The Nature of the World
In late spring, once, Ivy smells flesh, and looks to the sky.
At least she thinks it smells like one of the birds, all meat and metal. For weeks, though, her whole world has smelled of meat, bad meat, not the gamey-bland flatness of flesh shriveling on rodent bones or the blood-bright metallic ring of fresh kill beneath beaks and claws or even the constant sweetness of human visitors with their sugary sweat. She grew acclimated to that smell long ago, back when she first occupied her kingdom, a reclamation of ravaged earth amidst the broken fingers of the man-made world, the buildings that surrounded her on all sides, poised like the opened blades of shears. There was no way to avoid the human smell, unpleasant as it was, but this bad meat smelled far worse still, making Ivy think of cadaverous gums pulling away from softened teeth, of half-digested creatures still living while the snakes that devoured them lay dead in the sun. No matter how tightly she draws the copse of saplings around the source of the stench, it still hangs in the air around her, making her doubt her own senses in a way she has not doubted them since her skin lost the last of its human color.
From above the trees, the bird falls, controlling her descent with will instead of wings. No cape flares out behind this bird, no cowl shades her face. In her brief costume, she seems as bare as Ivy, and a series of bruises trails down one of her tanned legs, an echo of Ivyís vines. For a moment, Ivy sees the flash of blonde hair against her trees, and wants to cry out, but this bird bears no further resemblance to the person her mind wishes to see. Although the bird moves with acrobatic ease, her thickly muscled arms make it clear that she has learned this easy drop, this spin of a foot rising past her head, not through any infusion but through her own ambition. Even now Ivy senses the slightest slick of sweat evaporating from the back of the her neck.
"Poison Ivy," the bird says, evenly, face to face with her in her own domain.
Ivy blinks at the sobriquet the others have long since dropped; even the Bat no longer calls her poison. Roots stir in the earth beneath the birdís feet, untangling, reaching upwards to sky.
"Donít bother," the bird says, jumping forward, "Your plants donít grow fast enough to catch me."
Ivy shrugs and slides along the trunk of the tree; night-blooming flowers open in her hair, moon-pale as anemones from a lightless ocean floor. Their thick scent wafts into the air around her, a threat.
In response, the pale skin of the birdís neck slides, once, as she swallows.
No, not swallows, Ivy thought, idly opening and closing the flowers at her hairline. The bird isnít swallowing, sheís clearing her throat. Ivy remembers now what the plants have told her about this one.
"Only animals run from your voice, bird. Not plants."
The bird nods once, but did not give ground. A truce, then, if only a brief one. The bird still wears guns at her hips, and her torso glitters with weapons that could slice through thick vines as though passing through a single human hair.
"What do you want?" Ivy asks.
"Iím here for him," she says, her eyes never leaving Ivyís, her body relaxed but ready. Their voices sound surprisingly clear here, in the heart of the park, the electric thrum of the city grown hushed with distance.
"Who?" Ivy asks. "The Bat? He hasnít been here for months."
The birdís jaw shifts to one side. "You know who Iím talking about. He came in here, wounded, and he never came out. Weíve know where youíve hidden him."
Ivy looks around. "And youíre planning to take him out of here yourself?"
"No, youíre going to help me. Based on the heartbeat weíre reading, you have him in some sort of stasis, wrapped up in vines or something. Youíre going to tell me how to get in to him. Then weíre going to bring him to the police stationed at the edge of the park. Think you can handle that?"
The ground at Ivyís feet stirs as roots churn and rearrange themselves within it. "Why should I help you?" she said, her voice level. "He came in to my park. Let him rot where he is." Each root, each unfurling bud, each rain-darkened branch cries out to her as she says this. Through their vascular systems his putrid blood has already begun to trickle; his plant-encased body sits like a tumor lodged in the center of her kingdomís heart. Sometimes she thinks she hears his laughter braying at her through her own vines.
"Why are you protecting him?" the bird asks, her voice sharp. "Heís never been a friend to you orÖyours." The bird stumbles over the final word as though uncertain of what to say. "He should be brought to justice," she says, softly but still firmly.
Justice is a building, Ivy thinks, a building that towers, profane, against the sky. She lay buried alive there, once. Others lie there now, far away from the tumor she has enclosed in her earth as though into her own chest.
"No," Ivy says, thorns snapping up along her forearm. ".He stays here."
"What?" The bird says, turning slightly, her eyes never leaving Ivy. The belts from her holsters dig in to the skin of her bare legs as she turns. "Oh. How was the benefit?" she asks, clearly no longer talking to Ivy. "Yes, I am" she says, in a harsher tone. "No, Iím not," she says, and lets out her breath with a sound of impatience that resembles the sound the other one makes when Ivy balks at her ideas. "Send whoever you like. But Iím going in now." Her glance lays heavily on Ivy. "If the plant-lady doesnít want to tell me how to get in, Iím going in myself."
In response, Ivy slowly stretches, arching her back, opening a row of trifoliate leaves along the vines that cross her chest like armor. She narrows her eyes and draws toxins to her cheeks, deep purple that will stain her cheeks with pink, a show of arousal, or of readiness to fight. She has to remember to do this now, to move her flesh body in a way the meats and birds can read, all of them so scent-blind to her warnings.
"Fine," the bird says, digging a small object from her belt and holding it up so Ivy can see it. An earpiece. "She wants to talk to you," she says, and throws it in a gentle arc across the short distance between them. Ivy tangles the small piece of metal in a vine, and then holds it to her ear, never breaking the gaze between them.
"Dr. Isley," a voice says from within the earpiece. Ivy recognizes the name as belonging to someone she used to know. "Ivy," the voice says, more urgently, and for a moment Ivy has a vision of red hair beneath a cowl, of a body leaping to flight. She changes this, remembering, and in her mind the body attached to the voice grows suddenly still.
"Can you see me?" Ivy asks. The voice may have grown still, but its eyes saw everything. Beyond the edge of her kingdom Ivy can just see a clocktower, its luminescent face barred with the demarcations of time. After a pause, the voice responds, simply, "Yes."
"Then you see whatís going on. Tell her to leave."
Across the way, the birdís eyelids grow narrow.
"Iím sorry that sheís come into your park without asking," the voice says, "but you know what she is after. Help her, Ivy."
"Why should I?"
"Do you want that thing in your park?"
"At least I know where he is."
"Look, if she goes in without you, sheís going to get hurt."
"Probably," Ivy answers, growing impatient. He has hurt the voice, too, and she survived.
After a moment, the voice says, "I know itís not him that youíre protecting. Help Canary get him out of there, and I give you my word he will not get anywhere near Dr. Quinzel."
Ivyís vines curl in on themselves at these words. Was it possible the voice understood? "Ivy, please. We can help each other here. We can help them both."
Ivyís vines send the earpiece hurtling towards the bird with a quick snap. "Come on," she says, letting her vines carry her upwards into the canopy. "Heís at the other edge of the pond. Try to keep up."
The leaves close behind their rising bodies.
"You know what kills me, red?"
Ivy doesnít answer. Harley will tell her without prompting; she always does. She handsprings over the soft grass Ivy has coaxed from the ground despite the brutal heat of the summer. The earth has healed over the spot where the tumor lay, and the air around them bears no more traces of his scent. In the moonlight, Harleyís body, soft even in its agility, ripples beneath the checkerboard of her costume. Ivy draws rose vines up along her own leg, ignoring the prick of the thorns as the mixed blossoms open, some deep crimson, some bone white, a few as inky black as Ivy can convince them to be.
If Harley notices the reflection of herself, she does not say. When Harley does another handspring that brings her face to face with Ivy, their botanic breath hot on each otherís face, Ivy can see pink skin beneath a smear in Harleyís greasepaint.
"It kills me, red," Harley says, eyes sliding back and forth, a mean grimace or grin causing white facepowder to drift like flurries against Ivyís bare collarbones, "that every time I finally get sprung from the nut-house," and here she pauses to mug, eyes rolled back, tongue stuck out. "Mr. J. gets thrown back in!"
Ivy places her hand along Harleyís face, and lets a tricolor rose grow up between them, its petals alternating white, crimson, and black.
"Iím sorry, love" she says, "I guess itís just the nature of the world."
Reference images from GOTHAM KNIGHTS #15 and SHADOW OF THE BAT #88.
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