"Oh, Red!" Harley blubbered. "He had a brain tumor all along!"
Ivy sighed. "If brain tumors turn men into brilliant gardeners who know the scientific name of every wildflower in America, then I say we should spend less money on cancer research." She ate another kernel of popcorn.
They were having a "Girls' Night In", perhaps the fifth or sixth in the two weeks since Harley had woken up. Typically it involved sappy romances. Although it had not escaped Ivy that they were typically tragic love stories where the man died, like "Dying Young" or tonight's installment, "Phenomenon".
Ivy pretended to enjoy them a little bit. She couldn't even conceptualize the idea of a woman grieving over the death of a man. If Kyra Sedgwick had been in the room, Ivy would have cheerfully throttled her.
Still, she made the effort for Harley. As far as Ivy could tell, she was almost completely normal. She was now prone to occasional fits of depression, but Harley tended to lift herself out of them.
She also refused to enter the back alley where the Joker had "died". Ivy had thoughtfully "persuaded" Harley's mind that the Joker was murdered behind the Lounge and not in it. It had occurred to her that Harley might never enter the Lounge itself if she knew it was the place where Puddin' had expired. And Ivy very much wanted Harley's help running the Rydbergii.
Most important of all, Harley had given no sign that she harbored any romantic feelings for Ivy at all. Okay, great, the plan had worked.
Ivy wondered if it had worked too well. What if, in making sure that her pheromones didn't make Harley fall in love with her, Ivy had crushed any feelings that still lingered?
Because Harley sure as hell wasn't watching "Thelma and Louise".
Ivy wasn't resting all her hopes on getting Harley into bed. They'd been friends for years after that one time, and she hadn't pined away for Harley at all.
She told herself that every time she thought about taking the relationship from friendship to flirtation – and turned into a shrinking violet.
There was so much risk involved. If Ivy made a pass at Harley and was rejected, it might cripple their friendship. And Ivy had no intention of jeopardizing the current arrangement.
You're even cowardly with yourself.
Ivy winced. That wasn't the only reason she hadn't asked Harley out. It wasn't even the main reason. The real problem was that Ivy was no longer certain that she was the kind of woman Harley would be attracted to. This had never been a problem for her before. If she wanted someone, they were hers. No one would refuse a goddess in all her divine glory.
But for weeks she had endured a crisis of self-confidence about her looks. Ivy had never agonized about another person, not even in high school when she frankly hadn't cared about dating. This was something completely new for her, and she didn't like it one little bit.
So they would just stay friends. She didn't need Harley to love her back.
But if Harley never loved her, who would?
"Who wants ice cream?" Harley asked brightly, unaware of the thoughts running through Ivy's mind.
Ivy suppressed a sigh. She didn't even want to know how much her caloric intake had increased by after Harley woke up.
As Harley absently tapped at the display of her iPod with one finger until the next Kelly Clarkson song came on, it occurred to her that she had no idea where Red went.
Ever since Harley had gotten out of Arkham, she'd spent almost every waking moment with Ivy. Red was still pretending to be a reformed nightclub owner – and wouldn't the Bat be surprised when the sham was up! That meant Ivy wasn't constantly occupied with her next brilliant scheme. Not only that, but because they were living above the Lounge instead of inside Robinson Park, there were nowhere near the same number of plants, and that meant Red wasn't doing much experimenting or gardening either.
It blew Harley's mind a little bit as she got up to find Red. She'd always been somewhat convinced that the solo planning sessions and the plant mutating gave Ivy the chance to be away from her occasionally. Red had always been an impatient person, and sometimes Harley exhausted the little patience she did have.
And yet they were together every day. It was strange. Nice, but strange.
She thought, as she peeked into the solarium, that Red might be trying to monitor her. After all, Harley had spent weeks in a straitjacket after she heard about – eh, she didn't like to think about it. It was hazy and unpleasant.
Anyway, after the event that Harley chose not to think about, and the aforementioned "Weeks in a Straitjacket", she'd followed that one up with her second Top-40 hit, "Never Gonna Get Out of Bed Again". And Ivy got to watch and wonder when it would end.
No wonder Red was always around. She was probably afraid of a relapse. Harley would have to tell her to stop worrying. It was okay if she wanted to grow a Whomping Willow or something while Harley watched Disney Afternoon.
Of course, she'd have to find Red first.
Turning off the iPod so that she could hear better, Harley noticed an odd noise coming from one floor below. It sounded like a herd of angry lizards. Curious, she went to check it out.
The angry lizards turned out to be Ivy furiously pumping away at a stationary exercise bike. Harley watched her, mystified. Since when did Ivy exercise? Okay, she'd put on a few pounds since the last time Harley saw her, but it certainly wasn't hurtin' her any.
Ivy slowed to a halt while Harley watched from the doorway. Sighing, she got off the bike. Still breathing heavily, she grabbed a towel and started drying herself off. There was a sheen all over her body because of the sweat, and the green exercise tights blended in so well with Ivy's green skin that it almost looked like she wasn't wearing anything at –
I used to be special. When did I become so ordinary?
Ivy's mind was filled with gloomy thoughts like that as she climbed off her exercise bike and used a towel to mop the sweat from her brow. It was true, she was ordinary. Goddesses emerged perfect from the ocean, and stayed that way forever. Goddesses didn't spend forty minutes exercising like every other woman. Goddesses didn't downgrade their goals from "lose twenty pounds" to "lose five pounds and keep them off".
At this rate, she'd be a different kind of goddess – a "mother goddess", like those prehistoric statues of obese women.
Maybe she should just stop calling herself "Poison Ivy". Special people gave themselves names like that. She was just "Pamela Isley" now. Everyone used to call her Pamela. She could get used to it again.
Pamela. Ugh. Maybe it wasn't too pathetic to cling to the Ivy.
Meanwhile, in yet another sign of how ashamed of her body Ivy had become, she had ordered three sets of exercise clothes through a catalog. She had thrown in the towel on shopping for outfits in public. Ivy tried not to look at her body in the mirror out of the corner of her eye. A midriff-baring spandex top and tight green shorts. What had she been thinking?
Ivy was too tired for introspection. She concentrated on catching her breath as she leaned against the bike with one hand and used the other hand to towel off the exposed skin below her neck.
"Um . . . uh . . ."
Spinning to the right, Ivy was mortified to see Harley standing in the doorway.
"I was wondering what the noise was," Harley finally said. "I didn't realize – "
Ivy couldn't say anything. She could feel the blood rushing to her cheeks. It had been embarrassing when Oswald saw her naked weeks ago. Harley seeing her like this was humiliating. Sweaty, smelly, her hair a mess, her clothes sadly leaving nothing to the imagination – Ivy's fantasies of a future together wailed hopelessly and fled.
"I mean, wow," Harley went on. "You're really looking great, Red."
She felt that like a blow to the gut. The fat, flabby gut. "You don't need to be sarcastic, Harl," Ivy said bitterly. "I know what I look like."
Harley actually smiled at her. "Sure, Red, everyone knows you know what you look like. 'No man can resist me'? Ring any bells?" And then she stuck her butt out, ran her hands down her hips, and did a little shimmy.
Ivy flinched. Clearly her pheromones had not made Harley love her. If they had, Harley wouldn't have said something so cruel to her. "Yes, ironic, isn't it?" Ivy kept her upper body hidden behind the towel, feeling the shame fill her body. "A faultless, perfect beauty for years, and now I can't even get my figure back if I try."
"What do you mean, back? It's still right there!"
"Sure, underneath all the cellulite."
"Come on, Red, you're being silly," Harley said. "I said you look great, and – "
"You're just saying that."
"I WOULD just say it, cause that's what you do when your perfect size 8 friend says 'I hate my thighs', but Red, c'mon, mirror, check it out, you do look great."
"Please, Harley!" Ivy snapped, glaring at her. "You don't have to spare my feelings, I can see for myself what I've turned into!"
"I am NOT trying to spare your feelings!" Harley burst out, and Ivy was so startled that she dropped the towel. "What the heck is wrong with you?! Since when have you been anorexic? I hate to break this to you, but you've never exactly been 'skinny'."
"Yes, I can see now that you're not trying to spare my feelings."
"Heavens to Mergatroid, you're not listening to me, you never do! Just stand there and shut up, okay?!"
Ivy just stared.
Harley sighed and ran her fingers through her hair. "Red, you are not, nor have you ever been fat. Jeez, we both know that I'm skinny, and I wish I had your body. There's not much point wearing a form-fitting outfit if there ain't anything to show for it! Do you know how many women would kill to have curves like yours?"
"But – "
"I am talking, okay? The corpse still has the floor!"
"Is the word voluptuous not in your dictionary, Ivy? You've got big breasts, big hips, and a round, wonderful ass. That's how your body works, that's where the weight goes, and yeah, if you're not careful then you will be fat. But that hasn't happened yet. Right now you're just a woman with incredible curves."
Harley actually looked aggravated, the way Ivy felt when she was trying to explain something and Harley was being particularly dense. Which, apparently, Ivy was now guilty of. Boy, had the tables been turned. "Wait, so you're saying I still look good?"
"You really don't get it, do you?" Harley asked, looking bewildered. "This isn't just some dumb 'I hate my hips' conversation. You seriously don't know you're smoking hot?! If anybody else had walked in here the same time I did, they would have had the exact same reaction I did. Cuz, um, you were working out, and . . . you know."
"Um, no, I don't think I do."
"WORKING OUT, you don't get that you . . . y'know." Harley unhelpfully waved her hand up and down. Then she sighed, evidently reading the lack of comprehension on Ivy's face.
"Well first, you were standing there in those tights, and you looked kinda shiny with that little film of sweat ya got goin'. Not too much, not too little, and there's the . . . y'know, breathing."
"Breathing," Ivy said dully.
"Yeah! Y'know, breathing? Heavily? 'Cause, you know, they're a little bigger than they used to be."
Again, Harley waved her hand up and down — and now it made sense.
Ivy looked down at her chest. "Oh. You, I mean – this looks good? Because I feel like a sweaty, stinky mess with bad hair." Then she looked back up and saw that Harley's eyes were now fixed on something behind Ivy and over her shoulder. It seemed somehow familiar, like –
Like when she caught men staring at her.
Gaia, Harley had been looking at her breasts.
Suddenly Ivy felt warm all over. Harley had tried telling her all this time, and all Ivy really needed was to catch Harley checking her out. "So," she said. She bent over and picked up her towel. "You think I look good?"
"Yeah," Harley muttered, looking off to the right now. "Gee, I think Powerpuff Girls is on now. I should - "
"Really good?" Ivy asked, coming closer as she wiped her chest with the towel, even though she really didn't need to.
"Mm-hm." Harley took a step back. "You've always been beautiful, Red," she added shyly.
Ivy smiled at her. "Beautiful like this?" she asked, and imitated the shimmy Harley had made earlier.
Harley gulped. "Yeah, like that."
Wow. Suddenly this felt really, really right. "Harl, why don't the two of us go out tonight?"
"Out?" Harley asked. There was only a few inches between them, and her cheeks were flaming red.
"Yeah, you know, out. Of the building. Drinks, dinner, maybe a movie or something?"
"You mean, like a date?"
Ivy dragged a finger down Harley's arm, and she squeaked. "Yes, exactly like a date, Harley."
"Well – "
"Please, Harley. Pretty please."
Harley finally broke down. "I would love to go on a date with you, Red."
"Ooh!" Harley suddenly said. "And we can go shopping first!"
"Shopping?" Ivy asked nervously, not liking the sudden turn of events.
"Red, c'mon, the only things in my drawers are shorts and T-shirts. Can't imagine why you picked those," Harley said cheekily. "I need something nice for tonight!"
"Oh," Ivy said. They could go clothes shopping for Harley, that was all right. As long as –
"And we can get something for you too."
"Maybe stop at Victoria's Secret, too," Harley added.
Ivy almost choked on her own saliva.
"I can't believe people are staring at us," Harley griped. "It's the twenty-first century!" She glared at the next table over. "Yeah, we're two women and we're on a date. Why dontcha take a picture, it'll last longer?!"
"Harley, they're staring because they know who I am," Ivy told her. "Which means they've probably figured out who you are too."
"How would they know who – never mind."
It really was irritating, Ivy thought, that certain shades of light made her skin look green. It had drawn plenty of looks at Macy's (and at the same time, nowhere near enough help from salespeople). And people continued giving them a wide berth in Victoria's Secret.
At least they didn't have to worry about interruptions while they modeled clothes for each other.
Still, Ivy had returned home with new concerns. Okay, she was feeling better about her body. Harley had encouraged her to purchase the tight, cleavage-baring dress she was wearing tonight. Ivy had looked over her shoulder in the mirror, shook her head, and said, "Everyone is going to know exactly how big my rear end is."
"Red, haven't you ever heard of Kim Kardashian?"
"Is she a designer?"
Harley had snorted. "Uh, no - just trust me, your look is popular right now."
And if Ivy had needed more assurance that Harley was physically attracted to her, it had come when Harley picked out twelve sets of lingerie, not a one in green, and insisted she try them all on. And then Harley insisted on seeing how she looked in them.
But why was she physically attracted to her now? For two weeks Harley had behaved as if they were purely platonic friends, and suddenly after one workout session, they were an item? Not only that, but when Ivy had asked Harley out, she'd been hesitant, even nervous at first. But within six hours Harley was flirting with her nonstop, leaping headlong into a relationship.
Ivy had started to consider the possibility that she really had greened Harley into loving her, but it had lain dormant inside of her, waiting for something to prime the pump. Take one Harley, add sweaty Ivy in tights, and stir. Instant lust.
She had liked it better when she thought she was fat.
Ivy blinked. "Yes, Harl?"
"Kinda asked you a question there."
"I'm sorry, I was thinking. What was it?"
"How long have you wanted to ask me out?" Harley ducked her head shyly. "Was it a spur of the moment thing today, or did you want to before?"
Ivy didn't answer at first. There were degrees of truthfulness here. "Do you remember that one getaway?" she finally asked, going for full disclosure. "The one where things got a little passionate afterwards?"
Harley looked blank. "Huh?"
"You know," Ivy grumbled. "We got away from the Bat one time? We were all over each other by the time we got back to the hideout!"
Instead of answering, Harley muttered something about "Winona Ryder's friends".
"Nothing! Um, not really, no," she admitted.
Ivy was very disappointed to hear that Harley had forgotten a moment that she cherished, but she pushed on. "It was years ago, Harley. I think – I've probably wanted to ask you out ever since."
She'd dated Harvey off and on for much of that time, but as soon as she said it, Ivy realized it was true.
"So why did you wait so long?" Harley asked.
Ivy gave her a flat stare. "Uh, you were seeing somebody?"
"No, I mean, yeah, right, but what about after? We've been hanging out together for weeks," Harley pointed out.
Full disclosure suddenly became less of an option. Ivy couldn't exactly say, I wanted to make sure that greening you for weeks didn't turn you into my love slave. And she wasn't keen on saying, I was scared you would say no. So she split the difference instead. "Okay, more Memory Lane then. Harley, do you remember that Scottish festival we went to?"
Harley winced. "Please, don't bring that up. Do you remember? Bagpipes? The words out of your mouth were 'One big bruise'!"
"Oh," Ivy said. Jumping ahead then. "Well, I've been taking these herbal supplements that I bought from a woman at the Games, and as a result my powers have become a lot stronger."
"How much stronger?"
"Strong enough that I can green girls," Ivy admitted.
Harley stared at her. "No shit!"
"Harley, could we stop drawing attention to ourselves please?"
"This from the green girl?"
Ivy scowled at her.
"Sorry, alabaster. So you can . . . wait. Does that mean you could green me?" Harley squeaked.
Ivy shrank back in her seat. "Ye-es," she said reluctantly.
"And I'd be head over heels in love with you?"
"Maybe," Ivy told her.
"What do you mean, maybe? I ain't exactly what they call transgendered, Red."
Ivy leaned forward. "I also learned that my powers aren't gender-based," she said quietly. "They affect people differently based on their sexual orientation."
Harley gaped at her. "So fancy boys – "
"React the same way as straight girls," Ivy finished for her. "Instant best friend forever."
"Huh," Harley said. "So why am I a 'maybe'?"
Ivy looked at her in disbelief. "It's not like you've been sticking with one gender all this time, Harl."
"Oh," Harley said. "So you were afraid of greening me accidentally?"
Ivy nodded vigorously. "Harley, I was terrified of doing just that. I couldn't bear it if you went out with me and didn't really want to."
Harley looked down at her hands. "Oh. Wow. You – you don't think I've been greened and I don't know it, do ya?"
Ivy sucked in a breath. "Well . . . before they checked you into Arkham the last time, had you ever been interested in me before?"
Harley flushed. For a minute she didn't speak. "Once or twice, yeah. Maybe three. Or four."
"Then," Ivy said, feeling a bit relieved, "I don't think it matters even if you are. Although for the record, I don't really think you are anyway."
Harley didn't say anything, but the redness in her cheeks receded.
"So," Ivy went on, dabbing at the corner of her lip with a napkin, "where would you like to go next?"
"I'm kinda tired, Red," Harley said. "Do you think we could go home?"
Disappointment, because their night out was ending, warred with pleasure that Harley was already calling Ivy's apartments "home". Pleasure won. "Of course, Harley. You haven't been out much."
Harley nodded and looked up. "And, um, your bed looks a lot comfier than mine. Maybe we could, I don't know, share tonight?"
Ivy felt her eyes growing wide.
"And then we could see what happens," Harley added a little too innocently.
"Come in, come in," Ivy said irritably. She swiftly shut the office door behind Selina. "I'm sure my customers are wondering why we're speaking behind closed doors, but they can't know. Hopefully they'll think this is about how you scratched up my bar several nights ago. Which, by the way, I am displeased about. I realize that Gotham Post reporter was a revolting little man, and that you were overjoyed to learn he was fired, but - "
"Ivy, can we get on with why you brought me up here?" Selina asked coldly. "I don't want to talk about the Post, I don't want to talk about your bar, and I certainly don't want to talk about that night."
Ivy shrugged and sat behind her desk. "Yes, well. Harley asked me to do something." She grimaced. "No, Harley insisted that I do something."
"I guess she's doing better? I saw the Cindy Adams column in the paper last week - the two of you at a restaurant, dressed to kill."
"Yes, she's fine," Ivy said through her teeth. She had been extremely unhappy about the press coverage. She had always loathed the fact that Rogues fantasized about her and Harley for years, and now the rest of Gotham's worthless male gender was doing it! "She wanted me to tell you something."
"She had to insist that you tell me something?" Selina asked. "She can do that now?"
Ivy glared at her.
Selina just smiled naughtily and sat down. "This I have to hear."
"I'm certain," Ivy grumbled. "Since you saw the item in the paper, I'm sure you've guessed that Harley and I are in a relationship now."
Selina nodded and waited.
"I am - happier, Selina," Ivy muttered. She looked down. "Happier than I can remember being in a very, very long time. I'm happier because of her. And you - you helped. You helped make it happen." Her mouth twisted like she'd eaten something rancid. "Perhaps you're why it happened."
Ivy's head came back up and she looked Selina in the eye, challenging her to say something. "Thank you," she said woodenly, almost as if she was reading from a script. She probably was. "I will never be able to repay you."
Selina blinked several times. "Whoa," she finally said.
"There, I said it," Ivy retorted. "I kept my promise. I hope she'll be happy now. But this is your one chance if you want to rub it in."
"No, Ivy, you're welcome. Seriously," Selina replied. "I'm just glad that Harley isn't turning into her old boyfriend after all."
"So am I," Ivy murmured. "He's dead and gone."
Harley looked up at the closed door to Red's office. Red never, ever mentioned Selina's name any more. She wondered why she wanted to talk to Selina in private.
Musta have been about Selina scratching up the bar.
"So, Victor, heard the latest?"
Victor sighed. "Yes, Harley. There was an elephant on stage. It didn't disappear. There is a betting pool on how long Zatanna has to live."
"Oh," Harley said, pouting. Typical Victor, the ol' buzzkill. "Did you place your wager?"
"Tomorrow," he said heavily. "I will place my wager tomorrow. Tonight I will mourn."
Harley sincerely doubted he was talking about Little Miss Sparkly-poo, which meant that . . . "Today's the anniversary, huh?" she asked sympathetically.
She supposed he was entitled to be depressed tonight. You'd mark the occasion too if you were in an explosion where your wife died and your own body became unable to survive above-zero temperatures.
"Next drink is on me, okay?" Harley said. She was watching the bar while Red took care of some business upstairs.
Victor looked at her. Instead of speaking, he suddenly grabbed her by the wrist.
"Tell me," Victor said. "How did you do it? Tell me how you were able to move on!"
"Look, um, Mr. Fries, I realize you're having a Really Bad Day anniversary, but you're hurting my arm."
"We have so much in common!" Victor replied hoarsely. "We both loved someone with abandon! And we were forced to watch them die in front of us! But your Joker only died last year! How can you be happy when I'm still so miserable all these years later?"
"I didn't - I mean I wasn't - "
"I didn't even see her last breath!" Victor went on, anguished. "But you, he died in your arms! You were covered in his blood! I need to know how you can live after that!"
Harley stared at him, transfixed. What the heck was he saying? Harley had been in Arkham the night Puddin' died! If she had seen those DEMON guys cut him up, she was pretty freaking sure she'd remember it!
Cut him up, cut him up good.
She gasped and lurched backwards so fast that her rear end hit the wall. Harley closed her eyes, but she could still see - there was so much blood!
And Puddin' had died, he was dead, he was cut to pieces, it was the DEMON guys, they killed her Mistah J because -
Because she told them to!
Ivy burst out of her office when Harley started screaming. What the FUCK?
"No, NO! Puddin! I'm so SORRY!!"
Her knees almost gave way underneath her. Gaia, no, she wasn't supposed to be able to remember that!
She bolted for the bar. All other noises in the Lounge had stopped. All Ivy could hear was the terrified, heartbroken cries coming from her girlfriend.
Ivy braked to a stop when she saw her. Harley was wailing on the floor, staring straight at the very spot where the Joker had died. She was lying on her side, curled into the fetal position, her arms around her knees.
And Mr. Freeze was standing over her, looking like he had no idea what to do.
A sudden jolt of rage beat back some of Ivy's panic. She stormed towards Victor. "What did you say, Victor?! What did you say to her?!"
Victor's head snapped up to look at her. "Ivy," he said, darting his eyes left and right like a sniveling rodent. "I don't know what - I only asked her how she was able to move on after the Joker died - tonight is the night that Nora - "
Ivy lost what little control she had left. "I told you never to mention that night to her! Ever! What the fuck is wrong with you?!"
"Ivy - "
"Get out," she growled. "You're banned from the Rydbergii."
"But - "
"Three months! Six if you don't get out of my club right now! And if you say one more word - just one more word! - then I'll make sure you're the second person cut to pieces at the Lounge!"
Victor opened his mouth, then closed it. Turning away, he fled the building with as much dignity as he could muster.
Fuck dignity. Ivy was by Harley's side in an instant. "Harley, shh, be quiet, it's going to be all right," she said.
"He's dead, he's dead, I killed him, and you let me do it!!" Harley shrieked.
Then Harley slapped her.
Ivy's flinch had very little to do with the blow.
There was only one way she was going to stop this. She didn't particularly want to reveal that her pheromones affected women now, especially in front of her entire staff, but there was only one woman that mattered at that moment.
So she doused Harley with pheromones, trying to console her until her cries died down.
When Harley was practically comatose, Ivy stood up and turned around. Everyone was staring at her. "In case I haven't made myself clear to anyone," she said loudly, "anybody who makes Harley cry will be banned for three months! Anybody who brings up the night Joker died will be banned for six! And anybody who hurts her will really suffer!!"
She looked back at Harley, who just lay there sightlessly, her thumb loosely in her mouth.
And I hurt her the most, so I get to suffer the most.
When Harley was finally back in their bed, Ivy sat on the bed next to her and thought about what she'd learned that night.
First, evidently there were some memories so traumatic that not even herbal-augmented pheromones could erase them completely.
And second, no matter how many precautions she took, there was no guarantee this wouldn't happen again. Someone else might say something monumentally stupid. Harley could see something on the television, or more likely the Internet. She could have a nightmare.
Even with Ivy by her side, sooner or later Harley might have another meltdown. Without Ivy, however, another meltdown might very well destroy her. And that would destroy Ivy.
She couldn't risk either. Harley was an incredibly endangered plant, the last of her species, and a battered, fragile blossom in a harsh environment. She would require constant love and attention until the end of her days. And Ivy would have to do anything, make any sacrifice, to see to it.
Because she was so beautiful when she bloomed.
Ivy didn't think about what her employees would do tomorrow, or what the rumor mill would say. She didn't even undress. She just kicked off her shoes, slipped into bed next to Harley, and lay next to her.
It's my mess, and I'll clean it up.
It was easier to say that, than to admit that she loved her.
The next day, almost half of Ivy's staff quit.
Having learned that women were no longer immune to her powers, her employees had divided themselves into three groups. There were the women who wouldn't work for Ivy period, the women who were only staying on because they were afraid Ivy would green them if they tried to quit, and the women who were – for now - staying on anyway.
Ivy had found them all waiting for her when she came downstairs. The first group immediately tendered their resignations. When the second group saw that Ivy's attempts to change the quitters' minds had not included pheromones, they left as well.
The only saving grace was that the women with the most seniority, such as Raven and Dove, were the ones who didn't leave. They were simply making too much in tips and gratuities to leave just when business had picked up. But that didn't change the fact that the Rydbergii had become severely understaffed.
"I might have to close the Lounge for a couple days while I find replacements," Ivy told Harley afterwards. She was relieved that Harley appeared to have no memory of the previous night's events, but it didn't alleviate the guilt.
"It's too bad that you can't get your plants to do their jobs," Harley said. "You know, the walking shrubs and all that. But not being able to write or speak would be a problem for a waitress."
"Yes, yes," Ivy muttered. They could understand the English language well enough, but –
Ivy sat up straighter. "Harley, you're a genius!"
"I am?" Harley said doubtfully. "I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out that a shrub can't take your order."
"No, but they can certainly take your money."
Raven, Jonathan Crane had discovered some time ago, had a truly delightful scream. Several months prior he had been looking for a female test subject for a gender-based fear toxin. A serendipitous encounter involving the hostess and a stray lizard had inspired him to select her.
He never did get to use it on her, though. Instead, Crane somehow found himself alone with her in the basement, as he made her scream with something more pleasant for her than fear. It was surprisingly enjoyable.
Those surreptitious meetings below the Iceberg had ended when Poison Ivy took over, and they had not been renewed now that the Scarecrow had finally returned to the Rydbergii. Still, it was a nice memory, and he thought of it every time he visited the men's room, seeing as how the entrance was on the way to the basement stairs.
Plus tonight he liked watching Raven's behavior. The word quickly got out regarding Ivy's ability to use her pheromones on women, and the decision of several Lounge employees to quit. Raven had stayed on, but that didn't mean she wasn't giving Ivy a wide berth tonight. He wondered how this might affect her in the long run. Acute paranoia was a definite possibility.
As he entered the men's room, however, all thoughts of Raven vanished as he experienced an unpleasant fright of his own. For Gina, the washroom attendant, appeared to have been transformed into a bush.
Crane stood in the doorway uncertainly. It was probably a matter of time before Ivy installed shrubbery in the bathrooms. Still, he couldn't see why she felt it necessary to put it in front of the sinks.
It made more sense two minutes later when the oversized plant offered him a towel.
He took it awkwardly, wondering if perhaps he had accidentally ingested his newest prototype toxin, and that when he left the men's room, he would find a Lounge populated with giant cacti and rhododendrons. It actually made sense. Pamela was becoming practically inescapable now. How terrifying!
The plant tapped the tip basket with a frond and waited expectantly.
Crane gave it a twenty. If he was lucky, he was imagining that too.
He went back outside, discovered that the Lounge was still full of Homo sapiens, and cursed the name Poison Ivy.
"I need two Savage Sekhments, a Dea Matrona, and a Bountiful Ceres," the waitress told Harley.
"Gotcha," Harley said cheerfully from behind the bar. Red had been less than subtle when she changed the names of many mixed drinks from something "vulgar and demeaning", like the Tight Snatch, to something "appropriately respectful and submissive", typically ancient goddesses. (Although the Wise Ishtar became the Lovely Freyja after Clayface had warned her everyone would think it was a tribute to, horrors, Warren Beatty.) But then she hadn't tried to be subtle.
Red was even trying her hand at a few new drinks. She said a better hangover remedy would be "worth its weight in saffron". So far they'd been worth their weight in "shriveled scrotums" instead, but Red had high hopes for the "Green Gaia". Not exactly the same as performing tests on a new mutant strain of kudzu, but as long as it helped the bottom line.
Harley watched Red out of the corner of one eye as she prepared the drink order. Her ability to interact with customers had improved, now that she'd begun limiting herself to things like "Hello", "How good you could visit tonight", and "Would you like another?" Harley still wasn't clear why Red was so stiff with other people, when they could talk to each other just fine. But then she supposed she was just special to Ivy.
That mattered more to Harley than it would have a year ago, or even two months ago. Before they'd started sleeping together.
Two months ago Harley wouldn't have predicted this. She certainly wouldn't have predicted the sudden, shocking stab of desire she'd felt when she saw Ivy working out that day. Or Ivy picking up on it and practically seducing her on the spot.
Harley smiled. She knew Red was surprised and a little worried when she'd taken their relationship to the next level in less than twenty-four hours. For days afterward Ivy had been a little paranoid, even running a couple blood tests for any sign that Harley was under the influence of pheromones.
But Harley had made a split-second decision that day in Ivy's home gym. Red was like a tidal wave when she wanted something. Once she'd known that Harley was attracted to her, Red would have pursued her relentlessly until she was overwhelmed and said yes. Harley knew that Red would never let her go now that she had Harley all to herself. Why fight it?
Besides, she had wanted Red. Wanted her badly in Victoria's Secret.
It had also felt strange finding herself at the center of her own universe again, after years of orbiting Puddin'. It was so much easier to just find a new star, and let gravity take over. Even if Harley wasn't exactly in love at that point in their courtship, it had felt right giving herself over completely to someone who would take her.
The fact that Ivy was more than appreciative hadn't hurt either.
"Here you go," Harley said, putting the drinks on a tray and passing it back to the waitress. Then she went back to a favorite pastime – watching Red walk away. A lot of people liked seeing that.
Harley, though, enjoyed it for a much different reason.
"Okay, okay," Ivy said softly as she was caressed by dozens of fronds and roots. "I missed you too. Calm down."
As they reluctantly relinquished their hold on her, Ivy looked around her former home, visible only by moonlight at this very late hour, and felt unaccountably lonely. Robinson Park had been her protectorate for years. She'd tended personally to every form of flora there, from the oldest tree to blades of grass. She hadn't been here in months. She'd missed it. And yet she was lonely.
Harley wasn't here. What other reason could there be?
She sighed and sank down to her knees. "I'm sorry I haven't been here, but I've been very busy," she murmured. "There have been a lot of changes in my life."
That was the understatement of the century. Her extended absence from Robinson Park was merely one outcome of her decision to take over the Iceberg Lounge. That act was the first in a long line of decisions that eventually led her to abandon the life she'd lived here. Her name was Poison Ivy. She thought of herself as Ivy. She expected her customers and her staff to call her Ivy.
But that didn't change the fact that it said "P. Isley, Proprietor" on the door to the Rydbergii. Officially she had resumed using the name Pamela. Her attorneys had informed her that she needed to use her legal name for all her legitimate business dealings, and that from a public relations perspective, people were more likely to believe she was a reformed, honest businesswoman if she abandoned her criminal moniker.
Of course she wasn't reformed, nor was she honest. Revenues from the black market operations she'd stolen from the Penguin were finally up – ironically because of said Penguin. Once she'd stopped greening him into a hopeless daze, Ivy had begun using him as an intermediary between her and the lowlifes she dealt with. They were less intimidated when they didn't have to face her keen and alert gaze, and less likely to take their business elsewhere.
But it was simply vital that she be perceived as having "gone straight". Ivy couldn't risk going to Arkham or prison. Harley had to be kept safe from her traumatic memories, too stubborn to go away forever. And being trapped in a cell by herself was absolutely unacceptable. She'd become much too used to sharing a bed with someone.
"Things have gotten better," she assured them, wishing to put off what she'd really come to say. "That despicable Jenna lost." Ivy still felt an exultant, savage joy in her heart when she thought about it. "Since then it's as if her mind has developed Dutch elm disease. Her attempt at imitating me," she said all too innocently, "was only the beginning. Last we heard, she tried to rob a Zales jewelry store wearing a latex bodysuit and a tail. Unfortunately for her, she was arrested while attempting to flee when the mall security guard ran her down with his Sedgway. I have fifty dollars on her masquerading as Croc. Her leathery skin will serve her nicely." She got such smug satisfaction out of Jenna's newest pathetic failed attempts to get any kind of rise out of her betters.
It was so much nicer than thinking about . . .
"I hope you won't hate me when I tell you this," Ivy said, growing anxious, "but I was forced to abandon my efforts to forcibly stop those who would harm you. The lumberyards, the refineries, the paper mills – I can't make a move against them. Not now. There's too much at stake."
That didn't alter the waves of guilt she continually felt. By protecting Harley, wasn't she betraying the plants who had been her friends and loved ones for even longer? Billions of murders every year, and Ivy was selfishly allowing it to happen because of one human life.
"I'm taking other steps," Ivy said hurriedly. "The money I was counting on from Penguin's operations has finally started flowing. I've taken steps to form a charitable foundation whose mission is to buy as much unspoiled forest lands as possible. And I will make certain that the fools who run Gotham's government budget sufficient funds to care for you properly."
Ivy's eyes stung all of a sudden. "I've abandoned you," she whispered miserably. "Sacrificed you. All to protect Harley. She's finally mine, but she requires such care. I'm so happy having her with me, but I can never be one hundred percent relaxed around her. I never know when she'll need my protection. Every day I lo . . ."
She looked down. She would apologize, ask for their forgiveness. But Ivy would not leave the path she'd set out on. Not when she had hurt Harley deeply. Not when she truly did love Harley. And not when Harley loved her back.
"I'm sorry," she said, digging her fingers into the soil as if it could strengthen her connection to the vibrant, beautiful lives around her. "But I don't have a choice. I'll do whatever it takes for her."
They'd loved her unconditionally since she was a teenager, but Ivy suspected that would change tonight.
After a few minutes of silence, she felt a tiny tug on the fingers of her left hand, very much like that first time in her parents' greenhouse. Ivy opened her eyes and looked at the violets by her hand.
What she felt from them was . . .
Ivy stared, uncomprehendingly. She looked around her and found that, in yet another uncanny comparison to her first time, every living thing was pointing at her. "Don't you understand?" she asked helplessly. "I'm failing you. I've chosen something else over you. I'm no better than, than – the local florist!"
The responding wave of sensation dizzied her, and she put a hand to her head.
When her thoughts cleared, the overwhelming feeling was that of reassurance. From their simple perspective, the plants had come to see Harley as one of them. She had always been an endangered life that Ivy worried over endlessly. They didn't see her act as a betrayal, but rather like a shifting of priorities.
Ivy could have tried to enlighten them, but then she herself had compared Harley to a flower many times.
As for them, well, they had lived for millennia. They'd go on doing that.
The violets let go.
She brushed their stems carefully. "Thanks," she said. "Good night, I guess."
Poison Ivy wanted to get home before dawn. It was a beautiful thing, seeing Harley open up for the sun.
Jenna is drawn from several specific events in continuity comics. She was one of the orphans who Ivy took in during No Man's Land. During Poison Ivy's last storyline prior to 52 and OYL, we learned that Jenna had obtained powers similar to Ivy's from, I believe, a government agency, and that she'd embarked on a crime spree. In the wake of Ivy's "death" in Gotham Knights #65, there was an implication that Pamela Isley was being retired and that Jenna would become "Poison Ivy II". Hence Jenna Leibowitz' belief that she could replace Ivy. ("Leibowitz" was a derivative of AJ Lieberman, who wrote Gotham Knights #61-65.)
Thanks and credit go out to Chris Dee for A. permitting me to write this spinoff from "String Theory" in the first place; B. allowing me to borrow events and dialogue from other Cat-Tales stories; and C. elevating this story to the level it achieved. Besides serving as the beta reader for every chapter, Chris helped me brainstorm practically the entire story, and proved extremely helpful with specific elements, esp. Selina's dialogue and POV.
Thanks also go out to the readers who stuck with this story through the years it took to write it. "Reap" is a fitting conclusion to my career as a fan fiction writer; while I may write little fics here and there in the future, particularly for my OTP, Harley/Ivy, Reap was my last big project and I will focus on original writing in the future. Thanks again.