Agony:

Chapter 1:

He pushed his hand against the rain slicked brick of the building, digging his fingers inward, as though trying to latch tight to some invisible grip hold. He attempted, for the third time, to rise to his feet, only for his knees to buckle again, and once more, he fell to the grim laden, wet street below.

"Damn it…" He mumbled, his voice a whisper.

He lifted his eyes, looking ahead, the rain obscuring the visibility beyond a few feet. It had started to come down hard in just the last minute.

"Gahh!" He gasped, sucking in sharply at the stabbing pain which shot suddenly, unforgiving up his right hand side. This was absurd, he thought wearily. Normally he would enjoy it, but it seemed everything, lately, had been turned on its head. He giggled at the irony of it, even though it tore through his body like fire. It had always been they who crawled away, terrorized and in agony. And it had always been he, making his grand exit, not because he needed to, no, because he wanted to. Now it was just the opposite of all that.

It wasn't that he was scared. Not like them. He wasn't. He was angry. And he'd be damned if he let those mongoloid cretin security guards and their power hungry, sadistic leader end him! He laughed once more at the ridiculousness of it. He at least deserved to go down in a blaze of burning glory against the only man who'd earned the right to put him down. Bastards. Who in God's name did they think they were anyway?!

His breathing was ragged, coming in short, rapid bursts.

He needed to get the hell off the street. Before he came. Now wasn't the time. He'd only bring him back, and that just wouldn't do.

Again he attempted to rise, his hand shooting out for the wall as his head spun in dizzying circles. This was such a quandary. He'd willed himself from the asylum and in to the city, but it had taken every ounce of what little strength he had left and now he was sitting here, an open target, practically offering himself up for capture. He knew, if returned, he probably would die. He laughed.

"How shamefully pathetic…" He spoke aloud. He would have to repay the doctor in kind, he thought, if ever he was able to nurse himself back to health. Things, at the moment, were looking less then promising.

Somehow, he'd managed to stay on his feet for longer then a few, fleeting seconds, but his body ached worse then when he'd been beaten by billy clubs, much worse, and he was nauseous, saliva filling his mouth. He was certain he was going to be sick as the world around him seemed to rotate in circles.

There was an ally way some hundred yards up, he gauged, though it was hard to tell.

"Well, move!" He said, disgusted at his body's weakness. But the first step he took forward his legs gave way, and once again, he fell to the ground, his face hitting the pavement hard.

He moaned in pain.

"That's gonna leave a mark…" He giggled against the cold of the sidewalk, water and dirt filling his mouth, along with the taste of his own blood.

"Joker?"

He heard the voice somewhere above him.

"Fiddly sticks." He sighed softly, pushing himself, with great effort, on to his hands and knees. He began crawling away, knowing the action was useless. But he wasn't about to give in so easily. He had a reputation to maintain.

"Joker!" He heard the voice again, and kept crawling.

Moments later and he felt a strong grip about his shoulder, stopping him dead.

Out less then half a day and already he'd been caught. What a joke!

"Heh." He laughed.

The grip on his shoulder tightened and he winced in pain as he felt himself being pulled back and forcefully turned. Though it was unnecessary. He couldn't have put up any sort of real resistance as is.

He saw the large and powerful figure of his enemy standing before him. In the rain he looked as nothing more then a giant, black mass. The Joker again giggled.

"Good evening to you Sir." He said, his voice coming out in a croak, weak and barely audible.

Batman's eyes narrowed as he observed the disheveled and muddied figure on the ground before him. He'd spotted him from the rooftops, his white skin standing out against the dark of the sleeked city streets.

He'd, of course, been hesitant. It wasn't like The Joker. It wasn't like The Joker at all, to escape, only to leave himself plainly visible on the street the very same day. He knew Batman would be on the look out. And The Joker rarely put himself in a position to be apprehended until he'd at least had his fun.

But then the detective had seen him stumble, and fall to his knees and he knew, immediately, something was wrong.

So he'd come down to the street, and stood behind his enemy for nearly a minute, just watching him. The Joker had been unaware of his arrival.

That was another indication of something not being right.

The Joker had always been cognizant of when the Dark Knight arrived, long before he'd made himself visible. He'd often yell up to the vigilante while still on the roofs, daring him to meet face to face. Not this time. And Batman had stood silent as he again saw the madman rise to his feet, only to hold himself against the wall unsteadily for mere seconds, take a step forward, and fall face first to the concrete underneath.

That's when he'd decided to move in.

The Joker starred up at him with glazed and distant eyes, and the vigilante knew straight away the lunatic had sedatives running through his blood stream.

He noted he still wore his Arkham issued uniform, and no shoes. He looked a mess, and weak.

His chuckles broke the silence between them.

"Well, aren't you going to say anything?" He asked the Dark Knight.

"What are you doing?" Batman responded.

Again The Joker laughed, though he grimaced with each movement. He was in pain.

"What's it look like? Trying to get away from you."

"You're not doing a very good job."

The madman continued to giggle.

"Is that a joke Batman!?"

"Just an observation." The vigilante answered, his voice lacking in any amusement. "What's wrong with you?"

"What isn't wrong with me?" The Joker eyed him. "According to you and all those doctors, wouldn't that be the more suitable question?"

"You look sick." Batman pushed.

The Joker only giggled.

"And isn't that also to be expected?" He said.

Batman felt his fists clench. The clown had a way of agitating him no matter the circumstance, it seemed.

"You're going back to Arkham. You obviously need medical attention." He said lowly.

The Joker chortled.

"Oh, yes, and that's just the place to get it. Top of the line medicinal care, if your aim is to die."

Batman glared at him with suspicion.

"Another of his sick jokes, no doubt." He thought.

He reached out and the madman made what could only be described as a sorry attempt to swat the vigilante's hands away.

"Honestly Bats, I'm not really ready to go back."

"It isn't up to you Joker." Batman said, again reaching for him.

The Joker once more attempted to deflect the Dark Knight, but the detective simply took hold of the lunatic's wrists and pulled him forward. He took note of how light The Joker seemed, lifting him towards him, and his eyes grew wide in alarm as he put his hands about the maniac's torso and felt through the thin cotton of his singlet.

He thought he could feel every bone in the man's body. The Joker had always been thin, but this was extreme.

"Joker, what…" He began, but stopped when looking at the man in his arms, seeing he'd passed out.

Something was really wrong.

He lifted him fully from the ground, estimating in his head The Joker's 6'5" frame to weigh no more then 130 lb. What in the hell had happened to him? The last he'd seen of the clown had been only 4 months previous, and he'd been perfectly healthy then, save for the moderate beating he'd received. To lose that much weight, that quickly, he literally would have had to have been starving himself. Why in heavens would he do such a thing, Batman wondered, stopping himself. The Joker was certainly insane enough. And when had he ever needed any, real reason to do anything?

Still, this wasn't adding up.

The Joker may not have feared death, but neither was he suicidal.

He moved with the madman towards his car, a block away. Walking, he noticed the odd angle of The Joker's collar bone, and thought it looked as though it had broken and not been allowed to set properly.

Something was definitely going on, something out of the usual.

When at last he'd reached the vehicle, the cockpit roof slid open upon his approach, picking up the signal from his belt. He was thankful for the technology as he placed The Joker in to the passenger side seat. The madman stirred slightly, groaning, his face contorting in a grimace. Batman eyed him for a long moment before finally cuffing him to the two bolts on either side of the seat and then getting in beside him. The roof slid shut, blocking the noise of the rain from outside. There was quiet and the vigilante glanced over as he heard the ragged, shallow breathing of the man to his right.

He couldn't explain it, but he felt a strange hesitation. He knew the right thing was to bring the lunatic back to the asylum, where he belonged. But he couldn't help the apprehension rising in his gut. How had The Joker ended up as he currently was? Had he done it to himself? And if so, why had the Arkham staff allowed it? They were supposed to be treating him. And though Batman knew that the institute's patients were often treated more as prisoners, there was no excuse for outright neglect, no matter the resentment felt by those working there.

The detective gazed ahead, releasing a heavy breath. He had little more then his instinct for support, but he felt, deep down, bringing The Joker back to Arkham could very well mean putting the madman's life at risk. And though Batman knew he really had no reason to care, he also knew, if anything did happen to the clown while there, it ultimately would be his responsibility, for brining him back when he knew he shouldn't have.

He sighed. This was a difficult decision. A dangerous one even. One he really didn't want to make.

"Alfred." He called in on the communicator. Seconds later, the butler's image appeared on a small screen.

"Yes Master Bruce?"

"Alfred, I've apprehended The Joker."

"So soon!?" The older man exclaimed, clearly surprised.

"Unusual, I know." Batman said. "Something wrong with him."

"With The Joker, Master Bruce?" He could hear the amusement in his friend's voice. "Would you mean in the regular sense Sir, or something more extraordinary?"

"No, I mean he's sick. He's extremely thin and…"

"You'll pardon my saying so Master Bruce, but hasn't The Joker always been rather on the emaciated side?"

"Not like this Alfred. He weighs hardly a thing. I found him on the street, struggling to even stand. He's incredibly weak. He passed out in my arms even."

"I see." Alfred replied.

Batman hesitated then.

"I don't think I should bring him back to Arkham Alfred. I want to bring him to the cave."

"What!?" Alfred nearly shouted. "Sir, with all due respect, I feel that is a most dreadful idea."

"I know. I know it sounds crazy but… But if I don't… if I bring him back to the asylum I'm afraid…"

"Afraid of what Sir?!"

"Afraid of… afraid of what will happen to him."

"Excuse me Sir?"

"I've got a bad feeling Alfred. The Joker escaped only this evening, which means he fell in to this condition while in Arkahm. Either he's been abusing himself and nobody's been trying to stop him, or he's been abused, and I'm leaning towards the latter."

"And…" The butler pushed.

"You know the new warden? Warden Sharp? He's taken over Arkham in just the past 6 months?"

"Yes."

"I've gotten a bad vibe off him. Have since the first time I laid eyes on him. And I've wanted him out for a while. He's a control freak."

"You'll pardon my asking again Sir, but why do you care?

"Because Alfred, I've a strong suspicion Dr. Sharp's been implementing less then human methods in his quest for that control."

"You've evidence to support this theory, Master Bruce?"

"Not until tonight I didn't." Batman answered. "The Joker is my proof. He looks half dead. And something else he said, about Arkham being the place to be if your aim was to die. I can't in good conscious let him go back there, not until I've gotten to the bottom of this."

"I see." Alfred responded.

He could tell from the tone of his employer's voice that he wasn't in the mood to negotiate. He sighed loudly.

"Shall I make any special preparations then Sir?" He at last relented.

Batman glanced over at his arch nemesis and noticed he had begun to shiver, soft moans escaping his throat every few seconds. The vigilante was sure the madman was running a fever now.

"Just make sure the medical ward is well supplied, get one of the beds ready, and make sure there are plenty of blankets and pillows. Oh, and if possible, if you could prepare something to eat, hot soup maybe, and a fresh set of cloths."

"Cloths, Sir?"

"The Joker is soaked to the bone. He's been out in the rain. Anything of mine, so long as it isn't obvious to whom it belongs."

"Will your cloths even fit The Joker Sir?!"

"He's taller then I am, but more thinly built." Batman replied. "They'll have to do."

"Very well Sir. I shall do my best. Anything else?"

"Make yourself scarce Alfred. I don't want him knowing of you."

"Indeed Sir."

And then the line was cut.

Batman again looked to The Joker.

"You always said I was as mad as you Joker. Maybe this proves it." He sighed, turning the ignition and shifting in to drive.

It was a long ride to the manor from where they were. He just hoped the maniac's condition wouldn't worsen in the time it took to arrive.