'What are you doing?'
You tilt your head, acknowledging the burlap-covered figure in the corner of your eye. He speaks with a gravelly southern drawl, making you feel as if your skin is being scratched at by straw that pokes out from his ragged sleeves.
His name is Scarecrow.
"Just thinking," You say, out loud, adjusting your suitcase. Out here, standing on the porch of your dead granny's house, no one can hear you but the crows. "It's going to be weird leaving Arlen."
'You're going to miss this dump?' Scarecrow asks. His tone is both incredulous and scathing.
"What? No. Why would you - I would never. I've lived in Arlen my whole life, that's all. It only makes sense for me to feel some semblance of oddity." You explain, beginning to walk down the porch stairs. Your suitcase does not roll down after you. Rather, it awkwardly clunks around, your grip on the handle the only thing keeping it stable.
You keep walking toward an old, faded-blue car. It was just once your Granny's.
Now, it's yours.
You turn around back toward the house. Behind it, in the distance, is the dilapidated church that you locked your great-grandmother in. With a smirk, you remember dousing her clothes in an intensified version of what she once covered your clothes in - wild fowl pheromones, home-grown herbs, and rat juices.
'Her screams sounded better than any damn hymn I've ever heard in church.' Scarecrow laughs.
"Sherry's is a close second, though." You add, thinking of the girl who tricked you into thinking she would ever like you.
'Joke's on you, Squires.' You think, knowing that Scarecrow can hear you anyway. 'You're dead, and your boyfriend is in a coma.'
Scarecrow throws his head backward, cackling even harder this time.
You turn your eyes back toward great-grandma Keeney's place.
"Let's get out of this cesspool of idiots." You say, voice raised so you can hear yourself. You start walking towards the front seat of your car.
Scarecrow just keeps laughing.
The thing is, despite having a full scholarship, you are also a full-time college student.
That means you're broke.
Well, as good as, anyway. What money you do have usually goes to paying for rent, textbooks, or food.
When you go to your advisement office, you find out - to your annoyance - that the only paid internship opportunities begin hiring next semester.
Job searching it is.
After a ridiculous amount of applications and interviews, you find a job at a bakery eventually. It has a decent pay and flexible hours. The only annoyances so far are the occasional customers who stare at you for your figure - which you begrudgingly put up with because you need the money.
(It's not that you have an astonishingly attractive body. Actually, it's rather the opposite. You're tall and abnormally lanky, with longer legs and arms than usual.)
It's three weeks into the job, though, that something weird happens.
On Wednesday, at 7:05 in the morning, the door opens, hitting the wind chime hanging from the ceiling. As a ringing echoes in the bakery, you look up at the door entrance.
There, a man stands. He is bald, tall, and clad in black from head to toe.
The co-worker next to you, Mateo, stiffens as the man walks closer.
"Shit. Nope. You're at the register." Mateo says, trying his best to casually back up. He turns to the donut display, takes out a piece of wax paper, and starts straightening out the circular confections as if they're the most interesting things in the world.
You walk to the register and smile at the man, who nods to you.
"One chocolate chip muffin and a coffee with one cream, two sugars." He says, sliding money over the counter.
You count out the money briefly. He's paid to the exact cent, tax included and all. Judging by that and the fancy suit, you get the impression that he works with money. A banker maybe? But then again, Mateo's reaction is far too unusual for this person to be an ordinary man.
This man is dangerous.
Mafia, maybe? You had heard of a Don Falcone and Don Maroni upon your first few days of entering Gotham, after all.
Just the thought makes you want to smile.
You wonder how many faces of horror this man has made people make.
It's a pity you can't ask him now.
"Alright, just a moment." You say instead, moving to fill his order. A minute later, you stand back at the counter, a fresh cup of coffee and a bag in your hands.
He takes the order and nods again in acknowledgement. Then, he tilts his head to look past you and stare at Mateo.
"That Boston Cream donut near your wrist is looking just a tad off center." He calls out with a grin.
Mateo jumps, knocking down a few donuts from the display.
"I guess just a little more are off center now," You mutter under your breath, seeing his hands shake with anxiousness. You smirk slightly.
The man's eyes shift back to you.
...Wait, did he hear you?
He laughs slightly, as if knowing what you're thinking, before turning around and walking away. The wind chime rings as he exists.
Mateo lets out an audible breath when the door finally shuts.
You later learn that man is Victor Zsasz.
Seven months later, you move to an evening shift at the bakery and sign up for an internship with a forensic psychologist at the GCPD.
It's nothing too difficult, much to your growing annoyance. You can't provide any sentence recommendations, you can't give any treatment suggestions, you can't supply any assessments of future risk, and you can't even evaluate witness credibility.
Instead, you're stuck filling out paperwork and fetching coffee.
It's a Friday morning that your routine of monotony is finally interrupted.
You're sitting at the front office of your supervisor's room, one hand holding a pen and the other holding pieces of paperwork that cover half of the class psychology textbook you're reading. Because, seriously? A textbook you've read more than twice now is more engaging than your supervisor.
"Doctor Taylor?" A voice calls out, a knock following a second later.
You look up at the door, which is already open, to see a man with glasses and brown hair looking at you with confusion.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I was looking for Doctor Taylor." He says, holding up a hand to show you a manila folder. "Is he in?"
You twirl the pen in your hand and shake your head. "No, he's at City Hall giving testimony in court today. But I can take any paperwork you have for him and make sure he gets it when he comes back."
The man moves toward the desk, the door closing behind him. When he reaches you, he pauses, pointing at you with the manila folder.
"You're the new intern." He states.
You raise an eyebrow. "I am." A 'what is your point, if you even have one?' goes unspoken.
He quirks an eyebrow back at you. "Walk on the living, they don't even mumble. Walk on the dead, they mutter and grumble. What are they?"
You look at him with blatant annoyance, which he mistakes as confusion because he moves the manila folder back to his side, smiles, and asks, "Give up?"
No, you don't give up. You knew the answer, you just didn't want to give him the satisfaction of saying it out loud because you think riddles are inane.
"Leaves. The answer is leaves," You lean back in your seat. "I just don't like riddles."
The man pauses, making a face that makes it seem like you've almost personally offended him. But, then, he speaks again.
"Technically, you did provide an answer, though."
"Only because mah internship consists of paperwork and coffee runs." You drawl, mentally cursing yourself at the slight Georgian accent on the word 'my.' You taught yourself to speak like someone from the Northeast before you left for Gotham, but you have some slip-ups here and there. "I am bored."
Perhaps your mornings would be more entertaining if Scarecrow was there to talk to. The thing was, though, that he hated getting coffee and filling out paperwork more than you. And, unlike you, he could slip into the recesses of your mind and skip out on all that.
"Well," The man says, holding out the manila folder again. "If you find yourself bored again, I'm down the hall to the left. Edward Nygma, forensic scientist."
You take the folder. "Joanna Crane, intern."
He nods with a smile and moves toward the door, waving slightly before he leaves.
The next week, you surprise both yourself and Nygma by going to see him before your coffee run for Taylor.
And, eventually, you develop some form of respect for him.
He's intelligent. Very much so, really. Most of the cases in the GCPD, you find, would not be even close to being solved without his work. You also learn that his mind is quick, almost faster than yours in some ways. You tell yourself it's just because he's older and has more experience.
But the operative words in the phrase 'some form of respect' are 'some form.' Because talking to Nygma leads to him inevitably talking about Kristen Kringle, an archivist, in some way, shape or form.
Your knowledge of psychology comes in handy when you want to subtly change the conversation.
What is more annoying, though, is the riddles.
Nygma knows his psychology, too. Not better than you — you know that for a fact — but well enough to know what to do when you say you don't want to answer his damn riddles.
"It's okay if you don't know the answer," He'll say with a pleasant smile, clasping his hands behind his back.
No matter how long it takes you to mull over his riddles, you always answer them.
Later, you make a horrible realization.
Nygma pours you a steaming hot cup of coffee and slides it over to you during one of your breaks to visit him. It's too hot for you to drink, but he knows that you like just having something warm to hold. Even in the early spring, Gotham's weather still feels like winter to you. You are, after all, from the south, and where you lived it never got colder than 50 degrees.
Nymga's eyes suddenly widen, and he fumbles with the coffee pot in his hand, which thankfully is now empty.
"Ms. Kringle!" He calls out, face a bit flushed.
"Hey... I'm just here to drop off the files you asked for." A woman says. Her voice sounds unsure and very uncomfortable. You turn around to see the Kristen Kringle you've heard so much about.
The slightly anxious expression of her face is quite lovely. You wonder what she'd look like terrified.
"Oh, thank you!" Nygma walks forward, and you have to move out of his way. "By the way, Ms. Kringle, this is my friend, Ms. Crane. Ms. Crane," He turns towards you, "This is Ms. Kringle."
"Hello," Ms. Kringle says with a polite smile.
You raise your cup of coffee. "Charmed," You respond.
Internally, you are thinking about the fact that Edward Nygma has just called you a friend. That's not true. Right? You only respect him because of his intelligence. You just have conversations with him because he's the only one here who will give you something worth your time to discuss. It's not like you visit him on lunch breaks. It's not like he pours you cups of coffee that will keep your hands warm. It's not like you're actually starting to grow somewhat fond of riddles...
You realize you're friends with Edward Nygma.
You suppose you should mentally refer to him by his first name, now.
It is your second year of college that you begin experimenting on others.
That you begin killing others.
It starts simply enough. You realize that you need a more practical experience with psychology and chemistry, so decide to do research on weekend nights at your apartment.
First, you get the lab rats by asking for an extra credit project - not that you need one - from your professor of animal psychology. Then, you get syringes and other materials over time from the forensic psychology department of the GCPD.
(You do the paperwork, after all. Technically, nothing has gone missing.)
After that, it's a simple matter of isolating hormones from the rats' adrenal glands.
Your first test starts with six rats and concludes with five. It takes ten minutes for one rat to start chattering its teeth at an inconsistent pace, fifteen minutes for two rats to start twitching rapidly, and half an hour for one rat to start jumping at the slightest noise.
The last one had keeled over on its side and died of cardiac arrest two minutes after the injection.
'It's a good start.' You think with satisfaction.
Improvements keep coming with subsequent alterations to the formula. Things peak at the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth alterations.
The logical course, then, is to either give up or do something differently.
And, well, you had always intended to do research on the effects of fear on human beings. Not rats.
You see which rat hormones are compatible with human DNA and start testing on yourself. Heart rates, twitches, and levels of anxiety.
You have several panic attacks, which Scarecrow has to talk you through.
They are not fun.
But, it wouldn't be a real experiment unless you had other humans to compare yourself to. It also wouldn't be a real experiment unless you were extracting and concocting substances based on human hormones.
Kidnapping it is, then.
Your first attempt at getting a test subject does not go... exactly as planned.
It is easy enough to get close to the man. You are a woman, and as such, he underestimates your potential threat level.
You inject him with a depressant strong enough to slow his movements. Unfortunately, he must have had an abnormal metabolic rate, because it is not strong enough to render him unconscious.
"Leggo of me!" He mutters, trying to push you away in the middle of an alley ten blocks away from your apartment.
Whatever. You take out another needle and move to inject him again.
"Stay away!" He shout-slurs, jumping back and knocking down two trash cans. He throws a punch that you easily dodge.
'Let me at him.' Scarecrow says in mind. 'I'll shut him up real good.'
'No, Scarecrow.' You think with a roll of your eyes. Out loud, you address the man you injected. "You should come quietly, save us all the trouble."
The man pants slowly and heavily. "Back off!"
"I can't do that," You answer.
The man pushes himself to an alley wall. Then, he pushes himself off of the wall and towards you, a knife - one that he must have kept on person - in his hand.
You dodge again, thrusting your hand with the syringe downward. The needle goes through his skin.
The syringe also goes through his neck.
Shit. You hadn't meant to do that.
Scarecrow cackles with unabashed glee. He revels in the fact that you've miscalculated, that you're covered in blood, and that you've murdered someone tonight.
'It's just too bad that we didn't get to hear him scream.' He thinks as the man, now on the concrete, gurgles blood.
Shit. Now you have to get rid of a body.
Scarecrow stays silent as you think of ways to dispose of the man. Although he likes that you made a mistake, the possibility of you getting caught is more serious for him. Where you go, he goes, after all.
When you finally do dispose of the man early in the early morning - when it's still dark - you make sure to cut out his adrenal gland and place it in a vial beforehand.
It is the same afternoon of disposing that first body that you walk into your afternoon shift, tired and irritable. You just barely managed to have a conversation with Nygma without him noticing something too off. So that was half of your remaining energy from last night/this-early-morning gone.
Right now, you wanted to get your shift over with, go home, and sleep.
The wind chime rings, and you look up from the register.
It's Victor Zsasz.
To your knowledge, though Don Falcone's assassin only came into the bakery every so often, he always did so during the morning shift. You know this, because even though you had left that time-slot, occasionally your afternoon shift would overlap with Mateo's double shifts. And Mateo would not stop worrying for his life.
It's not as entertaining anymore, but you still like seeing Mateo fearful from time to time.
Zsasz slides some money over the counter. His order never changes, so you take the cash, open the register, put in the money, and move to get his order.
When you hand him his coffee, he laughs slightly.
"Excuse me?" You ask, raising an eyebrow.
He takes the bag with his muffin from your hand. He places it under the ring finger from the hand holding his coffee.
"I saw you last night, Ms. Joanna." He says. "It was very... interesting."
He leaves the bakery with a smirk, the wind chime echoing in your ears.
You tell your co-worker, Zoe, that you're taking your 15 minute break.
'Let me do this,' Scarecrow croons in your ear.
Against your better judgment, you let him take over.
Three hours later, you wake up on the floor of your apartment with a split lip, bruised cheek, and a ringing headache. Your phone vibrates incessantly, and you roll over to reach your back pocket.
You have five missed calls from Zoe, three voicemails from her, and one text from an unknown number.
'Met your other self. Don't worry, we came to an arrangement. But I'm curious: was it Joanna or alter-you who killed that man last night? ;) -V'
"What arrangement." You hiss, gritting your teeth.
Scarecrow does not answer. You don't know if it's because he's been in control for too long or if it's because he wants you to be surprised.
"Muffins." You state incredulously a week later.
"Muffins." Zsasz nods from the couch. He has blood shot eyes, two broken fingers, and dried blood - none of it his, you suspect - all over his clothes.
"You're not going to tell anyone because you want me to make muffins?" You ask. Then, you turn and point at your clock. "You realize it's 3 in the morning? You couldn't have waited three and a half more hours for the bakery to open?"
"I had a craving." Zsasz shrugs. "And we had a deal. Didn't your alter tell you?"
Somewhere in the back of your mind, Scarecrow giggles.
You hate him.
'No you don't,' He says in a sing-song voice.
"They said that you worked in the back sometimes and knew their muffin recipes. And, what can I say." Zsasz smiles with a shrug. "Free food."
You wonder if his nonchalant attitude is something he just has naturally or if it's something he picked up to intimidate people while he was killing them. Maybe it's a mix of both.
"Alright. Fine." You exhale sharply and trudge your way to the kitchen. "I'll make your stupid muffins."
"And coffee." He adds, raising a finger.
"And coffee." You repeat, unamused.
Forty minutes later, Zsasz bites into a freshly made muffin while you silently wish he miraculously chokes on it.
"I have to ask, why did you kill that man?"
"Why do you kill people?" You counter with narrowed eyes, taking your own muffin from the batch.
"What can I say? The job market sucks." Zsasz laughs.
You take a bite of your muffin and roll your eyes. You chew for a few seconds before swallowing.
When you speak, Scarecrow speaks with you.
"Fear. We killed him to see and use his fear."
Zsasz smiles. It's not one of his regular smiles that he's been throwing around since he broke into your apartment a few hours prior. No, this smile is vicious, cruel, and cold.
You can't help but appreciate the way it looks.
He smile grows as he says the words:
"I do it for the thrill."
And, well, maybe you can put up with this deal.
The next five kidnappings — and killings — are spread out through undergraduate and graduate school. They go without incident. You cut out the adrenal glands of your victims before they die at your hand — Scarecrow always makes sure they're terrified before the first incision — and work toward a formula for a human fear toxin. You always make sure to dispose of the bodies in places no one would look.
Injecting others with you working formula is enjoyable to watch. Their reactions are so different, their are fears so revealing, and their are screams so soothing.
Injecting yourself, however, is a different matter. Your recent concoctions have certainly been something.
You can smell the stench of rat juices and crows peck peck peck at open wounds, scraping and stabbing and slicing with their beaks. Bo Griggs plays the church organ - a song from Sunday masses that you have long forgotten until now - as Sherry Squires laughs and throws rotting pumpkins at your head.
Then the music stops, and Sherry stops laughing.
The sound of a cane clacking against the church floor echoes.
"Fear you?" Great-grandma Keeney snarls, wrinkles deep and eyes filled with mocking glee. "Fear a pathetic, useless, unwanted girl like you?!"
Sherry starts laughing again, followed by Griggs, who walks over to stand on the other side of Granny.
Granny raises her cane.
You struggle to crawl away, but your limbs are heavy and shaking and numb and they fail you as you fall to the floor.
The flock of crows multiplies, and all you see are feathers and Granny's eyes. All you feel are peck-peck-pecks and scratches and scrapes and slices and all you hear are Grigg and Squires laughing and you can taste bile and blood in the back of your throat and please no Granny, I'll be good I swear please stop please stop.
The feeling of a cane against your bones joins in.
When you wake up the next morning, you prepare another injection for yourself to use that night.
It was not an enjoyable process. Far from it, really.
This project is not only about studying fear, but overcoming it as well.
You're sitting cross legged on an empty examination table of the forensics lab when you first meet Jim Gordon, rookie cop.
"The ages of the bears were determined by counting cementumn annuli in excised vestigial premolar teeth," Edward says, leaning over a microscope and looking at a broken human jaw with only two teeth. He is talking about genetic variation and relatedness in grizzly bears in northern Alaska, which, though not particularly interesting, Edward makes up for with his enthusiasm. "Genotypes for 14 micro satellite DNA loci were determined by -"
He is interrupted by a knock on the door.
"Come in," Edward calls out.
A man with blonde hair and a square jaw walks in. Though you've long finished your internship and college - both undergraduate and graduate school - you find yourself recognizing him.
"Hey, Ed. You got anything new on our case?"
"I do, in fact, Detective Gordon." Edward says with a smile, moving away from his microscope and moving to get a file on the table opposite to you. "Detective Gordon, Doctor Joanna Crane. Doctor Crane, Detective James Gordon." He adds, gesturing to both of you when he says your respective names.
Something clicks, and oh. That's why you recognize the face. A few weeks ago, James Gordon and Harvey Bullock's faces were all over the news for solving the Wayne murders.
"I was just about to go Gotham U, anyway. I have a class that starts in half an hour." You say, more to Edward than to Gordon. You aren't a member of the GCPD, so you probably shouldn't stick around and listen to information pertaining to a car. Besides, Gordon works for homicide, and though he doesn't scare you, you think it's a good idea to stay away from homicide detectives on principle. Less people who will potentially look into their deaths if they get to a little too nosy, after all.
"What is it that no man ever yet did see, which never was, but always is to be?"
You glare at Edward.
"It's okay if you don't know." He says with a smirk you want to wipe off of his face.
You open your mouth to answer his dumb riddle. At least he didn't clasp his hands behind his back this time.
"The answer is t-"
"Tomorrow." Gordon interrupts. He looks at you and nods after realizing you were just about to say the same.
"I'll see you tomorrow." Edward says, confirming the answer.
You get up and walk toward the door, looking back to wave toward the forensic scientist.
"It was nice meeting you." Gordon says with a half-hearted smile. You know he's just being polite. He doesn't mean a word of that.
"Nice meeting you as well." You say, raising your chin slightly as you pass him.
You don't mean a word of that either.
Three weeks later, the second time you meet Jim Gordon, he is pointing a gun to you.
He has just broken the lock to your apartment and you have had not had the time to clean up all evidence of experimentation.
The GCPD found the body of one of your experiment subjects.
Well, a quarter of the body, anyway. It's easier to bury corpses in fractions. The holes are smaller and generally more inconspicuous.
You hadn't expected some campers to start digging a campfire directly over two rotting legs, though.
'Let me take care of Jimmy here,' Scarecrow says, making knocking noises with his non-existent tongue. 'Come on, open up the hatch.'
'Not yet.' You think, reaching behind your back and quickly snatching something up among the syringes and files.
"Hand where I can see them!" Gordon barks, re-directing his gun to aim directly between your eyebrows.
"You covered the Viper case, didn't you?" You say with a slight smirk, the item slipping into your sleeve as you raise your hands. "I have to say, that was quite intriguing. People taking the substance of their own volition... Not to mention, a gaseous substance is much easier to spread than a liquid one."
The gas part is the one you draw inspiration from the most.
"You have the right to remain silent." Gordon says, taking out handcuffs from his back pocket. "I suggest you use it. Cuff yourself."
He throws the handcuffs towards you, and your wrist flicks forward. The item falls on harshly against the floor and you catch the handcuffs.
Gordon's eyes widen as he registers what you dropped.
A canister, that, as soon as it has impacted against the floor, had started to fill the room with gas.
You reach behind yourself once more to grab the mask on your table. It is burlap, with stitches over the eyes and mouths — the head of the scarecrow you used to talk to in Arlen. On its sides you have added gas filters, creating a sort of macabre gas mask.
Gordon tries to shoot you while simultaneously squinting and covering the lower half of his face. Two bangs go off as you make your escape through the window, but, on the third bullet, he shoots you in the shoulder.
You drop suddenly, and instinctively, you let Scarecrow take over.
The last thing you hear is Jim Gordon's screams.
Twenty eight hours later, you meet Jim Gordon for a third time. He has a gun pointed to your head again. Only this time, he has back up. Harvey Bullock stands by his side, gun aimed at the back of your head whereas Gordon's is aimed at the front.
"You know it's funny, Nygma was the one who helped us find you." Bullock says.
You grit your teeth at the information, hand cradling your recently-stitched up shoulder. Of course your so called 'friendship' would become a liability. You wonder if Edward helped the GCPD find you faster than anticipated because he knew you were the perpetrator. A sort of extra motivation, you suspect.
"You're going to Arkham," Gordon adds gruffly, as if it weren't already obvious. He takes out a pair of handcuffs and throws it at your injured shoulder. You hiss in pain as the hard metal makes contact with the wound, glaring at him with venom.
"Cuff yourself," Bullock demands. "And if you try to pull any funny business like you did with Jim here, I will put a bullet in the back of your skull."
You know you can't escape. Scarecrow is at the back of your mind after being in control for so long, you have an injured shoulder, and you suspect that backup from the GCPD is waiting outside for you.
With a sigh, you hand cuff yourself as they read you your rights.
When they put you in the back of their car, other policemen are indeed standing by.
Edward is there too.
But he doesn't even look at you.
...You tell yourself you don't care.
You hate Arkham. The walls are too white, the food is bland and always over cooked, and people keep trying to touch you.
Not to mention the screaming.
There's always the screaming.
And, because they forcefully administer sedatives, you're tired. You are always tired. Not only that, but you haven't heard the familiar southern drawl of Scarecrow in a while either. There's only the occasional mumble, and even then you have to strain to hear him.
It's too quiet in your head and not quiet enough outside.
You can't believe you ever entertained the notion of becoming the director of a place like this one day.
Maybe this place is so abhorrent because of current director, though.
Hugo Strange, you find, is quite the suspicious person.
"Hello, Ms. Crane." He says as you sit down in his office. He pours you some tea and gestures to the seat across from him. "Please, sit down."
"It's Dr. Crane, actually." You correct, gathering the strength to sneer. The sedatives take a lot out of you. You don't sit down because of this — you think you might collapse if you take a step forward — so you opt instead to stand by the door.
"Ah, yes, but you're my patient and your license has been revoked. So here, you are just Ms. Crane." He says, smiling at you like he's indulging a child.
You want to throw the pot of hot tea in his face. You've had enough men ignoring your title and calling you "Miss" in Gotham University.
"What do you want?" You ask, eyes narrowed.
Strange sips his tea and tilts his head. It is a practiced motion. "How do you like Arkham so far?"
"There's no liking to it." You respond with a deadpan tone.
Strange just laughs slightly. "Ah, yes. I can see how you could think that. But if you really don't like Arkham... perhaps we could work out a deal."
You raise an eyebrow. "Excuse me?"
"You see, I am interested in that fear gas that you used against Detective Gordon. I saw from the report that it was... ah, very potent. We already have some of your original trial samples, but —"
"You want the most recent formula for my fear toxin." You say. Though you make sure to compose your face, you're surprised. You've had your suspicions that Strange was, well... strange, but you didn't think he was running his own experiments as well. That had to be what he was doing, after all, if he asked for your toxin. "In exchange for what?"
"A early release perhaps?" Strange says, making his hands fingertips meet. It is a gesture of body language that conveys power and control. You suspect he does it intentionally.
You straighten your back and lift your chin slightly. "Not good enough. Send me back to my cell."
Strange sighs. "A pity. Perhaps you will reconsider at a later time."
"Not very likely." You say. "I'm not just going to hand over my life's work."
"I can appreciate the sentiment." Strange nods, and you get the feeling that he really means what he is saying. "But remember, Ms. Crane, you have no power without that toxin. Here in Arkham, you are just another patient."
You turn your back to him and open the door. Guards are waiting for you on the other side, and as they escort you back to your cell, you can't help but laugh a little.
Strange is so very, very wrong.
You are not just another patient.
You are a psychologist.
The next day, you force yourself to walk into the recreation room and, struggling to stay awake, start separate conversations with two other inmates.
A month later, those inmates are both dead. They committed suicide, the coroner concludes, nothing more than that.
Of course, you and Strange both know differently.
He confines you to solitary imprisonment.
It's too bad that you were there when six other inmates were broken out. You wonder if whoever got to them would have broken you out too.
You lose track of time after that. You aren't allowed to leave your cell. You don't get to see the news. You don't get to talk to anyone else.
Not that you would talk to anyone else, necessarily, but the option would still be nice.
After days or months or however long you've been in solitary confinement, though, suddenly, your dosage of sedatives drastically decreases. What's more, you are allowed in the recreation room again with no explanation.
Something is wrong.
"Joanna?" A familiar voice asks.
No. It can't be.
You turn around and see Edward Nygma standing behind you. Only, he's not dressed in his usual lab coat. No, this time, he's dressed in a pair of matching black and white striped clothes. He's dressed in the uniform of an Arkham inmate.
"Explain." You say, speech slightly slurred and eyes unfocused. You wish that Scarecrow were here so you could both wrap your fingers around Edward's neck and squeeze until his face went red and his eyes bulged. You can't believe you were ever 'friends' with him.
"What's wrong with you?" He asks, furrowing his eyebrows.
"Sedatives." You hiss, taking care to enunciate the word. "Lorazepam, chlorodiazepoxide, nitrazepam, diazepam, and zolpidem. And maybe even other drugs if they slip things into my food. Now," You continue, taking a step forward. "Explain."
"I framed Jim Gordon for murder." He says, standing his ground.
You pause, inspecting his face for any signs of a lie. But the way he didn't flinch from you tells you that something is different about him now. The Edward you knew would have reacted in some way.
"The murder of Kristen Kringle," He continues, smiling slightly, almost fondly. "I also killed Officer Dougherty."
But then again, other people always did insult Edward. Always taunted and taunted and taunted. They never game him enough credit for his work. They never game him the respect he deserved.
You thought he might snap at some point, but not like this.
"It felt good, didn't it?" You mutter. You strain to focus your eyes and stare into his.
Edward doesn't blink. He exhales shakily instead, smile still on his face.
You know why Strange suddenly let you free. He wanted to see your reaction to Edward. Wanted to see Edward's reaction to you. A form of sick entertainment for the director.
You can't help but admire that about Strange.
"You," You shove a finger toward Edward, "Are such a hypocrite for helping the GCPD put me in here."
Edward finally blinks.
"It's good to see you again, Joanna."
"Are you two fighting again?" Edward asks, stepping in between two other inmates.
You look up from your book to stare as Helzinger yells at Rudy for calling him fat. Honestly, you don't know why Edward even bothers with them. Sure, you'll manipulate the other inmates from time to time, but that's only ever when you're being directly threatened.
Maybe it's because he's bored and has nothing else to do. You wouldn't blame him for that.
You'd rather not waste your energy, though. The sedatives aren't as strong as they were before, but you still are rather tired for the most part.
"He called me fat!" Helzinger yells, pointing an accusing finger at Rudy.
"I didn't do anything! It was be-" Rudy exhales. "It was Lucy."
'The fifth personality again,' You tell yourself.
"The fifth personality again," Edward sighs, crossing his arms and repeating your thought unknowingly. "Such a nasty attitude. See this gets complicated," He turns to Helzinger. "See Lucy is in his head. Because Rudy has what is called multiple —"
"In his head?!" Helzinger asks. "Well I'll pull her right out—"
"No, no, no, no! She's, she's a ghost." Edward says, pushing Helzinger back. "Yes, and she makes Rudy say things that he doesn't want to say."
He gasps dramatically and places his hands over Rudy and Helzinger's arms, as if he's protecting them.
"I can see her." He stage-whispers.
You roll your eyes and go back to your book momentarily.
A minute later, you can hear someone say, "Go to hell, Ed."
You know that voice.
You look up from your book to see Detective Jim Gordon standing on the opposite end of the cage wall. You don't know if you should commend him for getting out of Edward's trap — because it was quite well-planned — or slap him for not figuring it out it was Edward sooner.
Because, really? Edward regularly drank out of a question mark mug.
"Oh, you've already put me there. Here." You hear Edward say with a bitter, sarcastic laugh. "But not for long, my friend. I'll find my way out. Cause this place is just one big puzzle, and puzzle are my forte." He raises a finger and rolls it around.
Then, he puts his hand against the cage again. "Nobody beats me."
Gordon steps closer and pauses.
"I did." He retorts snidely. A scornful smile is on his face. "See you never, Ed."
Gordon walks away.
"That's what you think." Edward says.
You go back to your book. Only, again, a minute later, you hear Edward speaking again.
"Eavesdropping implies intent, and I mostly... accidentally overheard." He says, this time standing a cross from Strange and Peabody, the latter of the two holding up a needle threateningly.
"Overheard what?" Strange asks in his slow, calculating manner.
"Jim Gordon. The word 'nuisance.' Sounds familiar. Probably has something to do with your releasing Penguin and Gordon's ex-fiance."
"Probably," Strange repeats.
"I can help you take him down. I know everything about Jim Gordon. If you let me out of here, we could probably just sit down in your office —"
"Mr. Nymga," Strange interrupts, "You can't help me. I'm here to help you. Those are the rules that were defined for the two of us. Now, there's another pressing matter," He moves to turn away.
"No! Listen, I uh,"
"I can manipulate people. I did it to Gordon once and I can do it again. People's brains... are just a mystery. And once you figure it out —" He snaps his fingers. "Look, Helzinger."
He walks over to the man. "Can't stand criticism because of an overbearing mother. Wants love and approval. Gets mad when he doesn't get it, so I give it." He pats Helzinger on the shoulder, and the man gives Edward a flower.
"Aw, thank you!" Edward says.
He walks away and continues showing off.
"Sharon. Kleptomaniacal. Due to obsessive compulsive disorder." He takes her book and moves it around. The woman frantically fellows the novel. Seconds later, Edward places the book back in the hands. "Just give her something to focus on."
"And there's Nor-"
Norton walks up to Edward and presses his nose against the other man's cheek.
"Norton," Edward says. "Serious boundary issues." He pauses as Norton licks him, closing his eyes in disgust. "Prone to torture, violence, and cannibalism."
Norton grabs hold of Edward's hand and brings it to his mouth.
"Unless he think you're his friend!" He finishes, holding out the flower Helzinger gave him.
Norton gasps. "For me?"
Edward nods, and Norton hugs him.
"My point is," Edward says, "Everyone has a story, and they just want to be listened to. My god, I should be the shrink." He laughs.
You take slight offense to that.
"What did you say?" Strange says.
"I'm sorry, was that too far?" Edward responds.
"Everybody has a story." Strange repeats. "Mr. Nygma, you've actually been very helpful." He moves to turn away, then pauses. "Though, if I were ever to ask an inmate for help — and that's very, very unlikely — I would ask Ms. Crane. You see, unlike you, she actually has a doctorate in psychology and psychiatry."
Strange walks away.
"Mr. Nygma, you've been helpful. Mr. Nygma, you have been, you have actually been helpful." Edward says in a mocking tone, walking around the recreation room. He throws you a look. "Can you believe him? Dismissal. The complete arrogance."
You open your mouth to respond, but Peabody and two security guards walk into the room.
"Inmate Helzinger, come with me." She says.
"Yes, ma'm." Helzinger responds.
Edward holds a newspaper to his lips and raises his eyebrows at you. When the door is about to close, he puts the newspaper in between the lock.
"Come on." He says, motioning toward the door with his head.
"What are you doing?" You ask, raising an eyebrow. He sighs and grabs you by the arm, opening the door. You stumble slightly.
"They keep disappearing down that hallway." He says. "We are the only people with any semblance of intelligence in this asylum. Strange is hiding something, and we're going to figure out what it is."
He follows Helzinger down the hallway, and, because you don't want to lock yourself back in the recreation room, you follow him.
A few moments later, you end up in an empty corridor.
Helzinger is nowhere to be seen.
Edward looks around and smiles. "How interesting."
You frown at him. "Why do you want me to help you anyway?"
"Why do I —" Edward pauses. "We're friends, aren't we? And don't you want to get out of here? Out of Arkham? I'm surprised you haven't tried to figure a way out already."
"Are we?" You ask, crossing your arms. "Last I remember, you still helped to put me in here. And I would have escaped Arkham by now if I hadn't been placed in solitary confinement for seven months. Strange just let me out, and you're probably why."
Edward exhales, frustrated, and holds up his hands. "Look, I know I helped to put you in here. I admit I put in extra hours to see you caught as quickly as possible. I'm sorry for that. But, back then, I didn't know how good it is to feel that power when you —" He laughs, "When you kill someone. I didn't appreciate your work as much as I do now. Your research? Was riveting. And what I said about you being one of the only people with a semblance of intelligence in this asylum was true. But you're also one of the only people with a semblance of intelligence outside of this asylum. We can keep up with each other. Can you really say you know people you can have actual engaging conversations with regularly?"
You take in what he's just said.
"The first person I killed was my great-grandma. She was a bible-thumping, abusive old hag. And I saw crows tear her apart piece by piece." You whisper.
Edward tilts his head. "What?"
You cough pointedly, looking away. "We're friends, aren't we?"
Edward smiles. "We are."
"Although," You turn back to face him. Then, you muster all the energy you can and slap him across the face. Hard.
Edward falls to his knees. You stumble a bit as well.
"That's for putting me in here."
"Yep," Edward says, hissing in pain. "That's fair. That's fine. Doesn't even hurt that much."
Later, you sit in a cross-legged circle on the floor with Edward, Rudy, Sharon, and Norton.
"Okay," Edward says, pushing up his glasses. "Bobby pins?" He holds out his hand expectantly.
Sharon frowns and slowly hands over a sole bobby pin.
"It was all I could steal," Sharon explains weakly.
Edward pauses, but he takes it from her anyway. "It'll have to do. Rudy, did you get the ammonia?"
"Here." Rudy take out a white spray bottle with a red top. Edward takes it from him and squeezes the handle, pointing the bottle in the air. He inhales sharply.
Rudy sticks his tongue out to taste the ammonia.
"Okay," Edward leans forward. "Now we just need the bug zapper."
Norton leans forward as well, holding up a black fly swatter.
Edward frowns. "What is this?"
"It's a fly swatter!" Norton responds with a smile.
You resist the urge to laugh.
"I can see that it's a fly swatter. I didn't ask for a fly swatter. I asked for the bug zapper in the kitchen." Edward says.
"What's the difference?" Norton snaps.
"The difference is that one is a black light that emits ultra violet energy and this is leather on a stick!"
"They both kill flies!" Norton says.
Edward grasps the handle and swats Rudy with it. "I don't need to kill flies. I needed you to get the bug zapper from the kitchen!" He points the fly swatter to you. "Thankfully, I had a back up plan."
You smile and pull out the fly zapper from the security guard's desk.
"What are you going to do with all this stuff?" Sharon asks.
"Strange is hiding something," You say.
Edward smiles and beckons everyone closer with a finger. "And we think that something is a secret way out of this dump. So we're going to use this stuff... to find it."
Later, you and Edward both find out that you were very wrong.
The elevator descends and you both step out to hear screams, gurgles, and begging coming from shining, metal doors. Out of the corner of your eye, you see through a window of one of these doors. It is a man with eight eyes scattered across his head with four extra arms than he should have.
"Oh my." Edward says, trembling.
"He asked me for my fear toxin." You remember out loud. "I thought he was doing his own research too, but not... not like this."
Whatever 'this' is anyway, besides obvious human cross-species experimentation. On some level you can understand what Strange is doing. The whole reason you created your fear toxin was to forward your work and better your research, too. But the sense of understanding you feel for him is overridden by a sense of long-festering resentment. You haven't forgotten the fact that he forcefully put you on sedatives for the last few months.
"Let's get out of here," Edward says, rushing toward the elevator.
You quickly follow.
The next two days get a bit out of hand after that. Edward tries to break out through the air vents, though he's caught just as he gets outside. You wish you could've attempted the same, but unfortunately, there wasn't an air vent in your room.
But even though he was the only one to try it, somehow you end up with one of the experiments chained in your cell and cornering you in between the walls. This one has wide eyes, antennae, and pincers for a mouth. Some kind of beetle-man. Probably a variant of the flesh-eating kind.
To your credit, you don't scream or yell in fear - you just keep a straight face and maintain eye contact with the experiment.
Then, for some reason, Strange actually asks you and Edward to assist in interrogating Bruce Wayne and Lucius Fox. You mostly let Edward have fun with that — game shows and questions were always more his style. You can almost imagine him quizzing his future victims, maybe even asking riddles here and there.
Afterwards, Strange locks you and Edward back in your respective cells.
You are left wondering who is in charge of Wayne Enterprises.
Later, some time after Strange has been arrested, Edward walks into the rec room wearing a knit sweater. Its pattern is simplistic but fashionable and its sleeves reach the palms of his hands. Seeing him wearing it reminds you of how cold you are in your Arkham prisoner uniform. You barely lasted in Gotham when you had your civilian clothes due to your Southern upbringing — how you haven't died from one of your many bouts with the flu here, you'll never know.
"Sweater. How." You say, pointing to him with a half-folded academic journal. You don't bother with basic formalities or grammar. He has decent clothes. You want answers.
He smiles excitedly. "That is a mystery indeed."
You scoff, placing the journal back on your lap. "Never mind." The thought 'don't do it' repeats itself in your mind.
"You do not know my name or face. We will never speak in the same time or place. What am I?" Edward says, doing exactly what you did not want him to by reciting a riddle.
The answer comes to you quickly. And, well, even if you did have to listen to another riddle, you want an explanation.
"A stranger?" You say. "Why would a stranger give you a sweater?"
"Well." Edward pauses. "Not a stranger to me, a stranger to you. Although I don't know why he's giving me so much when I practically treated him like one after the last time we met."
"So much?" You repeat. "What else did he give you?"
"Oh..." He looks away, his smile gentle. "Some biscuits. A book of crossword puzzles."
You glare at him.
"What?" He asks, smile falling.
"You had biscuits and you didn't share?"
Edward practically basks in your annoyance.
You find yourself standing in front of the gates of Arkham. The warden, Charles Quimby, smiles at you nervously as he somewhat shoves you forward.
"You're declaring me sane?" You question, holding up your certificate from Arkham.
Dimly, in the back of your mind, you can hear Scarecrow yawning tiredly. He mutters about 'stupid pills' and groggily tells you 'don't question it.'
You're happy to hear him in your head again. But you really do have to question it.
"Yes. Completely sane. One hundred percent. Congratulations!" Quimby says with two rapid blinks and a weak grin.
"You're being threatened." You say, raising an eyebrow. "Your eyes were shifting back and forth back when you first got me out of my cell. You kept trying to push me through those gates a few seconds ago. And, let's be real. I'm not exactly sane."
"I don't know what you're talking about." He says, blinking three times.
"You're lying." You say. "And you're not even decent at it. You keep blinking. It's painfully obvious."
"She really is something." A voice calls out. "You were right, Edward."
"Well," Edward says, "She is my friend for a reason."
You turn your head around to see Edward standing next to a man with black hair styled in a fashion similar to an avian. He carries an umbrella with him and, in the distance, is a limousine with two men guarding it on either sides.
"Word of advice, Quimby, you might want to learn how to lie better. Otherwise Gotham will devour you whole." You say, not looking back as you walk toward your friend and the man next to him.
"You must be Doctor Joanna Crane. Edward has told me good things about you." The stranger says with a smile, holding out a gloved hand. "I'm Oswald Cobblepot."
"I wish I could say the same, Mr. Cobblepot. Edward hasn't had the chance to tell me about you, I'm afraid." You say, shaking his hand firmly.
"Please, call me Oswald, or Penguin, even." He says with a small laugh. "Perhaps we can all get to know each other a bit better once you join my staff? I think my Chief of Staff is looking for an assistant."
Penguin. You recognize that name. A mobster who has Gotham in his grip and is currently running for mayor, if you recall correctly.
And if he's Edward's friend, Oswald must be an interesting person indeed.
You look over at Edward, raising an eyebrow.
"I'm the Chief of Staff," He explains with grin.
"As long as I have some nights free to do my research, I accept."
That night, you eat some food that's not overcooked, take a shower that's not freezing cold, and collapse onto a bed that's actually comfortable.
It's good to be out of Arkham.
You make a mental note to thank Oswald for giving you a paycheck in advance. The generosity of the number written on it was how you got to rent an apartment in Gotham so quickly, after all.
"Do you have any muffins?" A familiar voice asks.
You open your eyes. Then, you turn, rolling off your side to sit up. There, in the middle of your bedroom - which is only being dimly lit by the street lights outside - stands Victor Zsasz.
"I just got out of Arkham today. Do I look like I have any muffins?" You sigh, rubbing your eyes.
Zsasz pauses. "Will you make any muffins?" He asks, rephrasing his question.
"I'm tired. And technically, we don't have a deal anymore since I was caught by the GCPD." You yawn, eyelids drooping.
He sounds slightly disappointed. Even half-conscious, you can tell that much.
And, really, you never hated his company.
"I'll make some for you in the morning." You say, lying back down on the bed.
Seconds later, you feel a weight push down against the other side of the bed. Then, your covers move.
You feel Zsasz's legs brush against yours.
"What are you doing, Zsasz?" You grumble into your pillow. "I thought assassins were supposed to have good timing. If you're entertaining the notion that I'm going to have sex with you, you're going to be sorely disappointed and I won't care the slightest bit."
Zsasz laughs. Being so close to him - being in the same bed as him - you can feel the the way his body moves as he does so.
"You might as well call me Victor at this point. And, for the record, I didn't crawl into this bed to have sex with you." He explains. "Would you believe me if I said I just wanted to get some quick bread products in the morning?"
"No." You mumble blearily. "I believe you about the sex, but not about the second part."
He exhales. "You were always very clever, Doctor Crane."
"Joanna." You yawn. "Call me Joanna. Now go to sleep."
In the morning, you wake up to the sound of your alarm clock to find Victor gone. You look around the apartment with half-opened lids, and he's no where to be found.
Something tells you that he'll be back, though, and with that, you fumble your way to the kitchen. After you mix together the necessary ingredients and put the tray in the oven, you decide to take a shower and finally brush your teeth while it bakes.
When you step out of the bathroom, you see Victor standing near the counter, a muffin in hand. To his side is the tray, which is cooling slowly but surely.
"My compliments to the chef." He says with a grin, lifting the muffin and taking a bite.
"I still won." Oswald says breathlessly, tears in his eyes as he looks at the television screen. Behind him, Butch holds a gun to Edward's head. The large man has just told everyone that you and Edward had went to every district official and taken the bribe money back.
It had been Edward's idea. He wanted to show Oswald he could have a clean election and still win by a landslide.
Oswald turns around quickly, looking at Edward. "They really want me as mayor."
"Yes." Edward says, gun still pointed to his head.
Oswald starts walking toward him. "I can't be bought. But I can be stolen with one glance. I'm worthless to one —" He says.
Edward raises a finger.
"But priceless to two." Oswald finishes.
Edward raises a second finger and makes a heart.
'Wait, is Riddle Man confessing his love to Penguin?' Scarecrow asks you, voice still a little weak from Arkham.
'No.' You think back. Then, you pause. '...Maybe?'
"Love." Oswald whispers. He laughs, smacks Butch's hand away, turns back to look at the television screen, then turns around again to look back at Edward. "They love me."
"If you would've bought the election you would've never known. And now you do." Edward whispers. "Feels good, doesn't it?"
"How did you know I would win?"
Edward takes a step closer. "I believe in you, Oswald. Even when you don't believe in yourself."
You start wondering if, instead of listening to Edward ramble on and on about Kristen Kringle as he once did a couple of months ago, you're going to have to start listening to him wax poetry about a certain, recently-elected mayor.
You find yourself not minding that as much.