Disclaimer: Don't own. Don't sue. Wouldn't get anything anyway. I'm broke as a cop's watch.
This story is part of the CATverse, the story listing of which can be found at freewebs dot come slash catverse. It takes place in Arc Four, directly after my story "Black and Blue."
Edward Nygma stumbled unevenly along the damp streets on the outskirts of Gotham City's skid row, desperately trying to keep his balance.
It was a task easier said than done, given his current condition.
Having just escaped Arkham Asylum, however, gave him enough incentive to keep going, regardless of just how tempting it was to stop and take a rest.
And it was tempting.
He was just so tired.
How was it that he managed to escape the 'iron' clutches of the prison system when he had the flu again?
And it wasn't just any flu, either. This was the sickest he'd been in a long, long time.
He had a nasty case of aches that spread through all his joints and his vision was blurring-tell-tale signs that he had an aggressive fever.
And yet, he continued his tipsy stride out of desperation for freedom while every logical synapse in his brain was screaming at him to drop over and curl tightly into a nice cozy ball.
He forced himself onwards anyway, ignoring those logical impulses.
He wasn't about to take a breather and make it easier for them to catch him.
No, he was not going back there.
Never mind the fact that they would be able to keep him alive and would chase this illness from him with lots of fluids and bed rest, like he knew he needed.
Better to die of the flu in the open air than spend another moment in that place; trapped like a bird with it's wings clipped and locked in a cage. Whoever decided to call that place an Asylum should've had their head examined.
The word Asylum suggested a place of sanctuary…a place of safety.
Arkham was anything but.
Edward staggered as his foot connected with an uneven patch of pavement and he came very close to landing flat on his face.
The fleeting thought of 'Why hasn't Batman caught me yet?' floated through the haze of his fever; but then he remembered that he hadn't been the only inmate to see the opportunity for escape and take advantage of it. That tended to happen when the entire side of a building that housed decent society's more undesirable element was blown away for no apparent reason.
There must have been a dozen criminals on the loose at this precise moment in time that were deemed 'more dangerous' and therefore were more deserving of Batman's attention-and oh he was dizzy.
The Riddler leaned all his weight against the nearest solid surface-a dumpster…
Wait…how had he wound up in an alley?
Edward shook his head as though to clear it.
All that action accomplished was to make him feel nauseous.
It didn't make sense…he hadn't felt nearly this bad when he'd started out. Sure, he wasn't in top form when he'd left Arkham (not eating much or sleeping much in a place like that did tend to wear a man out), but this was just ridiculous.
It wasn't very hot or cold out-actually very, very mild for late August-so he couldn't very well blame it on the weather…
He suspected he was coming down with something, but when he first made his break for freedom, he hadn't felt like this. He felt almost seasick with every step he took…like the whole world was moving up and down and side to side with the waves of the ocean and his equilibrium couldn't compensate. The back of his neck felt stiff-actually, to be perfectly frank, all of him was stiff. Every muscle, every joint, every bone ached in protest when he moved and he couldn't figure out why.
Maybe it was the fact everything was so damp? The air was heavy with humidity, almost a tangible force pressing in on him from all sides, stifling him…
Yes, that had to be it. The damp was the cause of these symptoms. After all, there had been a rainstorm not all that long ago-
Wait…had he actually gotten caught in the rain? He couldn't remember…hard as he tried.
It would explain why his Arkham uniform was soaked through though.
Alright, that was it. His rational mind was all but gone. Logic and reason chased away by the illness that was cooking his brain at a nice cozy temperature of one hundred two degrees.
He was really sick.
It must've been the work of several dozen strokes of good luck that he wasn't caught and halfway back to his cell in Arkham already.
Either that, or someone was watching out for him for a change…pulling all the right strings, as it were.
Not that he believed in that sort of thing, of course…but sometimes…
Edward's wobbly gait faltered as he tripped on a small chunk of unidentifiable metal and landed face first on the pavement with a thud.
Closing his eyes for just a moment and taking as deep a breath as he could manage, he fought the urge to stay where he had landed.
God but it was an appealing notion. Just to lie here in this puddle and take a quick nap…just to stop running, if only for a few minutes.
He scrambled up off the ground without any grace whatsoever, shaking off the fatigue that was trying to set in, and reminded himself that no matter what: he had to keep moving.
As he scurried away from where he had fallen, he started to wonder just how long he had been running.
It certainly felt like forever.
What little of his mind that was still somewhat operational tried to work it out with what few facts he had available to him.
For starters, it was night-pitch black night-where it had been sometime in the late afternoon, shortly before dusk, when he'd first broken out of the asylum…so it was at least half an hour.
Though he'd never know it, the fact of the matter was that he'd been on the move for close to two hours. How he managed it, no one would ever know, since he'd been unmercifully attacked by the worst flu bug in recent memory.
While the thing had obviously been brewing inside him for quite some time, if he hadn't already been feeling rather run down (and now making it worse by wearing himself out further), his body might have been better equipped to fight it off.
This particular strain of influenza had been making it's rounds in Gotham City over the past few weeks. An exceptionally nasty variety that got you sick practically overnight, left you that way for several hours-or days, depending entirely on the case and whether or not you sought proper medical attention-and then it disappeared.
Or it killed you.
Either way, within a week, you weren't sick anymore.
Again, this was a fact that Edward was unaware of. He just assumed it was a run of the mill flu bug…not something that could possibly extinguish the delicate flame that was his very life.
How he had contracted this illness wasn't much of a mystery. Almost everyone was getting it and there was no doubt that some guard or another had coughed in his vicinity and he picked it up that way…it must've remained dormant inside him after he was first infected, cleverly waiting until his immune system was in such shabby shape that it couldn't defend him to strike.
Edward slipped suddenly and landed on his hands and knees in a mud puddle.
He stared down at where his hands were buried in the sludge for a moment, brow furrowed in confusion.
Where in Gotham were there actual mud puddles?
Where on Earth had he gotten himself to?
He turned bleary eyes on his surroundings and tried to fight the sudden wave of disorientation that accompanied the movement so that he could make sense of what he was seeing.
That didn't work.
At least, not at first.
But as he knelt there in the muck and blinked repeatedly, he slowly pieced it together.
There was of course, mud, but there was also water and little pieces of garbage strewn everywhere.
Cautiously, so as not to make himself feel any dizzier, he craned his head around to the left.
He had fallen to his knees at the mouth of a storm drain.
And damn if the thing didn't look like a nice cozy hiding place.
Were he in his right mind, Edward Nygma would have positively balked at the idea of climbing inside a dark, wet, dank storm drain for shelter.
Aside from the fact that it was absolutely filthy, the cylindrical shape and wet environment went a long way to reminding him of a rather traumatic event that involved a Laundromat which he very nearly didn't survive.
This alone should have deterred him against using such a thing as a hiding place given his last encounter with something so similar in appearance…
But either luckily or unluckily, the Riddler was far from being in his right mind; therefore, crawling inside the storm drain seemed like a perfectly logical course of action.
Pulling himself from the mud with some difficulty, he inched towards it on his hands knees for what seemed like an eternity until he finally hauled his sore, tired body inside the drain.
Leaning back against the cool metal, head lolling back with a slight 'thunk', he spent several minutes just breathing.
In, out, in, out, in, out.
His chest was heaving with the effort; he could feel it as his lungs expanded and contracted at far too quick a pace for his liking.
It was cramped, it was wet and it was uncomfortable, but at least he was able to rest here without fear of someone literally stumbling over him.
He'd just take a few minutes…maybe ten at the most…just long enough to regain his composure and rest his weary muscles, before he would start off again to find a more suitable hiding place.
Preferably one that didn't remind him of the inside of a washing machine.
Of course, the longer he sat there with his limbs splayed awkwardly in every direction in complete exhaustion, the less he wanted to move.
Well…maybe he could spare more than ten minutes…
A nap. Just a short one.
He'd wake feeling rested, refreshed and in much better condition than he was in now…surely that was better than rushing off again without regaining any of his strength.
His eyelids slid shut as though weighed down with lead.
After all, what could one little nap hurt?
Of course, it's always that kind of thinking that gets a man into trouble…
Edward regained consciousness slowly at first, before a sharp, reproachful tone broke through his stupor and his eyes snapped open as quickly as he could manage.
Three faces hovered over him that he'd half hoped he'd never see again.
(The other half of him wanted to see them again just because he…missed them…)
"Damn fool idiot," one of the three women muttered irritably, glaring down at him, "I'm starting to think you've got a death wish…"
"What did you think you were doing?" Another of the three admonished as something wet and cool came into contact with his forehead, bringing instant relief and a slight clearing of his head.
"Running away from Arkham when you're this sick?" The third added as something that was warm enough to keep him from shivering but thin enough to keep him from being overheated was draped over his form, "I mean, I know you miss us, but this is getting ridiculous."
"Again, there are easier ways to get in touch with us than trying to kill your stupid self," The first one (why couldn't he recall their names?) was still glaring at him, "I know your intellect is regarded far and wide as being absolutely staggering, but I'm starting to question just how bright you really are, Mister."
"You're really lucky you've got people watching out for you, Riddles," the second woman (why did he feel like she had a rank of some sort?) said as that same cool something swiped across his head gently, "What is it with you and small, cylindrical, wet places anyways?"
The first woman's eyes widened momentarily and he watched her press her lips together and squeeze her eyes shut.
"What was that?" The third (Paul Simon…why on Earth did he associate her with Paul Simon?) asked, turning her attention on the first. When she didn't get a response, she poked the other woman in the arm repeatedly.
The first just shook her head vigorously, "I'm trying to contain the sarcasm…I really, really am. I could say so many not quite kosher things right now…I mean, think about what Mon Capitan just said…"
The eyes of the third went frighteningly wide and a fit of giggles had to be stifled with her fist.
The second (Mon Capitan, was it?) smacked the arm of the first, half in reproach and half in amusement, "Knock it off, Ops. We've got a sick man on our hands; we don't need your sick mind adding to it."
"Oh come on!" The first (Ops?) defended vehemently, "Your mind went the exact same place the second you realized what you'd said!"
"That is bedside the point."
"Bedside the point? Wow, one Freudian slip after another…"
The second whacked the first with the cool compress that she'd had pressed to his forehead not moments before, "Oh shut up and go get some more of that anti-biotic."
The first held her hands up in defeat, which was an action that went against the smug smirk she was wearing, and then disappeared from his line of vision, leaving the other two to stare at him with concern etched on their faces.
"Oh, Eddums," the third sighed heavily, "How did you manage to get yourself this sick?"
When the word 'Eddums' reached his ears, it somehow penetrated the muddle that was brought on by his fever and everything suddenly came rushing back to him.
Who they were, what had happened to them...
Why they were here...
His eyes went wide with panic and he sat up so abruptly that an audible 'crack' came from his spine.
"Oh not with this again!"
Two sets of hands pressed him back down into the soft mattress he'd been lying on and forced him to stay there.
"You're not dead," The Captain said with conviction.
"You most definitely cut it close," Al added with equal fervor, "But you are most certainly alive."
"But you said-you said I wouldn't be seeing you until the proper time!"
The Captain worked her jaw for a few seconds, opening it and closing it as she tried to come up with some explanation.
"There are certain...exceptions to that rule," Al supplied after a short time, "Er...it's...complicated to say the very least."
"Exactly! Yes! Exceptions!" The Captain nodded, "There are several loopholes that we can take advantage of in times like...um...this..."
"Right. You come close to death...we get to um...be a source of...comfort."
"But you said-"
"Look, Eddums, it's better if you don't argue with us right now, ok? You're sick, your fever has only just gone down so of course you're still only a hop, skip and a jump from hallucinations; we're either here or we're not-either way, maybe you should enjoy the company while you've got it?"
And enjoy it he did.
Right up until Techie slipped into the room and quietly sedated him as she administered the anti-biotic that would force what remained of his illness into remission.
He then proceeded to lose consciousness for God only knows how long and awoke once again-this time back inside the storm drain where he had clearly fallen asleep and dreamed the entire thing.
Bright afternoon sunshine streamed in on him, warming his-wait...his dry clothes?
How'd he manage to get dry inside this dank drain?
While his mind was still slightly addled, even then Edward knew instinctively that something about this scenario wasn't adding up...
Of course, he forgot all about that when a hand reached inside the drain, grabbed him by the collar and dragged him out.
After that, all thought of the three henchgirls who kept popping up in his life at the most inopportune moments was forgotten, only to be replaced by one thing.
He cleared his sore throat as best he could, "Er...Good morning...Batman."
"We shouldn't have left him, we shouldn't have left him, we shouldn't have left him..." The Captain paced back and forth inside the small motel room, "He was too sick, too weak, too-"
"We couldn't very well keep him until he was lucid, could we?" Techie asked as her eyes followed her pacing commanding officer.
"But they'll catch him! We should have left him at a free clinic like we did with Squishykins!"
"The only reason Squish face managed to remain anonymous in that clinic was because he was so battered you couldn't tell who he was," Al stated logically, "Eddums wasn't all swollen and bruised." At the look the Captain gave her, Al glared, "And no, we couldn't beat him to the point of being unrecognizable and then drop him off..."
"But Batman! If we could find him, Batman will get him for sure!"
Techie gave the Captain a look and smirked, "Relax."
The Captain stopped pacing and stared at the chief of operations, "What did you do?"
"Nothing...what makes you think I did anything?"
"You're wearing your Q face. The one you do when you're extraordinarily pleased with yourself for pulling something clever," The Captain narrowed her eyes at Techie, "What did you do?"
Techie just flopped back on the motel bed she'd been sitting on, "Let's just say that within the next month or so, our dear Riddles McNygma is going to have another opportunity for escape...and this time, we'll make sure there'll be someone nearby to help him out. Someone who's not us."
Wondering what happens next? Check out "Lakeside Property in Hell" by Twinings to find out!