Random pairings, part III ("The Color of Straw")
And the timebuster. I had the whole story in the first thirty seconds; it just took a little while to *type.*
Jonathan Crane pressed his palms against the wall and bowed his head,
letting the hot water cascade around him. Inmates could qualify for
private shower privileges, and he made sure he always did. Too many
memories of junior high school and earlier, of the stronger, brasher boys
teasing the lanky one they called "Scarecrow."
He'd killed all those boys, of course. Years ago.
He flicked the water out of his eyes, and realized he wasn't alone.
"Shower's closed," he said. "Privileges." You had to be forceful up
front, or they'd be all over you. Arkham was like junior high that way.
"Ask the guards."
"They're dead," said a voice. A woman's.
Crane whirled around, reflexively covering his crotch. He wanted to run, hide, get away, but all he could do was cower. In fear. He hated it. Once he'd vowed never to be afraid again. A vow that couldn't be kept, of course. The best he could hope for was to instill fear in others. The problem with being in Arkham, without his suit and his fear toxins, was that most of the inmates were far scarier than he was.
Even the women. Maybe especially the women.
Crane didn't know. He avoided women, if he could. He didn't like them much.
The first woman who'd seen him naked had laughed.
This woman wasn't laughing, he realized. She was crying.
He squinted at the woman through the steam. Crane's glasses were by the entrance to the showers. All he could make out was a blur. But her sobs had a strange, hiccuping quality to them, almost like a cartoon -- she'd sounded familiar -- "Harley?" he said. "Harley Quinn?"
"Hiya, Dr. Crane," she said.
He was hallucinating. Had to be. What on earth would Harley be doing in his shower? "What's going on?" he said. "What do you mean, the guards are dead?"
"It was Mr. J! He's left!" She sniffled, and Crane could hear the sobs she was trying to hold back. "And he DIDN'T TAKE ME!"
She broke down, then, and Crane was surprised to find himself with some small reserve of pity. He hated the Joker, but Harley Quinn was a sad creature. Nothing to fear at all. "Well," he said, feeling slightly less awkward, "if there's anything I can do to help..."
Even without his glasses, he could see that she perked up.
"Y'know," she said, "I was really hoping you'd say that."
In the split-second between her pounce and Crane's fall onto the shower floor, he realized that she was naked.
He had to be hallucinating, Crane thought. There was no other explanation for it. He'd never been attractive to women, especially not to slender blondes with beautiful eyes and perky bosoms and --
If this was a hallucination, Crane thought as she climbed onto him, it was a remarkably convincing and coherent one.
Then he realized that it wasn't a hallucination.
Then he realized that he didn't care.
It was wonderful, the best he'd ever had -- which wasn't hard, considering his paltry experience, and as he lay there in the afterglow he realized he was actually approaching a state that could be described as "happy." Maybe the solitary life wasn't for him, after all. He could do with a sidekick. Have to change her name, of course. Something more suitable. Raven, maybe? No, one of those pesky do-gooders had a previous claim on that one. Harley deserved a name of her own. But they'd work well together. Her hair was the color of straw.
Then she pulled away.
Crane turned on his side, propping his head up with an elbow. He watched as she rinsed herself under his showerhead. Her face was out of focus, but her legs weren't. They were lovely.
"Thanks, Doc!" she said. "I feel lots better!"
"It was wonderful for me, too," Crane said.
"Huh?" said Harley. "Oh. Yeah, it was okay, I guess. But it's gonna get even better!"
Crane flopped on his back and grinned up at her. "Well," he said, "I don't think I'll be ready for a little while, but I'm certainly willing to try..."
"No!" she said. "I meant when Mr. J. gets home!"
"He ain't appreciative. I know that." She smiled sadly. "But he's really, really jealous!"
Crane's satisfied grin slowly withered and died.
"He'll be comin' back here in a jiffy! I just know it! And then he'll realize how much I mean to him, and then he'll spindle you six ways from Sunday! Just to show me he cares!"
"No," said Crane in horror.
"Yup! Boyoboy, I can't wait! Nothin' personal, Doc." She knelt quickly and kissed him on the cheek. "You were really sweet! But Mr. J., he's the best!"
She skipped out of the shower, singing nonsense syllables. Crane lay there on the tile, the water cascading around him. After a few moments, he began to raise his head and drop it again, repeatedly banging it against the floor.
Arkham life, he thought, really wasn't that bad.
But escape had its advantages, too.