Title:The End Starts Today
Author: Jen Kollic
Disclaimers: All characters are trademarks of DC Comics. I make no money from this. Wah.
Feedback: Yes, please.
Notes: Wasn't sure whether to put this in Batman Beyond or not, but I figure since this is just after the flashback it's better off here. Also, I am still peeved by the lack of asterisks. Boooooo.
Spoilers: Big spoilers for Return of the Joker. (the uncut version) Passing references to various other toonverse cartoon/comic episodes/issues as well.
The lightning threw the rain-soaked ruins of Arkham into stark, sharp relief against the momentarily incandescent night sky. The lunatics and psychopaths might have been long gone, yet that only made what was left of the asylum even more ominous. It served no purpose now, but somehow seemed to defy the impending completion of its demolition.
Two years ago, after one side of the building had been pulled down, the underground cells deep beneath Arkham had collapsed in retaliation. Six workers had been killed, buried alive in the landslide just as the asylum inmates had once been buried alive in those cells. Perhaps Arkham missed its prisoners. Perhaps it wanted revenge. Either way, regardless of how ridiculous one felt assigning human emotions to a building, the demolition work had been halted.
So Arkham remained. Battered and broken, but not dead. Arkham lived, and the proof was in the fact that even as a deserted ruin it was wholly abandoned. Not even the boldest gangs or most adventurous children would set foot beyond the ruined gates. There was still a presence there, still unseen eyes behind the windows. There was no sense of vacancy about the building; instead there was a malignant, brooding menace.
The sullen rumble of thunder sounded almost like a snarl.
Ivy had sworn that she'd never come back here. Not that she feared Arkham; she knew it far too well for that. It was the memories. That feeling of sick inevitability every time Batman or the cops dragged her back under its shadow. The screams that constantly echoed down the corridors until they fused into a weird harmony. The cell. Even with Harley there, it was still a box, a coffin for the living.
The new Arkham was very modern. Bright lights, chrome, spotless white walls, automatic locks, lots of cameras. Soundproofing. But nobody called it Arkham. It was always 'the new place', and Ivy was willing to bet that it would take at least a couple of generations for it to lose that name. And as long as the slightest remnant of the original remained, it would always be Arkham.
She knew the Joker had a lair here. And only the Joker would dare. No, not dare, that wasn't the right word. Nerve maybe? The arrogant bastard had always seen himself as the 'king' of Arkham, maybe this was his half-witted way of asserting that. Idiot.
The great double doors were lying wide open. Another sheet of lighting lit the sky as Ivy approached the threshold, making the shadowy depths of the entrance seem even blacker. Ivy felt a chill run down her spine as she stared into the Stygian darkness beyond the arched portal, and it had nothing to do with the torrential rain beating down upon her. She was too late. The distinctive boot prints marked in the thick dust coating the corridor that dissolved into the gloom told her that Batman had gotten here first.
The sound of glass breaking, while not entirely surprising, was still somewhat unexpected. Ivy had only been out of the new place a week, and hadn't got around to any serious plans yet. Batman was early. How inconvenient.
Unwinding herself from the coiling vines she'd been reclining upon, Ivy paused to pick up her crossbow, and crept towards the far end of the hothouse, where the sound had come from. The plants parted noiselessly to let her through, if she was lucky she might even get a clear shot at the Bat before he noticed her approach. He'd be waiting for her to make a move of course, this was unfamiliar territory to him and he'd be cautious…
…but the black-gloved arm which flashed out from between the trees to grab her by the neck told Ivy she'd miscalculated. And before she could react, she'd been swung almost off her feet and against the thick bole of a mangrove. Batman's other hand snapped down to deliver a numbing chop to her wrist, and her crossbow clattered uselessly to the ground.
What was he doing? His eyes burned into hers, his face set with such hatred and rage that for several moments Ivy half-expected to have her neck snapped. Her fear (and indignation) had communicated itself to her children; thorn-studded vines were already snaking their way towards Batman, and rearing to strike, to free her.
And then everything went black for several long, terrifying seconds as Batman's hand closed mercilessly around her throat, choking her.
"Call them off." Batman ground the words out between his teeth, the tone of his voice leaving Ivy little doubt that if she failed to do so, he'd have no qualms about strangling her. This wasn't right. Regardless, she had little choice, and placated the murderous vines with a gesture. The chokehold about her neck slackened slightly in response, allowing her to breathe again, but still pinning her firmly in place. She opened her mouth to ask him just what the hell he thought he was doing, but he forestalled her.
"Where's Robin?" The iron severity in his voice was no different, indicating that if he didn't get an answer, Ivy would be having some serious trouble breathing. She felt his hand tense about her neck, but even so Ivy could only stare at him in blank incomprehension.
"…what the hell are you talking about?" she replied eventually, hoping that she sounded as bemused as she felt. "How the hell should I know?"
Batman tightened his grip about her throat slightly, but he already knew this was a dead end. Not even Ivy could have faked the complete bewilderment she'd shown at the question. But there was still a chance she might have heard something, anything, and at this point he and Barbra were desperate for any clue.
"You must know something." he growled, shaking her against the tree. "He's been missing for three weeks. What's the word on this, you people must have at least noticed!"
To be truthful, Ivy had no idea the boy was missing, she'd barely left the hothouse since her escape from the new place, she'd hardly had the opportunity to catch up on gossip at the Iceberg. Then again, given what she and Harley had done with the last Robin, maybe it wasn't too surprising Batman suspected her...
"I haven't heard anything about it." she muttered sulkily, not wanting to push things while he still had his hand round her throat. "I only got out of Arkham last week; I've not exactly had time to socialise."
Batman's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Harley. Have you seen her?" He did have his suspicions on who was responsible for Tim's disappearance, and the Joker was one of the prime candidates, especially now that he knew the boy wasn't under Ivy's control like Dick had once been.
Harley? All Ivy knew was that she was holed up with the fucking clown somewhere… oh Gaia, surely he wasn't that crazy… "No, I haven't." she replied. "I haven't heard from her either. She's with the clown. That's all I know."
That at least correlated with what Batman had been able to discover. There was nothing more to learn here, and while he was loath to leave Ivy with her freedom, he just didn't have the time to drag her back to the asylum just now. Finding Tim was much more important. And he was due to rendezvous with Barbara in half an hour, she might have picked up something from the police reports she'd been combing for clues. Ivy could wait for now.
Ivy slumped back against the mangrove as Batman released her neck, rubbing at her bruised throat. But when she raised her head to complain about his treatment of her, (reaching for her crossbow while she did) he was already gone. And he'd just left her here. Something really was wrong, and Ivy was prepared to bet that things would only get worse until the bird-brat was found. Of course, if it was the Joker who was behind this, that would be exactly what he was intending. Even if Batman killed him for what he'd done, he'd still have won, because he'd have made the Bat break his own golden rule.
Harley was with him, she'd be right in the line of fire. Ivy had to
The dim corridors reeked of damp and mildew, warped floorboards creaking beneath the rotted linoleum as Ivy cautiously picked her way through the derelict asylum, following the trail Batman (and apparently Batgirl too if the smaller footprints were anything to go by) had left. She knew that the Bat was gone, the tracks ran both ways, but there were no signs of a struggle, and Harley (or the clown for that matter) wasn't one for going quietly. Maybe they hadn't been here. Sure, Ivy had checked their other two hideouts, but there would be ones she didn't know about. Naturally. There was no need to be worried.
The path led right through her old cell block. Hell Block was what the guards had called it, since they'd all been kept here. Ivy, Harley, Joker, Two-Face, Riddler, Croc… you'd have thought the staff would have kept the most dangerous inmates separately rather than in one place. Then again, given that most of them would be more liable to attack each other if they all escaped at once…
Ivy kept her eyes resolutely forward as she passed her old cell, though she caught a glimpse of the "Isley, Pamela" sign on the door. "Quinzel, Harleen" was on her other side. She'd always been vocal about how much she hated having Harley opposite her. Sure, Harley did drive her crazy at times, but the more she complained, the less likely the staff were to move either of them, probably happy in the misguided knowledge they'd done something to spite her. Idiots.
The trail led straight to the operating theatre. (a necessity when most of the patients were also psychopaths) Checking her first impulse to just barge in, Ivy decided on a more stealthy approach, just in case. She pushed one of the double doors open just far enough for her to slip through, closing it carefully behind her then taking in the scene. Ah. There were the signs of a struggle.
It was a typical Joker lair. Well, almost. The usual bright colours, sinister clown faces (and they said Ivy was vain? Please.) and a formidable array of weaponry. But the 'homey' touches? They were just… wrong. Like some horrible parody of a dollhouse. And there wasn't a speck of dust in here; Harley had to be behind that. Most of the furniture had been scattered or broken though, evidence that a fight had taken place here not too long ago. Maybe Harley and the clown had escaped. That would explain why there was no sign of them being dragged out… that was the only reason they wouldn't have been dragged…
Ivy stopped dead when she found the pool of blood, a tight knot of fear constricting in her stomach. There was evidence that something, someone had been lying in it, then moved. It was dry, but not old. And there were further spatters leading off towards a stairwell leading down to the old storerooms. The clown had the devil's own luck; if anyone had been injured here then it would have been… Ivy headed down the stairs at a faster pace, almost running.
The storerooms were in semidarkness, only a few feeble rays of light making it through the tiny, filthy windows high in the outer wall. It was difficult for Ivy to follow the spots of blood, even after her eyes had adjusted to the gloom, but by trial and error she eventually reached the end of the trail.
It was an empty storeroom, with nothing left to indicate what had once been kept here. Now? Now it was clearly a burial ground. The linoleum, more intact down here, had been pulled up, then replaced over a floor that hadn't previously been so uneven. Without even thinking about what she was doing, Ivy pulled it back, driven by the need to know. It wasn't Harley. It couldn't be Harley. Beneath the linoleum the floor was paved stone, but several were loose. The ones over the raised hump in the ground. Taking a deep, shaking breath, Ivy placed some seeds in the cracks between the slabs, and within seconds thick vines had pushed them aside, revealing freshly-turned earth. She turned her back as the plants delved into the soil, unable to watch them pulling the grave open. As they finished their work, Ivy steeled herself, then looked. And stared.
Within minutes the room looked exactly as it had when Ivy had found it, only now the soil was packed that extra bit firmer, the stone slabs fixed tightly in place by vines before the linoleum was rolled back across them. Ivy had been waiting for this day for a long, long time. But now it was here, all she could feel was the overpowering need to find Harley. They'd killed the Joker. Would they then have baulked at killing his sidekick?
She had to get out of here, out into the open. Without looking back, Ivy ran back upstairs to the operating theatre, then out to the demolished side of the building and into the rain. Ivy took a deep, thankful breath of the night air, trying to rid herself of the smell and taste of the mildewed reek from the storerooms. She was starting to calm now, because Batman must have taken Harley. And this explained why there was no sign of resistance, the Joker's death would have subdued her in a way nothing else ever could. Harley was sure to be back in the new place now. Unless she'd been killed first… or attacked them after the Joker had been killed, to avenge him…
No. If they'd killed her, surely they'd have buried her with the Joker. (Ivy felt a sharp twist of mixed horror and disgust at the thought) And there was no sign of her, Ivy reflected as she walked further out into the ruined area, noting with some shock the huge chasm that had been torn through the remnants of this side of the building. Ivy couldn't imagine what could have caused it, only that it must have been catastrophic. The fissure had ripped straight through the building, and into the ground beneath Arkham, so deep that Ivy couldn't even see the bottom, just jagged struts of corroded metal and concrete pillars jutting out like broken bones.
A gleam of metal caught Ivy's eye as she moved back from the edge of the chasm, drawing her gaze like a magnet. Every other piece of metal out here was furred with rust, decayed like the rest of the building. What made this object any different? Maybe it was something one of the Bats had left…
…no. Ivy felt a cold hand close painfully about her heart as she recognised the weapon. Harley's bazooka. The personalized graffiti Harley had scrawled into the handle was unmistakeable. Ivy's gaze turned inexorably back to the chasm, fear rushing through her as the horrible realization struck. Maybe they hadn't buried Harley with the Joker because they hadn't bothered to find her body…
Ivy had never been as agile as Harley, but nobody could have clambered down the wall of the yawning abyss with as much speed as she did. Admittedly, the going was made much easier by the thick vines that were now coiled firmly around any and all available hand and footholds, and snaking further downwards like a living rope. Even so, Ivy's reckless, desperate descent almost cost her neck several times. Thankfully the vines had more concern for her safety than she did, and were now curled about her wrists and waist to prevent another near-fall.
Pausing to get her breath back, Ivy looked back up at the lip of the chasm, now a good sixty or seventy feet above her, then down. She still couldn't see the bottom, the fissure simply faded into darkness beneath her. Ivy stared dully into it as the vines slid past her, consolidating their grip on the wall and spreading further out below her. She was still gazing downwards as another great flash of lightning whiplashed across the night sky. Briefly illuminating the depths of the chasm, and revealing the motionless red and black-clad form draped like a rag across a thick iron joist projecting out across the rift.
Even the thunder couldn't drown out Ivy's voice as she screamed Harley's name.