Author's Note: I know, I know, this is still not about Eddie and Jackie. The good news is that they will be making an appearance in this story. The better news is that just about every other rogue in Gotham will show up too! But the best news is that Beach House is the very next thing I'm going to write. I promise with all the pinky swears, cross my hearts, and toxx clauses I can muster.
On with the show!
Of all of the holidays not celebrated in Arkham Asylum, Christmas was at the very top of the list. For starters, Christmas was usually seen as a time of love, peace, and goodwill toward men, none of which particularly interested Arkham's denizens.
Besides, celebrating Christmas implied decking the halls with boughs of holly and hanging decorations on the tree, activities that would undoubtedly end in festive red splashes across the floors as the inmates armed themselves with merry mayhem. They might have gotten away with some limp paper cutouts on the walls, but really, what would be the point?
No, on the whole, it was much safer to pretend that Christmas didn't exist - that is, for the inmates. The staff compensated by decorating the break rooms top to bottom with cheap paper ornaments. For them, Christmas was a time to be celebrated, if only because they would soon receive a lovely fat paycheck and a gift card to a randomly selected restaurant.
It has been said many times that only the brave and the stupid take positions at Arkham.
This is, naturally, only partially true. Arkham offered a wide variety of wonderful positions for people neither brave nor stupid, but desperate for cash. For the culinarily inclined, there were a selection of jobs open in Arkham's massive kitchens, which fed inmates and staff alike. (As an unspoken bonus, the workers had access to lots of sharp things in case of riots or marauding escapees.) For those that didn't mind scrubbing up blood, feces, blood, stray bowlfuls of food, or blood, there were always shining futures open in the janitorial field.
And if, like certain residents of Gotham, you wanted some personal hands-on time with a rogue or two, well, what better job than that of orderly? The crew of green-suited orderlies that roamed Arkham's hallways had it easy. They had nearly infallible job security, twice the pay of their compatriots at less infamous locations, and all they had to do in return was manhandle some of the world's most deadly personages through their daily routines.
Orders, of course, were vital to the life of an orderly. It was not the orderlies' place to determine privileges or dispense new medications. No, the orderly relied entirely on the little pieces of paper posted every day in the staff room to tell him what to do and when to do it. Without those little bits of paper, the system broke down quicker than a hungry dog stealing the Thanksgiving turkey.
Sorrow and Grief were a troublesome pair of new arrivals. All of the doctors had brilliant ideas to restrain and contain Sorrow, from locking gloves to locking her in the basement, but no one wanted to be the one to inflict them on her. She had brutally murdered the last doctor to lay his hands on her. (Well, technically she'd just made him disembowel himself, but was that really any better?) At any rate, he'd also been subjected to an exhaustive round of psychological torture, and that was a prospect that no doctor felt like facing.
It was a curious oddity that they all felt more comfortable around the likes of the Scarecrow than they did around Sorrow. Then again, none of the other rogues showed much interest in the doctors of Arkham when they were outside its walls. They were content to live and let live until they were captured again, when matters reverted back to a state of live and let die. Besides, where was the fun in treating Sorrow? At least the Scarecrow had a reputation in Gotham, even if it was a reputation for destroying people from the mind outward. Sorrow was dangerous and a relative unknown. There was simply not enough potential for fame and glory while treating her when balanced against the risk that she wouldn't let them live to regret it.
As for Grief, he had been almost universally dismissed as unimportant while he worked as Arkham's archivist. The thought of what he might do now that he was in love and allied with Sorrow was upsetting, to say the least. Not only was he allied with a known doctor-killer, but he certainly had enough motive to spur her onward in her quest to rid the world of malicious incompetence. (The fact that she wasn't planning a wholesale slaughter of medical professionals never seemed to register with Arkham's staff. Like many survivors of higher education, they knew what they knew, even if it was completely wrong.)
And so, rather than anyone volunteering to take their cases, the two of them were handed off from doctor to doctor as quickly as the doctors could manage it. Favors were called in, bribes were offered, and minor amounts of blackmail were suggested, sending the responsibility skipping from person to person like a highly infectious case of the flu. At some point, someone was bound to run out of options and be forced to take them.
Since no one was in charge of them, no one had bothered to fill out those ever-so-vital instruction sheets for them. Without instructions, none of the orderlies quite knew what to do about them - but they were upstairs, weren't they? If they were destined for special treatment, surely someone would have mentioned it. Surely they weren't that dangerous, if they hadn't been labeled high-security. Surely they were subject to the same lifestyle as everyone else in the asylum...
Chaos travels under many names. One of its favorite aliases is Surely.
Troy Grey, also known as Grief, huddled on his bed, knees drawn up protectively in front of him. He did his best not to visibly tremble, although he could do nothing about the beads of sweat trickling down his spine. He gnawed on his lip, trying to calm down. It didn't help.
Upon being admitted to a facility such as Arkham Asylum, most people are scared. They don't know anyone around them. And while the staff may have laid out the official rules for them, there are always unwritten rules that might be broken unwittingly - and in an asylum, everyone was likely to interpret those rules to their own satisfaction. The fear of the newcomer is the fear of the unknown. (Except, of course, for those who feared the likes of the CIA, the aliens, or even the Anunnaki. Their fear was slightly more frustrating, since no one else really understood the terror of being secretly ruled by intergalactic shape-shifting vampiric lizard people in red dresses.)
Troy Grey, however, knew exactly what could lay in wait for him, and he was flat-out terrified. He was being housed in the rogues' wing, which meant that he was sharing a hallway with some of the world's most notorious criminals whose screws were so loose that they'd probably never been screwed in in the first place. The only place he could feel marginally safe in was his cell, and even that was temporary. Once the high-security cells in the basement freed up again, he might find himself locked away in the dark for the rest of his life near Sorrow.
No! They had to get out, together, as soon as possible. It was the only way. With his bottom lip firmly tucked between his teeth, he brooded over possible escape plans.
Something rattled outside. Instinctively, he slammed backward against the wall and peered furtively out from behind the fortress of his kneecaps. A bored-looking orderly lounged in the open doorway, idly tapping the fingers of one hand against the wall. "Let's go. Rec."
Rec...they were sending him to the rec room? But they never sent new patients to the rec room! "Come on," the orderly urged, impatience flashing in his eyes. "I ain't got all day."
Troy obediently crept out of the room. The cells around him were mostly empty, barring a few with inmates lurking sullenly inside. Each door held a bright red sign posted at eye level. The signs each bore a different neatly-typed list of the inmate's name, powers and favorite ways to inconvenience the staff. Some doors had multiple signs in order to inform the orderlies that the offender was being punished by lack of recreation time or lack of cafeteria access. His own door was bare.
He hurried uncomfortably ahead of the orderly, wincing as the man's fingers pressed on his shoulders when he took a step out of line. Finally, with no fanfare whatsoever, the orderly unlocked the rec room and shoved him inside.
His eyes darted from side to side, desperately seeking a place to hide. The Scarecrow lurked by the window, pretending to be so fascinated by the flurrying snow outside that he couldn't hear the Mad Hatter pleading for a game of chess. Poison Ivy, back to her normal green, scowled furiously at the television, where a rosy-cheeked reporter reminded her viewers that there were only a few more days left to get a fresh-cut Christmas tree. The Riddler occupied the other end of the couch, deeply involved in filling out a crossword puzzle with a small blunt stick of charcoal. Two girls who he vaguely recognized as Two-Face's henchgirls sat gossiping and putting a puzzle together at a tiny table. Sorrow was nowhere in sight.
He gulped nervously and edged toward an empty table in a relatively abandoned area of the room. The sharp scent of industrial-strength disinfectant filled his nose. He desperately stifled a sneeze as he padded over the freshly-mopped floor. Another sneeze hammered at his sinuses, threatening to explode his head if it wasn't released. He clamped both hands over his face and did his best to stifle it.
Slowly, with dread dampening the nape of his neck, he unpeeled his fingers from his face and looked out at the room. Everyone was looking directly back at him as if he was a cricket who had just stumbled into a gathering of half-starved tarantulas. Casually, they began to put aside their various activities and drift toward him - all but the Riddler, who wouldn't notice anything except his crossword unless you lit it on fire.
The door slammed open once more. Sorrow staggered in, helped along by a hearty shove from the orderly. She shot the back of his head a dirty look as the door clanged shut.
"Sorrow!" Troy said, nearly wiping out on the damp linoleum as he scrambled to her side. Without thinking, he threw his arms around her and hugged her tightly.
She disengaged him. "Not now," she said, distractedly tugging her jumpsuit back into place. The other rogues, recognizing him as just a henchman, turned dismissively away as Sorrow led him to a nearby table.
"Are you okay?" he said as soon as they were seated.
"Fine. We've got to get out of here."
"I was just thinking that!" He beamed happily at her. "So what's the plan?"
"The plan. You know." He lowered his voice and leaned forward in what was probably an attempt to keep the plan a secret. Since being quiet and getting close was the internationally recognized sign to eavesdrop, everyone in the room paid a little closer attention to them. "The plan to escape."
"There isn't one."
"But we have to get out of here!"
"I'm aware of that," she snapped, irritably flicking a little splinter of wood off of the ancient table. "How do you suggest that we actually do it?"
"We could...um...well, how do you usually get out?" He brightened up as an idea glittered in his head. "You could pick the locks and let us out!"
"I don't pick locks," Sorrow said flatly. "I hire people to do that for me."
"Oh. Um..." he drummed his fingers on the table, eager to help. "Harley escaped one time by going down the laundry chute!"
"And she ended up half-drowned and she smelled like fabric softener for two weeks. Besides, now they guard the laundry room, too."
"Oh. I guess we can't do that, then."
They sat for a while in urgent silence. There had to be a way out of here! With longing, he thought of his keys - his wonderful, dear little cardkeys that were probably still in his car. Oh sweet, useful little keys! Maybe he could steal some from one of the doctors. Okay, so he'd never actually stolen anything, but it couldn't be that hard, could it?
The ancient springs in the sofa creaked as Eddie stood up, finished crossword book in hand. With a reluctant sigh, he pitched it onto an empty table and handed the charcoal back to an orderly seated behind a nurses' station protected with bulletproof glass. The orderly, more interested in his magazine than the Riddler, grunted something unintelligible and put it back into a drawer. The Riddler scanned the room for more puzzle books. There were none, not even a measly find-the-word puzzle. Then, seeing Sorrow, he wandered over for some cheap entertainment.
"Is this seat taken?' he smiled, settling into a chair with an affable smile on his face.
Sorrow nodded welcomingly. "Hey, Eddie."
"How'd you get out of the basement? Did you sweet-talk that doctor of yours?" he winked.
"Not...exactly,' Sorrow said uncomfortably.
"What was it? Blackmail? Bribes?"
"For your information, she got out on her own,' Troy snapped, doubly stung at the inference that she'd need his help and that he would have let her out without permission.
Eddie, who hadn't really bothered noticing him, jolted backward slightly with the force of recognition. "And what, might I ask, are you doing here?' he asked coldly.
"Well...I..." Troy stammered, looking at the table.
Before matters could escalate, Sorrow stepped in. "He was hiding me from Batman." She shrugged. "We got caught. Not much to it, really."
Eddie sat back, pondering this turn of events. "So you and him...are you and him," he said pensively.
"Yes," Sorrow said patiently. Inside, Troy's stomach did a little flip of delight. "Was there anything else?"
"Actually...yes." Eddie looked embarrassed. "You're not the only one with a new sidekick."
"Reeeeeeeeally?" Sorrow drawled.
"Really. But she got away from Nightwing - well, I helped - and now she's alone out there! I've got to get back out there and get her somewhere safe." He leaned forward conspiratorially. "Are you in?"
"To get out? Of course we're in," Sorrow agreed instantly. Troy bit his lip. He wasn't quite sure that he was willing to trust his freedom to the Riddler - but then, what choice did he have?
"Good. I can get us out of our cells and I know the way out of the building. The problem is the guards. You can take care of them, right?"
Sorrow displayed her hands. The vote to lock her gloves back on had clearly gotten a veto. Unfortunately, the vote to wrap her hands in two layers of rubber gloves separated by steel mesh gloves and glued solidly at the wrists had been carried almost unanimously. "Unless you've got a hacksaw hidden in your cell, we're out of luck."
Eddie ran a hand through his hair in frustration. "But we've got to get them out of our way somehow!"
"Well, how do you normally do it?"
"Usually we're in a group and...someone...gets thrown away as cannon fodder." There was a distinct implication that Eddie had drawn that particular short straw more than once. "But the guards won't-"
"The guards!" Troy exclaimed jubilantly. "Of course!"
"Of course what?" Sorrow asked.
Troy darted a quick look at the nearest orderly. He was keeping an eye trained on the Scarecrow and the Hatter, anticipating trouble. "The staff Christmas party is on the twenty-second," he whispered. "The guards always slip away to go have a drink. If we waited until the ones up here disappeared, we'd be home free!"
"Not quite. There would still be guards on the lower levels," Eddie said, dismissing his idea. "No, we'll just have to find someone else."
They surveyed the lot. The rogues that were present did not inspire much confidence as to their ability to take on the guards without the help of any useful little thematic devices. The only one that currently had powers was Poison Ivy, and she was typically not too willing to cooperate with anyone, especially not the two people that had gotten her tossed back into Arkham. Everyone else would be excellent as bait - that is, unless they pulled a double-cross and sold them out...
"I know!" Sorrow said, a smile of evil delight creeping onto her face. "It's perfect!"
"Who?" Eddie demanded.
"Oh, it's not a who, exactly," Sorrow said impishly. She lowered her voice and leaned in, discussing her plan in hushed tones with the other two potential escapees.
Eddie nodded. "Right." He stood up, shoving his chair back to its original table. "See you in three days!"
(to be continued)