Disclaimer: Batman does not belong to me. ^..^
Screaming. Hysteric, immersive screaming that cut me deep with every step I took. The pleas for help and cries for mercy made me both ache to feel the same as them and satisfied that they were learning the consequences of tyrannising society's victims.
A chuckle escaped through the stitches in the mouth of my mask. It was so twisted and warped, I knew it couldn't possibly be my own.
But it was.
"Have you been practicing, my dear?" asked the Scarecrow wryly as we strolled through the gas-polluted corridors of Arkham Asylum.
"It appears I don't need to," I replied, staring at each terrified individual that we passed. Occasionally, the Scarecrow would raise his scythe and strike so close to a nurse or security guard, they cowered and begged for God to help them.
"He cannot save you," his laugh almost resembled a snarl.
My cane tapped against the dirty linoleum underfoot. I wondered if it sounded like the beat of a war drum to the gassed people, or perhaps the grating of nails on a chalk board. Anything that put them on edge.
The cloud of shimmering gas nearly blinded me, but the lights were still bright inside the complex, turning the curtain translucent. The whole facility was flooded with the stuff. I noted with a pang that even the inmates were crying for their mothers to come for them. As I strolled beside the Scarecrow, I felt sweat bead on my upper lip. My throat was shrinking and it became ever so tempting to remove my mask and breathe in.
Just one breath.
Distracting me from my thoughts, a nurse ran at me, fingers clawed as she tried to attack. I felt the Scarecrow move to my left, ready to intervene, but my cane struck out and offset her balance. She collided with a nearby trolley that was laden with supplies.
The Scarecrow and I were making our way towards the doctors' offices, in the hopes of encountering the man who had attempted to treat him during his last stay at the asylum.
Poison Ivy was somewhere close, with the intention of springing the newly captured Harley Quinn and dropping in on her night shift guards, or so she put it.
The chorus of screams followed us wherever we went, so much so that it soon drifted from my hearing like background noise. We crossed through the records room. Along one wall, we found a door with a familiar name embossed on its sign. Kicking it open, more gas tumbled out to meet the existing haze.
"Does it get easier to see through this stuff?" I asked.
"It does," the Scarecrow assured me, before storming into the office.
Following his lead, I saw him drag out what I assumed was Dr. Kellerman from under his desk. The psychiatrist was held up by his collar. With a tilt of his head, the Scarecrow made the stitches on his mask stretch into that strange leer. I knew her was grinning for real underneath. Nothing made him happier than seeing his tormentors cower before him.
I realised no other feeling compared to how I felt then, seeing him so free and ecstatic.
"Hello, Steven," said the Scarecrow snidely. "Are we well this evening? Ready for our next session?"
On the final word, he slammed the shrink into his own desk, scattering paperwork and cracking a picture frame. Kellerman whimpered and tried to get up to flee, but I kicked him down with my boot.
Stepping onto the desk, the Scarecrow drew his scythe into both hands.
"Tell me, Steven, what do you feel when you hear those screams of terror?" his voice came out with its typical rasp, a rasp I now knew came from a cigarette beforehand.
"Stay away from me!" Kellerman shrieked, lashing out at something that wasn't there.
"Oh? But you used to love our little chats," the Scarecrow cackled. I couldn't help but snigger as he raised the scythe and drew the blade across the shrink's face. It gashed open the man's cheek and blood dripped onto his shirt. "Laugh away, my dear," the Scarecrow then said to me. "This is a pathetic excuse of a doctor we see before us."
Kellerman appeared to reach his breaking point then. He launched himself up and attempted to attack the Scarecrow, who leaned so far out of the other man's reach I thought Kellerman had forced him over backwards. Then he swung an arm round and caught Kellerman in the gut, sending him into a wall. Several papers that were tacked up fluttered down.
I saw they were news articles and suchlike. Poison Ivy was featured in most of them.
"My my, got a little crush have we?" I taunted him, waving a crumpled clipping before his petrified eyes. Sweat ran in fine rivulets from his forehead. "Well, Red's running around this place is you'd like her to call on you."
"No, please no!" begged the shrink. I kicked him over and struck him with my cane.
"What's wrong? Is she too much for you to handle? She's definitely out of your league," I leaned in close to him, twisting my head in the way I had seen the Scarecrow do it.
"Don't! Don't bring her here!" sobbed Kellerman.
"I bet you despised her as much as you wanted her. I bet you thought you could control her, behind your little glass walls and feeble red lights. Well, if she came down here for a visit, I think you'd get everything you deserved," I sneered.
The Scarecrow continued in his torture, right up until the moment Kellerman passed out. I turned my head to look out of the office window and noticed a familiar symbol roaming across the murky, night time clouds.
"Jonathan," I said softly, to get his attention. If we hadn't been alone, I doubt I would have used his other name.
He came over to the window and looked up into the dark sky.
"Excellent," I heard him breathe. "I think we should make our way to the roof."
"Conquering your fears?" I asked as we left the office.
"Certainly not," the Scarecrow chortled. "I only want to feel them."
After frightening a maintenance worker in grubby overalls, we found a set of winding stairwells, eventually reaching a fire escape on the roof. Its flat surface was rimmed with a concrete parapet half a metre high, and was dotted with large fans and skylights. It was nice to be up in the cold night, as opposed to surrounded by noxious green fog. Briefly, I took off my mask and let the air cool my face.
With his fingers twitching on the scythe's long handle, the Scarecrow continued to stare up into the sky. The silver bat emblem carried on shining above us.
I wandered up to the edge of the roof, peering into the courtyard below. Red was down there, surrounded by a group of five squealing guards and making the most of it. Beside her was an athletic blonde woman in blue-grey scrubs, distracting Ivy's attackers while strange, flesh-dissolving vines erupted from the soil and ensnared them. I wondered how long Ivy could keep them alive, before she wore herself out.
"If things should get out of hand," said the Scarecrow as I returned to his side, "I want you to leave. I plan to stay until I get what I came for."
"I won't be going anywhere," I told him.
"Do not risk your identity being discovered, Nightmare," I heard the steely edge to his voice. Shivers ran up my spine. "If I say you should go, you go."
I didn't reply at first, but then he said my name in such a way that made it impossible to refuse.
"If you insist," I bit out.
I wasn't sure if that had been said because of my response, or because of the two dark shapes that now flitted towards us in the night. With their outstretched capes, one looked like an enormous bat, the other an agile and nimble bird. The two of them dived low and then, with the whirr of an automated grapple, soared up onto the rooftop.
It was far from my first encounter with the Batman, but he seemed twice as foreboding now that I was opposing him. I felt a grin slice my lips in two. Did he recognise me at all? I wasn't sure I would recognise myself, but he was smart. He would figure it out eventually.
"Trick or treat, Batman?" asked the Scarecrow.
"Trick," he growled. A batarang was already sailing through the air. It skimmed passed the Scarecrow's shoulder as he dodged.
"As you wish," the masked man snarled, drawing a straw from his boot. He snapped it and threw the remains at the Batman as his adversary launched himself forward.
While that occurred in the corner of my eye, the Batman's sidekick had begun circling me, sizing me up. I turned to face him, fingers drumming on the crow's head of my cane. I too had some straws of fear gas tucked into my boot, but I doubted that attacking with them would be a surprise now.
Robin came at me, a blur of deep red and green. I ducked beneath his first strike, jamming my cane between his legs. It bought me a few seconds, but after that, I wasn't so lucky. I had no idea how to combat a trained fighter, or how to defend myself when he bounced back from all I could throw at him.
As it turned out, I needn't have been so worried.
A green tendril slapped Robin away from me. I turned to see Red stepping daintily onto the roof. The monstrous plant that had carried her up followed on its tentacles.
"Looks like you could use a hand," said Red, a smirk curling her perfect, cupid lips. "Harley offered to finish the guards for me."
"Thanks," I muttered. I stepped back as she moved forward.
Although there was little I could do against the Batman's accomplice, I kept on the fringes of the fight, offering feints and diversions. Ivy was the only thing between me and my arrest. As she and Robin fought, my attention flickered back to the Scarecrow's battle. I noticed his obscure way of fighting, only later learning that it was known as drunken boxing. Sometimes it looked as though he were about to fall, before finding a purchase from nowhere and striking back with quick viciousness. I was almost mesmerised by this, until someone's foot kicked me in the face.
I was sent sprawling, nearly to the edge of the roof. All the while, I kept the cane fiercely in my grip. As Robin flew through the air towards me, I rolled over and sprung up, ready to block his strikes. I only just managed to. I changed my direction and stumbled back, nearer to Ivy.
She appeared to be weakening, breathless and clutching an injury to her side. Behind her, the monstrous plant was rotting and losing its limbs.
One tentacle still managed to dart out across the width of the roof, seizing Robin and drawing him back. He hung, struggling and flailing over a thirty foot drop.
"Hey! I think I can catch 'im, Red!" a heavily accented voice hollered up from below.
"Oh, Batman, look what I've done!" taunted Ivy. She grinned even though her face was damp from exertion.
A batarang was thrown in the tentacle's direction, slicing through its skin. The gash was deeper than I expected and it didn't regenerate.
In a sudden rush, the Batman slammed the Scarecrow into the ground and left him stunned. He approached Ivy with caution.
"Put him back on the roof, Poison Ivy," I heard him say in his gravelly voice. I darted over to where the Scarecrow lay, near the ladder that descended to the ground. The Batman didn't pay much attention to me and I didn't flatter myself into thinking I was a threat.
Kneeling down beside the Scarecrow, I realised a stream of dark red blood trickled down onto his neck. I wanted to snatch the mask from his face, but I restrained myself. He wouldn't have appreciated it.
In the distance, I could hear the screech of sirens and see the glimmer of red and blue lights. With a slow, sinking feeling of dread, I realised this night had reached its conclusion.
"Time for you to go, my dear," the words I least wanted to hear came from the shadows behind the Scarecrow's mask. I looked up to see a swarm of black-clad cops racing towards the building we stood on. We had mere minutes before they would be climbing the ladder. My hands were shaking.
"I think I'd rather be captured," I told him. My voice was a ghost.
"I already asked Ivy to get you out of here, no matter what," a bitter laugh escaped from his stitched mouth.
"Then she can get you out as well," I said, glancing over to where the Batman was still trying to negotiate for Robin's release. He was insisting that Ivy should return to her cell, as if that were feasible. Maybe he was stalling for time, until the cops hit the roof.
"She would never help me directly," said the Scarecrow. "Besides, it has been too long since I felt true fear. When you lose something, Becky, you begin to crave it."
In that moment, I realised I could never fight against his strangest inclination. He seemed determined to stay, just to feel afraid of something. It occurred to me that this could have been his intention all along, to be thrown back into Arkham.
"You don't think I know that? You'll start to crave freedom soon enough," I hissed.
"Do you remember when I told you I had only one fear?" he then asked. I nodded.
"It appears I now have two," he said thoughtfully. "The first is the Batman. The second...losing you."
The sound of ringing metal invaded my ears. Boots were climbing the ladder to my left.
"Ivy!" the Scarecrow called, summoning my only means of escape. I would never have asked her to pull me from the Scarecrow's side, but at the same time, I was the only one who could help him. I couldn't be caught.
I looked up to see Robin being flung through the air. A grapple was propelled after him, in an attempt to catch him before he fell uncontrollably. With the Batman temporarily distracted, Ivy came over and hauled me upright. The first cop appeared over the side of building, raising his firearm. I was pulled back over the adjacent edge of the roof.
Air rushed by my ears and that awful weightless sensation tore my stomach to shreds. We only fell for a handful of seconds. Ivy summoned a thick-stemmed plant from the ground below to catch us. The deep cry I heard from her told me she was using the last of her strength.
"Hang in there, Red!" called Harley from below. She climbed up the stem with ease, joining us on the head of the growing stalk as we rose once again.
I didn't have much time to acknowledge her presence, my attention was fixed on the rooftop where Batman now stood with Robin.
Batarangs and bullets were sprayed in our direction, but Harley forced me and Ivy down flat. When I glanced up again, a bulb was forming around us. I recognised the plant from when Ivy had broken out of her cell. I was going to be taken into the soil, away from Arkham for good.
Just before the bulb closed around us completely, the scene below etched itself into my memory. The dark figures of the cops pulled the Scarecrow to stand, ripping the mask from his head and roughly cuffing his wrists. His blue eyes were resigned. Déjà vu flashed through me, as I remembered the first time he had been unmasked back in Greenvale.
I hadn't feared him then. Later, all I had feared was accepting the indescribable tether that I had to him. I embraced it now.
Then the bulb closed around me and I swore I would find a way to set him free. I wasn't scared of the consequences.
A/N: So this is the grand finale. Please review! I would like to say an impossibly big THANK YOU to everyone who has read, followed, reviewed and favourited this fic. I could never have expected this much support, so much love and many hugs for all of you. Until next time, maybe...
This story is dedicated to my friend Char, for her birthday some years ago. Still wishing you all the best.