He was thirsty. It was the first time in hours that Scarecrow even considered his own needs. Turning from Dana, who was now sleeping peacefully, courtesy of the trigger word he’d successfully programmed into her, he reached for the pitcher of water that Drusilla had left on the scarred wooden table that served as his desk. Drusilla had put the pitcher there at some point during the session and he recalled that she mentioned that something about dinner and being back before sunrise. Glancing around, he realized she’d gone on a hunt.
“She promised to bring you back something as well," al Ghul told him. The older man was seated behind the wooden desk, sketching Scarecrow’s other patient, Dawn, as she slept. Unlike Dana, Dawn’s sleep was fitful and al Ghul captured her less-than-relaxed expression with uncanny accuracy. Setting his pencil down, al Ghul smiled. “Impressive work, Scarecrow.”
Taking a long swallow of water, Scarecrow strode over to the sleeping Key and responded quietly. “Dana is very unstable. My initial success is encouraging, but it will be several more days before I can comfortably say that she’ll be useful to you.”
He barely registered al Ghul’s presence at his side and started when the older man spoke. “I have every confidence in your abilities. You haven’t failed me yet.”
Dawn moaned softly in her sleep, still suffering the residual effects of the small dose of the lysergic acid cocktail he’d given her earlier. Her slender body twitched and she suddenly cried out, her eyes flying open and panting heavily as the word ‘glory’ escaped her lips. Her gaze was unfocused as she looked at him, a bleary-eyed smile on her face. “Ben….”
Ben. Scarecrow jotted the name in the yellow legal pad with the rest of his notes about Dawn, along with the word ‘glory’ and a question mark next to it. When he turned his attention back to Dawn, she was fully awake and her gaze was nervously ticking between him and al Ghul. It was petty of him, he supposed, but he took the burlap mask from its place on the metal table next to the notepad and flicked it onto her chest. He was rewarded with a shriek.
With a cold smile, Scarecrow lifted the mask off of her, put it back into place and made a show of noting her reaction on his notepad, well aware that she was watching his every move. Her rapt attention was almost as pleasing as her scream had been.
“You….bastard,” Dawn croaked at him, when he favored her with his attention again.
Al Ghul chuckled softly. “Poor Dawn. You did taunt him about that mask, you know.” And then, the older man did something completely unexpected. He began unbuckling the straps that held Dawn in place. Looking up and catching Scarecrow’s surprised expression, he smiled reassuringly. “She’s not a threat to us.”
Not a threat? The girl glowed!
“Dawn is the Key,” al Ghul allowed, freeing the girl’s legs and rubbing her ankles to restore circulation. “However, it’s quite obvious that she has no knowledge of how to control that power. If she did, you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation. In fact, you’d never have taken her in the first place. I am correct, yes, Dawn?”
“Get off of me,” she hissed at him through clenched teeth.
Releasing her ankles, al Ghul moved up to her wrists, freeing them and made a small, irritated noise at the chafed skin beneath the restraints. She started to sit up, but he pushed her back down and held her forearms. “Free yourself.”
“Free yourself,” he repeated.
Dawn stared at al Ghul in disbelief. “Y-you’re crazy.”
“Perhaps. And now I have you at my mercy. I can do anything I want to you. Scarecrow won’t help you. He might help me, should I request it. Or I can simply give you to him and allow him to amuse himself by destroying your mind. After that, I suppose Drusilla can have whatever is left.” Al Ghul leaned in closer and from the pained look on Dawn’s young face, Scarecrow was certain that al Ghul tightened his grip. “You don’t want that, do you, Dawn? What are you going to do about it?”
Dawn’s head shot up, her forehead colliding with al Ghul’s, even as she attempted to ram her knee between his legs. She missed, but managed to loosen his grip enough to roll off of the hospital bed and onto the hard, concrete floor of the abandoned generator room they were using as their base of operations. Rolling over, she crab-walked backwards, trying to put some distance between herself and al Ghul. It was painfully obvious that he was toying with her, giving her time to struggle shakily to her feet.
With a subtle gesture, he silently let Scarecrow know that he did not want Scarecrow to interfere with his test of the girl’s abilities. Scarecrow nodded, but still slipped quietly over to the small metal tray by the bed and picked up the vial of sedative. Dawn was on her feet now, surveying the room, obviously looking for a weapon. Scarecrow could recall Crane’s experiences with patients who’d gotten similarly out of hand. Each one had ended up in a snug straitjacket, sedated and sleeping off their tantrums in solitary. In a couple of cases, Crane had ended up with a split lip and a few bruises. This wasn’t a tantrum, Scarecrow knew. This was al Ghul, pushing the girl to her limits to prove his theory correct. In any case, Crane’s medical expertise would be needed, either to sedate the girl or stitch her back together.
“G-get away from me,” Dawn warned, backing up, even as al Ghul advanced.
“Or what?” al Ghul asked mildly. “Dana can’t help you. Scarecrow won’t. The only one who can help you is you, and you don’t seem to be doing an effective job at all.”
Dawn curled her hands into fists, raising them. “I think I’m being pretty effective,” she countered. “I’m here. You’re there. And the door’s –“
“Behind me,” al Ghul finished. “There are only two possible outcomes. It is a matter of how badly you want to leave. How badly do you want to leave, Dawn?”
It was obvious to Scarecrow that she wanted very, very badly to leave, but knew that she was hopelessly outmatched. Her fists shook and then a tremor ran through her young body. The fear emanating from her was almost palpable. And then she did something completely unexpected. Dawn lowered her fists, stood up straight and squared her shoulders. “No.”
“No?” Al Ghul repeated, clearly amused.
Dawn shook her head. “I’m not fighting you.”
“Yes?” He took another step towards her. “Tell me.”
“Because of what you are.”
“And what am I?”
“Immortal. Some…some kind of demon…”
“Immortal, yes, but not a demon. Not exactly.”
“Like your friend, Cordelia Chase? I suppose that’s a very facile way of defining me.” Al Ghul smiled, obviously enjoying the chance to toy with the girl. “Don’t look so surprised, little one. I’ve made it a point to be very much aware of the activities of your sister and her friends. Her defeat of the First Evil was almost as impressive as Angel’s self-destruction.”
Dawn took a small step backwards, still not touching the wall, but one more step would do it. The names meant nothing to Scarecrow but they clearly had power over the girl. And he was learning more with each passing minute.
“And yet, despite what I’ve studied about your sister, the Slayer, your existence remained hidden from me,” al Ghul mused. “There is not much in this world that is hidden from me, Dawn.”
Scarecrow watched Dawn back into the wall, pressing against the rough concrete as if perhaps she might melt into it and escape. It was painfully obvious that Ra’s was right, that as powerful as she appeared to be, she was completely helpless.
Al Ghul’s head snapped in Scarecrow’s direction. “Scarecrow. When you look at Dawn, what do you notice about her?”
Helpless. Powerful. Green. Glowing. Death. There were so many impressions all at once. He picked the one that intrigued him the most. “She’s not real.”
“Not real,” al Ghul repeated, his eyes boring into Dawn’s. “And yet she’s very real. Very human. Very…fragile. A contradiction created by someone very skilled with magicks. Created, I would guess, fairly recently, because I would certainly have been aware of Dawn’s existence had she been alive for the sixteen years she appears to be. How old are you, really, Dawn?”
“I-I’m…older than time?” Dawn ventured. “Older than recorded history?”
Al Ghul smiled again and stepped closer to her, placing a palm on the wall on either side of her face, effectively trapping her and standing in her space. It was the next logical step, Scarecrow knew, combining the mental threat with a physical one. “Yes, you are, little Key. Perhaps I need to clarify my question. How long have you been in this form?”
Another tremor shook the girl and Scarecrow could sense they were on the cusp of discovering something important. Some knowledge that went beyond the science that Jonathan Crane used to elevate himself. Knowledge of older, more powerful things that Ra’s al Ghul used to rise to his position of power. The Key was powerful and Scarecrow knew that if they could control that power…the possibilities…
“Answer me, Dawn.” Al Ghul was now scant inches from her, the threat growing more explicit with each grated syllable.
Dawn swallowed hard. “I’m sixteen. There are birth records…school records…I don’t know –“
“Do not lie to me,” al Ghul thundered, eliciting a squeak of pure fear from the girl. He drew a heavy breath and regained his composure. “You are not real. You were put into this form, whether by your own hand or by the hand of someone else. We cannot unlock your potential until we understand how you came to be in this form.”
“I’m just a girl,” she pleaded. “Really…”
Al Ghul closed his eyes and took a step away from her. “Scarecrow.”
He knew what was coming, what was going to be asked of him. “Yes, sir?”
“You are skilled in techniques that will get us the answers I seek, correct?”
“Yes.” Scarecrow ticked off a couple of examples while he watched Dawn’s reaction as she finally understood what he was, what he could do to her. “We can try hypnosis and perhaps some regression techniques. If you’d prefer a faster method, there are some drugs that I have that are quite effective, though they may have some…side effects.”
“Now you see, my dear girl,” al Ghul said, lowering his hands and giving her more space, “I can get the answers I seek with or without your cooperation. In fact, I can have Scarecrow make you perfectly willing to do whatever I ask. He can alter your memories or condition you to respond to certain triggers. He might also repress other memories and make you forget you have a sister or have any life beyond this room. There are many options available to me. There is but one option for you. If you do not wish to have Scarecrow tamper with your mind, you will tell me what I wish to know.”
“Please…. Dawn whispered. Scarecrow felt a wave of pleasure. Now she understood who he was, what he could do to her. Finally, she was properly afraid of him. Her eyes met his in a silent plea for help. His response was a cold smile.
“Very well.” Al Ghul turned from her with a grim expression. “You may begin, Scarecrow.”
“Oh my Goddess,” Willow breathed, looking up at Batman with obvious awe.
“You must be Willow,” Batman said, displaying no awe that Xander could see. Even the man’s voice was expressionless. Okay, maybe that was because Willow didn’t appear threatening or act threatening. But if you knew who she was, what she could do…which this Bat-guy obviously didn’t or obviously did, when he added, “The witch.”
“With my handy demon bar locating spell.” Willow held up a small tan suede pouch and gave one of her sweet Willow smiles that seemed to light up the dreary abandoned lot they were standing in. “No demon necessary. Just make with the incantation and voila.”
Buffy grinned. “You had time to put together a locator spell?”
Willow made a dismissive gesture with her hand. “Easier to do a locator spell than make a lasagne.”
“Speaking of which,” Xander commented, “you think maybe they’ll have buffalo wings? We skipped dinner and this working man is hungry.” He grinned and puffed up his chest, just a little as he delivered the big news. “I got the job. Tomorrow morning, I’m laying foundation at the Wayne Mansion.”
“Yay, you,” Buffy told him, punching him lightly on the arm. She turned to Batman. “Isn’t that great?”
“I…yes. Congratulations.” The masked man looked suddenly uncomfortable, if Xander’s eye didn’t deceive him. Maybe he wasn’t used to good news. Or maybe he worked on the site, too. Xander made a mental note to start checking out his new co-workers. Not that it really mattered who Batman was.
Buffy turned away from Batman, looking down at her boots and suggested, “We can take it from here and rendezvous with you later if you’ve got an elsewhere you need to be.”
Xander could have sworn he saw the corners of Batman’s mouth twitch ever so slightly as he replied, “No. No elsewhere.”
Of course not. There were only about forty or so Arkham inmates still on the loose and that Joker guy. Yup, the attraction between Kevlar boy and the Slayer was mutual because she was beaming at him like a kid with a new toy. The Bat wasn’t showing anything, as usual, but his attention was all on the Slayer. Breaking the moment, Xander shot a pointed stare at Batman. “Uh, Buff, he’s gonna stick out a like a sore thumb. Even in a demon bar.”
“Not a problem.” Willow pulled an amulet out of her pocket. “One handy-dandy glamour coming up. This might make you sneeze.”
Before Batman could react, she blew a lilac-colored powder in his direction. There was the requisite sneeze and then Xander found himself staring at --- “Giles!”
“Oh. My. God. That is so creepy,” Buffy said, circling Batman. “He looks just like Giles.”
Willow’s grin was almost ear-to-ear. “Nifty, huh? I came up with it when I put the spell together. That way, you won’t slip up and call him Batman. You just look at him and automatically think Giles.”
Batman was staring down at his hands. “I don’t see anything different.”
“No, but we do,” Willow told him. “And this way, we don’t accidentally learn your secret identity. Well, not yet, anyway. Not that we’re trying to, but we found out Buffy was the Slayer and…well, you know. Things happen.”
“Things always happen to us,” Xander put in, mock-helpfully and almost flinched when Batman/Giles gave him a very Giles-like reproachful stare. “Did everybody else see that? I’ve got a definite wiggins.”
“I saw it and share your wig.” Buffy patted him on the shoulder. “Will? Ready to go?”
Somebody was singing ‘I Only Have Eyes for You’ and Buffy’s grip on the banister faltered for just a fraction of a second. And then she tightened her grip, hard enough to threaten to rip the banister from the wall as she got a good look at the green-skinned, red-eyed demon in the bright orange suit singing the song up on the stage.
Willow elbowed her. “I know him! That’s Lorne! He used to work with Angel.”
Buffy was now tempted to tear the banister from the wall. Instead, she let go and led the way into the bar, where vampires and demons sat, drinking various concoctions. A vampire sipping a warm mug of O Neg took one look at her, dropped money on the bar and hurried out. A murmur went through the crowd and within minutes, the bar was empty except for the Slayer, her friends, Batman and the demon named Lorne.
Lorne put the microphone back into the stand and came slowly down the stage stairs. He glanced at Buffy and went behind the bar help himself to a drink before he faced her. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And Willow. It’s good to see you again.”
“I-it’s good to see you, too,” Willow said, uncertainly. “We, uh, didn’t know you were in town.”
“Why are you in town?” Buffy asked, an edge in her voice.
The demon took a long swallow of his drink and studied Xander and Batman. To Xander, he said, “You must be Xander Harris.” Looking again at Batman, he smiled. “And you must be Batman.”
Willow’s glamour spell was still intact and Batman looked like Giles to Buffy’s eyes. Lorne was not endearing himself to her in the least. Buffy hid her surprise. “Fine, you can see through the spell ---“
“Actually, I can’t,” Lorne interrupted. “I look at him and I see tweed and the whole British stiff upper lip thing and -- hey, is he supposed to be a Watcher?”
Clapping her hands once, Willow simply said, “Disparo.”
With that, the glamour dropped and so did the temperature in the room as Buffy gave Lorne her fiercest scowl. “I want answers –“
“You’re in right place, buttercup.” Draining his glass, Lorne set it down. “That’s me, the demon with all the answers. Hop up on the stage and warble away. What’ll it be? A little Manilow? Angel was always partial to ‘Mandy’.”
“Don’t,” Buffy hissed. “Don’t you dare talk about Angel.”
“I have every right to talk about him,” Lorne told her, weariness seeping over his features.
“Oh, that’s right. You ran the evil law firm with him.”
Raising a green hand, the demon took a step back. “Sweetcakes, I’m not getting into that with you. You made your feelings very clear when you sent your little Slayer-SWAT team to retrieve psycho-Slayer. I’m here in Gotham because the PTBs let me know that this is where I needed to be, not un-coincidentally because the same psycho-Slayer is here, too, and possibly because there might be an apocalypse. I wanted out of the hero biz, but that’s the funny thing about having a gift like mine. You end up being a hero sometimes whether you want to or not. So… Here I am, and I’ve got some answers for you, but if you want me to read your destiny you’re going to have to get up there and sing.”
Buffy exchanged startled glances with Willow and Xander. Xander was the first to break the silence. “Uh, Buff, need I remind you what happened the last time you got musical?”
“And whose fault was that exactly,” Buffy asked, archly. She spared a quick glance at Batman and gave him a quick recap. “Music demon, called himself Sweet. There was singing, dancing and spontaneous combustion.”
“Sounds like quite a party,” Batman responded.
Lorne reached over and patted Batman’s shoulder. “I know. This is all a bit much too soon, Bats, but you need to roll with it. You danced with the Demon’s Head once and if you’re going to win this time, you’re going to need to walk in Buffy’s world a while.”
Xander looked confused. “The demon’s what?”
“The Demon’s Head,” Willow told him. “That’s Ra’s al Ghul’s name in Arabic.”
“So his head is a demon?” Xander asked. “Can I say, ick?”
“I think it’s just a name he picked for himself,” Willow replied. “But there’s a definite demon connection there because he’s pretty old and humans don’t live that long.”
“Seven hundred years, give or take a few decades,” Lorne said, refilling his glass. “At least that’s what was in the files at Wolfram and Hart.”
Buffy’s could hear the acid in her own voice. “Let me guess, he was a client.”
“Not that I knew of, Goldilocks,” Lorne replied, unfazed by her tone. “Then again, they had offices the world over, so maybe he was a client at one of the other branches. His was one of the names that popped up every now and again when something bad happened and we were looking at possible suspects.” Turning again to Batman, Lorne offered a wan smile. “He’s one of the rare ones that crosses into both worlds. But, you knew that when you went after him the first time, in the Himalayas, didn’t you?”
It was the first time Batman had shown any reaction since entering the bar. With a lightning fast movement, he grabbed the green-skinned demon and slammed him against the bar. “What are you?”
“He’s a reader,” Willow said, laying a hand on Batman’s right arm. “And not dangerous. You’re hurting him.”
Batman let go and Lorne smoothed his suit, wearing a look that could only be interpreted as long-suffering. “I read auras,” he explained. “If you sing, I can read your soul and help you on your path. That’s what I do. What I am is a demon from Pylea. Who I am, well, that depends. To my family, I’m Krevlornswath of the Deathwok Clan. To my friends, I’m Lorne. To the Powers-That-Be, I’m apparently still useful. Getting back to you, my batty friend, you do realize that you’re going to tell Buffy how you know Ra’s al Ghul, don’t you?”
Off of Buffy’s look, Lorne continued, “Secrets can tear apart the closest of allies and you two champions are going to need each other if you’re going to stop Ra’s al Ghul. He’s immortal, but not completely. Injure him too much and he’s going to need a Lazarus Pit –“
“Oh my god,” Willow exclaimed. “That’s how he’s survived all this time. He’s found a Lazarus Pit!”
“Actually, he’s found a few,” Lorne put in.
“Splainy?” Buffy asked. “For those of us in the studio audience?”
Willow grinned, obviously happy to finally have an answer. “It’s a kind of pit that can rejuvenate the sick and the dying –“
“It’s a gateway through a demon dimension,” Lorne clarified. “Each time al Ghul goes through, he comes back a little more demon than when he went in. Or so they guessed at Wolfram and Hart. Wes talked about this during one of our staff meetings and said he assigned a staff to find all of the Pits. Angel was going to seal them, but…well… Anyway, since Ra’s al Ghul has the Key, he doesn’t need a Lazarus Pit. He can open the doorway anytime he wants ---“
Buffy slammed Lorne against the bar, using more force than Batman had. “What did you just say?”
“I’d be happy to repeat myself without your hand around my throat or a bar in my back,” Lorne told her. Rubbing his neck after she released him, he shot her a wounded look. “I said he can open the doorway any time he –“
“The Key,” Buffy repeated, impatiently. She could feel Batman come up behind her, ready to help her tear the place apart, no questions asked. Even if he did know al Ghul, Batman was clearly on her side and for some reason she couldn’t quite name, having him there was reassuring. “What did you say about the Key?”
“A couple of vamps came in here earlier. They did a terrible duet of Me and My Shadow but I found out Drusilla and Ra’s al Ghul are working together with a fear demon and that they have the Key.” Realization apparently hit Lorne or else he could really read her aura. “They stole the Key from you.”
Buffy sucked in a deep breath and turned to Batman. “You need to know about the Key and I need to know about your relationship with Ra’s al Ghul. Lorne’s right. This is no time for secrets.”
Batman didn’t answer at first but finally gave a slow nod of acknowledgement.
“Okay.” Raising her chin, slightly, Buffy looked at Lorne. “I feel a song coming on.”