In a moment of weakness, he had prepared the needle. He hadn't used it, but he had prepared it. Strengthened his own temptation in a fit of impulse. He needed it. He needed... something. Something to fill the void, the unending hunger of obsession that burned his skin, washed over him like the fires of Hell.
Nigma sat shaking now, in his one simple chair. Staring at the syringe on the table in front of him. He could go back to it – he could, he had it, it would be so simple. It would take his pain away, this stinging itch that seemed to stem from his very soul. The compulsion beaten into his mind since a young age. He could assuage it, with this. With the needle. He could.
But should he...? Wouldn't it be simpler, the other way? Easier to simply give in to what he truly wanted? He could regain his own health, grow strong again. Once more he could be an icon for Gotham to fear and cower beneath.
At what expense?
Who would be hurt, if Edward Nigma gave in again... after only two days back in Gotham? After two days without a case, held up by Wayne's money? Who could be caught in the crossfire, should he give in to the weakness twitching hotly inside of him, how much pain would he cause?
“Two...” he whispered, his bloodshot eyes still staring at the syringe. “Twomenwalkintoasubway....”
He needed help. He needed an ally, needed a friend... needed someone to look after him, to keep him from making either decision in front of him. “Thirtyminuteselapse....”
He squinted his eyes shut, the fiery addiction inside of him ringing against the sides of his skull like church bells. Church. Religion? Could that save him? “Carryingaredbag....”
He needed help. He needed Renee – the cop hated him, as far as he could tell. But that was what he needed. He needed someone who wouldn't pity him, who would treat him like the threat he had the potential to be. “Twentythreeandahalffeetsouth....”
There was no need to say the riddle. He had already almost forgotten the answer as he contemplated the syringe in front of him. He could feel that icy venom rushing through his veins, cooling the sweat that was sizzling down his skin, soaking through his battered, stained clothing. “Atthetendofthehourwhichmanisstillalive...?”
In one flurry of desperate action, Edward knocked the needle off of the table, into the simple plastic trashcan that lay beside it. He chewed his bottom lip and squeezed his eyes shut to ignore the headache. It would pass. He didn't answer the riddle, didn't allow himself the... pleasure, of the answer. The soothing sensation he experienced when he knew he was right.
Where was that damn cop? Where was Gordon? The cleaning lady... Batman... anyone. Anyone to take control over him, to force him down the better path. Willpower was... agonizing, to exercise, and even as Nigma threw the trashcan out of the window, he felt like he was betraying himself. A man of his fine intellect and taste shouldn't have to deny himself anything – should be able to have what he needed and wanted.
Edward – Detective – Nigma paused as he turned back into the tiny room he called his home. The mirror on the far wall spoke to him, showed him the utter idiocy of his thoughts, and this only served to enrage him further. His nearly-lifeless eyes were bloodshot, his pallid skin oozing sweat. His entire scrawny figure shuddered from withdrawal, and he hadn't shaved in at least two weeks. The mirror saw him for what he was, and spat the truth back into his face.
“Damn it... damn it.” Edward whispered, his bare feet taking step after step against the coarse, beige carpet. Closer to the mirror. “Dammit.”
The mirror showed him a man who had once been great, once been Batman's most brilliant nemesis. A man who could challenge the world's greatest detective, not through inane chaos or random happenstance. A man who could challenge the world's greatest detective because he was better, because he had the intelligence to baffle a man who knew everything. He had been the Riddler. That mirror showed him every path in front of him, and there were three.
One path led to the needle he had just thrown out the window. That path led to deterioration – he would never become a great detective, nor would he ever see the status of the Riddler again. That path led to starving in the street, a shivering junkie. That path led to Gotham's lower-class walking by him on the streets, paying no heed except to urinate on or pity him. “Look at him,” they would say. “Can you believe that guy used to be the Riddler? Now he's just a joke.”
The second path led to Nigma finishing that riddle. Saying the answer aloud and recalling his brilliance. He could cast everything else aside, scam the Wayne foundation out of millions if not more. He could deceive the Commissioner, grow closer with the GCPD until the entire city was in his obsessive grasp. That path led to the Riddler, led to a recession into the glory of his past.
But the third path showed resistance. It showed Nigma leaving that needle outside and leaving his lips shut. It showed him getting a meal – a hot meal – and taking the pocket-change Wayne had allotted him to the barbershop for a shave. A real shave. It led to him growing stronger, and moving forward, leaving the past behind him. It led to a man that people would come to know as Detective Nigma, a strong, healthy, capable, good man, one who helped people instead of hurt them.
“Damn it... and damn me.” Edward closed his eyes and turned back around, flopping into the folding chair with a creaky groan.
A case. He needed a case, something to focus on. Something to get his mind away from his compulsions.
Nigma nearly threw the small machine onto the table where the syringe had been not long ago, and opened it, pressing the “on” button. He had already put out multiple ads as a “Private Detective Edward Nash” but over the past couple of days he hadn't gotten any bites. He put in his password (a maniacal sequence of upper-and-lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols, chosen at random, that Edward had already memorized) and signed into the ad agency he had set himself up with.
A tiny red number one lingered in the top left corner of the screen, next to the notifications bar. Someone had made an inquiry. A slow smile spread across Edward's face, and despite his body still shaking violently, he moved the cheap, wireless mouse to that bright icon. A symbol of hope if there ever was one.
“Dear Mr. Nash,
I'm not sure who else to turn to. None of the freelance PI's will take my case. I hate to be blunt, but they all claim it's too dangerous. I think my son may be involved in some sort of. Um. Gang. I'm not sure how to describe it. Maybe more than a gang, I don't know. I think it may be dangerous. My family has always been religious, but now Clayton never takes his cross off, not to sleep or shower. He's started talking about sinners, and every night I can see him slipping out of his bedroom window to join with the rest of the... um, gang. He's only sixteen, Mr. Nash. I can't bear to lose my baby to something like this, not as this age. Please find out what he's doing, if you can, please help me get my baby back. Your prices are a little higher than I can normally afford but I'm taking some money out of Clayton's college fund – if I lose him to these thugs, he won't need it anyway. Please visit me at the address listed under my profile, I'll pay you half up front to look for my son.
Mrs. Rosemary Hernandez.”
Edward put his feet up onto the side of the small table, his brow furrowing as he finished scrolling through the message. Too dangerous? What were the private dicks made of these days, tissue paper? A little bit of gang activity was too hot for them to even consider the case?
Unless they knew something Edward didn't. This thought instantly displeased him, and he read back over the message Mrs. Hernandez had sent. Religious extremism and gang activity often didn't go hand-in-hand, that much was obvious, but neither were the two mutually exclusive. The KKK, after all, was exactly that combination, when observed in the right light.
But the KKK stayed in the south, where there were wide open fields to practice their debauchery. Also, more importantly, Hernandez was a spanish name – assuming that little Clayton didn't fall too far from the tree, he would be distinguished as impure by a lynching organization like the Klan.
Also, this was Gotham.
And, as his massive mind sorted through damn near everything he knew about Gotham, Nigma quickly realized why the case was too hot. Why every other PI worth his salt had stayed away from Rosemary and her son.
But wasn't that dark organization too particular to start accepting sixteen-year-old hispanic runaways? They were the high elite, the toughest of the tough. He had seen Michael Lane in action and he understood firsthand what they were capable of.
Michael Lane... Michael Lane had a price on Nigma's head, did he not?
I would be delighted to take your case. I'll meet you tomorrow at 11:30AM.”
Perhaps it was time Edward took matters into his own hands.
The weak smirk on his face slowly widened as he sent the message. He had his first paying case, and he was getting half up front. He would have laughed out loud, but refrained out of respect for the recently deceased Clown Prince of Crime. Was just too soon.
That mouse swiveled again as Ed opened a new tab in his browser, intent on checking his email. Maybe a message from the Commissioner, or Renee, explaining why she hadn't been to babysit today (yes, he knew what her job was – he was past minding). Maybe even send a few excited notes of his own on getting his first case.
But the second he left-clicked to enter his password, the screen on the laptop went black. Empty. An oblivion of color but for the faint glow of the LED screen, which told him the machine was still on.
RIDDLE ME THIS.
The words flickered into the center of the screen in bright green, grainy letters. Nigma sat stunned for a long moment, his breath caught in his throat. He placed one finger on the “control” key, another on “alter”. As he searched for “delete”, however, the screen went black again, just for a moment.
RIDDLE ME THAT.
The screen went dark again, and the small white light that indicated the laptop was running blinked off. The black LED screen went dim.