Please be aware that while this story is not graphic it does contain violence and references to child abuse. There will NOT be anything explicit and it will NOT be perpetrated by the Joker. If anything, you may consider the Joker to be the anti-hero of this story. This is part of the Family Obligations universe which follows TDK faithfully except with the added plot point that Bruce Wayne discovers that his infant brother, thought dead, is actually the Joker. You don't need to know anything more of that story to enjoy this one. (I hope you enjoy it)

Daddy Dearest

You remind me of my father... I hated my father.

The Joker half ran, half limped along the street, sirens screaming behind him. Well, that hadn't gone exactly to plan. The detonation had been a full ten seconds ahead of schedule. When dealing with high explosives ten seconds could be the difference between living and ending up as street pizza.

He had no one to blame but himself, he had rigged the entire operation. Still, he'd probably feel much better about it if he tortured a couple of lackeys when he got back to the hideout... if he got back to the hideout. The sirens were awfully close now.

Joker ducked into the nearest alley and found himself in a dead-end. He sighed, "You know what they say, when life hands you lemons... make nitro glycerin and blow the hell out of something." He giggled lightly and turned back the way he'd come. Strobing lights reflected off the brick walls stopped the Joker in his tracks. Maybe not.

He looked around for another way out. The only other option was up. There were fire escapes for the run-down tenements housed above the businesses. He hobbled over to a dumpster and hauled himself up. His leg was in pretty bad shape but he'd have to try the leap. The sound of a police radio convinced him now would be a good time and he leapt. His weakened left leg almost gave out but he got just enough height to grab onto the rung of the second floor ladder. He scrambled up to the third floor and flattened himself against the wall.

A police cruiser pulled up in front of the alley and shone its spotlight. The Joker frowned, if they turned the spotlight upwards they would see him. There was nowhere to hide on the metal struts. He pulled his semi-auto from his jacket and checked the clip. He had four rounds left. At this rate it looked like they'd be prepping his room at Arkam by morning.

As predicted the cops trained their lights upward and were scanning the fire escapes on the second floor. "Screw this," he muttered and cocked the gun. "Let's dance boys, I'll lead." Stepping forward he glanced something in his peripheral vision. A curtain was blowing through the crack in an open window. He smiled. With his back to the wall, he slid slowly over.

The Joker slipped into the darkened room and fell to the floor beneath the window. His bruised ribs protested and he groaned. The light shone into the room and he ducked his head. "I win," he whispered. His mind was a brilliant testament to chaos. This was more fun than a sack full of puppies, he thought and stifled a giggle.

The light moved on. He raised his head slightly. He could still hear the sound of police radios in the alley. They knew he was in the area. Some "good" citizen had spotted him. They wouldn't give up that easy. All he would need now is for the Bat to show up.

Sometimes it was more fun when a scenario didn't go exactly as planned, still he had a reputation to uphold. He was after all, the Joker. He couldn't be in and out of Arkham all the time. People would think he'd gone soft in the head. He giggled again. Then again, he didn't really give a shit what anyone thought. He could always just kill them.

A small click brought his thoughts into sharp focus.

Joker turned slowly, reaching into his jacket for the auto nestled there. The room was bathed in a soft glowing pink light. A hello kitty light to be exact. The Joker suddenly found himself staring into an elfin face with big blue eyes.

A small voice offered, "Hello."

Great, this was just what he needed, a screaming brat. "Shhh," he put his finger to his lips. "We don't want to wake your mommy and daddy."

"Don't worry, you won't. I'm by myself."

"I'm not worried." The Joker looked to the door and back to the window. Maybe things were looking up after all. "Your mommy and daddy are gone?"

The little girl nodded, "My mom went to the bar. Mostly she stays out all night. I don't remember my daddy but there's Glen. But he doesn't live here all the time."

That simplified things a lot. Still, children lied. "You sure you're alone? You seem kinda young. How old are you?"

"I've been ten for two whole months," the child responded with arms crossed. "You're the Joker aren't you?"

Joker scowled. "You know about me?"

The girl shrugged, "I know plenty about you."

"Is that right?"

The girl nodded. "That's the police outside looking for you isn't it?"

Joker fingered the blade in his pocket. "It's just a misunderstanding. You don't have to be afraid of me."

"I'm not afraid of you."

Joker raised an eyebrow. The child really didn't seem to be afraid. "What's your name?"

"Emily."

The Joker stood unsteadily, his right side was throbbing dully. He leaned back against the wall next to the window. "Well Emily, I would really rra..therr the police didn't find out that I'm herre," he drawled.

"Did you kill a bunch more people?"

The Joker eyed her. "What do you know about killing?" He took a step towards the child, his knife at ready.

Emily looked thoughtful. "I know some, I guess. But you could teach me more I bet."

Joker cocked his head, "You're a strange child aren't you, Emily."

She smiled.

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

The Joker leaned back and nibbled on one of the chocolate chip cookies that the kid had given him. His side still hurt like hell but the bleeding had slowed. His accelerated metabolism gave him a decided advantage at times but it also made him ravenous.

He pulled his semi-auto from the holster and sat it on the bed next to him. He only had the four rounds but he figured it would be enough. Cops would let you get away with almost anything if they thought you were going to shoot a kid.

Emily sat at the other end of the bed. She was watching him with big blue eyes. Their crystal intensity made him want to gouge them out. "What!"

"How old are you?"

Joker pursed his lips. "Why do you want to know?"

"You asked me how old I was," a child's simple logic.

Joker shoved a whole cookie in his mouth, "One hundred and thirty seven."

Emily giggled, "Nu uh."

"How do you know?" he munched, cookie crumbs sticking to his rouged lips.

"Because."

"Because?"

"Because if you were that old, you'd be dead," she stated simply.

Joker nodded, "Fair enough." He nibbled another cookie. They weren't half bad, none of that off-brand crap. Being addicted to sugar, he considered himself to be somewhat of a connoisseur when it came to sweets. He wiped his lips with the back of his hand.e ily sat at the other end of the bed. at the kid had given him. to see him and hadnt.o an emotional corner.

She looked at him expectedly. "So how old are you?"

The kid was just not going to let it go. He supposed the truth wouldn't matter. It was only a toy to be played with anyway. "I don't know how old I am."

Her expression was one of incomprehension, "How can you not know?"

He took a deep breath and rolled his eyes skyward, "I have trouble sometimes... with linear thought." What the hell, even the ceiling was pink. Was there no end to this nightmare?

"Lin.. nee. neer?"

Of all the windows… he just had to pick the one where Hello Kitty's number one fan lived. He glanced at her cute as a button face, one quick caress of his blade and no more mind-numbing questions. "Someone who outta know told me I'll be twenty eight this year."

"That's pretty old isn't it?" the child questioned innocently.

"Ancient," he acknowledged. Joker yawned. Why brother Bat seemed to think it was important to keep him informed of familial milestones like birthdays, he wasn't sure. Bats was constantly trying to tell him Wayne family tales like that should mean something to him, like he would actually care. While he had a nearly eidetic memory even he couldn't remember being six months old, brother bat knew that too. So what was the point? He lay his head back on the pillow his adrenaline finally bottoming out.

"Are you tired?" The little girl leaned over and grabbed her fuzzy pink blanket. "You can go to sleep if you want. I'll watch out for you."

Joker just looked at her. "You are a strange, strange child, Emily."

"I know, people say that about me all the time," she agreed.

Joker closed his eyes. "I wouldn't worry about it. They used to say the same thing about me."

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

Joker woke with a start. What the hell, his wounds must have been worse than he first thought. Yeah, take a little nap during a police man hunt. That'll work out well for you. He stretched, placing his hand to his side when it gave him a little stitch. The little girl was still sitting at the end of the bed, watching intently her fuzzy pink blanket tight around her.

"I think the police finally went away. I haven't seen them in a while. You feel better?"

He looked over at the hello kitty clock. One AM. "Still tired."

"I brought you water." She pointed to the pink nightstand next to the bed.

He took the offered water and drank it down. The Joker casually inspected the room. It certainly was a startling shade of pink. In fact, everything in the room was a shade of pink. "I feel like I'm drowning in Pepto Bismal."

"What's that?"

He shook his head, "Nuthin." He handed her the glass.

She traced its molded edges as if she was suddenly nervous. "Glen says my mom drinks like a fish, only not water." She stared into the glass and whispered, "I like it better when she's not here."

Joker just looked at the child. What an odd little thing. His impression was one of a porcelain doll made to look like a real girl, beautiful and sinister with their glass eyes. He briefly wondered if his daughter looked anything like her. She would be about two now. But he had promised the Bat that he wouldn't even think about her or Harley. It was the first time he'd broken that promise.

"And Glen," she continued. Emily's clear blue eyes turned stormy. "I wish he was in one of the buildings you blew up. Then he'd be in all these little pieces. And the rats could come and eat him."

"I get the idea that you don't like Glen very much." Joker yawned.

The little girl frowned, "He hurts me."

How did he end up father confessor? Did he really look like the kind of clown you'd want to confide in? Maybe he was going soft in his old age. "So stop him."

Emily looked at him confused, "How? He's bigger than me."

"The best weapon you have, is your mind..." he tapped his temple with a finger. "But this couldn't hurt." The Joker pulled a butterfly blade from his short boot and flipped it open one handed. "The next time he touches you, wait until he comes in close and then jam this into his groin."

The Joker motioned with the knife to his inner thigh. "Twist the blade. It'll open him up good. There's a lot of blood vessels there. You're bound to hit something. Then when he drops, you draw the blade across his throat and finish him off."

The Joker held the knife out to the young girl. "Go ahead, you can keep it. I have a bunch," he grinned.

The little girl reached out without hesitation and took the blade. "Thank you." she turned it over in her hands. "It's pretty. I like it."

"Fine gauge stainless steel. It'll never rust and it can take quite an im..pact without breaking," he paused, "You know, in case you hit bone."

She nodded, then looked up at him. She cocked her head first one way then the other. "Did it hurt?"

A slow smile spread across the Joker's face. He didn't need to ask what she was talking about. He'd heard the question once or twice... but never by the same person. "Excrucia..ting," he offered. "You know what that means?"

"Really bad?"

"Exactly." Joker pulled his favorite knife from his pocket. It was an "out the front" style auto blade with cut-out, reliable and sturdy. "You wanna know how I got my scarrrs?" he giggled.

"Uh huh," she responded in a hushed whisper.

The Joker leaned in close, almost nose to nose. Emily's eyes grew round. "See my old man, well, the man I thought was my father, left when I was two. Mom.. she was weak. She'duh latch-on to any guy that would pay her any attention. Which was kinda ridiculous since my.. "sorta".. mom could have written her own ticket." He clicked his tongue, "She was a hot number, my mom. Anyway, when I was ten, she hooked up with this bastard that liked things rough.. if you know what I mean-uh."

Emily paused, "You mean he hurt her? Like Glen hurts me?"

Joker's eyes glittered, he continued as if he hadn't heard the question. "I was twelve when I'd finally had enough of his bullshit. He wasn't going to hurt my mom or me ever again. I decid..ed he had to go... one way or the other. Mom was working the late shift at some shit diner that night. I waited until good ol..duh "Uncle Bob" fell asleep then I went in the kitchen and got myself a knife."

Joker paused for dramatic effect. You had to work your audience. "I had it all planned out, you see. I had garbage bags, towels, and tape. Earlier, I even rolled the dumpster over in front of our alley window. I thought I could just cut him up and haul him off with the garbage." Joker sighed, "I was young and impetuous, I'm afrai..duh."

Emily's mouth hung slightly open, "What happened?"

"Chaos intro..duced himself."

"I don't think I understand. Who's Chaos?" she asked, confused.

Joker wagged his finger at the young girl. "You're lucky you're so young or at this juncture I'd have to teach you a new lesson. But first things, first." He tossed his switch-blade from hand to hand lightly. "How I got my scars..."

The boy inched his way towards the figure stretched out on the ratty orange sofa. His hand wrapped tight around a very sharp paring knife. He wasn't sure who he hated more, the abusive asshole that had ruined his life or his pathetic mother for allowing it to happen.

He stood over the snoring man, hate burning in his green eyes. He'd never killed anyone before but he wasn't afraid. This felt right. The rest of it was just logistics. He raised the knife high and brought it down as hard as he could...

Emily gasped, "Whoa. So you did it? You killed him? Just like that?"

The Joker's eyes narrowed, "It's not po..lite to interrupt when a grown-up is talking. I won't remind you again."

The little girl nodded, "You're right. I'm sorry. I just got excited."

Joker's hands clenched and unclenched a couple of times then he broke into a huge grin. "That's ok, it was exciting!" He slid off the bed and paced back and forth. "There was so much bloo..duh. I didn't know people had that much blood in them. As it turned out though, it's not so easy to cut people up. I was a smart kid, very smart I was told, but sometimes you just can't see the forest for the trees. I was about to get hit with a really big tree."

He walked over to the window and peeked out. The alley was clear in both directions. They were still out there searching, he knew it. He felt it. So predictable, no fun at all really. Now brother Bat, he was entertaining at least. The Joker returned his attention to his latest version of his favorite story.

"Sooo," he turned back to the child, "So there I am, covered from head to toe in blood, and sawing on the guy's arm with a big butcher's knife, when who comes home early.. but my mom. Talk about getting caught with your pants down," he chuckled ruefully, "So she just stands there with this look on her face." The Joker's voice drops low, "She doesn't scream, she doesn't run. She walks right up to me and picks up the paring knife I discarded and says, "You little bastard.. what have you done?"

"I thought it was obvious. So I told her... I'm saving you." He crossed his arms over his chest. "She didn't seem to see it that way."

"She backhanded me, knife in hand. See the left side here." The Joker knelt down on one knee and drew his finger along his skin, "See the scar here, how straight and slightly up, from the mouth along the cheek?"

Emily nodded.

"The blade caught me right along the left cheek and split it open. Talk about blood." Joker ran his hand through his greasy mop of green hair. "I didn't really mean to, but it all happened so fast. I was in pain and she was right there in front of me... so I stuck her in the chest with the butcher's knife." Joker sat down on the floor and crossed his legs. "Oddly enough, I didn't hate her anymore."

The child continued to watch him raptly soaking in every word and action.

"I don't know how long I sat there. Maybe, I was in shock. After awhile, I got up to use the bathroom... and got a look at my new face for the first time. I studie..duh myself in the mirror and knew there was something wrong. I wasn't... complete. So I took the paring knife and I drew the other side." Joker turned to the right, "Much more creative than what my mother did, I have to say."

"Wow." She studied his face, tracing every scar with her eyes.

"So the moral of the story, Little Emily, is that there is no moral. You're on your own kid, never forget that." He placed his gloved hand on her shoulder. "If you don't want Glen to put his greasy paws on you ever again, then you do what needs to be done."

"Will I get in trouble?" she questioned.

Joker grinned, "Little thing like you? Never. Slap on the wrist at most. You get what you want and Glen gets what he deserves. Everything works out just peachy."

The little girl seemed to ponder his response, "Peachy. Will you help me?"

"Seriously Kid, do I look like a helpful sorta guy?"

Emily shrugged, "Grown-ups only seem to help when they want something. I helped you be safe from the police. Can't you teach me to be safe from Glen?"

What an odd little toy this child was, there was no fear at all. Joker wasn't sure if he liked that or not. He was used to sycophants. There were plenty of people attracted to the power of chaos. But few that understood what immersing themselves in that power would mean. You had to die to live again as an agent of chaos. There were so many ways he could play this game.

In the end, it didn't matter. The results would be the same. He corrupted everything he touched. It was just a fact of chaos, you left devastation in your wake... rather you meant to or not. It wasn't a bad thing in his opinion. Unfortunately, not many thought the same way.

Joker shrugged, "Why not."

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

Batman turned around and headed south. He'd covered the area north and west from where the Joker had first been spotted but so far no luck at all. More than likely the clown had already slipped the noose. The police seemed to think so anyway and had halted the search. But he wasn't so sure. Gordon and his special ops unit had been close on the Joker's heels, closer than they had been in months. Then he just vanished. He was damn good at that, magic tricks, now you see him, now you don't. He was still in the area. He had to be. Which meant he had gone to ground somewhere and was waiting it out, problem with that, was that it was a residential neighborhood, families, kids, dogs, the works. If Joker was holed up then someone was in danger, serious danger. He needed to talk to Gordon again. He had a bad feeling, a very bad feeling.

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

The Joker was getting seriously restless. He didn't like to be confined. He'd been locked in a small apartment with a babbling child for hours and it was starting to grate on his nerves. Didn't she ever sleep? He didn't even get some small relief in his scar story which usually ended with blood and satisfaction.

The duo had migrated into the living room. Joker turned on the TV and was surfing channels. There were a couple of hilarious news reports on his recent escapade but other than that it was a hundred and fifty mind numbing channels of banality. He tapped his fingers against the arm of the worn down chair. "I don't suppose you get porn?"

"What's that?"

Joker eyed her. "Yeah, never mind. Even I'm not that twisted."

"So what did you do to make everybody so mad at you?"

Joker scowled, "Have I mentione..duh how much I don't like questions?" That look had made more than a few grown men piss their pants but didn't faze this kid in the least. It was annoying. He could always duct tape her, he considered. But then he'd be really bored. At least he had an appreciative audience. He tapped his fingers faster.

"So what do you want to do? I like to play games. Do you like to play games?"

Joker looked over at the child, amusement lit his eyes, "I love games. I play them all the time."

"I have a bunch. Which games do you like?"

"Hmm," the Joker cocked his head, "I have a bunch too, There's the one where I blow buildings into itty bitty pieces. Another where I take bunches of money and shoot lots of people but I think my favorite has to be what I play one on one with Batman."

Emily listened intently, her eyes widened, "Is he scary? He looks scary. What kind of games do you play with Batman?"

Joker started giggling. "All kinds."

"Do you win?"

Joker looked thoughtful, "Sometimes. Sometimes he thinks he wins. But it doesn't matter."

"I thought that you were supposed to win. Why play if you don't want to win?"

"Ever play chess, Emily?"

"Nu uh, that's too hard."

"Well, see, it's all about win..ning the war. You might have to lose some battles along the way but as long as those battles bring you closer to your goal... then it's ok to lose sometimes. In fact, sometimes it's better."

"Is that what happened to you tonight?"

Joker cocked his head, "I guess you could say it was something like that."

"I think I understand."

"Do you?" Joker asked curiously. He'd never spent much time with children that didn't involve a lot of crying and screaming, mostly by the brat's parents. This was new and not nearly as unpleasant as he thought it would be. Sure, she was annoying, but mostly it was the situation itself that was the problem. As long as the kid didn't cry, Joker thought she would probably make it out of this alive.

"Uh huh. If you want something bad enough you have to keep trying until you get it. That's the same isn't it?"

"You are wise beyond your years, Emily."

"My mom says I'm a pain in the ass. You want something else to eat? There's stuff for sandwiches in the kitchen."

Joker looked at his watch. It would be morning soon. There was no way he was getting out of this neighborhood during the day. He'd be spotted before he got ten feet. He brought his hand to his face. He could always clean up and get a change of clothes. The cops wouldn't be expecting that. He could probably stroll right by them and they wouldn't notice... except that he was hurt. If something did go wrong he would have little way to defend himself. Then again, the Bat didn't come out during the day and he was the only real threat. The Keystone Kops had never been able to catch and hold him, not unless it was what he wanted.

A whole day locked in this apartment with a rugrat, not ideal. He shrugged, there were always options. "Yeah, let's make some sandwiches, Kid."

Emily smiled at him.

"You got mustard?"

She nodded.

"We're gonna do just fine."

o-o-o-o-o-o-o

"So the last confirmed sighting was where exactly?"

Gordon pointed to the city map. "Grid Seven, here. We kept him on the move for almost an hour. There's no doubt he was injured. It was the only way we got that close in the first place. I tell you the guy is made of smoke. He's even made the FBI look like fools. They want his hide nailed to a wall about now."

Batman nodded, his brother had made a mistake. It didn't happen often but you couldn't control every variable. Problem was, luck always seemed to be on the Joker's side. "You've run the grids twice?

"I've run them three times as well as reinforcing the perimeters. We've started going door to door in the residential areas in case he holed up somewhere but this is Gotham, the amount of territory we need to cover... we don't have the man-power to be everywhere at once. Damn it!"

"We'll find him."

"Yeah? Three years, it's been three years! The couple of times we've been able to get our hands on him was either a set-up, by him, or he treated his confinement like a vacation." Gordon threw up his hands. "Then when he gets bored, he just escaped. I mean, what are we doing here? Is there a point?"

"You don't really mean that, Jim."

"Don't I? You know how many of my men are willing to just shoot him on sight now? These are good cops I'm talking about. I can't say I blame them. If I came face to face with him again...," he shook his head, "Why take the risk that he'll just escape and terrorize all over again? How many lives have been lost over these three years? For what! To play games with that freak of nature?"

"The Joker may be beyond redemption but there are many out there that aren't. How we choose to fight our battles may influence so much more than we realize. We have to keep the faith Jim, if not for our own sakes then for the others out there that can still be saved."

Gordon closed his eyes and when he opened them his expression was determined. "You're right. We'll beat the son of a bitch but on our terms.. not his. We'll show him that chaos does not rule."

Batman nodded. That was why he respected Jim Gordon so much. He was a good man, willing to put aside his personal feelings to do what was right. Men like him were few and far between. "Call it a hunch but I think the Joker is a lot closer than we realize."

"So you think he went to ground inside the perimeter?"

"I do."

"That's a heavily residential area. God help us."

"And anyone he's crossed paths with," Bruce added.

o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o

Joker stretched out on the sofa and yawned. It was five am and the kid had finally crapped out. For that, he was grateful, he didn't know how parents managed kids twenty four, seven without tying them down... or at least taping their mouths shut. He turned the TV to GCN News to see what Gordo and his kooky koppers were up to now. You couldn't trust the news but if you were clever and read between the lines it would point you in the right direction.

He pulled one of his Glocks from the holster and sat it on the arm rest. The kid's mother hadn't come home yet but sooner or later she would have to show. She might have a "guest" in tow. They would both have to be neutralized quickly before they could raise an alarm. Joker glanced over to the over-stuffed chair where the little girl was curled into a ball. What would her reaction be to his killing mommy slut and her boy-toy? Would she scream and cry like all the others? Or would she surprise him by accepting it? He considered for a moment before deciding that he wouldn't kill the kid unless she put up a fuss.

Joker looked at the old faded wallpaper. These old tenements had thin walls. Luckily for him, the residents of these kind of places usually knew to mind their own business. Still, there was a reward out for him now. Even with his reputation, there would always be one or two really stupid people that would try and collect on it by turning him in. It would be their last mistake. Still, he didn't need any added attention right now.

Setting a precedent had been one of the first things he'd done when he came to Gotham. First by getting in the mob's face and stealing their money, then when one of the mob bosses put out a contract on him, he went right to Bossman Gambol's home and slit his throat from ear to ear while his men watched. It was important to show them he wasn't afraid of them or of anything that they could do... because he could do it better. Unimaginative thugs that they were, they were hardly any challenge at all except by benefit of their sheer numbers.

Of course, he hadn't been afraid of anything in a long, long time. Fear was pointless, once you accepted that death was the end game no matter what you did, then what was there to be afraid of? It established his commitment up front. And even though in the end the Bat had cheated by taking the blame for what Harvey Dent had done, he had still made his point.

Problem was the general populace hadn't been made privy to the truth. If they had, the whole structure would have come crashing down at his feet. Joker frowned, his hand twitching around his gun. He'd played it fair and square but the Bat had cheated. If you couldn't trust an honest man to be honest.. well, that again just proved his point. Morality was a lie. The only thing you could really trust was the fact that people would always do what it was in their own best interest to do. All you needed to do was find the hook, they would do the rest for you. He was very good with hooks... and knives, and all manner of sharp objects.

The phone rang, interrupting the Joker's train of thought. He raised his hand pointing his gun at the offending device. The answering machine kicked on. "Hey Sweetie, it's Mommy. Listen baby, the shop called and asked me to work today and we really need the money. I stayed the night with a friend so I'm just going to go straight from here. I'll see you this afternoon, ok, baby. Love ya." There was a click and the machine turned off. Apparently, luck was on his side, though it might be more appropriate to say that mommy had luck on her side. Depending on how late the bitch was getting home he might not have to kill anyone. That was mildly disappointing, in his opinion.

Emily rolled over in her sleep and the little brown bunny she had been clutching fell to the floor in front of the chair. The Joker stood and walked over to where she lay in a ball. He leaned down and picked up the stuffed animal then made a face at it. Cocking his head, he studied her sleeping form. What was the point? He pressed the barrel of his Glock to the bunny and held the makeshift silencer in front of the child. This was compassion, wasn't it? He was saving her from a life of endless banality and cruelty. He lowered the weapon. Since when did he offer compassion to anyone? Since when did he care? He leaned over and placed the bunny in the child's arms. He was bored and he just didn't do bored very well. He would have to find something to amuse himself... soon.

The Joker sighed and walked around the small apartment digging through drawers. God, ordinary people were so... ordinary. There was nothing fun here. A few hidden bottles of the cheap stuff and a couple of sex toys, he shook his head. These people were pathetic. Now he was starting to get angry. He smiled. His anger was sharp and jagged like broken glass. It cut little furrows in his mind and he bled memories. Accusations."No good little runt. Get out of my sight." Lies."My sweet boy. Don't you worry now. Mommy loves you." Pity."What's wrong with that boy? He always looks so sad. Doesn't he ever smile?" Laughter."Aren't you glad you were spared such inauspicious beginnings? Family is a lie. You should be glad you're here... with me."

Images twisted in his skull and the Joker's green eyes glowed with menace. How fucking hard was it to get a clue? What would it take? Bruce didn't get it. It was ok that he and the Bat were connected. They were two of a kind, brothers in chaos. As far as he was concerned, they could drown the city in blood together or each other. Either way worked for him.

But Bruce Wayne, that was something else entirely. Bruce Wayne had nothing in common with him. He was merely a contrivance, a mask. There was no Bruce Wayne, not really. There was only the Bat. Just like there was only the Joker. His brother was always trying to reach out to someone that didn't exist... and they said that he was insane. Geez.

What would it take? Joker looked over at the little girl. He studied her, so many possibilities. Their minds were so malleable at that age. Had he ever been like that? He couldn't remember. He must have been a child at one time. Unless, of course, it was true that he had sprang full foamed from man's own depravity. He liked to tout that possibility. He rubbed his eyes lightly. He was really getting a headache. Someone would have to pay for that.

His keen snake mind slithered through all the ways he could reveal his displeasure to Brucey-boy. He'd been such a disappointment lately. Hardly any fun and games at all, then there were all the costumed crazies taking away his one on one time with the Bat. Maybe he needed to do a little house cleaning. Who did they think they were? Gotham was his town. If you wanted to play here you needed permission first from Gotham's "Clown Prince of Crime". What kind of idiots came up with these monikers? Joker made a mental note to find out so he could gut them properly.

Joker sat back down and leaned back in the chair. There was a water stain on the ceiling above his head. It looked a little like goat... then a flayed man, then one of those Mandelbrots, skewing eternally inward. Soon his racing thoughts slowed as he traced the moldy image around and around. The Joker shut his eyes and slept.

o-o-o-o-o-o-o

The aroma of something that smelled suspiciously like cinnamon toast woke the Joker. His stomach growled. "Yeah, right back at ya," he mumbled in response.

Looking over at the other chair, he noted that his little minion was gone. He stretched out like a jungle cat and tucked the Glock back in its holster. He wasn't sure why he wasn't concerned about letting the little girl have the run of the house but he wasn't. Somehow he just knew that she wouldn't do anything stupid like call the police or run away. It was all there in her eyes.

He prided himself on his ability to understand human nature despite being devoid of it himself. That uncanny ability to know what others would do before they themselves did, had made him quite the success in his chosen profession. His current situation was no different. This kid had glimpsed the true nature of the world and was forever changed by it. He didn't have anything to worry about.

"Toast the only thing you got to eat in there?" he called out over his shoulder.

The little girl appeared in the doorway to the kitchen a second later. "We have cereal too."

Joker pondered, "What kind? It's not that cardboard fiber shit is it?"

Emily shook her head, "Fruit Loops."

The Joker smiled, "I'll take a bowl of Fruit Loops and two pieces of buttered toast. And don't burn the toast."

"We have apple juice too," the girl offered.

Joker's eyes roved over to the nearby side table and came to rest on a bottle of vodka. He shrugged, "That'll do I guess." He leaned over and grabbed the bottle.

The girl had paused in the doorway watching him intently.

"What?"

She looked at the bottle in his hand. "When my mom drinks she gets mean and hits me."

"Yeah?" Joker cocked his head, "I'm already mean so you don't have to worry about it."

Emily giggled and ran back into the kitchen.

The Joker shook his head. "Kids. Can't live with them, can't bury them in the backyard."

o-o-o-o-o-o-o

Breakfast was pleasant enough and after a couple of shots of vodka the irritation and anxiety that was threatening to erupt into violent action had settled to a dull throb. Joker figured this was probably the most time he had spent in a home environment in ten years. Now he remembered why he hated it so much. It was all just a reminder of the pointlessness of human existence. From the cheap ceramic figurines to the little girl playing at his feet they were nothing more than distractions from the reality of the situation. How could anyone stand it he wondered?

The Joker sat back in "his" chair and leaned his head back. The headache from earlier had returned along with a pressure behind his eyes. Great, just great. Now he was starting to feel like he wanted to climb out of his skin. He figured someone would have to die soon just to take the edge off. A light tinkling sound from the hall brought the Joker instantly alert. He shot up from the chair, weapon in hand. Talk about a fortuitous coincidence he mused.

Keys.

"Emily, sweetums' I want you to listen very carefully," Joker whispered. "I'm going to hide in your mommy's bedroom for just a minute then I'm going to jump out like a Jack in the Box. It's going to be a biggg surprise..." he fixed her with a deadly stare, "Don't fuck up my surprise."

"I won't," she agreed.

The Joker made a split second decision about the scene that was about to play out. He wanted to know if he was right about the little girl. This would either be an amusing game or a bloodbath. Either way it would be fun. "I want you to pretend like I'm not here. You understand?"

Emily looked up at him with those blue doll eyes and he gritted his teeth. "Uh huh, I know just what to do," she pledged solemnly.

"That's a good girl." He heard the key slip into the lock. As the Joker stepped into the bedroom doorway he paused and put his finger over lips. Emily smiled. He melted into the shadows as the door swung open.

Glen staggered into the room reeking of cheap whiskey. He let out a raucous belch and laughed. Slamming the door, he turned to find Emily standing calmly in the middle of the living room. "Hey Kid, where's your mom?"

Emily shrugged, "She's at work."

"Figures," he snorted and wobbled toward the nearest chair. On the way he noticed the half full bottle of vodka and grabbed it. "Go get me a glass with some soda in it."

"We don't have any soda," Emily stated flatly.

"Well, get me some juice or something," when the little girl didn't move, he bellowed, "Now!"

Emily shuffled off to the kitchen while a still shadow watched from the dark bedroom. Glen watched the child move off. "Disrespectful little brat," he grumbled. "Hurry up!"

There was the sound of a cabinet door opening and closing, followed by the fridge door. "What the hell is taking you so long? Get your ass back in here right now!"

Emily came running back into the living room. Her eyes riveted to the glass she held, watching closely to make sure none of the liquid spilled as she moved. Just as she got to the chair, her foot hooked on a throw rug and she stumbled forward, the juice arching out and landing in Glen's lap. Glen wobbled to his feet, "Of all the stupid ass moves!"

He backhanded the girl. She fell to the floor in a heap, her mouth bloody. He grabbed at his pants leg. A dark stain was spreading outward. "Clumsy little bitch," he growled. "Look what you did!"

But instead of fear the child looked at him with a bloody smile, her laughter like the tinkling of bells.

"What the hell are you laughing at?" Glen roared. It was then that he noticed she seemed to be looking at something over his left shoulder. Confused, he turned.

The Joker stood behind him grinning. The clown faced man brought his hand up and waved with his fingers. The wounded man was too stunned to do anything but gawk.

"Hello Glen," the Joker announced pleasantly, then slammed the man in the face with his fist. His head snapped back and the Joker hit him again. Following in close, he used his elbow to ram into the side of the Glen's head. He went down hard and didn't move.

Joker stepped over the man's prone form to where the child sat on the floor. "Do you have duct tape?" he inquired.

She wiped the blood from her mouth with the back of her hand and nodded.

"Go and get it for your Uncle Joker."

"Ok," she agreed amiably.

He sighed and looked at his watch. He still had about three hours before it would be dark enough to leave. He looked down at the unconscious man. There had to be something he could do to kill time, or kill.. something. A slow, lazy, smile played across his face. He brought his foot back and kicked the man in the side. He didn't get a response so he kicked him again harder.

"I found it," announced the little girl from the doorway.

"Good girl," the Joker held out his hand. "Wanna have some fun?"

o=o=o=o=o=o=o=

"There's a couple of ways you can go," he told the little girl. "If you want him to die slow.. to sufferrr.." he drawled, "Then strike here." He indicated the man's abdomen. "Stick the knife in as hard as you can and twist back and forth a few times." He mimicked the motion. The man's eyes grew wide and he blubbered beneath the duct tape gag.

"Now, if you just want to get the job done.. you can slit his throat. A clean stroke across the neck like this," he instructed. "Up to you. Just depends on your mood."

The little girl nodded intently.

The Joker leaned back and waited. This father stuff wasn't as hard as he thought. It was actually kind of fun. But he knew his limitations. He'd come close to killing Harley more times than he could remember and she wasn't nearly as annoying as a kid could be. He had to face it, he just didn't play well with others. Best that he stick with the plan.

The child looked at the bound man with pure unadulterated hatred in her eyes. The Joker thought it was wonderful. No hypocrisy there. Emily raised the blade in her small hand. The clown-faced man felt a moment of pride at the child's determination.

"I hate you so much," she explained and drove the blade down over and over. The man started screaming beneath his gag.

The Joker smiled.

The child eventually stopped, her little arm tired.

"That was very good, Emily". He looked at the man's leg. At the very least, he'd walk with a limp the rest of his days. If he didn't bleed to death, of course.

She smiled back at him.

The man continued to scream and cry. The Joker reached over and slapped him hard across the face. "Shut the hell up, you're starting to annoy me.. and you really don't want to do that."

"Re..mem..ber what I said though, Emily. You have to choose the right spot to accomplish your goals. Now the leg is a good start. It's painful and potentially crippling. But if you want him dead you'll have to go for a vital area."

The child stared at him in rapt attention. "The throat to make it quick or the guts to really hurt."

"That's right, sweetheart."

"Ok," she looked over to the man on the floor.

Glen shook his head and started crying. His pleas muffled.

The Joker rolled his eyes. "For Christ's sake, be a mann..uh. What kind of role model are you?" he admonished.

The little girl leaned over and held the knife up to Glen's throat. Her face was a study of concentration.

"MMuh..eez..ezz. Em.. eee Mu…eeezz," the bound man blubbered.

The Joker watched quietly. This should be a defining moment in a child's life. He wanted her to savor it.

She touched the blade to Glen's throat, pressing until a little bead of blood pooled. She looked at the miserable sod and then looked to the Joker. Tears were rolling down the man's face..

"Joker?"

"Yes, dear."

"I don't think I'm ready to do this yet."

"No?"

She shook her head. "Is that ok? You won't be disappointed will you?"

The Joker thought about it a moment. Maybe he was just the tiniest bit disappointed. She had seemed so perfect. That's what happened when you had expectations about people, he reminded himself. You were inevitably disappointed.

Emily held the blade out to him. "Could you do it for me? I'll watch, maybe I'll be ready when my mom comes home."

The Joker threw back his head and laughed.