Christmas is a magical time. It's a time for love, for sharing, for snuggling by the fire and kissing under the mistletoe and doing all the tooth-rottingly sweet things that are a tradition for the season.
Christmas in Gotham is a little different. Oh, certainly there are decorations dangling over the streets, with festive red and green graffiti scrawled on every plastic reindeer. Snow does cover the ground, even if it is black from car exhaust and thousands of filthy booted feet. And there is mistletoe - plastic, fraying mistletoe that's guaranteed not to piss off a certain green-skinned botanist who may or may not take vengeance on live mistletoe's shortened lifespan by coming to kill you.
Edward Nygma, Prince of Puzzles, King of Cryptograms, and Baron of Bedspring Lockpicks, was thoroughly enjoying the holidays for once. At the moment, he was sprawled happily on his favorite beat-up old green sofa in a tiny satellite lair, with his green silk pajamas almost hidden under the mountainous fluff of his green bathrobe. A Christmas Story was on channel 32, a small turkey was browning in the oven, and best of all, Batman had no idea where he was. Could the holidays get any better?
"Are you okay?" he called lazily down the little hallway.
"I'm fine," Jackie muttered, thumping a large cardboard box out of the closet. "I'd be better if you'd have let me pack first."
"I told you," he drawled, snuggling back into the pillows, "we had to get here as soon as possible. There wasn't time to pack." There had hardly been time to breathe. He'd wasted precious time after the escape catching his breath in that warehouse - running from Arkham didn't normally involve that much actual running, and he'd been exhausted - and then he'd wasted even more time racing from lair to lair looking for Jackie. By the time he'd found her fast asleep in the showplace lair, he'd barely had enough energy left to yank her out of bed and shove her out the door.
Jackie sneezed viciously as a new puff of dust rocketed up from the box lid. "Well, at least there's something here for me to wear," she said, prodding the newly-revealed pile of henchgirl outfits that had been stuffed into the box. "Maybe," she added, dangling a complicated set of green straps from one hand. "Don't your girls ever wear clothes?"
"Hey!" he grinned, leaping to his feet. "I've been looking everywhere for that!"
She regarded it suspiciously. "You...wear this?"
He lifted it from her hand and buckled it quickly around himself. "This is for the pistols," he said, gesturing at the two holsters tucked just over his hips, "and these little hooks are for the exploding question marks...what?"
"Nothing," Jackie choked, obviously stifling laughter. "You look very...threatening, I'm sure." Fuzzy green fluff from his bathrobe puffed from gaps in the buckles.
"It's supposed to go under my suit," he said, exasperated. A knock rat-tatted on the door. Eddie sidled over to the door, looking somewhat like a kitten on a SWAT team, and cracked the front door open a sliver. "Yes?"
"Look! A known detected sin." Eddie pulled the newspaper inside.
"Uh, you're welcome," the kid stammered as Eddie slammed the door. Most people in this city couldn't get personal delivery of the newspaper whenever they pleased. (Then again, most people didn't have a small army of henchman wannabes and street rats eager to get a foot in the door by carrying out whatever little wishes they had.)
Eddie gently unfolded the newspaper, grinning as he saw the front page unroll before him. "MASS ESCAPE FROM ARKHAM!" the headlines blared, accompanied by a very harried-looking picture of the current asylum administrator slamming the door in the photographer's face. It had been a fabulous idea to spring everyone at once. Two dozen rogues escaping from Arkham together - well, as together as the rogues ever were - was an event that was certain to keep the vigilantes busy and off of his tail for a while. Oh, sure, it meant that cops were going to be lining the streets like buttons on an accordion, but what did it matter? He wasn't going anywhere anytime soon.
A small green envelope slipped from the pages of the paper and landed on his foot. A letter? Eddie gently set the newspaper down and scooped it up, automatically turning it right-side up. In sparkly purple ink, someone had scrawled "TO QUERY".
Odd. "Query?" he called.
Jackie stuck her head out of the closet. "My name is Jackie," she said pointedly. "Do I go around calling you "Riddler" all the time?"
"Well, if you're not Query, maybe I should just throw this letter out," he teased, fluttering it in her direction.
Jackie leaned a little further out of the closet, peering over the pile of dresses draped over her shoulder. "I have a letter?"
"I don't know. Are you Query?"
"Are you a jerkface? Give me the letter!"
"Jerkface?" Eddie staggered backward in mock dismay. "I took you in, gave you a roof over your head, and this is how you repay me?"
She skipped over and snatched at the letter. He twitched it away. With her arms firmly crossed, she stuck out her tongue at him. "If you hadn't burned down my house in the first place - "
"You burned it down," he reminded her.
"Oh really?" She pointed at the wall. "As I recall it, I was in Vermont when you were rigging your little flamethrower up. You know, like that one there - " Eddie obligingly looked in the direction she was indicating. "Yoink!" she cried, grabbing the envelope from his hands and darting away. "Sucker!"
"I let you take it," he informed her.
"Whatever." She slit the envelope open with her thumb and popped a piece of black stationery out, squinting at more of that sparkly purple ink. "Dear Query...who gave this to you?" she demanded, looking up.
"Why? Who's it from?"
"Read it yourself." She tossed the little paper over to him.
"Dear Query, blah blah blah..." He skimmed over the introductory small talk. "We've been thinking it over, and we've figured out the perfect way to fix this. Pretty soon Eddie won't be a problem anymore. In fact, we think you'll really get a kick out of what we're planning! We'll be by at about two to talk to you about it. See you then! - Q, Q, Q."
Eddie went pale. He'd seen things like this happen before with other rogues' henchgirls. Hell, it had happened to him more than once! First they worked for you, then they loved you, then they tried to kill you - and being chased down by Batman, even Batman at his most furious, wasn't nearly as frightening as waking up to find yourself in the clutches of your brand-new extremely well-armed ex-girlfriend.
He'd learned, though, since the first one. He'd stopped letting them find out how to arm the deathtraps after he'd come to inside that giant toothy Sphinx mouth, and it was only due to an overtalkative henchman that he'd wound up in the robotic whale trap at the zoo. In fact, in recent times, he'd only had to worry about the little vengeances - knotted and over-dried laundry, lairs turned over to the cops, the occasional attempted stabbing...
With these three, though, who knew what would happen? He'd never dated them - he barely knew them! - and they'd fixated on him with the kind of tenacity usually displayed by wolverines at a kill. He wouldn't be a problem anymore? They loved him! They hated him! They wanted him dead! What the hell were they thinking?
He was going to die. They were going to come there and kill him because they wanted him and couldn't have him, so they were going to kill him so Jackie couldn't have him either, or maybe they were going to hug him to bits again and then kill him, or maybe -
"Eddie!" Jackie said, drawing his attention to the fact that he'd been muttering his thoughts aloud for the last few minutes. "Snap out of it!"
Eddie's face stretched into a wild-eyed look of absolute terror. "They're gonna sex me to death!"
"EDDIE!" Jackie shook him by the shoulders. "We've got to get out of here!"
"We can't!" With shaking hands, he dropped the letter. "The cops are everywhere and I'm not going back to Arkham!"
"Isn't Arkham better than death?"
He gave her a flat, terrified look. "No. And anyway, the cops out there are more likely to shoot me than nicely arrest me." He raked a hand through his hair. "I hate getting shot. It's such a pain," he muttered absently.
"Okay, so we'll hide! We'll stay away from the police stations, and -"
"The cops are everywhere!" he snapped. "Every rogue in town is on the loose! Look!" He snatched up the remote and feverishly prodded the channel down button until the screen filled with a local station. They were running a twenty-four-hour news broadcast showing the stream of police patrolling the major streets, looking for the newly-escaped Arkhamites. "We won't get two blocks!"
Jackie bit her lip. "We can't leave."
"And we can't stay."
A slow grin split her face. "I think I've got it. They can't catch you if they can't find you..."
"How am I going to hide in this tiny apartment?" he demanded, waving frantic, fluffy arms at the miniscule living room.
"I have a plan."
(to be continued)
Author's Note: The escape from Arkham took place in a story that I haven't posted yet. The original plan was to post that story before this one - but then life got busy, what with the visit from my parents and the trip to the ER and all the rest of the lovely stuff that's happened in the past few weeks. So, erm, look for that story a little later, I suppose.