Title: The Spirit and the Flesh (5/??)

Author: Allaine

Email: eac2nd@yahoo.com

Disclaimers: Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, along with the other residents of Gotham, are the property of DC Comics, the creators of "Batman: The Animated Series", and God knows who else. All other characters are my invention. And if you have a problem with women who love each other, then this story is not for you. Feedback: As always, greatly desired and usually responded to.

Rating: R Spoilers: I strongly recommend you read "Wrath", "It's Just Allergies", "Life Don't Have to be No Bed of Roses", and "Perfect Opportunity" first.

Distribution: If you want it, just ask.

Summary: Six months later, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn have finally returned to Gotham. Unfortunately, so has a legendary killer, one who preys on the guilty.

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Chapter 5

"Shouldn't she be in a hospital?" the Phantasm asked as Ivy climbed back into their bed.

Ivy scoffed. "They can't help me," she said. "I can hardly help myself. All I can do is cling to these last few months by my fingertips."

"That's why we came back to Gotham," Harley said. "Thumb our noses at the cops, mess with the Bat's head, the thrill of escaping. We're not evil, we're just . . . well, naughty." The tip of her nose rubbed against Ivy's, but then she grimaced. "Ewww, vomit breath."

"So you're not planning some major attack on the city?" Andrea asked. "No kidnapping, no rabid plant outbreaks, no bomb threats?"

Ivy chuckled. "Do you see any major plans lying around? Does this look like a secret lab?"

The Phantasm looked around. It seemed pretty boring, actually. "But how can you be dying? Maybe twenty years ago, but medicine has advanced so much. And I was told you were immune to toxins and diseases."

Harley looked away.

"It was given to me," Ivy said calmly. "I am immune to poison, but I can get sick. Only on occasion, thanks to the experimentation performed on me so long ago that changed my DNA. But this virus has been genetically manipulated and spliced with a rare strain of disease that only affects plants. Someone got a hold of my blood and created a disease that attacks on two fronts. My immune system is focusing on the plant rot and keeping it at bay, but the HIV is stampeding through my body. I'm on a triple cocktail of medications, but it's adding weeks, not years, to my lifespan. I'm all right for now, but sooner or later, even my immune system is going to give up. And then the collapse will be . . . quite rapid." Her voice bore the marks of clinical detachment, but it broke on the last two words.

"Who . . . gave it to you?"

Ivy gave her a scornful look. "Who do you think? An old friend of yours, that's who."

"The Joker," the Phantasm realized.

"We believed he'd never leave Gotham while his archenemy the Batman lived," Ivy confirmed. "But we were wrong. He caught up with us, captured us while we were sleeping. Worked me over pretty good so Harley could watch," she said matter-of-factly.

Harley involuntarily shuddered at some memory.

"Then he injected me with something and left," Ivy added. "It took a day or two before I was diagnosed."

The Phantasm stared at her. "Injected you? Then how did she get it? You didn't pass it along, did you?" She pointed at Harley.

"No!" Ivy said, horrified. "You think I would let that happen? Besides, the modifications made to the virus are very specific. It won't affect people whose DNA are one hundred percent human." She stopped and looked at Harley. "For reasons I will never accept, Harley did this to herself."

Across the street, Talia continued to listen over the Phantasm's microphone, transfixed.

"To herself?" the Phantasm asked haltingly.

"I infected myself," Harley whispered. "Got some HIV-positive blood and injected it. It was my idea. It's my fault Ivy's like this anyway."

Ivy's face twisted with an agony that was not illness-induced. "Harley," she said helplessly. "Please stop saying that."

"It's true, isn't it?" Harley asked. "If I'd never left the Joker for you, he never would have bothered you, and . . ."

"Harley, please!" Ivy cried. "I can't spend the last days of my life watching you punish yourself for something you don't deserve. How do you think _I_ feel, knowing you sentenced yourself to death because of me?!" She was starting to become incoherent as the tears flowed freely. "And you won't even take medication for it!"

"Don't want to live after you're gone," Harley said stubbornly. "What's the point?"

The Phantasm watched as the two women argued, seemingly unable to relieve each other's irrational guilt. They'd forgotten she was even there.

And why was she there? Oh, right, to take what little time these miserable women had left together, and thereby keep her own rear end out of prison. Killing them would be a blessing, wouldn't it?

Revolted, the Phantasm removed the hook from her hand and hurled it to the floor.

Ivy and Harley quieted instantly and looked at the Phantasm warily.

The Phantasm leaned against the wall and slowly pulled her mask off.

"Hey, it's a she," Harley said, surprised.

"Andrea, you fool!" Talia snapped. She would kill those women if Talia had to put the gun in Andrea's hand and make her pull the trigger! Slinging her rifle onto her back, she prepared to fire a grappling hook that would enable her to swing across to the other building. Why couldn't she have a device that let her disappear in a puff of smoke?

Andrea didn't say anything. She just breathed and tried to control her own stomach. She had no right to pass a death sentence on these women, or on anyone else. To put her own life above others would bring her down to these maniacs' level. That was a lesson she'd thought she learned years before. Apparently, however, she wasn't as strong as she'd thought.

At least maybe she was strong enough.

There was a click, and Andrea looked up. Poison Ivy was pointing a gun at her. "You bitch," she said wearily. "You were lying."

"I was telling the truth," Ivy sneered as she kneeled on the bed, wiping her soaked cheeks with her other hand. "Do you really think I'll give up what little time I have left with her? I would kill you for one more _day_ with her."

"I'm sorry," Andrea said. "I thought I didn't have a choice."

"A choice? A choice of what?"

The window shattered inward and the three women flinched backward. Talia tumbled into the apartment and quickly came up one knee, pointing her rifle at Ivy's head. "Put - it - down," she growled.

"YOU?!" Ivy hissed, shocked. "What is this? Does every woman in this damned city want us dead?!"

"Talia, don't," Andrea pleaded, holding a hand out.

"Shut up," Talia replied.

"Talia?" Harley asked, surprised. "The Demon's daughter? The one who - "

"The one who came to me with a job offer," Ivy finished for her. "Looks like these two are partners."

"You should have accepted the offer, Isley," Talia said coolly. "The Joker never would have gotten to you if you'd been with us."

"Perhaps," Ivy said. "But I'll kill your friend if you try anything."

"Go ahead," Andrea muttered. "I'm dead anyway."

Talia smiled. "She is right, Isley. She will go to prison, and she will die, unless you die tonight. You and your lover both."

Ivy looked back at Andrea. "That's the choice you were talking about?" she asked.

Andrea nodded.

"Hm," she said. "She bursts in like she's here to save you, and it turns out you have more to fear from her than us. Ironic . . . but workable, I think."

The Phantasm stared at Ivy, who raised an eyebrow. Without another word, Andrea's hand moved to her waist, and she was instantly surrounded by dense smoke.

"What? No!" Talia swore and turned her body, firing into the gas that the Phantasm had been swallowed by.

Ivy moved her arm casually and fired at Talia. The assassin was struck in the shoulder and flew backward, hitting the wall and dropping her rifle. She fell onto her palms and held herself up for a moment before blacking out and slumping to the floor.

"Where'd she go?" Harley asked, amazed.

The Phantasm was gone. Only her mask remained.

"Who cares?" Ivy answered. "She's running from Ra's now. She doesn't have time to waste on us. Which leaves us to deal with her," she added coldly. "Let's get dressed."

_____________________________________

Andrea found herself on the roof of the building. She felt instantly nauseous and, leaning over, vomited behind an air-conditioning unit.

When her stomach was back under control, she stood up and tried to think of what to do next. If she went to the police, she'd end up in prison for the Phantasm murders years before, as well as the recent attack on Scarface. If she went to Bruce . . . maybe he would help her. And maybe he'd turn her over to the authorities afterward.

But Ra's al-Ghul would see to it that she was killed, especially now that his daughter had been injured and was now at the mercies of Quinn and Ivy. They could torture or kill her with impunity. After all, what was he going to do, kill them? They were already dying. Ra's would still be alive long after their bones had turned to dust.

Andrea paused. Talia had told her of how her father had lived for centuries with the help of the "Lazarus Pits" he'd created, pools of liquid that brought life back to the dead, and youth back to the aged. Certainly if Talia was killed and her father recovered the body quickly enough, she could be resurrected. Not that it would help her any.

But if the Pits had such powers . . .

Taking a deep breath, she used her suit's most special power one more time.

_____________________

Talia glared murderously at Ivy as Harley finished tying her to a chair. Her top glistened with blood as it clung to the shoulder wound. "The police will respond to shots being fired," she growled.

"Then we don't have much time, do we?" Ivy asked. "Why did you come to kill us?" she demanded.

"Even if I was going to tell you, it would be irrelevant," Talia sniffed.

"Are her ropes tight?" Ivy asked Harley.

"Right-a-roonie," Harley replied.

"Good." Ivy grabbed Talia by the shoulder and ground her thumb against the bullet wound. Talia clenched her teeth and writhed in pain, unable to break free of her bonds.

"Why are you trying to kill us?" Ivy asked again.

"As . . ." Talia began, breathing heavily. "As a gift to the Batman."

Ivy and Harley looked at each other, then back at her. "Wouldn't chocolates have been enough?" Harley asked.

"You were not the only targets," Talia replied. "All of Batman's deadliest adversaries were to be eliminated. Perhaps then the Batman would no longer need to remain in this filthy city. We used the Phantasm to place the blame elsewhere."

"Christ, Talia," Ivy said, shaking her head. "We had that talk years ago, and you're still hung up on the Bat. Arkham would do you wonders."

"And if Batsy wanted us dead," Harley added, "he'd have done it himself."

"To top it all off," Ivy pointed out, "your Phantasm just doesn't have the guts any more."

"Kill enough people, it'll happen."

Before Ivy could even turn around, Andrea had already placed the curve of her sharp hook around Harley's neck from behind. Harley felt the steel against her skin and her eyes went wide. "Red," she whispered, frightened. "She's baaack."

Talia's lips curved upward in a half-smile. "Once she had time to think, she knew her only option was for you to die."

"Nobody has to die," Andrea said icily, glaring at Talia. "Even the two of you."

"Everybody has to die," Ivy snarled, her gun hanging uselessly because Andrea was using Harley as a human shield as well as a hostage. "Us especially, without you two or not."

"No, I don't think so," Andrea replied thoughtfully. "If the two of you help me, I think there's a way to cure your illnesses."

Talia stared at Andrea for a moment before she gasped. "It will never work," she said.

"What won't work?" Ivy asked.

"The Lazarus Pits," Andrea said. "If they can bring a dead man back to life, then Ra's al-Ghul's Lazarus Pits can certainly cure your AIDS."

"Those pits are in secret locations," Talia retorted.

"Which you know," Andrea replied.

Talia shook with rage. "And they're heavily guarded. If you're so intent on clinging to these last few weeks of life, then attempting such a suicidal mission would be insane."

Harley and Ivy looked at each other, and even with the blade at her neck, Harley's eyes flickered with hope. "Maybe it's true, Red."

Ivy raised her gun once more, putting it to Talia's head. "Is it true?" she asked. "_If_ we got past your precious security, could it save us?"

Talia bared her teeth at Ivy. "Yes," she hissed. "Even you could be cured."

Ivy let the gun fall again as the blood rushed into her cheeks. "My God," she whispered.

"I say we make an arrangement," Andrea suggested calmly. "I help the two of you find one of these Pits, and you keep Talia's father from killing me."

"Why do we need you?" Ivy asked.

"Because unlike you, I'm in perfect health. And as we've seen, I can get into places you can't."

Ivy nodded. "We could come to an understanding - if you let Harley go _right now_, that is."

Andrea hesitated for a moment before carefully moving the hook away from Harley's neck and letting her go. Harley scrambled away from the Phantasm and ran into Ivy's arms.

"It appears she was right, Talia," Ivy said in a voice that was almost gay. "None of us will be dying tonight. Not even you."

Talia scowled.

"Uh, Red? Police?"

"Of course, you're right. So, Phantasm, think you could help us get our reluctant ally out of here?"

"My name is Andrea," Andrea shot back.

"Is that a yes?"

Andrea sighed. She certainly couldn't go to Batman now. "Yes."

_______________________________



"You should have kept running," Talia informed her. "If you think my father will be angered by your failure to kill even one name on his list, wait until he finds you have attempted to commandeer one of the few remaining Lazarus Pits in the world."

"You should be thankful I didn't," Andrea replied as she finished bandaging Talia's shoulder. The other woman winced briefly. "Otherwise they would have killed you."

Talia sniffed. "I have been in worse places. I could have taken care of them."

"That may be," Andrea said, "but I owed you for the incident with Saheed and the electrified collar too." She frowned. "Even if you were going to kill me anyway, I couldn't let you die. I'm not like you."

Ra's' daughter glared at her. "Obviously not. Or you wouldn't have decided to cast your lot with a pair of lunatics. Who, I might add, you've allowed to take control of my safe house!"

"Your father's safe house," Andrea corrected her. "And it's your father's guards who are locked away so they can't contact anyone. Let's not forget the fact that you're as much a slave to your father as I was."

"It's called filial duty," Talia snapped. "Surely the Phantasm can respect that?"

Andrea sighed. Her father's death _had_ been a driving factor in the birth of the Phantasm. "I suppose you're right," she acknowledged. "Maybe I should just stop talking. I'm no good at these dramas."

Talia laughed bitterly as she tried to adjust her handcuffs into a more comfortable position. "You seem to be faring better than I," she said. "What - what do they plan for me?" she then asked.

"As long as they need you to gain access to a Lazarus Pit," Andrea replied, "you're in no danger."

"Ah, but should my usefulness be at an end, then my life will be forfeit?"

"That was your plan for me, wasn't it?" Andrea suddenly snarled at her. "Yours and your father's?"

Talia drew back slightly. "I did not relish the prospect," she did admit. "After I realized that you were no longer my 'competition', I wanted you to succeed so that you might live."

"Well, if we succeed, you'll live too," Andrea promised. "I won't let them hurt you if you keep your part of the bargain."

" . . . Thank you."

"Cute. Sort of a reverse Stockholm Syndrome."

Andrea and Talia pulled away from each other when they heard Poison Ivy's sardonic voice. "What happens next?" Andrea asked. "When do we leave?"

"Not for a day or two," Ivy replied. "I think the four of us have something to do in Gotham before we leave."

"What?" Andrea asked, alarmed at the prospect of tempting fate by remaining in Batman's city.

"Something we can all get something out of," Ivy told them. "Something that will even make Daddy Warbucks happy and maybe get him off your back, Andrea."

Harley appeared next to her. Her normally cheerful demeanor had been replaced by something more serious and intense. "We," she said, "are going to kill my Puddin'."

To be continued (I promise!) . . .