A shadowy figure crouched in front of an open safe embedded in a wall. On the desk behind lay a large painting, surrounded by various uninteresting documents. The figure leafed through even more of these, dropping them to the floor in quick succession. A sliver of moonlight lit up the dull, richly furnished office, its highly comfortable sofas and gaudy statuettes receiving no admiration from the intruder. Instead she sighed as she let the last piece of paper slip to the floor. A loud crash sounded from the floor below.
She groaned in her mind. The exercise was boring enough already, but this was just icing on the cake. She'd disabled the useless little security system much too easily. Ever the optimist, she'd crawled through the ventilation shafts and dropped down into the office, ready to pry open the sad little safe, hidden behind a picture, of all cliches. And now some gang was trudging around with all the stealth of a parade and, by the sound of it, dragging the residents from bed.
She carefully opened the door and poked her head through. On one end of the corridor lay one of the four security guards, only unconscious upon closer inspection. She tilted her head and stared at him. What street gang would use non-lethal means for a simple home invasion? A voice drifted to her as she quietly made her way further into the condo.
"I'm going to ask you a question. It is imperative that you do not lie to me. What happens if you do not answer I shall leave to your imagination. You have one minute."
The voice was familiar. She peered round the corner. The people that owned the house were sitting on a pair of stools in the middle of the living room, the husband nodding shakily to his speaker, a man in a green jacket. Surrounding them were five men brandishing guns. The man stared down at the husband with a serious air. There was an oppressive silence.
"Which moves faster: Heat or cold?"
The husband stuttered. His mouth moved up and down rapidly, but no sound came. The wife clutched him tighter. The man in green stared down at them for a full minute.
The man's jaw flew open and closed at ever increasing speeds. The woman's eyes went wide. The man in green kept staring. He reached into his jacket. The couple shuddered as he pulled out…a stick of gum. He unraveled it at an agonizing pace. Put it in his mouth. Chewed ponderously, his eyes still trying to bore into the husband's face.
"Heat is faster. Because anyone can catch a cold."
There was a thick, uncomfortable, bizarre silence. The couple shivered. The goons stood motionless. One of them coughed. The Riddler chewed his gum.
"I am afraid we will now proceed to remove some valuables from your lovely home."
The goons broke off and the couple stared after them with wide eyes. The Riddler sauntered into the kitchen, unaware that he was being followed. He steps inside, smiled to himself as he snapped his fingers, then drummed with his knuckles on the counter as he zeroed in on a unopened bottle of red wine standing forgotten on the kitchen counter.
"Put the lime in the coconut…"
He froze, then turned around slowly and smiled at the familiar figure.
"What a pleasant surprise. But what is a lady like you doing in a dump like this?"
She crossed her arms on her chest, swung the door closed with her leg.
"Just to kill some time. No real prize here, but I need to stay in practice. Although it's not very hard to remain unnoticed when there's a green elephant with a gun in the room."
He took off his hat, held it in front of his chest.
"Sincerest apologies, Lina." His solemn look vanished and he twirled his hat on his fingers. "But you say you are here to kill some time? What a wonderful coincidence! I am spending time here because someone was killed!"
She leaned against the wall and stared at his smirking face.
"How sweet. Eddie, are you drunk?"
He turned back to the bottle, put his hat back on and waved dismissively at her.
"Ever so slightly."
He worked the corkscrew.
"Do you often break into people's homes and ask riddles when you're drunk?"
The cork came out with a pop. He grabbed two glasses.
"No, but tonight is a special night. There's a limo circling the block. Well stacked with many kinds of liquid escape. Headed for a respectable establishment, then for a night on the town. Would you care to kill your time in my company?"
She took the offered glass with a grin.
"Perhaps, just for a spell. If you'll explain this little adventure to me. But I need to change outfits, first."
He clinked glasses with her.
"But of course. I'll give you a lift. I can tell you all of my adventures on the way. And you can tell me of yours. It will be a splendid night."
They were seated in the Riddler's limousine, driving over to one of her hideouts. She was sure to have something more suited for the occasion there.
"Lina, we are gathered here today..."
The Riddler was looking at her from the opposite seat. His look was solemn, perhaps a tad too much so to be convincing. He took off his hat and laid it on the seat of the limousine and took in a deep breath. He turned on the intercom.
"To honor the memory of a fallen comrade. We are here…to drink! To Danny!"
There was a raucous roar on the other side of the line. He turned it off and looked back at her.
"His thuggish ways shall forever live on in our hearts. And our deeds. A toast."
She clinked glasses with him, a tiny smile on her lips.
"Heartwarming, Eddie. Do you always hold ceremonies when a henchman dies?"
He looked out the window and swallowed the wine swirling in his mouth, licked his lips before turning back to her.
"No. Only when rumor has it that I am responsible. He was skimming off the top, you see, so I am the prime suspect."
She stopped, removed the glass from her lips.
"Who did kill him?"
He gestured dramatically.
She put the glass down.
"But you know."
He smiled around the rim of his glass.
"Of course I do. But I like the first answer better, not that either matters. It's all in the questions."
He put down his glass and leaned closer to her.
"Don't be sad. His ill deeds were many, the last of which led directly to his destruction. There is a brothel here in town whose employees you should never cross. I would never be so coarse as to imply he deserved it, of course, I'm merely saying it was not an unexpected occurrence, his violent demise. I like to believe he was ready."
He stared at her expectantly.
"And why do you want your henchmen to think you killed one of your own?"
He leaned back again.
"Well, he was stealing from me. It can only do them good to think I care so deeply for loyalty. Keeping my workers content without letting them get too close is just another game. Toying with them and trying to stay alive, playing them against each other…it is merely another form of entertainment."
She nodded slowly.
"Right. Well, this is close enough, I'll get out here. Where do you want to meet?"
He put down his glass, crossed his hands on his knees.
"There's a place called the Iceberg Lounge. Very much our style."
She stopped with one foot through the door, swung her head to look at him.
"No offense, Eddie, but I don't think it would be a good idea for me to be seen with you at a bar."
"No worries, no one will see you. I know the owner. There's a VIP room, very exclusive. Just show this to the doorman."
He handed her a little card that read: Finn Ogma, Vineyard Worker.
Some time later, she leisurely made her way into the VIP room. He was sitting at the far end of the room, motioning her over with a smarmy smile. She took her time, glided along the floor as she looked around the room. It was large, lavishly furnished and fitted with booths for privacy. He had not taken a seat in one of these. She grinned as he stood up and pulled out a chair for her. He wanted to make a show of this.
"A pleasure to see you again, Lina. I hope you had no trouble with the card?"
She took the offered seat and smiled up at him.
"Oh, it's fine. Turns out I didn't need it. The staff here are very friendly."
He merely raised an eyebrow as he sat down.
"I'm glad. Please," he gestured for a waiter, "drinks are on me."
She took another look around. There was apparently a meeting of sorts taking place in a booth on the farthest end of the room. The tables close to it were all vacant, potential guests encouraged not to venture near by three bulky bodyguards. The rest of the room was inhabited mostly by people she recognized as important people from the city's various mobs.
"So what is this place? Is that little Cobblepot an intermediary for the mobs?"
He stopped his glass on its journey.
"Oh, he's much more than that. But yes, the Lounge is a shady place. But it's also neutral, a perfect place for deals between dangerous people. And it serves as a sort of bridge between the old mobs and the flamboyant new elements."
She sipped on her glass of white wine as her eyes darted around the room again.
"But why that weaselly Cobblepot?"
"There's more to him than meets the eye. Although weaselly certainly fits. He's surprisingly smart, for a crime-lord."
She hummed noncommittally. Then her eyes darted over to him.
"Did you just call someone smart?"
She smiled, took another sip.
"So how do you know him?"
"We played a game once."
She cocked an eyebrow.
"Do I want to know?"
He frowned as she smiled at him.
"It was a long and arduous match of ping pong, you are absolutely correct. No, it was more sophisticated than that. But it's a long story. Suffice to say, it was a draw. He caught on quick and I didn't manage to gain too much insight into his operations. He turned out to be an interesting character. A rogue even."
She furrowed her brow in puzzlement.
"Really? How many drinks before you came to this conclusion?"
"I'm serious. He has a taste for expensive art, along with theatricality and the absurd."
Her eyes stared blankly at him.
"I guess I'll take your word for it."
He motioned for the waiter to bring more, then turned back to her.
"So what do you think of our other compatriots?"
She rested her head on her hand.
"There's not much to say. They're definitely strange, there's no denying that. But most of them are no different from the usual crooks. Although I do feel bad for Dent. It's sad to see him this way."
He cocked an eyebrow.
"What? You liked him before?"
She ran a finger along the rim of the glass.
"I didn't dislike him. Why? Did you?"
"Just another authority figure, bleating on about justice, good and evil, corruption and everything you've heard a thousand times before. Justice! There is no such thing. It changes like the wind, differs from person to person. Justice now is to lock people away, to execute them, eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. Evil is standing in the way of prosperity, evil is refusing to believe. Good is to blindly follow. The sheep are good. The thinkers are evil. To see a politician who actually believes his own nonsense is painful beyond all words."
He took a sip from his drink before waving his free hand in an exasperated manner.
"And to top it all of he was smarmy and madly in love with himself, spewing empty promises of change right and left. As if politicians know anything about change."
"Yes, don't you just hate narcissists?"
He coughed, ordered another drink.
"Yes, well, anyway. Which of them do you actually think is crazy?"
She took another sip and let her smile fade.
"I wouldn't exactly call any of them sane, but legally? I don't know."
"What about the Hatter? I'm not sure he knows where he is most of the time."
She leaned back.
"I haven't had the pleasure of meeting him yet."
"Then you're in for a treat when you finally do, Cheshire."
"I can hardly wait. But tell me, what do you think of… the Batman?"
He stared off at the end of the room seemed where the meeting seemed to be concluding, then looked back at her.
"He really needs to stop smoking. It hurts just listening to him: Give it up! It's over! This is my city! Tremble before my glorious melodrama!"
Their laughter was stifled by the Scarecrow's face passing by.
The lights whizzed past the windows, the radiance of the city's dirty beauty shining in on them. They were back in the limo, apparently driving aimlessly around town, although the Riddler insisted their voyage was a critical part of the plan. They were still drinking steadily.
"This city is like poetry."
And it was starting to show.
"How so?" she prodded with a slight smile.
He made slow swirling motions with his hand, as if trying to get his words flowing.
"It's just so…extravagant. Of course there is the same gray sludge that covers all society, but beneath that is something out of this world. Something new. For the first time in history it feels like there is something radically different under the sun. Or under the moon, I should say."
She leaned her head on her hand.
"And you want to be part of this. Is that your raison d'être?"
"What sort of mystery man would I be if I simply explained myself away? I am here for a multitude of reasons, I am here for no reason at all. My life has meaning, because I decided it should have none. Part of it is rebellion, I think."
She tapped the upholstery absentmindedly.
"Alright then, mister mystery. That was a suitably empty answer."
He grinned wider, poured himself another glass of wine.
"And what of you, O queen of burglars? What gives you meaning?"
She swirled the wine in her glass.
"I suppose there are a number of reasons. What sort of mysterious femme fatale would I be otherwise?"
She gazed out the tinted windows, up at the skyline.
"It's freedom," she continued. "Freedom from the boundaries of everyday life. From whatever people think I should be. To be in control of my own destiny." She smiled. "Among other reasons."
He was quiet for a while, staring at a point just by her side.
"And afterward? After this adventure ends, what will you do?"
She tilted her head to the side, tapped a finger against her temple.
"Well, I would probably start a wildlife reservation. And cackle madly from time to time, of course."
"But," she continued as he poured her another glass. "What of you?"
He spread his arms wide.
"After this? Nothing. This is it."
There was an uncomfortable silence as he finished his glass.
"That doesn't sound very healthy."
He grinned as he poured himself another.
"Few things do."
He peered through the window, then tapped the divider. The car slowed to a halt and the Riddler flew out of the car, ignoring her questioning look.
"You there!" She heard him shout.
"Jesus Christ!" Came the terrified answer.
"Nothing so grand. But your fate hangs in the balance all the same. You need to answer a question.
"Good. Now, why is the ocean always angry?"
Only the humming of the car and a can rolling down the street broke the silence.
"Because," the pedestrian started, "because it's…it's always being crossed?"
"Yes! Here, friend. Take my wallet."
He jumped back into the car and shut the door before reaching for his glass. Selina rubbed the bridge of her nose as the limousine resumed its journey.
"Are you mad?"
"So some uncouth individuals would have you believe."
She held out her glass for another refill.
"As original a diversion as that was, it is not enough to drop the subject. I can believe you do what you do because you enjoy it, but what I cannot believe is that you think of it as the end. That's just too depressing."
"It does sound rather suicidal doesn't it? But don't worry, I am not in this to die. I have merely accepted that it is not unlikely. Criminals in Gotham cannot expect to live long. If I must forfeit my life to live it, so be it."
She ran a finger along the rim of her glass as she stared at him.
"And what is your life? What is this precious thing that keeps you going?"
"Even if I don't truly accomplish anything, I am satisfied. This is my art. I love it more than anything else on this earth. But along with that, I have a faint glimmer of hope. The hope that I bring change. In the most decidedly round-about manner possible, granted, but change all the same. You see, people are blind. Even the inhabitants of this incredible city are dull and hopeless. They don't see, even when the truth is right in front of them. They are blind because they only see what they're meant to. They can't think beyond what they are trained to think. That is part of what I do. Whether it kills them, whether it kills me, I force them to think. If I can get just one person to open their eyes, pull back the curtains, show them the foundations we stand upon, I will be that much happier. The game will be that much more worth it."
She hummed and stared at the gray buildings whizzing by.
He stared into nothingness, brow furrowed.
He raised his head.
"If you were a god, which god would you be?"
She cocked her head. The streets outside were getting blurred.
"I confess I haven't really given it much thought."
He rested his elbows on his knees, spread out his fingers like a presenter pitching an idea.
"I think…I would be Ometochtli right now. The god of drinking, if my sources do not lie."
She raised an eyebrow at him.
He leaned back and clutched his chin.
"And you would be…"
She flashed him a bright smile.
"Say Bast and I will throw you out of the car."
He put his hands on his chest.
"What do you take me for? You would be Nyx, of course. I never had anything else in mind."
She smiled brighter.
"Flattering, Eddie. Very flattering.."
"Lina, Lina, Lina, will you stop criticizing me? You really need to learn to let go of those jabs of yours, relax and bask in the glory that is I."
She laughed, leaned forward and tried her best not to spill her drink, covering her reddening face.
"Eddie, please. I can't say you're subtle when you're sober, but this is…this is something else entirely. Maybe you should slow down on the drinks."
He stretched out his hand, raised two fingers in her direction.
"Alcohol must trample under foot all sense, reason and understanding, Selina. You know this. Or was it faith?"
He downed his glass in one.
She followed through the rusty door, finding herself on an empty rooftop.
"Dance with me."
She spun in a circle, took in all the details of the lonely place. Then she humored him and took his offered hands. They glided along the rooftop, no doubt very clumsily. He went just a step too fast, his movements mostly erratic.
"You have no idea what you're doing, do you?"
"No, but expertise doesn't matter. Just feel the night."
She flashed him an amused smile and he sent her into a spin. The world kept on spinning as they kept on dancing.
"Here we are, Selina. Here are we, two… larger than life… entities. Fresh from an insane asylum, one of us at least, dancing on the roof, surrounded by night."
He threw one hand up as his shoes clanked on the damp concrete.
"The moon stares coldly down on the free madness of this place. All around us, this delectable city of sin keeps turning."
He leaned closer, spoke right next to her ear as they circled the roof.
"Flames lick the sky and blood soaks the pavement. My will is felt throughout the city. Slowly he comes, an unstoppable force drawing nearer and nearer."
She shuddered inwardly at the thought of Batman catching her in this condition.
"We are something incredible. Cannot be understood, controlled or contained. We are freedom to a world in chains."
Their footsteps echoed in the cold, empty night.
"We are truth to a city of lies. Feared, revered, hated. We are free of all. We are free. And no one will ever forget. Even now we are looked upon as almost supernatural. Sometimes…"
He let go of her, danced drunkenly to the edge of the roof.
"Sometimes I think I'm eternal."
She smiled as he danced/swayed drunkenly on the edge.
"What can I say? It's the romantic in me."
She mentally prepared herself for the inelegant death that was sure to claim him if he stayed there much longer.
"Get too caught up in it and you'll be a stain on the street. Not very romantic at all."
He dismissed the notion with a lazy wave of his arm.
"Don't worry, destiny has greater things in store for me."
She strolled over to him, sat down on the edge.
"When he comes, what will you do?"
He sat down beside her.
Her feet dangled in the thick darkness.
"So you're going back to Arkham?"
He stared down at the distant pavement.
"What better place for him to tender his resignation?"
"I'd call you bizarre if I was new to this city." She took in a deep breath. "What do you think it is about this place? Why are we Rogues? Why did we all happen? Why now?"
He jumped to his feet. "Those are my favorite questions."
She turned around to watch him.
He tapped the end of his cane twice on the ground, then flipped it into the air. "The ones…" he grabbed the cane with his other hand, twirled it, put it back on the ground. He made a nifty pose, leaning on his cane and bringing his hat over his eyes. "…With no answer."
She snickered. There was a short silence as she got to her feet.
"Can you imagine what he'll say when he gets here?" Her voice dropped and her face scrunched together in grim, determined righteousness. "It's over, Riddler. You just took your last sip. No, I don't smoke. No, I'm not sick. This is my normal voice."
He snorted. She chuckled. He grinned. She smiled. They broke out in laughter.
She watched him from the door, shivering in the cold night. He sat there on his chair, fidgeting and swaying slightly. He seemed to be fighting just to stay conscious. It had been almost ten minutes already.
Then he appeared. It was so strange, seeing him appear out of nowhere. He fit perfectly into the night, just another fleeting shadow. He walked toward the chair. Eddie got to his feet, seeming remarkably steady. She could barely hear what they were saying.
The Riddler sprang out of his seat, a cocky smile on his lips.
The Batman stared intently at him, his shoulders heaving from some earlier exertion.
"No trap this time?"
The criminal spread out his hands.
"Only what you see."
"What was the point of all this? Why are you drunk?"
Riddler grabbed his jacket from the chair, tipped back his bowler hat.
"Never mind that. Do I look ready?"
The dark knight grabbed the offered hands and cuffed them.
"Tell me, Batman. If you were a god…which one would you be?"
Batman fastened the handcuffs to his belt.
"No, I think you'd be…"
But the Riddler got no further before his captor grabbed him and ran off the rooftop with him in one arm. Selina could just imagine the grin on the Batman's face as they disappeared from view.