A Merry Christmas Puddin'
Author's Note: Written for the livejournal batfic_contest prompt "Christmas" in more than 500 words; first posted there on 15 December 2008.
Harley froze as the kitchen was suddenly bathed in light. She slowly turned to see her bestest gal-pal standing in the doorway, arms crossed and scowling, clearly having just been woken up.
"Harl, what on earth are you doing?" Ivy asked, eyes narrowing with suspicion. "It's almost 2am!"
Harley was fully dressed in her fur-edged winter costume, and was in the process of stuffing her shoulder bag with an assortment of Ivy's more deadly instant-sprouting seed pods. This was going to be a tough one to talk her way out of.
She'd really, really tried to be super extra quiet to avoid having to have this conversation at all. But trust Ivy to sleep like a… whatever the opposite of a log was. Or maybe her plants acted like a burglar alarm and woke her up if people started wandering around the house in the middle of the night? Harley wouldn't be surprised. She swore some of the bigger flowers turned to follow her around the room, staring at her. Much like Ivy was in fact, still waiting for an answer…
"Oh, hey Red!" She replied as chirpily as she could manage in the circumstances, mind racing to come up with a half-way plausible story. "Um… I was havin' trouble sleepin' so thought I'd go for a midnight stroll, and you can never be too careful, even on Christmas Eve, or Christmas day I guess now… so I'm just borrowin' a few of your strangling vine-thingies in case of…er, muggers?"
Ivy didn't look like she was buying it. She raised one neatly pointed-eyebrow as Harley turned back to stuff a last few pods into the bag. "You're going to Arkham to break that slimy weasel out, aren't you?"
Harley span back around. "No I'm not!" She denied, guilty expression somewhat contradicting her words. "That's just crazy-talk, Red…" A bit of nervous giggling probably wasn't helping her cause.
Ivy glanced at a sheet of torn notepaper resting on the kitchen table, covered in Harley's usual hasty scrawl. The blonde girl mentally kicked herself for not sticking it in an envelope as Ivy read the brief message out loud.
"Dear Red, please don't be mad but I just can't leave 'Mistah J' locked up alone for the holidays. Promise we'll catch up over New Year and I'll help you steal some fun plants (or trees/moss/whatever – your choice!) xxx Harley." Ivy's mockingly quizzical eyebrow climbed ever further towards her hairline.
"Well okay it didn't really take much detective work, did it?" Harley conceded, abandoning the hole that was her attempt at fabrication while she was still only neck-deep. "Yeah I'm off to go get Mistah J out of Arkham."
"Oh Harley…" Ivy sighed, throwing her arms up in despair and sitting down at the table. "Whatever happened to 'I'm through with that clown', and 'that's the last time I let him leave me for the cops as a distraction'?"
"C'mon Red, that was days ago!" Harley protested, zipping up the bag full of seed pods. She hoped they wouldn't spontaneously sprout while she was carrying them. "And now I've thought about it, maybe it wasn't Mistah J's fault after all..."
"He drove off without you." Ivy pointed out flatly, not looking up as she folded the notepaper into ever-smaller squares with neat, deliberate movements.
"Oh he probably just didn't hear me banging on the window, that's all." Harley shrugged. "And then poor Puddin' did drive straight over those Bat-razor thingies and get caught by stupid ol' Batman, while I gave the cops the slip. Mistah J wouldn't have exactly planned that, would he?" She was sure Ivy couldn't argue with that logic.
"Yesterday you said you were glad Batman caught him and he could 'rot in Arkham for all I care'." The note now resembled a small paper pellet, as Ivy's neat fingers continued making tiny tears. "Your precise words."
"Oh, but I didn't mean it!" Harley protested, looking guilty again but this time for a different reason. "I was just mad 'cos we never seem to be able to spend the holidays together. Either Puddin's locked up and I'm not, or the other way around." She threw her bag onto the table next to Ivy and collapsed onto one of the chairs with a sigh. "I just want one Christmas the two of us can share, yanno? Exchangin' gifts in front of a roaring fire, twinkly lights, snow falling on a choir of angels outside the window…"
"Well okay maybe not actual angels. Kids in costumes would do in a pinch." Harley sighed wistfully. "It'd still be magical."
Ivy rolled her eyes. "Romantic as I'm sure your Christmas special-inspired daydreams are, Harl, I hardly think the Joker's idea of holiday spirit ties in with yours. Wasn't it last year he took over all the television broadcasts and tried to derail that train?"
"Yeah. I was in Arkham but I got to see him on TV!" Harley smiled fondly at the memory. "Until the guards realised what was goin' on and they unplugged it. Then I got a bit angry and ended up in solitary for a while…"
Ivy shook her head despairingly. "My point is that it's not going to be peace and goodwill to all men, is it? His idea of 'festive fun' is probably planting explosives amongst presents for sick children and and gassing people with that stupid Joker toxin at carol concerts."
Harley pouted. Ivy just didn't get it. At the end of the day she didn't care what they did together over Christmas. Presents and decorations and a tree (yeah Red, that's right – a big tree!) with twinkly lights would obviously be a plus, but as long as they had each other she'd spend Christmas morning happier than the entire "Nice List" of children all put together.
Sure maiming sick kids might not be everyone's idea of a fun holiday activity, but if it made Puddin' happy then she would be happy. Hell – she wouldn't even care if they spent the entire holiday holed up in a flea-pit motel laying low from the cops. In fact that sounded like an excellent way to spend a couple of days – she could think of several ways to help pass the time…
Ivy gave up waiting for Harley to try to counter her argument when her expression changed from a sulkly pout to a dreamy leer. She really didn't want to know what horrific mental image Harl's ditzy three-second attention span had moved on to. With a sigh she unfolded the paper snowflake that was once a hastily scrawled letter and tossed it to one side on the table.
"Look, if you want to risk your turkey served with a side order of lithium and plastic cutlery just so that grinning psychopath can ruin Christmas for you and half of Gotham, that's your look out. Just fully expect me to say 'I told you so' when you wind up spending the holidays in a cell yourself. Or you two have yet another spat even before the post-Christmas sales kick off."
"Aww thanks Red!" Harley lunged across the table to give her friend a hug, acknowledging that was about as much support as she could ever expect from Ivy over Mistah J. "You're my bestest pal ever, you know that, right? And I totally owe ya for borrowin' all these vine pod thingies – like I said, come New Years you and me are hitting the town to do whatever plant-saving stuff you want. Promise!"
"Sure Harl," Ivy mumbled from beneath the over-enthusiastic hug, "just be careful with those vines, they're a new strain…
"Aww don't fuss, Red." Harley released her friend, enabling Ivy to breathe once more, and grabbed the bag of genetically engineered pods. "I'll be fine - this'll be a piece of cake! I've broken out of Arkham easy enough before – how hard can it be to break into?"
A rather embarrassingly short time later, Harley was being escorted by Batman the short distance from a section of Arkham's perimeter wall she'd been hoping to climb over to the main gates.
How was she supposed to know Ivy's stupid vines would be just as keen to tie her up in knots as produce a nice easy-to-climb ladder over the walls? Not for the first time she'd wished she had her friend's ability to tell plants what to do. Unfortunately shouting at the stupid vines to let her go or she'd break out the weedkiller (she was only bluffing, she didn't really have any weedkiller, but she'd hoped the plants wouldn't take that chance) only had the effect of alerting the neighbourhood Bat-patrol.
The stupid vines setting off all the alarms and flashing searchlights probably had something to do with that too.
"Not that I'm not grateful for the helpin' hand," she'd said politely from her upside-down position while Batman cut through several large tangles of vines to get her free, "but I don't suppose you could maybe look the other way about the whole tryin'-to-break-in business, huh?" Her feet finally back on solid ground, the snapping shut of Bat-cuffs around her wrists had been his only answer.
Now as Harley slowly trudged through the snow around to the front gates, a half-guiding, half-warning hand on her shoulder, she tried to prompt at least a bit of conversation with her rescuer-cum-assailant. In the spirit of festive cheer, goodwill and all.
"So I was wonderin', dontcha ever take a night off?" She turned to look back at the dark shape behind her, his face impassive behind the black mask as ever. "It's Christmas Eve! Haven't you got a party to go to, or at least presents to wrap? A nice new jump rope for Bird-Boy maybe?"
"Crime doesn't stop for the holidays. You being a case in point."
She wondered if he at least acknowledged the festive season by replacing the giant stick up his butt with a candy cane. "C'mon Batsy – I'm not really committin' a 'crime' here…"
"You were trying to break into a secure psychiatric facility, no doubt in order to help the Joker escape." She could almost feel his glare deepen behind her. "I fail to see how anyone would not class that as a crime."
"It's the holidays!" Harley protested. "I just wanted Puddin' and me to be able to spend some quality festive time together!" She almost felt like stamping her feet in frustration. Why did everyone seem to think this was an unreasonable request?
"Now you can spend some quality rehabilitative time together here instead." Batman replied dryly, pressing the buzzer for the main gates.
"Hey, I hadn't thought of that!" A grin spread across her face. "Arkham might not be my top choice for a romantic festive destination, but it's better than nothin' huh?"
The gates remained resolutely shut, and Batman pressed the entry buzzer once more before Dr Joan Leland and two security guards walked quickly down from the main doors. She looked slightly harassed, even considering it was the early hours of Christmas Day and she was on duty at a psychiatric institution where alarms were still sounding insistently.
"Oh Batman! That's a good start…" she turned her attention to Harley, "I can't really say I'm surprised."
"Hi Joanie," she waved as best she could with the Batcuffs still constricting her movements. "Merry Christmas!"
"Merry Christmas, Harley." Dr Leland shook her head as she unlocked the gates. "One unscheduled self-discharge, one unexpected Bat-admittance. Not unusual for a Christmas morning here."
"Unscheduled self-discharge?" Batman asked, sensing his work might not be done for the night yet.
"He took advantage of the low number of guards on duty tonight and the chaos when all the alarms first went off. I presume that was the idea, Harley?"
"Huh?" She asked blankly, having no desire to follow where this was leading.
"You creating a diversion so the Joker could escape?" Dr Leland continued. "Though I can't imagine getting yourself caught in the process was part of your plan, though it does give him more time to get away…"
"That's really not funny, Joanie." Harley replied flatly, suppressing the urge to laugh hysterically regardless. "You're tellin' me Mistah J just high-tailed it out of here? Ten minutes ago?" Her voice rose incredulously. "This is ridiculous! What shoddy karma-ratin' did I get in a previous life to deserve this?"
Dr Leland decided to address the earlier question, but that Batman was the more useful person to have this conversation with. "It was probably more like five minutes," she explained, "he probably hasn't got far but it'll be another half an hour before the police can get here as they're only a skeleton staff as well…"
"I'll see what I can do." He replied, eager to move quickly. "I'll leave Harley in your capable hands."
"No!" Harley protested, face twisted with frustration and giving in to the desire to stamp her foot, childish though it was. "I want to go with you and show Mistah J the true meaning of Christmas with a large mallet for spoilin' my one really good plan to have the holidays together!"
She continued protesting even after Batman vanished back into the darkness and the guards escorted her into the Asylum. "…and then I'm going to tie him to a chair with several dozen strings of twinkly lights and force him to watch A Muppet Christmas Carol with me. Is that too much to ask? Is it? Really?!"
*And lo, a Christmas miracle!*
"Puddin' you're back!" Harley squeaked excitedly, jumping up and down behind the reinforced glass wall of her cell. "We can have Christmas together after all!"
"How thrilling." The Joker growled through gritted teeth as Batman handed him over to a small crowd of doctors, orderlies and guards gathered in the corridor. The dawn of Christmas morning seemed to have produced an increase in staff as well as an unusually quick re-admittance.
"Are you okay Puddin'?" Harley asked. Somehow all her earlier anger at him seemed to have dissipated. Aside from a goose egg-shaped lump forming on his forehead he looked relatively unscathed.
"How would you be if someone threw the star from the top of the Gotham Square Christmas tree at your head, Harl? Remind me to demonstrate for you some time."
She giggled good-naturedly. He was probably just a bit grumpy after being chased by Batman half-way around Gotham all night. After what passed for a special Christmas breakfast in Arkham (proper brand name cereal!) there would be a day free from therapy sessions where she would have plenty of time to instil festive cheer in her Puddin'.
"If Bat-breath here didn't lack any semblance of a social life I'd have that tree covered in Joker toxin baubles..." The Joker continued muttering, mostly to himself, as orderlies checked the tightness of his straitjacket straps before leading him down the corridor to a different cell from the one he'd vacated hours earlier. "Who hangs around an asylum on Christmas Eve anyway? Don't you have chestnuts to roast with the Boy Blunder? Gifts to exchange with Gordon around the Batsignal? I bet you got him something nice – and all I get is a concussion. Sheesh, what a cheapskate. And I really thought you were starting to care…"
Harley waved excitedly at him until he was dragged around a corner at the end of the corridor, then she turned to where Batman remained standing impassively in front of her cell. "This is the bestest Christmas present anyone ever got me! If there wasn't a reinforced glass wall in the way I'd kiss ya again!"
"You do realise that saving innocent lives was my priority?" Batman pointed out, not wanting to encourage Harley's belief that his night's work was in any way motivated by her holiday plans.
"Sure, sure – you're a goody two-shoes vigilante with a stick up his butt about justice; I've heard the speech before. But my priority is Puddin' and me not being separated by high walls and razor wire during the holidays, and you made that happen!"
"That was more of an unintended side effect of the life saving, really."
"We can eat dried-out turkey together in the cafeteria," Harley continued, undaunted, "and then snuggle up on the couch in the rec room and watch It's A Wonderful Life. It'll be magical!"
Batman shook his head. "Just try to stay out of trouble."
"Sure thing, Batsy! I owe ya." She chirped, but resolved to keep quiet about her promise to catch up with Ivy over New Years. No point tipping him off about future stuff just because she was brimming over with festive goodwill. "Now go eat turkey and exchange gifts with the rest of the Bat-family. Unless you're getting' paid to be here if you're actually willin' to spend Christmas in Arkham then you need admittin' yourself. And that's my formerly professional opinion."
He smiled grudgingly. "Thanks for the tip."
"Anytime – I charge by the half hour but that one's on me." She winked mischievously.
Batman left her humming the theme to a Charlie Brown Christmas and tearing the photocopies of her admittance papers into paper snowflakes. From the other side of the building he could still make out distant shouts as the Joker threatened various other inmates and staff with unpleasant bodily injury if they so much as uttered one syllable of a Christmas song in his presence.
Maybe Harley was right about one thing – it definitely seemed like a good idea to be far away from Arkham at Christmas…