"What? But Mr. J, take a look at 'im!" Harley's voice rose, obviously indignant.

"Shut up," the Joker said, slapping her without a glance. She just pouted and glowered. The clown strode forward and looked at Alfred, looked him up and down. "You're good, I'll give you that. You obviously do know the real Batsy. But you're not him."

How did the Joker know this? No one else had seemed to.

"But you don't strike me as crazy either. I know how that looks, after all." He gave his usual wide grin here before it faded. "What kind of sick person runs around in a suit with a cape pretending to be Batman?"

Alfred sighed. He didn't know how the Joker knew, but perhaps this confrontation could be made easier. "I'm not the sick one. He is, to be quite literal."

The Joker opened his mouth and shut it, perhaps Alfred's words sinking in, because his eyes widened. "My Batsy's sick?" He turned to Harley, "Go get him soup!"

"But puddin'-!"


Pouting, Harley nimbly jumped away and ran off.

Alfred was rather confused by the entire exchange, but well, could he truly be surprised by it? Joker was known for being insane, after all.

"If my Batsy is sick, who is taking care of him? You're not the Boy Blunder. Why isn't he here?" Joker tilted his head, peering at Alfred intently. "You're neither of the birdies or the bat girlies."

"I would be caring for him, but... everyone was busy," Alfred answered tiredly, not knowing when or why he was telling the madman the truth, but it seemed that the only person to even care that the Batman was sick was the Joker! The only person who had noticed the small differences, who was questioning Bruce's care. Everyone always left it in Alfred's hands...

Now the Joker looked angry. "My Batsy is sick and nobody's there for him?" He looked towards where Harley had run to. "Where is that stupid woman? The soup might be cold! Everyone was busy? Why?"

"Different galaxies and issues in other places," Alfred answered.

The Joker nodded, making a face, "Nobody ever invites me to the parties. My poor Batsy. So you're here because everyone is sick? But why?"

"Someone needed to watch his city."

An interested look now. "If you found someone to do it, you'd go back and take care of Batsy so he'd be able to come out and play?"

"I'm sure he doesn't view it the same way," Alfred answered. "But essentially, yes."

"About time!" Joker barked as a panting Harley returned with a big bag. "Here." This was handed to Alfred. "I want to help Batsy feel better."

Alfred made a mental note to throw out the soup the instant he returned to the manor, but even he had to admit it smelled delicious.

"I can't leave."

"You said you could if someone would watch the city!" Joker protested.

"And there isn't anyone," Alfred felt tired. Didn't he just say that?

"Boss?" Harley interrupted. "What's goin' on?"

The Joker ignored her, "Au contraire mon caretaker of ze Bat." He perked up and put his fingers to his head, "I don't have the hood or cloak, but I can do it to make Batsy get better."

"You want to protect Gotham?" Alfred's voice was incredulous.

Joker gave Alfred a look before protesting, "It's my city too!"

"You can't kill people when-"

"Yadda yadda yadda, I know, I know. No guns, no killing, protect the innocent, help the people, now you go and help my Batsy!" Joker waved him off, obviously meaning it.

Holding the bag with the soup and feeling very confused, Alfred returned to the Batmobile. Bruce did have cameras everywhere, but Alfred was relying on his own judgement here as well. Joker did want the real Batman back. And Alfred wanted to take care of Bruce.

He would keep an eye on the cameras and on Bruce. If Joker did anything too insane... well, he was the Joker. This entire situation was insane.

"I promise I'll do a good job," the Joker said, beaming at him from the rooftops. "Just take care of Batsy!"

Alfred watched as they left, with Harley saying loudly, "But Boss, we could take 'im! Take 'im then take out the Bat, cause he's sick-!"

"Shaddup!" Joker snapped, hitting her. "He helps Batsy and Batsy makes things interesting! We win, we do it fair and square, not while he's sick! Stupid! Now come on, you need a good costume to be my sidekick!"

Alfred decided he just would return to the manor at that point. He did and made sure he put away the costume and the like before returning to where Bruce was.

The younger man was sleeping a bit fitfully, a sheen of sweat obvious on his forehead. The fits seemed to decline a bit when Alfred rested his hand on Bruce's forehead. His temperature was still very high and Alfred knew it would be a few days before he could really be back to his old self. Bruce would hate being on bed rest those days but Alfred would be able to argue that he had found someone.

But he also knew it would be wise to not say who.

This man was the closest thing he had to a son. He would do anything for Bruce. The elderly man moved with elegant grace, cleaning and tending to his young master, a job he had never and would never regret.