Jackie was severely tempted to pay Yvonne a visit at home, preferably with something heavy and blunt in her hands. Someone in the library had actually listened to her and called the cops! Jackie had managed to dive to safety in a clump of trash cans when she heard the first siren, and she spent the next three miserable hours buried in garbage while a pair of cop cars prowled silently around the neighborhood.
It was midafternoon by the time Jackie pulled herself out of the garbage. She hadn't gotten any of it on her - well, not too much, at any rate, and ketchup stains washed out, didn't they? (At least, she thought it was ketchup. At least, she hoped it was ketchup.)
She badly needed a shower and a bed that didn't consist of thin, ragged towels. She couldn't go back to that apartment building. Okay, so it smelled a bit better than she did at the moment, but she wasn't about to take a shower there. She was scared and lonely, and like most scared and lonely people, she wanted nothing more but to curl up in her own bed and pull the sheets over her head until the world went away for a while...provided, of course, that "home" wasn't also full of love-crazed girls who wanted her dead. She didn't want the world to go away permanently, after all.
But where else could she go? She couldn't just stay in this alley forever. There had to be somewhere else to go...she didn't dare try to contact any of her other coworkers, not after Yvonne had had the time to call them and fill them in on what she'd been up to.
Oh! Harley Quinn! They were friends...kind of...Maybe if she tracked down Harley, she could stay with her! She'd said her hideout was rigged out with all sorts of goodies. Yeah! Just her, and Harley, and the hyenas...and the Joker.
Oh, no, no, no. That was not going to happen. Jackie had a deep, to-the-bone fear of the Joker that paralleled the one inside most Gothamites. Just the idea of meeting him sent a cold sweat trickling down her spine.
Fabulous. Now she smelled like sweaty garbage. She bit her lip and thought hard. Well...could she just go back to the lair? They'd been hiding for what, a week and a half? Surely the girls would have stopped watching the old lairs. Somehow, she got the impression that their collective attention spans were somewhat short. They surely must have gotten the point that they weren't welcome by now...and if they were there, she could probably asphyxiate them just by walking inside.
And so Jackie slipped quietly through the alleyways back toward the hideout. Not the one that the girls had found them in - she wasn't about to risk that - but the main hideout, the very first one she'd ever lived in.
When she finally arrived, there was no purple door in sight. There was a brand-new green door, though, that looked newly painted. She barely remembered Eddie telling the girls to tell someone to fix the doors. Apparently they'd carried out their orders before they'd discovered Eddie was missing. Fortunately, the new door hadn't yet been rigged out with puzzle locks, so Jackie was easily able to slip inside.
There was no one in the living room. She crept from room to room, silent as a cat - a clumsy, nervous cat that had a bad habit of whacking into doorframes. At the end of her nerve-wracking search, she let out a gigantic, relieved sigh. She was alone.
There were no locks whatsoever on the door - apparently Eddie's reputation was important enough to keep random wanderers out of his lairs - but that wouldn't keep Jackie safe if the trio decided to come back. In place of a lock, she dragged the entertainment center and the broken television in front of the door.
She hoped Eddie would get back soon.
It was quiet in the halls of Arkham. Inmates, stunned under a chemical blanket, lay torpid and unmoving as the footsteps of a lonely guard clacked quietly on the linoleum floors.
Edward Nygma, sometimes known as the Riddler, was stretched out quietly on his worn little bed. He'd been able to sneak his own ration of sleeping pills into his palm, and then into his mattress when the orderly dispensing medication had wheeled his squeaky cart away.
The guard's flashlight flicked over Eddie's face through the plexiglass window at the front of the cell. Satisfied that he was still there, the guard moved on. Once Eddie could no longer hear his clicking shoe heels on the linoleum, he slipped out of bed and got to work.
The old-fashioned locks of Arkham were no match for the Riddler and his carefully straightened bedspring. He picked it in a record three seconds and poked his head out into the hallway. No guards. He picked Crane's lock and swung the door open.
The Scarecrow strode into the hallway. "You've got the thing?" Eddie whispered.
"Of course," Crane sneered down at him, showing him the tiny little cylinder held loosely in his right palm.
Jervis giggled to himself as Eddie opened his door. "How doth the little crocodile improve his shining tail," he sang cheerfully, bouncing out of his cell.
The other two whirled to face him. "Shut up," they said simultaneously.
Jervis stuck out his tongue. "And pour the waters of the Nile on every golden scale!"
"At least sing it quietly," Eddie grumbled, rolling his eyes as Jervis stubbornly continued the poem. Crane's eye began to twitch.
They padded down the hallway. As they neared the T-junction that would eventually lead them to the main stairwell, a guard rounded the corner, stuffing the last bit of a peanut butter sandwich in his mouth. His eyes went wide as the three rogues separated and began to close in on him like a pack of hungry wolves.
"Mmmmf!" he swore, fumbling his gun out of its holster with peanut-butter-covered fingertips.
Crane tsked disapprovingly at him. "Drop it," he warned, revealing the suspicious-looking container tucked in his right palm.
The guard swallowed hard. "You drop it," he said, working a mouth that had gone desert dry with peanut butter and fear.
Crane smiled evilly. "If you insist," he said, making as if to throw it at the feet of the guard.
"You'll gas them too!" the guard snapped, edging backward.
"Do you honestly think that would matter to me?" Crane said, advancing on the guard with a slow, even tread. The guard, his entire being focused on that little cylinder in Crane's hand, hardly noticed Eddie creeping up behind him. It took only a few seconds to snatch the stun baton out of his belt and apply it to the back of his neck. The guard fell to the ground like a ragdoll, ending up in a sad, curled little position as his skull smacked hard into the floor. His gun skittered to Crane's feet. Jonathan grinned and scooped it up, fastidiously smearing the peanut butter off on the back of the guard's thin blue shirt.
"Hand round the plum-cake," Jervis protested, tugging on his sleeve like a greedy toddler.
There was no way on earth that they were going to trust Jervis with a gun. Crane tossed him the little canister instead. "You can have this."
Jervis poked at the little plastic cylinder. "Nothing but a bottle of ink," he grumbled sullenly.
"Actually, it's a salt-shaker," Crane corrected, flicking the safety off of the gun.
"That's full of hay!"
"Salt," Crane sighed. "It's just a decoy, Jervis. Must you continually quote that nonsense?"
"Hold your tongue!" Jervis snapped angrily.
"Can we go already?" Eddie hissed, peering around the corner. "They're going to notice that what's-his-face isn't answering his radio in a minute."
"Fine." Crane took the lead, which was more than welcome to Eddie and Jervis. Always be behind the madman with the gun. They tiptoed through silent halls. As they rounded the corner that led to the staircase, they stopped, appalled, at the sight of a horde of trainee guardsmen being instructed by two veterans.
There was a petrified moment of stillness as the two groups stared blankly at one another. Then, as one, the trainees began ripping their guns out of their shiny new holsters. By the time they had them out, the three rogues had turned tail and raced back down the hallway.
"I thought you said it would be clear tonight!" Crane scolded as they whipped around the corner.
"Well, they must have changed the schedule," Eddie said, miffed. They skidded to a halt by the downed body of the guard.
Hostages were wonderful things. They could get you out of virtually any situation, they were fun to torment, and in a pinch, they could be used as shields to hide from overzealous trainees. Eddie and Jonathan each yanked one of the guard's arms upward, leaving Jervis to haul his feet into the correct position. The trainee guards skidded around the corner.
All three rogues decided that the best place to be was directly behind the unconscious guard. They cracked together and fell on the ground in a tangled lump of limbs. "I warn you," a muffled voice came from the pile, "we're armed."
"We'll kill him!" another one chimed in.
"Off with his head!"
"Shut up, Jervis!"
The unconscious guard bounced and jerked as the three would-be escapees tried to get to their feet without exposing themselves. The trainees waited uncertainly, glancing at their teachers for guidance as the trio jostled and kicked one another until they were upright again. "Looks like he's already dead," one of them said hesitantly.
"He's very much alive," the Scarecrow said coldly from his hiding spot behind the man's neck.
"Doesn't look like it to me."
"He's just stunned!" Eddie snapped.
"We could try for dead, if you'd like," Crane added, poking the muzzle of the gun meaningfully into the side of the guard's neck.
"You're not getting out of here," a confident voice oozed over the mutters of the unsure rookies. One of the veteran guards walked casually to the front of the group.
"Stay back," the Scarecrow warned.
"How do you think you're going to get past four floors of guards?" he continued, ignoring the threat. "Just put him down, and we'll forget this ever happened."
The Scarecrow and the Riddler glanced at one another. Oh, well. Time for Jervis to finally be useful. With a mighty heave, they tossed the guard at the group and raced away. Jervis, with a fresh footprint on his back, stumbled after the knocked-out guard with a yelp of dismay, tripping over his lifeless feet and landing squarely on his stomach in the very center of the horde of guards.
Guns cocked in a circle around him. Jervis, trembling, held up the little canister. "I heard the Queen say only yesterday you deserved to be beheaded," he warned, frightened and defiant.
The veteran guard sneered down at him. "You can't behead anyone with a salt-shaker." And Jervis disappeared under a swarm of blue-uniformed guards.
The other veteran guard and a few of the rookies were sprinting after the Riddler and the Scarecrow. Gunshots ricocheted from the bulletproof plexiglass of the cells with harsh spanging sounds as they dove into the stairwell.
There was no time to talk, no time to plan. The escape had turned into a simple foot-race - if they could make it outside, they would win. If not, well, those guards looked awfully eager to practice restraining convicts...Their pace picked up a little.
The lobby contained one, solitary person - the night receptionist - who gaped uselessly at the two rogues as they raced toward the front doors. They hit the crash bars and simultaneously slammed backward into the floor.
"Unlock the doors," the Scarecrow snarled as he fought back onto his feet.
"Uh...um..." the receptionist babbled, looking as if he'd rather crawl under the desk and hide. There was no time for hesitation. Crane raised the gun and pointed it toward the desk. A neat bullet hole appeared in the computer monitor next to the trembling receptionist. "Okay, okay!" he wailed, pressing a button. The doors unlocked with a heavy clank and burst open as the two rogues crashed through into the quiet, chilly night.
Without a word, they split up. The Scarecrow ran west, the Riddler ran east. Crane's thoughts had probably run along these lines: the group of guards would have to split up to catch them, and he could certainly outthink two guards...
But Eddie grinned manically to himself when he glanced over his shoulder to see the entire group of guards racing to the west. After all, what was the worst Eddie would do when he was out? He'd leave a few riddles, maybe steal a painting or something of the sort. And what was the worst that the Scarecrow would do? He'd reduce the collective sanity of Gotham into so much gibbering madness. Crane was high-priority. Eddie was not.
He giggled maniacally as he tore through the shrubbery. Oh, it was so good to be right...He ducked into the forested hillside that marked the outer border of Arkham's property. Almost there! With a look back over his shoulder to gauge his progress, he accelerated a bit. His chuckles turned to a screech of dismay as the ground disappeared beneath his feet and he tumbled down an unexpected muddy hillside that was studded with rocks.
Thud, thud, ow, tumble, yowch!, skid, splash, crackrattlerattlerattle...
He'd made it to the fence. Good. And he'd even found the drainage ditch with the loose grating. Of course, he'd found it with his face, which was less than optimal, but still - he'd found it. He wiggled the grating loose and eeled his way through, trying to ignore the squishy mud as it glopped in through all the new tears in his clothes.
He slowly lurched to his feet. Okay. He felt like he'd been fed through a meat tenderizer, but nothing was broken. And from the looks of the twinkly little flashlights heading his way, he'd better move it quick or pretty soon he'd be joining Jervis and possibly Crane in the infirmary ward.
It was only a few miles to his nearest lair, and at this point, he could care less about fighting off three over-amorous girls provided that they supplied him with hot soup and a towel first. Eddie squelched his way through the trees and disappeared into the night.
There are very few times when someone can feel both nervous to the point of panic and mind-numbing boredom. Waiting for your boss/friend who you have a questionable relationship with to escape from the insane asylum definitely falls into that category.
Jackie had spent her week worrying, and cleaning, and worrying, and pacing, and worrying, and trying to hone her puzzle skills on a half-finished crossword book, and worrying. Was Eddie all right? Was that noise outside the trio of girls, back for vengeance? What if the Batman showed up?
At the moment, she was cuddled up on the couch under the green afghan, trying to read a copy of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and failing miserably. Normally, she would have been digging through the novel, ticking off the various ways that Disney had mangled the storyline. Instead, she had now read the same page ten times without remembering a word of it.
Thud. Thud. Jackie tremblingly stood up, clutching the book like a shield. Someone wanted in. The entertainment center and the broken television fell over with a loud crunch as the door burst wide open. Jackie instinctively dove behind the couch. When she worked up the courage to look over the top, she saw a muddy Eddie dripping helplessly on the carpet and kicking television bits out of the way so that he could close the door.
"You're starting to make this a habit," Jackie said, hurriedly standing up and hoping he hadn't noticed her dive for safety.
"Very funny," he grunted, shouldering the door closed with a muddy squelch. "That's just what I needed right now, jokes."
"How about a towel?" she offered, retrieving one from the pile of clean folded laundry on the coffee table.
"Thanks." He buried his face in it. As he slowly began to emerge from under the layer of crackly damp mud, he revealed a set of bumps and scratches.
He sighed. "Crane," he said, pointing at a scratch on his neck. He hoisted up a pant leg to reveal a foot-shaped bruise. "Tetch," he added. "And then I fell down a hill."
"Come on," she invited. "You've got clean clothes in the other room, and I'll microwave what's left of dinner for you."
"Thanks," he muttered, tossing the mud-streaked towel into an empty laundry basket.
Now that Eddie was back, she could stop jumping at shadows. They'd get themselves scraped back together, put some better locks on the doors, and try to get back to normality (well, what passed for normality among the rogues, anyway). There were costumes to fix, and heists to plan, and damage to repair. Life would finally be able to settle down again.
Of course, neither of them noticed the tiny, blinking light on the answering machine that was about to make their lives very interesting indeed...
Author's Note: From now on, I'm going to have two stories running simultaneously - one on Mondays, one on Thursdays. While I'd love to start up the next Eddie/Jackie story right away, it's, erm, kind of entirely unwritten. So in the meantime, tune in for "Origins" on Mondays and "Green Eyes" starring Ra's al Ghul and Poison Ivy on Thursdays! (Oh yes, darlings, it will be much fun.)