Ringmaster

A/N: I wrote this story on the fly at around midnight on an uneventful night. The idea randomly popped into my head after realizing that not many people looked at some of the more mundane aspects of the Joker's appearance, like his clothing or his knives. While the accepted belief is that Ledger Joker simply doesn't care about his appearance, I don't quite believe it to be true. Hygiene aside, if one truly didn't care about his appearance, then they wouldn't put together an organized, meaningful outfit like the one the Joker did – obviously, the suit means something. The Joker chose his look for a reason, and I'd like to propose my idea of why he might have chosen that particular outfit. I hope you enjoy this quick little Joker fic and possibly have some interesting ideas of your own by the end of it.

Disclaimer: I don't own Batman, the Joker, or The Dark Knight. Oh, and one caveat – this Joker is my interpretation, a healthy blend of Ledger Joker and Hamill Joker with shades of Nicholson Joker dashed in for good measure since they are the three I know and have grown up with. So, if the Joker seems a little off for whatever reason, that's why. Take it with a grain of salt, people. Also, I deliberately chose not to mimic his speech patterns in this story save for a few key points where the grammar is off. This story is told from his point of view, but he's not speaking the words directly – and nobody, not even the Joker, thinks in colloquial speech anyway.

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It really is the clothing that makes the man.

That's what I always told myself. My one little note-to-self: Look good. Your hair doesn't matter; your face doesn't matter. All that matters is that you can look in the mirror after you dress, look decent, and still be comfortable. Still say something. Still be loud.

I wanted to show Gotham what order turned to chaos looked like. They knew what it sounded like – gunfire, explosions, wild laughter bounding from building to building like mad sonar. But you know me – if I do something, I go all the way. I push it past its limit until it begs, until it pleads, until it finally snaps and submits to my own mindset.

I guess I'm kind of like a dictator that way. Heh. Dick. 'Tater. I like potatoes, but I don't like that title. Too political.

And I'm, ah, not exactly a political guy. I'm just a fool in the king's court, laughing at myself, the rulers, the world. It's fun, really. Mad, but fun. And must they really be exclusive?

I never thought so.

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My shirt's the first thing to go on.

I like the way the fabric wraps around me like a sheath, flexing over my thin, angular frame with every move. I like the loose fit and slightly rough texture of it, relaxed and yet tense – it keeps me on edge.

I like being on edge. I thrive on it. And this shirt in all its loud, wild glory has six per each tessellated shape. Six edges, six sharp sides, six times the madness.

Six is such a sharp, sinister number, don't you think? Say it three times, and it sparks dread. I like dread, too – it's such a great D word, and it rhymes with dead.

I spent days looking for the perfect fabric for that shirt, only to find it on an old bed on the side of the street. A sign that read 'Free To Good Home' hung from one bedpost sadly, the inked lettering running into itself with the damp weather. I remember frowning slightly at that. Why anyone would want to give something a good home when they could give it a bad one and watch it decay instead was beyond me. But the bed wasn't what I cared about – it was the sheet on the bed.

The sheet itself was an ugly cotton thing, all hexagons and blue shading, but it made a statement. It seemed to laugh at its fate, to holler to anyone who'd listen that it didn't care about anything. It wasn't stupid and naive like the bed. It didn't want a good home – it wanted to have fun.

I had to admire that little sheet, for its pattern if not for its brash attitude. So I stole it. That night I set to cutting it, fitting it, warping it to fit my purposes. I swear I heard it laughing all the while, but everyone knows that sheets don't laugh – only pillows do, and that's only when they're smothering the life out of someone. But this shirt… this shirt did. And when I finally slid on, finally did up the buttons for the first time and gazed into the mirror, fire lit up in my eyes.

I had just the idea for my new look.

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The pinstriped pants slide on easily, surrounding my lean, muscular legs with gaudy purple. I always did like how the pinstripes made me look taller and thinner, almost like a living paradox. I'm a tall guy, standing about 6 feet easy, and scrawny – the pants are actually a little too big for me and I can't hold them up without suspenders. I don't mind it, though. They give the whole ensemble an old-timey look. While the suspenders make me look like a gentleman, the pinstripes make me look like a showsman, a ticket-taker to a circus of chaos and black intent.

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and watch your city crumble before you! See how effortless it is to obliterate the order you're so used to seeing!

I remember how I got the pants and suspenders, too. That was a good night, a dark night. I'd ambushed a clown on the street – he was on his way to some party or another – and I had him pinned to the wall.

"Please!" he begged, his painted face melting from his tears. "I'll give you anything, take my wallet, take my car, anything!"

"Anything?" I sneered, and I still remember every last detail of it. "Anything, you say?"

I remember that he'd nodded dumbly, whimpering and whining to himself in terror.

"Alright, if you really do mean anything…"

I didn't take the wallet or the car. I took one look at his pants and matching suspenders, and he gave them to me.

He whimpered one last time, hoping that perhaps he'd get a chance to live.

I slit his throat like tissue paper. Only, tissue paper doesn't bleed.

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My vest is green – the same shade of jade as my hair – and my favorite tie is an even darker shade. As I slide both arms into the vest at once and tighten the tie around my neck like an emerald noose, I feel my outfit start to come together. This basic attire is enough to cement me as who I am, but at the same time it's not enough.

But then again, it's never enough.

The tie rests tightly around my neck, just enough to be slightly painful but not enough to cut off my oxygen. The vest fits flush against my ribs like a straitjacket without the sleeves, comfortable and slightly uncomfortable at the same time.

I like the feeling. It's mixed and it's strange and it makes no sense.

These garments I made myself. I'd learned my lesson with the pants, and I wasn't about to repeat it. After stealing some bolts of green fabric and some string from a craft store, I set to sewing the garments, watching lifeless fabric gain form. After days of endless sewing, I finally had the vest and tie for my outfit.

I know what you're thinking – why green?

I just like the color green. What, a guy can't wear a color he likes without it needing to mean something? I don't go around criticizing your wardrobe, so don't criticize mine.

Unless you like the color grey. Ew. Seriously, liven up your closet a little!

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The leather gloves, dyed a deep shade of purple, are my favorite part of my wardrobe. Careworn and comfortable, they clutch the handle of a dagger in a slip-proof grip, even when slick with blood. Small nicks, worn patches, and bloodstains mar the leathery surface. I like the way they feel on my hands, the way they fit me perfectly, the way they hide my fingerprints from prying detectives.

They're one of the first things a victim feels before death, before a cold steel blade against their necks, even before my presence. The sheer feel of them around a woman's neck or on the shoulders of a man pressed against the wall is enough to freeze words on a victim's tongue. The mere shade of violet that the leather holds speaks for itself – one look at them, and everyone instantly knows who these gloves belong to.

They hold such power, and yet people are always surprised when I tell them that I just bought the damn things.

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My shoes aren't much – worn brown leather things two sizes too big for me. It's no problem to me, though. What's a clown to do without his oversized clown shoes? They fit snugly on my feet with the aid of my thick, wildly colored socks, knit in a strange array of purples, teals, and yellows.

I found the socks in a shoe store, and I knew I immediately had to have them. That bastard of a cashier wouldn't let me have them at first. Something about being too terrified to speak.

I took him to the warehouse in the back of his little store. There weren't any security cameras and nobody was around that night, so nobody heard him scream. Nobody but me.

It was real fun watching him squirm every time I laughed or brought the blade near his neck. He looked like he had ants under his skin, something I gleefully reminded him of whenever I ran out of things to say.

That made him squirm, too.

Every wound I gave him made him wriggle in pain like a worm on a hook. He bled like one, too, only his blood was red and not green like worm blood. I made sure to remind him of that, too.

It was the last thing I left him with as I watched him slowly die.

I did get my socks after that. The guy was nice enough to give me them for free. I found my new shoes on the guy, and they happened to fit me very well, so I took those, too.

Never did find out what happened to the guy's body. Maybe it's with the worms.

And I bet they're under his skin right now.

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I love my greasepaint… I love the smell of it, the feel of it, the taste of it on my lips. It smells of the stage, feels like danger, tastes like a work of art…

I love the way the red compliments my scars. It does that very well, don't you think?

My victims think so, too. Their breath stops cold in their lungs when they see the white base, absorbing and reflecting light so that it's too bright to look away. Their eyes widen in panic as they meet my own dangerous brown gaze, ringed with black like the pits of a skull – an emblem of death. Their held breath escapes in a terrified scream as their eyes trace the wide red swath of a smile, observing with horror how it goes much further than any human mouth should, watching in fear as it splits into a wide grin…

It gets really fun when the victim's coulrophobic. It's hilarious how they tremble in front of me as soon as they see that painted smile; how easily they crumble and curl up in a quivering ball at the sound of my laughter; how they sob and wail in fear, too mad with panic to even speak.

Sometimes, they don't even have to have a fear of clowns to get that effect.

It really is amazing how powerful a little bit of war paint is. It's dramatic to see how your face changes when you put it on – highlighting shadows with black, paling your cheekbones and forehead a chalky white, making your old wounds look as if they're freshly bleeding again. It makes you feel wild, makes you feel dark. It makes you feel like an abominable force of reckoning, an incomprehensible monster that haunts all of humanity's nightmares.

H. P. Lovecraft, eat your heart out.

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My coat's the final piece to go on, a magnificent swirling cloak of deep violet that shrouds my shoulders and arms. Each burnished button glints like a tiny spark, like a tiny ember ready to start an inferno. It has a distinguished air about it, almost like it should be worn by a ringmaster of an older time, a time when people were more naive and trusting towards a simple clown.

And if anything, I like to look good. I like to make an impression on people. And to do that, you have to look impressive.

The coat helps me with that. It's got its secrets and I've got mine. Each of the pockets holds at least two or three different knifes, or one small hand grenade. And there's several different pockets to choose from. The lining's red, blood red – it hides stains better and looks flashy to boot.

I found it on some guy, a mobster that owed me a favor. Only, he wouldn't do it. All I asked for was help in getting back something that a certain commissioner took from me, and he said no.

Nobody tells me no.

Ah, wait… maybe I should correct that statement.

Nobody tells me no and lives.

So, I dragged the guy to an old slaughterhouse and strung him up from some chains like the chicken he was.

He didn't like that too much.

It was then that I struck him a deal. I told him I just loved his jazzy new trench coat, the purple one – and I'd let him go if he gave it to me. He seemed really attached to it, though, and he wouldn't part with it easily.

He caved after I sliced his face up.

He was real eager to hand it over then, and it was fun to watch him wriggle around and try to get it off for me. There were plenty of weapons in it already. That's how I gained about half of my little toolkit.

And what did I do after I got the coat? I let him go. Right into the meat grinder I had just turned on a few seconds earlier. Some kid's gonna find a gold tooth in their sausage one of these mornings, and then it'll be all over the news and I'll watch it and laugh.

Now that's comedy.

But then again, so are those cuts on your face. Are they starting to ache yet? Mine ached at first, but you get used to it. What's harder to swallow is waking up every morning and seeing them when you look in the mirror, but you get used to that, too. After all, I did, and look at me now!

But I suppose you don't want to look at me, do you? Not after all the agony I've put you through already. Not after you had to beg me to let you die and I refused. Not when you suffer too beautifully, too artistically to release.

But I suppose all good things have to come to an end. You'll die, I'll move on to other things, and all the fun will be over. Until I find my next playmate and invite them over for a little rendezvous. But you won't be there to see it.

Hm. Come to think of it, maybe I want you to survive. Maybe you'll lose your mind and join me. Maybe you'll kill yourself. Maybe they'll lock you up in an institution because the voices I gave you won't let you forget me.

Maybe you'll live with the torment forever. I kinda hope you do. Because the thought of it's hilarious.

Hey, there's no such thing as comedy without a little pain.

Think about it for a while. I'll be back to finish you off later.

If you even make it that long.