Alice is always cold. It feels like the cold river she had tumbled into had left her permanently frozen from the inside out. Her room in the basement had been perpetually cold, too; skin is delicate and needs to be kept at a constant temperature. It’s essential. It needs to be chilled when it is cut and placed on a living, breathing thing. If it’s too warm, the cuts aren’t clean.
So the basement was constantly too cold even in the hot months. And in the winter–the warmth of the main floors hadn’t offered her any respite during the night. The showers she took were always cold, as was the water in her sink. She would shiver herself to sleep on far too many nights, curled in a tight ball as she struggled to hold onto any warmth beneath her thin blanket.
The Caterpillar only offered her a second blanket when her hands were left too cold to be steady on Mouse’s face.
So Alice clings to layers now that she’s free. She almost always wears a shirt, a vest, a coat. Her hands are always in gloves–the lace offers little protection but it feels better to be covered. She leans towards skirts with multiple layers and her leggings are always long enough to tuck into her boots. She wears warm socks because Gotham is cold for so much of the year.
She lived most of her life away from the Caterpillar and Safiyah in subway tunnels and sub-basements and there is always the cold that lingers inside of her. Even Coryana had felt cold. Far too cold at night when the breeze off the water had bitten into her skin like hundreds of sharp knives. Arkham was too cold. She thinks that they set the temperature uncomfortably low to make them spend most of their time staying in their bed to cling to warmth.
Sophie’s apartment is warm. Sophie must not like being cold, either. Her apartment is always warm, always kept at a comfortable 72 degrees. Alice can wear a t-shirt but she still clings to long pants and she happily steals Sophie’s fuzziest socks to both secure the pajama pants and to keep her feet warm. It’s warm enough that she doesn’t mind leaving her gloves off and Sophie heaps Alice’s bed with several layers of blankets that keep her warm.
Alice feels safe in Sophie’s apartment. She is never cold. She feels, for the first time since she was a child, like the cold that settled in her bones has ebbed. Like she might be okay again, someday. Like everything soft and warm might finally fix her.
She doesn’t know what to do with those feelings, though. She doesn’t know how to deal with Sophie because Sophie can be so soft, so warm, when Alice feels too vulnerable. And it fights the way that Alice feels so frigid inside. Like her brain and everything inside of it has been left on a counter to defrost.
Part of her craves it while the rest of her balks at the idea. She hates it. She needs it. She hates that she needs it.
Does Sophie know? Does she notice the way Alice arms herself with layers? The way that she clings to every pillow, every blanket?
She gravitates towards Sophie. Alice doesn’t notice, not at first, but she always finds herself inching closer. Sophie is warm. Safe. And somehow she becomes everything.
For some reason, Sophie seems to let her on most days. She tolerates Alice’s feet slipping beneath her when they’re on the couch together after the first few times it happens. It becomes routine. Deliberate. Welcome.
And then there’s the blackout.
It’s the middle of November when it happens after a storm that was supposed to be a blizzard turns into sleet and power lines are damaged all throughout Gotham. The whole city is dark.
(But not the highrises where the wealthy lay in their silk sheets and fur-lined pajamas. Somehow, they’ve been spared by the storm.)
People freeze on the streets and Sophie pulls on as many layers as she has to go out and help. Hospitals are full of homeless people who are clustering together in waiting rooms for heat. Dozens and dozens of patients are brought in, sick, old, young, anything in between, and the hospitals are full. They have to close their doors. Still, there are more of Gotham’s homeless shivering on the streets, all of them left cold. There are fires, of course, but they won’t be enough. Not when those with the means to pay for it have fled the city, rushing into the nearby towns that still have power.
For once, Sophie’s apartment is cold. And Sophie packs up most of the blankets because other people need them more than you, Alice . Alice wants to snap at her, to tell her that she shouldn’t bother with Gotham’s impoverished population. That they’re all going to die anyways and a few blankets won’t save them. But she doesn’t. She remembers what it’s like. Being so cold that she stops shivering. Left without warmth, without compassion, and so she doesn’t. She simply helps Sophie stuff most of the blankets into various bags.
Sophie stands at the door and struggles with the handle while juggling the bags and Alice brushes her aside to pull it open for her. And then she looks up and Sophie is so close. She hadn’t bothered with makeup since it’ll get ruined (and the lack of light would make it difficult to perfect Sophie’s signature flawless brow look) and she has a strand of hair that’s escaped her hat.
Alice doesn’t know why she does it–maybe she’s simply used to touching Sophie now–but she brings her (cold, numb) fingers up to carefully tuck that strand of hair back into Sophie’s hat. Back where it belongs. There’s a moment where Sophie’s hands are full and Alice’s hand is still on her face and time feels slow. It feels important . Like this one moment has changed things.
Alice steps back and Sophie hesitates for another moment before disappearing down the dark hallway of her apartment building. She has a flashlight in one hand to guide her as she slowly makes her way toward the stairwell and then she disappears behind the closed door.
Alice is left with her comforter and flat sheet and she wraps herself in them tightly, already wearing her longest skirt and thickets leggings and her jacket buttoned all the way up. She curls up on the couch and lights one of Sophie’s many candles and does her best not to think. This darkness, this cold–it feels too much like how Wonderland had felt. It feels like whatever she had done to fight off the perpetual chill in her bones is gone.
She’s so, so cold.
The clouds are heavy and grey and Gotham’s usual dimly lit streets are even darker than normal. Night sneaks up on her, marked only by the slightest darkening of the sky. The candle burns much lower now, the delicate pink wax pooled beneath the flame, the only indication that time has passed.
She’s numb to everything. She feels herself slipping, tumbling backwards into herself, like she’s slowly becoming that scared little girl who was both Beth and Alice all at once. She sleeps, maybe. Or she just closes her eyes. Or she gets lost in herself. The candle burns lower. There are no more headlights passing by the streets below.
The door opens and Alice looks up. Sophie is standing there, the flashlight the only thing in her hands. Her coat is gone, too, as is her hat, and Alice suspects that Sophie stupidly handed them to someone else. She can hear Sophie’s teeth chattering from here and she adjusts her hold on her blankets before standing up.
“ Shit it’s cold in here,” Sophie says as she peels off her sweatshirt. It’s wet, from the ice dripping off of the buildings, surely, and it hits the floor with enough force to let Alice know it’s soaked . “And here I was hoping the building would be a little bit better.”
Alice doesn’t know what possesses her–(she does , though, because Sophie is warm and soft and so good) but she drops her blankets onto the couch and walks over to Sophie. It’s even colder now but Sophie’s shirt is wet, too. And so are her sweatpants. And her boots.
“You’re going to freeze to death,” Alice points out as she takes the flashlight from her and tugs at the hem of Sophie’s shirt. “Off.”
“Seriously?” Sophie says but she lets Alice pull the shirt over her torso and lifts her arms so that it can hit the floor, too. Sophie is still in a tank top and it’s annoying because that’s wet too and does Sophie have no sense of self-preservation?
Alice snaps the waistband of Sophie’s sweatpants pointedly and Sophie pulls them–and the pair she had been wearing underneath–off to add to her pile of wet clothes. If circumstances were different, Alice would say something. She would tease Sophie about her legs or the way that her tanktop doesn’t reach her underwear so there’s a soft line of skin exposed. Or she’d flirt with heavy-handed winks and remarks and Sophie would kick her off the couch or something.
Sophie is still shivering and her tanktop is the next thing off. Which is–yeah, fine, it’s distracting because Sophie in her sports bra is kind of really hot. But now is not the time.
Alice drags Sophie away from the doorway and into her bedroom and pointedly pushes her into bed. It’s so cold that Alice can see Sophie’s every exhale and the fact that her roommate isn’t saying anything is more than enough to worry her. She heads back to the living room and grabs her own blankets and tosses them on top of Sophie.
It’s cold. It’s really, really cold. She should be used to it but she never is. She curls into a tight ball in Sophie’s armchair in her room because, well, because she wants to make sure Sophie is okay. Because Sophie is the one keeping her out of Arkham. Which is the only reason why Alice is braving the cold.
She cups her hands around her mouth, doing her best to blow warmth into them but it doesn’t help. She can’t feel her fingers. She’s just–lost.
She must fall asleep because Sophie is calling her name, sitting up in the bed while still clinging to the sheets. “Alice!” Sophie says and Alice opens her eyes but her whole head feels sluggish. Like the ice finally won her over. “You’re going to kill yourself.”
Alice blinks a few times but it doesn’t register. Had she lit the candle on Sophie’s bedside table? She doesn’t remember. Sophie is in front of her now, touching her face. Sophie must be cold, too, but her fingers feel blessedly warm against her cheek. “Shit,” Sophie says as she pulls Alice upright. “You’re not allowed to die on me! Don’t be stupid!”
Things get colder once she’s standing up and then Sophie is unbuttoning things and pulling things off and Alice hits the bed and falls onto her back, the spot where Sophie had just been laying still almost too warm. Sophie yanks off her boots before climbing over her and throwing the blankets over both of them.
Sophie’s warm fingers curl around Alice’s and Alice’s leg (bare leg?) slides over Sophie’s and everything is warm and everything is soft and Sophie keeps talking to her. Telling her stuff. It barely registers at first but, as time passes, Sophie’s words finally make sense.
She’s telling Alice about what’s happening in Gotham. About how rescue is being dispatched from the places around Gotham. How fire crews are bringing in warm blankets and ambulances are taking people who are living outside to shelters outside of the city limits that can offer temporary living arrangements. She tells Alice that people are coming together to save Gotham. That maybe this will be a good way for the rest of the world to try to help support all the people who go hungry or homeless every year.
Alice doesn’t think it will ever happen but she doesn’t want to ruin this. Not when she’s warm. Not when her head is tucked beneath Sophie’s chin. Not when she can hear her heartbeat, every breath. Not when she feels so safe.
She’s never felt this warm before.