There is no holiday quite like Christmas. The promises of love and joy, of seasonal heart-warming miracles and childlike innocence are traditionally rammed together with all of the love, joy, and innocence one can reasonably expect from a traditional family gathering. (That is to say, there's a reason that suicide rates rise sharply around the holidays.) It's the perfect time of year to break out all the old arguments and to sink into the philosophical trenches once again as relatives huddle together around a mountain of food in the spirit of conformity.
Of course, there were some people having a merry Christmas in Gotham this year. And, surprisingly, Edward Nygma was one of them. He had managed to stay under Batman's radar, which was easy when there was nothing in town worth stealing. The lairs were well-stocked with food, he'd just gotten a brand-new bundle of crisp green suits, and best of all, he hadn't had a major injury for nearly six months. For once, things were going well!
Except...well, he hadn't expected to spend the holidays alone. In fact, he'd been anticipating having a quiet dinner at home that night with his two henchgirls, laughing, joking, and posing the occasional puzzle over a slice of pie. But no, they'd decided that riddles just weren't them, and two days ago they'd skipped out to join up with the Mad Hatter. The Mad Hatter, of all people. He rolled his eyes at the memory. Let's see how much they like him after a couple of weeks in a rabbit suit!
It was too quiet in the lair without them - not that he needed them, or even wanted them around, but...he was just used to other people by now, that was all. After years of being packed away to Arkham, where he was never alone, the utter solitude and silence of the lair was...wrong somehow. And so, wrapped in a nondescript black coat and muffled with a huge blue scarf, he'd wandered out into the snow to find something to entertain himself with.
His shoes crunched briskly through the grey snow as he strode along, nodding politely at passersby under the safety of the scarf wound around his face. It was nice to be able to take a walk and not worry about a certain caped vigilante slamming him into the sidewalk. He sidestepped a slow-moving baby carriage and trotted across the street, buried in a crowd of pedestrians. Yes, it was definitely nice to know that Batman was busy doing whatever he did during the day - and considering that it was Bruce Wayne under that mask, that probably involved a lot of good food, champagne, and flirting with girls.
His soft growl of jealousy turned into an impromptu throat-clearing as a passerby gave him a curious look. It didn't matter that Bruce was going to have a fabulous Christmas, just like it didn't matter that he was going to be having that Christmas with Selina Kyle on his arm. The man had everything else - why shouldn't he go around with the most attractive (and, to be honest, the most sane) of all the women in Gotham's underworld? (While sanity wasn't always a key personality feature in a rogue girlfriend, sometimes it helped to know that they weren't potentially planning to gut you for a mistimed remark.)
Oh well. He shrugged off thoughts of Selina and hummed cheerfully to himself as he strolled down the sidewalk. A coffee vendor, almost spherical in his layers of coats and scarves, gestured Eddie toward his stand with fingers pink from the cold. Eddie shook his head and trudged onward through the blackened snow, glancing across the street to make his disinterest absolutely clear.
The squeaky crunch of his green shoes in the snow abruptly came to a halt. The air behind him filled with curses as pedestrians who hadn't been paying attention slammed into his unmoving back. Someone's coffee, hot and steaming, splashed on his coat and dribbled onto his foot. Eddie didn't notice.
How had he missed news of this? He trotted across the street between the cars idling at the stoplight and stopped in front of the old shop window. Pictures and posters of rare gems and jewelry filled the window, some of them crackling with age, some gleaming with an understated shine that had probably cost the maker a pretty penny at the printer's. Right there, in the middle of the window, a brand-new poster shone out at the world.
Many people would put forth the opinion that Edward Nygma had no taste. As proof, they would gesture at his lair, crammed with every single question-marked decoration that he could lay his hands on, with particular attention being paid to the rattling question-marked chandelier that beamed garishly down at the room. They would point out that men who possessed good taste generally didn't waltz around town in a spandex unitard, no matter how much punctuation it was plastered with. When the most stylish addition to one's wardrobe was a bottle-green suit riddled with question marks, one clearly had a misfiring sense of beauty.
And it was true that in the case of clothes, decorations, and (regrettably) henchgirls, Eddie seemed to have the ability to pick the worst of the lot by instinct. However, in the case of potential targets, Eddie knew exactly what would be worth both his time and other people's money.
He placed a black-gloved hand on the poster and gazed wide-eyed at it. In the middle of the page, sparkling like a frozen firework, was a picture of an emerald the size of his fist. Even the flat, immobile photograph couldn't blur out that green inner fire that lit up the facets with pure, lavish light.
The Baxter Emerald was in town, and no one had told him! His eyes reluctantly pried themselves away from the emerald and flicked over the rest of the poster. It was in town today only, at - he snorted disbelievingly - at the Weissman Galleria. Someone must have called in a lot of favors to get the Baxter displayed anywhere outside of a heavily-guarded museum.
His fingertips were curling in and out with possessive desire. How could he not want to steal such a thing? It was green, and beautiful, and green, and hideously expensive, and green, and famous, and green! On display today only...and they closed at five, which meant the emerald would probably be long gone before his normal shopping hours...
His acquisitive instinct froze for a moment. Would anyone else be after this gem? It was vitally important that he not step on anyone's toes, simply because the most well-guarded emerald in history was in his city. Was it named after or linked to anyone thematic? Was it being displayed by anyone thematic? If they'd hired, say, Mock Turtle Security, he'd be better off waiting for a new target, one that he wouldn't have to rush. (It always paid to keep the other rogues in mind when selecting targets. Life was a lot simpler when you didn't have to worry about your fellow criminals laying inventive traps around your lairs.)
Glass rat-tatted under his drumming fingers as he mentally flicked through the Baxter's history. No Wonderland connection, no bird names, no reason to grind it up for toxins or use it in some complicated end-of-the-world ritual...no, it was just a big, pretty rock, which generally put it squarely in the kittycat's territory. However, since she was going to be indisposed for a few days, what with hanging on Brucie boy's arm as he hobnobbed with Gotham's elite...He sighed with exasperation. Selina was allowed to have a love interest. That was perfectly fine. Did it have to be Batman, though? Really? Of all the men in Gotham, she had to pick the one that pounded his face in on a regular basis. How utterly infuriating.
The tiny sound of paper beginning to rip snapped him out of his thoughts. He hurriedly smoothed the tear in the poster and stepped back, shoving his hands into his pockets to keep from doing anything else that might draw attention to himself. A traffic cop on her break looked at him suspiciously through the cloud of steam rising from her hot coffee. He waved halfheartedly at her and ducked into the crowd, hurrying home as quickly as he could manage without flat-out running.
It was already noon. In order to get in, get the emerald and get out in a suitably showy fashion, he estimated that he had around three hours to put together a master plan.
Three hours later
None of the henchmen were answering their phones. How revoltingly irritating. Okay, so it was Christmas Day, and a good portion of them had families or a good facsimile thereof to spend the day with. Did that mean that none of them were interested in a job?
Well, fine. He'd started out riddling by himself, and he was more than capable of doing it alone nowadays. He didn't need anyone else. He'd be absolutely fine by himself. It didn't matter that no one was at the phone - his old girls, his current henchmen, the cops...
Oh yes, the cops. He'd called the commissioner's office, as he sometimes did to leave riddles, only to be greeted with a cheery Christmas answering machine message. He scowled at the thought. Well, if they weren't going to play right, then neither was he. He'd rattled the riddle off into the phone - in German, just to be difficult - and slammed the phone down onto its question-marked base.
And now he was standing in the Galleria, pretending to be interested in a rather tacky diamond-studded choker while the emerald shone brilliantly not ten feet behind him. The bulk of the store's merchandise was laid carefully in glass cases that lined the walls with just enough room behind them for the underfed counter girls to get to the locks. The floor was filled with tiny islands of shimmering light, trapped under glass and laid gently on black velvet in cases that would have probably taken Eddie all of five seconds to jimmy open. But the real prize, the glistening, gleaming emerald, had a small glass case all to itself at the back of the store, perched reverently atop a custom-made wooden stand that was heavily bolted to the floor. A pair of security guards were watching it carefully - but since this was supposed to be a tasteful store, they were located in the back corners, discreetly eyeing the crowds from locations where they wouldn't be easily noticed.
Eddie slipped casual hands into his pockets. The pockets of a supervillain nearly always contain something brightly colored, highly illegal, or interestingly fatal - sometimes all three in one convenient package. In this case, they contained about a double fistful of little glass marble-sized spheres filled halfway with a slightly pinkish liquid. With his gloved hands full of the spheres, he began to wander the shop.
Ching! Rinch. One by one, the spheres dropped lightly fron his hands to be crushed under the soles of his shoes. Ching! Rinch. Ching! Rinch.
The last of the spheres exploded satisfyingly underneath his foot. Good. Now all he had to do was wait. Under the pretext of examining a ruby necklace that glittered like a puddle of fresh blood, he positioned himself near a handy mirror and ever so nonchalantly flicked his gaze around the store behind him.
A massive woman with a fur coat that must have claimed at least a hundred minks waddled across the floor. Over her shoulder, a bright pink poodle in an equally pink shoulder bag stared listlessly at its fellow canines, imprisoned in their fluffy carriers on nearly every woman's arm. The woman clapped pudgy fingers to her mouth and hurried to the diamond choker, eyes wide with desire.
The poodle didn't seem to care as its owner jostled it in her hurry. It expressed an equal lack of interest when she accidentally swung the bag backward into the countertop. Eddie watched it anxiously in the corner of the mirror. If this didn't work...
The poodle sat up. It sniffed the air, puzzled. One pink lip curled upward, exposing teeth that probably would have been fearsome if they hadn't been less than a quarter of an inch long. And then, to Eddie's delight, it let out a growl that would have made a small bear proud and sank its teeth directly into the woman's fluffy hat.
"Cuddles!" the woman shrieked, batting at the dog. With a leap like a well-trained dolphin, Cuddles the poodle cleared the shoulder bag and hit the floor, snarling.
As one, the crowd of shoppers instinctively drew back toward the walls - and, incidentally, directly toward the small puddles of dog-infuriating pheromones that Eddie had thoughtfully distributed through the entire store. Tiny, furious growls rose in a chorus from all sides. Chic leather shoulder bags were shredded with teeth and claws as the little animals fought their way toward freedom. Since freedom also contained several other small, enraged dogs, the floor quickly became a spinning, howling ball of well-groomed fur and sharp, shrill barks. Owners rushed to their darling ones' rescue, shoving other patrons aside as they tried to extricate their baby from the mess of horrid mutts brawling on the floor. It was obviously everyone else's fault, and certainly not theirs, and how dare anyone accuse them of doing wrong...Human fistfights broke out in a whirl of shoving and curses.
As the security guards pelted into the fray, trying desperately to separate dogs and women before anyone got seriously hurt, Eddie sidled toward the emerald. He reached down and casually adjusted a small lever on his shoes. Then, with a grandiose gesture that would have befitted the most operatic of opera stars, he tossed his black coat aside to reveal his question-mark spangled suit.
Absolutely no one noticed. He sighed petulantly. He'd wanted a distraction, not a complete diversion. Well, there was more than one way to get everyone's attention...
He withdrew a small and exceedingly heavy hammer from his belt and smashed the glass. Alarms wailed into life, pushing the dogs into an even greater frenzy as they tumbled over one another on the floor. The hammer, no longer useful, was discarded in favor of snatching the emerald from its resting place.
The security guards immediately whirled to face the Riddler - at least, they tried. It was rather difficult to try to stare down a supervillain when you had both hands full of screaming socialites and yappy, angry dogs. With a smug grin on his face, Eddie raised his gun and fired.
The guards were expecting bullets. What they weren't expecting was a large, hooked projectile, which sailed through the air, smashed through the front door, and came to rest in the building across the street.
A green-gloved finger flicked the Retract button on the grapnel gun. The whine of tiny gears brrrmed into existence as Eddie sailed directly through the crowd, wheeled shoes skidding through the pack of dogs. He rolled effortlessly along out into the street through the ruins of the front door.
At least, that had been the plan. He hadn't counted on the safety glass coming free from the door in one large chunk and wrapping itself around him like a crackly scarf as he sped through the doorframe. He also hadn't counted on the hot-chocolate vendor standing right in his way as he was propelled onward. The Riddler lashed a safety-glass covered foot out, tipping the cart and sending him in a wild tumble through the air.
At the end of a desperate somersault, his wheels clicked onto the street. With one perfectly-timed swoop, he dropped the grapnel gun and latched onto the back bumper of a speeding car as it roared away. Nygma, you're a genius! he thought smugly as the car rocketed him away from the scene of the crime.
He skidded merrily along until he reached a certain alley. Then, with a flourish, he released the bumper and glided in a curve into the safe alcove between the two walls. Perfect. Now all he had to do was to retrieve his disguise from underneath the dumpster, and he'd be home and dry. He slid a hand under the dumpster, looking for the plastic bag that he'd stashed there not an hour ago. Uh-oh... His gloved hand patted frantically at the cold, damp asphalt.
One of the fundamental laws of living in Gotham City is that nothing ever goes according to plan. In this case, Eddie's plan had been abruptly derailed by one of Gotham's many residence-challenged residents who had possibly reasoned that Santa Claus had left them a wonderful gift under their favorite dining location.
Ooooookay. He was in full costume, in broad daylight, with an emerald the size of a small guinea pig in one hand. He was clever. He could think of a way to get home without being killed - or, worse, captured...
At the very least, he could ditch the skates. He bent down and operated the little lever, retracting the wheels back into the heels of his shoes. Then, with his feet flat on the ground, he considered his options.
Maybe if he turned his coat inside-out?...yes, because a man with bright green question-marked pants and a suspiciously satiny green jacket with no buttons would surely be ignored by the cops. No, no....think...
A sound he hadn't consciously been hearing creaked its way into the front of his brain. "Ho...Ho...Ho..." He craned his head upward to see a Santa mannequin parked on the fire escape, waving robotically at the passersby.
A grin oiled across his face. Oh, yes indeed...
The sun was setting as Santa Riddler strutted down the sidewalk. The big white beard, which still had a few pieces of mannequin face glued to its underside, puffed out widely in the wind as Eddie waved happily at blissed-out toddlers peeking at him through multiple scarves.
The Santa mannequin had been naturally fat. Eddie, who was anything but, had had to make do with his balled-up jacket, his hat, and the hindquarters of a plastic reindeer. His false stomach bounced unnaturally as he walked along, feet coming down gently in order to carefully keep his green shoes tucked inside his pleather boot tops.
The emerald had been tricky. Santa didn't have pockets, and the few seconds that he'd kept the stone under his too-loose hat had been painful and nerve-wracking. Eddie had settled for nicking an unattended Salvation Army bucket, picking the lock, and stuffing the gem inside. And as a bonus, as he walked along, people would run up to him and give him money!
He rattled the bucket - gingerly, so as not to scratch the emerald - and grinned at the sound of a merry Christmas jingling happily away inside. Who needed henchgirls, anyway?
"Excuse me," a voice said behind him.
He turned, with a merry Santa smile, and froze as he saw a cop standing there. She was off-duty, wearing her warm thick cop jacket while she walked her pet labrador. It sniffed him cautiously. "Ho-ho-ho," he chuckled weakly.
"Merry Christmas," she smiled. "What charity are you collecting for?"
She looked down at the bucket, which was fortunately plain red. "Never heard of it."
"It's our first year," he said uneasily. The cop's dog was starting to sniff him in earnest now. Oh, god, the pheromones. His shoes must still be covered in them! "I've got to run - a lot of people to visit today, you know," he said, edging away from the dog. It glared at him through narrowed eyes.
"Oh, just a minute!" she said, ferreting in her purse. "I'm sure I have some change in here somewhere!"
The dog's ears flattened against its skull. "I'll throw some of mine in for you," Eddie offered desperately.
"No, no, I insist."
"No, really, it's no trouble - hey!" he yelped. The dog, looking a lot more menacing than the poodle ever could, lunged forward and tried its best to take a bite out of Eddie's leg.
"Gabe!" the lady shouted, pulling futilely on the leash. "Leave the nice man alone!"
But Gabe the dog had his teeth firmly buried in the floppy leg of the Santa suit. Eddie leaped away just as the dog rrrripped the pant leg completely off.
The two humans stared silently at the bright green question-marked pant leg made newly visible by Gabe's contribution to the discussion. The cop scowled at Eddie, fumbling for the weapon tucked in her waistband. "Get him, Gabe!"
But Eddie was already halfway down the block and accelerating. Gabe, ever obedient when there were pheromones involved, bounded after him, the Santa suit leg trailing from one saliva-soaked fang.
A labrador running at top speed can easily go faster than fifty miles per hour. A human, let's say a particular jewel thief with torn pants, can reasonably be expected to run no faster than thirty miles per hour. On the surface, it would appear that the human would be captured and presumably mauled within minutes.
On the other hand, this particular race wasn't taking place on a race track. With all the cunning of one who had spent years running from the law, Eddie was busy ducking and dodging through the sparse crowd, making the dog lose precious speed as it twisted around obstacles like a maddened eel. A patch of ice, quickly leaped over, sent the beast into a skid that bought him a few more precious seconds. The tattered remains of his pants, both red and green, flared in an explosion of fabric as his legs scythed determinedly along.
He was back in the ritzy bit of Gotham, pounding toward his nearest lair as fast as he could run past shocked socialites and tuxedo-clad millionaires. He darted through the crowd in front of the Gotham Intercontinental Hotel, liberating a bunch of roses from a nearby display and scattering them on the ground behind him like thorny caltrops. The lair was only a few blocks away. He could make it there, and then...well, he hadn't been there for a while, but he was certain to have something to fend off a wild dog and its rather red-faced owner. At any rate, it had a secret exit leading out from the bedroom, and that was sure to put the dog off the scent.
Sharp white teeth rrrripped into his pants once again, tearing a gash that went nearly all the way to his waist. He dove into a wide concrete pillar, slamming instantly to a halt. The dog pinwheeled out around him, letting out a sharp yelp of surprise as it slid past its intended chew toy directly into the side of a limousine.
Eddie, somewhat stunned, lurched back the way he'd come, picking up speed as he heard the angry growl rising behind him. The bucket with his emerald inside rattled and clanged loudly as he ducked across the street, leaving deep gashes in the snow as he fought to keep himself upright on the slippery road.
The dog circled wide and ran toward him, cutting him off. He swore and raced back toward the hotel. It wouldn't be the first time he'd lost pursuit in an occupied building. Generally, it didn't end particularly well, but at least the dog would be considered more of a threat than he would. Well, for a little bit, anyway, which would give him enough time to get behind a door and slam it right in the mutt's face.
A thick chunk of black ice, recently dislodged from the underside of a passing car, lay almost invisibly in the street. Eddie, who was somewhat distracted, failed to notice it until it was under his foot and sliding. It spun him wildly off balance, sending him tumbling uncontrolled through the air toward the well-dressed, glittering crowd. The bucket flew out of his flailing hands and spun upward into the night. His head thumped into the snow as he slid helplessly toward the curb.
The curb graciously stopped him from moving forward by applying a swift knock to the top of his head. He shoved himself vaguely upright, clawing at his beard, and froze as he heard two distinct noises - a rattle, followed by a soft, firm thlap.
He squinted upward. Bruce Wayne, cradling the red bucket, raised an eyebrow at him. Beside him, Selina Kyle held the Baxter Emerald in her leather-gloved hand, her green eyes wide with delight.
Eddie groaned - a low, mournful sound, like a cow learning what the word 'abattoir' really means - and sank his face into the snow. Behind him, a set of strong, sharp jaws clamped heavily onto the soles of his shoes.