A/N: I missed Crane's transition from Dr Crane to the Scarecrow in Batman Begins, so I wrote my own version of how it might have happened. I'm sure it had been somewhere inside him already, Crane just needed a proper booster. I took a few parts from my finished story Black, Black Heart and edited them. I have wanted to do this for a while, to expose this particular portion of my finished piece like this, while making it completely individual and independent of the original. The possibilities regarding Crane's completed "villanization" (is this even a word?) in Batman Begins and what his fears might be are one of my favorite things to think about, so I really wanted to isolate that part of the story. (It might even want to make you read Black, Black Heart. Yes, this is shameless advertizing.)
References: New Earth story arc (Crane's past), John Milton's Paradise Lost (Pandemonium as the capital of Hell).
Disclaimer: DC Comics own Cranezy. I only own this particular one-shot.
"A taste of your own medicine...doctor?"
A wave of overpowering nausea was the first thing he felt, and then, the sensation turned into fire, so hot and so demanding that it rendered him entirely helpless. His hands would not move according to his wishes, and neither would his eyes, his lips, his legs, or any of his limbs. Even the smallest tissues and fibers of his physical body protested against movement and grew numb, then completely petrified, as the green, snarling monster bored into his face with its fantastic, preternatural eyes. It threatened him with every breath, with every rough touch.
Get a grip on yourself! He screamed inwardly. It's not a monster, it's the man who calls himself the Batman.
His heart was beating thunderously, pounding against his ribs, trying to escape his chest through the burning throat. His throat was on fire, scalding, unbearable fire. If he could just swallow...He couldn't; the muscles in his throat were too contracted, and his tongue was absolutely useless. And in his head, he saw himself screaming in agony, shouting profanities and pleading – threatening – to be released from the grip of fear. One more scream and his head would explode. And then, as he tried to swallow again, for he positively had to swallow, the monster approached his face, sending off the vibes of horrible intrusion and reeking dread, and its obsidian eyes demanded attention.
It's a hallucination, from the toxin... Not a lethal dose... Just a hallucination. It's not real, not real, not real!
Yet as the monster breathed into him, the black smoke of its insides enveloping his thin frame cruelly, it was more than real and no assurance of his own mind could convince him otherwise. He wanted to ask it, Who are you?, but he could not. His mouth was terribly and painfully dry.
But somehow, he knew.
He was looking into the ugly face of Fear himself. He was looking into the eyes of Fear incarnate.
Crane's eyes widened and he could not take his staring gaze off the ugly, slimy face of doom.
Fear himself? Fear himself...
He began to struggle in the iron grip of the monster, but it shook him and pushed his back against the wall behind him. He could feel his spine groan in pain and the pain was welcome, for it was the last and only proof that he was still alive and only hallucinating.
"Who are you working for?" the monster snarled. It truly was Fear himself, it was; it had to be.
Crane felt entirely exposed. Fear was making him vulnerable. Now there was nothing left for him, or of him, absolutely nothing. He was an empty carcass.
Involuntary, unwanted images began to flash before his eyes. They were images of a small boy, cowering in a corner of a big closet, behind heavy winter coats, listening to the yelling and threats of his father. They were images of a small boy, cowering in a corner of the school toilet for boys, hiding from the bullies who beat him. A youngster beaten to a pulp. Pumpkins smashed on his head. A twirling fairy of a girl who betrayed him. Treacherous smiles. A youngster screaming Never again! Invisible, metaphorical blood on his hands. Blood of triumph. Blood of his victims. And now, this. He'd come so far and now – this. He could almost...cry.
"Who are you working for Crane?" Fear spat through his teeth, ready to strike at any moment.
Those who flew high fell very low and now he was one of those wretched creatures. From a boy to a bully to a master of fear and now back again, down the road in reverse, from a master of fear to a little frightened boy. The truth was unbearable.
"Ra's al Ghul," Crane whispered, trying to ignore the voice, trying to please Fear.
"Ra's al Ghul is dead," Fear retorted, not pleased in the slightest, which made Crane shudder inwardly.
"Who are you working for?" Fear repeated and Crane knew that a wrong answer might just cost him his life.
He hesitated one moment too long and Fear showed his displeasure. "Crane!" he groaned loudly and Crane's knees wavered dangerously. He was just not himself. He had to shut out the hallucination. He had to. This could not go on, this show of him suddenly becoming a victim.
"Dr Crane isn't here right now," he stated weakly, his voice trembling, "but if you'd like to make an appointment..."
Fear did not agree. He was not humored. But the sound of shrieking sirens chased the beast away at last and although he shoved the victim of his blackness against the dirty, debris-covered, wet ground with bruising force, Crane felt relief. And now, he could drown in the devil's water in peace. There was nothing left for him. The toxin was working its venomous magic on his brain and he was good for nothing. The irony of it.
He heard the whisperings of the truth in the vaults of his frozen world of subconsciousness. That bat, he thought with disgust, stripped him of his essence. If Jonathan Crane was not fearsome, he was nothing. His life was, quite frankly, one yawning vacancy and he would never have thought of it before, had it not been for the self-righteous rodent. All he had was fear and his job, and if someone took that away, he would become a nobody.
"No," Crane whispered, choking out the simple word with great difficulty. The world around him was spinning inside a mass of ugly colors, brown and black, dirty green and obnoxiously purple. He was falling apart, and the musings of his subconscious world were not helping him in the slightest. The pest of the bat fried his brains. So what did he have right now? Nothing. The power was in the mind and now it was stolen from him.
Crane sighed and tried to roll over to his side, trying to escape himself, but he was not even given this one chance. The Gotham police officers began to invade the cellar, arresting the patients he himself had declared insane for the sake of Carmine Falcone, and now they were approaching him.
He had been taking the matter of fear too carefully. He wanted to be in control, he wanted to be off the radar, but he should have been bold. It was not too late, was it? He could still be bold. No more emptiness and no more chances of feeling fear ever again, just triumph and the power of being truly fearsome. He forgot his purpose in a tailor-made suit and a wholly academic environment. He loved all that, but it was simply not enough. Something had been missing and now he finally knew what it was.
Stop pretending to be a Scarecrow. Be the Scarecrow, his mind chanted.
Two police officers came to the spot where he was lying and lifted him up roughly, handcuffs at the ready. But they had no idea, absolutely no damn idea about what he'd just been through. He had just had a taste of his own medicine, and humiliation was not all he had suffered. He had been torn apart and ripped open, exposed and laid bare before his very eyes. He had been made vulnerable and the horrible, true realizations he has just learned about his own emptiness and meaninglessness were terribly overwhelming. All those years of struggle and control for nothing! The mask was just a poor prop, like he was. He began to shudder, feeling insane, so absolutely torn apart, destroyed and insane.
Because of a bat. He treated people who thought they were someone else. It felt as if he had been bettered by a patient.
He smirked to himself, then allowed his lips to stretch into a wide grin. The next thing he felt were his lungs expanding in loud, roaring laughter. It was laughter of pure despair, but he knew that to an outsider, it sounded, and looked, like the laughter of an absolute, crazy maniac. The sort of maniac that made people frown and whisper to each other, Look, now that one's a bit cuckoo.
He imagined his patients and esteemed colleagues saying that, and it made him laugh even harder. His laughter stirred the police officers into action. They called for help and before he knew it, he was being pushed against the ground and laid on his quivering chest. He wouldn't make things easy for them; no, he wouldn't, so he began to wriggle and fight back. He was not as helpless and weak as they had thought him to be. He made them struggle with him, alright, and when they were finished with their chore, they were panting and sweat was trickling down their faces. He was defeated, bound by a straitjacket, but at least he made them perspire with exertion. How many times had he prescribed the use of a straitjacket for his patients? The irony of it! So he laughed a bit more, and by the time three orderlies put him into an empty cell and two doctors came to his side, one of them a co-conspirator by the name St Clair, he was so spent that he had to stop. Lucky St Clair, he was not in the cellar when it was invaded. Lucky St Clair.
Laughter was an agreeable alternative to tears of anger and despair, and it worked. Now he was dry of any regrets and he could rest.
He opened his eyes as something sharp pierced his skin. He thought it might have been a mosquito, for all he knew, but then a warm, tingling sensation spread through his upper arm, the piercing object retreating, and he knew someone had injected him with a medication. He looked up slowly and saw St Clair looming above him, a blurry mass. He blinked once, then remembered he was without his glasses. But it didn't matter, nothing mattered anymore. He smirked, resting the back of his head against the wall. He felt stiff, the straitjacket constricting every muscle in his body, but still, he had enough energy left to smirk at the mess he had become. Victor one day, loser the next.
"Crane?" St Clair whispered. "I gave you the anti-dote."
Crane laughed feebly. "Why would you do that?" he asked hoarsely.
He did not want to be entirely sane; he did not want to be lucidly aware of himself, for he was a failure, an utter failure. Under the effects of the toxin, he at least thought his situation was funny, but by sobering up his mind, St Clair took even that comfort from him.
St Clair raised his eyebrows in surprise. "We need you to be completely yourself for this. He's called me. It's happening tonight. He will need you, Crane, so don't you back out now."
St Clair knelt by his side and gripped at the straitjacket. "Crane, Sergeant Jim Gordon is on his way here to question you. You know better than to tell him anything, right?"
Crane was hardly listening to him. He was paying attention to the inner workings of his body now. He had tasted the effects of his toxin; now, he was tasting the effects of the anti-dote and they were both marvelous and terrible. His body seemed to be on fire, but the fire did not burn him. It invigorated him, sang inside him, made him feel like he could do anything, had it not been for the straitjacket. He had not felt so extraordinary, so good, so alive, in years, if ever. He wanted to burst out of the confines of the straitjacket like a super hero. At the same time, his mind was clearing up, shaping back into its old self, and that sensation he could not stand. His predicament did not feel ironic and funny anymore; it was simply dire and it made him sick, so awfully sick.
"Crane?" St Claire persisted, shaking him a little as if trying to wake him up.
"Yes," Crane hissed. "Leave me now," he demanded, not looking at St Clair for a second. He hated St Clair, he hated this asylum, he hated Gotham and he hated himself.
He was perfectly lucid now, mind and body, and he fully understood what had happened to him. He felt the gaping, yawning vacancy in his soul – or the lack thereof, he thought bitterly. In his previous state, he would have laughed at his mental remark, but not now. All these years he had prided himself on being the master of fear, but in truth, he had been afraid all that time. Afraid. All. That. Time. Afraid of trusting anyone ever again, afraid of getting attached, afraid of caring about anything and anyone. He was still that boy who was bullied at school, only that now, he was a boy with a good education who pretended to be scary. He thought he was uncaring, while he was simply hiding behind his mask of fear, instead of being the fear.
He had been so blinded and he hated that. He hated his own stupidity, his own naivety; for he had been extremely naive in believing that he had conquered his past. If someone had asked him right now, "Who are you, Crane?", he would not have been able to reply. As he struggled with the reply, the emptiness inside him deepened, a palpable entity that scratched at his insides like a demon cat. Because the reply was that Dr Jonathan Crane, PhD and MD, head of Arkham, was nothing.
But it was time to remedy that. Something had snapped inside of him the previous night. Something had spoken in him and needed to make a new move. He was the master of fear; he would only have to start acting like him. And the answer had to be: Scarecrow. Crane knew and felt that only the Scarecrow could fill the void that was causing him pain. The time of politeness and self-control was over. It was time for a new era and it would have to begin on this evening, when a great metropolis would fall on her knees, and most of it was his own doing.
He smiled to himself. He already felt a little better.
"Time to play."
Crane looked up at the man who said the words. He felt exhausted from being constricted for so long by means of a straitjacket. The man's companion walked to Crane and cut open the straitjacket with a knife.
"Can you cut the sleeves at my wrists, please?"
The man said nothing. He was a trained dog and he obeyed. Crane liked that. Once the man was done, Crane stood up carefully, his rigid muscles stretching painfully, but it was the sort of pain that brought relief. The straitjacket looked like a tramp's coat on him, but he did not want to take it off. He wanted the straitjacket to be a reminder of what he had lost, as well as gained, in the course of twenty-four hours.
He had faced his fears – the fear of fear itself, from which stemmed all of his smaller fears. He crushed them all, like useless, insignificant bugs, and now, he was ready to begin anew, truly anew. He was not just Jonathan Crane anymore. He was the Scarecrow as well. He was both men, not separately, but at the same time. He was complete because he was not afraid anymore. The burlap mask was not his shield any longer. It had become his weapon of destruction. Things were finally as they always should have been. He smiled and walked out of the cell, into the crowd of inmates trailing down the hallways. He felt like a king walking through his palace, among his subjects, only that his courtiers were madmen and fear was his scepter.
He did not look to the left or to the right, but kept his gaze forward, slithering past the inmates. The toxin was not in the air yet, but some of the inmates splayed their backs against the walls in fear of him. They knew who he was, the Scarecrow of their nightmares, and he felt as if nothing could stop him.
Finally, he was outside in the brisk winter air and the sable sky was dotted with a myriad of diamond-like stars. It was a beautiful night – perfect for destruction. He saw St Clair run to him, cradling a gas mask in his hands.
"Crane," he panted. "They will start in two minutes."
Then, he handed Crane his cell phone. "Here, take my cell. Ra's al Ghul wants you to call him."
Crane smirked. "He can handle it himself. He only has to push a button. That is not too much to do for one man, or is it?"
St Clair gaped at him in shock and Crane continued, pleased with himself. "Tonight, St Clair, I intend to spread fear my way."
He flashed a smile at a confused St Clair and walked away, pulling the burlap mask over his head. Then, fear rippled in the air. It reached him first in sporadic waves and then with more momentum, spreading through the streets like an epidemic. He felt a thrilling sensation in his chest. His toxin was beginning to contaminate the air of the Narrows and then it would slowly spread its poisonous tentacles all over Gotham. It had begun. Gotham, the ugly wart of the East Coast, was crumbling to its knees and Crane felt ecstatic.
He watched in wonder as one by one, people ran past him, hysterical and screaming. When they noticed him, they screamed even more.
They scream and they cry, he mused contentedly.
He saw a police officer jump off his horse shrieking, probably thinking that the animal was a strange beast. The horse pranced to a stop and looked around itself in ignorance. The animal was not affected; his toxin was designed for the human race alone. Suddenly, he had a vision of a victor sitting proudly on the back of his charger, observing the chaos he had created. He wanted that. He felt inspired to do just that. He could not say why exactly, but he simply had to do it.
He had a strange professor when he was specializing in psychiatry. That professor was a great supporter of therapy with animals and every intern was required to go through seven riding lessons together with abused children. Crane never considered the thought that his basic riding skills would prove to be useful to him one day. He walked over to the horse and, sensing the animal's approval, climbed on its back.
And so, he rode through the Narrows, spreading fear with great enthusiasm, feeling absolutely elated. He cornered individuals and made them scream until some of them even lost consciousness before they managed to fully lose their minds. Behind the mask, his lips were arched into a contented, arrogant smile – the smile of a man who felt his own invincibility.
And tonight, the world was made in his image. Pandemonium was the capital of Hell and Gotham took its place.
Tonight, the world of Gotham was Pandemonium at last.
My masterpiece of fear.
Reviews are welcome.
(And in my world, this is where the story ends because a villain like Crane just doesn't get tasered like some lame crook, although he does very much deserve it.)
P.S. Cranezy fic recommendation - Last Straw by WTFWonder. This is a must-read one-shot for Crane fans, as Crane proves to everyone very efficiently that he ain't no pretty boy (with poor grammar) just because he has baby-blue eyes, for in fact he is a force to be reckoned with.