bungakertas: (batfic)
[personal profile] bungakertas
Title: Crimefighting's For The Birds
Rating: Erm…PG to PG-13. Ish.
Pairing(s): none
Disclaimer: “Batman” and all related characters and situations are the property of DC Comics, Warner Brothers, or both. No money changed hands and no copyright infringement is intended or implied.
Summary: Even when Bruce isn't in Gotham, there's still work to be done. Or, Tim works a case without Bruce. Dick and Alfred help.
Spoilers: All of TAS is fair game.
Continuity: Mostly DCAU. I am tossing Return of the Joker, Mystery of the Batwoman, and the TAS episode “Girls Nite Out,” though, to make this 'verse mesh with having Cassandra in it, and having a slightly less depressing resolution for the original Bat-clan going into Batman Beyond. Other than the named parts, though, this is a DCAU story.
Author's Notes: This goes to a very slightly AU series I have all mapped out that I may periodically write in. I've got some bunnies for it anyway. At this point in the series, the major points are, Barbara has been shot and is now the DCAU version of Oracle. Tim was recently kidnapped by the Joker, when he worked out who Batman was. Joker beat him nearly to death, but he was rescued by Bruce and Dick in time. In response to this, Bruce and Dick finally worked out their issues and their relationship is on the mend. Cassandra has not yet entered the picture.
This story is in the same continuity as “World's Finest?” though it comes prior to it in the timeline.
Unlike Timm and Dini, I do not have to write the level of violence down for the children in the audience. Expect dead people.

*~*~*


Doctor Jonathan Crane was not, in the general consciousness, a man of secrets. Everyone in Gotham knew his name. Everyone in Gotham also knew where he usually lived. And they were all terrified of him, for reasons that were, also, not secret.

But people didn't always think things through. Most of Gotham's population, and the rest of the world by extension, thought of the Gotham City “supervillains” a bit like they did snakes. Or spiders. Or dragons. Not only were they horrible monsters, but they were immune to their own poison. Which, as anyone who took the time to think it through would realize, couldn't possibly be true. Barring metas, like Poison Ivy, Gotham's elite criminals were ordinary human beings (for a given definition of “ordinary,” anyway). Crane didn't have any special protection from his fear gas in his cells.

Any given dentist gets bitten by a patient, sooner or later. It's a routine job hazard. People who own dogs and cats rack up little scratches and nips from playing with their pets. It's to be expected. Jonathan Crane had been dosed by his own fear gas numerous times, in large and small quantities. It happened. Most people didn't think about that.

The Joker also worked with a wide array of chemical weapons. He had dosed himself any number of times as well. But his baseline for behavior was so erratic that it was difficult to tell what sort of effect his toxins had on him. The Joker was always acting out, whether he had been gassed or not.

Doctor Crane was, when not under the effects of his own gas, very normal. He was generally not violent, he was perfectly capable of social success when left to his own devices, he was totally capable of holding a job once he had one, and he had no difficulty whatsoever forming and carrying out complex plans. Perhaps his experiments were somewhat less than totally ethical, but that was another discussion. He was, while not very sympathetic to the experiences of his test subjects, no Joker.

When he gassed himself, he experienced the same effects as everyone else. Terrifying visions, heightened sensory sensitivity (i.e., loud noises and bright lights hurt more), elevated adrenal response, paranoia, and a general frightened affect. Each individual had their own particular quirks in these responses, depending on the version of his fear toxin he was using, and so did he. For example, in most cases, his sensory sensitivity was more elevated than most people's (i.e., loud noises and bright lights hurt him a lot). The point, though, was that he was just as terrified as anyone when he got a dose of his fear toxin.

People didn't think about this. No one really considered it. Not the “doctors” at Arkham, who were supposed to think about this sort of thing; not the police, for whom this issue was of no major import; and certainly not the general population, most of whom just tried to stay out of his way.

And that was his secret. It wasn't that he wasn't scared when he gassed himself, because he was. In that moment, he was as frightened as anyone. But what he never told to anyone was that whenever he looked back on it, he could only remember the heart-pounding, blood-rushing, skin-tingling alive that took over. So, while he didn't seek it out, he was never entirely unhappy the next time he made a mistake and got the fear powder too close to his nose. No one knew that. He wasn't going to tell them. No one would really understand anyway.

His secret was that he enjoyed terror.

And that he didn't really understand why everyone else didn't.

*~*~*


Tim climbed back into the backseat of Bruce's limousine, shucking off the coat he'd put on against the late October chill. If he were honest with himself, it wasn't as if Bruce needed anyone to see him off at the airport. He was Batman, for heaven's sake! He was thoroughly capable of walking down a jetway without someone standing back at the gate feeling faintly idiotic for wishing he wouldn't go.

But Tim didn't like it when he left. He even knew exactly why. Once upon a time, a few years ago, his father had left on a “business trip” and he had never come back.

It was dumb to think Bruce would ever do anything like that without making sure Tim would be okay. And not just because Tim had seen Bruce's will and knew that Alfred would be his legal guardian if anything ever happened to Bruce. But it was more than that. Because, aside from the whole Batman thing making it super-obvious that Bruce did, in fact, care about people, Bruce was not his father. Because Bruce made him do his homework and eat leafy greens and get at least enough sleep to keep his eyes from going all moley. His father had never done any of that. And, okay, it was way annoying, but it was kind of nice that he worried. And Bruce took him to basketball games (he was secretly a fan, and the fact that Tim even knew that was really cool), and taught him how to SCUBA dive, and made sure that Tim got out of Gotham every so often at night so that he could see the Milky Way once in a while. So he knew that Bruce loved him and liked him.

And that was long before they got to the part where Bruce's “business trips” involved actual businesses that got mentioned in Forbe's, and weren't code for “crime.” Another way in which Bruce was not remotely his father.

But he still didn't like it when Bruce left. Because there was still a part of him (the part that was an idiot), that was terrified he wouldn't come back. Tim never told anyone this, but he had a sneaking suspicion that both Bruce and Alfred (and possibly Dick and Barbara, and wasn't anything secret in their stupid club?) knew anyway. And didn't mind, which was nice of them. So he saw Bruce off at the airport every time he could, whether it felt stupid or not. And Bruce never made out like it was a big deal, but Tim had noticed Bruce seemed to go out of his way to schedule departures for when Tim could say goodbye. And that was sort of nice.

So he was half expecting it when Alfred suggested they go to a movie that evening. But it was still great when Alfred told Tim that he could drive the blue Beamer. Having a learner's license was awesome.

*~*~*


“I do hope, Master Tim,” Alfred said as they got back into the car after the movie (Alfred was driving, 'cause it was dark. Huh!), “that you don't intend to go quoting this monstrosity at everyone for the next several weeks.”

Tim scowled. “Ugh, no. That movie was awful. Why did we go see it?” He honestly couldn't remember the last time he'd thought a movie that came out around Halloween was any good. What had they been thinking?

“I believe it was at your insistence, sir,” Alfred replied.

“I'm an idiot,” Tim said.

“As you say, sir.”

Tim threw Alfred a dirty look. Then he caught the man smirking and couldn't resist a laugh of his own. “We should get some pizza or something,” he suggested.

When Bruce wasn't with them, Tim and Alfred (and Dick, when he visited) could get away with going nearly anywhere at all without being recognized. Alfred pulled them into the parking lot of a CiCi's, and then surprised Tim by getting them to make a mac-and-cheese pizza for the buffet.

Alfred was just in the middle of telling Tim why it was he had to watch The Sting when the TV suddenly flipped over to an alert.

Though the news had always done a good job of warning people when certain of Gotham's less savory citizens made yet another bid for freedom, the city council had finally decided that some of the elite criminals merited immediate warning to the people of Gotham. The list was a short one. The Joker, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, or the Scarecrow. If any of them were unaccounted for at Arkham, the asylum was now required by law to notify the media immediately. And the media was required by law to report it immediately.

“Good evening. This is Summer Gleeson, Channel 12 News with a citywide alert. At 8:02 PM Doctor Jonathan Crane, also known as 'The Scarecrow,' missed an evening check-in at Arkham Asylumn. He is considered extremely dangerous, and the public is urged to avoid all contact with him.”

The alert continued, but Tim knew what it was going to say. A picture of Crane, a repetition of the warning to stay away and that was it. He looked to Alfred. “So much for catching up on my sleep.”

Alfred sighed. “Will you go out straight away, or should we return home first?”

Tim thought it over and then realized he should probably review the general orders for Crane before he did anything else, so he said, “Home. I have some homework I need to do before we get to work on this next project.”

Alfred nodded. They both took a last drink and headed for the door.

*~*~*


Bruce was a thorough sort of person. It was part of his personality. It made him good at running Wayne Enterprises and it made him good at being Batman.

Tim was sitting in the big chair before the Batcomputer, reviewing two folders on separate screens, and thanking his lucky stars for Bruce's thoroughness. One folder was enormous and labeled Jonathan Crane – Scarecrow. The other was tiny and labeled Jonathan Crane – General Orders.

The first folder was a master list of every case where Bruce or anyone on the team had encountered the Scarecrow in any capacity. Tim was generally familiar with it, but he skimmed through the titles again (Bruce had everyone name their cases, rather than just assign numbers, so that they would be memorable. The only requirement was that the title be relatively indicative of the contents of the case.) and read over the last five cases closely, just to be on the safe side.

It was the General Orders folder he really wanted to double-check, though. These GO files had saved everyone's lives over and over on cases. Sometimes you couldn't prep for an encounter. You were out on patrol and then suddenly Two-Face is knocking over Deuce's Wild or something. But when you knew someone was coming, it was so much easier to be ready.

Jonathan Crane, famed for his fear toxin, tended to stock up on drugs and chemicals before running a big job. Like the Joker, Tim would have to watch pharmacies and drug dealers for thefts or unusual distribution patterns. Unlike the Joker, Crane's fear toxin didn't take nearly as long to make. It was simpler to chemically induce someone to terror than laughter. So while the Joker had a turn around of four days to a week between getting the drugs he needed and actually producing enough of his toxin to be able to use it on some unsuspecting citizen, Jonathan Crane would give you twelve to twenty-four hours. Less than that, if he managed to get hold of any high-end lab equipment.

Required equipment for this case: gas masks, field chemical analysis kit, test strips, low-dose sedatives, and Scarecrow antitoxin. Tim also liked to bring a signal booster for his radio. He rounded out his utility belt for the evening with the remote to the Batmobile and a few of the explosive Batarangs, frowning at how little truly fit into it. He and Bruce and Dick all encouraged everyone to think their belts were endless dispensaries of gadgets and tricks, but he hadn't been able to fool himself into thinking that since that terrifying night when Bruce had been dosed with Scarecrow's anti-fear gas and Tim hadn't had a single tranquilizer anywhere to hand. He'd had a moment of genuine panic, thinking he had to take on Batman in a straight-up brawl and win. Thankfully it hadn't come to that, but he'd gotten very meticulous about what he chose for his belt after that. More so even than Bruce.

But he finally reached the stage where there was nothing more to be done in the cave. It was time to get out into Gotham and run patrol.

*~*~*


The regular patrol routes were fairly quiet that night. Gotham's underworld tended to lay pretty low following the break-out of one of the town's major players. Like Tim, they were waiting to see what Scarecrow was going to do. Some people would seek him out, looking for work in his “gang.” With Scarecrow, this was a calculated risk. Crane didn't always want a crew for whatever he was planning, or he only wanted guinea pigs, and that usually ended with anyone who had tried to apply turning up scared to death the next morning.

Most of the criminal fraternity was waiting, though. Where Crane went and what he did there would determine whether there would be any push-back, and if so, from who. Thorne had enough muscle to shove back against anything Crane tried to dish out. Even the Joker put some thought into crossing him. Most of the dealers in town, on the other hand, would probably bug out if Crane set up shop nearby, if only because they wanted their buyers to be sure the drugs they were selling weren't panic-inducing.

It was a quiet night, though. Tim even tried feeling out a few of Dirk Malone's criminal friends (and he reminded himself, again, to come up with a suitable revenge on Bruce for that alias), but none of them had any information he didn't already know. The Batsignal remained unlit. The streets were mostly empty. Everyone was just holding their breath.

His patrol route for the night ended on the shore of the bay, on the far side of town. He didn't come here often, since it reminded him of Annie, but the route he followed when Bruce was out of town covered this spot. And even though he hated it, tonight, it paid off.

There was a body on the rocks, only twenty feet away from the waves of the tide coming in. Most of the time, the Bat-clan left murders to the police, but Tim recognized this body. It had belonged to Eugene Vance, a.k.a. “Pinch.” For the past few years, he was one of the Scarecrow's regular minions. Or he had been, anyway. Right now, it looked like he'd been sick. Exorcist sick. Bloody vomit was all around him. His bare feet were cracked and bleeding, as though he'd walked a long distance without shoes. He had a compound fracture in one of his toes that looked as if he'd kept right on walking after the toe broke. His fingernails were broken and torn.

Ordinarily Tim would've thought he'd run to death out of fear. But the blood he'd dripped everywhere left an easy-to-follow trail. He had walked, quite doggedly, then stumbled to his knees, then crawled, and finally died before he could quite reach the ocean. How he had expected to be able to swim anywhere in his condition was a question Tim would think on at a later date.

Right at the moment, he was struck by Pinch's eyes. Metaphorically struck, anyway, since literally would be weird and super gross. Though possibly not the strangest thing to have ever happened in Gotham. Anyway. Pinch's striking eyes were bloodshot, of course, but something about the way they had gone red was pricking at a memory somewhere in Tim's mind.

He pulled out his camera. He had a limited amount of time to gather his own evidence and still leave time for the police to get here and get theirs before the rising tide forced them to move the body.

*~*~*


Tim slept in the cave. He wouldn't have slept at all except that Alfred put his foot down and refused to bring him any more coffee until he “spent at least three hours in a horizontal position.” (Traitor.) And then he had school, of all the stupid things, the next day. As if tenth grade geometry mattered compared to figuring out the Scarecrow's next move. (In his head, he could hear Bruce saying, “And if you say that for every case, you'll never finish high school.” Even when he was gone, he was still here. Gah!) It was next to impossible to pay attention in class, and he couldn't scribble case-related thoughts onto his notebooks lest someone spot it, but Tim managed to make it through the day without going too crazy. As soon as he got home, though, he practically ran down to the cave to check on the results from the blood analysis he'd started before leaving the house and hack into the morgue's database to look up this guy's autopsy report.

“And what did Doctor Crane's friend die of?” Alfred asked, as he brought Tim a tray of fresh chocolate-chip cookies and a glass of milk. (Even Bruce couldn't resist Alfred's cookies, and you had not seen funny until you saw serious-face Batman with a milk mustache munching on a cookie as he looked over crime-scene photos.)

Tim frowned at the blood analysis the computer had tossed at him, and said, “I'm not sure yet. Let me decode this…” He went to a large bookshelf full of imposing reference texts, and grabbed a few likely looking biochemistry books before coming back to the computer. If he couldn't crack the blood analysis in fifteen minutes, he'd have the Batcomputer translate it from technical language to normal-people language for him, but that didn't always give you the full picture, and it was just better to know this stuff himself. He knew enough to know his way around these books already, anyway.

It took him ten of his self-allotted fifteen minutes, but finally he looked up and checked over the autopsy findings. “He died of a lot of things. Several of his major organs shut down at about the same time. He had a massive adrenaline spike about two hours before he died that just…didn't stop.”

“And what caused this surge in adrenaline?” Alfred asked curiously.

“If I did this right,” Tim said, handing Alfred the blood analysis, “there was something introduced into his blood that caused him extreme rage?”

Alfred read the report over. “I concur, Master Tim. It appears to be a variation on his fear gas.”

“Okay, that's…weird. Why would the Scarecrow suddenly go for making people angry?” Tim mused.

Alfred was still looking over the blood report (And it was so unfair that Alfred could do the blood panels faster than him!) and said, “Given the contents of this gentleman's blood, I find it highly unlikely he had a rational reason for attempting a midnight swim. It's unlikely he could've given you a coherent answer for his trek to the sea, even had you found him at a moment in which to ask.”

Tim nodded. “Yeah, he would've been pretty out of it.” He pulled up a picture of the man's eyes on the computer. They still had that very odd bloodshot quality. The irises had even gone mostly red, though strains of the original color (Brown? Maybe?) were still present here and there.

“Okay, I've seen eyes like this before somewhere,” Tim said. “Computer, check this man's eyes against symptoms of any know diseases or toxins.”

“Checking,” the computer replied. There was a long quiet moment before the computer said, “No matches found.”

“Run them against any natural phenomena or genetic variation.”

Another long moment. “No matches found.”

Tim sat back in the chair and frowned. “Okay. That's also weird.”

“Are you certain you've seen them before?” Alfred asked.

“Somewhere,” Tim nodded. He flicked a couple switches on the computer before him and after a moment Barbara's face appeared on the main screen.

“Tim!” she greeted happily. “How are you?”

Tim smiled. From all the way across town, in her clock tower, Barbara could still manage to give him a hug with just her voice. “Great,” he replied. The three of them chatted for a few moments before Tim said, “I'm sending you a picture. I found this guy dead last night and his eyes looked…weird. I know I've seen something like this before, but I can't remember where.”

Barbara was quiet for a moment and then said, “Computer not being helpful?”

“Not so much,” Tim agreed.

“Yeah, it doesn't know everything,” she said. There was another long pause and finally Barbara sighed. “For some reason, my instinct is to ask Dick. I can't even place why.”

Tim blinked. He loved Dick. Dick was fun and easy to talk to and he knew exactly how annoying Bruce could be sometimes. And now that he and Bruce had managed to patch things up, Dick actually around enough to be the older brother Tim had always wanted. But he usually wasn't the information go-to guy. He was smart and well-read, of course, but he wasn't like Barbara, the all-knowing oracle of information.

After Alfred extracted a promise from Barbara to come for dinner when Bruce returned, Tim called Dick.

Dick picked up on his cell, so there was no video, sadly. “Hey, Tim! Please tell me you aren't hard at work.”

Tim grinned. “All right. I won't tell you I'm hard at work.”

“Tim!” Dick groaned. “If I have to come over there and make you cut loose with Bruce out of town, I will do it. Don't think that I won't.”

“I'm not throwing a party, Dick,” Tim returned, cutting to the heart of their usual argument.

“But Halloween's coming up! We could have the most badass haunted mansion in the country, easy,” Dick protested.

“And then Bruce would ground me for the rest of my life.”

“It'd be worth it,” Dick sing-songed, deliberately pushing the ridiculousness of their conversation as far as he could.

“Hello, Master Dick,” Alfred put in.

“Hi, Alfred. Help me talk Tim into throwing a Halloween party.”

“I'm afraid I'm on his side, Master Dick.”

“See if I ever watch Doctor Who with you again.”

Tim finally gave in an laughed at Dick's antics, which was what he'd been angling for the whole time, of course. “Take a look at this picture I'm sending you. I found this guy last night.”

There was a moment and then a completely serious Dick said, “Is this real? This looks like an extra from 28 Days Later or something.”

“The Infected!” Tim said. “I knew I'd seen eyes like that before!”

“This is real? Tim, what on earth is going on?” Dick demanded, all amusement gone from him now.

Tim thought it over and said, “Come over for supper and I'll fill you in.” He didn't want to say anything more over a phone call, even if it was one of their phones.

“I'll see you then,” Dick answered.

With little else to do until his evening patrol, Tim started up a casefile on this escape of the Scarecrow's, but held off listing a primary or giving the case a name, since that was the lead investigator's call. (Bruce's were usually fairly mundane, like “Crane Attacks Against GCU.” Dick's, on the other hand, were hilarious, along the lines of “PANDEMONIUM At Gotham Zoo, Starring The Scarecrow!!!”) He thought about doing some of his homework, but elected to forgo that particular chore in favor of looking over the records on Crane's most recent stint in Arkham. Dick arrived promptly at 6:30 and he and Tim managed to cajole Alfred into sitting down with both of them in the kitchen. At Alfred's rather dark looks, Tim deferred the subject of the Scarecrow and the dead guy for dessert (More cookies, because Alfred was also the best.), but when he finally got around to it, Dick sat so still and listened so closely it was almost frightening.

“So…the Scarecrow made this guy rage so hard that it killed him?” Dick asked in surprise.

“Killed him in about two hours. Just before he reached the bay,” Tim nodded.

“Disgusting and unexpected,” Dick remarked. “Okay, so Crane suddenly flips his MO? What kind of trigger could've caused that?”

“Nothing looked like a trigger on the records from Arkham,” Tim replied. “Something might've happened that doesn't get written down, like…talking to another inmate or something, but…”

“But he must've done that a lot, so why would this one be any more of a trigger than any of the other thousand times,” Dick agreed.

“Why do the two of you seem to be associating this man with the film you've mentioned?” Alfred asked.

28 Days Later is a movie about…” Tim trailed off, knowing Alfred was going to have something snide to say.

“The zombie apocalypse!” Dick said, good-naturedly ignoring Alfred's roll of the eyes. At least they dodged the snark this time, though.

“Only, instead of being undead, these zombies are infected with a virus. The virus makes them so angry that they'll violently attack any uninfected person they encounter,” Tim explained.

“This man didn't attack anyone, though?” Alfred asked.

“I don't know that he met anyone to attack,” Tim said. “That part of town was pretty deserted last night. First night after a break-out and all.”

“In the movie, the virus is super-contagious, too,” Dick said. “Any fluid contact with an infected person will make you an Infected in about ten seconds or so.”

“Fluid contact is not generally common,” Alfred said.

“Normally, no,” Tim agreed, “but the Infected would do stuff like vomit blood in your face, or rip your fingers off with their bare hands.”

“What charming films they release nowadays,” Alfred sighed. (There went the snark.)

“That's not even the scariest part,” Dick said, apparently warming up to the topic.

“This guy vomited a lot of blood, too,” Tim said thoughtfully, deliberately ignoring Dick.

Dick stopped and frowned. “Okay, raging out of control with Infected eyes is weird. The blood-vomit thing though…”

Alfred began clearing their dishes.

“Crane is deliberately copying the film?” Tim said.

Dick was already shaking his head. “It wouldn't be possible to do it exactly. No virus could be that contagious that quickly. But maybe he's going for close?”

“They don't list what films the inmates watch on the Arkham records,” Tim told him. “I'll have to go over there and ask.”

Alfred scowled as he loaded the dishes into the dishwasher. “I realize it is Arkham under discussion, but surely even they would not show a film about a large group of enraged, violent psychotics to a large group of enraged, violent psychotics?”

“I agree,” Dick said. “I'm not normally down with the movies-encourage-violence school of thought, but the Arkham crew are inspired by everything already. 28 Days Later is just giving them ideas.”

“On the other hand,” Tim said, “this is Arkham we're talking about here.”

Dick and Alfred exchanged a long, speaking glance.

“Go ask,” they said together.

*~*~*


Dick left after supper. Before he left the cave, Tim put his codename as primary on the case. It was the first Scarecrow case to list “Robin II” as the lead. In fact, it was the first of any of the major rogues to list him as a primary.

He tried not to let that terrify him as he headed for Arkham. That wasn't a place it was good to be scared in.

Arkham Asylumn, the criminal justice system's biggest joke, sat on a hill on the outskirts of Gotham. Tim sometimes wondered if its architect had been going for irony. A gloomy iron gate, gothic gables and grotesques, and black brick walls all combined to make Arkham one of the spookiest buildings in town.

And in Gotham city, that was saying a lot.

Tim hated it here. Not because of the inmates, though he wasn't overfond of them, but because Arkham should have been something good. It should have stood for healing, or at least, protection. Instead, it had been turned into a pit where all the worst Gotham had to offer was mixed together and periodically blown up.

He climbed in the usual route he took with Batman, still having to remember not to snag his cape. (Ever since he'd ditched the half-cape and gone with a full-length one, he'd found stealth and staying warm easier. He'd also started going through capes a lot faster, because he still hadn't got the knack of not getting the edge caught on every loose nail and shard of glass in Gotham City.) The Arkham guards were used to visits from Batman or Batgirl every so often. Robin didn't usually come on his own (Oh, the joys of being a sidekick!), but they'd work with him.

He hoped.

Jake McLarren was on duty tonight. He was Tim's favorite guard. He wasn't pointlessly cruel to the inmates, he didn't believe a single word that came out of the Joker's mouth, and he remembered nearly everything that happened in Arkham. Three good signs that, aside from his unfortunate choice of employer, his head was screwed on right.

So Tim casually slid up behind McLarren's station and tapped him on the shoulder.

McLarren jumped. When he saw Tim, he relaxed. “What are you doing here, Robin? I thought you and Batman would be out looking for the Scarecrow.”

“I need to ask you some questions about Crane's most recent stint here,” Tim replied.

McLarren grimaced. “Ask away.”

“Have the inmates watched the movie 28 Days Later recently?”

McLarren's eyes bugged out. “Are you kidding? We wouldn't show a film like that to these guys! Joker would probably take it like some kind of challenge.”

Tim nodded.

“Why do you ask?” McLarren said, looking at him curiously.

“No reason,” Tim replied, with a non-committal grin.

“Uh-hm,” McLarren said, clearly not buying it.

Tim started to disappear, when suddenly McLarren said, “Wait, some of the guards did watch that movie!”

The Bat-clan disappearing act, known the world over, required both agility and practice. Every so often, when caught off-guard in the middle of it, it was possible to spook one of the bats into messing it up. (Before Batgirl, Barbara had supposedly managed it by simply grabbing Bruce's cape.) This time, Tim tripped, and went sprawling to the floor.

McLarren was by his side in a second. “You okay, kid?”

“I'm fine,” Tim said, sitting up. (Why did this stuff have to happen to him?) “Tell me about the movie.”

“Some of the guards were watching it in a section of the asylumn the inmates aren't usually in,” McLarren said. “But Crane was sick. Actually sick, for once, not faking it. He saw some of the movie.”

“Which part?” Tim pressed, standing.

“The bit where they're changing the tire,” McLarren answered. “I remember 'cause one of the guys got really scared of that bit and was watching through his fingers. He's one of the Joker's guards, too. Is this important?”

“Probably,” Tim replied. He went to disappear again. And this time, he got it right.

*~*~*


The second night after a break-out nearly always marked the end of the reprieve. By this point, the newly escaped Arkham inmate had set up shop somewhere, and people had reacted. The new shape of Gotham's criminal side was established.

In fact, it was usually busy. People had catching-up from the night before to do. And tonight, Gotham's bad guys were still running true to form. Tim didn't even have a chance to catch his breath between one thing and another, let alone think about whatever Crane might be up to.

He had just finished laying a beating on some would-be cat burglers in a midtown jewelry store. (One of them had whined in disappointment that Tim took them down so easily. He had had to laugh. “Guys, I've fought Catwoman, and trust me, you four don't even come close.”) He punched the silent alarm button and dragged them out the front door to hang them from a lamppost outside. “The police will be by soon to cut you down,” he assured them.

One of the men noticed something and blinked in surprise. Tim followed his gaze to see the Batsignal lit against the sky. He patted the man's cheek. “Thanks for the head's up. Try to learn from this experience, okay?”

He fired a grapple line and was off the ground a second later.

It had been a while since he'd had to answer the Batsignal without Bruce at his side. That time when Bruce had been kidnapped by Braniac, Tim had had to lie to the commissioner and he'd hated it a little more each time.

Admittedly, coaching Superman through pretending to be Bruce had been pretty hilarious, though.

He vaulted easily to the roof of police headquarters to see the commissioner waiting with a casefile.

“Commissioner,” Tim said, trying to sound at least a little detached, instead of like he was seeing his favorite uncle. Even if that was pretty much how he thought of Jim Gordon.

“Hello Robin,” Gordon replied. “Where's Batman?”

“Busy night,” Tim replied. “Batman sent me.” Both true statements. Neither had anything to do with the other, but that was beside the point. Because he still hated lying to the commissioner.

“We've found two more Scarecrow victims, looking a bit like the man you discovered last night by the bay.”

Gordon handed him the folder, in which was a set of crime scene photos. The top two were both of victims looked similar to Pinch, though their eyes weren't quite so red, it seemed. They were covered in defensive injuries, however. Tim pulled his cape closer for reasons that weren't entirely the chill breeze as he noted that one of the victims had a fatal cut twisting across their throat. “Do you know how long it was between the time he drugged them and the time he died?” Tim asked.

“The coroner's report says they had a good three hours,” Gordon replied. “But could have lived for about six more before facing the same multiple organ failure. These two were killed by people they were attacking.”

“That's a vast improvement over the two hours that Vance had,” Tim said.

“Why rage?”

“I don't know. These victims exhibit a lot of symptoms similar to those in a film.”

28 Days Later. My guys have been talking about it.”

Tim nodded. “Where were these two discovered?”

“Inside the Bruno's on Hatch,” Gordon replied. “There were six other people inside. Two shoppers, a cashier, two managers, and a stock clerk. The cashier and the stock clerk were both given Scarecrow's fear powder.”

“Fear powder?” Tim asked.

“Scarecrow invented it a while back to fix sports games,” Gordon explained. “He gets a victim to touch something covered in the powder, and it sinks into their skin. But it's activated by adrenaline, so they don't know they've been dosed until the next time they get angry or threatened. Then it kicks in.”

Tim nodded, letting that information connect to the rest of the case as he looked over the rest of the crime scene photos from the store. “But just the cashier and the clerk had it. No one else?”

“They were all clean. It looked like he'd put the fear powder on the register and the price gun. So only those two would've needed to touch those things. And then when he let the two rage victims in, their adrenaline kicked the fear powder into work.”

Tim nodded. Now he had it. Crane hadn't changed MOs after all. “It looks like, Commissioner, Scarecrow's rage toxin is similar enough to his fear toxin that the same antidote should work for both.”

“That's what our doctor said,” Gordon agreed. “Got any leads on his whereabouts?”

“Not yet,” Tim said. “But I will.”

“Good luck, Robin,” Gordon said.

Tim gave him a cheerful grin and then raced for the edge of the roof.

*~*~*


Tim didn't mind so much when Alfred forced him to bed this time. He knew what Crane was up to, so now he only had to work out where he was. Which was a complete dead end. Three victims from two locations, both probably a long way from Crane's hideout, didn't come close to being enough information to get a bead on wherever he was holed up.

He had been about ready to call it a night anyway when Alfred chased him out of the cave and upstairs.

The next day, Dick met him up at school on his bike. (Best older brother ever.) “Alfred said he's had to kick you to bed for two nights in a row now,” Dick said with a grin on his face, as he handed Tim a second helmet. “What gives? I thought you were the sensible one.”

“I think I've cracked it, Dick. I just need to figure out the wheres,” Tim replied, climbing onto the bike behind Dick.

Dick's eyebrows flew up. “What, already? Okay, this you've got to tell me about.” He pulled his own helmet on and kicked the engine up.

They got home and, after Tim put away his backpack, joined Alfred and Dick in the den, where Tim told them what he'd learned from McLarren and Gordon last night.

“So, he hasn't changed his MO after all!” Tim concluded.

“Back the truck up,” Dick said, holding up a hand. “How does Crane making two more people rage themselves to death mean his MO is not suddenly different?”

“I find myself a bit lost on that point, as well,” Alfred agreed.

Tim blinked. Sometimes he forgot that the people in their family couldn't actually read one another's minds. “Sorry. He's got the rage people, and he turned them loose on a group of other people. Two of them had been given his fear toxin and the other four hadn't.”

“Are you telling me that this was an experiment?” Dick asked in disgust. “The four people without the fear toxin were the control group?”

Tim nodded. “And the two with it were the experimental one.”

“Then our Doctor Crane is measuring people's reactions to the persons raging at them, it would seem,” Alfred agreed. “Observing their fear.”

“Witness statements from the survivors say that the two entered from the back and began violently attacking anyone they saw. The injuries on the two victims are consistent with the way the witnesses say they defended themselves,” Tim replied, having hacked the police for the files before school that morning.

Dick did not look pleased. “So, aside from killing two innocent people with the rage toxin, Crane traumatized these other people by forcing them to kill somebody in self-defense?”

Alfred laid a hand on Dick's shoulder.

“I still don't know where he is now,” Tim said. “So, I've been trying to figure out where he might go next. But…I have no idea.”

Dick sighed. “Pinch didn't hurt anybody. He was just a test subject, to see how the rage toxin worked. It looks like, for these next two, Crane dialed the intensity of his toxin back a bit. So they lasted longer and took on a larger group.”

“He couldn't make it as contagious as it was in the movie, either,” Tim nodded. “At least two of the survivors say they swallowed some blood, and they don't think it was all their own. They're okay.”

Dick nodded. “That's good. But that wasn't quite where I was going. He started off with one guy, to work out how this stuff effected people. Once he got a handle on that, he did two people, and set them loose on a small group. If we assume he's stepping things up, then his next move will be something along the lines of turning a group of raging people loose on a crowd.”

“I agree,” Alfred said.

“Okay, good places,” Tim nodded. “Movie theaters? People might not even realize what was happening at first. Think it was part of the show.”

Alfred shook his head. “I think it unlikely. Doctor Crane has always shown a penchant for showmanship, as with so many of his cohorts. I believe he will choose a unique venue.”

Dick picked up the mail from the coffee table. He pulled out a flyer for the GOTHAM CITY FRIGHT FEST! and held it up. “You mean something like this?”

Alfred shook his head. “It's getting so one can't do anything in this town without inviting trouble.”

“I guess I'd better suit up,” Tim sighed.

“Hey, kid,” Dick said as he stood. “How do you feel about a second hand?”

Tim grinned. Best. Brother. Ever.

*~*~*


The Gotham City Fright Fest was held in Radomski Park. Like any good late-October party, there was a maize maze, a haunted hay ride, and a spooky carnival, amongst the various vendors and performers. The park itself was a long, skinny, winding thing, with tall wrought-iron fences, surrounded on all sides by Gotham City's gothic architecture.

Perched on the top of an enormous eagle's head looming out from the SunTrust building, Tim focused his binoculars on the people below him. The Fright Fest had just opened with a shower of confetti, and he watched as everyone cheerfully moved in on the various attractions.

“Good place for an ambush,” Dick—or Blüdhaven's Nightwing to anyone who might see them—commented from his place on the next eagle's head. “Close the gates on the park and no one will be getting out of there until it's all over.”

“It looks like Gordon took our advice to beef up security, though,” Tim said, counting a good twenty uniformed officers in various places around the cotton candy booth alone.

“Like that ever helps,” Dick muttered. “The bad guys always find a way in, Wonder Boy.”

“Tell me about it.” Tim leaned over, focusing his binoculars on some men behind one of the prize booths, fiddling with some boxes. He sighed. “You know, I can live with the knowledge that we're trying to beat back an ocean of crime with the broom of us here,” Tim said. “I don't even mind that people think I'm an easy target, or they're always trying to kidnap me or whatever.”

The men got the boxes open and began unloading small, medium, large, and, absolutely enormously ridiculously huge stuffed animals and restocking the prize shelves with them.

“Yeah?” Dick prompted, gazing at something through his own binoculars.

“It's the completely stupid nicknames that always drive me crazy,” Tim sighed.

Dick glanced over. “Toy Wonder? Boy Blunder? The Bat's Brat?”

“Over and over.”

“Yeah.” Dick went back to watching whatever it was he'd seen. “They used to use those same ones on me.”

Tim laughed, shifting his gaze to the incredibly bored-looking girl manning one of the carnival's roller coasters. “I suppose I'm just vaguely disappointed that Gotham's genius super-criminals have all the insult-creativity of a fifth-grade bully.”

Dick snickered, shifting his own gaze to another point below them. “But hey! Look on the bright side. At least they call you the right name. Everyone keeps accusing me of being Batman.”

Tim looked him over and opened his mouth to speak.

“If you say I brought it on myself with this costume,” Dick warned, without moving a muscle, “I will break your face.”

Tim smirked, but went back to his surveillance.

It was boring. Nothing happened, except for the occasional excited scream from the haunted hay ride. People bought their cotton candy and crashed their bumper cars and rode their roller coasters and won stupidly enormous stuffed animals from prize booths, but nothing looked remotely like a Scarecrow attack.

Right up until Tim heard a horse scream.

He turned to Dick in alarm. “Dick! Weren't there zombies in the hay ride?”

For an answer, Dick dove off his perch into empty space, heading for the haunted hay ride. Tim instantly followed, already hearing the shrieks from that direction change character from pleasant excitement to genuine terror.

The two of them swung over a horse running flat-out, away from the route the hay wagon should have been on, carrying about twelve terrified passengers. Behind it ran a mob of visitors and volunteers. And chasing them was a scene straight out of a horror movie. A huge mass, at least fifty people, running flat-out into the crowd, all red-eyed and angry.

“Get out of the park!” Tim shouted to the crowd.

A few people managed it, but the gates were all swinging shut, and the crowd of raging people was almost on them. Dick's words about a good spot for an ambush echoed in Tim's mind. The panic was spreading, incredibly fast. And it was an escalated panic, too. People were turning mindless in their fear.

“Crane must've gotten the crowd with fear powder,” Tim said.

“I bet it was in the confetti,” Dick answered.

There was no more time for talk. The group of rage victims, had reached him. He dodged the clumsy attack of the first rage victim, noticing that Dick was forced to dodge the other way, and raced sideways towards a concession booth. Four of the raging attackers followed him. He surveyed the equipment the booth had to offer, hoping that the police would be able to handle the panicked crowds for the moment. A woman, who had found a weapon in the form of a board with several nails sticking out of the end of it, took a swipe at his head. He ducked, and the momentum of her swing buried the end of the board into the flesh of the man next to her, just below his collarbone. She ripped her improvised club free, but the incidental victim of her attack didn't even look like he noticed the nasty gashes now bleeding freely, just above his lungs.

Time to end their attack fast. He leaped onto the concession counter, yanked out the CO2 line from the booth's drink fountain, and turned the resultant Alka-Seltzer-smelling spray into the faces of his pursuers.

It thankfully had the desired effect. The four people stumbled back, long enough for Tim to spray some of their antidote to the Scarecrow's toxin into their faces. This left him with four very confused and keyed up people, still dealing with massive jolts of adrenaline surging through their systems, but they weren't trying to kill him anymore, so that was an upside.

“In here,” he told them, motioning behind the counter. “Stay hidden, and don't come out.” He eyed them all seriously. “This part is very important: try to relax as much as you can.”

The four people were confused enough to follow his orders without question, though they were all shaking from head to toe. Making a mental note to direct EMTs there as soon as possible, he looked out from the booth and surveyed the park.

The police, who had apparently dosed themselves with anti-toxin before they came, had managed to form a line between the rage victims and their panicking targets. The remainder of the officers had herded those dosed with the fear powder into a loose corral near the park's main entrance. However, the rage victims were going for the kill every time they attacked, and the officers were being forced into ever-harsher means of defending themselves. Meanwhile, all the people dosed with Scarecrow's fear powder were so frightened they were beginning to turn on one another, and were about to start a stampede that would probably get several of them, and the police trying to protect them, killed.

He left the booth for the middle of the main “street,” looking around for a way to head off the oncoming chaos.

Dick, having dealt with his own problems, joined him. “We've both got more than enough anti-toxin for these people,” he said.

“So…we just need a delivery system,” Tim said, trying not to sound worried. He caught sight of the corn maze. “They have a fog machine for the maze. If we put the anti-toxin in the fog and use the fans to blow it onto everyone else, that might work.”

“We'll need some help,” Dick said.

Tim surveyed the available police. “The cops trying to stop that stampede have their hands full,” he decided. Not that the ones fighting off the rage victims didn't, but they had already managed to incapacitate or immobilize enough of the attackers to start to turn the tide.

Dick nodded. The two of them helped get two officers free from fighting off the rage victims and made for the fog machine and fans beside the maze.

Tim didn't get there. His wrist was seized in a punishing grip and he found himself thrown bodily away from the other three.

Dick turned. “Robin!” he said, moving to help.

“Help them, Nightwing!” Tim told him, standing, knowing who he would see. Jonathan Crane, mounted on the wagon horse, looking terrifying in his red shirt and straw hat. In his hands he carried a harvest scythe with a glitteringly sharp blade. He regarded Tim with angry eyes behind his mask.

“You won't interfere with my experiment this time, my dear Robin,” Crane hissed down at him, swinging the scythe heavily towards his torso.

Tim dodged to the side watching Dick and the cops reach the fog machine and start moving it. Okay, everyone was going to be all right. And this time around, Crane didn't have mooks. He'd killed the first to apply and that would've scared the others off. He was alone.

Tim grinned. Time to dish out a hurting on Doctor Jonathan Crane.

He grabbed his bo from his belt, snapping it open and blocking the next swing of the scythe at his head before he planted the bo and vaulted upwards, both-feet-first towards Crane's face. Crane ducked, slashing blindly at Tim. From horseback, it was a clumsy attack and unbalanced him. The horse bucked and Crane went sliding off its back, just barely missing an angry kick as the animal took itself off to the far end of the park, which was now largely deserted.

Crane was back on his feet in a breath. Tim sized him up, as they circled one another. Crane wasn't much of a fighter, but he wasn't an idiot and he did have a weapon.

Crane moved first. He dropped down, swinging his scythe along the ground at Tim's legs. Tim cartwheeled over his attack and used his bo to catch the backs of Crane's knees as he rose. Crane landed heavily on his back, and it sounded like his breath got knocked out of him. Tim landed lightly on his feet, exactly as he'd meant to. Crane tried for another slash, but Tim brought his foot down on the pole of the scythe, trapping Crane's fingers painfully underneath. (He hoped it was painful, anyway. This guy was out of Arkham less than a week and at least four people were dead. Lousy jerk.)

He had his cuffs out in a second. As he put them on, he said, “All right, Crane. You have to explain something. You wanted to see people's reactions to the 28 Days Later zombies…why, exactly?”

Crane looked at him as if it were obvious. “To observe their fear response to a stimulus that is already established in the mind, of course! Everyone is afraid of the zombie apocalypse, but no one actually expects it in reality. Would they fear it more or less?” He gave Tim a glare. “And I would have found out if you hadn't interrupted my experiment!”

“…Right.” Tim contemplated explaining to Crane the myriad of ways in which his “experiments” did not successfully follow the scientific method, but rejected this in favor of turning him over to a nearby police officer. There were not enough hours in the day for that one.

He blinked. If a police officer had been there to take Crane off his hands… Tim looked around. Dick and the police had managed to get their improvised fog/anti-toxin machine going. Already, people were starting to look calmer. The police were chattering into their radios asking for EMTs and back-up.

Tim grinned at Dick, who smiled back. Mission accomplished.

*~*~*


It was late when Tim returned to the Batcave. They'd kept the death toll at the Fright Fest down to three (All rage victims, who had been killed trying to get through the police to their targets.), but that didn't let him off the hook from the rest of patrol. Or Dick, who'd had to return to Blüdhaven. But when he did return, it was triumphant, though tired, and Alfred was waiting with a plate of warm cookies and a congratulatory grin.

Tim stripped off his costume, took a quick shower, and then sat down before the Bat-computer wrapped in some soft sweats to finish up the case report. Typing up his notes and the events at the Fright Fest went quickly enough, and finally he was left staring at the box labeled “Title:” and wishing that it didn't look like that empty space there was mocking him. He didn't want to title it like Bruce's. And Dick's were a bit over the top. So, maybe he could split the difference.

“Scarecrow Unleashes Zombie Apocalypse On Gotham Fright Fest” he typed out. He regarded it for a moment and then nodded and saved the case. It would go into the logs for everyone to review at the end of the week, and the computer would automatically add it to Crane's master file.

He got up and was padding for the stairs when Alfred appeared. But this time, he just smiled and said nothing. Tim gave him an answering smile and then took himself off to bed.

*~*~*


Jonathan Crane sat miserably back down on his bed in his cell at Arkham. Wasted. The whole thing. He hadn't even been able to get any decent results this time! He had recorded all the data he did get, but it wasn't enough. It was never enough. There would always be something more to test.

There would always be a next time.

He held that knowledge close to himself, since it was the only hope you were allowed in Arkham. Everything that he truly loved was denied him on the grounds it might “encourage his delusions.” He was only allowed the measly privileges that any other inmate would be given. None of it inspired fear. None of it would frighten a fly.

But there would be another time. Another chance. He would be free again, and he would once again rain down terror on the streets of this city. And none of the Bats would stop him then, because he would be ready for them. Next time would be different.

And maybe, then, everyone would finally see how truly wonderful it was to be afraid. How fear drove you beyond yourself, past your limits, and fueled a willingness to do things you would normally hate.

Fear would set them all free.

The End

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