A/N: I've never been very big on comic books. Though I do consider myself a Spider-Man fan, I got that from the animated series, which I watched all the time when I was younger. I loved those kinds of shows and watched them all the time – Batman: The Animated Series was another favorite of mine, though the Superman Animated Series wasn't. I don't really know what it was that kept me so engrossed with it – particularly with Batman, which I wasn't exactly a huge fan of. After The Dark Knight showed up in theaters and I paid my eight bucks to watch it, I pretty much knew the answer to what had kept me so intrigued about B:TAS, and that answer was the Joker. I not only discovered that I was a closet Joker fan at heart, but also felt that something was… lacking about the back story of The Dark Knight, and I had a sneaking suspicion of why – they never gave the Joker a real reason for being the Joker. Yeah, they had him give sob stories to people, in true dramatic Joker style, but they were unbelievable because we know that he's a liar. This made for a great, unstoppable feel to him, but it didn't explain why, especially because he was so unlike the other incarnations of the Joker, so much more realistic. I also felt like there was a huge chunk of time missing between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, a chunk of time where anything could happen. Not only that, but there was a joker card found near the end of the first film, meant as a clue to the next villain of the trilogy, but to me, it was also a clue as to exactly when the Joker started committing crimes. We have an animated compilation for Batman's activities between then and now, but none for dear ol' Mr. J. So, being the kind of person who likes everything to mesh well, I took that task into my own hands, gave it some little twists of my own, and wrote what I think is a fairly interesting back story for Ledger Joker. I hope you enjoy it, and maybe even leave me a review. It'd really put a smile on my face if you did.

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Batman, the Joker, or anyone else in the DCU. Any similarity to any person, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Yes, I really gave Pre-Joker Joker that name, I realize it's probably not his real name, but I really didn't want to blend the other Jokers' name with Ledger Joker's legacy; they're different Jokers and don't need the same name because it's a different Joker with a different canon history. Besides, it's a major plot point in this story. :) My story, my rules. I am also not as knowledgeable about The Dark Knight as some of you are because I only saw it once and haven't seen Batman Begins in a very long time, so don't flame me for messing something up or missing something. If you spot something major, please send me a note or review explaining how I should fix the issue. Please be nice about it if you send me it, this is my first time writing a story for this fandom.


The city was in turmoil.

Panicked people scrambled and sprinted frantically in the streets, screaming as sirens wailed hysterically – dark harbingers that warned of approaching shadows, shadows that existed only in the minds of the terrified. The air was hazy with the powerful toxin responsible for this furor, sliding snake-like through the streets in a horrific, numbing cloud of terror. It was relentless, quickly catching up with anyone who dared run from it. Even a building offered no protection – it easily slid through an open air-vent and into a house, trapping those inside in a web of fear with no escape.

The ensnared were probably safer inside. In the alleyways lurked more danger, murderous mobsters willing to use this chaos to their advantage. Though they were no more immune to the toxin than anyone else in the city was, so hardened were they that they could easily hide their fear behind their grim, murderous facades. Their stark, scarred faces only served to terrify their hallucinating victims more, most of whom did not survive their encounters.

Amidst this havoc ran Joseph Kerr, terrified of the visions haunting him. He panted heavily as he ran, lungs burning with the effort, desperately attempting not to shriek. He couldn't stop, couldn't scream. If he screamed, it would alert Them, and They would laugh sadistically, a bone-chilling sound that turned his blood to ice and would surely freeze him in terror. If he dared stop to rest his shrieking legs, They would surely catch up to him; capture him and torture him for eternity. He couldn't let that happen. He couldn't bear to look at their painted faces and fake smiles forever.

He couldn't.

Oh, dear God, he couldn't…

Trembling in fear, Joseph peered back over his shoulder – and instantly wished that he hadn't. There were close to a dozen of them now, all cackling with crazed glee and grinning with razor-edged teeth. Their eyes glinted coldly, madly in their hideously painted faces, the bloodstains on their garish outfits clashing with the luminous colors horrifically. They spoke with mocking voices, inhuman and humorless, grating in his ears like the sound of madness itself.

Joseph! They whispered menacingly, insane laughter seeming to brim just below the surface of their words. Why are you running, Joseph? Don't you like clowns, Joseph?

No. No, he didn't. Why wouldn't They leave? Why?

Joseph trembled and tried to block out their laughter, concentrating on his footfalls as he sprinted. He had to run further. Just a little further…

He collided hard with something, and the sinister harlequins behind him erupted in laughter at his misfortune. The sound was horrific, as devoid of mirth as a black hole is devoid of light. He heard a whinny and felt the dark something he'd hit rear onto its hind legs and stop abruptly in its tracks.

A horse, Joseph thought, trying desperately to calm himself and block out the laughing menace behind him. An officer on a horse. He laughed nervously; his panic slowly began to subside. Not uncommon around here… just an officer on a horse…

"I-I'm so sorry, officer," he muttered nervously. "I was just –"

A wave of horror cut off his words as he looked up, his eyes meeting those of a horrific, burlap-masked man. They blazed coldly above the mask's mouth, which was sewn shut in a wide, sinister grin.

Joseph shrieked and stumbled back, and the masked demon cackled wickedly.

"What is the matter?" the demon said in an oily voice, and its grin seemed to widen into a terrifying mockery of one. "What are you afraid of?"

It cackled again, louder and darker than before, and Joseph trembled as he heard the visions behind him laugh along madly.

He lost it. All sense of safety vacated his mind, all control left his body. He panicked, screaming and running as if his very life depended upon it; he had to hide, somewhere, anywhere, someplace far away from this nightmare and the adrenaline that pounded through his veins.

Oh God no no NO leave me alone please leave me alone!

He ran and ran until he was certain that his lungs would burst and his legs would collapse beneath him, wearily stumbling into a dark alleyway. Leaning against a wall, Joseph peered around warily, searching for a sign of the grinning nightmares that pursued him. Uneasy, he peeked around a corner…

Nothing. Absolutely nothing was there save the shrill sound of mad laughter ringing in the chilly night air. They were still searching, getting nearer, looking for the man they so loved to torment. Looking for him…

A soft sound of withdrawn steel caught his ear, and he shakily spun to look behind him. He was too late. Within seconds, Joseph found himself pinned to the wall, gazing with terror upon the rough, hawkish visage of a man, with flickering eyes filled with dark malice and well-suppressed fear. There was nothing else in those eyes, no spark of mercy in that cruel abyss, only his frightened reflection staring back at him from the darkness. The sheer coldness of the man's gaze was enough to make Joseph shudder.

"Heya, boy." The man flashed a wicked grin. "Whatcha doin' out here so late, hmm?"

Joseph felt the sharp chill of metal against his neck, trembling as his assaulter pressed it in just enough to nick the skin. He felt a single rivulet of blood trickle down his neck, staining and spreading where it hit his shirt, and whimpered, mind running wild with fear.

Oh God I'm gonna die I'm gonna die I'm gonna die I'm gonna DIE…

"What's the matter, kid?" The man said, frowning a little. "You look a little… nervous."

He chuckled, laughing at his own horrible pun, and Joseph's eyes flicked towards the exit of the alleyway. Surely They had heard him. Surely They knew, and would soon be here to taunt his misfortune. Surely he was doomed…

"P-p-please…" Joseph swallowed nervously. He reached down to his pocket, fingers trembling as he fumbled for his wallet. "I d-don't want trouble. Y-you want my wallet, i-is that it?" He shakily held up the leather wallet. "H-here, you can have it, j-just please… please… l-let me go… I –"

The mobster snatched the wallet from his quivering hand, abruptly cutting off Joseph's words. The wanton man glanced at Joseph's watch with interest. It was a very expensive watch, very nice. Obviously a gift from someone…

"Nice watch, kid," he said, grinning cruelly and grabbing the watch from Joseph's wrist and pressing the blade against his victim's neck. Joseph gave a little shriek as the blade bit further into his skin. He would surely die if he didn't do something…

With alarming speed, Joseph kneed his assailant hard. The man collapsed, wincing in pain and dropping Joseph in the process. Joseph took off like a rocket, sprinting for his life.

Yes! I'm free… gotta get home, gotta call someone, gotta –

He didn't get far. As he approached the end of the alleyway and skidded to a stop, he ran into Them. They, with their hideous grins and grotesque costumes. They, with their chilling laughter and painted faces. Joseph paled and fell back, shrieking.

Oh dear God, no… please, no…

They laughed, watching with sadistic glee as he fell into a broad chested someone. Nervous, he glanced up and found that he had fallen right into the now furious mobster's arms. The mobster promptly slammed him against the brick wall with enough force to make Joseph's ears ring.

"Ya think that's funny, kid?" The criminal growled, tightening his grip. "Hmm?!"

"P-please, sir," Joseph whimpered. "I didn't mean –"

Joseph shrieked as the giggling nightmares surrounded him and the mobster, cutting off his plea. All of Them, all of Them were jeering and chanting and laughing at him, all of Them were closing in, getting closer, ever closer…

He struggled, but the mobster only tightened his grasp, restraining his victim's head against the cold stone, tracing an arc from mouth to ear with his fingertip. Joseph felt tears silently slide down his face, warm and wet against his skin. He couldn't think of a single thing to get himself out of this nightmare. Not one. And now he was surely doomed to die…

"P-please," he sobbed, voice cracking in terror. "P-please don't kill me… oh God, please…"

The mobster silently withdrew a knife from his coat pocket, a thin and almost graceful-looking blade that seemed to flicker with cold fire, and the glint of that sleek, silver weapon was enough to send shuddering waves of numbing terror through Joseph's body. With all the calm precision of a surgeon, the mobster gently, almost lovingly, slid the knife between Joseph's lips and set it against the corner of his mouth, the blade just barely touching the victim's skin.

"Ya think that's so damn funny, don'tcha?" The mobster pressed the knife against Joseph's mouth, nicking the corner. "I'll give you something to laugh about!"

The next thing Joseph felt was a sharp jolt of the blade, followed by a wave of agony as it sliced through his skin as easily as if it were a pat of butter. He tasted blood in his mouth and shrieked, struggling as the blade effortlessly carved its way towards his ear.

No not happening this is not happening no no NO!

Joseph struggled wildly as his assailant continued on the other side, only succeeding in causing the blade to slip and slash a rough vertical line through the middle of the cut. Angrily, the mobster pinned his victim's head down and finished with a quick jerk of the knife.

"There," the mobster said, grinning cruelly. "Yer laughin' now, ain't ya?"

He laughed, and the terrors behind him laughed along, a horrific chorus. Joseph shuddered and licked at the blood on his lips. No. He was not going to die. Not here. Not yet.

With a surprisingly swift motion, he grasped the blade and yanked it out of the criminal's hand. The mobster's cruel glee turned into a look of surprised anger, and he reached to withdraw another knife, but Joseph was quicker. He flailed the blade wildly, and the surprised mobster dropped him, bleeding from several haphazard cuts on his face and arms. Joseph fell, staggering to his feet as he pocketed the knife. He ran, stumbling, into the street, ignoring the snatching hands of the garish nightmares surrounding him. He ran until he could bear it no longer, until the blood loss was too much to bear and he staggered to a stop. He could run no further. Like it or not, he had to hide. Maybe he could fool the mobster and the terrifying visions behind him that way.

He ducked into the next alleyway. Where to hide, where to –

There! A door. Maybe, just maybe, it's open…

He tried it. The rusty door didn't budge.

It's no use. But maybe the window…

Joseph pressed against the window, and it buckled slightly. He smirked, pain ratcheting through his face. It was nothing more than a cheap piece of Plexiglas, which meant that if he pressed hard enough…

With the little remaining strength he had, Joseph gave the window a mighty heave, and it bent out of its frame, leaving a hole big enough for a man to climb through. He clambered through it, only to land rather hard on the wooden floor. Pulling himself to his feet, he examined his surrounds warily. It appeared to be an old costume shop, dusty and long-since abandoned. Some old merchandise still hung on shelves and racks, faded with dust and age. Various party supplies lined one wall, and shelves of make-up lined another, all coated with a thick layer of grime. Grotesque masks decorated the peeling walls, staring with eyeless sockets, watching the trembling intruder dispassionately.

Joseph shuddered in weakness and anxiety, turning away and stumbling down the aisles. He needed to close the gaping wounds on his face, or he risked going into shock. He knew that this place used to fix damaged costumes, all he had to do was find the counter that had the sewing supplies and stitch the wounds closed. It would hurt like a bitch, but what choice did he have?

The counter wasn't far. With a final, staggering step, Joseph collapsed against it, trembling with the seemingly Herculean effort of walking even this far. He felt absolutely drained; his eyes fluttered closed…

He jolted awake with a sharp yelp. No. He couldn't rest, not yet. He'd only lose more blood if he did. He had already lost far too much. But the counter didn't have a door leading around.

Joseph sighed wearily. He would have to clamber over the counter. With what seemed like a tremendous effort, Joseph heaved himself onto the counter, wriggling until he felt his feet touch the ground again. Pushing himself off the counter, he collapsed to the floor and looked up. Behind the counter were rows and rows of drawers, one of which was labeled 'Hand Needles/Thread'. Perfect…

He smiled, or tried to at least, but only succeeded in sending another sharp wave of pain rippling through his face. He pulled the drawer open and pulled out a silver needle and some thread; shakily threaded the needle. He felt along the edges of the cuts, found where they ended and, slowly, began to sew, wincing as the needle entered and exited his skin in a steady rhythm, breathing slowly to ease the pain…

Within minutes, he was finished – in agony, but finished. He felt the stitches, pleased with his messy work. He had survived. He wasn't going to die.

But he wasn't out of the woods yet. He still needed medical attention. If he could just find a phone, call for help…

Joseph pulled himself to his feet and looked about. No phones here. But there was probably one at the front of the store. With another heave, he pushed himself over the countertop and onto the floor, stumbling a bit as he landed. He had to get help, had to –

Joseph…

He jumped at the soft voice in his ear and anxiously spun around to find…

Nothing. Absolutely nothing, save for a rack of suits in a rainbow of colors. Half ashamed, but mostly relieved, Joseph turned away.

And shrieked as he found himself face-to-face with a madly grinning harlequin. Joseph shrieked and stumbled back, nearly falling over in his desperate attempt to escape, but each step felt like a burden. He had lost far too much precious blood and far too much energy; his every move felt tremendously heavy. He was too weak… too weak…

He collapsed, and the nightmarish jester laughed, its cruel cry echoing, seeming to multiply tenfold… no, no; there were others, many others, all laughing hysterically at the blood on his clothes, at his fear, at him.

"N-no…" Joseph muttered fearfully. "No, stop it… Please…"

He covered his ears, but the laughter continued to ring, cold and mirthless. Fearing the worst, he backed against the far wall, trying in vain to escape the nightmares that taunted him and danced before his eyes. With every backward step he took, They followed, closing in menacingly and laughing ever harder, ever crueler…

He suddenly felt a smooth, cool something against his back, something that felt like glass.

A window! he thought, gasp-sighing in relief. If I can just break it…

Joseph felt for the window ledge, but found none. He turned to look at it slowly, a sickly pit growing in his stomach, and collapsed onto the floor, provoking more laughter from the hideous crowd behind him. He stared at the metal frame of a large mirror, his face aching from where the wound had struck the floor and left a wet, red mark on the dusty wooden paneling. He was trapped…

The menacing figures around him snickered, whispering dark, insidious things amongst themselves and prodding their fallen victim with garishly shod feet and loudly gloved hands. All Joseph could catch of their mutterings was the word 'face'.

"W-what?" he whimpered fearfully. "W-what about my face? I-is it the cuts? Th-the wounds?"

The terrifying crowd burst out laughing just as he said the final word.

"You say you fear us," jeered a blue-and-black swathed buffoon, "But if that is true, then why do you smile so?"

"S-smile?" stuttered Joseph, his jaw throbbing in rhythmic agony. "I'm… I'm not –"

"Oh, but you are!" quipped an abnormally high voice from the back. "Look at yourself, Joseph! You are far too serious to have such a grin!"

"Look at yourself, Joseph!"

"Yeah, why so serious, Joseph?"

The endless jeering was too much to bear, far too much. Joseph pulled himself up and peered into the mirror, gasping as he gazed upon the face of another man entirely.

This man looked exactly like him – he could've been his twin – save for two ghastly, roughly stitched gashes curving upwards along the man's face in a hideous grin. The skin lay rough and jagged in some places, yet in other spots had barely a gash. Blood had slowly begun to congeal in a thin red line along the rows of crude stitches, but wept freely in places, tiny rivulets of crimson running down his face and landing on the floor, little droplets tinting the dusty ground deep red. The man's face was ashen, pale from terror and blood loss, and he was trembling, clammy hands clenching and unclenching in frightened spasms. His eyes… his eyes looked… hollow. Ringed with the dark circles of fatigue that only a night of unparalleled terror could cause. He looked demonic, positively ghoulish. Like… almost like a…

The nightmarish clowns behind Joseph laughed wildly, madly, almost in a furor; a chaotic cacophony that only rose in intensity with every shaky, panicked sob he gave.

"St-stop!" Joseph cried, terrified gaze never leaving his sickening reflection. "Stop laughing at me! Please, please… it's… it's not funny, it's not…"

"It is!" shrieked several in the crowd. "It is! It is!"

"P-please!" Joseph sobbed, clutching his head in despair. Salty tears slid down his face, stinging as they hit his wounds. "Dear God, please!" He licked at the tears and blood on his lips. It tasted of iron and salt. Iron and salt and anguish…

"You are akin to us now, Joseph," sneered a voice. "Become as we are!"

"No!" He shrieked, shakily clamping his hands over his ears. "No! I'll never be you; I'm not like you! I'm not… not a…"

"Fool?" Hissed one of the visions. "Clown? Joker? If not this, then what are you now? What are you, Joseph?"

"I am human!" Joseph screamed wildly, hysterical from terror. "I'm scared and hurt and I just want to be left alone!" He whimpered, curling into a ball, sobbing. "Please… please leave me alone… someone, anyone, help me…"

"Oh, they won't help you…" A voice whispered into his ear. "Nobody will help you. The authorities are all far too corrupt to care, and everyone else is far too busy to stop and worry about your silly little life…"

"Th-that's not true! It's not true… it's not…"

"Oh, but it is, Joseph… Joe…"

Joseph's eyes widened, and he paled still further. "D-don't…" he whispered. "Dear God… p-please, don't say it…"

He could practically hear the sinister smirk in that hidden voice, feel the mocking laughter in its gaze…

"Joe… Kerr."

The name rippled through the crowd in an ominous undercurrent, slowly building into roar of taunting laughter and raucous jeers. Each cruel word felt like a poisonous arrow piercing his heart, shredding it to pieces before his eyes; searing memories of taunting peers came flooding back to him, burning with fresh horror and shame…

What kind of a name is that?

Laugh, clown. Laugh! Ha, ha, ha…

Why'd you run away from the circus?

Freak!

It hurt. It burned. It still burned, like a long-dormant cinder that had been waiting to ignite, it was torment, it was agony, it was torture…

Joseph screamed. He screamed and screamed and screamed to block out the taunting, cruel laughter, the jeering, the hideous cacophony that grated upon his nerves and set his very soul aflame. He screamed until he was certain that he would go hoarse from it, certain that his eardrums would burst and his vocal chords would rupture from the frequency. The scream rose to a shriek, the shriek to a howl, and still the visions jeered, still they taunted, still, still…

The howl died down to sobbing. Nothing was working; nothing was helping. Nothing would stop them. The sobbing turned to bitter laughter. Angry, frustrated laughter. Seething, Joseph wiped at the blood on his face, smearing it across his mouth in a wide red swath of a smile. He was so sick of it, so sick of being laughed at. It was time for him to do a little laughing of his own.

Joseph pulled the knife from his pocket, the knife he had taken from the mobster earlier. They wanted a joke? His grip tightened around the handle. The handle felt very hard. He'd give Them a joke…

"I said," he sneered in a voice that sounded nothing like his, "Stop laughing at me!"

Two flashes of silver, and the clown nearest to Joseph fell, bleeding, to the floor. The crowd's laughter slowly died down, dozens of terrified eyes gazing at him from gaudy faces, dozens of gruesome smiles now contorted into expressions of shock and horror.

Joseph merely stared at them hollowly, trembling with adrenaline and anticipation. Why? Why was he so excited over this? It wasn't the thrill of retribution, for he felt no desire for revenge. No, it was… something darker. Something else.

He liked it. The power he held over these… visions, the fear he was causing them, the sheer chaos it caused…

Half smiling, he pulled himself to his feet and pushed over a nearby shelf of make-up. The terrors-turned-victims collectively jumped, and he ignored the pain as his smile widened into a grin.

"Funny how easily the tables can turn, isn't it?" Joseph asked in that unfamiliar voice. "Now who's scared, hmm? Ya just had… had to push me…" – He paused to lick at his bleeding lips – "To push me that far, didn't ya? Ya just couldn't resist one more laugh at my expense, hmm?"

He shakily stepped forward, relishing the terror on his victims' faces as they stumbled back.

"Well…" He chuckled, taking another step further. "Who's laughing now?" He couldn't resist an ironic laugh. "Who has the last laugh now?"

It was so ironic, the terror on their faces, so funny… His laughter escalated and escalated, climaxing into a wild cackle that chilled and darkened the room. It was so… sinister. So insane. It was quite simply the sound of Madness itself, and it was more than enough to set each and every one of the clowns running, helter-skelter, through the racks of clothing and make-up and out of the door.

"Aww… They don't wanna play anymore…" Joseph grinned, watching them run with a strange glee. They were like animals, little lost sheep running through the woods, running from the big bad wolf. Running from him. It was exhilarating, the idea of a chase, of a hunt. With another mad laugh, he ran into the jungle of costumes, searching for another victim.

He found one in a slender, gold-and-green clad jester who, upon seeing him, gave a frightened shriek and bolted back the way it had come. Joseph followed, his chaotic laughter reverberating around him and forming a dark, maddening refrain. He loved it; he loved it all – the laughter, the mad chase, the terror and agony on his victims' faces… He had never felt so powerful before, never felt so alive. It was delicious, intoxicating and maddening, and he wanted more. He craved it. He needed it…

The panicked fool suddenly turned and dashed through a rack of costumes, and the speeding Joseph was unable to prevent a collision with a shelf of hair dye. A jar of green fell from the top shelf, the cheap material cracking upon contact with the hard floor and spilling its contents all over the wooden panels. Joseph slid and fell into the mess, the dye coating his hands, shirt, and hair as he attempted to stand. Carefully getting his bearings, he stood and pushed his now unevenly green hair out of his face. He began to search, but the jester was long gone. Sighing in frustration, Joseph began down the aisle.

A soft rustling in a rack of coats caught his attention, and he quickly darted into the clothing, only to find not just the jester, but also another clown hiding there. The frightened fools were trembling with terror and tears, unable to look away or move for fright. Joseph licked at the blood on his lips and grinned, ignoring the pain in his protesting jaw.

"Well, well, well," he said, pulling the knife from his pocket. "The hunter is… the hunted. Funny how that works, isn't it?"

The two buffoons whimpered, clinging to each other, scarcely able to speak for terror.

"So… who first?" He eyed the jester and smirked. The jester trembled.

"P-please, no… No! N-"

Its cries abruptly ended as the knife tore into its neck, slashing a long slit across its throat. The jester flailed in agony as it slowly bled to death, leaving the clown to watch its fallen comrade in horror. Joseph grinned and feverishly flicked his eyes towards the clown, who whimpered pitifully.

"P-please..." the clown said in a surprisingly human-sounding voice. "P-please, Joe…"

Joseph approached menacingly, the knife upraised and glinting with the promise of death.

"Oh, come on," he said, the lurid grin never leaving his face for an instant. "That'll never work. You should know that…"

The blade arced forcefully down, almost gracefully, and struck the cowering creature in the neck, sending up a great gush of crimson. The stricken buffoon howled in anguish, its cries slowly muffling into pitiful dying gurgles.

Joseph smiled to himself and wiped the blade on his shirt, then calmly crawled out of the clothing, only to find himself tangled in a purple overcoat. Annoyed, he struggled with it, but only succeeded in sending himself, overcoat and all, stumbling out of the rack and into a large mirror. His reflection in the mirror suddenly caught his eye, and he stepped back, dusting himself off, to get a better look.

He looked a mess. Blood was spattered everywhere on his skin and clothing, a gruesome coat of paint. His hair, ashambles from running and slimy green from the hair dye, hung limply in his ashy face, mingling with the congealing, bloody smile carved into his skin. The purple overcoat hung messily over his shoulders, accenting his ghoulish features. His eyes were dark, flickering with cold fire, lighting up as they slowly, almost lovingly, passed over his wide red smile. No, not the smile – the blood.

Yes, that was it… that was what he wanted. He wanted blood. He wanted the world to bleed. He craved the surge it gave him; craved the way flesh resisted the knife even though the knife would always win. Always.

He shivered in desire at the thought. He needed it. He needed it…

This… wasn't like him. He had never wanted something so much before. He…

He rested his head against the glass and frowned. He… what was his name again? He didn't know. All he heard when he concentrated was the sound of laughter, with a few small snippets of speech here and there, echoing, barely audible…

... J-

hAHaHAhaHahAHAHAhAHaHA…

Joe…

hAHaHAhaHahAHAHA…

Kerr…

hAHAHAhAHaHA…

"… Joe… Kerr…" He whispered, eyes staring hollowly. "… Joe. Kerr. Joker."

The cold spark in his eyes flared. So that was his name.

It was just so… perfect a title. It promised danger. It evoked a sense of wildness, of unpredictable behavior and sheer chaos, like the playing card that shared his name.

He grinned, ignoring his aching wounds, and the effect was uncanny. The outfit only served to enhance it, and it matched so perfectly; the purple complimented the green in his hair beautifully. Of course, he'd need to accent it a little more, add his own touches…

His thoughts trailed off as his eyes flicked towards a rack of playing card decks, and he smirked. If he was going to be a joker, then he'd have to have a calling card – and what better than the playing card that bore his name? That way, everyone would know his name. He'd be famous, a star in a strange sense. He walked over to the decks and pocketed a few of them.

He peered around the store. Why stop with that? Why not do a little… grocery shopping while he was here? He'd need some make-up and more of the green dye for one thing… some bolts of green and purple fabric, a few spools of thread, some needles…

Yes… yes, perfect…


The next morning, the media was swarming with news.

Thee Officers Dead In Abandoned Store Robbery, announced a newspaper in a bold font. Masked Assailant Suspected In City Gassing, read another. Gang Activity On The Rise, blared yet another.

Even the television stations went wild over yesterday's events. On one, a bleary-eyed, forty-something reporter spoke of the unspeakable horror of last night's attack on the city. On another, a gorgeous female reporter stood in front of the robbed costume store and looked on in horror as medics pulled the savaged bodies of police officers from the building, blood slowly staining the white sheets so carefully draped over them.

"This is truly a sad day in Gotham City," she blubbered, obviously uncomfortable with the surroundings.

The whirring of the sewing machine as it stitched through the purple fabric drowned out her words. Gloved hands pushed the fabric along with a grim precision, steady as a surgeon.

"There were few witnesses, and the scene was not discovered until around 8:35 this morning," continued the jumpy reporter.

The hands paused a moment, listening carefully to the newscast. 8:35… that was longer than it usually took them to swarm all over a crime scene, even with a major city attack.

"Authorities speculate that the incident occurred between Midnight and 2:00 in the morning, shortly after the capture of last night's mysterious city attacker. There appeared to be no signs of a break-in at first, but officers did find a back alley door with its protective sheet of Plexiglas pushed out, leaving a human-sized hole. Authorities believe that the robber both entered and exited this way. According to a handful of dubious eyewitness accounts, three officers heard screaming and entered the building to investigate, but all were dead within minutes, leaving behind this scene of carnage and chaos for their fellow officers to find later."

The viewer grinned, the expression extending to the long, roughly stitched gashes on his face. Chaos… how he loved that word…

"Amongst the stolen merchandise were several containers of make-up, two jars of hair dye, and a purple overcoat. Also taken were several decks of playing cards, four knives from behind the counters, and a letter opener from the main desk. The culprit remains at large."

He had to laugh at that. Still at large? He was right here! They could easily find him if they'd actually bother to look for him, to use the clues at the crime scene and find more witnesses like the little Sherlock Holmes wannabes that they were…

But they wouldn't. He knew they wouldn't. They knew they had nothing on him, nothing at all; they knew failure when it reared its ugly head. They were all far too busy covering their own sorry asses to do a thing, too stubborn to admit that they were far from perfect and really couldn't save anyone. Hell, they could barely save themselves! They were all just a bunch of clowns in uniform, all a big joke, even more so than he was.

The Joker leaned back in his chair and pressed the power button on the remote control. He really didn't like the news much. Sure, the stories and violence caught his interest, but the details were so very, very skewed; everything they said was barely on the edge of truth and more for scare value than anything. The reporters and newscasters were all a little lying pack of vultures, looking for the next big story at everyone else's expense, all in it for the money.

But money corrupts, thought the Joker as he resumed his sewing. Only a few more stitches, and the last part of his new suit would finally be finished. Thank God – he'd been working all night on this thing, and the sooner he finished it, the better.

He finished it with a flourish, severing the ends of the string with a quick slash of his knife and deftly knotting the loose ends. He held up the finished pants, admiring his work a moment, then slid them on, checking out his new outfit in a cracked, grimy dressing mirror. Sure, they were a bit rough, but they'd serve for his purposes. Besides, pinstripes were all the rage this season, he'd heard, and it was always good to keep up-to-date on style. Wouldn't want to commit a fashion faux pas, would we?

His dark eyes glanced up for a moment, gazing upon the garish, make-up smeared visage reflected there, and smirked. He had only discovered an idea for his make-up late last night, and the make-up was the most important part – how could he be anything resembling a decent clown without make-up? He'd had dozens of ideas for more elaborate designs, but eventually decided that simplest was best and went with something basic – a pale white base with black rings around his even blacker eyes and a wide red swath of a smile highlighting his jagged stitches, just the way his own blood had highlighted them last night, the night that he had… changed.

His eyes flickered coldly as they passed over his lurid grin. Now he was always smiling. And he did have a very charming smile…

A newspaper stirred in the breeze from an open window, and the commotion it caused as it spilled its contents onto the floor caught the Joker's attention. With one swift motion, he snapped up the front page and glanced over the shadowy, blurry image on the paper. He could scarcely ascertain the fuzzy silhouette of what appeared to be some sort of giant animal or oddly dressed man, he couldn't tell, standing atop a building and overlooking the city below. But he wasn't interested in the pathetic excuse for a photograph – no, it was the headline that caught his eye, the headline just above the unfocused photo that queried, in a bold font, Who Is The Batman?

Who indeed? the Joker thought, smirking. Who is he to try and help those sorry excuses for police that call themselves heroes? Who is he to disturb the chaos… my beautiful chaos…

He'd just have to find out – and he would find out. He couldn't have this clown running around, stealing his spotlight. Oh, no, couldn't have that.

The Joker licked his lips thoughtfully. He had to know. Was this 'Bat-Man' some rogue employed by the oh-so-heroic Boys in Blue? Or was he nothing more than another fool in costume, another freak like him?

"It seems like," he murmured, pausing to lick at some of the blood from his healing wounds, "I'll just have to find out what drives the Bat… batty."

He laughed at that, loudly and harshly. Batty. That was a good one…

He glanced at the blurry photo again, and his laughter faded to silence, the echoes of his mad giggling ringing in the cool air like an ominous bell. He didn't like the way this 'Bat-Man' looked in the photo. Too… serious.

The Joker smiled darkly. He could fix that. He could fix that easily…

He snatched a pair of pens from a nearby desk, one black and one red. Over the image's blurred face went two messy black circles for eyes and an even sloppier red slash for a smile, the ends extending beyond the image's face comically.

He laughed again, relishing the madness in it. Much better.

He had to find this 'Bat-Man'. If he was this much fun in a picture, he had to be much more entertaining in person.

The Joker smirked, pulled out a deck of cards, shuffled them. Not yet. No, not yet… He needed the right bait first, needed to pique the Bat's interest – and he knew just how to do it. He slowly drew the top card of the deck with an audible flik and peered at it. Joker, his lucky card. Oh, yes… He knew just how to do it…

He glanced out the window once more. The whole city was there, waiting patiently for him, an implacable audience waiting for the show to begin. And oh, it would begin. It would begin with a bang…

The Joker grinned sinisterly. Time to make them smile…