It’s a chilly spring morning. Batman walks through the gates of the asylum, right past two guards. One of the guards is a middle-aged man. He seems to know how things work around here: You don’t mess with the Bat. In fact, you don’t want to have anything to do with him. They’ve all heard the stories, how he had gone toe-to-toe with the American alien, how he had waded through a million demons in hell to make a deal with the devil and save the world, it goes on and it gets weirder. They don’t of course believe all the stories. But they agree on one thing, what the Bat did to the Joker after the bastard killed the commissioner’s daughter is the worst thing he has ever done, or the worst he has done that they know about. Who knows what he is hiding beneath that mask—what other bleak deeds—and who wants to know, really? The first guard certainly does not.
The other guard happens to be an overzealous young lad. He scurries up behind Batman.
“Stop, son! Don’t!” says the middle-aged guard. His warning goes unheeded.
“You can’t,” says the young guard with a stutter, “you can’t just go inside, sir!” Batman stops. The young lad’s legs begin to tremble and soon his hands and then his whole body.
“It’s best for both for us that we don’t do this,” says Batman, without turning back.
The young guard tries to say something but his vocal organs refuse to orchestrate any noise.
“Alright, then.” Batman goes on his way, past the main asylum doors, leaving the guard to tremble and self-loath in the spacious front yard.
As he turns to go back to his post, he sees a blonde man in a tan trench coat, standing in the street outside the gates, puffing at a cigarette. The young guard has learned to mind his own business.
Batman is greeted inside by the warden of the asylum, Dr. William Sharp. They stand at the Crossroads, a room that leads to all the different sections of the facility.
“I have to talk to Crane, Bill,” says Batman.
“For a case," Dr. Sharp replies in a trivial manner, looking at a file.
“That is twice you’ve wanted to see him this month. He has been here for over a year now and he has been a model patient. I fail to see how you’re drawing a connection between him and any criminal activity.”
“Actually,” says Batman, “it’s his expertise in the field of psychopharmacology that brings me here.”
“Why him?” says Dr. Sharp, raising an eyebrow. “We have doctors here who can—”
“Because he is the best,” says Batman, confidently.
“Well, at least I appreciate you being honest. Take the hallway to your left, as always.”
“And Bill,” says Batman, “I’d appreciate it if you don’t tell Gordon, or anyone in the law enforcement, about my meeting with Crane.”
It sounds like a request, if not a plea. Batman can tell that Dr. Sharp is amused even though the doctor doesn’t let it on. It’s not a comfortable place, where you have to trust someone to not betray you; a problem that arises when you are dealing with a generally good person with a clean record.
“Sure,” says the doctor. He takes a moment of silence before adding, “as long as your mate Wayne keeps funding the researches.”
Good or bad, every person has needs, and self-interest is the only real motive there is. Once upon a time, Batman endeavored to prove that that was not true, that some people could be selfless, that he could inspire the people of Gotham to rise above that mortal coil.
“Don’t worry about it,” says Batman, holding something of a smirk. The doctor nods and walks back the way they came. As soon as the doctor is out of sight, Batman’s face drops. He struggles to not imagine how Alfred would look at him right now.
One of the senior nurses unlocks the door to Jonathan Crane’s cabin, she examines the caped crusader with a glaring look, and steps aside.
“Yous even touch the feller and ay am send’n out for the bizzies!” says the nurse, pointing a finger at Batman’s face. Her hand does not tremble, her eyes resolute, there is no hint of hesitation or stutter in her voice.
Batman’s eyes widen and his mouth slightly drops—so slightly that only a couple of beetles may squeeze in. He realizes that the nurse can see through him. You don’t fear what you understand, and the nurse understands that he is all but an animal. His shock immediately turns into shame.
“That’s not why I’m here,” He manages to mutter.
“I got this, Jenny.” A calm voice calls out from inside the cabin. Batman hasn’t seen Crane since the incident; he has been dreading this moment for a long time. The door creaks open, revealing a feeble, blind Jonathan Crane; he is wearing a pair of dark spectacles and using a cane.
“I believe our guest would prefer to talk to me in private,” says Crane.
“Yous be careful, Crane,” says the nurse. She gives Batman one last glare before going on her way.
“Don’t worry about her,” says Crane, gesturing at Batman to enter the cabin.
“I wasn’t.” Batman follows Crane inside. He closes the door behind but does not lock it.
“Behold, the Scarecrow’s final lair!” Crane ironically extends an arm at the room.
There’s a bed, a wooden table with some academic books and a notebook on it, and that’s about it. Batman stays on his guard as he watches Crane approach the table—he winces at almost every step—and struggle to find something. Batman couldn’t have imagined Crane would be in such a bad condition. He mentally tries to justify that Crane deserves it for everything he has done.
“Don’t try to help me and don’t touch anything. If you do, I’ll hit you with my cane,” says Crane, still searching.
“You’re blind,” says Batman.
“Observation or underestimation? Either way, sod off,” says Crane. “Ah! Found it.”
It’s a book. Crane hands it to Batman. On Meaningful Co-incidences by Dr. Jonathan Crane.
“Crane, I need—”
“Aye, mate. It’s one of the three copies ever printed. I could never forget the feel of that cover. I lost one of the copies in Basel, while attending a conference. The conference itself was pretty dull. Just a buncha old sods patting themselves on the back. Science has reached its peak, my arse!”
Crane sits down on the edge of the bed. Batman turns a few pages of the book, as he stands his ground, helpless to Crane’s rant.
“Anyway,” says Crane, “I got drunk and misplaced the book. The other copy though—my own students at Gotham University set it on fire right outside the faculty. Happened two days after you revealed to Gotham that I was the Scarecrow. Or, so I heard. I hear a lot of things these days.”
Batman notices that Crane is smiling on his own as if he is deep down into an ecstatic thought, free from the interference of visual signals. He also snaps back on his own, as the ecstasy in his face is replaced by seriousness.
“Why did you want to talk to me, Batman?” asks Crane.
“I need your opinion on something,” says Batman.
“Go on, spill it then, or are you not sure where to begin? I’m certain I can get Jenny to bring a couple of couches in.”
Batman puts Crane’s book down on the table and takes out a small notebook from his utility belt. He places it in Crane’s hand.
“What is it?” Crane is a little startled.
“Have a look. I had the information written in braille.”
Crane chuckles gratefully and opens the notebook; he begins to feel the pages.
“Are these,” says Crane, eyes widened, “formulas?”
Batman crosses his arms and waits for any reaction from Crane. But then Crane begins to laugh hysterically. This doesn’t bode well.
“This is what the Bat is doing nowadays, eh? Synthesizing recreational drugs?”
“It’s not just that, Crane.”
“Oh I know, love. This is based off my concept of the fear toxin, isn’t it? Bloody brilliant.”
“Will it work?”
“Not a good question. Does it seem theoretically correct? Yes. Ethical? No. Could it disintegrate your brain permanently? It could.”
“So it will work.”
“Your overestimation of yourself is going to be the end of you,” says Crane, “and I could not care less.”
Crane tosses the notebook at Batman’s approximate direction. Batman catches it with one hand and tucks it inside one of the belt pockets.
“Well, this has been pleasant,” says Crane. “I appreciate you coming down here, asking for my opinion and all. I somewhat regret refusing to see you the last time. If I’d known you have grown soft—or have you? Might just be Arkham. Honest to god, this place does that to a man.”
“One other thing, Crane,” says Batman, rather hesitantly. “I know you have had interactions with Professor Moriarty in the past and—”
“Since you’ve been nice to me all morning,” says Crane, “I’ll spare you some advice. Do not make the same mistake again. Admit that you shuffled the wrong feathers and paid the price for it.”
“Tread. Carefully. Crane,” says Batman, clenching his jaws. His fists could burst right now.
“Nothing good waits for you down that path. She wouldn’t want you to—”
“You blind fool!” Batman screams but immediately regrets it.
“Don’t you bloody dare,” says Crane. “You did this to me.”
Crane’s whole body trembles, not out of fear but out of rage. He can’t hold it in anymore. He hurries to get up and in the process loses grip of his cane, then crumbles to the ground himself. But it does not lessen his spirit.
“You did this to me! You’re the fool. You are no knight, for you have no honor! Your code only conceals that fact. You may think you have never taken a life, but you have, you self-righteous bastard. You have ruined mine.”
“I did what I had to do stop you before you hurt more people.”
“To stop the Scarecrow, you mean.”
“You think there’s a difference.”
“Are you joking, mate? I didn’t want to be the Scarecrow. I couldn’t help it. I’m somewhat grateful that you put me in here too. But I had a life going on as Jonathan Crane. I was doing important work at GU and I was making progress. You should read my book.
“You have taken away any chance that I ever had of leading a normal life. I have nothing to look forward to. I’m stuck here. I don’t know why I shouldn’t take a page out of Joker’s book.
“What about you? Are you telling me you’re the same brute and rage underneath that cowl? Maybe that brute and rage is who you are. But is that who you want to be? Ah, bloody hell, why am I humanizing you?”
Batman is towering over Crane, the palm of his hand covering his face as he shakes his head. He wishes he wasn’t standing where he was. He wishes nothing was real, all but a dream. He exits the cabin without uttering another word.