Title: Paper Trails (1/1)

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.

Feedback: As always, greatly desired and usually responded to.

Rating: PG

Spoilers: None.

Distribution: If you want it, just ask.

Summary: Do you know how much paper tax preparers consume in the days leading up to April 15th? Poison Ivy does, and she doesn't like it. A one-shot fic.

_______________________________

"I don't even want to know how many cups of coffee I've waded in tonight."

"It's just coffee, Harl. Made from the best stuff on earth."

" . . . Snapple?"

"Plants, Harley. Coffee beans?"

"I know," Harley Quinn groused as they rummaged through yet another dumpster filled with big black trash bags, yet again filled with enormous amounts of white paper. "I hope this is going to make us a lot of money."

Poison Ivy smiled. She pitied the other woman who, not realizing the mess they'd be making that night, had dressed in her trademark red and black tights. Ivy's own revealing green number was at the hideout, and her outfit was more appropriate for heavy-duty gardening - or digging through trash. "I wish I could promise you that, Harley, but we're not making a dime out of this."

Harley froze. "WHAT?!"

"I'm not doing this for the money. I'm doing it for the principle."

"Didn't Twain say something about people who say they're doing it for the principle?"

"Yes," she sighed. "He said they were doing it for the money. He was talking about men, though. Men do _everything_ for the money. I'm just trying to make a difference."

Harley looked down at her leggings, sopping wet at the ankles. "You're already making a difference in my dry cleaning bill," she muttered.

________________________________

Bruce Wayne was leafing casually through the mail when the phone rang. He considered waiting for Alfred to answer, in case it was a call he didn't want to take, but he decided that the butler had enough duties. "Hello, Bruce Wayne," he said absently as he lifted the receiver and put it to his ear.

"Mr. Wayne? This is Beryl Lippman. From Andersen, Barsky, Ross and Scaccetti?" There was a hesitation. "Your acountants?"

"Yes, Beryl! How are you?" Bruce guessed that the other man's pause had been a reflection of his confirmed reputation as a nimrod who thankfully never visited his corporate offices, because he didn't belong in one.

"Good, Mr. Wayne, good. I wasn't able to catch you at your office, and I was hoping I could find you at home."

"Is there a problem?" Bruce asked. "Because if there's any information you need, I'm sure I wouldn't know where it is. Maybe - "

"Actually, Mr. Wayne, I just wanted to update you regarding certain matters that have occurred at our firm today," Beryl said.

A trifle anxiously, Bruce thought. He didn't give any hint that he'd detected it, though. "Sure, what's going on?"

"Well, as you know, you are one of our most important personal clients, and I've been personally responsible for preparing your tax returns for several years, along with certain members of our professional staff . . ."

Bruce tuned the next fifteen seconds out as he allowed the accountant to go through the usual blather about what an important client he was, and how much time they devoted to him.

" . . . and I wanted you to know that your returns might not be finished by the fifteenth."

He didn't need to look at the calendar to know that April fifteenth was two days away. "Can't you just do one of those extendible things?"

"Yes, an extension! And we will, Mr. Wayne. It's just that - we've had a little setback here."

Bruce raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

"Yes, well, we're not exactly sharing this with many people, but since your family has been a client for such a long time - you could say we're being held hostage."

He dropped the mail. "Hostage?! You mean there are men in there with guns?"

"No, nothing like that, we're not in any danger, Mr. Wayne. But our files, they're in very grave danger."

"A computer virus?"

"Oh, there's that, too," Beryl said, laughing helplessly for a moment. "You see, we have very extensive paper records for all our individual and business clients. As one of the six largest firms in Gotham, we have entire rooms filled with files dating back several years. We have computer records as well, but that can't replace the actual paper tax forms in many cases."

"And?" Bruce asked, when the accountant stopped.

"And we can't get into our records department."

"Why not?"

"Because one of those costumed nuisances has barred all the doors and windows!" Beryl said heatedly. "As well as the room where our computer servers are located. _And_ they've introduced viruses into our computers so that we can't transfer or edit the data files."

Bruce's grip tightened on the phone. "Who?" he asked, in a voice that was much more suggestive of a certain dark knight than a foppish playboy.

"That plant woman, Poison Ivy! We have hundreds of clients whose tax returns are being jeopardized right now because we don't recycle."

"I'm sorry, because you _what_?"

He shouldn't have been surprised when the tax partner told him. Nothing these people did any more.

________________________

Alfred set a sandwich down on a tray next to Bruce. It didn't matter that night was several hours away, and consequently the Batman would not be leaving for quite some time. This was the Batcave, and except for the mask, Master Bruce was dressed as the Batman. "Perhaps you would like to eat something, sir?"

Bruce shifted in his seat and picked up the sandwich with a gloved hand. "Thank you, Alfred," he said.

"What seems to be the matter this time?"

"Poison Ivy."

"Ah," Alfred said. He didn't know what she'd done, but he knew that when it came to the environmentally obsessed seductress, it was always a headache.

"It appears," Bruce explained, taking his "ah" as a sign of interest, "that Poison Ivy has declared war on the less than eco-friendly practices of Gotham's accounting industry."

"Is the lumber industry too subtle a target for her?" Alfred asked.

"During tax season the major accounting firms consume huge amounts of white paper," Bruce went on. "Tens of thousands of sheets in a single day, and much of that goes into the garbage. From what I've gathered, Ivy is focusing her wrath on four firms, including my accountants, that throw the paper away instead of recycling it."

Alfred couldn't think of a response to that. "How - politically incorrect," he finally said.

Bruce chuckled. "I hacked into their computer systems. The virus is only affecting their data files. They're still able to use their computers for other purposes, including electronic mail. From what I've gleaned by going through their saved emails, they arrived for work this morning and discovered their entire file department was barricaded by dense plant growth that had appeared during the night."

"Couldn't they just cut their way through?"

"Ivy sent them a warning. Any attempts to damage the plants would cause them to secrete vapors that would have a corrosive affect on the papers inside those rooms. The partners don't appear to be willing to see if she's bluffing or not."

Alfred scratched his head. "Not to suggest that we should give Miss Isley what she wants, but why not simply agree to begin recycling their waste paper?"

"Because I'm not convinced this isn't just a ruse," Bruce replied. "We don't know what kind of access she may have to either their computer or print records. Those records contain their clients' most important personal information - social security numbers, bank account numbers, brokerage statements, and so on. She could plunder their assets with the information in those files."

"Just when you think these people are completely insane, it turns out it's all about the money after all," Alfred remarked.

"Exactly," Bruce said. "At any rate, they have until tomorrow morning to comply with her demands. And Gotham's recycling is handled entirely by the city. So if the firms are going to give in, they're going to have to contact a certain office to make arrangements."

"And Miss Isley will have to have some sort of access if she's going to know whether they're agreeing or not," Alfred realized.

"Which is why I'll find her there tonight," Bruce told him. Then he frowned.

"What is it, Master Bruce?"

"When this is all over, I think I'm going to switch my business to another firm."

Alfred raised his eyebrows. "Are your environmental sensibilities offended too, sir?"

"It's not that. But I would prefer that my accountants shred my tax files, instead of merely throwing it into a dumpster where any enterprising con artist can find it." He looked back at the screen. "My accountants don't do that, because it costs extra time and money to do all that shredding."

"Ah," Alfred said again. "They prefer to save themselves money, rather than save you money. My faith in corporate America has been shaken."

________________________________________

As Batman trained his binoculars that night on the windows of the city offices that handled most of Gotham's trash and recycling pickup, his only concern was for the one variable.

He had no idea if Harley Quinn was aiding Poison Ivy in her latest scheme.

The Joker and Quinn had another of their violent "spats" about a month earlier, culminating in yet another of his attempts on her life. How she managed to continuously avoid meeting the fate that hundreds of other people had met at his hands, Batman couldn't understand. He could certainly empathize, however. He'd "invited", and thwarted, numerous attempts by the Joker on his own life as well.

At any rate, she'd completely vanished from the underworld's radar since then. The Joker had conducted several thefts and murders without her assistance before Batman had finally slammed him back into Arkham. If Harley were to react predictably, and they so often did, her response would be to seek out her "pal" Poison Ivy. Their destructive rampages together usually followed Harley's temporary rifts with the Joker.

While Poison Ivy certainly wasn't a risk to kill Quinn like the Joker was, she would prove no safer to the sidekick, Batman felt. Ivy would most likely get the other woman killed somehow. Certainly the plant lover would meet a violent end some day with her own reckless behavior.

At any rate, Poison Ivy had been quiet lately, so he had no idea if the two women had been laying low, or if Quinn had found an alternate refuge. No matter what, though, Ivy was the greater threat, and he would focus his attack on her.

His attentions were quickly rewarded as he caught a glimpse of a green-clad figure with brilliant red hair passing one of the windows.

Taking his grappler, he used it to swing across the street, coming to a stop just to the right of a different window. Carefully he looked inside.

The unmistakable form of Poison Ivy was sitting casually on a desk with her back to him, idly twirling a pencil between her fingers.

It was something they'd have to clean up themselves in the morning, but Batman couldn't worry about the city repair budget. He came crashing through the window, already throwing one of his custom-made projectiles at her. It spun through the air and wrapped strong cords tightly around her waist before she could react. She fell off the desk and landed on the floor with a grunt.

Batman approached her carefully. "Give it up, Ivy," he growled.

The woman on the floor shifted and looked up at him. As she did, her red hair fell back onto the floor.

"Heya, Batsy," Harley Quinn chirped naughtily.

That answered one question, he thought as he instinctively backed away. But if she was here, then where . . .

He felt her hand on his shoulder a moment before her cool lips planted themselves on his cheek. "Well, hello lover," she whispered in his ear.

She must have applied her special lipstick, because he could feel his body straining against a sudden compulsion to relax and relinquish all control to her. Batman fought it for a moment before Ivy circled around him and planted a fuller kiss on his lips.

When she leaned back, he was entirely at her mercy, even as he raged at her inside his mind.

"You're lucky I didn't knock you over the head, Batman," she said sultrily. "It would have left quite a bump. But don't think I'm concerned for your welfare," she added. "After all, now you'll do what I say, and frankly, I didn't feel like lugging you to the car."

"Uh, Red? You think you could untie me?"

Poison Ivy grinned. "I'm sorry, Harley, you're right. Batman, be a dear and release her? It's your mess, after all."

Batman couldn't even glower effectively as he knelt down and untied Quinn with mechanical efficiency.

"You just earned your merit badge," Ivy told him, her eyes dancing evilly. "Now, our car really isn't up to standards. How about you give us a ride in that souped-up dragster of yours?"

"Does it have a CD player?" Harley demanded as she struggled up and flung the cables he'd untied at his feet.

"Don't answer that," Ivy said before he could respond, and his lips clamped shut. "In fact, don't speak at all unless I want you too, got it?"

Cheeks reddening, he was forced to nod.

"That's my boy. If you're really good, I'll give you _all_ the kisses you want," Ivy promised. But it was her satisfied smile that nearly drove him over the edge.

_____________________________

"You can talk now if you want," Ivy said as she closed the last of the padlocks holding the chains around his body together. Naturally, he hadn't struggled in the slightest as she bound him.

"I know what this is really about," he growled angrily. "You may say it's about the paper, and with your background they'll believe it. But this is really about using the information contained in those files, isn't it?"

She slapped him suddenly. "You arrogant, know-it-all man," she snarled. "You dare question me? I, who have spent my entire life defending plants from your greedy, destructive kind?"

The slap had been what he needed. It seemed to return him to his senses, and slowly his body responded as he attempted to begin working his way out of his chains without her noticing.

"Still," she acknowledged, "I may have arranged for a few high-end clients to make six-figure donations to the Earth Liberation Front without their knowledge. But I felt inspired by those selfless accountants," she added sardonically. "Because now they'll be able to get a tax deduction for their charitable contributions."

"They're the people you're really hurting," Batman retorted. "Not the firms you accuse of not recycling, but the clients whose taxes won't be paid on time."

Ivy sneered at him. "Death and taxes, Batman. The government will get its cut of the latter sooner or later. And tonight, I'm getting my cut of the former from you." She looked over the catwalk in the recycling plant they'd driven to. "Although your death won't involve much cutting."

"Got it!" Harley crowed triumphantly as she finally got the machine running.

"You see, Batman," Ivy whispered, "you're going to be pulled through that rolling machine, but instead of new sheets of clean, white paper, we'll be printing a batch of color paper. A nice red, I think. After all, if they buried your body, why it would be no different than throwing it into a landfill. Tonight you get your chance to give back to the environment."

He turned his head and looked down. They were on a catwalk looking over most of the recycling plant. The huge rollers probably wouldn't kill him; the fall would kill him first.

Given a minute or two, he knew he could work himself free. But a few nudges from Ivy's knee-high boot would be all it took.

Ivy bought him the time he needed by leaning over the railing. "Harley, dear, could you come up here? Since you got those machines going, I think you've earned the honors."

"Goody!" Harley darted for the stairs that would take her up, duffel bag filled with explosives and other favorite gadgets over her shoulder.

By the time she bounded over to Ivy's side, Batman was mere moments from getting one hand free of the cuffs, and moments more before his arm was free, and Ivy had failed to notice. "Can I, can I?" Harley asked giddily.

"After you," Ivy murmured.

Harley planted a foot on Batman's chest and shoved. He rolled toward the edge but stopped. His feet dangled over.

"Stop the presses!" Harley squealed as she brought her foot forward again and shoved a second time.

As Batman felt himself spilling over the edge, with a supreme effort he ripped his hand free from its bonds. Spilling out of the chains, he reached up and grabbed the only thing he could.

Harley's ankle.

She screeched in surprise and fear as her feet were pulled completely out from under her.

Ivy blinked as Harley, by her side a moment ago, vanished. She clenched her fists as she looked down and saw Harley hanging from the catwalk, both hands clinging to the railing. Batman hung suspended below her, still holding onto her foot. "Damn it, Harley!" she shouted, exasperated.

"Red, he's not lettin' go!"

Before Ivy could react further, she was drawn by a noise. She looked to her right and saw that Harley's duffel bag had landed on the catwalk, spilling some of its contents out. A small sphere bounced and rolled its way down the walkway.

Ivy knew that Harley carried a variety of incendiary devices, which were variously set off by fuses, pulled pins, or the right amount of pressure. She watched, spellbound, as it made its way. "Please, no," she whispered without realizing it.

The bomb rolled to a stop and clinked against one of the poles supporting the railing.

There was a second's pause, and then it exploded, ripping the catwalk apart. The whole thing buckled, and Ivy fell over, almost going over the side herself.

Harley screamed as both she and Batman plunged three feet downward as the catwalk lurched, then stopped. "RED! He's too heavy, help!"

The jolt shook some of his chains loose, but as Batman was about to wrestle the other arm out, he felt a curious sensation that stiffened him. He looked down, and his eyes widened.

There were several chains still wrapped around his body, but one had dropped almost to the ground, connected to his body only by the chain attached to the cuff still around his other wrist. Unfortunately, it had gotten snagged in the rollers, and slowly it began to assist gravity in pulling him downward. Batman was now forced to hang onto Harley's foot with one hand, while pulling against the machine with the other.

"IVY!" Harley cried out. "I'm slipping!"

Poison Ivy stumbled over, the catwalk swaying with the damage it had taken at one end. She quickly grasped the situation Batman was in, and her eyes narrowed.

Batman caught the look in her eyes, and he felt cold. He could see the calculation as Ivy instantly comprehended the possibilities. If rather than saving Harley, she instead pushed her, or even did nothing, then Harley - and more importantly, Batman - would plunge to their deaths. The loss of her friend - and while he knew Harley considered Ivy her best friend, who knew just how close Ivy felt to her - would be a small price to pay for preventing him from cheating death yet again.

Harley had looked below and spotted the chain pulling them inexorably into certain death, and so didn't catch the look on Ivy's face. Now she looked up though. "Red, hurry!" she yelled piteously.

Ivy stepped back, shook her head, and then fell to her knees, grabbing at Harley's wrist. "Hold on, Harl," she said through gritted teeth as she pulled upward.

The pressure only grew worse for Batman as he felt himself pulled in two directions.

"Red," Harley pleaded, tears now running.

Ivy snarled as beads of sweat appeared on her forehead, but she was no match for the weight of both people, AND the rollers continuing to drag his chain down. "Shit," she spat, looking around. Her eye caught Harley's bag, and she let go of Harley's hand. Pulling out one of the Joker-grenades, she stood up.

"Red?" Harley asked, frightened.

"Hold still," Ivy said, pulling the pin and hurling the explosive downward. It passed both Harley and Batman and sailed peacefully into the belly of the paper rollers.

Then it exploded.

Harley screeched as hot air flew upward and the two were buffeted by the shock. There was a moment when both Batman and Harley were sure they would let go, but they managed to hold on. And now the wrecked machine no longer continued to tug at Batman's chain. In fact the links were severed, and Batman found his other arm was free at last. He shrugged out of the chains and pulled his grappling hook out of the belt Ivy hadn't bothered to remove. He fired it at the ceiling and pulled himself onto the walkway, while Ivy finally pulled Harley up as well.

He stood above them, panting, as Harley gave in to hiccoughing sobs as she wrapped her arms around Ivy and buried her face in her chest. "I was so scared," she could barely be heard to say, her voice muffled.

Ivy glared up at Batman, but while he expected her to blame Harley for this newest failure, instead she ran her hand tenderly down Harley's face. "It's all right," she whispered.

"Thank you," he grunted.

"You had nothing to do with it!" she snarled.

"Thank you anyway."

She hissed at him and put her arms around Harley.

There was a screech of tearing metal behind them, and Batman felt the catwalk finally giving way a moment before it happened. Still holding onto the grappling line attached to the ceiling, he grabbed both women just seconds after the walkway fell out from underneath them and swung them both to safety.

"Let's get out of here," Batman said when they were on the floor, seeing the flames spreading from the pressing machine to nearby fixtures.

Harley and Ivy, who stood in each other's arms, both looked at him. "Jerk!" they said together.

"You're welcome."

____________________________________

"Well, the plant's going to be a total loss," Gordon sighed as the fire crews continued to fight the now-engulfed recycling plant. "Half of Gotham won't be recycling their newspapers any time soon."

Ivy glared at Batman as he turned to look at her. "It wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for you," she spat at him.

The number of times her plans had backfired was equalled only by the number of times she'd blamed him for it.

Still, she'd saved him, and even if it was purely by necessity, the fact remained that saving Harley Quinn had been more important to Ivy than killing him. He knew he'd have a lot to write about when he got back to the cave.

"What about those tax firms she was holding hostage?" Gordon asked him.

He'd forced Ivy to admit that the plants' only function was to block entry. Her threats had largely been bluffs. He paused. "A good landscaping crew will take care of the plants," he said. "There's no danger of corrosives. Also, they might want to contact all their clients. Some people may have made large donations without their knowledge to environmental groups."

Ivy glared daggers at him.

"However," he continued, "there's a much greater danger. Ivy confessed to planting seeds at the building foundations. If they hadn't gone along with her scheme, she could always activate them. The vines would have damaged the foundations to the extent that the entire building could come crashing down."

Harley looked at Ivy. "When did we do that?" she whispered.

"Hush," Ivy hissed, staring at him.

"I'll make sure they know about it," Gordon promised.

"Yes, but the odds that they'll find them all are slim," Batman continued. "All Ivy has to do is escape from Arkham, and then get close enough to the financial district, and there could be mass destruction. I think - it might be best if they gave into her demands. The added cost of shredding and recycling waste paper is cheap compared to losing their entire offices." He looked at Ivy. "If they give you what you want, I assume you'll keep your end of the bargain and let them work in peace," he added sternly.

She looked at him stupidly for a moment before she understood. "Fine," she mumbled. "But if they go back on their word . . ."

"They won't," Gordon said, sighing. "It'd be a disaster if they did. I'll make sure they know that too." He gestured to his men. "Take them away."

"Back to Arkham," Harley complained as they were led off. "What was Batsy doing just now?"

Ivy smiled uncertainly. "What he always does - being noble, I guess."

"Hey, Puddin's in Arkham!"

Ivy closed her eyes and groaned.

"Maybe they'll let you and me share a cell again," Harley added naughtily.

Ivy blinked. Then she smiled again.

Batman watched them go. At least now he didn't have to switch accountants.

The End.