Tabitha sits sprawled across two stools at The Sirens, blade in shaky hand and breaths coming quick and quiet. She faces the entrance, back coiled tight like a spring, eyeline fixed on the double doors, blinking only when her vision starts to blur.
Nygma was due back any second now, surely streaked with Penguin blood or tears or both or neither. It didn’t matter. He’d be meeting bloody end regardless.
As she sits and stares in wait, she focuses all of her energy onto the cold weight of the knife in her still-weakened hand, sharpening her teeth on the memory of Nygma grinning maniacally over her and the hot wet slice of his makeshift guillotine at her wrist.
That hand, re-attached and still feeling foreign, will be the one to spray his arterial blood across the floor and walls of this very space. Tabitha is determined.
Barbara and Butch she’d sent away. Barbara had been all too happy to avoid the whole scene, giddily citing the arrangements to be made now that she was soon-to-be crowned Queen of Gotham, but Tabitha knows her. She knows that slanting shift in the sapphire of her eyes means she’s gotten attached in some unspoken way to the sadistic beanpole despite herself. Barbara, Tabitha knows, would rather not stand witness to the carnage Tabitha’s about to make of his unwilling flesh.
Butch, being Butch, had protested, insisting she wasn’t at full strength, that Nygma was cleverer than she was giving him credit for, that this revenge belonged to him as well. Tabitha had brought a knife-sharp stiletto heel to the toe of his foot, a cutting warning. And that had been the end of that.
This kill was hers to savor alone. A life for a hand. A savage intimacy, Nygma to be owned completely by her and her alone.
So she sits. So she waits.
Tabitha hears the light tread of his footsteps before she sees the doors swing open. A shiver courses through her, electric orange, not unlike arousal, its concentrated thrum prickling up in the wide stance of her legs as she springs up and the tensing biceps of her arms.
Nygma stands several feet before her, drenched, condensation on his spectacles obscuring eyes from view. His mouth is a tight line, first clenched at his side. No blood (not yet, she thinks, stomach twisting with pleasure), and if there are tears, it’s impossible to tell.
They stare each other down, silent, Tabitha dropping the blade into her pocket (for now). There would be play before there’d be blood. She brings her hand to her waist, willing it steady.
“So,” Tabitha cuts through the quiet, voice like poisoned honey, “Did you do it?”
“Yes,” Ed says, the word curt and quick, opaque as a rock.
“How?” Tabitha steps toward him, hips swaying, blade heavy in her pocket.
“I shot him,” comes his response, cold. Matter-of-fact.
Gone is the glee of ball gags and guillotines, Tabitha notes. She remembers the aching stretch of her jaw around Nygma’s gag, spit pooling in her mouth.
She sways closer.
“Shot him,” Tabitha repeats, amused. “Quick. Boring.”
She’s close enough to smell the rainwater on him, to watch individual drops roll down sharp cheekbones.
He looks down, then up. The wet streaks on his glasses thin, dark eyes partly visible.
“The shot didn’t kill him,” Nygma clarifies, and Tabitha thinks she sees something flash behind the water stains of his lenses. “Being thrown into the harbor with his hands bound did.”
Tabitha laughs at that, low and genuine despite herself. Closer still she steps, swelling her chest up against his, dampness meeting dry skin.
“Did he cry?” She asks, tingling lightly between her thighs. “Did he beg?”
“Yes,” Nygma answers, “And yes.”
“And you did it anyway,” Tabitha breathes, running the blunted edge of her black-varnished fingernail down the contour of his face. “I’m almost impressed.”
Nygma says nothing, face blank. He looks vaguely dazed.
“If I were you, though…” Tabitha continues, lifting Nygma’s glasses up off his face, curious.
She brings glossed lips to his ear, the closeness cruel, her eyes alight.
“I’d have fucked him first,” she purrs, “He’d have let you, even. If I were you, I’d have seen if I could make him wail the way he wailed when I sunk a knife into his dear Mommy’s back.”
She pulls back, smile wide. She peers into Ed’s eyes with intent.
Blank, blank, blank, but then, she sees it, a flicker of emerald flame, there and gone in an instant, but revealing all the same: anger. Then, a creasing of the loosened skin around his eyes, lips falling open: pain.
Tabitha laughs. The blade in her pocket goes forgotten.
“What, are you feeling protective of the baby birdie now that you’ve crushed him underfoot?” Tabitha asks, light, face close enough to kiss him. Or, a far more alluring thought: sink her teeth into an artery.
“But, hey, maybe you had the right idea after all,” Tabitha places a rough hand to his shoulder, voice pleased. “How long does it take a bleeding man to drown in freezing water? I’m sure you know.”
To his credit, Tabitha thinks, his face betrays almost nothing.
Almost. Not quite nothing.
Tabitha slides the glasses back onto his face, pressing them hard into his skin once they’ve settled as far back as they’ll go. She feels for the blade in her pocket, grips it in her palm, weighted at the handle. She envisions thrusting its tip right into his neck, the scarlet gush of heat.
Cocking her head, she considers the downtilt of his chin and the gaunt whiteness of his cheeks. Realization dawns as if from on high. She slips the blade back into her pocket.
Death would be a mercy.
Better to let him live with what he’d done. At least, she thinks, for now.
“Anyway,” Tabitha declares, decision made. “We’ll call on you when and if you’re needed. Enjoy that closure you fought so hard for, Eddie.”
She smacks her palm to his face in parting, and heads out to where Butch’s fond fury and Barbara’s affectionate relief will be waiting for her. She thinks of Nygma, standing alone in the middle of The Sirens, haunted and wet, and laughs into the crisp air outdoors.
Her hand has never felt steadier.
When the anger gets to be too much, Butch remembers how frail his neck felt beneath his hands.
The anger was, of course, too much now, the green-clad freak perched like royalty across the bar top, looking down at Tabitha and Barbara as he strategized aloud.
Butch isn’t listening but he’s damn sure it’s smug and complicated and laughably inefficient. For all Barbara spoke of his so-called intellect, the dolt didn’t know dick about Gotham.
Penguin is dead, grave watery and unforgiving. Days have passed, the underworld quiet without its king. A quiet that Barbara and her new jackass dancing monkey are mistaking for complacency. Barbara is queen-in-waiting, they’re sure of it.
Butch could laugh if not for the ceaseless sound of that awful voice, condescending and so self-satisfied it makes Butch’s knuckles ache.
He mentally fixes, again, on that thin neck. How easy it would be to crush it. How gratifying.
Tabitha wouldn’t stop him. She’d feign anger, after, when Barbara expressed dismay, but she’d let it happen. They’d laugh about it, later, conspiratorially, Tabitha sprawled above him, that wicked laugh of hers bright.
It’s wrong, Butch knows. All of this. Penguin had deserved a nobler death than the one he got, at the hands of this deranged coward. He’d bound his hands - the detail that sticks with Butch most, somehow. Penguin, damn near a foot shorter than the fucker, crippled and crying, and he’d bound his hands.
He had no love for Penguin, of course, who’d cut off his hand and taken advantage of his brainwashing and, in that last day of friendship, partnership, or whatever, had ordered him dead.
But Butch had seen him go from a trembling umbrella boy to king, then mayor, of Gotham. He’d seen him weep and rage and love with an intensity that rivaled Butch’s own. Most fondly of all, he’d seen him spare Tabitha, who’d knifed his mother for the sheer thrill of it, on Butch’s behalf.
Dead librarian or no, he’d deserved better.
That awful voice filling the room stops at last, Tabitha and Barbara celebrating its end by vanishing off into a backroom, giggly, hand-in-hand.
The freak remains unmoving, staring down at Butch, eyes hard and cold as bullets. A challenge.
“So,” he begins, tone obnoxious and jaunty as ever, “What do you think about my - “
“Wasn’t listening,” Butch grunts. “Too busy imagining myself choking the daylights out of you.”
No need to play nice, after all, with Barbara out of the room.
“I don’t remember that working out so well for you last time,” he’s smiling, unruffled.
“Not a soul left alive to protect you this time.”
Butch doesn’t bother registering his response, stepping forward, unintimidated, to reach over the bar and grab a bottle of bourbon, chugging it straight from the bottleneck.
He leans against the bar, peering up at the man still stretched atop it.
“After Fish Mooney was overthrown, Penguin asked me once if I missed her, in a club not unlike this one,” Butch takes another swig of bourbon, looking away to the blue-lit sculpture at the bar’s center.
He can feel the stare at the top of his head. He refuses to meet it.
“He confessed to me that he did,” Butch continues, “Miss her, I mean. After everything she’d done to him.”
Another swig of the bottle. The air in the room gets tenser.
“It’s funny, but I’m realizing I miss the little guy,” Butch says, smiling to himself. “Not a good man, maybe - but better than you.”
“Anyway. The point of all that...When you inevitably fall and land flat on your face in the streets of Gotham, I’ll be there. And it won’t be to lend a helping hand.”
Butch takes a final gulp, slamming the bottle down onto the surface before him.
“See you around in the meantime, I guess,” Butch sneers.
He places the bottle back behind the bar with a clatter, and heads out the door. He doesn’t meet The Riddler’s gaze once.
Penguin has no grave to visit, but, on his way home, Butch passes by the dock he died on. He quietly pays his respects.
This city will gut him in the end, Butch thinks, looking down into the dark water.
It feels like a promise.
Barbara sips worriedly at the vodka martini in her hand, head throbbing. To her right, Tabitha runs soft fingers over the underside of her forearm. To her left, Ed babbles aloud about the rebellions underway, the schisms and power struggles ripping through Gotham’s underworld.
“Enough,” Barbara snaps, words aimed at both.
Tabitha’s fingertips retreat. Ed falls silent.
Barbara sets her glass down before her and rubs at her temples.
“Three weeks,” she says aloud, hands slamming down hard on the black countertop before her. “Three weeks since word of Penguin’s demise got out and I’m no closer to Gotham’s throne than I was when his ass was still warming it.”
Tabitha crosses her arms beneath her breasts, turning away, vaguely guilty. Ed takes a glum sip from his shotglass and says nothing.
Barbara sighs, then promptly flips a hand through her curled hair with a smile so wide and forced it makes her cheeks pinch.
“No matter,” she chirps aloud, self-consoling. “We open in less than an hour so there’s nothing to be done about this mess tonight anyway.”
Barbara leans precariously over the counter and grips the first glass bottle her knuckles brush up against. She pulls it over, settling back into her chair, and fills her martini glass to the brim without bothering to look at the label of the bottle in hand.
She takes a deep sip, not tasting it, exhaling hard through her nose.
“Well,” she says, emboldened by the burn in her throat, “Will one of you make yourselves useful and at least entertain me, please?”
She turns to Tabitha with suggestion, sharp eyebrows raised, a hand slinking to the sculpted curve of her waist.
“I would, babe,” Tabitha laments, “But I promised Butch I’d meet him at his, and I’m already late.”
Barbara pouts, a mewl of discontent on her mouth. Tabitha quiets it with a kiss, tongue grazing wetly over Barbara’s upper lip.
Tabitha is smiling when she pulls back, fingers curling tight ‘round Barbara’s thigh.
“Promise I’ll be back for the midnight rush,” Tabitha whispers, “And we’ll have fun after closing. Put that pretty mind of yours at ease.”
“Yay,” Barbara breathes, gripping Tabitha’s bottom lip between her teeth and biting down, playful but firm.
With a contented hum, Tabitha is pulling away and heading out, fiery eyes lingering on Barbara as she moves and disregarding Ed completely.
Ed, who, Barbara is only now realizing, is shifting rather uncomfortably at her side, staring into his emptied shot glass.
Barbara turns to him fully once the doors have closed behind Tabitha, spreading a slim leg across his lap. His back stiffens, and Barbara laughs, spirits already soaring.
“So,” she announces, voice high, “Looks like it falls to you to entertain me, then. God help me.”
She takes another sip at her glass, rolling her eyes (not without some fondness, now that Tabitha is gone).
“I’m afraid I haven’t got much entertainment left in me,” Ed says finally, looking up at her with a tight smile and dead eyes. “Used it all up on the GCPD last night.”
“So I heard,” Barbara giggles, delighted. “Did you send Jim some love for me?”
“Not in so many words.”
Ed is considering her, face funny, blue and orange light bouncing off his glasses.
“What?” Barbara asks, adjusting the scooped neckline of her dress, halfway self-conscious beneath that cryptic gaze.
“It doesn’t bother you?” Ed asks after a few more beats of tense quiet. “Tabitha and Butch?”
Barbara only stares, blank and uncomprehending.
“Their relationship, I mean,” Ed clarifies.
“Oh,” Barbara realizes, pausing to consider the question. “Well. I maintain Tabitha could aim higher than that graceless ape, but, hey. He makes her happy for reasons I can’t even pretend to understand, so! No, it doesn’t bother me. Plenty of Tabby to go around.”
“I suppose that makes sense,” Ed nods, grabbing the bottle of liquor sitting before Barbara, filling his shot glass, and downing it in a gulp before pouring himself another.
Barbara watches him, something in her head clicking together with a pop. She leans closer to him, chin in her hands, brow furrowed.
“Why do you ask?” Her mouth tilts upward, vowels dripping with suggestion.
“No reason,” Ed looks away from her and back down to his glass, which he proceeds to down in a single shot.
“You interested in joining our little arrangement? The more the merrier.”
She’s playing with him, of course, but he never seems to catch on and it is just delicious to watch him squirm.
“Heavens, no,” Ed nearly chokes.
Barbara lets out a sound like a witch’s cackle. Ed still can’t meet her eyes. Grinning, she reaches for his face and turns it toward her.
“But you are wondering if such an arrangement might have saved you all that trouble with - well. You know,” Barbara’s voice is gentle as her touch now, genuine curiosity softening her sharper edges.
“An absurd thought,” Ed scoffs, unconvincing.
Barbara twists her mouth, skeptical, squeezing his face between the fold of her hand.
“Fine,” Ed admits, wriggling his head loose, “I do wonder. Just a thought. It never would have worked.”
“No,” Barbara agrees, dropping her hand and grabbing the stem of her glass once more. “Didn’t strike me as the ‘sharing’ type, our dear Ozzie.”
Barbara feels a surprising pang of sadness at that, his name said aloud. She watches Ed feel it, too.
She shakes it off with a smile and a mouthful of liquor (gin, it turns out - not her favorite, but it’ll do).
“Gotta say, Eddie, I didn’t realize you were - “
She pauses, treading carefully. She doesn’t want to make bold assumptions, not in this particular moment, something melancholy in the air between them.
“Didn’t realize I was what?”
“Into boys, too,” Barbara traces the rim of her glass, cautious, “Or into Oswald, anyway.”
“I…” Ed trails off, frowning. “Don’t know that I am. Or was.”
“Hm,” Barbara mulls over that, the genuine uncertainty in the lines of his face. “But you’re wishing you could have tried.”
“Yes,” Ed nods, a little hurriedly, cheeks coloring. “If he had only talked to me - it may not have worked, but I would have been willing to - “
Ed stops himself, eyes squeezing closed, hand over his mouth. Barbara brings a tentative hand to his shoulder and rubs.
Ed exhales after several moments, features settling into unreadable composure once more.
“Whatever,” Ed bemoans, inelegant, slurring just slightly, and Barbara realizes with a gleeful tingle that the man is drunk. “It hardly matters now anyway. He’s dead. They both are.”
“May they rest in peace,” Barbara smiles, no cruelty in it, raising her glass in a toast. “At least they don’t have to deal with the shitshow a post-Penguin Gotham is turning out to be.”
Ed’s lips quirk up at that, just barely.
Barbara drains her remaining serving of gin with a wince, and considers Ed anew, cast as he is in fresh, unexpected light.
“I miss him too, you know,” she admits, the sentiment ridiculous and yet somehow, painfully, true.
Ed turns to her, something tender in the hollow of his eyes and the slackness of his lips. He takes her hand in his, the plum purple of his glove warm against her palm.
They sit there, unspeaking, hands clasped, bound bizarrely by this shared loneliness, until the first customers of the night begin to spill in with a slam of the entrance doors.
Spell broken, Barbara pulls her hand away, on her feet with a cheerful and subtly seductive greeting to the mingled group of men and women gathering at the bar.
As she makes pleasantries, takes drink orders, and leans enticingly toward a robust brunette making eyes at her, she doesn’t notice Ed slip out, an emptied shot glass atop the counter the only reminder of what just passed between them.
She discards the glass with a cheerful toss and moves behind the bar counter, raising the volume of the low-thrumming music until the deep throb of the bass and the ice-cold feel of the mixer in her hands consumes all digressive thought.
Queen of Gotham she would be, she resolves, but for tonight, this would have to be enough.
Ed strolls into The Sirens, flips a light switch on, and screams.
He’d heard the rumors, of course. Whispers reaching him like tendrils of smoke: The Penguin alive, scampering through the streets of Gotham, clawing his way back into its underbelly.
He’s dead, he’d assured his informants, time and time again, a jagged lump in his throat. I killed him.
He should have known. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Especially in Gotham City.
And here it is, flaming bright: Oswald Cobblepot, the man he’d murdered, the man he’d seen in his dreams and in the corner of his eye every waking moment since, standing stock-still in the middle of the club space, old cane in hand, a mauve-black suit bespoken to his slight frame.
At a cursory glance, it’s almost as if Ed is living out a flashback, Oswald as elegantly styled and baroquely striking as he’d been back before Isabella or pained love confessions or any of the things that drove them apart and have plagued Ed like poltergeists for the past month. There’s something, though, something off, like a glitch in the image of him Ed had so lovingly, angrily, painfully stowed away.
It’s his eyes, Ed realizes, thickly lined in the same blackened purple of his suit but dimmed, somehow, as if the pigments in his irises have faded -
“I’ll admit I was hoping you’d be the first to speak,” Oswald breaks the silence, voice just as Ed remembered it, high and threaded through with vacillating mania. “I’m afraid I prepared no memorable opening remarks.”
Oswald smiles, teeth off-white, chin pointed.
“Oswald,” is all Ed can say, stricken. His hands tremble at his sides.
“It seems you’ve prepared nothing, either,” Oswald’s smile widens, eyes going blanker. “And after all that trouble I went through to ensure news of my return reached those nosy ears of yours.”
“I didn’t…” Ed swallows, willing himself to pull it the hell together, “I didn’t believe it.”
“All those wits and it never once occurred to you that if you wanted to kill a penguin, drowning wasn’t the way to go.”
“How can I be sure it’s really you?” Ed asks, the things he’s seen at Arkham weighing heavily on him. Clayface, doppelgangers. Bodies reanimated with all connection to the minds they’d once hosted severed.
Oswald’s mouth twists at the question, thoughtful.
“Would you like to see the scar you left?” He asks by way of answer, after some deliberation.
No, Ed thinks, but “yes” is what comes out instead.
Oswald moves to unbutton his suit jacket, struggling, with one hand still leaning on his cane for support.
Unbidden, and unsure what, exactly, he’s thinking, Ed steps up to Oswald, unfastening the clasps for him, as he’d done countless times before, but never with such terror gripping his throat or such electricity in his fingertips.
It’s both familiar and new, past and future, and Ed shivers at the fabric beneath his hands.
He untucks his shirt from his pants, Oswald watching him intently, and Ed tugs it up, inches of pale skin unveiled until Ed sees it, a jolt charging through him, the rounded marking an angry red, skin raised and still swollen.
It’s unsightly, objectively, and yet Ed’s breath catches in his throat, awed that he’d put this here, that Oswald had survived it, that he stood, all these weeks later, gripping Oswald’s shirt, exposing tender damaged belly, open to Ed’s hands that had already done far too much.
The intimacy is overwhelming. Ed suppresses a shudder as he ghosts a hesitant fingertip to Oswald’s skin, just around the periphery of the scar, marveling at this, the feel of him, the reality of it, the touch of someone he never thought he’d feel beneath his hands again.
Ed tucks the shirt back in with a shaky exhale. His eyes are brimming. Oswald only watches, eyes large, cloudy but vibrating with quickened life, looking so much like himself Ed forgets to breathe all over again.
Isabella floats to the forefront of his mind, how she’d felt like Kristen reborn, a second chance - redemption, forgiveness, love all at once. History effaced to be rewritten.
Oswald, standing here before him, risen from the sea, rich and strange, impossible, feels much the same to him now.
“Oswald - it’s you.”
Oswald nods, eyes still wide.
“No, I mean - it’s you. You’re the one that returned to me. Entire. The only one.”
In the end, Isabella had been Kristen in shape alone, after all.
Oswald reaches a hand up to Ed’s face. The touch is warm and soft and Ed leans, grateful, into it, relief hitting him like a gentle wave.
“I don’t know about all that, Ed,” Oswald replies, hand sliding down to grip at his shoulder. “See, when you pulled that trigger - “
There’s a punch at Ed’s gut. Blunt, then sharp. Then wet. Gasping, he looks down, sees blood. The knife Oswald stows away in his cane is buried in his stomach.
“You’re not the only one that changed,” Oswald twists the knife.
Ed howls, pain unbearable.
He falls, weakly, to his knees. Oswald follows suit, holding up his head, forcing him to meet his eyes.
They’re leaking tears but bright, his lips twisted into something between a sob and a smile. He’s beautiful, Ed thinks, absurdly, head going light, vision blurring - beautiful in the way Kristen’s corpse, Kristen so radically changed, had been beautiful.
“If you survive this, Ed - and I want you to know I have every faith in you - if you survive, and I still feel like the one to you, the only one who returned entire...you know where to find me.”
Oswald presses a kiss to his forehead, wet with tears and spit. With a final stroke at Ed’s cheekbone, he pulls the knife out completely, wipes it off on the arm of Ed’s suit.
Oswald rises to his feet and walks away. Ed watches and feels the scarlet pool beneath him spread, losing consciousness.
If you survive, Oswald’s words ring in his head, fuzzy, distorted, but shocking him into action, Come find me.
Oswald in his head, the promise of more between them, more antagonism, more intimacy, more anything Ed can get, spurs him to action. His cell phone is in his pocket, he remembers. He reaches for it, limbs heavy, and dials 911 with clumsy fingers, holding it to his ear.
Ring, ring, ring, then -
“What’s your emergency?”
Ed opens his mouth, and all he can do is laugh.