"So since I so obligingly answered your questions, how about we talk a little about you?"
In the moments following her spontaneous question, Clover immediately realized how idiotic her strategy was. And apparently Nygma did to, because he shot her an expression one would usually reserve for the most insipid thing they'd ever heard. Whatever he'd been expecting from her, clearly that was not it. But still, his confusion was good. He'd be distracted from what he'd been intending to grill her on next.
"Well that's quite a way of switching the topic." Nygma finally offered, his eyes now full of suspicion.
He wasn't fooled by her attempt to reverse their roles in the slightest. Her attempt to derail his intimidating pursuit of knowledge had been in vain. Before Clover could begin searching for another way out of the conversation, Nygma spoke again.
"Alright, I'll humor you, but only because we have all the time in the world to return to our previous subjects. You're not getting out of it that easily." He chuckled softly, infuriatingly, under his breath. "Ask away" He reclined himself again, gesturing lazily with his hand and looking much more relaxed than he had a few minutes ago
Clover didn't like his implication that the focus of the conversation would be switched back to her eventually, but quickly forgot about her concern in favor of mulling over what she would ask. He was actually agreeing to talk about himself, something that, in hindsight, wasn't too surprising. He was, afterall, known for his highly egotistical and self centered behavior. Clover hadn't really thought about it before, but there were actually a few things she wanted to know. Since this may be her only chance, now would be the time to ask the questions she needed answers to. Her first one shot out impulsively.
"Did you...kill that man. The guard at the bank?" She felt queasy just asking it. Maybe starting with the big hitter questions wasn't such a good idea.
"Well of course. You really couldn't have surmised that on your own?" He raised one eyebrow, his head tilting down to give her a pointed look.
"No I knew...I just…" She took a deep breath. "Why?"
Nygma rolled his eyes. "He was in my way? Is that a good enough answer for you?"
Clover shook her head. "No actually, it's not. Coroner's report said he was stabbed twice in the gut." She looked Nygma up and down. He looked proud of himself.
"But that's not your M.O., is it?" Clover added, watching the pride wash off his face with a tiny amount of satisfaction.
"What do you mean by that?" He sounded irritated, but also vaguely interested. Like he was trying to keep something secret.
Clover took a deep breath. "You don't usually murder needlessly. You could've avoided the guard if you wanted to, saved yourself the trouble. Even I managed to do that. No, you murder to prove a point Nygma, to serve a purpose larger than anger or blood lust."
There was a glint of...something in his eye. Nygma steepled his fingers under his chin and leaned forward, a profound intensity emanating from him and smothering her. Having his full attention was both exhilarating and terrifying.
"So then, since you've got me all figured out, explain to me why I killed him Clover."
That was the part she hadn't quite solved yet. He'd left no evidence he was there, so it wasn't as if the guard's death was an omen of The Riddler's return. The bank had been fairly easy to break into, something Clover was still marveling at, so Nygma really had no reason to kill the guard unless he was being reckless. But Nygma was never reckless, it just wasn't like him. He was intelligent and precise, carefully calculating his every move. So if murdering the guard wasn't to leave a message, and it wasn't to get inside, what was left?
Clover's hands fisted in her lap, a dark thought crossing her mind. "You did it so I'd look like even more of a criminal. So that if you do ever reveal that I was the one who broke in, I'll get more than a couple years in jail."
She glanced back up into his eyes, not realising she'd even broken away. His mouth was quirked into a smirk of sick satisfaction. Clover ground her teeth together as anxiety filled her gut. With all all the evidence he had over her, Nygma's blackmailing prospects amplified exponentially. He had her wedged directly under his thumb. And for what? Just the fun of it? The psychopath seemed to take glee in the panic accumulating and showing itself through her mannerisms, such as the heavy thumps of her tapping fingers against the table, or her jiggling left leg.
"Well aren't you clever?" She probably imagined it, but he sounded the slightest bit impressed.
He continued, "I must say, I find it surprising that you figured out my motive so quickly. I've baffled more intelligent people for much longer."
"It wasn't that hard." Clover quipped defensively. She backed up a little bit, reigning in her confidence when Nygma scowled. "I mean, it was just the most logical option. Once I ruled out the other possibilities I mean." She finished quietly, averting her gaze to the table.
"Well how about we put you to the test then and see how easy you find that?" He challenged, eager to stump her budding intellectual confidence.
Clover didn't need to wonder how he was going to test her. She just hoped she wouldn't embarrass herself to quickly.
"Riddle me this: The man who builds me doesn't want me. The man who buys me doesn't need me. The man who needs me doesn't know it. What am I?"
Clover initially had no idea what he could be talking about. What sort of product could embody all of those qualities? Immediately, her mind was racing with panic. She quickly told herself to slow down and just consider the components of the question. She was looking for a physical item, implicated by the fact that a man made it. It also had to be something that isn't bought by someone who needs it. Could it possibly be a gift? Somehow that didn't seem right. The last part of the riddle stumped her. How could someone not know they needed something, unless there was no way to know.
She glanced at Nygma, who was looking more and more self satisfied by the second. She'd be damned if she let him feel superior. After thinking hard for another few seconds, Clover finally thought of what seemed to be the most likely answer.
"Is it a coffin?" Her voice was unsure, but Nygma's sudden look of surprise told her everything. She was right. And a little bit concerned about how morbid his initial riddle was.
"That one was easy." He dismissed. "A child could have solved it."
Clover's victory was making her feel bold. She was sure it would come to bite her in the ass down the line, but it just felt so empowering.
"Feel free to ask another, Nygma. I'm all ears." It was her turn to smirk at his flustered expression.
"Alright, riddle me this: I have billions of eyes, yet I live in darkness. I have millions of ears, yet only four lobes. I have no muscle, yet I rule two hemispheres. What am I?"
Clover wanted to laugh right in his face. If this was his way of upping the ante, it was horrible. She'd admit that the riddle had sounded confusing initially, but as soon as she heard the word "hemisphere" the answer had become clear.
"The human brain." She answered, this time with more confidence.
Nygma looked at her with indignation. A tiny giggle escaped her as she watched him clench his jaw and glower at her. Perhaps he wasn't used to being bested by someone he'd already labeled as an ignoramus. Clover felt lucky to be his first.
"Alright then." He lets out a puff of air, smoothing his hands over his jacket in a relaxing gesture. "You must've heard those two before. How about one last riddle?"
Clover smiled slowly. The ball was in her court. He was feeling humiliated and eager to regain his high ground, which made him even easier to manipulate. Apparently getting on Nygma's nerves was the best way to rid him of his cool and calculated nature. Clover would have to keep that in mind for later.
"Alright Nygma, but I have a stipulation. If I guess the riddle correctly, you have to answer a question of mine, completely honestly."
His lips curled into a tiny frown. "I thought that's what we were already doing? I was humoring you and answering your pointless inquiries about me."
Clover rolled her eyes. "But you weren't being honest with me. You initially lied about your motivation for killing the guard. If I answer your riddle correctly, you have to tell me the truth without any tricks or manipulations."
She was afraid he wouldn't take the bait, but once again Nygma's arrogance got the best of him.
"Oh, you're upping the risk my dear? Fine, I'll go along with it, but only with a term of my own."
Clover should've known he'd have his own stipulations, but it surprised her nonetheless. When he held all the cards it didn't seem like Nygma really needed to bargain with her much for anything. He had her in the palm of his hand and he knew it. But he also loved competition, and maybe that was his reasoning behind giving her some leeway.
"My requirement is," He continued after a moment, "That if you answer incorrectly, you will accompany me on an errand I must run."
Several red flags quickly popped up in her mind. Going with Nygma to another location was comparable to getting in a van with a strange man who promised candy. Clover did not want her image to end up plastered on the back of a milk carton, captioned with the words, "Have you seen me?"
She wanted to refuse Nygma's terms, but knew that playing along was her best option. At least she had the chance to avoid going with him if she answered correctly. If she point blank refused, he could always just blackmail her into doing what he wanted.
"Alright fine." Clover acquiesced, ignoring the wide grin that snaked across his face.
Nygma wasted no time with his riddle; clearly he'd been using the time she spent in consideration to cook one up.
"I am not alive but I do seem so, because I dance and breathe with no lungs of my own. What am I?" His wicked grin didn't falter, even when Clover's eyes narrowed in determination. He didn't seem put off at all, leaning back in his chair confidently.
Clover knew she could figure this one out. There were several things that could be personified by the traits he'd listed. All she had to do was narrow them down. The first thing that popped into her head was one of those ballerina music boxes, but she quickly scrapped the idea. Several more items came into her head, but each didn't seem to make any sense. Finally, her gaze rested on a fallen leaf in the window sill she faced. Clover smiled in satisfaction.
"A falling leaf."
The pride blooming in her chest quickly dropped into her stomach as Nygma's smile only widened. He leaned forward, gripping the table in sadistic glee.
"I'm afraid that's wrong Clover. The correct answer is a flame."
She stared at him, dumbstruck, not quite believing herself. Of course it was a flame, how could she have been so stupid? She let out a quiet exhale, averting her eyes from Nygma's.
Chuckling at her sudden embarrassment, Edward gave her shoulder a condescending pat.
"Don't look so blue, it was only a matter of time before you failed."
Clover shot him a sour look before wrenching her shoulder away, crossing her arms in a defensive stance.
"Yeah whatever. I guess this means I've got to go on your little errand?" She knew better than to question his motive for bringing her along; it would only lead to an enigmatic answer.
"Yes it does!" He glanced down to check his rather expensive looking watch, "And we'd better leave soon if we're going to make it on time!"
Edward abruptly stood up, grabbing a black briefcase from the floor that she'd failed to notice. Clover slowly copied him, taking one last sip of her coffee. It had gone cold.
Without sparing her another glance, he briskly walked towards the double doors at the front of the shop. Clover fumbled over herself to catch up, following him out into the cold afternoon. His fast pace forced Clover to speed walk, her short legs working overtime to match the strides of his much longer ones. Clover sucked down cold air as she panted, regretting her lack of exercise now more than ever.
"Could you-" pant, "please-" pant, "slow down?" She called out in between breaths.
Edward's steps slowly shortened as he glanced behind himself in distaste. Clover was glad her face was already red from the cold, because she was blushing so hard she could feel it. He said nothing a she caught up, only flashing her a knowing smirk. Clover didn't want to acknowledge it, but she felt self conscious under his stare. She didn't want to care what he thought, but still found herself thinking about it anyways. It was the worst sort of feeling.
"So where are you taking me anyways?" She asked after she finally caught her breath.
"Somewhere I'm sure you've never been before." He stated snidely, not caring to elaborate any more than that.
Clover shuttered, sticking her hands in her pockets to avoid fiddling with them out of nervousness. She supposed she could still try to refuse going with him, but it wouldn't do any good. The choice he'd given her had only been an illusion, nothing more than a pleasant facade. It hadn't mattered whether or not she answered his riddle correctly because the outcome would be the same. Either way, he'd make her come with him. Knowing that didn't make Clover feel any less bitter about answering incorrectly.
As she walked side by side with him, Clover looked anywhere but the tall man next to her. As they approached a crosswalk and halted, she resolutely stared at the cars passing by. Watching the fogged windows of the cars, the image of Nygma's tear stained face flitted across her memory. She tensed in shock, cursing her brain for making the unlikely connection. But now that it was there, Clover couldn't help but ponder it.
Nygma was absolutely nothing like the vulnerable state he'd been in then, not that she'd expected him to be. He was clearly a man who liked to have power and would stop at nothing to have it. He thrived on controlling others, pulling their strings and making them dance. Clover supposed that was probably half the reason why he'd become so invested in her, even if he wouldn't admit to it. As a man who proclaimed he knew everything, he probably also assumed he controlled everything as well.
'But I know something he doesn't.' Clover smirked. Nygma had seen Clover hit rock bottom, but she'd seen him at his lowest as well. The idea of it sent a thrill through her. Nygma may have known quite a lot, but he didn't know that Clover had seen through his cold exterior. Underneath all that confidence was just a sad, weeping man. The knowledge didn't do her much good, but it did put a smile on her face.
Clover glanced up at him, only to find Nygma's eyes already trained on her. She was ready to shy away from an intense glare, but found an unreadable expression instead. It was the same sort of analyzing look he'd shot her before, but somehow softer. She held the connection between them for a few moments before the crosswalk light turned to green. She turned her head away, staring straight ahead as her emotions zipped around inside like electrical currents. She clenched her fists, still concealed in her pockets, as she ignored the glances he gave her every so often. Instead of thinking about the heady feeling in her chest, Clover focused on the aching of her feet.
'How long until we get there?'
Elation tingled in Edward's mind as he walked towards his destination, accompanied by Clover. She hadn't been too hard to find that day. After one of his hired thugs reported that Clover hadn't come into work, he'd had him trail her when she left her house.
To say Edward had been delighted entering the coffee shop earlier that morning would've been an understatement. As he'd sat a few tables away from the unsuspecting girl, he'd been filled with a barely containable giddiness. It wasn't often that he met a person quite as intriguing as Clover Clein, and he intended to pull on the thread of her life until he had unraveled it all.
Yes, Nygma wasn't afraid anymore to admit that he found the girl interesting, at least to himself. What once had been an attraction purely based on his desire to stimulate himself intellectually had festered into a full blown project. It was comparable to the mystery novels he'd read as a child, always hungry for the answer to the mystery, the culprit of the crime. There was just something nostalgic about the entire situation. For the first time since coming off ice, Nygma felt like himself once more. He equated his joy upon seeing Ms. Clein to this revelation and nothing else.
As he settled in to observe her from across the room, Edward couldn't help but notice the blathering woman sitting across from her. She resembled every other vapid blond inhabiting Gotham, perfect makeup accenting her perfect nails, skin, and clothing. It was clear that among any social hierarchy, this girl severely outclassed Clover. So what were they doing together then? Edward made a mental note to have his men investigate her. Then, he began to wait.
After a tedious hour, the woman finally ran off with a cheery farewell, and Edward knew it was his time to pounce. He'd figured the best place to start would be Clover's past, slowly picking apart her family life. How else was he supposed to find out how she ticked?
However, he had not counted on her attempting to flip the conversation. He supposed that was a repeated folly of his, underestimating her. Here he was always expecting the meek subservience she'd displayed on multiple occasions, but consistently receiving the firey rebuttals he'd also come to associate with her. As much as her defiance served to infuriate him, it also stoked his interest in her even more. Her contradictory nature was applicable to a roller coaster, constantly jerking up and down. The adrenaline rush it gave him was intoxicating.
She'd almost bested him, but then she'd gone and put stakes in their little game of cat and mouse. And that was where the first step of Edward's plan had come in.
He'd realised, a few nights ago as he schemed while watching Grundy in the ring, that Clover Clein was in extreme denial over how much of an enigma she was. The stupid girl didn't even have the intelligence to acknowledge the corrupt part of herself that Edward saw, the true one that she hid and denied. He had no doubt that she used whatever reasons her cluttered mind came up with to justify her misdeeds, but no more. He would force her to look directly into the true motivations behind her actions, and by doing so she would reveal herself more to him. It was the perfect plan.
But first, he had to put her in a situation where that side of her would be brought out. By agreeing to his terms, Clover had unknowingly signed off on her first foray into the most dangerous part of Gotham, and the deepest parts of her soul. Soon enough, everything would fall into place. He had to ease her into a state of unrest, and he knew the perfect place to start.
As the two made their way towards his predetermined destination, Edward couldn't help but use Clover's distracted state as a chance to better observe her. Perhaps analysing some of her nervous quirks would give him some insight into what she was thinking. He glanced down at her several times as they walked, cataloging every nervous quake or cough she made. While looking upon her anxious countenance, Edward began to make an unconscious comparison of her to the other women he'd encountered since his change in life paths.
For starters, Clover's appearance was nothing like the dangerous and feral women he'd become acquainted with. Barbara Kean's crazed eyes and psychotic smile beared no resemblance to the tiny frown constantly etched onto Clover's face. Her short, unremarkable body didn't hold a candle to the graceful physique of Tabitha Galavan. Beyond physical appearance, the differences between Clover and the women of Gotham's criminal underground extended into personality as well.
Edward noted that while Clover did have her infuriating moments, her confidence was nowhere near as bright and unfaltering as Lee's. If Clover said anything bold or derogatory, she was quick to fold back into her meek facade. Edward wasn't sure if he'd rather have her consistently show her confident side or her apprehensive one. Both contained their own annoyances.
Edward glanced down at Clover again as they came to a crosswalk. His eyes trailed along the short strand of hair tucked behind her ear, then continued to roam over her jaw to the dip in her neck leading to the hollow indent of her clavicle. There his gaze rested for a moment, before he quickly remembered himself and abruptly looked elsewhere. Shaking off his haze, Edward continued his previous train of thought.
So he'd established that Clover was quite different from the women currently in his life, but how did she compare to other, more average members of her sex? The question was daunting to answer, considering his utter lack of experience with the female variety. The only women he'd ever become close with were Kristen and Isabella, who were more or less identical in many ways. Both were compassionate, confident, and intelligent women who he had absolutely adored. A pang of hurt shot through his chest, and Edward immediately decided to turn his thoughts elsewhere.
Ultimately, he decided that comparing Clover to other women wouldn't be much help in this situation. In Gotham, danger hardly ever discriminated who it affected, so gender stereotypes weren't likely to ring true very often. Predicting Clover's actions based on the status of her gender was not a viable option in this scenario. So it was back to square one then, uncovering as much information as possible about her as an individual.
Edward didn't look at Clover for the rest of their walk, instead lost in thought over the details of his plans. Despite using it as an opportunity to coax something out of Clover, Edward did actually have an errand to run. It was supposed to be a simple in and out, but he had to be prepared for anyone to throw a wrench in it. There was no room for error when dealing with a scheme of this magnitude.
In his haze of thought, Edward didn't even recognize the slow transition of his mind. The shift in his gait wasn't even recognizable to Clover. His thoughts subtly changed into a more malicious kind, and all of a sudden Edward Nygma was no longer in possession of his own mind. Like a thief in the night, The Riddler had stolen control.
Finally spotting the rendezvous spot, the more cunning version of himself quickly veered off the sidewalk and into the abandoned parking garage they'd approached, not bothering to check if Clover was still following. The light, quick pats of her footsteps were confirmation enough. Edward confidently approached the men. They gave him wary stares as he approached, and even more befuddled ones at the small woman who followed behind him. Edward gave her no mind as he began to review the plan with the simpletons. If they were smart enough to follow directions, it would go off without a hitch.
Clover stood just outside the huddle of seedy looking men, nervously looking over her shoulder to see if they'd been followed. Even a man with an IQ below 70 could tell she didn't belong there, and one of the men chose that moment to speak up about it.
"And uhhh, what about the girl boss? What's she gonna do?"
Edward turned around to briefly fix Clover with an appraising look. Startled by all the eyes suddenly fixed upon her, she quickly busied herself with straightening out her coat.
"Just leave her to me boys." A devious smile spread across his face. "She's got a mission of her own."