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Two Birds, One Stone

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Not that mid-morning on a Saturday was an unusual time for Oswald's dining table to be occupied by such ilk as Barbara, Tabitha, and Zsasz, but Edward was less than happy to see two of the three. He drummed his fingers, wishing Oswald would wrap it up.

“Thank you for continuing to bring this inept-vigilante circumstance to my attention,” said Oswald, yawning, not yet recovered from the previous day's medication gauntlet. “But there are real things we should be worried about, like crime on the up-swing. Crime over which we have no control. I'm almost beginning to regret I left city hall.”

Offended even though Oswald meant none, Edward kicked Oswald's ankle under the table.

“Poor Ozzie,” Barbara crooned, hands clamped on her clutch as she rose. “Sucks to be you.”

Tabitha rose to follow her out, giving Edward a look that hinted she was glad of his misery.

“It's not like evicting us and making us sign over the club was the worst thing you could've done,” she sneered. “Barb's old loft is plenty nice. Especially since we offed the landlord.”

“Then hold the party there next time you're itching to be social,” Edward retorted.

“Hey, it'll be just like the good old days!” Barbara called back to them, already halfway out the front door. “Cat and Ivy and me! Plus two!”

“Wait, you think I'm your plus-one?” Tabitha asked, hustling her outside. “Guess again.”

“Well,” remarked Zsasz, cheerily, chin perched on his gloved hands. “They're always a delight.”

“Victor,” Oswald seethed, drumming the tabletop in echo of Edward. “Go somewhere else.”

“Sure thing, boss,” said Zsasz, indifferently amused. “Want me to swing by the kitchen and tell Ms. Agapova it's her turn at show and tell?”

“Please do,” Edward said, sitting up straighter in his chair at Oswald's left hand. “Send them in.”

Oswald gave Edward a baleful glare as Zsasz strode out, slumping in his seat. “Why so keen?”

“Because, Oswald,” he snapped, adjusting his glasses, “we've been waiting so long to meet her.”

Olga entered, tea tray in hand, with a dark-skinned, expressive-eyed young woman behind her.

Sveta had bold freckles and wavy, chin-length black hair that behaved about as well as Selina's. She wore trendy, distressed denim and a galaxy-print hoodie. Her looped heishi earrings were so long they brushed her shoulders every time she moved.

“So,” she said, cracking a nervous, yet anticipatory smile as she gave them a curt wave. “Hi.”

“This is Svetlana,” announced Olga, sounding almost bored as she set out the tea service and then took her place at Oswald's right hand. “Call her Sveta. She will answer to nothing else.”

“Sveta,” Oswald said, rising from his seat, offering his hand across the table as she shuffled over with quick, nervous steps to take the seat next to Olga. “Your reputation precedes you.”

“Honored,” Sveta said, giving Oswald's hand a perfunctory shake as she sat down. “You,” she said to Edward, latching onto the teacup Olga put into her hands. “I saw you on the news,” she went on, conducting thin air with her blunt index finger. “Saw both of you, actually.”

“Too many cameras in Europe,” Olga informed Oswald. “It is much worse than here at home.”

“I've got a head start on the clippings,” Edward managed, pleased with himself, before Oswald kicked his ankle in retaliation. He masked his hiss of pain as a forceful sip of tea.

“Tell us about yourself,” Oswald said, gesturing cordially. “What brings you to this coast?”

Sveta rolled her eyes, causing Edward to reassess his assumptions regarding the origins of Olga's habitual usage. The girl had her mother's coloring, but the similarity of her face-shape to Olga's was uncanny. Higher, more dramatic cheekbones by far, but unmistakably related.

“I thought Auntie would've told you that,” she said. “My dad was her deadbeat brother. He never married my mom, much less stuck around. Auntie came out to see me about any time she could, from when I was tiny till now. I grew up near Black Rock. Not like there was anything left on the rez after Mom died, so I went to live with her sister in Albuquerque. Got a scholarship to Anderson, studied Administration. Never went for my master's, but I helped get a smallholding in Los Ranchos up and functional. Eventually took it over.” She sighed, shoulders slumping as the pride drained from her. “My business went bust because of a guy.”

“He threatened her while I was there,” Olga said. “Good thing I drive out and take my gun.”

“Your beau was, by Olga's astute reckoning, an unfortunate character,” Oswald agreed mildly.

“Dumb-ass white boy with an addiction,” Sveta said to her lap. “Should’ve seen it coming.”

“Not necessarily,” said Oswald, with as much of a simulacrum of compassion as Edward had ever seen him offer a complete stranger, “but you’ll find plenty of those here. Be careful.”

Sveta glanced up, meeting Oswald’s gaze, distinctly surprised. “Sure. I swing lots of ways.”

Edward smiled behind his folded hands, wondering what the Zsasz crew would make of this one.

Dark eyes darting toward Edward’s change of expression, Sveta donned an attitude of challenge.

“Auntie’s told me about you,” she stated. “You’re the boss who keeps everyone on their toes.”

Oswald and Olga exchanged looks that Edward couldn’t interpret as either aggravated or fond. He hedged his bets while he pondered his response, hoping for a combination of both.

“Are you any good in the kitchen?” he asked, realizing as Sveta's brows knit that she’d taken it the wrong way. “Or with accounting? Look, Ms. Bellson, we’ve got a club to renovate and open.”

Sveta visibly relaxed. “Oh, hey,” she replied, offering Edward the hint of a grin. “Auntie said.”

“We’re given to understand that you were a successful entrepreneur in the Southwest,” Oswald prompted. “That you have a flair for numbers in addition to your business degree.”

“I was until asshole ran us into the ground, yeah,” Sveta agreed. “Embezzling for drug money.”

“Rest assured that skills like yours are of great value here in Gotham,” Oswald said encouragingly. “My hope is that you and your aunt might share the running of operations for both our household and our club. Might that be...suitable for an enterprising soul like you?”

Edward couldn’t help but notice that Olga was beaming. He supposed she had every right.

“Mr. Penguin, I ran an entire orchard,” said Sveta, tautly. “If there’s anything I know, it’s fruit.”

“I can’t help but think that you and another of our associates, Miss Ivy Pepper, will have a lot to discuss,” replied Oswald, trying not to laugh, in grudging approval of her wisecrack.

Edward shot Olga an appraising glance, and then boldly offered Sveta his hand across the table.

“It’s obvious you didn’t fall far from the tree,” he said as she shook it. “Do you like riddles?”