Batman: One Bad Thing
Characters: Riddler, Scarecrow [Scriddler]
Synopsis: Jonathan accidentally injects Edward with fear toxin but the result isn't quite what he expected.
He had made a tremendous mistake.
He had been sitting there silently for some time, staring at the wall, trying to dredge up exactly what the mistake had been. Losing his temper, perhaps. Blaming everything that had been going amiss on the wrong person, probably. Moving in with him at all... that was a bit extreme, but didn't eliminate it as an option.
It hadn't been Edward's fault that Jonathan was tired and irritable and sore after a very narrow escape from the Bat. He hadn't known how short Jonathan's temper had become, or that Jonathan actually did want him to shut up this time as opposed to merely pretending to. None of that had been his fault. But his innocence in those matters hadn't stopped Jonathan from grasping the syringe nearest, as yet still unattached from the injector gauntlet, and plunging it into the hand Edward had put on his forearm. He had then turned and demanded that Edward shut the hell up, intending to tell him quite a lot of other things as well, but he was unable to draw breath to do so when he saw the look on Edward's face. Edward couldn't get away from him soon enough, stumbling backward and falling over in his haste, gasping, "No, father, please, not this time!"
"What?" Jonathan had asked, not having quite processed the situation, and he had gotten up from his place at the table to follow. Edward scrambled back until he was against the wall, his eyes wide and his outstretched hand shaking.
"I didn't cheat! I'm not lying, I don't know what she told you but I'm not lying!"
It was then he realised that Edward no longer saw him, but... his father.
Jonathan rarely felt guilty, or otherwise remorseful for anything he did, but the revelation loosened his fingers and the syringe clattered to the wood beneath his feet, settling in a place unknown. Edward had squeezed his eyes shut and turned away, saying, "The first time I did, but not this time, not this time father, I didn't cheat, I swear!"
Jonathan's only response had been to sit back down in the chair, a sudden weight against his chest. Yes, Edward had been annoying him, but he hadn't known that and even if he had the dose of toxin Jonathan had just given him would hardly have been fitting.
And so it happened that Edward had folded himself as small as possible against the wall, his hand in his mouth to muffle the sound of his tears, and Jonathan was sitting there silently, staring at the wall just above his head.
Jonathan was no stranger to breaking people down, but repairing them? That had been a step in the research process he had always skipped. And now Edward was, in a way, an unwitting experiment for the both of them. He had trapped Edward in a nightmare he never meant to inspire, and he had never wished to be able to reverse such a thing before but he did now. He inhaled deeply and attempted to unknot his fingers, but they refused to budge.
As the half-life of the chemical approached several hours later and Edward was able to regain reality, he slowly became less anxious. He had obviously mastered the art of silent crying many years ago, a realisation which froze Jonathan's throat and pulled his fingers ever the tighter. He knew nothing of Edward's history; Edward never spoke of it and Jonathan had never cared to ask. And yet if either of them had, Jonathan would have an inkling of what to do just then, other than wait uselessly for the chemical to mostly burn itself out. Jonathan didn't know how long that was going to take. The syringe had not been fully replenished - one positive aspect to this regretful situation - but the formula itself was designed for a man at least half again Edward's size. He could only hope that Edward had the strength of will to overcome it sooner rather than later, much as the originally intended recipient did time and time again.
There might be one thing he could try. He had no idea if it would work, or how aware of his surroundings Edward was at this point, but it couldn't hurt, could it?
Above all, Jonathan didn't want Edward to believe he had done it on purpose.
When Jonathan bent next to him a few minutes later to place the cup by his side, he gripped the hunched shoulder nearest for a moment. He didn't really have an answer as to why, but it was a reassuring thing to do, wasn't it? How reassuring a memory-trapped Edward would find it had yet to be determined, but to Jonathan's surprise Edward's right hand clamped around his wrist when he began to remove it. There was a dangling ribbon of time where Edward's eyes were unfocused as they searched his face and his breathing jagged through his slack mouth. Jonathan himself was paralysed with indecision. Would Edward become violent? Had he ever been, towards his father? Jonathan hadn't a hint. But then Edward blinked downwards, at the hot chocolate Jonathan had meant to leave him with, and after one last ragged inhalation Jonathan saw the moment he came back.
Jonathan had never been so relieved to see someone overcome his toxin. In fact it was probably the first time he had ever so much as wanted such a thing.
Edward relinquished Jonathan's hand but only removed it to its original position across his knees. His whole being was still downcast, and it was beginning to distress Jonathan that he wanted Edward to recover so badly. Since when had he been so concerned? But it was what it was and it was not the time to debate his feelings towards Edward just then. At the very least, he was a friend, and though Jonathan had few he knew you didn't mistakenly attempt to destroy their mind and then leave them to sort it out alone.
He sat down on the floor.
The silence was long. Or perhaps it was brief, and merely seemed otherwise. Eventually Edward swallowed and said, "It really only was the first time. At first."
Jonathan didn't know what to do with this information. Until he connected it with what Edward had said at the beginning of all of this, and decided looking at Edward and nodding once to indicate he was listening was the best thing to do.
"But it only takes the one time." Edward spoke more to his knees than anything else. "Once you've done a bad thing, all you're capable of are bad things."
Jonathan understood that.
"You try to do it right after you've done that one thing, nobody cares," Edward continued, crumpling and releasing his righthand pantleg. "You can do it right for the rest of your life and nobody cares. So there wasn't a point, after a while. Didn't stop them from staring at me while I wrote tests. Didn't stop them from accusing me of plagiarism every time I was assigned a paper." His tongue slid over his upper lip. "Didn't stop him from hitting me."
Jonathan's hand found its way back to Edward's shoulder, though this time it had no intention of a brief rest there. "I'm sorry," he said. He meant it.
Silence again, though more companionable than anything else.
"No one's told me that before."
"I know," was Jonathan's reply, though he hadn't until he had heard himself say it.
"That was only the first excuse he used," Edward went on, albeit with hesitance. He probably thought Jonathan didn't care. If he had asked at any other time he didn't think he would have. But he did. "After that, it was whatever he felt like it was. But he always went back to that first time. That first time defined me for him for the rest of my life."
Jonathan understood that too.
He could have given Edward an explanation of his life stemming from that moment, the day his father had found his excuse. Edward was laid out for him now, from the action that has defined him, and Jonathan could have done anything with that knowledge. All he opted to do was slide the hand across Edward's shoulders and nothing else. He didn't attempt to explain his actions to himself. He wasn't certain he wanted to know what they meant.
After a few more minutes Edward took up the hot chocolate and Jonathan told him, "That will have gone cold by now."
He felt Edward's shrug. "I always used to drink it cold anyway. After he would leave, I mean. It was... my little gift to myself."
Jonathan felt he should have known that, and perhaps in some subconscious way he had.
The quiet returned and they were there for some time, with only a modicum of mental nagging on Jonathan's part that he should get back to work. He wasn't sure if he actually wanted to do that or was just thinking that way out of habit. It was odd, but he did find himself wanting to sit right there in silence as Edward drank. The feel of his arm across Edward's broader shoulders was more natural than he'd expected.
Edward sighed and brought one palm to the floor, Jonathan removing his arm with an interesting stab of regret. He stayed on the floor as Edward took the cup to the sink and washed it out perhaps a little too thoroughly with the wand. After he'd gently placed it in the drying rack he said, without looking at Jonathan, "I'm going to bed."
"I'll join you in a little while," Jonathan answered, and he had to stand slowly as his knees had almost locked into position. That was happening too often lately. There was a cause but he hadn't yet cared to discover it.
Edward paused in his crossing of the room, Jonathan nearly colliding with him as a result. "You will?" he asked, confusion evident through every inch of him.
"... yes," Jonathan answered. He wasn't altogether certain why he had said that, but he wasn't going to take it back now.
Still. He took his time cleaning up his equipment, putting it away with far more care than was normal - Edward usually paid better attention than he did! - mostly to give Edward time to fall asleep. He was hard to wake, but he sometimes spent hours discussing every subject under the sun whether or not Jonathan seemed remotely interested. He often was, simply because Edward's endless knowledge about pretty much everything was extremely fascinating, but today was not one of those days. It was an hour later when Jonathan finally made his way under the blanket but he could immediately tell from Edward's breathing that he was not asleep. Jonathan leaned up against the headboard in his usual fashion, eyes closed to protect himself from Edward's inevitable onslaught, but... it never came. Instead he just rolled onto his stomach and... clamped his arm around Jonathan's waist.
Jonathan stared into the blurry darkness, unsure of what to make of this. Truth be told they had only shared the bed originally because it was Edward's apartment and he had no couch... but the situation appeared to have graduated to something else entirely since, something Jonathan could not say was not better. He moved his right hand to Edward's shoulder, uncertain if Edward wanted that... but Edward was asleep now. He would never know. Jonathan could do anything, and Edward could do nothing about it.
There was a moment. A long stretching moment where Jonathan considered it. Considered what he would do to the man who had dared touch him like this. As though he, the Master of Fear, were a comfort object to be held when one was lonely. Pah! The very idea!
But that wasn't all it meant, was it. It meant something far more, something Jonathan actually felt a-feared of for a second or two.
Edward knew full well what Jonathan could do at any time, especially a time such as this. He'd experienced it many a time, as recently as a few hours previous! But here he was regardless, asleep as soon as he had settled his face against Jonathan's ribs. Jonathan's long fingers spread for a moment over the top of his arm. It was soft and warm. Everything about him was, including the feeling he inspired in Jonathan's chest, and though it was odd and unsettling... it was pleasant. Perhaps he could get used to it. Perhaps...
Perhaps he'd return the favour sometime. Tell Edward where he came from. He possibly already knew, but... it was the intent that counted, was it not?
When he nudged him onto his shoulder, Edward did not resist in the slightest. Jonathan wasn't entirely sure he wanted the man there, but now Edward's arm had further tightened around his chest and Jonathan had to admit he did like that. Edward was so soft. So vulnerable, so fragile.
Jonathan rarely understood beauty. Life was not beautiful, it was harsh and unforgiving and rent with fear. For this man, however, he might. His construction was exquisite in the way only the concept of beauty could describe.
He was still genuinely regretful about what he had done. It had been unintentional, and he would not do it on purpose if he had the choice, but... this was worth it. This warm and trusting man so gently sleeping on his chest was worth it. Did Edward feel the same? Maybe Jonathan would even ask in the morning. Ask how he'd slept. If it was better than splaying himself alone on the other side. Jonathan didn't yet know how his own sleep was going to go, but already he had an odd sense of... contentment.
He had made a tremendous mistake, to be sure. But this was not. This was not a mistake at all.
He buried his fingers in the back of Edward's soft, soft hair and smiled.