Author's Notes: I created this story so I could delve deeper into a side of the Joker that people don't see as often, if ever, in the movie or in the comics. I wanted to present the Joker with a situation that his conscience (what little goodness of it is left) would really struggle with. With that being said, I hope to accomplish all this while still keeping the Joker as in character as much as I possibly can. Reviews are welcomed, and I hope you enjoy reading.
The Joker ambled up the steps to the rundown and abandoned apartment complex, his long legs stretching over two steps at a time. Above him, a full moon burned brightly, its white rays reflecting off the pitch black harbor water behind him and glittering off the waves. The tide lapped gently against the loading docks, the noise accompanied by the sound of cars gliding against the pavement from further inside the city of Gotham.
The fog was cold and heavier than usual tonight, and it enveloped the Narrows and hung over the harbor in a thick blanket of mist. The frosty, winter night air pushed the Joker's purple coattails behind him as he finished his climb up the steps, fresh snow crunching beneath his shoes. Small puffs of breath escaped from his mouth as he exhaled, the air around him cold and icy as he moved to wrap his gloved hand around the cool knob of the door.
Giving one last glance behind him before stepping inside the building, he pushed the door open halfway and let his eyes sweep over the inside. The building was dark and definitely unoccupied, by the looks of it. He licked his chapped lips and stepped over the threshold, pushing the door open wider for further inspection, the hinges creaking with an eerie squeal in protest.
Pale moonlight instantly flooded the room, moonbeams falling over the broken furniture that was scattered across the floor. The place smelt of cigarette smoke, dust, and rotting wood; clearly not the most pleasant smell, but it didn't deter him.
It was still too dark to see clearly, so he moved farther into the living room, unmindful of the shards and bits of broken glass that littered the floor. He went over to the large bay window that overlooked the front of the house and into the harbor. Without further thought, he ripped down the heavy floral drapes, sending dust and snow particles scattering as more moonlight flooded into the room. The plastic pole that the curtains had been hanging on came crashing to the floor along with the curtains, falling to the carpet with a dull thud.
Turning away from the window, the Joker could now better examine the apartment.
The couch to the right side of him was missing some of its cushions, and the brown and green argyle striped fabric was torn and shredded, as if someone had repeatedly taken a knife to it. Across from the couch was an old television set that was lying on its side on the floor, its screen partially smashed in the center and fanning out in spider-webbed cracks, giving it the appearance someone had hit it with a baseball bat. There were old papers and ripped covers from books strewn all across the poorly carpeted floor, accompanied by large shards of glass from broken lamps or vases. The red brick walls looked old and weathered, dust inhabiting every crack and groove in the plaster. To top everything off, a light dusting of snow covered the objects strewn across the room, the snow having been most likely blown in through some broken window.
Beyond the living room lay a small kitchen, its remains much the same as the room before it. The yellow-stained linoleum floor was cracked in places and missing tiles in others. Cabinet doors were wide open while some were hanging limply off their hinges. The refrigerator was missing its freezer door, and the oven stove top next to it was charred black, as if someone had burnt one too many a meal there.
A small, round table rested in the center of the kitchen and was surrounded by chairs that were missing two or more legs, leaving them to lie brokenly on the floor. Cracked china plates and cups had been dumped carelessly in the sink, gold rose petals adorning the rim of the plates and glaring harshly at him in the moonlight.
The Joker clucked his tongue in distaste at the mess before him as he turned away from the room and began to saunter up the stairwell, the worn wood creaking beneath his steps. At the top of the stairs, the moonlight shone even more brightly through the broken windows that were in the various rooms. He glanced down the hallway and his eyebrows rose in pleasant surprise when he found that it was extremely long. Someone had apparently knocked down a couple of walls, meaning that he could now access the upstairs of all the adjoining next-door apartments without actually having to leave the one he was in now.
As he made his way down the green, carpeted hallway, he briefly glanced into each room as he passed, looking for anything of interest as he moved down the hall. He twirled his switchblade loosely in his right hand, always ready for use if he needed it. He doubted anybody was actually living here though, homeless or not. The foundation beneath the building was most definitely crumbling, and on the whole the place looked decrepit and worn. The Joker figured that surely no one was crazy enough to stay in a place like this—which is why it was perfect for him. He was tired of sleeping in the old brown Sedan he had been living in for the past three months since his escape from Arkham. The backseat wasn't long enough for him to fully stretch his legs out, and the driver's seat only reclined back so far.
With that thought in mind, the Joker decided that this was definitely the place to set up camp, at least until he could find better digs. All the rooms thus far were empty, minus the occasional bed or dresser, meaning that the place was definitely unoccupied and therefore about to be occupied by himself.
As he neared the end of the hall, humming an upbeat and nameless tune, he began mentally planning on how he was going to spruce the place up. First, he would need to put caution tape over the front door, that way no one would even think about entering. And then he'd have to set some traps at the front door, too, just in case any adolescent young teenagers or the like decided to get cocky and break in.
Ah yes, he'd also need a lock for the door as well—seeing as how the door had opened with ease upon his arrival. He'd need to barricade off all the other doors to the adjoining apartments too so no one could come upstairs through those apartments. The windows would need to be boarded up as well, and running water would be nice if the place didn't already have it. He'd also need to decorate too, of course. He had lots of newspaper clippings about the Bat Boy and other things to adorn the walls with.
So much to do, so little time, he mused absently.
As he was about to finally near the end of the long hallway, he happened to notice that one of the many bedroom doors was closed, which he thought was rather odd because the rest were left unhinged or wide open. Still humming as he neared the door, the sound of pattering feet from inside the room suddenly met his ears. His humming immediately paused and he frowned, halting his movements and listening intently. He knew he had not just imagined that sound.
Still frowning, he took a tentative step forward. Just as he was about to place his hand over the knob of the closed door, he heard a small and decidedly excited voice from inside.
The door swung wide open then, hitting the brick wall behind it and bouncing slightly from its momentum. Inside, a little girl stood with an expectant smile on her face, her eyes wide with what the Joker assumed to be hopefulness.
Just as quickly as it had come, however, the little girl's smile vanished, noticing that the person who now stood before her was definitely not who she had been expecting.
The Joker stood tall and looming in the doorway, looking down at the small girl with interest as a pleasant smile slowly spread over his features. She looked to be only three or four of age; her tiny, thin frame was clad in a short-sleeved, knee-length blue cotton dress with tiny sneakers adorning her feet. She had a mass of long, tangled blonde hair that was falling from a poorly put up ponytail, and a backpack with dirty, mustard yellow straps weighed down heavily upon her small shoulders.
The girl was visibly shaking, either from the cold or because she was frightened out of her mind, he couldn't decipher which. A cold breeze blew in through the open window across the room, and the snow had just begun to fall again as the two stared at each other. Small white flakes flittered in through the window and landed on the floor around them. The room was pale and silent.
The biggest and brightest green eyes the Joker had ever seen stared up at him in an expression that could only be read as confusion, and he smiled as he dared to step closer. The girl backed up awkwardly as he closed the door and entered further. Her eyes freely roamed up his tall frame as her brows furrowed together.
"Well hello there, sweetheart." He popped the 't' in exasperation as he bent down in front of the girl, placing his hands on his thighs in front of him and leaning on his haunches. "What's your name?" he asked in a voice as pleasant as he could muster. He didn't want to scare her away just yet.
The Joker searched the girl's face expectantly as her bright green eyes glittered from under her dark lashes. She drank in his sunken-in eyes that were rimmed all the way to his brows with black greasepaint, and his face that was smeared in white. Her eyes wandered over everything from his lips and jagged scars that were painted a bloody, brilliant red, all the way to his dark purple pantsuit and his greasy, green-faded hair.
The clown worked his mouth in impatience at the girl's inability to answer. "So… ?" he prodded, his eyes never leaving her face.
The girl in question bit her lip. "Taylor," she replied shyly, her voice small and so incredibly sweet sounding to the Joker's ears. He hadn't heard a voice like that spoken directly to him in so long. She sounded so… innocent. He smirked.
She was staring up at him warily now, her head cocked to the side as she watched him, her eyes locking onto his dark brown orbs as if she were unsure of what to think of the man in front of her.
"Taylor… " the Joker repeated, drawing out the 'r' and testing the word for himself. He swiped his tongue along the corner of his mouth and shifted closer to her. "What a pretty name." He grinned at her as the little girl ducked her head and blushed, the moonlight illuminating the pink that crept up her cheeks.
He wanted to laugh aloud at her ridiculous bashfulness. Didn't she know who he was? He was the Joker, a merciless, psychopathic killer, and she was blushing before him because he had just carelessly thrown a compliment at her. Obviously, she didn't watch the news much.
The girl's head rose and her eyes met his again. She stared at him with interest, as if he were a puzzle she couldn't quite piece together. They looked at each other evenly for several seconds, neither one blinking until suddenly, the little girl spoke, leaning in close as if she were whispering to him a deep, dark secret.
"Why are you dressed like a clown?" she whispered timidly, afraid that she might offend him with her question, but unable to contain her curiosity nonetheless.
The Joker let a large smile spread over his features, his dark eyes dancing with laughter and genuine amusement of the likes he hadn't felt in quite a while. He ran his tongue over his bottom lip and his eyes darted to the ceiling before returning to meet hers.
"Why not… dress like a clown?" he asked, his smile now gone and his expression serious.
The girl seemed thoughtful as she pondered this. "I don't know," she replied quietly, the end of her sentence fading as she waited his reply.
But instead of replying, he simply stared at her with interest, his head cocked to the side and his eyes narrowed. "Where's your mommy?" he asked her, his tone devoid of emotion. The girl had obviously been expecting her when he had arrived. Would she be coming back soon?
Taylor shrugged, one of the straps from her backpack sliding off her shoulder. "I don't know," she replied sadly, her brows forming a crease between her eyes and her gaze falling to the carpet. "She told me to wait here until she got back." Her small voice was a mere whisper when she spoke, and she balled her tiny hand into a fist, moving to tiredly rub her eyes with it. She looked like she hadn't slept in days.
"How long have you been here?" he asked, watching her closely.
The girl lowered her gaze and counted on her fingers. "Two days," she replied after a moment of careful consideration.
The Joker processed this information as he watched her with interest, his eyes narrowed into slits as he sized her up. The girl obviously hadn't realized it yet, but he was guessing that she had probably been abandoned by her mother. Who leaves a small child completely alone in a deserted apartment complex, and dead in the middle of winter, no less?
Running his tongue along the inside of his mouth, tonguing at his scars, the Joker's dark eyes wandered briefly around the room, taking note of the twin bed pushed up against the wall, and the random cardboard boxes that had been dumped in the opposite corner of the room.
His eyes eventually wandered back to Taylor. "Who's that?" He motioned with his gloved hand towards the stuffed object that was clutched in her hand.
Instinctively, Taylor's palm curled around the object's arm, tightening her grasp. "Oh… this is Teddy," she said, slowly finding her voice. "My… my daddy got him for me for Christmas before he left." The Joker watched as she turned her head downward to look at the bear with adoration, as if it were some sort of angel sent by God.
Watching the seriousness of the little girl's face as she looked at the bear, the Joker had the urge to burst into hysterical laughter, but he managed to contain himself and instead pressed his lips together as he watched her pat the bear's head lovingly. Turning her own head to face the Joker, she took notice of the peculiar look on his face and quickly spoke.
"Don't worry," she began, "Teddy likes meeting new friends," she offered reassuringly, but also carefully and slowly, as if she were picking out her words with the utmost caution so as not to offend him. She was smart.
She bit her lip shyly as looked up at him and again they stared at each other for a few more seconds, silently contemplating each other and each other's possible motives. The Joker could not help but take note that girl didn't seem afraid of him. Sure, she was apprehensive and maybe a little frightened, but that was natural for a child. In truth though, he was just slightly intrigued by the way she looked at him. She held his gaze longer than most adults would, yet she still was shy enough to look away when she was embarrassed.
As the Joker watched her, he noticed that her eyes had shifted downwards towards his right hand—the hand that was currently holding his switchblade. Taylor stared sideways at, watching it as if it were a deadly viper that could strike at any moment. She took a tentative step backwards.
He dropped his eyes down to his hand and stared at the knife, watching as the moonlight pouring in through the window ricocheted off the blade and made it gleam fiercely.
For a moment, he simply stared at it. Was he going to kill her? He'd never actually killed someone her age before—at least not deliberately. Why was he even asking himself that question in the first place? He killed hundreds of people daily without a second thought to it. It was almost second nature for him to kill someone who annoyed him or just got in his way. What difference did age make?
But what was he going to do with her if he didn't kill her? She certainly couldn't stay here. That was simply out of the question. He didn't have the time or obviously the desire to take care of and feed some random little homeless girl. He had buildings to explode, faces to carve, games to play, and a certain bat friend to bring out of hiding; he couldn't—wouldn't—encumber or burden himself with some little child.
The Joker clicked the switchblade shut in one swift motion, making Taylor jump, and then pocketed it, the girl's attention immediately returning to his face.
She swallowed thickly, her eyes still locked onto the spot where his knife had disappeared. "Do—do you know when my mommy is coming home?" Her small voice was barely audible and her large eyes were filled with hopefulness. "She promised me she'd come back soon," she added in quiet whisper, speaking half to him and half to herself.
He sighed dramatically and Taylor's eyes shifted back up towards him at the sound. Shifting on his haunches, he ran his tongue over his bottom lip and moved closer to the girl, his hands on his thighs. "I don't think… mommy is going to uh, be here… for a while."
Taylor's hopeful expression vanished and her small shoulders sagged dejectedly, Teddy falling limply at her side. "Oh." Her brows scrunched together in confusion as if she didn't understand what had just been said. She lowered her head from his gaze then and stared at the carpet. The Joker watched as her eyelashes fluttered wildly against her pale, dirt-stained cheeks. She looked like she was about to cry.
Oh, fuck, the Joker thought exasperatedly. Fearing that she would burst into tears or screams or throwing some sort of temper tantrum, he quickly shifted again and leaned in closer, dipping his head low so he could look up at her face that she had bowed from his gaze.
"Hey," he whispered quickly, "are ya hungry?" he asked, searching her eyes closely.
Her head snapped up immediately and her green eyes brightened in what he assumed was surprise.
He nodded once and swiped his tongue along the corner of his mouth as he rose to his feet, his knees popping in the process. "Come on." He motioned for Taylor to follow him as he turned away from her and opened the door.
When he didn't hear any movement behind him, he frowned, turning back to face Taylor, only to see that she hadn't moved. He gave her a quizzical look and she bit her lip.
"Mommy said I ha—have to stay in here." She looked up at the Joker and winced as if she were expecting him to berate her or start yelling.
Instead, he smacked his lips together, producing a sharp popping noise. "Ya know," he began, opening the door wider and raising his brows as he glanced out into the empty hallway, "if you don't eat you'll starve." He turned back to look pointedly at her, working his mouth slightly. "And we don't want that, do we, doll face?"
The girl frowned and look towards Teddy as if he'd have an answer for her. She then slowly turned her head to look up at the Joker still standing in the doorway. "Teddy is kind of hungry," she offered, pulling her bear to her chest and clutching it against her.
The Joker smirked and made a motion with his head for her to follow him once again. He made his way back down the lengthy hallway and heard Taylor's tiny footfalls distantly behind him, her small legs unable to match his long strides. Once he reached the bottom of the stairwell, he turned to look back at her only to see that she was just starting to come down the steps. Her hand was wrapped tightly around the wooden railing and she was slowly taking one step at a time, being careful as to not fall. She continued this procedure for half her trip down the stairway. On the seventh step, she glanced up to see the Joker observing her, a slightly amused expression on his face.
Mistaking his look for impatience, Taylor quickly plopped down on her bottom and slid down each step, both legs out in front of her and bent at the knees. Once she reached the last step the Joker started to make his way towards the kitchen. He was stopped short, however, when she let out a small grunt, trying to get his attention.
She was still standing on the last step, her eyes locked onto the floor.
Large shards of broken glass littered the floor and Taylor was obviously afraid to step on them, even with her sneakers on.
He couldn't believe he was about to do this. Sighing exasperatedly, he trudged back towards her and picked her up under her arms, holding her far out in front of him at arm's length and awkwardly carrying her across the room and into the kitchen.
He set her down on the floor when they entered and then moved about the kitchen, loudly flinging open cupboards and drawers, searching for any kind of food. He couldn't believe he had offered her food when he himself didn't even have any. At least she wasn't crying though, else he might have to dispose of her the not-so-fun-way. Well, not fun for her, anyway.
As he searched through the cupboards, unceremoniously knocking some of the doors off their hinges, he wondered vaguely when the girl had last eaten. She looked thin, like she hadn't had a good meal since birth, and her cheeks were hollowed out and her arms and legs practically as thin as the legs of a metal fold-up chair.
The insides of the cabinets were dark, and the Joker had to run his hands over the insides to feel for any objects, his fingernails scraping against the wood.
Taylor stood motionless in the doorway as she watched the Joker with rapt attention, her backpack still hanging heavily on her shoulders behind her and Teddy still plastered against her chest.
Biting her lip, she slowly turned from him and went farther into the room. Trudging over to the small round table in the center of the kitchen, she struggled to pick up one of the chairs that were lying on the floor next to it. Fortunately for her, the one she picked up had four legs. She sat it upright and then found another one and set that upright too while the Joker remained in front of her, still searching through the cupboards. She carefully placed Teddy on the first chair and then with much difficulty, finally climbed up into the second one, seating herself in front of the table.
Aha. The Joker pulled out a rumbled, purple cereal box from deep inside a corner cupboard and then finally turned to face the little girl.
She was sitting at the table, her hands folded neatly across her lap and her bear plopped up crookedly on the seat next to her, watching the Joker with beady, black eyes.
He wasn't sure if he wanted to double over in laughter at the absurdity of the situation or start throwing knives.
Why was he doing this again?
The girl was eyeing the box the Joker had in his hands with interest as he trudged towards her. "Here," he grumbled, setting the box on the table in front of her.
Taylor stared at it for a minute, her eyes lingering on the sunshine's yellow, smiley face, before slowly retracting the box from the table, holding it awkwardly in her lap as she dug her hand around inside. Pulling out a handful of flakes and raisins, she put them on the table in front of her and then hungrily shoved a handful of flakes in her mouth, some falling out of her mouth and down her chin, landing back in the box that was seated on her lap.
The Joker watched her as she crunched and chewed contentedly, dangling her small legs that weren't even close to reaching the floor. He opened his mouth to speak when he was suddenly distracted by the sound of police sirens. Frowning, he left the kitchen and went into the living room, moving towards the bay window at the front of the house that overlooked the street and the harbor beyond.
He had just made it to the window as a police car went speeding by in front of the apartment, its red and blue sirens flashing and wailing, and the faint wording of GCPD on the side of the car a blur as it drove by.
He wondered at first if the police were chasing after Batman, but then quickly dismissed the idea. Even though Batman was "wanted," the police had bigger fish to catch. And since Batman was technically "helping" the city, he wasn't really Gotham's biggest threat at the moment. Granted, he had supposedly murdered Harvey Dent, but the Joker didn't buy that for a second. He knew that the Batman refused to kill, it was his one rule, after all—which was why the Joker was still alive.
He wondered what the Batboy was doing right now. Was he out saving the city, fighting crime and being a secret hero… or was he at home, sleeping soundly? Did Batman even have a home? Did he have a family, too? Did he have a wife who tossed and turned at night, anxiously awaiting his return while he fought crime on the dirty streets of Gotham?
Did Batman have… kids?
The Joker smirked at that thought, picturing a little boy running around with a black trash bag tied around the back of his neck as a makeshift cape and a toy cowl strapped proudly to his head. What a sight that would be.
And speaking of kids….
What was he going to do with Taylor? She couldn't stay here. He didn't… want her there. Since he wasn't going to kill her—she was such a nice kid, amusingly innocent, really, and uncorrupted by the troubles of the world. He figured she was probably one of the few people in Gotham who actually deserved to live.
He decided he could dump her at the nearest daycare. They'd figure out to do with her from there. At least then she'd be safe—and off his hands.
It would work out perfectly. Tomorrow morning she'd be out of his hands and the Joker could finally worry about 'sprucing' up his new place and planning his next attack on Gotham.
The Joker felt somewhat more relaxed now that he didn't have such trifling matters to worry about, and he quickly settled back into his normal train of thoughts.
His plan would be big, that much was for certain. It would be bigger and more elaborate than that whole stint with Harvey Dent had been. He was going to bring this pitiful excuse for a city down on its knees… and they could suck him while they were at it for all he cared.
Outside, the snow was still falling in the dark, and it glistened sharply as the moonlight shone upon it. A dog was barking far off in the distance, the noise bringing the Joker out of his thoughts after having been staring silently out the window.
He finally turned around to look back at Taylor, only to see that her head was propped up on the table in front of her and that she was fast asleep. As he neared, he noticed that 'Teddy' had a pile of raisins in front of him. He couldn't help the almost confused, half-grin that tugged at the corner of his mouth. Either Taylor didn't like raisins or she really expected her bear to eat them.
The Joker took the cereal box off her lap and put it on the table. Swiping his tongue across his lips, he easily hoisted her light-as-a-feather body up off the chair and into his arms, holding her against his chest while her head naturally found rest on his shoulder. Well that was… unexpected. He turned to leave the kitchen and then remembered her bear. Sighing exasperatedly, he picked the animal up by its ear and trudged through the living room to make his way back up the stairs.
Frowning as he climbed the stairs, the Joker couldn't help but think that he had never... held someone in his arms before, not like this, and not that he could remember, anyway. The simple action stirred the strangest emotions within him. He felt… awkward, which was a sensation that was uncommon and definitely foreign. He felt… disconnected, out of character, and weirdly misplaced, like he wasn't supposed to be doing this. And in a way, he really wasn't. Since when was the last time he actually performed an act of generosity for someone other than himself? He hadn't shown an act of compassion for anybody in years, not in this manner, at least. Perhaps he was just over thinking things?
Regardless, holding the little girl was an odd sensation, but he pushed those thoughts aside once he found the room where had had first found her. As he entered, he began to carefully remove Taylor's backpack from her shoulders without waking her, letting the object drop to the floor. He leaned over the bed and set her on her back and down onto the mattress, dropping her bear next to her. She stirred only slightly, turning on her side to face him, and curled her small legs underneath her for warmth.
He looked at her then as the moonlight poured through the open window, its pale rays casting its shadow over Taylor's face. Her cheeks were pale and slightly marred with dirt. Her small mouth was parted and she was breathing quietly, her thick lashes fluttering faintly against her cheeks.
He shook his head and then straightened, closing and latching the window so that no more snow would flutter into the room. Making his way out, he closed the door behind him and it shut with a soft click.
"Crazy, crazy, crazy…." he muttered to himself, thinking over how ridiculous this whole situation was.
Wandering only a few more steps down the hall, he discovered another room that had a small, twin-sized mattress, only four doors down from where Taylor slept. He stretched his arms behind his back and grunted, hearing his shoulder blades pop as he entered the room. His muscles felt extremely tight and it felt good to stretch out.
He kicked off his shoes and flopped down onto the stained mattress, laying on his back and staring up at the ceiling. He removed his leather gloves and pocketed them inside his jacket, resting his hands over his abdomen.
The smell of mold and dust permeated from the mattress, but he didn't mind. It was certainly better than sleeping in the car.
After several minutes—his mind still racing as always and his thoughts running rampant—the Joker eventually drifted into a pleasant dreamland filled with explosions, funny jokes, and bats.