Title: The ABC Murders (1/2)
Email: DC Comics, Cartoon Network, Bruce Timm, the JLA animated series, etc, etc. No profit intended from my infringement.
Spoilers: Takes place after the story Dragons, Demons, and Other Wonders of the Heart. Like all the Bridesmaid stories, this takes place after "Starcrossed", but ignores Seasons 3-5.
Feedback: Please, please, please!
Summary: Having given Harley Quinn immortality and sent her back to Gotham, half a world away, Poison Ivy prays the clown girl is out of her hair forever. But when have things ever gone Pammy's way?
Sometimes, Catwoman thought idly as she started moving, she thought she understood Batman less now that they were sharing his bed.
One thing she understood perfectly, however, was that Batman could not handle all the crime in Gotham himself. It wasn't something he was ever likely to say out loud, but people like Robin were his way of admitting it. And Nightwing, although he was spending most of his time in Bludhaven now. Lately Black Canary and the Huntress had started picking up the slack. The two women had met recently in the Justice League, but now operated almost exclusively under Oracle's eye in Gotham.
He had not tried farming out assignments to Catwoman. Their relationship was many things, but her place in the Bat-family did not mean she now went on nightly patrols, fighting urban decay. What she did was called "prowling", and she stopped only for things that interested her.
If she chose to help Batman with something, such as the Ra's al-Ghul mess a couple months ago, that was her choice, and probably her idea.
Tonight, however, she was engaged in what could be considered "crimefighting". Batman had more important things to do than investigate who had stolen one of the Gotham Zoo's three tigers. Naturally Catwoman had stepped in. You did not just steal an endangered species of cat in her city.
"Her" city - Bruce was starting to rub off on her. "Not too much, I hope," she murmured as she swung to the next rooftop.
Through her connections in the Gotham black market she'd tracked down the actual thieves. The last man had pointed her in the direction of who had hired them before he blacked out. She didn't have a name, but she had an address.
Still, it didn't take the "world's greatest detective" to narrow the field of suspects. The job had been a last-minute affair, and that had cost extra. And transporting a live tiger, unharmed, was no easy feat. Her target was almost certainly one of the A-list Rogues of Gotham. It could be organized crime, but if they'd wanted a tiger, they'd just import one. No, this smelled like something cooked up by the wildly unpredictable criminals found at Arkham.
Of those, only a half-dozen or so weren't in Arkham tonight. And of those, Selina could cross off Poison Ivy and Clayface. They were in a place where tigers could be obtained much closer than Gotham. Two weeks ago she would have crossed Harley's name off too, but as always, the more things changed in Gotham, the more they stayed the same. Even when she was on the other side of the world, she came running back to the Joker.
Selina smirked as she landed on the roof of the building where the tiger had been delivered. The Justice League, now bloated with dozens of superhuman egos, was an unending source of amusement for her. At least, it would be if it didn't aggravate Bruce on a weekly basis. Harley's return had been the latest gripe. He'd predicted disaster from the outset of Talia al-Ghul's deluded attempt to bring her father's DEMON organization to heel, then turn it over to the League. But the League overrode him, as they often did - and just as often regretted.
The undercover work hadn't failed yet, but currently Talia and her lover J'onn Jonz, a.k.a. the Martian Manhunter, were tightly locked with yet another group of supervillains led by Gorilla Grodd for control of the criminal empire. Apparently the League was anxiously watching events. If they intervened, Talia's cover would be blown and the various pieces of DEMON would scatter underground. But if they didn't, and Grodd was victorious, then they'd have to deal with megalomanical DEMON schemes all over again.
Batman's hopes were not high, and Selina agreed. The Martian was one of the most grounded, and powerful, members of the League, but he was in love with Talia, which suggested his judgment wasn't what it used to be. And they led a motley crew of villains of their own - a deranged prima donna with plant powers, a crude man made of mud, and a mercenary pyrotechnic.
Harley had originally been in their number, but of course she was back to playing doomed lover to her Mistah J. Batman had been infuriated when DEMON operatives abducted her from Arkham months before, and he'd been equally irritated when she was dropped back into his lap.
Oh, and according to what they told Bruce, somehow Poison Ivy had taken the immortality she'd accidentally swiped from Vandal Savage, and transferred it to Harley. Along with the words "never come back".
You needed to be immortal to hang around the Joker, Selina thought, but Ivy was kidding herself once again. Just as Harley always returned to Joker, so she'd come running to Pammy again when he threw her out. And if Ivy thought she wouldn't take her in yet again, she was in full denial mode.
Selina banished all such thoughts from her head as she descended from the roof and, checking it for death traps, sneaked through a window. But they came rushing back when the first noise to strike her ears was an insane cackle.
"Great," she murmured. The Joker had been one of the few remaining names on her list, but she'd been hoping it was someone else. He wasn't a threat physically, but he was wildly unpredictable and always seemed to have three or four lethal gadgets in his pants pockets. She could contact Bruce and let him know she'd found his favorite migraine -
But that really wasn't her style. She didn't let him give her crimefighting assignments, and she certainly wasn't about to start calling him in for an assist.
"The Tigress hunts alone," Selina said to herself. Let the Bat find his own prey.
Another concern, she realized as she made her way through the deserted building, was the very same person she'd been thinking about, Harley. Selina didn't have much experience fighting immortals whose wounds healed almost instantly, but she had a fair idea it wasn't the same as fighting the usual scum. Then again, she didn't have much experience fighting Harley either. Tangling with the Joker wasn't something Selina usually did.
She didn't particularly enjoy the idea, but she might have to seriously injure Harley if she was going to find the missing cat and take care of the Joker. She hoped she wouldn't have to. Selina wasn't even sure how to. The Joker allegedly beat her on a weekly basis, and Harley was as agile and spry as ever. Besides, Selina wasn't all that fond of the girl, but maiming a fixated young woman who was abused by the object of her obsession on a daily basis wasn't high on her list of good times.
It would be eaiser if she could handle Harley. She was a flake and a ditz, and Selina was hopeful that she could humor or charm the sidekick.
Of course, if the night's activities involved pummeling the Joker, that could prove more difficult to accomplish.
The building used to have a large indoor garage, and Selina quietly used her whip to descend to the bottom floor. It was too dark and there was too much open space, but she was transfixed by the sight that greeted her.
The missing tiger was circling in its cage, relentlessly marking its territory. At the center of the cage, almost as if the cat was guarding it, was the mutilated corpse of a human being.
Selina's hands became tight fists as the sharp tips of her gloves dug into her palms. The Joker must have provoked the tiger somehow, and now that it had tasted human blood, there was no telling what the zoo would do with the tiger even if they did get it back. Quite possibly the authorities would have the animal destroyed.
Because the Joker couldn't just use Smilex or a gun or something a lot easier to kill one person, he'd cost the tiger its life. For that, Selina was going to make him look like a well-used scratching post, no matter what powers his faithful sidekick had.
The Joker had no idea of her presence as he toiled at a large, slightly tilted drawing board, like an ordinary architect working late, except for his sleeves rolled up to reveal pasty white skin. Hanging from the wall next to him was a poster-sized sheet of paper. On it was a list of words scrawled in various colors of what looked like crayon.
All but the last five had been sloppily crossed off.
Selina's whip was around the Joker's neck before the crack of the whip even echoed across the garage. He croaked as he was hauled off the stool he'd been sitting on, slamming down onto the concrete floor.
"So you got it into your head to go through the executioner's handbook alphabetically, and you just had to steal a tiger to do it," Catwoman said angrily as she dragged him towards her.
Joker pulled at the whip around his throat, loosening it just enough that he could breathe. "Heh heh, hey Catty," he coughed. "Think of it as an homage. All the great comedians do it."
"Really? I didn't know the Marx Brothers were serial killers," she said.
"Ha, they were hacks! Now Jerry Lewis, HE was a master!" Joker assured her.
Selina made a disgusted noise as she kicked him in the sternum. He'd sat up, but now he fell onto his back again. "You're a sick bastard," she said coldly.
"Sixty million Frenchmen can't be wrong," he mumbled.
"Not that! You've killed ten people, and it would have been more if you hadn't stolen the tiger and drawn my attention! Where are the others?"
But the Joker just laughed. He laughed so hard that he grabbed his stomach with both hands, convulsing on the floor. "Oth-others?" he finally managed to gasp, chortling. "What others?"
"The people you beheaded and drowned and poisoned, that's who!"
"Actually, I was just getting to the poisoning. I have this darling little contraption where - "
She pulled the whip, and the pressure on his windpipe tightened again. His eyes bulged as he grabbed at the leather strap.
"I'm going to ease up again," she told him, danger in her voice, "and then you're going to tell me what you've done. And where's Harley?"
He got a crafty grin in his eye as he nodded slowly. She took that to mean he'd cooperate - until he changed his mind, of course - and she released the whip, prepared to strike him a second time.
"Harley?" he asked innocently. "Why, she's right over there. Didn't you know?"
The Joker pointed at the cage.
Selina turned and stared. The body had blonde hair, but that wasn't exactly an unusual color. "You're not serious. You actually expect me to believe you went to all the trouble so you could have your own sidekick mauled to death?"
"No, I went to a great deal more trouble than that so I could have her beheaded, and bludgeoned, and burned, and - need I go on?" he asked, grinning evilly.
She gasped. He probably thought she was shocked at his wild tale, but knowing what she knew, it was all too possible. Because if Harley was immortal . . .
"I wouldn't bury her just yet," he went on. "She may return to upbraid you for your haste!"
The body inside the cage twitched, then spasmed.
"The final act in the Fall of the House of Joker!" he howled. "The annoying twit who wouldn't die!"
The tiger pressed back against the bars of the cage, extremely agitated, as Selina watched in horror. She could see flesh mending, wounds healing. The body jerked like it was attached to a live wire.
Then Harley sat up and shrieked. Selina took a step back. She looked away, to where the Joker sat.
He wasn't sitting. He was gone.
Swiftly turning, she spotted him trying to sneak out. Instinctively, she brought her whip to bear and cracked it, wrapping it around his ankles. She pulled, bringing him down, and his chin hit the floor so hard that he probably dislocated his jaw.
When Selina turned back, Harley had stopped screaming, but she panted heavily as she huddled in one corner of the cage, covered in blood. She was staring at the tiger in obvious panic.
Before the tiger could do anything more, Selina was at its side, on the other side of the bars. "Easy, easy," she said, rubbing her hand behind its ears. She'd talked down a genetically engineered sabretooth once. This should be easy. And the tiger did in fact grow calmer, rubbing affectionately against her body through the bars.
"C-c-catty?" Harley whispered.
"It's all right, Harley," Selina said quietly. The Joker, she realized, had murdered Harley over, and over, and over again. And each time, Harley had come back to life, only to be brutally slain yet again. Selina had absolutely no idea what it had been like for her.
She didn't want to.
"Is - is Puddin' here?"
Selina cast a look behind her. "I think he's out for the night, Harley."
"Good," Harley said. "Can I see Red now?"
The more things changed, the more they stayed the same.
"Who is it?" Pamela asked, annoyed. Once again she cursed her situation. In Gotham she could work with her plants in peace, but here in DEMON's headquarters she was beholden to whomever knocked on her door!
Of course, there were plenty of times in Gotham where Harley had distracted her -
Ivy's stomach lurched. "I said who is it!" she repeated, though she'd barely given the interloper time enough to answer.
"It's Volcana," the woman on the other side of the door said. She always sounded so amused, like she thought the rest of them were a real riot - she'd observed that there were crazy people in Metropolis, but that the crazies in Gotham were a unique breed - but today she sounded tense. "Can I come in, or am I going to have to defend myself if I open the door?"
"Come back later," Ivy said irritably. "I'm busy."
"Yeah, well, I've got news, and it won't wait, and you're gonna have to hear it from me."
Ivy scowled. She got up and went over to the door. This room had been a storage room three months ago, but now it was packed with expensive laboratory equipment and rare plants. She could have used one of the labs already available, but she stubbornly demanded a room that was away from heavy foot traffic - and men in general.
"Oh, am I?" Ivy asked as she opened the door, raising one eyebrow. "Hm, you're wearing red. How unusual."
Volcana smiled. She was dressed in tight red leather pants and a black top with spaghetti-thin straps. "I've got news, and I'm stuck telling you," she said. "You finished, or do you have to mark your territory some more?"
Ivy bristled. "What do you mean, you're 'stuck' with me?"
"Well, Talia can't tell you, for reasons you'll understand in a minute or two. You're liable to ignore what J'onn says simply on the grounds that he's not one of 'us'. And Matt volunteered, but his plans for telling you involved uprooting every last bit of green in this room and grinding it into spices," Volcana said casually. "That left lucky ol' me."
"How have I offended your pet dungheap?" Ivy said, scandalized by Clayface's continued attempts to unfairly provoke and shock her.
"Something about betraying your brethren," Volcana replied.
"My brethren are in the room with me, and I hardly think I'd do anything to betray a plant," Ivy scoffed.
"Harley's coming back."
Ivy stiffened as if she herself were a tree made of the stoutest oak. "Excuse me!"
"Harley - is - coming - back," Volcana said with exaggerated slowness.
"No!" Ivy suddenly screeched, flinging her arms above her head and clawing at the air in her rage. "I fucking warned Talia that if she came back - "
"Yeah, yeah, you'd leave," Volcana said.
"Well, if she thought I was bluffing, she's stupider than she acts!" Ivy snarled, turning away to begin gathering her things. "I told Harley - no more running back to me! As long as she has her wretched Puddin'," Ivy said, her voice rich with loathing, "she can live her life perfectly well without me in it."
"See, that's the reaction we were trying to head off at the pass, Ivy," Volcana told her. "Because Harley is getting here any minute now - " She ignored the scandalized look on Ivy's face. "When she gets here," the pyrotechnic villainess said patiently, "you are going to welcome her back."
"Fuck you, and fuck Talia too!" Ivy spat. "My life is not trying enough without Harley coming back to complicate things all to hell! And I am through with taking orders! At least when I was in Arkham, I knew I'd break out sooner or later! This, this is . . . completely unacceptable!"
Volcana waited until Ivy was finished. Then she held out a hand, palm out. A small fireball danced in her hand. "Before you make your dramatic exit, steamer trunk in hand, I've got more to say," she said calmly. "So get over your tantrum and shut up, or I will hurt your plants much faster than Matty could have."
Ivy could burst into tears. How had she been reduced to this? And with Harley coming any minute - she felt close to panic. She had to get out of this building. If she saw Harley with those puppy-dog eyes of hers, she was afraid she'd break down in an instant. She needed more time, a year! Two, even!
"Now," Volcana said, dousing the flame, "Harley's coming back, and this time it might be for good."
"Right," Ivy muttered. "Until the Joker unlocks the door."
"He did more than just throw her out, Ivy," Volcana said angrily. "He hurt her. You have no idea how much he hurt her."
"She's immortal now," Ivy said, shrugging. It didn't bother her to hear that, not at all! "She doesn't even need hospital care."
"Apparently," Volcana continued, "Harley told him about her immortality."
Ivy laughed darkly. "I knew she would. She probably couldn't wait to tell him that. She can defend him from the Bat so much better now."
"You could also look at it as Harley waving a red flag in the eyes of a serial killer and saying that despite all the other lives he's ended, he'll never be able to end hers," Volcana said.
The laughter died in Ivy's throat.
"So they went to bed the other night, and in the middle of the night he cut off her head."
Ivy couldn't respond to that. Harley was alive, of course she was alive, she was IMMORTAL . . . she could survive without a head, right?
"And, when she came back to life, don't ask me how," Volcana said, drawing a sigh of relief from Ivy that she couldn't suppress, "he crushed her skull with a crowbar. And when that didn't work, he covered her in gasoline and set her on fire."
Ivy was still speechless. In fact, she was becoming increasingly unable to even move her jaw, much less use her vocal cords. This hadn't been the plan when she gave Harley the key to her survival!
"Then he threw her out of the window of a six-story building," Volcana said dispassionately. She pulled a note out of her pocket and looked at it. "Then he injected her with some kind of lethal disease. That didn't even kill her! Guess her immune system is just as supercharged as the rest of her body."
Locking her eyes on the paper, Ivy's paralysis was broken and she dove for Volcana's hand, wresting the note away. Volcana didn't even bother to stop her as Ivy turned her away and read the remainder of the note.
"Oh God, oh God, oh God," Ivy whispered in horror.
"The only reason she wasn't shot or stabbed was because he hadn't gotten that far in the alphabet," Volcana said coldly. "He was sure he'd find a loophole in her new powers sooner or later. So if she wants to return to the one person who still makes her feel safe, then you'd better damn make her safe, Ivy."
Ivy trembled. "No - no, no, I can't do this, you can't make me - "
Volcana turned and pointed at the wall. A thin red line extended from her finger and set some creeper vines on fire. "You want me to extinguish that, you'd better change your attitude. Although I've known you for two months, and I'm not sure you CAN change your attitude."
For once, Ivy didn't even pay attention to the assault on one of her precious babies. "I can't, I CAN'T do this, I can't take it any more! None of you understand what you're asking of me!"
"J'onn does," Volcana said. "When she left you for the Joker again, and you locked yourself in your room for two days? He said your mind was screaming Harley's name so loud that he couldn't come within a hundred yards of your wing."
"Fucking prying Martian," Ivy growled through tears that had started to fall.
"And I've been on the receiving end of people like you," Volcana added icily.
"What do you mean, people like ME?"
"I was stalked for months by a woman who would not take a fucking HINT that I wasn't interested," Volcana said. "I was terrified that she would kill me."
"I would NEVER hurt Harley!" Ivy said, shocked.
"You're probably right," Volcana admitted. "But have you ever accounted for the possibility that maybe, just maybe, Harley doesn't stay with you because she's not the kind of girl who likes other girls, and not just because she's obsessed with the Joker?"
Ivy shook her head stubbornly.
"I mean, I don't know what signs she's given you - "
She remembered hot kisses, and groping in the dark.
"But I've seen Harley around you, and in just about all cases but the one that matters most to you, she follows your lead. You're a very controlling person, and maybe Harley just instinctively responds to that when you're alone together. And maybe she doesn't let it get too far, just like I did when I was trying to keep Frosty from murdering me in my sleep."
Ivy also was quite well aware that those kisses and touches in the dark never progressed much beyond that.
"It's not like I'm going to be throwing myself at her every day," Ivy retorted, attempting to stand straighter. "But what do you expect me to do? Spend every day with the woman I love, the woman I can't have, and pretend I don't feel that way? How the hell am I supposed to let her go when she's ALWAYS there?"
Volcana shrugged. "Personally, I don't think you'll be able to let her go no matter WHERE she is, so why not have her here? You owe her that much."
"OWE her? She's the one always running to ME! What has she ever given me except aggravation and unrequited lust?" Ivy hissed.
"I realize you have an extraordinarily high opinion of yourself, Ivy," Volcana said, "but in case even someone like you hasn't figured it out by now, Harley is the only person on the planet who loves spending time with you. She's your only friend, and you're asking what she's done for you?"
Then Volcana sighed. "I'm not here to psychoanalyze you, you know. You know the story. Now I'm leaving. I've filled my drama quota for the day. Oh and, uh, you might want to douse those."
Ivy looked over at where Volcana was pointing, and finally realized a quarter of her plants was quietly burning. She squawked and lunged for the specialized fire extinguisher she kept for accidents, designed to be free of chemicals that could harm nearby plants.
When the fire was out, she saw Volcana was long gone. "Presumptuous plant-killer," she muttered. Harley's arrival was the perfect excuse for her to leave this place. Men in lab coats and morning meds were infinitely better than being forced to tolerate such savages!
She set the extinguisher aside, then noticed she was still holding that scrap of paper in her hand. Beheading, bludgeoning, burning - alphabetical, like she'd said.
Ivy thought of the fires consuming Harley's flesh, as she screamed and begged for mercy.
Horrified, Ivy bolted from the room. She didn't even know what she was running from.
"You know he doesn't agree with what you're doing," Huntress told Talia. "He thinks it's going to end badly."
"I never would have guessed, but thank you for telling me," Talia sighed.
Last month it had been Robin who picked Harley up for her return to Arkham Asylum in Gotham. Now it was Huntress bringing her back, once again with the utmost secrecy.
Obviously, if there was one thing Talia and Batman agreed on, it was that him flying out to speak with her would do neither person any good.
"Normally he'd just bring Harley back to Arkham," Huntress pointed out, "but he's concerned that Joker still considers her a target. Best if she's kept somewhere he can't find her. It may be better for her if she's kept out of sight for a while."
"I imagine she's in no shape to fight anyway," Talia observed.
"Physically, she's fine. But she was pretty traumatized. She may need permanent care," Huntress said quietly. "In fact, all parties concerned would probably be better off if Harley Quinn retires from this life entirely."
"I'm sure Pamela will take care of her for as long as it takes," Talia replied.
"Hmph," Huntress said, doubting it. "I'll get her."
Talia sighed again when she was gone. She wasn't sure why she was doing this. She suspected Bruce felt the same way. They were barely holding the edge in the ongoing tug-of-war with Gorilla Grodd. Harley's return would have the most negligible effect on that. Her greatest use was keeping Ivy happy, and even THAT wasn't going to happen if Ivy made good on her threat to leave!
Harley had been instrumental in getting her out of Arkham, though, and keeping her at DEMON headquarters cost Talia nothing. And they did have something in common, after all. Talia had eventually admitted to herself that she'd wasted long years in blind obedience to a madman. Harley would be better off when she did the same.
The woman Huntress led down from the jet wasn't the bubbly spirit who played with her gum as she skipped through hallways, though. She looked like a rabbit on open ground, too far from its hole for its liking. Even though they were alone, Harley looked ready to flee.
"Hello again, Harley," Talia said quietly.
"H-hey, Tee," Harley whispered. Then she looked past Talia and shrank back against Huntress.
Talia turned and saw Ivy emerging from the shadows. "Oh, dear," she thought. If Ivy gave Harley the cold shoulder -
"Harley," Ivy said as she came closer. "Back again?"
The tone of her voice set Talia's teeth on edge. She sounded like a bored socialite greeting an uninvited party guest. "Ivy," she began to say.
"I - I didn't have anywhere else to go, Red," Harley said miserably.
Underneath the cool exterior she'd managed to resurrect at the last minute, Ivy was a jumbled mess of emotions. One thing was clear to her - Harley couldn't look Ivy in the eyes. Undoubtedly she was terrified that Ivy would send her away.
Ivy looked down. This would only hurt them both in the long run.
"Why don't you come back to our room and you can tell me all about it?" she suggested gently.
Harley froze. "Our room?"
"You remember where it is, right?"
"Yeah but - could you walk me there?" Harley pleaded.
Ivy held out her hand. "Of course, Harl."
Harl reached out and grabbed her hand tightly. Ivy managed not to yelp as she led Harley away.
"This can't end well," Huntress said with a frown.
"How could it be worse?" Talia asked her.
The vigilante didn't have an answer to that, and Talia nodded. Maybe it didn't exist in Gotham, but here on the other side of the world, there was still hope.
To be concluded . . .