The change doesn’t register at first; there’s no sudden burst of colour, it’s nothing like the striking shifts he’s heard so much about. It’s so gradual that it takes a few seconds for him to realise that something’s changed at all.
Still, the world isn’t as monochromatic as it had been a minute ago.
And once Ed notices it, it becomes impossible to ignore. Colours have leaked into his vision, soft and muted, but there. The setting sun is painting the station in shades of faded gold, the cops that have clamoured around Detectives Gordon and Bullock form a sea of uniform blue, and there, at the top of the stairs, is the cause of the heavy silence that has descended upon the room.
Oswald Cobblepot, back from the dead, contrasts starkly against the grey light filtering in through the window behind him.
All at once the spell is broken and the station erupts into chaos. Allen and Montoya bark orders and Captain Essen shouts over them while Bullock makes a valiant effort to break free of the hands on him to throttle Gordon. And Mr. Cobblepot, leisurely making his way down the stairs, looks unendingly pleased with himself, even as an officer seizes his arm and leads him into the middle of the fray.
Taking a halting step forward, his mouth works soundlessly as words escape him for once, brain attempting to catalogue and memorise everything about the other man’s appearance, down to the finest detail. Maybe it’s hopeful thinking, but Ed could swear that he sees him hesitate for a moment and his heart thuds heavily in his chest in response, only for his shoulders to slump, defeated, when he continues walking.
He can merely watch with wide eyes as, still smirking, Mr. Penguin is herded off to the interview rooms.
Ed never gets the chance to approach him after that. But he knows what the colours mean, and when everything has calmed down and he’s alone at his desk hours later, a broad grin spreads across his face.
Having easy access to all of the GCPD’s files proves invaluable when it comes to tracking Gotham’s criminal activity. Between the files, the Gotham Gazette, and the contemptuous whispers that pass among the department’s less upstanding officers, he’s kept rather well-informed. Ed scours it all and any mention of Oswald Cobblepot etches itself into his mind.
Without fail, a small thrill courses through him whenever the name comes up and he has to fight hard to keep the swell of pride from making itself known.
Their first meeting doesn’t go as smoothly as he’d been hoping it would.
He’s too eager, excitement coiled tightly in every muscle and he struggles to bite back the smile that periodically breaks out. All of the pieces of information he’s accumulated simultaneously crowd to the forefront of his mind, making it hard to sort through it all. And yet, he finds himself fixating on the blue-green of the other man’s eyes now that he’s standing in front of him. In his distracted state he finds himself falling back on facts and riddles. Not the best way to endear himself, he’s found. When Mr. Penguin’s face closes off, lips pulling down in distaste, Ed knows his time is up and momentary frustration at the setback niggles at him as he’s quickly dismissed.
Surely, he’s noticed? He must have noticed.
Still, as he walks away, casting furtive looks over his shoulder, he can’t help but revel in the subtly brighter colours that make up his world. The conversation may not have gone favourably, but the colours had grown to a slightly more saturated hue as they’d talked.
He’s found the one.
Ed doesn’t stray far, tucking himself into a corner of the station where he can keep the waiting man in his periphery as he pretends to read through the papers in front of him. He eventually chances a glance in his direction, just in time to catch a smile suddenly light up his face and he’s captivated by the sight. It’s only when he spots Detective Gordon approaching Mr. Penguin that the delighted wonder fades, replaced by a rapidly growing ball of dread in the pit of his stomach.
Watching the two interact leaves a sharp, bitter taste on his tongue and a tightness in his chest that turns his breaths shallow. The way Mr. Penguin inches into Gordon’s space to take his hand and deliver the black envelope he’s been carrying around makes him want to scream, but thankfully the noise catches in his throat.
It’s wrong, it’s all wrong.
A wave of relief sweeps through him when Mr. Penguin finally, finally, turns to leave, looking more dejected than when he had come in, and it’s with no small amount of guilty satisfaction that he watches Jim toss the envelope into the nearest trash bin.
When Ed’s attention drifts back to the file in his hands a startled, “oh,” falls from his lips. Some of the pages have been crumpled, others have uneven tears through them, and his fingers are surprisingly stiff when he belatedly releases the file from the vicious hold he has on it. Eyes darting around to make sure no one is looking at him, he hastily shuffles the torn papers back into a poor semblance of order and flips the file closed, tucking it under his arm with a shaky sigh.
His feels lead-footed as he starts walking, mind buzzing.
It isn’t unheard of.
There have been carefully documented cases.
Simplified, it goes: Person A finds their soulmate. Person A then comes to the realisation that while Person B may be their soulmate, no one ever guaranteed that they would be Person B’s.
The prospect of being in that position terrifies anyone who has yet to find the person to bring colour to their world.
Ed had always found himself eagerly awaiting the day colour would overtake the black and white monotony. It had never occurred to him that he’d be one of them.
Fate couldn’t possibly be so cruel.
He resolves to put Oswald Cobblepot out of mind and to ignore the way he still starts at any mention of the man.
The world will continue turning after all.
Finding himself scrambling backwards to search blindly for his glasses isn’t how Ed had envisioned the night going.
Apparently the seclusion needed for him to have a quiet picnic and say a few words for Miss Kringle was too much to ask for. Instead, he's had his evening hijacked, his burial plans changed, and his sandwiches stolen.
But when his searching fingers find his glasses and fumble them back onto his face, his jaw goes slack as the figure in front of him comes into sharp focus.
The Penguin looms over him, lead pipe held in a perilously loose grip. The image lasts all of a second before he’s falling to his knees, looking haggard and half-dead.
Incredulous, Ed’s eyes dart between the man and the small trailer behind him, breathing out a hesitant, “Mr. Penguin?”
A desperate, “Help me. Please,” is all the answer he gets before Penguin passes out, slumping to one side with a muffled thump.
Spine straightening even as he remains on the leaf-covered ground, Ed allows himself to gape for a few more moments. His mind is already drawing up a list of the pros and cons of returning to his burial site and forgetting the whole incident, but one glance at the yellow glow framing the collapsed man has him on his feet, decision made.
Ed only pauses long enough to stoop down and find the pulse fluttering feebly in the injured man's neck before he slips inside the trailer, searching for anything that the Penguin could have been carrying with him. He only comes up with a suit jacket, tacky with blood and sporting a ragged hole through the back. Spotting nothing else of apparent value, he takes the jacket and nabs a threadbare blanket on his way out.
The reality of his situation crashes into Ed when he lays eyes upon the fallen Penguin,sprawled exactly where he'd left him.
To be fair to himself, he'd say he’s been doing quite well at studiously pretending he'd never crossed paths with Oswald Cobblepot. However, pretending can only do so much; there's no way to overlook the sharp pang of fear in his chest when he catches a glimpse of the mix of rust-brown and crimson staining a substantial portion of Penguin’s shirt.
“It’s fine, you'll be fine. I can help, I can take care of this, you'll see. It'll all be fine,” Ed mutters absently, half to the man he's carefully wrapping up in the pilfered blanket, half to himself.
It's not how he'd thought his night would turn out, but when he hauls Gotham’s criminal kingpin up into his arms he doesn't try to prevent his mouth from twisting into a crooked smile.
Nursing Oswald Cobblepot back to health proves harder than he'd anticipated. The man is set on giving up and fights his efforts every step of the way.
Still, Ed is nothing if not persistent.
And it pays off. Oh, but does it pay off.
Ed is persistent, but he's also very good at ignoring that which he doesn't want to notice. So the fact that Ed can see in colour has become a simple fact to him over the past few months, it’s nothing noteworthy, definitely nothing extraordinary.
Consequently, when Mr. Leonard has finally breathed his last agonised breath and Ed turns with a wild, ecstatic grin to face his erstwhile house guest, he unexpectedly feels like he's had the wind knocked out of him.
Outlined by the intermittent green glow of the sign outside and with half his face cast into shadow by the cold grey light of morning, the Penguin, Oswald, stands proudly, mouth curved into a satisfied smirk. Too-long sleeves have been rolled up to expose pale arms and the fingers of one hand are still curled around the knife he'd made masterful use of. The blade is shining, wet with blood and, now that Ed’s looking, it’s not the only thing the blood spatter reached. There are flecks of red marking the skin of Oswald’s forearms and up across parts of his face and neck, and if Ed squints they could pass as darker freckles. Even the pristine white of the bandages didn’t escape unscathed; the exposed section wrapped around his chest is adorned with speckles of blood. But most of all, it's his eyes that draw his attention. They no longer belong to a man barely willing to cling to life, they're alive and burning bright with the thrill of bloodshed.
In short: he's radiant.
A sharp gasp breaks Ed out of his reverie because this, this dazzling flare of colour, he realises, is what he'd been waiting for. And he swears that Oswald’s expression flickers with something like surprise at the exact same time.
Seconds drag out into an eternity between them and Ed is the first to break. Ducking his head, he belatedly becomes aware of the blood on his own hands, and the knowledge that it’s there because of what they’ve done together sends warmth flooding through him.
“We should- That was-” He flounders for words, face heating up before he shuts his eyes with a strained laugh and gives his head a shake. Inhaling deeply, Ed takes a decisive step into Oswald’s space, settling on a quiet, “thank you,” that fills the small gap between them.
Feeling as if he’s being measured up, he hardly dares to breathe, watching the shorter man study him. Their positions are painfully familiar, mirroring the ones from hours earlier, but there’s no knife being held to his throat this time and the air around them is decidedly different. “Believe me, my friend, the pleasure was all mine. Though,” and here Oswald pauses to peer up at him before continuing carefully, “I suppose I should be thanking you.” In a split second, Ed’s hand has been seized and, in a surreal gesture, the handle of the bloody weapon is placed in his palm and Oswald folds his fingers over it.
A pleasant giddiness courses through him. Recognition. Appreciation.
Abruptly, a memory strikes Ed and forcibly drags him out of the moment: Oswald, beaming at the mere sight of Detective Gordon. Anxiety slithers up his spine and Ed knows. Suspicion is all he’s had to work with so far, but if he were to receive any hint of confirmation that he’s one of those unlucky few fated to have an unrequited bond, something in him would break. He’s sure of that.
Better to live in ignorance, just this one time.
Tight smile overtaking his features, Ed draws back, silently mourning the loss of proximity and fixing his attention on the glinting red and silver of the knife still in his hand. “It’s the least I could do,” he tells it softly.
“Did you know,” he starts, throwing himself fully into the act of being fine, “rigor mortis starts in the head? Two to six hours after death, allowing for temperature changes, of course, the jaw, eyelids and neck start losing mobility. And you know how eyes go all white and filmy? The cornea actually-”
He cuts off mid-sentence, heart in his throat as he braces himself for rejection. This is it.
“Not that I’m not dying to know the end of that sentence, but maybe we should start disposing of dear Mr. Leonard before you give me a full lecture on… corpses? He’s served his purpose, and I’d hate to let him posthumously ruin your floors, after all.”
Ed blinks. Unexpected, but he’s not wrong.
“Righto. I’ll- Yes. Disposal. Got it.”
His couch isn’t really meant to be slept on. Curled awkwardly to keep his feet from dangling over the arm, he stares blankly up at the ceiling, the past 24 hours replaying in his head. He’s exhausted, running on fumes from having stayed awake the entire night and powering through the rest of the day, but sleep continues to elude him.
The restlessness could be blamed on the discomfort of his chosen surface, but he isn’t about to subject an injured man to a night on a lumpy couch. So, Ed resigns himself to another sleepless night and closes his burning eyes.
Quiet settles over the apartment when he stops shifting around, the sounds of the city outside nothing but white noise. Ed is almost, almost, asleep when Oswald breaks the stillness, voice too loud in the shattered silence, and startles him into opening his eyes again.
“Do you see them too?”
“What? See what? Who?” Shooting a glance over to the bed where he can spot a blurry mess of dark hair poking out from under the covers, Ed struggles up into a sitting position and reclaims his glasses. Head turning frantically, he seeks out whatever it is the Penguin is seeing in an apartment with one door and two occupants.
That stops him cold.
“The-” His voice cracks, forcing him to clear his throat before trying again. “The colours?” Hoarse, but it’s an improvement.
Receiving a noise of affirmation, Ed's head swivels back towards the bed and he stares, quite certain that he's imagined the faint, "bright colours," that comes after the sound.
Oswald stares right back, peering out from his nest of blankets, expression carefully blank.
When the increasingly heavy silence grows unbearable, Ed sighs shakily and gives a brisk nod. “Since- The day you came to the GCPD, when Detective Gordon was being arrested for your murder- That’s- Since then,” he finishes lamely.
Realisation dawns on Oswald’s face and his eyes drop to the floor, searching. Attempting to recall a memory, perhaps.
He waits, fingers twitching impatiently in his lap.
“That would… explain a lot, actually,” Oswald admits haltingly.
Hardly daring to believe his ears, a frown creases his brow. “I thought Detective Gordon…?” He doesn’t even want to finish the question.
It takes Oswald a second to make the connection but when he does, he sits up and lets out a sharp bark of laughter that alarms Ed. “No, no, God no. I’m realising that Jim Gordon and I aren’t meant to be anything other than acquaintances. If that,” he bites out.
There’s a history there, and if they were in the middle of discussing anything else, Ed would try his hand at finding out the extent of it. As it is, there are more important things on his mind.
“So. You and I? We are …?” He ventures guardedly.
“It seems it was fate that I got shot. Of course, it had to involve a bullet to the back,” Oswald mumbles, pensive gaze floating around the room before settling on Ed’s piano, seeming to stop and consider it. The lull in the conversation nearly kills Ed but he doesn't dare disrupt the man's train of thought.
Eventually, though, Oswald seems to come back to himself. “Well! We make quite the pair, don’t we?” When his attention returns to Ed, Oswald gives a small, amused hum, and the slow smile Ed can feel tugging at his lips is reflected back at him.