Disclaimer: Not my characters, not my world

Warnings: T for pharmacological drug use, mentions of the illegal drug trade, general villainy


Crane's clandestine involvement in the drug industry provided him with enough funds to support his research. Though the situation was somewhat beneath a brilliant chemist, it did mean that flashy, high-profile heists were unnecessary. Bank robberies and the abduction of Gotham's elite were messy affairs that were frequently ruined by the Batman.

Even though Crane mostly managed to stay out of the headlines, his research demanded test-subjects and acquiring them was a dangerous process. The Bat always redoubled his efforts in hunting him down whenever he was onto the testing phase of a compound. The vigilante seemed to hold a particularly strong objection to human trials. Crane had been able to elude him twice in the last month, simply by retreating when it became necessary. Avoidance was better than confrontation as it took up less time that could be better spent on science.

Tonight Crane was keeping his activities as low key as possible. The Batsignal cut through Gotham's perpetual smog and the night felt overshadowed by the presence of the city's protector. However, Crane needed only a few more test subjects to give his latest set of results validity. After that he could go back to the synthesising and compound manipulation stages of his research. He was seldom caught when he wasn't actively destroying the minds of Gotham's citizens—in the pursuit of science, of course.

As undignified as it was, Crane was lurking in an alleyway. The aim of tonight was avoiding detection, so he emulated the unsophisticated muggers and waited for a subject to approach his location. It was crude, but usually effective.

Crane waited patiently for the better part of an hour before he sensed the presence of someone close behind him. He mused on the irony of being assaulted by some petty criminal. They were about to get the most unpleasant surprise of their lives. Crane spun around and sprayed a cloud of toxin into the face of his assailant. There was the usual spluttering which drew a cruel smile to the doctor's face. As the gas dissipated, Crane realised he had gotten the Bat. His smile soured and he prepared to run before the vigilante could utilise whatever fresh inoculant he'd cooked up to counteract the latest toxin variant.

Crane had been using this modified batch for a month now and that was more than enough time for Batman to come up with something to neutralise the effects. It was eternally frustrating. Against his better judgement, Crane lingered at a safe distance to witness the preliminary effects. He had yet to hear the Batman scream and it had become something of a preoccupation.

Nearly a minute passed and the vigilante still hadn't produced an antidote. Crane began to get a little agitated. Surely the toxin wasn't strong enough to interfere with Batman's sense of reality and self-preservation to this extent? The vigilante had almost folded in on himself. He shook slightly and his breathing was harsh. Beneath the cowl his teeth were bared, but he refused to utter a sound. Crane scowled to himself, hating the necessary task of approaching the incapacitated hero.

Crane stalked forward. His footsteps echoed slightly in the alleyway as he circumvented puddles. He stood over the Bat. "Alright, where's your antidote? You're obviously incapable of performing the simplest of menial tasks." He dearly hoped he wouldn't have to navigate the Bat's armour. He hated getting close to people, especially those who routinely ruined everything.

The Bat's gaze flicked up and his eyes widened in panic. This was unproductive. Crane pulled off his mask. "Your antidote: where are you keeping it?" he repeated slowly.

Batman squeezed his eyes shut. "I don't have one. No time," he managed to growl out. His voice was even more rasping and guttural than usual.

"What?" Crane demanded. This was not good. "You don't have anything?"

A quick shake of the head.

Crane ran a hand through his hair and swore viciously and succinctly in German. This was bad. He didn't carry any antidote to specific toxins. It would rather defeat the purpose if he was captured, and he often was. There was not enough time to get anything from his hideout. He had specifically chosen a location away from his refuge for strategic reasons.

The alleyway offered no solutions and neither did staring down at the Bat, who still had eyes shut tightly against whatever hallucinations were plaguing him. A detached part of Crane's mind noted that that wouldn't help as this particular toxin didn't require visual cues from the ocular nerves.

Crane's efficient mind flickered through a myriad of possibilities as he tried to focus. Yes, of course. There was an all-night pharmacy store less than half a street away. It was hardly ideal, but it was his best shot.

"Can you stand?" he asked in a clinical tone.

"None of your business," the Bat growled.

Crane sighed in frustration. "This toxin is fast acting. In around an hour's time there won't be much left of your mind to save."

Batman still managed to glare, even with the toxin sliding through his system. The effects were progressing unusually fast. "Why help?"

"I think I'd prefer to explain myself when there's actually time. So I'll ask again, can you stand?"

The glare held a moment longer before the vigilante gave a sharp nod.

With supreme reluctance, Crane approached his enemy and gingerly helped him to rise. Somehow the Bat ended up leaning against him. The brute was heavy with the weight of his armour and his muscle mass. Crane was eternally grateful that the vigilante was mostly managing to carry his own weight. There was no way that Crane had the capacity to drag him anywhere.

With much heaving, staggering and more esoteric cursing, the two of them managed to get to the pharmacy. Crane had the presence of mind to don his mask again. The sight of the Scarecrow and Batman staggering into the store was enough to inspire panic in the only clerk who was working at that hour. Unfortunately, there wasn't time to enjoy the blatant fear.

"Get out. Don't raise any alarms and I'll let you escape intact," Crane stated in flat voice.

The clerk was frozen with terror. Crane raised his arm and the bright lighting in the store glinted off the edge of the canister beneath his sleeve. The clerk bolted for the door. Crane watched him go with a certain amount of satisfaction before pushing the Batman off his shoulder and letting him slump to the floor near a rack of cough drops.

The doctor wasted no time in plundering the shelves for useful chemicals. He read through long lists of active ingredients and compositions, rapidly assimilating the data. This was crude; this was far, far from ideal, but it was his only chance. Finally, Crane had acquired an eclectic pile of drugs that might just be useful. At this point he would have killed for distillation equipment or even a Bunsen burner and some solvent.

Crane tore open packaging, ground up tablets and emptied capsules as quickly as he could. He spared the occasional glance toward the vigilante. The Bat was strong and holding up surprisingly well, but it was only a matter of time before he succumbed to the toxin and if he died… No, Crane refused to entertain the possibility.

After ten minutes of furious and slapdash chemistry Crane had something that approximated useful. If the powered tablet cocktail had been produced in the correct ratios, it should be able to inhibit some signalling pathways in the brain and promote clearance of his toxin. It would also counteract some of the symptoms as a competitive antagonist against adrenaline. It was by no means an antidote, but it would keep the Bat alive and undamaged and give him enough time to acquire a real antidote. Crane decided that he'd leave a sample of his latest toxin to facilitate this.

The doctor approached the vigilante. He was careful to make sure he was holding his mask rather than wearing it. Batman's breathing was fast and shallow and he did not look good. Crane knelt beside him, keeping his movements slow and deliberate. For a moment his hand hovered over the vigilante's cowl. He thought better of it. The information wouldn't do him any good and he was sure that just taking it off wouldn't be that simple. Brute or not, the Bat was smart enough to have set traps. Instead, the doctor held the product of his labours below Batman's nose.

"This is going to help. Breathe deep, Bat-man, because you need to inhale enough to get this past the blood brain barrier." Crane didn't know why he bothered to explain the pharmacokinetics to someone who was clearly out of it. However something must have gotten through because the vigilante leaned forward and took a large, gulping breath.

Crane took a moment to grudgingly admire the Batman's will power. He had fought his way through the hallucinations and his honed instincts to follow instructions from someone that he had every right to mistrust. On some level he must still have retained the logic to realise that if Crane had wanted to harm him he would have, without doing something this elaborate. Perhaps he simply realised that there wasn't a lot Crane could give him that would make things worse. Either way, his presence of mind under these circumstances was impressive. He must have had formal training.

The doctor almost held his breath as he waited for the drugs to take effect. Gradually the dark knight stopped shaking and his gaze became just a little bit clearer. He was still weak and appeared to be watching things that weren't there, but he'd survive intact. Crane sighed with relief and put his mask back on. He smirked at the way the Bat flinched. Not a total loss, then.

The vigilante's gaze eventually focused on Crane "Why?" he managed to rasp.

"Why help you? I thought that would be obvious. If I kill you, then my life is forfeit. The Joker has made that blatantly obvious to all the Rogues. I would love nothing more than to see you scream yourself to death under the influence of a nice large dose of toxin. However, I would not enjoy the slow, painful and horribly creative death that would follow. It's self-preservation, Batman. You are the safest person in Gotham because not even the most determined villains are insane enough to cross that psychopathic clown."

Even behind the mask, Crane seemed lost in his own musings. "It's strange, I don't know if he wants to break you, worship you or just keep acting out these elaborate games. I don't even think he knows exactly what he wants from you. Either way, I don't envy your position. If I was capable of the slightest bit of empathy, I might even pity you." Crane shrugged.

Batman's expression was completely closed down, but his eyes held an odd ferocity. Even Crane's psychiatry training couldn't help him decipher the look.

"Anyway, make sure you carry beta blockers and ACE inhibitors the next time you tangle with me. They won't help much, but they should at least keep you alive long enough to get a proper antidote. Or better yet, do your homework and actually have an antidote on hand. This little adventure of ours was demeaning and I'd rather not have to repeat it."

Crane stood and walked toward the automatic doors.

"Joker is going to rot in Arkham," Batman growled after him.

"That might have been the case under the previous director, but the new administrators are a bunch of clowns," the doctor called back without breaking stride.