Albatross: Part III
Jonathan sat in silence for a minute, then craned his neck back to look up at the dark knight.
“What did she tell you?” he asked, curious.
20 minutes ago
Albatross groaned in pain. Despite receiving the antidote, she still felt nauseous, and her head pounded. She shifted and found she was leaning against some wood scaffolding, and her arms were tied behind her, immobilizing her in place.
She froze when she saw the shadow creature was back, once more hovering over her. However, the silhouette cleared when a few shafts of light peeked through the open barn doors as the sun began to rise over the horizon.
The nightmare above her was no more. In its place was a man, or at least the shape of something mostly human.
The Batman spoke. “Alba Parrott Rosen, I presume?”
“I thought so. Now, would you like to tell me what you and Doctor Crane were working on?” the dark knight asked. “Or perhaps we should start with why you’re working for him, that might be easier.” he added.
Alba said nothing. She avoided eye contact with the dark knight.
“If Scarecrow’s plan goes through, people – innocent people, are going to get hurt. Is that something you’re willing to do? Or go to jail for?” Batman tried for a sympathetic angle – Alba was a first-time offender, after all. Perhaps he could get through to her by appealing to her sense of responsibility, if not her conscience. Plus, the threat of jail time usually worked on most of the Rogue’s goons.
Alba looked down at the floor, but still said nothing.
Batman sighed and tried something different. “Crane needs help, but not the kind you’re offering.”
Alba looked up at him and glowered. “He belongs in Arkham because he’s a psychopath, you mean?”
“Crane’s dangerous.” The dark knight countered.
Alba stared at him defiantly. “To you.”
“To himself, and others.” Batman stated plainly. “And he’s not someone you want to get mixed up with.”
Alba sighed and averted her eyes.
The dark knight’s head swiveled as he heard laughter coming from behind him. It seemed Crane was awake, and perhaps delirious.
Alba blinked when she heard Doctor Crane laugh and profess to batman that she was, for lack of a better word, innocent. She watched as the dark knight stood up and turned his back to her. As he did, she locked eyes with Jonathan and gave him a small nod of appreciation. He returned it with the slightest tilt of his head in acknowledgement.
“Nothing much.” Batman responded gruffly.
Jonathan smirked, then raised and eyebrow. “How did you get an antidote for my new toxin?”
“I used your equipment to synthesize one.” Batman said.
“And? That’s it?” Jonathan prompted.
“I analyzed the toxin and found traces of fungi and other such particles. To neutralize the paralytic effects, I took various greenhouse plants and used some of the chemicals I found in your office to counteract the hallucinations.” The dark knight intoned.
Jonathan huffed. “Well done.” He said, sarcastically. “The next batch will be even more potent, batman. I promise you that.”
“By the way, I found your chalkboard. It seems you haven’t had a chance to create this new strain of toxin yet.” The dark knight said, shifting the conversation to a new topic.
“I have…it just needs to be tweaked some.” Jonathan said nonchalantly. “Toxins take time to perfect.”
“Uh-huh.” Batman replied, unamused. “The GCPD are on their way, they’ll confiscate everything you have that I found here.”
Jonathan scowled again. “I suppose that outcome was a possibility.”
“What about her?” the dark knight asked, jerking his head slightly in Albatross’s direction.
“You’re asking me?” Jonathan replied, somewhat incredulously.
“I’m assuming you don’t want her to go to jail or end up in Arkham.” Batman said. his tone suggested this was a given rather than a presumption.
Jonathan thought about the plan – it may very well be botched by this point, especially so if the batman was telling the truth about the GCPD arriving shortly. He also thought about his assistant – she had been working under him for about six months in total. In the beginning, he had seen promise, but hadn’t expected much given the previous failures to cultivate an accomplished aide. In time though, he found that Albatross was disciplined, curious and bright; she understood the principles behind his work and even shared his passion for research. She had a thirst for knowledge and her desire to find answers to the questions she had was admirable; and in some instances, her regard and disposition seemed to surpass his own. Furthermore, she challenged him, often by bringing in new ideas, and in thinking up possibilities that even he hadn’t considered.
Albatross was his assistant, yes, but she was more than that.
In many ways, Jonathan supposed, he saw her as his equal. And on some days, if he was pressed to admit it, he might even consider her a friend.
Jonathan took all of this into account and found he loathed the possibility of losing one of the few bright spots he had acquired during his time as the Scarecrow.
The dark knight waited. He stared at Jonathan and pierced him with a look that said he knew what Jonathan was going to say.
Jonathan said it anyway. “No.”
He shut his eyes and looked away in shame. It cost him to admit this, but his pride seemed a small price to pay to secure Albatross’s freedom.
“You want me to let her go.” The batman said.
Jonathan nodded curtly. “Yes.”
“Fine.” The dark knight agreed. His voice was sharp. “Just this once.”
Jonathan looked up at batman in shock, then narrowed his eyes in suspicion.
“It’s not a trick.” Batman said. “I’ll see that she gets home. But first, she’ll go to a hospital, to make sure your toxin is out of her system.”
Jonathan kept his expression neutral. “I expect you’ll want a thank you?” he said sarcastically.
“No.” the dark knight intoned. He knelt to Jonathan’s level one last time. “But, if I were you, I wouldn’t contact her again. Next time, I won’t be so generous.”
Jonathan scoffed. “How considerate.” He sneered.
“The GCPD will know she was here – it’s on the security tapes.” Batman added.
“Remember what I said about coercion in the face of fear?” Jonathan prompted.
The dark knight nodded and stood.
Jonathan watched as the batman walked back across the barn over to Albatross. He saw the look of confusion on her face as the dark knight spoke to her and undid her bonds. As she was escorted out of the barn Albatross turned a concerned look in his direction, and Jonathan shook his head, indicating that he would fine. If the dark knight caught onto their nonverbal communication, he said nothing,
As promised, moments later Jonathan heard the familiar wail of police sirens, and he began to mentally prepare himself for another trip back to the Asylum.
3 weeks later
“Enjoy the new formula, Batman.” Crane hissed. His voice sounded distorted, and it echoed in the dark knight’s skull. “I made it just for you.”
“Uggh.” The dark knight let out a choked moan as his vision swam. The Scarecrow disappeared from his line of sight, and he reached out in vain before collapsing to his knees.
When he next opened his eyes, he wasn’t in the greenhouse. He was in a cemetery, kneeling before two headstones – one marked Thomas Wayne, the other, Martha Wayne. Looking down, the dark knight saw an unloaded gun in his hands.
The dark knight shook his head. “N-no.” he gasped. He staggered to his feet and stumbled. The scene changed and suddenly he was encircled by tombstones. He saw what was carved on them… and stopped breathing.
Richard Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Barbara Gordon, Stephanie Brown, Cassandra Cain, Damien Wayne…and more.
Voices hissed in the night. “You failed us-” “You let me die!” “It’s your fault-”
Blending together as the wind whipped harder, the voices came to a crescendo until it was all batman could hear.
The ground rumbled and the dark knight launched himself over the circle of tombstones and dived out of the way, as the earth in front of the graves crumbled upwards.
He looked on in horror as twisted copies of his loved ones tore their way out of the ground. They stood mangled and deformed. Some had skin still – peeling as it was, bloated and purple in color. Others were mere skeletons, and they slowly surrounded the dark knight.
Even as a small voice in the back of batman’s mind told him the nightmare wasn’t real, he stood frozen, unable to move, unable to comprehend. The monsters moved closer and grabbed at him, their grips like iron.
“You ruined us” they hissed. “It’s only fair we do the same.” The dark knight backed up, away from the horrors and as he turned, he saw where they were leading him – to an unmarked grave, freshly dug. One of the monsters – the one resembling the ghost of his father, reached out – and somewhere far away a voice came through.
“Bruce! Can you hear me? Scarecrow’s toxin is affecting your mind, its not real. You need to find an antidote!” Oracle’s voice rang in his ears.
Finally, the dark knight sprung into action. No longer paralyzed, he closed his eyes and focused. The terrible whispers could still be heard, but eventually, he blocked them out.
When he next opened his eyes, the dark knight found himself back in the greenhouse.
In the distance he could see the shapes of the monsters coming towards him.
“Oracle, I need you to scan the area.” the dark knight demanded. He was met with static silence. “Oracle, do you copy? Oracle!”
“….Oh, I’m afraid she can’t come to the phone right now.” Jonathan Crane’s voice hissed through the receiver. “She’s been….tied up, at the moment.” He spoke. “Or, perhaps I should say, strung up?” he cackled.
The dark knight stiffened. This wasn’t what he remembered happening at the Scarecrow’s hideout. Oracle had talked him through finding an antidote.
“…and now, I am delighted to say, it’s your turn.” Scarecrow whispered over batman’s left shoulder.
The dark knight spun around and suddenly he was standing on top of a wooden platform, with the Scarecrow right beside him.
Looking down, the dark knight saw the monsters emerge from the smoke – and they smiled up at him, their teeth sharp, and crooked.
“Oh, don’t mind them, their just here for the show!” the Scarecrow said gleefully as he placed a noose over the dark knight’s head.
Tightening it around batman’s neck, Scarecrow gave the signal. The floor dropped out from underneath the dark knight, he struggled to breathe, and soon he was falling….falling….falling….
Bruce gasped and sat up in bed.
“Master Bruce, are you alright?” Alfred Pennyworth asked. There was concern in his voice and he gave Bruce a worried look.
“Alfred….I’m fine.” Bruce lied.
“Pardon my disbelief, but I do not believe you.” Alfred said as Bruce stood up shakily.
Alfred put a hand on Bruce’s shoulder. “It’s been weeks, you can’t keep going on like this.”
Bruce brushed Alfred’s hand away. “I said I’m fine, I just…need sleep. The nightmares will go away in time.”
“Are you quite sure there is nothing else to be done?” Alfred asked skeptically.
“…Yes, Alfred.” Bruce said. “I’ll let you know though, if there is.” He added.
Alfred sighed. “Very well. I shall make you some tea in the meantime.”
Bruce nodded. “Thank you, Alfred.” He said, turning to look out the window. Perhaps there was something more he could do.
Batman entered the Asylum in search of answers.
To the guards, the dark knight seemed to glide across the floor, and they quickened to get out of his way.
The overhead lights buzzed, and some fizzled out as the caped crusader walked, leaving the hallway drenched in shadows as there was little natural light that filtered through the barred windows.
The few guards who dared to look in his direction saw a grim sight. Darkness seemed to drag along behind the batman, and it pooled at his heels and filled his shadow.
Batman came to a stop at a cell. Crane, Jonathan. He turned to one of the guards and gestured at them to open the door.
“Don’t interfere.” The dark knight ordered, as he stepped through the threshold.
The cell was small and cramped – and inside it the dark knight found exactly what he was searching for: a much-needed reminder.
The Scarecrow, Doctor Jonathan Crane, as he saw him now in the light of day – was only a man, and nothing more.
“Well, well. This is a surprise.” Jonathan said, looking up as the door closed. The batman’s silhouette eclipsed the room’s dim light, giving it the appearance of filling the small space whole.
“Crane, we need to talk.” The dark knight said, scowling down at the Rogue. There was one other reason why he had come.
Jonathan sighed and adjusted his glasses before sitting up to straighten his back. Crossing his legs for added measure, Jonathan looked the very portrait of his old profession – that of a therapist waiting for his patient to speak.
Jonathan splayed his hands in front of him. “Well, I’m all ears.”
The dark knight remained silent for a moment. Jonathan’s eyes widened in understanding and he barked out a laugh, before tilting his head to the side. His eyes sparked with interest.
“Oh, you’ve been having nightmares, yes?” Jonathan prompted. Batman said nothing, but his mouth hardened into a thin line.
Jonathan shrugged and kept his tone neutral. “A side effect I’m afraid, of my latest toxin – the one you were exposed to a few weeks ago, remember? Yes, I can in your eyes that you do. So, please, enlighten me. Tell me what you saw!” he demanded.
The dark knight glared. “That’s not why I’m here, Crane.” He said, pulling something out from underneath his cape.
Jonathan narrowed his eyes. In the dark knight’s hand was a small stack of letters bound together with twine.
“I thought I told you not to contact Ms. Rosen.” Batman stated.
Jonathan gave him a withering look. “You’ve been intercepting my mail.” He growled. “You had no right-”
“It’s for her own good... And yours.” Batman said seriously. “I told you I wouldn’t be so forgiving the next time she’s caught committing a crime. And I intend to keep that promise.”
Jonathan stood. He waited a moment before lunging forward, intent on making a swipe for the stack of letters.
In a split-second batman had shoved him backwards and had a hand around his throat. “I don’t think so.” He said, letting go.
Jonathan grunted and coughed, before rubbing the spot where the dark knight had grabbed him.
Batman tucked the letters away back somewhere under his cape. “I came here to tell you to cease communication. That’s all.” He turned away intending to leave, but paused at Jonathan’s next words.
“…She’s my friend.” Jonathan said quietly. He laughed bitterly. “Perhaps the only normal one I have if I’m being honest. And you want me to give that up.” Jonathan tilted his head to the side, questioning.
The dark knight stepped forward until he was a few inches from Jonathan. “You’re not exactly a good influence, Crane.”
“Never said I was.” Jonathan retorted.
“Ms. Rosen has a promising future, try not to ruin it.” the dark knight stated. And with a sweep of his cape, he was gone.
Jonathan huffed as the door to the cell opened, then closed just as quickly. The guards stepped in afterwards, to check his cell and give it a once over, but Jonathan had already hidden the stack of letters the batman had left behind.
Later that night, Jonathan pulled out the stack of the letters – and began to read.
It seemed that, in his absence, Alba had gotten a job working as a lab technician at WayneTech and used her spare time to conduct small experiments of her own – on account of her chemistry degree.
It took Jonathan nearly the whole night to get through the stack, but when he finally got to the most recent one, he was confused. As before, he took the letter out from the envelope, and it was addressed to him, but upon opening it, Jonathan found it was blank.
Turning the letter over back and forth, Jonathan thought through the differences between this letter and the last few ones. For one thing, the stationary paper Alba used was thicker this time, more akin to craft paper, and while there was nothing on it, she had still signed her initials. Even stranger, this one appeared to be scented, ever so slightly. It was subtle, and the only reason Jonathan noticed it in the first place was because it was familiar.
Turning the paper card on the side Jonathan eyed it and carefully began to tear it open. He ripped the corner first and the familiar scent grew stronger. With some difficulty, Jonathan worked his thumb into the small tear he made and managed to cut open the rest of the paper.
He peeled the edges of the paper apart. And smiled.
Inside the letter was a small handful of familiar blue flower petals, that had been pressed and dried. They were the exact same ones he used as a base for his fear toxin.
Jonathan shook his head, and his smile widened. “Alba, Alba, Alba.” He muttered to himself. “You clever girl.”
It seemed he had something to look forward to. And if everything went according to plan, he would be seeing her sooner rather than later.
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Impromptu - Chapter 1: Oasis
Jim sighed, “I’m hoping Arkham is prepared. We won’t know until we get there…”
He turned around. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the dark knight had departed - silent as ever. “Goddammit.”
The previous night had been challenging, to say the least, and the morning had devolved into further chaos. The new prisoner being shipped off to Arkham had escaped captivity for the second time in a row, and they had been lucky to catch them early on during the third attempt. Jim didn’t relish the thought of what kind of damage might have followed if the dark knight had not appeared.
Stepping into the GCPD police cruiser, Jim followed the procession as it headed towards the infamous Asylum – as was his duty. As commissioner it fell to him to make sure the asset was contained. However, on the way Jim couldn’t help but muse over how days like this really made him miss cigarettes - though he had kicked the habit years ago thanks to his daughter.
Jim sent a quick text to Barbara to let her know he would be home later rather than sooner and gripped the steering wheel tightly. Gotham had no shortage of deranged criminals – but every now and then another popped up and it always managed to be a surprise, no matter how much he tried to brace himself for the unusual.
Jonathan looked up from the book he was reading and scowled - the guards had appeared. Peeking over one of their shoulders, he noted the time. Ignoring them, Jonathan pressed the tip of index finger to his tongue, wetting it. He flicked the page of the book, turning it over, and continued reading.
Or tried to.
After a while, the sound of a baton hitting flesh began to distract him and Jonathan looked up at the perceived threat. He adjusted his glasses and sighed, doing his best to look unperturbed. “Need I remind you two, rec time isn’t over yet.”
The guard with the name tag ‘Flint’ moved towards him and nodded at the other.
Jonathan grimaced – the one named ‘Barron’ was carrying a straitjacket.
“Don’t make this harder than it needs to be, Crane.” Barron said.
Jonathan was sure he heard a slight lit in their voice as they spoke. They were hoping he would be difficult – it would give them an excuse to use violence. As such, he tried for a compromise.
He held up the book he was in the middle of reading. “May I at least take it with me?”
The guards looked at each other; the inmates weren’t supposed to take things back to their cells. The materials in the activity rooms – if one could even call it that – were to remain strictly in their designated area.
Flint shook their head. “Not today, Crane.”
Jonathan watched them with interest. The guards practically exuded nervous energy: shaking of the hands, a constant flickering of the eyes, followed by an inability to hold prolonged contact, and just the merest twitch of the body…there.
The signs were quite obvious, Jonathan thought, and while a certain vigilance might be expected when approaching an inmate – this level of visible agitation could only mean one thing: something big was going on and undoubtedly, or perhaps more importantly, it meant that Arkham was on high alert.
Things were about to get interesting.
Jonathan smiled and the guard named Barron flinched. Jonathan’s smile widened and Flint rolled their eyes – they had been through this song and dance before.
Well, if they were going to interrupt his leisure time and put him back into his cell, Jonathan figured he could, at the very least, make sure they left the room filled with doubt. He wanted them to know they had made an error – and had been sorely mistaken if they thought he was going to make returning to his cell easy for them.
Jonathan was quick to move past Barron – he threw the book at them, and they threw their arms up in defense. Jonathan then shoved the desk over to block their way as he got through the door and slammed it shut, locking it. He heard the telltale sound of radio chatter calling for backup and sprinted down the corridor.
He turned a corner and caught sight of an inmate – she wasn’t someone he recognized - a new face, then. She was strapped in tightly against a wheelchair and she fidgeted against the hold of the straitjacket that bound her limbs together.
Perhaps she had something to do with the commotion and agitation of the guards?
No sooner had this thought crossed Jonathan’s mind when he heard a click from behind him and felt a sharp sting of a needle burrow its way into his shoulder. He slipped as his legs failed to carry his weight and he fell to the ground in a heap.
Jonathan groaned as the numbing agent spread through his body and more guards turned the corner – Flint and Barron among them. Barron pulled out a taser and gave him a cruel grin, intent on getting payback for giving them the slip. Jonathan scoffed at the implication - not that it would do much as he couldn’t feel anything at the moment. Though he suspected that as soon as the numbness wore off, he would be getting a surprise visit from Barron later.
Jonathan had no choice but to lay there as the guards forced his numb limbs into the straitjacket’s sleeves.
But it wasn’t all bad, he supposed. On the ground, he had a view of the new inmate. He noticed she had ceased struggling against the jacket’s hold and that her posture had stiffened considerably.
Her hair was long and white, and the ends curled slightly inwards, resting against where Jonathan assumed her elbows would be. It was hard to tell with the straitjacket. Her eyes strangely enough, resembled that of lilacs.
She stared back at him from where she was sitting. Her mouth was a hard line, and her dark eyebrows were creased. Was that concern he detected written across her features? Surely not.
Jonathan was hauled up as the guards buckled the straps of the straitjacket. He wasn’t too surprised when the breath got knocked out of his lungs. He supposed it was on account of the guards tightening the straps more than was necessary, probably for the trouble he gave them.
Determined to get one last look at the new inmate, Jonathan did his best to turn his head in her direction and mouthed silently at her, “Welcome.”
As expected, only a few short hours later the door to Jonathan’s cell opened.
“Dinner time.” Barron’s voice said flatly. He dropped the tray and it fell unceremoniously to the ground.
Jonathan sighed and leaned back against the wall; the straitjacket allowed for little else in way of movement. Barron came closer and Jonathan exhaled, feigning boredom by blowing away a stray piece of hair that had fallen in front of his face. He shifted and eyed Barron.
“I suppose you’re here as payment for earlier, yes?” he asked, keeping his tone neutral. Barron grabbed him roughly by the front of the jacket and threw him backwards.
Jonathan’s lower back hit the concrete slab that jutted out from the wall, and he tried to suppress a groan as a sliver of pain jutted sharply up his spine. He would likely be sore tomorrow, but he didn’t want to give Barron the satisfaction of knowing he had caused him even the smallest amount of inconvenience.
As such, Jonathan kept his expression as stilted as possible as he slid to the floor. The jacket didn’t really account for balance either, so there was no assurance of a comfortable or even a graceful landing. Jonathan huffed as he was forced to sit on the floor, with Barron hovering over him.
He cracked a smile in Barron’s direction – one that he knew would agitate the man.
It worked like a charm.
Barron pulled out the taser and jabbed it in Jonathan’s direction.
Jonathan didn’t bother trying to move – he knew there wasn’t a high probability of him getting away in the small enclosure without getting hit. The small hooks dug into his neck and Jonathan gasped as Barron turned the device on. His body spasmed uncontrollably as the electricity hit him in waves. When it was over Jonathan panted as he struggled to breathe and glared up at Barron.
In response, Barron grabbed Jonathan and lifted him up by the hair. Jonathan grunted as Barron looked him in the eye. “You feel that freak?”
Jonathan didn’t humor him with a response and in retaliation, Barron dropped him. Once again, Jonathan found himself on the floor and Barron made to shock him again.
But Jonathan knew something that Barron didn’t. As soon as he felt he could breathe again, Jonathan hissed in Barron’s direction. “Idiot.” He jutted his chin upwards towards the corner of the cell – where a camera sat perched.
Its red light blinked, indicating it had captured the assault.
Jonathan refrained from grinning as the color drained from Barron’s face.
Barron growled in frustration and retrieved the small hooks embedded Jonathan’s skin – he was bleeding where the hooks had been – another sign, and clear evidence of mistreatment.
Barron was new to the system and Jonathan figured he had likely been warned by the other guards that the inmates could be quite…difficult, to put it mildly, and that he had also likely been told that, due to guarding the Asylum inmates, they could easily get away with using excessive force - whether or not the situation called for it.
Of course, it was also common knowledge amongst the Arkham population that most of the guards who ended up working there tended to hold grudges against the inmates, for one reason or another.
Barron had been working there for just under a month and had consistently managed to abuse his power nearly every chance he got. Jonathan figured he was doing the rest of the rogues and himself a favor by getting rid of the man.
Now they would just have to wait and see.
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