Home is where you hang your hat. The Riddler had enough homes to host a haberdashery.
It was simple common sense, really. If you live in a city with the World's Greatest Detective, and if you know he makes a habit of finding you at home, it's only natural to have as many homes as possible. If you can get Batman to waste an hour or so lair-hopping in search of you, that's another hour of your life that your teeth get to remain intact. And, as a bonus, if you've rigged up some kind of early-warning system, you can know that the Bat is about before you hear that silken swishing noise of a cape indicating that your world is about to become centered around a red-hot nova of pain.
So Eddie made it a habit to acquire a new lair every so often. If nothing else, it was a comfort to know that he had a bolthole located within easy sprinting distance of wherever he happened to be. Provided, of course, that no one had moved in and made themselves at home. (Then again, the last time that had happened things had turned out rather nicely...)
Batman and his associates were still looking for them. The girls were still out there, somewhere. That meant that there were approximately seven people eager to play pinata with him, not counting the GCPD and all the little people he'd stepped on through the years. And of the seven major threats, all of them knew where he lived.
Yes, it was definitely time for a new lair. He had his eye on a small apartment a few blocks over. Normally, he wouldn't go for an apartment, everyone knew that, which is why renting one was such a brilliant move on his part. No one would expect him in an easily-accessible, large-windowed apartment! He had the most wonderful ideas in the world! He was a genius! He...needed more ice for the lump on his head, which he had acquired in that unfortunate encounter with the rocky hillside leading away from Arkham.
No, ice could wait. He was busy. There was a lair to plan, and things to buy, and traps to leave in all his other lairs in case of unwanted visitors...
Jackie toyed with her phone, listening to the squeals of metal and the occasional anagrammed epithet coming from Eddie's room. Heaven only knew what he was doing in there. He'd been behaving a little oddly since he got back - and since this was Eddie she was talking about, it was a whole new level of odd.
Still, he'd been lucid enough to provide her with a new cell phone. When she'd mentioned over lunch that she had left hers in the hotel, he'd held up a finger - Wait a minute! - and disappeared into the storage room. She'd followed him just in time to see him extract a cell phone from a crate crammed full of them. Why did he have a crate of cell phones? Like most other 'why' questions relating to the rogues, the answer was probably 'why not?'
He had popped the back of it off and mucked about with the insides, flicking wires here and there with practiced ease and slipping in a neon-green chip in the shape of a question mark before clipping it together and presenting it to her with a little flourish. Now the phone would be able to use the cell towers without all the hassle of actually having an account with a service provider.
She'd thanked him, and he'd bustled back to whatever he was doing in the other room, lunch forgotten in the pursuit of...of...well, as far as she could tell, of squealy metal noises. She finished off the rest of her sandwich and took the phone into the living room to program it with the handful of phone numbers that she knew off the top of her head. And if she had to dial in the numbers anyway, she may as well make certain that they worked...
"Yeah, hi!" she said happily into the phone. "I just called to...no, I didn't get your message..." She glanced at the answering machine, its little red light flashing merrily. Whoops. "No, or that one either...the machine must be broken," she lied. "What did you want to ask?...um...no, no, that would be fine. Great! Um, when?...but I thought you...no, no, I didn't mean...look, it'll be fun. Yes. Yes, I'm sure. Okay, I'll let you get back to your lunch." She clapped the phone closed and swallowed hard, staring at the little plastic oblong laying innocently in her hand. It was such a small thing...why did it have the power to turn her backbone into pudding?
"Eddie?" she called somewhat hysterically. "Eddie..."
"I'm in here...ouch!" he yelped as something large and metal clanged hard off of the wall.
Jackie traced the yelping down the hall to the master bedroom, where Eddie was entangled in a nest of wires and metal. "We've got problems," she announced.
"You're telling me," he muttered, trying to ease his way out of the tangle. A wire sprung loose and snapped across his hand.
"No, really, we...what are you doing?" she asked, finally noticing the Eddie-puzzle in the corner.
"Deathtrap," he sighed.
"For anyone in particular?"
"You can never have too many deathtraps." He yelped again as a shower of sparks illuminated him in a very personal area. "There's a button around the back..."
Jackie sighed and tucked the phone into her pocket. "This one?" she asked, pressing the green button. Sparks flew from somewhere else deep inside the assemblage.
"No, the red one!"
Jackie hit the red button. Nothing much happened.
"It didn't do anything!"
"Are you sure you hit the right one?"
"There's two buttons here, and one of them tries to make you into Riddler flambé every time I press it. The red one doesn't do anything!"
"Great." Eddie thrashed uselessly in the cold metal grip of the trap.
"Hang on, let me just..." Jackie yanked on the top of the trap, tipping it down horizontally to the floor. Sparks hissed out of it and she dropped it the last few inches with a yelp. The trap disintegrated noisily as the Riddler eased himself out of it.
"Thanks," he said, playfully bitter.
"Y'know, you're supposed to be on the outside of those," Jackie said as Eddie examined the tiny holes that the sparks had burnt in his clothes.
"I couldn't reach some of the wiring," he replied absently. "So what's this about problems?"
Reality smacked Jackie across the back of the head. "My parents are coming to Gotham for Thanksgiving," she announced in tones of dread and gloom.
"And?" she repeated, gazing in disbelief at him.
He shrugged. "What's the problem?"
"What's the problem?" she glared, waving her arms around to indicate the vivid green question-marked room and her own green question-marked dress.
"I should have named you Echo," he said, half-amused.
"I'm not a dolphin! Look, Eddie, they're going to be here next week and they can't know about this! What am I going to do?"
He knelt by the ruin of his trap. "You don't have to see them if you don't want to," he remarked, burrowing headfirst into the pile of metal. "I haven't seen mine in...hmm...almost ten years."
"If you'd ever met my parents, you'd understand," he muttered, twisting two lengths of wire together with one hand.
"Well, you're about to meet mine," she said grimly.
The back of Eddie's skull slammed hard into a solid metal bar. "Me?" he protested, squiggling back out of the wreckage. "Why?"
"Because I told them I had a...that you were..." she fidgeted uncomfortably. "Y'know, that...you..." She waved her hands helplessly in the air, trying to describe a relationship that hadn't happened.
"Boyfriend!" she finally spat, flinging her arms to the skies. "I said that I had a boyfriend that was letting me stay with him after my house burned down, all right? And now they want to meet him! You!"
"But I'm not...I..." he stammered, somewhat flummoxed.
"I know, I know! You just have to pretend! Please?" she asked desperately. "They'll only be here for a week!"
Eddie, who had been about to agree, closed his mouth and regarded her suspiciously. "Here as in Gotham, or here as in here?"
"Here as in they want to stay here, yeah," she admitted.
"If you're trying to keep the rogue thing secret from your parents, having them stay here might be a little bit of a giveaway," he pointed out.
"We could redecorate?"
"This is my best lair!" he protested, folding his arms. "No."
"What about a new lair?"
"I have plans for that lair..."
"Can't they wait?" Jackie pleaded. "Just for a little bit? Please, Eddie?"
He considered it for a moment. "Fine. We'll fix it up after your parents leave town. Make it look however you want in the meantime." He pulled the wreckage apart once more, preparing to climb back inside. He glanced at her over his shoulder. "But no unicorns."
Parents are difficult.
In childhood, they're a little easier. The roles are very clearly defined: the parents control all the power, with maybe a little bit of power leaching off to assorted older siblings. It's kind of like being in the military, if the military advocated hugs.
But by adulthood, things have changed. It's hard to describe exactly how, given that every family settles into this new way of things in their own unique way. Another difficulty is that there's no set date that a child turns into an adult. The law says that adulthood is conferred at age 18 (or 21, depending on how you're choosing your definitions) but that doesn't always translate fully into individual lives. There are eighteen-year-olds with their own apartments and thirty-somethings living in Mom's basement.
Jackie had moved straight from her parents' house to Gotham. Oh, certainly she'd lived in the dorms during college - it was somewhat of a comfort to know that she could stay up until three AM doing homework without fear of her parents knocking on her bedroom door - but during her summers at home, they had tried to treat her like a young adult rather than their little girl. She'd appreciated it at the time.
But now, she knew they were going to be treating her like a real adult - and that meant that her mother would be running a constant survey of Jackie's life quietly, in the back of her head, for detailed discussion later on when Jackie wasn't around. She had seen it happen before with other people under the spotlight - her mother analyzed and discussed things that Jackie didn't even notice: dust on the picture frames, pulled threads in the carpet...everything was a reflection of who you were and how well you were doing. If things were amiss, there must be something wrong, because no one living a good life would allow papers and debris to pile up on their desk. It didn't matter that her mother's own desk was stacked high with work. That was different, apparently, for some reason that Jackie had never been able to logically figure out.
The worst thing was that she wouldn't say these things directly to the people she discussed. Jackie knew that her mother hadn't approved of some of her things at home, but she'd never said it, so she couldn't pin down what it was that made that sad little frown blink onto her mother's face when she stepped into her room. So, insecure and agitated, Jackie spent the next week rushing about, trying to find things to fill a new apartment that would meet her mother's approval. Her mother liked floral-print things, but Jackie didn't. Would her mother suspect that something was up if she bought this hideously flowery sofa, or would she approve of Jackie finally getting some taste?
Her mother would be judging her new life based almost solely on the contents of her apartment. She gave in and bought the sofa.
"And what's your name?" Jackie hissed in an undertone as they watched suitcases travel round the carousel.
"Eddie Nashton." Eddie leaned casually against the wall, wearing jeans and a T-shirt under a red ski jacket. The new clothes certainly weren't as comfortable as his nice, soft green suits, but they'd been firmly packed away for the next week or so.
"And where do you work?"
"And what did you do there?"
"I bled tamarind."
She elbowed him gently in the gut. "Knock it off with the anagrams."
He was briefly tempted to speak in nothing but anagrams for the rest of this interminable week. With the amount of panic that Jackie had shown earlier, though, intentionally provoking her would probably be the quickest way to make close, personal friends with another fire extinguisher...and anyway, the last thing he needed at the moment was another henchgirl turning crazy on him.
A crowd of people shoved their way into the crowded room. Jackie went up on her toes to try and find her parents. "Mom!" she waved frantically. "Dad!" Eddie stepped clear of her flailing arms. "Over here!"
"Jackie!" Her parents descended on her and enveloped her in a monstrous hug. "It's so good to see you again!" they nattered along with all the other traditional just-reunited nonsense: how was the flight, how's the cat at home, that shirt looks new...
Finally they disengaged. "Mom, Dad," Jackie said nervously. "This is my, uh, boyfriend, Edward Nyg-Nashton."
"Good to meet you!" Jackie's dad said in tones approaching a bellow, seizing Eddie by the hand and shaking vigorously. "So tell me, who's your team?"
"Team?" Eddie said, trying to extract his hand from being shaken like a martini.
"Your team, boy! Baseball, basketball..." The man's face slowly pulled down into a cautious frown. "Hockey?" he hazarded. "Football?"
"Oh! I follow the Gotham Knights," Eddie lied, picking the only football team he'd ever known anything about.
"Local boys, huh? Good for you, supporting the underdogs!" her dad said happily.
Jackie cleared her throat. "That's my dad, Rick," she introduced, "and this is my mom, Violet."
Rick finally let Eddie's hand go. He sighed in relief, only to have it turn into a gasp of shock when Violet wrapped her arms around him and kissed him firmly on the cheek. "Such a pleasure to finally meet you," she gushed.
"L-likewise," Eddie stammered, edging backward.
"Mom," Jackie said, horribly embarrassed, "let go of him."
"I was just saying hello to my future-"
"Mom!" Jackie shouted over the tail end of that sentence. "Where's your luggage?"
"Over there. C'mon, Ed, let's get the bags." Rick seized Eddie by the shoulder and dragged him off. "I hear the Knights went down seven-nothing last month..."
(to be continued)
Author's Note: I'm sorry this was late. To say I had a crazy and exhausting week would be an understatement.