Living in a cell is never fun. Iron bars may not a prison make, but they certainly also didn't lend a free and happy atmosphere to any decorating scheme that made heavy use of them. Traditionally, the only ones that ever do have fun behind bars are bartenders.
Edward Nygma was certainly not having fun in his cell. It was past midnight, a time when all sane people and a good portion of the insane ones were taking the opportunity to rest up for a busy tomorrow that would be nearly identical to their yesterdays. By all rights, he should be sleeping too, and yet here he was, staring at the dimly lit ceiling, doing his best to remain absolutely still.
Five weeks. Five long, miserable weeks had gone by, and that thrice-damned orderly still hadn't gotten bored and gone away. Every morning, at seven o'clock sharp, his door would open and a folding chair would skreek open on his floor. And from that moment on, no matter where he went, the orderly trailed behind him like a large and mustached shadow. The end of the orderly's shift didn't mean the end of the watching, though. Oh, no, of course it didn't. He was an escape risk and had to be watched, as the orderly oh-so-kindly reminded him every hour or so. When the man did eventually go home to whatever hellpit he lived in, he always made sure that the night guard set up a security camera right outside Eddie's cell, so he would even be watched in his sleep! And the bastard even worked overtime on the weekends!
The doctors were probably over the moon at the man volunteering to watch Eddie. None of the orderlies ever wanted to do one-on-one time with a rogue. They were probably so thrilled that he wanted to do it that they okayed everything else he wanted, including that thrice-damned camera, never mind the fact that the rest of the rogues' gallery escaped nearly as often as Eddie did! Okay, so he was a little more skilled than the rest at picking locks - okay, maybe a lot more skilled - but that hardly warranted a twenty-four hour observation schedule. Even the Joker didn't have this much security around him, and he'd killed three doctors and who knew how many guards last year!
With a monumental flex of his will, he uncurled his hands from their tight, tense fists and tried to relax. Insomnia was hardly a new problem of his - when your brain was this fantastic, sometimes it took a little more effort to turn it off at night - and over the years, he'd acquired a wealth of tips and advice on how to get to sleep. Relax, they said. Clear your mind, they said. Count your blessings, they said.
Blessings. Right. Well, this March seemed to be rather balmier than most, because the draft that blew in from the ceiling of his cell was slightly warmer than usual. He wasn't tied down to the bed, which was good, though he'd be amazed at any other result after staying resolutely quiet and calm during every waking moment. They'd even backed off on the antipsychotics a little, which was definitely nice, considering that he didn't need any of them to begin with.
What he did need was to talk to someone. It was useless to try and talk to any of his fellow rogues. Those conversations were invariably ended when amusement at his constant companion began to twinkle in their eyes. He could talk to his doctor, but what good had that ever done anyone? Besides, it wasn't like the orderly was doing anything illegal.
Ooooh, and wasn't that the icing on the bitter little cake. The man had every right to follow Eddie around, to have him constantly watched, to sit in on his therapy sessions and bask in Eddie's frantic struggle to simultaneously obey enough of the rules to make the orderly happy while cunningly persuading the doctor to get him the hell out of there.
He wasn't going to be able to keep this up much longer. Even now, his hands were balling back into fists while his teeth ground together like an aircraft carrier being dragged down Main Street. And if this treatment was having this effect on him...well...what if they were doing it to Jackie? Arkham was dangerous when the doctors got ideas. He fully remembered all of the psychiatric fads as they'd blossomed over the years. Art therapy. Work therapy. Medication after medication, therapist after therapist, theory after theory had been tested on them - on him - with no appreciable results. Even that small army of drill sergeants they'd brought in however many years ago hadn't done anything but make the rogues extremely angry.
So what were they doing to Jackie? He didn't know, but he had a pretty good guess from listening to Harley Quinn and the other sidekicks bitch about their therapists over the years. Medication, for one, an extra-large amount of therapy, for another, and of course, every waking moment of her day would be filled with reminders that she should abandon him and go back to her productive, law-abiding lifestyle. It probably wouldn't be that hard to convince her of that. After that fiasco at the convention, she probably wouldn't want to go on another heist again anyway.
Well, fine. If she left him, he could manage. He'd been alone before. He'd been alone a lot before. If being alone was an Olympic sport, he could have won medals.
Hadn't he spent his childhood alone? Hadn't his intelligence set him apart from all the other kids and earned him bruises and black eyes along with his top grades? Not that his home life was any better. Oh sure, he had parents - parents who claimed to have stayed together for his sake, but who made every night a crying, screaming hell as they fought with one another about everything and anything. And the night that his parents had placed the blame for his existence firmly on each other - he'd never felt so alone as he had that night, curled in his pajamas, peering between the stair rails, knowing for the first time that no one really loved him.
He'd tried to convince himself that he didn't need people. He didn't need friends, so when the cliques turned their backs on him it didn't matter. He didn't need girls, so when he couldn't get dates in high school, it didn't matter. He didn't need parents, so when he moved out and they stopped speaking to him, it didn't matter. When his henchgirls were the only thing standing between him and Arkham, he gladly abandoned them. After all, it wasn't like he needed them.
But then Jackie had come along - stubborn, cheerful Jackie who had fallen in with his lifestyle with only a few minor hiccups along the way. She stood by his side, even defending him that night in the opera when she had everything to lose by confronting the bats. Even before she'd put on a costume, she had tricked Batman into the other room of their lair and distracted him for just long enough so that Eddie could get away. And she'd told him her plan in an anagram right in front of Batman's stupid cowled face!
She was perfect. Well, maybe not perfect - a few more fighting skills would be nice - but she was everything he wanted in a companion.
And he needed a companion. He hadn't known how much he needed someone until she was already there. The long, dark, lonely nights curled up with a notebook had been replaced by long, cozy nights of laughter and stories and...other things that he refused to think about, because it would only make his enforced solitude seem ten times worse.
And if she left him...when she left him...he'd be alone again, only this time it would be worse, because he'd always know what he had lost. He -
He sounded like the heroine of a badly-written romance novel. He snorted scornfully at himself. What was he doing? What was he thinking? Jackie wasn't leaving him, so why was he preparing for her to do just that? What was wrong with him?
It was the camera, it had to be. Being watched for twenty-four hours a day was enough to drive anyone mad.
Well, enough was enough. He had to get himself and Jackie out of there. The first order of business would be to find out where they were keeping her, since running blindly through Arkham searching for her would get him nothing but an express ticket back to his cell. He had to find her, figure out how to get past whatever security might be around her, and get the two of them out of there before one or both of them went completely crazy.
Jackie stared blankly at the huge, grinning sunflower. "Welcome to the First Day of the Rest of Your Life!" it said in slightly drippy letters that had been stenciled into its hideously pink speech bubble.
She darted a quick glance at the orderly, waiting patiently by her side for the locked door in front of them to swing open. "Interesting artwork around here," she said. Interesting. What a wonderful word. It was the perfect all-purpose nothing statement that could mean anything the listener wanted it to mean.
"I hate that flower," the orderly grumbled. "That smile is creepy."
Jackie examined it again. On closer inspection, the sunflower's smile did look a little too manic to be comforting. She shifted her armload of Arkham-issued clothes and bedding to a slightly more comfortable position and waited, twitching at every noise, expecting the door to open at any second.
A full ten minutes went by, filled with nothing but the sunflower's bright, brittle smile. "This is stupid," the orderly snarled. "I told them to be here at eight to get you. What's taking them so long?" He strode forward and kicked the door sharply.
As he turned to walk back to his spot, the door slammed open and whacked the orderly on the back of the head. He stumbled and fell into a swearing, lightly bruised heap on the floor.
"You're late," said the doctor framed in the doorway. "I thought you were bringing her at eight."
"I did bring her at eight," the orderly muttered rebelliously as he picked himself up.
"Thank you," the doctor said, in tones that contained one percent thanks and ninety-nine percent artificial additives. "You can go." The orderly stalked off without a backward glance.
The doctor sniffed superiorly at his receding back and turned to Jackie with an almost sincere smile on her face. "I'm so glad you decided to join us. Welcome! My name's Dr. Sohnlean, but you can call me Doctor Lily. Come on in." She stepped aside, clearing a small amount of doorway for Jackie to duck through.
The door slammed behind them with a rapid triple-click of locks engaging. "We'll let you drop your things in your room, and then we can head to the meeting. The others are waiting for us to start." She guided Jackie to a small white doorway leading to a small white room with heavy black grates over the lone window. There was no door in the frame. A small sign by the doorway read BAKER.
"As you can see, we operate on a no-door policy here," Dr. Lily said briskly. "Go on inside."
Jackie obediently went in and dropped her bundle on the bare mattress. "Good, good, now come with me. I'll introduce you to our other residents before we start the meeting."
They hurried down the hallway, stopping when they reached the small open area that was full of women sprawled comfortably on a variety of armchairs placed in a rough circle. Dr. Lily took her seat at the head of the group, while Jackie found herself an unoccupied chair toward the back.
"I'm sorry we're late, everyone. I'd like you to meet your new neighbor, Jacqueline Baker. Jacqueline - "
"Jackie, please," Jackie interrupted uncomfortably.
"We don't use nicknames here," Dr. Lily informed her loftily. "Jacqueline, this is Harleen Quinzel."
"Hiya, kiddo!" Harley chirped, waving her hand in a cheery hello. Jackie waved back.
"This is Felicity DuBois."
Felicity, whose blonde hair somehow managed to look fresh from the beauty salon despite the surroundings, smiled warmly at her. She looked familiar...had she met her before?
"This is Rose Laing."
Rose scowled darkly at her. That was where she knew Felicity from. Rose, too. The last time she'd seen them, they'd been dolled up in their New Year's finery, arm-in-arm with Two-Face. Of course, they'd been calling themselves Angelica and Demonica at the time. She almost hadn't recognized them without their usual sequins and leather.
"This is Miss Melling."
"My name is Alice," the blonde insisted petulantly.
"You'll be Miss Melling until we find out your real first name," Dr. Lily said firmly.
"But Alice is my real name."
Dr. Lily pointedly did not roll her eyes before she gestured to the last woman. "And finally, this is Margaret Sullivan."
Margaret, a sullen-looking brunette, waved a half-hearted hello.
"Who'd like to begin the meeting today? Anyone?" Dr. Lily asked hopefully.
"So who's your boss?" Margaret asked Jackie, ignoring Dr. Lily's instant frown of disapproval.
Margaret sighed and flopped back into her chair. "Hopin' she'd be another B-list buddy for ya, Mags?" Harley chuckled.
Fury flashed in Margaret's eyes. "He is not a B-lister! He's a genius! He's got all sorts of gadgets and he can fly, which is more than any of your bosses can do!"
"Ladies," Dr. Lily warned.
"Mags is in love with Killer Moth," Harley explained airily to Jackie as Margaret fumed. "Waste of time, if ya ask me. He's a real moth now."
"Ladies," Dr. Lily said, a little more insistently.
"He is not! That...that big moth-monster-man is not Drury!"
"Ladies!" Dr. Lily snapped, all composure gone. "We are here to break your ties to those madmen, not to argue over them!"
"Says you," Harley fired back. "Mistah J loves me an' I love him. He's gonna break me out of here any day now, just you wait and see!"
"Sure he will," said Dr. Lily, as unconvinced as anyone who had noticed that Harley had been left behind during twelve of the last fifteen Joker escapes. Realizing that sarcasm hardly befitted a psychiatric professional, she summoned up her calm face and let out a deep sigh. "Does anyone have anything else they'd like to discuss?"
"I'd like to discuss when we get to go back to our old cells in the rogue's wing," Rose growled. "This place sucks and you can't do anything to make us quit loving our guys. Right?" she asked, getting an almost immediate "Right!" back from nearly everyone in the group.
Rose narrowed her eyes. "Right, Alice? Jackie?"
"Right!" Jackie agreed immediately, preferring the somewhat powerless displeasure of Dr. Lily over the barely contained fury of Demonica.
"Screw you," Alice grumbled.
"So let us go back already and let's be done with this nonsense." Rose slouched back in her chair, arms folded, glowering at Dr. Lily.
"You cannot and you will not be housed in those cells again. It's for your own good, ladies," she barked over the rising tide of indignation. "Your relationships are not healthy!"
"You think love is unhealthy?" Harley snorted.
"I think being thrown out of a window is unhealthy," Dr. Lily snapped. "Or wouldn't you agree?"
Harley stuck her nose in the air and refused to answer.
Dr. Lily cleared her throat and flipped a page on her clipboard. "I understand that some of you feel like there's not enough to do here. You'll be happy to know that, starting tomorrow, you'll have the opportunity to attend some classes, as well as participating in some new activities. Oh, and this evening, we'll be taking some pictures of all of you. The program is funded by Wayne Enterprises, and the board there wanted to see what their contributions have gone towards."
"Translation: they're too scared to come here themselves, so they're making you send pictures so that they don't have to come into the spooky old asylum," Margaret grumbled.
"Make sure ya get my good side," Harley said, fluffing her pigtails.
"What good side?" Margaret muttered, not quite quietly enough.
"You want to say that again?" Harley demanded.
Dr. Lily flipped her paperwork closed. "Let's take a few minutes to reflect on things by ourselves," she said, getting to her feet. "Start thinking about what you'd like to discuss at this afternoon's meeting." Quickly, her composure cracking around the edges, Dr. Lily fled into the comparative safety of the nurse's station and slammed the door.
The others immediately got up and hurried off to their various rooms, with the exception of Felicity and Rose, who retreated to a corner of the main room to whisper urgently to one another. Jackie ducked inside her doorway and rested for a moment with her back pressed hard against the wall.
It wasn't going to work. Even if she had decided what to do - and she hadn't, not even after hours of thinking about it - would it really matter what she had chosen if the rest of the group was so adamantly against it?
Slowly, so she had an excuse to linger in her room and not be social, she moved to her bed and began arranging her things in the little room. There wasn't much to arrange, which was good, because there wasn't much of anything to arrange things on. The room's entire set of furnishings consisted of the wrought-iron bedstead, which had been thoroughly bolted to the floor, and a shelf built into the wall that was just large enough to hold her two spare jumpsuits and the standard-issue toiletry kit.
She began to smooth her rough sheets over her mattress while thoughts and arguments fireworked in her brain. Stay or go? Stay or go? A thousand reasons why and why not battled back and forth like a pair of toddlers fighting over a teddy bear.
She snapped the blanket out over the bed and let it drift gently down, tucking the edges under her thin mattress. On the other hand, maybe it wasn't her choice to make. Her lawyer had said that she'd be re-evaluated soon. The two-week evaluation deadline only had eleven more days left in it. Maybe, when they evaluated her, they'd declare her sane and set her free.
Could she really go free and leave Eddie behind?
The bed was made. She carelessly threw herself down on it, resting her head on her arm and staring at the wall. They would decide what they would decide, and after they decided, she'd make her decision. Until then, she'd let her worries go and relax a little bit.
Felicity and Rose tore through her doorway, giggling madly. Jackie sat up just in time to see a sopping-wet Margaret screaming after them. They rocketed around the room, knocking everything off of her shelf and rampaging directly across her bed, regardless of the fact that she was still in it. Shrieking incoherently, the trio tumbled back out the door and disappeared.
Jackie sat in the wreckage of her room. Slowly, deliberately, she laid back down on the bed and clamped the pillow around her ears.
(to be continued)
Author's Note: Eddie's troubled childhood was taken from the 1995 Detective Comics Annual.