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From the Case Files of Edward Nigma, Private Investigator: The Road to Arkham

Chapter Text

It had been three days since Penelope had stopped by with her old college yearbook. Two days since he had brought himself to finally get out of his apartment, even if it was just to get a cup of coffee and a copy of the Gotham Gazette. One day since he finally bit the bullet and called Dr. Leland to set up another appointment. What a wonderful experience that was going to be. Edward leaned back against his couch cushions and let out a long sigh. He was still tired. His ribs were still tender from the thrashing Croc had given him. He still had moments where he would think of Jonathan and the tears would come. He let them come now though. It hurt a little less each time, but Edward was coming to terms with the fact that the hurt would never go away completely. More than anything now though, he was bored. He wasn't physically or mentally up to the task of getting back to the investigation, or even his regular casework, but more than anything, he hated the feeling of stagnation. At least Dierdre and Nina were coming for a visit. That was something to look forward to. They were even staying long enough that they'd finally get a chance to meet Ellen. Edward wasn't sure if he should look forward to that or dread it. They weren't due to arrive until later that evening though, which left Edward nothing to do but flip through news coverage and reruns of game shows. He let out another huff. He hated being bored.

His idle channel surfing was interrupted by a knocking at his door. Edward looked up, interested. Had the girls arrived early? "The door's open!"

His door swung wide open and a woman dressed in black tights and a large red sweater walked in, carrying several large packages that obscured her face. Edward could just see the ends of two blond pigtails and he was instantly on the alert. It couldn't be...The woman placed the packages down on the dining room table and her face was revealed, confirming Edward's worst fears. Her face broke out into a wide grin. "Eddie!"

Oh no. Not her. Not now. "H-Harley?"

Harley squealed and bounded to the couch, plopping herself next to Edward with such force he nearly bounced up. "Right-a-Rooney!" Harley then grabbed his arm and squeezed it tight. "Oh, Eddie! I really missed you!"

Edward sat stiff as a board while he attempted to comprehend the situation. Harley Quinn was in his apartment. Why was she in his apartment? They hadn't spoken for the better part of a year! "Did you now?" he asked.

Harley looked up at him and nodded. "Of course I did!"

Edward didn't believe that whole-heartedly. "Why are you really here, Harley?"

Harley's face fell slightly and Edward felt a slight hint of guilt before stamping it down. "Kitty told me and Red what happened with you and Croc. I thought you could use the company!"

For a cat burglar, Selina didn't seem to know the value of discretion at times. "Is that the only reason you're here?"

Harley let out a long sigh. "You sure don't make it easy on a girl, do you, Eddie?" She paused for a moment before she spoke in a serious tone. "Look, I know things got really messed up between us. I haven't been as good a friend to you as I should have been. But I wanna make it right!"

'Really messed up between us'. That was one way of putting it. "You set me up with Dr. Aesop, Harley. I can't just forget that!"

Harley's lower lip jutted out into a pout. "So did Kitty and you forgave her!" Selina had had to save him from Tetch before he'd been willing to bury the hatchet with her. Edward was about to inform Harley of that fact when she sighed again. "I shouldn't have said that I'm sorry. If you really don't want to be friends anymore, I get it. I just wanted to let you know how sorry I was for everything." She looked up at him with those big, pleading blue eyes and Edward felt his resolve slip.

Maybe it was the painkillers talking, maybe it was the old sentimentality he had regarding Harley. This was a dangerous road to go down though. As loving as Harley could be, she was inconstant. How many times had she sworn up and down that she was someone's friend, only to forget them the moment the Joker came calling? "I appreciate the apology," he said at last. "But forgive me if I'm a little hesitant."

"I get it," Harley said. "I haven't exactly been reliable before, but it's different now! Me and Mr. J-we're done. That's way in my past." Harley clasped Edward's hands in her own. "We can go as slow as you want, but I promise, I wanna do whatever I can to make it up to you."

Edward looked at their hands and wet his lip. Harley was fickle, but she had been a good friend to him and to Jonathan once. Then he remembered that there was someone else to consider. "It can't be what it was like before," he said. "I won't get involved in whatever nonsense you and Selina and Ivy get up to and you can't drop in on me unannounced. But I wouldn't be opposed to catching up every now and again."

Harley's face broke out into another wide grin and she let out a whoop. "Yay!" She let go of Edward's hands to go in for a hug when she paused. "Oh yeah. Your ribs." She settled for hugging his arm instead. Edward shook his head in fond exasperation. No one on Earth save Batman himself could ever really say no to Harley. Harley suddenly let go of him to jump up from the couch and walk back to the dining room table. "I almost forgot! Your presents!" 

Edward raised an eyebrow as he watched Harley gather the packages she'd brought into his apartment and awkwardly carry them back to the couch. "My presents? You're not trying to buy me back are you?"

"No!" Harley said, setting the parcels down on the coffee table. She looked at Edward with a sheepish grin. "Well, maybe a little." She grabbed one box wrapped in shiny green wrapping paper and nearly shoved it into Edward's hands. "That was supposed to be your Birthday present last year! These two big ones were for Christmas! That little one I got at a gift shop last week because it reminded me of you! And this one I picked up when me and the girls went on a road trip upstate last October..."

Edward listened to Harley prattle on about her adventures with the other two Sirens with polite disinterest as he considered one very important question: how on Earth was he going to explain this to Penelope?

"So what've you been up to, Mr. Bigshot Private Eye? I saw that whole Tut thing on the news!"

He wouldn't tell her about Hugo Strange and that whole affair. Not until she'd proven she could be completely trusted. "Let's just say I've had...quite an experience."


"This is Vicki Vale, coming to you live from Gotham City Hall, where today, the Sharp Commission will officially convene. Members of the commission include City council members as well as members of the governing boards of Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Prison. Mayor Sharp announced the creation of this commission back in January to shed light on how Victor Goodman was able to carry out his December rampage. My sources in City Hall have told me however that this commission will also be taking a greater look at how GCPD has handled the so-called supercriminals over the past decade. Today, the commission is set to question Detective Harvey Bullock, Detective Renee Montoya, and Officer Aaron Cash in detail about the events that unfolded in GCPD headquarters last December. We'll continue to bring you coverage as events unfold. This is Vicki Vale."

Penelope had cleared today on her calendar over a week ago before the incident with Waylon Jones had derailed everything. She walked into the main city council chamber of City Hall, into a crowd of GCPD officers, city officials and reporters. Near the front row, she recognized Jack Ryder preening himself and she couldn't stop herself from rolling her eyes. The questioning today would be enough of a circus without Ryder stirring things up for extra publicity. She also spotted Bullock and Montoya huddled in a far right corner of the room speaking to each other. 

"Hey, Doc!"

Penelope turned to see Aaron Cash pushing his way through the mob to get to her. He stopped just in front of her and gave her a lopsided grin. "I didn't know you were gonna be here. Shouldn't you be working?"

If it were almost any other person, Penelope would greet his teasing comments with a sharp retort, but instead, she smiled slightly. "I came to show support for you, Bullock and Montoya," she said. It was partly true, but really, she came to get information. She knew Sharp himself wouldn't be here and she doubted Strange would reveal himself, but it was obvious to almost everyone in attendance that this was meant to be a repudiation of Gordon and his handling of GCPD. Their fingerprints would be all over the proceedings today.

Aaron's smile grew warmer. "I appreciate that, Doc. I really do." He placed his right hand on her shoulder and his face grew serious. "I know I said this before, but I'll say it again: I'm really sorry for what happened last year."

Penelope shook her head. "It wasn't your fault, Aaron. No one knew what Goodman was going to do."

Aaron huffed. "Nigma knew. He tried to warn us, but I thought he was full of it. If I'd listened to him-"

"Aaron," Penelope said. "I don't mean to be cold, but there's no point going over 'what-if's'. It happened. The best thing we can do is learn from it and move on." She was no stranger to regret.

Aaron nodded. "Yeah. You're right. Anyway, I'd better get up there. Wish me luck, Doc."

"You'll be fine, Aaron," Penelope said as Aaron gave her a wave and walked towards the front of the room. Penelope felt her heart sink a bit. Aaron was a good man and a good cop. He didn't deserve to be raked over the coals to satisfy a grudge. Shaking her head, she walked towards the rapidly filling benches to find a seat. She walked up a row until she saw Joan sitting near the edge. Joan caught her eyes and waved her over, gesturing to the empty spot next to her. Penelope took it. "Hi, Joan."

"Hi, Penelope," Joan answered. "I'm a bit surprised to see you here instead of work."

"Believe me, Joan, I'm not here for fun," Penelope said. She watched as the members of the commission began to appear in the chamber. She recognized Councilman James Roberts and Councilwoman Ashley Greene. They represented the Bowery and the Diamond Districts of Gotham City respectively. Two of the more..colorful parts of town. Doubtless, they and their constituents had plenty of thoughts on how GCPD conducted their affairs. She also saw a broad, white-haired man with a prominent frown on his face making his way to the chamber and vaguely recognized him as Phillip Ward, an old associate of Sharp's from when he'd worked at Blackgate. Ward was the Warden of Blackgate Prison now and had paid frequent visits to the Asylum while she'd worked there. He'd been there the night of the riot, overseeing the transfer of the Joker's men into the Asylum. He'd also been present when Bane-Penelope dug her fingernails into the palm of her hand. Don't think about that now.

Joan leaned over to say "So far, it looks like the commission made up mostly of Sharp's allies. I don't see anyone who's criticized him yet."

"I think I see Lyle Bolton as well," Penelope muttered. "He's probably there to goad Bullock into saying something rash. Not that he needs the goading."

Joan clucked her tongue. "I feel so sorry for him, Renee and Aaron. They're probably going to be pushed to resign."

"Or they'll be pressured to turn on Gordon," Penelope mused. "I'm convinced he's the real target of the commission. It's too dangerous to attack him directly, so Sharp is going to isolate him by getting rid of his strongest allies in GCPD."

Joan nodded. "Sounds about right." She quickly looked around to make sure no one was listening before she whispered. "Is Edward going to be here?"

Penelope's face softened. "No," she whispered. "At least, I hope not. He's not-he's not up to this right now."

"I spoke to him yesterday about setting up an appointment. Can you give me a hint of what that's about?"

Penelope looked at her hands. "It's...a personal matter. You should hear the rest from him."

Joan nodded, then turned her attention back to the stage. Penelope inwardly sighed. Edward needed to focus on his recovery now. She could handle the commission. She was more than enough.

"Mind if I sit here, ladies?"

Penelope looked upwards at the voice and was shocked to see none other than Bruce Wayne standing before her. He caught her eyes with a dazzling if obviously practiced smile. Penelope said nothing to him but moved over to accommodate the billionaire. Joan looked and smiled. "Bruce! How are you?"

Wayne waved. "Hi, Joan. I've been fine." He turned his attention back to Penelope. "I don't believe we've met. I'm-"

"I know who you are," Penelope answered in a clipped tone. "Bruce Wayne. I'm Dr. Penelope Young. I consult with GCPD."

Wayne looked blankly at her for a moment, then rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. "Well then. That takes care of introductions. So what brings you here today?"

"I could ask you the same question," Penelope answered, keeping her focus directly on the commission members. She never cared for small talk and she was especially not in the mood for it today. "I'd think that running Wayne Enterprises would keep you busy enough without dropping in on a city commission."

She looked out of the corner of her eye to see that Wayne had a cheeky grin on his face. "Keeps me out of those dull board meetings."

"Penelope," Joan scolded. "Be nice. Mr. Wayne used to be on the Board of Directors for Arkham Asylum."

For the first time, Penelope looked at Wayne with genuine interest. "Oh? When?" It must have been before she'd begun working there. She would have remembered otherwise.

"A few years ago," Wayne answered. "Probably before your time. I supplied grant money for the doctors as well."

"Why did you stop?"

Wayne's face darkened somewhat. "Let's just say that I had some...misgivings about the direction the Asylum was going."

It seemed to make sense and Penelope was about to lose interest in him again when something he'd said hit her. "Before my time? How did you know I used to work at Arkham?" Had they met before?

Wayne actually looked a bit surprised. He was about to answer her when a hush fell over the room. Penelope turned her attention to the front of the chamber, where Ward was speaking into a microphone.

"Thank you. If I could have complete silence in the room, we can begin. This commission was formed to delve into the events of December 2006, when Victor Goodman, after eight years of silence, went on a murder spree and set off a bomb in GCPD headquarters. We're going to be looking into the causes of Goodman's rampage, as well as the GCPD's response and the involvement of certain third parties. Finally, we will be addressing whether GCPD's conduct in similar cases over the past ten years may have led to this event unfolding in the manner it did."

'Certain third parties.' That had to mean Edward. Her stomach began roiling in worry. If he was a target of the commission too, he wasn't here to defend himself and she doubted anyone in here would. Her resolve strengthened. She would. If no one else would, she would defend him as far as she could.

At the front, Ward continued, "We've all read the official case report and copies will be made available upon request. We'd like to begin with questioning the lead detective on the Goodman case. Detective First-Grade Harvey Bullock. Detective Bullock, will you please make your way to the front?"

Penelope watched Bullock get up from the front bench and shamble up to the desk set up in front of the chamber. She couldn't see his face, but she could tell from the stiff posture he had when he was seated, as well as the way that he clenched his fists, that he was less than happy. "Please state your name for the record," Ward said.

"Harvey Bullock," Bullock spat out. "I just wanna say for the record, that this whole 'commission' is a big fat waste of everyone's time! Mayor Sharp didn't have any problems with GCPD back when we had to save his ass in Arkham-"

"That will be all Bullock," Ward cut in, his voice neutral, even though from her seat near the back, Penelope could detect his face reddening. "In the interest of keeping things civil, we ask that you keep such comments like that to yourself. Now, do you have anything to say with regards to the Goodman case itself, before we begin asking questions?"

"Yeah," Bullock said. "Yeah, I got something to say. What happened last December wasn't the fault of anyone in GCPD. It was all Nigma's."

A noise of surprise spread in the chamber and Penelope brought her hand to her face. Well. It certainly hadn't taken long for Bullock to throw Edward under the bus.

"I'm sorry?" Councilwoman Greene asked. "You blame Edward Nigma for what happened?"

"Damn right I do," Bullock said. "He compromised our investigation from the beginning. He withheld evidence from GCPD. He egged Goodman on TV. If he hadn't stuck his nose in, GCPD would have taken Goodman off the streets and the people who died in the bombing would still be alive. He's a freak and a menace and it's only a matter of time until he gets people killed again!"

Before she knew what she was doing, Penelope was on her feet. "That's not true!" she shouted. A wave of faces turned to look at her and she felt her face flush when she realized what she'd done. She quickly sat back down and tried to ignore the shocked look on Joan's face. She didn't notice the calculating look on Wayne's.

"Silence from the gallery please!" Ward said loudly into the microphone. "Now, Detective Bullock. Please explain in detail how you conducted the investigation into Goodman's crimes. And keep your commentary to a minimum, please."

Penelope's face still burned as Bullock began to gruffly detail the investigation from his point of view. What in the Hell had she been thinking? She didn't know who Sharp or Strange had here. She couldn't afford to lose objectivity or expose herself and Edward like this. She was here to support GCPD, not to publicly undermine one of the most senior detectives-but he was attacking Edward. Edward, who wasn't here to defend himself. Edward, who although had made plenty of mistakes while investigating Goodman, didn't deserve to be made a scapegoat. One question began to repeat itself in her mind: If she had to choose, between protecting Gordon and GCPD as an institution, or protecting Edward, what would she choose? Or, she realized, had she already made that decision?

 

 

 

Chapter Text

"...So then we had to stop what we were doing and mobilize to Solomon Wayne courthouse, because of Mr. Genius and his brilliant idea of luring Goodman out with a press conference. By the time we got there, the freak bashed Goodman's face in with a trash can and beckoned us over to him, like he'd done us a favor. We got Goodman in a cop car and the Commish took Nigma in his car and brought him to GCPD. When we got there, I met the commish in his office and helped tear Nigma a new one."

Ward took a deep sigh. "Detective Bullock," he said through gritted teeth. "May I remind you that we requested that you keep your commentary to a minimum?" 

From her vantage point, Penelope could see Bullock shrug. "Just being honest."

She rolled her eyes. Bullock had been exactly what she expected: Rude, defensive, informal, and he'd spent more time critiquing every single one of Edward's decisions on this case than he did actually explaining his own. As she'd watched him testify, she'd kept an eye on the members of the commission as well. Bolton seemed to be the only person enjoying himself, as the others had ranged from indifference to embarrassment in Greene's case, to outright anger in Ward's.

"Detective Bullock," Greene asked, reviewing her notes. "While you were in the Commissioner's office, where was Goodman?"

"He was on his way to Interrogation," Bullock answered. "The plan was for our consulting shrink to do an interview before Detective Montoya and myself conducted the interrogation."

"Detective Montoya was in interrogation at the time?" Greene clarified.

"Yeah."

"Is that standard procedure, to have only one detective present? Why didn't you go to interrogation too?"

Bullock's posture stiffened. "I needed to talk to the commissioner about the evidence we gathered in the case. Renee's a good cop. She could more than handle Goodman."

"So then, did Detective Montoya remain in interrogation while you were speaking with the commissioner?" 

Penelope narrowed her eyes. So that was the strategy. Bullock's testimony was to demonstrate how problematic GCPD had been in their handlings of Goodman and Montoya would get the blame for Goodman taking her hostage. Two of Gordon's most senior, well-respected detectives were going to be made to look like fools, which would call Gordon's judgment into question. She couldn't see Bullock's face, but she wondered if he'd figured out the trap. He was quiet for a long moment before his shoulders sagged.

"No," he answered softly. "She didn't. She came to the commissioner's office to tell us how Goodman was doing."

"And how much time did she spend there?" Greene asked.

"About 15 minutes." 

"I see," Greene said, pursing her lips. "So in that period of time, Goodman, a known serial murderer, was left alone with an unarmed civilian?"

Bullock got out of his chair and pounded his fist on the desk in front of him. "Oh no, you don't! You're not pinnin' this on Renee!" He jabbed his index finger in Greene's immediate direction. "She's done more good for this city than any of you ever have!"

"Sit down, Detective!" Ward shouted. "If you can't conduct yourself in a professional manner, then leave!" For a long moment, Bullock said nothing, continuing to, Penelope assumed, stare down Ward and the other members of the commission. Bolton looked at the scene with a smirk, while Councilman Roberts say blank-faced. Finally, Bullock sat down, his fists clenched. Penelope let out a breath she didn't realize that she had been holding. She had to give Bullock credit for one thing. As unpleasant as she found the man, he was intensely loyal to the few people he genuinely respected. She stole a glance to the front bench, where the other witnesses were sequestered and spotted Detective Montoya. From the glimpses she could get of her face, Penelope could see that she looked ashen, her mouth drawn into a straight line as she watched Bullock take his seat.

Councilwoman Greene picked at her sleeve, then continued on in an artificially pleasant tone. "We'll have plenty of questions for Detective Montoya regarding the choices she made. For now, let's talk about the bombing in GCPD." She looked down at her notes and skimmed through the page for a moment. "Apparently, a woman later identified as Leigh Carson planted a small pipe bomb in the waiting room of GCPD. Forensics later determined that there was a timer set for it to go off at approximately 5:45 pm. Is that correct?"

"Yeah," Bullock answered. "If that's what the lab boys said."

Greene hummed and continued on. "Backtracking a bit, you testified that yourself, Commissioner Gordon and Renee Montoya were all in the Commissioner's office while the consulting psychiatrist was conducting Goodman's interview. When did you leave the office?"

Bullock began to grind his teeth. "A uniformed officer barged in. He said that Goodman had gotten out of interrogation and he'd grabbed the shrink."

"The psychiatrist that Detective Montoya had left alone with Goodman?" When Bullock didn't answer, she pressed on. "What happened next?"

"The Commish, Montoya and I got out to the bullpen. Goodman was standing in the hall that led to the interrogation rooms and he had the shrink in a chokehold. We drew our weapons and the Commish told Goodman to let her go, that he was willing to talk to him if he did."

"And how did Goodman respond?"

Penelope watched as Bullock's fist clenched. "He didn't. Not to us, at least. He was talking to Nigma."

"Nigma?" Councilman Roberts asked. "He was still in the GCPD building? Why?"

"How should I know!?" Bullock shouted. "He was probably waiting for the reporters to get there so he could gloat about how he got Tut!"

"Getting back on topic," Ward grumbled. "What exactly was Goodman saying to Nigma?"

"I didn't catch a lot of it. Something about how he wanted to 'humiliate him'. This whole thing got started because of a stupid grudge match between those two. Then Goodman said that he was taking the shrink and leaving. Then the bomb went off in the waiting room."

Ward nodded. "Obviously, it was planted as a diversion to cover Goodman and his accomplice's escape. What happened next?"

"The blast knocked me, Montoya and the Commish on the floor. I was dazed, but I got up first. Goodman and the shrink were gone, and Nigma was taking off down the hallway towards the emergency exit. Montoya had a few cuts and bruises, and the Commish was out cold. I radioed an ambulance to help him and the rest of the wounded, then myself, Cash and a few other officers took off after Nigma. We found him in the parking lot, trying to run out. We took him into custody. Goodman was already gone."

This was the first time Penelope had heard about this. Edward had actually attempted to pursue Goodman after they'd driven off-she shook her head. That was done. She needed to remain in the here and now and she needed to remain as objective as possible.

"You detained Nigma?" Ward asked. "On what grounds?"

"He'd been making the situation worse since the moment he showed up in the museum," Bullock snarled. "The Commish didn't want him involved in the case because he knew all the trouble he'd cause. I just did what we should have done from the beginning."

"I see," Ward said. He gave Bullock a hard look. "And in the meantime, what did you do about Goodman? The murderer who had now taken a civilian hostage?" Penelope frowned a bit. First, she was 'the shrink', now 'a hostage'. Intellectually, she understood why her name wasn't being used, but the depersonalization rankled.

Bullock seemed taken aback by this line of questioning. "I-well, I put out an APB on Goodman. Then I informed Deputy Commissioner Reeves what had happened. While we waited for him to get there, myself, Montoya and Cash interrogated Nigma to see if there was any information about Goodman he was holding back. When the Deputy Commissioner arrived, we left Nigma in interrogation and went to update him and receive our assignments."

"And how much time elapsed between the bombing and the Deputy Commissioner's arrival?"

"About an hour, I guess."

Ward sighed. "An hour. An hour you spent interrogating a man who has since been officially cleared of any involvement in Goodman's crimes, instead of mobilizing to find Goodman himself."

There was a long pause before Bullock answered in the iciest tone Penelope had ever heard from him. "I did everything in my power to track down Goodman."

"Did you?" Ward asked. "Then tell me, who was it in the end who found Goodman and saved the hostage? Was it you? Detective Montoya? Batman?"

Bullock didn't answer. He couldn't really, Penelope thought. Both out of pride and because it would prove Ward's point.

Ward sat back, satisfied at Bullock's silence when Greene interjected again. "Detective Bullock. You've gone on record as not approving of Gordon's relationship with the vigilante Batman, correct?"

Bullock suddenly looked up. "Batman? He wasn't even around when this happened! What's he got to do with anything?"

"Answer the question please," Greene said in that fake tone. Penelope stole a glance at Joan, who looked back at her with an equal amount of confusion. Where was the councilwoman going with this?

Bullock finally shrugged. "I know the Commish trusts him, and I'm not gonna pretend that he hasn't done a lot of good for this city, but no. I don't. He's a vigilante. He's not accountable to anyone. And I don't trust anyone who wears a mask."

"All very valid points," Greene said. "It must frustrate you then, knowing how many times Batman's been the one to save the city from the various super criminals, instead of GCPD."

Penelope took a sharp breath. She understood now what Greene was doing. Bullock, however, didn't seem to. "Sometimes, yeah. I guess."

Penelope could detect a small, smug smile come to Greene's face. "Well then. If the idea of Batman showing up GCPD is frustrating, then the idea of a former super criminal doing so must have been utterly galling. Isn't that why you really detained Nigma?"

"That had nothing to do with it!" Bullock shouted. "Nigma's a goddamn menace, but he didn't have any influence over how we investigated this case!"

"Didn't he?" Greene asked in a condescending tone. "From your testimony so far, I think we can conclude one very important fact. However valid your ill feelings towards Nigma are, you allowed them to taint every decision you made on this case."

Bullock moved his hand up as if to speak, but no words came out. He slowly lowered his hand and Penelope could see his head tilt downwards, looking down towards the desk he was seated at instead of looking the members of the commission in the face. She could hear low murmuring in the gallery and she knew at this moment that Bullock had been defeated. 

"I think we've heard enough from Detective Bullock for now," Ward announced. "You may be excused, Detective."

Bullock got up from his seat and turned, slowly making his way back to the front bench where the other witnesses were seated. For the first time, Penelope got a good look at his face. Even from how far away she was, she could see the doubt and regret etched on Bullock's face. She almost pitied him. 

"We'd now like to hear from Detective Renee Montoya," Ward continued. "Detective Montoya, please come to the front."

As soon as Bullock took a seat, Penelope saw Montoya stand up and make her way to the front desk Bullock had vacated seconds earlier. Penelope studied her appearance and her demeanor as she walked. Where Bullock was slovenly and shambled his way, Montoya was immaculate in her dress uniform and her movements were measured, almost rigid. The perfect appearance of a dutiful police officer. Penelope noticed though that her fists were clenched. Montoya sat down, her back perfectly straight and she looked Ward in the eye. Ward didn't break eye contact with her. 

"State your name for the record," Ward said.

"Renee Montoya," she said through what sounded like clenched teeth. "Detective second grade."

Ward nodded. "You are Detective Bullock's partner, correct?"

"Yes," Montoya answered. "For the past three years."

"I see," Ward said. "Do you stand by Bullock's testimony for how this case was investigated?"

"Yes, I do," Montoya said. "Detective Bullock told the truth."

"Detective Bullock's honesty isn't in question," Ward said harshly. "We're not going to ask for your take on the investigation. Rather, we want you to explain your decisions on the night in question, starting with Goodman's initial arrest. Please walk us through what happened."

Montoya took a moment, then answered. "At Solomon Wayne Courthouse, Detective Bullock and I took Goodman into custody. We transported him to GCPD headquarters. Once we arrived, Detective Bullock went with Commissioner Gordon and Edward Nigma to the commissioner's office, while I took Goodman to Interrogation Room A. Once there, I conducted an initial interrogation, until Dr.-our consulting psychiatrist, arrived to do her interview." 

"At which point, you left the interrogation room and went to Commissioner Gordon's office, leaving the doctor alone with Goodman. Is that correct?" Ward asked, his black eyes boring holes into Montoya.

Montoya took a deep breath before responding, no doubt wanting to avoid the fireworks Bullock had displayed during his testimony. "No," she answered. "The psychiatrist was not alone."

There was a loud murmuring before Ward cleared his throat. "Quiet in the gallery, please. Detective Montoya, please clarify your last statement. We've been led to believe that Goodman was alone with the civilian he took hostage. Was that in fact not the case? There was a uniformed officer standing outside?"

"No," Montoya admitted softly. "Another psychiatrist was present, a Dr. Joan Leland. She had previously been Goodman's attending psychiatrist when he was incarcerated in Arkham Asylum. She was at GCPD assisting in the investigation."

It was the truth, but it was clear from the expressions on the members' faces that this was not a satisfactory answer. "Another psychiatrist," Ward said, contempt dripping from his voice. "Do you think Detective Montoya, that this was satisfactory protection for the unfortunate civilian?"

'Unfortunate civilian'. So the Commission intended to cast her as an anonymous, helpless victim in all of this, Penelope thought. Her fists clenched tightly and she felt her fingernails dig into the palm of her hand. She was not helpless.

"The doctor did not indicate any desire for protection," Montoya said in a crisp tone. "In fact, she had conducted similar interviews in the past, both in her work for GCPD and in her former position at-"

"The fact remains that she was a civilian, and you were the detective," Greene interrupted. "She may not have cared about proper procedure, but you certainly should have.  Why exactly, did you leave interrogation?"

Montoya took a deep breath. "Goodman had been unresponsive in my initial interrogation," she answered. "He'd also sustained minor injuries in his earlier scuffle with Nigma. At the time, I didn't think I would get anywhere with him, so I went to the Commissioner's office to tell him how Goodman was and to wait for the doctor to be done with her examination. I had only intended to be gone for a few minutes."

"A few minutes," Greene repeated, that smirk back on her face. "Long enough for Goodman to grab the woman and blow up the waiting room at GCPD."

"Goodman hadn't presented himself as a threat and the building was full of armed officers," Montoya defended. "No one could have predicted what Goodman was going to do."

"As one of the detectives in charge of investigating the case, you should have," Greene pointed out. "Or at the very least, taken greater precautions. Or were you under the impression that even if Goodman did somehow escape, Batman would have solved the problem for you? That seems to have been GCPD's usual pattern for the past few years."

Montoya jerked back as if she was about to get out of her seat, but she froze and remained seated. Good, Penelope thought. Don't let yourself be baited like Bullock was.

"Moving on," Ward interjected. "After the bombing, you backed up Bullock's response to Goodman's escape, correct?"

"Yes," Montoya answered. "He was the most senior detective present once the Commissioner was taken to the hospital. Until Deputy Commissioner Reeves arrived, I followed his instructions."

"Including detaining Nigma?" Ward asked.

Montoya paused. "Yes," she answered. She sounded regretful, Penelope noted. Bullock had clearly been motivated by his resentment of Edward, but why had Montoya gone along with that? Loyalty to Bullock? Anger about what had happened to Gordon? Whatever it was, it seemed that it wasn't a factor anymore.

"Why?" Ward asked.

Montoya paused again, seeming to collect her thoughts. "You have to understand," she said softly. "In the past, Nigma was fond of playing mind games with the authorities, including us and with Batman. He never lied outright, but he never told the whole truth. Even since he reformed, he still wouldn't share information about cases without heavy prompting. It's part of his pathology."

"His pathology?" Greene repeated snidely. "Are you a psychologist as well, Detective Montoya?"

"No," she answered with a hard tone. "But I am a detective with almost ten years experience on the force. The simple truth is, given our past experiences with the man, it was impossible for us to trust him."

"So you stand by Detective Bullock's actions then?" Ward asked.

A long pause filled the chamber before Montoya responded. "It was a bad situation," she said. "Two officers had died, many more were injured, including Commissioner Gordon, and a person I personally respect as a colleague had been kidnapped by a serial killer. We were angry. In the heat of the moment, mistakes were made." Montoya spoke louder. "But I still stand by my partner, and by GCPD."

Another round of murmuring spread through the chamber and Penelope felt her heart sink a bit. Montoya had been basically gift-wrapped an opportunity to throw Bullock under the bus and get out of this relatively intact, but she was just as loyal to him as he was to her. The Commission would likely recommend that they both resign. If they both were forced out, Gordon would lose the two most loyal detectives he had. He'd be vulnerable to whatever attack Sharp or Strange had planned for him. She turned to Joan and watched the older woman dab at her eyes. Finally, she heard Ward speak again.

"Thank you, Detective Montoya. That will be all." Penelope watched as Montoya got out of her seat and walked back to the front bench, her head held up high. As she approached, the assembled police officers, Bullock included got up to give her a standing ovation. The sound of a gavel broke the noise. "Quiet in the gallery!" Ward called out. As soon as the room was silent, he continued. "For now, I think we should take an hour break. When we reconvene, we'll hear testimony from uniformed officers from GCPD, as well as other witnesses to Goodman's rampage." 

The room almost instantaneously erupted in chatter as people got out of their seats. Bullock and Montoya got out of their seats and made their way to a side entrance just by the front benches. Penelope got out of her seat and moved to follow them, pushing her way through the crowd. She caught sight of them as she exited the chamber and walked briskly to catch up to them. "Detectives!" she called out.

They turned and looked at her, Bullock with annoyance and Montoya with genuine surprise. "What are you doin' here?" Bullock asked. "The Commission bringing you in too? You gonna tell everyone how we screwed up and let you get kidnapped?"

Penelope ignored Bullock and looked directly at Montoya instead. Montoya couldn't meet her gaze. She'd barely said a word to her since Penelope had returned to her work consulting with GCPD. She'd thought at first that the detective had been angry, but now she realized that she was ashamed. "I never blamed you for what happened, Renee," Penelope said. "Not for a minute."

Montoya looked up in surprise. Then she smiled wanly. "Thank you," she said. "I appreciate that."

Bullock looked like he'd been slapped. He then tipped his hat to Penelope. A rare gesture of respect. "If the Commission does call you," he said. "Just say what you have to say. We won't take it personally." Then he and Montoya left, walking out the front entrance. Penelope felt a small smile come to her own face. Despite their failings, they were good detectives. They didn't deserve this. She then turned to head back into the chamber to find Joan and almost collided with the last person she wanted to speak to.

"I thought I saw you in the crowd."

Penelope froze. Standing in front of her, a cold smirk on his face, was Lyle Bolton. "Hey, Doc. Long time no see."

Penelope quickly schooled her face into its default neutral, cold expression. "Bolton."

Bolton chuckled a bit. "Oh, come on. We're not at Arkham anymore. You can call me Lyle."

"I'll call you what I like, Bolton," Penelope emphasized. "What do you want?"

Bolton's face darkened for a moment before he plastered what he must have thought was a charming smile on his face. "I just wanted to say hi to an old friend. Is that a crime?"

"Really? Where is this old friend?" Penelope asked. "It certainly wasn't me."

Bolton shook his head. "Still as cold-hearted as ever I see," he said. "That's what I like about you. Really."

"I frankly could care less what you like or dislike about me," she said. "I have somewhere I need to be. Get to your point, Bolton."

Bolton shrugged. "Sue a guy for trying to be friendly. I just wanted to give you a heads up: Ward and the City Council members want you to testify too."

Penelope had expected that. They likely wanted to trot her in front of the world as the poor, pitiful damsel who GCPD had let down. She furrowed her brow. She'd show them just how much of a damsel she was. "When?" she asked.

Bolton actually looked surprised. "You-you actually want to testify?"

"If the Commission wants me to, I will comply," she said, folding her arms. She couldn't look too eager."When?"

"This Friday, after we hear from the rest of the cops," Bolton answered. "You'll be the nail in the coffin for those bozos."

Or so you think. "Very well. Tell the rest of the Commission I'll be prepared to testify."

Bolton shrugged. "Suit yourself. Me? I was gonna be a gentleman and try to keep you out of it. In case, you know, you're still traumatized." He leered at her then, eying her like a piece of meat. "Tell you what, we can discuss your testimony tonight, over dinner. My place or yours?"

The presumption of the man almost made her strike him. Not even Edward at his most arrogant had ever spoken down to her like this. She smirked then and leaned towards Bolton. "I would sooner have a dinner date with Victor Zsasz than ever let you anywhere near me." she hissed.

Bolton's face reddened and Penelope took a step back, in case he got violent. "You stuck-up bitch-"

"Dr. Young!" A voice rang out. Penelope turned to see Bruce Wayne approaching the pair of them. "There you are! Joan and I wondered where you got to!"

Penelope quickly latched onto Wayne's arm, taking advantage of the escape. "Bruce!" she said. She then turned to Bolton. "Bolton, I'm sure you know who this is."

Bolton's eyes went as wide as saucers. "Of course! Mr. Wayne!" He turned to Penelope with a strained smile. "You didn't tell me you knew Bruce Wayne."

"Well, I did say that I have places to be," she said. She guided Wayne towards the exit. "We're still on for lunch, Bruce?" she asked in the most honeyed tone she could come up with.

She was relieved when Wayne played along. "Of course! I know a little cafe just a block down." The pair walked out the front entrance to City Hall, leaving Bolton visibly angry behind them. Penelope had to stop herself from shaking her head. 

As soon as they walked out of Bolton's line of sight, Penelope separated from Wayne. "I'm sorry," she said. "But I needed an excuse to get away from him."

"Not at all," Wayne said jovially. "To tell the truth," he said softly. "I saw the two of you getting into it from inside. I thought you might need an escape."

Penelope looked at Wayne with genuine surprise. He clearly was more thoughtful than he let on in his television appearances. "Thank you," she said. 

"No problem," Wayne said. "You know, there really is a nice cafe just a block from here. Let's go get a bite to eat before the Commission starts up again. My treat."

Penelope was about to say no when she remembered from Joan had told her about Wayne. He'd implied that he left Arkham's board because of the direction Sharp was taking the asylum. He may have some valuable insight. "Alright," she said. "But I'm paying for my share."

"If you insist," Wayne said. Then the pair walked off together.

Chapter Text

Bruce Wayne had kept his word. After they'd left City Hall, he'd taken Penelope to a small french bistro just a block down the street. "We should be back in plenty of time for the commission to start back up," he said after the waiter had taken their order. He gestured across to her. "I'd be happy to pay for you-"

"Thank you, but that's not necessary," Penelope said. The last thing she needed was someone like Ryder spotting the two of them together and making assumptions.

Wayne shrugged. "Just offering." He took a sip of his water and flashed her a smile. Penelope couldn't quite bring herself to return it. From all of his broadcast appearances, and from the way he carried himself today, Bruce Wayne had every appearance of being a charming, if slightly dense, man. Yet the longer Penelope spent in his company, the more uneasy she felt. He was perfectly polite to her and engaged in a minimum of pointless small talk, but as she sat across from him at their small table observing him, she detected an air of artificiality about him. He said the right things, but it seemed practiced. He smiled, but it didn't quite reach his eyes. She wasn't sure if this was typical among people in his class, or if it was unique to him.

"So," he said. "What were you and Bolton getting into it over? He seemed furious."

Penelope paused, taking a sip of her drink before she replied. "He was an old colleague of mine from Arkham Asylum. He remembers our time together much more fondly than I do." She debated whether she should tell him the rest, then sighed. If he was going to regularly attend these hearings, he'd find out sooner or later. "He also informed me that the commission wants me to testify this week."

Wayne looked a bit surprised. "You? Why-" then his mouth dropped in realization. "You were the psychiatrist, weren't you? The one that Goodman kidnapped?" He appeared to be pretty quick on the uptake for a man that liked to present himself as a playboy. Then he shook his head. "I'm sorry, that was rude. You probably don't want to talk about it."

"It's alright," Penelope said with a rueful sigh. What kind of a life did she have that what happened back in December wasn't the worst thing that had ever happened to her? "I'm going to be talking about it in front of hundreds of people at the end of the week anyway."

"Still," Bruce said. "I can't imagine that's going to be pleasant for you."

"It won't be," she answered. "But there's not a lot I can do about that." She took another sip of her drink and relaxed a bit. Wayne may be a bit dense, but he appeared to be genuinely good-hearted.

Bruce watched Dr. Young's every move carefully. This had been the first time since what had happened in Arkham that he'd had any kind of close contact with her. For the first few months after the riot, he'd checked in on her from time to time, both to ensure that she wasn't recreating her TITAN experiment and to see that she was recovering. He'd stopped his regular check-ins after six months, but even with his limited observations, he saw just how broken the woman had been by her experience at Arkham. As much as he'd detested her experiment, he'd felt genuine pity for her. That had been why he'd suggested to Gordon that he reach out to her to use her as a consultant. She hadn't accepted the offer though, until after she’d encountered Edward at the Memorial fiasco. More than once, Bruce wished he knew what exactly had passed between them, for he suspected that whatever had happened had helped lead the both of them to where they were now. He recalled Dr. Young’s outburst when Bullock publicly blamed Edward for what had happened. Was that simple gratitude for her rescuer, or was there something else going on? He doubted it was anything romantic. The experience with Croc last week had proved that Edward still wasn’t over Crane. But Gordon had mentioned that Edward may still be willing to collaborate with her. Was that what was happening now?

“I still can’t help but wonder, Mr. Wayne,” she said. “You must have better things to do with your time than to sit on these hearings.”

Bruce leaned back a bit, pretending to ponder her question. It was obvious she was digging for information, but to what end? “Well, I do try to stay civically engaged,” he said. “Both of my parents dedicated a lot of their time and money to this city and I’d like to be able to follow their example.”

Penelope nodded. She knew of course, what had happened to Wayne’s parents. That probably explained his behavior as an adult, actually. To lose them in such a violent manner and to witness it at such a young age...that had to leave scars. “You have foundations in honor of them, don't you?"

"Yes," he answered. "The Thomas Wayne Foundation helps fund Gotham hospitals and free clinics in Gotham's underserved neighborhoods, and the Martha Wayne Foundation supports the arts, education and social services in Gotham."

"Did that include Arkham Asylum as well?"

Arkham? Why was she asking about Arkham? As far as Bruce knew, she hadn't set foot near the Asylum since the riot. "Yes, it did, while Jeremiah Arkham was in charge."

Penelope ran her finger around the rim of her glass. "You knew him well? I had just finished my internship when he passed."

Bruce nodded. So, it was Arkham she was curious about. "Very well. Dr. Arkham and I shared the same vision when it came to the asylum. We both saw the primary goal as rehabilitation, and reintegration in society." Then Arkham had tragically, or perhaps conveniently, died. "When Quincy Sharp took over, he made it very clear that his vision was less on rehabilitation and more on punishment. He cut most of the therapies and programs that Arkham and the Board had set up and began implementing stricter regulations. The only patients he wanted to give any resources to were the more high-profile patients."

"The Rogues," Penelope added. "That fits in with my experience. When I was promoted to Head of Research, Sharp was constantly demanding that I focus on curing them, as quickly as possible." To build up his profile, Penelope thought, more than out of any altruistic reason. Back then, she'd been so taken with her position and the challenge that she hadn't stopped to think through any consequences her research may cause. She shook her head. Wayne didn't need to know that.

"I told Sharp that I was uncomfortable with the hardline direction he was taking the Asylum in," Wayne continued. His blue eyes darkened a bit as he continued. "He told me that he was surprised that I cared about the inmates as much as I did, given my childhood."

Penelope felt her jaw drop. She knew how dense Sharp was, but what had possessed the man to say that to the multi-billionaire who helped keep the City afloat? "He said that? Really?"

Bruce nodded. It had taken all of his willpower to not toss the man across the room when that conversation had happened years ago. "Needless to say, my resignation from the board followed pretty quickly."

Dr. Young shook her head. "I can't say that I blame you, after that."

There was a slight pause in the conversation as the waiter returned with their meal. After eating for a few minutes, Bruce decided to press on. Now that Dr. Young had learned what she wanted, he had information he'd like to receive from her and he thought he had the perfect way to do so. "Even though I'm not on the Board anymore, I still help out whenever I can. I actually was the first one to hire Edward Nigma when he reformed."

What he said had the desired effect, as Dr. Young nearly dropped the sandwich she was eating. "You did?"

It seemed as if she and Edward were working together that there was a lot he hadn't told her. "Yes. I saw that he was serious about reform, so I thought it would do some good to give him a helping hand. That was why I became a Board member for Arkham in the first place."

Except Edward's reform had little to do with Arkham itself and more to do with his own willpower, Penelope thought. It was rather telling to her that the longer he was away from the Asylum, the more he improved. The same could be said about her as well. There was something about that place, something broken, almost possessed. It seemed to twist everyone who spent time there, from the patients to the doctors, to the administrative staff and to the wardens themselves. Or perhaps it simply amplified what was already below the surface, merely freeing inhibitions. Then Penelope's thoughts turned away from Arkham and more to what Wayne had said, or rather, why he had said it. He'd been sitting next to her when she'd had her outburst in the chamber. He might to trying to pry for information. 

"For what it's worth," Wayne continued. "I agreed with you. I don't think what happened last year was his fault."

Penelope sighed. "I shouldn't have lost control of myself like that in there," she said. "But he did save my life, so I suppose I felt some obligation to stand up for him." Hopefully, that would be a satisfactory enough answer for him.

Bruce carefully considered this. It seemed truthful enough, but there had to be more to it than that. He couldn't harp on the point too long though, lest she get suspicious. "So, what do you think you're going to say in front of the Commission?"

Penelope took a quick bite as thought over her answer. "Well," she said after a pause, "I've done quite a bit of thinking over the last few years since I left the asylum. Given what people have told me and what I've experienced myself, I think I can come to only one conclusion. There's no one person to blame for the state our criminal justice system is in. We've all become stuck in a broken status quo that is unsustainable, and no one wants to take any accountability for it. The difficulties Mr. Nigma's received during his reform is a perfect case study in that. For all the talk that people have of wanting the super criminals to reform, Mayor Sharp included, there was no infrastructure in place if something like that happened. He was essentially left to his own devices after he was medically cleared and most people in law enforcement would prefer it if he did relapse just so they don't have to deal with him." She took a sip of water and sighed. "I'm not going to claim that he hasn't done some terrible things in his life, or that he's a poor, misunderstood victim of circumstance, but treating him as a scapegoat is wrong. And this Commission isn't helping matters any. Did GCPD make mistakes with the Goodman case? Yes, but they weren't the only ones."

Bruce was surprised to hear this from Dr. Young of all people. Surprised, but not entirely displeased. "Nigma succeeding in his reform is a good thing," he said. "If he can, what does that say for the other patients in Arkham, not to mention the other criminals in Gotham?"

"Exactly," Penelope said. "It's a complicated situation and I'm not sure what the answer is. I'm not a sociologist. But Gotham can't continue on the way it has for so long. Some things need to change." Starting with Arkham. After the hearing was over today, she'd need to go back to her notes to begin hammering out what exactly she was going to say. Perhaps, she thought, Wayne could be an ally.

Bruce nodded and the two continued their meal. As well-intentioned as Dr. Young seemed, she'd made serious lapses in judgment before. She'd made some morally questionable choices in pursuit of what she thought was the greater goal. Her and Edward together...that was potentially dangerous.


 

Aaron's testimony was the last of the day and the shortest. "I just want to say for the record," he said when he was called up to the stand. "That I take full responsibility for what happened in GCPD that night."

There was a large gasp in the chamber and Penelope felt her heart sink into her stomach. She should have guessed this would happen from how Aaron had carried himself this morning, but it didn't make it any easier to watch.

"You do?" Ward asked, confusion in his voice. "How exactly, was what happened in GCPD your fault?"

Penelope heard Aaron sigh. "Before the bomb went off, before Goodman came out even, Nigma burst out of the waiting room and was running toward Interrogation. I stopped him and he said that Goodman was playing us. That the doctor conducting the interview was in danger."

There was another murmur in the chamber and Penelope took a quick glance at the bench the GCPD officers were gathered at. Bullock looked visibly angry at this. "Nigma knew?" Ward continued. "How exactly, did he know?"

Aaron shrugged. "I'm not sure. He kept trying to go around me to get to Interrogation, but I blocked him. I thought he was just trying to cause trouble."

"But he was right," Greene said in a snide voice. "So, you didn't believe him?"

"No," Aaron admitted. "He and I hate each other. We have ever since I was a guard at Arkham and he was still locked up there. I let that get in my head. I should have at least listened to him. Maybe if I had, the doc wouldn't have been kidnapped."

Penelope's face softened. Aaron, it wasn't your fault.

"There still was the matter of the bomb," Ward said. "And frankly, if you had let him run off to interrogation, that probably would have resulted in more bloodshed."

Was Ward defending Aaron? Why would he when he'd been so accusatory to Bullock and Montoya-because Aaron was still a beat cop with less than two years on the force. Bullock and Montoya were seasoned veterans. They were the juicier targets. 

"Correct me if I'm wrong," Ward continued. "But in your official report, you said that you were under the impression that Montoya was still in interrogation? Is that accurate?"

There was a long pause. "Officer Cash," Greene repeated. "We're waiting."

Finally, Aaron spoke. "Yeah. That's what I thought."

"So I imagine if you had known that Montoya wasn't there," Ward said, "You would have taken a different course of action, correct?"

There was another long pause before Aaron said, "Yeah. I would have gone over there if I knew she was alone."

Ward nodded, satisfied. "Officer Cash," he said. "Your loyalty is impressive but misplaced. Your attempt to take the blame for the irresponsible actions of your colleagues frankly makes them look even worse. You're dismissed." Once Aaron made his way back to the bench, Ward spoke again. "That will be all for today. We will reconvene at 9 AM tomorrow, where we will hear from Goodman's former doctor and Arkham staff." The chamber erupted into noise immediately and Penelope got up, pushing her way through the crowd to get to Aaron. He was standing by the bench with the other GCPD officers.

"Aaron!" Penelope almost shouted. "What were you thinking? Your career-"

"Just trying to do the right thing Doc," he said. He sighed. "This commission's got everyone so messed up, I'm not even sure what the right thing is anymore."

"I meant what I told you earlier, Aaron," Penelope said. "It wasn't your fault. None of it."

Aaron let out a rueful laugh. "I know, I know. I'm just glad Nigma's not here. Smug jerk would probably laugh his ass off if he saw us getting grilled like this."


 

Edward was, at that very moment, facing his own inquisition. Harley had left a few hours earlier, but not before giving him a kiss on the cheek. She'd left and Nina and Deirdre had arrived and were giving his bandaged form a look over. From the looks on their faces, they weren't impressed.

"I swear to God, Boss," Deirdre said with gritted teeth. "If we have to come all the way back here from Central City because you did something stupid one more time, we're taking you back with us."

Edward had to roll his eyes at that. "And what if I don't want to go?"

"We'll tie you up and throw you in the truck," Nina added.

Edward waggled his eyebrows. "Kinky!" Nina responded by giving him a light swat on his right elbow. "Hey!" he protested. "How about some consideration for your poor, wounded former employer?"

Nina huffed, then gave him a light hug. "Don't scare us like that again, Eddie," she said.  

Edward returned her hug. "I'm sorry," he said genuinely. "I'll try not to again."

Deirdre huffed, then took the last empty seat on the couch on Eddie's right. Nina was sitting on his left, which meant the three of them were in a tight squeeze on the sofa. Despite his usual aversion to cramped spaces, Edward had to smile. It reminded him of simpler times.

"So," Deirdre said. "When do we get to meet the kid?"

"She has a name you know," Edward said. "And tomorrow night, hopefully. That's when her Grandmother works the night shift and she can get away without me having to deal with the old battleax."

Nina laughed. "Still your charming self with the ladies I see."

Edward scoffed. "Hardly. That woman hates me. I went by the apartment to pick Ellen up once and she was sitting at the kitchen table, sharpening a knife. She made sure I saw her do it too."

"Sounds like my kind of woman," Deirdre drawled. "With that as a grandma and you as her Dad, Ellen must be a lot of fun."

"She's a little demon. Don't let her fool you."

"Sounds just like you, Eddie," Nina laughed again. "Maybe Deirdre and I will adopt her and take her back to Central City with us."

Edward mock pouted. "Oh, I see how it is. You didn't come here to see me, you just came to steal my daughter!"

"He found us out, Nina," Deirdre said and the three of them laughed. 

Edward smiled again, the widest smile he'd had for days. God, but he missed these girls. "I think you'll get along with her just fine," he said. "But enough about that. How have you two been? Still getting up to mischief?"

"Oh yeah," Nina said. "We knocked over a few gambling rings and scored over a million bucks."

Edward let out a whistle. "Well done."

"Yeah, it was pretty great. Still," Nina said, giving Edward a hug again. "It's not quite the same without you, Boss."

Edward chuckled a bit. "Much fewer riddles involved, I'm sure."

"And no costumes, like that one time you had us dress up like ducks," Deirdre added. "I still don't know why I didn't shoot you for that."

"You just love me that much," Edward sassed. To tell the truth, Edward had no memory of that caper, like he didn't have memories of most of their romps. It was frustrating, but in a way, Edward almost preferred it. You couldn't miss what you couldn't remember.

Deirdre got up from the couch. "I could use a drink. You got any booze, or do Nina and I have to knock over a liquor store?"

"There's some wine in my pantry," Edward said. "Oswald gave me a few vintage bottles for Christmas in return for me digging up incriminating details about a business rival."

"Sweet." Deirdre moved to the kitchen to pull out a bottle and three glasses. Nina moved to get up, but not before she affectionately ruffled Edward's hair.

"I gotta say, Eddie, even with the bandages, you look better than you did last year. You look happier. Are you feeling better?"

"A bit," Edward sighed. Getting closure about Jonathan had helped. "I'll be fine, Nina. Go make sure Deirdre doesn't drink all my wine." Nina got up to join her girlfriend in the kitchen and Edward leaned to the coffee table to pick up the remote. He remembered that Sharp's Commission had started today. He frowned as he turned on the TV. Perhaps later this week, he'd actually go in person. He flipped the channel to Gotham's main news channel and settled back against the couch as Vicki Vale appeared on the screen.

"In tonight's top news story, Mayor Sharp's Commission got off to a dramatic start today as Blackgate Warden Phillip Ward and Gotham City Councilwoman Ashley Greene attacked GCPD officials for what they described as irresponsible behavior during Victor Goodman's attack on GCPD last December. Especially under fire were senior detectives Harvey Bullock and Renee Montoya. Sources tell me that due to the scrutiny received, that we can expect a resignation from one or both detectives...

Edward processed the information while Vale continued on. He smirked. "Good riddance, morons."

 

 

Chapter Text

Tuesday, 9:15 am

 

As soon as the noise from the gallery had quieted down, Ward cleared his throat. "Will the witness state their name for the record, please?"

Penelope heard, more than saw her friend's response. "Dr. Joan Leland, psychiatrist." Joan sat in the witness chair, facing the commission members with a perfect, professional poise. Greene and Roberts looked less than interested in her, while Bolton regarded her with a cold smirk. 

"And how did you become involved in last year's incident with Victor Goodman?"

"I was his doctor when he was incarcerated in Arkham Asylum, ten years ago. When he became active again, I was asked to consult given that I had a past history with him."

Ward nodded. "Very well. Please describe your involvement in detail."

Penelope steeled herself as she watched this unfold. She couldn't afford to have another outburst. Today, she needed to pay as much attention to the manner in which the commission members conducted themselves as she did the questions they asked. She'd need as much 'ammunition' as Edward would call it as she could get for her own testimony. She wouldn't be caught in a trap like the GCPD officers had been. Just as yesterday, Wayne was sitting to her left, watching Joan's testimony with her. She felt him gently nudge her shoulder. "Joan hasn't been employed by Arkham Asylum for almost five years. What do they gain by throwing her under the bus?"

"Joan told me that she approved Goodman being paroled from Arkham," Penelope whispered. "They'll probably use that to justify stricter policies at the Asylum regarding releases." Not to mention that there was a past history between Strange and Leland as well. Strange wasn't above using proceedings like this to settle old scores. She turned her attention back to the commission members. Bolton was a thug, but he was an idiot. He only had as much power as Sharp and Strange allowed him to have. Roberts was a non-entity. Greene was sharp, but she was also a grand-stander. The best way to neutralize her was to show her up. That left Ward as the biggest threat. Penelope watched him as he paid attention to Joan's testimony. His black eyes were beady and narrowed as he focused in on her. Penelope's own eyes narrowed. 

"Thank you, Dr. Leland," Ward said as Joan finished her account of the incident. "Now, I'd like to ask you questions regarding your treatment of Goodman at Arkham."

"Very well," Joan answered, her tone collected and cool. "What would you like to know?"

"How long was Victor Goodman your patient in Arkham?"

"Two years, from the time he was first admitted to when he was released."

"And what was his demeanor during that time? Was he violent?"

Joan shook her head. "No. Actually, he was one of our more well-behaved patients among the Rogues."

"And yet, he was kept in isolation, wasn't he?"

Joan hesitated before answering. "For the first year of his incarceration, yes. It was felt by Dr. Arkham that it was necessary to keep him isolated from Edward Nigma as much as possible."

Ward leaned forward slightly. "Because Goodman was a threat to Nigma?"

"No, it was the other way around. There was some concern that Nigma would goad Goodman into attacking him, or otherwise would compromise Goodman's treatment."

"I see," Ward said. Then he asked, "And Goodman responded to treatment?"

"Yes, he did. After a few months of regular sessions and a daily regiment of medication to treat his mental break, he was lucid and calm. He was, as I said, a model patient."

"Which is why you recommended that he be released," Ward said. "Did you think that two years was a sufficient sentence for two murders, an attempted murder, kidnapping, and maiming?"

And now it began. Joan at least, responded much more calmly to Ward's provocation than Bullock or Montoya had. "With all due respect Warden Ward, but what I thought about Goodman's sentence wasn't relevant."

"Not relevant?" Greene repeated. "Really?"

"Yes," Joan continued in her conversational tone. "Goodman's sentence was at the discretion of Gotham's Criminal Justice system. His attorney, the district attorney, and a judge all agreed that he was not competent to stand trial and sent him to Arkham to serve out his sentence. As a psychiatrist employed by Arkham at the time, my job was to treat Goodman to the best of my ability, not debate how fair his sentence was. It is imperative that a doctor, any doctor, but especially a doctor employed by Arkham, maintain their objectivity during treatment."

Greene sniffed, then looked back down at her notes. Penelope felt a small smile come to her face. It wasn't going to be that easy to discredit Joan.

"Going back to Goodman's release," Ward continued. "Based on his, as you put it, 'model behavior' in Arkham, you felt it was appropriate that Goodman be released?"

"At the time, yes. Goodman had satisfied the conditions that Arkham Asylum had for parole at the time. He was to keep to his medication regimen and regularly keep up his therapy, but otherwise, he felt that he'd gone as far as he could in Arkham."

"So he was released and then proceeded to murder five more people. Do you have any regrets, Dr. Leland?" Greene asked snidely. Penelope was coming to greatly despise that woman.

"There were eight years between the time of his release and his relapse, Ms. Greene," Joan said in a voice of cold steel. "At the time, we had no way of knowing-"

"No way of knowing?" Greene interrupted. "The man was a mass murderer! How couldn't you at least suspect that he might kill again?"

There was a pause before Joan answered. "Hindsight is twenty-twenty, Ms. Greene. Goodman had fulfilled his treatment requirements. We couldn't justify keeping him in Arkham permanently. We simply didn't have the resources for that and that wasn't the purpose of Arkham Asylum."

Greene frowned. "The purpose of Arkham Asylum isn't to keep dangerous criminals like Goodman off the streets?"

"No. The purpose of Arkham Asylum, at least at the point in time, was to treat the mentally ill. It was never intended to be a prison. Clearly, there's a fundamental disagreement about how Arkham should be run, and this isn't the time or place to get into that."

"No, it's not," Ward said gruffly before Greene could interject again. "Now, Dr. Leland, if you stand by Goodman's treatment in Arkham Asylum, how then, do you explain his most recent rampage?"

From her spot in the gallery, Penelope could just barely detect Joan's shoulders sag. "In my opinion? At some point during the eight years between his release and his latest crimes, Goodman stopped his treatment. His parole officer should have been keeping a closer eye on him, but-"

"We all know how that turned out. And he's since lost his position. Did you not keep in contact with Goodman either?"

"No," Joan admitted. "My professional obligations first at Arkham and then with my private practice prevented me from keeping in contact with him. That, I do regret." She shook her head slightly. "I believe that in addition to Goodman stopping his treatment, his terminal cancer diagnosis combined with his resentment over Edward Nigma's successful reform pushed him to relapse. If either one of those instances hadn't happened, I don't think we would be here today discussing this."

For the first time since the commission began, Bolton leaned forward and spoke into his microphone. "Interesting. So, you think Nigma being reformed caused this?"

Penelope dug her nails into her palm. "I didn't say that," Joan said. "I said that Goodman's resentment over Nigma's reform was a contributing factor to his relapse, as well as his terminal cancer diagnosis. Goodman ultimately is the person responsible for the choices he made."

"But you said that he might not have made those choices if Nigma was still the Riddler," Bolton said, still with a smirk on his face. "So really, isn't Nigma doing more harm than good trying to play Good Guy?"

There was a pause before Joan spoke again. "I'm sorry, but are we here to discuss Victor Goodman's actions, or Edward Nigma's? I was told the former."

"Nigma's not on trial here," Ward clarified, shooting Bolton an annoyed look. Penelope took note of that. There was friction between two of the commission members most closely connected to Sharp, and by extension, Strange. She could exploit that. "Let's move on, shall we?"

Bolton shrugged. "Just one more thing, Doc. You treated Goodman at Arkham and thought he was cured-"

"No, not cured. He'd completed treatment at Arkham. He still needed therapy and medication-"

"You thought he was well enough to be released," Bolton interrupted, the smirk dropping from his face. He rose from his chair and pointed a meaty finger at Joan. "You thought he wouldn't kill again and you were wrong. You treated Nigma after he woke up too, didn't you?"

"Yes, I did. What does that have to do with-"

"You said that he wasn't a threat anymore?"

"He wasn't-he's not-"

"That's what you said about Goodman! And you were wrong then! Why should we believe you're right about Nigma? How long until he starts up his games again?"

"That's enough!" Ward shouted. "Bolton, this line of questioning is over!"

Bolton glared at Ward and for a moment, Penelope thought he might strike the other man. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Wayne with his eyes narrowed, his posture coiled like he was getting ready to move. Finally, Bolton smirked and sat back down. "I'm just saying Warden," he said in an oily voice. "You can't be too careful with these maniacs. You can't coddle them, or treat them like actual people."

"Those 'maniacs' as you refer to them are people, Bolton," Joan seethed. It was the angriest Penelope had ever heard her. "They have rights too. They can't simply be locked away without any chance of rehabilitation."

"Oh no?" Bolton asked. "We let Goodman back out into the world and look what happened. Once a Rogue, always a Rogue. You can't cure them. You can only contain them."

"All you care about, all you've ever cared about, is beating Batman and being the smartest person in Gotham and making sure the whole world knows it. And if that's the case, then it's not a matter of if you'll relapse. It's a matter of when."

Penelope's blood ran cold as she recalled the words she'd said to Edward in her office last year. If Bolton believed that, Sharp and Strange must too. And they had the power to enforce that opinion. She almost didn't hear Joan's response. "And just how well has that attitude toward the patients been working out, Bolton? If we completely abandon the idea of actually rehabilitating the patients at Arkham, then why do we still have Arkham?"

Ward got out of his chair, his face red. "That is quite enough!" he shouted. The room, at a low buzz with the excitement of Joan and Bolton's exchange, went silent. Ward then cleared his throat. "We'll take a half hour break. Dr. Leland, you're excused." Ward then walked off the stage, glaring at Bolton as he passed. Greene and Roberts swiftly followed him, finally Bolton. Joan sat still for a moment, then got out of her chair and made her way back towards the bench she and Penelope had shared the previous day. Penelope waved her over.

"Are you alright?" she asked as soon as she saw Joan's face. The older woman looked ashen.

"I'm fine," she said. She shook her head. "Jesus. I always knew Bolton was a hard case, but the way he spoke about the patients like they're animals-"

"I know. Ward seemed disgusted too," Penelope added. "Or at least, irritated that Bolton went down that road."

"If they're Strange's creatures, they aren't all following the same playbook," Joan added. She looked to Penelope's left with a look of confusion. "Where's Bruce?"

Penelope looked behind her and saw that Wayne's spot was empty.


 

As soon as Ward had called for a break, Bruce took the opportunity to slip outside and head towards the private holding room behind the City Council's main chamber. He'd been by earlier in the morning, before the sun had risen, to install a bug in the room. He picked a secluded spot by the only door to the room and pulled out his radio sequencer. To anyone passing by, it would look as if he was fooling around on his cellular phone. Time to see if he could pick up anything interesting. At first, he heard only faint noises. He frowned. Then, he heard Ward's voice. "Give us the room."

Bruce ducked around the corner just in time for Greene and Roberts to avoid spotting him as they exited the room and walked down the hall. As soon as they were out of his line of vision, Bruce stepped back out and continued to listen in.

"What were you thinking!?" He heard Ward shout. It had to be Bolton. No one else was likely in that room.

Bruce's suspicion was confirmed when he heard Bolton smugly answer. "Mayor Sharp wanted to make sure that his feelings about the Riddle Boy were made perfectly clear. Just in case he's here."

"Then he's just as big an idiot as you are!" Ward shouted back. "What if Nigma was here and he starts nosing around to retaliate? We can't risk losing everything before it even begins because Quincy wants to pick a public fight with a former Rogue!"

"Nigma's a wimp. He's less than nothing. If he makes trouble, I'll take care of him."

Bruce's eyes narrowed. So Edward was being targetted by Mayor Sharp. Ward's words rang clear on the audio link. "Nigma's more useful to us alive as a weapon we can use against Gordon and Batman. Stick to the plan and for God's sake, don't say anything else!"

Bruce's eyes widened a bit. Gordon he'd guessed was being targetted, but he was too? Why? Him, Jim, Edward, Dr. Leland...what was Strange working on that he thought they were a potential threat to? He sighed. Whatever it was, it was nothing good. It looked like he'd need to start his own digging into Hugo Strange. He just hoped for his own sake, Edward was far away from City Hall. 


 

 

6:00 PM

In the short time since he'd made her acquaintance, Edward had discovered that Ellen was many things. Outgoing, artistic, friendly, confident, stubborn, bratty, obnoxious and completely lacking in proper respect for authority figures. One thing she wasn't though, was shy. And yet, as she stood in Edward's living room, looking at her feet and not at the two women giving her the once over, that was exactly what she was.

"Nina, Deirdre," Edward announced with a great theatrical flourish. "May I present, my daughter, Ellen Diane Dixon. Ellen, this is Deirdre Vance and Nina Damfino, formerly known as Query and Echo and my two oldest friends." Ellen continued to stare at her feet. Edward cleared his throat. "Now now, Ellen, don't be rude. Say Hello."

Ellen looked up then and her face was even redder than her hair. "Hi," she squeaked. Edward almost thought it was adorable. "I'm Ellen," she said, giving the two women still sitting on the couch a small wave. "Nice to meet you."

Nina was the first to get off the sofa and come closer, almost inspecting Ellen. Deirdre followed closely behind. Once they'd finished. Deirdre shot Edward a look. "Really, Boss? You needed a DNA test to tell you that that's your kid?"

"Oh really, Deirdre! Did you have to go there?" Edward protested.

Nina in the meantime started cooing over Ellen. "Oh my God, Eddie! She's like a mini-you! She's adorable!" Edward thought he heard Ellen let out another little squeak. Nina gently took her by the hand and led her back to the couch. "Come on. Tell Auntie Nina all about yourself!"

"'Kay," Ellen said. She looked like Christmas and her Birthday had come at once as she was sat down between Nina and Deirdre, leaving Edward to sit in his old armchair. "What do you want to know?"

"How old are you?" Nina asked. "What grade are you in?"

"I told you that already-" Edward started, only to be hushed by Deirdre. Edward huffed a bit.

"Fifteen," Ellen said. "I'm a sophomore at Chesterfield High. I'll be sixteen in July."

Deirdre grinned. "That's a fun age. Just wait kiddo, we'll throw you the mother of all Sweet Sixteen parties."

"Which I'll be paying for no doubt," Edward groused.

"You missed her first fifteen birthdays, Eddie. You owe her," Nina said dismissively. Edward looked down at his feet a bit, suitably chastened. To be fair, he already had a few ideas for what he wanted to do to make it up to Ellen. He just wasn't sure he wanted to know what the girls had in mind.

"What do you like to do for fun?" Deirdre asked Ellen.

Ellen let out her (and his) trademark grin. "I'm an artist! I brought my sketchbook with me if you wanna see."

The girls looked eagerly as Ellen pulled her sketchbook out of her backpack. They leaned over her shoulders and looked at her sketches. Deirdre let out a low whistle. "Not bad," she said.

"Not bad?" Nina said. "They're beautiful!" Nina looked up at Edward. "Eddie, you weren't kidding! She's a natural!"

Ellen looked up at Edward then. "You think I'm a natural? Really?"

Edward shrugged. "I wouldn't have said it if I didn't believe it. I never lie, I merely-"

"-coat the truth in an enigma, wrap it in a riddle, and stuff the whole thing into a Chinese puzzle box." The three women on the couch finished, then laughed.

"I knew I'd regret this," Edward said, shaking his head, failing to hide his own smile. "Now it's three against one!"

"Five," Ellen said. "Don't forget Selina and Doc Young!"

Edward raised his hand dramatically. "I'm done for!"

Nina snickered again. "Just wait until we show Ellen our old photos."

Edward felt a small chill go down his spine. "Nina, Deirdre, you wouldn't dare."

Deirdre grinned. "We would." She reached onto the coffee table and pulled up a scrapbook. She opened a page and pointed at something on it. "What do you think of this, Ellen?"

Ellen looked over, then gave her father an almost sad look. "White spandex and green rhinestones? Really, Pops?"

"Girls," Edward whined. "Why must you subject me to this? What have I ever done to you?"

"You made us dress up like ducks," Deirdre said darkly.

Ellen let out a laugh. "Ducks? Really?"

"Is it OK if we tell her some stories, Eddie?" Nina asked.

Edward considered this for a moment, then waved his hand a bit. "A few. The more age appropriate ones. And please, try to keep my fashion sense out of it as much as possible."

Nina nodded and began to tell Ellen a story of a long-ago exploit that Edward couldn't remember. Ellen's eyes and smiled were wide as she heard it, and Edward had to smile as well. He knew Nina and Deirdre would take to Ellen as soon as they met her. Judging from the fond looks on their faces as they spoke to her, they probably already were making plans to steal her away. Judging from the look on Ellen's face, she probably wouldn't mind. He chuckled a bit. He needed an evening like this. It helped keep his mind off of the commission, and off of the session he'd have with Dr. Leland tomorrow. He shook his head. He wouldn't worry about that tonight. Tonight, he'd enjoy his time with his girls.

Chapter Text

Ellen and Nina were still engaged in an animated conversation about high school when Edward got up to clear the dishes from dinner. Ellen briefly paused her conversation to give him a look. "Do you want any help with that, Pops?"

Edward waved her off. "No no, you keep on talking with your 'Auntie' Nina. I'll take care of this." Ellen shrugged and turned back to speaking with an attentive Nina. Edward had his own ritual for cleaning dishes. Exactly three drops of dishwashing liquid, a minute's scrub on each side, rinse, load. Repeat as needed. It was as much a relaxation ritual for him as it was a chore. He'd never liked anyone else doing his dishes for him because of that. 

As he finished loading the last dish into his dishwasher, he saw Deirdre leaning against the counter, lighting up a cigarette. "You want one, Boss?"

Edward shook his head. "I haven't smoked for years," he said in a low enough tone so that the occupants at the table couldn't hear them, "Just don't get too close to Ellen when you're smoking."

Deirdre took a puff on her cigarette, then smirked. "Look at you, Dad."

Edward flushed a bit. "Just trying not to expose her to second-hand smoke. Her grandmother will never let me hear the end of it if I do."

"Sure, Boss." Deirdre took another long drag on her cigarette and looked back to the table. Nina was telling Ellen another story and Ellen was leaning forward elbows on the table and hands tucked under her chin, like a child hearing a bedtime story. Edward watched as well and a still alien feeling crept through his chest as he did so. To an outsider, the scene might be adorable. To Edward, it was bittersweet. How many years, experiences had he missed with Ellen while he'd been off on supervillain capers he could no longer remember. He shook his head. He'd made his choices. He wouldn't be the man he was today if he hadn't. No time for any regrets, or doubts. "She's a good kid, isn't she?" he heard Deirdre say.

"Yes, she is," Edward said wistfully. Because of her mother and grandmother, not him. He cleared his throat. "Of course she is. She's my child," he said with more bravado. "She wouldn't be anything else."

Deirdre snorted a bit. "I gotta say, it would have been fun having her around in the old days."

"Nina said as much last year," Edward chewed his lip a bit. "It's just as well she wasn't. Glamorous as that lifestyle was, it wasn't one conducive for raising children."

If Deirdre agreed with his assessment, she didn't say so, instead, she took another drag of her cigarette. "She seems really into hearing about what we did," she said finally. "You ever think about teaching her some of your tricks?"

Edward turned to give Deirdre a critical look. "You mean teaching her how to be a Rogue?"

"The Bat has his little minions. Who says you can't have your own protege?"

"Absolutely not," Edward said with a firm shake of his head. "There's only ever going to be one Riddler, Deirdre. Yours truly. And I'm not looking to make it a hereditary title." He leaned back against the countertop and resumed contemplating Nina and Ellen, who was now speaking about an unfortunate father-daughter game night they'd had a few weeks ago. "No," Edward said again. "That's not the life I want for her. She's not going to put on a costume and fight other spandex types. She's going to college, she's going to be an artist and open a gallery in Midtown, just like her mother always wanted." He looked back at Deirdre to see her smiling at him.

"Sounds nice, Boss," she said. "But are you sure that's what she wants?"

Edward sniffed. "She's fifteen. Sure she thinks what we did is exciting, but what teenager wouldn't? It's a phase that will pass."

"Just like it did for you, Boss?"

Edward's grip tightened a bit against the counter. He knew Deirdre didn't mean anything by her quip, but between her and Nina, she'd always been the brasher of the two. "Yes," he said finally. "Only without a head injury, coma and heartbreak." He'd make up for being absent from Ellen's life for so long. He'd make sure she had a better life than he did, even if he had to drag her kicking and screaming. 

Nina finally looked over to where he and Deirdre were lingering and waved them back over. "Eddie! Come here! I want to hear more about this 'competitive Oregon Trail'!"

Edward plastered a long-suffering look on his face and walked back to his seat at the table between Ellen and Nina. Deirdre followed, but not before dutifully putting out her cigarette and throwing it out. "Ellen," he said. " I thought we agreed to never speak of that again."

"Yeah, but it's funny," Ellen giggled. "Especially the part where you were five miles out from Oregon and died from Dysentery!"

"That wasn't funny at all!" Edward fussed. "That game cheated!"

"Pops, it was a computer! How did it cheat?"

"Well, it did!"

Nina and Deirdre erupted into laughter then and the four continued to share stories for another hour until Edward checked his watch.

"Well," he said reluctantly. "It's 9:00. I promised your grandmother that I'd have you home by 9:30."

Ellen's smile turned into a pout. "Aw. I hate curfew."

"Take it up with your grandmother, not me." Edward turned to Nina and Deirdre, whose looks of disappointment matched Ellen's own. "Mind holding down the fort until I get back?" Rachel Dixon only barely tolerated him, he didn't want to imagine the fireworks that would ensue if she met the girls. 

"We got it, boss. See you in a bit." Deirdre waved at Ellen. "See you soon, kiddo."

Ellen flushed again and waved back before dutifully following her father out the door.

"So," Edward said as they descended the stairs, Ellen two at a time. "What did you think?"

Ellen looked up from the second story landing she'd skipped down to. "I love them! Can I go visit them in Central City sometime?"

Edward chuckled a bit. "If you can convince your grandmother, why not? They'll be in town until Sunday, I'm sure we can manage for you to come by again before then."

Ellen took off as soon as Edward had joined her and he had to huff a bit. He missed having that kind of energy. Not that he was getting old or anything. "Nina said she's gonna teach me how to ride a motorcycle for my sixteenth birthday!"

"I seem to remember us having a conversation about this subject just before Christmas. A conversation that ended with 'over my dead body'."

Ellen had reached the front door to the building by now and sulked. "Boring Old Man!" She waited for him to catch up to her before she opened the door and began to walk towards his car. "Can Selina come by too?"

"Probably not. She...doesn't exactly get along with Deirdre and Nina."

"How come?"

Edward opened the passenger door for Ellen and made sure she was buckled in before he walked around the front of the car and entered the driver's side. "That's a long story," he said. "I'll-"

"-Tell me later, I know," Ellen groused. 

Edward buckled himself in and started the car. "You know what," he said."I think I can tell you a bit of it on the way to your home. You're old enough to hear most of it."

Edward picked the most sanitized, but accurate version he could think of and began to tell it to Ellen, stopping only when Ellen held up her hand. 

"Hold up," she said with a scandalized look on her face. "You and Selina used to date!?"

"It wasn't that serious," Edward said. "And don't interrupt me like that."

Ellen leaned back against her car seat. "Wow. How'd you go from Selina to Scarecrow?" She flushed a bit and looked at him. "No offense."

"None taken," Edward said. "I realize that from the outside, it must seem more than a bit strange. But..." he looked at the road ahead and sighed. "Jonathan was the second most intelligent man I'd ever met, after myself of course. He and I came from a similar background. I could connect with him on a level that I couldn't really with Selina, or Deirdre and Nina even." There had been an unspoken understanding between them almost from the moment they'd met. Jonathan had aggravated him, excited him more than anyone before or since. Would he ever find that kind of connection with anyone again?

He stopped at a red light then turned to see that Ellen had a sad expression on her face. "What's wrong?" he asked.

Ellen quickly looked out towards the passenger window. "It's nothing," she said quickly. "I just didn't mean to upset you. You were a lot happier tonight than you've been lately and I don't want to mess it up."

This was more consideration than Edward had hoped for, or frankly, deserved from her. "You're not upsetting me," he said. "It's only natural for you to want to know more about me."

"Yeah," she said. "I guess. And you'll tell me to back off, right?"

"You know it," he drawled. The light turned green and they continued on towards Ellen's home in silence. "So," he said in an attempt to steer the conversation to less loaded territory. "There's no one in your life I need to know about, is there?"

Ellen made a face. "No, Gramma says I'm not allowed to date until I'm sixteen."

"Only sixteen? I wouldn't let you until you were twenty-five. That's when the human brain fully finishes developing and you reach true adulthood."

"Weren't you and Mom only twenty-one when I was born?"

"Exactly."

"Hypocrite!"

"Do as I say, not as I do."


 

 "You're sure you aren't going to go the hearings tomorrow or Thursday?"

"Positive," Penelope said, balancing her cell phone between her ear and shoulder while she typed on her computer. "I need as much time as I can to prepare for my own testimony."

"What's your game plan?"

Penelope drummed her fingers on her desk as she considered Joan's question. "I'm not going to play up the traumatized victim angle," she said. "Ward no doubt remembers me too well from Arkham. He'll see through it."

"I don't think you could get through more than five minutes of that before you made yourself angry," Joan noted dryly. "You're worried about Ward then? Not Greene or Bolton?"

Joan had wanted to tear Bolton a new one when Penelope had told her how he'd approached her. "Bolton won't try anything now that he thinks Wayne and I are friends," she said. "And Greene's using the proceedings to try to make a name for herself. You've noticed how she doesn't contribute anything of any substance. She pokes holes at other people's testimony. It makes for good sound bites, but that's it."

"So basically, you won't give her anything and you'll be going through her own record."

"Exactly," Penelope answered. That was what she was doing now, going through archives of City Council agendas for the past six years, since Roberts and Greene had first been elected. If Greene was using the records of Joan and the GCPD officers against them, turnabout was fair play.

"And Ward?"

Penelope paused. There was a trump card with Ward. One that could irreparably damage him, but one that would take her down too. Was she prepared for that? "I have an idea," she said at last. Slayer of Regrets, Old and New, Sought by Many, Found by Few. Time to marry thought to action.

"One that you don't care to share with me? Penelope, just what are you up to?"

"I'm not quite sure yet. I need to go. I'll call you on Thursday night." 

"Alright. Just promise me something, Penelope."

"What?"

"Don't be a martyr." Joan hung up before Penelope could respond. 

Penelope put down her cell phone and took a sip of her now lukewarm green tea before she went back to digging through the archives. One agenda item, dated March 15th, 2003, caught her eye. She clicked on the link and her eyes widened a bit as she read the minutes. 

When she finished reading, she smirked. "I've got you, Greene."


 

Wednesday, 3:15 pm

 

Edward fidgeted with the edge the sleeves of his light green dress shirt as he finished recounting the tale of his exploit with Croc and the emotional fallout that had ensued to Dr. Leland. She had listened to the full story without a single comment or even a change of facial expression, something that made Edward nervous and relieved at once. "And so, here we are," he said. He still couldn't quite meet her gaze, so he dryly chuckled. "I'm sure this was the last thing you expected to hear from me."

Dr. Leland said nothing, but Edward felt and saw her dark hand cover his own. He looked up and there was a look of kindness on her face, one that he still wasn't used to seeing.

"Edward," she said. "I know how difficult this must have been for you, getting all of this off your chest, but I want you to know that I'm very proud of you."

Edward felt his face flush, instinctively wanting to scoff at her words, but valuing the praise just the same. "Proud of me for running off and nearly getting myself killed trying to avenge a man who dressed in straw?"

"Well, not that part," Joan admitted. "But the fact that you're talking about this shows just how far you've come in the past few years." She got up to get another glass of water for him. "I'm glad to see that you're comfortable sharing these parts of your life with me and with others now. You shouldn't sell yourself short."

Edward raised an eyebrow in wry response. "When have I ever?" He watched her as she refilled his glass, then placed it back on the coffee table in front of him. "You don't seem too surprised. About myself and Jonathan, I mean."

Dr. Leland sat down in the armchair across the table from him and took a sip of her own drink before she responded. "To tell the truth, I suspected something was going on between you two. Crane-Jonathan, he seemed a bit less...misanthropic when you were around."

"But you never reported it?"

Dr. Leland shook her head and looked at him again with her warm brown eyes. "Well, I only suspected. I had no proof of anything. And from what you've told me, separating the two of you would have been an exercise in futility."

Edward chuckled a bit. The biggest mistake Quincy Sharp had ever made, other than antagonizing him, was to let Dr. Leland go. "Yes, it would have." His smile fell from his face and he sighed. 

Dr. Leland leaned over again almost on cue. "How do you feel?"

"Tired," he admitted. "It gets a bit easier each time I talk about him, but-" he surreptitiously reached up to wipe his eyes before any tears could come out. "It's always going to hurt a bit, isn't it?"

"Grief is a process that's different for people, Edward. I think though that if you continue our sessions and to reach out for emotional support from others when you need it, that it will get better for you."

Edward chuckled again. "You just want to see more of me, don't you. I can't say I blame you. Who wouldn't want to bask in my company?"

Dr. Leland shook her head and let out a laugh herself. "Who wouldn't indeed?"

Edward got out of his seat for the first time since he'd arrived at Dr. Leland's office an hour and forty-five minutes ago and stretched his arms above his head. He felt, if not completely better, a bit lighter than he had for over a week. Perhaps there was some merit to spending time Dr. Leland after all. "Well," he said, making sure he didn't aggravate his ribs. "Chalk one thing off the list of things for Penelope to nag me about at least."

"Edward," Dr. Leland lightly scolded. "She's not nagging you. She's just trying to help you. She worries about you."

Edward sighed. "Yes, she does." She shouldn't. She had enough on her plate without having to worry about him. He thought about the book that she had left him, the one that he had read through every night since she'd brought it to him. He'd thanked her for that, but it had felt inadequate. He should do something more for her, to pay her back for everything she'd done for him in the past year. Well, he had a few days to think about it. "I'm sure she'll be delighted to hear about this Friday."

Dr. Leland's brow furrowed. "She hasn't told you?"

Edward looked at her, surprised by the tone in her voice. "Told me what?"

"She's testifying before Sharp's Commission Friday morning."

Edward dropped his arms to his sides. "She is? Why would they call her?" He rubbed his chin. "She didn't volunteer, did she?"

"No," Dr. Leland answered. "They want her to speak about her abduction and what led up to it. I'm not sure how much you've been following it on the news, but they've been very aggressive in attacking GCPD's conduct on Goodman's case."

Edward huffed. "You can't tell me that it's not just a little bit deserved, Dr. Leland. No doubt they want to use Penelope as the poor, defenseless victim in all this." Edward could just imagine her reaction to being treated as such and almost laughed. Then he frowned. "Why wouldn't she have told me?" Did she want to prove that she could investigate the Case without his help?

"She probably didn't want to compromise your recovery, and I agree. I probably shouldn't have told you. Edward, you need to put your own well-being first." 

"My intellect needs care as much as my body and my psyche do, dear Dr.," he said. Dr. Leland didn't look convinced, but he was also struck by the fact that she wasn't quite making eye contact with him. "There's more, isn't there?"

Dr. Leland sighed. "Edward, Lyle Bolton approached Penelope about testifying before the commission."

Edward felt his fist clench. "If he threatened her-"

"He didn't," Dr. Leland clarified. She sighed. "She did say that he was vulgar, but that it wasn't anything she couldn't handle. Let's go back to your session."

Edward saw red for a moment, then took a deep breath. "Yes," he said. "Let's. Did I tell you, I had Ellen meet my old friends last night?"

Dr. Leland's face resumed its earlier, happier expression. "Really? How did that go?"

"Very well!" Edward said. He sat back down in his chair and looked up at Dr. Leland with his trademark grin. "They already want to steal her away." Edward spent the remaining minutes of his session indulging Dr. Leland, but internally, his mind was made up. He'd spent enough time on the sidelines. It was time to come back into the world.

He would be at the Commission Friday morning.

Chapter Text

Friday, 8:55 am

Penelope took one last look at her appearance in the mirror of the women's bathroom in City Hall. Her dark hair was pinned back as it always was, her suit jacket and blouse immaculate. Instead of her usual dress slacks, she wore a black pencil skirt to match her suit jacket. She couldn't remember the last time she'd worn a skirt. Her interview for Arkham Asylum perhaps? That had been a lifetime ago. The only make up she wore today was her dark mascara. She would be nothing less than professional today. She couldn't afford to be otherwise. What she would say could not just impact the rest of the proceedings, but beyond. Bolton had told her Monday that the Commission was essentially counting on her to be the nail in the coffin for GCPD. She wouldn't let that happen. She couldn't let that happen. If she came down too harshly against the Commission, however, she could lose her access to Sharp and her best chance at finding out his plans with Strange. She sighed. The best way was to bring this to an end as quickly as possible. 

The sound of the door opening distracted her from her thoughts. She looked out of the corner of her eye and smiled a bit. "Good morning, Joan."

Joan leaned against the door of the restroom with her arms folded. "How are you feeling?"

Penelope took a step back from the mirror. "Ready," she said. She reached up to brush her bangs to the side of her forehead. "What's it like out there?"

"Same as its been the last few days. The building's packed. I'll be sitting in the front row with the rest of the GCPD officers." Joan took a step forward and placed a hand on Penelope's shoulder. "Are you sure you'll be alright?"

"It's a bit late to drop out now Joan," Penelope answered. "Besides, I'm not going to stand back and let what happened to me be used as a weapon against Gordon. I've been used before. Never again."

Joan nodded. "Good." Then her face grew solemn. "Penelope, you mentioned that you had something in mind for how to handle Ward. Would you care to tell me what that is?"

Penelope sighed. "Joan...I'm hoping I won't have to, but-"

Joan shook her head and brought her hand up to her brow. "Oh God, I knew it." She brought her hand down and looked at her, concern in her eyes. "And there's no way I can talk you out of this? Penelope, don't throw away your career-"

"We both know I shouldn't still have my career Joan," Penelope interrupted. "As far as I'm concerned, I've been living on borrowed time." She looked down at the watch on her wrist. 8:59. "Time to go." She walked past Joan, trying to ignore the sad look on her mentor's face and out the bathroom door. She felt the butterflies in her stomach with every step she took towards the chamber. The futures of countless people could be decided by how she conducted herself today. Bullock, Renee, Gordon, Aaron, Edward. The butterflies disappeared with every step and were replaced with a sense of purpose. Slayer of regret, old and new, sought by many, found by few. Perhaps today would be the day she would begin to find it.

Joan trailed behind her, but instead of determination she only felt fear. Fear for her friend, of what she may do to herself. She took a quick look in the gallery as she followed Penelope in. She couldn't spot Edward. She didn't know whether she should feel relieved, or disappointed.


 

9:00 AM

How long had it been since he'd been in City Hall? Years, Edward thought. What had been the exact circumstances behind the visit? He couldn't remember and he didn't care to at the moment. He raised an eyebrow at the crowd inside the main chamber. Police officers near the front, reporters, civil servants, and various on-lookers filling out the rest of the benches. The only available spot remaining was near the back of the chamber. Edward scowled. That wouldn't give him much of a vantage point. 

"This place is a mob scene," Nina said to his right, looking over the room and shaking her head. "You sure you want to do this, Eddie?"

"Absolutely," Edward said. "After all, what's a big City Hall to do without yours truly in attendance?"

To his left, Deirdre scoffed. "Right. That's why you're in casual clothes."

Edward looked down at his attire. "This is a bit fancier than casual, thank you very much. I'm not here to draw attention to myself for once." Not unless it was absolutely necessary. He gestured to the empty spot on the benches. "Well, ladies? Shall we?" The three took their seats just as the members of the Commission took their seats at the head of the chamber. Edward recognized them all. Greene and Roberts were moronic City council members. Ward the warden of Blackgate and a close personal associate of Sharp's if Edward's sources were correct. Lyle Bolton...well, he needed no introduction. What was he even doing there? Intimidation, probably. Ward cleared his throat and the din in the chamber grew silent. 

"Good morning," the Warden spoke in a pompous tone that jogged Edward's memories. "Over the course of the last few days, we have heard from both members of GCPD and Arkham Asylum regarding the actions of Victor Goodman. Today we will be hearing from one of the victims of the unfortunate events last December. Dr. Penelope Young, please take the stand."

Edward watched a figure get up from her seat on the front bench and instantly recognized Penelope. He couldn't see her face as she made her way to the desk set up in front of the members of the commission. He wasn't the only person watching her, he realized. Even from the distance, he could see Bolton eyeing her as she sat down. His fist clenched and he cursed himself for not getting here sooner. If Bolton tried anything, he'd be too far away to do anything about it.

"Your name for the record, please?" Ward spoke.

"Dr. Penelope Young," Penelope answered and her voice was as cold and professional as Edward remembered. It suddenly occurred to him that it had been almost a whole week since he'd heard her voice. Why hadn't he called her? "I'm a psychiatrist currently in private practice. I also consult with the GCPD on cases when appropriate. I was also formerly director of research at Arkham Asylum."

Ward nodded. "Very well. Dr. Young, please describe the events that unfolded on the night in question in GCPD headquarters."

"Of course," Penelope said. "When Victor Goodman was arrested, I was called in to interview him and to make a determination about his psychological state. As Detective Montoya said in her testimony, this was standard practice for me..."

Edward wished he'd been here to hear what exactly Montoya and the other officers had said. Ah well. He leaned forward to listen to her further testimony, folding his hands under his chin.

"...As I conducted the interview, I became aware of how strongly Goodman felt about his situation, and that he blamed Edward Nigma for it. He stated that his goal was to get revenge by humiliating and ultimately killing Mr. Nigma. He also stated that he'd intended to be brought to GCPD in service to this goal. At that point, I was distracted by a noise outside the interrogation room. I took my eyes off of Goodman for a moment and he used that opportunity to grab me and drag me out of the interrogation room."

"That wasn't your fault, Dr. Young," Bolton said in a patronizing tone that sounded positively sweet. It made Edward's skin crawl, so he couldn't imagine what it must be doing to Penelope. "The GCPD officers should have known better than to leave you in that situation."

If Penelope was offended by Bolton's condescension, and Edward knew her well enough to know she would be, she didn't show it in her tone, for she continued on as professional as always. "With all due respect, Mr. Bolton, as I said, it was standard procedure for my interviews in the past. I share as much blame as anyone else."

Edward frowned a bit. No, she didn't. 

"Continuing on, Goodman dragged me down to the bullpen in GCPD. The events there happened just as Officer Cash and Detective Bullock described them. After the explosion, Goodman dragged me to the rear parking lot where his accomplice was waiting in a car. He bound my hands behind me and threw me in the trunk of the car and took me to what I assumed was his hideout. He opened the trunk of the car long enough to take my GCPD ID badge from me before he and his accomplice left. They returned after a few minutes, I think."

She was recounting her experience as casually as if she was ordering lunch. Edward had to hand it to her, she wasn't one who rattled easily. Greene and Roberts looked like they almost didn't know what to make of her, while Ward's face remained neutral. At least, as far as Edward could tell. He craned his head around to see if he could find any available empty seating closer to the front of the chamber. He thought he saw Bruce Wayne sitting a few rows ahead and paused. What was he doing here? He shook his head and leaned back in his seat. It seemed that this was as close as he would get. 

Penelope continued to speak. "...I was then taken to a warehouse alongside the river. I was taken into an office, gagged and tied to a chair. Goodman and Carson set up in front of a security monitor. I gathered that they had been there before to set up cameras. We were there for a few hours until Mr. Nigma showed up."

Edward caught Bolton leaning forward. "Wait. Goodman kidnapped you to use you as bait against Nigma? Why?"

Edward sucked in a quick breath. That idiot. Why would he bring that up in front of a room full of reporters? 

"You would need to either ask Mr. Nigma or Goodman himself that question, Mr. Bolton. May I continue?"

"Of course," Ward said.

"Thank you. Goodman had rigged the warehouse to be full of traps. From the office, we watched as Mr. Nigma made his way through the warehouse until he came to the final room. Goodman had rigged a bomb to go off no matter what Mr. Nigma did. I was able to get my gag off to warn him, but the room exploded."

Edward thought he heard just the smallest waver in her voice at that. It occurred to him that she'd almost seen him die twice in the last two months. He fidgeted with the cufflinks on his shirt. He owed her dinner at least.

"But Nigma survived?" Roberts asked.

"Yes," Penelope answered. "He appeared in the office, just as Goodman was about to murder me. After a scuffle, he subdued Goodman and freed me. GCPD SWAT teams had shown up by that point and Goodman and Carson were taken off to Blackgate. Was there anything else you'd like me to recount?"

"No, no," Ward said, holding a hand up. "Thank you very much. Would you like to take a break?"

"No," Penelope answered. Edward wasn't surprised. She wasn't one to accept special treatment. "I'm quite alright."

"Very well," Ward answered. "Before we begin, I would like to offer my sincerest apologies for what happened to you, Dr. Young. I'd also like to thank you for being courageous enough to come before us today. Now, we'd like to ask you a few questions."

The insincerity and condescension in Ward's tone made Edward want to retch. He leaned forward again, eager to hear just what Penelope had to say. He had no idea that he'd been spotted.


 

Bruce had taken a seat near the back of the chamber, just as he had the last few days. Dr. Leland wasn't next to him, having decided to sit up in the front rows with the GCPD officers. Bruce had listened to Dr. Young's recounting of the incident with interest. She'd seemed truthful, but he had a distinct feeling that she was holding certain things back.  He glanced a few rows ahead and was dismayed to see Ryder scribbling notes when Dr. Young recounted how Nigma had come to her rescue. He made a mental note to intercept him after she gave her testimony. She didn't need to be made the target of tabloid gossip.

He sat back onto the bench and did another quick scan of the room. So far, nothing had happened and he'd like to keep it that way. He had Dick and Tim on stand-by in case something happened, but it looked like there was no need for them-

His eyes went over a row near the back and froze. Sitting on a bench was a man flanked by two women, one with short black hair and the other with long blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail. The man was in casual dress clothes, but Bruce recognized those eyes anywhere. 

Edward was here. He hadn't noticed Bruce staring at him, being entirely focused on the testimony going on in front of them. What was he doing here? Had he come just to hear Dr. Young speak?

Or was there something else he had planned?

Bruce turned around before Edward noticed him and pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. He quickly texted a number. ARE YOU NEAR CITY HALL?

He only waited a minute before he received a response. I CAN BE. WHAT'S GOING ON, HANDSOME?

A MUTUAL FRIEND OF OURS IS HERE. I NEED YOU TO RUN INTERFERENCE.

Bruce waited about a minute before a response came. I'LL BE THERE IN FIVE MINUTES. WHERE IS HE?

NEAR THE BACK. DAMFINO AND VANCE ARE WITH HIM. BEHAVE YOURSELF.

ALWAYS DO. I'M ON MY WAY.

Bruce put his phone back in his pocket and began to pay attention to Dr. Young's testimony again. Did she know Edward was here? Impossible to say. All he could do was sit back and hope that he wouldn't cause a scene. That was the last thing any of them needed.


 

Penelope hadn't believed Ward for a moment when he'd apologized to her and it had taken all that she had to not respond to his patronizing of her. She would not lose her temper. Not here. Not now. Greene, Roberts and Ward cooly considered her as they prepared their questions. She felt almost like she had when she'd been presenting her thesis years ago. Only there was much more at stake this time. Bolton hadn't taken his eyes off of her from the moment she'd sat down, eyeing her like a piece of meat. She ignored him.

"Dr. Young," Greene spoke first. "Given what you experienced, who would you blame for what occurred in December?"

Well, that didn't take long. Penelope folded her hands and pretended to consider the question. "Well," she said. "Victor Goodman and Leigh Carson, of course. They were the ones who abducted me."

Greene's face turned a bit red and Penelope had to suppress a smirk. You didn't think it'd be that easy, did you? "Of course," she said in that fake chipper tone. "But, don't you think that certain things should have been done differently?"

"Of course I do," she answered and Greene's face resumed its normal appearance. "I should perhaps have exercised more caution around Goodman."

Judging from the frown on her face, that hadn't been the answer Greene wanted. "Forgive me, Dr. Young, but it was Detective Montoya's responsibility to stay with you in interrogation."

"And she would have if I'd asked her to." Penelope leaned back in her chair. "As she stated earlier this week, I had conducted several interviews like this for GCPD in the past. I tend to get better results from suspects without police presence hovering around. I'm willing to admit that I'd become a bit complacent. I thought at the time that I could handle Goodman."

"But you couldn't," Greene said and Penelope could hear the edge in her voice. "And regardless of what you thought, Montoya should have stayed with you."

Time to play a sympathy card. Penelope reached for a tissue. "I should have known better," she said softly and reached up as if she was dabbing at her eyes. "Maybe the police officers would still be alive-"

"No one's blaming you at all, Dr. Young!" Bolton interjected. He glared at Greene and the woman's face turned a bit pale. "You're the biggest victim in this whole mess, right?"

Greene stammered a bit. "I apologize if I seemed a bit harsh, Dr."

Behind her tissue, Penelope smirked a bit. Bolton had played right into her hands. She put the tissue down. "Not at all," she said. Time to be gracious and unthreatening. "I know we're all here to determine how to prevent this kind of incident from happening in the future."

"Quite," Ward said, becoming uncomfortable by this turn of events. "Moving on, Dr. What do you think caused the incident to unfold in GCPD the way that it did?"

Penelope began to feel her heartbeat just a bit faster. She had a very tricky balancing act to pull off and she wasn't sure if she could do it. She had to. "Do you mean what happened in GCPD after I was abducted, or the way the case was conducted in general?"

"Both," Ward answered.

Penelope took a breath. "Well," she said. "I can't speak as to what happened in GCPD after the explosion. I was tied up in a car trunk at the time." Someone in the row behind her actually had the audacity to laugh at that.

"Quiet in the chamber!" Ward scolded. "Surely though, Dr. Young, you must have your own thoughts."

"I do," she said. "I most certainly do. But I don't think this is the appropriate forum to voice them."

She could hear low murmuring behind her and Ward actually looked stunned. "I beg your pardon?"

Penelope felt her confidence boost a bit. She could do this. "Forgive me, but in what capacity was I called before the commission? I am not an official member of the GCPD, so I can't give a full account of the department's procedures. I'm no longer an employee of Arkham Asylum, and I wasn't at the time of Goodman's incarceration, so I can't comment about his treatment there or how Arkham currently treats inmates. Anything I have to say regarding Goodman and the case itself is, of course, going to be tainted by my own experience. I cannot and I should not attempt to give an unbiased opinion on how GCPD conducted this case."

The murmuring behind her grew a bit louder and now Ward and Greene looked angry. Even Bolton looked like he didn't know what to think of her. It was a good start, but they weren't finished with her yet.

"So," Greene said and the snotty tone in her voice was back in full force. "You really have nothing to say about how GCPD handled Goodman? Really? Even though they almost got you killed?"

"Goodman was the one who almost got me killed," Penelope pointed out. "As many mistakes as I think we can all agree members of GCPD and other officials made, we can't forget that Goodman is the person most responsible for what happened."

Greene scowled. Before she could say anything though, Bolton interrupted. "There's one thing that's been bothering me, Dr. Young," he said. "It seems that the reason Goodman kidnapped you was to get at Nigma. Why did he think that would work?"

Penelope bit back a curse. Bolton was a wild card that could work in her favor, but could also torpedo everything. "As I said earlier," she said in a measured tone. "You would need to ask Goodman himself that."

"He got himself arrested just to get to you," Bolton continued. It seemed she and Edward had underestimated his ability to think. "That's what Cash said Nigma said." Bolton's face reddened and his dark eyes glared at her. It seemed he'd abandoned the charade of being her champion now that he suspected she wasn't available to him again. "There something going on between you two that you'd like to share with us?"

Behind her, the murmurs grew louder still. Penelope thought she heard the sound of a bench moving near the back, but she didn't look behind her. She was almost too outraged to speak. Ward luckily spoke for her as he got up out of his seat. "Quiet in the chamber!" He shouted. Then he turned at Bolton and pointed a finger at him. "That is not an appropriate line of questioning, Bolton!"

"No," Penelope said. "I'd like to answer that." She needed to nip this in the bud, fast. "I'm not sure if Bolton recalls, but last May at the Arkham Memorial, Mr. Nigma did protect me from Patrick Horner. That made the news. Goodman had been collecting newspaper articles about Mr. Nigma in the year leading up to this incident. It's probable that he read the articles about the Memorial incident and drew conclusions."

Ward nodded, satisfied by this explanation and sat back down. "Yes, that explains it, most likely." Bolton opened his mouth to say something else, but a glare from Ward silenced him. He leaned back in his chair and glared at Ward before looking down at the papers in front of him. Hopefully, this display would help convince the reporters in attendance that the Commission was too flawed to take seriously. 

"I think we could use a short break. We'll reconvene in five minutes." Ward got out of his desk and gestured for Bolton to follow him out of the chamber which the man did, reluctantly. 

Penelope let out a breath and checked her watch. 9:30. It felt like hours had gone by. Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw Joan and Aaron approaching. "Well, it certainly didn’t take too long for Bolton to make a jackass of himself," the older woman murmured. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine, Joan," Penelope said, taking a sip of water out of the bottle on her desk. "I'm just remembering how much I hate speaking in front of people."

"You're doing great, Doc," Aaron said. "Those councilmembers don't know how to handle you!"

Penelope let out a small smile. Then she let her eyes drift over the people in the gallery. God, she was glad Edward wasn't here to hear Bolton's question. She didn't want to think about what his reaction would have been.


 

It had taken both Nina and Deirdre's hands on his shoulders to stop Edward from getting up out of his seat and denouncing Bolton when he'd made that lurid accusation. Even then, the sound of the wooden bench moving had drawn a few eyes in their direction, including Bruce Wayne's.

"Easy boss," Deirdre whispered. "You said you didn't come here to start shit today, remember?"

Edward took a deep breath, then leaned back. Where does a 500-pound gorilla sit? Anywhere it wants. Mr. Smith has four daughters and they each have a brother. How many children does he have? Slowly, his pulse returned to normal. 

"OK, boss?" Nina whispered. 

"No," Edward said. His eyes remained fixed on Bolton, who was now being dressed down by Ward. "I'll kill him. I'll wring his neck."

"I don't think your hands would fit around it, Eddie."

Edward and the girls looked up to see Selina standing before them. She gave the girls a cheeky wave. "Room for one more?"

Nina scowled, but scoot over to let Selina on the last empty spot on the bench.

"Selina?" Edward asked when he remembered how to speak. "What are you doing here?"

"I could ask you the same question, Eddie." she scolded. "You shouldn't be here."

Edward shook his head dismissively. "I've been cooped up at home long enough. Time to get back on the case again."

"How exactly does sitting here and getting riled up by Bolton help with the case?"

Edward didn't answer that. Penelope had managed somehow, to defuse the situation and Ward was calling for a break. "You didn't come here for the case," Selina spoke again. "You came for her."

This seemed to snap Edward out of his trance and he looked back at Selina. She wasn't angry. Just curious. 

"That true, boss?" Deirdre asked.

Edward sighed. "Leland told me Bolton approached her. What precisely should I do? Stand back and do nothing about that?"

Selina shook her head. "Eddie," she asked. "Do you think the Doc's an idiot?"

Edward almost didn't know how to respond to that. "What-no! I don't work with idiots!"

"Do you respect her?"

"Of course I-Where on Earth are you going with this, Lina?"

Selina held her hands up. "I'm just saying, I just saw her handle Bolton and the rest of the Commission without you having to get up and make a scene. From what I’ve seen, she can more than handle herself." She reached around Nina to gently touch him on the shoulder. "I get wanting to look after her, but the best thing you can do is to sit back and trust her to take care of this."

Edward raised a finger but found he couldn't form a counter-argument. He glanced back up to the front of the chamber. In the crowd of people, he could just see Penelope speaking with Dr. Leland and Cash. She looked confident. She was actually smiling a bit. If she felt threatened, she didn't show it. Slowly, Edward felt himself relax. Trust her. She trusted him. He needed to trust her now. Ward and Bolton came back in and the chamber quieted down. Penelope turned to face the Commission members with her head held high. Edward felt a smile on his face form for the first time since he'd entered. Go get them, partner.


 

”Dr. Young,” Ward said through gritted teeth. “Allow me to rephrase my question. Speaking as a psychiatric professional, how would you explain Goodman’s rampage?”

Penelope took a sip of water before she answered, studying the faces of the Commission members as she did so. Ward and Bolton looked agitated. They’d probably gotten into some kind of exchange during the break. Greene looked irritated as well because she hadn’t landed any blows on her. She couldn’t really. Penelope wasn’t just another officer. She was the ‘victim’ in this case. Penelope put down the water bottle and looked directly at Roberts. He was the only one who hadn’t said anything. He looked a bit startled by the eye contact, but he didn’t look away.

”In my opinion,” Penelope said. “Victor Goodman allowed his resentment of Mr. Nigma to push him to commit these crimes. However, I also think that Goodman did not receive adequate mental health care beforehand."

Ward nodded. "So you believe that he shouldn't have been released from Arkham?"

Penelope leaned forward a bit so that what she said would be picked up clearly by the microphone. "No, that's not what I said."

Ward frowned again. "No? You don't think he would have been better off in Arkham?"

Penelope sighed. "No." She took a breath. "I feel that there is a misconception about what being released from Arkham actually means. It means that a patient has completed treatment in Arkham and can be safely released. It doesn't mean that they are cured of their mental illness. They still require support outside of Arkham. And that's something Goodman didn't receive."

"And just what kind of support should someone like Goodman have received?" Greene asked. 

Penelope just barely resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "Well, clearly, he needed regular psychiatric care."

"That would have been his responsibility to seek out treatment," Greene pointed out.

"Yes, it would have been, but one has to consider what his support system was. When Goodman was released, he was essentially abandoned to his own devices. His parole officer didn't keep up with him, none of his friends or family stood by him, and the one person he seems to have had a positive relationship with was the person who framed him for embezzlement and helped set off his initial attack in the first place." Penelope took another sip of water. "What happened last December was the result of years of systemic neglect not by any one person, but by multiple people. Instead of trying to assign blame for this one incident, what the City should do is examine its institutions and to try to enact meaningful reform."

"The City has put money into Social Services, Dr. Young," Greene said. "We've seen just how well that works."

Greene was walking right into her trap. "I'm fully aware of what the City has funded, Councilwoman," she said. "Just as I'm aware that you voted against enacting a program that would have provided job opportunities and counseling services to released parolees in Gotham some years back. Around the time Goodman was on parole?"

Another round of murmurs erupted in the chamber. Greene's face paled and Penelope allowed herself a cold smile. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Victor Goodman call you his Councilwoman as well?"

Greene's mouth opened, then shut again and Penelope moved in for the kill. "Is it that expanding social services doesn't work, or is it that you've never tried?"

Greene's face trembled just a bit before she broke eye contact and looked down at the sheets of paper in front of her. Penelope looked back towards Roberts and he quickly averted his eyes as well. Two down.

"What good would that have done?" Bolton asked. "Goodman was a psycho. He killed before. Why shouldn't he have just been left in Arkham to rot? We all would have been better off. Time after time, we keep giving these freaks chances and what do they do? They go out and cause more misery. Tell me, Doc. Would you have had to go through what you did last year if we just locked them up and threw away the key?"

There was a pause in the chamber as Penelope thought about what she would say. She sighed a bit. He wouldn't like it, but it was something that needed to be addressed. She was just glad he wasn't here to hear it. "No," she said at last. "I wouldn't have." She waited for Bolton to smirk before she added. "I would have been dead long before Goodman ever got near me." Bolton's eyes widened in surprise and she continued. "I am alive today because of Edward Nigma. If he had, as you put it, Mr. Bolton, been left in Arkham to rot, I would have been murdered at the memorial by Patrick Horner. I am alive because he was given the chance to reform and he took it. Every single person in Arkham deserves that same consideration."

"Well, you're hardly unbiased," Greene found it in her to say. 

This woman just didn't learn, did she? "Well, of course not. I said so as much earlier. But you had to have known that before you called me." Greene's face reddened and she looked down at her papers again. Out of the corner of her eye, Penelope thought she could see Bullock and Montoya take some vindictive joy in her state. 

Bolton clenched his fists, but a sharp look from Ward prevented him from saying anything more. Three down. "I speak from personal experience when I say that the denizens of Arkham can be a nightmare to deal with. They have committed terrible crimes, hurt countless people," Don't think about the Joker. Stay focused. "But they are not monsters. They are still people. It sometimes can be easy to lose sight of that fact, but it is important not to. Because if you lose sight of their humanity-" she looked straight into Ward's eyes as she spoke and her voice dropped a few degrees. "It can lead you to justify committing terrible crimes yourself."

Ward's black eyes, so narrow and focused usually, widened slightly and Penelope knew she had him. "Thank you, Dr. Young," Ward said. He swallowed quickly. He was nervous. "I think those are all the questions we have for now. Thank you again for your testimony. We will take a short recess before calling our next witness.“

Penelope felt a small thrill as award and the rest of the commission members got out of their seats and walked out of the side doors. Had she done enough? Only one way to find out. Without waiting for Joan or Aaron to approach her, she got out of her seat and followed the members out of the doors. 

Greene and Roberts were engaged in a heated discussion outside of the small meeting room just outside the chamber. Neither of them spoke to Penelope as she approached. Roberts couldn’t even make eye contact. Bolton came out of the office, his face red, when he saw her, he stopped.

”I don’t get you, Doc,” he said. “You never used to be such a bleeding heart at the asylum. What changed?”

”I did,” she said, her tone hard. “I’ve had a lot of time to think the past two years, Bolton. You should too if you’re capable of it.”

Bolton scoffed. “I think I liked you better at Arkham.” 

“You’re about the only one,” she answered.

Bolton shrugged and walked off. Just as he did, the office door opened and award appeared.

”Warden,” Penelope greeted.

Instantly, his posture stiffened. “Dr. Young. May I have a word?”

”Absolutely.”

She walked into the office. No sooner did Ward shut the door did he turn on her.

”What exactly, were you implying at the end of your testimony?”

”Implying?” Penelope repeated. “Nothing. I was stating a fact. And that fact is that you have a lot to answer for, Ward.”

Ward’s face reddened. “It was your idea,” he seethed. “Your experiment.”

“You went along with it. You couldn’t wait to hand Bane over to us. And now you have the gall to condemn other people for their mistakes. I left Arkham, Ward. I can’t help but notice that you haven’t resigned, or faced any kind of consequences for what you did.”

Ward’s eyes narrowed. “Blackmailing me won’t work, Young. I’ll take you down with me.”

Penelope’s heart pounded in her ears, but she kept onwards. “I’ve already lost everything once, Ward. I can lose it again. Can you?” Ward hesitated and took a step forward. “We both know the Mayor would survive this scandal. But do you really think he’d hesitate to throw you under the bus if it makes things easier for him? Are you ready to be crucified in the media? Resign? Lose your pension? Have everything you’ve worked for in your life taken away from you?” She gestured towards the doorway. “Jack Ryder’s right outside. Let’s go out into the sunlight together.”

She was close enough that she could see the sweat begin to appear on his forehead. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a handkerchief to dab at his face. He swallowed thickly. “What do you want?”

She had him. “I know that your goal is to bring down Jim Gordon. We both know the only reason that this city is as functional as it is is because of that man. Leave him alone.”

Ward’s eyes narrowed. “You’ve made a very dangerous enemy today, Penelope.”

Did he mean himself or Hugo Strange? “So have you, Ward. Now if you don’t mind, I have work to do.” She walked past him, ignoring his glare and re-entered the main chamber. She walked to the side doors where she could see Joan, Aaron, and Montoya waiting for her. She felt her heart lift up and she almost let a nervous laugh out. She’d done something. She just hoped it would be enough.

 


 As soon as the people on stage had left, Selina let out a chuckle. Nicely played Doc.

”I gotta hand it to her,” Nina said. “That woman’s got a set on her.”

”No kidding,” Selina agreed. “She almost tased me the first time I met her.” She laughed a bit. “And to think, you were worried about her, huh Eddie?”

When Eddie didn’t respond, Selina glanced his way. He was leaning forward, an almost enraptured look on his face. Nina poked him. “Eddie? Earth to Eddie! Come in boss!”

Edward got up out of his seat in one movement. “Me worried? Hardly. Like as I said, I merely wanted to get out for a bit.” He looked back at Nina and Deirdre. “Alright with entertaining yourselves for a few hours, girls? I have an errand to run.”

Deidre waved him off. “Say hi for us, Boss.”

Eddie practically dashed out the rear doors. Selina didn’t need to be a genius to know where he was going. She shook her head. Then she looked a few rows ahead and caught Bruce’s gaze. She excused herself and walked over to him.

”Crisis averted,” she murmured. 

“For now,” Bruce replied.

Selina’s face fell a bit. “Bruce, I get that you’re never going to completely trust Eddie, but when are you going to stop assuming the worst?”

Bruce sighed. "I don’t want to, Selina, believe me, but him and Dr. Young together...” he shook his head. “That’s potentially very dangerous.”


 

Friday, 12:30 pm

Penelope had stopped by her apartment long enough to change back into her favored slacks and flat shoes before she went to her office. She’d just managed to get out the side doors of City Hall before Ryder could find her and ask for an exclusive. Frankly, after the morning she’d had, she was looking forward to a quiet afternoon of paperwork.

She came up to the familiar door of her office to find that it was ajar. She creased her forehead. Who on Earth-then she remembered that it was Friday. Could it be-

She opened the door and sure enough, sitting on her desk with his legs crossed, reading a copy of the morning paper was Edward. He looked up when he heard her enter and he smiled wide. She hadn’t seen him like this since before he’d gone after Croc. “Good afternoon, Dr. Young!”

There were many things she wanted to say to the man at that point in time. But all she said was, “I have two nice chairs and a couch in this office. Why you always insist on sitting on my desk is beyond me.”

Edward chuckled a bit. “Oh, I missed you too. As a matter of fact, I do have a purpose to it. I think it lends to my aesthetic as a private detective.”

Penelope placed a hand on her hip and gave him a wry look. “No offense, but sitting like that you come across more like Lauren Bacall than Humphrey Bogart.”

Edward genuinely laughed at that. “My God, she can make a joke! Between making jokes about film noir and shutting down pompous city officials, is there truly nothing you can’t do?”

Penelope froze midway between removing her coat. “You-you were there this morning?”

”Indeed I was. And what an enjoyable morning it was! Better than the nonsense on cable at least.”

Penelope stopped to fully consider the man. “Have you been coming to the hearings the whole time?”

”Not the whole time,” he admitted. He put down the newspaper and rubbed the back of his neck. “Dr. Leland told me you were testifying this morning. I was bored.”

”I see,” she said. She looked down at her feet for a moment before she looked back at him. “This is a ridiculous question, but...you didn’t come to check up on me, did you?”

”No,” he said. “Well...yes and no. I have every confidence in your abilities, but Dr. Leland did tell me that Bolton spoke to you. I...might have been a bit concerned.” He laughed a bit nervously. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but it would be a shame if I had to find a new investigative partner. I think I’ve started to become a bit fond of you.”

For a long moment, she didn’t know what to say. “Edward-“

He hopped off the desk in one fluid movement. “Besides, where else am I going to find someone who can almost match me in the public displays of intelligence department?”

Well, that didn’t last long. “I’m sure you’d manage,” She drawled. She took a closer look at the man as he approached her. He still had a bandage on his forehead, but he looked much better than he did when she’d last seen him. He seemed much more like himself again. It suddenly occurred to her that she had genuinely missed him this past week.

”And I mean it too,” he said. “You handled them today expertly. I couldn’t have done a better job myself!” He paused for a moment. “Well, no, I could have, but I am me, after all.”

Penelope scoffed. “You haven’t changed a bit, have you? You are still the most aggravating man I’ve ever met.”

”Always,” he sassed. “And is that any way to speak to the man who’s about to buy you lunch?” 

Penelope was about to say that she had work to catch up on, but she stopped herself. She was genuinely happy to see him. “I can spare some time.”

”Good!” Edward said. “We’ve got quite a bit to catch up on! I introduced Ellen to Nina and Deirdre the other night.”

”And how did that go?”

”They’re turning her against me. I expect to hear that she’s run off to Central City before the week is out.” He stopped at the doorway and gestured. “After you.”

Before she went out the door, she looked up and smiled at him. “You do look a lot better, Edward. How are you feeling?”

He sighed a bit. “Better, thank you. I’ll be alright, Penelope, I promise.”

”Good.”

 

Chapter Text

1:30 pm

Edward had decided to stay with Penelope for a while that afternoon. It had been a week since he'd seen her last after all, he reasoned. And it wasn't as if they didn't have quite a bit to talk about. For her part, Penelope did not seem in a rush to shoo him out either, working away at her paperwork while he chattered on in the seat in front of her desk. "...So then, the girls decided that just telling Ellen stories about our exploits wasn't enough, they had to show her pictures as well! So there I am, having to explain to my fifteen-year-old daughter why I decided to rob the First National Bank dressed in a green jacket with light up questions marks!"

Penelope smiled slightly and continued writing. Edward was beginning to slowly, but surely be able to read her body language. This was genuine amusement. He smiled a bit himself, then continued on. "Nina and Deirdre then proceeded to tell her that when Batman arrived, he foiled our getaway by aiming a Batarang at the emergency sprinkler system. When my jacket got soaked, the lights short-circuited and I had to throw it off because it started to smoke!"

Then Penelope did something Edward didn't expect. She laughed. A short laugh that she immediately covered up with a hand over her mouth. She looked up at him and her face flushed a bit. She cleared her throat. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to laugh at the thought of you catching on fire."

Edward shook his head. "It's not that," he said. "I just...I don't think I've ever heard you laugh before." He liked it. "Besides," he said with a smooth wave of his hand. "I've learned to recognize some of the absurdity of my former life. I wouldn't hold it against anyone if they laughed at it every now and then." Within reason. Briefly. 

Penelope smiled again and shook her head. "How magnanimous of you." She turned her attention back to her paperwork, then paused. Her smile fell and her expression became almost blank. She put her pen down and rubbed the back of her head. Edward frowned. 

"What's on your mind?" he asked.

Penelope sighed. "This morning. This whole week. I just...I keep going over everything that happened in my head and I wonder. Did I do enough? Is there something else I could have said?"

Edward let out a sigh himself. "Well, speaking as a member of the gallery, I'm not sure that there's anything more you could have done. Well, legally at least." If Strange and the Commission members were hellbent on running Gordon and the rest of GCPD out, then there wasn't anything Penelope could do or say to change that, not unless she was willing to resort to drastic measures. Looking at how uncertain she was though, Edward stayed his tongue. That wasn't what she needed to hear now. "You don't seem the type to worry about what-ifs anyway."

"I'm not usually," she admitted. "I've always thought of myself as being in complete control, of always knowing exactly what to do in any situation, but..." she sighed again. "I have to know that I did everything I could. If I didn't, I don't think I could ever forgive myself."

Nearly two years on and the shadow of Arkham Asylum and TITAN hung over her still. You and I are alike I think. We've both lost a part of ourselves, haven't we? "There was something I've been wanting to ask you," he said cautiously. "At the end of your testimony, you said something about how thinking of the denizens of Arkham as monsters can cause a person to justify committing crimes against them. I couldn't help but notice that you were directly addressing Ward." Penelope's face settled into a blank expression and she looked down at her pad of paper. Edward took this as a sign that he was on point. "That was about TITAN, wasn't it? He was involved?"

Penelope slowly nodded. "Ward transferred Bane to Arkham Asylum so that I could-" her voice hitched slightly. "So that I could begin the process of extracting venom from his body, for the formula."

Edward nodded. "You threatened to expose his involvement in that affair to undermine the Commission."

Penelope's voice came out in barely more than a whisper. "Yes."

"Even if that means destroying your career and reputation?"

Penelope looked back up at him, her eyes icy and a determined expression on her face. "It wouldn't be an effective threat if I wasn't willing to go through with it, now would it?"

"No, it wouldn't," Edward admitted. He couldn't approve of her willingness to sacrifice herself for an institution like GCPD, but this determination, this internal fire...he greatly preferred this to the hesitant, almost fragile woman he'd seen minutes earlier. "If he calls your bluff, give me warning at least before you do anything. Exposing sensitive information about prominent city officials is something of a specialty of mine."

"I can handle Ward. You don't have to get involved-"

"I want to. I've never liked Ward." Edward tapped his finger on the armrest of his chair. He could never get back what he lost, but Penelope could find herself again. She just needed a push. "It's not a question of your abilities. I'd just prefer not to see you lose everything. You deserve better than to become a martyr for GCPD."

Penelope looked almost taken aback by Edward's statement, which perturbed him somewhat. What's harder to believe, he wondered. That you deserve better, or that I care enough about you to say it? 

"I'm not trying to make myself a martyr," she said finally, her voice low. She wasn't angry, or put out. She seemed more resigned. "I just...if something goes wrong, you have a lot more to lose than I do."

Edward blinked. So her going solo for the Commission wasn't just about her proving a point. She was, in her own way, trying to protect him. He felt a surge of fondness for this brave, stubborn woman. He wagged a finger at her. "Really now, dear doctor, have you forgotten who you're speaking with? Edward Nigma, formerly known as the Riddler? I was risking life, limb, and livelihood on the streets of Gotham back when you were choosing what classes to take your freshman year of college. I'm a resource."

"Your condescension is not appreciated, Edward," Penelope huffed. Her serious expression gave way to a small smile. A smile that didn't quite reach her eyes, but a smile still. "But thank you."

Edward smiled back. He liked her so much better when she let herself be happy. "Think nothing of it. Besides, worst case scenario, you could always join me on Vicki Vale's show and do a tell-all interview."

This quip had the desired effect and she let out a small laugh again. "God no," she said. "I don't know how you can stand being as much in the public spotlight as you are."

"I consider it my due," Edward said, leaning back. A return to their usual banter would be welcome after everything they'd experienced the last week. "After all, what good is a dazzling intellect and persona without an audience?"

Penelope rolled her eyes, but in a good-natured way. "You're impossible."

Edward chuckled a bit. Any further talk about the Commission, about Strange, about Harley, about regrets could wait. For now, for just one afternoon, he simply wanted to enjoy her company. "I know it."

 


6:00 pm

The elevator stopped on the third floor of City Hall. The doors opened almost immediately, but Ward hesitated before stepping out. He'd dreaded having this conversation since the end of Young's testimony but it couldn't be helped. He sighed, stepped out of the elevator and walked down the hall to the Mayor's office. Most of the staff had left already, leaving only the security personnel and an odd staffer or two finishing up on work. As he thought back on the day's events, Ward ground his teeth. He'd anticipated Leland being a threat, but Young? Who could have seen that coming? The insufferable bitch would ruin everything. She needed to be dealt with quickly. He reached the end of the hall and was now standing in front of the solid wooden door of the Mayor's office. Ward let out a long breath and brought his hand to the door. "Quincy? It's me."

"Come in," a deep voice sounded from the other side. Ward frowned. This wasn't Sharp. He opened the door to find Dr. Hugo Strange standing with his back turned towards him, looking out of a window that overlooked Downtown Gotham. "Good evening, Warden," Strange greeted without looking behind him. "Shut the door."

Ward closed the door behind him. "Where is Quincy?" 

"He is running an errand at the moment. He won't be in tonight." Strange slowly turned around, his dark brown eyes peering intently through his glasses at Ward. He'd worked in corrections for most of his adult life, seen every type of scum and monster Gotham City had to offer, but something about Strange's sheer presence made him shiver. "He will be informed as to what we discuss tonight."

Ward gulped a bit. "Fine," he said. "We need to talk about Penelope Young."

"I heard that she made an impression at the proceedings today," Strange said without any trace of amusement. "It seems that she was not quite content with playing the role of aggrieved damsel in distress."

"It's worse than that. She's a threat, Hugo."

Strange gave a small incline of his head. He didn't seem to be surprised, a fact that worried Ward. "Go on."

"She approached me after her testimony. She all but stated that if we continue our attacks on Gordon, she'll publicly expose the TITAN Project." Ward wet his lip. "We need to deal with her."

"She certainly has proved to be more meddlesome than I had originally anticipated," Strange admitted. "However, we cannot move on her. Not yet."

"Not yet?" Ward repeated. "Hugo, if she goes public-"

"It would be damaging, yes. You would have to resign. We would have to put one of our contingencies into effect to ensure that Mayor Sharp would get out relatively unscathed. But the alternative could be costly. We have to consider what it would look like if she were to have an unfortunate accident so soon after her testimony."

"I understand that. I wasn't suggesting we do it right away. But-"

"There is something else to keep in mind as well," Strange interrupted. "Who was it that saved her from an unfortunate fate, and what might he do if she were to meet one?"

Understanding dawned on Ward. "Nigma. You don't think-"

"Nigma is not now nor has he ever been capable of loving anyone," Strange responded. "He is capable of some degree of sentiment, however. And I believe that she is useful to him in some capacity. He wouldn't have lifted a finger for her otherwise. We've been able to keep the man at bay for the time being, but he will perceive an attack on her as an attack on him. We cannot move on her until we have a sound plan to contain him." 

Ward wanted nothing more for Young than to have her car brakes fail, or to meet a random mugger in a dark alley, but he could see Strange's point. Nigma had been one of the most formidable criminals in Gotham history for a damn good reason. Ward had seen that for himself in person more than once. If the man wasn't a complete lunatic he'd have had the city in the palm of his hand years ago. "We need to tell Quincy at least."

"And we will," Strange assured him. "He is going to need more...convincing in order to fully turn on her though. He still sees himself as almost a father to her. I told you, he tried to offer her employment at the asylum again."

"I remember," Ward answered. He shook his head. "She should have died that night. Or stayed in hiding. Why the Hell is she starting up trouble now?"

"Her motives are immaterial. We can wait to deal the death blow to Gordon. Her testimony, as unexpected as it was, can't take back the damage done to Bullock and Montoya. As long as even one of them resigns, it leaves Gordon vulnerable. Do not let your anger at Young's presumptuousness distract you from the greater goal."

Ward nodded. "You're right. Of course. Greene and Roberts are still on board with some of Quincy's suggestions. Young undermined their credibility in front of most of Gotham's press corp though. They're going to be reluctant to approve all of them, especially the harsher ones."

"That was to be expected. Even if Greene and Roberts prove to be useless cowards, we have other means to ensure changes are made. Was there anything else?"

Ward shuffled a bit. "Where exactly is Quincy?"

A smile came to Strange's face. "About an hour before you arrived, he received a call from Bolton that made him quite agitated. He said he had an unfinished matter at the Asylum he wanted to personally see to."

Ward furrowed his brow. An unfinished matter at Arkham? What could Sharp possibly need to do-Victor Goodman was at Arkham. "Oh, God."


7:00 pm

After winning the Mayoral election, Sharp honestly hoped that he would never have to set foot through the doors of Arkham Asylum again. That he'd never have to walk through the dark, cramped halls, that he'd never have to listen to the moaning, the shrieking, the laughter, the pleading from the wretches that resided in them. It was blissfully quiet tonight though, the only sound the echoes of the steps he and Lyle Bolton made down the hall. "It's quieter than usual tonight," he said.

Beside him, Bolton grinned. "Yeah. Curfew's at 6:30. They know better than to act up after that." He chuckled. "Amazin' what electrified bars and floor panels can do."

"Quite. And the Rogues?"

"They're still in the Isolation Ward. What's left of it anyway." The pair came to a stop right in front of the last room at the end of the hall. "Here we are. You sure you want to do this, Mayor?"

Sharp's grip on his cane tightened when he thought of the animal that lay on the other side. "Yes."

Bolton opened the door to the Arkham Infirmary, or rather, what passed for it. The official infirmary had been destroyed during the Joker's takeover almost two years ago. Now it was a repurposed recreation room, with six cots and three medical machines. The Asylum had received a grant to rebuild and update the infirmary, but Sharp had ordered the funds to be allocated to Hugo for his own research needs. What point was there to rebuild it if the animals were just going to destroy it anyway? The room itself was empty, save for one patient lying in a cot in the far left side of the room, and one young male orderly standing over him. As Bolton and Sharp entered, the orderly spun around, his eyes widening in shock. "Mr. Mayor!? What are you-"

Sharp held a hand out. "Good evening, Mr..." his eyes peered at the man's nametag. "Mr. Sanchez, is it? I wonder if you would be good enough to give us the room?"

Sanchez looked from Sharp to the patient to Sharp again, almost bug-eyed. "The room? Why-"

Bolton stepped forward, jerking his thumb to the door. "You heard him hombre! Clear out of here!"

Sanchez's face flushed, but he did as he was told, leaving the room with a final backward glance at the pair.

Sharp looked at the patient lying in the cot with disdain. "You may leave, Lyle."

"Mayor, I don't think that's-"

"I can more than handle this degenerate," Sharp insisted. "Make sure that Sanchez finds himself occupied with something else. If I need you, I'll call you."

Sharp didn't look up but heard Bolton's steps out of the room and the sound of the door shutting behind him. Now, for the first time, he was face to face with Victor Goodman.

Goodman's health had deteriorated since being brought back to Arkham. His skin was deathly pale, his face sunken in, his chest nearly concave. Lying in the cot as still as he was, wearing only a thin hospital gown and covered with a single white sheet, he already looked like a corpse. It was only the rhythmic beeping sound of the medical machine that informed Sharp that he was even still alive. He looked at Goodman without a trace of pity. It was the least the filth deserved, he thought, after all that he'd done. "Victor Goodman," he commanded. "Wake up."

Goodman made no movement or sound. Sharp frowned, then poked at his body with the end of his cane. Both of Goodman's wrists were securely cuffed to the sides of the cot, not that Goodman was in any kind of shape to offer resistance. "Goodman!" Sharp barked again. "Wake up!"

Goodman let out a soft groan and slowly opened his eyes. It took a moment for them to focus, and when they did, they narrowed. "Sharp," he muttered, his voice a hoarse croak barely above a whisper.

"That's Mayor Sharp to you, scum!" Sharp huffed. "I have a question for you about your actions last December. You will answer me, do you understand?"

Goodman's eyes shut again. "I've said all that I need to say. Let me live out my last remaining days in peace."

"It's about Penelope Young."

Goodman's eyes opened again. "Penelope...Odysseus' wife and the mother of his son. She waited for him faithfully for twenty years, keeping other suitors at bay through trickery, never losing faith that he would come through his trials and return to her. What do you want to know about her?"

Sharp rubbed the head of his cane. "When I was told that you had abducted her," he said in a low tone. "I believed at first that it was a crime of opportunity. That you simply needed a human shield and that she was the easiest to take. Bolton, however, informed me today that that was not the case. That you specifically targeted her. Why?"

Goodman let out a wheezing noise that might have been laughter once. Sharp's eyebrow twitched. The filth actually had the nerve to laugh at him. "A suitor? She has her Odysseus and it isn't you."

Sharp slammed the end of his cane onto the ground. "Don't be puerile! And if I wanted to talk about dratted Greek mythology, I'd speak to Zeus! Tell me!"

Goodman let out a sigh. "After our meeting at the old nightclub, I was disappointed with who Riddler had become. I had my Ankhesenamun follow him, to see if we could find anything to use against him." His voice turned almost plaintive. "Where is my Ankhesenamun"? I haven't seen her in so long-"

"She's in a Women's Correctional Facility. You'll never see her again. Go on."

Goodman let out a small groan but continued. "She followed him to a coffee shop in Downtown. That was where he met his Penelope."

Sharp growled. "She is not his Penelope." Inwardly, he was confused. Penelope had met with Nigma? Why? What could she possibly have to say to that thing?

"Isn't she?" Goodman mocked. He actually had the audacity to mock him. Him, the Mayor of Gotham, the Savior of this City. Sharp resisted the growing urge to throttle him. He needed to hear what he had to say. "I saw the photographs my Ankhesenamun took of them together. I saw the look in his eyes when she left him. He desires her. He may not acknowledge it, but I know desire when I see it in a man."

Sharp wanted to retch. How dare he. How dare that preening, self-important, arrogant, maniacal degenerate have the gall to have designs on an innocent girl so far above him? "That was why you kidnapped her? Because you believe he wants her?" Sharp would kill him first.

"I don't believe it. I know it. I saw how furious he was when I had her in my grasp, when I took her. And do you know what else?" Goodman smirked a bit as if he knew the words he'd say would harm Sharp. "She desires him as well."

Sharp barely heard the sound his cane made when it slipped from his grasp and fell to the tiled floor. Penelope wanting Nigma? He couldn't believe it. He wouldn't believe it. She was too smart, too driven, too sane to follow in Quinzel's footsteps. "She doesn't-she wouldn't-"

"She does. Even when she was bound and helpless, she tried so hard to protect Riddler from my final trap. I saw the tears almost fall from her eyes when she thought he was dead. I saw the look in her eyes when he came for her. She wants him as much as he wants her. He is her Odysseus, and she will wait for him no matter how long it takes."

Sharp's fists clenched. He remembered Penelope as she was when she had started her internship in Arkham, how bright she had been, how she had been the only one of that group to have real ambition and a vision for what Arkham could be. How quickly she had taken to the place, how he could see her coming around to his line of thinking. How she was everything he had hoped his daughter would be if he had ever had one. The idea of that girl giving herself to Nigma...he wouldn't let it happen. He would save her from him, being her back to where she belonged, part of the new order he would create. 

Goodman wheezed again. "Do you know what I regret the most? That I didn't kill her when I took her from GCPD. Riddler's reaction to making it through the trials of the Underworld, only to find her mummified body? It would have been glorious."

Something inside of Sharp snapped at that. With one sudden movement, he wrapped his large hands around Goodman's throat and squeezed. He dimly heard the sound of Goodman's cuffs rattling as he tried in vain to lift his arms to defend himself. His grip tightened. Goodman was making no sound now, his mouth hung open, his dark eyes wide, almost bulging out of his head, just like the others when Sharp had delivered his divine justice. Sharp didn't acknowledge the smell coming from the sheets, nor the fact that his eyes were rolling back. He didn't see Goodman anymore, but another Rogue, one with a tacky suit, a green suit, and a smirk on his face. "You will never have her," Sharp fumed. "I will protect her from you! Do you hear me, Nigma? I won't let you take her from me!" Nigma said nothing, Goodman said nothing. Hours seemed to pass, but Sharp's grip did not loosen. Finally, he heard a long continuous beep coming from the machine. Goodman was dead. He removed his hands from around his throat and surveyed his handiwork. Another wretched soul, cleansed from this City. Soon, Nigma would join them.


When Ward and Goodman arrived, Bolton and Sharp were both in the ramshackle infirmary. Bolton at least had the decency to look slightly embarrassed at the scene. Ward took one look at the body that lay in the cot and nearly vomited. "Jesus!" he hissed. "Quincy you can't start this again! You're the Mayor, for god's sake!"

"Yes," Sharp answered as if he was in a daze. "I am. I am the protector of this City. I will cleanse it of the filth that inhabits it."

"Of course you will," Strange said patting him on the shoulder. "You've had quite the exciting evening, haven't you? Come, let's go to my office and have some tea."

"Alright," Sharp answered. "Thank you, Hugo. Yes, I have had quite a day..." Strange gave Ward a sharp look before he led Sharp out of the room.

As soon as they were gone, Ward turned on Bolton. "And just where were you when this was happening!?"

"Right outside," Bolton shrugged. 'I didn't think he'd actually kill the guy. So, what do you wanna do? Make it look like a suicide?"

Ward sighed, then nodded slowly. "Yes. Help me get his body in a noose by the window. Then strong-arm one of the doctors to sign off on it. Then cremate him. I don't want this coming back to haunt us, understand? What about that orderly that was here?"

"He was on the other side of the building when Goodman died. He doesn't know jack."

"Good. And Bolton? The next time Quincy gets one of these urges, call me immediately. Understand?"

Bolton huffed but nodded. Ward took a breath. He'd lived in Gotham all his life. He'd seen first hand what criminals had done to it. What were a few dead freaks against finally restoring peace and order to this town? "Good. Now help me with the body."

 

 

Chapter Text

Saturday, February 24th, 9:30 am

 

"So when do we get to see the kid again?"

Edward looked up from where he was cleaning out his coffee mug and shot Deirdre an indulgent smile. "I told you, Sunday. We'll all go out for dinner at that Italian Restaurant on 4th street."

Deirdre nodded and went back to reading her newspaper where she was lying sprawled on the sofa, her head in Nina's lap. Nina carded her fingers through Deirdre's hair and smiled at Edward. "Just the four of us?"

Edward shook his head and dried out the mug with a washcloth before setting it in his dishwasher. "No, Selina will be there too." He tried not to laugh when he saw Nina's face curdle in displeasure. "Now now, don't be like that. Ellen's quite fond of her, you know. I won't have you sit next to her or anything like that."

Nina huffed. "Better not. What about your lady doctor friend? Will she be there?"

Edward hadn't even thought to ask Penelope if she'd want to join them. She probably wouldn't, workaholic that she was, not to mention the fact that given her testimony yesterday, the last thing she should risk was being seen with him in public. "Well, no,-"

"You didn't ask, did you boss?" Deirdre sassed. 

Edward rolled his eyes. Any quip he was about to make was cut off by the sound of his cell phone ringing from the dining room table. "Bet that's her now," Nina added. 

Edward crossed from the kitchen sink to the ringing phone. "Edward Nigma, Private Investigator."

"Edward it's me."

Penelope. Any annoyance he might have shown at Nina for being right was overtaken by how shaken his partner sounded over the phone. "What is it?"

"Victor Goodman's dead."

There was a name Edward had hoped he'd never have to hear again. "No offense, but is that really much of a surprise? The man did have terminal cancer."

"He committed suicide."

Well. He hadn't expected that. "Hold on just one second, Penelope." He looked at the couch where a curious Nina and Deirdre were watching him. "I need to take this. I'll just step in my room for a bit. I'll be right out." He quickly walked down the hall into his bedroom and shut the door behind him. "There, I'm back. Now, tell me everything."

"Strange called Commissioner Gordon an hour ago and told him that Goodman hanged himself in the Arkham Infirmary. Gordon called me half an hour ago to tell me."

Edward scoffed. "Nice to see that Arkham's supervision hasn't improved. You're not going to lose any sleep over Goodman's death, are you?"

Edward could almost see the irritated expression on Penelope's face when she spoke. "Of course not, but Edward, this is serious. Gordon asked for Goodman's body so GCPD could do an official autopsy, but Strange told him that Arkham had already conducted one and cremated Goodman's body."

This was a bit concerning. Edward furrowed his brow. "I take it that's not standard Arkham practice?"

"When I worked there, we did have our coroner conduct autopsies, but we always kept the body available for GCPD or the families if they requested an additional one. I'm suspicious about the timing of this too. Goodman's been incarcerated in Arkham for two months, and he chooses to commit suicide the night of my testimony before the commission? Perhaps I'm seeing things, but this isn't adding up."

Edward rubbed his chin. A suspicious death in Arkham...this seemed...almost familiar. "You think that Strange murdered Goodman."

"That was where my mind went first, but even that doesn't make much sense. Why would Strange kill him after I testify? As far as we both know, Strange wasn't involved in Goodman's rampage, so he doesn't have any reason to silence him. Strange has sadistic tendencies for certain, but in that case, he'd let cancer kill him." Penelope let out a sigh. "I'm just thinking out loud. What do you think?"

Edward considered this. "You're right," he said. "It is suspicious. But I don't think Strange killed him. If Goodman's death was a homicide, I think Strange is covering for someone else."

"Who? Bolton?"

"Not likely. Bolton's a minor thug. He's replaceable. It would have to be someone of much greater importance to Strange. Someone who he's been working with from the beginning." There was only one person Strange would lift a finger to help.

"Edward...you don't mean...Sharp?"

He grinned a bit. He knew there was a reason he liked this woman. "Who else? Sharp would still have access to the asylum as the former warden and the current mayor. And you said yourself, Sharp did begin to implement stricter policies at the Asylum when he was the warden." 

"Yes, but Edward, it's a bit of a leap from that to murder-"

"You were all but accusing Strange of murder just a few moments ago," Edward chided. "You're the psychiatrist, Penelope. Sharp chose to become as entangled with Strange as he is for a reason."

"Sharp's many things, Edward. But a murderer? Believe me, it's not that I think Sharp is a good man deep down. He's pompous, demeaning, and he takes credit for things he hasn't done. He's a coward though. It's obvious in the way that he carries himself that he uses his position of power to overcompensate for a lack of character. I just don't see him as being capable of murder."

Edward hummed. His memories of Sharp from when he was incarcerated at Arkham were still faint at best, and from his own past interactions with the fool, he'd agree with Penelope's assessment. There was something nagging at him though at the back of his mind. "When did you first become acquainted with Sharp?"

"When he moved from Blackgate to Arkham, of course. I'd never met him before that."

Edward nodded. "And before? He was the warden of Blackgate?"

"Where are you going with this?"

"I'm just saying, there's a lot we don't know about Sharp's background. If we want to understand Strange's plan, we need to understand Sharp and how and why the two became acquainted with each other."

There was a pause on the line before Penelope spoke again. "So then we should look into Sharp's background too."

"Exactly. I can begin some research on him this week."

"One thing still doesn't make sense to me. Sharp's the mayor. Why would he risk losing everything he's spent the last five years working for to murder Victor Goodman?"

Edward had an idea what Sharp's motive might have been. He just needed to put it in a way that wouldn't alarm her. He swallowed a bit before he began to speak. "Well, it's all in the timing. Goodman was killed the night of your testimony where you detailed exactly what he did to you. And you've said in the past that Sharp is paternalistic towards you, yes?"

"Oh my God," Penelope breathed. "He killed Goodman for me?"

Edward flinched a bit at the quavering in her voice. "It's a possibility." He bit his lower lip. "Do you want me to come over?"

Penelope's voice resumed its clinical tone. "That's not necessary, Edward. Joan said she'd be coming over today. I know you still have your friends over, I don't want to take up any more of your time."

"Alright, as long as you're sure," Edward said. "I don't want to be over-dramatic, but if my hunch is correct, then Sharp may have an unhealthy interest in you. Be careful around him."

"You don't need to tell me twice," Penelope said. "I'll see you Friday."

"Right-by the way, what are you doing Sunday?"

"I'm going to be over at Aaron's home visiting. Why?"

Edward sighed. It was just as well. "Never mind. I'll see you Friday." He hung up the phone and looked at it with a feeling he couldn't quite identify. If he was right, then Sharp was more dangerous than he'd anticipated. If he was right, what might he do to Penelope if he got his hands on her-he wouldn't. Edward wouldn't let that happen. He would not lose her. Not like he lost Jonathan.


 

Monday, February 26th, 9:00 am

"This is Vicki Vale, reporting live from Gotham City Hall with a breaking news development. After a dramatic week of testimony, the Sharp Commission will officially be releasing their report by the end of this week. The Sharp Commission was convened to review the actions of GCPD and Arkham officials during the crime spree of Victor Goodman last December. During the hearings, the conduct of senior GCPD Detectives Harvey Bullock and Renee Montoya was specially called into question. During his closing statement this last Friday, lead Commission member Phillip Ward, warden of Blackgate Prison, stated that what happened last year during Goodman's rampage represents the inadequacy of Gotham's criminal justice institutions to deal with serious crime and that the complacency of GCPD under Commissioner Jim Gordon, in particular, has led to criminals becoming emboldened. He then stated that the commission will release recommendations to get at the heart of the problem of costumed crime in Gotham. We'll keep you informed as to the latest updates here on GCNN."

Gordon looked at the badge and gun on his desk, then at the detective who deposited them with a heavy heart. "Harvey," he said gently. "You don't have to do this."

Bullock wiped his face with the back of his hand and sighed. "Yeah, I do, Jim. They got my number. I let Nigma piss me off too much and I screwed up on the Goodman case."

"Harv, there was plenty of blame to go around. I should have kept a closer eye on Nigma-"

"I'm the one who detained him. If he hadn't broken out, Doc Young would have gotten killed. I own that. I'm not gonna let you or Renee get dragged down by this too."

Gordon shook his head. Bullock was stubborn as he was loyal. There was nothing he could to dissuade him from this course of action. "What are you going to do?"

Bullock shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe I'll be a PI too, give the green asshat a run for his money."

Gordon let out a sad chuckle. "You would, too." He got out of his seat and stepped around to the front of his desk. He grabbed one of Bullock's hands and gave it a firm shake. "If there's anything you need, anything at all, you know where to find me."

Bullock nodded. "Yeah. I know." He slowly let go of Gordon's hand and walked towards the office door. "See you around, Jim. Don't let the creeps in City Hall get to you." Bullock opened the door and walked out into the bullpen for the last time. Gordon followed him to the open door and watched as Montoya gave him a hug and some younger cops shook his hand. Gordon's fist clenched. Sharp and his damn commission had cost him one of the best officers and men he'd ever known. Why? What was his goal?


 

Thursday, February 29th, 9:00 pm

Sharp sat in the plush chair behind his desk, reading over the document Ward had handed to him two minutes ago. The longer he read, the redder his face got and the more nervous Ward became. He furtively glanced at Dr. Strange, who was sitting behind Sharp, an impassive expression on his face. This did little to settle Ward's nerves. Finally, Ward spoke. "You'll see that Greene and Roberts went along with our recommended changes to the parole process for Arkham inmates-"

"Yes, and not much else!" Sharp shouted, crumpling the paper and throwing it towards the wastebasket in the left corner. "This isn't even half of what I asked for! What about the TYGER program?"

"Given the City's budget, it isn't feasible right now-"

"There's nothing in here about Gordon either! You both said you were going to use this commission to force him out!"

Ward took a sharp breath to avoid saying something he'd regret to the mayor. "I told you, Quincy. We can't quite get rid of Gordon yet. Your little friend from Arkham made it quite clear to me what would happen if we did."

Sharp shook his head furiously. "You must have misunderstood her. She wouldn't-"

"For God's sake Quincy! She all but said what her intentions were!" Ward shouted, pounding his fist on the desk. "She's not the woman we knew from Arkham anymore! She's a threat! You need to acknowledge that!"

Sharp shook his head again. "She's being misled by Gordon and his lackeys at GCPD. She'll come around. You'll see. I am her benefactor. She would not betray me." Ward sighed and ran a hand through his hair. Was this genuine affection for Young, or was this another one of Sharp's delusions? Or was he just being stubborn?

Before either Ward or Sharp could anything else, Strange stepped forward and placed his hand on Sharp's shoulder. "Patience, mayor. Patience," he soothed, his Teutonic voice low and slow. "I told you at the beginning that it would not be a quick process. I have it on good authority that Bullock has resigned. That will leave an opening for us to take advantage of. Why don't you go lie down?"

Almost robotically, Sharp stood up. "Yes," he repeated. "I think I should go lie down."

Strange smiled. "Good night, Mayor."

"Yes...Good night..." Sharp slowly walked out of the office and towards, Ward presumed, his bedroom.

As soon as the mayor was out of earshot, Ward looked at Strange. "What have you done with him?"

"Nothing drastic," Strange replied. "I've merely taken the liberty to up the dosage on his medication. After the incident with Goodman, I thought it was necessary."

Ward didn't fully believe the man but decided it was prudent not to press further. Instead, he sighed. "Quincy's right though. It's not exactly what we hoped for."

"It is a setback, yes, but it's not a total loss. We still have important provisions put in place."

Ward nodded. "Is it true about Bullock resigning?"

"Yes. It's not being reported on, but I have a source in GCPD who confirmed it. I have a man in a position to take Bullock's place. If nothing else, we will have eyes and ears in GCPD to monitor Gordon's activities."

Ward let a small smile come to his face. It might not be exactly what they wanted, but it was a start. 


 Friday, March 1st, 9:30 am

"This is Summer Gleeson with a breaking news bulletin. The Sharp Commission has officially released its recommendations! We now to live to City Hall, where chief commission member and warden of Blackgate Prison, Phillip Ward, is addressing members of Gotham City's press corps, including our own Vicki Vale."

"...The Sharp Commission makes the following recommendations: 1. The Parole Process at Arkham Asylum must be overhauled. Patients should receive a minimum of five years of treatment before any consideration of parole. All parole decisions must receive approval from the Warden of Arkham Asylum. 2. Any released inmates of Arkham must make themselves available for further treatment at any time requested by the warden of Arkham Asylum, or be in violation of their parole. 3. Any deviation from a treatment plan will be considered a violation of parole. 4. Any association with any of the super criminals in Gotham City will be an automatic violation of parole. 5. All current and future Arkham inmates will be required to remain on a specially created registry for ten years after their parole and must report their status to any employer or law enforcement official without being asked. Furthermore, the Commission makes the following recommendations for inmates of Blackgate Penitentiary, Stonegate Penitentiary, Gotham City jail and Gotham County jail: 1. As with Arkham Inmates, all paroled inmates from these institutions must make themselves available to their parole officers and to correctional officers when requested. Any association with any of the super criminals in Gotham City will be an automatic parole violation. Any crimes carried out in service to the super criminals must come with an automatic sentence enhancement. Finally, any individual apprehended committing a crime while in any kind of mask or costume will face an automatic five-year sentence enhancement in addition to any other fines and penalties. The Sharp Commission will send these recommendations to Mayor Sharp for his approval before going through the proper channels to ensure their passage. Thank you."


Penelope switched off her radio, let out a long sigh and brought her fingers up to massage her temple. Across the desk from her, Edward was sitting back in his favored chair, watching her intently. "Well," he said in a breezy tone. "I suppose I should consider myself fortunate that the Arkham recommendations won't become retroactive, otherwise I'd be in a fix. What do you think?"

Penelope dropped her fingers and gave him an incredulous look. "What do I think?" she asked. "It's a complete overreach, that's what I think! Arkham Asylum is a mental asylum, not a prison! I could understand stricter protocols for the super criminals, but the majority of the inmates in Arkham aren't there because they're criminals! They're meant to be treated and reintegrated into society, not-" she let out an irritated huff. Edward's face had kept its curious expression and she bit her tongue to avoid from snapping at him. 

"Notice who and what wasn't mentioned, however. GCPD. Gordon. Your testimony and your threat to Ward did something."

Penelope clasped her hands in front of her and looked down. "Not enough. Aaron told called me on Monday and told me that Bullock resigned."

"Good riddance. That's not on you. Bullock's resignation was a natural consequence of his own stupidity."

"He's Gordon's right-hand man, Edward."

"If I hadn't managed to get word to Selina about being detained, you would be dead. Because of Bullock. You don't owe him a thing-"

"It's not about Bullock, Edward! It's about Gordon, about GCPD as a whole! I don't like Bullock anymore than you do, but you have to-" Penelope paused. Edward had only begun his investigation after being directly attacked by Strange. The GCPD, Gotham City itself, Edward could care less about. He wasn't the heartless, irredeemable criminal she'd thought he was two years ago, and he had proven he did care about individual people, but it was a far cry from that to caring about the greater good. She worried her lip and continued in a cooler tone. "Bullock's resignation, no matter how much you think he deserves it, is a loss. And it's something Sharp and Strange are going to take advantage of."

Edward rolled his eyes. "I realize that. Which brings me to what I originally going to share with you." He reached down to the briefcase at the foot of his chair and placed it on Penelope's desk. He opened it and pulled out paperwork, which he neatly piled next to the case. "I managed to uncover some juicy details about our illustrious mayor." He looked up at her and his face grew uncharacteristically serious. "I think both of us have been underestimating Sharp."

Penelope felt her stomach sink. "What do you mean?"

Edward tapped his fingers on one stack in particular. "This is Sharp's biographical information. He comes from a military family and applied to West Point himself."

Penelope took the stack from Edward and began to thumb through the paperwork herself. "Applied...he didn't get accepted? He would have been the first of a long line of men in his family not to. That could be at the root of his overcompensation."

"He did not. You should see why."

Penelope looked through the stack and found a psychological evaluation. She gave Edward a sharp look. "Edward, this is strictly confidential. How did you-"

He gave her an impish shrug. "It's me, remember? Read on."

Penelope looked back at the file and read out loud. "'During evaluations, Sharp displayed symptoms of a schizophrenic personality disorder. He denied it when asked and has refused any further diagnosis or treatment.'" Penelope reached up to brush at her bangs. "Well, this is illuminating, but I'm not comfortable using Sharp's mental illness against him."

"Go on."

Penelope shook her head and continued to read. "'Beneath a pompous, self-important demeanor, Sharp is a cipher. He is psychologically susceptible to-'"Penelope's breath caught in her throat. "'to molding especially at the hands of an authority figure. He is not fit any sort of military duty.'" Penelope let out a shaky breath. "Oh God. Strange isn't just working with Sharp, he's working through Sharp. He's a puppet master."

"That's not the worst of it, Penelope."

Penelope scoffed and looked up at Edward. "What? What else did you find out?"

Edward bit his lip, then gestured to the other stacks on her desk. "I took the liberty of going through the lists of patient deaths from before Sharp arrived at Arkham and after."

Of course. If Sharp felt secure enough to kill Goodman, he must have done it before. "And?"

"In the twenty years Jeremiah Arkham served as the head of Arkham Asylum, there were three patient suicides, all of which were independently confirmed as such by the GCPD Medical Examiner. There were three patient suicides the first six months alone of Sharp's tenure. So, either Sharp was indirectly killing people through his reactionary policies, or-"

"He was killing them himself," Penelope finished dully. How had no one caught this? How did no one see this? Where had she been? "This is my fault. All of it. I was so focused on that damn experiment, my own career, I didn't-"

Penelope nearly jumped out of her skin when she felt a pressure on her hands. She looked down to see Edward's gloved hand covering them, awkwardly petting them. "Enough of that," he scolded. "That won't get us anywhere. Put everything that happened out of your mind and treat him like he's any other patient or suspects you have to profile. What does all of this tell you?"

 "I don't-"

Edward's hand gave her own a light squeeze. "I'm certainly the smartest person I know, but I can't look into the human psyche the way you can. You're an intelligent psychiatrist. Act like it."

That may have been the most touching thing Edward had ever said to her, awkward as it was. Penelope nodded, took a breath, then withdrew her hands to look over Sharp's psychiatric profile again. "Contrary to popular media perception, schizophrenics aren't any more likely to be violent than the rest of the population. However, Sharp's denial of his condition and his refusal to seek treatment suggests that he is ashamed of it. The overcompensation in his behavior likely stems from deep self-loathing. He projected this self-loathing onto the patients at Arkham Asylum hence the harsher policies and his behavior towards them. He always seemed disinterested at best and disgusted at worst. By killing patients, he's actually trying to kill the sickness he sees in himself. At some point, he crossed paths with Hugo Strange-"

"And Strange found a willing puppet," Edward finished with a smirk. "See? I knew you could do it."

Penelope scoffed. This man really was impossible. "We still can't prove anything. And now two dangerous men are controlling policies in this city."

"True," Edward shrugged. "But now that we have a better sense of who they are and what they're capable of, we can prepare for it." He smiled at her. "Right, partner?"

Despite herself, Penelope felt a small smile come to her own face. "Right." She looked down at the stack of papers again and tapped her finger on her desk. "There's still something I don't quite understand. The provision about criminals in costume."

Edward furrowed his brow. "I'll admit, that is something that stuck out to me too. I mean, the kind of person who puts on a costume to commit a crime isn't the sort of person this kind of deterrent works on. The only person who might care about this is-" Edward's eyes lit up and his mouth dropped open. "Of course," he muttered. "Of course! How did I miss this? How did I miss this?"

Penelope leaned forward in her chair. "Miss what?" Edward got up and began to pace up and down her office, almost as if he hadn't heard her. "Edward?" she asked louder. "Miss what? What are you talking about?"

Edward suddenly looked at her. "Sharp and Strange are targeting Gordon. Why? What do they gain by that?"

"What do they-well, they get rid of the one city official who would stand up to them-"

"No, there's more to it than that! Don't you see? Who has Gordon sanctioned for over ten years? Who has he protected? Who would find himself without an ally in Gotham City if Gordon resigned tomorrow?"

Penelope brought her hand up to her mouth. "Batman? Sharp and Strange are targeting Batman?"

Edward clapped his hands. "Exactly! One thing I've never forgotten Penelope. Eventually, everything in this city leads back to Batman."

Penelope sank back against her seat. "Why?"

Edward rubbed his chin and Penelope tried to ignore the excited gleam in his green eyes, the same gleam she'd seen when he was her patient in the not too distant past. "What are Strange and Sharp up to that they think me, Gordon and Batman are a threat to? That is a riddle, isn't it?"


 

Friday, March 1st, 9:30 pm

Bruce sat in his chair at the head of the dining room table in Wayne Manor. Around him sat Dick, Tim, Damian, Stephanie, and Cassandra. Alfred stood by his side. "Barbara?" Bruce spoke into the cell phone in front of him. "Are you there?"

"I'm here," she said over speakerphone. "What's going on Bruce?"

Bruce cleared his throat. "The Sharp Commission released its recommendations today. Mayor Sharp and the City Council will have them implemented by the end of the month at the earliest. The provision about the criminals in costume is troubling."

Tim sat straight up in his seat. "That's really about us, isn't it?"

Bruce nodded. "That's what I believe, yes."

To Bruce's left, Damian scoffed. "What do we have to fear from City Hall?"

"Damian, my father will have to enforce this law," Barbara's voice crackled through. "Whether he wants to or not."

Dick sighed. "What's the plan then?"

"Be vigilant on patrol. Try not to go alone if at all possible. Stay in communication with me and each other at all times. And if you see law enforcement, back off. Don't get into a situation where you end up in a confrontation with them. Understand?"

Dick, Tim, Stephanie, and Cassandra nodded. Damian huffed. Barbara then asked the question that Bruce hoped he wouldn't have to answer. "What about Jason?"

Bruce sighed. "I'll try to talk with Jason. In the meantime, don't approach him or the Narrows."

"No problem there, Boss," Stephanie saluted. The rest of the team voiced their agreement as well.

Alfred looked mournful but said nothing. Bruce gave his partners a nod. "Good." They all had work to do.

Chapter Text

CASE FILE #0038: Like Father, Like Daughter

April 10th, 2007

I was never like Batman in one important regard. I never wanted a protege. I never wanted Ellen to follow in my footsteps. I wanted Ellen to stay as far away from the business with Sharp and Strange as possible. Then again, when have I ever gotten what I wanted?

E. Nigma, Private Investigator

Arkham Asylum, 10:15 pm 

Lyle Bolton prided himself on being unable to be intimidated by anyone. Not his fellow guards, not the freaks, not even the Goddamn Batman himself. Hugo Strange though? That man almost made his skin crawl. More than anything, he wished he didn't have to be in front of his office. Couldn't be helped though. Bolton squared himself up and knocked on the solid metallic door. "Come in," Strange's voice sounded.

Bolton opened the door and walked into the office. Strange was sitting behind his desk, looking over paperwork. "Bolton," he said without looking up. "State your business."

Bolton scratched behind his ear. "We got a problem with one of the orderlies."

"Oh?" Strange asked, not bothering to look up still. "Who?"

"Sanchez."

Strange put down the paperwork at last and looked up at Bolton, his dark stare penetrating him to the core. "What sort of problem?"

Bolton shuffled awkwardly, averting his eyes. Fuck, he hated being stared at, especially by Strange. "He was giving me attitude ever since...you know. And now he hasn't shown up to work in a few days."

"Is that all?" Strange asked, his tone becoming irritated. 

"Yeah," Bolton answered. "Don't you think I should do something about it? What if he starts runnin' his mouth off to somebody?"

Strange folded his hands in front of him. "One orderly accusing the mayor of Gotham without any proof is nothing to be afraid of," he said. "But he could set off a chain reaction amongst the other staff. Find him."

"And if he doesn't want to cooperate with us?"

Strange fixed him with a cold smile. "Find a way to persuade him otherwise."

Bolton smirked. "You got it, boss."


 

Gotham's West Side, the following morning 

 

"Now, you're sure you'll be alright for three nights? I can come back early."

From her spot at the kitchen table, Ellen resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Every year in April, for as long as Ellen could remember, her grandmother would go to Ivy Town for her high school reunion. This was the first year she'd decided Ellen was old enough to be left home alone and not dragged along for a weekend of dealing with older people and a cheap motel room with bad cable. "I'll be fine, Gramma, I'm not a little kid anymore." 

Rachel Dixon pat Ellen's cheek. "I know, you're a young lady now. But I'm your grandmother, let me worry."

Ellen smiled. "Yes, Gramma."

Rachel hummed a bit and placed some bills on the kitchen counter. "I'll leave you a bit of money for food, but remember, there's plenty of leftovers in the fridge. Don't spend the whole weekend eating pizza and fast food, it's bad for your skin."

"Yes, Gramma."

"Will $100 be enough? I can stop by the bank before I leave and get more-"

"It'll be fine Gramma," Ellen answered with a wave of her hand. "If I need more, I can always ask the Old Man."

Ellen regretted her words as she watched her grandmother's body tense and her smile turn into a scowl, as it always did whenever she was reminded that Ellen's father existed. She was sixty now, and as petite as Ellen was, but she’d threatened the life of Edward Nigma at least three times that Ellen knew of already. "Only if you absolutely need to," she said. She began to mutter under her breath. “That man thinks if he throws a few thousand at us every month that that makes him any kind of a father-“

”Gramma,” Ellen groaned. “Not now. Please?”

All the fight in her grandmother seemed to go out at the plaintive tone in her voice. “Alright. Not now.” She shook her head. “I’m sorry, I know you want to try to know him, but I just want you to be careful around him. He’s dangerous.”

Ellen had never gotten around to telling her grandmother about the incident in the deli last summer, or the fight with the Krampus at Christmas, or the time she’d helped bust the Old Man out of GCPD. Probably for the best, the way she carried on about him being a ‘bad influence’. Didn’t stop her from taking his money though. “I will be, Gramma, I promise.”

Her grandmother smiled, then her blue eyes caught the kitchen clock. “Time to go, sweetheart. You’ll be late for school.”

Ellen got up from her chair, grabbing her backpack with one hand and wolfing down the last of her pop tart with the other. “Do you remember everything you have to do this weekend?”

Ellen swallowed before she began to recite the tasks her grandmother had given her. “Take out the garbage tonight, water the plants on Saturday, do dishes on Sunday, no parties, no people here after 9, no being out after 10, call you every night before bed, no nonsense with the Old Man.”

Her grandmother gave her a kiss on the forehead. “Good girl. Have a good weekend.”

Ellen smiled, then rushed to the door to get to the bus stop. “I will! Bye Gramma! See you on Monday!”


 

 

Geometry class wasn’t Ellen’s least favorite class (that would always be history, thank you very much), but as it was the last class before the end of school and the start of her first weekend alone, she couldn’t wait for it to end.

Mr. Holt, or Jabba the Holt as she liked to call him, was droning on at the whiteboard about formulas and graphs, and Ellen had to fight the urge to yawn. Jabba the Holt took no prisoners. She wouldn’t be surprised if one day he became a supervillain himself. He was mean and ugly enough to be one.

Ellen turned her head to the desk next to hers and the girl who sat at it. Marisol, her best friend since kindergarten. Normally, they’d hen exchanging notes or doodles, but Marisol kept her gaze down at her notebook. Her face was downcast, her brown eyes sad. Ellen frowned. This wasn’t like her. 

Ellen opened her notebook and ripped out a small section of paper, just under the doodle of Batgirl she’d been working on. She scribbled down a quick message before she passed it to Marisol. What’s wrong?

Marisol looked at the note, then wrote a message back before passing it to Ellen. It’s my brother.

Ellen took another piece of paper and scribbled on it. She waited until Jabba the Holt's back was turned before she passed it. What did he do this time?

Marisol chewed her lip before she wrote back. I’ll tell you after class.

Ellen frowned as she read it, but nodded just the same. She wrote back If we survive. Jabba the Holt’s trying to bore us to death again.

This time, Marisol smiled a bit, which made Ellen happy. Marisol passed the note back and read the message underneath. Make him the bad guy in your next comic.

Ellen snorted a bit, which unfortunately drew the attention of the teacher in question. “Ms. Dixon?” Jabba the Holt drawled. “Do you find something amusing?”

“No sir,” Ellen answered. “Never in this class.”

The other kids, Marisol included, laughed as Jabba the Holt’s face reddened. “Ms. Dixon, it would behoove you to-“ he was cut off by the ringing of the final bell. Ellen barely stifled a cheer as she shoved her notebook into her backpack. "Have your worksheets done by Monday!" Jabba the Holt shouted over the din of students leaving the classroom. He gave Ellen a glare before she and Marisol walked out of the class and down the hall.

"Freedom!" Ellen shouted, pumping her fist in the air. Beside her, Marisol giggled a bit, before her face fell again. Ellen nudged her with her shoulder. "So what's going on? You've been down all day."

Marisol sighed, hugging her textbooks to her chest. "Miguel and my parents have been fighting about his job."

Ellen frowned. "He's a nurse, right?"

"He said he was, but Papa found out a few days ago that he didn't work at Gotham Memorial like he said he did."

"Huh. So where does he work?"

"I don't know. They won't talk to me about it. I hear them argue at night though, in Spanish. Something about how it's too dangerous. Mama and Papa want him to quit, but Miguel says he needs to stay, to look after the patients. They convinced him to take the last few days off of work though." Marisol sighed. "I just wish someone would tell me what's going on. Every time I ask, they just tell me not to worry about it."

"I get it," Ellen said. "Believe me. Adults suck sometimes." Miguel was almost nine years older than Marisol and had always been overprotective of his little sister. It was enough to make Ellen almost glad that she was an only child.

Marisol let out a huff. "Tell me about it!" She shook her head. "I'll be alright, I just needed to get that off my chest. Thanks, Ellen. For listening."

"No problem."

The girls walked out of the front doors of Chesterfield High School and into the warm Spring day. Ellen soaked up the sun with delight. She missed being able to walk outside without a coat. "So," Marisol asked, her usual cheer returned. "Your Grandmother's gone this weekend, right? You wanna do anything?"

Ellen hummed. "I'm meeting up with my Dad tomorrow, but we can hang out on Sunday. Gramma said I could have people over until 9."

"Cool!" Marisol fixed Ellen with a curious look. "So, when do I get to meet your Dad?"

Ellen twirled a lock of her red hair. "Uh...it's kind of complicated." Kind of was an understatement. Both the Old Man and her Gramma forbade her from ever telling anyone who he was. Ellen had told Marisol after she'd met the Old Man last summer that he was a private detective, but that was all. It wasn't a lie, but not being able to tell the whole truth to her oldest friend still hurt. 

Marisol's brow furrowed a bit. "Is everything OK with you two?"

Ellen shrugged. "Yeah, we're fine. He's just kind of a jerk." That also wasn't a lie. 

Marisol cocked her head a bit. "If he's a jerk, why do you still want to see him?"

"He's kind of a jerk, but he's gotten better since we first met. Besides, he's my Dad."

Marisol didn't quite look convinced but shrugged. "Still, you got to introduce us sometime. If we can deal with Jabba the Holt, we can deal with your Dad."

Ellen laughed. "The Old Man's got nothing on Jabba the Holt! God, I'm glad we'll be done with his class next month."

"I know, can you believe it? We're almost halfway done with high school! It feels like yesterday we were Freshmen."

"I know! A few more weeks of school, then summer vacation. Then Junior year, then Senior year-"

"Then off to Gotham U together!" Marisol joined in unison in with Ellen. It had been a dream of their since first grade to go off to Gotham University together and it was actually in sight now.

"Two art majors against the world!" Ellen shouted. Both girls laughed and continued to walk the six blocks from the school to Marisol's family's apartment. The two girls continued to talk about their classes, their other friends, boys and girls and what they wanted to do that weekend. Finally, they reached the end of their walk and Marisol's apartment came in sight. As they approached, they spotted a man leaving the building. A tall, burly white man with a black buzzcut. As the girls walked up to the building, the man approached them. "Hey girls," he said in a way that Ellen thought was smarmy. He then turned to Marisol and gave her an oily smile. "You Miguel's sister?"

"Who wants to know?" Ellen asked.

The man gave her a sour look, then turned back to Marisol. "I'm Miguel's boss. Just came by to ask why he hasn't been at work lately. No one was home. You know where he is?"

Marisol averted her eyes, looking down at her feet. "No..."

The man grimaced a bit, then his face resumed its oily smile. "Well, if you see him, tell him Lyle wants to talk to him, ok sweetheart?"

Ellen stepped in front of Marisol. "Don't call her sweetheart, you fuckin' creep!"

The man's eyes widened a bit at her tone, then his face turned red. "You need to learn some manners, little girl."

Ellen had spent enough time in the Old Man's company not to be intimidated by this creep. "So do you, fatass. Back off!"

"Ellen!" Marisol squeaked, grabbing her arm. "Let's just go!" She dragged Ellen past the man, up the steps into the building.

"You're lucky I don't hit kids, little girl!" The man shouted after them. He stomped the opposite direction toward a parked car on the side of the street.

Once the girls made it inside the building, Ellen wrenched her arm out of Marisol's grip and turned to watch the man drive off. "Jeez, what a creep!" she shouted. "Where the Heck does your brother work, freakin' Arkham!?"

"You shouldn't have cussed at him, Ellen!" Marisol yelled back. "Did you see how big he was? He could have really hurt you!"

Ellen huffed. "It's fine. I'm fine. I've gotten into fights in the cafeteria with cheerleaders who are scarier than him."

Marisol shook her head. "God, Ellen. Sometimes I think you're kind of crazy."

"Just sometimes?" Ellen joked. Then her face grew more serious when she saw just how shaken Marisol was. "Look," she said. "I don't have to go home right away. You want me to stay until your parents get home?"

Marisol nodded quickly. "Yeah. Thanks, Ellen." The girls walked up the two flights of stairs that led to Marisol's apartment in silence. When they were just outside the door, Marisol suddenly turned to Ellen. "You won't tell my parents what just happened, will you?"

Ellen wet her lip. "I won't, but I really think you should."

Marisol ran one of her hands through her curly black hair. "No, they'll blame it on Miguel and they'll just fight more. Please, don't say anything. Promise?"

Ellen sighed. "I promise."

Marisol smiled. "Thanks." She unlocked the front door and the two walked into the cramped, but cozy apartment. They placed their backpacks on the kitchen table and sat down on the sofa. "What do you think?" Marisol asked. "Judge Julie or the Jack Ryder show?"

"Judge Julie," Ellen answered. "Jack Ryder's a prick. He makes me want to throw stuff at the TV when he's on."

"Judge Julie it is!" Marisol turned on the television and the girls sat back to enjoy the antics of people on afternoon TV. Ellen laughed so much at the hapless people dragged in front of the judge that she almost forgot about the exchange outside Marisol's building.

Chapter Text

"You're sure you don't need anything else?"

Ellen rolled her eyes, secure in the knowledge that her Gramma couldn't see her. "Yes, Gramma. I've got plenty of food and money. I'll be fine."

"Alright. Just call me if anything comes up. Love you Sweet Pea."

"Love you too, Gramma. Bye!" Ellen hung up before Gramma could prolong the call any further, then placed the phone back on its charger. She walked to the old gingham couch in the center of the living room and flopped down on it, resting her feet up on the armrest in a way her Old Man would scold her for. Well, he wasn't here and neither was Gramma. Ellen reached over to the coffee table and picked up the remote. Time to watch all the late night TV shows Gramma would never let her watch.

Ellen had only just turned on the television when the phone rang again. Ellen groaned. What, did Gramma forget something? She pulled herself off the couch and walked over to the phone. "Hello?" she asked when she picked up.

For a moment, there was only the sound of breathing. Then a shaky voice answered. "Ellie?"

Ellen frowned. "Marisol?" Her friend sounded on the verge of tears. In the background, Ellen could vaguely hear the sound of people arguing in Spanish. "What's going on? Are you OK?"

Marisol's breath hitched before she continued. "That man from earlier, he came back tonight to talk to Miguel. I don't know what he said, but when Miguel came back in, he was angry. He said he was going to go to the police, then he, Mama and Papa got into another fight. Miguel stormed out five minutes ago." 

"Shit," Ellen murmured. This was getting serious. "Wait, what did Miguel want to go to the cops about? Did his boss do something shady?"

"Mama and Papa told me to go to my room before they started fighting with Miguel, but I heard him shouting about how someone got murdered."

"Holy shit." Murdered? Just where did Miguel work? "So? Do you think Miguel went to go talk to the cops or what?"

"I don't know. Mama's so scared though. I can hear her crying." Marisol's voice broke. "God, I wish Miguel never took this stupid job!"

Ellen had never heard her friend in this state before. She shifted a bit before she answered, "Hey, do you wanna come over to my place tomorrow? I can always reschedule with my Dad."

"No, you don't have to do that," Marisol said. "I just...can you just talk to me right now? For a bit?"

Ellen took the phone receiver with her back to the sofa and sat back down. The TV could wait. "Yeah. As long as you want."

"Thank you. You're a good friend, Ellie."

Ellen smiled. "I try."


 

 

Ellen woke up at 10:00 the next morning, still drowsy. She and Marisol had been on the phone for over two hours the previous night and Ellen hadn't slept well after the call. Marisol had always been the most mature, put together of all of her friends. If she was so worked up last night, whatever Miguel was involved in had to be serious. She rolled out of bed and got herself ready for her day. After she'd showered and put on a fresh change of clothes, she checked the clock. 11:30. She'd be meeting up with the Old Man at his office in about two hours, which left her enough time for lunch. She should give Marisol a call too, just to make sure everything was OK. Just as she thought that the phone rang. Was that her now? Ellen crossed from the fridge to the counter to pick up the receiver. "Hello?"

"Ellen?"

Ellen frowned."Mrs. Sanchez? What's up-"

"Is Marisol with you?"

Ellen paused at the tone in the older woman's voice. Mrs. Sanchez sounded worried. "No, why?"

Ellen heard a sharp intake of breath on the other end of the line and her stomach dropped. "She's not here," Mrs. Sanchez said. "She wasn't in her room this morning, I can't find her, her father and Miguel are out looking for her, oh my God..."

"I'll try calling our other friends," Ellen said, her heart thudding in her chest. Where was she? If she wasn't home or with their friends, where would she go? "I'll find her, I promise."

"Thank you," Mrs. Sanchez said. Her voice hitched and she hung up the phone. Ellen immediately began dialing her other friends.

Joe was the last one she called. "You haven't seen her either?" Ellen said, pacing around her kitchen, running her hand through her hair. "Joe, I've called everyone we know! No one's seen her since yesterday!" She paused as he spoke. "Yeah, I guess we have to now. Thanks, Joe. I'll call you, Jon and Red later tonight." Ellen hung up the phone and bit her lip, trying not to cry. That wouldn't help Marisol now. God, what was she going to tell Mrs. Sanchez? She'd been like a second mother to her, always checking up on her, always inviting her over, ever since Mom-Ellen sighed, then dialed the Sanchez number. It went directly to the answering machine, which was almost a relief. "Mrs. Sanchez, it's Ellen. I called all our friends. No one's seen or heard from Marisol since yesterday, but they'll all keep an eye out. I'm sorry, but I think we need to call the cops." She hung up the phone, then took her face in her hands. Something had happened to Marisol. Something bad. Did it have something to do with Miguel? It must, it couldn't be a coincidence. But what could she do? Ellen's eyes spied the clock. It was five minutes after one, she'd have to run to the bus stop to meet-Ellen snapped her fingers. Of course! The Old Man! He could help! If anyone could find Marisol, he could! Ellen grabbed her coat and ran out the front door, almost forgetting to lock it in her haste.


 

 

Sitting behind his desk, her father held his hand up. "Slow down, Ellen," he said in that smarmy way of his. "Let me see if I understand you correctly: your best friend, Marisol Sanchez, seemingly disappeared from her home this morning?"

"Yeah!" Ellen shouted. "I called all our friends, no one's seen her. It's not like her to just disappear like this! She must have been kidnapped, don't you think?"

"That's a bit premature," the Old Man said. He pulled out a notepad from his desk drawer, then picked up a pen. "Now, the last time you spoke to her was last night, correct?"

"Yes," Ellen said. Was the Old Man treating her like a client? It was annoying. "She called me because her parents and her brother were fighting-"

"A domestic dispute," her father murmured. "What was that about?"

"Miguel's boss had come by and got in a fight with him-"

"Wait, Miguel is the brother?"

Ellen let out an annoyed sigh. "Yes! Miguel and his boss got into it, then when the boss left, Miguel and Marisol's parents got into a fight and Miguel stormed out. Marisol said that Miguel said he was gonna go to the cops about someone getting murdered at his job-"

The Old Man raised an eyebrow. "'Someone getting murdered?' Where does the brother work?"

Ellen shrugged. "I don't know. Marisol told me yesterday that he said he was working at Gotham Memorial, but that their Dad found out he was lying about that."

"I see." The Old Man scribbled a few notes down. "So, the brother was lying about his place of employment. Charming. What does he do for a living?"

"He's a nurse."

Ellen watched as her Old Man's eyebrow twitched. What, did he have a thing against male nurses? He shook his head. "So. The morning after hearing an argument between her parents and brother, your friend leaves her home. It's an apartment, correct?"

"Yeah."

"What story is it?"

"Second story. Why?"

"Well, if it's a second story apartment, that makes it difficult for anyone to have taken her." He looked back up at Ellen. "It sounds like she would have had to leave her home voluntarily. And you've called everyone she might have gone to? You're certain?"

Ellen clenched her fists. She didn't like how bored the Old Man seemed to be. "Yeah, I told you I did!"

"Does she have any other family she might have gone to?"

"No, most of the rest of her family is still in Puerto Rico."

"I see." The Old Man turned his attention back to his notebook. "Is there a boyfriend?"

Ellen shook her head. "No."

"You're sure?"

"I'm her best friend, Pops! I'd know if she had a boyfriend! We tell each other everything!"

"Oh?" The Old Man looked back up at her with a curious look on his face. "Does she know about me?"

Ellen pulled at her fingers a bit. "Not exactly, but-"

"Well then, you clearly haven't told each other everything."

Ellen felt her temper rise and she struggled to keep it at bay. "I haven't told her about you because you and Gramma won't let me-"

"And we both have very good reasons for that, which I'm not going to go into right now. Now, back to the subject at hand, it's entirely possible your friend just left to cool off somewhere-"

He said it as if Marisol had just gone off for a walk, instead of disappearing for hours. Ellen had had enough of her father's attitude about this. "She would have gone to me! She would have called me! She wouldn't have just taken off without saying a word! She's not like you!"

The Old Man frowned. "Don't take that tone of voice with me, young lady. At any rate, I have something pressing I need to see to, but when I'm done, I'll take a look into the brother-"

"When you're done!?" Ellen interrupted. "When's that gonna be? Marisol needs help now!"

"Ellen," The Old Man said, once again in that smarmy tone. "I can understand that you're a bit upset, but I can't simply drop what I have going on right now and insert myself into this. We don't know that there's been an actual crime. If the family thinks that she's been kidnapped, they need to call the police."

Ellen groaned and stamped her foot. "Why can't you just look into it now!? Just talk to her parents and Miguel!"

"Ellen, I don't know these people, how would that look?"

"She's my friend!" Ellen cried out. "Isn't that enough for you to care?"

The Old Man said nothing, but instead, closed his notebook. "When I have some time, I'll look into it. That's all I can promise, Ellen."

Ellen bit her lip. So, that was where she stood. The Old Man's work was more important to him than anything else, especially her. Her face flushed in anger and she hissed out in a tone cold as steel, "You'd drop everything if it was about Scarecrow!"

The Old Man actually recoiled at that, as if he'd been punched in the stomach. Then he took in a sharp breath. "For both of our sakes," he said at last, in a tone as cold as her. "I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that."

"Whatever," Ellen said. She turned around and walked towards his office door. "I don't know why I even told you. You don't care. Marisol's family's poor and can't pay you, so you don't care."

"That has nothing to do with it! Where are you going?"

Ellen turned to glare at him. "I'm going to go help her folks find her!"

"Ellen, if your friend really was kidnapped, this is a police matter. You're not going to help your friend by getting involved."

"Marisol!" Ellen yelled at him. "Her name is Marisol! And I can't just stand back and wait for you to feel like helping her!"

"Ellen-"

Ellen made it to the office door and turned to give the Old Man a final glare. "Fuck off!" Then she slammed the door and ran out of the building, ignoring her father's angry shouts behind her. When she made it down the block to the bus stop, she let the tears fall.


 

Ellen wandered the streets of her neighborhood of the Lower West Side, past the Bodega where she and Marisol would stop to get drinks after school, past the park where they would sit and sketch people walking their pets in the summer, past the deli where she'd stopped a robbery last August. She thought she saw Marisol's face in every girl who walked past her and the tears would come again. Where was she now? Was she locked up somewhere, pleading for someone to find her? Was she even still in Gotham? Or maybe, the Old Man was right. Maybe Marisol did just leave without saying goodbye. Ellen shook the thought out of her mind. No, Marisol wouldn't. She loved her family and their friends too much for that. Marisol was out there somewhere and she needed help.

It was well past four by the time Ellen rounded the familiar corner and walked up the steps to Marisol's apartment building. If nothing else, she owed it to Miguel and her parents to tell them what she knew. She entered the building and walked up the same flights of stairs she had the day before. This time, however, as she walked up the second flight and into the hallway that led to Marisol's apartment, she heard a man's voice, growing louder the closer she came. "Look, that's the deal, Take it or leave it, hombre." Ellen frowned. That sounded like the man from yesterday. She stopped at a door, just around the corner from Marisol's apartment, then leaned forward. The door was closed, but the sound of the voices carried through the thin walls. Another voice, one very familiar, to Ellen, made a cry that between anger and fear.

"You can't do this," Miguel's voice said. "She's just a kid, man. She doesn't have anything to do with this!"

Ellen's stomach dropped. Marisol.

The man's voice scoffed. "It's your own fault, Miguel. You didn't show up for work and when I found you, you started shootin' your mouth off. You want your sister? You know what to do. I'll be back at midnight for your answer. And I don't think I need to tell you what'll happen if you get any more funny ideas." Ellen heard the sound of the door open and heavy footsteps make their way down the hall, towards her. Thinking quickly, Ellen began walking towards Marisol's apartment, keeping her head down and hoping that the man wouldn't notice her.

She barely made it past him when he stopped and turned around. "Hey! Kid!"

Ellen stopped, her blood running cold. She took a deep breath and turned to face the man with as indifferent a look on her face as she could muster. "Yeah? What's up?"

The man raised an eyebrow. "You're that brat from yesterday. What're you doin' here?"

Ellen shrugged. "Coming to see my friend. What's it to you, chuckle fuck?"

The man's face reddened. "If you were my kid, I'd teach you some manners."

"If I was your kid, I'd have run off to join the circus years ago."

The man growled, then he squinted at her. "Hey," he said slowly, taking a step closer to her. Ellen fought every instinct she had to panic. "Have we met somewhere before yesterday?" he asked. "You look...familiar."

Shit. Had this guy met the Old Man? Figures. They were both just a pair of assholes. "I don't think so," Ellen said. "I'd remember meeting someone as ugly as you."

The man shook his head, then stomped the other direction. "Shitty little brat," he muttered. "No damn respect..." Ellen waited until she heard his footsteps down the stairs, then ran to Marisol's apartment, knocking on the door. It was only a moment until Miguel opened it, his eyes wide and red-rimmed.

"Ellen?" he asked. "What are you doing here?"

"I came to talk to your Mom," Ellen said truthfully. "Is she here?"

Miguel shook his head. "No, she and Papa are out looking for Marisol. I'll tell her you stopped by."

"Miguel," Ellen said. "I heard what that guy said. He has Marisol, doesn't he? What's going on?"

Miguel's face paled, then he set his jaw. "You shouldn't be here," he said, starting to close the door.

Ellen stopped the door with her hand. "Wait, Miguel, we should go to the cops! I want to help-"

"It's not your business, Ellen!" Miguel shouted. Ellen shrank back at the tone and the look in his eyes. Then Miguel brought his hand up to his face. "Please," he said. "Just go home, Ellen. I'll fix it." Then he shut the door, leaving Ellen with more questions than she'd arrived with.


 

 

"Now, I'll be with some old friends of mine for dinner tomorrow night, so I might not be able to call. But don't hesitate to call me if you need anything, alright Sweet Pea?"

"Alright, Gramma," Ellen said dully.

"Ellen," Gramma asked. "Is everything alright?"

"Yeah, I'm just tired. Stayed up a bit too late watching TV last night." Ellen kind of hated how easy it was becoming to lie to her grandmother.

"Well, it's the weekend, so I'll give you a pass just this once. But try to go to bed at a decent time tonight, please."

"I will. 'Night Gramma."

"Good night."

Ellen hung up the phone with a sigh. Sleep. Yeah right. How was she supposed to sleep when some creep had her best friend? She put the phone on the dresser next to her bed and lay down, staring up at the ceiling. That man said he'd be back at Marisol's tonight for Miguel's 'answer'. It was 9:00 now. What should she do? What could she do? Call the cops? She didn't even know the guy's name, just Lyle something. And if she did, Marisol was probably as good as dead. The Old Man was useless. Ellen groaned and closed her eyes. She couldn't just sit here and do nothing. "What should I do, Mom?" she whispered. "Marisol needs my help." She wasn't the Riddler though. She was just Ellen Dixon. Too bad she couldn't sneak up to the GCPD roof and call Batman, or Batgirl, or any of them. Her eyes opened. Maybe she was just Ellen Dixon, but she could be someone else. She hopped out of her bed and went to her dresser, pulling the bottom shelf open. Underneath her pajamas and gym shorts was a pair of striped green and purple leggings she'd worn for gymnastics a year or so ago. Next to them was a purple mask she'd made last August. She went to her closet then, pushing aside her shirts and pulling out a green sweatshirt she had, with a crudely stitched on purple question mark. She changed quickly and put on a pair of black boots. As she stepped in front of her mirror to tie on her mask, she hesitated. This was crazy. Was she really going to do this? The Old Man would be furious-she took a deep breath and tied the mask on.

Screw the Old Man. If he wouldn't help save Marisol, then Enigma would.

 

 

Chapter Text

12:15 AM

Bolton emerged from the apartment building with a smirk. Sanchez wouldn't be a problem anymore. As he walked to his car parked across the street, he pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed a number. His call was immediately answered. "This is Dr. Hugo Strange."

"It's me," Bolton answered.

"Well?" Strange demanded. 

Bolton grinned. "It's all taken care of."

"Good. You can be competent when the occasion calls for it. Is that all?"

Bolton frowned. "Don't you want to know-"

"Absolutely not. I've given your 'colleagues' the necessary tools, but that is as far as my involvement goes. Neither myself or the Mayor can be connected to this in any way. Clean up your mess with as little fuss as possible." The call disconnected with a click. Bolton scowled. Would it kill the good doctor to show him a little appreciation every once in a while? He shrugged, then dialed another number. This time, the phone rang three times before it was answered.

"Bolton? That you?"

"Yeah, it's me. Where are you guys?"

"We're still at the place on 55th."

"Kid been giving you any trouble?"

"Nah, we've been keeping her doped up on that stuff we got from Strange."

"Good. Meet me at the old shelter on 45th and Marshall in an hour. There's been a couple of dead junkies found down there. We'll make it look like an overdose." A noise suddenly caught Bolton's attention. "Hold on a second." He whipped around. No one was out on the street that he could see, but there was an alley located between the apartment building he'd left and the next. Bolton walked into the darkness, one hand going to the pistol on his belt. Nothing but trash cans and a large dumpster. He had taken maybe ten steps in the alley when he heard a rustling behind some garbage cans to his left. Bolton pulled out his pistol. "Come out!" A black flash ran past his feet. Bolton cursed and took a step back, only to relax when he realized that it was a stray cat. He shook his head and walked back out to the street, returning to his phone call. "Sorry about that. Anyway, we're good to meet in the narrows, right?"

"Yeah, but Bolton...she's just a kid. Do we have to kill her? It's not like she knows who we are."

"She's a liability, Morton. Besides, Sanchez has to learn a little lesson about shooting his mouth off. I'll see you in an hour." Bolton hung up his phone and walked off towards his car, without another look behind him.


 

As soon as she was sure the man had gotten into his car, Ellen peeked out from her hiding place behind the dumpster. That was too close. She'd tried to stay as quiet as she could when she heard the man come out from the apartment building, but when he had mentioned Marisol, she couldn't help the indignant squeak that had come out. If the Old Man were there, he'd have something to say to her about that. She watched his ugly red car start, then pulled her bicycle out. As soon as the car was in motion, Ellen followed. She was able to keep sight of the car as far as a block down 11th street, but a light turned green and it sped off, faster than she could ever hope to catch up with.

"Damn it!" she swore, smacking her palms against the handlebars of her bike. Well, she really should have seen that coming. What was that address she'd heard him say? 45th and Marshall? Ellen bit her lip. That was in the middle of the Narrows neighborhood. She'd never been allowed to go there in the day, let alone in the middle of the night, God only knew what was down there-

Ellen set her jaw. Marisol was down there. And if that man got there before she did, Marisol would die. Ellen wouldn't let that happen. Swallowing her fears, Ellen made a left turn on her bike, down Marshall. Hold on, Marisol. I'm coming.

Ellen noticed the further she pedaled down Marshall that the buildings were becoming gradually more run down. She crossed the intersection of Marshall and 25th and knew she'd officially entered the Narrows neighborhood. Her heart beat in her chest from the exertion of her bicycling and from the thrill of being in such a notorious place. The only people she could see out on the street now was the occasional homeless person. It was Saturday night-well, Sunday morning now, she guessed. Where was everybody?

She'd reached the intersection of Marshall and 27th when she hit the breaks on her bike. Right in front of her were two men, huddled under a street light. They looked up at her with surprise. "What the Hell-it's a kid!"

Ellen swore and tried to go around, only for one of the men to block her. "I need to get through. Get out of my way!"

"What're you doin' out so late little girl? Wait, are you wearin' a mask?"

Ellen narrowed her eyes at the men. "None of your business!" She tried to go around again, only for the man in front of her to knock her off. She fell to the pavement with a grunt.

Another one of the men walked up to her. "We'll take your backpack too, little girl. Hand it over."

Ellen glared up at the man. "Screw you!"

The two men laughed. "Maybe when you're older," The first one said. "The backpack. Now." The man pulled a switchblade out from his pocket and Ellen's eyes widened under her mask when she saw the blade. "Don't make me ask again, little girl."

Ellen slowly pulled her backpack off. "You're making a big mistake, asshole," she said. "Did you see the question mark on my shirt?" She pointed at it for emphasis. "I'm the Riddler's kid."

The men exchanged a look with each other. "The Riddler?" one asked the other. "I didn't know he had a kid."

"He doesn't. Least, he didn't when I ran with his crew back in the day."

Jesus Christ, did every jackass in this city know the Old Man? Did he have some kind of beacon on him that attracted other assholes to him? While the men were talking with each other, Ellen unzipped her backpack and pulled out a hammer and a can of pepper spray her Gramma kept in her bedroom in case of emergency. She placed the pepper spray on the ground for now, then tightened her grip on her hammer. She crouched up, her eyes on the knees of the man closest to her. The man further away noticed her, however. "Oh shit, dude!"

Before the other man could react, Ellen lunged forward, swinging the hammer with all her might at the man's knee cap. It connected with a crunch and the man let out a scream of anger and pain. "Fuck! You little bitch!" he collapsed to the ground, his hands hugging his wounded knee to his chest. "Fuck, you broke my knee! Tommy, get her!"

The other guy lunged for her and Ellen jumped back, barely escaping his grasp. She reached down to grab the can of pepper spray and when the man charged towards her again, sprayed him dead on in the face. The man let out a shriek, covering his eyes with his hands. "Fuck! Denny, you're on your own, man!" The man ran down the street as fast as he could.

Ellen stood there, shaking a bit from the adrenaline. Holy shit. She'd taken on Narrows guys and she'd survived. Hell, she'd won. She let out a shaky laugh. If the Old Man could see her now...The first man, Denny, looked up at her, afraid. "Who-who are you?" he asked.

Ellen opened her mouth to say something, only to close it when she realized she didn't know what to say. Every superhero had some kind of catchphrase, didn't they? What should she say? 'Riddle me this-' no, she didn't want to copy the Old Man. 'Let's get dangerous?' Nah, been done before. 'In the name of the Moon, I will punish you?' No, too anime. Finally, she squared her shoulders and said in the deepest voice she could manage, "I'm Enigma, chuckle fuck!" She'd have to work on that. She then sprayed Denny in the face with her pepper spray, trying not to laugh at the shriek he let out. She then placed the pepper spray and the hammer back in her backpack, put it on and walked over to where her bicycle lay on the ground. She pulled it up, hopped on, and continued her way down Marshall, her heart soaring. If she could handle those idiots, she could get Marisol out, no problem. 

She didn't realize that from the rooftops, someone had been watching her and was now following her.

 


 

 

Stephanie took another look down at the streets through her binoculars. "It's 12:45 and there's no sign of life, Oracle. I'm gonna stay here fifteen more minutes and then head up towards the West End."

"Good idea," Barbara said through the communicator. "Bruce doesn't want us patrolling this close to the Narrows anyway."

"And since when have I ever done what Bruce wants?" Stephanie joked. She put the binoculars back in a compartment on her belt and sat down on the roof of the building she was perched on. "Speaking of, has he spoken with Jason?"

"He's tried," Barbara answered. "But you know Jason. It didn't go well."

Stephanie didn't know Jason at all actually. She'd never met him when he was a Robin and after...she shook her head. And she thought she and Bruce had their issues. At least she'd never killed anyone. Jason didn't have any issue with her that she knew about, but that didn't mean she wanted to cross paths with him. "Great," she said. She sighed. "At least the rest of the city's quiet tonight, right?"

"Right," Barbara said, and Stephanie could tell she was glad to change the subject. "I just got done talking with Cass. She took down an armed robbery at the Fine Arts museum about an hour ago, but other than that, it's been a pretty low key night."

Stephanie huffed. "Cass has all the fun, I swear-" a sharp, pained cry caught Stephanie's ears. She turned towards the sound. It was coming from the Northeast, maybe two blocks away. Marshall and 27th. The Narrows. "Hold on, Oracle. I just heard something." 

"What?"

"I'm not sure, but it sounded like someone's in trouble. I'm gonna go check it out."

"Where exactly are you going?"

Stephanie hesitated. "Marshall and 27th. I think."

"Batgirl, that's the Narrows."

Another shout reached Stephanie's ears. "Oracle, if someone's in trouble, I have to check it out. It doesn't matter where they are, right?"

Barbara sighed on the other end, which meant Stephanie had won that argument. "OK. But be careful. If you see Red Hood, don't engage. Just leave."

"No need to tell me twice," Stephanie said, pulling out her grappling hook. She aimed it at the neighboring building and took off, running across the rooftops. She made it to a building that overlooked 27th and Marshall and looked down to the street. A badly dressed man was lying on the ground, clutching his knee in pain, next to a bicycle that kay on the ground. He wasn't alone though. A slight masked figure stood over him. Stephanie realized that it was a girl. Stephanie leaned over to get a closer look and almost fell off the roof when she recognized her. "Oracle," she breathed into her communicator. "You're not going to believe this."

"What is it?"

"You remember when Damian and I ran into Nigma and his kid at Jezebel Center last December? Well, his kid is here. I think she just took out a guy who tried to jump her. And she's wearing a mask and a costume."

"You're joking. Please tell me you're joking."

"No way. It's her." Stephanie watched as the girl, what was her name, spoke to the man. She could just make out the girl calling herself Enigma and calling the man lying on the ground a 'chuckle fuck' before she sprayed him with what looked like pepper spray. The man yelled out in pain again and Stephanie shook her head. "Holy cow. Think Nigma knows what she's up to?"

"I don't want to be the one to tell him if he doesn't. What's she doing now?"

Stephanie watched Enigma pick up her bike and hop back onto it. "Looks like she's going down Marshall. I'm going to follow her and see just what she's doing out here."

"Good. I'm calling Bruce to tell him what's going on. The last thing anyone needs is for Nigma's kid to get herself on the news for breaking the Costumed Criminal Ordinance. Or worse. When it's safe, catch up to her and get her back home before anyone else sees her."

"Got it. Batgirl out." Stephanie hung up and quickly began to follow Enigma from the rooftops. Seeing her like this brought back memories of Stephanie's first days on the streets as Spoiler. Except, her motivation for putting on a costume was to prevent her father from committing crimes. What was Enigma doing out here? Did Nigma have any idea where his daughter was and what she was doing? Did he care? Stephanie followed Enigma for over fifteen blocks until she came to a stop on Marshall and 44th street. Enigma pulled over to a side street and pulled her backpack off. Stephanie watched her lock her bike to a street lamp before she put her backpack back on and walked up the street to the old abandoned homeless shelter. The old abandoned shelter that had two parked cars outside of it. "Oracle," Stephanie spoke. "I followed her to the old shelter on Marshall and 45th. There are two parked cars outside and she's walking around the building trying to look through the windows. Something weird's going on down there. What did Bruce say?"

"He's not happy. He tried to get ahold of Nigma, but he's not picking up. He said, and I quote, 'get her out of there.'"

"Sounds like Bruce." Stephanie watched as Enigma tried in vain to jimmy open a boarded up window. "I'm going down now." Time to find out just what was going on.


 

The thrill of winning the fight with those two idiots had worn off the moment Ellen caught sight of the abandoned shelter and the two cars that were parked in front of it. Neither of them was red, so that meant she'd beaten the Ugly Man there. She hoped that meant Marisol was still alive. There were no lights on in the building that she could see, but the windows were boarded up now. Ellen walked up to the front door and, screwing up every bit of courage she had, she turned the knob. Locked. Damn it. She should have expected that. Ellen took a step back and glared at the doorknob. More than anything, she wished she knew how to pick a lock. She'd have to try to get one of the windows open. Ellen walked around the side of the building and picked a window that was just at her level. It, like all of the other windows, was boarded up with pieces of wood nailed onto the frame. Well, she could fix that.

Ellen pulled her backpack off and set it on the ground. She opened it and pulled out her hammer. Hammer out, she got to work to try to pull out the nails. They were in deep, so it took considerable effort on her part to pull even one out. As she worked, Ellen thought about just how she was going to manage to get Marisol out without being caught. Hopefully, the people who were guarding her would be just as stupid as the guys she'd fought earlier tonight. But what if they weren't? Ellen frowned as she finally succeeded in pulling one nail out. Ok, maybe she could distract them somehow and get them out of the shelter. Then she could get Marisol and they'd make a break for it. But wait, the creep from outside her apartment had said something about making her death look like an overdose. Did that mean she was drugged? Marisol was taller than Ellen was, how was she going to manage to carry her out if she was drugged? How would she get her on the bike without her falling off? Ellen paused in her work and considered her options, biting her lip. There was a pay phone just up the block and she had about two dollars in change in her sweatshirt pocket, she had a location and proof now that Marisol was in danger, maybe she should call the Old Man-Ellen shook her head. He'd be too busy throwing a tantrum over what she'd done to listen to her. And anyway, by the time he could get here, if he decided to care, that creep would be here and it would be too late for Marisol. Ellen was on her own. With that thought in mind, Ellen returned to her work, pulling out another nail. That was half of one board. It was starting to come loose now. Once Ellen got it off, the next should be easier, she could sneak in the building without being seen and figure out her next step from there-

Ellen felt more than heard the presence of someone behind her. Gripping her hammer tight, she turned around ready to fight them off, only to have her mouth drop open in shock when she saw just who it was. "You-"

Batgirl raised a finger to her lips. "Don't make a sound."

Ellen squeaked a bit but quickly nodded. She couldn't afford to get caught now-well, too late for that. Any other time, she'd be thrilled to see Batgirl again, she could feel her face flush now, actually. "What-" she whispered. "What are you doing here?"

Batgirl raised an eyebrow. "I could ask you the same thing," she answered. "Does your Dad know you're here?"

Ellen frowned a bit at the mention of the Old Man. "As if!"

"Does anyone know you're here?"

"You now, I guess," Ellen shrugged. "I can explain."

"I'd love to hear it."

 

 

Chapter Text

...Attached are the photos of Mr. Hill entering and exiting the apartment of one Cherie Goldstein on April 8th, after telling his wife he would be leaving Gotham to conduct business in Metropolis. Evidently, life as a wealthy salesman and family man wasn't enough to keep him satisfied, though if either of his children were as stubborn and ungrateful as mine is-

Edward stopped typing up his report when he saw what he'd written, then deleted the document with a frustrated groan. That was the fourth time he'd attempted to write this damn thing and the fourth one he'd had to scrap because he'd written something choice about Ellen. He leaned back in his chair and sighed. Why was it, whenever he felt like he'd turned a corner with her, Ellen would do something foolish like this? Didn't it occur to her that she wouldn't have the nicer clothes she had or the college fund he was setting up for her without his working on cases? Pardon him if he couldn't drop everything he had on his plate just to run after some teenager he'd never met! He opened his drawer and pulled out the notebook he'd scribbled on earlier that day. He'd read over it twice since Ellen had stormed out of his office, but neither time had shed any new light for him. Ellen's friend left her apartment to get away from a family dispute and simply went off the grid for a bit. That's all it was. Edward would give Ellen the night to cool down, and then in the morning, he'd call her and get an apology for her horrid behavior. And if by some slim chance the friend still hadn't returned, then Edward would look into it. He put the notebook down on his desk and rubbed his eyes. What time was it now? Edward checked his watch. 12:40. He wouldn't get any further work done tonight. He saved his progress on his case file, then opened his internet browser to look at some news articles that had caught his eye earlier. Mayor Sharp, in addition to cracking down on costumed criminals and the vigilantes who fought them, had been on a beautification campaign. An even grander memorial ceremony at the end of May, new additions in City Hall to be completed by the end of the year...Edward yawned and clicked on another link. A robbery of a chemical plant. Standard Friday night in Gotham. Probably Ivy's doing. He clicked another link. A serial killer going around cutting off pieces of his victims' faces? Now that was interesting. Before he could read the article in depth, he heard his cell phone ring. Who on Earth could that be? He picked it up, thinking it might have been Ellen, only to smile when he recognized the number. "Edward Nigma, Private Investigator. You're up a bit late, aren't you Penelope?"

"Hello, Edward. I didn't wake you, did I?"

"Not at all," he answered, stretching out. After that nonsense with Ellen earlier, it would be nice to talk to someone more sensible. "What's going on?"

"Aaron called me a few minutes ago."

"After midnight? I hope you straightened him out."

"Be serious, Edward. He's at GCPD. He told me an orderly from Arkham Asylum walked in about twenty minutes ago and confessed to killing Victor Goodman!"

Edward sat straight up in his chair, fully awake and alert now. "Well," he said. "Looks like Strange found someone willing to take the fall for Sharp. What else did Cash say?"

"Not much. Apparently, he refused a lawyer. He's sitting in an interrogation room now, demanding to be taken to Gotham County. Montoya's talking with him now, but Aaron says Sanchez-"

A chill went down Edward's spine. "Sanchez?" he repeated. "What's his first name?"

"Miguel, I think. Why? Do you know him?"

Edward barely registered the question as he looked back down at the notebook and the names he'd scribbled hours ago. '...family dispute...brother lied about workplace...brother's name is Miguel...' It couldn't be. What were the odds? In this town? What kind of question was that? 

"Edward?" Penelope's voice asked again. "What is it?"

"Does he have a sister?" he asked.

"What?"

"Miguel Sanchez!" Edward half-yelled into the phone. "Does he have a sister!?"

"Don't raise your voice at me like that, Edward Nigma," Penelope scolded. "I never knew anyone by that name at Arkham, so I don't know what his background is. What's going on? What do you know?"

Edward ran a hand through his hair. "I'm sorry," he said. "Ellen was by earlier today, she was going on about how a friend of hers was missing, she said that she thought she was kidnapped because of something her brother was involved in-"

"And you think that the man in GCPD now is the brother?" 

"Ellen said that his name was Miguel, that her friend's last name is Sanchez. Does this sound like just a coincidence?" A hot prickling sensation suddenly went through Edward. If Ellen had been right all along about her friend being kidnapped, that meant Strange, or Bolton or someone connected to Arkham had targeted the girl, which meant they had tracked her and that Ellen may have had contact with them. Ellen was in danger too. "I have to go. I have to check on Ellen, I'll call you later." Edward hung up the phone before Penelope could reply and quickly dialed Ellen's home number. "Pick up," he muttered as the phone rang. "Pick up!"The answering machine picked up the message and Edward stifled a curse. "Ellen, it's me. Call me back. We need to talk about-" Edward paused. Either Ellen was a very sound sleeper, or she wasn't home.

It was after midnight. If she wasn't home, where was she?

Edward bolted out of his chair and ran out his front door, barely stopping to grab the coat on the coatrack before he slammed the door shut behind him. 


 

 

"...So I went back over to her apartment to talk to her Mom, and I heard her brother talking to his boss. The boss told him to do what he said, and he'd get Marisol back! He said he'd be back at midnight for his answer." Batgirl nodded. She'd listened to Ellen's story patiently, unlike the Old Man, who had interrupted constantly. Ellen took a breath and continued, "So I went back home, put on my costume and grabbed some stuff, and I came back to her apartment at midnight to see if I could find out where he was holding her. I hid behind a dumpster and I heard him talking to some guys on the phone. He told them to meet him here, and that they'd make Marisol look like she OD'ed! I had to come out here!"

Batgirl looked thoughtful as she considered what Ellen had told her. "You came out here all by yourself? Why didn't you tell your Dad what you overheard at the apartment this afternoon?"

Ellen scoffed. "He didn't care when I told him before, he wouldn't care now. He would have told me to stay out of it."

Stephanie carefully thought about what she'd say to Enigma next. "I get wanting to help your friend, but you know this is really dangerous." 

Enigma rolled her eyes and if Stephanie didn't believe she was Riddler's daughter before, she did now. It was eerie how much they looked alike. "No duh. I brought weapons, I can take care of myself."

"You brought a hammer and pepper spray."

"How did-"

"I saw you take down those guys a few blocks back."

Ellen blushed a bit. "You did?" she asked, hating how squeaky her voice got when she was embarrassed. She puffed out her chest a bit. "So you saw me take those guys out. I told you I could handle this."

Stephanie shook her head a bit. "You know that would have ended a lot differently if one of those guys had a gun, right?" She felt a bit bad at how the younger girl deflated. "Not to mention, you don't know what you're about to walk into here. There could be a lot of bad people here, they could be armed. I hate to agree with Edward Nigma on anything, but putting yourself in danger like this isn't going to help your friend. You should go home." God, she sounded like Bruce and Tim did when she was starting out as Spoiler. You either died a hero or you lived long enough to see yourself become the villain.

Ellen bit her lip to keep herself from yelling at Batgirl. "I'm not going anywhere. Marisol needs help. I can't just do nothing." Batgirl said nothing, but after a long moment, stepped forward and put her hand on Ellen's shoulder. Ellen blushed to the roots of her hair at the contact.

"You've already helped her," she said. Then she winked at Ellen. "You've got Batgirl on the case!"

Ellen's heart lifted up at the words. "You'll save her?"

"Of course," Stephanie said, giving her a thumbs up. "That's my job." Enigma's face broke out in a smile. "Hide here in the alley. I'll get in and have your friend out in no time-" The sound of an approaching car interrupted her. Stephanie turned and saw a red sports car approaching the building. Enigma reached out and gripped her arm tightly.

"That's his car," she whispered. "That's the guy's car-"

The car was just a few feet from the building. In a few moments, the headlights would reach their spot by the window. Stephanie grabbed hold of Enigma's hand. "Come on!" She pulled her deeper into the alleyway, out of the car and the driver's line of sight, then pressed her up against the side of the building. She put a finger in front of her lips. "Shh!" 

Ellen's heart hammered in her chest, from the terror of almost being caught by the man and by being in such close proximity to Batgirl. If she reached up a bit, she could touch her long blonde hair. She heard the sound of a car door shut, then of footsteps approaching the front of the building and for a moment, she forgot to breathe. 

"Anyone here?" she heard the man call out. Then she heard the front door open and shut. Batgirl moved away then, moving back towards the front of the building. She turned back towards Ellen with a serious look on her face. "Stay here. I'll be back." Then she rounded the corner and disappeared. 

Ellen leaned back against the cool wall of the building and sighed. Batgirl was here. If anyone could save Marisol, she could. Couldn't she? 

As soon as Stephanie had walked up to the front door, she pressed her communicator. "Oracle, it's me."

"Did you talk to the girl? What's going on?"

Stephanie sucked in a quick breath. "It's a real mess. She came out here because a friend of hers was kidnapped. From what I could tell, she's being held hostage because her brother witnessed a murder. We're at the place she's being held now."

"Oh, wow. So you're going to save the girl?"

"Naturally," Stephanie said, getting to work at picking the lock to the front door. "Enigma's hiding in the alley by the building now. As soon as I get her friend, we're getting out of here."

"Enigma?"

"That's what she's calling herself. I haven't gotten around to asking what her actual name is yet." After another minute, she heard the lock give way. "I'm in."

"Good. Bruce still can't get ahold of Nigma, so the quicker you get this done, the better."

"Got it. Batgirl out." Stephanie slowly opened the front door and stepped inside. Standard rescue. She'd be out of here in no time. She thought a bit about where Nigma was that Bruce couldn't get hold of him. Was whatever he was doing more important than his own daughter? She wasn't sure she wanted to know the answer to that question.


 

Edward had been pounding on the front door to Ellen's apartment for a good five minutes. At first, he'd thought she was asleep. She had to be. She had to be here. When no answer came, he grabbed at the doorknob and turned it frantically. Locked. That was a good sign, it meant she had to be here, didn't it? Then why wasn't she answering? No one was that sound a sleeper! "Ellen!" he called out. "Open up!"

There was no response. Edward felt something close to panic now. "Ellen!" He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a lock pick he carried in case of an emergency. This qualified as such. He got to work picking the lock, reciting grade school riddles under his breath to keep the thoughts at bay. She's not here. Give me food and I live, give me drink and I die, what am I? Strange found out about her. Where does a 500-pound gorilla sit? Bolton has her. A boy and his father are in an accident. The surgeon takes one look at the boy and says I can't operate, he's my son. She's dead, she's dead, she's dead, just like Jon-What time is it when an elephant sits on your fence?

Edward heard the door unlock and he rushed inside, almost tripping on a rug in his haste to get in the apartment. The living room light was still on. "Ellen!" he called out. He ran from the living room, through the kitchen, down the hall, into each of the bedrooms, but there was no sign of anyone. She was gone. His daughter was gone. Edward staggered back into the living room, almost collapsing on the sofa. He took his head into his hands and fought the urge to vomit. What had he done? She'd said her friend was abducted. Why didn't he listen to her? Faintly, he felt his ring through his coat pocket. He pulled it out, hoping against hope it would be his daughter. "Yes?"

"Edward, what's happened? Did you find Ellen?"

Penelope. "No," he said. "She's not here. Strange has her-"

"Edward, calm down. You don't know that-"

"Don't tell me what I do or don't know, Penelope! She's not here, Strange already had one girl kidnapped, now he has my daughter!" Edward's mind began working into overdrive. He'd kill them. He'd burn Strange and Sharp to the ground for this. Riddle me this-

Penelope's voice cut through then, sharp and cold. "Edward. Breathe. Think this through. You know what kind of man Strange is. If he had any kind of leverage over you, do you think he'd keep it from you?"

Edward was about to snap back at her when he stopped to consider this. "No," he murmured. "No," he said again, and he felt his breath coming in slower. "He'd lord it over me. You're right. If he knew about Ellen, let alone took her, I'd know it." He shook his head. "That doesn't rule out Bolton though. Or explain why she isn't here."

"What does the apartment look like? Does it look like there was a struggle?"

"No," Edward said, getting up. Now that the panic had subsided, the rational part of his brain was taking over. "It looks normal. The lights in the living room and her bedroom were still on when I got in here." Then it occurred to Edward. "The front door was locked." If Ellen had been taken from the apartment, would her abductor have allowed her the time to lock the door behind her? 

"So then she left voluntarily. Is it possible she left to try to find her friend on her own? From what I've observed, she seems impulsive enough to do so."

"She certainly is. I told you about the time she dressed up and threw a jar of pickles at a robber in a deli-" The proverbial pin dropped. She didn't. She wouldn't. "Oh, my God."

"What?"

Edward dashed back into Ellen's bedroom and took a careful glance around. Her top drawer was open, as was her closet. As if she had pulled out a change of clothes. On top of her drawer was a copy of the Gotham Gazette, dated from last August. He thumbed through the paper. On the fifth page, highlighted in yellow marker, was one article in particular. DELI ROBBERY FOILED BY MASKED VIGILANTE CLAIMING TO BE RIDDLER'S DAUGHTER. Edward's stomach dropped. "Oh, that stupid, stupid girl!"

"She put on the costume again, didn't she?"

"Of course she did! Because as if the amnesia wasn't enough, the universe or whatever Higher Power exists also decided to curse me with the most stubborn, reckless, impulsive, stupid child that's ever lived!" Edward threw the paper down on the drawer with a frustrated shout, almost knocking over a framed picture. Edward took a closer look at it. It was of Ellen as a younger child, about eight maybe, playing with a dark-haired, dark-skinned girl about the same age. Marisol, perhaps? Edward picked up the picture. Who was this girl that was so important to Ellen that she was willing to risk her life playing at superhero to rescue her? Edward sighed a bit, realizing not for the first time just how little he knew about his own child. 

"Edward?" Penelope asked. Throughout this whole conversation, she'd kept her tone cool, almost professional. Now was the first time she conveyed a hint of concern. "What are you going to do? What do you need me to do?"

Edward walked out of the bedroom, taking the picture with him. "Go to GCPD and find out everything you can about what Sanchez is saying. I'm going to find my daughter before she gets herself killed."

"Alright. I'll call you when I find out anything. Edward? Good luck."

For the first time since he'd left his apartment, Edward smiled. "Thank you." He disconnected the call and walked out of the apartment, shutting the door behind him. First thing's first, he needed to tune into the police scanner to monitor any potential sightings of Ellen in costume. Then he'd call Selina and Oswald and ask them to keep an eye and ear out. Then he needed to get back to his apartment and find out everything he could about the Sanchez family. As soon as he tracked down an address, Ellen would get her wish and he'd speak to the Sanchez parents.

One way or another, he'd find out exactly what was going on.

As he quickly made his way down the stairs, he heard his cell phone ring again. He looked down at the phone and saw a blocked number calling him. He scowled and silenced the phone. He didn't have time to deal with a crank right now.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Bolton's good mood had evaporated the instant he'd set foot in the decrepit old shelter and saw the four fellow security guards waiting for him in a back room inside. Or rather, who he didn't see. "Where the Hell's Morton and the brat!?" he demanded.

One of the guards, a brown-haired man named Blake who was almost as tall and bulky as Bolton himself, shrugged. "We left one group at a time to get here like you said we should. Morton said he'd take the girl and leave last. He should've been here by now."

Another guard, a shorter, somewhat weaselly looking man named Burns looked nervously at Bolton. "You think the cops pulled him over, or somethin'?"

Bolton growled, remembering his earlier conversation with Morton, and the reluctance in his voice. "Or he's gotten soft on us. How long ago did you leave?"

"Forty minutes," Blake answered. "You think we should call him?"

Bolton nodded. "Yeah. And if he doesn't pick up, we're going after 'im."

"What about Strange?" another guard, Pierce asked. "Should we tell him?"

"No," Bolton said. The last thing he needed was Strange to know and cuss him out for this. He could just imagine what the 'good doctor' would have to say. 'Is disposing of a single teenaged girl too difficult for you, Bolton? Should I replace you with someone more competent?' "We can still handle this ourselves. Call Morton, Blake." Blake did as he was told and Bolton began to pace. As long as Sanchez did what he was told and kept his mouth shut, as long as Morton didn't do anything stupid, they were in the clear. He walked past Burns, who he noticed seemed jumpy. "What's the matter with you?"

Burns shook his head. "Nothin'. It's just...this is Red Hood's territory, isn't it? What if he comes by?"

Bolton looked askance at him, then let out a loud, disbelieving laugh. "Seriously, Burns? You're scared of a guy with a red tin can on his head?"

"That guy's no joke, Bolton," Pierce said. "He almost brought down Black Mask singlehandedly. And he ain't afraid of killin'."

"Neither are we, right?" Bolton sneered. "Stay calm, ladies. Soon as Morton shows up, we'll kill the kid and be home before Red Hood or any one of the other masked freaks comes out to play."

"We're gonna have a problem with that, Bolton," Blake said, hanging up his cell phone and putting it back into his pocket. "Morton's not pickin' up. His phone's off."

Bolton gnashed his teeth. Son of a bitch had turned on them. "Alright. It's a twenty-minute minute drive between here and the safehouse. There's only so many places he could've gone. Pierce, you and McIntyre go North. Blake and Burns will go South. I'll go back to his house then go East. Find him and the girl."

The other guards nodded, then moved towards the door that led back to the hallway of the shelter. Just before he went to open the door, Burns froze. "Wait. Did you guys hear that?"

The other four men paused. Bolton rolled his eyes. "Don't be such a little girl Burns-" then he heard it. Creaking wooden floor panels. Footsteps. Someone else was in here. 

"Morton?" McIntyre whispered.

"No," Bolton whispered back, his eyes narrowing. "He would have said so." He pulled his pistol out of its hoster. A vagrant? A Bat? Didn't matter. Either way, they were about to get a bullet between the eyes. "Look alive, boys. We've got company."


 

The interior of the shelter was dark, save for a dim light coming from a room at the end of the long hallway that ran between the back of the building and the front door. Stephanie moved as silently as she could, straining to pick up any noise. As she drew closer to the source of light, she overheard a man's voice. She stopped about three feet from the door, craning her head forward to listen. "Where the Hell's Morton and the brat!?"

The brat? That had to mean Enigma's friend. So wait, she wasn't even here? A low murmuring answered the man, murmuring that she couldn't quite make out. One voice said, in a tone she could barely hear, "What about Strange? Should we tell him?" Stephanie frowned. Strange? Wait, Dr. Hugo Strange? The new Warden of Arkham, and, according to Oracle and Bruce, Mayor Sharp's right-hand man? What did he have to do with this? She almost missed another man nervously ask about Red Hood, and the first one she'd heard, Bolton, she thought his name was, laugh it off. Yeah, laugh it off tough guy, she thought. You should be glad it's me on the other side of this door and not Jason.

"Morton's not pickin' up. His phone's off."

"Alright. It's a twenty-minute minute drive between here and the safehouse. There's only so many places he could've gone. Pierce, you and McIntyre go North. Blake and Burns will go South. I'll go back to his house then go East. Find him and the girl."

At those words, Stephanie was at the ready. She'd heard at least five men in there, who may or may not be armed. She was in a cramped hallway, which limited her use of her bo staff. She'd faced worse odds, but there was Enigma to consider. She couldn't run the risk of her getting in the middle of a drag-out brawl. Stephanie frowned a bit. Maybe if Cass was here, they could have taken them on, but the better thing to do may be to pull back, slash their tires, and try to find this Morton guy and Enigma's friend. She took a step back, only to hear the wooden floor creak beneath her. Crap.

"Wait. Did you guys hear that?"

Looked like she didn't have much a choice now. Stephanie stepped backward, as quietly as she could, her hand going to the compartment on her belt that had her smoke grenades. She ducked behind the corner at the end of the hall, her smoke grenades in her hand. She waited until she heard the sound of a door opening. She quickly rolled the smoke grenades down the hallway floor, then pressed herself back against the wall, bracing for what was about to come.

"What the-" she heard Bolton say before she heard the distinctive hiss of the smoke grenades and the panicked, coughing noises of the men down the hall.

"Oh, God!" she heard who she thought was Burns call out. "It's the Red Hood! He's here!"

"Guess again," she called out. "You boys are in a heap of trouble."

"Who's that? Batgirl?"

Bolton coughed, then let out a low laugh. "Seriously?" Then Stephanie heard bullets whizz past her down the hallway.

She rolled her eyes. Every time the creeps underestimated her, and every time, she showed them why that was a bad idea. She waited until she could hear the sound of him reloading, then stepped around the corner to throw a batarang at Bolton, hitting him dead on in the face. He cried out in pain and anger and clutched his nose. "Get her!" he yelled at the other four men. They hesitated for a moment before braving through the smoke to charge toward her. Stephanie darted back into the more open former waiting room of the shelter and pulled out her bo staff. As she could see the men make their way to her, she hoped that Enigma did what she said and stayed put.


 

 

Ellen sat with her back against the shelter building, looking impatiently towards the where Batgirl had left every few moments. She leaned her head back against the cold brick building and pouted. How long was it gonna take for her to get Marisol out? She should've gone in with her. And do what? A voice that sounded like the Old Man asked. Get in her way? She's the seasoned crime fighter, you're just a kid in a costume who got lucky and went up against idiots. Ellen shook her head. Batgirl had just been a kid in a costume once too, right? So had the Robins. Even the Old Man had to start from somewhere too. Speaking of, Ellen kind of wondered how the Old Man was going to react to this. She cringed. Maybe if she was really lucky, she could convince Batgirl not to tell anyone.

Just as she looked down the alleyway again, she heard loud popping noises, one right after the other. Ellen jumped up to her feet and took a step back from the building. Was that a gun? Then she heard the sound of loud voices and scuffling coming from inside the old shelter. Oh shit, she thought. Batgirl must be fighting the creeps who took Marisol. A grin came to her face. Good. She hoped Batgirl knocked their teeth out. She heard a loud shout of pain and the sound of breaking furniture. She bit her lip. She hoped Marisol was okay and wasn't in the middle of whatever was going on. She heard a thudding noise coming closer to her and briefly, she pondered pulling apart the plywood that covered the window to see what was going on inside when she heard another loud grunt. Wait. That sounded like a girl. Marisol! Ellen grabbed the piece of plywood that she'd pulled off the window earlier and ran down the alley. She was just about to round the corner when she heard the sound of something crashing out the front door to the building. She pressed herself flat against the wall before slowly peeking her head around the corner. She stifled a gasp.

Batgirl lay on the ground, flat of her back, dazed. She must have been thrown out the building at some point during the fight. Why wasn't she getting up? From her vantage point, Ellen watched as a tall, lean weasely looking man advanced toward Batgirl. Come on, get up, get up...Batgirl let out another groan, then started to slowly move. The man continued to advance and Ellen heard him speak. "Now who's in big trouble, little girl?" He kicked her, sending her back to the ground.

His back faced Ellen and she had the plywood in her hands. He moved his foot back as if to kick Batgirl again, and Ellen reacted. She ran as fast as she could until she was just behind the man. Without any hesitation, she swung the piece of wood back like a baseball bat as far as she could, then swung at the back of his head with all her might. The world seemed to slow down as her aim was true and she heard the sharp crack of wood along with loud shout of confused pain from the man. He staggered, then turned to face her. Without a moment to lose, Ellen swung again, hitting the man dead on in the face, sending the already cracked top half of plywood flying and the man sprawling to the ground, blood gushing from his nose. Batgirl's blue eyes widened when she saw Ellen and she began to pull herself up. Ellen placed the wood on the ground and reached her hand out to help Batgirl to her feet when a voice reached her ears.

"What the fuck!? Burns!"

Ellen turned to see three other men in the doorway of the shelter, each of them tall and almost as large as the man she'd seen outside of Marisol's apartment. They looked at her and their fallen member, confusion and anger on their faces. One of them, a man with a blond crew cut, pointed at her. "Who the Hell are you!?"

Unlike earlier with the men who had tried to rip her off, Ellen knew exactly what to say. Adrenaline still pounding through her veins, she puffed out her chest and smirked. "Riddle me this, assholes. What's ugly and dumb and about to be covered in blood like this guy?" She pointed at them, then flipped them off. "You losers, after Batgirl and Enigma get through with you!"

"E-Enigma?" The men looked at each other. "Who the Hell is Enigma!? Some Riddler rip-off?"

"I'm Enigma!" Ellen shouted. "And I'm not a rip-off! I'm the Riddler's daughter, and he's taught me everything I need to know to wipe you guys off the face of the Earth!" Well, no he hadn't, not at all, but these idiots didn't need to know that.

The blond man began to look a bit uneasy. "Hey! Bolton! Get out here! There's some brat calling herself the Riddler's kid with Batgirl!" Bolton? Wait, that was-A fourth man showed up at the rear of the group and Ellen gasped. It was him, the man who'd been at Marisol's apartment. He pushed his way to the front and made eye contact with her. His beady black eyes almost bugged out of his face when he recognized her. 

"You!" he shouted. Then his eyes narrowed. "I knew I recognized you from somewhere! You're Nigma's brat!?"

Ellen squared her shoulders. "Where's my friend!?"

Bolton chuckled a bit. "You really wanna find out? MacIntyre, Pierce, grab her!" The blond man and another tall man with back hair began to advance towards the two vigilantes.

Batgirl placed herself in front of Enigma. "This is fun, but it's time to go to jail now." She pulled a batarang from her belt and threw it at the blond man, who caught it. 

"Did you mean to do that?" Ellen asked.

"Wait for it," Batgirl smirked.

The batarang suddenly jolted with electricity, making MacIntyre shout out in pain. He collapsed, only missing the ground when Pierce caught him. Pierce turned back towards Bolton. "Lyle, this isn't doing us any good! We need to find Morton!"

Bolton's face darkened, but he nodded. Ellen then watched as he pulled a pistol from his side. "Scatter!" he shouted. "Meet up at Morton's place!" He then turned his gun towards Ellen and Batgirl. Ellen froze as she watched Bolton's fingers press the trigger, and it seemed to finally dawn on her just how dangerous what she was doing actually was. It wasn't just a game. She could die. If she didn't move, she would die. Her legs felt rooted to her spot though. Then she felt a hand grab her own and begin to pull her towards the safety of the alley. 

"Run!"

Batgirl's voice brought Ellen back to life and she reacted, following her as fast as she could towards cover, hearing the bullets pass over them and trying not to cringe at the sound they made. Wait, was he missing them on purpose? What was he doing? They were about halfway down the alley when another sound reached Ellen's ears. The sound of car tires squealing and speeding off. Now she understood. Bolton had missed them on purpose to scare them off, so they could escape! Ellen turned around and saw for herself the three cars speeding off down the street. No! Marisol! She broke away from Batgirl's grip and ran back down the alley. "No! They're getting away!"

"Enigma! Wait!" 

Ellen ran as fast as she could, but by the time she made it back to the front of the shelter, the last car, Bolton's ugly red car had rounded the corner, out of sight. Even if she unlocked her bike, there was no way she could catch up to them. She'd failed. Marisol was as good as dead. Ellen collapsed to her knees, letting out a cry. "No!" she shouted. "No, no no!" Tears began to stream down her face and she started to cry in earnest. She startled a bit when she felt a gentle pressure on her shoulder and looked up to see Batgirl, looking at her with a kind expression.

"We're too late," Ellen sniffled. "We're never gonna be able to save her now. They took her-"

"No," Batgirl said. "Enigma, I heard those guys talking when I was inside. Your friend was never here. There was a fifth guy who was supposed to bring her, but he didn't. If we can find him before they do, we can still save your friend."

Ellen blinked. "W-what?" she asked. "She wasn't-but why wouldn't he bring her?" She sniffled again. "Maybe he already killed her-"

"I really don't think so. Bolton and the others wouldn't have run off the way they did if they thought she was dead. The way that Bolton was talking, it sounds like maybe the fifth guy has a conscience. He might be keeping her, or maybe he dropped her off somewhere. Either way, we can't give up hope just yet." Then Batgirl smiled down at her. "Come on! Batgirl and Enigma still have four more guys to get through with, right?"

Looking up at the girl who had been an idol of hers, Ellen felt her hope and her confidence come back. "Yeah," she said, wiping her nose and eyes with the back of her hand. She got up to her feet. They could do this. They'd come this far already. They'd save Marisol and they'd make that Bolton creep eat dirt. Then her face fell again. "But how are we going to find her? We don't know who that fifth guy is!"

"No, but we know someone who does." Batgirl gestured behind them. Ellen turned and saw that the man she'd knocked out, Burns, she thought the others called him, was still lying on the pavement. He groaned a bit. "Looks like his buddies didn't care enough about him to bring him with them."

"Sucks for him," Ellen said with a smirk.

"Right." Batgirl and Ellen sauntered up to the fallen man until both were standing over him. "So," Batgirl began. "Looks like your buddies left you high and dry. Care to tell us what exactly's going on here?"

"Oh no," Burns wheezed, blood still trickling from his face where the plywood had hit him. "I'm not tellin' you a damn thing!"

Batgirl shrugged. "You don't have to tell me anything. But I'm warning you, I'm a lot nicer than Enigma here," she gestured to Ellen, who let out an admittingly evil grin. "Riddler's taught her a lot of his old tricks, right Enigma?"

"Right," Ellen answered, cracking her knuckles. "First thing Pops ever taught me was how to break a guy's leg."

Burns' eyes bugged out and he turned pale. "Keep that little brat away from me!"

"Aw, what's wrong, chuckle fuck?" Ellen taunted. “Scared of a teenager? Didn’t stop you from kidnapping one! Where’s my friend!?” She stomped her foot down hard, right next to Burns’ face. “Next time I’ll stomp right down on your face!”

Burns cringed. “Morton! She’s with Morton! His place is at 250 62nd street! I swear!”

Batgirl nodded. “Was that so hard? Now, tell us why exactly you kidnapped her friend.”

“It wasn’t my idea!”

“I don’t care!” Ellen shouted, stomping her foot down again. “Why did you kidnap her!?”

Burns squealed. “Bolton said that we needed her to keep her brother from opening his mouth about what happened at the asylum!”

“The asylum?” Batgirl repeated. Then her eyes widened. “Wait. Arkham Asylum?” She turned to Ellen. “You said the brother was an orderly, right?”

Ellen nodded. “Yeah. I didn’t know he worked at Arkham though.” Arkham Asylum? That would explain why Marisol and Miguel’s parents freaked out so much. Ellen involuntarily shivered. Arkham Asylum? What exactly had Miguel seen?

“What happened at Arkham that you didn’t want her brother to talk about?” Batgirl asked. “It must have been pretty big if you were willing to kidnap his sister to keep him quiet.”

Burns shook his head. “No, I can’t. He’ll kill me.”

“Who?” Batgirl asked. “Bolton? We can protect you from-”

“No. Not him,” Burns said, frantic. “I can’t, you don’t know what he does to people who get out of line. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t!” Burns’ eyes shut and he lay still. Batgirl leaned down and pressed two fingers to his neck.

“Is he dead?” Ellen asked, hating how shaky her voice sounded.

“No,” Batgirl answered. “I think he fainted.”

Ellen rolled her eyes. “Oh, great! Fuckin’ wimp!”

She couldn’t tell because of the cowl, but with the way Batgirl was looking up at her, Ellen wouldn’t be surprised if she was raising an eyebrow. “No offense, but you got a heck of a mouth on you. You must get sent to the principal’s office a lot, huh?”

Ellen shrugged. “Look at me, I’m 5’3! I need to come up with some way to keep people from messin’ with me!”

Batgirl laughed a bit. “I’m going to go check in with my contact, then we’ll go get your friend. Stay here until I get back, okay?”

Ellen nodded. “Got it.”

Batgirl stood back up, then started to walk past her down the street a bit. Before she passed her by, she put a hand on her shoulder. “By the way,” she said. “Thanks for helping out back there. You did great.”

Ellen felt her face flush. “Thanks-I mean you’re welcome.” Batgirl smiled, then continued to walk away, stopping about fifteen feet away from her. Ellen took a breath, her mind a jumble of conflicting emotions. Fear for Marisol, unease about what exactly Miguel was involved in. Above all though, she was thrilled. She’d fought alongside Batgirl and received praise from her.

The Old Man would never believe it.


 

 

Stephanie waited until she was certain she was out of earshot of Enigma but close enough to keep her in her line of vision before she pressed her communication link. “Oracle, it’s me.”

“There you are! I saw your suit readings spike up a little while ago. Everything okay?”

Stephanie let out a long sigh. “Where do I start? Enigma’s friend wasn’t being held at the shelter. One of the guys who kidnapped her as her somewhere else, but the four other people who are involved were here. Get this. Their leader is Lyle Bolton.”

“Lyle Bolton? As in head of security at Arkham Asylum Lyle Bolton?”

“One and the same.” Stephanie let out another breath. “We need to tell Bruce what’s going on. Whatever this girl’s brother is involved in is serious stuff.”

“I agree. What about Bolton’s accomplices?”

“The other names I got were Blake, Pierce, MacIntyre, Burns, and Morton. Morton’s the one who has the girl, Bolton, Blake, Pierce, and MacIntyre are in the wind, and Enigma took down Burns.”

“Hold on-Enigma took down one of these guys? How did that happen?”

“I got in a fight with the guys in the shelter, then Burns picked me up and threw me out the front door. Enigma blitz attacked him from behind.” Stephanie shook her head, then looked back up to where Enigma was pacing up and down in front of the shelter, working off nervous energy probably. “I don’t know if she’s been wearing a costume longer than we thought, or if she’s just been really, really lucky, but she’s kind of a natural at this.”

“We’re not taking her in,” Oracle said sternly. “Bruce would never go for it, never mind what Nigma would say.”

“I know, I know. Speaking of Daddy Dearest, has Bruce had any luck reaching him?”

“No. He and Damian are still bogged down on the North Docks, so he sent Tim and Cass to go get him.”

Stephanie stifled a laugh. “Oh, he’ll love that. In the meantime, we’re going to track down Morton. Hopefully, we can find him and the girl before Bolton does.”

“We?”

Stephanie paused before responding, knowing Barbara wasn’t going to like what she was about to say. “I’m bringing Enigma with me.”

“Stephanie, no. I know she probably brings back memories for you, but you can’t drag Nigma’s kid along with you on this.”

“Barbara, I know it’s not a good idea, but I don’t exactly have a lot of other options. I don’t have time to take her back home and then go find her friend, and I’m not leaving her alone. Unless Nigma decides to actually act like a parent and come get her, she’s staying with me. If Bruce has a problem with that, I’ll deal with it.”

There was a long pause before Barbara spoke again. “Alright, but keep her out of the fray as much as possible. I’ll call you as soon as I get word from Tim and Cass about Nigma. And when Nigma comes to get her, hand her over to him. I know you have a history with him, but he’s her father.”

“Understood,” Stephanie said. “I’ll call if anything changes. Batgirl out.” Stephanie hung up the call and walked back over to where Enigma was waiting for her. ‘Her father’. Maybe biologically, but from what she saw, Enigma must have gotten every good quality she possessed from whoever her mother had been.


 

 

Ellen stopped pacing when she saw Batgirl approach her. “We ready to go?”

“Yep,” Batgirl said. He reached over to her belt and pulled a small electronic out of her compartment. It looked like a remote.

“What’s that?” Ellen asked.

“It’s to call my motorcycle,” Batgirl explained. “You didn’t think we were going to walk to get your friend, did you?”

“So it can run on autopilot? That’s so cool,” Ellen gushed.

Batgirl opened her mouth to say something else when her eyes suddenly darted up to the rooftop of a building next to the shelter. Her eyes widened, then narrowed. “Enigma, get behind me! Now!”

“What?” Ellen turned around to see what she was looking at and gasped. Standing on the rooftop, staring right down at them was a tall figure. His clothing was dark, but Ellen could see he was wearing a leather jacket. Her attention though was drawn immediately to the red metallic helmet that the man wore, that covered his entire face. She’d never seen this man except in the papers and the brief clips the news networks had shown, but she knew exactly who he was and what he did to criminals in the Narrows. “Red Hood,” she whispered.

Batgirl roughly pushed Ellen behind her at the same moment the Red Hood jumped down from the rooftop onto the pavement, maybe fifteen feet or so away from them. Batgirl’s hand went to her belt and in an instant, she had another batarang in her hand. “What do you want?” she hissed out and Ellen was struck by how angry she sounded. It was the most aggressive she’d seen Batgirl that entire night.

“Well, nice to see you too,” Red Hood said, the helmet amplifying his voice somewhat. It was a deep voice, but somehow, it was younger than Ellen thought it would be. Ellen’s blood ran cold when she realized that Red Hood was staring past Batgirl to look at her. “I see you brought a new friend. Care to introduce us?” He took a step forward.

Batgirl pressed the middle of the batarang she held and it sparked with electricity. “Only warning. Don’t take another step.”

Red Hood scoffed. “Come on. You know I don’t hurt little girls.” He stayed exactly where he was though. Ellen clung onto Batgirl’s cape a bit, trying not to look directly at Red Hood. She’d heard the stories. He could kill both of them in a second if he wanted to. “So,” she heard him say, and she realized that he was talking to her. “Did I hear you right? ‘Enigma’? ‘Riddler’s Daughter’? That a gimmick, or are you actually his kid?”

Ellen gulped. “Y-yeah.” Then a surge of annoyance ran through her. She’d just helped Batgirl take down a kidnapper, she shouldn’t him any fear. “Yeah, I am! What’s it to you, ass munch?” She covered her mouth as soon as the words had left her mouth.

Red Hood stared at her, and for a moment, Ellen thought he’d shoot her. Then he did something she never expected. He laughed. “Yeah, you’re Eddie’s kid alright. You got his smart mouth, that’s for damn sure.” He turned his attention back to Batgirl. “So, care to explain to me what you’re doing down here? Thought Batman didn’t let you patrol the Narrows."

“We’re leaving,” Batgirl said curtly. “It’s none of your business.”

Red Hood gestured to Burns’ prone form in front of the shelter. “There’s a guy bleeding on the street in my territory thanks to you. I’m making it my business.”

Once again, Ellen blurted out without thinking. “I did that,” she said.

Red Hood turned his attention back to her. “Yeah?” he said. “Not bad for a little girl. What did he do to you?”

“He and a bunch of guys from Arkham kidnapped my friend. I came down here to get her back and Batgirl found me. It’s not her fault.”

Red Hood was silent again. “Kidnapped your friend? Why?”

The sound of an engine came up from behind Ellen and Batgirl, and Ellen turned to see that it was Batgirl’s motorcycle. “Get on it. We’ll stop by your bike and grab your stuff before we go.” Batgirl said. Ellen did as she was told, sitting as far back on the seat as she could and watching the standoff. “Like I said,” Batgirl said. “It’s none of your business. We’re leaving.” Then, without taking her eyes off of Red Hood for a moment, Batgirl walked backward, then got on the motorcycle. As soon as she was on, she revved the engine, made a sharp turn right and drove down the street. Ellen looked behind her to see that Red Hood was watching them as they left until he disappeared into the night.

 

 

Chapter Text

Bolton's red sports car sped off down Marshall street, going well above the 35 mph posted speed limit. He was vaguely aware of Blake's pickup and MacIntyre's blue convertible passing by him, but his thoughts were preoccupied with who he'd seen. 'Enigma'. 'Riddler's Daughter'. His fists clenched around the leather steering wheel. That little brat. Since when did Nigma have a kid!? What kind of woman would actually fuck him!? He knew he recognized that little brat from somewhere when he'd seen her at Sanchez's place. He should have grabbed her then. Now she and Batgirl had almost ruined everything. Bolton grit his teeth. Did Nigma know what his little bastard was up to? Would he be showing up next? Whether he did or he didn't, Bolton and his crew needed to find Morton and take care of this, quick.

Bolton heard his cell phone ring in the passenger seat. Not taking his eyes off the road, he picked it up with his right hand and answered with a gruff "What!?”

"Is that any way to speak to me, Bolton?”

Bolton almost froze in his seat. “Strange.”

”What’s going on, Bolton? Clearly, if you’re this agitated, something has gone wrong.”

Bolton licked his lips. There was no use lying to Strange, but he could still salvage this. “Morton’s gone soft. He’s got the girl somewhere, but me and the boys are on it.”

Bolton heard a sharp hiss of breath on the other end of the phone before Strange spoke again. “For all of your sakes, you had better be! You assured me that all of these men could be trusted, Bolton! Is there anything else I need to be aware of?”

Bolton tapped his fingers against the steering wheel. “We had a run-in with Batgirl in the Narrows. Pierce, Blake, MacIntyre and I got away but-Fuck!" He hadn't grabbed Burns before getting into his car and speeding off, and he didn't think Pierce, Blake, or MacIntyre did either.

"What?"

Bolton swallowed a bit before he answered Strange. "Burns got knocked out."

There was a long pause before Strange spoke again, his low voice an ominous rumble. "I see. So your incompetence has potentially led us to become compromised."

Bolton squeezed his phone tight. "Hey, this ain't my fault-"

"No?" Strange asked. "You handpicked the men for this scheme. Five of the best, you said. And one has turned on you and another could not withstand someone as insignificant as Batgirl. And now he may very well be in police custody."

"Burns is loyal, he won't say a word-"

"We will see. I will send men of my choosing to pick him up. You had better hope that he is still there. Can you give me one single reason why I should not cut my losses with you?"

"You want a reason?" Bolton yelled. "I'll give you a reason! How come you never told me Nigma had a kid?"

"I beg your pardon?"

Bolton paused. Strange sounded surprised. Wait, did he not know? "Yeah, his brat was there too! She was the one who knocked out Burns! Sanchez's sister is a friend of hers, she said! That would have been nice to know!"

"You were the one who concocted this scheme, Bolton. And Edward Nigma does not have a child."

Bolton blinked. He really didn't know. How about that? Apparently, there were things that even the great, all-knowing Dr. Strange didn't know. "The Hell he doesn't! I saw her myself! She was wearing his dumb ass question mark and everything!"

"That is not proof of anything!" Strange shouted back. "Five years ago, there was a woman who claimed to be the daughter of Two-Face, then the daughter of the Joker, when she was just a drug addict looking for her time in the spotlight. This girl is just the same. A nobody looking for attention. If Burns is so inept that a girl in a homemade costume could get the better of him, that is a reflection of his lack of ability and yours for choosing him!"

"I'm tellin' you Strange, I got a good look at her! She looks just like Nigma! When I get Morton and the Sanchez kid, I'll grab her, bring her in and show you-"

"You will do no such thing. You have wasted enough time already. I will tell our man in GCPD to dispatch the Sanchez boy. Find and dispose of Morton and the Sanchez girl and then return to Arkham at once. You will not put our mission in jeopardy chasing a nobody-"

"Look, if the brat is lyin', we can make an example of her. If she really is Nigma's kid, we could use her against him! If we had his brat, he wouldn't dare make a move against us!"

"She is not Nigma's child!" Strange yelled loudly. "I have studied each and every one of the so-called Rogues Gallery inside and out for years! I would know if he had a child! Do not question my orders again, Bolton! Finish this or I will finish it for you!" Strange ended the call with a click.

Bolton ground his teeth and threw his phone back onto the passenger seat. Not Nigma's kid his ass. When he got his hands on that brat, he'd prove it.


 

The apartment buildings in the Lower West Side of Gotham all looked alike the further one got from the glossy white renovated buildings of the West End and the close one got to the Narrows. Brownstones and old row houses, all squeezed against each other, brick red or brown and run down, barely sufficient to house the poor families that lived in them. 

It hadn't taken long to track down the building that the Sanchez family called home after Edward had left Ellen's apartment and returned to his own. It was only five blocks from Ellen's home and just six blocks from her school. How much time had Ellen spent here over the years? Edward sat in his car, parked on the street right alongside the apartment building, looking at the building with the vain hope that perhaps Ellen was inside. He shook his head and pulled out his phone, dialing Penelope's number. She answered on the first ring. "What's going on?"

Edward sighed and leaned against his seat. "I called Oswald and Selina. They're keeping their eyes out, but there's been no sign of Ellen. I'm outside the Sanchez apartment now. Have you been able to get any information from the brother?"

"No. Montoya's been in and out of interrogation with him, but he's shut down completely. He won't talk to anyone."

"Montoya? Haven't you been able to talk to him?"

"Well, I've tried, but Montoya and her partner are very insistent that one of them either observes me or comes into interrogation with me. They don't want a repeat of the incident last year, Schrader said."

When Detective Bullock had resigned back in February, Gordon had assigned Montoya to be partnered with a Detective Curtis Schrader, a highly decorated detective with over ten years on the force, but according to a source Edward had in GCPD, a cold, humorless stickler for proper procedure. Judging from the annoyed contempt in Penelope's voice, it seemed that his source wasn't far off the mark. "How long until he gets sent to Gotham County?"

"Another hour. I'm going to try to get in to talk to him again, but I'm going to need some kind of leverage to get him to talk."

"Perhaps his parents will be more accommodating. Any suggestions?"

"Be very careful with how you approach them. Their son is in police custody and their daughter's been abducted. That's an extremely high-stress situation, and a former Rogue showing up on their doorstep won't help matters. Don't do or say anything that might antagonize them. Try to make some kind of emotional connection with them." Edward heard another voice on her end. "I have to go. Call me as soon as you're done. Good luck." Penelope disconnected the call before Edward could say another word.

Edward put his phone back into his right coat pocket. 'Make an emotional connection'. Easy for her to say. He'd done his damnedest up to this point to avoid making any sort of deep connection with his clients. It was a job, a way to test his intellectual mettle in ways that wouldn't get him beaten up or sent to Arkham. Doing things for the sake of doing good had never been part of the equation. Edward reached into his left pocket and pulled out the photograph of little Ellen and her friend. He'd removed it from the frame and brought it with him, ostensibly in case he needed it. He looked at Ellen's face in particular, her little smiling face that looked so much like his. Where was she now? He put the picture back into his pocket, got out of his car, and walked up the steps into the apartment building.

It was dark as he entered and silent. Any residents wouldn't be out this late at night. What time was it now? He checked his watch as he walked up the stairs. 1:45. He stopped on the second story landing then walked down the hall to apartment 21-B. The Sanchez apartment. He could see from under the door that a light was still on, meaning the occupants were still awake. 'Don't do or say anything that might antagonize them.' His face darkened as he knocked on the door. The Sanchez parents weren't the only ones with a child in danger tonight. They had best not do anything to antagonize him.

The door opened to reveal a short, slender, middle-aged woman with hair as curly and black as the little girl in Ellen's picture. Her brown eyes widened and she gasped as she took him in. "Dios mío!"

Edward tipped his hat. "Good evening, Mrs. Sanchez. I need to speak with you about your children."

A man's voice sounded from the room behind her. "Quién está ahí?"

This seemed to bring the woman out of her stupor and she quickly moved to shut the door. Edward caught it with his hand. "Listen," he said with as much patience as he could muster. "I mean you no harm. I know what's happened to your children. I want to help you, but I need information."

A man appeared beside the woman, with thinning salt and pepper hair and mustache. His eyes narrowed when he made eye contact with Edward. "El Acertijo!"

"I prefer going by Edward Nigma now, actually," Edward drawled. "And yes, I happen to be fluent in Spanish. Mr. Sanchez, I presume?"

Mr. Sanchez pushed Mrs. Sanchez behind him and glared up at Edward. He clearly wasn't letting his age or the fact that he was a good three inches shorter than Edward stop him from attempting to intimidate the other man. "What are you doing here? Leave us alone!"

"As I told your wife, I'm here to help-"

"We don't want your help!" Mr. Sanchez shouted. "Go away before you make things worse!" Mr. Sanchez was about to slam the door in his face. Edward kept ahold of it with one hand, and with his other hand, he reached back into his coat pocket and pulled out the picture. 

"Do you know this girl!?" he shouted.

Mr. Sanchez squinted at the photo, then his eyes went wide. He let go of the door, allowing Edward to open it wider. Mrs. Sanchez peeked her head out from behind her husband, then let out a small cry at the picture. She reached out and grabbed it from Edward's hand. "Marisol!" she said. "And Ellen?"

Edward sighed. "So you do know her?"

"Of course," Mrs. Sanchez said. "She's Marisol's best friend, we've known her since they went to Kindergarten together. Why are you asking about her?"

Edward wet his lip. How could he phrase it without giving it away? "A few hours ago, she went missing. I believe she's trying to find your daughter."

"Oh God," Mrs. Sanchez breathed. "Ellen is missing too?"

Mr. Sanchez still looked suspicious. "How do you know this? Ellen's grandmother is out of town, she couldn't have reported her missing. And how did you get that picture? And why do you care?"

Edward, for one of the first times in his life, had no idea how to answer that question. "I-I'm-"

Mrs. Sanchez had been staring intently at the picture, worrying her lip as if she was thinking about something. "She...she almost looks like-" Then she looked up at Edward, then back at the picture, then back at Edward again. She gasped, then brought her hand up to her mouth. "Oh my God," she murmured. "You're Ellen's father." Mr. Sanchez's face looked almost sickly as he looked from his wife and then back at Edward.

Edward took a deep breath. "This does not leave this apartment," he said finally. "Under any circumstance. Do you understand me?"

Mrs. Sanchez nodded. "Of course."

Edward nodded. "Good. Now, I need to speak with you about your son."

Mr. Sanchez shook his head. "No," he said, desperately. "No, we can't. Marisol will die."

"On the contrary," Edward said, using every ounce of willpower he had to keep his temper in check. "The best chance that both of your children have of getting out of this alive is if you tell me everything that you know."

Mr. Sanchez shook his head again and moved to shut the door. "We can't, I'm sorry, we can't-"

Edward surged past the doorway then, entering the apartment, grabbing Mr. Sanchez by his shirt collar and pulling him up towards him as close as he dared. "My daughter is out there, risking her life to try to save yours, you gutless coward! Don't you think you owe her just a bit of consideration!?"

Mr. Sanchez's face turned red and he shoved Edward away. He was about to draw his fist back when Mrs. Sanchez got in the middle of the men. "Luis, stop!" She then turned back to Edward, a look of desperation in her eyes. "You will help our children?"

Edward nodded. "Yes," he said. To save his own child, he would save theirs. "Please," he said, and a part of him hated himself for asking common people for help like this. "Tell me what I need to know so I can find our daughters."

"Mia," Mr. Sanchez said, but his wife silenced him with a gentle look and a hand on his face. He took a deep breath and nodded. He looked back at Edward and it seemed like in an instant, he had aged ten years. "What do you need to know?"

Edward turned briefly to shut the apartment door behind him before he began to ask questions. "Your son, Miguel. He works at Arkham, doesn't he?"

"Yes," Mr. Sanchez said, his face ashen. 

"How long?"

"For over a year now. We thought that he was working at a hospital, but when my wife went to visit him there-" Mr. Sanchez stopped. "We found out he was actually working at Arkham a few days ago. We begged him to quit, but he refused. He said that he needed to stay, that someone needed to protect the patients."

Edward leaned forward. "Why did the patients need to be protected?"

”Ever since the Warden started his campaign, the patients were being badly treated, he said. They were denied privileges, chained down at night if they got at all out of line, and the security guards were cruel to them.” Mr. Sanchez hesitated. "Then Miguel said that a month ago, Lyle Bolton, the head of security at Arkham, and Mayor Sharp came to the Asylum to visit a patient."

Goodman, Edward realized. "Go on."

“They came into the infirmary when Miguel was working and told him to leave. After a minute, Miguel said Bolton came out of the room and told him to go see patients on the other side of the building. He did, and when he returned-“

”The patient was dead,” Edward finished. He rubbed his chin. “And your son told you that he thought the patient was murdered?”

”Yes,” Mrs. Sanchez said. “He couldn’t prove it, but it was eating him up so bad. He told us he wanted to go to the GCPD and tell them what Bolton had done.”

What Bolton had done? Well, given Bolton’s character, it was easy for Edward to see why Miguel would think he’d committed the murder and not Sharp. Even without the direct accusation, the fact that Sharp was at the Asylum the night Goodman died, combined with the alleged abuse of the Arkham inmates under his direct supervision and under the watch of his appointed successor would be more than enough to raise serious questions. “But he never went to GCPD, did he?”

“No,” Mr. Sanchez quietly admitted. “I told him to just quit and walk away. That getting involved was too risky, that he should just keep his mouth shut. We argued about it. Finally, we got Miguel to agree to take a few days off, to think about his options before he did anything.”

Bolton must have thought that Miguel was ready to blow the whistle. If you hadn’t talked Miguel out of going to GCPD, Edward thought bitterly, then maybe this whole affair could have been avoided. Your daughter wouldn’t have been abducted by a maniac and my daughter wouldn’t have put herself in danger by going after her. Don’t antagonize them, Edward. “What happened then?”

”Bolton tracked him down,” Mrs. Sanchez said. “He approached him when he was coming back into the apartment and they fought about the Asylum. Miguel got in his face and shouted at him that he was going to throw him and all the guards in jail. I thought Bolton was going to kill him before we pulled him back inside.”

Hence the fight that Ellen’s friend had overheard. Edward had to stop himself from shaking his head. That was the worst thing you could have done, you hothead. “How does Marisol figure into this?”

Mrs. Sanchez’s lower lip trembled. “She kept asking us what we were arguing about when Miguel snapped at her to stay out of it. Luis shouted at him to watch his mouth, and Miguel left the apartment to cool down. Marisol-“ her voice broke off and her husband took her into his arms, kissing the top of her head. “Marisol’s very close with her brother,” she continued. “When Miguel wasn’t home by morning, she went out to go looking for him.”

And ran into Bolton and his minions. “When did you find out she’d been kidnapped?”

“At about ten, Miguel came back, upset. He asked if Marisol was here and he broke down when we told him she wasn’t. He’d said that Bolton had called him and told him that he’d taken her. I didn’t want to believe it. I tried calling Ellen to see if she’d seen her, and when she said she hadn’t-“ Mrs. Sanchez broke down again, pressing herself into her husband’s chest as he rocked her.

”We all split up to go looking for her,” Mr. Sanchez continued. “When Mia and I came back here, Miguel was here. He’d said that Bolton had come back and told him that if he turned himself into GCPD as the patient’s murderer, that we’d get Marisol back.”

Once again, Bolton was proving just how much of a vicious idiot he was. “And you let him do that?”

”I begged him not to,” Mr. Sanchez said, tears now forming in his eyes. “I couldn’t lose both my children, but Miguel said that he’d gotten Marisol into this and that he would get her out.

It seemed Mr. Sanchez didn’t believe that Bolton would keep his end of the bargain. He was absolutely right. “And here we are.” Edward nodded at the pair. “Thank you.” As he watched the parents comfort each other, a strange feeling came over him. He’d been out of his mind when he realized Ellen had run off, what must it feel like to be so close to losing two children, and not being able to do a thing about it? Would Diane accept this kind of comfort from him if she was here? He realized that he was dangerously close to empathy and he turned back towards the door. He’d gotten the information he needed, it was time to find Ellen.

”Mr. Nigma?”

He turned to see Mrs. Sanchez looking at him with sympathy and regret. “I’m sorry about Ellen. If I hadn’t called her-“

Then Ellen would have been completely ignorant about this and be safe in bed. ”Don’t,” he said shortly. “I’ll be back with your daughter and I’ll do what I can for your son.” He walked out of the apartment without a look back. He'd let the Sanchez parents keep the picture until he brought their daughter back to them.

As soon as he was out the door, he'd pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and dialed Penelope's number. "Well?" she asked when she picked up.

"Miguel Sanchez was at Arkham the night Goodman died," he said, briskly walking down the hall towards the stairs. "He told his parents and Bolton when the latter confronted him that he was going to accuse Bolton of killing him."

"So Bolton kidnapped his sister to blackmail him into taking the fall for it instead," Penelope breathed. "My God. I have to talk Montoya into letting me into interrogation. We need Sanchez to confirm this himself if we're going to make a case against Bolton."

"That I leave in your capable hands. I'm going to meet up with Selina at her place and see if I can track Ellen down."

"Alright. Call me if you need anything."

"I will. Penelope? Thank you." He hung up and stepped out into the spring night and stopped dead in his tracks. Standing in front of his car were two of the last people he wanted to see tonight. He sucked in a quick breath between his teeth. "Good evening Red Robin." He turned to the figure standing beside him. "Black Bat, right?" He needed flashcards to keep track of just how many members in Batman's group there were nowadays. 

Red Robin stepped forward. "Eddie," he said. Of the assorted Robins over the years, this one had always been the most civil. "We need to talk. Batman's been trying to get ahold of you for a while now-"

Edward held a hand up. "Whatever your employer wants or needs, it will have to wait. I'm extremely busy right now-"

Black Bat spoke in a soft voice. "It's about your daughter."

Edward dropped his hand and his mouth flew open. He'd guessed after the incident last Christmas that Batgirl and the current Robin would have told the others that Ellen existed, but-wait. His heart dropped into his stomach. "What about her?" he asked. 

"Batgirl found her in the Narrows, beating up some guys who tried to jump her." Red Robin's voice softened. "We know what's going on. We want to help."

Edward's mind was a whirlwind at that moment, anger that Ellen had gone into the Narrows, indignation that people had attempted to assault her, pride that she'd apparently beaten them instead, disdain that the Bats had gotten involved, but most of all, relief that she was alive and as safe as she could be. "Where is my daughter now?"

"Batgirl has her. They're tracking down one of the guys that kidnapped her friend. We can take you to them right now." 

Edward ran forward then. "Get in the car. I'll drive."


 

 

Young knew something.

Schrader had kept one eye on her from the moment she'd entered GCPD an hour ago, despite the fact that there was no need for her to be consulted. She'd seemed far too interested in Sanchez, attempting to get into the interrogation room to speak with him in private. When she'd been denied, she'd hovered around watching, barring a few times she'd stepped away to take a phone call. Who had she spoken to? She'd just returned again from a call and was now engaged in a heated looking discussion with Montoya. Montoya's face furrowed and she looked from Young back to the room Sanchez was still in. Finally, she nodded and gestured for Young to follow her. Schrader narrowed his slate grey gaze at the two women. Strange had warned him when he was assigned as Montoya's partner to keep an eye on Young, that she was a problem. From what he'd observed in the past month and a half, he was right. She knew something, something she shouldn't and that made her a threat.

Eventually, he would have to find a way to deal with her but for now, he needed to make sure Sanchez kept his mouth shut.

 

Chapter Text

After his initial statement to the police when he arrived, Miguel Sanchez had been non-communicative. For almost two hours now, he sat in a small, plastic chair under the bright lights of Interrogation Room A, withdrawn, ashen, his dark brown eyes cast down onto the table, fidgeting his with hands every minute. Penelope and Montoya stood outside the interrogation room now, watching him through the one-way glass. Montoya clucked her tongue. "You're sure about this, Doc?"

Penelope watched Miguel closely as he ran a hand through his curly mop of black hair. "Look at his body language, Renee. He's terrified. A man who killed a Rogue with his bare hands like he claims he did should be projecting a lot more confidence. He's not here on his own free will."

"I agree this doesn't add up, but how do you know that his sister was kidnapped?"

Penelope hesitated a moment. "I can't say exactly, but I have a reliable source."

Montoya hummed. "Would this 'reliable source' happen to be another former Rogue with a big mouth and an even bigger ego?" Penelope whipped her head to the side to face Montoya. The detective had a knowing look on her face. "I thought so. And you think he's right?"

Penelope nodded. "Yes, I do. He spoke with Sanchez's parents just a few minutes ago. They confirmed that Sanchez told them that he was going to take credit for Goodman's murder to get his sister back."

Montoya swore under her breath. "I always knew Bolton was a son of a bitch. You know how tight he is with Sharp though. If we're going to nail him, we have to get Sanchez to talk, and we have to do it now. The bus'll be here to take him to County in thirty minutes. Once it gets here, we're not going to be able to keep him."

"I understand that," Penelope said. She turned her gaze back to Miguel. He had laid his head down on the table now, and she could see his shoulders shake. What must be going through his mind? Fear for his sister's safety no doubt. Guilt, more than likely as well. She'd have to be careful with how she approached him. If he felt that she was in any way endangering his sister by trying to convince him to talk, he would double down or lash out. If she could get him to talk though...he could give them Bolton. Bolton could give them Sharp, or Strange even. This whole mess could be over and done within a matter of days. He had to talk to her. He had to. "Let's go." Before she could enter the interrogation room, Montoya held a hand up. Penelope made an impatient noise. "What?"

"Just one thing," Montoya said. Her expression was curious. "What's Nigma's stake in this? Why does he care about an Arkham orderly and his sister?"

"That I can't elaborate on," Penelope said quickly. Edward would never forgive her if she exposed Ellen's existence to anyone in GCPD, even Montoya and Aaron. "What I can say is that he has absolutely no incentive to lie."

"You trust him?"

Penelope didn't hesitate for a moment. "Yes."

Montoya let out a sigh. "Alright. Let's go. If he gets agitated or looks like he's about to lash out at us, get out." She opened the interrogation room door and stood to the side, allowing Penelope to enter first before she followed in behind her, letting the door shut with a loud bang.

Miguel sat straight up in his chair when he heard the two women enter, and Penelope noticed his flushed face and his watery eyes. He quickly rubbed a hand across his eyes. "You here to take me to County?" he asked them.

"No," Penelope said, taking a seat in the chair across the table from him. She watched Montoya cross the room to situate herself directly behind Sanchez, to position herself to grab him if need be. "My name is Dr. Penelope Young-" She noticed his eyes widen slightly when she stated her name. Had they met before at Arkham? "I'm a consulting psychiatrist for GCPD. I'd like to talk with you about what you claim happened at Arkham."

Miguel looked back down at the table. "I've already told the cops," he said in a strained voice. His body language was closed off. He seemed to want to curl himself into a ball almost. "I killed Victor Goodman. I choked him with my bare hands. Is that all?" Not once did he make eye contact with her. If he was adamant that he was Goodman's killer, why couldn't he look her in the eyes and say that? "I'm not crazy," he said, his voice raising slightly. "I don't need to talk to a shrink! Just take me to County already!"

"Settle down," Montoya warned. "We just have a few more questions." She nodded at Penelope.

Penelope folded her hands in front of her. "Why did you do it?" she asked.

Miguel shrugged. "It doesn't matter."

He couldn't even come up with a basic reason. "It doesn't matter?" Penelope repeated. "Miguel, you do understand what you're confessing to, don't you? You could be facing the rest of your life in prison." She lowered her voice. "Think about your family, Miguel. Don't you think they deserve an explanation for why you're throwing your life away?"

Miguel shook a bit and his nostrils flared. "Don't," he said. "Don't bring my family into this! I did it! I killed him! He was a freak, okay!? He deserved to get killed! Just leave me alone!" He lay his head back down on the table. "Just leave me alone," his pleaded, his voice muffled.

Montoya gave her a worried look. "Doc, we're running out of time."

Penelope took a breath. "Miguel," she said, keeping her voice cool. "I want to help you. I convinced Detective Montoya to let me in here to speak with you."

"Who asked you to?" Miguel said, still not lifting his head.

He either couldn't or wouldn't respond to her attempts to be subtle. Time to take the more dangerous route of being direct. "Miguel," she said with a tone of authority she hadn't used since Arkham. "Sacrificing yourself like this is not going to bring your sister home."

Miguel's head shot up, the color draining from his face. "My sister-how do you know-" the look of shock was quickly replaced with one of anger. "Who sent you?" he asked. "Bolton? Is this a trick?"

"No," Penelope said, keeping calm in the face of his growing anger. She couldn't lose her nerve now, not when he'd all but admitted Bolton's involvement. "It's not a trick. I meant it when I said I wanted to help you, and I want to help your sister, but you have to tell us exactly what Bolton did."

Miguel glared at her. "I don't believe you," he said. 'I know who you are, Dr. Young."

So she hadn't been imagining it. He had recognized her. "Did we meet at Arkham?"

"No," he said. "But I've heard all about you. You know what people call you there?" He leaned forward. "Bruja," he hissed between his teeth. "Witch. Everyone knows what you did to Bane, what your experiment did. You don't care about the patients, the staff, or anyone else at Arkham! How am I supposed to trust you!?"

There was a long pause while Penelope formulated her response. Montoya shot her a look of concern as she idly tapped the table. Bruja...witch...murderer...was that what they still thought of her? Would nothing she did in GCPD, for Gotham, ever make up for what had happened-Miguel's sister was out there. Ellen was out there. There was no time for this. And whether he knew it or not, he'd given her the perfect way in. "That's true," she said, keeping her voice soft and not letting on just how he had rattled her. "I didn't care about the patients enough. But you do, don't you Miguel? Isn't that why you stayed at Arkham after what happened to Goodman?"

Miguel's mouth dropped open. All of the anger seemed to dissipate from him in one great sigh. He ran a hand through his hair. "Yes," he said softly. "I do. I did. I-" a fresh wave of tears came. "You don't know what it's like there."

This was it. Penelope leaned forward in her seat. "Tell us."

Miguel wiped his eyes and shook his head. "I can't-my sister-"

"Miguel," Penelope said, not unsympathetically, "I know that Bolton took your sister to keep you quiet. But think about the patients. If you go along with this, Bolton and everyone else at Arkham who is involved in mistreating them will continue to do so. Someone needs to speak up for them." She watched him bite his lip and look back down at his hands. He was so close, he needed just one last push. How well did he know Ellen? Probably quite well, given how close she apparently was to his sister. If she told him that Ellen was out there too, would that persuade him to talk? She glanced back up at Montoya, who was looking at her with a question in her eyes. If she did mention Ellen though, with what Montoya already knew, she'd be able to piece together exactly why Edward was involved. She'd have to find another way. "Edward Nigma is out there now trying to find your sister."

Miguel looked back up at her with a start. "The Riddler? He's-why?"

"It doesn't matter why," Penelope quickly said. "What matters is that he's doing it. And between Lyle Bolton and Edward Nigma, who do you think is more likely to win?"

Miguel let out a shaky laugh. "El Acertijo." He ran his tongue across his lower lip. "Alright. I'll tell you."

Penelope wanted to let out a sigh of relief, but instead, she gave him a brisk nod. "Go on."

Miguel took a deep breath. "I started working at Arkham about a year and a half ago, not too long after the riot. I knew it was a dangerous job, but my family needed the money. When I got there, the place was still torn up after what Joker and Ivy's plants did to it. There were only a few staff there too, mostly doctors and a few orderlies. Most of the security guards got killed during the riot. When I first started, the patients were kept on a strict lockdown. They'd only be allowed out of their cells to eat or to bathe or to see their doctors. Mayor Sharp said that it was a safety precaution because of how badly Arkham was damaged." Miguel scoffed. "For the first few months, I actually believed that."

"What happened to change your mind?" Montoya asked.

"About six months after I first started, Arkham finally got a fully staffed security team. They got money too to help rebuild the asylum. But they didn't. Most of the money went to the penitentiary, or to extreme isolation, where the Rogues were being kept. Most of the medical rooms, the recreation room, the cafeteria...they were left to rot. I heard one of the doctors say once that Sharp didn't think the patients deserved these privileges if they were just going to wreck them. That wasn't the worst of it though. After Cash and Bryant left, the security guards started getting nastier to the patients. They'd find any excuse to keep them in their cells, they'd take any whatever privileges they had left, they started beating them when they mouthed off or didn't move quick enough. One time, I had to punch one guard when he was hitting a patient with his baton, just because the patient took too long getting out of the shower."

"What happened?" Penelope asked.

"I got called into Dr. Strange's office. He told me that the guard was just 'working off his frustration with what happened during the riot' and that if I interfered again, I'd be fired."

"Strange told you this?" Penelope asked. "Where was Sharp when this was happening?"

"He was too busy running his campaign. Even before he got elected, he was letting Strange run everything."

This had been what she and Edward had believed, but to hear it confirmed was chilling. How long had Strange been the de facto head of Arkham? Where were the other doctors? Where was the Board of Directors? "And Bolton? Where does he figure into this?"

Miguel's face darkened. "Strange and Sharp officially promoted him to head of security about six months ago. He started electrifying the patient's cell floors, to keep them in bed at night. I can't count how many times we've had to go in and change sheets because the patients can't even get up to use the toilet. Most of the patients are on a 23-hour lockdown now. They're only allowed out to see their doctors. Their food is taken to their cells once a day. One word out of them that the guards don't like, they're beaten or taken to Solitary. They'll leave them down there for days."

"Jesus Christ," Montoya murmured with disgust. "How can they get away with this? Don't the patients' families say anything?"

Miguel shook his head. "Most of the patients who aren't criminals got removed by their families after the riot. The ones left are either people who don't have families, or their families don't have enough money to put them anywhere else or don't care enough about them to get them out. And the patients who don't have families? Strange has been moving some of them to the penitentiary, or to Arkham Mansion. He says it's for 'treatment', but he won't let any of the other doctors or the nursing staff see them."

This sounded familiar to Penelope. Treatment or experimentation? "And the Rogues?" she asked.

Miguel made a derisive snort. "The guards and Strange are too smart or too chickenshit to mess with most of them. Last year though, Strange took Tetch out of his cell in extreme isolation and moved him to Arkham mansion, closer to where his office is. I haven't seen him since."

A cold chill went down Penelope's spine. That would have been right after the Bierko incident. There was even stronger evidence that Strange had been involved in that. Was Tetch still alive? And if he was, what was Strange doing with him? Was it connected to the other patients that he had moved? She gulped before she asked her next question. "What happened the night Victor Goodman died?"

Miguel took a deep breath. "After Riddler took him down in December, he was moved to Arkham. We all knew he was sick, but Strange only kept him on the bare minimum amount of medication. He did have him moved to the infirmary though when he was about to die. Someone said that it was his way of repaying him for trying to kill Riddler."

Strange would be that vindictive, Penelope thought. "Go on."

"Back in February, Bolton and Mayor Sharp came to Arkham. They came into the infirmary when I was looking after Goodman. Sharp asked me to leave. I didn't want to, but Bolton got in my face and told me to get out."

Penelope could feel her heart almost pounding outside of her chest. If this was true, and she had no reason to think it wasn't, that meant that Miguel was one of the last people to see Goodman alive and that Sharp and Bolton had been alone with him before he'd died. "Yes?"

Miguel ran a hand through his hair again. "I left the room, but I stayed outside the door, to try to listen in. I heard footsteps coming towards the door, so I moved down the hall, out of sight. I went down to some of the other patients' cells to check on them, then about a half hour later, Bolton came and got me. He told me that I hadn't seen him or the Mayor talk to Goodman and that if anyone asked, to keep my mouth shut. I thought that he'd slapped Goodman around and wanted to go check on him, but-"

"Goodman was dead," Penelope finished. Miguel hadn't seen or heard the murder, but what he had to say would reflect poorly on Sharp and Strange, and at the very least, launch an investigation into their treatment of Arkham's patients. 

"So then," Montoya said. "You didn't kill Goodman?"

Miguel was about to open his mouth, but a loud knock on the door cut them off. The door opened before either woman could respond, and Schrader came in.

"Do you mind!?" Penelope asked, turning in her chair and glaring at the detective. "We're still in the middle of-"

"The bus to County is here," Schrader said. He inclined his head towards Miguel. "It's time. He has to go."

Miguel's eyes widened and he looked to Penelope. "Dr. Young-"

"Schrader," Montoya said. "Sanchez just-"

"If Sanchez has any other statements to make, it'll have to wait until the morning. I've delayed the corrections officers long enough as is." He addressed Sanchez. "I'd suggest getting a lawyer, son."

"I'll get in touch with legal consultation for you," Penelope said, getting out of her chair. Before she left the room, she leaned over to whisper into Miguel's ear. "We'll get you out of this by morning. I promise."

"And my sister?" Miguel whispered. 

"She'll be at home waiting for you," she said. Then she pulled away and walked briskly out of the room, ignoring Schrader's gaze. She walked towards the women's bathroom, thankfully finding it empty. As soon as she closed the door, she let out an exultant sigh. She'd done it. Edward would find Ellen and Miguel's sister, Miguel would testify against Bolton, and one by one, Sharp, Strange, and anyone else involved in the atrocities being committed at Arkham would fall. Then Arkham could rebuild, maybe the city too. She'd finally be able to undo the damage she'd done. She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket to call Edward and tell him when she saw that at some point during her conversation with Miguel, he'd texted her. 

Batman sent two of his minions to me. They know where Ellen is. I'm on my way to get her right now. I'll call when I have her and her friend.

Penelope smiled, then dialed the number of a person she knew in Legal Aid. They'd done it. It would all be over by morning. She shook her head. And to think, all it took was Ellen putting on a costume. Edward would find it amusing, once he'd calmed down a bit.

 


 

 

Schrader hadn't seen most of Young and Montoya's interview with Sanchez, but he'd caught the part about Nigma being involved. Whether the former Rogue succeeded in recovering the Sanchez girl or not was inconsequential to Schrader. That was Bolton's problem. The more concerning part was that Young was apparently privy to his movements. She might have been the one to call him in in the first place. Or perhaps, she was his inside person in GCPD. And if she had that kind of influence with a former Rogue...that was problematic. First thing though, was to dispatch Sanchez. He escorted the now handcuffed young man through GCPD, followed by Montoya up to the front door. The Gotham County officials were waiting outside for them. Men Schrader knew and trusted. He opened the back door of the bus and helped Sanchez inside, sitting him down on the bench. "You should be at County in about forty-five minutes," he told the boy. Sanchez said nothing but gave a nod. Schrader got off the bus, then walked around to the driver's side of the bus. 

"Hey Schrader," the driver said. "That the kid?"

"Yes," Schrader said. "You know what to do?"

The driver nodded. "And there's no way we'll get caught?"

"Not if you do it the way I instructed you to," Schrader said. "Remember, use the chokehold first. Make sure he's out cold before you do it. Then it will be undetectable. And just between you and me, our coroner's not exactly the brightest guy in the world. The family's not going to be likely to look too closely either."

"Got it. See you on the other side, Schrader." Then the driver started the bus. Schrader took a step back and watched the bus pull out from the entrance, around the tree that somehow was allowed to still stand, and drive down the street. He smirked a bit.

"Vaya con Dios, Sanchez."


 

"So, I've pulled up everything I could find on Morton. He's been with Arkham Asylum for about eight months. He lives at 250 62nd street in Gotham, that I know you already know. He also drives a green sedan, license plate number is VHX2338. I'm pulling up his bank information now. You're at his address, right?"

"On the building rooftop across from it," Stephanie answered. "I popped in when we got here, but there was no trace of him or the girl. I saw Bolton and his cronies drive by too. They're gone now, but they've been circling around the block off and on for the last half hour. If Morton's smart, he dumped her somewhere and took off."

"I'm monitoring hospital and police station communications in case he did. How's Enigma holding up?"

Stephanie looked away from where she'd been watching the rundown apartment building through her binoculars, and towards Enigma. She was sitting about ten feet away from her on the far left corner of the rooftop, hugging her knees to her chest. It made her look even younger than she was. How old is she anyway? Stephanie thought. 15? 16 at the most? "She's okay," Stephanie said. "I think this is starting to get to her a bit though. She's been pretty quiet since I came back up to the rooftop." She'd pitched a bit of a fit when Stephanie had deposited her here and went to check on the apartment by herself. She was probably still sulking. She definitely was Nigma's kid. "Anyway, did you tell Batman what's going on?"

"Yeah. He said to keep monitoring the situation. As soon as he and Damian get back to Wayne Manor, he'll be looking into it. He also knows about your run-in with Jason."

Stephanie gulped a bit. "How did he take that?"

"He's not happy. With Jason. He said that you did a good job handling that situation."

Stephanie had to smile a bit at that. "Wow, Batman said I did a good job? He's getting soft in his old age. Don't tell him I said that."

Oracle chuckled a bit. "Don't worry, I said the same thing. I've got to get back to work. Keep me posted."

"Always do. Batgirl out."

Stephanie put her binoculars down and walked over to where Enigma sat. Enigma stared straight ahead at the street below, not acknowledging her presence. "Hey," Stephanie said. She sat down next to the girl. "You're not still mad at me for leaving you here, are you?"

Ellen scoffed. She knew when she was being buttered up. "I would have been fine. It's not like anyone was there!"

Stephanie let out a sigh. "Yeah, but we didn't know that at the time. This Morton guy could still be dangerous." That wasn't the only reason Stephanie had kept her away. If her friend was dead and her body had been in the apartment, Stephanie didn't want her to see it. "Besides," she said in a lighter tone. "I don't want to have to face your Dad if you get hurt."

Ellen let out a huff. "Like he'd care." She noticed a look of concern come over Batgirl's face. "He didn't care enough about me to help find Marisol," Ellen explained. "He wouldn't care if I got hurt. He'd probably say I deserved it for running after her like a moron." 

Stephanie wasn't sure what to say to that. As much as she didn't like Edward Nigma, as much as she thought he was a self-centered, self-obsessed crook, even after he reformed, she also remembered what he'd done last Christmas. "I don't know what exactly your relationship is like with your Dad," she said finally, "And I don't want to judge or anything like that, but he did attack an armed guy to protect you. And he doesn't get physical very often. Just because he didn't want to go find Marisol doesn't mean he doesn't care about you."

"She's my friend though!" Ellen shouted. "He should care! He just said 'he'd look into it later.' How can he care about me and not about the people I care about?"

Stephanie sighed. "That's just how he is," she said. "From my experience, Edward Nigma's not exactly a stand-up guy."

"I know that," Ellen hissed. "I'm not stupid. I know what kind of guy he was, but I thought that..." she trailed off, then sighed again. "I thought that once he met me and got to know me, he'd change a bit."

Stephanie furrowed her brow. She'd never heard Nigma talk about his daughter when she knew him as a girl, so she'd figured he hadn't been involved in her life, but from the way the girl was talking, it almost sounded like- "Once he met you? How long ago was that?"

"Last August."

Stephanie felt her jaw drop. "You mean before that, he never even knew about you?"

Ellen shook her head. "Nope. My Mom dumped him for being a crook before she even found out she was pregnant with me. She never told him about me."

"Wow," Stephanie breathed. That changed her perception of the situation a bit. "But your Mom told you about him?"

"No," Ellen said. "She never talked about who my Dad was. She'd always tell me to drop it whenever I asked. I tracked him down by myself."

"She was probably trying to protect you," Stephanie said. How different would her own life have been if her mother had done the same? She shook her head. "What does your Mom think about you spending time with him?"

"She's dead."

Stephanie grimaced. "I'm sorry."

Ellen shrugged. "You didn't know. My Gramma hates his guts though. She always goes on about how he's a bad influence, about how I shouldn't spend time with him at all, how he ruined Mom's life and how he's gonna ruin mine," Ellen felt tears leak out of her eyes and shut them tight. "I just wanted to know who my Dad was! I felt like there was a part of me missing without him! I just want him to," she hugged her knees tighter. You want me to love you. I don't know that I'm capable of that. "I just want him to love me."

Stephanie leaned over and gave the younger girl a hug. "I get it," she said. She remembered every time her father had chosen crime over her and her mother and she hugged her tighter. "Believe me, I get it."

Ellen peeked up at Batgirl. "Your Dad?"

Stephanie let out a short laugh. "That's a long story...but yeah. My Dad." She pat Enigma on the back. "But hey. Whatever happens between you and your Dad, we'll find your friend." Stephanie reached into her belt and pulled out a card. She passed it over to Enigma. "If you ever need to talk, feel free to call me."

Ellen took the card. "What, for real?"

Stephanie smiled. "Yeah, for real." She passed out cards like this before to people she met on the streets, usually kids like Enigma.

Ellen put the card into her backpack pocket. "Wow. I've got Batgirl's phone number." Then she heard a car on the street and looked down. Her heart sunk when she saw it was that Bolton creep's red sports car driving past. "God! When is this guy gonna show up? When are we gonna find Marisol?"

"He might not come back here," Batgirl said. "But the fact that those goons keep coming back means that they can't find him either. And I've got my contact keeping an eye out. We'll find her."

Ellen let out another huff. "So we're stuck here?"

"Half of the time I'm on patrol, I'm usually perched up on rooftops keeping an eye on things. Actually fighting bad guys is something that we hope we don't have to do."

Ellen chewed her lip a bit. "I wonder what Red Hood's doing."

She saw Batgirl's face harden a bit. "Staying out of this, I hope."

This made Ellen curious. "Do you know him? I mean, personally? It kinda seemed like you did."

Batgirl shook her head. "Me? No. But he's hurt people I care about. That's all I need to know." Then she stood up suddenly. "Hold on, my contact's calling." Ellen watched Batgirl get up and walk further down the roof. "Yeah Oracle?" Ellen watched her as she spoke to this Oracle person, not being able to hear the conversation. Then she watched as Batgirl ran back up to her. "Morton just used his credit card at a bodega about six blocks from here." She picked up her grappling hook and aimed it towards the adjacent rooftop.

"Wait!" Ellen cried out, scrambling to her feet. "I want to come too!"

Batgirl didn't hesitate to reach out to her. "Okay, grab on!"

Ellen paused for a moment, then grabbed onto Batgirl's side. At this close proximity, she could smell the odd, almost rubbery scent of her purple and black costume. She blushed as she realized just how close she was. Then Batgirl fired her grappling hook and they were airborne. Ellen bit her lip to keep from crying out, not from fear, but from excitement. Then, almost too soon, they landed on a fire escape on the building next door and dashed down to where Batgirl had parked her motorcycle. Ellen felt her heart pound as she put her helmet on and settled in behind Batgirl on her bike. Hang on, Marisol, she thought. We're almost there.

Chapter Text

Morton had parked in an alleyway between 43rd and Market, nine blocks from his apartment and three blocks from the bodega he'd stopped at to buy a few cans of cheap beer. He popped open a can with a shaky hand, took a long swig of warm beer, and glanced furtively at the girl strapped into the passenger seat beside him. She lay still and silent, her head pressed up against the window, still out cold from the drugs that Blake had injected into her while Pierce and MacIntyre had held her down. Morton remembered the pleading that the girl had done, how she'd cried out for her mother when the needle had broken through the skin of her arm and he shut his eyes. It wasn't right. She was just a kid. Morton had been hired on at Arkham six months ago when his old friend from corrections Lyle had been promoted to head of security. It was a better paying job then Gotham County, that was for sure. Less dangerous too. At least the inmates at Arkham, for the most part, didn't fight back. He took another long gulp of beer. He and Lyle, and the rest of the guys too, went back a long way. They always had each other's backs. But this...he took another look at the girl. How old was she? 15? Knocking around the freaks at Arkham was one thing, but a kid? It didn't sit right with him, even if her brother, Miguel he thought his name was, had an attitude and a big mouth.

And so, instead of meeting the guys in the Narrows like he said he would when they had left the safe house, he'd driven aimlessly around the neighborhood surrounding the Narrows, looking at the girl every so often and wondering what he should do. Every time he'd decided to go through with the plan, she'd make a small noise or a whimper. He'd been a block away from the meetup point in the Narrows when he'd heard her say "Mama." He'd made a sharp left turn and gone back to his apartment. He'd gone in long enough to grab a suitcase, a few changes of clothes, and a toothbrush then ran back out to his car. Then he'd gone to the bodega. And now here he was, drinking beer and considering his options. Lyle and the rest of the guys would know he wasn't coming by now. They'd be angry. They'd probably think he'd gone to the cops. Then there was Dr. Strange to consider...Morton finished the last of the beer and crushed the can in his hand before throwing it in the backseat of the car. There was a hospital about five blocks from here. He'd dump the girl in the parking lot and get out of Gotham. He had enough money that he could lie low for a few months, wait for all of this to blow over. He heard the girl groan a bit as turned the keys in the ignition. She'd be coming to any minute. Morton put the car in drive and slowly made his way down the alley. He was maybe about five feet away from the main street when he slammed on the brakes, hard, jostling the girl in her seat and causing her to stir.

In front of the car stood two figures, one with long blonde hair and a black costume with purple accents. The cowl gave her away as Batgirl. It was the other figure that Morton was staring at. It was another girl, shorter, with bright red hair up in pigtails. She didn't look any older than the girl he had in the passenger seat. She was masked, wearing striped tights and...wait, was that a question mark on her sweatshirt? Was she- Batgirl stepped forward, a batarang in her hand. Morton could tell from the glare of the headlights that she looked pissed. "Out of the car!" she shouted. "Now!" Morton could hit the gas, blow right past them. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the girl lift her head up. Her eyes were open. Morton sighed, then put the car in park. He knew when he was beaten.


 

The second she'd seen Marisol strapped in the car, Ellen had wanted to charge over to her. Instead, she waited until the driver held his hands outside his car window before she darted past Batgirl and ran to the passenger seat. Through the car window, she could see Marisol stir, her dark eyes blinking open. Then they widened as she seemed to realize where she was, what had happened. Ellen was at the door as soon Marisol had unbuckled herself and pulled at the handle. Marisol looked through the window and their eyes locked. Marisol unlocked the door and almost stumbled out, still wobbly from whatever drugs those creeps had given her. Ellen reached over to stabilize her. "Ellie?" she heard Marisol ask. "Ellie, is that you?"

Ellen nodded. "Yeah. It's me. I'm here." She looked over her best friend. She looked a little rumpled, and more than a little scared, but she looked unhurt. Then her vision turned blurry, and Ellen realized that she was crying. "Are you okay?"

Marisol nodded herself. "I'm alright, but what are you doing here?"

Ellen rolled her eyes a bit. "I'm here to save you! Duh!"

Marisol's jaw dropped, then her own eyes welled up with tears. "Ellie..." she stepped forward and the two girls hugged each other tightly. Ellen shut her eyes tight. She'd done it. It was over. Marisol was safe. The knot that had been in her stomach all day was finally gone. She heard Marisol laugh a bit. "You put on a costume to come find me?" Marisol pulled away a bit and she had a smile on her face. "Ellie, you really are kind of crazy!"

Ellen laughed too. "You know it." Then she wrapped Marisol in another hug. 

Stephanie had pulled Morton out of the car and had him in handcuffs on the ground. She looked at the two girls with a smile on her face, then she tapped the communication button in her cowl. "Oracle, it's Batgirl. We found the girl. I've got the creep who had her in cuffs."

"Great. Is she alright?"

Stephanie looked back over to Enigma and her friend, the two of them still hugging and wrapped up in conversation. "She looks okay. We should still get her checked out though, just in case."

"There's a hospital just a few blocks away from you. You can take her there. I'll call Bruce and tell him you found her."

A third voice came through on the feed. "Batgirl?"

Stephanie grinned at the voice. "Hey, Red Robin. Long time no hear. What's going on?"

"Black Bat and I are with Nigma. Where are you?"

Oh great, Daddy Dearest finally decided to show himself. "In the alleyway just off Market and 43rd."

"Good. We'll be there in about ten minutes." Stephanie could hear loud shouting on the other end of the line, somewhat drowning out Tim. "Just a word of warning: Eddie's really, really, mad."

"Is that him?" Stephanie asked. 

"Yeah. He's been carrying on like this the whole time we've been with him. Listen for yourself." Stephanie heard what sounded to her like rustling before she heard Nigma's voice loud and clear.

"Wait until I get my hands on that girl! She's going to be grounded until she's my age! How could she do this to me? What have I done to deserve this!? I've lost ten years of my life in one night! I'm going to need an entire new prescription thanks to that girl! No father deserves to be put through this kind of aggravation!" There was another rustling and then Tim's voice came through again.

"So, yeah. He's pretty pissed."

Stephanie let out a low whistle. "I'll say. I'll give Enigma a head's up. See you soon." She pressed the button again to end the call, then walked over to Enigma and the two girls.

A look of wonder came over Marisol's face as Batgirl approached them. "Thank you," Ellen said, letting go of Marisol to clasp Batgirl's hands. "Thanks for everything."

Batgirl smiled. "You're welcome. And thank you. We wouldn't have been able to find your friend without you."

Ellen felt her face flush at the compliment and she let out a giggle. "Yeah, well...yeah."

"By the way," Batgirl continued. "Your dad's on his way to come get you."

The giddy rush Ellen had received from the adrenaline and praise gave way to a sinking feeling of dread. She dropped her hands to her sides. "Oh, crap." He was going to be pissed.

"Is GCPD coming too?" Marisol asked. "You said your dad was a detective, right?"

"Yeah, kind of." Ellen bit her lip and looked at her feet, idly kicking the ground. He and Gramma had told her not to tell anyone, but...if the Old Man was on his way, there was no way to keep it from Marisol anymore. "He's...promise me you won't be mad at me."

She felt a pressure in her right hand and saw that Marisol was gripping it tightly. "I won't," she heard her friend say. "I promise."

Ellen gulped. No going back now. "My dad's the Riddler." She looked up to see a look of shock come across her best friend's face.

"The Riddler-seriously? The Riddler's your dad!?"

Ellen nodded and the words came tumbling out of her. "I wanted to tell you, but he and Gramma wouldn't let me, they said that I'd be putting people in danger if I did, I'm sorry, Marisol, I'm-"

Marisol squeezed Ellen's hand tight again and Ellen stopped speaking. "It's okay," Marisol said. "It's okay." Marisol reached up to run a hand through her hair. " I'm not mad. It's just...wow." She shook her head, then let out a small, awkward laugh. "You know, that actually explains a lot about you."

Ellen jut her lower lip out into a pout. "Oh, nice! That's the thanks I get!" Marisol laughed and hugged her again, and Ellen saw Batgirl laugh a bit too. "Well," Ellen said. "At least you'll get to meet him before we take you home."

Marisol laughed again, then the color drained from her face. "Miguel!" she muttered. She looked at Ellen with anguish. "Ellie, those guys took me because of Miguel! They wanted him to do something to get me back!"

"Something?" Batgirl asked. "What something?"

"I don't know. I only heard them talking a bit about it before they drugged me, but we've got to find Miguel! I don't want him to get hurt because of me!"

"That won't happen," Batgirl said with a determined look on her face. "Soon as her dad, Red Robin, and Black Bat get here, we'll find your brother."

Marisol still looked worried, but she nodded. Then the sound of a car pulling up distracted the three. "Is that my dad now?" Ellen asked.

Batgirl shook her head. "No," she said. "It's too soon." She brought her hand to her belt and stepped forward. "You two hang back." The sound of footsteps on gravel approached, and just ten feet away, Ellen saw the last person she wanted to see.

Bolton stood in front of Morton's parked car, a smug grin on his face. "Well, well, well. There you are, Morton. And you made some new friends too I see."

"Lyle," Morton said. "Lyle, I-" before he could utter another word, Bolton pulled his pistol out and shot him once in the chest. The noise was sudden and deafening, making Ellen unable to hear the shriek Marisol let out. Ellen watched as Morton lay crumpled on the ground, a large pool of blood beginning to form underneath him. She could hear him make a wheezing noise until he was silent. She stood frozen to her spot, unaware of everything else but the body and the blood. She'd never seen anyone die before. She'd seen her mother's body at the hospital and her funeral, but not her death, not the blood, all the blood. 

Stephanie had a batarang out in a second and tossed it, only for Bolton to dodge it. Then she watched him take aim at Enigma, Ellie, she'd heard her friend call her. Her name was Ellie. "Enigma!" she shouted. "Ellie! Run!"

Ellen only vaguely heard Batgirl calling out for her, but she felt Marisol tug on her arm, attempting to pull her to the shelter of the car. Then she heard the shot and felt a force colliding with her, shoving her to the ground. Ellen grunted from the force of the impact and the world started again. She realized that she and Marisol were behind the car and that Batgirl was on top of them. She could hear Bolton's footsteps approaching them and the sound of his laughter.

"Come out, come out. Hand over the Sanchez brat and Nigma's kid and I can let you walk out of here, Batgirl."

Batgirl crouched up, one hand going to another batarang, one hand on her upper thigh. Ellen saw the blood forming under her hand and she felt bile come to her throat. "You've been shot!" she squeaked out. "Oh my God, you've been shot!"

"It's just a graze," Batgirl said with a grunt of pain. "I'll be okay. You two need to get out of here. Run. I'll hold him off. Get out to the main road and find your dad." She gestured to the leftmost compartment on her belt. "Take my grappling hook. Press the top button to shoot it and the side button to retract. If you need to, get on the rooftops." Ellen grabbed the grappling hook and shoved it into her sweatshirt pocket. "Go!"

Ellen hesitated. "But what about you-"

"I'll be fine!" Batgirl hissed out. "But you need to get yourself and your friend out, now!"

"Last chance Batgirl," Bolton's voice said. "Are you going to hand them over?"

Batgirl managed to bring herself up to her feet and gave Bolton a glare. "Over my dead body." She then tossed another batarang, this time, managing to knock the pistol out of his hand. She looked down to Ellen and Marisol. "Go! Now!" Then she launched herself over the car and towards Bolton.

Ellen and Marisol were up like a shot, running towards the other end of the alley. Ellen heard the sound of a fist and Batgirl's cry of pain, but she kept running, almost dragging Marisol behind her. She could see another road about fifteen feet away, they just needed to keep running, and they could make it. Then she saw two other cars, and three other men appear, blocking off their escape. The other three goons from the Narrows. Ellen and Marisol came to a stop. There was no way out. Behind them was Bolton, pulverizing Batgirl, and in front, the other three, advancing towards them. Ellen looked frantically around them, searching for somewhere to go, anywhere to hide. There was a fire escape just to their left, about ten feet off the ground. She remembered what Batgirl said about the grappling hook, what was it, top to retract, side to-to what? She couldn't think, she and Marisol were trapped, she'd just seen Bolton kill a guy, and why couldn't she move!?

"Ellie!" Marisol cried out. "What do we do?"

"I...I..." Ellen didn't know what to do. Where was her father? He'd know what to do, where was he?

"Alright, little girls," one of the men, the blond guy that Batgirl had shocked back in the Narrows said. He held his hand out, beckoning them to him. "We don't want to hurt you. Just come with us, nice and slow."

"Just the Sanchez kid, right?" A black-haired man asked.

"No," A brown-haired man said, the tallest and meanest looking one among them. "Bolton said to grab the redhead too. Said we can use her against Nigma."

This was why the Old Man and Gramma had told her never to tell anyone who her father was. Ellen understood that now. She took a step back, her breath coming in deep masks. Now she understood. For the first time tonight, she was really scared. She was terrified. She'd come so close to saving Marisol, but it was for nothing. The brown-haired man stepped forward and reached out towards Marisol, and this brought Ellen back to life. She lunged towards him, aiming a punch at his throat. "Back off, chuckle fuck!" she screeched out. The brown-haired man caught her fist in his massive hand and laughed. Then he picked her up by the collar of her sweatshirt and back-handed her, hard. She fell to the ground with a shriek.

"No!" she heard Marisol scream. "Don't hurt her! I'll go with you, please don't hurt her!"

Her face stung and Ellen could taste something warm and coppery in her mouth. Blood. She was bleeding. She willed herself to look up and she saw the brown-haired man dragging Marisol along. "That's a good girl," she heard him say. No, no, no! Ellen got to her feet and took three steps forward before she felt arms tugging her back. The blond man was holding her, she realized, wrenching her arms behind her back. She tried to stomp down on his feet, but he was too big, or she was too small to cause any kind of pain. "Drug her," the brown-haired man said and Marisol let out an indignant cry. "Bolton said to take her to Arkham. He said he wants to deliver her to Dr. Strange himself."

"No!" Marisol screamed. "Don't hurt her, please! Ellie! Ellie!" Then the brown-haired man dragged her down the alley, towards the blue pick-up truck just parked along the main road, Marisol's screams echoing behind them.

"Marisol!" Ellen cried out, trying in vain to get out of the blond man's grip. "Marisol!"

The black-haired man came into her line of vision, and Ellen realized he was holding a needle in his hand. "Hold her still, MacIntyre." He gave Ellen a smarmy grin. "Just a few seconds, little girl, and you'll be fast asleep."

"Fuck you!" Ellen screamed. "Let me go!"

Pierce laughed, then stepped forward. "Now, now. Be a good little girl and maybe we'll let you see your Daddy again."

Where was he? Where was he? Old Man, Old Man, Pops, Dad, Dad I'm sorry, Dad please, help me, Dad, Dad Dad. She felt tears coming out of her eyes again and realized she was sobbing now. "Dad!" she cried out. "Dad!"

Piece let out a dark chuckle. "Not so tough now, are you little girl?" He took another step forward, moving to put the needle up to her neck when his dark blue eyes caught sight of something behind her and the blond guy and froze. All the color seemed to drain from his face. 

"What's wrong?" Ellen heard the blond guy ask.

Pierce's lower lip trembled. "M-MacIntyre..." Then a red dot suddenly appeared on his forehead. Somewhere in the part of her brain that wasn't paralyzed by fear recognized it was a laser, like the laser pointers her teachers would use in class. Who was pointing a laser? Then a deep voice that seemed to come from behind her spoke.

"Riddle me this," the voice said. "How many goons does it take to beat up a little girl?"

MacIntyre looked behind him, forcing Ellen to look as well. On the fire escape was the Red Hood, with a rifle pointed straight at Pierce. "Any guesses?" he asked.

Pierce dropped the needle and ran to a green car parked just a few feet from where the blue pickup still was. 

Red Hood adjusted his aim. "Close your eyes, little girl."

Ellen did as she was told and screwed her eyes shut. She heard the shot, heard the body fall. She then felt herself being tossed down to the ground and the sound of running footsteps before another shot rang out. She curled herself into a ball and kept her eyes shut. She then heard the sound of something dropping, then footsteps approach her. Then she felt herself being lifted up from the ground and thrown over a shoulder. Then she felt nothing.


 

 

Bolton had tossed Stephanie to the ground, stomping on her for good measure, when they'd heard the sound of the girls screaming. Bolton paused, then laughed. "Looks like the boys got the brats." Stephanie managed to turn herself over and saw Enigma, Ellie being grabbed by one man and her friend being dragged off by another. 

"No!" she cried out. She tried to scramble to get up, to do something, but her leg burned with pain and she fell to the ground. She watched helplessly as a black-haired man, Pierce she thought, approach Ellie. Bolton laughed. "The Sanchez girl, Nigma's brat, and Batgirl all in one night. Guess it's my lucky day after all." Bolton leaned down to pick up his pistol when he and Stephanie saw it at the same time. Red Hood dropped down onto the fire escape, holding a rifle in his hands and aiming it towards Pierce. Pierce noticed it, looking up and standing still. Red Hood might have said something, but Stephanie couldn't hear it. Then Pierce ran and Red Hood shot. Stephanie watched Pierce's head disappear in a red mist, then she watched as MacIntyre dropped Ellie and tried to flee, only to meet the same fate. Bolton had watched too, his eyes almost bugging out of his skull. Then he swore and ran back to his car. Figures the kind of man who would kidnap and terrorize teenage girls would also be the kind to run as soon as he ran into someone who could actually fight back. Once she was certain he was gone, Stephanie pushed herself up by her elbows. She couldn't walk. She needed to find something to use as a crutch, to get to Ellie and check on her. Then she watched as Red Hood approached Ellie, who was still lying prone on the ground. "Red Hood!" she called out.

Red Hod ignored her, crouching down and picking Ellie up, hoisting her over his shoulder. Stephanie watched in horror as he carried her back towards the fire escape. "What are you doing? Put her down!" Red Hood pulled his own grappling hook out of his coat pocket and aimed it towards the roof. "Jason!" Stephanie cried out. "Jason, please!" He fired the grappling hook and in an instant he was up in the air, taking Ellie with him out of sight. "No!" she screamed. "Jason! Bring her back! Bring her back!" 

"Batgirl?" she heard Oracle's voice cut in. "What's going on? Your suit's readings are spiking! Are you alright?"

"Barbara," Stephanie said, her body screaming with pain. "They're gone. The guys who took the girl...they came back. I've been shot. They took her again. And Jason took Ellie."

"What!? Okay, Tim, Cass, and Nigma should be there any second. Just hold on. It's going to be alright."

Stephanie shut her eyes. God, she hoped so.


 

 

They'd finally reached 43rd and Market, and Edward's ranting about Ellen came to an end, much to the relief of the other occupants of the car, he was sure. For the first time since he'd found out she was gone, he was beginning to relax. Ellen and her little friend were safe with Batgirl, they'd take the friend home, and Edward would give Ellen a scolding she'd never forget. As he maneuvered his car down the alley, he had to take a sudden and sharp veer to the left to avoid being collided with by someone in a red sports car. "Jesus Christ!" he shouted, once he started driving again. "Some people in this town need to learn to observe the speed limit!"

"You've been going ten miles over the speed limit since we met up," Red Robin grumbled from the backseat.

"Exigent circumstances, my good lad. And I'd appreciate no backseat driving, thank you very much!" Black Bat sat placidly in the passenger seat, as she had for the entire drive. She hadn't said two words to him the entire time actually, preferring to look at him. It was almost as if she was studying him. Frankly, it was unnerving. "What?" he asked.

"You're worried." Black Bat said, matter of factly.

Edward huffed. "Well, I can't imagine why. My only child decided to put on a costume and chase after dangerous kidnappers. Just another night in Gotham, really."

"You love her."

Edward looked over at Black Bat, who looked right back at him. It wasn't a question. It was a statement. "I've only known her for eight months, and during those eight months, she's caused me no small measure of heartache and stress."

"But you still love her."

Edward looked back at the steering wheel. Oh God, he did, didn't he? It was a sobering thought. "I'm her father," he grumbled. "I'm supposed to love her." His own father hadn't loved him. When he'd left home at sixteen, his father had never thought to look for him. Probably hadn't even noticed he was gone until the truant officer came looking for him. Edward shook his head. "Anyway, my loving her isn't going to get her out of her richly deserved punishment, believe me-"

"Stop!" Red Robin shouted. Edward slammed the brakes. Once the car was stopped and in park, he followed Red Robin's finger and his heart stopped. Lying in the alley in front of them was a body. White, male, probably in his mid-thirties. Judging from the pool of blood underneath the body, he hadn't been dead long. A chill went down Edward's spine. "Ellen!" he shouted. He unbuckled his seat belt and ran into the alley. "Ellen!" he shouted again. He barely heard Red Robin and Black Bat follow him out of the car. A few feet further up from the body, half hidden by a parked beige car, Edward saw Batgirl lying on the ground, her skin pale and sweaty, her right hand holding her upper thigh. Edward knew she'd been shot too.

"Batgirl!" he heard Red Robin shout. The vigilante went to her and crouched down next to her. "Are you alright? What happened?"

"It's just a graze," she murmured. "Just a graze. Bolton and his goons...they found us. One of them took Marisol..."

Edward almost shoved Red Robin out of the way to get in Batgirl's face. "Where's my daughter?" he demanded. "Where's my daughter!?"

Batgirl cringed in pain. "Two of the men grabbed her," she managed to say. "Red Hood...he killed them. He took her. Red Hood took her. I'm sorry, Nigma. I'm so sorry..."

Red Hood...oh God. Edward felt his legs turn to jelly and he collapsed to his knees. Red Hood had his daughter, Red Hood had Ellen, his baby girl. A wave of nausea overcame him. He hunched over, slamming his palms on the ground and vomited, the bile burning his throat. His eyes screwed shut, unable to keep the mental images from assaulting him. Red Hood was a killer, he'd tried to kill one of the children he was with now once, and he had his daughter. A great shudder went through his body. What do I do, what am I going to do, Jon, Penelope, what do I do? He felt a hand on his shoulder and he whipped his head around. Black Bat stood over him, a look of concern on her face.

"We'll find her," she said. "It's going to be alright."

"It's going to be alright?" Edward repeated. Then his fear was replaced by rage, a rage he hadn't felt since Goodman. "Don't you dare talk down to me!" he shouted. He brought himself to his feet. Then he rounded on Batgirl, still lying prone in Red Robin's arms. "How could you let this happen!?"

"Hey, it's not her fault!" Red Robin shouted.

"No?" Edward repeated. "Did she, or did she not, bring my daughter here!?"

"You didn't leave me any choice," Batgirl said, mustering enough strength to glare up at him. "We tried to reach you hours ago. Where were you?"

"Where was I? I was trying to find her! Why didn't you take her home!? Why didn't you leave her somewhere safe!? Why didn't you stop him!?"

"I tried," she said. "I did everything I could-"

"You're still alive," Edward spat out. "You clearly didn't do everything!"

"That's enough!" Red Robin shouted. "Nigma, blaming her isn't going to get your daughter back! We need to regroup, try to think of where Red Hood might go with her." Batgirl let out a groan and Red Robin's posture softened. "But first, we've got to take care of Batgirl."

"I'll be fine handsome," she teased. "Just go find Ellie."

The sound of his daughter's pet name being spoken brought Edward out of his anger. "She told you her name?" he asked Batgirl.

"I heard her friend call her that," Batgirl said. She hissed in pain again. "She's a good kid. She came out here to save her friend." She glared up at him again. "She told me that she thinks you don't care about her."

"She thinks I don't care?" Edward repeated. Shame and guilt washed through him then. How could she think that? Then he glared back down at her. "I don't need to be scolded about my parenting by you! I wouldn't be out here if I didn't care about her!"

"It shouldn't take her being in danger for you to show it," Batgirl said again. Edward lifted a finger, but nothing came to his mind to counter that. Then she hissed again. "God, this really does hurt."

"I'll take you to the clinic," Red Robin said. "We'll take your bike." He turned and gave Black Bat a nod. "You and Nigma should figure out where to pick up Red Hood's trail. Then-" He was cut off by the rev of a motorcycle engine. The group turned down the alleyway and saw a motorcycle drive out the other side. Edward could just make out the driver wearing an all too familiar red helmet. Then his eyes caught sight of the person sitting behind the driver. A slight figure in green, with bright red hair in pigtails.

A jolt went through Edward. "Ellen!" she shouted. He ran as fast as he could back to his car, only just aware of Black Bat following behind him. He threw himself in the driver's seat and started the car. Not bothering to wait for Black Bat to buckle in, he put the car in reverse, then drove as fast as he could out the way they came. Once they were on the main road, he rounded the corner and hit the gas. Two blocks up, he could just make out the motorcycle, in hot pursuit of a blue pick-up. Edward gripped onto the steering wheel tight. He was going to get Ellen back if it was the last thing he ever did.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Ellen came to when she felt a cool breeze on her face. She opened her eyes and saw the Gotham night sky above her, devoid of moonlight or stars. She blinked once. Where was she? What had happened? Then she remembered. Batgirl, Bolton, gunshots, blood, Marisol-Marisol! Ellen bolted up and wildly looked around. She wasn't in the alley anymore. It looked like she was on a rooftop. Now she remembered. Those guys that had been with Bolton, one of them took Marisol, two of them had grabbed her, before-

"Hey." Ellen slowly turned to look behind her at the sound of the voice. Red Hood was sitting about three feet away, staring at her through that creepy red helmet. "You up?"

Ellen scooted away from him. "What the fuck!?" she shrieked.

Red Hood has his hands up placatingly. "Relax, Kiddo. You're safe."

Ellen's heart was still hammering in her chest. She was right now less than five feet away from a guy who had just killed two guys in front of her. "What do you want? Are you gonna kill me?" she asked. 

Red Hood let out a small chuckle at that. "No. Like I told Batgirl, I don't hurt little girls. Besides," he said, getting up and walking towards her. "There are some things I'd like to talk with you about."

"Things?" Ellen repeated. "What things?" She kept a wary eye on the vigilante as he stopped next to her, then held his hand out. She cocked her head at it, then looked back up at him. 

She had the feeling that Red Hood might be rolling his eyes under that helmet. "Don't worry, I don't bite." Ellen bit her lip, then gripped onto his hand, allowing him to pull her up to her feet. Now that she was only separated from him by a few inches, she could see just how big he was. He was tall, taller than her Dad at least, and he looked like he was pretty strong underneath all that leather. "Now," he said in a deep voice. "Just what's been going on here?"

Ellen pulled her hand away and glared at the vigilante. Her fear had been replaced by anger. "Seriously!? You're interrogating me right now? I don't have time for this! I have to save Marisol!" Ellen turned sharply to the alleyway. The blue pick up truck was still there, but it had started. "He's gonna get away with her!"

"No, he's not," Red Hood said. He grabbed Ellen by the arm and dragged her towards the edge of the roof. "You can explain to me while we get to my bike."

Ellen wrenched her arm out of his grip. "What about Batgirl?" she asked. "She got shot!"

"Do you want to go down and check on her, or do you want to go with me to save your friend? Your choice, Kiddo."

Ellen bit her lower lip. She couldn't just leave Batgirl, not after everything she'd done for her. Then she saw the pick-up start to pull out of the alleyway and she clenched her fists. She'd come this far. She wouldn't let Marisol down again. "Let's go!"

"Good girl." Red Hood gestured for her to follow him back down towards the fire escape. Out of the corner of her eye, Ellen saw Batgirl stirring by the beige car. I'm sorry, she thought. 

Red Hood's motorcycle was parked just out of sight around the corner from the alley entrance. "So," she heard him ask. "What's the story?"

"My friend's brother saw the guards do something at Arkham," Ellen explained. It still didn't fully make sense to her. "These guys kidnapped her to make him do something, that's what she told me before Bolton came."

"Bolton?" Red Hood repeated as he revved up his bike. "Lyle Bolton?"

"Yeah." Who was Lyle Bolton anyway? If he worked at Arkham, then maybe that was where he'd met her Dad and formed some kind of grudge, but how did Red Hood know him? Just what the Hell was going on? "Then they wanted to take me and use me against my Dad."

"Probably shouldn't have said you were Riddler's daughter, Kiddo," he said. The bike came to life. He inclined his head towards her. "You got a helmet in your backpack?" Ellen removed her backpack long enough to remove her helmet, strapped it on and swung the backpack over her shoulders before sitting behind Red Hood on his bike. This was insane, she thought. Red Hood was a killer, he was a gang lord himself, he was the best chance Marisol had now. She wrapped her arms around his waist. "Hold on tight," she heard Red Hood say. Then he hit the gas peddle and the bike flew out of the alley. If Ellen had looked behind her, she would have seen her father.


 

Blake had all but thrown the girl into the backseat before he started the pickup, hitting a trash can in his haste to get out of the alley. He took a sharp left turn and drove west down Main. Keeping one hand on the steering wheel, he used the other to dial Bolton's number. "Pick up, damn you, pick up," he muttered. He'd seen Pierce and MacIntyre get shot. He'd known them for almost ten years. He realized that the hand that was holding his cell phone was trembling. Goddamn Red Hood. He didn't sign up to face off against that maniac! Finally, Bolton picked up.

"Yeah?"

"Lyle," Blake said. "Did you see-"

"Yeah," Bolton answered. It occurred to Blake that Bolton sounded almost scared.

"What do we do? Should we call Strange?"

There was a pause before Bolton spoke again. "Every man for himself. Sorry, Blake." Then Blake heard the phone disconnect. He stared at it in disbelief and growing anger. This whole thing had been his idea, Burns was knocked out in the Narrows somewhere, Pierce, MacIntyre, and Morton were dead, and Bolton was bailing on him now? That son of a bitch...

"Let me out!" the girl shouted from the backseat. "What are you going to do to Ellie, you creep!?"

Blake let out a cry of frustration and threw his phone towards her. She shrieked and barely dodged the phone. "Shut up!" he shouted. He put his hand on the steering wheel and considered his options. It was almost three in the morning, and there were only a few cars out in this part of town now. Where was he exactly? Then he saw a sign on his right. Gotham West Side Bridge. Two Miles. Then he calmed down. No one would be on the bridge this late. He'd get there, pull over, and toss the brat into the river. He checked his rearview mirror. No sign of any cops. Then he caught movement. A motorcycle was coming up behind him. It was a few blocks down still, but it was gaining speed. He could just make out the driver's...red helmet. "Oh, Jesus!" Blake hit the gas.


 

The other cars, street signs, and the occasional vagrants on the streets were indistinct blurs to Ellen as she and Red Hood practically flew down the streets. She could feel her hair whipping about her face, obscuring her vision of the blue pickup slightly. The creep must have made them, for she could see it picking up speed, even crossing center line to get around another car. "Bastard," she heard Red Hood say. "I'm gonna hop up on the sidewalk, hold on." He veered the bike to the right and Ellen tightened her grip around him as she felt the bike hop onto the sidewalk. She thought she could see someone dart out of their way and she squeezed her eyes shut. She felt her stomach give a little jolt as the bike went back to the street level. She opened her eyes and saw that Red Hood had managed to close the distance. The blue pickup was now three cars ahead of them. Red Hood pressed the gas pedal and Ellen let out a little yelp as they surged up even closer. Two cars ahead now. They were so close Marisol, just hang on a little bit longer.

The blue pickup suddenly veered left, turning against a red light and almost colliding into an oncoming car. The screeched to a stop, honking its horn loudly. "No!" Ellen shouted, watching as the pickup haul ass down the street. "He's getting away!"

"Watch this." Red Hood took a sharp turn left, going around the car and following the pickup. Ellen held on tight as Red Hood avoided parked cars along the narrower street. The pickup made another sharp turn right, trying to shake them again, but Red Hood let out a low laugh. "Oh no, you don't." He turned right and hopped the curb again. Ellen turned left and watched as began to draw closer to the pickup. She let out an excited whoop in spite of herself.  If Marisol wasn't in danger, this would almost be fun.


 

Edward watched as the pickup and Red Hood's motorcycle disappeared down a side street and hit his steering wheel with a closed fist. "God damn it!" he shouted. He'd already started out two blocks behind them, and even with him pushing his dark green convertible as fast as he could, there was no way he could catch up to how fast they were going. 

"Calm down," he heard Black Bat say. She'd never gotten herself fully strapped in, instead hanging on to the handlebar above the passenger door. "That street leads to Grace St."

"I know where it leads," Edward snapped. As soon as they reached the spot where the pickup and the motorcycle had disappeared, Edward stopped the car and craned his head left, only to see no sign of either vehicle. He let out another frustrated shout. He had to find them. He had to get Ellen back.

"We can't catch them like this," Black Bat said, once again stating the obvious. "We need to figure out where they're going and head them off."

Edward was about to snap at her again when the rational side of his brain stepped in. "Right," he said. "You're right." They were in the border neighborhoods that separated the West Side from the Narrows. Red Hood's motorcycle was heading after the pickup truck, going west. If Red Hood had Ellen, that likely meant that the driver of the pickup had Ellen's friend. Arkham Island was off to the Northeast, so they couldn't be headed that way. It was in the pickup driver's best interests to lose Red Hood, dispose of Marisol Sanchez, and make a getaway. And the quickest way he could do all three things was-"They're going to the West Side Bridge," Edward said. He hit the gas and took off straight down Main. The vast majority of Gotham City was built on an island, with a series of bridges that connected the western section of the island to the more suburban mainland. The West Side Bridge was the smallest of these bridges, used more to accommodate industrial interests than the upper and middle-class commuters who worked in the city interior. It did, however, have one feature that would serve Edward's purposes brilliantly. He just needed to get there before they did. 

If he didn't, odds were good that he'd never see his little girl again.


 

 

They were almost perfectly parallel to the pickup now. The windows were tinted, but Ellen could just make out someone moving about the backseat. Red Hood veered to the left to land the bike back down on street level, and Ellen came face to face with Marisol. Her friend's eyes widened, and Ellen could see her mouth forming some words, probably her name. Ellen could see the driver too, that big creep. He was looking at them, or rather, at Red Hood. He looked terrified. much to Ellen's satisfaction. Her boldness back, she raised a hand up to him and displayed her middle finger. The driver's face curdled, then he veered the pickup right towards them. Ellen let out a shriek as Red Hood hopped back onto the curb. "Fucker," he growled. Then he removed his left hand from the handlebars of the motorcycle and moved it to his belt. When Ellen caught sight of his hand again, she realized that he was holding a pistol. She watched as he aimed it towards the pickup.

"What are you doing?" she shouted. "You'll hit Marisol!"

"I'm not aiming at the cab," he explained. He aimed the gun lower. "I'm going to take out his tire, try to slow him down a bit before we hit the bridge."

The bridge? Ellen looked up ahead and realized that they were maybe three blocks away from the West Side Bridge. Shit, she thought. If this creep made it across the bridge, he could get out of Gotham with Marisol. That couldn't happen. "Do it!" she shouted.

"Hold on," Red Hood said. He took aim at the tire and fired, but the bullet bounced uselessly off the rim. "I'm going to need to get closer," he said. "Hold on tight!"

"What do you think I've been doing!?" Ellen snapped. 

Red Hood just laughed. "Sassy little thing. Almost thought you were afraid of me." She was still, just a bit, but she was more afraid for Marisol. She did as he asked though and held on as he steered the bike off of the curb again, once again driving almost right beside the pickup. The driver saw them and once again, aimed his truck at them. Ellen grit her teeth. She'd had just about all she could take from this guy, from his friends, from this entire night. This time, as the truck came closer, she loosened her grip on Red Hood. "What are you doing?" she heard him ask.

"You can't get his tire if he keeps trying to run us off the road," she said. They were alongside the bed of the pickup, which was, thankfully, uncovered. If she jumped at just the right time, she could make it. Or she could be a mangled mess on the road. Ellen bit her lip. "I'm gonna jump in and distract him."

"Wait, what!? Kiddo-" The truck was almost directly alongside them. One more inch and it would collide with them. Ellen thought of Marisol, Batgirl, Gramma, her father, and her mother before she let go of Red Hood and stood up. She almost toppled over due to the speed they were going at, but somehow, she remained steady. She turned her body to the left, took a breath, and jumped, holding her arms out. She half expected to land on the pavement, but instead, the upper half of her body was in the bed, her legs dangling precariously over, just a few inches from the asphalt. With all of her strength, Ellen managed to pull herself all the way into the bed of the truck. She collapsed once she was inside, her breath coming in deep gasps. Then she pulled off her backpack, unzipped it, and pulled out her hammer. She got to her feet, wobbling unsteadily, and made her way to the back window of the pickup.

Jesus Christ, Jason thought as he watched the kid stand up in the bed of the pickup truck. He'd known there was something special about this kid. This kid, this stupid, lucky rookie, jumped off a motorcycle going over 60 miles an hour and into the bed of a pickup truck going the same damn speed without getting herself killed. Holy shit. Where had Nigma been hiding this kid!? Jason averted his eyes from the girl and towards the driver, who seemed to be just as shocked as he was. The driver's attention was solely on the kid as she made her way up to his back windows. Perfect. Making the shot would be easier without the extra weight of the passenger too. Jason fired again, this time, hitting the tire. The shock made the truck veer to the right a bit, knocking the kid, Enigma over. Jason jerked his head when he heard her let out a little shriek. Shit, he hadn't hurt the kid, had he? Within a moment, she was up again, still holding a hammer firmly in her hands. The truck made a sharp right turn, still somehow going with one tire rapidly losing air. Jason veered right as well to avoid being hit, falling a bit behind the truck. His eyes narrowed when he realized why the truck had made the turn. They were at the bridge now. Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw a dark green convertible pulled over on the side of the road, near the bridge's maintenance building. A worker at this time of night? He didn't have time to think about it as soon he saw sparks flying from the metal rim of the now gone tire rubbing against the asphalt. He could also see Enigma banging away at the window with her hammer. Probably trying to get her friend out. Jason smirked. Good girl. It would be over soon.

 

 


 

 

Edward had barely shut off the car alongside the main entrance to the bridge before he was unbuckled and out the door, running at top speed towards the maintenance building just to the right of the bridge's entrance. The West Side Bridge was unique among the city bridges in that it was a Bascule bridge. From the maintenance building control room, bridge engineers would use hydraulics to open the bridge up from the middle to allow boats to pass underneath. The best way to stop the chase and get Ellen and her friend back was to cut off the pickup drivers' escape route and box him in. Edward was at the door and attempted to push it open, only to find it locked. He jiggled the door uselessly. Somehow he'd managed to beat the other drivers here, but it would be for nothing if he couldn't get this damn door to open!

"Stand back."

Edward looked behind him and saw Black Bat holding what appeared to be a spray can in her hand. "And just what good is vandalism going to do us!?" he shouted.

"It's exploding gel," she said calmly. Too calmly. Did nothing phase this girl? She gently pushed him to the side and sprayed gel onto the door lock and frame. "Stand back," she said again. This time, Edward listened, his curiosity piqued by the device. Once she was done, Black Bat took a few steps back and pressed the top button on the dispenser. The gel exploded, blowing the door off of its hinges and sending it falling to the ground. As soon as the path was clear, Edward stepped over the door and into the control room, turning on the light switch. It would be a simple matter to turn on the mechanism to open the bridge, he just needed time. Then he heard the distinctive sounds of tires screeching and a motorcycle engine. Time was something that was in short supply. Edward got to work.


 

Ellen barely noticed the bridge as the truck began crossing it. All she saw was Marisol, looking at her through the truck's back windows, her dark brown eyes wide. Ellen gestured for her to move back. "I'm gonna break the window!" she shouted. "Look out for glass!" Marisol seemed to understand her and moved out of the way as much as she could. Winding the hammer back with all her might, Ellen swung it at the window. At first, it bounced off. Ellen swore. She swung back and hit the window again. This time, a crack formed. She swung back again and aimed at the crack. This time, the window shattered, sending glass into the truck and onto the bed. Rolling her sweatshirt sleeve over her hand, Ellen reached in and cleared away as much glass from the window frame as she could.

"Ellie!" she heard Marisol cry out.

Ellen reached her hand through the frame. "Grab my hand! I'll pull you out!" Marisol hesitated for a moment before she grabbed tightly onto Ellen's hand. Ellen dropped the hammer and reacher her left hand into the window as well, bracing her body against the back of the truck's cab and pulling Marisol through the gap with every bit of strength she had. Slowly, but surely, Marisol inched her way out of the cab and to the relative freedom of the truck, wincing a bit as stary pieces of glass cut her forearms, unprotected by her short-sleeved shirt. "Almost there," Ellen said. "You're almost there, Marisol!" Her words of encouragement seemed to be just what she needed, for as soon as Marisol's front half was out of the cab, she used her arms to push herself all the way out. Ellen braced her friend to steady her as she stood up in the bed.

"Ellie!" Marisol shouted again, her dark curls whipping about her face. "What do we do now?" The girls flinched at the sound of another gunshot and fell over when the truck suddenly seemed to drop a few feet. Ellen pulled herself up and looked to the right. Red Hood was right alongside them, and he'd shot out another tire. Why wasn't the creep stopping though? She felt Marisol tug on her hand. "Ellie! Look! The bridge!"


 

 

Blake had watched this Enigma kid break his window and pull her friend out with his jaw dropped. How-just who was this kid!? It occurred to him that if he reached behind him, he could grab the Sanchez girl's leg and pull her back in, but he'd need to take his eyes off the road to do that. If he did that, he could easily go through the meager railing set up along the bridge and plummet into the water below. So instead, he watched as the Sanchez brat joined her friend in the bed of his pickup. Red Hood was still alongside him, his gun aimed at his right rear tire now. Maybe if he veered right at just the right time, he could still ram Red Hood, knock him off the bike, send the girls flying, still get out of this in one piece, he looked ahead and let out a scream when he realized that the road ahead of him... was rising? It was rising! There were no boats in the water, why was the bridge opening up!? Who- Then Blake realized it with a cold chill. Nigma. He was here too. And Blake had just attempted to kidnap his daughter. Red Hood was here, Nigma was here, Bolton had abandoned him, there was no way he was getting out of this alive. Then he felt the truck jostle, and he knew Red Hood had taken out the rear tire too. The car would come to a stop any second now. He looked to the rearview mirror and saw the girls standing in the bed of the truck, pointing and shouting at the bridge. They probably thought they were saved now. Blake grit his teeth, then gripped hard onto the steering wheel. Well, if he was going to go, he wasn't going to go alone. He let out a final, exhilarated laugh. Screw you, Nigma.


 

 

Ellen fell over and almost landed on Marisol when the truck made a hard left. "What the fuck is he doing!?" she shouted. "He can't turn around! Not with two tires gone!"

"Ellie!" Marisol screamed. "He's going for the edge!"

Ellen looked up and realized with horror that Marisol was right. The creep was heading for the railing, the flimsy metal strands that kept people from going over the edge, and even though he was slowed by the loss of both of his right tires, he'd go through it any second. Ellen grabbed Marisol's arm and dragged her to the back of the bed. "Jump!"

Marisol looked at her and shook her head. "I can't! What about-"

"Do it!" Ellen shouted. Time seemed to slow down the closer the truck made it to the edge. Five. Four. Ellen shoved Marisol over the edge, hoping that the slower speed of the truck meant she wouldn't be too badly injured. Three. Two. She heard Marisol scream and watched her roll on the asphalt a bit, but pull herself up. She thought she heard her scream her name. Ellen put her heads on the edge of the truck bed, ready to follow.

One.

Ellen watched the road disappear and felt herself falling. It was too late. She was falling with the truck. She'd saved Marisol, but she was going to die. In a flash, she saw her life pass before her eyes. She saw her mother, Gramma, Marisol, Joe, Red, Jon and all their friends, her father, Auntie Nina and Deirdre, Batgirl-

Batgirl's words came to her in a flash. Press the top button to shoot it and the side button to retract. Ellen reached into her sweatshirt pocket and pulled out the grappling hook. She pointed it upward, aiming at the bridge above her, that seemed to be getting further away from her with every second. Top to shoot it. She fired, hoping against hope that her aim was true. Then she felt the line go taut. He had connected. Side button to retract. Ellen gulped and pushed the side button. She was airborne then, shooting upwards towards the bridge. She heard a great splash beneath her and realized that it was the car impacting the water. She didn't look beneath her to see it for herself, keeping her eyes on the asphalt and steel that was getting closer to her now, and she held onto the hook as tightly as she could. Finally, she stopped, just a foot away from safety. She dangled a bit, trying not to panic. "Hey!" she called out. "Somebody! Pull me up!" Red Hood appeared over the side then, reaching an arm down to her. 

"Take my hand!"

Ellen reached one hand up to Red Hood's keeping the other tight on the grappling hook. She reached out as far as she could and felt his firm grip around her hand, pulling her up and over the railing. Ellen let go of the grappling hook and collapsed against Red Hood, letting him gently place her on the ground. Then Marisol's face was in front of her, tears streaming from her eyes.

"Ellie!" she cried, wrapping her in a hug. "Are you okay!? I thought you died!"

Ellen let out a shaky laugh, unbuckled her bike helmet and tossed it to the ground, then returned her hug. "I'm okay, Marisol. I'm okay." She rubbed Marisol's back as her friend cried. It was over. It was really over now. Marisol was safe. They were safe. Then Ellen thought she heard another voice call her name. A male voice. She let go of Marisol and sat up, looking past her to see two figures running up to them. One was in black, probably Black Bat. Batgirl had said she was coming with Red Robin and-Ellen saw another figure running ahead of the one in black. A man in a green suit. He was calling her name. "Dad," she murmured. Ellen pushed herself up to her feet and began running on shaky legs to the figure. "Dad!" she cried out. Her vision was blurring now and she ran faster to him. "Dad!"

Her father's arms were out and open as he ran up to her and she launched herself into them, almost knocking him over with the force. He had his arms wrapped tightly around her, almost picking her up off the ground. "Ellen," she heard him. "Ellen, Ellen, Ellen." She felt his body shake a bit and she realized that he was crying. This caused her to start to cry in earnest now.

"I'm sorry Dad," she sobbed against him. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to, I just wanted-" she felt him press his lips on the top of her head and went still. He'd never kissed her before.

"I know," she heard him say soothingly. "I know, sweetheart. It's going to be alright. You're going to be alright. I'm going to take you home." Ellen sniffled, then hugged her father tighter. He did love her. He really did. 

"Hey, Eddie. Long time no see."

Ellen felt her father stiffen at the words and looked behind her to see Marisol, watching the scene with big eyes, and Red Hood, giving her father a wave. Ellen then squeaked a bit when her father roughly pushed her behind him. "Get out of here," he snarled. Ellen looked up at his face and gasped. He was angry now, angrier then she'd ever seen him, glaring at Red Hood and actually baring his teeth. "Get. Out. Of. Here." She'd never heard that tone of voice from him before. Was it the voice he'd used as a Rogue? It sounded like he would actually try to fight Red Hood if he got any closer. She tugged on her father's coat in a silent plea. He reached behind him to gently pet her head, not taking his eyes off of Red Hood for an instant. 

Red Hood scoffed. "Really? This is the thanks I get for looking after your kid?"

Ellen heard her father let out another low growl at that. He was seriously going to fight Red Hood. Black Bat stepped in between the two men then. "We can take it from here," she said calmly. "And we both know which one of us would win."

There was a long pause before Red Hood shrugged. "Whatever. Tell the boss I said hello." He then walked away from the small group of people, towards the motorcycle that lay on the road. He pulled it back up, then looked back towards Ellen and gave her a small wave. "See you round, Enigma."

"Over my dead body," Ellen's father said. 

Red Hood said nothing and revved the engine on his motorcycle. He drove past them and back towards the entrance of the bridge, back to wherever he came from. As soon as he was out of sight, Ellen saw her father relax. "Well then," he said in his normal tone of voice. He looked up at Marisol, who still stood frozen. "I believe it's high time to get you back to your parents."

Marisol's eyes lit up, then became troubled. "My brother-"

"That's being taken care of as I speak. Now, let's go."

Marisol stepped forward then, awkwardly rubbing a scraped elbow. "It's, um, it's nice to meet you, Mr. Nigma."

Ellen's father let out out a laugh at that. "It's nice to meet you too." 

Ellen let out a small laugh too when she remembered. "Batgirl! What happened to Batgirl?"

Her father looked down at her with a quizzical look. "Red Robin took her to a clinic in Park Row, why?"

Ellen chewed her lip and looked at her feet. "I wanted to thank her," she said. "And to say I was sorry. She got shot trying to protect me." She looked back up at her father to see that he looked almost stricken. Black Bat came up to her and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.

"She'll be okay. And it wasn't your fault. I'll tell her you sent your regards." She dropped her hand from Ellen's shoulder and was about to walk past her father when he said something too.

"Tell her I sent my thanks as well. And my apologies."

Black Bat raised an eyebrow, then smiled slightly. "I will. Let's go."

Ellen nodded, realizing just how heavy her eyelids felt. Now that the adrenaline of the night was wearing off, she realized just how tired she was. As soon as she was in the passenger seat of her father's car, she shut her eyes. She was sound asleep in seconds.


 

 

When Ellen woke up, she was lying on her back in her bed. She blinked for a moment, then turned her head towards her clock. It was well after noon. Had it all been a dream? Marisol, Bolton, Batgirl, Red Hood? She looked down at her clothes and realized she was still wearing her sweatshirt and striped tights. It wasn't a dream. It had really happened. She'd really been a superhero for a night. She let out a giggle despite herself. Wait, how had she gotten back in her Gramma's apartment? Then she heard a noise from the kitchen and realized who had to have taken her home. She jumped out of bed and ran to the living room.

Sure enough, her father was sitting at the kitchen table in front of a laptop computer. He looked up when he heard her enter and smiled. "Well, look who's rejoined the living!"

Ellen bolted to him. "Dad!" He got up from the table and accepted her hug, hugging her back. "What happened to Marisol? Is she okay?"

"She's fine," he reassured her. "I dropped her off at her home this morning before we came here. There were tears all around, as well as many questions about your welfare from Mrs. Sanchez." He stepped back a bit to give her a stern look. "I don't think I need to tell you that you're in very big trouble."

Ellen gulped. "Are you going to tell Gramma?"

"About the fact that you put on a costume and decided to play superhero, almost getting yourself killed God only knows how many times? No. She'd never let me near you again. About the fact that I caught you sneaking out in the wee small hours of the morning looking for your missing friend, which while not the full truth, also not a lie? Yes. I already have, actually." Ellen cringed. Gramma would never leave her alone for a weekend again. "Believe you me," he continued. "The three of us are going to have a very long, serious discussion about the lack of supervision, among other things when she gets back. And I think it goes without saying that you're grounded for the foreseeable future."

Ellen nodded. This was going to suck, but still, it wasn't as bad as she was afraid it might have been. "What about Miguel?" she asked. "Marisol told me that she got kidnapped because of something he saw. Is he okay?"

Her father smiled at that. "As a matter of fact, I'm waiting to hear from a friend about that now! She should be calling-" a ringing sound from his shirt pocket interrupted him. He pulled out the phone, then raised a finger at Ellen. "That would be her now, actually." He raised the phone to his ear and took a step towards the living room before answering. "Penelope!" Penelope? Right, that was Doc Young's name. About time! When is-" his face drained of color. "What?" he asked. "When?" He listened for a moment to whatever Doc Young was telling him, then turned back to Ellen with a shocked expression. Ellen felt her nerves begin to shake. What had happened? "I see," he said dully. "I see. No, I'm with Ellen now. I'll tell her. Thank you, Penelope." He hung up the cell phone, placed it back into his pocket, then ran a hand through his hair. He let out a long sigh, then turned to face Ellen. She realized that he was concerned. "Ellen," he said. "Sit down, sweetheart." 

Ellen took a seat at the dining room table. "What's wrong?" she asked. "Is it Miguel? Dad, what happened to Miguel?"

Her father took the seat across from her, then reached out to hold her hand. "I'm sorry. Miguel's dead."

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Ellen sat still for a long time, trying to process her father's words. Miguel was dead? That couldn't-how was that possible? She'd just seen him yesterday after Bolton had threatened him-had Bolton killed him? "What happened?" she finally asked. Her father looked like he didn't know how to respond. Her father always had something to say, the fact that he didn't now was just further proof that he wasn't lying. "What happened to Miguel?"

Her father looked down at his hands, which were folded in front of him on the table, and sighed. "Ellen, I'm not sure you need to hear-"

Ellen slammed her own palms down on the table, startling her father. "Fuck that!" she shouted. Her father's face darkened and he raised up a finger as if to scold her when she cut him off. "I saw a man die last night, Pops! I beat up three guys and almost fell off a goddamn bridge to save Marisol! I deserve to know what happened to Miguel!" Her father's face took on a stricken expression for a moment, before resuming a calculating look. "Please, Dad," Ellen pleaded. "He wasn't just my best friend's brother. He was my friend too."

Her father sighed again, then removed his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose. "My willful little girl," he muttered. He put his glasses back on and looked back at her. "Miguel turned himself into GCPD last night. He confessed to murdering a patient at Arkham Asylum."

Ellen gasped, then shook her head. "No," she said. "He wouldn't do that! Miguel cared about patients, he liked looking after people, he'd never hurt any-" Then she remembered what Marisol had said. She'd been kidnapped by Bolton and his goons to make Miguel do something. Miguel had told her himself that he'd fix it. The argument between Miguel and his parents, everything all made sense now. "Bolton told him to do it, didn't he? That's why he kidnapped Marisol. Bolton killed the patient, and he wanted Miguel to take the fall for it!"

Her father looked like he was about to say something, then he shook his head. "That's what Miguel believed, yes. He just about told Dr. Young as much when she spoke to him at GCPD, but she wasn't able to keep him from being taken to Gotham County."

"That's where he died?" Ellen asked. "Gotham County?" He'd died in jail, for something he didn't do, while that piece of shit Bolton was still out there. "What about Bolton?" she asked. She felt she should be crying, but instead, all she felt was a wave of red-hot anger. "He's not gonna get away with this! Marisol's back with her parents, she can tell the cops what he did to her!"

"Yes, she can," Ellen's father said. "Hopefully."

Ellen nodded, then froze. Marisol...after everything that happened to her last night, she'd just lost her big brother. She must be devastated. "I wanna go see her."

Her father frowned. "Ellen, she and her family might not be up for-"

"Please, Dad?" Ellen begged. "She needs me! Please?"

Her father took a deep breath. "All right. Go take a shower and get changed. I have a few calls I need to make."


 

 

It had seemed like a hundred years since Ellen had climbed the up the stairs that led to the Sanchez family apartment, even though it had been less than a day. Just twenty hours ago, Ellen hadn't been a costumed vigilante, Miguel had still been alive. Her father followed her on the way up, and she was glad for it. Every step she took, she could feel her composure unravel just a bit more. She'd try to stay strong for Marisol, but she was afraid that once she saw her best friend, she wouldn't be able to stop herself from crying. Finally, she came to the Sanchez family door. She took a breath, then knocked on the door. In a moment, the door opened, and Ellen saw Mrs. Sanchez.

Ellen had known Mrs. Sanchez since she was five years old. She'd been older than her own mother of course, but she'd always been a vibrant, young-looking woman. Now, she stood in front of Ellen with red-rimmed eyes, looking as if she had aged fifty years. "Ellen!" she choked out, and she stepped forward, enveloping her in a hug.

Ellen threw her arms around the older woman and squeezed her eyes shut to keep the tears from coming. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Sanchez," she said. "I'm so sorry about Miguel."

Mrs. Sanchez took a step back, then leaned down to kiss Ellen's forehead. "Thank you, sweetheart. And thank you for helping Marisol."

"Can I see her?" 

Mrs. Sanchez's face fell. "I'm sorry, but no. She's not feeling well now."

Ellen nodded and bit down on her lower lip. "Will you tell her I came by?"

"Of course, angel. Do you want to come in?"

"Mia," Mr. Sanchez's voice called out. He stepped up to the front door and Ellen was struck by how run down he looked. If Mrs. Sanchez had looked like she'd aged fifty years, Mr. Sanchez looked like he'd aged a hundred. "Marisol is asking for you."

Mrs. Sanchez nodded and went back into the apartment. Ellen took a step to follow her in when Mr. Sanchez held his arm out. Ellen looked up at him, confused. "Mr. Sanchez?"

Mr. Sanchez looked down at her with a look she'd never seen from him before. His dark eyes were boring into her as if he'd caught her in the act of something. He took a deep breath. "Thank you," he said as if it was painful for him to say, "For what you did for Marisol. But don't come back here again."

Ellen took a step back. Mr. Sanchez's words were more painful than the slap she'd received from that thug last night. "What-why? What did I do?" She took a step forward. "Mr. Sanchez, what did I do?"

Mr. Sanchez came out of the apartment fully, shutting the door behind him as he stepped out into the hall. Behind her, Ellen could hear her father taking a step forward as well. She peeked out of the corner of her eye and saw that his eyes were narrowed as he considered Mr. Sanchez.

"We lost Miguel," Mr. Sanchez said. "We almost lost Marisol. We're not going to risk anything else happening to her because of you."

"Because of me?" Ellen repeated. "Because of me!? I haven't done anything! I-"

"It's not what you've done," Mr. Sanchez said. "It's what you are." His gaze moved from Ellen to behind her. Ellen turned and realized that he was staring right at her father. "We can't have that around Marisol. Not anymore.

The last parts of Ellen's composure began to break down completely now. "I'm still me," she said, her words shaky. "Mr. Sanchez, please, you've known me for ten years, I'm still me!"

"I'm sorry, Ellen," Mr. Sanchez said, shaking his head. "But this is goodbye. Don't come by again. And don't call Marisol again."

Ellen couldn't stop the sobs now. She reached up to rub her eyes. "Please don't do this," she pleaded. "She's my best friend, please!"

"You insufferable coward."

Ellen and Mr. Sanchez turned to see Ellen's father, fury emanating from his body as he walked past Ellen up to Mr. Sanchez, his fists clenching at his sides. Without warning, he grabbed the older man by his shirt and threw him up against the wall. "Dad!" Ellen shouted.

"You ingrate!" her father screamed into Mr. Sanchez's face, either not hearing her or not listening. "If it wasn't for my daughter, your daughter would be dead! My daughter almost died last night while you cowered at home! How dare you try to claim that she's the one endangering your daughter!? You did that when you prevented your son from going to the police! If you hadn't, if you hadn't been such a gutless coward, maybe he'd still be alive!"

Mr. Sanchez's frightened face turned purple with rage and he snarled, attempting to surge forward and attack her father, but her father merely moved his hands to his throat. Ellen realized that he was about to strangle him. She ran forward then and tugged on his coat. "Dad!" she cried out again. "Stop! Please!"

Her father dropped his hands and took a few steps back, then looked down at Ellen as if he'd woken up from a dream. "Ellen..." Mr. Sanchez moved quickly, opening the door to his apartment and slamming the door behind him. Ellen heard the door lock and her heart shattered. 

She'd known the Sanchez family for ten years. She'd thought she was almost part of that family, but now she was on the other side of a locked door, unable to see her best friend ever again. The sobs came now and her legs felt wobbly. "What did I do?" she asked. "What did I do? Why does he hate me now?" She felt herself almost collapse and her father was there, holding her in a tight hug. Ellen buried her face into his shirt, the way she had when her mother had held her when she was little. "What did I do, Dad?" Her father rubbed her back awkwardly but said nothing. He had no words for her.


 

Stephanie hissed a bit as she steeled back against the leather sofa in Bruce's living room. According to Dr. Thompkins, the bullet had just grazed her thigh, missing any important arteries, but moving her leg still hurt. "Two weeks of no patrol," she grumbled. "Great."

"It could have been worse, you know," Tim said in the spot next to her left. He handed her a glass of water that he'd fetched for her. She took it with an indulgent smile. Tim had been hovering about her since they'd arrived at the manor a half hour ago. Cassandra had too, sitting in the spot on her right. She was just less obvious about it. "Dr. Thompkins said you need to make sure you don't aggravate your injury."

"I know, I know," she said. "You know how I feel about being benched though. I hate being bored."

Tim let out a short laugh. "Don't I just know it!"

Stephanie laughed a bit, then turned to Cassandra. "Nigma really almost picked a fight with Jason when you guys found Enigma? Seriously?"

Cassandra shook her head. "Not almost. If I hadn't stepped in, he would have."

Tim let out a low whistle. "Wow."

"He cried too when we found her. He really does love his daughter."

Stephanie took a sip of her drink, considering both Cass's words and what Ellie had told her last night. She put her drink down on the table in front of the couch. "Yeah, well I hope he tells her at least. She needs to hear it from him."

"He will," Cass said. 

Stephanie shook her head. "What a night. At least Enigma and her friend are safe. Did Bruce ever get around to finding out what exactly was going on?"

"Yes," Bruce answered himself, entering the room at last. He sat down in the Ottoman chair that was on the other side of the coffee table, directly across from the couch Stephanie, Tim and Cassandra were crowded on. "The girl who was abducted, Marisol Sanchez, had a brother, Miguel Sanchez, who worked as an orderly at Arkham Asylum. He turned himself into GCPD last night and confessed to murdering Victor Goodman."

"King Tut?" Tim asked. "I thought he committed suicide!"

"That was the official story," Bruce said. "But Miguel claimed that he murdered Goodman."

"Why?" Stephanie asked. "If it was a suicide-" then she put the pieces together. "Goodman really was murdered, but not by Miguel. Bolton must have done it, and Miguel knew. Bolton kidnapped his sister to blackmail him into taking the fall for Goodman's murder!" Stephanie cracked her knuckles. "So, when do we go drag Bolton's butt to GCPD?"

"We don't," Bruce said.

Stephanie looked stunned. "We don't? Why the Hell not!? At the very least, we've got him on kidnapping-"

"You said that Marisol Sanchez 'had' a brother," Cass said. "He's dead, isn't he?"

Bruce's facial expression didn't change, but he nodded. "Yes. He was found hanging in his cell at Gotham County. The GCPD coroner has declared it as a suicide."

A long silence came over the small group. "Someone must have gotten to him," Tim said at last. "Maybe not Bolton, but someone connected to Arkham. They're trying to keep whatever's going on at the Asylum quiet."

"Which means that the rest of the Sanchez family is in danger too," Cass added.

"And Enigma," Stephanie said. "Those creeps with Bolton were trying to take her too. We have to protect her-"

"I just had a very long, very difficult conversation with Edward Nigma about this," Bruce said. Stephanie realized for the first time just how irritated Bruce was. She was glad she hadn't been around to hear that phone call. "He was very insistent that we stay away from his daughter. He doesn't want her involved any further in whatever Strange is doing at Arkham."

Stephanie scowled. "Is he serious!?"

"He's just trying to protect her," Cass defended. "He's her father."

"I get that Cass, but Enigma could help put Bolton away!"

"She violated the Costume Ordinance though," Tim pointed out. "If she came forward, they'd throw her in Juvie. And since Bolton knows that she's Nigma's daughter, Strange must know now too. We can't risk her real name getting out there."

"I agree," Bruce said. "Which is why none of you are going to approach her." His steel blue eyes drifted to Stephanie in particular and she immediately was on guard. "I know that you formed some kind of bond with her," he said almost gently. "But this is for the best. The Sanchez family need to be the ones to come forward and tell Gordon what happened."

Stephanie was relieved that Bruce didn't seem angry with her, but she still didn't agree with this. "Even if they do and Bolton does go down, this isn't the last we've seen of Enigma. She put a costume on once. Twice now, actually. She'll do it again. She's like us, Bruce, whether Nigma wants to admit it or not."

Bruce said nothing, which meant that he agreed with her.

"What about Jason?" Tim asked darkly. 

Bruce's expression darkened as well. "I'll be speaking with Jason about this. In the meantime, get some rest. All of you." He gave Stephanie a nod. "Especially you, Stephanie. You did a good job."

Bruce's praise was still something she'd never thought she'd get used to, but Stephanie couldn't complain too much. "Thanks, Boss." Her smile faded though as she thought of Ellie. One way or another, they'd meet again. She was sure of it.


 

Monday, 9:30 am

While Bolton had recounted everything that had happened, Strange said nothing. He'd just kept his gaze locked onto Bolton's own, his mouth drawn in a straight line. Bolton almost stumbled over a few words, he was that unnerved by Strange's demeanor. "...So Blake had the Sanchez kid, and Red Hood I guess took off with Nigma's brat," he finished, not noticing or caring about the flash of irritation that crossed Strange's face at the mention of Nigma's brat. "I don't know for sure what happened after that. I came straight here."

"I see," Strange's deep voice rumbled. "Luckily for you, I do. Blake is dead."

Bolton looked slack-jawed at Strange. "Red Hood?"

"No. He ran his car off the West Side Bridge. The GCPD were alerted yesterday when the bride's maintenance crew reported an unauthorized raising of the bridge. They found evidence that a car had gone over the side and conducted a search. They found Blake's truck and his body earlier this morning."

Bolton looked down at his feet. Damn. Blake and he had gone way back. Wait, but if Blake was dead-"What about the Sanchez girl?"

"Her body was not recovered, which means either it drifted away, or she's still very much alive." The thunderous expression on Strange's face told Bolton exactly which option the good doctor thought was more likely.

Bolton gulped. "I can still fix this. Let me go over to the house, I can wipe them all out-"

"My man in GCPD has already taken care of that. Unlike you, he knows the value of discretion." Strange sat up from his desk, and Bolton realized not for the first time how physically imposing he was. "Do you have any idea just how much your misadventure could have cost us!?"

Bolton grit his teeth and clenched his fists. "Hey, don't dump this on me! You're the one who didn't know about Nigma's kid! This would have gone off without a hitch if that little bastard hadn't gotten involved!"

Strange's only response was a cold laugh. "Do you mean to tell me," he said mockingly, "That all it took to derail you was a little upstart in a homemade costume? That does not inspire me with confidence in your future endeavors."

Bolton sneered. "Just give me two days. I'll find that little brat and make her sorry she was ever born!"

"You will do no such thing," Strange said firmly. "I told you once not to pursue the girl. You didn't listen, and now four of your cohorts are dead, two of them at the hands of Red Hood, who seems to have taken an interest in the child. Are you willing to go up against him a second time?"

Bolton nervously licked his lip at the thought. "So you're just going to ignore her?"

"For the time being. Miguel Sanchez's unfortunate demise had bought us time to clean this mess up." Well, at least Miguel was dead. That fact brought a smile to Bolton's face. Then Strange gestured towards him. "Come. I wish to show you something." Strange walked out from behind his desk towards his bookshelf. He pulled a book out and the shelf opened, startling Bolton somewhat. Behind the shelf was a hidden door, locked by an electronic keypad. Bolton watched as Strange entered a key sequence and the door opened. "Follow me." Bolton did as Strange requested, cringing a bit as the door shut behind him. He followed Strange down a narrow hallway until they came to another door, locked by another keypad. Strange entered a key code and the door opened. Bolton realized that it was a doctor's examination room. "This is where I conduct certain experiments of mine," Strange said. Bolton's attention was drawn immediately to the center of the room.

There, strapped to a doctor's chair, was Burns. Bolton rushed over to him. He was unresponsive, his mouth opening and closing in silent gasps, his eyes open, glassy, and vacant. His body looked battered beyond what had happened to him in the Narrows and Bolton's nose curdled at the smell coming off of him. He turned back to Strange with a glare. "What the Hell did you do to him!?"

Strange just chuckled. "Burns is my newest volunteer for a certain...device that I will be implementing in the near future, courtesy of our dear friend Jervis Tetch." His smile turned into a glare at Bolton. "The Mayor still insists that you have some use to him, so you may consider this a warning. One more slip up Bolton, and you will be sharing Burns' fate. Is that clear?"

Bolton looked from Strange to Burns, and back to Strange. He nodded. "Yes."

"Yes, what?"

Bolton clenched his fists. "Yes, Sir."

"Very good. You may leave."


Monday, 12:30 PM

It was Monday afternoon instead of Friday morning, but given the circumstances, Edward didn't think Penelope would mind too much if he stopped by. And if he could be honest with himself, he needed to see her more than anyone else right now.

She was sitting at her desk, frustrated, and unless he was mistaken, genuinely upset about the fate of Miguel Sanchez. "Someone got to him. I'm sure of it. Ward or someone must have had people on the inside to shut Miguel up! I should have seen that coming! I didn't even stop to think about it!"

"If that's true," Edward said. "Then Miguel's fate was sealed the moment he decided to go along with Bolton's demands. There's no point blaming yourself for it."

Penelope sighed. "You're right. It's just...Miguel Sanchez was going to go public with how Strange allows the staff to mistreat the patients. He gave us enough to call Strange into question at least, but the word of a dead man who was the self-confessed murderer of Victor Goodman isn't enough. We're going to need to use what he gave us strategically." She looked up at Edward and her face softened just a bit. "How is Ellen holding up?"

Edward sighed and took off his hat long enough to run a hand through his hair. "Not well. I stayed with her yesterday and today until her grandmother came home." He flinched a bit when he recalled that meeting. "Rachel's going to be keeping her home from the school for the next few days until she feels better."

Penelope frowned a bit. "She's taking Miguel's death that hard?"

Edward shook his head. "It's not just Miguel." He sighed. "When I spoke to the Sanchez parents, they wouldn't cooperate with me until..."

"You told them you were Ellen's father," Penelope finished. "And they didn't take it well?"

"Mrs. Sanchez seemed to be alright with it. Mr. Sanchez though told Ellen to her face that he thought it would be too dangerous for his daughter to associate with her. Ellen was devastated. She spent the rest of yesterday crying." Edward shut his eyes when he recalled that. "I'm the cleverest man in Gotham, one of the cleverest in the whole world," he said softly. "And when my daughter asked me why he was treating her like a pariah for something she has no control over, I couldn't think of a single thing to say to her."

Penelope sighed herself. "Mr. Sanchez just lost his son. He almost lost his daughter. In his grief, he might be lashing out at Ellen as a scapegoat. If you give it time, he might come around."

"And in the meantime, Ellen can be separated from her best friend of ten years because her mother had the bad sense to sleep with a Rogue sixteen years ago," Edward groused, getting up from his chair and walking towards the window that overlooked the street. Edward looked out and let out another sigh. "Rachel blames me for what happened you know. She blames me every time Ellen does something she doesn't approve of course, but this time," his shoulders sagged a bit. "This time, she's absolutely right."

"Edward," he heard Penelope say. "You're not the one who forced Ellen to put on a costume and run after her friend. You've made it quite clear to me at least that you don't want her to go down that road."

"I don't," Edward agreed. "I never did. I never wanted Ellen to follow in my footsteps, or to have any inkling of what's going on between us and Strange." He leaned his forearm against the window and touched his forehead to the glass. "I really thought that I'd be able to manage it too. That if nothing else, I could keep all the ugliness of my life away from her." He shook his head. "I never should have done it."

"Done what?" Penelope asked.

Edward sighed. "Last year, when I found out for certain she was my daughter, I decided that all I was going to do was write her grandmother a check every month. I'm no father. Ellen was better off without me trying to pretend that I was. When she came to my office, and I told her as much, she gave me this look..." He'd remember that look for the rest of his life. That pleading expression, the unshed tears. "It was like I was looking into my own face when I was a child. I decided that I couldn't do to her what my parents did to me. I decided then that I was going to try to be in her life."

"And you regret that now?"

Edward slowly nodded. "I came into her life and look what happened. She almost got killed trying to be a costumed type, because she thought if I could do it, she could too. She's estranged from her best friend, the exact same person she risked her life to save, because of my association with her. If it ever gets out publically that I'm her father, she'll have a target on her back for the rest of her life. Maybe it's for the best if I walk away."

"Would that be for the best for Ellen, or would it be the best for you?" Edward turned at the almost angry tone in Penelope's voice. She had gotten out of her chair at some point while he'd been looking out the window and was just in front of him, glaring up at him. "Do you really think that if Bolton, or Strange, or if anyone else you've angered found out about her tomorrow, that they would stop and care about how involved you are in her life before they targeted her? Did the fact that we were fighting at the time stop Victor Goodman from abducting me to get to you? If you're in her life, at the very least, you can protect her. You're not going to be able to completely shield her from the fallout that comes with being your daughter, but you can guide her through it. There are questions that are going to come up in her life that only you can answer. She was the one who sought you out, Edward. Even knowing who you were, she came looking for you. Maybe you're right, and she doesn't need the Riddler, or even Edward Nigma, Private Investigator in her life. But she needs her father, now more than ever." She hesitated for a moment, then reached up to cup his face. "You decided to be in her life because you know first hand what parental rejection can do to a child. You made the choice to be a better man than your own father was. Live up to it."

Edward stared into her eyes for a long time, taking her words in. Then his jaw set in determination. He walked past her, towards her door. "Where are you going?" he heard her ask.

He grabbed his coat from her coat rack and pulled it on. "I'm going to fix this," he said, not looking back.


 

 

An hour later, he was standing outside the Sanchez door, pounding on it. "Open up! We need to talk!"

The door opened, and Mrs. Sanchez appeared, shocked. "Mr. Nigma! What are you-" 

Edward pushed past her and entered the apartment. Mr. Sanchez was in the living room, dragging a suitcase behind him. On the couch was Ellen's friend, Marisol, that was her name. She jumped up when she saw him. "Are you planning to go on vacation, Mr. Sanchez?" he asked.

Mr. Sanchez turned pale. "We got a call from someone today," he said. "They told us if we knew what was good for us, we'd get out of town!"

Strange no doubt was attempting to tie up loose ends. "You know if you do that," he said. "That you're giving up the chance to send Bolton to jail for what he did to your daughter?"

Marisol teared up then, and Mrs. Sanchez ran to her, holding her in her arms. "We can't put her through that," she said. She looked up at Edward with pleading eyes. "Please, we can't lose her like we lost her brother. We have to protect our baby girl."

Edward looked at her for a long time. After everything that had happened with Ellen, after his own conversations with Batman, with Penelope, he thought now that he understood her. "I can get you out," he said at last. "I can get you out of Gotham. I can make it so that no one will be able to find you."

Mrs. Sanchez cried then. Mr. Sanchez looked up at him with amazement in his eyes. "You would do that for us?"

"For you? No," Edward said. "I'm doing this for your daughter. For my daughter. And I'll only do it on one condition."

Mrs. Sanchez looked distressed. "We can't afford to-"

"I don't want money," Edward said shortly. "This is what I want."


 Monday, 8:30 PM

 

Ellen woke up to the sound of raised voices coming from her living room. She slowly sat up in her bed, rubbing her puffy, red eyes. She peered at the clock by her bedside. It was just past 8:30. She'd spent the whole day in her room, alternating between tossing and turning and crying. She'd never bothered changing out of her pajamas. Gramma had tried to bring her food, but her stomach hurt too much to have anything more than a few sips of water. She frowned a bit as she heard Gramma's voice now. "...Haven't you done enough!? What are you doing here!?" Who was she talking to?

Then she heard another voice. "My daughter is in distress. Where should I be?" Ellen blinked. Dad? What was he doing here?

"This is all your fault!" she heard Gramma shout again. 

"I'm aware of that," Dad said, and he sounded serious. "Let me be perfectly frank: I don't know what passed between me and Diane, and whatever it was, I wish I could take it back, but I can't. You are perfectly free to hold that as well as all of my other sins against me. We can see each other as little as you want and when Ellen turns 18, we'll never have to deal with each other again. In the meantime, however, I am not going to let your ill feelings stop me from being Ellen's father. Now, I'll ask you again, may I see her?"

Ellen opened the door to her room before Gramma could tell Dad to fuck off and padded down the hallway. Both adults looked at her as she walked into the living room, their faces mirroring each other in concern. "Ellie, baby," Gramma said, walking over to her and smoothing back her red hair. "We didn't wake you, did we?"

Ellen shook her head. "No, Gramma." She looked past Gramma to look at her father, who was still hanging back by the front door. "Hey, Dad."

Her father came forward then, ignoring Gramma's glare and gently touching her shoulder. "Hi, sweetheart."

"What are you doing here?" Ellen found herself asking. Not that she wasn't glad to see him, but he usually didn't push his luck whenever Gramma chased him out like she'd done earlier that day.

"I wanted to see if you were up to going for a ride."

Gramma frowned. "It's after 8:30 at night. Where on Earth would you be taking her?"

"Just for a car ride," Dad said smoothly. "We won't be gone more than an hour. If you're up to it, Ellen."

Ellen nodded. "Let me get changed."

"Ellen-" Gramma started. At the pleading look Ellen shot her, she relented with a sigh. "Alright. But for one hour. If you aren't back by 10:00, I'm coming after you."

Ellen gave her a hug. "Thanks, Gramma."


 

Ellen and her father passed the car trip in silence. Ellen had guessed that Dad would want to use the time to talk with her about everything that had happened, but instead, he kept his eyes on the road. Ellen watched out the window as they left the Lower West Side, crossed into Park Row, the East End, the Industrial District...she frowned. Where were they going? Finally, they arrived at the East End Docks. Her father pulled the car over and put it in park. "What are we doing here?" she asked him.

"You'll see," he answered. "Follow me."

Was this a riddle of his? Ellen unbuckled her seat belt and followed her father out of his car and down the wooden planks that made up the old docks. At the far end of the boardwalk they were walking down, Ellen saw three people standing in front of a boat. In the darkness, she couldn't quite make out their faces. Then one of the figures called out her name and rushed towards her. Ellen realized with a jolt who it was. "Marisol!" She ran down the dock, meeting her friend halfway and opening her arms. Marisol returned her embrace and the girls both began to cry.

"I'm sorry," Marisol gasped. "I didn't know what Papa said, I never-"

"It's okay," Ellen said. "It's okay." She looked in front of her to see Mrs. Sanchez looking at the pair with tears in her eyes. Mr. Sanchez couldn't look her in the eyes, instead staring down at his feet. "I'm so sorry about Miguel," Ellen said. 

Marisol stifled a sob, then hugged her tighter. "It's not your fault," she said. 

Ellen took a step back to fully take in their surroundings. Why were they here at the docks? Did Dad bring them here? She turned around to look at her father. "What's going on? Why are we here?"

Her father exchanged a long look with Mrs. Sanchez before he spoke. "Ellen," he said. "The people who work with Bolton sent Marisol and her family a threat. They aren't safe in Gotham right now."

Ellen dropped her arms. Now she understood. Dad had brought her here to say goodbye. "Where are you going?" she asked Marisol in a small voice. 

"Puerto Rico," Marisol answered. "We'll be staying near my Aunt and Uncle."

Ellen bit her lower lip. "How long?"

"I don't know," Marisol answered. "I don't know if we'll ever come back."

So even after everything she'd done to keep Marisol safe, Ellen was about to lose her anyway. "So I'll never even get to talk to you again?"

"Not quite," her father said. He walked up and gave each girl a slip of paper. "These are email addresses that you can use to communicate with each other. I've made it so these emails can't be traced. Once you're settled in Puerto Rico, I can get a secure phone number set up so you two can talk to each other."

Ellen's eyes welled up again. "Thanks, Dad."

Her father gave her a quick smile, then nodded towards the boat. "It's time."

Ellen hugged Marisol again, as tightly as she could. It might be the last time. "I'll try to get to Puerto Rico someday. I promise."

Marisol let out a shaky laugh. "Two art majors against the world, right?"

Ellen smiled through her tears. "Right."

"Marisol," Mr. Sanchez called out. 

Marisol reluctantly pulled away. "Bye, Ellie." 

Ellen gave her a tiny wave. "Bye."

Marisol wiped her eyes, then followed her parents onto the boat. Within minutes, the boat pulled away from the dock, out into the Gotham Bay, towards the Atlantic. Ellen stood for a long time watching the lights on the boat twinkle on the horizon, the lights blurring through her tears until they disappeared into the inky darkness of the night. At some point, her father had joined her, standing at her side.

"You helped them get out," Ellen said when she'd lost sight of the boat. "Why?"

"Because she's your friend," her father said. "And I should have listened to you at the beginning of all this. I'm sorry."

Ellen could count on one hand how many times she'd ever heard her father apologize. "Thank you. " She rubbed her eyes. "I'm sorry too. For running off, for what I said about Scare-about Jonathan."

Her father took a quick breath, then draped an arm around her, pulling her close to him. "I know."

Ellen snuggled up to her father, taking comfort in his presence, but still having questions. "Why?" she asked. "Why do Marisol and her family have to leave Gotham? Who is Bolton anyway? Why is he such a big deal?"

Ellen felt her father stiffen. "Ellen, when I first met you, I told you there were parts of my life that you couldn't be involved in-"

"Dad," Ellen said, keeping her tone as measured as she could. "I am involved. Please?"

Her father let out a sigh. "Alright." He told her a story, a story of having the Mayor as a client, of a conspiracy, of an Arkham doctor named Strange. Ellen listened with rapt attention, every odd thing she'd noticed about her father, every question she had about just why he met with Doc Young explained. When he finished, her tears had dried. Her sadness at saying goodbye to Marisol turned to anger at the men who had killed her brother and driven her and her parents into hiding. "And here we are," her father said.

Ellen clenched her fists. "They aren't getting away with this," she seethed. "Bolton, Sharp, Strange, all of them! They're gonna pay for this!"

"That is my intention, yes," her father quipped.

Ellen looked up at him. "Let me help! I helped stop that Bolton creep once-"

"Absolutely not," her father said firmly. 

"Oh come on Pops!"

Her father shook his head again. "Ellen," he said gently. "Do you know why me, your grandmother, and your mother were so secretive with you?"

Ellen resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "Because telling anyone that you're my Dad is dangerous. I get that, Old Man."

"It's not just about keeping you safe from physical danger, although that is the chief reason." Her father sighed. "Ellen," he said again. Do you remember how Mr. Sanchez reacted towards you when he found out you were my daughter? He's not the only person who would react that way. There are people in this world, stupid, ignorant, fearful people, who once they found out you were my daughter, would only ever see you as my daughter. They would judge you for that without any attempt to see you for who you are. Any good that you did as Enigma would be overshadowed by the fact that I'm your father. That's not the life I want for you, or the life your grandmother or mother wanted for you."

Ellen sighed deeply herself, considering her father's words. "I get that," she said. "But I can't just sit back and do nothing. That's not who I am."

"We can revisit this conversation when you're 18. In the meantime, please, do as I say. Please. I don't think I can survive another scare like that."

Ellen huffed. "Alright." She would. For now. She then hugged him. "For what it's worth," she said. "There's a lot worse things I could be then your daughter. Even if you are a jerky old man."

Her father laughed at that. "Well, there's also worst things I could be then your father, you willful little brat."

Ellen giggled a bit. "I love you, Dad."

Her father hugged her a bit tighter. "I love you too, Ellen." Ellen smiled. Despite everything, at least she knew now beyond a shadow of a doubt that her Dad did indeed love her. "Now, let's get you back home before your Grandmother comes after us."


 

Three days later

 

Thursday evening, Ellen came out of her apartment building, lugging a trashbag to the dumpster in the buildings rear parking lot. The only non-school related trip she'd be making outside for the next six weeks, as per Dad and Gramma's edicts. She huffed as she opened the dumpster lid and threw the bag inside. It wasn't so bad at least. She'd received her first email from Marisol that day, telling her that they'd made it to Puerto Rico, that her parents had gotten new jobs. Knowing she was alive and safe made some of the pain go away. Her costume was still hidden away in her closet. Despite her father's wishes, Ellen couldn't bring herself to get rid of it. Bolton was still out there, still walking free. One way or another, Ellen wanted to be the one to take him down.

"Hey."

Ellen startled when she heard the voice and turned around. Standing less than five feet away from her was Red Hood. She jumped back. "What the fuck!?"

Red Hood raised his hands up. "Easy, Kiddo. I don't bite, remember?"

"What are you doing here? How did you find me?"

"Followed your Old Man here couple days ago."

Ellen narrowed her eyes. Despite his help, she didn't trust him. "So what do you want? You trying to get back at my Dad for something?"

Red Hood chuckled a bit. "If I have a problem with Eddie which I don't, I'll settle with him directly.  Came to see you, actually."

Ellen relaxed, somewhat. "Why?"

"I like you."

"Gross."

"Not like that, Kiddo!" Red Hood shook his head. "Man. No, you're scrappy. You don't give up easily and you see things through to the end." His voice became a bit lower. "You remind me of someone I used to know."

"What's your point?"

"Blunt. As far as the costumed things go, you're okay. I could make you good."

Ellen blinked. "Wait, what? What are you talking about?"

"You want to get back at Bolton for what he did?"

Ellen bit her lip. "Yeah."

"Thought so. I could teach you how to take him down."

The Red Hood wanted to teach her how to be a superhero? "Holy shit. Really?"

"Really."

"My Dad doesn't want me to get involved. He says its too dangerous."

"It is," Red Hood agreed. "But Bolton knows you exist. Sooner or later, he's going to try to come after you again. And your Dad and the Batkids might not be there to protect you. I can teach you how to protect yourself and other people from him." He came closer to her and held out his hand. "What do you say, Enigma? You in?"

Ellen looked at his hand. She thought of what she'd seen him do, how he'd saved her, helped her save Marisol. She thought of Marisol, and how her life got ruined by Bolton. She thought of Bolton, and how she wanted nothing more than to take him out for good. She shook his hand. "I'm in."

 

Case Closed?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Friday, April 18th, 2007

 

When Edward arrived at Penelope's office that morning, he was surprised at how agitated she was. "Edward!" she said, not even giving him time to hang up his coat before she approached him, her eyes flashing with concern. "Montoya and I went to Gordon with what Miguel Sanchez told us in interrogation. Montoya and Schrader went to the Sanchez house to speak with them yesterday and they were gone!"

Oh. Edward realized sheepishly that he hadn't gotten around to telling her what had happened. "They aren't in any danger if that's what you're worried about, Penelope."

"How do you-" Penelope's mouth dropped open a bit when she made the connection. "You got them out of Gotham, didn't you?" She put her hands on her hips and glared at him. "Why didn't you tell me!? They were the best chance we had at putting Bolton in jail!"

Edward was no stranger to facing off against angry women, but Penelope's wrath was something he tried to avoid. "I told them as much," he said, raising his hands a bit. "When I went to their home Monday, Mr. Sanchez told me that they'd received a threat. After what happened to their son, they weren't willing to risk anything happening to their daughter. They were already packed. I merely eased their passage."

Penelope seemed to deflate a bit and she slowly nodded. "I see," she sighed. "I understand why they left, but I wish you'd told me." Then her face softened a bit. "What about Ellen?"

Edward finished removing his coat and hung it up on the coat rack next to the door. "I took her with me to the North Docks to say her goodbyes," he said. "I also set up an email for her and her friend so they can stay in touch with each other. Once the Sanchez family are settled in, I'll be setting up a phone number as well for them as well." He turned to face Penelope and was surprised by the look on her face. She wasn't angry, she seemed...satisfied? "What?"

Penelope shook her head. "For someone who admits to not being a good person, sometimes you can do an acceptable impression of one."

Edward huffed a bit and ignored the fact that his face was flushing. "Was that a compliment? From you? Is the sky falling?"

Penelope rolled her eyes. "I don't know what I expected," she murmured.

Edward laughed a bit. "Indeed." He fiddled a bit with the head of his cane. "I told Ellen what's been going on."

Penelope's face went instantly back to its default, serious expression. "And?"

"She wants to help, which I firmly said no on. I only told her so that she knew to stay away from Bolton and anyone connected to Sharp or Strange."

Penelope nodded. "That's for the best." She turned on her heel and walked back to her desk, back to the business at hand. "Without her or the Sanchez family though, we can't make a case against Bolton for kidnapping."

"Don't concern yourself too much about Bolton," Edward said. A cold smirk formed on his face. "He's going to receive a sharp lesson."

Penelope looked at him with slightly widened eyes. "You're not going to-"

"Kill him? No," Edward reassured her. "The less you know, the better. But Bolton can't think that he can hurt my daughter without suffering some kind of consequences."

Penelope looked like she didn't know how to respond to that, but she relaxed slightly and continued on. "The GCPD coroner is standing by his autopsy. Now that Miguel's parents are gone, I can't come up with any sound reason to have a second one performed." She sat back down in her chair and leaned back. It occurred to Edward that she looked exhausted. "Montoya and I told Gordon everything that Miguel told us about Arkham."

Edward crossed the room and took the seat across from her, propping his cane up against the chair. "What did he say?"

"He said that he'd look into it, but with only Miguel's word, it would be difficult to launch any kind of investigation. After the Commission, he doesn't have much sway at City Hall." She raised a hand and rubbed the bridge of her nose, then looked back at Edward. "You don't happen to have any informants in Arkham, do you?"

"No," Edward admitted. "I used to, I remember that much, but most of the people I had either left or are dead, in all likelihood. I haven't been able to recruit anyone since I reformed. I know Machin used to have people in Sharp's circle, but he pulled them back last year. I can ask again. Perhaps sharing Miguel's fate with him will make him more cooperative."

"Or he'll double down," Penelope sighed. "Strange and Bolton are no doubt going to use Miguel as a warning to anyone else who might want to come forward." She brushed her bangs. "I feel like all we've been doing is reacting to them." Edward frowned and opened his mouth to comment when Penelope raised a hand. "I don't mean to minimize anything you've done Edward. But people are dying. I don't think that just collecting information on them is enough anymore. We need to start a counterattack."

Edward hummed and began to drum his fingers against the armrest of his chair. "What do you have in mind?"

"Well, turnabout is fair play. Strange and Sharp used that damn commission to undermine Gordon, GCPD, and anyone else who could oppose them. We can turn it around and use what's happening at Arkham to discredit them. Launch our own commission of sorts."

Edward leaned back and folded his arms across his chest. "It's not a bad idea," he admitted. "But you realize that I don't exactly have much in the way of credibility? That's why I've been conducting myself the way I have been in this case. I can't go public just yet without my actions being dismissed as the ravings of a former super-villain."

Penelope shot him a look. "I know that Edward, but I could."

Edward straightened in his chair. He'd just pulled Ellen back from throwing herself in danger, now Penelope was about to do the same. "You want to publically declare yourself an enemy of Sharp and Strange?"

"I testified on behalf of GCPD at the Commission. They probably already consider me an enemy on some level."

"Yes, but there's a difference between defending the idiots at GCPD and outright declaring war!"

Penelope narrowed her eyes at Edward. "The public needs to be aware of exactly what they're doing to the patients at Arkham, so something like this can never happen again! Sharp and Strange didn't just come out of nowhere. They grabbed power because of how broken mental health and law enforcement is in Gotham. We can't just get rid of them without addressing that!"

"There's a way to do that doesn't involve the possibility of-" Edward cut himself off. The possibility of you being taken away from me. He shook his head. "So you don't just want to get rid of Sharp and Strange," he said. "You want to go on a crusade. So did Harvey Dent once upon a time. Look at how well that turned out."

Penelope's face darkened. "Dent had issues that ran deeper than trying to take on organized crime. I'm not Dent. I know I can't do it by myself. But if me, Joan, Gordon, Aaron, Joe Bryant, and other people did it together...we could get the other staff at Arkham to talk, or we could exert so much external pressure that the Mayor wouldn't be able to ignore it. We could actually do some lasting good." She sighed, then looked down at her hands. "I know this isn't exactly what you signed up for when you confided in me last year, Edward. You don't have to be involved in this if you don't want to be. I'll keep your name out of it."

She was giving him a way out. He should probably take it. Let her go chasing her white whale while he continued on behind the scenes until he amassed enough information and dumped it, damn the consequences, as he'd intended all along. He didn't owe this city a thing. He looked at her again, at the determination in her eyes. She was going forward on this regardless of what he said or did. Just like at the Asylum with the TITAN, no doubt. Headstrong, stubborn thing, so convinced she was doing the right thing, so full of ambition, in a way that he or Jon had never been. He chuckled a bit. He must be out of his mind. "Oh no you don't," he said. "You're not getting rid of me that easily, Penelope."

Penelope looked back up at him with surprise. "You-"

"Will not be involved publically, and I'd prefer it if you kept our association close to the chest," he said. "And I reserve the right to back out. I'm no do-gooder and I never will be. I can't deny though that the idea of being the man behind the curtain has its appeal."

She smiled then, and it made Edward feel better about this whole idea. He didn't think it would amount to anything. Such crusades never did, in his experience. He listened to Penelope outline her next steps going forward, and he tried not to let on his misgivings. But if anybody could make this work, she could.


 

 

Saturday, April 19th, 2007

1:30 AM

 

For the third time in an hour, Hugo Strange reviewed the file on his desk. Nashton, Edward. Aliases, Edward Nigma, Edward Nygma, The Riddler, Coleman Reese, Arthur Wynne. Known associates... Strange had read this particular passage over and over again in the past week. Bolton hadn't asked too many questions about what exactly had happened on the bridge, fool that he was, but when Strange had heard about the bridge opening up, he'd known Nigma had been involved. And Nigma would not be involved in this unless he had a reason to be. He would not care about a random orderly and his sister unless...he grit his teeth. Unless Bolton was right. The girl who called herself Enigma really was his daughter. She couldn't be. Strange couldn't have missed that. 

He read over the list of known associates Nigma had had over the years, particularly the female associates. From what information he'd obtained from Burns before Tetch's microchips had destroyed his frontal lobe, the girl was in her mid-teens, no older than sixteen and no younger than fourteen. She bore a striking resemblance to Nigma. He looked over the profiles of the three women who were known associates of Nigma's in the period of time the girl would have been conceived. Deirdre Vance, Nina Damfino, and Selina Kyle. The girl's physical description ruled out Kyle and Damfino as possible mothers, not to mention that neither woman had ever been pregnant. Vance preferred the company of women from all accounts, and also had never been pregnant. None of Nigma's known female associates could be her mother. Strange threw the file into his desk drawer with a frustrated grunt. How could this have happened? How could Nigma, and the nobody who had been the girl's mother, have kept this a secret from the world, from him for almost two decades? It wasn't possible! With a reluctant sigh, he pulled his cell phone out from his lab coat pocket. He had an overdue phone call to make.

A half hour later, and he had finished recounting the tale. His Master had been silent until he had stopped speaking. "I see. Is that all?"

Strange wet his lip. So far, his Master had taken this news better than he thought he would. "Yes. With your approval, I can send men to tail Nigma to her location and collect the girl."

"That will not be necessary," his Master's voice cut in like cold steel. "The fact that Nigma begat a whelp is beneath our notice. It changes nothing. What concerns me more, Strange, is the fact that you didn't already know about it. When you approached me with the Detective's identity and your vision for Gotham City, you assured me that there was no detail that you overlooked, no scenario that you hadn't accounted for. And now you tell me that you just discovered that Nigma has a daughter. It makes me wonder that if you missed something that insignificant, what else have you missed?"

"Nothing, I assure you," Strange said. He reached up to wipe the beads of sweat pooling on his brow. "We are still on track to begin Phase Two of our operation by the end of the year. This in no way derails us."

"Good. See that it doesn't."


 

Wednesday, May 15th, 2007

10:00 pm

 

Gordon stood by the lit signal and reached a hand into his coat pocket. He pulled out his pipe and with his other hand, lit a match. He'd taken two puffs out of his pipe when he heard the familiar sound of boots landing on the rooftop, and heavy footsteps crunching on gravel. "Commissioner. What do you have for me?"

Gordon took one last puff before removing the pipe from his mouth. "A damn mess, that's what I've got. It's about that business with Miguel Sanchez from last month."

Batman nodded. "Go on."

Gordon continued. "While he was in interrogation with Renee and Dr. Young, he alleged some pretty ugly things about how patients are treated at the Asylum."

The expression on Batman's face didn't change, not that Gordon expected it to. "I remember you told me about it in April. The Mayor still won't answer any questions about the allegations?"

"No," Gordon sighed. "You know how he is. Deaf, dumb and blind. He's standing by the Asylum's first autopsy of Goodman. He did, however, inform me at yesterday's City Council meeting that there are changes being implemented with regards to how much unsupervised interaction patients have with medical staff. Namely, patients no longer have any unsupervised contact with medical staff. Sharp claims it's for the safety of patients and the staff, but frankly, I'm not so sure about that." Gordon chuckled darkly and shook his head. "When I told Dr. Young about that, she just about hit the roof."

"Oh?"

"She's been pushing for an official inquiry for the last few weeks. She and Joan Leland. They've been trying to talk with old members of the Board as well as staff to get a movement going. It's difficult to track a lot of them down though. I've been reaching out to whoever I can, but most of the folks I was on good terms with are long gone. We need to get actual eyes and ears in the place." 

"I'll do what I can on my end. Was there anything else?"

Gordon paused as he considered his next words. "It's about Lyle Bolton. Montoya and Young told me that they think he abducted Sanchez's sister to force him to confess to Goodman's murder, but when she and their parents disappeared, we couldn't make a kidnapping case against him."

"Has that changed?"

Gordon shook his head. "No, he's still attached at the hip with Sharp, but he's been having a bad few weeks. He came to the station last month raving and ranting about how his identity was stolen. Then his car was vandalized. Then just last week his apartment was broken into. He's getting wound pretty tight."

He could just see Batman's eyes narrowing. "Nigma."

"That's what I'm thinking, not that I can prove it. I tried to ask Dr. Young, but she didn't know anything about it."

"Do you think she's lying to cover for Nigma?"

Gordon shook his head. "No. I don't think she'd ever outright lie for him," he paused, then took another puff of his pipe. "But I also don't think she's been entirely forthcoming about her dealings with the man. Montoya said that she was getting information about Sanchez from him, but that she also wouldn't say why he was involved. I don't mind her keeping in contact with him, as long as nothing illegal is going on, but I don't like being in the dark about his motives."

There was a pause before Batman spoke. "I know why he was involved with the Sanchez case," he said finally. "Jim, Nigma has a daughter who is, was, friends with Sanchez's sister."

Gordon dropped his jaw, and his pipe, in shock. That had been about the last thing he'd ever suspected. "A daughter!? Nigma has a daughter!? How long have you known about this!?"

"Since last December," the vigilante admitted. "Nigma himself only found out about her a few months before that. Do you remember that incident at Saul's Deli last August? About a person who stopped a robbery while claiming to be the Riddler's daughter?"

Gordon did, now that Batman mentioned it. He'd asked Harvey to look into it, and he'd told him that Nigma denied having a child, and had nothing to say about the whole affair. Between that and the masked person never showing up again, Gordon had written it off as some random thrill seeker. He leaned down to pick up his pipe and dusted it off. "I'll be damned. Nigma's a father. There's something I'd never thought I'd say. That explains why he's been tormenting Bolton. I assume that's what Dr. Young was holding back from me and Montoya. Well, the secret's safe with me. I can understand her not wanting to expose his daughter to any danger. There's a lot of people with a grudge against Nigma who'd take advantage of that."

"This time, at least. Jim, I'm concerned that he's privy to anything she does with GCPD and against Mayor Sharp. And if she's withheld information for him once, she'll do it again. We have to remember her history as well."

Gordon sighed, then reached up to rub the back of his neck. "That's true, but I really don't think that's what's happening this time. I don't think she'd get dragged into something by him, and I don't see Nigma getting involved in a campaign to clean up Arkham. Dr. Young can be difficult to work with, but I think she's genuinely trying to make up for what happened two years ago. I don't think she'd let Nigma get in the way of that."

"Maybe," Batman said. He walked over to the side of the GCPD's roof. "I'd like to be sure of that." He pulled a grappling hook from his belt and fired it towards the next building over, then flew off into the night sky. Gordon watched him disappear and shook his head. He may not trust Nigma any further than he could throw the man, but he trusted Dr. Young. He just hoped she wouldn't betray that trust.


 

 

Wednesday, May 25th, 2007

12:30 pm

 

Out of all the doctors Penelope had worked with at Arkham and were still there, Sarah Cassidy was the one she felt would be the most likely to come forward. She'd been of a gentler character than most of the other doctors had been, which was less than desirable when dealing with patients like Zsasz, but hopefully, would come in handy now. It had taken weeks, but Joan had finally convinced her to meet with them at the same little French bistro she'd had lunch with Wayne at back in February. Cassidy had beat them there, sitting in at a small table in the corner of the outdoor patio, looking down at an untouched cup of tea. Penelope took her seat across from Cassidy and was struck at the other doctor's appearance. She looked run down, her bright red hair loosely gathered in a ponytail. Her face was pale and dark circles were visible under her eyes. She looked like a woman who hadn't slept well for some time. Or a woman with a guilty conscience. If it was the latter, that would make this meeting go smoother. "Hello, Sarah," she said formally, but not unkindly. 

Cassidy did not acknowledge her but gave Joan a slight nod as the older woman sat next to Penelope. "How have you been?" Joan asked her, more warmly than Penelope had.

Cassidy shrugged. "Alright, I guess. Why did you want to see me?"

Joan looked to Penelope and gave her a quick nod. Penelope took the invitation to speak and leaned forward, folding her hands in front of her. "It's about the asylum."

"What about it?" Something in Cassidy's tone shifted from almost broken down to testy. "You haven't been back at the Asylum since you resigned, either of you. Why are you asking about it now?"

Did Cassidy resent them for leaving? Penelope pushed down her irritation. "I spoke with Miguel Sanchez before he died, Sarah." She watched as Cassidy's grip around her cup tightened. "He told me how the patients are being treated at Arkham."

"And?" Cassidy asked.

Penelope took a breath before she said something she'd regret. "Commissioner Gordon, Joan and I want to launch an investigation into Arkham's care of the patients, but we need a staff member or someone on the board to corroborate what Miguel told us."

Cassidy laughed a bit. "So that's why you've been trying to call me. Typical you, Penelope. You never reached out to us unless you needed something. Unless it was relevant to your research."

Penelope exchanged a quick look at Joan, who cleared her throat. "Sarah, if what Miguel said is true, then something needs to be done about it. Strange can't get away with mistreating people under his care. All we need is for you to tell us the truth."

Cassidy shook her head, and Penelope understood. This wasn't just a tired or guilty woman. This was a woman who was terrified. "I can't. I can't lose my job, I can't risk losing everything because of him."

"Sarah," Penelope interrupted. "Think about your patients. You're their doctor, that means you need to be their advocate too. If you tell us what you know, more people may follow you! We can get Strange removed-"

"So you can do what, exactly?" Cassidy asked. She looked up at Penelope finally, and the anger in her hazel eyes took her back. "Take your old job back? Take Strange's place so you can remake Arkham in your own vision? I'm a psychiatrist too, Penelope. Don't you think I know what you really want? You want to swoop in and clean up our mess and show the whole world just what a brilliant doctor you really are, just like you tried to do with TITAN two years ago. How many people are you going to get killed this time trying to show off?" She trembled a bit from suppressed sadness or rage, Penelope wasn't sure. "If you really care about the patients at Arkham, then where the Hell have you been for the last two years?"

Joan cut in before Penelope could. "Sarah," she said in a low tone. "Don't make this personal. Miguel Sanchez died trying to speak up for the patients-"

"You think I don't know that!?" Cassidy said, raising her voice. "You think we didn't talk about it, how cruel the guards were, how much Strange was cutting back on treatment, how many people he was taking to his office that we weren't allowed to see again!?"

"Calm down," Penelope said, taking a quick look around to make sure the other people in the cafe weren't listening in. The other diners seemed to carry out, not noticing or caring about them. "So what Miguel said is true. Why aren't the other doctors speaking up about this? Where is the Board-"

"You really don't get it, do you, Penelope?" Cassidy asked. She narrowed her eyes and pointed a finger accusingly at her. "The Board stands by Strange on everything. All the new security measures, the cutbacks on patient care, the free reign Strange has in his experiments. That was all because of you. Because of your experiment. You opened Pandora's Box, Penelope. Didn't you ever stop to think that there'd be consequences for experimenting on Bane?"

Penelope shut her eyes and took a breath. Everything Cassidy said wasn't new to her. It had been what she'd told herself every night for the past two years. "No," she said finally. "I didn't. I have to live with that every day for the rest of my life, Sarah."

"Good," she heard Cassidy say. "I hope you have a very long life, Penelope. I'm not going to risk everything just so you can ease your conscience." Penelope opened her eyes and watched as Cassidy reached down to grab her bag and get up from the table. "Goodbye, Joan. I'm sorry, but I can't get involved in this. Don't call me again." She had just walked past Joan and was on her way out when Penelope found it in her to speak.

"I'm not going to stop, Sarah," she said. "And if you know what Strange does and you do nothing about it, that makes you just as guilty as him and me." 

Cassidy froze. She turned and looked back at the two women with a loom of despair in her eyes. "You never cared about anything beside your work before, Penelope," she said in a broken voice. "Why did you start now?" Before Penelope could respond, Cassidy turned and fled from the cafe. 

Penelope sighed and nearly startled when she felt Joan's hand on her shoulder. "Are you alright?"

Penelope shrugged her off. "I'm fine Joan," she said with more conviction than she felt. "We'll just have to find another way in. Maybe one of the former board members might-"

"Hello, ladies!"

Penelope and Joan looked up to see none other than Bruce Wayne approach their table, jovial grin on his face. "Bruce!" Joan said in surprise. "What are you doing here?"

"Well, this is one of my favorite places in downtown," Wayne said, taking Cassidy's vacant seat on the other side of the table from the two women. He gave Penelope a wink and a nod. "Nice to see you again, Penelope."

Penelope was about to come up with an excuse to leave when the proverbial light bulb went off in her head. Bruce Wayne was a former board member of Arkham who had a less than pleasant history with Sharp. If anyone could ratchet enough pressure on the Mayor's office, it would be him. "It's nice to see you too," she said. "Actually, there's something I'd like to discuss with you."


 

Tuesday, May 30th, 2007

10:15 AM 

 

The second anniversary of the Arkham Riot went off without a hitch, without the rain clouds and killer on the loose to dampen attendance. It was a beautiful, warm Tuesday. Sharp stood in front of a microphone, speaking in his booming, pompous tone about how much progress he had made in his first term as Mayor of Gotham City to cut down on street crime, and to, in his words, (or rather, the speechwriter's words,) "Prevent the tragedy that occurred at Arkham from ever happening again." He was flanked by Lyle Bolton, who alternated between glaring out at the crowd and nodding at the Mayor's invective. To the far left, as distant as could be from Sharp, was Gordon, who stood with his arms folded across his chest, looking like he'd rather be in Arkham than in the park.

Ward stood on the right side of the stage, just out of sight of the crowd, next to Detective Schrader, who had volunteered to take the stage with the Commissioner. Schrader slightly nudged him with his elbow. "What's the matter with Bolton? He looks even more amped up than usual."

Ward leaned in to whisper. "His car was towed this morning. An anonymous caller complained about it being illegally parked."

Schrader chuckled. "That's what, the third time this month? Poor dumb bastard."

Ward wished he could share Schrader's amusement. Instead, he scanned the crowd. He'd been here last year when Nigma had hijacked the ceremony by apprehending Patrick Horner. Sharp had never forgiven the man for upstaging him that day. Nigma didn't seem to be here now at least. Ward continued to gaze at the crowd, his attention being caught by three figures, in particular, standing in the middle with Joe Bryant's Survivor Group. Bruce Wayne, Joan Leland, and Penelope Young. Ward's eyes narrowed at Young especially. There she was, next to Batman the single greatest threat to Sharp and Strange and everything they were working for standing next to a man who could cause just as much trouble, and still Sharp couldn't see it. He'd even offered her a chance to be on stage next to him, which she had respectfully declined. No, standing with Joe Bryant's group, she was making her allegiance known. Standing next to Bruce Wayne and Joan Leland, she was making her intentions clear. She had to be dealt with, soon.

"You spot Young?" He heard Schrader ask.

Ward nodded quickly. "She's with Wayne and Leland, with Bryant and his group."

"Trying to recruit Wayne for her little project, no doubt."

Ward turned to Schrader. "Where is she on that?"

"Well, Cash and Montoya are on board. The rest of the GCPD are steering clear until the Commissioner makes an opening move. Wayne getting involved is going to speed the process up a bit. How soon until Phase Two kicks in?"

"Not soon enough," Ward said. "We'll need at least until the end of the year when the new City Hall opens. Sharp is going to have to keep busy and distract the media and the public." He grit his teeth. "Goddamn, that insufferable little bitch!"

"No kidding," Schrader agreed. A cocky grin came over his face. "You should have seen her face when I said she should have requested that Sanchez be put on a suicide watch in County. It was priceless."

"She doesn't suspect you were involved in that, does she?"

"No," Schrader reassured him. "She's smart, but she's got blind spots the size of Wayne's trust fund." He lowered his voice and leaned in close to Ward's ear. "I could take of her, you know."

Ward shook his head. "Strange said we can't kill her. Not until we come up with a way to contain Nigma."

The blond detective snorted a bit. "Nigma? Really? Batman I get, but why is Strange worried about Nigma?"

"You should be too," Ward warned. "Nigma may not have been as psychotic as Joker or Crane, but he was just as dangerous. It would be a mistake to underestimate him, even if he is reformed."

Schrader took a step back and shrugged. "If you say so. So, we can't touch a hair on his little girlfriend's head." A smirk came to his face. "It's not like she hasn't pissed off any other, very dangerous people."

The hair on the back of Ward's head stood up. "Not the Joker. We can't risk that kind of collateral damage-"

"I wasn't thinking about the Joker."

"Who-" Then Ward understood perfectly. "He's not in Gotham-"

"No," Schrader said. "But with your connections and the right bait, he could be."

Ward rubbed his chin. "We'll need to run it by Strange first," he said. "After that fiasco Bolton caused, he's cautious."

"But we are going to run it by him?"

Ward took one last look at where Young stood. She wasn't looking at the stage, instead, it appeared as if she were looking through the crowd for something. Or someone. She would not undo their work, just because now she felt like being a decent human being. "Yes."


 

 

Bruce observed Dr. Young while she was looking through the crowd. He had a good idea who she searching for. As much as he agreed with her cause to open an investigation at Arkham, his association with her also provided him with the best access he could get to whatever information Nigma had without directly confronting the man. "Looking for someone?" he asked.

Dr. Young startled a bit, then looked back towards the stage with that same intent look. "I thought perhaps a friend of mine would be here," she admitted. "I don't see him though." Her face softened just a bit. To anyone else, it would be unnoticeable, but Bruce caught it. "I'm sure he has other obligations."

Bruce nodded, then turned his attention back to the stage, then to the large black stone that had the name of every person who had died at Arkham engraved on it.

Every name but one.


 

 

At that moment, far away from Gotham Central Park and the Memorial, Edward parked his car in an alleyway between the old Falcone shipping plants in the Northernmost point of Gotham's Industrial District. He stopped for a moment, then leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. He wasn't sure he was ready for this. He wasn't sure he would ever be ready for this, but no one else at the park, no one else in this city, would be mourning Jonathan Crane today. He unbuckled himself and got out of his car, shutting the door behind him. He walked out of the alleyway, down the street, past the abandoned, boarded-up buildings and the occasional vagrant who was still sleeping. He could hear the sounds of seagulls above him, of people buzzing in the few still open plants a few blocks to his left, the sound of the surf. Finally, he made it to his destination at the end of the road. Off in the distance, he could see Arkham Island. He could still make up the bluffs, he could just see the top of the Medical Center, he could make out what remained of the Botanical Gardens, the remains of Ivy's giant root still sticking out where the roof had been. This was as close as he could get, would ever get to Jonathan's grave. He sighed and removed his hat.

"Hello, Dearest," he said. He shook his head. "I didn't bring you any flowers. I remember you weren't exactly the sentimental type." He ran a hand through his hair, slightly mussing the gelled back style. "I'm sorry I wasn't here last year, but I was a bit busy. I think I was still a bit in denial, too." He sighed. "I remember you a bit more now, at least. Mostly what a horrid ghoul you were at times." He wet his lip. "I have a daughter, you know. Her name is Ellen. She's a willful little spitfire. A chip off the old block, you'd say. I wish you could have met her. Penelope and I are friends now, too. She's...she's something, Jon. I don't remember if you ever told me that she was a student of yours, but every now and again, I look at her and I swear I can see you, just a bit. She glares at me like you did sometimes, at least." His vision became blurry and he removed his glasses to rub his eyes. "Damn you, Jonathan," he said. "Did you have to die on Arkham Island? Couldn't you at least have left me a proper grave to visit, like a decent human being?" He laughed a bit then. "But then I suppose, you weren't exactly a decent human being, now were you?" He looked back over the Island. "You were you," he said. "Unapologetically you. I loved you for it. I still love you, Jonathan. Sometimes I hate that I remember that. Other times, I wouldn't trade what I can remember about you for the world." He rubbed his eyes again, then took one last look at the Asylum. "Someday," he promised, putting his glasses back on. "After Strange is gone, I'll go to Arkham and mourn you properly. Until then, goodbye, Jon." He put his hat back on his head and walked back to his car.


 

 

Tuesday, May 30th, 2007

3:00 pm

 

Penelope finally arrived back at her office building, her spirits higher than they had been for a long time. She, Joan, Wayne, and Aaron had had a productive meeting with Joe Bryant and his group after the ceremony. Next Monday, Wayne and Bryant would approach Mayor Sharp with their concerns about Arkham Asylum. If the Mayor continued to brush them off, Wayne would go to the media. Sharp couldn't ignore them then. She opened the door to her office to fill out her patient schedule for the following week and was surprised to see that she had a visitor, sitting at his usual spot on top of her desk. "Edward?"

He looked at her as she walked in, less animated than he usually was, but no less happy to see her. "Good afternoon, Penelope."

Penelope entered her office and approached him, too surprised to see him to scold him about sitting on her desk. "Not that I'm not glad to see you," she said truthfully. "But what are you doing here? Is something wrong?"

"No," he said. "I just wanted to see you. I realized something today. It's been a year since we crossed paths again, hasn't it?"

Oh. Penelope nodded as she realized that he was right. "Yes, it has."

Edward chuckled a bit, then hopped off the desk and walked towards her, meeting her by the chairs in front of her desk. He smiled at her, though she realized it wasn't quite reaching his eyes. "A whole year. It feels like longer, hasn't it? After all, in just a year I've caught several killers and would-be killers, uncovered a conspiracy, fought and reconciled with friends, made new friends, met my daughter...not too bad for one year."

"Not too bad at all, really." So much had changed since she met Edward again, from her own view of the man to the direction of her life. A year ago, she wouldn't have imagined that she'd be here, standing before him in her office. A year ago, she hated the man. Now...he was as dear to her as any friend she'd ever had. She brushed her bangs as she considered the man before her. "There's something I've been meaning to say to you for a while," she said, folding her fingers together. "When we first met-well, when you broke into my office last year, I..." she let out a little sigh. "I wasn't in a good mental space at the time, and I took it out on you. I said things that I shouldn't have said. I want to say," she paused again. She'd never been good at this. "I wanted to say I'm sorry."

Edward merely shrugged. "I seem to remember giving as good as I got, my dear doctor. And I was the one who broke into your office after all. So while your apology is appreciated, it's not at all necessary. Besides," he said with a warm look on his face. "I think we've more than made it up to each other over the past year."

Penelope smiled at him, then realized just how close they were to each other. She cleared her throat, then walked past him back to her desk. "I had a good meeting with Joan, Aaron, Wayne and Joe Bryant's group today."

"Did you now?" Edward asked. "I'm still not quite sure how to feel about Wayne getting involved."

"Well, he has valuable insight about Sharp he can share with us. And he's Bruce Wayne. He can't be ignored that easily." She looked up to see that he still looked a bit concerned. "Is there something about him I should know, Edward?"

Edward shook his head, slowly. "Not that I can think of off the top of my head, but sometimes, it feels like there was something I used to know about him." He shrugged again, then sat down in the chair in front of her desk. He took off his glasses and Penelope realized for the first time that his eyes were red-rimmed. He'd been crying earlier.

"Edward," she said with understanding. "How are you feeling?"

He gave her a wry look. "Not as bad as I thought I might. Worse than last year, but then again, I was a bit distracted then." He rubbed his hand across his face. "To tell the truth," he said. "There was something I wanted to ask you today."

"Yes?"

Edward dropped his hand and looked plaintively at her. "Can you talk to me a bit about Jonathan?"

Penelope nodded. "Of course."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Sunday, June 4th, 2007

 

Contrary to what Edward and some of her other friends and colleagues may think, Penelope didn't spend her entire life working. On Sundays, when she had no patients in crisis, or some case in GCPD she consulted on, or something with Edward, she spent her time writing in her journal, reading, or simply relaxing in the peace and quiet of her apartment while she could. 

Or, when she absolutely couldn't get out of it, talking with her mother.

"How's your job with GCPD going? You're still getting along with your co-workers?"

"Yes, Mom," Penelope answered, cradling her cell phone between her ear and shoulder as she sat on her Ottoman and read over her copy of the Gotham Gazette. "Everything's still going fine."

"I still worry so much about you working there, after that horrible thing in December."

Penelope resisted the urge to sigh. Rationally, she knew her mother had every right to worry after everything that had happened to her in the past two years. Sometimes though, she deeply regretted being an only child and getting the full force of her mother's worries. "I know, Mom, but I take as many precautions as I can. Commissioner Gordon always makes sure I'm not left alone with suspects anymore."

"Good," her mother said. "But you're still happy there?"

Penelope hummed a bit. "Yes," she said. "It's good work, Mom. I feel like I'm actually doing some good with GCPD."

She heard her mother sigh in that dramatic way she did. "Alright, Poppy mou. As long as you still feel safe and happy, I promise I won't worry too much." Penelope shook her head. They both knew that was a lie. "Enough about work," her mother shifted gears. "What about your friends? Do you still spend time with Aaron and Joan?"

"Yes, Mom," Penelope said. "I'm going to see Joan tomorrow, actually." To wait for the result of the meeting between Bryant, Wayne, and Sharp, but her mother didn't need to know that.

"Good! Have you met anyone new?"

Penelope bit her lip as she considered the best way to respond. How exactly did one tell their mother that they were spending time with a former super-villain? "Well," she said at last. "I have reconnected with someone I used to know at Arkham." That wasn't exactly a lie.

"Oh?" her mother asked, obviously interested. "Is he single?"

Well, she really should have seen that coming. "Mother," she sighed.

Her mother only laughed in response. "I'm only teasing, Poppy mou. You're so serious, just like your father was. But your friend is a man, I see."

"I will hang up, Mother," Penelope warned.

Her mother laughed again. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. Your aunts keep pestering me about when you'll get married."

"Busybodies," Penelope muttered. "I swear, they'll try to marry me off before I'm forty."

"They are busybodies, but they just want you to be happy."

Penelope rolled her eyes. "I don't need a man to be happy, Mom."

"I know that, sweetheart. You're a very independent woman. Still, I wouldn't mind a grandchild."

Penelope groaned. "Mother..."

Her mother laughed. "Alright, alright. Do you still want me to come to visit you this summer?"

"Of course." Hopefully, she'd be able to make some progress with Arkham by then, or at the least, keep her mother from getting involved. "As long as you don't start trying to marry me off."

"No promises," her mother joked. "Will I get to meet your new friend too?"

There were two outcomes of a meeting between Edward Nigma and Alexandra Young that Penelope saw: they would either run off into the sunset together, or her mother would swat him to death. "We'll see," she said. 

"Alright, Poppy mou. I've got to get going. The girls and I are meeting up to start training for the marathon next month."

Penelope had to smile at that mental thought. "Have fun, Mom. Let me know how that goes." 

"Of course. Bye, sweetheart. Call me if anything happens. I love you."

"Love you too, Mom. Bye." Penelope hung up her cell phone and placed it down on her coffee table with a sense of relief. Well, that was pleasant. She'd even managed to keep her mother's questions about her private life to a bare minimum today. She looked at the clock on her wall. 11:15 am. That left her plenty of time to get some writing in her journal done today. She was about to pick up her journal, lying next to her phone on the coffee table, when she heard her phone vibrating. She picked it up and frowned a bit when she didn't recognize the number. A telemarketer? On a Sunday morning? She answered the phone with a professional "This is Dr. Penelope Young."

"What's up Doc?"

"Selina?" Penelope asked, surprised. "What do you want?"

"Nice to talk to you too. I can't just call to say hello?"

"You have never called me 'just to say hello'," Penelope said. The only times Selina had ever reached out to her was when- her stomach dropped. "What's happened? Is Edward alright?"

Selina just chuckled a bit. "Don't worry, Doc. Eddie's fine, well, as fine as he ever is. I did need to talk to you about him though. You know what day it is today?"

Penelope furrowed her brow in thought. The Arkham anniversary had past days ago, the anniversary of his reform wasn't until the end of July...what was she missing that might be important? "I'm sorry, I don't follow."

"Thought you might not. It's Eddie's birthday today."

Penelope almost dropped her phone. "It is?" Her surprise was followed immediately by mortification. How on Earth had she missed that? "I just saw him on Friday, he didn't mention his birthday!"

"Don't worry about it. Eddie keeps it pretty close to the chest. He's never liked celebrating his birthday, and he's being even more of a pain about it now that he's getting closer to forty."

Now she had an idea of why Selina had called her. "He doesn't like celebrating his birthday, but you're going to do something anyway?"

Penelope could almost hear the other woman's smirk. "Well, I don't mind celebrating, and I figure as long as one of us is reasonable." Selina's voice lowered a bit into something more serious. "Besides, between what happened with Ellie and the Arkham anniversary, Eddie's been wound pretty tight lately. It's not good for him. He needs to relax a bit, have some fun."

Penelope had to agree with that sentiment, even if she had misgivings about Selina's methods. "So what are you planning to do?"

"Well," Selina said, back to her usual, slinky tone. "Deirdre and Nina are coming in later this afternoon to set up a little party for him in his apartment. I'm going to be taking him out for a bit to the Iceberg Lounge to get him out of the way."

"I see. I can run out and get him something, then meet you back there later today. Is Ellen going to be there tonight too?"

"She better be. You're going to be bringing her."

"Oh?" Penelope asked. She was perfectly fine with going to pick Ellen up, but she didn't like the task being foisted on her without her consent.

"Actually," Selina said. "Ellie needs to run out and get stuff for Eddie for tonight, and since I'm going to be with Eddie, and Nina and Deirdre don't get in until four..."

Penelope blinked. "Wait. You want me to take Ellen out shopping?"

"Well, there's no one else who can. And Eddie and her Gramma don't want her running around Gotham City without supervision anymore. It's either you or one of Eddie's friends from Pandora's Box."

Penelope frowned a bit. "I don't know if I'm the best person for this, Selina. I don't really know her that well."

"You stayed up with her back when Eddie went after Croc."

"Yes, but that was an emergency situation."

Selina laughed a bit, which irritated Penelope. "Doc, are you scared of Ellie?"

Penelope huffed in response. "Absolutely not. Its just...I'm not a child psychologist, and I haven't really been around teenagers since I was one." And when she had been one, she hadn't exactly liked them much and the feeling had been mutual.

"Doc, relax. It's just Ellie. She's a good kid. If you can deal with her Dad every week, you can deal with her for an afternoon. Just no bright light, don't get water on her, and don't feed her after midnight."

Penelope rolled her eyes. "Very funny." She bit her lip as she thought about the task before her. From the two times she'd actually dealt with her, Ellen had seemed...well, to be honest, she was aggressive, willful and defiant, but she'd also been facing the possibility of her father and her best friend dying. It wouldn't be fair to hold that against her. And Edward had a very legitimate reason to not want her out by herself. And what harm was there in getting to know her? She was Edward's daughter, after all, and he loved her. She sighed. "Alright. When should I go pick her up?"

"She should be at your place in about ten minutes."

Penelope's jaw dropped. "Ten minutes-what happened to her not being allowed to be in the city by herself!?"

"She's not in the city, she's on her way to a friend of her Dad's. That's different."

Penelope took a deep breath. "And just what would have happened if I'd said no?"

Selina just laughed again. "Oh, Doc, you really wouldn't have turned away Eddie's little girl, would you?"

Edward had often complained to her about how manipulative Selina could be. She was beginning to see his point. "Is that all, Selina?"

"That's all. I'm about to pull up to Eddie's apartment. Have fun!" Selina hung up before Penelope could get another word out.

Penelope lowered the phone from her ear and glared at it, before shaking her head. At least she was already dressed for the day. She got up from her chair and walked to her hall closet to pull on a pair of sandals, before crossing back over to the coffee table to get her bag. She looked into the bag and did a mental checklist of everything she thought she'd need, wallet, car keys, cell phone when her eyes went back to her journal. She really had wanted to get a bit of writing done that day. She shrugged, then picked it up and put it into her purse, then pulled out a hair tie. She may still have a bit of downtime while she was out to jot some notes down. She had just pulled her hair back and up in her usual bun when she heard a series of knocks on the door. "Just a moment!" she called out. Once she finished tying up her hair, she walked over to her door. She took a breath. She'd been inches away from murderers and psychotics like Zsasz, Joker, and Goodman, and she'd survived. Surely, she could handle an afternoon with Ellen. She opened the door.

Ellen was standing in her doorway, in a much better mood than she'd been in when Penelope had seen her back in February. She was wearing her short red hair loose, a white peasant top, and green shorts, with a knapsack over her shoulder. She looked up at Penelope, smiled at her as if she'd known her for years, and gave her a wave. "Hey, Doc!"

Penelope greeted her with a slight nod. "Hello, Ellen."

"Selina tell you it's the Old Man's birthday?"

"She did," Penelope answered, coming out into the hallway and shutting her door behind her. "Do you know what you're getting for him?"

"Yeah, I already got him a present. I just need to go by a grocery store. I'm gonna try to make him a cake tonight!"

Penelope raised an eyebrow. "Well, we can do that after I visit a department store. Do you know how to bake?"

"Yeah, I've made cookies before!" Ellen twirled a lock of her hair and gave Penelope a sheepish grin. "Well, the pre-made dough kind. How hard can it be though?"

Penelope turned to lock her door, then took advantage of the fact that Ellen couldn't see her face to look heavenward. This was going to be a long day.


 

 

Edward put the finishing touches inside the cane, screwed the top back on, and put it back down on his kitchen table with a grin. Perfect. The modifications were complete. Now with a press of a button, this cane was a taser as well as a stylish accessory. One never could be too careful these days. Now, time to review the information his East End sources had provided him, before a visit to the detective web forums, just for fun. He had opened his email on his laptop when his cell phone buzzed on the table. He looked at it to see a message from Harley. He opened the text and his blood ran cold.

Happy Birthday, Mr. E! See you at the Iceberg Lounge! XOXO Harley

No. Oh no. Edward did a double take at his calendar. June 4th. It was his Birthday. God Damn it. Edward read over Harley's message again and scowled. 'See you at the Iceberg Lounge'. No doubt Oswald was in on this conspiracy to make him celebrate his date of birth. Selina was probably on her way now to collect him. Sorry, Lina, but not today. Edward got up from his seat at the table and dashed to the hallway closet to grab his jacket. As he hastily pulled the green coat on, he checked his watch. 11:25. He calculated the distance between his apartment, the made over shelter that Selina, Harley, and Ivy, (Oh God, he hoped Ivy wasn't involved,) were staying in, then ran to his front door. Hopefully, Selina had just left when Harley texted. Hopefully, he could avoid her, Oswald, and Harley for the day. Hopefully.

He opened the door wide and froze. Standing in his doorway, one hand on her hip, was Selina. She regarded him with a smirk. "Going somewhere, Eddie?"

Edward took a step back. "Actually," he said, clearing his throat. "I'm on my way to see a very important client, so if you'll just excuse me," he moved to go around her when he felt her hand on his shoulder. 

"Not so fast, Birthday Boy," Selina said. Her eyes flashed, and Edward gulped. "I know for a fact that you don't see clients on Sundays, barring something major. And if it were something major, I'd know about it."

Edward scowled. "Well, nice to see that living with Harley and Ivy hasn't completely sapped your intellect, Lina. I'm afraid though that I've no interest in whatever little 'celebration' you have planned for me. Now-"

He was cut off by Selina stepping into the apartment, shutting the door behind her. She sauntered up to him, a familiar gleam in her eyes. "Eddie," she said in that sassy tone of hers. "You can come like a good boy and ride in the front seat, or you can come kicking and screaming and ride in my trunk. Which is it going to be?" While she spoke, she pulled her whip out of her bag. "Five seconds."

In hindsight, maybe he shouldn't have patched things up with her.


 

 

Since Jezebel Center was relatively close to her apartment, Penelope had decided to go there. Ellen had agreed, even though she snorted a bit. There was a story there, Penelope was sure of. As soon as they were in her car though, Ellen had pulled a sketchbook out of her knapsack and gotten to work on something, only occasionally glancing up at Penelope and not saying a word. Penelope focused on the road in front of her and peeked at Ellen out of the corner of her eye. From what Edward had told her about his daughter, she'd inherited his gregariousness, and she'd seemed friendly enough, but she didn't seem all that interested in striking up a conversation with her. Was she waiting for her to make the first move, or was she simply not interested? Perhaps she was reading too much into it.

They stopped at a red light, and Penelope made her opening move. "So," she said, and Ellen looked up. "How have you been?"

Ellen cocked her head a bit, the way Edward sometimes did when he was caught off guard. "Fine, I guess." She went back to her sketchbook. From what Penelope could see, it looked like a human face. 

She decided to press on. "Everything alright at home?"

"Yeah. I'm not grounded anymore at least." Ellen looked up again and narrowed her eyes a bit. "You're not tryin' to psychoanalyze me, are you?"

Penelope took a sharp breath. Of all the things she could have inherited from her father, did it have to be a distrust of psychiatry? "Not at all, Ellen. I'm just trying to make conversation."

Ellen shrugged, then took a look at her sketchbook and huffed. "I'm not gonna get this right," she muttered, closing the book and putting it back into her knapsack. Penelope watched her with curiosity.

"Do you carry that everywhere with you?"

"Yeah," Ellen answered. "I like to have it on me in case I get inspired."

Ellen seemed a bit more talkative now that she wasn't distracted. "Do you draw just people or other things?"

"People, mostly. I like to draw little cartoons of people I see on the streets. I've got a bunch of the Old Man."

The light turned green, and Penelope drove forward. "What does he think of them?"

Ellen laughed a bit. "He hates them. He says I make his head too big. I told him it was because of his brain, but he thinks it's because I think he has a big ego."

"Which is it really?"

Ellen smirked, and Penelope was struck once again by how much she resembled Edward. "Both." Ellen looked up at her with a curious expression. "Can I ask you something?"

Finally, it seemed like she was making ground with the girl. "Of course."

"How exactly did you meet my Dad? Are you his shrink?"

Penelope came to another red light and stopped, pondering how best to answer her question. "I'm not treating him now," she said. "But I did use to treat him at Arkham Asylum."

Ellen's eyes widened a bit. "Really?" She bit her lower lip a bit. "What was he like?"

Penelope sighed. "Ellen, I'm not sure how much your father's told you about that part of his life-"

Ellen interrupted her with a huff. "Doc, no offense, but I saw one guy die, fought a bunch of other guys, and fell off a bridge two months ago. I think I can handle whatever you have to say about the Old Man."

Penelope was so taken aback that she almost missed the green light. She put her foot on the gas and shook her head. "Well," she said. "You're certainly blunt." Ellen did have a point though. She took a breath. "Your father was...in some ways, he was very similar to how he is now. He was clever, he was acerbic, he always seemed to have an answer for everything..." she trailed off as she remembered how Edward was in Arkham, not so long ago. How he'd viewed their sessions as a game, how he'd been charming in the beginning, almost friendly, but how he had gradually, as he slipped deeper into his compulsions, become more unhinged. How he couldn't think of anything except the next riddle. How he'd viewed people as pawns. As much progress as he made in the year since she'd met him again, she couldn't forget that he was, in theory, just a step away from the man he'd been in Arkham. "But he was very ill, Ellen." she finished. She saw Ellen's face deflate a bit and she could guess what the girl was thinking. "It's for the best that you weren't in his life, then. He wasn't well enough to be any kind of a father to you."

Ellen sighed and looked out her car window. "I know, that's what he tells me. Still, I wish I didn't have to wait so long to meet him. This is the first time I'm celebrating his birthday with him and I'm almost sixteen."

"You have the rest of your life to make up for lost time," Penelope pointed out as gently as she could manage. "Try not to dwell too much on the past."

"I guess," Ellen said. She looked back towards her with a curious look. "So, did you keep in touch with him after he got out, or something?"

"No," Penelope answered. "We happened to run into each other at a fundraiser that Mayor Sharp was holding at the time. After that...it's a bit of a long story."

Ellen rolled her eyes at that. "'It's a long story.' That's what everyone tells me. So, you've been helping him with Strange? How?"

Penelope gave Ellen a sharp look. "Ellen, your father told me that he didn't want you involved in that business."

Ellen's curious look gave way to a glare. "What, so you can be involved and I can't? I'm the one who helped out superheroes! You're just a shrink!"

'Just' a shrink? However affected Ellen might have been by her experience, that didn't give her the right to be combative with her. "You don't need to put on a costume and beat up thugs to make a difference, Ellen. And the only time I've ever seen your father afraid was the moment he realized you were gone. He legitimately thought Strange had abducted or killed you. I never want to hear him in that state again."

Her mention of Edward had its desired effect, as the fight seemed to drain from Ellen's face. She puffed out her cheeks and turned to glare out the passenger car window. Penelope could hear her muttering something under her breath. She let out a sigh.

"I don't want to fight with you, Ellen," she said in a solemn tone. "Your father's a dear friend of mine, and I wanted to use today to get to know you, but I'm not going to go against his wishes. I'm sorry."

Ellen let out another huff, but her shoulders sagged a bit. "I don't want to fight you either," she said in a voice barely above a whisper. "And I don't want to hurt Dad, but Marisol and Miguel were my friends. I can't just stand back and not do anything."

Penelope nodded. "I understand that, more than you may think." This wasn't what she wanted to spend her time with Ellen thinking about. "Let's change the subject. It's your father's birthday. You should spend the day enjoying that."

Ellen didn't look back from the window but hummed in response. Penelope supposed that was as good as she was going to get for now. She made a mental note to talk to Edward about this at a later point. Ellen clearly had unresolved issues about what had happened to her friend that she should talk to someone about. Ellen certainly seemed to conduct herself as Edward did at times. At least in Ellen's case, it was more age appropriate. 

They drove in silence a few more blocks until GCPD came into view. As they drew closer, Ellen sat up in her seat and let out a "Whoa!"

Penelope almost hit her brakes. "What?"

Ellen pointed ahead. "Tree!" Penelope looked to where Ellen was pointing and relaxed. She'd become so used to the tree that stood in GCPD's parking lot that she'd forgotten what a novelty it was. "That thing's huge!" Ellen continued. "Where did it come from?"

"Poison Ivy," Penelope responded. "She caused it to grow back in December."

"Oh," Ellen said, nodding in realization. "So that's how Selina busted Dad out of GCPD."

Penelope did a double take. "You know about that?"

"Sure, I was the one who called her," Ellen smirked a bit. "I prank called GCPD too, to help get Dad out."

"Yes, well, don't make a habit of that," Penelope said. It occurred to her that, indirectly, Ellen had played a vital part in saving her from Goodman. 

Ellen laughed a bit. "No promises." As they drove past the large tree, Ellen kept her eyes glued to it. "I'm gonna have to get down here so I can sketch that thing. How come the Commissioner hasn't cut it down?"

"Well, he was going to, but a lot of the younger cops convinced him not to. They've adopted it, almost. It helps boost their morale." That, and it irritated Sharp. Gordon was a good man, but he could be just as petty as anyone else given the proper incentive.

"Adopted it? So it's like GCPD's pet?" Ellen laughed. "Did they give it a name?"

"Trevor," Penelope answered. "Trevor the Tree." She'd been indifferent to the tree at first, but she couldn't deny it was comforting to pass under a living thing whenever she had to come to consult. They stopped at a red light, and she took the opportunity to look at the tree. It was well over twenty feet tall now, and the shade from it covered a good part of the front entrance. The top was full, lush and green, and there was a small crowd of people gathered underneath it. 

"There's a guy playing guitar underneath the tree!" Ellen said. She rolled down her window to listen, and Penelope could just make out a man singing the most banal folk song she'd ever heard, in a voice that sounded like he was gargling gravel.

"...La da da da, la di di,

Trevor, Trevor the Tree

An Isle of green in the concrete sea,

Trevor, Trevor the Tree

Leaves as full and green as can be,

Trevor, Trevor  the Tree

La da da da, la di di,

Who is a friend to you and me?

Trevor, Trevor, Trevor, Trevor the Tree..."

Ellen had listened to this with a blank look on her face. Then she snorted. "This city's so freakin' messed up. I love it here."

Penelope shook her head. She couldn't exactly disagree with her.


 

 

It was 12:30 by the time the pair arrived at Jezebel Center. Ellen opened her door and popped out, stretching her arms above her head. "This'll be fun," she said. "I haven't been to Jezebel Center since Dad brought me here for Christmas."

"Oh?" Penelope asked, closing her door and making sure the car was locked before moving to the exit of the parking garage. 

"Yeah," Ellen continued. "I just hope this time I don't have to fight a Krampus."

Penelope paused. "Fight a Krampus?"

"Yeah, some guy was dressed up as a Krampus and tried to rob the place. Dad and Robin kicked his ass. I was kind of scared when it happened, but now I think it was kind of funny. Dad never told you about that?"

"No," Penelope admitted. They hadn't been as close at that point as they were now, so she couldn't hold it against him, she supposed. She thought about Edward engaging in a physical fight with a man dressed as a Krampus and the mental image made her smile in amusement. "Well, if there's any hint of anyone in costume here, we're leaving. I'm not explaining to your father about you getting into any fights on his birthday."

"Aw, you're no fun anymore," Ellen mock-whined. The two had made it out of the parking lot and were walking down the sidewalk that led to Jezebel Center when a low whistle caught Penelope's attention. She and Ellen turned to the right to see two men hanging out in front of a storefront, leering at her. 

"Hey pretty lady," one of them said, eying her. Penelope rolled her eyes and continued to walk forward, making sure Ellen was in front of her.

"Hey, where are you going, baby?" The other man called out. "Come on, give us a smile." Penelope blood ran cold when she realized that they were following them. She turned and put one hand in her purse, ready to pull out her taser. The two were less than five feet away from them. Without warning, Ellen got in front of her.

"Hey microdick!" the girl shouted, and Penelope was shocked by just how much volume such a petite girl was able to project. The two men froze as well, looking at Ellen in shock. "Yeah, I'm talkin' to you, chucklefucks!" Ellen continued. She squared her shoulders up, took a step forward and let out a long, creative stream of expletives that would have made the most hardened officers she worked with at GCPD combust. She felt her own ears burn in mortification and watched as the men's faces paled. "...So stick that up your Mom's big fat ass and choke on it!" Ellen finished her voice at almost a comically high pitch. 

The men looked at each other than at Penelope with mournful gazes. "Jesus Christ, lady," one of them said in a wobbly voice. "What's wrong with your kid?" Then they turned tail and fled down the sidewalk.

"That's right, walk away assholes!" Ellen shouted after them as they rounded the corner out of sight. "Walk away. Fuckers." Ellen relaxed her shoulders then continued to walk towards Jezebel Center as if nothing had happened.

Penelope looked at her, aware that she was gaping at the girl. "Where on-" she cleared her throat in an attempt to regain some composure. "Where on Earth did you hear such language!?"

Ellen just shrugged. "My Gramma. You should hear her when we go on the turnpike. She could make a nun explode."

Good Lord, just what kind of childhood did Ellen have!? "In the future," she said. "Please refrain from using that kind of language around me. And don't be so confrontational with people! You could have been shot!"

"Alright, Doc!" Ellen groaned out. "Jeez. You're worse than the Old Man." She continued to walk towards Jezebel Center and Penelope followed. 

Just what had she gotten herself into? 

 

Chapter Text

Penelope had finished her purchase and exited the men's boutique on the second level of Jezebel Center when she realized that she had lost sight of Ellen, for the third time in an hour. "Ellen!" she called out, looking for her bright red hair in the sea of people swarming about the center. "Ellen! Where did you go this time?"

In the din of shoppers, she could just make out Ellen's high pitched shout. "Over here, Doc! Check this out!" Penelope sighed, then followed the sound of Ellen's voice to a kitschy looking toy shop three storefronts down from the boutique. Ellen was standing at a table in front of the store, looking over a collection of dolls and action figures with a grin on her face. She looked up as Penelope approached and picked a doll up. "Look Doc! It's the Old Man!" Ellen held up the doll to Penelope's face. It was indeed a figure of Edward. A crude plastic doll, with a green body, emulating an old spandex costume of his she supposed, and a question mark cane fused to its hand. The face had a smirk on it that was instantly recognizable to Penelope, and a domino mask painted on. "It's got a button on the back too!" Ellen added. She pressed the doll, and a tinny, high-pitched 'Riddle me This!' came out of the doll's mouth. "It's only $5.00! I'm totally gonna get it for Dad!"

"I'm sure he'll enjoy it," Penelope said dryly. "In the meantime, could you at least tell me if you're going to go off wandering somewhere so I don't have to look for you every ten minutes?"

Ellen's smile gave way to a huff and an eye roll. "Oh my Goood," she groaned. "I'm fifteen, not five! You don't have to keep an eye on me! Geez!"'

Penelope huffed as well. This was why she'd never done any babysitting when she was younger. Her gaze went to the other dolls and figures on display on the table. They were mostly of the Rogues. She could spot about half a dozen Tetch's, a stray Isley, three of Fries, four of Professor Crane...He would have considered them a mockery, she thought. For as much mayhem and misery they caused, the Rogues, to a certain degree, were viewed with as much mythic status as Batman himself was in Gotham City. Penelope likened it to how the bank robbers and gangsters of the 1920s and '30s were romanticized by many members of the public. Her eyes wandered to a purple figure in the set and her heart froze in her chest. The green hair, the white face, the painted grin, red like blood, her blood.

"Doc?"

She startled and turned back towards Ellen. The girl was looking at her, her green eyes, Edward's eyes, wide and concerned. "You ok?"

Not here. Not in front of her. Get it together. Breathe. "Yes," Penelope answered, tearing her eyes away from the Joker figure. "I'm quite fine. Have you had lunch yet?"

Ellen cocked her head a bit as if she didn't believe what Penelope had said. Much to her relief, the girl merely shook her head. "No, I'm starving." Then she glanced back to the Joker doll and scowled at him. "Fuck that clown." She knocked the figure over and walked past Penelope towards the escalator that led down to the open-air food court. Penelope briskly walked to catch up to her.

"Ellen!" Penelope said when she'd caught up to her. "Language!" Ellen stopped mid-step and began to laugh out loud. "What's so funny?" Penelope asked.

 "Nothing," Ellen answered, still giggling a bit. "You just sound like Dad." Then she continued down the escalator, followed closely by a confused Penelope.


 

 

After another hectic fifteen minutes of navigating the mob in the food court, Penelope and Ellen managed to find an unoccupied bench located underneath a small tree, near the leftmost exit of the courtyard. Penelope let Ellen take the side with the most shade and watched her as she began to root through her knapsack. "You don't happen to have any sunscreen in there, do you?" It wasn't an overly hot day by Gotham standards, but the sun was bright and bearing down on them.

"I'm a ginger Doc," Ellen replied, pulling a small tube out of the knapsack and setting it next to her food tray. She put the sack down and picked up the tube with her left hand, popped open the top, and squirted a liberal amount of sunscreen on the tips of her right fingers. She put the tube back down and rubbed the lotion over her nose and cheeks. "I always carry some on me when it's sunny." She pouted a bit before she began to dig into her Chinese food. "I'm gonna be covered in freckles again this summer, I know it. Dad's lucky he doesn't get any."

"He might have when he was younger," Penelope pointed out, taking a few bites from her salad. "They tend to fade as you get older. Or you might have gotten them from your mother's side."

"Nah," Ellen said, shaking her head. "Only thing I got from Mom was my face," she pointed at her button nose and her round cheeks as if to contrast them with her father's more angular features, "And being short."

Penelope hummed a bit. Ellen looked like she was about to say more when a small family happened to walk past their bench. A young man and woman holding the hands of a little girl between them. Penelope was content to ignore them, but she caught the wistful look Ellen had on her face as her gaze followed the family on their way out of the food court. Something so insignificant to Penelope in how mundane it was, suddenly became of great interest to her as she realized a basic truth about Ellen. For all of her bravado, she was a very young girl who until very recently didn't have a father and no longer had a mother. Penelope didn't want to condescend to the girl by feeling pity for her, but she couldn't deny feeling an amount of sympathy for her. "What was she like?"

"What was who like?" Ellen asked, still distracted.

Penelope wet her lip and hoped she wasn't about to kick a hornet's nest. "Your mother."

Ellen turned her head sharply. To Penelope's relief, she wasn't angry, just surprised. Ellen swallowed. "Why do you wanna know?"

"I'm just curious," Penelope answered truthfully. "I don't mean to pry."

"No, it's fine, I just wasn't expecting it." Ellen sighed. "She was nice," she said at last. "She was really friendly. She knew all our neighbors and my friends and their parents. Whenever anyone needed anything, she'd be there to help them." Ellen took a fond look at her knapsack. "She was the one who taught me how to sketch, too. She used to take me out to parks on the weekends with our sketchbooks so we could sit on benches and draw people as they walked by. I've still got a lot of the drawings we made hung up in my apartment." Ellen's grip on her knapsack tightened a bit. "Sorry," she said in a shaky voice. "It's been a long time since anyone's asked me about Mom."

Losing her father as an adult had been difficult, but at least she'd had support. Penelope frowned a bit. "Your father doesn't talk to you about her?"

"He doesn't remember her," Ellen sighed. "He tried to ask Gramma about her once or twice, but she flipped out on him. She doesn't like to talk about her much, especially what she was like before I was born." 

"I'm sorry," Penelope said, sincerely. As much as her own mother could irritate her at times, at least she still had her. 

Ellen shrugged and seemed to bounce back to form. She didn't seem to like to appear vulnerable, another thing she'd picked up from Edward. "It's fine, it's whatever, you know?" She reached a hand to wipe at her eyes a bit. "Can I ask you something? And I promise it's not about Strange."

"Alright," Penelope answered.

"Okay," Ellen took a breath. "You and my Dad are friends, right?"

"Of course."

Ellen brought her hands back to the table, playing with her chow mein as she seemed to consider something. "You were the doctor he saved at the memorial, right? And he saved you from that Tut guy? And you look out for him a lot, right?"

Where on Earth was Ellen going with this? "...Yes, I suppose I do."

Ellen's face blushed as bright as her hair. "You and my Dad aren't...you're not...dating, are you?"

Penelope blinked once. Twice. Then she took a long sip from her bottle of water before she answered. "Absolutely not," she said with finality. "Your father and I are friends. Nothing more."

Ellen let out a breath. "Okay, I didn't think you were, I mean, I'd be fine if you were I guess, but I know Dad's still kind of hung up on Jonathan, but I just wanted to make sure, you know?" Ellen let out a nervous laugh. "Can we pretend I didn't ask that?"

"Absolutely," Penelope said. Externally, she was showing no emotion, but internally she was more embarrassed than she'd been in years. She would have almost preferred Ellen asked about Strange again.

Ellen relaxed. "Good. What time is it?"

Penelope looked down at her watch. "1:30. Do you still want to bake that cake?"

"Yeah, I'll be done in a second. There's this market near the Old Man's apartment that we go to sometimes when I visit, I want to stop there and get the stuff..."

Penelope listened to Ellen lay out her plan and wondered what Edward was up to at that moment. Hopefully, he was having fun.


 

 

Edward sat in the plush chair, his arms crossed across his chest, and gave each of his companions at the table a withering glare. "I hate you all. I hate you all so much right now."

"Aw, lighten up, Mistah E!" Harley said to his left, leaning over to adjust the paper crown she'd put on his head when he'd been forced to sit down. "It's your birthday! You're supposed to have fun on your birthday!"

"And just what do I have to celebrate?" he bit out, shooing her hands away. "Another year closer to the grave?"

"Oh nonsense," Oswald scolded from across the table, taking a sip of champagne out of his flute. "You're only thirty-seven, Edward. I have bottles of vintage wine that are older than you. And aging more gracefully, I imagine."

Edward huffed. "I've told you all I don't know how many times, I don't like celebrating my birthdays!"

"Eddie, come on," Selina said in the seat to his right. She put her hand on his shoulder and gave it a light squeeze. "Try to have some fun. Wouldn't you rather be out here with us than sitting in your apartment tinkering with your cane all day?"

Edward's lower lip jutted out into a pout. "Don't ask questions you don't want answers to, Selina."

"I know!" Harley said with a clap of her hands. "Ozzie, let's get some of your waiters to sing Eddie 'Happy Birthday!'"

Edward flushed. "No, Oswald, let's absolutely not-"

"Splendid idea, Harley!" Oswald said with a too smug grin on his face. He snapped his fingers and instantly, a waiter appeared. "Tony, get some of the boys together and sing Edward a song!"

The waiter gave a low bow. "Right away, Mr. Cobblepot! Marco! Alejandro! Bob! Come over here!" Three other waiters appeared and stood in a line, much like a barbershop quartet. The fanciest barbershop quartet to ever exist. The first waiter cleared his throat, and the four began to sing as one. "Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you,"

Edward was glad that given the time of day, he, Oswald, Selina, and Harley were the only people in the lounge apart from the waitstaff, but that didn't stop him from sinking into his chair out of sheer embarrassment. "I hate you all," he repeated. "So much right now."


 

 

It's fascinating to observe how even though they had no contact in her formative years, Ellen shares so many personality traits with Edward. There is something to be said for personality having a genetic component as well as an environmental one. They share a certain forwardness, aggressiveness, though Ellen's is perhaps amplified by being brought up in a major urban city. They also share a compulsiveness to a certain degree, though Ellen's is much less pronounced. I have noted though, that for all of their similarities, there are some key differences as well. Where Edward is methodical and calculating by nature, save when his temper is provoked, Ellen is emotional and impulsive, choosing to act first and ask questions later, as her behavior regarding Bolton attests to. I'm not entirely sure if this impulsiveness is an inherent part of her personality or rather a consequence of her age, but hopefully, it's something that she will grow out of. It concerns me. Ellen is also, in a way, more emotionally developed than Edward is. She is friendlier and more empathetic at the very least. She has a natural protective instinct towards others, even myself though we barely know each other. This combined with her aforementioned impulsiveness no doubt is what interests her in a career as a costumed hero, though hopefully, Edward will keep her far away from that. It's no life for a child. Frankly, I've never been able to reconcile Batman's desire to protect as many people as he possibly can with his tendency to recruit children into his crusade-The sound of banging pots and pans made Penelope look up from her journal towards Edward's kitchen. "Ellen?" she called out. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine, Doc," Ellen replied. "Just trying to find the right cake pan. I can't figure out how Dad organizes his kitchen."

Penelope settled back against Edward's sofa. As soon as they'd arrived, Ellen had taken her bag of baking ingredients and gone straight to the kitchen, all but ordering Penelope to stay in the living room. Penelope had agreed since Ellen had her heart set on baking the cake but kept her ears open just in case. "Did you try looking through alphabetically?"

"That was the first thing I did, but that didn't work! He's got the muffin tins in with his pressure cooker! I didn't know he even had a pressure cooker!"

Like many other things, it seemed Edward's organizational system was a puzzle only he knew how to unlock. "Well, just don't rearrange anything in there too much. You know how your father is."

Ellen just let out a short bark of laughter. "Uh, yeah, Doc. I know." Penelope heard the sound of a mixer being turned on, then went back to her journal. Try as I may, I still have a bit of trouble seeing Edward as a paternal figure. Not having children myself, I'm certainly not qualified to judge his parenting. In any case, it is evident in the instances I've spoken with him about Ellen that he truly does love her, even if he admits to not knowing how to be a parent. Penelope paused and brought the top of her pen to her lip before she wrote again. I must confess, my motivation to reach out to Edward last year wasn't strictly because of Strange. I also wanted the opportunity to finally understand the man. Once I think I have him fully figured out however, a new variable appears and forces me to reconsider him all over again. He certainly does live up to his name of E. Nigma-

"What are you doing?"

Penelope looked up to see Ellen standing by the couch, wearing a 'Kiss the Genius' apron that no doubt belonged to her father and was covered with flour. She gave her a curious look. "Is that a journal?" she asked. 

"Yes," Penelope said, putting it and her pen down on the coffee table. "I write frequently. It helps me organize my thoughts." It was therapeutic as well, but Ellen didn't need to know that.

"Ah," Ellen said, nodding. "Neat!" She smiled mischievously at Penelope. "Got anything juicy in there about the Old Man?"

"I'm not letting you read it," Penelope warned.

Ellen laughed and took a seat in Edward's armchair and pulled her knapsack up off the floor where she had deposited it. "I'll take that as a yes!" Ellen pulled out her sketchbook and set of colored pens and once again, began working on her sketch. "Cake should be done in about ninety minutes. I think."

"You think?" Penelope asked. "You don't know?"

Ellen shrugged. "I don't exactly have a recipe for it."

Oh dear. It looked like there was a distinct possibility that Edward would be eating raw cake batter on his birthday. Penelope bit back the remark she wanted to make and checked her watch. 3:30. Selina had said that Nina and Deirdre would be arriving at 4:30. That left another hour before Penelope would take her leave. She lowered her wrist to see that Ellen was squinting at her. "What?"

Ellen looked back to her sketchbook. "Just getting the shape of your nose right."

Penelope realized what Ellen was doing with a start. "Are you drawing me?"

"Yeah," Ellen shrugged.

"Were you drawing me in the car earlier?"

"Yeah. You're the last person I needed to get down for Dad's present." Ellen came over to the couch and handed Penelope her sketchbook. Penelope took the book from her and opened it to the beginning. This wasn't just a sketchbook of random doodles, she realized. The first picture was a rather detailed one of Edward, sitting at his desk in what Penelope presumed was his office with his legs propped up and his hat drawn down over his eyes. She turned the page and saw a picture of Edward in an action pose, wearing a spandex suit and flanked on both sides by Nina and Deirdre in their old henchwomen getup. She turned the page again and saw a picture of Edward and Selina, side by side. The next page was a detailed portrait of Professor Crane, in a suit and tie. The next page featured Edward and Ellen themselves, in a rather comical pose. That brought her to the current page, which had an incomplete figure that she now realized was herself. "Do you like them?" Ellen asked with a smile on her face.

"Yes," Penelope answered. She flipped through the completed pictures. "They're wonderful, Ellen."

Ellen hummed a bit in delight, then her smile became more nervous. "Do you think Dad will like them?"

"I'm sure of it," Penelope said, and she meant every word. "He'll love them."

Ellen's face lit up again and it made Penelope smile slightly. Ellen thrived on praise and validation, just like her father. "I wanted to get down everybody Dad knows, but I kind of ran out of time. Once I get you done though, I'll have all of his favorites at least."

Penelope flushed a bit. "I think Oswald Cobblepot has more of a claim as a favorite than I do. They've known each other longer."

Ellen scoffed. "Yeah, well, Dad's never saved Oswald Cobblepot." Ellen took her sketchbook back from Penelope and flopped back on the armchair, propping her legs over the side and putting a colored pencil back to paper. The two of them passed in silence for some time after that, Ellen sketching away, Penelope writing a few more notes and trying not to think too much about the implications of what Ellen had said. Edward was her friend, yes, but between Ellen's question about whether they were dating and her conviction that she was one of his favorite people...how many other people were getting the wrong idea? He was a former patient of hers, not to mention he was still in mourning over Professor Crane. She was certain that a romantic relationship was the last thing on his mind, as it was on hers. No, the idea of being anything more than friends with Edward Nigma was absurd.

"All done!" Ellen said in triumph, sitting back up and putting her sketchbook back in her knapsack. "I'm gonna go check on the cake!" She hopped off the chair and walked back into the kitchen.

"Let me know if you need any help," Penelope called after her.

"Like I said before, I got it!" Ellen shouted back. Penelope shook her head and went back to her journal. She was beginning to learn that like Edward, Ellen couldn't just accept help when she needed it. She had to ask for it. Perhaps by some miracle, the cake was baking perfectly-"Oh crap!"

Or not. Penelope put her journal back down on the coffee table. "What happened?"

Ellen didn't respond for a moment. Then she emerged from the kitchen rubbing her elbow with a sheepish look on her face. "Doc," she said in a little voice. "Could you help?"

Penelope got up from the couch. "Of course." She followed Ellen back into the kitchen and saw the cake pan resting on the kitchen counter. She took a closer look and realized that Ellen had gotten the measurements wrong, for the red cake was completely sunken in.

"It looks like a crater!" Ellen cried out. "Now what am I gonna do? I don't have enough stuff left to make another cake!" She sniffled a bit and angrily wiped her eyes. "My first birthday with Dad and I completely screwed it up!"

"It's not ruined yet, Ellen," Penelope assured her. The cake itself was unsalvageable but she took a quick inventory of the remaining ingredients and did a few calculations. "We don't have enough for another cake, but we can make a few cupcakes."

Ellen looked up at her in surprise. "You bake?"

"No," Penelope answered honestly. "But baking is essentially chemistry, and I'm very good at that. I'll get the ingredients measured out for you if you throw out that cake and get the oven and muffin tins ready. Deal?"

Ellen smiled and nodded her head. "Deal."


 

 

A half hour later, and the cupcakes were baking away. Ellen was stacking the used dishes in the sink and washing them, while Penelope dried them out and put them back in what she hoped was the right spot. "So you're a shrink, but you're good at chemistry too?" Ellen asked.

"Yes," Penelope answered, wiping the last bowl with a paper towel before putting it back in its cupboard. "I double majored in Psychology and Biology at Gotham University. I took several chemistry classes as well."

Ellen let out a low whistle. "Wow. So you're hardcore into science, huh?"

"You could say that," Penelope said. "I've always been interested in science, ever since I was younger than you. My parents bought me my first chemistry set when I was...ten, I think?"

Ellen hummed. "Did you ever blow anything up with it?"

Penelope shook her head. "No, I never blew anything up." A smile came to Penelope's face as she recalled an incident from when she'd been just about Ellen's age. "I did get a little carried away once in our garage, however. I spilled some chemicals and burned a hole in my father's convertible."

Ellen snorted. "Oh, your Dad must have loved that."

"Once he and my mother made sure I was alright, I was grounded for a month," Penelope admitted. "And I had to get my first part-time job to help pay for the repairs to the car."

Ellen laughed, then turned her attention to the bowl that contained the cream cheese frosting she was using for the cupcakes. "What do you think? Should I use green dye or not?"

Penelope considered this. "Green dye with red velvet? I think it would look more like a Christmas cupcake."

"Yeah, you're right," Ellen agreed. "Maybe I can put the candles in a question mark or something."

"Or something. What made you decide on red velvet?"

"Selina said it's Dad's favorite flavor. He doesn't like sweet stuff, but he likes peppermint and red velvet." A knock came from the door and Ellen let out a small whoop. "Alright! Nina and Deirdre are here!" She ran to open the door and Penelope checked her watch. 4:30 on the dot. She sighed. She wiped her hands on a dish towel and stepped out towards the living room. Nina and Deirdre had entered the apartment and placed their bags on the kitchen table, and Nina had Ellen wrapped in a hug. Deirdre looked at Penelope and gave her a quick nod.

"Hey, Doc."

"Hello," Penelope greeted politely. She still wasn't quite sure where she stood with Edward's oldest friends. "Have you talked to Selina?"

"Yeah, she and the Boss will be here in an hour."

Penelope nodded. "Alright. Well, I'm going to get going." 

Ellen pulled away from Nina's embrace to give her a confused look. "What? You're not staying for Dad's party?"

Penelope walked to the couch and picked up her bag. She pulled out the package she had for Edward and reluctantly placed it on the kitchen table along with the other bags. "Ellen, I don't want to intrude on your time with your father-"

"Doc," Deirdre said bluntly. "If you've got somewhere you need to be, or you just don't want to be here, fine. Whatever. But if you're leaving because you don't think you're allowed here, that's bullshit. You and the kid are the biggest reasons Ed is as okay as he is now. You've got every right to be here."

Penelope fidgeted with her hands a bit, then looked at Nina and Ellen. Nina was nodding in agreement with Deirdre, and Ellen just smiled at her. Three of the most important people in Edward's life and they accepted her in it. That meant more to her than she thought possible. "Alright," she said. "I'll stay."

"Good!" Ellen said. Then she tugged on Nina's hand. "You want to see the present I made for Dad?"


 

 

"Come on, Eddie," Selina cajoled. "Didn't you have any fun at the Iceberg Lounge?"

Edward scoffed in Selina's passenger seat as she pulled up to his apartment parking lot. "Oh sure I did, when I wasn't forced to wear a cheap cardboard crown Harley got from Burger Boy!"

"Yeah, well she's been holding on to that for a while," Selina said without any shame. "But you got a free lunch out of it." She parked her car right next to Edward's and turned off the engine.

Edward unbuckled himself and opened the passenger door. "There is that, I suppose." He barely waited for Selina to exit the car before he continued. "I know what you were really up to. The whole spectacle at the Iceberg Lounge was a way to keep me out of my apartment. Nina and Deirdre are there, aren't they?"

Selina smirked. "Clever boy. So are Ellen and the Doc, so try to be nicer than you were with Ozzie and Harley."

Edward paused. Ellen he had expected, but, "How on Earth did you convince Penelope to take part in this?"

Selina shrugged and continued walking towards his building. "All I did was tell her it was your Birthday. She didn't really need any convincing to get you something." She turned to Edward and gave him a little smile. "I know you don't like celebrating your birthdays much, Eddie, but aren't you glad you have so many people in your life that do? Isn't that better than being alone in your apartment waiting for the next case?"

Edward jammed his hands into his pockets and looked down at his feet, mulling over Selina’s words. Last year, he’d barely noticed that his birthday had gone by. He’d been working a murder case at the time. Oswald had given him a call, but that was it. He and Selina hadn’t been on speaking terms. He’d been doing a poor job at keeping in touch with Nina and Deirdre. He and Penelope hadn’t had a relationship. He didn’t even know Ellen existed yet. Being alone had been easier, kept things less complicated, but had he been happier? Edward sighed. No, he hadn’t. “Very well,” he said at last. “For my daughter’s sake, I’ll act as if I’m perfectly delighted to walk into bedlam in my apartment.”

Selina mock clapped. “Very good, Eddie. Who knows, maybe you’ll actually let yourself have some fun.”

”No promises,” Edward retorted as the pair made their way into his building and up the stairs. They were down the hall just a few dots down when he picked up on Ellen’s excited voice.

”Alright, let’s frost this fucker!”

”Ellen, language.” Edward stifled a laugh. That was Penelope, strict and proper as ever. “Is it cool enough?”

”It’s fine, Doc,” Deirdre’s cool voice added. “Boss is gonna eat it soon anyway.”

”Speaking of,” Nina chimed in. “He and Kyle should be here any second.”

Edward and Selina were at his door now. Selina looked at him and arched an eyebrow. “I think that’s our cue. Want to do the honors?”

Edward let out a dramatic sigh. “If I must.” He turned on the handle and opened the door.

The four women were clustered around his dining room table, Ellen and Penelope on one side, Nina and Deirdre on the other. In the center was a plate of cupcakes, surrounded by what Edward assumed were his presents. The four looked up as he and Selina entered, and Ellen’s grin threatened to split her face. She rushed towards him with her arms out. “Happy Birthday, Dad!” She launched herself at him and Edward caught her in his arms, returning her hug.

Edward had to chuckle a bit at his daughter’s enthusiasm. “Thank you, sweetheart.” Nina and Deirdre approached him next, Deirdre patting him on the shoulder and Nina kissing him on the cheek. Only Penelope hung back by the table, regarding him with what he thought was a fond expression. “What?” He asked her. “No hug for me?”

Penelope scoffed and rolled her eyes. “Don’t push your luck.” Then she smiled slightly at him. “Happy birthday, Edward.”

Edward grinned back. "Thank you."

Ellen pulled on his hand and tugged him towards the dining room table. "Come on Dad! I made you red velvet cupcakes!"

"Did you?" Edward smiled at his daughter. "Did anyone ever have a better daughter?"

"Nope," Ellen answered. "Open your presents!"

Edward and Ellen were joined by Penelope, Selina, Nina, and Deirdre at the table. Nina picked a box and slid it over to Edward. "This is from me and Deirdre."

Edward unwrapped the box and pulled out a hardcover copy of Cat's Cradle. He'd had a copy, once, but it had disappeared along with his other personal effects from Arkham after he'd been put in a coma. "Thanks, girls." 

Selina waved him off. "I already got you your present," she said. She nudged Penelope, who was sitting next to her on Edward's left. Penelope fidgeted with the small box she had in her hands. "Go on, Doc," Selina teased. "He won't bite."

"Lina," Edward scolded.

"It's alright," Penelope said. She handed Edward the box. "Here. It's not much, but-"

"You didn't have to get me anything at all, you know," Edward said. He opened the box and saw a pair of cufflinks inside. They were gold studs, simpler than the ornate question marked shaped ones he'd sported for the better part of two years now, but he could tell they were good quality. He looked up from them to Penelope. "This didn't set you back too much, I hope?"

"No. I mean, I know they probably aren't as fancy as what you're used to. I have the receipt if you want to get them exchanged-"

"That won't be necessary," Edward declared, removing his cufflinks as he spoke. He pulled out the new ones and put them in his sleeves., depositing the old ones on the ding room table. When he finished, he flashed Penelope a grin. "There's something to be said for being understated. Thank you. I'll have to return the favor when your birthday rolls around."

Penelope bit her lower lip. "That's really not necessary, Edward."

He chuckled a bit. "Oh no, you don't. Just tell me when your birthday is and-" Edward realized something. "I already missed it, didn't I? When is your birthday?"

Penelope hesitated for a moment. "January 19th."

"Oh, you're a Capricorn," Ellen piped up. "That explains a lot."

Edward gaped at Penelope, mortified. "January 19th!? Why didn't you tell me?"

Penelope just shrugged. "I don't really like celebrating my birthday much either, Edward. And to be fair, you had saved me less than a month earlier."

"That's hardly a birthday present and you know it," Edward chided, pointing at her. "I'll make it up to you, I can promise you that."

Penelope sighed and shook her head. "There's no talking you out of this, is there?"

Edward grinned again. "Not a chance." Edward was so wrapped up in his conversation with her that he didn't notice the smirk that came across Selina's face or the look that passed between Nina and Deirdre. He did, however, feel Ellen, sitting next to him on his right, patting his arm.

"Dad," she coaxed. "Here's my present!"

Edward tore his attention from Penelope to look at Ellen. She held out her sketchbook. He took it from her and opened it and his eyes almost bugged out at the drawings contained inside. "Oh my, Ellen!" he said. He flipped through the pages of himself and the girls, himself and Selina. "These are fantastic! You-" he paused when he saw the portrait of Jonathan. Even though Ellen had never met him, and had seen only a handful of old photos he and Penelope had uncovered, she seemed to have the essence of Jonathan captured, from his gaunt frame, the ill-fitted suit, and the intense blue stare that he had, the gaze that Edward remembered the most. A droplet fell onto the page, just an inch shy of Jonathan's figure, and Edward realized that it was a tear.

"Dad?"

He looked up from the sketch into Ellen's concerned face. She probably thought that the gift had upset him. He quickly put the sketchbook on the table and wrapped her in a tight hug. "Thank you, sweetheart," he said, and he felt Ellen return the hug.

Ellen pulled away with a mischievous smirk. "I got you something else, too! I picked it up when I was out with Doc today!"

"Penelope has a name, you know," Edward lightly scolded. 

"I really don't mind," Penelope said in Ellen's defense.

Ellen ignored them both and pulled a hideous plastic doll out of her knapsack. "Behold!" she said, handing it over to Edward. "Your son!"

Edward squinted at the doll, then removed his glasses to get a better look. He realized that it was an action figure of himself. "Oh good Lord, I was hoping you'd never find these. Ellen, this is a ripoff of me, not my son!"

Ellen made a mock pout. "Aw, Dad! You're hurting Eddie Jr's feelings!"

"Ellen, in the first place, this is a cheap plastic doll. It has no feelings. Secondly, on the almost zero chance I have a son, I would not name him 'Eddie Jr.' I'm not that vain." He took another look at the doll and scowled. "I really need to trademark my image. Oswald did and he never has to worry about these ugly things."

"Eddie," Nina said. "Don't talk about Eddie Jr. like that!"

"Oh, not you too, Nina!"

"We'll take him if you won't. Eddie Jr. deserves better than a dead beat dad!"

"Deirdre!"

Penelope watched as an argument broke out between Edward and his friends, with Ellen chiming in every now and then. She shook her head. This really wasn't what she had expected this morning. Across the table, Selina caught her eye and flashed her a smirk. Penelope found it in her to return the smile, slightly. It wasn't what she expected, but she didn't regret a moment.


 

 

At 9:30 pm, after cupcakes, many discussions and another round of arguing over the custody of Eddie Jr., Penelope finally got up from her spot next to Edward on the sofa. "I should get going," she said. "I have an appointment with a patient first thing, tomorrow."

Edward got up to join her. "I should get Ellen back to her Grandmother's before the woman pitches another fit. We'll walk you to your car." He looked to where Ellen still sat at the kitchen table with Nina and Deirdre and gave her a short nod. "Let's go. Get your stuff."

Ellen pouted but did as she was told. "Aww. I hate curfew."

"So you've told me," Edward said. "I'll be back in about a half hour if the rest of you want to stay."

"We'll be here," Nina answered. "Nice seeing you again, Doc."

"You as well," Penelope answered. She, Edward, and Ellen walked out the front door, Edward closing the door behind him. As soon as they had, Selina got up from the armchair to cross over to the window that overlooked the parking lot. In two minutes, Ellen came dashing out into the parking lot, heading directly towards Eddie's car. Eddie himself and the Doc came out behind her, walking slowly, clearly in conversation with each other. Selina watched as Eddie accompanied Doc to her car, stopping just in front of it. The two of them were only inches apart and not paying attention to anything or anyone but each other. Selina smirked. "Well. This is going better than I planned."

"Planned?" Nina asked. She and Deirdre had come to up see what she was looking at. Deirdre looked indifferent, but Nina fixed Selina with a look. "What are you up to, Kyle? Are you trying to start something between Eddie and the Doc?"

"I haven't started a thing, Nina," Selina defended. She turned her attention back to the two figures by the car. "But if there's something there, what harm is there in helping it out a bit?"

Nina and Deirdre exchanged a long look with each other. Then Nina sighed. "You really think this is a good idea, Selina? Eddie doesn't exactly have a good track record with romance." Her dark brown eyes narrowed a bit. "You're proof of that."

Selina rolled her eyes. "I know, I know. Look, I'm not what Eddie needs in a partner. Crane's gone, and frankly, I don't want Eddie to spend the rest of his life pining away for him." Selina watched as Ellen came up to join Eddie and the Doc, and she could just make out her saying something about her grandmother and a shotgun. The Doc took the opportunity to unlock her car, only to look surprised when Eddie opened it for her. "I think they could be good for each other," Selina said. "Eddie needs someone to bring him down to Earth but to also engage him. Someone who encourages him to be better, but also won't roll over and take his crap. I don't know her that well, but I think she's kind of like Crane. She needs someone to get her out of her shell. Someone who can actually remind her to live every once in a while." The Doc got in her car and gave the father and daughter a small wave. before she pulled out. The pair waved back, and Ellen started back towards Eddie's car. Eddie stood where he was, and Selina knew he was watching Doc drive off. She could just make out his smile in the lights of the parking lot.

"I don't have anything against the Doc," Deirdre said at last. "But Ed's had his heart broken twice. I don't think he can survive it happening a third time." She walked back to the dining room table, pulling a cigarette out of her pocket. "We're better off just leaving it alone."

Selina didn't answer. She knew she wasn't wrong about this. Her intuition was second to none. 


 

 

Monday, June 5th, 2007

4:30 pm

 

Penelope's work day had been uneventful. Just a handful of patients and paperwork. Wayne and Bryant would be in their meeting with Sharpe now and would call Joan as soon as it was over. Now that her last patient of the day was gone, Penelope decided to pass the time by writing in her journal again. What she wrote about though, was hardly relevant to Wayne, Bryant, or Sharp. 

...In my time with Edward, his friends, and Ellen last night, I came to a conclusion. Try as I may, I don't believe I'm ever going to fully figure out Edward Nigma. It feels that every time I'm with him, I discover a new facet of his personality. Or perhaps, I see what I couldn't before. He has, indirectly, forced me to reconsider a lot of what I felt to be true back when I worked in Arkham Asylum. Two years ago, the thought of that would have irritated me, but now, I accept it.

A knock at her office door snapped Penelope out of her musings. "Yes?" she called out. 

"Delivery for a Dr. Young?"

Penelope furrowed her brow. A delivery? From who? She got up from her desk and walked to her door, opening it. A young man was outside, holding in his hands the most exquisite bouquet of white and light red carnations that she'd ever seen. She looked bug-eyed at them for a long moment. "For me?" she asked. "Who sent them?" She hoped it wasn't a patient. 

"A Mr. Arthur Wynne," the delivery man said. He handed her the bouquet and a card. "Have a nice day." He left, and Penelope shut the door behind him. She walked back over to her desk, staring at the flowers and pondering. Arthur Wynne? That wasn't a patient of hers or anyone she knew, but why did it sound familiar...wait. Arthur Wynne was the inventor of the crossword puzzle, and an alias of, "Edward," she muttered. She took a look at the card recognized his distinctive scrawl.

For all you've done for me and mine. Happy belated Birthday.

E. Nigma

Penelope shook her head. That impossible man. She ran a finger around the petals of a white carnation and smiled. In the privacy of her office, she didn't care that she was blushing. 

 

Chapter Text

CASE FILE #0077: Things Unsaid

July 25th, 2007

 

I never intended for this to be anything other than a working relationship, but somehow, she's worked her way past my defenses and become one of my dearest friends. My dearest, perhaps. But that's all she can be. No matter how much I might-no. She's my partner. That's all she can be. That's all we can be. The list of reasons why we can't go any further could stretch out of Gotham City all the way to Metropolis, but it all comes down to one basic fact: I am-was the Riddler. There's only one way relationships end for the Riddler. She deserves better than that. She deserves better than me...

 

June 5th, 2007

"Mr. Wayne? Mr. Bryant? Mayor Sharp will see you now."

Bruce and Bryant got up from their seats at the same time, Bruce pausing for a moment to straighten his red silk tie before following Bryant and Sharp's assistant down the hall. The assistant kept a brisk pace as he led them towards the solid oak doors of Sharp's office, allowing for Bruce and Bryant to hang back a few feet. "How do you want to do this?" Bryant asked Bruce, his voice low so the assistant couldn't hear. "Good cop, bad cop?"

Bruce let out a thin smile. "You start us out. If Sharp gets difficult, I'll step in." 

Bryant nodded, then looked back towards the door. The assistant had reached them now and was knocking. "Mayor Sharp? Mr. Wayne and Mr. Bryant are here."

Sharp's voice sounded from within, as pompous as Bruce remembered from his days on Arkham's board. "Yes, send them in!" The secretary dutifully opened the door for Bruce and Bryant, then stepped to the side to allow them to enter. Bruce stepped in after Bryant, and his eyes narrowed. Sharp was sitting behind his desk, with an irritated look on his face as he watched the pair enter his office. This would be the first time either man had met with Sharp since the Arkham riot, or in Bruce's case, since his resignation from the board. It wasn't a meeting he was looking forward to, but Sharp was his best link to Strange. Strange was inaccessible to Batman for the time being, so Bruce Wayne would have to be enough. Bruce heard the office doors shut behind him, and almost on cue, Sharp cleared his throat and stood up from behind his desk. "Mr. Wayne," he nodded politely at Bruce. He abandoned all pretense at civility as he considered Bryant however, his face darkening in displeasure. "Bryant," he grounded out. "I have a speaking engagement in Park Row in two hours. Whatever it is you want, make it brief."

Bryant bristled for a moment but spoke in a firm voice. "It's about Arkham Asylum. Mayor, we're concerned about how the patients are being treated."

Bruce kept a close eye on Sharp, watching his facial expression change from confusion, to irritation. "I'm no longer involved in the day to day administration of Arkham Asylum. If you have any questions about the inmates, you should be directing them to Warden Strange."

'Inmates'. Technically, it was an accurate description, but the brittle tone of Sharp's words alone said all Bruce needed to know about how the Mayor viewed the denizens of Arkham. "We've tried," Bryant said. "He hasn't made himself available to us. And you're the one who appointed him to take over Arkham after you were elected. Doesn't he keep you informed about patient treatment?"  

Sharp's eyes bulged out slightly, but then he huffed. "Well, of course, he does. He's assured me that all appropriate security measures are being taken-"

"With all due respect, sir," Bryant interrupted. "Security isn't the only important thing at Arkham. We've heard reports that the patients aren't getting the proper care they need. That their access to their doctors is being cut off, that they aren't allowed out of their cells at all-"

"Proper care?" Sharp scoffed. "Those...people are quite frankly getting more than they deserve! Or are you forgetting just what happened the last time we gave those degenerates free reign?"

Bruce smirked. Got you. Bryant's eyes flashed and his lips curled in disgust. He was about to say something cutting to Sharp when Bruce cut in. "So then these reports about how the patients are treated are true, Mayor Sharp?"

Sharp opened his mouth to respond, then he paled, once Bruce's words had sunk in. It seemed he had realized too late his slip-up and began to bluster, "I-well-of course not, the patients are receiving the care they're entitled to. They are not being mistreated in any way."

It was unconvincing, to say the least. Bryant seized the initiative and began questioning Sharp further. "What about the guards? We've heard that Lyle Bolton encourages them to beat the patients and keep them in lockdown!"

"As a safety precaution, the inmates' time outside of their cells has been restricted, yes," Sharp admitted. "And Bryant, you of all people should remember that sometimes physical force is necessary to ensure compliance from the inmates."

"I remember," Bryant seethed. "You know what else I remember? I remember that Bolton threw a patient out of a window for giving him lip. That man doesn't belong around sick people, Mayor."

"Oh, you've never liked Bolton," Sharp said dismissively. "Bolton isn't as gentle as some might like, but Arkham hasn't had a single incident since he took over as head of security!"

It was almost comical how Sharp kept walking into these little traps. Almost, given that the man was the Mayor of Gotham City. "Oh?" Bruce asked. "What about what happened to Victor Goodman?"

Sharp turned from Bryant to him with a look of shock, outrage, and, unless Bruce was mistaken, fear. He could see beads of sweat forming on the Mayor's brow. Had Sharp been present the night Goodman died? Or, Bruce realized, was he involved with Goodman's death? "Victor Goodman committed suicide," Sharp finally stammered. "It's unfortunate, but the man was terminally ill as well as mentally unstable."

So it seemed that Sharp was sticking to the story about the death being a suicide. Now it was time to see just how involved he was with Bolton's stunt in April. "Wasn't there an orderly who confessed to murdering him back in April? I thought I remembered hearing something about that on the news?"

Sharp's expression changed almost instantaneously from nervousness to confusion. "An orderly? I don't recall..." his eyes narrowed in concentration, then he nodded. "Oh yes, the Sanchez boy. Well, he was unstable as well. He was overworked, exposed to too much and he simply snapped. He falsely confessed to murdering Goodman than killed himself. Dreadful business. That's why we cut down on the inmates' access to staff, to prevent such an incident from happening again."

Something about Sharp's tone was off. Just a moment ago, he didn't recognize Sanchez at all, now it sounded as if he was reading from a prepared speech. It was odd. It was clear to Bruce though that whatever Sharp had seen or done when Goodman died, that he wasn't directly involved the cover-up around it, which meant that Strange and probably others were taking actions that the Mayor knew nothing about. It was concerning. He cleared his throat. "That being said, Mayor, we have grave concerns about the conditions at Arkham Asylum, and this conversation hasn't alleviated them."

Sharp's round face reddened as he considered Bruce. "You resigned from Arkham's board years ago, Mr. Wayne," he said through gritted teeth. "Why are coming to me with these concerns now?"

"I may have resigned from the board, but I still have a vested interest in how Arkham is run, Mayor," Bruce said with strained patience. "My Mother's foundation helped pay for a grant to rebuild the medical center after the riot two years ago." Sharp scoffed in response. Time to play hardball. "If you won't take our concerns seriously, Mayor," Bruce said. "Then I'm afraid I'll have no choice but to pull all funding from Arkham, the City Hall renovations, and any other projects that you have in mind, for the rest of your term as Mayor." Sharp gaped at him like a fish. "Also, I'm ready and willing to go to Vicki Vale, Summer Gleason, and Jack Ryder with our concerns. We can settle this here or on the Six O'Clock news. Your choice, Mr. Mayor."

Sharp closed his mouth and glared up at Bruce. Finally, he slumped his shoulders. "What do you want?" he asked in a small voice. With no one to prop him up, the bluster was gone.

Bruce smiled then took a seat in front of Sharp's desk, before exchanging a look with Bryant. The former guard seemed equally pleased. "About Lyle Bolton..."


 

"You seem to be in a good mood."

Penelope looked up from where she was writing in her journal on the sofa to Joan's smiling face. Not long after the flowers had been delivered to her office, Joan had called her and suggested that she come over to her apartment to wait for Wayne and Bryant to return from Sharp's office. Penelope shrugged, then returned to her journal. "I suppose I am," she said. "For the first time, it feels like we're making tangible progress."

"Is that all?" Joan teased. "You've had a smile on your face the whole time you've been here, Penelope. I don't remember the last time I've seen you look so happy." She took a seat next to Penelope on the sofa. "I think there's a little more to it than just the prospect of getting back at Strange and Sharp."

Penelope realized that she was smiling, so she schooled her expression to a more neutral state. She looked down at her journal and shut it, considering her friend's words. Her good mood had everything to do with the meeting that had taken place in the Mayor's office and nothing to do with the bouquet of white and light red carnations that now sat in a vase on her office desk. Absolutely nothing. She looked up at Joan's curious, warm face and inwardly sighed. She'd hold the bouquet back, but she supposed it wouldn't hurt to tell Joan a bit of what had happened yesterday. "It was Edward's birthday yesterday. I spent some time with him and Ellen."

Joan raised her eyebrows. "Oh, that's right! I'll have to send him a card." Her expression changed then to one that was a bit more calculating. This made Penelope slightly nervous. "You spent his birthday with him and Ellen? You're getting pretty close, aren't you?"

Penelope bristled a bit. First Ellen, now Joan. She half expected Selina to start pushing the two of them together next. "We're friends, Joan, that's all it is. I know better than to get romantically involved with him." As if it would be remotely appropriate, given their past history. As if she had any time for any nonsense like that. As if he would even want her.

Joan nodded, but her expression didn't change. "I know, Penelope." Then she gently put a hand on her shoulder. "But if that changes, you'd tell me, right?"

It took all Penelope had to not roll her eyes. "Of course I would, Joan, but it won't. We're not in love with each other and we never will be. We're just friends."

A knock at the door mercifully cut off anything else Joan might say, and the older woman got up from the sofa to open it. She walked back into the living room followed by Wayne and Bryant. Both men had satisfied looks on their faces. Penelope sat straight up, the anticipation bubbling within her. "Well?" she asked. "How did it go?"

Bryant flashed her a charming grin. "The Mayor said, and I quote, that he would 'take a closer look at Bolton's conduct in Arkham.' I think we got the son of a bitch."

Penelope leaned back and let out a small breath. Bolton deserved worse than to be simply fired, but this was a start. It was the first step. "What about the patients?"

"I might have encouraged Sharp to accept a grant from the Martha Wayne Foundation," Wayne said, with a satisfied look on his face. "The grant will cover a remodeling of Arkham's interior, with special attention to the medical and recreation centers. All to be supervised by myself, of course."

Joan clasped her hands together. "Bruce, that's wonderful!" She turned to Penelope with a warm smile. "Penelope, what do you think?"

This time, Penelope let the smile come to her face. With Wayne bankrolling Arkham's remodel, he could be hers and Edward's eyes and ears into the Asylum. And if he could exert enough pressure on Sharp to get him to consider firing Bolton, maybe, just maybe, he could convince him to fire Strange. "Yes," she said. "It is. Thank you both."


 

"You don't have to walk me to my car you know," Penelope told Wayne as they exited Joan's apartment. Once the four had finished discussing what had happened in Sharp's office and their next steps, darkness had fallen over Gotham City. It was a warm humid night, and Penelope was glad that she hadn't worn a jacket that night. 

Beside her, Wayne merely shrugged. "Just being polite, Penelope." They approached her little black car, parked right across the street from Joan's apartment building. Penelope had unlocked it with her key, but Wayne surprised her by getting in front of her and opening the door for her. He gave her a lopsided grin that, to anyone else, may have just been an example of his roguish charm, but to her, was as theatrical as anything Edward did. Wayne was charming, she couldn't deny that, and he seemed to genuinely want to help them, but there was an artificiality about the man that at times made her uneasy. Edward, for all his obnoxiousness at times, never hid his true self the way that she suspected Wayne did. It was a puzzle for another time though. The man had proven himself to be helpful and there was no sense in doing anything that might cause him to back out. "May I ask you something?" he asked.

Penelope paused mid-way between getting into her car and looked back up at Wayne. "Yes?" What could he have to ask her that hadn't come up in Joan's apartment? She thought of his reputation as a playboy and almost reflexively glowered. If he even hinted at wanting to proposition her, she'd slam the car door in his face.

"What's your end goal for Arkham?" Wayne asked and it occurred to Penelope that he had a thoughtful look on his face. It was enough to make her regret her uncharitable thoughts about the man. "I mean, you don't want to just get rid of Bolton and Strange, do you?"

Penelope looked down at her hands, thinking this question over in her head for a moment before she answered. "No. Of course not." She looked back up at Wayne. "Do you remember when we spoke in February, during the Commission?"

Wayne cocked his head to the side and nodded. "Of course."

Penelope clenched her hands around the steering wheel of her car. "Well, I've thought about it some more. Arkham Asylum is one of, if not the biggest example of a toxic status quo in this city." She set her jaw. "Once Bolton and Strange are gone, I want to completely overhaul it. It was never meant to be a prison. I want to take it back to what it originally was. A hospital for the mentally ill."

Wayne showed no visible reaction to this but the same thoughtful expression. "And the Rogues?"

Penelope took a breath. "The ones who need help, Dent, Tetch, Wesker, Zeus...They would benefit from treatment, not from punishment. More treatment then they're getting from Strange at least. The ones like Zsasz, though, or White, or Joker-" she paused to collect herself a moment. "They don't belong in the same place as the people Bolton's been abusing. They should have never been all put in the same institute, to begin with."

Wayne hummed, then reached up to scratch behind his ear. "That's going to be a lot of hard work."

"I realize that," Penelope said. She sighed, then leaned against her car seat, dropping her hands so they rested in her lap. "It will probably take me the rest of my life to accomplish it. It's what needs to happen though. This city can't just keep throwing people in Arkham and forgetting them."

There was a pause before Wayne spoke again. "No," he agreed. "It can't." Penelope looked surprised at him for a moment, then shook her head. She'd believed the worst of Edward a year ago, and look at how wrong she had been. She couldn't keep assuming the worst of Bruce Wayne. He flashed her another charming smile. "Well, from what I've seen, you seem to be up for the job."

Penelope let a small smile come to her own face. "Thank you, Bruce." Then she heard her phone buzz in her purse. "Excuse me, I should take this."

Bruce raised his hands and backed away from the car. "By all means. Good night, Penelope."

As soon as he was clear of the door, Penelope shut it, then reached into her purse to pull out her phone. "This is Dr. Penelope Young."

"Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no tales."

Penelope smiled a bit wider. "Hello, Edward."

"Well, aren't we in a good mood. I take it Wayne and Bryant's ambush on Sharp went well?"

"Better than well. Sharp is probably going to order Bolton to be fired. And Bruce is going to be supervising a remodel of Arkham Asylum."

"Bruce?" Edward asked, and Penelope thought she could hear his chipper tone falter just a bit. "On a first name basis already I see. Ah, well. That's a start though. And to think, all it took was my daughter being a willful hellion and Bruce Wayne throwing his billions around."

Penelope rolled her eyes a bit. "Don't be like that, Edward. You played more than a small part in all this too."

"Of course I did. And so did you. You spearheaded this, Penelope. You deserve more than a fair share of the credit."

Penelope smiled again. Edward never shared credit with anyone if he could avoid it, and to have him share it with her made her happy in a way she didn't want to examine. 

"What about my delivery?" he asked. "Did you get that?"

"The flowers?" Penelope asked, and she felt her face burn again. "Yes. That really wasn't necessary, you know."

"Well, neither was tagging along with Ellen to go Birthday shopping for me, but that didn't stop you," Edward teased. "Let me indulge you just this once." 

Her face was hot now, and she was glad he couldn't see her, and that Bruce had crossed back to the other side of the street. "Why carnations?" she found herself asking.

"Well, carnations are the January birth flower, you know. And..." he paused for a moment. "They suit you, I think."

For a long moment, Penelope didn't know what to say. Finally, she settled for a "Thank you."

She could just picture him on the other side of the phone, with that smirk on his face. "Not at all. See you on Friday?"

"Of course. Good night, Edward."

"Good night."

Penelope hung up the phone and put it back in her purse, her heart beating just a bit faster. It was the thrill of finally getting one over on Strange, she told herself. It had nothing to do with the flowers. Or the man who had sent them. He was her friend. Nothing more. And she had work to do.

Across the street, Bruce had listened in to Dr. Young's conversation with a furrowed brow. When he'd opened her car door, he'd planted a bug in the inner lining and she hadn't picked up on it. Hopefully, she never would. It looked like his hunch was right. Anything that happened in this group, she'd tell Edward. That was not what gave him pause, however. He couldn't hear Edward's part of the conversation, but he did hear Dr. Young talking about flowers he had sent her. He'd assumed that after what had happened with Croc earlier that year, that Edward would be against any further romantic relationships. Was that not the case anymore? Just what were Edward and Dr. Young to each other? He heard her hang up the phone and watched from his spot underneath the awning of Dr. Leland's building as she drove away. He took off his listening device. If Edward and Dr. Young were in love with each other, even if they weren't aware of it yet, that made the entire situation even more complicated. Both of them seemed driven to take down Strange, and, at least in Dr. Young's case, undo her past mistakes as best she could. If it came down to it though, what would they choose?

Their goals, or each other?


 

Ward and Schrader sat in front of Strange's desk in Arkham Asylum, listening to him recount his recent, fraught conversation with Sharp. Ward had felt his temper rise with every word Strange spoke, while Schrader sat still, an almost bored look on his face. Finally, Strange concluded, folding his hands in front of his face and giving each man a piercing glance. "Bolton will have to be fired, there is no question about that," his deep voice sounded, almost echoing off the walls of his office. "Given his mishaps in April, this will not be a loss. However, that still leaves us with the matter of this little 'commission'." He inclined his head towards Schrader. "I've been told that you have a proposition for me?"

Schrader leaned forward, a cold smirk replacing the disinterested look. "We know who's behind this little stunt of Wayne's and Bryant's."

"Dr. Penelope Young," Strange said. "Yes, she has proved to be a bit more troublesome than I had anticipated. As I told Warden Ward, however, we cannot move directly on her without arousing the interest of Mr. Nigma."

Ward nodded. "We understand, Hugo. We can't directly attack her, but we can indirectly."

Strange looked at him, impassive, but interested. "Go on."

Ward wet his lip. "We know what her weakness is. We also know that there's someone out there who would very much like to see her dead."

Ward thought he caught a gleam in Strange's dark brown eyes, behind the round glasses. "You are referring to Bane. He is not incarcerated in Gotham at the moment, and his grudge against the woman alone will not be enough to bring him here."

"No, he'll need bait," Schrader said. "I know where the GCPD keeps the TITAN it confiscated two years ago. I can get to it easily."

An unreadable expression came over Strange's face. "You mean to release TITAN on the streets to lure out Bane?"

"I know where Bane is," Ward added. "I can get the word to him that TITAN's out on Gotham again. I can say that Dr. Young was the one who made it. That should be enough to bring him to Gotham."

"And if it doesn't," Schrader said, "Just the re-emergence of it will rattle the bitch a bit."

Strange leaned back in his chair, the unreadable look still on his face. "This is a very risky proposition," he said. "Bane is a cunning man, as well as a great physical threat."

"But he's rational," Ward said. "He won't burn the city to the ground for a laugh like the Joker would. Once he disposes of Young, he can be contained."

"And Mr. Nigma?"

Schrader snorted. "What's the green bean going to do? Swat Bane with his cane? If he even cares enough about the bitch to do anything."

"He saved her from Victor Goodman, Schrader. That can't be discounted."

"No offense, Professor, but Bane's not Goodman. Nigma's not stupid or brave enough to go up against him. And if he is, Bane will kill him. Win-win. Or maybe Young will just make a run for it when Bane shows up. That's a win-win for us as well. Or, worst case scenario, Bane never shows or gets caught before he can kill her, this will break her. I've dealt with her in GCPD. She's brittle. One sharp shove is all she needs to break completely. And it will be done in a way that won't come back to bite us, not like what Bolton did. No one is going to accuse us of deliberately luring Bane to Gotham. Hell, Bane won't even know we were involved. Any way you look at it, it's a win-win."

Strange seemed to ponder Schrader's words before he fixed Ward with a look. "Phillip? What do you think?"

Ward gulped a bit. He had misgivings about bring Bane to Gotham, and about releasing the TITAN back out to the streets. He'd seen the aftermath of what people on the substance could do. However, Young needed to be stopped before she and her little crusade could do any more damage to their cause. What was a bit of collateral damage against ridding Gotham City of crime once and for all? "I agree with Curtis," he said at last. "I think we should do it."

Strange nodded. "Very well. You have my permission to go ahead with this scheme. I will give you just one warning: if anything goes wrong, neither the Mayor nor myself can be involved. This is the last I hear of it from either of you. You must succeed or fail on your own. Is that clear?"

Ward nodded. "Yes." From the corner of his eye, he saw Schrader nod as well.

"Good. Go."

Strange waited until both men left before he let out a dark chuckle. "You could not stand against me as Batman, so you make your opening move as Bruce Wayne. You're using her as a pawn in our game, aren't you? Very well, Mr. Wayne. You will have your war. And she will be the first casualty. And perhaps Mr. Nigma will fall as well. And it will all be on you." He got up from his desk and crossed the room to a bare spot on the wall. He pressed a button and the wall opened, revealing a secret compartment. In a glass case, there was his most prized possession. A Batsuit that he had created himself, after spending countless hours studying footage and files of Batman. He lay a hand against the glass, his reflection looking back at him. From the angle, it was as if was wearing the cowl. "Soon," he murmured. "I, not you will be the guardian of Gotham City. And you, and all who follow you will burn."

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

July 17th, 2007

When Edward arrived at Penelope's office that Friday morning, she was sitting at her desk, writing something intently on a sheet of paper, surrounded on both sides by stacks of scientific journals and thick looking textbooks. She looked up briefly when he entered, then looked back down at her writing with a "Hello, Edward." Her tone was as brisk and cold as it always was, but Edward could catch the ghost of a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth as she continued to work.

Edward smirked himself as he shut the door behind him, then walked up to his favored chair in front of her desk. When he was sat down he considered her and shook his head fondly. Surrounded by books as she was, her hair tied back like it was, she looked more like an old-fashioned schoolmarm grading homework than a psychiatrist. "Good morning, Dr. Young!" he said with his customary flourish. He looked at the paper she was writing on with interest. "Busy I see. Did Commissioner Gordon call you in for a consultation?"

"No," Penelope answered, putting her pen down. "Actually, this is more personal." She gestured to the textbooks to her right and Edward craned his head slightly to read the titles on the spines. The Principles of Neural Science. The Biology of the Mind. Cognitive Psychology. "I've been reading up on current trends in Psychology, Psychiatry, and Neuroscience in the last few weeks."

"So I gathered," Edward said, sitting back up. "Business or pleasure? Or both?"

"A bit of both, but mostly business." Penelope pointed down to the paper she'd been writing on. "I've been taking notes as I read and compiling a list of possible new behavioral therapies and treatments for the patients of Arkham. I'm going to meet with Joan and a few other doctors we know to review them and brainstorm from there."

Strange wasn't even close to being out the door yet and she was already planning on what to do when he was gone. Her emphasis on looking ahead and the bigger picture irritated him at times when they were reviewing the case, but he had to admit, it amused him just as much. "Getting a bit ahead of ourselves, aren't we?" he teased.

As he expected, (hoped) Penelope glowered at him a bit. Jonathan never responded to Edward's baiting that he remembered, and Selina tended to draw first blood. Penelope, despite how collected she presented herself, would always, always, respond. One-nil. "No!" she insisted. Then she shrugged. "Well, maybe," she conceded. "But I don't see any harm in coming up with a solid plan now for what to do when Strange is gone. Bruce said at our last meeting that he's made good progress on the renovations for the recreation center in Arkham."

Edward swallowed down the irritation he felt at her referring to Wayne by his first name. It shouldn't bother him. That was just how she referred to people she knew. It didn't mean anything. Wait. Why was he irritated by this? He shook his head. "Oh, good. That will make my old cell mates happy." By the way Penelope rolled her eyes, that had been the wrong thing to say. "It is a good thing, really," he clarified. "So what comes after your meeting?"

Penelope folded her hands in front of her face and seemed to ponder his question. She finally let out a sigh. "Well, from what we've found out, Sharp will never approve anything less draconian. We could try going straight to the Board, but the fact that they've been approving of Strange's actions so far doesn't exactly inspire me with much confidence. They might be more cooperative once he's gone."

Edward hummed, then, like the proverbial lightbulb, an idea came to him. "Maybe. Or perhaps you've gotten things backward." She looked at him with a look of surprised irritation, but before she could reply, he raised a finger. "Allow me to elucidate. Perhaps, instead of getting rid of Strange to get past the Board, we should be getting rid of the Board to get past Strange."

Penelope's eyebrows raised. "Get rid of the Board? Edward-"

"Figuratively. They're part of the elite social circles in Gotham City. They're bound to have a skeleton or two in their closet. A little bit of digging by yours truly, a threat to call Jack Ryder, and voila! You have a cooperative Board."

Penelope blinked for a moment, then set Edward with a serious look. "You'd do that? From a certain point of view, that's blackmail."

"Why not?" Edward asked. "It's not so different from what I do in my job. I find information that acts as leverage to ensure people's cooperation. You can't get serious work done in this city without knowing where the bodies are buried, I'm afraid. You could ask Wayne that yourself, and I guarantee he'd say the same thing. Using nicer words of course, but still." He laughed. "That, and I do enjoy taking those snobs down a peg from time to time. Does wonders for my mental health."

Penelope let out something that was between a noise of disbelief and a laugh. "God, you'll be the death of me."

Edward smiled. To tell the truth, he could care less if Arkham Asylum burned to the ground overnight, but he did like to see her happy. And if reforming that cursed hellscape made her happy, who was he to deny her it? "Figuratively, I hope," he said. He turned his attention to the vase that sat next to the journals on her left, the carnations in them still as healthy and lovely as the day he'd picked them out for her. Amazing what a little bit of Ivy's pollen, obtained after much negotiating with Selina, could do. "The flowers are still going strong."

He thought he could detect a slight flush on her face when she turned her attention to the carnations. She quickly recovered, however. "I've never had flowers that lasted this long," she mused. She glanced at him with a raised eyebrow. "They are real, aren't they?"

Edward raised a hand to his chest. "I never!" he said in a mock-scandalized tone. "You accuse me, Edward Nigma, of stooping so low as to send someone fake flowers! For shame, Penelope! I thought we were friends!"

She scoffed. "You stop that. In this town, it's a legitimate question." She was smiling though. For anyone else, that would be the equivalent of a laugh. It was almost surreal, Edward thought, of how much a different person Penelope seemed to be from the closed off, bitter, almost broken woman he'd met last year. She was confident, she was determined, she had a plan and God help anyone who stood in her way of achieving it. She'd been, and she still was reserved and icy, but she was beginning to thaw. He didn't remember who she'd been in Arkham when she'd treated him, but this Penelope? He liked her. He liked her a lot. "How have you been since Wednesday?" she asked. "You seemed a bit worn out when I left your apartment."

That was different too. In the beginning, his visits to Penelope's office were strictly business, always discussing the Case and the progress they'd made. Now, his visits covered as much personal material as well as professional. Edward made a dramatic noise. "I'm still recovering. That was, without a doubt, one of the most exhausting experiences of my life."

Penelope shook her head. "Ellen's birthday party was not that bad."

"Oh yes, it was," Edward retorted. He remembered the wild party Nina and Deirdre had devised for Ellen's sixteenth birthday and shuddered. "You just didn't notice because you and Selina were off conspiring against me in the living room."

"We were not conspiring against you. We were merely coming to a conclusion about something."

"And what would that something be?"

Penelope leaned forward a bit, with a smirk of her own. "That you were being completely ridiculous."

Now they were tied at one-one. Edward pouted. "I knew the two of you getting friendly was going to backfire on me. And I'd like to see how you fare when you have to go through your child's Sweet Sixteenth."

"I'm sure I'd manage," she said. Her face softened and she smiled at Edward. "I know that what we've been doing at Arkham doesn't really mean anything to you, Edward," she said. "But thank you for understanding how much it means to me."

Looking at her like this, it occurred to Edward that this was the happiest he could ever recall seeing her. And that he wanted to keep her that way. And something about that thought terrified him. "You're welcome."


 

"Ow! Jesus Christ!"

Ellen lay sprawled on the mat, looking up at the Red Hood as he towered over her. He crouched down and offered his hand. "You okay, Kiddo? Want me to go a little easier on you?"

"Fuck you," Ellen spit out, pulling herself back up to her feet. Three nights a week, the nights Gramma worked the late shift and wouldn't notice if she was out, for the past six weeks, she'd been meeting Red Hood two blocks from her apartment. He'd take her to a run-down apartment building he operated out of in the Narrows, and take her to a basement level, where a makeshift gym was set up. On the first night, he'd asked her to punch a practice dummy set up in the middle of the room with all her might. Then he'd asked her questions, how tall she was exactly, did she have any past fight experience, did she have any old injuries, dumb stuff like that. Then, he'd said that he would teach her the basics of self-defense, then something called 'krav maga'. And so, for the past six weeks, he had trained her. Ellen squared her shoulders and raised her fists up again. Some training. She'd spent as much time getting tossed around by the jerk as she did actually learning anything. She charged him again, throwing a punch up towards his face, which he avoided with ease. He grabbed her by the collar of her shirt and once again, tossed her on the ground. "Fuck!" she shouted.

Red Hood tutted. "Temper temper. We got to work on that a bit."

Ellen glared at him as she got back up. "I thought you said you were gonna teach me how to fight," she complained. "How's this helping me?"

"You want to learn how to throw a punch, you got to learn how to take a punch," Red Hood said. He crossed his arms and considered her. "You're sixteen now, right?"

"Yeah," Ellen said. "Why?"

"You're 5'2, right?"

"5'3, numbnuts. What's your point?"

"Hey. Be nice. You expect to get any bigger anytime soon?"

Ellen chewed her lip and let her eyes drift to her feet. "...No."

"That's right. The simple truth is Kiddo, that unless you go up against a pack of rabid munchkins, there aren't going to be a lot of people you can beat with brute strength. Everyone you fight is going to be a lot bigger and stronger than you, and they'll show you about as much mercy as Bolton and his crew did."

Ellen clenched her fists. "I can do this," she said looking up at Red Hood. 

"I know you can," he answered. "You're not going to be stronger than most of the skells you fight, but you can be a Hell of a lot smarter. You're the Riddler's kid, right? You know how to be smart."

Ellen blew a raspberry at him, then squared up again. "Just watch."

Red Hood let out a low laugh through that helmet. "Good girl. Now, the good thing about Krav Maga is that it helps you learn how to use people's reactions against them. Example, I throw a punch at you, you use my momentum against me. Make sense?"

Ellen nodded. "Yeah."

Red Hood nodded. "Good." Then he stepped forward, then threw a punch directly at Ellen. She ducked with a yelp, then stepped to the right side, grabbing onto the front of Red Hood's jacket as she did so. Once she was clear, she swept her leg out, tripping him and sending him to the mat. She breathed hard for a long moment, then laughed in triumph, only to let out another yelp as Red Hood kicked her feet out from under her.

"Freakin' jerk!" Ellen shouted.

Red Hood just laughed. "You didn't think it was gonna be that easy, did you Kiddo?" He got up, then offered his hand down to her. "You're getting the hang of it though. Actually got me that time."

Ellen took his hand this time and shot him a smirk. "Yeah, I did. I'm gonna kick your ass someday." She walked over to a bench in the corner of the room and pulled her new cell phone, a gift from her father, out of her bag. 11:00. Gramma would be back home in an hour and a half, and there'd be Hell to pay if Ellen wasn't there. "Shit. I got to get back."

"No problem," Red Hood said. "Get your stuff together, I'll go rev up my bike."

Less than fifteen minutes later, the pair were driving down a back alley in the Narrows. For a Friday night in this part of Gotham, it seemed pretty quiet. Red Hood turned his bike out of the alley and down the road that led to Ellen's apartment, then promptly made a sharp right turn to get out of the way of a speeding cop car driving on the wrong side of the street, sirens wailing. Another cop car followed, going just as fast, then another. From their vantage point, Ellen watched five more GCPD cars speeding down the main road, like bats out of Hell.

"What's going on?" she asked Red Hood. "Did someone break out of Arkham or something?"

"No," Red Hood answered, his voice muffled somewhat by the engine. He turned his bike around and followed the convoy once they were certain no more cars were coming. "If it was Arkham, they'd be going north," he explained. "Those cars are heading east, towards Downtown. Could still be a Rogue though. You up for checking it out?"

"Yeah," Ellen said. "For a little bit." She'd never actually seen a bonafide Rogue in action in person before. Well, not unless she counted the Old Man, and he wasn't really much of a Rogue anymore. As long as she still made it home before Gramma, what harm was there in checking it out?

Less than three blocks from where they's first spotted the convoy, Ellen could see the cop cars at a complete stop. Ahead of them, Ellen could make out smoke, and flames. A fire? Where were the fire trucks then? Red Hood brought the bike to a sudden stop. "Jesus!" she heard him swear. "Hold on, Kiddo, we've got to back up a bit."

"Why?" Ellen asked. She couldn't see past him easily. "What's going on?"

Gunfire was the answer she received. She froze, remembering the last time she heard gunfire, Morton slumping over, the blood. She realized she was clinging on just a bit tighter to Red Hood. "It's okay, Kiddo," she heard him say. "I'm going to drive us to that alleyway behind us. We'll get on the fire escape and watch from there if you're still okay with that."

Ellen gulped. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine."

Red Hood drove to the alley without another word, then the pair walked up to the fire escape. Four stories up, Ellen could see over the neighboring rooftop and fully take in what was happening. Her jaw dropped. The flames and smoke she'd seen were from a cop car, wrapped around a telephone pole and burning. The five other cars she remembered from the convoy were parked in a circular pattern, blocking off the street, the cops themselves huddled behind them with their pieces drawn. It was what they were aiming at that caught Ellen's attention the most, and made her gasp in shock. In the middle of the street, pacing up and down in front of a pawn shop, was a man. At least, Ellen thought it was a man. It looked to her more like a monster. It was huge, over ten feet tall, with huge muscles making up its chest and back. She noticed white dots up and down its back as it walked around, and she realized to her horror that those dots were bones poking out of the creature's flesh. Behind it, Ellen could see a group of men coming out of the pawn shop, carrying with them electronics. It was a robbery. But what was that thing? She heard one of the police officers behind the cop car yelling at the thieves. "GCPD! Hands up!"

In response, the creature let out a bellowing roar, one that made Ellen's stomach clench. It turned towards the cops and charged straight towards them. "Open fire!" she heard another cop call out. The cops as one began shooting at the creature, but the bullets seemed to have no effect on it. It kept charging until it crashed through the cop cars, sending the men behind them diving for cover. Ellen watched as the creature then picked up one of the cop cars and threw it at the fleeing men, as easily as if it was a toy. The cops barely managed to avoid the flying car, and it crashed into a neighboring storefront, sending shards of glass and metal scattering across the street. The creature roared again, then advanced towards the cops. Ellen shot Red Hood a worried look.

"What do we do?" she asked. "That thing's gonna kill them!"

Red Hood drew his guns from his jacket. "Stay here," he said. "This is a bit outside your weight class right now." He was about to head back down the fire escape when from the corner of her eye, Ellen saw a black shadow glide down from the building across the street. It landed between the creature and the terrified cops and stood up. In the glow from the flames and the street lights, Ellen could make out a long black cape and a pointed cowl. Her breath caught in her throat. Batman was here. She'd never seen him in person before. A sense of awe and relief came over her. If anyone could take that thing out, Batman could. Right?

The creature roared and swung its huge right arm at Batman, who dodged it. For such a big guy, Ellen thought he was almost graceful. Batman three something from his hand straight into the creature's eyes, she couldn't see what exactly it was. A Batarang, probably. The creature grabbed at its face and let out another bellow, dropping down to its knees. While it was distracted, Batman climbed onto its back. The creature stood up then and began to charge wildly to try to dislodge him, like a bucking bronco she'd seen on TV. Ellen turned back to Red Hood, who had put his guns back in his jacket and was now staring intently at the fight going on below them. "Aren't you gonna help him?" she asked.

Red Hood let out a scoff. "Why? Seems like he's got it under control."

Ellen looked back to the street when she heard a crashing sound and she saw that Batman had managed to steer the creature into the side of a building. It was staggering around now, dazed. Batman jumped off of the creature's back and began to wail on it, raining blow after blow into its stomach and chest. The creature soon recovered though and let out another roar, swinging at Batman with all its might. Batman dodged the blow and ran a few feet back, away from the cops. He stopped to crouch down on the ground, then darted back a few more feet as the creature advanced. He stood still, waiting for it to come to him. Why? "What's he doing?" Ellen asked Red Hood.

"Wait for it," he said.

Ellen looked back down at the street. The creature was now at the spot Batman had crouched down at. As soon as it had crossed over, there was a small explosion, knocking the creature off of its feet. "Explosive gell," Red Hod said. "One of his favorite gadgets."

Ellen frowned. Red Hood seemed to know a lot about Batman. Had he worked with him before? Ellen remembered how hostile Batgirl had been and bit her lip. Had...had he fought him before? She watched as Batman attacked the creature again, this time grabbing its head and smashing it against the concrete. She cringed a bit. She didn't think he'd be that brutal. It worked though, as the creature was now finally still. The cops had recovered and arrested the men who were stealing from the pawn shop. Now a few of them came over to try to arrest the creature as well. How the Hell were they going to fit it in a cop car. A SWAT truck pulled up to the scene then, and armed officers came out to surround the creature. Before any of them could approach him, Batman pulled a grappling hook out of his belt and fired it upwards, flying off into the night. Ellen took a long breath. "That was awesome," she said. 

Beside her, Red Hood made another dismissive noise. "Ready to go?"

Ellen nodded. "Yeah." She heard a buzzing from her pant pocket. Her cellphone. Oh shit. Was Gramma already home? She pulled out her phone to see a text from her. There's been an emergency. I won't be home until tomorrow. Have a good night. Right. Gotham General was the closest hospital. Gramma was going to have to deal with this mess. She put her cell phone back in her pocket and followed Red Hood down the fire escape and back to his bike. "What was that thing?" she asked as soon as they were back on the road.

"Pretty sure that was a guy on TITAN," Red Hood answered.

"What's TITAN? Is that like PCP or something?"

"Or something. It's a drug that makes people bulk out like the Venom Bane uses. There was a lot of it on the streets a few years ago, after the Arkham riot. GCPD got most of it, I thought."

"Guess not," Ellen said. She worried her lip. A drug that made people like that was on the streets? She really did pick the worst time to become a superhero.


 

Gordon was on the roof of the GCPD when Bruce arrived, a grim look on his face. "I heard on the radio what happened in Downtown," he said as Bruce approached. "Another TITAN attack?"

Bruce nodded. "That's the fifth TITAN related incident in three weeks, after almost a year of no incidents. There's a new supply on the streets. I'm sure of it."

Bruce watched as Gordon's shoulders slumped. "Damn," he whispered. "I'm going to have to inform the Mayor. We managed to confiscate most of it, I thought. I'll check to make sure what we have wasn't compromised. What are you going to do?"

Bruce hesitated. "I'm going to speak to Dr. Young."

As he expected, Gordon's face darkened. "She's not involved in this. She can't be!"

"I don't think she's directly involved," Bruce said carefully, "but she is one of a handful of people who know about TITAN, and she's the only know who knows for sure how to create it. If TITAN's getting back on the streets, she needs to be aware of it. She's in danger, Jim."

Gordon's brow furrowed in thought. "You think once we get it off the streets, someone may come after her for the formula?"

"Possibly, but that's not my main concern. Think about the timing. It's no coincidence that we saw a ramp-up of TITAN incidents after she started to make strides towards cleaning up Arkham."

Gordon set his jaw as Bruce's words sank in. "Son of a bitch. Someone's trying to send her a message."

"Exactly. We need to warn her." Bruce walked back to the edge of the roof and fired his grappling hook. As he flew off towards the direction of where he'd left the Batmobile, he was consumed by two thoughts. One, that Penelope Young was in danger. Two, that if she was, then Edward Nigma wouldn't be far behind. He needed to contain this before he had a chance to find out. 

He remembered February, and Croc and his eyes narrowed. Before Edward had a chance to do something reckless.


 

Penelope put down the journal she was reading and let out a tired yawn before checking her watch. It was just after 1 AM. She closed the journal and got up from her armchair, stretching her arms out above her head. That was enough for now. She'd pick up where she left off in the morning. She crossed the living room to her kitchen, fixing herself a glass of water before she went to bed. As she filled her glass under the water filter on her sink, she thought about all the progress that she had made and smiled. She had almost forgotten how much she genuinely enjoyed the work that she did, the research, the reading. For the last year, she'd gone from simply getting by to being content with where she was, but now? Now, for the first time in a long time, she was genuinely happy with where she was. She'd almost forgotten what that had felt like. She walked back into her living room and dropped her glass on the carpet with a shocked gasp. "You-what are you doing here!?"

Batman was standing in the center of her living room. "Dr. Young," he said in that deep, gravelly voice. "We need to talk."

Penelope almost forgot how to speak. It was the first time she'd seen the vigilante since that night in Arkham...her thoughts raced. What could he have to talk with her about? Then her stomach clenched. "Edward-"

"This doesn't concern him," Batman said, almost gently. He took a step towards her.

Penelope sighed with relief, then fixed him with a steely glare. "Then why are you in my apartment at 1 in the morning? What's going on?"

Batman stopped a foot before her. then looked down at her with a look that almost resembled pity. "It's about the TITAN formula. It's on the streets again."

Penelope felt her blood chill. "What...how?" She shook her head. "No, that's not possible." She looked up at Batman and realized why he was here. "And you think I did it? That I'm making it again? After everything that happened at Arkham, you really think I'd put any more lives in danger!?" She realized that her voice was rising and struggled to calm down. 

"No," Batman said. "I know you didn't. But whoever is behind this did so to get at you. You're not safe, Dr. Young. You need to talk with Commissioner Gordon tomorrow, and then lie low. Find a safe place to go to and stay there."

Penelope gulped, almost not hearing him. "And then what?"

"I'll take care of it," he said. "I'll find out where this new TITAN came from and stop it." He turned to leave her apartment through the open window. "In the meantime," he said. "Be careful who you speak to." He disappeared out the window as quick as he came in. 

Penelope staggered over to her armchair and almost collapsed into it. The TITAN was back and no one in Gotham was safe. There would be no sleep tonight.

 

Chapter Text

Penelope did not sleep that night or even move from her Ottoman chair. She stayed awake, mind consumed with dark memories from the past, until the morning sun came in through her window, and the streets of Gotham came back to life. At Seven AM, Commissioner Gordon came to her apartment, with a profound look of regret on his face. "Penelope," he said after she opened the door. "I wish more than anything I didn't need to be here right now." He seemed concerned but not surprised at her state. Batman must have told him before he had come to her last night. Penelope knew what she must look like, still wearing the outfit she had worn yesterday, her hair down and loose, dark circles under her eyes. She should be embarrassed, but she couldn't bring herself to care. "I've already informed the Mayor," Gordon continued. "He wants us down at headquarters as soon as possible. I'll give you a few minutes to get ready."

Penelope nodded, almost robotically, and walked back into her apartment to shower and change her clothes. She barely felt the warm water on her skin or recalled the minutes between changing and pulling her hair back up. She examined herself in the mirror to make herself as presentable as possible, but the dark circles remained, like bruises under her eyes. As she walked back into her living room and to the waiting Commissioner, she spied her phone on her coffee table next to her purse. She thought of calling Edward to tell him, but she put the idea out of her mind. She couldn't put him in danger too. She wouldn't. She grabbed her phone and put it in her purse before she slid it over her shoulder.

"Are you sure you're up for this?" Gordon asked her.

It occurred to Penelope that she had yet to speak a single word to him. "Yes," she said in a tone that was stronger than she felt at the moment. "Yes, I'm sure." She didn't want to leave. More than anything at that moment, she wanted to disappear. She followed Gordon out the door, however, holding her head up high. She had to be strong. She could not break. She would not break.


 

Sharp was waiting for them in Gordon's office when they arrived at GCPD, along with his entourage. Renee, Schrader, and a handful of the most senior detectives were milling about in the bullpen. Penelope kept walking forward and tried to ignore the looks of curiosity on some of their faces or the concern on Renee's or the cool detachment on Schrader's. Stay focused. Stay professional. She heard Sharp's blustering even outside the door. She paused for a moment to allow Gordon to open the door and schooled her expression as close to her natural, neutral expression as she could. Sharp would not see her break.

Sharp was red-faced and furious as she and Gordon entered, sending his handlers away with an irritated wave of his hand. As soon as the door had shut behind them, he rounded on Gordon with a fury that almost made Penelope flinch. "This is absolutely unacceptable, Gordon!" He shouted, slamming his cane on the floor for emphasis. "You assured me that GCPD has destroyed all of the TITAN that it's confiscated over the past two years!"

"And we have," Gordon said, raising his hand slightly in supplication. He took a step forward, while Penelope planted herself against the wall close to the door.

"Then where is this new supply coming from!?" Sharp demanded. His face softened somewhat as he nodded his head towards Penelope. "I know that you're not involved in this, my dear," he said in so cloying a manner that it made her skin crawl, "And the Joker is in maximum security in Arkham Asylum as we speak! He can't possibly be manufacturing anymore! Was there some that you missed!?"

Penelope watched as Gordon stuffed his hands into his pockets and let out a sigh. Her heart sank. After a year of working with him in GCPD, she knew his tells. This was when he was about to speak an unpleasant truth. "Last November," he said. "We confiscated a tank of TITAN during a gang bust in the Narrows. We were holding it at an undisclosed evidence lock-up while the gang members are on trial. I sent Detectives Schrader and Montoya over to the lock-up this morning. They confirmed that the TITAN batch was missing."

"Stolen, you mean," Sharp seethed, clutching the top of his cane so tight it looked like it would break in half. "Under your very nose! How did this happen!?" Penelope felt her hands begin to tremble and she looked down at the floor. She knew that the evidence lock-ups Gordon spoke of were inaccessible to all but a select few in GCPD, due to how frequently they stored confiscated weapons and tech from the Rogues. She would have heard if any of them had been violently broken into or compromised. Which meant that a GCPD officer had taken the TITAN themselves. Which meant that Strange had people working for him in GCPD, and probably had all along. Was one spying on her even now? She barely heard Gordon answer that he'd launched an investigation into the theft, that he'd find the person responsible. How many people would die in the meantime? She felt a firm pressure on her hand and almost jumped out of her skin. It was Sharp, looking at her with grave concern. "You have no idea how sorry I am about this, Penelope," he said. His grip tightened a bit as his beady blue eyes bore into hers. "If there's anything you need, anything at all, don't hesitate to call. I won't rest until the ones responsible for this are behind bars."

Penelope wanted to pull back her hand and scream at him. There was only one man she'd allow to touch her like this. It's your fault, she thought. All of this. I don't want or need anything from you. She couldn't though. It wouldn't do for her to lose her composure in front of the Mayor and Commissioner Gordon. Instead, she swallowed and said as graciously as possible, "Thank you. That's very kind of you, Mayor."

Sharp chuckled benevolently, then turned back to glare at Gordon. "We'll talk more about this at the next City Council meeting on Tuesday. You had best make some progress by then!" He roughly let go of Penelope's hand and stormed out of Gordon's office with a huff. 

Gordon glared after the Mayor, then walked up to Penelope. "Do you want to stay here for a while, or would you like me to take you home?" he asked her gently.

She knew he didn't mean to be condescending to her, but Penelope couldn't stand the pity she saw in his eyes right now. "If you could take me to my office," she said brusquely. "I'd appreciate it."

"Are you sure? You look exhausted."

Penelope clenched her fists. "Yes. I have reading I need to check up on."

Gordon sighed. "Is there anyone I can call-"

Edward, I want to talk to Edward- "No, thank you, Commissioner," Penelope said with a slightly raised voice. She took a breath. Calm down. In through the nose, out through the mouth. "I'll be alright."

She didn't need to be a psychiatrist to know that Gordon didn't believe her.


 

 

"Are you sure you don't want me to come over?" Joan asked for the second time in the past five minutes. "I can be there in twenty minutes."

Penelope had barely set foot in her office when Joan had called her. Gordon apparently had called her at some point. She sat behind her desk and stifled a groan. God, couldn't she be allowed to distract herself with her work for just a little while? "Yes, Joan. I'll be alright. I'm just going to review some notes I have before I go home."

There was a pause before Joan spoke. "Penelope. This is serious."

Penelope clenched her phone just a bit tighter. "I am aware of how serious this is, Joan," she bit out. "But I don't see what good my talking about it with you will do. I don't need to be comforted or pitied. I just want to do my work."

Joan let out a long sigh. "I know what you're doing, Penelope. You're locking yourself away again. Don't do that. That's what Strange would want you to do. This is a psychological attack on you, as well as a potential physical one." Penelope knew that. Rationally, she knew all her friend wanted to do was to help her, but emotionally, she just wanted to go to sleep and never wake up again, but when she closed her eyes, she was back at the Asylum, in the Medical Center, draining the Venom from Bane's blood, ignoring the screams of pain he let out, telling herself it was for the greater good, what was some momentary discomfort against finally unlocking the key to curing the insanity that plagued Gotham, stay focused, don't break, don't break, don't break-

"Does Edward know?"

Joan's question had the effect of breaking Penelope out of her trance. "W-what?"

"Does Edward know?" Joan repeated. "Have you told him, or do you want me to?"

There was no one she wanted to talk to more than him right now, but there was no one she wanted to keep as far away from this more than him. "No," she said. "I don't want him to know, Joan."

"Penelope, Gordon said he's keeping the media out of the loop for now, but we both know it's only a matter of time until he finds out. And once he does, there's no way either of us can keep him out of this. He's already proven that's he willing to protect you."

She remembered. She remembered watching him disappear in an explosion to save her. She remembered the desperation in his voice when he thought Ellen was lost to him. She remembered him disappearing underneath Gotham City to avenge the dead man he still loved. He was brilliant, but he was arrogant, and he was reckless, and nowhere was this more apparent than when the few people he genuinely cared for were on the line. "I can't ask him to do that for me," she said. "This is my mess, Joan. I'll deal with it."

There was another long pause before Joan spoke. "Alright," she said. "If you don't want me to tell him now, I won't. But if anything else happens, I will tell Edward."

"That's fine," Penelope said. "But I'll be alright."

"Call me tomorrow."

"I will. Goodbye." Penelope hung up the phone and put her head in her hands. Then she heard her phone began to buzz again. She looked down at it and saw Aaron's number, and she wanted to cry. Don't break. Don't break.


 

 

The next few days seemed to blend together for Penelope. She slept maybe a few hours each restless night, ate even less, and only went through the motions through her sessions with her patients. There had been no further news from Gordon regarding either the theft or any further incidents with the TITAN, but she knew better than to relax. It was only a matter of time. More than once, she'd found herself halfway through dialing Edward's number, before she hung up. He had enough on his plate without her dragging him into this. On Thursday afternoon, she was in GCPD headquarters, having stopped to do paperwork in the bullpen after getting an update from Gordon. Only, the lines on the paper kept blurring together. She closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose. Her head hurt, and she was so tired.

"You OK, Doc?"

Penelope opened her eyes with a start and looked up to see Aaron hovering by her. He'd been her constant companion in GCPD since Saturday, offering more than once to keep an eye on her at home, too. Nothing she said could seem to dissuade him from looking out for her. She leaned back in her chair with a sigh. "I'm just tired, Aaron. That's all."

"I'll bet," he said sympathetically. "You look like you haven't gotten any sleep."

Penelope let out a yawn. She took a look around the bullpen. There were a handful of patrol officers and detectives milling about, going about their routine, ignoring her. Which one of them was it? Which one of them had Strange compromised? 

"Being in GCPD that boring for you Dr. Young?"

Penelope narrowed her eyes when Schrader and Montoya approached. He may be a decorated detective, but Penelope had taken an instant dislike to Schrader when she met him, and the feeling seemed to be mutual. "Hardly," she bit out. "Did you need something, detective?"

"Easy," Schrader said. "Just a joke." He leaned down a bit, a look of concern on his handsome face. "You really don't look good. Would you like someone to give you a lift home?"

"What I would like," Penelope said in a raised voice, "Is to be able to finish this in peace!"

A few of the officers in the bullpen looked at her, curiosity on their faces. She felt her own face flush and her eyes prick. Don't break, don't break.

"No one should be in the crib right now," Schrader said. "If you want, you can go in there. We'll keep people from bothering you too much."

Penelope looked surprised at Schrader, then nodded. "Thank you."

The blond detective shrugged. "Not at all. Go get some peace and quiet."

Penelope got out of her chair and walked across the bullpen to where the crib was. As soon as she entered, she made her way to a bunk. As soon as head hit the pillow, she shut her eyes and fell asleep.


 

 

Schrader had excused himself to go on a meal break as soon as Young disappeared in the crib. In reality, he was sitting in his car in the GCPD parking lot, talking excitedly to Ward. "She's coming apart," he crowed. "Gordon just had to tell her once, and she's breaking down. Another incident, and she'll need to check herself into Arkham."

"Good. There's no chance Gordon will figure out it was you who took the TITAN, is there?"

"I didn't take the TITAN," Schrader said. "Officer Alvarez did before he sold it and skipped town." Well, no. Not exactly. Alvarez had removed the TITAN at Schrader's request, and a promise of $20,000, then when he'd come for his payment, Schrader had put a bullet between his eyes. His body would be somewhere at the bottom of the Gotham Bay by now, and by the time Gordon and his cronies found it, if they ever did, it would be next to impossible to link him to Schrader. "I haven't lasted fifteen years in GCPD without learning to cover my tracks. What about Bane? Is there any movement there?"

"None yet," Ward admitted.

Schrader frowned. "You got the word to him over a month ago. What's taking him so long?"

"He's methodical. He likes to take his time before he plans anything. We also need to prepare ourselves for the possibility that he may not come at all."

Schrader leaned against his seat, mulling over Ward's words. Then he smirked. "Alright then," he said. "Plan B." He hung up his cell phone, put his car into drive, and drove toward the part of Downtown he knew the bitch lived in. 


 

 

It was well after dark by the time Penelope woke up in the bullpen and drove herself back to her apartment building. The bunk had been stiffer than her bed, but the much-needed rest had settled her nerves, somewhat. She walked out of the elevator and towards her apartment, feeling better than she had for days. 

Then she saw that her door was open. 

Penelope reached into her purse for her taser, pulled it out, and slowly walked towards her open door. There were no lights on. There were no sounds coming from the darkened interior either. Perhaps whoever had broken in had already left. She reached inside and felt her hand along the wall until she found her light switch. Taking a deep breath, she flicked the light switch and steeped into her apartment. Her blood ran cold at what she saw inside. Her books, papers, and furniture were scattered about her living room. It looked like whoever had been here had been looking for something. What caught her eyes though, was the message, written in red spray paint, red like blood, scrawled on the wall. MURDERER. Penelope took a step back, then turned and fled, down the stairs, down to her car. As soon as she had locked herself inside, she pulled her phone and dialed 911. "This is Dr. Penelope Young. I need to report a break-in..."

An hour later, Aaron was by her side, as was Gordon, while detectives and uniformed officers were inside her apartment, collecting evidence. "You're going to need to go to a safe house," Gordon said. "There's no other choice anymore."

"I'll take her," Aaron volunteered immediately. "Keisha and I have a guest room she can crash in until we catch this son of a bitch." Penelope stood still, arms wrapped around her, not hearing anything he said.

Gordon nodded, then turned his head as Schrader and Montoya approached them. "Well?" he asked.

"Whoever did this wore gloves," Montoya said. "There are no prints, except for Dr. Young's of course."

"Looks like the door was picked open," Schrader added. "When you're up to it, Dr. Young, we'll need you to do a walkthrough, see if there's anything missing."

"In the morning," she said robotically. "I'll be ready in the morning."

Aaron looked at her, concerned. "Let's get you out of here. We'll go to my place. I'll call Keisha from the car."

Penelope abruptly walked forward. "Excuse me," she said. "I need to make a call." Without waiting for anyone to respond to her, Penelope walked down the street. As soon as she was out of earshot, she pulled her cellphone out of her purse. She looked at it for a long moment. God forgive her, but Joan was right. He needed to know. And she needed to see him, more than anything. She dialed the number before she could change her mind and waited while it rang. "Please, pick up," she whispered. 

As if he'd somehow heard her, he answered the call. "Edward Nigma, Consulting Detective to the Stars. How can I help you tonight, Penelope?"

She almost cried out in relief at hearing his voice before she pulled herself together. "Edward, are you busy?"

Evidently, she didn't do a good enough job at keeping the tremors out of her voice, for Edward's tone when he answered was one of concern. "No. What's wrong?" 

"I need to see you," she said. "Can you come to my office?"

"I'll be there in twenty minutes. Where are you? Are you in danger?"

Penelope took a breath. "I'm outside my apartment. I'll tell you more when I see you."

"Alright," Edward said, clearly not happy with her answer. "I'll be right there." He hung up, and Penelope wanted to weep with relief. Instead, she pulled herself back together and walked back to where Aaron and the others were waiting for her.

"I'm ready," she said to Aaron. "Let's go."

"You got it, Doc," Aaron answered, leading her towards his car, parked just a few feet down the road.

As soon as Penelope was strapped in, she turned to address him. "We need to stop by my office first."

Aaron nodded. "Want to pick up some things? Fine by me."

"Not quite," Penelope admitted. She pulled her fingers. She really should have done this a long time ago, but it couldn't be helped. "Aaron, there's something you need to know."


 

 

They had arrived outside of her office building five minutes ago, but Aaron and Penelope remained in his car while she wrapped up her story. While she had told Aaron the full truth of her relationship with Edward, he had said nothing, but a stony look had appeared on his face and remained. "And that brings us to now," she finished. She took a breath. "Aaron, I'm sorry I didn't tell you this sooner-"

Aaron shook his head. "I get it," he said. "After what happened end of last year with Goodman, I get why Nigma wouldn't trust the cops, and the feeling's mutual." He let out a disbelieving laugh. "You and Edward Nigma, teaming up to take down good Ol' Professor Strange. Now there's something I never thought I'd hear. And you're sure he's on the level with you?"

"Yes," Penelope answered. "I trust him with my life."

Aaron let out another small laugh. "There's another thing I never thought I'd hear." He let out a breath. "Does the Commish know?"

"No, but I'd be shocked if he didn't suspect."

"Good point. What about the folks on your 'Clean up Arkham group'? Any of them know?"

"Joan does, no one else," Penelope answered. "Aaron, I don't want anyone else to know about this."

"Your secret's safe with me, Doc," Aaron said, raising his hook hand. "Scout's honor." His face grew serious again. "The second Nigma steps out of line with you though, I'll whoop his sorry ass from here to Bludhaven."

"He won't," Penelope insisted. "I'm not going to pretend he's something he's not, but I'm confident he'd never intentionally harm me."

Aaron nodded. "Alright. You're the boss, Doc." He reached over with his right hand and unbuckled his seat belt. Penelope did the same and noticed out of the corner of her eye that Edward's car was parked just across the street. She checked her watch. It'd barely been twenty minutes since she'd gotten off the phone with him, how had he gotten here so quick? She opened the car door, pulled her fob out of her wallet to unlock the entrance, then stepped inside, Aaron following close behind her. Sure enough, when she reached her floor, she saw a sliver of light poking out from underneath her door. She opened it and interrupted Edward when he was in mid-pace in front of her desk. He turned sharply, and his mouth dropped when he locked eyes with her.

"Good Lord!" he shouted, hurriedly crossing the room to get to her. "You look like you've been hit by a truck! What happened?"

Penelope could only imagine what a mess she must look like to Edward right now, but she was too happy to see him to think about it. She reached up to rub her eyes. "It's a long story, Edward." She gestured for him to step back and she entered, Aaron right behind her. 

Edward stiffened when he saw him. "I didn't realize this was a group session. I'd have worn my vest."

"None of your sass right now, Nigma," Aaron barked. "Someone's after Doc, and she thinks you can help."

Edward looked stricken for a moment, then his face hardened as he looked back at Penelope. "Tell me everything."

Penelope sighed, then pointed at the chairs in her office. "Sit down. Both of you." Both men did as she requested, then Penelope walked across the room to sit at her desk. When she was sure she had Edward's undivided attention, she told him everything that had happened over the past week. As with Aaron, she kept a careful eye on Edward's facial expressions while she recounted her story. He was nowhere near as disciplined at hiding his feelings as Aaron, for his expressions quickly changed from contempt when he heard about the missing TITAN, smug amusement when he heard about Sharp's visit, and finally, barely restrained rage when he heard what had happened at her apartment that night. When she was finished, he sucked in a sharp breath between his teeth.

"I see," he said, drumming his fingers on the armrest of his chair in a staccato pattern. "I see. Question: this began Friday night, Saturday morning if you want to be technical. It is Thursday evening now." He took another quick breath, and Penelope realized that he was holding back his temper. She hadn't expected him to be angry. "Is there a reason," he said in a controlled manner, "That I am only just now finding out about this!? Did you foolishly think I'd be of no use to you, or did you think I wouldn't care?" 

"This ain't about you, Nigma!" Aaron shouted. "This is about Doc's safety! It doesn't matter why she didn't tell you earlier, so get over yourself!"

Edward furiously turned on Aaron then. "You stay out of this!" he shouted, jabbing his finger at him. "This is your fault! You and the rest of those corrupt incompetents in GCPD put her in danger!" This was getting out of hand, and Penelope's head hurt so much.

"We put her in danger!?" Aaron asked incredulously. "You're the one who got her into this mess with Strange!"

All of the stress, fear, and pain of the last week finally boiled over. Penelope put both of her hands over her ears and screamed. "Stop it! Both of you! I can't hear myself think!" Both men stopped their arguing and looked at her, shock and worry on both of their faces. Penelope took a deep breath. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Don't break. Don't break. "Aaron," she said coldly. "I was the one who approached Edward and wanted to be involved. It was my decision, and I have no regrets." She turned to Edward then. "Edward," she said, "I'm sorry that I didn't tell you sooner. I was trying to keep you out of it to protect you." Edward rolled his eyes but said nothing. "That being said, I didn't ask you to come here so you could pick a fight. I-" her voice hitched a bit. She bit her bottom lip. She hated sounding pathetic like this. "I need your help, Edward." Edward's gaze quickly softened and he nodded.

"I'm at your disposal. What do you need from me?"

Penelope sighed, then leaned back in her chair. "We have to find out who did this," she said. "Then we need to find the rest of the TITAN that was stolen and destroy it before anyone else gets hurt."

Edward rubbed his chin and hummed. "Well, it's obvious to anyone with any common sense that Strange has people in GCPD. The trick will be to find out who." Aaron looked visibly unhappy at the prospect of having to turn against fellow officers but voiced no objections. "I'll get to your apartment at some point tomorrow to search for evidence the lackwits tonight missed," Edward continued. "In the meantime, there's your physical safety to consider, Penelope. We need to find you a safe house-"

"That's already been taken care of," Aaron interrupted. "She'll be staying with me."

Edward rolled his eyes again. "Cash, it's well-known that the two of you are friends, and whoever stole the TITAN is clearly escalating. If they attempt to track her down, you'll be one of the first places they look."

Aaron narrowed his eyes. "I can look after her, Nigma,"

"You're married, aren't you Cash?" Edward asked dismissively. "How many children?"

"Two. What does that have to do with-"

"Tell me, Cash: if the person or persons targeting Penelope were to break into your home and put your family at gunpoint, would you still protect her? Even if your family's safety was on the line?"

Aaron's face darkened and he cocked his right fist back as if to punch Edward when Penelope stepped in. "Edward!" she scolded. "Did you have to go there!?"

Edward merely shrugged. "It's the truth."

Penelope shook her head. "He has a point, Aaron," she said. She cut him off before he could object. "I know you'd do anything to help me, and I appreciate it, but I can't ask you and Keisha to take that risk."

Aaron's face fell. "I know," he said at last. "I know. So what then? If we're dealing with dirty cops, we can't take you to any of the safe houses GCPD uses. You might have to leave town."

It was an option Penelope had considered, but if she left town, where would she go? Back to Ohio, to her family? She couldn't risk anyone tracking her down there and threatening her mother. And if she left Gotham, that was it. She could never come back. She'd have nothing left, and what of all the work she'd done to help reform Arkham? Her leaving would play right into Strange's hands. But if she couldn't leave Gotham and she wouldn't endanger the people close to her, where could she go? 

Almost on cue, Edward chuckled. "There's no need for that, Cash. I know the safest possible place for her in Gotham."

Penelope looked at him in surprise. "Yeah?" Aaron asked with a raised eyebrow. "Where?"

Edward gestured to himself. "Why, with yours truly of course!"

Penelope blinked. This was about the last thing she'd ever expected from Edward. "Come on, Nigma," Aaron groaned. "Be serious."

"I am serious," Edward argued. "Presumably, no one in GCPD is wise to the fact that we're close associates. No one would think to look for her with me. And even if someone did, well, I may not be on the wrong side of the law anymore, but old reputations die hard. My permanent status as persona non grata in GCPD is proof of that."

Aaron rolled his eyes. "And you don't think someone might come to take a swing at you?"

Edward smirked a bit. "If anyone in GCPD was brave or stupid enough to do that, someone would have done it by now. There's an unspoken understanding in this city when it comes to Rogues, current and former: If you're going to swing at a King, you'd better not miss. And I, Cash, am a King."

Aaron shook his head. "Right. Doc, what do you think?"

Penelope looked down at her hands. Aside from perhaps wherever Batman lived, Edward's home may be the safest place for her in Gotham City. There were other considerations though, Ellen, mainly. She shook her head. "Edward, I can't ask you to do this for me-"

"And why not? You asked for my help, so I'm helping you." He got out of his seat to stand in front of her desk. He then placed one of his hands gently on top of hers. "If you have any other suggestions, I'm all ears, but may I remind you, I spent half my life clawing my way to the top of the criminal ranks. I can more than handle a little danger. Don't throw away your best possible chance of safety on my account."

Penelope wet her lip and weighed her options. What choice did she have? She nodded. "All right. I'll do it."

Aaron furrowed his brow. "Are you sure?"

"Yes," she said, in a firmer voice. Even if she couldn't trust herself, she trusted Edward. He would keep her safe. "I'm sure.

Edward smiled. "Excellent. Now, we'll have to plan it carefully. Here's what we need to do..."

 

Chapter Text

Against Edward's wishes, Penelope had agreed to spend a sleepless night in Aaron's guest bedroom. As soon as the sun had risen, she had gone with Aaron back to her apartment to do the walkthrough with Renee and Schrader. As she suspected, despite the mess they made, whoever had ransacked her apartment hadn't stolen anything. As she also suspected, Renee and Schrader were no closer to finding the culprit than they had been the previous night. Renee had sworn that they would though. Once the walkthrough was complete, she pulled a suitcase out of her bedroom closet, packed a few changes of clothes and some toiletries. Only the essentials, Edward had said. She put her important documents and her laptop in her briefcase and, after one last look over, followed Aaron down the stairs to his waiting car, away from Renee's look of regret, and Schrader's cold, if polite, nod. Step one was complete. Now to step two.

As agreed on last night, Aaron drove her directly to GCPD. When they parked into his spot in the front parking lot, just under the shade of the great tree, Aaron shook his head. "I don't like keeping the Commish out of the loop like this," he said. "You sure you don't want to tell Gordon?"

Penelope sighed. This had been a point of contention between him and Edward last night. "I don't like it either Aaron, but the fewer people who know, the better. Until we find out who in GCPD is in Strange's pocket, we can't risk telling anyone." She hadn't even told her own mother yet. That was going to be a fun conversation when this was all over. She let out a long yawn. God, she was so tired. "Let's get this over with." She unbuckled herself and opened the passenger door before Aaron could respond. 

The ever-present hum of the GCPD bullpen sounded even more overpowering to Penelope as she entered GCPD. Or perhaps that was her own nerves, fraught as they were. She walked the same path past the bullpen to the Commissioner's office that she had a hundred times before, her gaze darting to look at the faces of the men and women inside. She'd scarcely paid attention to most of them before, but now she felt exposed, hunted. Who was it? Who was the one who had broken into her apartment? Who had stolen the TITAN? Had they simply been following orders, or had she made them hate her enough for them to enjoy making her life Hell? Most of the assembled officers didn't look up as she passed, and the few who did only offered the most basic nod of the head or spoken pleasantries. What had been routine to her before made her heart pound just that much harder. She kept her gaze level and ahead of her. Aaron's solid footsteps behind her were her only comfort as she stopped outside of Gordon's office. She wet her lip and knocked on the door. Keep focused on the task at hand. Be natural. "Yes?" Gordon's familiar gruff voice called from within.

Penelope took a quick breath. "It's Dr. Young, Commissioner."

"Of course, come in."

Penelope opened the door and entered, Aaron following behind her. Gordon had been sitting at his desk, but quickly got up to approach her. "You look like you haven't slept a wink," he said, not unkindly. "How are you holding up?"

Penelope had showered, pulled back her hair, and put on the same clothes she had worn yesterday, but she knew that couldn't conceal the dark circles under her eyes. "I'll be fine," she said brusquely. "I wanted to let you know though that I won't be staying at Officer Cash's any longer."

Gordon's brow furrowed. "Where are you going to go?"

Now came the worst part. Lying to Commissioner Gordon. "I'm going to see my mother in Ohio. I'm not sure when I'll be back."

Gordon nodded solemnly. "I understand. Take as much time as you need." He reached a hand up to rub the back of his head. "I can't tell you how sorry I am for this, Penelope."

Penelope pulled at her fingers. Despite how much she bristled at being pitied, it was clear how genuine Gordon was. That made the deception that much harder, but it needed to be done. "It's alright," she said. "I'll still be available by phone if you need to reach me." Edward wouldn't like that, but she didn't want to be left completely out of the loop at whatever happened at GCPD. 

"As soon as we catch the son of a bitch, you'll be the first to know. I promise." Gordon nodded at Aaron. "What can I do for you, Officer Cash?"

"If it's alright Commish, I can take Doc to the airport," Aaron said. "I'll stay later tonight to make up for it."

Gordon held a hand. "That won't be at all necessary. Go right ahead." Gordon's face fell slightly when he turned back to Penelope. "Take care of yourself. We'll be here when you get back."

Penelope clenched her fists. She would not break. She would not break. "Thank you, Commissioner. Jim."

Forty-five minutes later, Aaron had pulled up to the passenger unloading zone in front of Terminal B at Gotham International Airport. He took a breath and shook his head. "I still don't like this, Doc."

Penelope grabbed a sweatshirt from the backseat before she opened the door. It belonged to Aaron, so it would be far too big for her, but it would do for its purpose. "I know, Aaron," she said. "But I trust Edward. If he thinks that this is the best way, I believe him."

Aaron snorted. "Okay, Doc, but the second, and I mean the second he does something, call me. I'll get you and straighten his ass out."

"That won't be at all necessary," Penelope said, fighting not to roll her eyes. Rationally, she knew that Aaron and Edward's hostility towards each other was too deeply rooted to disappear overnight, but she was tired of being in the middle of it. Then she sighed. "But thank you, Aaron. For everything."

Aaron got out of the driver's seat to open the trunk of his car. Penelope got out of the passenger side to follow him, carrying the sweatshirt over her shoulder along with her purse and holding her briefcase. By the time she made it to the back of the car, he had her suitcase out. She grabbed the handle of it and looked up at Aaron's face. He put his right hand on her shoulder. "See you on the other side, Doc."

She nodded. "I'll see you soon." Then she turned on her heel and walked into the airport terminal. As soon as she was inside, she walked over to a bench and pulled her cell phone out of her purse. It was still only 10:30 AM. She'd been awake so long she'd lost track of time. She quickly texted Edward. AARON JUST DROPPED ME OFF AT THE AIRPORT.

His response was almost immediate. Had he been sitting by his phone waiting for her? GOOD. GO TO A WOMEN'S RESTROOM AND CHANGE AS WE DISCUSSED. WAIT TEN MINUTES, THEN PUT ON THE SWEATSHIRT, HOOD UP, AND SUNGLASSES. GO BACK OUT TO THE TERMINAL ENTRANCE AND WAIT. STAY WHERE PEOPLE CAN SEE YOU, BUT DON'T DRAW ATTENTION TO YOURSELF AND DON'T TALK TO ANYONE. I'LL BE THERE IN THIRTY MINUTES. 

Penelope put her phone back in her purse and headed towards the nearest restroom. Now came the most nerve-wracking part. Waiting for Edward.


 

Schrader had let Montoya remain in their car and check in with Gordon while he popped into a corner market halfway between GCPD and Young's apartment for coffee. While he paid for the coffee, he recalled how withdrawn Young had been, how visibly broken down she was. Away from Montoya's watchful eye, he let out the smirk he'd held in that morning. It hadn't taken much at all to reduce the arrogant, self-important little bitch to the small, weak creature she really was. Even if Ward was right and Bane stayed in whatever hole he'd been thrown into, at least she'd learned her lesson about meddling where she wasn't wanted. 

When he came back to the car, Montoya was sitting in the driver's seat with a pensive look on her face. "Did you talk to the Commissioner?" Schrader asked, handing her a cup after he'd sat down.

Montoya nodded, then took a sip. "Yeah. Pene-Dr. Young stopped by his office. She'll be leaving town for a while."

Schrader took a sip. "That's probably for the best," he said as evenly as he could. "It's a dangerous situation, Renee. If Dr. Young thinks she'll be safer leaving, that's her decision to make."

Montoya put her coffee in the cup holder and sighed. "I know, Curtis. I just wish it didn't have to come to this. She doesn't deserve this."

That was Montoya's biggest problem. Her loyalty to people who didn't deserve it. Young was someone who, even after everything that had happened to this city, after everything that had happened to her in Arkham, thought it would be a good idea to speak up for the freaks and do whatever it was she did with the likes of Edward Nigma. At best, she was painfully misguided and naive. At worst, she was as potentially dangerous as any of the crooks locked up in Blackgate and Arkham. What exactly did someone like that deserve? "She'll be fine," he said. Then with a practiced gentleness, he put a hand on Montoya's shoulder. "Don't worry too much about her. Let's focus on catching this son of a bitch."

Montoya gave a firm nod. "You're right." She put the car in drive and the pair were soon on their way back to GCPD. When he was sure Montoya wasn't looking, Schrader smirked. Young was gone, and wouldn't be back any time soon. Good riddance, bitch.


 

Penelope wasn't someone who let what other people thought get to her, but sitting in the terminal of the airport, wearing a sweatshirt that was far too big for her, and sunglasses indoors, she felt more self-conscious than she had since high school. Thankfully, no one had approached her or even taken a second glance at her after she'd left the restroom. For the second time in as many seconds, she checked her phone. It was 10:59 AM. She looked out the large windows to the passenger loading area. Finally, she saw a familiar green car pull up. After making sure she had everything, she almost dashed outside to meet Edward.

By the time she'd gotten to his car, he'd already stepped out and opened his trunk. He was wearing sunglasses too, as well as casual slacks and of course, a green polo shirt. Penelope paused, almost taken aback by this. She'd known he owned casual clothing, but she'd never seen him in short sleeves before. He turned to greet her, and even through the dark shades, she could see his smirk as he regarded her. "Good," he said. "You followed my directions to a T!" He took her suitcase and briefcase from her and put them in the trunk. He then gestured to his front passenger door. "Shall we?" The pair of them walked up to the door, Edward slightly ahead so he could open it for her. "After you." Penelope shook her head but entered the car. In the time it took for her to place her purse down at her feet and buckle her seatbelt, Edward had shut her door, walked around the front of the car and entered through the driver's side. "I hope you don't mind a more scenic route," he said, putting the car into drive. "I think it's better to err on the side of caution." He pulled out of the passenger loading zone, past the parked cars and security and down the road that led back to the freeway. As soon as they were clear of the airport, Penelope lowered the hood of the sweatshirt and took off her shades. The sudden light aggravated her exhaustion induced headache, and she pinched the bridge of her nose. When she opened her eyes, she noticed Edward looking at her from out of the corner of his. "Didn't get any sleep I see. Ah well. There'll be time for that when we get back to my apartment."

For the first time since he'd pulled up, Penelope spoke to him. "You really don't have to do this, you know."

"Of course I don't," Edward answered. "Bit late to back out now though, isn't it?"

Penelope leaned back in her seat. She wanted to sleep more than anything. "I realize that. I just thought it needed to be said." Edward just huffed a bit in response. Penelope looked towards him. "What are you going to tell Ellen?"

"Nothing, for now. That's where it comes in handy that she doesn't live with me. I don't have to tell her anything that happens in my personal life until or unless it directly impacts her. If you're still with me the next time she comes over, I can fob her off with some story about fumigation. Let me worry about my daughter, Penelope. You've clearly got enough on your mind."

Penelope shut her eyes. "That's one way of putting it." The two of them said nothing for the rest of the drive. 


 

Penelope was almost asleep when she felt the car come to a complete stop and heard Edward's voice ring out. "Well. Here we are." She slowly, reluctantly opened her eyes and realized that they were indeed in the parking lot of Edward's apartment building. He was out of the car, opening the trunk and removing her bags. She unbuckled her seatbelt and opened the car door, grabbing her purse and almost staggering out. Edward was at her side almost immediately, keeping hold of her suitcase and briefcase. "We'll take the elevator up," he said. "It's actually working for once and I'm not about to make you walk up two flights of stairs."

Penelope rolled her eyes. "I'm not an invalid, Edward."

"You look like a zombie," he retorted. "And at any rate, I don't want to walk up two flights of stairs carrying suitcases. Is that better?"

"Much," she drawled. She followed him into the building, to the elevator and down the hall that led to his apartment. Edward kept a few steps ahead of her and had put her briefcase down so he could unlock his apartment door. He opened it, then stepped to the side to allow her to enter first. She stepped into Edward's home, now her home for the foreseeable future. It looked much the same as it had the last time she'd been here for Ellen's birthday, although she noticed it looked like he had straightened it up. The papers and news clippings that he usually had strewn about were gone and there were three places set at his dining room table. He usually had two, who was the third for? Ellen, probably. Her gaze went back to the couch. It wasn't the largest, but it would do for her. "Where do you want me to put my things?"

"Go ahead and take your suitcase to my bedroom and make yourself comfortable," Edward said, depositing it next to her. He took her briefcase over to his dining room table and put it on top of the table. "I'm just going to do a quick check of your laptop to make sure it hasn't been hacked."

"I have confidential patient files on that Edward, don't look at-" Then the first part of his sentence caught up to her. "Wait. Your bedroom?"

Edward clucked his tongue. "Really, Penelope. Thinking I'd peep at your files and make you sleep on my couch? Do you really think so little of me?"

Penelope brought a hand to her face, willing the flush to go away. Surely, he'd thought about the implications of this, hadn't he? "Where are you sleeping?"

Edward turned to look at her, cocking his head and looking like she'd asked the stupidest question he'd ever heard. "On the couch, of course."

Penelope shook her head. "Edward, no. I can't make you sleep on your couch."

"Riddle me this: when is a couch not a couch?"

Penelope groaned. "Edward, not now."

"Answer: when it's a pull out bed!" He smirked at her. "Where did you think Nina and Deirdre slept when they stayed here? In my bathtub?"

"You wouldn't let them sleep in your bed?"

He shuddered. "With what those two get up to? I think not!"

Penelope shook her head again to get the mental image out of her brain and to not think about the fact that she apparently rated more consideration from Edward than his two oldest friends did. "I'll be right back." She wheeled her suitcase down the hallway to Edward's bedroom. She stopped for a moment before the closed door. As much as she'd come to his home in the past five months, she'd never ventured this far. This felt like she was violating his privacy. This felt wrong. Then again, Edward himself had invited her in. If he was willing to share her bedroom with her, he must trust her. With that thought, she opened the door.

Edward's room was much like the rest of his home. Clean and organized, with clippings of his exploits hung up on the walls, along with a few more personal photos. She passed his closet as she walked in and noticed that the clothing inside was perfectly sorted by color. Green blazers hung above black dress pants, white shirts, then green shirts, then black, each outfit with a corresponding bowler hat hung above it, with the few casual clothes he owned hung at the edges. She saw his dresser to her right and supposed that the clothing in there must be similarly organized. What else could one expect with Edward? As she approached the surprisingly large bed, she noticed that it was perfectly made. Did he always make it, or had he done this for her? Penelope saw that the right side of the bed was slightly lower than the left. That must be the side he slept in. Penelope propped her suitcase at the foot of the bed and made her way to the left side. She pulled off her sweatshirt and lay it on the bed, then her attention was drawn to the nightstand along the right side. There were two framed photographs on it, both of them familiar to her. The first was a photo Selina had taken at Edward's birthday party back in June. Edward sat in the middle, herself and Ellen on either side of him, Nina and Deirdre behind him. She let a small smile come to her own face as she thought back on that night. It had been the happiest she'd ever seen Edward. Her smile fell as she turned her attention to the second picture. It was a smaller, black and white picture of Professor Crane. Penelope realized that Edward must have cut it out of the yearbook she had brought him. For a long moment, she stared at the picture, the Professor's cold gaze seeming to look directly through her like she remembered it had back at Gotham University all those years ago. What would he think, she thought, if he could see her now? She sighed and finally looked away. Her eyes felt heavy and she wanted nothing more than sleep. She reached up to undo her bun, letting her dark hair fall loose around her shoulders. She had pulled her shoes off when she remembered that she still needed to send emails out to her patients to explain her absence. Reluctantly, she left the waiting bed and walked back out to the living room.

In her absence, Edward had removed his sunglasses and put on his regular tinted glasses. He was still sitting at his dining room table, typing away on her laptop. "Are you almost done?" Penelope asked.

"Just about," Edward answered, not looking up. "As far as I can tell, you haven't been hacked. You know, with the sensitive material you say you have on here, it wouldn't hurt to have some secure encryption on it. I could set that up for you."

"Maybe some other time," she said. Frankly, she wasn't sure she wanted the headache of figuring out Edward's encryption systems.

Edward typed a few last commands on the keyboard, then grinned in triumph. "There! Done! Child's play, really. You can have it back now." He pushed the chair back a bit and turned to look at her. "I'll be heading off to your apartment to..." Edward trailed off as he regarded her and his eyes widened a bit as if he was seeing her for the first time.

Penelope frowned. "What's wrong?"

Edward blinked. "Your hair," he said at last. "I don't think I've ever seen it-" he flushed a bit and cleared his throat. "Never mind. Anyway, I'll be heading off to your apartment now to see the crime scene for myself." He got out from his chair and walked past her towards his front door. "Help yourself to anything in the kitchen, just leave any dishes in the sink. If you take a book off my shelf, just leave it when you're done. I have a very particular sorting system. If you need anything, call me. I should be back later this afternoon or this evening."

"Alright," Penelope nodded, putting his strange reaction to her hair out of her mind. He'd grabbed his cane from where it was hanging on a hat stand by the door and was about to walk out when she called out to him. "Edward?"

He turned around. "Yes?"

Penelope bit her lip. "Thank you," she said. "For doing all of this."

A soft expression came to his face. "For you, Penelope? Anything." He opened the door and walked out, locking it behind him. 

After sending out a handful of apologetic emails, Penelope finally, finally, lay down on the left side of Edward's bed and shut her eyes. For the first time since this began, she felt safe. The last thought she had before sleep overcame her was a question: when and why had she begun to associate Edward with safety?


 

Edward meanwhile, pondered a very different question while he drove to Penelope's apartment: had she always been so...pretty?

That was a stupid question, he thought almost immediately. The first thing he'd noticed about her at that fundraiser last year was that she was a pretty woman. Not as striking perhaps as some of the other women Edward had known over the years, but he'd been drawn almost instantly to the contrast between her ice blue eyes and her dark, almost black hair. Her subsequent hostility towards him had served as an immediate repellant though, and when she'd become his investigative partner, he'd never allowed himself to think of her in those terms again. It wouldn't end well. His up and down relationship with Selina was proof of that. Seeing her with her hair down though...it was an uncomfortable reminder that for all of her stern, cold demeanor, she was a young woman. Younger than him, younger than Selina, younger than Harley even if he remembered right. Why didn't she wear her hair down more often, it made her look so much younger, so much prettier-

"Focus, Edward," he scolded himself. "The case, remember? I highly doubt she'd appreciate you critiquing her hairstyle while someone's been terrorizing her." A fresh wave of anger came over him. When, not if, but when he found out who was responsible for making her so miserable...well. Just because he was reformed didn't mean he wasn't dangerous. Whoever did this would wish that he simply harassed them to the point of breakdown as he had with Bolton. If someone didn't hold him back, he'd put the son of a bitch in a hospital.

Finally, the familiar brownstone came into sight. Edward did a slow, methodical drive through the parking lot, just to make sure there weren't still GCPD officers about. He was still in his casual clothes so he'd be able to get through the front door of the building, but they wouldn't stop him from being prevented entrance into her apartment. When he saw no police, he pulled into an empty parking spot and got out, cane in hand. He'd almost made it to the entrance when he caught sight of a familiar face and scowled. "What are you doing here!?"

Cash stepped forward, his arms folded across his chest. "Same thing you're doing: trying to find out who's after Doc."

Edward rolled his eyes. "Your sentiments are endearing, Cash, but leave the investigation to those of us with brains. You'll just get in my way." He went to move past Cash when the officer held his right hand up.

"Nigma, I wanna level with you," he said. "I don't like you, and I'm damn sure you don't like me."

Edward slow clapped. "Brilliantly worked out!"

"Knock it off," Cash growled. Then the man sighed. "But Doc's my friend, and she trusts you. I don't want a repeat of what happened with Goodman last year." He awkwardly held his hand out. "Truce?"

Edward looked out the outstretched hand with a narrow gaze. By all rights, he should bat it away and continue into the building. He didn't remember much in detail about his stays in Arkham, but he remembered being on the receiving end of blows from that hand. A genius like him didn't need Cash getting underfoot. Then again...Cash was Penelope's friend. He had no motive to endanger her, and he could be a valuable source of information in the innermost workings of GCPD. If anyone knew who in GCPD was likely to hold a grudge, Cash would. Still, there was another important thing to consider. He hated Cash. Always had, always would. Edward sighed. For you, Penelope, anything. He gingerly took the hand. "Fine. Truce. But I take the lead in there. Understood?"

Cash gave a sharp nod. "Fine." He dropped Edward's hand and stepped to the side. "After you, Mr. PI."

Edward finally walked past him and into the building. It was the first time since December that he'd set foot inside it. As angry as he was about the attack, as irritated as he was by Cash's presence, there was a part of him that was thrilled by finally get to see the inside of her apartment. It was another piece of the puzzle that was Penelope Young, and more than anything else, Edward loved solving puzzles. The door was shut but unlocked, much to his relief. He'd rather not pick her lock if he could avoid it.

When he opened the door, the first thing that caught his attention was the word 'MURDERER' painted in bright red in the middle of her living room. That would have been the first thing to have caught Penelope's eye when she entered, he assumed. That was no doubt the intent. He took a step into the apartment, taking in the surroundings. Message and the mess on the floor aside, it was clean, minimalistic, almost clinical in style. Well, what else could he expect from Penelope? The walls were white, with framed pictures providing splashes of color here and there. Another time, he could appreciate the layout. Now, it was a crime scene and he had to consider it as such. He crouched down on the floor, taking a closer look at the papers that had been haphazardly thrown. They were a mixture of case files from GCPD, her own personal notes from her private sessions with clients, and even things as mundane as a grocery store list. This along with the message confirmed one thing in Edward's mind. Whoever did this did so with the intent to torment her. What's more, the message proved that they knew exactly what to do to maximize that torment. He heard Cash's heavy footsteps and got back up to his feet, taking a closer look at the message. "How many in GCPD are aware of Dr. Young's history at Arkham?"

"You mean that she created the TITAN stuff? Well, I know, obviously. So does Gordon. Most of the senior detectives know too, but that's it. We try to keep it on the down low. A lot of the guys on the force aren't fond of the folks at Arkham."

"You don't say," Edward drawled. "Has anyone in GCPD expressed ill feelings towards her?" He turned his attention to Cash, who seemed to be working over what he said.

"A couple of the younger guys said some stuff a while ago when she was first starting out." He shrugged. "Mostly locker room talk, about how they wouldn't mind her giving them an examination. I put a stop to it real quick."

Edward realized that he was clutching his cane very tightly. "Did they now?" He seethed. He took a quick breath and composed himself. When this was over, he'd have his informant in GCPD do a little recon. Perhaps some slashed tires would remind the neanderthals to treat women with a bit more respect. "Is there anyone, in particular, she has problems with?"

"Well, she's not exactly warm and cuddly, but it's not like she goes out of her way to piss anyone off." Cash chewed his bottom lip. "She and Bullock used to get into it a lot when he was still on the force, but I don't think he'd do this."

Edward reluctantly had to agree with Cash. As difficult as Bullock was, something like this wasn't his style. It was too underhanded, and Bullock was anything but. He'd also never do anything to compromise GCPD. He was too loyal to Gordon for that. Loyalty also ruled out Montoya. He frowned a bit. "What about Schrader? She's told me how much she dislikes him."

Cash raised an eyebrow. "She has? Guess I shouldn't be surprised. They butt heads sometimes, but I don't think he'd do this. He's got fifteen years on the job and a lot of commendations."

A decorated career man he may be, but if Schrader was Strange's creature, if he was in any way a threat to Penelope, Edward would take him down. Schrader warranted a more thorough examination, but he also had to consider that Strange could have recruited any random beat cop and told them about Penelope and her formula. All this time she was exposed, a prime target for anyone at GCPD to strike at a moment's notice. At any time she was at headquarters to do a consultation, someone could have harmed her and he would have been powerless to do anything about it, just like he couldn't save Jonathan-no. He wasn't in a coma this time. Strange would not take Penelope, or Ellen away from him. Edward took a few brisk steps down the hallway to his left, where he assumed her bedroom was.

"Where are you going?" Cash called after him. "Doc and I did the walkthrough this morning, nothing in her room was touched!"

"Which is a clue in and of itself," Edward called back. "Whoever did this assumed that once she saw the state of her living room, she'd flee. They didn't bother vandalizing her room. Which, if you only consider the message, is a bit odd."

There was another pause while Cash worked this out, which made Edward want to slap his forehead in frustration. Good Lord, what must it be like in that pea brain of his? "I get it," he said. "Whoever wrote that did it to scare Doc, but also to throw the cops off. Make them think it was somebody from Arkham looking for revenge."

"My God, it can think!" Edward crowed out in mock triumph.

"Just don't go looking in her drawers, Nigma!"

Edward flushed, then sputtered a bit in outrage. "Her drawers- just what kind of pervert do you think I am, Cash!?"

"I wouldn't put it against you."

Edward growled, then kept walking. He entered her room at last, as sparsely decorated as the rest of the apartment. Her closet door was slightly open and he could see professional looking blouses, shirts, and slacks in black, white, blues, dark purples, and an occasional red. Really, a bit of green wouldn't go amiss. At her bedside, he saw a nightstand, with books stacked on the bottom shelf. The one on top he recognized as her journal, the rest being various well worn looking books on psychology, Greek mythology, and Bulgakov. He smiled a bit. Clearly, she loved those books. On top of the nightstand, there was a sole framed picture. It was of Penelope, looking serious as usual, in graduation cap and gown. Beside her was an equally serious looking, balding, heavyset man with his arm around her shoulders. His age relative to hers and the fact that he shared the same ice blue eyes indicated to him that this must be her father. A caption at the bottom of the frame, written in cursive, confirmed his deduction. David and Penelope, Gotham University, 1996. Who had written that? Her mother, most likely. It occurred to him suddenly that he'd almost never heard her speak of her parents, or of who she had been before she'd come to Arkham Asylum. Well, he thought as he gathered the books in his arms. There was time to remedy that. 

"What are you doing with those books?" Cash asked as he walked back into the living room.

"I'm taking them with me," Edward answered. "I thought she might appreciate a few creature comforts."

Cash blinked, rather stupidly, Edward thought, then his gaze grew thoughtful. "Can I ask you something? And don't be a smartass."

Edward let out a dramatic sigh. "If you must."

"Why are you doing all this for her? Keeping her in your place, bringing her stuff?"

Edward opened his mouth, only to find that he had no ready answer. Why was he doing this? "Well," he said. "She's been of help to me in the past. I'm returning the favor. And past experience has shown that GCPD can't exactly be relied upon to keep her safe. I legitimately am the best option."

Cash's face colored a bit, but he kept his cool. "Is that the only reason?"

"What other reason would there be?"

Cash swallowed a bit. "You and Doc. Are you two...?"

Edward was becoming beyond irritated with this line of questioning. "Are we what?"

Cash looked at him like he was the idiot, which was rich. "Man, do I have to spell it out for you? Are you and Doc together?"

Edward blinked once. "In what sense?"

Cash looked like he wanted to laugh. "Some genius you are. Are you two dating?"

Edward blinked again, then felt the blood rush to his face. He almost dropped the books he was carrying. "Are we dating? Dating? Romantically?" The thought was patently absurd. It was one thing to think a person was attractive. It was one thing to have an anonymous one-night dalliance at Pandora's Box when the need for human contact became too great to ignore. But an actual relationship? With everything that had happened to him in the past? With everything going on now? Unthinkable. He finally let out a laugh. "When you're a big boy Cash," he mocked. "You'll find out that it's very possible for men and women to be friends without anything romantic going on!" 

"I know that, Nigma. I also know the difference between guys who are just friends with a woman, and guys who want more." Cash folded his arms and gave Edward a pointed look. "And you are a Hell of a lot closer to the latter than the former." 

"Your observational skills are clearly lacking," Edward stated, walking towards the front door. "Penelope and I are not dating now or ever. Case closed." 

"Maybe. That doesn't mean you're not in love with her."

Edward froze in his tracks. Love? He wasn't. He couldn't be. No, not after Jonathan. He couldn't go through that again. He wouldn't. He didn't respond to Cash and kept walking.


 

"Senor? We'll be landing at Gotham International Airport in just under an hour. Would you like anything?"

Bane gave the stewardess a polite no. "Gracias, but no." The stewardess smiled a pretty little smile, then walked towards the front of the private plane. One of the benefits of being in his line of work. He may make enemies, but he also made plenty of friends, friends who would trade in favors as much as money, such as getting him a private plane to Gotham City after he had arranged early parole. His face darkened a bit as he thought about Gotham, and about the reason, he was returning after over two years away. Dr. Young. The TITAN. Who had she angered enough to have them send a message to him? It must have been someone important, for them to be able to reach him. The message had said that she was making the TITAN again. Whether that was true or not, he would find out soon enough. If it was true, then the TITAN could not be allowed to remain on the streets of Gotham City. And if it wasn't, he and Dr. Young still had unfinished business. 

He closed his eyes and remembered. He remembered being hung up in the bowels of the Arkham Medical Center, like an animal in a slaughterhouse. He remembered the pain of having the venom drained from his blood, how his howls of agony didn't even register on that cold face of hers.

Oh yes, the bruja had much to answer for.

Chapter Text

Cash might have attempted to give him a lecture as they left the brownstone, but Edward hadn't heard any of it. He'd walked to his car, cane hooked over his shoulder, books in hand, and hadn't looked back. He set the books on the roof of his car as he unlocked it, then placed them and his cane inside before he got in. Then, for a long while, he sat there, mind racing with what Cash had said. That doesn't mean you're not in love with her. He shook his head. He wasn't. He would know if he was. He'd known with Jonathan, he'd know if he was in love with Penelope. There were perfectly logical reasons for what he was doing for her that didn't involve being in love with her. The mystery of whoever stole the TITAN from GCPD lockup was a riddle to be solved, and solving riddles was his reason to get out of bed in the morning. 

Another voice whispered treacherously whispered in his head. Are you really going to pretend that's the only reason you're involved in this? Lying doesn't suit you, Edward.

Edward frowned. Alright. Fine. It obviously was more than solving the riddle. She was his friend. She'd gone out of her way to help him in the past. He owed it to her to keep her safe. 

Selina's your friend too, and you've never offered her half of what you're offering Penelope now.

Edward slammed his hand on the steering wheel. It was different with Selina. Penelope wasn't like Selina, or Oswald, or Deirdre, or Nina, or Jonathan, or him. They had all lived on the margins for years, they were born to live in that dangerous underworld of Gotham. Penelope wasn't. She was a smart woman, of course. She was more than competent, otherwise, Edward wouldn't have paid her a second thought, but she simply didn't have the skillset to protect herself that operating as a Rogue in Gotham City for over a decade had given him and his other friends. The incident with Goodman was proof of that. She needed the extra help, she needed to be protected, and who better to protect her than him? Nobody thought twice about how protective he was of Ellen, why should Penelope be any different? Was it getting hot in here? Edward wiped his forehead with the back of his hand and realized he was starting to sweat. He checked his watch. Well, of course. It was noon now, and the sun was bearing down on his car. Just how long how had he been wasting time thinking about this nonsense? He had important work to do. He started the car, turned the air conditioning on to full blast, and headed towards his office. Schrader was his best suspect. He needed to start a background investigation on him, then call his informant in GCPD. Then hopefully, he could get back to Penelope before it got dark. Just to make sure she was safe, of course. That was all it was. 

He wasn't in love with her. He wasn't. He'd know if he was.


 

When Penelope woke up, the sun was still out, but lower in the sky than it had been when she'd fallen asleep that morning. She blinked, then pushed herself up to a sleeping position on the bed. She was feeling better than she had for the past few days, but her eyelids were still heavy. She stretched her arms above her head and popped her back. Edward's bed was softer than her own was, and the sheets were made of finer material, even if she thought the emerald green color was a bit much. It was tempting to lie back down, but she'd never been one to lie the day away when there were other, more productive things she could be doing with her time. She glanced at the clock on Edward's nightstand. It was 6:00. She'd been asleep for over seven hours. That was enough for now. She heard the sound of drawers opening from the kitchen and jumped a bit at the sudden sound. Then she realized that it could only be Edward. She got off of the bed and walked down the hallway.

Edward was at his dining room table, setting down a glass of water when he heard her approach. He looked up and smiled, his eyes lighting up. "Well!" he said jovially. "Look who's awake!"

"Hello, Edward," Penelope said, taking the seat across from him at the dining room table. "How long have you been back?"

"Just over an hour," Edward answered, taking her in. She looked a bit more well rested than she had this morning, even if the dark circles under her eyes remained. Her hair was still down too, tussled a bit from sleep. She'd been completely dead to the world when he'd come back to the apartment and checked in on her. She'd even slept through him almost dropping one of her books on his foot. She looked him in the eyes and he realized that he was staring. He quickly shook his head. "Did you sleep well?"

"Yes, thank you," Penelope answered. "How did it go at my apartment?"

Edward chuckled a bit. "Business as always I see. Well, I did manage to get to see the vandalism for myself. Well, me and Cash."

Penelope looked at him with surprise. "Aaron was there? Why?"

"Evidently, he wants to assist in the investigation. I'm tolerating it, for now." 

Penelope folded her hands in front of her. She'd expected that once she told him the full truth of her and Edward's relationship that Aaron would insert himself in the situation. It had been why she'd hesitated to tell him for so long. She looked back up at Edward to see that there was a peculiar look on his face. "What is it?"

Edward shook his head. Had Cash ever asked Penelope if the two of them were...dating? If he hadn't, Edward certainly wasn't going to bring it up. She had enough on her mind without having to deal with her friend's overactive imagination. "Nothing. At any rate, I have a credible suspect in mind." 

Penelope leaned forward, dreading what he'd say. "Who?"

"Schrader."

Penelope's blood ran cold. "Detective Schrader? Are you sure?" She didn't want to believe it, but it made terrible sense. 

"Well, I can't prove it, but think about it. Who better to cover their tracks than a detective? As one of the senior most detectives and Montoya's partner, he's in a perfect position to serve as Strange's inside man. You also have to consider the timing. Bullock was pushed out by the Commission and Schrader took his place almost immediately. That was no doubt part of Strange's plan to undermine Gordon." Edward gave her a sharp nod. "You've mentioned that you and Schrader don't get along. Has he ever gone out of his way to antagonize you? Has he ever shown you any undue interest?"

Penelope thought back to every interaction she'd ever had with Schrader, then she slowly shook her head. "No. The opposite, actually. He tries to stay out of my way as much as possible-" Then her mind went back to their encounter in the bullpen yesterday. "Wait," she murmured. "Yesterday, before I went home...I was at GCPD to check in with Gordon, then I stayed in catch up on work...I was so tired. Schrader offered to let me sleep in the crib. I was out for a few hours. I thought he was being decent, but-"

"He knew you'd be at GCPD for the time being," Edward finished. "He used that time to get to your apartment and vandalize it." His eyes flashed a hard green and Penelope realized just how angry he was. "I started a background check on Schrader after I left your apartment. I haven't found anything to solidly link him to Strange, Sharp, or Ward but when I do..." his mouth formed a cruel smirk that sent a chill down her spine. "I think I may pay him a personal visit."

"Don't," Penelope said. "Edward, this isn't like what happened with Ellen and Bolton. Schrader's a decorated detective and all we have is circumstantial evidence. You know even better than I do how GCPD protects their own. If you go after him without definitive proof, you're the one who'll get into trouble."

Edward frowned at her. "Penelope, I've nailed people for far worse with a lot less. Or do you have another suspect in mind you haven't told me about?"

Penelope sighed. "I'm not saying don't investigate him. I'm asking you not to directly confront him until we know for sure. It's too dangerous." She looked beseechingly at him. "Please."

Edward looked into her face, twisted with concern. Concern for him, he realized. Even though she was the one in hiding, she was trying to protect him still. He huffed. How could he refuse her anything when she looked at him like that? "Fine. I won't act against Schrader without tangible proof." Not Schrader. Not yet. He watched her relax a bit with relief. She was so tense. "Well," he said jovially, "On a more pleasant topic. I brought you something from your apartment."

He stifled a laugh as she almost snapped back with surprise. "You did what? What did you bring?"

Edward gestured to the coffee table in front of his couch. "Go see for yourself."

Penelope got out of her seat and walked over to the coffee table. She saw a pile of books stacked on the table and her jaw dropped in surprise. "Those are my books!" She picked up the first book on the stack, a book on neuropsychiatry that she'd been reading before all of this had happened. She turned around to see that Edward had followed her from the dining room table, a satisfied grin on his face. "Why on Earth did you bring my books?"

Edward shrugged. "I thought you might appreciate a few things from home."

Penelope looked at each book in the stack and recognized them as the ones she'd had on her nightstand back in her apartment. She realized that this meant he had been in her bedroom and she felt her face flush before she willed it away. Of course, he had. He'd been looking for evidence after all. And she'd just slept in his room, she had no right to feel embarrassed. She hugged the book she held against her chest. "You really didn't have to-"

"I'm aware of that," Edward interrupted, rolling his eyes a bit. That seemed to be a catchphrase of hers. Did she not allow anyone to do anything nice for her, or was she just so unused to having nice things done for her that she didn't know how to respond? "I wanted to."

She looked at him with genuine gratitude. "Thank you."

This was the happiest he'd seen her since he'd been made aware of this whole mess. Mission accomplished. "Not at all." She smiled slightly, then turned her attention back to her books, putting the one she had in her hand back down. He watched her as she looked at another one almost reverently. It was the textbook on Greek mythology he'd noticed earlier that day. "Did you study Greek mythology?" he found himself asking. "That book looks almost as old as I am."

Penelope shook her head. "I didn't personally, no. I've always had a bit of an interest in it though. This book was my father's. He was a classics major in college."

Ah. The man in the picture. Well, this seemed as good a time as any to delve deeper into her background. "You know," he said. "It seems like you know almost all there is to know about me, but I don't think I've ever heard you talk much about yourself."

Penelope sat down on the couch and scoffed. "I very much doubt I know everything about you, Edward." Why was he asking about this now? Curiosity, most likely. If nothing else, he was a curious man. "I'm a bit surprised you don't have a file on me somewhere."

Edward chuckled, then took a seat next to her, far enough to give her plenty of space, but close enough to properly engage her in conversation. "Who says I don't? Maybe I just want to hear it from you."

Penelope shrugged. "There really isn't that much to tell. My childhood wasn't that interesting."

"Well, not all of us can have a tragic past. And if your childhood really was that boring, there's no harm in telling me, is there?"

God, but he really was a stubborn man. Still, she supposed she could indulge him. "What do you want to know?"

Edward smirked in triumph. Everything. I want to know everything about you. He pointed at the mythology book. "Tell me more about that."

A ghost of a smile came across her face. "Well, as I said, my father was a classics major. He had a particular interest in Ancient Greece. He studied abroad in Athens for a semester. That's where he met my mother. When the semester was over, he brought her back to Ohio with him. I was born a few years later."

"Well, that beats any regular souvenir," Edward quipped. "I have to admit though, I'm having a little trouble picturing you as a typical Midwestern girl."

"I wasn't," Penelope admitted. "I loved my parents, of course, but I never really felt like I fit in there. My father taught Ancient history in the college that was in town, and I spent more time there reading books than I did with children my own age. After school, I used to shut myself in one of the study rooms, do my homework, read, and making a plan to get out as soon as I could."

Edward could just picture that too. Just like Jonathan. Just like him. "What did your parents think of that?"

"Well, they didn't like the idea of me leaving, but they always encouraged me to work hard and study. My father especially was thrilled that I liked to read so much. My mother worried a bit that I didn't socialize very much-" she could still hear her mother's voice too. "Poppy Mou, I know you like working, but people weren't meant to be alone, you know?" She shook her head. "But she never discouraged me from doing what I wanted. We were a close family."

Edward hummed wistfully. "That must have been nice."

"It was," Penelope agreed. "When I was very young, my father would actually read the Odyssey to me as a bedtime story. He and my mother named me Penelope after the character in that, actually."

"I figured as much," Edward said. Odysseus's wife, outwitting her suitors and staying loyal to her husband, no matter how lost he seemed. "Not the worst character to be named after."

"I used to hate that I was named after her," Penelope said. "When I was a girl, I thought she was boring compared to some of the other women in mythology."

"Would you have preferred 'Circe' or 'Medea'?"

"No, I wouldn't have," Penelope admitted. She sighed, thinking back to the time she'd spent in Ohio with her parents. It seemed like a lifetime ago. "Once I graduated high school, I got a scholarship to Gotham University and I never looked back. I wanted the chance to live in a big city and to do great things." Gotham University, Arkham, TITAN. Her face fell. "I suppose I got what I wanted, didn't I?"

Edward frowned a bit. This wasn't the direction he'd wanted this to go. "Well, it wasn't all bad, was it?" He asked. "You met me, didn't you?"

Penelope let out a small laugh and his heart leaped up. "I did I suppose," she said. "And Joan and Aaron and everyone else. In all honesty, I still don't regret coming to Gotham."

Edward nodded. "With your father's interest in antiquity, why did you go into psychiatry?"

"Well, even though I've never had an easy time getting along with people, I'm still fascinated by them," Penelope answered. "I love examining the human mind, trying to figure out what makes it work, how to put a broken mind back together again."

Edward smiled a bit. She liked putting puzzles together. She was more like him than either of them had ever realized. "Was that why you had seventy-six sessions with me back in Arkham? To conquer the great challenge that is Edward Nigma?"

If she was put out by his bringing up their past at Arkham, she didn't show it. "Partly," she admitted. She shot him a smirk of her own. "I also didn't want to let you have the last word."

Edward threw his head back and laughed. Then he checked his watch. It was almost 7:00. He hadn't eaten yet that day, and he suspected she hadn't either. He got up from the couch. "Well, I'm going to make dinner. What would you like?"

Penelope also got up from the couch. "I can just fix something for myself. You don't have to-"

Edward cut her off. "No no, I insist. You're the guest."

Penelope put her hands on her hips and looked him straight in the eye. "I don't like being waited on."

Now they were at an impasse. Edward put his hands up. "Fine. We'll do it together. Agreed?"

Penelope nodded. "Agreed."

Edward grinned. "Good." Such a stubborn, independent, smart person. Just the kind he liked-no. Don't go there. You're not in love with her. You're not. "While we're at it, you can tell me a bit about your mother."


 

It had been a long week for Bruce.

He'd kept in close contact with Gordon since speaking to him after the latest TITAN attack. He had just come from the GCPD rooftop, as a matter of fact, sharing his update with the Commissioner. Gordon had narrowed down the suspect pool around the TITAN theft to three beat cops with known disciplinary issues. He'd pulled two of them in for questioning, while the third, an Officer Alvarez, had seemingly disappeared. Bruce would look into that after he was done tonight. He'd had Barbara and Tim check street chatter for leads on which gangs had access to the stolen TITAN, and tracked them down, one by one. It was grueling work, but he'd managed to destroy the samples he'd found after dealing with the gang members. He was on his way to the Narrows now, after Barbara had managed to uncover where the bulk of the remaining TITAN was being kept. Hopefully, after tonight, the last of it would be destroyed and Bruce could concentrate on finding Officer Alvarez and finding out who had ordered him to steal the TITAN. Bruce clenched his hands around the steering wheel. Gordon had told him about Dr. Young's apartment being vandalized the previous day. Further proof that whoever had ordered the TITAN theft had done so with the objective of sending her a message. He doubted the order had come directly from Strange, but he also doubted that Bolton was the only lackey the warden of Arkham Asylum had carrying out his dirty work. Given their exchange at the Commission, Ward was a likely suspect, but he'd need to find more evidence before confronting the warden of Blackgate. According to Gordon, Dr. Young had left Gotham for the time being. At least now whatever happened, she wouldn't be caught in the crossfire. And if Dr. Young was gone, hopefully, that meant Edward wouldn't involve himself in the situation. Bruce had had a difficult enough time tracking down the TITAN without having to keep an eye on the private investigator.

The speaker in the Batmobile crackled to life and Dick's voice sounded over the intercom. "Hey, Bruce."

Bruce leaned forward and pressed the button to talk back. "Come in, Nightwing."

"So I did what you asked and kept an eye out in Bludhaven. It looks like so far, none of the TITAN's made its way here."

Bruce let out a sigh of relief. "Good. I'm heading to where Oracle thinks the last of it is being held in the Narrows. I'm ending this tonight."

"The Narrows? Do you want me to come and back you up? I can be in Gotham in an hour."

"That won't be necessary, Dick," Bruce said firmly. "I can handle this. You're needed in Bludhaven."

There was a pause before Dick spoke again. "Okay. As long as you're sure. You change your mind, you know my number."

"I won't, but thanks anyway. Batman out." He leaned forward again to switch off the communicator when Barbara's voice broke in. 

" Bruce? Are you there?"

Bruce frowned at the tone in her voice. She sounded worried. "I'm here, Oracle. What's happened?"

"I just picked up on a phone call my father received. Bane escaped from prison three days ago."

TITAN was stolen from GCPD lockup and Bane escaped from prison. That couldn't be a coincidence. "That was the plan all along," Bruce spoke through gritted teeth. "The TITAN was released to lure Bane to Gotham."

"My God. Would Strange and his cohorts really go that far just to get rid of Dr. Young?"

"I don't think we've scratched the surface of far they'll go to get what they want. I'm on my way to the Narrows to get the last of the TITAN. Keep me posted. Batman out." Bruce hit the gas on the Batmobile. Bane was either on his way to Gotham, or he was already here. Bruce had to get to the TITAN and destroy it before Bane could get his hands on it. If Bane got to it before he did... "I will break you, Batman. Then the bruja!" 

At least Dr. Young wasn't in Gotham. She'd be spared this.


 

"So when do I get to come on patrol with you?"

Jason brought his bike to a stop a block away from where the Kiddo lived. "You need at least another six weeks in the gym before I take you out on look-out duty, Kiddo. Here's your stop."

She got off the bike with a groan. "Look-out duty? Lame."

Jason shrugged. He had to admire her spunk, but sometimes it seemed like she had even less common sense than Eddie did. "You want to jump the gun and come out early, you get to explain to Daddy why you're in the hospital."

The quip seemed to have its intended effect on Enigma as she shuddered. "There's a conversation I never want to have. So are you gonna get the last of that TITAN crap tonight?"

"That's the plan," Jason said. "I'll tell you all about it when we meet up next week."

"Yeah, yeah." Enigma bit her bottom lip. "Are you gonna be okay doing it by yourself?"

Jason revved his bike. "Aww, you worried? I've faced worse odds. See you later, Kiddo." He gave her a salute before he turned his bike around and drove back towards the Narrows. When he hadn't been having training sessions with the Kiddo, otherwise occupied, he'd been chasing down information about which gangs had TITAN. After a few broken bones and gunshots, he'd found the location for the remainder of the crap. The West Side Bangers had a safe house on a street that bordered the Narrows and the worst parts of the Lower West Side neighborhoods. Jason had busted it more than once since he'd set up shop in the Narrows, though never for something as serious as this.

Fifteen minutes after he'd dropped off the Kiddo, Jason pulled into an alleyway just behind the dilapidated old building. As he walked away from his bike, he pulled out his pistols from his jacket. He didn't come here to kill, but if the punks holed up in here had any ideas about using the TITAN against him, he'd put a bullet between their eyes. When he rounded the corner and took a look at the front entrance, he instantly went on the alert. The front door of the building was pulled off of its hinges and lying in the street. Jason narrowed his eyes, made sure both guns were loaded, then slowly walked inside. Looks like the punks had company. 

The ramshackle old house was quiet as he entered. Too quiet. Jason walked slowly down the hallway, mentally preparing himself for an ambush. He entered what had been the kitchen once upon a time and took in the scene. The still bodies of four gangbangers were lying in the kitchen. There was no TITAN in sight. Jason walked up to the one lying closest to him and crouched down. From the way his neck was twisted, he was obviously dead. It looked like whoever had killed him and the others had done so with their bare hands. Jason frowned. This wasn't another gang attack. He could do a search of the house, but he knew deep down that the TITAN was long gone. But who in Gotham wanted the TITAN and was strong enough to do all of this?

He heard a noise behind him and got to his feet, pistols at the ready. When he saw who it was, he slowly lowered them and scoffed. "Hey Old Man. Long time no see."

Batman stepped into the kitchen, taking in the scene for himself. "What are you doing here, Jason?"

"Same thing as you, I guess," Jason answered, putting his guns away. "Trying to get rid of the TITAN." He gestured to the bodies lying around them. "Looks like someone beat us to it. Got any idea who?"

Batman pushed past him, examining the crime scene for himself. "It's not something to concern yourself with."

"That crap's been causing chaos in my neighborhood for weeks. Damn straight it's something I'm 'concerning myself with.'" Batman turned to him with a narrowed glare when both of their attention was caught by a low groaning. One of the bodies, half-hidden under the kitchen table, was stirring. "Well shit," Jason said. "Looks like they missed one."

Bruce dropped to his knees to examine the man. He looked battered, but he was breathing. "Who did this?" he asked, dreading the answer.

The man groaned from the exertion of speaking. "Bane," he managed to choke out. "Bane was here. He killed the guys, tried to kill me. He took the TITAN, all of it. He said...he said the bruja was next..."

He was too late. Bane was in Gotham and now he had TITAN. "Don't speak," Bruce said. "I'm calling for an ambulance."

Jason stepped forward while Batman was occupied with the gangbanger. "Bane, huh? Good luck with that." Jason didn't consider himself weak, but he knew his limitations. "Who or what's the bruja?"

Bruce didn't answer. He texted the news to Gordon and to Oracle to send for medical attention. "I'll only ask you one more time, Jason. Stay out of this." He got up and walked out of the kitchen without so much as a look back at his former partner. Bane with TITAN again...the situation was only to get worse before it got better.

At least Dr. Young wasn't in Gotham.


 

Edward leaned his head back and let out a long, hard laugh. "You are absurd," he said between giggles. "You really didn't think there was any connection between accusing Flanagan of not being able to control rats and finding more of them in your office afterward? Really?"

Penelope rolled her eyes and took another sip of water. "Correlation does not equal causation, Edward. In my time at Arkham, I never saw any definitive proof that Flanagan could control rats."

"What about the infestation then?"

"Well, given the amount of care that Sharp put into the asylum's upkeep, it was more likely that he simply hired a shoddy exterminator. There was, and still isn't any proof that Flanagan can control rats."

Edward let out another chuckle. "In this city alone, we have a clay man who can change his appearance to look like anyone else, a woman who is more plant than human, and a man who can only survive in a subzero environment, but a man controlling rats is where you draw the line?"

"Well, I saw direct evidence firsthand of Karlo's, Isley's, and Fries' abilities and conditions. I never did with Flanagan, and I'm not one to take something on blind faith."

"I think you're just being stubborn."

"No, I'm not," Penelope argued. She took a look at the clock on Edward's bookshelf.  It was after 11 now. They'd been sitting at his dining room table exchanging stories for the past four hours. Where had the time gone? "Well," she said. "We've gone through childhood, college, medical school, and Arkham, at least all about Arkham I'm willing to talk about." She gave him a wry look. "Why you could never be this talkative and accommodating during our sessions is beyond me."

Edward smirked. "And where would the fun in that have been? I thought you enjoyed the challenge!" 

Penelope shook her head. "And you call me stubborn. I think I've just about run out of things to tell you about myself."

Edward could listen to her for hours. Why had he been so combative with her at Arkham? Probably just because they were at Arkham. And to tell the truth, they had been different people then. The next question was out of his mouth before he could stop himself. "Has there ever been a Mr. Dr. Young?"  Almost immediately, he felt his face burn. Why on Earth had he asked that?

Penelope arched an eyebrow. "That's a bit personal, isn't it?"

For the second time that day, Edward was at a loss for words. What was she doing to him? "I-well-" he stammered. Then he cleared his throat. "Well, turnabout is fair play. You know all about my romantic woes."

Penelope took another sip of water as she considered whether or not to tell him and why he'd really asked. Well, he had a point. She knew all about Selina and Professor Crane, and about as much as he did about Diane Dixon. "I've never been married," she began. "I did have a serious relationship when I was in medical school."

Edward frowned a bit. "Oh?" Don't ask questions you don't want the answers to.

Penelope nodded, thinking back to that time in medical school. "His name was Michael Conroy. We met during our first year in medical school. He was studying cardiology and we happened to meet during a clinical rotation, and he asked me out for coffee. We started dating soon after." She thought back on him and smiled a bit. "He was a very intelligent, articulate, dedicated man."

And he probably had a full head of hair and perfect teeth. Edward had never and would most likely never meet this Dr. Michael, but he already hated his guts. He kept the expression on his face neutral. "So whatever happened to Dr. Perfect?" he asked.

Penelope sighed, too lost in her memories to notice the edge in his voice. "Well, near the end of medical school, we started talking about what we wanted our future to look like. I wanted to start my career and stay in Gotham City. He wanted to get married, move out to the suburbs, and start a family right away." She ran her fingers through her hair. "We realized that our longterm goals were incompatible and we went our separate ways. I keep in touch with him from time to time. He's married now and has two children."

Edward leaned forward a bit, cupping his face in his hand. "Do you regret not marrying him?"

Instantly, Penelope shook her head. "Not at all. That wasn't what I wanted at that point in my life."

Edward snorted. "Mrs. Dr. Michael Conroy with an ivy-covered house and 2.5 kids. You would have been bored senseless. You need more excitement in your life."

Penelope scoffed. "I think that's about the last thing I need right now, Edward."

"Alright, fair point. Let me rephrase. You're an unconventional woman. You have unconventional interests and goals. You need someone who appreciates that, who won't try to force you into a box. Someone who can match you, challenge you even, someone like-" Like who, Edward? He cleared his throat. "Well. Someone." 

Penelope shook her head again. "I'm too busy for that." She looked again toward the clock. It was past 11:30 now, and she still felt tired. "Well, I don't want to keep you up too late," she said, getting up from the table. 

Edward got up. "It's no problem for me," he said. "I'm regularly up until three in the morning."

"That's not something to be proud of," she lightly scolded. Then she wet her lip. "Edward, I know what you've been doing tonight."

Edward blinked. "Really?" He didn't even know what he was doing. "What have I been doing?"

"You're trying to distract me from what's going on."

Oh. Oh. Of course. That was all. What else could she have been thinking? What else was he thinking? He plastered on a smirk. "Has it been working?"

Penelope let out a small chuckle. "A bit. Thank you."

Edward's smirk was replaced by a genuine smile and something warm he hadn't felt since-no. No. You're not in love with her. You're not. "Well, let me just grab a few changes of clothes from my room and I'll be out of your way." He went back to his room and pulled out his sleepwear from his drawer. He was about to cross over to the closet to grab his outfit for tomorrow when he spotted the picture of Jonathan, glaring at him, on his nightstand. He paused in front of it, feeling like he'd been caught in the act of something. "I'm not in love with her," he murmured to himself and to Jonathan. "I know how well that ends for me."

Another voice responded in his head, a voice that sounded more like Jonathan that his own. Do you want to love her?

Edward paused, his mind whirling with confusion, guilt, and something else he was afraid to speak the name of. "I don't know."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

As he walked down the main hallway of Arkham Asylum, Ward felt increasingly nervous. He checked his watch. It was 2:00 AM. It wasn't unheard of for Strange to ask for him to come to Arkham at odd hours, but this early, and on a Saturday moreover? Something had happened, something big, and Ward wasn't sure he wanted to know what it was. 

When he arrived at Strange's office, Schrader was there too, sitting in a chair in front of Strange's desk. Strange was standing, his hands folded behind his back. He gave Ward a solemn nod as he entered. "Good morning, Phillip. Shut the door."

Ward did as he was asked and stepped further into the room, sweat beginning to bead on his forehead. "What's happened?"

"I'm surprised you don't already know," Strange chided. "Bane escaped from prison. He arrived in Gotham sometime earlier this evening. He has stolen the last of the TITAN that was released."

Ward's jaw dropped. "Bane's here?" He shot a quick look towards Schrader, who he noticed for the first time had a smirk on his face. "Didn't you tell me earlier this evening that Young left the city?"

"Yeah, turns out the bitch had perfect timing," Schrader said, leaning back in his chair. "I guarantee she'll never show her face in Gotham again after this."

While Ward would be glad to see the end of Penelope Young, he still felt uneasy. He'd imagined that either Bane would never show up, or that he would come quietly, kill Young, and be recaptured quickly. Now Young was gone, out of Bane's reach, and Bane had a stockpile of TITAN. "What are we going to do about this?"

Strange arched an eyebrow. "'We?' We will do nothing. As I told you when you approached me with this scheme, I cannot be involved in any way. The two of you would need to succeed or fail on your own." He smiled at the pair, which to Ward was even more frightening than when he was angry. "And you have succeeded brilliantly. Young has been driven from Gotham, Gordon and his GCPD have been discredited even further, and Batman will have his hands full with Bane. And you did it all without arousing any suspicion or involvement from any other third parties. Well done." Schrader's smirk widened, while Ward fidgeted with his hands. It was a small movement, but Strange caught it. "You seem troubled, Phillip. Is this not what you wanted?"

Strange's dark eyes bore into Ward as he attempted to form the right words. "It is, of course. It's...Bane with TITAN. He could do a lot of collateral damage before Batman or whoever takes him into custody."

From his seat, Schrader snorted. "It's a bit late to worry about that, isn't it?"

"I agree with Detective Schrader," Strange said, his voice smooth and cold. "You knew that this plan was dangerous when you approached me with it, Phillip. You were in favor of it. You told me that Bane was rational and could be contained. Now that his presence is no longer a hypothetical but a reality, you cannot second-guess yourself. Collateral damage is inevitable.  To bring about the world we all desire, we must be prepared to do all that is necessary and commit to our actions. Any hesitation will be our downfall. Do you understand?"

Ward wanted to protest, that leaving Bane with the TITAN would backfire on them, but no words came. He was in too deep to back out now. He swallowed. "Yes, Hugo. I understand."

"Good. Now, we need to begin our plans for Phase Two..."


 

According to the clock on his bookshelf, it was 3:00 AM, but Edward was still wide awake. He lay on his back on his couch, staring up at the ceiling and counting the small cracks in the cheap plaster, as he often did when he had trouble sleeping. 35...40...45...60...he felt his eyes begin to droop at last. 65...70...that doesn't mean you're not in love with her. His eyes flew open again. "I'm not in love with her," he muttered angrily. "I'm not."

Is that why you couldn't take your eyes off of her tonight?

Edward growled and turned over on his side. "There was one, singular moment when I knew that I was in love with Jonathan. I remember that clear as day. I have not had a moment like that with Penelope. Therefore, I am not in love with her." He lifted his head to look down the hall towards his room where she was sleeping. He'd resisted the urge to get up and check in on her more than once since she'd went to bed three hours ago. She was fine. She was safe. She didn't need him coming into her-his-room like he was some peeping tom. He rolled over onto his back again and stared up at the ceiling. This was a mistake. Not one day and she was undoing him. No, he thought. It's not her fault. It's Schrader's for terrorizing her to the point she needed to stay with him for her safety. It was Cash's for putting that damn thought in his head in the first place. The man never could keep his mouth shut. Why had Cash had to say that and put this damn thought in his head that wouldn't leave no matter how hard he tried to ignore it? "I'm not in love with her," he insisted again. "I'm not. And she most certainly isn't in love with me. You heard her yourself, she's too busy for that sort of thing. And even if she wasn't, you're not exactly her type." His thoughts darkened. "It doesn't matter how brilliant you are, or how passably good looking. You're a reformed super-criminal with enough baggage to fill a train car. No sensible person would touch you with a barge pole." He let out a long sigh. "And even if she would... what could you offer her? A relationship? I can't. Not after Jonathan." He shut his eyes, the memory of what Croc said in his mind. "I can't go through that again." 

But you want her.

"I don't," Edward insisted. "Not like that."

No? Is that why you can't stop thinking about what it would feel like to run your fingers through her hair? Or about how the summer sun's brought a golden tone to her skin?

Edward clenched his fists. He would not start thinking about Penelope like that. Once he started, he'd never stop, and it would ruin everything. A thought came to his head and he snapped his fingers. "I know what this is all about. How long has it been since you've been to Pandora's? A year? Longer? You're feeling a bit pent up. When this case is over, you just need to book yourself a session and everything will go back to the way it was." That was what he needed. A night at Pandora's with a pretty brunette-no. Blonde. Maybe a man this time. Or maybe both. He wasn't picky.

A loud knock on Edward's door brought him out of his thoughts so suddenly that he almost fell off the couch. He was about to yell out in irritation when he remembered the time. It was past 3:00 AM. There was another loud knock at the door. Edward narrowed his eyes. If it was an ambush, they wouldn't bother to knock, but who would be by at 3:00 AM? He slowly got up from his couch and grabbed his cane where he left it hanging on his coat rack. His eyes darted to his hallway. If the knocking had woken Penelope up, there was no sign of it. As quickly and as quietly as he could, Edward moved to the peephole and looked through it. He got a clear look at who it was on the other side of the door and scowled. He opened the door and Cash walked in, almost running him over. "'Bout time, Nigma. Where's Doc?"

"Asleep," Edward answered, hanging the cane back up. "Like I was about to be when you so rudely barged in! You do realize that it's after 3 in the morning, don't you!?" He turned on the living room overhead light and squinted in the brightness. Once he'd adjusted and put his glasses back on, he realized how shaken Cash looked. Cash was like a brick wall. He was never shaken. "What's happened?"

"Aaron?" Both men turned to see Penelope standing right where the living room turned into the hallway. She looked at both men expectantly. "What's going on?"

Cash sighed, looking like a man who wanted to be anywhere but here. Edward dreaded what the man was about to say. "I just got a call from Commissioner Gordon," he said at last. "Bane's in Gotham, Doc. He took the last of the TITAN that was on the streets."

It was a warm night, but Edward felt a chill go down his spine. Bane was here? Why would-then he understood. The TITAN theft hadn't just been about rattling Penelope. It was to lure Bane here to do Strange's dirty work by either driving her away or killing her. From the ashen look on her face, he knew that she realized it too. "Oh," she said faintly. "Oh my God." She wobbled on her feet a bit and Edward made a move to stabilize her, only for Cash to beat him to it. 

"Easy, Doc," Cash said, guiding her to the dining room table. "It's gonna be alright."

Penelope sat robotically in the dining room chair, her mind swirling with the memories of what had happened at the asylum. Of what she had done to Bane. She felt sick. 'By extracting the venom formula from his blood and refining it, I will be able to create a new formula that will enable patients to withstand our more intensive treatments. Project TITAN will pave the way for breakthrough therapies in the future.' "He's coming for me," she said. "He's going to kill me-"

"He won't," she heard Edward say. She looked at Edward, who had taken the seat across from her at the table. He looked determinedly at her. "I won't let him."

At that, Penelope laughed incredulously. "How?" she said. "Edward, this is Bane. How can you possibly go up against him?"

"Who said anything about going up against him? I can out-think him with both hands tied behind my back. Don't you have any faith in me?"

"It's not about if I have faith in your abilities, can't you see that!?" Penelope almost screamed at him, forgetting for a moment that Aaron was in the room. "Edward, you can't risk your life like that! You're a father, think about Ellen! She needs you alive!"

Aaron looked almost bug-eyed at Edward. "Wait, you've got a kid!?"

"Well, what else do you want me to do!?" Edward shouted back. "Hand you over to Bane on a silver platter!?"

Penelope took a deep breath, folding her hands in front of her. She shut her eyes, but she could still see herself standing in front of Bane as the procedure to extract Venom from him was performed. She hadn't allowed herself to watch as his body thrashed, suspended as it was, or let herself hear his screams of pain. Bane was just one person who held the key to potentially curing the super-insanity that plagued Gotham. What was a little momentary discomfort of an assassin to finally obtaining that cure? A moment of clarity came to her and she felt serene. "Perhaps that's what you should do, Edward."

A stricken look came over the faces of both of the men at the table. "What!?" They both said as one.

Penelope continued, her voice trembling, almost hysterical. "I wronged Bane. He has every right to want to kill me after what I did to him. If my handing myself over to him prevents more bloodshed, shouldn't I do it? Isn't that the least I can do to make up for it-"

Edward's fist banging on the table brought her back to reality. "Just how stupid are you!?"

Penelope opened her eyes. Edward was staring back at her, his face flushed with anger. "Edward-"

"No, listen to me!" he shouted. "Do you think, that if you walked out of here right now that Bane would just kill you!?" His voice lowered and it became more calculating. "You are the only person alive who knows exactly what's in that damn formula and he's only got a finite amount left. He would force you to either make more for him or to tell him how exactly you made it." She opened her mouth and he raised a hand. "Oh, I know what you're about to say. You wouldn't. You'd never. Not willingly, you wouldn't. But do you think that would stop Bane? He would torture it out of you. And then, only then, would he put you out of your misery. And how many more people would die as a result?"

Penelope knew in her soul that he was right. She bit her lip to keep the tears at bay. Don't break, don't break. Then she felt a bare hand cover her own and she looked up with a start. It was Edward's. He'd only touched her without wearing his gloves once before, but the warmth of his touch was comforting to her. Edward's face was no longer angry but instead had an almost pleading look.

"You're not thinking things through," he said, rubbing his thumb across her knuckles. "You're not thinking about your mother, losing her only child. The GCPD and your Arkham group, losing a valued colleague and advocate. Dr. Leland, or even Cash here losing their friend. Then there's Selina's and Ellen's loss..." His voice took on an almost plaintive quality and his grip tightened ever so slightly. "And my own."

Penelope took a deep breath, then gently withdrew one of her hands to place it over Edward's. "I'm sorry," she said. "But what I did with TITAN caused so much pain and misery for so many people. I can't stand the thought that it might hurt you too."

Edward offered a half-smile. "Now, my dear doctor. I was a Rogue. It's not my first brush with peril by a longshot. May I remind you that I ran through a gauntlet of death traps to save you not even a year ago?"

"Yeah, we all remember," Aaron said gruffly, reminding the pair that he was still in the room. Penelope self-consciously pulled her hands away from Edward's and set them in her lap. "So Genius, got any plans for how to handle this?"

Edward leaned back in his chair and thought long and hard. As much as he hated to admit it, Penelope had a point. He couldn't risk a confrontation with Bane. "Cash," he said at last. "GCPD's still under the impression that Penelope's out of state, right?"

"As far as I know, yeah."

That was a relief. "Good. Then this is my plan. We proceed as if nothing has changed. Once it dawns on Bane that she's gone, he'll leave, or Batman will dispatch of him."

"That's your plan?" Cash asked. "Just leave Bane for Batman to deal with?"

Edward shrugged. "I may be the premiere investigative mind in town, but I know my limits. Batman's not going to tolerate any of Bane's shenanigans, especially in this climate. It's best for all involved if I stay out of the way." He looked back up at Penelope to ask for her input, but she was staring down at her lap, her face completely blank.

Cash spoke for her. "What if Bane figures out she's still in Gotham?"

"We're the only people who know she's here, and none of us are about to say anything to the contrary. It's a small risk. In the meantime, I'm going to call in all of my informants to keep their eyes and ears open. Perhaps I'll be able to give the Dark Knight a hint."  

"I'll give you a heads up if I find out anything on my end," Cash said. "I'm sorry I had to be the bearer of bad news, Doc."

Penelope shook her head. "It's not your fault, Aaron." She got up from her chair listlessly. "I'm going back to bed." She walked down the hall, Edward watching her all the while. He hadn't seen her so close to a breakdown since that day at the memorial last year. Worry for her, fury at the ones responsible for this whole mess, and sheer frustration warred for dominance in his mind. Did she still think she was so worthless that she deserved to have Bane tear her apart? Did the events at the Asylum still haunt her that much? He remembered with a chill what Dr. Leland had told him all those months ago about Penelope's state of mind. Guilt could lead one to do very stupid things...

"Nigma?"

Edward looked back over to Cash, who had an unreadable look on his face. "Yes?" he drawled.

"Keep an eye on her, would you?"

Edward nodded. "You don't have to remind me." Whatever he felt for her, he needed to put it out of his mind and focus on the task at hand. He would not lose her. No to Bane, not to Strange, not to Schrader. Not even to Penelope herself.


 

Penelope managed about another three hours of uneasy tossing and turning before the sun came up. By the time she'd pulled herself together enough to take a shower and dress, Edward was already gone. He'd left a short note for her on the dining room table. I'll be back by sundown. Stay inside the apartment. Penelope had brought her laptop out and sat on the couch, ostensibly to see if she could get anything productive done, but that was a futile hope. She'd felt comforted the night before by Edward's presence, but the knowledge that Bane was back had destroyed her last illusion of safety. Did Schrader, or Ward, or Strange hate her so much that they were willing to endanger countless people by luring Bane here? No. She wasn't a person to them. She was just an obstacle. Neither was Bane. He was just a tool. Neither were the people of Gotham who were caught up in this mess. They were pawns to be discarded as they saw fit. What was driving these men? Was it just about grabbing power, or did they genuinely believe they were doing the right thing? Penelope sighed and leaned back against the couch. Bane, by contrast, at least had understandable motives. Who wouldn't want to kill the person who had experimented on them? She hugged her arms around herself. She'd thought she'd worked through what had happened over the past year, but perhaps it was simply buried, pushed down by thoughts of the Case, or of working to reform Arkham or of Edward-

Penelope looked at the clock. It was past four now. She hadn't eaten and barely moved from the couch since she'd come out of Edward's room. She wasn't tired, or hungry, or even scared anymore. Instead, she felt almost completely numb. Rationally, she knew this level of disassociation wasn't healthy. If a patient was behaving like this, she'd intervene. She got up to fix herself a drink of water, then went back to the couch and waited for Edward. Every hour he was gone, her anxiety increased. He was an intelligent man, the most intelligent, dynamic man she'd ever known, but his ego could lead him to be reckless. If Bane got his hands on him, she'd never forgive herself.

She heard the front door open at 5:00 pm exactly, and Edward walked inside. The relief she felt on seeing him again was the most emotion she'd felt all day. "How did it go?" she asked.

"Well, hello to you too," he said, taking her in. God, but she looked miserable. "How was your day?"

"Never mind that. Did you find any leads?"

Edward sighed, hanging up his hat and cane. "I've gotten the word out to my informants and monitored the usual channels of communication." The media wasn't reporting on Bane's return for the time being, but the word had spread like wildfire among Edward's more nefarious circle. Oswald and Selina knew about Bane being back too, but neither knew that Penelope was with him. "But so far, there's been no further word on Bane's movements." He frowned a bit as her face went blank. Penelope wasn't the most demonstrative person even on a good day, but this coldness, this numbness was closer to how she'd been when they'd first met. Add that to just how rundown she looked...he worried about her. He'd found himself halfway out his office door five times that day to come back to her earlier before he'd stopped himself. He was more helpful to her out there working the case than he would be hovering over her. "It's possible now that he has the TITAN that he's already left."

Penelope shook her head. "It's possible, but we both know that's not likely."

Edward sighed. "No, I suppose not." He took the seat next to her on the couch. She had her arms wrapped around her, almost like she was trying to disappear into herself. He wanted to reach out to her, to try to comfort her, but he didn't know how. "Penelope," he said as gently as he could. "I know this is a very trying time, but you should relax. Let me worry about all this."

"It's my fault, Edward," Penelope said softly. "I brought this down on everyone. All I wanted to do was to try to make up for what I did, to try to salvage something from Arkham, but I can't. No matter what I do, I'll never be able to make this right." Her voice began to hitch and Edward instinctively moved towards her, only for her to get up from the couch. "Excuse me." She fled down the hallway, not looking back at him. Edward heard his bedroom door shut.

He leaned over and wiped a hand down his face. "What do I do?" he murmured. There must have been a moment, once or twice, when he'd comforted Jonathan in times of distress. Surely, he could do the same for Penelope? Except Jonathan had never regretted or felt guilt over anything he'd ever done as the Scarecrow. Edward leaned back. This was one riddle he'd have trouble solving. He got up from the couch and went to fix dinner. Perhaps when she came out, she'd be up for talking again. Perhaps if he couldn't find the right words to comfort her, he could distract her.

Penelope did not come out for the rest of the evening.


 

"This is Dr. Penelope Young, It is now 7:00 pm on March 15th, 2005. Tonight, I will begin the first step towards what I hope will be a bright future for mental health treatment."

Beneath her, the 'volunteer', a patient who was promised early parole for his cooperation, looks at her with a raised eyebrow. "You sure this won't hurt, Doc?"

"There may be some momentary discomfort," Penelope says as she fills the syringe, a slight edge to her voice. Years of research, experimentation, and hard work have come down to this one moment. She won't let the misgivings of a criminal stand in her way now. "It should pass. Now, relax." She grips onto the patient's arm and injects the TITAN into his bloodstream. Now to see what her work and Mr. White's contributions have achieved.

Almost instantly, things go wrong. The patient winces at first, then begins to convulse against the gurney. Penelope shrinks back in alarm and confusion. It isn't supposed to do this. Then the patient's muscle's bulge out to almost comical proportions. No, no, she'd accounted for the Venom's effect, she'd created an enzyme to counteract the most extreme effects, but the patient keeps growing bigger until she can see...oh God, his rib cage was breaking through his skin!

"Call a medical doctor!" she cries out. "We have a problem! This wasn't supposed to happen!" No one responds to her. She looks around and realizes she is alone in the Arkham medical center. The patient meanwhile continues to convulse, his eyes roll back in his head, and he lets out a pained roar. Finally, the patient breaks through his restraints and sits up. The patient has now become Bane.

"BRUJA!" he screams at her. "BRUJA!"

Penelope wants to run, but she's rooted to the spot. Why is she alone, why is she here, where is everybody? "Someone!" she screams. "Help me!" 

A cold, Teutonic voice answers her. "Is this not what you wanted, Dr. Young?" Penelope turns around to see Hugo Strange peering down at her, looking like her like the insignificant bug she is. "Your formula has succeeded beyond all expectations. Now the patients will be able to withstand out more...extreme punishments."  No, no, no no, it wasn't supposed to be like this, she never wanted to hurt the patients, she wanted to cure them. Wait. This is wrong. Strange wasn't at Arkham yet. Why is he here? As if he hears her, Strange smiles, a rictus grin that almost splits his face in half. "Thank you, for your service." He nods to Bane who is still standing behind them. "Make her suffer first." Then he disappears, and it's just her and Bane. Penelope shuts her eyes and turns around, ready to accept the punishment she deserves. When she opens her eyes, Bane has someone else hanging limp in his grasp. In one, large hand, he held Edward's head. With one squeeze, he could pop it like a grape.

Every nerve in Penelope's body comes alive at that moment. "NO!" she screams. "No, don't hurt him, please! He has nothing to do with this, please!" She runs toward him, only to feel someone pull her back. She doesn't even look behind her, too transfixed in horror as Bane lifts Edward with both hands. Edward looks towards her then, like he wants to tell her something, and then Bane raises his knee and brings Edward down in one swift movement, breaking him in half. Penelope screams louder than she ever has before, a loud, keening cry that echoes off the decaying walls. Then she hears something else. Laughter. She looks behind her at last. The Joker has her in his grip, his green eyes wide, laughing, laughing, laughing...

..."Penelope! You're dreaming! Penelope!"

Penelope opened her eyes and screamed again. In the darkness, she could just make out a pair of green eyes looking intently at her, she could feel a strong grip around her. She wrenched a hand free and backhanded the figure with all her might. "Stay away from me, you monster!"

Instead of the Joker's laughter, however, she heard another familiar voice. "Jesus Christ!" Penelope's breath came in a gasp. That was Edward. She fumbled for the light on the nightstand and when it came on, she saw Edward, sitting on the foot of his bed, a hand up to his red face. "Jesus Christ!" he yelled out again, looking at her incredulously. "I think you almost broke my nose!"

Penelope's breath still came out in gasps. "I thought-the Joker-I thought-"

"The Joker?" Edward asked. Then he sighed. "Penelope, you were dreaming. That's all. It's just me."

"I thought-" Penelope stammered. "I thought I was back at the Asylum, I was experimenting on Bane-I saw him kill you-I saw him-" Her voice quivered. "I...oh God, oh God..." Don't break, stay composed, don't break, don't break, don't break- No. This was too much. The weight of everything that had happened over the past week, since Batman arrived in her apartment came down at her at once and the dam broke. "Oh, God..." She curled up, knees hugged into her chest and began to sob.

Edward sat at the foot of his bed, watching the stern, composed, strong woman he'd come to care for completely break down. He'd never seen her like this. "Oh my God..." he murmured. Then he moved towards her, sat himself up at the headboard and awkwardly, but gently hugged her to his chest. "Hey, hey," he whispered into her hair. "Hey. You're alright. You're safe. I'm here. I'm here."

Penelope, acting on instinct, threw herself against Edward's chest, wrapping her arms tight around him. She continued to cry against him, only barely registering his hands rubbing her back, his arms rocking her. "I'm sorry," she choked out. "I'm sorry."

"For what?" she heard him ask. "The slap? Believe me, Selina's done far worse."

"For everything," Penelope gasped out between sobs. "The TITAN, Sharp, Strange, everything. It's all my fault. If I hadn't been so arrogant, so blind, so stupid...all those people would still be alive. Sharp would have never become Mayor. Strange wouldn't have so much power...oh God, Edward, how could I have done it? I was supposed to help people and I experimented on them! I'm no better than the Joker-"

Edward's voice cut in harsh. "You stop that." Penelope looked up into Edward's face, tears still streaming down her cheeks. Edward shook his head at her. "You know, back in February, after my encounter with Croc-" a shadow passed over his face and he bit his lip, but he continued to speak. "When I was at my lowest, someone very dear to me said something important. She told me that I was only responsible for my actions." He gave her a small smile. "I'm sure you don't need to be reminded who said that." Edward moved his hands from her back to her shoulders. "Did you make terrible mistakes? Yes. That's undeniable. But Penelope, you weren't the only person involved. First and foremost, if anyone deserves the lion's share of the blame for what happened at Arkham, it's the Joker. If you want to talk specifically about the TITAN experiment, there's Sharp and the Board, for approving and encouraging it, and let's not forget that it was Ward who handed Bane over. Out of all of those people, only one person has done anything to make amends for it. That person is you, Penelope. Strange and his minions sent Bane after you now because you're trying to make up for what happened by stopping them from doing even worse things. That's not a small thing."

A fresh wave of tears came to Penelope's eyes and she hastily tried to wipe them away. "I don't deserve praise for doing the bare minimum, Edward. Nothing I do is going to change what happened."

Edward frowned a bit. "You're going to be stubborn I see. Alright then." He gently pushed her away, so he could get a clear look at her face. "Tell me: when you were back at Arkham when you realized how dangerous the TITAN chemical was, what did you do?"

Penelope paused, remembering all too clearly. "I stopped the experiments."

"And when you found out that it was the Joker who was funding you, what did you do?"

Penelope took a breath. "I told him I wouldn't do it. I tried to give him back his money. I begged him to stop, but he wouldn't listen."

"He never does," Edward said. "Which leads us to the night of the riot. What did you do?"

In the year since they'd become reacquainted, Edward had never once asked her what had happened that night. It was a boundary he had always respected. Penelope shut her eyes and remembered the armed men storming the medical center, of hers and Aaron's trek to the old Arkham Manor, of her desperate flight to the library, Zsasz, the bomb-she trembled. "I tried to get to my office to destroy my notes," she whispered. "I couldn't let Joker get his hands on them. I tried so hard, but it didn't matter-"

"Yes it did," Edward insisted, his hands rubbing her shoulders. "When you realized how dangerous your experiment was, you didn't continue, damn the consequences as Jonathan would have. You stopped it. The night of the riot, you didn't hide away to save yourself as I would have. You risked your life to make sure Joker couldn't create his army. The fact that he did anyway doesn't change that. Which leads us to after the riot. You could have sold your formula to the highest bidder. You could have stayed in private practice for the rest of your life. You could have gone back to your mother in Ohio or left the country even. Instead, you stayed in Gotham and decided to consult for GCPD." Edward's voice grew gentle. "And even before you knew what he was really up to, you stood up to Strange to protect me, when you had no reason to do so. You were the only person in the whole of GCPD who was willing to trust me, despite what everyone else thought. And when I did tell you about Strange, you could have just ignored it or dismissed me. You didn't. You threw yourself all in." Penelope's eyes flew open when she felt Edward's hands on her face, his thumbs wiping away the tears still trailing down her cheeks. He smiled at her, a soft look in his eyes, and Penelope felt her own heart skip a beat. "And after all that, you still mean to tell me that you're even just a bit comparable to the Joker? Pardon me, my dear doctor, but I don't believe that for a second. You're a cold, stubborn piece of work sometimes, but you're no Rogue. And I would know," he smirked a bit and chuckled. "So I won't hear any talk otherwise, especially from you."

Penelope's breath hitched again, but this time, a small laugh came out. "God," she said, shaking her head. "You are terrible at consoling people."

Edward's lips jutted out into a pout. "Oh? There's gratitude for you. Well, you're terrible at letting yourself being consoled, how's that?" He smiled at her. "Maybe we're not as terrible as everyone thinks we are, eh?"

Penelope laughed again, a few more tears coming from her eyes. Edward's thumbs were there, wiping them gently. Now that the worst of her emotions were behind her, she was slowly coming back to herself and she realized how close they were to each other. He was holding her face in his hands. She should pull away, reassert boundaries, but she didn't want to. "I'm sorry," she said. "I shouldn't have lost control of myself like that-"

Edward rolled his eyes. "I think I have you beat in terms of emotional displays."

Penelope nodded, taking him in. Edward was in his sleepwear, his usually coiffed hair tousled. In this state, it was so easy to forget that he had been the Riddler, or that he was Edward Nigma. He was just Edward, her Edward. It was harder to deny that he was an attractive man. She reached a hand up to the side of his face she had slapped. It was red and looked like it would bruise. "I'm sorry," she said. "Do you want me to get you an ice pack?"

"It's fine," Edward said dismissively. "I'll get one in a bit. Don't worry about it, Penny."

Penelope blinked. "Penny?" She shook her head again. "It's been a long time since anyone's called me that."

Edward's face flushed a bit as if he'd only just realized what he had said. "Ah. Well. Have I earned the right to that?"

"Yes," Penelope said without hesitation. "Thank you, for everything. What you said...do you believe all that?"

"You know I do, Penny," Edward said, leaning in closer to her. "I never lie." His face was only inches from her own now. His hands were still on her face, almost caressing her. She should pull back, this was too close, this was a line they shouldn't cross, but she didn't want to. Edward leaned in closer, his eyes shut.

Penelope's shut too, on their own accord and she leaned up. "What are we doing?" she whispered.

Her words were like cold water on a fire. She felt Edward's hands leave her face and she opened her eyes. Edward had scooted himself towards the left-most part of his bed, his eyes wide and his face looking almost stricken. "I...I..." he got off his bed and fled from the room.

Penelope sat there alone, confused, and a bit hurt when she fully came back to herself. Edward had been about to kiss her. And she would have let him. "Oh my God," she whispered. "What are we doing?"

Chapter Text

Edward stood in front of his bathroom sink, cupping his hands in the cold running water and splashing it onto his face. He winced a bit at the sting when the water made contact with the bruise on his face, but he kept going, his blood still warm from the contact of having her pressed against him-"What the Hell were you thinking!?" he scolded himself. "You almost ruined everything!"

If she didn't want it, she could have pulled away. She didn't.

Edward splashed another cupful of water on his face, trying to forget how warm and soft she had felt against him, how her face had fit perfectly in his hands, how he could have-how he'd almost- "It was completely inappropriate," he hissed. "She's exhausted, mentally, emotionally exhausted. She came to you for safety, not for you to take advantage of her when she's in such a state!"

She would have let you kiss her. What else would she have let you do?

Edward turned the faucets so hard they almost broke, then stood up to look himself in the mirror. His reflection was angry, his face twisted in a scowl. "I don't know everything I did as the Riddler," he said in a dark tone that he scarcely recognized as himself. "But I do know that even at my worst, I was never that kind of a man. I'll let Strange re-commit me to Arkham before I become that kind of man now, and I will cut my own throat before I ever lay an untoward hand on Penny!"

That doesn't mean you're not in love with her.

Edward grabbed a hand towel from the towel rack next to his shower and furiously rubbed it over his face, hissing at the pain. God, but she had a mean right hand. He dropped the towel when he realized that he had left her alone, probably still upset, definitely confused, in his room without so much as a word. He ran a hand through his mussed hair and sighed. What must she think?

He arrived back in his bedroom five minutes later with a glass of ice water in one hand and an ice pack pressed against his face in another. Penny was still sitting on the bed with her hands in her lap, her face a cold blank as she saw him come in. She was no longer crying, much to his relief, though her eyes were red-rimmed. Edward sat a few feet away from her at the foot of his bed and handed her the water. "Here," he said. She took it without a word and sipped. Edward self-consciously tapped his fingers on the sheets. So far, she hadn't said a word to him, but she didn't look angry. She looked...tired. "Are you feeling better?" he asked, unable to bear the silence anymore. 

"Yes," she said dully. "Thank you."

Edward exhaled. Perhaps he'd get out of this unscathed. "Well," he said, "I won't take up any more of your time. Goodnight, Penny." He'd gotten off of the bed and made it halfway to the door when her voice called him back.

"Edward." He turned around to see that she had gotten off the bed too, and was following him out. She'd placed the glass on his nightstand and had her arms folded across her chest. She looked up at him, a question in those ice-blue eyes, hers and Jon's eyes. "What just happened?"

Of course. He should have known that he wouldn't get out of it that easily. "Nothing, he answered. "I heard you screaming bloody murder, I came in, I comforted you, I got you a glass of water, and now I'm leaving. Goodnight."

"You almost kissed me."

Edward's heart froze. Penelope's face was still blank, though her eyes were clouded with something new, something he couldn't identify. "I," he stammered. "I-" he cleared his throat. "I was merely trying to comfort you. In the heat of the moment, perhaps my wires got a bit crossed, but I certainly was not trying to make any kind of overture."

"I wasn't accusing you of anything," Penelope said, her mouth a tight line. "But if there's something you need to tell me-"

"There isn't," Edward interrupted, more harshly than he intended. He saw her face darken and adjusted his tone. "There isn't," he said. "Let's just drop it, alright?"

"Edward," Penelope insisted, and Edward wanted to tear out his hair in frustration. Of all the times for her to regain her stubbornness, her tenacity. "I'm not angry with you, but I don't want you to keep any secrets from me. Whatever's going on, we can talk about it, we can try to figure it out-"

"There is nothing to figure out!" Edward snapped and he regretted it when he saw her flinch. "And besides," he added, in a gentler tone. "Do you want to get bogged down in a discussion about 'feelings' when Bane's still out there?"

Penelope's face paled at the mention of Bane, then her eyes narrowed. "Fine," she said. "We won't talk about this tonight. We won't talk about it tomorrow. But when this is over with Bane, we are talking about this Edward."

Edward raised his hands. "Fine. When this is over, we'll talk about it. There will still be nothing to talk about, but we'll talk about it. Goodnight." He turned around and walked out the door without a look behind him. He heard the door shut behind him and kept walking until he'd made it back to his sofa. He all but collapsed on it, his mind racing. What had he done? What had he almost done? He looked over to the clock on the bookshelf. 2:30 AM. He'd be getting no sleep tonight. Somehow, he doubted she would either.


 

He showered, changed, and left the apartment as the sun rose over Gotham City, managing to get out before Penelope could wake up. At least, he hoped she was asleep. The alternative was that she was avoiding him. As much as he was reluctant to deal with her after what had happened, the thought of her avoiding him made his heart clench. He wandered the six blocks from his apartment to his office, ignoring the passersby and the commotion of an early Sunday morning in Gotham. That was right, it was Sunday, wasn't it? It had been almost two full days since Penelope had taken residence in his apartment, two days since he'd seen her with her hair down, two days since Cash had opened his big fat mouth-

Edward staggered into his office, not even bothering to take off his hat and light summer jacket before planting himself in his office chair. He had work to do, he had intelligence to collect, but his eyes burned from the lack of sleep. He pat his pocket to make sure he'd remembered his anti-anxiety medication, taken twice daily, one in the morning, one in the evening, same routine as before she'd come into his home, same as when she would inevitably leave. He leaned back in his chair and let out a long sigh. He sat like that for hours, his mind anywhere but the case. Goddamn, Aaron Cash. Three days ago, he'd known exactly where he and Penelope stood. She'd been his friend, his closest friend now perhaps, but just his friend. Now? It felt like he was scrambling to figure out where the puzzle pieces fit exactly. He wasn't in love with her. He wasn't. So then, why couldn't he simply tell her that? He pulled out a lukewarm water bottle he'd kept in his desk drawer, unscrewed the container of pills, and was about to take his first pill when he heard the sound of his cell phone ringing. He cringed. If that was Penelope...he put the pill and water bottles down and pulled out his cellphone. He looked at the number and sat fully straight up as he answered it. "Harley?"

"Morning, Eddie!" Harley chirped. 

Edward blinked. Well, this was unexpected. "Well, good morning to you too," he said, stifling a yawn. 

"You sound beat," Harley said. "Late night?"

Edward had to chuckle a bit, despite everything. "You could say that."

"Well, wakey wakey! I'll be at your apartment in about an hour!"

Edward's stomach dropped. "My-my apartment?" Then he remembered. Before he'd found out that Penelope had been targeted, he'd made plans to spend time with Harley today. He'd never gotten around to telling Penelope that he was rekindling his friendship with Harley. After what he'd seen last night, there was no way she and Harley could be in the same room. "Harley, I'm sorry, but something's come up."

Harley let out a whine and Edward could just see the pout he was sure was on her face. "Aww, but Eddie! I've been looking forward to seein' ya all week! What's going on?"

"I've got a big case I'm working on, Harley," Edward said. Technically true, if not the full truth. "I'll call you when I'm done so we can reschedule."

"Ooh, a big case? Maybe I can help!"

Edward was about to tell her no and hang up when he thought better of it. Harley had been involved in the TITAN incident. She may have insight into Bane's actions that few other people did. After last night, he wasn't about to re-open Penelope's wounds. "Tell you what. Why don't you meet me at the coffee shop about a block from my apartment? We'll talk there."

Harley let out a squeal of delight. "Yay! PI Eddie Nigma and Harley Quinn, crackin' cases and takin' names! See ya soon, Eddie!" She disconnected and Edward leaned back. He needed to get around to telling Penelope about Harley. Later.


 

An hour later, Edward caught sight of Harley's blond pigtails sitting at an outdoor table at the coffee shop he frequented. Thankfully, it looked like she'd left her hyenas at home. He took the seat opposite from her and she looked up from the menu with a smile on her face. "Hiya, Eddie!" Then her smile turned into a grimace. "Jeez Louise, what happened to you!?"

Edward reached up to cup the side of his face that Penelope had slapped. He'd caught a glimpse of it before he'd left the apartment and knew it was beginning to bruise. "Oh, this? It's nothing, Harley. Just an occupational hazard."

Harley shook her head and gave him a saucy wink. "You got frisky with the girls at Pandora's again, didn't ya?"

Edward's mind pictured Pandora's Box and Penelope at the same time and he felt his temperature go up at least ten degrees. "Now, now. Where are your manners?"

"Left 'em in my other suit," Harley laughed. Then she clapped her hands together. "Alright, Mr. PI! What kind of case have ya got?"

Now it was time to see how trustworthy Harley was. Edward took a quick look to the street behind him to make sure no one was eavesdropping before he leaned in. "It's about Bane."

Harley's blue eyes widened to almost comic proportions. "Bane!?" she hissed. She took a look around herself as if she was expecting him to pop out of a potted plant at any moment. "Eddie! Why are ya gettin' mixed up in that!?"

Edward wet his lip. Harley's answers to his line of questioning would determine if he could trust her with the matter of Hugo Strange. "It's not Bane," he said smoothly. "I was asked to look into the TITAN formula, and that led me to Bane."

"The TITAN, huh?" Harley scrunched up her face. "Well, I can't tell ya too much about that. You wanna talk TITAN, you should try to find that ice queen Doc Young! If you can find whatever rock she crawled under!"

Edward clenched his fist. Calm down. "I have it on good authority that she's no longer in Gotham," he said. "At any rate, I doubt she'd know where Bane's holed up with the TITAN."

"Well, I don't know either," Harley shrugged. "Me, Kitty, and Red are steerin' clear. I just know the rumors."

Edward rested his head on his hands. "Oh? Would you care to enlighten me?"

"Well," Harley said. "From what I heard, Bane's gunnin' for Dr. Young. He's offerin' a reward for anyone who'll hand her over to him. He ain't leavin' Gotham without her."

Edward's eyes narrowed. Schrader's attack on Penelope's apartment may have inadvertently saved her. If he'd never known about it, Bane may have had her in his clutches by now. "Just her?" he asked. "What about Joker, or the Mayor, or Warden Ward? They were involved too."

Harley twirled the end of a pigtail nervously. "Well, Mistah J's still in Arkham, and I don't think Bane's gonna want to storm it. I think he wants Young first because she was the one who hurt him." She made a noise. "And she's got it comin' too! Maybe I'm bein' mean, but I never liked that witch. She always acted like she was so much better than everyone else like she was gonna be the one to fix Mistah J and make everything right! I guess the joke's on her, huh?"

Edward's next words left his throat in a growl and he slapped the palm of his hand down onto the table, causing it to shake. "If she has it coming then so do you, Harleen!" Harley's mouth dropped in shock and Edward collected himself. "Not to point fingers, but you were involved in that whole affair too. It stands to reason that Bane may come after you if he can't get his hands on Dr. Young. It's better for all of us if Batman takes him down quickly."

Harley gulped. "Gee, I didn't think of that. Yeah, you're right." Then she cocked her head and gave him a suspicious look. "Hey, you're not helpin' B-Man track Bane down, are ya?"

Edward forced himself to let out a chuckle. "Absolutely not. I know better than to put myself in the middle of that. I just wanted information about the TITAN to keep my client and my checkbook happy." Edward had never been good at lying, and Harley was more observant than most people thought. He could only hope that this would be enough to keep her from prying further. Her ill-informed, cruel comments about Penelope had unfortunately proved to him that she could not be trusted with the truth.

Luckily, Harley sighed with relief. "Good. I didn't think ya would, but I just wanted to make sure." She smiled again. "So, what else do ya need to know?"

Edward let a smirk come to his face. "If it's not too much trouble..."


 

After two restless hours spent replaying the events of the evening in her mind, Penelope had finally managed to fall back asleep. She woke up well past 10, feeling equal parts drained, confused, and mortified. Edward was long gone, as she knew he would be, and he hadn't left a note for her this time. She'd expected it, given his behavior the night before, but she was still disappointed. She sat on the living room sofa, her journal on the table in front of her. As she tried to do so often when she was faced with a dilemma, she put her thoughts on paper. ...I wasn't lying to him when I said I wasn't angry. Whatever almost happened, I fully believe that Edward had no intention of taking advantage of me. She bit her lip and paused, thinking over the event in her mind again before she continued. I allowed the enormity of the situation to get the better of me and I became overwhelmed. It was foolish of me to put both of us in that position, to begin with. It crossed a line, and Edward was right to terminate it before we did something we would both regret. Penelope paused again. She had been the one to initiate the hug. She hadn't pulled away, even though he'd given her plenty of opportunities to do so. Why hadn't she? I care about him, of course. I care more about him than I ever thought I could when I began to work with him last year. He's forced me to reconsider much of what I thought I knew about the patients at Arkham. It's made me a better psychiatrist and a better person, and I'll always be grateful to him for that.

Penelope stopped again and chewed the tip of her pen. Then she sighed. It's tempting to just accept his explanation for what happened. That he was simply trying to comfort me and that, in his words, 'his wires got crossed'. However, given his avoidant behavior after it happened, deep down, I know there's something more going on. She thought of the flowers. Did she know, or was there a part of her that hoped there was more to it? She shook her head. Transference is the likeliest explanation. It's been less than six months since he found out the full truth of what happened to Professor Crane. She thought of her old mentor's picture beside Edward's bed and felt a stab of guilt. While he has come to terms with the loss, I doubt that he's ready to move on to another relationship. And if he was, he's more likely to rekindle whatever he had with Selina. She's a known quantity to him, at least. The thought of that hurt her, almost. Why? In any case, it's better for both of us that we deal with the matter and then move on. We can't afford to allow ourselves to become compromised. After the matter with Bane is concluded, we'll talk. She put her pen down, closed the journal, and leaned back against the sofa. Writing down her thoughts was therapeutic, but there were still so many questions swirling about in her mind that she didn't dare write down. She cared for Edward, of course, but that didn't mean she loved him. Then again...Ellen had asked. Joan had asked. She caught the suspicious look that Aaron shot Edward's way that night in her office, the smirks she saw on Selina's face out of the corner of her eye on Ellen's birthday. One person might be mistaken. All of those people though. Could they all be mistaken, or did they see something that she couldn't, or wouldn't?

Penelope got off of the sofa with an irritated grunt and paced about the living room. This was ridiculous. Bane was in Gotham right now, with TITAN and a grudge. How could she be thinking of this now? She'd never been the sort of person to ponder romantic woes. Why did this have to happen now, when her life and so many other lives were at risk? Penelope went back to the bedroom and pulled out her shoes. She'd spent almost two whole days inside the apartment. She needed to clear her head. She needed fresh air. She went to the front door and hesitated. This was dangerous, but she wouldn't go far. Just to the coffee shop a block away to get a drink and a magazine. Edward would never know she was gone. She opened the door and for the first time in two days, walked into the outside world.


 

"...I think that's everything about the TITAN thing," Harley finished. She took a long sip of the sugary concoction she'd ordered, smacked her lips and smiled. "So? Did I help?"

Edward put his pen down on top of his notebook and gave her a beatific smile. "Immensely." Now that he had the full background, he could formulate a proper strategy on Bane. 

Harley let out a whoop. "Yay! We should partner up more often! Batman and Robin, eat your heart out!"

Edward chuckled. "That's an interesting mental image." He looked down at his wrist and checked his watch. It was 12:30. He still had plenty of time to get back to his office and get work done before he had to go home and face Penelope. He inwardly sighed. He hoped he'd have something concrete for her by then.

"Hey, Eddie? Can I ask ya somethin'?"

"Certainly," he said absently.

"Do you remember anythin' about what happened at Arkham before you got your skull bashed in?"

This time, Edward outwardly cringed. "Bits and pieces. Are you speaking generally, or did you have something specific in mind?"

Harley twiddled her thumbs a bit. "It's just...when you were talkin' about Sharpie and Ward bein' involved, I thought you remembered more about the TITAN."

Edward shrugged. "Well, that was information I uncovered while on this case. It's not like I was there on the night in question."

"Yeah, but you still knew about it."

Edward's blood ran cold. "I-what?" He couldn't have. He'd been comatose for months, how could he have-then a flash came to him. When Sharp had hired him for that damned case last year, he'd remembered TITAN without being prompted. He had known about it. He must have. He wet his lip. "Well, that makes sense. There wasn't much that went on in that damned place I didn't know about." That had to be it. He'd known about the general experiment, but not the specifics. He couldn't have been involved. He should leave it at that, change the subject and move on. He should, but he had never been one to leave a question unanswered. He had to know. "Harley," he asked with a tremor in his voice. "I wasn't...involved with that affair in any way, was I?"

Harley shook her head. "With the experiment? Nah! That was all Mistah J's plan."

Edward felt his shoulders sag with relief. Of course, he wasn't involved. He'd been in a coma for months before the night of the riot. How could he have been?

"You did help us crack Arkham's security though."

For a long moment, Edward felt his heart stop. "What?" he asked.

Harley nodded. "Yeah! About a month or so before ya broke out for the last time, Mistah J asked ya to come up with a plan to get past the new security protocols."

No. No. No. No! "And I agreed to that?"

"Sure! You said, 'no overpriced Waynetech gizmo's any match for my genius', and you did it! It was great! You hacked Arkham's main website and connected it to the security system! Anyone who visited the website helped overload it! It was still runnin' after you were in a coma, and I was able to use it take over!"

For a long moment, Edward forgot how to breathe. He'd been involved. He'd helped that psychotic clown take over the Asylum even from his hospital bed. He'd helped him destroy Penny. In a flash, he saw her at the Arkham Memorial last year, facing down the barrel of Horner's gun with a suicidal resignation. He saw her on his bed, sobbing, reliving the nightmare of what the Joker had done to her. What he had done to her. The year she'd spent recovering, letting the guilt suffocate her. He'd done that to her. He'd hurt her. Just like Jon, just like Ellen. Penny, Penny, Penny... "Penny," he choked out. "Oh my God..." He couldn't breathe. What had he done?

"Eddie?" he vaguely heard Harley's voice. "Are you ok? Did I say somethin' wrong?"

Edward pulled his chair back and leaned over, his head between his knees, his stomach, and chest heaving. How could he face her? What could he possibly say to her? He felt Harley's hand on his shoulder.

"Aw, jeez. Are you havin' an anxiety attack? Do I need to call Kitty?" Then he heard her let out a surprised shout. "You!? What are you doin' here!?"

Then he heard the last voice he wanted to hear. "Edward?"

He looked up with a start. Standing before the pair of them, her face pale, her hands trembling, was Penny. The world stopped turning as he regarded her. Her ice-blue eyes were wide with fear, her features stricken with horror. "Harley Quinn," she breathed.

"The one and only," Harley drawled. "What's up, Doc?"

It hurts. Everything hurts. The ringing in her ears, the shrapnel embedded in her body, the burns on her face. She's alive, she's breathing, but oh God, it hurts, Mother, Father, it hurts so much, she wants to die.

Then a brassy voice reaches her ears. "Aww, poor, Dr. Young."

She opens her eyes, even though it hurts. Harley Quinn is standing over her, dressed in that horrific parody of a nurse's outfit, her henchmen with Warden Sharp in their grasp. Harley cocks her head as she regards her. "Huh. You're still kickin'." She pulls her foot back and kicks Penelope in her side, causing her to shriek in pain. "Aw well. I'll deal with you later. Come on boys, Mistah J's waitin'. She and the goons drag Sharp off, leaving Penelope in a pool of her blood, leaving her to die...

Harley had that same look in her eyes, that same contempt. And she had her hand on Edward's shoulder, her Edward, even after everything she told him, he was still letting her touch him. He looked up at her with his green eyes blown wide, looking like she'd caught him doing something unspeakable, and in a way, she had. "Penny," he gasped out. It was too much. Seeing Harley, reliving that memory, seeing the man she cared about more than anyone willingly being in her presence, it was all too much. She turned on her heel and ran.

Edward was up on his feet in an instant, ignoring Harley's confused yelp. "Penny!" he shouted. "Wait!" He almost collided with passersby on the sidewalk as he followed her back to his building. Why in the Hell had she even left!? He caught up with her as she opened the front door of his building. "Penny!" he cried out. "I can explain, I was-"

Penny whirled on him, her face twisted in rage. "Why!?" she half-screamed at him. "Why were you sitting with Harley Quinn!?"

Edward put his hands up to placate her. "I needed information on Bane, that's all it was, I swear, I didn't mean for you to-"

"To what?" Penny asked. "To find out!? Do you know what she did to me, what she helped Joker do!? How could you not tell me you were still in contact with her!?"

The look on her face was more than anger. It was a look of betrayal. "I meant to, really I did, but it never seemed to come up-" Penny let out a cry of angry disbelief and stormed back up the stairs. "Penny, wait!" he cried out. "I can fix this! Let me fix this!" 

She stopped at his door, turned around again and glared at him. "Fix what?" she asked with icy venom. "Fix that you've been in contact with a woman who hurt me and deliberately kept it from me? Fix that you left this morning without so much as a word? Fix that you almost kissed me and you refuse to acknowledge it!? I trust you with my life Edward, and you're still keeping things from me! What else are you keeping from me? What exactly am I to you!?"

Edward didn't answer her. He couldn't answer her. How could he answer her and keep her from hating him? "I...I..."

Penny seemed to shrink into herself. "I see," she whispered. Then she opened the door to the apartment and slammed it behind her. Edward stood on the other side, unable to speak, unable to move. What had he done? What in the Hell had he done? He staggered away from his door and walked down the stairs, his heart shattering with every step he took.

Of course. How did you think this would end? How did you reasonably think this would end?

When he made it to the foot of the stairs, Harley was there with a confused expression on her face. "What the Heck was that about!?" she asked him. "You said she wasn't in Gotham! And you called her Penny! And why's she in your apartment!? When did you two become friends all of a sudden!?" Then a look of realization came on her face. "You're looking into TITAN for her, aren't ya?" she asked in bewilderment. "You're protectin' her...you and her...you're...Eddie...are you in..." Edward watched her. Harley's reaction would determine once and for all what place she could have in his life. Her face darkened. "Oh, no Eddie! Not her! You could so much better than that witch! She's awful!"

Something inside of Edward snapped. "How dare you!?" he rounded on Harley in fury. "How dare you presume to talk about her like that!? She's done more for me in six months than you have in six years!"

Harley shrank back in the face of his anger. "Eddie, what's gotten into you? She ain't worth it! She's just a schemin', cold-"

Edward let out a dark chuckle. "And you're a co-dependent who's spent the better part of a decade crawling back to a psychotic clown. Forgive me if I don't take your word for it."

He felt a sliver of guilt at the hurt expression on Harley's face, but she quickly recovered. "She's no good for you, Eddie," she jut out her lip. "She only likes you 'cause you're a PI! If you went back to bein' the Riddler tomorrow, she'd dump you like a bag of hammers! She hated your guts back in Arkham!"

"And she had every right to do so," Edward countered. "And how exactly, would you know how good she is for me? You don't know the first thing about her, or what she's done for me!"

"I know who she was at Arkham," Harley shouted. "She experimented on Bane! Yeah, she didn't know Mistah J's real plan, but she was happy to drain Bane's blood! You want to stick your neck out for a girl like that?"

"And where exactly, was this moral outrage when I was with a man who fear-gassed people?"

Harley bit her lip. "That was Jonny," she said. "That was different! He was one of us! She ain't!"

"'Us'?" Edward asked. "Who exactly, Harley, is 'us'? I'm not a Rogue anymore, no matter how much certain parties want me to be." Harley hesitated, and Edward moved in for the kill. "What bothers you about her?" he asked. "That she's a reminder of what you used to be or the fact that for a good period of time, she had your precious puddin's undivided attention?" 

Harley took a step back as if he'd slapped her. "What's happened to you?" she asked. "You ain't the Eddie I remember."

"I'm not the man I was when you left me in Aesop's clutches a year and a half ago," he seethed. "You'd better get used to that." Harley's face fell, and she walked towards the door. "Harley?" he called back, and he ignored how her face looked hopeful. "If you do or say anything to compromise her safety, you will regret it. Understand?" 

Harley's eyes welled up with tears, and she nodded before she left the building. Edward waited for a long moment before he followed her out, walking like a man to his execution towards his office. If he had looked behind him, he would have seen Penelope at the top of the stairs, having heard the whole exchange with a hand over her mouth and tears in her eyes.


 

When the sun fell that night, Edward still sat curled up in his office chair. His pill bottle remained unopen. He heard his phone ring multiple times that day. First, it was Harley's number. He'd gladly ignored those calls. Then Selina's. He'd ignored those too but had read her text. HARLEY TOLD ME WHAT HAPPENED. CALL ME BACK. Then Penelope's number. He couldn't bear to look at it or read her texts. How could he face her, after what he'd done to her? How could he tell her what he'd done and keep her from hating him? It no longer mattered if he loved her or not, he'd rather have her in his life as his friend than not have her at all. There had to be a way he could make it right. He'd made it right with Ellen, there had to be a way to make it right with Penny! "Think, Edward," he badgered himself. "You're a genius, you can come up with something! Something to prove you're not a monster! Something to prove once and for all that she was right to trust you! Think!" He heard a phone ring again and he groaned. God, what now? Was Ellen calling him to scold him? He looked to his cell phone, only to realize that the ringing was coming from his burner phone. His eyes lit up. His informants! He answered the call with an eager "Yes?"

"Hey, boss. I thought I saw someone in the old Krank toy factory. Looked like Bane."

For the first time since that afternoon, Edward let out a smile. "You did? For certain?"

"Kind of hard to miss Bane, boss. What do you want to do?"

Edward had his cell phone ready to call GCPD when a thought came over him. Did he want to just be an anonymous tipster, or did he want to be there himself? That was how he'd make it right. He'd hand Bane over to GCPD personally. Maybe she wouldn't love him for it, but she wouldn't hate him. He'd make up for Harley, he'd never even have to tell her about his role in the Arkham mess! "Stay where you are. I'll be there in about half an hour to confirm this for myself." He hung up the phone and got out of his chair. He ran to his coatrack to get his cane and bolted out the door before he could stop himself. He'd show up Batman, hand Bane to the GCPD on a silver platter and he'd do it for her, and everything would go back to how it was before.

 

Chapter Text

Edward wouldn't have guessed that Bane would be holed up in the Krank toy factory, of all places. Truth be told, it seemed more like a place the Joker would choose. Like most of the structures located in North Gotham's old industrial district, it had fallen into disrepair, the company itself filed for bankruptcy five years before. A giant metal bear, once a cheerful bright yellow, was now rusted away, with one eye remaining. Edward parked his car a block away and slowly approached the main service entrance of the factory, keeping a tight grip on his cane and a close eye on the streets around him. The night was falling, which meant that the only people out would be the vagrants and the low lifes brave enough to risk running into a Bat. Edward's eyes darted upwards to the roofs of the surrounding buildings, making sure that Batman and his merry brood weren't watching. If Bane was hiding here, he wanted to be the one to alert the GCPD. He needed to be the one to do it. He felt his cell phone vibrating in his coat pocket and pulled it out. It was Penelope's number. It was the fifth time she'd called him since she'd caught him with Harley. He put it back into his pocket. He couldn't speak to her until he delivered Bane into GCPD custody. That would make up for everything. It had to.

Edward had crossed the street and was now in the shadow of the toy factory. He saw the metal bear, little more than a skeleton and suppressed a shudder. For the first time since he'd left his office, he wondered if he'd made the right decision to come here. Not that he was afraid of Bane. Certainly not. He hadn't survived fifteen years as one of Gotham's top Rogues by being a shrinking violet, thank you very much. It wouldn't be like with Tetch, or with Croc. He wouldn't directly confront Bane. He would simply get confirmation that he was here, and then he'd be gone. He'd be back with her before the morning. As he approached the building's front entrance, he realized that he couldn't see his informant. He frowned. He'd told the man to wait for him here. Noise from an adjacent alley caught his attention and he raised his cane, ready to deploy the taser he'd installed in it last month. He lowered the cane when he saw his man approach. "Hey, Boss," the informant said, rubbing the back of his head. 

Edward gave him a sharp nod. "Well?" he asked. "Where did you see Bane?"

The man gulped and pointed towards the rear of the building. "Near the loading zone. There's a back door open that leads into the building."

If Penelope was there, she would have noticed that the man was jittery and have been suspicious. Edward though, operating on little sleep and emotionally fraught from the day's events, missed the warning signs entirely. "Lead the way."

The man did as Edward requested, taking him to the back of the building. Sure enough, there was an unlocked service door that both men used to gain entrance to the factory. The corridor was dark, but Edward could see lights on ahead, in what would have been a back stock room once upon a time. What caught his eye, however, was the large tank set up in the middle of the room. It was as almost as tall as Edward was, with a red hazardous materials symbol crudely spraypainted on the front. It was the TITAN. It had to be. Edward dashed up to the tank, careful not to risk touching it and looking at the almost neon green liquid he could make out inside. Bane had to have been here. He grinned. Now, all that he had to do was call GCPD, and they could set up a sting to catch Bane when he came back to retrieve his ill-gotten gains. He was just about to pull out his cell phone when he heard the sound of footsteps running away. He looked up to see his informant running out the door which they entered. What on Earth...? Then he realized it with a chill down his spine. It was a set-up. He moved to run, only for a door to his left to open wide. Bane stepped forward, effectively blocking his way out of the room. "Ah," Bane said, looking down at Edward. "Riddler. It's been a long time. I am pleased you decided to join me tonight."

Edward, for a moment, lost the power of speech. It was too easy. How stupid could he have been? It was a trap. His gutless informant had betrayed him. Then he cleared his throat. "Bane," he said as casually as he could to a man who had nearly two feet on him when using his venom, which, judging by his sheer muscle mass, he was. "You're looking well. I take it you were expecting me?"

Bane chuckled. "Astute as always. I find myself in need of your investigative services."

"Yes, well," Edward said with all the bravado he could muster. "Consulting hours are between 9 AM and 5 PM Monday through Friday. I'd give you my office address, but I don't think you'll be able to fit through the door. Good evening, Bane."

Bane seemed amused by Edward's words. "Leaving so soon? According to that worm who just abandoned you here, you've been looking for me."

Edward's posture stiffened and he silently cursed that useless incompetent. "Well, you know me. I always like having my finger on this city's pulse."

"Indeed," Bane drawled. "So then, you know why I'm here. And I'm sure you can guess why I would need to speak with you."

Edward swallowed and thought fast. "Well," he said, gesturing to the tank behind him. "You seem to have located the TITAN without needing any help. Did the glowing green liquid inside give it away?"

"I am more interested in the woman who created it," Bane said, his face darkening. "Where is Dr. Young?"

Edward felt his heart race, but he fought through his nerves. Bluff your way out. "Well, from the rumors I heard, she's no longer in Gotham."

"Oh?" Bane looked somewhat surprised. This made Edward more at ease. Years of venom had sapped away at his brain. 

"Yes," Edward continued. "I can't give you any more specifics, I'm afraid. It's not like I keep tabs on the woman."

Bane rubbed his chin for a moment and Edward thought he might have a chance to escape. Then the massive man smirked. "I must admit, I'm a bit surprised to hear that. Are you not her champion?"

Edward's eyes widened. "What?" How-how could he know? He'd been out of Gotham for years, how could he possibly know?

Bane took a step towards him. "Before I came to Gotham," he spoke in that thick accent of his, "I thought it would be prudent to see what the bruja's been up to since I was removed from Arkham. Imagine my surprise when I came upon a transcript of some commission she spoke in front of months ago." Bane laughed. "She seems to have quite a high regard for you, Nigma, though I can't imagine why."

Edward clenched both hands tight to keep them from trembling. "What can I say?" he sassed. "It must be my dazzling wit and impeccable style. Get to your point, Bane."

Bane crossed his arms across his chest and glared down at Edward. "If the bruja was as far away from Gotham as you say she is, then why did you come here tonight? She is under your protection, isn't she?" Edward's only answer was a stony glare back at Bane. His fear had receded in the face of Bane's remarks about Penelope. Bane shook his head. "Out of respect for our past acquaintance, I will give you this one opportunity to give me what I want and leave with your life. Where is Dr. Young?" Edward said nothing. "Come now," Bane chided. "I can more than double whatever amount she's paying you." Then he paused. "Unless...it's not about money, is it, Nigma? You are...attached to the woman, aren't you?" Edward's face reddened, but he bit his tongue. Bane sighed. "You have unfortunate taste, I'm afraid. Do you know what she is? Do you know what she did to me?" Bane's voice became rougher as he became angrier. "She had me locked away in the Medical Center in Arkham Asylum, suspended from the ceiling, like a cow in a slaughterhouse. She drained the venom from my blood for that formula of hers. It was painful, Nigma. I can still feel that pain in my dreams at night. I still have the scars from the tubes that were implanted in my back. And I can still see her face, Nigma. Those cold blue eyes of hers never looked at me once, not in all the times she took my blood. I was not a person to her. I was a means to an end." He looked harshly at Edward. "Is that a woman you would be willing to die for?"

Maybe not that woman, no. But the woman she was now? The woman he had come to know over the past year? He closed his eyes and thought of her smile, the all too rare sound of her laughter, the look of determination on her face when she was tackling a problem, the strength she'd had when facing down the commission. That woman, he would burn in Hell for. He opened his eyes and stared Bane down. "You're wasting your time," he said. "In the first place, she's not the woman either of us knew in Arkham. She wants to spend the rest of her life making up for what she did. She's not worth making the effort to avenge yourself."

"She feels sorry now, so she shouldn't have to face the well-deserved consequences for what she did to me?" Bane questioned. "Perhaps she isn't the woman we knew, but that does not erase what she did to me, just like how your crimes as the Riddler can never be erased. And if she's as sorry as you say she is, then surely, she would be willing to apologize to me in person."

Edward bared his teeth. "You're never getting within five feet of her," he hissed. 

Bane simply smiled. "And how, exactly, do you intend to stop me?" He took another step forward and Edward raised his cane, ready to deploy the taser. He was fast, but Bane was faster, ripping the cane out of his grasp and throwing it across the room with one hand, and lifting Edward off of the floor by his throat in the other. Bane's grip was tight enough that Edward was beginning to have difficulty breathing as he clawed helplessly at the massive hand and arm. Bane simply shook his head. "Do you know why no one else in our profession ever took you seriously, Nigma?"

Edward glared. "Because true genius is never appreciated in its time?"

Bane's grip tightened a bit more, squeezing Edward's throat. "There it is. Your abilities can never measure up to your insatiable ego, your need to be the smartest man in the room at all times. How many times could you have had the city at your mercy, only to trip over yourself in your pathetic need to best the Bat?" Bane brought Edward close to his face. "Which brings us to tonight. You could have stayed hidden away in whatever little love nest you made with the bruja and sent the policia to my location, but you had to come out in person, as I knew you would." He loosened his grip enough for Edward to gulp air. "Fool. Tell me, what was it tonight? Did you need to get one over on Batman, or did you need to be her hero?"

"You're the fool," Edward spat out. "Hasn't it occurred to once since you came here that you're being used?" Bane frowned but said nothing. Edward continued. "She didn't have anything to do with the TITAN that you have now. It was stolen from the GCPD at the behest of Warden Ward and Hugo Strange. They released it on the streets to get you to come to Gotham and kill Dr. Young. Are you going to let them treat you like a weapon?"

Bane hummed but didn't release Edward. "I am not familiar with this Hugo Strange, but Warden Ward...I was wondering who the bruja had angered enough to send me a message." He laughed. "Well, no matter. After her, Ward is next, then the payaso. Then I will take the TITAN with me back to Santa Prisca." His grip began to tighten around Edward's throat. "I will ask you one more time, Nigma. Where is Dr. Young?"

Edward had it in him to give Bane one last defiant smirk. "Where you'll never find her. I have over half a dozen safe houses in this city. Most of them are booby-trapped. Do you think you can go through them all and find her without alerting Batman? Riddle me this-" he was cut off by the sound of his phone vibrating. Bane's gaze went to his jacket pocket and with one hand, he reached into it. He pulled out the still-ringing phone and looked at it. Then he smirked and held it in front of Edward's face.

"Penelope Young is calling you," he said. "Shall we answer?" He took a few steps forward, towards a small area behind bars that had once been used for storage. He hit a large green button that was on the wall next to the room and the bars shuttered open. He unceremoniously tossed Edward inside and hit the button again. The bars closed before Edward could get onto his feet, trapping him inside. He ran to them anyway and shook them in a futile effort to get free. "You're right," Bane said, standing just beyond the bars. "I do not have the time to search the city for the bruja. She will come to me."

Edward's grip tightened on the bars. "She won't!" he said. 

Bane simply smiled. "If she values your life as much as you value hers, she will." He then walked towards the entrance, away from Edward.

Edward let out a frustrated shout and pounded his hands against the bars before he sank to his knees in despair. Penny, Penny. I'm sorry for everything, I'm sorry. Don't come for me, don't come for me. "Penny," he choked out. "Penny..."


 

"This is Edward Nigma, Private Investigator. I'm either with a client or otherwise preoccupied. Please leave your name and number and I'll get back to you."

It was the fifth time Penelope had tried to call Edward since what had happened that afternoon, and the fifth time he hadn't picked up. Penelope wet her lip before she spoke. "Edward," she said, her voice still thick with emotion. "Please. Even if you're not ready to come home, please, talk to me." She hung up her phone and collapsed against the sofa, covering her eyes with her hand. After seeing him and Harley together and hearing his poor attempts at justifying himself, she'd been ready to pack her things and call Aaron to come to get her. Then she'd heard Edward's voice ringing off the walls of the cheap apartment building, tearing into Harley and defending her. She hadn't been able to bring herself to go after Edward when she saw him walk out of the building. Now she wished more than anything that she had. There was so much she needed to say to him, so much she needed to hear from him. She checked the clock. It was just after 8:00 now, and the sun was beginning to go down. She got up from the couch. If he wouldn't come back to her, she'd go to him. One way or another, they would talk. They'd figure everything out.

She was halfway past the parking lot outside the apartment building when she walked by an empty spot and froze. That was Edward's parking spot, and his car was gone. She paused and a fresh wave of anger came over her. Edward must have come by at some point to get his car. How could he do that and not come talk to her, or even return her calls-then another thought came to her. His office was only a twenty-minute walk away, and he never drove there. Where could he have gone in his car? Perhaps to one of his friends, to cool down? No, after his argument with Harley, he wouldn't go to Selina. The Iceberg Lounge was a possibility, but given what was going on, would he really-Penelope's heart dropped. No, he wouldn't. He must have found a lead on Bane and pursued it, without telling her. It was like with Waylon Jones all over again, this was why she'd hesitated to tell him about the TITAN being stolen in the first place, she needed to find him before he got himself killed. She pulled out her phone and quickly called Aaron's number. 

"Doc? What's up?"

"It's Edward," she said. 

Aaron's tone immediately became sharp. "What did he do?"

Penelope sighed. "We...had a bit of an exchange earlier, but that's not important right now. He's been gone for eight hours, and his car's missing. I think he found a lead on Bane."

"And he just took off?" Aaron scoffed. "Great. For a guy that says he's a genius, he can be a real dumbass. I'm out on duty now, but when I get back to GCPD, I'll tell the Commissioner-"

"No," Penelope said. She took a deep breath. "I'm going to go back to my apartment to get my car. I'll tell Commissioner Gordon."

"Doc, are you sure?"

"Yes," she said. She'd been passive from the beginning of this whole mess, and look what had happened. No more. It was time for her to take control. "I'm calling a cab. I'll be at headquarters in about an hour."


 

As soon as the cab dropped her off in front of her building, Penelope dashed to her car, still in its parking spot. She hit the unlock button on her keys and opened the door, put her purse on the passenger seat and sat down. Before she shut the door behind her, she took her phone out of her purse and dialed Edward's number one last time. As the phone rang, she fought off the panic that was bubbling up to the surface. Keep cool. Keep focused. She would be of no help to Edward if she fell apart here or in GCPD. She thought of Schrader and her eyes narrowed. She would not give him the satisfaction of seeing her break.

"This is Edward Nigma, Private Investigator. I'm either with a client or otherwise preoccupied. Please leave your name and number and I'll get back to you."

Penelope slammed the car door shut and nearly threw her phone back onto the seat when, out of the corner of her eye, she saw something small, black, and blinking fall from door's lining and onto her lap. She turned on the car's light as soon as it shut off, then picked up the item with her fingers. It was still blinking, a small red light pulsing every few seconds, and it...Penelope gasped. It was shaped like a bat. A tracking device? A bug? When had Batman put this in her car? She remembered the night he'd come to her apartment and told her about the stolen TITAN. It must have been that night, but why? Had he thought she was involved, or-

The sound of her phone ringing cut through her thoughts. She looked at the phone, still in her right hand, and her heart lifted. Edward! She put the bug on her dashboard and answered her phone. "Edward! Where are you!? Are you alright? Why didn't you call me back? Did you find Bane-"

A man laughed in response and her breath caught in her throat. "Oh yes, he did, Dr. Young."

Penelope felt her blood run cold. "Bane."

"You remember me, Dr. Good. We have much to talk about."

If Bane had Edward's phone, then...then...Penelope's grip tightened on her phone. "Where is Edward? What have you done with him?"

"He is with me. As for what I will do to him...that is up to you. We are at the Krank Toy Factory. I will send you the directions. Come here alone, in half an hour. No policia, no Bats, or tomorrow morning, his broken body will be delivered to GCPD."

Penelope took a sharp breath. Bane would kill her, but Edward, her Edward..."How do I know he's still alive? Let me talk to him!"

"No," Bane answered. "If you wish to talk to him, you must do it in person. If you do not, then you will never speak to him again. Do we have a deal?"

Penelope's mind was racing. What could she do? If she agreed, Bane had no incentive to keep Edward alive after disposing of her. If she called his bluff, Bane would kill him. If she agreed but called the GCPD anyway, Gordon couldn't mobilize enough men in time, Selina couldn't fight Bane, Cobblepot couldn't, and probably wouldn't risk everything to go up against him, she couldn't leave Ellen an orphan, but what could she do? She glanced at the dashboard and saw the device, still blinking. Then she calmed down. "Yes," she said. "We have a deal."

"Good. We will be waiting for you." He hung up the call, and Penelope put it back down on her passenger seat. She then reached over to the dashboard and picked the device back up. She didn't know if this was an audio bug or not, but it was the only card she had to play. She put the device as close to her face as she could and began to speak in a level voice.

"I don't know if you or any of your associates can hear me, Batman, but this Dr. Penelope Young. I've been in hiding in Gotham City with Edward Nigma. I know that Bane is in Gotham now. He has Edward." She wet her lip and continued, fighting to keep her voice level. "He's holding him at the Krank Toy Factory in North Gotham. I'm on my way there now. If you can hear this Batman, I'll stall Bane as long as I can." She put the device on top of her purse, then picked her phone back up. Bane had proved as good as his word, sending her the directions to the Krank Toy Factory. She started the car and pulled out of the parking lot. As she made her way north, she ran through everything she remembered about Bane. He was highly intelligent, physically formidable, but he did have one weakness. He was an addict. If his relationship with TITAN was anything like his relationship with Venom, then he'd probably run through part of the supply he had already. If Batman didn't get her message or didn't get there in time, exploiting his chemical dependence would be the best shot she had at keeping Edward and herself alive.

She clung tight to her steering wheel and a new determination spread through her veins. They would not die tonight. Not if she could help it.


 

"Your doctor is on her way," Bane said as he entered the room. "It seems you have better taste in women than I thought." Edward's stomach dropped and he shut his eyes. No. No. He heard Bane chuckle. "You did your best to protect her, I'm sure. There's no shame in losing to someone better."

Edward opened his eyes and fixed Bane with a glare. Something inside of him, in the very recesses of his mind, was beginning to stir. "Before the night is out," he hissed in a voice that was at once strange and familiar. "You're going to find out why you don't cross me."

Bane laughed. "Says the man in the cage. You may have been clever in your time, Nigma, but your new life has made you soft." Bane stood on the other side of the bars, just close enough for Edward to reach out and grab him if he was suicidal enough to. "I am the man who broke the Bat. What do you think you can do to me?"

Edward gripped the bars tight. "You'll see."


 

It had been two nights since Bane had stolen the TITAN, but there was no trace of the man. Bruce drove the Batmobile through the Lower West Side, keeping his eye and ear out for any news. It may be that Bane had left town once he'd gotten his hands on the TITAN, but deep down, Bruce very much doubted it. "Batman, come in."

"I'm here Oracle," Bruce spoke through the intercom. "What's going on?"

"I just picked up a transmission from that bug you put in Dr. Young's car. You need to hear this." She patched the audio through to the Batmobile and Bruce heard Dr. Young's voice, loud and clear.

"I don't know if you or any of your associates can hear me, Batman, but this Dr. Penelope Young. I've been in hiding in Gotham City with Edward Nigma. I know that Bane is in Gotham now. He has Edward. He's holding him at the Krank Toy Factory in North Gotham. I'm on my way there now. If you can hear this Batman, I'll stall Bane as long as I can."

Bruce's eyes narrowed. He should have known. He should have known that Edward would get himself involved, somehow. "I'm on my way to Krank Toy Factory now. Alert the GCPD." He made a sharp U-turn and drove North, going as fast as he could. 

"Ok," Oracle said. "Do you want me to call Dick or Cass?"

"There's no time," Bruce said. "I can handle Bane."

"Bruce, the last time he had TITAN, you had to run him down with the Batmobile to take him down. Are you sure you don't need help?"

"I'll be fine, Barbara. Batman out." He hit the gas on the Batmobile and mounted a curb to get by a parked car. No one was going to die tonight.

 

Chapter Text

Twenty minutes after receiving Bane's call, Penelope found herself pulling up to the front of the Krank Toy Factory. The rusting metallic bear was looking down on her with its missing eye and she shuddered. She shut off the car and took one last look at the empty street around her. She'd seen Edward's car as she'd driven up, but there was no sign of Batman or any of his associates. She looked at the clock on her phone. It was almost ten now, and twenty-one minutes had passed since Bane had called. She unbuckled her seatbelt and got out of the car. The front doors of the factory were boarded up. She'd have to circle the back for whatever entrance Bane used. She checked her clock again. Twenty-three minutes. She steeled her nerves and walked towards the back of the building, running her plan through her head one last time. She reached into the pocket of her slacks and her fingers gently touched the audio bug she'd put there. If Batman had received her message, she needed to stall as long as she could. If he hadn't...Penelope clenched her fists. Neither she nor Edward could afford for her to think like that. No matter what, she would get the two of them out of this alive. At last, she found the service entrance. She grabbed hold of the door handle, and, swallowing her nerves, pulled the unlocked door open. Before her was a dark hallway. Somewhere inside, she knew Bane was there waiting for her, and a wave of terror went through her. Bane wasn't alone she remembered, however. Edward was there too. With that thought in mind, Penelope walked down the dark hallway.


 

Bane had begun to pace about the room ten minutes ago. Edward kept an eye on him as he did so and counted. One-one thousand, two-one thousand...it took Bane approximately ten seconds to cross the length of the room and back to the TITAN container. "She should be here by now," he heard Bane mutter. "Where is she?" Before Edward could open his mouth to make any kind of smart remark, both men heard the sound of the service door opening. Bane stepped away from the TITAN container and looked to Edward. "It seems your doctor has finally arrived."

Edward got to his feet at the sound of light footsteps making their way down the hallway. His heart dropped deep down into his stomach when he saw Penelope appear in the room. He'd half-expected, hoped, that she'd lied, that she wasn't coming, that she'd gone to Cash and Gordon, but here she was, her hair pulled back into her customary bun, her clothing immaculate and professional, her face a cold mask, like she was making her usual rounds in Arkham Asylum. She stepped closer to Bane, with the acceptance of someone going to their execution. Edward grabbed the bars tight. "Penny!" he cried out.

Penelope's eyes widened and softened just a bit as she saw him. "Edward," she spoke softly, relief in her voice. Then her eyes became hard and she turned to Bane. "I'm here, Bane."

Bane stepped forward, blocking Edward's view of her. If Bane towered over him. then he dwarfed Penelope. With just one hand, he could snap her neck, and Edward couldn't do anything about it. Just like Jonathan and Croc, it was his fault, and he couldn't do anything about it, only this time, he would get to watch her die. 

Bane was somehow even larger than Penelope remembered. He was massive, and she had to tilt her head back to look him in the eyes. Looking at the tubes that fed the Venom substance into him, she could see a bright green fluid flowing. Just as she'd thought, he was already using the TITAN. That would help her plan immensely. "Dr. Young," he said in a low, cold voice that broke her out of her musings. His fists clenched as he looked down at her. "I have waited a long time for this."

"I'm sure that you have," Penelope answered. She wet her lower lip. "Bane, I can't begin to tell you how sorry I am for-"

Bane cut her off with a massive raised hand. "Now, you are sorry? Now that I have your TITAN and your man, now you are sorry? Forgive me, Doctor, if I do not believe you." He lowered his hands and glared down at her. "You hung me up from the ceiling like an animal. You stole my blood. You humiliated me. You used me!" He roared the last sentence, but Penelope did not flinch. He calmed himself and continued, "I have dreamed of what I would do to you once I had you in my grasp." He took a step closer to her and it took all of her willpower to not run. "I could snap your neck in half a second," he said. "But that would be too quick. I want you to suffer like you made me suffer." He turned slightly towards the storage room where Edward was locked up and Penelope went taut. Edward was looking at them, his green eyes blown wide. "Perhaps," Bane murmured. "I should kill him first."

"That wasn't the deal!" Penelope interjected. Bane turned back to her with an annoyed glare and she quickly collected herself. "I understand that you wouldn't believe me," she said softly. "In your position, I would be skeptical too." She took a small breath. Now or never. "That's why I want to do more than just apologize to you. I want to make you an offer."

Bane raised an eyebrow. "An offer? What kind of offer?"

Penelope's gaze went to the TITAN container standing just a few feet in front of Edward's cell. "Tell me," she said. "What do you intend to do after tonight?"

Bane rubbed his chin. "I suppose there is no harm in telling you," he said at last. "As I told Nigma after I conclude my business with you and with certain other parties in Gotham, I will take the TITAN with me back to Santa Prisca. With its power, I will finally be able to overthrow the drug lords who control my home."

Penelope nodded, not taking her eyes off the container. Judging by how much of the TITAN chemical she could make out in Bane's tubes, he'd already used at least 10% of the total volume of that tank. "I see." Time to play her first card. "Do you think that you can take down every drug lord in Santa Prisca and their enforcers with just one tank of TITAN?" 

Bane's face became blank as he considered this. Edward meanwhile, seemed to understand what Penelope was doing, as his face had turned pale. "Penny!" he cried out. "What are you doing!?"

"You've already used part of the TITAN, haven't you?" Penelope continued, ignoring Edward's outburst. Bane's face darkened, but he said nothing. "You've only had the TITAN for two days and you've already begun to drain it. At your current usage, how much of it do you think you will have left by the time you reach Santa Prisca?"

"What is your point?" Bane asked.

Penelope wet her lower lip. "I understand that you wouldn't believe me if I said that I wanted to make amends for what I did to you, and I don't blame you. Let me prove it. I will manufacture enough TITAN for you to take Santa Prisca."

"Penny!" Edward cried out again. "For God's sake! Don't throw your life away!"

"You be quiet!" Bane yelled at Edward. He turned back to Penelope with a calculating look. "You would do this for me? Why?"

"It's as I said," Penelope answered, keeping her tone level and her eyes focused on Bane's own. "I know I wronged you, Bane. I want to make it right, and if that means help you take Santa Prisca, then I'm prepared to do it."

Bane rubbed his chin in thought. It seemed that he wasn't suspicious of her. That was helpful. She thought of the bug in her slacks pocket and resisted the urge to grab it. If Batman didn't get here in time...she steeled herself. She was prepared for whatever may happen. "I suppose," Bane said at last. "That you have conditions."

"Yes," Penelope nodded. She looked to Edward behind the bars. "You let him go. If you do that, and not hurt anyone else in Gotham, then I'll leave with you tonight. I'll make as much TITAN as you want or need, for as long as you need." She held her hand out. "Do we have a deal?"

Bane looked at her hand for a long moment. Then he took it, almost crushing it in his massive hand. "Done." 

Penelope tried not to let on her relief. Edward meanwhile hit the bars with a sharp cry. "There is nowhere on Earth you can go with her where I won't follow you, Bane!" he shouted with a venom that she hadn't heard in his voice since he was her patient. "I will get her back!"

Bane laughed. "You can try, little man." He let go of Penelope's hand and gave her a brief nod. "I am a man of honor, Doctor. I will give you a few minutes to say your goodbyes before I send him on his way." He moved out of her way, and Penelope rushed to where Edward was confined.

As soon as she'd made it to the bars, Edward had his hands out, touching her face. His own was pleading. "Penny," he choked out, almost caressing her. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I swear, I won't let him take you out of Gotham, I won't stop trying to save you, I swear it, Penny, I-"

"It's alright," Penelope said, grasping his gloved hands in her own. She leaned forward, as close to him as the bars separating them allowed. To Bane, it looked like the two of them were sharing their last kiss. Instead, she whispered into Edward's ear. "I'm not going anywhere with him. I'm stalling."

Edward's mouth dropped, then he whispered back. "GCPD?"

"No." Now, she let go of one of Edward's hands to reach into her pocket. She pulled out the bat-shaped bug and showed it to Edward. His eyes widened in understanding, then flashed with anger. 

"What is that?" she heard Bane ask behind her. "What do you have there?" Before he could take a step towards her, the sound of heavy footsteps running towards them attracted the attention of the three people in the room. Penelope felt a smile come to her face. It could only be one person.

Sure enough, when she turned around, Batman was in the room. He'd received her message. He looked at her and Edward, then at Bane. "It's over Bane," he growled. "Let them go."

Bane's face colored and he started towards Penelope. "You conniving bitch!" Penelope froze. Bane was two steps away from her, his arm outstretched when he suddenly fell forward. She quickly moved out of the way and saw that Batman had thrown a bola around Bane's ankles. It didn't hold for long though, as Bane reached down and tore it off of him with one hand. "I will break you, Batman!" he bellowed. "Then Nigma, then the bruja!" He got back up to his feet and charged towards the vigilante, who met him halfway with a kick. 

While the two began their fight, Penelope moved back to the bars. "How do I get you out?" she asked.

"There's a control panel to your left," Edward said. "Hit the green button!"

Penelope's eyes darted to her left where she saw the large green circle. She reached her arm over and slapped the button with her palm. The bars shuttered open and Edward dashed over to her and wrapped her in an embrace. Penelope threw her arms around his back and held him just as tight. "Are you alright?" she asked. She pulled away from him to look up at his face. It was bruised from where she had slapped him, but other than that, he didn't look any worse for wear. "What in the Hell were you thinking, coming out here?"

"What was I thinking?" he frowned. "What were you thinking, offering yourself up to Bane like that? And people think I'm crazy!"

Bane's voice cut the pair off before an argument could brew. "Enough of this, Batman!" Penelope and Edward turned to see that Bane had forced Batman up against a wall. The vigilante was crouched in a fighting stance, while Bane had a hand on the tank he wore on his back. Penelope could just make out his hand turn a dial, and her blood ran cold. "Do you remember just how strong the TITAN made me when we fought in Arkham?" Bane taunted. "You were at my mercy. I'll help you remember." The green fluid flowed from the tubes into Bane's bloodstream and his muscles, already huge, began to bulge even more. Once he had fully absorbed the TITAN, he let out a bestial roar and swung his fists down towards Batman, who narrowly avoided the blow by sliding under Bane's legs. Batman threw Batarangs towards the tubes, only for Bane to turn, catch them and crush them in the palm of his hands. He let out a laugh, then charged towards Batman.

Edward sucked in a quick breath. "Jesus..." So this was what TITAN could do. Bane almost didn't look human underneath all that muscle. "I believe this is our cue," he said, gently tugging Penny towards the hallway where they'd entered. He stopped in his tracks when Bane all but flung Batman across the room and charged. Their fight was blocking off the best way out. Edward looked back towards the door Bane had emerged from. "We should be able to make our way to the front entrance through there. Let's go."

Penny hesitated. "What about Batman?" she asked. Her eyes were locked onto the fight, which Batman seemed to be losing.

"What about him?" Edward asked dismissively. "It's not the first time he's fought Bane. He'll be just fine. We need to leave, now." He pulled her towards the door, but Penny shook loose and remained where she was, still taking the scene in. "Penny," Edward hissed. "You knew what you were getting him into when you led him here."

She shook her head. "I thought he could take Bane," she said. "But look." Edward looked back at the fight. Bane had managed to land a blow on Batman, sending him flying until he hit the wall with a grunt. Batman slid down and forced himself back to his feet, though even from this distance, Edward could tell the movement pained him. "We can't just leave him," Penny said. "Edward, he'll die. We have to do something."

No, they didn't, Edward thought. He saw Batman struggle to hold off Bane and felt a sick satisfaction. Why should he lift a finger to help the man who let Jonathan die? Besides, if Batman couldn't take Bane down, what chance did he have-then he had an epiphany. He looked at Penny, still watching with horror. If Batman died, no one could stand between Bane and Penny. Bane would take her, probably kill her at this point and there would be nothing anyone could do to stop him. Edward's eyes narrowed and he set his jaw. No. He wouldn't lose her like he'd lost Jonathan. "We can't physically beat Bane," he said. "But we can contain him." Penny looked up at him with a question in her eyes. Edward gestured back to the alcove where Bane had him locked up. "We'll have to lure him in there and lock him in."

Penny shook her head. "He can break those bars without breaking a sweat-"

"Which is why yours truly is going to have to assist the Dark Knight in pulling those tubes out of Bane," Edward finished. "Those are what feeds the Venom, or TITAN in this case into his system. Without them, he's helpless as a kitten." Edward's eyes darted to the direction Bane had thrown his cane earlier. He could make it out, lying flat on the stone floor, six feet or so away from where Batman and Bane were grappling. He wet his lip and did a few quick mental calculations. If it took Bane 10 seconds to cross the room at mid-pace, then it should take him half that time at full sprint. Batman would just need to keep him occupied. 

"What do you need me to do?"

Edward looked at Penny, at the determination in her eyes. She was one of the most fearless people he'd ever known. "You'll be the bait," he said, even though it pained him. "Stand over by the TITAN tank. When I give the word, call Bane over. Act like you'll destroy it. When he comes charging, lead him towards that room. Once he's in, hit the button. Do you understand?"

Penelope nodded. "Yes." She reached up to cup his face in her hands. "Be careful." 

For a long moment, he stared into her eyes. It may very well be the last time he did so. There was so much he still needed to say to her, but there was no time left. He gently squeezed her hands with his own. "But of course. It's me, remember?" He stepped away, reluctantly letting go of her, then gave her a tip of the hat before he turned to the fight. This was easily the most insane thing he had ever done. For you Penelope, anything. Then with a deep breath, he ran towards his cane. Neither Batman nor Bane noticed him as he darted past. When he reached the cane, he crouched down. Luckily for all involved, it was still intact. 

"I will break you, Batman!"

Edward got up and turned. Bane had his back to him and was holding Batman over his head. One more second, and he'd bring the man down over his knee. Edward hesitated. He looked to his left and saw Penny, looking at the scene with wide eyes. At the sight of her fear, Edward Nigma, private investigator made room for someone else. He grasped the cane with one hand and moved quickly so that he was standing a foot behind Bane. The hulking brute was about to bring Batman down when Edward called out in a voice familiar to all in the room but himself. "Riddle me this!"

Bane paused and turned his head halfway. "Qué demonios!?"

Edward continued, in a bold, brassy tone that fit him like a glove. "I drift forever with the current and flows to your everyday life. I make living easy but I am good at killing people too. What am I?" At Bane's confused, irritated expression, Edward laughed. "The answer," he said smugly. "Is electricity, you moron." Holding the cane handle in his hand, he aimed the staff directly at the small of Bane's back and fired. The taser node flew and attached itself to Bane, shocking the man. He collapsed to his knees, bellowing with pain and loosened his grip on Batman. "That," Edward hissed, "Is what you get for trying to take her away from me."

Batman rolled over onto Bane's back and grabbed hold of one of the tubes. "Nigma!" he shouted.

"Yes, yes, I'm not deaf," Edward grumbled, hooking the handle of his cane around another tube. He and Batman moved as one and pulled hard, breaking both tubes. Edward took a step back to avoid the liquid pooling at his feet. "God," he seethed. "That's disgusting!" 

"Get back!" Batman shouted. As he spoke, the taser node had finished deploying its electrical charge, and Bane was staggering back to his feet. He was weakened, but he wasn't down for the count just yet. Edward did as Batman said and watched the vigilante tackle Bane. Bane's muscle mass was visibly shrinking and he was feeling every punch Batman was raining down on him. Edward's delight turned into dread though, when Bane grabbed hold of Batman and tossed him across the room once again. Then he turned to face Edward. He was angry. 

"You son of a bitch!" Bane seethed. Edward took a step back. The TITAN, in addition to boosting his strength, seemed to make him more aggressive and stupid, a very bad combination in Edward's experience. Then Bane's gaze drifted behind Edward. He followed Bane's gaze back to Penelope, who froze. "Bruja!" Bane screamed. "Bruja!" Then he charged forward, sending Edward scrambling out of his path.

"Penny!" Edward shouted. "Now!"

Penelope turned heel and ran towards the uncovered alcove, hearing Bane's footsteps thundering behind her. When she was right in front of it, she turned and stopped. Bane five feet away from her and closing. "Dr. Young!" she heard Batman shout. "Get out of the way!" Bane was three feet away. Two...One...At the last possible second, Penelope dove to the left, just inches away from Bane's outstretched arm. Just as Edward had expected, he was going too fast to stop and he ran straight into the alcove, colliding with the wall. She scrambled to her feet, reached for the green button and slapped her palm against it with all her strength. The bars shuttered close, trapping Bane inside. He shook the bars with a deafening roar, but they held firm. Batman and Edward together had drained enough TITAN from him to weaken him. It was over. Penelope felt herself slide down the wall onto the stone floor. Her breath was coming in deep gasps. They had done it. Somehow, they had managed to defeat Bane. 

"Penny!"

She looked up to see Edward running towards her. He crouched down, discarded his cane and put his hands on her shoulders. She leaned forward, wrapping her arms around his midsection in an embrace. He hesitated for only a moment before he returned it, holding her tight against his chest. At that moment, she never wanted to let him go.

The sound of a throat clearing drew the pair out of their reverie. Penelope looked up to see Batman, battered, but still in one piece, staring down at them. Reluctantly, Penelope withdrew from Edward and got to her feet. Once Edward had followed her up, Batman inclined his head towards her. "Are you alright?" he asked.

"Yes," she answered. "Thank you, for everything." Edward's face darkened and he looked like he wanted to say something cutting to Batman, but he kept his mouth shut. Batman ignored it, then walked towards the TITAN tank. Penelope took a step forward. "Wait," she said. Batman turned his head back towards her. "You're going to destroy it, aren't you?"

"It has to be done, Dr. Young," Batman said gently. "It's too dangerous to keep intact."

"I understand," Penelope said. "But I want to be the one to do it."

"Penny," Edward said. "You don't have to-"

"I created it," she interrupted. "I should destroy it."

Batman said nothing but reached into his belt, pulling out a dispenser of some kind. He handed it to her. "This is exploding gel," he explained. "Press the left button to spray it on the tank, then the right button to detonate it."

Penelope nodded, then, with a deep breath, stepped towards the tank. She pressed the left button, and an odd smelling foam came out. She spread a moderate amount on the tank, then took a step back. She paused and considered the tank and the formula that was inside it. "Project TITAN will make Arkham a world-class facility, an award-winning facility..." She had believed that once. All the hours she'd spent in research, refining the formula, all the human pain and misery she had caused and permitted...it had all come down to this. 

"Don't," she heard a weak voice behind her. She looked and saw Bane, gripping the bars tight. He was much smaller now, and he looked waxy. The withdrawal from the drug was hitting him fast it appeared. "If you destroy it, Dr. Young," he said. "Then everything you did to me was for nothing!"

At that, Penelope steeled her resolve. "Then it was for nothing," she said. "Bane, I meant it when I said that I was sorry for what I did to you. I wish more than anything I could take it back, that I could make it up to you, but I can't let the TITAN hurt anyone else. You know as well as I do that we can't let it out into the world."

Bane's eyes narrowed, then shut. He let out a sigh. "No," he admitted. "No, we can't." He nodded. "Do it, then."

Penelope pressed the right button. The gel exploded, causing the tank to burst into flames. She jumped a bit at the sound, then watched as the TITAN, her life's work, evaporated before her. She startled a bit when she felt a gentle pressure on her shoulders, only to relax when she saw Edward out of the corner of her eye. "Are you alright?" he murmured.

She nodded. "I will be." Then she turned back to where Bane was imprisoned. She took a few hesitant steps towards the bars, stopping about three feet away. Bane wouldn't be able to reach her. He looked at her with anger, and with something else in his eyes. "I'm sorry," she said quietly. "I wouldn't blame you if you still wanted to kill me."

Bane glared at her for a moment more, then he rubbed his chin. "Tell me," he said. "Just why does Warden Ward want you dead?" He nodded towards Edward. "Your man told me that he was the one who sent word to me that you were creating TITAN again. What have you done to anger him?"

Penelope sighed. "Ward, along with Mayor Sharp and Hugo Strange are instituting a crackdown on criminals and the mentally ill in Gotham City. They're violating people's rights, and mistreating the patients under their care in Arkham. Sharp has probably killed patients himself. I'm part of a group trying to stop them."

Bane was silent as he mulled over this. Finally, he spoke. "I see. It seems Nigma was right. I was used as a common assassin. I should have gone after Ward and left the TITAN alone, but I needed its power too much." He let out another sigh. "And you are not the woman I hated in Arkham. If you are serious about making amends for all that your experiment did, then I will not come after you again." Penelope let out a breath that she didn't know that she had been holding, before Bane's voice cut in harshly. "That does not mean that I absolve you, Dr. I will be keeping an ear out. If I ever hear that you have returned to experimenting on people, I will end you. Is that clear?"

Penelope nodded. "Yes. I understand."

Bane grunted, then sat down in his makeshift cell. Penelope looked at him for a moment more, then walked back towards Edward and Batman, who, she noticed, were staring each other down.

"GCPD's on its way," Batman said. He narrowed his gaze and addressed Edward. "You had better have a good explanation for what happened here."

Edward's gaze narrowed as well. "So had you," he seethed. "Tell me, just how did Penelope come into possession of one of your bugs? Was that whole 'stalling Bane by offering herself as a slave to him' your idea?"

"It wasn't like that Edward," Penelope said. She paused when she realized that there was no way to explain it that wouldn't cause him to become angry. "I found the bug in my car earlier tonight. I was the one who thought of bringing Batman here."

As she expected, Edward's face reddened. "I see," he said. "Tell me," he addressed Batman. "Just how long has that been going on!? Were you surveilling her because of the TITAN, or because of her association with me!?"

"Edward," Penelope said softly. "Don't do this now. Please."

At the tone in her voice, Edward's face softened. "Fine," he said, crossing his arms. "But we are not done talking about this, Dark Knight."

"No," Batman answered. "No, we're not." He nodded towards the entrance. "Let's go. Gordon should be here by now." He walked forward, leaving Edward and Penelope alone together.

"Penny," Edward said. The danger was over, but there was still a gulf of things unsaid between the two of them. "I-"

Penelope lifted her hand. "It can wait," she said. "We need to tell Gordon about everything first. Then we'll talk."

Edward nodded. "Alright." The pair walked out together, each resisting the urge to grab the other's hand.

 

 

Chapter Text

When Penelope and Edward emerged from the service entrance, they spotted Commissioner Gordon in animated conversation with Batman. "...I've got SWAT waiting out in front to take Bane into custody. I just want to wait until-" Gordon's eyes drifted behind Batman to Edward and Penelope. "Dr. Young!" He rushed towards her, his eyes wide with worry. "Are you alright?" he asked. "What in God's name happened here?"

Penelope nodded. "I'm fine, Commissioner." The guilt she had felt when she'd lied to him days earlier returned in full force. "I can explain-"

"I take full responsibility for what happened tonight, Commissioner," Edward interrupted, stepping forward.

Gordon's eyes narrowed a bit as he seemed to notice Edward for the first time. "I was wondering when I'd see you again," he grumbled. "Alright, Nigma. Explain." Edward took a breath, then began to recount the events of the last few days, starting when Penelope had told him about the break-in at her apartment. All the while, she watched Gordon's face. He schooled his expression to neutral, but she could see the shock when Edward mentioned his suspicions about Schrader. Gordon's posture stiffened as Edward continued, detailing his attempt to confirm Bane's location while leaving out Aaron's involvement and the incident with Harley Quinn. 

"...And I'm sure the Caped Crusader has filled you in on what happened after Bane so rudely locked me up," Edward finished. "Which brings us to now." He gestured to the service door behind them. "Bane is there waiting to be taken into custody, thanks to yours truly with no small help from Dr. Young."

Gordon took a deep breath, removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. Penelope stepped forward. "Commissioner," she said in a small voice. "Jim. I'm so sorry-"

"It's alright," Gordon said gently, putting his glasses back on. "We'll talk about this tomorrow morning. My office."

It wasn't a request. Penelope nodded. "Of course."

Gordon then turned back to Edward. "As for you, Nigma, I don't think I need to tell you just how much of a jackass stunt you pulled." Edward rolled his eyes but said nothing. Gordon sighed. "But thank you for all of your help." He turned around, only for all three of them to realize that at some point during Edward's explanation, Batman had left. Gordon shook his head. "Let's get the two of you out of here."

Edward and Penelope followed Gordon around the corner to the front of the building, where a SWAT team and a score of uniformed officers were waiting, guns drawn. A few of the officers' eyes widened when they caught sight of Edward. Gordon raised a hand. "At ease," he said. He gave a short nod to the SWAT commander. "Bane's inside and he's been neutralized. You're clear to take him."

The SWAT Commander snapped his fingers and directed his team to follow him towards the back of the toy factory. The uniformed officers stayed where they were, and Penelope could catch pick up a few snatches of gossip from them. "Is that-did Riddler-No way, he couldn't have-Batman took down Bane-but did Riddler help?"

"Doc!" 

Penelope's attention was immediately caught by Aaron running up to her. "Aaron!"

Aaron stopped in front of her and took her in. "You ok? I never heard back from you and then Gordon said-" then Aaron made eye contact with Edward and his face turned stony. "What in the Hell did you do, Nigma!?"

Edward was about to say something nasty when Penelope stepped between the two men. "It doesn't matter," she said. "Bane's in custody and the TITAN's been destroyed. I'm going home."

Edward and Aaron both looked at her. "You sure, Doc?" Aaron asked.

"I'm sure," Penelope answered. It was late now, and after everything that had happened over the past twenty-four hours, she was exhausted. She needed time alone to recuperate, and to think about what she would say to Gordon, as well as-She turned back to Edward. "I'll be by tomorrow to get my things," she said. "And we need to talk about everything that happened today, Edward."

Edward's shoulders slumped a bit, but he nodded. "Alright."

Aaron shook his head. "You know what? I'm not sure I want to know," he muttered. "I'll walk you to your car, Doc."

Penelope walked towards where her car was parked without another word, through the whispering police officers and resisted every urge she had to look back at Edward. If she looked back, she wouldn't want to leave him.

Edward watched her go, ignoring the gossip growing around him. He'd come so close to losing her, and he still had no idea how to tell her what he'd learned without losing her anyway. Then his jaw set. That could wait. For now, he had an overdue visit to make.


 

"Breaking news tonight in Gotham City, notorious assassin Bane was apprehended by Batman in North Gotham's industrial district. Also, GCNN has learned that another famous Gotham resident played a role in Bane's capture. According to anonymous sources in GCPD, Edward Nigma was at the scene and assisted Batman in apprehending Bane. Nigma has been keeping a low profile since his involvement in the arrest of serial killer Victor Goodman last December, but it seems he's made a return to the spotlight in a big way. We'll continue to update you as soon as we receive more information. This is Summer Gleeson, with GCNN."

Ward took another sip of brandy and watched the newscast. As he lowered the glass back onto the coffee table, he became aware that it was shaking. His hand was shaking. Jesus Christ. He continued to watch, though Gleeson's reporting soon became a drone background noise. His attention was caught by the picture of Nigma GCNN had chosen to display. It was a picture of him during his press conference last year when he'd been after Goodman. His face was smug with a smirk that seemed to accentuate his angular features. It was an expression he'd seen at Blackgate and Arkham countless times, but it had never truly frightened him until now. Jesus Christ. Bane being captured by Batman had always been the endgame, regardless of whether he'd killed Young or not. Nigma helping Batman though? That had never been part of the plan. That had never even been considered as a worst-case scenario. This was the nightmare scenario. If Nigma had gotten involved in the first place, then he had to know about the plot against Young. Evidently, he cared for her more than Schrader believed. And if Nigma cared enough about her to put aside his old rivalry with Batman for one night to protect her, what else was he ready to do? Jesus Christ.

He took another shaky sip of brandy and considered his options. He'd called Schrader the minute the broadcast made the air but hadn't heard back from him. No doubt the detective was already well aware of what happened. That left Strange to inform. Ward gulped. This could potentially derail everything that they were working for. Perhaps, Ward considered, it may be time to cut his losses and bow out. He'd put in a good quarter-century in corrections. Perhaps it was time to retire, leave Gotham, join his son in Central City and live out the rest of his life in peace-

"I see that my exploits have already made the news."

Ward turned around sharply and his stomach dropped. Standing behind the sofa, with his arms crossed and a cold smirk on his face, was Edward Nigma. He raised a hand to tip his hat. "Good evening, Warden, or rather, good morning."

Ward got to his feet. "You! How did you-" He creased his brow and tried to calm down. "Get out before I have you arrested for trespassing, Nigma!"

An almost scandalized look came across Nigma's face and he put a hand against his chest. "Oh, Warden! I'm hurt! Is that any way to speak to the man who helped save your life tonight?"

Ward's eyes narrowed. "What the Hell are you talking about?"

Nigma raised his cane and pointed it towards Ward's television. "No doubt you're aware of the part I played in Bane's capture tonight. While I was spending quality time with the man, he informed me that you were next on his list. He hasn't forgotten the part you played in the creation of the TITAN." Ward's blood ran cold. Then he became aware of Nigma chuckling. "You didn't think this little scheme of yours through, did you?"

Ward nervously licked his lip. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

Nigma let out an impatient sigh. "Of course you don't." Nigma then turned towards the bookshelf a few feet from the sofa. He walked towards it and Ward watched him like a hawk. The Hell was he up to? Then he froze. Nigma had picked up a picture of his son at his college graduation. "Gotham University, 2002. What a lovely photo. Your son Geoffrey's done quite well for himself, hasn't he? A promising young DA in Central City, a quaint two-bedroom house on 652 Marigold Lane-"

"Put that down!" Ward bellowed. "How dare you threaten my son!?"

Nigma turned to face him and cocked his head innocently. "Threaten? Now when did I do that? I'm merely stating facts, Warden." He put the photo down and began to laugh. The hairs on the back of Ward's neck stood up. This wasn't the cocky persona of a PI Nigma had been presenting to the world for the past two years. This was something worse, something he'd hoped he'd never see again. This was the Riddler. Was this an intimidation tactic, or was the old crook beginning to wake up? "Now," Nigma's cold, smooth voice cut in. "To come to the point of my visit. I know it was you who brought about Bane's return to our fair city. And I also know that it was Detective Schrader who stole the TITAN and trashed Penelope Young's apartment."

Ward shook his head. "You have no proof-"

"No," Nigma interrupted. "But when has that ever stopped me?" His smirk disappeared and his face became angry. "Consider this your first and final warning. She's off-limits. If Penelope Young is even slightly inconvenienced by you, Schrader, or anyone connected to Professor Strange, there will be consequences."

Ward felt both hands shake in anger and fear. "You come into my home, make these wild accusations, threaten the life of me and my son-"

Nigma raised a finger. "Now, now, Warden. Give me some credit. There are all sorts of ways to undo a person's life that doesn't involve violence." Nigma smirked again. "Ask Lyle Bolton." Another chill went through Ward. "So no, this isn't a threat. It's a friendly reminder. I may be reformed, but that doesn't make me a good person." Nigma tipped his hat. "Well then. Good morning, Ward." Nigma walked past him and out the front door where he'd entered. Ward stood frozen in his living room. Jesus. Jesus. Even if he left Gotham, he'd never be safe from Nigma's vengeance. Now, what the Hell did he do?


 

Driving away from Ward's home in the upper East End, Edward felt more relaxed then he had in days. The closer he came to his apartment though, the more his thoughts turned to Penny, and his stomach tied up in knots. What could he say to her? How did he make this right? Yes, Bane was in custody, but he'd put her life in danger to make that happen. If she hadn't found that bug in her car...would she have handed herself over to Bane to save him? How could he have put her in that position? What had he been thinking? Had he been thinking? He pulled into his parking lot and dragged himself out of the car and up the stairs. Now that the adrenaline had worn off, his legs felt like lead weights and he could feel his eyes drooping. As soon as he was inside, he'd collapse on the sofa. He couldn't go into his room, not with her things still there.

When he opened his door, however, he felt a draft from a window he knew neither of them had left open. He saw a dark mass by his kitchen table, shut the door behind him and let out a long groan. "Oh God," he said. "Really? Now?"

Batman stalked towards him. "Do you have," he growled. "Any idea what you almost did tonight?"

Edward's eyes narrowed. "If I hadn't been there, Bane would have snapped you in half!"

"If you hadn't acted in such a selfish, reckless manner, none of us would have been in that position tonight!" Batman shouted. He was a foot away from Edward, maybe less, and he was angry. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Edward could see hundreds of replays of this scenario in hideouts, in alleys, even in Arkham. The more things changed, the more they remained the same. "You almost got Dr. Young killed!"

"Oh, don't act as if you care about her welfare," Edward snarled. "Did you or did you not put a bug in her car!? How long have you been spying on her!? Who else have you been keeping an eye on? Me? My daughter? Do I need to do a bug sweep of her home too!?"

Batman's eyes narrowed through the cowl. "I know that you've been working with her to investigate Hugo Strange," he said. Of course, he knew. Edward had expected that. "You made a mistake getting her involved."

"I didn't," Edward hissed. "She's been a willing participant. She was the one who approached me!"

"You could have said no," Batman answered. "You should have. She's not like us, Edward. The more involved she is with you, the more danger she's in."

Edward clenched his fists. "I've done everything in my power to keep her safe," he said, as much to himself as to Batman. "I kept her hidden here to protect her, I went after Bane for her!"

"Did you do it for her?" Batman asked. "Or did you do it for yourself?" Edward opened his mouth in outrage but found that he had no reply. Had this been about him, all along? "You could have let her leave Gotham," Batman said. "But you kept her here because you didn't want her to leave you, even if by staying she was put at even more risk."

Edward shut his eyes. No, he didn't, he...he did. "I didn't know about Bane-"

"Would it have made a difference?"

Yes, it-no-yes. I'm not in love with her, I'm not- Edward opened his eyes and glared. "Do you think," he said in a voice that startled him with how raw it was. "That I am not painfully aware of what an awful human being I am? Do you really think I need you to come in to remind me of everything I'm not?"

Something in his voice made Batman's posture soften. "Edward," the vigilante said, all anger gone. "You're in over your head with Hugo Strange. Let me handle it. Stay out of this. Not just for Dr. Young, or your daughter. For your own sake too." He turned back towards the open window. "Thank you for your help," he said gently, without turning back. He then jumped out of the window.

Edward dragged himself to his sofa and curled up. The last thing he thought before sleep finally overcame him was Penny. I'm sorry. For everything.

 


 

 

Gordon had said nothing while Penelope had recounted in detail the events that had led up to last night. Well, not in complete detail. She left out the encounter with Harley Quinn, the nightmare she'd had, the fact that Edward had almost kissed her. Gordon had listened and waited until Penelope was done speaking before he began to ask questions.

"Why didn't you tell me this when you stopped by my office?" he asked.

Penelope wet her lip. "I didn't know who in GCPD was involved, I didn't want to risk of them finding out the truth."

"Penelope," Gordon said with a strained voice. "You could have trusted me. I would've kept your secret."

"I know," she said, her hands bunched in her lap. She could barely look at the man in the eye. "I should have told you. I'm sorry."

Gordon sighed, then got out of his chair to pace around his desk. "I can't charge or even discipline Schrader without solid proof," he said at last. "If I take a former Rogue's word against a decorated cop's I'll have a mutiny on my hands. But I can put him on an information diet, starting today. And I'll keep you separated from him as much as I can."

Penelope nodded. Under the circumstances, it was the best she could hope for. "What about the TITAN?"

"Well, we narrowed it down to a uniformed officer named Alvarez, but it seems he's skipped town. And there's no obvious connection between him and Schrader. We'll keep looking into it though."

"Of course." Penelope took a breath. She should have done this months ago, but better late than never. "Jim, there's something else you need to know. Edward-Nigma and I have been investigating-

Gordon raised a hand. "I know what you're going to say," he said. "And I don't want to hear it."

Penelope looked at him in surprise. "You already knew-"

"No," he said with a wry look. "But I've suspected. The less I know, the better. Plausible deniability and all that." His face grew serious. "Do you trust Nigma?"

After everything that had happened, that was a loaded question, but Penelope still had the same answer. "Yes."

Gordon nodded. "That's all I need to know. Penelope, I won't ask or expect you to inform on him, but if you ever reach a point where you think he may be a danger to himself and others, tell me."

"I will," Penelope said. She got up from her chair. "Was there anything else you needed from me?"

"No. Go home and get some rest. You need it." Gordon opened the door for her. "See you soon, Penelope."

"Thank you again, Jim. For everything." Penelope walked out of the office and into the bullpen. The officers were still buzzing with excitement over Bane's capture. Luckily, they were too preoccupied with Edward's involvement to notice that she had played a part too. Aaron was waiting for her near the front entrance. He'd agreed to take her to Edward's to help her with her things, and, in his words, to provide support. Penelope steeled herself. The talk she would have with Edward would be one of the most difficult she'd ever had to make. She needed to stay firm though and do what was best for both of them.

"Ready, Doc?" Aaron asked as soon as he saw her.

"As I'll ever be," she admitted. Her gaze narrowed when she caught sight of another person by the front entrance. "Schrader."

Detective Schrader had just walked through the doors and his grey gaze widened when he saw her. "Dr. Young," he said. He shook his head slightly. "I didn't expect to see you back so soon."

So Schrader was going to be coy. That was fine with her. An outright accusation wouldn't do her any good. "It's going to take a lot more to get rid of me then Bane returning," she said. "Goodbye, Detective." She walked past him through the doors, Aaron following closely behind.

Schrader watched the bitch go. "So that's how it's going to be," he muttered. "Alright then. I guess I'm just going to have to kill you."

 


 

 

It was 12:01 and six seconds. Where was she?

Edward sat on his couch, drumming his fingers in a staccato pattern on his knees. He'd woken up at half-past ten, showered, changed, then went straight to his couch and waited for Penny to come. He still had no idea what to say to her. What could he say to her? He sighed. The truth. That was what he could say. The truth about his connection to the Arkham riot, the truth of why he'd gone after Bane, the truth about what he felt for her. Everything. Even she hated him for it, the truth was what she deserved. A knocking at his front door brought his fidgeting to an end. "Come in!" he called out. He took a deep breath. Now for the final reckoning.

The door opened, and someone who was very much not Penelope came rushing in. "Dad!"

Edward stood up in surprise. "Ellen?"

Ellen made a mad dash to where he was and threw her arms around his midsection. "I saw the news! Are you ok? How the fuck did you manage to take down Bane!?"

"Ellen, language!" Edward scolded. He returned her hug though. It was the second time in six months he'd almost made her an orphan after all. "And I didn't take him down, I merely helped Batman do so."

Ellen rolled her eyes. "Yeah, 'merely'. Jesus Christ, Dad, you're so freakin' stupid sometimes it's unbelievable."

Edward huffed. "What a sweet, affectionate child it is!"

Ellen took a step back, then her green eyes bulged out when she saw his face. "Did Bane do that?"

Edward pressed his fingers gingerly against the bruise. It had faded but was still noticeable. "No. That's...that's a long story."

Ellen looked like she wanted to say more when a throat cleared. Edward looked past his daughter and his heart dropped when he saw Penny and Cash in the doorway. "We're not interrupting, are we?" Penny asked.

"No," Edward said, shaking his head. "Come on in."

Ellen's nose wrinkled when she and Cash made eye contact. "Thought I smelled bacon."

"Cute," Cash grunted. He looked at Ellen with amusement. "This your kid, Nigma? Thought she'd be younger."

"Who wants to know?" Ellen asked.

"Ellen," Penny said. "This is Officer Aaron Cash. He's a friend of mine. Aaron, this is Ellen."

"Hi, Ellen," Cash waved. He glanced back over at Edward and nodded. "Nigma."

"Cash," Edward said. Did Penny have to bring him? He'd started this whole damn mess. Edward turned his head towards his room. "Your things are still there," he addressed Penny. "And I have your books on my dining room table."

"Alright. I'll go pack." Penny walked down the hallway towards his bedroom, leaving Cash waiting awkwardly by the door and Ellen staring at Edward with her eyes even more bugged out.

"Her things?" she puzzled. "Wait was she-holy shit. I knew it!"

"Ellen," Edward said half-heartedly. "Language." Five minutes passed before Penny came back down the hall, with her bags and suitcase. "Do you have everything?"

"Yes," she answered. She wet her lip and handed her suitcase to Cash. "Aaron, could you take this down for me? I need a few minutes."

Cash took the suitcase. "Sure thing." Then he gave Ellen a nod. "Come help me with those other cases, Ellen. Think Doc and your Dad need some time alone."

"Fuck off!" Ellen said. "You can't tell me what to do!"

"Ellen," Edward said firmly. "Go help Cash. Make sure he doesn't drop anything."

Ellen cocked her head, then glanced at Penny and back to him. She seemed to understand. "Okay. See you in a bit, Dad." She took Penny's briefcase from her and followed Cash out, giving her father one last glance before shutting the door behind her.

And now they were alone. Penny stood by the dining room table, not coming any closer to where Edward was in front of his couch. He decided against coming into her space. "Well," he said. "You have the floor. I imagine you must have quite a few questions for me."

"I do," Penny said, her husky voice hard as diamonds. "I most certainly do. Before I ask anything though, I wanted to tell you that there is a part of me that is still absolutely furious with you."

Edward cringed. "I know."

Penny took a deep breath, then continued. "I thought that after Goodman, after Waylon Jones, we were at a point where we could be open and honest with each other." She glared at him. "Clearly, that isn't the case. You've been keeping things from me, important things that I need to know. You're not being honest with me about how you feel. And even after everything's that happened, you still ran off and risked your life without telling me or anyone what you were doing or why! How could you have gone after Bane by yourself like that? Did you think about me at all before you did that? Did you ever stop to think about Ellen? Or was this about your ego? Was the need to prove yourself more important to you than making sure you came back to me and your daughter alive?"

"It wasn't like that," Edward said. He sighed. "But no. I wasn't thinking. There was nothing rational about it. It was something I had to do."

Penny's brow furrowed. "Had to?" She repeated. "Why? Was it because I saw you with Harley Quinn? Did you feel like you needed to make up for that?"

"Yes and no," Edward answered. Now or never. He took her in one last time before he began to speak. "I was meeting with Harley to get information about Bane. The conversation turned to the TITAN experiment and Arkham, and...and..." Edward gulped. More than anything, he wished he could lie, that he didn't have to tell her the truth. For you, Penelope, anything. "Penny, I was involved."

Penny's eyes widened. "What? What are you talking about? You were in a coma."

"During the actual riot, yes, but...Harley told me that before I escaped Arkham the final time, I helped her and Joker break the security encryption. What I did helped them take over the Asylum." Penny's expression became guarded and she closed her eyes. "I don't remember it, any of it," Edward continued. "I wish more than anything I could take it back, but when she told me, and I remembered how you were the previous night, how much you blamed yourself for what happened, how much you were hurt, and the thought that I played any kind of part in that, Penny, I couldn't take it." He ran a hand through his hair. "And then you saw us together and you were angry, rightfully so I'll add. I went back to my office and I didn't know what to do, how to make it up to you, and then I heard from an informant about where Bane was. I thought that if I was the one to lead GCPD to Bane, that I could make up for helping destroy your life." Penny opened her eyes again, and what Edward saw in them wasn't anger, but a resigned sadness. "It's not an excuse," he said. "It's not a justification. It's not even a good explanation. It was stupid, and selfish, and reckless, and insane, but you need to know the truth." He sighed and looked down at his feet. "I wouldn't blame you if you walked out and never wanted to see me again. I'll accept that and leave you alone, but I just want you to know how sorry I am for everything."

There was a long period of silence before Penny finally spoke. "Edward," she said. "Eddie." Edward looked up with a start. She'd never called him that before. She shook her head. "Why didn't you just come back and tell me that? We could have talked about it, worked through it. You didn't need to risk your life to make up for it to me."

Something occurred to Edward about how she was behaving. When he told her about his involvement with the riot, as tangential as it was, she hadn't been angry. Or shocked. Or even surprised. Then the pin dropped. "You knew," he murmured. "From the moment you wanted to work with me in GCPD on the Barnes case last year, you knew that I was involved in the riot!"

"I suspected," Penny admitted. "We all did. There aren't many people who are capable of cracking WayneTech security, and the system had shown long term signs of being tampered with. It wasn't hard to imagine that you were somehow involved."

Edward felt faint. He ran through every interaction he could ever remember having with her, starting last May. It did explain how hostile she was to him at first, even beyond his infamous reputation. "You knew all along," he said, almost dazed. "But you still helped me. You still trusted me."

"Yes," she said. "What I said to you outside GCPD last year...I meant all of it. I'm not going to stand here and pretend that you aren't a very flawed human being, Edward Nigma. Your behavior over the last few days is proof enough of that. But in the past year, you saved my life twice. You've gone out of your way to protect me. You tried to save Kimberly Bierko from Tetch, even though he used to be your friend. You saved Eric Brewer when you didn't have to. You've taken the first steps to be a father for Ellen. After everything that's happened between you two, you still saved Batman. And..." She took a tentative step towards him and had a small smile on her face. "When I needed it the most, you held my hand and told me that I was better than what I thought I was. No matter what happens, I'll always be grateful to you for that." Her smile fell. "I wasn't so angry just because of Harley. I was angry because I've seen for myself that you can do and be better."

Edward didn't know what to say. He didn't think he could say anything. He'd barely heard her over the pounding of his own heart. He wasn't in love with her, he wasn't, he wasn't...but oh God, he wanted to be, more than anything. Then he remembered all the reasons why he couldn't be. He finally let out a shaky chuckle. "Well," he said. "I don't have a retort for that." Then he sighed. "I'm not good at this, bear with me. But I truly am sorry for everything that happened over the last few days. I haven't handled this situation well."

"I believe you," Penny nodded. "But I have questions that I need you to answer."

Edward took a breath and nodded. "Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no tales."

"How long have you been in contact with Harley Quinn?"

"Since February. She came to my apartment after my run-in with Croc." Penny's face darkened. "She wanted to try to make amends with me as Selina did. I agreed to hear her out and try to re-connect with her. I should have told you-"

"Yes, you should have," Penny interrupted the edge back in her voice. She crossed her arms and huffed. "I know that your relationship with Harley predates ours, and I know that I don't have the right to tell you who you can and can't be friends with." Her shoulders sagged. "Intellectually, I know that since she was released, even though I don't agree with it, that she has the same right to reform as you do, but I will never be comfortable around her."

"And you'll never have to be," Edward assured her. "Harley's on a three-strike basis with me. How she behaved towards you yesterday was strike one and two. She will also never be privy to our investigation." He'd talk to Selina to ensure that. "I promise, she will never see you again."

Penny visibly relaxed. "I heard your argument yesterday." So she'd heard that too, had she? God, how much danger could he have avoided if he had just come back to talk with her last night? Why had he been so damn stupid? "There's one last thing we need to talk about, Edward."

Right. The elephant in the room. "I assume you mean our close encounter," he sighed. "I was being honest when I said that I was trying to comfort you and my wires got crossed. My past relationships with Jonathan and Selina aside, I've never been very good at handling these sorts of situations. I never had any intention of going further, or taking advantage of you in any way."

"I know," Penny said softly. "I'm glad you pulled away before either of us did something we regretted. I know there's more to it though."

"Right," Edward answered. "When I went to your apartment and met with Cash, he asked me, point-blank, if we were dating."

Penny's face flushed. "He did what?" She rolled her eyes. "Honestly, I can't believe him."

"I denied it, of course. He also accused me of...well, maybe accusing's the wrong word, but he said that even if we weren't dating, it didn't mean that I wasn't in love with you." Edward leaned his head back. "It got in my head a bit. It might have influenced me to make choices that otherwise, I wouldn't have made."

Penny nodded, then worried her lip. Then, at last, the $64,000 question. "Are you in love with me?"

More than anything, Edward wished he could lie. He'd never been a good liar though, certainly not good enough to fool her. So he did the only thing he could do. He told the truth. "I don't know," he said in a voice barely above a whisper. "I care about you, of course. Other than Ellen, I care about you more than anyone else alive. I don't know if I could call that love though. And I don't know that I'm ready to go down that road again. You deserve better than ambiguity."

Penny's facial expression didn't change, but Edward thought he could detect a sigh. "I understand," she said. "I care about you too. But given everything that's happened, everything that's ahead of us...I think it's for the best that we don't pursue anything past friendship. Not now."

"I agree," Edward said, though the words tasted bitter in his mouth. "Well, he said with a brisk sigh. "What happens now? The ball's in your court, Penny."

"I'm going home," she said. "Gordon said that for now, he'll keep Schrader as far away from me as he can. I think..." she sighed. "I think I need to take a step back from this."

Something inside of Edward broke a bit. "I see," he said dully. "I see. How long?"

"I don't know," Penny admitted. "For a few weeks, maybe more. I need time to process everything. It's nothing against you, I just-"

"I get it," Edward said, raising his hands. "I get it." He wanted to yell, to beg her to reconsider, but he remembered how much trouble he'd caused the last time he wanted her to stay with him. If she felt it was in her best interest to walk away, who was he to stop her? "Will I see you again?"

Penny's eyes softened, her ice-blue eyes like Jon's, but larger and more expressive than his had ever been. "Yes. When I'm ready, I'll reach out to you. Until then," she looked as if she was about to reach out to him, to touch his face, but she didn't. "Take care of yourself, Eddie."

He thought about going to her, to hold her hand one last time, but he stayed put. Instead, he gave her a shallow bow. "Until we meet again. dear doctor."

Penny gave a small smile, then she walked out the door, taking her books with her. When the door shut behind her, Edward sat back down on his sofa, feeling as though he'd lost a part of himself when she walked out that door.  "Well," he said to no one in particular. "It's not as if it's goodbye forever. It's not as if we were together anyway. I've lost nothing." He wanted to curl up and cry. He was about to when he heard the front door open again. Ellen stood tentatively in his doorway, looking sorry for him. "Do you have anywhere you need to be?" he found himself asking.

"Nah," Ellen said. "Do you want me to get lost?"

"No," Edward admitted, patting the cushion beside him. "I think I could use the company."

Ellen shut the door behind her and made her way to the sofa. Once she was seated, she reached over and hugged him. "I don't know what just happened," she said. "But I'm sorry, Dad."

Edward squeezed her shoulder. "I'll live," he said. "Don't worry too much about me." He picked up the remote. "Let's see how many news channels I got on." So he would stay, entertain his daughter and pretend he was alright.


 

Joan said nothing, instead listening to her friend tell her everything that had happened since they'd spoken last. She'd come over the minute Penelope had called her and was shocked when she saw how red her usually composed friend's eyes were. When Penelope finished speaking, Joan cleared her throat. "Well," she said. "For what it's worth, I think you're doing the right thing walking away for a bit. You need to take care of yourself after what you've been through."

Penelope idly rubbed her finger around the rim of her cup. "That wasn't the only reason I left him, Joan."

'Left him'? Joan wouldn't have used those words exactly, but she put them out of mind. "Are you still angry about what he did? Even with his apologies, you have the right to be."

"It's not that either," Penelope said listlessly. She shut her eyes. "When I got home last night, I kept thinking about what would have happened if I hadn't found that audio bug, what I would have done. And I realized that I would have..." she couldn't continue.

Joan thought she understood. She reached a hand out to gently touch her friend on the shoulder. "Edward wouldn't have wanted you to risk your safety for his. He'd understand that you wouldn't have come for him."

Penelope opened her eyes then, and Joan saw the unshed tears for herself. "No Joan," she said. "I would have. If I hadn't found that bug, I would have handed myself over to Bane, I would have done anything I needed to do to keep him safe."

Joan dropped her hand in shock. This wasn't guilt. This was heartbreak. "Penelope," she said cautiously. "Are you telling me that you love him?"

Penelope said nothing, but the look on her face told Joan everything she needed to know. "There must have been a moment, where I could have stopped this. But I missed it..." She shook her head. "It doesn't matter," she said brusquely, wiping her eyes. "We can't be together. We can't allow ourselves to be compromised or used against each other again. I need to get this under control. When I do, when it's safe, I'll reach out to him again." 

Joan said nothing, but she knew that if Penelope was only now thinking this, that it was far too late. All she could do was stand back and hope for the best.

 

CASE CLOSED

Chapter Text

 

Gotham City Shelter, 12:15 pm

Within twelve hours of Bane's capture, the news had spread like wildfire not just to the citizens of Gotham City proper, but to the denizens of the criminal underworld of Gotham. While Edward and Penelope had their painful goodbye in his apartment, across town, Selina Kyle, Harley Quinn, and Pamela Isley were watching Summer Gleeson's updated report. "While there has been no comment from either Commissioner Gordon or Edward Nigma regarding the latter's involvement in Bane's capture, GCNN has recently learned that not only was Nigma seen leaving Krank Toy Factory, that Batman was seen departing as well. According to our eyewitness, Batman appeared to be injured, which raises even more questions about how Bane was captured, and just what part Nigma played in the whole affair. Until Nigma makes a statement, however, it appears that this is a riddle that may go unanswered. This is Summer Gleeson, for GCNN."

Selina kept her expression as neutral as she could. Bruce had called her early that morning and informed her of what had taken place inside Krank Toy Factory. While a part of her wanted to slap Eddie into oblivion for being so damn reckless, there was another part of her that was proud of him. He'd actually, for a few minutes at least, got over his hatred of Bruce to save him and Doc from Bane. It was a step in the right direction for him. That wasn't a thought she dared voice out loud, however. Her green eyes darted to her housemates. Harley was sitting in the middle of the sofa next to Selina, her knees hugged to her chest and her eyes downcast, still put out by her argument with Eddie yesterday. Pam was standing to the right of the sofa, her gaze cool and calculating. When the newscast cut to a commercial break, she let out a huff. "Nigma risking his life to help Batman? Now I've seen everything." She glanced over to Selina. "Has Nigma been making amends with Batman, Selina? Should we be worried?"

Before Selina could answer, Harley spoke up in a small voice. "He didn't do it for B-Man, Red. He did it for her." The venom with which she spoke startled Selina a bit and even Pam looked taken aback.

"Her?" Pam repeated.

"Dr. Young," Harley clarified. "Eddie was keepin' her in his place to protect her from Bane! She probably got herself captured and he had to go save her!" It was the opposite, but it wasn't like Selina could tell Harley and Pam that. Harley lifted her head and glared at Selina. "How come you didn't tell us that she was hangin' around Eddie!?"

Selina shrugged. "It wasn't my place to tell you, Harley. It's up to Eddie to decide how much of his private life he wants to share with you."

This answer did not please Harley. She sat up and leaned back against the sofa, crossing her arms across her chest like a sullen teenager. "Of all the girls in all the world! Why'd it have to be that Ice Queen!? Just who does she think she is, coming in and tryin' to take Jonny's place!?"

"Crane's worm food, Harley," Pam pointed out bluntly. "I doubt he cares who's been warming Nigma's bed lately."

Harley jut her lower lip out. "Still! It's all wrong! If Jonny were here-"

"But he's not, Harley," Selina cut in. "Crane's gone, and he's not coming back. Even if you don't personally care for Dr. Young, Eddie does. Doesn't he deserve to be happy?"

From the soft look on her face, Selina thought that she might have gotten through to Harley. Her hopes were dashed when her friend's face darkened. "But she won't make him happy, Kitty! She's gonna try to change him into somethin' he ain't! It'd be different if it were you, but someone like her...it's just wrong!"

"Harley," Pam asked. "Are you love with Nigma?"

Harley pulled a face at her friend. "What!? No! No way! He's like a little brother to me! Well, older brother, technically, but you know what I mean!"

"Well then, if you aren't in love with Nigma, what do you care about who he may or may not be in love with? How does that help us deal with him helping Batman?"

"Because!" Harley shouted, throwing her hands up. "She's gonna want Eddie to change for her! To be more like a good guy! She's gonna take him away from us! She's already got her hooks in him! You should have heard what he said to me yesterday, Red! We've been friends for years, and the second little Miss Young snapped her fingers, he was actin' like he'd pick her over me!"

So that was what this was about. Harley got a taste of what she dished out to others whenever she went running back to Joker and she didn't like it. "Harley," Selina said. "Do you think that she, or anyone, can get Eddie to do something he doesn't want to do?" Harley's face fell. Of course, she knew that Selina thought. It was easier for her to make Doc a scapegoat than to admit that Eddie might be outgrowing her or perhaps, just perhaps, that she and Eddie had never really been that close, to begin with. "You can still salvage some kind of relationship with him, Harley," she said gently. "It just can't be what it used to be."

Harley's eyes narrowed. "Not as long as she's around, we can't. Eddie doesn't trust me anymore, because of her. He helped B-Man because of her! What else is he gonna do? What else is he keepin' from us?" She looked at Selina with a question in her eyes. "Kitty, what else is goin' on with Eddie?"

Selina thought of the business with Hugo Strange, of Ellen. Maybe she should have told Harley about what happened with Tetch last year while it was still happening, instead of waiting until it was over. Maybe if she had...what was done was done. Eddie had made his feelings about what he wanted Harley to know clear. "I'm sorry Harley," she said. "But I have to respect Eddie's wishes."

Harley glared at her. "So you don't trust me either. Great!" Harley got off the couch and stomped off to the front door. "Don't wait up," she snarled before slamming the door behind her. Selina sighed and turned her attention back to the TV. Harley just needed time to get over it.

"She does have a point about one thing," she heard Pam say. Selina looked up to see that Pam was fixing her with a calculating look. "Don't get me wrong, if Nigma is head over heels in love with Dr. Young, that's her misfortune. But it's obvious that there are things about Nigma that you're keeping from us." She gestured back to the screen, where two talking heads were debating what Eddie's involvement in Bane's capture meant. "So I'll ask you right now: is there anything going on with Nigma that we need to worry about?"

"No," Selina said effortlessly. "Just personal stuff. It's nothing that concerns you."

Pam nodded but didn't look convinced. "And if there was, would you tell us?"

Selina narrowed her own eyes. "That depends on what you would do with that information, Pam."

Pam turned her gaze back to the TV. "If Nigma, because of love, because of ego, or because of whatever asinine reason he chooses in any way becomes a threat to us, I will get rid of him, Selina. Either I will or someone else will. And if you try to protect him, you'll get caught in the crossfire."

"Nine lives, remember?" Selina sassed. Pam rolled her eyes and walked off to tend to her plants. Now that she was alone, Selina focused on the TV, and the picture the news report had chosen of Eddie. If Pam was thinking this, then there was no doubt in Selina's mind that the other Rogues were too. Her eyes narrowed as she remembered her encounter with Harvey last year. This little escapade was just further ammo for him to distrust and plot against Eddie. Selina sighed. Eddie had done the right thing, no question, but he had no idea just what kind of trouble he'd invited on himself.


 

Iceberg Lounge, 5:58 pm

Much like Selina, Oswald had spent a good portion of his day watching the news coverage from his private office in the Iceberg Lounge. Only, his feelings about the whole affair were much less ambiguous. "Edward my boy," he sighed. "What in God's name have you done?" He shook his head. This was going to be a nightmare to deal with. From the beginning of Edward's reformation, and Oswald's association with him, he'd been fending off accusations from the rest of their costumed brethren that Edward was a sell-out, a double-crosser, a traitor, and that it was only a matter of time before he'd turn on them. Oswald had been able to quiet most of them by pointing out that although Edward was reformed, it wasn't as if he was acting against them, or assisting Batman. It had become much more difficult to make those arguments with everything Edward had done over the past year. Now? Helping Batman capture Bane, one of the most formidable men on the planet? What had possessed Edward to do such a thing? It was tantamount to an open declaration of war on the rest of the Rogues. It would be almost impossible to convince them that Edward wasn't in league with Batman now. 

A knocking at his door brought him out of his thoughts. "Sir?"

It was Marco, one of his managers. "Come in," Oswald said.

The solid oak door opened and Marco appeared, his usually composed face pale and sweaty. "They're here, Mr. Cobblepot."

Oswald turned his gaze upwards before pushing his chair back and getting up from the desk. After the news hit, he'd been inundated with calls from all sides of his social circle. The nefarious side had demanded a meeting. Oswald took one last look at the TV hung up on his wall before he turned it off and followed Marco out to the restaurant.

It was 6:00, normally the peak dinner hours for the Lounge, but Oswald had deemed it necessary to close the restaurant down for the evening. There were a few brave souls at the bar, who were allowed more for appearances, but otherwise, the place was devoid of regular customers. A small group of people was gathered at Oswald's table, under the great glass chandelier in the middle of the restaurant. Oswald knew many of the faces personally. Drury Walker. Garfield Lynns. Arthur Brown. And of course, Harvey Dent. Dent was seated in a plush chair in the middle of the assembled group, flanked on both sides by henchmen of his, whom Oswald assumed were armed. Several of Oswald's guard was waiting for him as he approached the table. He took a seat in his great red plush chair, directly facing Harvey and cleared his throat. "Good evening, gentlemen. It's your meeting."

Brown opened his mouth to say something only to be immediately cut off by Harvey with a harsh "Have you been watching the news, Oswald?"

Harvey was already agitated. That wasn't a good sign. "I have."

"Then you know why we're here." Both sides of Harvey's face were wrathful. "We warned you. We knew from the beginning it was only a matter of time until Nigma turned on us. And now he has."

"Now Harvey," Oswald said. "We don't know what exactly Edward's motives were-"

"We don't care why he did it!" Harvey snarled, pounding his fist on the table. "The important thing is that he did it! He helped Batman capture Bane! That doesn't bother you!?"

This time, Brown interjected. "Bane's one of the most powerful people on the planet, and Nigma survived taking him on! If he could go up against Bane and live, let alone help beat him, what else can he do and who else can he do that to!?"

Oswald raised a hand to calm Brown. "We have had this discussion several times since Edward started his reformation, Arthur, and I will repeat myself yet again. As long as you leave him to his own devices, he'll leave you alone. I'm quite certain Edward didn't help Batman out of the goodness of his own heart. Bane must have provoked him, somehow."

"It's not just about Bane, Oswald," Harvey cut back in. "In the last year, Nigma sent Tetch and Goodman back to Arkham. We all know he did. We've all heard the rumors about how he was the one who led Batman to Croc. And now he helps Batman with Bane? That's starting to look like a pattern to us, Oswald. Who's next? Brown? Lynns?" He narrowed his good eyes and clenched his fist even tighter. "Us? We've let him have free reign for too long, and look what's happened! We've got to stop him now before he decides to come after us!"

Oswald took a long, hard look at Harvey and the others assembled at the table. Other than Brown, none of the others had said a word, but Oswald had the sense that they agreed with Harvey. He lit his cigarette and took a long puff while formulating his response. "I will speak to Edward regarding this matter. In return, I ask that you not approach him. Any of you. If you do, you'll all but guarantee he'll go running to Batman."

"We've left him alone for two years and he's gone running to Batman!" Harvey shouted, pushing himself out of his seat. "If you won't handle this, Cobblepot, then we will! And if you protect him-"

At that threat, Oswald snapped his fingers. In an instant, his bodyguards drew their weapons on the assembled Rogues. "You'll what, Harvey?" Oswald asked. "May I remind you, gentlemen, that due to my connections with high society, I have so far been able to avoid the Mayor's crackdown on our ilk? If you want weapons, you have to come to me. If you want to replace your henchmen that have been swept up in the dragnet, you have to come to me. If you want to fence your ill-gotten gains, you have to come to me." He narrowed his eyes and took another puff of smoke. "If any of you attack Edward Nigma, then consider the doors to the Iceberg Lounge closed to you. Permanently." Walker, Lynns, and Brown looked to each other, then to Harvey. Harvey continued to glare back at Oswald, then growled, stomping away towards the table to the front entrance, closely trailed by his henchmen. 

When he got to the door, he turned and pointed at Oswald. "We told Kyle this last year and now we're telling you, Oswald," he ground out. "Nigma's not your friend. He will sell you out in an instant. And when he does, you'll wish you listened to us!" Harvey turned on his heel and exited the club, followed by his men. 

Oswald turned his attention to Brown, Walker, and Lynns. "If there's nothing else, gentlemen, then this meeting is adjourned. Good evening." The three got the message as they vacated the table and followed Harvey out of the Lounge. Only when the last man had left did Oswald put down his cigarette holder and sigh. "Marco," he called out. "Get me a glass of the Bordeaux. Everyone else, you may stand down."

"Right away, Mr. Cobblepot," he heard Marco respond. Oswald shut his eyes and pinched the bridge of his long nose. He would need to talk to Edward as soon as possible. One more incident like this and not even the threat of barring them from the Iceberg Lounge would be enough to hold the other Rogues back. More likely, they would make a truce with White, or even Sionis. If that happened...well, it didn't bear thinking about. Marco returned with the bottle of wine and glass not a minute too soon. Oswald could feel a headache coming on.

No sooner did Marco finish pouring his wine did Harley Quinn burst in, her lower lip trembling. "Ozzie!" the woman wailed. "It's Eddie!"

Edward, what in God's name have you done? Oswald let out another sigh. "Marco, fetch me another glass." He gestured for Harley to take a seat at the table. "Come here, my dear. Tell me what's wrong." 

Unknown to Oswald, one of the brave souls seated at the bar was paying close attention to his meeting with the other Rogues and now his sit down with Harley. He was a tall, handsome man with a strong jaw and red hair. He listened as Harley narrated her tale of woe and Edward Nigma's new romantic interest. The man smirked, paid his tab, and walked out of the Iceberg Lounge without anyone being the wiser.


 

Arkham Asylum, 9:59 pm

In all of Hugo Strange's schemes, in every scenario he had concocted, every possible outcome he had foreseen, he had never planned for this. He almost hadn't believed it when Ward called him, frantic about Nigma's nocturnal visit. Schrader had confirmed Bane's capture and Young's return to GCPD. That Nigma would involve himself was planned for. That Batman would be the one to capture Bane was expected. That the two of them would work together...it was inconceivable. As Strange watched the news unfold throughout the day, he faced a sickening realization. He had, from the very beginning of this adventure, underestimated what Edward Nigma was capable of. For the second time in six months, he'd had his assumptions of the man disproved, and it had cost him dearly. As night fell over Gotham City, he found himself reviewing Nigma's old, out of date now, Arkham patient file. 'Narcissism, a compulsive desire to prove his intellect, and a predilection for riddles.' A year ago, he had been convinced that this profile had been accurate, that he could use it to break Nigma. Nigma, however, was possibly evolving beyond it. He was genuinely growing. He seemed to be resisting his compulsions, moving past his predilections. As for the narcissism...given his willingness to intervene on behalf of Young and his daughter, had that diagnosis ever been accurate? Had Strange simply taken that as a given and never bothered to examine the question further? He had known the Riddler's psychology inside and out once. How much did he know about Edward Nigma? For the first time since he had embarked on his grand plan, Strange found himself with no answers.

He pulled his phone out of his desk drawer when he heard it ring. It was well past 10:00 now. He'd already spoken with the Mayor, Ward, and Schrader. There was only one person left to inform. Strange answered the phone as collected as he could. "Good evening, Master."

"I've seen the news reports," his Master said in a clipped tone. "Tell me everything that transpired, now."

Strange narrated the events to his Master. When he finished, his Master said nothing, much like when he'd been informed of the incident in April. "Everything is still going according to plan," Strange tried to assure him. "I have begun recruiting volunteers to help carry out Stage Two of our plan. We have successfully weakened the criminal element in Gotham City. We are close to re-capturing Harvey Dent and I have a plan to break up Kyle's group-"

"One year ago," his Master cut in. "You assured me that Edward Nigma was a gadfly. That he posed no threat to our plans, and that he would be back in Arkham before the year was out." His Master's tone grew angry. "This is the second time in six months that he's played a part in undermining you, and from what I can see, he is no closer to being re-committed now than he was then. On the contrary, he appears to be thriving."

Strange swallowed. "I...perhaps have been lax in dealing with the man. I assure you, I will get the situation under control-"

"Will you?" his Master questioned. "He's managed to resist everything you've thrown at him so far. If you cannot handle someone as inconsequential as Edward Nigma, how can you hope to take the Detective's place at my side?"

Strange clung tightly to the phone. "I will, Master. I will. Men like Nigma cannot change, despite all of his attempts. Somewhere inside of him, there is still the man he was before the coma. I will find that man and expose him for all of Gotham to see. He will not trouble us again."

"See that you do. I don't need to tell you that the longer Nigma remains reformed, the more of a problem he poses. He and the Detective cannot be allowed to reconcile."

"Of course, Master," Strange said. "They will not. I guarantee it." When the phone call disconnected, his eyes darted to the panel where the Batsuit was located. He could not afford to second-guess himself or to doubt, not with all that was at stake. He would not be denied his rightful place by anyone, not by Wayne, not by Young, and not by Nigma. "Men like you can never truly change, Edward Nigma," he murmured. "You simply need a reminder."


 

Forest Lawn Cemetary, 10:30 pm

At that moment, across the bay, in the Northeast section of Gotham Island, in a two-hundred-year-old cemetery, something was happening that no one, not Edward Nigma, not Bruce Wayne, not even Hugo Strange had any inkling of. Thomas Elliot, a former surgeon and childhood friend of Bruce Wayne, was returning to the Elliot family mausoleum from his fact-finding trip to the Iceberg Lounge. Once, the Elliot family had been a wealthy, regarded family at the top of Gotham's social elite, rivaled by only the Waynes and the Cobblepots. Now, all that remained was the family mausoleum, and Thomas Elliot himself.

Or as he was now known by hero and villain alike in Gotham, Hush.

It had been nearly four years since he and Nigma had conspired to destroy Bruce Wayne. Look at what those years had done to them. Nigma was a reformed private detective, with his face in the news every few months for some escapade or another. Elliot on the other hand? After another plot against Bruce, he'd lost his family home, and his fortune thanks to that whore Selina Kyle. All he had left was the Elliot family mausoleum, which had served as a home base while he'd been lying low these last few years. He'd been miserably making a living serving as a back alley surgeon for any crook with enough money, while his former partner in crime was living it up in the open. It didn't seem fair.

Oh well. Elliot would see his star rise again soon, now that he had an ace in the hole. 

Carrying a flashlight in one hand, Elliot approached the largest tomb in the mausoleum, knowing his path by heart. He placed the flashlight down long enough to slide the lid over, uncovering a staircase that led to an underground chamber below. Picking up the flashlight, Elliot descended the narrow steps, closing the lid behind him. Two centuries ago, the land upon which the mausoleum had been built had hidden catacombs underneath it. The corpses had long since been moved and reburied, but the tunnels and chambers remained, serving Elliot's purposes brilliantly. He took the first fork to the right and walked an additional fifty feet until he could see the light from the portable generators he had set up. The first chamber to his left served as his room. The second one, his makeshift operating theater. The chambers to his right, his patients' rooms. At any given time, he may have two or three, lying low and recovering here for a nominal fee. The chamber to the far right though had a long-term resident. Elliot smiled as he approached his patient's room. Despite the limited tools with which he had to work, he considered this patient to be his greatest success story. He'd practically brought him back from the dead after fishing his broken body out of the Gotham Bay two years earlier. It had been touch and go for the first six months, but the Patient was just too stubborn and spiteful to die. The next year had been spent in physiotherapy and reconstructive surgery, as best as he could manage given his limited resources. The results were...well if he'd been any other patient, horrifying, but given his tastes, almost ideal. Normally, he'd charge well into the hundreds of thousands for the work he had put it, but given their history, Elliot had been willing to waive his fee.

Instead, they had agreed that when the time came, they would work together to bring down their common enemy. The Patient had always been vague about when the proper time to act was but perhaps after he'd heard what Elliot had learned tonight, it would move the time table up. 

"Knock knock," Elliot called out in front of the curtain set up in front of the chamber. "Are you busy?" That was a rhetorical question. Morning, noon, and night, the Patient was busy, scribbling down formulas as best he could given his mangled hands, or testing his work on an unfortunate soul who couldn't pay Elliot's fee.

"What do you want, Thomas?" A voice called out from behind the curtain. Once, it had been a smooth drawl, deceptively soothing. Now, after the damage inflicted on the vocal cords during the attack, it had become harsh and guttural. 

"I was at the Iceberg Lounge tonight. I learned some things that may interest you. May I come in?"

There was a pause before the Patient spoke again. "If you insist," he finally said. "But make it quick."

Elliot pushed aside the curtain and stepped into the chamber. As he expected, the Patient was sitting at an old desk Elliot had procured for him, off in the corner of the chamber, surrounded by glass vials and furiously scribbling away. The room was barely illuminated by a lone light bulb hanging from the ceiling. There was a tray of food Elliot had left for him before he'd departed that evening on the Patient's cot, still untouched. "Now now," he chided. "We've talked about eating, Professor."

The Patient did not look up from his notes. "You said that you had news?"

Elliot rubbed his chin. Experience had shown that Edward Nigma was a...dangerous topic to bring up. "It's about Eddie."

The Patient paused in his scribblings for a moment. "I have warned you," he said, low and dangerous. "Countless times not to approach him until I give the word-"

"And I haven't," Elliot said, raising his hands in supplication. "He's made the news again. It was the talk of all the Rogues at the Lounge tonight."

The Patient went back to scribbling. "And just what has the damn fool done this time?" he asked indifferently.

"He helped Batman capture Bane."

The Patient stopped his work again, but he still did not look at Elliot. "What?" he asked softly. He shook his head. "That's ridiculous," he said louder. "Edward does not quarrel with Bane. Why would he help Batman with him?"

Elliot smirked. Now for the coup de grace. "Well, according to Quinn, he did it for a girl." As an added twist of the knife, Elliot continued with "Seems like Eddie's moved on, Professor."

The only sound heard in the chamber after that was the sound of the pen the Patient had been holding hitting the stone floor. "No," the Patient murmured, in a tone of voice Elliot hadn't heard in years. "No, he wouldn't..." the Patient's thin shoulders bunched up and Elliot could just make out his gnarled hands gripping the sides of the desk. "And just who is this girl," he snarled out, "That Edward has betrayed him for?"

This was working out exactly as Elliot had hoped it would. "Penelope Young," he said. "From what I heard, she used to work at Arkham." At those words, the Patient sat straight up in his chair. He seemed surprised. Elliot raised an eyebrow. "Did you know her?"

"She was my student," the Patient whispered so low Elliot could barely hear. "My best student...and now she and Edward both-" his shoulders bunched up again. "Leave," he said in a calm voice.

Elliot furrowed his brow. "Doesn't this change our plans? Shouldn't we talk-"

"When I am ready, I will inform you," the Patient said his tone final. "Now leave. I have work to do."

Elliot frowned but did as the Patient requested. He withdrew from the chamber, closing the curtain behind him. His mood darkened as he walked back to his room. If this wasn't enough to spur him on, what would? He had just drawn the curtain to his room when he heard an angry howl and the sound of breaking glass.

Elliot smiled. All according to plan.

 

Chapter Text

July 27th, 8:00 pm

 

19 minutes, 25 seconds. 26, 27, 28, 29...Ellen checked her watch in between pants as she jogged down the streets of her neighborhood. Her 'homework' from Red Hood for the week was to beat her old record of circling her neighborhood streets and alleys. Her old record stood at 30 minutes and she was about two-thirds of the way done. No problem. Ellen regulated her breathing, ignoring the burn in her sides as she cut through an alley, avoiding obstacles. To distract herself, she thought about her visit with her father the day before. She frowned. He'd acted like Doc leaving the way she did didn't bother him, but Ellen could tell by how quiet he was that it did. He'd only told her that she'd been staying with him because of Bane being back in town and a rough outline of what had happened. Ahead of her, Ellen caught sight of a chainlink fence and crouched as she ran up to it, using her momentum to jump up to half the length of the fence and climbing over it. Dumbass Old Man, she thought as she landed and kept jogging. What the Hell was he thinking, going after Bane by himself? No wonder Doc was pissed at him. She was too, just a bit. Another part of her remembered how lonely her father looked when he dropped her off at home last night and felt pity. What the Hell had he and Doc talked about? She knew they weren't dating. Did he make a move and she turned him down? Or was it the other way around? Whatever it was, Ellen's father wasn't talking, and she somehow knew that Doc wouldn't say a word either. Stupid frickin' adults, making things more complicated than they needed to be.

Ellen was about to come out of the alley and make a right turn onto Market Street when a familiar motorcycle appeared in front of her. She came to a stop, caught her breath and put her hands on her hips. "What are you doing here?"

"Nice to see you too, Kiddo," Red Hood said. He reached into his bag and tossed her a helmet. "Get on. We need to talk."

Ellen caught the helmet and bit her bottom lip. Gramma would be back from work in two hours, and while she accepted Ellen going out on runs as a way to 'work out tensions' blah, blah, blah, she would still pitch a fit if she got home before Ellen did. "Ok," Ellen said, putting her helmet on and sitting behind Red Hood on the bike. "My Gramma gets home at 10:00."

"Not a problem," Red Hood said, revving the bike. In a second, they were riding down the street. Red Hood was uncharacteristically quiet as they went down the by now familiar path to his hideout. This made Ellen nervous. She wished she could see his facial expression behind that red helmet, but he didn't seem to be angry with her at least. She hadn't done anything to make him mad, had she? They took the last turn down an alley and pulled up behind the apartment complex where Ellen did her training. He switched off the bike and hopped off, Ellen following him to the entrance of the building. 

"So what's up?" Ellen asked when they entered. "Why do you need to talk to me?" She bit her lip again. "What did I do?"

"You didn't do anything Kiddo," Red Hood said, leading her down the stairs to his basement. "It's about what your Dad did."

Ellen paused for a moment before catching up to Red Hood. "What? You friends with Bane or something?"

At that, Red Hood let out a dry laugh. "No, not at all, but what he did makes our situation more complicated." When the pair reached the basement door, he abruptly stopped, then turned to face Ellen. "You still want to call yourself 'Enigma'?"

Ellen raised an eyebrow. "Yeah," she said. "Why wouldn't I?"

"Rumor on the street is that the Rogues are pissed at your Dad for helping Batman. A couple of them went to the Iceberg Lounge to ask Cobblepot to 'take care' of Eddie."

Ellen clenched her fists. "That fat fuck better not have-"

"He didn't," Red Hood assured her. "Not yet at least. Fact is though, your Dad's making a new reputation for himself in the Underworld, and not a good one."

"People are gonna hate Dad no matter what he does," Ellen seethed, crossing her arms. "He's a crook, people hate him. He's not a crook, people still hate him."

"I don't disagree, but at least the people who hated your Dad for being a crook aren't the kind of people who would go after kids. If the Rogues can't get their hands on your Dad himself, they won't hesitate to go after people connected to him to send a message. You understand that?"

Ellen felt her blood run cold at the thought of the Rogues coming after her, coming after her Gramma, her friends, or Doc. Wasn't that why she was doing this though? To be able to protect herself and other people from the likes of Bolton and the Rogues? "I understand," she said. "But I'm Enigma, the Riddler's daughter. I'm not ashamed of that."

Red Hood gave her a short nod. "Good girl. Alright then. Tonight, we're going to start you on the next part of your training."

He unlocked the basement door finally and opened it, allowing Ellen to enter. Ellen's eyes widened in surprise when she saw the interior of the basement. Red Hood had done a bit of remodeling since she'd been here last. In the center of the room, there was a new practice dummy set up. There were pieces of ringed paper set up over the dummy's head and chest, target paper like she'd seen in cop shows. In an instant, Ellen realized what the targets were for. She whipped her head around to face Red Hood. "You're gonna teach me how to shoot, aren't you?"

"You got it," he answered, pulling a pistol off of his belt. He put the safety on the gun before he held it out to Ellen. "Go ahead, Kiddo. Take it."

Ellen hesitated for a moment before she took the pistol from Red Hood's outstretched hand. The only kind of guns she'd ever held before were cheap little plastic squirt guns and arcade game guns. The metal pistol felt heavier in her hands than she expected it would. For a minute or so, all she did was stare at it. She'd joked with her Dad about Aunt Nina and Deirdre teaching her to shoot, but it had always been a joke. This though? This was reality. She wondered just how many people Red Hood had killed with this thing. She looked back up and the words were out of her mouth before she could think them through. "You're gonna teach me how to kill people."

Red Hood cocked his head a bit. "I already have been," he said bluntly. "All those fighting moves I've been showing you? Those can kill people if you want them to." Ellen gulped. "Like I told you when we started this," he continued. "I'm giving you the tools you need to be able to do our kind of work. Whether you kill people with them or not, that's your call, and I'll never force you to kill anyone. In our line of work though, there will be times where it's you or them, and it damn sure isn't going to be you. No kids are going to die on my watch." Obviously, he was speaking from experience, but the last words he spoke seemed more raw, more personal. She didn't have time to ask him about it before he took step towards her. "You listen to me right now, Kiddo," he said. "If you are ever in a situation where you pull a gun, you don't hesitate. You shoot to kill. If you show any sign of weakness, or reluctance, the bad guys will take your gun away and kill you with it. You understand?" Ellen nodded, almost frightened by his words and the tone he used. Red Hood took a step back. "Just so we're clear. You ready for this?"

Ellen took a look back down at the gun. This was real. She was going to learn how to shoot and kill someone. Was she ready for this? Could she do this? She thought of her Gramma, and how horrified she'd be at the idea of her using a gun. She thought of her Dad, and how pissed he'd be that she was following him down this road. Then she thought of Bolton and his smug smirk. She thought of Marisol, who was far away in Puerto Rico because of him and his bosses. She thought of Miguel, who had died alone trying to save his sister and his patients. She thought of her Dad again, and about how he needed someone to watch his back. She thought of herself, and how she was sick of being powerless and on the sidelines. She looked back up at Red Hood and nodded. "I'm ready. Let's do this."


 

10:30 pm

 

Penelope had spent all of that Monday in her apartment getting caught up on paperwork and research that she'd been neglecting. At least, she'd tried. She'd tried so hard to push her feelings down, to block them out by concentrating on her work, until finally she couldn't anymore. She was sitting in her Ottoman chair now writing her thoughts in her journal. I never meant for this to happen. I never even intended to be his friend. What did Selina warn me about last year, during the Bierko case? Once he gets under your skin, he never leaves? He's in now, and I don't think he's going to leave. I don't know that I want him to. I've had to stop myself so many times from calling him, but as I told Joan, we can't let ourselves become compromised. If Strange thinks he can use us against each other, he won't hesitate, and there's Ellen to consider as well. I can't see him until I get this under control. I can't be with him. I can't be with him, even though I am slowly, but surely coming to terms with the fact that...Penelope stopped for a moment to collect herself, then crossed out the last two sentences she'd written before continuing. She was a rational woman of science. She valued cold reason and logic above everything else. How had this happened to her? How had Edward caused her to behave like this? She archly wondered for a moment if this was what Professor Crane had thought the moment he realized that he was in-no. No, this was a different situation. She would never be Professor Crane, and what had existed between him and Edward...she could never have that. She needed to put those thoughts behind her, get back to her work. That was how she'd worked through her problems in the past, and that was what she needed to do now.

She glanced back down at her journal and began to write again. I was his doctor-even though that had been the better part of four years ago by now, and the idea that she had any undue power over him was ludicrous even back then. He is a former criminal-and if that truly bothered her, she would never have approached him about Strange in the first place. He said he didn't love me-no. That wasn't what he'd said at all. He'd said that he didn't know if he loved her or not. Not that he didn't, or couldn't love her. He said himself that he wasn't ready for another relationship. That's all that needs to be said. 'But what about you, Penelope?' a voice spoke in her head, sounding like Joan and her mother. 'What do you want? What do you feel? Do you love him?'

"It doesn't matter," she whispered to herself. "It can't happen."

A rustling noise from her window caught her attention and her head snapped up, only for her to almost jump out of her chair at the sight of a black shadow entering her living room. Her heart rate returned to normal when she recognized Batman. "Dr. Young," he said softly. "I need to speak with you."

Penelope put her journal down on her coffee table and stood up. "I've already met with Commissioner Gordon regarding the incident with Bane," she said in a calm, measured voice. "Was there something else? Do you have any additional information?"

Batman took a slow step towards her. "No," he said. He seemed to mull over his next words. "I'm here about your partnership with Edward Nigma."

Penelope's heart clenched a bit at hearing Edward's name before the implications of what the vigilante said reached her. He knew about her and Edward's investigation-of course he knew. Had Commissioner Gordon told him or-realization set in. "That bug you planted in my car," she said, piecing it together. "That had nothing to do with the TITAN. That was so you could keep tabs on Edward." Anger began to flood her veins. "I was a pawn."

Batman didn't even bother to deny it. "I've been aware that the two of you were investigating Hugo Strange and Mayor Sharp for some time. I also know that you're working with Joan Leland, Joe Bryant, and Bruce Wayne to reform Arkham Asylum. I needed to know what information you two were sharing."

"I see," Penelope said, crossing her arms. "I suppose now that I found your bug, you need another way to eavesdrop on Edward. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I've ended my partnership with him for the time being. I don't know when I'll be seeing him again." Rationally, she knew she was being overly harsh on the man who had come to their rescue the night before, but the fact was, he had been using her against Edward, just as she feared Strange would. He'd proven why she was right to distance herself from Edward, and that made her feel worse.

When Batman spoke again, though, he didn't sound offended by her manner. Instead, he nodded. "That's for the best," he said, and something about the way he said it cut her to the quick. "This business with Strange is only going to get more dangerous. He had no right to get you involved-"

She would not listen to this attack on Edward. Not ever again. "He didn't!" Penelope shouted. "I don't know how many more times I need to say this! I was the one who approached him! I was the one who chose to be involved! He's the one who gave me a way out after what happened with Goodman! I am not some hapless fool who was manipulated into a situation I didn't understand! I deserve more respect than that!"

Batman stood still, not even flinching in the face of her anger. "I didn't mean to disrespect you, Dr. Young," he spoke softly as if he was trying to soothe her. "But we both know how reckless and obsessive Edward can be. This last incident is proof of that. He's going to cause even more trouble with Strange if he keeps investigating. He needs to stop."

"'He's going to cause more trouble,'" Penelope repeated. "That's an interesting choice of words. Tell me, are you genuinely concerned for Edward's well being?"

She couldn't properly gauge his facial expression due to the cowl, but Penelope could detect Batman's jaw clench. "I wouldn't be here tonight if I wasn't."

"Really?" Penelope asked. "Going around him to talk to me, planting a bug in my car to eavesdrop on our conversations, keeping him at arm's length. This isn't about your concern for his well being. This is about your mistrust, your need to control the situation. This is about the fact that you can't bring yourself to believe that he isn't about to relapse." Penelope sighed. "I know that due to your history, you are about the last person on Earth who will ever be able to trust Edward Nigma, and I know that he is as suspicious of you as you are of him. But hasn't it occurred to you, just once, that this mutual resentment is playing right into Strange's hands?"

Batman said nothing and somehow Penelope knew that she had struck home. Finally, he spoke. "I didn't know that you'd already ended your partnership," he admitted. "I didn't intend to come here and add to your pain. I just need you to understand what's potentially at stake."

It was as close to an apology one could expect from the Dark Knight. Penelope nodded. "I'm fully aware. I told Jim Gordon this yesterday, and now I'll tell you. If Edward truly does become a danger to himself or others, I will be the first to take action, but I will never inform on him. Not to GCPD and not to you."

Batman stared at her for another long moment, then without a word, walked back to her open window and exited her apartment. Penelope took a step back, all but collapsing into her Ottoman chair. With a shaky hand, she picked up her pen and returned to her writing. Batman's visit tonight confirms that I made the right call to distance myself from Edward for the time being. I can't allow myself to become a weapon to be used against him. I have to do what's right for us, even though it hurts. Even though-Penelope shut her eyes in an attempt to keep the tears at bay. Even though I am coming to terms with the fact that my feelings for Edward run deeper than friendship.


 

 11:00 pm

 

Edward really didn't want to go out to the Iceberg Lounge tonight. Quite frankly, after the chewing out he got over the phone from Nina, Deirdre, and Selina earlier that day, he'd had enough human interaction to last him a while. Oswald had insisted, however, that what he wanted to say was better said in person. And so, here Edward was, stepping through the entrance and ignoring the Maitre D' as he guided him towards Oswald's table. The sooner he could get this over with and go back to his apartment to spend another restless night on his sofa because he still couldn't bear to sleep where she'd been, the better.

What struck him when he entered the Iceberg Lounge's restaurant was how empty it was. Even on slower nights, people patronized the Lounge well into the wee small hours of the morning. Tonight, the room was empty, save for a handful of waiters that Edward could see cleaning the tables. And of course, Oswald, sitting at his usual table, his rotund figure unmistakable even in the dimmed lights. As Edward drew closer, he noticed that his grip on his cane had tightened. Oswald was his friend and he trusted him, but something about this set-up felt...well, like a set-up. Some old instinct was warning him to watch out for an ambush. When he reached the table and took his seat opposite Oswald, his friend had nothing but a smile on his face. "Well, well," he drawled, lighting a cigarette. "Here's our man of the hour."

Edward rolled his eyes. "Oh God, not you too, Ozzie. I've had enough scoldings over the past few days to last me a lifetime, thank you very much."

Oswald arched an eyebrow. "Forgive me, Edward, but I'm a bit surprised. I would have thought given what you accomplished, that you would be in higher spirits."

What he'd accomplished. He'd helped capture Bane, yes, but he'd lost Penny. Edward shut his eyes, reliving the memory of their last conversation. He didn't know if he loved her, and he knew he wasn't ready for a relationship, but when she left, it felt like she'd taken a part of him with her. "I've had a very rough few days, Oswald."

Oswald hummed and let out a puff of smoke. "I'm sure. Marco! Fetch me and Mr. Nigma some liquid libation. I have a new bottle of Merlot-"

"If I'm going to tell the whole story, I'm going to need something stronger," Edward sighed, slumping his shoulders. He'd rather not tell the story at all, but Oswald at least wouldn't judge him too badly.

Oswald nodded. "Very well. Marco, the Merlot for me, whiskey for Mr. Nigma."

A half-hour, and half a dozen shots later, Edward had finished his tale. "...She said she needed to take a step back, and then she left me," he said, picking up his shot glass. He downed the shot in seconds, barely noticing the burn in his throat. "Not that I blame her, of course." He put his shot glass down and shook his head dolefully. The liquor loosened his tongue and unleashed the self-loathing that had been present since his ill-fated meeting with Harley. "I couldn't have handled that whole situation any worse if I tried."

"There, there," Oswald said, puffing away at his cigarette. "I'm sure it's for the best." He let out a scoff. "An Arkham doctor and a Rogue. We all know how well that story ends."

Edward clenched his shot glass tight and glared at Oswald. "I know you mean well, Ozzie," he said. "But you're starting to tread on very thin ice."

Oswald held a hand up to placate him. "Forgive me, I didn't mean to make any untoward comparisons."

Edward didn't believe that for a moment, but he let it slide, relaxing his grip on the shot glass. He'd had enough for now. "Well, it's not like I was in love with her anyway, so it's no great loss," he said, not even attempting to keep the bitterness out of his voice. "Maybe she'll find herself another Dr. Michael and have an ivy-covered house and 2.5 kids after she bags her white whale." Edward had noticed, in between drowning his sorrows, that Oswald hadn't seemed at all surprised about Penelope's role in the affair. "Tell me the truth, Ozzie. You already knew what happened before you called me."

Oswald took another puff of his cigarette. "Harley visited me last night. She told me, quite hysterically I might add, about how you were so head over heels in love with Dr. Young that you were ready to cast everything else aside for her."

"Oh, that's just asinine," Edward sneered. "But what else can we expect from Harley? She thinks she's the protagonist of some trashy supermarket romance novel when she's just a supporting character in a Grand Guignol."

Oswald let out a loud chuckle. "Never at a loss for a clever description, are you Edward? I gathered that Harley was exaggerating a hair."

"Of course she was," Edward said, straightening up. He looked Oswald dead in the eyes. "But you didn't call me out here at 11 at night just to talk about Harley."

Oswald put down his cigarette holder and let out a long sigh. "No," he admitted. "Edward, Harley wasn't the only visitor I had last night. Harvey, Arthur Brown, and a few other of your former colleagues also stopped by."

Edward immediately sobered up. "Oh? I take it they weren't impressed by my 'heroics'."

"No," Oswald said. "No, they were not. Harvey, in particular, was adamant that you pose a threat to him and the rest of the Rogues."

Long ago, the thought that the other Rogues were intimidated by him would have thrilled Edward. There was still a part of him, buried somewhere deep inside him, that was positively crowing with pleasure. "Well, Harvey's never liked me, so that's not too much of a surprise." Edward frowned at the dark look on his friend's face. "Am I in danger?"

"Yes," Oswald said. "Frankly, Harvey's been suspicious of you since you announced your reformation, but I've always been able to hold him and the others back." Oswald leaned forward. "But Edward, my friend, I can only hold them back for so much longer. If you continue as you have been, I will be limited in what I can do to protect you."

Edward sat there almost dazed. "'As I have been?' Ozzie, what are you talking about?"

Oswald cocked his head slightly as if he was confused by the question. "When you began your reformation, you made it clear to me that you were only acting in your self-interest. That you had no intention of assisting Batman or the GCPD in foiling the Rogues."

"And I don't! That hasn't changed," Edward argued. He took a breath. "If Bane had killed Batman, he would have killed Penny next. I couldn't let that happen."

"I understand that," Oswald said patiently. "And if Bane were an isolated incident, we wouldn't be having this conversation. But Edward, Bane is only the latest of the Rogues you've helped dispose of in the past year, and Harvey and the others have noticed."

Edward narrowed his eyes. "You can't put any of that on me," he seethed. "In the first place," he began to count on his fingers. "Selina had more to do with Jervis than I did. I gave Jervis every possible consideration I could until he decided to trap me in his twisted Wonderland. Secondly, Goodman came out of retirement to antagonize me. I can't be faulted for defending myself. Thirdly, Croc..." He thought of Jonathan and shut his eyes. Diane, Lina, Jon, Penny...God, him and romance just did not mix. "That was personal," he said at last. When he opened his eyes, Oswald was giving him a critical look.

"Any one of those incidents by itself could be easily explained away," he said. "But my friend, all four of those incidents, inside a year? It's beginning to look like a pattern, as Harvey said. You know as well as I do that in our business, perception counts as much, if not even more, than facts."

Edward knew that. He didn't need to be told that, but it didn't mean the Rogues weren't being paranoid morons. Were they, though? A voice asked. If you were in their position, wouldn't you be suspicious too? "I'm no hero, Ozzie," he said. "I'll be the first to admit I'm not even a good person." He thought again of Ellen, of Penny, of Jon. The chaos and pain he'd brought down on all of them were proof enough that he wasn't a good person. No one ever said I had to be a good person.

"Who is a good person in Gotham?" Oswald asked. "But Edward, you've also made it clear that you're no longer a Rogue, either. That leaves you in a very gray area, one that makes people on both sides uncomfortable."

"Straddling the fence seems to have worked out just fine for you and Selina," Edward pointed out.

"Well, let's be honest. Selina, while a thief, was never really a Rogue, certainly not in your category. We all learned years ago exactly what to expect from Selina. And in my position, neutrality is also expected of me. You, however? An Arkham Rogue who not only reformed but uses their talent to solve crime instead of committing it? You're uncharted territory, Edward. No one knows what to expect from you anymore. Why else do you think Professor Strange took such interest in you?" Oswald took another puff and blew out a long stream of smoke. "Which brings us to your investigation of Strange."

Edward bristled. "I only started that because of his attacks on me. I could care less about what nefarious plan he has for Gotham." Except that wasn't true anymore, was it? Hadn't he been ready and willing to help Penny in her crusade to reform Arkham? Didn't he want to make Strange pay for his part in hurting Ellen? "Are you going to cut me loose on that?"

"Not at all," Oswald said. "Strange needs to be stopped for the crackdown Sharp's implemented alone. I will continue to assist you as much as I can. Have you considered though, that Batman may be investigating him too?"

Edward would be amazed if Batman wasn't. "I won't work with him. Not now, not ever." Early in his reform, he'd toyed with the idea, if more to show up the Dark Knight than anything else. Now though? That bridge was well and truly burned.

"If you continue down this path, you may not have a choice." 

Edward sighed, tired and frustrated. "What's the point of this, Ozzie? So I'm not a Rogue, and I'm not a hero. So what? I've survived this long straddling the fence."

"Times are changing, Edward. You are changing, even if you can't see that yet." Oswald took a long puff from his cigarette and gave Edward an almost sad look. “My dear boy,” he said. “You won't be able to straddle the fence forever. One day, you will be put into a position where you will be forced to decide where exactly your loyalties lie. Not ‘may’. Will. And when that day comes, you will have to be ready for the consequences of that decision.”


 

Edward left soon after that, only giving Oswald a cursory nod goodbye. He took the scenic route back to his apartment, driving through the well-lit streets of Gotham's downtown and dissecting everything Oswald had said. He finally concluded, a block away from his home, that his friend was right. He wasn't a Rogue, but he wasn't a good person. He wasn't the man he'd been when he was the Riddler. He wasn't even the man he'd been a year ago. Where had that man gone? When and why had he changed? He'd fought other Rogues, he was working to foil a sinister plot, he'd even helped Batman bring down Bane for God's sake! Where had that man come from? Who was he? Who was he becoming? Hugo Strange's words from over a year ago rang clear again in his hand. "Riddle me this: who is Edward Nigma? What kind of man is he when Riddles aren't involved? That was something you used to know, wasn't it?" Even if he'd never really been well, he'd at least had certainty, he'd had answers. He had no answers now. He didn't even know which questions to ask. He pulled into his parking lot, stopped his car, reached into his pocket and was halfway through dialing Penny's number when he remembered himself and put his phone away. She'd asked for her space, and he owed it to her to grant her request. And yet, there was no one he wanted or needed more than her right now. Instead, he exited the car and trudged up the long stairs to his apartment.

Once inside, he dug through his hall closet and pulled out a box. It was the first box of old mementos that Nina and Deirdre had sent him after he'd moved in. He took the box with him into his bathroom, walking past his room and ignoring it. When he was inside the bathroom, he stood in front of his mirror and placed the box on top of his sink. He took off his shades and placed them in the hem of his shirt, wincing a bit at the bright light. He then opened the box and pulled out an old purple domino mask. According to the girls, this had been the first mask he'd worn as the Riddler. He looked long and hard at his reflection, at the man who he did and didn't recognize all at once. He took a breath, then he put on the mask. He looked again at his reflection. "Riddle me this," he whispered. "Who are you?" 

Chapter Text

One week to the day after Bane had been recaptured, Bruce stood alone on an empty rooftop overlooking the Gotham City financial district. It was a warm summer night, and the streets below were empty, save for the occasional car a few brave, foolish people who were still out drinking and partying at this late hour. It had been a quiet night though. So quiet, he'd sent Damian home early from patrol, much to his son's chagrin. Bruce himself stayed out though, partly in case something came up, but mostly to be alone with his thoughts. Although the streets may have been quiet this past week, that didn't mean he hadn't had a lot on his plate, between meeting with Gordon regarding the TITAN theft, making sure Bane was returned to federal custody, and recruiting Tim and Barbara to pull background information on Curtis Schrader, Phillip Ward, Quincy Sharp and Hugo Strange. He'd been putting that off for far too long.

Bruce had also spent a good deal of time reflecting in the past week. His gaze turned slightly westward, towards the outer edge of Downtown. It had been seven nights ago exactly since he'd confronted Edward in his apartment. He could still see Edward clearly in his mind, his defensiveness, his sharp words. "Do you think that I am not painfully aware of what an awful human being I am? Do you really think I need you to come in to remind me of everything I'm not?" Bruce's brow furrowed. His guilt. No, more than guilt. Self-loathing. In all the years Bruce had clashed with Edward, he had never seen the man show any sign of guilt. He'd assumed he wasn't capable of feeling it. He'd assumed a lot of things over the years. His gaze turned to the East, towards Park Row. It had been six nights since he'd paid a visit to Dr. Young. "This isn't about your concern for his well being. This is about your mistrust, your need to control the situation. This is about the fact that you can't bring yourself to believe that he isn't about to relapse." Her words had been as raw as Edward's, her eyes as red. The incident with Bane had proved that he was right to be wary of Edward and Dr. Young together, that he was right to plant the bug. And yet, tonight, alone on the rooftop, Bruce found himself wondering if Dr. Young was right too. "Hasn't it occurred to you, just once, that this mutual resentment is playing right into Strange's hands?"

The sound of footsteps on the rooftop drew his attention. Too soft to be Dick or Tim. Too much noise to be Cassandra or Damian. Too quiet to be Stephanie. Bruce allowed himself to relax slightly. "Hello, Selina."

"Hello yourself, tall dark and handsome," Selina drawled. She approached him from behind, a finger tracing his shoulder blades before she stepped in front of him. "Thought I saw you brooding. Flying solo tonight?"

"Quiet night," Bruce responded.

"Guess the Mayor's crackdown's good for something," Selina quipped. She stepped to his side to gently hug his arm. "So why do you still look like you have the world on your shoulders?"

Bruce let out a rueful sigh. "I've had a lot on my mind this last week, Selina."

"I can imagine." Selina squeezed his arm tighter. "Eddie's little stunt with Bane is causing all kinds of headaches in this town."

"Have you spoken to him lately?"

Selina looked up at him and arched an eyebrow. "Eddie told me that you visited him and that you put a bug in Doc's car. Are you asking me out of concern or for information?"

Bruce cocked his head slightly at the accusatory tone. First Dr. Young, now Selina. "I'll be the first to admit that I don't, and probably never can trust Edward Nigma," he said carefully. "But that doesn't mean that I don't care about his welfare."

Selina's gaze softened. "I know, Bruce. I know." Selina let out a sigh of her own. "I talked to him last Monday to get the full story out of him. I checked in with him yesterday, too. Harley hasn't been making things any easier."

"Harley?" Bruce asked. "What does she have to do with it?"

"Doc walked in on the two of them having coffee and things got ugly. Eddie blew up at Harley for being nasty about Doc, and now on top of everything else, he won't return her calls." Selina shook her head. "Don't get me wrong, I don't regret helping you keep an eye on Harley and Red, but it's like being a kindergarten teacher sometimes."

Bruce meanwhile, was mulling over Selina's words. Between involving himself with Bane and repudiating Harley, it was clear that whatever Edward felt for Dr. Young, it was serious and it was genuine. If he was moving on from Crane, was it possible he was moving on from other things? He noticed then that Selina's expression was uncharacteristically serious. "What is it?" he asked her softly.

"I'm worried about Eddie," she admitted. "He told me that Doc called off their partnership for the time being."

"I know," Bruce admitted. "I spoke to her last Monday."

Selina dryly chuckled. "Why am I not surprised?" Then her face fell again. "Eddie won't admit it, of course, but I can tell that he misses her. He's been more shut down than he has in months."

Between what he'd witnessed between the pair in the Krank Toy Factory, what he'd overheard between them in the month beforehand, and what he'd seen in Dr. Young's eyes that night in her apartment, that whatever Edward felt for her, she reciprocated. "It's for the best Selina," he said, as much to convince himself as well as her. "It's too dangerous for them to be together."

Selina let out a derisive snort. "That's not your decision to make, Bruce." She shook her head. "On top of Doc leaving, Ozzie told him that the other Rogues are angry at him for helping you with Bane."

Bruce narrowed his eyes. This, more than anything, was why he would have greatly preferred for Edward to have settled in quiet obscurity upon his medical release. "Have there been any threats made against him?"

"Well, Ozzie said that Harvey was vocal about wanting to take care of Eddie, but that he was able to talk him down. For now. Ozzie told Eddie though that if he helps bring in another Rogue, it'll be open season on him."

Open warfare in Gotham's streets between the Rogues. That would gift wrap the perfect excuse for Sharp and Strange to push an even harsher agenda through. "That won't happen," he said. "I won't let it, Selina."

Selina smiled a bit, although it didn't quite reach her eyes. "Thanks, handsome." She let out another sigh. "Between Doc leaving, the Rogues, and Strange though...I'm worried about what this is doing to Eddie. All of this at once would drive even the most well-balanced person over the edge, and we both know Eddie's not exactly what you'd call well-balanced."

It was a thought that had crossed Bruce's mind several times in the past week. Edward had managed to stay reformed despite Strange's machinations, but so many intense incidents over the past year, from Croc to the incident with his daughter, and now Bane...that had to be taking a psychological toll. "I told him to back off of Strange."

"We both know he won't listen to you," Selina cut in. "He won't let go of that until he cracks it, or it cracks him. Besides Bruce, even if by some miracle he did listen to you and walked away, would Strange leave him alone?"

Bruce didn't have to think too hard about the answer to that. Strange had come after Edward first after all. "No, he wouldn't, but I could help contain it. Edward can't keep doing what he's been doing. He's only going to get himself or other people hurt."

Selina bit her bottom lip as if she was pondering something. "You're right. Eddie can't keep doing this the way he's been doing it. But we both know he's not going to just walk away. He's in too deep now." Then another small smile came to her face. "But we both know those aren't the only options."

Bruce raised an eyebrow. "What are you saying?"

Selina shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe it's time for the two of you to sit down and show each other your cards. Work together on the Strange business."

Bruce was silent for a long moment. "You said yourself he won't listen to me. He's not going to want to work with me."

"Maybe he won't now, but he's still feeling raw about Doc. And to be honest, the way you handled the whole thing with Bane didn't help much. Give him time to cool down, then give him some kind of peace offering. Maybe he'll come around."

Bruce and Edward had worked together on cases before, but nothing of this magnitude. He may be reformed, but he was still reckless, egotistical, self-serving, and most worrisome for Bruce now, increasingly unpredictable. There was also the matter of the resentment he still carried from their past, even if he couldn't remember the details and the fact that Edward blamed him for what had happened to Crane. How could Bruce work with him now? On the other hand...it was becoming more obvious that Edward wasn't the same man he'd fought all those years ago. If he was truly changing for the better, could it be possible to trust him? "I'll think about, Selina," he said at last. "In the meantime-"

Selina raised a hand. "I'll keep an eye on him. Just like you are with Doc, I'm assuming?"

"I'm not keeping her under surveillance or anything like that," he said. He remembered the unshed tears he saw in her eyes and felt another stab of guilt. He'd done enough on that front. "When she comes back to work on our committee, I'll keep an eye on her."

Selina nodded, then her face became wistful. "I hope they find their way back to each other soon. I know you're not a fan of the idea, but I think it's pretty obvious that they're in love."

"I know," Bruce said softly. "It's not that I don't want them to be happy. I want to do the right thing by both of them. I just don't know what the right thing is anymore."

Selina gently reached up to cup his face. "You'll figure it out. World's Greatest Detective and all that." She let out another dry chuckle. "You know, you and Eddie have a lot more in common than you'll ever admit. You're both the smartest, most stubborn men I've ever known."

Bruce was glad that Selina couldn't fully see the look on his face at the comparison. 


 

Edward stood in front of the whiteboard he'd set up in his living room, chewing the tip of a red marker. On the whiteboard were posted five pictures of the men who had turned his life upside down. Lyle Bolton. Curtis Schrader. Phillip Ward. Quincy Sharp. Hugo Strange. Edward took the marker and began to draw red lines between the pictures. "Strange and Sharp meet and Strange uses Sharp as a puppet," he murmured. "Ward and Sharp are connected through their shared time at Blackgate prison, which explains his involvement. Bolton was formerly employed at Arkham Asylum-" Edward allowed himself to smile, the first true smile he'd had in a week since she'd-don't think about her. Focus on the case. "We can assume that the rest of the security goons at Arkham follow Strange's lead. Schrader...Schrader, Schrader, Schrader-" How he longed for nothing more than to torment him as he'd been tormenting Bolton all these months. She'd asked him not to-and she's not here. "I haven't found a single definitive link between him and Strange. It's possible that due to his position at GCPD, he's come into contact with Ward," he scribbled a line connecting the detective's picture to Ward's, before snapping in frustration. "And so have any number of officers! That's not good enough!" Edward threw the marker onto the floor and stomped over to his dining room table, where his lukewarm cup of coffee was waiting for him. He took a gulp, then checked his watch. It was 3:00 AM now. It was the sixth night, morning, in a row that he'd been up in his living room, reviewing his files, poring over his research, chasing his tail, anything to avoid thinking about her, about Oswald, about the fact that he recognized himself less and less every time he looked into his bathroom mirror. He put the now empty coffee mug down on the table, grimacing at the taste. He was seeing Ellen tomorrow...today? What day was it? Perhaps it was time to sleep while he still could.

He walked to his sofa, his bed for the past week. He still couldn't bring himself to sleep in his bed, because that was where she'd been and if he started to think about her he'd never stop, and he needed to stop, that door was shut, that door was never open in the first place, I'm not in love with her, I'm not, and even if I was, it doesn't matter, because she's still gone, and men like you don't get to be happy. He sat down on his sofa and leaned back, shutting his eyes. He hadn't realized how much they burned. 

"Edward," he sighed. "What are you doing?" Since he'd arrived home from his meeting with Oswald, since he'd put on the old domino mask, he'd spent the last few days living as if in a fever dream. Selina had called him, of course, to check up on him, and to no doubt report back to Batman. So had Harley. Edward didn't even bother taking those phone calls. Dr. Leland had left a message as well, to tell him that 'her door was open if he needed to talk' and 'I just want to make sure you're alright.' Edward had almost laughed at that. 'Oh, I'm perfectly fine, dear Dr., I just had happiness dangled in front of me and denied me again, my former associates want to kill me, and oh yes, one of my friends seems to think I'm on my way to be the next do-gooder in Gotham, how has your week been?' 

Oswald's voice broke through his mind again. "Times are changing, Edward. You are changing, even if you can't see that yet." Edward put his hands over his ears in a vain attempt to block it out. "I'm not a good person," he said. "I'm not!" But you're not a Rogue either, he thought to himself. If you're not a good person, but you aren't a Rogue either, then who are you? "I don't know," he admitted, dropping his hands. "I don't know who or what I am anymore." He opened his eyes and looked to the two objects on his coffee table, sitting side by side. To his left, his medication. He was overdue for it. To his right, his old domino mask. He'd taken it off, but he hadn't put it away. It sat on top of his coffee table, like a forbidden trinket. Edward picked it up, his fingers brushing against the old, but still good-quality material. He barely remembered ever wearing this mask. He barely remembered much of his time as the Riddler. What he remembered most, was the feeling of certainty, the confidence, the bravado, the fact that life was just one big puzzle, one that he knew all the answers to. He'd begun to feel that again when he helped dispatch Bane when he'd confronted Ward. It was intoxicating, and it felt right. Edward Nigma, Private Investigator didn't know where he fit in the world anymore, but maybe, just maybe, Edward Nigma, the Riddler, would. Why not make everyone happy and put the mask back on? Show Schrader, Ward, Sharp, and Strange exactly who they crossed, make the other Rogues remember who Gotham truly belonged to, the Prince of Puzzles, the King of Conundrums, Riddle me This-

And what about Penny? Edward's eyes snapped back to his bottle of medication. Penny wouldn't be happy. She'd be disgusted, she'd be betrayed. "And she's not here," Edward whispered to himself. "I did the right thing and she still left me!" What had doing the right thing gotten him? He was sitting in his apartment alone, completely disheveled, ready to throw everything away over what? "I don't need her," he murmured harshly, putting the mask down and reaching for his bottle of medication. "I was reformed long before I met her. I was taking care of myself long before I let her into my world." He never should have. If she was only going to walk away from him, he almost would have preferred to have never met her at all, to be spared this. Almost. Hadn't he been halfway out the door every day this week to see her, before logic took over? He went to unscrew the top of the pill bottle, his mind at war with itself, in a way it hadn't been since before he'd been medically cleared, since before he'd woken up. What was happening to him? He'd hadn't felt this much doubt when he'd decided to reform, why was he feeling this now? Did you really decide to reform? His mind asked him again. Did you ever really have a choice? Your mind was a complete blank, your partners in crime had moved on, Jonathan was dead, what choice did you have really? The top wouldn't screw off, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't quite manage to get it off. This was the last straw. With a wild yell, Edward got up and threw the bottle across the room, hitting the whiteboard and sending it crashing to the floor. Pills scattered about the carpet.

Edward stood for a long moment, panting. "No, Dr. Leland," he said in a flat tone. "I'm not alright." He got to work picking up the pills off the floor, then went to the kitchen for a glass of water. For his visit with Ellen, he needed to be functional.

After that...well, that was a riddle, wasn't it?


 

It was 6:00 AM at Arkham Asylum, but Hugo Strange was wide awake, engaged in a meeting in his office. "Gentlemen," Strange addressed the two men standing in front of his desk. "I am afraid that I have put this off for far too long. We must now address the question of Edward Nigma." At the mention of the Rogue's name, Strange saw Ward's face pale. No doubt he remembered all too well his encounter with the Rogue last week. Schrader seemed aloof as always, his arms hanging down at his sides. "The man has become a genuine nuisance to us. Before we move forward with our plans for Stage Two, we must deal with him."

"No problem," Schrader said, confident as always. "We know where his office is. All anyone needs to do is go over there and just shoot the son of a bitch."

"Just shoot him?" Ward asked incredulously. "Curtis, the man helped Batman take down Bane! You don't think he could get out of a mere ambush!?"

"He got lucky," Schrader insisted. "And Batman was there. On his own? Nigma's nothing."

Ward furiously shook his head. "You don't know Nigma like I do. Do you know why he was sent to Arkham in the first place?"

Schrader laughed. "Because he's a fruitcake who used to wear green spandex?"

"No," Ward said. He took a breath. "Nigma is mentally ill, but he's not legally insane. I don't think he ever was. Fifteen years ago, when he was first arrested, he was sent to Blackgate for armed robbery. For the first two days, he was a model prisoner. He kept his head down, he did what the guards told him to do, he didn't make any kind of fuss. Do you know what he was doing? He was studying the place, he was planning, he was taking into account every weakness the prison had at the time. On the third day, he instigated a riot and managed to escape in the chaos. He was in the wind for nine months and stole over $2 million from half the banks in Gotham City. He was only caught because he couldn't resist leaving clues for Batman to find. When he was apprehended, he was sent to Arkham because they had stricter security protocols." Ward looked up at Strange and the fear in his eyes was palpable. "The man is a nightmare. We can't just ambush him at his office!"

Strange resisted the urge to sneer at Ward's dramatics, but he agreed. "No, we can't. As tempting as it is, we also can't simply kill the man. That could invite retaliation." Strange also didn't want to just kill Nigma. Death was too quick, too merciful. Strange wanted to break him, cut him open and prove to Gotham that Edward Nigma, Private Investigator was a sham, that the Riddler was alive and well.

"Well, I have some good news," Schrader added. "Gordon may be freezing me out, but I still hear things. I caught him and Cash talking about how Young and Nigma aren't working together anymore."

Strange raised an eyebrow. If this was true, then it made his plan that much easier. "Oh?"

A cold smile broke out on Schrader's face. "Apparently, the bitch dumped him after the whole thing with Bane. Poor bastard."

Strange leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers together. "Indeed. He must be feeling alone. Vulnerable." A smile slowly came across his face. Perfect. "Well then, Gentlemen, I believe I have the authority to invoke City Ordinance 352. I believe Mr. Nigma is long overdue for a personal session."

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Monday, August 3rd, 2007

4:00 pm

"So Gramma's all excited about me starting my Junior year 'cause of prom. She's even pulled out Mom's old dress and is talking about me wearing it. Like in the first place, I don't even know that I wanna go to prom. Second, Mom's dress is big, puffy, and baby pink!"

Edward crinkled his nose. "Baby pink? With your hair color? What on Earth is your Grandmother thinking?"

Beside him, Ellen shrugged. "I dunno. I think she's just missing Mom."

"Perhaps," Edward said. Father and daughter were walking down the street that led to Edward's apartment from Downtown. Ellen had wanted to spend some time in Gotham Central Park, sketching the people she saw. Edward had indulged her, despite the too-bright sun that hurt his head even with the glasses and the oppressive humidity that forced him to wear a short-sleeve shirt. If he could be honest with himself, the time he'd spent with her today was the only time he'd felt even a bit happy this past week. In between her sketches, Ellen had chatted up a storm about everything from her upcoming Junior year, to the unpleasant visit from her aunt earlier that month, to the new exercises she'd taken up, to how her friend Marisol was faring in Puerto Rico. Edward had chimed in with his own commentary, but for the most part, he let her dominate the conversation while he kept a lookout. Oswald assured him no one in Edward's former social circle knew of Ellen, but he knew how easily that could change.

"Dad?"

Edward, startled out of his thoughts, looked down at Ellen. She was staring up at him with her head cocked. "Yes?" he asked.

"Are you ok?" she asked. "You've got that faraway look on your face."

Edward shook his head. "I've had a lot on my mind this week, Ellen, sorry. What were you saying?"

"I was saying that I told Gramma that if I was gonna go to prom, that I was gonna wear a suit, and she got all crabby about it."

"Well, if you're serious about it, I'll take you in to get tailored for a suit," Edward said. He always enjoyed getting one over on that judgemental, bitter old hag Rachel Dixon. "You'll be the most stylish girl at your prom."

Ellen grinned. "Yeah, just as long as you don't try to get me to wear sequins."

Edward put a hand to his chest. "Is that the thanks I get for being a supportive father?" he mock-whined. Ellen snorted in laughter at his dramatics, which made Edward smile. It was nice, if only for a little while, to forget his inner turmoil and pretend that he was happy. 

When she was finished laughing, Ellen looked back up at him. "Are you feeling any better, Dad?"

Edward's smile fell. He knew she meant well, but if he wasn't willing to talk about his feelings with a trained psychiatrist, he certainly wasn't going to do so with his sixteen-year-old. "I'll live, Ellen."

Ellen huffed then placed her hands on the back of her head. She seemed to be pondering something. "You really miss Doc, don't you? Why don't you just call her?"

Edward paused for a moment before he started walking again. Ellen may not be at his level of genius, but she was perceptive. Too perceptive for her own good at times. "She asked for space, so I'm going to give it to her. If she wants to reach out to me, she will." She hadn't in the past week, and Edward thought it was unlikely that she would this week. 

Ellen shrugged. "Maybe she's waiting on you. Maybe you should make some kind of gesture for her, show her that you really care about her."

"Oh?" Edward asked, raising an eyebrow. "You think I should stand outside her home and hold a boombox over my head?"

Ellen pulled a face. "Ew, no, don't do that. That's creepy."

Edward shook his head. "Most romantic gestures you see in the movies are, I'm afraid. And at any rate, Penelope's not the sort of person those kinds of gestures work on." He allowed himself to think about her, finally. She deserved sincerity, stability. Neither of which were things he could give her. Another wave of bitterness went through him. She was better off without him.

Ellen slowly lowered her hands and pursed her lips. "Yeah, you're right. Don't worry Pops, I'll help you think of something."

Edward gently pat the top of her head. "In the first place, I'm not in love with her, Ellen. In the second, I'm the parent, you're the child. I'm the one who should be giving you sage advice, not the other way around."

Ellen jut out her lower lip. "Sorry. I just don't like it when you're all mopey and quiet. It's wrong."

Edward chuckled as a surge of affection for his child went through him, washing the bitterness away. "Someone complaining that I'm too quiet? There's a first time for everything I suppose. Anyway, enough about my woes. What else is on your mind?"

Ellen looked like she didn't want to change the subject, but she shrugged. "I'm thinking about getting my haircut before school starts." She reached up to tug at her right pigtail. "I think I'm getting too old for these."

"No argument here," Edward quipped. "You're not planning on getting a buzzcut I hope?"

Ellen pulled another face. "Nah. I wanna get it cut short like Selina and Nina, but I don't think Gramma will let me. She'd think it'd be too boyish."

"Well given that the woman wants to put a girl with bright red hair in a baby pink dress, I think it's safe to say that her fashion sense is lacking. Selina and Nina would be flattered by the imitation."

Ellen's face was lit up with a grin. "You think?"

Edward gave her an indulgent smile. "I know so." They were less than a block away from his apartment building now. "Once we get back to my place, start thinking about what you want for dinner tonight. We can go to the store to shop-" Edward stopped in his tracks. From his vantage point, he could see cars in his parking lot. A small black car, and a white van. The black car alone was insignificant but on the side of the white van he could make out one word all too clearly: ARKHAM. Every nerve ending in his body was set aflame. At long last, Strange was making a move. In front of the van, he could see four men, one in a grey suit, the other three in what appeared to be the standard Arkham issue security guard uniform. More than enough to take him, caught off-guard as he was. The cane he was carrying at the moment was a regular cane, he usually didn't have any of his more specialized gear on him on his outings with-his blood ran cold. Ellen. 

"Dad?" Edward's head snapped to look at his daughter. She thankfully had stopped when he did, her eyes wide at the sight of the Arkham van. "What's going on?"

Edward looked back towards his parking lot to make sure the men hadn't made him before gripping tightly onto Ellen's backpack straps and pulling her towards the cover of an adjacent alley. Once they were out of sight, Edward moved his hands to her shoulders, leaning down so that he was looking his daughter directly in the eyes. "Get out of here," he said. "Go straight back home and lock the door behind you. Then call Selina."

"What about you? What are you gonna do?"

Edward took a breath. He didn't know if this was an intimidation tactic or if Strange was attempting to re-commit him, but there was only one way to find out. And Ellen couldn't be any part of it. "I'm going to have a little chat with these fine gentlemen." He pulled away, only for Ellen to grab onto his arm.

"No!" she shouted. "Dad, you can't! You need to get away too!"

"Sweetheart," Edward said as patiently as he could. "If Strange is after me, running will only make it worse. And I'm not about to bring you into it. Get out of here."

Ellen shook her head. "I'm not leaving you! You can't make me! I can help-"

"Ellen, this is not going to be a repeat of what happened with Bolton. I am never putting you in that position again. Get out of here."

Ellen stamped her foot. "No!"

Edward gripped her shoulders again, tighter this time. His patience was at an end. "God damn it, Ellen!" he hissed. "For once in your life, do what I say!" At the anguished, frightened look in her eyes, Edward loosened his grip and remembered himself. He drew his daughter into a hug and kissed the top of her head. "I'll call you when I get back. Now please, go home." When he pulled away, he saw tears forming in her eyes.

"Dad, please, don't," Ellen gasped.

"I'll be fine, sweetheart," Edward tried to reassure her. If this was the last time he'd see his daughter, he would not break in front of her. He gave her a wink. "It's me, remember?" Then he turned on his heel and walked out of the alleyway, back towards his apartment parking lot, trying to ignore Ellen's pleading.

Fortunately, the men seemed to be too wrapped up in their conversation to notice as Edward closed the distance. Which was fortunate, as it allowed him to both make sure Ellen wasn't following him and to study them. The man in the suit was on the shorter side, with thinning brown hair. The picture of a milquetoast bureaucrat. The three security guards looked just as Edward thought they would. Big, bulky, and stupid. No doubt cut from the same cloth as Bolton and his minions. When he was about fifty feet away, Edward took one last look behind him. Ellen remained out of sight. He turned around, relaxed his shoulders and painted on a smirk. With Ellen safely hidden, it was time to let the Riddler out to play. "Gentlemen!" he called out when he was less than ten feet away. At the sound of his voice, all four men's heads snapped his direction. The three security guards tensed up while the man in the suit's eyes nearly bugged out. Edward had to chuckle at that. "I'm afraid you've caught me on my day off. My regular consulting hours will resume tomorrow at 9 AM."

One of the security guards, a particularly ugly man with his head shaved bald stepped forward, only to be stopped by the bureaucrat holding his arm out. "Mr. Nigma," he spoke in a deceptively deep voice. "My name is Arthur Graves. I'm the head administrator at Arkham Asylum. I'm here on behalf of Warden Hugo Strange."

Edward placed the tip of his cane onto the ground and leaned his chin against the handle. He noted the guards' expressions darkening at the sight of it and his smirk grew wider. "Is that so?"

Graves visibly gulped. "Yes. Under his authority as Warden of Arkham Asylum, Professor Strange is enacting Gotham City Ordinance 352."

Edward arched an eyebrow. "I'm not up to date on municipal law. Gotham City Ordinance 352 is...?"

"Oh, yes," Graves said. "Any released inmates of Arkham must make themselves available for further treatment at any time requested by the warden of Arkham Asylum, or be in violation of their parole."

So it was an attempt at a re-committal. "I'm sorry," Edward said in a smug tone, "But I was under the impression that that only applied to patients released after the ordinance was passed. I haven't been an Arkham patient for two years now, three if you count the coma. And forgive me for being pedantic, but I'm not on parole. I was medically cleared. There's a slight difference."

Graves made a pitiful attempt at a smirk himself. "And if you'd been a regular patient, we wouldn't be here. However, you were a super criminal. It's in the public interest that the new regulations are more strictly applied to your kind."

My kind? Edward thought. He stood up straight, as tall as he could make himself. His display did not affect the guards, but Graves himself took a step back, almost hiding behind one of the burlier men. "Am I being detained? Should I consult my attorney?"

"I don't think that's necessary," Graves said, holding his hands up. "Given recent events, Warden Strange would just like to have a single session with you, make sure everything's alright."

Hugo Strange being concerned for anyone's welfare? Edward would believe that the day Batman unmasked himself in public. "And if I refuse?"

One of the guards stepped forward then, cracking his knuckles. "Please do, freak. Make our day."

"Now, now, there's no need for that," Graves said. "Mr. Nigma, if you won't cooperate, things will just get messy. Warden Strange will want to question certain associates of yours about this matter. I'm sure you'd rather they not get involved."

'Certain associates'. Given the context, that could only mean Penny. Edward's grip tightened on the handle of his cane and he narrowed his eyes at Graves. The slimy worm of a man went pale. Then Edward relaxed. "Very well," he said. "If the good Professor wants a session with me, best not to keep him waiting."

Graves visibly relaxed. "Thank you for your cooperation, Mr. Nigma. I assure you, it won't take up much of your time." He stepped aside to allow Edward access to the back of the van. Edward walked through the gauntlet of guards, only to be stopped by one.

"Hand over your cane, freak," the man hissed. Edward handed it over without a word. The guard stepped to the side then and allowed him to climb into the back of the van.

Before he stepped in, Edward considered Graves. The milquetoast actually looked pleased with himself. "Arthur Graves," he murmured. "I'll remember you and what you said about my 'associates'." Graves' smirk disappeared and was replaced by a look of fear. He quickly scurried off back towards his car. One of the guards followed Edward into the back of the Arkham van and took a seat on the bench opposite him. Edward heard the other two shut the van door, then walk around to the front of the vehicle. As the van took off, Edward leaned back, schooling his face to a neutral expression. So Strange wants a session? he thought. I'll give him one he'll never forget.


 


Ellen had waited a few minutes before she made her way out of the alley, hugging the side of the buildings as she crept closer to the apartment parking lot, being careful to stay out of sight. She could see her father talking with the men, but she couldn't hear anything they were saying. When she was about fifteen feet away, she crouched behind a car parked along the street. She could just make out her father's voice. "If the good Professor wants a session with me, best not to keep him waiting." Ellen's stomach dropped. No! Dad! She peeked her head around the car and watched helplessly as her father got into the back of the Arkham van. She bit her lip to keep from calling out to him. She wouldn't do him any good if she got caught. She watched as the van peeled off north, towards Arkham. The fourth guy, the guy in the suit Dad seemed to have been talking with stayed standing by his car. Ellen realized he was talking on a phone.

"Nigma's on his way now. What time will you be there?" While he was wrapped in conversation, Ellen got up from behind the car. She'd seen enough, time to get help. Who though? Dad had told her to call Selina, but he needed a whole cavalry. She didn't have any way of contacting Red Hood, especially during day time, and she couldn't take the time to go to his hideout and hope he was there. Then a flash came to her. Batgirl. She still had Batgirl's number in her backpack. She went to pull off her backpack when a voice reached her ears. "Hey! You!"

Ellen looked towards the voice. It was the wormy looking man. He'd finished his phonecall and had noticed her. Crap, Ellen thought.

"Who are you?" the man said, taking a few steps closer. "Where'd you come from?"

Ellen finished taking off her backpack and put it on the ground before she faced the man, squaring up her shoulders. "None of your business, asswipe!"

The Wormy Man's face colored a bit, then looked quizzically at her as he got closer. "Wait, you look like-" His eyes widened. "Oh my God. You're the daughter. I remember Strange and Bolton talking about you."

Ellen's eyes narrowed. "What of it?" She kept her fists balled up at her sides. Wait for it, she heard Red Hood's voice. Wait for it.

The Wormy Man was five feet from her now. "I'm sure your father would appreciate you showing up to support him," he said in a deep, oily tone. "Why don't you come with me?"

Ellen took a glance at her surroundings. No one around. This time of day, Dad's neighborhood was usually clear. Perfect. She brought her left leg forward and settled into a fighting stance like Red Hood had shown her. "No," she said.

The Wormy Man reached a hand out towards her. "I'm afraid I must insist." He grabbed her left wrist.

Now. Ellen brought her right palm up and, using all her momentum, smashed it hard against the Wormy Man's nose. He immediately dropped her wrist and brought his hands up to his bleeding nose.

"My nose!" he cried out. "You broke it!" Ellen jumped back, both of her fists up and at the ready. The man glared at her and she smirked back. The man balled one of his fists back. "You little bitch!" he yelled. He swung wildly at her.

Ellen easily ducked the flailing man's punch and got into his space, punching him hard in the stomach. She then kicked his legs out from underneath him, sending him sprawling onto the concrete. He lay on his side, wheezing in pain, and Ellen stood over him, contemplating her next move. This man had taken her Dad away from her and looked smug while he did it, now he was at her mercy. "Aww, what's the matter, chucklefuck?" she taunted. "Got beat by a little girl?" 

The man rolled over onto his back and opened his eyes. Through the blood running down his face, Ellen could see his fear. It felt good. He held his hands up. "P-please," he begged. "D-don't kill me. Don't kill me."

Ellen crouched down and grabbed the man by his shirt collar. "You took my Dad. You were gonna use me against him, you chicken piece of shit!" she hissed. The man whimpered. Ellen brought her fist back. "You tell Strange and Bolton," she said. "That Enigma says hello." She punched him in his face hard, and the man went limp. Ellen got up and took a step back. The man was out cold, but he wouldn't be for long. Time to get out of here. Ellen picked up her backpack and dashed into her father's building. Once inside the building, she set the backpack down, unzipped the front pocket and began digging. Where are you, where are you...Finally, her fingers gripped onto a slip of paper. She pulled it out of her backpack and with her other hand, pulled out her cell phone. She stood back up and dialed the number. As the phone rang, she realized that her breath was coming in deep gasps. The adrenaline from the fight probably. "Breathe," she told herself like she imagined Red Hood would say to her if he was here. "Just breathe." She took a deep breath, as a familiar voice on the other end picked up.

"Hello?"

"Batgirl?" Ellen asked. "It's Enigma."

"Ellie?" Batgirl asked, surprised. Wait, when had she found out her nickname? "Oh my God! What's going on? Are you alright?"

"I'm fine," Ellen said, keeping her voice calm. "It's my Dad. Some creeps from Arkham took him away."

"Arkham? Are you sure?"

"I saw the van!" Ellen shouted. "They're taking him to Arkham right now! I heard them saying Strange wants a session with him! Look, I know what's going on between my Dad and Strange! Are you gonna help him or not?"

There was a pause before Batgirl spoke again. "It's going to be okay," she said. "I'm going to call Batman. We're going to get this figured out. Where are you right now? Do you need me to come get you?"

"I'm at my Dad's apartment," Ellen said. She worried her lip before she decided to lie. "I'm gonna call Selina Kyle, she's a friend of my Dad. I'll get her to take me home."

"Good," Batgirl said. "When you get home, stay there. We'll get your Dad back, I promise."

“Thank you,” Ellen said before hanging up the phone. Talking to Batgirl has calmed her down. Now she was determined. “Stay home?” She whispered to herself. “Not this time.” Probably never again. Ellen pulled her backpack onto her shoulders, stepped back out into the parking lot and made her way back to where she left the Wormy Man. He was still out cold. Ellen crouched down and emptied his pockets, finding a wallet and a set of car keys. She hadn’t begun driving lessons, so the keys were useless to her. She tossed them across the parking lot. Have fun finding them when you wake up, chucklefuck. Next, she took $100 in cash from the man’s wallet. That should be more than enough to get a cab to the North Side. Then on to Arkham.

Her tasks complete, Ellen stood up and ran down the street, towards the direction she saw the van take her father. Hang on, Old Man, she thought. I’m coming.

Chapter Text

 4:30 pm

It had been a standard day at Wayne Enterprises. So standard, that Bruce had decided to leave early. He wanted to head back to Wayne Manor and check-in with Tim and Barbara before preparing for that night's patrol. As soon as he stepped into the waiting limousine, his cell phone rang.

"Something last minute from Mr. Fox, sir?" Alfred asked from the driver's seat.

Bruce pulled his phone from his pocket, looked at the number and frowned. "No," he answered. "It's Stephanie." He answered the call. "What is it?"

"Bruce, I just got a call from Ellie, Nigma's daughter. She said that some guys from Arkham came in a van and took him!"

"What!?" Bruce asked, clenching the phone in his hand. "Where is the girl now?"

"She's at Nigma's. She said she was going to call Selina to take her home. Bruce, I don't think she's making this up. She sounded terrified."

"I believe you," he said. Thinking about it, it made a terrible kind of sense. Edward had been through another intense ordeal, and now that Dr. Young was no longer working with him, he was without a vital source of emotional support. According to what Selina had told him, he wasn't handling the situation well, which made him vulnerable to an attack from Strange. "Call Oracle. Tell her to alert Commissioner Gordon and Dr. Joan Leland, and th