THE DARK KNIGHT RISES: MAJOR SPOILER ALERT
Much as I loved the excuse to bring back Jonathan Crane in TDKR, I couldn't help but question his role in the "revolution." Crane strikes me as the type who would take the opportunity to do experiments, mix up chemicals, build up his little crime force, and cause general mayhem, not sit behind a desk and dole out boring, repetitive punishments that don't really matter. I asked myself how he ended up there, and what he was doing for five months, and this was my answer.
If you enjoy this, I encourage you to peruse my other Crane-centric fics.
"Jack and Jill climbed up the well
To fetch an absent father
Jack fell down and broke his face
So Jill could watch the slaughter."
"Not quite a perfect rhyme," Talia noted as she walked up to the pile of furniture and books that dominated the great hall.
"It's a work in progress." Crane's soft voice drifted down from the top of the mountain.
"It's been a work in progress for quite a while."
"Ever I am beset by critics," Jonathan Crane sighed dramatically. "Have you come all the way to my humble abode merely to mock my poetic efforts?"
She smiled, because he couldn't see it, and began climbing up the surprisingly sturdy structure.
"That's really all I'm good for, isn't it," he went on lazily. "The king is in his counting-house, counting down to zero; the queen is undercover, waiting for the hero; the jester's in the city hall singing to the sky, so the queen, when she gets bored, visits on the sly."
"Much better. But it's not really a song. How long have you been working on that one?" Talia asked as she reached the top.
Crane was stretched out across two chairs and an ottoman, to all appearances lounging in the bright winter sunlight. He'd wrapped a tattered tartan blanket around his lower half and buttoned up his straw-stuffed jacket in a vain attempt to keep the cold from sinking too deeply into his bones. Talia knew there wasn't an ounce of fat left on the skeletal frame and could see a disturbingly unfocused sheen across the haunting blue eyes.
She took a seat on his desk.
"I don't work on them," he corrected. "They work on themselves. I'm simply the medium, the channel through which science and art flow."
He was right, she thought to herself. He really was the court jester now. A pet kept to entertain a bored monarch. "And what is flowing through you today, doctor?"
He started singing again, voice cracking but staying surprisingly on-key.
"Rock-a-bye, say goodnight,
Go to sleep little city
You'll be burning soon enough
So you might as well give up
There's a bomb in a truck
And it's ticking down slowly
Say goodnight and good luck
As we all go to hell."
Talia pursed her lips together, considering. "No, I still don't like it. You've been trying to make that melody work for a month, but it's too soft a song for the subject."
"Has it been a month?" he echoed quietly. She could see him shift, almost shrinking, from a chill that went beyond the physical. "It's been longer. It's snowing."
"The whole city is white. No one is plowing the streets or shoveling their sidewalks."
His only response was to start humming. Talia had spent long enough hiding in Western culture to recognize the tune as 'Christmas-y,' through she couldn't pinpoint the exact song.
She didn't want him to retreat into his head, though. Not yet. She was still bored. "Tell me a story, little crow. A new one."
Immediately he stopped humming and began speaking, as if to a child, in a soft but clear voice. "Once upon a time there was a little boy named Daniel."
She leaned forward. "Was Daniel a good little boy, or a bad little boy?"
"Oh, Daniel tried, but he wasn't a very good boy. Daniel's father had killed his mother because she was very, very bad at making Daniel's father happy. And Daniel wasn't very good at it, either."
Talia made a face. "This is a very predictable story."
"My stories are never predictable," Crane protested before continuing. "Now Daniel's father was a mob enforcer who was very good at his job."
"And I suppose he did terrible things to Daniel for being such a bad little boy and not making him happy."
"Of course. Stop interrupting."
"Stop being predictable."
"Ah, but here comes the dramatic climax. One night Daniel fell down some stairs and broke his arm–"
"–or so he told the doctor–"
"–yes, yes, and when his father brought him home, a policeman came round to check on Daniel and his father."
Talia sensed something interesting was about to happen in this little story, so she bit back a comment and waited.
"Daniel's father was very upset, and he started fighting with the policeman. Daniel was very scared, but he wanted to make his father happy. So he took the policeman's gun and shot the policeman in the head."
"And he finally made his father happy."
"No, not at all. His father was very upset. He told everyone what his son had done, but no one believed him. Daniel's father went to jail for killing the policeman, and died in there. But the mob was very impressed with Daniel, and they adopted him. And he lived happily ever after."
"That was a good story," Talia admitted. "Was it true?"
Jonathan looked affronted. "Of course. All my stories are true, except the ones I make up. And I didn't make up that one."
She laughed. She couldn't help herself. Almost a decade of planning, years of pretending to be other people, months of shivering in Wayne Tower watching Fox and Gordon and Blake, and even she was reaching her limits. But somehow this crazy little man kept her sane.
He knew that, and he hated it, but he was bored, too.
"When will you tell me the real story? The story about a little boy named Jonathan Crane?"
He made a small sound, a sort of, "hmph," and folded his arms across his chest. "That is the worst story of the lot. It's boring, predictable, and utterly dull."
"I very much doubt it."
"Once upon a time there was a very bad little boy named John and he went mad. The end."
"One day you'll tell me the whole story, properly."
"One day we'll explode and then you'll never hear it," he muttered.
"Don't be rude," she cautioned, her tone suddenly sharp. "You will tell me the story."
He flinched involuntarily.
"Oh, little crow," she soothed, reaching out to tuck a stray wisp of black hair behind his ear, like a child.
"You can call the dogs. I'm still not going to tell you the story. It's a very stupid story. I hate it."
"I know, I know. It's all right. You can tell me the story later. But you will tell it to me. Don't doubt that, Jonathan."
This close she could see him gritting his teeth.
"You're doing so well. Such a good little boy. Maybe you'll even get supper tonight."
She could see Crane's eyes flicker desperately at those words, and had to bite back another laugh.
Dragging Crane out of his padded cell had been part of the plan: the psychoanalyst was too dangerous a wild card to be left wandering through a chaotic, revolutionized city. Instead he would be utilized, propped up in front of the public to work his strange magic in the mockery of a courtroom.
Physical torture was necessary, at least in the beginning. Anyone with a healthy survival instinct, insane or not, was easy to manipulate once Bane had done his work on their body. It was merely a bonus that Talia could enjoy watching this man, who had failed her father in his hour of need, writhing in pain, could hear him begging and screaming. Starvation, thirst, and inescapable cold were better barriers to block escape than any iron bars or armed guards.
And then Talia discovered something beautiful. Balancing this unstable psyche on the precarious edge between life and death brought Jonathan Crane to a place beyond sanity. His walls broke down and his broken but brilliant brain sparkled, and like a magpie, Talia found herself enraptured by the glittering bauble.
It wasn't really necessary, but it was entertaining.
"Rock-a-bye Scarecrow inside his head
Gotham is cold and Batman is dead
When the bomb bursts then Gotham will fall
And the no more Scarecrow, burlap and all."
No, more than entertaining. It was fascinating to watch a sick, ragged mind singing like a child one moment and lecturing like a professor the next. Madness to keep her sane.
"I came up with a song, too, you know," she smiled as she stroked his hair. "I've never tried before, but I have a lot of time. I thought I might give it a try. Would you like to hear it?"
"Please don't sing it," Crane whispered, glassy eyes fixed on something far away.
She sang anyway.
"Hush, little Scarecrow, don't say a word,
No one's going to save you, my little bird,
Pain is now your only friend,
So sing for me until the end."
Crane said nothing, only shivered, twice, and then closed his eyes.