Disclaimer: "How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm?"
-Nora Bayes, 1919
Note: Part V – Part I (Odd Ideas 165), Part II (Odd Ideas 166), Part III (Odd Ideas 168), Part IV (Odd Ideas 169)
A Heart Filled With Mercy
Alfred sighed when he saw who was on the other side of the door. A man in a suit and bowler, his face concealed by a large green apple, and a girl in a flapper costume, her face concealed by a white domino mask.
"How may I help you, sir, ma'am?" he asked, surreptitiously reaching for the panic button.
"To start with, you can stop reaching for your panic button," the suited villain said cheerfully in a very familiar accent. "We're here to give you a bit of information, not to cause any trouble."
"Oh? Why me? Why not the police?"
"Because you work for Bruce Wayne, the largest single donor to the Justice League. Not exactly public information, but not exactly hidden either."
"You wish me to pass on some information to my employer who, in turn, you believe will pass it on to the Justice League," the old man said blandly.
"Got it in one," the man, no boy, agreed. "We suspect the Justice League will in turn pass it on to the Batman."
"What is your information?"
"The Joker is planning to kill Barbara Gordon later today," the boy stated calmly. "We are not sure when it's going to happen, but we believe you have at least forty minutes."
"I shall see that your information will be passed on to the appropriate people," Alfred said calmly. "Thank you."
"Only doing our civic duty," the boy said with an audible grin. "Every citizen must-" The girl pinched his sleeve. "Really?" He glanced at his companion who nodded. "Okay. Forget all that, we'd have done our best to prevent her from getting shot, but the reason we're passing on this information is because we believe the Batman will focus on preventing this crime which in turn will allow us to break into a museum in a different part of town. That museum contains an object we intend to steal and replace with a forgery."
"I would assume this object is quite valuable?" Alfred asked dryly.
"Its value depends," the boy agreed. "Some would sacrifice their children for a chance to hold it. My darling and I intend to destroy it."
"What?" The old man was confused, this was not what he had expected.
"Most people would preface the explanation with the phrase 'in the wrong hands.' I will simply state that there are no right hands and leave it at that," the boy sighed. "Thank you for your time, sir, please allow me to express my hope that the Justice League is able to reach the young woman in time."
"Thank you. If you will excuse me, I have a phone call to make."
"Good luck," the girl spoke up.
The pair walked away from the large house and exchanged their stolen car for one from an equally large residence a few miles down the street. Gotham may have been a stinking cess pit of a city, one with a crime rate higher than many countries, but it also had one of the largest millionaire rows in the nation. One would have thought the fops would increase their security to the point that they no longer had to deal with the occasional home invasion or kidnapping. Harry shrugged the thought off in favor of admiring how good his partner looked in the chauffeur's uniform they'd found with the car.
"We'll dump the car on the next street," Mercy announced suddenly. "We'll-" Her lips pursed. "Take your way from there."
"Alright," Harry agreed. "I assume you'll change before we go?"
"You assume correctly."
"Wonderful. Keep the uniform."
"What?" She glanced at the mirror.
"You look good in it," he explained.
"You think I'd look good in a potato sack," she giggled.
"I'm not wrong." He grinned back. "Female perfection."
She blew him a kiss as she spun the wheel to put the massive vehicle into a parking space. On a whim, she grabbed the uniform's matching hat off the passenger seat before crawling into the back.
"Put up the privacy screen unless you like the thought that someone else might get a show," Mercy said, putting the hat on her partner.
Harry hit the switch. "Main reason I try to find private beaches is that I don't."
With a wide grin, she slipped out of the uniform, depositing each individual piece of it onto her partner's head before removing the next.
"Sometimes." Harry snapped his fingers and the loose clothing disappeared. "I love being me."
"You and me both," she whispered, leaning in to give him a kiss.
Harry leaned forward to meet her, eager with anticipation.
"Of course, if we do this, we'll miss our chance to get what we came here for," Mercy whispered, her lips inching closer and closer to his.
"In three . . . two . . . one . . ."
"Damn it," Harry sighed. A quick flex of his magic and the two were somewhere else. "I hate it when you do that."
"I love the look on your face when I do," she giggled, giving him a quick peck. With a wink, the girl spun and set about accomplishing the task they'd spent three weeks preparing to do.
Harry watched with a smile as Mercy expertly flipped through a dozen invisible laser beams to reach the case containing their target.
"I'll be with you in a minute," he said, eyes still locked on the lithe form of his partner. "This is my favorite part."
His grin deepened when she bent back and limboed under the last beam. With a saucy grin over her shoulder, the girl lifted the several hundred pound display case and replaced their target, an ancient Babylonian tablet with the fake they'd constructed the week before. Task complete she returned to his side, reversing the steps she'd used to get to the targeted item.
"Why not just use magic?" a contralto asked from the shadows. "I'm told you're quite good."
"One tries," Harry agreed. "But one must always remember that while magic is a tool, it is not and should never be thought of as one's only tool." He nodded to his partner who then snapped the tablet in half with a flexing of her wrists. "Not to mention the fact that I'd have missed the show if we'd chosen to use mystical means."
"Aren't you even a bit worried that you've been caught?" the contralto continued, sounding amused.
"Why would I worry?" Harry asked. Mercy broke the halves into quarters and dropped the whole mess onto the floor to continue the destruction. "The three of us will either fight, or we won't. If we fight, the two of us will either win, or we won't. If we don't win, the two of us will either escape, or we won't. Three to four odds that things end favorably from my point of view."
"I don't think that's the way odds work," the hidden woman said, not sounding too sure about it.
"Three positives our of four possibles," Harry replied. "Was there something else you wished to discuss or should we all start fighting?"
"Yes. Uh, to the talking, not the fighting."
"Excellent. What can we do for you?"
A dark haired beauty wearing a waistcoat, top hat, and fishnets stepped out of the shadows. "Several things. The first is, what was that you just destroyed?"
"One moment." Harry pulled what appeared to be a rolling pin out of his pocket and handed it to Mercy. The girl didn't comment on the fact that the item appeared to be several times larger than the space it had come from. "Rowan. Just the thing to turn the grit into powder and the powder into dust."
"I see. So, to answer my question?"
"To answer your question, there was another tablet baked into that one. As to why it needed to be destroyed? I'm not going to tell you." He held up a hand. "I can explain in detail if you like."
"There are things in this world that draw power from knowledge, the more that know of them the more powerful they become. Other things draw power from obscurity, the less known about them, the more powerful they are. Related to the first, there are others that draw their power from belief. Would you like me to elaborate?" Harry grinned widely under his apple shaped mask, already knowing the answer.
"Please do," the woman repeated herself, her face baring a matching grin.
"According to a source I once had, werewolves were the ones that started the rumor that silver affected them. They did this because silver is a very poor metal to make weapons out of. Belief gave it power." Harry scratched his chin. "Of course, this was the same man who was working to prove his theory by vivisecting children after infecting them with lycanthropy, so I suppose one must take that with a grain of salt," he finished thoughtfully. "Where was I? Of course, knowledge. The item we just destroyed drew power from knowledge and belief. The less information known about it, the less people believe in its power, the better the world is."
"What happened to him?"
"To the man that had the theory on werewolves and killed children to prove it?" the woman's eyes flashed.
"I'm afraid I did something rather unfortunate to him," Harry stated. "Something you and your friends would no doubt disapprove of if my theory that you are a member of the Justice League is correct."
"It is," the woman stated. "Zatanna."
"A pleasure to make your acquaintance, my name is-"
"Power," Zatanna stated. "Your partner is Perfection."
"Sometimes," Harry agreed. "When the mood strikes anyway."
"Why do you call yourselves that?"
"Because my darling is," Harry said calmly. "Female perfection, beauty personified, grace exemplified, love-"
Mercy huffed. "He'll go on like that for hours if you let him. He's also the most powerful magic user of his generation."
"I see." Zatanna filed the tidbit information away for later consideration. "Why do you think we would disapprove of what you did?"
"Because you are heroes, and while what we do may, at times, bear a superficial resemblance to heroics, it is apparently quite distinct. I am afraid that I would rather not speak any more of that topic. I will, however, speak at length on another similar subject. With your permission, of course."
"Alright," Zatanna agreed.
"Judging by the example of the hero residing in this city and with the understanding that our example is of limited size, Heroes routinely commit the crimes of assault, theft, robbery, kidnapping, torture, and a whole slew of others too lengthy to be be listed at this time. What they do not do is remove threats in a permanent fashion. Am I correct in that last point?"
"You are," Zatanna stated.
"Wonderful!" Harry continued before she had a chance to elaborate. "Speaking as someone who's toured the beaches of Normandy, you'll understand that I was quite surprised when I learned that."
"Those are two completely different things," Zatanna said with a frown. The woman's mind worked furiously to find a justification for her statement better than 'because I said so.'
"If you say so." Harry shrugged. "As I was saying, Heroes do not end threats permanently. So when, I don't know, a flesh eating monster escapes its cage, a hero will go out and lock it up again without a thought to the people it ate while loose.
"A curious idea." Harry rubbed his chin. "Being a hero allows one, it seems, to commit any crime they like save murder."
"Being a hero does not allow someone to commit any crime they like," Zatanna said firmly. "Being a hero means one must set an example and to be even more careful to follow the law than the average citizen."
"I'm not sure you are correct about that," Harry replied. "To return to our earlier example of this city's hero; he breaks into people's houses, commits numerous thefts, kidnaps them, beats them for information. Should any other private individual do that, they would no doubt be facing a long prison sentence. But put on a silly costume and it all changes."
"He isn't exactly the best example to use," Zatanna stated calmly. "A better one would be Superman, or the Green Lantern, or maybe Dr. Fate if you'd like a mystical hero."
"Alright," Harry agreed. "We'll consider the whole thing a number of reasons my darling and I cannot be considered heroes if you like. Leaving that aside, there is also the fact that we do our best to see that our activities add to our bank account. Finished, my dear?"
"Yeah," Mercy agreed, regarding the pile of orange dust on the marble floor with a look of deep satisfaction. "If you don't mind."
"Not at all." Harry snapped his fingers and the rolling pin disappeared. Another dip in the pocket and Harry's hand emerged clutching a leather drawstring bag. "First we open it." The dust swirled off the floor and into the bag. "Then we close it." He flicked his wrist and the bag disappeared. "And now it's gone. Taa daa. With luck, the expenses we incurred will be more than offset by the product we produced. As I said before, profit. Some people regard it as a dirty word, others spent their childhoods in a prison cell living off moldy bread crusts and whatever they were able to scavenge from the bin, not to mention the daily, sometimes hourly, beatings." The apple twisted from side to side as he shook his head. "Speaking as one of the latter group, it's quite hard to bear the thought of going back to it after one has stayed in the finest hotels money can buy."
"Alright," Zatanna agreed. "Thank you."
"Not all, but it is half of what I came here to do," Zatanna explained. "Gathering information, that is."
"Ah. The other half?"
"I'd like to extend an invitation to meet with the rest of the League or with just the mystic members if that would be more comfortable for you."
Harry glanced at his partner who smiled in return. "We will consider it, but I suspect we will decline your kind invitation. We reside in different worlds. I do not believe it will benefit us to spend more time in yours than we absolutely must."
"Will you at least be willing to exchange phone numbers?" Zatanna asked hopefully.
"I'm afraid that would be quite impossible," Harry said sounding like he regretted the fact. "We have no phone number or any other type of contact information to give at this time. It's our current lifestyle, which is not conducive to that sort of thing. We will gladly take yours if you're still willing to offer it, knowing that you will get nothing in return."
"Sure." She handed over her business card.
Harry glanced at it for a few seconds before handing it to Mercy who did the same for a few seconds before handing it back to Zatanna.
"You can keep it if you want," Zatanna said with a grin.
"Tracking chips are so expensive that we'd feel guilty about taking that one from you," Mercy said dryly. "You've only got four on you after all."
"Four?" Zatanna's eyes widened. "Excuse me for a second. Laever gnikcart spihc." The woman's eyes narrowed when a patch of light appeared on her left boot, right glove, and one of the tails on her waistcoat. "Thank you."
"Don't mention it," Mercy replied.
"Now if you will excuse us, it is quite late and we really must be getting back to our current hotel."
"Just one thing before you go," Zatanna said. She turned to Mercy. "Is there a reason you've been so quiet."
Mercy shot Harry a look causing him to sigh and take a couple steps away. With one last glance to assure herself that her partner was out of range, she leaned in to whisper in Zatanna's ear in a tone almost too low to be audible she said, "I really love his accent."
The League mystic gathered her power, preparing to cast a spell that would quickly take her from the museum to a safe location, then relaxed, letting the power slip away.
"Correction. Two questions," Zatanna stated. "I have to know, why do you wear masks? Your faces are rather well known in some circles due to the fact that you don't bother most of the time."
"We care very little about you seeing our faces, we care very much about the cameras doing the same," Harry stated.
"Thank you." She exhaled. "That would have bothered me all week."
Zatanna pasted a fake smile on her face as she arrived at the party. There were times she really hated Bruce Wayne despite how fun he could be when he was in the mood to deepen his cover. Ah well, she supposed an hour or two having to endure the company of Gotham's wealthiest and most vapid citizens was more than offset by the quality of the food.
"May I take your coat, madame?" Alfred greeted her.
"Thank you, Alfred. What's this party for again?"
"The master is raising funds to provide better body armor for the Gotham police department. We've nearly raised half the price of the party so far," he finished dryly.
"The night's still young. Anyone sniffing around that shouldn't be?"
"No one as yet, but as you said, the night is still young."
"Where might I find the host?"
"The third study, madame, he made a rather convincing show of passing out earlier and I had two members of the temporary staff carry him out."
"Wonderful." Figured he'd find a way to duck out early. "Have a good evening, Alfred."
"You as well, madame."
Zatanna's lips twitched up when she saw the disheveled form of Bruce Wayne sprawled out on the floor, apparently dead to the world. He'd have made a wonderful showman, she thought with regret, a shame life had to be different.
"Ycavirp morf tuohtiw."
"How did your meeting go?" Bruce asked easily, rising from the floor with a grace that only years of physical mastery could give.
"How did yours?" she countered.
"No one important got hurt and the Joker is back where he belongs," Bruce replied. "Well?"
"You didn't listen through the bugs you planted on me?" Her eyebrow rose challengingly.
"I did not. The museum security system had much better sound quality. How much of their story was true?"
"All of it that I was able to confirm," Zatanna stated. "There was something magical about the tablet and I know enough magical theory to know that the rest of their story is at least plausible."
"What about his werewolf example?"
"I asked one of my contacts about that before I came here." Her lips turned down in disgust. "They were able to confirm that forty children disappeared from a small town in lower Swabia starting ten years ago and ending four months ago when one of the local notables in the magical community was killed in a duel with an unknown wizard."
"What are the chances that you'll be able to get something from the local authorities?"
"Zero. Dueling is accepted in that magical subculture and the fact that." She paused. "The fact that the victims were non-magical means that the Aurors, police, would have placed a very low priority on solving the crimes if they were even aware of them." Her lips twisted into a sneer. "It'd have been different if he were releasing his victims, of course. That might have endangered one of the local magicals."
Bruce considered the mater for a few seconds. "See what else you can find out about them and keep me posted on their activities."
"That's it," he agreed.
"Okay, it's just, I thought you'd want to bring them after he as good as admitted to being the cause of several deaths."
"We are what society needs us to be. From shining symbols of hope to dark symbols of fear, we are reflections of the places and times we occupy. In our society, barring a few specific circumstances, killing is wrong." Bruce shrugged. "His is more permissive. We can not expect other cultures to follow our laws, all we can do is expect people from those cultures to follow them when they are in ours. All we can do is to try to ensure that we protect as many as possible during the resulting clashes."
AN: Likely the last part of this I'll write, at least for a while. Hadn't intended to write this one but the idea hit and here it is.
Typos by Luan Mao, porphyrian_delight, Lucinda, joeyzoot