A howling scream, bereft of hope, bereft of joy (and especially bereft of sanity) cut through the air. Again.

"Shut up," Eddie muttered, smacking the back of his head dully on the wall separating him from the screamer, who ignored him in favor of screaming again. "Shut up," he repeated with another listless head-smack on the concrete blocks. Scream. "Shut up." Scream. "Shut up."

It is an odd thing, but asylums are possibly one of the best places to go to if you want to become truly mad. Asylums cause insanity just as bees cause honey and romances cause the sales of Kleenex to rise.

It is particularly odd, considering that the asylum is meant to cure insanity. It is supposed to be a haven from the world where broken minds can rest and heal in a nurturing atmosphere. Because this was Arkham Asylum, it was a little light on the nurturing atmosphere, but it was very emphatic about healing shattered minds. Sometimes, this required a broken bone or two, or a few thousand volts coursing happily between your temples, but broken minds would be forced back into the strictures of sanity that society demanded. And if the patients complained, well, who would listen? The criminally insane have always lacked credibility.

Edward Nygma was sulking in his cell. Now, sulking is a pretty normal activity for an inmate at Arkham. The prisoners there tend not to spring from their cots with a smile and a song (that is, with one very perky tasseled exception). Eddie had more than the normal reasons to sulk, however, since he'd been wrapped in a straitjacket for most of the last two days.

He'd been angry, at first. Not because he was in Arkham - he'd practically volunteered - but because his neighbor would not shut up. He'd asked reasonably. He'd demanded silence. He'd probably gone a little too far yesterday when he'd started punching the walls and howling anagrammed death threats, but it certainly hadn't warranted this.

He slumped back against the wall, letting his feet dangle over the side of the bed. He was so tired. The man next door never stopped! He never lost his voice, he never ran out of infinite variations on the theme of whatever insanity currently gripped him, and he only slept a few hours each day! During those few, precious hours of silence, Eddie found himself tensed and waiting for that next irritating shriek to split the air.

He'd tried to explain this to the guards when they were wrestling him into the straitjacket. For some reason, telling the guards that he couldn't sleep because it was quiet and that the man next door was a raving lunatic hadn't impressed them.

They could have drugged him! He would have eagerly gone along with that plan, even though he hated being sedated. He couldn't think anyway, so what was the point of resisting? And he probably wouldn't have been able to hear the screams through a warm, fuzzy layer of Thorazine.

But no. Straitjackets were cheaper than drugs. And what did they care if the guy next door kept screaming? They got to go home at night. What did they care if his arms were burning with pain? What did they care about anything, really, except their paychecks?

The paired click-and-shuffle of footsteps in the hallway told him that a guard was leading someone down the hallway. A door clanked open and closed again.

Eddie rolled awkwardly to his feet and tried to catch the guard's attention before he left. "Hey! Hey, you! Let me out of this thing!" he demanded.

The guard rolled his eyes, feeling safe behind the thick plexiglass that separated them. "Why should I?"

He obviously wasn't going to let him go until Eddie made it clear that he was sorry. That is, until Eddie sacrificed his dignity on the altar of obedience and asked nicely. Eddie grumbled "Because I'm not going to hit the wall anymore."

The guard snorted with laughter. "Yeah. Right." He started to walk away.

"Hey. Hey!" Eddie protested, banging one shoulder against the window.

"Thought you said you were done doing that," the guard called back mockingly as he left.

"Bastard," Eddie spat, giving the door a solid kick. He glanced across the hallway to see Two-Face sitting casually on the edge of his bed.

One of the reasons that everyone hated Arkham was this: it was humiliating. It was a serious blow to the self-esteem of any rogue to be stripped of their finery and tossed in a cage like an animal. It was made worse when supposedly well-meaning doctors interfered in their lives "for their own good".

Everyone knew that the only ones the doctors really cared about were themselves. If it was really about what was best for the rogues, the psychiatrists would be busy tormenting Batman while they ran amok in the city. No, the psychiatrists generally only cared about their own, personal safety, and to hell with anything the rogues wanted.

This meant that all of the rogues had seen each other in some of the most degrading situations Arkham could offer. Even being in a straitjacket was bad enough, but there were a whole host of other issues that arose when one no longer was allowed to have hands.

It might have been tempting for the rogues to turn on one another and laugh at the poor schmuck in the straitjacket. However, the biting, witty sarcasm that went along with these remarks would have been promptly deflated when the target snapped back "And what about the one you were in last month?" Teasing someone about a common problem was just about as useful as tying knots in a live rattlesnake.

So, rather than snicker at Eddie's plight, Harvey simply said "Rough day?"

"You don't know the half of it," Eddie said.

A grim smile widened half of his mouth. "I might."

Eddie sighed and started to seesaw his shoulders back and forth. Doctors be damned. He'd put up with this thing long enough, and it wouldn't take that long to wriggle out of it. "So what happened to you?"

The grim little smile raced downward into a scowl. "Those two ninnies wanted us to go to a haunted house." He shrugged, wincing as the motion jarred his injured shoulder. Obviously his handful of days in the infirmary ward hadn't done him any lasting good. "And then the Batman showed up. The girls tried to fight him, but they couldn't land a punch to save their lives. Henchgirls are more trouble than they're worth."

"Tell me about it," Eddie sighed.

Harvey's good side grinned evilly. "Oh, yes. We heard about your three flooding your hideout."

Eddie summoned all the dignity that was currently available to him - roughly enough to fill half a thimble - and said coldly "Those three are not with me anymore."

"Traded them in already, huh?" Two-Face chuckled.

"As a matter of fact, yes."

"You're going to run out of girls if you keep this up, Edward."

"This one's different," he said, ignoring the amusement in Harvey's voice as he eased his half-numb arms over his bowed head. Almost there...

"Hey!" Eddie dropped his elbows to see a different guard scrabbling at his door. Shit. He ducked his head and tried to yank his arms over it. Unfortunately, the strap connecting them had caught on one of the buckles in the back, and all he succeeded in doing was getting a little too personal with the bottom strap of the jacket as he pulled the whole thing upward.

The guard rushed in. "Hands up," he ordered automatically.

Eddie regarded him with a look of utterly superior disdain. "How, exactly, am I supposed to do that?" he asked, nodding at his arms, which were now trapped in a style that indicated he was practicing his corpse impression.

"Oh." The guard paused for a moment, rethinking his strategy. "Down on the ground then."

Eddie obediently began to crouch, then sprang onto the bed, putting the guard's head at kicking height. If he could manage to aim just right...

The guard muttered something obscene and lunged toward him. Eddie let fly with a superb Bruce Lee kick to his solar plexus. Of course, since he had no arms for balance and no real way to stop himself on the slick institutional blanket, this meant that the guard then had one hundred and ten pounds of yelping, restrained Riddler shoving him down to the floor. The guard fell squarely on his tailbone and skidded backward, helped along by the Riddler's elbows jammed into his shoulders.

Eddie triumphantly kneed the man in the face as he leapt to his feet. Right. Now, all he had to do was get his hands free...He ducked his head again and slipped the joined arms of the jacket over the back of his head.

When his vision was no longer filled with white, the first thing his eyes focused on was the sparking prongs of a stun gun aimed directly at his nose. "Down on the ground, Nygma," the guard snarled. (At least, that's what Eddie thought he said. It's difficult to talk with a broken nose and a set of rapidly swelling lips, not to mention a broken tooth, so it sounded more like "Daub all the cows, Digba.")

Since there were no bovines around, and since that stun gun was being held by a man who was obviously eager to use it, Eddie dropped to his knees. "Right," the man said thickly, before muttering a garbled order or two into his belt radio. They stared at each other in silence for a few moments.

It had been stupid to attack him. Why had he done it? Okay, he was half-crazy from sleep deprivation, but that didn't mean he had to bestupid. The plan had been to lay low, hadn't it? How was he supposed to lay low after this?

A team of guards burst into the room. After a brief struggle (really only for form's sake, since there was no way in hell he could hope to face down four guards and win) they left him pinioned by the wrists and ankles to his bed.

"Better luck next time," Harvey growled cheerfully from across the hall.

"Oh, shut up," Eddie snapped. He hoped Jackie was having better luck than him.

(to be continued)