A/N: On the "Ask the Squishykins" tumblr, Twinings and I are currently offering ourselves up for two full weeks of filling fic prompts for our readers, varying in length from a hundred to a thousand-plus words. The project has been dubbed the Free For All Fic For All—or FFAFFA for short. This is one of those stories—and this is the boilerplate author's note you'll see on all of 'em. The current round of FFAFFA runs until July 15th, so if you want a custom fic written to any particular specifications, drop by and ask for it!
Prompt: The prompts are spoilery, so I've saved them for the end.
Georgetown, Washington DC, October 31st
The sprained ankle wasn't so bad, really, and wasn't the worst thing Jonathan Crane had ever hobbled away on, but it certainly made moving through the city more difficult. Bad enough that he was stranded in a large and unfamiliar metropolitan area. Worse still that it was a holiday and the streets were crawling with trick-or-treaters of all sizes and their guardians. Even worse than that, he had run out of fear toxin, and that was positively intolerable.
It might not have been so bad if he'd been in Gotham, where he kept safe houses full of supplies scattered all over the city. It might not have even been so bad if he weren't in Gotham and he had Batman on his heels…but the vigilante who pursued him was not Batman, and was certainly not a superhero sworn to protect the sanctity of human life no matter how villainous that life might be. No. Washington DC's protector was an insufferably self-righteous brat, a political-science one-oh-one major in a mask who thought he knew the way the world worked, and he had no qualms whatsoever about excessive force.
Crane had been too busy being dangled from the roof of a building to bother catching the youth's name, and then too busy being dropped to care. That shook him more than he wanted to admit; Batman never would have dropped him. Superman or Wonder Woman might have, just to teach him a lesson, but either of them would have been sure to catch him before he hit the ground. The whelp dropped him and just…watched him bounce. He had hit the edge of a fire escape on the way down and then the lid of a dumpster before landing flat on his face in a bag of leaves. It was miraculous that he didn't have a chest full of broken ribs. It was more miraculous still that he managed to escape with just a sprained ankle.
He counted himself incredibly lucky, and considered that maybe fortune was on his side for once. Having managed to drag himself to his feet and out of the alleyway before the vigilante could give chase, he stumbled right into a Halloween parade. The clump of costumed children and adults welcomed him with open arms and he fell into step, making a point to move as close to the middle of the marchers as possible.
Crane stripped off his mask as he limped along, knowing that only the anonymity of his ordinary face would save him from being spotted. His costume was torn, but he wore his street clothes underneath—a crisp white shirt and black slacks—so he stripped that off as well when the opportunity presented itself. A teenage boy dressed as Superman didn't notice when his red cape disappeared from his shoulders, he was so enamored with his equally unobservant date, and an old lady throwing party favors to the watching crowd was all too willing to give him one of the pairs of fake vampire teeth in her large Jack o' Lantern bucket. A sleepy little Zatanna, slung over her father's shoulder, didn't seem to mind when he stole the clip-on bow tie out from under her chin and put it on.
He slipped off his glasses and tucked them in his pocket, made a point to smooth down his hair as much as he possibly could, and popped the too-small teeth in his mouth. He probably looked ridiculous, a grown man pushing forty dressed like a vampire, but at least he didn't look like the Scarecrow.
The rooftops were low enough for him to watch them surreptitiously, and he saw a dark, long-necked shape in the shadows, seemingly searching the crowd. Jonathan forced his eyes to focus on the people in front of him and not the predator above him.
The parade was a good distraction, but it certainly wasn't going to keep him safe for long.
With his heart hammering away in his chest, Jonathan tried to think clearly. He scanned the surrounding buildings, keeping an eye out for any houses with dark windows. If he timed it right, he could slip away, make it to one of them and force the lock on the front door without ever causing anyone in the parade to break step.
It took eight blocks and more forced friendly chit-chat to blend in with the other Halloween revelers than he wanted before he saw a place that looked promising. Tucked away between two row houses and behind an open iron gate, a building that was about the size of a small manor stood.
And not one of its windows were lit up.
After waiting for an opening, Jonathan slunk away from the crowd, trying desperately to look casual. He slipped past the gate and did his damnedest not to run up the walkway to the front steps of the not-quite-manor, fumbling in his pocket for the lock pick he kept for just such desperate situations.
When his hand closed around the front door's handle, he realized he needn't have bothered fumbling at all. It was open. He made a great show of pretending to unlock it and then all but threw himself inside, slamming the door behind him and bracing his body against it.
He was safe. For now, anyway. A sigh of relief was most certainly in order, but not before he found a light switch and figured out whether or not he had any kind of tactical advantage here.
There was only one problem: there…weren't any. He felt all along the walls and found not one modern light switch. There were gas lamps, however, but he wasn't entirely sure that they would work. He gave it a try anyway and they flared to life and burned brightly.
Jonathan frowned. Surely there was more to getting an unlit gas lamp to work than just turning the key…
But, he supposed, it didn't really matter. There were more important things to worry about. Now, to find weapons, an Ace bandage and a better disguise. Hmm…
The sound of the doorbell nearly gave Crane a heart attack. He spun on his heel, momentarily forgetting his sprained ankle, and regretted it instantly. He peered through the curtains on the door and saw…
They rang the doorbell again.
"We can see you, Mister!"
"Hey in there!"
Knowing that leaving them there would draw more attention than not, Crane threw open the door. At his feet, an assortment of little monsters stood: a terribly familiar looking werewolf, a Man-Bat, and a ten year old Gentleman Ghost who'd dusted what must have been last year's best Sunday suit with flour. A fourth little boy brought up the back, but Jonathan didn't recognize his costume—a white turtleneck, matching blue cape and hat, and a large round golden medallion with a star scratched into its middle.
"Trick or treat!" They all held out pillowcases, waiting for candy to be delivered into their greedy little hands.
Flabbergasted, Jonathan looked around. A bowl of chocolate bars that he hadn't noticed earlier sat on a table next to the entryway. He grabbed two handfuls and flung them at the children, not caring where they landed, and slammed the door.
"I'm telling my mom on you!"
Crane turned the lock and hobbled down the hallway, figuring that between their initial shouts for him to open the door and the last exchange, someone lurking on the rooftops would have noticed something suspicious by now. He retreated from the entryway and found himself in an old fashioned Victorian parlor, twice the size that it should have been to fit inside the house. A fireplace stood as the room's focal point, one wall was occupied by some glass doors—one of which was open—that seemed to open into a garden of some kind and the others were covered with bookshelves filled with very old books. Even in his panic, Jonathan's bookworm heart skipped a beat.
It skipped another when a low growl seemed to trickle out of the darkness. He had just enough time to turn toward the sound before something large and furry launched itself directly at his chest.
He felt something crack when he went down, his back hitting the dusty Persian rug that had been beneath his feet until a few seconds earlier. His eyes refused to focus at first with his brain so shaken by the impact, but he did see a pair of massive jaws and very, very sharp teeth.
There was some kind of…of…lion sitting on his chest. In the instant that his vision snapped into clarity, his limbs went limp and he almost fainted.
The huge cat's jaws closed around his collar and tugged, pulling him across the room towards the glass doors that led to the garden.
I don't suppose Timmy's trapped in the well, he thought dazedly, and a little hysterically. He wanted to fight, but…was that what you were supposed to do? Or were big cats like bears, and being absolutely still would keep from him being mauled?
The beast tugged him into a sitting position in front of the open door to the garden, never once touching his skin with its teeth.
Jonathan didn't dare move.
With one mighty paw, it swiped at his back, toppling him forward, through the opening and onto the grass outside. It felt like passing through a Jell-o mold, not through an ordinary doorway, and left him cold all over.
"Ah. Thank you, Merlin."
Jonathan scrambled in the dirt, away from the cat that followed behind him, craning his neck to try and find the source of the voice. He found it. Oh, boy, did he ever.
In the center of the garden, an altar stood. The bearded man lying at its center seemed very casual for someone with a yellow demon-thing crouched near his head and being stretched to the limit by the ropes that bound him.
"Would you do me a great service and untie me?" he asked pleasantly.
"Sackcloth man, release him not," the yellow thing spat, "the Baron has been rightly caught."
"Silence, Etrigan," the…Baron, Jonathan supposed…said with exasperation. "Untie me. No harm will come to you."
Jonathan's eyes snapped to the large cat, Merlin. It growled and shifted its shoulders impatiently. It took a moment, but Jonathan decided that he'd rather not be eaten alive by an overgrown house pet. He got up and limped towards the slab of stone in the middle of the garden.
"By spell I'm bound, my hands, they wring," Etrigan said, leaping down and throwing Jonathan aside, "I cannot let you do this thing."
His body hit the ground with a thud. Jonathan struggled to sit up, sure that his wrist had been broken on impact. Etrigan just kicked him flat again.
"You will fail if you should fight, your bones are frail and I often—" the demon snapped his jaws threateningly. "—bite."
"Etrigan," from within the manor, a monk in red robes emerged, "it is time. Prepare Baron Winters."
Obligingly, the demon left Crane lying in the dirt. Nobody seemed to pay any attention to him. Even the cat was preoccupied, throwing its whole weight at the monk. His hand shot out and he grabbed the beast by the throat, tossing it aside like a rag doll.
"Oh," the Baron said from his place on the altar. "Well, I expect this will be unpleasant until help arrives."
As stealthily as he could, Jonathan crawled on his belly toward the open door, inch by agonizing inch, as the air filled with a strange sort of crackling energy. Three feet from the door, he started crawling on his hands and knees, ignoring the splinters of pain from the broken wrist and doing his best to use it as little as possible. When the manor was in reach, he pulled himself through the door and shut it.
He didn't take the time to relax. As fast as his broken body would allow, he hauled himself up off the floor and hobbled towards the front door. A hum began to sound from behind him, unnatural, almost…mechanical…and the sound grew more oppressive with each step he took until it was positively deafening.
With what little was left of his strength, Jonathan burst through front the door and out into the open night air. The door slammed behind him and all was silent.
The parade was long gone, he saw, and there were only a few straggler trick-or-treaters on the sidewalks outside the gate. Mindful of his ankle and wrist, he stumbled toward it and slunk outside, closing it quietly behind him.
A hand tapped him on the shoulder.
Jonathan shut his eyes. Leaned his head against the gate. Then, he turned.
Instead of the expected superhero, there was a burly teenage boy in a Letterman jacket behind him.
"I heard you threw candy at my little brother," he asked, grabbing Crane by the shirt and slamming his back into the gate. If Etrigan the demon hadn't left bruises all up and down his spine, the teenager certainly would. "Izzat true?"
He didn't wait for an answer, just drew back his fist and punched Jonathan squarely in the mouth. He crumpled, landing on the sidewalk in a pathetic heap. He tasted blood and felt that one of his teeth had been loosened.
The teen brushed his hands together in a self satisfied fashion and walked away, as though he'd just finished an everyday errand instead of beating up a weakened supervillain.
Jonathan huffed a few times, a sound that straddled the line between a threatened sob and an exasperated sigh. For what felt like the millionth time, he pulled himself off the ground, using the gate's bars for support.
He looked like a very old man as he started shambling down the sidewalk, struggling to keep his balance. His knees, which were probably the least beaten up part of him, felt like they'd been mashed to pulp, never mind the rest of his body. At this point, being captured by a superhero would have been a mercy; at least then, he might have wound up in the hospital, hooked up to some sweet, sweet morphine.
With some difficulty, he reached the end of the block and turned the corner.
Before he set foot on a new piece of concrete, Jonathan was knocked into a street light by a man in a khaki trench coat, too busy chaining one cigarette off another to notice him. His companion was a man in a vampire costume who carried a heavy book in one hand and a stake in the other.
"Sodding wanker," trench coat said, tossing the cigarette butt away without breaking stride, "watch where you're going."
It was anger, Jonathan told himself, that made his lip tremble. Pain and anger and frustration and…
Trench coat took his friend by the arm and led him along, paying no mind at all to Jonathan. "I tell you, Gustav, can't take a bloody step in this country without…"
They rounded the corner, their conversation cut off.
Wincing horribly, Jonathan continued down the sidewalk, wondering just how long it would be before the vigilante finally caught up with him. If there was a merciful God, that wouldn't happen. But Jonathan very much doubted the existence of one of those.
As expected, the universe proved him right. It was a banana peel that was his undoing this time.
He slipped and went sprawling.
For a moment, Jonathan just lay on the sidewalk, staring at the stars without really seeing them.
It just wasn't fair. A man murders a few hundred people and suddenly the whole world is out to get him.
He sat up, picking up the banana peel and throwing it in the street where it could do the least amount of damage. Using a parking meter as a crutch, Jonathan hoisted himself off the ground again. It was then that he saw just what building he was standing in front of. He almost cried out with relief.
The stairs were something of a challenge, but he took his time and managed them with a bit of effort. It was with a bizarre, frantic joy that he entered the building and approached the welcome desk within.
He placed his hands on it, air hissing through his teeth when his broken wrist landed the wrong way, and looked at the woman behind the desk.
"Can I help you, sir?"
"I am Jonathan Crane," he said, trying to keep the crazed hysteria out of his voice.
"Have you been mugged?" she asked, very concerned as she looked him up and down.
"I wish to turn myself in!" He grabbed the desk sergeant by the collar with his good hand and shook her. "Arrest me!"
The face full of mace was, ultimately, worth it.
The series of prompts were: Jonathan Crane as a vampire; Jonathan Crane runs into the Gentleman Ghost, Anthony Lupus and the Monk; Baron Winters in Wintersgate Manor; Gustav DeCobra faces off against the Monk (only hinted at, but it was the best I could conceivably do, sorry!)
While I certainly hope this holds up and was enjoyable for readers who didn't spot all the canon references, for anyone who's wondering, here's the roster:
1.) The vigilante who chases Scarecrow at the beginning of the story is Anarky who, last I checked, was working out of Washington DC.
2.) The trick-or-treaters are dressed as the Gentleman Ghost, Man-Bat, the Werewolf and the Phantom Stranger.
3.) The manor Scarecrow breaks into is Wintersgate Manor. I transferred its location to the middle of the city because lulz, there are no manor houses at the foot of mountains in Georgetown, silly comics!
4.) The man on the altar is Baron Winters, a mysterious and powerful mage who is not able to leave his manor for reasons that are unclear. Merlin is his companion, so named after Merlin the magician who gave him to Winters in the first place.
5.) The yellow demon is Etrigan the Rhymer, a high ranking demon of hell who often speaks in verse. I'm not Alan Moore, so nothing so fancy as iambic pentameter, but I almost made myself insane trying to do that.
6.) The Monk is, depending on the interpretation, a vampire or cult leader and one of the most iconic/memorable of Batman's lesser known foes.
7.) "Trench coat" is John Constantine, a snarky asshole Englishman who also happens to be an occult detective and mage. He's also who Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer was pretty clearly based on.
8.) "Gustav" is Gustav DeCobra, a vampire who faced off against Batman in the 1970s during the horror comics renassiance, and very nearly defeated him.
9.) This story owes an awful lot to Resurrection Man (1997) #8 and Swamp Thing Annual #2. If it wouldn't have killed me (and Squishy), I would have written Dead Man, the actual Phantom Stranger and the Spectre into it just as an even bigger homage. And maybe some Dr. Fate. Just because.
10.) Thank you for teaching me how to mesh worlds, Abnett, Lanning and Moore! I lurve you.