Chapter 4: Into the Mad-Lands

"He's an idiot."

Hotch's voice came out clear, hard, calm - the opposite of what he was feeling - and it cut through the space between them as smoothly as a knife.

Dr. Crane cocked his head in thought, as if he hadn't expected an actual reply, then smiled slowly. "I'm glad you agree," he said. "But you didn't answer the question. In your personal opinion, does he or does he not deserve to live?"

Hotch leveled his gaze with the man, weighing his own reaction. His only weapon, the profile, was heavy on his mind. He hadn't fully reviewed Dr. Jonathan Crane's file, but he could remember the basics. Manipulative, remorseless, narcissistic…Dr. Crane came across as a sociopath with sadistic tendencies, tendencies which were heightened by his former place in power over his patients, but he was not a true sadist. No, while some pleasure seemed to be derived by his inexcusable experiments, by his file alone, Hotch could guess that it was the man's successes in those experiments which gave him satisfaction, not the pain he caused his victims.

That was both a good and a bad thing. Especially considering that Crane was, himself, a psychiatrist and already knew where this conclusion would lead Hotch.

"If Arkham had acted, I wouldn't currently be tied to a chair," Hotch answered, shooting the other hostage a cold look that he was sure Crane was tracking. Hotch turned his attention back to Dr. Crane, pretending to give it some thought. "But does it really matter if he deserves to die? His death isn't going to get you any closer to what you really want."

"What do I want?" Crane asked, but the words didn't sound like a question. More like a teacher goading his student.

"To know what Jeremiah Arkham is afraid of," Hotch replied.

Dr. Crane raised a brow, impressed. "You're partially correct, Agent Hotchner - I already have a very good idea as to what Dr. Arkham is afraid of. I'd just like to...bring it to surface. Now, ask yourself how my exploration of the dark recesses of Dr. Arkham's mind require your participation."

Hotch knew there were several answers. Crane needed an audience for his behavior. And he needed a new hostage to use after he finished his 'exploration' with Arkham. But that wasn't what Crane was looking for: "I'm part of the process."

"Well done, Agent Hotchner." Dr. Crane turned his attention back to the desk, pushing one of the candles closer to the other hostage. Arkham's face was bruised, but he looked alert, beady eyes darting from one man to the other. Crane pulled the gag out of his mouth, but Arkham stayed silent. "Dr. Arkham and I are very alike, you see. Or we were, before I was…" Crane sneered at the memory "…apprehended. We're both willing to go to extreme lengths for our work. Dr. Arkham believes any patient can be cured and released back into society after his treatments. We differ in this belief, but what Dr. Arkham fears, and rightfully so, is that the world may discover how alike we are."

Dr. Crane circled behind the man, sitting the gun down on the desk in front of him. "Do you want to tell Agent Hotchner what you've done, or should I?"

"I - I don't know what you're talking about, Dr. Crane," Arkham said, blinking at Hotch. "We are nothing alike, but…but we can be, Dr. Crane. You can be a normal member of society again, if you work with us. Go back to your room and wait. This mess will be over soon, and we can resume your treatments. It's not too late for you."

"My treatments." Crane chuckled, glancing up at Hotch. "And they say I'm insane…Agent Hotchner, how much do you know about the last disturbance at Arkham, the riot that led to the death of the director who replaced me, a Dr. Thomas?"

Hotch feigned disinterest. "Why? Did you kill him, Dr. Crane?"

"He would have deserved it, taking my job out from under me - but, no, it wasn't me…If I'm not mistaken, Dr. Thomas was stabbed with a pen." Crane raised a hand, tapping his chin with one finger in thought. "You know, I don't recall them ever finding the weapon, though. Why do you think - "

"Crane!" Arkham snapped, the sweat on his brow glistening in the candle light. He took a calming breath. "You are a very sick man."

Crane leaned down, close to his ear. "So are you," he reminded. More loudly, he went on. "See, I found another interesting item in Dr. Arkham's desk. A box set for two very expensive matching pens. One is in Mr. Administrator's front pocket. The other, however, is missing. Now, I wonder what happened to it…"

Arkham was all but panting as he shook his head at Hotch. "Ridiculous," he attempted, but the word failed on his lips.

"I think it's time for an experiment, don't you?" Crane reached down, tugging at the administrator's restraints. His voice lowered again, but Hotch could hear him. "You know, I saw you that night, when you released us all into the yard. Others did too… And Agent Hotchner, he's heard enough to go looking for evidence, even if there's not much to find. He'll turn over every stone now. And isn't that what you're afraid of, deep down. Aren't you scared they'll find out your dirty secret - "

"Enough," Arkham breathed, "enough…" He raised his freed hands. They were shaking when he placed them on the desk, the gun sitting between them.

Hotch didn't like where this was going.

Crane took a step away from him. "It's the most curious thing in the world, the way people react to fear. Fear makes us fickle. Panic can cause a rabbit to run from a dog before the hunter is upon it. Or it can cause a rabbit to jump in front of a car at the slightest sound… Fear can save you, or it can kill you. What kind of rabbit are you, Dr. Arkham?"

Arkham stared down at the weapon and reached for it. He lifted the gun, pointing it aimlessly at the doors in front of him. "It was for the best," he muttered, to himself. "It was for my patients."

Crane smiled. "I'm sure it was, Dr. Arkham. And how can you continue to do your best for your patients if you're in a prison cell? If you could kill Agent Hotchner, things could go back to the way they were…or you could run into the road. It's really all up to you."

A timid knock sounded. It came from the door to the treatment room, where the two other inmates had disappeared to. Crane snarled at the interruption. "I'm busy, you morons," he snapped, turning the knob, and then he jerked back, convulsing.

It wasn't until he collapsed that Hotch saw the wires stuck in his chest, leading up the taser gun in Officer Cash's hands. Cash took another step inside, releasing the cartridge as he moved, and Hotch could see the blood dripping down his shoulder, and, behind the man, the two other inmates twitching on the treatment room's floor.

"Bastard's got shitty aim," he commented, kicking out at Crane as he walked by. Breathless, the guard leaned against the closest book cabinet for support. "You alright, Dr. - "

Cash's voice cut off, and Hotch realized the guard had noticed the gun in Arkham's hand, its aim moving from Cash to Hotch, as if he wasn't quite sure where to put it.

"Dr. Arkham," Hotch called, drawing the man's full attention. "You believe in what you do, Dr. Arkham. You believe in treatment and recovery. Whatever happened between you and Dr. Thomas…it happened under duress. If you put the gun down, then we can make sure you get the care you need. You can recover."

"Recover?" Arkham stared blankly at the gun, shaking his head, his eyes wide in fear. "I'm not mad…I'll never let the world think me mad…" He raised the gun toward his head. "Never."

He was there again. On the conveyor belt in the toy factory, unable to move. The throbbing in his side was new, but the sight above him wasn't. When he opened his eyes, he stared up at the Joker, the clown's painted face smiling down at him.

"We've been here before," the Joker reminded and raised a jagged, metal shiv up for him to see. Blood left the blade black. "Now, how did this little, eh, scenario end last time?"

Then it came rushing back to Spencer - this wasn't a dream. This wasn't in his head. He was on the table in the electroshock room. The last memory he had was of Victor Zsasz, restraining him, then wrapping one strong hand around his neck and squeezing as he asked a question: "Where is she?"

Spencer knew who the 'she' in question was. J.J. Zsasz's 'one who got away'. But Spencer couldn't remember answering, just the gray closing in from around the sides, and then…nothing.

The Joker snapped his fingers in front of Spencer's face, startling him. "Still with me, kiddo?"

Zsasz? Spencer opened his mouth to ask, but it came out as more of a squeak, pain shooting down his throat at the effort.

The Joker snorted and stepped aside. Spencer's head lolled to the side, and he could see Zsasz laying on his stomach, a small pool of blood gathering right at the top of his crown, where his forehead had hit the tiles. A memory floated to surface, of his eyes opening in his semi-conscious state, of seeing one figure sneak up behind another, swinging something…Spencer noticed the stool laying on the floor beside the serial killer. The attack had been vicious, and now Spencer wished he'd never seen it.

"Amateur," Joker commented, shaking his head like a disappointed father as he stared down at Zsasz's prone form. "If you're trying to question someone, you never strangle them first. I suppose Mr. Zsasz simply isn't the sharpest weapon in the tool box." He tested one finger on the tip of the shiv, made a face, then went down to one knee, grabbing the collar of Zsasz's jumpsuit to lift his head up off of the floor. "Now, eh," he went on, "if you just want them dead, the throat is a perfect place to begin."

The Joker pressed the point against Zsasz's throat.


The shout burned all the way out. Spencer winced, not wanting to see if it came too late, but the Joker froze in place. Then the madman let out a long sigh and dropped Zsasz back to the floor.

He tilted his chin up, sending Spencer a glare. "Come on, kiddo. Just this one? He did cut that pretty blonde's throat. Remember? And just think of how many more boys and girls he'll carve up if he gets out…" His voice quickened with excitement. "And we're really doing the world a favor, finishing him here. All people like you, people like Batman, do is sweep the floor, moving the dirt around from one place to another. You never really fix anything that way."

"Don't..." Spencer grimaced, sucking in a pained breath through his teeth. "Don't."

The Joker stood back up, stepping closer to the table again. "Are you sure, kiddo? Because it could be our thing, our schtick. You could find the evil doers, and me? I could slice them open. See? We'd all be doing our part." He paused, awaiting an answer, and frowned when he saw the look on Spencer's face. He shrugged. "Eh, well, that plan's too much of a plan for me anyhow, kiddo…But I still think I can make you see things my way."

He pressed the shiv against Spencer's cheek. "Don't you?"

Spencer saw a shadow at the Joker's corner and blinked, trying to clear away the darkness, but it wasn't in his head. Emily Prentiss was standing there, right between the grid and Zsasz's prone form, her gun raised at the Joker's back. One blink later, he could see Batman silently pulling himself up out of the drain.

Emily made eye contact with him, and Spencer shook his head slightly.

"Don't," Spencer repeated, his voice pitched.

The Joker pulled the blade away, another sigh at his lips.

"Oh, look, the Bat's here," he noted, his voice taking on a happy tone. "I knew I smelled a rodent." Then, without hesitating, he dropped the weapon, hands out in surrender, his demented smile folded into a frown. Spencer's brow wrinkled in confusion - he'd expected the Joker to fight, to laugh, to try, and he could see the expressions on Batman and Emily's faces. They were just as surprised.

Instead the madmen only leaned down a bit closer, whispering.

"You should have, uh, taken me up on the offer, kiddo. Because, deep down, you know I'm not going to be behind these walls forever, and when I get out…" His frown turned into a smile. "When I get out, you're going to wish you followed me when I asked. Dr. Reid - ol' buddy, ol' pal - I'm going to paint your name on corpses." He pressed one stabbing finger against the scar at Spencer's temple. "Now, don't go forgetting me," he said, louder, and laughed as Batman pulled him back.

The mid afternoon sun shined down, casting the silhouette of the Batman in black. He stayed perched on the rooftop of one of the few standing structures left in The Narrows, just far enough in the shadows of the access door that he couldn't be seen by the news helicopter circling overhead for evening footage.

The feed coming through the ears of his cowl was picking up the transmitter he'd planted on Emily Prentiss. The team of agents didn't know he was there, watching, but he had a feeling they wouldn't be surprised to discover that he knew all that had taken place after a team of security experts had overhauled Arkham's network, allowing for the FBI to enter the facility. What they had found was a small group of civilians and their fellow agents, hidden safely away from the smoke and flash bombs and the shots fired.

The process hadn't been quick, but those who didn't belong behind Arkham's walls were finally permitted to leave.

Batman watched as Agent Aaron Hotchner waved on the emergency workers aiding an injured guard before walking back to Prentiss, J.J., and Gordon. The agent was still dressed in the inmate uniform he'd been found wearing.

"Good to see you in one piece, Agent Hotchner," Gordon said. His voice came through clear. Batman could see them on the ground, moving closer together for a handshake. "Agent Morgan told me to let you know he'd be at the hospital. He headed off with Dr. Reid. The EMT said he'd be fine, but you know Derek. Can't rightly blame him, either. The kid looked like hell. You don't look much better, if you don't mind me saying."

"Orange isn't your color, Hotch," J.J. added, a smile in her voice. "I'm glad you're okay. I called Garcia and let her know we're all safe -"

Batman stood up and tuned down the receiver, moving back into the skeletal remains of the building. He didn't need to listen in any longer. He'd spoken to Gordon already and knew Sofia Gigante had already been arrested, her brother's statement being taken in Major Crimes at this very moment. He also knew that Jervis Tetch was currently being prepped for his return…He'd confessed to Agent Jareau, in his own way, to seeing Dr. Arkham kill Dr. Thomas, but it was now irrelevant. Whether it was justice or not, Dr. Arkham could no longer be judged guilty or innocent.

Batman slipped from shadow to shadow, avoiding the slew of uniforms who'd invaded the island. He had places to be, messes to clean up as the local crime families went back to fighting for the throne.

He'd heard, from the tunnels, what the Joker had told Reid, about moving the dirt around. The madman was right on some level…Ten people died in Arkham within mere hours. Orderlies, guards, inmates, the administrator - yet Victor Zsasz and his would-be victim remained alive. The Joker remained alive. But so did Spencer Reid and Aaron Hotchner.

Batman glanced over his shoulder at the asylum. On second thought, perhaps Gotham would enjoy the peace that came after the storm and allow Batman to take the afternoon off. After all, Bruce Wayne had a friend in the hospital he needed to visit.

End Notes: Thanks so much for reading. I'm not entirely satisfied with this story, but as you can probably imagine, it's left me with several stand alone story ideas connected to what happened in this fic. Sooo, there' s a chance of more tales on the way. Especially one concerning Harlene and why I put her in this story. Anyone have any ideas for a name for the 'verse'?