Title: It's a (More) Wonderful Life (Than the Alternative)
Disclaimers: Nobody belongs to me. Everybody is owned by someone else. If you're reading this, you probably know who owns what. I'm not making a thin dime off this.
Summary: Harley Quinn gets the angel treatment, but she ain't exactly George Bailey.
You might not have thought it to look at her, but Harley Quinn, lighthearted bringer of laughter and innocence that she was, could also be a world-champion moper if the mood so struck her. Tonight the mood had struck her with a Louisville Slugger, so she sat alone at the bar in the Iceberg Lounge and nursed a drink. Hot cocoa with a splash of tequila - festive, yet mind-numbing!
Mistah J was unavailable on this fine Christmas Eve. He'd summoned her to his latest ha-hacienda with a truly ingenious plan involving egg nog, push pins, and those Hallmark cards that let you record voice greetings inside. Part of the plan had required a decoy, which was how Harley found herself careening down icy Gotham streets in a sleigh.
Batman, stinkeroo that he was, however, had not taken the bait. Which was why she was free while Puddin' was in Arkham. The stupid Bat-Grinch had given them both the biggest lump of coal he could – he had kept them apart from each other. Snow Miser!
Normally the alternative would have been crashing with Poison Ivy. Red was a bit of a Grinch herself – poor, victimized, massacred trees and all – and she had three stock responses to Christmas. One, escape to a tropical nation that didn't have Christmas trees for all of December. Two, retreat to the greenhouse in Robinson Park and not come out until January. Three, lash out violently against some holiday-related raper of nature (and most likely spend the holidays in Arkham).
This year Option Two had been selected, and Red's plans had included Harley's presence for an extended period of time. Red's plans had NOT included the phone call from Puddin' two days ago, and when Harley had responded in what seemed to her to be the only sensible way – by dropping everything and leaving as quickly as possible – Red had lost her holiday-shortened temper.
Harley supposed she could try to apologize, but Red's mercy was about as nonexistent as her grip on her anger in December.
So she was spending Christmas Eve in a bar, moping like a pro. It was going to be one of her worst Christmases ever. She felt about as low as you might feel after a piano fell on you and then a steamroller drove over your mangled corpse.
"Sometimes," Harley whispered forlornly into her cocoa, "I wish I didn't exist."
"Imagine how we feel."
Harley started, not having noticed someone sit down next to her. "How who . . . " she began to say as she turned in her seat. And saw that long, purple hooded cloak.
"Batman. Robin. Batgirl. People like us," Spoiler said casually.
Harley fell off her stool and nearly landed on her ass. "What the hell?"
Stephanie Brown turned her head and directed her hooded gaze at Harley. "Actually, no, they don't let you out of there for anything," she said. "Purgatory."
Christmas Eve had gone from lonely to intensely creepy in a matter of seconds. It was common knowledge that Cluemaster's brat had died in an alley some months ago, a victim of some common mugger. It was a good question which had brought more disgrace upon the two-bit Riddler ripoff – how his daughter lived, or how she died. (Then again, "Riddler ripoff". Arthur could disgrace himself just fine.)
And this girl was definitely dead. Her skin was MUCH paler than it should have been, and her glassy eyes, staring vacantly at a spot somewhere above Harley's right shoulder, were something Harley had seen many times as the Joker's sidekick. But some instinct was telling her that the heroine was looking right at her just the same.
Immediately she felt around her tassels. She didn't FEEL a microchip up there. Harley looked at her hot chocolate suspiciously. Professor Crane was just the kind of person to pull this crap, and Jervis Tetch, well, who knew why he did the things he did?
But she KNEW they were both in Arkham tonight. She knew all the lucky sons-of-guns holed up there with Puddin'. So it didn't make a whole lot of sense that –
"Does fear toxin even work on you?" Spoiler asked. "I thought Ivy gave you inoculations."
Harley jumped like she'd been goosed. "Are you reading your mind?"
"No, but you're talking to a dead girl, you're feeling your head, and you're staring at your drink. Even a total loon like you would be wondering right now if the Mad Hatter or the Scarecrow did something to you," Spoiler said matter-of-factly.
"Oh yeah, you're all such detectives," Harley replied with a sneer.
"I don't need to be much of one to read YOU."
"You didn't need to be much of one to avoid going into that alley with that guy with the knife, but you did anyway," Harley retorted. Walked right into THAT one, didn't she?
Spoiler clenched a fist and bared her teeth at Harley. They were filthy and disgusting and there was dirt between her front teeth, and Harley suddenly remembered she was taunting a ghoul. "Yeah, well, that's why I'm here. They give me the scut work to start."
"They? Scut work? Huh?"
"The Powers That Be. The afterlife." Stephanie shrugged. "They take your whole life into consideration. Me, they decided the way I died was a kind of suicide. That I threw my life away because of pride. So you're part of my penance."
"And if you do – whatever the hell you're doing, you get into Heaven?"
Spoiler snorted. "It's not that easy. And Heaven comes later. First they let me look the way I USED to look, not the wormfood I am now."
"You look pretty good for wormfood," Harley admitted.
"Hm. Well, come on, we've got to go."
Harley stared at her. "Um, I'm not going anywhere with you. You're not going to eat MY brain."
"Don't worry, I'm not big on empty calories. And your big trap is why I'm here."
"What the – Purgatory is THAT supposed to mean?"
"You said you didn't want to exist, right?"
"Well, I guess, yeah, but – "
"They sent me," Spoiler said with exaggerated patience, "to show you what life would be like if you didn't exist."
Harley stared at her. "You mean like 'It's a Wonderful Life'," she finally realized.
"Kind of. Except instead of George and Clarence, we're more like Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Future."
"And instead of wings, you want working eyes and white teeth again."
Spoiler sighed, irritated. "Something like that. Let's go."
Harley shrugged. There was nothing else to do tonight. "Why not? I like movies with happy endings. Puddin' must be so lonely in that other life."
"Mm-hm," Spoller said dubiously.
This could actually be kinda fun.
"Well, um, that wasn't what I expected," Harley said as they walked through the door of her parents' house.
"Me neither. Who would have guessed your family is so normal?" Spoiler said.
"Why the heck were they all so HAPPY?" Harley burst out. "I don't even exist here!"
Spoiler sighed for the sixth or seventh time. "They don't REMEMBER you, Harley. So they wouldn't miss you. Henrietta and Herbert are the only children your parents ever had. And by all appearances, your brother and sister are the exact opposite of you. So why wouldn't they be happy?"
"Look, can we just go?!" Harley pleaded. "I want to see Mistah J." Okay, so her relationship with her parents and her siblings had been nonexistent for years, but that didn't mean she enjoyed seeing them not even care about her anymore!
"Sure," Spoiler said with a hint of a smile. "We can go right now."
"This," Spoiler said shortly, "is a pig sty."
Harley didn't particularly want to agree with her guardian zombie, but she was right. Puddin's hideout was an utter shambles. For one thing, there were hyena droppings scattered everywhere. She'd been the one to have the babies housebroken, and in this world without the bundle of sweetness and light that Harley was, Puddin had clearly never taken the time to do it himself. There were dirty clothes on the furniture and food wrappings on the floor, and you could barely take two steps without slipping on a playing card or kicking a stray bullet.
"Poor Mistah J," Harley murmured, but she couldn't quite muster any grief and sadness to go with it. She was too busy feeling smug. Take that, haters! Everyone said that Puddin didn't really love her, that he didn't really need her, but none of 'em had been right. Not the doctors, and not Red. If her shnoogums didn't really need her, then how come he hadn't found some other broad to be Harley's replacement? Why wasn't there some other perky blonde cleaning up after his mess here? Because he DID need her. Because she was the ONLY one for him.
And she was going to tell the headshrinkers that when they were finished here. Ivy, eh, maybe not. She was pissed enough at Harley; telling her she was wrong to her face wouldn't exactly remedy the situation.
"Poor Mistah J," Spoiler repeated mockingly. "If I had to spend every night with you, I'd probably prefer living in filth too."
Harley wouldn't dignify that with a response as she continued searching for Puddin'. The first door led to his bedroom with its bed for one. A sad dresser sat nearby, every drawer sticking out. Harley glanced in the top one idly and saw only one solitary sock. What was it with him and socks anyway? She bought the man five pairs a month!
The next door was the jackpot, though. Harley went in first and found her Mistah J drooped over what looked like an architect's drafting table, head in his arms. His shirttails were sticking out of his pants, and his purple jacket looked exceedingly wrinkled. A half-empty bottle of whiskey sat nearby.
"The clown prince, in all his glory," Spoiler muttered.
"Puddin'," Harley whispered. Okay, now she could be a little sad for him. "He's a wreck without me!" How could Mistah J have let this happen?
Her maudlin musings were interrupted by Stephanie as she came around the table to look at the Joker from the other side. "A physical wreck, maybe. But he looks as busy as ever."
Confused, Harley followed after her and found that Puddin' was NOT sleeping in a miserable drunken stupor as she had supposed. He was working intently on some very detailed sketches with a pencil. It looked like some kind of deathtrap that –
The Joker bolted up in his seat, startling her. "Moose! Rocco! Come on, we're going to help the judge find his checkbook!"
Harley stared, transfixed, as she heard the telltale sound of henchmen running somewhere else in the hideout. Puddin' knocked the liquor bottle aside as he began unbuttoning his shirt, probably to put on something freshly dry-cleaned. His face was alive and bright with the manic joy he always felt when a grand scheme had come together. He looked energized, excited, enthusiastic, and a couple other "e" words.
Basically, he looked like his normal self and WAY too happy, considering he had no Harley in his life.
What a trouper, managing to hold it all together! was what she wanted to say, loyal and supportive to the end. But all she could think was . . .
What. The. FUCK?!
"GO BACK TO HELL!"
"Look, you can strangle me all you want, I'm already dead!"
"How could I forget?! Your breath smells like formaldehyde!"
"Okay, fuck it, that's it, you can't strangle me all you want any more." Spoiler brought her arms up, knocked Harley's hands off her neck, and then struck her in the chest with both palms so hard that she flew ten feet backwards.
"Ow," Harley muttered, as she lay on her back and tried to catch her breath.
Spoiler loomed over her a second later. "It's not my fault, Quinn. It's the magic, not me. I'm just a messenger. Besides, I figure you'd be thrilled. It doesn't look like he's found another you – surprise, surprise – and he seems like his old self. You wouldn't want him to be miserable, would you?"
"He should be miserable if he doesn't have ME!" Harley shrieked. "He was living like shit, he STILL can't hold onto a decent pair of socks for long, and again, no ME. Why didn't any of that matter to him?!"
The Christmas Corpse was looking at her like she was nuts. It was a look Harley was all too familiar with. "Don't judge me!" Harley snapped. "Like YOU would be happy if your boyfriend didn't miss you at all!"
Spoiler looked away. "Not for the first minute, no, I wasn't happy," she said quietly. "But after that, yeah, I was happy to see he'd moved on. Just because I'm stuck in place, he shouldn't have to be."
"That's different," Harley said, although she had stopped screaming. Spoiler's mood had brought her down, leaving her feeling nothing but a deep, crushing dismay at how easily Puddin' had adapted to a life of never knowing her.
"Come on, we've got one last stop," Spoiler said, offering her a hand.
Harley accepted the help and got to her feet, ignoring the crawling sensation she felt when she realized she could feel little more than skin and bones inside that glove. "What's left?" she said morosely.
"Well, sure, in this world she hasn't been let down by you a couple dozen times."
Harley flinched. "It's not like that! I have a boyfriend!"
"Yeah, I could tell. I said come on, it's getting close to dawn."
"Where are we?" Harley asked a second later.
"The Robinson Zone," Spoiler said.
Harley should have known there'd be a Rod Serling reference eventually. "Zone?"
"It's not exactly a park anymore."
Harley could see that. It was bigger, for one thing. The park had expanded outward, creeping into empty storefronts and newspaper stands. It was also dark as hell. "Why aren't the lampposts on?"
"They cut off the power a while ago, after everyone moved away."
"Why would they move away? This is prime Gotham real estate!"
"Would you want to live next to this place?"
No, probably not. Granted, it was winter, but the park looked more black than green at this hour. There was a sickly sheen on the leaves in the moonlight, and the area had an abandoned, forbidding aspect.
"I don't hear anything," Harley suddenly realized. "It's too quiet."
"No," Spoiler agreed. "Gotham is never quiet."
"No. Well, yeah, that too, but I don't hear any birds or insects or anything."
"Right, that. It's to be expected."
"What does that mean?"
"Let's find your friend."
Harley followed Spoiler with trepidation. She felt incredibly unwelcome walking through this un-parklike park. The unnaturally twisted trees and shrubs looked like they could cut you even upon incidental contact, as if she was in an evil witch's forest in a Disney movie drawn by Picasso. The only color was provided by blood red and midnight blue flowers that didn't appear to mind the lack of sunlight, and the pink, gaping gullets of not one but five giant flytraps she'd counted. Waiting for an unsuspecting buffalo to wander past, Harley supposed.
Oh, and the bleached white human skull they just passed. Eeesh.
By the time they'd reached Ivy's greenhouse, trepidation had swelled to full-on dread. Harley couldn't see a single pane of glass any more. It had become a living dome of dull, lifeless "greenery".
"Nice place," Spoiler said. "I think I'd like Arkham better."
Harley thought Spoiler had never said a less stupid thing.
It was only after they passed intangibly through the greenhouse "walls" that Harley heard noises. There was a rustling noise in Ivy's laboratory, and an odd, insectile sound.
"Want to check it out?" Spoiler asked.
"Not particularly, but I guess I have to?"
"Yeah, you do."
That was how Harley found what used to be Poison Ivy.
Harley's first bewildered thought as they came up behind her was that Ivy had adopted dreadlocks as part of her look. That ended quickly when she realized that Ivy's hair wasn't hair any more, but some kind of red vines. (And not the yummy licorice kind either.) Her skin had become a deep, midnight green. She was also naked as the day she was born.
"What happened to her?" Harley whispered.
"You know how people think she's part plant?"
Harley nodded, too disturbed to have a sarcastic reply. Of course she knew. It was an urban legend that Red was some kind of plant-human hybrid. Ivy was 100% human, even if she sometimes had wished she wasn't. She came by her powers the same way a lot of villains did – unexplainably.
"Well, now she is."
Ivy turned around, and Harley gasped.
As what used to be Ivy walked down rows of growing plants, crooning to them in that insectile tongue heard earlier, Harley stared at the white orbs that had replaced her eyes, the rootlike extensions on her fingertips, and most of all the long rows of needles she had for teeth.
"Maybe more than part."
"I don't understand," Harley said, still unable to raise her voice above a whisper.
Spoiler shrugged. "Without you, Ivy never made any friends. She spent all her time here, growing more and more distant from humanity every day. As unlikely as it may sound, THIS Ivy hated people a lot more than YOURS. Not just the lumber mill operators and the perfume makers and the paper company owners either. She hated everyone. Eventually she tried to get closer to her plants by performing some procedure upon herself. It recombined her DNA with plant DNA, but – "
"Something went wrong," Harley finished, watching Ivy speak to her plants in some kind of language that had nothing in common with English.
"Yep. She was aiming for more of a 50-50 mix, but it ended up being more like 90-10 plant-human. Maybe it was caused by the procedure, or maybe she did it after, but now she's got some kind of connection between her and the park itself, because the local flora started to change next. Some of her own insanity corrupted the plants, I don't know. But there's nothing recognizable left in this park, including her. At least she's not lonely any more. But she's not really Ivy any more, either."
There was a sudden outburst from behind them. Harley turned around to see some of Ivy's walking plants dragging a human woman past them. The woman shrieked and writhed for all she had left in her, but vines were wrapped much too tightly around her.
Ivy smiled, and Harley shuddered with revulsion. The deep dismay she'd felt outside of Puddin's hideout now felt like nothing compared to this intense sense of wrongness. Red would never have wanted her life to become this, all twisted and warped and alien.
Tears started welling up when it dawned on her. Her Ivy was dead and gone. This thing was something else entirely.
"Maybe we should leave," Spoiler said uneasily.
"Why?" Harley asked, even though she completely agreed.
"Much of the plant life in the Zone has become carnivorous too. Which is why you don't hear any animals."
Harley swallowed. Suddenly her throat was so dry. "You don't mean . . . she's going to feed that woman to her plants?"
"To her plants, no."
Before Harley's horrified gaze, Ivy leaned down over the woman, her mouth – her MAW open wide.
"Ivy used some kind of plant-DNA cocktail in her procedure," Spoiler went on grimly. "Not even Batman could determine every plant species that she incorporated into her genetic structure . . . but clearly Venus flytrap DNA was involved."
Harley didn't even have time to move when Ivy tore out the woman's throat with her teeth and a drop of blood passed through her incorporeal body.
"Yes, I think we should leave," Spoiler said.
Instead of responding, Harley threw up her cocoa.
"How could this happen?" Harley asked once she realized they were outside again. The scary black carnivorous forest wasn't much of an improvement, but anything was better than witnessing Ivy consume a living human being like a wild animal. Whatever she'd felt thirty minutes earlier outside of Puddin's hideout, it had been supplanted – ugh, replaced, she didn't even want to think the letters p-l-a-n-t – by a despair that almost seemed to choke her.
"I told you, she – "
"It was just me!" Harley yelled. "I'm just her friend! She doesn't need me! She's never needed ANYONE but her plants! Why the FUCK would not having me in her life turn her into THAT?!"
"I don't know, I can't speak as to why Ivy does what she does. If I had to guess, I'd say she needs you more than either of you realized." Spoiler scratched the back of her head. "I've got to tell you, I questioned . . . "
Whatever it was Spoiler had questioned, it would have to wait, because a low, droning sound overhead was growing progressively louder. Harley craned her head upwards and saw what looked like a plane in the distance. "What's this now?"
"Um, I'm not really sure," Spoiler admitted. "The Powers fill me in on what led up to this point, not what comes after."
"Some Powers they are! Can't even see the future!"
"Well, you know, free will and – "
But she was interrupted yet again, because one plane had become three, and Harley could just barely make out objects falling out of the plane's bellies. "You said we're completely untouchable like this, right?"
"Because I think those are bombers."
Harley was proven correct a moment later when explosions shook the earth and flames shot up above the tree line in the distance. Even though the bombs hadn't touched them yet, the trees and plants around them began to thrash wildly.
I hate the smell of napalm in the evening, Harley thought as they both stood transfixed by the swiftly approaching line of fire. It smells like . . . hickory.
A few minutes later, when the oily black smoke had begun to clear and the boomboombooms had stopped, Harley was repelled to discover that she and Spoiler had been hanging onto each other for dear life. The physical sensation was particularly skin-crawling. From the look on the low-rent angel's face, she wasn't thrilled by the contact either. Oh well, any corpse in a storm.
"Your bosses have a sick sense of humor, you know that?" Harley asked, still shaking as she let go hurriedly. You'd think they would have mentioned something like, Oh, and FYI, the National Guard will be firebombing Poison Ivy's park just before midnight.
For a dead person, Spoiler looked as spooked (ha ha) as Harley felt. "I wonder if that's what Hell would have been like," she said softly.
Yikes. Confirmation that there was such a thing as Hell was something Harley had avoided thinking about. She looked around and saw everything around them had been incinerated. Fires continued to consume anything within reach. The scary part was, this was an improvement.
"Everything" included the den of horrors Ivy had been living in. It was now little more than a pitiful wreck in the center of – huh, the crater they were now standing in. Harley realized she wasn't sorry to see this Ivy dead in the slightest.
"You said you questioned something," Harley said, suddenly desperate to get her own private Nightmare Before Christmas over with. "Before the, you know, kra-ka-thoom."
Spoiler shook herself. "Right," she said, and Harley was intensely gratified to find themselves back outside the Iceberg a moment later. "I questioned why I was sent here tonight. I questioned why anybody should care about your living or dying. And it turns out you saved a lot of lives just by being friends with her. Who knew?"
Harley stared at her. "And what the hell am I supposed to do now?"
"Do I look like your guardian angel, Quinn?" Spoiler snapped. "I don't know. It's up to you. You learned something tonight. Apparently Joker would be completely fine without you, but left all by herself, Ivy wouldn't even be recognizable. Whether or not that makes any kind of difference to you, I don't care."
"Gee, thanks. Tell the boys in Purgatory that they should provide dead people with instruction manuals in the future."
Spoiler just shook her head. "What else am I going to say? You're hopelessly obsessed with the Joker. That was an undeniable fact the entire time I was alive. Not even a Christmas spirit is going to change that."
Harley didn't care what she said any more. She never should have left the bar. Instead she got to see . . . "Oh, poor, poor Red," she said softly. "I didn't know . . . or care . . . or maybe both."
What she saw would never come to pass, though. Harley lived, she was real, she was Ivy's friend.
The friend who walked out on her. Again. The friend who made Ivy so angry.
If she made Ivy angry enough one day, couldn't it end the same way?
Oh God, that would be ten times worse than what she'd just seen.
When she looked to her left, she wasn't all that surprised to see Spoiler gone, and the first glimmering of sun in the sky.
Harley kissed the glass in the picture frame so hard that she left behind a lipstick kiss that was probably indelible now. "I'll always love you, Mistah J," she whispered.
Then she put the frame down, picked up her bag, and left.
"Well," Ivy sneered, "I see things went smoothly." She glanced down at Harley's bag. "Not expecting him to get out any time soon?"
"He'll be fine. Can I come in?" Harley asked. The hostility could be seen clearly on Red's face, but Harley only cared that it was the beautiful human face Ivy had been born with.
"No. No, you cannot," Ivy said coldly. "It's very climate-controlled in here, and if you keep coming and going to the Joker whenever you please, the orchids will suffer."
"And me what?"
"Will you suffer too?"
Ivy's face became as frozen as her voice. "You have a pretty high opinion of yourself, don't you, Harl?"
Harley shrugged. She didn't know what to do next. She didn't know how to make Red believe her. "Yes and no."
"Yes and no," Ivy repeated mockingly. "What does that mean?"
"Have you ever thought about recombining your DNA with plant DNA?"
Ivy took a step back. "Excuse me?"
"It's a simple question," Harley said, mentally exhausted. "Everyone thinks you're part plant. Have you ever wanted to be?"
"I – " Ivy looked bewildered now, not angry. "Yes, of course I've thought about it. It's a bit extreme, I can't be one hundred percent sure it will work, but – "
"When was the last time?"
Ivy appeared to have graduated from "bewildered" to "completely mystified". "Harley, what happened to you?" she asked. "You're not being yourself."
No, but you are, and I need you to stay that way. Harley sighed. "Was the last time you thought about becoming part plant, was that one of the times I abandoned you?"
"Was that – Harley, I don't understand why – "
"Because if it WAS," Harley went on, "then I'm really, REALLY sorry, Red. And I don't want you to ever feel that way again."
Instead of responding, Ivy dragged Harley inside. "You're sick, Harley," she said, putting a hand to her forehead. "You don't feel hot, but I want to give you something – "
"I left Puddin'."
Ivy stopped. "What do you mean, you LEFT him?"
"Broke up with him. Moved out. Hit the road. Hasta la vista, afterlife kids." Harley held up her bag. "My life is in here. How is that possible?"
"Harley, you really need to explain yourself. Not that I'm not happy – IF you're serious – but two days ago you walked out of here because he called!"
"I guess . . . I just want to feel needed," Harley said. "Loved. And I don't think I'll feel that anywhere else but with you."
Slowly Ivy moved her hands down to Harley's elbows and pulled her slightly closer. "You know, that's probably true," she said.
"But you want to be here?" Ivy asked hopefully. "I mean, you're not just leaving Joker. You're leaving Joker to be with me?"
"For as long as you'll have me," Harley replied.
Happiness bloomed in Ivy's face so suddenly that it was transformed into something even more beautiful, and the sight stole Harley's breath away. Best of all, it was still her Ivy, and Harley knew she'd never see that other Ivy again.
"Is there a room for me?"
"We'll share mine of course, Harley. Gaia, the things that come out of your mouth."
Before Harley could respond to that, a bell sounded in the distance.
Ivy looked up. "Well, well, midnight," she said, her mood briefly turning sour. "Guess we can start counting down to the ignominious disposal of the corpses on the street of Gotham."
"You know," Harley said, "they say every time a bell rings, a spirit gets her teeth whitened."
Ivy blinked. "Er, if you say so."
Next time she saw Cluemaster, Harley would give him a kick in the nuts. Just for the kid upstairs.
Note – Stephanie Brown's death was patterned after Chris Dee's Cat-Tales, not the Black Mask storyline in DC Comics. Harley's family is from my story "I'm Not That Daughter".