Chapter 1 - The Cheshire Bat

After a very long, and equally relaxing weekend with Harley, Joker had dealt with quite enough. He told her to shove off for a while.. and then retreated to his drawing table. Plans upon plans littered the desk and floor, wrinkled and covered in pencil scratches. So many options.. so many ways to attract the Bat's attention.. but so many complications, as well.

He sighed heavily and sat down at the desk, feeling the chair creak under his thin frame. It was time to return to work.. but after a few days of not even thinking on the subject, it would be hard to delve back in. Batman was becoming all the more difficult to play with nowadays... all those new gadgets and handy little side-kicks.

"Side-kicks," Joker muttered through his gloved fingers. "Hmph.." He rested one arm over the back of his chair, and his chin on his right hand. "I'm sure that's all they are," he grumbled sarcastically. "Side-kicks must be rodent-code for something." He giggled a little and bit the tip of his middle finger. "I should crack it someday."

The Clown Prince of Crime leapt from his chair after a few hours, grinning madly with devious intent. "Ha-ha! I know something that will gather his eyes for sure! And if this doesn't, I don't know what will!"

He spends the rest of his night planning for the event, giggling and scribbling on pieces of paper...

Back at the Manor, Batman was pondering recent events. The encounter with Two-Face on the bridge, dinner with Miss Kyle, her disappearance without another word, and a very strange encounter with the Joker in a bath towel. . .

He shuddered inwardly as he realized that thinking about a date had shifted into an image of his half-naked arch nemesis, handcuffed to a water pipe.

It was times like this he was afraid he really was losing his mind.

***

The next day....

Sirens all throughout Arkham began ringing, alerting every cop in Gotham that something was wrong in the nuthouse.

"Oops.. I didn't remember that being there." Joker put his hands on his hips and frowned. "They must've just installed it."

Bruce Wayne had just gotten to sleep when Alfred awoke him, alerting him to the problem at Arkham.

*During the day?* He thought. He hated wearing the suit during the day, but he didn't have much choice.

He hurried down to the cave, noticing that he'd left a copy of "Alice and Wonderland" out in the study the night before. Funny, he didn't remember reading that book last night.

He opened the secret door and headed down to the Batcave. . .

*But I don't want to go among mad people.* He thought, remembering the story and it's odd applicability in his current situation.

'Oh, you can't help that,' said the Bat. 'We're all mad here.'

Cat. That was the Cat. Wasn't it?

He descended the stairs. . .

'I'm mad, you're mad.'

He donned the Bat suit and drove toward Arkham. . .

*How do you know I'm mad?* He thought, stuck in the book's dialogue. He couldn't remember the next line until he was actually at the asylum, the story pushed away by thoughts of what to expect.

The next line came crashing back as he entered the building.

'You must be,' said the Bat, 'or you wouldn't have come here.'

Cat. The Cat, damn it. The Cheshire Cat.

But he didn't see a cat when he looked down at his shadow, spilling onto the floor by way of Arkham's harsh but dim light.

He was Batman, the one in Gotham who chased away 'the ugly dreams that frightened you when all was dark'. . .

By becoming them.

***

Back at the Manor, Alfred replaced the book on the bookshelf, wondering if his longtime charge had gotten the point.

***

Joker waited until he heard the sound of the large door close at the front of the building before doing anything. It meant that Batman was inside.. and he could begin a little mayhem. His lithe frame leaned heavily on a wall down in one of the hallways.. he was simply laying in wait, now.

Batman stalked down the hallways of the dreary asylum, every sense tuned for anything that was the least bit out of place. The walls in Arkham seemed to whisper to him as he progressed.

But of course they didn't. That was crazy.

A drip of water here. A scurrying of vermin there. Those were real sounds.

And there was the sound of someone breathing, fairly heavily at that. Was it him, or someone else.

He pressed against one of the damp, slightly slimy walls and held his breath, waiting to see if the sound would continue.

The whispers continued. Louder now. Perhaps they were real.

Curiouser and curiouser.

The Prince's eyes were dark, filled with hellish intent. He could hear faint footsteps approaching.. but couldn't see a form just yet. A small war went on in his mind.. *Call out and taunt him.. see where he is.. No! No! Run.. run far away and hide someplace!* He could already feel the impending bruises where surely his nemisis would hit him...

But it was exciting, and the Joker couldn't deny it.

He waited a short while longer, itching to move, to speak.. to do anything. But when he could see a faint movement in the darkness, a grin spread over his face, infecting his body with giggles. "YOOHOO! Batsy!" he called, leaning forward at the waist while holding his hands to his mouth.

Like lightning, Batman lashed out and seized the Joker by the throat, tearing him from his hiding place and slamming him against the wall with such force that he felt a mist of water fly back.

A cracking. Brick or bone. Hard to tell.

Labored breathing. Two sources. Small choked sounds.

Rats scattering.

A bird somewhere taking flight.

"Joker," Batman growled.

The white-faced clown gasped and choked in Batman's grip. He had definitely under-estimated him this time. He hadn't even been able to push the switch - the one he'd been hiding behind his body. The inmates were still all safely locked away.. and he was all but defenseless at the moment. "Hello, B-batsy," he coughed out, a trickle of blood running down his chin. *Dammit! NOW what?!*

Batman tilted his head to the side ever so slightly, the rubbery material coating the kevlar of his cowl creaking.

Any second, all hell would break loose. He just had to wait for it. Some trap would spring or someone would rush him.

So he waited, staring at the Joker, trying to search for clues as to which madman he was dealing with today. There was something in the way that those maddened eyes looked back that revolted him to the core. He was losing this battle of wills.

Unacceptable. The Joker was insane. He could overcome his tricks and games. This should not be this hard. It was fighting the urge to lash out that made things difficult. When you were dealing with someone as off-balance as the Joker, madness felt contagious.

So why did it feel like something was stirring inside of him, causing his skin to crawl, instead of the other way around?

It was the building. Had to be.

The seconds ticked by, and nothing happened. This wasn't right. Or was this a new tactic the Joker was using to drive him crazy?

"You're wasting my time." He said menacingly.

"Or are you.." Joker coughed, "wasting mine?" He grinned and let out a short string of laughter, unable to contain his amusement. "And anyway, Batsy.. you rushed me too quickly.. Nothing's going to come at you from behind, drop on you from above.. or whatever else your strange little mind is imagining." He sighed and squirmed a little, unsure of what to do with his hands, exactly.. Well.. there WAS that gun in his belt. He could reach for that. But instead, he went on talking.. "Do you feel at home, yet? Is this place all you'd remembered it to be?" His brow lowered over his eyes, giving himself a devilish expression.

"YOU got ME out here!" Batman said, his irritation getting the better of him. "Arkham has NEVER felt like home, no matter how many times you push that on me!"

"You sure do like saying that, don't y-" The Joker was cut off by the sudden intensity of Batman's hand on his throat.

All Batman would have to do is squeeze. Just snap his pencil neck, and put them both out of a great deal of misery. . .

No! What was he thinking? He wasn't thinking. He was leaning even harder on the Joker, risking crushing his windpipe, and leaving his hands free.

That green-haired psycho ALWAYS had a gun. Think, damn it! Don't let him get to you!

With his free hand, he started searching the Joker's body for a gun, sliding his hands under the purple jacket, along the Joker's belt.

"Mmm, Batsy.. I didn't know you were into S&M," the clown taunted, letting out choked giggles between his words. He reached out and grabbed Batman's arm - the one searching him - and then used his right to grab for the gun.

Batman let go of Joker's throat and grabbed at the hand reaching for the gun.

*Damn it! Stupid! Careless!* His subconscious screamed as he grabbed the boney, pale wrist and slammed it against the wall, trying to get him to drop the gun as he kept Joker pinned with his body.

Joker growled and tried turning the gun around, fighting against Batman's strength even as his mind knew it was over already. Who was he kidding? Angrily, he dropped the gun, figuring it wasn't worth the strain of a broken wrist. "There you go, again.. taking all the fun outta my life!"

A flash of embarrassment suddenly came and went over the Joker's expresson.. Quite against his will - or was it? - a shiver raced down through his gut in response to the heavily-muscled body pressing against his. He prayed to anything higher on the food chain that Batman wouldn't notice..

In order to distract from his thoughts, he said, in a sing-song voice, "Oh, dear! I seem to have lost my gun! Could you get it for
me?"

Batman kicked the gun away. "You didn't lose it. I found it. When someone carries a gun that big, I notice." He said, getting tired of the routine they dropped into every time they faced off. "You constantly making the same mistakes just makes my job easier."

He had heard the flapping of wings again as the gun hit the ground, and for a moment, could have sworn the Joker shook a little. Was he afraid?

No, he was too crazy to be afraid. What then? It almost felt like. . .

He pushed the thought away. No way in hell. That was just. . .

Sick. A subtle psyche job. Well, it wasn't going to work.

"So are you going to tell me what's going on?" He said. "Or am I going to have to break your trigger finger?"

"You're going to have to break my trigger finger," Joker said lowly, masking his feelings with a look of pure evil. He squirmed a little against Batman, wishing the guy would loosen up just a bit.. let him breathe or something.. The air in the room was getting thick.. things weren't going as planned.. or at all, it seemed. Or... were they just taking a strange course tonight?

"Well, anyway.. as I was saying before," he began, clearing his throat of that bloody taste. "I wanted to let you know you're still
welcome here. And.. we were going to have a little bash for you! A welcome home kinda thing.. but.. you spoiled that fun, didn't you?" He frowned like he didn't really care, and dared to shrug.

"I have a habit of doing that." Batman deadpanned. The feeling of the Joker wriggling against him was making him feel increasingly more ill, as if the madman's unchecked depravity was somehow rubbing off from physical contact.

He backed away a little, trying to stop himself from swallowing hard.

"Who's 'we'?" He asked.

"Oh, silly Batsy! You know what I mean!" Joker grinned and leaned his head forward, raising his eyebrows. "We! The inmates of Arkham! Who else would throw such a thing for YOU?" He wiggled his shoulders up and down, physically demonstrating his glee.

"You shouldn't have." Batman grumbled flatly. "Fine. You can make introductions."

He yanked Joker away from the wall and roughly shoved the willowy green-haired man in front of him. If anything was going to jump out at them, they were going to hit Joker first.

"Move." He said, pushing the Joker forward so hard he heard his spine pop in a few places.

"Ow," Joker muttered, rubbing his wrist where Batman had clenched it. He haunched over a little, recovering from the Bat's shove. "Why such the sour face, Bats? Don't you like me anymore?" He fake-pouted, batting his eyes a few times in the hero's direction. "You aren't going to lock me up again, are you? That's so... droll."

"You're sick." Batman snapped, flicking his elbow up to catch Joker in the jaw. "Isn't droll your MO?"

"Augh! Geez!" Joker exclaimed, falling over backwards in response to Batman's out-lash. He rubbed his chin with one hand, glancing around for any sort of weapon he could use.. being on the bottom of the food chain was embarrassing.. and downright crummy. "What's the matter with you tonight? Get your wings clipped?"

Batman caught Joker before he hit the ground and pulled him up by the front of his shirt. The sound of tearing fabric echoed through the dark halls.

"Most people aren't in the best of moods when they have to come to Arkham Asylum." He said, pulling Joker up so he was face-to-face with him. "And I'm still a bit annoyed that the police seem incapable of keeping you in custody. I'm getting tired of baby-sitting your every tantrum."

"And I'm tired of dealing with YOUR tantrums," Joker spat, trying his best to stay eye-level with the taller man. "You get so full of rage and then spoil my fun.. it's kind of pathetic." He shrugged and then tried to brush Batman's hands away. "Let me down. I have business to attend to."

"When you're back in your cell, you can attend to any business you want." Batman said, reaching for a pair of batcuffs. He didn't like the sound of this 'business'.

"Getting a sense of Deja Vu?" He asked as he snapped them on the Joker's wrist and set him down on the ground. "Thank god you're dressed this time."

A sly grin crept over Joker's face as he contemplated the ease in which he could respond to a statement like that. In a sultry voice, he shot back, "Too bad it's not the other way around, huh? Or.. wait! That's right, you like playing the dominant part... so maybe you should help me out of these awful clothes." He broke into another fit of laughter, kicking his feet up into the air and
rolling onto his back.

Batman grabbed the Joker and slammed him shoulder first into one of the walls.

"SHUT UP!" He bellowed, feeling somehow violated. "Filthy, disgusting. . ."

*Don't let him get to you. That's his game,* He told himself, shutting off his tirade.

"If this is how you want me," Joker responded, using the same voice on Batman as he did on Harle - when he wanted something of her. "But uhh.. maybe we can take this someplace more... comfortable?" He winced and let out a sharp cry of pain as Batman pressed him into the wall.

The sane part of Batman's mind responded to that almost childlike cry and eased off. *Just get this lunatic back in his cell and leave.* He told himself, fighting down the urge to torch the whole building with the Joker locked inside it. He was starting to feel dizzy and nauseous. Not good.

"Let's go. You're boring me." He said as he started to drag the Joker toward the part of the Asylum where he was normally housed.

"No, not there, Batsy! Please?!" Joker tugged against Batman's cuffs, sticking his legs out in front of him to try to slow their
progress down to a minimum. "Let me try again! Let me go and I'll go plot something different! This wasn't fair! I didn't even get to kill anybody!" Maybe crying would work again.. It sure made the Bat back off just now. He sniffled a little and conjured up a few tears, trying his best to look pathetic.

"I don't think so." Batman said stoically, throwing the Joker over his shoulder and continuing toward the cells. "No killing."

"Alright, then, fine! I won't kill anybody! Just let me down, please!" Joker was quickly growing frustrated. Sure, it was nice having the rodent's complete and total attention... but this was too much. Angrily, he beat on his captor's back, balling his thin fists up and doing his damndest to get free. "Come on! You're not playing fair!"

Batman knew he shouldn't believe a word the lying psychopath said, but he was curious as to what was going on. It wasn't like the Joker to have a plan as weak as this one was.

He set the Joker down and shoved him away.

"Like you ever play fair." He said, prepared to tackle the Joker if he made any sudden moves.

Joker cleared his throat, leaned on one leg and blatantly ignored Batman for a few minutes. He moved his wrists around in the
handcuffs and wished he could take them off, but then let his hands fall down in front of him. He met Batman's eyes, lifted one brow... and then bolted, racing deeper into the Asylum halls...

"Damn." Batman hissed. He should have known better. He HAD known better. He needed to stop reacting to being inside Arkham.

Racing after the Joker, he grabbed a batarang from his belt and threw it at the Joker's fleeing form, hoping to trip him.

Joker suddenly tumbled and fell, getting the batarang right in the ankles. He let out a surprised yelp and rolled a few feet - just
enough distance to reach the basement stairs... which he promptly began falling down.

Batman stopped at the top of the stairs. They were hard, narrow, numerous, and the railing was broken halfway down.

Shaking his head with frustration, he fired a grappling hook into the ceiling, tested his weight on it, and swung out to snatch the Joker from the jaws of stair-induced death.

He couldn't let him die. That was what separated him from that Madman. He didn't kill and he didn't let people die. . . not anymore.

He grabbed the Joker around the waist and held on to him as he swung toward the second landing.

Joker clung to Batman with balled fists until they reached the landing. Heart pounding and his eyes wild, he fell backward onto the metal floor and panted for a few moments. "You have a tendency to shove me down stairs, don't you?" He hopped up to his feet and took a few steps forward, brushing himself off and composing his expression.. "But then, you always come and swoop down out of the sky.. at the last moment.." He batted his eyes and folded his hands, leaning onto the Dark Knight's shoulder. "My hero!" he exclaimed, forcing his voice up a few decibels.

"I didn't shove you down the stairs." Batman protested, not knowing how to react to the Joker touching him. Part of him felt sorry for him. Part of him was angry that someone would think he tried to kill them. Part of him remembered that this was the JOKER. "I wouldn't do that. And it was hardly the last moment."

He took a step back, not liking the situation one bit.

"Oh, but of course it was!" Joker responded gaily, rushing to fill the step Batman had taken backward. He latched onto the larger man's muscled arm, pulled himself in and leaning his cheek on his shoulder. "I almost died! I could've ended up as short as ol' Pengy! But YOU rescued me.. you must love it when I break out of Arkham.. it means you get to save me from certain death!" His face turned devious, though, and he considered the weapons on Batman's belt..

Oh, the options at hand...

Batman grimaced and tried to peel the Joker off. It took him a few moments to catch the look on his face.

With all his strength, he shoved the Joker away.

"Then why don't you just try to kill yourself instead of everyone else?" He growled.

"Oh, because nothing is more interesting than killing people.. in the most hilarious of ways." Joker brushed himself off and smoothed back his green curls, acting as though nothing had happened just now. "And anyway, I should be going. I have work to do." He headed for the door, knowing full-well that Batman would stop him. And was planning on it.

Batman stepped in front of him, blocking the doorway.

"I don't particularly want to hurt you anymore." He said. "But the only place you're going is back to your cell."

"Are you coming with me?" Joker asked, tilting his head to the side. "Because unless you are - which I doubt - then neither am I." He folded his arms over his chest, mocking one of Batman's famous poses.

"Fine." Batman said. "We'll play this your way."

He grabbed Joker again, scooping him up in a somewhat fetal position and carrying him to his cell, punching the button that engaged the electric locks and slipping in before the door closed, locking them both inside.

"Happy now?" He asked. At least this way, this only person the Joker could hurt was him.

Joker squirmed around and kicked at the air, demanding to be released. As soon as Batman stopped moving, he managed to get out of his captor's arms.. and to land rather gracelessly on the floor. He shot up to his feet and looked around the small, padded cell. "What in the world has come over you, Bats?!" The space was all of ten feet by ten at the most.. and rather dark. He leaned against one of the padded walls and sighed. Nonchalantly, he remarked, "At least you're where you belong, now."

"Funny, I was just thinking the same thing about you." Batman grumbled, leaning against the opposite wall and staring at the Joker. "Nothing's come over me. I wanted to get you somewhere where you couldn't hurt any innocent people."

"Well," Joker started, pushing away from the wall and taking a few steps forward. He rested one hand on his hip, and then made a point with the other, aiming it at the Dark Knight. "That means you aren't innocent, then. Because.. technically, I can still hurt you." He giggled softly and then settled his other hand on his hip as well.

Batman stared at him, saying nothing. He wasn't being told anything he didn't know. His presence in the room seemed to make the small space even darker than normal.

"You're so depressing," Joker hissed, his brow lowering. He folded his arms... dared to move closer to Batman, and then leaned on the wall nearby. He imitated his nemisis, sticking his chin out and moping about as darkly as he could manage. "I have a stick up my ass," he giggled, breaking the silence.

Batman slowly turned to look at him. "Are you complaining or bragging?" He asked.

"Oh, bragging of course," Joker responded, turning to stare right back. "Any Bat should be pleased to have a shard of lumber up his ass." A strange and very excited look crossed the clown's eyes.. as his left arm suddenly started reaching for a dangerous and yet well-rounded area on Batman's body. "Let's see just how deep this thing goes!"

Batman lashed out like a statue coming to life, and his foot kicked out at the Joker's midsection. Hard.

"Do NOT touch me!" He ranted. "Or there will be more than lumber displacing your internal organs! Is that UNDERSTOOD!?"

"Ooooh," Joker cooed, leaning over the floor, hardly able to stand the pain. "What's wrong, sweetheart? Did I remind you of Robin?" He choked and coughed, blood splattering on the floor. "You're so angry with me.. I can FEEL it!" He rolled over onto his back and muttered, "And oh how pretty you get when you're angry!"

Batman leaned against the wall, on the verge of panic. This was bad. This was very bad. He was stuck in this cell with the Joker at least until morning, and he was already on the verge of killing his nemesis.

The mention of Robin had enraged him. The Joker DID remind him of Robin, but not in the way he thought. Every time Batman looked at that pasty face, he was reminded of Jason Todd's death.

The Joker had done the bludgeoning, but it had been Batman's fault.

He was trying to keep his rage in check. If he hit the Joker any harder than he had, he might have killed him. As it was, he may have sustained severe internal injuries. He was losing this fight. He was playing this game by the Joker's rules, and there was no way he could win that way.

The Joker was crazy. He wasn't crazy. He was in control. He had to believe that.

*No more violence!* He told himself. He was reacting out of fear. Batman wasn't supposed to be afraid of anything. It was the other part of him, the part that was still a frightened six year-old, that was terrified.

*Come on Bruce, get it together.* He told himself. *Think. Act. Don't react. Start getting the Joker to answer some questions. Hurt him in another way.* Physical punishment just couldn't incapacitate someone that out of his mind. In fact, he seemed to ENJOY the pain.

Sick. Twisted. Depraved. Batman didn't want the Joker enjoying anything he caused. Time to change things.

He took a breath and crouched down next to the Joker, reaching for the place on his belt where he kept the painkillers. He pulled out a syringe. Morphine. He hardly ever used the stuff, and never on himself. He kept it in case someone else needed it. This was one of those cases. He wasn't using it now because of the side effects of the Opium derivative.

At least he told himself that.

"Why is it that you insist on putting my relationship with Robin in that light?" He asked as he rolled up the Joker's sleeve and searched for a vein.

"Oh, yes.. that's right. Robin's dead, isn't he?" Joker leaned up on his other arm and snickered. "But uhh.. didn't you get a new one? Where do you find these little buggers, anyway? At an ACO store? I should probably get one someday. They'd probably be just about ten times as useful as Harley.. and if I got sick of 'im, I could just shoot him - BANG! - in the head." He leaned his head back and grinned, half out of it from the brutal attentions he'd received.. but too far gone to care.

Batman paused, fighting the urge to jab the syringe in the Joker's eye. He took a shuddering breath, then continued.

"And anyway, Batsy, sweetheart, darling.. it makes perfect sense. You're obviously an older man. Not many babes go after white hair these days.. so it would be convenient if you had a stock of say.. two or three youngin's around. That would explain Robin, Nightwing - and he IS such a find young lad, isn't he! - and then Batgirl." Right about then, Batman managed to find the right vein.. "Ow!" Joker whined, looking down at the intruding needle. "Why must you insist on sticking things in my arm..? Heh.. heh.." His other arm felt weak suddenly, so he laid down on the floor. "Heh.."

*The bastard had to bring up Batgirl too,* Batman thought. But he was NOT going to give the Joker the satisfaction of seeing him squirm with that one. He feigned an arrogant calm.

"You're wrong about the older man thing." He said. "Unlike you, my dates don't have a voice that could peel paint. I'm surprised you haven't killed Harley yet."

God, but that girl was nerve-grinding.

"Well.. that may be true.. but Harley has gone through puberty by now," Joker quipped back, watching Batman warily with tired green eyes. "But unless you're offering a date, drop the act. I can see right through your little facade, DARling. You're so insecure about yourself and I can feel every bit of it." He coughed a few times and giggled in response, feeling very strange all of a sudden. "And besides.. Harley is useful on the occasion."

"Do I want to ask what you mean by useful?" Batman said, trying to ignore the 'date' comment. . . but it was really bugging him.

"Drop the constant suggestions that I'm a pedophile and we'll talk." He said, unable to let the whole thing just go by. "Why do you think I'm insecure?"

This, he hoped, would prove to be interesting.

"Well, first off... I'd like to say that useful can mean any number of different things. But, because it's you, I'll say that useful
includes those lonely moments at night when I just can't seem to entertain myself!" He neglected to mention how she always broke him out of Arkham as well.. Maybe if Bats didn't think of that, he wouldn't go after her.

Batman, for the sake of his stomach, would assume that meant they played checkers.

"Why are *you* insecure?" Joker asked no one in particular. If Batman was paying attention, he'd notice the way his nemisis had rearranged the sentence. "Very simply put, you hit me every time I say anything." A small giggle ended the sentence, punctuating his words. "But besides that, there's the obvious one. This." He reached up and ran a finger over Batman's mask, bringing it down his nose.

Batman yanked his head away. "You're sick." he said again. "And you're wrong. That's not insecurity. Most people are put off being in the presence of a mass murderer, never mind being touched by you."

The mask crawled against his skin where the Joker had touched him, but he tried to ignore it. "You said something, I didn't hit you." He said, not wanting to think about it. "Wrong again."

He got up slowly, not wanting it to seem like he was running away.

Joker ignored the last part of what Batman had to say, putting his hand to his forehead. "Sick? I don't seem sick.. maybe you'd better take my temperature." He forced himself to sit up, wincing against the pain in his gut. "Now where do you think you're going? I'm not done talking to you. You may as well get comfortable because you're going to have to listen to me for the rest of the night."

"You're still in pain?" Batman asked, worried that he'd done some serious damage. "That shouldn't be."

He leaned over and felt the Joker's forehead, and grabbed one of his wrists.

"You're going into shock." He said gravely, looking around for something to put under the Joker's knees. He yanked the mattress off the cot on the wall and tossed it onto the floor and shoving it up against the wall so it bent in an 'L.'

"Can you move?" He asked the Joker. "You need to get your legs elevated."

"I can move, see..?" Joker waved his hands around in front of Batman, frowning and grumbling something afterward. He coughed once and tried to lay down again, pulling away from Batman. "Goddamn Batman.. I think you've killed me." He coughed again and acted like he was angry, ignoring the part about getting his legs elevated.

"If you were dead, you wouldn't be talking to me." Batman spat, picking the Joker up putting him on the mattress. He looked around the cell for something to prop his legs up. There wasn't much to be had.

Resigning himself to what he was about to do, he detached his cape from his suit, rolled it up and put it under the Joker's knees.

"Don't move." He cautioned, pressing his fingers into Joker's throat to check his pulse.

Joker was beside himself with amusement. Batman had carried him to the bed and laid him down, acting as though he was genuinely concerned. It was unusual for the Bat to do so, but the Clown Prince was getting a kick out of it, anyway. He grinned, chuckling a little under Batman's thick fingers. He was surprised the Bat hadn't already recoiled. "Getting used to my cold skin, darling?"

"Shut up." Batman said, intentionally more quietly than he had before. "I'm trying to find out if your pulse is normal. Don't talk for at least fifteen seconds."

The Joker's pulse was a little faint. That wasn't good. He was feeling too guilty to even respond to that last. . . odd comment.

"Why so glum, Bats?" The Joker raised his eyebrows, curiosity sparked in his green eyes. "Your mood changed just now. Don't you want to play anymore?"

Batman examined the Joker's face critically. He seemed fine, but that could be the drugs.

"Your pulse is faint, and a bit irregular." He said. "Lie still. Playtime's over."

Joker sighed and folded his hands over his stomach, wincing slightly. "You're st... ooh..." He raised one hand to his forehead,
suddenly looking quite unsure about himself. By now a cold sweat had formed on his body. His vision blurred.. darkened.. and then the clown went limp.

"Joker?" Batman said cautiously, a feeling of dread welling up in him.

"JOKER?!"

Batman rushed over and rolled the Joker onto his back, checking to see if he was breathing. Not that he could tell. Damn it.

"JOKER, DAMN YOU! WAKE UP!"

He shook the frail-looking man by the shoulders. No response. The son of a bitch was dying on him. He couldn't let that happen.

"SOMEBODY HELP!"

His voice echoed fruitlessly through the cell and down the halls. No one responded to anything but an alarm at Arkham at this time of night, and the building had been evacuated when the Joker first pulled this prank of his.

Whether he lived or died was in Batman's hands now. The Dark Knight's choice was clear.

He loosened the Joker's tie, undid his shirt, tilted his head back and started CPR.

***