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Love Is Strong As Death

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Edward found out from the morning paper that Oswald had been sent to Arkham on murder charges. Though it was unsurprising, given the other man’s inclinations, it sent pangs through his heart to hear that Oswald was back in that awful place. Arkham had been hell for Edward, but his experience hardly compared to what Oswald had gone through during his stay. He was ashamed to note that another very small part of him was relieved. Edward had very narrowly avoided falling into Oswald’s arms and confessing his love over the past fortnight following his… encounter with Owen and subsequent revelation. Oswald’s confinement put an absolute end to the possibility of Edward making such a foolish decision so soon. There had been a bit of a political scuffle in the Narrows to distract him soon after his realization, but it hadn’t lasted. Lee—in her new position as leader of the Narrows—had handled it well. Perhaps that was an understatement. She’d done wonderfully.

Edward was pleased with his own insight into the proceedings as they’d dealt with the threat that Sampson had posed and felt as though he’d done a swell job advising her. It was still obvious that he wasn’t quite at one hundred percent, as evidenced by the necessity of Lee considering his suggestions, but ultimately altering them to more appropriate levels of retaliation. Appropriate by Lee’s standard, that is. Edward certainly was not used to working under someone who wanted to spare as many lives as possible, even when it made things more difficult or unnecessarily complicated. He’d have to adjust accordingly to Lee’s merciful inclinations in the future. It was also quite obvious that his plans were lacking a great deal of his prior finesse. The pizzazz. Edward shook his head, clearing the sudden influx of thoughts on his current inadequacies. It was infuriating how easily the mere mention of Oswald distracted him from a task as simple as reading. Edward began to read again with new focus. It wasn’t long until he knew that something wasn’t right.

Oswald had been accused of murdering a child. 

The arresting officer? None other than Jim Gordon, of course. It had to be a setup, there had to be something else at play here. He bit his lip, wondering whether Lee would advise against a trip to Arkham to find out what had happened to Oswald. She still had connections with the Asylum, and if he wanted to get in himself and speak to Oswald, he was certain she could arrange something. Or leverage it, given her newfound position. The trouble would be convincing her that it was a worthwhile endeavor. (And that it was a good idea for him to see Oswald at all despite his… compromised emotions.)

A very small part of him was already prepared for the worst. The very thought of Oswald killing a child with a car bomb had him utterly incredulous. Oswald wouldn’t.

But what if he had?

That was what scared him the most. They had both garnered a long list of sins, and nevertheless loved one another. Yet the very notion of the inclusion of child killer on that list made Edward’s stomach roil. While he wasn’t particularly fond of children, he couldn’t imagine a situation in which he would hurt one. He wondered what would be worse: Oswald having committed the crime, or Edward continuing to love him despite it?

“Grundy?” he called, putting the paper down. He needed answers. Needed to know that it wasn’t true, that he wasn’t in love with someone who could commit such an atrocity.

“Grundy in here.” Edward followed his voice, finding his behemoth friend sitting in front of an old Bugs Bunny cartoon.

“I’m going to Cherry’s to talk to Lee. You remember how to use the microwave?”

“Push start,” Grundy said, eyes glued to the television.

“Very good!” Edward said clapping his hands together. Grundy had forgotten last week and subsequently ‘punished’ their old microwave by punching it into tiny, tiny pieces. Edward set up the microwave with Grundy’s lunch and the correct time, throwing on a pea coat and a scarf and making his way to Cherry’s through the bitter cold.

His ‘therapy’ sessions with Lee had become less structured and more like... hanging out. Lee had helped him immensely, and Edward found himself wondering what use he was to her. There was Grundy’s appeal, of course, and he wasn’t completely useless as her right-hand man… but neither of those related to her personal wellbeing. Therefore, he had made it his mission to repay her in some way. Edward had picked up on what appeared to be an acute degree of alcoholism after noting her drinking habits. While her composure following the various traumas she’d been through was admirable, this particular coping mechanism was less than stellar. Edward had resolved to do something about it.

In an effort to cut back on her day-drinking, he had begun bringing various drinks and sodas he enjoyed as a child to his sessions, under the guise of ‘sharing’ it with her. Lee was intelligent enough to know full well what he was doing, but her lack of protest indicated to Edward that she appreciated the effort. If he continued to put lattes in her hand in the morning for her first shift at the clinic and a fizzy pop there for the afternoon, he could usually corral her into merely drinking socially with him during fight night. For him that meant two grasshoppers after his show, and for Lee it meant trying not to pound too many shots and embarrass Edward over what a lightweight he was.

Two days ago, he had noticed her flask in the trash, carefully arranged on top of the rest of the garbage so as to be in plain sight. Though he usually made Grundy take it out to the street, Edward had smiled and happily taken the load out himself. He didn’t expect a thank you from her, or really any acknowledgement at all, so the little presentation had more than sufficed. He was further assured that she hadn’t simply acquired a new one by the noticeable absence of the flask on her person yesterday. Edward was inordinately pleased with himself following his intervention. It was even better than successfully convincing Grundy to eat his greens. (He wasn’t quite sure whether or not the undead man actually needed them to subsist, but vegetables certainly couldn’t hurt.)

He stopped in his regular coffee shop and bought two lattes, peppermint mocha for him and vanilla bean for Lee. It was a short walk to the office after that. He didn’t bother saying hello to Lee’s secretary. They’d gotten off on the wrong foot day one, and she’d glared at him every day, ever since. He hadn’t a clue what her name was, and it had been so long now that he was afraid to ask. Edward scuttled nervously around her desk and into Lee’s office, avoiding eye contact. If looks could kill, he’d be lying on the ground right now. Laying?

...

Definitely lying. He’d created several mnemonic devices in order to remember the conjugations after his embarrassing encounter with Oswald months ago. It was a slow process, but he was making progress in retraining his brain. Grammar was high priority, given his previous affinity for wordplay. If he wanted to make it to that level once more, he needed to focus on the basics and brand them into his neurons once more.

“Good morning, Doctor,” Edward said, slipping through the opening in her office door.

“Good morning, Ed,” Lee said, holding her left hand out for her coffee without looking up from her paperwork. Edward put it into her grasp, watching with amusement as she took a sip, eyes slipping closed in contentment.

“I need a favor,” Edward said, seating himself across from her.

“As long as it doesn’t involve hiding a body,” Lee deadpans, taking another sip of her coffee. Edward scoffs.

“You aren’t still sore over that, are you? I would help you hide a body,” Edward wheedled, enjoying the opportunity to prolong his request. Lee blinked slowly, deliberately.

“Are you going to ask for that favor now?” she asked, setting her coffee down on her desk.

“I need your help getting into Arkham Asylum, on the down low,” Edward said.

“What business do you have in Arkham?” Lee asked, leaning back in her seat.

“It’s… personal business.”

Ed.”

“It’s Oswald,” he blurted. “He’s in Arkham.” Lee cocked an eyebrow.

“And?” she asked, gesturing with her right hand across the room.

“They’re saying that he premeditated the murder of a child with a car bomb,” Edward explained, putting both hands on her desk.

“Oh, Ed,” Lee said, leaning forward in her chair and placing a hand over his. “This must be very hard for you to accept.”

“It is,” he nodded. “There’s no way Oswald would do something like that, he shouldn’t be in Arkham.” Lee’s brow furrowed.

“Ed… I know you have very strong feelings for him, but if Oswald is in Arkham then I’m sure there was sufficient evidence—”

“No,” Edward said, pulling his hand from under hers. “No, Lee. This isn’t the first time he’s been wrongfully convicted.”

“He killed Galavan—”

“Jim Gordon killed Galavan!” Edward exclaimed.

“Jim put him out of his misery,” Lee snapped back, almost as if the line was one she had rehearsed. Something she told herself to somehow make it better. But Jim was a killer just like Oswald, and her continual denial of his nature never ceased to make Edward furious.

“Did he put Mario out of his misery?” Edward drawled, venom dripping off every syllable.

“Don’t you dare bring him into this,” Lee whispered, her fury barely held back. “Oswald is a depraved sociopath—”

“What does that make me?” Edward asked, “What does that make Jim? He sent Oswald to Arkham when he knew he was innocent once before, and now he’s under Sofia Falcone’s thumb—”

“What do you mean?” Lee asked, eyes narrowing.

“Oh, come on. It’s pretty obvious,” Edward said, staring meaningfully at her. Surely Lee would come to the same conclusion he had.

“It’s really not,” Lee said, frowning.

“Professor Pyg abducts us both, which amounts to a direct threat to Oswald and to Jim. Then there was that whole debacle at the Falcone manor a few weeks back, and would you know it? Jim saved the day. Then, just yesterday, Oswald was arrested for killing this orphan boy, and Jim finally took down the Pyg. You think that’s all a coincidence?” Edward explained, rambling lightening quick through his theory.

“You’re making a huge leap of logic somewhere that I’m not following,” Lee said. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that Sofia Falcone obviously came to Gotham to rule it. She hired the Pyg to create doubt over the abilities of the GCPD to protect the city, and Oswald too. I’m guessing that Sofia let Jim win because he was either more cooperative or more easily manipulated. I’m guessing he helped her take down Oswald, because that’s what they both wanted.”

“You don’t have any proof of this,” Lee pointed out.

“I know Jim. And I know Oswald. I understand their motivations; people are just puzzles. Professor Pyg was Sofia’s way of threatening me. And by threatening me—”

“She was threatening Oswald,” Lee supplied, following along. Edward nodded.

“Precisely. My theory is that it was to try and scare Oswald into ending the Pax Penguina, which she intended as a favor to Gordon. Afterwards, he’d owe her. She probably also wanted to use you as leverage over Gordon, but it didn’t work out how she wanted it to. So instead, she set Oswald up for murder to take him out of the picture, and called in her new lapdog Jimbo to make the arrest. Then, to tie up all the loose ends, she had Jim kill Pyg so that he’d be the city’s hero. And so that her little pig would never be able to squeal on her,” Edward said, counting on his fingers as he presented his argument.

“Jim wouldn’t have gone along with that,” Lee said, shaking her head. “Pyg was killing cops, if he knew that she was responsible he would have stopped her himself. Jim doesn’t enter into deals with the devil.”

“I’m sorry, you were there when the boys all marched off to take down Galavan together, right?” Edward pointed out, raising his brows.

“That was different, Galavan was— he was—”

“He was threatening someone that Jim cared about, and the city he thinks he’s protecting. So he made a deal with a gangster to get the job done,” Edward relayed. “Of course, the gangster in that scenario was Oswald.” Lee looked down, and Edward would have spared a moment to feel a little bad for her taste in men if he didn’t have an important point to make.

“A deal with Sofia would have been no different. Sofia offered him a way of ending multiple threats to the city, and probably also made an agreement with him concerning your wellbeing,” Edward speculated. “Just look at the timeline of events. Jim is always getting caught up in ploys.”

“He wouldn’t have let the killings of his fellow officers go on this long, wouldn’t have let Harvey lose the force either,” Lee said, staring down at her desk.

“Unless he thought he’d do a better job as captain,” Edward said. “Not a far stretch.” Lee remained quiet, and Edward sighed.

“Okay, giving him the benefit of the doubt a little here but—maybe he didn’t know Pyg was working for her until it was too late? She’d probably done him a lot of favors and could have easily testified that Jim knew the truth of Pyg’s origins and was working with her as well. Maybe the deal she offered him was that he had to either work for her or they’d go down together.”

“I’d like to believe that,” Lee said.

“You could ask him,” Edward suggested. “That’s why I need to see Oswald.”

“You really believe in him,” Lee said, eyes flicking over his face.

“Not any more than you believe in Jim,” Edward said, leaning back in his chair and finally sipping his coffee. It was delightful as always.

“I can do you one better, talk to Sofia,” Lee said, putting a finger on her chin and gazing somewhere at the doorway.

“I’m sorry, did you miss my spiel about her being a criminal mastermind who put Jimbo in her pocket and Oswald in Arkham?” Edward said, standing and beginning to pace. “No, you can’t talk to her, not yet. We need to be smarter than those two. At least we have the benefit of knowing what she’s capable of.”

“She’s my sister in law,” Lee said, raising a brow. “I’m not afraid of her.”

“You should be,” Edward said, biting at the nail of his thumb. “I’ll speak to Oswald, gather intel. You should go to Jim… I’ll set you up with a wire.”

“A wire?” Lee asked. “What for?”

“I want to hear what he says,” Edward explained. “And he won’t confess anything to me.”

“Fine,” Lee said, “But you’re wearing one in Arkham.”

“Fine,” Edward said, butterflies taking flight in his stomach. He was going to see Oswald soon.

***

Clad in a white lab coat, Edward was reminded of his time with Hugo Strange as he roamed the halls of the Asylum. Dressed this way, he was invisible to the guards and staff. Edward had forged an Arkham ID from Lee’s old badge, swiping through security without a second glance. Unfortunately, the layout of the asylum was… different. Edward found himself circling, unsure where Oswald was being housed and if he was even in his cell at all. Eventually, a guard took note of his aimlessness and stopped him.

“You new, honey?” she asked, eyeing him up and down.

“Is it that obvious?” Edward replied, laughing self-deprecatingly. It wasn’t very hard to play at being out of sorts when he was, in fact, very out of sorts.

“What are you looking for?”

“Who.” Edward corrected. “I’ve been asked to administer an evaluation to a Mister… Oswald Cobblepot?” At once, the guard erupted into laughter.

“Holy shit,” she said, wiping at tears in her eyes. “I think they’re hazing you.”

“What do you mean?” Edward felt quite confused. Was it a common practice to have a new staff member interact with Oswald?

“He’s a total wackadoodle. The only worse thing would be if they had you talk to Valeska. Then I’d know they didn’t like you,” she said, elbowing him playfully. Edward swallowed harshly, feeling himself grow hot with anger beneath the collar of his labcoat as he was forced to listen to this… this simpleton speak as if she was somehow better than Oswald. Behind bars or before them, Oswald was not a man whose sanity was ever in question.

“I’d appreciate your help finding him,” Edward said, carefully controlling his tone.

“I wouldn’t be so eager if I were you,” she advised. “Well, guess you gotta get to it eventually. Follow me down here, sweetheart.” Edward bristled at her familiarity, particularly after the insult to Oswald. He followed regardless, eager to leave her company in favor of her better.

“This is the place,” she said, gesturing to a single cell. “There’s an interview room down the hall if you wanna wait there. I’ll bring him to you.”

“Thank you,” Edward said curtly, turning on his heel and marching down the hall to the only room that wasn’t a cell. Inside was a table with two chairs, a bar bolted onto the table for an inmate to be cuffed. He sat facing the door, hands clasped on the table as he waited. Inside of a minute, the guard escorted Oswald into the room. He looked… awful. His eyes were glazed over, defeated, his nose and cheek sporting wounds which appeared to be healing poorly. With his face downcast, it wasn’t until he was seated that he even glanced up, jaw dropping as he took in the ‘therapist’ waiting for him.

“Just leave when you’re finished and come find me,” the guard said, breaking the pause. “Oh, and be careful: he’s a biter.” She winked at Edward and made her exit.

“Did you come here to gloat?” Oswald asked, a little fire coming back into his eyes. Edward found himself glad to see it.

“No, I just have some questions for you,” Edward said, hitting the tape recorder on the wire.

“Questions, or more riddles?” Oswald spat. Edward ignored his hostility. It was more a product of Arkham than any ill will toward himself, he was sure.

“Did you kill that boy? Martin?” Edward asked, keeping his tone level and focusing on observing Oswald’s reaction.

“It’s pronounced Martin,” Oswald hissed. “What do you care?” Edward cared because he didn’t want to be in love with a complete monster. He couldn’t very well say that, though.

“I want to help you,” Edward said, “But to do that, I need the whole story.”

“Why would you help me?” Oswald asked, teeth barred. Edward can understand his defensiveness. He’d been betrayed yet again to end up here, after all. It was difficult to keep reminding himself that. His instinct was to tell Oswald that he didn’t care after all, to end this here and now and stay safe. With Oswald in Arkham, he was free from passion. Or at least, he had thought he’d be. Yet Oswald was frequently on his mind, and no amount of distance or maximum security had lessened his power to invade Edward’s consciousness. He was a lost cause, too far gone in this feeling to go back now. And if he was being truly honest with himself: he didn’t want to.

The truth was that he loved Oswald still. He’d come to terms with that. Unfortunately, Oswald was not in a state of mind to believe the truth. Instead, Edward needed fabricate a lie. This lie had to be something Oswald would understand, something he’d believe—

“I owe you a favor.”

The hostility physically drained from Oswald’s body language toward him. He settled into his chair, a hint of mirth coming into his expression. Oswald’s posture changed as he leaned across the table, something predatory in his smirk. Edward had given him the feeling that he had the advantage, given him a little taste of power back. The transformation had been almost instantaneous. From cowed, to openly hostile, to utterly in control of the situation, despite the restraints around his wrists.

“You spared Owen’s life and helped save mine,” Edward elaborated. If he played this right, Oswald wouldn’t see him as a threat, but as an ally. “I’ve come to offer my services in payment for that.”

“What does a favor from you buy me?” Oswald asked, and Edward could see the cold calculation happening behind his eyes.

“Your freedom, at the very least,” Edward told him. “Of course, I’ll need your cooperation for that.” Oswald hesitated, considering.

“Martin’s safety is my top priority,” he said, something grave in his expression Edward couldn’t decipher. “Rescue him from Sofia, and consider your debt repaid.”

Oh.

Edward could admit he hadn’t been expecting that. Quite impossibly, he found himself falling for Oswald a little more, and wasn’t that just dreadful. There was no question about whether he’d free Oswald from this prison, but it was becoming clear that Oswald wouldn’t allow it until the boy was safe. Very well.

“Tell me about him,” Edward asked, and Oswald did.