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Sweet Talkin' Son (of a Preacher Man)

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"Occasional Visits. Lilies. Check."

The promise echoed in Ed's mind as he knelt to lay the bouquet of flowers on Gertrud Kapelput's grave, careful not to get mud on his neatly pressed trousers. Though, it barely mattered anyway, he thought to himself, he was already soaked nearly through by the rain.

 Gertrud's grave seemed to be in one of the most desolate parts of the cemetery, and the dark heavy rain clouds certainly didn't lighten the atmosphere. Still, he was more than glad to perform such a simple favor for a friend, especially knowing what it meant to Oswald. 

 As he straightened to his full height, he was startled to see a figure moving out of the corner of his eye.

 He almost took a double take as he turned to the man, clad in a dark coat and holding an umbrella, who was approaching him. Something about the silhouette had reminded him of Oswald, even though he knew such a sight would be impossible. 

 As the man came closer, Ed could see he was older, approaching middle aged, with gray streaking his temples. He was surprised when the stranger held his umbrella out, sheltering Ed from the biting downpour.

 "Oh, thank you."

 "It's no problem." 

 The man studied the grave below them intently, sorrow etched into the lines of his face. Ed thought there was something strangely familiar about him. He had a bouquet of lilies in one hand.

 "If I may venture to ask, young man, how did you know Getrud Kapelput? A relative, perhaps?" he asked Ed, after a moment of silence.

 "No, I never actually met her, unfortunately. I'm...a close friend of her son. I'm here on his behalf."

"Gertrud had a son?" 

 "Yes." If this man knew her, why did he sound so surprised, Ed wondered. Still, he had no reason to lie to him. "His name is Oswald."

 "How old is he?" the man asks suddenly, almost cutting Ed off.

 "Thirty-one." Ed answered automatically. He had studied Oswald's files before, out of curiosity, scanning the information so many times that the details now came to his mind as easily as a riddle or a piece of interesting trivia. He remembered noting that Oswald was only three years older than himself.

 "Gertrud left...thirty-one years ago," the man muttered, more to himself than to Ed. "She never told me..." His eyes seemed glazed as he stared into the distance.

 "Told you what?" Ed asked, unable to quell his curiosity.

 "What do you know about Oswald's father?" He rolled the name over his tongue like it was something new and foreign.

 "As far as I know, he grew up with only his mother. I was under the impression that his father had died when he was very young. Or he simply wasn't in the picture, so to speak."

 "I'm not sure if I should be telling you this, but you did call yourself a close friend..."

 Ed nodded, urging him on.

 "I need to speak to this Oswald. I used to be in a relationship with Gertrud, but something happened--it's sort of a complicated story. After hearing what you've just told me, I think I may be...his father."

 Ed gasped. This was certainly an odd situation, but it sounded plausible. Unless this man was trying to decieve him? Ed couldn't think of anything he might gain from this farce.

 "If you want to see him, that might be," Ed paused searching for the right words, "difficult, given his current circumstances. Is there somewhere else we can talk?" He could feel himself shivering in the cold. 

 "Elijah Van Dahl," the man introduced himself as soon as they had slipped into the warmth of the backseat of his town car. He had instructed the driver to take them to a nearby diner Ed hadn't heard of before. 

 "Ed. Edward Nygma." He took the proffered hand, shaking it politely. "Van Dahl...I think I've heard that name before."

 "I'm not surprised, we...the Van Dahls are one of the notable older families of Gotham."

 "Was your home broken into a few years back? I work for the GCPD, actually, that's why I remember it."

 "Oh, yes, that's true. Luckily the culprit was caught, and all of the stolen antiques and jewelry were recovered. Are you a police officer?"

 "I work in forensics, actually."

 "Ah." Elijah didn't say anything further.

 Ed desperately wanted to ask him more questions, but he felt that he should wait until they got to the restaurant. He listened to the muffled patter of raindrops on the car's roof.

 They picked a booth in the back corner of the nearly empty diner. As scents from the kitchen wafted towards them, it suddenly occurred to Ed that he hadn't eaten since breakfast many hours ago. They both ordered a hot cup of coffee. As the waitress poured their mugs Elijah pulled off his scarf, setting it on the seat beside him along with his hat.

 Once they were alone again, Ed broke the silence.

 "I must admit, Sir, there is a very noticeable resemblance, between you and Oswald, especially now that I see you in the better light."

 Elijah smiled sadly. There was something similar about their eyes, Ed thought, even though Elijah's were a steely brown.

 "You don't have any pictures, do you, by chance? Maybe in your wallet?"

 "Um, no. Sorry." Ed wondered why Elijah would think he would, though he hadn't had many friends before, so maybe this wasn't that odd of a request.

 Elijah nodded, folding his arms and leaning conspiratorially toward Ed. "Now tell me, Edward, why can I not speak with this young man? Whatever did you mean by his 'current circumstances'?"

 "You boys decided on something to eat, yet?" their waitress suddenly chirped, interrupting the tense moment.

 "No, we need a few minutes." Ed answered her, curtly but politely, without looking away from Elijah. 

 As she left, Ed wrung his hands together under the table, unsure of what to say. Would Oswald not want his father (possible father, he reminded himself) to know that he was in Arkham? Yet, at the same time, Elijah already knew his name, and his arrest had been public information. He could easily find out the truth through other means. He let out the breath he hadn't realized he had been holding. 

 "Oswald Cobblepot is...currently incarcerated in Arkham Asylum." No one was in ear shot but he kept his words quiet all the same. "For a murder he didn't commit!" he added quickly, in the same hushed tone. 

 It wasn't necessarily a lie--Jim Gordon had pulled the trigger that really killed Galavan. Oswald had killed others, sure, but Elijah Van Dahl certainly didn't need to know that.

 Elijah slumped back in his seat, seemingly shocked. His mouth was slack, half open. It reminded Ed of an expression he had seen on Oswald's face before.

 "I'm sorry, it's a lot to take in." Ed mustered, trying to be consoling. He took a sip of his coffee, awkwardly. He would have to remember the name of this diner, the coffee was wonderful.

 "He wasn't arrested in connection to his mother's death, was he?"

 Ed nearly spit out his drink. "No, no!" he answered hurriedly, "Well, not exactly, in fact it was the death of the man who killed her."

 Elijah winced. Ed realized that he probably had no idea about the circumstances surrounding Gertrud's death. The public notice of her burial in the Gotham Gazette had been very brief, with very little detail. For all Elijah knew, she had been ill and died peacefully in her sleep. That was probably what he had hoped, Ed thought sadly.

 "Mr. Van Dahl, if you believe anything I tell you today, let it be this: Oswald isn't guilty of the crime he was accused of. I know from first hand experience that this city's police department is more than corrupt, many criminals have the cops in their back pocket, and they'll do anything to shift the blame from themselves. I wish I could have done more on Oswald's behalf, but I couldn't. When things started looking bleak, he pled that he was mentally ill to escape being sent to Blackgate." Even the name of the place made him grimace, let alone the thought of his friend there. "Oswald's very clever like that." He smiled ruefully.

 Elijah nodded sternly, taking in the information. "At some point in the future, you will have to tell me more regarding dear Gertrud's death. I only saw the notice that she was to be buried. Even though I hadn't seen her for many years, it was quite a shock. Sometime you will tell me, but not today. An old man can only handle so much." His hand went to his heart, as if to steady himself.

 "Yes, of course," was all that Ed could think to say. 

 "Have you eaten lunch today, Edward?" 

 Ed was surprised by the sudden question, what was practically a non-sequitur, but still shook his head honestly.

 "I'm suddenly famished," said Elijah, "I suppose there's something about receiving shocking news on an empty stomach that makes one crave tomato soup and a sandwich."

 Ed sensed that he was trying to lighten the mood. Elijah was so unlike his own father, Ed thought. He tried to quell the memories that sprang to his mind with this observation.

 "I'll admit I could go for something to eat, as well."

 The diner menu had a small selection, mostly classic American fare. After they flagged the waitress back over, Ed ordered a chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables.

 "I suppose there's something about meeting your best friend's long-lost father in a rainy cemetery that makes one crave Southern comfort food."

Elijah chuckled. It was the first unworried smile Ed had seen on his face.

 They lapsed into silence again until the food arrived, which was thankfully soon. 

 As they ate, a 60's soul singer drawled faintly over the diner's radio, "the only one who could ever reach me...was the son of a preacher man." Ed gently tapped his finger on the table in time with the melody, a compulsive tic of his.

 "If you don't mind me asking," Elijah asked in between spoonfuls of soup," How did you and Oswald meet?"

 Ed's fork paused in mid air as he struggled to find an answer. "It's sort of a complicated story." 

 The other man quirked an eyebrow in curiosity. Ed realized that he had unintentionally echoed Elijah's earlier words about him and Gertrud. He tried to think of something to say to steer the conversation in a different direction. 

 He gestured towards his plate with his fork, "this was actually something I was planning on cooking for him, but I never got the chance. He was brought up on mostly his mother's traditional Hungarian cooking. I was surprised to learn that there were quite a few staples from my own childhood he had never tried before. Though he was probably better off without having tried my great-aunt's upside-down pizza casserole."

 Elijah smiled, his kind eyes twinkling with mirth. "Did you cook for him often?" he asked inquisitively.

 "Well, we were...roommates, for a time. And I enjoy cooking as a hobby, so I usually made dinner. I would love to get my hands on some of his mother's recipes, but I doubt that's possible now. Oswald talked about her food so reverently, you'd think it was the nectar of the gods...he was certainly devoted to his mother. I think, for a long time, she was everything to him."

 Ed looked up from his plate and noticed that the light in Elijah's eyes had been replaced with the wet sting of tears. Elijah pulled a paper napkin from the dispenser, dabbing at his eyes.

 "Sir, are you alright?"

 "Yes, yes, my boy. I'm fine."

 Ed felt awkward again unsure of what to do. He was the worst in situations like this.

 "I didn't tell you, did I, how his mother and I met?"

 "No. I wanted to ask, but at the same time I didn't want to pry."

 "Well, I'll have to sate your curiosity then..." Elijah took a long sip from his coffee, before regaling Ed with his tale of a beautiful young cook and her exotic European delicacies, their forbidden romance finally being discovered, his parents' fierce disapproval, and the events that followed. The sad story tugged at Ed's heartstrings. 

 "Even though I'm very happily married now," Elijah concluded, "I wish things hadn't ended the way they did. I had absolutely no idea she was pregnant...and to think they were living in near poverty all these years. And now I'm still separated from my newfound son."

 "I've been told that it's for the best not to dwell on these things that we can't change," Ed said thoughtfully. "And even if they didn't have much, they were happy. Oswald was certainly loved." he added firmly.

 Elijah nodded, taking his words to heart.

 When the bill came, Elijah insisted on paying, "you've done enough for me today, Edward."

 Ed didn't argue.

 When they stepped outside again, the rain had ceased, though the sky was still filled with milky gray clouds. After they exchanged contact information, Elijah offered him a ride home.

 "I think it would be pretty far out of your way, if I remember correctly where your property is. I can just hail a cab."

 "If that's what you prefer."

 Do you think I should visit him in Arkham?" Elijah asked suddenly.

 "I'm honestly not sure if that's a good idea right now," answered Ed, "maybe I should talk to him first."

 Elijah looked at him pensively. "Edward, recounting my story to you, about the follies of my youth, has certainly given something to reflect on. As they say, an old dog can't learn new tricks, but I do hope a young man could learn from an old man's mistakes. If I could give my son any advice, it would be to keep his head up, and to fight for himself and what for what he loves, no matter the not be a coward like is father." 

 Ed nodded, and put out his hand for a final handshake. Instead, Elijah pulled him into a firm, unexpected hug. 

 Before Ed could thank him or properly say goodbye, Elijah had slipped back into his car and was disappearing on the horizon. As he watched the headlights fade into the fog, Ed wondered who Elijah Van Dahl's fatherly piece of advice was really meant for.