Crane rose from his chair. He set some water to boil in the kitchen and went to retrieve his first aid kit from the bathroom. The Joker remained sitting. He fiddled with one of his knives but his attention was clearly focused on the doctor. He even went so far as to let his head loll over the back of the chair whenever Crane walked behind him.
Eventually the medical materials were laid out and Crane returned to his seat across from his uninvited guest. The doctor mixed some antiseptic into the bowl of hot water. Twisting his arm around, Crane removed the blood crusting over the wound with a wad of gauze dipped into the solution. On inspection, the wound wasn't particularly deep. Thankfully it wouldn't require stitches.
Crane began to wrap the bandage around his arm. It was not the easiest manoeuvre to undertake one-handed, but he would not under any circumstances ask the Joker for assistance. Crane was contemplated tightening the binding with his teeth when the Joker leant across the table. The knife had been set aside and the doctor managed to control the instinct to flinch. The clown tightened the bandage with surprising efficiency. As he drew back he let his fingertips brush down the inside of Crane's arm. The flexor surface of the arm was a vulnerable place as the nerves and blood vessels ran close to the surface. Crane shot a suspicious look in the Joker's direction, but the clown merely smiled.
Crane was feeling reasonably tolerant toward the Joker at this point, all things considered. Scarecrow, on the other hand, wasn't feeling quite so gracious. Though he couldn't determine the exact cause, the doctor did manage to deduce that his counterpart was not pleased. It was a little disconcerting because his presence felt very close. In these instances, bad moods could be somewhat contagious between the two halves.
'Scarecrow?' Crane hazarded.
There was a shift in Scarecrow's presence, but no reply. It wasn't as if Scarecrow was sulking or deliberately not speaking to him. There were more effective ways of doing that and they mostly involved Scarecrow withdrawing as far from the active consciousness as he could. This was an attempt at containing anger. It wasn't something that Scarecrow was particularly good at.
Crane was jolted out his introspection when the Joker spoke. "You're being pretty quiet there, doc."
"I just don't feel like filling every second with mindless chatter. But don't let that stop you. It usually doesn't."
The Joker feigned a look of deep hurt. "Now that's just hostile. Usually the venom's more affectionate."
Crane flashed an irate look in the Joker's direction before returning to the task of repacking the first aid kit. "Affectionate? I didn't think you were that delusional."
The Joker's expression went a little dark. "Now you're just being clumsy. I also warned you about the whole implying insanity thing."
Crane took a deep breath to compose himself. It was not sensible to bait the clown and it was beneath Crane's dignity to succumb to emotion so readily, let alone emotion that was probably originating from his other half. "I apologise. I must be a little distracted."
The Joker's eyes were narrowed, but now they widened in disbelief. "You apologise? Okay, now that's just… that's just weird."
Crane shrugged his right shoulder without looking up from his task.
"I know Scary can have mood swings, but—" the Joker trailed off as he noticed the way Crane's expression tightened minutely. The tell was incredibly subtle but it did not escape the Joker's attention. "So it's Scarecrow who's feeling grumpy," he observed.
The doctor didn't deign to reply.
"Let me talk to him," the Joker prompted.
"I don't think he wants to talk."
The Joker raised an eyebrow. "Sulking?"
"No, not sulking," Crane spoke slowly, almost to himself.
The Joker shrugged. Then with one quick movement drew a knife and buried it in the tabletop a hair's breadth from Crane's hand.
"What the hell are doing?" the doctor shouted.
The Joker watched Crane's expression for a moment and shrugged again. "The fear thing usually works," he stated casually.
Adrenaline surged in Crane's system. He nearly shook with a potent mixture of rage and fear. The doctor bit back an accusation of insanity in favour of glaring and trying to slow his heart rate. The Joker's only response was a few giggles. However, Scarecrow's attention was now fixed on the clown.
'Scarecrow?' Crane tried again.
Yes, Jonathan? Scarecrow's tone did not inspire Crane's confidence.
'What exactly is bothering you?'
The clown wants to talk. I think we should talk.
'I have the strangest sense that that would end rather unfavourably.'
There was a moment of silence from Scarecrow then, I'll behave.
I was already injured once today and I know how well he can fight.
'That didn't stop you before,' Crane pointed out bluntly.
I didn't feel like talking before.
Crane sighed. He was going to regret this, but he did not want to fight to keep Scarecrow quiescent. Besides, this was better than Scarecrow's badly suppressed anger bleeding into Crane's organised thoughts.
'Well, don't start anything. I've just finished packing up the first aid kit.'
There was a smirk from Scarecrow. He didn't bother to verbalize a response as he gained control.
The Joker was staring intently at the way Scarecrow's smirk slid across the doctor's face. While it was an obvious change in the Joker's opinion, objectively speaking, it was a reasonably subtle difference. It was mostly that the Joker was unusually good at seeing things that were really there.
"Hello, clown," said Scarecrow.
The Joker smiled. "I hope there are no hard feelings about our little tussle."
"I'll get over it."
"A good choice." The underlying threat in the Joker's tone set Scarecrow's teeth on edge, but he stamped down on his aggressive urges. He was here to talk.
"I was pretty impressed by the way you fixed your shoulder up. The doc's know-how and your resilience, I assume," the Joker continued blithely, his gaze wandering over the medical supplies.
"Something like that."
The Joker leant forward and stared hard at Scarecrow's face. "So what's got you so riled up?"
Scarecrow was not the least bit perturbed by the lightning change in the clown's demeanour. He leant froward too, his arms extended across the table. The villains' fingertips almost brushed. "Just because Jonathan's not paying attention, doesn't mean that you can distract me so easily."
"Can you be a bit more specific? There have been a lot of distractions lately." The Joker's gaze dropped down a fraction to focus on Scarecrow's lips. Scarecrow scowled at the implications. It was hard to behave when the Joker was deliberately trying to goad him. Admittedly it was a mild provocation, but then, it didn't take much to annoy the Scarecrow.
"I still don't know what your game is exactly, but I know that you've achieved something here. You've gotten to him," Scarecrow accused.
There was a certain gleam in his eyes as the Joker smirked. "I thought I had. I won't be sure until later."
Scarecrow was seconds away from lunging across the tabletop despite Jonathan's warnings.
"You can attack if you want, I really don't mind," the Joker explained, "but I'm not the only one who's achieved something here."
That made Scarecrow pause.
"Anyway, as much fun as all this has been, keeping below the radar has been a bit… stressful. Batsy is clearly having trouble with the cops, so I'm going to help with that. By the time I'm done with Gotham, allegedly murderous vigilantes won't really be their top priority."
Scarecrow stared hard at the Joker. He suspected there was a punch line to go with the explanation.
"Since you don't seem to want the attention, I'll be out of your hair," the Joker clarified.
"Gotham's been languishing without me and the Bat is probably beside himself with worry." The Joker shook his head sadly. "And when I'm out there being useful, I don't tend to stay in one place for very long. It's just not practical."
Scarecrow and Crane were both stunned. Silence stretched while the shock faded.
'Does that sate your anger, Scarecrow?' Crane enquired.
I guess so. Scarecrow actually sounded somewhat put out.
'I think the Joker was right about you and mood swings.'
Scarecrow bristled half-heartedly.
'I have some questions for him. Why don't I talk and give you a chance to brood.'
Scarecrow scowled but acquiesced. It was clear that Jonathan was still a little wound up about him fighting with the Joker. Either that or he was worried about a repeat performance. Scarecrow also didn't make a fuss because he was secretly impressed by the way Jonathan could get nasty without needing to turn things into a physical confrontation.
"That was quick," the Joker commented as he was once again faced with the ex-psychiatrist. "Does it count as a mood swing if you and Scary switch around?"
Crane ignored the Joker's inane question. "So you are actually going to go on your way and leave me in peace?" he asked. Crane couldn't hep but doubt the Joker's sincerity. Things had been steadily approaching some sort of peak and now this? The Joker may be unpredictable, but this was beyond surprising.
The Joker nodded. "If by peace you mean boredom, then yes."
Crane was silent for a moment before he spoke. If the Joker was to be believed, this would be the last chance to ask the most obvious question. Crane did not expect a straightforward answer, but with the Joker, one never knew.
"I know that everything is chaos with you. I know you've been trying to push and twist and get to me. While I don't expect a coherent answer, just what were you trying to achieve here?" the doctor asked.
The Joker smiled. "I'm surprised you haven't worked it out, doc. All this time, you were obsessing about getting me a little closer to fear, your chosen area of expertise. Didn't it occur to you that I might want the exact same thing? That mostly I've been interested in brining you a little closer to chaos? It's uh, kind of arrogant to assume that you're the only one who wants to leave a mark."
"You see, Scarecrow isn't the only one who can remind me of myself. It's one of the reasons that I've left you two mostly intact."
While Crane continued to stare, the Joker rose from his seat. The doctor tried to process the notion of receiving such a direct answer. The shock was so acute that he wasn't even irritated by the comparison. After another moment's hesitation Crane rose too. Escorting the Joker to the door was almost a surreal experience. Even stranger was the absence of serious damage left in the clown's wake.
At the door, the Joker rummaged through his coat and retrieved a small knife. Even the dull lighting in the apartment caused the metal to glint. The Joker took good care of his knives. Crane tensed, but instead of any sort of violent outburst, the Joker spun the knife in his fingers and presented it hilt first. "Here, doc."
Crane regarded the knife dubiously, making no move to take it.
"Come on, it's a gift," the Joker insisted.
Crane raised an eyebrow, but he took the proffered blade. It would probably be a bad idea to rebuff the Joker's…thoughtfulness.
The doctor was about to placed the knife down somewhere when he noticed an important detail. The blade was familiar. It was small and razor sharp so that a patient would barely feel the incision—
"This is the knife I used on you when I was treating your wound," Crane asserted quietly.
The Joker was grinning. "Yep, if I ever need some emergency slicing and dicing, I'll find you."
Crane found that statement somewhat ominous. Only a gift from the Joker could be something simultaneously a promise and a threat. The doctor absently turned the knife over in his hands a few times. He didn't even notice the Joker's scrutiny. This gesture needed a reply. He wasn't going to let the clown know that he'd been taken off guard. Inspiration struck.
Crane put the knife down and went to his laboratory. The Joker tilted his head to one side to watch the doctor go. He couldn't be sure what Crane was doing and that was the fun part.
It only took a few minutes for the doctor to retrieve what he wanted. Once more in the Joker's presence, Crane held up a small unmarked vial containing a transparent solution. It was securely capped.
"For you," the doctor explained.
The Joker didn't hesitate when he took the vial. "Fear toxin?" he guessed.
Crane smiled a thin smile. "No. It's 14 molar, concentrated sulphuric acid. H2SO4 in shorthand, though I'm quite certain you know that."
The Joker laughed. "That's a good one!"
When his laughter petered out, the Joker looked thoughtfully at the vial. "This stuff could be pretty dangerous if it was used a bit… recklessly."
The doctor tried not to think about what he may have just unleashed. It wasn't as if it was his problem. "There are more corrosive compounds available, but sulphuric acid is a nasty dehydrator. Just remember that it could do as much damage to you as to anyone else."
The Joker nodded, but he was still staring at the vial and it was unlikely that he was really listening. He glanced back at Crane. "It's been fun, doc." There was a pause and the clown appeared to think for a moment. "How about a kiss goodbye?"
"Absolutely not," Crane replied without hesitation.
The Joker smirked. "But we were getting on so well."
"That's one way of putting it." Crane adjusted his glasses and sighed. Then he murmured something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like a reprimand. The next moment the Joker was no longer facing Crane.
"That's interesting," the clown mused.
Scarecrow shrugged. "He's not compromising with you, Joker, he's compromising with me."
The Joker's smirk deepened. "You wanted to say goodbye?"
Scarecrow stepped forward with a smirk of his own. He gripped the lapels of the Joker's coat. The clown responded by placing one hand on Scarecrow's hip and the other on his freshly bandaged arm. Scarecrow winced at the tight grip but ignored the flare of pain in favour of crushing his lips against the Joker's. If this was a goodbye kiss, then it would be a good one.
Scarecrow was seized by a restlessness that he seldom experienced. It was hard to find a place to settle his hands. He'd brush fingertips up the Joker's face only to tangle them in his green-tinged hair the next moment. He sank his teeth into the Joker's lip hard enough to draw blood and then swiped his tongue across the wound. The Joker seemed infected by a similar sort of impatience. One minute his hand would dance up Scarecrow's ribs and the next he'd be digging ragged nails into the small of his back.
Maybe this was chaos. There was certainly a tang of fear—a necessary consequence of anything involving the Joker. But perhaps it was just that Scarecrow would miss having a volatile playmate. In the end, Scarecrow wasn't Crane, so analysis slipped away and he just enjoyed the sensation.
The villains pulled back. The Joker ran a hand through his hair and gave a breathless laugh. Scarecrow tried to demonstrate the composure of his counterpart. He wasn't particularly successful. There was an indefinite moment as the Scarecrow and the Joker merely regarded one another.
It was Scarecrow who broke the peculiar silence. "Good luck with Gotham. And the Bat."
The Joker nodded. "Thanks, Scary. Maybe I'll see you around."
The door opened, closed.
Both Crane and Scarecrow reflected for a moment before the doctor regained control and went to work in his lab. As interesting a diversion as the Joker's mind had been, there was experimentation to undertake. Research took precedence, always…
…but maybe, just maybe there was a chance that Crane would actually try to make the headlines again and watch Gotham prostrate itself in abject fear. It would certainly be interesting from a scientific standpoint, on such a large scale. With a few modifications and a little experimentation, he was sure he could come up with a toxin that could produce some particularly entertaining effects.
Thank you, all