To be honest, Batman didn't care how Jonathan Crane had escaped from Arkham Asylum. He didn't think he even cared that he had anymore. By now, it was just an established fact that for every lunatic he managed to get behind bars, another three were back giving him Hell on the streets of Gotham. More often than not, as was the case right now, they managed to escape during the holiday seasons while Arkham Asylum was understaffed, almost as though they all knew the great secret that he daylighted as Bruce Wayne and were determined to mess up his public schedule. He, Bruce Wayne, had places he was expected to be and no, Scarecrow, the South China Sea was not one of those places, somehow. And yet here he was, holidaying on a private Filipino Island with a person clef and Selina Kyle, posing for some magazine or another that had turned up for the photo opportunity and insisted that Selina had to be seen looking sexy on his side. In fact, the only reason he was putting up with it was that he wanted to go snatch some alone time later and satiate his Detective's curiosity. He hated that he'd let one little note handed to GCPD by a criminal then delivered to Batman via Commissioner James Gordon get to him.
The note hadn't been much, and by rights it should've been scrunched into a very tight ball of paper and ignored in the same way that paperclips and old pennies were invariably lost down the back of a sofa over time. But people like Crane (intelligent men who'd turned to a life of crime rather than good, such as Tommy Elliot and Edward Nigma) posed challenges, challenges they would decide that they had won if Batman ignored them. And if they thought they won, then it would get to their heads, and they'd be not only absolutely insufferable to deal with but more likely to commit crimes in the future. It would have a placebo effect, he was sure. And neither Bruce's or Batman's pride would let him do that; lose. It was like not telling a dog that the bed wasn't the place to sleep, or ignoring how your teenage child crept out the window every night and came home drunk out of their mind. It displayed a weakness, and he couldn't stand that, and so he'd had to book to tickets to Manila – three, if you counted Selina's – and pay someone anonymously to say Batman had bought them a ticket, while making it clear that Batman was still somewhere on the same plane, or at least a plane going the same way. Sending a message to Crane. He'd left Nightwing in charge of the city less than an hour after he'd answered the Batsignal from Gordon, and read the note.
Coordinates, the number of a local scuba-gear rental store, and the words 'T'is the season, Batman'. Funny, Batman had always thought riddles were The Riddler's line of work. But the note wasn't something that he could refuse.
The dive shop had been easy to find. Bruce had gone dressed as Batman, and judging by how frantically all but one clerk had cleared the shop he assumed he had been expected as such. Sized up in advance too, it would seem – it sent a chill down his spine that Crane knew enough about his physique to have called ahead and arranged a good suit. But as it was, all that he'd needed to rent was the regulator, BCD and nitrox tank. All the rest he'd brought with him, studiously and pedantically named with the prefix Bat and motified with the same tell tale logo that he and Alfred had come up with, in a very large Bat-box. In a Bat-plane that Alfred and Dick had flown over in under the guide of visiting a sick friend of Dick's from back in his circus days while his adoptive father was on a romantic Christmas getaway with another rich bachelorise. But where securing equipment had been easy, convincing any local guides that he wasn't a demon who had come down to Earth disguised as a bad, without removing his mask, had been night impossible. And when he had found a guide, translating the coordinates into a local landmark had been even trickier, and he could only assume with the help of Google Earth that yes, he wanted to dive off of Barracuda Lake.
But he still didn't know what The Scarecrow was so eager for him to see. The man was motivated by a person's fears, discovery thereof and dominance over, and since he knew Batman's inner demons lay with bats and the murder of his parents (although Batman had somehow kept it a secret over all these years exactly whose death it was who he had witnessed) it didn't make any sense. So here he was, sixteen metres underwater, looking for something that might explain Jonathan Crane's insistence that he take a look. Was there a trap, some convoluted collaboration between the villains of Gotham City to get rid of The Batman over Christmas? Or to kill him? Somehow he found it hard to believe that Crane just had a bizarre sense of Christmas spirit, or wanted Batman's opinion of the holiday destination. Sudoku was a challenge, this was more of an insatiable itch. He refused to surface until he'd worked out this riddle that was more infuriating that anything The Riddler could come up with. Or until his air ran out, whichever came first.
José, his guide, paddled over with a confused and wary expression, giving him the sign for 'ok'. Giving him the same sign back with forefinger and thumb, Batman couldn't blame him; how many tourists insisting on diving dressed up as a bat, after all? He kicked ahead, checking his tank vitals on his wrist-watch before checking out his surroundings again. Barracudas, as the name suggested, box corals, the odd triggerfish… It was all very beautiful, Batman was sure, but he just wasn't appreciating it. In face, he was about to call it a day and resurface, spending the rest of the day with Selina, when he saw it. Them. His blood froze, and suddenly he couldn't see José, couldn't see the bottom, and could only see himself and the shoal of yelling and black fish staring him down across the ocean. Ten, twenty, maybe even thirty fish, all with striped fins like sails top and bottom. What were they? Why Batman's sudden inexplicable fear as the shoal swam closer and closer like a plague of locusts? He needed up, he needed air, and out! Where was José? How quick could the fish move? Batman shivered, looking for his guide, jerking his thumb insistently in the sign for 'let's surface' and making his ascent.
"What were those fish?"
"Batfish, my friend, Batfish! Very common here! Batfish!" José seemed especially excited, but Batman couldn't help but laugh awkwardly, shaking his head in disbelief. Unscrewing the top of his tank, he checked the air for fear toxin.
"Batfish… Wrong holiday, Crane."