“Professor.” The professor corrected. Dr Bartholomew pinched the bridge of his nose and waved a hand in impatient surrender.
“Professor, you must surely realize that this farce simply cannot continue?” He splayed his hands in an imploring fashion, though his features remained stern and strained, “Miss Pleasance has been missing for two days now, considering the visit she made the other day I am certain this is more than mere co-incidence.”
“You seemed slow enough to recognize that at the start,” the thin-limbed man replied with a knowingly raised eyebrow.
“Jonathan, please, the fate of an innocent young woman is at stake here.”
The only response the doctor received to this plea was an even colder eyebrow raise. He sighed, leaning back on the stuffed chair with an expression of understanding resentment.
“You really aren’t going to tell me anything, are you?”
“I believe we both know the answer to that.”
The psycho-analyst regarded his stubborn client with begrudging acknowledgement.
“… Yes, I suppose we do.”
“Then there really was very little point in asking.”
Dr Bartholomew frowned in a smiling way; “Now, you’re starting to sound like those books of his.”
“Humph.” This appeared to be all that Jonathan had to say on the matter, and after another few pointless minutes of haranguing, the doctor conceded that there perhaps had been very little point in asking, as he permitted the professor to be escorted back to his quarters yet again.
He watched the neatly polished door to his neatly polished office shut with a comfortable squeak behind the inmate and his solidly built entourage, resting his chin on his steepled fingers in that manner that doctors seem innately trained to do when pondering something in a ponderous manner. It really was exceedingly unlike the Scarecrow to be so defensive. Usually he would taunt or brag or let slip little teasing snippets of information, or even try bargaining with the staff to allow information to pass as ‘good behaviour’. For such a seemingly unscrupulous and ominous figure to clam up so completely on a matter he obviously had some insight into, well, it was puzzling to say the least.
“Curiouser and curiouser…”
As the doctor chased his own thoughts in circles, Jonathan Crane was watching his own unwillingly return to moments and memories that he did not usually dare to chance upon, and yet it was this very same curiosity that caused him to do so, caused him to play with the words in his mind, as he placed one foot back in front of the other, back to his cell, back to locks, back to, to back, too back, too far back…
Jonathan Crane didn’t even bother looking up from the hands his face was buried in. Even with this shocking break in the taboo of discussing the very idea of escaping Arkham he expected no response from his cohorts, less still sympathy; it had been some five days since the fear-toxin incident, and although nobody could deny that it had hardly been the Professor’s fault, it was still difficult to converse with the man who was partly responsible for such a traumatic experience. Besides, what honour was there amongst thieves? Certainly there was little to be found in this bloodthirsty arrangement, and he could hardly say that he would offer consolation to someone in the same position- the very concept was laughable.
Still, with this flagrant denunciation of the unspoken rule of not discussing the concept of escape, the dishevelled, sleep-deprived creature was obviously clinging to the very last threads of his sanity, fingers clutching at his pale scalp through the mop of auburn hair as if to hold his remaining wits inside it, as he continued to expounded feverishly to nobody in particular.
“They put me in here, saying I was mad, I didn’t believe them, don’t, I mean, certainly, probably, I think…” It was hard to tell whether Crane was even denying it or trying to persuade himself of the fact, “but, I surely will go mad if I stay here much longer. For pity’s sake, I don’t know if I’ll be alive if I stay much longer.”
He sent an imploring look up at the indifferent inmate sat next to him; “He wants to do it again, you know. The treatment.”
What response there was from this singularly unnerving declaration was hard to pick up unless one was sat in the room, as it travelled out and through the sleeping, mumbling crowd in a terrible creeping tsunami of quietude, reducing the whole to a numb silence that was all too familiar by this point. Crane wasn’t particularly paying attention, as he had resumed expounding in a state of near delirious trepidation to the coffee table in front of him.
“He wants to put me out of my mind, perhaps out of the way, so I can’t say anything else…” A shiver convulsed the terrified prisoner for a moment before he could continue to follow this gruesomely valid theory, “I tried, I really did; there were new recruits on the staff, thought they might… should have known better… he knows how much is too much… could be considered as an accidental overdose, never should have, never should have…”
On this note he sank into repeating this same message over and over into his hands, eyes glazed with a paralysis born of fear. What had he been expecting? If only he’d held out, never given Bolton the correct dosage- but then, the Warden had threatened to ‘experiment’ how much to use, he could have died right there and then. No, he couldn’t have… but then, what was to come now? He’d been too careless, he might as well have signed his own death warrant; he was already considered one of the city’s worst enemies, but oh the humiliation, to be slain by one’s own invention. Turning his own art against him; it would seem the ultimate justice to most. There’d be no grief over his demise, and surely, who would suppose the hard-working and honest chief of security had planned it? No matter what the injection had been, it would surely have been in an attempt to cure him? Wasn’t that what Arkham always promised; to rehabilitate its prisoners, to give them the opportunity to turn themselves around? Earn a second chance… but he’d lost that, lost everything, lost, lost, lost…
A voice that was not as thickly oiled with smugness as it usually was poured into his ears from some place far overhead. Jonathan was vaguely aware his legs had lost all feeling below the knees.
“I require your presence.” Something that might have passed for a smile if it hadn’t been so unpleasant carved its way around the cliff-face jaw looking down upon Crane from its lofty position;
Bolton’s thick-fingered grasp curled itself around the back of the Scarecrow’s collar, and in that moment Jonathan Crane gave up all hope of coming out of this alive.
At some point they had exited the common room without so much as a whisper of protest passing. In his stupor of fevered terror Jonathan had not even noticed the rest of the inmates being ordered to leave; private business was a private business, after all.
No eyes to see, no lips to tell.
They had already passed through two corridors before Crane’s feet started attempting to arrest his progress, screeching in a futile dance against the sterilised floor tiles and Bolton’s relentless, Neanderthal march. It didn’t even so much as slow him down.
“You- c-can’t… th-this is…” The words grated against his regard of the immense manas much as the strangle hold, Bolton ardently ignoring the fear-weak protests, stamping down on the pathway in front of them as if he were laying gravestones with every footfall.
Step. Drag. Step. Drag.
It was the surprise more than the impact that made the immense man take a blustering step back. “What th-?!”
Something dressed in grey with a dash of blonde and blue-ribboned black had briefly made an insubstantial dent in the warden’s midriff, but enough to leave the clattering sound of stolen keys in its wake. The whole confusing instant lasted as long as it took Bolton to bellow “TETCH” in a thunderous tone (which, considering its monosyllabic tendencies, did not take a great amount of time at all), before launching himself after the rapidly receding footsteps.
Jonathan looked mutely at the ceiling, the breath clawing its way back to his throat after the shock with the liberty of his windpipe. Pulling himself to his feet he looked wondering down the now empty corridor, listening to the waning clamour of two sets of feet, one heavy and fast, one not fast enough to stay ahead of the other for long.
His head was still spinning so much that he noted the presence of a single key on the floor almost without any surprise, except that he might have wondered whether it ought to be on a little glass table with a bottle marked ‘drink me’.
He would only think to ask 'why?' a great deal later, with a great deal more distance at his leisure.
Jonathan Crane was not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, after all.
Jervis had often wondered exactly how much the warden weighed, if only in sympathy for the floorboards which seemed to tremble beneath him as much as the inmates under his keep. That was not, however, to say that he desired to find out.
Mind you, he had not exactly been planning to commit to a spontaneous kamikaze dash for a man he owed no debt to either, as he willed his flagging spat-clad feet to round just one more blessed corner, almost mounting the wall in his haste to escape the behemoth in pursuit.
He pushed for one last sprint for the double doors ahead of him- but it seemed he was not to be given such an opportunity, as the full metric weight of the volcanically irate security guard drove him to the ground in a tackle that would have taken out a grizzly bear several times the Hatter’s girth.
What small amount of restraint the colossal man usually exercised seemed to have been expended by this outrageous stunt, as Bolton lost no time in slinging a battle-axe fist under the target’s ribcage in punishment for his upstart. Jervis thought he felt something crack.
“Why you- WHERE THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE GOING?”
Even if Jervis had not been utterly winded by the first blow he wouldn’t have been able to reply, as the sledge-hammer knuckles had transformed into a fingered vice, constricting around his neck like vein-laced snakes. His heels struck out in a vague semblance of resistance against the floor in a badly constructed dance, gloved hands ineffectively prying against the noose he had strung for himself.
“I knew you were up to something, right from the off…” The warden’s glowering suspicion only seemed to increase his grip, the prisoner’s face now an unhealthy shade of rose. “Playing dumb all this time- so you thought you could escape? Escape from me? Well…”
Merciful oxygen seeped back into his lungs for a glorious instant, as the warden’s sneering victory bought him a second’s release, Bolton’s face a repugnant portrait of triumph; “Maybe you are that dumb after all, to try pulling this sort of shit on me… well?” He leered down at the captive in a stomach-turning impression of benevolence. “What have you got to say for yourself now? Those nonsense words of yours don’t seem so clever anymore, do they?”
More or less literally spitting the last part out onto the back of captured inmate's neck, Bolton sneered down at the prisoner, and waited, waited to be right about everything he'd ever thought about the Hatter and his pathetic schemes and jibberish. The Hatter considered the floor he was face-down into for a moment, considered how nice it was not to have something that felt like an anvil pressing down on his trachea, considered how absolutely he loathed the boarish man kneeling down on his spine with his disregard for anything save shackles, and finally considered precisely how much time has passed and how much ought to before he recited his response in a remarkably calm manner.
“‘Will you walk a little faster?’ said a whiting to a snail,
‘there’s a porpoise right behind us, and he’s treading on my tail…”
Even if Bolton had been aware of the stretched possibility of Tetch replying in rhyme, to have the miscreant sing his answer was something that caused such an expression of incensed wrath to appear on the guard’s face as to be comparable to Tweedledum’s on discovering his brother’s antics regarding the famous rattle. He rolled the still-lyric-spouting Tetch over.
A fist accompanied the order. It earned but a pause.
“Will you, won’t you, will you, wo-”
“I said shut up.”
“-can really have no notion how del-”
“-ail replied ‘Too far, too far!’, and gave-”
And so it continued, but it seemed any sense the Hatter had had remaining had left before this stubborn onslaught of song, as he simply continued, increasing in volume if slightly discordantly, word after word and impact after impact.
“The further off from England the nearer is to Fr-”
Both hands succeeded in stemming the maddening melody, as Bolton, who appeared to be surprisingly unnerved by this reaction, shook the wretched man from side to side until his face was blue. “Enough of this! I’ll make it so you never speak another word of that blasted book you incomprehensible piece of scu-”
It was a noise that hadn’t been heard for so long it actually took the warden a moment to recognise his own patented warning siren sounding, as his hands slackened from around the Hatter’s neck involuntarily from the surprise.
Someone had escaped.
“Then turn not pale, beloved snail, but come and join the-”
Bolton didn’t even bother telling Jervis to shut up this time, as the last blow rendered the man soundly unconscious. Lyle sat for a moment, not quite looking at the wall opposite him; a feint, how could he have not seen it. How could he have left someone in such an obvious a blind-spot, let someone just… get away like that…
“Well,” he grumbled down bitterly at the senseless heap of grey uniform and yellow hair beside him, “not all of you are so lucky…”
Hefting the object over his shoulder he set back along the corridor to return the creature to his cage to await the rewards for his actions after regaining consciousness. Crane wouldn’t be away for long either, not with the Batman scouring the streets, and when he returned… well.
“Justice will prevail.”
A pair of lazily sloped eyelids blinked after the doors slamming shut behind the unfairly balanced pair, sight rolling to the forgotten piece of carefully formed black felt on the sole-skidded, polished ground.
Harley interrupted the vixen-haired lady mere syllables into her turn in the common room, regarding the disdainful ecologist with childlike bewilderment. The others wisely disguised their curiosity as a mild interest in the ceiling or furniture; questioning Ivy tended to end badly outside of the blonde-haired girl with the ear-wide smile.
“Something wrong, Harl?”
“Uh, well, no, but… ain’t that from Jervis’s stories?”
Ivy looked at the ceiling and arranged her auburn locks in a disinterested fashion; “And what if it is?”
“Well… you allus think they’re kinda… silly, dontcha?”
“So I’m not allowed to fill in when he’s absent? I thought you liked them…”
Harley pouted and squirmed at the challenging look she was presented with, but still seemed very unconvinced; “W-well, maybe, kinda, but…”
All in all it was hardly surprising, the amount that she had been through, and with his slight… eccentricity, yesterday, it was perhaps overdue for her starting to realize just quite who she was lodging with, and yet she didn’t leave, didn’t want to leave. Not exactly, anyway, she was… she was tired. She needed to rest, to think about it.
And yet rest was so very hard to find, with these odd dreams. She’d often had odd dreams, most especially as a child. In her fits of small and senseless fears of the night her parents had comforted her, told her they were only dreams, not to be afraid, that it was all alright, everything would be alright.
“But will it?”
She wondered, not quite in dream and not quite awake, as she turned over for the seventeenth time to regard what might have been just a wall but was surely more a forest, as she let a deer guide her through it, her arms clasped lovingly around its downy neck. It was so terribly hard to remember who one was in this place, but then, what was this place?
Think. She just needed time to think.
Downstairs Jervis set aside the completed circuit card and picked up another. Another half dozen or so ought to do, and Alice hadn’t stirred for a good two hours- all luck willing she wouldn’t even miss him. He did not remember what Jonathan Crane remembered. He did not remember the hands pressing the oxygen out of his brain and blanking out those eventful minutes, all he remembered was that he owed a debt to those who had remained in his stead, whether intentionally or not. He plucked the watch from his pocket as he continued his work with a small shake of the head;
A darkly-leathered hand smote the crumbling brickwork by the riverside, as Batman scanned the abandoned moorings where the boat had waited with frustration. Blind-sighted again. There was the smallest chance there was a trail of some description remaining, but on water? The chances were incremental.
“But not impossible.”
Strengthening his resolve, the dark knight swept under the arches and eaves of the filth-mottled water-way, searching for the smallest sign, any sign of the transport’s journey through the city and its final destination.
On the far side of Gotham a perfectly ordinary man in a perfectly ordinary house struck a perfectly ordinary table with his fist. Pacing back and forth through the kitchen had not aided his escalating temper. The reply from the call to the hospital being a maddeningly placating assurance that they were ‘looking into the situation’ had only worsened his outlook of the legal system’s efficiency in the matter.
Removing his hand from the dent in the homely furniture he set back to striding up and down, trying to persuade himself that it was helping. Just who he was most incensed with at the moment was hard to decide; the police, the asylum, the Hatter, Alice…
“Alice…” Something in the creased brow softened for a moment, his hand losing the tension as it sought to pick up the blue-framed photograph on the mantel piece. He ran a thumb over the glass- it had the thinnest layer of dust upon it. He looked out of the window at the slow-falling snow, as if it might answer him in her place.