You are the only one
The only that sees me
That trusts me and believes me
You are the only one
The only one that knows me
And in the dark you show me
It's perfectly reckless
Damn, you leave me defenseless
So break in
Ed had certainly been through a lot. From the cruel (and completely justified) stabbing of Officer Dougherty, to the heartbreaking (and completely unintentional) strangling of his dear Ms. Kringle, to the rescuing and nurturing of the infamous Penguin, to the successful framing of Detective Gordon, Ed honestly felt rather content with his life. Something such experiences provided (in addition to the paranoia and “psychopath” label) was a deep-seated preparation, a sort of stony resignation and acceptance for whatever came your way.
Conceited as it may be, Ed felt he had adapted to the criminal life rather spectacularly. The paranoia was hardly bothersome, he’d undoubtedly deal with anyone who dared to call him a psychopath to his face, and, even better still, he felt prepared. He felt ready.
Something he was not ready for, however, was to hear someone knocking on his door at eleven o’clock at night.
It was understandably startling — a curt thud thud thud that resonated through his whole apartment. He could feel it in the soles of his bare feet, the vibrations travelling up his legs and making his knees wobble slightly. At least, he was choosing to blame the sudden unsteadiness of his stance on the reverberation. It certainly had nothing to do with any sort of feeling of danger or stress.
He cast the door a cursory glance, letting the water from the faucet continue running over his already clean hands. He was certainly in no state to be welcoming someone in — just a t-shirt and plaid pajama bottoms. He’d even let his hair go curly, which only added to the list of reasons he should not open that door right now.
“Don’t answer it.” A growl. A whisper. One that sounded as if it were coming from inside him, but he looked over his shoulder knowingly, seeing the twisted reflection of himself leaning against the wall by the window.
The green neon lighting did nothing for the situation if not make it harder to see his double’s face. The shadows it cast on his cruel, sharp features set something inside of Ed sounding an alarm, but one he chose not to listen to. He’d been through a lot, and the last thing he was going to let get to him was some dark, perverted projection of his own sick impulses. How humiliating that would be.
Thud thud thud thud thud.
Ed looked from the steel door back to his other self, squinting in irritation. He hadn't allowed this demented hallucination frequent visits just to get bossed around again. In fact, he’d specifically made the allowance so that such abuse would hopefully cease altogether.
He said this out loud to the figure standing in the shadows.
“Oh, don’t be such a baby. I’m here to help, and that’s what I’m doing. Helping. And so help me God, if you open that door —”
He was already sliding it open. To hell with whoever was outside — if it was a concerned neighbor, he’d abate their fears to the best of his abilities and then send them on their way. If it was some punk hoping to pull a fast one on him, he had a switchblade under his pillow (which was only a short dive to his left). If it was a food delivery with the wrong address, well…he was rather hungry.
All of these things he’d been prepared for — he’d been ready for. But, once again, he was surprised (if it was going to become a habit, he’d certainly have to do something about that).
The man in front of him was short — a good half foot shorter than himself — with shabby but comfortable looking clothes that too closely resembled pajamas. He was pale and meek-looking, with raven black hair sticking to his forehead and dripping wet. He was thin (easy to take down), Ed could see that even underneath of his baggy clothing — the jut of his collarbone was just visible above the sagging neckline, and the hollowness of his cheeks was hard not to look at, cheekbones so sharp Ed wanted to call them lethal. He was…pretty, in the way a frail flower or fragile vase might be pretty.
Ed had never favored the delicate things in life, but there was something oddly alluring about this man: the soft hint of pink against his pallid face, the smattering of freckles over his cheeks and hooked nose — it was a nose that would probably only look good on him. His eyes were distant and glassy. Haunting. Doll-like. He looked sick, but it was beautiful. He looked helpless. He looked like…
“Man, you really are pathetic.”
The Other’s voice hardly even registered in his brain. In fact, he was having surprising difficulty registering anything besides the pitiful sight in front of him.
He hadn't even recognized his old friend (friend? Could he call him that?), despite having seen him not even a month ago. He could hardly blame himself, though — the smaller man had changed.
He’d looked sick and frail after being released from Arkham, of course, but not to this degree. Not to the extent that he was unrecognizable. When he’d come to visit Ed after his release, he’d been happy, bubbly… freaky.
This wasn't the same Oswald — Ed could see it in his eyes. It still wasn't his Oswald, still wasn't the fearsome Penguin, but Ed figured quite literally anything was better than normal, friendly, sane Oswald.
“Slamming the door in his face right now would be a mercy — for everyone. That look he’s giving us is freaking me out.”
Ed wanted to shush the incessant voice clawing at the back of his head, but he found that he couldn't be bothered. He’d berate him for his spitefulness later — the current focus of his attention was the pitiful little bird he’d just found on his doorstep.
He supposed he was never a very sympathetic person, but the image that lay before him was frightening, in a much different sense than the last time he’d told Oswald he was freaking him out. He’d admit it, nice wasn't a good color on Oswald, and however piteous it might be that this new look of anguish and confusion suited him better, it was incredibly concerning. It tapped into something deep and loving inside of Ed — something paternal. He found that interesting, and made a mental note to come back to it later. He’d never particularly been a family man.
Oswald blinked up at him, those big doe eyes still teary and cold. He looked lifeless, and damn the way that sent shivers down Ed’s spine.
“I’m…I’m terribly sorry, Ed, forgive me for the intrusion. I-I shouldn't have come—”
“He’s right, he shouldn't have.”
“No!” Ed barked. He wasn't sure who the outburst was directed at, but he shot his hand forward anyway, gripping the slack of Oswald’s sleeve to keep him in place. There was entirely too much fabric at his disposal, the dark sweater so oversized Ed managed to take a fistful of it and still be unable to see the outline of Oswald’s arm.
It only worried Ed that much more.
“Damn, how thin is he under there?”
“You…Oswald…” He didn't quite know where to go from there, his hand fisted in Oswald’s sweater, Oswald staring back at him, wide-eyed and looking way too much like a lost puppy. It was unfair, to say the least.
What was he supposed to say? You don’t have to go, Oswald, come on in and I’ll get you a drink, I’ll get you some clothes, you can have my bed, it’ll be just like old times! Sleepover!
Yeah, no. That was out of the question.
But there was something in him that was currently aiming a gun at his heart, and he knew he couldn't turn Oswald away even if he wanted to. It would kill him.
He just… had to…
“No. No! No, no, no, no, no — ”
“You’re soaking wet!” Ed observed with a slightly theatrical gasp. It seemed to shock Oswald out of whatever reverie he’d sunken into, and he blinked down at himself, as if having completely forgotten that he was being weighed down by waterlogged clothes. “Did you walk here?”
“Oh, no! Well, I mean…only a couple of blocks,” Oswald stammered, tugging at the collar of his soggy sweater with a faint look of disgust.
“A couple of blocks? Oswald…” Ed looked back over his shoulder, leaning to peer around the figure he knew no one else could see, and gazed out the window. He couldn't even make out the neon sign across the street through the torrential sheets of rain pouring down. “Oswald, it’s storming.”
As if to prove his point, a loud crack of thunder rumbled through the sky, almost too close for comfort. It made Oswald flinch.
“Y-Yes, well…I-I got a ride into town, at least! But I…didn't want any unnecessary gossip, so I figured I’d just…”
“Walk through the freezing cold downpour to my apartment?” Ed guessed with a flat voice, quirking an eyebrow at the way Oswald wouldn't meet his eyes. It took every ounce of his willpower not to find it cute.
Ed sighed and released Oswald’s sleeve at last, pushing up his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Oswald, if you’re here to try and convince me not to pursue a life of crime again—”
He stopped himself. And there was silence. Silence between them, silence in the building, silence outside, it seemed, as if the great black nimbus clouds had politely stopped their rampage to let Ed think. And think he did. And…
“Oh…Oh, my God, your leg!” he cried, shoving his glasses in their rightful place and fixing Oswald with paralyzing stare, one that he knew screamed how could you let this happen? “Your leg, Oswald! That rain…it must have felt like ice, and you—you walked here! How the hell are you even standing right now?”
Oswald’s jaw dropped and his eyes widened. He looked fully prepared to defend himself, but it seemed his voice wasn't on his side, so instead he moved his mouth wordlessly, his throat providing nothing more than a few squeaks of protest.
“Come in, sit down!” Ed ordered, sounding more and more like a stern mother and not aware of it enough to give two shits.
He dragged Oswald in from the hall by his hand, which was cold and shaky and humorously smaller than his own. Someone might have even convinced him that it was a child’s hand that he was holding if it weren't for the rough calluses on Oswald’s palm and the way his tendons and knobby knuckles protruded from beneath his skin.
It was a pleasant feeling, a nice hand to hold, and Ed wanted to take more time to study them closer, but there were more pressing matters to deal with.
“Are you kidding me right now? What made you — oh, don’t put him on the bed! He’ll ruin the sheets!”
“Sit, Oswald,” Ed said, taking hold of Oswald’s shoulders (which were also noticeably bonier than they’d been before) and gently pushing him down onto the mattress. “Wait here. I’ll be right back.”
One of the many perks of having such long, gangly legs was that it only took a few generous lunges from the foot of his bed to get to the bathroom, where he turned the hot water on full blast and fetched two towels from the shelf next to his shower. One of them was a hand towel, and that one he let soak in the sink; the other was probably large enough to wrap around Oswald twice in his current state.
“You’re not seriously taking care of him right now, are you? He’s sane. Pure. Unsettlingly sane and pure, like…infant-level pure.”
“Your point?” Ed snapped beneath his breath, wringing out the hand towel and rooting through his medicine cabinet in search of ibuprofen. It wasn't hard to locate, and when he’d done so, he slammed the cabinet shut and glared at the Other’s reflection in the mirror.
“My point is that I don’t want him thinking he can show up whenever. He’ll get attached, Ed. I definitely don’t want a child running around the house, and I’m pretty sure you don’t either.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Ed scoffed, draping the hot towel over his arm and turning toward the door. “He’s not an actual child. He’s Oswald — still smarter than half the people in Gotham, regardless of how sane he might be.”
“Over half the people in Gotham,” he heard the reflection mumble in agreement, and Ed considered that enough of a victory to return to his friend’s care.
When he stepped back into the open living space of his studio apartment, he’d expected Oswald to be in a similar, if not the exact same, place that he’d left him. And he was. But the sight still gave him pause.
The smaller man was lying across the width of the bed, curled into a tight ball, his face concealed by a curtain of stringy wet hair. He looked so small like that, so weak and helpless that Ed felt something catch in his throat, impairing his breathing.
“It’s probably your dignity,” he heard the Other growl in his ear, his breath nonexistent but making the hairs on the back of Ed’s neck stand up nonetheless.
“If I could chop you up too, I would,” Ed hissed, jerking his head to the side to catch a glimpse of the spectre at which his hostility was directed.
“What’d you say?” Oswald murmured, peeking at Ed from behind his choppy bangs.
Ed stiffened and hastened to correct himself, trotting over and offering Oswald his best comforting smile.
“Nothing to you. Talking to myself, actually, believe it or not,” he said with a soft chuckle, tossing the bottle of ibuprofen onto the comforter and grabbing the larger towel from where he’d draped it around his shoulders. “Here, wrap up in this. Try to dry yourself off a little, too, while you’re at it.”
He checked the other towel to see how warm it was before kneeling in front of Oswald, pulling his wounded leg into his lap and carefully tugging his pant leg up.
The little wince Oswald tried to bite back was enough to make Ed stop and look up at him for permission to continue. He received it in the form of a curt nod, the Kingpin’s head bobbing briefly from where it was peeking out of the towel he’d fully swaddled himself in. Another image Ed had to convince himself wasn't one of the cutest things he’d ever seen.
“I…I need to take off your shoe. Is that okay?” Ed asked, tracing his fingers over the swollen flesh, applying enough pressure to just barely feel the bumps and dips of the mangled bone beneath.
Oswald blinked erratically, his whole body twitching and stiffening as if he had to fight the desire to twist away from Ed’s touch. There were a few strained moments of silence, through which Ed waited patiently, before Oswald nodded his consent, diverting his gaze when Ed began to unlace his shoes.
They were sneakers, black and white and well-worn, though clearly not by Oswald. Ed had never seen them before in his life, and as he was gingerly slipping it off of Oswald’s foot, his speculations were confirmed: it was about two sizes too big.
“Should I even ask whose clothes you’re wearing?” Ed said, forcing out a humorless chuckle when he noticed how clipped his voice was.
Oswald frowned quizzically, only giving a small twitch when Ed went to pull off his sock (which was also too big and reached halfway up his calf). He supposed that was an improvement, albeit a small one.
“I’m really not quite sure,” Oswald said, genuinely thoughtful; it made Ed’s eye twitch. “I just found them in my room. Probably Charles’ judging by the size of them.”
That made Ed stiffen. Other-Ed snorted from somewhere in the corner.
“Wow. Really? I didn't think little birdy had it in him.”
“I mean, it was kind of inevitable. Not really a matter of if as much as when.”
Shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up
“And he said he wasn't sure whose clothes they were. Said they were probably Charles’. I bet that means he’s got more than one. Quite a little player that loony bin turned him into — ”
“Shut up!” Ed screamed, thrashing his head to the side so violently that his glasses flew off his face and skidded across the floor.
Everything froze. Everything was silent again. Silent between them, silent in the building, silent outside. Now the nimbus clouds were just being spiteful.
Of course Oswald had to be the first to break the ice. And of course he had to go and do it with such a pitiful little apology.
“I-I’m sorry, I didn't mean any offense—”
“No!” Ed yelped, jerking his head up to stare into Oswald’s blurry face. He was almost thankful for the distorted image — it made it easier not being able to see just how hurt Oswald was by his outburst. “No, God, no, I wasn't…that wasn't…”
“I knew I shouldn't have come, I just…I needed to see you, Ed. I wanted to see you.”
Other-Ed laughed again. “Too late to rectify that mistake, buddy.”
Ed ignored him.
“I…I wanted to see you too, Oswald.” He glanced down to where Oswald’s twisted foot now lay bare and proceeded with his initial intentions, wrapping the warm towel around his ankle and then holding it there with a gentle but firm hand. He was just close enough to hear the whimper that Oswald suppressed, and it made his heart flutter. Whether the noise was in reaction to Ed’s actions or his words, he’d never know.
Oswald’s eyes widened, and he opened his mouth to reply, but quickly looked away and choked on a sigh of pleasure when Ed started rubbing small, concentric circles where the jut of his ankle should have been.
The noise should not have been as exciting as it was. This was purely clinical — he’d helped Oswald when he was wounded before, and this was no different. No. Different.
“I mean, you weren't fighting a hard-on last time, so it’s a little different.”
Ed gritted his teeth.
“…Or were you?”
He was about to blurt out something he was bound to regret (perhaps a riddle, perhaps some random, unwanted fact) to drown out the sound of the Other’s voice when Oswald beat him to it, his voice quiet and breathy.
“I…feel so lost, Ed,” he whimpered, bringing his hand to his mouth to chew on his nails. It was a nervous impulse, one that made Ed frown in wonder and concern. There was no reason for Oswald to be nervous.
“Lost how?” he asked, gently encouraging Oswald to elaborate. He ran one hand up the back of his calf, pressing into the stiff muscle there before kneading out the tension.
Oswald whimpered again, but likely for a different reason this time, and let out a shaky sigh of relief. Ed was almost sure that the older man had actually begun chewing on his knuckles, part of his fist stuffed in his mouth, but the image was still tantalizingly unclear. He really needed to find his glasses.
“Lost like…I don’t know who I am anymore, Ed. Who I’m supposed to be.”
“Nonsense,” Ed cooed, running his hand up higher and tucking it under Oswald’s knee, coaxing his leg up until it was straight out to further stretch the muscles — he could hear Oswald’s breath hitch. “You’re Oswald Cobblepot. The Penguin. The formidable King of Gotham,” he said with a soft smile, his tone just a little too praiseful.
And a little too obvious for his demented shadow to overlook.
“Ugh, God, I’m gonna throw up. Just toss him out again, would you? I can’t stand this.”
It was a futile complaint. Ed knew that the Other must know by now that Oswald wasn't going anywhere. At least, not tonight.
“Unless Charles comes looking for him.”
Ed chose not to hear that.
Oswald winced at the stretch of his muscles, and Ed whispered an apology, though not an entirely genuine one. He was helping — he knew he was — and he couldn't really bring himself to be sorry for that.
“Yes, but I’m…I’m not that person anymore,” Oswald insisted, and his voice sounded more broken by those words than Ed felt. “I killed people, Ed. That was terrible.”
“No, Oswald,” Ed replied, his voice unintentionally deeper, “it wasn't terrible. You were defending yourself. Those people dared to cross you, and you put them in their place. There’s nothing terrible about that.”
“I could have put them in their place by more civil means,” Oswald whined in protest, watching Ed work out the kinks in his leg with thinly veiled intrigue. “Anything would be more civil than killing them.”
“Civility would not have had as strong of an impact as your previous actions did,” Ed explained as gently as he could.
He wasn't quite sure what they’d done to Oswald in that Hell hole, but whatever it was, he despised it. He despised it more than he’d ever despised anything. And he’d get back at them for it. One way or another.
“But they are just that,” he continued, lowering Oswald’s leg and correcting the towel, holding it in place while he pressed his thumb into the sole of Oswald’s foot. “They are previous actions. They’re behind you, Oswald. And you’re not held accountable for them anymore. You have a certificate that shows that.”
“But I can still feel guilty, Ed.”
“But you shouldn't,” Ed retorted, pressing more insistently and suppressing a shiver at Oswald’s resulting whine. “That’s the point I’m trying to make. If you want to move on, if you want to become a different person, Oswald, then feel free to. You’re safe. You’re protected. You’re absolved of your guilt — I’m sure the doctors at Arkham told you something similar.”
“Even if they did, it doesn't make it true.”
Ed raised his eyebrows. Defiance. That was growth. That was an improvement.
“Yeah, sure, it’s an improvement, but he’s still not the sassy, independent douchebag he used to be.”
Ed really wasn't listening anymore.
“I guess it doesn't.” He shrugged, placing Oswald’s foot carefully in his lap and scooting closer, propping his head on his knee and hoping that the close proximity would make it easier to see Oswald’s face. It helped a little bit, but it wasn't a significant development.
“Well, I guess there isn't really anyone to tell you who you’re supposed to be anymore, then,” he mused, turning his head down to study his hand as it rubbed Oswald’s ankle, making sure he didn't press in any sensitive places too hard.
“But you’re wrong,” Oswald said matter-of-factly, his voice barely above a whisper.
That gave Ed pause.
“Oh?” he asked, leaning his head back to stare into Oswald’s eyes. They were nothing more than murky blue blobs in his current state of impaired vision, but even like this, they were still stunning. “How so?”
The look that Oswald gave him was one that would haunt him for days (and nights) to come — that, he was sure of. It was a look of complete and utter trust, a dash of undisguised passion making those endless pits of merciless darkness in the center of his eyes glitter like some precious jewel. It was a stare that made Ed feel as vulnerable as Oswald looked. It made him feel exposed, naked and displayed for Oswald to evaluate. A part of him detested it.
“You can tell me who I am,” Oswald said at last, leaning closer to Ed in an almost conspiratorial manner. “You’re the only one that ever really knew me, Ed. You trusted me — you believed in me. I…I've never had that.” He looked down, his voice dropping to a broken murmur. “Not since my mother.”
Ed could feel the Other’s presence at his back, and it would have bothered him more if he hadn't been so enraptured by Oswald’s words. They were honest words, genuine words. They were spoken with a deep level of sincerity that Ed had never seen before.
Perhaps there were some pros to the new Oswald that sat soaked and confused before him. The Oswald that was letting him hold and doctor his twisted leg. The Oswald that was practically vomiting his heart out.
It was…interesting, to say the least. Ed thought he could get used to it.
“Did he just mom-zone you?”
It might be easier to get used to if he didn't have his polluted subconscious ruining any and all enjoyable moments.
“Dude…You are the first man to be mom-zoned.”
Ed closed his eyes and sighed. It would be… a lot easier.
“That’s…why I came here,” Oswald continued, seemingly unperturbed by Ed’s apparent disinterest. He wished he could explain himself, but Oswald appeared to be trying to make a point, and the last thing Ed wanted was to derail the conversation. Especially now with the way Oswald had begun to nervously blush and trip over his words, his hands twitching as he fought the urge to chew on them. He was still an enigma, even with a puerile brain. It made Ed smile.
“You…came here to ask me to remind you of who you were?” he asked, tilting his head to the side quizzically. Oswald balled his hands into fists and shrugged.
“Or…give me ideas of who to become. No one has ever known me better. No one has ever… cared. Not like you have.”
Ed frowned and turned so that he was facing Oswald, pushing up onto his knees and suppressing a smile when it put him at eye-level with the older man.
Ed hardly knew who he himself was supposed to be, let alone how to give life advice. He wasn't qualified to tell Oswald what he should do, who he should become now that he was sane. That was a job better suited for a therapist — Ed had no right.
“I don’t care about qualifications,” Oswald whined when Ed expressed these concerns. He reached down and took Ed’s hands into his, pulling him close, and gave him a look of absolute, unequivocal certainty. It chilled Ed to the very base of his spine. “I care about you, about who — or what — you miss, about what you think I should be…What you want me to be.”
Ed blinked. And blinked again. And kept blinking — so much so to the point that Oswald started to look concerned.
The confession, the request was… shocking , to say the least. Mind-boggling if he was being extra (and a part of him always was). To know that this once powerful, unruly, venerable man was entrusting his future, his whole goddamn life with Ed was dizzying. Exhilarating. Empowering.
It was just the rush that Ed really didn't need at the moment.
“Oswald…you…” He blinked again, licked his lips, averted his gaze, fidgeted, cleared his throat, did literally anything he possibly could to avoid directly responding to his friend’s previous statement. It was pathetic, a display of weakness, and he hated himself for it — it sickened him, and it sickened the Other-him all the more.
“Jesus Christ — talk to him! Touch him, kiss him, fuck him, just do something!”
All of those were terrible options. All except for one — one that seemed the most difficult to do.
“I…Thank you, Oswald,” he managed at last, looking up from where their hands were joined and doing his best to focus his blurry gaze on the face before him. “I mean it. It must be…difficult for you to hand over that much control — to me, nonetheless — and I’m flattered that you think me worthy of deciding your future.”
Oswald seemed taken aback, mouth opening and closing and forming words only he could hear. “Ed, I…can’t think of anyone else I’d go to. It’s not about whether or not you’re worthy of deciding, it’s about whether or not I trust you to make the decision for me. And I do, Ed. Wholeheartedly.”
Ed smiled. It was a weak sort of smile, almost sad — it was the kind of smile you’d give someone who was weak of the mind, a friend with amnesia or a grandparent who mistook you for their child.
Oswald’s words were touching, and they sent Ed’s heart fluttering, but they weren't the words of the man he used to know. A man who he’d never get back.
It was an understanding he was still struggling with.
“What I want, Oswald,” he began, fighting the waver from his voice with a small cough, “is for you to be happy. If you’re happy this way, then I want you to stay this way. If you miss who you used to be, what you used to do, then I’ll gladly help you find your way back.”
They weren't the truest words ever spoken, but they at least sounded sincere. Ed doubted he would ever be able to speak them with blatant honesty. It required a level of candor that he had never displayed, and possibly never would. If these words, spoken now with half-hearted transparency, were still strong enough to make Ed’s heart cramp with emotion, he could only imagine the pain of full disclosure.
It was a dreadful thought.
He glanced down, absentmindedly running his thumb over the ridge of Oswald’s knuckle before giving his hands a comforting squeeze and scooting closer, his face mere inches from the former kingpin’s.
“You’re not lost, Oswald,” he said slowly, eyes flitting nervously over the older man’s blurry features, “you’re just stuck in unfamiliar territory. You’re on a road you've never been before, and that doesn't inherently mean you’re not where you’re supposed to be.”
The words were painful, each sentence sticking in his throat like some viscous fluid. It hurt to get them out, made his eyes burn with unshed tears, but he continued. If they were what Oswald needed to hear, then they were what he was going to say.
“You took a turn, made a decision, and maybe someone made it for you, but it was a good decision. It was the right decision.”
Ed could see the tears in Oswald’s eyes, even without his glasses. They magnified his irises, enhanced their already overpowering luster, made them radiant, irresistible in a way. They were beautiful, but they were broken.
“Are you sure?” Oswald asked, his voice choked and thick with emotion. “It was the right decision? Even to you?”
Ed opened his mouth to reply but stopped himself to think, to rein in the ugly truth before it could spill past his lips without filter.
No, it wasn't the right decision to him. He’d grown to love the life he’d chosen, the life that had chosen him, and he wouldn't give it up for anything. Not for the officers he surrounded himself with on the daily, not for any mistress with the effrontery to court his favor, not for a friend, not for his own nagging conscience, not for the doctors at Arkham with their naive treatments that operated so freely hand-in-hand with torture…
Yes, of course — it must have been torture that reverted the once dominant Penguin to the timid, stuttering Oswald Cobblepot he’d invited into his home. Ed could hardly begin to fathom what they must have done to so swiftly break down the crime lord’s stone-cold resolve. Threats? Beatings? Emotional trauma? Electroshock therapy?
They were intriguing and infuriating speculations, but speculations nonetheless.
Ed gritted his teeth and lowered his gaze, sorting through all the possible answers to Oswald’s question. He could lie again. He could evade it. He could tell the truth, but that was a terrible idea, and one he promptly threw out the window.
He went with option two.
“It’s the right decision in the eyes of the law,” he said, disgusted by his own choice of words. “And if you want to stay safe and alive, Oswald, you’ll want to appeal to their favor. I really don’t give them quite enough credit for their tenacity. Your past exploits have stuck a bright red target on your back, and they don’t tend to regard that with the utmost respect,” he said with a dry chuckle. “Believe me, Oswald, this was a good choice.”
From the expression on Oswald’s face, he didn't seem to agree. And from the groaning in the background, neither did Other-Ed.
“I think murder-suicide would have been a better option than whatever the hell that was.”
“I don’t miss who I used to be,” Oswald said suddenly, unknowingly interrupting and thankfully preventing Ed from whipping around and scolding an empty room. “I mean, I was good at what I did, and…I think I enjoyed it, but it was never going to be an easy life. Maybe I didn't want an easy life,” he said, meeting Ed’s eyes with a dreary smile. “But I’m not… happy, Ed. I don’t like who I've become — someone weak and subservient. It doesn't feel right. It doesn't feel like… me. But I knew there was no one I could turn to who would tell me to stop being what I've become. No one except you.”
Ed could feel his heartbeat in almost every part of his body: his chest, his throat, his head, his… legs for reasons he wasn't quite clear on. Oswald was so close to him, holding his hands like his life depended on it, his face a mere six inches from Ed’s. The whole situation was strangely intimate, and the list of things that Ed wanted to do at that moment was endless and wildly inappropriate.
The heat coursing through his veins and the whirlwind of emotions and thoughts in his head were so overwhelming to the point that Ed was about to break away from the pitiful man sitting before him and abruptly retire to the couch, mumbling some apology and bullshit excuse. He’d likely never hear the end of it from his crueler counterpart, but it was a price he was willing to pay. He’d even begun to pull his hands away when Oswald gripped him tighter and leaned in even closer, so close that Ed could feel his breath ghosting against his lips. It was warm and comforting and smelled faintly of wine and something Ed just barely recognized to be cigarette smoke — it was a frankly disarming combination, and one that left Ed light-headed and weak in the knees.
“I want to ask you again, Ed. A-And I want you to be honest,” he said huskily, worrying his lip between his teeth. It was a request that was much easier said than done, but with the way Oswald was looking at Ed, he figured he’d tell the smaller man just about anything he wanted to know. “What do you want me to be?”
The answer to that question was certainly not an easy one, and Ed looked away thoughtfully to avoid humiliating himself if he started mouthing like a fish out of water.
There were so many ways he could respond: another lie, another evasion, maybe even the truth this time since that seemed to be all that Oswald wanted from him. He wanted to know what Ed truly thought, what he really wanted, and that fact stroked Ed’s ego in a way that was bordering on dangerous. It excited him to the extent that his mind fogged up with the newly brewed ambition and he was meeting Oswald’s eyes with an air of darkness that was nearly chilling.
It was out before Ed could stop himself, passing his lips in a breathless sigh, his shoulders slumping and head dipping as if uttering that one syllabic four letter word was the hardest thing he’d ever done. And it might just have been — the hardest and stupidest thing he’d ever done, filling him with the same sense of dread he practically drowned in every time he’d walked into Ms. Kringle’s office to find her fornicating with another local GCPD douchebag.
The gravity of the situation dawned on him all too suddenly, smothering him like a blanket of blood-chilling snow. It made his throat close, his heart skip, his stomach twist in knots like a snake spinning itself into a tight coil to hide away from any threats, and he was whipping his head up and gasping for breath that seemed frighteningly unattainable.
Oswald’s eyes were wide and his cheeks were redder than Ed had ever seen them, the blush spreading to the tips of his ears and spilling down his neck to his chest like blood.
He could only imagine that he was in a similar state himself — either flushed like a lovesick schoolboy or so sickly pale one might think he was on the verge of dying.
He had royally screwed this up — that much was evident by the Other’s distant cackling.
“Oh, God!” he gasped, the sudden inhalation burning his oxygen-starved lungs. “I-I’m—I’m so sorry, Oswald, I didn't mean…Th-That wasn't…That wasn't supposed to…”
He didn't need to turn around to know the Other was smiling like the smug bastard he was, lounging against the wall and clicking his tongue like this was all some fucking game. Had he forgotten he was roped into this mess, too? It was merely one of the disadvantages of playing the role of a parasite and living off of some poor freak’s body.
“You would probably have better luck bolting right now, buddy,” he intoned sardonically, the poisonous smile so evident in his voice it almost made Ed physically ill. “We both know you can’t pull excuses out of your ass, let alone under pressure. We tend to unanimously leave that to the parasite, but because you decided to be a butt-hurt bitch about it, you have to deal with this one by yourself.”
Ed almost passed out.
He wanted to scream, cry, grovel and plead at the feet of his better half, tell him he’d owe him anything if he’d just fix this.
“Fix it yourself,” the Other scoffed, his hands clamping down over Ed’s shoulders like ruthless talons and squeezing with the apparent objective of breaking him.
Ed desperately wanted to tip his head back and meet his reflection’s eyes, bathe himself in the chilling indifference he’d undoubtedly find there, wallow in it because he deserved the disdain. He was almost starving for a scolding gaze, for some form of reprimand, for someone to put him down and tell him he’d messed up because he had. He didn't want anyone’s trivial reassurances — he wanted someone to acknowledge and detest his mistake.
“No one’s beating you, Eddie, I’m not Dad,” Other-Ed said, spitting out the word as if it had burnt him. “Either suck it up and fix this or kick him to the curb like you did last time.”
Last time. Last time when Oswald had come to him with the purest of intentions, advising him to stray from the destructive path he was venturing down. Last time when Oswald had come because he thought of Ed as a friend. Last time when Ed had all but picked him up and thrown him out.
There would never be another last time.
“W-We’re both tired,” he choked out, shakily pushing himself to his feet and slipping his hands out of Oswald’s loosened grasp, trying his best to subtly shrug out of his shadow’s clutch. As oddly comforting as the hint of pain had been, there was a burning desire in him to get as far away from Oswald as humanly possible when sharing an apartment. “It’s late, a-and you must be exhausted. I got ibuprofen for you to take — it’ll help with your leg and any other pain, and I can get some extra blankets if the bed isn't warm enough. I tend to get…pretty hot when I sleep, s-so you can actually have some of the ones off the couch because I-I probably won’t need them—”
“Ed,” Oswald said simply, his voice barely a whisper. Ed wouldn't have even heard him if he hadn't been waiting (rather impatiently) for him to speak up.
He let out a shaky sigh and forced himself not to look at the man he’d all but blatantly confessed his licentiousness to. Instead, he plucked the small bottle of pills he’d retrieved from the medicine cabinet off of the comforter, staring down at the fuzzy label through grossly impaired eyes.
A part of him wanted to take a detour to search for his glasses, but he turned the thought away lest it attract any extra unwanted attention from the old friend he’d very likely offended.
His grip around the bottle tightened to the point that the plastic began to dent and bend. He seemed to have a penchant to squeeze things when he got stressed. Squeeze them until they were warped and broken.
Squeeze them until they stopped breathing.
The gentle tug at his pant leg was what fished him out of the dark hole he’d begun to sink into, and he flashed Oswald the briefest of thankful smiles, an expression of gratitude that was really no more than a twitch of his lips and a softening of his eyes.
He took in a shuddering breath and unscrewed the cap of the bottle, tipping two circular red tablets into his hand and passing them to Oswald.
“Just wait here, I’ll get you some water,” he said softly, loathing the weakness in his voice. He’d begun to sound like he did in the old days at the GCPD, all shy obedience and muttered apologies. It was a time in his life he’d sworn to never return to, no matter the circumstances. He was more than that now, bigger and stronger, emotionally reinforced by a sadistic projection of his psyche. He’d never been better, and he wasn't about to let his own inconsequential tactlessness tear down everything he’d worked for. He’d fix this. He was fixing this — he’d recovered rather smoothly and was back to caring for Oswald as the resident medical professional, giving him medicine for his leg and returning to his side with a glass of water and an amiable smile.
If his hand was shaking, he chose to ignore that.
Oswald accepted the drink but didn't return the expression, eyeing the tiny tablets in his hands thoughtfully, as if they were some great anomaly he’d never seen before.
Normally, Ed would have little to no problem with the delay, but he was currently rather busy fighting an all-out mental breakdown and really needed Oswald to hurry up so he could curl up on the couch and deal with his self-loathing like a man. It was taking every ounce of his strength and willpower not to let his legs shake, but the longer he stood there waiting for Oswald to just take the goddamn medicine already, the harder it became to conceal his full-body tremble.
“Is something wrong?” he gritted out, shifting his weight between his feet and clenching and unclenching his fists. The tension in the room was palpable and damn near suffocating, and Ed had begun to fear that if he dwelled on it too long, he’d start having heart palpitations. The last thing he needed right now was to have a spontaneous heart attack (or, much more likely, a panic attack), and the fact that Oswald was just sitting there staring at his medicine wasn't doing anything for the situation. “If you want something else—”
“Did you mean it?” Oswald looked up at last, his eyes as glassy and distant as they had been when Ed opened the door. The heat had mostly drained from his face, but his cheeks and ears were still slightly flushed, and it did nothing if not make him that much more adorable.
“Mean what?” Ed asked, unable to prevent his voice from cracking. Oswald didn't seem to mind, though, and instead looked back at the medicine in his hand.
“You know what I mean,” he huffed petulantly, leaning far to the left to set the pills down on the nightstand. “What you said before — that…you wanted me to be yours.” He looked up again, his expression hardened with a sort of cold determination. “Did you mean it?”
Ed opened his mouth to mindlessly blurt out some senseless stream of denial but closed it just as fast. And opened it again. And closed it again. And repeated the action until he felt immeasurably absurd.
“You can’t lie to him again, buddy,” that dark voice came, and Ed was almost thankful to have someone break the ice — even if he was the only one that could hear it. “I don’t know what you did, but he’s a little…different. There’s something about him that’s more like the old him. There’s this look in his eye ,” the Other purred, his tone teetering on the edge of reverential, and Ed could feel him shudder. “It’s thrilling.”
He had to admit there was… something in those icy eyes, something familiar and authoritative that made Ed’s pulse quicken and his pants feel a little tighter. It was yet another shameful reaction, but one he didn't have half the mind to correct.
If it wasn't ten till twelve and Ed still had some modicum of emotional or mental stability, he might have tried his hand at another lie. However, the thought made him quite dizzy, and the gradually increasing ache of exhaustion in his bones only further deterred him. There was no motivation, no point in fibbing the blatant truth even a little bit, no matter how ugly it might be. He’d dug himself a grave, and if the clock on his wall was any indication, it was high time he retired to it.
“Yes,” he gasped, pressing his fingers against his burning eyes and groaning helplessly. “Yes, Oswald, it was true, and inexcusably inappropriate, and I… cannot apologize enough. I slipped up, it was my fault — probably helped myself to a little too much Bordeaux,” he said with a wheezing laugh.
Truth be told, he hadn't imbibed in nearly a week.
Oswald shot up a hand, a nonverbal command for Ed to stop his infernal rambling, and one he obeyed perhaps a little too hastily. The former crime lord’s face was twisted into a pained scowl, as if Ed’s words had plagued his sullied mind with a migraine. There was something unjustifiably satisfying about that conjecture, and Ed had to purse his lips to fight his arrogant smile.
“Are you lying to me, Edward?” Oswald asked at last, his inflection bordering on a growl.
“Do you actually have Bordeaux?”
Ed blinked. “N-No…”
Oswald licked his lips and leaned forward slightly, looking up at Ed through his unfairly long eyelashes. “So…the confession? It was entirely you — no recreational drug is at fault?”
“Unless you count—”
“Edward,” Oswald warned, his voice low and chilling. Something inside of Ed burst to life at the familiar tone, and he knew he wouldn't be able to snuff it out no matter how hard he tried.
It seemed some characteristics were shared between Oswald Cobblepot and the Penguin — intolerance for liars being one of them.
“No,” Ed said at length, lowering his head in something oddly reminiscent of a bow. “No drugs, no alcohol. Just…clumsy old me,” he murmured, his tone hauntingly self-deprecating.
There was another span of awkward silence filled only by the white-noise of the rain outside. It was a moment that Ed typically would have spent thinking about how to weasel his way out of such an embarrassing situation, maybe consulting Other-Ed and silently beseeching his invaluable assistance. This time, however, he simply stood there, head down and lips sealed, not a single rampant thought running through his head. He was silent, patient, deferential.
It was practically killing him.
“Ed,” Oswald said at last, his tone calm and inscrutable, and upon looking up, Ed found his expression to be of no further help. He’d donned an impassive facade that Ed hadn't seen in quite some time, and one that seemed strangely unfitting for the humble Oswald Cobblepot; it was a glamour more suitably found on the commonly fractious face of the merciless Penguin — a persona long-gone and sorely missed. This, Ed had to keep reminding himself of: there was not an ounce of the violently acclimated crime lord left in the timid little man sitting before him. That ship had sailed, crashed, and sunken to the bottom of uncharted waters, never to be seen or heard from again.
He was gone, and no amount of stern looks or wordless commands from the pitiful creature he’d left in his wake would ignite a flame of false hope in Ed’s icy heart again. It was a tough concept to accept, but one that Ed finally felt he was coming to terms with. So he could stand there, calm and composed and listen to whatever Mr. Cobblepot had to say to him. All he’d needed to rein himself in was a touch of apathy, and he’d ultimately scrounged up enough from the pits of his broken soul to conceal the inner-workings of his mind once more. Whatever gut-blow this crude impression of the man he’d once admired had prepared for him, Ed could take it — that much was certain.
Oswald let out a nervous chuckle and reached up to play with a strand of his damp hair. “Believe me, Ed, I uh…I certainly didn't come here with…impure intentions, b-but in light of recent events, I just…want you to know…” He met Ed’s eyes with a callow sort of hesitancy that was almost piteous, Ed reflected with an inward chuckle. He might have even spared the smaller man the inevitable pain of whatever he was going to say if he hadn't beaten Ed to the limelight. “I’m yours, Ed. Y-You can have me…In any capacity you like. Anything you want — everything you want, I…I’m yours.”
Any previous thoughts were thrown out the fucking window.
Ed’s jaw dropped, and his indifferent facade followed suit, melting off his face like layers of hideous makeup. If he’d been drinking something, he would have choked, and judging from the sputtering gasp that rang out in his head, the Other had done just that.
The words couldn't be true — it was all some heartless game, or another hallucination, or, hell, even a fever dream. Maybe this whole night was a lie, conjured up in the deluded mind of a sick and misled criminal genius. Maybe he had indulged in some Bordeaux and simply didn't remember! Maybe he’d drunk the whole bottle and passed out on the kitchen floor before the knocks at his door had ever rung out. Maybe they weren't knocks at all, but instead the thud of his body hitting the ground in the aftermath of the aforementioned drinking spree. He always had been a lightweight, after all.
He would take any excuse, anything at all to stop him from leaping blithely into this ill-fated abyss of impending heartbreak like a lovestruck fool. Any of the explanations he’d just come up with were perfectly acceptable and partially more believable than the truth he was being faced with in this heart-stopping moment. If he’d had functional vocal cords, he might have laughed.
Oswald Cobblepot had just laid himself at Ed’s feet like some sacrificial lamb and offered Ed his complete consent to anything he wanted. It was a dream come true.
Which could only mean that it was a nightmare waiting to happen.
He wanted Oswald, of course he did — he wanted him so badly that the dull ache between his legs had increased to an incessant throb that demanded attention — but that didn't mean that he was going to have him. It felt filthy and wrong, so much so that Ed was half tempted to take a shower (a very cold shower) to cleanse himself of such vile thoughts. Oswald wasn't himself, hadn't been for God knows how long, and if one were to follow that train of thought, it meant that Oswald couldn't necessarily consent to any acts performed upon himself when he wasn't himself, right? That made sense!
It would be taking advantage of Oswald in a mentally impaired state, Ed felt, and he wasn't about to risk rape charges because Arkham had so thoroughly fucked with his unreasonably attractive friend’s brain. No, it was best to just leave it alone, to tell Oswald he was flattered beyond words but politely decline and pretend it had never happened. That was the safe thing to do — the logical thing to do.
But what was logic when you had Oswald Cobblepot sitting on your bed and looking up at you with irresistible puppy eyes, blushing like a fool and nervously gnawing on his lip? Fuck all, that’s what it was. It was nothing when such a beautiful man was waiting so anxiously for your response to his proposition that was oh so indicative of intimacy. Ed didn't even think he could spell logic when he was looking in those big blue eyes of his.
He should probably say something by now, even if it was just the poor guy’s name, but all he wanted to do was stare, take in those otherworldly eyes and that charming blush and those precious freckles he couldn't see without his glasses but just knew were there. He wanted to drown in everything that was Oswald Cobblepot.
Unfortunately, his more unruly side had other plans.
“Dude, you've been standing there gawking for fifty-four seconds with a tent in your pants, please do something before I kick you to the passenger seat and fuck him senseless.”
“Ah — oh, dear!” Ed hissed, startling himself out of his reverie and immediately tugging at the collar of his shirt lest he spontaneously combust from the pure heat flooding his body. Fifty-four seconds was a long time — very likely too long of a time to be staring at someone who’d just given you a free fuck card without so much as a how do you do.
Ed shook his head in an attempt to banish such wicked thoughts. This was more than just a free fuck fest, it meant something — to the both of them, Ed was willing to bet. Oswald had only offered himself to Ed once he was sure that Ed wanted him back — not drunk or high or otherwise inebriated, but truly wanted him. That had to mean something, and the gradually increasing look of panic in Oswald’s eyes only further supported Ed’s speculations.
“I-I uh…” A cursory glance at himself made him jump and hastily clasp his hands in front of his crotch, his face burning so intensely he was genuinely afraid his cheeks would melt off. “Y-You, um…I-I — wh…I uh…”
“W-We don’t have to do anything!” Oswald exclaimed, eyes wide and hands waving frantically as if he could disperse the tension from the room like a cloud of smoke. “No, I didn't mean to… pressure you or anything, Ed! I just wanted you to know that the options were there, and you didn't have to…worry or what have you!”
“You two are the most pathetic things I have ever seen,” Other-Ed groaned, shoving his way past Ed to get to Oswald. “I’m especially disappointed in you, Eddie. Somebody all but outright asks you to fuck them, and leave it to you to not know what you want.”
He knelt down in front of Oswald, casting Ed a knowing glance over his shoulder before reaching forward and cupping Oswald through his pants, trailing the fingers of his other hand over his beet-red face and humming approvingly.
Ed closed his eyes tightly against the image in front of him, fighting the moan that threatened to bubble up inside of him with everything he had, clenching his teeth so hard he thought he heard them crack.
“He wants you so badly, is desperate enough to tell you that you can have him, and you’re just gonna stand there and play the blushing maiden? You’re not exactly the Virgin Mary, Edward.”
Ed pried his eyes open, however reluctant, and the sight that awaited him made his breath catch in his throat.
The Other had switched positions, now sitting behind Oswald with his legs framing those thin hips, one arm wrapped around his chest and the other hand unceremoniously palming him through his oversized sweatpants.
“This one, though,” he purred, clicking his tongue and nuzzling against Oswald’s neck. “Have you ever seen a bigger virgin? You’d better make his first time worth it, Eddie, it’ll stick with him for life.” He looked up at Ed, his eyes beady black dots from the shadows cast against Oswald’s shoulder. “No pressure, though,” he said with a devilish grin, licking a hot stripe from the smaller man’s collarbone to his pulse point.
Ed knew it was impossible that Oswald could feel what was happening to him, what the Other had the audacity to do to him, but it still made the white-hot flames of jealousy roar up inside of his aching heart.
“Absolutely not,” the Other spat, the words spoken with so much venom that Ed briefly thought he could see two sets of snake-like fangs protruding from his twin’s mouth. “Do you think he forgot that we’re a package deal? He asks for you, he gets me, too. I bet he’d like me more, anyway,” he said flippantly, grinning smugly and stroking Oswald’s cheek with the back of his hand.
No. He wouldn't.
“You don’t know that,” he replied in a sing-song voice, letting his hands travel the expanse of Oswald’s chest. “I bet he wants to get pounded into this bed. Wants to be held down, wants to be taken. I’m sure he’s got some masochist in him somewhere, wouldn't you agree? We all want to be dominated deep down. Want to be used, want to be punished.” He raised his eyebrows and glanced at Ed from his peripherals. “You've made that abundantly clear.”
“He doesn't want that,” Ed hissed under his breath, hoping that if he were to be more vocal, the argument might go more his way. It was a silly thought in retrospect, but his Devil always did seem to be more easily dealt with when they were having a mutually verbal disagreement.
“What’s wrong?” Oswald asked, perking up at the sound of Ed’s voice, however hushed he’d endeavored to make it. That was something else that seemed to be innately Oswald — he was far too observant for his own good.
“Nothing!” Ed blurted out, cringing at the level of his own voice but forging on, determined to make sure that Oswald knew his hesitance and general gauche had nothing to do with him. “It’s…It’s not you, it’s me — or, rather…I-I mean—”
“It’s the other you, isn't it?” Oswald pressed gently, tilting his head to the side with all the tender curiosity of a wide-eyed puppy. “The one that’s… inside of you, the one that keeps you in check?”
“Yes,” Ed croaked, the shock of Oswald’s insight rendering him recklessly forthcoming. He shook himself out of his stupor with a curt jerk of his head, rolling the heel of his hand against his brow. “He just…he won’t shut up.”
“What does he want?” Oswald asked with a frown, shifting on the bed and leaning forward intently with undisguised intrigue, unknowingly wriggling free of the Other’s phantom clutch. It calmed Ed’s nerves enough that he actually let out an audible sigh, one that could easily be mistaken for irritation, but he took the benefit of the doubt and proceeded without another rambling apology.
He studied Other-Ed closely with overt hostility, watching him look over Oswald like a starving man, the unbridled hunger and lust in his phantasmic eyes darkening them to merciless hunks of coal, black holes from which no light could escape.
The sight stirred the boiling pot of rage in his chest and spurred him on in his confession.
“You,” he said bluntly, earning the Other’s attention with a sharp turn of his head — he threw him a terse smile in response, hoping the insolence in such a gesture translated well, even through his rapidly darkening blush. “He wants you. Rough. He wants to, um…” He cleared his throat, tugging at the collar of his shirt again as if it were at fault for his difficulty breathing. “H-He wants to…fuck you.”
The nearly imperceptible squeak that came from Oswald’s direction was enough incentive to coax him into looking up from the spot on the floor he’d decided to fixate on. The man in question was motionless, back stiff, eyes wide, face flushed a rather becoming shade of crimson. It painted a tender smile onto Ed’s pinched lips.
“W-Would that…really be so bad?” he asked weakly, sounding far more choked than Ed felt.
The question threw him off guard, left him blinking erratically in his perplexity before he regained his composure and furrowed his brow in a skeptical frown.
“What? Wh — Yes,” he hissed, taking three bounding steps forward so that he was looming over Oswald, taking him by the shoulders and holding him in place so that he’d look at him and see the painful truth behind his next words. “Oswald, yes. He’s cold. Cruel. Merciless. It wouldn't be enjoyable — n-not now, at the very least. It’s not what you’d want, and…i-it’s not what I want, either.”
Oswald gawked up at him, eyes wet with tears unshed and barely conceived, cheeks flushed with want and lips trembling with a pressing question.
“And,” he began, his voice a breathless whisper, faint as an insect’s hum in Ed’s ear, “what…do you want?”
Ed pressed his lips together in a taut line, fingers flexing in the soft fabric of Oswald’s sweater, legs weak beneath his own weight.
It was an unexpected question, but one that he hadn't been entirely unprepared to answer, and when he opened his mouth to speak, the words were easier than he could have ever hoped.
“I want… you, Oswald,” he said, the confession a stuttering whimper. “I want you. But…gentle. Slow…” He traced his fingers up the side of Oswald’s face, the grazing touch electrifying and not nearly enough.
He let his hands do as they pleased, travel where they desired, left them to their imprudent devices. When they reached Oswald’s hairline, he let them push his damp bangs out of his face, smoothing them back to lay in unruly curls and tangles with the rest of his rain-slick hair. It was a look to be worshipped, sacred and laudable and something Ed wanted to photograph and frame on every square inch of his already scarce wall space.
“I-I want to show you love, not aggression, Oswald,” he continued, stumbling to return to a state of mind where he could speak coherently. “I believe the romantic’s term is make love to you. It’s what you deserve,” he whispered with bated breath, his tone nothing short of reverential.
Oswald reached up with desperate urgency, gripping Ed’s wrist to keep his hands where they lay cupping his face and stroking his cheeks. A few tears slipped from Oswald’s sparkling eyes, and Ed wiped them away as promptly as he noticed them, bringing his face down and pressing his forehead against Oswald’s.
Up until this point, the older man had been deathly silent and, it seemed, dangerously close to an emotional breakdown. Thankfully, it turned out that wasn't exactly the case. Oswald smiled, opening his eyes and laughing shakily when he met Ed’s adoring gaze.
“Look at us, talking about such intimate things when you haven’t even kissed me yet.”
It was a cheap trick to pull, cheesy and so, so adorable that Ed simply had to smile.
He re-established his gentle hold on Oswald’s face, tilting his head up by the chin and grinning down at him.
“Would you like that?”
“Yes,” Oswald gasped, nearly sobbing with relief, his eyes fluttering closed. A single tear made its way over the curve of his pronounced cheekbones, and Ed swiped it away with one quick dart of his thumb, savoring the expression on Oswald’s blushing face before leaning forward ever so slowly. His eyelids fell halfway shut when his lips brushed Oswald’s, the smaller man flinching and sucking in a sharp, hiccupping breath. Ed gave him his space, a moment to recollect himself before proceeding, slipping one hand to the back of Oswald’s head and pulling him closer, finally letting his eyes close fully as he brought their lips together.
It was first a gentle touch — inexperienced, uncertain, a way to test the waters, to ask is this okay? Are you sure?
Then it was more insistent — desperate, determined, and way too overdue, lips moving against each other in earnest and hands scrabbling for purchase in hair or clothing. Ed settled with having his fingers threaded through the hair at the back of Oswald’s head, his free arm wrapped firmly around his waist as he moved back to the center of the bed, pitching them forward onto the mattress and only then moving his hands, sliding them down Oswald’s chest and stopping at his waist.
The smaller man currently pinned beneath him was more unsure of himself, ardent but humorously indecisive, shaking hands going from Ed’s face to his neck to the back of his head to the slack of his shirt before settling with wrapping them around his shoulders and tugging Ed down on top of him so that their bodies were flush.
When Ed had gathered enough courage to run his tongue against the seam of Oswald’s lips, he was dizzied by how eagerly the other man opened up, welcoming Ed into his mouth like he’d been waiting for it for years. If they hadn't known each other for less than six months, Ed might have believed it.
Oswald tasted just as Ed had imagined: smoky, savory, the hint of wine so faint yet so overwhelming Ed felt a genuine flicker of fear and excitement at the thought of getting drunk off this man. A more lucid part of his brain stored away the concept of body shots for him to revisit at a later date.
When Oswald pulled away for breath, Ed continued kissing him — across his face, along his jaw, down his neck. The lower he got, the more his intentions were impeded by the obstructing articles of clothing he was beginning to regard with fiery antipathy. Pushing away the thought of tearing them apart altogether, he pulled aside the wonderfully spacious collar of Oswald’s sweater to gain access to his collarbone.
“You — ah,” Oswald gasped, sucking in a shaky breath when Ed bit down playfully, “Y-You taste like pie.”
Ed laughed against his shoulder, trailing kisses back up his neck to his pulse point, where his tongue darted out to taste the heated skin. “I’m not sure how that’s even possible.”
“I don’t care,” Oswald bit back halfheartedly, cupping Ed’s face and bringing it back up to his, meeting his lips in a deep, prolonged kiss. “It’s sweet… You’d tell me if you had pie, wouldn't you?”
Ed giggled breathlessly, combing Oswald’s hair back with his fingers so he could get a clear view of his face. “Of course I would. I would have offered you some, too — I’m not that insensitive.”
“I bet you wouldn't have,” Oswald pouted, rolling his eyes fondly. “Troglodyte.”
Ed frowned and propped himself up on his forearms, scanning Oswald’s face with feigned offense. “The fact that you just pulled that word out of nowhere means you are not nearly as kiss-drunk as you should be.”
A challenge flashed in Oswald’s eyes like light reflected off of a cold, glassy lake, and it sent shivers down Ed’s spine. “Then maybe you aren't doing a good enough job.”
Ed hummed in agreement, running his hand down Oswald’s thigh and hiking his good leg up around his waist. “Then maybe,” he purred, maneuvering his head so that his lips were just barely brushing the crest of Oswald’s ear, “I need to try a little harder.” He punctuated the sentence with a thrust of his hips, grinding his clothed erection against Oswald’s. The noise it earned him made stars burst behind his eyes.
When he kissed Oswald again, it was with a new fiery passion, pairing each flick of his tongue with a thrust of his hips until Oswald was a squirming, whimpering mess.
He finally pulled away, panting, and pressed gentle kisses against Oswald’s forehead.
“You taste like smoke and wine,” he said, prodding Oswald in his too-clothed chest with a strong finger.
“Sorry,” the raven-haired man mumbled, his cheeks a new shade of scarlet.
“Don’t apologize,” Ed purred in what he hoped was at least a reassuring manner. “It’s…incredibly alluring, actually. Do you smoke?”
“I…haven’t in a while,” Oswald confessed quietly, diverting his gaze as if it was something to be ashamed of. From a medical standpoint, it was, in fact, a very good thing.
“Wise decision,” Ed commended, dragging his nails down the front of Oswald’s shirt. “Though, to be frank, I don’t mind it.”
Oswald quirked an eyebrow. “You don’t mind my reckless craving for lung cancer? Hardly professional, Ed. Wouldn't you rather have me lying here than on a slab at the morgue you so like to frequent?”
Ed sobered, his expression falling cold. “Don’t you dare even suggest something so macabre.”
“Right…sorry. Force of habit. I’m a little…out of my depth here.”
Ed grinned, the admission temporarily clearing his mind of the dark image Oswald had put there. “What, kissing? Cuddling? This?” He rolled his hips again, relishing Oswald’s choked moan and fluttering lashes.
“A-All of the above.”
Ed wanted to beam, but faltered, eyes narrowing in vaguely confused contemplation. “But…what about Charles?”
It was a genuine concern. A sincere question. And all he got for it was strained silence. Then—
Ed froze, pushing himself up to meet Oswald’s alarmed stare. It had seemed to him a perfectly justified inquiry and one that had been nagging at him since this whole ordeal had begun.
“Charles. You…You’re wearing his clothes, so I could only assume…”
Oswald blanched immediately, groaning and hiding his face in his hands. “Oh, God, Ed — no. He’s my brother —stepbrother— half-brother,” he stammered, peeking through his fingers. “The clothes were already in my closet.”
Ed blinked. And blinked again.
Huh. Oswald’s half-brother. Where had he stumbled upon that?
“Well, that’s…certainly something to address later,” Ed said with a chuckle, leaning down and placing open-mouthed kisses along the column of Oswald’s throat, his fingers curling in the hem of his — Charles’ — sweater. “So, disregarding me flubbing the mood, does…does that make me your first…everything?”
“Yes,” Oswald confirmed with a sigh, tilting his head back and whimpering when Ed began to suck and bite with bruising intensity at the junction of his neck and shoulder. “Everything.”
He pulled off with a pop, soothing the delicate bite marks with his tongue before travelling higher up, grazing his teeth against his pulse.
“Then you had better let me take this off,” he growled, finally slipping his hands under the boxy, billowing sweater, fingertips dancing along Oswald’s lower stomach. “I want you, not your half-brother’s indecently oversized clothes.”
“Please,” the smaller man keened, arching into Ed’s gentle touch. That one word was all Ed needed before sitting back and tugging the hideous thing over Oswald’s head, tossing it off to the side somewhere and not caring if he ever found it again — it was a waste of money anyway, and if Charles so desperately wanted it, he’d have to buy another. Waste more money. The thought made Ed smile.
“Are you going to take any of your clothes off, or just undress me?” Oswald carped with an accusatory huff, the mock indignation in his eyes belied by his heady blush — a blush that Ed could see the splotchy range of now that the other was shirtless.
It started high in his cheeks (and even higher to the tips of his ears) and bled down his face and neck like paint, mottling his faintly freckled chest and shoulders — chest and shoulders that, upon closer tactile inspection, were almost disconcertingly thin.
Ed trailed his hands down Oswald’s abdomen, rubbing more intently over the ridges of his ribs, which became much too visible with every one of his heaving breaths. He could see the curves of his hipbones peeking from beneath the waistband of his sweatpants, which were several sizes too big and had to be cinched to his thin waist by the drawstring. Despite how rather comical it looked, Ed didn't laugh.
“Have you been eating enough?” he asked with a frown, slightly put-off by the flintiness of his own tone.
Oswald blinked. “W-What?”
“You’re thinner,” Ed observed with a protective growl, smoothing his palms down Oswald’s sides and settling them on his waist, giving it a gentle squeeze. “You've lost three inches around your waist, and I can see your ribs when you breathe.”
Oswald frowned and looked down at himself as if noticing the lost weight for the first time, taking a deep breath to watch as his skin stretched over his ribs, prodding at them experimentally and then looking at his hands.
“Is it your stepfamily?” Ed gasped, the thought hitting him like a truckload of bricks and making his head swim with rage. “Are they feeding you enough? I swear, Oswald, if they’re pulling the stereotypical evil stepfamily schtick—”
“They are,” Oswald insisted, and when Ed set his jaw and felt his head begin to throb with fury, he hastily added, “—feeding me, that is! I-I’m getting…plenty to eat, Ed, I assure you.”
Ed let those words sink in for a moment, mulling over them and scanning Oswald’s face for any signs of a lie before giving a curt grunt of acknowledgment. It was certainly a welcome reassurance, but one that just left so many more questions brewing in Ed’s head.
Before he could voice any of them, though, Oswald spoke up.
“I-I’m sorry if you don’t like it…”
Ed almost blacked out from anger — anger that was not, in any fathomable way, shape, or form, directed at Oswald. Rather, it was a wave of hostile furor at the mere implication that any part of Oswald might be thought of as undesirable. He wanted to rip apart whoever had put such idiotic thoughts into Oswald’s head. And if they were forged solely by the man in question…well, Ed would have to give him a semi-stern talking to and a gentle slap on the wrist.
“Oswald,” Ed said lowly with an infliction that meant look at me — an unspoken command to which Oswald complied without hesitation. “I need you to understand something right here and right now…Never, ever, will I not love every part of you with all my heart. Never will I not want you more than I have ever wanted anything. Never will I not need you as I need food or water or oxygen. You are my best friend, the one man I love — you are as vital to me as my heart or my lungs or my brain, so don’t you dare even suggest that any part of you is undesirable or unloved because that is a bold-faced lie.”
Oswald stared up at him, slack-jawed and precariously teary-eyed. Ed wanted to shush and comfort him as a mother might do to a child near hysterics, but his mouth seemed to be operating autonomously at the moment, and even when he tried to stop his next words, he found it to be a nigh impossible feat. They were persistent, recalcitrant, desperate to be heard, needing to be said.
“I love you, Oswald Cobblepot. Penguin or not, crime lord or citizen, hazardously mercurial or sweetly innocent, nothing will ever alter my feelings for you. I don’t love your status or your power — I love your heart—” he placed his hand over his chest— “I love your brain—” brushed a knuckle over his temple— “I love those bewitching eyes of yours and their impish little gleams. I love your sense of humor, your wit, your face, body, and soul alike because you, Oswald,” Ed said softly, ghosting his lips over the other’s, “are gorgeous.”
Ed couldn't tell if Oswald was silently sobbing, nearly hyperventilating, or just thrumming with love and excitement. Despite what the cause to his current shaking state might be, Ed kissed him nonetheless, and somehow, it was different. It was better. It was driven by something they’d lacked before, something that gave it a completely different feeling and effect.
Oswald reached up and seized Ed’s face in his hands, attempting to pull him closer, seemingly trying to merge them into one being — another impossible feat, but one that Ed happened to have a thrilling alternative for, a way to bring them closer, to make them one in the utmost metaphorical sense.
He smoothed his hands down Oswald’s flanks, taking note but not fixating on the little nicks and bumps he presumed were scars, trailing them lower and hooking his fingers through the bunched up waistband of his sweatpants, fingertips just barely brushing the unseen skin that lay beneath.
Much to his own displeasure, he pulled away from the kiss, dipping his head and nipping at Oswald’s ear, reveling in the subsequent soft moan and impatient twitch of Oswald’s hips.
“Please…let me show you how much I love you,” he said, his voice a soft, susurrating plea.
Oswald damn near cried.
It had taken a surprisingly short amount of time to get Oswald ready — Ed figured things like that had to be done slowly, gently, smooth, considerate movements to let the other adjust to the presence of something foreign inside of them. He had been wrong on most accounts when it came to Oswald.
He had been so ready, so dizzy with lust and eager to be filled that he’d relaxed into the sensation practically instantaneously, and before a full minute was up, Ed could almost get three fingers inside of him. By now, roughly two minutes later, the smaller man seemed either close to finishing or close to death, skin flushed a shade of crimson that would have been alarming under any other circumstances (and was still slightly alarming under the current set of circumstances).
He was drowning in his want, gasping for Ed, rocking his hips to meet each stretch and thrust of his fingers, hands fisted in the sheets by his head like he might float away if he didn't have some physical anchor to keep him in this plane of existence. He was begging for him and only him, his stream of wanton moans occasionally broken by stuttering gasps of please, Ed, God, more.
Ed could come from the noises he made alone, but the man beneath him had different plans, pressing his undamaged foot against Ed’s chest and pushing just slightly.
“Please, Ed, please…”
Ed had never taken Oswald to be one to beg, but he had to admit it was heart-stopping, and he couldn't deny him anything when he asked so nicely (not that he could deny him anything in the first place).
It took precision and care, self-control, a deep kiss and swallowed moans before Ed could finally give them what they’d both been wanting for God knows how long, hovering over Oswald and panting, fully sheathed inside of him and dizzy from the warmth and the hold Oswald seemed to have on every part of him: tight around his cock, legs and arms hugging him close, pulling them together, never letting him go.
Ed hesitated, suddenly seized by a blood-chilling wave of self-doubt, overwhelmed by the gravity of the situation and the understanding that this was actually happening, his mind supplying him with the countless ways he could still fuck it up.
“The only thing that you should be fucking is him.”
Dammit. Almost twenty minutes of peace and he had to come back now — Ed should have known it was too good to be true.
Thankfully, though, he didn't seem to be physically present at all, just a nagging voice in his head, here to offer his advice, however crude it may be.
Surprisingly, it did seem to help, grounding Ed in reality, slowing the whirring gears in his head for a moment and just letting him feel, feel the heat and the love and Oswald’s heart beating against his own, their chest rising and falling simultaneously.
It was the best goddamn feeling of his life.
When Oswald kissed him, lips soft and reassuring, Ed followed what he felt, pulling back and rolling his hips forward.
Oswald pulled away, head falling back against the bed with a choked moan, Ed dropping his head and kissing at the hollow of Oswald’s neck, repeating the movement until he had a deep, steady rhythm, slow and loving and almost maddening. Maddening enough that, when Oswald asked him to speed up after a couple of minutes, he did, but only slightly. He wouldn't let himself pick up a brutal pace, fucking Oswald into the bed the way his creeping darkness so badly wanted. He had to keep it deep, deliberate — measured thrusts with sweet kisses in tandem, his lips focused on Oswald’s neck and chest and shoulders to leave the man a mouth with which to gasp for breath. Eventually, he had to cease kissing altogether, pressing his forehead into Oswald’s breastbone and panting hotly against his skin, pulling Oswald’s hips up higher and hitting him at a new angle that made him scream.
“God, Oswald,” Ed gasped shakily, clasping Oswald’s hands in his own and holding them above his head, burying his face in the smaller man’s shoulder and smothering his heated skin with breathless kisses.
“I’m close, Ed, I’m—G-God, I’m so close…”
As much as he had enjoyed how strangely intimate the hand-holding had felt, his desire to take care of Oswald coaxed him into letting go in favor of snaking his hand between their bodies to wrap around his lover’s neglected cock, stroking him in time with his thrusts, shivering when Oswald cried out and clawed at his shoulders.
“Come for me, Oswald,” Ed begged, lips brushing the crest of Oswald’s ear. “Please. I wanna see you come undone, see you lose yourself in the pleasure and the love that you deserve. I love you, Oswald, I love you so much…”
The subsequent cry was a choked gasp of his name, Oswald’s body arching against his, Ed’s mind lost in his inability to determine whose heartbeat was whose, his thrusts erratic, losing the precious pace he’d so endeavored to maintain until he was crying Oswald’s name, gripping the other man’s waist so hard he was sure it would leave bruises and making a mental note to apologize for them whenever they formed.
The moment of pure serenity that followed, a span of utter and lovely silence, could have lasted seconds or hours, but to Ed, it felt like a lifetime — a lifetime of bliss, of feeling warm and safe and loved, a lifetime long overdue.
Eventually, his deep-seated chivalry took over, and he finally pulled away from Oswald, unwinding their bodies and brushing the former kingpin’s hair back to evaluate his expression, to make sure he hadn't hurt him in any way. All he found in those foggy, blissed-out eyes was pure, unbridled love and adoration, a look he’d long dreamed of and was now blessed with.
“How’s your leg?”
“Your leg,” Ed repeated with a chuckle, tracing his fingertips over the faint bruises and bite marks on Oswald’s skin with a flush of pride and only a slight pang of regret. He hadn't meant to mark Oswald so harshly — he wondered distantly if he’d hurt him.
“My…oh,” Oswald said, finally understanding Ed’s concerns and letting his eyes drift shut with a fond smile. “It’s…I don’t know. It’s not occupying my every thought at the moment, so that’s a certainly an improvement. I don’t know if I can really…feel anything right now.”
Ed grinned dopily. “So I’m assuming that means you can’t walk to the bath by yourself?”
Oswald opened one eyelid and frowned at Ed. “Why would I need to walk to the bath?”
“To bathe,” Ed said matter-of-factly, his smile stretching ever wider.
“Who said anything about bathing?”
“Well…I guess you’ll just have to carry me, Edward Nygma,” Oswald said, smiling coquettishly and bringing a hand up to cup Ed’s face, brushing his damp curls off his forehead and pulling him down for a kiss. “If you don’t have a problem with that,” he added in an undertone, speaking directly into Ed’s ear.
“For you, my dear,” Ed said, crawling off the bed and sweeping Oswald up into a bridal carry, “anything.”
Ed had certainly been through a lot. From the cruel stabbing of Officer Dougherty, to the heartbreaking strangling of his dear Ms. Kringle, to the rescuing and nurturing of the infamous Penguin, to the successful framing of Detective Gordon, Ed had honestly felt rather content with his life. Something such experiences provided was a deep-seated preparation, a sort of stony resignation and acceptance for whatever came your way. He felt safe. He felt ready.
Something he had not been ready for, however, was to find his dear friend Oswald Cobblepot standing outside of his door at eleven o’clock at night, or the events of that night that followed. He hadn't been ready to take care of him because of how dreadfully the weather must be affecting his leg. He hadn't been ready to confess his love to him, hadn't been ready for those feelings to be returned. He hadn't been ready to have the love of his life in his arms on his bed, showing him how much he loved him in the purest way he knew how.
Oswald Cobblepot had come to him that night in search of something he knew only Ed could give him. He’d been seeking guidance, comfort, direction. He’d been lost, afraid, unsure of what to do now that he wasn't feared by all of the underworld’s elite. He hadn't wanted to be the Penguin, but he hadn't wanted to be himself, either, because no one had ever loved or respected him when he was himself. A ludicrous assumption, Ed reflected.
He smiled weakly, combing his fingers through his lover’s hair, now soft and fluffy after their bath. The sleepy hum the other man responded with as he snuggled further into Ed’s chest was enough to make his heart leap into his throat.
Oswald Cobblepot might not have been the Penguin, but he was Ed’s, fully, spiritually, consensually. Ed had always wondered if he’d fallen in love with the crime lord or simply envied the power he could only dream of emulating. Recently, he’d been convincing himself to lean further towards the latter, but this night, this one fateful night had changed his perspective so suddenly he felt light-headed and immeasurably happy to be so.
He didn't envy the Penguin. He didn't even love him. He loved Oswald, that shocking intellect and ruling heart, those bright eyes and that pale complexion and that jet-black feathery hair he’d always longed to touch. He loved the man he had in his arms, and no amount of “treatments” at Arkham or adverse situations they endured could ever even hope to change that fact.