It has often been said that you cannot judge a book by its cover. And it is true, in some respects. Just because a man has a shaved head and a motorcycle does not mean that he isn't the editor of Happy Kitten magazine. Piercings and tattoos do not mark someone as nasty and vicious any more than a matching pantsuit or a string of pearls would.
This, of course, fails to take into account that some covers are meant to be judged. You might not always be able to discern someone's personality from their wardrobe, but sometimes you can be pretty sure about someone's motives based on the outfit that they have so carefully chosen. Batman, for example, looked like a big scary creature who would cheerfully dislocate your shoulder because that was exactly what he was. Sometimes things are exactly what they seem to be.
Troy Grey was not normally a morning person. It usually took at least one cup of coffee to get his brain kick-started and a further two to raise his thought processes above that of the average amoeba.
On this particular morning, though, he woke up bright and early. Perhaps it was simply that he'd slept in a pile of abandoned couch upholstery, curled up like a kitten on a bedspread. It certainly hadn't been the most comfortable of beds. The fact that the heap of fabric was located deep within the Joker's most secret lair was additionally unhelpful toward getting a sound night's sleep.
On the other hand, perhaps it was...her. Troy shifted gently to see Sorrow, who was occupying the other half of the pile of fabric. She was tucked into a neat ball, barely taking up more room than an outstretched cat. Her hands were crossed over her chest and snuggled tight under her chin, with her long reddish hair draped over her like a secondary blanket.
It had been an unusual night, to say the least. Troy had never really been on a date. Oh, he'd been out with girls to see movies and sporting events, but it had always ended with the girls deciding that they wanted to spend their time with someone who could manage to carry on a conversation. This, of course, meant that he'd never spent more than a few hours with any given girl, and he wasn't quite sure how such things went for other people.
What he did know is that the previous night had been the most fun he'd ever had with a girl. They had chatted and joked over the leftovers and played a few games of War (which was about the only game you could play with cards that you suspected were marked). Somewhere in the timeless night they had ended up on the pile of fabric talking about nothing in particular until they had finally drifted off to sleep.
Troy settled back with a smile on his face. She was charming, and funny, and she would have been the perfect girl if it wasn't for that criminal thing. Maybe he could talk her out of it. Maybe, if she'd let him, they could -
His ears rang with the distinctive jingling clatter of a beaker shattering on a closed door. "GRIEF!" a voice bellowed at top volume.
Sorrow rolled to her feet, instantly awake. "What happened?" she yelled.
The door slammed open. Ivy stormed toward them, holding a selection of empty glassware in one hand. In the other, she held a rather large Erlenmeyer flask, which she promptly threw directly at Troy's head. He managed to duck out of the way just in time, scooting behind the couch for further protection from airborne science equipment. Sorrow joined him, scuttling out of the way of a badly aimed graduated cylinder.
"What happened?" Ivy snarled. "Look at me!"
Two heads popped up from behind the couch like a pair of prairie dogs looking for coyotes. Troy examined Ivy as politely as possible. The leaves on her body which had stood up so threateningly at him last night had completely disappeared. Through the rents they had left in her leotard, he could see pink skin shining through.
His eyes widened as he met her gaze. Her face, no longer green, was flushed red with fury. "Look what you did to me," she hissed with all the venom of a funnel-web spider.
Troy ducked as another flask winged through the air at him. It shattered on the purple velvet wall behind him, leaving a circular constellation of broken glass stuck in the fuzzy fibers. He had done it? Hardly. She had ordered him around like some kind of lackey, criticizing every move he'd made as not good enough. Well, he had followed her orders, so it was her fault that she was human again. She -
A rack of test tubes pinwheeled in an arc through the air, nearly missing him as he threw himself to the left. "Sorry! I'm sorry," he gulped. Perhaps there would be a time later to point out that it wasn't his fault. "I can fix it!"
The barrage of glassware stopped. "How?" she asked suspiciously.
"Well, you still have the original formula, right?" he asked desperately. "I bet if you take it again -"
"It doesn't stop working," she growled.
"We could slow it down! We could make it stop!" he suggested, eyeing a nearby table to flee under. "I'll do whatever you want!"
She narrowed her eyes at him. "Harley?" she yelled, not taking her gaze off of him. There was no answer. "HARLEY!"
"I don't think she's here," Sorrow said cautiously.
"Why not?" Ivy snapped.
Sorrow hesitated. "Maybe she's still in bed," she said hopefully, as if the noise from the screaming and glass-throwing wouldn't have woken up an elephant on serious tranquilizers.
Ivy stalked over to the bedroom door and flung it open, storming inside briefly to emerge waving a note. "Dear Red," she read, bitter anger in her voice. "Sorrow was right - I can't leave Mr. J down there by himself. We'll be back tonight!" She threw the note to the floor. "Sorrow was right?" she snarled.
"Look, all I told her was that the basement sucked, okay?" Sorrow said from her hidey-hole behind the sofa. "I didn't tell her to go break him out! Do you think I want anyone to go to that hellhole?"
"Well, now she's bringing the Joker home," Ivy grumbled. "Get your things. I'm not staying here for another second if he's going to be here. We're going to your place so he can fix this."
"Um," Sorrow said hesitantly.
"I, uh...don't have a place that's not being watched," Sorrow said carefully.
"Well, where have you been staying?"
"Uh..." Sorrow ducked a little lower. "Two-Face's?" she said in a small voice.
"What?" Glass shattered in a pentagram of fury as Ivy chucked a full test tube rack at Sorrow's general location.
"One night! One night, that's it!" Sorrow explained. "And we didn't...I mean, I wouldn't want to..."
A chair thumped heavily off of the couch. Ivy had apparently moved on to larger ammunition. "He didn't want to either! He just lost the coin flip and I slept on his spare bed! That was it!"
Troy, huddled under the nearby table, winced as another chair cracked into the floor. Poison Ivy and Two-Face weren't an item. It would have come up at the staff meetings. Maybe they had been together before he started working at Arkham.
Ivy, bereft of anything else to throw, panted angrily in the center of the floor. Sorrow tentatively emerged from her temporary bunker. "It's fine," she said in the face of all the current evidence. "Besides, I've got a henchman - what would I want Two-Face for?" Troy nodded fervently, willing to play the part if it meant that nothing else would be launched at his skull.
Ivy considered this. Then, with a toss of her long red hair, she pretended like her last spasm of white-hot rage had never happened. "Then where do you think we should go?" she asked scornfully.
Troy cleared his throat.
"What?" Ivy snapped.
"Um...I've got a, uh, a place," he mumbled.
"You?" Ivy sneered. "You've had a costume for a day. You couldn't possibly have a place yet."
Troy eased himself out from under the table, avoiding several piles of broken glass. "I've got an apartment."
It's been said that getting there is half the fun. This only applies if your traveling companions do not include an extremely irritable and newly de-powered master criminal.
Ivy's car wouldn't fit on any of the boats, so they were forced to abandon it. They had stolen a car almost immediately upon landing. (Well, stolen may be a bit much. Anyone who left the keys in the ignition in downtown Gotham deserved to lose their vehicle.) After a brief jaunt across the city, they arrived at the scenic Meadowbrook Estates.
"You live in this dump?" Ivy said, looking up at its tattered facade and vandalized sign.
"It's...what I can afford," Troy mumbled, shame-faced. "This way." He held the door open. Ivy breezed by him, holding her newly lightened Rubbermaid container in her arms. Sorrow trotted after her into the elevator.
Troy's apartment was cozy, and efficient, and all the other words that a real-estate agent would use to dance around the fact that it was one little room on one of the high floors of a decrepit building. A couch with a pulled-out bed took up most of the living area. It faced a rather nice television with an array of video gaming equipment wired up to it. The shelves beside it were packed with cartridges, discs, and controllers, along with a sizeable collection of movies.
Troy hurriedly folded the bed back into the couch, yelping as a metal bar caught him across the kneecaps. He tossed the cushions haphazardly into place and dusted his hands. "Can I get anyone anything?" he asked, wincing as Ivy slammed the door with her foot.
"You can get to work," Ivy suggested crossly, hugging the container tightly to her chest. "Where's your bathroom? We'll need a sink."
"Oh. Uh, this way," he gestured, hurrying after her to the only door in the entire apartment. "Watch out for the-" A clattering sound marked the abrupt removal of all of his personal items from the sink top. "Oh. That's...fine, I guess. What do you want me to -"
Slam! The door thudded shut, locking him in with Ivy. Sorrow bit her lip thoughtfully. Well, Ivy probably wouldn't kill him...yet. She did need him, after all. That stuff had knocked her out before, and there was no reason to think that she wouldn't be incapacitated again. He was going to be fine. Probably.
She wandered into the kitchen, which was lightly enclosed by an island. The sink, half-full of dirty dishes, was crammed between the refrigerator and the microwave. All of it was covered with that unique film of grease and crumbs that only seemed to appear in bachelor residences. The fridge held nothing but some ancient takeout and a slightly decimated twelve-pack of cola. Sorrow popped one open for herself and turned around.
There was a picture on the wall. With a slight shock of recognition, she realized that it was her picture - rather, one of the pictures that she had drawn on the walls in her solitary cell ages ago. It was a jumble of abstract figures thrown together into something that may have been a face. The oversized print hung unobtrusively on his wall in a muted grey frame.
Whatever vestige of doubt that she'd still harbored about his intentions vanished in a puff of fondness. If he didn't really care about her, he wouldn't have gone to all the trouble of getting this picture. It was sweet. He was sweet. In fact, he was...
He was not her sidekick, something that she didn't want to think about. He was good, and she was bad, and that was all there was to it. He'd be better off if she left as soon as Ivy did.
She really needed not to think for a while. Lacking any other distractions, she turned her attention to the vast selection of video games surrounding the television. She had never really had the opportunity to play any of them, even as a child. Well, surely they could fill a few minutes while she waited...
Eight hours later, Sorrow was swearing heartily as she twisted a plastic steering wheel through the air. "Goddamn stupid goddamn Rainbow Road," she mumbled, tongue sticking out of the side of her mouth as she guided her little kart past a set of giant gaping holes in the translucent track. "No! Nonononono...dammit!" she swore as Princess Peach tumbled helplessly into outer space. With a look of disgust on her face, she turned the system off.
She blinked as the room fell into complete darkness. The light from the television had been the only source of illumination in the room. Well, surely there was a light switch around here somewhere. She hauled herself up from the couch, wincing as stiff muscles protested, and hobbled to the bathroom door. "How's it going?" she called.
The door opened just wide enough to show Troy's face, still slathered with cheap grey makeup. "Fine, I think," he hissed. "She's asleep. I think it worked."
Sorrow peered over his shoulder. Ivy was curled up in the bathtub, so soundly asleep that she resembled nothing so much as a fresh corpse. A pale green tint had settled over her skin, which wasn't helpful in determining her cadaverous status. "She is breathing, right?"
"Yeah. Slowly," he added. "I'm keeping an eye on her. Did you eat?" he asked anxiously. "There's frozen stuff in the freezer, or some macaroni and cheese in the cupboard..."
"I'm fine," Sorrow dismissed. Food wasn't important. "Where's the light switch around here?"
"By the front door." Ivy made an odd noise, something between a goatlike bleat and a demon's growl. "That's...not right," he frowned, turning back to his patient.
Sorrow closed the door behind him and felt her way to the light switch. She ran her hands over the slightly bumpy wall, squinting in the darkness. Where was that stupid switch?
Something outside clicked gently against the window. Sorrow froze in place, heart pounding. No, it was just the wind. Had to be. It wasn't...
The miniblinds rattled quietly as a black leg slipped past them. Sorrow immediately dropped to the floor and scuttled into the kitchen like a crab running from the Cornelia Marie. It was Batman! How had he tracked them here? Oh, right, he was Batman. He'd probably been ready to break in here since Troy quit his job. Why hadn't she thought of that before she'd blown the whole day playing video games?
She frantically yanked her gloves off, crouching unseen behind the island. With her back pressed tightly against the cupboards, she forced herself to sit absolutely still. Her foot immediately cramped. She ignored it.
A second pair of boots dropped gently to the cheap carpeting. He'd brought a friend, then. Oh, wonderful. Any hope of getting out of this in one piece was quickly evaporating. Maybe they'd search the living room and go away. Maybe they'd get some amazingly important news update and have to go save Gotham.
Through the bathroom door, clearly audible to anyone who was listening, Ivy made another one of those goat-demon grunts.
Now they were completely screwed.
Batman was not having a particularly good night. He had been up until almost dawn the previous night helping the staff at Arkham clean up after Harley Quinn's ill-planned frontal assault. If she had brought her henchmen, or her hyenas - indeed, if she'd been anything but alone - she might have been able to get the Joker out. As it was, it had taken him a full two hours to pry her and her weapons out of the intake room, and that was after the staff had taken a further three to try and do it without him. After checking her entire route for any little surprises, chemical or otherwise, he'd been nearly exhausted with irritation. There were bank robberies and gang wars and massive plots to stop, and Harley Quinn had to invade Arkham. At least she hadn't had far to go after he'd laid her out on the tiles with a serious case of Flattened Nose Syndrome.
And now no one had heard from Dr. Grey since he'd left Arkham. He doubted that Sorrow had hurt him - after all, all the rumors from Arkham staff were that they'd liked one another - but you never knew with rogues. One mistimed remark and things got messy incredibly quickly.
He and Batgirl moved silently through the dark apartment, closing in on the bathroom door as a strangled grunt came from inside. In one well-rehearsed movement, they swung the door open and dragged out the blue-coated rogue standing over the unconscious victim in the bathtub.
Batman, with the blue-coated rogue firmly secured, blinked as he processed the available facts. The woman in the bathtub was Poison Ivy, who was a lighter green than usual. More interesting, though, was the fact that the rogue in his hands was not female, and in fact wasn't Sorrow at all.
He spun the man around, comparing his makeuped face with the picture he'd been shown earlier. "Dr. Grey?" he asked forbiddingly.
"...yes?" the man squeaked.
Batman tightened his grip. As if it wasn't bad enough that he had to have one love-crazed ex-psychiatrist running around his city, not to mention the handful of others that were in love with everything but sanity. The last thing he needed was another sidekick with stars in their eyes insisting that their villainous idol loooooved them.
"I...don't know," the man said, trembling all over. "Um. Why?"
Batman bent the full force of his angriest glare on the would-be henchman, who cringed backward in dismay. "Because you're both going to Arkham."
"I'm not!" Ivy chirped from her spot cradled in Batgirl's arms. She waved the bottle of plant formula. Clearly something inside it had made her extremely tipsy. "I'm not goin' anywhere with you cuz you suck. He does too," she added as an afterthought, waving vaguely at Troy, "but you suck the mostest. Mostestest. Most," she finished triumphantly.
"Arkham?" Grey whispered.
Batman scowled at him. "Yes. Arkham," he confirmed.
"But you can't send her back to Arkham!" Grey grabbed onto his armored forearms. "You don't know! Sorrow can't go back!"
"She can, and she will," Batman promised darkly.
"No!" he gasped. "The doctors! The doctors are going to...they're horrible," he mumbled miserably under Batman's blowtorch glare of disapproval.
"I'm going to ask you this one more time," Batman growled, digging the tips of his armored gloves into a few carefully chosen nerve clusters on Grey's arms. "Where is Sorrow?"
"I don't know!" he wailed.
"Maybe you'll know after a few weeks inside Arkham."
Underneath his makeup, Grey's face blanched pure white. "Inside..." He looked around desperately. "But I'm not..." At the sight of Poison Ivy leaning in interestedly, he gulped. "I'm not crazy," he muttered, wriggling as if he could shrug his costume off without Batman letting go of it. "I'm not. And I didn't do anything wrong!"
"Harboring a felon. That's a misdemeanor. Grand theft auto -"
"I didn't steal anything!"
"You were there, so you're guilty," Batgirl said helpfully, condensing years of legal theory into one simple sentence.
"You encouraged Sorrow to break out of Arkham -"
"I did not!" Grey protested. "I was going to help her, but not like that. I mean, it was just...I was only trying to...this isn't fair!"
"Life isn't fair," Batman said coldly. With one well-rehearsed motion, he spun Grey around and attached a pair of cuffs around his wrists. He had just about had it with sidekicks getting in his way. Harley Quinn, the Riddler's new girl, and now this man had all done quite enough recently in the name of true love. At least this one would come along without trying to throw anyone into a deathtrap.
Sorrow listened to the four of them talking and tried to have her panic attack as quietly as possible. What was she going to do?
The Bats were here. They were taking Troy and Ivy to Arkham. If she just sat here, maybe they'd move on without her. Maybe they'd believe him that she wasn't here. It wasn't like Ivy was in any state to remind them - she was busy singing old pop songs off-key to herself and sleepily complaining that they'd taken her bottle away.
But if they did leave her behind, that meant that Troy would be on his way to Arkham. He'd never make it inside without her. Could she do that to him? He had risked his life to find her, from sitting in the Iceberg to spending the night at the Joker's hideout in Ivy's less-than-tender care. He was nearly the only person in Gotham who gave a damn about her. Could she really just abandon him?
No. She turned around as silently as she could and peeked out from behind the island at about ankle-level. Batgirl's bright yellow boots shifted as she readjusted Ivy in her grip.
Sorrow sprang up from the ground, bare hands aimed at Batgirl's exposed chin. With reflexes trained by years of surprise workouts in the Batcave, Batgirl dumped Ivy on the ground and hit the floor, blindly lashing out with one booted foot as she ducked away. It caught Sorrow in the shoulder and spun her backward. With another pair of kicks to the stomach, she was down on the floor, gasping for air and finding none to breathe. "Sorrow!" Troy wailed, craning around Batman to see her curled on the floor, helpless.
She barely felt Batgirl pinning her hands behind her back. As her lungs finally decided to work again, she wobbled to her feet. "So much for...mercy, eh...Batface?" she wheezed.
"You'll be fine," Batgirl snapped.
"Nope. I'll be dead." She shrugged sadly at Troy as the vigilantes hustled them into the hallway. "Sorry, guy. Looks like you tried for nothing."
"I'd do it again!" he said loyally. "Don't give up!"
"You've seen those rooms. I'm never coming out of them. The doctors will make sure of that." Batgirl snorted derisively. "Yeah, yeah. You'd be happy if I rotted down there. Good news - you're about to get your wish." Sorrow purposely stumbled in order to give her a kick on the ankle as they entered the elevator. Since she was trying to kick Batgirl, who had been known to dodge daggers she couldn't even see, she missed.
"What is so bad about Arkham?" Batgirl demanded. "I've seen those cells, too, you know. They're much better than prison!"
"You haven't seen the basement," Troy said bitterly. "Or did you happen to notice the fifteen separate violations of human rights happening down there, not to mention the fact that no one's going to get psychologically healthy in a dark little box!"
Batman, with a sleeping Poison Ivy slung in a completely undignified position over his shoulder, pointedly shoved Troy out onto the street. A police van was waiting for them, lights twirling in lazy circles as the pair of drivers shivered in the front seat.
"You can't do this!" he yelled, digging his heels into the slippery concrete. "You don't understa-oof!" He landed in a heap inside the van. "You're supposed to be heroes!" he screamed uselessly as the girls were loaded in after him. The van doors slammed shut.
Troy Grey was not an angry person by nature. When life handed him lemons, he very quietly went to make lemonade instead of demanding an orange or two. Anger was for people that were braver than he was.
He was discovering that he could be pretty damn brave, though, if he was being brave for someone else. He had survived one of Ivy's temper tantrums. He had survived Harley's driving. Hell, he had even yelled at Batman, something that not many people did without needing new pants!
Sorrow had given up. She'd spent the entire ride to Arkham staring at her feet, ignoring his attempts to give her some hope. And really, what hope could he give her? The heroes were being decidedly unheroic. (But then, they always had been. He'd seen the aftermath of rogue vs. Bat fights before. While the injuries sustained during them were at least partially understandable, the mysterious broken bones that tended to show up in the transit between the police station and Arkham were a new level of unnecessary violence that he'd never even thought was possible.) The doctors assigned to heal her were instead going to harm her. What hope was left in a world where the forces of good were really the forces of hypocritical evil?
The police opened the back door of the van, accompanied by several large men shivering in their thin orderlies' scrubs. Ivy, snoring gently and now fully back to her original green, slumbered peacefully in a set of scrub-covered arms as she was carried toward the doors. Sorrow and Troy were unceremoniously coaxed out of the van by a large, meaty hand on each of their arms.
"It's going to be okay," he said hopefully as they climbed the stairs.
"Your optimism is amazing," Sorrow said dully, putting one booted foot ahead of another.
"You'll see. It'll be okay," he repeated, trying to make himself believe it.
Dr. Carlson stood in the lobby, poking disinterestedly at his phone. He slipped it into his pocket as the large group of new arrivals stepped forward. "Take her to the medical wing right now," he ordered, pointing at Ivy.
The orderly bearing Ivy trotted obediently off. "As for these two, take her to the medical wing and make sure she doesn't need stitches. And him..." He frowned. "Who are you?" he demanded.
Troy took a deep breath. "My name is Grief," he said firmly. At his side, Sorrow jerked out of her reverie and stared at him, wide-eyed.
"Grief," Carlson repeated. "Who the blazes...Grey?" he gasped as he recognized the man beneath the makeup.
"Grief," he corrected in that same firm voice.
Carlson ran a hand through his thinning hair, letting out a deep sigh. "Please take Sorrow to the medical wing to be looked over. I'll handle...Grief." The horde of orderlies hesitated. "You can go now," he ordered. The group trudged off, Sorrow still looking back over her shoulder in utter amazement.
"You didn't have to do this," Carlson said softly when they were gone.
"Should I have waited for you to help her?" Grief spat, equally as softly. "You and your group of oh-so-caring doctors that want to lock her away forever in that pit-"
"It's not as simple as that!" Carlson interrupted. "You and I both know that no one that goes down there is going to be helped. No one who goes down there can be helped."
"Sorrow can!" Grief insisted. "I know she can."
"No one is going to believe you. Especially now."
"No one believed me anyway." Grief pulled himself up, as proud as he could be while wearing handcuffs. "Without you, there's only one way left to save her. This is it."
"You can't save her!" Carlson shook him by the shoulders. "Don't throw your life away trying to help someone who doesn't need you!"
"She does need me," Grief said. "And if I have to live in that basement as well, then that's what I'll do."
"You're not going down there," Carlson said, exasperated. "No one is. Her cell isn't decontaminated yet, and the rest are full. You're all going upstairs for now." He took Grief by the arm and steered him toward the medical wing. "I wish I didn't have to do this."
"Not as much as I do," Grief replied. The doctor left him in the care of the nurses, who mechanically began to check him over for any injuries that might delay his admittance to the asylum proper. He did his best to ignore them, looking in vain for Sorrow. Well, at least he'd see her upstairs...
He froze in place. Upstairs. Upstairs was where all the other rogues lived.
Upstairs was where he lived now.
(to be continued)