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In Our Language of Love

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After a long day at work Edward returned to their one room apartment in Metropolis. It was a crummy little thing with a bad view and horrible smell, but it was better than the streets. He took off his shoes and quickly undressed down to his undershirt and boxers. He didn't bother to put anything else on, or fold his work clothes, for that matter, leaving them scattered on the floor instead. He was too exhausted, both mentally and physically, to care about anything. He pulled out a chair, placing it near the open window, and sat down to rest his tired feet. He observed the people in the building opposite theirs, each busy with their own lives, unaware of Edward’s tale of woe. They all had their personal stories, sorrows they had to overcome, dreams that would never come true, hopes that would be shattered, fears that would consume. Ed sighed. Was that all life was about? A bunch of creatures suffering in their own private little hell, desperate for the smallest glimpse of joy? 

The light was turned off so the apartment was nearly dark, but Ed liked it that way. Dark and quiet, save for the distant sounds of the city and the multiple lights from the windows of the neighboring building. He inhaled deeply, then let the air out in what sounded like another sigh. He had to admit this was not how he envisioned his new life. Then again, he had imagined he'd share it with Oswald Cobblepot, the man he fell madly in love with. But life rarely went according to plan. In Ed's case, not even remotely close to the plan. But Ed was learning to live with it.  

It's been six months since he and Foxy left Gotham in Foxy’s car, and still no sign of Oswald. Ed had expected the Penguin to come after him. Hell, he had expected him to have found him by now! They changed several cities and towns for the last few months, Edward always expecting Oswald to be right behind him. But he wasn’t. Yet Ed kept coming up with silly reasons why he and Foxy had to move again, and Foxy just went with it. Foxy always indulged Edward’s peculiar requests. But Metropolis was different. It was a big city, like Gotham, so they could easily blend in. Nobody paid attention to the two teenage boys, and Lucius was almost eighteen now. For the last two months they’ve been here (their longest stay in one place thus far), no one seemed to mind them. They were invisible, and Ed was still not certain if he liked it or hated it. 

There was also no sign of Oswald. Could it be that he was actually dead? Edward had left Penguin’s life in the hands of Fate. He had texted Zsasz that early morning six months ago, giving the man a chance to save Oswald’s life. But perhaps Zsasz was too late and Oswald didn’t survive? Edward could easily check. Surely the Gotham newspapers would have written something about Oswald if he had died. All Edward had to do was get his hands on a Gotham Gazette and read. But he refused to allow himself to do that. It was bad enough as it was. He didn’t want to let thoughts of Oswald consume him again. This was supposed to be his new life and he didn’t want to taint it. He wouldn’t give Oswald the satisfaction. Oswald disappointed him. He hurt him with his rejection. Edward no longer wanted to be Penguin’s lovesick puppy. He was his own man now. If anyone would be tortured by memories of the past, it had to be Oswald, not Ed. If Oswald was alive. Which he apparently wasn’t… Edward had to make peace with that thought and allow himself to move on. Yes, life did not go according to plan. 

"I’m flattered. You seem to miss me terribly.” 

Ed flinched at the sound of the familiar voice. It was Oswald’s voice, but Oswald wasn’t really here. Oswald was most likely buried six feet under in Gotham, next to his parents. This was just a hallucination, created by Edward’s mind to torment him. He refused to look at it. 

“Eeeedwaaaaard,” the vision sing-songed, “pay attention to me.” Edward remained silent, ignoring it. “Edward? Edward, Edward, Edward, Edward, Edward, Edward--” 

“Enough!” Ed snapped. He caught his temper in time and relaxed back into the chair, rubbing his temples tiredly. “Not now, please." 

He didn’t expect the plea to work. It never did. He was almost used to the specter of Oswald following him around to the most peculiar of places for the last few months. Like a constant companion, designed to upset Edward’s peace. He just had to deal with it.

He looked the hallucination in the eyes and commanded, “Leave me alone.” 

Hallucination Oswald pouted. “But why? I thought you wanted me around. Perhaps you’d serve me some delicious ice cream and we could--” 

Ed groaned annoyed and jumped from the chair. 

“What are you doing?” Oswald asked. 

Ed wordlessly put on some music, loud enough to hopefully shut his mind off. 

Hallucination Oswald laughed amused at the fruitless effort. “You know this won’t work, right? I’m in your head. You can’t not hear what’s in your head.” 

Ed increased the volume even more. The neighbors would hate him for it, but he didn’t care.   

No need to speak, no need to sing,

When just a glance means everything,

Not a word need be spoken,

In our language of love. 

“Very romantic, you know,” Hallucination Oswald nodded approvingly. “I like your choice of music.”

Ed pursed his lips.  

I'll touch your cheek, you'll hold my hand,

And only we will understand,

That the silence is broken,

By our language of love. 

“Just admit you miss me and I’ll leave you alone.” 

It's clear to you, it's clear to me,

This precious moment had to be,

Other moments outclassing,

Guardian angels are passing.

“Fine. Be grumpy at me. But we both know what’s really in your heart.” 

Ed inhaled deeply and ran his fingers through his hair. “Yes, fine! It’s true. I do miss you. And a part of me regrets killing you,” he confessed bitterly. “I didn’t mean for you to die, Oswald. I just wanted you to remember me. I wanted the scar on your flesh to be a constant reminder of our love. You had to realize that I mean more to you than Jim Gordon ever did.” 

“Stabbing me really conveys that message of love perfectly,” the hallucination said sarcastically. 

Ed groaned. “Why am I talking to you?” 

“Because you miss me.” 

Ed swallowed, looking into Oswald’s nearly transparent eyes. “Yes. I miss you,” he whispered. 

The hallucination smirked cleverly at him. “Was that so hard?” The cheekiness slowly disappeared from its ghostly face, replaced by a rather sad smile. “I’ll see you soon.” 

That said, the vision dissolved into the darkness of the room, leaving Ed alone with the gentle melody of the song swimming around him. 

No words will do, no lips can say,

The tender meaning we convey,

"I love you" is unspoken,

In our language of love.

Ed exhaled. He really did think he and Oswald had their own language of love. No one else could understand it but them.  

Lost in thought and the sounds of the song, Ed didn’t hear the front door, until he was no longer alone in the apartment. 

“Someone’s in a romantic mood. Care to dance?”

Ed chuckled softly. “Welcome home, Foxy,” he greeted, turning around. 

Foxy's arms gently wrapped around Edward's waist, careful not to overstep any boundaries. Foxy was always very mindful not to frighten Ed, knowing full well that his experience with physical contact was traumatic thanks to what Mayor Cobblepot did to him. 

“Is this okay?” 

Ed nodded and rested his head on Foxy’s shoulder, as the two gently swayed to the music. 

"How was your day?" he asked. 

Foxy let out a small chuckle. "It's as you'd expect. I'm just glad I got the job, but being an intern really does not pay well." 

Ed smiled fondly at him. "I know. But it'll get better. They'll soon see what a clever guy you are." 

"Well, currently that’s not working in my favor. My colleagues seem to hate that a kid is smarter than them. But the big boss is coming to the lab soon and I hope to impress her! Then she can give me some real work to do." 

“I’m sure you’ will! And then she’ll have to acknowledge the fact that she has a young genius in her team.” 

Lucius actually blushed at that. It was adorable. 

"I wouldn’t call myself a genius, but thanks,” he said. “And how was your day?"

Ed shrugged and looked away. "Just a regular day, I guess," he said. 

Lucius noticed the clown wig tossed in one of the corners of the room. It was all the answer he needed. Ed hated his job. But he was forced to do it to get money because Foxy was not making enough yet. He cursed himself for putting Ed through all this. 

"I'll get promoted soon. I promise," he vowed. "I'm working on a device, a power generator. She has to see how good it is. She won't let me be surrounded by those morons in the lab anymore."  

Ed chuckled. "You're beginning to sound like me," he said fondly. 

Foxy grinned and kissed Ed's forehead. "Thank you for the compliment. You're rubbing off on me, I guess. We're birds of a feather." 

Ed's smile faded. 

Foxy paled, letting go of Ed and internally cursing himself for his stupid remark. Birds of a feather , really! “I didn't mean to remind you of-- damn it!" 

"No, that's alright. You didn't remind me of him. It's just--" Ed exhaled, "I'm always thinking of him anyway. I can't quite forget what happened. All the pain is flooding my mind like a slow motion train wreck." He shook his head. "I should be over this by now but... I'm not. I still see him." Quite literally, too. Ed received regular visits from Oswald’s annoying hallucination at least twice a week. 

"It's PTSD," Lucius’ voice snapped him out of his thoughts. "It won't just go away if you don’t do anything about it. What that monster did to you... You need a therapist." 

Ed snorted. Oh, Foxy! Just like Oswald! 

"I mean it, Edward,” Lucius insisted. “Don't knock therapy, it helps." 

"Yeah, right,” Ed busied himself with picking up his work clothes from the floor and finally folding them. Anything to get away from that conversation. He really didn’t need a therapist after what happened with Lee Thompkins. 

"It does help! At least, it makes it easier to go through what happened with a professional. They'll be your beacon in the sea of--"

"Despair and hopelessness?" Ed supplied, teasingly.

Foxy rolled his eyes  "I was going to say mess ." 

"In the sea of mess?" Ed tried out the sound of it and laughed. He was surprised to find it was a genuine laugh, not a pretence. "Why, I'm amazed at your poetic genius, Mr. Foxy." 

Lucius blushed and his eyes involuntarily glanced down at Ed's mouth. He licked his own lips, breath becoming a little shallow without him realizing it. Ed, however, did notice that and stiffened a little. 

"Lucius..." He made sure to sound apologetic. 

"I know, I'm sorry!" Foxy took a step away, folding his arms over his chest protectively. 

"No, I'm the one who's sorry. I'm not making things easy for you, am I?" Ed sighed, back in performance mode. "I'm just not ready for physical intimacy after my experience with Oswald..." 

"No, I absolutely understand!” Lucius cut him off quickly. “I didn't mean to pressure you into-- into anything. I won’t deny there are things that I can’t help wanting. But I can control myself, and my urges. You're safe with me, Edward. I promise." 

Lucius had the tendency to make a lot of promises. The weird thing was, he actually kept them. It gave Ed a strange feeling on the inside, like a spreading warmth. He ignored it. 

"I'll go take a shower, okay?" 

Ed nodded. "Okay." 

Lucius retreated to the bathroom. He went in there fully clothed, and Ed knew he’d emerge out of it fully clothed. Unable to afford a two bedroom apartment, they’ve been sleeping in one room for the last six months, but Ed had yet to see more of Foxy’s uncovered skin. The young man was extremely careful not to alarm Edward in any way, after the ‘trauma’ of being ‘systematically raped’ by Oswald Cobblepot. It was very thoughtful of him, yet slightly annoying. This insane story was getting out of hand, but it got Lucius to do exactly what Ed told him to, and Ed liked the control. All he had to do was feed Lucius a few gory details every now and then, and Foxy was like putty in his hands. Ed kept convincing himself having an obedient puppet was the only reason he kept Foxy alive all this time. What other reason could there possibly be anyway? 

~*~ 

The world was a funny place. It didn't matter if Edward had a genius level IQ or not, he still had to work a stupid low wage job at a stupid ice cream shop, wearing the same old stupid clown wig and outfit every day, and serving with a smile. On top of everything, he had to spend his days with his insane redheaded coworker who was enjoying the whole clown themed ice cream shop business way too much. The kid had to be psychotic to actually like this job! No one in their right mind would be this happy to waste their time in this dump. Especially a 15-year old who probably had better things to do with his life. 

This day, like every other day, the ginger sap was in a great mood. Laughing at his own silly jokes, entertaining the children in the shop, and selling ice cream as if it were frozen happiness, Jerome Valeska kept sneaking a lick or two of the delicious desserts for himself when no one was looking. 

“You could get fired for that, y’know,” Ed finally observed.  

“If I ever get fired, I’ll set this whole shop on fire,” Jerome said, looking serious for just a moment before bursting into cheerful laughter. “But I won’t! I’m just doing my job.” 

“Your job is selling the ice cream, not eating it,” Ed said, but he was at least a little bit amused at Jerome’s antics. 

Jerome’s grin widened. “Never heard of testing the goods? I’m merely making sure what we’re selling is good quality.”  

“You don’t need to taste it every ten minutes to know it’s good, though.” 

Instantly Jerome was way too close into Edward’s personal space, his nose nearly touching Ed’s. “Aww, why so serious, friend-o?” he tilted his head curiously. “Lighten up! Life is a funny roulette! You never know what joke you’re gonna get!” 

“I heard enough jokes for one day,” Ed replied, putting more distance between himself and Jerome. 

Jerome only shrugged. “You should look more cheerful, though. Or you’re gonna get in trouble with the boss. ‘Ice cream’s a joy dream!’ ” he sing-songed the stupid motto that graced the walls of the ice cream shop. This whole place was created in Hell. “You know he wants us to serve with a smmmmile.” 

Ed rolled his eyes. “I’m doing just fine, Jerome. You smile all the time, and it’s just creepy.” 

Jerome seemed rather amused at the remark, sitting cross legged in one of the chairs they had behind the counter for when there were no customers. “You’re fun, Ed. I like you.” 

Ed , of course, was short for Edwin Nashton -- the name Edward decided to use for their stay in Metropolis. He was beginning to regret choosing his father’s last name, but when he first used it he never expected to remain in this city for a long time. It was supposed to be just a casual stop, but then Lucius got this internship at S.T.A.R. Labs, and Ed couldn’t find it in himself to ask for them to move again. The internship was a good opportunity for Foxy, Ed didn’t want to blow it for him. Of course, he could just leave alone, let Foxy enjoy his own life and be out of Ed’s for good, but… There was something about being all alone again that didn’t quite sit right with Ed. And Foxy wasn’t such a bad company. 

Lost in thought, Ed didn’t notice the changed expression on Jerome’s face until the ginger youth jumped up from the chair and put away his apron. 

“I’ll be right back,” he said distractedly, and headed for the backdoor exit.  

Ed frowned. This had been happening a lot lately. Suddenly Jerome would just disappear for half an hour or so with no explanation. Then he’d be back, rather breathless and slightly more quiet than usual. Should Ed be concerned? Did it even matter to him what Jerome was up to? The kid was clearly disturbed, but whatever trouble he had gotten himself into, it wasn’t Ed’s business. They weren’t friends. Ed had no friends. Not even Foxy was truly a friend. More like a tool for Edward to use as he pleased. 

Unexpectedly, thoughts of Selina and Ivy flushed through his mind for a brief moment, leaving something heavy in his chest. Ed would never admit it, but a part of him missed them. He wished he could talk to them again, hang out with them, check how they were doing. But it was unwise contacting them. Not after everything that happened in Gotham. Ed didn’t want to get Ivy and Selina involved in his messes. Gotham was in the past now, and he had to move on. That meant, forgetting all about Selina and Ivy. Or Bruce. Or anyone really. Ed didn’t need people. Ed was fine on his own. He didn’t care what happened to Jerome either. They weren’t friends, and Ed didn’t want them to be. 

There was not a customer in sight. Before he could register what he was doing, Ed locked the front door of the shop and followed Jerome to investigate what the crazy ginger weirdo was up to. 

~*~ 

The backdoor led straight into a dirty small alley where they usually took out the trash. It was also a good place for dealing drugs, or so Ed assumed. He expected to find Jerome there, with his dealer, trying to negotiate a better price for his narcotics. Cliche as it was, it made total sense that Jerome would be involved with drugs. He definitely acted like he was high all the time, so drugs were the perfect explanation for his behavior. But as Ed walked further into the alley he discovered something completely different. He’d been expecting to find Jerome hands up to his elbows in cocaine, instead he found him locked in a passionate embrace with some guy whose face Ed couldn’t see. The stranger had Jerome pushed up against a wall, as his hands roamed frantically all over the 15-year-old’s body. 

Ed froze in place, staring dumbly at the filthy display in front of him. Logically, he knew he had to leave, but his feet wouldn’t move. As if he were glued to the ground. 

Unaware that he was being watched, the stranger continued his erratic, almost animalistic movements, while Jerome gasped words of encouragement in his ear. Jerome was moaning like he liked it, but something in this whole picture didn’t sit right with Ed. He examined the stranger more closely, careful not to make a sound and alert the pair of his presence. He couldn’t see the other guy’s face, because it was buried in Jerome’s neck, but he could tell it was an older man. A wealthy older man, judging by his clothes. He didn’t show much consideration for his partner’s feelings either, and despite their activities, Ed could swear this wasn’t Jerome’s boyfriend. There was something else going on here, but before Edward could get to the bottom of it, Jerome’s eyes snapped open. He fixed his green gaze on Edward, as the stranger continued to rut against him, grunting louder than before. 

Ed swallowed. He expected Jerome to make an angry scene at being caught in such a private moment. Instead the ginger boy only made a slight inclination with his head, a gesture signaling for Ed to get out of here before the older man could see him. 

It made no sense. And Ed couldn’t explain why, but he was scared. Too scared to remain there. Heart hammering like crazy in his chest, he turned around and ran from the alley as fast as he could, without looking back. 

~*~ 

Eventually he had to return to work. His coat was there, with his wallet and his apartment key in it, so he needed it to get home. He was also still wearing his stupid costume. People were casting funny looks in his direction, expecting him to perform, and then looking away disappointed when all he did was stare at them blankly. He realized he’d somehow gotten to the park near the shop. To the other side of the park, to be exact. He had a lot of walking back to do, but he could still make it in time before closing time. 

What happened to him? Why did he freak out like that? He couldn’t come up with a logical explanation and he didn’t want to think about it right now. All he wanted was to go home and snuggle in bed with a warm blanket. 

When he opened the front door of the Ice Cream Shop he heard the familiar cheerful bell that announced a customer, and felt sick. There shop was full. There were customers, waiting for their orders, and Jerome was dealing with all of them with remarkable speed. Ed swallowed around the lump in his throat. What was this kid mixed up with? Ed took his place behind the counter and wordlessly started serving the customers, aiding Jerome as much as he could. 

When they were mostly alone, Jerome looked at Ed for a long moment, curiosity written all over his face. Then finally he spoke, “You ran off like that, you almost got me worried.” 

“I’m fine,” Ed said, avoiding Jerome’s gaze. He didn’t want to see those acid green eyes, looking at him again. Not after what happened in the alley. Not after Ed ran off instead of stopping whatever was happening there. He swallowed, making sure he looked busy with putting the ice cream away for the night. 

Jerome groaned. “Come on! Don’t be Mr. Grumpy Pants! We’re buddies, aren’t we? We spend every day together, we have to be buddies. I got your back. You don’t have to worry. I-- I covered for you.” 

Ed couldn’t take it anymore. “Who was that man?” he asked. 

“What man?” Jerome asked innocently. 

Ed gave him a look, finally meeting his eyes. “You know exactly who I mean, Jerome. The one in the back alley.” 

Jerome burst into a merry laughter. “Oh, that guy?” he snorted, then shrugged nonchalantly. “He’s just a friend. One of many.” 

Ed frowned, confused. “I don’t understand.” 

Jerome was suddenly in Ed’s personal space again, an arm wrapped around Ed’s shoulder conspiratorially. “Do you have any idea how many middle aged men would pay really good money for a few moments of passion in the arms of handsome teenage boys? I’m just giving them what they want.” 

Ed paled. “This guy… was paying you?” 

Jerome snorted. “As if I would’ve done it for free!” He scooped some ice cream from the ice cream display and licked at it with a pleasant hum. Edward did not reprimand him for eating the merchandise this time. “These old bastards can go fuck themselves for all I care,” Jerome shrugged. “But they pay well and I need the money. What else can I do? Rob a bank?” 

Ed felt like he was going to be sick again. “But this… this isn’t nice.” 

Nice ?” Jerome grinned. It was very unsettling. “Well, of course, it isn’t nice . The world isn’t nice. We just need to see the funny side of the bullshit that happen to us.” 

There was a lump in Edward’s throat again. How could Jerome be so cheerful about this? 

“You know, I grew up in a circus,” Jerome said, thoughtfully. “Perhaps that’s why we look at the world differently. You’re all serious and logical, I can tell. But I’m a fun-lover at heart. I grew up fatherless, and practically motherless, too, because she never paid attention to me anyway.” A spark of something indescribable glistened in his eyes for a moment before it was gone again. “Too busy being a whore to spend time with her son.” Ed was listening silently. Jerome smiled at him widely. “So you see,” he continued cheerfully, “I’m not surprised I turned out the way I did. Like mother, like son, right?” he snorted, amused, as if it were the funniest joke he had ever heard. “I despised her for being a whore who never paid attention to me, and now I’m a whore who never pays attention to her. She can rot in our small apartment for all I care and now I’m the one too busy to notice!” he laughed some more. “Now do you get it, Ed? About life being funny?” 

Was everyone's life a mess? Ed still could not find the funny side to any of this, but he was relieved that it was time for them to close the shop. As he locked the front door he noticed Jerome getting into someone’s car. Ed narrowed his eyes as he recognized that same suit. The stranger in the alley.

Chapter Text

Ed closed his eyes as he felt the familiar rush was back. It both thrilled and terrified him. This wasn’t supposed to happen. He had it under control for these last two months, holding up so well. Not one kill after they moved to Metropolis. But now… He couldn’t afford to leave a murderous trail behind anymore, not if he wanted to start a new life. He had to stop this… whatever it was. Killing guys that somehow resembled Oswald was not therapeutic at all! Yet Ed had done it in each and every city and town he and Lucius passed through. It was reckless. He was careful, of course, but it was still reckless. Ed was aware that a great part of the thrill he felt came from the excitement to know that he could get away with it. No matter what he did, he was clever enough to eventually pull it off and outsmart everyone else. He reveled in his superiority over those imbeciles who always underestimated him, thinking him weak.  

But things were different now. He wasn’t living with Oswald Cobblepot anymore, he was living with Lucius Fox. Lucius did not have a criminal empire, he would most likely not approve of murdering people, and he would definitely be repulsed, if he ever found out about Ed’s little hobby. Ed shuddered at the thought that, if Lucius ever figured it out, Ed would have to kill him to shut him up. He really didn’t want it to get to that. Metropolis was their new home. Moving was out of the question for Edward. He refused to spend his life running from ghosts. Things were going fine here. Yes, Ed hated his job, but it was paying the bills. And he got free ice cream occasionally. Besides, this wasn’t permanent. With time Edwin Nashton would be able to find himself a better job, perhaps even something he actually liked. But in order for that to happen, Ed needed to leave the past behind. And that included murders that could attract attention to him! 

He understood that logically, yet, when he saw Jerome getting into that freak’s car and letting him drive to the back alley again, he lost it. Before he knew what he was doing, he was already snapping the old goat’s neck, squeezing, and enjoying the satisfying crack. It happened so fast, Jerome didn’t even have time to close his gaping mouth. He stared at Ed with wonder in his green eyes, but Ed couldn’t really be bothered with that at the moment. He was slowly coming back to his senses, registering what had just happened. 

This wasn’t planned. Ed didn’t have time to think it through and prepare. But it was too late to take it back now. He glanced around for CCTV cameras but there were none. He then looked at Jerome, not quite sure what to do with him. Technically, the kid was a witness, but Ed didn’t really want to kill him or anything. Their eyes met, and Ed was about to say something (he wasn't exactly sure what), when suddenly Jerome burst into uncontrollable laughter. 

“Who knew ya had it in ya!” he cackled, slapping his own knee. 

The unexpected reaction took Ed by surprise. He blinked, baffled, as Jerome kept laughing as if he had just witnessed the funniest joke of the century. His laughter sounded so genuine, addictive even, that eventually Edward relaxed and joined in, letting go of his inhibitions completely. It was a good thing no one was around to hear them. 

“You’re finally getting the joke! The funny side of life,” Jerome grinned widely. “You know what’s even funnier?” he glanced at the corpse that was still sitting in the driver’s seat. With his fly undone, and his head tilted unnaturally to the side, the man looked like an old abandoned puppet. “He liked this alley so much. He didn’t want to be seen with me, you understand, so this place was perfect for him. He loved coming here. And now he died here!” Jerome snorted, then grabbed a few notes from the dead man’s wallet and put them in his own pockets. “For the service,” he told Ed. “Now, I’ll be off. See ya after the weekend, buddy!” 

That said, Jerome slipped out of the car and was gone within seconds. 

Ed stared down at the corpse again. He felt no remorse for the murder itself -- the old goat had it coming -- but he did wish he had planned it better. What happened in the alley tonight was too impulsive, too foolish. Ed was fortunate that this time there were no cameras and no witnesses. Not to mention the sheer luck that he was still wearing his work uniform which included gloves. Otherwise his fingerprints would’ve been all over the place. 

But Ed didn’t want to rely on luck all the time. Cold logic was what he appreciated. These things needed careful planning. He had to be more alert, and not let his emotions get the better of him. It was what he’d been trying to do for his last murders. He never took trophies anymore, not even a button from a crime scene. That at least he learned from his experience in Gotham. He usually snapped people’s throats and left town soon after. There was nothing the authorities could pin on him. In the eyes of the law he was clean, and he very much wished to stay that way. 

He wasn’t particularly concerned about Jerome. The kid seemed surprisingly calm in the face of death. Besides, if he reported Ed to the police, he would also have to explain his own presence in that car with the victim, and that was a whole can of worms Jerome wouldn’t want to open. Doubling as a teenage hooker in his free time was not something he’d want to brag about in front of the police. No, Ed was not concerned about Jerome. Tonight, the kid felt more like a partner to him than an enemy or a potential witness. 

The distant sound of a dork barking snapped Ed out of his thoughts. He realized he was still standing in the middle of a crime scene, compromising himself. There were no people around to see him at this time of the evening, but there was no need to take unnecessary risks. He slammed the car door shut, and left with his hands in his pocket as if nothing had happened. He returned home later than his usual hour, and rushed straight into the bathroom. He hoped Lucius wouldn’t ask him for any explanations. He was exhausted, and all he wanted was to have a nice long shower, and then go to bed with as little conversation as possible. Luckily for him, Lucius seemed to get the hint. 

Ed let out a small sigh of relief, and let the water run while he removed his sticky clothes. Stepping into the shower under the hot stream was a bliss, and Edward enjoyed it completely. The water washed off the sweat from his body, and had a calming effect on him. 

He let his mind wonder, curious when would someone discover the body. Would it take days or weeks? Or would they notice the dead perv in the car right away? What he knew for sure was that he’d get away with this one like he did with the ones before. Metropolis was a big city, surely there were plenty of unsolved murders. One more anonymous killer wouldn’t be too suspicious. As for Ed, he just had to be more careful in the future. 

When he finally felt like he was clean and refreshed, when his heartbeat calmed down, and his hands stopped shaking, Ed turned off the tap, and wrapped a towel around himself. He realized that in his haste earlier he had forgotten to bring new set of clothes with him. There was no way he could put on the old ones again -- they were too sweaty and disgusting. He just had to sneak out of the bathroom in nothing but his towel, and hope Lucius would somehow not notice his nakedness. He didn’t want to give the young man the wrong impression, or, least of all, tease him. He imagined it was enough of a struggle for Foxy being close to Ed, yet only getting an occasional kiss on the cheek, and nothing more. He didn't want to add to that frustration. Ed was using Foxy, yes, but he never meant to torment the guy. 

Quietly, he slipped out of the bathroom and looked around. To his great relief Lucius was asleep in his bed, back turned to the bathroom door. Ed felt a swell of appreciation in the pit of his stomach. Usually, Lucius used this time of night to work on his studies. Ed realized he must've guessed Ed had a bad day and didn’t feel like talking about it, so he went to bed early to give Ed as much space as he could in their small apartment. It was really thoughtful of him and Ed wished he knew how to express his gratitude. 

He put on his boxer shorts and a t-shirt, and climbed into his own bed, wrapping the blanket around himself as he tried to sleep. On his nightstand his phone buzzed with a text. It was a winky smiley face and a thumbs up from Jerome. Apparently, they were cool. 

~*~  

It was a well-known fact that if you wanted something done right, you should ask Zsasz to do it. Victor was the best among the best, as Penguin, the Gotham kingpin himself, had stated several times. Having that in mind, it was no wonder that Penguin entrusted Zsasz of all people with, well, everything, really. 

After the fiasco at the mansion when Zsasz found Oswald bleeding on the carpet, Penguin showed little interest in anything other than finding his adopted son, who apparently decided to run away. Teenagers, right? Zsasz remembered the days he used to run away. Fun times. Penguin even decided to join Victor personally as the two of them hunted down the teen. It was not like the Boss to leave Gotham, but then again, Penguin wasn’t quite himself lately. Whatever happened that night at the mansion when Dr. Thompkins died, Penguin wasn’t the same after it. Mostly he was obsessed with getting his son back. 

Zsasz personally thought it rather excessive and an overreaction. Kids will be kids, after all. They would run away sometimes, they would give you a few minor heart attacks, it was what kids did. But Penguin was relentless. He insisted on chasing after the boy across the country, as if they had nothing better to do. Zsasz knew better than to object, but he still thought it was a boring waste of time. Until it got more interesting! Turned out the kid, Edward, had left a few dead bodies behind. And just like that it turned into a game for Zsasz. Follow the dead bodies. He was enjoying it too, admiring the kid’s clever handiwork. However, for the last two months there was nothing. Nada. Radio silence. They managed to follow Edward to Metropolis but after that he seemingly vanished from their radar. Penguin was getting impatient, not to mention pissed. He threw vicious tantrums every time Zsasz reported back. 

But Zsasz was happy. He much rather prefered Penguin’s hissy fits to Penguin’s utter apathy. Because of his complete lack of interest in anything that wasn’t Edward Nygma, Zsasz was forced to step in for Penguin on every other matter. It was exhausting! But the Boss was so preoccupied with finding the kid, that the entire empire fell on Victor’s shoulders. Oswald insisted on personally joining him on the hunt, so now Zsasz was stuck with babysitting a highly irritable Penguin, searching for a teenage killer, holding the reins of the empire so that the underbosses wouldn’t revolt while the King was away, and basically taking care of everything Penguin felt too annoyed to concern himself with. All while searching for the Boss’ kid. He also had to nurture Oswald back to health from the stab wounds, and make sure that Penguin’s name was in no way connected to the unfortunate incident with Dr. Thompkins. 

It was not easy being Zsasz, but it was definitely worth it to endure all those troubles to be this fabulous. As for tonight? Well, he kept working, like he did every day and every night for the last six months. When Penguin wanted something, he got it. And Zsasz was there to provide. 

~*~ 

Edward woke up with a start in the middle of the night. He tried falling back to sleep but it didn’t work. It was too quiet, and he felt like the emptiness growing inside him would swallow him whole. He felt uneasy, dread hanging over his head for reasons he couldn’t explain. Different memories, somehow mixed together in an insane swirl of chaotic jumble, flooded his mind all at once. It was like one huge nightmare where all the good happy thoughts were sucked away, only leaving space for the painful ones. Images of his father abusing him, Oswald turning his back on him, indifferent to Ed’s torment, memories of the stranger from the alley, pounding into Jerome like a wild animal, snippets of each of Ed’s previous murders, all those faces crumbled into one big monster that wanted to consume Ed and digest his soul. He felt alone. So very alone. Despite Lucius being in the same room as him, he still felt so alone. 

He tossed and turned until finally he couldn’t stand it any longer. 

“Foxy?” he whispered quietly. “Are you awake?”  

It looked as if Lucius was sleeping, lying so still in his own bed across the room, but Ed hoped against reason that he wasn’t.

“I’m awake,” Lucius replied, turning around to face him. “Troubles sleeping?”

Ed nodded. 

“Anything I can help you with?” 

A sigh. “Actually,…” Ed swallowed and licked his lips nervously. “Do you mind if I-- if we--” 

As if reading his mind, Lucius smiled at him fondly. “Do you want a cuddle? Sometimes it helps.” 

Ed felt so relieved. Silently, he slid out of his own bed and slipped into Foxy’s. Lucius welcomed him with open arms, and Ed snuggled into the warm embrace like a kitten. It felt nice. He hadn’t felt this warm since… since Oswald. But he couldn’t allow himself to truly enjoy this before he clarified something for Foxy first. 

“I didn’t come here for sex,” he said, flinching at how blunt his words sounded. He meant to do this more gracefully. “I mean-- I just thought you should know.”  

Foxy chuckled softly. “I know,” he said. “And I didn’t invite you here for sex, either.” 

Ed smiled and nodded, before resting his head on Lucius’ shoulder. 

Foxy leaned closer and pressed a gentle kiss to Ed’s forehead. “Good night, Edward.” 

“Good night, Foxy,” Ed hummed and finally relaxed into sleep. 

~*~  

When he woke up in Foxy’s bed the next morning, it took him a moment to remember what happened last night. He was pleasantly surprised to find himself well rested for once. Apparently, sharing a bed with Lucius had a positive effect on Ed’s slight insomnia problem, for he slept like a baby throughout the entire night. He buried his face in the pillows. They smelled like Lucius and Ed took a few minutes to just breathe in the scent, and savor it. It felt like safety and coziness. 

“Good morning, sleepyhead.” Lucius’ greeting startled him. Ed sat up in bed, blinking, rather surprised to find Foxy still at home. It was Ed’s day off, but not Lucius’. “Sorry, did I scare you.” 

Ed chuckled fondly and stretched like a cat. “No, I just thought you were working today. How come you’re still here?”

“Actually,” Lucius said, watching as Ed slipped out of the bed and joined him in the kitchenette. “I took the day off.” 

Ed wasn’t sure what to make of that yet, so he gave a non-committal, “Oh?” 

“Yeah, I-- I told them I didn’t feel quite well.” 

“Oh, no! What’s wrong?” 

“Nothing really,” Foxy bit back his grin. He looked like a mischievous schoolboy, despite his usual maturity. “I just didn’t feel like going to work today, so I called in sick.” 

That was most unusual for Foxy, but it was too much fun for Ed not to snort. “You're joking!” 

“Nope. No joke. I really did call in sick,” Foxy assured. “I thought we could perhaps spend the day together? If you want to, of course.” 

Was Foxy worried about him? Was this because of Ed’s nightmare? Ed never meant to alarm Foxy. 

When Ed remained silent, Foxy elaborated, “It’s your day off, and now that it’s apparently my day off, too--” 

“Your sick day,” Ed corrected. 

“Be that as it may,” Foxy continued, “the point is, we’re both free today. So,” he smiled at Ed, looking quite hopeful. “How about it?” 

There was that annoying feeling of warmth spreading inside Edward’s chest again, making him feel all light and tingly. It was most disturbing. He realized he was smiling at Foxy before he could catch himself. “That sounds… really nice,” he said out loud. 

Foxy smiled back and nodded, “Really nice is a pretty good start for our day.” 

They had breakfast together and discussed different activities they would like to try. Despite both being quite the homebodies, they agreed unanimously that being stuck in their small smelly apartment did not sound good at all. So they decided on something else instead. 

“There’s this amazing exhibition of paintings from the French Impressionists in town. Wanna go see that?” Lucius suggested.  

Ed was thrilled at the idea. He loved art, and the Impressionists were his favorites. A visit to the Art Gallery went to the top of their list for the day. Then Foxy asked if Ed would also be interested in going to the Museum, which Ed eagerly accepted. That was followed by a nice walk in the park and an improvised picnic. 

“It’s quite warm in Metropolis, isn’t it?” Lucius chuckled. “I can’t quite get used to it.” 

“Well, why don’t you take off that jacket of yours then?” Ed suggested playfully. 

As Foxy removed his jacket and put it aside, Ed was suddenly reminded of Oswald and the picnics they used to have back in the day. He couldn’t help the pang of sadness and loss that he felt and it must’ve shown on his face because Lucius looked at him with concern. 

“Is everything okay? Do you want to go home?” 

Ed shook his head, snapping back to reality. “No, I’m fine. I don’t want to leave yet. I’m having a really good time.”

Lucius melted into a smile of his own. “So am I.” 

Ed leaned in closer and rested his head on Lucius’ shoulder again. He found the position really comfortable, and he sort of appreciated how surprisingly broad Foxy's shoulders were. He could also feel the well-defined muscles underneath Foxy's shirt. Ed had no idea Foxy was so fit underneath that nerdy exterior. Most of all, he was surprised at his own curiosity about Foxy's body. He decided not to read too much into it and enjoy their closeness instead. 

The two young man watched the fluffy clouds in the sky as they discussed different scientific theories that they both felt curious about. It was the best day Ed had in months! He was reminded how much he used to love spending time with Foxy before everything went downhill. It’s been such a long time since Ed had allowed himself to just have fun. Usually always too busy with work, or worrying about his other problems, he had forgotten to enjoy himself. And it was the same with Lucius. He's been working so hard for his internship, he deserved a break. It was about time the two started to enjoy their new life together. Ed had a sudden revelation that he really wanted that for himself and for Lucuius. 

By the end of the afternoon they were both pleasantly exhausted from their exciting day together. Elated, they returned home, where they watched a movie, and then went to sleep once again snuggled into each other’s arms. 

~*~ 

Zsasz entered the luxurious suite of the best hotel in the city and instantly grimaced at the bad smell that assaulted his senses. 

“Well, that’s really unfortunate,” he sighed. “Boss, don’t you think it’s time we let the maids in? To, like, clean? For a bit, at least? I don’t mean to be a nag, but the stench here is getting really bad.” 

He carefully stepped into the room, mindful not to get his new boots dirty. He was rather fond of them, thank you very much, and there were empty plates, half-full bottles of booze, half-eaten food, and whatnot, scattered all over the place. A real mess. One had to be careful while walking into this jungle of garbage. 

“Boss?” he called out again, wondering where the man was. For the two months they’ve been in Metropolis Penguin had only left the hotel twice. Both times were due to a false alarm on Nygma’s whereabouts. Penguin became even more irritable after those. “Boss?” Zsasz repeated, venturing further into the room. 

He finally found Penguin lying on the floor, spread out on his back like a bearskin. His hair was a mess, there were deep dark circles under his eyes, his lips and nostrils were chapped. Coincidentally, the bad smell got even worse the closer Zsasz got to him. But the most disturbing part of all was the way he just glared at the ceiling without moving. He looked like a pissed off corpse. 

“Ah! There you are!” Zsasz grinned at him pleasantly, looming over him to give a cheerful wave. “Time to rise and shine! I brought food.” 

Oswald’s eyes moved a little to focus on Victor instead of the ceiling, but other than that he gave no other indication of being alive. It was getting really creepy. How long had he been like that? Was this how he spent his days and nights while Zsasz was working? 

“Oh, also we have a lead,” Victor added casually. 

That earned him an instant reaction. Finally! The Boss jumped up with a sudden boost of energy and grabbed Zsasz by the lapels of his leather jacket. “What lead? Did you find the little bitch already? Where is he?” 

“If by 'little bitch' you mean your adoptive son, then no. I haven’t found him yet. But I’m getting close.” Victor carefully removed Oswald’s clutches from his very nice outfit, and tried not to gag at the stench. “Umm, how long has it been since you’ve taken a shower, Boss? Sorry to ask but… I think you’ve been wearing that same thing for the last two weeks now. Is that a fashion statement, or--?” 

“Victor, get to the point!” Oswald hissed in Zsasz’ face, tapping his foot to the floor impatiently.  

“So, we knew he had to be somewhere in Metropolis, right?” Zsasz began conversationally.  

“Yes! And?”  

“So far he’d been too quiet for us to detect him, but…” Zsasz grinned. 

Oswald’s mouth spread into a creepy smirk. “You found another murder,” he said, excitement slipping through his voice. 

“We found another murder,” Zsasz confirmed, pleased with himself as if the murder was his doing. 

“Same pattern?” Penguin inquired. 

“Yep. Neck snapped, no clues left behind whatsoever, no witnesses.”

“Finally,” Oswald closed his eyes and inhaled deeply as if savoring the moment. Then he glanced back at Zsasz with suspicion. “You’re sure it was him? It’s not another false alarm?” 

“The age is different than the usual victims, but the bruises on the neck are the same,” Victor explained. “So yeah, I think it was him.” 

Oswald licked his lips, his breathing getting rather shallow. “He couldn’t resist for too long, after all. Had to kill again.” 

“Apparently,” Zsasz shrugged. “Hey, Boss. Doesn’t it bother you? I mean, he keeps killing guys that resemble you in height and built, hair color, eye color, skin tone…” the assassin listed on his fingers. “Talk about teenage rebellion.” 

Penguin bared his teeth at him. “Concentrate on finding Edward, Victor. I’ll take care of the rest.” 

Zsasz smiled widely and gave a thumbs up. “Got it, Boss.” 

Penguin looked around, searching for food or booze, no doubt. Judging by his improved mood after Zsasz’ news, it was probably food. 

“So how about that bath now, eh?” Victor reminded. “Might be quite refreshing. I can come join you if you like,” he offered with a playful wink that earned him a glare from Penguin. “Or not. Got it. Rotting in stench it is, then.” He sighed. At least he tried.  

Chapter Text

The moment Jerome noticed Ed entering the shop, his mouth spread into a wide grin. “There’s my buddy!” he exclaimed. He looked like an excited puppy, jumping around Ed joyfully. “I was worried you ditched me. You’re a little late. But I covered for ya! I always will.” 

Ed made sure to thank him, but he couldn’t really say much else with the customers around. He assumed things were good between them, yet every time his eyes met Jerome’s, Jerome would wink at him and giggle a little. It made Ed wonder what exactly was going on in Jerome’s weird ginger head? What did he think happened in that alley? How did he interpret the entire situation. His unhinged enthusiasm was beginning to irk Ed. Jerome was supposed to be discrete. Instead he was acting like an idiot. 

"Will you stop that already?" Ed finally snapped when most of the customers were gone eating their desserts. 

"Stop what?" Jerome pouted. 

Ed did not bother to hide how exasperated he was with Jerome’s antics. "That! Winking at me! And that ridiculous grin!" 

"That's my work face! I always come to work with a smile." Jerome smiled to prove a point. It was really disturbing this time. 

Ed sighed. "I know. I know it’s your work face. But you're beginning to look strange, and we don't really need attention right now, do we."

It wasn't a question. Jerome had to realize what the stakes were here. Ed didn't want to get caught over this. He could imagine Lucius’ disappointed and hurt face if he found out that Edward-- No, that wasn't right. Ed was supposed to be worried about his own future if he got caught, not about what Lucius might think. This was insane, and only irritated him more. 

He groaned. "Just act normal, okay?" 

Jerome looked really puzzled. Like he wasn't sure how exactly was one supposed to act normal. Ed felt bad for using that particular word. It was a hurtful and stupid word, pointless. Ed knew that from experience. 

"What I mean is,” he sighed, “don’t act suspiciously." 

That too was a bit of a stretch, but it seemed to give Jerome a slightly better idea of Ed’s expectations.

"I don't know what you're so worried about,” he groaned. “The cops already came to my place to talk to me." 

Ed froze. "What?" 

"Yep. Apparently they found a few pictures of me on the old fool’s phone. For recreational use, no doubt. It’s disgusting,” he made a face, but didn’t seem too bothered. 

“Did they ask questions?” 

“Well, it’s part of their job description, isn’t it? To ask questions.” 

What in the world made Ed think that this conversation would be easy? “What happened, Jerome?” he insisted. 

"Nothing for you to worry about, partner,” Jerome announced. “I took care of it." 

"That's what I'm worried about,” Ed muttered. “What did you do?" 

"I told them the truth,” Jerome answered simply. Then a customer ordered a Neapolitan, so Jerome had to finish that first before he turned to Ed again, and continued. “They came to ask where I was the night of the murder. I said: why at home, my honorable officers, with my dear old mother .” Jerome went into a small reenactment of the events, imitating what he thought the officers sounded like, and making his own response seem suspiciously innocent. Then he rolled his eyes, “The old crow nearly blew my alibi when it was her turn to confirm my whereabouts. Imagine that. A mother ready to turn in her own son! She really is a mean bitch, isn’t she?” he laughed loudly. “But let me not burden you with my own personal soap opera. The point is, I said that I post pictures of myself online, and that this guy must've gotten them from there. Easy peasy. I was quite upset about it too, that old pervs would look at my pictures. I felt quite violated, and I made sure the nice policemen knew that. So like I said, no worries. They have nothing to connect the guy’s death to me. Or you.” 

Ed was surprised that Jerome actually did handle the situation sensibly. He smiled with relief and gave the younger boy a grateful nod. “That’s-- good thinking, Jerome,” he said. 

“What can I say? I’m a natural at this,” Jerome shrugged with fake modesty. 

“Thank you,” Ed muttered, rather awkwardly. “As for what happened… I don’t know what came over me that evening. I just blacked out and--” 

Jerome waved it off. “Don’t sweat it. He was a mean old fool! Besides, he was beginning to delay his payment, and that's something I can’t tolerate. I mean, paying was the only thing he was really good at.” 

“Still. I got you involved in this--”

Jerome snorted. “You were worried I’d turn you in, weren’t you?” he exclaimed incredulously. 

“Well… there was this possibility,” Ed admitted. 

“Hey, we’re buddies, aren’t we? It was nice what you did for me there. No one’s ever done anything like that for me,” he snorted again. “I mean, at first I thought you were gonna lecture me for blowing a guy in his car for money. Especially since the guy was old enough to be my father. But then you just snapped his neck instead! It was radical!” Jerome giggled some more. “I’ve never seen anything like it in my life! Great entertainment! Top performance!” 

Ed was only slightly uneasy with Jerome’s enthusiasm. The kid had to be more careful not to let any of this slip in casual conversations. Trust Jerome to find a way to bring up murder into small talk.  

As if sensing Edward’s concerns, Jerome winked conspiratorially. “Don’t worry, Ed! I’ll be quiet as the grave!” he made the appropriate gesture with his lips and winked again. “Get it? Grave? Because it’s a… grave secret?” he snorted again and Ed felt obligated to at least chuckle. If Jerome was really fine with Ed killing someone in front of him, then the least Ed could do was laugh at his jokes. 

~*~ 

Once again Edward found himself waking up in Foxy’s bed. This was becoming a habit for them now. Platonically sleeping together almost every night. Ed had no idea a bit of cuddling with Lucius would help so much with his insomnia, but it worked miracles. This was supposed to be a good thing, if it weren’t for Edward’s constant concerns. Whereas at first he was worried about Foxy’s feelings when they shared a bed, now he was more concerned about his own . It was pointless to deny that over the last few months he had grown very attached to Foxy. He’d always liked him, of course, even back in Gotham, but now things were different, and Edward wasn’t sure how to respond to the changes in his heart. He often found himself wondering what their future together could possibly be? It was out of the question for the two of them to start a relationship, even if Ed was beginning to feel such inclinations. A relationship between them couldn’t go anywhere. Foxy lacked vital information about Edward and his personality, and even though Edward refused to build another relationship on a lie, he couldn’t afford unconditional honesty either. Ed felt the hopelessness of the situation as a heavy weight in his chest. 

He blinked, slowly, realizing that he had spent the last ten minutes or so watching Lucius sleep. What the hell was he doing! He wasn't supposed to indulge in such things. They only made life more difficult for him. Taking in a deep breath, he forced himself to look away, to fall asleep again, or to get up and find something else to do with his time. Anything would be better than staying here and letting himself fall deeper into this unnecessary madness. Only sorrow laid ahead on this path, Ed could already tell. 

"Is something wrong?" Foxy's voice pulled him out of his tormenting thoughts. 

"No," Ed lied. "Everything is right as rain." 

Foxy gave him a look. "It's never right as rain when you use that expression," he said.  

Foxy was right, of course. But Edward was more surprised by the fact that the other boy knew him well enough to detect the existence of a problem. There was a sort of unspoken intimacy in being so familiar with another person, their habits, and the little telltale signs of how they truly felt. It was both pleasant and unsettling for Edward to have someone read him like this. The last person who knew him that well was Oswald. Edward wasn't sure if he was ready to bare himself like that again. 

He swallowed. "Perhaps it's not right as rain," he allowed, awkwardly looking at his fidgeting hands. "But I'm not really ready to talk about this. I'm sorry." 

Lucius' hand cupped Edward's, encouraging him to meet his eyes. "That's alright. Ed, I respect your feelings. I respect you. Everything will be at your own pace. Including opening up. Okay?" 

His voice was so soft, calm, and understanding, it nearly brought Edward to tears. His throat closed and he was suddenly too overwhelmed with his feelings. He didn't even fully understand what it was that he felt, but he knew his heart was swelling with it. 

"Lucius, I…" he trailer off. He had no idea how he wanted to finish that sentence. 

"Like I said, at your own pace," Foxy reminded, "But… if this is about your-- I mean…” 

“It’s not about Oswald. Not this time,” Ed reassured, not so eager to feed lies to Lucius anymore. Not even to keep him under his thrall. 

“That’s not exactly what I was going to say,” Lucius muttered. He looked rather concerned. 

Ed felt the urge to be the comforting one for once. “Foxy? You know, it goes both ways, right? You’re here for me, therefore I’m here for you, too. If there’s something you need to get off your chest, something you need to talk about…”  

“If you’re worried because of the murders, Edward, then don’t,” Foxy blurted out, eyes steadily fixed on Ed. 

Ed’s jaw slacked. Surely, he must’ve misheard! “What.” 

“I know you’ve been killing people,” Foxy continued, earnestly. “I had my suspicions for some time but I didn’t want to bring it up without proof.”

“And you have proof now?” Ed frowned, not sure what that proof could possibly be. 

Foxy shook his head. “I don’t. Well, not really. Nothing but my own deductions. But I read the papers. I know there was a dead guy found not far from your workplace.”

Ed gasped. “And you thought that was me?” He had to pretend to be outraged and deny everything. There was no other option here. “I can’t believe you thought I’m capable of--” 

Lucius exhaled. “You don’t need to pretend, Edward. I know it was you.”

“How?” Ed asked defiantly. “How could you possibly know that?” 

“Because I worked out your pattern.” 

Ed pursed his lips, crossing his arms over his chest rather defensively. “Oh? I have a pattern now?” 

Foxy gave a calm nod. “You know you do.” 

He seemed so resigned, so convinced, Ed realized there was little he could do to change his mind. Yet he had to! Foxy was not supposed to know about this!  

“Edward, we should--” 

“I didn’t do it,” Ed cut him off. It was the simplest denial in the book, but he still went for it, hoping raw honesty would work its magic. After all, innocent people not always had elaborate ways to prove their innocence. Sometimes it was just an emotional repetition of ‘I didn’t do it’

Lucius seemed disappointed. “Ed, I saw you,” he added reluctantly. “I hoped you’d tell me the truth when I bring it up. But I guess not. So I’m telling you this. I saw you.” 

Ed swallowed. His heart was pulsing in his ears. “When?” he breathed. The word was out of his mouth before he could catch himself. 

“Two months ago,” Lucius replied. “Before we left for Metropolis. It was the guy near the motel. You left him in a dumpster behind a Chinese restaurant.” 

Ed paled. He remembered that night. “You were there?” 

“I was. Not for all of it, but… I saw enough. It was too late to stop you, the man was already dead when I arrived. But I know what happened.”  

It took all of Ed’s self-control not to gape. Lucius knew for two whole months ? It made no sense! “Why didn’t you say anything?” Ed asked helplessly. 

Lucius furrowed his brows thoughtfully. “I’m not sure. I guess I was in shock. I didn’t know what to say. At first I didn’t even want to believe it. But then I couldn’t believe that there was nothing more to the story. So I did a little research. I retracted our steps back, every single town, every city we went to, until I discovered all your other murders.” 

Ed looked away from Lucius. His hands were shaking. What was he supposed to do now? Kill Foxy? He didn’t want to do that! 

“I’m not judging, you know,” Foxy said. 

Ed was very surprised to hear that. He looked him in the eyes, utterly baffled. How could Lucius not be disgusted with him yet? He was a good guy, and any good guy would be repulsed by Edward by now. 

A small chuckle escaped through Foxy’s lips. “I can see you’re confused. And that’s understandable. Let me explain. I wanted to have all the information before I talked to you about this, so I made sure to find it. I discovered certain things about your ‘victims’. They all had something in common. Resemblance to Penguin, for starters, as well as some form of criminal activity in their past. Nothing one could actually prove while they were still alive, they were very careful to cover up their tracks. But when you look deeper, it all comes out. The guy behind the Chinese dumpster? He turned out to be a drug dealer. One of his usual haunts were at the local school. He was selling drugs to kids, Ed. And then there was the other guy, the one in Phoenix? He had a sex slave in his basement. A young Mexican girl. After his death the police finally discovered her locked up, abused and starving. That man’s death saved her life.” Lucius quieted down for a moment, letting that sink in, then proceeded, “So, you see, Edward, you’ve helped people.” 

Edward had no idea about any of this. He knew the guys he picked to kill were all bastards in one way or another, but he had no knowledge of their crimes. Still, he decided to remain quiet about it for now, and let Lucius speak.  

“And, of course, there’s the latest one,” Lucius continued. “I was surprised you killed again, and so close to the shop. But when I read about this guy… Well, I get it now. You couldn’t help yourself, could you?” Ed shook his head, and Lucius actually squeezed his hand reassuringly. “There were pictures of naked teenage boys on that man’s phone. Imagine a guy like that walking free! You probably saved more boys than you realize by killing him.” Ed felt dizzy. “My point is,” Lucius went on, “I understand why you keep doing that.” 

“Y-you do?” Ed managed to utter, stuttering. 

“Yes. It’s Penguin,” Foxy said simply. “You’re still haunted by him and what he did to you, aren’t you?” 

Ed took a secretive glance at the Oswald hallucination that was currently watching him from the windowsill, tilting its head at him curiously. He swallowed. “In a manner of speaking,” he admitted. 

Lucius held Ed’s hand closer to his heart, letting him feel his support. “I can see you’re still hurting, Edward. And I want to help you.” 

Ah, so there it was, finally. The true reason for Foxy’s weirdly calm demeanour during this entire conversation. He wanted Edward to get help. He was going to put Ed in an asylum, wasn’t he!  

“So you want me to turn myself in, is that it?” Ed asked bitterly. 

Lucius shook his head. “No. I wouldn’t ask that of you. Weren’t you listening to me? You’re not the villain here. You’re a hero!” Ed frowned, not really seeing how he was a hero for murdering a bunch of creeps. Lucius chuckled. “Don’t get me wrong. I don’t condone murder. I feel like I need to stress that. But those men you’ve killed, they were really bad people. And they were getting away with it! It-- it’s frustrating! It angers me to know that someone could commit a monstrous act like that and just walk free! Untouchable by the law. Like that guy in the car.” 

Ed was silent again. 

“Did you know further investigations revealed that he had had sexual intercourse with several underage boys? Some were even too young to understand what he wanted of them… They were raped, Ed! And no one did anything about it! No one but you . You put a stop to this man’s villainy! You stopped him! That’s why you’re a hero, Ed. You’re no longer Oswald Cobblepot’s victim. You’re a vigilante, brave and noble, who plays by his own rules to bring about justice!” 

Ed nearly burst into hysterical laughter at that description. Was this how Foxy saw him? A brave misunderstood hero who sought justice for the weak and helpless? 

“I’m no hero, Lucius,” he said honestly. 

“You really are , Edward,” Foxy insisted, heartfelt. “There are many things you don’t quite know about yourself. But I can see what a remarkable guy you are. And I hope one day you’ll see it too.”  

Edward swallowed. He was no hero. Yet, the consequences of his actions were all there. And they were… good . Perhaps Foxy’s delicions weren’t that far from reality. The men Edward had killed really did deserve it, like Foxy said. True, in most cases Edward had no idea about their ‘villainy’. But a good deed was still a good deed. The end results were there, no matter Edward’s initial intentions. And who knew? Maybe Edward could eventually become the hero Foxy saw in him. With time. And with Foxy’s help. 

Their eyes met and Ed felt like this young man was his whole world at that moment. Lucius understood him! He believed in him! He saw the ugly parts of Edward and he still found beauty in them! Edward could weep with all the emotions that were swirling in his heart. He was never good at handling his emotions. He wished he truly were the cold logician he claimed to be. But it wasn’t always easy to carve out the heart. 

He glanced at Foxy’s lips and slowly leaned in. 

Foxy pulled away. “Umm, Edward?” 

Ed opened his eyes to see a very confused Foxy, and frowned in embarrassment. Had he misread the situation? “I’m sorry,” he said. “I assumed you still liked me in that way.” 

“I do,” Foxy said rather awkwardly, blushing slightly. “But,” he continued, trying to explain his point better, “I didn’t say all that just to get into your pants.” 

A soft chuckle escaped Ed’s lips. “I know,” he whispered, eyes still gazing into Foxy’s. “I want this.” 

Foxy’s breath visibly hitched. “Ed… are you sure? I don’t want to ruin our friendship.” 

“You won’t,” Ed promised. “I’ve been thinking about this for some time now.” His eyes darted down to Lucius’ lips again. “Kissing you…, and holding you…, and touching you…” Foxy swallowed. “I really want you, Lucius.” 

Foxy nearly choked on air. “Edward,” he let out a small gasp, breath coming in uneven huffs. 

“Please, kiss me,” Ed whispered, closing his eyes. His parted lips waited for the older boy to make the first move. His heart was hammering like crazy in his chest, but he dared not move. For all his zest and newly-discovered confidence he still felt inadequate when it came to matters of love. His only experience consisting of one kiss with Kristen Kringle, and a few make out sessions with Oswald. He didn’t want to screw things up with Lucius.  

Foxy was taking his time, and for a moment Edward was afraid he'd get rejected again. But then finally, after a small eternity, he felt the other man's soft lips on his. Tentative and careful at first, as if expecting Ed would change his mind, Foxy’s kiss slowly became more passionate and heated, until finally both him and Edward were kissing one another in earnest, lips moving together, hands eager to touch. Foxy’s strong arms pulled Ed closer, and the gesture had a remarkable effect on the younger man. His entire body was alright with this powerful feeling. He realized how desperate he'd been all this time to feel wanted, to actually have a tactile relationship, to feel loved with all his senses. He needed it like he needed air. He let his hands slide under Foxy’s shirt, and reveled at the little moan of pleasure that action elicited from the other man. 

“You feel so good!" Ed heard himself say. "Don’t let me go, please!” 

As if to prove that he wouldn’t, Foxy rolled them over so that he was on top, and pressed himself even closer. Ed let out an excited little gasp as he felt Foxy’s arousal brushing against his thigh. So it wasn’t just Ed who wanted this. The very real proof that Lucius reciprocated filled Ed with enthusiasm. He had felt an erection pressed against him before. There were countless times when Oswald had been aroused next to him. On one occasion Ed even felt Oswald grinding against him, chasing the friction with a hungry desperation, before catching himself and stopping. But this was different. This time Ed knew Foxy wouldn’t stop. Foxy wasn't ashamed of his feelings for Ed. This was really happening because it was real . And Ed was going all the way.  

“Lucius! Ngh… please…” he jerked his own hips up to press against Foxy’s body. The pulsing heat in his crotch sparked fire into his loin. Once he felt it, Ed didn’t want to stop. He wrapped his long legs around Foxy’s waist and threw his head back as he chased the delicious feeling of his cock rubbing against Lucius. “More!” 

For a moment the sound of his own voice took him by surprise. He had no idea he could sound like that. It was like he was discovering a whole new person in Foxy’s arms. This wasn’t the same Edward anymore. He was changing, they both were. Their desire was bonding them together, and they’d never be the same after tonight. 

Edward was a virgin. Miss Kringle never allowed anything but a kiss, and Oswald didn't dare go further, even though he wanted to. He never went below the waist with Edward, even during the moments when they were most intimate. So it was no surprise that Edward, with his curious nature, reveled in the new feelings he was experiencing as he felt Foxy’s hand finding his cock and squeezing.  

“God!” he cried out, throwing his head back. His cheeks were burning, his face was probably red with embarrassment. He was self-conscious about how loud he was, how desperate, and touch-starved, but Foxy’s gentle kisses reassured him. 

“You’re beautiful,” he whispered and Edward could tell he meant it. 

“I love you…” Ed gasped, a tear sliding down his cheek. “I love you, Lucius.” 

How did this happen? How did they get here? It felt nearly fantastical and Ed wouldn't have believed it, if it wasn't for the fact that he was actually here, experiencing it. He was happy. Not only because of what Lucius’ hand was doing to his most intimate parts, but also for finally saying the words out loud. I love you. 

It was true. Ed had been trying to fool himself before, claiming Foxy was nothing but a tool for him to use in his plans. But that hadn’t been the case in a long time. Ed loved Foxy. And now finally he was brave enough to say it.

“I love you too, Edward,” Foxy replied and his thumb brushed over the head of Ed’s cock. 

“Oh dear!” Ed shut his eyes closed at the intense sensation. It never felt this good when he did that to himself. 

“You okay?” Foxy asked, smiling down at Ed. 

Ed nodded eagerly, thrusting his hips up into Foxy’s hand. He was subconsciously speeding up his pace, needy and impatient to feel the desired release. Foxy got the hint and moved his hand faster. His lips found Ed’s neck and he traced open mouthed kisses down his neck. Edward loved every moment of it! In his hazy excitement he felt something hard pressing and rubbing against his thigh. It took him a moment to realize that it was Lucius, rutting his own hips against him, while his hand worked Ed’s penis. The thought was so erotic to him, knowing that Foxy couldn’t help himself, that he needed Ed as much as Ed needed him, that a few more pulls of Foxy’s hand and Ed came with a cry. His vision went white, and he couldn’t register anything else that was happening around him as he rode the glorious wave of his orgasm. 

When he sort of came back to his senses, he saw Foxy gazing at him with wonder as his own hips were moving at a faster pace. Curiosity overtook Ed and he slid his hand down with wide eyes. The muscles of Foxy’s thighs were so well-defined Ed felt a pang of regret that he hadn’t taken things slower to enjoy them to the fullest. No matter. Later. They would do that again and again, in many different variations. Ed was certain he won’t be able to stop exploring Foxy’s body now that he was allowed to. 

Shaky hands took hold of Lucius’ hot throbbing member. The feeling was so unusual and thrilling, Ed nearly came again. The look on Foxy’s face, the raw desire mixed with so much affection, was fascinating. Ed experimentally pressed his hand against Lucius’ erection, moving up and down, rubbing it rather teasingly. He marveled at the little sounds Lucius was making at that. Sensing the older boy’s desperation, Ed wrapped his fingers properly around Foxy’s cock, and started moving his hand, brushing his thumb against the head like Foxy had done for him. The effects were remarkable! Foxy’s hands desperately clung to Ed as he rested his forehead against Ed’s chest and bucked his hips into Ed’s hand. 

“So close… so good…” Foxy muttered incoherently. “P-please, Ed…” 

Ed sped up, and jerked Foxy off fast and hard until he orgasmed in his hand. 

“F-fuck!” Foxy hissed. 

His breath was as uneven as Ed’s, as he relaxed into Ed’s arms. The sticky mess between them was getting uncomfortable but Ed hated the idea of leaving the bed, even for a second. 

“Next time, I want to come inside you,” Foxy blurted out. 

Ed swallowed. This was a whole new side of Lucius that Edward hadn’t known before. “You-- you do?” 

Realizing what he had just said, Foxy blushed rapidly. “If-- if you want to, that is,” he corrected himself quickly. 

Ed grinned. “I think I'd want that very much.”

Chapter Text

“Wow! That was amazing, Lucius!” Ed gasped, still trying to catch his breath. “I never knew it could be so good!” 

Ed’s wondrous enthusiasm over everything they did in bed made Lucius’ smile grow even wider. “It was pretty amazing, yeah,” he agreed. 

Ed snuggled closer, enjoying the older boy’s warmth. “I’m so happy my first time was with you. I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he muttered, closing his eyes and smiling. 

Lucius chuckled softly. “I’m flattered, but I thought-- That is, didn’t you and Cobblepot…” 

Shit . Ed had completely forgotten about that . He was having too good a time to think about logic. The stories he had invented about his relationship with Oswald had completely slipped his mind. Now he had to deal with rectifying his mistake. 

“Well, yes,” he said rather awkwardly, “but that doesn’t really count, does it? I didn’t give consent. It happened against my will. I don’t want to think of it as my first time. What I have with you is my real first time.” He looked Lucius in the eyes. “Will you let me imagine it was?” 

When he and Foxy kissed for the first time, Edward decided to be completely honest with Foxy from now on. About everything but Oswald. Obviously, he hated lying to the boy he loved, but there was no other option. A huge part of Lucius being so understanding about Edward’s ‘vigilantism’ came from him knowing about the abuse Edward had suffered at the hands of the ex-mayor of Gotham. If Ed went and told Foxy that things didn’t happen that way at all, well, then what would Foxy think? The chances of him forgiving Ed yet again were very slim. Ed couldn’t afford to take that risk. So instead he gazed into Lucius’ eyes with as much innocence and pleading as he could muster. 

Lucius looked so filled with regret for ruining their moment, he was quick to apologize and reassure Ed. “Of course! In fact, I, too, believe this was your first time. And I'm so sorry for bringing that up!” 

Ed smiled softly. “That’s alright,” he allowed. “Just, let’s not talk about this again, okay? I’d rather enjoy our love without the shadows of the past hanging over our heads.” 

Foxy smiled. “I like that plan.” He brought their foreheads together. They kissed, leisurely, savoring one another’s taste, and to Edward’s relief, Foxy didn’t mention Oswald anymore. 

Inconvenient as the little slip up was, it helped with one thing -- Ed felt more relaxed afterwards. The change in his relationship with Foxy, the new unfamiliar intimacy they were sharing, threw Ed off balance for a moment, making him feel like a lost lamb, unsure and frightened. But lying, unpleasant as it was, put him back in charge. Once again he had the upper hand in their dynamic. He knew what was happening, who he was in all this, and what he had to do. It relaxed him in ways Ed couldn’t explain. He felt more in control when he manipulated Lucius than when he was opening up to him. And he felt sick with himself for it. Because he wanted to be open with Lucius. He wanted to have this. Yet, there was a barrier inside his head that prevented him to do that. 

He couldn’t help but compare what he had with Lucius to what he had with Oswald. He’d been so confident with Oswald, even when he had no idea what he was doing. He went seducing Oswald with remarkable ease, but with Lucius he was so awkward. It was the exact opposite. Ed was out of his depth when he was intimate with Lucius. Almost as if he felt more at home in the unhealthy relationship he had with Oswald than in the clearly more healthy one he was now building with Foxy. Ed’s mind was subconsciously sabotaging him, making him anxious each time he tried to have something normal. Reminding him that he couldn’t have normal things . They were out of his reach. He didn’t deserve them, because he wasn’t normal . A good life with a nice boy, acceptance, friends, work he actually liked, those things weren’t meant for people like Edward. Freaks . Weirdoes . Sickos. All those epithets his father used about him constantly while Ed was growing up. Deep down Ed still believed them. Edward Nashton Sr. was dead, but his cruel words lived on after him. And a part of Ed was terrified that they’d never truly be gone. It was one of the reasons why he hated the word normal so much. 

~*~  

Penguin’s jaws were clenched tightly as if he were holding himself from biting someone’s nose off. Being the only other person in the hotel room, Zsasz had the unpleasant feeling that if he weren’t careful that someone could be him. Good thing he had good news this time. The Boss had to be pleased. 

“I believe he uses the name Edwin Nashton now. Sound familiar?” 

Penguin inhaled sharply. “That’s his father’s last name,” he mumbled under his breath. Then he gritted his teeth and yelled angrily. “He uses his father’s last name? Why would he do that!” 

Zsasz shrugged like it was no big deal to him. Which it wasn’t. “By the end of the day I’ll have his address and we’ll be able to… pay him a visit.” He smirked, already feeling all tingly at the thought of what that visit would entail. He expected the Boss to reciprocate his enthusiasm, but instead Penguin looked grumpy. “Boss?” 

Oswald exhaled loudly. “I can’t wait till tonight, Victor. I want to see him now .” 

“But I don’t know where he lives yet.” 

“Then do something about it!” he snapped, lower lip quivering in a tortured grimace. “I can’t wait any longer,” he added in a broken voice. 

Contrary to popular belief, Zsasz was not heartless. There was room for many things in his big heart: weapons of all shapes and sizes, disco, leather, his job, having a good time, Gotham itself, this whole Earth. Also, he loved Penguin. He felt affection for the man, the kind he hadn’t felt for anyone before. Not even Don Falcone. So naturally, he hated seeing him so upset. The sooner this whole thing was over and done with, the sooner they could both move on from Edward Nygma and whatever he did to anger the Boss so much. 

Zsasz gave a curt nod. “I’ll find him then,” he promised. He headed for the door but stopped before reaching for the handle. “Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask… What are we going to do with the kid once we find him? Any specific requests?” 

Zsasz had asked that question before and each time he got an indistinctive answer from Penguin. This time Penguin only gritted through his teeth. “He’ll pay for what he’s done. That’s what’s going to happen when I find him.” 

“Right. Cool.” Zsasz nodded his head slowly a couple of times. “What did he do exactly?” 

After a beat, Penguin finally said, “He killed James Gordon.” 

~*~ 

Despite their night of pleasure, Ed had to go to work at some point. He didn’t want to leave Lucius’ bed. If it were up to him, he’d remain there forever. He felt happy! So carefree and light as air! He hadn’t felt like that for ages. The last time being when he thought he had a chance at happiness with Oswald. But that was all in the past now, and Ed wanted to think about the future. His future with Lucius Fox! Who would’ve guessed that the paths of their lives would lead them here, to this point! Lucius Fox, Edward’s first lover, Edward’s new beloved, Edward’s future. Even the thought sounded too fantastical to Ed but he was so filled with joy because of it. 

Slipping out of bed and getting ready for work took more effort than Ed expected. Then actually saying goodbye to Foxy and leaving the apartment was even more difficult. He couldn’t be bothered with boring mundane things such as work when his heart was singing. He couldn’t wait to see Foxy again, to be in his arms, and feel his love. Time was passing so slowly. 

Naturally Jerome noticed how distracted Ed was, but luckily decided not to mention it. Ed was grateful for that. The last thing he wanted right now was to gossip with the crazy ginger teen about his love life. 

The day continued as dull as usual until suddenly Ed looked up to greet his next customer and realized that it was none other but Foxy! 

“Lucius! What are you doing here?” he beamed, unable to keep the silly grin off his face. 

“Oh, I just thought I’d pop by,” Foxy smiled back. “I had a sudden craving for ice cream.” 

Ed snorted. “Really! So you came all the way here from the lab just for the ice cream?” 

“Annnnd…” Lucius leaned in over the counter. “I wanted to see you,” he added in a much more tender voice. 

It made Ed giddy. He had to stop himself from giggling from the way Foxy was looking at him, as if Ed was the ice cream Foxy so desperately craved to have. “You’re such a dork,” he said instead. 

Not wanting to embarrass Ed too much at his workplace, Foxy straightened up. “Are you saying you didn’t miss me?” 

“Oh, I missed you! I definitely missed you!” Ed assured, pulling Lucius in to give him a quick kiss on the cheek. 

“Ooh, mammma!” Jerome exclaimed from the other end of the counter. “I had no idea you were taken, Ed!” 

Ed and Lucius chuckled, realizing Jerome was the first person to learn about their new relationship. 

“Lucius is my boyfriend,” Ed said, feeling another swell of happiness filling his chest at that little announcement. 

“That I am!” Lucius said, looking equally giddy. “And Ed is my boyfriend.” 

Jerome grinned at them both. “Aww, you two are so stupid! I love it!” 

Ed rolled his eyes but there was no actual annoyance behind the gesture. He quickly forgot about Jerome, and shifted his attention back to Lucius instead. “How about we have lunch together?” he offered. “A nice walk in the park? Perhaps a small picnic?” 

Lucius smiled. “Sounds wonderful.” 

“I’m taking my lunch break earlier, Jerome!” Ed announced, and went to take off his apron and the silly clown wig. He didn’t want to look too ridiculous for his lunch date with Foxy. 

“I won’t wait up!” Jerome called after them, teasingly. “Ah, young love! Could it be more nauseatingly cute?” 

~*~  

Zsasz parked the car just opposite the Clown Ice Cream Shop. “We’re here,” he told Penguin. 

The Boss still looked like someone ate his ice cream, but at least he had finally washed himself and changed his clothes. True, the dark circles under his eyes and the bad skin were quite telling of his recent complete and utter neglect for hygiene, but baby steps. 

“Ed works here?” Penguin muttered, looking at the place in disbelief. Ed didn’t even like clowns. Him working in a clown themed ice cream shop seemed ridiculous. 

“Yep,” Zsasz confirmed. “I’m more of a milkshake guy, myself, but ice cream’s cool too.” He snorted and nugged Oswald. “Get it? Cool? Because it’s ice cream ?” 

Penguin did not appreciate the joke, rolling his eyes with annoyance. “Well, what are you waiting for, then? Go get him!” 

“Yeah, that’s probably best,” Zsasz agreed. The sooner they off the son, the sooner they could continue life as before. Back to the good old days when Penguin had assignments for Victor and Victor could impress and terrify everyone with his art. 

He was just about to slide out of the car when Penguin’s hand on his chest stopped him. “Wait!” 

Zsasz frowned and followed the Boss’ gaze. His bald eyebrows shot up in surprise when he saw Edward Nygma exiting the shop with that black kid that used to have a crush on him back in Gotham. Now he had one arm around Edward’s shoulders, laughing with him, and then kissing him on the lips before they crossed the street and headed for the park. They looked so blissfully overjoyed, it was sickening.  

“Well. I guess Ed finally scored,” Zsasz attempted to break the suddenly tense atmosphere in the car, but Penguin ignored it entirely. 

“Take me back to the hotel,” he said quietly.  

“But I thought we were gonna--” 

“The hotel! Now, Victor!” Oswald yelled, his hands shaking a little. When Zsasz only looked at him as if he couldn’t quite recognize him, Oswald hissed in his face. “Did you not hear what I just said?”  

Victor nodded. “Sure. The hotel it is,” he shrugged and drove off. 

~*~ 

Edward couldn’t wait to get home. After the best lunch break in the history of lunch breaks, him and Lucius made some pretty awesome plans for the night. They were going to stay in their apartment and thoroughly enjoy each other’s company. Just the thought alone made Ed giddy with excitement. He bit back his grin as he unlocked the door and slipped into the dark apartment. 

He chuckled when he noticed a shadow sitting in the chair by the window -- the one Edward usually favored. 

“Lucius, I didn’t expect you for another half an hour,” he smirked, reaching for the light switch. “Someone’s impatient.” But when the light was on, Ed’s smile disappeared and he paled. “Oswald…” The name slipped out through his lips like a quiet nightmare. 

“Good evening, Edward. So good to see you again,” the older man enunciated. He slowly lifted himself up from the chair he was sitting on and walked towards Ed. It all looked so sinister at first that Ed got a little frightened. But then the irritation kicked in. The irritation that his mind would do that to him tonight of all nights! 

He sighed exasperated. “Not now, Oswald. I don’t have time for you tonight.” 

Oswald’s face was instantly red with rage. He glared dangerously. “How dare you!” he barked. “After everything you did to me!” 

Ed frowned. His hallucination didn’t usually talk like that. There was taunting, cruel jokes, hurtful remarks, but he never actually blamed Ed for anything. It was a bit out of character and it left an unpleasant taste in Ed’s mouth. As if something wasn’t quite right. Ed took a step closer, approaching the hallucination, making note of each line on its face. There was something… different. As he got closer, he gave the hallucination a quick tap on the forehead with the palm of his hand.  

“Ow!” Oswald cried angrily. “What the hell, Edward!” 

“You’re real!” Ed breathed, feeling faint. 

“Of course I’m real! What did you expect, thin air?” The look on Ed’s face must’ve given something away. Oswald laughed without amusement as he realized, “Oh, that’s rich. You have hallucinations again, haven’t you? Of me? Am I right?” 

Ed pursed his lips, refusing to answer that question. 

Oswald laughed some more. It sounded so ugly, Ed could hardly recognize it. In fact, it wasn’t just the laugh that was unrecognizable, it was everything. Penguin did not seem like himself. “What happened to you, Oswald?” Ed asked, slightly concerned. 

The laughter abruptly stopped, replaced by another death glare. “ You happened to me, Edward. You! You killed me!” 

“Well, clearly you took it well enough. You’re still here,” Ed said, gesturing at Oswald with his hands. 

Oswald’s jaw was clenched tightly as he limped closer to Ed. “You ruined my life. And now I’m here to make you pay!” 

Ed snorted. “Took you long enough. A little over six months just to find me? You’re losing your touch. Or is it just that you’re helpless without me?” 

Oswald sucked in a sharp breath through his flaring nostrils. There were sparks of rage in his eyes, making them look strangely glassy, as if Oswald was on drugs or something. But Edward knew better than that. He knew Oswald’s biggest drug was his own thirst for revenge. His temper. 

“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” he yelled angrily, hands clenched into tight fists. He looked like an angry toddler with a hangover. Ed would’ve been worried about him, if he wasn’t enjoying this a little too much. It was funny. Back when he stabbed Oswald, he hoped the older man would survive to haunt him down. He wanted Oswald’s full attention all to himself, if not in love, then in hatred. Both were strong emotions, and Edward wanted to elicit strong emotions in Oswald. It would appear he succeeded in that, but it was a little too late. He no longer cared. Their timing was ironic. 

Edward chuckled. “Not a chance. You came here to, what? Rub it in my face that you’re alive? Make me pay?” he air-quoted. “How are you going to make me pay , Oswald? You can’t even take care of yourself. Look at you! You look like hell.” 

“I wouldn’t act so smug if I were you, Edward. Selling ice cream, dressed like a clown? Tell me, Nygma, is that your dream come true?” 

“It kept you from findinging me all this time, didn’t it?” 

Penguin shook his head. “No, Ed. You don’t sell clown ice cream to hide from me. You sell it because you can’t find a better alternative. You’re well aware of what people think of you, you know you can’t socialize. And perhaps that wasn’t such a big issue at school, but in the real world? It can put a damper on things, can’t it? And suddenly you’re stuck and you don’t know what to do.” He chuckled mirthlessly. “Face it, Ed, you’re not smart!” 

The words cut like knives. Oswald knew exactly what to say to hurt him, attacking the one thing Edward cherished most of all. His brain. 

“I’m too smart,” he snapped, the jab at his intelligence instantly bringing up memories of his father. You think you’re such a genius, boy, but you’re an idiot!  

“Huh!” Oswald snorted. 

“So you’re here to gloat then,” Ed looked down at him, voice low, challenging. “It was always one of your least attractive qualities, Oswald.” 

Penguin glared daggers again. He was about to hiss something in Edward’s face but the sound of the front door opening interrupted him.  

“Ed, I’m back. You better be ready fo--” Lucius stopped in his tracks. His eyes landed on Oswald Cobblepot, standing in the middle of their small smelly apartment, and he was ready to kill the man right there and then. “You!” he bared his teeth. “How dare you show your face here! Get away from Edward!”

Ed had to physically stop Lucius from charging at Penguin, which only seemed to amuse Oswald more. 

He snorted. “Oh, that’s charming. Your puppy’s so protective of you, Ed.” 

“Leave him alone, Oswald,” Ed warned. Then he turned to Foxy again. “It’s alright, Lucius. I’ll take care of this. You just go.” 

Foxy looked utterly stunned. “Just go?” he repeated incredulously. “I won’t ‘just go’ , Ed! I’m not leaving you alone with that monster!” 

“Ooh. That’s a new one,” Oswald smirked. 

You don’t get to speak!” Lucius yelled, finger pointing accusatory at Penguin. “You raped Edward! Over and over again! He was entrusted to your care and you took advantage of him!” 

“Did I now?” Oswald asked, no longer amused. “Is that what you told him, Ed? That I raped you?”

Ed’s lips were a tight line. “Why did you come here, Oswald?” he asked quietly. “I was doing fine . Why did you have to come?” 

These words seemed to hurt Oswald more than any other jab Ed tried earlier. 

Lucius made use of the small silence to free himself from Ed and take a step closer to Oswald. “Get out of our home,” he growled. “Now!” 

The sound of a toilet being flushed came from the bathroom, followed by Zsasz opening the door with a grin that said I came to party and I’m not disappointed . He shook his head. “Nah, I don’t think he’d do that. Do you?”

“Who even-- Why are you in our bathroom?” Foxy gasped. 

“Nature called,” Zsasz shrugged. Then he snorted. “I’m just kiddin’! I was waiting inside for a dramatic entrance. I heard you shouting and I thought this was my cue.” He looked at Penguin. “Do you want me to off him, Boss?” 

“No one is ‘offing’ anybody!” Ed said firmly. “Oswald, please leave. We’ll talk some other time.” 

“No. We’ll talk now.” Oswald tilted his head and looked Edward straight in the eyes. “Tell me, Ed. Do you build all your relationships on lies?” 

“Don’t you dare accuse him of lying!” Lucius barked angrily. “You hurt him! And then you dare blaming the victim!” 

Oswald chuckled bitterly. “Ed is no victim. But you’re too blind to see that.” He sounded very honest as he continued, “I don’t blame you. I’ve been there myself. He pulled the wool over my eyes too. But no more.” He glanced at Ed for the briefest moment before returning his gaze back to Foxy. “I’m no saint, Mr. Fox. I’ve done many things I’m not proud of. Things I am glad my parents never saw me do. But for the record, I never raped anybody.” 

Foxy frowned. Perhaps he was finally beginning to believe the ex-mayor of Gotham. He looked at Ed, puzzled. “Edward? What is he talking about?” 

Ed swallowed. He could feel his hands shaking. “I-- I’m so sorry…” he muttered. “He’s telling the truth. Those things I told you about Oswald… I made it all up.” 

Foxy shook his head. “No. No, this makes no sense. You had no reason to lie about it. You literally gain nothing from this.” 

Ed inhaled shakily. “Actually… I got to manipulate you.” 

“What!” 

“I’m sorry. I was afraid you wouldn’t help me if I just asked you to leave Gotham with me. And I needed to get away! I had to! I couldn’t do it by myself, I didn’t want to be alone again--” 

“Edward…” Lucius frowned sadly. “What did you do?” 

There was no accusation in his tone, only sadness, disappointment, hurt . Edward could see the consequences of his lies in Foxy’s eyes and he felt like the worst person in the world. He had lied to the one guy that always showed him nothing but kindness. The one guy that cared about him, and wanted to help him no matter what. He hurt Foxy, turned his life upside down, and now… now all he wanted was to make it better. 

“He’d done too many things to count,” Oswald interrupted. “We don’t have time for a complete list, I’m afraid. But now that that’s settled. Mr. Fox, could you please move aside? Edward and I have things to do.” 

Instead of stepping away, Foxy stood right in front of Oswald. “You and Edward have nothing to talk about anymore,” he said firmly. “Edward has moved on. He’s no longer alone. He has me. He needs help and I don’t see you doing anything good for him. So I kindly ask you to step aside, and leave our lives. Forever.”  

Edward’s heart skipped a beat as love swelled in his chest with such force, he almost drowned in it. After everything, Lucius was still willing to help him! Still wanted to be with him! A tear of happiness slid down Edward’s cheek as he smiled lovingly at the back of Foxy’s head. And then his eyes met Oswald’s. 

Everything happened so fast after that, yet Ed saw it in painfully slow motion. Oswald’s eyes, like thunder, darker than usual, angry and hurt, judging. Perhaps he didn’t like what he saw in the expression on Edward’s face. Maybe he got irritated that Edward’s affection for Foxy was real, and not just a pretence. Ed wasn’t sure, but he didn’t care. What he did care about was the gunshot that followed. And then Foxy was falling backwards into Ed’s arms, eyes wide in shock, body stiff. A streak of blood was sliding down from his forehead, slithering between his dead eyes, down his nose to his mouth and chin. 

A terrible scream ripped out of Edward’s throat as he stared at Foxy’s body, lying motionless in his arms. He was utterly helpless to do anything. The boy he loved was dead on the spot, bullet in his head. 

 

“L-lucius?” Ed stuttered terrified. “Lucius! Lucius, talk to me! Please! Talk to me! Come back!” he sobbed. “Don’t leave me! Oh, please, come back to me…” 

He begged the dead young man to return to him, wishing for a miracle he knew would never happen. Tears were streaming from his eyes, falling down on the corpse in his arms. If only those tears had the power to revive Lucius. 

Gun in hand, Oswald stood above them. His eyes were cold. His face like stone. "Now you know what it feels like to have someone you love taken from you,” he said bitterly. 

From the corner of the room Zsasz watched the scene before him unravel.

Chapter Text

In his life Zsasz had witnessed quite a lot of deaths and murders of different variety. Some were boring, others more creative and artistic, but whatever the case, murders and torture never fazed Zsasz. He was used to gore in all forms and nothing he ever came across was too disturbing for him to handle. Yet the last six months were really strenuous on him. He could hardly recognize Penguin, and quite frankly, he had enough of that side of his Boss. The obsessive one, the one who couldn’t function, couldn’t think straight, the one who only had Edward Nygma on his mind. 

Zsasz sympathised with the Boss, of course. Nygma killed James Gordon, and the Boss was rather fond of the detective so naturally he’d be upset. But this thirst for vengeance was getting a little too extreme! Victor never wanted to see Penguin like that ever again! It was about time the Boss moved on from that dark place. Now, Zsasz wasn’t usually a fan of killing teenagers, but this was a special case. The sooner the Boss killed Edward, the sooner they could all move on from this. To ensure everything went smoothly, Zsasz made certain no noisy neighbors would get in the way or call the police at the slightest noise. One never knew in Metropolis. To his surprise, Nygma’s neighbors seemed to be the kind of people who looked the other way whenever they sensed something shady was happening near them. Just like home! Apparently the bad neighborhoods of Metropolis resembled Gotham. Who knew. 

Zsasz had no idea what the Boss was planning to do with his adoptive son, but he was damn curious to find out. Penguin had warned him not to interfere, unless given a specific signal. It appeared the Boss had it all planned out, so Zsasz decided to sit back and observe. He assumed Penguin finally getting his revenge after months of waiting ought to be fun. Boy, was he wrong! 

~*~  

Edward couldn’t stop his hands from shaking. He heard someone sobbing in the distance and it took him a few moments to realize those were his own cries. Lucius was still lying on the floor, blank eyes staring up like two fading coals. There was no life left in them, nothing. Ed couldn’t look away from them, even though the sight of Foxy like this made him sick. If only he could take it all back! If only Lucius could still be alive! 

Oswald stood tall, looking down at Ed coldly. “Now you know what it feels like to have someone you love taken from you.” 

The words reverberated inside Edward’s soul, igniting dangerous fires. He raised his gaze to glare at Oswald with a feral look in his eyes. “You!” he growled, gritting his teeth. “How could you! Lucius was a good man! He didn’t deserve this!” 

Penguin licked his lower lip and nodded. “Oh, I agree. Trust me, I’m sad about it, too. I liked that kid. He used to be a good friend to you.” He made a small pause and then added, disgust written all over his face. “Lucius Fox did not deserve this fate. But neither did Jim Gordon. Yet you killed him.” 

“That’s not remotely the same!” Ed cried out, hands itching to scratch Oswald’s eyes out. 

Penguin leaned in a little. “Isn’t it? You killed the man I loved. So I killed the man you loved.” A self-satisfied smirk spread across his face. “Hurts like hell, doesn’t it?” It did. Penguin continued, relentlessly, “Don’t blame me. Lucius’ blood is on your hands, Edward. Your actions brought this on him. He was trying to help you, and all you did in return was lead him to his death.” 

The truthfulness of these words made Ed even angrier. Filled with rage, guilt and pain, he charged at Oswald with a loud animalistic cry. Nothing could stop him from destroying this man now! The force of the attack knocked them both down to the floor, rolling and battling for control. Edward used his long legs to straddle Penguin and sit on his lap, making sure the older man couldn’t move beneath him. Then he lifted his fist and brought it down, hard, again and again, taking out his frustration on Penguin. Somewhere in the back of his head he wondered why Zsasz didn’t stop him, but that was only a passing thought. All his attention was focused on hurting Oswald as much as he could. His punches landed in Penguin’s face, his chest, his side, and on one occasion his stomach. Oswald hissed in pain at that last one and Ed beamed as he realized he had hit Oswald’s stab wound. It was probably still sensitive and painful from six months ago. Ed grinned viciously and punched the same spot again. Filled with a new kind of sadistic pleasure, he watched Oswald squirm beneath him. He hit the man again, probably breaking his nose. Then when his knuckles became too bruised and sore from punching, his hands found Oswald’s neck. He wrapped his fingers tightly around Penguin’s throat and squeezed. Oh, yes! This felt right! 

“You’re a monster, Penguin! A monster!” he hissed in Oswald’s face. “People are right about you! They’ve always been right! There’s no trace of humanity in you! You’re incapable of love! You’re a mean selfish jerk, you unlovable lonely old fool!”   

Oswald’s eyes were losing their focus. He was about to fall unconscious any moment now, but Ed didn’t want that. Not yet, anyway. Oswald didn’t deserve a quick death. Slowly, Ed released his grip, only slightly, enough to give the man a bit of oxygen before squeezing again. That was a mistake. The moment Penguin felt air back in his lungs, he punched Edward hard in the jaw, causing him to lose his balance and almost topple to the floor. One more precise punch and Oswald tossed Ed off of himself.  

Ed found himself on the floor, blood dripping from his mouth. He looked down at his hands, examining them. They were stained with Lucius’ blood, Oswald’s blood, and now Ed’s own. He nearly vomited. When he glanced back at Oswald, the other man was wheezing, gasping for breath. But when he saw Edward looking, he smirked.  

“You hurting, Ed?” he coughed in between words, voice hoarse from the recent choking. “You want me dead?” He chuckled. “Well, sorry to disappoint, but I have completely different plans for us. Don’t worry. You’d love them.”  

Ed growled and tried to straddle Oswald again, but Penguin anticipated it and twisted them around so fast that before Ed knew it, the older man was on top of him. His eyes traveled down Edward’s body as if to enjoy how helpless he was in this position -- on his back, hands pinned to the floor, with Oswald on top of him. Oswald leaned closer, eyes piercing through Edward’s very soul. Their noses nearly touched. Ed felt the blood from Oswald’s bruised face drip down, mixing with his own. It was filthy in more ways than Ed could explain. 

“Aren’t you curious to hear your fate, Edward?” Penguin asked, voice silky with glee. He was gloating, Ed just knew it. “I’ve prepared the perfect life for you.” 

Something about the way Oswald said it gave Ed chills. He struggled underneath Oswald, hissing angrily. “Get off me! Let me go!” But it was in vain. Penguin did not budge, his thighs tightly wrapped around Ed.

“We’re going home, Edward,” he said instead. “I’m sure you miss your old room. I gave orders to Olga to keep it just the way you left it. Everything will be exactly like you always wanted. You and me in the mansion, no distractions, no other people getting between us. All you ever desired.” 

“I won’t be your prisoner!” Edward cried out, desperately. 

Penguin snorted. “Oh, but that’s no prison, Ed. It’s home . The only home you’ll ever have.” He tilted his head. “Isn’t that why you killed Jim? So that you’d have my full attention?” Ed was silent. Oswald’s smile turned cruel. “Well, congratulations, Edward. You got your wish!” 

Edward shook his head frantically, tears streaming down his eyes. “I hate you! You freak! Just kill me already! I wanna die! There’s no point in living without him! I want to die! Like Lucius!”  

Oswald slammed Edward’s hands to the floor with full force. “You think you deserve death?” he hissed. “After all the pain you’ve caused? All the destruction you’ve brought to people! You think you deserve to just die?” His voice dropped down an octave dangerously. “Oh, no, Edward. I won’t let you get off that easy! There’s something far sweeter that I have prepared for you.” His lips ghosted over Ed’s mouth and he inhaled deeply the coppery scent of blood. “We’re going to be a family again. Together forever.”

That said, Oswald crashed his lips on Edward’s in one final, mocking kiss to seal the deal. Edward grimaced, trying to pull away, but being pinned to the ground his movements were very limited. In his corner of the room Zsasz let out a choked little gasp, but Oswald ignored it. He was too busy holding Ed down as the younger man struggled to set himself free.

When Oswald finally pulled away and Edward’s mouth was free again, the young man sobbed. “You’re a monster! I hate you! I despise you! Murderer!” 

Once again he tried to push Oswald away, but then his gaze landed on Lucius in a pool of his own blood. Ed froze. Dead eyes still stared blankly at him, empty of everything that made Lucius Lucius . Oswald was right. Edward deserved to be punished for what he’d done to Foxy. He deserved to suffer. Hit hard with the realization, he went limp under Oswald’s weight. Just like that, all of his will to fight evaporated. He stopped struggling. What was the point? Lucius was dead, and whatever torture Oswald had prepared, Ed deserved it. He deserved worse !  

He swallowed around the lump in his throat, unable to look away from the horrible sight of Lucius’ dead body on the floor next to him. There was something grotesque about the fact that only last night that same body was in Ed’s embrace, hot and living, giving so much warmth and love. Now it was cold and unmoving, once again lying close to Ed, but this time in a twisted parallel of what used to be. That thought alone was enough to completely break Ed. 

“Very well,” he said quietly, exhaling. “You win, Oswald. I’ll do whatever you want.” 

Penguin smiled triumphantly, and slowly released his grip on Edward. His smile shifted into a manic grin and twisted his face. “We’re gonna have so much fun!” He said and snapped his fingers at Zsasz. “Victor, stop staring like that and clean up this mess! Ed and I are going home!” 

~*~ 

Zsasz kept replaying the events from the evening over and over again in his head. He was a professional assassin, the best in his field. Nothing was too disturbing for him to handle. He’d seen all kinds of sick, twisted shit. But what he witnessed tonight was too much. It left a bad taste in his mouth, a funny feeling in his stomach, like he was about to vomit any moment now. 

It was past 2 am. Zsasz had cleaned up the murder scene in Nygma’s apartment expediciously, without wasting time. Expertly, but on autopilot, detached from his own self, like a ghost looking from above. It wasn’t the dead body that affected him so much. It was the living ones. All the new information he learned tonight, about Oswald, about Oswald’s heart. The real reason the Boss was so upset about Detective Gordon’s death, and why he was so obsessed with Nygma. 

His hands gripped tightly the wheel as he drove on the dark highway to Gotham. He glanced in the rear-view mirror. The teen was sleeping on the back seat of the car, curled up on himself. All the stress had finally caught up with the boy, and he eventually passed out exhausted. It was better this way. Zsasz didn’t want to look at those big brown eyes. He didn’t want to think about all the things that boy had done, and all the things that had been done to him. 

He shook his head, and kept his eyes on the road. 

On the front seat next to Zsasz, Penguin looked at him strangely before breaking the silence. “What’s with you? You’ve been acting weird ever since we left Metropolis.” 

Zsasz swallowed. “I’m fine,” he lied. 

The Boss snorted. “And I believe that.” 

Right. No point denying it, Zsasz was not fine. He was hoping to have this conversation later, when they were in Gotham, but if Penguin wanted to talk now, so be it.  

“I’ve cleaned up the mess at the kid’s apartment,” he said, trying to keep his voice neutral. “I’ve covered up your tracks. And when we get back to Gotham, I’ll pin Nygma’s murders to someone else, like you told me to. I’ve collected and planted enough evidence, I can twist it around. I have loyal friends at the GCPD, and a few new acquaintances at the Metropolis Police Department. They can help. Easy peasy.” 

“Good,” Penguin gave a nod. Perhaps he sensed something wasn’t quite right, because his voice sounded a little awkward. “Good job, Victor. As always.” 

Zsasz sucked in a sharp breath. “And after that I’ll no longer work for you.” 

He could feel Penguin’s eyes on him, boring a hole, but he managed to keep calm. He didn’t even flinch. 

“I don’t understand,” Penguin finally said. “What are you talking about, Victor?”

That was the conversation Victor hoped to leave for later. He wasn’t sure he was ready for it now. Then again, there was no guarantee he’d be more prepared for it later. No time like the present. 

“I’ve been loyal to you for ages, Boss. I respect you, I care about you. Hell, I even--” he cut himself off, unsure if his words wouldn’t come out too pathetic if he said them out loud. He cleared his throat. “You know I’d do anything for you. I follow your every order, and you let me have my own fun in return. I’ve always appreciated that.” 

“What’s the problem then?” Penguin frowned. 

“For the last year I’ve watched you sink deeper and deeper into this madness. With your-- with Edward.” 

Penguin’s lips were a tight line. “It isn’t madness,” he insisted, fists clenching in his lap. 

“Oh, it is,” Zsasz said regretfully. “You’re obsessed with him. He gets under your skin in ways no one else ever has. I’ve never seen you like this. You become… someone I can’t recognize.”

Penguin’s eyes were on the road. He swallowed. “If this is about the kiss--” 

“What you do with him is none of my business,” Zsasz interrupted. “I had no problem with you planning to kill the kid, so why should I be bothered if you want to fuck him?” Only, he was bothered. And it was somehow worse than murder. Zsasz glanced at Penguin bitterly. “You’re not denying it.” 

Penguin snapped out of his sudden stupor. “I am denying it! It isn’t true! You misunderstood…”  

Zsasz shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. What you do or don’t do with him, I don’t want to know. But I thought we were after him so that we can kill him and end this once and for all. Instead you want him back home? You want to keep him in a gilded cage like some kind of special decoration? Might as well freeze him in ice and put him on a pedestal!” 

“That’s not what I’m doing, Victor!” Oswald insisted. 

“You’re your own man, Boss. I can’t tell you what to do,” Zsasz said. “But I can no longer watch you spiral down into this crazy shit. I can’t do this to myself. I need time off. I need a break.” 

“Victor…” Oswald breathed, looking at Zsasz almost pleadingly. “We’ve been through so much together… Are you sure this is what you want?” 

“It’s what I need,” he clarified. “I’m sorry. Once I'm done with the necessary arrangements, I’ll be off.” 

Penguin was quiet, lost in thought. After what felt like a small eternity he finally responded. “I’ve never stopped you from doing anything you wanted to do. I won’t start now.” He looked at him and for a moment Zsasz saw a glimpse of the man he used to know in Oswald’s eyes. “I sincerely hope you come back, Victor. When you feel ready.” 

Lump in throat, Zsasz gave a silent nod. He didn’t expect this to hurt as much as it did. But then again, he didn’t expect anything but his own death would ever tear him away from Penguin. 

~*~  

“New evidence places Mayor Dent on several crime scenes in various towns across the country. The investigation of the murders that until recently were ascribed to an unknown serial killer took a turn when DNA matching that of Mayor Dent and his son was found in Metropolis. Mayor Dent and his son Harvey are currently being held in custody. The Mayor’s Office has not yet commented on the accusation. More on the story--” 

Oswald turned town the volume of the TV and looked to the doorway. “Where do you think you’re going?” he called out. 

A stifled groan came from the corridor and Edward appeared in the door frame. “School?” he said, bag in hand. 

“That’s sweet. But it won’t be necessary. You’re not going to school anymore.” 

Ed furrowed his brows. “What do you mean, I’m not going to school anymore?” he exclaimed. 

Oswald took his time to take a deep breath before replying. “Remember when you first came to the mansion, when I adopted you from that horrible orphanage? Remember what you asked me then? You wanted to be homeschooled.” 

“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” Ed murmured. 

“No joke. I rejected your request then, but I decided to be generous now and grant you your wish.” Oswald smiled. He looked so pleased with himself Edward wanted to punch him. There were still several cuts and bruises left on his face from three days ago when they were fighting on the floor. Ed often wished to refresh those and make them bleed again. “So congratulations,” Oswald continued. “You’ll be homeschooled from now on.” 

Ed clenched his fists. “I asked that two years ago ,” he gritted through his teeth, trying to summon all his patience. “I actually want to go to school now.” 

Oswald fake-pouted. “That’s too bad. Because you’re not getting out of here, Edward Nygma. This is your home, with me. Like you wanted.” 

It was clear as day what Oswald was doing. Living in this twisted version of Edward's old fantasies was Edward’s torture. Everything he used to want before was handed to him effortlessly now, only it was distorted, repulsive even. Like looking at your dreams reflected in a broken mirror. 

Jaw tight, Ed silently dropped his school bag in the middle of the hall and headed back to his room. He wouldn’t give Oswald the satisfaction of knowing that his creative form of revenge was working on Ed. 

~*~  

Being back in Gotham felt almost surreal. Living in the mansion again, being greeted by Olga every morning as if nothing had happened, sleeping in his old room, in his old bed. Things really were the way he left them. Including all the presents Oswald had given him that Edward kept on display in his room, the framed photographs of the two of them, the scrapbook from Oswald’s days as mayor that Ed had made. Everything looked the same, yet nothing was really the same anymore. Edward himself wasn’t the same. Everything that used to be familiar and beloved felt foreign and strange now. Even Oswald. 

They weren’t friendly anymore, of course, there was no warmth between them. Not that Edward wanted to be close to the man who killed Lucius! But there was still a part of him that missed what he had with Oswald. The friendship, if nothing else. But Oswald was weird. More quiet than Ed expected him to be under the circumstances. Ed assumed Oswald would be gloating the entire time. Instead he only indulged in acting smug or authoritative whenever Ed tried acting out. Then quickly retreating back to his own silent world and forgetting about Ed completely. It was rather disappointing. 

Zsasz was acting weird too. He was uncharacteristically distant from everything in the mansion, only showing up twice for the last two weeks, and then disappearing altogether. Ed wondered at times what happened between those two in Metropolis that made them act so professional and impersonal towards one another all the sudden. Usually, he would want to get to the bottom of this, but now he decided he didn’t really care. 

Ed cared about very little these days. Now that Foxy was gone, life had lost its meaning. He followed the news, rather impressed that Zsasz had somehow managed to find a way to pin Ed’s own streak of murders on Mayor Dent and his son, of all people. Apparently, the GCPD discovered hidden trophies at the Dent estate from almost each of the murder scenes. The evidence against the Mayor piled up, and the fact that the victims resembled Oswald Cobblepot -- the Mayor’s old rival -- presented a perfect motive. The man was clearly deranged, suffering from a deep need to hurt Mr. Cobblepot, psychiatrists said. During the trial information about Dent’s illegal activities and his private life also came to light. Bruce Wayne himself testified that Harvey Dent had suffered abuse at the hands of his father. Bruce sounded positive that whatever part Harvey had in those tragic murders was done either unconsciously, or forced on him by his father. These revelations only further confirmed that Mayor Dent was a cruel, sadistic man, prone to violence. He was impeached as Mayor of Gotham, and then put in jail. Bruce’s lawyers managed to get Harvey off the charges and put him in an asylum instead. There he was to get proper help for his mental illness, finally safe from his father. 

The entire charade was so beautifully played Dent Sr. had no idea what hit him. New elections were going to be held soon, and Ed wondered if Oswald was planning to run again. It was ironic that after all this time, after everything that happened, they were back where they started. With Edward as a reluctant resident in the mansion, and Oswald once again running for office. Probably. He hadn’t made any statements yet, but knowing Oswald, Edward expected him to be in City Hall before the end of the month. He was most likely just waiting for the Gotham public to ask if he’d want the job again before graciously accepting. He had style, after all. And it wasn’t surprising that the public would want him back. Oswald was a good mayor. He was also cunning. No doubt, he’d find a subtle way to plant the idea that the people wanted him as mayor. How hard could it be? A few comments here and there made by concerned citizens and soon everyone would be singing in the same choir. We want Cobblepot! We want Cobblepot! Penguin our hero! Ed felt repulsed by how stupid people were. How gullible. He hated that Oswald thought he could just pull everyone’s strings and have what he wanted. 

He was not pulling Edward’s strings though! Ed wouldn’t allow it! Oswald may be playing distant and cold with Ed now, but Ed would make sure to remind him soon who still had the upper hand here. Ed may be a prisoner, but he could still dictate the rules! 

~*~  

Both of Oswald’s eyebrows shot up to his hairline. "What are you doing!" 

Ed smirked to himself but made sure to keep his expression neutral when he looked at Penguin. "Isn’t it obvious? I’m coming to dinner." 

"Wearing this?" Penguin exclaimed. 

Ed glanced down at his half-naked body. "I just had a shower. I don't feel like getting dressed.” Readjusting the towel wrapped around his waist, he looked back at Penguin with fake innocence. “Why? Does this bother you?" 

His hair was still damp from the shower, dripping water on his bare chest. Oswald was very wrong if he thought Edward would just give up and make this easy for him. Living together could be a punishment for both of them, and that was exactly what Ed intended to do. 

"Go get dressed, Ed," Oswald said unimpressed, and returned to the newspaper article he was reading earlier. 

Ed licked his lips and strode slowly towards Penguin. He learned in, making sure the older man had a nice view of his naked arms, shoulders and chest. "No," he said. 

Oswald put away the paper and eyed Edward with annoyance. "Parading your naked skin in front of me won't do anything for you. I don't care about that anymore." 

Ed looked him in the eyes, trying to read him. He seemed so stern and unshakable, it almost got Ed worried. Surely all the passion Oswald used to have for him didn’t just disappear! It was Ed’s best weapon against the man. He took a step closer, testing the waters. He wanted to make Oswald burn with desire, then leave him hot and bothered. Reject him, show him what he wanted but couldn’t have. He wanted to hurt Oswald, torment him the best way he knew how.

His fingers brushed against the fabric of Oswald suit, stroking the shoulders underneath. He still remembered what Oswald liked, all the little touches that used to excite him before, and drive him mad. 

Reaching down, Edward whispered, “You quite sure about that?” 

Their eyes met. For a moment it was like time had stopped. The corners of Edward’s lips quirked up in a triumphant little smile, but just when he thought he won the battle, Oswald pulled him over his lap in one smooth and surprisingly fast motion. 

“What the--?” 

"You misbehave, Edward,” Oswald said, voice even, unattached. “When you misbehave you get punished.”  

Before Ed could make sense of the threat, Oswald’s hand landed on his bottom, making his asscheeks burn. Edward cried out in surprise and embarrassment. Ignoring it, Oswald continued, slapping Edward’s bottom even when the towel around Ed’s waist started to slip. Oswald then smacked Ed’s naked skin, eliciting a loud clapping sound. It stunk and left an itchy sort of feeling afterwards. 

"What the hell, Oswald!" Ed looked over his shoulder, wondering if Oswald was enjoying this. But the look on Oswald’s face showed he was getting no sexual gratification out of the spanking whatsoever. If anything he seemed annoyed that he had to do it. That knowledge irritated Ed more than the slaps on his bare skin. "Stop!" Ed demanded, his dignity suddenly very bruised, much like his ass. 

Oswald relaxed his arms. "I warned you. If you behave like a child, I'll treat you like one,” he said. 

Edward pushed himself off of Oswald’s lap, holding the towel closely around his waist. "So you beat your child now, do you?” 

“When my child is a serial killer, I think I'm forgiven,” Oswald replied, unfazed. 

Ed pursed his lips. 

"Go get dressed properly for dinner, Edward. And don't let this happen again,” Penguin warned sternly and returned to his paper. 

Ed swallowed. Cheeks red with rage, he stomped back to his room where he got himself dressed, and then returned to finish his dinner silently.

Chapter Text

His new life was a nightmare. He was living in a funhouse mirror version of everything he ever wanted. Oswald made sure to distort even the smallest of Edward’s old wishes. Each happy memory was mimicked in a way that turned it dark and unpleasant. Slowly, Ed sunk deeper and deeper into a depression he had no desire to even try to get out of. 

Oswald watched him stir his cereal aimlessly. They’ve both been silent since they got down for breakfast. Just another distorted image. Edward used to love having breakfast with Oswald, enjoying their conversations and the time they spent together. Now he had breakfast with Oswald every day, but the essential ingredient was missing. They weren’t talking. They weren’t even sharing a companionable silence. There was nothing pleasant about their time together anymore, just two people forcing food down their throats so that they don’t starve. 

Finally, Oswald spoke, “You can talk to your friends, you know.” 

The words surprised Edward and he looked up. For a second he wondered what twisted game Oswald was playing this time. How would Oswald ruin his friendships. What was he planning? However, he didn’t want to give Oswald the satisfaction of showing his concern, so instead he decided on a snide retort. “So I’m allowed friends then?” he said pointedly. “Sorry, I wasn’t sure what was permitted and what wasn’t. Me being your prisoner and all.”

Oswald inhaled deeply, then let the air out loudly, not bothering to hide his exasperation. “You’re not my prisoner, Edward. I’m finally treating you the way I should have from the start.” 

“From the start?” Ed slammed his spoon on the table. “How is this fair! You treat me like a child! I’m a man!” 

“You’re 17,” Oswald corrected, slight amusement creeping into his voice. “That’s hardly a man.” 

Edward smirked sneeringly. “I was younger when you wanted to sleep with me!” 

That wiped the amusement off of Oswald’s face. Ed puffed his chest out triumphantly. 

“You’re not a man, Edward,” Oswald said, tiredly. 

Ed clenched his jaw. He just wanted to finally get a rise out of the older man. There had to be something to make Oswald explode! Oswald had a temper. Edward hadn’t seen it since they returned to Gotham. Even the spanking from a couple of weeks ago was something Oswald did coolly, distantly. It wasn’t right. Oswald burned on the inside. He wasn’t a cold and calculating person. Edward was supposed to be the cold one! Oswald was all passions and emotions, battling for control. It was unnatural to watch him behave so coldly now. 

“I’ve had sex, you know,” Ed blurted out. “I’ve had sex with Foxy. And it was good!”  

Oswald’s expression remained unchanged. “Having sex does not make you a man. Your actions do. The way you behave, that’s what makes you a man. You behave like a child, Edward, therefore, I treat you like one. Is that clear?” 

Ed pursed his lips, nostrils flaring. I could use some therapy from Lee right about now, he thought. For the last two weeks or so, he’d been either very irritable, or utterly apathetic. Lee definitely would’ve loved to help him with these annoying mood swings. She was so good with-- Oh, right. She was dead. 

“But to answer your question, yes. You are allowed to talk to your friends,” Oswald continued. “As long as you don’t mention your killing spree, or anything that happened in Metropolis. But I trust you, Ed. I know you can keep a secret.” 

Ed sighed. “You’ve no idea how I feel.” 

Oswald looked him in the eyes seriously. “You’re right. I don’t. But I’m done caring about it. I only need to make sure you’re well fed, healthy, safe, and behaving. That’s all.” 

Ed clenched his fists angrily. The fact that Oswald remained so unusually calm made him even angrier. “Where’s Zsasz, by the way? It’s not like him to ignore you like that. I thought he was the loyal one. And aren’t you two fucking now? Shouldn’t he pay more attention to you?” 

Oswald’s face did something Ed couldn’t quite read, but Penguin quickly got it under control. Something was definitely up, Ed thought. Perhaps Zsasz was the key to getting under Oswald’s skin? 

“I’m not discussing my love life with a child,” Penguin said firmly, ignoring the rest of Edward’s questions. 

“You can’t just shut me out!” Ed protested. 

“Just watch me.” 

“Oswald!” 

“What do you want, Ed? You’re back here for a reason, and that reason isn’t for you to have fun. This is not meant to be pleasant for you. It’s a lesson.” 

“It’s torture! You’re mentally torturing me!” 

“It’s better than prison,” Oswald retorted. “Or have you forgotten all the murders you’ve committed? Where do you think a person like that would go? You’re even past juvie at this point. Ed, you’re headed straight to Arkham!” 

Ed hated that he couldn’t really argue that point. If Edward’s actions became public knowledge, Ed was definitely going to be sent to Arkham. And he really didn’t want that. The Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane was a dark, dangerous place where violent lunatics did not get proper medical treatment. Instead they were locked up there to rot, tortured and most likely experimented on. Ed had heard the stories. He refused to ever become one of those stories.  

“Glad we agree,” Oswald said. “Now, eat your breakfast and do what other teens your age do. Study, hang out with your friends, stay out of trouble.” 

Sinking back into apathy, Ed continued to stir his cereal with a heavy heart. 

~*~ 

Talking to his friends, that Edward could do. When he first returned to Gotham, to the mansion, the one thing he was actually looking forward to, the only good thing about this whole bloody situation, was seeing his friends again. That was why he wanted to go to school. But Oswald informed him he’d be homeschooled instead, so Edward assumed talking to Ivy and Selina was out of the question. It was a pleasant surprise to hear that Oswald wouldn’t cut him off completely from the rest of the world, even if he did keep a closer eye on Ed than he ever had. 

Ed stared at his phone. It was 9 pm, rather late for a phone call, he thought. Even though they used to talk till after midnight before, Ivy, Selina and he, it was different now. He hadn’t spoken to them for more than six months. He left without an explanation, he didn’t contact them when he got back… Were they angry with him? He felt guilty, and he didn’t trust his voice enough to call, so instead he decided to text them. But what did one even say under the circumstances? 

Hi. I’m back in Gotham. Wanna hang out? 

Well, that wasn’t awkward at all. If anything it was too casual. Ed hoped they could just pick things up where they left off. He waited for a reply, staring stupidly at his phone. Ivy and Selina were important to him before, and perhaps being with his good friends again was exactly what he needed right now. He could hear Lee Thompkins’ voice in his head, encouraging him to go out, talk to his friends, embrace life. He had shut himself in his room for more than twelve days, wallowing in self-pity, suppressing his anger, being passive-aggressive, and… well, mourning Foxy. The pain from the loss of the boy he loved was still so fresh. Ed even dreamed about him. In Ed’s dreams Lucius held him tightly, kissing Ed’s forehead and telling him that everything was going to be alright. Ed wished he could believe that. 

His phone rang. It was Selina. Calling him! It took Ed by surprise, he had been expecting a text, and suddenly he wasn’t sure what to do. After a moment of hesitation, Ed picked up the phone. 

“Hello?” 

“Hello? Is this all you’re going to say? Hello?” Selina did not sound happy. “You disappear for almost seven months, you tall green idiot! We thought you were dead! Where have you been?” 

Ed chuckled. His eyes were suddenly watery and he wondered why. “I was… out of town,” he said, and let out a loud exhale. “God, Selina, it’s so good to hear your voice!” 

It was true. Hearing Selina scolding him, even over the telephone, made him feel less alone. And he couldn’t help but be flattered that she and Ivy were so worried about him, that they were thinking about him. He realized it was terribly vain and selfish of him to think about something like that at a moment like this, but their concern for him spread a pleasant feeling of warmth in his chest. 

Selina huffed on the other end of the line. “You know we’ve been worried sick about you, don’t you?” she said. “Ivy and I. Bruce too. We’ve been calling, we came to the mansion, and you weren’t there. All the information we got was that you were out of town with Mr. Cobblepot. We expected you to give us a call, or at least email us or something, but nope. You ditched us. And now you have the nerve to ask us to ‘hang out’? As if nothing happened!” 

“I know it looks that way, but I didn’t mean it like this, I swear!” Ed said, blinking rapidly. “I’m sorry I worried you all so much. I just-- Yeah, I wasn’t in Gotham. I couldn’t really get in touch…” It wasn’t a lie. “It wasn’t a pleasant trip, okay? In fact, it was rather terrible for most parts.” Again, not a lie. Lucius’ face surfaced behind Ed’s eyelids again and his throat closed off. He coughed to clear it. “Look, I can’t really talk about this right now. Please, don’t make me. I’m sorry about everything. I promise I’ll tell you what happened,” or at least some version of it, “but not now. I’d rather do that face to face. With both you and Ivy present. I don’t want to have to go through this story twice.” 

He wondered what Selina’s verdict would be. She was rather tough, especially when she was pissed. She sure took her time before she answered. 

“Alright. Apology considered for acception. But we’re coming over tomorrow. To… hang out .” She sounded amused when she used his own ridiculous text against him. They both laughed. Then Selina asked, “So are you okay? You don’t have to tell me what happened now but… I just wanna know. How are you?” 

“Well… I’m better, I suppose,” he muttered and quickly changed the subject. “And how are you, and Ivy, and Bruce?” 

Selina snorted. “Real smooth, Ed. We’re fine. Ivy has her own club at school now.” 

“She does? Wow!” Ed was surprised. Ivy was usually quiet and shy among people who weren’t her friends. “That’s brave of her. What kind of a club is it?” 

“It’s about plants. And ecology. Yep, our Ivy is going to save the planet.” 

Ed smiled. “I never doubted she would.” 

“So that’s new about Ivy.”  

“And you? How--” he cleared his throat again. “How are you dealing with Jim Gordon’s death?” 

Ed remembered how affected Selina was about it after realizing Jim was her secret benefactor. He felt like he had unwillingly wronged Selina when he took Jim from her. He never meant to hurt her this way but… in his defense, he had no idea Jim Gordon was important for Selina! People should wear a warning I’m a good person. Don’t kill me. Kill the psycho down the street. Ed rolled his eyes at his own thoughts. Was Oswald’s weird punishment beginning to affect him? 

“I’m fine. Well… I am still sad that his dead. But I don’t think that feeling’s gonna go away. So. I just live with it.” Typical Selina. “But I’m trying to work on my… I’m trying to become a better person. For his sake as well as mine.” 

“That’s good…” 

“Also I’m dating Bruce.” 

“WHAT!” Ed exclaimed. “You should’ve started with that!” 

Selina chuckled. “I guess. But Ivy is saving Mother Nature, and you disappeared for half a year. I’m just dating the handsome boy billionaire. It’s not that big a news.” 

“It is to Bruce!” Ed snorted, imagining how over the moon Bruce must’ve been when Selina agreed to date him. “I can’t believe you finally said yes! That’s-- that’s good, actually. Bruce is good for you.” 

“Well, it’s not like we weren’t sort of dating before.” Ed could hear Selina’s eye roll over the phone. “But it seemed important to him to ‘make it official’, so. Yeah. It’s official now. I even made him a t-shirt and everything.” 

Ed bit back his grin. “You made t-shirts?” 

“Yep. The B to my S.” 

“Excuse me?” 

“That’s what it says on the t-shirt. And his is: I’m the B to her S.” 

“Actually, I’m sure he’s wearing it.” 

“Well, it’s black, for starters. And he sleeps in it.” 

“How do you know?” Ed teased. 

“A gal doesn’t kiss and tell.” 

“Well, I’m glad you two are so happy.” 

“We are. I’m almost afraid of jinxing it.” 

“Change the subject then! Quickly!” 

“Alright. Is it true that you're homeschooled now?” 

“I didn’t mean to change it to something about me… but yeah, it’s true.” 

“Why? If it’s about Harvey Dent, he’s gone. You don’t have to worry about bullying or anything. Besides, Ivy and I will protect you.” 

“That’s sweet, but it’s not about that. Just Oswald prefers to have me around.” 

“What got into him?” 

Nothing. Ed suspected that was the problem. If Zsasz really was Oswald’s new boyfriend, then he was doing a really poor job at it. Had Oswald been at least a little bit happy in his private life, he wouldn’t have been that obsessed over getting revenge for Jim Gordon’s death. 

“It’s not a big deal,” Ed said. “It’s still the same boring material you study at school, only I go through it at home.” 

“Yeah, I wasn’t curious about your textbooks, Ed. I meant,” she lowered her voice, “What did you do? Is this a punishment for something, or did you want this? I don’t get it.” 

Much as he wanted to tell Selina the truth, Ed realized he was unprepared for that. He needed to get his story straight. 

“Look, Selina, I’d love to chat but it’s late and I’d rather we talk about this when we meet?” 

“Okay. Makes sense, I guess.” 

“I’ll see you and Ivy tomorrow? I’ll send the car to pick you up after school. How does that sound?” 

“Purrfect.” 

When Ed hung up the phone he really felt much better. He hadn’t talked to Selina in nearly seven months, but the moment he heard her voice it was like he never left. It was just the sort of feeling he needed at this point, knowing that his friends got his back. 

He smiled and glanced around his room. His eyes landed on his reflection in the mirror. One of his old bruises from two weeks ago was still visible. He swallowed. He couldn't meet Ivy and Selina looking like this! The purple-yellow color of the bruise under his eye looked terrible. He didn't want to have to discuss it with them. He had no explanation about it other than the sickeningly banal ‘I fell’ , and Ed would rather kill himself than use that one. He quickly thought of a solution and the only one he could reach was to cover the bruise with makeup. Of course, he had none, but Oswald on the other hand... Oswald used mascara for his eyes and his own bruises had seemingly vanished unrealistically soon. Oswald must have been using makeup for them. That was the perfect solution! 

Ed made sure Oswald was still down in his study, and then quietly sneaked into the older man's bedroom. Being in there again brought back memories. Good memories. Memories Oswald hadn't yet tainted with his revenge. Ed smiled softly at the bed, imagining himself lying on it with Oswald in his arms. Even if Oswald and him were practically enemies now, Ed couldn't help but feel warmth at the memory of their happier times. 

He allowed himself a moment of reminiscence before getting to work. His fingers explored the contents of Oswald's drawers, looking for a concealer or powder or anything that could do the trick. Lost in his quest, he didn't hear the distinctive footsteps from the corridor or the door opening until it was too late. 

"Why are you in my bedroom, Ed?" Oswald asked coldly. 

Startled, Ed turned around to look at him. "I was... Looking for makeup actually." 

"Makeup," Oswald repeated, taking a step closer. 

"Yes. I invited Ivy and Selina over tomorrow but my face... You don't want me to tell them how I got this bruise, do you?"

Oswald reached out with his hands, fingers ghosting over the bruise as if wanting to stroke it. He didn't touch, only hovered over the colored skin, then sucked in a breath and pulled his hand away. "You could've just asked. You know I appreciate my privacy." 

"I wasn't doing anything to your precious privacy,” Ed rolled his eyes irritated, “I just wanted--"  

"I don't want you in my room, Ed! Is that clear? You are not to come in here! Not without my explicit permission! Understood?" 

“Touchy…” 

Oswald sighed and waddled tiredly to his bed, sat down and looked at Ed expectantly. "Well? Come here!" 

Ed frowned puzzled. Did Oswald want to… recreate some of the memories Edward himself was remembering just a few moments ago? Not entirely opposed to the idea, Ed carefully stepped towards the bed. 

"Over my lap, Ed," Oswald corrected when Ed was about to sit next to him. 

For a moment Ed thought of straddling Oswald, just to irritate him, but the look on Penguin’s face made him think twice. He sighed. "Not another spanking.” 

"You deserve it,” Oswald said, voice even. “Sneaking into my bedroom to steal makeup? Could you be any more like a five-year old?" 

Ed pursed his lips. 

"I understand why you did it, Edward. But I want you to communicate such things, not come here to steal." 

"The Great Penguin doesn't condone crime, does he?" Ed mocked. 

Oswald paled. "I won't have any of your lip either!" 

"You bet you won’t!" 

Oswald pulled him over his knee and started slapping his bottom. It was a repetition of what happened in the dining room. When Ed looked over his shoulder again, he saw Oswald seemed just as unenthusiastic about it as he did then. It made him wonder if Oswald wasn’t hurting himself in the process too. The position they were in couldn’t be comfortable for Penguin. Ed's weight was practically on his bad knee, it was probably painful, yet Oswald kept doing it. Ed thought about that during the short punishment. Then Oswald let him go, silently placing his concealer in Ed’s hand, before dismissing him with a tired gesture of his hand, without even looking at him. 

Chapter Text

Ed flipped through the TV channels absentmindedly while waiting for Ivy and Selina to arrive. He wanted to distract himself from being nervous about talking to them again. He was aware that they were both upset with his disappearance so he wanted to make things right. 

As he switched through the channels he heard people talking about Penguin and stopped to listen. It was one of those ask-the-people segments where random citizens on the street got asked questions about a certain topic. 

“It was better with Penguin,” a man said decidedly. “At least he actually made a difference.” 

“I was very disappointed with Mayor Dent,” an old lady said. “To think what he’d done to his own child! I wouldn’t be surprised if he made that boy lie about Mr. Cobblepot’s son. The whole thing that happened before last elections could’ve been staged so that Dent would get in office. So sad to use a child like that!” 

Edward chuckled. 

“I hope Penguin’s listening right now because I want to say this directly to him,” a young woman said, looking straight into the camera. “I hope you run for Mayor again. Gotham needs you. Come back to us!” 

Ed’s jaw dropped at that statement. Did Oswald pay all those people or was this just the snowball effect? Oswald only needed to get one or two people to start the chain and then most Gotham citizens would follow and want him back. And with the lack of a better candidate Oswald had the elections in his pocket if he so wished. Unless he was only after revenge on Dent. But Ed suspected Oswald also craved the respectability one enjoyed from being the Mayor of Gotham. 

“Yeah, I agree with what these guys’ve been sayin’. Things were so much better with Penguin. Penguin for Mayor!” 

Ed chuckled and turned off the TV. So the plan was already set in motion. Ed wouldn’t be surprised if Oswald announced his campaign soon. 

The doorbell rang and Ed went to personally let his friends in. Selina gave him a pointed look for a moment before grinning at him and pulling him into a tight hug. 

“I missed you, you green dork!” she muttered, then pushed him over to Ivy who hugged him just as tightly. 

“I’m still mad at you!” Ivy insisted, squeezing him in her embrace. “Where have you been? Why didn’t you call?” 

Ed exhaled and smiled at them. “Better get inside. I’ll explain there.” 

They went up to Ed’s room, where Ed had already brought food and snacks in case his friends were hungry. Selina munched on some cookies, but Ivy refused to eat until she heard Ed’s explanation. 

“Right. So. First I need to say that I’m so sorry I didn’t call earlier!” Ed said sincerely. “I know it was a stupid thing to do.” 

“Very stupid. Not cool at all,” Selina added, chewing another cookie. 

“Yes, very stupid and uncool,” Ed agreed. “I really missed you very much, though. I can’t count the times I wanted to talk to you both.” 

“But you didn’t. Why didn’t you?” Ivy asked, frowning sadly. 

“After-- after everything that happened, the-- the murders… James Gordon’s murder, and-- and then Dr. Thompkins… I wasn’t really feeling very well,” Ed said, surprised at how unsure he sounded. He wished he could seem more confident but instead his voice was shaking. He cleared his throat. “I was really affected and Oswald was worried about my mental state. So he took me to a retreat out of town. To-- to cool down and relax.” 

Ivy and Selina both looked at him with wide eyes. For a moment Ed was worried that his treacherous shaky voice was working against him, but then Ivy spoke, “You mean, these last six months you were recovering? Taking care of your mental health?”  

Ed realized his own uncertainty made them feel more compassionate towards him, and that helped him relax a little. He nodded sheepishly. “Yeah, sort of.” 

Without saying anything, Ivy pulled him in for another hug. “I’m glad you’re feeling better now. Are you feeling better now?” She paused the hug to examine his face more carefully.

Ed swallowed. What could he say to that? “I think so.” 

Ivy exhaled with relief. “You know you can always talk to me, to us. Selina and I, we’re always here for you.” 

Ed smiled, fighting back tears. He never had such dedicated friends before. Why was this making him so emotional? “Thank you,” he mouthed. 

Ivy hugged him some more, like a mother would , Ed caught himself thinking. Strange to think of Ivy as a motherly figure, but Ed’s mind worked in strange ways. He let her hold him for a while, then the three of them laughed and eventually everything was back to normal. His friends forgave him quicker than he expected and Ed was really glad about it. The rest of their afternoon and evening they spent catching up, hanging out, and of course, Ed asking a few riddles. There was no escaping that, after all. 

~*~ 

After Ivy and Selina left -- they refused to stay for a sleepover, but promised to consider it for next week -- Ed felt so much better that he actually had to fight back the urge to go and thank Oswald for allowing him to speak to his friends again. Of course, his stubbornness and his pride wouldn’t allow him to actually show gratitude to Oswald for something like that, yet he went down to Oswald’s study to check up on him. Penguin was still awake, working in his office till way past midnight, and Edward’s curiosity couldn’t stand not knowing why. Even if he had his suspicions. 

He knocked on the door. 

“Yes!” came Penguin’s sharp voice and Ed popped his head inside. 

Oswald seemed buried in work, papers and folders scattered across his large desk. Ed looked at them with something akin to longing as he thought of all the perfect filing systems he could use to put this chaos into order. 

“May I come in?” he asked out loud. 

Brows furrowed, Oswald nodded absentmindedly. “Yes, yes. What is it?” 

“I just wanted to tell you that Ivy and Selina left,” Ed said. “I told them you took me to a retreat out of town to help me deal with my stress. They seemed fine with that story.” 

“Oh. Okay. That’s good,” Penguin looked distracted. His eyes traveled down to his desk again, and he bit his lower lip. “Is there anything else you wanted to tell me?” 

Ed shook his head. “No, no, that was all.” But he didn’t leave. He remained in the study, curiously eyeing all the paperwork, wondering what it contained. Was it all about Oswald’s new campaign? Was Edward right in his suspicions that Oswald wanted to run again? He had promised to himself to stay a silent observer no matter what happened, to not participate in any way. Yet he couldn’t hold back all his questions. Before he could catch himself, he was already babbling. “That’s a lot of paperwork,” he observed. 

“Hmm, yes,” Oswald agreed, inhaling deeply. 

“All of it waiting for you?” Ed inquired innocently. 

Oswald rubbed at his eyes. “Yes, of course. What do you want, Ed?” He didn’t sound irritated, only tired. 

“No, nothing,” Ed said quickly. He put his hands awkwardly on his hips for lack of a better idea of what to do with them. “Are you-- are you running for mayor again? Is that what this is all about?” 

The look on Oswald’s face, the surprised astonishment, made Ed almost regret he asked. But then the corners of Oswald’s lips quirked up. 

“I am actually,” he said. “How could you tell?” 

Ed felt pleasure wash over his body like a wave. It felt so good to be right! 

“I had my suspicions for some time now,” he replied, trying to sound casual. 

“What do you think about it?” Oswald asked, tilting his head. “Is it worth the effort?” 

Ed’s throat went dry. This was the first time Oswald asked for Ed’s opinion since they returned to Gotham. It shouldn’t have felt like such a huge deal, but after weeks of being treated like a kid Ed couldn’t help himself. 

“I think it’s definitely the right time for it. And you’re going about it in a really clever way. Dent is in jail, regretting he ever stood in your way, his supporters are utterly impotent to do anything about it, and the people of Gotham are practically begging you to return as their mayor. It’s the perfect come back!” He chuckled a little. “I can imagine a few fools that would eat their hearts out.” 

Oswald looked down at the floor as he too chuckled. For a moment it felt like… like before. No tension between them, no painful past. At this particular moment Ed had to put actual effort into reminding himself that he was supposed to be mad at Penguin. 

“Do you need help? With the documents, or the campaign?” 

Oswald’s eyes went a little wide and Ed instantly regretted his words. He went too far, didn’t he? Why did he have to ask that? It wasn’t his place anymore. He wasn’t supposed to want to be Oswald’s right hand man again, not after everything that happened between them. Was he really that bored with his schoolwork that he wanted to get involved in another political campaign? 

Oswald, too, seemed uncomfortable with the idea. Ed felt like he had to cover up his faux pas somehow, so he quickly added, “I only asked because it worked so well the last time, I thought perhaps--” he swallowed. “You know what, forget I mentioned it.” 

“You can work on the campaign if you want,” Oswald said hastily, rising from his chair. “I don’t mind.” 

Ed’s heart skipped a beat. “Really?” 

“Yes, yes, please, I insist. It’s-- you were good at it before. I think it would be good now, too.” 

Ed smiled, feeling appreciated again. “Thank you, Oswald. I’d be honored to help!” 

They shared an understanding look, and then Edward wished Oswald a good night. He went back up to his room where he lay in bed, grinning at the ceiling and feeling optimistic about finally getting his life on the right track. It was the first night since Foxy’s death that Edward didn’t cry himself to sleep. 

~*~  

The next morning Oswald woke up, feeling like a complete idiot. What was he thinking, allowing Ed to work on his campaign again! That was insane! He was supposed to be punishing the little delinquent, not giving him more freedom!

Last night was a mistake. Oswald allowed himself a moment of weakness. He was so exhausted and sleepy that when he saw Ed so bright eyed and clever with his little deductions, he couldn’t help himself. He felt that old sense of security around the young man, fell back to old habits. He wasn’t supposed to feel that way anymore. Ed was not to be trusted! Oswald had to be more careful not to let such slip ups occur again. It was important he had the upper hand. 

When Ed came down for breakfast, Oswald noticed the younger man was in a very good mood when he greeted him. Unlike usually, he seemed almost pleased to see Oswald, and there was even a smile on his face. Oswald swallowed and decided to go straight to the point. He had to make Edward believe he misunderstood their conversation from last night. 

“Are you ready for your new duties?” he asked out loud, making sure to sound professional. 

“Oh, yes! Definitely!” Edward grinned enthusiastically. “I got some ideas I’d love to share with you. I think you’re gonna love them!” 

Before Ed could get into the details, Oswald quickly cut him off. “That’s good, Edward, but I doubt it would be necessary. Interns have different duties, after all.”

Ed paled. “Interns…” he repeated confused. 

“Yes,” Oswald said, avoiding Edward’s gaze and giving his active attention to the boiled egg in front of him. “It’s what you are.” 

“An intern?” Ed deflated, looking rather heartbroken. 

Oswald looked up at him. “What did you think?” 

“I thought…” Ed cleared his throat. “That is… No, of course, I’m an intern. I knew that. I wasn’t thinking you’d actually let me-- An intern. Yes, that’s exactly what I thought, too.” 

Despite his words, the disappointment on Edward’s face was glaringly obvious. Oswald clenched his jaw. He was not supposed to feel sorry for him, Ed deserved this punishment. It was weird that Oswald wasn’t gloating about it on the inside, as one would expect under the circumstances. It was strange how sometimes revenge hurt both the one having to experience it and the one executing it. But Oswald was determined to go through with it, no matter what! 

“I think it might have a positive effect on you,” he said aloud. “Don’t you think?” 

Ed forced himself to smile, but it was devoid of the enthusiasm from a moment ago. “Definitely. I used to be the brain behind your previous campaign but… intern it is.” 

Nodding, Oswald returned to his breakfast. “Good. I believe there’s a lot of buttons, pins and brochures to be handed out. You can start with that.” 

“Sure. Handing out brochures. Perfect.” Ed bit his lip hard, thinking Oswald wasn’t looking. “I was your right hand man but now I’m… handing out pins.” 

Ed was bitter about it, that much was clear. Oswald looked at him calmly. “I thought you of all people would understand the reason behind it. But I guess not.” 

Ed frowned, curiosity piqued. “What reason?” 

“You know, you don’t have to do this, if you don’t want to. That’s not part of your punishment,” Oswald said, avoiding the answer. “There’s plenty of other interns.” 

Suddenly alarmed, Ed nearly jumped in his seat. “No! I want to do it!” 

Oswald nodded, quietly relieved that for now the crisis was averted and Edward did not question his weird change of heart, but rather accepted it. They finished their breakfast in silence. 

~*~  

Ed glared the box Tarquin Stemmel had brought for him. From Mr. Cobblepot, the nincompoop had said, looking rather smug. No doubt he was very pleased with himself for becoming Oswald’s right hand man for this campaign. He probably expected to be Oswald’s next Chief of Staff after Penguin won the elections. It was sickening. Tarquin was the sort of man that made Ed want to vomit. Extremely vain and full of himself, but terribly dull and stupid. Why would Oswald pick that idiot to handle his affairs, Ed had no idea. 

When Tarquin had the audacity to start explaining to Ed what was expected of him as an intern, Ed nearly lost his temper. 

“That’s fine, Mr. Stemmel. I can handle it,” he cut the man off with a condescending smile. “You better go back to your own work. I’m sure it’s quite challenging for you.” 

Not quite taking the offhand comment as the insult it was, Tarquin gave Ed a look and left. 

Edward took the box up to his room and examined its contents. If a part of him had hoped that the box was an elaborate secret way for Oswald to give Ed some more exciting work, he soon realized that was further from reality than Wonderland. The box was filled with Vote Cobblepot buttons and pins, and many, many brochures. 

Ed sighed. “What did he mean, there’s a reason for this?” he wondered, frowning. “Why would he want me to-- Oh! Could it be?” Ed grinned. “That clever old bastard. Well, I guess I have to do my part then.” 

Ed texted Ivy and Selina, asking them if they were willing to help him with his boring new assignment, then he put on his best clothes and went out to spread awareness to potential voters. 

~*~ 

“Seriously, why are we doing this? I can’t even vote. This is pointless,” Selina rolled her eyes as she handed a pin to an elterly lady. 

“Don’t say such things in front of potential voters!” Ivy reminded quietly. “Besides, I like Mr. Cobblepot’s stance on the environment. I’d vote for him if I were allowed.” 

“Thank you,” Edward smiled at her, knowing that her remark was meant for him. 

“Right. The thing is,” Selina smiled at some guy, “Here you go, sir! Vote Cobblepot!” she handed him a brochure and saluted, “The thing is,” she then continued unenthusiastically, “I don’t believe in any of this. People get elected, but in the end nothing’s ever changes. Nobody makes a difference.” 

“Well, Oswald did lower the crime rates,” Ed reminded. Selina gave him a look and he shrugged. “What? It’s true.” 

“Doesn’t change the fact that he lost the last elections.” 

“He lost because of me, remember?” Ed bit the inside of his cheek. He hated being reminded of his failure. 

“That wasn’t your fault,” Ivy said, tenderly. 

“With your experience, I’m surprised you’re doing this,” Selina said, tapping the Vote Cobblepot pin on Edward’s lapel, “rather than planning the campaign yourself. You seemed a lot busier with it the last time.” 

It was a painful subject, but Ed was doing his best to accept his fate with dignity. “Yeah, well,” he handed another brochure, “Oswald feels more comfortable if I’m doing this instead. He wants to… teach me responsibility, or something.” 

“You’re very responsible,” Ivy reassured. 

Selina smirked, “Despite all my good efforts,” she winked. 

Ed snorted. “Well, Oswald doesn’t agree with you. He thinks I’m just a kid, so he’s punishing me with this ridiculous work,” he groaned. “But it’s still good publicity. People see me handing out brochures, they see what a good son I am, helping good old dad with his election campaign. It’s good for Oswald’s image. Especially after what happened to Dent and Harvey.” 

“Poor Harvey,” Ivy muttered. “I know he was a jerk more often than not, but there was a reason for that. He’s unwell. And that father of his! What a monster! I feel sorry for Harvey.” 

“Bruce visits him regularly,” Selina said, eyes fixed on the brochures in her hands. “He says he’s better. At least, his father can no longer get to him there.” 

“That’s a relief,” Ed said, thoughtfully. He spoke from experience. Had there been a way for Edward to be safe from his own biological father, things might have turned out differently in his life. “How is Bruce, by the way? I haven’t seen him in forever.” 

“And whose fault is that? You disappear for months, what do you expect?” Selina scolded. 

“So protective of her boyfriend,” Ed teased with a smirk. “But I mean it. I expected him to talk to me, not… this.” 

“If it’d make you feel any better, he’s not avoiding you, Ed,” Ivy said. 

“No?” Ed looked at Selina questioningly. 

“Yeah,” Selina sighed. They took a small break from spreading out election materials. “It’s the anniversary of his parents’ death soon. He always gets broody around that time,” she explained. “I try to distract him from it but I guess I have to try harder.” 

Ed put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “Hey, if anyone can do it, it’s you.” 

“You bet!” Selina said confidently. “I’m taking care of it.” 

Ed chuckled fondly. “Good to know Bruce is in safe… claws .” 

They soon continued with their work and by the end of the day there were no pins and brochures left. Ed was pleased with a job well done. He couldn’t wait to tell Oswald. Perhaps then Penguin would finally give Ed a more suitable work for his capabilities. 

Chapter Text

Still rather exhilarated from spending time with Selina and Ivy again, even if all they did was hand out brochures, Ed headed for Oswald’s study to inform him of his progress. He knocked on the door and this time entered without waiting for permission. 

He found Oswald reading through a document with Tarquin at his side. The sight dampened Ed’s mood a little, but he put effort into keeping his face neutral and not roll his eyes at Penguin’s new assistant. 

“Edward, is this important? I’m swamped with work,” Oswald said, eyeing Edward carefully. 

“It rather is, yes. I’d like to tell you about my progress.” He glanced at Tarquin impatiently. “In private , if possible,” he added, hoping Tarquin would get the hint. 

“I should probably wait for you outside, Mr. Cobblepot,” the blonde man said. How did he manage to always look so annoyingly pompous, Ed could never understand. 

Penguin sighed. “Yes, please do. I’ll call you back when I’m done here.” 

Tarquin gave a nod and exited the study, not without being glared at by Ed in the process. 

“Seriously, Oswald, this guy?” Ed shook his head the moment they were alone. “What do you see in him?” 

“He’s nothing like you,” was all Oswald said. 

Ed furrowed his brows. “I’m confused. You hired him because he’s not like me?” 

“What did you want to talk about, Edward? Is it the brochures?” 

Ed decided to not annoy Oswald when he was already tired, and let go of the topic of Tarquin. “Yes. We handed out every last one of them!” he announced proudly. 

“That’s good,” Oswald said. “It’s very nice of Ivy and Selina to help you with that.” 

“Mhm,” Ed smirked, anticipating what was about to come next. “Annnnd,” he added, “I also figured out your reason to send me to do this job. It’s because you want me to get on the voters’ good side, isn’t it? So they can’t use what happened during the last elections against you?” 

“Yes.” 

“So, you see, I figured it out,” Ed urged again, a part of him waiting for praise. 

“Okay,” Oswald simply said. 

Ed frowned. “That’s it? Okay?” 

Oswald shrugged. “What do you expect me to do? Applaud?” 

“No, just--” Why was Oswald being like this? So… indifferent! As if Edward didn’t matter! “Just react , damn it!”  

Oswald arched an eyebrow. “Language.” 

“Fuck you!” Ed snapped. 

Oswald sighed. “See what I mean when I say you behave like a child?”

Ed glared and slammed his fists on Oswald’s desk. “I know I hurt you badly. I messed up. But I try so hard to do things right. To show you I’ve changed. I thought that maybe, just maybe , we could coexist without killing each other. Instead you just ignore me! You’ll never leave me alone, will you? You won’t let me be!” 

“I am letting you be. You brought this on yourself, Edward. Not me.” 

“You unloveable old fool!” The anger was back in full force. “You’re a vain little man who thinks he knows everything! But you can’t understand the simplest things! You can’t understand love! You’re so cold on the inside, Penguin , you’re like an iceberg! Even Victor Zsasz couldn’t stand being near you! Even he ran away from you!” 

“Are you done?” 

“Not quite! You’re gonna listen to everything I have to say!” Ed was so angry at the situation they were in, he needed to let it out or else that rage would suffocate him. “I bet you pride yourself at this new thing you’re doing? Being ‘cold as ice’? Not showing your emotions, thinking that would make you stronger! But do you know what’s sad about ice? It can’t feel anything! It’s dead on the inside. Just like you! So how does it feel, huh? To be that unloveable?” 

He noticed the little twitch in the corner of Oswald’s lips and he knew his words hit the mark. Ed was glad he could make Oswald suffer. If he could get a rise out of Oswald that meant he still had some power over the man. He still mattered! 

Despite the microexpressions Ed detected on Penguin’s face, Oswald still remained mostly calm. “And you think you understand love?” he asked instead of answering Ed’s accusations. 

Ed put his hands on his hips, challenging. “I do actually.” 

Oswald snorted. “Because of a few days of dating Lucius? Oh, please. You’re just as broken as me, Edward. You think you can fix yourself but you can’t. That sort of thing stays with you forever. Trust me, I should know. There’s no mending people like us.” 

Deep down Ed was afraid of that exact thing. That he was far beyond saving. That he was so damaged he could not be fixed. But he’d be damned to show that to Penguin. 

“Keep telling yourself that, Oswald,” he said with contempt. “You think like that because you’re alone. You’ve been alone most of your life. And maybe I’m alone too, but at least I had love once. Real love. Yes, I lost him, but I have my memories. Nothing can take those away from me. They will keep me company and warm my heart until the day I die. What do you have, Oswald? James Gordon pinning you against a wall? That’s not love. That’s lust! What Gordon felt for you was nothing but lust and pity! And you dare speak to me about love! You’ve never felt it, you miserable old fool!”  

It wasn’t until the words were out of his mouth that Ed realized he had crossed a line. He knew how important Jim Gordon was to Oswald, yet he still said what he said just to hurt the other man. Ed knew Oswald’s loss, he had felt it first hand. It was unfair to use that against the older man. But it was too late to take it back now. 

“Get out,” Oswald hissed dangerously. 

“No, wait…” Ed stuttered. “I didn’t mean to--” 

“Get out, Edward!” 

Hanging his head, Edward headed for the door. He stopped in his tracks before exiting the study. “I’m sorry,” he said softly and quickly slipped through the door. 

~*~ 

A few days later when Ivy and Selina came to visit they brought a guest with them. It was an unexpected but pleasant surprise. 

“Bruce!” Ed exclaimed. “So good to see you!” 

“Hello, Ed,” Bruce greeted. The dark circles under his eyes looked prominent, but other than that his appearance was impeccable. “It’s good to see you, too.” 

“Thank you. I’m sorry for disappearing the way I did, without a word…” Ed felt he owed Bruce an apology. 

“That’s alright,” Bruce cut him off quickly. “I understand. I hope you’re feeling better? Selina told me about the retreat…” 

“Yes, yes. I--” he chuckled, “I do feel better. No worries. It was the stress.” 

“I can imagine,” Bruce said seriously. “Both Detective Gordon and Miss Thompkins were such good people. They were my friends too. I will miss them very much. I miss all the people we lost…” 

Ed swallowed. So he had indirectly hurt Bruce too by killing Jim and Lee. Was there someone in Gotham who didn’t mourn the damn detective and the nice therapist lady? And, of course, Bruce meant his parents, as well. Ed knew the story. Everyone in Gotham knew the story of the Wayne murders. Death affected Bruce in different ways than it did most other folks. He was most likely reminded of his own tragic experience with every new person he lost, no doubt. 

“I’m sorry,” Ed managed to say. He didn’t think Bruce would feel comfortable to get into details about that, so he was mindful not to open old wounds. 

“Life goes on, doesn’t it?” Bruce said, trying to look cheerful and failing. “Anyway, I wanted to wish your adoptive father good luck. I was glad to hear he decided to run for mayor again.” 

“Oh, yes! That. Yes, it was a spur of the moment decision.” Ed had already learned the official version of why Oswald decided to run, so naturally he stuck to that even in front of his friends. “The people seemed to miss him, so he decided it was the right thing to do.” 

Only Selina chuckled at that remark. Ed suspected she knew Oswald was somehow behind this whole charade, but she was clever enough to play dumb about it. Ed appreciated that. 

“Anyone would be a better mayor than Dent Sr.,” Bruce said, not bothering to hide his repugnance for the former mayor. “But Mr. Cobblepot was a good mayor. I hope he wins.” 

“Thank you,” Ed smiled. 

Bruce’ peculiar mood made hanging out rather more awkward than when it was just Ivy, Selina and he, but Edward still liked the company. It took his mind off of other peculiar feelings that were in the habit of invading his heart and mind recently. Thoughts and feelings that made him feel guilty for too many mistakes he’d made. Yes, it was definitely better with Ivy, Selina and Bruce in the room with him. 

~*~  

When they announced the name of the new Mayor of Gotham, it came as no surprise that Oswald Cobblepot won the elections. Another landslide for Penguin! The crowds cheered happily, Oswald’s supporters celebrated loudly while the opposition cursed under their breath. Everyone was filled with some kind of powerful ecstatic emotion. Everyone but Penguin himself. 

Edward wondered where Oswald disappeared to after the small speech he made when he was announced the mayor. It was unlike him to not rejoice at his own victory. They didn’t talk much after their last argument, so Edward wasn’t sure what was going on in Oswald’s life. Yet he was willing to make things better between them, if possible. They were caught in a bad situation, almost equally to be blamed, but the more he thought about it, the more Ed was beginning to realize that it was him who planted the seeds for their misfortunes, not Oswald. So he looked for Penguin among the crowd of happy guests, until finally he found him in the most secluded part of the grand terrace of the mansion. He was all alone, champagne glass in hand, looking melancholically up to the night sky.  

“Mayor Cobblepot,” Ed said formally, clearing his throat. “Why so Shakespearian tonight?” 

Oswald looked at him like a man pulled out of his thoughts. “Edward… What are you doing here? Why aren’t you with the guests?” 

“I could ask you the same thing,” Ed took a few steps closer. “Why do you look so… sad?” 

“I’m not sad,” Oswald said, taking a gulp of his champagne. 

“No? You could’ve fooled me,” Ed muttered. 

“I’m not in the mood for this, Edward. Could you please just leave me alone?” 

He gazed into the night again and Ed pursed his lips. “You won’t tell me what’s wrong?” 

“Nothing’s wrong,” Oswald said, not looking at Ed. “I won. Like I wanted. I always get what I want, don’t I?” 

Something was off with the way he said it. But unlike usually, Edward couldn’t quite read him. 

“Oswald…” He trailed off. He was about to say ‘you can talk to me’ , but he remembered that this was no longer how things were between them. Edward didn’t have Oswald’s trust anymore, he had lost that privilege. He did not get to be Oswald’s confidant anymore, nor the shoulder Oswald could cry on. The thought made him a little sad and he wondered why. “Alright. Nightly silence it is then,” he said softly, reaching for Oswald’s champagne glass and bringing it to his own lips. 

Oswald’s eyes went wide. “What are you doing? You’re not drinking that!” he gasped, pulling the glass back to himself. “I don’t condone underage drinking! Especially not right after I won the elections! Are you trying to get us into another scandal!” 

Ed chuckled amused. “I was actually trying to get you out of your melancholia. Good to know it worked.” 

Oswald swallowed. “Oh.”

“Besides, I already had a little taste of the champagne in the kitchen,” Ed teased. 

Their gazes met and Oswald rolled his eyes with a small chuckle. “You’re pulling my leg again, aren’t you?”

“Oswald, you know I’m a model citizen!” Ed assured, lips quirked up. 

Oswald shook his head, but there was something akin to fondness in his expression. 

Ed looked at him tentatively. “So. Will you rejoin your guests? They’ll soon start wondering where you are.” 

Oswald thought about it for a moment, then exhaled loudly. “You’re right. I shouldn’t be here, on my own, the night of my landslide victory. It looks suspicious.” 

“Thank you.” 

“I just…” he looked down at his glass, twirling it between his fingers. “The last time I won the elections Jim was so happy… He-- he truly believed in me.” 

Ed swallowed. Foxy’s face appeared behind his eyelids again and he had to blink away the wetness gathering in his eyes. “Yes, I,” he cleared his throat, “I know the feeling.” 

Oswald opened his mouth as if to say something, but just then Tarquin showed up from the other side of the terrace. 

“Ah! Mr. Mayor! I was looking everywhere for you!” He said hastily. “There’s this person who wants to meet you. It seems really important.” 

Noticing Oswald’s annoyance with Tarquin, Ed bit back his grin. 

“I have the whole evening to shake hands with people. I’m sure whoever that person is, it can wait.” 

“It’s a Falcone, Mr. Mayor…” Tarquin muttered rather worriedly. 

Oswald and Ed shared a look. They both spoke simultaneously. 

“You should probably--” 

“I should probably…” 

Oswald gave Ed one last look and then hurried off with Tarquin to meet the Falcone. 

~*~ 

Don Falcone used to be the King of Gotham before he retired. A man of vision, who managed to control the crime families as well as the authorities, he had the entire city in the palm of his hand. Oswald still couldn’t understand why would a man like that ever retire but he assumed health issues came in the way. That was why he was surprised, and slightly concerned, that Don Falcone was back in Gotham, and at Oswald’s victory party at that! Was he here to take his city back? Did Oswald have a new enemy? He honestly didn’t want to fight Don Falcone. Not out of fear, but because he genuinely respected the man. He didn’t want to have to kill someone he held in such high esteem. But he would do it, if he had to, of course. This was not personal. 

He inhaled deeply as he followed Tarquin to the library where he expected to find Don Falcone. Instead of the familiar face of the old kingpin, however, he saw a young woman in a beautiful evening gown. She was very elegant, Oswald had to give her that, but he still had no idea who she was and why was he supposed to meet with her. 

“What’s the meaning of this?” he frowned at his assistant. 

“It’s Miss Falcone, Mr. Mayor,” the little weasel uttered. 

Miss Falcone? Oh, that idiot Tarquin! No doubt he heard the name Falcone and he got all shaky! 

“Leave,” Oswald gritted through his teeth and the young man was out of sight, closing the door of the library behind himself. Oswald looked at Miss Falcone, plastering a polite yet a little disgruntled smile on his face. “Miss Falcone. I was led to believe I was going to meet your father again. How is the Don?” 

Miss Falcone chuckled radiently. “My father is well, thank you. He speaks very fondly of you, Mr. Cobblepot. Oh, but no! I should say Mayor Cobblepot now, shouldn’t I? Congratulations on your victory! I’m so truly happy you won.” 

Oswald remained unimpressed. “I’m surprised you’ve decided to come to Gotham. And now of all times.” 

“Gotham is my home,” she said, heartfelt. 

“Never heard of you actually living here for longer than a week, but go on.” 

“It wasn’t my choice to leave,” she said with a sad look on her face. “I was taken away against my will. But I am my own person now. And I want to make a life here in Gotham.” Her gloved hand took hold of Oswald’s. “I expect you of all people would understand that. I know the stories about you! I know how deeply you care about this city. I promise, I harbor the same feelings for Gotham as you do. This is my home, in my heart, and I refuse to suppress that any longer.” 

Oswald pulled his hand away and frowned at her. “Miss Falcone--” 

“Sofia, please!” she encouraged. 

Sofia , you speak poetically, but I don’t have time for sentiment. Tell me why are you really here,” he demanded. 

Sofia smiled a little. “I just told you why. I want to be home again. I want to make a difference.” 

“Ah!” Oswald exclaimed. “There it is! You want to make a difference. What kind of difference exactly? How do you plan to change Gotham?” 

“Well. Charity work, mostly,” Sofia explained. “I know how Gotham’s poor struggle. I want to amend that. I have the money and the will, so I can do this! And that is another reason why I came here tonight, crashing your party.” 

He frowned. 

She inhaled deeply. “Mr. Cobblepot, I wanted to personally invite you to a fundraiser I am organizing. As the new Mayor of Gotham I believe it would be good for the cause to have your support. I am still new here. People don’t know me that well. They remember my father, of course, but I’d rather they know me for my own name and reputation. I’m sure you understand. That was why I was hoping for your public support. It would be very helpful to me. With your friendship, I’m sure I can do great things! And in return, it would probably be beneficial to you, too, to be seen with a member of the Falcone family?” 

“You’re here for… charity,” Oswald repeated, distrustful. He could not believe a Falcone would move back to Gotham without wanting to take the city for themselves. This Sofia must have an ulterior motive. 

“Yes. That and, um, another, more personal reason,” she glanced down at her hands. Biting her lower lip, she looked rather nervous. “I’ve always been privileged, you see. I can have anything I want. Anything money can buy. But… I’ve never felt happy. I-- I lost my mother when I was a young girl, my father hardly had time for me, other than to berate me. I love and respect him dearly, but he could be a cold man.” Oswald swallowed. Sofia continued with her confession. “I never felt like I was in the right place. I was always an outcast, alone against everyone. People I’ve never even met hated me just for being a Falcone. They threatened my life because they were my father’s enemies, but they did not really care about me. And those I called my friends were only with me for my father’s power and money. They wanted things from me, using me, they too didn’t care about me as a person.” She let out a weak sad chuckle. “I know those are such insignificant concerns compared to the suffering other people are forced to endure. But the truth is, I just want to be happy. And I hope to find this happiness in Gotham.” 

Oswald was silent for a moment, looking at Sofia with unmasked curiosity. She was not what he had expected from Don Falcone’s daughter. She was either a really good actor, or she actually meant all that. 

Oswald cleared his throat. “In that case, welcome to Gotham, Miss Falcone,” he said, shaking her hand. 

Whatever her game was, whether she was being genuine or pretending, it was wiser to keep Sofia Falcone close. He had to keep an eye on her, even if that meant sitting through a few extra boring dinners. 

Chapter Text

Edward was no expert in social interactions, but he was under the impression that things between Oswald and him were improving after the celebratory party. They didn’t have as many arguments as before, and their coexistence in the mansion became considerably more peaceful, so Ed felt rather hopeful. It was almost like what it used to be before Oswald found out Ed killed Gordon. However, that did not last long. What little progress they made was quickly undone the moment Edward asked to be more than just an intern. Apparently, he had misjudged the situation. It was too soon to ask for favors, because when Oswald heard the request, he instantly retrieved back to being distant and cold, and treating Edward like a child. No doubt he thought Edward being nice to him that evening after the elections was an attempt at manipulation. With their history together, there was little Ed could do to prove him wrong. Some wounds took longer to heal. Ed knew that better than anyone. He himself still had nightmares of Oswald shooting Foxy in the head. However, each time the dream changed a little. Sometimes it was like a slow-motion memory of what really happened that night in Metropolis. Other times it wasn’t Oswald that pulled the trigger at all, it was Ed. In that scenario Ed would stand behind Oswald, clasping his hands and aiming the gun at Lucius’ head before squeezing the trigger. The two then watched as the bullet penetrated Foxy’s forehead, killing him instantly. In any of its versions, the dream was just as terrifying, and Edward would often wake up in a cold sweat. He never told Oswald about this. He didn’t think he would care. Or even if he did, it would probably be to gloat, or say that it was exactly what Edward deserved. 

It wasn’t like Oswald had much time to discuss Ed’s dreams anyway. With his new duties as Mayor he spent most of his time at City Hall, eager to prove the people of Gotham that they made the right choice, that Gotham needed Oswald Cobblepot. Unfortunately for Edward, there were often events which he had to attend with Oswald in his capacity as the Mayor’s son. Boring events that Edward would much rather miss, but he didn’t really have a choice. Good publicity was important, and Oswald was very insistent on keeping up appearances and creating the perfect image of a happy family. To Edward it was almost degrading that he had to attend those events only to be photographed with Oswald and shake hands with a bunch of strangers who wouldn’t take him seriously and didn’t care about his real opinions. It was even more irritating to watch Tarquin parade by Oswald’s side as if he had all the answers. People listened to him, even though he was an imbecile. Ed’s hatred for the man grew stronger each day. He knew he’d make a much better right hand man to Oswald than Tarquin, but when he tried telling Oswald that, Penguin wouldn’t even hear him out. He even had the audacity to accuse Edward of trying his ‘old tricks’ on Oswald. The nerve of the man! 

On the bright side, his evenings were free. Oswald never took him to the long boring dinners that he had to attend, so Ed was grateful for that. He got the mansion to himself and was free to do almost anything he wanted, as long as he didn’t attract attention. Usually, he spent that time hanging out with Ivy, Selina and Bruce. 

This evening, however, he was alone. He took dinner by himself, enjoying the peaceful silence, then watched the late news before heading to his bedroom. He couldn’t wait to take a quick shower and curl up with an interesting book. Instead he found an intruder, lounging on his bed and waving cheerfully at him. 

“Hey, Eddie! Good to see you again!” 

After the initial shock, Ed gaped at the young man in front of him. “Jerome?” 

Jerome jumped off the bed theatrically and opened his arms. “I knew you’d recognize me! Give me a big hug!” 

Ed found himself pulled into Jerome Valeska’s surprisingly strong embrace. The ginger boy swung them around before letting go and grinning at Ed. 

“My, my!” he said, sounding impressed. “I never would’ve guessed this is how you live! Like a prince!”  

Ed took a step away from Jerome, frowning. “What are you doing here? How did you find me? And how did you get inside?”  

Jerome shrugged casually. “Wasn’t hard. There were pictures of you in the newspaper, with the mayor of Gotham. I put two and two together, Edwin Nashton ,” he winked. “So I decided I had to come visit my old buddy! I would’ve used the front door, but I didn’t want to alert your sugar daddy.” 

“Oswald’s not my--” Edward groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose. He imagined Oswald’s face if he saw Ed's ‘friend from Metropolis’ in his mansion. “You can’t be here, Jerome. Why are you even in Gotham?”

“I killed my mother,” Jerome said ominously. Ed stared at him, not sure how he was supposed to react to that, but then Jerome burst into jolly laughter and tapped Ed on the shoulder. “You should’ve seen your face!” He snorted. 

Ed rolled his eyes, annoyed, and pushed Jerome’s hand off of himself. “What’s wrong with you?” 

It was a rhetorical question but Jerome decided to reply anyway, “Where do I start?” 

“If Oswald finds you here…” Ed said, worriedly. 

“Relax! He won’t!” 

They heard footsteps near Edward’s door, and Ed let out a terrified little gasp. 

“Wow. Your old man’s got you on a leash!” Jerome murmured. 

“Get in the closet! Now!” Ed instructed. 

“That’s discrimination! I have a right to celebrate my sparkly gayness as much as any sod on this God-forsaken planet!” 

“Just, shhh!” 

Without further ado, Ed manhandled Jerome into his closet, closing the door quickly and throwing himself on his bed just in time for Oswald to open the door to Ed’s bedroom. He didn’t even knock these days, just entered like he owned the place. Which, technically, he did. 

“You’re not asleep yet?” he asked like one would a kid. 

“I was just about to get ready for bed,” Ed retorted, giving Oswald a defiant glare. “Why, you want to join me?” 

Oswald huffed. “These games may have worked a year ago but it’s all over now, Ed. I feel nothing for you. Nothing but resentment.” 

“Good. Feeling’s mutual then,” Ed shrugged, pretending the words did not bug him as much as they did. 

“Don’t stay up too late. There are rules in this household and I intend for you to be a good boy and listen. Or else, there will be punishment.” He let the vague threat hanging in the air for a bit and then left, closing the door behind himself. 

Ed exhaled, relieved that Oswald didn’t find Jerome, then he hastened to let the kid out of the closet, lest he died of asphyxiation or something. 

“Wow! Your old buddy’s kinky!” Jerome said impressed. “I didn’t picture you to be into the whole punishment thing.” 

“I’m not. He’s just being a dick.” 

“Hmm. He’s kinda hot from what I heard from this closet you locked me in, you naughty boy, you.” 

Ed tried not to show how unpleasant he found the thought of Jerome thinking Oswald was hot. 

“Better than the guys I had to blow or let fuck me back in Metropolis,” Jerome added, and Ed regretted his frustration instantly. 

“Do you have a place to stay?” he asked instead. 

Jerome shrugged. “Not really. But a pretty gal like me can always find a way.” 

“No. No more nonsense, Jerome,” Edward said firmly. “If you have no place to stay, you can stay here. For now. Just-- be careful, okay? I don’t want to have to explain your presence in the mansion.” 

Jerome arched an eyebrow. “Are you under lock and key or something?” 

“Or something,” Ed replied, not willing to get into details. “I’ll take the couch, you sleep in the bed. And tomorrow, we’ll think of what to do, exactly.” 

~*~  

When Ed opened his eyes the next morning he found an arm and two legs wrapped tightly around him. It was Jerome, snuggled closely behind his back like a particularly affectionate octopus. There was hardly any space for Ed on the small sofa in his bedroom, let alone the two of them together. Jerome was practically lying on top of him. 

“What the hell, Jerome!” Ed exclaimed, elbowing the soundly sleeping teenager in the ribs. 

Jerome awoke with a start. “What the hell!” 

Ed slipped out of the sofa, running his long fingers through his messy morning hair. “Why are you here?” he gasped. 

Jerome yawned and rubbed at his eyes. “You invited me, remember?”  

Ed breathed out sharply. “No, I mean, why are you here , on the sofa with me? I told you you could take the bed.” 

“Ah. That,” Jerome’s shoulders slumped a little. “Yeah, you see, the problem is, the bed’s too soft. It’s weird. Also it’s too big.” 

Ed frowned. “How is that weird? It’s the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in.” 

“Exactly. That’s what makes it weird.” 

Ed took in a deep breath, summoning his patience. 

“I’m sorry, buddy,” Jerome said helplessly, “but the last bed I slept in was moldy and creaky, and I had to share it with my mother. So. This comfy bed here was too weird. I couldn’t sleep.” 

Ed mellowed down when he heard the explanation. Jerome’s life was fucked up but it wasn’t his fault. It was natural to need a moment to adjust. “Alright,” Ed said with a nod. “We’ll figure something out then. Don’t worry.” 

“You’re a jewel. Do you know that?” Jerome grinned. 

Ed rolled his eyes again. “I have to get ready for breakfast. Oswald always takes breakfast with me. It’s sort of our thing,” he gathered his clothes in his arms and headed for the bathroom. “I’ll bring some food for you after he’s gone, okay?” 

Jerome nodded. 

“And… please, be quiet? If he finds out you’re here…” he trailed off. “Just be quiet.” 

Jerome shrugged. “Sure. I can be quiet. Quiet as a mouse.” 

“Riiight.” Ed bit back his lips. He wasn’t convinced. Jerome was anything but inconspicuous. He usually stuck out like a sore thumb. Still, there wasn’t much Ed could do about it under the circumstances so he went to the bathroom, used the toilet, freshened up, and changed out of his pajamas. He warned Jerome one last time that he had to be quiet, and then went down for breakfast.  

As he descended the stairs he puzzled over his own decisions. Was he crazy to let Jerome stay in Oswald’s mansion? Jerome was kind of a wildcard. Ed couldn’t really keep him under control, if he went berserk. He knew too much. He knew about Ed’s life in Metropolis, he even managed to track him down. Also he had witnessed Ed kill a man… It was dangerous to keep Jerome around, but it was even more dangerous to let him loose. It was better to have him stay at the mansion where Ed could keep an eye on him. Of course, that plan had its risks too. If Oswald knew about this, he’d outright kill Jerome, then punish Ed for his carelessness. Jerome was a loose end from Metropolis, there was simply too much at stake. Oswald would never risk compromising his position as mayor by getting dragged into a murder scandal. Not after the elegant revenge he arranged for Dent. He wouldn’t let the same thing happen to him. Yes, it was best to keep Jerome a secret from Oswald until Ed figured out what to do with him. 

“Morning,” Ed greeted. 

“Good morning, Edward,” Oswald replied, glancing up from his newspaper. “I hope you got enough sleep. What with your late nights.” 

Ed arched both eyebrows. “You’re one to talk!” 

“I’m a grown man. I can go to bed as late as I want,” Oswald said, unimpressed. 

“True. But there’s a price for that.” 

Oswald didn’t follow. “What do you mean?” 

“You look tired,” Ed observed, smirking internally. “You were never a looker, Oswald, but still. You’re the mayor. You should at least try to look your best.” Oswald glared. “Maybe you should slow down with all those dinners,” Ed continued, ignoring the fire in Oswald’s eyes. “Spend more time at home, with me.” 

It was a perfect case of two birds with one stone. Ed got to annoy Oswald by mocking his appearance (the thing he got bullied for his entire life), and at the same time make sure Oswald wouldn’t spend his day at home. Ed was well aware that if he asked Oswald to spend more time with him, Oswald would do the exact opposite. So he used that knowledge to his advantage to ensure Oswald wouldn’t get in Ed’s way while he dealt with Jerome. 

“I don’t expect a child like you to understand the importance of being in office,” Oswald said coldly. “I have work to do. And I’m sure you have a lot of homework.” 

Ed pursed his lips. The jab, expected as it was, still hit its mark. “I’ve done my homework already. I can spend my time doing something more meaningful.” 

Oswald put the newspaper down, looking at Edward with piercing eyes. “You already know the answer to that question.” 

Ed glared. “You’re seriously telling me that you’re happy with Tarquin’s work? Because I don’t buy it. You dislike the man as much as I do.” 

“He’s doing his best and he’s not that bad,” Oswald replied with a casual shrug. 

“He’s the worst!” Ed exclaimed, slamming his fist on the table. “Come on, Oswald, you know I’d be better at it! You have to give me a chance!” 

“You’re too young.”

“I wasn’t too young last year!” 

“And you blew it last year.” 

Edward’s eyes went wide. It was insensitive of Oswald to throw that in his face! “That’s only because--” Ed stuttered. “You know it was a set up!” 

“Don’t argue with me, Edward. You should be doing normal teenage stuff, so no, you can’t be my chief of staff. You’re not even 18 yet.” 

Edward flared. “Many teenagers make a difference! Age doesn’t stop them! Ivy, for example! She’s preparing a protest to save the environment and raise awareness! She’s going to change the world!” 

“Good for her,” Oswald said. “As long as it’s a peaceful protest, I encourage you to participate. But I’m not hiring you as my assistant again.” 

“I wasn't merely your assistant!” Ed exclaimed. “I was your right hand man! Remember how good that felt? Whatever happened between us, Oswald, one thing is true. We make a great team! And you know it.” 

Oswald paled a little but his face remained impassioned. He swallowed. “I indulged you back then. I felt… sorry for you. A lonely orphan with low self-esteem and social anxiety. I wanted to boost your self-confidence. That’s why I let you participate in my campaign. But I see no reason to do that anymore. So finish your breakfast and attend to your homework. That’s all that’s required from you.” 

Edward remained frozen at the table. Oswald’s words wounded him deeply. He didn’t believe them for a moment, it was obvious that Oswald only said those things to hurt him, but still it was painful to hear him say it. 

Oswald left, breakfast half-eaten. He wouldn’t be back until late that evening. Edward couldn’t afford to lose time on being emotional. He had to pull himself together and deal with Jerome. Desperate for a distraction, he piled up food on a plate and went upstairs. 

“I hope you’re not starving. I’m bringing food!” 

The room was empty. 

Ed frowned. “Jerome?” 

No reply. Jerome was nowhere to be found. 

Ed panicked. “Jerome? This isn’t funny! Come out!” 

He checked the bathroom, checked the closet in case this was some sick game the ginger clown was playing with him, but there was no sign of the young man anywhere. What was the meaning of this? What was Jerome up to? Did Ed fall for a trap? 

He wanted to break something, but then his eyes landed on a piece of paper on his nightstand. It was a note from Jerome. 

Hey, buddy! 

Do not be alarmed! I know you wanted me to be quiet, and I find the best way to be quiet for me is to not be around. So I went out for a little walk. See you soon. 

Jerome 

P.S. Any tips for sightseeing activities? 

Ed crumpled the note in his hand and groaned in frustration. Jerome always made things difficult, why did Ed expect it to be different now? The thought of Jerome set loose in Gotham made him shiver. He had to find the kid before he caused some irreversible damage and landed Edward in Arkham. 

~*~  

“You seem distracted today, Oswald,” Sofia noted with a small compassionate smile. 

“Oh. Sorry. I just have a lot on my mind,” Oswald muttered, eyebrows furrowed. 

Sofia scooped closer to him. “If you’re busy, you don’t have to do this.” 

“Nonsense. I like spending time with you,” he said quickly. “Besides, this new fundraiser is important to you, so as a friend, I want to help. And as a mayor , I insist on participating. It’s a good cause.” 

“And good publicity,” she teased. 

“Perhaps,” Penguin allowed, amused. 

Sofia chuckled fondly and pushed her hair behind her ear. Their eyes met. 

“You seem to have a soft spot for orphans,” she observed. 

“What do you mean?” Oswald asked a little puzzled. 

“Well, you’ve adopted one, for starters,” Sofia explained. 

Oswald looked down at his hands for a moment and chuckled to himself. “I sure did.” 

Sofia tilted her head curiously and put a hand on Oswald’s shoulder. Surprised by the touch, he instantly went rigid under her fingers. Carefully, Sofia rubbed her thumb into the fabric of his suit to ease him into the physical reassurance. He seemed unsure how to respond to this, so he only looked at her wide-eyed. 

“Is this about Edward? Is he being difficult?” 

Oswald glanced at Sofia’s hand on his shoulder, watching it slide down to his arm. He wasn’t accustomed to people touching him without the intent of hurting him. Sofia’s kindness was so out of his comfort zone that he felt awkward and confused.

“We all face our challenges,” he replied distractedly. 

“You’re being too hard on yourself, Oswald. Parenting is not easy,” she said gently. “You’re doing the best you can, and I’m sure you’re a good influence to that kid.” 

He swallowed. “You don’t really know the whole story…”  

“I don’t need to.” She finally let go of his arm. “I know you’re a caring man deep in your heart. I can tell. You’re like your mother. Right? You told me she was a kind and gentle woman.” 

“She was a saint,” Oswald nodded, his eyes glassy with the memory of his beloved mother. 

“Why don’t you see her in yourself?” Sofia asked. 

“Because I’m not-- like her…” he replied with a heavy heart.  

“Oswald,” Sofia’s smile was so warm, so motherly, “you’re more like her than you think. She lives on in you. Not just as a memory in your heart, but in reality. In your thoughts and in your actions. She’s with you. You’re not alone, you know. And you’re still her son. Growing up with such a lovely woman, there’s no way it didn’t rub off on you.” 

Oswald chuckled weakly. “I never thought about it this way.” 

“Well, maybe it’s time you do,” Sofia said confidently. “And maybe it’s time you start loving yourself. You deserve to be loved, Oswald.” 

Oswald’s emotions were all over the place, and he once again found himself unsure of how to respond. “Thank you,” was all he managed to say.  

“Any time, Oswald. What are friends for?” As if to prove her point, Sofia wrapped her arms gently around him, holding him in her embrace for a moment before letting go. “Now, shall we continue with the preparations?” 

A little stunned, Penguin followed her back to her desk and returned to work. 

Sofia had this strange effect on him. He couldn’t quite read her, which was both unsettling and exciting. Her entire presence was a contradiction. She was Don Falcone’s daughter, but she had no criminal ambitions. Instead she concerned herself with charity. She looked like a gorgeous ice queen, yet she was the warmest and most genuine person Oswald had seen in years. She puzzled him with her tender friendliness but at the same time she made him feel at home. Sofia was too many things in one and Oswald felt drawn to her. Especially now when he felt so alone and helpless in his battle with Ed. It wasn’t always easy being around the teen. There were times when Oswald had to actively remind himself what Edward did to Jim, just so that he wouldn’t fall back into old habits. Like that celebration after he won the elections. Talking to Edward then felt so natural and easy, Oswald almost allowed himself to trust the young man again. Which, of course, Edward instantly sensed and decided to take advantage of. Oswald knew that if he allowed Ed just one tiny freedom, if he complied to just one request, Ed would use that against him. And Oswald would be back to being under Ed’s thumb. He couldn’t let that happen, no matter what. 

If only he had Jim by his side, it would’ve been easier. Jim always gave him strength. Jim listened to him, understood him, and gave good advice. Sofia listened to him too. It seemed like she understood… Being raised in the family of a crime lord, she could even relate to him to an extent. She also gave good advice. Sofia was clever! And she had insight. She had a knack for these things. Perhaps Oswald should’ve been concerned but instead he was just glad to have someone like her at hand. He wanted her to be his friend like he rarely ever craved anyone’s friendship. And it seemed like he was gaining it. Sofia wanted to spend time with him, she actively seeked his companionship, and Oswald couldn’t understand why. There had to be some ulterior motive, right? Why else would anyone want to be his friend? 

“Something is still bothering you, I can tell,” Sofia said with fond amusement. “Talk to me.” He hesitated and Sofia’s face became more serious, more concerned. “What’s wrong, Oswald?” 

“Why am I here?” he asked. 

“To help me prepare for my latest fundraiser,” she replied. 

Oswald shook his head. “No. I mean, why am I here? Why do you want me around?” 

Sofia inhaled deeply. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that you’re asking me this,” she said. She didn’t sound nervous, more like resigned to fate. “I am a Falcone, aren’t I? Why would I want to be friends with my father’s successor? Well. The truth is, I’m tired of being defined by my father. I’m tired of people making assumptions about me and thinking they know me, without really knowing me. It hurts every time someone comes to me, wanting to gain my friendship, only for me to later find out they were using me for their own goals all along.” She swallowed. “I guess I’m drawn to you, Oswald, because you understand me. You understand how I feel, constantly being surrounded by people who-- who don’t see the real me.” She looked him in the eyes. “You see me, Oswald. Me, not my father. And that is… so important to me.” Her voice was shaking a little and she chuckled helplessly. “Look at me! I’m tearing up! So ridiculous…” 

Oswald shook his head. “No. It’s not ridiculous. It makes sense.” 

She smiled at him, her eyes still glistening with unshed tears. 

Overcome with emotions, Oswald reached out for her hand and held it. “It makes perfect sense, my dear friend,” he said heartfelt. 

Chapter Text

“Where the hell have you been!” Edward demanded when Jerome finally sneaked into his bedroom at 10 pm. “I spent the entire day looking for you!” 

“Well, I told you I was gonna go sightseeing,” Jerome replied, confused by the urgency in Edward’s voice. “Why are you so upset?” 

“Why! You’re asking me why? Jerome!” Ed gaped at him incredulously. “You can’t just disappear like that! What if someone saw you?” 

“I’m not a fugitive, y’know. I can go out.” Jerome muttered. “And I can take care of myself.” 

Ed gave him a look. “Your clothes are wet.” 

Jerome snickered. “That was an accident.” 

“What happened?” Ed demanded. 

“I went to an amusement park and I accidentally fell into a fountain.” 

Ed blinked. “Pardon?” 

“It was quite fun, really,” Jerome giggled to himself again. “This boy pushed me. Oh, it was an accident, of course!” he quickly added. “He lost his balance or something, I don’t know. I was rather distracted when he started apologizing. He has such dreamy eyes… I think I really gave him a scare, though. You see,” he leaned in to whisper as if sharing a great secret, “I can’t swim.” 

Ed’s eyes went wide. “You almost drowned? Jerome!” 

“Now, now, don’t get all worried over it! I’m all right, aren’t I?” 

“That’s debatable,” Ed crossed his arms over his chest. 

“The point is, my knight in black saved me,” Jerome grinned giddily. 

Ed narrowed his eyes. “I really don’t want to know,” he muttered. “You can’t go outside like that anymore. Oswald might find out. I can’t deal with that right now.” 

“I don’t get it. What’s the big deal? We’re friends, and I’m staying over for a couple of days. This is a huge mansion. It’s not like there’s no room for lil ol me.” 

“You don’t know Oswald,” Ed frowned. “We’re not… on best terms at the moment. He wouldn’t do anything I ask of him.” 

Jerome sat on the bed, crossing his legs and propping his head like a child ready to hear a story. “Why is that?” 

“You’re dripping on the bed!” Ed gasped horrified, and Jerome jumped up again. 

“Oops. Sorry,” he gave Ed an apologetic smile and quickly started taking off his clothes. 

Ed rolled his eyes and turned around to give the ginger teen some privacy. “Must you do this here?” 

“It’s just flesh. Who cares?” Jerome shrugged. “People get too bothered by nudity.” Soon he was wrapped in one of Ed’s green and purple robes. “You can look now. Such a gentleman,” he teased. 

Ed gathered the wet clothes from the floor and threw them in the bathroom. He had to figure out a way to get them cleaned without alerting Oswald. Olga usually did the cleaning for them, but she was loyal to Oswald to a fault. She’d know these were someone else’s clothes and she’d tell Penguin at once. Ed needed to-- 

“Helloooo!” Jerome snapped him back to the present moment. 

“What?” Ed asked irritated.  

“I asked why you and your sugar daddy aren’t on best terms? What happened?” 

Ed groaned. “Will you stop calling him that? That’s not what we are.” 

“How would I know? You never tell me.” 

Ed swallowed. “He adopted me. But I made things a bit… difficult for him. So now he won’t listen to me about anything. Including friends from Metropolis.” 

“Oh! So this is about Metropolis then,” Jerome smirked. “You’re worried about the murder.” It was not a question. 

Ed’s breath hitched. “What did you say?” 

“That guy in the alley? You’re worried I came here to expose you, isn’t it? That’s why you’re hiding me away from the world.” He chuckled again. “I should’ve known.” 

“That’s not--” Ed’s words died down in his throat. Jerome’s eyes were fixed on him, making him feel rather uncomfortable under that stare. 

Finally, Jerome snorted. “No need to worry, Edwin. I’m not here to destroy your life. I’m here to start mine anew.” 

Ed sighed. He was surprised to find that he was actually relieved to hear this. Not that one could trust words. And so far, that was all Jerome had given him -- words. 

“Don’t call me Edwin, please,” Ed said. “My name’s Edward.” 

Jerome gave an understanding nod. “Edward. Got it. I myself have been wondering if I should change my name, too. Jerome is fun but sometimes I get bored of it. Perhaps Jack… or Jill,” he snickered. “Maybe Jeremiah. Nah! That one’s too dull and unimaginative!” 

Ed inhaled deeply, trying to summon his patience. Jerome was an acquired taste. “Are you quite done with naming yourself?” 

“No,” the ginger teen pouted and Ed realized sarcasm went straight over Jerome’s head. At this particular moment, he seemed utterly consumed by the idea of names and nothing else. “I know I want it to start with a J,” he continued, thoughtfully. “I really like the letter J. Perhaps that’s what my name could be! Jay!” 

“Yeah, sure. Why not,” Ed shrugged resigned, and busied himself with tidying up his room. 

“But which one sounds better for me? Jay or Jerome?” he wondered again. “Let’s see… Bruce and Jerome sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. Or Jay and Bruce, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. Hmm, I like both.” 

Ed looked at Jerome wide eyed. “Why Bruce?” 

“Oh, that’s the name of the boy that got me all wet today,” Jerome replied casually. Then realizing his own double entendre, he burst into another uncontrollable fit of laughter. 

Ed tried to calm himself from the sudden dread he felt. No way Jerome met Bruce Wayne on his first day in Gotham. That was crazy! It was most likely some other Bruce. Ed really didn’t want Jerome to have anything to do with Ed’s friends in Gotham. 

“It’s late. You should sleep,” he said, interrupting the other boy’s giggles. 

“Oh, but I’m too excited to sleep!” Jerome insisted. “I feel like singing!” 

“Fine. Then stay up late. But next time you see this Bruce of yours you’ll look like a mess.” 

Jerome bit his lower lip. “That’s a hit below the waist, Eddie.” 

Ed shrugged nonchalantly. “I’m just making an observation. The choice is entirely yours.” 

Jerome sighed. “Beauty sleep it is then. Maybe I’ll dream about him tonight, who knows.” 

Ed sincerely hoped that wouldn’t happen, but he just needed Jerome to stay quiet, so whatever got them there was fine. They’ve decided Jerome would take the sofa this time, since the bed was still too comfortable for his messed up taste. Ed was glad to see the teen seemed comfortable there, snuggled in his blanket. Slowly, Ed relaxed too and soon they were both asleep. 

~*~  

Ed had hoped Jerome would leave Gotham by now, but unfortunately Jerome firmly refused. Apparently, ‘Gotham was his kind of city’ and he ‘liked it here’. Ed suspected this was all about Jerome’s new crush. No doubt that was the true reason why Jerome was so eager to stay and start his new beginning in Gotham. The sooner he got disillusioned about this boy from the fountain, the better. Ed was hopeful that wouldn’t take too long. It was just a crush so how serious could it be? 

In the meantime, Ed was glad to get out of the house. Oswald had given him the green light on helping Ivy with her activism, so Ed took advantage of that. As soon as Ivy asked him, he agreed to help her with the posters for her peaceful protests. Bruce and Selina were busy spending time together as a couple that afternoon, so it was just Ed and Ivy, hanging out and working on the posters. Ed enjoyed it. Ivy was pleasant to be around, and Ed got to use as much of his favorite color -- green -- as he wanted. It was calming to draw trees, flowers and suns, to color the shapes and watch the empty space under his fingers fill out with intricate ornaments. Ivy even let him add a few riddles to the posters so long as they weren’t too difficult and conveyed positive messages for the environment. Naturally, Ed quickly came up with a bunch on the spot, excited to write his own riddles. 

They had fun, filling the time with songs and conversation. Ivy told Ed her plans to get more people involved in her cause, Ed made a few helpful suggestions of his own, and on the whole they both felt very fulfilled. Until Ivy brought up a subject Ed was unprepared for. 

“You heard anything about Lucius?” she asked casually. 

Ed’s hand strayed from the line he was drawing and he frowned at the misshapen flower in front of him. He had to cover that up somehow to make it look pretty. 

“What about Lucius?” he asked, hoping his voice sounded natural. 

“Oh, right, you two had a fallout,” Ivy looked at him apologetically. “Sorry. I thought that was over with by now. I shouldn’t have mentioned him.” 

“It’s fine. We never actually fought. He just needed some time away from me. Besides, that was long ago,” Ed said, but his hand was clenching the marker tighter than before. 

“I only ask because of his grandma.” 

Ed nearly choked on air. “His grandma?” Foxy didn’t have a grandma, did he? He never mentioned her to Edward. Ed was under the impression Foxy was an orphan, like him. 

“Yeah, she lives in a small village near Gotham,” Ivy frowned a little. “Well, used to, at least. Bruce just found out that she died. She had a weak heart.” 

Edward’s breath hitched. “That’s so sad…” 

Ivy nodded. “She was a nice old lady too. I met her! She came looking for Lucius the other week.” 

Ed felt sick as he imagined Foxy’s grandmother, looking for her dead grandson, unaware that she’d never see him again. It was a haunting image in his head. 

“I guess he never told her he left Gotham,” Ivy added. “I wonder why.” 

There was a lump in Ed’s throat. “Foxy left Gotham?” he said, trying to sound surprised. He had to play his part. He couldn’t give Ivy reasons to suspect Ed had something to do with all this. 

Ivy tilted her head. “We never told you, did we? He left around the time you disappeared. Pulled out of school and everything.” 

“Oh.” 

“He was excited about an internship somewhere.” She clapped her hands. “Perhaps that’s why he didn’t say anything to his grandma! He probably wanted to surprise her. He loved her so much. She was his only living relative.” 

Ed swallowed. Cold sweat was budding on his forehead. “What did you tell her?” 

“Not much,” Ivy sighed. “Only what he told me about his internship the last time I saw him.” 

“When was that?” He internally cursed himself. His questions sounded too much like an interrogation. Luckily for him, Ivy didn’t think of it that way. 

“Oh, it was… I don’t know, maybe four months ago? He was here for some final exams. That was the last time I saw him.” She tilted her head a little, giving Ed a curious look. “He asked about you, y’know. I told him we had no idea where you were, and he said you probably needed some time away. I guess he really knows you well, because it turns out that wasn’t far from the truth,” she chuckled, but when Ed remained quiet, her amusement died down. “Are you sure you have no feelings for him? He seems so fond of you, and he’s a really nice guy. You’d be good together.” 

Ed wanted to scream. “You can’t force certain things,” he said. Why wouldn’t Ivy just drop it? 

Ivy nodded. “Yeah, that’s true…” She returned to the poster she was working on. “I didn’t mean to upset you, Ed.” 

“You didn’t. I’m fine.” 

“Are you sure?” 

“Yep. Absolutely.” Ed forced a smile to his face to reassure her. The last thing he needed right now was for Ivy to get suspicious. 

“He asked about Mr. Cobblepot, too,” Ivy continued. “He was disappointed when I told him he was out of town.” 

Ed paled. Was Foxy planning to get revenge on Oswald for Ed, without telling him?

Ivy shook her head. “Anyway, that internship he mentioned must’ve been pretty tough, if he couldn’t even find time to call his grandma. She was so worried, poor thing! She said he used to call every week at least, and then suddenly radio silence. Very unusual.” 

“Well, maybe he was really busy,” Ed mumbled under his breath. 

“Maybe. But he should’ve made time for her. Stressing out about him like that, her heart probably couldn’t take the pressure.”  

The heavy feeling in Ed’s chest grew more prominent. He was indirectly responsible for this sweet old lady’s death too. The stress from her grandson’s sudden disappearance no doubt affected her health. Perhaps it was for the best that she passed away before learning the truth. At least that way she was spared the heartbreak of seeing her grandson dead. Not that she would actually see the body. Zsasz had made it disappear. It was the one murder that had to stay undiscovered. Lucius’ connection to Edward and Oswald would’ve brought unwanted attention to them, so instead Zsasz turned him into a ghost. From what little information Edward managed to gather, a fake resignation had been handed over to S.T.A.R. Labs to avoid suspicion. Foxy had no friends in Metropolis, so that made things easier, and now with his grandmother dead, there was no one left to ask questions about him. Foxy was more or less swallowed into oblivion. Almost as if he never existed. The thought was unsettling for Edward. Foxy deserved to be remembered! He’d done so much! He was a good, clever man with a promising future ahead of him! 

“I wonder if Lucius will attend the funeral,” Ivy’s voice pulled him out of his thoughts.  

Ed tried to act nonchalant. “I wouldn’t know. I had no idea he even had a family.” 

“Just his grandma. She raised him.” 

Ivy knew more about Foxy’s family situation than Ed ever did. He claimed to love Foxy but he was completely ignorant about Foxy’s life outside Edward. The bitter truth was, he never asked about it. Always too busy swamping poor Foxy with his own problems to ever be bothered to ask about Foxy’s life, hopes or dreams. All those things Foxy gave up for Edward. Ed was aware, theoretically, that Lucius made a sacrifice when he left Gotham with him, but never before had he realized what that sacrifice truly meant. Foxy had to part with his only family, say goodbye to his friends in Gotham, his dreams, his plans for the future, all because Edward showed up at his door and begged him to take him away. Foxy never made a big deal out of it, so they both just pretended Ed’s request was nothing out of the ordinary. As if people left their entire lives behind for a relatively close friend they had a crush on all the time. But the truth was, they didn’t. Foxy was an exception, and Ed never truly appreciated that until it was too late. 

He hesitated, unsure if he should even ask that. Lowering his head as if concentrating on the flower he was drawing, he finally said, “When, umm, when is the funeral? Do you know?” 

Ivy shrugged thoughtfully. “It was sometime next week. But you should ask Bruce. He took this whole thing very close to heart. He knows for sure.” she frowned a little. “Do you think we should attend? As Lucius’ friends?” 

Ed swallowed, mouth dry. “Oh, I don’t think we should,” he said, shaking his head. “It is a family matter, and Foxy didn’t invite us, so--” 

“But that’s just it,” Ivy interrupted him. “We don’t even know if Lucius knows about this. He hasn’t been in touch with his grandma for weeks. What do you suppose happened to him?” 

“Umm, I-- I don’t know.” It was getting considerably more difficult to breathe. “Can we open a window, perhaps?” he asked, pulling a little at the collar of his shirt. “It’s-- it’s a bit stuffy in here, isn’t it?” 

Ivy nodded silently and opened the window since she was closer to it. “You okay, Ed?” 

“Right as rain,” Ed insisted. 

Ivy’s hand found his. Their eyes met and he saw the compassion in her gaze. “I understand what’s happening, Ed. You don’t need to hide from me.” 

His eyes went a little wide. “You understand?” he asked sheepishly. 

Ivy nodded with a soft smile. “Yes, of course. I feel the same way, too. Lucius was a good friend. Learning about his grandmother’s passing, knowing how upset he’d be when he hears about it, of course it upsets us too.” 

Ed swallowed around the growing lump in his throat. “Right. Yeah, it’s only natural.”

“So don’t feel like you can’t talk to me about it. Okay? I’m here for you, Ed,” she gave his hand a gentle squeeze. 

Oh boy. Ed suppressed a sigh and forced himself to smile at his friend. “Thanks, Ivy. You’re the best.” 

Ivy smiled back and then returned to her work on the poster. “We should get Bruce to open up too,” she continued conversationally. “He’s always suppressing his emotions, and that’s not healthy.” 

Ed nodded. “We should definitely get him to open up, yeah,” he agreed, glad to have the conversation stirred away from his own feelings. It was better if they discussed Bruce instead. 

They talked a bit more about the boy billionaire, then eventually Ivy changed the subject to something less depressing. Edward had to pretend he was mostly fine, so he went on painting ornaments around his riddles for the posters, keeping his eyes cast down. He was afraid if he looked up at Ivy, she’d know . She’d know everything that was going on in his heart right now, and he wasn’t ready to show it to anyone. He wasn’t sure he was ready to see it himself. It was a lot to process. Not just the death of Foxy’s grandmother, but also the fact that Foxy had a grandmother to begin with. This struck Edward to his very core because… well, Lucius never mentioned her. Why would he not mention the most important woman in his life? Unless he didn’t want Edward to feel bad for asking Foxy to leave her. 

Just as he didn’t want to upset Edward by mentioning Gotham. He knew Gotham was a sensitive topic for Edward, so he made sure to return and sort out his affairs without dragging Ed into it. It was very thoughtful, as usual. The amount of care Foxy had put into Edward’s emotional wellbeing was overwhelming. It made Ed wonder if Lucius was ever going to talk to him about the sacrifices he’d made for Ed. Although he already had his answer. Foxy was a humble guy. He was a giver, who wouldn’t even mention his own grandma in case it made Ed feel bad. The more he thought about it, the more Ed realized how selfish he was with Lucius. Why else would he not take any interest in Foxy’s life, or Foxy’s feelings. In retrospect, there was a glaring lack of reciprocity in their relationship. Foxy had always been there for Ed, but was Ed there for Foxy? No. Ed only received what Foxy offered to him, without giving anything in return. The realization was like a punch in the gut and Ed had to wonder if what he felt for Foxy was even love, or had he merely enjoy having someone’s unconditional love all to himself? How much of Ed’s feelings were true, and how much were a result of his ego being stroked? 

It scared him to question himself like that. He wasn’t sure he liked the answers his mind was offering. He felt something akin to guilt and he was not fond of that feeling either. The tightness around Ed’s throat got worse and Ed had to blink away the tears that were beginning to prickle his eyes. He didn’t want to let Ivy see him like this, yet he couldn’t just leave. That would be too suspicious. Besides, he promised to help her with this. He had to finish up with Ivy and the posters, and not dwell on his disturbing thoughts anymore. At least not for now. He was sure there would be plenty of time to overthink this later.  

~*~ 

When he returned home, he wasn’t in a mood for Jerome’s antics, so it was a small mercy that the other boy wasn’t back yet from wherever it was that he went to. Oswald, however, was home, and Ed thought this was a good time to make one important request. A request Oswald had to honor! 

“I’m going out. Don’t wait up,” Oswald said on his way to the door. “Olga will prepare dinner for you, as usual.” 

“Oswald, wait!” Ed hurried after him. “We need to talk.” 

“Can it wait? I’m busy.” 

“No, it can’t wait. This is important,” Ed insisted. 

Oswald seemed irritated and Ed used the moment to take a good look at the older man. 

“Is this a new suit? It’s very elegant.” Being the mayor again must’ve boosted Oswal’s vanity. He had definitely put an effort. 

Oswald was a little flustered as he glanced down at his clothes as if he had forgotten what he had put on. “This? No. No, just-- I haven’t worn it in a while.” 

The corners of Ed’s lips quirked up in amusement. “Mhm.” 

Oswald fidgeted a little. “I should go. I don’t want to be late.”  

“Of course not. The Mayor of Gotham is very punctual. But I need to ask you something important.” He swallowed. “Please.” 

Oswald’s hand halted on the door handle. “Make it quick.” 

Ed felt inexplicable anxiety as he made his request. “I just found out Foxy had a grandmother. However, she recently died and I-- I want to attend her funeral.” 

Oswald stared at him for a moment. “Is that all?” 

Ed nodded. 

“That was the important thing that couldn’t wait?” 

Ed exhaled. “It may not be important to you, Oswald, but it is important to me.” 

“We’ll talk about this when I get back. Or better still, tomorrow.” 

“But--” Ed protested. 

“Goodnight, Edward.” 

And just like that Oswald was gone. Edward was hit with a deafening silence he was unprepared for. He felt so utterly alone, it was ridiculous. There was heaviness in his chest, weighing on him, choking him. His eyes were soon wet with tears, he realized he was on the verge of a mental breakdown, and he didn’t know what to do. The horrible feeling of hopelessness wouldn’t leave no matter how hard he tried to distract himself. He was grateful he was alone in the mansion, with only Olga and the gardner somewhere in the servants’ quarters. They wouldn’t bother him unless he called for them, which he had no intention of doing. Having other people around would make Ed put on a mask, pretending he was fine, and that was too exhausting. He had no strength to do that now. 

He decided to skip dinner, and wait for Oswald to return. Oswald may be ignoring the importance of this whole thing, but to Edward it mattered, and he was not going to let it go that easily. He owed it to Lucius. 

Chapter Text

Edward nearly fell asleep on the couch while waiting for Oswald. It was weird that Penguin wasn’t home yet. Usually, those dinners didn’t take that long. Oswald cut them short most of the time anyway, because he despised them as much as Ed did. They were useless and irritating, so why would Oswald waste his time with them? He should’ve been back by now, but instead it wasn’t until after 3 am when Ed finally heard the front door open. Oswald was sneaking into his own mansion like a teenager and Edward would’ve thought it amusing if it wasn’t too suspicious. Something was up with Oswald these days, and Edward had no idea what. 

Ed leaned on the doorframe and watched as Oswald quietly headed for the stairs. “That was one hell of a long work dinner,” he noted, startling the kingpin. 

“Edward!” Oswald turned around hastily, visibly surprised. “What are you doing still awake? Did something happen?” 

Ed crossed his arms over his chest. “Oh, I don’t know. Did something happen?”

Oswald frowned. “What do you mean?” 

“You were gone for so long,” Ed elaborated. “I assumed something happened.” 

Oswald gave him an exasperated look. “I am a grown man, Edward. I can stay out past midnight.” 

“It’s actually closer to morning now than it is to midnight, but I’ll let it slide.” 

Oswald rolled his eyes. 

“You must admit this is unusual. I have a right to worry. So explain. What took so long?” Ed insisted. 

Oswald instantly took a defensive stance. “I don’t have anything to explain to you . As my adoptive son you were supposed to be asleep in your bed by now. So why aren’t you?” 

“Guess we’re both not doing what we’re supposed to.” 

Oswald pinched the bridge of his nose. “What do you want, Edward?” 

“I told you what I want right before you blew me off to go to a party!” 

“It wasn’t a party--” 

“I want to go to that funeral, Oswald. You said we’ll talk about it later.”  

“Or tomorrow. I said, or tomorrow!” 

“Technically it already is tomorrow, so let’s talk.”  

Oswald took off his tailcoat jacket and threw it over the stair rail, then crossed his arms over his chest and fixed Ed with a stare. “Fine. Let’s talk. You want to go to the old lady’s funeral. So what do you want me to do? Give you permission?” 

“Isn’t that how things work with us now? Me asking you permission about everything?” 

Oswald huffed. “I can’t deal with that now, Edward.” 

He was about to ascend the stairs but Edward stood in his way. 

“No. We’ll deal with it now. I’m not letting you slip away from me again.” 

Oswald furrowed his brows. “What are you--”

“This isn’t about me this time,” Ed said urgently. “I’m not trying to manipulate you, Oswald, I just want to do something right.” 

Penguin looked at him for a long moment and then burst into laughter. “You actually believe that you’re being selfless here? By attending this old lady’s funeral?” 

“I am,” Edward insisted, a little taken aback by Oswald’s reaction. 

“Oh, Ed. You’re fooling yourself.” Oswald leaned in closer tauntingly. “Tell me. Did you even know Lucius’ grandmother existed before yesterday?” Ed’s silence, charged with guilt, was all the answer Oswald needed. He smirked. “That’s what I thought. You never even asked Lucius about his family, didn’t you? That’s because you always want things your way and you never care how many hearts you break in the process! As long as you get what you want!” 

Edward swallowed. 

“You claim Foxy was the love of your life? Well, think again. You don’t even know basic facts about him. About his life. I knew he had a grandmother. I even sent Zsasz’ men to make sure she was alright. I did my background check on Foxy long ago, and I wouldn’t let a sweet innocent old lady suffer because of our actions, Edward. We hurt people. We’re like an earthquake, we bring destruction wherever we go.” 

Ed clenched his fists. It was hurtful to hear the words mostly because he knew Oswald had a point.  

“You think attending one funeral would make it all better? Would suddenly clear your conscience?” Oswald continued, ignoring Edward’s obvious raging emotions. 

“That’s not why I--” 

“You may lie to yourself, Ed, but you can’t lie to me. I know you. I know you better than you know yourself.” Penguin’s eyes were intense on Edward. “You couldn’t do anything for Lucius while he was alive, so you hope to make up for that by attending to his beloved grandma. But guess what, Ed. She’s dead. Nothing can change that. Actions have consequences. And you’re gonna have to live with yours!” 

Edward’s hands were shaking. He quickly hid them behind his back, not wanting Oswald to see. 

Oswald deflated, looking tired. “Now I’m going to bed. You should do the same.” He walked past Ed and started climbing the stairs. “You have my permission.” 

Ed got what he wanted -- Oswald agreed to let him attend the funeral. But somehow getting his way this time didn’t feel like the victory Ed expected. 

~*~ 

Edward was different after the old lady’s funeral. Surprisingly morose. He hadn’t been this quiet since the first days after the adoption. It must’ve been a new game, deployed to confuse Oswald, or make him believe that Edward had changed. Of course, Oswald knew better than to fall for that. Edward was still the same old manipulative and calculating teen he used to be back when he murdered Jim in cold blood. No amount of old ladies’ funerals and displays of regret would change that. Oswald was no fool. However, he had to admit that Edward was indeed a good actor. It was so realistic when Ed said he felt truly bad about Mrs Fox’ death, that he felt indirectly responsible and wished he could’ve done something about it. It was a touching speech, but Oswald had to be an idiot to fall for that sort of thing again. He had learned his lesson, and no longer put certain people on pedestals. Not Ed, not even Jim. He favored a more realistic approach these days, and that helped him a lot when he met Sofia Falcone. 

Sofia was so thoughtful and kind, she reminded Oswald of his mother. Being around her felt good. There was a certain type of warmth that radiated from her that Oswald felt drawn to. Not romantically, but emotionally. So he accepted Sofia’s friendship and her kindness. In a few moments of weakness, he even allowed himself to be vulnerable in her presence, opening up to her as a friend. He enjoyed her company, indulged in late night conversations in front of the fireplace, consulted her about life and work. But he rarely let his guard down completely, keeping in mind that all this might be fake. He had always been a distrustful person. People usually showed him their worst sides, so that was all Oswald knew. Having someone show him genuine kindness was so new and unfamiliar to him that he had no idea how to respond to it. Thus Sofia’s behavior often confused him. Charming and kind, caring and intelligent, she would’ve seemed almost perfect in his eyes, if it wasn’t for Oswald’s bitter experience with ‘almost perfect’ people. He no longer wanted ‘almost perfect’. He wanted flawed. He wanted damaged. He wanted wrecks. At least then he knew they were like him, that they weren’t pretending. He needed someone as broken as himself to feel truly comfortable. Perhaps that was why he felt an instant connection with Martin. 

Martin was 10. He was this mute kid in Sofia’s orphanage, no parents, no friends, highly intelligent and very resourceful. Oswald saw himself in that kid. Only Martin was less shy. When he got bullied by the other children, he didn’t hide and cry like Oswald used to do. He was decisive, matches in hand and ready to burn his bullies’ bags in retaliation. Of course, that was no solution to his problems, and Oswald made sure to tell him so. He helped the kid devise a better plan to get revenge on his juvenile tormentors. Martin was a quick study, and he definitely had a knack for it. 

Over the next couple of days, the two formed an unlikely friendship. Oswald was like a mentor to the kid, teaching him things that were never taught in school, but vital if one wanted to survive in Gotham. Everso curious, Martin soaked everything up like a sponge. He seemed very fond of his new co-conspirator, as they started calling one another. Despite his best efforts, Oswald felt attached to the boy too, so whenever Sofia was busy with her charities, he would spend time with Martin.

He had never felt like a father before. Edward was never like a son to him. Martin, on the other hand, was. Oswald wanted to protect the boy, to an extend when crazy ideas were passing through his head. Ideas like, maybe he could adopt Martin for real. Take care of him. Teach him more. Maybe, he could be a real father to that boy. Wouldn’t that be something? 

 ~*~ 

Jerome gave Ed an appreciative look. “Green looks good on you,” he said. “Where are you going? On a date with your Mr. Foxy?” 

Ed instinctively clenched his fists at the mention of Foxy, but quickly regained his composure. Jerome had no idea what happened to Lucius, and Ed wanted to keep it that way. 

“Him and I broke up,” he announced. “And I’d rather forget about the whole thing, if you don’t mind. So no, not a date. Just out with friends.” He took one last look in the mirror and nodded in approval. He deserved a night out. He needed to blow off some steam or else he’d only sink deeper into his depression. 

Jerome livened up instantly. “Ooh! May I come too?” 

Ed summoned his patience again. “No, Jerome. You can’t come with me. You know that.” 

Jerome deflated. “You never take me anywhere.” 

“You go out plenty on your own!” Ed reminded. 

“It’s not the same,” Jerome pouted. “You hide me from your friends, you hide me from your family… I feel like a dirty secret.” 

Ed sighed. “I know this must suck for you. I’m sorry.” 

Jerome shrugged. “I should be used to it by now. I’ve always been everyone’s dirty secret. But I came to Gotham for a new life and I thought--” he exhaled. “Never mind.” 

“You thought it’d be different here,” Ed finished the sentence. 

“Yeah,” Jerome nodded. “Besides, I really wanted to look good in front of Bruce.” 

“What!” 

“Bruce? My friend from the amusement park?” 

Ed relaxed. “Oh, right. That Bruce.” 

“He’s so dreamy,” Jerome’s face became the perfect representation of the heart eyes emoji. “I wanted to show him I have other friends, too, so that he doesn’t think I’m too… intense.” 

Ed frowned. “What do you mean?” 

“Well, you know, every time it’s me texting him , asking him to spend time with me. I don’t want him to think I don’t have other options.” 

“Sure.” 

“Truth be told, I don’t really care about your friends. I just want to be able to tell Bruce that I’m hanging out with other people as well, so I don’t come off as too clingy.” 

“Uh-huh,” Ed muttured. “Jerome, have you ever thought that perhaps you put too much emotion in just this one person?” 

Jerome thought about it, then shook his head. “Nope. Bruce is wonderful . He’s everything I ever wanted. He makes me feel alive! Truly alive! So no. I think I value him just as much as he deserves.” 

Something about this felt too familiar. “Tell me,” Ed said, “how do you feel about him?”  

“I-- I don’t really know,” Jerome licked his lips nervously. “I can’t quite explain it, but when he’s not around I feel like a part of me is missing. I can’t stop thinking about him and I spend my days waiting to see him again. I want his attention, I want him to care . I don’t want anyone else in our way.” 

Edward’s mouth went dry. That was exactly how he used to feel about Oswald. It seemed so natural to him back then, but now, hearing the same sentiment from someone else, Ed thought it sounded crazy. Unhealthy even. Was Jerome going down the same path as Ed? 

“Get dressed,” Ed heard himself say before he could think too much about it. “You’re coming with me to meet my friends.” 

Jerome beamed. “Really?” 

“Oh, yeah,” Ed said. “I think it’s time you get out of the house.” 

~*~  

On their way to meet Ivy, Ed and Jerome came up with a story to tell Ed’s friends. Ed insisted that Jerome mentioned nothing about their lives in Metropolis, and to his great relief Jerome agreed with him. 

“I myself want a new beginning, so, trust me, buddy, I’d gladly forget Metropolis,” the ginger teen reassured. “You can count on me! I’ll be an angel around your friends!” 

And for once, Ed actually believed Jerome’s words. 

When they arrived at the cinema, Ivy was already waiting for them. She greeted Ed with a warm hug and eyed Jerome curiously. 

“Who’s your friend?” 

“This is Jerome. Jerome, Ivy,” Ed quickly introduced them. 

Jerome shook her hand enthusiastically. “Any friend of Ed’s is a friend of mine!” 

Ivy smiled. “Likewise.” 

Jerome’s eyes skimmed down her dress and he frowned with concern. “Do all your friends wear green?” he whispered to Edward, self-consciously. “Should I have looked for something green too? To match the theme?” 

“No theme. And you’re fine as you are.” 

Jerome still wasn’t quite sure about it, but Ivy’s voice pulled him out of his thoughts. 

“Have you seen The Gray Ghost before?” she asked. 

“I’ve seen ghosts of many shades,” Jerome joked. 

Ivy chuckled. “Our friend loves old classics, and The Gray Ghost is his favorite. That’s why we’re gonna watch it with him tonight.” 

“Oh, that’s nice,” Jerome said cheerfully. “I’m more of a silent era comedies kind of guy, but this sounds fun too.” 

“Yeah. Oh, here they are now!” Ivy waved her hand at someone behind Ed and Jerome. “Selina! Bruce!” 

Ed noticed the way Jerome jumped a little when he heard the name Bruce. He turned around quickly, eyes searching for something. Or some one . Ed felt sorry for the guy. He was no doubt expecting his crush but instead it was just good old Bruce with his girlfriend Selina. 

“Bruce!” Jerome gasped like an excited puppy. “What are the odds!” 

“Jerome?” Bruce seemed surprised to see him, but not unpleasantly so. “What are you doing here?” 

“Oh, I was just about to watch a movie with my friends ,” Jerome replied with a certain degree of casual pride. “You?” 

“Same, actually,” Bruce chuckled. “Hi, Ivy. Ed.” 

Ed just stared at him. He couldn’t believe Selina’s Bruce was actually Jerome’s Bruce! What were the odds indeed! “You two know each other…” he muttered in puzzlement. 

“We met at the amusement park,” Jerome snickered at the memory. 

Bruce only let out a small chuckle. “We did. Jerome, this is Selina. My girlfriend.” Jerome’s smile faded a little. Bruce added hesitantly, “Remember I told you about her?” 

Jerome quickly snapped back to reality. “Right! You did! I just didn’t think she was real…” 

Bruce arched an eyebrow. 

“B-because you… made her sound so gorgeous, I thought you made her up!” Jerome explained with a charming grin, then made a small bow to Selina like a 19th century gentleman. 

Selina smirked, then leaned on Bruce’s shoulder affectionately. “Oh, I’m like a fantasy, alright.” 

Bruce blushed, not for the first time when Selina looked at him like that. 

Ed swallowed nervously. He knew Jerome had a crush on Bruce. He wondered if his ginger friend was alright witnessing this. 

“Well, now that we all know each other, we can go see the movie already. I don’t want to miss the beginning,” Ivy said and headed inside. 

Bruce and Selina followed, but Jerome remained frozen in front of the cinema, looking kind of lost. 

“So my friend Bruce turns out to be your Bruce from the amusement park. Are you okay?” Ed asked quietly. 

“Yeah. Yeah…” He cleared his throat. “You know, maybe I should just go back to the mansion. Black and white detective stories aren’t really my thing…” 

“If that’s what you want…” Ed said tentatively. “Look, I know you liked Bruce a lot and seeing he has a girlfriend must suck, but this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a movie with your new friends. Right? You didn’t come here for Bruce. You came to meet my friends, to have fun. You can still do that.” 

Jerome’s green eyes met his and a smile slowly spread across his pale face. “I guess you have a point…” 

“Of course I do.” 

“Well, what are we waiting for then? We have a Gray Ghost to catch!” 

“Actually, the Gray Ghost is the detective’s name, not the villain.” 

“Is it?” Jerome arched both eyebrows, then grinned. “This movie’s weird!” 

Ed chuckled and the two joined their friends in the cinema. Never before did Edward have this many friends to go to the movies with. He didn’t think he could be disappointed tonight, even if The Gray Ghost really sucked. 

~*~  

The night went rather well. Jerome fit in with Ed’s friends with an admirable ease. Bruce already liked him from their previous times hanging out together, and Ivy and Selina were soon under his spell too. They all thought he was hilarious, even if a bit odd at times. But, hey, if anyone was accepting of people for their oddities, it was Ivy, Selina and Bruce. 

Ed had a wonderful time and judging by the grin on Jerome’s face, so did he. The five of them were at the little coffee shop near the cinema, discussing the movie they had just seen. However, it was getting late and they each had to head home. 

“I just don’t feel like going home yet!” Selina said, glancing at Bruce. “Any ideas?” 

“We could watch another movie, or…” Bruce trailed off and frowned a little when Selina bit back a grin. “What?” 

“You’re so adorable. But I had something else in mind.” She winked at him. “Get us into a bar?” 

Jerome snickered at the expression on Bruce’s face, and so did Ivy and Ed.  

“I could do that, theoretically, if I wanted to, but-- why?” Bruce asked confused. His eyes went from Ivy to Selina, then to Ed and Jerome, as if waiting for an explanation to this peculiar request. Jerome giggled fondly. 

“To have fun, of course,” Selina replied. 

“In that case, I think I know just the place,” Bruce said with the air of someone who was used to getting what he wanted. 

“The perks of dating Bruce Wayne!” Selina joked and gave Ivy a nudge. 

Bruce looked at Ed and Jerome. “You guys, coming?”

Ed shook his head regretfully. “No, I have a curfew,” he sighed. Bars weren’t his scene but he was still sad he couldn’t go with his friends. 

“That sucks,” Ivy frowned. She then looked at Jerome, “What about you?” 

Jerome’s eyes went a little wide. “Me? You-- You’re inviting me too?” 

“Sure. If you want to come, we’d be glad to have you,” Bruce smiled at him as he tapped him on the shoulder. 

Jerome nearly melted at that. He looked at Ed as if to make sure he was okay with this. “I’d love to…?” 

Ed nodded, smiling. “Just, be careful when you sneak back home, okay?” 

“Of course!” Jerome clapped his hands excitedly. “Let’s go then!” 

They said their goodbyes to Ed and went their separate ways. 

Edward returned to the mansion rather upset that he had to obey a curfew while Oswald could stay out for as long as he liked. Oswald claimed that he had the right to do as he pleased since he was the adult in the family, but Edward knew better than that. Oswald used to trust him enough not to set a curfew. But with the trust gone now this was part of his punishment and there was little Ed could do about it despite his irritation.  

When he got home he didn’t even think Oswald would be back from his regular evening outings, but to his great surprise he heard voices from Oswald’s study. Perhaps Penguin was working late? Inquisitive as always, Ed sneaked closer to the door, eavesdropping like a curious child. Oswald may have shut him out of his life, but Edward would still find a way to be ‘in the loop’. He needed to know what was going on with Oswald and why was he acting so weird recently. 

Naturally he could recognize Oswald’s voice in his sleep, but he couldn’t fathom who the other voice belonged to. It was definitely a woman, a refined one, from the sound of it. But who? It wasn’t Barbara Kean, that much Ed could tell. He started going frantically through other possible owners of the mysterious voice, but then laughter interrupted his thoughts. He froze. Oswald’s laughter. Oswald was laughing with the woman in his study. And it was his genuine laughter too, he wasn’t just pretending. Whoever this woman was, she seemed important to be able to make Oswald laugh like that. Edward hated that had no idea who she was! 

He was about to open the door and burst inside to get the answers he so desperately craved, when he heard Oswald gently say, “Thank you, Sofia. I needed that more than I thought I did.” 

“Any time, Oswald. You know I’m here for you,” the woman -- Sofia -- replied. “For what it’s worth, I do find the idea charming.” 

Oswald chuckled. “I’m still not sure about it. Perhaps I should take more time to consider all the aspects…” he trailed off. 

There was a small pause and then Sofia spoke again, “I understand it’s a big decision. Take your time. And if you need me, I’m right here.” 

I’m right here? Who, even, was she, Ed wanted to scream. And what was the important decision Oswald was so restless about? Edward should burst into the study and demand explanation! But something stopped him from doing that. The whole scene inside felt confusingly intimate. It made Ed feel like he did not belong in that private conversation, like he had no right to interrupt or even listen to it. His hand slowly relaxed, releasing the door handle. He exhaled and took a step away. 

The only Sofia Ed could think of was Don Falcone’s daughter. Maybe it was better if Ed just went up to his room and leave things as they were. After all, he needed more information before confronting Oswald about this, whatever it was. He retreated quietly, thinking about what he had just learned. Oswald was friendly with Sofia Falcone. Very friendly. They knew each other quite well, by the sound of it. It was possible that Oswald spent his late nights out with Miss Falcone. Ed still couldn’t understand why he’d do that, but perhaps Oswald was playing a game Edward was not aware of. Maybe he had some kind of interior motive to strike a partnership with Sofia Falcone of all people. Surely that wasn’t a coincidence! Whatever the case, Edward decided to get to the bottom of it. 

Chapter Text

Now that he knew who Oswald was spending his free time with, Ed noticed other things too. For example, he noticed how fussy Oswald became about his appearance right before going out with Sofia; how he put everything else on hold when he was in a hurry to meet her; the way he never mentioned her to Edward before, like he wanted to keep her all to himself. It was odd because Oswald did not usually act like that about other people. Sofia was an exception and Ed found that irritating. 

He did a background check on Miss Falcone, of course. Born in Gotham, her father, the famous mob-king, sent her away when she was a kid. For her own protection, he claimed. It wasn’t unusual for the crime bosses of the time to keep their family members away from Gotham. What made no sense, however, was why Sofia come back? Was she planning on taking over Gotham from Oswald? If so, how could Oswald be so calm about it? True, all she’d done since her arrival was charity work and opening one orphanage, but maybe there was malice behind her seemingly peaceful exterior. Why else would she choose Gotham of all places? The city with the highest crime rate? It didn’t make much sense at first, but then Ed thought of Lee Thompkins. She used to have her practice in the Narrows, one of the worst neighborhoods in Gotham, and she chose it for a reason. She used to say that a doctor should be near those who need it most. Perhaps that was what Sofia was doing too? Gotham’s poor, Gotham’s orphans, they were the ones who needed help the most, and they were the ones Sofia chose to help. 

It sounded logical, but despite that, Ed could not believe that a woman like Sofia Falcone had no ulterior motives when she came to Gotham and befriended the Penguin. There had to be more to it. Concerned, Ed tried opening Oswald’s eyes about the very real danger of Sofia wanting to rebuild her father’s empire, but Penguin just ignored him. He outright told Ed to stick to his studies and leave the grown-ups deal with the rest. 

“But you’re not dealing with it!” Ed snapped, hating that his voice sounded half-pleadingly. “I don’t trust her and neither should you! She could be plotting with Don Falcone’s supporters right now for all we know, and you just stand there and do nothing!” 

Oswald sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Edward?”  

“What?” 

“Go to your room.” 

Groaning, Ed did as he was told, but he was not happy about it. Was Oswald really so blind? How could he not be concerned about Miss Falcone? Not only was he acting so calm about her, he was also befriending her! It was revolting. With his duties as mayor added to his usual work as King of Gotham’s underworld, Oswald already was terribly busy, yet he still found time in his hectic schedule to dine with Sofia every other evening. Sometimes he even spent his afternoons with her at the orphanage. Oswald would never admit it out loud, but he hated children! Why would he deliberately choose this then? The more he thought about it, the more he realized that Oswald actually liked spending time with Sofia . The realization, so sudden and visceral, left a bitter and unpleasant taste in Ed’s mouth. He needed to discuss this with Oswald. They had to talk, but when Ed knocked on Penguin’s door he found the older man in front of the mirror, getting ready for another evening out. 

Ed swallowed. “You’re going out again.” 

It wasn’t really a question. 

“Yes,” Oswald replied simply. “Don’t--” 

“Don’t wait up,” Ed finished the sentence at the same time as Oswald. “I already know the cue.” 

Oswald bit his lower lip and returned to buttoning his vest. “Olga will prepare a nice dinner for you, I’m sure. Or perhaps you can go out with your friends. Just don’t forget the curfew.” 

Ed felt sick. He could really vomit right there and then, all over Oswald’s shiny shoes. “You’re going to her , aren’t you?” 

“Who do you mean?” 

“Don’t play dumb, Oswald!” Ed groaned, rolling his eyes with irritation. “You know perfectly well who I’m talking about. You’re going out with Sofia Falcone, again.” 

“Something like that,” Oswald allowed. 

Ed exhaled. “Look, if you’re planning something, if you’re playing her, at least tell me so that I can stop worrying about it. I won’t get in your way, as long as I know you’re not being stupid about this.” 

Oswald turned away from the mirror to face Edward, eyes carefully fixated on the younger man. “I’m not planning anything, Ed. My friendship with Sofia is genuine. I wish you’d stop questioning it and accept it already.” 

Edward looked quite outraged by Oswald’s words. He was about to say something, but Penguin beat him to it. 

“A week. It’s been nearly a week and you won’t stop breathing down my neck about Sofia Falcone. It’s annoying, and frankly, a little pathetic.” 

Ed pursed his lips. “You’re making a fool of yourself, Oswald. I hope you realize that.” 

Oswald raised his chin defiantly. “I don’t have time for this. I’m going out. I have plans.” 

“Some plans!” Ed exclaimed, mockingly. “Shouldn’t you be running Gotham? You know, as the official mayor and the unofficial king of this city?” 

“What I do is none of your business, Edward,” Penguin replied coldly, readjusting his sapphire cufflinks, the finishing touch to his impeccable three piece suit. 

“You’re ridiculous!” Ed yelled angrily in Oswald’s face. “Prancing about with Sofia Falcone and making a fool of yourself! You’re like a grotesque caricature! What are you trying to prove?” 

“Step aside, Ed,” Oswald warned, eyes hard, jaw set, fists tight. 

“She’s using you!” Ed tried one last time. “Why won’t you see it?” 

“You have friends, Edward. And that is wonderful. Why won’t you let me have the same? Why must you spoil it?” 

The words rendered Edward into silence. The look in Oswald’s eyes was so striking, so open and honest. Ed could see the genuine need Oswald had to not be alone anymore. After the death of his mother, Oswald had Jim in his life, but Ed took that away from him. Then he had Edward, but that crumbled into million broken pieces as well. He sort of had Zsasz, but the assassin left for some reason, Ed was still in the dark about the details. It was plain as day -- Oswald was lonely. And it was Edward’s fault. 

“Not her, though,” Ed said quietly. “Please, just not her. She’s not the right person for you to be friends with. I don’t trust her…” 

Oswald inhaled deeply. He looked exhausted from their conversation. “I don’t trust her either,” he finally said. “But I want to trust her. I want her to be genuine. And I have to give this a chance and hope it’s not a mistake.” 

“I’m afraid it is,” Ed said, seriously. “Why would Sofia be friends with you, Oswald? Why would she spend so much time with you? She’s clearly manipulating you.” 

In a matter of seconds Oswald’s face closed off again. “Thank you, Edward. It’s good to know that according to you people would only want my friendship to get something out of it.” 

“Well, what do you expect? That they would genuinely like you?” Ed blurted out. He regretted his own words the moment they were out of his mouth. What he meant to say was that other people could not be trusted; instead it came out in a way that implied that Oswald was utterly unloveable. But it was too late to take it back now. He sighed. “Oswald, I’m merely trying to help.” 

“Are you?” Oswald scolded. “Because from where I stand, it seems like you’re forgetting your place.”

Ed bit back the remark he was about to let out. He had already crossed several lines, insulting Oswald and making him angry, he didn’t want to earn another spanking. Although, would Oswald spank him while wearing his fancy suit for Sofia? He’d get it all wrinkled and then what would Miss Falcone think? It was almost tempting to get Oswald to spank him now, just to see if he would. 

“Is she your beard?” Edward asked out of the blue. 

Oswald frowned. “Excuse me?” 

“Do you use her as a beard? So that you appear heterosexual for the voters? Is that what this is about? Because if so, I must tell you that’s really stupid. Holding back on who you are would bring you nothing but misery.”

Oswald glared. “You have no right to talk to me like that!” he snapped. “This does not concern you! And neither does what I do with Sofia! You’re being presumptuous about things that are none of your business!” 

“I think it concerns me if Sofia Falcone is trying to seduce you! Especially if she’s succeeding because of your desperation to be touched!” 

Ed could not believe he just said that to Oswald’s face! The tantrum had to be inevitable now, Ed thought, holding his breath with anticipation. He wanted to make Oswald’s blood boil. He still loved getting under the older man’s skin. And if he had to be candid, the thought of Oswald going to Sofia and looking disheveled because of Ed, excited Ed in strange ways. 

“You’ve no idea what you’re talking about, so I suggest you shut up ,” Oswald gritted through his teeth. 

“Or what?” Ed asked smirking. “You’re going to make me?” There was a challenge in his voice. He was pushing Oswald’s buttons, and he knew it. “You know the only way to shut me up is with a kiss. And we both know you don’t have the guts to do that anymore, Mr. Pretending to be Straight!” 

Oswald glared again. “I’m not pretending! Sofia’s my friend! She and I are not--” he groaned. “This has nothing to do with sex! What’s so hard for you to understand!” 

Ed put his hands on his hips. “Prove it,” he said. “Cancel your plans with her and stay home with me instead.”  

There was a small silence during which both men were glaring intensely at one another. For a moment Ed thought he won, but then Oswald deflated. 

“I don’t have to prove anything to anybody,” he said and turned his back to Ed. “I’m leaving. I don’t want to keep Sofia waiting.” That said, he left the room without looking back. 

Ed felt strangely disappointed. The mansion was eerily quiet again and for the first time in his life Edward wished Oswald had stayed home, even if only to spank him. 

~*~  

In a desperate attempt to get out of the house and clear his head, Ed went clubbing with his friends. If Oswald could forget reason and have fun, so could Ed! 

It was probably not even 7 pm yet, but one couldn’t really tell in the club, with the lighting and the loud music, it felt like night. Ed had a drink in hand, even though he usually avoided alcohol. It reminded him of his father, and Ed didn’t want to be like his father. However, this was a special occasion. Ed needed to numb his senses, otherwise the weight on his shoulders, the heaviness in his chest, were going to crush him completely. Edward didn’t want to break again. He had only just started mending himself. 

He watched Ivy and Selina showing their moves on the dancefloor. Bruce and Jerome were sitting in the booth with Ed -- Bruce sober as always, Jerome perhaps slightly more tipsy than he should be. 

“Bruce! Bruce, let’s dance, eh? It’s gonna be so much fun! Let’s dance!” Jerome giggled, burying his face in Bruce’s arm. 

“No, thanks. I think I’m just gonna head home soon. I have a test to prepare for,” Bruce replied. 

Jerome visibly deflated. “But… Why?” he nearly pouted. “Are you avoiding me?” 

“Of course not, Jerome. We’re friends,” Bruce reassured but Jerome did not seem convinced. 

“Is this because of that kiss?”  

Ed’s eyes went wide. “Kiss? What kiss? Does Selina know about this?” he exclaimed. He could not help being offended on his friend’s behalf. Bruce had no right to break Selina’s heart, not after everything he did to pass through her defensive walls and win her affection. 

“She does,” Bruce said, clearly not too thrilled to discuss this tonight. “I told her. And she’s not concerned. She knows it was just one kiss. Jerome misread the situation, that’s all. But it’s all fine now.” 

Clearly it wasn’t all fine because Jerome looked crushed. “So it is true then, isn’t it?” he said. “You’re avoiding me because of that kiss. I knew it.” 

“I’m not avoiding you, Jerome. We’re still friends,” Bruce reassured. 

Ed felt like he was not meant to be a part of this conversation. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, wondering when was the right time to excuse himself to the bathroom.  

“I’m sorry, Bruce,” Jerome continued. “I shouldn’t have kissed ya. I-- I understand some guys have trouble accepting--” 

“This isn’t about you being a guy, Jerome,” Bruce cut him off. “I’m fine with my bisexuality. And I have no problem with other people’s sexuality either.”  

“God, could you be any more perfect!” Jerome nearly squeaked. He threw his arms around Bruce’s shoulders. “Please, kiss me! At least give me this one chance. I’m good, I’m really good in bed. You won’t regret it, believe me. Ask Ed! He can vouch for me!” 

“Umm, no, I really can’t--” Ed muttered awkwardly. 

“He knows I have great references. Guys just love me. They love the way I-- the way I--” but then he deflated, letting go of Bruce and hanging his head as if ashamed of what he was about to say. “You know, just… go. It’s-- I’m drunk. I’m being silly.” 

Bruce frowned. For a moment Ed thought he was about to hug Jerome, but instead he only put a hand on the ginger boy’s shoulder. 

“Are you sure you’re okay, J?” he asked concerned. 

Jerome looked up at him and Bruce was suddenly choking on how much longing there was in those acid green eyes. 

Jerome chuckled bitterly. “I’ll be fine. You’re my knight in shining armor. Only you wear black all the time so I guess you’re my dark knight…” 

Bruce felt uncomfortable again and it showed. 

“I’ll be fine,” Jerome continued. It sounded more like he was trying to convince himself. “I’ll ask Ed to drive me home. Well, his home. We live together. But don’t be alarmed, darling. My heart belongs entirely to you. No one else. Ed is just… a friend.” 

Bruce ignored the babbling and looked at Ed. “You’re not driving him anywhere. You’ve had too much grasshopper.” 

Ed swallowed and nodded. He didn’t really have anything else to say. The scene he had just witnessed affected him more than he expected. 

“I’ll go get Ivy and Selina,” Bruce went on, “We all had enough of this club.” 

~*~  

During the ride in Bruce’s limo, Jerome and Ivy dozed off and Ed took advantage of this opportunity to discreetly ask Selina about that kiss. It turned out Bruce wasn’t lying. Selina knew all about it and, like Bruce said, she didn’t seem upset about it. 

“You’re sweet to tell me about this, Ed. But I’m really cool with it. Bruce is his own man, he doesn’t owe me explanations if someone kisses him.” 

“But… You two are in a relationship now,” Ed said a little confused. 

“Like I told Bruce, it’s fine. He loves me and I know he won’t cheat on me. I trust him. We’re cool,” she assured. “Besides, I don’t want our relationship to turn into a prison for either of us. I'm my own boss, like always, and I don’t intend to give away my independence just because I’m ‘in a relationship’.” She quoted Ed’s words, imitating the way in which he had said them. “I can do whatever I want without having to explain myself, I don’t depend on my rich boyfriend, and I’m giving Bruce the same freedom. If he chooses to be with Jerome, then,” she shrugged, “that’s fine by me. I don’t want to be lied to, of course, but I know Bruce wouldn’t go behind my back. If he decides he wants to be with someone else, he’d be open about it, and I appreciate honesty.”  

“You mean you’re not jealous at all?” Ed asked, rather incredulous. He couldn’t imagine not being jealous. He’d been so jealous he’d actually killed because of it, and there was Selina, being perfectly chill about someone else kissing her boyfriend. 

She chuckled. “Not particularly, no.” 

Ed nearly gaped at her. This must’ve been one of Selina’s defense mechanisms. No way she was not jealous at all! 

She rolled her eyes, probably guessing Edward’s thoughts. “I don’t like it when other people flirt with my boyfriend, but Bruce is a handsome guy. He’s charming, he’s rich. Of course they all want him. I can’t stop that, nor should I. But he’s my guy. We trust each other. And that means what those other people want from him or think about him doesn’t matter.” 

“Must be freeing to have that kind of trust,” Ed said, thoughtfully. 

Selina smiled. “It is.” She glanced at Jerome’s sleeping form and her smile grew a little sad. “I hope he gets over Bruce soon. If this crush gets between them, Bruce would be really sad. He told me he values Jerome’s friendship. And after what happened with Harvey… Bruce needs a friend like that again.” 

“Bruce and Harvey are still friends,” Ed said. 

“It’s not the same when he’s still in that asylum.” 

Ed hummed in agreement. He never understood Bruce’s friendship with Harvey Dent, but he felt sorry for Bruce’s loss. After all, Harvey wasn’t always himself lately, and while Bruce was very understanding about Harvey’s condition, it surely changed their dynamics a lot. Their friendship was no longer the same. Selina was right. Bruce could use a new friend. And Jerome was not so bad. The two seemed to click quite well. They had great chemistry. If only Jerome’s crush wasn’t so intense… Ed hoped Jerome would get over it soon. 

They spent the rest of the road in silence. True to his word, Bruce got them all safely home. First they dropped off Ivy and Selina, then Bruce drove to the mansion for Edward and Jerome. Ed made sure to thank Bruce for the ride, then helped Jerome out of the limo. Poor guy was completely out of it, which presented some difficulties for Ed to sneak him into the mansion, but eventually he succeeded without raising suspicions. He helped Jerome freshen up and go to bed. 

“Thanks, buddy,” Jerome mumbled into the pillow. 

“Any time,” Ed replied. He hesitated for a moment. “Jerome, why did you do this? Why did you kiss Bruce? You know he’s with Selina.” 

Jerome furrowed his brows. “I couldn’t help myself. He was so beautiful, looking at me with those gorgeous blue eyes… I had to kiss him. Besides, it was my birthday. I thought of that kiss as a gift.” 

It was your birthday? I had no idea… Why didn’t you say something? We could’ve made it more special. Your Sweet Sixteen.” 

Jerome snorted. “Kissing Bruce was special enough. Even if he pulled away almost instantly… Besides, I’m 18, not 16.” Jerome chuckled at Edward’s expression. “You look surprised.” 

“I thought you were 15 when we met.” 

“Nope. I just look younger than I am. It comes in handy with my second more clandestine job in Metropolis.” 

Right. Old men who liked sleeping with young boys, they sure were glad Jerome looked even younger than he was. 

Ed swallowed. “I’m glad you’re moving on from your life in Metropolis. And I get you care about Bruce. But he’s with Selina. He won’t like you back. This crush won’t go anywhere.” 

Jerome looked straight into Edward’s eyes. There was strange intensity in his gaze, like he was burning on the inside. “You don’t get it, do you, Ed?” he said quietly. “It’s not just a crush, I love him. I love Bruce.” 

It sounded so simple, so full of affection, Ed was taken by surprise. He looked at Jerome more carefully and for the first time he noticed tears in those acid green eyes. They didn’t seem so crazy at this moment, more like… sad. 

“I think I love him, Ed,” Jerome went on with his confession. “I love him and I don’t know what to do. I’ve never felt like this before. I didn’t plan it. I didn’t mean for it to happen.” He ran his fingers through his ginger hair. “It was all just a bit of fun at first. But then I got to know him, and yeah, he’s crazy handsome and definitely my type, and I totally want him to do stuff to me and with me, I want to touch him and kiss him and--” 

“I get the picture!” Ed interrupted before this became ever steamier. 

Jerome chuckled, but there was no amusement behind it this time. “It’s just that after the shity life I’ve had, after all those creeps I let touch me and be with me… I really wanted someone who’s--” his face twisted in a sad grimace. “I really wanted someone like Brucey. Well, I wanted Bruce, actually. Not someone like him, I want him . And only him. No one else matters, Ed. No one else is like him.” He swallowed. “He’s not like the others. I feel safe with him, I know he wouldn’t hurt me. I feel protected, and that’s new for me.” 

With a heavy heart, Ed wrapped an arm around Jerome’s shoulders. He hoped the warmth of the embrace might help comfort him. Like a frightened bunny, Jerome snuggled closer into that warmth.

“I love Bruce and I don’t know what to do. Do you know what I mean?” 

Ed nodded, feeling numb. “Oh, trust me, I do. I’ve been there too.” 

“Oh?” Jerome yawned. “Who?” 

“Oswald,” Ed replied quietly. 

Jerome chuckled sleepily. “I knew there was something there.” 

Ed shrugged. “Yeah, well, not anymore. The magic’s gone. He hates me now. And I--” 

“Why does he hate you? What did you do?” There was genuine concern in Jerome’s voice, mixed with an obvious curiosity for the juicy details. 

“I killed the man he loved,” Ed replied simply. 

Jerome was dumbfounded for a moment, then grinned and made a joke of it. “D’you wanna kill Selina for me?” 

Ed rolled his eyes. “Go to sleep, Jerome.” 

Chapter Text

“You have a beautiful home, Oswald,” Sofia said with a smile, her eyes exploring the decor of the living room once again. “I can never stop admiring this mansion.” 

Oswald was reclining on the couch next to her, rubbing his injured foot that had been causing him pain all day. “It’s been in my family for ages,” he replied. “My father used to say it’s a part of Gotham’s history.” 

“It definitely is,” Sofia smiled, but when she looked back at Oswald she frowned. “Your foot…” 

“It’s just the weather,” Oswald muttered, visibly uncomfortable with the topic. 

“Does it hurt a lot?” She noticed how rigid his shoulders suddenly became, and quickly added, “I don’t mean to pry.” 

“No, it’s fine.” Oswald swallowed. “I just don’t like talking about it.” 

Sofia looked at him thoughtfully, then slowly knelt down before him. 

“What are you doing?” Oswald asked alarmed. 

“Trust me,” Sofia said and reached for his foot. 

Oswald pulled away defensively. “Don’t!” 

“It’s alright,” Sofia promised, voice soft, calming. “I won’t judge.” 

She rucked up Oswald’s trouser leg and pulled down his sock, bearing his skin. Oswald instantly averted his eyes. He didn’t want to see this, and least of all did he want to witness the look on Sofia’s face when she beheld his damaged leg. She would probably be repulsed. Instead of recoil, however, he felt warm fingers wrap around his ankle. He looked down, puzzled and confused, and saw Sofia gently massaging the painful area.   

“When I was a child I broke my ankle while playing with my cousins,” she said as she meticulously proceeded with the foot rub. “I was desperate, crying in pain. My father told me to put ice on it, toughen up, stop with the tears. My mother went with me to the hospital, and on the way she told me that cold actually increases the pain. What's needed is warmth.” 

Oswald swallowed around the lump in his throat, the story striking him to his very core. Sofia had a tough childhood, too. Different from his, but still not an easy one. Yes, she was rich, she could afford anything she wished, unlike Oswald who grew up poor. But at least Oswald had his mother’s unconditional love. Sofia had lost her mother when she was very little, and her father… well, she was never good enough for him. Perhaps that was why she wanted to make a difference in Gotham. To finally earn his affection and respect. 

She looked up at him and their eyes met. Oswald released a breath he had no idea he was holding. “My mother used to sing…” he said, feeling the tears budding in his eyes. 

Sofia started humming as she cast her gaze down again and kept massaging Oswald’s foot. She was so careful not to hurt him, so tender, Oswald slowly relaxed under her touch. He was reminded of the way his mother used to take care of him and his injuries back when he was a child, bullied by the other kids. His head eased back on the couch and he closed his eyes. The tension was leaving his body, the pain in his leg subsided, and he started breathing normally again. He felt safe, protected. How was Sofia doing this? He hadn’t felt like that in such a long time. 

“Is this better?” Sofia whispered. 

Oswald hummed. He wasn’t sure if he could form words at this moment.  

He had no idea how long they’ve remained like that, -- Sofia on her knees, and Oswald nearly brought to tears from finally being relieved of his pain, -- but suddenly the peaceful silence was broken and a furious voice filled the room. 

"What the hell is going on here!” 

Oswald snapped back to reality, blinking at Edward who was standing by the door. “Edward. You’re back.” 

“Evidently!” Edward hissed. “What is all that?” He waved his hands to gesture at Sofia.  

Sofia carefully let go of Oswald’s leg and covered it with the sock again. Then she rose back to her feet and smiled at Ed. 

“Edward,” she said, offering her hand for a shake. “It’s so good to finally meet you in person. I’ve heard so much about you. I’m Sofia Falcone. I’m a friend of Oswald’s.”  

Edward made sure to cross his arms over his chest, pointedly ignoring Sofia’s extended hand, and glaring at her instead. A little hurt, she pulled her hand back and looked rather uncomfortable. 

“I’d better go,” she said quietly, glancing at Oswald for a second before reaching for her purse. “I’ll see you later, Oswald.” 

“Sofia, you don’t have to leave!” Oswald said, getting hastily up from the couch. “Edward didn’t mean to be rude! Ed, apologize to my friend.” 

“I’m not doing anything of the sort!” Ed insisted. 

“Edward!” Oswald warned, but then Sofia took a step closer to him, squeezing his hand in a gentle and rather intimate manner. Ed fumed at the sight. 

“That’s alright, Oswald,” she said softly. “I understand. It’s late anyway. I don’t want to keep my chauffeur waiting too long. He needs to go back to his family.” 

“I’m really sorry about…” Oswald said apologetically, but Sofia quickly stopped him. 

“It’s alright. We are protective of those we care about,” she smiled warmly. “Good night.” 

“Good night…” Oswald watched her leave. Then the moment they were alone, he glared at Edward disapprovingly. “What do you think you’re doing? You were terribly rude to her!” 

“What am I doing!” Ed exclaimed. “What are you doing? Getting a handjob in the middle of the living room for everyone to see!” 

“She wasn’t giving me a handjob, Edward! Don’t be ridiculous! She was massaging my leg! I’ve been in pain all day, not that you care!” 

Ed snorted. “You expect me to believe that this was nothing but a platonic foot rub?” 

“Of course!” Oswald shouted. “Besides, it’s none of your business! Get that through your thick head already!” 

Edward flared again. He crossed the distance between himself and Oswald, and grabbed the older man by the shoulders. “She’s seducing you, Oswald! Are you really so naive?” 

“I’m not naive!” 

“Then why can’t you see what she’s doing?” 

“We’re friends!” 

“She’s literally trying to get your pants off! What are you even doing with her anyway? You’re gay! Has that fact slipped your mind or are you just trying to piss me off?” 

“I don’t think that I am…” Oswald whispered, weakly. 

Ed relaxed his hold on Penguin a little and frowned. “What?” 

“You-- you said I’m gay but I don’t think that’s very acurate.” 

“What are you talking about? Are you bisexual now? Because of Sofia Falcone?” 

Oswald pulled away, enraged by the way Ed said it. “You of all people should not be so crude about people’s sexuality!” 

Ed closed his eyes and inhaled deeply as if summoning his patience. “I’m not being crude. I just want to know what are you trying to tell me.” 

Oswald swallowed. “After our last conversation I’ve been thinking… The only lovers I’ve ever had were Jim and Zsasz. I wasn’t attracted to them instantly, it took some time and getting to know them better. It’s just-- attraction doesn’t work for me the way it does for most people.”  

“Don’t forget me,” Ed reminded bitterly. “You were quite attracted to me, if I remember correctly.”  

Oswald looked a little guilty. “I was. But that, too, only happened after I got to know you better. After we formed an emotional bond.” Oswald could tell the moment Ed finally began to understand what he was hinting at. It gave him the courage to proceed and finish what he started. “Ed. I think I’m demisexual.” 

It wasn’t important. Finding the right word for it. And at the same time it was very important. Nothing had changed now that Oswald had a word for it, he was still the same person, but it was somehow a relief to say it out loud, to know how to express it or how to explain it. All his life, Oswald thought there was something broken about him, something not quite right, because he didn’t feel things the way other people did. And he had no idea why. There were words for gay, straight, bisexual, but none of those truly applied to what Oswald was feeling on the inside. He never paid much attention to that sort of thing before. It didn’t matter that much. He was alone anyway, so why bother with extensive reflection on the topic? What was the difference between a lonely gay man, a lonely straight man, and a lonely bi man? None. Then Jim came into his life. Oswald fell in love with a man, so he assumed he had to be homosexual. The word still didn’t feel quite right, but he didn’t really think he had other options. Until finally it hit him. The term that fit like a glove. Demisexual. And it felt good to finally have a word for it! A word that felt right.  

He had no idea why he was telling Ed this. Perhaps he just needed to share his revelation with someone close to him. And despite their history together, he and Ed were close. They knew each other better than anyone. They understood each other’s darkness, they were familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses, they shared their secrets. That kind of knowledge could not be erased, even after a big fight. In a weird way, Ed was still the closest thing Oswald had to a best friend. Because only with Edward could Oswald truly reveal himself. And it was twisted, and it was sad because Edward probably didn’t feel that way about Oswald anymore, and it was crazy with the whole punishment thing that was going on between them. But it was home. It felt like home. It was familiar and comfortable and… There was another word for it, but Oswald hadn’t found it yet. 

Edward was silent. For a long moment he just looked at Oswald, thinking, evaluating. 

“Say something?” Oswald hated that his voice sounded so small. What was he expecting from Edward anyway? It wasn’t like Oswald could change that about himself if Ed disapproved. And why would Ed disapprove at all? All sexualities were valid. 

Ed licked his lips. “This explains so much, actually,” he finally said. “About what happened with us. You weren’t lying when you said my age had nothing to do with it. You were attracted to me because you loved me , not because I was a teenager. And you loved me because you… you formed an emotional attachment. A bond.”  

Oswald felt uncomfortable for being reminded of all that. “Can we please not--” 

“No, let me finish.” Ed started pacing the room. “I was your closest friend after Detective Gordon’s death. You cared about me. I was important to you. And eventually those feelings grew into something else. Something more tender and, simultaneously, stronger. An attraction. Love.” 

Oswald was flustered, unsure of where Ed was going with this. The younger man furrowed his brows and looked at Penguin very carefully. “Is this what’s happening with Sofia? Is that what you’re trying to tell me? That you’re developing feelings for her?” 

That was not the question Oswald expected to hear, but he replied anyway. “No. I don’t have romantic feelings for Sofia. I like her, she’s my friend. But nothing more than that.”  

“You went to bed with all your friends, Oswald! Jim, Zsasz, me almost…” Oswald swallowed nervously. Ed went on, “You don’t have ‘friendships’. Once you get close enough to someone to form a friendship, you get too attached. You fall in love. It’s in your nature, you can’t help it. And what if--” his voice broke and he needed a moment to compose himself. “What if you fall for Sofia? What will I do then?” 

A strange sound escaped Edward’s throat and he turned his back to Oswald, hiding his face in his hands. His shoulders were trembling a little, like he was crying. 

“Edward…” Oswald breathed. His hand hung in the air, unsure of whether to follow the old instinct to comfort Ed, or to trust reason and pull away. Was Ed really upset, or was this another game for him? Oswald couldn’t tell anymore. The trust they used to share was gone. It was all uncharted territory now. 

“I’m fine,” Ed insisted, but his voice was wavering suspiciously. When he turned around his eyes were still glassy. “I’m just tired. So tired. I need to lie down.” 

“Of course…” 

“I’ll see you tomorrow at breakfast,” Ed said and rushed out of the room as if he were being chased. 

~*~ 

Edward was glad Jerome was out tonight. Ed needed to be alone, he needed the space. He didn’t have time for Jerome right now. Oswald’s confession had shaken him to the core, and he needed to think. Up until this moment, he never thought that Oswald falling in love with Sofia was a possibility. In fact, he didn’t think Oswald falling for anyone else was a possibility… Not after Jim and after Ed. He assumed there might be some hanky-panky with Zsasz involved but he had learned to think of this as a… physical exercise rather than something of import. But this new information changed everything. Oswald claimed he had no romantic feelings for Sofia, but Edward wasn’t blind! He could see the way they looked at each other tonight. If Oswald fell in love with this woman, it could as well be the end of the world. Even if Sofia wasn’t lying, even if she had no ulterior motives and genuinely cared about Oswald, even then the thought of them together was upsetting. Edward wasn’t sure why. Perhaps it was because Sofia didn’t deserve Oswald’s affection! She was unworthy of his love. Edward used to have Oswald’s love a year ago, but he lost it… He wondered if he could ever get it back. 

He was surprised to catch himself thinking that. He wasn’t supposed to want to be with Oswald again. Not after everything they’ve been through. Not after everything Oswald did to him. Oswald killed Lucius, for crying out loud! Edward should still be furious about that! Only… he wasn’t. He wasn’t angry at Oswald anymore because he knew Oswald was not the only person to be blamed for what happened to Foxy. Ed started it. He was the one who killed Jim Gordon. He hurt Oswald and Oswald reacted to his pain by hurting Ed in return. An eye for an eye was what the Penguin believed in, and Ed understood that point of view well. He couldn’t really blame Oswald for what happened anymore, or he would be a hypocrite. He was angry before when the wounds were fresh, but now he could reevaluate things. He could reevaluate his entire relationship with Oswald and what he discovered wasn’t too flattering. It was different from what he remembered it to be. What he thought he remembered it to be. Much like with Lucius, Edward had hurt Oswald, used him, manipulated him. He used to think he was doing it all for Oswald, but the truth was, he was doing it for himself. Everything he did, he did for himself. He wanted Oswald's attention, so he bent over backwards to impress him; he wanted to be the only important person in Oswald’s life, so he made himself invaluable to the man; he wanted Oswald’s love, so he killed Oswald’s boyfriend. He broke Oswald’s heart, lied to him, ruined him. He’d been selfish, jealous, obsessive, manipulative, possessive. He’d lost himself in this intense twisted love he felt for Oswald. Much like Jerome was sort of doing with Bruce now. Only Ed didn’t see it back then because he was the one feeling it. Now, with the distance of time, his eyes finally were wide open. And Ed could see not only Oswald’s faults, but his own. 

Unable to fall asleep, he gave up on even trying and slipped out of bed. He wondered if Oswald was awake too. He could use a good heart-to-heart with him. But he wasn’t sure if he was allowed that. Oswald was no blushing flower, he was a crime lord, he wasn’t innocent, but he did not deserve what Ed did to him. And now that Ed finally had a better perspective on these matters, he wasn’t sure he deserved Oswald’s help to process all this information. If only he hadn’t killed Lee, he would have benefitted from some therapy. But unfortunately, his teen angst bullshit had a bodycount. His actions had consequences and he had to face them. 

~*~ 

Ed spent the next two days in the library. Sometimes he even slept there. He wasn’t ready to face the world, didn’t really want to see anybody. His friends sent him a few concerned messages, but he ignored everything. He even turned off his phone completely. He felt broken. He wasn’t sure what it would take to come back from this dark place he was in right now. 

There was a knock on the door and then Oswald popped his head inside. 

“Edward? Can we talk?” 

He sounded rather sheepishly, which was unusual for him, especially this entire crazy year. 

“Of course,” Ed replied, putting away the book he anyway wasn’t really reading. He noticed Oswald looked tired. His posture was a little more slump, the dark circles under his eyes were more prominent than usual, and his limp was bad. Something had been troubling him these last two days, Ed could tell. “What’s the matter?” 

“There’s something I need to discuss with you,” Oswald said, taking the armchair opposite Ed. “I’m about to make a decision that would affect both of us, so I thought it was only fair that we talk about it first.” 

It’s been almost a year since Oswald had asked for Edward’s opinion about anything important, so this was a milestone. “Go on,” Ed said out loud, careful not to expose himself for how much he missed them talking, really talking. 

Oswald was quiet again, hesitant, as if hoping Edward would somehow magically read his mind and absorb the required information without Oswald having to say it. What could’ve been so important to render Oswald speechless? 

“I’m listening,” Ed encouraged, sensing that this was serious. 

Oswald took in a deep breath and then, “Edward, I want to adopt one of Sofia’s orphans.” 

Ed thought he misheard something. The words coming out of Oswald’s mouth didn’t seem to make sense. Until finally they did and Ed felt nothing but rage and pain. 

“This is going too far , Oswald!” he exclaimed angrily, his fists clenched so tightly his nails were digging into the flesh of his palms. “I get it! You want to impress Sofia! But this is too much!” 

“What.” 

“You cannot adopt a child because of her! I won’t allow it!” 

Oswald’s eyebrows went up. “Edward, I’m not doing this to impress Sofia. She has nothing to do with my decision.” 

“So you’re in denial now, too. Peachy,” Ed huffed. 

“No, I just… I really want to adopt. Martin is such a lovely kid. I’m sure you’d love him, too.” 

“Martin?” 

“He’s 10. An orphan since birth.” Oswald’s face mellowed as he spoke about the boy, his features becoming softer. He even smiled, without realizing it. “He’s very intelligent and fun to be around. He reminds me of you a little. He also reminds me of me.” 

How could this be happening? It couldn’t really be happening! It was totally bonkers!

“You actually want to adopt that kid?” Ed asked dumbly. The information wasn’t quite reaching him. 

“Yes,” Oswald assured. “I do.” 

“It’s not some scheme? You just-- want him to be a part of our--” he bit his lips and amended bitterly, “-- your family?” 

“That’s why I wanted to discuss it with you. Like I said, the decision affects us both.” 

“But you really want this?” 

Oswald nodded. “I really do.” 

Ed slumped back into his armchair. Why did Oswald’s words hurt so much? 

“When you adopted me you didn’t want me,” he heard himself say quietly. His eyes were stinging, his throat was closing. It was difficult to let the words out, yet they kept spilling out of his mouth without permission. “You needed the votes and I was just a means to an end. A publicity stunt.” 

“Eddie, that’s not--” 

“You took me in without wanting me and you regret it ever since you realized who you let into your life,” his voice was shaking now. His hands were shaking too but he didn’t care. “But this kid… you really like him. You want to be his father. You care about him!” 

“Martin is in no way replacing you, Ed. If that’s what you think,” Oswald said carefully. “I never thought I could be a father. I never felt like a father with you. That was very different for me. With Martin it’s the exact opposite. I feel paternal with him and I want to explore that. I want to get to know this new side of me, a side I didn’t even think I possessed. Do you understand that?” 

The irony here was, Ed did understand. He nodded silently.  

“I know things aren’t ideal between us, Edward. And I am to blame for it.” 

That’s not true , Ed thought but couldn’t let out. 

Oswald continued, “I don’t know if we’d ever be able to truly move past all this.” 

Do you even want to move past this? Could you ever forgive me? 

“You’re going to be eighteen soon. Independent. Free from me.” He paused. “Your punishment will be over then. I won’t keep you here against your will, Ed. Not anymore.” 

Edward tilted his head, taking in every line of Oswald’s face. He looked sad. But Ed wasn’t sure if that was because of their apparent parting, or something else.  

“I was hurt and angry and I wanted revenge. I needed to extract this horrible poison out of my system before it consumed me completely. And I thought I could achieve that through your suffering. But I don’t feel better for it, Ed. If anything, I feel worse. I feel like I lost even more. And I’m tired. I’m tired of feeling this way. I’m sure you’re tired too.” 

Ed swallowed. 

“You don’t have to worry about money or about getting exposed,” Oswald said. “You’ll get a clean sleight, I guarantee you that. A fresh start.” 

Ed didn’t know what to say. He was numb. 

“In the meantime, I would appreciate it if you meet Martin. I’m sure once you two actually talk, you’ll understand why I care about him so deeply.” 

It was overwhelming, all this information coming all at once? It was very overwhelming. But after everything Ed put Oswald through, he felt he owed the man a chance to fix his life. 

“You don’t have to answer right away,” Oswald was quick to add. 

“No. I mean, yes. I mean, I’ll meet Martin.” 

Oswald’s face cleared up. “Really?” 

“Yeah. A nice family dinner sounds good.” 

Oswald smiled that emotional smile of his, the one that was bordering on crying. “Thank you,” he said. “I’ll bring him to the mansion tonight. We could play boardgames, charades, watch a movie…” 

“Sounds good.” 

“Six o’clock okay?” 

Ed shrugged. “I’m here anyway.” 

“Oh! And one more thing!” Oswald stopped at the door. “Martin can’t talk. He’s mute. But he writes everything down in a pad, so you don’t have to worry about communication.”

Martin was mute. Perhaps that was another reason for Oswald to relate to that kid so much. Like Oswald, Martin had to struggle daily with an impediment. What others took for granted, Martin didn’t have. In Oswald’s case, it was his limp. In Martin’s case, it was his lack of a voice. 

“That’s alright,” Ed said out loud. “I know a little sign language. We’ll understand each other just fine.” 

Oswald seemed impressed and Ed made a mental note to himself to brush up on his sign language before Martin’s arrival tonight. 

“I guess I should learn sign language too,” Oswald said with a nervous little chuckle.

“I guess,” Ed agreed and watched him waddle out of the library. 

~*~  

Ed spent the rest of the day with a book on sign language. He knew the basics but he hadn’t used it in a long time so he wanted to refresh his memory. No matter what he felt about this whole adoption idea, he didn’t want to make Martin feel unwelcome in any way. The boy was not to be blamed for Ed and Oswald’s mistakes. And he was definitely not to be put in the middle of their quarrels. 

He was lost in his book when he heard loud banging noises from the front door. Oswald wasn’t home -- he went to City Hall for the afternoon and then he was going to get Martin from Sofia’s orphanage for their dinner. Olga was no doubt busy in the kitchen, following Oswald’s instructions for the meal tonight, and the gardner didn’t care about the front door. Ed sighed and headed to the door to deal with whoever this insistent guest was. To his great surprise, it was Bruce Wayne. 

“Ed! Finally!” Bruce looked in quite a state. “I’ve been trying to reach you for hours! Your phone is off.” 

“Sorry… I’ve been kinda busy these days. What happened?” 

“It’s Selina!” 

Ed’s heart dropped. “What happened to Selina?” 

“She’s gone,” Bruce said, pale as a ghost. “No one’s seen her in two days and I can’t reach her. Ed… I’m afraid something terrible has happened!” 

Chapter Text

Bruce was used to Selina disappearing on him from time to time. He wasn’t usually concerned. Selina knew how to take care of herself, and their relationship was built on trust and freedom. He didn’t want her to feel like a caged animal. So he fought the urge to ‘check up on her’ every now and then, and let his girlfriend do her thing in peace. He knew she wouldn’t tolerate it any other way anyway. However, when there was no sign of Selina for two whole days, Bruce finally allowed himself to worry. 

He didn’t want to overreact and annoy her with his concern -- it took so long to get this close to her -- but he couldn’t just do nothing. He called, he texted. No reply. He went to her dorm, looking for her, all very casual, but no one had seen her. He asked Ivy, but she had no clue either. She also told him she couldn’t reach Ed. Always one to find a logical explanation for things, Bruce thought perhaps Selina and Edward were together. But why would they not call? Were they in trouble? Were they safe? Did they need Bruce’s help? Last year Ed disappeared for six months without as much as a wave goodbye. Bruce didn’t want a repeat of that with Selina. If his friends were in trouble, Bruce needed to know, so that he could act. 

He went to the Van Dahl mansion, hoping to find them there. Perhaps Ed would laugh at him and say Selina’s been staying over this whole time. Maybe it was all a prank. Jerome must’ve rubbed off on them with his love for silly jokes. Hell, it could even have been his idea! At this point Bruce hoped it was just a prank. He didn’t want to ring the doorbell and be greeted by that Russian maid, who’d only shrug and say the young master hasn’t been home in days. 

To Bruce’s great relief, the door was opened by Edward himself. He looked rather tired and unkempt, but at least he was there! He seemed confused to see Bruce at his doorstep.   

“Ed! Finally!” Bruce let his relief show. “I’ve been trying to reach you for hours! Your phone is off.”

Ed sort of curled up on himself. “Sorry... I’ve been kinda busy these days. What happened?”

“It’s Selina!” 

Ed frowned. “What happened to Selina?” 

“She’s gone,” Bruce said without preamble. “No one’s seen her in two days and I can’t reach her. Ed…” He swallowed around the lump in his throat. It was horrible to voice his dreadful suspicions as if accepting them as a real possibility. “I’m afraid something terrible has happened!” 

“Wait a second, slow down. What do you mean she’s gone?” Ed asked alarmed. 

Judging by his reaction, Selina was definitely not at the mansion. Bruce didn’t bother to hide his disappointment. “So you don’t know where she is either? She hasn’t mentioned anything?” he asked, deflated. 

Ed shook his head. “No, I’m sorry.” He stepped aside to let Bruce in. 

There was no point discussing this at the front door so Bruce quickly slid inside the great house and instantly headed for the kitchen. He needed water to compose himself and think clearly. 

“You were my last hope, Ed,” he said, eyebrows knitted together. “Ivy has no idea where she is either. She’s currently looking for her, too. I’ve also notified the police.” 

“I don’t understand. How can Selina just disappear?” 

“That’s what I want to know, too. She won’t return my calls, she’s not at the dorm or her usual haunts… I’ve no idea where she is, Ed.” 

“Maybe she just went off somewhere? You know she’s a free spirit.” 

“Without answering at least one of my voicemails? Without a word to ease our minds? Why would she do this?” 

Ed slumped his shoulders even more. “What do you think happened?” 

“I don’t know,” Bruce gulped half of the water he took out from the fridge in one go. Then he took a glance at Ed. His friend was clearly lost in thought, brows furrowed, the cogs of his brain working hard to solve this new puzzle. Bruce was glad he came to him. Ed had an analytic mind, much like Bruce’s. Together they could definitely find Selina. “I just want to be sure she’s okay,” he added out loud. “And I hope we can find her soon. Heaven knows we can’t trust the GCPD to do it.”  

“I’ll help you and Ivy look for her,” Ed said decisively. “Just let me change out of these clothes and I’m ready!” 

~*~ 

They spent the entire afternoon looking for Selina without any luck. Then Bruce’s phone buzzed and they all instantly jumped, huddling together.  

“Is it from her? Is it about her?” Ivy asked impatiently. 

Bruce checked his message with shaky hands and deflated. “No. It’s just a text from Jerome. He’s at the Arcade and wants me to join him.” He put his phone back in his pocket with an eye roll. “As if I have time for games at a time like this.” 

“Jerome…?” Ed muttered to himself. “Oh, dear…” His face was white as a sheet. 

“Ed?” Ivy placed a comforting hand on her friend’s shoulder. “What is it?” 

Ed looked really worried. “Selina’s in danger.” 

“What are you talking about? What danger?” Bruce asked quickly. “Did you remember something?” 

“I did something terrible,” Ed confessed guiltily. There were tears budding in his eyes. “Something really terrible!” 

“What did you do, Ed?” 

Ed swallowed. “We need to find Jerome. At once! He and I, we-- we joked the other night about killing the partners of the people we love.” 

Bruce’s face twisted in disgust. “Why would you do that!” 

“We were drunk! It was just a joke! We didn’t mean it!” Ed swallowed again. “At least, I thought he didn’t mean it… But what if he did? We joke like that and then Selina suddenly disappears? It could be just a coincidence but we should still check it out.” 

Bruce motioned for them to follow him to the car (not the limo this time, because he wanted something more comfortable for driving around town). 

“Jerome must still be at the Arcade,” he said, pulling out his phone and typing something in. “I’m texting him that I’m coming. So that he doesn’t know we’re onto him.” 

They got in the car and Bruce drove off. 

Ivy frowned. “I don’t get it. Why would Jerome harm Selina? He said he likes her.”

“He does. But he also has a crush on Bruce. He’s-- rather obsessive about it, too,” Ed said, feeling uncomfortable. His eyes were on Bruce as if trying to determine how Bruce felt about all that. 

“I can’t believe you didn’t say anything about this earlier, Ed,” Bruce scolded, voice low and rather dangerous. 

“I didn’t take it seriously,” Ed said defensively. “I should’ve, but I thought he was being silly about killing her.” 

“It’s not Ed’s fault, Bruce,” Ivy interjected. “How could he have known Jerome wasn’t joking about it? I mean, who’d think anyone would do something like that?” 

Ed’s cheeks were burning. “Yeah,” he mumbled quietly. “I didn’t think he meant it.” 

“What were his exact words?” Bruce demanded, eyes on the road as he drove as fast as possible. 

“He said--” 

“D’you wanna kill Selina for me?”

Ed cleared his throat, willing himself to focus. “He s-said--” 

“Kill Selina for me, Ed? Come on! Kill her! Kill her! KILL HER!” 

Ed pushed his fingers under his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “Ummm. He said, he--” 

Ivy’s hand was on his shoulder again, her thumb stroking gently. When he looked up at her she seemed concerned. “It’s alright, Ed. We’re here. It’ll be okay.” 

Ed swallowed. Boy, he sure hoped it would be okay! If Selina died because of him… 

“He asked me to kill Selina for him,” Ed managed to say. “So that you’d be girlfriend-free.” 

Bruce clenched the wheel so tightly his knuckles went white. His jaw was set. “When we get there, let me do the talking. He can’t leave the premisses, so make sure you block all the exists. And be ready to call the police.” 

Ivy and Ed both nodded in agreement and then Bruce pulled over in front of the Arcade. The three of them got inside and looked around as if they were cowboys in an old western movie. Bruce’s eyes landed on Jerome almost instantly. The crazy ginger teen was playing enthusiastically one of the arcade games, cackling pleased with his victory. His laughter, usually unsettling, now felt outright horrifying. Ed swallowed and glanced at Bruce, waiting to see what he’d do.  

Bruce glared at Jerome and charged at him with impressive speed. His hand wrapped tightly around Jerome’s arm, and he pulled the boy into the bathroom, locking the door behind them. It was just the two of them now. No one to bother them. 

“Hey, hey, hey! What’s the emergency?” Jerome protested. “I was winning there! Breaking a record!” 

“I’ll break your legs, if you don’t tell me where she is!” Bruce hissed, grabbing Jerome by the color of his clothes and giving him a good shake. 

“What? Brucey,” Jerome melted, eyes darting from Bruce’s eyes to Bruce’s lips. “I don’t mind if you like it a little rough, but give a gal a warning first, okay?” 

Bruce slammed him against the bathroom wall and snarled. “Where is Selina? What did you do to her?” 

Jerome looked a bit confused. “What do you mean? I didn’t do anything to the little kitty.” 

“Liar!” Bruce yelled. “I know you and Ed have been talking!” 

“So? We all talk to Ed,” Jerome snorted. “I don’t get what this has to do with--” 

Bruce slammed him against the wall again and this time Jerome hit the back of his head on the tiles. 

“Ouch,” he grimaced at the pain. “Bruce! Darling! I don’t know what you’re talking about!” 

“Don’t darling me! What did you do to Selina? Where is she?” 

“I don’t know!” Jerome screamed in reply. He rubbed at the back of his head. “Jeez! I’ve no idea where she is! Why would I?”  

“Don’t make me hurt you, Jerome,” Bruce warned with a low growl.  

To his great embarrassment Jerome actually felt aroused by that. Bruce noticed too, which only made him even more repulsed. That look of revulsion in those blue eyes hurt more than any physical punches Jerome could’ve received.  

Jerome deflated, resigned. 

“Look, you’re angry, I get it,” He said seriously, gazing into Bruce’s eyes with an unusual openness. “If you need a punching bag, that’s fine by me. I can take it. Use me.” 

Bruce slammed him against the wall one last time and let go of him. “I just want to know where’s Selina. That’s all.” 

Jerome only shrugged. “Sorry but I can’t help you with that.” 

A few rushed knocks came from the door. Someone was trying to get in. 

“Bruce? Bruce, is everything alright? Let us in!” 

Ivy and Ed. 

“We don’t have time for games, J,” Bruce said, twisting Jerome’s arms and tying them up on the other teen’s back. “You’re coming with me and I’m not letting you out of my sight until Selina shows up.” 

“I might actually like being the center of your attention,” Jerome cooed and received a punch for it. 

~*~  

“Did you break his nose?” Ed asked, eyes wide. 

They were standing by the car, Jerome waiting for them in the backseat. His face was bloody, his hands were tied up behind his back. 

“What did you do to him, Bruce?” Ivy asked with concern. She hadn’t seen Bruce like that before. No one had. 

“He’s lying! He’s obviously lying!” Bruce insisted. He was so angry, he could beat Jerome into a pulp. “He’s a liar! He won’t tell me where she is. And you said it yourself, Ed. He wants her gone!” 

Ed hesitated. “Maybe I was wrong. If he had her, he would’ve said something by now, wouldn’t he?” 

“I don’t know! I don’t know how his twisted mind works!” Bruce snapped. He looked angry at himself for not knowing. As if he were supposed to have that information and it was his fault that he didn’t. “I had no idea my friend is a monster!” 

“I wouldn’t call it a monster…” Ed muttered, the words hitting too close to home. 

“Murderers are monsters,” Bruce said determinedly. 

“Look, even if he did kidnap her, where could he have taken her? He still sleeps on my couch, for crying out loud.” 

“Perhaps he has a secret hideout. I’ll make him talk,” Bruce reached for the car but Ivy was quick to stop him. 

“Bruce! You can’t do that. That’s for the police to do,” she reminded him. As his friend, she didn’t want Bruce to do something he’d regret. 

Bruce glared. “Oh? Like they solved my parents’ murder? I don’t think so. I don’t trust them. I’ll find Selina myself!” 

Jerome knocked on the car window. “I need to pee!” 

Bruce’s fists were trembling. It took all his self-control not to get in that backseat with Jerome and break his ribs like he broke his nose earlier. 

Ivy put her hand on Bruce’s shoulder, to comfort him like she did with Ed before that. “We’ll talk to him again. We’ll find her. Okay?” 

Bruce inhaled deeply. His lips were pursed. “I just-- I can’t lose her…” 

“I know,” Ivy said softly. She pulled Bruce into a hug. 

Ed watched rather awkwardly, not really sure what to do. He glanced at Jerome who was rolling his eyes at the display. Was Ed wrong? Did Jerome really kidnap Selina? Had he already killed her? Or did Ed’s own twisted mind misread the situation? Just because Ed killed the man Oswald loved, it didn’t mean Jerome was as deranged to do the same. Perhaps it was just Ed who was sick. 

Bruce’s voice pulled him out of his thoughts. “Let’s take him to the police. He’s a suspect.” 

Just when he was about to unlock the car so that they’d all get inside, Bruce’s phone chimed with a text. 

“Could this be about Selina?” Ivy asked suspiciously. 

Bruce checked. “No,” he said, his voice even. “It’s from Selina.” 

“What!” Ivy and Ed both exclaimed. 

Bruce turned the phone around so that they could read the text on the screen. 

Sorry for going MIA. I’m back now. Wanna get a bite to eat? Xoxo Selina 

Ivy frowned. “What? Is this for real?” 

Bruce inhaled deeply, running his fingers through his hair. He looked at the ginger teen in the backseat of his car, his face covered in dried blood, his hands still tied up behind his back. 

Bruce exhaled loudly. “I don’t know what this means, but I think I owe Jerome an apology. A really big apology.” 

~*~ 

Bruce drove like a madman to Selina’s dorm. They needed to see with their own eyes that she was alive and well. They needed to hear her explanation. 

It was a dark cold Gotham night and Jerome shivered a little, but he remained quiet for once. The entire car ride was silent but intense. There was a lot to be said, but no one had the faintest idea how to even begin that conversation. Ivy sat at the front, close to Bruce, so that she could calm him down in case he lost his temper again. Ed was at the backseat with Jerome, glancing at him nervously every now and then, and feeling responsible for the bruises and the broken nose. After all, it was Ed who gave Bruce the idea that Jerome had something to do with Selina’s disappearance. 

When they finally reached their destination, Bruce was the first to leave the car and rush up the stairs. He had to know what happened. He deserved to know. Ed helped Jerome out, Ivy parked the car properly, then the three of them went up too. 

Bruce and Selina’s voices could be heard down the hallway.   

“... any idea how I felt? How we all felt?” 

“I have my own life, Bruce! This was something I needed to do by myself.”

“I could’ve helped you!” 

“I don’t want your help. I wanted to do this on my own, not ask my rich boyfriend to do it for me.” 

“I wish you’d warned me about it,” Bruce said bitterly. “I did something really bad because of you and I didn’t like it.” 

The door was half-open and Ed, Ivy and Jerome entered Selina’s place. Bruce glanced at them and quickly looked away. 

“She’s alright,” he said, running a shaky hand through his hair. “Apparently we were worried over nothing.” 

“You all totally overreacted,” Selina insisted. Then she gaped at Jerome. “Jesus, Jerome! What happened to you?” 

Bruce huffed and paced around like a caged animal. 

“I had a bit of fun,” Jerome replied. He was about to chuckle, but when he saw the state Bruce was in, he thought better of it. 

“Wait there. I have a first aid kit,” Selina said and went to the bathroom. 

“Oh, no, you don’t!” Ivy called after her. “Where have you been, Selina? We were worried sick about you! You can’t just disappear like that without a warning!” 

“I had work to do. I’ll show you when it’s done. It’s really important to me.” 

“So important that you couldn’t pick up your phone and say you were okay?” Ed said hurt. 

“You’re one to talk, Ed. Your phone was turned off the entire time.” 

“I need to get out of here,” Bruce suddenly said and headed for the door. “My car will be downstairs. You can all use it to get home. I can’t stay here.” He pushed past Ed and Jerome without another word. 

Ivy rushed after Selina to the bathroom where they continued to argue. Ed was left alone with Jerome. 

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly. 

Jerome shrugged. “What for?” 

“I told Bruce about that thing you said the other night. About wanting Selina dead?” 

Jerome was silent for a moment, then he chuckled. “Right. That explains a lot.” 

“I actually thought that you’d-- I thought--” He couldn’t say it. He couldn’t finish the sentence. 

Jerome tapped him on the shoulder. “It’s fine. I get it. No harm done.” 

“But there is harm done,” Ed pressed. “You’re bleeding, Jerome. And Bruce is so angry with himself for doing this to you, I can tell. And it’s because of me…” 

“No. It’s because we’re all human. We get angry, we get scared, we mess up. It’s what we do. It has nothing to do with you, Ed.” 

Before Ed could reply, Selina was back with the first aid kit. “Now, let’s check your face, J-man,” she said, sitting on her bed and tapping the space next to her. 

Jerome did as instructed and Selina started cleaning up the blood on his face. 

Ivy returned from the bathroom too. She looked grim. “Let’s go.”

“But Jerome--” 

“He’s gonna stay here tonight. Selina’s idea for making things right.” 

“I don’t know. I was hoping to talk to her before I leave.” 

Ivy shrugged. “Suit yourself.” 

That said, she left. 

Ed carefully approached the bed. “Selina…” She looked up at him. “You’re really okay?” 

“Yes, Ed. I’m fine,” she said, frowning a little. “I had this thing I needed to do and I didn’t want any distractions.” 

“We were distractions?” Ed said brokenly. “Your friends… we’re distractions?” 

Selina sighed. “No, that’s not what I meant. I just--” She paused as if to gather her thoughts. Then she put away the first aid kit. “Remember Jim Gordon?” 

“Of course. What kind of question is that?” Ed grimaced. 

“Well. He was so good to me, back when he was alive. The only grownup who actually cared. Who didn’t hurt me. I screwed things up with him. And now he’s dead.” 

“Did you kill him?” Jerome snickered. 

Selina rolled her eyes. “No, of course not, you dork. But I wanted to do something for him. That’s what I was doing these last couple of days. Setting up the James Gordon Charity Foundation. It’s for homeless people. He wanted everyone to have a shelter and feel safe. I thought he’d like that.” 

Ed thought about it. “He would like that,” he said, without ill feeling. 

Selina smiled. “He really would.” Her smile slowly faded away. “Bruce is angry at me for not telling him, but I know him. He would’ve insisted on helping me, on using his connections to ease the process. And I needed to do this by myself.” Her eyes went from Ed to Jerome, and then back to Ed. “I’m really sorry I caused all that. I didn’t mean to worry any of you. Honestly, I didn’t think you’d be this upset. I thought-- I’m just not used to having people who worry about me in my life.” She chuckled helplessly and glanced down at her hands. “I don’t know what to do when people are nice to me. I don’t even make sense now, do I?”  

Before Ed could respond, Jerome shook his head. “You make more than enough sense to me,” he said and stroke her hair. “You make perfect sense.”  

Jerome decided to stay with Selina that night after all. Ed, on the other hand, wanted nothing more than to go back home. He soon said his goodbyes and then used Bruce’s car to get to the mansion. He was exhausted after the whole ordeal. His brain was overwhelmed with new impressions and thoughts. He needed to rest, he craved the pleasant oblivion that sleep could provide. However, he had forgotten something very important. The moment he closed the front door and headed for the stairs, he was instantly reminded of his oversight. 

“So you finally decided to show up,” Oswald sounded mad. “ Seven hours late. Real nice, Edward. Real nice.” 

Crud! He was supposed to dine with Oswald and Martin tonight. Talk about making a bad first impression. 

Chapter Text

“So you finally decided to show up. Seven hours late.” He shook his head, lips pursed into a tight line. “Real nice, Edward. Real nice.” 

“Oswald…” Ed shut his eyes to compose himself, then slowly turned around to face Penguin. “The dinner. I’m late. I’m sorry . It slipped my mind completely--” 

For some reason the apology irritated Oswald even more. “It slipped your mind?” he snapped, fists clenched tightly by his side. Chin up, his nose, like a beak, looked eager to attack. His entire body took the shape of an arrow, ready to pierce straight through Edward’s heart. “You knew how important this was to me, and it slipped your mind? ” 

“I forgot. I’m sorry,” Ed tried again. “Something happened. You see, Se--” 

But Oswald cut him off impatiently. “You expect me to believe you didn’t do this on purpose?” 

“Of course it wasn’t on purpose! Oswald, I assure you it wasn’t intentional.” 

Oswald was visibly fighting back tears. He was still furious, but his sadness was showing through the anger. “You promised , Ed!” he cried out. “You promised and then you ditched us both! Martin waited for you-- I waited for you…” He sucked in a sharp breath. “I guess now I know how you truly feel about all this.” 

“No, Oswald!” 

Penguin threw his hands in the air, not giving Ed a chance to speak. “How could I have been so foolish? How could I have fallen for this again? I believed you, Edward! After everything you’ve done, I still believed you! How twisted is that? I keep trusting you, despite all reason. I keep wanting things to go back to the way they were before-- before I learned the truth. I feel sick with myself for wishing I’d remained ignorant about what you did to Jim!” A tear slid down his cheek. “I still fucking miss you after everything you’ve put me through.” He shook his head, looking quite broken. “I can’t take this anymore, Edward. I can’t live like this.” 

Ed swallowed and reached out for him, but Osawld pulled away, quickly regaining control over his emotions. 

“I’m adopting Martin,” he said, his voice growing cold. “And I don’t care what you say or think about it.” 

He headed to the stairs and Edward panicked.  

“Selina went missing!” Ed blurted out. 

Oswald stopped. “What?” 

“That’s why I didn’t come to dinner. I was out with Bruce and Ivy, looking for her. We thought Jerome had killed her.” 

“Jerome?...”  

Right. Oswald didn’t know about Jerome. It was really hard to keep track of one’s own lies, wasn’t it? 

“Long story,” Ed said, cheeks heating up in embarrassment. “I-- I’ll tell you all about it later. The point is, I was worried I lost my friend. And I forgot to warn you about dinner.” 

“Is Selina still missing?” Oswald asked, his anger replaced by concern for the young woman. 

Ed shook his head. “No, we found her. More like, she showed up… It was a misunderstanding, but it’s all sorted out now.” Ed made a small pause, biting the inside of his mouth, then proceeded, “She’s creating a Foundation for homeless people in Jim Gordon’s honor.”  

Oswald’s face mellowed. “Oh. That’s very thoughtful of her.” 

Ed nodded. “Yes, it is. I thought you’d approve.” 

“If she needs help with it, I’d be glad to give my support.” 

“I’m sure you would.” 

Oswald inhaled deeply and pinched the bridge of his nose. “So Selina’s safe now?”

“She’s safe.” 

“But you didn’t know that. You thought she was in danger.” 

“Yes…” 

“So why didn’t you tell me, Ed?” Oswald looked up at him, searchingly. “I’m the King of Gotham and the Mayor. I have resources, I could’ve helped! You know that. Yet you didn’t ask for my help.” 

“I-- didn’t really think about that, actually…” 

“No, of course not,” he shook his head bitterly. “You don’t want me in your life. You refuse to come to me even when your friend’s life is in danger.” 

“Oswald, that’s not true and you know it.” 

“I don’t blame you,” Oswald uttured. “I’ve been keeping you in this mansion like a prisoner, of course you’d want me out of your life.” 

 Ed took a few steps closer, crossing the distance between them and locking their eyes. “It’s not like I don’t deserve it,” he said. “Oswald, I know I hurt you, and I’m very sorry about that. I forgot about the dinner, I disappointed you. But I didn’t mean it. I’m really sorry you felt like I betrayed you again.” Oswald swallowed. He seemed uncertain of how to respond to the sincerity in Edward’s voice. Ed continued, thoughtfully, “I’ve done that a lot, haven’t I? Hurting you. It was the last thing I wanted to do, but here we are. I’m really sorry, Oswald. I’m sorry about Jim. I’m sorry for lying to you. I’m sorry I betrayed your trust.” 

Oswald opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out. 

“I hope you can forgive me one day,” Ed said candidly. “I hope with time we can still be to each other what we used to be.”  

Oswald shook his head. “No, don’t--” He held up his hand. “Don’t go there, Ed. I can’t do this. I can’t let you in again.” 

Edward gently took Oswald's hand in his and pressed it to his heart. Oswald did not pull away this time. “I realize it takes time.Trust, once lost, is hard to restore. But I believe we could do this, if we tried.” His voice grew softer. “I’ve missed you, Oswald. I’ve missed us .” 

Oswald swallowed. “This is crazy… Madness…,” he said quietly. His eyes were glued to their hands intertwined on Edward’s chest. 

“It is madness,” Edward agreed. “But oh, how sweet it feels.” 

“Ed…” 

“I made a mistake.” He gave it some thought and amended, “ Many mistakes. It took me so long to see things with clarity. But I’ve changed.” 

Oswald looked up at him skeptically. “You think you have clarity now?”  

Ed nodded. “I believe so. At least, I have more clarity than I did before.” He inhaled deeply. “I’m messed up, Oswald. I’m very messed up but I don’t want to be like that anymore. I want to make it better.” 

“Why now?” 

“Because I’ve realized certain things. Things I didn’t understand before. I have a new perspective and it allowed me to take a better look at my own life.”  

Oswald was quiet for a moment, processing Edward’s words. When he spoke again, he sounded peaceful. 

“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry, too.” He looked Ed in the eyes again. “I adopted you for selfish reasons and I was never the parent you needed. I was never a father to you, I blurred the lines and made things more confusing. And you were already confused enough as it were. You had committed two murders, not even remembering one of them, and I just shrug it off as if it were nothing. In my line of work, it is nothing. But I didn’t think that it wasn’t normal for you. For anyone , really. I forgot that a teenage boy should not consider murder a suitable plan of action. You needed help to deal with your inner demons, but I ignored it all until it was too late. “He paused. The next part was difficult to say but he seemed determined to voice it. “I developed feelings for you, Edward. I fell in love with you, and I wanted you, and that is unforgivable. You were too young and I should never have allowed myself to think of you in that way.” Ed was about to say something but Oswald stopped him. “No, please. I need to say this.” Ed remained silent and listened. “What I did was wrong. I knew it was wrong but I still didn’t stop it, because I was selfish and it felt so good to be close to you. I didn’t want to put an end to it.” Oswald’s voice shook a little. “I pushed you to your limits, instead of offering you the proper help you needed, and when you snapped, I blamed you for it. What you did to Jim and to all those people is wrong, and I was supposed to teach you that, not cover up for you. Those murders were monstrous. But you’re not the only monster here, Ed. We’re both monsters. We’re both broken. I just forgot how broken I was. I put on a mask of normality and I actually started believing that the facade was real. I’ve seen so much of the worst of Gotham that I became desensitised about it when I saw it in you. You needed help. But all I wanted was to hurt you back for Jim and for your lies. So I killed Lucius. The boy you loved. Your first real lover. And he didn’t deserve it, I know he didn’t. Yet I didn’t care, because all that mattered was my revenge.” He bowed his head a little. “I’m deeply sorry for hurting you, Ed.” 

Edward was more moved by this speech than he could convey in words. He shook his head and held Oswald’s hands again. “Lucius’ blood is on my hands as much as it is on yours. I might as well have pulled that trigger myself. We both made mistakes, Oswald, and we both suffered for it,” he said, heartfelt. “There’s a bond between us. A strong bond. And it was so new to us to have someone to trust, someone to care about, that we screwed it up. Both of us in our own way. But perhaps we can move past all this now that we’re even. And maybe it's time to look at what's ahead of us, instead of dwell on the past.” He dared a little smile. “What do you think?”  

Oswald swallowed. “I think…” He looked so small at this moment, Ed felt that familiar protectiveness again. “I think, trust is so very hard to find in Gotham. But I want to trust you again, Ed. And if you really want this, I hope we can rebuild our friendship.” 

Ed’s smile widened. “Feels good to hear you say that.” 

~*~  

It took some time for things to get back to normal between Bruce and Selina, but eventually they got there. After her sleepover with Jerome, she began to understand why Bruce was so worried about her. She had a healthy discussion with him about it and promised not to give him a scare like that again. He, in turn, promised not to be too overbearing when it came to helping her. After a while, they kissed and made up. 

It took a bit longer to fix things with Ivy, though. Ivy was really upset Selina disappeared without a word, and she was determined to be mad at her for as long as she could. However, the two were like sisters and it took a lot of energy to stay mad at one’s best friend. The truth was, Ivy missed Selina. A lot. Besides, there was this new girl on campus that Ivy had a huge crush on, and she really wanted to tell Selina all about it. Being angry was highly unproductive, so eventually she forgave her, and things went back to normal for them too.  

Ed was never mad at Selina to begin with, so there was nothing to forgive. He was too ashamed of his own assumptions about Jerome to be angry at Selina. Especially since he understood her craving for independence, so he couldn’t really judge her. She was grateful that at least one person understood and was not angry at her for her mistake. 

After a while, things were once again well in their little circle of friendship, and everyone was happy about it. There was just one conversation Bruce was ardently putting aside. A conversation he should’ve had much earlier, but he felt too bad to actually go through with it. There was no getting out of it, though. It was time to face Jerome.  

Bruce found the ginger teen at the Arcade, playing a game. It would appear this was Jerome’s new favorite place in Gotham, because he spent a lot of time there. It was rather ironic that Bruce would have this talk with him here, considering what happened last time. The moment Bruce entered the Arcade, he was instantly transported back to that unfortunate evening when he burst in and dragged Jerome to the bathroom. He tried to shake off those flashbacks, and walked calmly and in control of his own actions. His hands were a bit sweaty, and he hated that, but there was little he could do about it, other than wipe them on his jeans. 

He stopped by Jerome’s side. “Hey,” he greeted, careful not to startle the young man. 

Jerome looked a little surprised to see him. Who could blame him? Bruce had been avoiding him since that night. “Hey,” he replied. 

“You beating another record?” Bruce asked in an awkward attempt to break the ice. 

Jerome shrugged. “Oh, y’know, I always am.” He glanced at Bruce sheepishly. There were still a few bruises left on his face, and of course the healing broken nose. 

“Did I--” Bruce swallowed. “Did I do that?” 

Jerome’s fingers brushed against one of the bruises and he winced a little but there was a smile on his face. “You did, yeah,” he nodded. “I meant to thank you for that.” 

“Thank me?” Bruce asked bitterly. 

“Yeah,” Jerome said, the soft smile not leaving his face. “They’re like presents. A reminder of you.” 

Bruce felt sick with himself. He needed to apologize at once. Not that an apology would magically heal Jerome’s bruises. 

“Can we go somewhere and talk?” Bruce asked, hopeful. 

Jerome looked at him head to toe as if sizing him up. “Is it gonna be just us, or are you gonna bring your secret identity with you?” It was a joke but when Jerome noticed Bruce’s confused face, he elaborated, “Your other persona? The one that punches like Superman?”  

Bruce swallowed. “No, it’s,” he cleared his throat and muttered clumsily, “it’s gonna be just me.” 

Jerome chuckled a little and motioned for Bruce to follow him. They went to the coffee shop near the Arcade where Bruce ordered a black coffee while Jerome preferred a strawberry flavored slushy. They found a nice semi-secluded table to sit at, and Bruce took a better look at the young man before him. Jerome was wearing his favorite purple hoodie with a green smiley face on it, his green skinny jeans and those ridiculous shoes that resembled something a clown would wear. His nails were painted black, rather poorly. He had probably painted them himself and lost patience after doing the first few nails. Bruce found it almost endearing. 

“So. What’s up?” Jerome asked casually, sipping his slushy through a straw. 

“Jerome, I came here to apologize for the way I behaved,” Bruce said seriously. “I shouldn’t have suspected you of something so-- horrible , and I shouldn’t have attacked you. I don’t know what came over me. I just snapped and--” 

Jerome waved it off. “Hey, I told you, I don’t mind it rough.” He winked, clearly willing to let the incident slide, or think of it as a joke. But Bruce couldn’t just let it slide. He had been tormented by the memories of his actions for the last couple of nights. It mattered to him, even if Jerome wanted to ignore it. 

“I hurt you, Jerome!” he insisted. “I hurt you and I didn’t like who I became at that moment. I am so sorry! I want to make it up to you.” 

Jerome looked at him for a long moment. It appeared the apology ruined his mood. He sighed. If Bruce wanted a serious talk, he’d get it. 

“So it’s all about you then?” he arched an eyebrow. “You came here to apologize, not because you think I deserve it, but because you feel bad about it?” 

Bruce’s eyes went wide. “No, that’s not what I meant!” 

“It’s what you said,” Jerome pressed. 

Bruce suppressed a sigh. “I’m no good at this.” 

“Oh, it’s definitely not your forte, darling,” Jerome smirked. 

“But I mean what I said.” Bruce looked at him, regretfully. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. I hope we can go back to being friends, despite what an ass I was to you.” 

Jerome tilted his head and leaned in a little bit to put his almost empty cup of slushy on the table. “You know I like you, right?” 

Taken by surprise, Bruce blinked a few times, then nodded. There was no point denying it. He was quite aware that Jerome had a crush on him. 

Jerome snorted. “Of course you do! After all, I am quite obvious, aren’t I? Hell, I even kissed you!” He chuckled to himself at the memory. Then cleared his throat as if to become more serious again. “The point is, I like you a lot . So if given the opportunity, I would definitely kill for you. I mean it.” Bruce gave him a mildly disapproving look. Jerome ignored it and continued, “But I know harming Selina would hurt you. And I would never hurt you, Bruce. You mean too much to me.” 

Bruce swallowed. He looked so tense, it was clear he was uncomfortable for not being able to return the sentiment. 

Jerome seemed to find it amusing. “It’s okay, it’s okay!” he waved his hands about with a grin. “I know you’ll never like me back. Although there must be something wrong with you, I mean, come on. I’m gorgeous. How can you not be attracted to me? You should get that checked. Might be a tumor or something.” 

Bruce chuckled despite himself. 

Jerome scratched his head. “Where was I? Oh, yes! So. I know you won’t like me. And I won’t lie to you, it sucks that I have all these feelings and you just… don’t . But life is pain, right? And I-- I like the pain. I like it when you hurt me.” 

“Jerome, I’m really sorry.” 

“For what? What exactly are you so sorry for?” 

“For causing you pain. For punching you. For not believing you.” Bruce exhaled and it sounded a lot like a sigh. “I hate myself for it. I hate that I hurt you.” 

“Whether you like it or not, you do hurt me, Bruce. Even when you don’t want to.”

Bruce remained silent. He was aware of that pain. He too had felt it, back when Selina kept refusing him. So he sympathised with Jerome. He wished there was something he could do, but he knew that it wasn’t up to him. He could not give Jerome what he wanted. Bruce loved Selina. And even if a part of him felt drawn to Jerome, those were very different feelings to what he felt for his girlfriend. He would not act on those. All he could do was hope Jerome would get over it. 

Jerome went on, “But life always hurts, doesn’t it? Only death is devoid of pain. At least this way I can look at those bruises you gave me and know that you’re real.” He smiled. “It’s a good kind of pain. A happy pain. Trust me, I know about pain. There’s all kinds of it and I’m familiar with most. I’m not saying I’m an expert, but…,” he leaned in to whisper conspiratorially, “I’m an expert.” 

Bruce looked at Jerome for a long moment and then crossed the distance between their faces to press a chaste kiss on the other boy’s lips. Jerome froze, closing his eyes. The rest of the world disappeared, smeared into a blur of colors with no form and shape. An extravaganza of lights and fireworks exploded inside Jerome’s head, making his heart beat faster. Then Bruce pulled away and the magic was gone. 

“What was that?” Jerome whispered breathlessly. 

“I wanted you to remember me for not just pain,” Bruce said. “I know I can’t give you everything you want, but I can give you this kiss. You deserve someone better than me, Jerome. And I hope you find them.” 

For once Jerome was dumbfounded. His fingers touched his lips in awe and he realized he was crying. 

“I am sorry for what I did. But I hope we can still be friends. Call me when you feel like we can hang out again.” Bruce left money for the coffee and the slushy and headed for the door. 

“B-bruce?” Jerome called after him. 

“Yes?” 

“I blinked during that kiss. Can we have a do-over?”

Bruce chuckled. “See you around, Jerome.” 

Jerome watched him go. His lips still vibrated with his first real kiss -- a gentle and sweet one for a change. It was supposed to be something beautiful for Jerome to look back on with fondness. It was a sweet gesture. Little did Bruce know that this might turn to be Jerome’s most painful memory.  

~*~  

“We need a do-over,” Edward said at breakfast. 

Oswald looked up from his paper. “What do you mean?” 

“With Martin,” he elaborated. “I wasn’t lying before. I would love to meet him.” 

“Oh.” Oswald had an odd look on his face. 

Ed tilted his head. “You still want to adopt the boy, don’t you?” 

“Yes. Yes, I do,” Oswald said, putting his paper aside. “I would very much like that.” 

He bit his lower lip and Edward could tell something was bothering him. 

“But?” Ed nudged, hoping to encourage him to share. 

Oswald sighed. “I’m not sure if me adopting him is a good thing for Martin. I mean, I adopted you and look what happened.” 

“I turned out okay. Eventually…” Ed joked. 

Oswald gave him a look. “Martin deserves a normal life, Ed. I’m afraid I can’t give him that. No matter how hard I try, things can never be normal around me.” 

Ed gave it a moment’s thought. “That’s true,” he said. “Things can never be normal around you. But that doesn’t have to necessarily be a bad thing. Oswald, you can offer him affection, a home, financial stability, a chance for a better future. I’d say this is more than he’d ever get in that orphanage.” 

Oswald was biting his nails nervously. “I’m also a criminal kingpin. A mobster. I can’t change that. This life is a part of me. But it endangers everyone I care about.” 

“I handled it. Martin will handle it too.” Ed smirked. “Come on, he’ll be fine! Remember that story you told me of how you met him? He’s a little arsonist.” 

“He’s not an arsonist,” Oswald nearly pouted. “Those children were bullying him! Their bags had it coming!” 

Ed caught himself chuckling fondly. “Don’t sulk. I was only teasing.” 

“Martin’s a great kid,” Oswald said. “He deserves a loving home with parents who’d take good care of him.” 

Ed leaned back in his chair and brought his hands together thoughtfully. “So you think you don’t care about Martin’s well-being enough to adopt him?” 

“I do care!” Oswald gasped, outraged at the suggestion. “I care about him enough to let him go so that he’d be safe.” 

Ed deflated a little. It stung to hear Oswald talk like this about someone else. Ed knew that there was no logical reason for him to feel threatened by a 10 year old. Things were complicated between Oswald and Edward right now. And even if they weren’t, Oswald’s affection for Martin was very different to anything he’d ever felt for Ed. Oswald felt paternal about Martin. His love for the boy was the love of a father. It was not the kind of love Edward coveted from Oswald. He had never wanted Oswald as his father. Still, Penguin’s words and the way he said them saddened Edward. 

He quickly shook it off, not wanting to give Oswald any reasons to suspect him in anything untoward. “I think you’d make a good father to that kid,” he said truthfully. “You’ve already spent so much time with him. You seem to care about him a lot. You want to protect him. And I don’t see anyone else expressing any interest in adopting him, anyway. You might be his best chance at having a home at this point of his life.” 

“That’s true…” Oswald allowed. “I’m just not sure if I can be a good father. I’ve never done this before, not really.” He gave Ed a guilty look. 

“Most fathers hadn’t done this before.” Ed pulled his chair closer to Penguin’s. “Oswald, I know ours wasn’t the relationship any of us expected when we first met, but just because I was never your son, it doesn’t mean you can’t be a good father.” He took Oswald’s hand in his and spoke softer, “You have a caring heart. And from the way you talk about this kid, I can tell you’d be a good parent to him. You have it in you.” 

Visibly moved by Edward’s words, Oswald swallowed. “You really mean that?” 

Ed nodded with a smile. “Yes. I really mean it.” 

“Thank you,” Oswald whispered and tapped Ed’s hand before pulling out of his hold. He inhaled deeply and smiled. “I guess I should tell Sofia then. She already knows about my intentions but I told her I needed more time to think.” 

Sofia again. Ed tried not to get irritated at the mention of her name. She had, after all, been at the center of some of Oswald and Ed’s recent arguments. 

“And what about Martin? Does he know about your intentions?” Ed asked, changing the subject. 

Oswald bit his lip. “Not really. I didn’t want to give him false hope. I know for a fact that he likes me very much.” 

“Aww. Cute.” 

“But he’s really clever. I think he suspected when I told him I wanted him to meet you.” 

Ed felt bad for missing dinner again. “Sorry about that…” 

“No, it’s fine. We’ll just have another dinner together.” 

“Or better still,” Ed livened at the idea that suddenly came to his mind. “Why just a dinner? We could spend the whole day together? Get to know each other better. What do you think?” 

Oswald’s smile widened. “Well, that sounds really good, Ed!” 

“This Saturday seems like a good day for that. You could bring Martin here for a day of fun.” 

“It’s decided then!” 

Ed was smiling at Oswald’s enthusiasm, but deep down he felt like he wasn’t a part of it. He felt like a stranger to Oswald’s joy for the new family he was about to build with Martin. Knowing he used to have that and let it slip through his fingers, left an unpleasant taste in his mouth. It wasn’t that long ago when Ed had a family with Oswald. Ed was the reason for Oswald’s happiness. But no more. Penguin was not interested in romance or friendship anymore, he was interested in being a father. And that young boy was lucky to have the affection of someone like Oswald who loved so unconditionally. Edward had to be happy for them. So he ignored the unpleasant feeling rising in the pit of his stomach, and decided to concentrate on assisting Oswald with whatever preparations were necessary for the adoption. He had taken enough people from Oswald’s life, it was now time he helped adding someone instead. 

Chapter Text

Edward was well aware that he was not very good at making friends. In fact, it was a miracle he still had Ivy, Selina and Bruce in his life. But for Oswald’s sake he was willing to do his best to befriend Martin. According to Oswald’s own words, it shouldn’t be too difficult, since apparently Martin and Ed had a lot in common, so they would definitely get along famously, Oswald insisted. However, Oswald was very biased on the subject, so Edward did not count on him to be right about this. Still, Edward was determined to do the best he could to get Martin to like him. 

He paced nervously in the hall, glancing through the window every now and then, waiting for Penguin’s limo to bring Martin for their day of fun. It was weird that Ed felt so anxious about this. Meeting Martin was not supposed to be a big deal for him, but he knew how much it meant to Oswald, and he didn’t want to ruin this for Penguin. So when the car stopped in front of the mansion, Ed was ready to make a great first impression. After all, Martin was ten. How hard was it to make a ten year old like you? 

Ed watched as a boy with dark curls, a cardigan, and a little bowtie slid out of the back seat of the limo and looked around, taking in the view before him. His eyes were alight with the sort of lively cleverness Edward rarely found in other people. Perhaps Oswald wasn’t wrong about that child. Ed felt rather curious to get to know Martin better. After a few short moments, the kid seemed like he’d lost interest in the mansion -- all conclusions, no doubt, already drawn -- and directed his gaze at Edward instead. His eyes lingered longer then, sizing Edward up, judging him. It was very peculiar. 

“Martin, this is Edward,” Oswald said, visibly excited himself. “Edward. This is Martin.” 

Edward leaned in a bit to be at eye level with Martin, and offered his hand with a smile like one would with a child. “Hello, Martin. It’s really nice to meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you.” 

The intensity in Martin’s brown eyes grew stronger. He was looking at Ed underneath furrowed brows, then lifted up the writing pad around his neck. 

“I’ve heard a lot about you too, Edward,” Martin had written down.  

Assuming this was meant as a friendly remark, Ed looked back at Martin, about to smile again, when suddenly the kid surged forward and kicked him hard in the ankle. 

Edward cried out in pain, seeing stars. What the hell was that! 

Martin didn't even flinch. He remained perfectly calm, while Edward rubbed at his hurt ankle. 

Startled, Oswald rushed to check up on Ed before turning to Martin. “Martin, what was that about? Why did you do this?” 

The child held up his writing pad again. 

“He's been making you sad,” Oswald read out loud. Then sighed. “Oh, Martin, that’s not true.” 

“I’ve seen you being sad because of him.” Martin wrote down, looking up at Oswald with sad eyes.  

Oswald glanced nervously at Ed who had now let go of his ankle and looked quite puzzled. 

“Perhaps he had before,” Penguin replied, turning back to Martin. “But things are different now. Edward and I are friends.” 

Ed smiled a little when he heard the words. He hadn’t realized how much he’d missed Oswald’s genuine friendship. 

Martin frowned and scribbled something on his pad. When he turned it around it showed a drawing of two men hugging, each holding a knife to the other one’s back. Oswald bit back a chuckle.  

“Now, usually I would agree with you,” he said out loud. “You can’t trust anyone, especially friends. They lower your defenses and have the power to hurt you the most.” 

Ed’s heart sunk. Was this truly how Oswald felt? He’d never said that about friendship before. It must’ve been Edward’s betrayal that changed his mind on this matter. 

“But this is different,” Oswald continued. “Ed isn’t sneaky like that. At least not to me. Isn’t that right, Ed?”  

Feeling put on the spot, Ed froze for a moment like a man with stage fright who’d suddenly been placed under a limelight. He cleared his throat awkwardly and gave a quick nod. 

“Yes, definitely!” he took a step closer and knelt in front of Martin. “I understand that you’re protective of Oswald. Trust me, I’ve been there.” He purposely did not look at Oswald when he said that. He wasn’t sure he was ready to see the look on the other man’s face at the mention of their complicated history. He did, however, hear a small suppressed whimper coming from Penguin’s direction, but he didn’t think too much of it and continued, “I don’t want to be the cause for Oswald’s pain. And I promise that if I am to ever hurt Oswald, I’d do it to his face. I’ll be looking him in the eyes as I stab him in the heart. Never in his back. That I promise.”  

Oswald tilted his head a little. To anyone else this promise might have seemed confusing, even alarming. But to Oswald, who understood things the way Ed did, it sounded like a lovely thing to say. The promise was meant to reassure Oswald in Edward’s friendship. It proclaimed that their relationship was stronger than any betrayal. That whatever issues they faced, they’d be open about them. No more sneakiness, no more lies. Only the truth. Because their bond was stronger than that. Oswald understood the true meaning of Edward’s words, but he wondered if Martin, being an outsider to their dynamic, would understand too, or would he consider this promise upsetting. 

With slight uneasiness, Oswald fixed his eyes on the young boy and waited for his reaction. Martin looked so very serious. His brows were furrowed, his lips were a tight line. It seemed really difficult to get his approval at this point. But then, slowly, a smile began to spread across his cute little face. He offered his hand to Ed and he was only too glad to shake it. 

Oswald chuckled softly, relieved. Martin understood them. Who knew he would fit in their little family so well? 

“Alright, Martin,” Oswald looked at the young boy with a smile, “how about I show you around first, and then we can play some board games, if you like?” 

Martin nodded eagerly at the suggestion and Oswald returned his enthusiasm in kind. Ed watched as he took the boy by the hand and the two went exploring the mansion. The irony was not lost on Ed. He remembered he, too, used to find this place fascinating the first days after his arrival in Oswald’s home. It was like a puzzle for Ed to piece together, but he did all his explorations alone back then. Oswald didn’t accompany him. He only mentioned the library, the rest was left for Ed to discover. Things were very different with Martin and the more Ed observed, the more glaringly obvious it became to him that Oswald’s behavior around Martin was nothing like what he was like around Ed. It took him a moment to realize that the reason for this difference was because Oswald’s affections for Martin were different. Oswald felt paternal around Martin, so he treated him like a son. He never treated Ed like a son because, well, Ed was never a son to him to begin with. Only on paper. 

He knew it was silly to feel bitter about it, he never wanted to be Oswald’s child, yet seeing him with Martin like this left a bitter-sweet taste of nostalgia in his mouth. He missed the time when Oswald spent more time with him. If only he could somehow remind him of-- No. He should not ruin this for Oswald. Oswald deserved to have a family. So Ed remained in the hallway, giving Oswald and Martin some space. Perhaps they wanted to spend some quality father-future son time and Ed would only get in the way. He didn’t want to intrude, didn’t want to be the third wheel, so he decided to wait for them in the drawing room. 

Just when he was about to leave, he heard Oswald’s voice calling him. “Edward, where are you going?” 

“To the drawing room…” Edward replied dumbly, jerking his thumb in the corresponding direction. 

“Nonsense. You’re coming with us,” Oswald gestured to him to join them. “I’ll definitely need your help showing Martin around. You don’t expect me to do everything by myself, do you?” 

Ed hesitated. He wasn’t sure if Martin wanted him around so he looked at the boy expectantly. 

“Edward, come on,” Oswald encouraged once again and Martin nodded his agreement. 

“Very well then,” Ed smiled and crossed the distance between them. “I know all the best places in this house!”  

Their little exploration of the mansion quickly turned into a game. Edward kept flooding Martin with curious facts about the mansion, its previous occupants, its history and architectural value, as well as a few funny stories about Oswald. Martin laughed heartily at the stories (which made Oswald roll his eyes with fond amusement), and gobbled up everything else Ed said as if it were the most interesting information he’d ever heard. Edward loved being listened to with such devotion, and that prompted him to go into even more details. 

However, when Oswald’s leg started to hurt too much, they had to take a rest and leave some parts of the mansion for later. They returned to the drawing room, where Edward offered to show Martin some of his school projects. That soon escalated into them conducting science experiments in the kitchen. Martin was over the moon with excitement, and judging by Ed’s face, so was he. Oswald just chuckled to himself and tried not to imagine Olga’s reaction when she saw the mess they would no doubt make. 

After dinner, they played a board game. As it turned out, Martin was a big supporter of board games and brain teasers, so soon the three of them were settled around the coffee table near the fireplace in the drawing room. The game wasn’t even that interesting, Oswald thought, but there was something so innately enjoyable about spending time with Ed and Martin like this. They played together and joked together, laughing and having fun, and Oswald took a moment to actually look at them. Edward and Martin, by his side, enjoying themselves. They looked so much like a family. A real, loving family. Oswald’s family. Martin was the son, obviously, and Ed was the husband… Ed was married to Oswald, in this particular fantasy, and together they were Martin’s parents, gentle and loving, creating a happy home for their darling child. Odd as this entire scenario sounded, it filled Oswald’s heart with such indescribable joy, he was nearly in tears just thinking about it. 

Then Ed’s voice pulled him out of his thoughts. Apparently he had said something funny (judging by Martin’s reaction), and was waiting for Oswald’s response.  

“Isn’t that right, Oswald?” 

Oswald blinked. He had no idea what Ed had just said. He wasn’t listening. His mind was far away in a fantasy that could never become reality. But he smiled and nodded, which only made both Edward and Martin burst into laughter. 

“I told you, didn’t I!” Ed gasped and Martin quickly scribbled something on his writing pad. 

Oswald’s eyes slid down to Edward’s shoulder. It looked so inviting, he was suddenly overcome with the desire to rest his head on it, to snuggle close by Ed's side and feel his warmth. He wished Ed would look at him the way he used to before, back when they were in love. He wished the fantasy his mind had just created were real. 

His smile slowly faded. Those were dangerous thoughts. Insane even. He scolded himself internally for allowing himself to entertain such ideas about Ed after everything they’ve been through. It was wrong. No matter how one looked at it, it was wrong. Ed was almost eighteen now, legally an adult, but that didn’t make it less wrong. Oswald could not let himself go down that path again. Once was enough. He had to pull himself together and think with his head, not with his heart and his desire.  

He averted his eyes from Ed and concentrated on Martin instead. The boy was winning. He was kicking their asses on that game and clearly enjoying it. Oswald recognized that same driving force that he himself had, and his heart filled with fondness. Now more than ever he wished to officially become Martin’s father and turn at least half of his fantasy into reality.  

~*~ 

When they got bored of board games, they watched a movie, and then it was time for Martin to go to bed. Ed wished him goodnight, and Oswald took him to one of the guest bedrooms, which Ed suspected would eventually become Martin’s after the adoption. He was certain now that Oswald would want to go through with it. The way he looked at Martin was so telling. Those were the eyes of a loving father, smiling at his son. It would be a shame if Oswald let his hesitation and insecurity stand in the way of his bond with Martin. 

It was a little sad though. Oswald would adopt Martin and they’d be a family together. But what part did Ed play in all this? He was adopted by Oswald too, at least on paper, but that was nothing like what he witnessed between Oswald and Martin. Ed wasn’t Osawld’s son. He wasn’t Oswald’s partner. He was nothing to Oswald. So where did that leave him? Suddenly he felt so isolated from this entire future Oswald was about to build with Martin, that he wondered if he belonged in this house at all. 

He leaned in closer to the fire, watching the dancing flames and giving them a soft melancholy smile. He missed Oswald. He missed spending more time with him. He missed the old days. He wondered if he could ever have them back. Oswald said he wanted them to be friends again, but that was only the first step in a long road of redemption.  

Ed thought of all the love in the world -- desperately craved and waiting to be given. So many people dying to love and be loved, yet still, they felt lonely, or angry, or unwanted. Was it fear? Did fear stop people from opening their hearts to one another? Fear of being hurt. Fear of being rejected. Fear of not being good enough to be loved. But wasn’t the promise of that sweet affection enough for someone to take the leap? After a lifetime of craving love, Edward knew he’d be ready to take any leap if he had at least a tiny chance of feeling the way he felt when Oswald loved him. Or when Lucius loved him… Dear old Lucius. What did he even see in Edward? Edward never gave him the love he deserved. He couldn’t… He had a lot of issues. Issues he expected other people to fix for him. Growing up as a lonely frightened boy, he never truly understood the essence of love. So he created an image in his head of what love should be, and expected it to match reality. But reality did not usually match people’s expectations; it was the other way around: expectations needed to be adjusted, compromised. Edward did not like those words. He did not like the way they felt . He believed in taking action! No more scared little boy Ed. Oswald taught him that. It was Oswald’s influence that made him feel more confident in himself. He never thanked Oswald for that, for all those lessons. Oswald was not Ed’s father but Ed sure learned a lot from him.  

Oswald was no doubt the most important person in Edward’s life, and thinking back, it was no surprise that Ed became so desperately attached to him. All those people who hurt and neglected him, the people who thought him odd and made fun of him, his parents, his peers, his teachers, his bullies, everyone he’d ever met who’d treated him like shit, they left a void inside him; a void Ed expected Oswald to fill with his love. Oswald who was the first person to ever treat Edward with respect and understanding, the first who accepted him as his equal. Of course it had to be Oswald who’d fix the brokenness in Edward’s soul. Ed expected an absolute, so he became possessive, obsessive, desperate . He needed Oswald’s full attention, he wanted to be the sole object of Oswald’s affection. He craved to be Oswald’s everything , so that Oswald could give him everything. The idea that there was space for more than one person in someone’s heart was foreign to him. His image of love was twisted, so his love became twisted too. And that had ruined their relationship. Because Oswald could not give Ed the love he never experienced from his parents; he could not make up for all the lack of love in Edward’s life; he could not give Ed the love he never received from other people. Oswald could only give his own loving heart, and he had. But in his naivety and confusion, Ed had broken it instead of guarding it as the priceless treasure it was. Ed, who never had a single soul to truly love him, had assumed that love had to be given to only one person. He had loved only Oswald, so he expected the same from him. But then Ed started loving his friends too, and slowly came to realize that there were different types of love, each valid, each strong, each important. They could coexist together in a person’s heart without excluding one another. There was plenty of love if only one allowed oneself to experience it. 

With that in mind, Ed sincerely hoped Oswald could love Martin and still find place for Ed in his heart. Despite reason, despite logic, despite everything. Or perhaps it was too late. Perhaps Ed really no longer belonged here, with Oswald. Perhaps everything had ended a long time ago and all Ed had left of it were memories, like daggers in his heart. Being presented with the very real possibility of this to be true, he couldn’t help but wonder how would he cope with the lack of love this time. 

~*~  

Oswald tucked Martin in for the night and gave him a kiss on the forehead like his mother used to do when he was a child. He really missed her but in a strange way having Martin in his life made him feel like she was back too. Oswald couldn’t quite explain it, but the feeling of belonging, the feeling of family had returned in his heart with that young boy. Oswald felt a lot closer to his own parents with Martin in the mansion. 

He turned off the light, like Martin wanted, and let the boy sleep. Then he returned to the drawing room to find Ed staring into the fireplace, lost in thought. Not wanting to interrupt or startle him, Oswald cleared his throat to make his presence known. 

Ed turned around and smiled softly. “Oh, hi, Oswald.” 

“Hi,” Oswald smiled back. It was nice, the way there seemed to be no antagonism between the two of them anymore. “Martin’s asleep.” 

“Good,” Ed nodded. The same thoughtfulness back on his face.” Good…” 

The light from the fire was shining on his face in pleasant orange hues that left a feeling of home and coziness. It made Ed’s eyes sparkle, and for a moment Oswald felt lost in them again. As if their past, all the hardships and problems they’ve been through, all the heartbreaks they’ve created for each other, were far away in their past. 

Edward tilted his head, looking at Oswald with concern. “Oswald? Are you alright?” 

Oswald snapped out of his stupod and took a step closer. “Yes, I’m fine. I was just thinking.” 

“About?” 

Oswald definitely did not want to share with Ed what he was thinking about, so he changed the topic instead. “What’s your impression of Martin?” 

“He’s a good kid,” Ed replied with a nod of approval. Then he held Oswald’s gaze. “I think I understand what you see in him and why you care about him so much.” 

Oswald chuckled breathlessly. His heart was beating fast in his chest and he tried to convince himself that that was only because he was glad Ed and Martin were getting along. 

“He’s so intelligent too,” Ed continued, seemingly oblivious to Oswald’s internal turmoil. “He clearly has a knack for science and he loves it with passion. I like that. I like him .” 

“I think he likes you too,” Oswald said and handed Ed a piece of paper. “He wanted me to give you this.” 

Ed unfolded the paper and recognized Martin’s handwriting. “The less you have, the more they're worth,” he read aloud. 

“What does that mean? Is it--” Oswald chuckled fondly when realization dawned on him. “Is it a riddle?” 

Ed grinned at the paper in his hands. “It is,” he looked up at Oswald again. “He says we’re friends!” 

Oswald’s smile became softer. “I’m glad,” he said. “It would seem you two already have a secret riddle language of your own. And it’s only been a day!” 

“I know!” Ed grinned. 

“I’m afraid to imagine where this might go in the future,” Oswald teased. He remembered how happy Martin looked when Oswald tucked him in. How careful his hands when he gave Oswald the riddle for Ed. “Edward…,” Oswald said, not quite sure how to express all the emotions invading his heart, but needing to voice them anyway. “I want to thank you for what you did today.” 

“It’s nothing,” Ed waved it off. 

“No, it isn’t. You were there for me, encouraged me when I doubted myself. When I was unsure of what to do, you helped me make the decision in my mind. You gave me your support. Thank you.” 

Ed suddenly looked rather sheepish, clasping his hands and squeezing them nervously as he spoke. “So… you’re going-- you’re going through with the adoption?” 

“Yes. Yes, I am.” The words came out breathless and charged with so much emotion. “Ed, I’m going to be a father! I want this! I want this like I’ve never wanted anything! Today… when the three of us were playing that silly board game together--” 

“Silly?” 

“-- I felt so happy, Ed! I was so happy. I wish we could always be this happy. My family.” 

Ed swallowed. “You mean… I’m your family too?” 

“Of course you are,” Oswald said without hesitation. He felt a little flustered but he hoped Ed didn’t notice. “You are my family, Edward. I know things have been… weird between us. Unconventional. You are not my son. I don’t think of you the way I do of Martin. I never have. But I still care about you.” He took Ed’s hand in his. It was ice cold despite the proximity of the fire. “Perhaps I cannot put a label on what you are to me, but I know one thing, you are my family, Ed.” 

Ed’s cold fingers gave a little flutter, and he bit back a wide grin. It looked like he wanted to say something but couldn't quite find his words. So instead he only pulled Oswald into a sudden embrace, holding him tightly in his arms for what could’ve been hours. 

It still felt too soon when Ed pulled away, releasing him. Oswald had missed Edward’s warmth, and it felt so good to be back in his arms he was tempted to hug Ed again just to feel him close for a bit longer, but that was insane. So instead he smiled and tapped his own legs with his hands. 

“Time for bed,” he announced. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Goodnight, Ed.” 

Yes. He was running away, like a coward. But what was the alternative? Stay and make a fool of himself by doing something impulsive? No. Oswald would not be reckless anymore. He was going to listen to his head this time, and not allow this peculiar relapse of feelings cause any damage. 

~*~ 

Edward suddenly felt too many things all at once. His emotions were on overload. He wished he could talk to Oswald about it, share with him, but he couldn’t. He was too afraid of screwing things up between them now that they’ve made so much progress. So when Oswald said he’d be heading to his bedroom, Edward did not stop him. He only smiled and wished him goodnight. 

When he was alone again, Ed turned to the flames in the fireplace, a giddy smile on his face. And only a moment ago he’d been in agony. It was stupid how a few kind words from Oswald managed to make such a difference! To fill him with joy like that! They went from strangers, to acquaintances, to friends and partners, to almost lovers, to enemies, then slowly friends again. A strange cycle that felt incomplete to Ed without a final declaration of love. But he had to be realistic. Just being friends with Oswald again felt good too. They were even now. Even-steven. And though their relationship was uncharted territory at this point, Ed was glad because they still had so much to explore, so many ways this could go… Ed had always been a highly curious person, so rediscovering their bond again sounded fascinating. Just the fact that Oswald still thought of him as family meant more than Ed could put into words! Family had always been so important to Oswald. Family was the only people Oswald trusted and cared about. To be called ‘family’ by Penguin… why, Ed never expected that to be possible again. With a newfound optimism, Ed headed for his own bedroom. 

When he opened the door, he was surprised, and almost startled, to find Jerome sitting on his bed, staring at him. Well, more like staring at the door and waiting for Ed to come back. It was slightly creepy, but Ed was mostly used to Jerome’s peculiarities by now. 

“Jerome? Were you, umm, were you waiting for me?” he asked, closing the door behind himself. He didn’t want Oswald to find out about Jerome and be mad at him for yet another secret. Perhaps it was time Ed came clean to Oswald about Jerome staying in the mansion… Yes, secrets between them would lead to nothing good. Edward definitely had to tell Oswald. Especially after tonight. 

Jerome inhaled deeply and nodded. He looked unusually serious. “Yes,” he said, his voice rather robotic. “I was waiting for you.” Then, as if remembering that he had to appear at least somewhat human, he added with a smile. “I have news.” 

Ed swallowed, Jerome’s weirdness making him feel uneasy. Carefully, he crossed the distance between them and sat down on his bed next to his friend. “Okay. I’m listening,” he said and waited. 

Jerome looked nervous, but determined. “I don’t know how to say this, Ed. So I’ll just be blunt. I’m moving out.” 

Ed blinked surprised. He had expected something way worse than that. “You are?” 

“Oh, yes,” Jerome snickered. Now that the words were out, he seemed much more like himself. “You knew this arrangement of ours was supposed to be temporary.” 

“Well, yeah, but I assumed you’d just stay here until--” 

“Until you or your daddy kick me out?” Jerome finished the sentence with an amused grin. 

“I wasn’t gonna say that…” Ed mumbled, but it was what the had thought. 

“It’s fine, Ed. You’re a good friend. And I’m grateful for your hospitality,” Jerome said, tapping Ed’s knee in a casual, friendly manner. “But it’s time I move on from this room, from sneaking in and sneaking out every time I want some fresh air.” 

Ed nodded. “Yes, I understand that must not be great fun… But where will you go?” 

Jerome’s grin became even wider, if that was even possible. “Here comes the second news. I got a job.” 

Ed gaped surprised. “Oh!” 

“Yes. At the Arcade. Apparently, they need kids like me there. I have a ‘natural charm’, as my new boss called it. And my enthusiasm inspires others to play my games too.” He chuckled. “Can you imagine that? I’m a sort of an instigator now. Making people play more video games.” 

Ed couldn’t not laugh. “Wow. I didn’t expect that. But I’m happy for you.” 

“Yeah, I’m curious to see how this goes. Also I made some new friends and together we’re gonna rent a small apartment near the Arcade. It’s a much more suitable location for me than this place. I mean, I dig the entire Gothic mansion on the edge of town vibe, but it takes forever to get to Gotham by foot. And you know me, I’m a walker.” 

“Yes… right.” 

“So thank you for everything. You’re a real buddy, Ed! And don’t worry. You haven’t seen the last of me. I’ll be sneaking into your room every now and then to surprise you.” Jerome winked with a grin. “So you better make some clever traps for me, Riddler!” 

Ed arched an eyebrow. “Riddler?” 

Jerome shrugged. “It’s what I call you in my head. Because you’re mad about riddles.” 

“Oh…” 

“See ya around!” 

“See you around, J.” 

Ed had not expected this, but now that Jerome was leaving he actually started missing the guy. Sharing a room with him wasn’t that bad. In fact, Jerome was quite fun to be around. For the time they spent together, Ed had grown fond of the ginger sap. He was now one of Ed’s friends and had a special place in his heart. The thought brought a smile to Ed’s face. Martin was right. The less you have, the more they're worth. 

Chapter Text

Eager to begin the adoption process as soon as possible, Oswald decided to tell Martin about his intentions the very next morning. Ed could tell Penguin was a little nervous about the boy’s reaction, so he made sure to give him an encouraging smile and a reassuring squeeze of the hand before leaving him alone with the kid. It was a conversation they had to have in private, so he didn’t want to linger there and bother them. Instead he waited for Oswald in Oswald’s study, curious himself to hear how it all went. 

The door clicked open sooner than Ed expected, and in strode a very excited Oswald. His cheeks rosy from excitement, his gestures energetic, he looked like a man who couldn’t possibly stand still, even if he wanted to. He was positively glowing, so it didn’t take much for Ed to deduce the result of the conversation. 

“I take it Martin said yes ?” 

Oswald nodded and waved his arms about excitedly. “Apparently he knew I wanted to adopt him all along!” 

Ed chuckled, not particularly surprised by that revelation. Martin was a clever kid, and Oswald wasn’t exactly subtle about his fondness of him. Still, Ed decided to indulge Oswald. “Oh, he did, didn’t he?” he said out loud. 

“Yes!” Oswald grinned and bit back his lower lip. “I was so nervous when I was telling him. I asked if he wanted to live with me in the mansion, and if he would mind if I adopted him, and he hugged me! Then he wrote he had figured it out the moment my visits became more regular.” Oswald sucked in a sharp breath, trying to calm himself down a bit and failing. “Then he wrote that he’d very much like to be adopted by me, and that he was actually hoping I’d ask sooner because he’d love to be my son!” 

“I’m very happy for you, Oswald! You’re a father now,” Ed smiled. 

“I’m a father!” Oswald repeated incredulously and an agitated laughter escaped his lips. Ed noticed tears in the man’s eyes, too, but he wasn’t surprised. Oswald was a highly emotional person, not always good at hiding his feelings. 

“Congratulations!” Ed said, taking Oswald’s hand in his. Penguin’s fingers were freezing, probably from excitement. Ed smiled fondly. “Now that everything is already decided, the rest is a mere formality.” 

Oswald suddenly paled, the smile disappearing from his face. “What if something goes wrong? What if they don’t let me adopt?” 

“They let you once,” Ed reminded. “And you’re the mayor. They won’t refuse the mayor, there’s no reason for it. You’re legit .” Ed gave him a meaningful look as he said that. No one could prove anything about Oswald’s illegal affairs and use that against him to prevent him from adopting. And even if they did, Ed was certain Oswald could find a way to ‘convince’ the authorities that he was a suitable parent. Yet Penguin seemed too nervous to think straight, wringing his hands and biting his nails with worry. “Oswald, Oswald, stop.” Ed took both of Oswald’s hands and gently slid his fingers up Oswald’s arms. “It’s alright. Everything will be alright. Trust me.” 

Oswald nodded hesitantly, then smiled up at Edward. “Yes. Yes, you’re right. Of course you’re right.” 

Their eyes met and for a moment Ed felt absolutely entranced by the man. It was as if no time had passed since the last time his heart ached for Oswald. Everything that stood between them, everything that separated them melted away. All that was left was that same old familiar feeling in Edward’s heart. The feeling that made him want to lean in and press his lips to Oswald’s. The feeling that made him want to protect Oswald and be there for him, share his battles, give him strength, and love him till the end of time. 

He had no idea how long they stood like that, brown eyes gazing into blue, when suddenly Olga burged into the study to announce that Sofia Falcone’s car had arrived. That broke whatever spell had briefly encaptured them and Oswald pulled away. 

“Yes, right,” he said. “She was supposed to come get Martin. I’ll tell him she’s here.” 

Without sparing another glance in Edward’s direction, Oswald slipped out of the room, leaving Ed alone and confused. 

Edward looked down and saw his hands were trembling. His knees felt weak. What just happened? He had nearly kissed Oswald. And he was disappointed that they got interrupted! This was crazy! What was he thinking! He couldn’t just go about kissing the man! Oswald would’ve freaked out! Edward could’ve set their entire progress months back because of one impulse of madness! Yes, it was true the way he felt about Oswald recently was confusing, but Edward was practically eighteen now. He had to be logical about this; he couldn’t allow himself to repeat any of his old mistakes. He had a big decision to make about his future. And the sooner, the better. 

~*~ 

Oswald’s cheeks were burning. He could feel his heart racing in his chest. Being so close to Edward had taken his breath away, shaken him to his very core in a way he didn’t think were possible again after everything that happened between them. These last few days had been highly domestic, filled with emotional heart-to-hearts and deep revelations. They had made up, decided to be friends again, agreed to adopt Martin, and start a family of sorts, all of it happening so fast it had derailed Oswald from his initial resolve to not let Ed get close again. Still, despite everything, here he was, all hot and bothered, because Edward’s eyes were just so magnetic when he looked at him with so much heat… No. Oswald couldn’t allow himself to fall back into that rabbit hole. 

“Nothing happened,” he whispered to himself as he climbed up the stairs to Martin’s room. “It was all in my head. Nothing happened. I’m merely projecting. We didn’t-- This was nothing.”  

As he approached the door, Oswald inhaled deeply and gathered himself. He didn’t want to worry Martin with his own agitation. He had to be a stable harbor for him, someone he could rely on. And he definitely wasn’t going to transfer his own fears onto the kid. So when he knocked on the door and entered the room, he looked perfectly calm. 

“Martin? Martin, Sofia’s here. Are you ready?”  

Martin was sitting on the bed, frowning at something in his hands. Oswald recognized it as one of the books from his library. 

“Martin? What’s wrong?” he asked softly, coming closer to sit next to the boy. 

Martin took in a deep breath and released it in what sounded a lot like a sigh. Putting the book aside, he wrote something in his pad, then showed it to Oswald. 

“I hate that I have to leave. I want to stay here with you. Can’t I stay here with you now that you’re going to adopt me anyway?” 

Oswald’s heart both melted and sank. It was such a profound feeling to be missed by someone you love, to feel your child’s affection, and know they wanted to spend more time with you. But seeing Martin sad, made him sad too. 

“I understand you want to stay here, Martin,” he said gently. “I don’t want you to go either. But I want to do this right. By the book. Do you understand?” Martin nodded. “I’ll start the adoption procedure today and I’m going to speed it up as much as I can, so that I can take you from that orphanage and bring you back home as soon as possible. I promise.” 

Visibly reassured, Martin smiled at him and gave him another hug. Oswald could definitely get used to those. 

When they pulled away from one another, Oswald glanced at the book Martin had set aside. “Are those fairytales?” he asked, hoping the change of topic would cheer the boy up. 

Martin held up the book for him so that he could see the cover. 

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking,” Oswald read and chuckled fondly. “I should’ve known.” He smiled and brushed a few unruly curls away from Martin’s eyes. “Tell you what. Why don’t you take this book with you? It’s yours now anyway, you being my son,” he couldn’t help but smile at the word. “You can take it with you and read it while everything is ready for you to start living with me. Would you want that?” 

Martin’s smile grew wider and he wrapped his arms around Oswald. At that particular moment Edward’s words that everything would be alright didn’t seem so fantastical and impossible. They made Oswald feel unusually optimistic. For once in his life, he dared to believe that he was going to be happy, and share that happiness with this kid. 

~*~  

The next couple of days went like a blur of hectic activity. Oswald was busy almost constantly with the adoption, or work, or Gotham's criminal underworld. There was definitely no rest for the wicked, but Oswald didn’t seem to mind as long as he got the results he wanted. Edward, on the other hand, was grateful for Oswald’s busy schedule. He could use some time apart from Penguin, and allow things to cool off between them. The last time they were in the same room together it was Edward’s birthday, and Ed had almost grabbed Oswald by the lapels of his impeccable suit and slammed him against the wall, kissing him senseless. It would have been such a good birthday gift! But Ed knew better. Still, it had taken so much effort to not follow that impulse. He didn’t trust himself around Oswald anymore, yet he didn’t want to screw things up again. He needed to be sure if his feelings were real, or just a temporary relapse into old familiar habits. He had to be certain of himself, before having any kind of serious conversation about this with Oswald. 

In the meantime he spent more time with his friends. There was a lot to catch up with! Ivy had a new girlfriend! Her name was Harley and she was a riot! She fit right into their small circle. Jerome found her particularly fun, and one could tell the feeling was mutual. They shared the same sense of humor, and passion for costumes. It was really amusing to listen to them talk for hours. 

Bruce and Selina seemed to have gone back to normal, but Ed noticed they were careful with showing their affections for one another in Jerome’s presence. It was rather considerate, Ed thought, but Jerome just laughed it off, claiming the two love-birds were so adorable he’d love to see them be more lovey-dovey to one another for a change. Ed knew better than to believe those words. Jerome kept his crush on Bruce to himself, only ever mentioning it to Ed, but Ed could tell his feelings were just as strong as before. That realization made him sad, similar feelings resonating in the corners of his own soul. He wondered if a love as powerful as that would ever fade away? Or would this corpse of a love always remain in the heart, residing with no intention to ever leave? A constant silent companion, a ghost of fantasies that could never be? The prospect of living life with someone else in your heart, someone who didn’t want you back, was too grim, and Ed did his best to not dwell on it for too long. And Jerome seemed to share his resolve because the sadder his unrequited love made him, the louder he laughed. 

Ed was glad the other aspects of Jerome’s life were beginning to look up. He was very happy with his job at the Arcade, and he really liked his roommates. Apparently, they were crazy , according to his own words. And that meant something, coming from Jerome… Ed promised to meet them at some point, but he was in no rush for that. Gone were the days when he craved to be friendly with everyone. He no longer felt the need to please other people so that they would tolerate him. He was content, now, to have a few good friends, rather than a bunch of fake ones. He knew his own worth, and he knew his own flaws. There was a power in that; power in knowing oneself so fully. And that feeling of fulfillment was making the gaping hole in his soul slightly smaller. 

Ed realized his friends had helped him a lot. They had accepted him for who he was, and that encouraged him to embrace himself too. He didn’t need to pretend to be something else when he was around them, and that was such a blissful relief! He felt more confident, and he didn’t need to murder anyone to express that. It was his own journey, of course. His friends hadn’t gone through it instead of him. It was he who went through all the pain to get where he was now. But he wouldn’t have gotten there without his friends’ support. And for that he was grateful. 

He was also grateful to Oswald too… 

Yes, Oswald made mistakes. Yes, Oswald hurt him. But Ed understood why. The fact that Oswald was just as flawed as him, made Ed feel closer to the man. He admired him for his strength and perseverance, for his mind and heart, for the way he managed to turn things in his favor, despite all the blows life sent his way. Ed loved Oswald and he wasn’t afraid to bare his soul to him anymore. He wasn’t shy to show him the ugliest parts of his psyche, because he knew Oswald would understand. He knew Oswald would cry with him, bleed with him, fight with him. He knew Oswald would not abandon him. They were bond together, even if they never go back to being lovers again. 

~*~ 

He heard a knock on his door and glanced at the clock on the wall. It was obvious to him who it could be at three in the morning. “Come in, Edward,” he said loud enough for the young man outside to hear him. 

“Aren’t you going to sleep tonight, Oswald?” Edward asked, popping his head inside the study. 

“There’s just so much to do,” Oswald said, rubbing at his eyes tiredly. “But I have good news,” he smiled. “The adoption procedure is almost complete. Martin can officially come and live with us very soon.”  

“That’s wonderful,” Ed smiled too. 

“Yes…” Oswald relaxed into his chair and inhaled deeply. “I just don’t feel like sleeping right now. I’m too--” 

“Wired,” Ed supplied helpfully. “Yeah, I know the feeling.”  

“You can’t sleep either?” Oswald asked. 

“Mhm.” Ed closed the door behind himself and pulled out one of the chairs in front of Oswald’s desk. “Care for some company?” 

“Your company…” Oswald chuckled softly and shook his head. “You know, I was beginning to worry why you were always gone these days.” Ed’s smile faded. “I haven’t seen you properly since your birthday. At one point I even thought you were avoiding me.” 

“Oh?”

“Yes. And I didn’t know why.” He looked genuinely concerned. “I wondered if it was something I did…” 

“You didn’t do anything, Oswald.” His voice sounded detached, emotionless, his words an analytical remark, rather than a reassurance. 

“Alright…” Penguin allowed. “So it’s something else then. Is it about Martin?” 

“I told you I’m happy about the adoption. You don’t have to worry about that,” Ed shifted nervously. 

“I want to be sure you’re really fine with this. I don’t want to later find out in some horrible way that you weren’t…” 

Edward’s eyes met his and there was so much hurt in them. “You’re afraid I’d harm Martin?” 

“No! No, of course not,” Oswald was quick to say. “Nothing like that, just… Well, with what happened with Jim--” 

“That was different,” Ed cut him off, his hands clenched into tight fists. “It was a long time ago, I’m not the same person I was back then.” He looked like a volcano about to erupt. “How can I prove it to you that I’ve changed!” 

“Edward…” 

He saddened and with that his posture relaxed too. “I can’t do anything to erase the past, can I?” Oswald shook his head. Edward nodded in agreement. “Yes… that’s true. I can’t take it back. But I don’t want our past to haunt us.” 

“I don’t want that either.” 

“You don’t have to fear that I’d take someone you love away from you again. I won’t do that! I promise.” His shoulders slumped again. “But what good is my word after everything we’ve done to each other?” 

Oswald pushed his chair back and walked around the desk to sit next to Ed instead. “I trust you, Eddie,” he said with feeling. “Please don’t think that I don’t. I know you wouldn’t hurt Martin. I only asked because I’m not sure if you can control yourself when your insecurities get the better of you.” 

Eddie . The name had just slipped out of his lips like honey. He hadn’t even realized he’d said it until it was out. Edward noticed it too. The pet name. His eyes went a little wide when he heard it and his fingers twitched. 

Oswald cleared his throat. “We’ve talked about this enough already. We’ve let go of our grudges. Haven’t we?” 

Edward nodded slowly. “We have.” 

“But,” Oswald continued carefully, “if you ever feel insecure, hurt, sad… anything…, please don’t hide it from me.” He took Ed’s hand in his and held it close to his chest. “Ed, I want to be there for you. I want to help you when you need me. If something’s bothering you, please, tell me.” 

There was a change in the intensity of Edward’s gaze; a change Oswald couldn’t quite understand until Ed breathed out his next words. 

“I’m still in love with you, Oswald,” he said aloud and for a second they were both caught by surprise to hear that sentence. Ed didn’t seem to have expected to say it, but he didn’t seem to regret it, either. 

Oswald’s mind went blank. His lips parted and he just gaped at Ed for a long moment, trying to process what he had just heard, trying to fight back the feelings that confession had awaken in him. 

Edward took his silence for encouragement, and continued, “I wasn’t sure at first when I started feeling that way about you again. That’s why I took some time away from you. I wanted to sort out my own feelings. Trust me,” he chuckled nervously, his smile a little too wide to be natural, “I know why this can sound crazy to you. But I have no doubts about how I feel about you.” His fingers wrapped around Oswald’s hand, bringing it closer to his lips. Oswald watched stunned as Ed kissed his hand with a gentleness he had missed ardently. “I know my own heart now. I love you, Oswald. Perhaps I love you now more than I ever did before.” 

He stopped talking, looking expectantly at Oswald, waiting for a response. And quite rightly so. Oswald had to respond. Now was the time for him to speak. But looking into Edward’s eyes, he was unable to come up with a single word. Perhaps something in his expression made Ed think his feelings were reciprocated, because the next moment he was leaning in for a kiss. 

That snapped Oswald back to reality and he pulled away. 

“No,” he whispered, voice too quiet to be heard. 

Ed frowned. “Oswald?” 

“No,” he repeated, louder this time. “This is wrong. Very wrong.” 

“Oswald, I’m eighteen. It’s alright.” Ed looked amused that Oswald still saw their age difference as an issue. 

“Your age is not the only reason why this is wrong,” Oswald said, springing up from his chair to put more distance between them. 

Edward got up too, following him. “What then?” 

“We’re a mess, Ed,” Oswald said, surprised that he even had to explain it. “We’re a huge crazy mess. We can’t go back to-- to whatever we were. It’s madness!” 

“Love is madness,” Ed said. 

“No, this isn’t the healthy kind of madness,” Oswald insisted. 

“We may be a mess, Oswald,” Ed allowed, “but we also make a great team. We’re stronger together, you know it.” 

“Edward, I killed Lucius, the boy you loved. And before that you killed Jim… I know we put that behind us, but it’s still not a healthy start for a relationship. We hurt each other too much to make this work like that.” 

“You said we can move past this. You said, no more grudges.” 

“And we can move past this. As friends. As a family. But not… not romantically. It’s too weird.” 

“We both made mistakes, Oswald.” 

“I punished you!” Oswald cried out, throwing his hands in the air. “I kept you here, in this mansion, like a prisoner , and punished you! Damn it, Ed, I even spanked you! Several times!” 

“Some people are into that,” Ed remarked jokingly but Oswald did not appreciate the humor. 

“Don’t,” he pursed his lips. 

Edward nodded and took a step closer, slowly, as if afraid he might startle Oswald. “Look, I know it sounds bad when you put it like this. But it really wasn’t as bad as you make it seem. I was free to go out with my friends. You didn’t torture me. Yes, you punished me. But I deserved it. I deserved worse and I knew that.” He placed his hands on Oswald’s shoulders. “I was homeschooled and I had a curfew, but you never locked me inside, you never put guards on me to keep me from moving freely. You slapped my bottom a few times but you’ve never beaten me. I didn’t feel like I was in danger around you.” He held his gaze. “Oswald, I could have ran away any time I wanted. I chose to stay.”  

Oswald was shaking his head. “No, no. This can only end in tears. And I can’t do this again, I can’t!” He looked at Ed pleadingly. “I’m about to adopt Martin. I want to be a good father to him. He deserves a good father.” 

“You are a good father.” 

“What happens when people find out what we’ve been up to? What happens if they take Martin away from me?” 

“They won’t.” 

“Ed, I’ve only just accepted the idea that I’ll never be properly loved… Please, don’t make me want things that I cannot have.” 

He closed his eyes as hot tears slid down his cheeks. He was choking with all the emotions whirled in his heart. He felt so pathetic to cry like this in front of Ed, but he had no strength to be embarrassed about it. 

With one gentle movement, Ed lifted Oswald’s chin up and pressed their foreheads together. “I can love you properly,” he said softly, the tender whisper of his voice making Oswald melt. “I know it seems too much right now, but we can do it right this time. No more lies, remember? Only trust, and love, and devotion.” 

Oswald inhaled deeply, eyes still closed as Ed’s scent, his breath and his warmth enwrapped him in a bubble of safety. One thing all bubbles had in common though, they burst. 

When he exhaled, Oswald found it in himself to pull away from Ed. He looked up, firm and decisive. “I’m sorry, Edward, but we both need to move on from each other. There’s this fatal attraction between us, a connection so strong it pulls us towards one another. But nothing good can come out of this collision. Only pain.” Ed looked sad, but said nothing. “I have to think with my head now, not with my heart,” Oswald continued, dying on the inside. “I need to get over you. I’m sorry, but my answer is no .” 

Edward was silent for a long moment, taking in Penguin’s words. Oswald nearly expected him to lose his temper, to yell or hurt someone. But Ed seemed surprisingly calm this time. Not cold, either, just… resigned. As if he had expected this response. 

“I guess I just needed to hear you say it,” he muttered, swallowing. “I, ummm. I’m gonna be in my room. Goodnight, Oswald.” 

As he turned around and headed for the door, Oswald felt a part of him die. 

“Ed!” The name was torn out of him like a broken cry of despair. It was tragic, really. To hear Ed’s confession, to want so desperately to confess himself that he felt the same, but being forced to say no . There were too many shadows hanging over their heads, and Oswald couldn’t risk to let them be dragged back into darkness. He could not allow himself to love Edward, even if it meant breaking their hearts. “I’m sorry…” Was all he could say. 

A sad smile graced the younger man’s face. “I know,” he replied softly. “So am I.” 

Chapter Text

I’m sorry. That was all he could say to Ed. I’m sorry. And of course Ed was sorry too. They both were. They both had a lot to be sorry about. It was a miracle they found their way back to one another again after everything. Oswald didn’t think they could ever stop being enemies after what happened, but they did. And now sorry was all they had left for one another. And, of course, love. But a love that could not be. A love that was probably sick in some twisted way. A love Oswald could not allow himself to act on. Not with all that baggage they carried. And definitely not when he was about to adopt Martin. Where did that leave them then? They couldn’t be lovers, but they couldn’t be friends without wishing to be lovers either. It was quite the predicament. Lately Oswald had often wondered what would their life be like when Ed was old enough to be on his own. Would he choose to stay with Oswald? Help him with running the city like he used to? Take over Oswald’s empire one day? Or perhaps move out. Go to college. Start a new chapter in his life, a chapter that no longer had to include Oswald. Would Ed decide on a college outside of Gotham just to be away from him? After their recent conversation Oswald wouldn’t be surprised if that was exactly what Edward would want. To get as far away from Penguin as possible. Ed never handled rejection very well, and Oswald refusing to act on their mutual feelings probably felt like a punch in the gut to him. So it wouldn’t be surprising if he wanted out. The thought saddened the mayor. He wished there was a third option. An option where they could be close without getting too close. But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't find an alternative where he wouldn’t get hurt in the end. And most likely hurt Edward as well.

It seemed unfair because he had done the right thing, so this shouldn’t have been so painful. He’d made the responsible adult choice, but a part of him was regretting it. He decided to let Ed go, but all that did was leave him with a gaping wound in his chest, bleeding painfully. It felt as if Ed had ripped his heart out and Oswald could not get it back. It no longer belonged to him, it was Edward’s. It’s been Edward’s for a long time. And there was nothing Oswald could do to change that, regardless of whether they were together or not. 

He needed to distract himself or he would go mad. Getting drunk and wallowing in self-pity was not conducive to a healthy atmosphere for raising a child. He had Martin to think about now. The boy was going to officially become his son in a matter of days, and Oswald didn’t want to screw that up. He could not afford to drink himself stupid out of sadness that he couldn’t be with his adoptive teenage son. Ugh, just saying this in his head sounded disgusting! At least Ed was eighteen now, which made their crazy story slightly less disturbing and helped Oswald feel a little less of a creeper. But Martin didn’t need their drama in his life. Oswald wanted to create a good home for him, so he had to pull himself together. He needed a distraction but work wasn’t doing it for him this time. Nothing seemed to be working. Not after having Edward stand so close to him that Oswald could feel the warmth radiating from him. It made his body instinctively lean towards it, desperate to be in Ed’s arms again. And those words… those beautiful haunting words… I’m still in love with you. Oswald’s treacherous mind couldn’t stop replaying the moment in his head. The way Edward said it, his voice, the look in his eyes… It was the most exquisite torture anyone could ever devise for Penguin. 

He shook his head. This was a dangerous line of thought for this late hour. The temptation to go upstairs to Edward’s room and tell him he’d changed his mind, to press closely against him and taste his lips again, was too strong. Oswald didn’t want to be weak. What he needed was a friend. A friend who wasn’t Edward, or the 10-year old boy he was about to adopt. An adult friend, but not Sofia Falcone, because he didn’t want to involve her in all this mess. What if she got the wrong idea and stopped him from adopting Martin? No, Oswald couldn’t risk that. He needed someone who was as messed up as him; someone who wouldn’t judge even if they disapproved of Oswald’s actions. He needed Zsasz.  

He hadn’t talked to Zsasz in months. Not since the man left. It seemed like a good time to rekindle their association. There was no rule against them being friendly just because Victor no longer worked for him. Oswald glanced at the clock on the wall. It was almost 5am -- way too late (or early) to call anybody -- but this was Zsasz. They used to phone each other at odd hours all the time before. Perhaps it wouldn’t be a problem tonight… 

He gulped the rest of his drink and took out his phone, his finger hovering over the call button next to Zsasz’ name. He pressed it before he could talk himself out of it, and waited to get through. Instead of Zsasz, however, he was greeted by Victor’s voicemail.

“You’ve reached Zsaaasz. Congratulations! I’m kinda busy right now, or I just don’t want to talk to you, so leave your message after the explosion. BOOM! Okay, you can speak now.” 

“Hello, Victor. It’s Oswald Cobblepot. In case you’ve deleted my number…” He sounded silly to his own ears, but it was too late to back out now. He shook his head and closed his eyes as he tried to get to the point. “Anyway, I was wondering if we could perhaps talk? Have lunch and catch up? Frankly, this not talking to one another is stupid. I know you needed space but can we at least be friends? I mean, I’m no longer your boss, but that doesn’t mean we can’t--” 

“Yeah, sure, I’d love that,” Zsasz’ voice interrupted him. 

“Umm, pardon?” Oswald blinked surprised. “Victor?” 

“That’s who you called. Victor Zsasz. Don’t tell me you got the wrong number…” 

“No, I-- I thought this was voicemail.” 

“Yeah, I do that sometimes. I pretend it's voicemail just to mess with people. It’s fun.” 

“Right. That sounds like you,” Oswald chuckled fondly. It was good to hear Victor’s voice again. It brought a pleasant wave of familiarity that made Oswald smile.  

“So… did you really mean it?” Victor asked slowly. “About wanting to talk?” 

Oswald straightened up in his chair. “Yes. Yes, I did mean it. I do mean it.” 

There was a long silence from the other end of the line. An unusually long silence for Zsasz. For a moment Oswald thought the man had hung up but then, “Okay, what’s wrong?” 

“What? Nothing’s wrong. I just thought it was time we catch up. It’s been so long--” 

Zsasz cut him off. “Quit bullshitting me. You didn’t call at 5 in the morning to catch up. What’s wrong?” 

Oswald had to appreciate Zsasz’ bluntness. There was no fooling him. “You’re right. I am calling for something else,” he admitted. “I’m just so tired…” 

“And drunk,” Zsasz added. 

Oswald gasped outraged. “Victor!” 

“You are. You think I can’t tell?”  

Oswald bit his lips. “I may have had a few drinks,” he allowed, “but that has nothing to do with why I’m calling you.” 

“Where?”

“Pardon?” 

“Where do you want to see me?” Zsasz elaborated. “The mansion? The Lounge? One of your old safe houses? The park? Where?”  

“Oh.” Oswald hadn’t thought that far along. Truth be told, he wanted to see Zsasz in his bedroom. Perhaps Zsasz could fuck all thoughts of Ed out of him. Not that this worked well the first time, but it was still a fun memory nonetheless. 

“That’s sweet but are you sure it’s a good idea?” Zsasz asked and Oswald froze in terror, realizing he had said that last bit out loud. His cheeks heated up and he nearly died from embarrassment. 

“All I want is a drink at the Lounge, nothing more!” he gasped. “A drink and a friendly chat. That’s all.” 

“If you say so,” Zsasz snickered. 

“I do! It’s just that. I promise.” 

“Okay. I’ll be at the Lounge in an hour,” Victor said. “Oh, and just to be clear, I didn’t mind your first suggestion either. In fact, I kinda liked it.” 

That said, he hung up, leaving Oswald blushing with his phone to his ear. This was embarrassing. Very embarrassing. 

He stumbled out of his chair and went to freshen up a little before calling the chauffeur to take him to the Lounge. If Edward had seen him leave the mansion at that hour, he never mentioned anything about it. And Oswald was glad. He couldn’t even begin to explain everything he felt on the inside. 

~*~  

I’m sorry. 

That was all he got from Oswald in the end. I’m sorry. 

It hurt. He didn’t really expect Oswald to accept his love again after everything they’ve been through, but still the rejection broke him in more ways than he expected. Yet, it was a necessary evil. Hearing it out loud from Oswald’s own lips was what Ed needed in order to start moving on. That didn’t make it any less painful, but he understood Oswald’s logic. Penguin was trying to do the right thing. It was about time Edward did the same too. 

~*~  

“Boss!” Zsasz exclaimed in greeting when he saw Oswald at the Iceberg Lounge, then quickly corrected himself, “I mean, Penguin.” 

“Don’t be silly, Victor. You can call me boss ,” Oswald teased. 

Zsasz laughed. “I’ll keep that in mind, little bird.” 

“Experimenting with nicknames, I see.” 

“Experimenting with lots of stuff,” Zsasz winked and Oswald had to roll his eyes. “So where shall we have our milkshake? At your usual booth?” 

“Yes, my usual-- wait, what milkshake?” 

“You had enough alcohol for one night, and it’s technically already morning, so milkshake is more appropriate, don’t you think? Besides,” his face melted into a dreamy grin, “I love milkshakes.” 

Oswald suppressed a groan and had to admit that Zsasz had a point. Oswald had sobered up a little from the cool night air, it would be a shame to throw it to waste and get drunk again. He didn’t want to do something stupid he might regret later. “Milkshake it is,” he consented and they headed to Oswald’s usual booth. 

Oswald’s booth was the most secluded part of the Lounge. It provided pleasant intimacy without making one feel too isolated from the celebration of life that was happening in the general area of the establishment. The staff knew Oswald favored that booth, so they kept it ready at all times in case Oswald decided he needed it. They slipped inside and settled comfortably on the soft cushy seats, Oswald ordering them the milkshakes and a few snacks for their table. It was late, or early depending on one’s perspective, but the Lounge was going to be open for another couple of hours, and Oswald thought the booth was a better choice for him and Zsasz to talk in, than the formality of Oswald’s office. He was sure Zsasz would agree. After years of working for Oswald, day in and day out reporting in that office, the assassin would probably welcome the change in scenery.   

They were both silent until the server brought them their order. Then Oswald looked at Zsasz and realized that, although he was happy to see him, he had no idea what to say, which was ironic, considering that it was him who asked for this meeting. 

Clearing his throat, he asked, “So how are things? Have you been doing alright?” 

The question sounded a little more polite than he had intended, too formal to be casual, but Zsasz only shrugged. 

“You know how I’ve been doing. You have three of your men working for me to keep you informed.” 

Oswald chuckled. “You knew about that, huh.” 

“Of course I knew. I’m me.” 

“I thought you might,” Oswald said, letting nostalgia slip into his tone. It was good back when he had Zsasz on his side. “You’re the best of the best, after all.” 

Zsasz smirked and drank from his milkshake. “Anyway. What is this about? You want us to work together? ‘cause I’m doing pretty good these past few months.” 

“So I’ve heard. But no, this isn’t about work.” Oswald shook his head. “I mean, I’d like for us to have joint projects. I think we’d make a good team. But this isn’t what I wanted to talk about.” 

Zsasz gave a nod. “Okay. So what’s this about then?” 

Oswald shifted as if he couldn’t make himself comfortable despite how amazing those seats were. Earlier when he called Zsasz he felt like Victor was the only friend he could open up to. Now with Victor actually here, face to face, waiting for him to speak, Oswald wasn’t so sure he could do this. Maybe he should’ve done this over the phone? The lack of eye contact would’ve made him less nervous. 

Zsasz observed him for a moment and then chuckled. “You’re overthinking things again.” Man, he knew Oswald so well! “Is this about that kid of yours?” 

“Martin? No!” Why would this be about Martin? “This is not about Martin!”  

“Who’s Martin?” Zsasz frowned and rolled his eyes. “No, I mean, the other one. The… Edward one.”  

“Oh…” Oswald deflated and sort of curled up on himself. 

“So it is about him. Should’ve known.” Zsasz took another gulp of his milkshake with the gusto of an old movie cowboy drinking whiskey. “You still obsessing over him?” 

“What? No…” Oswald felt his cheeks heating up. “I don’t think so. It’s different now.” 

“If you say so.” 

“It’s true! We’re no longer enemies. We’re friends again.” 

“Huh. Friends,” Zsasz snorted. 

“Victor… I know you disapprove, but I promise there was nothing untoward between us. I didn’t molest him or anything like that.” 

Victor looked him carefully in the eyes. “You think I don’t know that? Had I thought you were doing something like that, I wouldn’t have left that child with you.” 

“You still left though. You left him under my care at a time when I was so mad at him I could’ve killed him.” 

“You didn’t kill him in Metropolis when you had the chance; you weren’t gonna kill him in Gotham,” Zsasz said with certainty. “Besides, I didn’t care if you killed him. I would’ve minded if you were molesting him. Rape is… too dark, man. That’s where you draw the line.” 

Oswald pondered over that sentence for a few moments. Zsasz had done unspeakable things in his life, but forcing oneself on someone without their consent was too dark for him, too evil. That was probably one of those things an outsider might consider peculiar, but to Oswald it made sense in a strange way. Gotham truly had a world of its own. 

“The point is,” Oswald continued, “things are different now.”  

“Okay,” Zsasz allowed. 

He swallowed. “This isn’t easy for me, admitting I was wrong. But… you were right. My relationship with Edward was too intense, too…” he trailed off. “Ed killed Jim. He hurt me so badly , he betrayed me… And I just-- I needed to--” 

“You were processing your feelings the only way you knew how. Which turned out to be a really dysfunctional and unhealthy way.” 

“I can see that now,” Oswald agreed. “You tried to open my eyes, but I didn’t listen.” 

“Perhaps I should’ve stuck with you,” Zsasz said thoughtfully, but it sounded like a thought he had often entertained. “I left you when you needed me most. I wish I’d stayed but I just couldn’t. I’m sorry. Seeing you like that, so lost, so feral It was too much.” 

Oswald gave a nod. “I understand. And it’s alright. I’m just glad we can put these things behind us.” 

Zsasz smiled widely and raised his milkshake. “Here, here! To new beginnings!” 

He expected Oswald to toast that but instead Oswald just stood there, staring and unable to speak. New beginnings . What were Oswald’s new beginnings? A life without Ed. A lonely meager existence with his only joy coming from his power and the objects he could buy or steal. Eventually Martin would leave him too and then Oswald would be completely alone. Lonely and pathetic, wishing he could have had someone to love him with all his heart the way he loved Ed… He couldn’t keep it together any longer and burst into tears, hiding his face in his shaky hands. It was ridiculous, the way he just crumbled in front of Zsasz like that. But this was what he called the man for, wasn’t it? To open up and have a shoulder to cry on. 

He felt Zsasz sliding closer and then a pair of long arms were wrapped around him, pulling him into a leathery embrace. Zsasz’ touch was so familiar and strangely comforting. “There, there,” Zsasz said softly. “It’ll be alright. Let it all out.” 

Oswald had no strength to protest. He didn’t want to. He curled up and pressed his face in the crook of Zsasz’ neck. He cried and sobbed like that for what felt like hours, but when he was finally out of tears, he was calm and very relaxed.  

“Wow. That was…” He trailed off, unable to find the word he was looking for.  “I’m sorry about that. I don’t know what came over me. I imagined a future without Ed in my life and I just--” He huffed. “What was I thinking before? That he’d just stay with me forever? It’s-- It’s not fair, y’know?” His eyes met Zsasz’ “All my life I never connected with anyone so fully, Victor. Not even with Jim. Then the one time that actually happens to me,  I have to give it up. Because we’re not supposed to be right for each other. And I am to accept it and just move on with my life? I don’t know how to do that…”  

Zsasz was listening carefully, an unusually serene expression taking root in his face.

“He told me he loves me,” Oswald continued, looking down at his hands as he quietly confessed. “A few hours before I called you. He said he still had feelings for me and wanted us to be together.” 

There was a small pause and then Zsasz spoke, “Do you believe him?” 

Oswald shrugged. “That’s the funny thing. I do. He never meant to hurt me, you see. He never lied to me with malice. He was a confused kid that didn’t know how to respond to all the feelings that were overwhelming him. I’m no longer angry at him for what happened. But… even if he means it, even if he truly does...love me… how could I ever do anything about it?” He looked Zsasz in the eyes again, hoping for some kind of a solution. “In the eyes of the law Ed is my adoptive son. He may be eighteen now, but I’m still twelve years older than him. And I’m trying to adopt a kid. Who’d let me do that if they thought I was a--” 

“You’re not.” 

“It doesn’t look good, though, you gotta admit.” 

Zsasz did not contradict that statement. 

“I told him no ,” Oswald said sadly. “I rejected him, and I know it’s the right decision, but it still makes me feel so very frustrated. Like I’ve let go of the one thing that could’ve made me truly happy.” 

“I’m sorry, Oswald,” Zsasz said, and it was probably the first time he’d ever used Oswald’s name. “Tell me how to help? Because I sure as heck don’t know how to make you stop loving him. Had I known, I would’ve used that power on myself a long time ago.” 

Oswald looked at him, frowning a little. “What do you--?” He cut himself off. The look in Victor’s eyes was all the answer he needed. “Oh…” 

“There was a reason I couldn’t keep working for you. And now you know.” 

Oswald swallowed and hung his head. Victor had feelings for him? How hadn’t he seen the signs? Zsasz wasn’t even that subtle.

“I’m sorry,” was all he could say. He never meant to hurt Zsasz, but he could hardly do anything about the man’s affections. He couldn’t love him, not in that way. 

Victor laughed heartily. “That’s fine. I’m not the type to settle down and start a family anyway. And you with your adoptions and your romantic dinners, ugh! I’d be in it just for the sex.” 

Oswald snorted, appreciating Zsasz’ efforts to lighten up the mood. “I guess that’s still on the table, if you want.” 

He leaned in a little, expecting Zsasz to kiss him. Instead he only got a tap on the knee. 

“Perhaps, “Zsasz smiled. “But not now. You don’t really want this. You’re saying this for the wrong reasons.” 

Oswald bit his lower lip and chuckled. “You’re right again.” 

“See? And that’s alright. You can’t force love. Other things, yes, but never love.” 

Oswald nodded, thoughtfully. Zsasz was surprisingly insightful this early in the morning. 

“Still it doesn’t have to be all bad!” Victor continued cheerfully. “Who knows? Now everything may seem grim and hopeless, but you never know what’s gonna happen next. Life keeps you guessing. So don’t give in to the pain, because the sun will come up tomorrow.” 

Oswald’s head snapped up at Zsasz. “My father used to say that,” he uttered. 

“Your father was a wise man,” Zsasz said and popped a snack into his mouth. “You should listen to what he said.” 

Oswald smiled, tears gathering in his eyes again. They weren’t sad tears this time. “I will. Thank you, Victor.” 

“Don’t mention it,” Zsasz waved it off. “I’m always game for a nice tete-a-tete over a milkshake.” 

The night did not go as expected. But it produced the results Oswald had hoped for. Talking to Zsasz did help. At least he no longer felt so painfully alone anymore. Having a new friend in his former employee felt like a good new beginning. Heaven knew, Oswald could use that. 

Chapter Text

The sound of police cars and fire engines around the mansion could be heard from miles. The hustling and bustling of policemen and firemen alike working hectically, doing their job to prevent a tragedy, was overwhelming. 

Oswald’s hands were shaking. “There must be some misunderstanding. Edward wouldn’t do that…” he kept repeating, hoping for it to be true. 

“I’m sorry, Mr. Mayor, but there’s evidence,” one of the detectives said. “The fire wasn’t an accident and we have a witness.” 

Oswald’s eyes landed on Ed once again, broken and hurt. 

“No!” Ed cried out. “No, that’s not true! It wasn’t me, Oswald! I swear I didn’t do this! I didn’t!” 

“There’s a witness, Ed,” Oswald uttered with a heavy heart. “How could you?” 

Edward shook his head frantically. He was a mess but he couldn’t care less. “I don’t know who it was, but it wasn’t me! Please, let me prove it to you!” 

“We need to take him to the precinct,” the detective told Oswald. “You might want to call your lawyer. Arson and an attempted murder, those are heavy charges for an eighteen year old.”

Oswald watched as the cops handcuffed Edward while he kept trashing in their grasp, pleading that he was innocent and they should let him go. Oswald felt like his life was falling apart all over again. 

“I thought things were different now. I thought you’ve changed…” he whispered, fighting back tears. Then he inhaled a sharp breath and turned to the detective, “Take him away, please. I don’t want to look at him right now.” 

“Oswald, no!” Ed cried desperately, but it was of no use. Oswald allowed Ed to be dragged to one of the nearby police cars. The last thing he saw before the door was shut in his face was Oswald averting his eyes from him and climbing into the ambulance. 

~*~ 

A week earlier… 

“Of course you already know your room quite well by now,” Oswald said with a warm smile, “but Edward and I added a few changes, and some presents that you might like.” 

Martin’s face lit up with excitement as his eyes skimmed through the bedroom that was now officially his. 

“You’ll find new books and toys, clothes and shoes. Oh! And Ed got you a microscope. He said it’s the kind you’d like.”  

Martin instantly spotted the gift and it was the first thing he chose to unwrap. Beaming happily at Oswald, he nodded eagerly to indicate that he really did love the microscope. 

Oswald chuckled fondly. “You can thank Edward for it later. Now, do you need help unpacking? Or would you rather leave the unpacking for later?” 

Martin gave it some thought, then pulled his bag on top of the bed and unzipped it. 

Oswald gave a nod of understanding. “Smart choice. Better get this over with first. Then we can have the rest of the day to ourselves.” 

They finished the unpacking in less than fifteen minutes. Most of Martin’s belongings were already at the mansion (mostly things Oswald had gotten him before the adoption), and the rest was just a few sweaters, some underwear and socks. Martin didn’t really have many things at the orphanage, but Oswald intended to change that. Growing up poor, Oswald valued everything stylish he could get his hands on now that he had power and money. And if he could pamper the people he loved, that was all the better. 

Martin took another good look at everything, evaluating if it was to his liking, then quickly scribbled something on his pad and showed it to Oswald, “I love everything about this room! I feel at home with you and I’m so happy to be here. Thank you!” 

Oswald felt his eyes beginning to water as he read the note. “Martin, you don’t have to thank me,” he said, smiling at the boy. “I love you very much. You’re my son and parents would do anything for their children.” 

Without hesitation, Martin turned around and wrapped his arms tightly around Oswald’s middle. Penguin felt his heart melting as he hugged back. This was a language they both understood well. No words, written or spoken, could divulge the meaning of a hug, coming from one heart to another. 

“I’m very happy too, Martin!” 

It was hard to hold back his tears when he was feeling this happy, but Oswald didn’t want to confuse Martin so he tried not to cry. With the adoption process completed, the boy was officially his son, and everything in Oswald’s life felt so right. Oswald wished his mother could see this. The family he had made for himself. He wondered if she’d be proud of him for being a father. He knew for a fact that she would’ve loved Martin. 

Martin pulled away and looked up, mirroring Oswald’s wide smile. 

“Come now. Olga has prepared lunch for us,” he said out loud. “Are you hungry?” 

Martin nodded and Oswald headed for the door, expecting the boy to follow. But instead Martin went to the microscope again and gently ran his fingers over it as if it were a beloved pet. Oswald suppressed the fond chuckle that was about to escape through his lips. Sometimes it was really difficult not to imagine Martin being Edward’s son. The two were so alike, Oswald could easily fool himself that he was living that fantasy of him and Edward being Martin’s fathers. It was easy but dangerous to imagine such things. Especially after the last conversation he and Edward had not so long ago. 

“No microscopes at the table, I’m afraid,” Oswald teased. 

Martin grinned and the two headed down to have lunch. 

Martin rushed to give Edward a big hug the moment he saw him. He nearly knocked the young man down with the force of his affections. 

“Oh! Someone’s happy to see me,” Edward smiled widely and hugged Martin back. “Welcome home, buddy.” 

The boy didn’t let Ed go for a long moment, and Oswald chuckled. 

“He really liked his microscope, in case it isn’t obvious,” he explained and took his seat at the table. 

“I knew he would,” Ed winked at the kid. 

Martin winked in reply and they joined Oswald, sharing a smile. 

It was suddenly too overwhelming. Seeing the two people he loved most in the world sitting by his side, ready to have their first meal together as a family, it made Oswald’s eyes fill with tears again. He had to quickly wipe them away before they started sliding down his cheeks. 

Of course, the action didn’t go unnoticed by Edward. He leaned in to whisper in his ear, “Are you alright, Oswald?” He looked concerned. 

Oswald bit his lower lip and chuckled helplessly. “I’m sorry,” he told both Martin and Ed. “It’s just… my loving family by my side… I never thought I could have this, it’s so--” The way he felt was indescribable, he simply couldn’t put it into words. It was so close to what he had always dreamed of, it was almost perfect. 

Noticing how emotional Oswald was, Martin pushed his chair and went to give his father another hug. It was comforting to have his child’s unconditional love. Martin made Oswald feel closer to his mother again -- a feeling he had dearly missed. He hugged the boy back and slowly began to calm down. Once he regained control over his emotions, Martin returned to his seat and their lunch continued. 

“What stinks when alive, but smells good when dead?” Ed grinned. He was on a roll, asking all kinds of riddles and giving the kid the best time. 

Oswald could see the excitement on Martin’s face as he thought about his answer. The boy loved brain teasers of all kinds almost as much as Edward. Just another passion they shared. With the two of them together it seemed almost impossible to get a word in that wasn’t in the form of a riddle. 

“I know a few policemen that would definitely smell better dead,” Oswald snorted, giving Ed a teasing glance. Ed was aware of Oswald’s other job so he could appreciate the joke. 

Martin, however, was determined to get the actual answer right. He grabbed his pad and when he turned it around, there was a drawing of a pig on the page. 

“A pig! CoRRect!” Ed clapped his hands excitedly and Oswald knew all their meals from now on would be like this. He smiled at the thought.  

~*~  

They spent the day together, celebrating the adoption with fun games, science and lots of chocolate. Then when it was late, Martin gave them both a kiss goodnight and retreated to bed. Oswald watched him go with a warm smile on his face. He truly had a wonderful day and he wished he could have a pleasant evening too, but the moment Martin left the drawing room, the atmosphere changed entirely. The enjoyable conversation was quickly replaced by a tense silence. Edward, who only a moment ago was telling Martin cool science facts that the boy was taking in like a sponge, was now quiet and awkward.

This was their reality these days. Ever since that last heart-to-heart things have been weird between them. It wasn't anything either of them did consciously, the awkwardness just sort of happened. They were both eager to pretend everything were fine, so they both tried hard to act normal around each other. It was their desperate effort to keep things ‘normal’ that created the strange tension between them. Their conversations became more stilted and awkward, and they tried to compensate with extra politeness, which as a result only made the awkwardness stand out more. 

It was easier to pretend in front of Martin. They could joke and laugh and somehow having Martin in the same room as them eased their conversations. However, once they were alone again, the awkwardness was back, hanging over them like a dark cloud. Oswald wished he could fix this, go back to a time when things were more simple, but he didn’t know how to do that. Or were things ever simple between them? They could try therapy… It worked for some people, even if Oswald wasn’t sure their particular case would be easy to discuss in front of a complete stranger. The worst part was that Oswald knew Ed felt just as bad as he did. Ed’s suffering was no less painful than Oswald’s, yet there was nothing to do about it. They both had to somehow work through their pain on their own. Because if they worked together… well, Oswald doubted they’d go to a healthy place. It was even more difficult to restrain himself from wanting a more intimate relationship now that Edward was older. Living together was not easy anymore, but living apart would’ve been even more unbearable to Oswald. 

Edward was staring at the fire with such intensity that it would seem he himself was making it burn with the power of his eyes. Oswald bit his lip, wringing his hands awkwardly, before deciding that it would be best to just leave Ed alone and spare them both the misery of another strained conversation. 

“Boy! Today was something, wasn’t it?” he chuckled and hated that it all sounded too rehearsed, too clumsy. “I’m exhausted. I’ll go to bed too. Goodnight, Edward.” 

He headed for the door, exhaling a small sigh of relief, when Ed suddenly jumped up from the sofa and gasped. 

“No, Oswald, please.” His voice sounded pained. “Stay…” 

Oswald swallowed and turned around. If Edward was asking, how could he refuse? 

“Yes?” he took a step closer and tilted his head expectantly. 

Edward looked nervous. He was striding back and forth with those long legs of his, readjusting his glasses several times even though they were placed perfectly on his face. He was very nervous and that anxiousness quickly transferred to Oswald too. What could this be about? 

“Edward?” he prompted, hoping he could somehow make this, whatever it was, easier. 

Ed inhaled deeply as if gathering his courage and sorting out his thoughts. It was unusual for him to not know what he wanted to say, Oswald thought. 

“I know what I want to say,” he muttered quietly as if reading Oswald’s mind. “It’s just not easy to let it out.” 

Oh. 

“I understand,” Oswald said softly. “Can I do anything to help?” 

Ed shook his head. “I have something to tell you, Oswald. But it’s not easy because I know you wouldn’t like it.” 

Oh… 

“I’ve been thinking about it for some time now and it’s time I told you about it too.” Another deep breath. “I’ve made up my mind.” 

“Oh?” Oswald breathed. He couldn’t really make himself say anything more. He had a feeling he knew what this was about. He could guess, at least. College. Of course, it was about college. Edward wanted to leave. He was going to study and leave Oswald. Like he should. It was a wise decision, Oswald could recognize it as such. But it was a painful one. Time apart would do them both good. Help them move on. It might be just what they needed. But that did not change the fact that it would rip Oswald’s heart out to have to watch Ed go. “I’m listening,” he said, doing his best to keep his voice from shaking. 

He preferred to be seated for this so he headed for the sofa. Ed remained standing up, towering over him and looking determined. 

“This is about our future,” he said. 

Of course it was. This was the moment Edward would tell him he was moving out. Possibly back to Metropolis. There were good colleges there and Ed already knew the city. This was not unexpected. Oswald was supposed to be fine with it by now, he had time to prepare himself emotionally for Ed’s departure. But he wasn’t ready. He wasn’t ready to lose Ed completely. And him moving out, going away to college, it was somehow too final. Such irony that he would lose Ed the same day he finally had Martin officially in his life.   

“Go on,” was all he could say out loud. 

“Oswald, I’m going to college. It’s what I want.” 

So far, so good. “Okay,” Oswald nodded. “I expected that. You are so smart and you’ve always had such an insatiable thirst for knowledge. It’s only natural you’d want to go to college.” 

For some reason Ed did not seem relieved. “It’s not just this,” he said. “That’s not all of it. I have more to say.” 

There goes. Now he’d tell him he was moving out. The college he wanted was probably Harvard or Yale or… 

“Just say it, Ed!” Oswald blurted out, eager to stop the nagging voice in his head and the horrible anticipation for the damned news. 

“Sorry…” 

“Don’t apologize, just say it.” His voice broke a little and he whispered. “You’re leaving, aren’t you?” He hated the way his voice wavered at the word leaving . Like he had put all his sorrow from seeing Ed go in that one word. 

Ed looked at him strangely for a moment. “Umm… No, actually… I wasn’t.” He swallowed. “Do you-- do you want me to leave?”

Oswald’s eyes went wide, his jaw dropped. “What? No! No, I definitely don’t want you to leave! Unless you-- Do you want to leave?” 

“Well, no, but if you want me to, I could--” 

“I don’t! I don’t want you to leave! But if you wanted it--” 

Ed snorted, shaking his head. “This conversation is getting ridiculous. Do you or do you not want me to leave? Be honest!” 

Oswald inhaled deeply. Perhaps it was better if Ed left. He could start a new life, without Oswald in the way. And with time perhaps Oswald would learn to live without him, too. It was the wise decision, it was the wise decision, it was the wise decision… 

“I don’t want you to leave, Ed,” he confessed quietly. His heart broke a little more at his own selfishness. Oswald was a terrible man. The truth was, he could never let Ed go. He could never live without him. He didn’t want to even try it. He looked up to meet Ed’s gaze, unsure what he’d see there. “I really don’t want you to leave.” 

Ed was smiling. “Good,” he said softly after a long pause, and sat down next to Oswald. “Because I really don’t want to leave either.” 

They remained quiet for a moment, their eyes locked. Their silence was charged with strange energy, pulsating in their blood, taking over their senses. It felt like a small eternity, and still it was not enough, never enough. 

Oswald cleared his throat to break the moment before either of them did something silly like kiss the other. “So if you’re not leaving then I don’t understand. What were you so afraid to tell me?”  

“Right. Well…” Ed chuckled nervously. Oswald was so familiar with that laugh that he couldn’t help but smile a little. Ed was adorable. “I want to study Forensics,” Ed finally announced and grinned, waiting for Oswald’s reaction. 

Oswald arched an eyebrow. “Forensics?” he asked surprised. “As in… Forensic science?” 

Ed bit back his grin and nodded enthusiastically. “Yes, exactly that. Collecting, preserving and analyzing scientific evidence during the course of an investigation.” 

“You want to help solve murders?” Oswald clarified as if the words needed to be explained. 

“I do,” Ed said and he sounded sure of it.  

Oswald remained quiet for a moment, processing. “May I ask why Forensics?” 

“I find it fascinating,” Ed replied. “It’s like one big puzzle that I can solve.” 

Oswald chuckled softly. “I should’ve known that’s what you’d see it as.” 

“I already took some classes and I’m really good at it, so--” 

“You took classes?” Oswald asked surprised. “When? You never told me.”

“I wasn’t sure if I were serious about it at the time. I’m sorry, I should’ve told you. But you were preoccupied with the adoption and I didn’t want to bother you until I was sure that was what I want.” 

It made sense. And it was a very Ed thing to do. 

“And now you're sure?” Oswald inquired. 

Edward nodded, smiling again. “Yes. Now I’m sure.” 

He looked so happy with his choice, Oswald couldn’t help but be happy for him. But there was one thing he had to make perfectly clear first. 

“Edward, just because I was busy with Martin, doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to listen to you,” he said gently. “Whatever’s on my mind, you’ll always be a priority. And I’ll always find time for you.” 

“I know,” Ed smiled softly but then his expression turned a little sad. “Just… with everything between us, I wasn’t ready to talk.” 

Oswald knew why Ed looked so mournful. They always talked. They always shared. And now they couldn’t and it felt like something very important was missing. 

Oswald couldn’t help but feel guilty about it. “I’m sorry…” he said, heartfelt. 

“It’s not your fault.” 

“It is. I should’ve figured this out years ago. Instead…” he sighed and rubbed at his eyes. “I made a mess of it.” 

Edward’s hand rested on Oswald’s shoulder. “I made a mess of it too. But the good thing about messes is that we can clean them up. Might not be the same as before, but we could end up with something better.” 

Oswald smiled at Ed’s optimism. “I hope you’re right. I care about you, Ed. And I only want what’s best for you. If Forensics is what you want, then I’m happy for you.” 

Ed smiled brightly. “Really?”

“Yes! Yes, of course.” Oswald chuckled. “I admit I find it strange considering… your history .” Ed joined the laughter as if his little murder spree was their inside joke. “But perhaps that’s only going to make you better at your job.” 

Ed nodded. “It’s possible. I’ve learned a lot from my own experience.” 

Oswald giggled. “I don’t doubt it.” After a small silence, he continued. “Are you going to Gotham University then?” 

“Yep. Gotham University. My letter of acceptance arrived last night. I didn’t want to act on it without telling you first though.” 

“You’re sweet,” Oswald smiled and put a hand on Ed’s knee out of habit. Then he quickly retrieved it, though, not wanting to overstep any boundaries. “Shall we celebrate then?” he offered. 

“What do you have in mind?” 

“Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps a little wine?” 

Ed snorted. “I’m not 21 yet.” 

“You will be. Besides, 18 is the legal drinking age in most parts of the world.” 

“It’s the legal age of consent too,” Ed added meaningfully. 

“We won’t go there, Ed,” Oswald reminded, pouring the wine. 

“Of course not. Just, we’ve always enjoyed breaking the law, that’s all,” Ed shrugged.

Oswald shook his head with a fond chuckle. “Speak for yourself. I’m the mayor and as such I never break the law.” 

That earned an honest laugh out of Ed. “I’m sure I can list a few cases when you didn’t.” 

“Can you, now?” Oswald smirked, amused. It was nice to be able to talk to Ed without the clumsy awkwardness and strange tension between them; it was nice to just enjoy a conversation with him like in the good old days. “Are you coming after me when you start putting criminals behind bars?” he teased. 

“Not you. Never you,” Ed promised earnestly and raised his glass. 

Oswald raised his as well. “Here’s to your future, then. May it be a bright and exciting one,” he said with a smile and they toasted it. After a small pause, he added, “Martin would be glad you’re not leaving. He’s so fond of you.” 

“He loves me, but then again, why wouldn’t he? I’m a joy to be around.” 

“So modest!” 

“I love him too. He’s a great kid,” Ed’s smile softened as he looked Oswald in the eyes. “You made the right decision, Oswald. And you’d be a wonderful father to him.” 

The words brought a pleasant warmth to Oswald’s heart. He smiled and felt his cheeks heating up. He was sure he was blushing so he quickly averted his gaze back to his hands, holding the wine glass. “I hope so. Thank you for encouraging me to go through with it.”  

“Any time,” Ed assured cheerfully. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Martin and I have a lot in common. I’ve been in his shoes.” 

“I suppose you have,” Oswald nodded. 

“I see a lot of myself in him,” Ed continued. “When I was his age I wished I had someone to encourage me in my love for science. The least I can do now is do for him what I wished someone had done for me back then, before I got adopted.”

Oswald smiled warmly and held Ed’s hand. “That’s sweet,” he said softly. “Thank you, Edward.” 

He felt Ed’s eyes sliding down to his lips and he quickly put away the half-full glass of wine. “It’s getting late. I should go.” 

Ed nodded. “Yes, you should,” he said but he did not let go of Oswald’s hand. 

Oswald swallowed, blushing under the intensity of Edward’s gaze. “I’m really sleepy…” 

“I can tell. You look very… sleepy.” 

Oswald rolled his eyes, snapping out of his temporary daze. “Really, Edward, you’re incorrigible!” 

Ed grinned at him. “I should hope so.” He gently let go of Oswald’s hand. “Goodnight…” 

“Goodnight,” Oswald replied, and in his heart he knew he certainly was not sleepy anymore. 

~*~ 

Now… 

Oswald’s brows were furrowed, his lips pursed into a tight line. 

“Are you going to call him a lawyer?” Sofia asked concerned. 

Oswald inhaled slowly. All the lies, all the pain. He nearly lost Martin because of Ed. He looked back at her bitterly. “What do you think?”

Chapter Text

“Oswald, darling!” Sofia hugged him and pressed a kiss to his cheek. Oswald did not feel her touch. The only thing he did feel was fear and rage. “I came as soon as I heard. I’m so sorry! You must be devastated!” 

He was. 

“How is Martin?” she asked. 

Oswald shook his head helplessly. “The doctors say he’s going to be alright but… He’s still sleeping and I just--” There were tears in his eyes. “He only has one serious burn and they say it’ll heal in less than two weeks. But he lost consciousness at some point and I’m so afraid that something else might be wrong with his health! I can’t lose him, Sofia! I can’t lose Martin!” He let the tears slide down his cheeks, unperturbed by who might see. 

“There, there.” Sofia patted him on the shoulder. “You won’t lose him, Oswald. He’ll be alright. He most likely lost consciousness because of the smoke. It happens. But the doctors would’ve known if something else was the matter.” 

“I hope so…” Oswald sobbed. 

She pulled him into a warm embrace and rubbed his back gently, letting him cry as much as he needed. 

“And Edward of all people…” he muttered quietly. 

“Pardon?” 

Oswald pulled away to wipe his face with a handkerchief. “Edward started the fire. That’s what the police said… I can’t believe he’d do something like that.” 

“Does he have a history of violence or arson?” Sofia inquired. 

Oswald just stared at her, unsure of how to answer that question. No doubt Sofia meant to be helpful, but how could Oswald even begin to explain Edward’s history to a complete stranger? 

“Edward is a good young man,” he said out loud, swallowing around the lump in his throat. “He wouldn’t hurt Martin. They were such good friends. It doesn’t make sense. I don’t understand it.” 

“How do you explain this then? Him acting out like that?” Sofia pressed. 

Jealousy , Oswald thought, but did not say. 

“Are you going to call him a lawyer?” Sofia asked after a small pause. 

Oswald looked back at her, bitterly. “What do you think?” 

She gave him an even more concerned look and placed her gloved hand on top of his to reassure him. “Oswald… I understand this isn’t easy for you, but--” 

“I’m sorry to disturb your conversation but your son is waking up, Mr. Mayor,” one of the nurses interrupted. 

Oswald pulled away from Sofia and rushed back to Martin’s room. Sofia could wait. Everything else could wait. Martin was a priority now. 

~*~ 

Martin opened his eyes and the first thing he saw was Oswald’s worried face. 

“Martin? Martin, can you hear me?” His voice sounded so concerned. “How are you feeling? Do you remember what happened?” 

Too many questions. Martin wasn’t sure he even understood what was happening around him right now. He rested his head on the pillow and closed his eyes again. 

“Martin?” 

Oswald’s sounded even more shaken and Martin wished he could tell him not to worry, that he was only tired and wanted to sleep a bit more. But he couldn’t sign it and he couldn’t write it down, so all he did was try to reassure Oswald with a smile. 

“Martin?” 

“He may need more time before he comes to, Mr. Mayor,” another voice said. “You should let him rest for now.” 

Martin nodded, or at least he hoped he was nodding. His eyes were still closed and he felt like he was somehow outside his own body. He really did need that rest. 

“But are you sure he’s alright?” Oswald insisted. 

“I am,” the other voice replied. “Whoever pulled him out of the fire, took a really good care of him.” 

The fire… Of course. He remembered the fire. 

“Martin is tired from the shock and exhaustion of his experience,” the voice continued, “but otherwise, he’s almost entirely healthy.” 

“Apart from that one burn?” 

“Apart from that, yes.” 

A quick flashback of one of his sleeves catching fire as he tried to escape from the burning room went through Martin’s head. The injury they were discussing must’ve been on his arm. Perhaps that was why it felt strange to move it. 

“But he fainted!” Oswald persisted. 

“Because of shock and the smoke. It’s normal for that to happen. But there’s no cause for concern. Your son will be alright very soon.” 

“The worst is over, Oswald,” another female voice added. Martin thought he recognized it as Sofia Falcone’s. But what was she doing here? 

Before he could think further about it, he felt Oswald’s hand stroking his hair gently. 

“I hope so,” Oswald replied, then Martin heard him whisper softly into his ear, “Martin? If you can hear me, know that I love you very much. And I’m sorry.” A sharp intake of breath. “Please, be alright!” 

A loving fatherly kiss pressed to his forehead and then Martin went to sleep again. 

~*~ 

“You heard what the doctor said, Oswald. Martin is alright,” Sofia said. “You can relax now. It’s only a matter of time for him to recover completely.” 

“I almost lost him, Sofia. He could’ve died in there! My home could’ve become his grave!” 

“Oswald,” Sofia tapped her forefinger to her lips, reminding him to keep it down. “We’re in a hospital. No need to make a scene.” 

Oswald ran his hand through his face and sucked in a deep breath. “I’m sorry, It’s all too much. Losing the people I love is my curse, it would seem. And I just couldn’t take it if something happened to Martin.” 

The corners of Sofia’s lips quirked into a smile. “I understand. It’s normal to feel that way under the circumstances.” Circumstances . Oswald did not want to think about the ‘circumstances’ . “But you’re not alone in this. I’m here with you.” She reassured. 

“That’s really kind of you, Sofia,” he said, swallowing. “I don’t understand why you’re doing this.” 

“We’re friends. It’s what friends do,” she said simply. 

It was so strange and new to have a friend who would actually stick by his side. A friend who would not eventually turn out to be a traitor. 

He smiled back at her. “Thank you. This means a lot to me.” 

~*~ 

Chained to the table with handcuffs around his wrists, Edward waited in the dark, damp room they stuffed him in. His shoulders were slumped, and he was wearing the facial expression of a man dead inside. He didn’t know why they brought him here but he didn’t really care. 

After a few minutes the door creaked open and a policeman stepped inside. 

“There he is, Mr. Mayor,” he announced with a small bow of his head. “As requested.” 

Oswald entered the room like he owned it, and gave a sign to the cop to leave them. Edward was pretty sure that wasn’t the procedure. But Oswald always found the means of doing things his way.  

“Oswald!” Edward gasped, jumping up from his chair and sliding back down instantly as his chains kept him close to the table. “Oswald… How is Martin? Where is he?” 

Oswald walked slowly, avoiding Ed’s eyes. I don’t want to look at him right now , he had said. It broke Edward’s heart to see that he still meant those words, that he still wouldn’t look at him. 

“Oswald, please tell me how he is!” Ed pleaded. “I didn’t do this, Oswald! I swear!” 

“Who then?” Oswald asked, seemingly indifferent to Ed’s suffering. He was now circling the room in a slow stride, still refusing to look at Ed. 

“I don’t know,” Ed deflated. “I’ve no idea, but I will help you find out! I am as mad at the bastard who did this as you are!” 

“I doubt that,” Oswald growled bitterly. “You could not be as mad as I am, Edward. I assure you.” 

Edward swallowed. “You really think it was me, don’t you?” he realized. Until now he had hoped against all reason that Oswald would come to his senses. That he would look past the stupid evidence the cops were feeding him and would believe in Edward. “I thought you trusted me…” 

Oswald’s eyes finally met his and Ed nearly flinched at what he saw in them. “I did! Like an idiot I did trust you! But every time I put my trust in you, you betray me! You hurt me! I’m no saint, I know that, but involving Martin in this? That is low, Ed, really low!” 

Ed’s hands were shaking. “Oswald…,” he said quietly, “please…” 

“Don’t. Don’t do that. Don’t beg…” Oswald looked away again. “I’m not here to watch you squirm or grovel. I want answers. I want to know what happened exactly and why…,” his voice broke and he had to start again, “why did you do this?” 

Ed deflated. “You don’t believe a word I say anyway. So why ask?” 

Oswald was silent, his back turned on Ed. He was quiet for so long, Ed thought he wouldn’t speak to him at all. But then, “I don’t know,” he finally said, his voice a whisper. He chuckled and it sounded so hurt, so filled with pain. “I don’t even know.” He turned around again and Ed saw his eyes were glistening with tears. “I certainly don’t want to be here. I didn’t want to see you. Yet, here I am.” 

Ed swallowed. What could he say to that? I wanted to see you. I didn’t do it. I would never hurt you again. I’m sorry. I love you. Oswald didn’t want to hear any of this. And Edward wouldn’t force him to. 

The moment of silence gave Oswald time to quickly compose himself. “I will not press charges against you,” he said, sounding considerably more business-like this time. “And I will provide a lawyer.” 

“You don’t have to do that. I don’t want you to,” Edward grumbled. He was sulking and he knew it but he couldn’t help himself. He was frustrated that life -- or whoever really caused the fire -- was putting them in this ridiculous position. 

“It’s not your decision,” Oswald said firmly. 

“I don’t want your influence, Oswald! I want you to believe me! I didn’t do this! I care about Martin!” 

Oswald slammed his fists angrily at the table. “Don’t you dare lie to me again!” he hissed. There was a fire in those expressive blue-green eyes. “I won’t tolerate that! I’d rather you tell me that you got jealous, or you got mad, or that you wanted to get revenge on me, but don’t lie!” 

“I’m not--” he groaned frustrated. “I’m not lying, Oswald. And the longer you distrust me, the more the one who really did this is getting away with it!” 

“Shut up!” Oswald cried out. “You’re trying to confuse me! It won’t work! They have a witness! My gardner saw everything!” 

Edward’s voice dropped an octave. “Then you better start by checking the witness’ background. Because he’s lying.” 

Oswald said nothing to that. He just looked Ed in the eyes for a long moment, before pushing himself away from the table and heading for the door. 

“Keep Martin safe. Whoever went after him the first time, might do it again,” Ed warned. 

He had no idea if Oswald would take his advice or not, if he would even consider the possibility that Edward was innocent. After everything they’ve been through, it was no surprise that Oswald was distrustful of him. Still Ed hoped for a miracle, he hoped Oswald would still have enough faith in him to not take other people’s words in blindly. Trust was hard to find, easy to lose, and difficult to rebuild. But they’ve done all three of those things once. Perhaps they’d be able to do that again. 

~*~ 

Oswald had no idea why, despite all the evidence against Ed, he was still listening to him. But there he was, meeting Zsasz at one of their secret places, ready to hear what information his ex-assassin had gathered about the fire at the manor. 

“Victor. Thank you for coming on such short notice.” 

“That’s alright, Boss,” Zsasz gave a casual shrug. “I may not work for you anymore but we’re still chums.” 

“Did you manage to find something out?” 

“Oh, I sure did,” Zsasz grinned that disturbing wide smile of his. “You were right. Your witness is a shifty character. His real name is Lazlo Valentin, also known as Professor Pyg.” 

Oswald scrunched up his nose. “Seriously?” 

“I know. Stupid name,” Zsasz rolled his eyes. “I can’t believe you hired that guy to water your plants.” 

Oswald ignored the remark. “Proceed.” 

“Lazlo got away from us, but I found a guy he was working with. Leonard something. I got all the info about the Pyg from him.” 

“And where is Mr. Leonard now?” 

Zsasz grinned again. “In one of my playhouses. Y’know, where I torture people.” 

“Right. And this Pyg character?” 

Zsasz made a face. “Leonard says Lazlo’s working for someone important but he doesn’t know who.” 

“I need to know who, Victor,” Oswald gritted through his teeth. 

“I know! I’m curious too. But if Leonard knew anything, he would’ve told me by now.” 

Oswald exhaled. “What else?” 

“My men are looking for Lazlo. The moment they find him, I’ll let you know.” 

Oswald nodded. “Good.” 

“Can I kill Leonard now or do you have any special plans for him?” 

Oswald smirked. “Keep Leonard alive for now,” he said. “I know someone who’d definitely want to meet him.” 

~*~ 

Oswald returned to the hospital to check up on Martin. He hated leaving the boy there but he couldn’t stay idle and give his enemies time to get away with what they did.  

He carefully opened the door and looked inside. Martin was sleeping with his back turned to the door. Oswald frowned. The last time he saw Martin, the boy was too tired to lift a hand, let alone turn around. 

“Martin? Are you awake?” Oswald asked, and placed a hand on the child’s shoulder. 

The kid on the bed turned around and Oswald gasped. 

“You’re not Martin! Where’s Martin!” he panicked. 

“I’m s-sorry,” the child in the bed stuttered terrified. “They told me to g-give you t-this…” With a small shaky hand the child offered Oswad a blank envelope. “P-please, don’t hurt me, Mr. C-cobblepot!” 

Oswald grabbed the envelope from the kid and rolled his eyes. As if he would harm a child. He broke the seal, pulled out the piece of paper inside it and read the following: 

Martin is alive and well, for now . If you want to keep it that way, meet me under the Crown Point Bridge at 9 o’clock tonight. Alone

No weapons! No goons! No cops!

Oswald paled. “Oh, Martin… What have I done?” 

~*~  

Oswald had no idea whom he was meeting under the Crown Point Bridge. He had little time to prepare, but that never stopped him and Zsasz before. 

He still felt terrible about the entire situation. It was all his fault. If he hadn’t adopted Martin, the boy wouldn’t have been in danger. This was exactly what Oswald wanted to avoid. But no matter. Whoever had the audacity to lay a finger on Oswald’s family would pay! 

He waited. There wasn’t a soul around until suddenly a black car showed up, stopping close by the Bridge. The door opened and Oswald watched restlessly as two high heels clanged on the paved road. 

“Sofia!” Oswald’s eyes went wide. “Sofia, what are you doing? You can’t be here! The note said precisely that I have to be alone!” 

Sofia smirked and shut the car door with force. “I know, Oswald. Thanks for following my instructions to a tee.” 

“Your instructions…” Oswald paled. Sofia was a traitor too. “It was you. All along…” 

Sofia shrugged with a smile. “Surprise!” she said and approached him. Two more goons slid out of the car, standing by her side, ready to attack on her command. “I must admit, Oswald, you’re not what I expected. I was warned you were a mastermind. Turns out, you were an easy mark.” 

“I don’t understand. Why did you kidnap Martin?” 

“So that you’d do as I say, of course.” 

“And the fire?” 

Sofia licked her lower lip and smiled as if the memory was bringing her pleasure. “I wanted to be sure you really cared about that kid. That you weren’t just faking it for your public image.” 

“You could’ve killed him!” Oswald cried outraged. “ Both of them! Ed and Martin!” 

Sofia shrugged nonchalantly. “That was a possibility, yes,” she allowed. “But I was willing to take the risk. They’re just pawns, Oswald. They don’t matter. I can sacrifice a few of them to take down the king.” She smiled cruelly. How come Oswald never noticed that cruelty in her before? “Their deaths,” she continued, “would’ve weakened you. After a blow like this, you wouldn’t have known what hit you. You’re so paranoid, Oswald, you can hardly pull yourself together. You burst into tears for the smallest thing. You throw tantrums like a child. And make mistakes. Like this one. You let Martin almost unsupervised in that hospital. It was easy to get to him. Now I have him. And if you want him back, safe and sound, you have to give me what I want.” 

Oswald was clenching his hands into tight fists. “What do you want, Sofia?” he asked through gritted teeth. 

“Your empire, of course. I’m a Falcone!” Sofia said proudly. “Do you really think I’d just let you rule Gotham? This is my city!”  

“You don’t know anything about this city.” 

“Wrong! This city is in my blood! It’s always been! My father tried to take it away from me too but even he couldn’t succeed. I’m back and I’m taking what’s mine!” 

Oswald snorted. “And you need me to help you do that? Barbara Kean would’ve already crowned herself Queen without even asking for my permission.” 

“Silence!” Sofia shouted angrily. “Just sign the documents, turn over control of the underworld to me, and we’ll be done with this!” 

Oswald took a step closer, alarming Sofia with his sudden and unusual calmness. “And if I don’t?” 

“I know you’re bluffing, Oswald!” She laughed but there was a slight note of nervousness about it. “Whatever you’re trying, it won’t work. I know you care about Martin. You’ve already made that quite obvious. Do what I want! Or I will kill him.”

Oswald shook his head. “The name Falcone used to mean something in this town. Your father used to rule this city with an iron fist. People respected him. And now his daughter is threatening the life of a child! How low you’ve stooped! You’d actually murder a 10 year old!” 

“I didn’t flinch when I killed my own father, Oswald,” Sofia smirked. “Why would I’d bat an eye for a little orphan boy?” 

That was new. 

“You killed Don Falcone?” Oswald repeated, stunned. 

Sofia’s lips spread into a deranged smile and she nodded slowly. 

“You really are insane…,” Oswald whispered. Of course, he was aware the old don had died a couple of months ago, but he had no idea Sofia was the one behind that. The mere thought could make one’s blood chill. “Tell me, Sofia,” he said, knowing that now was the best time to get this over with, “what stinks when alive, but smells good when dead?” 

Sofia frowned. “Pardon?” 

“Pyg, Sofia! Pyg!” Oswald grinned maniacally as Victor Zsasz showed up from behind him. 

“Hope I’m not late for the party!” The assassin sing-songed. He threw a basket in the air and a severed head rolled down from it, dropping on the ground with an ugly sound. Oswald had to admit, the man knew how to make an entrance! 

Sofia’s eyes went wide as she recognized her trusted assistant Professor Pyg. She glared angrily. “What did you do, you beaky-nosed freak!” 

Oswald shrugged. “Isn’t it obvious?” He smiled like a man who knew he had already won the war. “You’re alone, Sofia. We found your lair. All your supporters are dead. And Martin is safe and sound.” His gaze hardened. “You, on the other hand, deserve a punishment for what you did. I’m gonna make an example of you. So that no one even thinks to cross the Penguin ever again!” He threw his hand in the air in a dramatic gesture. “Victor. Do your thing!” 

“My pleasure, Boss,” Victor smirked, propping his bazooka on his shoulder and directing it at Sofia. 

“Zsasz!” Sofia cried, panicking. “You can’t do this! You used to work for my family!” 

“I know,” Zsasz replied, unbothered. “This is for Don Falcone.” He pulled the trigger and a moment later Sofia Falcone was gone for good, blown into smithereens in a loud explosion. 

“I like things that go BOOM!” Zsasz nodded appreciatively. 

Oswald was silent, watching the last of the flames dying down. Then he turned to Zsasz. “Thank you, my friend.” 

Zsasz nodded with a smile. “We always have fun, you and I. I wouldn't miss it for the world.”

Chapter Text

After giving a statement at the GCPD, Martin was back home, resting in his room from the ordeal he’d been through. His wound was healing nicely and he claimed he no longer felt dizzy or sleepy. That was good news and Oswald felt so grateful that his boy was alright. He had specifically asked Zsasz to take care of the mansion’s security. They were not taking any chances with Martin’s safety anymore! Every single person who accessed Penguin’s home had to be trusted. Oswald wanted new people and Zsasz was assigned with ‘checking their credentials’, as he called it. 

“This doesn’t mean that I’m back working for you,” Victor had warned, but he gladly did Oswald the favor. It was good having a trusted friend like that. 

After everything they’ve suffered, being able to hold Martin in his arms again felt like a blessing. So Oswald took advantage of it. He embraced his son tightly, as if he needed to make certain that the boy was really there, really safe and really with him. Oswald needed that reassurance, and judging by the way Martin happily hugged him back, so did the boy. Oswald stroked gently the unruly dark curls and did his best to hold back his tears. Martin had been through enough. He didn’t need to have to worry about comforting Oswald. 

When they pulled away from one another, Oswald settled at the edge of the boy’s bed and smiled at him. “I’m so happy you’re alright!” he told him. “And I’m so very sorry you had to go through all this! It’s all my fault but I promise you I won’t ever let anything like that happen ever again! I won’t allow anyone to hurt you!” 

Martin smiled back at him fondly and held up his pad. “I’m fine. Don’t worry,” it read. 

“I know you’re fine now, but you almost--” he stopped himself before saying ‘died’ and instead decided on, “almost weren’t fine. I don’t want that to happen again.” 

Martin wrote his reply, “It wasn’t your fault.” 

Oswald read it and frowned. “It was though,” he sighed. “It’s very sweet that you want to ease my mind, Martin, but I know it was my fault. Sofia staged the fire and kidnapped you because of me. You see, when people know how important you are to me, they might want to use you against me. To hurt you or threaten you in order to get to me.” 

Eyebrows knitted together in determination, Martin wrote something, then showed it to Oswald, “I won’t let them get to you!” 

Oswald smiled warmly at the child. “You’re a wonderful son, Martin, and I’m so lucky to have you,” he took Martin’s small hand in his and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “But this isn’t your burden. You deserve safety. Every child does.” He swallowed. “I can’t change the fact that my love for you puts you at risk, but I can do everything I can to protect you. I promise!” 

Martin listened to him carefully, then wrote his reply and showed it to Oswald, “I love you, papa. And if being your son means I face danger from time to time, I accept that. It’s worth it so that I can live with you and Edward.” 

Not for the first time during this conversation, Oswald got emotional. “Thank you. That’s so sweet of you to say,” he muttered. 

Martin held up another page of his pad. “Where is Edward?” 

Oswald swallowed. He couldn’t help the pang of guilt in his heart at the mention of that name.   

“Umm, about Edward…” he said carefully. “He isn’t home right now. But he will be back soon.” When he saw the saddened expression on Martin’s face, Oswald stroked his hair and added with a smile, “I’m sure he misses you terribly.” 

“I miss him terribly too. And I need to thank him,” Martin wrote. 

Oswald read it surprised. “To thank him? For what?” 

“He saved me.” 

“Saved--” It all suddenly made sense and Oswald paled. “Edward saved you from the fire…?”  

Martin nodded energetically. 

The room was suddenly spinning. Oswald would have fainted if it wasn’t for the deep need to learn more about this. He grabbed Martin’s hand. “You need to tell me everything that happened that day.” 

Not quite sure what caused the sudden change in his father’s mood, Martin took a moment to write in his pad before turning it around for Oswald to see. “I was working with my microscope and I needed a book so I went to the library. Suddenly there were flames everywhere. I was scared. I tried to run but I got hurt instead. Then Edward burst into the room and saved me. He’s my hero!” 

The words were followed by a cute doodle of what (judging by the glasses) had to be Edward, in a superhero cape with a big question mark on his chest. 

“I-- I didn’t know that. He didn’t tell me,” Oswald whispered quietly, swallowing around the lump in his throat. The GCPD report claimed that it was Lazlo who pulled Martin out of the fire, but of course it was Ed! Who else! Oswald should’ve realized it earlier. It was so obvious! He felt like an even bigger asshole for the way he treated the young man. Would Edward be able to forgive him? Oswald owed him a huge apology, and an even huger thank you. 

He snapped out of his thoughts when he felt Martin tugging at his sleeve, lifting another note for him to read. “When will Edward be back?” 

“I’ll bring him back home soon. I promise,” Oswald said, his throat closing as he spoke. 

But Martin did not seem pleased with the answer. He searched for one of the older pages and lifted it up for Oswald. “Where is Edward?” 

“Well, he’s…” Oswald struggled to explain. 

Martin was visibly beginning to panic. He grabbed his pad and started writing on it feverishly. “Don’t lie to me! Did Edward get hurt in the fire? Is he injured because of me?” 

“No, no! Nothing like that!” Oswald quickly reassured, realizing all the horrible thoughts that must’ve gone through the child’s head. “Edward is alright. Truly! He’s at the GCPD. Some idiot thought he started the fire…” he rolled his eyes. Martin was about to explode again but Oswald was quick to add, “Of course, my lawyers are working on dropping all the charges. Ed can come home today.” 

Martin calmed down when he heard that. 

“Ed and I just have one little thing to take care of after he’s released, and then he’s all yours.” 

Martin beamed at the prospect of having Edward’s attention all to himself, and threw his arms around Oswald’s neck to hug him again. It was so good to see his energy was returning. No more sleepy, dizzy Martin.  

When they pulled away from one another, the boy scribbled something else on his pad. “Go get Ed! The sooner you go, the sooner you two will be back!” 

Oswald let out a fond chuckle. “Impatient, are we?” he teased but nodded with understanding. “I’ll go get him for you, Martin. In the meantime, you rest. Uncle Zsasz is going to be around, so you’re safe.” 

Martin signed a “thank you” and Oswald left for the station. He wouldn’t let Ed spend a second more than he had to in that horrid cell! 

~*~  

“On behalf of the entire GCPD, I apologize for wrongly arresting you without sufficient evidence. We allowed an unreliable witness to throw off our case, and we feel deeply sorry and ashamed of it. I hope you will find it in you to forgive us for our terrible oversight and the way you’ve been treated here.” 

Ed watched stunned as Detective Harvey Bullock, who never seemed to be particularly fond of him or Oswald, recited his verbal apology while releasing Ed from custody. It was clear someone else wrote that little speech for him, but the fact that he was saying it anyway meant so much, and Edwad would be lying if he said he did not enjoy it. Oswald won. The GCPD was now completely under his thumb. Ed couldn’t help but feel proud and once again in awe of Penguin. He still had so much to learn from this man! Although Ed’s self-confidence had improved over the last two years after being adopted, there was still room for improvement, and Ed hoped one day he would be as confident and regal as Oswald.  

They returned his phone to him. The battery was dead, but Ed was going to charge it as soon as he returned home. He needed to check his messages. He was certain his friends must’ve panicked when they heard what happened to him. No doubt, they had a lot of questions, too. 

Oswald’s lawyer Julia, a polite but very firm and intimidating woman, stood by Ed’s side the entire time. She glared at every policeman in the vicinity, making sure they did their job right. In a matter of minutes all charges were dropped and Ed’s permanent record was clean. Julia assured him that his little stay in GCPD custody would not affect his future in any way. He would be able to apply to any college and university he wished, and get any job he wanted. In the eyes of the law, he was squeaky clean. It was ironic, considering that he had committed several murders in his past. 

Everything happened so quickly, he was still a bit hazy on the details. Only yesterday everyone treated him like scum, thinking he was an arsonist who wanted to kill a 10 year old. Today suddenly they were letting him go free and apologizing to him. What happened? 

As if reading his mind, Julia leaned in to explain, “Martin Cobblepot gave a statement earlier this morning.” Poor boy had to give statements instead of resting after everything he’s been through! “Also,” she continued, “they found the real culprit. It was a man named Lazlo Valentin.” 

Ed was not really surprised. Lazlo was their gardener who claimed he’d seen Ed commit the arson. Also he insisted that he had pulled Martin out of the flames which was another lie. Clearly the man was shady! Oswald did well to follow Ed’s advice on checking his background. 

“He was hired by Sofia Falcone,” Julia added. 

Now, that surprised Ed. “Sofia Falcone is behind this? Why?” 

“There’s no way for us to know,” she shrugged. “Valentin died before he could talk.” 

“Lazlo’s dead?” 

She nodded affirmatively. “He committed suicide when he realized Mayor Cobblepot’s men got him surrounded.” 

Ed chuckled internally. Suicide. Right. 

“What about Sofia Falcone?” 

“We have no idea where she is,” the lawyer replied, not particularly upset about it. 

“How do we even know she’s involved then, if Lazlo didn’t say anything and no one knows where she is?” 

“There were payments made to Valentin’s name, also correspondence. The police found it all in Valentin’s apartment. The evidence is clear.” 

Ed realized he wouldn’t be able to get the full information on what truly happened from the lawyer. He had to wait and ask Oswald about the details. He was sure there were a lot of things the police had no idea about. Starting with Lazlo’s ‘suicide’. 

“A limousine is waiting for you outside the GCPD,” Julia’s confident voice pulled him out of his thoughts. “You’re free to go, sir.” 

Sir . It was nice being called sir

“Aren’t you coming with me?” Ed inquired. 

“Oh, no,” she shook her head. “My own car is parked close by. Besides… I have a feeling you’re going to need to brace yourself.” 

Ed understood what she meant when they opened the GCPD front doors for him and he instantly found himself facing a giant mob of journalists and photographers, loudly asking him all kinds of questions one over the other. Ed couldn’t make out what they were saying, but he wasn’t even trying. He ignored their hunger for gossip about the Mayor’s adoptive son, and headed for the car, waiting for him right in front of the police station. He slid inside, reveling in the privacy the tinted windows provided for him, letting out a sigh of relief as he rested his eyes. 

“Edward. So good to see you again.” 

Edward jumped as the voice startled him. 

“Oswald!” 

The man was sitting right next to him on the back seat. Meanwhile the car had taken off without a word from Oswald. Ed supposed the chauffeur was already given his instructions beforehand. 

“I thought I’d be alone…” he uttered. 

“You’re not alone, Ed,” Oswald replied, looking at him with an expression Edward couldn’t quite decipher. “I’m sorry I made you feel that way.” 

“No, I mean, with the journalists and all, I didn’t expect you to come take me personally.” 

“Would you stop worrying about my career for a moment!” Oswald snapped. 

Ed arched an eyebrow. Why was Oswald so tense? “Are you okay, Oswald? What happened while I was gone?” 

Oswald shook his head, closing his eyes for a moment. “You weren’t gone, Ed. You were arrested.” 

“I know… I’m sorry. I never meant to cause a scandal--” 

“This isn’t about some scandal!” Oswald cried and covered his face with his hands. “Fuck!” 

Ed’s eyes went wide. Oswald rarely allowed himself to swear like that but when he did it always made Ed feel… weirdly amused. 

Oswald huffed and looked back at him. “This isn’t how I wanted this to go. I’m doing it all wrong.” 

“What are you talking about, Oswald?” Ed asked rather fondly. 

“I’m trying to apologize.” 

Oh. 

“No need. Harvey already did that,” Ed said, crossing his arms over his chest. He didn’t want a formal apology from Oswald, damn it! Oswald was not Harvey freaking Bullock! It wasn’t an apology that Ed needed from him. 

“Ed…,” Oswald sighed. “I know what you’re thinking. But I need to do this. You told me you were innocent and I didn’t believe you. I betrayed you. And hurt you. I yelled at you and you know I hate when we--” 

Ed nodded. “I know. But it’s in the past now. I’m not angry.” 

Oswald looked at him, really looked at him, like he was trying to read his most inner thoughts and feelings. “You forgive me?” he asked, sheepishly. 

“Well, yes, of course,” Ed said like it was the most obvious thing in the world. And in a way it was. “Look, I won’t pretend I wasn’t hurt. It was painful to watch you turn your back to me, to know you won’t believe anything I say. The look in your eyes…” He grimaced a little at the memory. 

“I’m sorry…” Oswald whispered, noticing his pain and feeling it as his own. 

Ed placed a comforting hand on Oswald’s knee and smiled at him softly. “But I understand why you did that. I hurt you badly before.” 

“We moved on from that. Besides, I hurt you just as badly…” 

“No, Oswald. Let me finish. I need to say this.” Ed took a deep breath. “I betrayed your trust. I caused you great pain. I took away from you someone you loved very deeply. And you thought I did it again with Martin. You were afraid and hurt, and I get that. It’s natural that you wouldn’t believe me. Everything worked against me. You had no reason to trust me. Even the evidence seemed to prove my guilt.” 

“I should’ve found it suspicious that all the cameras miraculously stopped working that day,” Oswald muttered. “I should’ve realized something was off.” 

“From what I heard, the GCPD claimed the fire caused them to short circuit before they could capture anything incriminating. They had an explanation for everything.” He leaned in and winked. “But still it was a stupid plan, if you ask me. What was Sofia Falcone thinking?” he snorted. “Wasting all that time to befriend you, then uses a kid you happened to like against you, by staging a fire to put you in a more vulnerable emotional state, so that she can kidnap said child and, what, blackmail you? Such a nincompoop!” 

“Amateurs,” Oswald snorted in reply. 

“Sofia Falcone and her stupid sidekick should’ve been more clever.” 

“She almost got away with it,” Oswald said, voice filled with guilt and regret. “If I kept listening to the GCPD and their silly investigation, the outcome to all this would’ve been completely different. And not favorable to me…” 

“But you followed my advice, you investigated Lazlo, and you got your leads.” 

“It wasn’t just me. Zsasz helped a lot.” Oswald cast a curious look at Ed, as if wondering about his opinion. “Him and I, we’re--” 

Edwad’s heart sank. He knew Oswald and Zsasz had a thing. Did Oswald move on from Ed? Of course, that would’ve been good for Oswald, and Ed had to be happy for him. But… 

“-- friends,” Oswald finished. “We’re good friends. He helped me very much at a time I really needed a friend and… he practically hunted the Pyg down.” 

“Right! Lazlo! Such a swine!”  

“No, Pyg was actually his name,” Oswald explained, finding it hard to keep the amusement from his voice. “He called himself Professor Pyg.” 

Maybe it was the excitement from being free again, or the relief to hear that Oswald and Zsasz were not lovers after all, but Ed burst into a fit of loud laughter at the sound of that name. 

“Professor Pyg? He wanted to be called that!” Ed snorted. 

“I know,” Oswald agreed. “The names are getting more and more ridiculous around here.” 

“What I find most ridiculous is that anyone would even dream of going against you,” Ed said, his smile changing a little, holding more heat. His expression must’ve divulged more of his feelings than he meant to, because Oswald was suddenly blushing and looking down at his hands. Wishing to recapture the ease from a moment ago, Ed was about to ask about Lazlo’s death and Sofia’s ‘disappearance’ (which Ed suspected meant she was dead too), but Oswald spoke first.  

“I--” he muttered, “I also wanted to thank you for saving Martin’s life. He told me how you barged in a burning room to get him out. That was really brave, Edward.” 

No one had ever thought Ed brave. He’d always been too quiet and timid, too jittery and nervous to appear brave. But Oswald often spoke of Ed’s courage. It was like Oswald saw qualities in him Ed didn’t know he possessed. Usually he would revel in the praise, allowing it to make him feel special, liked, admired, respected -- everything he didn’t feel when he was a child. However, this time he felt his cheeks heating up and he knew he was blushing furiously. “It’s nothing.” 

“No, it’s not,” Oswald insisted with passion. “It’s everything! You could’ve saved yourself and leave Martin inside, but instead you rushed there and saved him! You’re a hero, Ed. Martin told me so himself.” 

Ed smiled. “He said that?” 

Oswald nodded. 

“How is Martin?” Ed asked. “You never told me.” 

Oswald cursed himself internally. “You asked me about Martin at the GCPD and I brushed you off,” he grumbled. “You were worried and I just let you in the dark about Martin’s health!” 

“Oswald, it’s fine. You can tell me now.” 

“Martin is alright,” Oswald replied quickly, pulling himself together. “Only his arm is burnt but the wound is healing nicely. He was rather weak at first but he’s much better.” 

Ed felt a great weight lifting from his shoulders. “I’m glad he’s fine.” 

“Thanks to you. The doctors at the hospital told me that whoever saved Martin from the fire did a wonderful job at it. I should’ve known that that someone was you. Who else would be so efficient?” 

Ed chuckled. “Now, that’s true,” he allowed. 

“What I’m trying to say is, you know Martin means the world to me, and you risked your own life to rescue him from the flames.” Oswald looked deeply into Ed’s eyes. “Thank you so much for saving my son, Edward.” 

Ed could see his sincerity, his genuine gratitude and affection, as well as his regret for not believing Ed sooner. 

“This may sound silly to you, but… he’s my son too,” Edward replied, meaning it. “I know I’m only 8 years older than him, and I should feel like he’s my younger brother, but it’s not the same. I feel like… like he’s my son too.” There was no other way to explain it. And Ed was glad to share this with Oswald. Even if Oswald found it ridiculous and brushed it off, Ed knew the depth of his own feelings. He didn’t need anyone to validate them because they were already valid. 

Instead of being facetious about it, Oswald looked moved. “I know,” he said simply. “I’ve seen it in your eyes. I thought I was mistaken but now…now I’m sure you love Martin like a son too.” A weak chuckle, as if Oswald was tired to fight himself. “I can’t deny it, Edward, I’ve often imagined that for us too. You, me and him… a family. A proper one. Two fathers, one son.” Their eyes met. Oswald looked nervous but not hesitant. “I’ve wished for it too.” Edward swallowed. “I’ve wished so much for--” 

The car pulled up and Oswald cut himself off, clearing his throat. 

“Time to go,” he said out loud, wiping his eyes with a sharp movement of his hand as if that would hide the gesture from Edward. As if Edward couldn’t feel Oswald’s tears in his very bones. 

“Where are we exactly?” Ed asked, looking out of the windows. There was nothing but an old abandoned warehouse around. They were all alone, with the exception of their driver. No prying eyes, no ears to hear screams. 

Ed chuckled. “Should I be worried?” he teased. 

Oswald looked at him carefully. “Should you?” 

Ed snorted. “Stop trying to scare me, Oswald. It won’t work. You may be the most powerful man in Gotham, but I’m not afraid of you.” 

Oswald sighed with a shrug. “I had to try. Being the most powerful man in Gotham and all.” But deep down he was happy to hear that. Oswald wanted other people to fear him, not Edward. And it was good to know that despite their complicated history, Edward was not afraid of him. 

They slid out of the car and Edward arched an eyebrow. “What is this place? Why are we here?” 

“Well,” Oswald said, looking kind of smug and once again perfectly composed, “we’re here to pay a visit to our dear friend Mr. Leonard.” At Ed’s confused expression, Oswald added with a smirk. “Consider this practice for your Forensics studies.” 

Edward had no idea who Mr. Leonard was or what was Oswald planning to do with him, but by the look on Penguin’s face he could tell it was going to be fun! 

Chapter Text

“While working undercover the Pyg needed an accomplice,” Oswald explained as they walked into the warehouse. The driver was waiting for them outside. “Someone to keep him in touch with the criminal underworld while he was under the guise of a respectable gardener. In his case, that accomplice was…,” Oswald flicked on the lights and Edward got a clear view of the spacy but rather damp warehouse. “... Mr. Leonard.” 

A man tied up to a chair with a cloth bag over his head started screaming and shaking. His cries were muffled but he still sounded terrified. Most likely, he had a gag in his mouth. 

Edward watched in awe. Was Oswald actually going to let him…? 

“Now,” Oswald pulled him out of his thoughts, attracting his attention to himself once again, “I realize you might want to exert your revenge on Professor Pyg, or Sofia Falcone herself, umm, she’s dead, by the way,--” 

“I knew it,” Ed muttered gleefully. He loved being right. 

“-- but I can give you the next best thing.” 

Edward took another step closer to the tied up man -- Mr. Leonard, as Penguin had called him. “Oswald! So very thoughtful of you!” He reached for the bag and looked at Oswald with a curious look on his face. “May I?” 

“Be my guest,” Oswald smiled. 

Edward pulled the bag off the man’s head and giggled giddily. 

Mr. Leonard blinked rapidly, his eyes needing a moment to readjust to the light, then he looked pleadingly at Edward. Was he hoping to make Ed feel sorry for him? 

Ed snorted, unimpressed. “Don’t even think about it. Because of you, a child nearly died.” He leaned in to glare the man in the eyes as he growled, voice dropping down an octave. All amusement was gone from his face. “You helped the man who set fire to my home! The man who wanted to burn me and my family to the ground! A tool in Sofia Falcone’s plan to destroy us! One of the people I love most in this world got hurt because of you!” He shook his head, disgusted. “Don’t expect sympathy from me.” 

Mr. Leonard started sobbing and shaking his head. Whatever he had to say, Edward didn’t care about it. He looked back at Oswald. 

“What am I allowed to do?” he asked. 

Oswald was looking at him, wide-eyed. “Whatever you want. He’s all yours.” 

A wide grin spread across Edward’s face. This wasn’t just about torture, or murder. This wasn’t even about revenge. This was Oswald and Edward accepting their darkest sides, embracing their brokenness and finding their way to one another despite it. This was a bond, they were forging with blood. 

Edward gazed into Oswald’s eyes, long and hard, as the older man offered him a knife, then he turned his attention back to the unfortunate Mr. Leonard. 

~*~ 

Oswald watched him, passion and excitement burning under his skin. Hands covered in blood, face splattered with the thick red liquid, clothes messy, glasses ascue… He was beautiful in his insanity. He was perfect. One thing was clear to Oswald at that moment -- he could not resist this anymore. This pull he felt towards Ed, this affection, this fatal attraction. His love for Edward, sick and perverted as it may have been, was also very real. It demanded attention, it craved reciprocity, it lived inside both of them, always guiding them to find their way to each other. Perhaps it was their depravity that made them so well suited for one another. Or the fact that they knew the worst of each other and still found something there to love. They’ve caused so much pain to each other, but in a way they also built each other up. They were broken when they met. They made mistakes as they were faced with situations they couldn’t navigate. They’ve done things no one else would be able to forgive. But Oswald held no contempt for Edward anymore, no grudge. There was only love and forgiveness. He couldn’t even feel guilty for forgetting Jim and falling in love with his murderer. And he could tell Edward felt the same way. Perhaps their entire lives up to this point have only been a preamble to the time when they met. As if all they’ve ever been doing was waiting for each other.  

Edward pushed the knife into Mr. Leonard once again, curious and enthusiastic. In his exaltation, he hadn't even noticed that the man was already dead. Some forensic scientist , Oswald thought fondly. He wondered if he should tease Ed by saying his place was definitely at the GCPD if he couldn’t tell apart a corpse from a living person, but then decided against it. 

Slowly, he rose up from his chair and gently brushed his fingers against Edward’s arm. “He’s dead, Ed. It’s over.” 

Edward’s gaze snapped at Oswald as if struggling to return to reality. Panting and bloody, eyes wide, pupils dilated, he looked almost feral for a moment. 

“Right… yes… so he is,” he agreed, looking back at the dead man in front of them.

Oswald swallowed. He knew Ed was old enough to make his own choices, but seeing the younger man in such a state made him wonder if this wasn’t a bad idea after all. Oswald had meant it as a nice gesture, an apology; Mr. Leonard was a gift, a promise, something to show Ed that Oswald trusted him and accepted him as an equal. But maybe giving Ed a knife and a body to destroy was a mistake. Maybe it didn’t have the cathartic effect Oswald was hoping for.  

He took a careful step closer, resting his hand on Edward’s shoulder. “How are you feeling?” he asked tentatively. 

Ed grinned widely at him. “Oh, Oswald! I feel fantastic!” 

And just like that, his gaze cleared. Reason was back in his eyes, the madness dissipated. 

Oswald smiled at him. “Good. I’m really glad.” He tried not to show it, but he felt relieved. Edward was fine. He understood the gift’s meaning and he was fine. Oswald cleared his throat, trying not to sound too giddy with his own excitement. “Now, I’ve brought spare clothes for you. There’s also a place where you can wash off some of that blood. We can go home when you’re ready.” 

He was about to lead the way to the bathroom, but Edward stopped him with a firm grip on his bicep. “No. Not yet.” He breathed in and then added more softly, releasing Oswald’s arm. “Please.” 

A little puzzled, Oswald nodded. “Of course. Anything you need.” But when Edward remained silent, he added encouragingly, “What is it?” 

After a deep breath, Ed spoke, “Oswald, I don’t understand what this is about, or why you’re doing it for me--” 

Oswald deflated. So Ed hadn’t understood what Oswald meant to convey.  

“-- but I am grateful.” A soft smile spread across Ed’s face. It was almost tender. “I may have misunderstood but… Thank you for making me feel like we’re partners again. For… for trusting me.” 

Oswald breathed happily. His heart filled with so much warmth. Edward did understand the meaning of the gift after all! 

“You always know what I need, Oswald,” Edward continued with fondness. “You seem to know me better than I know myself. And after this… I feel like we’re partners again, like we’re…” he looked for the right word and settled on, “equals.” 

“It’s what we are, Ed,” Oswald assured, voice sounding slightly more vulnerable than he meant it to. 

Edward chuckled helplessly. “At times like these I am reminded of how stupidly happy you used to make me. And I laugh at what a fool I’ve been.” His hand reached for Oswald’s bicep again, thumb rubbing gentle circles on the fabric of Oswald’s well-tailored suit. “I was so alone before I met you. So afraid. Now I feel like I have wings!”  

Oswald’s cheeks heated up. “This is the adrenaline talking,” he tried to wave it off, feeling rather dizzy to listen to this confession.  

Edward shook his head. “No, this is me talking. Please, hear me out.” 

There was such a gentle plead in Edward’s eyes, Oswald could only nod in reply. 

“I am broken. I know that,” Ed said frankly. “But so are you. And somehow that is what makes our relationship so great. Don’t you feel it too? The way our broken pieces fit together like a puzzle? It’s such a cliche, I know, but you complete me , Oswald!” He was holding Oswald’s hands in his, pressing them to his heart as he looked him in the eye. “You’re a part of me as much as I’m a part of you. And you’d be lying if you try to deny it!”  

There was a challenge in those last words. As if Edward dared him to oppose the statement. But Oswald couldn’t. He knew it to be true and it was exhausting to keep lying to himself by rejecting it. 

“You’re right,” he admitted out loud. “You’re absolutely right. I feel that way also.” 

Edward’s eyes widened in surprise. Clearly he expected Oswald to put more of a fight before confessing. “You-- you admit that?”

Oswald nodded, smiling. “I do, yes. I’m tired of lying to myself or restraining myself. I’m tired of rejecting something that I know feels right. To both of us.” He bit his lower lip, then continued, “Maybe one day you’ll grow tired of me. Maybe this love of ours isn’t meant to last. Maybe it’s a mistake, but right now it feels real. And it’s so powerful, and-- it gives me wings.” Ed beamed as he heard Oswald use his own words at him. He was nodding but he did not interrupt, allowing Oswald to finish everything he had to say. “I know it’s unconventional. I know I’m an asshole for even trying to have this with you. But I’m a greedy man, Edward. I’m a glutton and I want more! I want everything we can have and I will take it. Damn the consequences. And I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of hiding. I want to take your hand in public and kiss it. I want to take you and Martin out in the park and have a lovely family picnic. I want all this and more! I want to be the family I know we already are in our hearts.”  

A breathless laughter escaped through Edward’s lips. He looked so happy as he pressed his sweaty forehead to Oswald’s. “Are you saying we should get married?” He grinned. 

Oswald chuckled. “You’re only 18, Ed. Perhaps wait until you’re at least 25?” 

“Why wait when I already know my mind!” Ed said excitedly. 

Oswald cupped Ed’s bloody cheek. “Perhaps you should learn to know your heart also,” he said with a soft smile, “You might not feel the same way about me in seven years or so.” 

The thought was rather painful, but Oswald had to be realistic. Edward falling out of love was a possibility. Nothing was written in stone when it came to matters of the heart. Oswald had learned that unconditional love was rare to find, even if that was the only kind he truly wanted. 

Ed snorted. “I doubt it. But if it would make you feel more comfortable, fine. I know in my heart you're already my beloved and only husband.” 

Oswald nearly melted at that statement and the simple honest way in which it was said. 

“You too…” he whispered breathlessly, heart beating wildly in his chest. 

“But if we’re really doing this, we have so many things to consider!” Edward gasped, suddenly pulling away from Oswald to start pacing, biting his nails as the cogs of his brain were working relentlessly, finding solutions and forming strategies. “If we’re to be open about our relationship,” he went on, “the public will go crazy! They’ll crucify you! Being in a relationship with your adopted son? There will be… strong disapproval. It’ll ruin your political career.” 

It was sweet how worried Ed was about this, but Oswald was no longer afraid of people’s ‘disapproval’, regardless of how strong it was. They used to hate him before; it wouldn’t be too difficult to get used to being hated again.  

“That’s alright, Ed,” he said reassuringly. “I don’t need to be Mayor. Been there, done that,” he added with a nervous little chuckle. 

But Edward only stared at him stunned. “Oswald… that was your dream,” he muttered. “You’re sacrificing your dream in order to be with me. I-- I don’t know if I can allow that. I remember how happy you were when you had the people’s love and--” 

Oswald had to stop him right there. He couldn’t let Ed think he was taking something away from him. That simply wasn’t true!  

“I don’t want to hide, Edward,” he interrupted. “If we’re really doing this, if we’re entering a relationship, then I don’t want to have to hide. I’ve been in secret relationships before.” Memories of sneaking in and out of the mansion, stealing forbidden kisses. He shook his head decisively. “I don’t want that anymore. I refuse to treat love as if it’s something shameful. You’re of legal age now, it’s not a crime to be with you. There will be disapproving looks, some hurtful words too, most likely. Nothing I haven’t endured before.” His gaze saddened a little when he suddenly realized he never asked if Edward was alright with this. “Can you--” his voice wavered and he quickly cleared his throat. “Can you accept this?” 

The last thing he wanted was to force Edward into something he wasn’t comfortable with. But at the same time, he knew he couldn’t live his life in a lie anymore. They needed to make a choice, and stick to it. 

He was glad to see that Edward didn’t blindly rush into an answer. It was good that the younger man took time to think things over before giving a reply. 

“I can,” he finally said, sounding confident in his decision. “I’ve thought about this before. I wasn’t sure if you’d be willing to go public with something like this. I didn’t want to pressure you into it but now that you say you want the same thing, Oswald, yes! I can definitely accept this!” 

Oswald gaped. Could this really be happening? Was it a dream? 

“Edward… you mean that?” 

“Yes! I don’t want to have to hide and feel like our love is a dirty secret. I want to be able to walk hand in hand with you in public.” He gathered Oswald into his arms, probably getting blood all over Penguin’s suit, but it didn’t matter. “We want the same things, Oswald. I told you we’re meant for each other.” 

Oswald hugged him back tightly, biting at his lower lip and trying not to let the tears of joy roll down from his eyes. This was too good to be true and he didn’t know how to respond to that. He thought the right thing to do was to be truthful. 

“I love you, Edward!” He dared to look up at the taller man and only saw reciprocity in his gaze. 

“I love you too, Oswald,” Ed said, his words melting Oswald’s heart, the intensity of his voice making Oswald’s knees go weak. “I’ve never been in such agony as the times I thought I could lose you. The mere thought is unbearable. I need you in my life! I love you so much!” 

“You won’t lose me!” Oswald promised, quickly. “You’ll never lose me! You have me! All of me! I’m yours!” 

The force of his own confession and the unconditional promise, took him by surprise. He had not planned for any of this. When he brought Edward to the warehouse, his only desire was to apologize to the man. But now, after everything they’ve both told one another, it only felt natural that he would bare himself entirely, every corner of his dark soul. It belonged to Edward anyway, he might as well know it completely. 

“And I’m yours,” Ed replied. His eyes darkened as his gaze fell down to Oswald’s mouth. He gently brushed his thumb against Oswald’s chin, and slowly leaned in to tease his beloved’s lips with his own. 

It was a question. Ed was still unsure if he was allowed to kiss Oswald. Mindful of respecting his boundaries, he did not deepen the kiss until Oswald gave a clear sign that he was willing to go there too. Which Oswald gladly did, after taking a second to compose himself from the surprise and excitement. 

Their mouths moved softly against each other, both tentative and careful at first, but then gradually their kisses became more heated and passionate. It only took a few moments before the two were already fervently making out, Oswald whimpering as his fingers clawed at Edward’s back, while the younger man pressed himself as tightly against Oswald’s body as humanly possible. From the way Ed was kissing him, nearly devouring his lips, Oswald could tell that Ed missed this just as much. It had been so long since they shared such intimacies, they craved each other’s touch desperately.

It was ironic, really. They met at the wrong time, they fell in love the wrong way, they made all the wrong choices, yet none of this felt wrong anymore now that they were together. Granted, the place wasn’t ideal for accepting your soulmate’s undying love. The abandoned factory, with Mr. Leonard (what was left of him), lying on the floor nearby in a pool of his own blood, and Edward all dirty and sweaty from his recent exertions, was hardly the most romantic choice. But this was them. They weren’t like other people. And in a strange way, Oswald was proud of that. He was glad they were different. It made things more real for him. And it felt sublime!  

When they finally pulled away, Oswald felt like his heart could burst from all the sudden happiness he felt. 

“We should go back home,” he said softly. “Martin’s going to wonder what’s taking us so long.” 

Ed was beaming, his pretty brown eyes sparkling as he smiled back at Oswald. “Of course,” he intertwined their hands together. “Let’s go home.” 

“I wonder how he’d take it,” Oswald said thoughtfully. “The news about you and me…” 

“Martin?” Ed chuckled. “The kid is so clever, I won’t be surprised if he somehow already knows.” 

Oswald thought that was not very likely, but he still found Ed’s remark amusing. 

"What about him?" Edward asked, glancing at Mr. Leonard. 

"I have people for that," Oswald shrugged casually and pulled out his phone. 

They freshened up, washed off the blood, and returned to the car, leaving cleaning up Mr. Leonard's mess to Oswald's special team. 

~*~ 

Martin cracked an eye open and checked the time. It was past 10:30pm and there was still no sign of Oswald and Ed. The boy sighed, lying on his back and staring at the luminescent stars on the ceiling. Edward had glued them there, making the personal night sky in Martin’s bedroom as accurate to the actual constellations as possible. Martin really loved that addition to his room. He loved everything about his new home. What he didn’t like was that he had no idea when his two favorite people were returning to the mansion. 

He wasn’t afraid, although it would’ve been normal after surviving a fire and being kidnapped. But Martin had always been surprisingly tough. Bullies had tried to bring him down before, but he never let them get to him. He fought back in any way he could. He wasn’t afraid of the Pyg or some other psycho with a crazy name. This was Gotham. This was Martin’s town. And he knew how to survive. 

No, he wasn’t afraid. He was lonely. He’d always been lonely. And he’d always hated it.

He wasn’t mad at them for not being home yet. Oswald had warned him not to wait up because they might take a while. He had, however, promised that they’d be home for breakfast the next day. If only Martin were more patient… But he couldn’t wait to spend more time with Oswald and to thank Edward for saving him. He couldn’t wait for them to talk about everything and nothing, to play games, read, or make experiments with Edward that would get Olga and Oswald in disarray. Or even just to hang out. If he had to be honest, merely being in the same room as Oswald and Edward made him feel better, safer, less alone. It made him feel warm and comfortable, knowing that he had these two amazing people who loved him so much and were there for him. 

After another impatient glance at the clock, -- it was now past 11, -- Martin realized he won’t be able to fall asleep soon. He kicked off the blankets and jumped off the bed. Careful not to make a noise, he put on his socks (he deemed his sleepers too loud for walking in the dead of night), and quickly sneaked out of his room. 

Oswald’s bedroom was down the hall, so Martin could easily get there as long as he stayed unnoticed by one of Uncle Zsasz’ people. Martin knew they were only trying to keep him safe, but he didn’t want to have to explain to them what he was up to. He was an expert in sneaking in and out. It was a useful quality at the orphanage. So he put all his skills into use to sneak behind them and quietly enter Oswald’s bedroom.  

Once inside, he closed the door behind and released the breath he had been holding. A smile graced his face as he felt his previous restlessness leaving him almost instantly. He could feel Oswald’s distinct aroma in the air of the room. It smelled like… home and safety. At least, that was what it represented for Martin. Oswald was the best person Martin knew. He showed Martin kindness and extended a hand of friendship when the boy needed it most. Oswald saw in him things no one else ever saw -- a friend, a conspirator, a confidant. He took care of him and gave him a home, introduced him to Ed, encouraged his interests. Those things may have seemed like nothing much to other kids, but to Martin, they meant the world. 

Craving Oswald’s presence, he pulled the cover off of the well-made bed and climbed on top of it, snuggling into Oswald’s soft blankets and pillows. Oswald’s bed was like a warm nest and Martin found the paralel particularly amusing. So many things about Oswald were birdlike, it was adorably sweet. Martin wondered if all people were birds, what kind of a bird would Martin be? As he wrapped himself in Oswald’s blanket and buried his face in the pillow, he kept wondering about that. Perhaps a robin? They were cute and small and Oswald always said he was adorable. Or maybe a penguin, like his father? Martin smiled and hugged the pillow close to his face. It felt so good to be able to call Oswald his father.  

His hand felt something stuffed underneath the pillow so he quickly sat up and curiously checked what it was. There, under Oswald’s pillow, lay a dark green cotton t-shirt. It was too large for Oswald, in Martin’s view, and when he pulled it up to examine it better, it seemed more like something Edward would wear. The dark green color and the print of a tree that looked like human lungs was totally something Ed would wear! But why would Ed’s t-shirt be under Oswald’s pillow? Martin knitted his eyebrows as he carefully thought about that. Perhaps Edward, too, liked to sleep in Oswald’s bed when he felt lonely or when he missed Penguin? Or maybe Oswald just liked the t-shirt and took it for himself. Whatever the case, Martin felt a strange sort of warmth in his heart. Like something in their little family just fit perfectly with that one final piece. 

~*~  

The ride back to the mansion was slightly awkward at first. The closer they got to the ‘real world’, the more nervous Ed felt about this whole thing. 

Oswald must have felt the uneasiness oozing from him, because he slid closer and placed a gentle hand on Ed’s knee. “Is everything alright?” 

Ed chewed anxiously at his lower lip, fumbling with his hands. “You won’t-- you won’t take it back, right?” 

He hated the way his insecurity had kicked in again. It was unfair to feel that way after the amazing rush he had gotten from the previous events of the day. 

“Not taking what back?” Oswald asked, tilting his head. 

Ed glanced at him nervously. “Your love for me? Or rather, admitting it and being in a relationship with me? It’s such a huge step. You’re not regretting it, are you?” 

Instead of an answer, Oswald took Ed’s arm and wrapped it around his shoulders, snuggling closer to the younger man. “I’m not taking anything back, Edward,” he promised, smiling up at Ed and meeting his gaze as he added, “I love you.” 

The sincerity in Oswald’s eyes and voice was nearly overwhelming. It filled Ed’s heart with happiness. “I love you too, Oswald.” 

He pressed a kiss to Oswald’s forehead and just like that his insecurities dissipated. He was confident that their love was strong enough to withstand anything. After all, it had already held out against so much.