Disclaimer: Not my characters, not my world

Warnings: Rated for some medical gore and eventual slash content

Escalation

There was a faint rustle as Dr. Crane closed the psychology journal. He took off his glasses for a moment to rub at his eyes. It was late. Time had slipped through his fingers while he had been absorbed in the findings of a recent study on the role of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex in memory consolidation. It had been fascinating, but he was tired. He made his way to toward his bathroom. Hygiene took precedence over sleep, regardless of the hour.

Before he had gone two steps there was a harsh knocking at his door. In hindsight, Crane could only blame his fatigue for his failure to arm himself with fear toxin before going to the door. If he were in his usual frame of mind, he never would have allowed such an oversight. The knock had sounded innocuous enough, but as a wanted criminal, he should have been more alert.

When Crane opened the door a gun barrel was waved under his nose. The ex-psychiatrist barely had time to react before an assorted group of miscreants barged into the living room and laid out an unconscious form on the couch. It would be ironic if the individual was in some drug-induced coma. Unfortunately, the doctor was not in a position to appreciate poetic justice. He would have sprinted to his closest stash of toxin if the largest member of the group wasn't brandishing his firearm in a pointed and professional manner. Then Crane's mind caught up with the next important detail.

"Wait a moment. Are you wearing a clown mask?" Crane asked in a derisive tone. Then, almost of its own accord, the doctor's gaze slid toward the unconscious individual.

Oh no.

Every single person in Gotham could instantly recognise that face, or at least the stylised design that adorned that face.

"What is the Joker doing here?" Crane demanded. The gun suddenly seemed to be a secondary and rather unimportant threat.

A particularly nervous individual with a tic, who was thankfully unarmed, approached Crane. "He-he was in-injured," the henchclown stammered.

"Yes, I can see that." The doctor hoped the Joker hadn't been injured too badly so that he wouldn't bleed all over the upholstery. "But what on earth possessed you to bring him here?"

"You're a doc-doctor."

"I'm a psychiatrist."

One of the more collected henchclowns approached. He seemed to be the one in charge while the Joker was out of commission. He was also the one who had been waving around his firearm so carelessly.

"If you're a psychiatrist then you did medicine for a few years before you went into psychiatry," he announced.

Crane scowled at the henchclown. It was true, of course, but laymen weren't supposed to be so well informed, let alone laymen who were stupid or insane enough to care about the Joker's well being.

"Be that as it may, I have neither the facilities, nor the equipment nor the inclination to treat him," Crane replied. His gaze slid back to the Joker once again. Despite himself, the doctor's curiosity was piqued. "Though, what is wrong with him precisely? In the physical sense, that is," he clarified after a moment's thought.

The lead thug sighed and scratched the back of his head. "He got a long knife gash on his arm a couple of days back. Don't ask how. Anyway, he seemed fine with it, just sort of sewed it up. Then he started to get sick and then feverish and today, we found him like this."

Crane nodded absently as he observed the Joker. His thugs hadn't thought to remove the greasepaint, or perhaps they hadn't dared to remove it. Where the Joker's skin was visible beneath the smeared makeup, it was tinged with an unhealthy pallor. He also seemed to be sweating profusely and he twitched in his fever-sleep.

"Don't you have some seedy back-alley doctor to take him to? And just how did you manage to find me?"

"Look, I'll answer your questions later, but right now you've got to fix up the boss."

"And why would I do that?" Crane asked.

The thug hefted his gun in a way that was clearly designed to intimidate. "Do you really need to ask that question?"

"But why would you care about what happens to him?" the doctor persisted. He knew that they wouldn't kill him. He was currently the most useful person in the room. Then again, the Joker's minions weren't known for their reasonable, well-adjusted mindsets.

"Boss first, questions later." Apparently that was the end of the conversation.

Crane sighed and rubbed his temples. "Fine," he snapped. "Put the gun down. I won't be threatened while I'm working. You," Crane pointed to the nervous henchclown. "Go and boil some water in the kitchen. You, next to him, the bathroom is just over there, get me some towels. The blues, if you please, I won't have 'your boss' infecting the good ones. And you with the tattoo, there's a 70% ethanol solution in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. Get it, and don't even think of drinking it."

Crane turned back to the leader. "You can get him out of his jacket and shirt. I need to get at the wound. Cut him out if necessary. I will also need one of his knives—a small, sharp one."

The leader nodded and went over to the couch. Crane took a moment to appreciate having the menial tasks completed, if not expertly, then at least enthusiastically. Perhaps this why the Joker keep a selection of thugs on hand. Even Scarecrow, who had been clamouring for Crane to get some fear toxin and dose the intruders, had quieted down to appreciate the power of giving orders and having them followed.

In as much time as it had taken the water to boil, Crane found himself sitting on one of the hard-backed living-room chairs which had been pulled up beside the couch. The Joker's thugs were anxiously arrayed behind him. The Joker himself was bared to the waist, exposing an ugly and obviously infected wound on his upper arm. The site was inflamed and red streaks crawled across the flesh in an interesting pattern. There was a faint sickly-sweet scent permeated the area above the wound. The whole situation was rather surreal.

Crane sterilised one of Joker's sharper and smaller knives with the ethanol solution. He sighed before addressing the henchclowns. "Don't get excited or trigger-happy, but that wound needs to be drained so I need to cut it open. Those stiches aren't helping and there's good chance that they are what introduced the infection in the first place."

The leader gave sharp looks to the others before giving Crane the go-ahead. The doctor paused. He was being coerced into performing emergency surgery, on a maniacal clown, at an hour of the night that was probably more accurately described as morning. Naturally, he decided to spread misery around as much as possible. "You two," he began, pointing out a couple of the thugs, "hold him down in case he wakes up part-way through."

The goons took up their positions silently. Their hands hovered for a moment, clearly demonstrating their unwillingness to follow the order. Crane glared at them and waited for them to comply. One of them swallowed, but they tentatively grabbed the Joker's upper arms and pinned him down. One of them shook slightly and Crane took a moment to savour the fear response.

The doctor also took a moment to silently wish for a scalpel that would allow for genuine precision. Working with a knife for wound treatment was tantamount to cutting vegetables with a machete. Despite this, his grip was steady and he worked quickly and efficiently, draining the pus from the infection site until it bled cleanly. In the end, some of the infected, necrotic flesh had to be removed. In a proper hospital setting Crane would have prescribed antibiotics. Here, he removed enough tissue to be safe.

He washed the site with boiling water and sent the nervous henchclown to retrieve the first aid kit from the bathroom. Crane considered the option of heating another of the Joker's knives and cauterizing the wound. However, the Joker had been gracious enough to remain mostly unconscious for the procedure, with only a few giggles leaking from him when Crane had applied the first cuts. Crane did not want to jolt a fevered, possibly delirious Joker awake if he could avoid it. Additionally, cauterisation would have been more about revenge for being bothered, rather than for medical reasons, and he was above such petty practices. Also he didn't particularly want the smell of burnt meat floating around the apartment for the next day or so. Instead, bandages from the kit were wrapped securely around the wound. The towels had been used to catch any fluids that leaked from the wound during the process. Crane resolved to burn them afterwards. He grabbed the paracetamol from the kit and handed it to the leader.

"Alright, I've done what I can about the infection site. Now the fever needs to be brought down. Get him to drink, if you can, and when he wakes up, give him the paracetamol. Otherwise, try and keep him cool. There's ice in the freezer and you can use the clean towel. I'd also suggest removing the greasepaint if you think he wouldn't kill you for it. Then, in the morning, you're going to answer some questions for me," Crane explained. The lead thug had the audacity to look relieved.

Crane headed toward his bedroom for some much needed sleep. Before he had gone two steps, Scarecrow seized control and turned back around. "If any of you morons so much as touch something that looks even vaguely science-y, I'll dose you with toxin and watch you writhe on the ground and tear at your own flesh as you scream yourselves to death," he uttered in one long breath.

The nervous one whimpered and the rest of the thugs looked disconcerted. After spending any significant amount of time with the Joker, they learnt to recognise honest threats, no matter how over-the-top. Scarecrow slammed the bedroom door and even the lead thug jumped.

~X~

Crane awoke to a soft knock at his bedroom door. He rubbed at his eyes and retrieved his glasses off the bedside table. He arose with a sigh, and only when he had made himself presentable, did he deign to open the door. As expected, the head henchclown was waiting on the other side of the threshold.

"How's our 'patient' doing?" Crane asked in a wry tone. After sleeping on the matter, he decided that keeping the Joker alive might not be such a bad thing. Not only did they share a common enemy, but having access to the Joker's unique mind would be an unparalleled opportunity. He was an undeniably fascinating individual and the notion of dissecting the Joker's mind held a strong appeal to the ex-psychiatrist. If the clown was impaired and more talkative due to his illness, so much the better.

"Stable, but still unconscious. We managed to get him to drink some cold water, but he isn't lucid enough to take any drugs yet."

"Fine. Let's get back to the living room so that you can answer some more pressing questions."

The lead thug nodded and fell into step beside Crane. A glance around the room suggested that the henchclowns had set up camp around their boss and had at least tried to keep the mess to a minimum. Crane sighed. He would never take solitude for granted ever again.

"So how did you find me and why do you care about what happens to the Joker? He cannot possibly be an amicable employer," Crane began.

During the discussion Crane discovered that the Joker kept tabs on various 'important individuals' and that he was 'fortunate' enough to fall under this heading. There were no back-alley doctors that the Joker trusted, but apparently Crane was considered alright out of some sense of 'super-criminal solidarity'. The doctor had never heard of anything so ridiculous. He fully intended to question the Joker about his motivations later.

The lead thug had been briefed on these things a while back and had organised the transport. His motivation was mildly interesting because of the fear element. Apparently he had seen the Joker recover from much worse. He was under the impression that not helping was too great a risk to his personal safety, should the Joker recover unaided. The clown had gained a legendary status amongst his lackeys that even outstripped his reputation in the rest of Gotham.

"I don't suppose you can all just leave, now that I've patched him up?" Crane asked. The opportunity to analyse the Joker aside, Crane would always choose his privacy first.

"You're the doctor. Do you think it's safe to move him?"

"Would it make any difference whatsoever if I said 'yes'?"

The lead thug just smiled.

Crane sighed wearily. The clown had better recover quickly or Crane would let Scarecrow have his wish and simply dose the lot of them.