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Kings on Land and Sea

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Oswald Cobblepot, King Under the Seas, is not happy. Though the Seven Seas are firmly under his command, he cannot seem to will his ward away from the dangers of life above. Ivy Pepper is a beautiful young girl, hair like fire and tail like shimmering emeralds. She is also very disobedient. Which is how Oswald finds himself skimming the surface, contemplating how best to keep her from the ‘towering trees and beautiful flowers’ of the world of land. He swims farther than he has in years, so lost in thought, until a large shadow cruising along the surface catches his attention. A ship. It’s been some time since he was this close to one. It wasn’t often that they ventured too close to his kingdom, the waters far too rough.

Oswald maintains watch, ready to race back to his castle should the ship stray too close to his home. Then something enters the water, sinking quickly, and the ship abruptly turns around. Once it’s a safe distance away, Oswald approaches the item barreling rapidly into the deep. It could be of some value. Soon enough, Oswald’s keen eyes discover that it is not an item, but a man. Oswald barrels towards him, knowing no man can survive long or sink so deep without terrible repercussions to their body. He had made a study of men in his youth, fascinated by their innovation and ability to make do on the rough seas despite lacking a tail. If he remembers correctly, he shouldn’t bring the stranger to the surface too quickly, or he’ll risk harming him. Even more harmful to him is that men have no gills, and cannot breathe the sea water.

Oswald wraps his arms around the man, preventing him from sinking. He looks more like a boy than a man, no facial hair to speak of, his cheeks puffed out and eyes wide as he gazes at Oswald. Oswald’s own people had no need of it, but sailing men had hair on their faces. Perhaps he was like a baby, though why they would toss one of their young overboard and leave him for dead, Oswald doesn’t know. The baby man is strangely heavy, and Oswald notices large blocks chained to his ankles, which are secured by some kind of cuff. Oswald’s strong tail is enough to bring them to the surface, but perhaps he should sever them once there for ease of transport.

Shifting the baby man, Oswald takes his face in one hand and squeezes his cheeks, making the man release his air. Oswald presses his mouth to his, breathing through the gills that line his ribs and letting the air travel through the seal of his mouth into the child’s. He feels the baby man’s ribs expand and breaks contact, watching as he immediately shut his mouth, still wide eyed and staring at Oswald. He takes them a little close to the surface, slowly and steadily repeating the process until they reach the surface and the baby can breathe on his own. Oswald wonders at how he appears to have no use of his arms to help keep him afloat as other men do, before noticing that those too are tied behind his back. Oswald removes his knife from the sheath about his waist, cutting the child free. He wonders if perhaps he is defective somehow, and that is why his people left him to die. They certainly wanted him dead, Oswald reasons, and had gone to great lengths to see it happen.

He can relate. Perhaps that is why he felt the desire to save this outcast. Dipping below the surface again, he takes hold of the baby’s skinny legs, making sure he doesn’t sink below the surface as he cuts the weights loose. He lets them fall, then breaks the surface again, seeing if the baby can keep himself afloat. He treads water well despite the slight roughness of the sea’s surface. Oswald wonders how he is defective, or if perhaps he did something to incur the wrath of another man. Oswald can’t see the use in getting cross with a baby, but men are violent creatures, not unlike merfolk in that regard.

“Thank you,” the man baby says in English. Oh, but that was Oswald’s favourite language, the trading language of the Undersea. This will be no problem at all.

“You’re welcome,” he says in softly accented English, “My name is Oswald Cobblepot, King Under the Seven Seas.” Edward swallows.

“Your Majesty,” he coughs, “I’m sorry, is this really happening?”

“I assure you, my title is no farce,” Oswald says, becoming somewhat cross with the baby in spite of himself. Perhaps he should remind him of proper courtesy regarding introductions. “Your name?”

“Prince Edward,” he says, barreling into Oswald as a hard wave hits his back. “I’m sorry.”

Edward’s hands land on his shoulders, keeping himself from straying too close. Oswald doesn’t mind, wrapping his arms around the baby’s waist to help keep him above the surface. It wasn’t easy to tread water for long in this part of the ocean. Oswald had just wanted to know if he was capable. This baby is very skinny, though his torso is longer than Oswald’s. His legs aren’t even close to matching the length of Oswald’s tail, but they are lovely in their own way.

“Your father is a King?” Oswald asks, taking note of Edward’s dress. He had nothing covering his feet as most men did, and his trousers were dark and plain. The only other clothing he wore was a loose white shirt, gone sheer with wetness, the sleeves billowing in the ocean tides. A modest prince, or one that had been dragged from his bed and cast away.

“Yes, we hail from Gotham,” Edward says.

“How came you to my kingdom?” Oswald asks, this stranger’s plight growing more interesting by the moment.

“I was abducted while walking along the shore and taken aboard a ship,” Edward says. “You witnessed the rest yourself.”

“Do you know who is responsible?” Edward shakes his head.

“No, and although my father is not so fond of me, I’m certain he will take this affront to our household very seriously.”

“Well, I would welcome you to my kingdom, but I doubt the location would suit you.” Edward smiles at this. “Can you tell which way your shore lies?”

Edward peers up at the sun and then points behind him, in the direction the ship had gone. “That way.”

Oswald has been to this shore before, it isn’t terribly far.

“Hold onto my shoulders,” Oswald instructs, turning around. Edward wraps his arms around them. “Now hold your breath. Tap my shoulder when you need air.”

Edward obeys, and Oswald dives beneath the surface, cutting through the water with ease. Edward is an excellent passenger, less squirmy than most babies. He keeps low to Oswald’s back, making himself very streamlined. Oswald is annoyed by how often he has to stop for air, but he supposes Edward can’t help that. Within half an hour they reach the shoreline, Edward crawling onto the surface and breathing heavily, flopping onto his back with his legs still in the water. Oswald follows him, keeping his tail submerged. Oswald lets the water in his lungs drain through his gills, the inhalation of air uncomfortable at first but not painful. It’s been some time since he breathed air.

“I would invite you to my castle, but I doubt the location would suit you,” Edward says, smiling at him. Oswald smiles back, revealing sharp teeth. “I cannot thank you enough. I’m sure my father will reward you handsomely for what you’ve done.”

“What I did, I did out of curiosity, and empathy. I know how it is to be exiled by your own people,” Oswald says.

“Only some people,” Edward is quick to say.

“How old are you?” Oswald asks him. He knows little of the lifespan of humans.

“I’m twenty-five,” Edward says. “My coronation isn’t too far off. Its ceremonial function is to solidify me as next in line for the throne.”

“You are considered old enough to take the throne?” Oswald asks, somewhat surprised.

“Well, yes. I’m a grown man. Can’t you tell?” Edward says nervously, running a hand self-consciously down his skinny chest.

“You don’t have any hair,” Oswald points out, running fingers across his chin.

“Well, it doesn’t really grow in well, so I shave it.” Shaving. Some merfolk liked to have their heads shaved, but their faces didn’t grow hair. Oswald supposes it wouldn’t be much different. “I’ve got some stubble from the past day, if you want to feel it?”

Oswald reaches a hand out and runs it along Edward’s cheek and jaw, and sure enough, there is a slight prickling beneath his fingers. Edward is not a baby, then. Oswald watches attentively as his cheeks darken, turning a pinkish color.

“Are you blushing?” Oswald asks, curious to witness a human blush first hand. He wonders if the same emotions trigger a blush as in merfolk.

“Yes, I am,” Edward says, flushing darker. If so, he is probably experiencing embarrassment.

“I’m sorry, that was not very tactful,” Oswald says, feeling how warm Edward’s cheeks have gotten in both hands now, smoothing over them to feel that interesting prickling sensation again. “You don’t have to be embarrassed, my people also blush.”

“What would make you blush?” Edward asks.

“Strong emotions. Anger makes the face red. As does embarrassment. Sometimes love,” Oswald explains. Edward clears his throat.

“It’s the same for us. Listen, I’d like to repay you for this. If you wait here, I can bring something back for you?”

“Unfortunately, I must return to my people,” Oswald explains. “But I would like to meet you again, Edward. You are a fine example of your species.”

“I think you’re fascinating,” Edward says, admiring Oswald’s long, amethyst tail. “I’ve never seen anything like you.”

“I could return to this beach again tomorrow?” Oswald suggests. His kind have not interacted with humans in many years, but being owed a favour from one of their princes might lead to some very lucrative bartering, if Oswald is careful.

“Yes!” Edward shouts, then coughs. “I mean, I’d like that. Can you read English as well?”

“I can. We learn much of the world on land through written histories. It’s not often we have a chance to speak to land-dwellers.”

“Great! I’ll bring you some books you can read. Do your people value gold?”

“We do,” Oswald says, now very interested in a trading partnership with this foreign prince. He would give away his gold so easily?

“I’d like to give you some, then. As payment for saving my life,” Edward says. “Of course, I’d still like to see you, even if you hadn’t. I mean— I mean to say that I’m enjoying your company, Oswald.”

“You’re a funny man,” Oswald says, tilting his head. Edward looks saddened by this and Oswald is quick to correct himself, “I just mean to say that you don’t behave like other men.”

“That’s not generally considered to be a good thing by my people,” Edward mutters. “Men are meant to behave a certain way.”

“I like your way,” Oswald says.

“Thank you,” Edward says, a soft smile on his face.

“May I touch your legs?” Edward blushes again. “I’m sorry, is that inappropriate?”

“I was just surprised, is all,” Edward stutters. “You may.”

Oswald pushes back into the water, taking hold of Edward’s foot to examine it. He has five… toes. One is very small and cute, and they all flex and curl in Oswald’s grip. He turns Edward’s foot, seeing how far it bends without too much pressure. Suddenly Edward flinches and giggles.

“Are you alright?” Oswald asks.

“Sorry, I’m ticklish,” Edward explains. Ticklish. Oswald has heard of the sensation, but it’s more amusing to watch than he’d imagined. Edward is very adorable. He drags his nails down Edwards foot, making him laugh and flinch so hard he pulls his foot from Oswald’s grip. Oswald takes hold of his ankle, relentless in his attack as he discovers which places and what methods make Edward laugh the hardest. He’s enjoying the sound, right up until Edward kicks him in the face. He drops Edward’s foot and immediately hold his nose, checking for blood.

“Oh dear, I’m so sorry. Are you okay? Here, let me see,” Edward says, pulling Oswald’s hands from his face and scooting into the water. He cups Oswald’s cheeks, turning his head from side to side.

“Not to worry,” Edward proclaims, “You’re still very handsome.” Oswald’s cheeks heat, and Edward grins at him.

“It hurts,” Oswald complains. Edward leans in very suddenly and gently kisses the bridge of his nose.

“There, all better,” Edward says. Oswald’s nose still hurts, but there’s a warm feeling in his belly that is making up for it.

“I did not know that tickles could be so violent,” Oswald says.

“Your kind aren’t ticklish?” Edward asks, prodding at Oswald’s bare stomach. He doesn’t even flinch. “Well then.”

“Are you ticklish there, too?” Oswald asks, his grin like a shark. Edward’s eyes widen, realizing his mistake.

“No, don’t—” Oswald lunges, pushing Edward back into the water and digging his fingers into Edward’s sides. Now he can see Edward’s face even better as he laughs, trying to push Oswald away with hands on his shoulders. Oswald doesn’t torment him for too long, stopping when it appears Edward is genuinely out of breath. Edward pants beneath him, his chest heaving even as he smiles at Oswald.

“This isn’t fair at all,” he complains, “you must have some weakness.”

“Weakness is for men,” Oswald says, “but I will not use this against you. Not often.”

“You’re not very dignified, for a King,” Edward observes.

“I haven’t always been a King,” Oswald replies.

“You’re very interesting, Oswald,” Edward says, his breathing returning to a normal rate. “I’m sure you have things to attend other than me.”

Oswald had forgotten. The hour is growing late, and he will soon have to swim home under cover of darkness.

“Will you be alright in the dark?” Oswald asks, taking note of how low the sun is getting in the sky.

“My home isn’t far, I should be there before night falls,” Edward says, sitting up. Oswald suddenly realizes the position he’s manages to wedge himself into, Edward’s legs on either side of his tail. His face is very close, Oswald notices, no longer distracted by Edward’s expression while he was being tickled.

“You’ll come back tomorrow?” Edward asks, filling the sudden silence.

“I’ll leave at first light,” Oswald decides. “That is, if that’s not too soon—”

“It’s perfect,” Edward says. His eyes flicker towards Oswald’s mouth. “Tomorrow, then.”

“Tomorrow,” Oswald swears, pushing back into the water. He thinks he can feel Edward’s eyes on him as he goes.

***

Explaining his absence requires little explanation at all. He simply relays following the ship and omits Edward entirely. Edward feels like his secret, like something he needs to protect. Oswald leaves at first light, swimming in twenty minutes what it had taken thirty to do with Edward and his need to breathe air. Humans are not very versatile, Oswald observes. It’s probably why they make so many things.

When he comes ashore, he swims alongside one way and then the other until he locates Edward, asleep on a blanket waiting for him. Oswald pulls himself up the beach and shakes him awake, gasping at what he sees when Edward turns over. There is a dark bruise on his right cheekbone, clearly indicating that Edward had been hurt, or struck. He leans in, kissing Edward’s cheek when he remembers this was how Edward treated his injury yesterday.

“Is that better?” he asks in a rush. Edward should never be hurt, who would want to hurt someone so gentle?

“I feel much better now,” Edward says, smiling sleepily up at him. “Hello, Oswald.”

“Hello, Edward,” Oswald says, a bit embarrassed that he’d kissed Edward only a moment after waking him, with no formalities exchanged. “What happened?”

Edward frowns and mumbles, “Father was cross with me.”

“Why in the seven seas would he be cross with you?” Oswald exclaims.

“He doesn’t like me much, as I told you. Father insisted that I should have had some sort of means to identify the men who took me, and I told him I was lucky to have escaped with my life. He thought I was sassing him,” Edward explains. “It was my fault, I should have just agreed.”

“He is a stupid man,” Oswald growls. “Hitting his baby. Look at your face! You are a Prince, Edward. You should never be subjected to a heavy hand. I would never lay a hand on Ivy.”

“Ivy?” Edward asks.

“She is my daughter,” Oswald explains. Edward looks away.

“Have you a wife?” Edward asks.

“No. Ivy is my daughter by choice, not blood. We have different ways.”

“Ah,” Edward says. “Well, father has said that I am useless and will not search for the men who took me because I have no way to identify them. He is right, of course.”

“I saw the ship that took you,” Oswald says. Edward’s eyes widen. “Perhaps I could help?”

“Did you see its name?” Edward asks.

“It only bears the name of your land, Gotham.” Edward’s jaw drops. “Edward, what does that mean to you?”

“It means there’s a traitor in my father’s court,” Edward declares. “That ship belongs to our Royal Navy. I have to tell him.”

“Is it wise to return to a home where your father hits you and there is someone who wants you dead?” Oswald asks. “Do you have any guards?”

“I have no personal guards, but they all serve my father and will protect me,” Edward assures him. “I really shouldn’t delay.” Oswald’s heart sinks.

“We’ve only just started,” Oswald says. “Surely there is no harm in delaying another hour?” Edward’s expression softens.

“Yes, I’m sorry. How terribly rude of me. Let me show you what I’ve brought for you!” Edward drags a wicker basket closer pulling out several books, and a bag, which he passes to Oswald. It’s very heavy, and when Oswald opens it his jaw drops at the amount of gold within.

“Edward,” he says, “do you know what this is worth?”

“My life,” he answers. “Father doesn’t need to know.”

“I can’t accept this,” Oswald says, passing it back. That much gold was unheard of wealth. Oswald could justify finding a few gold pieces, but an entire bag would potentially expose his connection to Edward. A connection he intends to protect. “I will take three.”

Edward looks as though he wants to argue, but he takes another bag from the basket and empties it, transferring three gold pieces in as he says, “If you’re sure.”

“I’m certain,” Oswald says. “What else have you brought?”

“I have some sandwiches, some wine, and a few books. Are you hungry?” Oswald nods, and Edward gives him something strange looking, picking up one for himself. He holds it in both hands.

“It’s a sandwich,” he says, taking a bite. Oswald copies him, moaning loudly at the rich flavor of what can only be tuna. Edward giggles. “You like it?”

“I would kill a man for this sandwich,” Oswald states seriously, looking Edward dead in the eyes. Edward snorts and takes another bite, but Oswald is quite serious. Despite tuna being common, he loves it.

They chat, and Oswald tries wine for the first time, enjoying the flavor and the bubbly feeling it gives him. Edward tells him to go easy, since he isn’t sure if Oswald will be able to handle it or how he’ll metabolize it. They go over the books Edward has brought, which he claims are of the utmost importance to understanding his culture. When Oswald’s tail is becoming uncomfortably dry, Edward strips to his shirt and underthings and joins Oswald in the water, wading out until he’s chest deep.

“May I touch your tail?” Edward asks. Oswald swims in circles around him, letting Edward skim his fingers over the scales. He pokes his head out of the water after a minute of circling. “It’s beautiful.”

“Thank you,” Oswald says. “I like your legs, toes are very cute.”

“I would give anything to see your world,” Edward says, the wine loosening his tongue. “I know mine interests you, but that’s only because you’ve never seen it. I have no friends and my father—” he cuts himself off.

“Does he hurt you often?” Oswald asks.

“I shouldn’t have said that,” Edward says. “But then again, who are you going to tell? Yes, he does.”

“I would love to show you my world,” Oswald says, anger rising at Edward’s father and a building desire to take Edward away from his ungrateful paws building. “I’m sure there’s some way.”

“It’s just a dream, Oswald,” Edward says. “I’m sure it’s impossible. But that doesn’t stop me from wishing. It there was a way, I would gladly leave Gotham behind. There’s nothing for me there.”

“You would be welcome to stay, if there was some way,” Oswald says, swimming for the shore. Edward follows him. Oswald doesn’t invite this outsider lightly, and not without belief that there is some way for Edward to join him. He’ll consult Ivy straightaway. She’d been working on a means of allowing herself to go ashore, and though Oswald objects to this, he wonders if there’s a way to accomplish the reverse.

Edward walks ashore and dries himself off with a linen he’s brought, dressing again and laying down. Oswald finds it funny that Edward needs to cover himself when their skin seems to be the same, but no matter. Just another quirk of men to wear so much cloth. Oswald pulls himself up the beach again, laying on the blanket beside Edward. He sits up on one elbow and touches Edward’s hair, running his fingers through it. Edward sighs and relaxes, seeming to enjoy the attention.

“Does this feel nice?” Oswald asks. Edward hums and closes his eyes, and he continues, running his nails over Edward’s scalp. He pauses with his hand on the side of Edward’s face, leaning down and pressing his mouth to Edward’s. Edward’s eyes snap open, and he doesn’t move. Oswald pulls away, and Edward softly presses his fingers to his lips.

“You kissed me,” he whispers.

“I did,” Oswald says.

“I don’t think you know what that means,” Edward says, sitting up. Oswald does too.

“It means you like someone,” Oswald says.

“Not just if you like them,” Edward corrects. “If you like them as more than you like an acquaintance or friend. It means you have romantic feelings for them.”

“I know that,” Oswald says impatiently.

“I—” Edward cuts himself off. “Why?”

“I’m not sure exactly,” Oswald admits, “But I’ve never felt like this before.”

“Never?” Edward asks, “How old are you?”

“Thirty by your standard,” Oswald says.

“And you’ve never been with anyone?” Edward asks.

“Have you?” Oswald counters.

“Just one girl, it didn’t end well.”

“I like you, Edward,” Oswald says. “I would like to know you better. Can we meet again?”

“When?” Edward asks.

“Yours is the only castle in Gotham?” Oswald asks.

“It is,” Edward says.

“If I can’t find you tonight, meet here in the morning, same as today,” Oswald says.

“I eagerly await our next meeting,” Edward says, leaning in and pressing his lips to Oswald’s. It’s nice like this, with Edward’s lips moving back against his own. “How will you find me?”

“I may know a means of walking among men,” Oswald says. “But it might only be a rumor.”

“Perhaps I should wait here until you find out,” Edward suggests. “It could be dangerous for you to walk alone among men, especially in Gotham.”

“I assure you, I can take care of myself. Tell your father what you’ve learned, perhaps he will apologize for his roughness.”

“Unlikely,” Edward says, smiling sardonically. “I’m omit your role, tell him I only just recalled seeing it clearly.”

“We’ll meet again soon,” Oswald says, pushing back across the sand.

***

It takes some time, but with Oswald’s approval granting her access to closely guarded ingredients, Ivy is able to finalize her potion and create a concoction that will give Oswald legs. When it comes to giving Edward a tail, however, they are unable to uncover anything even remotely legitimate. At least, nothing Oswald would willingly subject Edward to. He takes two articles of clothing lost at sea, a shirt and pants, and hopes that will be sufficient. The brew Oswald is going to ingest is not without drawbacks. Every step on his feet will feel like walking on knives, and only when he takes the second potion Ivy has created will the agony cease and return him to this form. Ivy follows him to the beach. Should something go awry, leaving Oswald unable to take the second potion and change back, Ivy will meet him on the beach tomorrow with a backup. Once there, Oswald dismisses her. All that matters is that she knows where to meet him.

He throws it back quickly, the taste very unpleasant. Within moment he feels like his entire lower body is being torn asunder. Probably because it is. After a moment, it’s too gruesome to watch. Oswald shuts his eyes tightly and grits his teeth, screaming through the pain. It takes less than a minute, but it’s the longest minute of Oswald’s life. He shakily reaches for clothing, covering his new anatomy. Now, for the matter of standing.

Oswald rises onto shaking legs, white hot fire burning up them. His knees buckle, and he collapses. He tries again, standing upright, letting the feeling lick up and adjusting to it. He steps, landing awkwardly, the pain increasing on impact and then fading to the baseline level of agony. He takes another step, and another, headed to the Kingdom of Gotham on borrowed legs which cause him nothing but suffering with each move he makes closer.

Going through the outskirts he passes farmland, keeping the spire of the castle in sight and slowly making his way towards it. He focuses only on that, putting all of his concentration into getting to Gotham as the pain in his new limbs threatens to rob him of his senses. Before entering town, he checks that his knife is secure and easily accessible, heeding Edward’s warning. The castle gates are guarded, and it is then that Oswald realizes he should probably have created a better plan. Edward’s castle is eerily similar to his own, and he wonders if the same structural and defensive weak points might exist. He gets in through the stables, suppressing his wonder at seeing horses for the first time to find Edward. There are hardly any guards milling about, and he heads towards the castle center, where the throne room is likely to be. When he peers inside, it’s empty. He resolves to find the bedrooms, heading up the castle stairs. This is even worse agony for his new muscles, but he perseveres. Finally, he thinks he might hear Edward’s voice, and not that of another guard or servant.

“My Lord, I have made no accusations against you—” There’s a clap, and a cry of pain. “My Lord, please, I meant no offense, but I truly believe that someone is—”

“You just had to come back, didn’t you,” a deep voice growls. “Couldn’t have just drowned, no? How did you do it? It doesn’t matter.”

“It was you—” another sharp sound, one Oswald recognizes now as a slap. Edward cries out again. Stealth is his friend. He has no idea who is beyond that door, if Edward is surrounded by multiple attackers, though it seems to only be one. He might be larger and stronger than Oswald, which is why he slowly creeps towards the door, careful not to make a sound. He struggles with doing so on two feet which burn with pain, much more adept at silently cutting through water.

“Now you know too much, Eddie. I guess if you want a job done right, you do it yourself.”

“No. No, please—” There’s a scuffle and Edward screams, then abruptly goes silent. Oswald bursts through the door, knife in hand. The pair of them are on the ground, the assassin’s hands around Edward’s neck. He rushes the attacker from behind and slits his throat with practiced ease. The man turns to look at him and clutches at his throat, rolling off Edward and onto the floor, dying quickly with a wheeze. Oswald doesn’t stop to observe, moving immediately to Edward as he lies on the floor. His assailant had taken him by the front and pressed him down, wrapping both hands around his throat. There’s a large ring around his neck where Edward’s skin is reddening and will certainly bruise. One side of his face is also very red, but otherwise he is unharmed. Blood spatters his face and torso, but still Oswald pulls him into a hug, relieved.

“Oswald,” Edward whispers, not moving. “Oswald, what have you done?” Oswald releases him.

“I killed him,” Oswald says, turning to really observe Edward’s would-be assassin. He’s dressed in very fine clothes, a nobleman, obviously. Edward had referred to him as ‘My Lord’. It’s likely just as Edward suspected, that there was a traitor in his father’s house that wished Edward dead before he was solidified as the next ruler of Gotham. He has dark hair and sharp cheekbones. A low forehead, his chin dimpled and more pronounced than Edward’s—

Oh.

Oh, what has he done?

“Father?” Edward whispers, crawling over to the body and shaking his shoulder. He doesn’t stir. Edward returns to Oswald, taking his face into his hands. “Oswald, you must leave. If you’re found, you’ll be executed.”

“I can’t, Edward,” Oswald says, clutching Edward to him about his waist as they kneel on the bloodied floor. “They’ll think you’ve done it.”

“I’ll think of something. Please, Oswald, go. Go!”

“I won’t leave you,” Oswald insists.

“And I won’t let you say,” Edward says, rising to his feet and pulling Oswald to his. He begins pushing him out of the door. “You must leave Gotham and never return. I’ll meet you again, Oswald, I promise.”

“Come with me,” Oswald says, the choice impossible. Edward looks back at his father’s corpse and takes a deep breath.

“Did you find a way?” he asks hopefully. Oswald’s heart plummets.

“No, not yet.” Oswald says. “We can look. I can find a way. But Edward, if they turn against you, all is lost. I can’t take you with me if they lock you away or— or worse!”

“Oswald, if I run I look guilty—”

“They won’t believe you” Oswald states bluntly. “No one but your father knew of your abduction, therefore giving them no reason to believe your father might kill you. Saying he had you abducted and then claiming that he was going to kill you for knowing about it… there’s no proof, Edward. It’s just your word against your father’s dead body, only a short time before you are to be solidified as next in line, how does that look?” Edward’s eyes widen with fear, and he runs back into the room, attaching a pouch to his belt.

“Follow me,” he says, taking Oswald’s hand. He leads Oswald back to the stables, carefully avoiding the guards. Then he’s putting strange equipment on a horse and helping Oswald to mount it. Edward pulls himself up in front of Oswald. “Hold on tight.”

They break through the stables and rush through the town, though the fields Oswald trekked on the agonizing journey here. Oswald bounces miserably on the horse’s back, clinging tightly to Edward. It’s extremely uncomfortable. Before long, though, they reach the shore. Oswald can’t deny the animal’s efficiency. They dismount.

“I’ll wait here,” Edward says. “You’re going to find a way for us to be together, I just know it. I believe in you, Oswald.” Oswald pulls Edward down, clutching his shoulders as he kisses him, then running a hand into his hair. He turns and strips out of his clothes, leaving them in the sand. Only the vial of potion around his neck remains. Oswald walks out into the surf, then farther, before uncapping the bottle and drinking it. The transformation is painful, but the agony of having legs is blessedly absent. He pops his head above the surface and waves, and that’s when he sees them.

Two castle guards, riding on horseback for Edward.

“Edward, run! Run!” Edward turns and sees them, quickly mounting the horse and taking off. Oswald dives and follows along the shore, but he’s losing him. When he surfaces again, one of them is trying to wrest Edward from his horse, falling and taking them both to the ground. The other guard dismounts and helps hold him down, binding Edward and throwing him over his horse. They leave as quickly as they came, and Oswald watches the proceedings with a sense of horror and helplessness.

No, he isn’t helpless. He is a King, and there is currently a foreign prince in need of rescuing because of his actions. Oswald heads into the deep, a plan forming.

***

Oswald dresses in his regalia. He’s found richer clothes to more closely match what Edward’s father had worn. The next time he marches painfully through Gotham City, he is dripping wet, and he looks like a king.

Finding the trial is easy, getting in is harder. He bribes the guards with a gold piece Edward had given him, and marches down the rows of spectators, trying not to limp too obviously. Edward is kneeling before a judge, his head bent solemnly downward.

“My name is Oswald Cobblepot,” Oswald boldly announces, sweeping down the aisle. “I have information vital to this trial.”

“No,” Edward says, his face going white.

“Do you now?” the judge says, bored. “You look as though you’ve just washed ashore.”

“Aye, in my haste to get here and put an end to this farce,” Oswald agrees. He flicks a crab off his shoulder.

“How do you know Prince Edward?”

“Yesterday afternoon I pulled him out of the ocean,” Oswald says. The crowd gasps. The judge perks up, paying closer attention.

“Do you understand what crime the Prince is answering for?” the judge asks.

“You believe he is guilty of both patricide and regicide, yes? Well, I’m afraid you’re mistaken. I killed the King.” The entire courtroom erupts, and Edward stands and rushes to him, taking Oswald’s face in his hands.

“Oswald, take it back, please. You don’t know what you’re doing, I’m already doomed—”

“Come forward,” the judge demands. “How did this occur?” Oswald dislodges Edward and obeys.

“After rescuing the Prince I was invited to meet him at his castle. I had seen the ship which threw him overboard, called Gotham. The Prince concluded that there was a traitor in his House and resolved to immediately inform his father. When I arrived, I sought the Prince in his quarters, where I heard a commotion and a man threatening to kill him. Assuming this to be the traitor, I entered the room to find a man strangling the Prince and slit his throat.” Oswald pulls his knife from his golden robe. “This is the weapon I used.”

The judge grimaces, then thinks this information over. When he smiles, Oswald realizes he may have miscalculated.

“Edward informed his father of his abduction without telling him the name of the ship,” the judge recalls. “I should know, I was there. If he knew the name, it was only today that he told him, or insinuated that it was a member of his house.”

“I didn’t believe the information to be relevant,” Oswald explains. “He left to inform his father of the abduction first. We met again the next morning, and the Prince complained of having no information to narrow the search, which is when I told him the name of the ship. It was then that he drew his conclusions.”

“I see you’ve changed the story,” the judge says, smiling wickedly.

“I have not,” Oswald insists.

“What I see here is a conspiracy,” he says. “Prince Edward has paid you to lie for him and assassinate his father, attempting to make it appear legitimate.”

“Then why would he run, if his plan was so well-formed?” Oswald challenges.

“That too was part of the plan, I’d wager.”

“I convinced him to flee,” Oswald says. “I told him to run, as I believed the evidence was stacked too high against him. The Prince is innocent.”

“He must have paid you handsomely,” the judge says. “Or been intending too. We found a large sum of gold on his person.” The pouch Edward had taken. Oswald knew he’d lost from the moment the judge expressed knowledge of Edward’s household. He must have been close to the King if he’d heard his first conversation with Edward after the abduction. Perhaps he’d helped plan it. If he himself was a contender for the throne, eliminating Edward only helped him. They’d both been doomed the moment they entered this hall of ‘Justice’. “I sentence you both to be executed at sea… by drowning.”

Guards surround them, and Edward doesn’t fight back, he doesn’t even look surprised by the sentence. They are taken aboard a ship and set sail, tied and left on the deck.

“You knew the judge was corrupt,” Oswald says. “That’s why you ran away with me.” Edward nods.

“I realized he must have been in it with my father. I wish you hadn’t come, Oswald. Nothing anyone could have said would have saved me from the very same death sentence they attempted before.”

One of the sailors stumbles over to them, grabbing Edward’s face.

“Damn shame to have to throw you over again,” he grins. “There isn’t a man alive hasn’t thought of having our fair prince on his knees and sucking his cock, isn’t that right, lads?” There’s a chorus of approval.

“Don’t touch him,” Oswald growls. Edward remains silent, staring him down.

“Why don’t we have some fun with our little prince while he’s still with us,” he says, ignoring Oswald.

“Leave him,” the captain says, strolling by. “Let the dead man have some dignity.”

“You’re making a mistake,” Oswald says, appealing to the captain. “He’s an innocent man. I killed your King with no prompting from him. Let him go.” The captain leans down, peering into his face. She seems intrigued.

“You know you’re about to die, correct? There’s no reason to defend him. Whatever gold he paid you won’t matter when you’re dead.”

“There was no gold,” Oswald says. “Kill me if you must, but I won’t let you hurt him.”

“Unfortunately, I am being paid to see both of you thrown into the deep,” she says, backing away.

“Oswald,” Edward says. “I appreciate your… valiant efforts to save me, but you should have saved yourself. My life was forfeit the moment I was captured.”

“You said you believed in me, Edward,” Oswald says. “Just believe a little longer.”

“I do. It’s myself that’s the problem,” Edward says. “Oswald, this is my fault. If you’d never met me, none of this would be happening to you. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Oswald says, “Meeting you is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.”

“I wish there was something I could do to save you for once… I would do anything for you,” Edward says. “I hope you know that.”

“I know now,” Oswald says. Now that it was almost too late. The captain comes by again, cutting the ropes around Edward’s ankles.

“You first,” she says, indicating to where the crew are extending the plank. Edward stands, walking gracefully to the plank, head held regally high. His steps are sure as he reaches the end, turning once to look back at Oswald before stepping off the edge. The captain cuts Oswald loose next, and he quickly follows, not looking back. He sinks into the water quickly, weighed down by heavy clothes and shoes. Working fast, he gets a hold of the knife tucked into the sheath at the back of his trousers, cutting his hands free. He pushes his pants and underthings off, grabbing the other vial Ivy had prepared for him before he left and quickly guzzling it down. As he transforms, he sees Ivy rapidly approaching. Excellent.

Oswald doesn’t bother with the clothes covering his upper half, quickly taking hold of Edward and bringing him to the surface. He hadn’t sunk so deep he needed to be slowly taken up. Edward gasps for air as they break the surface, winding his legs around Oswald and grinning at him.

“I never doubted you for a second,” he says, kissing Oswald. He manages well without the use of his arms, which Oswald quickly cut loose from behind his back. Edward wraps them around Oswald’s shoulders, kissing him passionately, oblivious to their audience. Ivy peers at the display curiously. Eventually, Oswald breaks them apart.

“Edward, I would like you to meet Ivy.” Edward swallows, head whipping around to find her.

“Your daughter? Oh, heavens,” Edward says, trying to unwrap his legs from Oswald’s waist. Oswald holds him in place.

“This isn’t appropriate,” Edward hisses under his breath, casting a glance at Ivy. He pushes at Oswald’s shoulders.

“You’re easier to hold this way,” Oswald says. “Your people are so prudish. Ivy, this is Edward.”

“Hello, Prince Edward,” Ivy says.

“Princess,” Edward replies, ceasing his squirming and inclining his head at her. “It’s a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance.”

“Likewise,” she says.

“Edward, please get me out of these robes,” Oswald requests. Edward blushes deeply, then undoes Oswald’s robes and pulls them down his shoulders. Oswald lifts one arm and then the other, letting it slip off him and into the deep. He sighs. “Much better.”

“I’ve found it, Oswald,” she says, holding up a vial filled with a bright green liquid.

“Will it hurt?” he asks, taking it from her.

“The transformation will, but he should feel no pain afterwards.”

“Excellent,” Oswald says. “Edward, you’ll need to remove your clothing.”

Edward sneaks a glance at Ivy and says, “Do you mind?”

She points at herself, eyes wide. Edward twirls his finger, indicating that she turn around. Her brows furrow, and she complies.

“Prudish,” Oswald repeats, moving his hands to Edward’s waist to hold him out of the water while he pulls off his clothing.

“Modest,” Edward counters, pulling his legs from around Oswald’s waist and undoing his trousers, holding on to them when he’s finished.

“You won’t need them,” Oswald says, and Edward lets go. He takes the vial from Oswald.

“Cheers,” he says, popping the cork out and throwing it back. For a moment, nothing happens, and then Edward screams. Oswald doesn’t need to see what happens, he knows. Instead he holds Edward, soothing over his back and pressing kisses to his hair and temple. Edward gasps, no doubt feeling like he’s drowning as water fills his gills and lungs for the first time. Oswald pulls him under so as not to confuse his system. Edward inhales water through his mouth and finds that he’s not drowning, chest and ribs instead expanding with water. For the first time, water instead of air whistles through his vocal cords, and he says, “Am I dreaming?”

“No,” Oswald chuckles, cupping Edward’s face in one hand and pulling him closer with an arm around his waist. He kisses Edward, and Edward instinctively twines his tail with Oswald’s, setting off fireworks in Oswald’s stomach. Oswald ends the kiss. “Edward, that is considered inappropriate, for future reference.”

Ivy is watching them, having turned around when Oswald pulled Edward below the surface. Edward blushes and hides his face in Oswald’s neck, untangling their tails. “Sorry.”

“He’s adjusting well,” Ivy remarks, swimming a bit closer. “Your tail is pretty.” Oswald observes it for the first time. Edward’s tail is a lighter green than Ivy’s, though bright enough to rival hers. His tailfins shimmer in the light, an iridescent purple quality to them Oswald can’t name.

“Thank you,” Edward says, looking down for himself and watching as it slowly cuts through the water to keep him in place. “So, what now?”

“Now, I get to show you my Kingdom,” Oswald says, smiling at him.

“It’s a little weird that you still have a shirt on,” Ivy remarks. “People are going to notice.”

“Perhaps you should take it off,” Oswald says, “We don’t have time for questions.” Edward looks between them both before reluctantly pulling it over his head. Now he looks like one of their kind. He lets it drift away, crossing his arms self-consciously. Oswald pulls at them, moving Edward’s arms away and hugging him around his waist.

“You’re gorgeous,” Oswald assures him, pecking his cheek. Edward’s pallor become a dusty rose. “Come with me.”

What follows is a tour of Oswald’s underwear home, culminating in a swim through the passages of his castle. Oswald can’t help but notice a series of scars and marks on Edward’s back. It makes him glad that he killed Edward’s father.

“It’s so similar to mine,” Edward says, startled by the observation. Oswald leads him into the war room, a plan already forming.

“Edward, I have an idea as to how you can take back your kingdom,” Oswald says, taking his hand and leading him into the room.

“Take it back? Oswald, your world is… more than enough for me. If I could remain here, I would be content. Truly.” Oswald eyes him up and down.

“Content to fall victim to the machinations of others and lose your home?” Edward glances away.

“It was never much of a home,” he begins, “but I don’t like being played for a fool.”

“I will help you reclaim your throne,” Oswald says, taking Edward’s hands into his own.

“Why risk yourself for my sake?” Edward asks.

“They’ve conspired to kill you twice now, and nearly killed me,” Oswald says. “I also loathe being outdone. Seeing every one of the conspirators executed at your command will make me very happy.”

“Well,” Edward says, “if you’re serious, I may have a plan of my own.”

“Go on,” Oswald says, grinning.

***

They walk into the courthouse in the clothes they were drowned in, soaking wet, seaweed clinging to them.

“Hello, Aubrey,” Edward says, squelching into the room in soaked shoes.

“No,” Aubrey says, standing, his wig sliding askew with the quick motion. “No, not again. We killed you, twice now you should have drowned! Demon!” The crowd in the room gasps, descending into fervid whispers as the judge begins shaking in fear.

“Not a demon,” Edward says. “Just very lucky.”

“Guards!” Aubrey calls, “Arrest this man! I want the witch burned at the stake this time!”

“Hold that thought,” Edward says, stepping up onto a bench. “As the rightful heir to the throne, I order you to arrest Aubrey James for conspiracy to commit murder against the crown prince.” The guards hesitate, looking at one another.

“Are you going to listen to the man that came back twice from being murdered, or the one who keeps trying to kill him?” Oswald asks, casually dragging a finger along the back of a bench. “Choose wisely, men.”

A few look at each other, shrug, and begin to advance on Judge James. He makes a break for the exit, quickly being apprehended and brought before Edward.

“What should I do with you?” Edward wonders aloud, stepping off the bench. He taps his index finger to his chin, tilting his head to the side. “Oh! I know. How about…. an execution… at sea… by drowning?”

“You father saw how weak you are,” Aubrey spits, “That’s why he wanted you dead! He wanted a better successor, he couldn’t wait to have another son and replace you!”

“That’s nice,” Edward says, examining his nails. “Take him away.” Aubrey screams insults as he’s dragged off, and Edward once more steps onto the pew.

“For those gathered here, make no mistake. I neither conspired to kill my father nor did the deed myself, but I cannot say the same for him. Let my return serve as proof of my innocence, that the ocean itself has passed judgement and found me not guilty. Guards!” he calls again. “Apprehend every man and woman about the Gotham. They are also guilty of the conspiracy against me.” Several guards file out, a few more backing Edward as he makes his way from the courthouse.

“What about him?” a guard says, pointing at Oswald.

“He has saved my life on multiple occasions, including when my father made an attempt on it,” Edward says.

“He’s a foreigner that killed the King, way I see it,” the guard says.

“A wicked King who tried to murder his own heir,” Oswald replies, stepping forward. The guard looks down at him and shrugs.

“He didn’t really pay well, anyways.”

***

Edward is crowned later the next day, Oswald smiling at him from the front row. They’ve both changed into appropriate clothing for the ceremony, Oswald garbed in royal purple while Edward has chosen a green tunic. It goes off without a hitch, and for his first act as King, Edward boards the Gotham and heads out to sea. Aboard the ship is the former crew, two dozen of Edward’s guards, and the members of King Mark’s inner circle who had assisted in him the conspiracy against his son. Including those who had known and done nothing to stop it. (Edward had promised Aubrey he would live out his life in imprisonment if he gave up the others. He’d lied.)

Edward takes great pleasure in seeing them all been thrown overboard, Aubrey first. They receive nothing so dignified as walking the plank, Edward preferring that their ankles remain tied to ensure the swiftness of drowning. He pauses at one particularly vulgar former crewmember.

“Kneel,” Edward demands, smiling as the guards carrying him to the starboard side pause and force him to his knees.

“How does it feel,” Edward asks, a wicked smirk curling on his face, “to be kneeling before your ‘fair prince’?”

“I can still imagine your lips around my cock,” he says, smirking lewdly up at Edward. Oswald steps up beside him, putting a hand on the small of Edward’s back.

“Do you permit it, my King?” he asks, smiling devilishly.

“You may,” Edward respond, grinning back. Oswald drags the man by his hair to an open space on the deck, taking hold of a plank of wood and savagely beating him with it until it breaks. Oswald wipes his forehead off on the back of his hand and ducks inside the captain’s cabin, coming back out with a boarding axe. He uses the blunt side of it to finish the job.

“Well?” Edward asks, staring meaningfully at the guards. They look at one another, until two step up to lift the body and throw it overboard.

***

“Do you have to leave?” Edward asks, straddling Oswald’s tail as he lays in the water.

“Only for a little while, to explain the situation to my people and assure them all is well,” Oswald says. He lets his fingers travel under Edward’s white shirt, fingers pressing into the warm skin there. Edward shivers.

“I’ll miss you,” Edward says, leaning down to kiss him. Oswald pulls Edward down so that they’re pressed together, his hands roaming under Edward’s shirt and over his back.

“I won’t be long,” Oswald says. “In fact— never mind.”

“What is it?” Edward asks, kissing Oswald’s neck.

“It’s somewhat bold of me to ask,” Oswald says.

“If it pleases you, my King, I would happily agree,” Edward whispers, kissing him again. Oswald’s feels that familiar heat in his stomach to hear Edward call him King, particularly in conjunction with pleasing him.

“If it would please you,” Oswald rephrases, “I would return tonight… and join you in your bedchamber.”

“I— I would like that,” Edward stutters. “Except, doesn’t it pain you still to walk among us? Shouldn’t I join you?”

“I can afford to leave my Kingdom; it is firmly in my grasp,” Oswald says. “But you are newly crowned, and there may still be traitors lingering. Even the time we take now is a risk.”

“You’ll show me how to rule?” Edward asks, “Guide me on this new path?”

“For as long as I need to,” Oswald says. Edward kisses him briefly.

“I’ll see you tonight,” he says, moving to get up. Oswald prevents him, holding onto his waist.

“Not so fast,” Oswald says, rolling them so that Edward’s back is in the water. “I want a proper goodbye.” Edward smiles, putting a hand in Oswald’s hair to pull him down for a deeper kiss. Oswald moves his hands up Edward’s sides, careful not to tickle him. He sneaks his tongue into Edward’s mouth, licking inside. Edward moans, pulling Oswald close with a hand on his back, legs circling Oswald’s waist. They’re pressed so tight, every touch between them electric. Oswald pulls away, panting, noting how Edward’s chest also heaves underneath him. His lips look so pink, Oswald must briefly kiss them once more.

“Tonight,” he promises, pushing back into the water.

“Tonight,” Edward echoes, sitting on the sand and watching him go.

Today began their lives as kings on land and sea, and tonight begins their lives together.