Last Straw

By Someone with Time on Their Hands

Summary: The Scarecrow is tired of trivialization. He lets Gotham City's public know using the proper supervillain etiquette.

Jonathan Crane was on TV. The ex-doctor had taken a note from the Joker and sent a recorded message to GTV and Gotham City's public at large. On the disc he had written in the sharp professional scribble of his doctor days: Please, I beg you, let them see the truth. I can't take the slings and arrows any longer. Please, let them see… It was the most pathetic phrasing Crane could muster and sure enough, the peons threw the film onto a live broadcast, not even bothering to check the content. Their big warning to the viewing public was that they should "be advised," it was a message from the Scarecrow. The scoffing caution had gushed out of Summer Gleeson in sappy buckets like the words of an old lady telling the trick-or-treater in the toilet paper mummy costume how scaaary he was. Revolting. Insulting. Coddling. Just like the rest of them after that dense gorilla Bolton-!

No.

That was over and done with. Crane cleaned a speck from his glasses and made himself comfortable on the couch of his newly acquired base of operations. He had been tempted to keep up shop in the cavernous warehouse—the acoustics had been splendid for the screams—but he was positive the place would be infested with police after the viewing was over. Ah well. He slid his glasses back on and watched the Crane of the past walk into screen.

On TVs across Gotham City, Jonathan Crane alias the no-longer-infamous Scarecrow appeared. Crane had donned a white button up shirt with the collar open to a slice of his hairless chest and long black slacks. He'd combed his hair into a mimic of the style he'd worn as a doctor with a few strands falling calculatedly over his renowned baby blues. Crane gave his best charmer smile to the camera and pretended to straighten his glasses. He looked like he'd stepped out of a photo shoot for GQ and the man imagined the Joker, that newly snapped shrink girlfriend of his and sundry other rogues guffawing and/or goggling at the image while a depressing amount of would-be "mistresses of fear" grew hot and wet at the sight. Crane of the present repressed a dry heave and watched Crane of the past go to work.

"This is Dr. Jonathan Crane speaking, beginning session two of a possible three with patients one through 21,199,865. Since our last session the patients' perception of reality has declined dramatically." TV Crane gave the screen a concerned gaze, plump mouth quirking into a worried moue. "A very disturbing occurrence considering session one, the night of June 15, 2005, seemed so promising. The patients reacted appropriately to the Scarecrow's medication and presence with shrieking, homicide, suicide and general pandemonium, as was befitting the stimuli. However, over the course of time between what the patients have dubbed 'Fear Night' and today's session, these reactions have taken a turn for the worse." TV Crane stepped away from the camera and patted a melodramatic hand over his chest. "It has come to my attention that the figure of the Scarecrow has been grossly warped in the patients' view from a symbol of fear to an object of sexualization, adoration and, unbelievably, pity. Nearly all of which have been based on the Scarecrow's faceless appearance; that is to say when his burlap skin is removed, the unfortunately appealing facade prompts women and an alarming amount of men to become aroused. Exhibit one."

TV Crane leaned into the camera, picked it up, aimed it at a stained concrete floor, and carried it to a new spot. When he repositioned the device it showed two men in disheveled business suits gaping in panic between the placid Dr. Crane and the camera's eye. The men had their mouths duct taped shut and their wrists and ankles taped to a pair of stocky wooden chairs. They shouted muffled pleas through the adhesive silver and jerked in their seats. TV Crane nodded understandingly. "Here we see Mr. Henry Hockstent and Mr. Kevin Sullup, owners and producers of the film and magazine industry, Faces in Places. The more physically mature and mentally immature of the patients know this company as the pornographic line featuring celebrity and movie character lookalikes who pose for and act out the customers' fantasies as shown in the weekly polls. Recently these gentlemen had taken into account the patients' unfathomable desire to see the Scarecrow, Joker, Batman, Poison Ivy, Catwoman and countless other costumed personages in compromising positions.

"While Ivy, Catwoman and the newly arrived Harley Quinn have been a popular threesome, their pair-ups have apparently come in second to virtually any photo or film of the Scarecrow and Joker doppelgangers getting carnal." He leaned forward with his eyebrows raised above his lenses, a tsk-tsk glare on his face. "Those patients that have viewed such productions will note that, to top off the insult of being in those images to begin with, the Scarecrow character is positioned as the submissive in. Every. Single. One." He leaned away, took off his glasses and shook them at the screen like a disappointed finger. "This must not continue if the patient is to recover from its more juvenile aspects of delusion concerning the Scarecrow and the rogues gallery in general. My suggested treatment is removing the source of the sexual fodder at one of its most potent sources. I.E. Misters Hocksent and Sullup."

TV Crane stepped out of view and returned toting a yellow constrictor slithering lazily on one arm, another hanging around his shoulders, and a burlap satchel in one hand. TV Crane set the bag on an empty chair and untangled the serpents from him, putting them on the floor before the staring captives. Crane reached into the bag and pulled out four Tupperware bowls of dead, red rat pups. He opened two and dumped one each down the front of the men's shirts. He opened the other two and dumped them onto the men's crotches. Sullup gagged while Hocksent bristled. The yellow constrictors perked up at the smell and began slithering toward them. "It is my professional opinion that the most efficient way to cure or at least reverse the effects of all the patients' delusions," he gestured to the squirming men, the snakes twining up their ankles, "is to make use of Pavlovian training," TV Crane slipped off his glasses and tucked them in his slacks, "in this case ingraining a natural aversion to all things perceived as phallic." He pulled Scarecrow's face from the satchel. "Will such a treatment leave these men unable to return to their profession, let alone look down at themselves in the shower without shrieking and trying to hack off their genders?" Crane slipped the mask over his head. Scarecrow rolled back both sleeves to reveal twin toxin dispensers. "I certainly hope so," he rasped.

He sprayed each man in the face just as the snakes got comfortable in their buffet-coated laps.

They screamed under their silver gags, exploded with tears and tried to thrash, to shake the relatively harmless serpents from their crotches. The snakes ate. Scarecrow stood between them, sharp elbows balancing on the backs of either chair. A few beats passed before the Scarecrow sighed and returned to the camera. Present Crane sighed in unison. How he'd wanted to rip the duct tape off and listen to the terrorized choir… But it would've ruined the upcoming bits of narration.

TV Scarecrow removed his face and set it back in the bag, Crane raking a hand composedly through his hair. The glasses returned and he smiled warily. "I can only hope this is a step in the right direction for the patients, if not their influences. On to the next point of concern." Up went the camera again, the audience being treated to a fleeting glimpse of Sullup bashing the back of his neck against the top of the chair, trying to snap it. Then there was the featureless floor again. Several steps later it was set down to face a young woman sitting unbound and anxious in a wingback chair. To the casual observer she might've resembled Harley Quinn if she'd been vandalized by an anthropomorphic version of Hot Topic. Her face, neck and arms were painted with false stitches, her outfit consisted of a mangled burlap and fishnet dress and torn stockings that even Wonder Woman would find risqué, with a corn husk cross around her neck. She was twirling a strand of hay anxiously between her black-tipped fingers, her smile wide and doggishly eager. The girl looked from him to the camera then back to the doctor searching for something new in his bag.

She began to stand. "Jon, do I say anything yet, or-?" She clapped her hands over her mouth and sat down when he turned to her. He forced an arctic smile at the young lady and tapped a finger against his lips. The girl nodded, crossed her legs and tried to look creepily at the camera. Finally the ex-doctor came up with his quarry, pulling it and the mask out of the burlap's mouth. He waltzed over to the wingback's side and the girl glowed red under her painted stitches.

"This," he set a hand on the girl's shoulder, the girl leaning into his touch, "is a significant sample patient from the menagerie, Miss Patricia Albreck, or as she's redubbed herself," he drummed his fingers against her skin in signal. Patricia cleared her throat as subtly as she could and leveled her best eerie stare and grin at the audience.

"Pandemonia, mistress of fear-to-be." Patricia quirked her head to the side for his reaction. Crane nodded with mechanical approval. Patricia beamed and twisted her bit of hay around her fingers. He pulled his hand from her shoulder and held it out to be taken. She clapped hers into his palm like a shackle and he curled his fingers loosely over her knuckles.

Crane of the present could practically hear the lunatic fringe of Gotham's young ladies hissing curses at the girl. TV Crane continued. "Such was her claim a month ago when I received my last letter from her in Arkham Asylum. And the hundred or so others before that. However the same claims were made by a dozen other young ladies under monikers like Phobia, Phobos, Horror Harlot, and miscellaneous other-." Then Patricia inserted her observational commentary.

"Oh, those whoring, little sluts! Those stupid Hot Topic wannabes drooling after you 'cause all they see is a blue-eyed blowup doll when you're more than just some—some skinny pretty boy, you're more, you're enlightened and—and a fear god and-!" During her rant Crane had pulled out his prizes from behind his back. Scarecrow's face was gripped in one hand beside a small mirror and a scalpel. He pulled his face on, adjusted something on one of his dispensers and cupped that hand against the curve of her jaw, slid down her neck, against her hairline. She went utterly mute as her lipstick-caked mouth worked like a fish's and her pupils swallowed her irises.

"I know, dear, they're all so pathetic. Pining after a convicted lunatic by virtue of his face, his nigh Tim Burtonesque gimmick, their hormones and the certainty that only they understand, only they can save him or join him or bend his heart to the point of homicidal jealousy should one of the boys that never looked them over on a drunken Saturday night glance at them in passing. But not you."

"R-Right. Right, not me, n-not me, I'm Pande-."

"You're different, otherwise I wouldn't have come calling on you for assistance here. Otherwise you would've called the police and not jumped at the chance to tag along with me. Otherwise you'd be as afraid as the rest of them. Too scared, too undedicated to do what had to be done to…to make me unafraid." At that Crane turned his face away and retracted his hand. Patricia whined.

"What? What are you scared of? Is it the birds? I read about the birds and if-." Crane of the present felt tight, hateful nausea rise as it had then and suppressed the urge to punch the infuriating child through the TV, time and space. But TV Crane held fast and gave the girl his most beseeching look.

"Your husk, I can't stand your husk." Patricia blinked deliriously at him, rubbing the spots where he'd stroked her.

"M…My-?"

"Your skin, dear. It frightens me. Your outer beauty is terrifying and it makes me ashamed to wear my true face." He swiftly pulled on his mask and Scarecrow held out the mirror and scalpel to her. "If you'll only cut along your stitches, cut them and peel away your beauty, we can be together. The perfect couple if you'll. Just. Cut." Patricia blinked at him again and her hands reached out awkwardly, faltering. "Love hurts, Pandemonia, and you love me enough to hurt…don't you?" Patricia snatched the mirror and scalpel greedily, her head bobbing as if on a spastic string.

"Okay, okay don't be scared, Jon! I love you, I do, I won't scare you anymore, I promise! I promise, I won't, I won't, won't scare, love you to hurt, hurts to love you, I will, I won't, I love…" With that Patricia returned to her wingback and held the mirror in front of her with one hand, cutting into the first painted stitch on the bridge of her nose.

"I'll return when you're out of your husk, my dear." Patricia uh-huhed and winced as she followed the stitch over her right cheek, leaking fashionable red over her face. Once Scarecrow had taken his fill of voyeurism and was positive she was too enthralled to listen, the face came off. Back into the satchel. He slipped his glasses on and regarded the camera silently. "I believe the results speak for themselves, but to summarize, Lord Tennyson was wrong about loving, losing and its value versus never being so masochistically insane as to love in the first place. Finally we come to the most distressing issue the patients suffer from in relation to the Scarecrow." The camera left its perch and stared at the ground for a longer stretch of time than the former two travels. After nearly a full minute of walking had passed the lighting had died to a deep shade. When the camera stopped and was righted there was a small click, then Crane was awash in the green of night vision. His eyes were luminescent behind the glasses.

"Just a moment…" he whispered. Crane pulled his face away and the audience listened to him vanish behind the camera. His head had been blocking a burly drowsing man in a revolving chair. The man was naked but for his boxers and his mouth, middle and ankles were duct taped with a dark squiggling frown painted over the mouth. Equally dark tear marks had been marked down his cheeks. The bound man was propped up in front of some colossal cage with a ceiling the camera's eye couldn't make out. Finally Crane returned to the screen and whispered, "Apologies for the conditions, but the final treatment involves the most intricate, some might say daring treatment medical practice can allow. This is the final and most regrettable facet of the patients' fantasy, largely the result of one patient's unwise meddling." He gestured at the man before the titanic cave. "Patient Lyle Bolton, former head of security for Arkham Asylum. While not suffering from the exact same psychoses of his fellow patients, Bolton had been laboring under the delusion that the Scarecrow hadn't been a threat since the aforementioned Fear Night and was little more than a waste of manpower. At one point he claimed that Scarecrow and all other 'impotent costumed freaks' only needed a cell with a strong enough lock and a daily battery of beatings.

"As it so happened, Bolton took the latter job upon himself whenever he thought himself unseen. Five weeks ago the Scarecrow took advantage of this and riled him with my own psychiatric analysis of the man—a somewhat Freudian series of implications regarding his own impotence and desire to emulate the Batman—to the point of beating the Scarecrow in front of a security camera. One of my past colleagues, Dr. Leland, witnessed this and had the guard summarily fired. But not before he got in one last unfortunate jab at the Scarecrow. A jab that nearly every patient in the vicinity has taken in and reproduced like a spark on dry kindling. To stop dancing around the subject, yes, Mr. Bolton leaked the documents concerning my childhood. Apparently he grasped just enough psychiatric prowess to know that the resulting onslaught of pity would lance the Scarecrow deeper than any physical blow." Crane gave the camera a restrained glower as he began to unbutton his shirt.

"My childhood was less than ideal as you all well know by now. The children fittingly called me a scarecrow for being so emaciated, the frustrated young men harassed me in puberty and, of course, there was my dear grandmother and her birds. Trained crows that she set on me every single day, or so the leaked records proclaim. Well," Crane dropped his shirt away and his arms and torso stood out in green relief, "here's the first hand proof." Nicks, scrapes, scratches, and gouges stood out in angry scars on the rail thin body, xylophone ribs making one set of talon marks zigzag. "Grandmother was kind enough to lend me a mask and gloves before she set them on me of course. Couldn't have any teachers getting wise with new bits missing on my pretty face or hands after all. I wore both when I killed her, but again, I don't need to repeat any of this to the patients. Until recently the Scarecrow and I had put such memories to bed in favor of focusing on our present careers. But, until recently, the Scarecrow hadn't been thrust into the doting, mollycoddling, simpering, belittling, patronizing, vilifying, demeaning and downright liberal spotlight of the media peanut gallery.

"The day after Bolton released my history to the media outlets the Scarecrow was met with a deluge of pathetically empathetic mail, all from patients claiming it was alright, it was okay, they knew how the Scarecrow felt, it wasn't his fault, he was still loved, he should be in counseling instead of a criminal asylum, et cetera and so forth. Internet forums were created and bloated with followers. Fanart as well. This is to say nothing of the fresh new catcalls the Scarecrow was treated to in the asylum. If you'll forgive the heinous pun," Crane reached off screen and the audience heard the bag rustle. Crane pulled his hands back holding Scarecrow's face and a pair of long latex gloves. He pulled all of them on.

"That was the last straw." Scarecrow walked back to the sleeping Bolton, flashing the black shape of a gun handle in the back of his pants. He pulled a large bucket to the revolving chair's side. Flies buzzed lazily over it. He reached into the bucket and the night vision showed some nondescript dark slime coating the glove past its wrist, a soaking dark sponge in his grip. Scarecrow painted careful, intricate smears over Bolton's face, the muscled man only twitching and murmuring in response. This went on for ten seconds before Scarecrow tossed the sponge aside, hefted the bucket and dumped what had to be blood and several unidentifiable chunks of meat over Bolton's head. The gore drenched the bigger man in a deluge like Gatorade poured over a winning football coach, the man shaking his head fitfully, eyes huge white dots in the green light. Bolton began to swear behind the duct tape and nearly upended the chair when Scarecrow pulled the gun and leveled it between the ex-guard's eyes. Bolton froze and went mute. "In my professional opinion, this could only improve your psychological, intellectual and physical state. But Crane's not doing this for you, it's for the patients. So don't make me ruin this for them. Even I get a humanitarian urge now and then and I don't want to spoil all this progress. So kindly shut up and stay still." And so Bolton did. "Good boy."

Scarecrow holstered the gun and rolled the revolving chair backwards over the open threshold of the cage. There was a distant flapping of wings and a muddled squeak and caw from above. Scarecrow halted the chair in the center of the cage and strolled out, locking the exit behind him. "Just another second. Again, sorry for the lighting issues," Scarecrow disappeared behind the camera and switched off the night vision, "but I wanted the treatment to have its rest first." Far on the unseen left a large switch was thrown and light flooded the scene. To save a great deal of build up, said scene was this: Lyle Bolton duct taped to a chair, glazed with blood and rotten chunks of meat in the middle of a giant aviary with innumerable rows of roosting crows and vampire bats perched near the cage's high ceiling.

Crane of the present sent another mental thanks to Cobblepot and reminded himself to burn the portly man's receipt for delivery after the show was over.

The flying vermin awoke angrily and dove for the now quite noisy and mobile Bolton. He was blotted out by a swarm of flying, cawing, squeaking black. Scarecrow gripped a bar of the cage and propped himself against it. He stared proudly at the sight and his smile practically burned through the burlap. After a moment of reverence Scarecrow tore himself from the cage, approached the camera, yanked it from its spot and walked out of the warehouse.

The camera's eye bobbed at head level now, showing the distant lights of the more populated Narrows buildings. There was a metallic slam and the lethal cacophony and light of the warehouse was cut off. Scarecrow turned the angle and set the camera on a cracked crate sporting an ancient stamp for Metropolis' STAR Labs. On screen Scarecrow grabbed his face and nearly wrenched it off before pausing, the glasses already in hand. The pause passed, Scarecrow kept his face on and he pocketed the glasses. "This was supposed to be the doctor's big wrap up moment with me getting the bare last word in, but I think he can take a rest for now. All that pointless jargon must have gotten grating by now, though I will bring up one of his earlier points. Crane said this," he gestured grandly to the warehouse behind him, "was session two of a possible three, number one being Fear Night and the possible third being this." Out of the satchel came one last goodie: a single clear vial of what looked like vodka.

"This being our latest addition to the medicine line. Now the majority of you, the coherently thinking masses that is, are only intimate with the gas used on Fear Night. The only effect was that the world around you suddenly became terrifying with no rhyme or reason as to why you were soiling yourselves. The world was just spontaneously terrifying. But before my latest incarceration, a lucky few of you got doses of the second medication in all its stunning flavors. You see, I found a way to bottle specific phobias, even ones that the victim never had a passing thought of. By chance I actually managed to abduct a woman with four pet rats and chemically induced severe musophobia. That's fear of rodents for the slow ones in the audience. So far my progress had only reached specially designed terrors in inhalant and injection form. But now I've struck the proverbial jackpot in this." Scarecrow tapped a bloody fingertip against the vial. "This is what one might call the Arm & Hammer of fear toxin—it does everything I've ever hoped for it to do.

"You see, throwing random phobias at you is fun as is, but my main goal has always been on a more personal level, hence the abductions and one-on-one sessions. If any of those abductees were alive or sane enough to tell the story they'd assure it is a very enlightening, nigh spiritual experience. In that they experience their own homegrown nightmares. No manufacturing from me or their environment, just their own personal bogeymen. Dead relatives, animated kitchen knives, whichever horrific childhood character never stayed with their childhood; all of it comes to reality at tenfold. And it can be injected, inhaled or eaten, any way you wouldn't like. I plan on using this in my experiments from now on in whatever close encounters you're unlucky enough to join me in. I want those sessions to be one on one, special in their exclusiveness. But your actions as a whole are making that very hard to adhere to. Bottom line?" Scarecrow bent towards the camera, his bare scars bending and his eyes like iced over steel in the mask.

"If it ever gets back to me that I have been sexualized, romantically pursued, pitied or in any way belittled, I will release this potion en masse. Not just the Narrows. All of Gotham City. I'll go for the whole state if I have to. Do you understand that peons? Whether you get it from washing your hair, or drinking a soda, or getting your shots, or even breathing in that aromatic Gotham smog, you will take this in." Scarecrow tapped the vial again, a fat red dribble running down the glass. "It will hit you after two seconds. Then, out of nowhere, the Joker will pop up in your backseat with a chainsaw and a scar story. Your tie will become a king cobra. You're office will suddenly be full to the ceiling with drowning seawater. The sidewalk will jump up one hundred stories and you'll plummet. Every insect on the eastern seaboard will fly and crawl directly to you, into your eyes, ears, genitalia and probably under your skin and into the folds of your brain. Your spouse and children's flesh will fall off in wet chunks to reveal evil gremlins that you just have to hack to death with a butcher knife. Unless of course they go for your neck first because you aren't the wife, husband or parent anymore, you're the latest greatest serial killer that GTV's been warning the families about. The list goes on as long as your list of fears does. Using that list, your brain will cannibalize itself.

"Incidentally that is the only cure for it—death. Whether by suicide, mercy killings or whichever terrorized citizen murders you thinking you're their demonic abusive father escaped from Hell after ten dead years. Whatever comes first. So endeth the session, Gotham. Don't make us write a prescription." The film ended. Crane let himself chuckle at the bleached, horrorstruck face of Summer Gleeson and listened with only half an ear to her I-must-not-stammer-on-live-TV commentary. He hadn't appreciated the Scarecrow's adlibbing but in hindsight he was a very convincing actor. Of course the only cure for his toxin wasn't death—he'd immunized himself with the antidote some time ago—but this time he'd engineered the compound to be much trickier to reverse. At the very least the Batman would have to spend two, maybe three weeks trying to crack it. Not that it would come to that of course.

A month from now all but the most fanatic of forums, fan works and fictions concerning the Master of Fear would be nonexistent. There would be no fawning or poor-babying from the morning talk shows or Oprah's guest pop psychologists. The only bit of questionably positive media regarding the Scarecrow would be hasty bits of graffiti on brick walls and overpasses from the smattering of broken subjects the villain let live; all of them sobbing and soiling themselves as they sprayed and finger painted Scarecrow's Haunt! No! No! No! Makes the crawlies come! Makes the parts rot! Makes it all! Breaks it all! NONONO! SCARECROW! NONOSCARECROWNO! In that future, as he strolled down those dirty streets in his nondescript jeans and sunglasses, Jonathan Crane had to let a little smile slip at the art.

It was really quite endearing.