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Hand in Glove

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"There is one purpose to life and one only: to bear witness to and understand as much as possible of the complexity of the world- its beauty, its mysteries, its riddles." – Anne Rice

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“You need to get a suit.”

Ed goes back to work among the oblivious GCPD (ignorant jackasses) when the weekend is over. Oswald has now seen four of his ensembles. He supposes that some people consider sharpness of appearance enough (and Ed is eerily immaculate) but Oswald thinks those people were fools.

A brand.

That’s what one’s appearance is. Would Oswald have pulled off the raid on Galavan’s little party, with a horde of men who looked and walked like him, if he wasn’t recognizable? His hair, his shoes, his suit, his complexion and – however unwilling this particular aspect was – even his limp have melded together harmoniously.

Penguin.

That's who he is now. Maroni had been right about that one thing (that artless blowfish) but he's dead now, and good riddance. Good advice is still good advice even when the speaker is gone, but by far the most useful advice had come from the man (the smiley cretin) currently getting ready for work before him.

Ed turns to him, blinking, “What?”

“A suit,” Oswald repeats, gesturing at Ed’s entirely too tall form (really, did he have the right to be that tall?). “If we’re going to be seen together eventually, you’ll have to be presentable.”

“But…” Ed blinks at him in that owlish way of his again, that large mouth pouting. “I have suits.”

“No,” Oswald disagrees remorselessly. “I’ve seen your closet and those aren’t suits. You need at least one signature suit to start out with if you’re going to do this right. It doesn't even fit you correctly - you'll need something tailored.”

“Tailored?” Ed smooths his hand down the front of his chest self-consciously, fidgeting with long arms and long fingers. “I usually just go to a department store.”

Oswald gives a tight-lipped, condescending smile, his eyes squinting.

“Mhm, I can tell.”

“Oh,” Ed looks down at himself, as if trying to see what made the suit so hideous (have you no sense of presentation? No, I know that’s not true, you like riddles. As abhorrent as they are, it’s more cultured than most of the clumsy criminals this city spawns).

“You need something well-made.”

“ I should expect that from someone so stylish,” Ed is suddenly smiling (with a long face, dark eyes, and big teeth, he might as well be a horse) and giving him a compliment. “Well – who does your suits?”

“I have a guy who still owes me a few favors,” Oswald says, limping over to the kitchen for a glass of water. “I’ll have him draw you up some designs.”

Once he has the glass in his hand, he takes a long sip. When he looks up, Ed has crossed the room already, making use of those stupidly long legs of his.

“You’d do that?”

“Of course.” Oswald puts on an exaggeratedly gracious expression. “It’s for my sake as well as yours. I’m not going to let an associate of mine make a fool of himself.”

“Protégé,” Ed corrects, tone crisp and chipper.

Then, he steps closer to him, into Oswald’s space doing that thing again where he comes close and locks their gazes (it's a manipulation technique, but not one that he thinks Ed is doing consciously, which is even odder). The man is strange. Clever, too, but those often go hand in hand. Oswald has been called it himself on more than one occasion.

But Ed, Oswald thinks, might actually do well as a predator. Not in the way that Victor is one, and definitely not in the way that he and Fish are, as she had been. He is not truly underhanded, and even his lies feel forced - a mockery of fallacy in general. He is more honest in his viciousness (“Lately, I’ve been killing people!”), and is damned cheerful about it too.

“I’d like that,” He pauses, grin stretching until he thinks those cheeks might burst, “Oswald.”

Oswald ignores the pointed use of his name, just rolling his eyes toward the ceiling, then sliding away from the counter and passing Ed easily. He doesn't like feeling trapped if he can help it; his size makes it easy for larger men to crowd him. Ed doesn't mean it in the way that it's been used before, as a weapon (why the hell didn’t he mean it that way?), and doesn't seem to be able to control himself. He's just an eager puppy without restraint.

“Yes, well,” Oswald answers casually, starting toward the table. “I can’t have you looking like you’re going to your high school graduation if you’re going to be an associate of mine.”

Ed follows all the way over to the chair. “Your image is very important to you.”

“Image is important, period.” After a moment, Oswald sizes him up with a thoughtful frown, watching the glow from the flickering lights outside cast haunting shadows over Ed’s cheekbones. “You know, green is your color.”

It's a generous commendation, Oswald knows, and is a little sickened by how very pleased by it Ed appears.

Ed peers down length of himself, eyes bright. “You think?”

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“The tea is cold,” Ed points out.

They must have taken her in the middle of drinking it. There is no evidence of a spill, no sign of struggle whatsoever. It is as if Oswald's mother just got up and left. He looks from the archway of the small kitchen at the dingy living room. The power bill has gone unpaid, and as such the only light comes in through the windows, casting a dusky yellow tinge on every surface. Ed tries the sink and finds that the water has not yet been shut off. A fine layer of dust is painted over every surface after several weeks of disuse.

“Let’s get in and out,” Oswald dictates with a forced coolness, limping toward the hallway with a small box in hand. “If the police see your car outside of my mother’s home, they’ll likely have questions for you.”

“Not very interesting ones,” Ed laments, following him and watching the uneven strides.

Broken fibula, fractured tibia, luckily only in one place, but it was badly healed, Ed remembers his deduction from when he’d had Oswald unconscious in his bed, having examined the pale, crooked leg carefully. The only way to fix it at this point would be to surgically break and repair it. Penguin would never go for that.

Still, he manages to get around with incredible quickness and ease. Oswald is truly a remarkable, tenacious man.

Oswald pushes the door open and starts over to the sink, plucking up his mother’s hair brush and small mirror. Trinkets. That is all they are there for, and Ed is very pleased that Oswald has taken his advice. Mementos are just so important when it comes to dead loved ones.

Or hated ones! his mind whispers to him, smiling to himself as he recalls the badge, as well as the dog tags he’d taken off of the stranger who happened to interrupt his and Ms. Kringle’s final date.

When Ed comes back to himself, he realizes the Oswald is standing still by the tub, which is located in the center of the room. Oswald is coming to terms with his mother’s death and what that means, but he still hums in his sleep, and looks off into space when he is reminded of her too vividly.

He peers into the empty tub as if there is something about to jump out at him from the drain.

“You know,” Ed starts, saying the first thing that comes to his mind. “toilets are flushed more times during the super bowl halftime than any other time of year.”

“I don’t follow sports,” Oswald retorts, deadpan.

“Nor I,” Ed laughed his reply, and watches the smile twitch onto Oswald’s face, creasing his features. After a moment, the smile fades, and Ed lets the quiet linger for a while before asking more solemnly, “What were you thinking about?”

Oswald begins to answer distantly.

 “She used to -“

As if thinking better of it (Is he embarrassed? Does he feel it’s too personal?), Oswald stops in mid-sentence and twists his mouth closed.

“Bathe you?” Ed supplies, unfazed. It isn't a difficult conclusion to come to. Oswald shoots him a sharp look that dares him to make a mockery of it, but he merely gives a patient smile. He wishes his mother had taken so much time out of the day for him; he can find no harm in such a close relationship, though he supposes he is one of few. It would be better than the filth he'd been allowed to wallow in as a child.

“…Yes,” he tilts his head to the side in affirmation, shrugging. “She’d run the water cool, then use that sponge and we’d talk, or she’d sing. I’d fall asleep half of the time.”

Ed is a little taken aback by how adorable he finds the image, and is momentarily at a loss for words. A mother's love is truly an amazing thing, and no doubt contributes to Penguin's exponential success. He thinks of a few statistics (mainly about people who drown by falling asleep in the tub) but finally decides that maybe that won't be a welcome response.

“She sounds like a compassionate woman,” Ed finally decides on.

“She was.”

It takes another beat, one where Ed thinks Oswald might cry, but instead he straightens up. He waves a hand flippantly and starts to back out of the bathroom, but Ed holds up a finger and steps in his way. Oswald stops, narrowing his eyes.

"What?"

“Did you know bathing has been used throughout history, not just for hygiene, but as a religious ritual?” Ed goes on before he can be interrupted, which Oswald looks very ready to do. “Ancient Egyptians washed twice a day to honor Isis, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, and it's even been said that Circe washed her head to entice dreams.”

“What exactly is your point, friend?” Oswald barely withholds his sneer, which even at its worst makes his nose wrinkle in a way that is difficult to find intimidating. At least, Ed isn't intimidated, but it may be foolish of him. Men have died with that expression as the last vision ingrained in their mind.

“My point,” Ed grasps Oswald by the shoulders, intrigued and cheerful at the prospect. “is that I think it would be cathartic for you.”

Without preamble, Ed turns him around, careful not to do so too harshly and jostle his bad leg, but forceful enough to move Oswald in the direction of the tub.

“I need so such thing!” Oswald doesn't quite struggle, but he doesn't move when Ed tries to guide him forward, either. "We're just here to gather a few of my mother’s things –“

Ed drops his tone, “What you need is closure.

There is a tension in the shoulders, high and tight. Oswald holds a great deal of stress in his his neck, back and arms.

“You’ve already given me that, Ed.

Ed’s mouth twitches, more pleased than he’d expected to be, and he hadn’t even underestimated it in the first place.

“I was right, wasn’t I?” Ed asks, nudging again, and this time Oswald allows himself to be pressed further into the room, toward the tub. He ducks his head a bit, closer to Oswald’s ear. “Wasn’t I?

“Yes, yes, alright, fine,” Oswald snaps, then pushes his arms up and out, ruffling his coat to get out of the touch (in a way that reminds him very much of feathers) and so Ed immediately retracts his hands. “It’s disgusting in here anyway. Go on and get me a towel.”

“Will do!” Ed answers immediately. He leaves the room and goes into the hall, where he presumes they are located. He’s only just exited the room when he hears the water begin to run.

Oswald needs a firm voice (not a ‘firm hand’, not like that ) now and again, just something to lean on, a direction to go in, validation of a sort – and Ed can provide that. It's one of the things Ms. Kringle taught him.

Ed enjoys his own company, but he also knows he is not immune to loneliness. The past couple weeks that Penguin has spent with him have been, not to exaggerate, the best two weeks ever. He’s been unappreciated all his life, and even when it seems like he was getting the recognition he deserves it's because he wasn’t being himself. Penguin has taken an interest; he's a leader, an entrepreneur, and – like Ed – has made it despite all odds against him.

They've all underestimated the small, unassuming, disabled young man, and that had been their undoing.

If only they had been cleverer.

If they only knew the kind of man they were dealing with, like Ed has ever since he met Penguin at the GCPD that day. If only they’d had the humility, the guts, the passion  that Ed had, has, they might still be alive. They might have become the man that Oswald is going to help him become.

A shudder rakes down Ed’s spine at the thought.

All the better for me then! He thinks merrily as he finds a towel in a small hall closet. He drapes it over his arm and starts back toward the bathroom. I have him all to myself.

Just outside the doorway, Ed pauses, still hearing the shuffling of clothing. He has a thought. It won't be difficult to lean over, to just to check up on the man, but immediately withdraws it as an option. After all, he wants Oswald to trust him, and being a peeping tom isn't exactly the best way to go about that.

The fact that he considers it – well, no, that wasn’t all that surprising. He’s done his best to not let eyes linger too long, to remain appropriate and at a safe distance, when he’s had the other man asleep and half naked. He’s been seriously injured, sickly and not the most courteous of house guests, but there is an undeniable magnetism that Oswald is.

Ed is drawn Ed in, magnetized.

There is a slight splash as Oswald enters the water. A minute later Ed hears the squeak of the faucet turning and stream of water quiet. He opens the door and pauses before entering, wondering for a moment if he should speak (perhaps use one of those drowning statistics, now that the mood was lighter) but Oswald beats him to it.

“Just put it near the edge,” Oswald told him without opening his eyes, arms draped over the edges, his pale pallor giving the porcelain tub a fair run.

Ed does, padding over to the edge and folding the towel neatly beside the leg of the tub. He then proceeds to pluck up the sponge and kneels beside him, cushioning his knees with the towel.

The moment the sponge dips into the water, Oswald opens his eyes and sits up.

“What are you doing?” Oswald hisses furiously, grasping Ed by the wrist and yanking it away.

“Relax,” Ed insists without trying to free his hand, soft but sure. “Let me.”

The glower is intense for a handful of seconds, before Oswald rolls his eyes in his exaggerated fashion, then closes them. He releases Ed's wrist and sinks back into the tub. In gentle strokes, and only over his chest and arms, Ed begins to smooth the sponge over the exposed skin while he sings.

Light another candle…

Ed knows he has a tendency to slide in and out of key, but Oswald hasn’t complained thus far, and this time is no exception.