"...did you forget to throw out your stepmother's clothes?"
"Whatever are you talking ab-?"
Upon turning around, Oswald immediately wished he hadn't. His face blanched, eyes boggled, posture stiffened, like a boy whose parents had just discovered something particularly lewd tucked away under his mattress.
It wasn't too far from the truth about his present predicament.
He knew it was a mistake to let his friend help him finish dressing for the day. Of course it wasn't necessary, but Ed had insisted, and who was he to deny him? At the very least, they hadn't started from scratch. As it was, Oswald stood there in naught but trousers and a dress shirt, though he felt so embarrassed he might as well have been naked. Before him, Ed cut a fine figure in his handsomely deep green suit. Any other time, Oswald might have appreciated such perfect tailoring and pleasing form - but not now.
Not when Ed was peering into an open dresser drawer full of lacy, delicate, decidedly non-masculine underpants.
"I'd say stepsister, but this is the master bedroom," the taller man continued, pulling the drawer open a little further. It would have been humiliating enough had Ed not then hesitantly reached in to prod through all the different pairs. "Though I will say, for her age, she was quite a small woman, wasn't she?"
"N-Not really," Oswald squeaked out.
Damn Ed for being so inquisitive. Damn him for his persistence. And damn himself for being too horrified to do anything to stop him!
A pause. Ed's hand stilled. Then he extended his fingers again, brushing aside prettier panties to reveal several rather unremarkable pairs of boxer briefs underneath. Oswald's stomach flipped horribly at the comprehending, bemused look Ed shot him, nearly flinched at how his too-bright teeth flashed in a grin.
"I see. Trophies?"
The fact that he didn't faint from the sudden rush of blood to his face was both a surprise and a terrible disappointment.
"No! It's not like-!"
"It's alright! I completely understand!"
No, Mister Edward Nygma, you most certainly do not, Oswald's mind screamed back.
"It's not an uncommon behavior among murderers! It's sentimental, something to remember the victim, the crime, the thrill of the hunt, if you will-"
"Ed, that's not-!"
"I kept Miss Kringle's glasses, remember? This is no different - though I admit, I never pegged you for this type of, um..." The taller man chuckled, gesturing to the thin lace, the soft colors, the occasional simple but elegant print. And Oswald, poor Oswald, he wanted nothing more than to shrivel up right there and die. If ever there was a time for someone to attempt to assassinate Gotham's soon-to-be mayor, oh, how he wished it was now!
Still oblivious to his friend's embarrassment, Ed prattled on, speaking much too enthusiastically and fast, "What I mean is, I don't recall you ever expressing much interest in women - or anyone, for that matter, but that's neither here nor there. People look sometimes. It's only natural-"
Oswald bristled because Ed, there is NOTHING natural let alone DECENT about ogling people like that, why on EARTH does everyone think it is and why do YOU of all people buy into that garbage, too?!
"-but you don't! I noticed that about you! You also never talk about your sex life, so it's either nonexistent or you're very private about it."
Leaning a little heavier on his cane, Oswald brought a hand to his face. Sure enough, his skin burned against his palm and fingers. This conversation was not happening.
"Either way...wow, why women's underwear, Oswald? If you don't mind me saying, it doesn't exactly fit in with the whole.....you. The Penguin persona. There's also the fact that she was your stepmother, which makes this a little questionable, but I assure you I'm not passing any judgment-"
"Oh my God."
"So - it's fine! Again, trophies! I understand!" Ed chuckled again. Judging by the way he withdrew his hand from the drawer and by the faint pink starting to dust his cheeks, it seemed the subject of the conversation was finally catching up to him. Still, he pressed on unflinchingly, "Incredible, though. I learn something new about you ev-"
"NO, THEY'RE MINE, ED!"
Silence settled over the bedroom. Face falling in an instant, Ed stared down at him, baffled by the sudden outburst. It took all of Oswald's willpower not to shrink away. In that moment, the awkwardness, the self-abasement gripping him was so strong he could throw up. But he couldn't escape from this, couldn't even look away. Best to deal with it now, and head-on. After all, his dearest, closest friend was bound to find out about this thing sooner or later.
At long last, Ed broke the silence, breathing, "...beg pardon?"
Oswald swallowed hard, not sure if the lump in his throat was from fear, humiliation, nausea, or a vile cocktail of all three. He averted his eyes, forced himself to draw in a deep breath before opening his mouth again. When he spoke, his voice was so small, so indignantly strained.
"That...underwear. It's mine. All of it."
The bafflement lingered, all too evident in Ed's tone.
"That's. What. I'm saying, Oswald, they're-"
"They're not trophies."
With that, Oswald turned, moving unsteadily toward the large walk-in closet. He wasn't running away. He wasn't. Not really. Behind him came a roll and tap of wood on wood - the closing of the underwear drawer - and Ed was following after him, still undeterred.
"If they're not trophies, then why would you have them?"
"For the love of-! Why else, Ed?!"
He didn't know what possessed him to do it - frustration, his damnedable predisposition to melodramatics, to shut Ed up, whatever. All Oswald knew was that one moment, he was rounding on the other man. The next, he'd cast his cane aside, undone his trousers and yanked his waistband down - just enough to reveal an edge of black lace riding low on his hips.
Finally, everything clicked - or seemed to, anyway.
Palpable realization hit Ed full in the face....which, incidentally, Oswald had never seen turn quite that red before. Another moment or so, and the smaller man all but ripped his eyes from the other, mumbling as he zipped and buttoned himself back up, "Like I said. They're mine. For me - just me. To wear."
The seconds ticked on, dragging indefinitely, it seemed. Ed's silence only made Oswald more painfully self-conscious, more distantly ashamed. His secret was out, and for all the world, he wished it wasn't. He retrieved his cane and pushed past Ed, desperately willing the moment to pass and time to resume.
"Now can we please get back to getting dressed?"
"....Right. I'm sorry."
An outfit was picked out. Colors and accessories were coordinated. The tension was impossibly thick in the air as they stood before the mirror, eyes averted, cheeks still burning bright. Oswald followed his silent friend's reflection as he retrieved today's vest. After knowing him for so long, Ed had to be shocked, incredulous, revolted. Men like Oswald didn't just-!
"Is that your kink?"
Well. That was one way of getting the embarrassed Penguin's attention.
Ed opened his mouth, closed it, licked his lips, then haltingly spoke up again. He still wouldn't look at Oswald - not that Oswald could blame him.
"Do you...have...a cross-dressing kink?"
"Sorry. I thought...better to ask than assume, right?"
"Oh. Yes. I suppose..."
That scandalized look faded from Oswald's face, and silence settled back upon them. After helping him into the vest, Ed retreated to fetch their next garment. For a moment, Oswald fidgeted with his cuffs, still quite unsettled.
Now it was Ed's turn to glance over in surprise. Oswald fidgeted a little more, pulled at his sleeves, then began again.
"Ed, you should...um. Truth be told, I don't...do...those sort of things."
"...what sort of things?"
"Oh, you know," he replied with a vague wave of his hand, trying and failing to act casual about the whole thing, even while his face and ears were still burning. "That. Kinks. Any, ah....carnal activities, really. That is to say, I don't-"
"Ah. You're non-sexual?"
Their eyes met, and.....somehow, Oswald felt a little less vulnerable, a little less threatened. He even managed a small smile as he nodded, "Yes. Precisely."
Ed gave a thoughtful nod. Up came his coat, and Oswald slipped into it easily. His earlier embarrassing reveal aside, it felt as if they'd come to a bit of an understanding. Maybe...Ed had moved on?
"I...apologize for making you uncomfortable."
"...I'm still curious, though. Why do you wear...?"
Like that, the fear and shame flared right back up again. Oswald stiffened, swallowed hard. It was still weird. It was still not right. He shouldn't have let Ed help him. He didn't understand. He wouldn't, he couldn't. Even so, Oswald racked his brain, planned his words carefully as he folded his arms tightly across his chest, eyes fixed somewhere in the vicinity of where his cane leaned against the side of the mirror. Ed had already seen all...or, close enough. How much further could Oswald possibly fall?
It took a moment for him to realize Ed had stopped moving to help. He stood beside him empty-handed, watching him expectantly. This did nothing to calm Oswald's nerves.
At long last, he shrugged, explaining softly, "I just.....I like how I look and feel in them, that's all."
He glanced back over at Ed, and....that smile he found waiting for him was pleasantly unexpected, red though his friend's cheeks still shone.
"Those are some good reasons. Now...!"
Like that, the moment had passed. Ed looked him up and down, assessing their work so far.....brown eyes lingering a little too long on the other's hips.
Shoving down the urge to smirk, Oswald pretended not to notice.
"I know we were originally going to go with something simpler for the cuff links," Ed continued distractedly, "but now I'm thinking...the silver ones with black inlay?"
Relief washed over him. Ed didn't mind. He wasn't mad, he wasn't disgusted. Finally, Oswald was able to relax. With a shrug and a grateful look, he replied, "Well...I think I'll just trust your judgment on this one, friend."
After all, Ed did have quite good taste.
Oswald just didn't expect for further proof of this to show up a few days later, when he'd all but forgotten about the...incident.
It was set carefully on his pillow, all wrapped nicely in tissue paper and ribbon, with a telltale green question mark scrawled in one corner. Oswald opened the gift without suspicion. The moment he set eyes on what was inside, though, he gasped and dropped it on the floor, blushing wildly.
A pair of deep aubergine pinstriped boxer briefs, its trim and paneling on the sides an intricate lace, stared innocently up at him.
And Oswald didn't know which he wanted to do more: to scream at Ed or to kiss him.