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Authors Notes:

I don't own any of the characters in this fic, they belong to DC, and if I did own them, I probably wouldn't be going about killing them in horrible, heart-wrenching ways so often. Probably.

Things inside / / are thoughts.
Things inside /~ ~/ are flashbacks.
Things inside -" "- are the opposite sides of a radio conversation.
* * and _ _ are used for word emphasis.

******************************************************************************

Coulrophobia
By Slipstream
Written for the "In this Fan-Fic, Robin DIES!" contest at the YJMB



Once upon a time there was a little boy who was afraid of clowns.

Psychologists, child experts, and Oprah will tell you that the fear of clowns is deeply rooted in a bad childhood experience with them. Well, this little boy had a very good reason to be afraid of clowns. For once, when he was small, his parents had taken him to the circus. At the circus people died.

What a way to start a childhood! What an experience, to be able to tell your children and grand children and great grand children for generations to come that in your first memory of the circus, the lights were blazing, the lions roared, and people fell screaming from the sky, all amid the tinkling music of the clowns and the smell of popcorn, cotton candy, animals, and blood! Blood! The life liquid of the universe! The little boy had been born in a sea of blood, and on that day at the circus, he and another were reborn in a pool of blood mixed with sawdust. Later, the boy would again be reborn through a portal of spilt blood, and would wear its color blazon across his chest 'till his dying day. But he did not know that then, the innocence of childhood saved him from that foresight, all he knew was that he was a lost little boy, and he was afraid of clowns.

****************************************************************************

Evening fell like a blanket on Gotham City. It was Saturday night, which could only mean one thing. More lights, more glamour, more parties, more crime, more death, more destruction. There was only one problem: The man sitting, pale fingers drumming against the arms of a purple and yellow upholstered armchair was not a part of this great celebration of life and death, and this made him extremely unhappy, and he *hated* being unhappy.

He frowned deeply and stared out the window with an obvious look of hate. "What I need," he said to the air. "Is a game." He sat and thought deeply. "Something fun. Something funNEY." He rested his chin on his hands and began to sort through his options. The mayor was currently out of town, GameStation 3 wasn't going to be released for another two weeks, and the cast of CATS absolutely refused to come do a show in Gotham after that last stint he had pulled back in New York. He sighed again and looked sorrowfully at the human skull that rested on top of the television. "The problem with this town, Mr. Chuckles, is that there is absolutely nothing to *do*."

He absently grabbed a knife from the bowl to his left and tossed it behind him, where it sank with a soft schlurp into something soft and wet and breathing. Again he stared off into space, brow furrowed, frowning. "What to do, what to do…" He suddenly cocked his head to the side and leaned forward. "What's that? The boy? Oh, yes… I had nearly forgotten about him…" A wide grin spread across his face, and he stood and gave the skull a light pat. "Yes, I have just the game for us. Oh, Mr. Chuckles, what would I do without you?" Humming happily, he left the room, but not before he retrieved the knife from the chest of the hapless victim and slit their throat.

******************************************************************************

-"Robin? Do you read me?"-

Robin swore lightly under his breath and ducked under the swinging fists of a thug. "Just a second, Oracle." A quick uppercut to the gut and a flying roundhouse kick to the jaw sent the thug blissfully into la-la-land. He took the chain he had been wielding and whipped it around the retreating feet of his "friend," who promptly fell over and knocked himself out. Smiling to himself, Robin proceeded to cuff the pair. "Alright, what've you got for me?"

-"Warehouse break-in, near the docks. Looks like it has the potential to be a 'high-profile' case."


Robin swung out a line and climbed to the top of the building. "Weren't all the warehouses destroyed in the quake?"

-"They rebuilt them."-

"Even the abandoned ones?"

-"Yep. 'Historic preservation' they call it."-

Robin sighed and thought about how Gotham's crime rate would be cut in half if they just got rid of all the old warehouses and abandoned clubs with names that corresponded to the inmates of Arkham. "All right, just give me the address, I'm on my way."

It took a couple of minutes of swinging, and when Robin got there, the warehouse was quiet and deserted. Perfectly normal. "Oracle? Are you sure this is the right place?"

-"Positive. The silent alarm's been clanging for about 15 minutes."-

"I'm gonna check it out. Robin, out."

Robin climbed through a window, careful not to set off any further alarms. The interior was dark, and crates were stacked in unorganized piles, leaving tight, twisting passageways between them. Something about the place didn't feel right, and though it appeared empty of people, he moved cautiously through the rows of boxes. When his search turned up nothing, he sighed and put in a call to Barbara. "Oracle? Looks like the place is empty…"

A loud click sounded just behind him. "Look again, Bird Boy." Robin whirled in surprise to be encountered by a face full of gas. He began to cough loudly, and his eyes gaped wide at the sight of the white grinning face in front of him. The Joker threw away the gas gun and waved at him. "Nighty, Night!" Robin sank to his knees, unable to breathe, and the world went black.

The Joker cackled as he viewed Robin's unconscious body. "I could kill you now, but where would be the fun in that? This is just the _first_ step in our little game." He kicked Robin's still form and left, laughing even harder.

*************************************************************************

"C'mon, Tim. Wake up." A hand grasped his shoulder and shook it.

Pain ran up and down his body like needles. Timothy Drake opened his eyes blearily and stared upward at the white fuzzy circle of light surrounded by darkness. "Am I dead?" he whispered.

"Not yet, at least." Tim's eyes began to focus and the circle of light morphed into a hanging surgical lamp. A hand passed slowly back and forth over his face and the light outlined the worried face of Dick Grayson. "Now snap out of it."

"What are you doing here?" Tim moved to sit up but was blocked by a tangle of tubes and wires. He stared at the EKG and oxygen tank in disbelief. "What- what happened to me?"

"Do you remember anything?" Dick asked.

"I remember, calling Oracle, and then the Joker…" He shook a little and closed his eyes. "But what happened after that?"

Nightwing shrugged. "Nothing much. Babs got worried when you cut off on her like that, so she radioed me to go give you back up. I found you unconscious next to a gun of some type and brought you back to the bat-cave just in case you had inhaled Joker Gas."

Tim looked confused. "But you didn't see Joker, how did you know it was him?"

"Who else would carry a model-one Phillips Armed Services Special, P.A.S.S., gas gun?"

"Oh."

"Anyway, Bruce had the computer analyze the stuff in the gun, and it seems that the stuff was nothing more than knockout gas. But this is the Joker we're talking about, so we hooked you up, y'know…" Dick's voice dropped. "Just in case…"

Tim sat up again and began to peel the sensors off of his arms and chest. "That's the point. He caught me totally by surprise, so why didn't he just… kill me?"

"It looks like he was sending us a warning." A deep voice interrupted the two and the Batman stepped from the shadows. "To tell us that we are not as prepared for him as we might think."

"Well at least he gave us a warning this time," Dick muttered.

"For whatever reason, though, I want you, Tim, to stay away from this case." Batman's eyes narrowed involuntarily. "He's already made a target of you once."

"That's fine with me," Tim said. For some unknown reason, he felt a great sense of relief and a knot of tension released from his stomach. He swung his feet over the side of the cot and stood, if a little shakily, on the cave floor. "So, am I free to go?"

"Yes, but Tim…" The Batman reached a gloved hand to his face and pulled back his mask. Bruce Wayne stared at Tim with deep blue eyes. "Be careful. No Robin for the rest of tonight. The gas does not seem to have any other side effects, but you may still be disoriented."

"All right. Thanks, Bruce." He pulled on the rest of his civilian clothing and turned to leave. "And don't worry, I won't do anything stupid."

*******************************************************************************

The next day….

"Bart! I thought I told you to take all of the jokers out of the deck!"

"Well exscuuuuse me! Look, I'll just deal you another card, okay, SB?"

"No, it's not okay! You jinxed my luck! There's no way I can beat Suzie at poker now! I fold!"

"FINE! You do that!"

"Umm… does that mean I win again?"

Robin sighed and rubbed at his temples. Hearing Impulse and Superboy screaming at each other in the background was doing nothing good for his migraine. The argument escalated, and the deck of playing cards was scattered around the room. Robin picked up the bunch that had landed on top of his work and examined them. The suicide king and his court gazed up at him, unsmiling, and the solemn winning hand was ruined only by the berserk, blood red grin of the joker. The pasty face had lost its jollity, the eyes were dark pits under furrowed brows, and the bells that hung and the end of its pointed red and brown hat resembled tiny skulls. He stared at the joker for a long time and something trembled inside him. Were card decks becoming increasingly morbid or was it just him?

Pushing the feeling aside, he stood and walked over to the meeting table, where Secret looked lost and scared between the two fighting males. They stopped strangling each other and looked up when he cleared his throat. "Is this what this is all about?" he asked, holding up the card.

"Uh, yeah…" Superboy said, and blushed slightly, realizing how stupid it all was.

Robin sighed again and buried his face in his hands. "Dear Lord, what did I do to deserve this…?"

"Aw, c'mon, Rob, it's not that bad," Cassie commented from the couch, where she had been talking to Cissie King-Jones on the telephone.

Black thoughts swirled and bled their way through his mind. "Yes it is…" Robin grumbled and sank back tiredly into his chair.

*********************************************************************

Tim Drake stared vacantly at the screen of the bat-computer. On the counsel beside him lay his gloves and mask, and his cape was draped over the back of his chair. A constant stream of information ran unseen before his eyes. In his mind, though, a single repeating image played over and over again.

/~Black eyes burned in surprise and hatred behind the pane of smashed glass.~/
/~"You! It can't be, I killed you!~/

Each time becoming more and more surreal in his mind, the mantra increasing in volume until it was a shrill scream.

/~"KILLED YOU!!!"~/

The soft sound of footsteps echoed slightly around the cave, sending a loud chorus of wings beating back into the deeper shadows. A gentle hand on his shoulder brought him back to the world of the real.

"Master Tim," Alfred said softly. "Why don't you go home and get some rest?"

"What?" His mind reeled for a bit, trying to place exactly where he was, what he was supposed to be doing. "I- I'm sorry, Alfred, I just can't right now. I have all of these police reports to follow up on…"

"Master Bruce can do that. You, young sir, are in desperate need of some rest. Please head my advice and go home."

"I'm sorry, I just really need to do these myself." Tim turned to face the screen again, the words already blurring in front of his eyes.

Alfred looked sadly at the stiff back and drooping shoulders of his young charge. "Very well, I will bring you some hot tea."

"That would be nice." Tim listened as the older man's steady footfalls went farther away. At the sound of the click of the swinging clock door, he turned to face the glass case containing the costume of his dead predecessor.

/~"I killed you!"~/

"How could you ever laugh at times like these?"

*****************************************************************

Something, Tim realized, was definitely wrong with him. It had been four days since he had run into the Joker at the warehouse, and now he was intently scrubbing his face with scalding hot water. He stared at his red and painful face through the fog building up on the mirror /I must be going nuts…/ He then turned the tap to as cold as it would go and began to claw at his face with renewed fury.

What had led him to the point of self-mutilation at three a.m. was the dream. The one he had had every night for the past four days, the one where death came dressed in grease paint and showed him things he did not want to see.

/~The skeleton stared down at him, only the dark glow from the pits where the eyes should have been and the great bony hands visible from the endless folds of its black robe. Tim stared as it slowly, it reached over to the pool of blood that had been collecting under the pile of dead bodies, each face familiar in his mind, his parents, the Graysons, Philmont, Young El, Jason Todd, the Waynes, and people he _knew_ weren't dead, Stephanie, Ari and her parents, his friends, Young Justice…~/
/~Death grabbed him with it's other hand, and smeared across Tim's face the spilt blood of people he had failed to save. In a last ditch effort, Tim reached out and pulled the hood away, and Death's face transformed to the face into the Joker's.~/
/~And Death laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and…~/

It was no use. He could still feel the touch of that clammy hand slick with blood across his face, and no washing or scrubbing could take the feeling away.

He heard his roommate groan and the bedside light was clicked on. "Drake," the voice wined through a Breath-Rite strip. "What do you think you're doing at…" Wesley glanced at the clock. "3:27 AM!! I've put up with some of your weird nocturnal habits, but this-"

Tim cut him off. "Wes…" He drew the hated nickname out. "If you don't shut up right now I'm going to rip your voice box out and shove it down what's left of your throat." He leaned forward and the light caught a glint in his eye. "And I _know_ how to do that…"

Wesley stared at him warily for a few seconds, then turned his back to him and settled back into bed. "You're insane," he said, and clicked out the light.

Tim laughed nervously. As if he didn't already know that.

******************************************************************

It probably wasn't the greatest idea in the world for him to go out on patrol, but Robin had been unable to stand being confined to Brentwood for another day. With all that had happened to him, his head buzzed, and he hoped the cool, if not clean, night air would help him. Beneath him he heard a scream, one of many that pierced the night air of Gotham City. He swung down on a line and landed, cape swirling, in the middle of a mugging.

The burly thug snarled and slashed the air with his knife. "Beat it punk!" Robin ignored him and kicked him squarely across the jaw while the female victim ran. Angered that his victim had gotten away, the thug charged again. Robin leaped the side and elbowed him in the back of the neck. The giant collapsed.

Robin was cuffing the criminal's hands together when a flash of white caught the corner of his eye. He looked upward and found himself face-to face with a ghostly reflection of a white grinning face, green hair hanging ragged and smiling, blood-red lips revealing gnashing razor teeth.

His eyes went wide, and a strangled scream caught in his throat. The demon's grin only widened.

Much to the puzzlement of the only semi-conscious thug, he watched as his captor turned tail and ran for his life.

*******************************************************************

Batman frowned. Batman looking utterly neutral would have been enough to send many of Gotham's toughest criminals run screaming to their mothers, but an annoyed and, heaven help us, ANGRY Batman would send some of Arkham's worst running to volunteer for the death penalty.

Unfortunately, it did not have a similar affect on the Bat-Computer.

SEARCH FILE: EMPTY blinked across the screen for the thousandth time that night.

Batman had been looking for some sign, some trace of the Joker for the past week. Other than Robin's run-in with him, he had found nothing. Which was not good. Thugs, Arkahm, newspapers, international assassins, and now the Internet, no one knew where he was. And where the Joker was concerned, it meant somebody was going to die.

Batman pulled up his only clue, the schematics of the gas gun they had recovered from the warehouse. Serial numbers intact, bought legally, clean of any fingerprints and fibers, the gun offered no help other than the Joker had used it. The gas inside had also been a fairly simple knockout gas and offered little information. Coming across an idea, his voice rang out cold and hollow through the cave. "Computer, re-run analysis. Physical and chemical."

Data streamed across the monitors as the weapon was put through a series of tests. Batman scanned them quickly, noting dully that that nothing new had come up in the guns making. He stopped and reread the chemical stats again and a shiver ran through him. /No…/ he thought. /It can't be…/ "Computer, full analysis of chemical substance. Cross reference with any existing samples." The computer whirred slightly and the screens again streamed with new data that showed the entire chemical make-up of the knockout gas. The computer beeped slightly and a window came up.

SEARCH FILE: TWO MATCHES

Batman stared at the results of the test, confirming the black idea that had entered his mind, then quickly activated the com-link.

"Oracle. Find Robin *NOW*."

*******************************************************************

He had been running for a very long time.

As his haphazard course across the rooftops and alleyways of Gotham City slowly stole the breath from his lungs, part of Robin's mind argued that this was the entirely wrong course of action. He was *Robin*, goddammit, he did not run from things that scared him. Then the other part of his mind spoke up and said that yes, he was Robin, but the clown man scared him very, very much, and running from him was a very good idea if he wanted to stay alive, so the argument was quickly lost.

And so was he. Robin glanced around, and panicked for a moment when he realized he did not know where he was. From where he was, everything looked the same. He glanced around frantically and spotted the warehouse from the night a week ago. He shuddered to think about what had happened there, but it was a landmark, an oasis of familiarity in the desert of confusion, and he was drawn to it.

He pushed open the window and entered silently, climbing down among the boxes until he was in what he felt was a relatively safe position at the end of a row. /Alright, Tim, just slow down and think…/ He brought his hands to the sides of his head in an attempt to stop his thoughts from whirling. /First things first, something's really wrong here. You're lost, and tired, and you're having a breakdown or something…/ Robin concentrated on controlling his breathing and he soon began to relax. /Now, you just call Oracle to get directions, and then you get yourself some serious help, because I don't think we can take this much longer…/

"Why, hello! Fancy meeting you here!" Robin froze and looked upward slowly, his terror mounting.

The Joker smiled civilly and held the gun level with his chest. "You know, it's amazing what you can learn in prison these days. Especially when the cell across from you is home to one Scarecrow." The smile widened and Robin scrambled backward in his desperate attempt to get away. "For instance, I learned how to produce a gas that had several interesting properties. First of all, it was time-delayed, so the victim didn't know he had been affected until too late. Second, it has psychotic properties, impairing the rationalizing skills and giving the victim about a weeks worth of angst before it hits him full force." The Joker sighed wistfully and flicked back a strand of green hair. "Wish I could have been there. I bet it was loads of fun."

Part of Robin's mind was trying to absorb the information he was receiving, trying to fit it to him. The other part was trying desperately to claw his way to safety.

"Third…" The sound of the hammer of the gun clicking back echoed unnaturally loud, and the Joker's grin seemed to stretch beyond proportions. "It makes him absolutely scared to *death* of clowns!"

Then the gun went off.

************************************************************************

-"Nightwing? Dick? Are you there? Please pick up!"-

"What is it Babs?" Nightwing asked while in mid swing, alarmed at the amount of concern in Barbara Gordon's voice.

-"It's Robin. Batman thinks the Joker's got him, maybe at the warehouse where he first attacked him. Batman's getting there as quick as he can, but you're closer…"-

"I'm on my way. Nightwing out." He swung the line around, doing a u-turn mid-air, and began to backtrack.

"Dear Lord, please let me be on time…"

**************************************************************************

The force of the bullet's impact sent Robin flying backward. His head hit the wall, and bright lights burst into his vision to mirror the similar feeling in his chest. The Joker's smile twitched and faltered as the Boy Wonder struggled to sit up. He fired twice more and Robin collapsed again, struggling to breathe through the pain in his chest.

"Kevlar, huh? Jeez, you super-freaks aren't any fun anymore." The Joker calmly pocketed the gun and walked over to the huddled form of Robin, something sharp and glittering appearing as if by magic in his hand. He grabbed Robin by the shoulder and hauled him roughly up, despite his struggles. "But you know what they say… There's more than one way to skin a cat…" The knife flashed once before the Joker thrust it deep into Robin's gut and twisted. "…or a bird."

Robin hit the ground with an ungraceful thump, his phobia temporally forgotten in the red haze of pain and shock that washed over him. He tried to curl into a fetal ball while he clutched at his wound, blood seeping over his gloves.

The Joker laughed and gazed smiling at a spot in some far off corner. "Now, doesn't this remind me of a happy day not too long ago!" He gestured around him. "I have the beaten and bleeding Boy Blunder, the warehouse, I'm really only missing one thing…" As if inspired, he spun and began to march toward the door. "I'll be back soon! Don't you go anywhere!" He stopped, then came back, frowning. "But you Batboys have been known to be awfully resilient, so to keep you from moving…" He pulled the gun out again and fired once into Robin's upper leg.

Robin's world spun as the fire in his leg competed for attention against the wounds to his chest. He gasped at the pain that flooded his senses. Beneath the cloth of his gloves he could feel the deep slash in his skin. He tried to move, tried to get away, but the pain overwhelmed him and he sank defeated to the ground.

/Somebody……please…help me…I…I don't want to die alone…/

A thought flashed across his mind. The Joker laughing in triumph while Batman, Nightwing, and everyone he loved cried in the background. His anger grew. /No, I won't die… Not now…/

Determined, he pushed his good foot against the hard concrete, trying desperately to move. He got about two feet before the nausea overtook him, and he clutched harder on his wound and bit back tears and blood as the room disappeared into blackness. He gasped for breath then moved another foot, but it was harder with his weakening strength and blood loss.

The door creaked open and the Joker reappeared, whistling cheerfully. "Tried to get away, I see." He eyed the smear of blood and the growing pool of it on the concrete. "Tsk, Tsk, for shame!"

Robin lay immobile, his energy spent, eyeing him through pain-slitted eyes.

The Joker laughed again, and tapped the crowbar against the palm of his hand. "I really don't like to be *too* repetitive…" He raised the piece of metal above his head and a flash of light sparkled across its short blade. "But I thought, hey, I deserve one hit, if not for old times sake!"

Robin, past the breaking point both mentally and physically, shivered once, closed his eyes, and accepted it as the Joker brought the crowbar down.

***********************************************************************

Dick landed with a thud on the roof of the building across the street from his destination, his muscles screaming. He paid them no attention, his mind set completely on finding his little brother. He listened to the unnatural silence the filled the block, not a good sign. A car pulled away with a sudden screech and roared down the street. Nightwing tensed. The Joker could be in the car, but Robin was most likely in the warehouse. Unknown to him, he mimicked the acts of his mentor as he sped first to the warehouse to find Robin.

Inside it was dark, and he crept cautiously among the crates, billy clubs drawn. He peered around the last crate, and the image brought to him in the dim half-light made him freeze.

Robin lay, broken, bleeding, and unnaturally still in the center of the floor, curled into a fetal position in a pool of his own blood.

"No…" Nightwing whispered, his mouth dry. He collapsed next to Robin's body, taking in numb shock the bullets embedded into his tunic, the bullet would in his leg, the bruises and signs of beating, and worst of all, the great slashing stab wound. His hand shook as he reached to brush back the long strands of black hair from Robin's face, anger raging inside of him at the smile painted in blood across Tim's still features. He clenched his fist, then noticed two things simultaneously. A faint whistling of breath across his fingers and the glint of copper wires tracing across the floor and walls. Tim was still alive, and the building was wired to explode.

Frantically he scooped Robin up, careful not to jostle him too much. He didn't know how much longer they had, but he had to get them out of there. He kicked down the door and ran across the street, making it about halfway down an adjoining alley before the warehouse exploded.

The concussive force sent him sprawling while burning pieces of wood and metal showered around them. Dick did his best to protect Tim, and panting, he felt for a pulse. Weak, and growing fainter. "TIM!" He yelled, tears spilling from his eyes. "Please don't go…" He tore a strip from Tim's cape, wrapping it in a hasty bandage around his torso, trying to stop the bleeding. His free hand fumbled for the switch on his com link, sending out an SOS. /Dear God,/ he prayed, finger's slipping around Tim's hand. /Don't take my little brother…/

As if from a great distance, Robin fought to do something, anything, to let Dick know he was still there. But things were slipping away from him quickly, so quickly, so slowly…

Dick started as he felt a slight pressure on his fingers. He gazed hopefully into Tim's pale face, the blue lips and red-stained green mask contrasting surreally, the fire from the burning warehouse reflecting off the opaque lenses. "God… don't worry, Tim… I'll… you'll be okay…"

For a brief second, Robin felt nothing and the world became perfectly clear. He tried to smile, but the effort seemed wasted, so he tried something else. "….dick?…"

Dick Grayson stared back at him from the eyes of Nightwing, and behind him Robin could see the world fading into a soft light. The cold of the air around him and the warmth of the blood that leaked out from under his costume wrapped themselves around him, two opposite forces fighting to claim him. He felt tired, so tired…

He smiled again, a genuine smile as the last of his life left him. "….thanks…" he sighed. The muscles in his hand loosened and his entire body relaxed. Then the light grew and grew, blocking out the alley, Dick, and himself, so Timothy Drake, Robin the Boy Wonder, shut his eyes slowly against the sparkling whiteness.

**********************************************************************

Once upon a time, there was a young man who was afraid of clowns.

Psychiatrists, child experts, and Oprah will tell you that the fear of clowns is in deeply rooted in a bad childhood experience with them. Well, this young man had a very good reason to be afraid of clowns. For once upon a time, a clown killed someone very near and dear to him in a very nasty way.


Fin.