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Fingerprints In the Dust

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Edward, Oswald informs him, has been talking in his sleep.
“You woke me up last night,” Oswald says, narrowing his eyes accusatively.
“I assure you, it wasn't on purpose.”
“I couldn't get back to sleep afterwards,” Oswald continues, frowning, “My shoulder was in terrible pain. And it's been raining. The rain is horrible for my knee.”
Edward sighs. He knows what's coming.
“You need to get me more medication.”
Still, Edward gasps: “How? It was hard enough last time! I had to forge Dr. Thompkins' name on the necessary documents- I'm still waiting for her to find out, and I don't know what I'm going to tell her when she does.”
“I don't know,” Oswald says, with an irritated movement of his head. Then, he winces, and brings his hand up to his shoulder. “Think of something.”
“Aren't you supposed to know all sorts of criminals? Surely, you know a couple of drug dealers.”
“Street drugs,” Oswald sneers, “Edward. Are you proposing that I endanger my life by ingesting substances of questionable provenance? Why don't you just shoot me up with battery acid, while I'm sleeping? I wouldn't be the first bed-partner you've taken care of when they became inconvenient,” he adds triumphantly.
“I would never-” Edward begins, but then feels an answering bitter certainty that if he had to, he would.
“Just get me my damn pills,” Oswald says, and rises from the breakfast table, shaking it as he grips the edge to steady himself.
“What was I saying?” Edward asks, “When I was talking in my sleep?”
“It didn't make any sense. It was something about a clock, and my bed.”
“Your bed?”
“No, 'my bed', as in, your bed, Edward.”
“That's weird. It sounds like some kind expression of anxiety. Maybe the clock symbolizes time...”
“Maybe it symbolizes my ass. I don't know, and I don't care,” Oswald huffs, “I'm taking a bath.”
A clock in my bed, Edward muses- how delightfully peculiar. His reverie is broken by Oswald shouting that there's another dead mouse in the bathtub.
“Can't you just get rid of it, yourself?” Edward asks, putting on a pair of rubber gloves.
“Why should I? Don't you like handling dead things?”
“It's been dead a while,” Edward says, ignoring Oswald's comment, “These maggots are in the second instar.”
“I don't care if they're first-year college students. Get it the fuck out of here.”
“I wonder what killed him,” Edward says, cradling the body in his gloved hand, “I can't see any visible signs of trauma.”
“Maybe he just got tired of living. Get it out of here,” Oswald hisses.
It's the second dead mouse in as many weeks. Usually, those that succumb to the exterminator's poison expire outside, seeking but not finding refuge. If they had a cat, it would explain the presence of the mice in the house, but neither Edward nor Oswald has a cat. A neighbor's animal, perhaps. Bringing Edward gifts, to show affection. On a whim, Edward pops the little corpse into a sandwich bag. At work, on his lunch hour, he'll perform a necropsy, and at least determine a cause of death. He sighs. Now, though, he has to disinfect the bathtub.

Dr. Thompkins wants to know if everything's okay.
“You were late again, this morning,” she says with a gentle frown, “You're such a punctual person.”
“I forgot to set my alarm,” he mutters, then, “I'm also having a little rodent problem in my apartment.”
“Oh,” she says, and makes a face, “I can give you the number of a good exterminator.”
“There's no need. The building association employs one. The problem is that the mice seem to be choosing my apartment as their deathbed. I brought one with me to dissect; I want to see if the poison is present in the appropriate quantity. It could be that the potency is diluted, leaving them to linger on in great pain, as opposed to expiring quickly,” he feels himself smile in a way even he knows is sinister, “Nothing deserves a painful and prolonged death.”
“Well, Edward,” Dr. Thompkins says, and clears her throat, “that's very interesting.”
“I'm sure it will be. I'll give you my findings.”
“That's, um, that's okay. I don't really need to know what you find out.”
“Are you sure? It could have serious implications for the public health. If exterminators aren't doing their job, it could presage an increase in infestations and zoonotic illnesses.”
“That's really more of interest to the Public Health Department. I'm just the Medical Examiner.”
“Of course. How silly of me.”
After that, she leaves him. He does his work. At lunch, he visits with his new friend. The mouse died of a broken neck. It's disappointing. He'd hoped for a more complicated problem to solve. There's still some time before he has to resume his duties, but not enough time to go out, so he wanders over to the snack machine. He's in front of it, gazing into its treasure-cavern florescent innards, before he remembers its significance. Suddenly, he feels lightheaded. He looks at the space marked 'K.K.', and sees two smudged fingerprints on the glass over her initials. Swallowing, he puts in a dollar, and presses the button for saltwater taffy. The machine gives him licorice whips, instead.

It's the last thing he wants to do, but Edward contacts an old school acquaintance, Dave, who became an orderly at Arkham. For a while, after graduation, they still met sometimes, and during these get-together's, Dave bragged endlessly about his ability to procure drugs from the hospital's storeroom.
“You'd think they'd keep this shit locked up,” Dave says, now, shaking his head as though greatly discomfited, “To keep out the crazies, at least.”
Edward frowns. “They don't keep the narcotics in a locked cabinet?”
“Yeah, it's locked. Just, y'know, not well. They don't secure shit in this place. Shit just disappears, and no one gives a fuck. Even the goddamn corpses, in the morgue, have been known to take a fucking walk. Two hundred,” he says, casually.
“Two hundred? That's too much!”
“It's my ass on the line,” Dave says blandly, “If they catch me, maybe my ass disappears.”
What else can Edward do? He has to pay. This time, and the time after that. And the time after that. Oswald, it seems, is a bottomless well of pain. Edward can only pay, again and again; again and again, listening to Dave moan about the lax security, as though this were another toll.
Then, at home, it's nice and quiet for about ten minutes before there comes a rattling thump, followed by breaking glass, and Oswald yelling his name. He doesn't have time to go to Oswald before Oswald's careening into the room, a knife in his hand. Before Edward can react, Oswald has the knife's edge resting against Edward's ribs. Even through his shirt, Edward can feel its sharpness.
“If you want to kill me, Edward, you might use a little bit more finesse. Because this,” he laughs, “this just pisses me off.”
“What?” he gasps. His pulse is thundering in his head.
“Those pills you got me contain aspirin, you jackass,” Oswald hisses, “You know that I'm allergic to aspirin.”
“What? No. I got you what I usually get you. There must have been a mistake. Let me call Dave-”
“Who the fuck is Dave?” Oswald shakes his head in the loose, jittery way he does when either the pain in his body, or the simple pain of existing is trying his patience beyond endurance.
“Dave's my supplier,” Edward says gently, “Let me call Dave, and find out what happened.”
“Fine,” Oswald says, and takes the knife away, “Get me a drink, first; I need to sit down.”
He gives Oswald his drink, and calls Dave.
“I don't know, man,” Dave says. It sounds like it's windy, wherever he is. He must be on the roof, smoking, as he usually is when Edward comes to see him. When does he actually work? “You must be losing it, because you sent me a text, saying Percodan, this time, instead of Percocet.”
“What? I did not!”
“Did someone steal your phone?”
“No. Not that I know of.”
“Okay, then. It had to have been you.”
“But it wasn't,” Edward whispers. Though, he knows very well it could have been. “Can you get me some Percocet?”
“I don't know...”
“Three hundred. I'll give you three hundred, this time.”
“Yeah. Sure. Fine. Tomorrow.”
“Did you fix your problem?” Oswald asks. Massaging his shoulder with one hand, he holds out his empty glass with the other.
“Yes,” Edward says absently, and refills Oswald's drink.
He checks his phone. A text was, indeed, sent from his phone to Dave's at three that morning. But he was asleep.
“Did I get out of bed, last night?”
“Did you notice me getting out of bed last night, around three?”
“No,” Oswald snorts, “The only time you woke me up last night was when you started talking in your sleep. Again. Which was a nice change. Usually, you're up and down like a fucking yo-yo.”
“I have a weak bladder,” Edward mutters, “But you would have noticed if I'd gotten up.”
“Yes.” Oswald rolls his eyes.
“I don't know what it could have been...”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“I don't know,” Edward says, feeling suddenly strange. Something suggests itself to him, part of a dream. Something about a hand, unmoored from the body- Why should this distress him, though? This isn't unknown territory. It's a well-worn road. It's a path he cut out, himself.

For a few fitful hours, Edward was afraid that Dave would cancel their meeting. Tell Edward that he'd been fired, and the Arkham board knew all. That the police were coming for Edward. The police. The Army. God. It's always this way. A horrible thrill that makes relief all the sweeter.
“All I have to say is that this chick must be some hot piece of ass for you to go to all this trouble.”
“You know,” Dave shrugs, “A lot of guys who buy from me, it's because they have some kind of deal going with a girl- pussy for drugs. Cheaper than dinner and a movie, in the long run.”
Edward shakes his head. “There's no woman.”
“Hey, man- none of my business. If it's for you, though, I can always get you something harder. If you need.”
“Harder.” He raises his eyebrows. “Like what?”
“Morphine. Dilaudid. Fentanyl. Some of that after a hard day at work, you won't even remember your own name, let alone your problems. The security in that place is a fucking joke.”
“I'll think about it.”
When Edward gives Oswald his medication, Oswald's... not contrite. Not exactly. He's just. Quieter, in that strange way that Edward supposes must come after punishment, though none was given. That night, he's more tactile than usual, insisting upon a lot of attention before and after they have sex. Is this an apology for his outburst? Edward has no idea, and there are some mysteries that leave one so weary, the desire to solve them fades away.

A shove.
His brain processes the stimuli, but refuses to wake sufficiently for him to do anything about them.
Another shove.
He jerks awake. “What?”
“Close the damn window.”
“The window's not open.”
“Yes it is. You left it open.”
“I did not.”
“This isn't Debate Club. Just close it, already.” Oswald's shivering.
Edward sighs, and gets out of bed. The cold air slaps at his uncovered skin, and he draws in a breath in shock. “I didn't leave it open,” he mutters.
On the windowsill is another dead mouse. It's missing a paw. This is becoming a problem.

The problem, of course, has a solution. If only Edward could ascertain the identity of the culprit. Since Leonard, Edward's felt at-ease, centered- but even feeling good gets boring after a while. It's starting to creep up on him, the desire to do something. Actually, then, this is a good thing. It's just a matter of finding the little sneak, and putting them down.
But who?
The obvious suspects are those closest to him. It's not Oswald. Unless the boredom of his convalescence is leading him down the path of more baroque mental pursuits. It's not his style, though- no matter how bored he gets, he's not into puzzles. He won't even do a jigsaw with Edward. He sneers at the crosswords. When Edward tried to interest him in Sudoku, he slapped the newspaper out of Edward's hand. When Edward showed him how he'd anagramatized the shopping list, he slapped Edward's face.
Dr. Thompkins, then. No. Edward frowns. She's just too nice. Nice people don't do things like this. Anyway, as smart as she is, she lacks the necessary intellectual complexity.
Detective Gordon? He's... an interesting case. He certainly doesn't want for a capacity for brutality. He doesn't hide things, though. If he knew anything about Edward's activities, he'd just read Edward his rights. There might be the added excitement of an interrogation room beating, but Detective Gordon's not built for these kinds of games, no more than Dr. Thompkins is.
What about Detective Bullock? No one could possibly be as dull and incurious as he. It's that very seeming extreme lack of fitness that makes him the most compelling candidate of all. Secretly, Detective Bullock must be brilliant.
“Do you know any good exterminators, Detective Bullock?”
“What?” Bullock asks, swallows a burp, and punches himself gently in the sternum.
“An exterminator. I have a rodent problem.”
“My condolences.”
“Of course,” Edward continues, “some people just take care of it, themselves. With traps, and things.”
“That's great.”
“Some people, of course, are more hands-on.”
“I mean, they take matters into their own hands.”
“The fuck are you talking about, Nygma?”
“They kill the animals themselves, bare-handed.”
“You know some fucked-up people.”
“The animal doesn't have to suffer. If you break the neck quickly-”
“I'm not even going to ask why you're talking about this; I just want to know why the fuck you're talking about this to me.”
“I'm sorry. I went off on sort of a tangent. My rodent problem-”
“Is your damn problem. Fuck. I'm not drunk enough for this,” Bullock mutters, and stalks off.
Maybe Edward needs to start looking further afield.
He examines the faces of the other police officers and precinct employees, for a trace of something recognizable. Though, cunning and ruthlessness aren't always written on the face. Oswald sometimes displays a look of extraordinary cruelty- but more often than not, his expression is soft, naïve, gentle. And Edward, himself, when he regards his reflection- thankfully no longer mobile- looks... shocked, somehow. Like he had a very nasty surprise, and the effects have never diminished.
Yet, none of these faces satisfy. There should be something present that lets one know. That one is dealing with a dangerous person. One should have some warning. So that one can protect oneself. Or defend oneself. Or reach out a hand, in fellowship.
It leaves Edward feeling out-of-sorts. There's something missing from the picture. Some essential clue is being kept from him. If it's not someone he sees everyday, who could it possibly be?
“It's not me!” Dave shouts.
Edward applies a little more pressure, bends Dave's back at a more severe angle over the edge of the wall. Dave turns his head, looks down, and from his expression, obviously regrets it.
“Prove it,” Edward says flatly.
“Prove what? I don't even know exactly what it is you're accusing me of! How the hell could I break into your apartment? I don't even know where you live!”
“Oh,” Edward lets go a little, “I guess you're right.” He takes away his hands, and Dave slowly eases into a vertical position.
“I didn't break into your house,” Dave repeats, rubbing his lower back, “and I told you about that text message, the other day.”
“I checked that,” Edward murmurs, “You weren't lying.”
“No shit.” Dave takes out his cigarettes, and lights one with shaking hands. “Maybe it's the broad.”
“I told you, there is no woman.”
“Okay. Yeah, fine. She's not your girlfriend. Whatever. I saw her, though, the other day.”
“What? What do you mean?”
“When you were here, the other day, after you left, I happened to look down, and I saw her, leaning against your car.”
“What? Well, what did she look like?”
“I don't fucking know- I was way the fuck up here! She was wearing sun glasses, and had a scarf or something wrapped around her head. She was wearing a big coat, too.”
“What happened to her?”
“I don't know! I turned around, and when I went to throw my cigarette off the roof, your car was gone. I assumed she went with you.”
“Well, was she white, black- was she young, old- was she fat, thin?”
“She was white. Maybe. The rest, I can't say, because she was on the street, and I was up here.”
“This is interesting.”
“Yeah, great. I'm glad it turns your crank. Listen, Ed, I don't mind doing you a favor, but this is getting too hot for me. You come up here like you want to kill me, and, now, maybe, you're being followed? How do you know she's not a cop?”
“None of them look right,” Edward mutters. Dr. Thompkins, though, obviously requires a second look.
“Yeah. Fine. I don't give a fuck how she looks- this whole thing looks bad to me. This job's hard enough without having to worry about my fucking clients throwing me off the fucking roof. The shit I've seen...” Dave shakes his head.
“I'm sorry, Dave. I get a little wound-up sometimes.”
“That's great. But I'm not doing this anymore. Find a new connection.”
“No. Dave. I'm sorry. I really am. I'll pay you double.”
Dave sighs, “Fine.”
“What can you give me that'll make me sleep?”
“Sleep like a normal person, or sleep like you're in a coma?”
“Sleep, like there's no chance of my getting up at night and walking around.” There is always, always the possibility that he's been playing this game with himself. He can never completely discount it, no matter what evidence presents itself. He knows, now, that he's like a piece of overripe fruit. Always ready to split in two.
Dave considers this. “We'll talk.”
“Good. Good. Again, Dave, I'm sorry. I've been experiencing a lot of stress lately.”
“No shit. Look, Ed, you're an okay guy- just, fuck, just don't lose control.”
Edward laughs. “It's not always that easy.”
“Yeah. I know. If it were, guys like me would be out of business.”
So, not Dave. No, it couldn't have been him. Dave's a simple creature. This is...
“Complex,” Edward says when he finds the mess in his office the next morning.
“Oh, Edward, what-” Dr. Thompkins gasps, when she sees it. He takes special notice of the silk scarf she's wearing.
“I'm trying out a new organizational system,” he says airily, pushing aside some papers stained with red, so she won't see them.
She just shakes her head.
Is it, in fact, blood? If it is, it's old. It looks like the blood of a dead thing, like the dregs of red wine.
Who has access to blood? Dr. Thompkins, of course. Appearances, aside, she's becoming more and more likely. Edward's considered it before, taking her out of the picture, to save himself. Now, though, he wonders- maybe a partnership is in order.
“Are you doing anything for lunch? I was hoping that we could talk. I enjoyed our conversation the other day.”
She blinks. Maybe not. “I'd love to, but I'm meeting Jim. If you want to get coffee, sometime...”
“I'll check my schedule.”
It's just as frustrating as ever. Anyone could walk into a butcher's shop and pick up the blood of a pig or a cow. There are simple tests to determine its origin. Carefully, he puts aside the bloodstained papers. They're evidence. This is a crime scene.

The blood is human. Somehow, he knew that it would be. Why would he do this to himself? Surely, he's already acknowledged all of his various and sundry hidden desires. How badly does his self want him to know himself? The whole thing begins to make him feel dizzy, and he spends his lunch-hour napping with his head on his desk.

“Edward. Wake up.”
Oswald pushes him so hard he almost falls out of bed.
“I was dreaming,” Edward whispers.
“No shit. What the fuck were you dreaming about?”
“I... I don't know.” Soft hands, seemingly everywhere. And soft lips, an inch from his ear, whispering. Why is he so cold?
“You were talking in your sleep, again.”
“Oh? What did I say?”
“You said,” Oswald smiles, “'What's his cock doing in my bed?'”
“It must have been an interesting dream,” Oswald says, with a downward glance.
Oh. “I suppose...” He shifts uncomfortably. Something about this isn't right. “It was just a dream.”
“Well, you're obviously awake, now, and I don't think I'm falling asleep again anytime soon, so how about it?”
“How about what?” Edward asks, feeling dazed.
“Do you want to fuck, Edward? That's what I'm trying, oh-so-subtly, to ask you.”
He needs to be touched. He needs to feel someone's hands on him. Someone's warm hands. Someone's warm mouth. He needs to feel a heartbeat. Yet, the thought of physical contact brings nausea- a twitching filament, as in a trap laid for a small animal.
“Okay,” he says quietly.
“Don't let me twist your arm,” Oswald sneers, “Maybe you'd rather take care of yourself.”
“No. No. I want to.”
“Okay.” Oswald kisses him, slow and warm; rub of velvet and the suggestion of sharpness. It's always a pleasant surprise to feel how strong Oswald is; even with his wound and the drugs, his grip is sure on Edward's shoulders, when he pulls Edward down on top of him. He holds Edward tightly against him, as though Edward could drift away. It's exactly what Edward needs, he realizes. That bruising pressure on his shoulders and his hips; teeth on his throat; Oswald's erection against him. Softness is too dreamy; it threatens to take him back into sleep, where things lurk that he knows, somehow, are far more exotic than blackmailers and schemers.
“Put your hand around my neck,” he hears himself tell Oswald.
“Like this?”
“No. Harder.”
“Like this.”
It's difficult to breathe. It hurts. Edward can feel his heart beating where Oswald's fingers press into his throat. “Yes,” he croaks. Then, “Yes,” again, hoarse and cracked and far-away, as he comes on Oswald's thigh. Without thinking, he presses his mouth to Oswald's soft, warm flesh, licks him clean. Then, he's sucking his cock, taking him deep, stifling his own desperate breaths, letting Oswald fuck his mouth until Edward feels bruised. When Oswald comes, it's hot as a brand, hot enough to stain, on Edward's mouth and his cheek.
“What the hell were you dreaming about?” Oswald murmurs, lighting a cigarette. Wiping his face, Edward watches, without even bothering to scold Oswald for smoking in the house.
Looking toward the window, he shakes his head. “I don't know.”

Oswald's getting better, so he's out of the house more. If Edward were a pettier person, he might get jealous.
“Oh, yes,” Oswald laughs at the slightest suggestion, “I'm sure that I'm having a torrid affair with Gabe, behind your back.”
“You never take me with you,” Edward grumbles.
“Come out with me tonight, then.”
“How late do you think you're going to stay out?”
“It's crime, Edward. I can't exactly tell the other criminals that I have to be home by eleven because my boyfriend has work in the morning.”
“No. I guess you can't.”
“You have your world; I have mine,” Oswald says coolly.
He is, of course, right. Without knocking, Gabe comes in, tells Oswald that his car is waiting, and off they go, leaving Edward to eat dinner, do some reading, brush his teeth, and go to bed. It's cold without Oswald next to him. He wraps his arms around himself, and falls into an uncomfortable sleep.
He's dreaming. He's dreaming of an endless plain of white, a stainless snowscape. The wind blows white around him. He's cold and he's tired, but he has to press on. He's a hunter, tracking a wounded animal. Suddenly, spots of bright red appear on the carpet of white velvet. He has to follow the trail.
With that same need, he wakes. He has to walk. He gets out of bed, the floor a sheet of ice beneath his bare feet. From the general direction of the kitchen comes a howling sound. The window's open, letting in the animal utterances of a storm.
“Who's there?” he asks, “Oswald?”
It's dark, and he didn't think to put on his glasses, so all he can see is a collection of brown and black stains. In the dark, he stumbles.
In the dark, there's a giggle.
“Who's there?”
“Just little me.”
He has to find the light switch. If he turns on the light, all will be as it must be. Rational and comprehensible. Not this rich nightmare, every piece of the world upended. He puts out his hands, finds the wall, and drags himself along it.
“Don't bother,” she says, her voice harder and flatter than he remembers, “You know it's me. You don't have to see me. To know that it's me.”
He sniffs the air. Her perfume. And the chemicals and rot it only just conceals.
“How what, honey?” Kristen asks, “How am I alive, when you killed me, and cut up my body?”
“How do you know I cut up your body? You were already dead.”
“You don't get scars like these from being scratched by a cat, lover. I'm going to have to wear chokers and opera gloves for the rest of my life,” she tuts.
“How? How did you get here?”
“Wouldn't you like to know? But I think we have a lot to discuss before we get to that. It's time, Edward, to really talk about our relationship.”