Chapter 1: Without You
Arkham Asylum sat atop its cragged peaks, a bastion of villainy and museum of madness. Devoid of hope for its inhabitants; it remained stoic in the face of all the treachery dwelling within its walls. Bestowing upon its residents the same apathetic disposition, save one: former Doctor Harleen Quinzel. The same could not be said of her cellmate, for the time, at least.
“Hey, Pammy, d’ya think they’ll let us do Halloween this year?” There were but two in all of Gotham who still referred to Dr. Pamela Isley by her given name and not her adopted one: the Dark Knight himself, and Harley Quinn.
“Harl, it’s June. Why are you worrying about Halloween?”
Harley lay on her stomach on her bunk, feet swinging idly in the air as she watched Pamela tend her plants. “Cuz it’s my favorite and I wanna have a real good plan if they let us.”
Poison Ivy paused a moment while pruning her roses and glanced over her at Harley. She lowered a hand over an empty patch of dirt. A small leaf pushed through the soil. Reaching up, it became a vine and coiled around her finger. It grew before her eyes, thickening and turning a richer green. A small flower popped open, its bulbous stem enlarged as the flower withered. It flourished and darkened in color. When it was about softball size, Pamela plucked it free. Holding it in her hand, she smiled softly to herself. Turning, she held out the small pumpkin.
Harley squealed with joy and jumped from her bunk. Pulling Ivy close, she hugged her tight. “Oh, Pammy, you know just how ta make a girl feel bettah.”
Ivy smiled. “Even if they don’t let us have a big celebration, we can make our own here.”
The two women fared better than most inmates at Arkham. Managing to not only maintain excellent behavior during their time, and receiving shortened sentences for it, but also securing a solid companionship founded on more than just crime sprees. As it was, they indulged in one another’s company outside Arkham’s austere gates. Ivy lounged on the bus stop bench, draping one arm over the back. Harley sat next to her, elbows on her knees and chin in her hands. “Where ya headin’, Pammy?”
Ivy half-heartedly shrugged. “Back to my home outside the city.” She traced a finger along the ironwork leaves in the backboard of the bench. “There’s plenty of room there, Harley. You could join me; we can hit the town together. We’re a pretty good pair.”
Harley smiled, she did have fun with Pam, but she had other intentions. “Nah, I miss my Puddin’.”
Ivy balked. “Harley, he’s no good for you.”
“He’s my Puddin’, he’s the best.” She smiled, staring out into space, eyes dreamy with thoughts of her Joker.
“How many times do I have to tell you before you’ll listen?” Pamela scolded her; Harley only shrugged in response. “Harl, the only thing Joker loves is himself. And Batman.”
Harley spun round on her. “Hey, you take that back. My Puddin’ loves me. And I love him. He’s gonna have a big party ta welcome me home, just wait. It’s gonna be great. There’s gonna be streamers and a big banner.” She stretched out her hands and with wide eyes proclaimed, “WELCOME HOME Harley! You’ll see, Red.”
Ivy sighed. Harley’s never-failing optimism was both her greatest asset and her greatest flaw. “You know where to find me, if you ever need anything, Harley. We girls have to stick together.”
A Gotham City bus puttered up the road. Stopping in front of them, its brakes screeched horribly. Black smoke spewed from the exhaust in the rear. Harley jumped up and arched her back in a deep stretch. “You coming, Pammy?”
Ivy curled her lip in disgust. “I will not be party to that foul, toxic beast.”
“Alright.” Harley kissed Ivy on the cheek. “Take care of yourself for me. You’re the only friend I got.” Ivy smiled, but there was a sadness she hid. How well, she wasn’t sure; Harley was a psychiatrist after all, and she could read people well. But she hoped Harley didn’t see it.
The driver pulled the bus around the cul-de-sac of Arkham’s grand entrance and headed to Gotham city. Harley grinned broad from her window seat, waving at Ivy as she passed. Pamela began the long walk into the city where she could hopefully find something less odious to make her way home.
Poison Ivy had become accustomed to a solitary lifestyle. A general disdain for almost all people and preference for the companionship of the viridiplantae variety, combined with her affinity for most toxins, she had come by an isolated way of life naturally. And then there was Harley. They had been occasional partners and occasional enemies, though Ivy’s grudges were almost entirely with Harley’s paramour rather than with her. Sharing a cellblock, staring out from those glass walls into each other’s private landscapes, with no one else to talk to, Harley had practically forced herself into Pamela’s life. Begrudgingly at first, but Ivy slowly warmed to the woman. It was so hard to resist that childlike enthusiasm and innocent smile. For the first time in about as long as she could remember, Pamela Isley found herself saddened by the idea of being alone.
Harley wandered the streets of Gotham as she meandered her way through the city toward Joker’s hideout. She felt alone. Leaving Arkham was a process of going through the motions now. Walk five block to the next bus stop to take the uptown transfer and ride it until the end of the line, catch a cab—if you could get one—that would take you as far as the driver was willing, and then walk the last fifteen to twenty blocks to the abandoned amusement park that was their home. She stood at the entrance to the park. Her body hummed all over, equal parts excitement and anxiety. Why was she so nervous? She’d just strut back in and her Clown Prince would welcome her with a laugh and a joke and whisk her off to bed to make up for all the time they’d missed.
Then why didn’t she just rush in?
She walked up the main thoroughfare of the park, fun house looming in the distance. “It’s fine, Harley. Nothin’ ta worry about.” The front door was cracked and the sound of voices filtered out. Harley’s spirits climbed. Running up the steps, she burst through the door. “Hello boys! Mama’s home!”
The room was empty. A TV in the corner played unattended. “Where’d everybody go?” She walked over to the TV and turned it off. “Puddin’?” Harley frowned. “Hey Puddin’!” There was no answer. “Mistah J?” Silence. Her shoulders slumped. Downtrodden, she reached over to a nearby table and popped a noisemaker; its fanfare sprayed confetti into the air. “Welcome home, Harley.” She plodded sullenly along the hall and collapsed onto her bed. She found herself wondering what Pam was doing.
Pamela crested a hill and Paradise Meadows came into view. Without her careful hand, the vegetation had grown wild. Gnarled vines and thick weeds choked the landscape. There were large patches of half-dead yellowed leaves and wilting flowers. Most of the exotic species were close to lifeless. “My babies.” Ivy shook her head in dissatisfaction. “I’ll bring you back, my lovelies. You just need a little nurturing.” She caressed a leaf as she walked past; it brightened and lifted in response. Pamela made her way through the abandoned subdivision, tracing fingers along vines and whispering sweetly to drooping flowers. Her wake was a path of bright colors and fresh growth.
Ivy came to the house she had chosen as her domicile. Kikyo morning glory vines covered the door. “My little snowflakes, guarding my home for me.” She cupped a flower and leaned in to smell it. “Mama’s here now, you can go.” Slowly, the vines pulled back, releasing their holdfasts and branching out along the walls and up over the roof. Poison Ivy smiled as the vines netted together to create an archway, blossoming with blue and white starbursts, like fireworks in a sky of green. Her babies had missed her.
Pamela took in the state of the house: there was a thin layer of dust over everything and the table was covered in scattered papers. Clucking her teeth, she shook her head. “So much work. She stalked over to the fridge, a memory board of news clippings and photos of her misadventures with Harley. Ivy sighed deeply. “Will that poor girl ever leave that egomaniacal bastard?” Her eye fell across a set of pictures from a photo booth. Chuckling softly, she remembered when they were taken.
The summer sun shone brightly in the cloud-spotted sky. Salty air swept over the boardwalk with the soft ocean breeze. The two women walked through the midway. Harley toted a large stuffed dragon in one arm. She’d won it at the ladder climb, which almost felt like cheating. Almost. It was hardly Pamela’s idea of a “girls’ day,” but it had been Harley’s pick and she was enjoying herself, so Ivy would soldier on.
Suddenly, Harley grabbed Ivy’s arm with a gasp. “Pammy, look!” She pointed to a booth along the beach railing. Ivy barely had enough time to recognize it was a photo booth before Harley was tugging her along. “We HAVE ta go!” Ivy followed begrudgingly. “Come on, Red, do it with me.”
Pamela sighed. “Harley, I really don’t see the point in that.”
Harley looked at her with those big, innocent blue eyes. “It’s so you can have somethin’ ta remembah the day and all the fun we had. Don’tcha wanna remembah today, Pammy?”
Ivy looked at Harley: those bright eyes full of childlike excitement, that big, sweet grin, her body humming with enthusiasm as she bounced in place. Poison Ivy caved. “Alright, Harley.”
Harley squealed with pleasure as she yanked Pamela into the booth. “It’ll be fun, I swear.”
Ivy sat on the bench; Harley threw herself around Pam’s shoulders with a doofy grin. Ivy remained stone-faced. The camera flashed. “Come on, Red, smile.”
“I don’t want to smile.”
Harley leaned down so she could look up at Pamela with puppy dog eyes, hands together under her chin, eyelashes fluttering as she pleaded. “Please, Pammy?” The flash went off.
Harley shot back up. “How ‘bout a joke? What’s the difference between Batman and a burglar?” Ivy stared blankly at her. “Batman can go into a store without Robin.” Harley burst into laughter, but Ivy remained unmoved. Another picture was taken.
One photo left, one more chance to get her to smile. Harley narrowed her eyes at Ivy. She had one last trick in her bag, the one thing that always seemed to perk up Pammy’s mood. Harley planted a big, fat kiss on Ivy’s cheek. Pamela smiled. It was small, but it was there. Harley jumped back, howling in victory. “I GOTCHA!” The camera flashed one last time.
Pamela stroked the photo strip; she’d always had a soft spot for Harley, buckled so easily to her. It was just so hard to resist her enduring, endearing spirit. It took until that last photo to get her to smile, but Harley had managed it. That girl had so much fight in her, if she’d just one day get away from the bastard who kept beating her down. Ivy frowned, pensive. “Stay safe, Harl.”
Joker’s place was decidedly lacking a woman’s touch, so Harley cleaned up in the hours before he returned. His laughter foretold his arrival. She waited for him on the bed, in her underwear. Joker trotted up the stairs and in the front door. He tossed his jacket in the corner, expecting the coat rack to catch it. The rack was gone and his jacket fell to the floor. “Huh?” He turned hard to chastise his henchman and ran smack into the coat rack. “Who the devil moved my coat rack?! Vinnie!”
Vinnie held up his hands in innocence. “It wasn’t me, boss.”
Joker growled, muttering under his breath. “Can’t find good help these days…” The silence dawned on him. “Why’s it so quiet in here?”
“The TV’s off.” Another of his hired hands, Marco, explained.
“It’s too quiet, I can’t even think.” Joker stalked over to the TV and flipped it on. A game show was running. “That’s better.” He stepped back to flop down into his armchair and smacked down hard against the floor.
Marco and Vinnie laughed. Joker glared at them and they cut themselves short, swallowing snickers. “The joke’s not funny when it’s on me! Now somebody better tell me right now, WHO THE HELL IS MOVING MY STUFF?!”
Harley heard him scream from the bedroom. She frowned and tossed on one of Joker’s Hawaiian shirts; it was too large for her and reached to the middle of her thighs. Coming around the corner, she stood in the doorway. “I did, Puddin’.”
“What the…” Joker turned. “Harley. When did you get here?”
She smiled softly. “When you were out.”
“’Bout time you came back, what took you so long?”
Harley furrowed her brow, wounded. “I was in Arkham, Puddin’, remembah? With Poison Ivy.”
Joker squinted, trying to recall. “Oh, yeah…”
“I missed ya, Puddin’. So I figured I’d clean up the place and make it all nice and pretty for when ya got back.” She crossed the room to kiss him on the cheek. “I’m sorry ya got hurt, I just thought it would be a nice surprise.”
“HA. Harley thinking. Now there’s a good joke.” Joker laughed.
Harley pouted. “I just wanted to surprise you.”
“Next time don’t think so much, you’ll strain yourself.” He looked down at his watch. “You like surprises so much, surprise me with some dinner, darling.”
Chapter 2: Magic Man
Ivy wound her way through the labyrinthine streets of Gotham City. The sun might have made her feel more alive, but the city at night was always…unadulterated. So few people rushing about, and so many secrets. The moon-loving flowers blossoming to worship their silver goddess. The scents carried on the breeze; jessamine, waterlily, and her beloved angel’s trumpet. Some so subtle, only she could smell them. A nocturnal symphony of sweet humming as buds awoke and petals unfurled after a day’s slumber. And there was so little noise to drown them out.
However, Poison Ivy was not alone on her walk this evening. A black figure stalked her from the rooftops, silent as the breeze and swift as a river. Ivy felt her spectator, but ignored the eyes as she reacquainted herself with her cherished flora. The skulking figure lingered in the shadows, cloaking itself in darkness.
Ivy turned down a dark alleyway. The wall on her right was covered by a creeping vine that stretched its fingers across the bricks. A brief flash of motion and the barest hint of a metallic clack came from the fire escape to her left. Her body tightened, fist clenched, ready to react. Tendrils curled up from the wall, fighting against the long-held grip on the stone. “Now Ivy, is that any kind of way to greet a friend?” Pamela relaxed as Catwoman dropped from the metal grate of the fire escape, falling in a smooth waterfall of black silk, landing silently against the concrete. She rose slowly, smiling at Ivy.
“Why were you following me?”
Selina shrugged. “I heard you got out recently, wanted to catch up. As for the following…” She flashed a Cheshire grin. “It’s just fun.”
“It’s a good way to get yourself in trouble.” Ivy relaxed.
Selina smirked, cocking one hip up. “Oh, I can take care of myself.”
“Mm hmm.” Pamela abstained from further comment.
“I really did just want to talk, find out what’s going on with you and Harley.” Catwoman leaned back against the wall.
“Harley’s not with me.”
“I know. But you two got caught together, served your time together, and got released together. I figured you’d at least know how she’s doing.”
Ivy shifted her balance to one side, suddenly defensive. “You could ask her yourself, you know where she is.”
Catwoman made a disapproving face. “I can’t stand dealing with that insane boyfriend of hers. All cruel pranks and Bat-obsessed escapades. No thank you.”
Selina scoffed. “Me? Jealous? Please. Batman’s heart is just for me. Even if he can’t be man enough to admit it.” She sighed, waving the topic off. “Whatever. What are you doing?”
Pamela shrugged. “Nothing.”
“Nothing, Ivy? Really?” Catwoman was almost offended by the prospect.
“I’ve been busy taking care of my plants, they needed so much work when I got back. I was taking a walk about the city, enjoying the quiet and bonding with my nocturnal companions. I do prefer the city at night.”
Selina pointed across the river to a familiar shape grappling between rooftops. “You’re not the only one.” She was quiet a moment, watching as Batman’s distant figure glided behind a skyscraper. “I’ll walk with you. We have so much to chat about.”
Golden morning light filtered through the grimy glass of the fun house windows. Harley rolled over, expecting Joker to be sleeping next to her. “Morning, Puddin’.” He was gone and the bed was cold. “Guess he wanted to get a jump start on the day. I better get movin’ too, then.” Hopping out of bed, she twisted and torqued her body, warming up her muscles and getting the blood flowing. Catching sight of the calendar, she smiled. It was March 30; in two days it would be the anniversary of when she first met her precious Mistah J.
Dr. Quinzel explored the halls of Arkham Asylum. Her heels clacking against the cold tile drowned out the quiet whispers and inane babbling of patients with every step. The corridor was dark, lit only by the light from the cells. Patients eyed her strangely from behind their glass walls, some performing lewd gestures, some muttering to themselves. One woman tended potted roses and all but ignored her. Harleen wondered why they allowed her shears, but trusted that the doctors knew what was safe. Ahead, she saw the silhouette of Dr. Joan Leland, the woman who was to be her attending psychologist until such a time as it was deemed acceptable to allow her free access to the hospital and its residents.
“Good morning, Dr. Quinzel.”
“Good morning, Dr. Leland.” They shook hands and proceeded down the hall. Dr. Leland explained about the patients and what freedoms Dr. Quinzel would have, how she would fit into the staff of the asylum. A whistling tune danced down the hallway. Harleen followed it to a cell belonging to the villain known as the Joker. He smiled wickedly at her. “Hiya toots.”
“So you’re the new doc around here, eh? I like what I see.”
Dr. Quinzel smiled at the man. He was handsome, in his own right. There was something about his smile, it was like looking at the face of a lion, just before it ate you. His eyes were an abyss of madness, a Carroll-esque rabbit hole promising adventure and folly. Harley was more than willing to plumb their depths.
“I need to get my Puddin’ a present. Ooh, it’s gonna have to be a good one. I hate shopping alone, and the last time I took the hyenas with me, it didn’t go so well.” She thought on a solution. “OH. I wonder if Pammy would wanna go with me.” Harley scampered off to call Ivy.
“Hey, Red, you wanna go shopping with me today?” Harley twirled the tip of a ponytail around her finger.
“I don’t know, Harley, I’ve got a lot of work to do around here.” It was true, there was much tending that needed to be done with the plants around the neighborhood still. But she also had plans to work on a few new things.
“Please, Pammy. I don’t wanna have ta go by myself. We can go to the nursery too, get you something real fancy.”
A newspaper headline caught Pamela’s eye; the botanical garden had completed its seed vault of rare and exotic species and would soon be locking the doors. Ivy smiled to herself. “Alright, Harl, I’ll go out with you.” The idea of running a heist with Harley excited her, a return to the good days of just the two of them running the city. “We’ll just have to make a stop tonight. So, what are you shopping for?”
Harley yelped with excitement. “An anniversary present for Mistah J.”
Ivy’s heart sank. Harley would spend the whole day fixated on him. “Well, do you have something in mind?”
Harley leaned against the wall, her fingers finding their way to the end of her ponytail again. “No, but if we just look, I’m sure we’ll find the perfect gift.”
The two women had been to several stores so far, but had failed to find anything that Harley deemed good enough. Ivy suggested they stop for an afternoon coffee. The weather had turned out to be beautiful, so they took a table outside. Harley tasted her drink, watching Pamela as she sat. The sun caught her hair and it shone like spun copper, her green eyes sparkling like pale emeralds. Ivy smiled up at the sun, reveling in its warmth and all Harley could think was, ‘Damn, she’s gorgeous.’
“Huh?” Harley wrinkled her brow, confused.
“I asked you about Joker.”
“Oh.” Had she drifted off in thought? “What’dya wanna know?”
Ivy sighed, having to voice the question again. “How could you have ever fallen for him?”
Harley lit up. “He was charming and funny and a sweet little teddy bear.”
Dr. Quinzel sat across the desk from the Joker. She had finally talked her way into being allowed a session with the man. But what did she have to say?
“You know,” Joker leaned in, examining her closer. “I do believe that yours are the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen. That smile, simply ravishing. And brains too! Baby, you’re the whole package.” He purred.
Harleen blushed. “Well, thank you. But we’re not here to talk about me. This session is about you, Joker. So why don’t we begin with what first made you become captivated by clowns?”
Joker’s face went blank for a moment as he stared into the distance, pulling up some memory buried long ago deep in the recesses of his mind. A sad look came into his eyes as he turned a small, melancholic smile. “It all started with a trip to the circus…”
“And he needed my help. He was all alone in the world, with no one to watch out for him or care for him. Mean ol’ Bats nearly killed him. I was the only one who cared for him. I was the only one who wanted to help him. Nobody ever needed me like that before.”
Harley stood at Joker’s bedside. He was bandaged nearly from head to toe. Batman had beaten him good before sending him back to his cell in Arkham. “That’s the last time he lays a finger on you, Joker. Batman’s gonna pay for what he’s done. I’ll take care of you, and then we’ll take care of him together.” She bolted out of the room and down the hall. There was only one way to fix this mess, only one way for her to protect her sweet, wounded Puddin’.
“After we first met, he managed to get a rose and a note left on my desk. He was just…magic.” Harley’s face was shining, her smile broad, with bright, wistful eyes.
‘Was that all it took? A rose? I’ve given the girl more than that and she hasn’t lost her socks for me,’ Ivy grumbled to herself. “I’m sure he was, Harl.” Ivy sipped her coffee. “Catwoman came to see me the other night.”
“What’d she want?”
“Just to get in touch. She heard we’d been released and wanted to see what we’d been up to, how we were doing.”
“She asked you about me?” Ivy nodded in response. “Why didn’t she come talk to me herself? She knows where I live.”
Ivy’s face soured. “She didn’t want to have to deal with Joker.”
“Oh.” The dreamy look was gone from Harley’s face and her voice small. “Nobody cares for my Puddin’.”
“Well, Harl, that ought to tell you something.”
“You just don’t know him like I do. If you saw the side of him that I see, then you’d get it. He’s such a softy when he wants to be. He just doesn’t like other people seein’ that side of him, makes him feel vulnerable, ya know?”
“Ah, yes. The world held at bay for a man’s ego.”
“Oh, Pammy…” Harley sighed.
The night air was crisp and the moon hadn’t yet risen above the trees, allowing ample darkness for the women to hide in. Ivy walked amongst the trees and plants of the botanical gardens with a strange air about her: like a queen around her adoring subjects. Harley saw it frequently with Ivy, but it was always fascinating to watch. It made perfect sense to her though, who wouldn’t be enraptured by the air of such casual sophistication? Pamela was old school sexy, and there was no competition for her.
Harley fell into stride with Ivy. “Hey Red, you gonna tell me what we’re here for?”
Ivy smiled over her shoulder at Harley. “They have a seed vault here. They’ve recently completed their collection of rare and exotic species and are about to lock them away until some damnable apocalyptic event or some such humanistic rot. They think they can stop nature, they think they can control the weather with their foul smoke or their chemicals.” Ivy sneered, her voice growing louder. “They may wound the Earth with their burns and their machines, but they have no control over her. I hear her voice, they have no idea the strength she has. Humanity is nothing but a speck of dust, a fly in the ear of this great living spirit of nature. I will make them pay for their hubris before the earth reclaims what is hers.”
Harley tapped her softly on the shoulder. “Pammy.”
Ivy’s attention refocused, she realized she’d lost herself in passion. She ran a hand through her hair to settle herself. “Those seeds do not belong in a vault, locked away like prisoners, held hostage until humanity decides they’ve killed enough of their kin and need to replenish their abattoirs. They belong in the earth, growing strong, healing the scars of this planet. They were meant to bloom, to feel the warmth of the sun, to dream beneath the silver light of the moon. They were meant to grow, Harley.” Harley nodded at her with assurance. “They need to be saved.”
Harley pursed her lips in resolution. “Okay. So we gotta get ‘em out. How are we gonna get in? You got a plan?”
“That’s why we’re here. I want to find out exactly where this vault is located and figure out the best way to get in and out.”
Harley nodded. “Whatcha need me to do?”
Ivy smiled softly. No hesitation, Harley was completely on board. “I need you to keep an eye out for me. Help me find any new additions from the past year or so, anything that looks like it might lead down to a basement or cavern.”
“Gotcha. You wanna split up or you wanna search together?”
Ivy thought. “I think we should split up, but stay close to one another, in case we come across anyone or anything that might be trouble.”
“’Kay, you wanna start at that big building over there first?” Harley pointed to the main building on the grounds. It consisted mostly of tourism offices and a small exhibit on botany and ecology.
“No. We should start there.” Ivy indicated a smaller building off to the side. “The science building. If the seed vault is anywhere logical, it will be beneath that building.”
“There’s gonna be guards in the labs.”
Ivy nodded. “Most likely, yes. And outside the building. There are a lot of dangerous chemicals and experiments in those labs, so they’ll keep the exterior guarded as well. We’ll have to come around the wide way, up through the row of greenhouses for cover. The guards won’t go inside them, it’s too stifling. We might have to deal with one or two of them walking outside the greenhouses, but if we go slow and stay quiet, we should be able to get past them without incident.”
“And once we get inside the lab building?” Harley asked.
“I remember the layout well. They might have moved a lab here or there, or changed a patrol route, but I should be able to maneuver around them fairly easily. We’ll have to be extra careful deeper inside though, I don’t know what kind of security they’ll have around the vault.”
“Slip in, recon security and layout, slip out?” Ivy nodded in confirmation. “Should be easy.”
“That’s what I’m hoping.” Ivy waved Harley to follow as she set out toward the greenhouses.
The lock was easy to pick, but Ivy still didn’t feel comfortable with being exposed for so long. Once inside, they could discern the interior. Two rows of planter boxes that ran the length of the building, each box about ten feet long with a central aisle roughly eight feet wide. Harley went up one side of the middle while Ivy took the lead across from her. Harley watched Pamela with a gymnast’s eye as she moved, she was surprisingly agile for having had no athletic background. Her lithe body moving fluidly with each step and stretch as she crouched and slunk forward with long, low strides. Ivy held up a hand to hold still.
Harley looked around, but could see no sign of a guard, nor hear anything other than the slight wind. They held still for a long moment, Ivy listening and staring out the glass walls. Harley, convinced that there was nothing to watch for, quickly bored and began looking around at the various plants. In front of her were some pretty yellow flowers, and some spiky mottled green grassy plants across the center row. A suspended tray spilling over with vines hung above the aisle. A plant a couple boxes ahead caught her eye. She ran up quietly to get a better look. Ivy glanced over her shoulder and frowned, but Harley didn’t notice. Her attention was focused on the flowers. The petals were blood red in the dim light, with black centers. They were perfect. Harley felt around for the nameplate. Sparaxis tricolor var. ‘Red Reflex’ Harlequin Flower. Harley squealed. “Pammy.” Ivy waved her hand without turning around. “Pammy, Pammy. These are perfect.” Ivy huddled down, pressing closer to the planter box. She glared at Harley, trying to shush her. “Red, come see these. It’s a harlequin flower. It’s perfect for Mistah J.”
“Harley.” Ivy called in a strained whisper. “Harley, quiet.”
A flashlight beam shot across the greenhouse side, settling in roughly Harley’s position. “Who’s there?”
“Crap.” Harley shot to the ground. Pamela growled to herself before rushing to Harley’s side. “I’m sorry, Pammy.”
Ivy shook her head. “Just go.” She watched the flashlight beam brighten as the guard came up to the side of the building. The fog on the windows was too heavy for him to see through. They could see the beam dance as he went along the side and down to the end, where the door was. A pressure shift whipped through on a cold gust as the guard opened the door. He swore under his breath at the heavy air and thick heat. Ivy grabbed Harley’s shoulder and pulled her down to hide between the narrow ends of two planter boxes that was only just enough room for the two of them to fit together. The layout of the greenhouse was wholly against them. It wouldn’t take long for them to be found out; they had to get out quick. Ivy ran through the situation: there were only the two doors at either end of the building. They could run to the far end, but they’d have to pick the lock, leaving them in the open. Ivy looked at Harley eyeing the window; she could the girl’s mind working. She squeezed Harley’s shoulder and whispered as quietly as possible, “No.” Busting out a window not only put both of them at risk, but would ravage the plants with the prolonged exposure to the cold air. They’d have to sneak past the guard to get to the unlocked door.
Pamela poked her head around the edge of the box—the guard was walking up the center row. They might be able to get past him if they went up along the outside rows. Ivy signaled to Harley the plan. She would go up the outside of the boxes next to them, and Ivy would run across and up the opposite wall.
Ivy waited for the flashlight beam to swing wide and bolted across the center aisle. She held still, halting to see if the guard noticed the movement. He hadn’t. Ivy waved Harley forward, watching as she slid around the edge of the box. She took a slow, deep breath and turned along the corner. They each moved as silently as possible, smoothly melting from shadow to shadow. Harley made no hesitation, trusting her body to move swiftly without a footfall. Ivy did not have quite the confidence of her companion in that regard and froze behind a box to let the guard pass. The glow of his light brightened as his footsteps drew nearer. Ivy held her breath while he passed. She waited until he was at the end of the next planter down before letting the air out of her lungs. The path was clear to the door. It was at least thirty or forty feet, but it should be easy going. Ivy shifted her body to make the move toward the door. She felt her hair pull gently, catching on something. A trowel fell off the lip of the planter and landed with a resounding metallic clash against a concrete paver. Shit.
The guard spun around, his light falling on the box Ivy was hidden behind. Harley turned at the door, heading back to help. Pamela jumped up and was face to face with the guard across the planter box. Harley ran harder straight for her. Ivy bolted for the door, throwing an arm up behind her. “GO!” She shouted to Harley. Vines lashed out from above, coiling around the guard. He screamed as his feet lifted off the ground.
They ran until they reached the edge of the gardens. Hopping over the fence, they took a moment to catch their breath. “I’m sorry, Pammy. I ruined the whole plan.”
Ivy contemplated her for a moment. She looked absolutely heartbroken, shoulders hunched, her eyes down, practically wringing her hands. “It’s fine. We made it out okay. I can go back in a few days.”
“But they’ll put up more guards, and it’s gonna be more work for you. I’m really sorry that I screwed things up.”
Pam placed her hands on Harley’s shoulder and waited for the girl to look at her. Harley looked up and saw no malice in her green eyes. No speck of hatred or disdain or even disappointment. “Harley, it’s okay. Really. Let it go, hun.” Harley sighed, but her chin lifted and her shoulders squared. “Now, let’s get out of here before they start poking around.”
Chapter 3: Heartless
Ivy reorganizes her plan while Joker works on a heist of his own.
“This time it’s perfect!” Joker exclaimed as he jumped back from his desk. “Yes. I’ve been going at it wrong all these years. I shouldn’t kill the Bat, I should unmake him. I’ll do to him what he did to me!”
“Whatcha talkin’ ‘bout, Puddin’?” Harley asked as she walked into the room.
Joker spun round; his expression was wild, eyes bright with zeal. “The Batman, of course!”
“What’s the plan?” Harley asked.
“To make him as mad as me!” Joker lost himself in a fit of laughter.
When he finally settled down, Harley prodded for more information. “How are you gonna do that?”
“Oh, it’s perfectly genius!”
Poison Ivy held a small petri dish in her hands. She cooed quietly as she tended it and the golden agar began to soften with a thin white film. “That’s a good job. You grow strong now. Grow strong and learn the steady patience of the earth. You’ve got a lot of waiting in your future, my darling. But it will be worth it, I promise.” She placed the dish in an incubator and closed the door.
Shifting her attention, she walked over to the dining table where a satellite image of the botanical gardens was laid out. Red marker lines indicated guard routes, while black pencil expressed possible ingress avenues. An examination of power fluctuations seemed to support her original hypothesis that the vault was beneath the main science building. This made it both easier, and more difficult, to get to. Her familiarity with the layout of the lab building made it faster to get through the building but it also meant that there would be more interior guards because of whatever experiments and testing was being done in them. All hush hush and almost positively not all in any civic records. There had always been something going on on-the-sly when she had been there. Pamela sighed. A nostalgic sorrow was linked to those memories. She’d been invisible and ignored, put upon by her male compatriots; it was an utterly miserable time. And yet, some part of her still longed to return to it. Perhaps because it was simpler. Ivy shook her head in an effort to rattle loose the thoughts from her mind. Silly, childish talk that was, and nothing else. This had been the best thing that would ever happen in her life. She was now who she had always been meant to be, who she was destined to become. She was born Pamela Isley so that she could one day become Poison Ivy and right the wrongs humanity perpetrated against nature. Ivy returned her attention to the paper on the table, and the current misdeed in need of correction.
“That does sound good, boss.” Marco offered affirmation.
“Are you sure it’ll work?” Vinnie questioned.
Joker eyed him. “Am I sure it will work?”
Vinnie backpedaled. “I didn’t mean anything by it. I was just trying to make sure it was gonna work. No, of course it’ll work, boss. But how are we gonna make sure we get Batman in just the right place?”
“You leave that to me. I’m the brains in this outfit; I’ll make sure everything goes smoothly. All you have to do is do exactly as I say.”
Harley offered her insight. “Is it still there? I thought the cops and the mayor had ordered it all be destroyed after…” She paused. “After, you know.”
“Oh, it’s all still there. Falcone made sure his investments didn’t go to waste. The cops and the suits can say what they want, fly around the city telling everyone they run the joint. But they don’t. Not really. They just give the illusion of security to all the little sheep going about their boring little lives.” He made walking motions with his gloved hand, his voice mocking. “Going to work, spilling coffee on their brand new shirts, fighting the traffic on the way home.” He mimed the actions with his fingers as best he could, swinging a finger in the air as if it were a fist and pretending to slam on the horn. “Finally, curling up in their warm beds after kissing the kiddies good night.” Vinnie smiled and applauded Joker’s hand puppet show. Joker sneered. “And they have no idea what really goes on in this city. They slapped some fancy new names on old buildings, moved tanks around here and there with shiny new labels on the tubs, but it’s the same chemicals inside. Oh, it’s all still there, if you know where to look. And I know where they hid it all. Right in plain sight.” Joker’s eyes went dark. His voice dropped, sinister in tone, and his smile gleamed as bright as his red lips could stretch. “And I’m gonna be the one to undo the Bat.”
Jim Gordon stood on the rooftop of the Gotham City Police Department. He pulled his trench coat tight against the chill night air as he leaned into the lever switch for the bat signal. The light kicked on and shone across the cloudy sky. Now all there was to do was wait. He exhaled heavily, testing the air for his breath. Not cold enough anymore. It was plenty warm enough during the day with summer around the corner, but the nights still belonged to the last grizzled fingers of winter, holding tight onto the cold. Nights in Gotham City always did belong to a different world. So here he sat, the Commissioner of police standing in the cold night air waiting for a man dressed as a bat to show up so he could pass on information about an insane clown. Maybe Gotham always belonged to a different world, night or day. He lit up a cigarette, the flame blazing against the dark.
“Those things’ll kill you, you know?”
Gordon sighed. He didn’t think he’d ever get used to that. Jim turned to face Batman. “That’s what my doctors say too. Say they’ll make my heart weak. Or my lungs. Any number of other things too.” He took a quick drag. “Still doesn’t make them any worse. But I’m down to a pack a week, at least.”
“Well, that’s something.” Most people would have mocked him, downplayed such a small victory to be worthless. But Batman’s tone was genuine, he recognized the difficulty of cutting back on an addiction, the strength it took to overcome vice. “So, is there something you wanted to tell me, or did you just want my suggestions for cigars?” Bruce smirked.
Gordon smiled wearily. “No, maybe next time. I heard some chatter these past few days. Seems Joker’s got something planned at a warehouse tonight. Haven’t heard much in the way of details, just a where and a when.”
“The Daggett Industries warehouse at wharf 18, 1 AM. It doesn’t sound like a big job, but there’s definitely something going on. That’s all I know.” Gordon took a long drag off his cigarette.
“Joker planning a heist at a pharmaceutical chemicals factory? That can’t be good.”
“Batman, it sounds like a trap. It was way too easy to get this info, like they wanted us to pick it up.”
“I assume everything is.” Bruce smiled.
Gordon made a gruff laugh. “I supposed you’d have to. Just, be careful out there tonight. Joker’s the worst of the bunch. Harley was released from Arkham a few months ago, she’ll probably be with him.”
“Thanks, Jim. You should try to give up the smoking, for Barbara at least. Even grown kids still need their parents.”
Jim sighed, looking out into Gotham in the direction of Barbara’s apartment. “I’m working on it.” Gordon looked back. Batman was gone. “I hate when he does that.”
From atop a gargoyle of an old church, Bruce surveilled the Daggett Industries warehouse. There was no activity outside the building. Some lights were on inside, but he could see no movement. His infrared view showed only four bodies, but with the heat of the chemical vats it was possible that the FLIR simply couldn’t pick up any more. “Jim was right, it doesn’t look like a big job. And it’s definitely trap.”
Grappling across the skyline, Batman dropped silently onto the warehouse roof. He peaked in through a skylight to get a layout of the interior. A catwalk crisscrossed throughout the warehouse, precariously hanging above dozens of large chemical tanks. Half of the tanks were open, their contents churning and boiling, keeping the contents agitated. “What could Daggett Industries need tanks like these for?” Bruce called over his comm. “Alfred, make a note to have Gordon do an inspection of the Daggett Industries warehouse.”
“Yes, sir. Is there anything in particular he should be looking for?”
“I want to know what they need millions of gallons of unlabeled chemicals for. Look into if Falcone has any ties to Daggett. Or Crane. I’ll try to get some samples to analyze.”
“On it, sir. And Mr. Wayne.”
“Do be careful, sir.”
Bruce smiled. “I will be, Alfred.” He edged around the bank of skylights, searching for an opening. A window on the far side was open. A rusty ladder was bolted to the inside edge of the window frame, leading to the catwalk about fifteen feet below. Bruce slowly climbed down, making every effort to keep the metal from scraping and giving him away. The noise from the roiling chemicals drowned out any ambient sound, any whisper or creaking of the metal would be nearly impossible to hear, but it was always best to be cautious. Batman slipped along the catwalk. Inside, he had a better view; what appeared to be a single level catwalk was actually a network of three separate tiers of platforms in descending squares. The lowest level formed a grid that snaked back and forth over the rows of vats.
Batman made his way along the metal walkways, down to the lowest tier. He peered throughout the warehouse, straining to see details in the half-light. He growled to himself, it was too dark to see well, but too bright to use night vision. His surveillance had shown two bodies on the upper floor, but he’d found no trace of them. There appeared to be a room at the back of the building on the upper most level, most likely a foreman’s office. It seemed the likeliest location for their refuge. In the center of the warehouse, placed directly under a light was a small jack-in-the-box. ‘What are you up to, Joker?’
“Boss, he’s here.” Marco’s voice crackled over the radio in Joker’s hand.
“I hear him. Stay off the radio and get in position.”
“Yes, sir, boss.” Vinnie and Marco spread out to their designated spots in the warehouse.
Harley crept along the middle catwalk. Vinnie and Marco disappeared into the darkness below her while Joker stepped back into the shadows of the office far off to her right. ‘Puddin’s really got a good one this time. This is way better than killing Batman.’
They all waited, quiet and still. The minutes dragged on as Batman moved at a snail’s pace along the catwalks. It felt as if Joker’s plan was less likely to come to fruition the longer it took. Finally, Batman’s silhouette crept close to the mark. Harley’s muscles tensed, primed for action. Her eyes glued to the black shadow moving across the shaky metal. He was just a couple steps away from where they needed him to be.
Batman made his way along the catwalks toward the jack-in-the-box. It was obviously a setup, but he had to take the bait, at least for the time being. Bruce stopped a few steps away from it. A noxious smell wafted from the vat below it. He reached into his belt for a sample vial and a length of cable. The chemical in the tank had a familiarity to it, though he couldn’t place it. This was clearly the chemical Joker was fixated on. ‘Damn. The only cable I have tonight is in the grappler.’ Bruce pulled the grappler from his side. He held it out toward the light so as not to risk dropping the spool of cable as he reached for the cable release switch on the back. Moving forward, he centered himself over the tank, he didn’t want to miss the vat. He was directly in front of the idle jack-in-the-box.
“Get ready, boys.” Joker spoke over the radio.
Harley watched as Batman stepped forward. Just one more step and he’d be in the perfect spot. He stopped and reached for something on his hip. He held up a device, pointed straight at Joker behind the office windows.
Batman took the final step forward. A cacophony of chaos and motion exploded all at once.
“NOW BOYS!” Joker screamed into the radio.
“MISTAH J, GET DOWN!” Harley swung down from her perch, aiming straight for Batman.
Marco and Vinnie pulled hard on the ropes they each held. A large battering ram with a giant grinning clown’s face swung free from the roof, hurtling toward the catwalk.
Batman jumped backwards, steadying himself on the railing. Harley dropped down in the space he’d just vacated. “Don’t you pull nothin’, now. I ain’t gonna—” The clown’s face struck Harley square in the torso, plunging her over the edge. Bruce reached for her, but he was too late. The wire spool from his grappler clattered across the metal and down to the warehouse floor.
“NO!!!! YOU BLEW IT!!! I HAD THE PERFECT PLAN AND YOU RUINED IT!!!” Joker screamed as Harley tumbled. He leapt through the window bay of the office, breaking through what glass was left in the aged frames. He landed on the catwalk at the opposite end from Batman. “I’ll just have to do it myself then.” He growled angrily as he ran toward the Dark Knight. His visage was animalistic; the white skin stained red in a dozen tiny glass cuts, spittle frothing at the end of his lips as he raced at full speed toward Batman, green hair wildly out of place.
Harley fell. A panic in her eyes just before her body broke the surface of the liquid in the tank. She sank to the bottom. The chemical burned, burned everything. Every inch of her body was on fire. Her body fought against her; it wanted to scream, wanted to throw open her mouth and screech in pain, gasping deep breaths of air. But she was still beneath the surface. She felt she was crying, but could feel no tears on her skin. She fought, swimming desperately for the surface, fighting for her life with every inch of her soul. Her face broke the surface and she gulped in air. One cool breath filled her lungs before she lost consciousness.
Joker sprinted down the narrow walkway. Batman bent his knees, ready for impact. Joker launched himself at Batman, snarling like a feral beast. Bruce grabbed his wrist and threw him onto the metal grating beneath their feet, splitting his lip. Joker jumped up, blood mixed with spit, a bright red froth spilled down his chin. He swung at Batman. Bruce blocked the punch and kicked him hard in the ribs. Joker doubled over and spat blood. “You won’t get me so easily, Batman.” Joker dropped low and slung his long legs at Batman’s ankles. Bruce jumped, avoiding the impact. Joker growled. “If I can’t break you, then I’ll just kill you!” He reached behind, pulling a gun from the back of his pants. Batman spun, kicking the gun off into the darkness. Joker yelled, watching as the gun flew out of his hand. Bruce didn’t relent, the second kick landed against Joker’s jaw. A punch to the sternum. Bruce caught the man’s arm, slamming his wrist against the railing. Joker clawed at him like a wild cat, hissing and snarling. Bruce pommeled Joker until he stopped fighting. Batman grabbed his limp body and tossed it over his shoulders.
Marco and Vinnie ran up on him, but both stopped when Batman turned to them. “You can go, on one condition.” He pointed to Harley. “Take care of her.” They nodded and left to work their way down to the floor. Bruce carried Joker’s unconscious body out of the warehouse. Strapping him into the Batmobile, he called Alfred. “I’ve got Joker. Harley was injured.”
“Did you get a sample of the chemicals, sir?”
“No. But I don’t need to, I know what it was.” Bruce was pensive, as usual.
“What was it then, sir?”
“The same chemical mixture that Joker fell into.”
Alfred was quiet for a moment. “Sir, that was supposed to have been cleaned up and eliminated.”
“Yes, it was. Joker didn’t keep these tanks here, this was someone else’s cover up. He just took advantage of it. Let Jim know, I’ve got something to take care of right now.”
Bruce went back into the warehouse. Marco was bent over the edge of the tank Harley had fallen into, using a gaff hook to fish her out. Hooking the remnant of her costume, he pulled her to the side of the tank. He handed the pole down to Vinnie. “I’ve got her, help me get her out.” Vinnie clambered up the ladder behind Marco. Harley’s small body felt like nothing to the large man as he tugged her over the edge. Vinnie grabbed her feet, pulling her legs down.
Batman waited until they had gotten to the ground. “I’ll send a compound to the fun house tomorrow. Make sure she drinks it. If anything goes wrong, you go to GCPD and tell Gordon Harley needs my help.”
“Gotham Police? No way.” Marco protested.
“I’m not goin’ in there for anybody.” Vinnie argued.
Bruce’s eyes narrowed. “If she needs help, you will tell Commissioner Gordon. No one will give you any trouble. But if I find out something went wrong and you didn’t ask, I will find you.”
The two men swallowed hard. “Understood.”
“Get her home and cleaned up. She’s going to need a lot of rest.”
They both nodded. “Okay.” Vinnie carried the small girl in his arms as they left out the back of the warehouse.
Batman returned to the Batmobile to transport Joker to Arkham. “I hope she’s going to be okay.”
Battered and bloodied, Joker was turned over to the staff of Arkham Asylum. They had long since stopped asking what had happened. They only asked which bones were broken. They set his jaw, stitched his lip, popped his wrist back into place, and bolted a rib back together. The staff swabbed iodine on his cuts and pulled a loose tooth before locking him in his cell. “Joker’s back,” was all that was passed between the night crew to the morning doctors.
The comment was met with a long-suffering sigh. “Harley?” A head shake to the contrary and another heavy sigh. “She’ll come for him, then.”
“Probably. You know what to do if she does.”
“When she does.”
There was a knock at the fun house door. Vinnie looked at Marco, hoping he would move to answer it. He didn’t. Vinnie squared his shoulders and went to pull the door open. No one was there, which only made him more nervous. Then he saw a small black box on the doorstep. He picked it up and saw a white card attached to it, stamped with a bat symbol. He opened the box and found a small bottle of cloudy liquid. “It’s for Harley.”
“We better go wake her up and give it to her then. I don’t want Batman coming for my ass.”
Vinnie nodded. Honestly, he didn’t care if Batman came for them or not. He knew what he’d done, knew what kind of man he was. His time would come, there was no getting away from that. But Harley was different, she was a good kid. She deserved better than she’d gotten, and he certainly wasn’t going to let her become just as cracked as the Joker.
He pulled a chair against the bed. “Harley.” He spoke softly. “Harley.” She didn’t wake. He frowned and put a hand on her bleached shoulder, giving her a gentle shake. “Harley, wake up. I’ve got something for you.”
She roused slowly. “Mistah J.”
“No, Harley. It’s me, Vinnie. I’ve got something for you, you gotta drink it.” He looked at the bottle in his hand. “It probably ain’t gonna taste real good.”
“Then why do I gotta drink it?” She was still woozy from sleep. And maybe the chemicals.
“Cuz you gotta.” He paused. “Boss says so.”
Harley pushed herself up in bed. She reached for the bottle and saw the white of her arm. “Why didn’t anybody wash off my makeup?”
The men were quiet for a moment, looking at the floor, each other, the wall above Harley’s head, anywhere but at the poor girl’s blue eyes. Marco finally spoke up. “It’s not makeup, Harley.”
She stared at her snow white arms. Slowly, she remembered. The warehouse, the battering ram, Batman, the chemicals, the burning, and then…black. “Is my hair green?”
“No. Still blonde.” Vinnie answered.
“Batman got him, didn’t he?” Marco nodded. Harley took in a slow deep breath. “Did he get angry, try to make Batman pay?”
“Oh yeah. He got real mad, tried to get Batman real good. Got real close, almost kicked his ass.” Vinnie told only what Harley needed to hear.
“Alright. So we bust him out.”
“Harley, wait.” Vinnie held out the bottle. “You gotta drink this.”
“It’s from Batman isn’t it?”
Vinnie nodded. “He said it would help.”
“Okay.” Harley took the bottle and drank its contents in a single gulp. She made a face as the foul taste hit her tongue and slid down the back of her throat. “Gross.”
Marco and Vinnie looked at each other, feeling an uncomfortable weight in the room. “We’ll, uh, let you have some time alone now.” Vinnie said, turning his attention back to Harley.
“Yeah. We’ll be right out there if you need anything. Just let us know, okay?”
Harley nodded, some time to think would be good. The two men left her alone. She sighed heavily, feeling a strange weight that so much had changed, and yet nothing at all. Batman had put Joker back in Arkham, so she’d have to break him out again. The guys would help, and maybe she’d have to pull in a few extra hands. Her pale white skin seemed to gleam in the light, it was so bright. Her mind played over the fall. Memory flooding back in a sudden wave. She closed her eyes and felt her body sink into the liquid. It was thick, gooey, like swimming in corn syrup. The pain rushed over her. Every pore burning with a fire incomprehensible. A whimper escaped her throat as she cringed. She remembered air, and then nothing else. She opened her eyes; the stark whiteness of her skin was still a shock. “That’s gonna take some getting used to.” She slumped back against the wall. “So, this is how it is now. No use sitting around. My Puddin’ got dunked too, and he came out alright.” She shrugged, putting aside any other thoughts on the matter. Instead, she focused on what she felt to be a more pressing matter.
Harley burst into the living room. “Okay, so here’s how I’m thinking we can get Mistah J out.”
Chapter 4: Who Will You Run To
Harley breaks Joker out of Arkham. Pam spends time with Selina.
It was time to break out Mistah J. Her plan was simple—what it lacked in imagination, it made up for in straightforward effectiveness. She had a unique advantage over her villainous compatriots, having worked inside Arkham. She knew its halls and its secrets, but most importantly, she knew its weaknesses. Among them, that Karen never locked the back office door when she returned from her cigarette breaks and that Jeffrey left a brick in the rooftop doorway so he could sneak up there and smoke a joint with his lunch. And that the linens were too much for the staff to do in-house, so were switched out every Tuesday by truck.
Harley shoved her costume into an attaché, just in case, before stopping in the bathroom to check her disguise. There was a patch of white skin still visible on her neck which she hurried to cover. “Weird puttin’ on makeup to look normal.” She straightened the brunette wig and squared the collar of her lab coat. It was convincing enough. Maybe she wouldn’t be able to walk through the front door, but no one would question her once she was inside.
Marco and Vinnie were in the main room, gathering up the last of the supplies. They had only required the hiring of a truck and driver, plus acquiring some props and accoutrements. So the two men found busy work to keep the nerves down while they waited on their driver. It wasn’t long before the deep rumble of a box delivery truck shook the cracked windows of the fun house.
“Let’s go, boys. Truck’s here.” Harley ran out the door ahead of the two men.
A large black man climbed down from the cab and was immediately enveloped in a hug. “Oof.”
“Lewie! I’m glad you’re here.”
He turned to face Harley. “You know you’re the only one who’s allowed to call me that? Well, you and my mama.”
Harley beamed up at him. “I know.”
He smiled down at the small girl. “Alrght, Harley, gimme the details of what I’m doing on this job.”
“Oh, you got the easy part. All you gotta do is drive the truck.”
“Just drive the truck?” He looked skeptical.
“Well, drive the truck past the security check and keep people from nosing around long enough for us to get in and get Mistah J out.”
He nodded. “I can do that.” He’d been a wheelman many times.
“Sorry it’s not more interesting.” Harley shrugged.
“Honey, that’s nothing to be sorry about. I’ll take a simple job for you any day.”
Harley grinned. “You’re my favorite.” She hugged him again. “You ready to go?”
“Whenever you say the word.”
“Load ‘er up, boys. Mistah J’s comin’ home!”
“So, if we’re taking the place of the linens truck. Where is the real truck gonna be?” Lewie asked as they crossed the bridge to Arkham.
“Nowhere. I cancelled their contract. It’s gonna be a bitch of time next week.” Harley laughed.
Lewie stopped at the front gate of Arkham Asylum. The tired guard stepped out of his shack and walked up to the door of the truck. “Can I help you?”
“Just bringing in fresh sheets,” Lewie replied.
The guard tilted his head, looking over the side of the vehicle. “Ain’t the usual truck.”
“No, sir. Had some engine trouble or something, I don’t know what goes on under the hood, I just drive the things. Mechanic traded it out for a temp.”
The guard nodded. “ID?”
“Sure thing.” Lewie reached for the badge made up for this job. “Here you go.” He waited patiently as the guard called in to the security office. Bureaucracy was never-ending, and it still didn’t do them any good. Lewie saw the guard take down some information off his fake badge before returning it to him.
“Head on around back to the loading bay and they’ll meet you.”
The black ironwork of the gate barely cleared the top of the truck as they passed through the first security check. He knocked on the door in the back of the cab, signaling Harley.
She opened the door and surveyed the grounds. “That was easy. Now comes the tricky part. You just sit tight until we get back.” Harley closed the door as she returned to the back of the truck. “Alright, guys, we’re in. Lewie’s gonna park in the bay in the back. When we stop an orderly is gonna open that door. He should be by himself, but there might be one or two other people in eye line. Pull ‘em in, knock ‘em out, and tie ‘em up. Then you guys head in. I’ll come through the offices so I can verify Mistah J’s cell. I’ll radio his location to you and then meet you there.”
“And then we just walk right out with him in the laundry bin.” Marco confirmed the last step of the plan.
“Yep. Right under their stuck up little noses.”
The truck lurched to a stop. They heard voices outside and then the latch on the rear roll up door popped open. A short dusky-haired man reached in without looking. He gasped in surprise when Marco grabbed his arm. Vinnie took him under the shoulder and clamped a hand over his mouth. The two yanked him up into the truck and Harley smacked him hard over the head. He collapsed with a sigh. Marco tied up his wrists while Vinnie secured his ankles.
Lewie cracked the cab door. “Don’t forget to gag him too. Last thing I want is for him to wake up before you get back and start screaming.”
“I got him.” Marco snapped a gag around his head.
Lewie looked suspicious. “Is that a ball gag?”
Marco smiled up at him. “Clown nose.” He squeezed the red ball in the man’s mouth and it squeaked.
Lewie shook his head. “You see the strangest shit in Gotham.”
“Like Bludhaven is any better?” Vinnie added. Lewie shrugged.
“How we comin’, boys?” Harley redirected their attention.
Lewie made a face like he’d been caught with his hand in the cookie jar and closed the cab door. Vinnie looked over at Harley. “We’re good.”
“All right, let’s go.”
Pamela lay stretched out along the sofa, clicking through channels for something worth filling time. Her phone rang and for a moment, it threw her. Who even had her number? “Hello?”
“Hey, Ivy, you want to go out for drinks tonight?”
Selina. “Why would you think I would want to do that?”
“Because Harley is breaking Joker out of Arkham today.”
“Oh? Is she? She hadn’t told me. I didn’t even know he’d been captured.”
That was weird; it was unlike Harley to not talk with Ivy about her heists. Especially one she was pulling off on her own. “Well, she’s busting him out today. You want to go for drinks? We can have a girls’ night.”
“Why on Earth do you think I would want to go to a bar? And what does Harley busting Joker have to do with that?”
Selina stopped. She doesn’t even know. Sighing, she pressed forward, “Nothing, apparently. I still think it would be nice to go out and get drunk.”
“Well, I don’t want to go out. I have…” Ivy glanced around the empty house. “Lots of work to do.”
“Suit yourself, then. Have fun with your work.” Selina hung up, exasperated. “Does anyone in this damn city know how to be in love?”
Ivy looked around her living room. A commercial touting its miracle product with exuberance prattling on from the television was the only sound, the only source of vibrant life. There was just her and her plants. She missed Harley’s laughter, her bright energy and enthusiasm. What the hell?
Selina’s phone buzzed. She read the screen with a smirk. Which bar?
Selina sat at the bar, her small black dress practically painted on. Cleavage spilled out the tastefully scandalous neckline as she leaned in, enrapturing the bartender, a handsome young man with a slicked back fade and an athlete’s body. He was but a toy to her, a mouse to bat between her paws. And perhaps something to catch between her teeth. She smiled wildly at the man, baiting him with her seductive grin. He swallowed the hook; leaning forward, he flexed his biceps. Selina sat back in her stool, eyeing him over the rim of her martini glass as she took a sip. He was no Bat, but he’d be fun for sure.
Pamela stalked across the tile floor to take the stool next to her. “Well, Selina, I’m here.”
Selina looked her up and down. Her red hair was swept up in rolls along the hairline; she wore a sedate, but form-fitting rich green dress with gold pinstripes. Her lips were stained deep red and her green eyes were bright, shadowed with a subtle golden bronze. “And you look damn good, too. Like a proper pinup girl. You’re bound to drive all the boys mad.”
Ivy did a quick study of Selina and her bountiful assets. “Some of us prefer a more…traditional, subtle sexy.”
Selina grinned, her eyes flashing brightly. “Let’s ask Peter.” She turned to the bartender. “Which do you find sexier? The old school style of Ivy here, or myself—a more up front girl?”
He wagged his finger, shaking his head. “Oh, no no. I’m not playing that game. You’re both beautiful.” He smiled. “The only preference I have is for blondes. I am a gentleman, after all.”
Selina laughed. “Well, then I win!”
“Charming.” Pamela added snidely.
Selina ignored her. “Now, darling Peter, as lovely as your company has been, this is a ladies’ night. So will be spending the evening with my dear friend, Ivy, getting as drunk as we possibly can. Another sidecar for me and…” She gestured to Pam for her drink order.
“Tanqueray wet martini, straight up, with a twist.”
Peter nodded and set about making their drinks. Selina side-eyed Pam. “Ivy, what made you decide to join me?”
Pamela shrugged. “I just thought having some company would be nice.”
The bartender handed them their drinks. Selina finished the last of her original drink and moved on to the fresh one. “You just wanted some company? Alright, we’ll go with that.” She looked around the bar, surveying the men in the room. “How about you, Ivy, do you have any preferences?” Selina pointed out the handsomest men in the room as she spoke. “Dusky brown, raven-haired, maybe ginger like yourself?” She smirked. “Or maybe you also prefer blondes?”
“Selina, I am not interested in the company of a man in the manner in which you are implying.”
“Okay, not interested in men.” Selina scanned the room again and settled on a striking blonde woman surrounded by several men. “What about her, then?”
Pamela gave her a tired look. “I am not interested in the company of women.”
“Well, you’re interested in the company of one woman.” Selina flashed that grin, the one that let you know there was so much more behind her words than she’d tell. Ivy was about to protest, when Selina spoke. “Me, of course.” She laughed heartily.
Pamela sipped her martini. “Alright, Selina, out with it. Why did you drag me out tonight?”
“Oh ma’am, I did not drag you anywhere. But that’s not the point. The point is that Harley is most likely on her way home from Arkham as we speak with her,” Selina sneered. “Precious ‘Mistah J.’ And that is deserving of a drink.”
“Because Harley managed to convince herself that it was worth crawling back to that abusive bastard is why we’re having a victory drink?” Ivy tried to hold back her ire.
Selina shook her head. “This isn’t a victory drink, it’s a commiseration drink. The rest is correct.”
“So we’re drinking to drown the sorrows of our ill-guided comrade-in-arms who insists on returning to the ‘love’ that destroys her?” Ivy asked flatly. Selina nodded. “Well, bottoms up then.” She finished off her martini and called for another. “You’re done with your second?”
“Almost.” Selina replied.
“I’ve got some catching up to do.”
Marco left the truck first, taking the laundry bin with him. He tucked a radio into his shirt pocket and headed inside. Once he was clear, Vinnie rolled what looked like a janitor’s cart out of the truck and clipped a radio to his shoulder. Last was Harley. She turned on the radio in her briefcase and nodded to Vinnie before following the old brick wall around the corner and down to the offices.
Harley found the office door and tested it. It was still unlocked. She slipped inside, calmly heading toward the records room. It was the least used office and if she couldn’t get into the computer, there was likely to be a paper file with Joker’s assigned cell. What the staff called super criminals were housed together in a single wing of the asylum. While it would have been easy enough to get there and just find Joker’s cell from there, she wanted to be sure there were no surprises.
An old coworker passed Harley in the hall. She smiled politely and greeted him with a quiet, “Good morning, Dr. Howard.” He had to look down at her badge to know her name.
“Morning, Dr. Mabley.”
He passed without even a glance over his shoulder. She knew for sure her disguise would hold up now. She continued to the records room, closing the door behind her. A wall of filing cabinets extended to her left, but she was focused on the small desk with a computer on it. Taking a seat, she slid the keyboard tray out. Underneath the keyboard was a sticky note with a username and password on it. “Never could remember your logins, Matt.” Harley signed in and waited. The machine seemed slower than she remembered, but it eventually logged in. A few clicks and she had what she needed. “Marco, Vinnie, he’s being held in cell 0801, just like I expected.”
Marco’s voice crackled back first. “On my way, boss.”
“Ten-four.” Vinnie replied. “Be there in a few minutes.”
Harley stretched back in the chair. “Halfway there,” she said to herself proudly. Logging out, she steadied herself and marched down the office hallway on her way to the secured wing.
Vinnie reached the secured wing first. There was a guard standing at the door. Vinnie pushed his cart down the corridor until he reached the locked door. “Cleaning.”
“Swipe your badge.” The guard didn’t even bother to look at him; he just pointed at the card reader.
“I don’t have one, I’m new.”
“They should have given you a badge when they hired you.”
“They did.” Vinnie explained. “But it’s just a temporary one. See?” He held out his badge.
The guard finally looked over, examining the badge. After a moment, he sighed. “Sign here and I’ll swipe you in.” He handed Vinnie a clipboard with a pen chained to it.
He headed down the hall to Joker’s cell. It was good that he was first, he had the most to set up. Vinnie rolled the cart down to cell 0801.
“What are you doing here?” A voice demanded from behind the glass.
Marco whistled softly as he pushed the laundry bin down the halls. It was a nonsense tune, just whistling to make noise. The guard checked his visitor’s badge. “Sign here.” He held out the clipboard and then swiped him in. As the door slid shut behind him, the guard yelled after Marco. “If you’re going to whistle, at least pick a damn song.”
Marco smiled to himself and began the first bar of pop goes the weasel.
Harley made her way to the secured wing. She weighed her options on getting past the guard. Obviously, try to talk her way in first. Maybe coerce him a bit, but that was less likely to work. Of course, if all else failed, knock him out and use his card. The downside of that being that he could be seen by anyone and would probably kill her escape plan.
As she approached, the guard ignored her. Harley swiped her badge. The card reader flashed red. She swiped it again. The light went red again. The guard eyed her sideways. “It doesn’t seem to be working. Is the reader broken?”
“No ma’am. Nothing wrong with the reader. Perhaps you aren’t supposed to be here.”
Harley slumped her shoulders. “Dr. Phillips is going to kill me. Please, can you let me in?”
“No ma’am. I can’t just—”
“I just transferred from Ravenscar three weeks ago and Dr. Phillips wanted me to talk with Mr. Cobblepot. She asked me to give him this questionnaire she wrote up a week ago and I have to give it to her tomorrow for review. I just need to get in there and ask him a few questions, then I’m right back out. I’ve been having trouble with my badge since I got here. They keep changing my security access and they probably already took my clearance for this ward because I was supposed to have already been done with this. Can you please just let me in?” She flashed her saddest baby blues at the man.
The guard stared at her for a second and then relented. “Sign here.”
Harley beamed at him. “Thanks, mister. I won’t forget you.”
He swiped his badge. “Ten minutes, Doctor.”
“Oh, I won’t need that long. I’ll be in and out like a flash.”
The door closed behind her and she hurried down the hall to meet up with her companions. “Alright, we don’t have too much time. Vinnie, you ready?”
“Yep.” He affirmed.
“What the devil are you all doing out there?” Joker asked.
Harley looked up and grinned. “Bustin’ you out, Puddin’. Stay back from the glass for a minute.”
“Why’s that?” He inquired.
“Cuz Vinnie’s gonna spray it with acid to make a hole for you to climb through.”
“And then you’re going to waltz me out the front door?” The tone of his voice signaled annoyance.
“No, out the back.” Harley replied.
“’Scuse me, boss. You should back up a bit, I don’t want to spray you by accident.”
Joker stepped back and watched the three of them put Harley’s plan into action. Vinnie sprayed acid on the plexiglass cell wall. It bubbled and sizzled as it ate through the material. It took several minutes to work all the way through the wall, but once it was through, the hole broadened quickly. Within five minutes it was large enough for Joker to slip his wiry frame through. “Now what?” He asked once he was through the hole.
“In the laundry bin.” Harley answered, proud of herself.
Joker sneered, but climbed in. “These better be clean sheets.”
“Oh, they are boss.” Marco assured as he pulled sheets to hide Joker’s body. “I promise.”
“Marco, you should head out first. Then Vinnie, and I’ll be out a few minutes behind you.”
Marco left. A few minutes later, Vinnie followed. Harley walked up to Penguin’s cell. “Hey Cobblepot.”
“What do you want, doc?”
“You think you could do your pal Harley a favor and start yelling for me?”
Oswald leaned closer. “I’ll be damned, it is you.” He straightened up and started hollering.
Harley blew him a kiss, then skittered down the hall to the exit. She knocked on the door to be let out. The guard swiped for the door, Penguin’s voice bellowed out into the hall. “Didn’t cooperate, did he?”
Harley shook her head. “I don’t know what I’m going to do about my report now.”
The guard shrugged. “He’s a stubborn one, more so than the rest. Your boss probably didn’t expect you to get much out of him. I bet it was one of those Silence of the Lambs kind of tests.”
“Oh.” Harley feigned disappointment. “Thanks for your help.”
“No problem, ma’am.”
Harley walked the labyrinthine halls of Arkham, back through the offices, and out to the truck. She hopped into the passenger seat. “Everybody here?”
Lewie gestured toward the open rear cab door. “Yep. The guys are in the back, we’re good to go. Just got to deal with this guy.” He grabbed the still unconscious orderly by the collar.
“We’ll wait til he wakes up and then dump him out the back door in the middle of Gotham. Let’s get the hell out of here.” Lewie backed the truck up and pulled around to the front gate. He honked and waved to the guard as they left. Harley leaned back and put her feet up on the dash. “Not bad, boys. They don’t even know he’s gone. Let’s get him home.”
Selina and Pam had moved from the bar to a table in the front corner. They were both very buzzed. Selina had been on a rant about men, in general, but mostly Batman. “Always so distant. Like he’s got to put up so many god damn walls. Bats, baby, I’m a cat burglar, I scale walls for a living!” Selina frowned, wrinkling up her forehead, mocking Batman’s stoic visage. “No, he has to be so serious all the time.” She dropped the guise. “Except when he’s being a smart ass. That’s the part nobody really sees, he’s such a damn smart ass. Thinks he’s so damn clever.”
“Well, Selina, how many times has he caught all of us? Maybe he is that clever. Shit, I’m a genius, Harley’s a genius. Joker’s an idiot, but Harley’s a genius. Nigma…pfft, he’s just an asshole.” Pamela waved her hand, dismissing him from discussion altogether.
Selina laughed. “Eddie is just such an arrogant dick.”
Peter made his was over to the table to clear off their empty glasses. Selina’s focus turned immediately. “Would you ladies like another round?” He smiled, dark hair falling around his cheekbones as he leaned down.
“Oh, keep ‘em coming, sweetheart.” Selina purred.
“I think I’d like lighten the palate; make mine an aviation.” Ivy requested.
“Am I to assume the lady would like it the traditional way?”
“Without the crème de violette, it’s just fancy gin.” She smiled at the boy. Selina saw in her eyes a slow-burning fire.
Ivy possessed that calm, domineering manner that so many of the young men desired these days. A powerful woman who was comfortable and strong in a quiet, careful sort of fashion. And she was gorgeous to boot. Harley really did have to be blinded by…well, not love, but something. “When was the last time you had sex?”
“Selina!” Pamela’s cheeks reddened. “Why would you ask me that?”
“That long, huh?” Selina made a disappointed face.
Ivy sighed. “I honestly don’t remember. But just because I don’t go chasing after every well-packaged young man who crosses my path doesn’t mean anything.”
Selina shrugged. “No, but it does mean you need to get laid.” A flicker in the sky caught her eye and she looked out the window. The bat-signal flew across the clouds. “We both do.” Selina pointed at the sky. “Guess it’s just past evening bed checks.”
Ivy’s body sank a little. ‘I guess she got him out.”
“Or Batman’s about to get them both.” Their drinks arrived. Selina took hers and lifted it to toast. “To the me—people we love, may they not ruin us in the end.”
Ivy clinked her glass against Selina’s and drank half of it down. Her thoughts were of Harley; hoping she was safe, hoping she wasn’t about to be locked away alone, wishing she’d left that damned deranged clown in his cell and had come to stay with her. Hoping that he wouldn’t ruin Harley before the end.
Joker was quiet the whole ride back to the fun house. Except for when he exuberantly kicked the orderly, still tied up and gagged, out of the back of the moving truck. His glee from that hilarious joke soon died and he became reticent again. Harley worried that they’d done something to him. Had they shocked him once too many? Had the doctors at Arkham finally managed to break her poor Puddin’?
Lewie pulled the truck up to the fun house. Harley kissed him on the cheek. “Thanks, Lewie. See you around.”
“You too, Harley. Take care of yourself.”
Harley jumped down out of the cab. And ran around to the back of the truck. The doors flung open and almost knocked her off her feet. “At least we’re home. Time to see how much damage you did to the place without me.”
Joker leapt from the truck and stormed up the fun house steps as Marco and Vinnie carefully unloaded the tank of acid. Harley found Joker inside. The truck engine roared and then faded out as Lewie drove off back to Bludhaven.
“Welcome home, Puddin’!”
A slap across the face spun her sideways.
“What the hell were you thinking?” Joker yelled at her.
Harley cradled her cheek, confused. “Wha…what do you mean, Puddin’?”
“What do I mean?” He scoffed. “What the hell were you thinking with that stupid plan?”
Harley furrowed her brow. “But, Puddin’, it worked. And we didn’t get caught or nothing.”
He slapped her across the other cheek. Her feet got tangled and she fell against the wall. “In the god damn laundry, Harley?! Your brilliant, ingenious, foolproof plan was to shove me IN THE GOD DAMN LAUNDRY?”
“But it worked.” She said, almost as if to reassure herself.
Joker’s face went wicked. His lips curled up in a snarl and his eyes were wild and dark. He swung as hard as he could, catching Harley in the side of the mouth, splitting her lip. “This isn’t some kiddie cartoon, Harley!” His fist landed across her jaw, blood and spit splattered across the wall. “You think next time we rob a bank we’ll use giant sacks with dollar signs painted on them?! You can’t do anything right without me!” He caught her up by the throat. A panicked look came into Harley’s eyes. He seemed to almost enjoy the fear in them. His mouth contorted in an animal fashion. His voice came out low and deep, almost calm. “I do not belong in the fucking laundry.” He held her tight, pinned against the wall, and punched her square in the face. She felt the impact across the whole right side of her face. Her head slammed back into the wall. Joker released his grip around her neck and she collapsed, coughing. He tossed a handkerchief at her. “Clean up your mess.”
Harley picked up the white cloth and held it to her lip. Blood spread through the fabric, staining it. She pulled it away and stared at it. The bright red flowed across each thread. A joker’s grinning face was embroidered in the corner, the cloth hemmed in bright green. The blood reached the green, turning it brown. Harley stared blankly at the square of cotton. She swallowed, her spit was sweet with the metallic taste of blood. It burned in her sore throat. She steadied herself with a hand on the wall and stood. She threw the bloody cloth at Joker and ran out the door.
Joker burst through the fun house door. “Get back here, Harley!” She ran as fast as her legs could carry her. “Where are you going to go?!” Joker screamed for her to come back. “Harley!” He yelled after her, demanding she come back. But he didn’t leave the steps. Harley reached the amusement park gate and disappeared into the dark.
Joker growled to himself. “Who is she going to run to? Who’s going to take her in? No one’s going to take care of her like I do.” He stalked back into the fun house. “One of you get in here and clean up this god damn mess!”
Chapter 5: Alone
Ivy waved the cab off and turned down the deserted road to her humble home. Her head was pleasantly tingly and she felt in good spirits. Maybe Selina was right, after all. So what if Harley had gone back to Joker? She’d leave him soon enough, and then she and Selina might have another chance to convince her to stay away from him. Besides, with Harley back at the amusement park, Ivy could direct her energy entirely on her work; no distractions, no “girls’ days” spent out in the city surrounded by people. Nothing but Dr. Pamela Isley and her plants. Just the way she liked it. Tomorrow was going to be an important day too, she needed to focus on the vault in order to get in before the small window she had closed.
She walked through the neighborhood, delighting in the scent and color of fresh, fragrant blossoms. The night air was warm, with a hint of spring sweetness. She let it sweep around her, breathing in deeply to drown her senses. The heat and heady air combined with the drink, making her dizzy, and she hurried to her door for an escape. Once inside, the dizziness faded. She changed into an oversized sleep shirt and checked the incubator—her fungus was mature enough to last out the wait in the seed vault on its own. Ivy ran through the plan once more, making sure nothing was overlooked.
A soft knocking interrupted her attention. At first she wasn’t sure she’d even heard it—who would be knocking on her door? No one could even survive the trek through the neighborhood to get to her door. No one but… Harley. The knock came again; just as soft, but with a greater urgency. Ivy ran to the door and pulled it open. There stood Harley, leaning heavily on the doorframe, one hand over her face. Her clothes were dirty and her hands filthy, covered in grit and…was that dried blood?
“Pammy.” Harley muttered before collapsing into Ivy’s arms.
Catwoman crouched on a rooftop, a rangefinder to one eye. She watched through the window of a penthouse apartment across the park from her. Batman swooped down silently behind her. “What are you planning?”
Selina jumped at the unexpected voice. “God damn it. I nearly fell off the roof.” She spun round to give him a dirty look.
“You would have landed on your feet.” His voice was flat, face stern.
He thinks he’s so god damn clever. “What do you want?”
“You knew Harley was breaking Joker out of Arkham, but you didn’t tell me.”
She shifted her weight, offended at the topic. “I’m not saying I knew, but even if I did, why would I tell you?”
“So I could stop her.”
“You think you can stop Harley from rescuing that asshole every time he gets locked up? That’s an exercise in futility. Trust me, I know all about that.”
“Selina.” His voice sharpened.
“What Bruce? It’s what they do! Every time you put him away, she breaks him out. Why do I need to tell you it’s going to happen?”
“You did know, then?” Batman stood statuesque.
Selina huffed. “I heard rumors, but I didn’t know. People always talk.”
“Then why did you go out to celebrate with Poison Ivy?”
Selina slouched in exasperation. “We weren’t celebrating. We were commiserating.”
“What were you so upset about?”
She scoffed. “For the ‘world’s greatest detective’ you sure can’t tell when a woman’s in love.” Bruce stared at her, not following her thread. Selina sighed heavily. “Ivy’s in love with Harley. We were drinking to drown the demons of loves with…existing commitments.” Bruce flexed his jaw. It was a subtle movement, but Selina noticed. She turned back to the building across the way. “Now if you don’t mind, I’ve got some work to do.”
Selina smirked and spoke over her shoulder. “Are you going to stop me?” She turned around, hoping for flirtation. But Batman was gone. Selina mocked, “Can’t let anyone in, I’ve got to be pensive on rooftops all alone.”
“Harley!” Ivy carried Harley as best she could over to the bed. Pamela pulled her wig off and finally got a good look at her face. Her lip was split and there was dried blood smeared across her chin. The whole right side of her face was a deep crimson and her eye was nearly swollen shut. Her white grease paint was smeared in strange patches. A long, thin purple bruise stretched around her throat. “Harley, honey, what happened to you?” She was unconscious though. Pamela let her rest while she collected supplies to clean her up.
Ivy scrubbed the blood from her chin. The cloth came back covered in tan makeup. Harley’s cover up makeup wiped off, revealing the white skin beneath. Why would she wear makeup over her grease paint? Pam was confused, but she focused on washing the dirt and grime from Harley’s wounds. She got fresh water and a clean cloth to wipe around her swollen eye. Harley whimpered and swatted softly in her sleep. “Shh.” Ivy gently took her hand and replaced it across her stomach. Harley fussed again. “I’m not going to hurt you. It’s okay, Harl.” She settled down with the sound of Pamela’s voice. “Let’s see about making you some poultices for these bruises.”
Ivy went to work harvesting blossoms and barks to make tinctures. She spread the cool mixture over Harley’s neck and wrapped it with bandages to allow it to soak into her skin. “I can’t promise it will help the pain very much, but it should at least heal a bit faster. Now let me look at that eye of yours.” Ivy spoke gently, knowing Harley was in too deep a sleep to hear her. But Pam’s voice seemed to calm Harley’s body and ease her protests. Carefully, Ivy dabbed the paste around Harley’s eye.
“These clothes need to come off, Harl. I’ll get you something clean and more comfortable.” Ivy pulled one of Harley’s old button up shirts from her closet. Before removing her clothes, Pam cleaned the blood from Harley’s hands. She hoped that at least some of what she scrubbed away wasn’t Harley’s. If you’re going to take a beating like this, I hope you at least gave some of what you got.
Ivy lifted her carefully, removing the blouse she had on. Her torso was snow white. That wasn’t makeup; something was very wrong. What happened in the months she’d been away? “Oh, Harl, please be okay.” Pamela pulled the fresh shirt on and buttoned it up just above her cleavage. She remembered that Harley never did the top buttons unless she had to, had always said it was too constricting. Pam smirked, recalling Harley’s commentary. “Besides, I gotta show off the girls. They’re too good not to!” Ivy ran a knuckle down the curve of Harley’s chest as she fixed the shirt. “They’re not bad, that’s for sure.” She pulled off Harley’s shoes and undid her pants. Bereft of her dirty clothes and as clean as possible, Pamela pulled the blanket up over Harley and tucked her in. Sighing, she settled for sleep next to Harley’s small body. “I hope you can tell me what happened to you in the morning.”
Ivy woke to find Harley’s arm wrapped tight around her ribs. The girl’s head was on her shoulder, blonde hair tickling Pamela’s nose. She smoothed the hair down and Harley settled deeper into the touch. Pam sighed. There was no getting up with Harley so entangled, and she didn’t have the heart to move her, so Ivy resigned herself to a morning in bed. She draped one arm around Harley’s shoulders and took a book from her nightstand. Propping it on Harley’s arm, she dug into it.
Harley slept for another few hours. As she began to wake, she whined softly and squeezed Ivy tightly. Pamela came to a stopping point in her book and set it down, waiting for Harley to wake.
“Good morning, Harl.” The girl cringed and pressed hard into Ivy’s shoulder. “Come on, Harley, you’ve got to get up. I need to tend to your wounds.”
She cried. “My head feels like it’s been split in two.”
“From your bruises, I’m not at all surprised. It looks like you took one hell of a beating. Harley, hun, what happened?”
Harley frowned, emotionally torn. She longed to tell Pammy the truth about everything that had happened; how Joker had beaten her, that she’d run straight to her. She wanted to tell her about that night when she fell, about how it had hurt like fire stripping her to the bone. She hadn’t told anyone about the pain, about what she felt that night. No one had even asked. Pulling her in the other direction was an irrational fear that Pamela would reject her, would judge her. She couldn’t stomach the thought of Pam thinking she was some dumb kid who could nothing right. What would Harley do if Pammy deemed her unworthy?
“Harley?” Ivy’s voice was gentle with a tone of worry.
No, Pammy would never treat her like that. Pam cared too much for her to cast her aside. Harley sighed, slowing down her thoughts. She pondered where she should start. “I got Joker out of Arkham yesterday.”
Ivy nodded. “Selina told me.”
Harley slumped. “I guess everybody knew then? Why didn’t Bats try to stop me?”
“Because Selina didn’t tell anyone but me.” Ivy explained.
“Oh.” Harley shrugged. “I got him out, real quiet-like, no alarms or guards, nothing. But he didn’t like my plan, said it wasn’t good enough. It was stupid and he was better than that.”
“So… he hit you?!” Pamela shot up off the bed, her blood boiling.
Harley quailed. “My plan wasn’t good enough for Mistah J, so he let me know.”
“I am going to murder that god damn clown. If he thinks he can treat you like that… He thinks he knows what a beating is…oh, I am going to flay him and roast him over a fire. But first I’m going to break every bone in his scrawny body.”
“Pammy, please. Don’t hurt him. I love him.”
Ivy trembled with rage. She fought against it, sitting on the bed next to Harley. Scowling at the swollen redness of her bruising, Pamela stared into her bright blue eyes. “Harleen Quinzel you promise me that you will never go back to that man ever again.”
Harley was taken aback; when was the last time someone had called her by that name? Pam didn’t have to worry though, she’d made up her mind this time. “Don’t worry, Red, I’m not going back to him.”
“You promise me, Harley.”
Harley looked into her green eyes, blazing with intensity, and smiled. “I promise, Pammy. But please, just…leave him alone. I don’t want him to hurt you too.” She pleaded.
“Oh, Harl, he won’t hurt me.” Ivy smiled menacingly, her eyes flashing with a dark fire. “I’ve got his number.”
The sinister look fell from her face. “But if that’s what you want, I’ll leave it. If he tries to pull some shit though, if he tries to do anything else to you, I will beat him like he’s never been beaten.” Harley sighed. Pamela was too fierce a woman to not defend the people she cared about. Ivy collected herself. “So Joker did all this to you? Your eye, your lip.” She paused, passing a worrying look over Harley’s throat. “Your neck.”
Harley hunched over, shame weighing her shoulders down. “Yeah.”
“Alright.” Pamela wasn’t going to dwell on it. “Harley, why is your skin white? What happened?”
Harley sunk more into herself. “You remember how they were supposed to get rid of all the chemicals that made Mistah J?”
“Well, they didn’t. My Puddin’ was gonna dunk Batman in it. He was gonna make the Bat just like him.” Harley stopped and chuckled softly as a realization settled around her. “His plan wouldn’t have even worked. I’m not crazy. It wasn’t the chemicals, it was him.” Her laughter grew into a hysterical fit.
Ivy looked at her confused. “Harley what are you talking about?”
Harley choked back her laughter until she could speak. “Mistah J was gonna make Batsy just as crazy as he is. That was gonna be his greatest scheme. Batman made him, and he was gonna unmake Batman. I messed it up though. I thought Bats was gonna shoot him. So I swung down to stop it and I fell instead.” Harley laughed victoriously. “But I didn’t come out crazy. His plan didn’t even work.”
“It bleached your skin. When did that happen?”
Harley slouched, she should have told Pam earlier. “A month ago.”
“Harley, why didn’t you tell me?!”
Harley looked away; she’d told herself it was to keep Pam from worrying about her. The reality was that she was embarrassed about making such a foolish mistake and was afraid Pamela would chastise her. “I didn’t want you to know. I didn’t want you to worry, I was fine. I didn’t…” Her voice dropped off.
“You thought I’d think less of you?” Pamela finished the thought for her. Harley’s cheeks reddened, exposing the truth of her guess. “Harley.” Ivy lifted the girl’s chin with a soft touch, forcing Harley to look into her eyes as she spoke. “Nothing will make me think poorly of you.”
Harley smiled crookedly. “Thanks, Red.”
Pamela’s gaze softened, lingering on Harley. “Let’s have breakfast.”
Harley collapsed on the bed. “My head feels like it’s about to explode.”
“Food will help,” Ivy insisted.
Harley whined. “But chewing hurts.” She frowned, thinking for the first time about the length of time healing was going to take.
“I’ll do what I can, Harl.” Ivy went to the kitchen to make smoothies for the both of them.
Harley had difficulty moving around. Her legs were sore and tired, her swollen face made it hard to see properly, and the concussion she’d clearly suffered caused violent spells of dizziness. All of this was underlined by an ever-present headache. Ivy tried to convince her to go to the hospital, a doctor, anything. Harley refused, insisting that it wasn’t worth it. The most she’d get from the effort would be a couple of prescriptions for the pain and dizziness. With every cop in the city ready to bring her in for breaking out Joker, it wasn’t worth the risk. Compounding the issue, was explaining her skin.
So they spent the afternoon in the house, Poison Ivy acting as nurse. Harley leaned heavily on Pam’s shoulder, drifting off frequently. “Just lay down, Harley. It’ll be more comfortable.”
“Ya sure, Pammy?”
“Yes. Just lay your head in my lap, it’ll be less stress on your neck and probably help your headache.”
Harley readjusted, laying her head on Ivy’s thigh. It was soft and warm, Harley settled into it quickly. Ivy stroked her blonde hair gently. “Rest if you need it.”
“Whatever you say, Red.” Harley’s voice sounded wispy, sleep already taking hold.
Ivy smiled, her fingers playing idly through Harley’s hair. She’d missed the company of someone else in her space. Truthfully, she’d missed Harley. Now she was back where she belonged, safe with Ivy. No one would ever hurt her again. Pamela felt Harley’s heat sinking in as her small body relaxed into hers. Cozy and comfortable, she drifted off to sleep as well.
Pam woke late in the evening. Harley was gone and panic washed over her. “Harley?” She jumped up and ran into the kitchen. Harley stood over the table, letting the surface bear most of her weight. She was studying the maps and papers Ivy had laid out for the vault.
“Harley, you scared me. I thought…” She trailed off, not really knowing what she had thought, other than that Harley was gone and might have been hurt.
“Oh, sorry, Pammy. I didn’t want to wake you, you looked so comfy.” She smiled at Ivy.
Pamela smiled slightly. “It’s okay, I was just worried.” She slid up next to Harley. Brushing a bit of blonde hair back, she inspected her face. Ivy touched the skin gently, testing the inflammation and temperature. It was cooler to the touch; while her bruises were darkening to plum, they were less swollen.
“It looks like you got everything planned out.” Harley stated confidently.
“Mhmm.” Ivy responded absently. She stroked Harley’s cheekbone beneath her eye. Harley winced, but didn’t pull away. “Sorry. It seems to be healing quicker than I expected.”
“So, when is your big heist on this place? You want my help?” Harley turned her attention to Ivy. She was startled by the concentration in Pamela’s eyes.
“I wouldn’t want you to get hurt; you can barely walk on your own right now. It doesn’t matter anyway though.”
“Why not?” Harley squinted in confusion.
“Because they close the vault in fifty three minutes.” Ivy answered flatly. “Assuming they haven’t already. Schedules are often up for debate.”
“Pammy, why aren’t you out there?” Harley was upset, knowing how much this had meant to her.
“Because you needed me here.”
“But, Red, all those seeds, all those plants. You planned this for months. You should have been out there, you should have gotten all those seeds and planted them…I don’t know where you were gonna plant ‘em, but you should have done it.”
Ivy stared into those sparkling blue eyes, glittering with passion, and subconsciously smiled.
“You’re more important to me than some plants.”
Harley stopped dead, staring at Pamela with her mouth agape. I’m more important?
A wide-eyed look came over Pam’s face. Ivy turned from Harley’s eyes. She shot to the counter and focused every bit of her attention on making food, her mind racing. “What do you want for dinner? I know it’s late, but we should eat. Do you want another smoothie, or maybe a sandwich? Can you chew yet, do you think?” Pam asked, not turning to face Harley as she struggled to suppress all the thoughts trying to claw their way to the surface of her mind.
Harley is more important to me than some plants.
Chapter 6: What About Love
Harley slept soundly, but Ivy laid in bed staring up at the ceiling. Left with no other distractions, her mind poured over her words. Harley is more important than some plants. Did she really mean it? The words had just spilled out before she’d thought about it. She had voluntarily ignored her window to get into the seed vault to tend to Harley. When Harley had tried to focus on the vault, she had focused on Harley. Ivy rolled over to face her. So, she really is more important than rescuing those seeds. Whatever that meant, or didn’t mean, was irrelevant though. Harley needed to heal, inside as well as out. After the abuse Joker had put her though, it wouldn’t be right to say anything to her without knowing absolutely how Pamela felt. The last thing Harley needed was an emotional distraction when she still had wounds to heal. Maybe that would give Pam time to figure out what the hell was going on in her own head.
Harley’s dizzy spells came further and further apart. The headache was still an issue, but less painful, and a regimen of over-the-counter pain medication kept it manageable. With Harley on the mend, Pamela sequestered herself in her lab in an attempt to completely avoid dealing with her feelings. Converting all of her nervous energy into mental concentration had always been her first line of emotional defense. After so many years, and so many changes, it seemed some things were destined to stay the same. With several projects going at once, she was able to shift from one to another as each came to a stage of inactivity with no downtime in between. And no time for her mind to wonder.
It was a strategy that might have worked, if not for Harley. She had never been one to sit still for long, which is what had led her to gymnastics. Nor had she ever liked being alone, which had led her to a great number of mistakes. So when an antsy loneliness came upon her, Harley wandered into Ivy’s lab for company. At first she merely watched Pamela work. However, this swiftly bored her as Pam’s work consisted largely of looking through microscopes, commenting to herself under her breath, and scribbling down notes on her observations. Harley walked slowly around the room. She tried to stay quiet, to be as unobtrusive as possible, but her curiosity got the better of her and she began questioning. “What’s this, Red?”
Ivy looked up from the microscope to see what Harley was inquiring about. “I’m cultivating a new rose species. It will be an absolutely beautiful bloom, but it’s very delicate, so please don’t touch it.”
Harley went over to a table covered in papers. It looked like gibberish to her, columns of numbers and measurement. “What’s this supposed to be?”
Ivy looked up again. “Data. Exposure experiments on various toxins. I was trying to breed immunities.” She returned to the microscope.
A computer screen caught Harley’s attention and she sat down in front of it. Clicking through the video files displayed, she found they were a series of short clips of cells reacting to a foreign substance introduced in varying quantities and rates. “Hey, Pammy, are these from your experiment?”
Ivy was exasperated. “Harley, I am trying to work. Would you please stop asking so many questions?”
Harley frowned. “Sorry.” She looked around the room, moving from this to that, adamant about not bothering Pam again. Along one wall was a row of planter trays under bright lights. At the end was a large metal box with a door on it. Harley peered inside the glass door. A small round tray with a white, puffy material sat on the shelf inside. She opened the door and pulled the tray out.
Ivy tried to ignore her. But the longer Harley was in the lab, the more Pam found her attention drifting to the girl. Glances over her shoulder became longer and her thoughts while staring into the microscope wandered to Harley. Fighting it, she forced herself to focus. It didn’t last though, before she finally gave in and turned to watch Harley.
Harley tugged at the petri dish with the fungal spore in it. Another second and she’d have the lid off. The spore would spray out in a fine puff of dust, exposing Harley and beginning a long, painful death process.
“Harley, no!” Ivy threw her pen down and ran across the room.
“Pammy, I’m not gonna ruin anything. The box thingy isn’t even on.”
Ivy grabbed the tray from Harley and carefully replaced it in the incubator. “What? No.” Pamela gave her a distressed look. “Harley, I am the only person that is immune to those spores. If you’d have opened that dish, it would have killed you. Slowly. And very painfully.”
“Oh.” Harley’s shoulders slumped, just one more thing to add to the long list of mistakes she’d made.
Ivy reached out to comfort her. “It’s okay, Harl.” She brushed strands of blonde behind Harley’s ear. Pam’s hand lingered against her cheek. “You just have to be more careful. Ask before touching.”
“But you got cranky with me for asking too much.”
Pamela sighed. “That’s my fault. I shouldn’t have been so short with you.” Ivy rubbed her thumb against Harley’s cheek. “I’m sorry.” Her blue eyes looked even brighter now, against her snow white skin. Was it strange to think she seemed more beautiful? Pam, what are you doing? “Let’s go watch TV or something. What time is it? Are you hungry?”
Pamela was alone with her thoughts while Harley showered. Her mind wandered over everything that had brought her to this moment. She began as far back as to question if she’d never been forced to share a cell with Harley and fell down a rabbit hole of concatenation until she thought about the night she’d found Harley on her doorstep. What if she hadn’t come home when she did? What if she’d stayed out later with Selina? Would Harley have been okay? That’s not a road worth going down, Pam. Ivy thought back over that evening in detail. The things Selina had said, inviting her out to drink to forget Harley choosing Joker. All the smart ass commentary with that sly grin… Selina knew. She had known long before Ivy did.
Did she know if Harley had feelings for her?
God, did she even want to get into that conversation with Selina of all people? Did she have a choice? It was either talk to Selina or drown in her own thoughts. Ivy called her, regretting the decision immediately. The phone was still ringing, she could just hang up. her finger hovered over the end call button.
Damn it. “Hi, Selina. It’s Ivy. Meet me at that bar of yours tonight.”
“What? No, ‘hey, how’re you doing? What’s new with you? Got plans tonight?” Selina berated.
“Alright. Do you have plans tonight, Selina?”
“No, I’m free. Would you like to meet up?”
Ivy could hear the smile on her face. She replied with clipped words, feigning congenial pleasantry. “Yes, Selina, I would like to meet up tonight. There’s something I’d like to discuss with you. Let’s get drinks.”
“Sounds fantastic! See you at nine?”
Ivy slipped on a slim fitting pair of jeans and a powder blue button up shirt. She surely wasn’t going dress out like Selina had insisted the last time they went out, but she was still going to look presentable. “Harley, I’ve got some errands to run. I’ll be back in a few hours. You’ll be okay by yourself?”
Harley lounged across the sofa. “I’ll be fine, Pammy. What do you got to do?”
“Just some things I have to sort out. I’ll tell you about it when I get back.”
“Okay. Be safe, Red.”
Pamela smiled. “I will, Harl.”
Selina signaled to the bartender for her usual before taking a seat with Pam. “Alright, Ivy, I’m here. You said you needed to talk. What ominous, impending doom are we facing?”
Pam slammed back the bulk of her martini and jumped straight in the deep end. “I have feelings for Harley. And you knew it.”
“Jesus Christ, it’s about time!” Selina pulled Ivy into a hug. “Have you told her yet? What did she say?”
Ivy pushed her back. “I haven’t said anything to her because I don’t even know what I feel.”
Fuck, she is slow. “Why are you here talking to me? You should be talking to Harley.”
“I am talking to you because aside from Harley, you’re the only friend I have. I can’t talk to her until I know what the hell is going on. She deserves better than that after everything she’s been through lately.”
“What happened to her?” Selina asked, concerned.
“After she broke that bastard out of Arkham, he beat her senseless. She’s staying with me now.”
“Jesus. She better not go back to his ass again.” The waiter silently slipped Selina’s drink in front of her and left.
Ivy shook her head. “She promised me she wasn’t. She walked straight to my place when it happened. While we were getting drunk, she was walking across the city with a concussion, a split lip, a bruised throat, and her face so swollen she could barely see out of one eye.”
“Fuck.” Selina was quiet for a long moment. “So when are we kicking his ass?”
Ivy curled her lip. “Harley doesn’t want us to bother with him.” Pam’s countenance fell. “She still loves him. Selina, what the hell am I doing? That assholes nearly killed her and she still loves him! She can’t have feelings for me.”
These two idiots, they’re so close. “She does.” Selina stated flatly.
“What? She told you? What did she say?”
Selina laughed. “She didn’t say anything; she didn’t need to. Anyone can tell by the way she treats you. How many other people in this city call you Pam? And you should have figured out your own feelings a long time ago.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Ivy felt insulted.
“How much do you let that girl get away with? How many times did you, Poison Ivy—a woman who despises people in every capacity—let her drag you all around the city for something she wanted to do?”
Why does a kiss on the cheek always make you smile? “Shit.”
Selina chuckled. “This is good. You’re finally coming around. Now all you have to do is talk to her.”
Pam threw up her arms. “And tell her what? Harley, I know you just got out of a super abusive relationship that I and all of your friends have been trying to get you out of for years, and he nearly killed you and you’re still not fully healed up from that, but I am completely in love with you and I want you to be with me.”
Selina’s face lit up. “YES.”
Pam’s face went pale. “I just said I’m in love with her didn’t I?”
She nodded. “Mhmm.”
“When did that happen?” Ivy mumbled.
“About three years ago.” Selina replied off-handedly.
“What the fuck, Selina?”
“What? You asked.” She grinned.
“It was rhetorical.” Ivy let out a long, slow breath. “I have to tell her something.”
“Yes, you do.” Selina sipped her drink. “Out of curiosity what finally made you realize?”
“I had planned months on hitting that seed vault before they closed it. I cancelled it without a second thought to take care of her after Joker beat her. When she asked why I could cancel something so important to me, I answered without thinking. She was more important to me than some plants.”
“Well, holy shit.”
“So here we are.” Pam finished off her drink.
“You can’t keep putting this conversation off. You better go home and tell that poor girl how you feel so she can be honest with herself about her own feelings. Ignoring it is only going to make you upset and bitter, and then you ruin the only chance you have at real happiness.” Selina eyed her.
“Why do I bother asking for your advice?” Ivy lamented.
“Because you know I’m right.” There was that smirk again.
Pamela returned home, her head spinning in thought. Harley had fallen asleep on the sofa, hugging tight to a pillow. Ivy smiled, she definitely likes to cuddle. Pam lifted Harley’s feet to sit, replacing them in her lap. She reached out and brushed some loose strands of hair off Harley’s cheek, stroking the skin gently. The bruising and sensitivity were gone now. It’s a hell of a thing to spring on you, to tell you that I love you. Maybe you already know, you’re pretty damn smart. “What am I going to do?”
“Hmm?” Harley stirred. “Oh, hey, Red. Did you take care of what you needed?”
Pamela smiled at her. “Yes, I did, Harley.”
“You were gonna tell me ‘bout it?” Her voice was still heavy with sleep.
“Later, Harl. Let’s get to bed. We’ll talk about it tomorrow.”
“Do you want to sleep on the couch or come to bed with me?” Ivy asked, expecting the answer.
“I like waking up with you. You’re nice to look at first thing in the morning.” Harley’s brain was numb with sleep.
Pam blushed. Maybe she really does have feelings for me. “Come on, Harl. Let’s go, then.”
“Whatever you say, Pammy.”
Ivy helped a sleep-brained Harley into bed. She changed into a night shirt before settling in next to her. Harley immediately wrapped her up and pressed close, her head on Pamela’s shoulder. Ivy waited until her breathing slowed back into the rhythm of sleep. She kissed the girl’s forehead. “I love you, Harley.” Her words slipped, unheard, into the ether of the silent room.