Cabbages and Kings
Summary: Jarvis Tetch kidnaps Commissioner Gordon's teenaged daughter Barbara, to be the Alice in his twisted Wonderland. When she goes missing, all of Gotham begins a search for their princess. Criminal and Dark Knight alike. (aprox. 7 years after TDK)
Disclaimer: I own neither the characters nor the universe depicted in this fic. Just for funzies.
I - Colville's Glory
Golden blossoms dripped from the branches above Barbara's head. The iridescent light in the greenhouse was overpowering. Being used to the gritty darkness and smog of Gotham, Barbara couldn't help but stare and soak in the sun whenever she found one of the special places in the city that was lit well, alive…. Green. Barbara raised the camera to one eye and checked the angle twice. Click.
She didn't need a flash in this light. The camera captured the image of the hanging flowers in the sun, that dripped like fruit; inviting and fiery orange.
"The blossoms match your hair colour perfectly," Dr. Isley told her from somewhere to her left, behind the curtain of vines that hung from the yellow and green tinted glass above. "Enchanting," she added.
"It's beautiful," said thirteen year old Barbara, "What are they called?" the flowers looked like fuzzy grapes hanging in great bunches from their branch.
"Colvillea racemosa… Colville's Glory," Dr. Isley told her, walking out from behind her plant-shield. "It needs a substantial amount of sunlight. Gotham isn't always the healthiest place for some of my children." She looked in concern at the plant. It looked perfect to Barbara, but Dr. Isley's expression suggested that she had noticed some ominous blemish.
She was a very young woman—younger than all of Barbara's other teachers. Not even thirty yet and Pam Isley already had a PHD and was working her way up from being a junior high school science teacher to a respected Botanist, in the higher intellectual circles in Gotham. She was a good teacher; she had a kind of nurturing aura when it came to her students. You wanted to trust her and like her, even when she was being harsh or assigning too much work, Barbara had never heard any of her classmates say anything negative about Dr. Isley.
Barbara watched her walk barefoot through the isles of plants in her greenhouse, her peach coloured gown twisted itself across her curves, while her red hair fell in an elegant curtain down her back. They weren't at school now. Barabara had come to Dr. Isley's house after class to take pictures of some of the plants.
Isley was half-way through preparing for a date, but she hadn't shooed Barbara away, she had just let the girl look through the greenhouse for nice angles and take all the pictures she wanted, while she sorted through a dozen different dresses, fixed her hair and applied her make-up. Every once in a while, Dr. Isley would dart into the greenhouse to suggest a plant or tell her a little about what she was photographing.
Through the lens Barbara caught a glimpse of Isley as she dipped low over a large blood-red blossom, her soft face lingered over the flower, pale and porcelain glossed. Her rich red hair nearly matched the soft peddles balanced on the tips of her manicure. Click.
Dr. Isley looked up at Barbara, with a coy smile.
"Sorry," Barbara blushed, "It was a good shot though."
"Have you looked through the books yet? I know you wanted to borrow Scaramouch... " she stood up tall, and inspected the hem-line of her dress again, still self-conscious in spite of the overwhelming evidence that she was stunning. "And I have The Scarlet Pimpernel too. I think you'd like that one."
"I'll go look," Barbara slipped the strap of the camera around her neck and half-skipped down the stairs from the roof and into the apartment below.
Dr. Isley's home had the look of belonging to someone much older than the young, pretty Botanist. There was paisley furniture and an old radio that probably didn't work, but held up a few more potted plants. There were no photographs on the walls, Barbara noticed, just a few decorative plates and an old clock. It was originally a two-bedroom apartment, but Isley had turned the smaller room into a den. The walls were lined with bookcases stacked to the outer edges with books, in the centre of the room was a small round tea-table with two matching chairs. Resting on the table was two wine glasses and a bottle of red wine.
Chateau Los Boldos, Cabernet Sauvignon, Barbara's eyes scanned over the label.
She walked past the table to the bookshelf and quickly found both Scaramouch and The Scarlet Pimpernel. She was about the leave when the ruby glitter of light from the wine bottle on the table caught her eye again.
She'd never tried wine before. Biting her lip, Barbara listened through the apartment before she decided that Dr. Isley was back in the bedroom, sorting through shoes.
Just a sip wouldn't hurt.
Barbara poured a generous mouthful into one of the empty glasses and put the cap back on the bottle, replacing it where she had taken it up. She didn't waste any time appreciating the musk, since she didn't know what to notice in the first place. She sipped a tiny bit, not even half of what she had put into the bottom of the glass.
The taste was warm and not very sweet. It burned the back of her throat. Barbara coughed once, inadvertently and then swallowed, expecting that the burning would go away. Instead, it grew more intense, she tried to breath, but her throat was tingling with fire—constricting her airway. She sputtered and coughed again, her eyes beginning to water from the lack of air and the burning sensation that was now crawling into her stomach like a fiery serpent.
"Barbara?" Isley's voice was growing near, "Are you okay?"
Barbara kept coughing, she made a sick, rasping sound as she desperately tried to suck air past the wall of fire behind her tongue. She felt something warm dripping into her hands and when she pulled them away she saw blood—she wasn't sure whether it was from her nose or her mouth. She fell backwards, just as Isley's alarmed face appeared in the doorway. The world shut out in a blur of blue and black nova-bursts.
...scarlet days blend with pink and silver midnights and orange evenings and blessed be the patron saint of nothingness these are the blended whistles and chimes in the garden outside the skies I just wait till half past one million pocket watch notches to the time when it is alright to let the stars fall off your shoulders birds spiral downwards in the blackest eye of my latest core disaster and brilliance my latest fall off the edge of the world I could tell you everything if the eggshells were cracked under foot of my feet and maybe I will cartwheel for you better when these teeth stop chewing on my ribcage...
"She's awake," the voice was like an aural balm, healing the razorblade slashes that were still ringing in Barbara's ears. It was soft and sombre, but there was a radiance to his tone that suggested the ability to laugh like the happiest man alive. As her eyelids fluttered open she saw the face that belonged to the voice.
He looked about twenty, but with an extra shade of maturity that suggested he had lived through more than some people four times his age. He was dressed in a tailored suit, the same black colour as his hair which was pushed back away from his face. His eyes were robin's egg blue.
"Oh, Barbara, honey? How do you feel?" Isley appeared next to the young man, her green eyes shimmering with tears, her mouth was painted a deep poisonous plum-red. Barbara looked around and realised that she was still in Isley's den.
"I-I'm so sorry!" Barbara was shaking, she tried to get to her feet, but the young man stopped her.
"Rest your head," he suggested in that voice.
"I'm so careless!" cried Pam, "It's my fault Barbara, don't apologise, I was using those glasses to mix a special plant-fertilizer earlier and I forgot to put them away-"
"-I'm sorry I drank your wine!" Barbara wiped at her eyes and noticed that one of them had wiped the blood from her hands and face.
"Who cares about that, you were poisoned Barbara. I'm so sorry... Oh, Dick, I'm sorry, I think I'd better take her to the hospital-"
"-I feel fine!" Barbara's heart protested painfully at the idea of telling her parents about what had happened. "You don't have to cancel your plans and take me to see a doctor, just because I'm a moron, I really feel fine... but... how long was I lying there?"
"Just a moment," said Dr. Isley, "I gave you an anti-toxin right away," she flashed a little black bottle that was nestled in one hand, "I have to keep some handy... some of the chemicals I work with are pretty dangerous. The plants too." She put the bottle of anti-toxin in her purse.
"How do you feel? You look pale," said the man. Dick, Isley had called him.
"Oh, that's just my skin," Barbara heard herself say. There was something familiar about Dick. "Listen... Dr. Isley... can you... please not tell my dad about this?!"
Dr. Isley was still looking very concerned at the young girl, but now there was a hint of confliction about her face too. "Are you sure you feel alright?"
"Yeah," Barbara nodded. It wasn't entirely true. Her head hurt and her throat felt like it had been beaten raw by something with claws. "Yeah... I'm fine. I think I just passed out because I... freaked out when my nose started bleeding." she still wasn't sure whether it had just been a nosebleed, but she really didn't want to tell this story to anyone. Ever.
"...I'll stay quiet, if you will," Pam finally relented. Barbara saw that her hands were shaking.
"That was so weird. I bet that's what a bad drug trip feels like—there was this voice, talking to me."
"What did it say?" asked Dick.
"Gibberish," Barbara shrugged, "None of it made any sense."
"Dick, it's alright if we give Barbara a ride home isn't it?"
"Certainly... I think we should keep an eye on her for a few more minutes, at least," he helped Barbara stand up, and she saw that he was holding her camera and school bag.
"Thanks, Mr. Grayson," Barbara said, taking her affects from him. She had just figured out why he looked so familiar. He was Richard Grayson. She had seen his picture in the paper five years earlier, after his parents were killed by a mob-boss and Bruce Wayne took him in. Her father had worked on that case. He looked different now, but she could still make out the reflection of the sad teenager whose black and white photograph had appeared under a sympathetic headline, in those blue eyes.
Isley slipped a shall to match her gown across her shoulders as the three of them moved out into the hallway. Dick helped his date arrange it against her shoulders. The two of them looked very classic together. The silver glimmer of his cuff links matched her earrings and they were the perfect height to look each other in the eyes.
Surreptitiously, Barbara snapped a photo of the two of them together. If Dr. Isley noticed she didn't make any indication, but Dick glanced at her from the corner of his eye before the little group headed to Dick's—actually Bruce's car.
Barbara rubbed at her throat, then stopped, when she thought that the two of them might notice her doing it. She didn't want them to think anything was still wrong. It wasn't, really. Dr. Isley's anti-toxin had done it's magic. But the pounding in her head felt like that voice was still trying to tell her something.
Fun Fact: Thank you in Finnish is Kiitos. I learned that at a rock-concert.
Song of the Chapter: Lupe Fiasco, Daydreamin. I'm usually not a fan of rappers or rap-ists, whatever you fancy. But this is a really groovy tune by a groovy guy, and I think it fits with this first part, in a rather existential way.
(A/N: There are going to be moments when I reference things that happened in my other story Mad Love: Beauty and the Butchered, which was set five years before all of this. It's a Harley & Mistah J romance, so it pretty much has nothing to do with this story, but The Joker and Barbara have 'a moment' that comes up in this a little later. I'll mention it again in this story when it happens, just so no one reads it and thinks to themselves 'What is she talking about?! That never happened!'. But you do not need to read that fic to understand this one. I'm just working on the same time-line, and it only becomes important at the very end and I will explain why in this story.)