Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle in Cat-Tales by Chris DeeCat-Tales 67: Inside an Enigma

Inside an Enigma
by Chris Dee

Inside an Enigma Chapter 3: The Hail Mary PassThe Hail Mary Pass


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Three Weeks Ago

People were a horror.  A tree-killing pox that spread like an infection over the beauty of Mother Earth.  Anything that was good, they ruined.  Anything that was pure and perfect and lovely as it was, they got inside like a corn borer and infected it.  Fouled it with their human stench so you could never really enjoy it as you did before.  Even once the smell faded, there was the memory of it.  Their humanity infesting it, rubbing against the leaves, tearing the petals and blocking the sun.  You could never really relax and be easy without the fear that some whiff of it might return. 

They took that which came from nature and made it theirs.  The flower couldn’t be a flower, it had to be pulverized for its scent, crushed to its sweetest essence to mask their filthy human stench.  Or else cut, sliced from the very fibers connecting it to the life-giving Earth.  And why?  To give to each other as love tokens, scent and love tokens for their mating rituals—as if there weren’t too many of them already.  Ruining everything for every other species!  Fruit, vegetable and grain were nothing but food to them.  Trees nothing but wood and paper.  They took and they took, fouled the air and fouled the Earth, gave nothing back in return—and then congratulated themselves.  That was the worst of it.  They way they encouraged each other.  Praised each other.  It was disgusting.  Ivy hated them.  Hated them.

Harvey and Harley worst of all.  The alluring buds used to entice—to draw you in close where you could be disarmed, grasped high above the thorns and snipped into irrelevance.  She hated humanity and those twin monstrosities made her lose sight of it.  They disconnected her from that fundamental part of her being.  She was Poison Ivy.  She didn’t hate Batman or logging companies or florists, she hated PEOPLE.  And those two… those two cursed non-plants managed to get inside, like a corn borer and a cutworm, and infect her with this human stink, this loss of purpose, this, this…  The two of them, Harley and Harvey, like a flea beetle and a root maggot, got inside and stopped her being true to herself, to her nature.  She was Gaia’s Chosen, Warrior Goddess of the Green.  She never cared what people thought of her—PEOPLE of all things!  Then, at some point, that awful flea beetle Harvey Dent went and liked her without pheromones—Yes, that’s where it started—with a man, of course it started with a man!  A stupid man who thought he was clever, always the worst kind.  A man who thinks he’s clever, who thinks he knows best, will always let you down.  Harvey had a very presumptuous way of looking at her, talking to her, as if he knew things.  As if he understood things— about her, Poison Ivy, Gaia’s Chosen.  Who was HE to have a thought of any kind, let alone dare to speak it, let alone speak it to her face?

At least Harley had no such pretentions.  Except for that one very brief period where the weed of Dr. Quinzel threatened to choke out the flower of Harley Quinn, the root maggot didn’t have a thought in her head.  Unlike the flea beetle, there was no presumption that Harley was in a position to understand Poison Ivy.  Of course that didn’t prevent Ivy from caring about her regard just as much as she did Harvey’s.  Harley had found Ivy’s kindness surprising.  -thit-thit-thit-  Ivy had been nice to her in that jaunt to Philadelphia and Harley found that surprising -thit-thit-thit-thit- suspicious -thi-thut- and out of character.  Of course Ivy found that unacceptable, wildly unacceptable, who wouldn’t?  -thut-thut-thut- It was worse than when Harvey saw her behaving rationally and found that surprising and out of character.

She needed to think. -thi-thut-thit-thit-  

In a perfect world, she would do it in Robinson Park, or Riverside Park, or even her greenhouse.  Nothing helped her think like the loving embrace of her flora.  -thit-thit-  But if plant company was preferred, it wasn’t absolutely necessary the way time and solitude were necessary.  In Robinson Park (or Riverside Park or the greenhouse) she would be too accessible.  Batman, the flea beetle and the root maggot would all know where to find her.  -thut-thit-  Any of them might come and bother her.  And if she left Gotham entirely and found some nice patch of greenery elsewhere, they would notice.  They might even wonder why.  -thut-  Ivy had a sense, a unique and special sensitivity like that which allowed her to commune with her plants, and it whispered to her now, whispered that down the line she would not want this period of reflection be known, -thit- that whatever came next should not be foreshadowed in any way.  -thut-thut- There should be no hint, -thi-thut-thut-thit-  no bulbous knots on the branch of the tree,  -thi-thut-thit-thit-  visible through the snow and promising the great new shoots that would come with the spring thaw.  No, she would stay here at Arkham, where they all knew where she was.  -thit- They would suspect nothing.  Nothing at all, while she closed up her petals tighter than any rosebud to wait out—WHAT WAS THAT NOISE? -thit-thit-thit-

-thit-thit-thit-thit- -thi-thut- -thut-thut-thut- -thi-thut-thit-thit-

Ivy smashed her fist into the wall nearest the annoying muffled thi-thuts and was rewarded with silence for about ten minutes.  Then Saul Vics, the slimiest and most corrupt or the most useful and approachable of the Arkham guards depending on how you looked at it, rapped on her door and announced that he was deactivating the outer lock shield in ten seconds.  Ivy was to “stand at the back wall of the cell facing the door, with both her hands in clear view, arms extended, palms in contact with the rear wall.”  Ivy mouthed this familiar formula along with Vics, like a high school freshman mocking the principal, and once she was in place, she stuck her tongue out at the camera to indicate she had complied.

The door opened, and Edward Nigma entered.

“Ten minutes,” said Vics brusquely, and Nigma tilted his head.  The move looked submissively quizzical, like a dog questioning why you weren’t getting his leash for his regular walk, but somehow it wasn’t.  “Okay, fifteen,” Vics amended.  “But that’s really the best I can do this close to chow time.”

Nigma pursed his lips, an expression Ivy recognized from the few times they’d played poker.  Coming up on a raise that was probably a bluff.

“I’ll call when we’re finished,” Eddie said amiably.  “If you have to go off and make the dinner rounds, I’ll wait here and you can take me back to my cell after.  We’ll order from Squids tonight.”

Vics’s brow knit, fear battling greed behind his dull brown eyes.  As usual greed won, and he nodded, grunted, and left.  Once the door closed behind him, Eddie smiled at Pammy:

“He doesn’t like stacking that many special requests in a shift.  Afraid he’ll get caught, I guess.  But in the end, my green works just as well as yours.”

“What do you want?” Ivy sighed, the annoyance of the interruption coupled with the annoyance of Nigma thinking he was so clever and that crack about the green combining, not into a heightened sense of fury but into an oppressive weariness.

“That was kind of childish, the way you played to the camera just now, don’t you think, Pammy?”

“What a sad little creature you are, Edward Nigma.  Was it really so important to insult me that you actually failed to answer a question?”

“I was getting there,” he said.  “Here I thought gardeners were supposed to be patient.”

“Goddesses aren’t,” Ivy glared.

“Some are; some gods too,” Eddie said conversationally.  That was met with a more hostile glare and Eddie opted for a faux-conciliatory jazz-hands gesture.  “Sorry,” he said.  “I only meant that, well, it’s not like starting a brawl in the common room, but enough of those petty little exhibitions, sticking out your tongue and giving Nurse Chin the finger the other day, it will keep off the fast track list for early release.”  She said nothing and he added “Maybe that’s the idea.”  Again she said nothing, and Eddie changed tone entirely: “Okay, okay, we’ll do it your way.  You riddled me thus: ‘Edward: What do you want?  Why did you pay off Guard Vics to come see me?  Why are you taking up my valuable time?’  Answer: Glad you asked, Pammy.  I came to tell you I know what you’re doing.”

He reached the wall directly underneath the fire sprinkler and wrapped it with his knuckle, producing a louder and more distinct version of the earlier muffled sound: -thit-thit-thit-  -thit-thit-thit-thit-  -thi-thut-  -thut-thut-thut-  

“Shaolin Temple,” he said, translating the Morse code as he continued rapping.  “You’re using Arkham as your own remote monastery.  It’s really very clever.  All you have to do is not qualify for the fast track and you can stay as long as you like.  Off the Bat-radar precisely because he knows where we are.”

“We?” Ivy mouthed, an awful thought pulling her lips into a teeth-bearing snarl that wouldn’t normally accompany the word.  It was a rare thing for Edward Nigma to say anyone else was clever.  Rather than take it as a compliment, Ivy had the sick presentiment he was about to pocket her idea.

“I’ve been doing the same thing.  Haven’t you noticed?  As soon as I saw what you were up to, it seemed like a MANIA DEFINED!  (That’s ‘a damn fine idea’ in case you can’t work it out, Pammy.)  There are some things I need to think through too after that war business.”

“Oh I knew it,” Ivy hissed to herself, but Nigma was too busy preening himself to notice.  “Back to the original question, what do you want?” she asked, exasperated.

“I thought we might help each other out,” he said gamely.  “You’ve already realized that if you and I are the only ones not fast tracking, it will draw unwanted attention.  But if nobody is making the cut, then it just looks like they’ve done some bureaucratic sock pulling-up, raised the standards a little, closed some loopholes.”

“Way ahead of you,” Ivy said with a wistful smile.  “You don’t think Blake, Lynns, Wesker and Strange all started those ‘common room brawls’ on their own?”

Nigma laughed.

“What do you call a poker no-no that’s also a legendary marksman?” he asked happily.  “A Tell.  Pammy, you are just like the dame in those moth-eaten old mysteries who says she didn’t shoot Mr. Milquetoast when all the cop told her is that he was found dead in his car.  No mention of him being shot or even being murdered…  Nobody knows who started the last brawls in the common room, Pamela.  At least nobody but you knows, apparently.  And now me.  Wesker and Strange, well, well…  I did have my suspicions, mind you.  Not with the first one.  Blake alone could have been anything.  He hasn’t been himself since that Bane beating.  But after the second and then the third fracas, each keeping five or six of us off the FTRP list for another eight to twelve weeks, it was a pattern.  A pattern that suited me; I wasn’t complaining.  But I wasn’t the one doing it.  Somebody else had to be benefiting, and I couldn’t figure out who.  I hate not being able to figure things out; it gives me a headache.  So I came at it another way.  Nobody could’ve started all the fights personally, so it had to be someone who could manipulate.  That’s me, you, and on a good day, Strange or Crane.  I figured I’d try you first, since those mouth breathers haven’t had a good day since 2006.”

“They’re always on alert for my greening the staff,” Ivy boasted.  “But another patient can pass unnoticed, as long as I make it clear that they mustn’t express their devotion to me in any way.”

“And if they squawk later, when they’re in isolation for having sent two or three others to the infirmary, ‘I did it for Goddess Greenleaf’ will only get them an extra helping of haloperidol.”

“Exactly,” Ivy chuckled wickedly.

“Nice.  But in case you missed the list that went up after breakfast, Jervis, Roxy and Croc are all starting the fast track, as of noon today.”

“Root rot.”

“You’ll take care of it?”

Ivy’s eyes narrowed.

“The war is over, Nigma.  You don’t give me orders.”

“Do Errs?  Moi?  Pammy, I merely pointed out that we are in the same boat.  We want time to think.  This is an excellent place to do it.  It’s in both our interests that nobody gets fast tracked until we ourselves are ready to leave, and three are on the list.  You’re already set up to do something about it.  If you don’t want to, I’ll take care of it myself.  As long as we’re agreed and don’t both do something—”

“Alright, alright, aphids are less of a pest than you are, Nigma.  I’ll take care of it.”

“Thank you, Blossom.”

The media outlets that depicted Gotham as a kind of Mordor with streetlights were equally ludicrous in their depictions of Arkham as a hell pit inside the Tenth Circle wrapped around a nightmare.  Those who imagined filthy cots and walls with missing tiles streaked with rust, graffiti and blood wouldn’t be able to process the neat Japanese-style room that was Edward Nigma’s cell—even less the man himself.  Stretched out on his cot, hands behind his head as he leaned back against the wall, his feet up, he was a picture of contentment, the lord of the manor seated before a great roaring fire after the hunt. 

The furnishings hadn’t always been this elaborate.  Before his rise in status, he had only a low desk ordered from a catalogue of traditional Japanese furnishings, chosen not for aesthetics but because it could be folded even lower and hidden in the dark recess under his cot.  Since his elevation, flush with an obscene amount of untraceable Falcone cash, Saul Vics was practically his butler.  Batman had his Pennyworth, and The Riddler his Saul Vics.  It wasn’t necessary to keep the desk hidden, taking it out only when he wanted to use it.  He could leave it in the open all the time—at which point, it seemed silly not to get a chair to go with it.  He liked the lines of those low chairs… and as soon as he added one, the Spartan walls and floor began to look like a design choice rather than institutional mandate.  He replaced the cot with a futon, added tatami mats, a lamp, a shelf… and found he had a very elegant abode to sit and think.

He knew he was at a crossroads.  The war with Falcone had brought out the best in him.  He felt better than he had in years and was better thought of than he had been in years.  In the eyes of his peers he was King Rogue.  What he did next would be critical in confirming him in that position, or undoing it. He had to consider his next move carefully… His next move, that reminded him.

He got up and went to the desk. Vics mentioned that he had a letter from the Metropolis Penitentiary, and Eddie’s hands nearly trembled with anticipation as he opened it. Rook to Queen’s Rook 5 – YES! Bane was still working on that two rook mate. He could do it in three moves. He had to think Eddie didn’t see it or that he miscounted. Eddie would promote a pawn in three moves – one move too late by Bane’s reckoning, because Bane was a fathead. It would never occur to that mountain of bulk that anyone would promote a pawn to something less than a queen. She was the most powerful piece on the board—except for right now, where promoting that pawn to a knight would put Bane’s king in a check from which he could not escape. Mate.

Eddie moved Bane’s rook as specified, advanced his own pawn, and scribbled the move onto a note card. 

Then he paused.  How to disguise the clue in a bit of meaningless social twaddle.  He glanced through Bane’s remarks underneath his rook move.  Hm, he mentioned that the Metropolis Penn would be screening Excalibur.  Just the sort of sword-bashing nonsense Bane would go for, and as Eddie recalled Helen Mirren was in it.  Helen Mirren would go on to play Elizabeth II in The Queen.  Perfect!

He tapped his pen excitedly and wrote:

Enjoy Excalibur.  Good flick.  Did think Helen Mirren overrated. 

Two Weeks Ago

A plant of some kind would have been helpful – a real, living plant.  The one downside of Ivy’s plan to use Arkham as her ‘Shaolin Temple’ was the absence of plants.  Not a single crocus to help her meditate.  Not so much as an aloe stem for company.  Of course she could have greened one of the guards to bring her one, but greening guards was exactly the kind of thing the special measures set up around her were meant to detect.  Greening a guard to bring her a plant would trip every alarm and safety check they had.  The otherwise useful Saul Vics, so responsive to ‘the other green’ as Nigma put it, presented a similar problem.  It was the one thing he wouldn’t get her, not for any price, precisely because it was the one object that would be searched for.  In her cell, in the vent above her cell, in any space she had access to.

Ivy had wracked her brain trying to come up with a solution.  She wanted to misbehave enough to stay out of the FTRP, but that misbehavior had to be discovered to be effective.  Being discovered with a plant would only get that plant removed.  ARGH!  Finding she couldn’t come up with any shred of a solution on her own, she’d turned to Nigma.  The condescending, arrogant microdick called her “Blossom” at the end of their last meeting, but it had to be admitted, he did come up with frightfully good ideas sometimes.  Not knowing any Morse code, she just knocked a random pattern on the wall where Nigma had, and before long, Saul Vics came a-knocking to escort her to Riddler’s cell. 

Unfortunately, his best idea was nothing more than an electronic picture frame that Ivy could load up with photos—beautiful photos, it was true—but nothing truly alive.  Nigma, that arrogant little shit, was forbidden electronic gizmos just as Ivy was forbidden plants, but unlike her plants, staff like Saul Vics could walk around with gizmos and nobody thought anything of it.  Any gizmo discovered in Nigma’s vicinity could be claimed by Vics as his own, forgotten in the lunch room or even taken from his locker.  He risked a day’s suspension at most, for which Nigma would compensate him.  It was so unfair.  Gizmos were doable, but plants?  There was no credible reason for a man to bring a plant in to work with him or have one sitting in his locker, and what kind of sad commentary was that on the mess humans had made of the world.

So each day, Ivy was given an hour’s ‘gardening time’ to surf the net on one of Eddie’s gizmos, cleverly disguised as “Saul Vics’s phone.”  She acquired a few more photos: extreme close-ups of flowers and fruits, and sometimes less sensual images of still-pretty flowers that reminded her of particular babies in her greenhouse.  She would load them into her picture frame and be able to contemplate them for the rest of the day while she meditated.  One of today’s new pictures was a fine specimen of Orchis Italica, the Naked Man Orchid, and needless to say, Ivy focused more on the tiny—the very tiny—protrusion between its lower leg-like petals than the upper portion resembling a face and hair.  Naturally, she had named it ‘Eddie’ – for the first ten minutes of her meditation, at least.  After that it became Harvey, and finally it faded into a less specific representation of the detested universal man-thing.  It had happened again.  She didn’t have a soft spot for Nigma the way she did Harley and Harvey, but even so, he had pushed his way into her consciousness and pulled her whole thought process off course.  Just like the time Harley watered the plants while Ivy was up the river.  She forgot to open the curtains, and every plant in the greenhouse had grown DOWN instead of UP, stretching towards the little shaft of sunlight coming in under the door.  Like those noble stems and stalks, she had been pulled in the wrong direction entirely, she was supposed to be reconnecting with her native and natural hatred of the human race.

She switched to a different photo.  Spiky Arbute berries ripened into a deep Harley-esque red, and an extreme close up of dew drops condensed on a pair of tulips.  Two-lips.  Harvey and his little joke, why did she ever laugh at that.  Why did she ever encourage him… because it felt good?  Because it tickled?  How they got inside.  The pair of them.  The flea beetle and the root maggot.  It was really quite simple.  She was a goddess.  The idea of a goddess not getting what she wanted was nonsensical.  Yet she was reduced to a state of shocked bewilderment when she found Harley and Harvey were both available to her—not even surprise but shock.  She had come to expect disappointment.  To expect failure.  That’s what those two had brought her to. 

Now, clearly, if she – a goddess – was not getting what she wanted, had not been getting what she wanted for so long and with such frequency that she’d come to expect disappointment, then she wasn’t wanting the right things.  Nature had endowed her with whatever she needed to get what she wanted.  She had the lure to enslave any man she pleased, yet this perversion had formed in her where she wanted to win a man without using it.  That was sick.  It was perverseHe had done this to her.  He had perverted her natural gift to the point where she couldn’t get any satisfaction from a besotted love slave kneeling at her feet.  No!  She wanted the free-given love of a man who was surprised when she was rational and a woman who was amazed she was nice!

Ivy let out a long, labored breath, as if she’d been running up stairs.

It was monstrous.

It was monstrous.

It was monstrous.

She had to fix this. 

Had to.

Nature had been messed with.  Messed with to the point where it no longer worked.  That’s what people did!  Of course that’s what happened.  It’s what people did.  They fucked up nature.  She hated people.  Hated them, and this was why.  This was a perfect illustration of—This was bigger than Harley and Harvey—Bigger than Batman and Joker—It was all of them—All of them.

People

Had

To go.

Eddie sat looking through the delivery menus available to him.  Vics had added Gridiron Mike to the stack, a sports bar that had takeout but did not deliver.  It didn’t take an Edward Nigma to solve that riddle: Mike was a bookie and Vics was happy to pick up an order in person so he could place a bet while he was there.  That was fine.  He wouldn’t want Vics getting so rich from a steady diet of bribes that he could pick and choose which ones he wanted to take.  A gambling habit seemed like just the thing. 

“We’ll give these a try,” he said, circling a few items on the menu.  “Remember, two portions of everything tonight.  I’m expecting a guest.”

“She finally said yes?” Saul asked, surprised.  For the last few days when he brought Patient Isley the phone for her photo-gardening, he was told to extend an invitation from Patient Nigma to join him for dinner.  And every day when she handed it back, she told him to tell Patient Nigma where he could stick his invitations. 

“Tonight’s culinary masterpiece from the Arkham kitchens,” Eddie announced, reaching into his desk and waving a memo with a flourish.  “Pea soup, oatmeal rissoles and potato substitute, Fig Newton.  I can only surmise another one of those ‘Victory recipes’ Great Grandma Arkham held onto from when German U-boats were blockading the British Isles.  Order two portions of everything, Vics, she’ll say yes tonight.”

Vics nodded, turned to go, paused at the door, turned back, shifted his weight, and bit his lip.

“Something you want to say?” Eddie guessed.

“Well it’s just that… Patient Isley is nice to look at, Mr. Nigma, don’t get me wrong, but… there’s a reason there’s six pages on her in the Employee Handbook.”

“Meaning you wouldn’t want me to fall under her spell and put an end to this very nice stream of income you enjoy doing me favors.  Don’t worry your pretty little head, Mr. Vics, my interest in Pamela Isley is about as far from romantic as you can get and still be the same species.  I’d have a go at the flytrap before I’d touch the lady herself.”

“I’ve heard you call her ‘Blossom,’” Vics said.

“Oh that,” Eddie laughed.  “That’s how I thought of her, just in my own head, during the war with Falcone.  Like a code name, when I was planning.  ‘Blossom’ will take the warehouse.  It’s an anagram, for Mob Loss.  Nifty that!”

Vics smiled like he wasn’t convinced.  “Then why dinner?” he asked.

Eddie’s lips pursed into a thin peevish crease. 

“Six pages in the handbook, you say?”

Vics nodded.  “That’s more than anybody except Joker,” he added.

“Let me explain Dr. Pamela ‘Poison Ivy’ Isley, Ph.D. to you, Mr. Vics, better than any of the over-accredited morons who wrote those six pages can ever do, if they’d stoop to speaking to you instead of hiding behind the ‘Employee Handbook.’  She likes to think of herself as a goddess.  She’s not a goddess, she’s a scientist.  Observe, draw conclusions, test, collect data, draw more conclusions.  It’s a nice little way of thinking, if you’re not smart enough for puzzles.  Logic, scientific method, it gets the job done.  Eventually.  And our Pammy has amassed quite a lot of data over the years, then this war with Falcone dumped a lot more on her, faster than she could take it in.  She’s sifting through it now.  It’s past the point where even she can ignore it.  The conclusions are there, they’re forming right in front of her, clear as day, and she’s got to either face them… or run like hell.”  Eddie paused his dissertation when he heard a trill of musical notes.  He glanced at Vics and saw his head at an odd angle, facing his hand at an odder angle, and poorly concealed within his hand, a phone.  “Mr. Vics, are you playing Fruit Ninja?” Eddie asked peevishly. 

“Angry Birds,” said Vics.

“You can go.  Dinner for two from Gridiron Mike’s.”

Vics left, and Eddie silently reexamined his motives.  He certainly didn’t have any tender feelings for Ivy, he didn’t even like her much.  But she had done everything he asked during the war, put her considerable powers at his disposal, and did it with an amazing lack of backtalk and bullshit, considering.  There was a certain obligation.  His war had presented her with a set of circumstances that opened her up to, for lack of a better word, soul-searching, and he could guess where it was leading.  This solitude in her Shaolin Temple.  She’d been in stasis for years, a stubbornly unchanging person whose life changed around her, until now—largely as a result of his war—she was at a place where she couldn’t do that anymore.  She had to go forward, or back. 

She was Ivy, she would go back.  It’s why scientific method was only fit for minds that weren’t up to the wonder of puzzles.  What had the scientist learned from all that data she’d been amassing?  Answer: With plants, she knew where she was.  Follow steps A through E with tulips and daffodils and hyacinths, they bloom.  Let loose with the pheromones, men fall her feet.  Time after time, trial after trial, the theory holds.  Daffodils bloom, men fall at her feet.  Tulips bloom, men open their wallets.  Hyacinths bloom, men write her sonnets.  She knows what she’s good at.  She also knows what she sucks at.  Stray from that sure process with plants and men, and what was the result?  Answer: Bad decision-making, bad karma and bad luck screwed it up for her time after time, trial after trial.  She would never see the possibilities of the unknown before her, she would see only dismal projections based on a flawed understanding of the past.  People who dealt in periods and not question marks, you had to wonder how they found the strength to get up in the morning. 

In any case, it would cost him nothing but a few Falcone dollars to have her to dinner a few times a week, talk to her like a fellow seeker in this Shaolin retreat, and sniff out whatever loony plan her panicked retreat was hatching. 

What then? an inner voice asked.  When the riddle of Poison Ivy was solved, what would he do then?  Did he care if she was self-destructive?  Did he care if she was Gotham-destructive?  Did he merely want to know, or if he found she was plotting something truly nasty, would he intervene?

 

One Week Ago

Ivy sat on the edge of her cot, her foot tapping impatiently, her fingers locked to prevent their doing the same. Of all the ways Nigma unnerved her, this waiting for Vics to bring her to his cell for dinner was the worst.  It felt like a date.  It felt like waiting to be being picked up for a date—something she had done so rarely in her life, the details of each time were magnified into exponential significance.  In high school she was awkward, a late-bloomer physically, a non-bloomer socially.  She had rewritten those memories to an extent, but the forgotten truths still shaped her: She was a trainwreck with her own species, unable to work up an interest in would-be friends or the things they cared about, storming off when they didn’t find plants as fascinating as she did.  Waiting for those early dates was done in the greenhouse, clinging to the flowers that appreciated her, using them to fortify herself before going out among the humans who never would.  Then came college.  Meeting here or there for an outing was more common than waiting to be picked up at her dorm—until she discovered her pheromones and her life changed forever.  Waiting for a summoned slave to arrive was nothing like waiting for a date.  Then there was Harvey.  He picked her up a few times, but even they met more often at a hotel near the courthouse, handy for a matinee or to meet for a quick drink… Harvey.  He wasn’t a Rogue then; he was a district attorney, in Gaia’s name.  So there was no reason, absolutely none, for Nigma to be reminding her of that one meaningless episode in her life.

But he was.  From that first dinner, he was hitting that Harvey nerve in ways she found hard to understand.  He said… He said she was his MVP in the war against Falcone, and he appreciated all she’d done.  Ivy didn’t know what to make of that, but rather than make her feel like a social reject when she didn’t know what to say, he explained that MVP stood for Most Valuable Player (which she knew) except at the place he ordered dinner from, where it stood for Most Valuable Potato… Skins.  Ivy tried very hard to give that revolting bit of butt-scratching man-brain stupidity the scowl it so richly deserved, but the impish little frown that Nigma was already giving it was just too… funny.  She found she was unable to give it or him the scowl they deserved and she laughed instead, in spite of herself. 

Then he asked how she was doing, not as a riddle he planned to answer but as an actual question.  She wasn’t sure what to make of that either, so for lack of anything else to say, she told him about the flowers she’d picked out in her latest photo-gardening sessions.  He seemed to listen (which was the strangest thing so far) while he opened up the dinner cartons.

“Now I’m pretty sure you eat meat,” he said, pointing to her sagely.  “So I got a few options: chicken strips, fried shrimp, and if bread is allowed, the bacon cheeseburger is a religious experience.”

Ivy couldn’t believe it.

“Everyone assumes I’m vegetarian,” she said, reaching for the shrimp.

“’Everyone’ can be pretty dumb, haven’t you noticed?” Eddie answered, taking a burger.  “I mean, it seems pretty obvious: if you love the plants so much, you wouldn’t want to chow down on them.  You’d want to take revenge on mmmm mmmmmm you want revenge on this vicious cow that ate them.  Seriously, Pammy, this is a good burger.  You’ve got to try this.”

She did try it, and if it wasn’t exactly a religious experience, it was a very good burger.  They spent a few minutes discussing the butter and egg that made up for the wheat flour in the hamburger bun.  There was sugar too of course, but that didn’t count because sugarcane was a nasty ill-tempered plant—in Eddie’s view.  When she asked how he came to such a conclusion (not stopping to wonder why she was playing along with this idiocy), he said it was because it was jealous.  Honey, after all, is made from flowers—this said with an exaggerated grin to show he knew he was laying it on thick.  It was quite… odd.  He was funny, he was good company, and it was all quite odd

When he invited her again a few nights later, Ivy assumed he was bored with Arkham solitude.  When he invited her again, she assumed he was lonely.  Now he’d invited her again, and Ivy was beginning to think—ludicrous as it sounded—she was beginning to wonder if his interest might be more personal. 

Was it possible?  Apart from a greened one night stand (that he seemed to resent afterwards), he’d never shown the slightest interest in her as a woman.  It was true they worked well together during the war, and he brought the war up a lot… Oh! And then there was the cheesecake.  The first night, while their fellow Arkhamites dined on meatless rissoles and a Fig Newton, Eddie provided a slab of chocolate fudge with walnuts that Gridiron Mike dubbed “The First and Ten” (for the ten pounds you were sure to gain if you ate it, Ivy thought, but she nibbled a piece just to be nice.)  The next meal he ordered from Squids, and dessert was their famous red velvet cake.  The last dinner it was toffee swirl cheesecake, which she managed to avoid entirely until it was time to go back to her room.  She was halfway to the door when he said “Oh wait, you didn’t touch your—Here, take it with you” and without even thinking she whirled on him and shrieked “In Gaia’s name, Eddie, look at me!  Do I LOOK like I go around scarfing down thousand-calorie slabs of cheesecake three times a week?”

He… looked at her body.  She had told him to and he did.  He was obviously taken aback so he looked, and then he kept looking.  His eyes darted around a lot at first and then they kind of… settled on her abs.  Her abs where not an ounce of fat could be seen, and she knew that, and now he did too.  He admitted that no, she did not look like she went around scarfing cheesecake on a regular basis, and there was, perhaps, a hint, or more than a hint, of admiration in his tone.

What if it was true?  WHAT PESTS PEOPLE WERE!  Here she was voluntarily staying in Arkham to keep away from Harvey and Harley, Darth Distraction and Ditz Diversion, and now this Nigma came along.

Although…

Although…

It was a simple rule of plant husbandry, if you have three stems growing in a line, planted at the same time in the same soil, enjoying the same water and sunlight, and one grows taller and hardier than the others, you should cultivate the superior strain.  She had shut herself away from Harley and Harvey, and neither of them came looking for her.  She turned away Nigma numerous times, but he kept at her and kept at her until she started accepting his invitations.  As a plant, he was taller, hardier and more robust than any other stem sprouting from the same seeds.  His buds were beginning to flower when the others were not.

“Patient Isley, I will be deactivating the outer lock shield in ten seconds…”

She would feel him out tonight.

“Please move to the back wall of your cell and stand with both hands in clear view…”

And if he really did seem interested,

“Arms extended, palms in contact with the wall.”

She would know how to proceed.

This was Robotic Keg Tying (aka ‘going to be tricky’) but a puzzle that wasn’t Robotic Keg Tying wasn’t worth doing.

Hence the flower.  It cost him $200 and the last filament of credibility he had left with Saul Vics.  The guard was now convinced Eddie was smitten with Poison Ivy, but Vics’s confidence was a queen-side rook pawn Eddie was ready to sacrifice.  (Note to self: Do not trade rook pawns with Bane in the future)  The confidence of henchmen was a luxury.  Getting Ivy to let her hair down, that was a necessity.  Hence…

“A freesia!  It’s a freesia!  How?  How?  Where did you come from, you beautiful freesia alba?”

Eddie almost said “Good evening, Pamela” but seeing that she hadn’t registered anything in the room besides the flower, he decided to take another approach.

“Good evening, Edward.  Thank you for inviting me,” he said, stepping to his own left and addressing his right shoulder.  “Good evening, Pamela, nice to see you to.  Thank you so much for coming,” he replied, hopping right and facing his last position.  “I hope you’re hungry.  ‘Famished, and I must say you’re looking well.  Oh look, there’s a freesia on the table.  How pretty.’  I hoped you’d think so. I got it just for… you.”

He stopped, finally, because she was staring at him. 

“Joke,” he explained.  “Because you came right in without—never mind.  The flower’s a bribe, because I need a favor.  Don’t get too excited, it’s just for tonight.”

“The flower or the favor?” Ivy asked, an artificial lightness in her voice as she turned back to the freesia and stroked its petals.

“Both.  The flower goes home with Vics as soon as we’re done eating.”

“I’ll make sure it’s watered properly before I go,” she said… again too casually, absorbed with the plant and not turning to look at him as she said, “And the favor?”

“I’m celebrating.  Tonight.  It’s an anniversary I like to commemorate, and I splurged on a very good bottle of Glenundromm.  You have that freakazoid metabolism that isn’t affected by alcohol unless you let it.  I want you to let it tonight, because this is the best scotch money can buy.  It’s not cheap out there, getting it in here is like, we’re getting into Bruce Wayne territory.  To drink it down and not let it affect you would be—”

“Drue.”

Eddie blinked. 

“Was that an anagram?” he asked.

“Yes.  Rude,” she said earnestly.

“You know that’s not a word, right?”

“You’re an ass, Nigma, pour the whisky.”

The meal began, and of course he had to explain what exactly he was celebrating.  He combined the details from three of his early Batman routs, fudged the date of the first time Batman failed to solve a riddle and declared today the anniversary.  Ivy naturally responded with a story of her first victory over the Bat, and the time passed very pleasantly.  After dinner, more than half the scotch remained and neither had put a dent in their tales of criminal victories.  Ivy edited Selina out of her visit to the Sinister Citadel; Eddie omitted her from his theft of the Einstein Notebooks.  Both narratives became less tethered to the actual facts of the events as the liquid in the bottle dipped below the one-third mark, though Eddie sobered up considerably when Ivy told—and embellished considerably—the episode of her greening the Wayne Foundation board.  Her head rocked back with a hoarse, high pitched laugh and then rolled to the side as she looked at him.  The hoarse laugh became a giggle, then a whinny, then a snort.  “Waaaaaay-Waynewaynewaynewaynewayne,” she recited deliriously, then hinted in a conspiratorial whisper at ‘things she would never tell Selina.’  She giggle-snorted-whinnied again, but Eddie said nothing.  The gut punch of the name was enough to restore his focus, and as soon as it was his turn, he steered into the more recent victories—their most recent, in fact, his and hers… The War. 

Ivy’s eyes were glassy as she peered at him, as if it took effort to follow what all he was saying.  The war, yes, she was staying with Harvey certainly (though she never would have described it as ‘playing house’ the way Eddie had)… The day he came over with Harley to send her to Philly for Mollatova… then there was something about the dinner they’d eaten.

“Sports bars are weird,” Eddie said with the sophism of a drunk.  “Give weird names to all their food.  Like that sandwich you had tonight, anywhere else it’s called a Monte Cristo or a Croque-monsieur.  Order it from Mike’s, it’s a Hail Mary Pass.  You know what that is, Pammy?  Hail Mary pass?  It’s when you’re losing, and there’s only two seconds on the clock.  ‘ts the last play of the game, and you are going to lose.  And in a last act of desperation the quarter back throws a long, long, loooong forward pass.  Hail Mary pass—and depending on who you ask, it’s called that because you’ve got time to say a Hail Mary while the ball is in the air, or because it would take an act of God for that ball to be caught and score your points to win the game.”

The glassy eyes cleared a little, and Ivy adjusted in her low chair, pulling herself a bit closer to Eddie, intentionally or not.

“What are you getting at?” she slurred.

“I know what you’re doing,” he said with sudden, sobering lucidity.  “And it’s a Hail Mary Pass.  You’re very good at convincing yourself that you’re happy when you’re not, Pamela.  And you’re very bad at noticing when you actually are happy.  You had a good thing during the war, a very good thing, and some screwy little part of you knows it, and knows it means the end of crazy narcis-narcisisisicily—that’s a hard word to say.  But screwy little part of you knows it’s the end of crazy leafy-bitch.  And whole Shaolowowin Temple thing you’re doing, the whole plot you’re cooking in your Shaolaol, that is the crazy leaf bitch’s Hail Mary pass.”

He nodded emphatically.  And Ivy blinked.

“I did have it good during the war,” she declared, just as emphatically as he had.

“Damn right,” he said, the drunken satisfaction at hearing his argument echoed blotting out everything else, like the significance of Ivy being next to him.  Closer than he realized, much closer than he realized.  Cool, green, only slightly glassy eyes peering into his.  Fingers on his collar pulling his face into hers, and a soft but resolute mouth parting his trembling lips.  There was no scent of honeysuckle or leafy jungle matrix, only Glenundromm and the faintest taste of a Monte Cristo sandwich Mike’s Gridiron called a Hail Mary Pass.  Eddie bent her head back across his arm, wrapped his other around her waist, and kissed her back. 

 

To be continued…


 

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