his head. There was no mistaking that voice, that laugh. Both of them had been burned into his mind ever since he'd first heard the clown speak on the news broadcast. Stiffly, he rose, forced himself to turn.
The Joker stood behind the bushes to the left side of the door. Jonathan felt the icy sensation again, wondering how long the clown had been standing there. He flashed Jonathan a yellowed smile not unlike the one he'd worn in the newspaper photo. "Hey there, little Red Riding Hood."
"It's orange," he said, with a glance down to the jumpsuit they both wore. He could have slapped himself immediately after, and not just for the idiocy of engaging the madman in conversation. It's orange. Brilliant observation, Jonathan, how astute.
"I know." The Joker wrinkled his nose. "No offense, but it's really not your color. So did you? Apologize, I mean."
"No. I didn't."
The clown had his makeup back, or a poor imitation of it, anyway. The black around his eyes looked as though he'd scribbled it on with a marker, and the white looked as if he'd poured talcum powder—or flour—over his face. His lips were convincingly red. Perhaps he'd stolen someone's lipstick. Or perhaps it was blood. Jonathan knew he ought to find the thought horrifying, but seeing the Joker like this was like watching a geisha apply her paint. It was only half-finished, and that made the magic of it show all the more.
This was why fantasizing about people he might meet was a terrible, terrible idea. He ought to be running for dear life, or at least playing dead, not staring entranced at a terrorist.
"I followed you out," the Joker said. His tone suggested that he was awaiting an answer.
Jonathan didn't give one. He was suddenly, horribly aware that the thought of the Joker finding him interesting enough to follow had sparked an entirely different sort of pressure in his lower anatomy, despite his fear. For once he was thankfully that the jumpsuits were so loose and ill-fitting. "Y-you weren't worried to breathe the carbon monoxide, then?" Such a stupid question—of course the Joker wasn't afraid—but he couldn't think of anything else, and he had to say something, or risk making his predicament obvious.
The Joker shook his head, smile even broader. "I wouldn't worry about it. You know, any heavy fumes can set one of those sensors off? And," here he held up a hand for emphasis, leaned forward as if telling a secret, "did you further know that the janitors leave the supply closet by the rec room unlocked?"
Jonathan stared. "That was you?"
"The one and only." He was so confident. What Jonathan would give to analyze him, or even have an intelligent conversation that wasn't half comprised of Jonathan stating the obvious.
"How did you get out of the cell?" He shouldn't be asking questions. He was playing with fire, and it was only a matter of time before the flames fanned out of control. But he couldn't help himself.
"I'm good at picking locks." The Joker pushed away from the wall he'd been leaning against; spread his arms. "Both ways, in the cells and out. I've been in, uh, most of the rooms in this place, by now. Offices, cells, you name it. I don't do boredom well, Jonny."
He's been in the patients' rooms. The sensible part of Jonathan's mind wanted to scream. His libido wanted to witness the Joker creep into someone's cell and scare them into a nervous breakdown. And his libido was winning.
"So Scarecrow, where are you off to?"
"I—I don't know." And it was a good thing he hadn't decided yet, because he'd have certainly blurted it out if he had. "Yourself?"
The Joker shrugged, brushed his hair back. There was what looked like a joint behind his ear and he took it down, rolling it between his fingers. "Any way the wind blows. Hey, Scarecrow?"
"Yes?" His self-preservation had kicked back in, finally, and his eyes darted from side to side, searching for the best escape route.
"Do you have an interest in photography?"
What? He shouldn't be surprised that the conversation was disjointed, considering the man's shaky sanity, but still. He'd been so lucid, to that point. "No. Not really."
The Joker unrolled the paper; held up an-all-too familiar newspaper clipping. "So then. Any particular reason you sleep with this under your mattress?"
Oh. My. God. Jonathan felt his face burn, erasing any chance he had at making an excuse. What was he supposed to say, anyway? The only thing that came to mind was, "No, I don't masturbate to you!" and that would hardly improve the situation. He's going to kill me. He tried to speak, tried to say anything, excuse or not, but his vocal cords seemed only capable of squeaking.
The Joker giggled, dropping the photo to the pavement as he brought his hand to his mouth. "Relax, Jonny. I think it's kinda cute. Creepy, but hey. That's your shtick, isn't it?"
The clown's words did nothing to assuage either his horror or the sudden blood flow between his legs. What a life.
He managed a nod.
The Joker stepped toward him, eyes on the keys in his hand. "Mind if I tag along?"
It was asking to have his throat slit, or his eyes gouged out. It was asking to be brutally killed or mutilated. It was asking to be traumatized for life, and most of all, it was asking to develop a fixation. Yet Jonathan knew, before he even opened his mouth to respond, that the answer would be yes.
After all, it was only a system, and a system that couldn't adjust to such a rare opportunity wasn't that great of a system in the first place.
AN: The title of this fic comes from The DiVinyls' song "I Touch Myself."
Sid Vicious was one of Heath Ledger's inspirations for the Joker.
An explanation for this: I think I'm best known on this site for my hundred chapter Wayne/Crane fic, but I've always been a Joker/Scarecrow fangirl deep at heart. In trying to explore a logical reason Jonathan would fall for the Joker, I got this as a result. So yeah.