Actions

Work Header

Wither and Bloom

Chapter Text

Ivy does not remember her first meeting with Harleen. She wishes she did, as she truly believes that she is bound to her by the soul; a love worthy of the kind of first impressions immortalized in poetry and literature. She walked in, and the light in the room shifted. The world untethered, skewing by mere inches-- yet everything, all at once, seemed brand new.

Something like that, it had to have been. But Ivy doesn't remember. She's furious at herself when she tries to dredge up the memory and comes up empty-handed: not the color of Harleen's blouse, nor that of her nail polish, whether she wore her hair up or down that day. She thinks she wore blue, because Harleen used to always wear cool, soothing colors. She thinks her nail polish was clear, the kind that only makes her nails catch light more readily, because that’s the one she always used to wear. But thinking isn’t the same as remembering. She cannot summon an image to mind, only construct one based on what she later came to know.

It’s not enough. In the end, try as she might, Ivy cannot remember Harleen’s first words to her. She cannot remember what she said back.

Her first days in Arkham, rather than individual figures on a page, form a great muddy smudge that leaves few details decipherable. She remembers, in broad strokes, the pain: both inside and out, her body rebuilding itself in all the broken places as the green screams in her ears; she remembers shaking, so much, like she's dying, like her bones are coming undone. She remembers the cold and sterile fluorescent lights, the one in the dining hall that always flickered and buzzed and flickered and buzzed. She remembers the red rawness in her throat from screaming and the sting of needle in her arm, and slumber's woolly embrace that would always pull her in-- uninvited, unwanted, yet impossible to resist.

And she remembers Harleen. Barely in any specific instances, the first days, but rather as a consistent presence; a single ray of sunlight in a grim, dank cell. By the time her mind began to clear, her memories emerging in shapes and patterns from the unintelligible smear, Ivy already yearned for her. Harleen would check up on her as part of her rotation every morning, and later, in the afternoon, they would have sessions. Two times a week? Three? Time barely works in Arkham. She felt like an insect trapped in amber.

But she’d come back to life each time for Harleen. 

Their earliest session she can recall with full clarity went like this:

“Hello, Pamela,” Harleen said, because she wasn’t quite yet Ivy then. Harleen’s voice always toed the line between caring and professional, each word enunciated crisply and clearly, yet with a distinct empathetic note to it. The sound of her name on her lips made Ivy’s chest lift. “How are you feeling?”

The question did not appear a cursory thing; it sounded sincere, and so, Ivy considered it carefully. She flexed and curled her fingers towards her palms, still unused to the freedom from the straitjacket’s confines. Through the messy veil of her hair, she studied Harleen: from the dark circles under her eyes that couldn’t be completely obscured by makeup, to the round, chewed-down nails displayed on her interlocked fingers atop the wooden table, readily catching light. She studied her gaze, warm blue under long, pale lashes, the kind of gaze that could delve into the farthest reaches of your chest and scoop the softest, darkest soil from there, bringing it to the light.

And finally Ivy answered, “Okay,” such a staggeringly normal response that even Harleen’s brow arched. “It doesn’t… hurt as much. The meds are helping. Or I’ve gotten used to the pain. I don’t know,” she continued slowly, then took a sip from her cup of water on the table, to wet her dry throat. “But my head feels clearer. Like I can think again.”

“That’s wonderful to hear,” Harleen said, and her smile was genuine. Then it tugged lopsided a bit, her forehead crinkling with sympathy. “I know your first few weeks here have been... difficult, to say the least. And scary. Please understand, we’ve never had a patient like you-- it’s taken some trial and error to find a suitable medication plan. I’m glad to hear we’re on the right path.”

Ivy nodded, once. Her head remained bowed after, stare focused on her uncannily pale hands, tinted viridian at the fingertips and knuckles. Within the straitjacket, at least, she didn’t have to see them. One less reminder of the thing she’d become.

“Dr. Quinzel,” she began, able to think past Arkham’s walls for the first time: “What’s the plan for me?”

“To help you, of course,” came the reply, pragmatic and yet soft, perhaps sensing her trepidation. “We want to help you adjust to the changes you’re going through, to the point where you can once again lead a life that’s independent, healthy and safe. That process involves finding the right medicinal treatment -- which we seem to be making headway on -- combined with talk therapy, which you’ve been handling quite nicely, too.”

Harleen caught her gaze then, head tipped slightly to the side, and smiled. Ivy remembers, stupidly, flushing. She turned her head away.

“And after that?” she pressed on, anxiety budding in the pit of her stomach, climbing up her throat. “If I get better. I… I killed somebody. What’s going to happen to me?”

There, Harleen hesitated. She loosened her entwined fingers to push her glasses up her nose. “Once you are deemed fit to stand trial, you will,” she said, because she was always honest, and Ivy was always grateful for that, except for right in that moment where she felt the very surface of her world crack. Her shoulders twitched and her throat closed up, and suddenly it hurt to breathe. 

“Listen-- we don’t… handle the legal side of things here. But I know a few lawyers. Good ones. When it comes to that, I promise I’ll try and help you in any way I can. You acted under extremely unusual and traumatic circumstances and--” The words died on her tongue as Ivy began to cry; loud, heaving sobs that shook her whole body, the weight of her future crashing down all at once. She was only twenty-two. She had gone to study biochemistry hoping to help heal the planet. All she’d ever be now is a murderer, a freak, a monster. There would be no future for her.

She felt, not for the first time, but more acutely than ever before, the mounting distress at being trapped in her own body. She bit on her lip and pulled at her hair, yanking at the greasy tangles, picking at her scalp, scraping nails down her shoulders and arms. It hurt, but hardly enough. Just the shallow tearing and bruising of skin. Nothing like the green’s boundless, all-consuming pain. 

“Pamela,” Harleen called out to her, but her voice was a dim echo in her ears, barely registering at all.

“I should’ve died,” she choked out, clawing at her flesh. “I should’ve died in that lab.”

Pamela,” Harleen repeated, stronger now-- enough to cut past the pounding in her ears. “Look at me. Put your hands on the table. Like this. Keep them there. Breathe. In-- one, two, three. Out-- one, two, three. In...”

Ivy didn’t want to -- she wanted to hurt, to tear herself apart piece by piece until nothing remained -- but Harleen’s voice was firm, filling up the room in its calm persistence. And out of some deep-buried survival instinct, maybe, Ivy found herself following it, latching onto the words like a drowning woman thrown a lifeline.

The breathing exercises were familiar enough to her by then that it didn’t take long to settle into their rhythm, gulping down each breath before forcing it back out of her lungs. But she still couldn’t will her body to calm, the gushing of blood through her veins to slow, her taut muscles to slacken. Her hands balled against the wooden tabletop, quaking as her nails dug into palms.

Then-- unbelievably-- she felt warmth engulf her clenched fists, and her eyes flew open to see Harleen’s hands atop them. She could not recall Harleen ever touching her before; she did not think she was allowed. But there she was, gently cradling her alien hands beneath her own soft, pink ones, and the sheer impossibility of it was enough to startle Ivy’s tears to a stop. She stared at her, damp-eyed and gaping, as her fingers slowly began to uncurl.

“Listen,” Harleen said, steady and sure as anything. “You’re so young. I know it’s hard to see from where you’re standing, but you have so much life ahead of you. You’ll make it through this. And when you’ve made it out the other end-- that’s when you’ll see, when they’ll all see, just how strong you are.”

Ivy sniffed, and quietly nodded. 

“You’re a survivor, Pamela. Hold onto that.”

And she did. If only because Harleen said so.


 

The feeling of Harleen’s hands persisted on her skin for days. At times where the green’s pain threatened to overcome her, or when she would think of the future, or when she would miss her mother, Ivy would furtively brush her fingertips along her knuckles in a mimicry of her touch, and find it brought relief. Their sessions over the next few weeks were not so tumultuous, and Harleen did not reach out to touch her again. But she would talk to her more and more, as Ivy adjusted to life in Arkham, about the world outside of it. About life before. Ivy would tell her things she never told anybody, and Harleen accepted it, all of it, with honest kindness. More than that, she understood. She would offer her empathy and her insights, and Ivy would study her face and her hands and her slightly chapped lips, and she would ache.

At some point, Harleen started painting her nails. A dark, rich crimson. It grabbed Ivy’s attention as soon as she stepped through the office door, and for some reason, it made her heart quicken its pace. She kept staring at her hands as they went through the usual start-of-session questions, absentmindedly describing how the last couple of days passed her by.

“Your nails are pretty,” she blurted out finally, with little finesse to it. Harleen looked down, as if noticing her own hands for the first time.

“Ah,” she said, tucking loose golden strands back into place as an uncharacteristically shy smile twitched onto her lips. Ivy swore her ears had turned a shade pinker. “Thank you, Pamela.”

Ivy could think about nothing else for the rest of that afternoon.

Days later, she made up her mind.

“Dr. Quinzel,” she said, barely two minutes into that day’s session, “could you turn off the recorder?” Harleen’s brow lifted at the request, and Ivy’s chest knotted with urgency. That little gray, rectangular thing sat on her desk during every one of their sessions, as required by the institution. Harleen was quite transparent about it from the start, and Ivy did not usually mind it-- the other woman’s attention on her made it easy to forget altogether. In that moment, however, it was impossible to ignore. “Please, I-- I need to tell you something.”

“All right,” Harleen said, quietly perplexed but ever-understanding, and reached over to switch it off. “There we go.”

Sucking in a deep mouthful of air, Ivy straightened in her chair. Her eyes locked onto Harleen’s, before hastily darting off, overwhelmed. Her heart was pounding and her head was rapidly emptying, all the words she had prepared scattering away like a flock of startled birds. She had wanted to say: you’re not like the others here. You’re not like anybody else. You’re kind and you understand me and you’re beautiful. You can see inside me so clearly it kind of scares me but it feels good, too. When you say my name I feel like I am still a person. Sometimes it feels like I really did die in that lab, but not when I’m with you. I still think about when you held my hands. I like your eyes. I like your hair. I like the bridge of your nose and how you fix your glasses when you’re thinking.

But in that moment, all of it had left her. All she could do was scrunch her eyes shut and force out,

"I love you."


 

Ivy hates Harley Quinn.

When she picks up that discarded newspaper off a park bench, her second day outside of Arkham, it freezes her heart in her chest. ‘POLICE CONTINUES SEARCH FOR JOKER AND ACCOMPLICE’, the front page declares in menacing black font, followed by a pair of pictures: the Joker’s mugshot, and a grainy, zoomed-in image of his new partner, presumably caught by some security camera. Ivy looks at her, and sees a stranger. That garish, skintight jester outfit, tailored to match with him. That too-wide smile, like a painted Cheshire cat, almost unbelievable on a human.

This isn’t her Harleen.

Ivy’s eyes skim restlessly over the text: …assigned as his primary therapist, allegedly leading to a romantic connection… carried out his plans for a breakout, including the use of firearms and explosives… six staff members dead, several high-security prisoners on the loose…

Her throat bobs, struggling against a wave of nausea.

In all of this, what hits her hardest -- what stabs into her gut and then settles there like lead -- is the third line from the top, where she learns Dr. Harleen Quinzel is thirty years old, originally from Brooklyn.

She never even knew that much.

God, she didn’t know anything.

For a second, her head flashes red -- so bright and hot that she can barely see -- and despite her vow to cherish the green and all things made of it, she tears the paper, right down the middle of that Cheshire smile.


 

After the breakout, Ivy makes do.

The first few days, she roams the edges of town and the forest surrounding it. She only dips into the paved roads and storefronts at odd hours when they are near-empty, and the sun is barely out to illuminate her strange, green skin. At night she sleeps curled up in the gentle grass, beneath the tall, protective trees. When she is panic-stricken over being left with nobody and nothing, they soothe her. The strands of grass caress her cheek as she cries.

It’s peaceful among the green, and it does what it can to care for her, but in the long term it’s simply unsustainable. She can’t help it-- she’s lived in the city her whole life. She needs her four walls, a roof above her head, a kitchen to make her meals and a bed to rest in.

A dark voice in the back of her head insists she just take it. Find a place that suits her needs, wring and crumple its inhabitants and toss them out like old rags. Humanity has never cared for you. Why care for them?

But she keeps it at bay. She scours the old, decrepit buildings in the seedy side of Gotham, until she comes across a run-down little apartment that looks like it’s been standing empty for years. First, she fills it with plants. The rest follows easily.

Finally, she has the space to think about what it is she wants for herself. Her plans for the future. Pamela’s old, humble dreams of working in a lab, helping come up with greener energy solutions, all that-- those are a lifetime away, now. She’s not going to be someone who goes to her day job, who worries about bills and taxes and rent, a placid little cog in a mechanism she barely understands. No. She’s going to be much different.

But first-- for any purpose she’d choose to achieve-- she needs money.


 

She starts with small fry. Gas stations, bodegas. Just to build up her confidence, settle into her control over the green. It’s stupid, how scared she is the first time. It’s some sad little refreshment stand with one obese, mustached man at the register. A weekday afternoon, with not a witness in sight, but her forehead’s slick with sweat and her bones are practically rattling in her mangy out-of-season coat as she walks in. The man looks up at her -- alarmed by her appearance the way everyone gets -- and asks with real concern, “Can I help you, ma’am?”

“Yes,” she answers in a small, raspy voice, the tangled mess of her hair spilling across her face as she searches her coat pocket for her seeds. Her heart thunders like a tribal drum in her chest. At first she thinks she lost them in her haste, how idiotic would that be-- but soon she feels them against her fingertips, and calms.

“You see,” Ivy says, holding them out in her palm with a faint smile, “this is a robbery.” 

She doesn’t hurt him, not more than she needs to. The green locks around his arms and legs, and clamps over his mouth to keep him silent. He struggles, but it’s pitifully ineffective. It would be so easy to kill him, the voice in the back of her head says, and she is flooded all at once with memories of thorns piercing flesh and the coppery smell of blood. It makes her dizzy. She has to lean onto the counter for support, but even so, Ivy doesn’t loosen her hold. And like a puppet on strings, he empties the register for her.

Her stomach rolls and churns as she leaves the store, equal parts nausea and thrill. The money isn’t much, of course. Enough to get her maybe a week’s worth of groceries. But the look on his face as the vines sprouted forth from her palm -- that stunned, helpless terror -- to Ivy, that’s invaluable. Whatever guilt she feels about it, ultimately, is irrelevant. She is powerful, and she is feared.

For the first time in her life, she can take control of her own destiny.


 

Her first big heist, she plans meticulously. She studies the bank, digs up its blueprints, researches previous robberies and how they were foiled. It’s weeks of preparation. By the time the big day rolls around, Ivy feels ready for anything.

Except for entering the bank to find it already mid-robbery.

“Alright, fellas. Fill ‘em up, we ain’t got all day. Make it nice and quick and nobody has to get hurt--”

The door creaks as Ivy enters, and the robber whirls around, gun held out in front of her, every muscle in her body taut with resolve. But her arms slacken instantly at the sight of her, lowering the gun, and Ivy finds herself faced with a pair of blue eyes she never thought she'd see again, framed by a glossy black mask.

“Pamela?”

Even her voice is different now, thick with an accent Ivy'd never heard before. But the way Harley says her name sounds the same. Ivy’s chest constricts-- as if her ribs are clenching, locking together into a protective barrier over her heart.

She opens her mouth, tries to work the words past her dry throat and heavy tongue. She manages, first to herself, barely above a whisper: “Are you fucking kidding me?” Then, steadier: "What are you doing here?"

Harley Quinn bites her black-painted lip, nose scrunching slightly. "I thought the situation was self-evident,” she answers, gesturing broadly with gun in hand and inspiring a wave of recoiling civilians. "Um, I'm robbing the bank."

"You're robbing the bank,” Ivy repeats. At first, her voice is devoid of any emotion; a flat, mechanical echo of the words. But the anger and disbelief twisting up in her gut quickly spiral upwards, weaving deeper into her voice with each word: “Just you, alone, with your stupid little clown hat and your--” she points to the gun-- "Do you even know how to use this thing?"

“‘Course I do,” Harley answers with a juvenile pout, self-consciously flicking the tail of her jester’s cap. It jingles, ridiculously. Despicable thing. “You know, there’s a YouTube tutorial for everythin’ these days.”

“You can’t be serious,” Ivy groans, and brings up two fingers to rub at the burgeoning throb in her temple. From various corners of the room, she can pick up faint murmurs. “What’s going on?” “So they’re not in on this together?” “Who’s that girl, the sickly-looking one?” “From the Woodrue case, don’t you remember, it was all over the news--”

And among the ruckus, she senses it: behind them, one of the employees is reaching for the silent alarm under the desk. The poor, thirsty potted Monstera atop it lets her know. 

"We're in the middle of something, meatbag," she yells with a swivel, and in a single thrust of the arm, she wraps him up in vines. Next, the tendrils snap off the mechanism for the alarm button, just in case anyone else gets any bright ideas. The people shrink away from her, wide-eyed and quivering.

“I am Poison Ivy,” she calls out from deep in her throat, smothering the rumblings and mumblings of the room. “I’m here to carry out the will of the green. You’d do well to remember my name.”

“Now--” Her vines slither across the floor, circling the hostages like a swarm of hungry pythons. “Open the vault. I want everything in there. No dye bombs, no trackers, make it quick and tidy and everybody gets to live. Let’s go.”

It’s a matter of seconds before a pair of men meekly shuffle over to open the vault, and soon, the whole staff is piling money into sacks with trembling hands. Nobody tries to run, or call for help -- the green is blocking the exit and windows, watching their every move without eyes. The taste of fear in the air is palpable. It’s thick in Ivy’s nostrils and bitter on her tongue, making her giddy.

Harley hovers about, orbiting her like a lost satellite. The situation is completely under Ivy’s control; it’s clear she has nothing to contribute. But perhaps out of some compulsion to justify her presence, she cocks her gun at the occasional bank employee, prodding them with shallow threats. “Come on, buddy boy, clock’s ticking. Tick tock. Move your molasses.”

Ivy exhales sharply through her nose, and pretends not to mind.

When the bags are all full up, Ivy is satisfied. Her vines deftly grab hold of them, and she gathers the drooping Monstera in the nook of her arm before turning to leave. “Wait, wait, wait,” Harley scampers after her. “I helped, didn’t I? I should get a cut, right?”

Ivy scoffs at the mere suggestion. “You were a hindrance. Get out of my way.”

That childish frown pulls at Harley’s face again, her full bottom lip sticking out, eyes big and shimmering. “But,” she starts with a whine, hastening her pace to stand by Ivy’s side, “but I was here first, come on, that’s not fair--”

The sound of her voice just then, nasal and sniveling paired with that god damned accent, ignites a flicker of rage in Ivy that sets her to boil in an instant. Her hand balls into a fist just as Harley reaches for it, and the green snares Harley by the ankles and yanks. “I said get away,” she hisses as Harley topples to the hardwood floor. “I don’t owe you anything.”

She lifts a hand to release the barricade on the door, but can only manage a single step towards it before her leg is caught in Harley’s grip. Ivy yelps. Her hold is startlingly fierce, so much it aches, even as her arms quake with desperation. “Wait, please,” she begs, her voice straining with unshed tears. Looking at her, Ivy feels a mirroring tension in her own throat. “Mr. J. sent me here. Said I needed to, to pull my own weight. I can’t come back empty handed, or he’ll…”  Her shoulders hunch through a shiver. “Please, Pamela.”

Ivy grits her teeth. She knows that tone of voice all too well; she grew up hearing it, day in and day out. Her mother’s anxious urging, heavy with the fear of what’s to follow but never speaking it aloud.

Hurry before your father gets home, or he’ll…

If your father sees this, he’ll... 

She doesn’t need to hear the rest.

“It’s Ivy,” she says coolly, as three of her carrier vines vanquish their hold, letting the bags drop to the floor. “Take it.”

Relief floods Harley’s features before seizing her in a great sob. “Thank you, thank you,” she mumbles, scrambling to gather up the bags. It’s so pitiful that she can barely stand to watch.

In the distance, police sirens wail, drawing rapidly closer. Shit. Ivy swiftly retracts her hold on Harley, allowing her to wobble back onto her feet.

Somehow, just then-- and she can’t believe she never noticed it before--

Somehow, just then, Ivy realizes she’s almost a full head taller.

“Go,” she says, leveling her gaze at this small, pathetic woman in a jester suit, her face slathered with powder-white makeup and streaked with mascara tears. “I don’t ever want to see you again.”

And she all but shoves her out the door, before making her escape.