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Meet Me in the Dark

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“Yes...Yes, Mother! I am fine. Yes, the ride was okay. I am in one piece. Yes...I know. Okay, fine, I will call soon. Okay...goodbye mother... goodbye

 

Finally able to put down the phone, his neck and arm having cramped whilst attempting to lug his bulky suitcase through the halls and the elevator, the joints in his neck popped painfully as he stretched it from side to side. A soft curse came from his chapped lips as the jolt of pain shot down his spine and somehow into his damned knee. Sweat peppered his brow in a crown that expressed his exertion, and he grimaced at it, not wanting to swipe it away with his sleeve, but loathing the sensation of it on his skin. One hand grasping the handle of the heavy bag, knuckles more pale than usual as he gripped the old thing, and he pulled furiously to drag it along the floor on the wheels that were no help at all, dark eyes surveying the numbers posted along each door. He searched for his own, glancing down at the ugly orange, small envelope he had been given upon entry, having to delcare his name and show an ID to gain the small, old metallic key. The ID had a photo in which he loathed, eyes more sunken than usual, face red and shoulders high, the picture of someone who was ready to snap at the government employees whom had made the past hours of his life a living hell. He hated the bureaucracy of it all, having to wait in line with others, like cattle herded to death, he thought, extremely. It did not help that he was not a fan of other people in general.

 

His mood, particularly nasty, was attributed to the mentally arduous trek across half of the continental United States via public bus system, Greyhound. It was the most financially feasible option, and thusly mostly out of his hands. The passengers were what he would document as undesirable at the very best, people he would have avoided like the plague otherwise. A few had stared at him, earning back deadly glares and the turn of his pointed nose. Their eyes on the back of his neck made his teeth grind until he shot a nerve and jolted in his seat at the unexpected pain, massaging his jaw afterwards and jamming in his headphones in an effort to fall asleep and hope no one jumped him or his belongings. It had been a shitty journey, and his patience had strung thin by the time he had arrived. At least the weather was nice. Stepping out of the horrible bus and into the open-air had been a refreshment that Oswald hadn’t known he wanted, and the smell of late summer wafted all around him, trees, something tangy cooking nearby, and warmth. The subtle smells and sensations had made his taut body relax for once, but he still ruminated angrily on those that had anguished him on the bus.

 

Oswald had been lost a bit in thought, his muscles working on auto-pilot to move himself along the endless corridor, lit with drab incandescent light that did no justice to the bland walls and old carpeting, nearly missing the door labelled as his, 437. Ignoring the throb in his knee, the niggling bite in the popliteal and pulse that he could feel in the veins. Oswald stopped in front of the wooden door, noting its fake-looking exterior, a tacky wood panelling stylization, and reading his own name on a name tag with a small clip art penguin, beside his was one labelled ‘ Edward’ with a cartoon magnifying glass. The things seemed a bit childish, but every door had a pair of names and images, so Oswald left the thing up for now, but not before giving a small scowl before jamming the key into the lock and fidgeting with it for far too long until the damn thing clicked open. Oswald pushed up against the door with his good leg, dragging the other at this point, and yanked his suitcase inside, giving and small huff in exertion and letting the door close behind him with a loud thunk. He flung the old backpack slung across his shoulders on the floor, where it sounded lamely and sunk down. Exhausted, Oswald sat down on the floor, his back against the lumpy backpack, and massaged at his knee a bit, hissing as he accidentally pinched a bundle of muscle that had knotted up by the flesh part of his upper knee. Using his thumb, he worked at the knot and grimaced as he did so, pain shooting up his spine more than usual. He cursed creatively as the hurt continued, things that his mother would faint at.

 

Leaving his leg be, Oswald lifted his neck to glance around the room that he was to call his own, or at least, until this ‘Edward’ showed up. Oswald frowned and pulled back his lip at the idea of sharing such a small space with someone he didn’t know. It sounded so unpleasant, yet that was what he signed up for. What was he supposed to do, the scholarship granted him this, and it was not like he could afford anything else. He was stuck with sharing even if he hated it immensely. His mother had insisted it would be good for him anyways, and that he would get with someone good. He scoffed at the memory, as if anyone would be good to live with. He prayed that they were neat, and respectful of boundaries, and if he was lucky, dropped out after a few days and let him be alone. Too hopeful, Oswald thought, just hope that they aren’t complete imbeciles.

 

It took a few moments for Oswald to notice that one side of room had been set-up as a living space, the bunk-bed fully clothed in sheets, blankets, and a pillow, and the desk arranged nicely with personal belongings, books, and an open laptop. Apparently Edward had arrived before him, leaving Oswald with the other side of the room he supposed. The dorm room itself was small, split up nearly in half with a raised bed and a large desk with drawers underneath. There really was no room for the beds on the floor, which Oswald hated, imagining himself having to clamber up the bed’s damned side to get into it. He didn’t think he’d be able at this rate. There wasn’t any proper ladder or anything to get up, just a set of parallel planks on the bed’s foot that he supposed was used to climb up like an idiot. Oswald hissed at the idea and pushed it from his mind. He’d rather sleep on the floor. His knee throbbed angrily as Oswald pressed against the one of the bony masses, sparking a nerve and lighting up the bundle, and he groaned audibly, flopping back unto the floor and rubbing his eyes with pale fingers. The day was going much like he had predicted; badly. Unlike most people his age, Oswald was not looking forward to the so-called ‘college experience’.

 

After a few minutes of rubbing at his leg, eyes closed as he tried to re-center himself and keep from breaking anything, Oswald sighed and took a better look around the tiny room he would have to dub home for the next 8 months. Nosy, Oswald pushed himself up with an arm on the desk under his bed and wobbled over to the other desk, leaning his weight against it as he leaned over and gazed at the belongings on it. Convinced that the best way to get to know someone was by rifling through their belongings, Oswald allowed himself to paw at the objects laid out. A short stack of paperbacks caught his initial attention, surprised at the fact that someone else his age would even imagine reading for leisure. The entire population, as far as Oswald had observed, was a slave to their electronic devices. A light hand came to the top book and pulled it away from the small tower, bringing it up into better lighting so that Oswald could read the title. Dancer from the Dance . Oswald furrowed his brow at the title, finding it as if something he had heard about before, but could not truly find in his memory. He flipped it over to read the back cover for more context. “Oh…” Oswald quirked his expression and murmured to himself. He quickly placed the book back, but not before thumbing through the other titles quickly. Him. Cut and Run. Shattered Glass. It took but a few seconds for the correlation to make itself evident. The odd part was not necessarily the fact that this Edward has a collection of gay romance novels, but that they were laying out in plain sight, and that some were flagged with colored sticky notes with illegible scribbles. It was unusual, and Oswald did not want to linger on it.

 

Oswald shook his head and huffed, moving on. He swiftly nabbed a large bottle with a colorful content, the movement making a loud rattling sound from the stuff inside moving about. Pills. A bulk size bottle of allergy pills from what Oswald could read. He didn’t think it was even allergy season, but item was more boring than expected. If it had been Adderall or some sort of illicit substance, that would have been worth investigating further. Pushing the bottle back into place, Oswald used his other hand to open one of the desk drawers, humming slightly to himself as he discovered a stash of goods. The only thing in the drawer was multiple boxes of Laffy Taffys, the candy that Oswald associated with accidentally gluing his teeth together. He, like many people, had a sweet tooth, but this seemed like overkill. There had to be over a hundred candies in the bulky boxes. This Edward seemed odd, but Oswald was odd himself, so maybe that wasn’t terrible. Besides, it seemed that Edward appreciated organization. While Edward’s side was full of his belongings, it all looked very put-together and neat, his bed was made perfectly, not a wrinkle on the sheets or blankets, his books, while weird content-wise, were stacked nicely and straight, and an array of school supplies were all set-up fashionably on the desk in labelled bins and boxes.

 

Oswald yawned and rubbed at his face, wondering what the time was and tempted to literally just sleep on the floor. Luckily, the computer open on Edward’s desk caught his eye. A small sticky note with clean handwriting had been affixed to the desk space beside the computer. Press Enter, read the note. Oswald quirked his brow and glanced down at the open laptop. He pressed the button and leered at the screen as it spit out some text at him.

 

Hello. Please take the time to fill this out so that I may become acquainted with you. :)

 

At this point, Oswald had nothing better to do, and decided to humour himself and the computer by pulling the chair out from Edward’s desk and sitting in it, his bad leg stretched out. The computer continued.

 

First, a riddle: What do you use every single day, but never pay for? What is truly yours but came from somewhere else? What is very personal but shared with everyone?


A name!


That said; Please type your first name:

 

Oswald was the furthest thing from a computer expert. He knew how to use one, but he still had to ask for IT help online when his WiFi gave out or his laptop contracted a virus from some damn program he’d accidentally downloaded. Not necessarily knowing how the computer was doing what it was doing made interacting with it a bit fun. Oswald tapped in his name, never having learned how to properly type and thus doing so slowly, glancing at the keys while doing so.

 

That said; Please type your first name: Oswald
Please type your last name: Cobblepot


Nice to meet you, Oswald Cobblepot!

 

Cute. Oswald thought cheekily, nipping at his inner cheek and snorting.

 


I suppose it is customary for me to introduce myself at this point, but I am not truly 'here' persay so I will save such introductions for later.



Oswald frowned a bit, his nose crinkling. Quite a character you are. He mused for a moment, but then the prompter spat out more text.


More questions for now!

Oh goody...

Do you have an intended major? (yes or no)

 

Oswald winced. He felt an unnerving guilt at not having a clue what he was doing. Not in life, and most definitely not in college. He really had nowhere else to go, the streets were his only other option. Either rack up debt for life at some prestige institution of higher education - he scoffed - or work at a menial labor job until some robot takes it from him. Oswald swallowed and jabbed in an answer, hoping he would not be judged wrongly for it.

 

no


Being undeclared at this stage in college is pretty common. Indecisiveness is a symptom of being human. :D

 

A smile twitched at Oswald’s lip and the statement. He knew it was hollow in meaning, something a soulless machine was simply told to spew, but he could not help the the fact that the vague reassurance made him feel a bit less turmoiled by his current dilemma. Something about Ed’s way of writing was peculiar, but not in an off-putting sense. Oswald was peculiar as well, so he supposed that was why it sat with him.


I've got another riddle for you. I'll give you a chance to guess this time.

How lovely.

'I have an end but no beginning, a home but no family, a space without room. I never speak but there is no word I cannot make. What am I?' Simply press enter if you give up.

 

Oswald changed his mind. He hated these riddles for no reason. Why in the hell would anyone enjoy these? He groaned and jammed the words into a Google search on his battered phone, frowning. Why was he doing this anyways? Well, it was not as if there was anything better to do, and why not indulge this Ed, or program, whichever. Oswald pulled up the answer and typed it in quickly, raising his brow as if to question his correctness to the machine itself.

 

keyboard ?


Correct! I do hope you came up with that yourself and not with the assistance of the internet.

Oswald flattened his lips into a large frown. How dare he predict Oswald’s use of handy resources - cheating. It was a bit interesting, knowing that Ed would might be a step ahead of the players in his game. Dealing with someone doubtful of human integrity and intelligent enough to counter it in some way made this whole thing feel a little less stupid.

In case you have not noted, I am a fan of riddles. I appreciate brain picking and problem solving, and these word puzzles are a fun way to do both!

Oswald simply frowned and adjusted his leg.


Do you like riddles?

 

If Oswald hadn't disliked them before, he wasn't too big a fan now. With his index finger extended, Oswald tapped two keys and then enter, watching the prompter blink once, waiting.

 

no


Oh, well. I am sure that you will get used to them.

 

While Oswald was unsure as what to expect, this was surely not it. It sounded as if the program had disliked his response and rebuked his opinion. You’ll get used to it , “No I very much will not.” Oswald muttered under his breath to Edward, the computer, no one truly. Riddles were just questions asked in stupid ways.

 

What is your favorite color? (Mine's green) black

Frivolous things like favorite colors were never something Oswald cared to dwindle on. He tended to wear black and preferred it to bright, gaudy colors, but in truth it wasn’t something he cared about. He typed in the first thing that came to mind.

black is nice too, I suppose. Good to know!

Oswald began to wonder what Edward was intending to do with this information. It is not as if he could blackmail Oswald for liking the color black and not having a declared major, so he quickly lost track of his thoughts concerning the potential for this to somehow come back to haunt like everything else in life. Maybe, for once, someone was just doing some for the sake of being able to do it. It was a nice distraction from the throb in his leg anyways.

Do you have a favorite animal, what is it?

penguins

He liked them before the incident, though afterwards his passion was bittersweet. A love for the tuxedoed birds tainted by cruel teasing, he had tried initially to cease his waddling walk, but when he attempted to bend the knee to often it sent sparks up his leg and gave out, sending him to the floor and causing more jeers than if he had simply taken his forced gait. Though he still loathed the title that had thrown upon him in the aftermath of his leg, he refused to let it make him give up his personal passion for ornithology. Like hell they would get to him. He’d sooner slit their throats than ditch his Sibley guides and ignore his memories. He’d imagined doing so, imagined hitting the jugular, watching a dark surge gurgle and spurt, then soon lose pressure and flow like a weak stream down their pale bodies. Only in the darkest of mindsets did he regret never doing so.

 

A responding line on the promptor called him back to reality, and Oswald blinked dark green eyes to adjust to the screen.

I don't really have a favorite, but I would love to learn about penguins if you would want to tell me. I love learning about new things.

The sentiment seemed genuine, as if the writer would truly like to hear Oswald explain all his knowledge of the flightless avians. Oswald let out a breath of a chuckle and grinned lopsidedly. Sure . As if anyone would listen to him, even his own mother could barely stand him when he got into the topic at an extent. She only bared it because she was his mother, but he knew she grew weary of them. Anyone else would simply shake their head and grumble at him to shut up. No one nowadays appreciated listening to someone passionate about a subject. Everyone simply on their phones, as if the tiny electronics could hold the secret to life itself. Maybe, there was a slight possibility, this Edward wasn’t as bad as the rest. Oswald pondered for a second and then shook his head. No. That wasn’t possible. Besides, it was useless to get his hope up only for it to be buried into the Earth. Hope was a stupid feeling.

 

The computer called him back again.


Hmmm...what else to inquire about...


Aha! Yes, one last thing before I go. Or...until the program stops, I guess.


Do you have a preferred name? (yes or no?)

 

Did he? He’d gone by many through his years, some variations on ‘Oswald’, some vulgar slurs, many forms of ‘penguin’, and his mother had many much too embarrassing to repeat in the light of day. Oswald had always preferred the brevity of one name, additionally it was one of the only titles that had not been used to insult or aggravate him, thus it felt like one of the few things he truly owned in this world.

 

Do you have a preferred name? (yes or no?)

 yes

 

Oh, okay! Do you mind telling me it?

 Oz


Nice! I will address you as Oz if that is what you prefer. :)

Oswald smiled, not sarcastically, nor jokingly, but honestly. It was a quick quirk of his lips, bringing creases to his eyes. There was a sort of innocence in all of this. He was so used to everything having an ulterior motive against him, but this, this just seemed to really be for the honest benefit of the two parties. It had led him to instill some small amount of trust to whomever was behind the text on the screen, to give him the chance to trust, something Oswald had not had the willingness to do for a while. Maybe things would be different now. He was in a different place. No one here knew him for his sordid past. Maybe those here would be less cruel, more educated than the idiots back in his hometown, more understanding. Maybe residents of this place would not need to build their self-worth by crushing others, maybe he wouldn’t have to fight the desire to harm others and himself, wouldn’t have to wish the incident had taken more than his dignity and his leg. Just Maybe...

You can call me Ed.

So Edward went by ‘Ed’, or maybe that was just something people called him naturally without regard to what he actually preferred. Oswald was too tired to ponder it longer than a moment. The screen blinked another line.

:3  (People tell me this is a funny emoji...I hope they are right...?)

The display of social awkwardness in the form of text was funny to Oswald. It was something he could relate to. There was also something endearing in the attempt, despite the fact that questioning his own action made it painfully obvious that he was socially inept to some degree.

Well, I am going to say goodbye for now...


It was nice to meet you, Oz!


Bye for now! I shall see you soon!

 

Oswald blinked at the computer for a few moments, waiting to see if something else would pop up, but the computer simply turned its screen black after a couple seconds and then shut down. Oswald shrugged his shoulders to work a bit of stiffness in his lower neck and then he stretched out in the chair, yawning wide and running a hand through his greasy hair. He needed a shower, but doing so would no doubt annoy his knee and thusly annoy him, so he instead opted to lounging in the chair a bit more. Oswald placed his leg along the side of his desk, lower calf and foot hanging off the end. He knee rested on the desk, the throbbing lessening with the elevation. Oswald reached down with reddish, pale hands to yank up on his pant leg, pulling until it revealed a mess of flesh from his upper shin to his lower thigh.

 

The skin was an angry, gnarled red, twisted and bubbling like the roots of a disgruntled tree trying to grow through cement. Scar tissue boiled and churned on his flesh, creating disgusting patterns of shiny skin and jagged valleys of tissue all along the area. Oswald flinched as the air touched the mass. It was no longer as sensitive as it had been before, a few months after the damage had been done, but not keeping it under a cloth of some sort tended to aggravate it. Oswald ran hesitant fingers along the grooves and dips of the knee, noting how he could barely feel his own touch. The injury had essentially ripped all nerves from their proper places and now Oswald had a bare ability to sense with the dermis. Whereas most people would be able to sense pressure and temperature easily, Oswald could not, only when he pressed down hard could he feel, and only when he touched ice or brought a flame close could he sense. It was not as if the loss was truly important, but when he ghosted his fingers over and could feel nothing at all, it felt like the flesh was no longer his own, like he had not only had physical loss, but a loss of his self. As if a literal chunk of his body had been taken away, a part of his life torn free and smeared along the ground. Memories caused Oswald to dig his nails into the knee until it drew droplets of blood at where his nails had embedded in the skin, and he gasped, eyes wide and neck curled back as he gaped at the thunder that rumbled in his leg at his stupid actions. “Fuck!” Oswald cried out and bit at his lip, immediately pulling his hand away and yanking his pant leg down, panting and then sinking over the desk.

 

Oswald’s forehead bumped softly against the desk and he gritted his teeth and damned himself for letting his emotions wreak his state. He damned himself and thanked no god - if there was a god they would have made his life so hellacious - for the fact that Ed was not here to play witness. He would think Oswald insane, and maybe he was right in doing so, but Oswald did not want to spend the next half of a year with a roommate who thought him crazy. It would lead to bad things. Oswald knew how these things always came back to stab him in the back. Oswald let himself hunch over the desk for a few moments, breathing steadying, chest rising and falling, belly churning with a mixture of emotions and exhaustion.

 

Oswald then pushed himself up and hobbled over to where he had dropped his stuff. He lowered himself to the ground and leaned against one of the posts that held up the bunk bed, sighing and letting his legs lazily fall apart. Oswald’s green eyes glanced at the window, he watched a bird go by and blinked, realizing how difficult it was becoming to open them back up. He yawned again, wide, making a small noise with his throat as he did so. Oswald kicked off his shoes with his feet and leaned back, his lower back sliding further down unto the floor. It only took a few moments for Oswald to find himself unable to open his eyes again, and his jaw went slack as he let the tiredness take over. He hoped this sleep would be dreamless, just darkness, just silence, just him at peace for a moment.

Chapter Text

 

A small bronze key slotted into the door quietly, nimble fingers turning with a quick, elegant jerk of the wrist. The key halted suddenly, jingling the keychain it was connected to softly. A mail key and metal symbol in the shape of the Sign of the Deathly Hallows clanked softly at the jerky stop, and then again when the key was pulled out and left to fall against its keychain mates. The keys went to rest inside of a pants pocket, and the hand rose to press against the nose of wide lens glasses.

 

Edward tilted his head slightly, pressing his frames against his face and grinning slightly. He knew he had locked the door when he left, meaning that the fact that it was unlocked now was because his roommate had arrived. Before Edward could bring himself to push down on the door handle and open the door, he suddenly jumped up and smiled wide. “Ah, yes!” Edward whispered to himself and then jammed a hand in his jacket pocket.

 

Edward donned his favorite jacket atop a solid black T-shirt, like he did most days, happy with the monotony of his wardrobe that might infuriate others, a light garment with sleeves that he collared as they were too long for his limbs, its color a dark viridian green. The internal fabric was a lining of dark purple, so dark that it was nearly black when shadowed, but almost iridescent when light shone directly unto it. The cashier who rung it up for him when he purchased it a few months ago had given Edward a hesistant look, silently asking if he was serious about buying a garment that was both green and purple, as if that was the worst mistake she had seen anyone make. Reading her body language as though she had spoken to him of it, he replied with a friendly, wide grin,

 

“I do honestly think that green and purple make a combination that is pleasant to the eyes, don’t you?”

 

The cashier had simply nodded and given back a weary smile, quickly making the transaction and handing the jacket over when Edward had declined a bag. Ed had taken it from her and trotted away, smiling softly as he pulled a small Swiss army knife from his pants pocket and used a small, sharp tool to slice off the tag. He’d slid on the jacket as he walked out of the store right then and there, and he had loved it ever since. Regardless of the temperature he wore it, whether it was hot, cool, raining, sunny.

 

Edward pulled the phone from the deep pocket and quickly took a few jabs with his index finger as he pulled open an online data file. Ed smiled as he read a small notification telling him that his program had run, in addition indicating the creation of a small text file. He pressed open the file and quickly skimmed it. Inside, the data file contained the responses to the questions he had written the program to answer as well as a few timestamps that Edward ignored for the time being. His eyes caught the time, and he noted that his roommate had completed the program about 45 minutes ago. Edward had been out visiting the university’s bookstore, where he had picked up a notebook with multiple loons - a bizarre water bird with red eyes and black backs - and a new novel he had been searching for recently, Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat.

 

Name: Oswald Cobblepott

Major: Undeclared

Riddle Answer: ‘keyboard ?’ - Correct

Likes Riddles?: no

Favorite Color: black

Favorite Animal: penguins

Preferred Name: Oz

 

Glad that his plan had worked, Edward grinned, shrugging off the fact that his roommate had declared a dislike for riddles. He would get used to it, no doubt, or at the very least learn a few things about problem solving and wordplay. Edward dropped the phone back into his pocket and opened the door, poking his head in and then pressing his body through the doorway, eyes searching the room in curiosity, interested in meeting this new person. Maybe they would be less imbecilic than most other people he met in this world. Maybe they wouldn’t glance at the marks weaving up his neck and then glance away with a look of pity that made Edward’s stomach churn in an unrecognizable mixture of annoyance, rage, and feeling of ostracization. Maybe they wouldn’t mind that he was different, maybe they wouldn’t hate him like everyone else had proved to him.

 

Edward tilted his head a few degrees and brought his chin in as his neck ducked lower and he gazed at the sleeping, crumpled form on the floor. A man, young and smaller than Ed, lay upon the floor, his body slumped over and back partially pressed against the hard floor with a thin layer of dark carpet. Dark hair clumped in thick strands brushed across his forehead, one long enough  to bump against the bridge of his hooked nose. His cheeks were a rosy pink in the light streaming in from the window, nose just as red. His jaw was slack, lips parted just barely and eyes closed gently. One of his pant legs had ridden up to his mid calf and Edward caught the sight of a long, jagged scar snaking up the pale leg. The sleeping figure wore an old sweatshirt, a large hole evident in the elbow of one of the arms, thread desperately holding together what it could. A faded, but visible logo of what Ed recognized as a popular movie franchise was plastered on the front of the sweater, reading ‘Jurassic Park’ and featuring what Edward would categorize as an outdated illustration of a theropod skeleton. Loose pant hung from the other’s hips, a dark navy with small, white illustrated bird figures patterned nicely along the fabric. Worn Vans shoes lay stray by the youth’s sock covered feet, a pattern on them that Ed could not make out from where he was looking. Glancing back up at what Ed has rationalized was Oswald’s, Oz’s, face , he gave a breath of a chuckle watching a thin strand of saliva drip from Oswald’s lips. It indicated that he was quite asleep, or at least tired enough to fall into a deeper sleep faster, Ed assumed something of the sort based on the latest article he’d read on sleep cycles and circadian rhythm.

 

The door slammed behind Edward, having begun to swing closed after the thing slipped from the hold he had on it with his foot, and making a loud sound when it shut behind him. Edward had jumped, jolting forward and jerking his neck back to eye the cause of the sound. From the floor, Oswald had startled and sat up rapidly, his breathing fast and eyes wide, green Edward noted, and frightened.

 

“Who are you?” Oswald demanded, his voice piquing Edward’s ears. It was very distinct, different from the monotony of tone and vibrato that he was used to among his peers in his prior years. He made a note to himself to read up on the implications on tone and voice in relations to psychology, then was jarred from his thoughts when Oswald repeated the question.

 

“Oh, yes. Of course. I am Edward, Edward Nygma. I’m a computer scientist, or, am studying to be one, I guess. I know a good amount of basic coding capabilities but I would very much like to enhance my abilities and become a professional-grade programmer. I want to preferrably work in the video game industry. I love video games, do you? Oh, um wait, maybe...Ah! I should tell you what I know, that might be better for this setting. I know you’re Oswald Cobblepott, but I can call you Oz if that is truly what you prefer. I very much am interested in learning about penguins as well, I never really got into ornithology, or at least I have not had a true passion for studying the topic as intensely as I usually would, but I think it would be cool to learn about them. I mean, they are a sort of oddity in an evolutionary sense, don’t you agree? It’s rather int-”

 

“Stop. Stop, please.”

 

Edward’s train of thought was promptly derailed at Oswald’s interruption, and he looked at the man on the floor, pushing the nosepiece of his glasses up with three fingers and then swallowing quietly. He kept silent for a moment as Oswald rubbed at his eyes and then brushed a bit of hair away from his face, leaning back against the bedpost and letting his gaze lazily meet Edward’s. Oswald said nothing, so Edward broke the silence.

 

“I apologize if I did something to upset you, I assure you it was not my intention.” Edward hunched his shoulders a bit and twisted his hands behind his back, eyes averting Oswald’s own now. The nagging sensation that he had ruined yet another social situation bit at his mind and caused his temple to pulse. Edward anticipated a negative response, another blow to his social self that he had long grown numb to. Rejection and lack of understanding of his intentions and his missteps was nothing new, Edward’s breath caught in his throat momentarily but he forced himself to stop before he coughed dumbly.

 

“No, I am fine, just tired…” Oswald murmured and tried pushing himself up a bit, but a pang through his leg made him change his mind and he instead resumed sitting. “Yeah, I am Oswald, and I like penguins, I guess. I’m guessing you know because of that computer thing you had left for me.” Oswald raised a brow at Edward, indicating that he could talk without remorse.

 

Edward began again, a bit slower pace than before, trying to recall what he had read in a book his mother had bought him about proper social conduct. Eye contact, but not too much or creepily, a confident voice, but not braggart, and no fidgeting. He fought to stop the jittering in his leg and the twitching of his fingers against themselves as he rocked gently on his feet and then forced himself to cease, nearly causing him to fall over at the sudden stop of motion. He thought he looked stupid in trying to not look socially lost, finding a sad irony in doing so.

 

“Yes. That was a little program I thought might be an entertaining sort of way to get to get to know you, since, you know, we are roommates.”

 

“ It was a good distractor…and I loved the riddles…” Oswald snorted softly, obviously expressing sarcasm in the latter comment.

 

Edward did not perceive it. “Oh, I’m glad! I’m a big fan too, though I don’t know why your response recorded you didn’t like them in that case...Regardless! I have one you might like, it is less of a riddle and more of a joke, but it is a good marriage of the two. Where do penguins keep their money?”

 

Oswald was a bit dumbfounded, lost by the fact that Edward was acting as if he had totally missed Oswald’s sarcasm. He thought for a second that Edward was trying to mess with him, and laughed a bit awkwardly, but Edward just looked at him odd for a moment and then resumed an expectant gaze as if hoping Oswald would answer. Oswald soon realized, after a few seconds of awkward silence between the two, that Edward was not pulling his leg.

 

“Uh...I dunno...where do penguins...eh...keep their money…?” His response was weak and awkward.

 

Edward ignored or didn’t catch Oswald’s tone, and his social aloofness became more and more evident to Oswald.

 

Grinning wide, Edward gave away the answer in a proud burst, “A snow bank! Get it, because penguins live in snowy environments, and snow banks are a term used for snow mounds in areas. And the bank part is obvious.”

 

Edward grinned and giggled to himself, and Oswald gave a weak, forced smile and chuckle. Oswald tried to stand up again, pulling himself up along the post. Edward glanced towards him and quickly offered a hand.

 

“I don’t want to assert that you can’t get up yourself but it is custom to offer assistance whenever someone is standing up regardless of their physicality. I read that somewhere.”

 

Oswald glared at Ed’s hand, and then up at Ed, and refused the hand silently, pulling himself up and pushing his back against the post to keep most of his weight off the bad leg. Ed refused to allow the silence to rest between them.

 

“Do you like video games? I like video games, love them! They are like virtual puzzles that you can figure out using reflexes and problem solving and all sorts of methods of thinking. I really like this one series where you act as a lawyer and must exact your own investigation and defend clients in court using deductive reasoning and the such. Sometimes it over simplifies problems to where it is not too fun, but it is also entertaining to learn about the different ways that people kill, since most of the cases are murders. You like any games?”

 

Oswald simply watched Edward, his eyes dull and face with little expression. He was obviously not in the mood for entertaining Edward, but Ed was unable to pick up on it.

 

“No...I was too broke to afford many electronics.” Oswald spoke in a deadpanned tone.

 

“Oh, I apologize, that is unfortunate. I can show you if you are interested at all, I have a portable device that is very handy to travel with so I can play whenever I am bored or have a desire to play. I think everyone could find something neat in it, video games are so stimulating how could one deny their entertainment value?” Edward smiled ceaselessly and adjusted his glasses quickly, moving to his desk and beginning to shuffle through one of the drawers until he came out with a 3DS with a green protective case.

 

Oswald was reaching an emotional boiling point, his patience strung much to thin and taut, and he had to clench his fists and grind his teeth to keep from yelling at his roommate to shut up.

 

“Edward, please, stop. I haven’t had a good day and I just want to get my room set-up and rest, okay?”

 

Ed halted in his tracks, still holding the DS, eyes looking through the glasses that were sliding from the bridge of his nose. He looked a bit like a deer surprised by a hiker, but he quickly averted his gaze and cleared his throat. Ed had fucked it up again, even after reading up so much about first impressions and the correct social etiquette in these situations. He thought he had prepared completely for it, but he was proven to be wrong once again. Ed knew that he would have probably benefited from actively practicing with other people, but after only a few minutes of conversation, people would claim they had to leave, and he would see them laugh with their peers as they left. It was easy to deduce that he was the reason for their laughter, and it was not something he was to be proud of. Often times they would not even show enough respect to try and hide their disgust or annoyance, and Ed just smiled through it all, despite how it broke him inside. It was his life, what he had been taught to expect and to take, to be abused because that was simply what someone like him had to do.

 

“Oh, yes. Of course. I will...keep quiet then, um...if you need any help I am here.”

 

Edward quickly sat himself in the chair at his desk and let his eyes fall to the floor, staring at nothing, mind thinking things that made his chest constrict and his forehead spark with singes of pain. Not now. No, I won’t, I refuse. And with luck, the demon retreated back into the shadows of the border of his mind. He heard Oswald begin to open up and rummage through his luggage, but did not move. Only after a few minutes did he shift to grab a book from his stack, opening it up and reading half-heartedly. Only part of him comprehended the words on the page, the other half imagining what he could have done to not upset Oswald. Edward truly had wanted to simply come across as normal someone who could be an adequate friend or companion, someone he could engage in interesting conversation with and swap information with, but he felt as if he had killed the opportunity before it had even begun. Edward berated himself for his stupidity and tried to lose himself in the book before the thoughts became too aggressive.

 

Edward had been reading for a solid hour before he moved, called from the fantastical realm by Oswald’s voice speaking his name.

 

“Edward? Hey, Edward?”

 

“You can call me Ed,” Edward replied instinctively, then shook his head slightly and blinked, “And yes, do you need anything?”

 

“I was just going to ask what you were reading…”

 

Edward gently inserted a forest green fabric bookmark in the paperback and placed the book on his desk, smiling at Oswald’s initiative at conversation. Hope that Edward had not totally botched his chances began to give him a bit of confidence, though his shoulders still shelled over his body and his neck extended down and forwards. Long fingers played with the edge of his jacket sleeve, folding it over, unfolding it, and repeating the process in a fidgety motion.

 

“It’s just a novel I picked up, fiction. Do you like to read?”

 

Edward allowed his gaze to raise up, catching sight of Oswald sitting upon the desk under his bed opposite Ed’s own. Oswald braced himself with one hand on the desk, and another was pressing and grasping at the tissue under one of Oswald’s knee, the action was casual. The darkness underlining Oswald’s eyes was more evident in this lighting, and the depth of the circles that wrung around were dark enough to almost look like bruises. A number of small marks dotted Oswald’s nose and cheek, freckles, Edward analyzed. They gave Oswald a youthful appearance despite the age in his eyes. He was so pale, and it made Edward curious about the physiological consequences and reasons for such pallid flesh. Oswald flexed his ankles and stretched his neck upwards a few degrees in quick thought, opening his mouth to answer Edward.

 

“ Not particularly, unless I must. What’s your book about?” Oswald was softly picking at Ed, trying to learn what he could about his peculiar roommate, particularly wanting to answer a question he had but knew he could not ask directly.

 

Not knowing that Oswald had essentially pilfered through his belongings earlier, Edward could not refuse to answer Oswald’s curiosity. His hands ghosted over the book’s spine and cover, and he smiled at Oswald genuinely.

 

“What is priceless, but can be given for free?”

 

Oswald flattened his lips and grimaced, his face saying that he was obviously unhappy with the response Ed had found appropriate. He stayed quiet and just gave a weak shrug, giving up quickly, too tired for this wordplay.

 

“The answer is love. I find the topic to a bit cheesy for a riddle, but it’s still a good one. I am reading a love story, I suppose...but it’s just for study.” Edward felt his face grow heated, he did not know why, and twitched his nose and mouth to try and wish it away. “I am trying to study the social expectation of love and romance in a certain culture, and I thought that reading this kind of stuff might serve as a good first hand source.”

 

Oswald made a quizzical face, his nose scrunching and mouth sideways. He was confused, and a bit doubtful, given that Edward’s response had sounded like a bad lie to cover up something embarrassing.  Besides, who hell would read romance - most likely just fantastical romanticisms of what relationships would ideally be and not the sore reality of dating and the likes- to learn anything. It sounded like learning to be a professional athlete by watching a lot of professional sports on TV. It simply did not work like that, one needed to go out and practice and experience to truly learn. Oswald almost felt angry at the arrogance one must have to assume that life can be learned from a damned fantasy book. He could tell anyone about his broken mind and body, and it is not as if they would understand a fraction of what it means to live like he does.Oswald swallowed, physically and mentally, burying the upset in his chest and shaking his head a bit. Getting mad at Edward would not solve anything, and besides, the guy seemed too oblivious to even get what he had done wrong.



With the quiet, Edward pierced its suffocating bubble and felt the need to elaborate for whose sake, he did not know.

 

“I’ve never really understood this kind of… behaviour, I suppose. Emotions have never made much sense to me, you cannot put them under a microscope and understand them, you cannot dissect them or extract them or study them truly, and to make matters more complicated they are unique to every individual. It’s bizarre, how emotions and relationships work in this world, they dictate the quality of people’s lives, or so it seems, but humans have such a hard time learning to control and use their emotions for their own good. I am just… curious, interested more from a extrospective stand. I hope this is not too abnormal for you...I mean, I know that people can find my motives and actions unreasonable, but I mean no harm.” I never do .

 

Despite smiling through his small declaration, a sad twinge pulled at Edward’s eyes, and it was difficult to mask, not as if he knew how to emotionally, but he had learned how to hide his gaze behind the glare of his glasses if necessary. A loud, short burst of laughter from Oswald made Edward jump, his neck yanking upwards to look at the other. Oswald wore a wide grin, one that made his eyes and nose crinkle under the pushing of his cheeks and mouth. A thick strand of hair hung over the bridge of his nose, and he leaned forwards toward Edward, both hands on one knee, helping him lean over without falling off the desk.

 

“I won’t lie, I don’t like lying, it tends to get my mind lost in the webs at times and that leads to bad things, but you are odd. You aren’t what I was expecting, you’re weird.”

 

Edward’s look was one of painful surprise, but Oswald resumed smiling, a mixture of genuine and sly and truly kind, Edward found himself unable to comprehend quickly. Oswald held up one of his hands in a ‘stop’ signal.

 

But , but, I’m weird too. I’m odd, unusual, abnormal, whatever the hell people want to call it. Maybe I just think differently from most people, like it seems you do. Maybe you’re socially awkward, maybe you have your quirks, but don’t we all. Some people are just better at hiding their skeletons that you. That said, it seems like the skeletons in your closet are pretty tame compared to some others.” Oswald shrugged nonchalantly and his smile fell a bit, less forced, more real, for just a short moment.

“So look, I don’t give a fuck what you are. Emotionally and socially awkward? Fine, most of us are, let’s be real. You just don’t have a good facade to put up. Humans are just a goddamned mess of hormones and flesh. Maybe you’re more of a mess than most, but I have no room to talk, so I’ll try and curb my judgement when I can.”

 

Edward gawked a bit, and then realized he was staring and tore his look away. While it was not necessarily nice what Oswald had said, it was more understanding and accepting than Edward had gotten before. He hadn’t been called mentally ill, or perverted, or intellectually deficient, or closeted or… many others nasty things. Edward smiled and pushed up on his lenses.

 

“Hey though, just tell me…”

 

Quirking his brows in confusion, Edward looked up at Oswald, who had a smirk wrung around his face and a sharpness in his eyes.

 

“Tell you what, Oswald? Er… Oz.”

 

“Either one. Whatever. But you gotta know what I mean, you aren’t exactly subtle, I mean, you are reading gay romance novels, so are you...gay?”

 

Edward glanced at his book, eyeing it for a moment before returning his gaze to Oswald. His face evoked nothing comprehensible to Oswald.

 

“No judging!” Oswald added quickly after and raised both his hands as if to show he had nothing hidden.

 

“I… am not. I told you, just trying to study culture.” Edward pressed his finger harshly to his nose, pushing the nosepiece of his glasses into his face until it hurt.

 

A flash of surprise mixed with slight upset crossed Oswald’s face, but Edward assumed it was from a pain that made Oswald grasp his knee tightly.

 

“Well, if I were you, maybe I wouldn’t read those things too publicly in that case. It will cause you unwanted attention from people with multiple motives.” Oswald jeered a bit jokingly, hopping down from the desk and walking - limping badly - to rummage through his suitcase to finish unpacking.

 

“Thank you…?” Edward replied, wondering if it was advice he was given or a warning, but nonetheless he tucked the information in the back of his mind.

 

“You’re very welcome.” Oswald grinned smugly back at Edward and snorted softly to himself.

 

Glancing out of the room’s window, Edward quirked his brow at the situation. It seemed like they had accepted one another as people, for the quirks that Oswald claimed to have and the one’s that Edward found difficult to hide. He wasn’t sure where he stood, and it was making him unnerved, not knowing.

 

“The rich have it, the poor have it. It can be bought, but not sold. The best kind are free.”

 

Oswald groaned loudly. “You’re gonna have to stop with these, I’m bad at them, and I don’t like being forced to do stuff I’m bad at.”

 

“Friends”

 

“What? Oh…Is that how you’re gonna ask if we’re friends now?” Oswald deadpanned.

 

“Was that inappropriate in some way?”

 

Oswald sighed and shook his head, arguing would lead nowhere he guessed.

 

“Yes then, sure, we can be friends.”

 

“Good! Also, you said you don’t like to lie, so tell me, did you cheat on the keyboard riddle earlier?”

 

Frowning, Oswald looked at Edward with indignation.

 

Of course not.” Oswald drawled, and a sly grin grew upon his pale, freckled face.

Chapter Text

 

“Do you like snakes?” Oswald asked it casually, arranging a few old DVD boxes and albums on the corner of his desk.

 

“Pardon?” Edward looked up from his laptop at Oswald, confused at to what prompted the question and what it had to do with anything in particular.

 

“Do you like snakes? You have a long ol’ stuffed snake hanging off your bed up there, so…” Oswald sat himself down on the chair near his desk and pointed upwards with a pale hand up at the plush snake sticking its tongue out from over the short barrier on the bed’s edge.

 

“Oh…” Gazing upwards to where Oswald was indicating, Edward stretched his neck upwards until his glasses threatened to fall backwards off of his nose. He kept them in place with a firm press of his right hand. “Yes. I do a bit. I was bitten by one when I was around...eight, I believe, yes eight.”

 

“Bitten?” Oswald interjected automatically, confused.

 

Edward nodded, maintaining a grin, almost maniacally. “On my upper, right arm. I recall barely being able to write cursive a few weeks after. My father brought it home one day, most likely intoxicated, and he’d left it a rather dirty jar in our living room. I had been awoken, as per usual, when he failed at making his late arrival inconspicuous, and had seen the tiny enclosure for the animal. Curious, and my father essentially dead on his feet, it was not as if he was diligent when sober anyways, I opened the jar with a bit of effort and found myself in a nasty situation with a deservedly upset reptile. Using its muscular body, it managed to launch itself at what it perceived to be an assailant, me, and bit me. It was a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake to be precise, a snake indigenous to the Western United States and known to have a very toxic, proteolytic venom. Oh, and proteolytic just means that the venom contains enzymes that breakdown tissues using catabolism. Pretty fascinating.”

 

“Aren’t rattlesnake bites deadly?” Oswald’s expression was one of twisted concern and disgust at the imagery his mind conjured. He had pulled up images of snake bites on his phone out of ignorance and had quickly slammed it back unto his desk screen down, fighting back the gag reflex the images provoked.

 

Edward raised up a finger as if to debate Oswald on something, and then adjusted his glasses, a smirk still on his face, as if the story did not happen to him, but was simply something he’d read in an interesting article.

 

“Snake bites can be fatal depending on the age of the snake and the efficiency of the response by the victim. I was lucky in the fact that the snake just tried to escape instead of biting me again, and also lucky that I maintained lucidity long enough to dial 911 and communicate my scenario effectively. Despite my scream my mother failed to wake up until the sirens were blaring outside our house, and my father had fallen into a deep, alcohol-induced slumber. I suspect my mother had been under similar circumstances. While I waited for the emergency services I had just sat down in the living room, and pulled down one of my encyclopedias while holding down the wound to see if the book had any good information on snake bite procedure. Obviously, I ended up being fine. Though my parents were rather angered by the entire ordeal, the medical bills had not been cheap.” Edward glanced downwards at the mention of his parents, eyes wary for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment. “I’ve the scar still, if you are curious.” He almost seemed eager to show off his war wound, a smile returned to his face.

 

Oswald quickly shook his head and spat out, “No! Please, no thank you, Edward. It’s fine.” He could barely take seeing his own mess of flesh, let alone whatever Edward’s may look like now.

 

Edward lowered his sleeve from where he had risen it to his upper forearm, and then caught Oswald’s decline, glancing upwards. Disappointment flashed across his face.

 

“So why do you like something that nearly killed you? That seems counterintuitive.” Oswald said with a confused and judgemental frown, beginning to regret having played nice earlier. He hadn’t thought Edward a psychopath earlier, and neither now necessarily, but the signs were off putting.

 

“I find snakes fascinating. I find the evolutionary lineage that was necessary to lead to such a unique organism to be absolutely engrossing. It is an example of a living type of biological warfare, containing a chemical that science has yet to fully comprehend all of its benefits and abilities in destroying. They are creatures that remind humans of their true fragility and ineptitude in the biological world, things that force the usual arrogance to be swallowed. They’re enthralling!”

 

Oswald swallowed, saying nothing, dismayed by the man who was either too oblivious or too rational to fear death.

 

“I apologize. I have had a fascination with them since then, and some call it unhealthy so I understand if you agree with them. Besides, it was not truly the snake’s fault for being there, it was brought into the house by my father, and the poor animal was simply trying to protect itself. The only reason I know it was a Western Diamondback was because it had been killed by one of the emergency personnel in the front hall, and had left a bloodstain on the floor since then. I felt more anger at my father than the snake for what had happened…”

 

Both fell silent. Oswald could understand that , could understand what Edward was saying but also avoiding. He sympathized for a moment. Such things warped people, and he supposed various coping mechanisms ensued, some perhaps being fixation. Oswald refused to look to deeply into it right now.

 

“Hey, what do you know about penguins?”

 

“I beg your pardon?” Edward jolted upwards, straightening his back and his glasses as they slid down his face, the break in quiet surprising him a bit.

 

“Penguins. You said you wanted to hear about them, so what do you already know about them, Mr. Encyclopedia nerd.”

 

“That is a derogatory take-away from my story, but I suppose it is not common for children to read nonfiction for fun so I comprehend your reasoning for the title. I ask that you not use it.”

“It was a joke , Edward.”

 

“Oh, of course. As for penguins, I know that the male emperor penguin keeps its egg warm by balancing it on its feet! Which I think is rather neat. And while the male incubates the egg, the female is out at sea fishing to gain fat reserves and bring back food to regurgitate for the chick when it hatches and to relieve the male of his duties. I saw March of the Penguins in a biology class but was distracted by a classmate who was crying obnoxiously beside me, she refused to shut up.” Edward frowned at the end, mouth flat and tense, but it eased as he glanced back at Oswald. “Feel free to enlighten me.

 

Oswald grinned, for real, finally able to speak about something he’d usually get scorned for otherwise, but with Edward, someone unaware that Oswald may be rambling at time or may be speaking with too much detail, none of that mattered.

 

Moving to sit on the floor so that he may stretch his leg out, Oswald found Edward joining him, opposite, both leaning against their desks as Oswald spoke, long-winded and continuous. Oswald talked about blue penguins, also known as fairy penguins, and how they were his favorite. How in Australia a large colony was once affected by an oil spill and the birds in recovery were dressed in volunteer-knit sweaters, pulling up images on his phone of small penguins wearing colorful jumpers and being tended to be rehabilitation workers. He went on about the way that blue penguins come up to shore everyday to sleep in a small hollow on land, like a rabbit would. Oswald elaborated on the technical fact that penguins are restricted to the southern hemisphere but that the Galapagos penguin technically travels to the northern hemisphere since the archipelago lies on the equatorial line. Oswald spoke for an hour, two hours, showing Edward videos, images, droning about various stories and myths and truths about these flightless birds, but never did Edward cease to show genuine interest. In fact, Edward often interjected with his own questions, asking for both fact and opinion. “What is your favorite species? Why? What is the evolutionary reasoning behind the various species? What is the wild survival rate?” It continued until the sun fell outside the window and the stars speckled the sky behind the spotty clouds.

 

“Why is it that you have such an intense interest in penguins?” Edward asked it innocently, cocking his head and leaning a bit forwards.

 

Oswald open his mouth to answer, but then closed it and swallowed a clump of saliva in the back of his throat. Good question. One that he hated the answer of.

 

“Cause my gait is different, people called me ‘Penguin’ in school, and I hated the name but it got me looking up penguins for some idiotic reason. It was a sort of love-hate relationship.” Oswald shrugged nonchalantly, trying to brush it off despite the way it got under his skin and agitated his nerves, making him want to dig his nails deeply into his knee again.

 

“Ah, yes, children can be cruel. They show superiority through belittling, the psychology behind it is a bit warped.” Edward murmured, thinking out loud a bit.

 

The conversation lost its tempo and grace, and began to die, withering between then as the silence grew and enveloped them both in the halogen lamp lit room.

 

“I’m really tired...I ought to go to... fuck! ” Oswald cursed and looked up at his still bare bed, just a mattress. Oswald had never managed to climb up and actually dress the bed, and now it was late and he was exhausted and he really fucking did not want to do it now. Besides, he’d look like a flailing idiot in front of Edward, which might spark more questions or asking if he needed help and he definitely did not want to embarass himself or wean pity from his roommate.

 

“Oswald? What is wrong?” Edward tilted his head sharply and looked up and down Oswald’s form, as if searching for an injury or cause of pain that made the other curse piercingly.

 

“Oh, um, nothing, Ed. I just gotta make my bed. No problem.”

 

“Ah, I see. Well, I wish you goodnight in that case. I will go work in the lounge down the hall to give you privacy while you get ready for bed in that case.” Edward pushed himself up and stretched his lower back, a small pop sounding from the air trapped in his vertebrae.

 

Oswald sighed in relief, thankful Edward would not be around to see Oswald most likely fail multiple times before successfully clambering up the bed. Edward gathered his laptop and charging cable, placing them nicely into a small bag before grabbing one of the pill bottles and ingesting two, bright pink pills. Oswald watched him do so from the corner of his eyes. Slowly rising, Oswald waited for Edward to leave before moving too much, wanting to be alone .

 

“Goodnight, Oswald.” Edward chirped happily, leaving through the door and waving.

 

“Yeah, g’nite.” Oswald mumbled back and nodded in acknowledgement.

 

With one last grin, Edward was gone.

 

Oswald sighed and ran his hands angrily over his face and through his face. Time to climb this fucking thing. You better cooperate, you useless fuckin’ limb. The ache manifested as anger as Oswald tossed the sheets up unto the bunk bed and then placed a firm grip on the higher horizontal beams. He pulled upwards with his arms and then lifted his left leg to support his weight off the ground. In reflex, his right leg bent and complained, but Oswald ignored it. It took several minutes of cursing and clumsy movements, but Oswald managed to flop unto the bed, resting on his hands and knees and tired after the strain. He worked at making the bed, stretching the fitted sheet over the mattress multiple times, growling and cursing when it would inevitably pop up in one corner. He had to stop occasionally to sit up and straighten his legs, as being on his knees agitated the bad knee severely.

 

After about a half an hour of messy work, he had set it up, having dragged blankets and pillows up, as well as a stuffed animal. He would rather slit someone’s throat then admit to still having something as childish as a plush toy, but it gave him some comfort he refused to relinquish. Oswald stuffed it under the covers carefully despite being alone at the moment. He figured it was not too much to worry about as Edward had displayed his snake without worry, but regardless, paranoia nipped at the back of his mind. Oswald sighed, back on the ground, and stripped to his boxers, throwing on an old shirt to sleep in and then slowly clambering back up the hellacious structure and laying down. He was so tired, exhausted mentally and physically, and it did not take long for him to fall asleep clutching an old emperor penguin that his mother had given him after his leg ceased its normal function.

 

----

 

Oswald had not heard Edward come back into the room, but when he awoke, he found the other, sleeping figure splayed ungraciously on the bed on the opposite side of the room. He rose, and got out of bed, smoothing the sheets and blankets and staching the few animals under the blankets so that they would be hidden. Classes would not begin until Monday, and the day was Saturday, but that did not mean that Oswald did not have duties. In order to help pay for his education, he had to have a job on the side, or he’d find himself burdening his mother to much. He’d hate to have her fretting so much over money, it would just end up making him perpetually anxious about being alive, and he did not want that anymore.

 

Taking a while to completely wake from a long sleep, Oswald grabbed a towel and shower supplies, and made his way to the large restroom that he was forced to share with other residents. He loathed it, the communal bathroom, but was thankful that it was empty when he was in there. Oswald showered, dressed, and then quickly grabbed his keys, wallet, and a few granola bars he had found in his backpack yesterday, and headed to the first day of his job. Walking out, Oswald made a mental note to open up some more of the foodstuffs his mother had packed him last-minute as a surprise for him. Leaving with Edward still asleep, which he supposed was probably for the better. Oswald didn’t think he could deal with Edward’s tendency to talk at this point in the morning.

 

Oswald took what was most likely not the most direct way to the ice arena, following directions on his phone that seemed to change every few seconds as the GPS fought to find his orientation, until he gave up in frustration and yelled at his phone to get its shit together. While trotting to his destination, ignoring the gazes from passersby who were poor at hiding their obvious stare at his awkward gait, Oswald ate a light breakfast from what he had jammed in his pockets earlier and watched the sparrows gather around a few crumbs he had tossed into the bushes.

 

The hockey rink was enormous, seemingly larger than their dorm building, tall and intimidating. Oswald pushed the door outside of the main entrance labelled ‘Office’ which is where an email had directed him to go, and approached the front desk.

 

“Hi, I’m Oswald Cobblepott, here for today’s team practice. I’m one of the new team assistants.” He smiled at the woman that manned the reception, trying to be professional, charming, as he was in the public eye.

 

The administrative receptionist looked like a student worker as well, young and messing with her phone when Oswald approached her small desk. A small lapel name tag stuck to the breast of her collared shirt read ‘Kristen Kringle’. She feigned a weak smile at Oswald and pointed a finger at a staircase beyond the reception area, red nails bright and shining under the halogen light. “They should be down in locker room, just down the stairs and to the right.”

 

Oswald gave a curt nodded and thanked her, pulling down on the quarter button-up he’d thrown on this morning and jamming his hands in the pockets of the black, athletic jacket he’d been mailed after being chosen for the job. A small emblem of the school’s insignia was embroidered on the jacket’s chest, right beside some sports company logo that sponsored the university’s hockey team. It was not Oswald’s typical style, but he was not one to refuse an employer or free clothing. The sleek black fabric reflected softly in the lights of the arena’s underbelly, where the zambonis and locker rooms and equipment was all stashed.

 

Oswald found the locker room rather easily, following the noise of movement and conversation, occasional group laughter pulsing through and echoing off the bare, bricked walls. He poked his head in the doorway and glanced around the large room. Large, athletically built young men rummaged around the room, in partial states of dress. Though they were all within about four years of age of one another, as university student athletes, their ages seemed more varied than that.Some sported aged faces, more sunken eyes, many with obvious facial scars and an air of experience, and the freshman were easy to spot, smoother and brighter faces, more energetic and talkative. They intermingled among one another, ignoring age and ability differences to meld better as a team. Someone sitting on the locker room bench, hunched over his own legs as he worked at putting on protective gear on his skins, glanced up, and caught Oswald’s gaze. He looked for a moment, but then blinked away, ignoring him.

 

Oswald swallowed, attempting to rid himself of the dryness in the back of his throat, and tried to locate whomever was in charge before anyone decided to pay him any unwanted attention. A hit came upon his shoulder and he visibly jumped, eyes gone wide and mouth open in shock, but silent. He snapped his neck to the side to come face to face with an older man with dark eyes and a bored look. The invader of Oswald’s bubble of personal space chuckled at Oswald’s obvious anxiousness and took a step back, his hand quickly coming off Oswald’s hunched shoulders.

 

“You must be the new kid. Relax, no one here is gonna bite you. Hell, some of them don’t have all their teeth. I’m the coach, Harvey Bullock, call me Coach, Harvey, Bullock, I don’t particularly care, kid.”

 

When Harvey smiled, he revealed a gap in the row of his lower incisors, and a chip on the teeth beside it, his canine cut short and dull. Oswald sent back a sheepish grin, and shook the hand that Bullock had extended, where he masked a cringe as his small hand was crushed in the monstrous grasp. He swore he’d felt something pop in his wrist at the yank it had suffered.

 

“Yes, I’m Oswald, Oswald Cobblepott. A pleasure to meet you, sir.”

 

Harvey leaned against a row of tall, green metallic lockers and motioned for someone to come over silently, turning towards Oswalds after doing so. “Might as well introduce you to some of the team since you are gonna be working closely with ‘em.”

 

“Of course, sir.”

 

Harvey ” He corrected quickly, and Oswald nodded jerkily in response.

 

“This is Gordon, he’s this year’s captain, a junior. He’ll show you some of the ropes and then I’ll pick up where he left off when they hit the ice in a few.” Harvey said, then pushing off the lockers and moving to circle the room a few times before heading out one of the doors to somewhere Oswald could not see well.

 

A tall, well-built man with a short, nearly military style hairstyle stood in front of Oswald, a small, but present smile showcasing friendliness. He stuck out a calloused hand and leaned his chin up a bit, smiling wider so that bright teeth were visible, none seemingly missing from what Oswald could tell.

 

“Jim, Jim Gordon, Captain of this fine team. Center on the ice.”

 

“Oswald, um, Cobblepott.” Oswald fumbled with Jim’s hand, his own clammy and a bit sweaty. “I look forward to working with you, Mr. Gordon.”

 

“Jim is fine. Anyways, coach tells me you’re the new hire, so I should probably explain what we need from you usually.”

 

Oswald nodded and stood a bit more straight, attempting to hunch his shoulders less, to simply look less meek among all these enormous figures. It was difficult, to say the least. The last time Oswald was around people like this , well, jocks, it was not by choice. Throughout his schooling, from the moment other kids learned they could build themselves up on the backs of others and their suffering, Oswald was a target. With no one on his side, thanks to his more anti-social tendencies, he was an easy target too. Sometimes it was verbal, sometimes some light pushing or teasing, and at its worst, it was a one-sided fight. It was hard to keep the bruises under wraps, to hide them from his mother. The first time he’d come home, nose dripping red, stains on his shirt dried and ruined the material, face dark and splotchy, and eyes irritated from crying, his mother had nearly had a heart attack.

 

At first she’d been upset at him for letting it happen, out of sheer terror for his well-being, but it took very little for her to repent, clutch him close, and tend to his mental and physical wounds and aches. He’d felt atrocious for making her worry like that, knowing that it was difficult enough on her to raise a son on her own, after his bastard of a father had left her. Oswald had known that her heart could not take it, and when he tried to prevent the marks, they only got worse. Yet, he refused to reveal the nature behind the ones more difficult to conceal. He feigned ignorance to ones on his hands, saying it must have been something dumb he did that had bruised his pale skin, saying it was nothing. He simply covering anything on his limbs and chest by wearing long sleeves and pants, only undressing in his room or the bathroom where he was sure his mother would not see. The black eyes and broken nose were more difficult to simply explain away, but he blamed it on walking into doors, tripping, whatever he could imagine with the throbbing pain.

 

It was not always the athletic types that got to him, but it was those encounters that haunted him the most. Oswald would deny it all, refusing to let it rip away his shreds of pride no matter how much it was tried to be beat out of him. Not even when it got to its worst and he lost something he would never get back. The pain gave him resolve, gave him endurance, but it also stole away something he could not quite explain. It made him different, it took from him the freedom of frivolity in character and the right to life without pain, it made him who he was today. Oswald was unsure if that was a good thing or not, and he did not appreciate dwelling on it. Dwelling would get him nothing but self-pity and depression. Unfortunately, despite what his consciousness tried to persuade him to, the past would never leave him and it would take time to find comfort in being around a team of people who caused recollections of his painful past.

 

Things are different this time. Oswald thought to himself, and he attempted to lax his shoulders, to release the tension that had rendered his body taut. He sighed lowly and followed behind Gordon, dwarfed in the player’s tall, wide shadow.

 

“This is Harvey. Well, everyone calls him Dent, since Coach Bullock is also Harvey. He’s got a thing for coin flipping before a game too, so you might hear people calling him ‘Quarter’ or ‘Flip’. Most of the guys on the team have names we chirp them with, so you’ll get used to it.”

 

Dent saluted Oswald with a jerk upwards of his head and a large, toothy grin. “Dent, Right Defenseman, best damn one on the team. Only important thing for you is that I’m a fan of any sorta blue stuff you got.”

 

“Pardon me?” Oswald asked, perplexed by the note.

 

Gordon interjected. “He means the bottles. You’re gonna be playing water boy sometimes, and Dent refuses to drink any color Gatorade, or whatever sports drink, that isn’t blue…”

 

“ ‘S good luck, Gordy! You just don’t believe me.” Dent winked and laughed heartily, swatting at Jim’s thigh with his gloved hand. “We’re all a superstitious bunch, I’m not the weird one.” He turned to Oswald and smirked at his own remarks.

 

Gordon huffed and brushed a nonchalant hand at Dent, suppressing a smile as he did so and moving on. “Ah, just ignore him. These guys are a bunch of characters, but you’ll get used to it soon enough. They’re all good guys at heart.”

 

Oswald nodded and gave a tight smile, they seemed harmless enough, like typical guys their age he supposed. Maybe it wouldn’t be as bad as he imagined.

 

Gordon slapped at the wall of the locker area near another player, then called at them. “Zsasz!” He barked. Someone whom Oswald would compare to a skinhead glanced upwards cheekily and grinned deviously.

 

“Hello, Capt’n.” Zsasz crooned and leaned back in his locker space, sporting thick padding along his shoulders and chest that just made him look more terrifying in Oswald’s eyes.

 

“This is the new hire, Zsasz, figure he might as well get to know the main goalie.”

 

Zsasz smiled wide up at Oswald and ran a hand over his scalp, as if running his fingers through the nonexistent hair. Then holding an arm out, which Oswald very hesitantly took.

 

“Relax, I ain’t gonna harm ya unless you come at my goal, which from the looks of it, you never will.” He laughed darkly and gripped Oswald’s pale hand harshly before letting him free.

 

Oswald returned a shaky grin and nodded on instinct. “Yes, of course, Mr. Zsasz.”

 

“Victor Zsasz, defender of our damned goal. Anyone who gets a puck near has got to answer to me, and it won’t be fun.” A wild look flared in his eyes, then died just as quickly and Victor relaxed against his locker space. “ Just messing with you, kid. I ain’t got nothing specially weird, like Dent, but just keep up with the fluids during practice and games and we’ll be fine. Might need tape from the back occasionally if I run out for my stick, but not much else.”

 

“Yes, sir. No problem. I am Oswald, a pleasure to meet you.”

 

The meet-and-greet continued, Gordon chatting with some of the players, and apart from Zsasz, none of them gave off any sort of intimidating air. It was almost pleasant for Oswald. Soon though, Gordon glanced at his watch and then riled up the team to get out on the ice for practice, and it was time for Oswald to meet with Bullock and begin organizing the team equipment for practice and bringing out a multitude of generic water bottles with company logos plastered across them. The work was relatively simple, and no one got very upset if he missed any minor details. It was nice as far as he could tell. Oswald did not dare to engage any of the players in conversation, but he could hear them amongst themselves, chirping, gossiping, talking about their summers. It was so different. They would even clap him on the back or nudge him on the shoulder when coming off the ice and taking a towel or water from him, granting him a tired grin and a ‘thanks’ muffled by them spitting out their mouth guard. It was not what Oswald hoped to find himself doing in four years, but it was a job, and one with people who didn’t seem to want to take advantage of him. He even found himself returning a small smile at some nearing the end of the practice time. It’s different this time .

 

---

 

When the door opened, Ed turned his head quickly to see who it was, knowing it would be Oswald, but still wanting to see for himself.

 

“Hello, Oswald!” He chirped and smiled wide at the arrival, releasing the 3DS in his hands and using one to wave excitedly.

 

“Hmm? Oh, hello, Ed.”

 

Oswald shuffled in, letting the door slam behind him, and he sunk into his chair, kicking off his shoes and leaning back in the plastic seat. Edward had stood and approached Oswald from behind, leaning over him with his DS in hand. Sensing his presence, Oswald glanced behind him and was startled at Ed’s closeness, making a low noise in surprise and frowning afterwards. A short sight left Oswald’s lips and he look up at Edward.

 

“Please, do step back…”

 

“Oh, I apologize. I just wanted to show you this, I thought you might find it neat.” Edward took a quick step backwards and held up his 3DS at Oswald, to which Oswald only quirked his brow and looked up at Edward.

 

“Okay…”

 

Taking that as permission to continue, Ed grinned and sat on the ground beside Oswald’s chair, holding up the handheld console so that Oswald could see it. Edward was tall enough so that when he sat, he could easily carry the device so they both could see. Oswald had no clue what he was being shown, but he was a bit tired and figured he could entertain whatever Edward wanted to display.

 

“So in this game, you’re a defense attorney and detective in one, kind of, which isn’t really how the judicial system works but this is also supposed to take place in the future so I guess the creators have some leeway thanks to their timeline choice. Anyway, it’s like a giant riddle, since you have to put together clues and evidence and find contradictions in witness testimonies and all sorts of fun things like that. It’s very fun, though simplified for players of all levels, but I still find it entertaining, and funny at times.” Ed took a breath before continuing, showing Oswald some of the features of the screen on the device, using the buttons and the lower touch screen to showcase them.

 

“So I was playing and then I got to this part where I had to face the prosecuting attorney, and he ended up having a hawk or something and I thought you might like that since you seem to really like birds. I don’t know enough about birds to identify what kind of bird he has, but you might.”

 

Edward jammed a few buttons on the console until an odd looking player in a black robe and a hawk on his shoulder. It was too generic for Oswald to name as one species, and he figured it wasn’t designed off of one species in particular since it was a video game.

 

“Um…I dunno what it is exactly, but I am pretty sure it is a hawk.” Oswald offered and then shrugged.

 

Edward tapped a bit on the screen, text swirling across the bottom of the screen, and Oswald found himself watching. The movement of light in the darkened room caught his eyes automatically. Oswald slowly pushed out of the chair and unto the ground beside Edward, where he could stretch out his leg and see the screen more easily. Edward began to explain the case so far, putting down the game for a bit and using hand motions to speak with his hands about the game’s story. How someone had been murdered in a bizarre situation, how it was thought the killer was a Japanese demon, but that it was ridiculous to think so and that science and rationality could no doubt answer the questions behind the murder of some fictional town’s mayor. It was all quite fun, and Oswald found him interested despite himself.

 

They began to play together, Ed reading off the text, and Oswald at times interjecting to ask what was going on, or add in an odd fact or two about raptors like the game’s bird, which Edward revealed was named ‘Taka’.

"I like the flapping sound effect, hawks can be noisy sometimes when they lift off." 

 

"Fascinating!"

 

"Also, you know in movies when they show owls, and their wings make noise? That's total bull, owls are silent flyers. It's kind of amazing really, they are super good hunters, but not very smart. The whole wise owl thing is also total trash. The smartest birds are corvids like crows and jays."

 

"Fascinating! That's actually interesting that you know so much about birds. Most people are pretty ignorant about the world around them."

 

Oswald just shrugged and let Ed continue playing and reading aloud for a bit. Whenever the game asked for a decision, Edward asked for Oswald's input, despite the fact that Ed was usually right on the mark. The gesture was nice. Oz would shrug if he had no clue what to say, and Edward took it however he wanted, contuing, smiling.

 

“Would you like to have a bird like Taka?”



“Maybe if it was a rescue that couldn’t be released into the wild.”

 

“That would be very neat, indeed!”

 

And they both laughed.


Oswald ended up drifting off to Ed’s game monologue, tired from being on his feet most of the day, despite the sugary drinks and snacks he’d had at the rink. He was comfortable, and life seemed less daunting like this, just acting his age, being with someone who actually enjoyed his company. This is different. This is better.

Chapter Text

 

Clang!

 

Ricocheting off the red, metallic goal post, the sound of the puck smashing up against the metal rang throughout the arena. The lights were dimmer than usual and the rink was relatively quiet. Gordon, Zsasz and Dent were working on a few drills late after practice, mostly to work the goalie, but Jim and Dent savored the opportunity to hit the puck around, flicking slapshots, deking down the ice, trying to fake out the steely man standing in the way of the back of the net. The ringing sound was beauty to Zsasz’s ears and tooth grating to Jim, whose hit had caused the deathly sound.

 

NICE SHOT, Gordon! ” Zsasz cackled and brushed away a ring of ice particulate around his goal box.

 

Gordon hissed back a quick response and pushed himself around on the ice, picking up the puck with his stick, which he itched to retape, and darting around the back of the goal, setting up for his next shot. Dent, whom had been lingering in the other side of the rink, burst into movement and kicked at the ice, speeding forwards and working the puck as he did so, a wide grin on his face despite the discomfort his mouthguard gave him. Dent leaned over his stick and wound up for a quick shot, but then faked Zsasz and darted over to the other side of the goalie and tried to slap in the puck. It hit one of Zsasz’s pads and slid away, to which Zsasz grinned wide and gave a short burst of laughter. While he scraped away at some of the ice beneath his skates, pushing horizontally with his legs, settling into his goal, Gordon begun to come back at him. Jim came forward fast and with the focused look in his eye he always had when shooting. Zsasz watched him close and tensed himself in preparation for the shot. All he heard was the hit, a crack, and the shifting air beside his head as the puck flew by and sunk into the back of the net.

 

“FUCK!”

 

Gordon simply grinned and skated back around the goal, picking it up as Zsasz angrily smacked it out of his goal and far away. The puck skittered along the ice, bouncing on a few divots due to the fact that the ice had not been cleaned since before their first practice. Jim reached and caught the puck with his stick before finessing his legs and skating in a backwards motion, facing Zsasz with a smug grin. It had been a good shot. They continued, Dent got one in after a while, Gordon continued to push his luck until Zsasz shoved him out of his goal area when he got too close, but it was all in good fun. They bantered as they did so.

 

“So, Capt’n, got any plans for tonight? It is a saturday night, and you are the leader of the school’s favorite team.” Zsasz was trying to distract Gordon as he came at him with a puck.

 

Jim took the shot, and Zsasz grabbed it with his glove. Jim scoffed and skating to the side before answering.

 

“Nope. Got some stuff I’d like to look over in the paper, but nothing else.”

 

“You ain’t comin’ to the frat party Gamma Beta Delta is hosting?” Dent probed as he wound up his trick shot.

 

Gordon shook his head. “Those parties always get outta control. And I don’t feel like being on the wrong side when the cops show up to arrest the drunkest of idiots.”

 

“Then just don’t get caught.” Zsasz trilled, having caught Dent’s shot, and tossing it back unto the ice.

 

“There’s nothing there worth risking my reputation over.” Gordon snapped, and flick his wrist sharply as he sent a puck smacking into the plexiglass, not aiming anywhere in particular.

 

Dent snorted before retorting. “How about the cute chicks? They absolutely love you, Jim.”

 

With a subtle sigh and shake of his head, Gordon skated around Dent once and then slowed. “ Not worth it, Harvey. Besides, I don’t want a girl who is only into me cause I’m the captain of the hockey team.”

 

Dent chirped, “Who doesn’t want a chick who is into you being the captain?! She’d probably give a good blowjob.” He smirked wryly and began messing with the puck to mask his childish blush.

 

“Oh, grow up!” Gordon grumbled and slapped a puck at Zsasz suddenly, it smacked the outer net and slid away.

 

“Maybe he’s gay? ” Zsasz teased with a hissing tone, nodding at Gordon nonchalantly and clicking his tongue at Dent.

 

“Hey, that’d be a first. Hah! And if ya made it to the NHL, Gordon, ya’d be the first player to be out in the league. Hey, you’d make history, Jim, history! ” Dent added unnecessarily and chuckled at his own barely stable train of thought.

 

“A queer , in the school’s hockey team? How fun~ . But you’d be a lot less popular in the locker room, Gordon, I can assure you that.” Zsasz kept prodding the tiger, as if wanting it to lash out.

 

Knowing full well that Zsasz was chirping him, Gordon ignored him with a surge of air and hastily began skating the rink’s rim. He had grown tired of their childish and immature allegations over the seasons together, and despite their lack of malintention, it was irksome nonetheless.

 

A loud burst of a laugh came from Dent as he slapped a puck around the back of the goal and along the curve of the rink’s corners. “Hah! We just kidding...Nah man, no way is the fuckin’ captain a fag .”

 

“Shut up!” Gordon hollered from across the rink, and his voice echoed for a few moments until a suffocating silence fell over them.

 

“Touchy…” Zsasz commented and swept his stick over the line of his goal area, rolling his eyes and scratching at his neck where his gear made his neck itch a bit.

 

Gordon quickly skated over and sprayed shaved ice at the two as he stopped abruptly. An angered expression was smeared across his face and he removed his helmet, revealing damp hair and sweaty skin from the exertion he had been giving the past few hours. Gordon spat out his mouthguard and eyed his teammates.

 

“Listen, you cannot be saying that shit. One slip up, one guy hears us on the ice saying shit like this ,” Gordon motioned jerkily at Dent and then at Zsasz, who was standing upright and out of his usual positioning as he received his slap on wrist with slight disdain. When Jim got up on his high-horse, it was less fun to poke and prod him, ruined the whole intention of chirping. “ one mess up and the whole team is fucked . The school doesn’t like to deal with this kinda shit, makes for bad press and they love the amount of cash that the team brings in, and don’t want anything happening that could make the team look bad in the public eye. So just don’t fucking push it.”

 

Dent shuffled on the ice and pushed at a puck weakly with his stick, feeling more upset for making Jim upset at him than ashamed for what he’d dared said. Zsasz simply knocked his stick loudly on the goal, making a ringing sound, and then grinned wide at Gordon. “Whatever you want, Captain .”

 

Gordon refused to continue the conversation and made his way off the ice, with Dent trailing behind like a scolded dog. Zsasz stayed out a bit longer, skating and watching as Dent and Gordon trailed into the locker room and disappeared.

 

“Fuckin’ flower, you are…”

 

---

“...-sald...Hey, Oswald? Oz?”

 

A voice that refused to cease pestering Oswald’s ear awoke him from a shallow state of sleep. Without opening his eyes, Oswald groaned and raised his arm to paw at whatever was waking him up, as if searching for some kind of snooze button. He was too bloody tired for this.

 

“Lemme sleep…” Oswald mumbled as his fingers brushed against something soft and then laid there.

 

Something plucked at Oswald’s jacket wrist and deposited his arm over his chest softly. “On...the floor? I highly advise against such. The floor’s carpet is very thing and I am sure that below the centimeter of carpet is nothing but a cement floor. In short, it would end badly for your muscles and back if you were to sleep on the floor like this.”

 

It was Edward. Oswald cracked open an eye and glared with annoyance at the other, whose face was illuminated only by the bright screen of the small gaming console that he now recalled Ed playing with before drifting off. Oswald blinked for a few moments as Edward looked at him curiously, and then yawned.

 

“How long have I been asleep?” Oswald muttered, shifting to a different position as lying on the floor for so long in one way had made his muscles achey.

 

“About...an hour and thirty-six minutes.” Edward chirped back, smiling at Oswald and adding, “Whenever I save I see the timestamp, and it tells me the time. Also, it is 9:34 PM in case you were wondering the time.”

 

“M’kay…” Was all Oswald had the will to reply with.

 

Oswald dug his pale hand into the pocket of his sweater and pulled out an old, cracked phone, pushing on the buttons on the side and wincing at the brightness. He shut his eyes at the light and made a low noise, swallowing with a dry throat. Oswald opened his eyes again slowly and investigated the phone for any new notifications. He had none. It was no surprise, he essentially had no friends, not wanting to keep in touch with anyone from his past save for his mother, and not having met anyone in this new place. He shut the phone off and tossed it to the side before leaning up against the desk, removing himself from Edward as he had awoken partially leaning on the man. He raised his hand to use his knuckles to wipe away a thick splotch of saliva on his lowe lip and chin. How embarrassing.

 

“What happened to your phone?” Edward probed, stretching his neck slightly so that he could glance at the phone in the darkness. The cracks glinted in the light of Ed’s 3DS.

 

“What? Oh, I dunno, guess I dropped it or something. Don’t recall exactly when that happened.”

 

“You didn’t fix it? The screen? Or, it looks like an Android type phone, which is much more fun than an Apple product phone. With androids you can make programs and install them rather easily, and it is much easier to interface with, which I appreciate as a computer scientist. But regardless, how come you did not repair it?”

 

“Why? Cause I’m broke as hell. I just got used to the cracks. It still works fine. Waste of money to get another one, and all the screen repair places overcharge you.” Oswald replied with a hint of annoyance in his voice, but Ed did not detect it.

 

“Oh, I suppose that makes sense if money is an issue…”

 

“Guessin’ you grew up without money problems?” Oswald questioned with a gruff, and flat tone, as if agitated by Edward’s lack of comprehension.

 

“I grew up with other problems.” Was all he said. “I apologize if my lack of understanding of your situation causes you any upsetness. It is not my intention.” Edward closed the lid on his game and slid it beside him.

 

They stayed silent for a few moments.

 

“I’m going to bed.” Oswald announced, and began to work himself up to stand.

 

One hand reaching up to clasp at the desk, and another bracing him against the hard floor, Oswald shook slightly as he stood, his knee popping with a painful cracking sound that was much too common to hear. The sound made Edward turn his head upwards at Oswald, cocked slightly to the side.

 

“It’s normal.”

 

“May I ask now what happened?”

 

Oswald squinted at Edward, his teeth grit in both frustration and at the ache that panged through his leg and up his spine. Not now. I’m too tired for this. With a shake of his head and a shallow sigh, Oswald rejected Edward’s questioning once again, maybe it was cruel to keep in the shadows of something so obviously important to Oswald’s daily function, especially since it seemed that Edward’s curiousity was endless and expansive. But it was not as if they were in a relationship, not as if Oswald owed Edward anything. They were college roommates. That’s it . They just had to get along enough to not make each other’s lives miserable, nothing less, nothing more.

 

“I’m tired, I just wanna sleep, Edward.”

 

“Tomorrow?”

 

Jesus Christ this guy did not give up. Fine.

 

“Yes, okay, fine, whatever. I’ll tell you tomorrow.”

 

Edward smiled wide in the dark, and it was bright even in the dimness. He seemed like Oswald had just given him wonderful news, and he did not understand why, but was also too exhausted to give it much thought. Oswald returned an undefined glance and nodded at Edward. Oswald pushed away from the desk and stood on his legs unevenly, his foot at an awkward angle as usual as he began to trot towards the closet and began to change. The fact that Oswald was going to have to clamber up the bed’s planks with Edward in the room hit him, and it made him swallow audibly. Shit. I’m gonna look like an idiot.

 

Oswald glanced up at the bed and thought about just falling asleep in his desk chair, but that would just end up ruining his neck and back for the next few days. It wasn’t pride holding him back, whatever shreds he still maintained that is, but he did not want to give anyone any sort of ammunition to use against him. The fact that he creaked and cracked and walked like a bloody penguin already made him look weak enough, like an invalid, he thought, but he didn’t want to let anyone see that he was so inhibited by this...this...he dared never call it such, but it was a disability.

 

At this point, Edward had scooted over to his desk and grabbed the bottle at his desk, digging his index and middle fingers into the container of pink pills, grabbing two out, and swallowing them sans water. Ed yanked off his shirt and pants, rummaging through his clothing drawer to find a pair of pajama bottoms and an oversized T-shirt. As Oswald would have guessed based off of the sheer amount of green that Edward had on his side of the room, the pajama pants were a solid green fleece material, and the T-shirt was striped green and black. It was Oswald thankful for the fact that he had at least some sense of taste in clothing, though he’d heard many opinions contrary to such. Oswald’s green eyes had adjusted to the dim lighting provided by a lamp that was lit under Edward’s bed, and he found himself watching Edward. Edward had long, lithe arms, with a bad tanline at his upper bicep. His chest was more pale than his limbs, but dark splotches and slashing lines across his body were evident by the shadows they cast. Oswald was unable to make out the details of the scars that littered his body like leaves on an autumn ground, but he did not need to. At the sight, he looked away out of respect for both of them.

 

Oswald quickly threw on some long, thin pants, covering his own old wound, and replaced his top with an old T-shirt with a faded image of a penguin. Looking up at the bed, Oswald sighed, and then turned to glance at Edward’s side of the room. His roommate had already toed up the bed’s side and laid in bed with his game console, tapping buttons quietly and propping himself up with a few thick pillows behind his lower back. The game’s screen relfected on his glasses and Edward smiled at the game as a child might. Like this, Edward looked young, innocent, and it called at Oswald. Oswald looked away and back up at his obstacle. He placed one hand on the highest plank he could reach and pulled, using his good leg to push himself upwards and he clung with both hands and allowed his aching leg to gently rest its foot on one of the planks. Oswald did not notice when Edward lowered his game and watched Oswald work with a quizzical, slightly concerned expression.

 

Oswald muttered curses under his breath and he tried to continue upwards, but he placed too much weight on his leg, twisted it, and hissed loudly, letting go of the plank and falling back down on his back. The hard floor knocked the wind out of him and he gasped for air, praying that somehow Edward has not noticed. It was a case of wishful thinking. Edward had noted and he climbed down his own bed to give Oswald a hand getting off of his back.

 

“Oswald!? Are you okay?” Ed leaned over Oswald’s fallen form and reached out a hand to where Oswald’s laid at his side.

 

Ed grabbed at the pale wrist and pulled gently, using his other hand to push his glasses back unto his nose as they had nearly fallen off in his rush. He eyed Oswald cautiously as the other caught his breath. Still grasping Oswald’s arm softly, he let go when Oswald eyed Ed’s hand suspiciously, and quickly retreated from the other by a foot. Reaching out to grab his knee, Oswald looked down at where the pain was centred and then up at Edward, who was crouched nearby.

 

“Thanks…” Oz breathed out and gave a short, forced smile.

 

“You are very welcome.” Edward sounded chipper, but concern nipped at his tone as well.

 

“I’m fine, don’t worry about it. It happens all the time. I don’t need you being my knight in shining armor or whatever.” Oswald tried to brush off the whole thing, but Edward was not moving away and going back to bed like he was supposed to.

 

Edward glanced up at the bed and then at Oswald, and sat down from his crouch, giving an audible hum as he thought. Oswald gave him a confused look, quirking his brow and continuing to massage the knee, relieving some of the pain. Then Edward jerked his neck to look towards Oswald and smiled wide.

 

“I am intangible, but give birth to all tangibles. I cannot be touched, but can be shown and shared. What am I?”

 

Oswald rolled his eyes and shook his head. “I don’t know. Just assume at this point that I won’t be able to give you an answer, okay.”

 

“An idea!”

 

“You could have just said that you have an idea, Edward.”

 

“Yes, but where would be the fun in that.”

 

“The brevity.”

 

“...”

 

“Okay, okay, the riddle was good. So what is your idea, Riddle man?”

 

“I suppose that name is better than the last one you used. I kinda like this one. Anyways, why don’t you just sleep on the floor? At least, for now, and we can figure out something more permanent later.”

 

Wow. Great idea there, Sherlock. I didn’t like having one chronic pain, I think having a bad back would make my life even better.” Oswald’s sarcasm was so evident that even Edward could not mistake it for truth.

 

“Maybe it will be easier if I simply show you what I mean. Do you mind if I use your bedding up there?”

 

“Hell, seems I won’t be able to get up there today so, sure, whatever.” Oswald was done with fighting whatever this was, and just wanted to get some rest. If Ed had some sort of idea, then he might as well give it a try.

 

Edward smiled at Oz and quickly clambered up Oswald’s bed, tossing off all of its content unceremoniously unto the floor where it landed with a soft thud. Oh no . Oswald had forgotten that he had his penguin up in his bed, and he began to fluster, but it was too late to stop Edward, he had no doubt seen it. With all his stuff thrown off the bed, Edward climbed down with grace that Oswald no longer could achieve, but with the penguin in his arms. He held it out to Oswald and grinned. Oswald felt his cheeks rise in color and heat up painfully, and he reached out to take the plush animal without making eye contact with Edward.

 

“I like the penguin.” Edward commented as Oswald took the animal and placed it at his side, glancing away from Ed still. “Did you know that many adult businessmen carry around plush animals when they travel? It’s rather common, as the stuffed animals are a way to psychological comfort and ground themselves while in a new environment. They are actually a good tool for relaxation and comfort in times of change or mental unrest.”

 

Oswald looked up at Edward, and gave a small, thankful smile in return. Oz had expected much worse, but Ed was surprisingly respectable about it. Well, now that Oswald pondered on it, Edward had been nothing but well-meaning and nice, even if oblivious and perhaps imposing with his questions. Oswald just always expected the worst in people.

 

Edward began to rummage through the pile of bedding, and after a few moments of separating blankets and sheets and the such, then trotted over to his own bed and reached up to pull off a blanket of his own. Oswald just watching quietly, unsure of what to do, since he did not want to move, and did not know what to say, so he just stayed there. Layering the sheets and blankets in what seemed to be a strategic way, Edward hummed quietly and he straightened the makeshift bed that he was making on the floor. Once finished, he stood and glanced at Oswald with an almost goofy smirk.

 

“There. I layered and added my thick comforter in order to provide cushioning that the floor lacks. It should make it so your back doesn’t ache and you would be able to get a good night’s sleep without too much trouble.” Edward seemed proud of his work, standing with his chest a bit stuck out and his hands resting against his hips. Kinda cute.

 

Lost for words, Oswald just pushed himself up on his legs and shuffled over, looking down at the blanket bed and then up at Edward. He realized that the blush had still refused to leave his face, and now it felt as if it were there for another reason than the initial. Oswald let himself sit on the blankets and was surprised that he was unable to feel the hard floor on his hip bone as he usually could when on the floor. It was plush and comfortable and right now it was all he wanted. Oswald was so damn tired, body aching, eyes heavy.

 

“Thanks…” Oswald murmured, almost fighting himself in even saying it. He wasn’t sure why it was so difficult to get the words out.

 

Edward smiled back, then glanced behind Oswald and took a few long steps silently. Oswald did not watch him, finding it hard to stay awake now, his body sinking into the softness. He yawned, closing his eyes and bracing himself with his hands angled behind him. A few strands of hair fell across his face and tickled his nose. When he opened his eyes again, Oswald was standing in front of him, above with a smirk. Edward was quiet for but a moment before he opened his mouth and spoke.

 

“I may be strapped, or I may be a king, or an emperor even. I am all but I am also one. What am I?”

 

Without thinking, Oswald replied sleepily, blinking his eyes open again and looking up at Edward, “A penguin…”

 

Beaming bright and wide, Edward presented Oswald with the plush penguin he had left behind when he moved to the mound of blankets that served as a temporary bed. Oswald took it from Edward slowly, biting at his inner cheek and lip, wondering how stupid he probably looked in this ridiculous situation. He whispered another ‘Thank You’ and placed the penguin beside him on the blankets. Before Edward could speak again, Oswald glanced upwards and spoke softly.

 

“Thank you, Edward. I owe you one.”

 

“Friends help one another, and I did not help you out, what sort of friend would I be?” Edward smiled as if such was the simplest thing to understand.

 

“Goodnight…” Oswald murmured before burying himself in the blankets and succumbing to the tiredness that had plagued him.

 

“Goodnite!” Edward had chirped back happily, watching as Oswald sunk into the blankets and easily relaxed into a light slumber, holding the penguin close.

 

Ed silently turned off the light under his bed, lit by a small lamp with a metal cord, tugging at the string and darkening the room with a soft click. Shuffling slowly in the dark, Edward made his way back into his bed and under his covers, grabbing his 3DS and opening it up to resume his game. He wasn’t tired, and he would not be for a little bit, he had been late today, and he would pay for it tomorrow, but for now Edward simply let himself reminisce on the night and the gameplay at hand.

 

As a soft, happy tune from the game sung quietly in his ears, Edward glanced over short rim of his bed and down at Oswald, who was now breathing deeply and obviously asleep. Light from a streetlamp past the window illuminated the room dimly, and all Edward could make out where vague shadows and shapes of Oswald. He smiled down at him and then pressed a button on his game to resume the scrolling dialogue. Edward was eager to hear about Oswald’s leg tomorrow, the curiosity having gnawed at him since the minute they met. He wanted to hear Oswald speak, wanted to know more about him. Why exactly, Edward was unable to quite say, he blamed it on his past social blunders and an eagerity to make this one work out, but that was not the full story and he knew so. He just wanted to. Just wanted to talk and be around Oswald. When the pale, smaller man had dozed off beside him while playing the game together, Edward had felt so nice . It just felt as such, no reasonable logic behind why, and that was part of what made being with Edward so enthralling. The lack of reason behind the way he felt, the absolute riddle that was himself as a human, it was fascinating . He craved the sensation like he felt hunger.


Edward pressed another button and read the text, and found himself soon engrossed in the game, peeking over the bed to steal glances at Oswald. How fascinating this is.

Chapter Text

 

Oswald knew he could not sleep on the floor for the rest of his time living in the tiny dorm, and nor did he want to. Not when he awoke to himself sprawled out on the floor, blinking awake to Edward sitting upright at his desk, tapping away at his laptop as he turned his gaze from a book to the screen periodically. Oswald’s shirt had risen up his abdomen to reveal his pale belly and he had no doubts on the most likely horrendous state of his hair. He was a mess on the floor, having tossed the covers about, even the small penguin was tangled in the sheets messily. His hair stuck up at odd angles, it was unruly enough after he worked on it and even worse now. A small, dark eye gawked at him mindlessly as Oswald raised a hand to rub at the sleep in his own green eyes, yawning and sitting up. He yanked down on his shirt and grabbed the penguin that had been eyeing him quickly, rescuing it from the suffocating covers quickly.

 

“Good morning, Oswald!” Edward greeted with a much too vibrant tone for whatever time it was.

 

Met with a wide, bright grin and eager eyes behind large lenses, Oswald looked up at Edward and mumurmed a half-hearted greeting in return. “G’morn...Ed.” And mustered a weak smile.

 

Despite having slept on the floor, he felt fine. No aches, no bruises, no abnormal pain. Even when Oswald shifted his leg, he noted that if anything it had felt better than last nite. A soft pop sounded from the joint, but it was nothing out of the ordinary. Edward’s idea had proved to pay off despite the embarrassment it brought Oswald. Without saying anything else, Oswald slowly crawled out of the bed and stood, shuffling to grab a change of clothes, a towel, and shower supplies before he kicked on a pair of flip-flops and meandered to the bathroom to wake himself up properly.

 

Sunday was uneventful. Oswald did not have work, the team always had Sundays off, and neither of the roommates had schoolwork as classes had not started. Oswald made no particular effort to interact with anyone, not in any mood to socialize in general, wanting but a lazy Sunday all to himself. Yet, Edward managed to find him. In the dining hall, Oswald would have loved to simply be left alone to dine and watch TV animal documentaries on his trashy phone, but Ed had imposed himself to joining Oswald. Not willing to reject Edward’s self-imposition, Oswald surrendered to the company. Luckily, it consisted mostly of Edward chattering on about some article he had recently read about cassowaries, a large, flightless Australian bird, which he had found after being sent down an Internet black hole by Oswald’s penguin passion. It was vaguely interesting, but it required Oswald to pretend he did not want to simply walk away and jam his headphones in.

 

Later on, Oswald had been curled in a small plush chair in one of the dorm lounges, browsing mindlessly on his old laptop whilst listening to some YouTube video on cormorants. Edward had popped his head in and greeted him with a wide smile, as was expected by Oswald at this point. Trying to show that he was busy and did not want to talk, Oswald had simply given a short wave and curt glance, and then returned to his own, small space. Carrying with him his computer and a small stack of gay romance, identifiable only because he had seen them earlier. Edward luckily granted Oswald quiet, keeping his mouth shut and allowing his grin to droop once he had lost Oswald’s attention. Still though, Oswald found Edward’s shuffling of books and spread out setting on one of the tables to be distracting. He found himself constantly stealing glances at Ed and his books, at his fingers gliding across the keyboard, when they touched his face and adjusted his glasses. It annoyed him to no end that he caught the movement at the corners of his vision constantly. There was a curiosity that Oswald preferred to quash than quench if it meant he avoided conversation.

 

That night Oswald resumed the prior night’s sleeping arrangement, feeling less anxiety about the ordeal as Edward had been passed out in his bed by 8PM, early for someone in the dorms. Oz had spotted Ed swallowing some pills in the lounge in the early afternoon, but did not link the two events. Figuring he would be able to solve this issue soon enough, Oswald slept with little qualms, dozing off with his penguin to the sound of the heater in the room and Edward’s quiet breathing.



The first of week was not necessarily fun , but it could have been better and it could have been worse. It was school, boring and time-consuming, but nothing Oswald deemed worthy of anguishing too much over. Edward enjoyed his classes more than Oswald, indicated by the genuine eagerity in Edward’s voice when he talked to Oz each night when they were both in the room. By the end of the week Oswald had nearly begun to stand Edward’s daily recap, stumbling into their room in the late evening and yanking out his headphones to match Edward’s smile and ‘Hello!’ with a nod and a yawn. Then Edward would share what he had learned and found intriguing, and what other things he had looked up that day about penguins or birds. Lately Edward had migrated to the topic of dinosaur-bird evolution theories and evidence backing it. Oswald actually learned from some of Ed’s babbling, and it made for a good way to wrap up the day.  Edward was poor at hiding the disappointment when Oswald begged him to shut up after difficult day, mostly thanks to Oz’s knee acting up, and the usually cold-hearted penguin had felt bad despite himself.

 

When Oswald returned at end of the day on Tuesday night, leg throbbing, back aching from the backpack he lugged around, and eyes darker than usual, Ed had noted it. He had asked Oswald if he was alright, to which Oswald had aggressively spat that he was fine. To surrender a claim to weakness was something Oswald had learned the hard way to avoid at all costs. It was simple for Edward to see past the emotional wall Oz put up, to easily recognize low-blood sugar level indicators in behavioural observation. He was a psychology minor, possessing a great personal passion and fascination with the science of human emotion and behaviour, and Edward viewed Oswald as a walking test case at times. In a sort of very loose experiment, Edward attempted to offer Oswald something that help; sugar.

 

Since then, Edward had offered Oswald one of many Laffy Taffy candies Ed had in his desk drawers each evening, insisting Oz take it for his mood and energy level. At first Oswald had resisted and claimed that it was no problem and that he was fine, but Edward’s continual prodding worked eventually. Oswald had simply given in more than anything, and his personal sweet tooth helped sway him as well. Edward preferred Oswald when he was less stressed, taut like a balloon filled too much and ready to burst at a swift squeeze. He couldn’t place why exactly he wanted Oswald to be happy, or at least less miserable than he usually appeared, but Edward found pleasure in being around a better-mood Oswald. Perhaps it was because Oswald was still the only person who interacted with him honestly, who did not call him out on his social blunders, who did not ask about the marks that wound up his neck and were visible when he worse anything less than a turtleneck. Yes, that must be why . It was the only logical reason.

 

By Friday night, Edward had been able to contact one of residence hall supervisors and request that their room be rearranged so that at least Oswald’s bed was accessible from the floor. No climbing required, was the must. It had turned out that the staff had simply lowered both of the bunk beds, which had turned out to be adjustable to Oswald’s surprise alone. The room had been shifted around, the beds tucked into a corner of the room in an ‘L’ shape, so that the two slept but a few feet away from one another. There was room underneath each bed for minimal storage, and the desks had been pushed to the foot of each bed, leaving a space in the room for either one to spread out on the floor and work or lounge if wanted. Oswald had been a bit peeved at the fact that Edward had changed their room without giving him any warning, but it was quickly forgiven when Edward explained how now Oz would be able to sleep better and on a bed without stressing his knee. The salvation of some sliver of Oswald’s pride by not being subjected to sleeping on the floor helped, and both Oswald and his knee were silently grateful.

 

Oswald still had not told Edward about the knee, mainly due to Oswald forgetting what he had promised, and the fact that Oswald had not had any desire to delve into all of that with Edward.

 

Saturday morning practice started promptly at 10am in the arena. Edward had still been asleep when Oswald had left the room at 9am, grabbing a proper breakfast at the dining hall and watching part of one of the new Planet Earth II films before he made his way to the job. It did not take much time for Oswald to become used to the duties that he was charged with. Each player was finicky in their own way, and it became a sort of game of memorization more than anything.

 

Dent only drank blue liquids, and water, but very much preferred anything blue. He wrapped his stick in blue tape he purchased for himself, separating himself from the rest of the team that just used whatever tape was lying around as it was free to use and stocked by the university. His helmet was covered in blue stickers sporting different logos of NHL teams, and Dent had even coated a few water bottles in even more turquoise, sky, and navy colored stickers. His name was scrawled across the special bottles with a thick sharpie in messy handwriting, and it was customary for only Dent to use those. Even if it was the last bottle available, no one dared touch it but Dent.

 

Harvey was quirky in other ways too. He would flip a coin prior to every practice, and depending on the results of the toss, he would play right or left handed, showcasing his ambidexterity often. Much like a coin on its edge, Dent was liable to change his mood rapidly. He’s snap sticks if he got angered by something, and just as quickly he would regret his action and try to fix that stick in pathetic taping attempts while Bullock shouted at him to stop and get his ass back out on the ice. No one seemed to mind Dent’s curious behaviour, but Oswald noticed, mainly because he could be at the receiving end of Dent’s bad moods or a good one. More than once had he been knocked back by an angry figure on skates, scowling at the floor, Dent in an inexplicable fury. It was difficult to avoid someone so much larger than him, Harvey being in thick, bulky pads and tall skates, and Oswald in basic clothing. Dent often would apologize coming out of the fervor, but Oswald remained on his guard around Dent.

 

Perhaps the easiest to deal with, and the one Oswald found himself favoring, was Gordon. The captain of the team was courteous, even to Oswald, who was nothing but the team’s waterboy essentially. Oswald’s work consisted of cleaning up after the players, moving equipment, stocking food and water, and other basic labor tasks. The one time he had stepped out unto the ice that week, to deliver water to a stubborn Zsasz who refused to go over to the bench, Oswald had fallen multiple times and banged his knee. Many poorly concealed snickers had been had in his name, and a tear in Oswald’s lip had been made in an attempt to keep from crying out in pain at his knee’s furious throbbing. It was Gordon whom had smacked the gawkers in the side with his stick and barked at them to get back to skating, and Oswald had given Jim a thankful, pathetic smile. Finding himself grinning awkwardly whenever Gordon thanked him for whatever thing here or there, Oswald grew mortified. This could led nowhere good, so he suffocated his thoughts and avoided eye contact with Jim.

 

Oswald had a job, and he refused to let himself get any hopes up. Gordon was not doing any of it for Oswald himself, it was for the team’s focus and strength and malleability together. Nothing more, nothing less, and Oswald refused to let himself think he was at all involved in Gordon’s thoughts. He was nothing to no one but his mother, Oswald knew this, but it was still hard not to hope for something, anything.

 

Oswald was arranging the equipment after practice in the storage room, a handful of players gathered in the adjoining locker room, gossiping and changing as they did so. Struggling with an armful of hockey sticks, Oswald leaned against the wall and placed each of the sticks in slots along the wall with the player’s number inscribed on the handle and a space on the wall. It took time and effort to seek out the proper location of each, and Oswald listened to the loud conversation from the other room as the time passed.

 

“Ey, Flip, your handling is getting good. You outta work on changing hands during a wrap-around shot, you’ll totally throw the D off.”

 

Oswald recognized Dent’s laugh bursting, and then his voice.

 

“I’d love to see the look on their face if I change my handnesses mid-shot. They’d probably lose it.”

 

The group chuckled, and Oswald’s ear caught the metallic sound of a coin being flipped, and landing on skin. Another voice sounded, one Oswald had not yet been able to put to a face, but sounded familiar.

 

“Yo, how about the waterboy. The fuck’s up with the eyeshadow, or whatever?”

 

Oswald froze, flinching, and grasped the sticks close to his chest for fear of dropping them and revealing his nearby presence. His knee complained at his sudden stiffness but Oswald blacked it out and grit his teeth.

 

“I dunno if it’s make-up or not, it might just be his face. A face only a mother could love at that.”

 

“Hell, what kinda mother? A pretty stubborn one. Ya think she’d try for another after the first mistake.”

 

The group laughed and Oswald found himself furious, scowling at them behind the wall that separated the rooms. His nails bit into the sticks, but it only scratched at the paint on the carbon fiber frames.

 

“Wait, wait, ya remember when he went out to ya, Zsasz, the other day. Oh man that was great. Looked like a fucking cartoon. Oh my god! I wanted him to just bite it, just, fwump! Face down on the ice. That woulda been great.”

 

Zsasz spoke, Oswald recognized it and his chest twisted. Zsasz was not like Gordon. Any sort of ‘courteousy’ the goalie showed seemed to only be for his own self-interest or entertainment. Like a sort of subtle tormentor.

 

“Oh hell man, he looked like a fuckin’ penguin. He waddled , with that fucked up leg a’ his. He’s got the walk and the beak and all, all he needs are feathers and to squak, and he could be our new mascot!”

 

More loud, cruel laughter. A voice broke through after the laughter lessened a few moments later.

 

“Wait, wait...ey, I don’t want no prissy, gay-ass penguin dude as our mascot. He is queer ain’t he?”

 

The room was in a quiet murmur as they muttered to themselves.

 

“I think so? Probably, you see the way he gawks at Jim. He likes what he sees there.”

 

Someone made a mock gagging sound.

 

Ugh . Poor Gordon. We give him shit, but he don’t deserve that kinda shit. Next time ya see him lookin’ ya oughta spray him. Some ice in his eyes might show him up.”

 

“Well it’s kinda Jim’s fault, I mean, why’s he so nice to the guy? He isn’t anything but the team’s bitch basically. Just don’t fuck with him too much and they don’t notice.”

 

“Ey, I don’t wanna be around no fag . I say we try and get rid of him. And it’s not like we can tell Bullock to fire him, he’ll get pissed, he hates hiring and firing.”

 

“Oh my god, will you relax , you always get so damn wound up by the whole gay thing. It’s not like he’ll be going after your ugly mug anyways. I say we have some fun with him. Maybe one of ya can get a blow job outta it. I mean, it should be an honor to get some of this talented dick.”

 

A cacophony of groans and stifled laughter filled the room, and the sound of something being thrown at someone, but it was all muffled. Oswald’s head was swimming and he clutched at his stomach, fighting the urge to vomit that was boiling in his stomach and up his throat. Oh god. OH GOD.

 

You’re the queer for wantin’ your dick sucked by some twink like that. I don’t want the ugly ass face anywhere near my junk.”

Oswald began to sink to the floor, back against the wall and biting own on his lip so hard blood seeped from it. His face was hot, painfully burning his flesh, and his ears rung loudly, until he could hear nothing but his own rushing blood. The room around him spun, and it was then that he realized he was having an anxiety attack. Or maybe a panic attack, or maybe an episode of PTSD. He didn’t know which one, and did not particularly care. His knee screamed at the odd angle it was forced into, and his head throbbed and seemingly threatened to explode. Oswald remained there, barely moving, blinking, breathing, as his head swarmed with horrors he hadn’t seen in a while.



The door slammed loudly behind Oswald, and he did not so much as blink at the loud noise that had Edward jumping out of his chair. Leg trailing beside him as he surged forward in haggard steps, Oswald made his way over to his bed before falling upon it and burying his face in it. There was no way in hell he would let Edward see how red his eyes were, how swolled from sobbing they were, how pathetically broken he looked at was. He’d die of shame and embarrassment, though death by any other means sounded wonderful otherwise.

 

“Oswald?”

 

Rather than lifting his head to respond, Oswald lifted his hand in a weak wave and grunted through the sheets, closing his eyes and praying Edward would leave him alone.

 

“Are you alright? You seemed to be limping more than usual? And your face was unusually red when you came in. Are you sick? I have some antihistamines and acetaminophen if you would like. I could get some ice too from the basement, if it is your leg that is causing you excess pain. I have read up a bit on quick self-medication methods, so I know a bit about situations like this. Or maybe it might be-”

 

“Ed, shut up!”

 

Oswald glared up at Edward through bleary, wet eyes, red-faced, and snot-nosed, and he knew he looked like an angry, ugly mess, but he just wanted Ed to stop. He did not know what Oswald was going through, he did not know what the problem was. He may think he knew, he may think he knows how to solve everything because his pompous ass reads all about every fucking topic out there, but he in no way knows about Oswald and his past and his fucking shitty life. He doesn’t have the right to claim so. But Oswald does not say any of this, he just stares and frowns and scowls until he loses the energy to stay angry at someone who has done no wrong and allows the side of his face to fall back to his bed.

 

Ed’s look of rejection and surprise and worry spreads across his face rapidly and is manifested in him twitching, pulling at his nails and shifting his jaws in teeth grinding. Oswald croaks at him.

 

“Um...Sorry. Ed. I didn’t mean it. It’s just…”

 

“Been a bad day?”

 

“Yeah…”

 

“....”

 

“....”

 

Oswald turns unto his back and finds the penguin under his arm. He shifts and wraps his hand around its belly instinctively.

 

“Tell me about it?”

 

“What?”

 

“Tell me what made it so bad?”

 

“I...I can’t do that.”

 

Oswald did not want to tell Edward that much about him. Not yet, at least.

 

“Then tell me about your leg. You promised you would last week.”

 

“...”

 

Something hard and small landed on Oswald’s chest, making him look up and at Edward. It was a piece of candy.

 

Fine .” Oswald frowned, but a smile pulled at his lips and Edward grinned wide in response.

 

“I find physiology fascinating.”

 

“Ed, this isn’t gonna really be about physiology…”

 

“Well, I find you to be fascinating just as well.”

 

---

 

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Chapter Text

 

Brisk, crisp, biting was the air on that day. The wind nipped at his collar, his ears, his nose, his skin red with the cold and nose sniffling endlessly as it threatened to drip. Loose sweatpants, too long for his legs, dragged softly against the ground despite having rolled them up his ankles just a few minutes prior. The leaves littered on the ground in an array of yellows, purples, oranges, scattering as each footstep forward sent them flying. Oswald jutted his leg out particularly hard and watched the flurry of flora color rise up into the air and swirl downward, the sound of the crinkling and rustling calming to his aching ears. Burying himself deeper into his sweatshirt, Oswald shook his head and nuzzled his chin into the fabric gently, sighing and hunching his shoulders as a particular gust hit him.

 

Slung around his low, sloping shoulders was a bulky bag, carrying a pair of well-used, but cared for, ice skates, a variety of tight clothing, and some other miscellaneous items. The bag softly bumped into Oswald’s hip at each step he took, and he shifted the strap in an effort to prevent the bag from agitating a particularly nasty bruise on his left hip. It was a usual trot home, nothing special, nothing new.

 

A large, black, dirty pick-up truck careened unto the sidewalk before Oswald, smearing a paste of leaves all along the sidewalk in a grotesque manner. Freezing, eyes wide and mouth agape, Oswald gawked up in horror at the automobile. It shone in the autumn, dying light, looking as if it had been cleaned and waxed recently. Oswald saw his own, disfigured reflection in the car’s side, his own eyes, wide, white. One of his legs shook, trembled like a leaf on one of the trees lining the walkway, and Oswald slowly stepped backwards. He recognized this car. He knew it.

 

He stepped out, thick arms pulling the T-shirt he wore taut, veins bulging in a way Oswald found disgusting. Another two tumbled out, smaller, but still intimidating in their sneers, their scowls, the look of hate, rage, and disinhibition in their sordid eyes. He walked closer to Oswald, slamming the truck door dramatically and licking at his dry lips. He smiled, grim and dastardly, and Oswald felt steeled in place. He did not move, did not run as he wishes he had, but it was more that he could not move rather than choose to stand his ground.

 

Silent, Oswald watched, eyes fearful and lips trembling despite himself. He knew them, he did not know how, or why, but the moment had an aura of deja-vu. A horrible, terrorizing moment of fuzzy recollection. His knee throbbed as if it knew what was to come.

 

“Hey.”

It was said so casually Oswald felt himself being lured into comfort, but he knew that this encounter held nothing but malintention. Swallowing, the jut in his throat bobbing, Oswald eyed the taller man cautiously.

 

“So…” The man continued regardless of Oswald’s expression or responses, “You’re the guy with the knife?”

 

Oswald knew them.

 

“You’re the one that gave my friend some nice new scars on his abs. He wants me to thank you for him. He unfortunately wasn't able to make it. You know, stab wounds, they can get nasty.” The man began to hiss his words, stepping around and in front of Oswald like a cobra preparing to strike. He smiled wide, terrifyingly wide.

 

Oswald had been here before.

 

“So…” The man reached into the bed of his truck and grabbed something. The two other lackeys giggled to themselves as if they were watching a cartoon unfold.

 

Oswald knew he should run, be he knew that it wouldn’t change his fate. Something painful roiled in his gut and up his chest until it suffocated him and he found himself breathing hard.

 

“Lemme give you my thanks, Oswald. ” Hearing his name said was one of the worst sounds he had ever heard.

 

The worst came moments after. He was grabbed, each of the smaller men grabbing him by the shoulder and holding him tightly, nails digging into his flesh despite the sweater and Cheshire Cat smiles taunting him from a breath away. Oswald flailed for but a moment until something made him gasp and the wind was taken from his lungs despite his chest remaining untouched. It was shocking, and at first it felt like nothing but a tingle. Oswald felt time pass slow, felt it go by but not be able to recognize it happening. He was lost, in nothing truly, until he was grabbed and brought back with the most painful sensation he had ever felt.

 

The crack echoed in his ear drums, in his body, in the air around him, making it electric in the most horrifying way. Oswald choked on air and gasped and sputtered, as the pain shot up in continuous pulses of sheer, blinding pain. His ears began to ring and his eyes began to water, and his nose began to bleed. Thrown back in a scream, Oswald’s neck cracked at the exertion and nothing came forth from his voice as he ceased to be who he knew himself as.

 

Another blow to the knee made him scream finally, loud, piercing, low. He panted and gasped and screamed again as the bat was nuzzled against his shattered knee and shin, poking at the flesh that was no doubt blackening underneath the fabric. Oswald moaned and yelled again as the man jabbed at the knee and cackled in joy. He could barely hear it, his ears feeling numb and his vision darkening until he went momentarily blind. One last bash to his leg made him but whimper, shaking in the grasp of the two others, gasping for air as if he was drowning, and wanting nothing but ending the pain.

 

Dropped unceremoniously, Oswald was left, unable to see clearly what the men were doing, his sight fuzzy and ears still singing like a metallic zing. A blunt blow to his ankle with the heavy foot of the largest man came down upon his joint and made a soft cricking sound. Oswald clenched his teeth a breathed rapidly as the hurt simply extended down his leg. His foot was twisted awkwardly, and nearly numb, swelling like a fleshy balloon, and he looked with ghast horror. The man dragged the tip of the bat along Oswald’s other leg, the one that remained unharmed, but he feared that would be false in but a moment’s time. Jabbed with the bat, Oswald let his eyes droop as he waited for the next hit, but none came.

 

“Relax, Oswald...The other leg is safe, I give my word to that. None of us would want to cripple you completely , there’s no fun in that. Nah...This way, you can remember what you lost, know what was taken from you. See? Much, much more fun this way.

 

And with those horrifying words, a smile that could curdle milk and terrorize cats, and a stout kick to Oswald’s twisted foot, he was left alone. The tires of the truck squealing as they pealed off the sidewalk, kicking up dirt. Oswald was left alone with but the pieces of himself scattered about.

 

He felt pain, tasted pain, heard pain, smelled blood, saw red pain, nothing, nothing, nothing but hurt and agony and pain . Oswald rolled on the ground until his leg was simply laying there, limp, disfigured. Even from under his pants, Oswald could see the swelling and the lumpy shape that was now his knee. He wanted to vomit, felt nauseous, and he did, turning his head to the side and trying his best to brace himself with his arms. He spat and blinked to see the acid from his mouth and the blood from his nose mixing in a horrifying, disgusting mixture and it only made him feel worse.

 

Oswald tried to push himself up, his leg flexing beneath his body, the other limply strewn in somewhat straight angle. When something wrong shot through his leg he muffled his outcry with his sleeve and bit down on the fabric, tears welling in his eyes as he mentally began to digest his dilemma. Gazing in fixation down at the leg, he noted the darkening patches along the fabric, indicating pools of blood that had begun to well up on the flesh. Tentatively, Oswald reached out with a pale hand, more white than usual, and gently touched his knee. By pressing down on the cloth, he could get a sense of what his flesh looked like beneath.

 

The texture was gnarled and torn, grossly disfigured and unusual. It was soft, and squishy, and such fact made him gag and retch once more. There was no way he would be able to get himself home, let alone stand up in this state. Fumbling through his bag with shaky fingers, Oswald panted and tried to remember the phone number, damning himself for never maintaining a proper contact book. Trembling fingers grasped the phone and Oswald gasped when a sliver of the screen’s newly cracked glass sliced at his finger. The drop had broken the thing, but it was the least of his problems at the time.

 

The streets were empty, quiet, in a way that Oswald would have found comforting before the incident, but now he found terrifying. Drawing a blank as his mind could only scream in pain, Oswald found himself getting tired and unable to call anyone for help. He blinked once, twice, and tried to crawl along the ground somewhere, but a wave of sudden exhaustion hit him like a train and Oswald found himself unable to do anything but lay on the ground and pant painfully. His eyes, usually a muddled green, were red and swollen from crying, were dark and scared, and they closed despite the internal fight Oswald posed.



Edward blinked and his feet twisted upon one another as he glanced downwards at Oswald’s leg. Sitting with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders, legs outstretched in front of him, Oswald talked in an unemotional tone about the incident. He had turned down Edward’s questions during the explanation, simply shaking his head or continuing without acknowledging Ed’s asking. What did you do that prompted this? Who was the person they claimed to be acting in lieu of? Why didn’t you call someone right away?

 

Sat with crossed legs near Oswald, Edward’s hands twitched in his lap as Oswald quieted for a moment, taking a breath and rubbing at his knee. Edward felt something in his chest pang, he did not know what, but it was a sensation that seemed familiar to something he had read recently. Sympathy, or pity, he guessed, some self imposed sensation to relate to others more properly, something of that nature. Edward looked up from his hands and to Oswald, where behind his glasses, curious eyes watched Oswald carefully and with interest.

 

“If you were unable to get assistance on your own means, since it seems like the intensity of the injury most likely induced a sort of severe fatigue and sensory loss, then how did you end up receiving attention for the wound?” Edward wanted to know more, wanted to slay his curiosity, to know more about Oswald, to understand Oswald better.

 

Edward did not know why these things gnawed at him so badly, they simply did and he found it difficult to fight, nor did he want to.

 

Shifting one of his legs and leaning back against the low cabinet beneath his bed, Oswald humoured Ed’s prodding.

 

“It’s funny, I suppose. I don’t quite recall properly what happened. I was told a driver eventually pulled over and tried to communicate with me, despite the messy state I was in. I am told that I had been able to communicate a few things about who I was and where I lived and my closest family, but I honestly recollect nothing but ending up in a fuckin’ medical ward and still in a lot of pain after morphine shots.”

 

“Memory during traumatic events or during extreme fatigue, like what it sounds like you experienced, often is built up by the cerebral expectations as to what may have happened, or are left unfilled, as it sounds you have.”

 

“I don’t particularly care. My mother had completely lost it, and I had to deal with calming her and trying to get out of the hospital as soon as I could. I think I left like after a couple of days, they blurred together.”

 

“That sounds like a very rapid recovery rate. Fascinating!”

 

“No, I just left as soon as I could limp around on crutches. They had enough time to do some surgical stuff after numbing the leg, but I did not finish the complete recovery process, would have taken months or something.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Cause I can’t fucking afford to pay for all that.”

 

“...but-”

 

“Look, Ed, sounds like you don’t get money problems, but I could not. I can barely afford to go here, and I’m working a job but I’m still gonna come out with a lifetime of debt. The leg was a lost cause anyways.”

 

Edward looked upset at himself, something Oswald did not think he had seen before so blatantly, he was usually so chipper. The green framed glasses slipped down Edward’s nose, but their owner did not adjust them. Ed’s mouth was slightly agape as if to rebute, but he said nothing and simply gazed quietly at Oswald. This setting brought Edward back to a scene he had read recently, where the two to-be lovers were conversing about personal topics in a more heartfelt situation. In that perfect, fictional world, the two might find themselves pressed close, comforting one another with gently embraces and soft kisses. Something in Edward wanted that, but something else made chastised that emotion.

 

“I apologize, Oswald. I grew up without having to worry about monetary issues, I suppose I had a privilege you lacked, unfortunately. I did not intend to be insensitive to your situation.”

 

The atmosphere was more awkward than in Edward’s book, more tense, unclear, and trepidacious. Edward finally raised a hand to push on his spectacles, resting them properly upon his nose. They stayed quiet and immobile for a few moments.

 

“...”

 

“...Ed?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“Relax, you didn’t do anything wrong.”

 

“Okay. Thank you.”

 

“...”

 

“...I am something many people don’t enjoy having as a friend. I can be called upon anytime by anyone.”

 

“...I hate how I am getting used to these.”

 

“It’s pain. Somber answer, but I find that riddles can be good at lightening a mood of a conversation.”

 

“I won’t fight you on that…”



The scars on his back ached, itched, that night. Edward hated when they made their existence so prominent, unable to forget them as he preferred to do. They throbbed and burned his skin, and Edward found himself sweating, panting, clenching his jaw as he lay upon his bed and arched when the pain became particularly bad. The worst part was that Ed knew it was all psychological, had read about it to death, knew why and how this happened to him, but he was unable to stop it despite this knowledge. Asleep, Oswald breathed easily as Edward glanced at him from the corner of his eye. Edward panted and cringed as a nasty stab dug into the thickest patch of abused flesh beneath one of his shoulder blades. He fought to keep quiet, digging his nails into the bed, into his own body.

 

While writhing against his own, imagined and real pain, Edward squeezed his eyes shut and found himself watching Oswald being broken down as was explained earlier. He saw, behind a harsh scowl and shut eyes, Oswald upon the ground, bloody, sickened, watching it unfold in as if Edward himself had been there at the scene when it happened. It was frightfully surreal. Something in Edward found twisted amusement in watching his imagination play out such a horrid scene, and he was disgusted by himself taking pleasure from such a thing. It felt like someone raked nails down his chest and abdomen, and Edward opened his eyes, dissolving the image.

 

Just as suddenly as the painful moment had come to him, it left. Edward lay back, feeling violated by something he could not pinpoint, disgusted by himself and his mind. A sour taste in his mouth and a wet feeling coating his body, sweat. And blood. Along Edward’s chest, real nail marks trailed down his body, lines oozing beads of blood. The culprit, his own hand, lay at his side, skin and blood under the nail’s ends. His back ached too, from the muscle spasms he’d had and the additional scratching he had inflicted. Edward sat up, hissing at the way the movement of his skin agitated the new broken flesh. He quietly shuffled from his bed and rummaged through his cabinet until he came across a small bottle of peroxide, cotton balls, and antibacterial ointment.

 

Savvy after years of experience with these episodes, Edward was able to easily attend to his own wounds, used to the painful burn of the peroxide, still entranced by the way his body bubbled when in contact with the chemical. Small patches of gauze fabric were placed along the wounds, kept in place by the ointment on his skin, and thin strips of medical tape. The ones on his back were messily smeared with antibacterial and left as is since it was difficult to deal with them. Once finished, Edward glanced at Oswald, asleep on his proper bed, his face so serene and unpained when like this, asleep, free from reality at the moment. Edward wanted to feel another body against his, wanting to know whether or not the sensation that he had read about was really as comforting and relaxing as fabled. He wanted to lay beside Oswald and grip him gently against his own chest, wanted to feel another person’s warmth against the burning of his own wounds. The desire was purely platonic in its intention, curious for knowing what it meant to share such a close space with someone. And why Oswald? Simply because he was the closest person, nothing more than that.

Instead of acting on any of that, Edward crawled back into his own bed and lay on his side to prevent blood from staining his sheets too badly.

 

Little did he know that his murmuring to himself, a belittling and internal discourse that he thought was only in his head, had woken Oswald up. Oswald had stared at the pattern on Edward’s back, mapped it out in comparison to the location of his spine, his hips, his ribs, his shoulder blades. The scars, so many, some in the shape of the path of a lash, some in rakes of nails, some large patches of swollen, disfigured flesh, some in shapes hard to really distinguish. One that Oswald found himself lingers on snaked up the back of Edward’s neck and under his jaw, then stretched down between his shoulder blades in what looked like a clean cut. Edward must have been good at concealing it in daylight with something, or maybe Oswald was only now looking closely at the man.

 

It was disturbing nonetheless.



That next weekend was Oswald’s travelling weekend. The hockey team was to play at Penn State for a pre-season game, and as part of the team’s close staff, Oswald was to go with. Since over the time he had begun working for the team, Oswald understood many specificities of the player’s equipment needs, knew many of their quirks and superstitions and how to best cater to each one of them. It made the players happy, thus making Bullock happy, and it was claimed that a happy team played better. Besides the fact that Oswald was a needed skilled worker on the team, he was also glad to go away for the weekend since he was given extra pay and given hotel accommodation and free food. It was nice, save for the fact that players had to share rooms. That was the only caveat.

 

“Aight, boys. Grab your equipment, I’ve checked all of you into the hotel so just pair off and I’ll hand you a key.”

 

Bullock stood at the front of charter bus they had taken to the campus hotel, some Hilton or whatever, which was a refreshing change from the short plane ride. Oswald and the team had left early Friday morning for a Friday and Saturday night game series. Thankfully, Oswald had been able to plan his class schedule so he had none on Friday, making work trips possible. Oswald had found an empty row in the back of the bus to sit in, having watched the scenery from the window and listened to the chatter of the team silently.

 

Since the unfavorable encounter Oswald faced on the last Saturday practice, Oswald had found it harder to smile at the players, hard to just be around them. He found himself ensuring that he was not alone with any of them ever, only finding himself comfortable with Gordon, who didn’t care whose company he was in as long as the team worked well. Oswald had not heard anything terrible from the team since then as well, and over the week his tension and caution lessened, but never left him.

 

Faced with the accomodation status that they were in, Oswald found himself with wide, searching eyes as the bus came to life with movement from the large players as they conversed and paired off. As for Oswald, he remained in the back, sitting, clutching the backpack that was his only luggage on the trip filled with a change of clothes, his computer, and some other miscellaneous things. He swallowed as the bus slowly emptied, some eyeing him as they stood and trotted towards the front of the vehicle. All Oswald could muster was a weak smile their way.

 

Soon enough Oswald found himself to be alone on the bus, or at least he thought so. Near the front, Gordon stood and stretched, his wide chest taking up the entire aisle, and he yawned loudly. Bullock slapped the last key card against Gordon’s shirt and then pointed to Oswald in the back.

 

“You don’t like it, I don’t care. Ya snooze, ya lose.” Bullock waved nonchalantly behind him as he exited, having fulfilled his duty and ready for a drink before having to be at the arena.

 

Oswald tensed as Gordon glanced back at him, holding the key card in between his index and middle fingers. Jim hauled a heavy cross-chest bag over his shoulder and then nodded jerkily at Oswald.

 

“We’re in…” Jim glanced down at some scrawled writing in the card holder. “Room 427...”

 

Oswald nodded and smiled up at Gordon as he stood and shook out the stiffness in his leg, placing the backpack on his shoulders and shuffling behind Gordon as they jumped off the bus. Jim stretched again and took a deep breath, his chest puffed out as he did so, and Oswald found himself looking. He tore his eyes away from Jim’s figure, face a bit hot, and pretended to be glancing at a bird that was hopping on the ground. Jim looked at where Oswald was eyeing and then looked back at Oswald with a quirked brow.

 

“Oh, it’s...it’s a dark-eyed junco. I like birds.” Oswald blurted and immediately felt stupid for speaking.

 

“Oh. That’s cool I guess.” Jim responded and then trotted over to the bus’ undercarriage storage, reaching for the large equipment back with his number on it, #7.

 

Oswald stayed quiet for the rest of the journey up to hotel room, trying to wrestle with himself. He finally admitted to himself that Gordon was yes, attractive, of course he was, but what he fought with himself over was Gordon’s seeming kindness towards Oswald. Part of Oswald put Gordon’s actions and attitude towards Oswald on his disposition, it was just how Jim was, but another part of Oswald tried to lure him into thinking that Gordon liked Oswald, just as friends. Oswald liked Jim, but he knew that was an impossible thing for him. He knew he shouldn’t but Oswald had poor willpower in that regard. It got harder for him to squash any hope he had the further away and more faded his memories were.

 

“I’m just gonna shower and head down to the team pre-game meal, so you’ll have the room to yourself for a while.” Jim announced after tossing his bags on one of the beds and beginning to remove layers of clothing.

 

“Okay!” Oswald replied quickly and looked away a bit too purposefully, growing red in the face, ears, and neck.

 

Gordon disappeared into the bathroom and Oswald visibly relaxed, sitting on the edge of the other bed and then laying back on it to rest his leg from the day of travel. He closed his eyes for a moment, or so he thought.

 

Oswald was abruptly woken when Gordon emerged from the bathroom, dressed thankfully, and knocked on the wall above the bed Oswald had claimed. He blinked awake to see Gordon hovering above and swallowed at the sight, vaguely confused as he had not realized he’d fallen asleep.

 

“I’m heading out now. Here’s a copy of the key,” Gordon placed a plastic card at Oswald’s bed stand, “, I’ll see ya at the game.” Gordon smiled, then walked out the door of the room, Oswald watching him.

 

With a heavy sigh, Oswald ran his hands over his face and through his hair. He looked at the clock, noting he had about 90 minutes to kill, which he did so by pulling out his laptop and working on some of his homework.

 

About 50 minutes into reading some book for a writing class, Oswald’s phone buzzed. He picked it up and read the notification. He had received a text from an unknown number.

 

Unknown: Hello! How is Pennsylvania?

 

Oswald frowned at the screen and jabbed back.

Oswald: who is this???

 

Very few people had Oswald’s number, and even fewer actually texted him. It was essentially no one.

 

Unknown: The first letter of my first name and my whole last name are both a question and the answer.

 

Oswald: Ed???

 

Unknown: Yes! I am surprised you actually answered that one, you usually simply want me to give you the answer.

 

Oswald: i dunno anyone who friggin speaks in literal riddles,,,

 

Oswald quickly entered Edward in as a contact so the phone would identify him in the text messaging app.

 

Oswald: wait how the hell do u kno my #? I never gave you it.

 

Edward: I found it in one of the student registries online. It was rather simple.

 

Oswald: mmm,,,okay, i guess

 

Edward: What are you doing? :)

 

Oswald: studyin b4 the game, gotta go soon

 

Edward: Ah, okay! I shall leave you to that then. What time do you get off work?

 

Oswald: ummmm game probs will end at like,,, 10pm? I’ll be back by 1030 probs

 

Edward: Oh good! I’ll text you then in that case!


Edward: Bye! :)

 

What? Oswald was unsure exactly what happened. Edward wanted to text with him? Refusing to think too hard about it, Oswald just chalked it up to Edward probably being bored and wanting someone to talk to, since he loved talking so much.

Oswald went back to studying, eyeing the clock as he did so, and forgot about Edward until after the game. Once a timer he’d set went off, Oswald grabbed some stuff he needed for the game and went out the door to meet the team at the bus once again to go to the game. It was his first working game, and he could only hope it went well. It had been a while since he had been in an ice arena with so many people in it, before he lost that part of himself.

Chapter Text

 

“Missing your little friend? If you can call him that…”

 

“Shut up.”

 

“Since when has that ever worked?”

 

Shut Up!

 

“I kindly decline the invitation…”

 

Edward glanced upwards from his slumped state on the floor, back against the foot of his bed frame, spine curled in unto himself. He spat out a wet clod unto his palm, something that had agitated his throat. In the dim lighting he could tell it was a small mass of blood, most likely signalling the onset of a nosebleed. Edward wiped the stickiness from his palm by streaking it along the thigh of his pants, the dark fabric turning even blacker with the new coating. His glasses stoop on the tip of his nose, threatening to fall off with the slightest movement, but Edward paid them no heed. Even as they clattered from his face and unto his lap did he not remove his stare.

 

“You look like an absolute mess.”

 

“...”

 

Edward refused to humour him, gritting his teeth and pulling back his lips in a sneer.

 

There was no indicator of what was to come to Edward that day, nothing had seemed off, he had been doing so well. He had been doing so well. Yet, as the sun fell on Edward, alone in his room, playing the same game that he was slowly chewing his way through, he heard his voice. At first Edward believed himself able to simply shake him away from his own mind, blaring the game’s music, reading aloud the dialogue, talking to himself, anything, everything from allowing him to permeate his psyche. At first it was but a whisper here and there, small, innocent comments on Edward’s gameplay and running thoughts. It was easy enough to ignore, to zone out and pretend it was simply some background noise. Unfortunately, it did not remain so.

 

Once it became worse, Edward found himself scrambling for his laptop, finding Oswald’s number, and texting him. It was a last ditch effort to distract himself with a conversation with another human who could not see him. He had but his words to rely on, making it easier for Edward to focus on a task, focus and not let it consume him. But Oswald had been busy, and at that point Edward was slowly losing his grip. It was futile to keep Oswald longer. It was stupid to prolong the inevitable.

 

Clattering to the ground, Edward’s phone sat silent at his feet as he sat in the desk’s chair and clenched at his scalp painfully hard. He yanked on his hair and screwed shut his eyes and clamped down his jaw. Head pounding, ears roaring, body trembling, Edward was left to suffer a monstrous headache that only intensified as the voice spoke more and more clearly. Upon opening his eyes, once the noise had ceased inside of him, Edward had seen him. Had growled lowly at him before he found himself drooping in his seat, his vision tunnelling as the wide smile looked back at him devilishly.

 

Figuring that he had not been out for much longer than a few minutes based on the way that the sun’s light still lit the room somewhat, Edward had awoken upon the floor. It seemed that he had somehow fallen from the chair, most likely when he went slack and immobile, dark. Regardless, he found himself there, and pushed up to a sitting position, where he hissed as something in his side burned. He raised his shirt to just under his ribcage and grumbled at the thin, red lines that presented themselves. This was the last thing that he needed to do to himself.

 

“You’ve a horrible habit. And for once, that issue is of no fault of mine.” Edward could hear the sly smile in his voice, not needing to see him to know. Edward knew him well enough to know all that and more.

 

Edward refused to grant him any interaction, knowing it impossible to ignore him, but attempting to at least ride through this encounter without too much pain. He kept his mouth shut and eyes low. But that did not shut him up.

 

“You continue to do that, and what will you have? Hmmm?”

 

“...”

 

“Permanent feature, its flaw is a teacher. Cover yourself, you pathetic creature.” The tone was teasing, humorous, as if he found it to be a good pun rather than a sick poke, “What am I?”

 

A scar . A response would do nothing, so Edward gave none. Something Edward did must have given away his discomfort, perhaps how he clutched at his sides, how he crooked his neck to hide the one slithering up his neck, how he trembled as the pattern on his back chilled. Regardless, Edward gave it away, for he noticed and cooed sarcastically.

 

“Quite correct!”

 

“...”

 

“Come, come, Edward, I know you much too well for you to try and shut me out. I know what you’re thinking, how you work, how you deal with yourself. You can’t hide from yourself. Even if you pretend a cat’s got your tongue, I can understand you without you having to whisper a word.”

 

The words were a threat, a threat against Edward himself. He could not pinpoint exactly what was in peril here, his sanity, his well-being, his life? Yet, Edward felt cautious about being around him. Not fear, there was no room for fear, it had been beaten out of him, but stress and anxiety and frustration. They all churned in his stomach until he wanted to retch, until his gut growled in discomfort and Edward fell over himself more.

 

“Tsk. Such a mess, quit fighting it, it will do you no good.”

 

“...”

 

“Let’s talk about you, shall we?” He allowed himself to move closed to Edward, grinning madly, “Missing your little friend? If you can call him that…”

 

Oswald? Many bridges had been burned, absolutely demolished, ruined, by him talking to Edward about them. Threatening their well-being, tainting their image with grotesque slander, making Edward do things he did not want to do to them. Edward liked Oswald, liked how he made him feel sane and human. When he was around Oswald he felt accepted, maybe even understood to some extent. It felt like more than tolerance to Edward, and he chased after that feeling however he could. To jeopardize it now, Edward refused to entertain the thought. He just wanted someone to understand him, to end the drought of lonely hopelessness he’d been wallowing in forever. He just wanted a friend.

 

Edward did not want to engage him, but in a sudden burst of emotion and action, he did.

 

“Shut up.”



Gordon’s team won the game 2 - 3, showered with crude screams and boos from the home stadium. That put no damper on their celebration though. Upon the buzzer’s final blare, marking the end of the game’s play time, the entire team, at least those in equipment and skates, darted unto the ice and embraced one another like they were long-lost brothers meeting finally. They beamed and laughed and hugged and bumped helmets together. It made Oswald’s chest ache to watch from the bench.

 

Hopping off the ice and to the locker room to clean up, undress and hydrate and recap, each of them thumped Oswald on the sternum playfully, smiling and muttering things like ‘Nice job!’, ‘Thanks, dude.’, and ‘Great game, bro!’. It was endearing in a drunken, endorphin-high way. Oswald returned their sentiment as they passed him, grinning wide and nodding and shouting his own goodwill at them, save for Zsasz, whom he froze in front for a moment before croaking a pathetic ‘Nice goaltending…’. It earned him a tooth smirk that sent shivers down Oswald’s spine.

 

The locker room was loud with conversation of play and compliments and much joyous cursing. They sprayed each other with water and sports drinks and proclaimed that winning the first game of the season bid them good luck. Bullock gave a small spiel congratulating the boys and telling them to take the night easy as they still had another game the next day. It went in and out of many ears rather quickly. He clapped a few of the top players of the night on the back, told them ‘Good job.” and headed out, presumably back to the hotel bar to pick someone up. Bullock seemed to be well known by the team to be opportunistic on away games, or so Oswald had been told by a gossipy group including a player named Butch who seemed to prefer hearing rather than telling.

 

Dent managed to get Oswald to give him multiple bottles of various brand blue sports drinks, in which he decided which brand to consume first by flipping a coin. It was expected at this point. Dent and Zsasz disappeared with a chunk of the team to a nearby college bar, thoroughly ignoring the coach’s instructions. Some others, the younger, new players simply packed up and made their way back to the hotel.  Oswald remained later to clean up after, setting everything up for the next day and cleaning up after the mess that a large team made. Gordon was the last to leave, Oh captain, my captain , taking great care of his equipment and refusing anything but the best work on them, meaning he was usually the last to go.

 

Hefting his bag over his shoulder, Gordon cleared his throat, catching Oswald’s attention. Dark green eyes caught Jim’s and Oswald halted what he was doing.

 

“I’m heading back to the hotel, but I’ll be in the lobby working on some stuff. Don’t worry about waiting for me to get back, get some rest or whatever. See ya, Oswald.”

 

“Ah, yes. Alright then, I shall see you later!”

 

And then Oswald was alone.



Walking back from the arena, which was not too far from the hotel, Oswald felt his phone buzz in his pocket. Before even looking he knew who it was, it was not difficult to guess.

 

Edward: Hello!

 

Oswald: hi

 

Edward: How are you doing?

 

Oswald: good

 

Oswald’s leg ached, the cold arena air had made it stiff and painful, and now moving it became a chore. He could nearly feel the tortured bones grinding, the nerves in the bundle of ruined flesh sparking and hissing and making Oswald clench his teeth to keep from making sounds of hurt. His leg was cold as well, as it tended to be after the altercation. The smashing of flesh had made it more difficult for some of his blood vessels to bring him blood to his leg, causing bad temperature regulation in the limb. But conveying this in a text message to someone who could do nothing about it was not worth it.

 

Oswald: hbu?

 

Edward: I am doing okay, I guess.

 

Something felt a bit off to Edward. He prodded carefully, trying to extract information for a mixture of reasons even he could not necessarily sort out at the moment.

 

Oswald: u guess???

 

Edward: Um. I am fine.

 

Oswald: o no u dont. Now u gotta spill

 

Edward: I suppose some part of me must have wanted to communicate something if it allowed me to send such a message that you were able to interpret

 

Oswald: what? just tell me, Ed

 

Edward: I have simply had a rough night, I apologize for having to share my problems.

 

Oswald: rough? Like how?

 

Edward: I… I do not wish to talk about it now. Is that okay?

 

Oswald: fine w/ me. but u gotta tell me at some point. I told u abt my leg, u owe me a story back

 

Edward: That is true, but I would prefer to talk to you in person. Additionally, I told you about my snake bite, does that not count?

 

Oswald: nope that was all one u i didnt ask u

 

Edward: The rules to this agreement are unclear

 

Oswald: :/ oh well

 

Edward: ...I guess I’ll just have to figure it out. Like a riddle! :D

 

Oswald: omfg no

 

Edward: :)

 

Edward: How was the game? I looked up the score just now and saw that you won! :)

 

Looking up from his phone, Oswald blinked at the hotel’s lighted sign. He had not realized he had walked so far. Apparently he must have been at least somewhat invested in the text conversation since it had occupied Oswald enough to make him vaguely unaware of his surroundings. It was easy for Oswald to blame that on the fact that he was simply lonely because he was walking alone in the dark. Anything would have grabbed his attention, not only Edward.

 

Oswald darted inside and sat himself down by the small fireplace in the hotel lobby, glancing around to see if Gordon was around. It was getting harder for him to deny the attraction he was feeling towards Jim. He was a team captain, built strong but lithe, commanding, respectable, and while not exactly checking all of Oswald’s boxes, it was enough if Jim was simply kind to him like he was. Something in the back of his mind chirped, “He is not the only one.” , but Oswald shook his head to clear it.

 

Warming his leg near the fire, Oswald returned to Edward’s text and tried to ignore his thoughts.

 

Oswald: yeah the team won, not me tho, im just the waterboy

 

Edward: You are a part of the team, thus it was a victory shared with you, a part of the team, no?

 

Oswald: logically YES but rly no it wasnt my win, i cant even skate anymore

 

Edward: Anymore?

 

Oswald: um,,,,yeah

 

Edward: May I ask for further information regarding this?

 

Oswald scooted closer to the fire and bit at his lower lip. He did not want to make himself into a pity party with his explanation, but Edward was asking for it. So Oswald delivered.

 

Oswald: i used to play hockey

 

Edward: Oh, wow! I did not know. You never mentioned it.

 

Oswald: yeah,,,when my leg got busted i was pretty much useless on the ice nd i stopped

 

Edward: I am sorry, Oswald. That sounds terrible.

 

Oswald: yeah yeah it sucked oh well

 

Edward: Did I make you uncomfortable?

 

Oswald: no i just dont like talking about myself

 

Edward: I see.

 

Edward: Then tell me about what is around you.

 

Oswald: ur wordplay is gonna work against u one day

 

Edward: Perhaps, but I hope myself intelligent enough to know how to get out of it.

 

Oswald: ur such a nerd, why do u wanna talk 2 me anyways

 

Edward did not reply right away as he usually did, the text bubble indicating he was writing popped up and down intermittently as if Edward was writing, deleting, and rewriting his message. Oswald quirked his brow at such a thing. Why would Edward spend so much time contemplating such a stupid, miniscule thing? It was a text, not a declaration of love. Then again, Oswald recalled that Edward tended to overthink many things, especially in anything that involved interaction with another human being. Supposing that Edward’s social life was about alive as a fish out of water, it was not surprising to Oswald in retrospect that Edward was a somewhat unorthodox texter.

 

While Edward seemed to be in battle with his thoughts, Oswald took the time to rub out the stiffness in his leg with the heels of his hands, placing his phone on the arm rest and leaning forward to massage at his knee. The heat had done him some good, letting the muscles relax and loosen around the tumultuous zone of his knee and lower leg. Oswald could even softly roll his ankle in slow circles and experience little to minimal discomfort. He made a mental note to use heating pads more often on his leg after shifts at the arena, as afterwards he usually had a more awkward gait that usual. Not to mention more painful.

 

Having found himself watching the fire as if it were a riveting TV show, Oswald was slightly startled by the sharp buzz and notification sound of his phone. He leaned back in the chair, forcing his muscles to slump and relax, and picked up the phone lazily. A soft smile began creeping up on his face as he felt himself lose tension and stress in the large, warm chair by the fire.

 

Edward: I enjoy talking with you, Oswald. You entertain my social follies and do not hold them against me like most others. I respect you for that and find that you seem to be someone who might understand me when no one else does. I enjoy your company. That’s why. :)

 

The heat that rose on Oswald’s face was not from the fire alone. He felt his ears and nose and cheeks and neck grow hot, sting in a way that did not hurt but felt prickly and tingly in a slightly, embarrassingly satisfying way. Oswald glanced around himself, as if he had signalled his emotions and thoughts to everyone in the room. No one gave him a second glance, as he was simply another hotel patron lounging about, no one special or unique really. Oswald was thankful for the lack of attention and returned to his phone, forcing himself to think nothing of it. Edward just wants a friend, someone who won’t belittle him. That’s all it is.

 

Oswald: oh,,,ok then. Whatever.

 

Oswald tried to be nonchalant in his texts, tried to not show that he had nothing better to do, or nothing else he really would rather be doing. He was content here, relaxing, chatting with Edward, but there was no way in hell that he would admit it to a living soul.

 

Edward: So what do you see? All I have for a view is our room, and it’s nothing new.

 

Oswald: fineeee,,,since you keep asking. Im sitting in this nice big  lounging chair by a fireplace, and ive got my feet up. My leg’s all warm which is nice and im kinda just slumped in a chair textin you like the lameass I am.

 

Edward: I would oppose the name you call yourself, but continue...is there anyone around you?

 

Oswald: geez i gotta paint you a picture? There’s a buncha people over by the bar behind me, it’s kinda loud but not too loud. There’s some couples here and there and kids hanging out or drinking or reading. And Jim is supposed to be down here but i havent seen him,,,

 

Edward: Who is Jim? If you do not mind me asking.

 

Oswald: Oh,,,Jims capt of the team. Were sharing a room tnite nd he hold me hed be down here.

 

Edward: Ah. Okay, then. That’s interesting I suppose.

 

Whether or not is was Oswald’s imagination or not, he read the text as mildly jealous and poor at hiding it. Even in texts it seemed that Edward was poor at hiding his emotions. It made Oswald grin a bit devilishly, stifling a laugh.

 

Oswald: wat? U worried capt and me are going to do it like in your books? Lmao

 

Usually not one to joke about such things, Oswald decided to push Edward, see how he’d react. It was fun, like a game, but with more interesting stakes and rewards. Oswald eagerly watched the jumping dots on the screen until Edward’s reply came through.

 

Edward: I am not necessarily sure what you are implying about yourself or this Jim, but if you are questioning if I am worried about you and the team’s captain engaging in sexual or romantic interactions then I must say that it is not really my place to voice an opinion of approval or disapproval.

 

Oswald: that was the most boring answer anyone couldve given to that

 

Edward: I apologize…?

 

Oswald: dont, i was dumb for asking it

 

He was, or at least he seriously felt so. Usually Oswald enjoyed putting people on the spot, pointing out their flaws and follies just as they had done him, but with Edward, it was a lot less entertaining. Oswald glanced at the clock at the top of his phone’s screen, noting that it was getting late and that he should head to the room to at least lay in bed, if not sleep. It took a while for Oswald to work up the will to get up, sighing into the chair and bathing in the heat a bit longer while Edward buzzed back a response.

 

Edward: Do you like Jim?

 

Sitting up much quicker than he should have, something popping in his back and his feet falling to the floor in a thud, Oswald hunched over his phone and glared at it as if it had spat out his greatest secrets. Edward’s question was irksome, uncalled for, and wrongly entertained by Oswald’s mind. Oswald wanted to toss the phone into the fire in annoyance and frustration, but he knew better. Taking deep breaths and trying to rub away the blush that had blossomed on his face with rubbing at his cheeks, Oswald looked at the question once more.

 

Such a question was one Oswald was unclear of. He liked Jim as a person, he was good at what he did and did not cause him humiliation as of yet. It was a low bar, but a bar nonetheless. Oswald wasn’t sure how much longer he could tiptoe around it as it didn’t exist, as if he did not exist. Though he would like to forget it, Oswald did not swing the way most others did. He hated the word, hated it almost more than he hated that it was what he was. He refused to say it, refused to admit it to himself at times even. It left scars on him he did not feel like picking at and opening up, so it was easier to stuff in the back of his mind and ignore. But, now it was making itself more and more difficult to simply be tossed away and forgotten, and Oswald hated everything that caused.

 

He hated feelings in general, but the feelings of attractions and desire and want and need and all other manifestations of it were the worst. He couldn’t digest them, fathom them, it was all too much and he could barely handle himself without them let alone with them. Oswald refused to make himself vulnerable, yet his own mind was forcing himself too without his input. It was a paradox situated inside of his mind, his chest, his gut, inside all of him, roiling and twisting and churning in ways that brought fluttery feelings and painful punches equally. Oswald did not want to be broken again, not by anyone else, not by himself.

 

Did he like Jim? Only in the most basic of ways. Only because Jim did not obviously hate him, only because Oswald unknowingly yearned for someone to respect and show appreciation and vague respect like Jim did. Only because Oswald was lonely and broken, and anyone who would show him pity caught him. Only for that. Then why not the other?

 

Oswald: i mean yeah hes a cool guy were acquaintnces

 

Edward: Ah, alright. It is good to have a variety of friends.

 

Oswald: so u and a hockey player count as diverse??

 

Edward: I suppose in its own way, yes, we are very unalike at least. :)

 

Oswald: yeah, i kno

 

Edward: You left your penguin. Did you mean to do so?

 

No. Oswald had forgotten it in his sloppy, fast packing. He did not think he could even have room in his pack to bring it anyways, and since he had to share a room, he did not think he could bring himself to unpack the stuffed animal anyways. It was most likely for the best for it to remain in his room with Edward.

 

Oswald pushed himself out of the chair finally and began to make his way to the room via the elevator, jamming the UP button with his finger as he began to type a response.

 

Oswald: yah

 

Edward: Okay, it looked a bit lonely so I was curious.

 

Oswald: well keep it company i guess???

 

Edward: I could do that easily for you. :)

 

It was not something that Oswald wanted Edward to do for him, but he did not have the will to make it clear to Edward that it was not for him at all. As Oswald pushed his way into the room and kicked off his shoes, his phone buzzed, showing that Edward had sent an image.

 

Oswald sat on his bed and laid back, holding the phone above as he yawned and tapped open the image file. It was a somewhat blurry, darkish image of what Oswald recognized at Edward’s snake plush and Oswald’s penguin sitting on Edward’s bed, the two animals nestled together. Oswald chuckled and buried his face in the pillow. It was ridiculous. And endearing, but Oswald ignored that feeling.

 

Oswald: haha nice company i guess

 

Edward: Do not fret, this snake does not bite! :)

 

Oswald: well i am goin to bed too

 

Edward: Ah alright, good idea, it is a bit late. I wish you a goodnight.

 

Oswald: gnite

 

With that, Oswald plugged in his phone, set an alarm, and stripped down to his boxers before climbing into bed. He drifted off with the image of the snake and penguin sitting together, and he did not know why, but it was comforting. Unlikely together, but perfect together.

Chapter Text

 

Having watched the clock for a few hours now, the minutes moving by, turning into hours, and passing by like a molasses mudslide that streaked down Ed’s mind. The limitations of the construct of time had always irritated Ed in a variety of ways that he could rarely illustrate clearly in words. It was most often a frustration, a logical hatred for how time was measured to painstakingly in society and used to dictate all aspects of life. Some part of Edward appreciated how time made life more organized in a sense, but another part knew that the construct was just some flimsy things that humans clung to for sanity’s sake.

 

Edward had been laying in bed since Oswald had bid him a good night, running his digits over the plush of his snake, at times shifting and adjusting, but always blinking into the night, unable to retire to sleep. The insomnia had first begun when Edward was in high school, often only able to drift off in the early AM, getting so little sleep it send him into a narcosis and gave him atrociously dark undereyes. Worst of all, it gave him an advantage over Edward. Without the cleansing of sleep on Ed’s weary mind, it was harder to fend him off in a sleep drunk state that he found himself on some days.

 

Sometimes, the only way to bring himself to alertness was to draw blood. Long, deep rasping along his back and lower rib cage. Scraping over the bones of his torso and feeling the indentations left behind, the beading blood that left no trace on black fabric he strategically wore. The slow, agonizing sensation of causing himself to drip, the gritting of his teeth, the twitching and watering of his eyes as he did so in the stalls of one of the school restrooms. The cramping and tenseness of his hands and fingers after leaving rake marks on himself, the choking on air if he pushed too deep with his nails, or paper clips or staples, whatever he had pocketed if his nails could not do the trick.

 

In a sickening way, it brought him calm, focus, and it shut him out, which Edward would do anything for at times. Working himself up to paint himself like a beaten and abused prisoner was grating on the mind and nerves, but still better than the alternative of letting him take over, or even hearing him. It became easier over time, habitual, a cycle wreaking havoc on his life, but Edward found himself too deep in it to try and get out. He’d get little sleep, fight it in the night, and then tear at himself in the day to keep himself sane. At some point, sane became objective, and Edward was quickly losing himself.

 

With no help from parents who were never home, married to the job, their child the salary gain, Edward was left to his own defenses, his only blessing a large monetary fund he could draw from. On the verge of breaking, sobbing and fighting to keep him away as he taunted Edward more severely than usual, Ed managed to find a bottle of allergy pills in an upper cabinet. In a shaky reach he managed to tip the bottle down unto the counter below and watch as the lid cracked off and small, bright pink pills scattered. Grabbing a handful with bloodied hands, dry red caking his nails and smeared on his palm, Edward has swallowed them and chewed regardless of the nasty taste. He’d screamed at something only he could see and soon found himself draped on the couch, on the verge of losing consciousness. And when his vision died to black, the silence and lack of thoughts or sensation was ultimately satisfying.

 

The dosage had not killed him, but rather left him in a state of deep sleep for nearly twenty-four hours. During that time, Edward had felt nothing, seen nothing, heard nothing, and it had been blissful despite not being conscious for it. When he awoke, he was alone, and utterly thankful for that. He didn’t see or hear or feel him, he was temporary free of his alter-ego, his Not. Edward had grabbed the bottle, which still lay on the counter as he had left it along with the rest of the home, meaning his parents had not been home since he’d passed out. Glancing at the active ingredients, it was simple for Edward to research the drug in a medical book he had in his collection. Thus prompted Edward’s nearly religious taking of sleeping aids, dependent on them essentially.

 

Some nights they did not work, and there was no obvious chemical explanation that Edward could garner as to why. Such night was one. While Edward tossed and turned and at times spared a glance at his phone in hope of receiving something from Oswald, sleep evaded him and Not kept him unwanted company. He was sitting at the foot of the bed, swinging his legs and humming and at times giggling devilishly to himself. His smile, wide and terrifying to anyone but Edward who was used to it, shone still in the light of the moon that leaked through the dorm window curtains. He was dressed as usual in a gaudy green, and Edward hated how it caught his eye so often.

 

“Why do you hope so blatantly for something so obviously impossible?”

 

Edward was tired and gave in to the probe, murmuring and glancing across to Oswald’s empty bed.

 

“Nothing is truly impossible, it’s illogical to make such a statement.”

 

“True. But I believe that you are ignoring the implication of what I said.”

 

“Your implication is childish and incorrect.”

 

“Oh? So you admit it?”

 

“I have admitted to nothing but that you are wrong in your thoughts.”

 

“Maybe so, but my thoughts are your thoughts, so I cannot be all wrong, now can I?”

 

Edward snarled and sat up in his bed, pushing off the cover and pulling back his lips in a sneer of rage.

 

You are not me .”

 

“Oh come on, how much longer can you feign that? You can’t even convince yourself of that anymore. You’re smart, I’m smart, and you’re studying psychology, you must know that you are me and I am you, it truly is not too difficult.”

 

Edward huffed and let himself fall back into the covers, crossing his arms and glaring at the wall in frustration, remaining silent.

 

“Perhaps it is not easy to digest , but it is simple to comprehend.”

 

“Shut up…” It was a weak sound, lost, as if Edward had given up on the argument.

 

He had. Perhaps because he knew Not was right, or perhaps because he simply did not want to think about it. Not knew everything about Edward, but Edward was often in the dark about Not. It was terrifying, knowing that he did not even know himself wholly, that he was so broken inside that he was the most broken of his two parts. Even more horrifying was the fact that Not could take over if Edward did not or could not fight him on it. And Not had before. They always end in disasters, in problems that Edward did not know how to fix because he had not made them.

 

Like when he had been accused of slashing at someone at school with a crude shiv made from scrap metal and duct tape. The scars on his back from that still refused to leave, leaving welts for memories that were not his. Most instances were not malicious towards Edward himself, as injury to him would be injury to Not, but most times the things Not did led to non-fatal wounds that only Edward had to bear.

 

For a reason that Edward did not know, he was the one littered with impurities, gnarled and sheen skin that roiled from old slashes and cuts and gouges. Edward was alone in carrying the sky of pain on his shoulders for eternity, all while Not sported a flawless, markless bode that Edward could never recall being able to relish himself. He was damaged goods, undesirable in his own eyes and what he presumed were the eyes of others. Edward knew he was broken and used and problematic, and that was exactly what Not was cruelly encouraging Edward to think.

 

“First of all, I don’t quite understand why you like him. He’s odd and unambitious seeming. He would do nothing but hold us back, keep us from the power you know we are capable of. The last thing we need is someone like that keeping us from what is truly important.”

 

“I said shut up!”

 

Not chuckled and swung his legs as he jumped from the bed’s edge and stood over Edward cheekily. “So defensive of him, I suppose he’d need that with the invalid body he has.”

 

“Stop!”

 

“Hmmph...fine. You’re no fun when you’re like this anyway, ugh, emotional. Such a weakness of yours, attachment.”

 

Edward buried his face into the pillow and willed Not away, biting into the fabric to keep from biting into his own tongue. Luckily, Not was bored, and had left Edward finally. The clock read some time after 4AM through Edward’s wet, fuzzy sight. He swiped at the wetness on his face and sniffled, then, overcome with a sudden exhaustion and desire for sleep, he slumped into his bed and wrapped his arms around the long snake. Toying with the thoughts of reaching out and bringing the penguin close to him, Edward gave in and did so, squeezing it tight and finding a deep comfort in doing so. He slept until noon clutching it close.


Oswald returned to the dorm late on Saturday night to Edward sprawled across the floor on his back playing a video game in his boxers. Oswald looked at Edward for a moment before realizing the half-dressed aspect of his roommate’s state. Edward’s jaw shifted as he chewed on some sticky candy, unable to properly greet Oswald, though he tried.

 

“Hmph, Osthwald!”

 

“What?” Oswald frowned, tilting his head and quirked his brow as he eyed Edward for a moment, and then looked away much too rapidly for it to look natural.

 

His face bloomed red and nose burned fiercely, and Oswald tried to cover it with a poor impression of a cough. Despite his internal discourse at the decision, Oswald took another glance at Edward. It is not my fault he’s spread out like some bimbo in a porno mag!

 

It was obvious that Edward was long, tall, both, but it was worse when Oswald could see it. His torso was lithe and pale and his ribs were evident, Oswald wanted to drag his hands along them and feel each bone and trace its outline. He wanted to press on Edward’s chest and feel the other’s pulse and breathing and hear it, pressing his ear to the flesh and enjoying the rhythm of the steady thumping. He wanted to feel those long arms around him, comforting and promising safety and contentment. Oswald wanted to sit between Ed’s legs, the ones that went on for miles, wanted to be surrounded in an embrace by that body, wanted to feel every part of it.

 

Oswald wanted to pin this all on his lust, but many of the images that came to his mind were more akin to spooning and cuddling than sex. To admit to himself even that all Oswald wanted was a hug, was too much to ask, and he shook his head in vapid denial. Snapping his neck around, Oswald purposefully looked away, unpacking his bag roughly to try and keep distracted by anything. He just did not want to have to deal with those feelings now, did not want to dissect them.

 

Edward sat up and blinked at Oswald, smacking his lips as he swallowed the sugar in his mouth and gazed at his roommate unpacking, Oswald’s back towards him. In trying to understand the situation, Edward suddenly felt horrible, like a stab in his stomach and a desire to vomit something vile in his belly. Oswald can’t stand looking at me in this body. This, this broken, used, trash body .

 

The handheld game console fell to the floor from a small height as Edward scrambled to stand up and throw on a large shirt and pajama pants, biting his lip so hard it bled and belittling himself inside his mind. The words of Not echoed in his ear and he fought back tears from the horrid thoughts that ran around him. After dressing quickly, in a loud and sudden enough fashion that it had garnered Oswald’s wary glance, Edward stood at the foot of his bed and placed one foot atop his other, digging his toes into the top of his other and licking at the blood oozing from his now broken lip. He was a mess of nerves and confusion and still in the wake of the trauma that Not often caused him, rocking like an abandoned buoy in a sea of confounding emotions.

 

Oswald, tossing the last of the clothing in his pack into a cloth bag that served as his laundry basket under his bed, turned to face Edward and found himself surprised. Edward had not seemed one to fret to this extent, he was usually awkward and talkative, to a point that Oswald wanted to cringe and drag his fingers along his face in second-hand embarassment, but now Ed looked like a frightened, scolded child. And Oswald didn’t know the hell why. Watching a bead of dark blood flow from Edward’s lip and down his chin, staining his thin, white T-shirt, Oswald made a small sound and moved forwards, grabbing a tissue from a box on his desk.

 

“Hey, you’re bleeding.”

“Oh...yes. I am...oh, no.” Edward spoke in a detactched manner, but once Oswald approached closer and pressed the tissue into Edward’s shaking hands he seemed to regain a touch of reality.

 

“And here you’re supposed to be the smarter roommate.” Oswald grinned and shook his head as Edward grasped at the tissue and brought it up to lip, coloring the soft paper a dark velvet.

 

“I...Intelligence and self-care can have gaps at times…” Edward murmured quietly, glancing down at the blot on his shirt and scratching at it with his unoccupied hand. “I read an article about the differences between academic intelligence and intuitive self-care and how people excel in one and struggle in the other…”

 

Oswald laughed and sat himself down on his bed, watching Edward remain standing somewhat awkwardly. Kicking off his shoes and undoing the belt of his pants, Oswald joked at Edward.

 

“I suppose we know which one you excel at, and which you struggle in. Unfortunately for me, I am pretty bad at both of them.”

 

Edward cocked his head like a puppy who had just been asked a question he obviously could not answer. “Why do you say that? That you are poor at both?”

 

Oswald chuckled, a short, vaguely sad breath of a laugh, and then glanced up too meet Edward’s eyes. “Why? I’m just a fucking mess, that’s why. I was dumb enough to fuck up one of the only things I enjoyed in life, and now I’m a goddamned student in college without a clue as to what I wanna do. I wanna be powerful, wanna show that I am not just what I look like, I’m capable of so much more than what people see in me, but I don’t see how the fuck my sorry ass is supposed to get there.”

 

“It’s common for college students to be unsure of what they would like to do when they graduate, it is even common for people at all upper ages to be unsure of what they would truly want to do with their life. Being unsure of your ambitions is common and expected of people our age.”

 

“Yeah, well, most people aren’t as fucked as me.” Oswald grumbled and glared at his leg.

 

“I would argue that what you may perceive as flaws may in truth be virtues in a way. Yes, it is unfortunate what happened, but the experiences you have survived show that you have an extreme resilience. I, for one, I…I do not think that you are,” Edward raised his hands and formed air quotes with a lopsided grin in an attempt to be funny, “ fucked , as you say.”

 

It succeeded in making Oswald guffaw unflatteringly, bending a bit at the waist at the way that Edward intonated his voice and grinned foolishly as he did so. Oswald smiled back at Edward and shook his head playfully.

 

“Maybe you can be funny, Edward.”

 

“I have been working on that, so thank you.” And Edward smiled wide, and it made Oswald smile back. Why?!

 

Edward looked down at the tissue in his hands, darting his tongue to see if blood still pooled, and then pressed the tissue back up to the wound site. He balled it up and tossed it in the garbage when he pulled back with no new blood marks. While Edward crouched to pick up his DS which had fallen on the floor, saving and putting it away, Oswald changed into baggy pajama bottoms and rubbed at his knee. Yawning wide, he turned to face Edward and blinked a bit tiredly.

 

“Are you going to sleep?” Oswald asked.

 

“I...Most likely not for a bit.” He had not taken his melatonin yet.

 

“Oh, okay. Do you...uh...can I use your TV?” Oswald gestured to the small flat screen TV that Edward had brought and placed in a corner of their room on what looked like a cheap IKEA wood stand. A miscellaneous collection of DVDs and a DVD player sat on the stand’s lower shelf.

 

“Ah, yes, please, feel free. Do you have anything in particular you would like to watch? I have a small DVD selection.”

 

Edward enthusiastically rushed over to the TV and began to fiddle with it, sitting cross legged in front of the stand and thumbing through the plastic cases for a moment before craning his neck to the side to watch Oswald hobble over. Oswald lowered himself to the floor and gazed at Edward’s hands as they gathered up a pile of DVDs and neatly lined them up in front of the two. Of the titles laid out, the majority of them were the entire series of the Harry Potter movies. Oswald had to bite his tongue to stifle a guffaw at the discovery. It secured Oswald’s belief that Edward was a true, bona fide, nerd, but something in him found it almost cute. No, No, not cute. No!

 

“I see...you are a fan of Harry Potter?” Oswald glanced at Edward and raised a brow, in a thin lipped smile.

 

“I suppose that is now rather evident. I apologize if you are not a fan, I have a few other titles. I believe I brought the Back to the Future series, and, uhm...Ghostbusters I think?” Ed smiled back shyly at Oswald, cheeks high as he grinned.

 

“It’s fine. Um...I don’t really know much about the series, but I know the 4th one has dragons I think?” Oswald picked up the Goblet of Fire and turned it to look at the back cover.

 

“There are dragons in a few, but we can watch that one. I know nearly all of them by heart so I don’t really mind whichever one you would be interested in.”

 

“I just want to watch a movie and chill. I’m exhausted from the trip.” Oswald complained and stretched out one leg as Edward picked up the titles and started up the TV.

 

“How was tonight’s game?”

 

“Oh, we won. Er, our team won. Jim scored the only goal in the game, so I guess that is good for them.”

 

“Oh...okay.” Edward stayed quiet for a few moments as he put in the DVD.

 

Oswald noted the change in his temperament, but it was so temporary that it was easily forgotten afterwards. Grabbing an armful of blankets and a pillow from his bed, Oswald plopped down in front of the TV and wrapped himself in the blankets. Once Edward had managed to start the film, he followed in suit and dragged a blanket from his own bed to sit beside Oswald, perhaps a bit closer than Oswald would have liked. Edward’s sense of personal space was still not up to par, Oswald had supposed.

 

Watching the film was peppered with Edward commenting or giving away plot points. At first it irked Oswald a bit, but he was tired and barely paying attention to the movie and found Edward’s voice and commentating to be comforting in a way Oswald could not put a finger on. Random tidbits of other information was also added into Edward’s comments.

 

“Oh, this is one of my favorite parts. Wait, no, I mean it is one of them, but I have a lot, but I really like this one.”

 

“I think Gryffindor is slightly overrated, I myself am a Ravenclaw, so maybe I am simply biased. Do you know your house, Oswald?”

 

It was at this point that Edward paused the movie and scrambled out from his blanket to get his laptop and then lay on his stomach next to Oswald. Edward stretched out on the floor, his legs bending at the knee and his shins doubling towards his thighs as he kicked his feet softly in eagerness. It was blatantly, painfully obvious that Edward was a big fan of Harry Potter. It made Oswald fight the urge to trail his fingers down Edward’s back, the thin shirt on his back not helping as it barely hid the skin and scars beneath. The scars did not scare off Oswald, they rather fascinated him, and he wanted to feel them and let Edward know that he liked them. NO I DO NOT!

 

Edward pulled up some page on his browser, but not after Oswald eyes a few other open tabs reading things like ‘Guy’s guide on picking up dudes’, ‘How to know if you’re gay’, and ‘Australian penguins’. Oswald had blushed hard at seeing what he was probably not intended to see, but Edward seemed to either not realize that Oswald had seen them or did not know that such things were typically private.

 

“You should take the House Placement test to see what Hogwarts house you fit into, Oswald. It’s not very long and I think that you will find it entertaining. Also I am curious so I hope you want to take it too.” Edward grinned boyishly and his eyes glimmered behind the lenses of his glasses.

 

It would have been hard for Oswald to deny him, but he saw no harm in taking the quiz thing, and so he did. “Okay, fine. Um...pull it up?”

 

Edward brought up the House test and turned the laptop towards Oswald to allow him to make selections and read at a pace he was okay with. At each question, Edward muttered the prompt to himself and then watched in earnest as Oswald moved the mouse to hover over each selection before making his choice. Edward interjected at times with clarifications that he thought Oswald might need and with factoids about what he had chosen when taking the assessment on his own. Oswald mostly nodded and listened, it was nice to have someone that spoke with him, not needing any sort of constant vocal validation that they were being heard.

 

At the end of the test, the screen showed that Oswald had tested into the Slytherin house, with the emblem of a dark green snake presented. Oswald had frowned and glanced at Edward, clueless as to what that meant.

 

“Is this bad?”

 

“No, no house is bad , but slytherin is usually associated with ambition, cunningness, and achievement-minded. It just means that you know what you want and will do whatever you need to do to get there.”

 

“That is both vague and specific...and somewhat right, I guess.” Oswald raised his brow in mild surprise, expecting a more cheesy and inaccurate answer.

 

“Okay, now let’s do your patronus.”

“My what ?”

 

Edward had Oswald then take the patronus test, which Ed needed to explain with a variety of hand gesture and Google images. After Oswald understood what it meant to the extent that it was ‘your magical spirit animal’, Edward made Oswald take the test. Edward had been a magpie when he took it, which made Oswald go off about corvids and their intelligence and how much he liked them. He retold a short anecdote about befriending a murder, a group, of crows in high school by littering peanuts around the school’s soccer field for the crows to eat. After doing it for a few weeks, the crows had begun to leave Oswald small shiny metal objects, pennies, bottle caps, small pieces of scrap metal. Edward basked in the passionate tone that Oswald spoke in, the genuine joy and happiness in his eyes and smile as he spoke, and Edward wished that he could make Oswald feel that way too.

 

“I’m a...kingfisher?”

 

“So it seems. Kingfishers are rather impressive birds! That is a fascinating patronus, Oswald.” Edward beamed up at Oswald and pointed at the screen as the ghostly colored bird flitted over a digital pond.

 

“I guess we’re both bird brained in that case.” Oswald blamed the poorness of the joke on the lateness of the night and his own tiredness. Maybe Edward’s bad sense of humour was also rubbing off.

 

Edward laughed at the horrendous pun and met Oswald’s eyes, smiling wide, smiling genuinely, honestly. Oswald was grinning back, more so at how Edward was so entertained by the stupid joke more than anything.

 

“Don’t laugh at my bad joke, Ed, no, don’t encourage me.” Oswald chuckled and laid back on the blankets, shaking his head and smiling at the ceiling.

 

“Do you want to keep watching?” Ed asked, pushing himself up on his elbows and looking towards Oswald.

 

“Hmm...sure, yeah.”


Edward closed his laptop and shoved it to the side, pushing the play button on the TV remote and moving himself so that he was laying on his stomach beside Oswald. Edward continued commentating, enjoying how Oswald would sometimes mutter an acknowledge or sleepy response. It was nice, to simply be in the presence of someone like Oswald, of simply being able to have someone to spend time with. Edward felt good for once in his life, he felt okay, he felt like Not could never harm him, never cause him any more pain. And for once, Edward fell asleep without any aids, next to Oswald, the two sprawled out on the floor as the end of the movie played for the two sleeping boys. It was the best night of Edward’s life thus far. Birds of a feather, let’s stick together.

Chapter Text

Cold, sharp air came up from the ice, cooling Oswald’s feet despite the soles of his shoes presenting a barrier. The chill traveled up his feet, through his veins, the dark vessels that made grotesque spiderwebs on his pale flesh at times. It shocked his knee and he gasped and clung unto whatever he could, white knuckles, trembling legs, quivering body. It felt like something had bit him from the inside, like a knife through the joint, prying and trying to yank the boney mass of what was left of his knee cap out of the socket and unto the ice in a bloody mess of tendon and flesh. Oswald screwed his eyes shut, his breath shuddering, and he saw the ruins of his body lying on the floor on that day, relived the pain in a moment and recalled that he had not taken any painkillers that day.

 

Oswald was grasping on the side of the rink, clinging to the small hanginging before the plexiglass wall, his whole body slumped to one side as he pressed against the barrier, head low, body visibly shaking even from across the ice. He made quiet, breathy sounds as he tried to regain his tread on the ice, but something was worse than usual, the pain was more than he was used to dealing with while at work. Oswald blinked and raised his head, vision swimming at the intensity of the ache, unable to focus on anything too much. His neck swung to each side, as if seeking someone out, or watching for potential witnesses. Oswald himself was unsure. It was bad enough to feel this way, to want to dig his fingers into flesh and tear out what he could, but to be seen in this state of mania and panic was possibly worse.

 

The two had barely noticed one another. Jim had been practicing his slapshots in stripped down gear, skates, some sweats, and an undershirt, easily lost in his eerily silent focus. Oswald had been in the supply closet before Gordon had stepped unto the ice, and when Oswald came out to do some work on the goal in preparation for the upcoming practice, neither one had noticed the other. Jim skirted around the back of net he was using, smoothly gathering pucks within the scope of his stick and pushing them out in front of the goal. Watching one of the black objects slide along the ice, his eye caught Oswald’s movement across the rink, watched him shudder and struggle. Jim let the stick fall softly to the ice and skated over, confused.

 

“Oswald? Are you alright?”

Surprised, Oswald gave a small gasp and quickly tried to turn to face Gordon. A wrong movement of his leg made him hiss and Oswald’s leg gave out, knee buckling and body cascading unto the ice painfully. His knee smashed against the ice harshly and he gave a pained cry, rolling unto his side and grasping the leg with both hands as his neck was thrown back into a silent yell. Wide-eyed, Gordon quickly skirted around Oswald with the grace of a talented skater and leaned down to place his arms under Oswald’s own.

 

“Oswald? Hey, stay with me here.” Gordon’s tone was commanding, in an effort to keep Oswald awake and alert.

 

Oswald murmured something in response, but it was too garbled for Jim to comprehend. Oswald was limp in his grip, and Jim dragged him along the ice until he had his back to the rink’s side. Using the plexiglass to help balance himself, Jim braced against the wall and yanked Oswald upwards until he maneuver Oswald unto his back, hunched over. Oswald muttered something again and then slumped against Jim’s back. Jim arched his brow as he tried to glance over his shoulder at the exhausted other, but all he could see was a boneless, dark form, Oswald. Jim propelled over to the rink exit closest to the locker room and quickly hopped off the ice with Oswald in tow, walking as fast as he could with skates to the locker room benches and depositing Oswald on them softly.

 

“Oswald! Oswald. I need to know what’s wrong.” Jim pushed at Oswald’s shoulders with large hands, trying to get the obviously out-of-it Oswald into some form of usable consciousness.

 

Blinking, Oswald glanced at Jim with hazy eyes and grinned dumbly, then glanced down at Jim’s hands on him.

 

“How come….you’re so nice, Jim…?”

 

“Oswald, just tell me what’s wrong.”

 

“I mean...you could do anything to me right now, and no one would care…” Oswald’s own voice sounded distant in his ears, and he closed his eyes as a wave of pain rolled over him. The pain had shifted from his knee to his gut and head, and now everything hurt and Oswald just wanted to lay down and die, but Jim didn’t seem to want that. Oswald leaned into Jim’s touch and sighed.

 

Oswald meant what he said, though barely lucid, he knew what he was saying. He’d been in similar situations in the past, been at the receiving end of more unfortunate encounters. No one would care, no one would know, no one but him and whoever did it to him. Oswald had no one to tell it to, no reason to. Why should he? He was just a tool that others used. Tools were used and tossed aside like the inanimate objects that they are.

The only person who cared about Oswald, or at least seemed to, was his mother, and Oswald refused to allow any suffering to come to her on his behalf. She always fretted, worried, made herself sick over him, and Oswald loathed it. He hated how the only person who could ever love him got hurt on his behalf. The easiest fix was too simply keep her in the dark. Don’t let her know his pain, tell her that he’s fine when he’s breaking inside. Smile, ignore his pain, ignore it all, and just keep her safe. It was a warped idea, the child protecting the parent, but if Oswald was to succeed in anything in life, he just wanted to make his mother happy. He did not want to let her know that his leg was in fact not caused by a nasty fall he’d had down the school stairs, that the reason his eyes were dark were simply how he looked, and not related to the nightmares that gave him terrible sleep. He couldn’t let her know that he was suffering, for she would simply make herself miserable and thus make Oswald’s worse. Maybe sharing his qualms may have alleviated them, but he decided to burden it all himself. To treat his own wounds, to deal with them if they got infected, to let them make horrendous scars, to let himself be broken down everyday and not say a word to anyone.

 

That’s why Jim could do whatever he wanted, because Oswald would let him, just like he’d let others.

 

“All I want to do is see if there is anything immediate I can treat, and if not take you to urgent care. Oswald, don’t be like this.”

 

“I know that you know…”

 

“No, I don’t know. You have to tell me Oswald.” Jim was getting impatient, but given Oswald almost intoxicated state thanks to whatever was inflicting him, Gordon was able to maintain his cool for a bit.

 

“Hah...Yeah, I guess you all know. I’d do it you know...if you wanted to use me, I’d let you…”

 

Jim’s screwed his face up at the implications of Oswald’s mutterings. He did not think that Oswald meant what he was saying, but he did think that Oswald most likely thought something that he certainly should not be.

 

“Oswald, what are you talking about.” Jim’s desire to know temporarily outshined his worry for Oswald’s state.

 

“You know what I mean...be used. Suck you off, be used for whatever you want. It’d be better than being untouched…I wou-”

 

“Oswald, stop!”

 

The harsh tone drew Oswald out from his daft state a bit and his eyes focused on Jim’s, and he withdrew. Jim glared down at Oswald, angered by what Oswald was implying about Jim, that he would take advantage of Oswald, that he would abuse him, that he would a kind of person to do that to anyone. It made Gordon angry and disgusted and pitiful all at once.

 

“Jim…-”

 

“Oswald no, you’re delirious and you don’t even know what you’re saying. I’m not going to...to abuse you, fuck, why would you think that. Look, Oswald, you need medical attention. Do you have anyone I can call?”

 

Oswald slumped against the locker behind him and sighed, lost and useless, his eyes shuttering and breath shallow.

 

“Fuck.”

 

Jim jostled Oswald and then began to search his pockets for a phone. He found one, thankful that there was no passcode, and skimmed his contacts. There was only one, ‘Edward Nygma’, so Jim dialed it and hoped whoever it was could take care of this dilemma.



Edward was surprised by the fact that his phone dared to ring. No one called him, not his parents, nor his short list of friends, not even telemarketers called him. Grabbing the phone and answering it immediately, Ed was smiling wide upon seeing the caller ID.

 

“Hi, Oswald! I was just loo-”

 

“Hey! This is Jim, I work with Oswald.” Gordon spoke defiantly into the phone, glancing at Oswald as he stirred and gave a strained moan.

 

“Oh…” Edward felt his stomach sink, and his teeth clenched without his thinking.

 

“Look, you were the only contact on Oswald’s phone, are you guys close?”

 

“I would say so…” Edward’s voice was small and meek through the phone.

 

“Okay good, do you know where he lives or…”

 

“What’s going on?” Edward asked and leaned over his desk, pushing against the phone as if that might give him information.

 

“Oswald collapsed at the rink while working. It looked like it was his leg, but now he’s in a bad state, exhaustion or something it seems.”

 

“Um...okay. I know where you can bring him.” Edward glanced out the window and relayed their dorm’s address and room number to Jim.

 

Ed could fix this, he wanted to.



Gordon showed up around fifteen minutes later to the room, knocking hard and looking ragged from lugging Oswald across campus. Half slung over Jim’s shoulder, Oswald barely kept his head up and blinked slowly at any light that shone on him. He breathed with a slack jaw and the darkness under his eyes was worse than usual, deeper, piercing in a pitiful way. Oswald’s chest heaved under his jacket, his legs trembled as he stood with what weight Jim did not carry. He looked so small beside the built, tall athlete, and Edward wanted to snatch him away and sneer Jim away. He did not identify the desire as jealousy, did not identify it as anything, simply accepting it as what he felt. Edward had adapted to try not and dissect himself from the inside out as it usually gave Not a chance to play with Ed like an abused toy.

 

“Hello, Jim, I presume. I apologize that we must meet under these conditions, but allow me to take Oswald off your hands.”

 

“You’re Nygma?” Gordon was not sure what to expect, but Edward wasn’t it.

 

“Yes, now if you’ll allow me, I have a friend to care for.”

 

Jim shook his head in an exhaustive manner, dropping his eyes and sighing. This situation was annoyingly confusing and he had to get back to practice and explain to Bullock about what had happened, so he left Oswald with Nygma. About to surge forward into the room, Edward’s tall, slim frame blocked the way, then leaned down to take one of Oswald’s arms over his neck and shoulder. Gordon frowned and wrinkled his nose at the obvious gesture, unsure as to why Nygma gave off such a passive aggressive aura. Perhaps he was Oswald’s boyfriend or something, Jim did not know and did not care to get involved, he simply let Edward take Oswald and quickly left, murmuring a quick “Thanks” to Nygma before jogging back to the rink.

 

Edward’s face fell once the door closed behind them, from a look of unnerved determination to confused concern. When he had told Gordon to drop Oswald off earlier, he’d had a vague confidence that his prior knowledge from medical encyclopedia and article readings and biology textbooks would help the situation. Now though, faced with a weak body around his own, one that breathed slowly and refused to be alert, could barely keep on its feet, Edward was overwhelmed and began to fidget.

 

Edward led Oswald over to Ed’s own bed, which had been made that morning unlike Oswald’s. With a bit of struggle, Edward managed to help Oswald clamber into the bed, where he laid back and simply breathed, eyes closed, face pained. Edward paced nervously at the bedside, wringing his hands and pushing at his glasses, pulling them off, and then rubbing at his eyes until he saw red. Edward began to panic, swallowed by his own self-doubt and internal beratement on the stupidity of this situation. How can you fix this? You’re still rather useless, you have no clue what you are doing. USELESS.

 

Neck jerking to the side, Edward growled and barked back at the voice, his teeth grit and fists clenched so hard his nails dug into his skin.

 

“I’m not useless, shut up!”

 

Maybe you’ll kill him? Won’t that be fun, huh? You’ve never killed, even though I’ve told you it would be fun.

 

“I’m NOT killing him, shut up, why would even say that!”

 

Edward pulled at his hair and tossed his glasses away, biting at his tongue and screwing his eyes shut. He yanked at his shirt and face, dragging his hands down his own neck and clawing at his skin. In a state of panic, mania, confusion at the situation he had placed upon himself and the threat of whatever was ailing Oswald, Edward felt like he was drowning in an ocean, swallowing water but not dying, just suffering.

 

You’re making suuuuch a big deal out of this. Why? This one isn’t even my fault, it was all you.

 

“He’s my friend, I care about him. I don’t….I don’t want him to get hurt, or feel bad, or suffer.”

 

Sounds like a bit more than friends there buddy.

 

“You don’t know anything!”

 

Oh I quite do. And I know that you’re too dense to know that you like him more than friends.

 

“No! I don’t! He can’t know that!”

 

Oh man, this is fun, mostly cause it’s you, not me.

 

“What are you talking about!”

 

Not’s tone shifted, and Edward retreated despite the lack of visual manifestation, eyes wide, breath shallow, terrified of nothing and everything.

 

You love this fuckin’ guy, you fucking IDIOT. And you know you’re gonna FUCK IT UP, just like every other human interaction. I mean, c’mon, you couldn’t even get your own fucking PARENTS to love you. What makes you think this mess of a guy will?

 

Edward stood deathly still, frozen, stunned, and he felt something wet on his face, but didn’t feel where it was coming from. Blinking, slowly, purposefully, Edward glanced down at his hands, unclenching them, watching the scabs on his palms burble with blood beads, the scabs that never left him because he abused them so often. He blinked, and a dew drop made his lashes droop. Dark red smeared along his sweaty palms, and Ed let it messy his flesh, numb to everything for a moment. He felt nothing, felt empty, felt alone, felt lifeless. Chest hollow, legs rubbery, Edward felt less like a person than a mannequin, just a vessel that he occupied, but was nothing worthy of being granted life. Edward felt like a piece of broken mirror, useless and shattered and never truly worthy of anything but an inevitable death in the garbage. He felt more broken than he had in years, maybe ever.

 

Then he felt it all come down on him, like a cascade of emotional turmoil and realization, painful, brazenly cruel realization. Edward let himself sob, raising his sleeve to wipe at his wet, red cheeks, his nose dripping with snot, lips quivering like shaky leaves in late fall. Blood smeared on his chin, cold and disgusting, but Edward did not care. He cried for himself, for his own pain, for what he never asked for, for the abuse he never wanted, but could never escape. Chest heaving in violent hiccups, Edward let himself cry, drowning his sadness with his own tears, wallowing in a filthy mess of self-pity and regret and fear for his future. Edward had imagined that if he armed himself with knowledge, facts and intellectual hobbies and expertise, that he would be able to maneuver life without a hinderance. That if he knew as much as he could about science and how the world works, he could find himself around it easily. He thought. He’d thought.

 

But no. Reading and knowing and thinking only got him so far, it got him an understanding of how things work and function on scientific scales, but it never gave him the experiences of life that people needed to develop and grow. He never had childhood friends to learn how to socialize properly, he never had any close friends or people to confide in. He never had anyone or anything close to him, to love, to be loved by. And it broke him. Edward gave a gross cry, warbled by the hiccuping flare of his diaphragm and the sniffling inhales he took. It broke him, and he felt like he could not be fixed.

 

He was broken before Not showed his face, he had always been. Used to blaming Not for all his suffering, Edward did not think that was truly viable now. Not was simply something that came out of the pieces of Edward’s shattered self, just something that he had lost and would never get back. It wasn’t Not that broke Edward, it was himself. Edward made himself fall to bits, shatter, break, fall apart into the pathetic state that he lived in now. Constantly anxious, socially aloof, awkward and disliked. Edward was like this because he had done it to himself. So he cried for himself.

 

Ugh. You look so gross right now.

 

Edward barely registered the sound, the speech, lost in his own fraught, fragile state of mind. He clawed at his face and sunk to his knees, leaning against his bed, with Oswald on it, croaking as he whispered to himself through the burbling hiccups.

 

“It was me.

It was me.

I broke me. I’m broken.

I was wrong.

It was me. It was me.”

 

Snivelling and trembling, Edward lay there, clutching at his knees and letting his wet, bloody, red face fall between his chest and legs. He talked to himself and only himself, and Not faded away. Why would Not need to be around when Edward was already acting as his own worst enemy without help? I’ve always been my own worst enemy. Me. Me. I killed myself. I am my own worst enemy, and I broke myself.

 

I want to be fixed. Fix me.

 

Oswald, fix me.

Chapter Text

 

When Oswald awoke, it was late at night. He knew because it was dark out, and when he blinked at one of the alarm clocks in the room, he saw the hour hand in the upper area, more towards the right than the left. Oswald moaned when he blinked and was faced with a bright light from Edward’s desk, pale hands coming up to block out the whiteness that blinded his vision. A sound of shuffling and movement was detectable, and Oswald heard it come close. Socks on the carpet, feet tentative but fast, clothing ruffling in the quiet room, the sound of a computer fan. He sensed a figure standing over him and slowly moved the hands out from in front of his face, trying to make out the darkened shape above.

 

“J-Jim…?” His voice croaked and cracked as if he had not drank any liquids for days, throat rasping.

 

After a moment’s adjustment to the light above, Oswald’s vision focused and he was able to see who was hovering over him. Edward was giving Oswald a slight frown, as if upset for some reason, possibly confused. Squinting up at Edward, Oswald noted that Ed’s face was a pallid red, his eyes rosy and slightly swollen, as if from crying, and a smear of blood streaked across his cheek. Oswald wanted to ask what had happened but Edward asked the first question, and stole the opportunity from Oswald. The opportunity to inquire would not return.

 

“Oswald…” Edward whispered the name as if Oswald had died and come back to life miraculously, saying it so sincerely and quietly, like if he said the name it would crumble away. “Oswald, you’re...you’re okay?” Edward sounded so afraid, but Oswald had no clue why.

 

The last thing that Oswald could remember was being on the ice, seeing Gordon, falling, and from then on everything had felt like a dream, fuzzy and unclear and surreal. He did not even know when or how he had gotten back to his room. Suddenly Oswald had a dreadful fear that he had done something incredibly stupid while in his pain-induced stupor. Like what, he did not know. Tell Jim I like him? Tell...tell Edward I like him?!

 

Looking up at Edward with still tired, slightly glazed over dark green eyes, Oswald licked at his dry lips and swallowed with what little moisture he had in his mouth. He nodded and tried to speak, but it hurt to do so, causing him to cough dryly. Edward’s eyes widened behind his glasses, the enormous lenses that made his eyes look larger than they were, that made Oswald want to look right at them. Visibly anxious, grabbing at something, but failing with the fidgetiness of his digits, Edward handed Oswald a newly opened bottle of water and grinned weakly. Edward looked like something was wrong, but Oswald could not fathom what the reason was. Confused, achey, thirsty and hungry, Oswald just wanted to eat and be told what was going on.

 

Sitting up, using his limbs to shakily push himself upwards into a more horizontal position with his torso at least, Oswald took a long drink from the bottle, parching the dryness in his mouth and the thirst that his body had been screaming about. Edward watched him, seemingly becoming less tense as Oswald drank, his shoulders slumping a bit and face softening, smile less forced and more natural. It was bizarre to Oswald. Once satisfied with the water, Oswald screwed the cap back on and yawned, then hissed when a shift of his leg made him jump and electricity of the pain shooting up his thigh and side.

 

“Oswald?” Edward asked with a concerned tone, glancing over Oswald’s forme with wide eyes and hovering his hands over Oswald’s legs as if he could do anything to help.

 

“Relax, Ed, I’m fine. I just need to know what the hell happened.” Oswald looked into Edward’s panicked eyes and saw something that he hadn’t seen in Edward before. It reminded him of his mother and Oswald felt torn between wanting to alleviate that look, and asking why Edward would look at him that way.

 

“Okay. That is no problem. Um, do you, want something for your leg? I have a reheatable heat pack and can put some ice from the machine downstairs in a bag if you want that. Also I have some ibuprofen for you too, and some crackers and a few other snacks around here somewhere uhmmm…”

 

Edward quickly stood to full height and began to fluster around the room, rummaging through drawers and the top of his desk as he searched for multiple items to provide for Oswald. Caught off-guard by the seemingly extreme measures that Edward had taken for Oswald’s well-being, Oswald frowned and opened his mouth to talk, but had no words to say, closing his mouth and softly mouthing his lower lip. What? What is going on?

 

Approaching Oswald’s bedside with a small bottle, Edward handed Oswald the rattling plastic container with colorful tablets of painkiller medication, pushing it at Oswald in an insistence more than a suggestion. Oswald gave a breath of laugher at the mother hen nature of the action and shook his head, still dearly confused but also slightly entertained by the situation as a whole. He’d only ever been treated with so much care by his mother, and Edward was certainly not that, but that did not make it unwanted. Oswald did not know what he was feeling, so he defaulted to the humour in the situation.

 

“Ed...I told you, relax. I’m fine, I can take care of myself.” Oswald, holding the pill bottle in one hand, made to get out of bed, but as soon as he pulled back the think blanket over him, Edward rushed to his side and pushed him back into laying down.

 

Oswald frowned and glared up at Edward, who had a painful look of concern and worry on his face. Why, he’s not my mother, why does he care?

 

“Edward, what are you doing?” Oswald’s tone was a mixture of curiosity and confused upsetness.

 

Eyes unable to meet Oswald for more than a moment, Edward licked at his upper lip and his mouth quivered, opened and closed, before finally addressing Oswald.

“I don’t want you to get hurt again. You, I thought you were really hurt or something and I had no idea what to do and then you fell asleep but you looked like you were still ill or something but I didn’t know what to do to help you and I was just afraid that you were in a lot of pain and it was my fault that I couldn’t help you…” Edward blurted, his speech fast and rambling, wringing his hands together and refusing to look Oswald in the eyes.

 

Oswald blinked, licked his lips, and then blinked again up at Edward, an expression of disbelieving confusion painted across his face. Faced with such information, Oswald now really wanted to know what had happened between him falling on the ice and waking up in what he just realized what Edward’s bed.

Oswald snapped, shoving off the covers and sitting up quickly enough that it made his head swim and pound for a moment, his eyes screwing shut to resituate himself. “ Fuck! Ed...Just, tell me what happened, okay. I’m fine.”

 

Having knocked Edward’s hand away from his shoulder, face in a near sneer in the anger and confusion that was resulting from Ed’s unexplained worry and anxiety, Oswald was a fierce sight despite being in bed. Jaw grinding, lips pulled taut and thin, Oswald glared at Edward, angry at him solely because there was no one else here he could be upset at, projecting unto Edward unfairly, and knowingly doing so but too irked to correct himself. Edward visibly, flinched, curling in on himself slightly and almost stumbling over his own feet as he stepped back and clumsily dealt with his glasses when they fell off his nose in the unexpected movement. Edward’s lip quivered as he bit it and his fingers knead at the plastic of his glasses as his head hung low and he stared at the floor. Oswald stared violently for a moment before sighing and allowing himself to slump back into the pillows propped behind his back. Edward had done that for me.

 

Without a word, Ed took a seat at the floor, legs crossed, still hunched over himself, glasses in his hands and fidgeting with them so much that Oswald was convinced the long digits would snap the thin parts of the frames. Like a puppy who had been kicked, not understanding the reason behind the cruelty and whining lowly in his throat at the undeserved cruelty, Edward sat and remained there. Oswald sighed again, louder, deeper. Ed glanced up. Their eyes met.

 

“Ed. Thank you. For...trying to help. But all I want is to know what happened after I fell on the ice,  I don’t recall anything. I apologize for snapping at you, I’m just very...stressed.” Oswald knead at his eyes and temple with his pallid fingers, slumping deeper into Edward’s bed and glancing to his side when he felt a lump under his arm.

 

It was the snake. For some reason that made Oswald’s stomach twist.

 

Edward gave a smile, small, thin, and Oswald met it with a weak grin. There was no context behind the action, no logical reason. Edward had simply smiled, and Oswald had returned it.

 

Edward allowed his legs to uncross, leaning back on his hands and tilting his chin up to look at Oswald, who was slowly falling back into lying down on his side on the bed, facing Edward. It made Edward smile wider. Something in his chest fluttered, it felt nice, even though just moments ago he’d felt like he had swallowed lead. And then Ed relayed what he knew.

 

--

If Edward had been difficult to shake at the nearest school cafeteria already, it was somehow worse now. Post the debacle of Oswald’s apparent fainting episode, which Oswald still did not understand why Edward was so concerned - Jim had simply followed up by asking Oswald the next day if he was healthy and alright, to which Oswald of course said ‘yes’ too, quelling Jim’s curiosity - Edward was on Oswald’s case often. Finding small scraps of paper with neat scrawls of riddles, to which the answer was almost always health related, on his desk and slipped into his textbooks was just one part of it.

 

At nearly every meal time Oswald’s phone would buzz, and a notification indicating that someone had texted him would show.

 

Edward: Have you had lunch yet? Do you want to grab something quick with me? It’s important to maintain proper blood sugar levels throughout the day in order to prevent mid-afternoon slumps.

 

Oswald: im good ed i have stuff to do

 

Edward: I could bring you something if you would like, I do not mind, I am finished with classes for the day :)

 

Oswald: ed no stop i have to finish this rly ok

 

Edward: Okay. I apologize for inconveniencing you, good luck on your work and I hope that you take care of yourself.

 

Oswald hated the way that Edward made him feel guilty, made him feel like the bad guy when all he ever wanted was to be ignored as usual. Having grown used to the self-negligent lifestyle, to the way that it was easier to simply ignore his needs and focus on what he needed to get done, it was difficult to deal with Edward’s mother henning. Besides that, Oswald still found himself unable to fathom why Edward cared. Whenever Oswald dared contemplate the fact, he found himself simply stating that Edward was just very desperate for companionship, and that he had found some in Oswald and would not let it go. Anything more than that, and Oswald would shake the ideas from his head. He could only be wanted for someone else’s benefit, just a tool for Ed’s loneliness. Nothing more than that.

 

It was easy for Oswald to ignore the hope that was beginning to bloom in his gut, to flower in his throat and make him turn red when Edward made him feel wanted and appreciated. He hated how it made him feel, how it reminded him of yet another flaw. Just another fuck up of mine . Oswald refused to let himself believe that he could find something in Edward, refused to let himself fall into the trap and only get himself caught in it, painfully torn apart from the inside out. But, the more that Edward smiled and grinned and laughed and concerned himself over Oswald, the more the flower in his chest pushed up and tried to burst through. Oswald did not want it breaking through, reaching the light, it would only wither and die and rot in his heart. He did not want anymore pain, he’d had his share.

 

Managing to wrangle Oswald into having dinner with him, Edward leaned over the table beside Oswald, chewing on a peanut butter banana sandwich that perhaps had too much peanut butter. Oswald’s nose crinkled at the strong smell of nuts, glancing at Edward with a side-eyed frown. Edward met it with a goosey grin, swallowing a lump of food and then gesturing to the sandwich.

 

“Would you like some?”

 

Oswald leaned back from Edward and shook his head fiercely, trying to make sure that Edward was able to read him loud and clear.

 

“No, I was looking at you cause I don’t understand how you can eat that. It’s so much...nut butter.” Oswald made a face of disgust.

 

Edward glanced at the sandwich in his hand and then placed it on his plate, grinning sheepishly and adjusting his glasses. Oswald found himself smiling at the way that Edward turned a tinge red, the same way that he smiled and watched when Edward was murmuring to himself and his video games, or when he was coding, or watching TV. Refusing to openly admit it, he found the actions endearing in a way that he did not want to call anything but friendly. He loved that it was him that was making Ed look this way, wished that it was for a better reason than over a damned sandwich, but accepted it nonetheless.

 

“Oh, umm, sorry. I like peanut butter, a bit… A lot.”

 

Rolling his eyes, losing interest in pestering Edward about something so trivial, Oswald chuckled and shook his head.

 

“Wish I could eat like that and still look like you.” Oswald muttered jokingly, unsure if he had wanted Edward to hear him or not.

 

Edward had, and he made a confused expression at the comment.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

Oswald jerked his head to the side, staring at Edward as if he had been caught, but in reality he had set this up for himself, had he not. You wanted to start this.

 

“I...I was just, venting. You know…”

 

“But why, you look fine. I don’t quite understand what you mean by looking like me.”

 

It was now Oswald’s time to redden, and he cursed under his breath upon feeling the heat rise up on his cheeks in their telltale sensation. Oswald himself was only vaguely sure of what he had meant when he had said that. He did not know if he was calling himself out or complimenting Ed, or perhaps both.

 

“I just meant that you….I...um…”

 

Oswald words were swallowed along with his own tongue, and he scrambled to try and say something that would cease his reddening. The flusterment he faced was not helping.

 

“I think that you look good, Oswald. You look like you, and I don’t see anything wrong with it. If you looked like me...well that would be odd. Especially if taking the sentiment seriously.” Edward sounded as if he were daft about the situation, but in reality he was trying poorly to make Oswald feel better about himself.

 

Edward knew exactly what Oswald was saying, claiming envy for body types of others and disregarding one’s own was one of the bases for any variety of abnormal psychological conditions. Whilst Edward knew psychologically what Oswald’s muttering had meant, he had little experience in trying to alleviate it, and such led to his floundering attempt. Luckily, Oswald found it endearing.

 

“You’re so weird.” Oswald sighed and sent a small smirk towards Edward, who reciprocated it twice with a wide grin that pushed his cheeks up.

 

“I counter-claim; normality is in fact abnormal, and abnormality is what makes the world more interesting.”

 

“You’re something that is for sure.”

 

Edward’s goofy grin persisted.

 

“Black and white, pasta in frozen blight.”

 

“That has got to be the worst riddle I have ever heard.”

 

“Was it the pasta part.”

 

“The rhyming did not help.”

 

“I see...I thought that it would make the answer more obvious for you.”

 

“Yes, I get it, macaroni penguin. You want to finish that Blue Planet episode.”

 

“An accurate conclusion.”

 

Edward took another bite of the sandwich, and then pulled out his laptop, quickly logging into his Netflix account and pressing ‘Continue’ on the latest episode that they had been watching. Oswald’s love for nature documentaries, claiming them relaxing despite how he often fisting the blanket he wrapped around his shoulders when peril presented itself to the animals, and Edward’s thirst for knowledge and time spent with Oswald, worked well, and led to them streaming on the TV at night. At times, in the dining hall, they would also watch, it was becoming natural, and they both enjoyed it. Though, at times, Oswald wondered if he liked the video or the company that came with it more. He did not want to think about it, did not want to judge himself, just wanted to enjoy it, to enjoy Edward.

 

 

----

HEY! I did some sketches for this AU and wanted to share. Sketches include Ozzie, Ed, Gordon, Kingfisher!Ozzie and Magpie!Ed. Hope you like it. Find more of my art @imagayotatoe on tumblr!

Nygmobblepott College AU Scribbles

Chapter Text

 

“Cobblepott!”

 

Jumping like a frightened grasshopper evading a hiker’s boot sole, Oswald leapt up from the locker he was hanging the clean practice jerseys in. The large shirt that he was hanging swung wildly off the hanger at the jostling movement his pale hands made when he was alerted, and he cursed trying to gather the material before it hit the ground. The size of the clothing reminded him of how small he felt around the crowd of hockey jocks, as the jersey alone would droop down to his lower thighs with ease, and the sleeves cover his arms and beyond. The thought of bringing one to Edward, just to see him wearing one, had crossed Oswald’s mind more times that he would admit even to himself.

 

A loud snicker came from Bullock, who was leaning against the locker room’s doorway, his large frame supported by the door’s own. He was dressed in athletic wear, which Oswald never failed to find entertainingly ironic as the coach had outgrown his days of intense sports routine. That said, if anyone ever gave him shit about it, Bullock would happily school them on the fact that one should never judge a book by its cover. It was mostly Zsasz who fumed when Bullock was able to easily send slap shots straight through all of his weak points. The broken goalie sticks that Oswald found in Zsasz’s locker were witness to such.

 

Wrinkling his nose in distaste at the sound erupting from Bullock’s throat, Oswald crossed his arms and quirked his brow at the offender. Bullock enjoyed pushing Oswald’s buttons at times, most likely because Oswald was for one, a newbie still, and two, very jumpy and less able to punch him in the nose if startled. Bullock had explained that he had learned not to try and surprise the student athletes, as their reflexes and strength had led to bloody noses and the such. It explained the beaten shape of Harvey’s nose well enough to Oswald.

 

“Yes? You need me to do something, coach Bullock?” Oswald’s tone dripped with a mixture of servitude and mock, but it was a tone that he found Bullock did not mind, as he often earned it.

 

Humming lowly in his throat, almost a growl, Bullock scratched at the stubble along his jaw and chin, as if in thought. He then shot a glance at Oswald and grinned. Whenever Harvey smiled, it never looked genuine to Oswald, always as if there was some ulterior motive behind the gesture. Not like Edward’s. Ed’s smiles always seemed so true and real, hiding nothing and putting himself up for the recipient to either accept or tear down. Oswald preferred Edward’s smirks and smiles, despite the fact that it was so difficult for Oswald to reciprocate them or admit how much he appreciated them. He wished that it was easier for him to admit it all. He wished he knew what he was even admitting to.

 

Bullock’s deep, jostling voice shook Oswald from his minor stupor, blinking to refocus on his surrounding as he had easily strayed in thought and imagination at the image of Edward. Damn.

 

“ ‘s a matter of fact, I do.” Bullock’s tone was lackadaisical and ‘Dad’-esque.

 

Truthfully, Oswald wasn’t entirely sure as to what sparked that particular descriptor regarding Bullock’s speech, but it very much did. Oswald made an expression that communicated he was awaiting Bullock to finish the sentence that he had begun, brow upwards, lips tight, and chin upturned slightly in vague indignation.

 

Pushing off from the door frame, making something in the metal creak as he did so, Harvey stomped over to Oswald, footsteps heavy as always. With a bored expression, Oswald watched. Bullock stopped a few paces in front of Oswald, who was small enough to be mostly enveloped by Harvey’s shadow, and pulled something from his pocket, thrusting his hand forwards in front of Oswald’s crooked nose. Blinking as he tried to focus on the object in from of his face, Oswald went cross-eyed and then shook his head as the action made his sinuses ache. Bullock laughed at Oswald’s backwards step and the expression he had made when his eyes stared between themselves, making Oswald frown sharply and quirk his head to the side in annoyance. Having stepped back far enough to properly see what Bullock had presented to him, Oswald made a confused expression at the things he saw.

 

“What?”

 

In his hand, Bullock held a pair of tickets for each of the weekend’s games, two for Friday night -or tomorrow Oswald supposed - and two for Saturday night. The collegiate teams played two rounds each weekend to avoid class disruptions but still get in the necessary number of games, and this week was their university’s home game. Oswald did not know off the top of his head who their team was playing, he would have to check the schedule.

 

The presentation of tickets to Oswald was confusing for multiple reasons. The largest was that Oswald was supposed to work this weekend’s home games, not watch them in the stadium seats. Something in his gut twisted in fear that this was Bullock’s way of firing him for the incident earlier that week. Additionally, Oswald had never mentioned anything about wanting to watch a game, or that he even knew anyone to bring to the game who was not on the team - work acquaintances more than friends. The entire scenario was just confounding Oswald as to what Harvey’s gesture meant for any multitude of things.

 

“You’re not working this weekend, Oswald. I don’t need you collapsing during the middle of the game.”

 

Oswald swallowed and tried to open his mouth to speak in defense of himself, but Harvey held up a hand and continued to speak.

 

“No, you’re not fired. You’re still getting paid for working the weekend even. Relax, kid. You need some time off to get your shit together, cause next weekend we’re going to Boston. Gonna need you to be on your game against those Harvard fucks.” Harvey grinned, wide, but it was less sinister than usual, at least to Oswald.

 

Bullock pushed the tickets into Oswald’s hands and smirked lopsidedly.

 

“Bring someone, anyone, I don’t care. And I wanna see you there. Just work tomorrow in the early afternoon, get the boys ready for the game, and then you’ll be free at 4 to do whatever. The game’s at 7, I’ll see you there.”

Bullock trotted from the room, leaving Oswald alone with the lockers and himself, and the tickets. Oswald glanced down at the paper in his fingers and rubbed them together, frowning, still digesting what had happened, but then utterly thankful, visibly relaxing, and smiling at nothing in particular.

 

He knew exactly who he was going to bring. Exactly who.

 

--

 

Denver.

 

They were playing Denver. The Pioneers, a stupid name, Oswald thought.

 

Upon producing the pair of tickets to Edward after Thursday’s work shift at the rink, Oswald had been nearly startled by the enthusiasm that it had sparked in the spectacled young adult. It had taken Oswald a bit of self-preparation, as doing something so simple as asking someone to a game that he had little choice of attending anyways was more difficult to Oswald than most. He was unused to having anyone to invite to anything, save for his mother, but she had stopped attending his events as soon as he was physically incapable of going to them. The fact still stung in his gut and his leg. Atop being used to being lonely and rather introverted, Oswald felt awkward asking his roommate - a man... Edward - to the game with him. When Bullock had shoved the tickets in Oswald’s hunched chest, the duality of the gift had registered as a silent promise that Oswald was to bring something akin to a girlfriend. Maybe that was just Bullock’s air, and that Oswald was well aware of his weekend escapades at the hotel bars. Maybe.

 

He hated the expectation of people his age to be jumping from relationship to relationship as easily as if transferring trains, just hopping between people as if it did nothing to his mind and heart. As if stranded at the terminal, Oswald felt unwanted and undeserving of being with anyone. And anyone he wanted, he imagined could never want him back. Such an idea had been so deeply instilled in him that he had nearly given up. Had given up consciously. But now, something kept biting at his mind, at the back, nipping, prodding, giving him hope and ideas that he thought he had long buried, killed. It was horrible. The hope and want , the desire . All it had ever caused him was pain and ache. Even with all of Edward’s ‘flaws’ in society’s eyes, Oswald would never believe that Edward could want anything more than friendship.

 

Having fallen prey to the heteronormative, superficial tendencies and idolization of society, Oswald neglected his own particularities and shoved them into the recesses of himself, where had had hoped they would stay dark and deserted forever. He did not need Edward tending to the wounds inside himself, cauterizing them, stopping the bleeding of emotion and hope and want, and allowing it to heal. Oswald did not want to heal, for he knew that the scab would simply burst open again, he just knew it would, because it was who he was.

 

So asking Edward out, not on a date, though it had sounded as so in Oswald’s mind the hundreds of times he ran scenarios through is head, wracked his nerves. But when Edward beamed back and agreed, and took one of the paper tickets carefully to peer at it closely with a goofy grin and wide eyes, Oswald let the wound heal despite himself. He let himself smile back and ask Edward if he was a ‘sports guy’ as he ‘did not look it’. He let himself enjoy the company, for all the reasons he wanted to, for companionship, for fun, for the tug in his chest that made his heart flutter at those smiles Edward presented him. He let himself bathe in it all. Because I like him.

 

--

 

At 6:15PM, Edward had insisted they be at the game, wanting to observe the pre-game rituals that he had read about online. While Oswald was not surprised by the fact that Edward had researched the living hell out of hockey between Thursday and Friday night, he was confused by how Edward had already known a substantial amount about the sport. Never prior had Edward even really brought up the sport unless Oswald was speaking about his job with the team. Thusly, when Edward peered past the sloping stands for the fans to the shiny, reflective ice rink below, and began jabbering on about the anatomy of the rink’s painted marks, Oswald made an odd look.

 

“Where did you learn that?”

 

“Well, I did do a lot of reading up between last nite and now, but I knew a good amount from before.”

 

“Oh really now? Do explain, Edward.” Oswald gave a wry smirk that followed through his speech.

 

Edward just smiled back, eager to speak and share. “Yes! One of the novels I was reading earlier in the year was centered on hockey, and though it was a fiction novel, the depiction of hockey was factual. I often checked it on the internet. I really liked the book, it was about these two men, I believe they were intercollegiate hockey players, like the team here, who grew up going to a summer development camp, and they were very close.”

 

Oswald leaned against one of the railings that surrounded the upper level of the stadium, staring out at the ice, giving a side look to Edward indicating for him to continue. Oswald loved when Edward spoke enthusiastically, which was often, but he enjoyed it nonetheless.

 

“So they were really quite close, until their last summer at development camp. If I recall correctly, I think they had something akin to a one-night stand that led to an awkward falling out. The plot follows the development of their relationship years later, when they meet again at the NCAA finals to compete for the title of champion, and then go to work at the same development camp that they grew up working at. It was really an endearing tale, I found it to be entertaining and educational regarding at least the types of things one can do in the bed....It was graphic at times, but interesting regardless.”

 

Somewhere in the middle of Edward’s book synopsis, Oswald had doubled over the railing and slapped his hands over his glowing face. His cheeks aflame and face redder than ever, Oswald did not dare face Edward dead-on for fear of giving away how much it affected him. No doubt it would allow Edward and his clever mind to piece together the puzzle that Oswald presented him with. Oswald did not want to show him the finished picture.

 

Cocking his head to the side slightly, Edward frowned slightly at Oswald and hesitantly placed a hand over his shoulder, fingers hovering just above the fabric of Oswald’s tighter jacket, with a collar he could fold along the inner sides. Edward leaned down slightly and gave Oswald a look of qualm.

 

“Are you alright? Is your leg painful?”

 

Edward’s outright, blatant concern for Oswald’s well-being made the bird’s heart thud and drum inside his chest, only making his chest and neck bloom like a rose, similar in color too. Oswald cursed his pale, sheer complex and shook his head in response to Edward’s question, not stating that the real reason for his extreme reaction. In truth, Oswald’s mind had wandered sorely off the path that he intended for it, he imagined Edward above him, around him, enveloping him, imagined how beautiful he would feel with Edward like that. None of it was what anyone would categorize as something friends would do together. It was much too intimate for that. Oswald cursed his skin, is blood, his mind, his desire, and tried to shake it off. All he wanted to do was enjoy the game with Oswald, pretend like nothing was wrong and just live freely. But of course his mind would not even grant him that.

 

“Ah, I’m sorry Ed. I just, was not expecting hockey to lead to…”

 

“Gay relationships?”

 

“...Sure…”

 

Edward glanced upwards at nothing in quick thought, face shifting to the side. “I suppose the two generally do not pair, but I don’t see anything too unusual about it. Anyone can love anyone. This was just a story of two men who loved each other, and also played hockey.”

 

The flusterment on Oswald’s face died, and it was replaced with vague awe at the pragmatism that Edward presented. Oswald was so used to complete damnation or avoidance or rejection of anything out of heteronormativity. That’s so gay. Don’t be gay! You’re so queer. Rather than make his heart tremble and his face heat, Edward made Oswald stop. He stopped damning himself for who and what he was, he stopped feeling embarrassed and flustered about his emotions, and he accepted, for a moment, that there was nothing wrong with him.

 

Pushing back from the railing, slow, Oswald stood up an gazed at the eyes of the taller man above him, who was looking back, smiling as if he had said nothing special. Not said something that made Oswald’s heart skip a beat for his own surprise. Oswald wanted to reach up and pull Edward towards him, wanted to grasp his glasses and push them off, wanted to feel the warmth of his face against his own, wanted to know what it felt like to kiss someone he really wanted to. And he realized, with horror, that he was falling hard.

 

They looked at each other, for just a moment, in the quiet murmurings as the stadium came to life, as more people began to stream in for the game. And all was right in Oswald’s world for that moment. And then it wasn’t.

 

The band came loudly stampeding through the wide halls that encircled the rink, blaring win instruments in a rousing, spirit-inducing song that had lyrics that Oswald had forgotten. It ruptured the bubble of a moment, and popped the images in Oswald’s eyes. Edward’s gaze left Oswald and fell on the band, an open mouth smile growing across his face in excitement, and Oswald wanted to pour cement down someone’s tuba.

 

In a traditional pre-game event, the band and the school’s hockey club paraded around the rink in school spirit grandeur, loud and blaring and impossible to ignore. Edward never ceased grinning, insisting that he was so interested and fascinated by sports culture and that he had read several articles concerning sports psychology and found the facts ‘fascinating’. He loved that term, and Oswald found himself growing fond of it too. Growing fond of everything Edward did.

 

When the game started, after Oswald was dragged round the stadium multiples in pursuit of the best seats in the house according to Edward mostly, they finally sat against the glass on the shorter side of the rink, a bit left of behind their school’s goalie, Zsasz. The heavily padded played had seen Oswald and given him a wry smirk before the puck dropped for regular time, waving the enormous netted glove at the two spectators. Eyeing Edward and then Oswald as if in question, Zsasz made Oswald fume a tad at the gall of his action. Oswald refused to entertain whatever silent implications were sent his way.

 

“Oh! You must know him…” Edward squinted to read the name on the back of the goalie’s jersey, “Zsasz…?”

 

Oswald huffed at the name and nodded sorely. “Yeah, he’s good at what he does, I guess.”

 

“You are not very fond of him, I take?”

 

“Hmm? I mean, he’s fine. He can just be annoying. Don’t worry about it.”

 

Before Edward could press for more questions, the buzzer rang, indicating the beginning of the game, and the puck was dropped. Edward was glued to the game, commenting on everything in the game as if he were the announcer paid to do so. At times, he would ask Oswald about the players on their team, point at one of them and ask whether or not they were doing well. Oswald was surprised himself when he found himself able to answer easily, having apparently gotten to know the players and their ticks and quirks rather well.

 

“That’s Gordon, the captain, correct?”

 

“Um..yeah. That’s Jim. He’s pretty good.”

 

“Do you like him?”

 

Oswald sputtered, interpreting ‘like’ as attraction, not friendship as Edward had been implying. It made him fluster again and Oswald was really tired of it.

 

“I mean, I do think he is a good player and he is good to work with.” Oswald squirmed a bit in his seat and learned far forwards in his seat to avoid being seen so red by Edward.

 

“I see. Does he have a girlfriend?”

 

“Um...not as far as I am aware of…? Why?...” Oswald was confused at this line of questioning.

 

“A boyfriend?”

 

Oswald almost spat. “Of course not.”

 

“Oh. I see.”

 

Edward went a bit quiet after that, at least for the last five minutes of the first period. The time ran out for the teams and the scoreboard read 0-0, boring. They watched the teams depart to their locker rooms to discuss strategies for the remainder of the game, and Oswald nearly stood up to quickly run to join them and hand out towels and food and water, but then he recalled that he was not here to work. He was here to enjoy the game with Edward.

 

“Would you like something to eat?” Edward posed the question, turning towards Oswald with a small grin.

 

“What?” Oswald had spaced out a bit, watching the players depart the ice.

 

“Are you hungry at all?”

 

“Um. Not particularly…?”

 

“Well I am going to go get something, I have never been to such a big sporting event, and sports related foods are famous for being terribly unhealthy but quite tasty. I act in the name of personal research.”  Edward giggled at himself.

 

“Okay, now that was an actually somewhat good joke.” Oswald shook his head and leaned back in the chair in a mild laugh.

 

“Oh! I’m glad you liked it! Thank you.”

 

With that, Edward pushed himself out of the stadium seat and began to hop up the endless stairs leading back up unto the stadium concourse where the stores and food vendors are. Turning his head so he could look, Oswald somewhat inconspicuously watched the long legs take the flight of stairs, admiring their elegance, motions he could no longer do. Oswald took the time to watch the zambonis and just enjoy the time, reflecting on the fact that he was actually enjoying himself, despite the conflicting emotions, he was still having fun.

 

When Edward returned, popping into Oswald’s peripherals as he took his seat again just moments prior to the next period’s start, Oswald choked on a laugh. Edward dipped his finger into a tower of whipped cream atop a puzzle of fried dough, and sucked on it, relishing the sweetness. There was something hilarious to Oswald about seeing Edward, usually so intellectual leaning and unusual, sitting beside Oswald at a hockey game with a funnel cake piled high with sugar and cream.

 

“I see you went for the most American option.” Oswald joked, grinning widely.

 

“It seemed appealing. It doesn’t help that I skipped dinner as well.” Edward muttered, then dipped his finger into the cloud of whipped cream and lapped at it.

 

The second period began, loudly underway, as Edward worked at the enormous dessert, often offering Oswald bits of cake with a copious amount of whipped cream that he had stabbed on a plastic fork. After the third offer, Oswald accepted to Edward’s evident delight, and then both of them found themselves covered in the sugary stuff rather quickly. Neither minded. The view was enjoyed by both.

 

Around the middle of the second period, right after their university scored, sending everyone in their seats upwards in a standing ovation and cheer, Oswald began to yell and cheer for the team like he used to. He felt that same passion he’d had so many years ago, and it inspired Edward to join. And by the third period, the last one, the sugar coated, exuberant pair were screaming at the game and its players with such enthusiasm that Oswald nearly could not believe himself.


When the final buzzer range, and their team won, the two embraced out of excitement. And everything was right in their worlds. Everything was perfect .