The Joker sped down the streets of Gotham in a stolen U-Haul truck, blasting the radio as he drove

The Joker sped down the streets of Gotham in a stolen U-Haul truck, blasting the radio as he drove. The wind was in his green, greasy hair as the adrenaline from the just-committed crime coursed through him like an electric current. He screeched the truck to a stop in front of his current hideout: a bleak, minimally-furnished apartment in a bad part of town. There, a hostage awaited him.

Now normally, hostages held little interest for the Joker. He used them, abused them, made them fit his purpose and then was done with them. But this one, a girl of about 20, piqued his interest for reasons he couldn't explain. So, he was keeping her for a while, seeing what came of the situation.

"Honey, I'm home!" he shouted gleefully as he entered his lair. At the sound of his voice and his step, his hostage flinched violently, initially terrified. Soon, though, she regained her composure and readopted a defiant attitude. She glared at him as he walked around to face her. "D'you make dinner while I was out?"

"Fuck you," she spat.

"Mm, not so friendly. Well, we'll change that." He reached into his coat and was suddenly brandishing a sharp-looking knife. He brought the blade alarmingly close to her face, looked her in the eyes, and... the next thing she knew, he was cutting the ropes that bound her to her chair. She dared not speak, lest he change his mind and re-incarcerate her. Once free, she massaged her wrists, which were raw from the rope.

"Now," the Joker said, "I think I'll have a drink. Care for one?" He sat at a table and whipped out a bottle of vodka and two glasses.

"Um... maybe later," the hostage said sarcastically.

"Suit yourself. I'll pour a glass for ya in case you change yer mind." He poured a generous amount of vodka into a tumbler for himself, and a slightly smaller amount into another for his hostage. "Well sit down at least!"

The hostage sat across from the Joker. She eyed her drink suspiciously, then flicked her gaze to her captor, who took his first sip of the drink. "Aah, that's good," he said. When he got no response, he studied the hostage's face for a moment before bursting forth, "You don't talk much, do ya? If we're going to be hangin' out together, we might as well make conversation." He leaned forward conspiratorially. "There isn't exactly anyone else around."

"I don't really have anything to say to you."

"C'mon, you must have something to say. Insults, jeers... questions maybe... or even a compliment if the mood strikes. Feel free."

She shrugged boredly.

"You know, you don't actually seem very afraid. Usually, I make people kind of nervous. Especially on the first impression." He leaned forward again, across the table, drawing a weapon. "Aren't you a little nervous, considering I could and would take this knife to your throat at any second?"

"A little nervous maybe. But you don't really scare me, as much as fascinate me."

"Hmm!" the Joker said with surprise, "And what is so... fascinating about me? I always love hearing about myself. No one seems to ever want to tell me anything positive."

"I wonder why," the hostage said dryly, but the Joker merely regarded her with indifference. "Well for one," she continued, "you seem sane one minute and insane the next."

He grinned. "That's what I'm all about, baby."

"Mm, I can see that." Finally, the hostage tentatively reached for her drink and took a small sip.

"There you go! Cheers, kid." The Joker downed the rest of his drink. He poured another generous amount of alcohol and downed that too, a wince on his face. As he poured a third, the hostage asked, "Don't you think you should slow it down a little bit?"

"Why should I? No reason not to get completely trashed. I've got nobody to impress, and nowhere to be tomorrow morning."

"Fair enough," she said simply, and drained her glass. She poured herself another and downed most of it in one gulp. The corners of the Joker's mouth turned slightly upward in approval.

A couple drinks later, the two were acting a bit more relaxed. "So as long as we're here, can I ask you something?" said the tipsy hostage.

"Why not."

She lowered her eyes. "Well... I was wondering..." She traced the rim of her glass with her finger. "I mean, I've heard you tell two different stories about how you got your scars, and I was wondering... which of them was true."

"Ah," he said, comprehending, "well I'll tell you something." He paused dramatically. "They're both true."

"How is that possible?"

"Well my father, he did hit the bottle pretty hard all during my childhood, and one night he went nuts and carved my face into this permanent grin you see here. But later on, I had a wife... beautiful. She got in deep with some shark, and he had his things disfigure her. So to show her it didn't matter to me, I opened my wounds back up myself. She thought I'd changed but... well, she called me a psychotic, heartless freak and left me."

"God. I'm so sorry."

"Oh that's not the best part though," he said matter-of-factly, as if this weren't his own past. "The kicker is, a year later, I found out she died. Some asshole she owed money sent his goons after her, and things got ugly. They shot her twice, in the back."

The hostage stared at her drink, not knowing what to say to a story like that. She glanced up at the Joker and saw that his face was wistful and something akin to melancholy. He stared blankly at a spot on the wall behind her.

"That's awful. I'm so sorry that all happened."

"Well," he said suddenly, seeming to be released from a reverie, "I always say, what doesn't kill you simply makes you... stranger." He paused and turned serious. "Although sometimes I wish it would," he said in a soft voice and again gazed blankly into space.

"You... you don't want to live?" she asked tentatively, hoping he wouldn't go off on her. His eyes flicked to her concerned face and filled with sadness and... the hostage thought she almost detected shame there, too. Without looking at her, he said slowly, "Every night... I go to sleep praying not to wake up in the morning." He took a huge swig of his drink, draining it, and refilled it.

"That's terrible," she said incredulously.

"I look in the mirror and what I see..." he paused, took a gulp of alcohol, "what I see makes me physically sick. I can't stand living, but I'm too much of a coward to off myself." He became suddenly maniacal. "HAHEHAHA! How pathetic is that?!" His serious air returned as quickly as it had gone, and he poured himself yet another drink. After a few sips, he looked slightly nauseated. He blinked dazedly and said, "I think I need some air." Very drunk at this point, he tried to get up, but stumbled back into the chair. The hostage, who had not had as much to drink as the Joker had, and was only a bit tipsy at this point, got up from her chair and went over to her intoxicated captor.

"Here, put your arm around me," she said, moving his dead-weight arm so that it hung over her neck. They both pushed off from the table on which their glasses sat, and the hostage lurched sideways under the Joker's weight as he stood. "OK, here we go," she said as they stumbled forward as a unit.

There was a small balcony attached to the apartment. The hostage managed to move her quite heavy captor to the small space outside, and she leaned him against the railing. She took a step back and studied his face, wondering if he was going to vomit or pass out or do something violent. The Joker hung his head, breathing heavily. Suddenly, he lifted his head and wretched, and the contents of his stomach emptied themselves onto the sidewalk five stories below. The hostage winced and tried not to look, but she gently laid her hand on his back to steady his swaying body. He vomited again, and she delicately moved her thumb back and forth, as her other fingers laid flat on the back of his long, purple coat.

The Joker spat and groaned in disgust. "Feel better?" the hostage asked. The Joker rubbed his forehead wearily and nodded. "Here, let's go back inside." She half-carried him back into the apartment and sat him down on his cot. She went into the bathroom and managed to find a washcloth, which he soaked in warm water and wrung out so it wouldn't drip. She returned and sat next to the semi-comatose Joker. He turned a dazed gaze toward her as she examined him for signs of life. Acting purely on instinct, she inexplicably reached out her hand and touched the side of his face. He closed his eyes and ever so slightly leaned into her hand. She caressed his cheek, moving her fingers and palm from his temple down over his scars, which she no longer feared. She finally took her hand away, and the Joker's eyes slowly opened. He regarded her with a mix of pleasant surprise, confusion, and admiration. She took the washcloth and subsequently began to remove his smeared clown makeup.

After wiping his forehead, cheeks, eyes, nose, and mouth, she set aside the now-stained washcloth and looked for the first time upon the uncovered face of the Joker. He looked vulnerable... human. She noticed that his eyes, no longer surrounded with thick black makeup, were rather deep and entrancing. The two people regarded each other for a few moments, and then suddenly the hostage moved herself toward her captor. Her lips met the Joker's, and they shared a rather passionate kiss. Both moved back and looked at each other again. Simultaneously, small smiles formed on the two faces. "Goodnight," the hostage said, and got up from the bed. Still smiling, the Joker laid his head down and drifted immediately to sleep.