Edward Eugene Nygma could probably rattle off a hundred facts about penguins, if he wanted to. They kept warm by huddling. They could only lay one egg a year, and would kidnap another chick if their own died. They had no land predators. Most species mated for life. The male Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) would keep his mate's egg warm by balancing it carefully on his feet. Homosexual behavior within the species was both noticeable and prevalent.
He didn't know these things because of his fascination with Oswald Copplepot, or anything. They were just things he'd picked up from different places over the years. Most (inferior) brains would discard such information out of their long-term memory banks, thinking it useless. But not him. All knowledge had some sort of use, eventually.
And so, since it was as natural for him to pick up and store information as, say, a squirrel storing nuts, it really shouldn't be that odd that he knew so much about Penguin. He wasn't stalking the guy, just...observing. It wasn't his fault that his newfound feathered friend was such a creature of habit.
For example, when making sandwiches (did he mention that Penguin seemed to have some sort of obsession with sandwiches?) he always put the butter on before toasting the bread, and always on the left slice. When he slept, he interestingly enough favored the side with his ill-healed leg. When he thought Ed was “destroying his personal bubble,” as he called it, his face would get a drawn, grey look about it.
Ed wondered why this was. He knew he had a tendency to crowd anything or anyone why excited him-though he tried not to with the latter, since HR had warned him about it. But most people, if uncomfortable, would either step back or tell him to fuck off. Penguin seemed resolute with standing his ground. Which was admirable, but not exactly impressive with flickers of apprehension clear in his eyes.
Such a thing won't do, he thought. He wanted to help his friend conquer this other weakness of his. He had been so helpful the first time! If only he could find the root of how such a ruthless man could be so easily intimidated.
The easiest way to gather data, he decided finally, was to talk to someone who was a master of intimidation. So when he dropped off a forensic file at Detective Bullock's desk, he had lingered longer than usual.
Bullock, resolute in ignoring him, lasted a whole four minutes and thirty seven seconds before sighing heavily and looking up from his paperwork.
“What do you want, Nygma?” he asked pointedly. Ed bounced on his feet for a moment, adjusting his glasses. Finally, he burst out:
I am the simplest foe to face but cost the most to fare
I can posses anything but never stop to reap
Can tangle men throughout their lives despite my brittle snare
I have no form, yet plague your dreams and rob you of you sleep.
“Nygma, I swear to Christ, I warned you about the fucking riddles-”
“It's fear.” Nygma interrupted. He knelt down so that he and Bullock were eye level. “Detective Bullock,” he said earnestly, “I- I was just reading an article about a study conducted in Arkham concerning fear response in criminals, and it piqued my interest. I have to know- if that is true to you, on the job. Do criminals usually show no fear?”
Bullock's shoulders relaxed . “Is that all? Coulda just asked like a normal person.” Ed merely smiled back at him.
“Well, alright. To be honest, I wouldn't say that's true at all,” he drawled. “Most of the scum I have to deal with'll act tough, but lean half his torso out a window and he'll start singing like a canary. So no, I'd definitely say that most criminals don't lack fear. Absolutely not.”
“Oh? What do you mean by most criminals?”
Bullock's fingers twiddled with his tie. “Well, you know, there are always the monsters who truly act like they don't care about anything. Those are harder to deal with. But they're few and far between, and even then usually have some sort of sense of self-preservation, at least.”
Nygma exerted extra energy into keeping a straight face. Nevertheless, his leg started to jiggle. “Monsters, you say? Like Valeska or maybe, oh, - the Penguin?”
“Yeah, Valeska was a real looney, obviously. Never been gladder to see someone die in my life. He- well, you were there, after all. Penguin, on the other hand. Definitely sneakier about it.”
“Yeah, like, he'll act scared if he's in trouble. He's got this whole pathetic sniveling bastard act down.” Bullock tapped his pen to his temple, “But even in danger, he's always scheming. 'Fact, I'm beginning to think that we'll only know we're in real trouble if he starts scrunching his face up. I remember one time, that little rat, he-”
“Interesting!” Ed interrupted. “Thank you so much for answering my questions, Detective!” He turned on his heel and rapidly walked away. “...Crazy bastard,” he heard Bullock mutter at his retreating back.
He made his way to the file room and closed the door and leaned heavily against it. So, it was just an act after all? Well, that was better. If he was just pretending to be scared, it couldn't be a weakness.
Mr. Penguin hadn't acted scared at all. If anything, he was trying to play it cool by acting moderately annoyed. But how could that be? If in the face of life-threatening danger he had a way to feign distress to buy more time to scheme, why was he still actually afraid of that?
That night, Ed snapped his fingers in sudden epiphany, causing Penguin to look up from his plate. They were currently at the table, having dinner together. Not as if it were a date, or anything, but as two friends who shared an apartment would do. Obviously.
(Even if Ed might have gone a little overboard with the fancy sandwiches).
“What is it.” said Penguin, although his mouth had half a sandwich in it so it sounded like “Wuh ish ih”
Ed beamed at him. “Oh, nothing. Sorry. Just thinking.” Penguin narrowed his eyes at him, suspicious. The intimidating aura usually surrounding him was somewhat offset by the fact that his cheeks were bulging like a chipmunk's. Ed quickly thought of something he was sure would lose Penguin's attention.
“Did you know,” he started, “that there is a fascinating mental condition called “synthesia” where one sense, such as hearing, can lead to another involuntary sense, such as sight, so that they are essentially co-mingling, leading to phenomenon where people with the disorder can see sound or taste color, it's cause is unknown but it's theorized that it's due to...”
Ed prattled on until he saw Penguin's eyes glaze over. He balanced his chin in his hands and returned to his thoughts. Perhaps, he thought, it might be an intimacy thing. His intense fascination had been misconstrued as something else at other points in his life- one particularly engaging science teacher giving him a serious speech about boundaries came to mind- so it wouldn't surprise him if this was the same. And as far as he knew, Penguin wasn't involved with anyone of either gender, despite his recent rise to power and riches. Certainly, there would have been- very attractive, very charming- vultures who tried him.
But this was only a theory, and theories must be tested. As Penguin stood with his plate in hand, Ed followed closely behind. He jumped when he turned back from the sink and saw Ed standing right in front of him. Seeing his face start to twist into a scowl, and not want to be on the receiving end of any more yelling (or a knife wound), Ed made sure to gaze directly into Penguin's eyes and clasped his shoulder.
“Thank you,” he said, “so much for helping me clear the table, despite the injury.”
Penguin stared hard at him, rolled his eyes and hobbled away, muttering something about wish the bullet had hit higher. But despite all the silly posturing, under the anger Ed had still seen it.
- - -
He decided that exposure therapy was the best remedy.
He started out small- very, very slight touches and brush ups. Penguin didn't seem to mind this, probably writing it off as accidental. Ed made sure to stand or sit as close to Penguin as possible. But based on his friend's reaction, he had apparently doing that all along. Oops.
He wracked his brain for something intimate which couldn't be misconstrued as accidental, but also which wouldn't get him killed. He decided on sharing a bed.
Not like that of course, ha. There was no logical reason he'd ever have to go there. This was purely for therapeutic reasons, after all. Nor did he plan to be obvious about it. But the subconscious, he knew, was a powerful thing. If he waited until Penguin was deeply asleep, slept next to him for a while, and then left before Penguin woke up, perhaps his body would unconsciously pick up on it anyway. It was a perfect way to build a level of comfort.
Honestly, he was such a good guy sometimes.
And so, from every night onward, he would do this. He wasn't worried about Penguin waking up, what with all the pain medication. He was on a very strict nine-hour sleep cycle.
The problem was, he started having trouble getting to sleep as well.
He wasn't sure why. Maybe it was just that he wasn't used to it- he'd never shared a bed with someone for a whole night before. But staring at the ceiling was very, very boring, and there were only so many algorithms he could run through his head.
He decided, then, that this was another perfect opportunity to positively affect Penguin's self conscious. Lightly touching him in a purely platonic manner wouldn't hurt, right? And really, he couldn't let his friend be intimidated with the thought of such things. What if some seductress (or seducer) tried it on him later, and having built no defense, he crumpled and gave his fortune away to a hussy? What then? No, that wasn't a risk he was willing to take.
He carefully ran his fingers over Penguin's hands. His wrists. His skin was very thin, and Ed could feel a pulse steadily beating beneath. He gently trailed his hand up Penguin's chest- because this was surely something a future seducer would do- and very softly caressed his neck.
Only to be met with Penguin's open eyes staring back at him.
Ed froze. He wasn't fully sure he could fully write this situation off. He was half sure he was about to have his throat bitten out.
Then Penguin blinked, and it was clear he was only half awake. “Wha...” he croaked blearily.
“Shh, quiet,” Ed whispered .“J-just checking your pulse.”
This was an apparently acceptable enough explanation. Penguin rolled over and started to snore. Ed shakily extracted himself from the bed, covered head to toe in a thin sheen of sweat. He really should adjust the medication dosage.
After a couple of nights of such inoculation, Ed decided that Penguin was ready for the next level. Hand holding- something even innocent children did, yet something which conveyed great intimacy. He made it look like an accident, of course, but although Penguin shot him strange looks afterward, he didn't say anything.
He really shouldn't have gotten drunk, honestly. Although he had yet to embarrass himself while intoxicated, his more primal streak tended to stand out. And suddenly Penguin- sharp, smart, still intimidating Oswald Cobblepot- looked practically good enough to nibble at. No. With his slightly flushed cheeks and his suddenly boyish pout, he looked good enough to eat.
But the next morning, neck stiff from the couch, Ed was convinced that for once in his life he had completely ruined something. All that therapeutic progress, wasted. He pressed his palms into his eye sockets and groaned. There was no real reason he had to kiss him. It was unnecessary, and illogical. And now, if Penguin hated vulnerability as much as Ed thought he did, he might refuse to mentor him altogether! All his aspirations! Wasted! Why, he'd probably refuse to speak to him now! Wallowing in newfound misery, he hadn't heard the bedroom door open.
Penguin shuffled past him on his way to the bathroom. “'Morning,” he grunted.
Ed rose hesitantly from the couch, blanket pooled around his waist. “G-good morning,” he called. “Sleep well?”
As the two sat for the greasiest breakfast possible, it occurred to him that Penguin might have been too drunk to remember. After all, he was sitting pretty demurely- though that was probably the hangover. Still, Ed was sure that if Penguin had felt violated, Ed wouldn't have woken up at all. Hangover or no.
“Alright,” announced Penguin, setting down his finished coffee mug. “today, we have some business to attend to.”
As he passed Ed, he put his hand on Ed's shoulder and gave a friendly squeeze. “Time to get to work!”
Ed's eyes widened. Could it be? Could the exposure therapy have worked? Ed bounded out of chair. “Of course!” he shouted toward the kitchen. Penguin merely turned to smile at him.
For the rest of the day, Ed had never been so ecstatic. The only thing that came close was when he found out that he had been accepted to university a full two years early. Or finally winning over Miss Kringle, maybe. His idea had really worked! He had worried for nothing. Penguin was now comfortable with all sort of intimate things- touching hands, disregarding personal space- the change was phenomenal.
But after the high of victory had worn off, Ed was once again worried. True, Penguin wasn't afraid of as much as he used to be. But something kept nagging at Nygma. If Penguin truly wanted to protect himself from scheming gold diggers (and that, Ed had decided, would be a threat sooner or later as Penguin's influence only grew) he'd have to play it cool over minimal sexual contact. Kissing, for instance. Ed was sure that Penguin would still freak over that, and it was too much a weakness to ignore.
He'd have to do it, he decided. For his friend. And not in his sleep this time, because that was a line even he wouldn't cross. Not while drunk either, because that obviously didn't tide his fear over.
He would start slow again, he decided. Lean in for it, and then stop. Write it off as an accident. Build up Penguin's immunity.
He decides to try it that very night. It had been about a week since he first brought his feathered friend home, and Penguin's wound was more than half healed. He only very occasionally needed help walking. They had just killed another man, quickly this time, because Penguin explained it was “for business.” He was already on the move, formulating a plan for catching and executing his mother's killer.
Despite the formality of this killing, they both ended up with quite a bit of blood on their hands and sleeves.
“Well,” said Penguin, “that takes care of that.” He usually got excited at the prospect and action of killing someone- pupils expanding, skin flushed- , and was just now catching his breath.
Ed pulled a handkerchief out of him pocket and offered it to him. He nodded absentmindedly and took it, tugging at it in frustration when Ed didn't let go.
“...What are you doing?”
“Mr. Penguin,” started Ed, taking a large step forward eagerly and kneeling down. “Please, allow me.” He grasped one of Penguin's hands and started rubbing circles into his palm. Penguin, agreeably enough, allowed it to happen. He didn't even look like he was about to be sick this time. If anything, he seemed rather puffed up, standing taller for once. My, subconscious manipulation sure did wonders for self confidence.
“Alright, Nygma,” said Penguin pleasantly, after one of his hands had been thoroughly cleaned. “That's enough for now.”
Ed paused his ministrations. Alright, now that he had lulled Penguin into platonic comfort, it was time. He stood up slowly, keeping Penguin's hand in his own. He saw Penguin's eyebrows twitch.
“Ha. Really, Nygma, even for me this is a bit much...”
Ed swallowed. While maintaining meaningful eye contact, he began to lean forward and tilt his head toward the other's. For some reason, his heart was pounding in his throat. Odd, considering he wasn't actually going to-
An alarming amount of force suddenly hit him in the throat. He really can pack a punch, was all Ed thought as he fell to the floor, choking. Penguin also kicked him hard in the ribs for good measure as he hobbled away.
Ed expected Penguin to come back with another kitchen knife (he wished he'd stop picking the expensive ones), and start hacking away.But nothing else greeted him but silence. After what seemed like hours, Ed was able to breathe normally and cautiously touched his neck. He hissed at the tender contact.
When he'd recovered enough to crawl off of the floor, he found the other man on the couch, calmly reading Ed's copy of A Long and Fatal Love Chase (he had gone a bit overboard with buying romance novels when he first fell for Miss Kringle). Upon achieving no response from entering the room, Ed cleared his throat loudly, wincing. Penguin looked up from his reading. “Yes?” he asked, innocuously.
Ed cleared his throat again. “Mr. Pen- Cobblepot,” he began formally, “I apologize for-”
“Oh, don't worry about it,” he said airily with wave of his hand. “That was more my fault.”
Ed had been preparing to duck in what he thought was the inevitability of the book being thrown at him. Penguin's reaction made him pause.
“Is that so?” he asked, hope cautiously welling up inside of him.
“Of course! Come sit.” He patted the seat beside him. Ed didn't have to be told twice. He ended up sitting right up against him. Rather than violently push him away, Penguin smiled mildly.
“Now, Ed,” he started. (“Ed”?) Penguin appraised him with narrowed eyes. His voice had adapted a sing-song quality. “You know I'm not stupid, right?”
“No, of course not.” Oh no.
“So you know that I know what you're trying to do, right?”
“Oh,” said Ed, thickly. He supposed there was no use hiding it. “You mean...about the exposure therapy.”
“Y-.” Penguin paused and gave him a look which it could only describe as 'a mixture of startled disbelief and pissiness.' “I'm sorry. The what?”
“The exposure therapy!” exclaimed Ed. He began talking rather quickly. “I just couldn't help but notice that you seemed to have some pretty serious intimacy issues, so I thought that I'd-”
Penguin had gone stone faced. “Intimacy issues.”
“Yes, as I was saying, you-”
“Intimacy issues?!” He shrieked, rising from the couch suddenly and wielding the book as a weapon.
“You think that I. Have intimacy issues?” He punctured each sentence with a swing. His voice had gone up a full octave. “Are you. Joking? After all that shit. About not loving. Being power?!”
Ed was growing rather tired of being hit. He grasped the book mid-swing and pitched it as far as possible. But ever the pragmatist, Penguin began using his deadly limbs instead. After some struggle and much enraged screaming, Ed managed to properly pin him to the couch in a straddle. He held Penguin's wrists above his head with both hands, leaving him no choice but to lean over him.
“Listen.” he said, panting from the effort. Penguin continued yelling and head-butted him. Vision growing red, Ed tightened his grip. “Listen,” he growled. This shut him up, though the heavy glaring continued.
Ed paused to collect himself. “Mr. Penguin,” he said. “I noticed you have...a problem when you think someone's about to be intimate. And for a normal person, that's fine! But you...” he risked leaning closer. “You have an empire to rebuild, remember? And I just thought...it would be better to get rid of an exploitable weakness. By inoculating it.”
There was a significant pause. Then the anger seemed to drain away from Penguin all at once. “So...” he said hollowly, “so all this...was just to get me used to it? Because you thought it was...a weakness?”
Ed beamed at him, “Correct!” He released his grip on Penguin's wrists and stepped off of him. He was tempted to pat his friend's head, but thought better of it. “Of course, we can stop if you're uncomfortable with it. There's no point of doing it if you know it's not real, right?”
Penguin stared down at his bruised wrists and rubbed them absentmindedly. “Yeah.” he said tonelessly.
“But I'll help you with whatever else that I can, of course.”
“I really am sorry. Truly. I was only trying to help.”
Penguin stood up. “...Yeah.” He shuffled away from the couch but paused at the door. “I think I'll turn in for the night,” he said, without turning around.
“Are you sure? It's pretty early-”
“I'm tired.” he said wearily. “you should consider lowering the medication dosage, maybe. I don't think I need as much anymore, anyway.”
“Of course,” Ed murmured as Penguin left the room. He picked up the discarded book off the floor and thumbed through it. What a dreary book to read, he thought. For all his effort of holding onto fleeting love, Tempest finds nothing but ruin.
He resolved to pick up better reading material for Penguin in the morning. It was the least he could do.