A/N: This story takes place in the future Gotham of the Paper Hearts universe, but can stand alone. Other stories in the series are Paper Hearts, Chance and Bookends. This one is neatly sandwiched between Paper Hearts and Chance, if you're wondering about placement.
It's also archived at henchgirls. com, the new Batman fanfic archive you should all totally join and post your fic at, I'm just saying. It's All Batman Universes, All the Time, and all are welcome!
Warning: this story contains a scene that, while intended to convey the threat of an impending mugging, could very easily be read as an implied threat of sexual violence against a woman by a group of men. This was not my intention, but it may trigger some readers just the same. Please be advised.
The tulips are blooming in Gotham City, new life pushing its way up through the ground, fighting for every inch of sunlight. Varying tones of red, from ruby to scarlet, mingle with the occasional deep violet flower—so dark a shade it appears almost black.
No one notices.
Everyone is too busy with their meetings, and their deadlines, and their oh-so-very important urban lives. Only a few even bother to glance at the scattering of green, but most forget there's anything extraordinary by the time they've hailed a cab, or been distracted by a shop window. Maybe some will remember later, and recount to whoever they come home to that they saw something unusual today.
After all, tulips very rarely bloom in December.
In Robinson Park, where children play in the fresh powdery snow, the flowers are especially friendly. They move a little more than the breeze should sway them; their petals open a little wider than the blossoms that will be here come springtime; they turn towards the sun a little more fully than they should, reaching thirstily for its rays.
But the children don't notice, as surely as the adults don't. There are too many snow angels to make, and wars to be waged with icy ammunition, and igloos to be built, for them to care that there's something odd beneath the frost. There is just too much to do in Gotham to stop and smell the roses—much less the tulips—no matter how old you are.
At the center of Robinson Park, the Hedge Maze stands like a silent sentinel, lightly dusted with snow. It's been fifteen years since it spontaneously grew up out of the ground, an outcast's haven. At first it was feared, but it was feared for reasons that nobody remembers anymore. Now, everyone knows Robinson Park is a place for children to play and adults to wander freely, even in the hours past twilight. In those fifteen years, there has been not one rape, or murder, or child abduction within its gates. There may very well be no safer place in Gotham.
A pair of emerald green eyes follow the children from within the foliage, their owner well hidden from sight. If the watcher looks on longingly, she does not let on; if the children know they are being watched, they don't either.
She watches one in particular, too small to play in the others' games—the only one to see the flowers amidst the snow.
She's about three or four, Ivy guesses, her blue eyes bright with curiosity, and she takes a few steps towards the flowers, valiantly poking up through the white. Lazily, they nod their heads in the breeze as the child reaches out to touch one with a mitten covered hand.
Ivy whispers and the tulips open in one graceful motion, eliciting a cry of surprise and delight. An impish smile lights up the girl's face—achingly familiar for all that she is a stranger—and the pale ghost of it touches her own.
The little girl, with golden blond pigtails peeking out from under a red wool cap, swoops down and pulls one of the tulips from the ground in her excitement. For a moment, Ivy feels a rush of rage at this abuse of her gift, but it doesn't seem to matter so much when the girl waves it around proudly, looking around for someone, anyone to share it with.
"Look!" she says to nobody in particular. "Look!"
Consumed with a game of tag, the others pay her no attention. Her exclamation is lost in the laughter and shouts of the children in the park.
The girl's shoulders slump, her arms dropping by her sides.
Dejectedly, she looks at the tulip in her hand, and then back at the flowers still in the snow.
In solidarity, they close, one by one.
The tall hedge parts, just enough to reveal its occupant to the little girl alone, still somewhat camouflaged by greenery.
She gasps, but doesn't turn to run, or cry, or scream. She's stunned, and suddenly very bashful, but not afraid.
She stares at Ivy and licks her cold-chapped lips, gathering all the courage in her. "H...hello."
Ivy smiles as warmly and encouragingly as she can. "Hello."
"Yes, I am."
She holds up the bruised tulip, its stem bent from her carelessly waving it about. "Is it yours?"
"Did you...make it?"
Ivy nods, once. The girl's eyes get just a little bit bigger.
"Are you magic?"
Ivy smiles a little more. "Magic?"
"Nana says fairies make things grow," she says quietly, almost reverently. "Mama says it's not true, but Nana knows."
Warmth penetrates the frost both outside and within Ivy, and she reaches out a hand, calling another tulip to come out of the ground. "Then I suppose I am magic."
The girl is delighted, reaching out to touch the flower gently with one mitten smothered hand. "They're pretty."
"You're pretty, too," she says, turning her hauntingly blue, blue eyes back to Ivy. "What's your name?"
"Delia!" From across the park, a panicked shout. "Please—I can't—I don't—I looked away for a second—my daughter! Delia!"
The girl turns toward the sound, towards the woman towing another little girl about the same age behind her in a black plastic sled, anxiously scanning the faces of the other children.
"Mommy!" Delia calls, stumbling forward in the snow. Her mother is at her feet in a flash, down on her knees and holding her so tightly she may never let go. Her twin sister remains in the sled, hair windblown and cheeks pink, but otherwise unfazed.
"You scared mommy," her mother says in a shaking voice, "I thought I lost you, I thought—"
"I was talking to the lady."
Her mother pulls back, a few errant tears escaping and sliding down her cheeks. "What lady, sweetie?"
"In the bushes." Delia looks back at the hedge maze, pointing clumsily with her mitten.
Her mother looks over Delia's shoulder. The wall of green is solid. "There's nothing there, baby."
It's a few hours after twilight. The tulips have all closed.
The young woman taking a shortcut through the park keeps her head down, staring at her shoes as they clump, clump, clump through the snow. Her hands tightly wound around her backpack straps, she mutters to herself.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid," she grumbles, her breath coming out in delicate silver puffs. "'You can tell me anything, Sherry. I'll understand.' Yeah, sure, right. Except what you don't want to hear."
Eyes so completely focused on her boots breaking through the frost, she doesn't see the shadows standing near the Robinson Park bridge, slouched against the old stone. She doesn't see the pinpoint glow of their cigarettes in the darkness, hear their low, excited mutters, or notice the sound of feet crunching over the snow until it's too late.
"Hey, baby. How about a dollar?"
Sherry looks up.
"Need a big strong man to walk you home so your pocketbook don't get snatched?"
"Yeah, it ain't safe at night for a lady..."
She's already surrounded. Five men. Nowhere to run, she considers her options, remembers her self defense classes, thinks about the brick in the bottom of her backpack, the brass knuckles in one pocket, and the stun gun in the other...
They're on her in a flash, but she's prepared.
The backpack drops from her shoulders and she swings its heft at the nearest one, knocking him sideways. He hits the ground and she stomps down on his crotch with one heavy boot. Her hands are already filled with weapons by the time another gets into range.
The second to jump her gets about a million volts, the third is cracked across the face by her fist, loosening a few teeth in the process. The fourth manages to dodge the stun gun, grabbing her wrist and twisting it in a direction it wasn't designed to go in until she drops it. She hits him with the brass knuckles, setting him off balance, but a second after metal hits flesh, the last attacker grabs her free arm.
Whatever they intended for her doesn't happen. A sound like the cracking of a whip shatters the night; something moves faster than she can see in front of Sherry's eyes, she only feels the rush of wind as it passes. The goon holding her lets go and clutches his face, screaming obscenities.
Sherry staggers back, tripping over the unconscious body of one of her attackers and landing on her backside in the snow.
From beneath the frost, vines dart forward, grabbing the arms and legs of each of the goons still standing. Others spring up and lash at all available bare flesh, leaving the men covered in welts, sometimes drawing blood. They grab and pull and strangle the struggling men who are slowly engulfed by creeping green.
Scrambling to her feet, Sherry grabs her backpack and turns to run, only to come face to face with the park's self appointed protector. She's so startled she yelps, but regains her composure as quickly as it fled.
"Did they hurt you?"
Sherry swallows thickly, trying to find the voice that hides at the back of her throat and ignore the cries behind her that are rapidly becoming smaller, more distant as they're stifled and swallowed up by vegetation. "No."
The other woman's eyes narrow. She sweeps her gaze over Sherry and, satisfied with what she finds, nods once, sharply. "Leave."
Sherry stares for another second—probably a second too long—and whispers, "Thank you."
The bells of Gotham Cathedral toll midnight.
The old woman enters the gates of Robinson Park, bundled up in a heavy winter coat, mittens and fuzzy hat knitted by her own gnarled hands.
She might be sixty, she might be eighty, it's hard to tell based on just how she moves alone. She might have even been beautiful once—truly, genuinely, devastatingly beautiful—but that too is hard to tell.
No muggers approach as she plods along; no flowers curl up out of the snow to greet her. The flowers will greet her when the time is right; the muggers have all gone home, whispering rumors about what happened to Tommy and Benny and their gang.
She reaches the outer edge of the hedge maze without much trouble, though most others her age would huff and puff a little after such a trek. The greenery parts, pulling itself out of the snow and aside to allow her passage. She slips through and it closes up again behind her, leaving no evidence of her entrance beyond her footprints in the snow outside.
The old woman navigates the maze easily: a left, a right, a left, two rights, straight ahead. A few more turns, a few more not-turns, and she reaches the center of the maze where Poison Ivy waits, and as always, her breath is taken away.
In the clearing, two trees have bowed to each other, branches weaving together into a throne for their mistress. A lush carpet of green grass stretches from one flower dotted hedge wall to the other. Despite all natural laws that might suggest the contrary, winter is outside; this is spring's domain.
Ivy gracefully stands, prepared to meet her visitor with one hand outstretched in welcome. While the old woman wears her many years well, her companion seems to wear none at all. Their ages are comparable, though you wouldn't know it to look at them, but Ivy doesn't look a day over thirty—if even that much.
The old woman smiles, looking at Ivy's inviting hand, and forgoes reaching out to her at all. Instead, they close the distance between them, one quickening step at a time.
They come together, each drawn to the other like magnets .
They share a kiss, slow, warm and tender. It glows from spark, to fire, to dying ember; a greeting, an embrace and a goodbye all intertwined into one. One breathes in, the other breathes out, and time stands still beneath the snow that has just started to fall.
The kiss is stolen, but neither takes it from the other. It's stolen from the world. A moment out of time; a secret shared by two.
As quickly as they joined, they separate, their fingers laced together as old friends often do.
"Merry Christmas, Red," the old woman whispers.
"Happy Chanukah, Harley."