AN: An excruciatingly late response to Horsewhisper3's request.
That night Edward finds himself racing through the night, haunted by a familiar foe. His graceful movements are swift and assured. He trips, on purpose, cruelly taunting his adversary.
"Damn roofs," he groans.
A blindingly swift shadow appears next to him, but he manages not to fall over with a scream. The fact that this shadow is not a bulky giant helps.
"You've only got yourself to blame, you know," it informs him. "Having no henchmen on hand is just asking for trouble."
He slows down so he can speak with as much dignity as possible.
"I will do no such thing."
They jump across a narrow gap onto the next rooftop, his landing comfortably cushioned by his knee.
"This is obviously Batman's fault," he continues with a grimace, "He knows I'm dressed to look sharp, not run across the city."
She somehow manages a short laugh, as if their great speed wasn't tiring at all.
"I'm sure he'll be very sorry if you point that out to him," the Catwoman tells him as she peers back at their undoubtedly gaining pursuer.
Come to think of it, she's probably had a lot of practice, having entire running conversations with Batman. He's almost jealous.
"It's worth it," he wheezes, "This is the start of a masterpiece. You best not follow in here," he groans suavely as he fumbles with a door at the end of the roof. "Good night."
And with that he disappears down a dark corridor. The Catwoman melts into the night as Batman plunges after him.
The following night Selina drops by the same neighborhood again, keeping her eyes open for signs of the Riddler's game. It turns out to be easier than expected. The building he disappeared into is nothing but charred rubble.
She sits down leisurely on the edge of the roof, staring at the ruins. A shadow appears in the corner of her eyes and she smirks, leaning back. As it draws nearer she turns her head halfway, a sultry smile forming instinctually.
"Hoping your man will return to the scene of the crime?"
He doesn't answer, but she can sense a light glare trying to bore into the back of her skull.
"Sadly, I think this is crime of a higher level than that."
Still no answer, but he's moving closer.
"Oh? Not here for my expert advice?"
She turns around fully, sees his tightly clenched jaw and tired eyes. A tiny wave of unease runs through her.
He forcefully pries his jaw loose.
"Why were you with him?"
She immediately relaxes and smiles up at him.
"Oh, I see what this is."
She gets to her feet and stretches lazily.
"This is serious, Selina."
She chuckles and nods in agreement.
His jaw clenches again.
"I need to know what he's up to."
She cocks her head.
"You expect me to make like a canary?"
He reaches out to grab her shoulders, but she lazily evades him. He settles for staring down at her with an exhausted air.
"He's going too far. He's in over his head."
She stiffens up.
"Oh, no. Don't tell me he challenged you to a dance-off."
The Batman's grim stare falters, even if just for a second.
She moves a hand over her mouth, her eyes widening in an exaggerated fashion.
He rubs his temple.
"I don't know what your relationship with him is, but you seem to be on relatively friendly terms. I need you to check on him. He's putting the city at too much risk. And himself."
She crosses her arms across her chest.
"Sounds normal to me, but you're obviously worried. Tell me."
His annoyance visibly lessens.
"I don't know how exactly, but it looks like he's going after all the most powerful mobs in the city. If he riles them all up it will be a bloodbath. No matter how smart he thinks he is, this isn't going to end well."
She turns around slowly.
"Alright, I'll speak to him." She wags a finger back at him. "As long as you don't try to follow me."
She walks over to the ledge.
"You have my word," he grunts.
She dives off, a slight grin on her lips.
Finding him turns out to be harder than expected. Three nights pass and there's not so much as a hint of him, nor his plans. The result of his activities, however, are plain to see. The underworld has erupted in violence, all the major mobs suddenly turning on each other. Aside from the firefights, rumors abound of goon squads interrogating everyone and anyone they think might have a clue as to the Riddler's whereabouts. Eventually their attention turns to the Penguin, who is rumored to have worked with him at some point. The Penguin is not interested, and the mobs still aren't desperate enough to try force.
Unlike them, however, Catwoman is capable of going against the old bird. She'd spent the majority of the previous two nights preparing an invasion of his club. She'd gotten a layout of the place, gone disguised as a guest to inspect it from the inside, and smooth-talked a few of the staff into revealing a secret or two.
Breaking into the club itself is easy. The guards are few and oddly relaxed considering the volatile situation. She is able to sneak past them, pick the lock to the Penguin's office, momentarily disable the camera inside, and find the hidden safe without the least bit of trouble.
She cocks her head and stares at the safe, tritely hidden behind a painting. If her target were the man he pretended to be in public, it might be believable. Knowing who he really is, however, reveals it as an obvious feint. She taps a finger against her lips, then sneaks back out of the office.
Outside in the main hall, the guards are still doing their rounds, unaware of the intrusion. She crouches on the white marble floor and looks for the two patrols going along her current floor. Seeing them both on the far end of the walkway, she sneaks over to the railing and peers down at the first floor. One guard is staring over the prop iceberg in the middle of the artificial lake. Three others patrol the dining area, while she knows there are five more out of sight; patrolling the hallways and the entrance. She moves over to the bar and ducks behind the cover to evade one of the guards circling the walkway.
She stares at the rows of alcohol as she waits for him to pass, her eyes fixating on a bottle of vodka with a polar bear depicted on its front. She purses an eye as she listens to the guard trudging by. The one by the lake hasn't taken his eyes off it the whole time. His patrol only seems to take him around the pool and no further. She peeks up from behind the counter before sneaking back to the railing. She peers down again and a smile flashes across her face. There's no water in the pool.
A short tour of the second floor walkway later she has inspected the area to her satisfaction. It only takes a couple of minutes to sneak down to the first floor, dart from cover to cover and nimbly climb down into the empty pool. Slowly going around the iceberg prop while making sure to stay on the opposite side from the guard, she eventually finds a little hole in the iceberg. Lowering her head allows her to enter a small empty space, where after a short search a hatch reveals itself to her. She slowly takes the handle and pulls. It pops open without much noise. She drops down.
The space she finds herself in is pitch black. Turning on her goggles' nightvision, she whistles in her mind. Just how many people he must have bribed to keep this a secret? The room turns out to be a vast hall, filled to the brim with bizarre statues and toys and miscellaneous junk. From the ceiling hang various giant props, birds and life-size old airplanes. The faint sound of running water can be heard from the far right. And in the middle of this enormous vault looms an old battleship.
"What... the hell?" She whispers to herself as her wide eyes trail across her bizarre surroundings.
She realizes Eddie was correct in labeling the Penguin a rogue. This is definitely among the weirder things she has seen lately. She shrugs to herself.
"Only one thing for it."
She slowly makes her way through the maze, passing carefully through a forest of curious objects, tripwires, life-size bird statues fitted with flamethrowers or other weapons, pit-traps, motion detectors, cameras and a variety of booby-traps. She smiles to herself as she creeps up a rope to the battleship in the center of the room.
"Impressive, Oswald, but nowhere near enough."
The battleship is filled with even more traps, only a few of them providing a real obstacle. Before long she is inside a promising room, with a light burning and a big old safe tucked into one of the walls. She inspects the room, finds nothing dangerous, then gets to work. Soon it's open, but she takes care not to stand in front of it as it opens, half expecting a sharpened umbrella to shoot out. No such thing happens.
What does happen, however, is that an obnoxiously loud alarm starts wailing and the whirring of deadly machinery outside fills the air. She holds out a little mirror to peer into the safe without risking herself. And sees the red blinking of a camera in the back of the safe, peering out. Her hand snakes inside and dismantles it. She scoops up all the files inside and stashes them in a small bag around her waist, then darts out onto the battleship's deck.
The whole hall has been lit up, the various cameras whirring this way and that. By the entrance she used earlier she can see the guards entering the room, guns in hand. Three remain by the entrance while the rest pour out into the room, each staring at something in their hand, probably a map to assure them safe passage through the vault.
Rather than risk an encounter within the maze, she moves to the bow of the ship, towards the sound of water. She runs down another rope, then sets off again through the gargantuan maze. The cameras are more of a hassle now, and the traps pose more of a threat now that there is no time to leisurely work through them. As she reaches the outskirts of the room after a few adrenalin fuelled minutes, she can hear a guard talking over the din of the water.
"No sign of them yet, sir. We'll have the area secure in less than three minutes."
She hastens her movements toward the sound of water and is rewarded by the sight of a canal. As she peers down she feels the urge to gape. Resting on the water are a pair of boats. But not just any old boats. They're shaped like birds, one of them an orange, over-sized bath-tub duck. In the middle of a heated argument between her survival instinct and her dignity, the guard's voice sounds out nearby. She jumps down into the strange craft and unties it, gently pushing it off the bank. Soon it's caught up in the stream and she's slowly making her way down a tunnel, hopefully to safety. No sound issues from the vault.
After at least fifteen minutes of droll floating, the scenery changes. Up ahead an exit from the dark tunnel can be seen. A weak light shines right outside. She smiles, but it vanishes quickly, as she hears the familiar sound of a gun being cocked outside.
She scrunches up her nose before lowering herself into the cold water. She goes deep, then swims out ahead of the boat. Before she can resurface a dozen sharp sounds echo in the water. As she quietly raises her head she watches the duck sinks. The sad craft is flanked on both sides by speedboats tied to the bank. By the looks of it, she's surfaced in a warehouse. A group of guards peer into the water with their guns still aimed at the poor duck. One of them raises a radio.
"No sign of the intruder, sir. Starting a sweep of the area."
She heaves herself slowly out of the water and clambers up to a railway, then crawls her way along it, aiming for a window at the end of it. Below the guards shuffle around, a few of them no doubt headed up to the railway. She works at the rusty, old window, finally prying it loose after a long minute. As she steps through it she can hear one of the guards shouting below.
"I've found something! There's a trail of water here!"
But it is much too late. Catwoman slinks off into the darkness, cursing her luck. Wet to the bone and a healthy way from her nearest hideout. Eddie better be up to something interesting. For his sake.
A day passes and the chaos continues. Rumors abound of the Batman's activities, along with the various mobs. But still there is no word as to what exactly they are all after. The underworld shifts and turns, with people going missing, skipping town or ending up at the hospital or the morgue. The mayor's office is broken into and green question marks painted on the windows. The rumors say something else was left in there, but the mayor refuses to comment. The police are overstrained, trying to be everywhere at once, their progress hampered further by the corruption within their ranks. But out of the blue, they arrest the head of the Russian outfit. The mobs turn even more frantic. And still no one has a clue about the Riddler's whereabouts.
Except for Catwoman. And the Penguin, but judging from his files the eccentric criminal has no intention of acting on the information. There are, however, plans for co-operation with many of the smaller players within the underworld; possible roles for them, possible gifts to gain their allegiance, possible leverage to keep them from overreaching and attracting attention. As if he was expecting many of the current overlords to fall. The old bird doesn't seem the least bit concerned about his own position however. From the look of things, he's made his nest far, far above the mobs. She makes a mental note to investigate him when all this is over.
As she reads further, it starts looking like the two really do have some history. There is a long list of properties spread all over the city, which Eddie seems to have accquired through Penguin's contacts, and others, which are written down as suspected Riddler sites, obtained through other means. She sighs at the huge task ahead.
The night turns out to be uneventful. A quick inspection of a few of the locations reveal absolutely nothing. The streets remain tense but the violence recedes from sight. Still the police cars buzz all over town, sirens blazing non-stop.
At one of the tallest buildings in town she finds the Batman, perched atop a gargoyle in suitably dramatic fashion. She strolls over to him, going unheard for a while before his head tips slightly to indicate his all-knowing senses have detected her.
"Give me good news."
She crosses her arms across her chest.
"Always the charmer."
He steps onto the roof proper, his mouth caught in a frown.
"The city's in an uproar, the mobs are lashing out at each other and I have to solve riddles to follow the trail he's left me. I'm having a very bad week."
She purses her lips.
"I've got nothing yet. He's vanished. How about you tell me what this is all about?"
He looks back down to the streets, staring intently at a limousine.
"I didn't have time to photograph all the clues in the first location before it blew up, but eventually I figured out the way to the next one. There I got the whole explanation of the game."
He pulls out a pair of binoculars and peers over at the opposite building.
"He's collected evidence on all the major mob leaders. He's left the different files hidden around the city, with riddles pointing the way. There are many different trails, all of them leading to a different mafia boss. The problem is, this game isn't just for me. He let all of them know as well. They're all trying to save themselves and get dirt on each other. Except they aren't too used to this style of crime, and have responded in the only way they know. And when they can't take it out on him, they take it out on each other. With obvious results. So far I've only completed one trail. There are seven left."
She inspects her claws.
"At least you've got a whole family of experts to help you out, right?"
"Already deployed. I don't want to risk sending some of them against the Riddler's unusual brand of crime, so crowd control only. It's still too much to handle. We're overloaded."
He gets up as the limousine down on the street starts moving.
"Till next time, then," she murmurs.
He gives her a tiny nod.
"I'll be in touch."
She stares after him as he soars down in pursuit of the car.
The next day another boss goes down, a few cops are outed for corruption and the mayor suddenly resigns, supposedly for failing to stop the wave of violence. The mobs get more nervous with each passing night and the smaller powers start greedily eying territory. And now there are rumors of the Penguin sniffing around the underworld for someone. The wildest of these tales claim his fortress was robbed, but most scoff at the suggestion. The rumors become even wilder when it comes to the Riddler's plans. Some say he's aiming to take over the underworld by wiping out the opposition, others think he's turned into a dark vigilante aiming to eradicate the mobs, others say it's simply a diversion so he can set up a doomsday device to level the city. Still others claim he did nothing at all, and that the whole thing is in fact a Two-Face plot to destroy all the people he tried to put behind bars as district attorney.
All of this is terribly amusing to Edward. There's nothing quite like knowing the whole city is trying to figure out what he's doing and failing miserably. It's likewise reassuring that even though he's been apprehended and interrogated and examined an annoying amount of times, not a single person seems to have any clue as to what he is or what he does. Except the Bat.
His grin grows as he sips on his cup of tea. He can't wait to see his opponent's reaction once he sees where he's been holed up most of this time. He glances at the monitors and freezes as he notices a shadowy figure appear on the screen. He promptly does a spit-take as the figure turns around and waves up at the camera.
"You there, Eddie?"
He puts down the cup and clears his throat.
"Selina? What on earth are you doing there?"
"Nothing much. Breaking and entering, solving riddles. Just passing the time."
He strokes his chin, a small smile tugging at his lips. The break-in at the Iceberg Lounge ceases to be a mystery.
"I see. So you changed your mind about playing a part in this game?"
She goes off camera, but her voice grows closer.
"Not really, but I am curious. Are you busy? I'm bored and I bet you feel like gloating to someone."
"You know me too well, Selina. I'll give you an address. There my little helpers will give you another address. I hate to be a nuisance, but I'd hate it even more if Batman were to abandon the game in favor of a sneaky shortcut."
She hums, as if pondering the offer.
"I'll try not to be offended. Let's hear it."
An hour later a door opens and she's met with a mischievous smile. She steps in and he closes the door after her, beckoning for her to follow him. A familiar green jacket hangs by the entrance, a bowler hat rests on a chest. As they walk into the penthouse proper, it strikes her as remarkably bare of anything she'd expect from him.
"Nice place. Not your usual though, is it?"
He grins back at her as he shows her to a couch.
"You're quite right. I usually stay in the basement. But it's not quite fit for such illustrious company."
She raises an eyebrow at his back as he walks off.
"You regularly go from the bottom of a popular Wayne Suites tower to the top and nobody bats an eye?"
He comes back with a bottle of champagne and two glasses.
"Well, I've only been up here twice before. But yes, hiding here has been successful so far."
She leans back.
"Wayne Enterprises. Bold. Though I suppose the playboy would never find out."
He grins as he hands her a glass.
She leans forward again, closely inspecting a chessboard on the table in front of her. White's king pawn, a mobster in a suit, has been played two squares forward. Black's queen-side bishop pawn, a street cop, has likewise gone two forward.
"You actually have the rogues and the Bat-clan as pieces. I don't know whether to be impressed or appalled."
He flashes a smile, but it seems rather sheepish.
"It's part of a riddle. I promise I do not pretend to play out my schemes on it."
She grins as she runs her fingers along the pieces.
"I'll take your word for it," she says as she leans down. "Joker as the white king, Batman as the black one…and me as the black queen. Now what does that mean?"
He takes a sip of his champagne, absentmindedly licks his lips.
"It felt more natural than putting you on the other side, though it wasn't easy. I spent a good while choosing each spot." He shrugs. "I was bored. I apologize if it bothers you."
She leans back again, playing with her tiny counterpart in her hand.
"Not at all. I've come to expect some strangeness from people in our line of work."
Her eyes run over the board again.
"But where are you in all this?"
He leans down over the board, grinning up at her.
"Why, I'm right here."
"Walked right into that one, didn't I?"
He straightens his back and adopts a less dramatic pose.
"Yes, yes you did."
He pops a record onto the player, then picks out a box of cigars, raising a questioning eyebrow as he turns to her.
"No, thank you." She cocks her head as he takes a seat across from her and lights up. "Didn't peg you for a smoker."
He waves the cigar around, looking exceptionally pleased with himself.
"I'm really not. But every now and then, when exceptionally pleased with myself, I indulge."
She empties her glass, then pours them both another.
"A guest shouldn't have to pour the glasses, Selina. But I suppose I've already failed as a host by puffing a smelly cigar. It's a bad habit, probably influence from a certain acquaintance." He puffs. "Speaking of, tell me about your trip to the Lounge."
"Did you know before or after our little talk through the camera?"
He runs a hand through his hair.
"Well, it had crossed my mind before, but it only clicked when you found that place without ever having been sent any riddles. At first I suspected the Batman, though there was an unusual lack of henchmen strung from high places and scared out of their wits. I didn't think you had any motive. I'm still not completely clear on that."
"A mutual acquaintance got me interested."
There is a short silence. She sips her drink. He puts out his cigar.
"So what did you think of it? An unusual place, no?"
She nods and grins.
"Definitely. He gets plenty of points for originality. The security made for a decent workout too."
One corner of his mouth crooks up in a smile.
"I'm glad. He's actually been asking about you recently, and your thieving skills. It's too bad he can never find out about your involvement. It would have made an excellent exhibition."
She cocks her head.
"Really? And what exactly is he up to?"
His hand makes lazy circles in the air as he chooses his words.
"He's a…collector of sorts. With a taste for fine art, preferably well guarded. He doesn't trust just anyone with the retrieval of such items. Used to be he stole them himself, but the last time saw some complications. Can't have any slanderous accusations coming your way when you're a public figure and known philanthropist."
She stares off into the distance, finger tapping her glass.
"I'll have to look into that. Might even be fun. But speaking of qualifications…."
She runs a hand through her purse, then plops the file onto the table between them. She's rewarded with one of the few instances of the Riddler at loss for words. He doesn't even try to hide his surprise.
"How did you…? Wasn't that room full of my little helpers?"
He stares at her.
"I certainly hope they didn't see you. It would be a pain to explain."
Her grin grows even wider.
"Don't worry. Although I must say, you have to get better people if you want them to slow anyone down."
He laughs, finishes his glass in one gulp.
"I guess I do. I must say I'm impressed. But what will you do with it?"
"It's no real use to me, but maybe I can use it to bargain with the Bat. Mostly I think it earns me an explanation of what you're doing."
He grins, then jumps to his feet.
"That it certainly does."
He walks over to the window and stares out, spreading out his hands.
"Look at our beautiful city. At any given time there are a number of people fighting to control it. To rule it. There are people out there who think they already do. They sit comfortably at the top. Or they did, until I decided to tear them down."
He spins around to face her, his glass held high.
"What do you think of when you hear the name 'Gotham'? Corruption. It's the main reason behind Batman's inability to change things. For months now I've been collecting leverage on people all throughout the system. Some get to stay, some have to go. Like our dear former mayor."
He takes a gulp of his drink.
"Now what does this mean? It means that the evidence, which I have spread all over the city, actually means something, unlike usual. They're scared, of course, but they still think they have a chance, as they usually do when the Bat gets something on them. Although it really is a shame how little they try to play the game. Only further demonstrates their unworthiness."
The record finishes and he darts over to it, quickly putting on another and refilling his glass in the way. Then he starts pacing around the room.
"By the end of the week, he will realize what I have done. Most of Gotham's biggest mobs will be without their heads. The most corrupt officials will have vanished. For a short while, he will get to see the extent of what his life's mission can bring. The city will be cleaner than it has been in years."
He stops and turns to her, a wide, malicious grin on his face.
"And he'll owe it all…to me."
She stares at him.
"I doubt I'll ever understand how your relationship works. But I must admit, it's fairly impressive."
His face returns to its usual smug smirk.
"Well, not everything went perfectly. I wanted to get rid of Gordon, but the old oaf turned out to be cleaner than any cop could possibly be. But what does it matter? This one is looking like a great victory."
He smiles and holds out a hand.
"Dance with me."
She takes the offered hand with a smirk.
"I thought you wouldn't dare after last time."
He grins as they glide along the room.
"Oh, I've been preparing for this. I even took dancing lessons."
She smirks as she glances down at his feet.
"Didn't do much, did they?"
"No, they did not."
He guides her towards the large windows overlooking the city before continuing.
"It still doesn't ruin the moment. Just look at it. All in my palm."
"Is it time for another monologue already?"
"What can I say? It's good to be the villain."
They dance on, but before long he breaks off into the kitchen and darts for a bottle of red wine, quickly pouring it. He turns to her, two glasses in his hand.
"But tell me more about your involvement. Why did he want to bring you into this? Did he think you would work against me?"
She leans against the wall, eying him.
"Not exactly. You know, he actually sounded worried about you. Wanted me to try and persuade you to stop."
His face is close to hers as he hands her the wine.
"Do you want me to stop?"
She takes the glass, runs a finger along the rim as she stares at him.
"Would you stop if I asked?"
She puts the glass to her lips. He gives a slight smile but says nothing. She lowers the glass, smiling back before answering his original question.
Suddenly her hand is on his shoulder and his lips are on hers. The kiss lasts for a good while, before she breaks it. For once he isn't smirking. The glasses are quickly put away as they stare at each other.
"This is impossible. It'll never work," she says.
Their lips hover only inches apart.
"I know," he murmurs before their lips finally meet again.
She tugs on his tie, pulls him slowly into the living room. He pulls back an inch.
"I'll probably end up in Arkham sooner or later."
Her fingers twine around the hair on the back of his head.
"I don't care."
She gives him a tiny push. He falls clumsily backward, onto the couch. On top of him, she breaks the kiss.
"But don't expect me to get you out of trouble."
He grins as she leans back down.
AN: I know this is a bit weird, answering a request for a romance story by throwing a healthy amount of Penguin in there. It seemed logical at the time. I think it's in keeping with the tone of the series at least. I don't know, mostly I have no experience writing romance.
On Batman's mention of not wanting to send some of his clan against the Riddler, I'm mostly thinking Cass. I think he could be her worst nightmare.